THE WAY OF ATTAINING DIVINE KNOWLEDGE
Proverbs 2:1-6. My Son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.
WISDOM is justly considered as the first of human attainments. It is that which elevates us in the scale of being, and to it we are indebted for all the most refined comforts of civilized society. But there is a spiritual wisdom totally distinct from that which is merely intellectual, and as much superior to it both in its qualities and effects, as reason is superior to instinct. What this is, and how it is to be attained, we are informed by Solomon in the words before us. Let us then consider,
I. Wherein true wisdom consists—
The nature of true wisdom is plainly declared in the text—
[That which in one verse is called, “Wisdom,” and “Understanding,” in a subsequent verse is called, “The fear of the Lord,” and “The knowledge of God.” The wisdom which unregenerate men possess, resides only in the head; but that of which the text speaks is seated in the heart. The former consists merely in a knowledge of men and things, with a faculty of applying that knowledge to present circumstances: but the latter consists in a knowledge of God as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus, together with a correspondent fear and love of his name. The former enlarges the mind, and directs the conduct in things relating to time: the latter informs and regulates the soul in reference to eternity.]
This description is just and accurate—
[We confess that the knowledge and fear of God is not so reputed by the world: on the contrary, it is stigmatized as folly and madness. But that which arrogates to itself an exclusive title to the appellation of wisdom, is by no means so deserving of it as this: because, whatever excellencies it possesses, its operations are weak, uncertain, transient: whereas “the wisdom that is from above” brings into subjection every rebellious passion, and progressively prepares us for the enjoyment of our God. It was with this wisdom that the Messiah himself was endued [Note: Isaiah 11:2-3.]. And it is of this that Solomon speaks, when he declares that nothing else is worthy the name of wisdom [Note: Proverbs 9:10.].]
Respecting wisdom the text further informs us,
II. By what means it is to be attained—
The wisdom of this world may be gained by study only: but spiritual wisdom requires,
[If a man have not a disposition to obey the word of God, he will find occasion of cavil and dispute in the plainest expressions. The Pharisees of old, though conversant with the sacred writings, and instructed by our Lord himself, remained ignorant of the truth, because “they loved darkness rather than light.” Thus it will be with us. However good the seed that is sown may be, it will never bring forth fruit to perfection, unless it be “received into an honest and good heart.” If we would be truly wise, we must imitate the docility of Cornelius [Note: Acts 10:33.]; or, in the language of the text, we must “receive God’s word, and hide his commandments with us,” as an inestimable jewel which we are solicitous to possess and keep.]
[This idea is strongly inculcated in the words before us: “we should incline our ear, and apply our heart to understanding, and seek it as silver, and search for it as for hid treasures.” We should consider the inspired volume as an inexhaustible mine, which yields nothing to a superficial observer, but will richly repay those who explore its inmost recesses. To this effect was the direction given to Joshua [Note: Joshua 1:8.]; and if we follow that advice, we shall succeed like the Bereans of old [Note: Acts 17:11.]. It is the diligent hand, and that only, that can ever make us rich.]
[Nothing will succeed without prayer. A man might commit to memory the whole Bible, and yet not understand one spiritual truth contained it, if he trusted in his own powers, instead of looking up to God for the teaching of his Spirit. Our blessed Lord assures us, that none knoweth the Father, but he to whom the Son shall reveal him [Note: Matthew 11:27.]. And this also is intimated in the repeated direction given us in the text, to “cry after knowledge, and lift up our voice for understanding.” The Apostles themselves needed to have “their understandings opened, before they could understand the Scriptures [Note: Luke 24:45.].” Yea, established Christians still need “a spirit of wisdom and revelation to be given” to them, in order to their obtaining a juster view of revealed truths [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.]. All of us therefore, if we would be taught of God, must cry with David, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law [Note: Psalms 119:18.].”]
For the encouragement of all, Solomon further declares,
III. The certain issue of those means—
God is the source and giver of all spiritual knowledge—
[Nothing can be more positive than the assertion before us. That “God giveth wisdom, and that out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.” It is in this view that he is called, “The Father of lights [Note: James 1:17.];” because as that bright luminary, the sun, was the work of his hands, so all light, intellectual or spiritual, is derived from him. Human learning gives a man no advantage towards the attainment of true wisdom. All, under God, depends on the state of mind with which men seek divine knowledge: if they be willing to “learn of the Father [Note: John 6:15.],” he will teach them: if they be too proud to submit to his instructions, he will leave them to wander further and further from the right way. He will “take the wise in their own craftiness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 3:19.],” and “reveal to babes what he hides from the wise and prudent [Note: Matthew 11:25.].”]
Nor will he suffer us to use the appointed means in vain—
[Frequent are the assurances which God has given us respecting this [Note: Psalms 25:9; Psalms 25:12; Psalms 25:14.]. And he has made distinct promises to each of the foregoing means. Are we sincere? he will open our eyes [Note: John 7:17.]. Are we diligent? he will reveal himself to us [Note: Proverbs 8:17.]. Are we importunate in prayer? he will give us liberally, and without upbraiding [Note: James 1:5.]. No want of learning, no weakness of intellect, shall be any obstacle to him, or deprive us of the benefits which we seek [Note: Isaiah 35:8.]. On the contrary, he will make use of the weakest and most contemptible of men to confound the wise and mighty [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:27-28.].]
1. How highly should we value a preached Gospel!
[Men spend much time and money in acquiring human knowledge, and are glad to avail themselves of all lectures, public or private, whereby they may gain instruction. But a frequent ministration of divine ordinances, and a faithful dispensation of God’s word, are deemed worthy of censure rather than of approbation; and the very persons for whose benefit the word is preached, can scarcely be prevailed upon to lend an ear to the instruction that is freely offered. Little do they think what it is that they thus despise. The ordinances are appointed of God for the express purpose of “converting souls, and making wise the simple [Note: Job 23:12. Psalms 19:7.].” How many are there now in heaven, who would have “perished for lack of knowledge,” if the voice of God in his ministers had not reached their hearts, and “brought them out of darkness into marvellous light [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.]!” Let all then improve the ordinances with diligence, and pray that by means of them they may be “made wise unto salvation [Note: 1 Peter 2:2. Hebrews 2:1].”]
2. How precious should the Scriptures be in our sight!
[It is only at certain seasons that we can attend on public ordinances: but the Scriptures we may read at all times. In them is contained all that we need to know. And the Holy Spirit is promised us, to guide us into all truth [Note: John 16:13. 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27.]. Let the sacred volume then be our delight, and our meditation all the day [Note: Psalms 1:2.]. Let us not cavil at any part of it, or say. This is a hard saying [Note: John 6:60.]: but let us receive it with meekness, knowing that, if it be engrafted in our hearts, it is able, and shall be effectual, to save our souls [Note: James 1:21.].]
PIETY A PRESERVATIVE FROM EVIL
Proverbs 2:10-11. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul, discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee.
PIETY, more than any other thing whatever, is regarded with jealousy and suspicion: and it is no uncommon thing for parents to guard their children against its advocates and professors, as they would against persons infected with a contagious disease. What the fruit of this folly, both in parents and children, too generally is, may be easily conceived: the children, taught to dread piety, which alone could preserve them from evil, become the victims of temptation, and fall into every species of iniquity: and the parents not unfrequently are bowed down by the misconduct of their children, till their grey hairs are brought with sorrow to the grave. Men vainly hope to effect that by moral suasion, which nothing but the grace of God can produce: they would have fruit without a root, and blamelessness without any fixed principle of piety in the soul. But the only way in which any man can be kept in one uniform path of goodness and of honour, is, by submitting his soul to the influence of true religion, and surrendering himself up unreservedly to God. This at least was the conviction of Solomon’s mind: “When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant to thy soul, discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee.” By “wisdom and knowledge” we are not to understand worldly wisdom: for a proficiency in that, however great it may be, is no pledge of morality, no preservative from sin. These terms are used in Scripture to express real piety: and it is that alone which will prove a sufficient antidote to temptation, or become a perennial source of holiness in the life.
In confirmation of this sentiment, I will shew,
I. What reception divine truth should meet with—
The heart is the proper seat of divine knowledge—
[Other knowledge is seated in the head: it is acquired only by deep study, and by force of intellect: nor, in whatever degree it be attained, does it at all sanctify and renew the soul. But the truth of God “enters into the heart:” there is that “incorruptible seed” deposited; and from thence is it brought forth into life and action. I mean not to say, that the understanding is not to be exercised, or exercised deeply, in relation to divine truth; for, beyond all doubt, every truth must so far approve itself to our judgment, as evidently to appear worthy of God, and suited to our condition: nor should any man give an unrestrained scope to his imagination or affections: for, if he were implicitly to follow them, he would of necessity be led away from the solid maxims of the Gospel: but when once he is convinced of any truth of God, then is he to deliver up his affections to be moulded and directed by it.
To make this clear, let me state what I mean by divine knowledge. The word of God teaches us that sin is an evil of extreme malignity; that, to every soul in which it reigns, it is defiling, debasing, damming. It teaches us that we are altogether incapable of cancelling its guilt, or of subduing its power; and that if we find not a Saviour who is able to effect these things for us, we must inevitably and eternally perish. It teaches us yet further, that the Lord Jesus Christ is precisely such a Saviour as we want, and that he is both “able and willing to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him.” Still further, it teaches us the beauty of holiness, and the blessedness of serving and enjoying God. But of what use are those things, as a mere theory? It is only by their being actually experienced in the soul that they can be productive of any solid benefit. But, when truly received into the heart, they set in motion all the affections of the soul, and call into activity our fears and our hopes, our sorrows and our joys.]
It should be received there with supreme delight—
[Truth of any kind is pleasing to the mind, as all who are accustomed to the investigations of science can attest. But divine truth should generate the sublimest joy; or, as my text expresses it, should be “pleasant to the soul.” It should be to us what light is to the wandering and benighted traveller: he pants for it; and congratulates himself on the very first appearance of its orient dawn. To him it comes as a remedy that is suited to his most urgent necessities. Conceive of the Israelites, when pressed with hunger, or perishing with thirst; with what interest must they have beheld the manna that was showered about their tents! and with what avidity must they have bowed down to drink of the streams that issued from the rock! Or, if it be said that these things are objects of sense, and therefore inapplicable to the point in hand, take the instance of the brazen serpent, which was exhibited to their faith. They felt themselves dying of the wounds which had been inflicted by the fiery serpents: they were perfectly conscious that no physician on earth could help them: and they were informed, that, by God’s appointment, a brazen serpent had been erected, in order that, by looking to that, they might be restored to health. Would they hear of that with sceptical indifference, or behold it with uninterested curiosity? No: it would be to them a matter of life and death: the very first tidings of such an instrument would make them eager for the exposure of it to their view: and when they saw or heard others attesting its efficacy, they would look to it with a desire to experience in themselves its healing power. Now this is the way in which divine truth should be viewed by us. To the ungodly world it is most unwelcome, because it bears testimony against them, and against all their ways: hence “they hate the light, and will not come to it, lest their deeds should be reproved.” But to us it should be an object of ardent desire and supreme delight. We should look to it, not for the purpose of critical discussion, but of grateful application to the soul. Our spirit should be precisely that of the blind man whom Jesus had healed. Our Lord put the question to him, “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?” To which he replied, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him [Note: John 9:35-36.]?” Here he finds no disposition to speculate upon the subject, as on a matter of mere critical inquiry: but shews a readiness to admit the truth the moment it should be revealed to him, and to embrace it as the one ground of all his future conduct. Such should be the disposition of our minds also. And when we have attained clearer views of divine truth, we should “rejoice as one that findeth great spoil [Note: Psalms 119:162.].”]
That we may be stirred up to seek divine truth in this way, let us consider,
II. Its salutary influence when duly received—
“Discretion will preserve us, and understanding will keep us.” This is the testimony of God himself. But it may be asked, ‘If common knowledge be not, effectual to keep us, or even divine knowledge when received only into the head, how can the circumstance of receiving knowledge into the heart be productive of any such effect?’ I answer, ‘It is this very circumstance which makes all the difference: divine knowledge, when it resides merely in the head, is speculative only; whereas, when it enters into the heart, it becomes practical.
1. It rectifies the judgment—
[On every subject connected with the soul, the judgment of mankind is in direct opposition to the mind of God. In their eyes, the things of time and sense are of the first importance; but in the sight of God they are all lighter than vanity itself; in his eyes, the concerns of the soul and of eternity are alone worthy of the care of an immortal Being. To the ungodly, even the Gospel itself, that unrivalled production of divine wisdom, is “foolishness;” but to an enlightened mind, it is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” To the stout-hearted infidel, to follow the commands of God is to “be righteous over-much;” but to one who is taught of God, obedience to God’s commands appears his highest honour and felicity. But the truth is, he once was in darkness, but is now “brought into marvellous light:” he once saw only through the distorting medium of sense; he now beholds with the eye of faith, which brings him within the vail of the sanctuary, and discovers every thing as it is beheld by God himself. Nor should this appear strange to us. The difference made in the aspect of any object by its being viewed through glasses of different construction, may easily convince us how different an appearance every object must assume, according as it is viewed through the medium of sense, or by the penetrating eye of faith. The person who turns to God has the very law of God written in his heart; and needs only to look within, and he will see the correspondence between the divine records and his own actual experience: so that he does not merely believe the divine testimonies to be true and good, but “has within himself a witness” of their transcendent excellence: or, as it is said in the verse before our text, “he understands righteousness, and judgment, and equity, yea, every good path.”]
2. It infuses sensibility into the conscience—
[The conscience of an unenlightened man is blind, partial, and in many respects seared; since, in relation to the dispositions of the soul towards God, which is of far greater importance than any thing else, it never reproves at all. But when divine wisdom has entered into his soul, a man will not be satisfied with a freedom from great and flagrant transgressions: he will examine his duties towards God as well as those towards man: he will mark his defects, no less than his excesses: he will observe his thoughts, yea, and “the very imaginations of his thoughts:” and will be more grieved for an evil propensity or desire, than the world at large are for an evil act. He endeavours to have his conscience as much alive to the least evils, as to the greatest: and to keep it tender, as the apple of his eye: and if but a mote assail it, he will take no rest, till he has wept it out with tears of penitence and contrition. See this in the Apostle Paul. Before his conversion, he could find no evil in himself, though he was “a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious:” but after his conversion, he did but utter a disrespectful word to a judge who was violating the plainest rules of justice, and he made it a matter of humiliation in the presence of the whole court.]
3. It instils a watchfulness against the occasions of evil—
Those who are destitute of vital godliness will venture themselves any where, without fear and without remorse: but a man of real piety will be afraid to expose himself where the objects around him present only what has a tendency to vitiate his mind: he prays to God “not to lead him into temptation:” and therefore he will not voluntarily run into it; he will select his associates from amongst the excellent of the earth, who will forward, rather than retard, the growth of holy affections within him: and, as far as his situation will admit of it, he will “come out from the ungodly world, and be separate, and not even touch an unclean thing,” lest he be defiled, and have “his good manners corrupted by evil communications.” This is very particularly insisted on in the following context, in reference both to evil men and evil women. It is said, “Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: to deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things; who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness: who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked: whose ways are crooked, and they froward in their paths: to deliver thee also from the strange woman, oven from the stranger who flattereth with her words: who forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God: for her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead: none that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life: That thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous [Note: ver. 11–20.].” Here the conduct of evil men is drawn to the very life, as is the character of the evil woman also, against both of whom the man of piety will be strictly on his guard, proposing to himself the example of the godly, and availing himself of their aid in his walk before God. He knows, that “he cannot take fire in his bosom, and not be burned;” and therefore he will use the utmost possible circumspection in the whole of his deportment. The books, the company, the conversation that would defile his mind, he carefully avoids; and, like the Jews at the time of the Passover, he searches the most secret recesses of his soul, to sweep from it the leaven that would offend his God.]
4. It leads us continually to God for direction and support—
[Without divine aid all human efforts are vain. But the word of God clearly, fully, constantly directs us to look to him i and an experience of it in our own souls will convince us of the necessity of crying to him continually, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” It is in this way chiefly that divine wisdom preserves us. The soundness of our principles may prescribe what is right; and our love to those principles may incline us to the performance of it: but divine grace alone can ever prove effectual for us. No “power, but that which raised Jesus Christ himself from the dead,” will be sufficient to carry on within us the work that has been begun. On the other hand, if we really trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall, “through his strength, be able to do all things,” “nor shall any thing ever prevail to separate us from his love.”]
Having illustrated the great truth in our text, we would further improve it, by suggesting,
1. In what spirit we should hear the word—
[We should not come to the house of God in a mere customary manner, for example sake, or to perform a duty, and still less to be amused with what we hear: but, as Cornelius and his friends, when Peter came to minister unto them, said, “Now are we all here before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God;” so should we come up to the house of God to “hear what the Lord our God shall say concerning us.” We should come to learn our duty, in order that we may practise it. We should bless our God that so sublime a privilege is accorded to us. We should come as a patient to receive the counsels of his physician, with a determination of heart to follow his prescriptions. A mariner, if amongst shoals and quicksands, does not consult his chart and compass for amusement, or with a disposition to dispute their testimony, but with a desire to have every mistake rectified, and to navigate his ship through the dangerous passage, agreeably to their direction. O! when will Christian assemblies meet in this frame? When will God’s ordinances be thus improved for their proper end? Brethren, only reflect on the office of true wisdom, as delineated in the passage before us and you will never want either a direction or a motive for a profitable attendance on the means of grace.]
2. With what care we should improve it—
[The word we hear will judge us in the last day; and if we do not take occasion from it to follow the counsels of the Most High, we shall greatly aggravate our guilt before God. The word we hear, if it prove not “a savour of life unto life, will become to us a savour of death unto death.” The lessons of wisdom had better never have been delivered to us, than be suffered to pass away without a suitable improvement of them. Our blessed Lord told his hearers, that if he had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but that now they had no cloak for their sin. And so must I also say unto you. All that you have heard respecting the evil of sin, the sufficiency of Christ, the beauty of holiness, of what use will it be to you, if it do not humble you as sinners, encourage you as penitents, and animate you as believers? I pray you, neglect not the day of your visitation, nor “hold the truth in unrighteousness:” but receive the truth in the love of it: and deliver your souls into it as a mould, that it may fashion you after the image of your God. And never imagine that you have got above the use of ordinances, or that it is of no profit to attend upon them: they are the golden pipes through which, to your latest hour, you must receive the golden oil into your lamps: and through the supplies of the Spirit which you may receive by them, you may hope that your path shall shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.”]
BENEFITS OF TRUE WISDOM
Proverbs 2:10-22. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul, discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: to deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things: who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and they froward in their paths: to deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words; which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God: for her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead. None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life; that thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous. For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it: but the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.
WHETHER we regard Solomon as a saint walking with his God, or as a backslider restored to God, we must consider him as pre-eminently qualified to give advice for the regulation of our conduct: for, as a saint, he was endued with wisdom above all the children of men; and, as a backslider, he had a wider range for his wickedness, and a deeper experience of its folly, than any other person ever possessed.
Under the character of “wisdom,” he here speaks of true religion; which he recommends to all, but especially to persons in early life; and, in order to impress his advice the more deeply on our minds, he sets before us,
I. The benefits derived from true wisdom—
When once religion is deeply rooted in the heart, it will render us the most essential services—
1. It will keep us from the society of ungodly men—
[There are many whose delight is in wickedness: they have departed from God themselves, and have “made crooked paths for themselves;” in which they proceed with all imaginable “frowardness” and perverseness. Disdaining to receive any light from God or his word, they “walk in utter darkness, not at all knowing whither they go [Note: ver. 13. with 1 John 2:11.].” And not content with casting off all restraint themselves, and walking after their own lusts in all manner of uncleanness, they wish to draw all they can along with them: they deride all serious piety, and labour to the uttermost to turn aside from the way of godliness any who may be inclined to it [Note: 1 Peter 4:4.] — — — “They rejoice to do evil:” and, if they can but succeed in their efforts to ensnare a person who has been fleeing from sin, and to divert him from following after God, not even Satan himself will exult more than they — — —
Now from such companions true religion will preserve us. We shall see at once how far they are from God, and how impossible it is to be happy in their society: “for what fellowship can righteousness have with unrighteousness; or light with darkness; or Christ with Belial; or he that believeth with an unbeliever [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-15.]?” Instead of seeking their society, therefore, we shall come out from among them, and be separate [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17.];” and not have any fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them [Note: Ephesians 5:11.]” — — —]
2. It will keep us from the snares also of ungodly women—
[It is lamentable to think how degraded human nature is, and how assimilated to the very beasts multitudes are, who were originally formed in the image of their God. Females, married, as well as unmarried, “forsaking the guide of their youth and the covenant of their God,” will abandon themselves to the most vicious courses, soliciting the embrace of men to whom they are utter “strangers,” and practising every species of artifice, to ensnare and vitiate all who come in their way — — —
And such is their influence over those whom they have once ensnared, that it is a miracle almost if even one is recovered to a sense of his duty, and is brought back again in penitential sorrow to his God [Note: ver. 19.]. Truly their ways lead down to death and to hell [Note: Proverbs 5:3-5; Proverbs 7:26-27.]: for not only do they draw men from all thoughtfulness about their souls, but they bring them into extravagances and crimes, which not unfrequently issue in suicide, or death by the hands of the public executioner.
But from these also will vital piety preserve us. It will lead us to use all the precautions against them, that a prudent government employs against the infection of the plague. We shall have no communication with person, whose very presence will endanger the life of our souls. We shall not go near their houses, or the places of their resort [Note: Proverbs 5:8.]. We shall not parley with temptation when it comes in our way: but shall flee from it, as Joseph did, saying, “How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God [Note: Genesis 39:9.]?” — — —]
3. It will guide us in the paths of righteousness and peace—
[When once true religion enters into the soul, we shall take the Scriptures for our guide, and endeavour to walk in the paths which all the holy men of old have trod before us [Note: ver. 20.]. We shall not be satisfied with following the customs of those around us, or with conforming to the standard of duty which the world approves; we shall desire to be “holy, as God is holy:” and shall determine through grace to “perfect holiness in the fear of God” — — —]
Such being the effects of true wisdom, I will proceed to point out to you,
II. The vast importance of seeking after it—
Both the promises and threatenings of the Mosaic law were chiefly of a temporal nature; the people who served God faithfully being encouraged to expect peace and plenty in the land of Canaan; whilst those who were disobedient to his laws were to be visited with war, famine, pestilence, and ultimately to be driven out of that land, as the Canaanites had been before them. But under these figures truths of far higher moment were veiled: and the present and eternal states of men were shadowed forth as indissolubly connected with their moral and religious character. Hence the contrast drawn between the sentence accorded to “the upright” and “the wicked” in the concluding verses of our text, must be understood as referring to their respective states,
1. In this world—
[“Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come [Note: 1 Timothy 4:8.].” Certainly in this world there is an immense “difference between those who serve God, and those who serve him not [Note: Malachi 3:18.].” We readily grant that the ungodly and profane may prosper in respect of outward things, and that the saints may be in a state of degradation and oppression [Note: Psalms 73:3-10.]: but there is no comparison between the real happiness of the one and of the other: the ungodly are “like the troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt [Note: Isaiah 57:20-21.]:” they are agitated by many ungovernable and conflicting passions: their tempers are a source of continual disquietude [Note: Romans 3:16-17.]: and they have no inward resources to calm the tumult of their minds — — — But the godly have consolations peculiar to themselves, and abundantly sufficient to counterbalance their afflictions. They have a God to go unto; a God, who says, “Cast thy burthen on the Lord, and he will sustain thee.” The very tribulations which they endure for righteousness sake, are to them a ground of glorying [Note: Romans 5:3.]: and the light of God’s countenance lifted up upon them their their souls with joy and peace, even with “a joy that is unspeakable,” and “a peace that passeth all understanding.”
If then we look no further than to this present life, we do not hesitate to declare, that “the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil, that is understanding [Note: Job 28:28.].”]
2. In the world to come—
[“There is a rest which remaineth for the people of God [Note: Hebrews 4:9.];” a rest, into which the true Joshua shall introduce them, as soon as ever they shall have completed the period fixed for their abode in this dreary wilderness: and there shall they “remain” for ever: there shall they be as “pillars in the temple of their God and shall go no more out [Note: ver. 21. with Revelation 3:12.].” But how shall I represent their happiness in that place where there will be no remains of those evils which they experienced in this world [Note: Revelation 21:4.]; and where every blessing which they here sought for, shall be imparted to the utmost extent of their desires, and of their capacities for enjoyment [Note: Psal. 16:11.] — — —
On the other hand, there is a day of retribution for the ungodly, when they shall not only be “convinced of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodlily committed, and of all their hard speeches which they have spoken against the Lord and his ways, but will have judgment executed upon them” by the Judge of quick and dead [Note: Jude. ver. 15.]. And what words can ever suffice to give an adequate idea of their misery, when, driven from the presence of their God, and from the congregation of his saints [Note: Psalms 1:5. Luke 13:28.], they shall be consigned to those regions of misery, where they will take their portion in “the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone,” and “dwell for ever with everlasting burnings!” — — —
If men would but reflect one moment on these consequences of their impiety, there would be no longer any occasion to descant on the wisdom of seeking after God, or the folly of provoking his displeasure by a life of sin.]
Let us learn then,
1. To form a right estimate of religion—
[Religion is wisdom, even though the whole world should combine to call it folly — — —]
2. To seek it in due measure—
[To receive it into the head is to little purpose: the proper seat of it is the heart. Nor is it sufficient that we yield a constrained obedience to it: its service should in our estimation be accounted perfect freedom. It is only “when wisdom enters into our heart, and knowledge it pleasant to our soul,” that we can be said to have received the grace of God in truth. The worldly man is at home in the world: it is his element wherein he moves. And such must religion be to the child of God, his rest, his element, his delight — — —]
3. To let it have its full operation on our souls—
[Wherever true wisdom is, there will be “discretion to preserve us, and understanding to keep us [Note: Proverbs 2:11.].” We conceive this observation to be deserving of peculiar attention; because the indiscretions of religious people are rarely traced to their proper source, a want of right dispositions in the heart. Where meekness, and modesty, and diffidence, and humility reside in the heart, there will be a corresponding propriety of conduct in the life: but where pride, and conceit, and forwardness, and self-will are predominant, there will the deportment savour of these hateful qualities in all our intercourse with mankind. There is this remarkable difference between human wisdom and that which is divine: human wisdom leaves the heart untouched, or even administers fuel to its corruptions: but divine wisdom “pours the very soul into the mould of the Gospel [Note: Romans 6:17. The Greek.],” and assimilates all its dispositions to the image of God himself. It was not Paul’s eminence in intellectual attainments that made him so eminent in Christian tempers: it was the abundance of God’s grace that rendered him so fruitful in every good word and work: and, if the grace of God abound in us, we also shall proportionality adorn the Gospel in the whole of our life and conversation. Lot that then be remembered which Solomon has told us, “I Wisdom dwell with Prudence [Note: Proverbs 8:12.]:” and let us be careful that we do not by any indiscreet conduct give “occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” Our determination, through grace, must be, to cut off from the world all unnecessary occasion of offence. We must not imagine that our separation from an ungodly world gives us a licence to violate either the duties or the charities of life; but, whilst we “abstain from all appearance of evil,” we must cultivate to the uttermost not only “whatsoever things are true, and honest, and just, and pure, but whatsoever things are lovely and of good report [Note: Philippians 4:8.].” We must labour to “behave ourselves wisely in a perfect way [Note: Psalms 101:2.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Proverbs 2". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany