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On the FOLLY of the WISDOM of the WORLD.
1 Corinth. iii. 19.
The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
differs widely from that which is formed of us by God, whose judgment alone is always conformable to the truth. In our opinion of the abilities which we imagine ourselves to possess, there is always much self-flattery; and in the happiness which we expect to enjoy in this world, there is always much deceit. As there is a worldly happiness, which God perceives to be no other than concealed misery; as there is a worldly honour, which in his estimation is reproach; so, as the text informs us, there is a wisdom of this world, which is foolishness with God. Assuredly there is nothing in which it imports us more that our judgment should agree with the truth, than in what relates to wisdom. It is the qualification upon which every man is inclined to value himself, more than on any other. They who can with patience suffer imputations on other parts of their character, are ready to lose their temper, and to feel sore and hurt when they are attacked for deficiency in prudence and judgment. Wisdom is justly considered as the guide of conduct. If any capital errors shall take place respecting it; if one shall
mistake that for wisdom which at bottom is mere folly; such a mistake will pervert the first principles of conduct, and be perpetually misleading a man through the whole of life. - As the text plainly intimates that this mistake does often take place in the world, and as it materially concerns us all to be on our guard against so great a danger, I shall endeavour to show, first, what the nature and spirit of that wisdom of the world is, which is here condemned ; and next, in what sense and on what account it is styled foolishness with God.
I. LET us consider the nature of that wisdom which is reprobated in the text as foolishness with God. It is styled the wisdom of this world; that is, the wisdom which is most current, and most prized in this world; the wisdom which particularly distinguishes the character of those who are commonly known by the name of men of the world. Its first and most noted distinction is, that its pursuits are confined entirely to the temporal advantages of the world. Spiritual blessings, or moral improvements, the man of this spirit rejects as a sort of airy unsubstantial enjoyments, which he leaves to the speculative and the simple; attaching himself wholly to what he reckons the only solid goods, the possession of riches and influence, of reputation and power, together with all the conveniences and pleasures which opulent rank or station can procure.
In pursuit of these favourite ends, he is not in the least scrupulous as to his choice of means. If he prefer those which are the fairest, it is not because they are fair, but because they seem to him most likely to prove successful. He is sensible that it is for his interest to preserve decorums, and to stand well in the public opinion. Hence he is seldom an openly profligate, man, or marked by any glaring enormities of conduct. In this respect, his character differs from that of those who are commonly called men of pleasure. Them he considers as a thoughtless, giddy herd, who are the victims of passion and momentary impulse. The thorough-bred man of the world is more steady and regular in his pursuits. He is, for the most part, composed in his manners, and decent in his vices. He will often find it expedient to be esteemed by the world as worthy and good. But to be thought good, answers his purpose
much better than subjecting himself to become really such ; and what he can conceal from the world, he conceives to be the same as if it had never been. —Let me here remark in passing, that the character which am now describing, is one less likely to be reclaimed and reformed, than that of those whom I mentioned above as the men of pleasure. With them vice breaks forth in occasional fits and starts; with the other it grows up into a hardened and confirmed principle. In the midst of the gross irregularities of pleasure, circumstances often force remorse on the sinner's mind. Moments of compunction arise, which may be succeeded by conviction and reformation. But the cool and temperáte plan of iniquity, on which the man of worldly wisdom proceeds, allows the voice of conscience to be longer silent. The alarm which it gives, is not so loud and violent as to awaken him at once from his evil courses, and instantly to prepare him for a better mind.
The man of the world is always a man of selfish and contracted disposition. Friends, country, duty,
honour, all disappear from his view, when his own interest is in question. He is of a hard heart; he chooses indeed to be so, lest at any time the unguarded effusions of kind affections should carry him beyond the line of worldly wisdom. The more thoroughly that the spirit of the world has taken possession of him, the circle of his affections becomes always the narrower. His family will perhaps find place, as connected with his own importance, and with his plans either of power or wealth ; but all beyond that circle are excluded from any particular regard. It is his great principle never to embark seriously in any undertaking, from which he foresees no benefit likely to redound to himself. Public spirit he considers either as a mere chimera created by the simple, or a pretence employed by the artful for their own purpose. Judging of the rest of the world by what he feels within himself, he proceeds on the supposition that all men are carrying on interested designs of their own, and of course is ever on his guard against them. Hence to the cordialities of friendship he is an entire stranger; too much wrapt up in himself, indeed, to be a friend to any one, and if his prudence restrain him from being an open and violent enemy, yet he is always an unforgiving one.
Candour, openness, and simplicity of manners, are ridiculed by the man of this description, as implying mere ignorance of the world. Art and address are the qualities on which he values himself. For the most part he would choose to supplant a rival by intrigue, rather than to overcome him by fair opposition. Indeed, what men call policy and knowledge of the world, is commonly no other thing than dissimulation and insincerity. The world is a great school, where deceit in all its forms is one of the lessons that is first learned, and most eagerly caught by such as aspire to be proficients in worldly wisdom. A man of the world, in short, is one, who, upon any call of interest, flatters and deceives you; who can smile in your face, while he is contriving plans for your ruin ; who upon no occasion thinks of what is right, or fit, or honourable; but only of what is expedient and useful to himself.
I have dwelt the more fully on the delineation of this character, that each of us might learn whether there be any feature in it that applies to himself; as it is a character too frequently met with in the world, and not always so severely reprobated as it ought to be. Let me now ask, whether such a character.as I have described be in any respect an amiable one? Is the man of the world, polished, and plausible, and courtly, as in his behaviour he may be, one whom you would choose for a companion and bosom friend? Would you wish him for a son, a brother, or a husband? Would you reckon yourself safe in confiding your interests to him, or entrusting him with secrets ? Nay, let me ask, if he be one whom in your hearts you respect and honour ? His shrewdness and abilities you may perhaps admire; stand in awe of him
you may; and, for the sake of advantage, may wish him to be on your side.
side. But could
honour him as a parent, or venerate him as a magistrate; or would you wish to live under him as a sovereign? Of what real value then, let me ask, is that boasted wisdom of the world, which can neither conciliate love, nor produce trust, nor command inward respect?