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[ 1] SERMON I.
Religion and Virtue, confidered under the Notion of Wisdom.
PROVERBS I. 1,2, 3,4.
'The proverbs of Solomon the fan of
AN Y one who" readeth the proverbs S E R
S E R M. fort fcem to be the firft twenty-four chapI. ters, and of the latter, the remaining part 'of the book, under this title, chap. xxv. i. fhefe are alfo proverbs of Solomon, 'which the men of Hezekiah copied out. But though the writing is of this unconnected kind, yet one may plainly fee a general defign in it, which the author keepeth always in his view; that is,. to reclaim the fimple from their folly, by giving them a juft notion^ and a true tafle of real wifdom; and to furnifh men in general with fuch infractions, fuch excellent rules of life, as might be profitable to direct their whole behaviour. Thus he beginneth, fetting forth the writer's chief aim, and by its excellence befpeaking the attention of the reader. The proverbs of Solomon the fon of David.king of Ifrael; to know wifdom and inftruEtion; to perceive words of under ftanding; to receive .the inftrufiions of wifdom, jujlice, and judgment, and equity; to give fubtilty to the .fimple; to the young man knowledge and difcretion. Betides a great many fcattered hints, in almoft every chapter, which fet the- counfels of the excellent moralift in the amiable light of wifdom, . underflanding, and difcretion, he fometimes, as in the 3^,
the 8th, and Qth chapters, doth defignedly, S E R M. and even out of his profefTed method, that is, more largely than in the way of proverbs, infifl on the beauty and excellence of wifdom, inviting men ferioufly and fteadily to contemplate her charms, that they may admire her inftru&ions, and give themfelves up to her condudt.
Wifdom is introduced in the dramatick way (which is an antient, and, when well managed, a very ufeful way of writing) as a divine perfon appearing in a very lovely form, difplaying her native worth and beauty; and by the moft powerful perfuafives, and the moft affectionate manner of addrefs, foliciting the degenerate fons of men to hearken to her counfels for their good. The reafohablenefs and happy effects of our complying with her propofals are reprefented, and the vanity of all thofe things which rival wifdom for our afFe&ions, is fully fhewn. The means, and the neceffary difpofitions on our part, in order to our attaining the true difcretion here juftly celebrated, are particularly mentioned, and thofe prejudices laid open, with the folly and unreafonablenefs of them, which fhut mens minds, and harden their hearts againft it.
B 2 "With
Serm. With thefe things in our view as its main
'*' defign, let us carefully read the Book of Proverbs, Some perhaps neglect and difregard it 'as dry morality; but certainly it containeth pure religion, and undefiled before God the Father y excellent rules for the conduct of life; and it marketh out the way in which alone we can hope for the divine acceptance, and the folid peace which arifeth from the teftimony of an approving confcience. That you may read it with the greater advantage, I will endeavour, in this difcourfe, to explain the nature, characters> and ufes of the wifdom of which it treateth; and making that the ftandard, we may try fome things which have the appearance of wifdom, and, perhaps, correct fome wrong Motions we have entertained in a matter of fo great importance: and by that amiable character, which muft be high in the efteem of every confiderate perfon, if it appeareth to be juftly applied, we may be induced to confent to, and praetife the rules Solomon prefcribeth.
In general, it is very plain that what this author meaneth by wifdom, is true religion and virtue; whether it be worthy of that name, efpecially in the peculiar and diftina gui fhing
guifhing manner he giveth it, in oppofition S E R M. to every thing elfe that pretends to it, I fhall afterwards confider; at prefent, I obferve, that what he meaneth by wifdom, is religion and virtue; and you will fee it to be fo, if you look into the following paffages in the yth verfe of this chapter; The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; which was a principle Solomon learned from his pious father, to whofe inftructions he often refers in this book, and acknowledgeth his great obligations to them. This was David's doctrine, Pfal. cxi. 10, and indeed it was a maxim received by wife men in ages long before theirs, as you may fee in Job xxviii. 28. where it is reprefented to be the fum of what God taught men, as the fubftance of their duty, and their moft important concern. The fear of the Lord, in the ftile of the facred writers, fignifieth univerfal religion, becaufe it is an eminent part of it, proper enough therefore, by art ufual way^of fpcaking, to defcribe the whole; and becaufe it is a principle which, when the mind is duly poflefled with, and brought thoroughly under its power, cannot fail of producing obedience to all the commandments of God. As every branch of virtue