The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: W

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Wisdom and knowledge

Cowper wrote, "Wisdom and knowledge far from being one, have ofttimes no connection."

The poet was trying to express the truth that wisdom is superior to knowledge, but in his statement of the difference he went too far. There is bound to be a connection, for although it is possible for men to have knowledge without wisdom, no one can be wise without possessing knowledge. Wisdom makes use of knowledge as mind makes use of matter. It is superior because it is comprehensive. A new-born babe begins life without knowing anything of the world he has entered and without any of the qualities that may come with experience. He cannot possibly be wise until he has knowledge -- knowledge of the difference between good and evil, knowledge of the God who has called him into being, and knowledge of the way of life. Wisdom is revealed in the proper use of that which is known. The One who is perfect in wisdom has also the perfection of knowledge.

Wisdom is always good, but there is such a thing as the knowledge of evil. It can never be an advantage to lack wisdom in anything, but there are matters in which it is a blessing not to know.

The apostle Paul wrote, "knowledge puffeth up" (1Co 8:1). He was not condemning knowledge, but simply stating a truth. Knowledge of the right kind is excellent, but even it may tend to inflate the individual who possesses it. Men may be puffed up even by their knowledge of the Scriptures, especially if their reading has been ill-balanced. Much charity is needed to guard against this evil and to make knowledge lead to edification.

There are people who will say that it is only the dangerous "little knowledge" that puffs men up, while those who have studied deeply are truly humble and never boast. This thought has been stated often, but it is not true. Indeed it would be difficult to define the words of such a saying. All the knowledge of mankind is only little. The most ignorant and the most cultured are only separated by a few degrees. It is quite true that intelligent people perceive the ugliness and folly of blatant boasting and so if they boast they do it more skilfully. Or it is possible for a man to feel himself so superior to the common run of humanity that he finds no pleasure in the admiration of the multitude. His detachment is a form of pride, and he may fall into the worst of errors by being puffed up against God.

For all ordinary people it is most natural to find a certain pleasure in the possession of knowledge that is denied to others. The child's open triumph with the delighted affirmation "I know, I know!" is only the natural expression of a pride which we conceal in later life. Men and women do not feel such keen pleasure in little triumphs, and they may be so self-deceived as to imagine that they are completely above such childish weakness. Often, however, circumstances conspire to reveal the inflation that is there even in those who would claim to be quite free from it. Even in dealing with the oldest and most dignified of men, a diplomatist remembers this human vanity.

An active business man once told us that in early days he made this discovery by accident. He was trying to sell certain articles to engineers, and was finding it very hard work. One day, aside from his business he thought of a very interesting engineering problem which baffled all friends to whom he put it. One of these friends suggested that there was probably one man in the country who could solve the problem, the head of a very large firm, why not write to him? The young man hesitated to be so bold, but at last he wrote, stating his problem. He was invited to make a call. The big man received the youth quite graciously in his office and explained the interesting difficulty. Then having given full satisfaction by his superior knowledge and ability, he began to question the youth as to what he was doing in life, and ended by giving him a good order. There is a sequel to this story which illustrates a worldly wisdom, hardly falling within our subject. The young salesman having found by accident that exalted men were children at heart, changed his method of approach and played on this human weakness. He took advantage of this nattering thought of superior knowledge, the truth noted by the apostle that "knowledge puffeth up."

In some measure all men are subject to this weakness, but if they are instructed in the knowledge and wisdom that has been divinely revealed, they are aware of human vanity and so are on their guard. Knowledge and ignorance are only relative terms. It is said that in rural England a century ago, a man who could read and write was accounted a scholar, although in other circles the same man would have appeared as an ignoramus. In the same way the man with the greatest reputation for learning in all the world might seem deplorably ignorant to the angels. It is possible even that some of those with the greatest reputation would appear more foolish than their less capable fellows, just as we have noticed when we have chanced to overhear the conversation of children, the cleverest boy talks the worst nonsense, for there is no one to check him, or call in question his assertions.

Wisdom is needed to guide our steps, or knowledge will only bring increase of sorrow and a greater capacity for folly. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord and it ends with obedience to all His commandments. It can make use of knowledge on this mortal, material plane, while recognizing that there are other planes unknowable to us now. "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding" (Pro 4:7).

In the first chapter of the book of Proverbs we are told that "wisdom crieth aloud in the streets, she uttereth her voice in the broad places, she crieth in the chief place of concourse, at the entering in of the gates" (1:20,21, RV).

Considered as a "dark saying of the wise", this is provocative of thought. We very rarely have a literal shouting of words of wisdom in the streets of a city, or in the broad places of human activity, but when we remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, we can see a definite meaning in the saying. In ancient Israel and in the modern world the idea of God is before men all the while even though human thoughts fail to turn to Him. In our time we can hardly live for a single day without Christ being brought before our minds, and through Christ, the Father who was manifest in him. Even the daily newspaper utters the call of wisdom in spite of its low aim and its native foolishness. The date it gives is from the birth of Christ, the record of human vanity confirms the teaching of Christ, while often, especially in these latter days, there is an item of news which shouts of the purpose of God to those who can understand.

Even apart from these matters the call of wisdom can surely be heard in the ordered wonders of the universe in which we live. Man's cheerful acceptance of the earth as his home proclaims that in his heart he recognizes that there is a Creator. Would he feel comfortable on a ship with no captain? A hundred thousand tons of metal and wood driving through unknown seas at thirty miles an hour and no one in control? How then should he feel when he realizes that he is all through life on a vessel weighing millions of tons and going through space at sixty thousand miles an hour? Of course men believe that someone is in control. The stability of the earth and its long continuance, the facts of human consciousness and human ideals, the wonders of chemistry and the wonders of life all combine to prove that there is a mind far above that of man. Human intelligence is just sufficient to contemplate these things and to make some response. Wisdom is thus calling to the sons of men in the streets, in the broad places and at the entering in of the gate.

The Proverbs, however, do not suggest that it is easy for men to secure wisdom even though the first call is so loud and insistent. We have to incline our hearts to understanding, to cry after discernment and to seek for wisdom as for hid treasure; then may a man understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Then wisdom may be a tree of life to us (Pro 2:1-5).

There is much food for thought in this contrast between the first loud call of wisdom to the sons of men, and the diligent search which is necessary before we can find the real treasures that wisdom can yield. The study of nature will not carry men far. "The mysterious universe" offers new complexities as men advance in knowledge. The investigations of men are like the attempt to reach a goal which is moving from them faster than they can run.

God can only be known as far as He has chosen to reveal Himself. He has revealed that He is "a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him". Just as there are treasures and stores of wealth in the material world to reward the diligent labours of men, so there are spiritual treasures for those who search diligently in the Scriptures that have been handed down to us. In the only way possible or desirable in this mortal condition we shall find God if we search for Him with all the heart.

In the book of Proverbs there are many contrasts drawn between wisdom and foolishness, most of them easy to understand. From the many passages we choose one because it contains hidden depths and may arouse helpful thoughts.

"Every wise woman buildeth her house, but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands" (Pro 14:1).
Perhaps this has a meaning even on the most material plane. Some women take steps to improve their houses as time goes on, while others let everything go to ruin. We have even heard of people breaking up some of the woodwork of their houses and burning it through foolish indolence or still more foolish anger. On a slightly less material plane we have noticed the extraordinary difference between the woman who builds a home of confidence, unselfishness and love and the one who pulls a home to pieces by suspicion, jealousy and a generally negative attitude. On a higher plane still, the saying is true of the corporate woman formed through the ages. Those who desire to be constituent members of the bride to be, must be wise. They must build the house and not pull it down.

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