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 petition and became so wise that the rulers of the world came to sit at his feet in order to learn of the wisdom that God had given to him. 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. Holy Wisdom in Greek is Sophia and in Latin is Sapientia. It is given by God to man to instruct him in the ways that lead to eternal life. When a man allows himself to be instructed in her ways, she will lead him forward into the possession of what is true, beautiful, and good.
Now you might be saying to yourselves, well, this all sounds fine, but what does it have to do with my life? Everything, Solomon, the King and preacher, insists. Why, you ask? Because man is made to explore, to understand, and to love. And not merely to explore and understand the world around us or to love our fellow men. All of that is important enough. But the point is that we were made to know, understand, and love God. Solomon knew all of this, and this is why he goes to all the trouble of explaining it to us! He knew that we were made to know and 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 that incorruption that brings us near to God. (Wisdom vi. 20)
So, you respond, all right, 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 the principles of order, arrangement, relation, 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 constantly in all of creation. Then, you shall be inspired by 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 has made the vast universe that surrounds him, painted it with beauty, and elicited the great goods that ensure his comfort; nor has he informed it with that truth that combines minute complexities 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.
Yet, there is more. While we are contemplating nature, and discovering the principles of truth, beauty, and goodness in it, we do this through a particular 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 Bishop continues and says that the same soul, through which he reflects upon his own reflecting, can move out of itself and 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 all that we have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched through recollected contemplation. 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 man! 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?
Still, 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 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 and manner through which 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 and 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.
And 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 well-being. To submit to this Divine labor, the human soul must lovingly receive the instruction and discipline that Wisdom enjoins. Wisdom desires to direct the soul to order, govern, 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 person 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) So to live according to God’s Wisdom is to live in Christ. To live in Christ means to accept the loving punishment, correction, instruction, and discipline that Christ’s 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 of God, whereby we [can] cry, Abba, Father. (Ibid, 15) To call God Abba means that through Christ we can call the Father Daddy. This opens us to an intimate 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)
In submitting our lives to Jesus Christ’s pattern and discipline, we can begin to be moved by the Divine Wisdom. The way to it is summarized in today’s Collect. We pray:
O God, whose never failing providence ordereth all things both in
heaven and earth; we humbly beseech thee to put away from us all
hurtful things, and to give us those things which are profitable for us….
God’s all seeing eye, God’s Holy Sapientia or Wisdom, Jesus Christ, orders our created universe. Now, we pray that His Wisdom might order us. First, through His Wisdom we ask to locate and identify our temptations. Christ has gone this way before us and thus He alone sees into our hearts and knows what is most hurtful and harmful to our salvation. He alone has a penetrating knowledge of our temptations. Second, we ought to pray that His Grace might put away from us all hurtful things. The Light of His Wisdom has the Power that alone can overcome our vices and replace them with those things which are profitable for our salvation.
Christ, the Wisdom of God and the Power of God, is also the Love of God. This Love of God in Jesus Christ desires to lift us out of bondage to sin so that we might become the Sons of God. A sure and lasting sign of this love is found in the work of His all sufficient sacrifice for us on Calvary’s Tree. The ongoing impartation of this salvific love is found in the offering of Christ’s Body and Blood today. The Power to embrace its Wisdom is found through the Love of the Spirit who will make us the children of God…[and]… then joint heirs with Christ if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans viii 17)