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

It is highly important that we should keep in mind, as well in respect of the declarations of Scripture, as of the maxims of mere temporal and secular concernment, that many things which, in one point of their application, are altogether undeniable, may in another point be contrary to reason and experience. The words of the text may serve as an illustration of this principle. There is wisdom which bringeth no grief; and there is knowledge whose increase implies no increase of sorrow. We shall find in the Bible no plea for ignorance. "That the soul be without knowledge it is not good," is the declaration of Scripture. Of all the gifts which the Lord has bestowed upon His creatures, none ranks higher, or involves weightier responsibility than the gift of intellect. The talent must be used, not laid by; if must be put out to interest, not hidden in a napkin, nor buried in the earth. It is indeed a high and noble thing to consecrate our minds, with all their best and brightest faculties, to Him who bestowed them for His own service. There is no finer spectacle than that which is presented by the man of science, who searches the records of creation, written in characters which no time can obliterate, and on a page which no changes can efface; and fetches in from them proofs of the character, and illustrations of the dealings, and doings of Deity.

I. SOME OF THE CASES IN WHICH THE APPLICATION OF THE TEXT IS UNDENIABLE. We may say in general terms that the text applies to all the acquisitions of knowledge, which are independent of God, and from which considerations of the soul and of eternity are excluded. The limitation of the sphere of human science must necessarily produce dissatisfaction and disappointment. When it has been urged to its farthest extent, its discoveries are but mean and ignoble in comparison of what remains yet unknown; its acquisitions are little worth, when contrasted with the extent of the field which can never be brought within its grasp and compass. And ii science be applied to trace out the machinery and operations of our own minds, the result is still less satisfactory. One generation of metaphysicians builds up a system, which another generation employs itself to pull down and to destroy. Human knowledge is, moreover, confined within as narrow limits in point of time. The present is that which it can alone claim. The annals of past ages convey falsehoods intermingled with truth; so that the most patient research cannot distinguish between fact and fiction: and infinitely the larger portion of the transactions, which have occupied the millions of mankind, have obtained no record, and have left no memorial. Of the mighty future which lies beyond the boundary of time, of that inconceivably long existence to which the present life forms but the commencement and the vestibule, unassisted reason can make no discovery. But there are circumstances in which sorrow more directly tracks the footprints of that wisdom which is of the earth. The annals of human science, the history of students in human learning, might furnish forth many a heart-rending page. We might read of many an one, who having ardently pursued the object which seemed to promise most of reputation and advancement, has derived from his pursuit only the keenness of disappointment, and the bitterness of a broken heart. You might see the sad spectacle of such an one sinking to an untimely tomb, because he followed his one object too intently and too devotedly. And while he is sacrificing so much for intellectual distinction, he is keenly and painfully sensible of neglect. He feels himself a lonely and forsaken creature. The world is too busy to mark his doings. Human knowledge, while it is unsanctified by grace, tends to lead us away from God. We may become so absorbed in the contemplation of the Creator's works; in tracing the various processes through which they pass, and the various laws to which they are subject, as to forget the high attributes of the Creator Himself. To be thus turned aside from Him who is the source of present blessing and eternal hope, will sooner or later be felt to be an evil and a bitter thing. It issues not unfrequently in yet more disastrous effects. The mind which has been so deeply engaged in following the discoveries of science and gathering stores of intellectual treasure, in ways which it has shaped out independently of God, may at length, in the uncurbed pride of reason, reject the evidence for the truth of His revealed Word; may deny His providential interference in the transactions of the earth; and plunging yet deeper in the abyss of unbelief, may join the fool of old, in denying His very existence. He will feel, at length, that, in his much wisdom hath been much grief, and in the increase of his knowledge hath been increase of sorrow. He has treasured up evil for the latter day, and has laid upon his own soul the bitterness of anguish, which found him out at the last. And that which is true of individuals is not less true of communities. If it be a dangerous thing for a man to cultivate intellectual accomplishments, at the expense of personal piety; no less is it hazardous that religion should be dissociated from knowledge, in the prevailing schemes for the instruction of a people.


1. It cannot be applied to the knowledge of ourselves, and of the condition to which our nature has fallen. No acquisition is mere important, for it lies at the threshold of all spiritual advancement; none more difficult, for the heart is deceitful above all things, as well as desperately wicked. The declaration of the text cannot be applied to the knowledge of God. No subject on which the intellectual faculties can spend themselves is so elevating and ennobling as the character of Him who bestowed them. To know God, as He is revealed in the Gospel record of His love to a ruined world, is to open the inlets of comfort to the soul. But if Scripture knowledge is to produce such effects, it must never be separated from grace. This separation is one of the dangers which specially belong to a period of so much religious profession as the present. There are many persons who pore on the pages of the Bible, and have become familiar with its statements, over whose lives, and conversation, its principles have never exercised any perceptible control. There is no necessary connection between the gifts of the Spirit, and the attainments of human learning; no confinement of the blessings of spiritual knowledge to men whose minds are furnished with other stores. God often hides these things from the wise and prudent, and reveals them unto babes. Such knowledge continually increases. As the believer goes on his way, he gradually discovers more of the will and the dealings of his Father. At first there might have been much of zeal, and less of knowledge; but while the former burns as brightly as when it was first kindled in his bosom, the latter is increased by continual accessions. This knowledge shall not only form the staple of our earthly happiness, but shall outlast the span of our present existence, and reach forward into the outlying region of eternity. And God shall advance His glorified saints, by continual revelations of Himself. Increasing knowledge shall be an element of that blessedness, which for aught we know may increase in the same proportion for ever.

(S. Robins.)

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.

Knowledge and Sorrow
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