The Testimony of the Lord Makes Wise the Simple
By Alexander Carson (1776 - 1844)
The question which, in vain, is put to the wisdom of this world, receives a satisfactory answer from the weakest of those who are taught of God. Ask the authors of all the systems of philosophy that ever were promulgated, how a sinner can be saved, and you will receive an answer very diﬀerent from that of the Scriptures. They whose genius has invented the most profound and subtle theories, supported by the most abstruse speculations -- they who have discovered the laws that regulate the course of nature -- they who can solve the most diﬃcult problems in the abstract sciences, will speak like children or simpletons, when they attempt to point the way of fallen man to Heaven. They will talk inconsistently of virtue and of merit, of mercy and of justice, of imperfection and of moral worth. If they deign to recognize the Christian system under any view, it is only to make it speak their own sentiments, and sanction their vain speculations by the authority of Heaven. None of all the mere philosophers that ever lived could perceive how mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other. There is a parable in their sentiments on this subject, and each system diﬀers not more from truth, than one part of it does from the other. If human virtue is acknowledged by all to be imperfect, it must come short of the standard by which it is to be measured. How, then, can it either merit reward, or screen from punishment? That which comes not up to the standard, is in all things rejected. If God has not raised that standard unreasonably high, there can be no excuse for coming short of it. If God does not require men to come up to His standard, in order to escape punishment, or receive a reward, then His standard becomes no standard. It lies, then, upon philosophers and theologians, who propagate the sentiments of philosophers, to point out that second standard, and to ascertain the necessary degrees of excellence. But human virtue is defective, even according to the standard of philosophers themselves. How, then, can the best of men escape divine wrath? No mere philosopher will ever succeed in giving consistency even to his own scheme.
But while the wise men of this world talk at random about the divine attributes, and ﬂatter their deity with a pomp of incongruous phraseology, the illiterate peasant, who is taught by the Word of God, exhibits the divine attributes in all their extent, expatiates with wonder on their harmony, and proclaims the name of that God, whom to know is eternal life. The truth that the wisest of the sons of men do not understand, is understood by thousands of the weak things of this world. Ask poor Joseph, the London simpleton, the way to Heaven, and he will reply -- “It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, not excepting the very chief.” It is astonishing to observe what cultivation of mind the knowledge of the truth confers on the illiterate. They are enabled to talk rationally and consistently on the divine character and plan of salvation, when there is nothing but darkness, inconsistency, and error, in the discourses of the philosopher. Viewing this world in the light in which it is represented in the Scriptures, they obtain more correct views of everything respecting the state of man, and the divine government. The present state of man is the most diﬃcult problem that human wisdom has to encounter -- a problem that it cannot solve. But the knowledge of the truth explains all the phenomena of human conduct, and makes the Christian the only true philosopher. Self-knowledge, it has always been the boast of philosophy to confer, and her employment to recommend. “Know thyself,” is the great injunction of the ancient philosopher, which has always been supposed to contain the essence of all wisdom. But no man knows himself, till he knows the truth in which his true character and situation are exhibited. Of all truths, self-knowledge is the one of which the philosopher is most ignorant. He speculates on the human character, and traces the sources of human action; but he wants the key that can alone open the secret recesses of the heart. He may ascertain with great accuracy, the various powers and faculties of the mind, and communicate many valuable observations on their culture; but, to the moral state of the mind, he is an utter stranger. Partiality to himself and his race, makes him mistake its language on this subject. He hides the depravity of human thought, and veils the evil that appears in the conduct, under the names of imperfection, or defective virtue. When he draws a picture of human nature, ﬂattery guides the pencil. Her hectic cheek he suﬀuses with the redness of health and vigour, and her loathsome diseases he throws into the shade, or covers with drapery. While the philosopher’s motto is, “know thyself,” it ought rather to be, “know every thing but thyself.”
The Christian, however illiterate, views human nature in a juster light. He traces her seeming virtues to their true source, either in appearance only, or in her constitution. The benevolent aﬀections which are the philosopher’s great boast, and which are almost his only hope, the Christian ascribes to the constitution, which is the result of divine wisdom, and entitled to the rank of moral worth, no more in man than in the brute, in whose nature they are found as far as they are necessary for the preservation of the individual and the species. What the philosopher considers as slight failings or frailties, the result of excusable imperfection, the Christian condemns as manifesting enmity to God. He sees that in him, that is in his ﬂesh, or as he is born, there is no good thing.
How much the light of the Christian peasant, with respect to Providence, and the divine government, exceeds that of the philosopher, may be seen in an instant from their observations on a newspaper. The former speaks like one admitted to the council of his heavenly sovereign; the other speaks as if there were no God, or no control of Providence. Where the one ﬁnds all things dark, unaccountable, and forbidding, the other ﬁnds all things clear and consolatory. While the man of wisdom hides his head, like a child, in a thunderstorm, the man of God smiles when he hears the terrible voice of his great Creator. In short, the Christian sees everything around him with so much more clearness and accuracy, that he is like a man with an additional sense. A great philosopher observes, that to comprehend time and space, the human mind perhaps wants an additional faculty. To behold the character of God and of man, the human mind wants the light of Heaven. May the Lord open the heart of those deluded men, to attend to the things spoken by the apostles, instead of their own vain speculations.
The cultivation of mind, conferred by the knowledge of the truth, is seen in a striking point of view, in the precision and facility with which many illiterate men speak on subjects, on which even those who have employed all their lives in schools and studies cannot speak, without committing everything to memory. This is so observable, that many who are enemies to the gospel, cannot but wonder while they revile.
It has been often said, that it is necessary for philosophy to go before, as the harbinger of Christianity, that the minds of men may be civilized before they be Christianized. How unfounded this opinion is, no Christian needs to be instructed. Its fallacy may appear even to blindness itself. Who were the bitterest enemies of the truth in the days of the apostles? --- the philosophers, next to the religious zealots. Fanaticism expresses her rage by the paroxysms of madness. Philosophy attempts to laugh the gospel out of the world, and scowl her from the earth by the supercilious brow of cool contempt. Instead of taking the apostle by the hand at Athens, and introducing him to the favorable reception of the people, both the Stoics and Epicureans encountered him. Come, said the haughty wise men, let us hear what these babblers have to say. The gospel, so far from ﬁnding a friend in philosophy, meets her as an enemy, and treats her as an impious seducer of men to the worship of a false god. She needs not her services; she fears not her attacks. Though the gospel is the power of God to the salvation of the philosopher, as well as the vulgar, it is an awful truth, that not many of the wise men of this world are enlightened by it. The wisdom and sovereignty of God have left the schools of philosophy, and seats of learning generally, in the possession of His enemies, while He has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise. This is a fact obvious to every Christian that is at all conversant with the world. What reason can we assign for this? Shall we say that the gospel is not able to change the philosopher? Shall we ascribe it to the weakness of the gospel, or to the wickedness of the philosopher? To neither. We reply with Jesus.
[From Christopher Cockrell, editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, February 5, 2012, pp. 21, 27. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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