(Reply to Enquirer from the Regions of Doubt.)
In this text we have two rules given for the treatment of fools, which although at first glance may seem rather paradoxical, yet on a close examination will be found perfectly harmonious, and each of equal importance. God’s people, though in themselves fools, being altogether destitute of that wisdom which cometh down from heaven, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, without partiality and without hypocrisy, until they are born of God and taught by his Spirit, and thereby made wise unto salvation through faith that is in Jesus Christ, are by vital union with Jesus Christ elevated above the character of fools, as our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the wisdom of God, is of God made unto them wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption; and then they find by revelation of God made to them, “unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ: in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” - Col. ii. 2,3. They have received the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, and there is treasured up for them in Christ, an inexhaustible fullness, so that if any of them lack wisdom at any time, or under any circumstances, they know where it is hidden, and it is their privilege to ask of God who giveth liberally unto all men, and upbraideth not. Though they are all taught of God, and all know him, from the least of them to the greatest, and all have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things, and need not that any man should teach them, but as the same anointing teacheth them of all things, (See 1 John ii. 20, 29) still they have to deal with those who, however wise and prudent they may be in the wisdom and prudence of this world, are fools, or perfect idiots in regard to the things of the kingdom of God, which kingdom no man can see except he be born again; and the things of the kingdom being spiritual, the natural man receiveth them not, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
Having briefly noticed the parties implied in our text, the children of wisdom, to whom the Proverbs are addressed, and the fool, or fools, with whom they have to associate while here in the flesh, we will attempt to explain the use of the two rules laid down for the instruction of the wise.
Rule 1. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.”
Should the wise man give a foolish answer to the foolish question of the fool, he would thereby degrade himself, and the answer and the question both being foolish, would place the parties on the same footing; both would be alike degraded, so far as the question and the answer are concerned. In that sense therefore the wise man is not to answer the fool according to his folly, lest he should be like him. But he is nevertheless, according to
Rule 2. “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” When a wise man answers a fool, he must bear in mind that he is dealing with a fool, and not with an equal in intelligence, and his answer must be given accordingly. According to an approved adage in use “A word to the wise is sufficient.” But in the Proverbs of inspired wisdom we are told that if we should bray a fool in the mortar with a pestle, still his folly would not depart from him. If a fool who has said in his heart, “There is no God,” should ask of one who knows the Lord, to demonstrate the existence of Jehovah, it would not be wise in the christian to attempt to demonstrate his position, by what he has experienced of the indwelling of the Spirit of God in his own heart, for he must recollect that the fool has no knowledge of spiritual things, and such an answer would be unintelligible to the fool, and would only inflate his vain conceit that he had embarrassed his antagonist with a question that was unanswerable. But in answering him, use such arguments if possible as he can understand, point him to the evidences of the handiwork of God in the natural world, to the shining sun, the paler moon, the twinkling stars, the teeming earth and rolling seas; things which natural men can contemplate as well as christians.
In short, we should not answer a fool according to his folly, by condescending to be as foolish as he is, or by giving him a foolish answer, for then we should be like him, but we should observe the admonition of our Lord, to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. If a fool, to provoke us, should ask us an insulting question, and we to retaliate give him an insulting answer, then what advantage would we have, or could we claim over him? In that case we would be truly like him. But should we in meekness endeavor to instruct such as oppose themselves, hoping that peradventure the Lord may give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth, this would have a tendency to humble his pride and prevent his being wise in his own conceit. We have many examples in the New Testament. The old Scribes and Pharisees often tried to entangle our Lord and Master with their foolish questions, but he answered them wisely, and in that sense not according to their folly, and yet he answered them in the other sense according to their folly, by stopping their mouths by his well timed and pertinent replies. Much more might be said on this subject, but as we have quoted the adage, “A word to the wise is sufficient,” and although Enquirer hails us from the unpleasant regions of doubt, we hope, from the nature of his enquiries, that he is searching for light, and we pray that he may be delivered from doubts in due time, and know the joyful triumphs of the faith of God’s elect.
Middletown, N. Y.
October 1, 1857.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 30 - 33