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.
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."
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
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.