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SERMON XXXVIII.

ECCLESIASTES i. 18.

In much wisdom there is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

IT is a saying usual, and of great reason, that we are to believe the skilful in their own art and profession. And therefore, if we would understand the nature, properties, and effects of knowledge, none can be so fit to inform us, as he who, by the very verdict of omniscience itself, was of all men in the world the most knowing.

Nothing indeed is more common than for every man almost to pass an universal censure upon all persons and things; but none can despise a thing rationally, but he who knows it thoroughly. Otherwise, though a man should pass a right judgment upon a thing, yet he does it only by accident; and not by reason, but luck: and therefore, though the thing spoke be truth and wisdom, yet the speaker of it utters it like a fool. None but a scholar can be a competent judge of knowledge; and therefore all the encomiums and endless praises of it that now fly about the world, must come, and be tried, and stand or fall, according to the verdict of this rule.

First therefore we shall find those that are loudest in their commendations, and highest in their admirations of learning, are for the most part such as were never bred to it themselves: hence it is, that 321such, of all others, are the most desirous to breed their sons scholars; so that if we take a list of the most renowned philosophers in former ages, and the most eminent divines in the latter, we shall find that they were, for the most part, of mechanic, mean, and plebeian parentage.

Upon this score also there came to be so many free-schools and endowed places for learning; because those are most apt to send their children to study, who, being poor and low, are not able to maintain them in it; and therefore need the expense and benevolence of others, to bring their imprudent designs to maturity. Let this therefore be fixed upon, as one great reason that the praise of knowledge is so great in the world, viz. that much the major part of the world is ignorant. And ignorant men are indeed very fit to praise and admire, but very unfit to judge.

I am not insensible that many will here presently be apt to stop me with those elogies that the most learned bestow upon knowledge, still adorning it with such panegyrics, such high words and expressions, as if rhetoric was invented for nothing else but to describe and set off her praise.—But in answer to this, though I might note, that to be learned and to be wise are things very different; yet I shall produce another reason of these commendations, which in all probability is this; that learned men would not seem and be judged fools, for spending their time upon so empty a thing; and therefore, as those that have been deceived into a ridiculous sight, do yet commend it, that they may not be thought to have been deceived, but may bring others into the same cheat with themselves:

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So here, should philosophers confess, that all the time they spent about materia prima, about esse per se, and esse per accidens, they were laboriously doing nothing; the world would be apt to hiss, and to explode them; and others would be so wise as, seeing the example, to forbear the imitation. But now, when a man finds himself to be really deceived, the only relief that remains to him, is to cover the report of it, and to get companions in the deception.

If what has been hitherto said does not satisfy, I can only take sanctuary in this; that the same was Solomon’s judgment: and I desire to know, whether those philosophers, who so profusely commend learning, knew more than he, and saw that worth in knowledge which he did? As for Aristotle, who for these many ages has carried the repute of philosophy from all the rest, he certainly was not wiser than Solomon; for he is reported to have stolen most of his philosophy out of Solomon’s writings, and to have suppressed them from the view of posterity.

I proceed therefore, and take up my assertion upon the warrant of his judgment, whom God has hitherto vouched the wisest of men; and therefore see no reason to alter it, till I am convinced by a wiser.

But before I make any further progress, I must premise this; that both in what has, and what shall be said by me, I design not the patronage of ignorance, especially in things spiritual: for, in this respect, we know, and are assured by the Spirit of God, that this is the condemnation of the world, that men love darkness rather than light; and that the blind must needs fall into the ditch: and for 323any man to expect to be saved, or to be happy, with out the knowledge of the revealed will of God, in things necessary to salvation, is as great an absurdity, as to expect to see without eyes: and therefore, in these matters, he that increases ignorance increases the means of his damnation; he increases the shadow of death, adds darkness to darkness, and passes by the darkness of ignorance, to the darkness of hell and damnation.

But if any thing is indeed said against knowledge, it is against that only that is so much adored by the world, and falsely called philosophy; and yet more significantly surnamed by the apostle vain philosophy; and that too with no other intent, than to dash the overweening pride of those that have it, and to divert the admiration of those that have it not, to some better and more deserving object.

But as for those parts of knowledge that are either instrumental to our knowledge of the will of God, or conduce to the good and support of society, in the state that mankind now is, I must not be thought therefore to speak against them, if from the text I impartially shew those infelicities, those miseries and sorrows, that, through our sin and weakness, they are attended with. It is the effect of sin that duty is accompanied with sorrow; and that, by such an unfortunate necessity of grief, we cannot attain the joy and happiness we design to ourselves in the end, unless for a time we quit it in the use of the means.

Now the design of this portion of scripture is to rectify the absurd opinions of the world concerning the great idol of mankind, knowledge; and to take 324down their excessive estimation of it, by shewing that it is the cause, or at least the inseparable companion of sorrow. And, in prosecution of the words, I shall demonstrate it to be so in these three respects.

I. In respect of the nature and properties of the thing itself.

II. In respect of the laborious and troublesome acquisition of it.

III. In respect of its effects and consequents.

I. First of all then, 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.

Nihil scire vita jocundissima est. It is the empty vessel that makes the merry sound. Which is evident from those whose intellectuals are ruined with phrensy or madness; who so merry, so free from the lash of care? Their understanding is gone, and so is their trouble.

It is the philosopher that is pensive, that looks downwards in the posture of the mourner. It is the open eye that weeps.

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Aristotle 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.

Solomon could not separate his wisdom from vexation of spirit. 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. None but the wise man can know himself to be miserable.

I might now, from the nature of knowledge, pass to the properties of it, and shew its uncertainty, its poorness, and utter inability to contribute any thing 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.

1st, 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. For how often does our eye tell us that the trees and the banks run, and that the ship or the coach stands still? How does it abridge the sun to the compass of a few spans, to a small, ignoble circumference? It follows, therefore, that we cannot be 326assured of the truth of that knowledge that commences upon the fallible report of sense, indeed no more than we can be certain that a thing is true, because a known liar has affirmed it.

2dly, 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, but may be proved without confession; for since none ever assigned a certain cause of any effect, but that others, with the same probability, have assigned a clear different cause, it is most evident, that we do not certainly know the causes of things, and consequently neither the things themselves.

3dly, 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. But now it is undeniable, that things oftentimes appear otherwise than they are; and when they do appear as indeed they are, yet there is no certain rule to discern that they do so.

Other arguments might be brought to shew, that it is not without cause that there is such a sect of men as sceptics in the world. 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 it 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; 327but 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 le 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. If I should run through the whole series and scale of sciences from top to bottom, I am sure I could verify this assertion.

For what am I, or any one else, the better, whether God foresees future contingents from the determination and decree of his will, or from the infinite actuality of his nature, by which his existence is be forehand with all future duration?

What am I concerned, whether he punishes sin by the necessary egress of his vindictive justice, or by a freedom of choice?

Of what such great necessity is it to know, whether Christ intended his death for all mankind, or only for a select company? when it is certain on both sides, that the benefit of his death is offered conditionally to all those, and only to those, who shall believe: and that upon either supposition, this proposition shall surely be verified, that whosoever believes shall be saved.

And to descend to things of an inferior nature. What is it to me, whether the will has a power to 328determine 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.

Is any use of human life served by the knowledge of this, whether the vegetative, sensitive, and rational soul in man be three distinct souls, or only three denominations, from three distinct operations and offices issuing from the same soul?

Or am I any ways 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. Day and night keep the same order; winter and summer observe the same returns; our fruit ripens as soon under one hypothesis as under the other; and the day begins no sooner nor stays any longer with Ptolemy than with Copernicus.

Or what am I bettered, whether all motion is performed by faculties, powers, or inherent qualities; or in a mechanical way, by the impulse of one body upon another, the greater overcoming and moving the less?

Who in the world finds any change in his affairs, 329whether there be little vacuities and empty spaces in the air; or whether there is no space, but what is filled and took up with body?

What am I altered, whether colour be a quality emergent from the different contemperature of the elements, or whether it be only the reflection of the light upon the different situation of the parts of the body?

I could reckon up an 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 shews, 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. Pass we now to the second thing; which is to shew, how that 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?

When a man must be led a long trace from the effect up to an hidden, remote cause, and then back again, take a survey of the several virtues and active qualities of that cause, in its many and numerous effects.

Will an ordinary industry be able to break open those rarities that God and nature has locked up, and set out of the reach of a vulgar endeavour? How hard is it to draw a principle into all its consequences, 330and to unravel the mysterious fertility but of one proposition!

A man must be always engaged in difficult speculation, and endure all the inconveniencies that attend it; which indeed are more and greater than attend any other sort of life whatsoever.

The soldier, it is confessed, converses with dangers, and looks 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 sowing and 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; that sacrifices health to conceit, and clothes the soul with the spoils 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 but 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 331delight, and look upon pleasure as his mortal enemy.

He must call that study that is indeed confinement; he must converse with solitude, walk, eat, and sleep thinking, read volumes, devour the choicest authors, and, (like Pharaoh’s kine,) after he has devoured all, look lean and meager. He must be willing to be weak, sickly, and consumptive; even to forget when he is an 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; and, like the cock in the fable, seek pearls in a dunghill, and perhaps rise to it as early. This is

Esse quod Arcesilas aerumnosique Solones:

to be always wearing a meditating countenance, to ruminate, mutter, and talk to a man’s self, for want of better company: in short, to do all those things which in other men are counted madness, but in a scholar pass for his profession.

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? Do not many shorten their days and contract incurable diseases, in the midst of Galen and Hippocrates? get consumptions amongst receipts and medicines, and die while they are conversing with remedies?

Then for the law: are not many called to the grave, while they are preparing for a call to the bar? Do they not grapple with knots and intricacies, perhaps not so soon dissolved as themselves? Do not 332their bodies wither and decay, and, after a long study of the law, look like an estate that has passed through a long suit in law?

But, above all, let the divine here challenge the greatest share; who, if he takes one in ten in the profit, I am sure, may claim nine in ten in the labour. It is one part of his business indeed to prepare others for death; but the toil of his function is like to make the first experiment upon himself.

People are apt to think this an easy work, and that to be a divine is nothing else but to wear black, to look severely, and to speak confidently for an hour; but confidence and propriety is not all one; and if we fix but upon this one part of his employment, as easy as it seems to be,

Expertus multum sudes, multumque labores.

But the divine’s office spreads itself into infinite other occasions of labour; and, in those that reach the utmost of so great a profession, it requires depth of knowledge, as well as heights of eloquence.

To sit and hear is easy, and to censure what we have heard much easier. But whatsoever his performance is, it inevitably puts us upon an act of religion; if good, it invites us to a profitable hearing; if otherwise, it inflicts a short penance, and gives an opportunity to the virtue of patience.

But, in sum, to demonstrate and set forth the divine’s labour, I shall but add this, that he is the only person to whom the whole economy of Christianity gives no cessation, nor allows him so much as the sabbath for a day of rest.

III. And lastly, knowledge increases sorrow, in respect of its effects and consequents; in three of which I shall give instance.

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1st, 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; it is the only thing in which reason itself is irrational.

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.

He that is always a getting, is always looking upon himself as in want. And he that is perpetually desiring to know, is perpetually thinking of himself ignorant; namely, in respect of those things that he desires to know.

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.

But while desire is active and vigorous, and the mind still a craving and reaching at somewhat, it supposes our happiness to be at a distance; for no man reaches after what he has already.

The bottomless appetite of knowledge will not be satisfied, and then we know that sorrow is the certain result and inseparable companion of dissatisfaction.

2dly, 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; it is wholly employed, 334whether in the pursuit of riches, or in the quest of learning, and no man grew either rich or learned merely by the diversion of his spare hours.

He therefore that buries his strength, his thoughts, his opportunities, in a book, can he possibly be rich, unless Providence itself should trade for him, the Exchange follow him, and the Indies travel to him? But certainly these would be vain expectations. The east nowadays affords no such wise men, that will take a long journey only to make presents, and to give of their gold and their treasures.

Hence it is that the learned man and the philosopher omnia sua secum portat; he numbers no flocks, tells no acres of ground, has no variety or change of raiment, and is not solicitous which, but what he shall put on: he never aspires to any purchase, unless perhaps of some dead man’s study; at the same time buying the relics of another’s death and the instruments of his own.

Hereupon he is put to the worst and the most discouraging of all miseries, which is, to be beholden and obliged. For what was Aristotle without his Alexander? Virgil without Augustus? Horace with out Mecaenas? And other poets, like their own wreaths of ivy, they were always creeping about something for a support. A scholar without a patron is insignificant: he must have something to lean upon: he is like an unhappy cause, always depending.

We read of the prophet’s accommodation and furniture in the house of the Shunamite, 2 Kings iv.10, a little chamber, a table, a stool, and a candlestick; and perhaps, if he had lived there for any considerable 335time, he would have been reckoned, not so much one of the inhabitants, as part of the furniture of the house.

These are the happy effects of study and knowledge; and as most kinds of study hinder men from getting estates, so there are some that cannot be under took without an estate, nor long pursued without the loss of it. 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.

3dly, 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. Whoever sees another more knowing than himself, he presently thinks him a reproach to his understanding; and although he himself will not undergo the labour of knowledge, yet he will not allow another the fame.

Hence come all the jars between learned men, the invectives and bitter books, the wars of critics, and the controversies of the schools, all managed with such keenness and virulence, throwing dirt, and disgorging daggers at one another’s reputation; for no other injury in the world, but because the adverse party is thought to know more.

As Grotius, in one of his poems, speaking of knowledge, and the invidiousness of it, not inelegantly expresses it,

Quam nil sit illud quod vocamus his scire,

Quo nos superbi tollimus caput caelo.

Calcamus alios, invicemque calcamur.

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To trample, and to be trampled upon, to write and to be writ against, is the lot of the learned, the effect of learning, as it lies under the malign aspect of a constant emulation.

Now one would think that envy, which like fire aspires as well as consumes, and always soars and strikes high, should not prey upon a poor, threadbare philosopher.

Yet, if a man ventures but out of the old road, and attempts to enlarge the borders of philosophy by the introduction of some new method, or the discovery of some unheard of invention, some new phenomena in nature, what a tragical outcry is presently raised against him, all the world pecking at him, and about his ears!

How are Galileo and Copernicus persecuted, and Descartes worried by almost every pen! Dreadful are the censures thundered out against them, both from the press and the pulpit, especially by those puny, systematical theologues, whose philosophy never went beyond Keckerman, nor their divinity beyond Wollebius, and who would have all things new in the church, but nothing in the schools.

Thus must a man spend his fortune, consume his time, and rack his brain, and all to produce some birth that is like to be devoured as soon as born; to have his labours stifled or trod upon, his knowledge railed down, and his person exposed to the violence of those who are never witty but in their malice, nor extraordinary in any thing but ill behaviour.

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 337baseness 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. For though there is a vanity, a sorrow, and dissatisfaction in the knowledge of created, inferior objects, yet we are assured that it is life eternal to know God, and whom he has sent, his Son Christ Jesus.

To which God, the fountain of all true wisdom and understanding, giving freely to those that ask, and upbraiding none, he rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for ever more. Amen.

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