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WRITTEN ON BOARD THE WATERLOO, MARCH 3 AND 4, 1824.
PROVERBS, 111. 17.
“ Her (Wisdom's) ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her
paths are peace.”
The Divine Being,—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the only living and true God,—is the Supreme Wisdom. His knowledge of what is best, and of the means of effecting it, is infinite: hence, in the New Testament, he is styled “ The only wise God.” The creation of the universe is ascribed to his wisdom. “The Lord, by wisdom, hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew.” And, in the work of human redemption, the angels are said to perceive the “ manifold wisdom of God.”
The Almighty is the source of all created wisdom. The wonderful instincts of animals are from him; the skill of ingenious men is his gift; and the powers, or faculties, of the human soul, fitting it for the attainment of wisdom, both natural and spiritual, are from God.
Wisdom's ways, spoken of in our text, denote the paths of human duty, in which Heaven directs man to walk, and which lead to happiness.
There is a large party of men in the world, (some of them ingenious and learned men, but proud opposers of the true wisdom,) who set up notions of their own, instead of, or in opposition to, that wisdom which cometh down from Heaven : their system the Bible calls the wisdom of this world, which shall come to nought, and end in disappointment and misery.
There is no age nor condition in life in which a man can be placed, that can prevent his finding the ways of true wisdom. He may know them, and walk in them, if he will, although ever so poor, and although he may not know a letter of a book. Therefore no man should be discouraged, but think and act for himself, in this matter, as becomes a man. Nor should any man deceive himself so far as to imagine, that because he has no scholarship, it is therefore excusable in him to disregard the ways of wisdom, and wander in the downward paths of folly. Nor may those who have some scholarship think that they are superior men, and above attending to those instructions of wisdom, which are suited to poor people and servants. The ways of heavenly wisdom are for all ranks and conditions of men.
I. Let us, therefore, try to ascertain from the Bible what those ways are. And, in the first place, it is written, (Ps. iii. 10.) “ The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The Lord is that great and awful Being who made the world, and who rules over it as the King of kings and Judge of all mankind. He is that gracious and merciful Being who hears the groaning of the prisoners, and of those appointed to death ; who hears the prayers of the distressed, and sends help from his holy temple. He is the Giver of life and health to the poor, and of power and wealth to the great amongst men. He is the Creator and Benefactor, the Father of all intelligent creatures ; and therefore all good angels and good men fear him. They fear bim, not as a cruel master, not as an enemy; but as a Superior, as a father, as the greatest and best of Beings. Some people cavil at the word fear, as
if it denoted a degrading feeling ;-like a child being afraid in the dark, or a coward being afraid of another man, or of some danger that threatened him: but this is not fair ; it seems to suppose that the Almighty is an imaginary being, or that he is our equal, or that he is a bad being, all of which are very shocking suppositions. For a child to fear, as well as to love, a good parent, is a very proper feeling: for a man to be afraid of an earthquake, which makes the mountains tremble, is not cowardice. Since a good parent will not be angry with, nor chastise or punish a child, without just cause, a child should always be afraid of incurring such a parent's displeasure ; for this is the same as being afraid to do wrong; and to be afraid of incurring the divine displeasure is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord implies a knowledge of the Almighty's greatness, and goodness, and justice, and a desire never to do any thing undutiful, or bad, or unjust; and he who does not desire to possess this fear is a bad man by his own confession; and he who curses and swears, and pretends not to be afraid of the divine punishments, is as great a fool as the man who defies the lightning or the earthquake. Boys sometimes think that swearing and bad language makes them look manly, but it only shews that they are fools. Our Saviour said, “ Fear not them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do; but I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear. Fear Him, who, when he hath killed, hath power to cast both soul and body into hell. Yea, I say unto you, fear Him." Any
you who have a reverence for God, and a dread of wicked language and conduct, be not afraid when your comrades swear at you, and treat you with contempt and ridicule, and call you Methodists; these sneers are all trifles, compared with the cruel mockings, and tortures, and deaths, which many confessors and martyrs have endured, without fear, and without impatience. Never be ashamed to own that you fear God, and then you need fear none else. It was a proper answer given by a soldierofficer, * who refused a challenge, “I am not afraid to
* Colonel Gardiner,
fight, but I am afraid to sin.” Man may mock me, and call me a coward; but as I think duelling sinful, I fear God and not man. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ; it lies at the foundation of all true religion and morality. It checks and puts a stop to all profane thoughts, and language, and conduct. Hence the Bible describes the wicked man as one who has cast off the fear of God, and as one who has no fear of God before his eyes.
He who truly fears God is a religious and holy man, or, in other words, a pious and moral man.
Now, since this reverence for the Divine Being is the beginning of wisdom's ways, it follows, that some modern notions about leaving religion out of the education of children is a foolish method. A regard to the Almighty in the human heart, is the main-spring of all that is good : without it, all the machinery of education will not work, nor produce a good man. Every body knows that reading and writing, known by a man of bad principles, only makes him more mischievous than he could well be without them. And the same is true of the higher branches of education; although they polish the surface of society, they may exist together with the utmost depravity, cruelty, and injustice, and therefore the utmost folly. Yes! religion is the beginning of wisdom! If you ask me, “What religion?” I answer, “ The fear of the Lord.” That is true religion ; and if a man is not afraid of sinning against God Almighty—if you hear him make a jest of what is sinfulhe is evidently not possessed of the true religion. He must still be numbered with the fools, as the Bible calls those who make a mock at sin, and who in vain pretend to belong to any church: but he who is afraid of offending Heaven has certainly begun to be wise, and has commenced the true religion; has entered the porch of the true church, and will advance as he increases in knowledge.
Having now ascertained the right way of setting out in the pursuit of wisdom, let us, in the
• Deut. xxviii. 5. 8. “ If thou wilt not-fear this glorious and fearful (or awful) name," the Lord thy God, “the Lord will make thy plagues wonderful.”
II. Next place, enquire concerning her paths, said to be pleasant and peaceful. And,
(1.) A humble, teachable disposition, and a desire and strenuous endeavour to learn, is declared to be one of the paths of wisdom; in confirmation of which, I shall quote some of the paragraphs in the Book of Proverbs.
(Prov. i. 8.) “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.” The advice and admonitions of good parents, next to the instructions derived from Heaven, should be carefully listened to and remembered by those who mean to do well; for parents have most right to direct, and they feel a deeper interest in their children than any other persons. Orphans should attend to the good advice given by teachers and the ministers of religion, or by older people and superiors, who themselves set a good example. The churches and chapels at home afford the means of instruction to all who, instead of wandering about the streets and fields, choose to attend them. And there are many small cheap books and tracts, containing excellent instruction, which those that can read may easily avail themselves of.
(Prov. xiii. 1.) “A wise son heareth his father's instructions, but a scorner heareth not rebuke.” And there is a promise annexed to a diligent study of what is good. (Chap. ii. ver. 2.) “ If thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thy heart to 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."
The Divine Wisdom condescends to entreat and persuade thoughtless man, and says, (Prov. i. 22.) “How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity ? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge ? Turn ye at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you; I will make known my words unto you.”
And, finally, against those who will not listen to the divine instruction a threatening is denounced. Heaven says to proud and untractable, unteachable men, “Because