The Wisdom Hidden from Man The Wisdom Revealed to Man. B. C. 1520.
20 Whence then cometh wisdom? and where is the place of understanding? 21 Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of the air. 22 Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears. 23 God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. 24 For he looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven 25 To make the weight for the winds and he weigheth the waters by measure. 26 When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder: 27 Then did he see it, and declare it he prepared it, yea, and searched it out. 28 And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom and to depart from evil is understanding.
The question which Job had asked (Job 28:12) he asks again here for it is too worthy, too weighty, to be let fall, until we speed in the enquiry. Concerning this we must seek till we find, till we get some satisfactory account of it. By a diligent prosecution of this enquiry he brings it, at length, to this issue, that there is a twofold wisdom, one hidden in God, which is secret and belongs not to us, the other made known by him and revealed to man, which belongs to us and to our children.
I. The knowledge of God's secret will, the will of his providence, is out of our reach, and what God has reserved to himself. It belongs to the Lord our God. To know the particulars of what God will do hereafter, and the reasons of what he is doing now, is the knowledge Job first speaks of.
1. This knowledge is hidden from us. It is high, we cannot attain unto it (Job 28:21,22): It is hid from the eyes of all living, even of philosophers, politicians, and saints it is kept close from the fowls of the air though they fly high and in the open firmament of heaven, though they seem somewhat nearer that upper world where the source of this wisdom is, though their eyes behold afar off (Job 39:29), yet they cannot penetrate into the counsels of God. No, man is wiser than the fowls of heaven, and yet comes short of this wisdom. Even those who, in their speculations, soar highest, and think themselves, like the fowls of the air, above the heads of other people, yet cannot pretend to this knowledge. Job and his friends had been arguing about the methods and reasons of the dispensations of Providence in the government of the world. "What fools are we" (says Job) "to fight in the dark thus, to dispute about that which we do not understand!" The line and plummet of human reason can never fathom the abyss of the divine counsels. Who can undertake to give the rationale of Providence, or account for the maxims, measure, and methods of God's government, those arcana imperii--cabinet counsels of divine wisdom? Let us then be content not to know the future events of the Providence until time discover them (Acts 1:7) and not to know the secret reasons of Providence until eternity discover them. God is now a God that hideth himself (Isaiah 45:15) clouds and darkness are round about him. Though this wisdom be hidden from all living, yet destruction and death say, We have heard the fame of it. Though they cannot give an account of themselves (for there is no wisdom, nor device, nor knowledge at all in the grave, much less this), yet there is a world on the other side death and the grave, on which those dark regions border, and to which we must pass through them, and there we shall see clearly what we are now in the dark about. "Have a little patience," says Death to the inquisitive soul: "I will fetch thee shortly to a place where even this wisdom will be found." When the mystery of God shall be finished it will be laid open, and we shall know as we are known when the veil of flesh is rent, and the interposing clouds are scattered, we shall know what God does, though we know not now, John 13:7.
2. This knowledge is hidden in God, as the apostle speaks, Ephesians 3:9. Known unto God are all his works, though they are not known to us, Acts 15:18. There are good reasons for what he does, though we cannot assign them (Job 28:23): God understands the way thereof. Men sometimes do they know not what, but God never does. Men do what they did not design to do new occurrences put them upon new counsels, and oblige them to take new measures. But God does all according to the purpose which he purposed in himself, and which he never alters. Men sometimes do that which they cannot give a good reason for, but in every will of God there is a counsel: he knows both what he does and why he does it, the whole series of events and the order and place of every occurrence. This knowledge he has in perfection, but keeps to himself. Two reasons are here given why God must needs understand his own way, and he only:--
(1.) Because all events are now directed by an all-seeing and almighty Providence, Job 28:24,25. He that governs the world is, [1.] Omniscient for he looks to the ends of the earth, both in place and time distant ages, distant regions, are under his view. We do not understand our own way, much less can we understand God's way, because we are short-sighted. How little do we know of what is doing in the world, much less of what will be done? But the eyes of the Lord are in every place nay, they run to and fro through the earth. Nothing is, or can be, hidden from him and therefore the reasons why some wicked people prosper remarkably and others are remarkably punished in this world, which are secret to us, are known to him. One day's events, and one man's affairs, have such a reference to, and such a dependence upon, another's, that he only to whom all events and all affairs are naked and open, and who sees the whole at one entire and certain view, is a competent Judge of every part. [2.] He is omnipotent. He can do every thing, and is very exact in all he does. For proof of this Job mentions the winds and waters, Job 28:25. What is lighter than the wind? Yet God hath ways of poising it. He knows how to make the weight for the winds, which he brings out of his treasuries (Psalms 135:7), keeping a very particular account of what he draws out, as men do of what they pay out of their treasuries, not at random, as men bring out their trash. Nothing sensible is to us more unaccountable than the wind. We hear the sound of it, yet cannot tell whence it comes, nor whither it goes but God gives it out by weight, wisely ordering both from what point it shall blow and with what strength. The waters of the sea, and the rain-waters, he both weighs and measures, allotting the proportion of every tide and every shower. A great and constant communication there is between clouds and seas, the waters above the firmament and those under it. Vapours go up, rains come down, air is condensed into water, water rarefied into air but the great God keeps an exact account of all the stock with which this trade is carried on for the public benefit and sees that none of it be lost. Now if, in these things, Providence be so exact, much more in dispensing frowns and favours, rewards and punishments, to the children of men, according to the rules of equity.
(2.) Because all events were from eternity designed and determined by an infallible prescience and immutable decree, Job 28:26,27. When he settled the course of nature he foreordained all the operations of his government. [1.] He settled the course of nature. Job mentions particularly a decree for the rain and a way for the thunder and lightning. The general manner and method, and the particular uses and tendencies, of these strange performances, both their causes and their effects, were appointed by the divine purpose hence God is said to prepare lightnings for the rain, Psalms 135:7; Jeremiah 10:13. [2.] When he did that he laid all the measures of his providence, and drew an exact scheme of the whole work from first to last. Then, from eternity, did he see in himself, and declare to himself, the plan of his proceedings. Then he prepared it, fixed it, and established it, set every thing in readiness for all his works, so that, when any thing was to be done, nothing was to seek, nor could any thing unforeseen occur, to put it either out of its method or out of its time for all was ordered as exactly as if he had studied it and searched it out, so that, whatever he does, nothing can be put to it nor taken from it, and therefore it shall be for ever, Ecclesiastes 3:14. Some make Job to speak of wisdom here as a person, and translate it, Then he saw her and showed her, &c., and then it is parallel with that of Solomon concerning the essential wisdom of the Father, the eternal Word, Proverbs 8:22-31, &c. Before the earth was, then was I by him, John 1:1,2.
II. The knowledge of God's revealed will, the will of his precept, and this is within our reach it is level to our capacity, and will do us good (Job 28:28): Unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord that is wisdom. Let it not be said that when God concealed his counsels from man, and forbade him that tree of knowledge, it was because he grudged him any thing that would contribute to his real bliss and satisfaction no, he let him know as much as he was concerned to know in order to his duty and happiness he shall be entrusted with as much of his sovereign mind as is needful and fit for a subject, but he must not think himself fit to be a privy-counsellor. He said to Adam (so some), to the first man, in the day in which he was created he told him plainly it was not for him to amuse himself with over-curious searches into the mysteries of creation, nor to pretend to solve all the phenomena of nature he would find it neither possible nor profitable to do so. No less wisdom (says archbishop Tillotson) than that which made the world can thoroughly understand the philosophy of it. But let him look upon this as his wisdom, to fear the Lord and to depart from evil let him learn that, and he is learned enough let this knowledge serve his turn. When God forbade man the tree of knowledge he allowed him the tree of life, and this is that tree, Proverbs 3:18. We cannot attain true wisdom but by divine revelation. The Lord giveth wisdom, Proverbs 2:6. Now the matter of that is not found in the secrets of nature or providence, but in the rules for our own practice. Unto man he said, not, "Go up to heaven, to fetch happiness thence " or, "Go down to the deep, to draw it up thence." No, the word is nigh thee, Deuteronomy 30:14. He hath shown thee, O man! not what is great, but what is good, not what the Lord thy God designs to do with thee, but what he requires of thee, Micah 6:8. Unto you, O men! I call, Proverbs 8:4. Lord, what is man that he should be thus minded, thus visited! Behold, mark, take notice of this he that has ears let him hear what the God of heaven says to the children of men: The fear of the Lord, that is the wisdom. Here is, 1. The description of true religion, pure religion, and undefiled it is to fear the Lord and depart from evil, which agrees with God's character of Job, Job 1:1. The fear of the Lord is the spring and summary of all religion. There is a slavish fear of God, springing from hard thoughts of him, which is contrary to religion, Matthew 25:24. There is a selfish fear of God springing from dreadful thoughts of him, which may be a good step towards religion, Acts 9:5. But there is a filial fear of God, springing from great and high thoughts of him, which is the life and soul of all religion. And, wherever this reigns in the heart, it will appear by a constant care to depart from evil, Proverbs 16:6. This is essential to religion. We must first cease to do evil, or we shall never learn to do well. Virtus est vitium fugere--Even in our flight from vice some virtue lies. 2. The commendation of religion: it is wisdom and understanding. To be truly religious is to be truly wise. As the wisdom of God appears in the institution of religion, so the wisdom of man appears in the institution of religion, so the wisdom of man appears in the practice and observance of it. It is understanding, for it is the best knowledge of truth it is wisdom, for it is the best management of our affairs. Nothing more surely guides our way and gains our end than being religious.