WISDOM NOTIONALLY APPROVED, BUT PRACTICALLY DISREGARDED
Ecc_9:14-16. There was a little city, and few men within it: and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man: and he by his wisdom delivered the city: yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.
WHETHER the account here given us was an actual occurrence, or only a parabolic representation, we will not undertake to determine: but certainly the event described may easily be supposed to have taken place, and to have come to the knowledge of Solomon. In fact, a precisely similar event had taken place within the memory of Solomon; the only difference being, that the city was saved by “a wise woman,” instead of “a poor wise man.” After the rebellion of Absalom had been suppressed, a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, caused the defection of all the tribes of Israel. David therefore sent an army to pursue Sheba, and to besiege any city in which he should have taken refuge. Joab finding that Sheba was shut up in a city called Abel, went and “battered the wall of the city, to throw it down.” Then “a wise woman” called to Joab, and remonstrated with him on the subject of the assault which he was making; and undertook, that, if he would suspend his assault, the object of his indignation should be sacrificed, and his head be cast over the wall. She then “went to all the people, in her wisdom,” and prevailed on them to execute her project; and thus effected by her wisdom the deliverance of the city, and the preservation of all its inhabitants [Note: 2Sa_20:1-2; 2Sa_20:6; 2Sa_20:15-22.]. The minute resemblance which there is between this history and the event mentioned in the text, renders it highly probable, that the passage before us is a parable, founded upon the very fact which is here recorded.
But, whether it be a fact, or a parable, with what view is it mentioned? Some think that it is intended to represent the work of redemption by our Lord Jesus Christ, and the sad neglect with which he is treated, notwithstanding the benefits he has conferred. According to these persons, the interpretation is this. The little city, with a small garrison, is the Church, which confessedly consists of but “a little flock.” The great king who comes against it, and besieges it, is Satan, with all his hosts, even all the principalities and powers of hell. The poor wise man is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the counsels of eternal Wisdom, has devised a way for the deliverance of his people; yet after the deliverance he has wrought out for them, is by the generality most grievously neglected.
Now though there are parts of this which do not exactly accord with such an interpretation, yet we should not have altogether disapproved of the interpretation, provided Solomon himself had not given us any clew whereby to discover his real meaning: for it is not necessary that a parable should be applicable in all its parts: it is sufficient if in its main scope it be fitted to illustrate the point which it is intended to shadow forth. But we are precluded from affixing to this passage the sense which we have now suggested, because Solomon’s own reflection upon the supposed event determines beyond all controversy its precise import. Solomon intended to commend wisdom, as he frequently does in other parts of this book: in one place he exalts wisdom above folly [Note: Ecc_2:13.]; in another, above wealth [Note: Ecc_7:12.]; in another, above soldiers [Note: Ecc_7:19.], and weapons of war [Note: ver. 18.]. Thus in our text he exalts it above strength; “Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength.” Hence the subject for our consideration is two-fold;
The excellency of wisdom—
Wisdom is practical understanding, or knowledge regulated by sound judgment. Now this is greatly superior to physical force, in every point of view:
In relation to temporal concerns—
[The particular instance here adduced, the deliverance of a city by some extraordinary devices, will lead us to notice the operations of wisdom in the different departments of civilized life.
In war and politics it prevails far beyond mere bodily strength, however great. It is from superior skill in arms that we, who are so few in number, have been enabled to conquer an immense extent of territory, and by a very small army to keep in subjection eighty millions of people, who have scarcely one feeling, or one sentiment, in common with ourselves. And it is from the wisdom of our Constitution, and of our Governors, that we, under God, have rode out the storm which overwhelmed the rest of Europe, and have been enabled to rescue from their bondage the prostrate nations all around us. Had there been less wisdom at our helm, we, and all the nations of Europe, should probably at this moment have been sunk in the lowest state of degradation and misery.
In arts and manufactures the excellency of wisdom also most eminently appears. See the machinery that is used in every branch of trade! A few children are enabled to effect in a month what thousands of grown people could not by mere manual labour accomplish in a year.
Nor is the excellency of wisdom less visible in science and philosophy. Who can calculate the benefits that have arisen from the study of astronomy, and the invention of the compass? How light is all human strength when placed in the balance against these products of intellectual research!
In truth, it is wisdom which most elevates us above the beasts; and draws as broad a line of distinction between man and man, as light and darkness do in the material world.]
In relation to spiritual affairs—
[Here wisdom is all. See what mere human efforts can effect in heathen lands: what penances, what pilgrimages, what sufferings of different kinds, will men have recourse to, in order to obtain peace in their own souls! yet can they never obtain it. They may weary themselves even unto death, yet can they never secure to themselves any spiritual benefit whatever.
But let a man attend to the councils of wisdom given him by our blessed Lord, and all that he can desire is attained at once. Peace will flow into his soul, as soon as ever his conscience is sprinkled with the blood of Christ. His powers are invigorated with preter-natural strength, the moment he by faith apprehends the Lord Jesus: from being so weak as not to be able to do any thing, he becomes instantly so strong as to be “able to do all things [Note: Joh_15:2. Php_4:13.].” A new set of energies are developed, and such as Satan is not able to withstand. That enemy, who with assured confidence of success besieged the soul, is constrained, like Sennacherib, to flee with precipitation and disgrace [Note: Jam_4:7.]. In a word, the simple device of a “life of faith upon the Son of God” effects every thing, liberating the soul from all its bondage, and making it victorious over all its enemies.]
But from daily observation, we are constrained to lament,
The disregard shewn it, notwithstanding its acknowledged worth.
By how few are its dictates attended to as they ought to be! Alas! they are neglected and despised, by the great mass of mankind.
By the gay and thoughtless—
[They have no ear for the counsels of Wisdom. They will commend her in general terms; but will have as little as possible to do with her instructions. Let the parent labour ever so much to instil wisdom into the minds of his children, he will find, to his grief, that the enchantments of folly baffle all his efforts. It should seem no difficult task to prevail on them to think before they act, and to regulate their conduct by sound principles: but though he give “line upon line, and precept upon precept,” he will have reason to bless himself, if, after all his endeavours, his family do not embitter his days by their faults and follies. The word of God too may be acknowledged by them as good: but not a precept in it is suffered to have an ascendant over their mind. Sabbath after Sabbath are divine instructions poured into their ears; but none are suffered to descend into the heart. In fact, they are despised; and if obtruded upon the mind as principles of action, they are rejected with scorn and contempt.]
By the formal and self-righteous—
[Wisdom’s sublimest dictates are by these regarded as the reveries of a heated imagination. The whole life of faith is foolishness in the eyes of a self-righteous Pharisee. He sees no suitableness in it to the end proposed. He thinks that an attendance on ordinances, and a performance of some moral duties, are quite sufficient: Why should he mourn and weep? What is there in faith that can benefit his soul? Why may not his works find acceptance with God? In vain is he told that the Gospel is “the wisdom of God in a mystery;” and that the very angels in heaven are made wiser by the revelation of it to the Church [Note: Eph_3:10.]. In vain is he told what the Lord Jesus Christ, that “Wonderful Counsellor,” has done for the redemption of a ruined world, and will do in all who believe in him. No sense of obligation abides upon his mind; no expressions of gratitude flow from his lips: the Benefactor is forgotten, and the benefit despised: and he chooses rather to seek his resources within himself, than to depend for them on the bounty of another.]
The backsliding professor—
[The man who has once “professed godliness,” has given his testimony to the excellence of wisdom. But when he declines from the way of godliness, he revokes his testimony, and becomes an open advocate for folly: he proclaims to all, that the ways of wisdom are incapable of affording him any solid comfort; or, at all events, that there is more happiness to be found in the vanities of time and sense, than in the service of the living God. Yes, thou backslider, thou “exaltest folly, and praisest the wicked [Note: Pro_28:4.]:” and, if thou condemnest, as thou must, the inhabitants of the city that left their benefactor to pine away in poverty and contempt, much more must thou condemn thyself, who hast, by thy declensions, “crucified the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”]
Let me now improve the subject, by recommending to your adoption,
A life of consideration and thoughtfulness—
[The man who has begun to think and to consider, has already got more than half way to heaven. It is inconsideration that ruins the whole world. Would men but inquire from day to day, What have I done? Has it been consonant with the dictates of sound wisdom? Have I proposed to myself the best ends, and have I pursued them by the fittest means? how much evil would they avoid, and how much misery would they escape! O that I might prevail upon you to enter on such a course as this! Admirable is that advice of Solomon, “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house [Note: Pro_24:27.].” This is what any prudent builder will do, though he is only constructing a temporary habitation for the body: and how much more should we do it, who are building for the immortal soul! Adopt this plan then: think what you have to do for God: think by what means you may best advance the interest of your souls; and redeem, as it were, every hour in preparation for eternity. “Walk, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”]
A life of real piety—
[Nothing but this will inspire true wisdom: nothing but this will enable us to counteract with effect the assaults of our great adversary. Let us seek from above “a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of might:” then, whether we be poor or rich, we shall assuredly be victorious. Indeed the poor are for the most part more highly favoured than the rich. The rich are too apt to be self-confident and self-sufficient; whilst the poor accept thankfully the proferred aids of the Gospel. Hence “the things which are hid from the wise and prudent, are frequently revealed to babes;” and hence, whilst the rich are vanquished, the poor are crowned with victory. Let it not be forgotten, that “in the Lord alone we have either righteousness or strength.” “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts:” yes, by the Spirit of the living God revealing the Saviour to us, and communicating strength out of his fulness, we shall be “enabled to withstand in the evil day,” and shall have that joyful song put into our mouths, “Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”]