I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when will you come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.
Of the wisdom or prudence which is necessary to guide and support virtue, I purpose to treat in this discourse. I shall adventure to propose some practical rules for that purpose; which may be of service to persons who, with good dispositions and intentions, are beginning the career of life; and which may, perhaps, deserve attention from persons in every period of age. — I begin by observing —
I. THAT IT IS MOST NECESSARY TO LAY DOWN PRINCIPLES ON WHICH WE ARE TO FORM OUR GENERAL CONDUCT. If we set out without principles of any kind, there can be no regular plan of life, nor any firmness in conduct. No person can know where they are to find us; nor on what behaviour of ours they are to depend. If the principles which we pitch upon for determining our course be of a variable nature; such, for instance, as popular opinion, reputation, or worldly interest; as these are often shifting and changing, they can impart no steadiness or consistency to conduct. The only sure principles we can lay down for regulating our conduct, must be founded on the Christian religion, taken in its whole compass; not confined to the exercises of devotion, nor to the mere morality of social behaviour; bus extending to the whole direction of our conduct towards God and towards man. I proceed to advise —
II. THAT WE BEGIN WITH REFORMING WHATEVER HAS BEEN WRONG IN OUR FORMER BEHAVIOUR. This counsel is the more important, because too many, in their endeavours towards reformation, begin with attempting some of the highest virtues, or aspiring to the most sublime performances of devotion, while they suffer their former accustomed evil habits to remain just as they were. This, I apprehend, is beginning at the wrong end. We must first, as the prophet has exhorted, put away the evil of our doings from before God's eyes; we must cease to do evil, before we learn to do well.
III. WE MUST SHUT UP, AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, THE AVENUES WHICH LEAD TO THE RETURN OF FORMER EVIL HABITS. Here is required that exercise of vigilance, self-distrust and self-denial which is so often recommended to us in Scripture. This wisdom requires farther —
IV. THAT CONSISTENCY AND UNIFORMITY BE PRESERVED IN CHARACTER; that not by pieces and corners only we study goodness, but that we carry one line of regular virtue through our whole conduct. Without this extensive regulation of behaviour, we can never hold on successfully in a perfect way. True virtue must form one complete and entire system. All its parts are connected; piety with morality, charity with justice, benevolence with temperance and fortitude. If any of these parts be wanting, the fabric becomes disjointed; the adverse parts of character correspond not to each other, nor form into one whole. It is only when we have respect unto all God's commandments, as the psalmist speaks, that we have reason not to be ashamed. At the same time, when I thus advise you to study entire and consistent virtue, and to guard strictly against small transgressions, let me warn you —
V. AGAINST UNNECESSARY AUSTERITY, AS FORMING ANY PART OF RELIGIOUS WISDOM. Too strict and scrupulous, indeed, we cannot be in our adherence to what is matter of clear duty. Every dictate of conscience is to be held sacred, and to be obeyed without reserve. But wisdom requires that we study to have conscience properly enlightened. We must distinguish with care the everlasting commandments of God, from the superstitious fancies and dictates of men. A manly steadiness of conduct is the object which we are always to keep in view; studying to unite gentleness of manners with firmness of principle, affable behaviour with untainted integrity.
VI. In order to walk wisely in a perfect way, IT IS OF IMPORTANCE THAT WE STUDY PROPRIETY IN OUR ACTIONS AND GENERAL BEHAVIOUR. In a great number of the duties of life, the manner of discharging them must vary, according to the different ages, characters, and fortunes of men. To suit our behaviour to each of these; to judge of the conduct which is most decent and becoming in our situation, is a material part of wisdom. In the scales by which we measure the propriety of our conduct, the opinion of the world must never be the preponderating weight. Let me recommend —
VII. THE OBSERVANCE OF ORDER AND REGULARITY IN THE WHOLE OF CONDUCT. Hurry and tumult, disorder and confusion, are both the characteristics of vice and the parents of it. Let your time be regularly distributed, and all your affairs be arranged with propriety, in method and train.
VIII. WE SHOULD GIVE ATTENTION TO ALL THE AUXILIARY MEANS WHICH RELIGION OFFERS FOR ASSISTING AND GUIDING US TO WALK WISELY IN A PERFECT WAY. These open a large field to the care of every good man. We must always remember, that virtue is not a plant which will spontaneously grow up and flourish in the human heart. The soil is far from being so favourable to it; many shoots of an adverse nature are ever springing up, and much preparation and culture are required for cherishing the good seed, and raising it to full maturity.
(Hugh Blair, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. O when wilt thou come unto me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.