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far as light excelleth darkness?" “ Darkness" hath nothing whatever to commend it: it is utterly destitute of every good quality: whereas " light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." And precisely thus does piety approve itself to every beholder; whilst a neglect of God presents nothing but gloom, the end of which no human imagination can reach.)
Let us view wisdom next,
There is not a moment of our lives over which it does not cast a benign influence
[In bringing us to the foot of the Cross, it is the means of effecting our reconciliation with God, and of filling the soul with peace and joy --- In stirring us up to mortify our corruptions, it keeps us from innumerable snares to which others are exposed, and from troubles in which others are involved. This seems to have been particularly in Solomon's mind, when he penned the words of my text: for he adds immediately, “ The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darknessh." It conduces also most essentially to the benefit of all around us. It tends to check vice and wickedness in the world, and to promote virtue in every possible way. It calls forth all the acts and offices of love, both in the professor himself, and in all who come within the sphere of its influence. It greatly honours God too, and tends to the advancement of his kingdom upon earth. There is no end to the benefits of true wisdom : for, so far as it prevails and operates, it repairs the ruins of the Fall; and changes this wretched, miserable world into a very Paradise.] In this respect, how widely different is “folly!"
[See the world as it is, and then you will see what "folly" has done. Enter into the bosoms of men, and see how full they are of all hateful tempers and dispositions, and how utterly destitute of every thing like solid peace. See what jarrings it has introduced into society, insomuch that there is scarcely to be found a single family which is not more or less torn with disputes and disagreements. See what evils it diffuses on every side; and then say in what light it appears as compared with wisdom. I boldly ask, Does not wisdom excel it "as far as light excelleth darkness?” Darkness is suited to nothing but the deeds of darkness, and the sanguinary excursions of beasts of prey: whereas light administers to the welfare of all, and enables every member of society to execute his functions for the good of the whole : so that in this respect, also, the comparison is fitly made.] & Eccl. xi. 7.
But let us trace “ wisdom” yet further, III. In its effects upon the eternal world
[It is here that the great excellence of wisdom will be chiefly found. If there were no future state, folly might, with some semblance of truth, compete with wisdom, because its gratifications are so strong to the organs of sense. But, when we view the aspect of wisdom upon eternity, and reflect that every one of its dictates has a direct tendency to fit the soul for heaven and to augment its eternal bliss, whilst the operations of folly have a directly opposite bearing, all competition between them vanishes; since heaven and hell might as well bear a comparison as they. In truth, the light of heaven and its glory afford a just illustration of the one; whilst “ the blackness of darkness" in the regions of hell gives but too just a portrait of the other. The one brings us to the divine image; the other reduces us to the likeness of beasts and devils : the one ensures to us the everlasting fruition of our God; the other entails upon us his everlasting displeasure. In requiring you, therefore, to receive the declaration of my text, that “Wisdom excelleth folly as far as light excelleth darkness,” I do nothing but what every conscience must assent to, and every judgment approve.] Permit me, then, in conclusion to ASK, 1. What is the judgment you have already formed ?
[I know that in theory you will all accede to this statement. But what has been your practical judgment? If we look at your lives, what will they attest to have been your views of this subject? Has wisdom there shone, and folly been put to shame? Have you really been living with a view to the eternal world, embracing the Gospel thankfully as sinners, and adorning it as saints. I ask not what "you have said” with your lips, but what "
you have said” in your lives. It is not by your professions, but by your practice, that God will judge you; and therefore it is by that standard that you must judge yourselves --]
2. What is the conduct you intend hereafter to pursue ?
[The world, I acknowledge, gives its voice in direct opposition to the foregoing statement. It represents religion as folly, and the prosecution of carnal enjoyments as wisdom. But its “ calling good evil, and evil good,” will not change their respective natures: nor, if the whole world should unite in putting darkness for light, or light for darkness, will either of them lose its own qualities, and assume those of the other. “ Sweet" will be sweet, and “bitter” bitter, whether men will believe it or noti. Will you then go contrary to the convictions of your own minds, in compliment to an ungodly world? Or will you, for fear of offending them, sacrifice the interests of your immortal souls? I call upon you to seek “ wisdom, which is more to be chosen than fine goldk." Let your whole life declare its value, and be a standing testimony against the folly of the ungodly. So shall you have in this world a sweet experience of my text, and enjoy an ample confirmation of it in the world above.] i Isai, v. 20.
k Prov. xvi. 16.
THE DIFFERENT PORTIONS OF THE RIGHTEOUS AND WICKED.
Eccl. ii. 26. God giveth to a man that is good in his sight,
wisdom, and knowledge, and joy : but to the sinner he giveth travail.
IN relation to earthly things, men run into two opposite extremes: some seeking their happiness altogether in the enjoyment of them; and others denying themselves the proper and legitimate use of them, in order that they may amass wealth for some future possessor. But both of these classes are unwise: the former, in that they look for that in the creature which is not to be found in it; and the latter, in that, without any adequate reason, they deprive themselves of comforts which God has designed them to enjoy. A temperate use of the good things of this life is no where forbidden: on the contrary,
66 there is," as Solomon informs us, “nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour.” Doubtless this concession must be taken with certain restrictions; for we are not to spend all our substance on ourselves, but to be doing good with it to others : nor are we to suppose that our life consists in the abundance of the things that we possess, but to be seeking our happiness in God. That which alone will impart solid happiness, is religion : for to the good man God giveth what shall render him truly blessed; namely, wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail.”
From these words I shall take occasion to shew you,
I. The different portions of the righteous and the
wickedThe world may be divided into two denominations; the righteous, and the wicked.
“ To the righteous, God gives wisdom, and knowledge, and joy”—
[As to carnal wisdom, I am not sure that the wicked have not in general the advantage; as it is said, “The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of lighta." But the godly have a discernment of earthly things, or, as my text expresses it, a “wisdom and knowledge” in relation to them, which no ungodly man has ever attained. The godly see the true use of worldly things; and how they may be rendered conducive to the honour of God, and the good of the soul. As instruinents for advancing the welfare of mankind, they may be desired and employed to good effect: and in this mode of using them God will confer real and abiding “joy.” Even the portion of them which is consumed upon ourselves will be relished with a richer zest; for “God has given us all things richly to enjoy:" but the thought of honouring God with them, and benefiting mankind, will give to them a kind of sanctified enjoyment, of such as was received from the harvest of which the first-fruits had been duly consecrated to the Lord. The good man does not merely enjoy the things themselves : he enjoys God in them; and, in so doing, has the " testimony of his own conscience that he pleases God.” Nor is he unconscious that he is laying up treasure in heaven, even “ bags which wax not old, and a treasure which never faileth."] “ To the sinner,” on the other hand,
“ he giveth travail"
[A man who neglects his God, can find no happiness in earthly things: in his pursuit of them, he is filled with care, which robs him of all real comforta: in his enjoyment of them, they prove empty and cloying, "his very laughter being only as the crackling of thorns under a pot:" and, his mind being alienated from God, he has no source of peace from religion. Truly " the way of transgressors is harde;" or rather I must say, as the Scripture does, “ Destruction and misery are in their ways?." Remarkable is that declaration of Zophar, " In the midst of their sufficiency they are in straits 8.” And if this be their state in the midst of life and health, what must it be in a time of sickness and death? Most true is that declaration of Solomon: “What profit hath he that hath laboured for the a Luke xvi. 18.
b Luke xi. 41. c Luke xii. 33, 34. 1 Tim. vi. 19. d See ver. 22, 23. e Prov. xiii. 15. f Rom. ii. 16, 17. & Job xx. 22.
wind? All his days he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sicknessh.”
Thus, whilst the blessing of the Lord is upon the righteous, seeing that, whatever he bestow," he addeth no sorrow with it';" he mixes gall and wormwood with the sinner's cup, and “ infuses a curse into his choicest blessings.")
Let us now notice,
It is said in relation to both the righteous and the wicked, that “ God giveth to them” their respective portions: both the one and the other are “ from the hand of Godk.” In them we see, 1. The true nature of his moral government
[Even now is there far more of equity in the dispensations of God than a superficial observer would imagine. Doubtless there is a great difference in the states of different men; but the rich and great have troubles of which the poor and destitute have very little conception. The very state of mind fostered by their distinctions is by no means favourable to their happiness; and the habits of the poor so inure them to privations, that they feel much less trouble from them than one would imagine. But let piety enter into any soul; and we hesitate not to declare, that though he were a Lazarus at the Rich Man's gate, he were happier far than the man of opulence by whose crumbs he was fed. Peace of mind, arising from a sense of reconciliation with God, and a hope of final acceptance with him, is sufficient to weigh down all that an ungodly man ever did, or could, possess. And “the poorest man, if rich in faith and an heir of God's kingdom,” is more to be envied than the greatest monarch upon earth, who possesses not real piety.
But with equity, goodness also is observable in all the dispensations of Providence. That God is good to the great and opulent, will be readily acknowledged: but he is so to the sinner, whom he leaves to experience the most painful disappointments. If a mother embitter to her child the breast on which he would fondly live, it is that he may learn to affect a more substantial diet: and if God, after all the labour which men put forth to render the creature a source of comfort, cause it to become to them only as “a broken cistern that can hold no water,” it is only that they may the more readily turn to him, and seek him, as “ the fountain of living waters."] 2. The certain issue of his future judgment
[Is there, even in this world, “ a difference put between him who serveth God, and him who serveth him not?” Much h Eccl. v. 16, 17. i Prov. x. 22.