Wisdom is that quality in man which gives him ability to understand the true nature of things with which he may have to do, whether such things be material or moral; also to apprehend their right relation to one another, and how they will behave under certain conditions. Hence when circumstances of disorder arise he knows just at once and exactly what has taken place, what has been thrown out of its proper position, how far it has got out of its right relation to everything else, whether it is possible to reinstate it again in its the position, and how may be brought about.
A quest after wisdom, and a perfect confidence in his own natural ability to inquire into mysteries, has been the undoing of the whole race of fallen Adam. Indeed, the ability to the moral question which was at the beginning, and, it seems to me, which was known by our first parents to be then in the universe, was the bait the devil used to lead them to destruction. Had they been really wise they would have understood that the state in which their beneficent Creator had set them was the only state proper to them, according to the order in which they were created, and that the abandonment of this state of innocence would mean disaster for them. But even apart from this, the commandment given to them, which forbade their meddling with this question of good and evil, a question which did not concern them, along with the declared consequence of their transgression, should have deterred them from interfering in a question too high for them.
But man, having to his own ruin sought after wisdom, and found himself a fool when he had acquired it must go on from generation to generation in his profitless quest, gaining nothing in his life of disobedience that can satisfy his heart. With a life forfeited by transgression, a heart deceitful above all things and incurably wicked, and a mind antagonistic to God, the poor deluded tool of the devil is driven onward in the hopeless attempt of solving the riddle of the universe, as he calls it; the elucidation of the question of good and evil. Wading through the darkness of an atheistical world, and a tangle of questions impossible of solution by any human being, he gropes about in the blind night of his ignorance of God for some friendly finger-post that will guide him to the goal where he will find this mystery unravelled, nor have centuries of defeat convinced him of the hopelessness of his quest.
But the wisdom of fallen man has ever been his folly, for it will not have the revelation God has given of Himself, but supposes itself capable of solving every question regarding the sorrowful condition in which the human race is found. The natural mind of man, being always infidel, carefully excludes God, and thus is he left in darkness, and in the bands of his powerful adversary the devil, who’s every effort is directed toward the degradation of the creature made in the image and likeness of God.
The direction in which man’s natural wisdom (which is really folly) leads him is in plain but terrible words set before us in the first chapter of Romans. There the course taken by the world after the deluge is portrayed in all its loathsome corruption and soul-sickening horror. The eternal power and Godhead of the Creator, as witnessed by creation, was the property of the immediate descendants of Noah. But instead of being thankful for this light, they “became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:20-23).
This is the value of human wisdom, as it is found in fallen man, from the very outset of the present world. And the history of the world, as recorded in the Holy Scriptures, shows that until the Gospel of the grace of God came to the Gentiles there was no change in it. It was the same world, idolatrous and corrupt, when Paul visited Athens, as it was when Abraham was called out of Ur of the Chaldees as God’s witness to the one true and Almighty God (Acts 17:22-25; Gen. 12). The Athenians had an altar in Athens erected “to the Unknown God,” thus confessing that all their boasted wisdom had left them in ignorance of their Creator.
But nothing has so demonstrated the folly of such wisdom as the cross has done. In Jesus God was perfectly declared, presented before the eyes of men by works of power, mercy, and grace; but “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not” (John 1:10). He has to say, “O righteous Father, the world has not known Thee” (chap. 17:25). Not only that, but judging Him to be a malefactor, they put Him to an ignominious death upon a gibbet. And it was the princes, or leaders, of the world that did it. It was the head, the brains, of the world; not the madding thoughtless crowd. “The world by wisdom knew not God.”
Who would be foolish enough to trust man’s wisdom after such an exhibition of it as that? The Creator in His own world, putting man’s boasted wisdom to the test, and that wisdom giving his verdict against His title to anything but a malefactor’s death. At the cross that wisdom displayed itself. The Maker of the world in the world He had made was the greatest test that ever was, or could be, applied to the intelligence of the creature, and there the full value of his wisdom was estimated, and proven to be the most utter folly. It is not merely that the testimony of Created things to the power and Godhead of the Creator was refused, but the manifestation of that Creator, even in mercy and love to the creature, was equally refused.
Man had indeed sought out many inventions, and in his knowledge of material things his progress was undeniable; but as to the knowledge of God he was in a darkness that might be felt.
True, he was a worshipper; but the gods he worshipped were the works of his own hands, and these represented demons to his mind and heart (1 Cor. 10:20). He could not drive the thought of God out of his conscience, and the devil taking hold of this thought represented God to him as hard, cruel, jealous, and malignant, thus diverting the worship due to God alone from its proper Object to a demon. But this is man’s wisdom, exercising itself from a base out of which is carefully excluded all knowledge of the true and only God, and though in the sphere of the activities of his self-conceit, the footprints of his beneficent Creator are clearly traceable, his innate repugnance to the acknowledgment of God blinds his eyes to the evidence of the Divine Presence, “for He is not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27)
This unclean spirit of idolatry (Matt. 12:43-45) had, at the time of our Lord’s presence upon earth, gone out of the nation, and out of that nation he still remains; but in the near future he will return, and bring “seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they shall enter in and dwell there.” Therefore the last state of that evil generation shall be worse than the first. The apostate nation of Israel will once again turn to idolatry, and in a worse form than ever it has been previously seen.
That nation had boasted itself in a knowledge of God, which it really did not possess. To that people God had declared His name, as the self-existing and unchanging One, and for centuries the Jew had been under Divine tuition and cultivation; but at the end he was manifested to be as really ignorant of God as was the Gentile. He no more recognized Jehovah in the lowly Jesus, than did the Gentile His Creator; and had just as little appreciation of that gracious and marvellous revelation.
It might be advanced, in excuse for this, that it would have been impossible for man, whatever he might be, either good or bad, to have recognized in the lowly Nazarene the God that made the worlds. This, I do not doubt, is so; but two things of which man was guilty make the rejection of Jesus criminal on his part. The first is, that when men had the knowledge of God, in the light in which the things that are made bear witness to Him, they deliberately gave Him up, and placed themselves under the tyranny of demons. To this I have already made reference (Rom. 1). And this was just as true of Israel as it was of the Gentile world. At Sinai they apostatized from Jehovah, and worshipped a golden calf; and all through the wilderness it was the same thing, as the Spirit of God says, “Ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves” (Amos 5:26). “They sacrificed unto devils, not to God” (Deut. 32:17). The effect of this upon men was to pervert whatever natural wisdom they had (Isa. 6:10; Rom. 1:21). Therefore if men by their wickedness brought themselves into this moral condition, as blind to the glory of Jesus come into their midst in grace, they have only themselves to blame, and their lack of perception of that glory becomes all the more criminal.
The second is that to which also I have already made reference, his innate hatred of God will not allow him to admit that which cannot reasonably be denied; for it was true that the Jews both knew who Jesus was, and knew Him not. He says, “Ye both know Me, and ye know whence I am”; and, “Ye neither know Me nor my Father” (John 7:28; 8:19). The works that He did bore witness to His eternal Sonship and Divine glory, and forced conviction so powerfully upon their consciences, that unable to deny the power that was at work amongst them, they in their insane hatred of God attributed these works to the devil himself. This presentation of God in grace to this world has left man stark naked in his sin, and given us to estimate the wisdom of the world at its true value. The enemies of Jesus were thoroughly convinced in their consciences as to whom He was, but their hatred of Him was too great to allow them to acknowledge the truth, even to their own souls. Fallen man would have God neither as Lawgiver nor as Saviour.
But this only makes the wisdom of God more manifest, for the counsels of God, which were before the world, were all centred in the last Adam, and concerned a new order of man, which alone could be in blessing with God. The full rebellion, ruin, and incorrigible wickedness of the old order gave occasion to the cross of Christ, for there, as nowhere else, was brought to light the fallen creature’s utter abhorrence of God; but there also the judgment of man, as after the flesh, and his removal from before God, in Him who was made sin for us; and in Christ risen from the dead, and glorified we have the Man of God’s counsels, in the place, relationship, and condition designed for man in the wisdom of God “before His works of old.”
The cross of Christ is the witness of the utter folly of man’s boasted wisdom, and though to the mind of man it may appear both weakness and foolishness on the part of God, it is really the demonstration of His power and wisdom. It is His power, for by it He has paralysed the forces of the devil, annulled death, glorified Himself in His attributes and nature, made salvation righteously possible for the human race, laid a firm foundation upon which can be, and shall be, built up a moral universe immune from the power of evil; and it is the place where, not only has His condemnation of sin been expressed in the sight of every intelligent creature, but where also has come to light the unspeakable love of His heart. And it is His wisdom, for where the creature would have supposed everything to be lost, it was just there that everything was gained. It was the only way by which His eternal counsels could have been fulfilled, the only way by which our severance from the old order could have been effected, the only way by which we could have been placed “holy and without blame before Him in love,” and on the ground of which we could have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
Through the cross an opportunity has been given to God of bringing into view all that He had in His heart, when He laid the foundation of the earth, and when He gave to the sea His decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment. Now that the cross has taken place He can bring to light that resurrection world, which at present shines so brightly before the vision of faith, filled with the light of His own perfect revelation, and where is learned the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world to our glory, the things that God has prepared for them that love Him.
I have already spoken of wisdom as that quality in man by which he understands the true nature of things, and their relationship to one another. Now where a man has in power in his soul the consciousness that he is an intelligent creature of God, responsible to yield to Him implicit and unquestioning obedience, that God is holy and righteous, unable, because of these attributes, to forgo His claims upon His creature, that death lies upon Him as the righteous judgment of God, and that he has no hope of evading that judgment, or of being able to render to God an equivalent for his sinful life; then the fear of God enters his soul, and compels him to hearken to God’s terms of salvation. This is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10).
The preaching of the cross becomes glad tidings to such a person. He learns of the intervention of God in his behalf. The judgment which lay upon him he beholds borne by Another. His sins and the nature that committed them have both come under the judgment executed in the cross of Christ. There in the sight of every intelligent being in the universe God has given expression to His utter abhorrence and refusal of sinful flesh, that old Adam nature, that always repelled every advance on God’s part toward man, whether that advance was in law or grace. And in Christ risen from the dead, the last Adam in the presence of God, he finds his place. No longer does he take account of himself as in the flesh, at a distance from God, with every thought of God a terror to his guilty conscience; but seeing his sins gone in the death of Christ, and now brought into new relationships with God, and set before His face for ever, in a new world of life and light and glory and eternal love, established there by the power of the Spirit of God, the wisdom of God thus exhibited bursts upon his spiritual vision with a glory above the brightness of the sun, so that all his moral being breaks forth into everlasting song, and he is forced to exclaim, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been His counsellor? or who has first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed to Him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”