For the very beginning of [wisdom] is the desire of her discipline; and the care
of discipline is love. And love is the keeping of her laws; and the giving heed
unto her laws is the assurance of incorruption. And incorruption
maketh us near to God.
(Wisdom vi. 17-20)
The Book of Wisdom is traditionally ascribed to Solomon, son of David, and King of Israel. He lived some nine hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, and he is known for his wisdom. The First Book of the Kings tells us that he prayed for wisdom, so that he might have an understanding heart to judge [his] people…[to] discern between good and evil. (1 Kings 9) Solomon was granted his wish and became so full of God’s Wisdom that the rulers of the world came to sit at his feet in order to learn. Solomon was not wise in his own conceits; rather he knew that true Wisdom is a gift from God. And he reminds us also that without God’s Wisdom we cannot hope to be saved. So, he exhorts his readers and listeners to pursue the instruction and discipline of Holy Wisdom. It is given to man to instruct him in the ways that lead to eternal life. Instruction is understood as the work of a loving God. When a man allows himself to be instructed in Wisdom’s ways, he realizes that he is being led forward into the reality of incorruption, and so he begins to love Wisdom as a Divine Attribute and virtue which is generated in the human heart. God’s gives his Wisdom to us to reveal His love for us and our own desire for Wisdom increases.
Now you might be saying to yourselves, well this all sounds all well and good, but what does it have to do with my life? The answer is everything because we were made to know, to understand, and to love. For this Man was made and not merely to know and understand the surrounding creation, nor to love our fellow men. All of that is important enough. But the point is that we were made for knowledge, love, and discipline. Solomon knew all of this, and this is why he goes to all the trouble of explaining it to us! Indeed, we were made not only to know but to love God because He is the source, origin, and cause of all knowledge and love. And His knowledge and love are given to us that we might find the discipline that leads to incorruption and brings us near to God. (Wisdom vi. 20)
So, we wonder, but how do I find this knowledge and love? Well, if you are an inquisitive and conscientious student of the natural world, you can find a lot of God’s knowledge and love at work there. In nature, you will find substances, qualities, quantities, relation, place, time, position, having, acting, and being acted upon. The principles of order and arrangement reveal truth, beauty, and even goodness that you neither create nor control. If you take the time to be quiet and still enough, you will find God’s mind and heart at work. And what you should come away with is a deep sense of awe and wonder at the marvels of the created universe. Such an endeavor starts a man on the journey after Wisdom. The Wisdom that is found is clearly Divine. No man’s reason has made the vast universe that surrounds him or painted it with beauty and goodness. No man’s reason has combined minute particulars into one harmonious and majestic whole. Nature itself, if we would only contemplate it, leads our minds to the fount and wellspring of God’s Divine Wisdom.
And yet there is more. While we are contemplating nature and discovering the principles of truth, beauty, and goodness in it, we might wonder next how we do it. We do it through the operation and activity of the soul. The 17th century Anglican Bishop William Beveridge tells us that we ought to marvel at this fact also. He says that he comes to know that he has a soul because he can reason and reflect. (W. Beveridge: Thoughts on Religion, 1) Other creatures have souls but don’t know it. They act and know it not; it being not possible for them to look within themselves, or to reflect upon their own existence and actions. But this is not so with me, the good Bishop says. I not only know that I have a soul, but that I have such a soul which can consider and deliberate on every particular action that issues from it. Nay, I can now consider that I am considering my own actions and can reflect upon [my own] reflecting. (Ibid, 2) The same soul with which the Bishop reflects upon his own reflecting, then moves out of itself to examine and study the whole of the universe, mounting from earth to heaven, from pole to pole, and view all the courses and motions of the celestial bodies, the Sun, the Moon, the Stars; and then the next moment returning to myself again, I can consider where I have been, what glorious objects have been presented to my view, and wonder at the nimbleness and activity of my soul. (Ibid, 2,3) The good Bishop reminds us that we can move out of ourselves to consider the whole of the universe with our souls, and then return into our souls, and still reflect upon and study all that we have seen and heard, though not present to it through our remembering and recollection. What a marvel! Have you ever considered it? And more than all this, the same soul can move the body and all its parts, and even understand, consider, argue, and conclude; to will and nil; hope and despair, desire and abhor, joy and grieve; love and hate; to be angry now, love and appease.(Ibid, 3) What a miracle is this man that each of us is! And what does all of this mean if not that we are made to know and to love and to discover finally that God’s Wisdom is the source and cause of it all?
And yet there is this difficulty. Bishop Beveridge reminds us that we are not merely souls or spirits like angels but are souls who inhabit bodies. And our bodies always tend towards corruption, disintegration, and death. Our souls and spirits are spiritual and incorruptible. But they are joined to flesh which decays, fades, and passes away. The place of the soul’s trial and testing, in the here and now, is with the body. The way the soul and body cooperate will determine the eternal and incorruptible state of the whole human person, body and soul, in eternity. Should the soul seek God’s Wisdom, apply it to the whole person, then in the end times man will be saved. Should he refuse the rule and governance of God’s Wisdom in this life, he will be damned.
This brings us back to the Wisdom of Solomon. In our opening quotation we read that the application of Wisdom to the soul and body demands our submission to instruction and education. God’s instruction and education reveal the love and care of Wisdom for every human being’s ultimate welfare and wellbeing. To submit to this Divine labor, the human soul must lovingly receive the instruction that Wisdom enjoins. Wisdom desires to direct the soul to order, tame, and discipline the body. St. Paul says in this morning’s Epistle reading that we must not be debtors…to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if [we] live after the flesh, [we] shall die. But if [we] through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, [we] shall live. (Romans viii. 12, 13) When Wisdom is applied to the body, the whole man is right with God, for he is then moved and defined by the Spiritual Truth that God intends for the body and the soul. If Wisdom is not applied, then man faces spiritual death in which both soul and body shall live alienated and separated from God forever. St. Paul says that They that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (Ibid, 8-10) He says in another place that Christ [is] the wisdom of God and the power of God. (1 Cor. i. 24) Living by God’s Wisdom, is to live in Christ. This means to accept the loving instruction and discipline that His Spirit brings to man’s life. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (Romans viii. 14)
Life in Christ is an invitation to become the sons and daughters of God, whereby we [can] cry, Abba, Father.(Ibid, 15) This opens us to a relationship with God whose Wisdom will enable us to love to keep [His] laws…bringing us near to incorruption…[with a] desire for [the] wisdom [which] brings us near to [His] kingdom. (Wisdom vi. 18-20) We find God’s Wisdom in nature and then in the life of Jesus Christ our Lord. In submitting humbly and adjusting our lives to Christ, we can be moved by the Divine Wisdom and reveal it to others.
In this morning’s Gospel Christ tells us that by [men’s] fruits, ye shall know them. (St. Matthew vii. 20) A man’s spiritual worth are measured by the thoughts, words, and deeds that issue forth through his body from his soul. But Man must beware lest his soul does not embrace Christ’s indwelling presence. False prophets who come to us, appearing as sheep are often ravening wolves, (St. Matt. vii. 15) who desire to confound God’s Wisdom and sever us from eternal happiness. To them, the Cross is foolishness. (1 Cor. i. 18) We must be vigilant against them so that Christ, the Crucified Wounded Healer, can overcome us with His Sacrificial Love. We reach our end only if we pray that God will put away from us all hurtful things and give us those things which be profitable for us. (Collect Trinity VIII) Solomon knew that hurtful things sever us from the sacrificial life that surrenders to God’s Wisdom, as he looks forward to the Cross of Jesus Christ, which is God’s Wisdom made flesh. Christ reminds us, Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in Heaven. (Ibid, 21) So, with Bishop Beveridge, [let us] resolve…in the presence of Almighty God, that from this day forward, [we] will make it our whole business…to look after [our] happiness in Heaven, and to walk circumspectly those blessed paths, that God appointed all to walk in, that ever expect to come to Him. (Ibid, 4)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: