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Solomon, part 3

Solomon's Choice.

1 Kings 3:1-14.

The reign of Solomon is one of the most splendid in the annals of the world. Still more celebrated for his wisdom than for his magnificence, he raised the fame of the kingdom of which he was the temporal head to a degree so eminent as to make his reign the admiration, not only of his own but of every succeeding age. The foundation of his outward grandeur and prosperity had indeed been laid by the power and energy of his father David, who had subdued his enemies on every side, and done much to prepare the way for the pursuit of national wealth in the path of peaceful industry. But, like similar advantages, these would have availed but little had not the son of David followed up the work that had been so energetically begun. Hereditary advantages, unless wisely seized upon and employed, may prove a curse instead of a blessing; but cannot be greatly improved without the virtues necessary to advancement.

The reign of Solomon is not, however, to be regarded by us simply as a temporal sovereignty of great wisdom and grandeur. Solomon was an eminent type of Him who said of Himself, "Behold a greater than Solomon is here." The history of Solomon is therefore one in which we have not merely an historical, but a spiritual and personal interest. It leads us to look through Solomon to that King who not only is wise, but in whom all wisdom dwellsówho is wisdom itself, infinite and eternal; who by His wisdom stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth; who sits upon the flood and reigns a King for ever. The kingdom over which this King reigns consists not only of the material but of the spiritual universe. Wide and magnificent is this kingdom. The whole starry heaven with its countless myriads of planetary worlds is the material seat of His empire. These vast and glorious dominions He rules with such wisdom that all is preserved in perfect order, so as to result in one grand harmony, ever showing forth the praises oof the Lord. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handywork."

If this part of His dominions is vast and glorious, what must be the extent and glory of that where angels and spirits dwell! There are congregated the spirits of those who have peopled the planets of the starry heaven for thousands of ages; and who inhabit a universe spiritual but substantial, one as far exceeding in magnificence the material universe as mind exceeds matter, and the glories of which "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man to conceive."

But He whose dominion extends over the wide universe has His kingdom no less truly in every sincere lowly mind and humble heart. For the High and Lofty One that inhabits eternity itself dwells also with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit. Here is that kingdom in which our immediate interest centres. The kingdom of God within us is that in which we are most immediately and deeply interested, since it is this which gives us admission to the general kingdom of the Lord, as it exists in the Church on earth and in heaven. To the kingdom of God as it is in the human mind we are individually directed, when contemplating under a spiritual view the representative kingdom of Israel; and that kingdom in its highest state is presented before us when the kingdom under Solomon is the subject of our reflections.

The reign of Solomon, as distinguished from the reigns of Saul and David, is descriptive of the reign of truth in its highest condition, or in the highest region of the mind. Divine truth is first received in the memory, next in the understanding, and lastly in the will. It is first known, then understood, then loved. In the memory it is knowledge, in the understanding it is intelligence, in the will it is wisdom. These are the three degrees of the reception of truth, and the quality of the truth is determined by reception. And these degrees, and the different kinds of government which exist under them, are described representatively by the successive reigns of these three kings of Israel.

In our reflections on the history of the kingdom of Israel, we have passed through the troubled reigns of Saul and of David, which place in a striking manner before us the tribulations and conflicts incident to the Christian, while wielding the truth as a sword against the corruptions of his own heart. We now come to the contemplation of a state in which these corruptions are so far removed as to admit of a more peaceful condition of mind, one in which the good rather than the truth, the love rather than the light of religion rules in the heart and understanding. It is under the rule of love that peace prevails, that justice triumphs, that prosperity advances, and that the temple of the Lord is erected in the human mind.

When the history is applied in this particular way to the mind of the regenerating Christian, Solomon is to be understood as representing the Lord, not only as He is in Himself, but as He is in manóin those who are of a contrite and humble spirit. It is the Lord in us that inspires us with every good desire, as well as with every true thought, and that leads us to every wise choice. The choice of Solomon is the choice to which the Lord guides every one who sincerely desires to be led of Him, as the only wise God our Saviour. This subject we now come to consider; and we trust it may be the means of both inclining and leading us to the attainment of the best gift of heaven óthe wisdom of being led by the Lord and not by self.

The series of the history leads us first to consider that state of mind which disposes us to ask and prepares us to receive the wisdom that comes from above. When God appeared to Solomon in a dream and desired him to ask what He should give him, the first feeling that was excited in the mind of the young king was a sense of his deficiencies. "You have made Your servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in." The first step to true wisdom is a sense of our own ignorance. This sense does not imply a state of ignorance. Ignorance does not see itself. Knowledge reveals it; and some advancement in knowledge is necessary before ignorance can be truly discovered. A sense of our own ignorance can only exist when we have made such an advancement in knowledge as to see that what we know is as nothing in comparison with what we do not know. That which Solomon confessed was not absolute but relative ignorance. He saw himself at the head of a great people that could not be numbered nor counted for multitude; and he was oppressed with a consciousness of his inability adequately to perform the duties of a judge and ruler amongst them. He was better able to discharge the duties of his high office than if, with the same amount of knowledge and discernment, he had been entirely satisfied with himself. But he never would have reached the excellence to which he attained had he not been wise enough to see how much there was to acquire that he did not possess, and had he not been humble enough to acknowledge his deficiencies, as compared with the demands that would be made upon him. These are the conditions of the understanding and the heart that give the promise of true wisdom. But to be wise in our own eyes, and to be puffed up with notions of our own superior wisdom, closes the mind against the admission of that high gift, and leaves us only full of ourselves.

Each of us, like Solomon, has a kingdom, to govern which judgement and discernment are necessary. We are required to govern in our own minds and in our own affairs. In the mind are innumerable affections and thoughts; and an understanding heart is required, more than in anything else, to enable us to discern between the good and the bad, the true and the false. The affections are good or bad, as they grow out of the love of God or the love of self; and the thoughts are true or false as they favour those affections, by reasons grounded in the truth of God or by reasonings drawn from our own carnal wisdom. We cannot discern between these, so as to judge of their real character, from any light of our own. Evil does not feel itself to be evil, falsity does not see itself to be false. So far as we judge of ourselves from our own will and wisdom, we judge unrighteous judgement; and rather reverse than confirm the judgement of heaven. For we are all alike naturally disposed to call good evil and evil good, and to put darkness for light and light for darkness. No one in an earthly court and in worldly affairs is qualified to be the judge of his own cause. How much less in matters of eternity; in the court of our own mind, if we are our own witness, and our own judge to acquit or condemn. Every spiritual and eternal matter must be brought to God, by being submitted to the law and to the testimony, which He has given for deciding every controversy, not only between man and man, but between man and Godóbetween the cause of God and that of self in the court of the human conscience. There it is that judgement is to be pronounced by every one of us. And if we would have a conscience void of offence towards God and man we must be conscious of our own inability to pronounce from day today a judgement that is just in the sight of heaven, and must desire above all things to receive the necessary wisdom from the Lord. To receive this wisdom we must become little children, not only in intellect but in heartóconscious not only of how little we know, but how little we are, so little that we know not how to go out or to come in. These words are peculiarly appropriate from the lips of Solomon; for they have relation, not to the leading of the people out to war and into peace after victory, but are expressive of the guiding of a flock by their shepherd. In this way it is applied by Moses to the leader of the congregation who should be appointed after his death, and is afterwards used in the New Testament in reference to the people of whom the Lord is the shepherd. Moses says, "Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd" (Num 27:16, 17). The Lord says, "I am the door: by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. I am the good shepherd" (John 10:9,11). These alternate acts of going out and coming in are those by which the mind is continually perfected, and by which the Christian is enabled to follow the Lord in doing His will. We go out when we engage in the affairs of the world and in the business of life, and we go in when we turn our attention inwards or retire within ourselves. We retire within ourselves for self-examination and for the cultivation of those graces that should enrich the mind, and we go out into the world in the performance of our duties, in which we practise the virtues that should adorn the life.

If we have now been enabled more clearly to see and more powerfully to feel the necessity for and the value of that gift for which Solomon prayed, we may turn our attention to the gift itself which he desired. "Give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and bad. And God said, Behold, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart."

An understanding, a hearing, a discerning heart was the gift, of all others, that Solomon desired; and the Lord gave him a heart both to be wise and to understand. This double portion of the Divine Spirit gives the power of discerning between good and evil, and between the true and the false. The higher gift, which always implies, when it does not express, the presence of the other, is that to which we shall advert; by pointing out the origin and distinctive character of true wisdom.

Wisdom has its origin in God, as has everything good and true. But every gift of God is to be obtained by something else than simply asking for it. There must be a preparation to receive it. And that preparation is made by a constant view to the end or use which it is designed to serve, and by the employment of the means for securing it. Wisdom is not knowledge, nor is it even intelligence, although it cannot exist without them. The greatest amount of knowledge, the highest degree of intelligence, cannot constitute wisdom. They differ, not in extent only, but in kind. Intelligence is more of the head, wisdom is more of the heart. The distinguishing characteristic of wisdom is, that it is not of the understanding chiefly, but of the will; that it is not truth only, but truth united to goodness; that it is not faith only, but faith united to love; that it is not speculative but practical. Wisdom is knowledge and intelligence applied to life. It does not consist in knowing many things, but in using those which are known, whether they be few or many, to the glory of God, the welfare of the neighbour, and the good of our own souls, which make up the perfection of human life.

When Solomon had set his heart upon wisdom, as that which was above all other things calculated to adorn his kingly office and exalt and bless the kingdom to which Providence had called him, he not only received that largeness of heart which he desired, but he obtained along with it the things which he thought undeserving of so solemn a prayer, but which so many in all situations of life, and especially in his, are disposed to regard as the chief good. The choice was given him by One who was able to give him what he thought good to ask: "Ask what I shall give you," said the Disposer of all things. Is not this choice still offered to the children of men? And if men were unselfish enough to covet the best gifts, the less precious would be given, at least in such measure as would be consistent with the preservation and ascendancy of the first. "Because," said the Lord, "you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life; neither have you asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies; I have done according to your words: and I have also given you that which you have not asked, both riches, and honour: and if you will walk in My ways, and keep My statutes and My commandments, then I will lengthen your days." Riches and honour, in the spiritual sense, are the riches of knowledge and the exaltation connected with it, and long life, or many days, are the states of the spiritual life, both in time and eternity, that result from obedience to the will of God. But even these lesser gifts, when given to those who desire and receive wisdom, assume a different character, because they occupy a different place in the affections of the heart. Being regarded not as ends but as means, they are subservient to the aims and efforts of wisdom, and are the ministers in its works of judgement and justice. The knowledge which leads to wisdom, or the truth which leads to goodness, is different from that which follows wisdom. The knowledge which precedes wisdom is more of our own acquisition, that which follows wisdom is more the gift of God, and has more of God in it and less of self: it is bestowed of the Divine bounty upon those who have the greater possession.

In the New Testament this result of the better choice is declared plainly and emphatically: "Seek you first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you." Wisdom is the principal thing. It is the one thing needful; and he who chooses that good part will not only secure it, but will obtain with it, and indeed in it, all things necessary for life eternal.

As true wisdom comes from heaven, it is known by its heavenly character, as distinguished from that which is earth-born. Wisdom is justified of all her children, whether they be children of light or children of darkness. "Who is a wise man," says James, "and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (James 3:13-17). Be this wisdom the object of our choice; let its fruits be manifested in our lives; and then indeed will its benign influences diffuse around us, as it will establish within us, the spirit of all that is lovely and blessed.

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