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THE CUNNING MA N.
JEREMIAH IX. 5.
They will deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth. They
have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit
iniquity. MAN owes it to God, as his master, and to himself as a rational creature, so to direct, as far as in him lies, the main scope of his life, that, when he is summoned to appear before God, he may not find occasion to reproach himself, at least, with a general neglect of such opportunities, as God hath bestowed on him, to answer the true ends of living, and to promote his own real happiness.
Whether these two important purposes may be best answered by wisdom or cunning, or whether cunning and deceit
may be allowed to have any share in such a work as this, of which God is to be the judge, will be worth our while to inquire. And that this inquiry may set out on clear and demonstrative grounds, it will be our business to begin with stating the true distinction between wisdom and cunning, and between their effects respectively.
There are but three things necessary to make a wise man; the first is, a clear and certain knowledge of his chief good, of the main end and happiness for which his nature was intended. If he neither knows in what his happiness consists, nor where it is placed, it is impossible, let his knowledge in other respects be what it will, that he should shape the course of his life, or aim his endeavours, at an end worthy of a reasonable being. Should he take his happiness 'to consist in that which it does not, he may employ the whole force of the strongest understanding, and the best abilities, in the pursuit of his own misery and ruin; at least he may lose himself and his labour in false appearances of good, or unhappily lay out both on good so inconsiderable, as to have no title to the main drift of his endeavours.
The second thing necessary to make a wise man, is a clear knowledge of the easiest and surest means whereby his true happiness may be arrived at. If he knows not this, the bare knowledge of his true happiness will only serve to make him the more miserable. A just title to a great estate is a most vexatious misfortune to any man, if he neither knows how to prove it, nor to get into possession.
The third thing necessary to make a wise man, is strength and resolution steadily to employ the means, without which, the important end he aims at cannot be attained to. If he wants this, his knowing wherein his happiness consists, and whereby it may be obtained, can answer no other purpose than to torment and afflict him. He is like the cripple at the pool of Bethesda, who eagerly desiring the use of his limbs, and knowing his cúre lay in the water, could not however find means to getinto the water, before it was too late.
The man, who knows not where his happiness is placed, cannot so much as direct his face towards it. He who knows this, but is ignorant of the means, cannot even set out on a journey towards it. And although he knows both perfectly well; yet, if the road, through these means, should be long and difficult, or he lazy and irresolute, it were as well, or better, for him to be wholly ignorant.
He who knows not what his true happiness consists in, is an ignorant man. He who neither knows it, nor will suffer himself to be taught it, is a stupid and obstinate man. He who knows it, but prefers somewhat else to it, and aims the main of his endeavours at the attainment of that somewhat, is a fool. He who makes this absurd preference, and chiefly labours for the attainment of something, in which his main happiness does not really consist; nay, who, not content with erring thus fundamentally against his own knowledge, pursues, as his chief good, the inferior end he proposes, not by the fair and natural means that lead to it, but by short cuts, and disingenuous arts, is a cunning man; that is, not only a fool, but a knave.
But still, more perfectly to conceive the nature of cunning, it will be proper to take it in another light. Nothing serves so clearly to distinguish it from true wisdom, as its remarkable short-sightedness. Cunning, in the conduct of our lives, consists mainly in a rash attachment to ends, and
a ready invention of means, without sufficient judgment in the choice; and, to finish its character, it is always misled by a wrong bias of the heart and affections, which proves too strong for its judgment. Wisdom, on the contrary, consists in a judgment strong enough to lead the heart, to choose a right end, and to find proper means for the accomplishment of that end. Cunning can easily lay such a scheme as shall be successful in bringing about a particular end, and so far may assume the appearance of wisdom. But if the end is foolish, and the means dangerous, it proves itself to be only cunning. True wisdom looking farther, chooses such ends as are good, and takes such measures as prove successful, without running at the same time blindly into such mischiefs, as all the good, expected from the end proposed, is not sufficient to balance. The picking one's neighbour's pocket, or otherwise tricking him out of his property, shews cunning, because it argues dexterity and quickness of invention ; but as it may end in disgrace, or death, it argues but little wisdom. He is but an ingenious fool, who shews much subtilty in gaining a point, which prevents his carrying another point of much greater consequence to him; and, for the present, involves him in difficulties or dangers enough to outweigh the mistaken satisfaction he finds in his immediate
This man's subtilty is but mere folly, and his prosperity misfortune. Cunning may conceitedly compliment itself with the name and title of wisdom; but nevertheless is so far from any real affinity with it, that its very nature consists in short-sightedness, in want of consideration and discernment. The wise man might sometimes stoop to cunning and deceit, were it not for the soundness of his judgment, and the uprightness of his heart, which always direct him to schemes, whereof he can never have reason to repent. And the cunning man might rise at length to wisdom, were it not for the narrowness of his understanding, that confines his schemes to partial views; and for the corrupt disposition of his heart, which puts it out of his power to use the little understanding he hath. He proposes to himself a certain end, such as the riches, the pomps, and pleasures of this world, which, if obtained, he thinks would make him happy. Here his folly shews itself to be of the grossest kind; for if he knew any thingof it himself or the world, he could never
be so widely mistaken. Besides, being either ignorant of the right means to attain his end, or, through a depravity of heart, unwilling to employ them; he hath recourse to indirect and sinister means; which, if they fail him, he is disappointed in the very first necessary step, on which his leading scheme of happiness depends : but if they succeed, and raise him to the wealth and grandeur he at first wished for, this at least they cannot do, without giving him continual anxiety and remorse, and putting him to infinite pains. And, after all, he finds there is no stopping contented at the height he is raised to; greater heights begin to tempt his avarice and ambition, which are now habituated to a greater strength than ever, and become inveterate. His pursuit is, in a manner, but beginning, where he hoped it would end. •What hath pride profited him? Or what good have riches with his vaunting brought him,' if he is to be at the expense of new labours and anxieties, new villanies and oppressions, new dangers and remorses? However, he goes on, and prosperity, we will suppose, attends him to the last; yet here he is disappointed in the last step of his scheme; for he aimed at happiness, and missed it. He hath not got enough; he hath either wanted health, or heart, or time, at least, to enjoy what he did get. He hath made a long voyage through a tempest of passion and bustle. He is fatigued, spattered, broken ; and though he may have made a gainful trip of it for the fool or villain that shall come after him, yet he hath got nothing for himself. He hath laid out his time, his talents, and his labours, in ‘sowing the wind, and reaping the whirlwind;' and death gives the harvest to be gathered in by others.
From what hath been said it appears, that the chief good, or grand happiness of man, follows not the success of worldly schemes, nor lies in the road of cunning and deceit. This being the case, it must be the business of him, who would be wise, to seek elsewhere for his true happiness, to find out the proper means by which it may be arrived at, and then to set himself, with all possible resolution and steadiness, to the pursuit and application of those means.
In this most important of all inquiries, in the attainment of this branch of knowledge, which alone is necessary to us, the Divine Wisdom leaves us not to our own blindness, but
is itself our instructor. The holy Scriptures teach us true wisdom, and set before us the eternal enjoyment of God, as our great and true happiness; they propose piety, and honesty, and a holy life, as the only means whereby it may be attained to ; and, that nothing may be wanting to creatures of so little strength and resolution, give us all the encouragement and assistance that are necessary to a successful application of these means.
Yet there are men so blinded by their passions and prejudices, as to renounce both the end and the means. There are others, who, although they receive both, yet unwittingly set other ends before this in their hearts; as appears by the ruling bent of their thoughts and labours. But, as if God had cursed their unworthy choice, pursue the worldly end they prefer, by such means, as either lead them wide of that end, or at least of the happiness they hope for in that end. And what is still worse, they miss of the great end set before them by our religion; for that is never to be accomplished, but when it is made the chief end; whereas they make it only a second or bye end. Being thus disappointed at once of all their purposes, they find reason, when it is too late, to blush for, and bewail, their unhappy folly. They have neglected God and religion, to pursue, through their whole lives, the phantoms of riches and grandeur, by low arts and base stratagems; and now are taught, by the approach of death, what they would not earlier hear from Solomon, that shame is the promotion of fools.' They were taught, but would not follow, the wisdom from above, which is pure, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.' No: they chose to be directed by that wisdom which cometh from beneath, which is earthly, sensual, devilishi
What a mistaken reproach were their neighbours guilty of, in calling these men selfish ! Surely they did not know what self was. And what is self? This, you will say, cannot be a question ; since the whole world, with all its business and bustle, is taken up about it. Is it possible we should not know what we dress, cook, cheat, traffic, and in a word, undertake all we do, and undergo all we suffer, for? Certainly it must be our bodies; for, in those, all we are so very anxious about plainly terminates. No: it cannot be our bodies, for they are never long the same; and we shall have