"The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens."--PROV. iii. 19.
Did it ever strike you as a very remarkable and important thing, that after saying in Proverbs iii. that Wisdom is this precious treasure, and bidding his son seek for her because (verse 16) "Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left hand riches and honour: Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace,"--Solomon goes on immediately to say (verses 19, 20), "The Lord by Wisdom hath founded the earth, and established the heavens?"
By Wisdom: by the very same Wisdom, Solomon says, which is to give men length of days, and riches, and honour. Is not this curious at least? That there is but one wisdom for God and man? That man's true wisdom is a pattern of God's wisdom? That a man to prosper in the world must get the very same wisdom by which God made and rules the world? Curious. But most blessed news, my friends, if we will think over what it means. I will try to explain it to you: first, as to this world which we see; next, as to the heavenly world of spirits which we do not see.
You have, many of you, heard the word "Science." Many of you of course know what it means. That it means wisdom and learning about this earth and all things in it. Many more of you of course know that in the last hundred years science has improved in a most wonderful way, and is improving every day; that we have now gas-lights, steam-engines, cotton- mills, railroads, electric telegraphs, iron ships, and a hundred curious and useful machines and manufactures of which our great-grandfathers never dreamed; that our knowledge of different countries, of medicines, of the laws of health and disease, and of all in short which has to do with man's bodily life, is increasing day by day; and that all these discoveries are very great blessings; they give employment and food to millions who would otherwise have had nothing to do; they bring vast wealth into this country, and all the countries which trade with us. They enable this land of England to support four times as many human beings as it did two hundred years ago; they make many of the necessaries of life cheaper, so that in many cases a poor man may now have comforts which his grandfather never heard of.
I know that there is a dark side to this picture; that with all this increase of wisdom, there has come conceit, and trust in deceitful riches, and want of trust in God, and obedience to His law. I know that in some things we are not better, but worse than our forefathers; God forgive us for it! But the good came from God; and that man is very unwise and unthankful too, who despises God's great gift of science, because fallen man has defiled His gift as it passed through his unclean hands.
Look only at this one thing, as I said just now, that by all these wonderful discoveries and improvements, England is able to support four times as many Englishmen as it used of old, and that, if we feared God, and sought His kingdom better, I believe, England would support many more people yet--and see if that be not a thing to thank Almighty God for every day of our lives.
Now how did this wonderful change and improvement take place--suddenly, and, as it were, in the course of the last hundred years? Simply by mankind understanding the text (Prov. iii. 19), and by obeying it. I tell you a real truth, my friends, and it happened thus.
For more than sixteen hundred years after our Lord's time, mankind seem to have become hardly any wiser about earthly things, nay, even to have gone back. The land was no better tilled; goods were no more easily made; diseases were no better cured, than they had been sixteen hundred years before. And if any learned men longed to become very wise and cunning, and to get power over this world and the things in it, they flew off to witchcraft, charms, and magic, deceived by the devil's old lie, that the kingdom and the power and the glory of this world belonged to him and not to God.
But about two hundred and fifty years ago, it pleased God to open the eyes of one of the wisest men who ever lived, who was called Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, Lord Chancellor of England, and to show him the real and right way of learning by which men can fulfil God's command to replenish the earth and subdue it. And Francis Bacon told all the learned men boldly that they had all been wrong together, and that their wisdom was no better than a sort of madness, as it is written, "The wisdom of man is foolishness with God;" that the only way for man to be wise was to get God's wisdom, the wisdom with which He had founded the earth, and find out God's laws by which He had made this world.
"And then," he said, "if you can do that, you will be able to imitate God in your own small way. If you learn the laws by which God made all things, you will be able to invent new things for yourselves. For you can only subdue nature by obeying her." That was one of his greatest sayings, and by it he meant, that you can only subdue a thing and make it useful to you, by finding out the rules by which God made that thing, and by obeying them.
For instance, you cannot subdue and till a barren field, and make it useful, without knowing and obeying the laws and rules of that soil; and then you can subdue and conquer that field, and change and train it, as I may say, to grow what you like. You cannot conquer diseases without knowing and obeying the laws by which God has made man's body, and the laws by which fever and cholera and other plagues come.
Let me give you another instance. You all have seen lightning conductors, which prevent tall chimneys and steeples from being struck by storms, so that the lightning runs harmless downward. Now we can all see how this is conquering the force of lightning in a wonderful and beautiful way. But before you can conquer the lightning by a conductor, you must obey the lightning and its laws most carefully. If you make the conductor out of your own head and fancy, it will be of no use. You must observe and follow humbly the laws which God has given to the lightning. You must make the conductor of metal wire, or it will be useless. You must make it run through glazed rings, or it will be only more dangerous than no conductor at all; for God who made the lightning chose that it should be so, and you must obey if you wish to conquer.
Man could not conquer steam, and make it drive his engines and carry his ships across the seas, till he found out and obeyed the laws which God had given to steam; and so without breaking the laws, man turned them to his own use, and set the force of steam to turn his machines, instead of rushing idly out into the empty air.
So it is with all things, whether in heaven or earth. If you want to rule, you must obey. If you want to rise to be a master, you must stoop to be a servant. If you want to be master of anything in earth or heaven, you must, as that great Lord Verulam used to say, obey God's will revealed in that thing; and the man who will go his own way, and follow his own fancy, will understand nothing, and master nothing, and get comfort out of nothing in earth or heaven.
Well--when Lord Verulam told men his new wisdom, they laughed and scoffed, as fools always will at anything new. But one by one, wise men tried his plan, and found him right, and went on; and from that time those who followed Lord Verulam began discovering wonders of which they had never dreamed, and those who did not, but kept to the old way of witchcraft and magic, found out nothing, and made themselves a laughing stock. And after a while witchcraft vanished out of all civilised countries, and in its place came all the wonderful comforts and discoveries which we have now, and which under God, we owe to the wisdom of the great Lord Verulam. Cotton mills, steam engines, railroads, electric telegraphs, sanitary reforms, cheap books, penny postage, good medicine and surgery, and a thousand blessings more. That great Lord Chancellor has been the father of them all.
And a noble thought it is for us Church people, and a glorious testimony to the good training which the Church of England gives, that the three men, who more than any others laid the foundation of all our wonderful discoveries, I mean Lord Verulam, Mr. Boyle, and Sir Isaac Newton, were all of them heart and soul members of the Church of England.
I said just now that the man who will not obey, will never rule; that the man who will not stoop to be a servant, will never rise to be a master; that the man who neglects God's will and mind about things, and will follow his own will and fancy, will understand nothing, and master nothing, and get comfort out of nothing, either in earth or heaven.
Either in earth or heaven, I say. For the same rule which holds good in this earthly world, which we do see, holds good in the heavenly world which we do not see. Solomon does not part the two worlds, and I cannot. Solomon says the same rules which hold good about men's bodies, hold good about their souls. The great Lord Verulam used always to say the same, and we must believe the same. For see, Solomon says, that this same wisdom by which God made the worlds, will help our souls as well as our bodies; that it is not merely the earthly wisdom which brings a man length of life and riches, but heavenly wisdom, which is a tree of life to every one who lays hold of her (Prov. iii. 18). The heavenly wisdom which begins in trusting in the Lord with all our heart, the heavenly wisdom which is learnt by chastenings and afflictions, and teaches us that we are the sons of God, is the very same wisdom by which God founded the earth, and makes the clouds drop down dew! Strange at first sight; but not strange if we remember the Athanasian creed, and believe that God is one God, who has no parts or passions, and therefore cannot change or be divided.
Yes, my friends, God's wisdom is one--unchangeable, everlasting, and always like itself; and by the same wisdom by which He made the earth and the heavens, by the same wisdom by which He made our bodies, has He made our souls; and therefore we can, and are bound to, glorify Him alike in our bodies and our spirits, for both are His.
It may not seem easy to understand this; but I will explain what I mean by an example. I just told you, that in earthly matters we must stoop to conquer; we must obey the laws which God has given to anything, before we can master and use that thing. And in matters about our own soul--about our behaviour to God--about our behaviour to our fellow-men, believe me there is no rule like the golden one of Lord Verulam's--stoop to conquer--obey if you wish to rule. For see now. What is there more common than this? It happens to each of us every day. We meet a fellow- man our equal, neither better nor worse than ourselves, and we want to make him do something. Now there are two ways in which we may set about that. We may drive our man, or we may lead him. You know well enough which of those two ways is likely to succeed best. If you try to drive the man, you say to yourself, "I know I am right. I see the thing in this light, and he is a fool if he does not see it in the same light. I choose to have the thing done, and done it shall be, and if he is stupid enough not to take my view of it, I will let him know who I am, and we will see which of us is the stronger!" So says many a man in his heart. But what comes of it? Nothing. For the other man gets angry, and determines to have his way in his turn. There is a quarrel and a great deal of noise; and most probably the thing is not done. Instead of the man getting what he wants, he has a fresh quarrel on his hands, and nothing more. So his blustering is no sign that he is really strong. For the strong man is the man who can get what he wants done. Is he not? Surely we shall all agree to that. And the proud, hot, positive, dictatorial, self-willed man is just the man, in a free country like this, who does not get what he wants done. He will not stoop--therefore he will not conquer.
But suppose we take another plan. Suppose instead of trying to drive, we try to lead. Suppose if we want a man to do anything, we begin by obeying him, and serving him, that we may afterwards lead him, and afterwards make use of him. There is a base, mean way of doing that, by flattering, and fawning, and cringing, which are certainly the devil's works. For the devil can put on the form of an angel of light; but we need not do that. We may serve and obey a man honestly and honourably, in order to get him to do what he ought to do. I will tell you what I mean.
Suppose when we have dealings with any man, we begin with him, as I was saying we ought to begin with earthly things--with a field for instance--we should say, before I begin to make this field bear the crop I want I must look it through and understand it. I must see what state it is in--what its soil is--what has been taken off it already--what the weather is--what state of drainage it is in, and so forth; and I must obey the rules of all these things, or my crop will come to nothing. So with this man. First of all, before I get anything out of the man, I must understand the man. I must find out what sort of temper and character he has, what his opinions are, how he has been brought up, how he has been accustomed to look at things--so as to be able to make allowance for all, else I shall never be able to understand how he looks at this one matter, or to make him understand my way of looking at it. And to do that--to understand the man, or make him understand me, I must begin by making a friend of him.
There, my friends--there is one of the blessed laws of the kingdom of Heaven, that in a free country (as this, thank God, is) the only sure way to get power and influence over people, is by making friends of them, by behaving like Christians to them, making them trust you and love you, by pleasing them, giving way to them, making yourself of service to them, doing what they like whenever you can, in order that they may do to you, as you have done to them, and measure back to you (as the Lord Jesus promises they will), with the same measure with which you have measured to them. In short, serving men, that you may rule them, and stooping before them that you may conquer them.
And if any of you are too proud to try this plan, and think it fairer to drive men than to lead them, I can tell you of two persons who were not as proud as you are, and were not ashamed to do what you are ashamed to do--and yet they are two persons, before the least of whom you would hang your head, and feel, as I am sure I should, a very small, and mean, and pitiful person if I met them in the road.
For the first, and by far the least of the two, is St. Paul. Now St. Paul says this was the very plan by which he got influence over men, and persuaded and converted them, and brought them home to God, by being himself a servant to all men, and pleasing all men, being a Jew to the Jews, and a Greek to the Greeks, and all things to all men, if by any means he might save some. Giving up, giving way, taking trouble, putting himself out of the way, as we say here, all day long, to win people to love him, and trust him, and see that he really cared for them, and therefore to be ready to listen to him. From what one can see of St. Paul's manners, from his own Epistles, he must have been the most perfect gentleman; a gentle man, civil, obliging, delicate minded, careful to hurt no one's feelings; and when he had (as he had often) to say rough things and deal with rough men, doing it as tenderly and carefully as he could, like his Master the Lord Jesus Christ, lest he should break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax. Which of us can read the Epistle to Philemon (which to my mind is the most civil, pleasant, kindly, gentlemanlike speech which I know on earth), without saying to ourselves, "Ah, if we had but St. Paul's manners, St. Paul's temper, St. Paul's way of managing people, how few quarrels there would be in this noisy troublesome world."
But I said that there was one greater than St. Paul who was not ashamed to behave in the very same way, stooping to all, conciliating all. And so there is--One whose shoes St. Paul was not worthy to stoop down and unloose--and that is, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself--who ate and drank with publicans and sinners, who went out into the highways and hedges, to bring home into God's kingdom poor wretches whom men despised and cast off. It was He who taught St. Paul to behave in the same way. May He teach us to behave in the same way also! St. Paul learnt to discern men's spirits, and feel for them, and understand them, and help them, and comfort them, and at last to turn and change them whichever way he chose, simply because he was full of the Spirit of Christ, who is the Spirit of God, proceeding both from the Father and the Son.
For St. Paul says positively, that his reason for not pleasing himself, but taking so much trouble to please other people, was because Christ also pleased not Himself. "We that are strong," he says, "ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every man please his neighbour for his good unto edification, for even Christ pleased not Himself," (Rom. xv. 1-3.) And again, "We have a High Priest who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities," (Heb. iv. 15). So it was by stooping to men, that Christ learned to understand men, and by understanding men He was able to save men. And again, St. Paul says, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, and equal with God," yet--"made Himself of no reputation, but took upon Him the form of a slave, and was made in the likeness of man, and being found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," (Phil. ii. 5, 9, 10).
There, my friends--there was the perfect fulfilment of the great law--Stoop to conquer. There was the reward of Christ's not pleasing Himself. Christ stooped lower than any man, and therefore He rose again higher than all men. He did more to please men than any man; and therefore God was better pleased with Him than with all men, and a voice came from Heaven, saying--This Person who stoops to the lowest depths that He may understand and help those who were in the lowest deep--this outcast who has not where to lay His head, slandered, blasphemed, spit on, scourged, crucified, because He will help all, and feel for all, and preach to all; "this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," (Matt. iii. 17). "The brightness of my glory,--the express image of my person," (Heb. i. 3).
My friends, this may seem to you a strange sermon, which began by talking of railroads and steamships, and ends by talking of the death and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ; and you may ask what has the end of it to do with the beginning?
If you want to know, recollect that I began by saying that there was but One wisdom for earth or heaven, for man and for God; and that is the wisdom which lies in stooping to conquer, as the Lord Jesus Christ did. Think over that, and behave accordingly; and be sure, meanwhile, that whenever you feel proud, and self-willed, and dictatorial, and inclined to drive men instead of leading them, and to quarrel with them, instead of trying to understand them and love them, and bring them round gently, by appealing to their reason and good feeling, not to their fear of you--then you are going not God's way, no, nor man's way either, but the devil's way. You are going, not the way by which the Lord Jesus Christ rose to Heaven, but the way by which the devil fell from Heaven, as all self-willed proud men will fall. Proud and self-willed men will not get done the things they want to be done; while the meek, those who are gentle, and tender, and try to draw men as God does with the cords of a man and the bands of love, will prosper in this world and in the next; they will see their heart's desire; they will inherit the land, and be refreshed in the multitude of peace.