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"Also, that the soul be without knowledge,
it is not good ."
– Zechariah 13:1.
THIS book is very significantly termed THE PROVERBS. Solomon was its author, who was not only a king, and reigned over a great people, but who was wiser than all men, and whose fame was in all the nations round about; he spake also three thousand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five. The method of teaching by proverbs may be traced back to a very early date. The ancient sages of Greece highly esteemed this kind of exercise, and strove to excel in the wisdom and sententiousness of their proverbs; but long before Solon, or Chilo, or Pittacus, existed in Greece, the Hebrews had their Proverbs, 1 Sam. xxiv. 13, Deut. xxviii. 37. Long discourses often create fatigue and excite disgust; men have not always leisure to attend to them, nor penetration to comprehend their meaning; but proverbs neither burden the memory nor puzzle the understanding; they are, therefore, adapted to all persons, and may be exemplified in all situations. Had Solomon's proverbs been mere emanations of that "largeness of heart" with which he was endowed, they would have been highly worthy of our attention; but they possess the sanctity of divine oracles and the infallibility of inspired records, and therefore have indisputable claims to our regard, and imperative demands on our obedience. Let us, therefore, turn our thoughts to the text.
We have here,
THE CASE SUPPOSED is a soul without knowledge. This is not to be understood absolutely; if knowledge is considered as conscious perception of our own existence, or the existence of objects around us, it is scarcely possible for the soul to be without knowledge, except in the case of infants or idiots, in the former the senses are not sufficiently mature to become inlets to knowledge, and in the latter, owing to some mysterious defect in the organization of the material system, they are incapable of performing their accustomed work. The soul may be furnished with a species of knowledge which is rather a curse than a blessing. All knowledge is not benefit, nor all ignorance misfortune. Knowledge is to be valued, not by the multiplicity, but the excellency of the objects it embraces, and the permanency of the benefits it confers. The knowledge specified in the text may imply,
(a) A knowledge of the works of God in creation. In this Solomon peculiarly excelled; "He spake of trees, from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall," &c., 1 Kings iv. 33. Nor was David less disposed to contemplate the wonders of God in creation; "When I consider thy heavens," &c., Psa. viii. 3. God is known by his works; their vast magnitude serves to display his power; their amazing extent shadows forth his immensity; the admirable harmony that prevails among them evidences his wisdom; and the ample provision made for all creatures exhibits his goodness. It is not good for the soul to be destitute of this kind of knowledge – "Because they regard not the works of the Lord," Psa. xxviii. 5.
(b) A knowledge of our particular calling, trade, or profession. Mankind form one great family, which, like the various members in the human body, should combine their efforts for the good of the whole. In this family there are men of different ranks, arts, and professions; some who make our clothes, others who build our houses, others who cultivate our lands, &c. To mechanics, artisans, and husbandmen, we are indebted for the conveniences and comforts of life; "the king himself is served by the field ;" and, as we all share the benefits of society, we should all hold ourselves responsible to promote its welfare. No man is obliged to know everything, but every man ought to know what he professes to know, and what he in effect tells the world he does know.
(c) A knowledge of the will of God. If this world were the only sphere of human action, man would be obligated to know nothing but what refers to the present life; but when we consider the brevity and uncertainty of this mode of exercise, and the eternity of that state to which we are constantly tending, our principal efforts should be directed to the attainment of that knowledge which will prepare us for the enjoyment of God in heaven. The will of God is revealed in the Bible. This revelation is so plain, that he may run that readeth it, so ample, as to embrace the whole of our duty, so repeated, that we have precept upon precept, &c., so circumstantial, as to mark every description of character, and identify every variety of situation; so impartial, as to know no distinction between the monarch and the beggar; and so full and perfect, that, "if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him all the plagues that are written in this book." Our knowledge, therefore, of the will of God, should be scriptural; we should never think ourselves wise above what is written, but refer all our ideas to the infallible test of revelation. –Spiritual; not merely as it refers to the spiritual or intellectual part of man, but as it is communicated by the agency of the Eternal Spirit, 1 Cor. ii. 12-14; 1 Cor. ii. 12-14; 1 John ii.20. –Experimental; does the Bible exhibit privileges? These we should realize. Does it offer benefits? These we should embrace. Does it display models? These we should emulate. – Practical; "If ye know these things," &c. John xiii. 17. The abuse of knowledge involves us in deeper condemnation than even total ignorance, Luke xii. 47. The inspired writers scarcely allowed that to be called knowledge which produced no practical effect; "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar," 1 John ii. 3, 4.
(i) It is not good, as it does not harmonise with the original purpose of God in the formation of man. The soul, in its pristine innocency, was endowed with extensive treasures of knowledge and a vast intellectual capacity for improvement in science: see Col. iii. 10. Adam gave names to all cattle, &c. Gen. ii. 19. These names expressed some prominent feature in their characters hence he must have possessed an intuitive knowledge of their natures: but with the extent of his knowledge, in reference to God and his works, we have no acquaintance; and as God saw it was not good for the soul to be without knowledge, when his almighty fiat gave it birth, we may infer the truth of the affirmation in the text. For a thing cannot be morally good at one period of time, which is not good at another.
(ii) It is not good, as it is not commendable. What can be more disgraceful than ignorance, especially ignorance of God, our duty and our interest? To be possessed of a soul, an immortal intelligent substance, formed for the attainment, and placed within the sphere of knowledge, and yet to continue in ignorance! Read the commendations which Solomon bestowed upon wisdom, in Prov viii. 11, 18, 19. "A man shall be comrnended," &c., Prov. xii. 8. "Some have not the knowledge of God," &c. 1 Cor. xv. 34.
(iii) It is not good, as it is not beneficial. Nothing can be deservedly denominated good which is not advantageous to its possessor. A soul without knowledge is devoid of good; and like a wild and desolate wilderness, where the hand of cultivation has never broken the stubborn soil, noxious weeds, or useless shrubs, grow in rank luxuriance; while a soul, enriched with spiritual knowledge, resembles a highly cultivated field, adorned with vernal beauty or crowned with golden harvests. There cannot be a more useless member of society than an ignorant man. For whom does he live? For God? – Alas! he is alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him. For men? – He knows not the duties he owes to society, and therefore cannot practise them.
(iv) It is not good as it is not comfortable. Ignorance is the negation of all moral excellence, and to suppose that this can produce comfort, is not less absurd than to expect to gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles; it may produce a sensitive delight, which is the highest happiness of a brute, or even afford a mischievous pleasure, which is the gratification of a fiend, but this is the only comfort of which it can boast. But a man possessed of an experimental knowledge of God, has springs of consolation to which ignorant persons are complete strangers.
(v) It is not good, as it is not safe. "My people are gone into captivity, because they have not knowledge," Isa. v. 13. "Fools die for want of wisdom," Prov. x. 21. "My people are destroyed," &c., Hos. iv. 6. Ignorance is so far from being the mother of devotion, that it is the mother of destruction. It may, like darkness, conceal the danger, but it does not prepare to meet it; it may bind the bandage before the eyes, but it will not remove the snare that is laid for the feet. Those who will be punished with everlasting destruction &c. (2 Thess. i. 9), are they who know not God, &c. "This is the condemnation," &c. John iii. 19. An ignorant man is prepared for every evil work; there is no vice which he hesitates to commit, it is a sport to him to do mischief, Prov. x. 23. "Fools make a mock at sin," Prov. xiv. 9. Therefore Solomon said, "Let a bear, robbed of her whelps, meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly." Prov. xvii. 12.
(a) What gratitude is due to God, who hath afforded us such facilities for the acquisition of knowledge. What an age we live in! what a country we inhabit! Who made us to differ from heathens and savages? Not ourselves, but he who hath made of one blood all nations of men, &c. Acts xvii. 26.
(b) How diligently we should use the means with which God hath favoured us for the augmenting our stock of knowledge. "Brethren, be not children in understanding," &c. I Cor. xiv. 20. The more enlarged our understandings, the nearer we approximate to the exalted state of superior beings, who know even as also they are known. Let us search the Scriptures, and pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us frequent the ministry of those who run to and fro, that knowledge may be increased. Let us associate with wise men, Prov. xiii. 20. And let us apply our hearts to wisdom.
(c) Let us commiserate the circumstances of those who are destitute of the means of information. There are millions of men, in different parts of the world, who have no books - no preachers of righteousness - no Christian Sabbaths - no religious ordinances - and even in some of those countries usually termed Christendom, how scanty are the means of knowledge! Errors of the most pernicious kinds are not only permitted to prevail, but transformed into imaginary virtues. Oh! let us do all we can to send Bibles and missionaries to the destitute nations of the earth.
(d) Seeing that all knowledge in its most improved state in this world, is comparatively immature and imperfect, with what delight should we anticipate the period when we shall no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face. Here impediments obstruct the path of knowledge - prejudices impose upon our senses, and false lights delude our minds. Heaven is the region of knowledge; "there knowledge grows without decay, and love shall never die." May we all reach that everlasting habitation of light, glory, and perfection through Jesus Christ.