For wisdom, like money, is a shelter, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of its owner.
The precise meaning of ver. 11 is rather difficult to catch. The Hebrew words can be translated either as, "Wisdom is good with an inheritance" (Authorized Version), or, "Wisdom is good as an inheritance" (Revised Version); and it is instructive to notice that the earlier English version has in the margin the translation which the Revisers have put in the text, and that the Revisers have put in the margin the earlier rendering, as possibly correct. Both companies of translators are equally in doubt in the matter. It is a case, therefore, in which one must use one's individual judgment, and decide as to which rendering is to be preferred from the general sense of the whole passage. Our author, then, is speaking of two things which are profitable in life - "for them that see the sun" (ver. 11) - wisdom and riches; and as he gives the preference to the former in ver. 12 - "the excellency of knowledge is that wisdom preserveth the life of him that hath it" - we are inclined to think that that is his view all through. And, therefore, though in themselves the translations given of the first clause in the passage are about equally balanced, this consideration is in our opinion weighty enough to turn the scale in favor of that in the Revised Version. Two things, therefore, there are which in different ways provide means of security against some of the ills of life, which afford some "compensation for the misery" of our condition - wisdom and riches. By wisdom a man may to some extent forecast the future, anticipate the coming storm, and take measures for shielding himself against some or all of the evils it brings in its train. Like the unjust steward who acted "wisely," he can win friends who will receive him in the hour of need. By riches, too, he can stave off many of the hardships which the poor man is compelled to endure; he can secure many benefits which will alleviate the sufferings he cannot avert. But of the two wisdom is the more excellent; "it giveth life" (or "bestoweth life," Revised Version) "to them that have it." "It can quicken a life within; it can give salt and savor to that which wealth may only deaden and make insipid" (Bradley). And surely by "wisdom" here we are not to understand mere prudence, but rather that Heaven-born faculty, that control of man's spirit by a higher power, which leads him to make the fear of God the guide of his conduct. And in order to understand wherein it consists, and what are the benefits it secures, we may identify the quality here praised with "that wisdom that cometh from above," which all through the Word of God is described as the source of all excellence, the fountain of all happiness (Proverbs 3:13-18
; Proverbs 4:13
; Proverbs 8:32-36
; John 6:63
; John 17:3
; 2 Corinthians 3:6
). - J.W.
The excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth 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.
We may unhesitatingly charge upon heathenism, even if you keep out of sight, its debasing effect upon morals, and think of it only as a system of religious ceremonies and observances, the having a direct tendency to the destroying men's lives. It has not been merely amongst the more savage of pagans, but also amongst those who have advanced far in civilization, that the custom has prevailed of offering human sacrifices. The Grecians made great progress in sciences and arts; yet it would seem to have been a rule with each of their states to sacrifice men before they marched against an enemy. The Romans, who emulated the Grecians in civilization, appear not to have been behind them in the cruelties of their religion; even so late as in the reign of Trajan, men and women were slain at the shrine of some one of their deities. As to the heathenism of less refined states, it would be easy to affix to it a yet bloodier character: nothing, for example, could well exceed the massacres, connected with religious rites, which appear to have been common among the nations of America: the annual sacrifices of the Mexicans required many thousands of victims, and in Peru two hundred children were devoted for the health of the sovereign. What a frightful destruction of life[ But we should vastly underrate the influence of Christianity in saving human life, were we merely to compute from the abolition of the destructive rites of heathenism. The influence has been exerted in indirect modes yet more than in direct. It has gradually substituted mild for sanguinary laws, teaching rulers that the cases must be rare which justify the punishing with death. And what but Christianity, giving sacredness to human life, ever taught men to erect asylums for the sick and the aged? Add to this the mighty advancings which have been made under the fostering sway of Christianity in every department of science. And how wonderfully, in promoting knowledge, has Christianity preserved life. The study of the body, of its structure and diseases; acquaintance with the properties of minerals and plants; skill in detecting the sources of pain, and applying remedies or assuagements — all this would appear peculiar, in a great degree, to ,Christian nations; as if there could be only inconsiderable progress in medical science, whilst a land were not trodden by She alone Physician of the soul.. And need we point out how knowledge of other kinds, cherished by Christianity, has subserved the preservation of life? Witness astronomy, watching the mariner, lest he be bewildered on the waters. Witness chemistry, directing the miner, that he perish not by subterranean fires. Witness geography, with its maps and charts, informing the traveller of dangers, and pointing him to safety. Witness architecture, rearing the lighthouse on rooks, where there seemed no foundation for structures which might brave the wild storm, and thus warning away navies which must otherwise have perished. Witness machinery, providing for the poorest what once the wealthy alone could obtain, the means of guarding against inclement seasons, and thus preserving health when most rudely threatened. But it were greatly to wrong Christianity as a giver of life, were we to confine our illustrations to the bodies, in place of extending them go the souls of men. We have higher evidence than any yet assigned, that Christianity is the only wisdom which will answer the description contained in our text. It may be said of the world, in every period of its history, "The world by wisdom knew not God." Our liability to punishment is discoverable by human wisdom, but the possibility of our escaping it not without heavenly; and hence there is no life-giving power in the former. But the wisdom which the Holy Ghost continually imparts to such as submit to His influence is, from first to last, a quickening, vivifying thing. It makes the believer alive, in the sense of being energetic for God and for truth; alive, as feeling himself immortal; alive, as having thrown off the bondage of corruption; alive, as knowing himself "begotten again" "to an inheritance that fadeth not away." "I live," said the great apostle, "yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." And life indeed it is, when a man is made "wise unto salvation": when, having been brought to a consciousness of his state as a rebel against God, he has committed his cause unto Christ, "who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." There is needed only that, renouncing all wisdom of our own, we come unto God to be taught, and we shall receive the gift of the Spirit, that Spirit which is breath to the soul, quickening it from the death of nature, and causing its torpid energies and perverted affections to rise to their due use, and fix on their due end. And the excellency of this knowledge is, that, having it, you will have life. You cannot have it, except in the heart; for no man knows Christ who knows Him only with the head. And having this knowledge in the heart, you have renewal of the heart; and with renewal of the heart forgiveness of sin, and the earnests of immortality. Are we not now, therefore, able to vindicate in all its extent the assertion of our text? In the former part of the verse the wise man had allowed that "wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence." But "riches profit not in the day of wrath," and "the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." But they whose treasure has been above — they who have counted "all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ" — they shall have a defence, a sure defence, when the rich man is destitute and the wise man speechless. They have chosen that which cannot be taken away, and which, indeed, is then only fully possessed, when everything else departs from human hold. As they soar to inherit the kingdom obtained for them by Christ, and thus lay hold on an immortality of joy through having acquainted themselves with Him as "the way, the truth, and the life," there may be none to say that "money is a defence, and wisdom is a defence" — none to say it in the face of the confounding witness of the elements melting with fervent heat, and of the shrinking away of those who have been "wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight": but the whole company of the redeemed shall be joined by the thousand times ten thousand of the celestial host, in confessing and publishing that the excellency of knowledge is, "that wisdom," Christian wisdom, "giveth life to them that have it."
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