Charles Simeon Commentary - Ecclesiastes 7:12 - 7:12

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Ecclesiastes 7:12 - 7:12


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THE EXCELLENCY OF SPIRITUAL WISDOM

Ecc_7:12. Window is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.

TO have our minds well regulated in reference to religion, is most desirable. There is, in reality, no discordance between the duties which we owe to God and to man; or between our callings as men, and our callings as Christians. The things which relate to this world demand our attention, as well as those which relate to a future state. If, on the one hand, our worldly pursuits ought not to thrust out religion; so neither, on the other hand, should our pursuit of heavenly things lead us to neglect any part of our worldly occupations. God has said, “Six days shalt thou labour; but the seventh day thou shalt keep holy to the Lord.” This shews, that we then only perform our duty aright, when we comprehend in our daily services a well-regulated devotion to the concerns of time, and to the interests of eternity. The two great objects of general pursuit are, “wisdom, and money.” The one is followed only by a select portion of the community; the other is sought by all; but, whichever of the two any man affects, provided he give to heavenly pursuits the chief place, he does right to prosecute it with zeal and diligence: being “not slothful in business, and yet fervent in spirit, serving the Lord [Note: Rom_12:11.].” This combination of duties is spoken of in our text: for the elucidation of which, I will shew,

I.       The excellency of wisdom above riches—

We are here told, that both wisdom and money are good in their place—

[Both the one and the other of these are “a defence,” or, as the word imports. “a shadow.” Now, as a shadow affords to persons a protection from the heat of the solar rays, so do wisdom and money screen him from many of the calamities of life: and afford to him many sources of enjoyment, of which those who are not possessed of them are deprived. Money will enable a person to choose his employment in life, whilst the most menial and painful offices are left for those who are not able to choose for themselves. It provides also many comforts, to which the poor are altogether strangers. In a time of sickness, especially, its use is felt; for, by means of it its possessors often obtain relief, for the want of which their poor neighbours are left to sink. So wisdom also brings with it very extensive benefits, in that it elevates the character, and qualifies a man for stations, to which, from birth, he was not entitled to aspire. It provides, also, good occupation for the mind; so that a man possessed of it is never less alone than when alone. Thus it protects him from that state of degradation to which many, for want of it, are reduced; and from that listlessness which induces persons of an uncultivated mind to betake themselves to some evil employment for the sole purpose of getting rid of time.

True, indeed, neither wisdom nor money can protect us from every evil: disease or accident may assault one person as well as another: nor can they afford entire protection under any circumstances, any more than a shadow can altogether remove the heat of the atmosphere. But, as a shadow, they may screen us from much evil, and alleviate many pains which they cannot entirely ward off.]

But wisdom has an excellency far above money—

[Wisdom is more our own than money, which soon “makes itself wings and flies away.” In many respects, also, has it a tendency to promote our welfare in life, beyond money. Riches rather contract the mind than enlarge it; whereas wisdom expands the mind, and dispels that conceit and insolence which characterize a purse-proud man. Money, too, when not combined with wisdom, leads a man into every species of dissipation and folly, and opens to him temptations to every kind of sensual indulgence. But wisdom provides for his mind such occupations as place him at a distance from temptation, and especially when his facilities for profuse expenditure are on a contracted scale. And thus the man of wisdom moves in a far safer and happier sphere; his pleasures being more refined, and his employments more innocent. I may further observe, that riches render us a prey to designing men; and subject us to many vexations, to which less opulent persons are but little exposed: whereas wisdom holds not forth any such baits to dishonest and designing men; who, if not disposed to join with us in our pursuits, will leave us, without interruption, to prosecute our own. Nor is it the least excellence of wisdom that it induces thoughtful habits, which are favourable to sobriety, to meditation, and to a candid investigation of conflicting interests: whilst money rather tends to dissipate thought, and to fix the mind only on present indulgences. In a word, money, without wisdom, tends to the destruction of life; whereas wisdom, freed from the temptations of wealth, tends rather to the presentation of life, and to the securing of that equanimity which, to a worldly man, is the main source of comfort in the world.]

Whilst we thus acknowledge that both wisdom and money have, though in different degrees, their respective excellencies, we are constrained to maintain,

II.      The excellence of spiritual wisdom above them both—

The benefit ascribed to wisdom in the latter clause of my text necessarily leads our thoughts to a different kind of wisdom from that which is mentioned in the former clause. And we find the same distinction made by the Prophet Jeremiah: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might: let not the rich man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord, which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth [Note: Jer_9:23-24.].” Here is a spiritual wisdom spoken of, which infinitely exceeds all that the wisest or richest of unenlightened men can possess. To make this clear, let it be remembered,

1.       A man may possess all the wisdom and all the riches of the world, and yet be dead: but the smallest measure of spiritual wisdom “giveth life to them that have it”—

[The manna which God gave by Moses to the Israelites in the wilderness supported life, but could not give it: whereas our Lord and Saviour, whom that manna typified, gives life to all who believe on him [Note: Joh_6:47-51.]. Now spiritual wisdom consists in the knowledge of Christ; as Christ himself has said. “This is life eternal, to know the the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent [Note: Joh_17:3.]” And if we be but “babes in Christ,” still “have we passed from death unto life,” and “are become new creatures in Christ Jesus [Note: 2Co_5:17.].”]

2.       Wisdom and riches too frequently lead men to self-confidence and creature-dependence; whereas spiritual wisdom invariably humbles the soul, and leads it to seek its all in Christ—

[A life of faith upon the Son of God is the very essence of all spiritual wisdom [Note: Gal_2:20.] — — —]

3.       By carnal wisdom, and by wealth, men are often betrayed into a contempt of all religion; whereas spiritual wisdom brings with it such a love to religion as gradually transforms the soul into the divine image—

[Yes, in truth, faith, if genuine, will “purify the heart [Note: Act_15:9.];” and “he that hath a hope in Christ will purify himself, even as he is pure [Note: 1Jn_3:3.]” — — —]

4.       A man possessing wisdom and riches in their utmost extent, may perish; but a man that is wise towards God, is made “wise unto salvation [Note: 2Ti_3:15.]”—

[Hence it was that St. Paul, who in his unconverted state possessed a very abundant measure of these earthly talents, “considered them all but as dross and dung, in comparison of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ [Note: Php_3:7-8.].” And hence Moses, also, who had attained all the learnings of the Egyptians, and was next in power to the king upon the throne, regarded it all as unworthy of a thought, not only for the crown of Christ, but in comparison of his cross; “esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt [Note: Heb_11:26.].” Yes, spiritual wisdom “has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come [Note: 1Ti_4:8.]:” and fully merits that high encomium which the wisest of men has bestowed upon it [Note: Pro_3:13-18.] — — — “Whose findeth it, findeth life, and shall to all eternity obtain favour of the Lord [Note: Pro_8:35.].”]

Let us then learn,

1.       To form a correct estimate of all that is before us—

[Earthly things are not to be despised. Religious persons just emerging from darkness unto light, are apt to pour contempt on wealth as if it were good for nothing, and greatly also to undervalue even intellectual attainments. But we should give to every thing its due. Even to money are we indebted for numberless comforts, and to wisdom for much more; because to money enables us to procure. Doubtless, in comparison of spiritual attainments, those which have respect only to the things of time and sense are of but little value. We may say of the moon and stars, that they are of small utility to us in comparison of the sun: but this does not render them of no value in themselves. The heavenly bodies possess great beauty and utility, notwithstanding they are eclipsed by the sun: and the true war to judge of their value to us is, to consider how painful the loss of them would be. So, whilst to heavenly things we ascribe, as we ought to do, a paramount importance, let us remember, that, for the purposes of this life at least, those things which are mainly regarded by the unregenerate, are, in their place, deserving also the attention of th godly. We may say of them, as our blessed Lord does of some other things of subordinate importance, “These things ought ye to do, and not to leave the other undone.”]

2.       To seek every thing according to its real importance—

[When it is said, “Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life, we are not to take the expressions absolutely, but only comparatively; exactly as when it is said, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” I say, then, to those who are engaged in worldly business, Follow it diligently: and to those who are prosecuting any department of science, Strive to excel in it: “Whatever your hand findeth to do, do it with all your might [Note: Ecc_9:10.].” The point on which I would entertain a jealousy is, “the placing of your affections on any thing here below; for they are to be reserved exclusively for things above [Note: Col_3:2.],” But I am aware that there is great reason for caution on this head. I well know how easy it is to enter with zeal into earthly pursuits; and how difficult to maintain the same ardour in the prosecution of heavenly things. Let me then remind you, that, whatever importance you may assign to the things of time and sense, they have no real importance, by reason of the superior importance of the things which are spiritual and eternal. These must occupy the whole soul, and engage all its powers. We must “run as in a race;” and “strive as for the mastery;” and “fight” as for our very lives: and we may rest assured, that the crown of victory that shall be awarded to us, will recompense all the labours we have endured, in the prosecution of our duty, and in the service of our God.]