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It was, therefore, I would suppose, at the
of twenty, or of twenty-six years, that Solomon saw himself called to fill the throne of the greatest of kings, and to enter on those exalted duties of which we have given but an imperfect sketch. How disproportioned did the vocation seem to the age! It is then, that we give scope to presumption, which has a plausible appearance, being as yet unmortified by the recollection of past errors. It is then, that a jealousy of not being yet classed by others among great men, prompts a youth to place himself in that high rank. It is then, that we regard counsels as so many attacks on the authority we assume to ourselves. It is then, that we oppose an untractable disposition as a barrier to the advice of a faithful friend, who would lead us to propriety of conduct. It is then, that our passions hurry us to excess, and become the arbitrators of truth and falsehood, of equity and injustice.
Presumptuous youths, who make the assurance with which you aspire at the first offices of state, the principal ground of success, how can I better impress you with this head of my discourse, than by affirming that the higher notions you entertain of your own sufficiency, the lower you sink at the bar of equity and reason. The more you account yourselves qualified to govern, the less you are capable of doing it. The sentiment Solomon entertained of his own weakness, was the most distinguished of his royal virtues. The profouud humility with which he asked God to supply his inability, was the best disposition for obtaining the divine support.
IV. We are come at length to the last, and to the great object of the history before us. We shall show you, on the one hand, our hero preferring the requisite talents, to pomp, splendour, riches, and all that is grateful to kings ; and from the vast source opened by Heaven, deriving but wisdom and understanding. We shall show on the other hand, that God, honouring a prayer so enlightened, accorded to Solomon, the wisdom and understanding he had asked, and with these, riches, glory, and long life.
Who can forbear being delighted with the first object, and who can sufficiently applaud the magnanimity of Solomon ? Place yourselves in the situation of this prince. Imagine, for a moment, that you are the arbitrators of your own destiny, and that you hear a voice from the blessed God, saying, “ Ask what I shall give thee.” How awful would this test prove to most of our hearers! If we may judge of our wishes by our pursuits, what strange replies should we make to God! What a choice would it be! Our privilege would become our calamity, and we should have the awful ingenuity to find misery in the very bosom of happiness. Who would say, Lord, give me wisdom and understanding ; Lord, help me worthily to discharge the duties of the station with which I am entrusted ? This is the utmost of all my requests ; and to this alone I would wish thy munificence to be confined. On the contrary, biassed by the circumstance of situation, or swayed by some predominant passion, one would say, Lord, augment my heaps of gold and silver, and in proportion as my riches shall increase, diminish the desire of expenditare : another, Lord, raise me to the highest scale of grandeur, and give me to trample under foot the men who shall have the assurance to become my equals, and whom I regard as the worms of earth. How little, for the most part, do we know ourselves in prosperity! How incorrect are our ideas! Great God, do thou determine our lot, and save us from the reproach of making an unhappy choice, by removing the occasion. Solomon was incomparably wiser. Filled with the duties of his high station, and awed by its difficulties, he said, “ Lord, give thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad.”
But if we applaud the wisdom of Solomon's prayer, , how much more should we applaud the goodness and munificence of God's reply? “Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life, neither hast thou asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies. But hast asked understanding to discern judgment. Behold, I have done according to thy word. Lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; and I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honour, so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee, all thy days.”
How amply was this promise fulfilled, and how did its accomplishment correspond with the munificence of him by whom it was made! In virtue of this promise, “I have given thee an understanding heart.” We see Solomon carrying the art of civil government to the highest period it can ever attain. Witness the profound prudence by which he discerned peace he
the real from the pretended mother. Bring me a sword.—Divide the living child into two parts, and give half to the one, and half to the other.” 1 Kings, iii. 24, 25. Witness the profound
procured for his subjects, and which made the sacred historian say, that “ Judah, and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine, and under his fig-tree.” iv. 25. Witness the eulogium of the sacred writings on this subject, “that it excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt; that he was wiser than Ethan, than Herman, than Chalcol, and Darda ;” that is to say, he was wiser than every man of his own age. Witness the embassies from all the kings of the earth to hear his wisdom. Witness the acclamation of the queen, who came from the remotest kingdom of the earth to hear this prodigy of wisdom.
“ It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy wisdom, and behold, the half was not told me. Thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard. Happy are these thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom.” 1 Kings, x. 6, 7, 8.
And in virtue of this other promise, “I have given thee glory and riches ;” we see Solomon raise superb edifices, form powerful alliances, and sway
sceptre over every prince, from the river even unto the land of the Philistines ; that is from the Euphrates to the eastern branch of the Nile, which separates Palestine from Egypt, and making gold as plentiful in Jerusalem as stones. 2 Chron, ix. 26. 1 Chron. i. 15.
It would be easy to extend these reflections, but on confining to this alone, I should fear being charged with having evaded the most difficult part of the subject to dwell on that which is sufficiently plain. The extraordinary condescension which God evinced towards Solomon; the divine gifts with which he was endowed, the answer to his prayer, “I have given thee an understanding heart,” collectively involve a difficulty of the most serious kind. How shall we reconcile the favours with the events? How could a man so wise commit those faults, and perpetrate thosé crimes which stained his lustre at the close of life? How could he follow the haughty license of oriential princes, who displayed a harum crowded with concubines? How in abandoning his heart to sensual pleasure, could he abandon his faith and his religion? And after having the baseness to offer incense to their beauty, could he also offer incense to their idols? I meet this question with the greater pleasure, as the solution we shall give will demonstrate, first, the difficulties of superior endowments ; secondly, the danger of bad company; thirdly, the peril of human grandeur; and fourthly, the poison of voluptuousness; four important lessons by which this discourse shall close.
First, the difficulties attendant on superior talents. Can we suppose that God, on the investure of Solomon with superior endowments, exempted him from the law which requires men of the humblest talents to improve them ? What is implied in these words, “I have given thee understanding ?” Do they mean,
I take solely on myself the work of thy salvation, that