Chapter 8

from
Lectures on the Book of Proverbs
by
Ralph Wardlaw


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Proverbs 8:1

"Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice?"

Whatever may have been the satisfaction experienced by many devout minds in reading this chapter, especially the latter part of it, as if it contained the words of Christ and evidence of his pre-existent divinity, of his love from eternity, of his eternal purposes of mercy towards our fallen world, I dare not on this account withhold what I believe to be the true principle of interpretation. The objections to its meaning Christ or the Word before he became flesh, when "in the beginning he was with God and was God" (John 1:10), are to my mind quite insuperable.

1. It should be noticed that the passage is not so applied in any part of the New Testament. You will misunderstand me if you imagine that I adduce this consideration as any direct objection to the interpretation in question. It certainly does not follow that from the circumstance of a passage not being actually explained of Christ in the New Testament that it must not therefore be so explained. What I mean is no more than this: that from its not being so explained there, we are relieved from any necessity of so explaining it. Had any New Testament writer expressly applied any part of the chapter to the Son of God, this would have been a key which we could not have been at liberty to refuse. Such necessity then being thus precluded, the direct objections may be allowed to have their full force. Observe, then,

2. Wisdom here is a female personage. All along this is the case. Now under such a view the Scriptures nowhere else, in any of their figurative representations of "the Christ," ever thus describe or introduce Him. The application on this account appears to me exceedingly unnatural.

3. Wisdom does not appear intended as a personal designation inasmuch as it is associated with various other terms of synonymous or at least of corresponding import. Were it meant for a personal designation, like the LOGOS or WORD in the beginning of John's Gospel, this would hardly have been admissible.

4. That the whole is a bold and striking personification of the attribute of wisdom as subsisting in Deity appears further from what she is represented as saying in verse 12: "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge and discretion." Here wisdom is associated with prudence; and the import of the association is that wisdom "directs to the best ends and to the choice of the best means for their attainment." Prudence, or discretion, teaches to shun whatever might, in any way or degree, interfere with and impede or mar their accomplishment. This is precisely what wisdom as an attribute or quality does. And it is worthy of note that this association of wisdom with prudence is introduced by the Apostle as characterizing the greatest of the divine inventions and works--that of our redemption: "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence." Wisdom was associated with prudence in framing and perfecting that wonderful plan.

5. It is very true that there are many things here, especially in the latter part of the chapter, that are in a very interesting and striking manner applicable to the divine Messiah. But that things which are true of a divine attribute can also apply to a divine person is no more than what might have been anticipated. The question is not whether particular expressions and representations can be applied naturally and emphatically to the Eternal Word, but whether they should be. The answer must be determined by such considerations as have been mentioned, and by the general scope of the passage and style of the Book.


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Proverbs 8:24

"When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills, I was brought forth."

This is one of the very few passages adduced in support of the doctrine of eternal generation of the Son of God; that is, of his having been the Son of the Father from eternity according to his divine nature alone--mysteriously and eternally begotten in the essence of Deity. But there is evidently a previous question to be considered, namely, whether the Son of God in person is the speaker. Till this has been clearly and fully established, the words ought not to be quoted in evidence. And in my judgment, the considerations assigned in the last lecture render this interpretation much more than doubtful.

On the authority of the Holy Scriptures, I do firmly believe that in the divine essence there has subsisted from eternity a threefold personal distinction; but how, according to what mode, this distinction subsists I do not think the Bible at all informs us. All that has been said and written about the Father being the Fountain of deity, about the Son as "begotten but not proceeding," and the Holy Spirit as "proceeding but not begotten," has long appeared to me only as showing the eagerness of men to pry into the mysterious beyond the limits of revelation. There is ground to fear that such expressions convey no ideas. And yet, as often happens, the more remote the subject from all human comprehension the more fiery the dogmatism of the different parties! What hair-splitting niceties of distinction (often without perceptible difference) have been maintained and vindicated as if each of them for himself had succeeded in "finding out God," in "finding out the Almighty unto perfection."

Holding firmly the belief I have already stated, I do not believe it to be the doctrine of Scripture that any one of the Divine Three possesses divinity by communication. I am not for divesting our holy religion of any of the mysteries belonging to it that have clear Bible authority to support them. But I am very hostile to making mysteries beyond what that authority evidently affirms. And I am strongly inclined to think that the doctrine now referred to [eternal generation] is more than a mystery--it is self-contradictory. I am unable to think of communication without the idea of priority and posteriority, of supremacy and dependence, of inferiority as connected with derivation. Nor can I think of such communication, or generation, as eternal without a feeling of contradiction.

It was my anxiety to maintain the true, underived, independent divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ that first led me to doubt the prevalent systematic doctrine about "generation and procession from eternity." And the more I searched the more I became convinced that there is not one atom of Scripture evidence for the "eternal procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son," the only text adduced in its support (John 15:26) having no relation whatever to any such subject. The proper Deity of the Son of God--eternal, underived, independent--is incomparably better sustained (and the mind freed of all its feelings of impossibility and contradiction) by regarding the title SON OF GOD as belonging to Christ according to the complex constitution of his mediatorial person, as "God manifest in the flesh," a sense quite peculiar to Himself and of which the Scriptures abound in proofs.


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Proverbs 8:30-31

"Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in His inhabited world, and my delight was with the sons of men."

Wisdom was the constant companion or associate of all God's plans and all their execution, inseparable from God in all he purposed and in all he did, and "was daily his delight." I cannot but consider the word daily here as having immediate reference to the successive days of the world's creation. As the products of divine power and wisdom successively appeared on each of these days, the almighty and all-wise Creator delighted in the manifestation of his own perfections. Even God's intelligent creatures have pleasure in putting forth their faculties, and in witnessing their successful results. God's work is perfect, and His satisfaction correspondingly perfect. And what but this divine satisfaction can be meant when it is said, "God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good" (Gen. 1:31); and afterward, that "on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed" (Ex. 31:17)?

The personification gets bolder still: "rejoicing always before Him." The counsels of wisdom, when carried into execution, advances the glory of God. And she is, in the figure, strikingly represented as rejoicing or exulting in this--rejoicing in His very presence--there being nothing in the results of her counsels of which she has any reason to be ashamed.

It is added, as the consummation of Wisdom's joy, "rejoicing in His inhabited world, and my delight was with the sons of men." There can be no doubt that Divine Wisdom delighted in the last creative effort of the sixth day more than in all that had preceded it: "In man the last, in him the best, His Maker's image stood confessed."

Wisdom was displayed in man's creation, but wisdom was to be magnified still more in man's redemption. The scheme by which this was to be effected should contain in it a display of wisdom unparalleled in any of the wonders of creative power and skill. It was to be a plan of mercy to the last, in which all the perfections of the divine character should be shown shining forth in blessed harmony, all equally glorified, all mutually illustrating each other, providing for the honor--the unsullied honor--of justice in the exercise of mercy and saving the fallen creature. All this was enacted without the slightest infringement of the rights of Yahweh's holy government or the slightest abatement or sacrifice of the claims of His eternally righteous law. Nay more, it was not merely without infringement of the divine glory, but with such an augmentation of it as should fill eternity with the adoring homage of an intelligent universe.

It was, we apprehend, especially on this account that Wisdom delighted here. Not indeed with any complacency in the character of fallen man, but with joy in the anticipation of a temple being reared on the ruins of his apostate nature. In this, higher notes of praise should sound to the glory of God (for his love and mercy, justice and purity, truth, wisdom and power) than had ascended to him from Eden itself. Yahweh as the God of man's creation was glorious. Yahweh as the God of man's salvation was to be still more glorious, and the delight of divine Wisdom was to be proportionally more elevated and exquisite.


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