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I. In the first place I shall endeavour to show how we are to understand the word wisdom, as used in the book of Proverbs.
II. I shall show what is comprehended in wisdom.
III. I shall consider what is to be understood by loving wisdom, and seeking it.
IV. I shall observe the encouragement, here set before men, to seek wisdom: they shall find it.
V. And then conclude with directions for the right manner of seeking it.
I. I shall endeavour to show how we are to understand the word wisdom, as used in the book of Proverbs.
Hereby some have understood a real person, and even a divine person. And this their opinion is founded chiefly, I think, upon some expressions in this eighth chapter. As ver. 15," By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, and all the judges of the earth:"And especially those words in ver. 22, 23: "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was."
But the meaning of these words I take to be this: that 'God himself is wise, and before he created the world he had wisdom in himself: and that the laws of righteousness, and the rules of right conduct, are everlasting and 'unchangeable.'
It is agreeable to the style of this book, not to understand by wisdom a real person, but an attribute, or property clothed with a personal character, or a feigned personage introduced. In like manner it has been very common for polite writers to introduce justice, or virtue, or wisdom, or prudence, delivering rules and counsels to men, or reproving their folly and extravagance. Sometimes they are represented looking down, at other times coming down from heaven to visit the abodes of mortals: or, in the style of the Proverbs, men, the sons of men: calling aloud to them, dehorting them from their evil ways and perverse wanderings, and inviting them into the paths of truth and happiness; which reason, and the considerations of their own true interest, prescribe to them.
The personage introduced in this book in the name and character of Wisdom is represented to be a queen, or a wealthy matron or lady for her servants, or attendants, arc maidens. She is brought in as a matron, living in great credit. Her house is a spacious and lofty building, adorned with a magnificent portico at the entrance, consisting of
seven, or many pillars. She there makes an entertainment, and invites people to come and partake of her provisions; that is, to hear and receive the rules and principles of knowledge and virtue.
This is beautifully expressed at the beginning of the ninth, the following chapter: "Wisdom has builded her house she has hewn out her seven pillars: she has killed her beasts: she has mingled her wine: she has also furnished her table: she has sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places in the city," Prov. i. 21. Or, as in another place: "She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates. In the city she uttereth her words:" that is, in the most public and frequented places, where there is usually the greatest resort of people: "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither." She rejects not the weakest, and the most deluded. If they will but attend, she will teach them what is fit and becoming: "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither. As for him that wanteth understanding, she says to him: Come eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding."
This stately dwelling, or palace of wisdom, where men may receive instruction, is alluded to at ver. 34th of this chapter: "Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my door."
Moreover wisdom is used in this book, as equivalent to understanding or instruction. "Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice?" Prov. viii. 1. Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding," ch. iii. 13. And, "Take fast hold of instruction. Let her not go. Keep her, for she is thy life," ch. iv. 13. If understanding and instruction are not persons, what reason is there to think that wisdom is so?
And agreeable to this account is that affectionate counsel: "Say unto wisdom, thou art my sister: and to understanding, thou art my kinswoman," ch. vii. 4.
The opinion therefore, that wisdom is a real person, or a distinct subsistence, and intelligent being, appears to be without foundation. It is much more reasonable to suppose, that wisdom is only a fictitious character, or personage introduced, in order to recommend to men more effectually, and with greater advantage, those rules of righteousness which it is of the highest importance they should regard. II. I would now show what is comprehended in wisdom. By wisdom, in general, we are to understand the principles of order and proportion, both in the natural and the
moral world: or the laws and rules of exact order and proportion in the things of nature, and the rules of discreet and virtuous conduct among rational and intelligent beings. This is the most general and comprehensive meaning of the word wisdom. And it is plainly used in this sense in the book of Proverbs, particularly in this chapter. 1. It includes, I say, the rules and principles of beauty, order, and proportion in the things of nature: according to which rules God made the world, and disposed and adjusted the several parts of it. So in the 27th and following verses of this chapter: "When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: when he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep when he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; then I was by him, as one brought up with him and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him." That is, all God's works of creation were performed in wisdom and it was his will and pleasure to direct and command all things, according to the most perfect rules of order and proportion. The same thing is expressed elsewhere after this manner: "The Lord by wisdom has founded the earth: by understanding has he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew," ch. iii. 19, 20. This exquisite order and proportion in the several parts of nature are beautifully and forcibly described in the prophet Isaiah. "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand? and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance ?" Is. xl. 12.
2. But though wisdom comprehends in it the rules of beauty and perfection, order and proportion, in natural things; yet you cannot but be sensible, that what Solomon in this book chiefly enlarges upon, and most earnestly recommends, is right conduct. Nor does be here speak of the sacrifices of beasts, and offerings of the fruits of the earth, nor of external washings and purifications: the methods of which may be various, where no one of them is of absolute necessity: But the things he insists upon are the rules and principles of virtuous conduct: which are right and reasonable in themselves, and always and universally obligatory.
And because these moral rules and principles are the subjects of his discourse, therefore the lessons, which wisdom teaches and recommends, are represented and cha
racterized as right things, as proclaimed in the most public places, and as everlasting or in being before the world was.
These rules and counsels of wisdom are said to be right and excellent. Thus at the sixth verse. "Hear, for I will speak of excellent things: and the opening of my lips shall be right things." The rules, which I deliver: the things, I recommend to men, are right, and fit. Their ' reasonableness and usefulness cannot be contested or gainsayed.'
They are also represented as proclaimed in places of the greatest resort, and indeed in all places, because they are obvious to men's reason and understanding: and there are not a few who speak of them, and recommend them to others, who are less knowing; and because the judgment and conscience of all men in general assent to them, and not seldom put them in mind of them. This is the design of those expressions at the beginning of this chapter, and of other like expressions elsewhere. "Does not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of the high places, by the way, in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors." And ver. 8, 9, "All my words are in righteousness. There is nothing froward or perverse in them. They are plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge." Every where her reasonable precepts are sounding in men's ears, and demanding attention and regard.
They are also always obligatory. And therefore are spoken of as ancient, eternal, and unalterable rules and maxims. ver. 22-26, "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forthWhile as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world."
These are general characters and properties of the rules and principles of wisdom, relating to the moral conduct of men. And it should be observed, that wisdom with her principles, contains the rules and maxims of all right conduct, with dissuasives from every evil thing; particularly wisdom includes these several things:
1. The fear of God, the first principle, and the most important branch of religion: which is much spoken of, and greatly recommended in this book of Proverbs, and in the book of Ecclesiastes, another work of the Wise Man, containing observations upon human affairs, and upon the divine
providence and government of this world. "The fear of the Lord," says he, " is the beginning of wisdom," Prov. ix. 10; "and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. The fear of the Lord is strong confidence," ch. xiv. 26. "Let not thy heart envy sinners; but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long," ch. xxiii. 17. "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man," Eccl. xii. 13; the sum and substance of his duty, and his main interest and concern.
2.) Wisdom, with its principles and maxims, includes the rules and laws of sobriety and moderation for all earthly things. "The knowledge of the Lord is to hate evil. Pride and arrogance, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate," Prov. viii. 13. And you know very well, that there are in this book many earnest dissuasives from all manner of excess and intemperance, and every thing contrary to purity. Ambition, vain conceit, immoderate love of pleasure and riches, haughtiness of speech and countenance, sloth and idleness, are here also condemned and exposed: and humility, modesty, diligence, and a teachable and inquisitive temper, are frequently recommended.
3.) Wisdom includes righteousness and equity toward other men. So this book begins: "The proverbs of Solomon:-to know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and equity." At the twentieth verse of the eighth chapter: "I lead in the midst of the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment." And in the twenty-first chapter is that excellent remark: "To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord, than sacrifice," ch. xxi. 3.
4.) Beside all these things, wisdom includes prudence, or a becoming regard and discreet concern for our own interests. So Solomon in this chapter, drawing the character of wisdom, introduces her, saying: "I wisdom dwell with prudence. I find out knowledge of witty inventions," ch. viii. 12. Many are the prudential directions and cautions which are inserted in this collection of wise and judicious maxims and observations. And the importance and the advantage of prudence are often shown. It is said: "The simple believeth every word: but the prudent looketh well to his going," Prov. xiv. 15. Agreeably to which the Psalmist observes: "A good man will guide his affairs with discretion," Ps. cxii. 5. or, as in the margin of our Bibles, with judgment, which is the same thing.
5.) Wisdom includes the laws of civil government, tending to the good order, peace, and prosperity of large bodies and