Ecc_2:13. Then I saw, that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
THE more exact is our scrutiny into the things of this world, the more decided will be our judgment respecting them. If persons ever think highly of them, it is because they have never set down seriously to examine their true character, or laboured to form a right estimate respecting them. Solomon possessed means of ascertaining their real value beyond any other person that ever existed: for, possessing wisdom above any other of the sons of men, he had a greater capacity to extract all the sweetness that was in them; and, being a monarch, he could command all things through the whole range of nature, to present to him their tribute of gratification according to their respective abilities. But, after a minute examination of every thing, he was constrained to give this, at last, as the result of his experience: “Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.”
Now this, I conceive, refers in part to human wisdom, as occupied in intellectual pursuits. For it is certain, that amongst objects that relate only to this present life, there is nothing to be compared with this. Intellect is that which distinguishes man from the brute creation; and the enlargement of it with arts and sciences is that which elevates man above his fellows. The cultivation of it is more suited to the dignity of man than the gratification of his sensual appetites: in all of which the beasts have as large a capacity of enjoyment as he. The pleasures arising from it are also less apt to cloy: and will endure, when a taste for other enjoyments is passed away. It will gratify, also, when it is not the object of immediate pursuit; because it will supply in reflection much of what it conferred in the actual acquisition. It is also of great use, and qualifies a man for conferring extensive benefits on the world; at the same time that it opens to him a thousand channels of pleasure which are utterly unknown to the unfurnished mind. A person habituated only to bodily exertion has no conception what a fund of satisfaction the exercises of the mind supply, or what delight attaches to the investigation of science and the discovery of truth. Corporeal indulgences, indeed, strike more strongly upon the senses; and therefore, to a carnal mind, seem to furnish a greater measure of delight. But the more eagerly they are sought, the less pleasure they afford; and they bring with them, for the most part, many painful consequences: so that, in comparison of intellectual pursuits, they deserve the name of “folly;” whilst the prosecution of the other may properly be called “wisdom,” Yet it must be confessed, that there is much truth in that observation of Solomon, “In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow [Note: Ecc_1:18.].” For “much study is undoubtedly a weariness to the flesh [Note: Ecc_12:12.].” and it is often followed by painful disappointment, I conceive, therefore, that we are by no means to limit the import of our text to human wisdom; but must extend it to that which is divine: in reference to which we may say, without any limitation or exception, “It excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.”
Of this therefore, even of spiritual wisdom, I will now proceed to speak; and its transcendent excellence I will point out in reference to,
Its own proper character—
“Wisdom” is another word for piety—
[Piety in the Scriptures is frequently called by this name. Job says, “The fear of the Lord that is wisdom [Note: Job_28:28.].” And Moses prays, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom [Note: Psa_90:12.].”
But, not to rest in a mere general definition of the term, I shall consider it as embracing these two points. The receiving of the Gospel, as sinners; and the adorning of it, as saints.
The very first part of wisdom is to receive the Gospel of salvation into our hearts. We all need it; nor can any human being be saved without it; and God offers to us all the blessings of it, freely, without money and without price. Were we under a sentence of death from a human tribunal, and were offered mercy by the Prince, it would be accounted wisdom to accept the offer, and folly to reject it. How much more is it our wisdom to accept a deliverance from eternal death, together with all the glory and felicity of heaven! This must commend itself to every man who reflects but for a moment: and to despise these proffered benefits must, of necessity, be regarded as folly, bordering upon madness
The next part of wisdom must be, to adorn that Gospel by a holy life and conversation; since it cannot otherwise be ultimately of any avail for our acceptance with God. The very intent of the Gospel is to transform man into the Divine image, and thereby to prepare him for the enjoyment of his God; and if this be not attained, heaven itself would be no place of happiness to him. Indeed, if a man profess to embrace the Gospel, and yet continue to walk unworthy of it, he dishonours God far more than he could do whilst he made no such profession: for he “tramples under foot the Son of God, and counts the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and does despite unto the Spirit of Grace [Note: Heb_10:29.];” yea, he crucifies the Son of God afresh, and puts him to an open shame [Note: Heb_6:6.].” I think, therefore, that the pursuit of holiness in all its branches, with an uniform endeavour to glorify our God, must commend itself to every considerate mind, as true “wisdom.”]
And this far excelleth “folly”—
[I will not go into particulars to characterize “folly:” it shall suffice to take the most lenient view of it that can be imagined: I will comprehend under it no positive vice, nothing that can render it odious in the eyes of men: I will take it only in a negative view, as importing a neglect of the two foregoing dictates of sound wisdom. And now I will ask, Who does not see the superiority of wisdom; and that “it excelleth folly as 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 [Note: Ecc_11:7.].” And precisely thus does piety approve itself to every beholder j whilst a neglect of God presents nothing but gloom, the end of which no human imagination can reach.]
Let us view wisdom next,
In its influence on this present life—
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 darkness [Note: ver. 14.].” 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.]
But let us trace “wisdom” yet further,
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,
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 us 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 — — —]
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 not [Note: Isa_5:20.]. 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 gold [Note: Pro_16:16.].” 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.]