Ecclesiastes 1:18
This is one of those utterances which contain much truth and leave much to be supplied. "In much wisdom is much grief," but there is much beside grief to be found in it. So we look at -

I. THE TRUTH WHICH IT CONTAINS. Of the wisdom or the knowledge which brings sadness to the heart we have to reckon the following.

1. Our deeper insight into ourselves. As we go on we find ourselves capable of worse things than we once supposed we were - selfish aims, evil thoughts, unhallowed passions, etc. Neither David nor Peter supposed himself capable of doing the deed to which he fell.

2. Childhood's corrected estimate of the good. We begin by thinking all good men and women perfect; then, as experience enlarges, we have reluctantly and sorrowfully to acknowledge to ourselves that there are flaws even in the life and character of the best. And disillusion is a very painful process.

3. Maturity's acquaintance with evil. We may go some way into life before we know one-half of the evil which is in the world? Indeed, it is the wisdom and the duty of many - of even a large proportion of the race - not to know much that might be revealed. But as a widening knowledge unveils the magnitude and heinousness of moral evil, there is sorrow indeed to the pure and sympathetic soul. The more we know of the sins and the sorrows of our race - of its cruelties on the one hand and its sufferings on the other, of its enormities and its privations, of its toils and troubles, of its degradation and its death in life - the more we are distressed in spirit; "in much wisdom is much grief."

II. ITS LARGE QUALIFICATIONS. There is much truth belonging to the subject which lies outside this statement, qualifying though not contradicting it.

1. There is much pleasure in the act of acquisition. The study of one of the sciences, the reading of history, the careful observation of nature and mastery of its secrets, the investigation of the nature of man, etc., - there is a pure and invigorating delight in all this.

2. Knowledge is power; and it is power to acquire that which will surround us with comfort, with freedom, with friendship, with intellectual enlargement.

3. The knowledge which is heavenly wisdom is, in itself, a source of elevation and of deep spiritual thankfulness and happiness.

4. The knowledge of God, as he is known to us in Jesus Christ, is the one unfailing source of unfading joy. - C.

And he that increaseth knowledge increaseth 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.)

I. KNOWLEDGE IS THE PARENT OF SORROW FROM ITS VERY NATURE, as being the instrument and means by which the afflicting quality of the object is conveyed to the mind; for as nothing delights, so nothing troubles till it is known. The merchant is not troubled as soon as his ship is cast away, but as soon as he hears it is. The affairs and objects that we converse with have most of them a fitness to afflict and disturb the mind. And as the colours lie dormant, and strike not the eye, till the light actuates them into a visibility, so those afflictive qualities never exert their sting, nor affect the mind, till knowledge displays them, and slides them into the apprehension. It is the empty vessel that makes the merry sound. It is the philosopher that is pensive, that looks downwards in the posture of the mourner. It is the open eye that weeps. affirms that there was never a great scholar in the world but had in his temper a dash and mixture of melancholy; and if melancholy be the temper of knowledge, we know that it is also the complexion of sorrow, the scene of mourning and affliction. We are first taught our knowledge with the rod, and with the severities of discipline. We get it with some smart, but improve it with more. The world is full of objects of sorrow, and knowledge enlarges our capacities to take them in. I might now, from the nature of knowledge, pass to the properties of it, and show its uncertainty, its poorness, and utter inability to contribute anything to the solid enjoyments of life. But before I enter upon this, there may be a question started, whether or no there be indeed any such thing as true knowledge in the world? for there want not reasons that seem to insinuate that there is none.

1. As first: because knowledge, if true, is upon that score certain and infallible; but the certainty of the knowledge cannot be greater than the certainty of the faculty, or medium, by which it is acquired: now, all knowledge is conveyed through sense, and sense is subject to fallacy, to err, and to be imposed upon.

2. Knowledge is properly the apprehension of a thing by its cause; but the causes of things are not certainly known: this by most is confessed.

3. To know a thing is to apprehend it as really it is, but we apprehend things only as they appear; so that all our knowledge may properly be defined the apprehension of appearances. And though I will not say that these arguments prove that there is no such thing as knowledge, yet thus much, at least, they seem to prove, that we cannot be assured that there is any such thing. But you will reply that this overthrows the hypothesis of the text, which supposes and takes for granted that there is such a thing as knowledge. I answer, it does not: for the arguments proceed against knowledge, strictly and accurately so taken; but the text speaks of it in a popular way, of that which the world commonly calls and esteems knowledge. And that this is but a poor, worthless thing, and of no efficacy to advance the real concerns of human happiness, might be made most evident. For, first, it is certain that knowledge does not either constitute or alter the condition of things, but only transcribe and represent the face of nature as it finds it; and therefore is but a low ignoble thing, and differs as much from nature itself, as he that only reports great things from him that does them. What is it to me whether the will has a power to determine itself, or is determined by objects from without? when it is certain that those here that hold a different opinion, yet continue in the same course and way of action. Or am I anyways advantaged, whether the soul wills, understands, and performs the rest of its actions, by faculties distinct from itself, or immediately by its own substance? Is it of any moment whether the soul of man comes into the world with carnal notions, or whether it comes bare, and receives all from the after reports of sense? What am I benefited whether the sun moves about the earth, or whether the sun is the centre of the world, and the earth is indeed a planet, and wheels about that? Whether it be one or the other, I see no change in the course of nature. Who in the world finds any change in his affairs whether there be little vacuities and empty spaces in the air; or whether there is no space but what is filled and taken up with body? I could reckon up a hundred more such problems as these, about an inquiry into which men are so laborious, and in a supposed resolution of which they so much boast; which shows that that which passes with the world for knowledge is but a slight trivial thing; and that men's being so eager and industrious in the quest of it is like sweeping the house, raising the dust, and keeping a great do only to find pins.

II. KNOWLEDGE IS THE CAUSE OF SORROW, IN RESPECT OF THE LABORIOUS AND TROUBLESOME ACQUISITION OF IT. For is there any labour comparable to that of the brain? any toil like a continual digging in the mines of knowledge? any pursuit so dubious and difficult as that of truth? any attempt so sublime as to give a reason of things? The soldier, it is confessed, converses with dangers, and locks death in the face; but then he bleeds with honour, he grows pale gloriously, and dies with the same heat and fervour that gives life to others. But he does not, like the scholar, kill himself in cold blood; sit up and watch when there is no enemy; and, like a silly fly, buzz about his own candle till he has consumed himself. Then again; the husbandman, who has the toil of sewing end reaping, he has his reward in his very labour; and the same corn that employs, also fills his hand. He who labours in the field indeed wearies, but then he also helps and preserves his body. But study, it is a weariness without exercise, a laborious sitting still, that racks the inward, and destroys the outward man of the body; and, like a stronger blast of lightning, not only melts the sword, but also consumes the scabbard. Nature allows men a great freedom, and never gave an appetite hub to be an instrument of enjoyment; nor made a desire, but in order to the pleasure of its satisfaction. But he that will increase knowledge, must be content not to enjoy; and not only to cut off the extravagancies of luxury, but also to deny the lawful demands of convenience, to forswear delight, and look upon pleasure as his mortal enemy. He must be willing to be weak, sickly, and consumptive; even to forget when he is hungry, and to digest nothing but what he reads. He must read much, and perhaps meet with little; turn over much trash for one grain of truth; study antiquity till he feels the effects of it. We may take a view of all those callings to which learning is necessary, and we shall find that labour and misery attends them all. And first for the study of physic: do not many lose their own health while they are learning to restore it to others? Then for the law: are not many called to the grave, while they are preparing for a call to the bar?


1. The first effect of the increase of knowledge is an increase of the desire of knowledge. It is the covetousness of the understanding, the dropsy of the soul, that drinks itself athirst, and grows hungry with surfeit and satisfaction. Now, an endless desire does of necessity vex and torment the person that has it. For misery and vexation is properly nothing else but an eager appetite not satisfied. In fine, happiness is fruition; but there is no fruition where there is a constant desire. For enjoyment swallows up desire, and that which fulfils the expectation also ends it. The bottomless appetite of knowledge will not be satisfied, and then we know that sorrow is the certain result and inseparable companion of dissatisfaction.

2. The second unhappy effect of knowledge is that it rewards its followers with the miseries of poverty, and clothes them with rags. Reading of books consumes the body, and buying of them the estate. The mind of man is a narrow thing, and cannot master several employments. A scholar without a patron is insignificant: he must have something to lean upon: he is like an unhappy cause, always depending. As for instance, he that follows chemistry must have riches to throw away upon the study of it; whatever he gets by it, those furnaces must be fed with gold. In short, I will not say that the study of knowledge always finds men poor, but sure it is that it is seldom or never but it leaves them so.

3. The third fatal effect of knowledge is that it makes the person who has it the butt of envy, the mark of obloquy and contention. How are Galileo and Copernicus persecuted, and Descartes worried by almost every pen! And now, if this be our lot, what remains for us to determine upon? Is there no way to get out of this unhappy dilemma, but that we must needs either dash upon the sorrows of knowledge, or the baseness of ignorance? Why yes, there is a fair escape left us; for God has not placed mankind under a necessity either of sin or misery. And therefore, as to the matter in hand, it is only to continue our labour, but to alter the scene of it; and to make Him, that is the great Author, also the subject of our knowledge.

(R. South, D. D.)

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.)

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.)

1. MERE EARTHLY KNOWLEDGE IS UNSATISFACTORY IN ITS NATURE. Take as an illustration of this the field of creation. The knowledge of facts and laws can employ man's reason, but it cannot ultimately satisfy it., and still less can it soothe his soul, or meet the longings of his spirit.. Law everywhere cannot, permanently satisfy man without a Lawgiver; order, without a primordial reason; forms of skill and beauty, without a great Thinker, from whom they are emanations, and whom our own thoughts can touch, as they touch kindred souls, till we can say, "How precious are Thy thoughts unto me, O God!"

II. MERE EARTHLY KNOWLEDGE IS PAINFUL IN ITS CONTENTS. For an illustration of this, we may go from creation to history, from space to time. Take away our hope in God, and history becomes a sea of tumbling billows, dark and shoreless; nations rising only to fall; great souls shooting across the horizon like dying meteors; and all the spiritual longings of the past written down but to tell us of the vanity of our own efforts. History would be a dreary study when it had lost all the higher ends it might serve as a school of. training for immortal souls, and as the steps of a Divine Architect through the broken scaffolding and scattered stone-wreck upward to a finished structure. The very glimpse of this is reviving, but to give up at once Architect and end, and see human lives shattered and strewn across weary ages, and human hearts torn and bleeding, with no abiding result, this surely would fill a thoughtful mind with pain. The more of such history, the more of sorrow.

III. MERE EARTHLY KNOWLEDGE IS HOPELESS IN ITS ISSUE. For an illustration of this we may take the field of abstract thought. The ultimate object of man's search is to find the centre of knowledge which commands the whole field. The man who begins the search after truth is generally more satisfied with his progress than he who has been long in the course. Those things which, like the stem of a tree, seem simple and easily grasped, spread away beneath into interminable roots, where we can never count them all nor reach the end of any one. Let a man try to master a single subject, and he will find it so. The road becomes longer and the field wider as he proceeds. And if a man should feel impelled to go beyond the surface of things, and to inquire into the origin of being and the end of all things, without accepting a God, doubt and darkness would only gather at every step. With no lamp in the soul there is no light in the world. His own being and end become an increasing perplexity. He grows in unquietness and irresolution, which men do not feel who have not entered on such a search. As he enlarges the circumference of knowledge he enlarges the encircling darkness, and even the knowledge yields no ray of true satisfaction.

IV. MERE EARTHLY KNOWLEDGE IS DISCOURAGING IN ITS PERSONAL RESULTS. We may consider here the moral nature of man. Earthly science can do very much to improve man's external circumstances. It can occupy his reason, it can refine and gratify his taste; but there are greater wants that remain. If the man seeks something to fill and warm his heart, all the wisdom of this world is only a cold phosphorescence. He pursues its waters like thirsty Tantalus, and they touch his lips and flee from them. He must say with Goethe, "Alas that the yonder is never here!" The tree of knowledge never becomes the tree of life. If the man is desirous to have his own moral nature rise to a noble elevation, he must be equally disappointed with the result of bare knowledge; not merely with what is accomplished by it, for here we may all be sad enough, but with what is promised by it. It may have its negative value in occupying thought and time, which might be devoted to ignoble uses; but it cannot conquer passion, nor renew a nature that has felt the degradation of sin. The great heights of holiness may sometimes rise before such a man, and the sublime form of duty may gleam out and beckon him to the sun-lit summit of perfection; but there is no power, out of God, to help him do it, — "The depth said, It is not in me," and such an ideal, rising without the power or hope to reach it, can only fill the man with a more profound sadness.

V. MERE EARTHLY KNOWLEDGE HAS SO BRIEF A DURATION. Here we may contemplate life as a whole. If the thought of God be admitted, all real knowledge has the stamp of immortality. The happy seeker of truth is he who feels that in gaining it he is taking possession of a perpetual treasure, and beginning a quest which is to be enlarged by a new life in new worlds. But if there be nothing of this, "in one day all man's thoughts perish," — "The wise man dieth and the fool also." The sweeter truth is to the taste, the more bitter must be the thought of leaving the pursuit of it for ever. After all, it is a question which the head cannot answer without inquiring at the heart. It is this, can any progress of earthly science reconcile us to the loss of God and of the hope of immortality? and we feel assured that, with the immense mass of men, when their inner nature is truly consulted, the answer would be found here, — "The increase of knowledge is the increase of sorrow." Whatever we may come to know, if God be not, and earth be all, "Vanity of vanities" is the epitaph of life.

(John Ker, D. D.)

Ecclesiastes is here speaking simply of that knowledge of earthly things and human affairs which a man may acquire by intellectual study and observation. And what he says is that the amassing of mere earthly knowledge, as if this were the chief good, is a delusion — that such knowledge is full of disappointments and sorrows, and cannot really satisfy the soul of man. Now, it is indeed true that our minds have been so constituted that the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge, simply as knowledge, is naturally accompanied with pleasure. And to a young and eager student rejoicing in the wider views and the fresh discoveries which his increase of knowledge brings, it may sometimes seem as if a life spent in study and research would give him the fullest satisfaction. But he is apt to forget that a wider view of things is not always a more pleasant view. Knowledge often destroys illusions. Knowledge often makes us more sensible of our ignorance, and more conscious of the limits of our powers. Knowledge often confronts us with problems which cause us perplexing and painful thought, and which had not previously come within the range of our vision. The most learned philosopher or the most brilliant student of natural science often finds that all his knowledge is utterly unavailing in the presence of some practical difficulty — something "crooked" which he cannot straighten, something "wanting" which he cannot supply. How often the very knowledge of a skilful physician gives him a sadder because deeper insight into the malady which he knows to be incurable! And how often we can see a tinge of melancholy in some of the world's greatest thinkers! This is indeed no argument for indorsing the words of the poet, "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise": for even the knowledge which brings sorrow may have some advantages over the ignorance which preserves happiness. But it is an argument for the conclusion of Ecclesiastes, that the mere possession of earthly wisdom is not the supreme good of human life, and that the attempt to satisfy one's soul with such knowledge is a "feeding on wind!"

(T. C. Finlayson.).

Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth.
Three views of human life are given in this remarkable chapter.

I. THE THEATRICAL VIEW OF LIFE (vers. 1-11). The writer seeks to prove his heart with mirth and laughter; he treats his flesh with wine; he gathers peculiar treasure; he is enamoured of greatness, magnificence, and abundance; he delights in architecture, scenery, literature, music, song. Everything is spectacular, dazzling, wonderful. This is a very misleading idea of the world in which we find ourselves.

1. It is partial. Nothing whatever is said here of the problems which challenge us — of duty, enterprise, discipline, work, sacrifice, suffering; nothing about character or conduct. It really leaves out two-thirds of life, and the noblest two-thirds.

2. It is exaggerated. It contemplates great works, great possessions, and great fame. Life is largely made up of commonplace tasks, homely faces, uneventful days, monotonous experiences.

3. It is selfish. You see throughout how prominent the individual is. It is all "I." The writer never thinks of other people except as they may enhance his pleasure, or be spectators of his glory.

4. It is superficial. There is not a word about conscience, righteousness, responsibility. Now beware of the theatrical view of life — of the great, the gaudy, the glistering. True life, as a rule, is simple, sober, and severe. Beware of companions who would represent life to you in a gay and voluptuous light. Beware also of your reading, and see that it does not give a false and delusive idea of the life that awaits you. The world is not a theatre, not a magician's cave, not a carnival; it is a temple where all things are serious and sacred.

II. THE SEPULCHRAL VIEW OF LIFE (vers. 12-23). Men usually start with the rosy ideal of life, and then finding its falsity — that there are tears as well as laughter — they sink into vexation and despair, and paint all things black as night. But the world is not emptiness; it is a cup deep and large, delightful and overflowing. Fulness, not emptiness, is the sign of the world. There is the fulness of nature — of intellectual life — of society — of practical life — the manifold and enduring unfolding of the interests and movements and fortunes of humanity. There is the fulness of religious life. A true man never feels the world to be limited, meagre, shallow. God is no mockery, and He will not mock us.


1. The purification and strengthening of the soul will secure to us all the brightness and sweetness of life.

2. And as the Spirit of Christ leads to the realization of the bright side of the world, so shall it fortify you against the dark side. Carry the Spirit of Christ into this dark side, and you shall rejoice in tribulation also. In one of the illustrated magazines I noticed a picture of the flower-market of Madrid in a snowstorm. The golden and purple glories were mixed with the winter's snow. And in a true Christian life sorrow is strangely mingled with joy. Winter in Siberia is one thing, winter in the flower-market of the South is another thing; and so the power of sorrow is broken and softened in the Christian life by great convictions, consolations, and hopes. Do not accept the theatrical view of life; life is not all beer and ski[ties, operas, banquets, galas, and burlesques. Do not accept the sepulchral theory of life; it is absolutely false. Toequeville said to Sumner, "Life is neither a pain nor a pleasure, but serious business, which it is our duty to carry through and conclude with honour." This is a true and noble conception of life, and it can be fulfilled only as Christ renews and strengthens us.

(W. L. Watkinson.)


1. They are present pleasures; now and here; not in the dim distance; not in the next world, but in this.

2. They are varied and many: adapted to every taste, capacity, age, condition.

3. They fall in with the desires and cravings of our carnal nature.

4. They possess the power to excite in a wonderful degree, — the fancy, the mind, the passions, — ambition, lust, pride, etc.


1. They are real and substantial, not fictitious and imaginary or deceptive.

(1)A good conscience.

(2)A contented mind.

(3)Rational enjoyment and satisfaction.

(4)Elevation of being.

(5)A quiet, growing consciousness of God's approval.

(6)A sweet sense of living and breathing in a sphere of sanctified thought and life, illumined by the sunlight of Heaven, and vocal with the joys and harmonies which proceed from Calvary.

2. They are not all in the future. No small part of them are here, and enjoyed day by day. Heaven is the ultimate state of blessedness, the final reward in Christ's service. But heaven is begun in every reconciled, sanctified soul at once and progresses to the consummation.

3. Christ's service is soul-satisfying. It touches, elevates, expands, gives dignity to, and harmonizes and gladdens man's highest nature.

4. The pleasure, the reward of Christ's service is enduring. It fears no death, knows no end. It is perpetual, everlasting, ever augmenting.

(J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)

He now resolves to abandon the "studious cloisters." For their quiet he will substitute the excitement of feverish pleasure. But this tremendous reaction from the joys of the philosopher to coarser animal pleasure is not easy. He has to goad his mind before it is ready for this new and low direction. He has to say to his heart, "Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth." What a fall is here, from the contemplation of high themes of truth, the works of God and man, to merely sensual pleasure! But the experiment is brief. It would be. For a man of wisdom could not be long in discovering the utter worthlessness of sensual gratification; sharp and swift comes the conclusion: "I said of laughter, It is mad, and of mirth, What doeth it?" It has sometimes been the question of thoughtful people how the wise man could bring himself to try this second experiment, the effort to find happiness in "the lust of the flesh" and "the lust of the eye." This, it is usually thought, is the delight of fools. But that a man who could say he "had seen the works that are done under the sun," whose philosophy had ranged over new things until they were seen to be the old things recurrent, who could truly say that he had "gotten more wisdom than all they that had been before him in Jerusalem," — for such an one to fly from philosophy to pleasure, from meditation to mirth, is accounted phenomenally strange. But it is not. Across just such extremes does the restless spirit fly that has not yet learned that happiness is not the creature of circumstance, but the outgrowth of the life. And how it magnifies this inner character of happiness to reflect that even wisdom pursued for its own sake may be seen to be so hollow that the soul will fly to the farthest distance from it, inferring that even sensual folly may be a relief from the emptiness of knowledge!

(C. L. Thompson, D. D.)

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