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1. This righteousness, as to the main parts of it, has a place in every state and condition : or is of constant, perpetual and everlasting obligation: as has been already shewn, it being fit and reasonable in itself. This is one reason why St. Paul gives the preference to charity or love above faith and hope, that the virtue, or principle of love, will subsist even in the future state: whereas the other two, though very reasonable and beneficial now, will entirely cease, and be no more, when the objects of present faith and hope are possessed and enjoyed. Charity," says he, "never fails." But whether there be prophecies, they shall fail: whether there be tongues, they shall cease: whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away." The way and manner of knowing here is so slow and tedious: the knowledge, we attain in this state, is so defective and inadequate, that he scruples not to say, "it shall vanish away :" and concludes: away:" "Now abideth faith, hope, charity. But the greatest of these is charity."
2. Moral perfection, or righteousness, is the glory and perfection of God himself: consequently, it must be the chief excellence of all rational beings. I say, moral perfection is the glory and perfection of God himself. Hereby he is truly excellent and amiable: forasmuch as beside his power, knowledge and understanding, he is a being of unvariable truth, everlasting righteousness, inflexible equity, and abundant goodness. When Moses desired to see God, the divine glory and character were represented to him after this manner: "The Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed: The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." Exod. xxxiv. 6. The Psalmist observes: "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness: his countenance does behold the upright," Ps. xi. 7. And in another place: "Rejoice before the Lord, for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness will he judge the world, and the people with equity," Ps. xcviii. 9. In one of the prophets it is written: "Let him that glorieth, glory in this; that he knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth." "For in these things do I delight, saith the Lord," Jer. ix. 24. Our blessed Lord recommends it to us, "to be perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect," Mat. v. 48; that is, to imitate him in truth, righteousness, and goodness: to aim at a holiness resembling the holiness of God. And, says St. Paul: "That ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness," Eph. iv. 24.
This clearly shews the excellence of real holiness, that is the perfection of the divine nature : and that by becoming truly holy, we gain a resemblance of God himself.
3. The excellence and importance of real holiness, or moral righteousness, are evident from the frequent declarations in scripture concerning its absolute necessity to our acceptance with God, and our obtaining the heavenly inheritance. We have seen at large, how the necessity of this holiness to acceptance with God, is represented in this text and context. In the New Testament, where future recompences are more insisted on, it is plainly declared, that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord," Heb. xii. 14. And "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." And " he that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, as he is pure."
4. Virtue, or true holiness, is represented in scripture as the end of all ordinances, and of all the revelations of God's will made to mankind. "Jesus Christ gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works," Tit. ii. 14. And for this purpose was the Son of God manifested, to take away our sins," and "to destroy the works of the devil," 1 John iii. 8. Through the knowledge of Christ, God has "given us all things conducive to life and godliness," or suited to promote a godly life that we might "be partakers of the divine nature," 2 Pet. i. 3, 4. And St. Paul expressly says, that "Charity is the end of the commandment," 1 Tim. i. 5.
5. This farther appears from the earnestness with which true holiness is recommended in every part of the word of God; and from the preference which is constantly given to such holiness above obedience to ritual ordinances. This is evident to every one who is at all acquainted with the scriptures.
God himself says, he "desired mercy, and not sacrifice: and the knowledge of himself, more than burnt offerings," Hos. vi. 6.
The several branches of moral righteousness are the things principally insisted on by our blessed Lord in that which is called his sermon on the mount. The like things are also earnestly recommended to Christians in the latter part of all the apostolical epistles.
Our Lord declared, the love of God and our neighbour, and not ritual ordinances and ap
pointments, to be the sum and substance of the law and prophets. Matt. xxii. 40. It is also the sum of his own doctrine, and of the preaching and writings of his apostles.
From all which particulars we evidently discern the excellence and importance of virtue, moral righteousness, or righteousness and true holiness.
III. I shall now conclude with some inferences by way of application.
1. We hence perceive the ground of the preference which is always given by wise men, and by the scriptures, to righteousness and true holiness above obedience to positive precepts, or ritual appointments. The obligation of these is founded in the will of God: but the former are reasonable in themselves, having a real excellence. And besides, they are also the will and commandment of God: and his will more especially, above, and in preference to all other
laws and commandments.
2. We perceive also why men's characters are chiefly determined by the practice of virtue: and true holiness, or the contrary; and why future rewards and punishments are to be dispensed accordingly. As our Lord declares," the wicked will go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal," Matt. xiii. 49; xxv. 46. So it will be. And we now per ceive, why it must, and should be so. The righteous have fulfilled the will of God, and performed that obedience which was the end of positive appointments, the others not. The righteous, the virtuous, have acted right, with sincerity, in their state of trial. They have attained some resemblance of the divine nature, and some preparedness for the heavenly state, of which the others are destitute.
3. What has been said upon this argument may be of use to shew the mistake of those who despise, and speak lightly of morality. Possibly, they do not thereby mean the same thing which those do who magnify it and earnestly recommend it. But they should consider that. morality, in its more proper sense and meaning, is not merely honesty in the traffick and commerce of this world; nor is it only outward action. But virtue, or morality, in its comprehensive meaning, as before observed, takes in the love of God and our neighbour, or every thing that is fit and reasonable in itself. Its laws and precepts regulate thoughts, as well as. outward actions. It is true holiness. It is the image of God in man: it is a meetness for the rewards and happiness of another life.
4. We may conclude from what has been said upon this subject, that the promoting of virtue, or righteousness and true holiness, or a right moral conduct, will be one great design of any revelation that comes from God: forasmuch as these things are truly excellent, and useful in their natural and genuine tendency. And since these things are always obligatory, it is very probable, that one great design of revelation will be to perfect men in virtue, or moral righteousness, to encourage and enforce that righteousness by new and powerful motives and arguments, and to deter men from the contrary unrighteousness. And, as before observed, we do evidently perceive this to be the great design, the sum and substance of the law, the historical writings, the book of Job, the Psalms and Prophets of the Old, and of the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles of the New Testament.
5. He that has some just sentiments of God, and a serious regard to moral obligations, is in a great measure fitted and prepared for revelation. For he must be disposed to pay a regard to one who speaks in the name of God, and gives proof of a divine commission by works of mighty power, and teaches a doctrine enforcing real holiness. This is what our Lord declares when he says: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine; whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself," John vii. 17. And when one had acknowledged, "that there is one God, and that to love the Lord with all the heart, and his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices;" he declared, that he was "not far from the kingdom of God." Mark xii. 32-34. This is what he teaches also, when he says: "No man can come unto me, except the Father which has sent me draw him :" and, "every man that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me," John vi. 44, 45.
6. From what has been said, it appears to be a dreadful thing for any man to lessen the obligation of virtue and true holiness, or moral righteousness: or to abate men's regard thereto by any means whatever, or with a view to any particular and favourite scheme of his own, or of other men's invention. Our blessed Lord has declared, that such "shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven," Matt. v. 19. And he freely reproved the scribes and pharisees, who
taught for doctrine the commandments of men, and made void the law of God by traditions, which they received, and recommended, Matt. xv. 16.
7. We are likewise carefully to avoid misrepresentations of the Divine Being, and to be very cautious of admitting any principles derogatory to the moral perfection and righteousness of God, the creator and the governor of the world. We are not only to be concerned for the honour of God, as perfect in knowledge and power: but we should also maintain his moral perfection, as a being perfectly true, righteous, good, merciful. Are these perfections in some men ? Would men want what is their greatest glory and excellence, if they should be arbitrary and unequal? And can we suppose the divine government to want justice and equity? Are great and good men merciful and forgiving? And can we deny those properties to God, the source of all being and perfection? It is easy to observe, that in scripture the greatness and majesty, and the goodness and mercy of God, are often joined together. "Thus saith the high and lofty One, that inhabiteth eternity: I dwell in the high and holy place with him also, who is of a humble and contrite spirit-For I will not contend for ever. Neither will I be always wroth. For the spirit should fail before me, and the souls that I have made," Is. lvii. 15, 16. And Elihu strongly argues: "Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity- -Yea surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment," Job. xxxiv. 10, 12.
8. We may hence infer the difficulty of describing particularly and exactly the services and enjoyments of good men in the heavenly state. They will be then perfect in holiness, and complete in happiness. Consequently a love of God and our fellow-creatures will abide, and be in great perfection. But many branches, various exercises of virtue, necessary and reasonable on earth, can have no place in heaven, where we are to be as the angels of God.
Particular descriptions therefore of the future happiness of good men, however agreeable and entertaining, will be for the most part conjectural and uncertain. We know enough from reason and scripture, to fill us with great hopes and expectations, and inspire us with the utmost zeal and diligence in perfecting holiness. The future happiness is, we know, the perfection of soul and body: it is freedom from all the imperfections of this condition. It is immortality, everlasting life, a glorious kingdom, a crown of glory that fadeth not away, an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, reserved in heaven. We are then to see God, and to be like unto Jesus Christ. But it is observable, that neither Jesus Christ, nor his apostles, have delivered particular and precise representations and descriptions of the glories of the other world, or of the services and enjoyments of good men therein. And St. Paul, who was caught up into the "third heaven and paradise," 2 Cor. xii. 3-5, absolutely declines a representation of the things he had seen and heard, and considers them as unspeakable.
9. By what has been said we may be led in some measure to the knowledge and understanding of those words of St. Paul: "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father: when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power. And when all things shall be subdued under him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all," 1 Cor. xv. 24—28.
Notwithstanding these expressions of the apostle, certainly Jesus Christ, the second Adam, will continue to be the head of his church and people, and the glory of the human nature, and will in all things have the pre-eminence, 1 Cor. xv. 45. There will for ever be given to him honour, respect, and gratitude, for what he has done for us. His people will be with him. And his presence with them will be a main source of their happiness. For, as St. Paul says: "So shall we ever be with the Lord," 1 Thes. iv. 17. And our Lord prayed, saying: Father, I will, that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me, where I am, that they may behold the glory which thou hast given me," John xvii. 24.
The meaning of that passage I apprehend to be this: that the design of Christ's undertaking is then accomplished. And as the motives and arguments taken from his life on earth, from his death, resurrection, and ascension, were especially suited to a state of weakness and imperfection, temptation and affliction: those motives and considerations will then in a great measure And the people and followers of Jesus, brought to a state of perfection, will for the future be entirely governed by the reason of things, and the will of God.. Yet still they will be for ever thankful for the gospel dispensation, and for all the condescension and humiliation of the
Lord Jesus, and for his after exaltation: by which their hearts were won to God, and they were established, and upheld in the practice of virtue, under all the difficulties they met with here, until they were brought to glory.
10. Though duties of moral obligation have the preference above others, yet positive appointments, of divine authority, are not to be omitted or neglected. These also have their use, and are expedient in the present state of things. They were wisely appointed, and therefore ought to be submitted to and obeyed. It is our Lord's own determination upon the point: "These ought ye to have done :" meaning the weightier matters of the law: " and not to leave the other undone,” Luke xi. 42.
11. Finally, let us not rest satisfied with observing positive appointments, or with any external performances, or the profession of the principles of religion, or a partial obedience: but let us sincerely do the whole will of God, so far as we are acquainted with it.
It may afford matter of sorrowful thought and consideration, that so many are far from that righteousness which is recommended both by reason and revelation: that so few are eminent therein and likewise that there are others whose character is but doubtful, both to themselves and others.
However, our main business is not to lament, or aggravate the faults or defects of others: but to amend our own. And since there is reason to fear, that many will hereafter seek to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and shall not be able: since we have the prospect of a rest remaining for the people of God, let us take heed that we fail not thereof.
If any are able to assure their hearts before God, as sincere and upright, and have a comfortable hope of the future heavenly inheritance reserved for his children: let them take the comfort of it. If ever we attain that felicity, we shall have clearer apprehensions of these truths, than now we have, and shall be ennobled by them. Now we know but in part, and prophesy but in part, and are sanctified but in part. "But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part," all imperfection, of every kind, " shall be done away," 1 Cor. xiii. 9, 10.
WISDOM ATTAINABLE BY THOSE WHO SEEK IT.
I love them that love me. And they that seek me early, shall find me.
Prov. viii. 17.
THE book of Proverbs is a large collection of excellent rules, maxims, and observations, for directing the conduct of men of every age, and almost every circumstance and condition of life. A particular regard is herein had to persons of tender age, unexperienced, and entering into the world. Counsels are delivered with much affection and earnestness. The same things are repeated, and inculcated again and again. The attention of men is excited by frequent representations of the importance of right conduct, and of the snares they are exposed to, by which they are in danger of being misled to their utter ruin.
More effectually to recommend the reasonable and useful counsels and observations here proposed, they are often delivered in the name of Wisdom. Wisdom herself is introduced, as teaching these things. So at the beginning of this chapter: "Doth not Wisdom cry, and Understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way, in the places of the paths:Unto you, O men, I call: and my voice is to the sons of men. And, as an encouragement to all to hearken to her, and pursue the rules she lays down, she says in the words of the text: "I love them that love me: and they that seek me early, shall find me."
If it were a thing of any moment, I might just observe to you, that what in our English translation is rendered, seek early, is but one word in the original. The Hebrew therefore might be as well rendered, they that seek me, shall find me. However, our translators have not done much amiss in adding something concerning the best manner of seeking wisdom: or in expressing what may be supposed to be implied in the word. "I love them that love me: and they that seek me early," or diligently, "shall find me.”
Without any farther preface, I would now immediately lay down the method in which I intend to discourse on these words.
I. In the first place I shall endeavour to shew how we are to understand the word wisdom, as used in the book of Proverbs.
II. I shall shew what is comprehended in wisdom.
III. I shall consider, what is to be understood by loving wisdom, and seeking it.
IV. I shall observe the encouragement, here set before men, to seek wisdom: they shall find it.
V. And then conclude with directions for the right manner of seeking it.
I. I shall endeavour to shew how we are to understand the word wisdom as used in the book of Proverbs.
Hereby some have understood a real person, and even a divine person. And this their opinion is founded chiefly, I think, upon some expressions in this eighth chapter. As ver. 15, By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, and all the judges of the earth:" And especially those words in ver. 22, 23: "The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was."
But the meaning of these words I take to be this: that God himself is wise, and before he 'created the world he had wisdom in himself: and that the laws of righteousness, and the rules. ⚫ of right conduct, are everlasting and unchangeable.'
It is agreeable to the stile of this book, not to understand by wisdom a real person, but an attribute, or property clothed with a personal character, or a feigned personage introduced. In like manner it has been very common for polite writers to introduce justice, or virtue, or wisdom, or prudence, delivering rules and counsels to men, or reproving their folly and extravagance. Sometimes they are represented looking down, at other times coming down from heaven to visit the abodes of mortals: or, in the style of the Proverbs, men, the sons of men: calling aloud to them, dehorting them from their evil ways, and perverse wanderings, and inviting them into the paths of truth and happiness; which reason, and the considerations of their own true interest prescribe to them.
The personage introduced in this book in the name and character of wisdom is represented to be a queen, or a wealthy matron or lady: for her servants, or attendants, are maidens. She is brought in as a matron, living in great credit. Her house is a spacious and lofty building, adorned with a magnificent portico at the entrance, consisting of seven, or many pillars. She there makes an entertainment, and invites people to come and partake of her provisions; that is, to hear and receive the rules and principles of knowledge and virtue.
This is beautifully expressed at the beginning of the ninth, the following chapter: "Wisdom has builded her house: she has hewn out her seven pillars: she has killed her beasts: she has mingled her wine: she has also furnished her table: she has sent forth her maidens: she crieth upon the highest places in the city," Prov. i. 21. Or, as in another place: "She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates. In the city she uttereth her words:" that is, in the most public and frequented places, where there is usually the greatest resort of people: "Whoso is simple let him turn in hither." She rejects not the weakest, and the most deluded. If they will but attend, she will teach them what is fit and becoming: "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither. As for him that wanteth understanding, she says to him: Come eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding."
This stately dwelling, or palace of wisdom, where men may receive instruction, is alluded to at ver. 34th of this chapter: "Blessed is the man that heareth me watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my door."
Moreover wisdom is used in this book, as equivalent to understanding or instruction. "Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice ?" Prov. viii. I. "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getting understanding," ch. iii. 13. And, "Take fast hold of instruction. Let her not go. Keep her, for she is thy life," ch. iv. 13. If understanding and instruction are not persons, what reason is there to think that wisdom is so?
And agreeable to this account is that affectionate counsel: " Say unto wisdom, thou art my sister and to understanding, thou art my kinswoman," ch. vii. 4.