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" A book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.*
Wisdom of God: distinguished from Knowledge-Idea of Wisdom-Proofs of Wisdom in Crea
tion: in Providence: in Redemption.
HAVING considered the knowledge of God, I proceed to speak of his wisdom. These are easily distinguishable. Knowledge is the simple apprehension of things as they are, as the eye perceives the objects presented to it; wisdom is the arrangement of our ideas in proper order, and in such a train as to produce some useful practical result. The instrument of acquiring knowledge is the understanding alone; but wisdom implies volition, or a purpose to effect an end, and the choice of the means by which it will be accomplished. In creatures they are often separated. Wisdom cannot exist without knowledge, but knowledge may exist without wisdom; and, accordingly, there are men possessing very extensive information, who in their conduct give many proofs of thoughtlessness and folly. In an all-perfect Being, they are necessarily conjoined ; omniscience supplies the materials of infinite wisdom. As God knows all his creatures, all their powers and qualities, all the purposes to which they may be rendered subservient, all the relations in which they may be placed, and all the possible consequences of all possible events, he is able infallibly to determine what are the most proper ends to be pursued, and what are the fittest means of effecting them; as he is perfectly just and good, there is no principle in his nature which might prevent him from choosing what is best; and as his power is infinite, no obstacle can occur to the execution of his plans.
All nations have agreed in ascribing wisdom to the Supreme Being, and have been led to this conclusion by the obvious and manifold proofs of it, which will be afterwards considered. “Man is wise," says Cicero, “and so therefore is God ;” rightly judging that a superior natūre must possess what is truly excellent in man; and that if wisdom had not existed in the Creator, it would not have been found in the creature. Revelation pronounces him to be “the only wise God,"'thus seeming to appropriate this attribute to him, to the exclusion of every other being from a share in it; yet we know that men and angels are possessed of it in a certain degree, and we must therefore understand the sacred writer to speak comparatively, and to signify that their wisdom, which is dependent and derived, and his wisdom, which is necessary and essential, do not admit of comparison; and when brought into competition, that of creatures, so limited in its nature, so soon exhausted by a few expedients, is altogether unworthy of notice.
Wisdom consists in the choice of proper ends and proper means; design simply implies that the agent has some object in view, and does not act at random. But his design may be trifling or degrading; it may prove that he is destitute of sound judgment; and hence, whatever art he may discover in gaining his object, we do not give him the praise of wisdom. If a man should em* Mal. iii. 16, 17.
+ 1 Tim. i. 17.
ploy an ingenious and complicated apparatus to effect a purpose which is not worth half the expense, or which might have been effected without any waste of time and labour, instead of thinking him wise, we should pronounce him to be a fool. The end must be worthy of the agent, and of the attention bestow. ed upon it. It may be said, that we are incompetent to judge what is worthy of God, what it would become a Being so far exalted above us to do, and that it would be less presumptuous in a fly endowed with intelligence, to pronounce upon the counsels and operations of man. We acknowledge our incompetence beforehand, and our inability to enter fully into his designs, even after they are revealed; but since God has endowed us with some portion of understanding, there is no arrogance in venturing to say, when we see him pursuing certain ends, that they appear to us to be suitable to the dignity of his character. There is no arrogance in maintaining, that it is worthy of him to glorify himself by the manifestation of his attributes, to communicate happiness to other beings whom his almighty power has created, to uphold the moral government of the universe, to promote the interests of righteousness and truth. Now, these are the very ends which appear to be the objects of the Divine dispensations; and we are so far from perceiving any thing in them incongruous to the idea of an all-perfect Being, that they harmonize with our conceptions of the transcendent excellence of his character.
It is not less characteristic of wisdom to choose fit means, than to aim at worthy ends. We should never account him a wise man, who formed excellent designs, but failed to execute them from not knowing what expedients it was necessary to employ, or from want of skill in arranging and applying them. It is here that a trial is made of his knowledge of the powers, qualities, relations, and tendencies of things. There are persons whose minds are fertile in suggesting what it would be of advantage to do, but who are incapable of executing their own plans, and must commit them to others, who are superior in invention and dexterity; and the subordinate details may require greater strength of intellect than the original conception. In contemplating the wisdom of God, we must take into the account the whole process, the previous steps as well as the final result. In estimating the wisdom of an agent, we first attend to the object which he had in view, and secondly, observe the method by which he effected it.
In this argument, we assume the doctrine of final causes. A final cause is that for which any thing is done, the end which an agent has in view, and to which his operations are directed. It is called a cause, because it excites him to act; and a final causė, because when it is effected his object is gained. The proofs of final causes in the universe are denied only by atheists, who wish to obliterate the evidence that an intelligent Being is its author. How they have succeeded in this attempt so revolting to reason,
we have formerly seen. It may be as rationally denied, that there are marks of design in the construction of a watch, as that there are any in the system of nature; that the ultimate intention of the watch was to point out the hour, as that the ultimate intention of the mechanism of an animal body is the sustenance and motion of the animal.
Let us, in the first place, collect the proofs of Divine wisdom from the visible creation. “How manifold, O Lord, are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all, and the earth is full of thy riches." * Instances of curious contrivance present themselves on every side. We observe, a wonderful adaptation of one thing to another, with a view to the production of a particular result, and the same purpose accomplished by such a diversity of means, as cannot fail to convince us, that the whole is the work of an intelligent Being, rich in expedients. As the proofs of wisdom in creation constitute only one department of the subject, we cannot go into a minute detail, but must confine ourselves to a few particulars, and even of these give only a general account. I might refer you to the argument formerly adduced* for the existence of God from the marks of design in his works, which prove an intelligent cause ; but it would be improper to pass over a topic so rich in displays of his wisdom, although we shall be led to repeat in substance the observations formerly made.
* Ps. civ. 24.
Let us attend to the arrangement of the system to which we belong. In the centre is placed the sun, the great source of light and heat, who dispenses without intermission his influences to the planets, which perform their revolutions around him. He is at rest, and they are in motion; but they are retained in their orbits by his attractive power; and the mighty machine is incessantly working without confusion, or the slightest deviation of any of its parts. How much more admirable is the solar system as now understood, than it appeared to the ancient philosophers, who imagined that the sun daily wheeled his rapid course around the earth, which, in comparison of him is so diminutive! By the motion of the earth, the purposes which were supposed to be accomplished by the motion of the sun, are effected in a more simple manner. By its diur. nal motion around its own axis, the different parts of its surface are successively presented to the sun, and the vicissitude of day and night is produced, so necessary to the existence and well-being of animals and vegetables. In the day, men and animals carry on their various operations, and vegetables are nourished by his rays, and adorned with beautiful colours: in the night, all nature reposes in the shades of darkness ; plants sleep as well as living creatures; and the vigour of our bodies and minds, which were exhausted by labour and thought, is recreated. Who does not see, in this case, a wise provision of our Maker ? By the annual circuit of the earth, we enjoy the change of seasons, which delights us by a variety of scene, and is subservient to the purposes of vegetation, on which the life of all terrestrial animals depends. In winter the earth rests, and repairs its strength; and during the subsequent seasons, that wonderful process takes place which clothes the trees and fields with verdure, and by the multiplication of the seed deposited in the soil, rewards the labour of the husbandman. We may remark the wisdom of God also in the relative situation of the earth to the sun. It has been placed where it is, and not in the orbit of any other planet, with an exact adaptation to the nature of its inhabitants. Whether it had been brought nearer, or removed to a greater distance, excessive heat or excessive cold would have proved equally fatal to animal and vegetable life. All living beings must have perished, unless their constitution had been changed, and the water in seas, lakes, and rivers, would have been either evaporated, or frozen. Here then we have an instance of adjustment, which furnishes a new proof of the Creator's wisdom.
Let us turn our attention to the constitution of the earth itself, and we shall perceive, that by the same wisdom, it is fitted for all the purposes which it was intended to serve. It is composed of various substances, adapted to a variety of uses ; but what I request you at present to observe, is the nature of the substance lying on the surface. Had the earth been covered with rock or sand, it would have been an unfit habitation for man, because it could not have afforded the means of subsistence; but the upper stratum is a soft mould, into which the roots of plants penetrate, and in which seeds find a matrix, where the vegetable principle is evolved and nourished; for it should also be considered, that the soil is endowed with certain virtues, and supplies the pabulum of plants, in consequence of which they rise to maturity, and perfect their fruit. We observe that a large proportion of the surface is covered with water; but the objection against the extent of the ocean, as encroaching too much upon the habitation of men and terrestrial animals, is absurd while there are such tracts of land as yet unoccupied, and proceeds, besides, from stupid inattention to the
* See before, pp. 164–68.
purposes which are served by the ocean. Not only does it open an intercourse between distant nations, and furnish the means of easily and speedily conveying the productions of one country to another, but it is the inexhaustible source of those exhalations which descend upon us in rain and dew. And as the quantity of these is upon the whole not more than sufficient to supply rivers and springs, and to nourish the herbs, and plants, and trees, which clothe the surface of the earth, it is evident, that if the boundaries of the ocean had been compressed, all nature would have languished, animals and vegetables would have perished, and our globe would have been converted into a dreary wilder
We formerly took notice of the wisdom displayed in the inequalities of the earth; and we then stated, that without mountains there would have been no springs and rivers. We may now remark, that a smooth uniform plain, however much adorned, would have been far less beautiful than the scenery which now enchants us by its diversified features, at one time gentle, and at another majestic; and that room is provided for a greater variety of plants and animals, some preferring cold and elevated regions, while others seek low and sheltered spots. The whole is planned with an evident regard to different ends, and each of these is secured by expedients varied with admirable skill.
Let us, in the next place, take a view of the living creatures which inhabit the earth, and we shall perceive many proofs of Divine wisdom in their bodies, and particularly in our own, which, according to a sacred writer, is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” In considering man as related to the material objects amidst which he is placed, it cannot fail to strike us as an instance of wise adaptation, that he is furnished with organs of sense to perceive them and their qualities, the knowledge of which is necessary, not only to his comfort, but to his very existence. When we examine those organs, the ear for example, or the eye, with which we are better acquainted, both the design and the workmanship are calculated to excite the highest admiration. We cannot tell, indeed, how we see or hear by means of these organs, but we discover a contrivance, of which the obvious intention is to convey the corresponding sensations to our minds. That a body so small as the eye should perceive not only near but distant objects, should bring under our view the earth and the heavens, should make us exactly acquainted with the figure, size, colour, and relative position of so many bodies, should discern the members of a minute insect, and contemplate the host of stars marshalled in the sky; that this little organ should be capable of taking so wide a range, and performing so many wonders, is a proof that it is not the work of chance, but of a Divine artist, who is wonderful in counsel. Among the boasted productions of human art, where shall we find any thing to be compared to it? When we proceed in the examination of our bodies, the evidences of wisdom multiply upon us. What a variety of functions is performed in this microcosm ! what a provision of means and instruments ! how delicate and regular the process! The bones support the body, and are articulated that it may bend in different directions, and be moved from one place to another. The flesh is composed of muscles, which being attached 10 the bones, and possessing the power of contraction, give them the necessary motion. The waste to which the body is subject, is repaired by its capacity to receive and digest food, and to convert it into its own substance; and by a curious apparatus the aliment is distributed to every part of our frame. The expenditure is constant, and so is the supply. We cannot live without air, and respiration is carried on by the mouth and lungs. The blood circulates by night and by day, and the secretions go on with perfect regularity when not interrupted by disease. There is one proof of the wisdom of our Maker, which deserves particular attention. While some of the operations, which are necessary to our well-being, are dependent upon our will, others of equal importance are involuntary. We respire, the blood flows, and many
other processes are continued in sleep as well as when we are awake, for this obvious reason, that the suspension of them would prove fatal to life. They are therefore taken out of our hands, and reserved in his own by the Great First Cause, who never slumbers or sleeps, and who lives and acts in every point of the universe. There is manifest wisdom in this arrangement. Man is left to do what he can do for himself; but when his power would be inadequate, another agency interposes to perfect the design. In many respects, the structure of the inferior animals resembles our own; and when a difference is observable, it affords a new illustration of wisdom, because it is the result of a design to fit them for the different functions belonging to their nature, and the mode of life allotted to them. On this ground, religion may confidently triumph over atheism. Its demonstrations can be opposed only by malignity struggling against conviction; or if there is any man, acquainted but superficially with the organization of living bodies, who denies that they are the work of an intelligent Maker, we may, after the example of the Psalmist, pronounce him to be a fool.
We might strengthen this argument by a review of the intellectual and active powers of the human mind, from which it would appear with how much wisdom they are adapted to the condition of man as an inhabitant of this world, and as in a state of preparation for a future and higher existence. His mental frame is not less wonderful than his corporeal. But I shall conclude with observing, that the wisdom of God is apparent in the instincts by which the irrational animals are governed. By instincts we mean certain inclinations or propensities to act in a way conducting to a specific result, without, as we suppose, any knowledge of the result, any anticipation of the consequence. Nothing is more admirable than the sagacity with which they choose the most proper places for their habitations, the dexterity displayed in constructing them, and the care which they take of their young, brooding over them, bringing food to them, training them up for their peculiar kind of life, and defending them with courage and with art. Yet we do not suppose, that they are possessed of reason, that they improve by the experience of their predecessors, that they deliberate and concert plans, that they calculate probabilities, and look forward to the future. What then is the wisdom which we admire in them? It is not their own, but the wisdom of their Creator, who, in a manner inexplicable to us, directs them to ends of which they are not aware. It is not by its own understanding, that the bee constructs its cells with such attention to strength and capacity; it is not from its own knowledge of the approaching disappearance of the flowers from which it extracts its food, that it gathers honey in the fine season, and lays it up in store for winter. No; the bee is under superior guidance, and it is when describing the operations of this little insect, that a heathen poet gives it as the opinion of some, that bees have a portion of the Divine mind, which pervades all nature, the earth, the sea, and the heavens:
Esse apibus partem divinæ mentis, et haustus
They rightly judged, that its wonderful contrivances did not originate from itself. “Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south? Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?”+ No; in the economy of the lower animals, we perceive the wisdom of the Creator, who purposing to preserve the individual and the species, guides them by his mysterious influence, with a certainty which the superior but fallible reason of man seldom attains.
In a lecture, of which the wisdom of God in creation forms only a part, there is room for nothing more than general observations. Perhaps, a strong* Virg. Georg. iv. 220.
+ Job xxxix, 26, 27.