For wisdom is a defense, and money is a defense: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom gives life to them that have it.
The argument which I shall advance on behalf of this and of all other institutions with which it is the happiness of our country now to abound, having a similar object in view — the supply of wholesome education for the poor — is this, that, in providing instruction for the destitute, you confer on them a much more precious gift than in giving them pecuniary supplies for the relief of their outward and physical necessities. To this mode of stating the case I have been led by observing the remark of the wise man in the text — that "wisdom is a defence" — the possession of solid, but more especially of religious knowledge,
1. As the means of protecting a man from many dangers and many calamities "and money," too, "is a defence" — as the medium of procuring the outward necessaries and comforts of life, it has the power of saving its possessor from numerous and painful sufferings and fears — but yet, if we compare these two defences with one another, "the excellency," the advantage will be found upon the side of knowledge or wisdom, for this reason, "that wisdom giveth life to them that have it."
1. The blessing of education is a more valuable gift of charity to the poor than the direct relief of their physical necessities, even in the way of supplying them with the resources of natural life. The gift of money will, no doubt, avail to procure the means of physical maintenance and enjoyment so far as it goes, and so long as it lasts; but then it perishes in the using — it has in it no self-preserving, no self-renewing power. What you give the poor man to expend on food and raiment, clothes and supports him for a season; but then food is consumed, and raiment waxes old, and it avails him no longer to remember that he has been warmed, that he has been filled. He cannot feed on the memory of food, nor yet array himself with that of clothing. But lay out, on the other hand, a comparatively trivial sum in bestowing on the indigent child, otherwise the heir of hopeless ignorance, a sound and suitable instruction, and then you bestow on him a source of support and comfort which really is inexhaustible. "Knowledge is power," and being personal is permanent power. It is in a man, and therefore continues with him whatever changes may occur in his outward estate to strip him of that which is not inherent but attached — not in but about him; the gift of education gives him a means of support which is not exhausted by being used — which, if it is useful to-day, was useful yesterday, and will be so to-morrow — which is self-preserving, self-strengthening, self-renewing. And while, as the giver of life to those who have it, knowledge thus excels money in respect of permanence — no less does the former surpass the latter in respect of its efficiency. In the degree in which education is judiciously conducted does it give a human being the command of what are the highest, the mightiest, the most productive of human powers — the faculties of the rational and immortal mind — faculties which, whether acting by themselves or co-operating with corporeal energies to the production of what is needful for the support, the comfort, the refreshment, the convenience of the present state, give at once an elevated character, and an enlarged efficiency to all the individual's exertions and pursuits. By implanting, too, and conforming, the habit of thinking — prospective, serious, considerate thinking — which is one great aim and effect of education, you put into the hands of man or woman what has been well denominated "the principle of all legitimate prosperity." Not these habits alone, however, but all moral and religious principles are nursed and cherished by such an education as that of which we speak — the activity and temperance which are the parents of health — the industry and integrity, the benevolence and magnanimity, the prudence and public spirit, the rectitude and love, of which the progeny are substance, reputation, influence, domestic and social comfort — the morality which is connected by so general a law even with worldly prosperity — the godliness which "hath the promise of this life as well as of that which is to come."
2. While "wisdom" is a defence, and money is a defence, the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth "intellectual" life to them that have it. "It is of the nature of our intellectual, as of all our other powers, to rust through want of use; so that in him who has never been accustomed to employ his mind, the very mind itself seems to fall into dormancy, and the man to become, at length, a merely sentient rather than a rational being. Have you never witnessed cases in which the spirit has seemed thus steeped in lethargy — persons who could be kept awake only by the necessity of manual labour and the stimulants of sensual excitement, and who deprived of these, seem to suffer the suspension of their whole spiritual existence, and sink straightway into utter apathy and listlessness, finding no resources within them to employ time, or keep alive attention, when the impulse from without has disappeared — who employ their minds, such as they are, but as the slaves and instruments of body, and have their whole being rightly defined, "of the earth, earthy"? Now, to prevent this death, as it may be called, of the intellectual soul within its clayey dungeon — whether it expire in stupefaction or in agony — the only means you can employ is to supply it with that knowledge, "the excellency of which is, that it giveth life to them that have it." The capacity of intellectual exercise must be early provoked, and stimulated, and directed. The taste for intellectual enjoyment must be early implanted, and nourished, and improved. In providing, then, the means of education for the else deserted children of your city and your country, you are providing the only direct — the absolutely necessary means of rendering them worthy of the name of rational and intelligent creatures — of saving from being overborne and extinguished that which defines them human beings. You may, peradventure, give the first impulse to some master-mind which else might have remained for ever cramped and fettered without command or consciousness of its latent powers, but which, let loose by you, may mightily accelerate and advance the great march of human improvement. You may, peradventure, kindle some luminous spirit which else must have been finally absorbed amidst the gloom in which it had its birth, and which shall stream far-darting and imperishable lustre to distant generations and distant climes.
3. While we admit, in speaking of the case of our necessitous fellow-creatures, "that money is a defence and wisdom a defence," still we say that "the excellency belongeth unto knowledge; because wisdom giveth life" — life spiritual and eternal — "to those that have it." It is "the key of knowledge" that opens the kingdom of heaven; and if this be the constitution of the Gospel, very plain it is that the state of a human soul abandoned to utter ignorance is that of a soul devoted to inevitable death. Alas! what multitudes are in this condition. But there is still another circumstance which darkens and aggravates the view we are compelled to take of the spiritually deathful power of ignorance, and it is this — that, especially amidst a condensed and crowded population, those who grow up utterly uneducated are almost sure to grow up openly profligate. The first and most direct consequence of their early abandonment without the means of education is, that they are left to spend their time in utter idleness. Led by idleness follows the twin-plague evil company, under whose noxious breath every budding of thought or emotion congenial to virtue grows sickly and expires, while every plant of deathful odour and poisonous fruit expands into dense and overshadowing rankness. In process of time such childish associations in childish folly and childish vice ripen into combinations of licentiousness and leagues of iniquity. The means are in your power of possibly, of probably averting so sad a catastrophe in a multitude of cases.
(J. B. Patterson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.