There be four things which are little on the earth, but they are exceeding wise:…
Man is the most important and most interesting being in our world; this is shown in several particulars, but among other proofs of man's natural greatness is his power to seek and derive moral profit, not only from beings that are superior to himself, but also from beings greatly inferior in nature and destiny; his mind can spread itself over the length and breadth of creation. Thus the text teaches us to study animated nature for the purpose of gathering moral wisdom.
I. IT IS PROPER TO GLANCE AT THE TEXT IN THE LIGHT OF NATURAL HISTORY.
1. The ants. "A people not strong." Cicero believed the ant furnished, not merely with senses, but with mind, reason, and memory. A remarkable phenomenon: the great God exists, works, and reigns in the little ant; it is an humble mediator between us and the Infinite.
2. The conies, or rabbits, "are a feeble folk." Every creature in the universe has the power of self-defence, every wise creature puts it in exercise. The neglect of this power, in a moral sense, has been the ruin of our race; its restoration is the work of the Lord from heaven.
3. The locust. Many allusions to them in Scripture, especially a wonderful description in the second chapter of Joel; they give a fine specimen of union, harmony, and co-operation, social combination, etc.
4. The spider. An instance of patient perseverance to gain a specific end. In a spider's work is unity, proportion, and completeness, as much accuracy as if she knew all the laws of architecture and mathematics; so man should strive to surmount every obstacle to gain his point and fulfil his purpose. His great work is to glorify God, etc.
II. IN A GENERAL VIEW OF THE WHOLE PASSAGE NOTICE THE GREAT MORAL TRUTHS WHICH IT TEACHES. "Ask now of the beasts, and they shall teach thee, and the fowls," etc., etc.. (Job 12:7). And what do the little creatures described in the text teach us?
1. That we ought to act according to our whole nature. They do so. These little beings carry out all the powers they possess, their whole constitution is at work; they never war against their own instincts, they never act inconsistently with themselves. Man acts wisely only in proportion as he acts agreeably to all the principles and powers of his own extraordinary constitution. There are many sorts of beings in existence; some of these beings are superior to ourselves: they act according to their entire nature. There are also beings which are inferior to ourselves; they likewise act according to their entire nature. Man does not do so; he has broken the order of the universe; he has broken his own peace, and brought his own nature to ruin; he is at variance with himself, with the creation, and with God: this is man's sin, his misery. The soul of man is not only a part of his nature, but the principal part of it; it includes moral consciousness: when our soul acts so as to govern absolutely and always every other part of our nature, it is then only we act according to the whole of our nature; man acts unnaturally when he acts as if he had no soul, no reason, no conscience, no law, no judge. Now, when is man acting according to the whole of his nature? When does he act wisely?
(1) Man's greatest good consists in his restoration to the favour, image, and service of his God — in union with God. Look to God as your end, take care of your hearts in this matter, let your intellect and affections ascend up to God; make the Divine nature your great study, your true home, your eternal heaven.
(2) To this end suitable means must be employed; there is the whole mediatorial system, etc. It is not the existence of Christianity, but its influence on our moral system, that can save us; as an abstract system, it can do you no more good than paganism, deism, or atheism, unless you make it the means of your ascension to God, its infinite author and end.
(3) It is not enough that we know what our greatest good is, and what the proper means of securing it are; but we must employ these means in the time and manner which God requires.
2. The text teaches us that we ought to secure all the happiness of which our nature is susceptible. These little creatures do so.The text distinctly illustrates this; but —
1. That God has provided happiness for every nature, and for every nature its own happiness. God's happiness is peculiar to Himself. It is like Himself — eternal, immutable, infinite, necessary. His is the happiness of creating, of reviewing, of contemplating His own universe and His own nature. His happiness is to pour out a living stream of bliss over His vast creation. Misery existing only in the creature is not eternal, is not necessarily existent, is not essential to the universe. But happiness is so; there must be felicity, for there must be God. God wishes you well — there should be no doubt about that; His language, His actions, His nature prove that. Men do not believe that God has provided happiness for them. Two things account for this — their own experience and their hard thoughts of God.
2. Man's happiness is to be obtained in connection with his own activity. The text suggests this idea. Man can arrive at moral pleasure only by the action of his own nature; activity is the means, though not the meritorious cause, of his spiritual perfection. Indolence of every kind tends to misery.
3. We ought not to be satisfied without obtaining all the happiness which the Divine mercy has provided for us.
Parallel VersesKJV: There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: