The Heritage of Knowledge
Ecclesiastes 1:18
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.

I. HOW IS THE INCREASE OF KNOWLEDGE ALSO AN INCREASE OF SORROW? The affirmation of the text is not that knowledge is not intended for men, but that the highest intention and the greatest gift carry with them also a corresponding sorrow. Greater the boon, more the sorrow to acquire it; higher the price, greater the difficulties to obtain it. Sorrow is not sin. It may be in some cases that it is the-result of sin; but not in all cases, and not necessarily so in any. It is possible that sorrow accompanies many other things as well as that of knowledge. He that increases friends increases grief, for they turn faithless possibly, or they leave or die, and grief is the result. He who increases in wealth increases also in sorrow, for fear of loss or sense of responsibility, or some other perplexity ever accompanies the acquisition of possession. He who gains a high position increases sorrow, for it brings with it care and responsibility, extra toil and numerous trials. As there are different forms of sorrow, a thing may be accompanied with sorrow in various ways.

1. Knowledge alone, as an intellectual possession, not only satisfies not, but may even increase sorrow. The more persons know, the more dissatisfied they become with their own ignorance; so knowledge can never satisfy the craving of the intellect it feeds. But there is a moral emptiness felt in the heart and conscience which knowledge cannot satisfy. To know the good without enjoying it is an increase of sorrow; to see life without being able to avail ourselves of it is more distressing than if we had known nothing of it. It is not unfrequent that we hear persons attributing this only to speculative knowledge, meaning by it, I suppose, things above sense and the common transactions of every day's life. It would appear from such view that ordinary knowledge satisfies its possessors, and never gives any sense of pain or sorrow; so in this it is superior, and to be preferred before the speculative. The fact is, the knowledge of things common, as that of sense and experience, does not satisfy more than the other — if anything, it does it in less degree. The limited knowledge of sense or experience surely cannot satisfy; its limit and commonality make it weary. There is something in every object beyond our knowledge, so the most common object is surrounded with mystery, and leads to the speculative. If any kind of knowledge could satisfy, it would appear that the speculative has the advantage in its favour. The speculative is the kind of knowledge that transcends sense, and has God and the invisible, the causes and laws of the universe, and the infinite and absolute as its object-matter, which are more likely to satisfy than the small everyday transactions of earth. Another thing, it cannot satisfy the moral conditions and relations of man's nature, which makes knowledge as a matter of intellectual apprehension, incomplete to supply all the need of man as a moral being. For these reasons and others, it may, with its increase, be the indirect means of sorrow.

2. Knowledge of evil, in the absence of that of goodness, increases sorrow in the degree it is possessed. A knowledge of the evil of our hearts and actions gives sorrow, and if it were greater I doubt not but our sorrow would be increased by it. The more we know of the evil policy, the treachery, the corruption, and all the moral evil of society in all its forms and relations, the heavier is our sorrow. Such a sorrow is right; it proceeds from our dislike of the bad and the thing which gives pain, and our sympathy with the good and happy.

3. The increase of knowledge without faith is another condition that tends to the increase of sorrow. The knowledge of sin and evil as they are, without faith in God's order of grace and mercy, assuredly produces anything but happy emotions in our minds; and if our knowledge were more extensive, our sorrow would be enhanced accordingly. The knowledge of the laws and resources of the universe, without faith in God; of wants, sufferings, danger, and afflictions and death, without faith in the great Lord of life as a Friend and Father; the knowledge of sin without faith in a Saviour; the knowledge that we die to-night or to-morrow, without hope of a happier existence beyond — little of such knowledge gives pain, and if it were increased, our sorrow would also increase in the same ratio.

4. Apart from truth, the increase of knowledge is also that of sorrow. When not governed by truth, everything we do increases our guilt, and becomes means of corruption and danger in our hand. Thus the thing which was intended to be a blessing becomes a curse, and knowledge, which is needed and adapted to advance the interests of society, becomes means of sorrow. Knowledge is a blessing, connected with other things; in the hand of a wicked man, it may be a cause of endless sorrow.

5. The increase of knowledge without love is also an increase of sorrow. Love is possible by us towards others, or by others towards ourselves; in the first, we are the agents, in the second, we are the objects. Suppose our knowledge increases of all around us, without love to God or man, would this not be an increase of sorrow to ourselves and others?

6. The increase of knowledge viewed as an end in itself is also an increase of sorrow. A man knowing all relative to all matters of life and godliness, yet doing nothing, gels none the better, none the happier. Would this be an increase of joy, or sorrow?


1. The increase of knowledge of ourselves increases sorrow, because we have become more familiar with the fact of our frailty and sin.

2. It proceeds from the character of the knowledge itself. To know the bad gives sorrow to the good; to know the calamities which happen to our friends and people generally, increases the sorrow of our social feeling.

3. The path to knowledge is not an easy one, it is one of toil and trial, thus the increase of it is also an increase of sorrow. Whether we make reflection, experiment, or reading, the paths of knowledge, none of these can be pursued earnestly without a feeling of weariness, sorrow, or toil; they exhaust and weary both the physical and mental powers when they are pursued long and earnestly.

4. The more knowledge people have the more they deplore their ignorance. Their insight is so keen and their ambition so great, their plans so comprehensive and their thirst so intense, that they almost despise what they possess by reason of the great portion outside their possession. They are awakened to the greatness and grandeur of God and His universe in belief and perception, so that their present store appears but a small star in the vastness of space, or just the beginning of the alphabet of the endless career of truth and knowledge outside and above them. In this sense the increase of knowledge is not the way to immediate happiness, but to sorrow.

5. The increase of knowledge produces in the mind of its possessors an anxious thirst for more. If this desire is cultivated to a high degree, it becomes an intense feeling, almost too much for our nature to bear; and the danger is that it will lead those governed by it too far and intensely on, until they injure themselves.

6. It increases sorrow, because it shows more clearly the unsatisfactory character of all things earthly. In the light of knowledge we become conscious of our imperfection; by its aid we become familiar with sin and deformity everywhere; the more we increase in it, the greater is our reason of sorrow for those deformities everywhere found in life.

7. The character of knowledge is to excite, and not allay. It never satisfies, but always excites its subjects to higher effort, sacrifice, and ambition.


1. Sorrow in some way or other is connected with the best and greatest things in this life.

2. It is not the end of life to get free from sorrow. It is not intended that we should be without knowledge, but rather that we should pursue and possess it; but it will entail sorrow upon us; it is not less our duty on that account, indeed it cannot be found without. The end of life is to do the work given us faithfully in the fire and in the midst of sorrow, and make sorrow subordinate to the doing of our work better, and the fitting of us more perfect and complete for our future heaven and home.

3. The more superior we become in anything, the more conscious we become of our own imperfection and that of others in the thing we excel in.

4. Everything true and right has its sacrifice, and no one will exceed, and is a true disciple, except he is prepared to offer what is required in the order of truth and law.

5. Everything, even the highest and the best, denies to us undisturbed rest and unalloyed happiness in this life. Prickly thistles grow among wheat, pointed thorns are found with flowers, dross is mixed with the best gold; there is something to convince us everywhere that there are no objects that can satisfy us all in all; there is a deficiency or something to lead us to seek something higher, purer, nobler, and more comprehensive than we see and know here. Everywhere we are led from the created to some One above the creature; in everything we are reminded that the object of our want is not in the limited and partial, but in some One infinite and all-comprehensive of the good and pure.

(T. Hughes.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

WEB: For in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

The Acquisition of Knowledge Attended with Sorrow
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