For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow.
We will, in the first place, confine our attention to the present life; in the second place, extend it to the future life; and in both cases endeavour to show you with how great truth it may be said, "In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." Now, it is a common observation, and one borne out by the experience of all who are qualified to give witness, that it is the property of knowledge to humble a man, and not to puff him up or to make him arrogant. We may take it as a rule that you will seldom find falsified, that where there is conceit there is shallowness, and that the man who has palpably a high opinion of his attainments, and who moves through a circle in all the pride of a presumed intellectual superiority, is indebted to his not being well dissected and well sifted, for the reputation he enjoys and the attention he commands. There is nothing which, however hard of acquisition, shrinks into so small a space as knowledge when acquired. A library would seem an atom when the bookcase is the mind. So that we may lay it down as an ascertained fact that the acquiring of knowledge is a humiliating thing. Each step only shows us that the plain is broader and longer than we had thought, and the further we advance the further off seems the boundary. Thus, self-complacency at our progress is inconsistent with progress; for if it be progress to discover that we are no nearer the end, what cause of exultation can making progress furnish? It is with the sphere of knowledge as it is with the sphere of light; enlarging it you enlarge equally the circumscribing sphere of darkness. But if it be thus certain that the increase of knowledge is accompanied by, if not identical with a growing sense of absolute ignorance, what can be clearer than that "he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow"? We think, for example, that when the telescope and microscope were first put into the hands of the philosopher, then was increase of knowledge hardly to be measured, but at the same time a consequent increase of sorrow. There was increase of knowledge: distant worlds were brought near, whilst worlds were found in every atom and in every waterdrop; and enlarging the field of contemplation man only learned that the workmanship of God, like God Himself, could never be explored. And if such are the lessons taught man by the telescope, surely the very apparatus which must increase his knowledge must show him his ignorance. He was not only taught how little he knew before, but how little he would be able to know after. Would not then the increase of knowledge be attended by an increase of sorrow? Would not the very boundlessness of creation which he gathered from the disclosures of the telescope, and the fact made known to him by the microscope that in the minutest subdivisions of space there was the furniture and population of the universe — would not these, whilst filling him with admiration for the workings of Omnipotence, have filled him also with regret at the feebleness of his own powers? Would they not have conveyed to him an idea such as he could not have otherwise obtained of the utter vanity of the hope of embracing within the range of his investigation all the marvel and grandeur of nature; and what motto, therefore, could he have felt disposed to grave on an apparatus which amplified indeed vastly the sphere of his contemplation, but which taught him that when amplified the sphere was but a sand grain which, assisting him to be a learner, told him he could never be a proficient — what motto, if not the motto of our text, "For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow"? And in matter of fact, the earliest and at the same time the most wonderful lesson ever given to this creation was, that he that increased knowledge should increase sorrow. It was the tree of knowledge on which grew the forbidden fruit, by the eating of which our first parents forfeited immortality. It was the hope of an increase of knowledge which moved Eve to the act of disobedience, Satan telling her, "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil," and the woman perceived "that the tree was to be desired to make one wise": and thus moved ate of the fruit, and gave to her husband, and he did eat also. The hope was realized; the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew good and evil; but oh, it was a fatal knowledge! There is not a woe in the long, dark catalogue of mortal afflictions, there has not been the tear shed, nor the sigh heaved, nor the shroud woven, nor the grave dug, which must not be referred to the acquisition of knowledge as its producing cause. What, then, is there no exception? None, we believe. It holds good of religious knowledge as well as of worldly knowledge, that to increase it is to increase sorrow. Religious knowledge may be resolved into knowledge of oneself and knowledge of God in Christ. No man knows anything of himself, but the man who is enabled to examine himself by the light of the Holy Scripture; and as self-knowledge increases, must not sorrow also increase? What is this knowledge but the knowledge of our own corruption, the knowledge of the deceitfulness of the heart, the knowledge of one's own depravity? He who is increasing knowledge of himself, is he not possessed of a growing sense of his own weakness, his own depravity, his own obduracy, his own ingratitude? He will not seem to himself to be growing better. The proof that he grows better is that he seems to himself to grow worse; and day by day the Holy Spirit will show him some new and foul chamber of imagery in the heart; day by day this Celestial Agent will unveil some fresh dormitory and lay bare some cherished and unsuspected evil. And though it be most wholesome and most necessary that we be thus taught ourselves, can it be denied that there is something painful and grievous in the lessons which are furnished? In like manner, with respect to a knowledge of Christ, there will be just that contemporaneous increase which we are setting ourselves to discover. I must know, experimentally know, that Jesus died for me, before I can know anything of the hatefulness of sin; and when a man is enabled to look by faith on the Lamb of God, bearing his sins in His own body on the tree (and this it is to know God in Christ), then alone will he entertain a genuine and heartfelt sorrow for sin. And the more earnestly he gazes, the more he contemplates the dignity and innocence of the Victim, the more he ponders the mystery, that the Being who was One with the Father should have been given up to execration and sacrifice, the more disposed will he be to abhor and reproach himself, and the more will he bewail his own guiltiness, which demanded so awful an expiation. Yea, and will it not continually happen, that as his soul is most elevated with the contemplations of Christ, and he has the fullest assurance of interest in the saving work of the atonement — will it not continually happen, that at moments such as these, when knowledge is at the highest, contrition for sin will be most bitter and deep? And will there not thus be given a proof uttered in sighs and written in tears, that even when knowledge is the knowledge of God in Christ, "in much wisdom is much grief; and be that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow"? Now, we may, perhaps, illustrate our text by another kind of knowledge, Just take the knowledge of history. We will suppose a man studying diligently every record of antiquity, thus possessing himself of the events and transactions of which this earth has been the scene. We are clear that he who increases his knowledge of history must have deadened himself to impressions, if he did not thereby increase sorrow. What is history but a record of crime and calamity, a melancholy summary of the woe and the wickedness with which our globe has been burdened? Here and there we have a bright light, some noble instance of the struggle and the triumph of virtue, but on the whole, feuds and wrongs and rivalries, the oppression of the innocent, the struggles of ambition, the earth reeking with blood, polluted with guilt, and bathed with tears; these are ordinarily the features of the historic picture. Who that calls himself a man can gaze on these and not. be sorrowful? If it be true that to read history is to read the proofs of human apostasy, and the curse which it entailed — if it be true that the knowledge of what has befallen our race in successive ages is the knowledge of a long series of evidence of the total corruption and the consequent misery of man, then assuredly whatever the pleasure and whatever the profit of storing the mind with the facts, the material of melancholy reflection will be forced on us by every page of the record; and we must either profess ourselves insensible to the sufferings with which guilt has endowed human nature, or we must assent to it as a truth, that when history is concerned, to increase knowledge is to increase sorrow. And even if the increase of knowledge be a knowledge of the character and happiness of the excellent of the earth, it. still brings with it the material of sorrow. Who can read the biography of saints without having two feelings excited in his mind: first, the feeling "how imperfect are the best!" and secondly, "how much nearer have others gone to perfection than myself?" The telescope and microscope ministered gladness to the philosopher, and they helped him to explore a thousand before-hidden wonders, though all the while teaching him the dwarfishness of his highest possible attainments; they made him sorrowful by showing him that perfection would be always out of reach. And when the spiritual telescope is put into our hands, and we direct it to the home of the justified, and lovely things, and rich and. sparkling cross the field of vision; or when we are equipped with the spiritual microscope, and can look into ourselves and see a world of iniquity in the tiniest motes that float in the mind's recesses, do we say that it is other than delightful to catch glimpses of the land of promise, or other than profitable to be helped to the scrutiny and anatomy of the hearty Each kind of knowledge is delightful, and each is profitable; at the same time each furnishes material for sorrow. It is delightful to hold the telescope and to see by the lenses of faith the domes and pinnacles of the heavenly city; and it is also profitable thus to have the vision of the saints' inheritance, for looking on the recompense we shall be animated to the toil. But who ever surveyed the palaces of the faithful without self-reproach at the little influence which things eternal have upon him, when compared with things temporal, and without, a painful consciousness that, though a king and an heir of glory, his deportment is often such as if slavery were his choice and corruption his element? Nothing so shows man his own coldness, his own backwardness, his own insensibility to the high destinies of the redeemed, as a glimpse of heaven. He cannot behold the reserved joys without, feeling that he deserves to lose them for the slight hold which, after all, they have on his affections. The closer the view, the stronger will be this feeling; so that whilst he is enraptured at the disclosures of the telescope, yea, and excited by them to exertion, he will be covered with shame at his own lukewarmness in the pursuit of what is infinitely desirable. And thus it will come repass, that. though there is joy, and though there is profit in increasing knowledge, he will increase also sorrow. And if, laying down the telescope, he take up the microscope, and subject his own heart to the magnifying power, then we need not tell you that it is profitable for him to be informed of the depth and extent of the corruption, and we need not. tell you that it is delightful for him to be thus informed, seeing that the nature of the instruction proves God's Spirit to be the Instructor, and any proof that we are taught of the Spirit is too precious to be bartered for the universe. But neither, at. the same time, need we tell you that it is a saddening thing to be shown one's own vileness — vileness resisting all processes of sanctification; and thus, though with the moral microscope, as with the natural, joy and profit are gained from its showings, it remains true of both, that in increasing knowledge, they increase also sorrow.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.