And to man he said, Behold, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.
1. Certain it is that the whole body of moral and religious laws are the laws of the wise and good Legislator of the world, whose design in imparting to us our being was doubtless to communicate a portion of His happiness and to improve it to the utmost capacity of our nature. The Divine wisdom is our security that our paths shall terminate in peace.
2. In order to vindicate the wisdom of a religious conduct it may not be improper to obviate a prejudice too commonly propagated and too easily received, namely, — That the felicities of the next world are not to be obtained according to the strict terms of Christianity, without renouncing the enjoyments of the present. The merciful Author of religion has not dealt thus hardly with mankind. Religion prohibits only those specious but destructive evils which the passions of mankind have dressed up in the disguise of pleasure; those irregular pursuits in which no wise man would ever place his happiness or could ever find it. God, who has filled the earth with His goodness and surrounded us with objects which He made agreeable to our nature, cannot be supposed to require us to reject His bounty, and to look on them all as on the fruit of that tree in paradise, which was pleasant to the eye but forbidden to be tasted. Be the pleasures of vice what they may, there is still a superior pleasure in subduing the passions of it; for it is the pleasure of reason and wisdom; the pleasure of an intellectual, not a mere animal being; a pleasure that will always stand the test of reflection, and never fails to impart true and permanent satisfaction.
3. The wisdom of a religious conduct may appear from its being the sure foundation of that peace of mind which is the chief constituent of happiness. The conditions of human life will not permit us to expect a total exemption from evils. Religion will indeed bring us internal peace of mind, but cannot secure us from external contingencies. Religion will not reverse the distinctions of station which Providence has appointed. It will not secure us from the passions of others. Religion is not less friendly in its influence on social than on private life, and is equally conducive to the happiness of the public and of individuals. All the virtues that can render a people secure and flourishing, all the duties that the best political laws require as necessary or conducive to the public tranquillity, are enjoined by our religion. Were the practice of religion generally to prevail, men would escape more than half the evils that afflict mankind.
4. The wisdom of a religious life may hence appear, because such a conduct is infinitely preferable, infinitely more prudent and secure, when we take futurity into consideration. Upon the whole, the good man enjoys superior happiness in this world, and in the next stands alone, without any rival, in his hopes and pretensions.
Parallel VersesKJV: And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.