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THE Scripture seeks not to please the fastidious ear of man, but calls both persons and things by their appropriate names. Sin is declared to be the extremest folly; and those who commit it, are proclaimed fools. In the eleven verses preceding our text, the folly of fools is mentioned no less than ten times : and from this humiliating picture our text derives a force and emphasis which no single expression could give. The import of the text, as connected with the context, is this: The condition of a fool is, as you have seen, awful in the extreme: but “ seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.” This is a solemn delaration, and worthy of the deepest attention. Let us consider it, I. As a general truth
Here we may distinctly notice, 1. The character described
[There is in man a strange conceit, and a proneness to take very undue credit to himself for his abilities and attainments. Some are so confident in their own wisdom, that they seem to think they cannot err; and they would have it supposed that they possess, almost by intuition, what others have attained only by laborious investigation. Persons of this description will not condescend to examine their sentiments by any test; nor will they listen to any statements that are opposed to them. Confidence is to them in the place of proof; and any attempt to controvert their opinions excites only their indignation or contempt.] 2. His hopeless condition
[Truly pitiable is the condition of “a fool.” He is ignorant of all that constitutes true wisdom: he is also, in a great measure, incapable of receiving instruction; and the instruction he does receive, he is incapable of turning to a good account, or of making a suitable improvement of it. Of such a one there certainly is but little hope: yet is the conceited person in a more hopeless state than he. If in respect of capacity he have the advantage, he labours under a tenfold disadvantage,
by reason of his precipitancy, his confidence, his pertinacity. The endeavours used to convince him of his errors do but rivet him the more firmly in them; and opposition to him serves but to increase his obstinacy. Thus, whilst the conceit of his mind indisposes him for the proper exercise of his judgment in relation to truth, it unfits him for the reception of any benefit from
the wisdom of others : so that to bring him to sound wisdom and discretion is indeed a hopeless task. If he will not deliberate and weigh matters for himself, or listen to instruction and advice from others; and if the means used to rectify his views do but confirm him the more in his delusions, there is indeed no hope of him: and “
you may even bray him in a mortar, and he will remain the same; his conceit and folly will not depart from hima."]
The declaration in our text will be found still more weighty, if considered, II. With a more especial reference to religion
A man that carries his conceit into religion is indeed in a most deplorable state
[Truth, in general, is too pure and refined to obtain ready admittance into such a mind as his; but religious truth is altogether folly in his eyes. “ The natural man,” even though not blinded by that measure of conceit of which we have been speaking, “ receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned b.” But where, in addition to the natural blindness of the human mind, there is a large measure of overweening conceit, the state of that man is bad indeed; because every truth of the Gospel not only offends him, but offends him in proportion to its sublimity and importance. The total corruption of our nature, the necessity of a new birth by the operation of the Spirit of God, justification by faith in the Lord Jesus, and an entire dedication of the soul to God, all appear to him extravagant and absurd: he sees no occasion for such humiliating and self-denying doctrines; nor will he believe them, whatever testimony be adduced from the Holy Scriptures in support of them. In vain are God's express declarations brought before him: he believes his own conceits in preference to them: and every person that would persuade him to examine with candour, he regards as a weak visionary, and a deluded fanatic. Such a person, therefore, is never likely to come to the knowledge of the truth.
But, besides the obstacles which he meets with from the sublimity of the truths, and the blindness of his own mind, he has another source of blindness peculiar to himself: for God is particularly offended by such conduct, in reference to his revealed will; and he will "give such an one up to his own delusions, to believe a liec," and to harden himself in his impenitence and unbelief: and if once a man have provoked God so to withdraw his Holy Spirit from him, and to surrender him up to the power
a Proy. xxvii. 22.
b 1 Cor. ii. 14.
c 2 Thess. ii. 11, 12.
of sin and Satan, he will never be undeceived, till he shall open his eyes in the eternal world.]
The fool then, I say, is in a more hopeful state than he
[The fool, notwithstanding his ignorance, may learn: and if he will only submit himself to divine teaching, he shall learn; nor shall his weakness be any bar to his instruction: for God has said, that " What he has hid from the wise and prudent, he has, of his own good pleasure, revealed unto babesa:" and so plain shall his ways be made to them, that“ a wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein." Of him, then, we may have a hope, because he will use the appointed means of instruction, and will embrace truth as far as he discerns it; whilst the conceited man will not condescend to be “ taught of God," and therefore must continue ignorant even to the end, and “ perish at last for lack of knowledge."]
On this subject I would found A GENERAL EXHORTATION
[Conceit, when strongly manifested in relation to earthly things, generally excites pity and contempt; but when exercised in reference to spiritual things, is deemed oracular and wise. But I entreat all to be on their guard against it. It is most dangerous, and fatal to the soul. Humility is at the very root of divine knowledge; nor can any saving acquaintance with the Gospel spring up without it. This, then, I say to all:
Be sensible, that, instead of being “rich and increased with goods, and in need of nothing," as too many suppose themselves to be, you are in yourselves wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and nakedf”_
Bear in mind, that the Scriptures alone are the fountain and standard of truth. Every thing must be brought to the Law and to the testimony:" and "whoever speaks not according to the written word, he has no light in him 8”.
Remember, too, that it is by divine teaching only that we can understand the Scriptures. If the eyes of our understanding be not enlightened by the Spirit of God, notwithstanding the light that shines around us, we shall go on still in darkness, even as Paul did, in his unconverted state; and as the twelve Apostles did, in the midst of all their Master's instructions, till after the resurrection of their Lord h
And forget not, that this instruction must be sought by earnest prayer. God alone can give it; and it is only in answer to prayer that he will impart it to us!
Moreover, after you have been guided into truth, you must d Matt. xi. 25, 26, e Isai. xxxv. 8.
f Rev. iii. 17. 8 Isai. viii. 20. h Eph. i. 18. Luke xxiv. 45. i Prov. ii. 1-6.
still be on your guard against the same propensity which acts so powerfully in the unconverted mind. Many, after all their partial illumination, are drawn aside after “philosophy and vain deceitk." If you would be preserved in the right way, you must not only “ be converted, and become as little children," but retain a childlike simplicity even to the end. To your latest hour you need to be reminded of that counsel given to the Christians at Rome, “Be not wise in your own conceits!.” You need to be guarded against" thinking that you know any thing” perfectly; for, whilst you are under such an impression, “you know nothing yet as you ought to know m.” “ If you will be truly wise, it is by becoming fools in your own estimation, that you are to be made wise n."- If you will not follow this counsel, “ God will take
your own craftiness o I must then, as God's ambassador to you, call
attention to the warning which he has given you by the prophet Isaiah: “ Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sightP!” And to all I must recommend those petitions of God's most favoured saints, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy Law 9:" and, “What I see not, Teach thou met."] k Col. ii. 8.
1 Rom. xii. 16. m 1 Cor. viii. 2. n 1 Cor. ii. 18. 0 1 Cor. iii. 19, 20. p Isai. v. 21. 9 Ps. cxix. 18. r Job xxxiv. 32.
DCCCXI. A CAUTION AGAINST DEPENDING UPON FUTURE TIME. Prov. xxvii. 1. Boast not thyself of tomorrow : for thou
knowest not what a day may bring forth. THE opinions of men are not less opposite to the mind of God in what relates to practice, than in the most mysterious doctrines of our holy religion. We are told, that“ the things of the Spirit are esteemed as foolishness by the natural man:” and to what an extent they are so, is visible in the commendation universally given to a worldly spirit, and in the contempt poured upon heavenly-mindedness, as though it were the offspring of folly and enthusiasm. But in the judgment of God there is no truer mark of wisdom than to consider earthly things as transient and worthless, and to place one's-self continually as on the brink and precipice of eternity. To this effect Solomon speaks in the passage before us: in discoursing on which, we shall,
I. Explain the caution here given
It is of great importance to distinguish between providing for to-morrow, and presuming upon tomorrow: the former is necessary for our very existence, since without it, the whole world would be in a state of stagnation : but the acting as if we were certain of another day, is the error against which we are cautioned. Now we do this,
1. When our affections are inordinately moved by present things-
[If we feel eager desires after any earthly thing, so as to envy the possessors of it, and account the attainment of it necessary to our happiness; or, if we take such delight in what we do possess, as to forget that this world is not our rest, and that infinitely higher joys are prepared for us above; or if we grieve exceedingly on account of some loss we have sustained; we manifest that we have been promising ourselves many days, and even years to come: for, would a person
very solicitous about a vanity that he thought might very probably last but a day? Or would he so congratulate himself on a possession which he apprehended to be of such short continuance? or would he lay so much to heart the loss of any thing which he had expected to enjoy but a little time? We cannot but see that in proportion as he was impressed with a sense of the shortness and uncertainty of time, and its nothingness in comparison of eternity, his affections would be moderated towards every object of time and sense: he would " rejoice as though he rejoiced not, and weep as though he wept not, and use every thing as not abusing it."]
2. When we are but little interested about eternal things
[Every one knows that sin must be repented of; and that, if the guilt of it be imputed to us, we must perish. But this is not all; we must be born again and be made new creatures in Christ Jesus: and though this be not generally understood, every one has an idea that he must become religious before he die, if he would find acceptance with God in the world to come. Now if persons be deferring the great work of religion, whence can that delay arise but from their expectation of some more convenient season, when they shall execute their purposes
of reformation and amendment? Or if they commit sin, whence can they be emboldened to do so, but from a secret confidence that they shall live to repent of it; and to rectify what they know to be amiss? Would any man deliberately do what he knows must be undone, or leave undone what he knows he must