Let no one deceive himself. If any of you thinks he is wise in this age, he should become a fool, so that he may become wise.
I. TO BE WISE WE MUST FIRST BECOME FOOLS. The wisdom of this world has its uses within its own sphere, but it is no help to the understanding of the things of God. It is a hindrance which must be removed ere we cart learn the Divine wisdom. We must divest ourselves of our fancied wisdom and. become fools in our own eyes, in order to be spiritually wise. This is a general law. Pride or self conceit in regard to any branch of knowledge or art is an effectual bar to progress. We must confess our ignorance in order to knowledge, our weakness in order to strength, our folly in order to wisdom. "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." This truth holds:
1. As to the beginning of the Christian life. How often are anxious souls kept back from entering into peace because they will not renounce their own ideas of the way of salvation! Only when they submit entirely to God's way as little children do they enter the kingdom.
2. As to progress in the Christian life. Even after conversion we must be careful "to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). We can grow in spiritual insight, in holiness, in patience, in power for service, in faith and hope and love, only by esteeming ourselves foolish and being content to sit as learners at the Lord's feet.
II. THE WISDOM OF THIS WOULD IS FOOLISHNESS. This explains why our own wisdom must be renounced. In the judgment of the All wise it is folly. The speculations of men regarding God and our relation to him, however much of truth they contain, are yet on the whole vain, inasmuch as they fail to reach an adequate knowledge of him. Those who have worked the longest at the great problems of life are the readiest to confess this. One after another of the world's wise men have wrestled with them and passed them down to their successors unsolved. Or look at the schemes of men for the regeneration of the world. Education, aesthetic culture, the teaching of morality, social communism, religion made easy, - all have been tried and found wanting. None of them can redeem mankind from sin and restore them to their lost dignity. And in nothing do men seem so foolish as just in those things in which they think themselves wise. They are caught in their own net. Their schemes of salvation work their ruin. - B.
Let no man deceive himself. If any man... seemeth to he wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may he wise.I. THE DANGER.
1. Is common.
2. Arises out of ignorance and self-conceit.
3. Leads to the most disastrous results.
II. HOW TO AVOID IT.
1. Distrust yourself.
2. Distrust the wisdom of this world.
3. Be content to be thought a fool, that you may be enlightened with the wisdom that cometh from above.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. THE GENERAL CAUSES OF SELF-DECEIT. Had human nature retained its original innocence the love of truth would have been its unvaried feature. But — we are fallen. The faculties of the mind are blinded by prejudice.
1. Hence the treachery of the heart is one of the first causes of self-deceit. The enemy in our own bosom deludes us into a secret approbation of our vices, and flatters us with the hope of eluding any future punishment, or of avoiding a rigorous investigation of our past lives.
2. Another cause of self-deceit is an inordinate love of pleasure. When we rather seek to be amused than to be improved, we can have no leisure for the scrutiny of thought or a proper inquiry into our own character and conduct.
3. Another fruitful source of self-deceit is thinking too highly of ourselves. Flattery blinds the eye of the judgment, and prevents our discovering the errors which we constantly indulge. We cry peace to our souls when there is no peace; and we dream of security amidst the most formidable enemies.
4. We are further exposed to the danger of self-deceit by making too light of sin. He who lessens the claims of virtue must be a stranger to the purifying influence of sanctifying grace — no error will so effectually delude us into a fatal indifference to our own security.
5. A conformity to the world in our manners, maxims, and pursuits, is another prolific source of self-deceit. This is not the school wherein we shall learn to obey the strictness of our holy religion. Outward appearances are more studied than inward piety in this region of gaiety, business, and perpetual delusion.
6. Again a levity of temper that precludes thought is another common occasion of self-deceit. The mind requires a discipline no less regular than the body.
7. Again, this fatal delusion may be often ascribed to ignorance of our fallen condition by nature and practice. Men who are unacquainted with the depravity of their own hearts and the depth of iniquity within, are not aware of the imposing forms which even their vices will assume.
8. Another way in which we deceive ourselves is in calling vices by the name of virtues. Thus the miser veils his avarice under the name of prudence.
9. Many are also deceiving themselves by mistaking a theoretical acquaintance with the doctrines of the gospel for the power of vital godliness.
II. THE EXTREME DANGER OF BEING LULLED IN A STATE OF CARNAL SECURITY THROUGH THE IMPOSING INFLUENCE OF SELF-DECEIT. The principal evil is that whilst we are entertaining a high opinion of our own goodness, we are taking no pains to avoid the dangers which are coming on us. We are also apt to think every man our enemy who tells us the truth. In the hurry of business, or in a vortex of pleasure, we have no inclination to pause and consider the end of our ways. No dangers can be so great as those which we take no pains to avoid. They come on us in a way utterly unexpected. The danger of carnal security is great, because we are hereby led to neglect the remedy provided in the gospel. Man has too much at stake to trifle, securely, with his chief interest.
III. THE BEST MEANS TO AVOID THE DANGERS OF SELF-DECEIT, WITH THE BENEFITS ATTENDANT ON A PROPER KNOWLEDGE OF OURSELVES.
1. The first step in this important business will be to maintain a holy jealousy over our own hearts. To avoid self-deceit we must beware of self-love, and be on our guard against the natural proneness of our deceitful hearts to excuse our errors and extenuate our vices. We must judge of our own conduct not by the partial opinion of our friends, but by the frequent declarations of our enemies. We must not merely compare our conduct with others, but reflect on what it ought to be when compared with what it is.
2. The benefits attendant on a proper knowledge of ourselves will be humility, under a consciousness of our guilt, and depravity; caution, under a due impression of our weakness; a constant attendance on the means of grace, from a view of the blessings annexed to them; and an anxious solicitude to have a well-grounded interest in Christ, from a thorough persuasion of the dangers that await us.
(J. Grose, A. M.)
I. The first of these to which I request your attention is that in which OUR SINS ARE MINGLED WITH SOME APPARENT GOOD. Whence, for example, is profusion called generosity, vanity and folly a high and liberal spirit? while, on the other hand, the most narrow selfishness is called prudence; avarice, frugality; the exclusive pursuit of gain, diligent and honest industry? Whence are fraud and low cunning sometimes boasted of as the achievement of superior talent; and crimes fitted only to inspire the deepest disgust are openly related in expectation of applause? Whence is it that restlessness and discontent are confounded with the desire of improvement — subtilty called depth — audacious and hasty decisions, clear and prompt judgments? Whence also do you find blind and intemperate zeal confounded with a supreme love of God; while, on the other hand, insensibility and indifference are honoured with the names of liberality and rational religion? Whence arise these and such-like dangerous perversions of judgment, but from that fatal self-deceit — that unfairness of mind and subserviency of the understanding and the conscience to our passions and indulgences which are so often to be seen in the judgments and conduct of men?
II. Another case in which self-deceit is apt to be practised is that in which WE JUDGE OF THOSE DUTIES OR INDULGENCES, THE PROPER BOUNDS OF WHICH CANNOT BE PRECISELY DEFINED. No duty is more obligatory upon Christians than the relief of persons in distress; but you cannot lay down, either for yourselves or others, the time, the occasion, and the extent in which that relief is in every case to be given. Here, then, is a wide field for a dishonest mind to indulge its propensities, and to deceive itself in the formation of its judgments. Similar observations may be made on the neglect of personal devotion. Are there not many who never employ a portion of their time in serious meditation or private prayer? Deeply engaged in the toils and pursuits of business, they find many excuses for their negligence. The fit season, they say, is frequently interrupted by unexpected occurrences. At length a habit of procrastination is formed. The proper season no longer reminds us of our sacred duties. The world now occupies our thoughts and our inclinations. A similar process of self-deception often takes place in reference to pursuits and indulgences which may be innocent in themselves, but which, in special circumstances, or when frequently repeated, become dangerous and guilty. Under this class may be ranked the undue pursuit of the amusements, and what are called the pleasures, of life. They may interfere with that time which belonged to important objects: they may produce such effects on your temper and state of mind as to unfit you for those special duties to which you are dedicated: or they may be unsuitable to your circumstances and condition in life; and may associate with you ideas and feelings which are injurious to your character and usefulness.
III. Men are specially liable to self-deceit in those cases WHERE THEY ARE LED TO CONSIDER AND ESTIMATE THEIR OWN GENERAL CHARACTER. It is of the highest importance that we form just notions of ourselves. This would save us from many unwise and ruinous undertakings, and from doing much injury both to ourselves and to our fellow-creatures. The knowledge of ourselves would also render us humble and mild in our intercourse with one another, modest in our judgments, diligent in the means of knowledge and improvement. But I pass from minor considerations to the higher concerns of the soul and our eternal well-being. The foundation of Christianity is laid in a just sense of our ignorance, sinfulness, and lost estate; and till this be in some degree known and felt, we cannot justly estimate the salvation of the gospel. How important, then, is it for us to guard against that self-deceit which conceals from us the knowledge of our own character, and prevents us from seeking reconciliation with God and rising to that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. Behold a man retired into his closet with the professed design of considering his ways and inquiring into the nature of his character. How astonishing, then, is it to behold this same man using every means to defeat the object of his inquiry. By some sophistical argument he finds that his sins are not so bad nor so dangerous as they have been commonly represented; or he discovers that in the case of persons like him such sins are attended with many circumstances of palliation; they are young, and cannot be expected to have all the wisdom and virtue of age; or they are aged, and being long accustomed to such indulgences, it would be dangerous, perhaps death at their time of life, to reform: or they find that they are peculiarly exposed to temptation, from the nature of their occupations and the persons with whom they are obliged to associate; other men are not better than they, but only not so much exposed to temptation. They rise from their meditations more hardened and ignorant of themselves than before.
IV. Similar causes will lead men to deceive themselves in judging of THEIR STATE OF FAVOUR WITH GOD AND THEIR PROSPECT OF FUTURE HAPPINESS. We have seen the manner in which sinful men deceive themselves into false conceptions of their general character: they have only to carry their self-complacency one step farther, and to fix on some tests of an interest in Christ which are agreeable to their own inclinations, in order to persuade themselves that they are in a state of favour with God and secure of future happiness. How many, for example, satisfy themselves with a splendid profession! Another class of self-deceivers lull themselves into a fatal security by the general decency of their lives; while no action, pursuit, or plan, has ever proceeded from Christian principles. Did not the Pharisee whom our Lord contrasts with the humble publican thus deceive himself? But not to men professing some regard for religion is this self-deceit confined. Strange as it may seem, there are men utterly void of the Christian profession who assure themselves of heaven. Their vices have laid asleep their conscience. Their sense of good and evil is lost, and they see not the gulf which lies before them.
V. Let me beseech you, then, to GUARD AGAINST AN EVIL SO SUBTHE, SO DANGEROUS, AND TO WHICH WE ARE SO PERPETUALLY EXPOSED. Watch, then, over yourselves; inquire often into the state of your principles and lives; and bring them to the test of the law and the testimony. Turn not away from the consideration of your errors and sins — bear to look at them as they are. Though to probe the wound may be painful, thus only can it be cured. But even in self-examination we are in danger of deceiving ourselves. Lay therefore your hearts before God.
(S. MacGill, D.D.)I. HUMAN WISDOM.
1. Is more seeming than real.
2. Is mixed with much of error.
3. Busies itself with matters of temporary importance.
4. Excludes those that are of higher moment, or else judges them by false standards;
II. TO ATTAIN TO DIVINE WISDOM. A man must —
1. Acknowledge his own ignorance.
2. Become a fool in the eyes of the world.
3. Submit his reason to the teaching of Divine wisdom
(J. Lyth, D. D.)1 Corinthians 1:20). It may be regarded as mere intellectual knowledge applied to secular and selfish ends, however vast and varied its attainments.
I. IT IS SELF-DELUDING. "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world," &c. This worldly wisdom deceives a man, inasmuch as —
1. It leads him to overrate the value of his attainments. He imagines that this kind of knowledge, "wisdom," is everything for a man. Hence the enthusiastic promotion of schools and colleges. But all such knowledge is of no value to man as man, and beyond his brief and uncertain earthly life.
2. It leads him to overrate his own importance. He is "vainly puffed by his earthly mind" (Colossians 2:18). Such a man imagines himself to be very great, he becomes a priggish pedant, he "struts and stares and a' that."
II. IT IS SPIRITUALLY WORTHLESS. A man with this worldly wisdom must "become a fool that he may be wise." Two things are here implied.
1. That with all his wisdom he is already really a "fool," for he looks for happiness where it is not to be found. Happiness does not spring from a man's brain, but from his heart; not from his ideas, but from his affections.
2. He is a "fool" because he practically ignores the chief good, which is love for, resemblance to, and fellowship with God. Hence "the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." The most illustrious scholar, sage, orator, who is considered by himself and his contemporaries to be a man of wonderful wisdom, to the eye of God is a fool.
III. IT IS ULTIMATELY CONFOUNDING. "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." It must confound a man sooner or later either —
1. Here in his conversion, or
2. Yonder in his retribution.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. Let us consider WHAT AN ENEMY TO THE DOCTRINE DELIVERED THE FLESHLY, HUMAN WISDOM OF A MAN IS. First, this human wisdom puffeth a man up with pride, that he will not entertain such Divine mysteries. And this swelling or puffing up is immediately contrary to an act of faith; for faith hath an obediential assent, namely, because God saith it, let my understanding cavil and argue never so plausibly. So that faith is a kind of mental martyrdom, it puts to death those lofty thoughts men naturally have. Secondly, human wisdom as it doth immediately oppose faith in its obediential assent, so also humility which is the instrumental grace to receive all the mysteries of Christ. Humility is not only a grace itself, but a vessel to receive other graces (Psalm 25:9; Matthew 11:25). The valleys they receive the drops of heaven, and are more fruitful than the mountains, though high but barren. So that human wisdom is as great an hindrance as humility is a furtherance. Thirdly, human conceited wisdom must needs hinder the entertainment of Christ's truth, because it sets itself on the throne to be judge, and to determine truth or falsehood according to her own principles. It makes weights and a standard of its own, and will weigh even what God and the Scripture saith by its own self. It is true a man's reason or wisdom may be considered two ways —(1) As corrupt and darkened through original sin; and in this respect only we speak of it, as such an adversary to the mysteries of religion.(2) As enlightened and sanctified by the Word and the Spirit of God. Now, in this latter respect, though it be not a judge, but is to be judged, yet it is an excellent instrument to faith. When faith had first laid its foundation, then reason is wonderful serviceable for the confirmation of Divine truths. Fourthly, human wisdom is such an opposite to heavenly truth, because of its subtilty to find out cavils and excogitate arguments against the truth. Lastly, the more wisdom and knowledge men have the more busy the devil is to make them on his side. The doctrine observed is, that human and earthly wisdom is a great enemy to the things of God.
II. The next thing in order is THE MANNER OF DECLARATION AND PUBLICATION OF IT IN THE SCRIPTURE. And here we shall find worldly wisdom to be a great adversary; but I shall instance in one thing only about that, and that is, the simplicity and plainness of the style. That whereas there are two things that are exceeding apt to take with the world; the one with rational men, the other with affectionate men. The Scripture seemeth to be furnished with neither. For with rational men strong demonstrations and scientifical probations prevail exceedingly. Now, many times men of strong reason are no ways rhetorical, as the earth, where mines of gold are, is barren of grass and flowers. This the Scripture hath not, for that dictateth, not argueth, which is indeed most suitable to the Divine Scripture. Some, then, look for learned demonstrations; others are ravished with the sweet music of human rhetoric. It was the saying of an atheistical critic, that he esteemed one of Pindar's odes before all David's psalms. Thus you see, as it was with Christ Himself, many looked for an outward stately, pompous Messiah; and because He came not in that outward way He was a stumbling-block to many. First, for learned men who expect demonstration, consider, that it being the Word of the most High God, it is most decent and graceful that there should no other argument be used but authority. All scientifical demonstrations are far inferior to Divine authority. Secondly, while learned men seek for such rational demonstrations, let them take heed lest while they seek for reason they lose faith. There is greater reason to believe the Scripture than to assent to any demonstration. So that though faith be not reason, yet there is the greatest reason for faith. And for those who look for rhetorical flourishes and fanciful expressions let them consider. Some places of Scripture have strong and masculine eloquence; not indeed that light and meretricious habit of human oratory, but a grave, matron-like clothing: such is the prophecy of Isaiah and other places. If we have a jewel or precious pearl its own native lustre is better than any painting of it. So Divine matter the more plain and clear it is the more admirable it is. It is the matter, not the words that do convince and convert. Words may please the fancy, but it is matter that woundeth the heart.
III. The third remaineth, and that is, EARTHLY WISDOM IS A GREAT ENEMY TO THOSE SPIRITUAL AND PRACTICAL DUTIES THAT GOD REQUIRETH OF US. Practical godliness hath a great deal of seeming foolishness in the eyes of the world.
1. The whole doctrine of self-denial is a very foolish thing to carnal wisdom.
2. The duty of faith in relying upon Christ only, and renouncing our own righteousness, is the great gospel command, yet nothing is more foolish and absurd to human reason than this. All the philosophers thought of no other righteousness but that of works.
3. The duties of humility and meekness, especially forbearing of one another and loving our enemies, is esteemed high folly in worldly men's esteem. The heathens thought it a very justifiable thing to hate their enemies.
(A. Burgess.)2 Timothy 3:15; John 20:31). There was never any human knowledge could teach a man to be eternally happy. Plato's divinity and Aristotle's morality, though they have the words of happiness anti have large discourses about it, yet wanted the thing itself. Thirdly, faith doth surpass all human knowledge in its certainty and infallibility; for the object of faith being God's testimony and His Divine authority, it is as impossible for faith to be deceived as it is for God to lie. Hence it is called the full assurance of hope (Hebrews 10:22). And we believe, therefore we speak (2 Corinthians 4:13). How could the holy martyrs witness those Divine truths even to death, had they not been possessed with sure knowledge of them? Fourthly, faith doth more establish and quiet the heart of men than all human wisdom. Solomon observeth a vanity and vexation of spirit even in all human knowledge; but now faith doth satisfy the soul (Hebrews 11:1). Oh, the anxiety and perplexities that mere human knowledge hath cast men into! Lastly, the Christian faith is above all philosophical knowledge, because of the strong and mighty effects it hath to convert the heart and reform the life (Acts 15:9). Never did human knowledge make such wonderful converts, and work so great a reformation as the Christian faith had done. In the next place, the moral or practical wisdom of the world cometh far short of Scripture wisdom; for — First, the most knowing men were ignorant of original sin, which yet is the fountain of our calamity. Secondly, all human wisdom and prudence knoweth not how to mortify and forsake sin upon true grounds, because they were ignorant of God's Spirit. Thirdly, all earthly prudence cometh short of this wisdom, because it is circumscribed within the bounds of this world and this life. It looketh out no further, whereas the Scripture giveth directions for the world to come and for eternity.
(A. Burgess.)I. FOR THE THINGS TO BE BELIEVED, there are these seeming follies — First, the very way of Christianity, that it is not a knowledge but believing. Secondly, the matter believed, that hath appeared a great folly to the wisdom of the world is, that God should be made man, that He should die — be crucified — and by this means work salvation for the poor sinner. Thirdly, the manner of propagating and spreading this faith through the whole world was very contemptible and foolish in the world's account, though mighty powerful and confounding the wise things of the world.
II. THE MATTER OF A CHRISTIAN'S HOPE, THAT ALSO IS VERY FOOLISH. A man must be the world's fool that doth part with all for this hope, even the resurrection of the dead to eternal glory.
III. THE DUTIES REQUIRED BY CHRIST, AND ALL THAT PRACTICAL WAY OF GODLINESS WHICH HE ENJOINETH, CARRIETH WITH IT A GREAT SHOW OF FOLLY. First, Christ requireth of all His disciples to live contrary to the wicked ways of the world. Secondly, it is a folly in the world to be so fervent, zealous, and active in matters of religion. Thirdly, that part of Christianity seemeth a foolish thing, which presseth the life of faith and not of sense. Lastly, to acknowledge Christ and His ways, though to our outward undoing. This seemeth great folly.
(A. Burgess.)Proverbs 1:7). Fourthly, Christianity teacheth the true wisdom, because that only instructeth about the true and proper end of all our actions, which is happiness. How did the wise men of the world stagger up and down like giddy men in this point; or, like the blind Sodomites, went groping up and down for the door and could not find it. They knew not where or what blessedness was, And, in Christianity we have not only the true end propounded, but the right means also whereby we may attain it. For prudence lieth in the choosing of fit and conducible means to such an end; as in any art no man can by his art produce artificial operations without fit tools. Fifthly, by Christianity we are only taught to avoid that which causeth repentance and grief of mind after it is done. Oh, then, what happy wisdom is it so to live and so to do, that a man afterwards shall have no cause to roar out for the guilt upon him, that in the time of sickness and hour of death thou mayest not cry out, Oh, foolish and wretched man that I am! Oh, that I had been wiser, but now I fear it is too late! Sixthly, Christianity teacheth this wisdom, not so much to regard the present as to provide for the future, to remember our latter end, to provide for eternity. Seventhly, herein doth Christianity teach us true wisdom, because thereby we are enabled to improve the seasons and opportunities of grace. It is accounted a great piece of worldly wisdom to know the fit seasons of buying and selling. Eighthly, Christian wisdom is seen in caution and circumspection, to refuse all the snares and temptations of sin, and to find out all the devil's methods and subtilties; for there are the depths of Satan and the devices of Satan, and sin hath its pleasant baits and charms. Ninthly, herein Christianity giveth wisdom, because it helps to conquer and overcome all unruly passions which, while they rage, bereave us of all wisdom. Lastly, it is excellent to instruct us to bear afflictions and how to abound. Only by that we can tell how to be rich and how to be poor.
(A. Burgess.)I. EVEN TRUTH OR TRUE KNOWLEDGE BECOMES FOLLY, IF EMPLOYED TO ACCOMPLISH AN END FOR WHICH IT IS NOT ADAPTED. If a man attempts to make men holy or happy; if he undertakes to convert the world by mathematics, or metaphysics, or moral philosophy he is foolish, and his wisdom, as a means to that end, is folly. He must renounce all dependence on those means if he would accomplish that end.
II. MUCH THAT PASSES FOR WISDOM AMONG MEN IS IN ITSELF, AND NOT MERELY AS A MEANS TO AN END — FOOLISHNESS. Both these ideas are evidently comprehended in the apostle's statement. He means to say that human knowledge is entirely inadequate to save men, because that end can only be accomplished by the gospel. And he means also to brand as folly the speculations of men about "the deep things of God."
(C. Hodge, D. D.)
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
1. That sort of wisdom that consists in speculation called philosophy which, as Stoicism, Epicureanism, &c., was professed for the grand rule of life and certain guide to happiness. But its utter insufficiency is expressed in Colossians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:20; 1 Corinthians 1:21. It is a wisdom making men accurately and laboriously ignorant of what they were most concerned to know.
2. The policy which consists in a certain dexterity or art of managing business for a man's secular advantage. This is the wisdom here intended in the text; namely, that practical cunning that shows itself in political matters, and has in it really the mystery of a trade or craft. So that God is said to "take the wise in their own craftiness." Note —
I. ITS RULES OR PRINCIPLES.
1. That a man must maintain a continued course of dissimulation and profess himself to be what he is not, and employ all the art and industry imaginable to make good the disguise. This dissimulation is the very groundwork of all worldly policy. In the language of the Scripture it is "damnable hypocrisy"; but of those who neither believe Scripture nor damnation it is voted wisdom. It is looked upon as weakness and unfitness for business for a man to be so open as really to think what he says, and when he makes any promise, to have the least intention of performing it.
2. That conscience and religion ought to lay no restraint upon men when it lies opposite to their interest. The great patron of this tribe, Machiavelli, laid down this for a master rule in his political scheme, That the show of religion was helpful to the politician, bat the reality of it hurtful and pernicious.
3. That a man ought to make himself, and not the public, the chief, if not the sole end of all his actions. He is to be his own centre and circumference too, and is not only not to love his neighbour as himself, but to account none for his neighbour but himself. The general interest of the nation is to be nothing to him, but only that portion of it that he either does or would possess. It is not the rain that waters the whole earth, but that which falls into his own cistern that must relieve him: not the common, but the enclosure that must make him rich. Let the public sink or swim, so long as he can hold up his head above water; let the ship be cast away, if he may but have the benefit of the wreck.
4. That in showing kindness, or doing favours, no respect at all is to be had to friendship, gratitude, or sense of honour; but that such favours are to be done only to the rich or potent, from whom a man may receive a further advantage, or to his enemies, from whom he may otherwise fear a mischief. Our politician having baffled his greater conscience must not be nonplussed with inferior obligations; and having leaped over such mountains, at length poorly lie down before a molehill; but he must add perfection to perfection; and being past grace, endeavour, ii need be, to be past shame too; and accordingly, he looks upon friendship, gratitude, and sense of honour, as terms of art to amuse and impose upon weak, undesigning minds.
II. THE FOLLY OF THESE PRINCIPLES IN RELATION TO GOD. Foolishness, being properly a man's deviation from right reason in point of practice, must needs consist in —
1. His pitching upon such an end as is unsuitable to his condition. "The wisdom of this world" looks no farther than this world, and if it makes a man rich, potent, and honourable it has its ends and has done its utmost. But now that a man cannot rationally make these things his end will appear from these two considerations —(1) That they reach not the measure of his duration or being; the perpetuity of which surviving this mortal state must needs render a man infinitely miserable and forlorn, if he has no other comforts but what he must leave behind him in this. For nothing can make a man happy, but that which shall last as long as he lasts. And all these enjoyments are much too short for an immortal soul to stretch itself upon, which shall persist in being, not only when profit, pleasure, and honour, but when time itself shall be no more.(2) They fill not the measure of his desires. The foundation of all man's unhappiness here is the great disproportion between his enjoyments and his appetites. Let a man have never so much, he is still desiring something or other more. Alexander was much troubled that there were no more worlds for him to disturb; and, in this respect, every man living has a soul as great as Alexander; and put under the same circumstances would own the very same dissatisfactions. Now in spiritual natures, so much as there is of desire, so much there is also of capacity to receive. Man seems as boundless in his desires as God is in His being; and therefore nothing but God Himself can satisfy him. And then in all these worldly things that a man pursues with such eagerness, he finds not half the pleasure in the possession of them that he proposed to himself in the expectation.
2. His pitching upon means for the acquisition of these enjoyments, that are no ways fit to acquire them, and that upon a double account.(1) That they are in themselves unable and insufficient for them. Let politicians contrive as accurately, and pursue as diligently as possible; yet still the success of all depends upon the favour of an overruling hand (Deuteronomy 8:18; 1 Samuel 2:30). And so upon full trial of all the courses that policy could either devise or practise, the most experienced masters of it have been often forced to sit down with that complaint of the disciples, "We have toiled all night, and have caught nothing." For do we not sometimes see that traitors can be out of favour, and knaves be beggars, and lose their estates, and be stripped of their offices, as well as honester men?(2) That they are frequently opposite to the accomplishment of such ends; nothing being more usual than for these unchristian fishers of men to be fatally caught in their own nets; for does not the text expressly say, that "God taketh the wise in their own craftiness"? Haman wanted nothing to complete his greatness but a gallows upon which to hang Mordecai; but it mattered not for whom he provided the gallows, when Providence designed the rope for him.
(R. South, D. D.)Jeremiah 10:23). Thirdly, all worldly wisdom is folly, because it is only attentive to get the good things of this world, and never looketh to the world to come. Give them the pleasures, the profits, the contents of this world, and they never regard the world to come. Oh, foolish men and unwise! Will thy wealth avail thee in the day of God's wrath? Fourthly, they are actively foolish, because they are conceited of this wisdom and boast of it. Fifthly, it must needs be folly, because it is directly contrary unto God and His ways, which are only wise (Romans 8:7). Sixthly, all human and earthly wisdom is foolishness, because it makes a man a sad loser in the latter end. To pull off that mask or painting which is put upon the wisdom of the world. Is he not a fool that leaveth a treasure of gold for coals? Is not he a fool that forsaketh a fountain to go to a broken cistern? Is not he a fool that would be in great pomp and honour for one day to be a perpetual tormented slave for ever after? Yet thus foolish and unwise are all wicked men. Pray, then, for wisdom from above. You have heard that this worldly wisdom is foolishness actively. I shall now proceed to show its foolishness passively, such which God turneth to folly; so that there are no men whom God doth more set Himself against than such proud, worldly wise men. First, therefore, God makes this wisdom foolishness in a passive sense, in that He did not vouchsafe to use it as an instrument to propagate the gospel. Secondly, herein God makes it foolishness, that as He doth not use it for the enlargement of His gospel, so He taketh very few of such men to bestow on them spiritual and soul-saving graces. Thirdly, herein also God will make it appear to be folly, in that He takes the foolish things of the world and makes them confound the wise things. Fourthly, herein cloth God make the wisdom of the world foolishness, because all that wise men do is a vain work. They are not able to accomplish their ends, especially those which are to overthrow the kingdom of Christ and rooting out His Church and people. Fifthly, God makes the wisdom of the world foolishness, because what they work is not only a vain work but a deceitful work. So that the wisdom of man must needs be made great folly, when it shall be forced to bring about those things which it hates so much. Sixthly, herein the wisdom of the world is made foolishness, because it doth not only work a vain deceitful work but also a destructive one to itself; so that all the wisdom they have is only to destroy themselves. Thus, like fools, they run their swords in their own bowels. Seventhly, the wisdom of the world becometh foolishness, because God many times infatuateth and blasteth the parts and abilities of the wise men of the world. He takes away their understanding from them. That as we read of Nebuchadnezzar, God bereaved him of his wisdom and judgment so that he became like a beast. Eighthly, herein God doth also make their wisdom folly, because by their pride and haughtiness they undo themselves. God lets them prosper, and the wisdom of the world seemeth to flourish a great while, but it is that their destruction may be the greater. Use —
1. How vain a thing to trust in human policy and worldly wisdom.
2. To judge that wisdom which the wise God judgeth so.
(A. Burgess.)I. FOOLISH, because —
4. Often built on false premises.
5. The mere offspring of reason.
II. VAIN. Often —
1. Exploded by time.
2. Exposed by revelation.
3. Overruled and confounded by Divine providence.
4. Fully dissipated by the light of eternity.
(J. Lyth, D. D.)
I. Let us consider THE NATURE OF THAT WISDOM WHICH IS REPROBATED IN THE TEXT AS FOOLISHNESS WITH GOD. It is styled the wisdom of this world; that is, the wisdom which is most current in this world. Its first and most noted distinction is, that its pursuits are confined entirely to the temporal advantages of the world. Spiritual blessings or moral improvements the man of this spirit rejects as a sort of airy unsubstantial enjoyments; he reckons the only solid goods, the possession of riches and power, together with the pleasures which opulent rank or station can procure. In pursuit of these favourite ends he is not in the least scrupulous as to his choice of means. If he prefer those which are the fairest, it is not because they are fair, but because they seem to him most likely to prove successful. He is sensible that it is for his interest to preserve decorums, and to stand well in the public opinion. He is, for the most part, composed in his manners and decent in his vices. Let me here remark in passing, that this character is less likely to be reformed than that of those men given to pleasure. With them vice breaks forth in occasional fits and starts; with the other, it grows up into a hardened and confirmed principle. In the midst of the gross irregularities of pleasure, circumstances often force remorse on the sinner's mind. But the cool and temperate plan of iniquity on which the man of worldly wisdom proceeds allows the voice of conscience to be longer silent. The man of the world is always a man of selfish and contracted disposition. Friends, country, duty, honour, all disappear from his view, when his own interest is in question. The more thoroughly that the spirit of the world has taken possession of him the circle of his affections becomes always the narrower. Candour, openness, and simplicity of manners are ridiculed by the man of this description, as implying mere ignorance of the world. Art and address are the qualities on which he values himself. For the most part he would choose to supplant a rival by intrigue rather than to overcome him by fair opposition. Indeed, what men call policy and knowledge of the world is commonly no other thing than dissimulation and insincerity. I have dwelt the more fully on the delineation of this character that each of us might learn whether there be any feature in it that applies to himself. Let me now ask whether such a character as I have described be in any respect an amiable one? Is the man of the world — polished, and plausible, and courtly, as in his behaviour he may be — one whom you would choose for a companion and bosom-friend? Of what real value, then, let me ask, is that boasted wisdom of the world which can neither conciliate love, nor produce trust, nor command inward respect? At the same time, I admit that the man of the world may be a man of very considerable abilities. You see in this instance that the most distinguished human abilities, when they are separated from virtue and moral worth, lose their chief eminence and lustre, and are deprived of all valuable efficacy. They dwindle into despicable talents which have no power to ensure the respect of mankind. Having now considered the nature and effect of worldly wisdom with respect to men let us inquire —
II. HOW IT STANDS WITH RESPECT TO GOD. It is said in the text to be foolishness with God. It is so in three respects.
1. It is contemptible in God's sight. Pleased and satisfied as the wise man of the world may be with himself, and honoured as he may fancy himself to be by the multitude, let him be mortified with reflecting that, in the eye of Him who is the Supreme Judge of all worth, his character is mean and wretched. That which God declares Himself to love and honour is truth in the inward parts; the fair, sincere, and candid mind. But it is not only from the declarations of the Scripture, but from the whole course of Providence, that we learn the contempt in which God holds the wisdom of the world. Who were they on whom were conferred the highest marks of distinction which ever honoured man, He singled out to be the companions of Christ, the workers of miracles, the publishers of everlasting happiness to mankind? Were they the wise men of the world, the refined, and the political, who were employed as the instruments of God on this great occasion? No; He chose a few plain, simple, undesigning men. To this day God in the course of His Providence bestows those external advantages which the men of the world so earnestly pursue with apparent disregard of worldly wisdom. He allows no fixed connection to subsist between an artful, political conduct, and riches, reputation, or honours; He does not always give the race to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor riches to men of understanding; but, on the contrary, scatters the advantages of fortune with a promiscuous hand; and often allows them to be attained by the vilest and lowest of men, who neither by worldly wisdom, nor any other talent whatever, had the smallest title to deserve them.
2. The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God, because it is baffled by Him. Some triumphs He has occasionally allowed it to gain in order to carry on some special purpose that His Providence had in view. It is true that the justice of heaven is not, in the present state, fully manifested, by rendering to every man according to his deeds. But I believe it will be found by attentive observers that there are two cases in which, perhaps more than in any other, the Divine government has, throughout all ages, rendered itself apparent and sensible to men. These are humbling the high imaginations of the proud, and taking the wise in their own craftiness. As He will not permit any greatness to lift itself up against His power, so neither will He permit any art to prevail against His counsels. While the crafty project many a distant plan, and wind their way most cunningly, as they think, to success, how often does the Almighty, by means of some slight and seemingly contingent event, stop the wheel at once from farther motion, and leave them to the bitterness of humbling disappointment (Psalm 2:4, 5).
3. The wisdom of the world is foolishness with God; because, though it should be allowed by Providence to run, without disturbance, its fullest career, and to compass successfully whatever it had projected, yet it can produce nothing in the issue worthy of the pursuit of a truly wise man. It is a wisdom which over-reaches and counteracts itself; and instead of expected happiness ends in misery. If the existence of another world be admitted, can he be accounted wise who frames his conduct solely with a view to this world, and beyond it has nothing to look for but punishment? For what is the amount of all that this wise man hath gained, or can gain, after all the toil he has undergone, and all the sacrifices he has made in order to attain success? But how is all this success enjoyed? With a mind often ill at ease; with a character dubious at the best, suspected by the world in general, seen through by the judicious and discerning. For the man of the world flatters himself in vain, if he imagines that by the plausible appearances of his behaviour he can thoroughly conceal from the world what he is, and keep them ignorant of the hollow principles upon which he has acted. He finds himself embarrassed with cares and fears. He is sensible that by many he is envied and hated; and though surrounded by low flatterers is conscious that he is destitute of real friends. Compute now, O wise man, as thou art! what thou hast acquired by all thy selfish and intricate wisdom, by all thy refined and double conduct, thy dark and designing policy? Canst thou say that thy mind is satisfied with thy past tenour of conduct? Are thy days more cheerful and gay, or are thy nights more calm and free of care than those of the plain and upright man whom thou hast so often treated with scorn? From what has been said of the nature and the effects of worldly wisdom you will now judge how justly it is termed foolishness with God. Opposite to it stands the wisdom that is from above, which is described by an apostle as good, peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (James 3:15, 17). This, and this only, is that real wisdom which it is both our duty and our interest to cultivate. It carries every character of being far superior to the wisdom of the world. It is masculine and generous; it is magnanimous and brave; it is uniform and consistent. The wise man of the world is obliged to shape his course according to the changing occurrences of the world; he is unsteady and perplexed. But the wise man in God's sight moves in a higher sphere. His integrity directs his course without perplexity or trouble.
(H. Blair, D. D.)
Taketh the wise in their own craftiness.Isaiah 19:13). Now many ways doth God take the wise ones of the world. First, in dissipating their counsels that they cannot attain their ends. They attempt again and again, and are always repulsed. Secondly, God when He doth ruin them He doth it no other way but by their own wisdom, by their own craft. And this is the greatest conquest that can be, when God overcometh them by their own weapon, as it was said of Goliath's sword. None like that, because by that he cut off Goliath's head, whose sword it was. So there are no providences of God so glorious as those which make the very craft and wisdom wicked men have to bring about their confusion. Thirdly, He takes the wise men of the world so that they are entangled in their own counsels, and are brought to such snares that they cannot go forward or backward. There is no great wit without some mixture of madness. I might instance in more particulars, hut the next words will have the same occasion; I come to answer an objection. How is this true, you will say, that God taketh the wise in their craft? And doth not the experience of all ages, both in profane and sacred histories, show that earthly, crafty, and wicked policy hath accomplished many destructive things, and that to God's own Church and people? All this must be granted, and yet the observation is true. First, this is many times done, and we, through our ignorance, take no notice thereof. Secondly, we limit God to time and places and persons; and so because He doth not at such a time, in such a way, as we think, therefore we are apt to think God hath forsaken the earth, and regards not what is done below. Thirdly, if God let worldly wisdom prevail and prosper awhile, it is that the overthrow and confusion of it may be greater. As Pharaoh was suffered to go into the sea, and the waters did not immediately overflow. Come we, then, to show the ground why God doth thus delight to infatuate and blast all earthly wisdom. First, it is that hereby His sovereignty and ruling power may be the more manifest. Secondly, God doth it hereby to vindicate His own glory and cause and name; for all the worldly wisdom that ever was, hath either mediately or immediately set against God.
1. How secure the people and Church of God may be.
2. Not to fear anything but God, for He is the only wise God.
The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
1. Politics, as a political creature endued with civil wisdom, and so is part of a society, and thus his thoughts are vain.
2. Ethics, as he is to walk according to the rules of reason, which sound and rectified nature doth guide a man in, and thus he is vain.
3. Theology, as he is to look up to heaven, to obey God, and to aim at supernatural happiness. And in this sense especially he is a most vain, empty man; and to this the apostle relateth.Let us consider in what sense the Scripture useth the word vain.
1. That is said to be vain which is empty and void of that worth and excellency which ought to be within. Thus a fool is called often a vain person because he is empty of that solid judgment and reason which ought to be in a man. Hence foolish persons are compared to empty straws that are blown up and down with every wind, because they have no weight in them.
2. That is said to be vanity which seemeth to have great happiness and content in it, but indeed it is the clean contrary. A vain thing is that which hath a goodly appearance, but inwardly hath no profit. Thus it is with the best and choicest thoughts and projects of the wisest men; they have a goodly lustre. You would think such wise men could not but be happy; their expectations are raised, but the issue doth deceive them.
3. Vanity in the Scripture is often applied to a lie. Every man speaks vanity to his neighbour, that is a lie (Psalm 12:2). They are full of falsehood and dissimulation; there is no truth or sincerity in men, as David complaineth (Psalm 12.).
4. Vanity is often in Scripture used for that which is unprofitable, without any benefit or success. Hence is that phrase, To labour in vain. Oh, this is a sad thing to consider, when thou art dying, I have lived in vain, laboured in vain, thought in vain, spoke in vain; I have no true good abiding by me of all that ever I did.
5. Vanity is often used for that which is unstable, uncertain, and fading. And thus the thoughts of wise men are vain, subject to changes, contradictions, and at last vanish into nothing.
6. They are vain because they work nothing but vain and absurd things. What do vain thoughts produce but vain words, vain gestures, vain attire and fashions, vain discourse in communication, vain opinions, and a vain worship. Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts (Matthew 15:19). They are the first sparks that fly out of this forge, and from these vain thoughts cometh all the vanity that is in men's words, gestures, apparel, yea, and their religion.Lastly, they are vain because they are wholly wicked. Use of instruction:
1. That God doth not only take notice of vain actions, but vain thoughts.
2. Are all our thoughts vain? Learn, then, Scripture wisdom, get Scripture thoughts.
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