« PreviousContinue »
At the same time, I admit that the man of the world may be a man of very considerable abilities. He may display talents of many different sorts. Besides art and sagacity, he may possess genius and learning; he may be distinguished for eloquence in supporting his own cause; he may have valour and courage to defend himself against his enemies.
But observe, I entreat you, a consequence that follows. You see in this instance, that the most distinguished human abilities, when they are separated from virtue and moral worth, lose their chief eminence and lustre, and are deprived of all valuable efficacy. They dwindle into despicable talents, which have no power to command the hearts, nor to ensure the respect and honour of mankind. Let it be carefully observed, and always remembered, that integrity, probity, and moral worth, are essentially requisite to give the stamp of real excellence to any powers or abilities which the human mind can possess.—Having now considered the nature and effect of worldly wisdom with respect to men, let us inquire,
II. How it stands with respect to God. It is said in the text, to be foolishness with God. It is so in three respects: It is contemptible in God's sight; it is baffled in its attempts by God; or, when its attempts are successful, they are allowed to produce nothing but disappointment and vanity.
First, it is contemptible in God's sight. Pleased and satisfied as the wise man of the world may be with himself, and honoured as he may fancy himself to be by the multitude, let him be mortified with
reflecting that, in the eye of him who is the Supreme Judge of all worth, his character is mean and wretched. That which God declares himself to love and honour, is truth in the inward parts: the fair, sincere, and candid mind. He who walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, is the person who shall abide in his tabernacle, and dwell in his holy hill.
When our blessed Lord designed to mark one of his followers with peculiar distinction and honour, he said of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile * ; a character so directly the reverse of worldly wisdom, that from this circumstance alone you may judge in what rank that wisdom stood with him.
But it is not only from the declarations of the Scripture, but from the whole course of Providence, that we learn the contempt in which God holds the wisdom of the world. Who were they on whom he conferred the highest marks of distinction which ever honoured mankind; whom he singled out to be the companions of Christ, the workers of miracles, the publishers of everlasting happiness to mankind ? Were they the wise men of the world, the refined, and the political, who were employed as the instruments of God on this great occasion ? No: he chose a few plain, simple, undesigning men, in order to make foolish the wisdom of the world, and by their means to overthrow the establishments of the artful, the learned, and the mighty. -To this day, God in the course of his Providence bestows those external advantages which the men of the world so earnestly pursue, with apparent disregard of worldly wisdom. He allows no fixed nor regular connection to subsist
between an artful, political conduct, and riches, reputation, or honours; he allows them not this mark of value; he does not always give the race to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor riches to men of understanding; but, on the contrary, scatters the advantages of fortune with a promiscuous hand; and often allows them to be attained by the vilest and lowest of men, who, neither by worldly wisdom, nor any other talent whatever, had the smallest title to deserve them. -- Judge then, ye wise men of this world, whether your characters and pursuits be not most contemptible in God's sight, when you behold those spiritual blessings which he esteems withheld from you, and bestowed only on the good and the pious; and those worldly blessings which you covet, when at any time they are allowed to you, yet allowed only as a portion in common to you with the refuse of mankind, with many characters so infamous that you yourselves despise them?
In the second place, the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God, because it is baffled by him. Some triumphs he has occasionally allowed it to gain, in order to carry on some special purpose that his Providence had in view. Hence a splendid conqueror, a suc
a successful conspirator, dazzle at times the public eye, and attract imitators of their characters and exploits. But, if you extensively consult historical annals, and much more, if you will attentively consider what is known to happen in private life, you will find the examples to be few and rare, of wicked, unprincipled men attaining fully the accomplishment of their crafty designs. It is true, that the justice of Heaven is not, in the
present state, fully manifested, by rendering to every man according to his deeds. But I believe it will be found by attentive observers, that there are two cases in which, perhaps more than in any other, the Divine government has, throughout all ages, rendered itself apparent and sensible to men.
These are humbling the high imaginations of the proud, and taking the wise in their own craftiness. By many signal instances of the intervention of Providence in both these cases, God hath deeply marked the traces of an awful government, even in this introductory state; and forced a reverence of his justice upon the minds of men. As he will not permit, any greatness to lift itself up against his power, so neither will he permit any art to prevail against his counsels. While the crafty project many a distant plan, and wind their way most warily and cunningly, as they think, to success; how often does the Almighty, by means of some slight and seemingly contingent event, stop the wheel at once from farther motion, and leave them to the bitterness of humbling disappointment? He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision. Then, it is immediately added, shall he speak to them in wrath, and vex them in sore displeasure. *
The edifice of crooked policy which they had erected against his decree, was an edifice of dust : no sooner does he blow upon it with the breath of his mouth than it falls to the ground. The wicked are snared in their own devices. They are caught in the pit which their hands had digged. This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations.t
* Psalm ii. 4, 5.
+ Isaiah, xiv. 26.
In the third place, the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God; because, though it should be allowed by Providence to run without disturbance its fullest career, and to compass successfully whatever it had projected, yet it can produce nothing in the issue worthy of the pursuit of a truly wise man. It is a wisdom which overreaches and counteracts itself; and instead of expected happiness, ends in misery. If the existence of another world be admitted, can he be accounted wise, who frames his conduct solely with a view to this world, and beyond it has nothing to look for but punishment? Is he a wise man,
who exchanges that which is eternal, for that which is temporary; and though it were to gain the whole world, exposes himself to lose his own soul ? — But laying
another world out of the question, taking things on the footing of this life only, still it can be clearly shown, that the crooked wisdom of the world is no better than foolishness. For what is the amount of all that this wise man hath gained, or can gain, after all the toil he has undergone, and all the sacrifices he has made, in order to attain success? He has supplanted a rival ; he has defeated an enemy; he has obtained, perhaps, a splendid establishment for himself and his family. But how is all this success enjoyed ? with a mind often ill at ease; with a character dubious at the best, suspected by the world in general, seen through by the judicious and discerning. For the man of the world flatters himself in vain, if he imagines that, by the plausible appearances of his behaviour, he can thoroughly conceal from the world what he is, and keep them ignorant of the hollow principles upon which he has acted. For a short time the world may be deceived; but after a man has