Thoughts from Ecclesiastes

 

                                    All is Vanity (1:2)

 

If we regard this book as Solomon’s own record and statement of his

remarkable experience of human life, it must be deemed by us a most

valuable lesson as to the hollowness and emptiness of worldly greatness

and renown. If, on the other hand, we regard the book as the production of

a later writer, who lived during the troubled and depressed period of

Jewish history which followed the Captivity, it must be recognized as

casting light upon the providentially appointed consequences of national

sin, apostasy, and rebellion. In the former case the moral and religious

significance of Ecclesiastes is more personal, in the latter case more

political. In either case, the treatise, as inspired by Divine wisdom,

demands to be received and studied with reverential attention. Whether its

lessons be congenial or unwelcome, they deserve the consideration of those

of every age, and of every station in society. Some readers will resent the

opening words of the treatise as gloomy and morbid; others will hail them

as the expression of reason and wisdom. But the truth they contain is

independent of human moods and temperaments, and is only to be fully

appreciated by those whose observation is extensive and whose reflection

is profound. The wise man makes a broad and unqualified statement, that

all things earthly and human are but vanity.

 

  • THIS MAY BE A STATEMENT OF A MERE MOOD OF FEELING

OWING TO INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCE. There are times when every

man who lives is distressed and disappointed, when his plans come to

naught, when his hopes are blasted, when his friends fail him, when his

prospects are clouded, when his heart sinks within him. It is the common

lot, from which none can expect to be exempt. In some instances the

stormy sky clears and brightens, whilst in other instances the gloom

thickens and settles. But it may be confidently asserted that, at some period

and in some circumstances, every human being, whose experience of life is

large and varied, has felt as though he has been living in a scene of illusion,

the vanity of which has been perhaps suddenly made apparent to him, and

then the language of the writer of Ecclesiastes has risen to his lips, and he

has exclaimed in bitterness of soul, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!”

 

  • THIS MAY BE A STATEMENT OF PAINFUL EXPERIENCE,

DEPENDENT UPON THE SPECIAL TIMES — POLITICAL AND

ECCLESIASTICAL — IN WHICH THE LOT IS CAST. Such is the

mutability of human affairs, that every nation, every Church, passes

through epochs of prosperity, confidence, energy, and hope; and again

through epochs of adversity, discouragement, depression, and paralysis.

The Israelites had their times of conquest and of progress, and they had

also their times of defeat, of captivity, of subjection, of humiliation. So has

it been with every people, every state. Nor have the Churches into which

Christian communities have been formed, escaped the operation of the

same law. So far as they have been human organizations, they have been

affected by the laws to which all things human are subject. In times when a

nation is feeble at home and despised abroad, when faction and ambition

have reduced its power and crippled its enterprise, there is proneness, on

the part of the reflecting and sensitive among the citizens and subjects, to

lament over the unprofitableness and vanity of civil life. Similarly, when a

Church experiences declension from the Divine standard of faith, purity,

and consecration, how natural is it that the enlightened and spiritual

members of that Church should, in their grief over the general deadness of

the religious community, give way to feelings of discouragement and

foreboding, which find a fitting expression in the cry, “Vanity of vanities;

all is vanity!”

 

  • THIS MAY BE A STATEMENT OF PHILOSOPHICAL

REFLECTION UPON THE FACTS OF NATURE AND OF HUMAN

LIFE. It would be a mistake to suppose that the cry of “Vanity!” is always

the evidence of a merely transitory though powerful mood of morbid

feeling. On the contrary, there have been nations, ages, states of society,

with which it has been a settled conviction that hollowness and emptiness

characterize all human and earthly affairs. Pessimism may be a

philosophical creed, as with the ancient Buddhists and some of the modern

Germans; it may be a conclusion reached by reflection upon the facts of

life. To some minds unreason is at the heart of the universe, and in this case

there is no ground for hope. To other minds, not speculative, the survey of

human affairs is suggestive of aimlessness in the world, and occasions

despondency in the observant and reflective mind. Thus even some who

enjoy health and prosperity, and in whose constitution and circumstances

there is nothing to justify discouragement and hopelessness, are

nevertheless found, without any serious satisfaction in existence, ready to

sum up their conclusions, derived from a perhaps prolonged and extensive

survey of human life, in the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes, “All is

vanity!”

 

  • THIS MAY BE A STATEMENT OF RELIGIOUS CONVICTION,

BOTH SPRINGING FROM AND LEADING TO THE KNOWLEDGE

OF THE ETERNAL AND GLORIOUS GOD. The student of physical

science looks at facts; it is his duty to observe and to classify facts; their

arrangement under certain relations, as of likeness and of sequence, is his

business, in the discharge of which he renders a great service to mankind.

But thought is as necessary as observation. A higher explanation than

physical science can give is imperatively required by human nature. We are

constrained, not only to observe that a thing is, but also to ask why it is.

Here metaphysics and theology come in to complete the work which

science has begun. Human life is composed not only of movements, which

can be scientifically accounted for, but of actions, of which the explanation

is hyperphysical, is spiritual. Similarly with the world at large, and with

human life and history. The facts are open to observation; knowledge

accumulates from age to age; as experience widens, grander classifications

are made. Still there is a craving for explanation. Why, we ask, are things

as they are? It is the answer to this question which distinguishes the

pessimist from the theist. The wise, the enlightened, the religious, seek a

spiritual and moral significance in the universe — material and psychical. In

their view, if things, as they are and have been, be regarded by themselves,

apart from a Divine reason working in and through them, they are

emptiness and vanity. On the other hand, if they be regarded in the light of

that Divine reason, which is order, righteousness, and love, they are

suggestive of what is very different indeed from vanity To the thoughtful

and reverent mind, apart from God, all is vanity; SEEN IN THE LIGHT

OF GOD NOTHING IS VANITY! Both these seeming contradictions are true,

and they are reconciled in a higher affirmation and unity. Look at the world in the

light of sentience ( a feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception and

thought) and the logical understanding, and it is vanity. Look at it in the

light of reason, and it is the expression of Divine wisdom and Divine

goodness.

 

  • APPLICATION. It is well to see and feel that all is vanity, if we are thus

led to turn from the phenomenal to the real, the abiding, the Divine. But it

will be to our hurt if we dwell upon the vanity of all things, so that

pessimism be fostered, so that we fail to recognize Infinite Reason at the

heart of all things, so that we regard this as the worst of all worlds, so that

for us the future has no brightness.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cycles of Nature (1:5-7)

 

This is not to be taken as the language of one who makes complaints of

nature, wishing that the great forces of the world were ordered otherwise

than they actually are. It is the language of one who observes nature, and is

baffled by its mysteries; who asks what all means, and why everything is as

it is. Even at that distant time it was recognized that the processes of

nature are cyclic. The stars accomplish their revolutions, and the seasons

return in their appointed order. There is unity in diversity, and changes

succeed one another with remarkable regularity. These observations seem

to have suggested to the writer of Ecclesiastes the inquiry — Is man’s life

and destiny in this respect similar to the order of nature? Is our human

experience as cyclic as are the processes of the material universe? Is there

no real advance for man? and is he destined to pass through changes which

in the end will only leave him where he was?

 

  • NATURE PRESENTS A SPECTACLE OF CONSTANT CHANGE

AND RESTLESSNESS. The three examples given in these passages are

such as must strike every attentive observer of this earth and the

phenomena accessible to the view of its inhabitants. The sun runs his daily

course through the heavens, to return on the next morning to fulfill the

same circuit. The wind veers about from one quarter to another, and quits

one direction only in a few hours, or a few days, or at most a few weeks,

to resume it. The rivers flow on in an unceasing current, and find their way

into the sea, which (as is now known) yields in evaporation its tribute to

the clouds, whence the water-springs are in due time replenished. Modern

science has vastly enlarged our view of similar processes throughout all of

the universe which is accessible to our observation. “Nothing continueth in

one stay.” There is in the world nothing immovable and unchangeable. It is

believed that not an atom is at rest.

 

  • NATURE SEEMS TO EFFECT NO PROGRESS BY ALL THE

CHANGES EXHIBITED. Not only is there a want, an absence, of

stability, of rest; there is no apparent advance and improvement. Things

move from their places only to return to them; their motion is rather in a

circle than in a straight line. It was this cyclic tendency in natural processes

which arrested the attention and perplexed the inquiring mind of the wise

man. And modern science does not in this matter effect a radical change in

our beliefs. Evolutionists teach us that rhythm is the ultimate law of the

universe. Evolution is followed by involution, or dissipation. A planet or a

system evolves until it reaches its climax, and thenceforward its course is

reversed, until it is resolved into the elements of which it was primevally

composed. In the presence of such speculations the intellect reels, dizzy

and powerless.

 

  • REFLECTION MAY, HOWEVER, SUGGEST TO US THAT

THERE IS UNITY IN DIVERSITY, STABILITY IN CHANGE; THAT

THERE IS A DIVINE PURPOSE IN NATURE. If there be evidence of

reason in the universe, if nature is the expression of mind, the vehicle by

which the Creator-Spirit communicates with the created spirits He has

fashioned in His own likeness, then there is at least the suggestion of what

is deeper and more significant than the cycles of phenomena. There is rest

for the intelligence in such a conviction as that of the theist, who rises

above the utterances to the Being who utters forth His mind and will in the

world which He has made, and which He rules by laws that are the

expression of His own reason. He looks behind and above the mechanical

cycles of nature, and discovers the Divine mind, into whose purposes he

can only very partially penetrate, but in whose presence and control he

finds repose.

 

  • ANALOGY POINTS OUT THAT IN AND BENEATH THE

MUTABILITY OF THE HUMAN LOT AND LIFE THERE IS DIVINE

PURPOSE OF INSTRUCTION AND BLESSING. If, as it seems, it

occurred to the mind of the wise man that, as in nature, so in human

existence, all things are cyclic and unprogressive, such an inference was not

unnatural. Yet it is not a conclusion in which the reasonable mind can rest.

The fuller revelation with which we have been favored enlightens us with

respect to THE INTENTIONS OF ETERNAL WISDOM AND LOVE!

Our Savior has founded upon earth a kingdom which cannot be moved. And

the figures which He Himself has employed to set forth its progress are an

assurance that it is not bounded by time or space; that it shall grow until its

dimensions and beneficence exceed all human expectations, and satisfy the

heart of the Divine Redeemer Himself. Each faithful Christian, however

feeble and however lowly, may work in his Master’s cause with the

assurance that his service shall be not only acceptable, but effective. Better

shall be the end than the beginning. The seed shall give rise to a tree of

whose fruit all nations shall taste, and beneath whose shadow humanity

itself shall find both shelter and repose.

 

 

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                                                Weariness and Rest (vs. 7-8)

 

We have here:

 

·         THE COMPLAINT OF THE UNSATISFIED. “All things are full of

weariness” (Revised Version).

 

Ø      There are many obvious sources of satisfaction. Life has many

pleasures, and many happy activities, and much coveted treasure.

Human affection, congenial employment, the pursuit of knowledge,

“the joys of contest,” the excitements of the field of sport, the attainment

of ambition, etc.

 

Ø      All of them together fail to satisfy the heart. The eye is not satisfied with

seeing, nor the ear with hearing, nor the tongue with tasting, nor the hand

with handling, nor the mind with investigating and discovering. All the

streams of temporal and worldly pleasure run into the sea of the human

soul, BUT THEY DO NOT FILL IT! The heart, on whatsoever it feeds,

is still ahungered, is still athirst. It may seem surprising that when so much

that was craved has been possessed and enjoyed, that when so many things

have ministered to the mind, there should still be heart-ache, unrest,

spiritual disquietude, the painful question“There be many who

say, Who will show us any good? (Psalm 4:6)  Is life worth having?

The profundity, the commonness and constancy of this complaint,

is a very baffling and perplexing problem. We surely ought

to be satisfied, but we are not. The unillumined mind cannot explain it,

the uninspired tongue “cannot utter it.” What is the solution?

 

·         ITS EXPLANATION. Its solution is not far to seek; it is found in the

truth so finely uttered by Augustine, “O God, thou hast made us for

thyself, and our heart findeth no rest until it resteth in thee.” The human

spirit, created in God’s image, constituted to possess His own spiritual

likeness, formed for truth and righteousness, intended to spend its noble

and ever-unfolding powers in the high service of the Divine, is it likely

that such a one as this, that can be so much, that can know so much, that

can love the best and highest, that can aspire to the loftiest and purest

well-being, can be satisfied with the love that is human, with the

knowledge that is earthly, with the treasure that is material and transient?

The marvel is, and the pity is, that man, with such powers within him and

with such a destiny before him, can sometimes sink so low as to be filled

and satisfied with the husks of earth, unfilled with the bread of heaven.

 

·         ITS REMEDY. To us, to whom Jesus Christ has spoken, there is a

plain and open way of escape from this profound disquietude. (“Why art

thou cast down, O my soul?  and why art thou disquieted within me?

Hope thou in God:  for I shall yet praise Him, who is the  health of my

countenance, and my God.”  Psalm 42:5,11; 43:5)  We hear the

Master say, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I

will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you… and ye shall find rest unto

your souls.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

Ø      In the reconciliation to God, our Divine Father, which we have in

Jesus Christ;

Ø      in the happy love of our souls to that Divine Friend and Savior;

Ø      in the blessed service of our rightful, faithful, considerate Lord;

Ø      in the not unavailing service we render to those whom He loved and for

whom He died;

Ø      in the glorious hope of immortal life beyond the grave, we do

“find rest unto our souls.”

 

 

 

OUR LAST JOURNEY.

 

DELIVERED ON LORD’S-DAY MORNING,

SEPTEMBER 9, 1877,

 

BY C. H. SPURGEON,

AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.

 

“When a few years are come, then I shall go the way whence

I shall not return.” Job 16:22.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I. First then let us REALIZE OUR INEVITABLE JOURNEY. I desire that these

words may be earnestly taken up in a personal manner by each of us. The

language is in the singular number. “I shall go the way whence I shall not

return. Let us apply it each one to himself. The fact that all men are mortal

has little power over our minds, for we always make a tacit exception and

put off the evil day for ourselves. We own ourselves mortal, but do not

expect to die just now. Even the aged look forward to a continuance of

life, and the consumptive dream of possible recovery. I will not, therefore,

remind you so much of the general truth, but place before you the

individual, pointed, personal declaration of the text. “I,” the preacher; you,

each one of you looking upon the preacher now,- “I shall go the way

whence I shall not return.” As surely as you live you will die. It may help

you to realize this fact if I ask you to accompany me first of all into the

chamber of a dying man, and as you look upon him I entreat you to

remember that you yourself will lie there in a like case ere long. (For Spurgeon,

this sermon was delivered 14 years 4 months and 21 days before he passed)  It is

sometimes my duty, and a very hard and painful task it is, to communicate

to sick and dying persons the fact that it is not possible that they should

recover. One beats about the bush a little, but at last you come with

tenderness to the sad point and say, “Friend, do you know that there is

very little hope, if any, that you can recover? In fact, it is as nearly certain

as a thing can be that you must die. Your physicians are compelled to

believe that your end is near.” The news is taken in such different ways;

sometimes it is not believed, at other times it occasions a thrill of pain

which wounds your heart and cuts your soul to the quick. In many cases it

is received with calm, patient resignation, but frequently have I seen the

tidings accepted with joy, and the man of God has said, “It is a thing I have

longed for. Now shall I be rid of this weary pain, and see the face of Him

whom my soul loveth.” Yet it is a solemn business, take it how you may -solemn

to those who tell the news, and more solemn still to those who hear

it. Look, then, at the poor dying man, wasting away before your eyes. He

must now go to his long home. He must go. No one now can delay his

departure. The chariot is at the door. If he could offer all the gold of the

Indies he could not bribe inexorable death. No, he may be master of a mint

of treasure, but it cannot buy him an hour’s life; his time is come, and he

must go. His beloved wife would fain detain him, but he must be torn from

her embrace. His children weep, but he must not stay to dry their tears. A

kind friend would almost make an exchange, and die in his stead, but there

can be no proxies here. There is no discharge in this war. It is appointed

unto all men once to die, and die he must. The hour is come! His pulse is

slow! His eye is glazing! Look at him! Do you not feel for a man in such

solemn circumstances? There must you also lie, and thus must you also

depart. I ask you to place yourself in his stead, and try this morning to feel

as he must feel, seeing it is absolutely certain that to such a condition you

also must come, unless, indeed, the Lord should descend from heaven with

a shout at once, of which we know so little as to when it may be.

How the individuality of a man comes out in his dying hour! What an

important being he becomes! You think more of that one man while dying

than of all the thousands of the living who parade our streets. No matter

who he is, he is dying, and we tread softly. Poor man, he must now die,

and die alone. And now how important his character becomes! His life, his

own life, is now being put into the balance, and he is looking back upon it;

it is the most important thing in the universe to him. His outward

circumstances are now a small matter, his life is the main consideration.

Was he righteous or wicked? a fearer of God or a despiser of His grace? Be

he rich or be he poor, his rank and station are subjects of indifference. The

hangings of the bed are of very small account, the man who lies there is the

sole concern. Whether he is now waited upon by the best physician, hired

by the costliest fee, or whether he lies in the hospital tended by gentle

charity, it is the man himself, the man’s soul, the man’s personal character

that is now seen in all its grandeur, demanding his whole thought. Be he

peer or be he peasant, be he king or be he serf, it is much the same to each

man to die. Differences on the dying bed arise out of character and not out

of rank. Now he has to face for himself the great things of eternity, and

cannot leave them to another. He used to hear about eternity as one of the

mass, but now he has to experience it alone, and by himself. Into the cold

river his own feet must descend, the cool waves must chill his blood, death

must close his eye, and into the unknown future he must plunge alone. No

brother’s hand can grasp his hand when he has quitted the body, no fellow

mortal can fly side by side with him through the tracks unknown. How

vividly the individuality of the man comes out, and the need of A PERSONAL

NEED  IN THE GREAT SALVATION!   How much it is to be desired that it

could be made quite as plain under happier circumstances. And yet how clear it is

that each one of us must believe in the Savior for himself each serve God

personally, and each have a good hope through grace wrought in his own

soul. Will men never think of this till they come to die?

And now that candle burning in the sick man’s chamber sheds a strange

light upon his past life. Some said he was fortunate, but if he was sinful

where is his good fortune? Men said he was a poor unsuccessful muddler,

but he will be worth as much in a short time as if he had been the most

prudent, and had prospered in the world, for here men come to a level.

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked must I return

thither.” So must it be. In death the financial element looks contemptible,

and the moral and the spiritual come to be most esteemed. How did he

live? What were his thoughts? What was his heart towards God? Did he

repent of sin? Does he still repent? Does he believe in Jesus? Is he resting

upon the finished work of Christ or is he not? He, perhaps, failed to ask

himself some of those questions a little while ago, but now, if he be in his

sober senses, he is compelled to put his soul through its paces. How does

his heart answer when cross-examined? Now he must reach down the

accounts, the memoranda, and the day-book of his life, and he must look to

what he did and what he was, and what he is. Ah me! how will the

reckoning end? What will be the sum total? It matters little what he was

before his fellow men, whose judgments are fallible, but the question is,

what was he before the all-searching eye of the Most High God? Such an

account you will have to render.

 

 

 

The individuality of the man is clear, and the man’s character before God,

and now it is also evident that DEATH TESTS ALL THINGS!   If you look upon

this poor dying man you see that he is past the time for pretences and shams.

You yourself, if you knew but little of him before, feel very concerned to

know whether the religion he professed was truthful or not, whether he

was really regenerate or merely dreamed that he was so. If you wish to

answer that question, how much more does that poor dying man want to

know for himself? Here let me tell you that very much of the comfort with

which we wrap ourselves up in days of health proves to be very sorry stuff

when we come to die. While you are in good health and strength you often

derive a measure of peace of mind from things which will not stand the

fiery ordeal of an approaching eternity. Some of the best men that ever

lived have found this out. You may know the name of Mr. Durham, the

author of a famous book on Solomon’s Song, one of the most earnest of

Scotland’s ancient preachers. Some days before he died he seemed to be in

some perplexity about his future well-being, and said to his friend Mr.

Carstairs, “Dear brother, for all that I have written or preached, there is but

one Scripture which I can now remember or dare grip unto now that I am

hastening to the grave. It is this-’ Whosoever cometh unto me, I will in no

wise cast out.’ Pray tell me if I dare lay the weight of my salvation upon

it.” Mr. Carstairs justly replied, “Brother, you may depend upon it, though

you had a thousand salvations at hazard.” You see it was a plain, sinner’s

text that he rested on. Just as Dr. Guthrie wanted them to sing a bairn’s

hymn, so do dying saints need the plain elementary doctrines of the gospel

to rest upon. Those fine ideas and dainty notions of our nearing perfection

and becoming completely sanctified dissolve like the hoar frost in the sun,

when we come face to face with eternity. Those grand excitements, those

high enjoyments, and those deep experiences, which lead us to think

ourselves to be somebodies in the church of God are of small account in

dying moments. Men cannot die on stilts. Death finds out the truth of our

condition and blows away with his cold breath a heap of chaff which we

thought to be good wheat. Then a man has to look to the mercy of God, to

the blood of the covenant and to the promises of the gospel, and to cling as

a poor needy, guilty sinner to free, rich, sovereign grace, or else his spirit

will utterly sink. When life is ebbing nothing will do but the faithful saying,

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” I have heard children of

God speak in their last moments just as seeking souls speak. They come to

God again just as they came at first, and they find in Jesus all their hope.

Dying men want realities, they want a sinner’s Savior, they want atonement

for guilt, for so only can they pass out of the world with hope. Oh,

brethren, follow after that which is solid and real, for nothing else will

serve your turn when you come to die.

 

Still keep your eye on that dying man whom I have tried to picture-he is

vividly before me now. He must go; there is no alternative, He cannot

resist the power which now summons him to depart. Willing or unwilling,

it matters not, he must go. The sheriff’s officer has him in his grip, and he

must go. Is he prepared? Pray God he may be; but whether he be so or not

it makes no difference, he must leave all and take his journey. Has he

children dependent upon him, and a wife who needs his support? Their

necessities cannot detain him, he must go. Has he made his will, or has he

left all his business affairs in a tangle? Whichever it is, he must go. The tide

which bears all before it has seized his barque, and even now it drifts

adown the stream.

 

THAT MAN WHO MUST GO IS YOURSELF, PROJECTED ONLY A LITTLE

WAY  FURTHER INTO TIME!  Can you not realize what will certainly be the fact? Can you not already hear the ticking of the watch at your bed-head in the silence of

your last night? Can you not anticipate that mysterious consultation of

physicians, when each one owns to his fellows his incompetence to suggest

a remedy. It is clear that the hour is come; YOU MUST GO!  This must happen

to every mortal man and woman sitting or standing in this house this

morning. Will you not lay it to heart?

 

Now survey another scene to help you to realize your departure. Look no

longer on the dying, but bend over the dead. It is all over now. He has

breathed his last, and he now lies upstairs alone in the darkened chamber.

A loving one has stolen in and tremblingly lifted the coffin lid to gaze once

more upon the dear face, and say another adieu; but there can be no more

of this. The friends have gathered, and the mourners must go through the

streets and bear him to the tomb. THAT FUNERAL IS YOURS!

 

 

The corpse is borne to the grave, and on the road it silently preaches to all

passers by. Archbishop Leighton one morning was asked by a friend,

“Have you heard a sermon?” He said, “No, but I met a sermon, for I met a

dead man carried out to be buried.” Let every funeral be a discourse to

you. Within a short time to each one of us it will happen that within the

narrow limits of the coffin we must lie, and then will come for us the

opened grave, the lowering of the corpse, and the gathering of mourners

around it. Upon your coffin lid and mine the mold shall fall- “Earth to

earth, dust to dust, and ashes to ashes.” A green mound, a daisy or two

amid the grass, a friend to bring a few fading flowers to scatter on our

graves ever and anon; perhaps a head-stone, perhaps not,-to this we must

all come. “Here he lies” is the universal epitaph. On the lap of earth you

will lie; there shall I also lie. Do realize it; it is so near, so sure-when a few

years shall come we shall be with the unnumbered throng.

 

Now let your realization go a little further. Can you picture the spirit of a

man as it leaves the body? I confess my imagination does not enable me to

picture it to myself, and certainly my words are not competent to convey to

you what little I can realize to my mind. The soul finds itself rid of

materialism; how will it feel when it has shaken itself loose of its shell of

clay? I cannot tell. We all love this earthly house of our tabernacle, and

leave it with reluctance.

 

“For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey,

This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d,

Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,

Nor cast one longing, ling’ring look behind?”

 

But it does not matter what lingering looks we cast, our soul will have

done with the body in its present fashion, and it must for a while dwell

apart from all materialism. At once it must come before God. Its state will

immediately after death be known to it beyond a question. In a moment it

will know beyond all doubt whether it is accepted before God, and beyond

all hope it will know whether it is reprobate and condemned. That

knowledge will at once commence its happiness, a happiness which will be

increased as ages roll on; or that knowledge will at once commence its

misery, which will deepen evermore. The soul will abide in the

disembodied state for a while, and then will come the clarion note of the

resurrection trumpet, and the body shall rise again to be again inhabited by

the soul. What will the meeting be? What will be the sensation of the

remarriage of mind with matter, of soul with body? We know not. The

resurrection is the blessed hope of the Christian, but it is a terrible dread to

the ungodly. The soul shall never more return to the world’s cares, nor to

the world at all as the world now is, but it shall again inhabit the body, and

stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the verdict from the lips

of him who is appointed Judge of all mankind.

 

The divine verdict is given, and the soul must continue its journey.

Still onward must it go; whether accepted or condemned, onward it must

go. Onward, exulting in a bliss unspeakable like to the divine, if Christ

pronounce it blessed; onward, in a misery unutterable if Christ pronounce it

“cursed.” I do not know whether you are able in imagination to place

yourself in such a condition, but in such a condition you will certainly be

found ere long. You will be stripped of this house of clay, and so you will

die, but you will live again, ay, live for ever. You will live to be judged, to

be justified or to be condemned, and then you will live for ever, in

happiness or torment, and all this you will know in a short time to come.

Thus I have helped you as best I could, and I fear but poorly, to realize the

inevitable journey.

 

 

 

 

                        The Summary of a Life’s Experience (vs. 1-11) Peruse for

words or phrases to emphasize

 

Solomon and Job,” says Pascal, “had most perfect knowledge of human

wretchedness, and have given us the most complete description of it: the

one was the most prosperous, the other the most unfortunate, of men; the

one knew by experience the vanity of pleasure, the other the reality of

sorrow.” In such diverse ways does God lead men to the same conclusion

— that in human life, apart from Him, there is no true satisfaction or lasting

happiness, that the immortal spirit cannot find rest in things seen and

temporal. The words, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity: what profit hath

man of all his labor wherein he laboreth under the sun?” (Revised Version),

are the key-note of the whole book — the theme which the author

maintains by arguments and illustrations drawn from a most varied

experience. If Solomon be not the speaker, if we have in Ecclesiastes the

composition of a later writer, no more appropriate personage could have

been found than the ancient Jewish king to set forth the teaching which the

book contains. For he had tasted all the good things human life has to give.

On him God had bestowed wisdom and knowledge, riches, wealth, honor,

and length of days. All these he had enjoyed to the full, and therefore

speaks, or is made to speak, as one from whom nothing had been kept that

his soul desired, and who found that nothing results from the mere

satisfaction of appetites and desires but satiety and loathing and

disappointment. We may contrast with this retrospect of life that given us

by One whose aim it was to fulfill the Law of God and secure the well-being

of his fellow-men; and we may thus discover the secret of Solomon’s

failure to win happiness or to reach any lasting result. At the close of His

life the Redeemer of mankind summed up the history of His career in the

words addressed to God, “I glorified thee on the earth, having

accomplished the work which thou hast given me to do” (John 17:4). It

may seem to some a dreary task to follow the course of Solomon’s morbid

thoughts, but it cannot fail to be profitable, if we undertake the task in the

earnest desire to discover the causes of his melancholy and disappointment,

and learn from the study how to guide our own lives more successfully,

and to enter into the peace and contentment of spirit which, after all his

efforts, he failed to make his own. In the first eleven verses of this chapter

we have revealed to us the despair and weariness which fell upon the soul

of him whose splendor and wisdom raised him above all the men of his

time, and made him the wonder of all. succeeding ages. Life seemed to him

the emptiest and poorest thing possible — “a vapor that appeareth for a

little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14)  He might have used the words

of the modern philosopher Amiel, “To appear and to vanish, — there is the

biography of all individuals, whatever may be the length of the cycle of

existence which they describe; and the drama of the universe is nothing

more. All life is the shadow of a smoke-wreath, a gesture in the empty air,

a hieroglyphic traced for an instant in the sand and effaced a moment

afterwards by a breath of wind, an air-bubble expanding and vanishing on

the surface of the great river of being — an appearance, a vanity, a

nothing. But this nothing is, however, the symbol of universal being, and

this passing bubble is the epitome of the history of the world.” It seemed to

him that life:

 

Ø      yielded no permanent results,

Ø      that it was insufferably monotonous, and

Ø      that it was destined to end in utter oblivion.

 

The futility of effort, the monotony of life, and the oblivion that engulfs it at last

are the topics of this opening passage of the book. Let us take them up one

after the other.

 

·         THAT LIFE YIELDS NO PERMANENT RESULTS. (vs. 1-3.) We

have before us, then, the deliberate judgment of one who had full

experience of all that men busy themselves with — “the labor wherein they

labor under the sun” — the pursuit of riches, the enjoyment of power, the

satisfaction of appetites and desires, and so on, and his conclusion is that

there is no profit in it all. And his sentence is confirmed by the words of

Christ, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and

lose his own soul?” In the case of Solomon, therefore, we have a record of

permanent significance and value. We cannot deprive his somber utterances

of their weight by saying that he spoke simply as a sated voluptuary, and

that others might with more skill or discretion extract from life what he

failed to find in it. For, as we shall see, he did not confine himself to mere

pursuit of pleasure, but sought satisfaction in intellectual employments and

in the accomplishment of great tasks, for which the power and wealth at his

disposal were drawn upon to the utmost. His melancholy is not a form of

mental disease, but the result of the exhaustion of his energies and powers

in the attempt to find satisfaction for the ‘soul’s cravings. And in

melancholy of this kind philosophers have found a proof of the dignity of

human nature. “Man’s unhappiness,” says one of them, “comes of his

greatness: it is because there is an infinite in him, which, with all his

cunning, he cannot quite bury under the finite He requires, if you consider

it, for his permanent satisfaction and saturation, simply this allotment, no

more and no less: God’s infinite universe altogether to himself, therein to

enjoy infinitely, and fill every wish as fast as it rises Try him with half of a

universe, of an omnipotence, he sets to quarrelling with the proprietor of

the other half, and declares himself the most maltreated of men. Always

there is a blackspot in our sunshine; it is even the shadow of ourselves”

(Carlyle). The very consciousness of the unprofitableness of life, of failure

to attain to perfect satisfaction in the possession of earthly benefits, painful

as it is, should convince us of the value of the higher and better inheritance,

which may be ours, and in which alone we can find rest; and we should

take it as a Divine warning to seek after those things that are eternal and

unchangeable. Our dissatisfaction and our sorrows are like those of the

exile who pines for the pleasant land from which by a hard fate he is for a

time dissevered; like the grief of a king who has been deposed. And it is to

those whose hunger and thirst cannot be satisfied by things of earth, who

find, like Solomon, that there is no profit in a man’s labor wherein he

laboreth under the Sun,” that God issues the gracious invitation, “Lo, every

one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come

ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without

price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your

labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye

that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”  (Isaiah 55:1-2)

The idea of the unprofitableness of human labor expressed by Solomon is

calculated, if carried too far, to put an end to all healthy and strenuous effort

to use the powers and gifts God has bestowed upon us, and to lead to

indifference and despair. If no adequate result can be secured, if all that

remains after prolonged exertion is only a sense of weariness and

disappointment, why should we labor at all? (JUST QUIT - CY- 2021)

But such thoughts are dishonoring  to God and degrading to ourselves.

He has not sent us into the world to spend our labor in vain, to be overcome

with the consciousness of our poverty and weakness. There are ways in which

we can glorify Him and serve our generation (like David - Acts 13:36); and

He has promised to bless our endeavors, and supply that wherein we

come short. Every sincere and unselfish effort we make to help

the weak, to relieve the suffering, to teach the ignorant, to diminish the

misery that meets us on every hand, and to advance the happiness of our

fellows, is made fruitful by His blessing. Something positive and of enduring

value may be secured in this way, even “treasure laid up in heaven, where

neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break

through nor steal?” (Matthew 6:20)  We may so use the goods, the talents,

now committed to our charge, as to create for ourselves friends, who will

receive us into everlasting habitations when the days of our stewardship

are over, and this visible, tangible world fades away from us.

 

·         The second reflection of the royal Preacher is that HUMAN LIFE IS

INSUFFERABLY MONOTONOUS; that under all outward appearances

of variety and change there is a dreary sameness (vs. 4-10). Generation

succeeds generation, but the stage is the same on which they play their

parts, and one performance is very like another. The incessant motion of

the sun, traveling from east to west; the shifting of the wind from one point

to another, and then back again; the speedy current of the rivers to join the

ocean, which yet is not filled by them, but returns them in various ways to

water the earth, and to feed the springs, “whence the rivers come;” the

commonplace events of human life, are all referred to as examples of

endless and monotonous variation. The law of mutability (liability to

change), without progress, seems to the speaker to prevail in heaven and in

earth — to rule in the material world, in human society, and in the life of the

individual. The lordship over creation, bestowed upon man, appeared to him

a vain fancy. Man himself was but a stranger, sojourning here for but a very

short time, coming like a wandering bird from the outer darkness into the light

and warmth of a festive hall, and soon flitting out back again into the

darkness.  And, to one in this somber mood, it is not wonderful that all

natural phenomena should wear the aspect of instability and change. To the

pious mind of the psalmist the sun suggested thoughts of God’s glory and

power; the majesty of the creature gave him a more exalted idea of the

greatness of the Creator, and he expatiated upon the splendor of that light

that rules the day. “The heavens were His tabernacle;” morning by morning

he was as “a bridegroom coming forth from his chamber, and rejoicing as a

strong man to run a race.” (Psalm 19:4-5)  Our Savior saw in the same

phenomenon a proof of God’s impartial and bountiful love to the children

of men: “He maketh his sun to rise upon the evil and the good.” (Matthew

5:45)  But to the melancholy and brooding mind of our author nothing more

was suggested by it than monotonous reiteration, a dreary routine of rising

and setting. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to

his place where he arose.” “He issues forth, day after day, from the east,

mounts up the vault of heaven until he has reached the meridian, and then

he descends at once towards the western horizon. He never stops in his course

at midday, as though he had attained the end for which he issued forth with

the dawn; he never sinks beneath the horizon to enjoy repose. Even throughout

the night he is still hastening onward, that, at the appointed hour, he may again

reach his eastern starting-place. The wind, great though its changes may be,

seems never to have accomplished the purpose for which it puts forth its

power. It never subsides into a state of lasting quiescence; it never even

finds a station which it can permanently occupy. It, veereth about

continually, ‘yet it ever bloweth again according to its circuits.’ The

streams flow onward to the ocean; but the time never comes when the sea,

filled to overflowing, refuses to receive their waters. The thirst of the sea is

never quenched; the waters of the rivers are lost; and yet, with unavailing

constancy, they still pour their contributions into its bosom” (Tyler). And

so with regard to all the other things on which the eye rests, or of which

the ear hears — weariness clothes everything; an unutterable monotony

amid their changes and variations. Human life, too, all through, is

characterized by the same unrest and ceaseless, fruitless labor. Sometimes a

new discovery seems to be made; the monotony seems to be broken, and

fresh and great results are anticipated by those who are ignorant of the

world’s past history. But the initiated, those whose experience has made

them wise, or whose knowledge has made them learned, recognize the new

thing as something that was known in times long ago; they can tell how

barren it was of results then, how little, therefore, can be expected from it

now. There is scarcely anything more discouraging, especially to the

young, than this kind of moralizing. We feel, perhaps, that we can carry out

some scheme that will be of benefit to the society about us, and are met

with lamentable accounts of how similar schemes were once tried and

failed disastrously. We feel moved to attack the evils that we meet in the

world, and are assured that they are too great and our own strength too

puny for us to accomplish anything worth while. And in the mean time our

fervor grows cold, our courage oozes away, and we really lose the power

for good we might have had. Now, this teaching of Solomon is not meant

for the young and hopeful. Indeed, those who collected together the books

of the Old Testament were rather doubtful about including Ecclesiastes

among the others, and it ran a narrow chance of being omitted from the

sacred canon. But it has its place in the Word of God; and those who have

known anything of the doubts and speculations contained in it will find it

profitable to trace the course of thought that runs through it, until they find

the solid and positive teaching which the Preacher at lasts gives. The

distressing fact remains, and must be encountered, that to those who have

had long experience of the world, and whose horizon is bounded by it, who

see only the things that are done “under the sun,” in the midst of ever-recurring

changes, there seems to be little or no progress, and that which

appears to be new is but a repetition of the old. But they should remember

that this world is meant as a place of probation for us — a school in which

we are to learn great lessons; and that all the changing circumstances of life

serve, and are meant to serve, to develop our nature and character. If it

were to be our abiding-place, many improvements in it might be suggested.

It is not by any means the best of possible worlds; but for purposes of

education, discipline, and testing, it is perfectly adapted. “Rest yet

remaineth for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9);  it is not here, BUT IN

A WORLD TO COME!  This truth is admirably stated by the poet Spenser,

who perhaps unconsciously reproduces the melancholy thoughts of Solomon,

and answers them. He speaks of mutability seeking to be honored above all the

heavenly powers, as being the chief ruler in the universe, and as indeed

governing all things. In a synod of the gods, she is silenced by Nature, who

combats her claims, and speaks of a time to come when her present

apparent power will come to an end

 

But time shall come that all shall changed bee,

And from thenceforth none no more change shall see.”

 

And then the poet adds —

 

“When I bethinke me on that speech whyleare [former]

Of Mutability, and well it way,

Me seemes, that though she all unworthy were

Of the Heav’ns Rule; yet, very sooth to say,

In all things else she bears the greatest sway:

Which makes me loath this state of life so tickle [unsure],

And love of things so vain to cast away;

Whose flow’ring pride, so fading and so fickle,

Short Time shall soon cut down with His consuming sickle.

 

“Then gin I thinke on that which Nature sayd,

Of that same time when no more Change shall be,

But stedfast rest of all things, firmely stayd

Upon the pillars of Eternity,

That is contrayr to Mutability;

For all that moveth doth in Change delight:

But thence-forth all shall rest eternally

With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:

O I that great Sabbaoth God, grant me that Sabbaoth’s sight!”

 

·         LIFE DESTINED TO END IN UTTER OBLIVION. To all these

considerations of the resultlessness of life, of changefulness and monotony,

is added that of the oblivion that sooner or later overtakes man and all his

works (v. 11). “There is no remembrance of the former generations;

neither shall there be any remembrance of the latter generations that are to

come, among those that shall come after” (Revised Version). One

generation supersedes another; the new come up with fresh interests and

schemes of their own, and hustle the old off the stage, and are themselves

in their turn forced to give place to those who come up after them. Nations

disappear from the earth’s surface and are forgotten. The memorials of

former civilizations lie buried in the sand, or are defaced and destroyed to

make room for something else. On every page of creation we find the

sentence written, that there is nothing here that lasts. Almost no means can

be devised to carry down to succeeding generations even the names of the

greatest conquerors, of men who in their time seemed to have the strength

of gods, and to have changed the history of the world. The earth has many

secrets in her keeping, and is sometimes forced to yield up a few of them.

“The ploughshare strikes against the foundations of buildings which once

echoed to human mirth, skeletons of men to whom life once was dear; urns

and coins that remind the antiquary of a magnificent empire now long

passed away.” And so the process goes on. EVERYTHING PASSES!

 A few years ago and we were not; a hundred years hence, and there may

be none who ever heard our names. And a day will come when:

 

“The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve;

And… leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”

 

Abundant material, then, had the Preacher, the son of David, for somber

meditation; abundant material for contemplation does he suggest to us.

And if we cannot get much further on in speculation than he did, if since

his time very little new light has been cast upon the problems which he

discusses, we may still refuse to be depressed by melancholy like his.

Granted that all is vanity, that restlessness and monotony mark everything

in the world, and that its glories soon pass away and are forgotten; STILL

IT IS NOT OUR HOME!   It may dissolve and leave us no poorer. The tie that

binds together soul and body may be loosened, and the place that knows us

now may soon know us no more. Our confidence is in Him, who has promised

to take us to Himself, that where He is we may be also. “God is our Refuge

and Strength... therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed.”

(Psalm 46:1-2)  In contrast with the Preacher’s desponding, despairing words

about the fruitlessness of life, its monotony and its brevity, we may set the

hopeful, triumphant utterance of Christ’s apostle: “The time of my departure is

at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the

faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which

the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me

only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”  (I Timothy 4:6-8)

 

 

 

                                    Oblivion and its Consolations (1:11)

 

We have here:

 

·         A NATURAL HUMAN ASPIRATION. We do not like to think that the

time is coming when we shall be wholly forgotten; we should like to live on

in the memory of men, especially in the memory of the wise and good. We

shrink from the idea of being entirely forgotten; we do not care to think

that the hour will come when the mention of our name will not awaken the

slightest interest in any human circle. There is something exceedingly

attractive in the thought of fame, and repelling in that of oblivion. There is

that within us which responds to the fine line of Horace, in which he tells

us that he has built for himself a monument more enduring than brass; and

to the aspiration of our own Milton, that he might prove to have written

something which “the world would not willingly let die.”

 

·         ITS INEVITABLE DISAPPOINTMENT.

 

Ø      It is indeed true that “the memory of the just is blessed,” and that they

who have lived well, loved faithfully, wrought nobly, suffered meekly,

striven bravely, will be remembered and honored after death; they may be

long, even very long, remembered and revered.

 

Ø      There are just a few men whose names and histories will go down the

long stream of time, of whom the very last generation will speak and learn.

 

Ø      But the vast majority of men will soon be forgotten. Their names may be

inscribed on memorial-stones, but in a very few years none will care to

read them; the eye that lights upon them will glance from them with

indifference; there will be “no remembrance” of them. The world will take

its way; will do its work and find its pleasure, regardless altogether of the

fact that these men once trod its surface and now lie beneath it.  (Isn’t it

wonderful that it is not so with God, the He knew us, He knows us

and that we are one of His!   CY - 2021)

 

·         THE TRUE CONSOLATION. This is certainly not found in the

commonness of our lot. It is no consolation to me that my neighbor is as

ill off as myself; that ought to be an aggravation of my trouble. It is,

in fact, twofold.

 

Ø      We may be always living in the deathless influence our faithful lives

exerted and handed down. For good influences never die; they are

scattered and lost sight of, but they are not extinguished; they live on in

human hearts and lives from generation to generation.

 

Ø      We shall be loved and honored elsewhere. What if we be forgotten

here upon the earth? Are there not other parts of the kingdom of God?

And is there not one where God will have found for us a sphere, and in the

minds and hearts of those who will be our friends and fellow-laborers there

      we shall hold our place, honoring and honored, loving and beloved?

 

 

 

Ø      We shall be loved and honored elsewhere. What if we be forgotten

here upon the earth? Are there not other parts of the kingdom of God?

And is there not one where God will have found for us a sphere, and in the

minds and hearts of those who will be our friends and fellow-laborers there

we shall hold our place, honoring and honored, loving and beloved?

 

______________________________________________________

 

The fuller revelation with which we have been favored enlightens us with respect to

the intentions of Eternal Wisdom and Love. Our Savior has

founded upon earth a kingdom which cannot be moved. And the figures

which He Himself has employed to set forth its progress are an assurance

that it is not bounded by time or space; that it shall grow until its

dimensions and beneficence exceed all human expectations, and satisfy the

heart of the Divine Redeemer Himself.  (This will be the remedy of the problem

set forth in ch. 3:11, mentioned above.  Also, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will

perform this”  (Isaiah 9:7).  Each faithful Christian, however

feeble and however lowly, may work in his Master’s cause with the

assurance that his service shall be not only acceptable, but effective. Better

shall be the end than the beginning. The seed shall give rise to a tree of

whose fruit all nations shall taste, and beneath whose shadow humanity

itself shall find both shelter and repose.  (Matthew 13:31-32)

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                    An Experiment: Riotous Mirth (2: 1-3)

 

Solomon had found that wisdom and knowledge are not the means by

which the search after happiness is brought to a successful issue. He then

resolved to try if indulgence in sensual delights would yield any lasting

satisfaction. This, as he saw, was a course on which many entered, who

like him desired happiness, and he would discover for himself whether or

not they were any nearer the goal than he was. And so he resolved to enjoy

pleasure — “to give his heart to wine,” and “to lay hold of folly.” Like the

rich man in the parable, who said to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods

laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:16-21),

so did he address his heart, “Come, I will prove thee with mirth.” He had tried

wisdom, and found it fruitless for his purpose, and now would try folly. He

lays aside the character and pursuits of a student, and enters the company

of fools, to join in their revelry and mirth. The conviction that his learning

was useless, either to satisfy his own cravings or to remedy the evils that

exist in the world, made it easy for him to cast away, for a time at any rate,

the intellectual employments in which he had engaged, and to live as others

do who give themselves up to sensual pleasures. Wearied of the toil of

thought, sickened of its illusions and of its fruitlessness, he would find

tranquility and health of mind in frivolous gaiety and mirth. This was not an

attempt to stifle his cravings after the highest good, for he deliberately

determined to analyze his experience at every point, in order to discover

whether any permanent gain resulted from his search in this new quarter. “I

sought,” he says, “in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting

mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was

that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all

the days of their life.” For the sake of others as well as for himself, he

would try this pathway and see whither it would lead. But the experiment

failed. In a very short time he discovered that vanity was here too. The

laughter of fools was, as he says elsewhere (ch. 7:6), like the

crackling of burning thorns; the blaze lasted but for a moment, and the

gloom that followed was but the deeper and more enduring. Where the fire

of jovial revelry and boisterous mirth had been, there remained but cold,

gray ashes. The mood of reckless enjoyment was followed by that of

cynical satiety and bitter disappointment. He said of laughter, “It is mad,”

and of mirth, “What doeth it?” In his moments of calm reflection, when he

communed with his own heart, he recognized the utter folly of his

experiment, and felt that from his own dear-bought experience he could

emphatically warn all in time to come against seeking satisfaction FOR THE

SOUL in sensual pleasures. Not in this way can the hunger and thirst with

which the spirit of man is consumed be allayed. At most, a short period of

oblivion can be secured, FROM WHICH THE AWAKENING IS ALL

THE MORE TERRIBLE!  The  sense of personal responsibility, the feeling

that we are called to seek the highest good and are doomed to unrest and

misery until we find it, the conviction that our failures only make ultimate

success the more doubtful, is not to be quenched by any such coarse anodyne

(drug or medicine).  Various reasons may be found to explain why this kind of

experiment FAILED AND MUST FAIL.

 

 

·         In the first place, it consisted in AN ABUSE OF NATURAL

FACULTIES AND APPETITES. Some measure of joy and pleasure is

needed for health of mind and body. Innocent gaiety, enjoyment of the gifts

God has bestowed upon us, reasonable satisfaction of the appetites

implanted in us, have all a rightful place in our life. But over-indulgence in

any one of them violates the harmony of our nature. They were never

intended to rule us, but to be under our control and to minister to our

happiness, and we cannot allow them to govern us WITHOUT THROWING

OUR WHOLE LIFE INTO DISORDER!

 

·         In the second place, THE PLEASURE EXCITED IS ONLY

TRANSITORY. From the very nature of things it cannot be kept up for

any long time by mere effort of will; the brain grows weary and the bodily

powers become exhausted. A jest-book is proverbially very tiresome

reading. At first it may amuse, but the attention soon begins to flag, and

after a little the most brilliant specimen of wit can scarcely evoke a smile.

The drunkard and the glutton find that they can only carry the pleasures of

the table up to a certain point; after that has been reached the bodily

organism refuses to be still further stimulated.  (When I taught United

States History in high school, of the roaring twenties and loose sexual

behavior, I remember this point:  If sex is a pleasure of a moment, is it

any wonder that it is a “momentary pleasure.”  CY - 2021)

 

·         In the third place, SUCH PLEASURE CAN ONLY BE GRATIFIED

BY SELF-DEGRADATION. It is inconsistent with the full exercise of the

intellectual faculties which distinguish man from the brute, and destructive

of those higher and more spiritual faculties by which God is apprehended,

served, and enjoyed. Self-indulgence in the gross pleasures of which we are

speaking actually reduces man below the level of the beasts that perish, for

they are preserved from such folly by the natural instincts with which they

are endowed.  (Of which chapter 2 of II Peter is very explicit.  CY - 2021)

 

·         In the fourth place, THE INEVITABLE RESULT OF SUCH AN

EXPERIMENT IS A DEEPER AND MORE ENDURING GLOOM. Self-

reproach, enfeeblement of mind and body, satiety and disgust, come on

when the mad fit is past, and, what is still worse, the apprehension of evils

yet to come — the knowledge that the passions excited and indulged will

refuse to die down; that they have a life and power of their own, and will

stimulate and almost compel THEIR SLAVE to enter again on the evil courses

which he first tried of his own free will and with a light heart. The prospect

before him is that of bondage to habits which he knows will yield him no

lasting pleasure, and very little of the fleeting kind, and must involve the

enfeeblement and destruction of all his powers. Mirth and laughter and

wine did not banish Solomon’s melancholy; but after the feverish

excitement they produced had passed away, they left him in a deeper

gloom than ever. “Like phosphorus on a dead man’s lace, he felt that it was

all a trick, a lie; and like the laugh of a hyena among the tombs, he found

that the worldling’s frolic CAN NEVER reanimate the joys which guilt has

 slain and buried.” “I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?’

The well-known story of the melancholy patient being advised by a doctor

to go and see Grimaldi, and answering, “I am Grimaldi,” and that of

George Fox being recommended by a minister whom he consulted to dispel

the anxieties which his spiritual fears and doubts and aspirations had

excited within him, by “drinking beer and dancing with the girls” (Carlyle,

‘Sartor Resartus,’ 3:1), may be used to illustrate the teaching of our text.

Some stanzas, too, of Byron’s last poem give a pathetic expression to the

feelings of satiety and disappointment which are THE RETRIBUTION

OF SENSUALITY!

 

“My days are in the yellow leaf;

The flowers and fruits of love are gone;

The worm, the canker, and the grief

Are mine alone!

“The fire that on my bosom preys

Is lone as some volcanic isle;

No torch is kindled at its blaze —

A funeral pile.

“The hope, the fear, the jealous care,

The exalted portion of the pain

And power of love I cannot share,

But wear the chain.”

 

The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too strong to be broken!”

(I saw this somewhere once upon a time but it is true for the ages!  CY - 2021)

 

 

 

 

 

The Conclusion of Folly or the Faith of the Wise? (v. 24)

 

In what catalogue shall we place these words of the text? On whose lips

are they to be found? Are they:

 

·         THE REFUGE OF THE SKEPTIC? They may be such. The epicure

who has lost his faith in God says, “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we

die.” There is no sacredness in the present, and no solid hope for the

future. What is the use of aiming at a high ideal? Why waste breath and

strength on duty, on aspiration, on piety? Why attempt to rise to the

pursuit of the eternal and the Divine? Better lose ourselves in that which is

at hand, in that which we can grasp as a present certainty. The best thing,

the only certain good, is to eat and drink and to labor; is to minister to our

senses, and to work upon the material which is visible to our eye and

responsive to our touch. So speaks the skeptic; this is his miserable

conclusion; thus he owns himself defeated and (we may say) dishonored.

For what is human life worth when the element of sacredness is expunged,

when piety and hope are left out of it? It is no wonder that the ages of

unbelief have been the times when men have had no regard for other

people’s dues, and very little for their own. Or shall we rather find here:

 

·         AN ARTICLE, OF A WISE MAN’S FAITH? It is not certain what

was the mood in which the Preacher wrote; but let us prefer to think that

behind his words, actuating and inspiring him, was a true spirit of faith in

God and in Divine providence; let us take him to mean — what we know

to be true — that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, a wise and loyal-

hearted man will hold that there is much that is worth pursuing and

possessing in the simple pleasures, in the daily duties, and in the ordinary

services which are open to us all.

 

Ø      Daily God invites us to eat and drink, to partake of the bounties of His

hand; let us appreciate His benefits with moderation and gratitude.

 

Ø      Daily He bids us go forth to “our work and to our labor until the

evening;” let us enter upon it and carry it out in the spirit of

conscientiousness and fidelity toward both God and man (Colossians

3:23).

 

Ø      Daily God gives us the means of getting good to ourselves and doing

good to others; let us eagerly embrace our opportunity, let us gladly avail

ourselves of our privilege; so doing we shall make our life peaceful,

happy, worthy.

 

Ø      In the light that shines into our hearts from the truth of Christ we judge:

 

o       That these lesser things — pleasure, activity, acquisition — are well in

their way and in their measure. “Bodily exercise profiteth a little, but

godliness is profitable unto all things having promise of the life that

now is and of that is to come..” (I Timothy 4:8)  But:

 

o       That human life has possibilities and obligations which immeasurably

transcend these things; such, that to put these into the front rank and

to fill our life with them is a fatal error. Made subordinate to that

which is higher, they take their place and they render their service —

a place and a service not to be despised; but made primary and

supreme, they are usurpers that do untold injury, and that must

be relentlessly dethroned

 

 

 

ch. 2:12-16

 

Ø      The onrush of oblivion. With pitiless maw this devours the wise and the

fool alike (v. 16). If the human heart craves after one thing more than

another, it is an assurance that name and memory shall not quite perish

from the earth when one himself is gone. Such as are indifferent to a

personal immortality beyond the grave in a realm of heavenly felicity,

are often found to be supremely desirous of this lesser immortality

which men call posthumous fame. For this the Egyptian Pharaohs

erected pyramids, temples, mausoleums; for this men strive to set

themselves on pinnacles of power, fame, wealth, or wisdom before

they die; yet the number of those who are remembered many weeks

beyond the circle of their immediate friends is small. Even of the

so-called great who have flourished upon the earth, how few are

rescued from oblivion!

 

“Their memory and their name are gone,

Alike unknowing and unknown.”

 

Who beyond a few scholars knows anything of the Pharaohs who built

the pyramids, or of Assurbanipal, the patron of learning in Assyria,

of Homer, of Socrates, or of Plato? If one thinks of it, the amount

of remembrance accorded to almost all the leaders of mankind

consists in this — that their names will be found in dictionaries.

 

 

·         WISDOM SUPERIOR TO FOLLY. As light excelleth darkness, so

wisdom excels folly. Three grounds of superiority.

 

Ø      The path of wisdom a way of light; that of folly a way of darkness. That

the latter is essentially a way of darkness, and therefore of uncertainty,

difficulty, and danger, had been declared by Solomon (Proverbs 2:13;

4:19). The Preacher adds an explanation by likening the foolish man to a

person walking backwards, or “with his eyes behind;” so that he knows

neither whither he is going, nor at what he is stumbling, nor the peril into

which he is advancing. Had the Preacher said nothing more than this, he

would have been entitled to special thanks. Thousands live in the delusion

that the way of pleasure, frivolity, dissipation, extravagance, prodigality,

is the way of light, wisdom, safety, felicity — which, it. is not. The

traveler who would journey in comfort and security must walk with

his eyes to the front, considering the direction in which he moves,

pondering the paths of his feet, and turning neither to the right hand

nor to the left (Proverbs 4:25-27). In other words, the wise man’s eyes

must be in his head, exercising at once forethought, circumspection,

and attention.

 

 

Ø      The end of wisdom, safety; that of folly, destruction. The light of wisdom

      illuminates the path of duty for the individual; the darkness of folly

covers it with gloom. Specially true of heavenly wisdom as contrasted

with wickedness and sin. Even with regard to ordinary wisdom, its

superiority over folly is not to be denied. The wise man has at least the

satisfaction of knowing whither he is going, and of realizing the

unsatisfactory character of the course he is pursuing. It may not be a

great advantage which the wise man has over the fool, that whereas

the fool is a madman and knows it not, the wise man cannot follow

after wisdom (in itself and for itself) without discovering that it is

vanity; but still it is an advantage — an advantage like that which

a man has who walks straight before him, with his eyes in his head

and directed to the front, over him who either puts out his eyes, or

blindfolds himself, or turns his eyes backward before he begins

to travel.

 

“If I willfully keep my conscience in darkness and continue

             in errors which I might easily know to be such by a little

            thought and searching of God’s Word, then my conscience

             can offer me no excuse for I am guilty of

            blindfolding the guide which I have chosen and then

knowing him to be blindfolded, I am guilty of the folly of

letting him lead me into rebellion against God.”

 

 

CH. 2:12-17

·         THE NATURAL CONTRAST BETWEEN WISDOM AND FOLLY.

 

 

o       The distinction is one founded in the very nature of things, and is similar

to that which, in the physical world, exists between light and darkness.

This is as much as to say that God Himself is the All-wise, and that

reasonable beings, in so far as they participate in His nature and

character, are distinguished by true wisdom; whilst, on the other

hand, departure from God is the same thing as abandonment to folly.

 

Ø      The distinction is brought out by the just exercise or the culpable misuse

of human faculty. “The wise man’s eyes are in his head,” which is a

proverbial and figurative way of saying that the wise man uses the powers

of observation and judgment with which he is endowed. The position and

the endowments of the organs of vision is a plain indication that they

were intended to guide the steps; the man who looks before him will

not miss his way or fall into danger. Similarly, the faculties of the

understanding and reason which are bestowed upon man are

intended  for the purpose of directing the voluntary actions,

which, becoming habitual, constitute man’s moral life. The

wise man is he who not only possesses such powers, but

makes a right use of them, and orders his way aright. The fool,

on the contrary, walketh in darkness;” i.e. he is as one who, having

eyes, makes no use of them — shuts his eyes, or walks blindfold.

The natural consequence is that he wanders from the path, and

probably falls into perils and into destruction.

 

 

The wise man is not to be shaken

either by the storms of adversity or by the taunts of the foolish. His is the

right path, and he will persevere in it; and he is not only sustained by the

approbation of his conscience, he is satisfied with the fellowship of his

Master, Christ.

 

 

 

ch. 2:17-20

 

Ø      That there is nothing wrong in seeking after happiness, or even earthly

enjoyment. He admits there is nothing better, more permissible or

desirable, among men than that one “should eat and drink, and make his

soul enjoy good in his labor” (v. 24). He even allows that this is from

the hand of God, which makes it plain that he is not now alluding to

sinful indulgence of the bodily appetite, but speaking of that moderate

enjoyment of the good things of life God has so richly provided for

man’s support and entertainment. It is not God’s wish, he says, that

man should be debarred or should debar himself from all enjoyment.

Rather it is His earnest desire that man should eat and drink and enjoy

what has been furnished for his entertainment, should not make of

himself an ascetic, under pretence of religion denying himself of

lawful pleasures and gratifications, but should so use them as to

contribute to HIS HIGHEST WELFARE!

 

Ø      That no man can make a good use of lifes provisions unless in

connection with the thought of God. “Who can eat or have enjoyment,

apart from him [i.e. God]?” (Revised Version, margin): This corrective

thought the Preacher lays before his readers, that while the world’s good

things cannot impart happiness by themselves and apart from God,

THEY CAN IF ENJOYED IN CONJUNCTION WITH HIM, i.e. if

recognized as coming from Him (1 Chronicles 29:14; 1 Timothy 6:17;

James 1:17), and used for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). The last

passages show that this was THE NEW TESTAMENT IDEAL OF

LIFE!  (1 Timothy 4:4).

 

Ø      That he who seeks happiness in this way will succeed. “For God giveth

to a man that is good in his sight [or, ‘that pleaseth Him’] wisdom, and

knowledge, and joy” (v. 26). So far from pronouncing happiness a dream,

an unattainable good, a shadow without a substance, the Preacher

believes that if a man will take God and religion with him into the

world, and, remembering both the shortness of time and the certainty

of a future life, will enjoy the world’s good things in moderation and

with thankfulness, he will derive therefrom, if not absolute and

unmixed happiness, as near an approximation to it as man can

expect to reach on earth. God will graciously assist such a man to

gather the best fruits of wisdom and knowledge, both human and

Divine, and will inspire him with a joy the world can neither give

nor take away (Job 22:21; Psalm 16:8-9; 112:1, 7-8; John 16:22). This,

if not happiness, is at least a lot immensely superior to that God assigns

to the sinner, i.e. to the man who excludes God, religion, and

immortality from his life. The lot of such a man is often as the Preacher

describes, to toil away in making money, to heap it up till it becomes a

pile, and then to die and leave it to be scattered to the winds, enjoyed

by he knows not whom, and not infrequently by the good

men he has despised (Job 27:16, 17; Proverbs 13:22; 28:8).

 

CH. 2 12-17  **********

 

o       The distinction is one founded in the very nature of things, and is similar

to that which, in the physical world, exists between light and darkness.

This is as much as to say that God Himself is the All-wise, and that

reasonable beings, in so far as they participate in His nature and

character, are distinguished by true wisdom; whilst, on the other

hand, departure from God is the same thing as abandonment to folly.

 

CH. 2:11

 

·         ITS ACTUAL AND UTTER INSUFFICIENCY. (v. 11.) Pleasure

may be coarse and condemnable; it may go down to fleshly gratifications

(vs. 3, 8); it may be refined and chaste, may expend itself in designs and

executions; it may be moderated and regulated with the finest calculation,

so as to have the largest measure spread over the longest possible period; it

may “guide itself with wisdom” (v. 3). But it will be a failure; it will

break down; it will end in a dreary exclamation of “Vanity!” Three things

condemn it as a solution of the great quest after human good.

 

Ø      Experience. This proves, always and everywhere, that the deliberate and

systematic pursuit of pleasure fails to secure its end. Pleasure is not a

harvest, to be diligently sown and reaped; it is a plant that grows,

unsought and uncultivated, all along the path of duty and of service. To

seek it and to labor for it is to miss it. All human experience shows that it

soon palls upon the taste, that it fades fast in the hands of its devotee; that

there is no company of men so utterly weary and so wretched as the tired

hunters after pleasurable excitement.

 

Ø      Philosophy. This teaches us that a being made for something so much

higher than pleasure can never be satisfied with anything so low; surely

we cannot expect that the heart which is capable of worship, of service,

of holy love, of heroic consecration, of spiritual nobility, will be filled

and satisfied with “the delights of the sons of men.”

 

Ø      Religion. For this introduces the sovereign claims of the Supreme One;

it places man in the presence of God; it shows a life of frivolity to be a

life of culpable selfishness, of sin, of shame. It summons to a purer

and a wiser search, to a worthier and a nobler course; it promises the

peace which waits on rectitude; it offers the joy which ONLY GOD

CAN GIVE and which no man can take away.

 

2:12-14

 

·         THE WORTH OF SAGACITY.

 

Ø      It stands much lower down than heavenly wisdom; that is the direct

product of the Spirit of God, and makes men blessed with a good which

cannot be taken away. It places them above the reach of adversity, and

makes them invulnerable to the darts of death itself (see v. 14).

 

Ø      It has its own distinct advantages. “The wise man’s eyes are in his

      head;” he sees whither he is going; he does not delude himself with the

idea that he can violate all the laws of his nature with impunity. He

knows that the wages of sin is death, that if he sows to the flesh he

will reap corruption; he understands that, if he would enjoy the

esteem of men and the favor of God, he must subdue his spirit,

control his passions, regulate his life according to the standards

of truth and virtue. This sagacity of the wise will therefore:

 

o       save him from some of the most shocking and fatal blunders;

o       keep him sufficiently near to the path of virtue to be saved from the

darker excesses and more crushing sorrows of life;

o       secure for himself and his family some measure of comfort and respect,

and place some of the purer pleasures within his reach;

o       keep him within hearing of the truth of God, where he is more likely

to find his way into the kingdom of God.  “Not forsaking the

assembling of yourselves together...”  (Hebrews 10:25)

 

·         THE PITIFULNESS OF STUPIDITY. “The fool walketh blindly.”

 

Ø      He has no eye to see the fair and the beautiful around him, no heart to

appreciate the nobility that might be within him or the glories that are

above him.

 

Ø      He fails to discern the real wretchedness of his present condition

— his destitution, his condemnation, his exile.

 

Ø      He does not shrink from the evil which impends. He is walking toward

the precipice, below which is utter ruin, ETERNAL DEATH. Truly

“the fear of the Lord is the beginningThe Conclusion of Folly or the Faith of the Wise? (v. 24)

 

In what catalogue shall we place these words of the text? On whose lips

are they to be found? Are they:

 

·         THE REFUGE OF THE SKEPTIC? They may be such. The epicure

who has lost his faith in God says, “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we

die.” There is no sacredness in the present, and no solid hope for the

future. What is the use of aiming at a high ideal? Why waste breath and

strength on duty, on aspiration, on piety? Why attempt to rise to the

pursuit of the eternal and the Divine? Better lose ourselves in that which is

at hand, in that which we can grasp as a present certainty. The best thing,

the only certain good, is to eat and drink and to labor; is to minister to our

senses, and to work upon the material which is visible to our eye and

responsive to our touch. So speaks the skeptic; this is his miserable

conclusion; thus he owns himself defeated and (we may say) dishonored.

For what is human life worth when the element of sacredness is expunged,

when piety and hope are left out of it? It is no wonder that the ages of

unbelief have been the times when men have had no regard for other

people’s dues, and very little for their own. Or shall we rather find here:

 

·         AN ARTICLE, OF A WISE MAN’S FAITH? It is not certain what

was the mood in which the Preacher wrote; but let us prefer to think that

behind his words, actuating and inspiring him, was a true spirit of faith in

God and in Divine providence; let us take him to mean — what we know

to be true — that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, a wise and loyal-

hearted man will hold that there is much that is worth pursuing and

possessing in the simple pleasures, in the daily duties, and in the ordinary

services which are open to us all.

 

Ø      Daily God invites us to eat and drink, to partake of the bounties of His

hand; let us appreciate His benefits with moderation and gratitude.

 

Ø      Daily He bids us go forth to “our work and to our labor until the

evening;” let us enter upon it and carry it out in the spirit of

conscientiousness and fidelity toward both God and man (Colossians

3:23).

 

Ø      Daily God gives us the means of getting good to ourselves and doing

good to others; let us eagerly embrace our opportunity, let us gladly avail

ourselves of our privilege; so doing we shall make our life peaceful,

happy, worthy.

 

Ø      In the light that shines into our hearts from the truth of Christ we judge:

 

o       That these lesser things — pleasure, activity, acquisition — are well in

their way and in their measure. “Bodily exercise profiteth a little, but

godliness is profitable unto all things having promise of the life that

now is and of that is to come..” (I Timothy 4:8)  But:

 

o       That human life has possibilities and obligations which immeasurably

transcend these things; such, that to put these into the front rank and

to fill our life with them is a fatal error. Made subordinate to that

which is higher, they take their place and they render their service —

a place and a service not to be despised; but made primary and

supreme, they are usurpers that do untold injury, and that must

be relentlessly dethroned of wisdom, and to depart from

evil, that is understanding”  (ch. 28:28)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ch. 3:12-13, 22

 

                                                All Things Beautiful

                                                               or

                                            God, Man, and the World

                                                        (vs. 3:11-14)

 

·         THE BEAUTIFUL RELATION OF THE WORLD TO GOD.

            Expressed by four words.

 

Ø      Dependence: no such thing as independence, self-subsistence, self-

origination, self-regulation, in mundane affairs. The universe, out to its

circumference and in to its center, from its mightiest structure down

to its smallest detail, is the handiwork of God. Whatever philosophers

may say or think upon the subject, it is simple absurdity to teach that the

universe made itself, or that the incidents composing the sum of human

life and experience have come to pass of themselves. It will be time

enough to believe things are their own makers when effects can

be discovered that have no causes. Persons of advanced (?) intelligence

and culture may regard the Scriptures as behind the age in respect of

philosophic insight and scientific attainment; it is to their credit that

their writers never talk such unphilosophic and unscientific nonsense

as that mundane things are their own creators. Their common sense —

if not permissible to say their inspiration — appears to have been strong

and clear enough to save them from being befooled by such vagaries as

have led astray many modem savants, and to have taught them that the

First Cause of all things is God (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:11; Nehemiah

9:6; Job 38:4; Psalm 19:1; Isaiah 40:28; Acts 14:15; 17:24; Romans

11:36; Ephesians 3:9; Hebrews 3:4;  Revelation 4:11).

 

Ø      Variety no monotony in mundane affairs. Obvious as regards both the

universe as a whole and its individual parts. The supreme Artificer of the

former had no idea of fashioning all things after one model, however

excellent, but sought to introduce variety into the works of His hands;

and just this is the principle upon which He has proceeded in arranging

the program of man’s experiences upon the earth. To this diversity in

man’s experience the twenty-eight instances of events and purposes

given by the Preacher (vs. 2-8) allude; and this same diversity is a mark

at once of wisdom and of kindness on the part of the Supreme. As the

material globe would be monotonous were it all mountain and no valley,

so would human life be uninteresting were it an unchanging round of the

same few incidents. But it is not. If there are funerals and deaths, there

are as well marriages and births; if nights of weeping, days of

laughing; if times of war, periods of peace.

 

Ø      Order: no chance or accident in mundane affairs. To short-sighted and

feeble man, human life is full of accidents or chances; but not so when

viewed from the standpoint of God, Not only does no event happen

without His permission (Matthew 10:29; Luke 12:6), but each event

occurs at the time and falls into the place appointed for it by infinite

wisdom. Nor is this true merely of such events as are wholly and

exclusively in His power, like births and deaths (v. 2), but of such

also as to some extent at least are within man’s control, as e.g.:

 

o       planting of a field and the plucking up of that which is planted (v. 2),

o       killing and healing, breaking down and building up (v. 3),

o       weeping and laughing (v. 4), etc.

 

Men may flatter themselves that of these latter actions they

are the sole originators, have both the choosing of their times and the

fixing of their forms; but according to the Preacher, God’s supremacy

is as little to be disputed in them as in the matter of man’s coming into

or going out from the world. We express this thought by citing the

well-known proverb, “Man proposes, but God disposes,” or the

familiar words of Shakespeare —

 

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,

Rough-hew them how we will.”

                        (‘Hamlet,’ act 5. so. 2.)

 

Ø      Beauty: no defect or deformity in mundane affairs. This cannot signify

that in such events and actions as “killing,” “hating,” “warring,” there is

never anything wrong; that God regards them only as good in the making,

and generally that sin is a necessary stage in the development of human

nature. The Preacher is not pronouncing judgment upon the moral

qualities of the actions he enumerates, but merely calling attention to

their fitness for the times and seasons to which they have been assigned

by God. Going back in thought to the “Very good!” of the Creator when

He rested from His labors at the close of the sixth day (Genesis 1:31),

the Preacher cannot think of saying less of the work God is still carrying

on in evolving the plan and program of His purpose. “God hath made

everything beautiful in its time” (compare v. 11): beautiful in itself,

so far as it is a work of His; but beautiful not less in its time, even when

the work, as not being entirely His, is not beautiful in itself, or in its

inward essence. Cf. Shakespeare’s:

 

“How many things by season seasoned are

To their right praise and true perfection!”

            (‘Merchant of Venice,’ act 5. sc. 1.)

 

Beautiful in themselves and their times are the seasons of the year, the

ages of man, and the changing experiences through which he passes;

beautiful, at least in their times, are numerous human actions which

God cannot be regarded as approving, but which nevertheless He

permits to occur because He sees the hour has struck for their

occurring. As it were, the glowing wheels of Divine providence

never fail to keep time with the great clock of eternity.

 

·         THE BEAUTIFUL RELATION OF MAN TO THE WORLD. Also

expressed in four words.

 

Ø      Weariness: no perfect rest in the midst of mundane affairs. Not only is

man tossed about continually by the multitudinous vicissitudes of which

he is the subject, but he derives almost no satisfaction from the thought

that in all these changes there is a beautiful because divinely appointed

harmony, and a beneficent because Heaven-ordained purpose. The order

pervading the universe is something outside of and beyond him. The

fixing of the right times is a work in which he cannot, even in a small

degree, cooperate. As a wise man, he may wish to have every action in

which he bears a part performed at the set time marked out for it on the

clock of eternity; but the very attempt to find out for each action the

right time only aggravates the fatigue of his labor, and increases the

sense of weariness under which he groans. “What profit hath he that

worketh in that wherein he laboreth?” Not, certainly, “no profit,”

but not enough to give him rest or even free him from weariness. And

this, when viewed from a moral and religious standpoint, is beautiful

inasmuch as it prevents (or ought to prevent) man from seeking

happiness in mundane affairs.

 

Ø       Ignorance: no perfect knowledge of mundane affairs. “No man can

find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.”

One more proof of the vanity of human life — that no man, however

wise and farseeing, patient and laborious, can discover the plan of God

either in the universe as a whole or in his own life; and what renders

this a special sorrow is the fact that God hath set “the world [or.,

 eternity’] in his heart.” If the “world” be accepted as the true rendering

(Jerome, Luther, Ewald), then probably the meaning is that, though each

individual carries about within his bosom in his own personality an

image of the world — is, in fact, a microcosmus in which the

macrocosmus or great world is mirrored — nevertheless the problem

of the universe eludes his grasp. If, however, the translation “eternity

be adopted (Delitzsch, Wright, Plumptre), then the import of the clause

will be that God hath planted in the heart of mana longing after

immortality,” given him an idea of the infinite and eternal which lies

beyond the veil of outward things, and inspired him with a desire to

know that which is above and beyond him, yet he cannot find out the

secret of the universe in the sense of discovering its plan. With an

infinite behind and before him, he can grasp neither the beginning

of the work of God in its purpose or plan, nor the end of it in its

issues and results, whether to the individual or to the whole. What

his eye looks upon is the middle portion passing before him here and

now — in comparison with the whole but an infinitesimal speck

and so he remains with reference to the whole like a person walking

in the dark.

 

Ø      Submission: no ground for complaining as to mundane affairs. Rather

in the view presented is much to comfort man had the ordering of the

universe, or even of his own lot, been left to man, man himself would

have been the first to regret it. As Laplace is credited with having said

that, if only the Almighty had called him into counsel at the making

of the universe, he could have given the Almighty some valuable hints,

so are there equally foolish persons who believe they could have drafted

for themselves a better life-program than has been done for them by the

supreme Disposer of events. A wise man, however, will always feel

grateful that the Almighty has retained the ordering of events in

His own hand, and will meekly submit to the same, believing that

GOD’S TIMES ARE THE BEST TIMES, AND THAT HIS WAYS

ARE EVER “mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and

His testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).

 

ch. 3: 19-22

Ø      Denied so far as religious knowledge is concerned. Refusing to hold

that the anatomist’s scalpel, or chemist’s retort, or astronomer’s telescope,

or analyst’s microscope are the ultimate tests of truth, and that nothing is

to be credited which cannot be detected by one or other of these

instruments (thus the foolishness of man in trusting to instruments and

his ill-use of intelligence in his ungodly rationale - CY - 2021), we are

not so hopelessly in the dark about man’s spirit when it leaves its

earthly tabernacle as are agnostics whether ancient or modern.

On the high testimony of this Preacher (ch. 12:7), on the

higher witness of Paul (II Corinthians 5:1; Philippians 1:23), and on

the highest evidence attainable on the subject (II Timothy 1:10), we

know that when the spirit of a child of God forsakes the body it does not

disperse into thin air, but passes up into the Father’s hand (Luke 23:46),

and that when a good man disappears from earth he forthwith

appears in heaven (ibid. v.43; Philippians 1:23), amid the spirits of the

just made perfect (Hebrews 12:23); so that another time we decline to

endorse the sentiment that man hath no pre-eminence over a beast.

 

 

 

V.22

·         IT IS UNWISE AND UNSATISFACTORY SO TO LIMIT OUR

VIEW OF LIFE. There is true wisdom in the wise man’s declaration,

“There is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his works; for

that is his portion.” The epicurean is wrong who makes pleasure his one

aim. The cynic is wrong who despises pleasure as something beneath the

dignity of his nature. Neither work nor enjoyment is the whole of life; for

life is not to be understood save in relation to spiritual and disciplinary

purposes. Man has for a season a bodily nature; let him use that nature

with discretion, and it may prove organic to his moral welfare. Man is for a

season stationed upon earth; let him fulfill earth’s duties, and taste earth’s

delights. Earthly experience may be a stage towards heavenly service and

bliss.

 

 

But there is not the slightest reason for conceiving the spiritual

life to be dependent  upon the organism which it uses as its instrument.

 

 

·         THE MYSTERY WHICH REMAINS, AND WILL REMAIN.  “No

man can find out,” etc. We do well to remember that what we see is only a

very small part indeed of the whole — only a page of the great volume,

only a scene in the great drama, only a field of the large landscape — and

we may well be silenced, if not convinced. But even that does not cover

everything. We need to remember that we are human, and not Divine; that

we, who are God’s very little children, cannot hope to understand all that is

in the mind of our heavenly Father — cannot expect to fathom His holy

purpose, to read His unfathomable thoughts. We see enough of Divine

wisdom, holiness, and love to believe that, when our understanding is

enlarged and our vision cleared, we shall find that “all the paths of the Lord

were mercy and truth” — even those which most troubled and bewildered

us when we dwelt upon the earth.

 

 

Opportuneness (3:1-8)

 

Our author makes a fresh start. He drops the autobiographical style of the

first two chapters, and casts his thoughts into the form of aphorisms, based

not merely upon the reminiscences of his own life, but upon the experience

of all men. He gives a long list of the events, actions, emotions, and

feelings which go to make up human life, and asserts of them that they are

governed by fixed laws above our knowledge, out of our control. The time

of our entrance into the world, the condition of life in which we are placed,

are determined for us by a higher will than our own, and the same

sovereign power fixes the moment of our departure from life; and in like

manner all that is done, enjoyed, and suffered between birth and death is

governed by forces which we cannot bend or mold, or even fully

understand. That there is a fixed order in the events of life is, to a certain

extent, an instinctive belief which we all hold. The thought of an untimely

birth or of an untimely death shocks us as something contrary to our sense

of that which is fit and becoming, and those crimes by which either is

caused are generally regarded as specially repulsive. Yet there is an

appointed season for the other incidents of life, though less clearly manifest

to us. Our wisdom lies, not in mere acquiescence in the events of life, but

in KNOWING OUR DUTY FOR THE TIME.  (Like David who served his

generation well.  CY - Acts 13:36)  The circumstances in which we are

placed are so fluctuating, and the conditions in the midst of which we find

ourselves are so varying, that a large space is left for us to exercise our

discretion, to discern that which is opportune, and to do the right thing at

the right time. The first class of events alluded to, the time of birth and the

time of death, is that of those which are involuntary; they are events with

which there can be no interference without the guilt of gross and

exceptional wickedness. The actions and emotions that follow are

voluntary, they are within our power, though the circumstances that call

them forth at a precise time are not. The relations of life which are

determined for us by a higher power give us the opportunity for playing

our part, and we either succeed or fail according as we take advantage of

the time or neglect it. The catalogue given of the events, actions, and

emotions which make up life seems to be drawn up without any logical

order; the various items are apparently taken capriciously as examples of

those things that occupy men’s time and thoughts, and at first sight the

teaching of our author does not seem to be of a distinctively spiritual

character. To a superficial reader it might appear as if we had not in it

much more than the commonplace prudence to be found in the maxims and

proverbs current in every country:

 

Ø      “Take time by the forelock;”

Ø      “He that will not when he may, when he would he shall have nay;”

Ø      “Time and tide wait for no man,” etc.

 

But we are taught by Christ Himself that knowing how to act opportunely is a

large part of that wisdom which is needed for our salvation. He himself came

to earth in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), when the Jewish people and

the nations of the world were prepared by Divine discipline for His teaching and

work (Acts 17:30, 31; Luke 2:30-31). The purpose of the mission of John the

Baptist, calculated as it was to lead men to godly sorrow for sin, was in

harmony with the austerity of his life and the sternness of his exhortations.

It was a time to mourn (Matthew 11:18). The purpose of Christ’s own

mission was to reconcile the world to God and to manifest the Father to

men, so that joy was becoming in His disciples (Mark 2:18-20). He

taught that there was a time to lose, when all possessions that would

alienate the heart from Him should be parted with (ibid. ch. 10:21, 23);

and that there would be a time of gain, when in heaven the accumulated

treasures would become an abiding possession (Matthew 6:19-20).

“That which the Preacher insists on is the thought that the circumstances

and events of life form part of a Divine order, are not things that come at

random, and that wisdom, and therefore such a measure of happiness as is

attainable, lies in adapting ourselves to the order, and accepting the

guidance of events in great things and small. while shame and confusion

come from resisting it.” But such teaching is applicable, as we have seen,

to the conduct of our spiritual as well as of our secular concerns. The fact

that there are great changes through which we must pass in order to be

duly prepared for the heavenly state, that we may have to forfeit the

temporal to secure the eternal, that the new life has new duties for the

discernment and fulfillment of which all our powers and faculties need to

be called into full exercise — should make us earnestly desire to be filled

with this wisdom that prompts to opportune action. “If any of you lack

wisdom,” says James, “let him ask of God, that giveth to all men

liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given “Also he hath set eternity” (marginal reading, Revised Version) “in their heart.”

We are made to look far beyond the boundary of the visible and the present. The

idea of “the eternal” may help us in two ways.

 

o       That we are created for the unseen and the eternal accounts for the fact

that nothing which is earthly and sensible WILL SATISFY OUR

SOULS!  Nothing of that order ought to do so; and it would put the seal

upon our degradation if it did so. Our unsatisfiable spirit is the signature

of our manhood and the prophecy of our immortality.

 

o       The inclusion of the future in our reasoning makes all the difference to

our thought. Admit only the passing time, this brief and uncertain life,

and much that happens is inexplicable and distressing indeed (“If in this

 life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

I Corinthians 15:19); but include the future, add “eternity” to the

account, and the “crooked is made straight,” THE PERPLEXITY

IS GONE!

 

What about the skeptic?  The epicure who has lost his faith in God says,

“Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die.” There is no sacredness in the

present, and no solid hope for the future. What is the use of aiming at a high ideal?

Why waste breath and strength on duty, on aspiration, on piety? Why attempt to

rise to the pursuit of the eternal and the Divine? Better lose ourselves in that which is

at hand, in that which we can grasp as a present certainty. The best thing,

the only certain good, is to eat and drink and to labor; is to minister to our

senses, and to work upon the material which is visible to our eye and

responsive to our touch. So speaks the skeptic; this is his miserable

conclusion; thus he owns himself defeated and (we may say) dishonored.

For what is human life worth when the element of sacredness is expunged,

when piety and hope are left out of it? It is no wonder that the ages of

unbelief have been the times when men have had no regard for other

people’s dues, and very little for their own.

him” (James 1:5).

 

ch. 4:5

“Idleness is the bane of body and mind, the nurse of naughtiness, the

chief author of all misery, one of the seven deadly sins, the cushion upon

which the devil chiefly reposes, and a great cause not only of melancholy,

but of many other diseases, for the mind is naturally active; and if it be

not occupied about some honest business, it rushes into mischief or

sinks into melancholy.”   (Richard E. Burton – 1861-1940?)

This reinforces the old maxim:  “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.”

 

 

                        Practical Wisdom in the Conduct of Life

                                                (4: 4-6)

 

What shall we pursue — distinction or happiness? Shall we aim to be

markedly successful, or to be quietly content? What shall be the goal we

set before us?

 

·         THE FASCINATION OF SUCCESS. A great many men resolve to

attain distinction in their sphere. They put forth “labor, skilful labor,”

inspired by feelings of rivalry; they are animated by the hope of surpassing

their fellows, of rising above them in the reputation they achieve, in the

style in which they live, in the income they earn, etc. There is very little

that is profitable here.

 

Ø      It must necessarily be attended with a large amount of failure: where

many run, “but one receiveth the prize.”

 

Ø      The satisfaction of success is short-lived; it soon loses its keen relish,

and becomes of small account.

 

Ø      It is a satisfaction of a very low order.

 

Aesop fable of fox and grapes

 

 

 

·         5:1 THE SACRIFICE OF FOLLY. In every large gathering of professed

worshippers there is reason to fear there are those with whom worship is

nothing but a form, a custom. The sacrifice of such is outward only; their

postures, their words, may be unexceptionable, but the heart is absent from

the service. Inattention, want of true interest, unspirituality, take the place

of those penitential acknowledgments — that heavenward aspiration —

which are acceptable to Him who searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of

the children of men. The sacrifice of such formal and irreverent

worshippers is justly designated a sacrifice of fools. They consider not their

own nature, their own needs; they consider not the attributes of Him whom

they profess to approach with the language of adoration, of gratitude, of

petition. They are, therefore, not only irreligious; they are foolish, and

they seem to say to every sensible observer that they are fools.

 

Ø      Docility. (teachableness)  “Be more ready [‘draw nigh,’ Revised Version]

to hear,” etc.  There is much virtue in docility. Our Lord strongly commended

the child-spirit as the condition of entrance into the kingdom; and was not this

principally because the spirit of childhood is that of docility — eagerness to

know, readiness to receive? We should draw nigh to God in His house, not

that we may hear our favorite dogmas once more exalted or enforced, but

that we may hear the mind and know the will of Christ better than we have

done before; that we may “be filled with the knowledge of His will”

(Colossians 1:9); that it may become increasingly true that “we have the

mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:16)  To desire to part with our errors,

our ignorance, our prejudices, our half-views, our misconceptions, and to

have a closer vision of our Lord and of His Divine truth, — this is

acceptable worship.

 

 

 

ch. 5

 

Man’s outward and secular life being unable to secure happiness and satisfaction,

can these be found in popular religion? 

 

·         V.1   Our first duty in entering the house of God is, therefore, TO BE

REVERENT BOTH IN MANNER AND IN SPIRIT. The outward

expression of this feeling, whatever form, according to the custom of our

time, or country, or Church, it may take, is to be an indication of the frame

of mind in which we enter upon the service of God. It is true that there

may be a reverent manner without devoutness of spirit, but it is equally

true that there cannot be devoutness of spirit without reverence of manner.

The true frame of mind is that which springs from a due sense of the

solemnity attaching to the house of God, and of the purpose for which we

assemble in it. It is not superstition, but genuine religious sentiment, that

would lead us to be mindful of the fact that it is no common ground which

is enclosed by the sacred walls; that it is here that we meet with Him whom

“the heaven of heavens cannot contain.” Though we are at all times in His

presence, His house is the place in which we entreat Him to manifest Himself

to His congregated people. Yet, though we know that- the place and the

purpose of our frequenting it are of the most holy and solemn nature, it is

only by a strong effort that we can maintain the frame of mind we should

be in when we wait upon God in His house. It is only by resolutely

determining so to do that we can control our wandering thoughts, suppress

frivolous and sinful imaginations, and divest ourselves of the secular cares

and anxieties which occupy only too much of our attention in the world

outside the sanctuary.

 

***********

In the Epistle of James (1. 19-25) we have an inspired

commentary upon this precept in the Book of ‘Ecclesiastes. The Christian

teacher enforces the same lesson, and depicts the contrast between the

“forgetful hearer” and the’” doer of the Word.” The one is like a man

looking for a moment into a mirror, and going on his way, and speedily

forgetting what he looked like; the other is like a man who uses the

revelation the mirror gives him of himself, to correct what in him is faulty.

The latter returns again and again to examine himself in the faithful glass,

for the purpose of removing those stains which it may show are upon him.

 

 

FROM ZEPHENIAH 3:17

Our great consolation in the worst times lies in our God. The very name

of our covenant God — “the Lord thy God” — is full of good cheer. That

word, “the Lord,” is really JEHOVAH, the self-existent One, the

unchangeable One, the ever-living God, who cannot change or be moved

from his everlasting purpose. Children of God, whatever you have not got,

you have a God in whom you may greatly glory. Having God you have

more than all things, for all things come of Him; and if all things were

blotted out, He could restore all things simply by His will. He speaketh, and

it is done; he commandeth, and it stands fast. Blessed is the man that hath

the God of Jacob for his trust, and whose hope Jehovah is. In the Lord

Jehovah we have righteousness and strength; Iet us trust in Him for ever.

Let the times roll on, they cannot affect our God. Let troubles rush upon us

like a tempest, but they shall not come nigh unto us now that He is our

defense. Jehovah, the God of His church, is also the God of each individual

member of it, and each one may therefore rejoice in Him. Jehovah is as

much your God, my brother, as if no other person in the universe could use

that covenant expression. O believer the Lord God is altogether and wholly

your God!:

 

Ø      All His wisdom,

Ø      all His foresight,

Ø      all His power,

Ø      all His immutability —

ALL HIMSELF IS YOURS!

 

 

VS. 8-9

·         LEARN:

 

            1. The duty of the state to seek the welfare of all.

            2. The duty of each to promote the welfare of the state.

 

 

 

                                    The Drawbacks upon Wealth (vs. 10-20)

 

The series of maxims which begins in ve. 10 is not unconnected with

what precedes it. It is for wealth generally that the unjust judge and

oppressive ruler barters his peace of mind, sells his very soul. As the means

for procuring sensual gratification, for surrounding one’s self with

ostentatious luxury, and for carrying out ambitious schemes, riches have

great fascination. The Preacher, however, records at length the drawbacks

connected with them, which are calculated to diminish the envy with which

the poor very often regard those who possess them. Probably the bulk of

mankind would say that they are willing to put up with the drawbacks if

only they could possess the riches. But surely those who read the Word of

God reverently and with a docile spirit are disposed to profit by the wise

counsels and warning it contains. The gross and presumptuous frame of

mind, which would lead any to laugh at the drawbacks upon wealth as

imaginary, when compared with the happiness they think it must secure,

deserves severe censure. Both rich and poor may draw appropriate lessons

from the Preacher’s words: the rich may learn humility; the poor,

contentment.

 

 

 

 

 

                        The Unsatisfying Nature of Riches (vs. 10-17)

 

To love wealth for its own sake is ridiculous. To desire it for the sake of

the advantages it may secure is natural, and (within limits) is not blamable.

To set the heart upon it for such purposes, to long for it above higher

good, to be absorbed in its quest, IS SINFUL.  . It is not in the nature of

earthly good to quench the deep desires of man’s immoral spirit.

 

 

·         RICHES ARE A SOURCE OF ANXIETY TO THE POSSESSOR.

As surely as a man owns more than is

needed for the supply of his daily wants, so surely is he liable to solicitude

and care.

·         RICHES ARE OF NO AVAIL BEYOND THIS LIFE. They thus add,

in the case of the avaricious, another sting to death; for clutch and grasp

them as he may, they must be left behind. A man spends his whole life, and

exhausts all his energies, in gathering together a “fortune;” no sooner has

he succeeded than he is summoned to return naked to the earth, carrying

nothing in his hand, poor as he came into the scene of his toils, his success,

his disappointments. The king of terrors cannot be bribed. A mine of

wealth cannot buy a day of life.

 

·         APPLICATION. These things being so, the moral is obvious. The poor

man may rest contented with his lot, for he knows not whether increase of

possessions would bring him increase of happiness. The prosperous man

may well give heed to the admonition, “If riches increase, set not your

heart upon them.” (Psalm 62:10)

 

 

 

 

VS. 18-20

 

(I guess the question is “Are you experiencing the  “GOOD AND COMELY” life?

What roles do work, food, health, cheerfulness, self-composure, hopefulness,

gratitude, religion, peace and joy, play in your life?  Your answer will explain

everything! – CY – 2013)

 

 

I think that there is also great tenderness in my text in the use of the word

now.” “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” God would

not have you live another moment as you now are. “As I live, saith the

Lord God,” — and he lifts his hand to heaven, and swears by His own self,

as He can swear by none greater, — ”I have no pleasure in the death of the

wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye

from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” The Lord has no delight in

having you continue to be His enemy. It gives Him no pleasure to see your

hardness of heart, or to see the consequences of that hardness of heart in

the awful peril that you are running every minute that you live in sin; so He

says to you, “There is the whole universe for me to govern, yet I am

willing to have a conference with you. ‘Come now,’ this very hour. Come

now, do not put it off till tomorrow. I am always at leisure to reason with a

sinner; whenever there is a soul that is anxious to seek me, I am always

ready to seek that soul, and to welcome it to my heart.” “Come now,” saith

the Lord; then, LET IT BE NOW WITH YOU!  God appoints this present time for

His conference with us; let it be our time, too. “Today if ye will hear His

voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.” “Behold, now is the

accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

 

Spurgeon on Isaiah 1:18

 

 

6:9 “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this

is also vanity and vexation of spirit.”  Better is the sight of the eyes than

 the wandering of the desire (nephesh, “the soul,” v. 7). This is a further

confirmation of the misery and unrest that accompany immoderate desires.

“The sight of the eyes” means the enjoyment of the present, that which lies

before one, in contrast to the restless craving for what is distant, uncertain, and

out of reach. (It seems to be human nature that one wants what he cannot get,

until he obtains it, and then it was not what he wanted after all!  - CY – 2013)

The lesson taught is:

 

·         to make the best of existing circumstances,

·         to enjoy the present,

·         to control the roaming of fancy, and

·         to narrow the vast field of appetency.

 

We have a striking expression in Wisdom of Solomon  4:12, ῤεμβασμὸς ἐπιθυμίας 

- rembasmos epithumiaswandering concupiscence -  by which is denoted the

giddiness, the reeling intoxication, caused by unrestrained passion. The Roman

satirist lashed the sin of unscrupulous greed

 

“Seal quae reverentia legum,

Quis rectus aut pudor eat unquam properantis avari?”

(Juven., ‘Sat.,’ 14:177.)

 

“Nor law, nor checks of conscience will he hear,

When in hot scent of gain and full career.”

(Dryden.)

 

Zockler quotes Horace, ‘Epist.,’ 1:18. 96, sqq

 

“Inter cuncta leges et percontabere doctos,

Qua ratione queas traducere leniter aevum;

Num te semper inops agitet vexetque cupido,

Num paver et return mediocriter utilium spes.”

 

“To sum up all —Consult and con the wise

In what the art of true contentment lies:

How fear and hope, that rack the human will,

Are but vain dreams of things nor good nor ill.”

(Howes.)

 

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1v.26.  “Has any advantage happened to you?

It is the bounty of fate. It was all preordained you by the universal cause. Upon

the whole, life is but short, therefore be just and prudent, and make your most

of it; and when you divert yourself, be always on your guard’ (J. Collier).

Well is it added that THIS INSATIABILITY OF THE SOUL which never

leads to contentment, is vanity and vexation of spirit, a feeding on wind,

empty, unsatisfying. Commentators refer in illustration to the fable of The Dog

and the Shadow:

 

It happened that a Dog had got a piece of meat and was carrying it home

in his mouth to eat it in peace. Now on his way home he had to cross a plank

lying across a running brook. As he crossed, he looked down and saw his own

shadow reflected in the water beneath. Thinking it was another dog with

another piece of meat, he made up his mind to have that also. So he made

a snap at the shadow in the water, but as he opened his mouth the piece

of meat fell out, dropped into the water and was never seen more.

                                                (Aesop Fable)

 

Also, the proverb, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

 

In vs. 10-12,  the fact is revealed that All things are foreknown and

foreordained  by God; it is useless to murmur against or to discuss

 this great fact; and as the future is beyond our knowledge and control,

it is wise to make the best of the present.

 

 

 

6:1-2

 

Ø      It should not be lost sight of that there are moral and spiritual purposes

in our earthly existence. It is a discipline, a proving, an education. Its

end is not — as men too often suppose that it should be — enjoyment

and pleasure; but character — conformity to the Divine character,

and submission to the Divine will. The highest benevolence aims at the

highest ends, and to secure these it seems in many cases necessary that

lower ends should be sacrificed. If temporal prosperity be marred by

what seems misfortune, this may be in order that spiritual prosperity

may be promoted. It may not be well for the individual that he should

be encouraged to seek perfect satisfaction in the things of this world.

It may not be well for society that great and powerful families should be

built up, to gratify human pride and ambition. God’s ways are not as

our ways, but THEY ARE WISER AND BETTER than ours.

 

11-12

The present is unsatisfactory,

and the future uncertain; where, then, shall we look for the true,

the real good?

 

 

 

The Day of Death and the Day of Birth (7:1)

 

The day of birth begins a life at the longest brief (Psalm 90:10 – I learned in a

recent study of the Book of Judges, that it is well that a life so sinful is so brief! –

CY – 2013).  The day of death begins a life which shall never end (Luke 20:36).

 

The secret of living well is to keep an eye on the day of one’s death (Deuteronomy

32:29; Psalm 90:12).  The secret of dying happily — living in the fear of God

(Acts 13:36; Philippians 1:21).

 

 

The Day of Death and the Day of Birth (v. 1)

 

·         The latter begins a life at the longest brief (Psalm 90:10); the former

            a life which shall never end (Luke 20:36).  I learned in a recent study of

            the Book of Judges, that it is well that a life so sinful is so brief! – CY – 2013). 

 

·         The latter ushers into a field of toil (Psalm 104:23); the former into

a home of rest (Revelation. 14:13).

 

·         The latter admits into a scene of suffering (Job 5:7; 14:1); the

former into a realm of felicity (Revelation 7:16).

 

·         The latter introduces a life of sin (Genesis 8:21; Job 14:4;

Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Romans 5:12); the former an existence of holiness

(Jude 1:24; Rev. 21:27).

 

·         The latter opens a state of condemnation (Romans 5:18); the former

a state of glory (II Corinthians 4:17).

 

·         LESSONS:

 

1. The secret of living well keeping an eye on the day of one’s death

     (Deuteronomy 32:29; Psalm 90:12).

 

2. The secret of dying happilyliving in the fear of God (Acts 13:36;

    Philippians 1:21).

 

vs. 2-6

 

·         THE COMPARATIVELY UNPROFITABLE THING. Two things

are mentioned in Scripture as being lawful, but as being of comparatively

slight value — bodily indulgence and bodily exercise (see 1 Corinthians

6:13; 1 Timothy 4:8). “The house of feasting” (v. 2) is a right place

to be found in, as is also the gymnasium, or the recreation-ground, or the

place of entertainment. But it is very easy to think of some place that is

worthier. As those that desire to attain to heavenly wisdom, to a Christ-like

character, to the approval of God, let us see that we only indulge in the

comparatively unprofitable within the limits that become us. To go beyond

the bound of moderation is to err, and even to sin. Fun may grow into

folly, pleasure pass into dissipation (intemperance), the training of the body

become an extravagant athleticism, in the midst of which the culture of the

spirit IS NEGLECTED and THE SERVICE OF CHRIST FORSAKEN!

 It behooves us to “keep under” (I Corinthians 9:27) that which is secondary,

to forbid it the  first place or the front rank, whether in our esteem or in our

practice.

 

·         THE DISGUISED BLESSING. It is not difficult to reach the heart of

these paradoxes (vs. 2-5). There is pain of heart in visiting the house

where death has come to the door, as there is in receiving the rebuke of a

true friend; but what are the issues of it? What is to be gained thereby?

What hidden blessing does it not contain? How true it is that it is

 

“Better to have a quiet grief Than a tumultuous joy”!

 

That the hollow laughter of folly is a very poor and sorry thing indeed

compared with the wisdom-laden sorrow, when all things are weighed in

the balances.

 

Ø      To have a chastened spirit,

Ø      to have the heart which has been taught of God great spiritual realities,

Ø      to have had an enlarging and elevating vision of the things which are

      unseen and eternal,

Ø      to have been impressed with the transiency of earthly good and

      with the excellency of “the consolations which are in Christ Jesus,”

(Philippians 2:1)

Ø      to be lifted up, if but one degree, toward the spirit and character

      of the self-sacrificing Lord we serve,

Ø      to have had some fellowship with the sufferings of Christ,

 

Surely this is incomparably preferable to the most delicious feast or the

most hilarious laughter. To go down to the home that is darkened by

bereavement or saddened by some crushing disappointment, and to pour

upon the troubled hearts there the oil of true and genuine sympathy, to

bring such spirits up from the depths of utter hopelessness or

overwhelming grief into the light of Divine truth and heavenly promise, —

thus “to do good and to communicate” (Hebews 13:16) is not only to offer

acceptable sacrifice unto God, but it is also to be truly enriched in our

own soul.

 

 

 

The Mischief of Oppression and Bribery (v. 7)

 

There is some uncertainty as to the interpretation of this verse: the

reference may be to the effect of injustice upon him who inflicts it; it may

be to its effect upon him who suffers it. It is usual to regard the observation

as descriptive of the result of oppression and bribery in the feelings of

irritation and despondency they produce upon the minds of those who are

wronged, and upon society generally.

 

  • JUSTICE IS THE ONLY SOLID FOUNDATION FOR SOCIETY.

There is moral law, upon which alone civil law can be wisely and securely

based. When those who are in power are guided in their administration of

political affairs by a reverent regard for righteousness, tranquility, and

contentment, order and harmony may be expected to prevail.

 

  • OPPRESSION, EXTORTION, AND VENALITY ON THE PART

OF RULERS ARE INCOMPATIBLE WITH JUSTICE AND WITH

THE PUBLIC GOOD. Unjust rulers sometimes use the power which they

have acquired, or with which they have been entrusted, for selfish ends, and

in the pursuit of such ends are unscrupulous as to the means they employ.

Such wrongdoing is peculiar to no form of civil government. It is to some

extent checked by the prevalence of liberty and of publicity, and yet more

by an elevated standard of morality, and by the influence of pure religion.

But in the East corruption and bribery have been too general on the part of

those in power.

 

  • THE SPECIAL RESULT OF CORRUPTION AND OPPRESSION

IS THE FURTHERANCE AND PREVALENCE OF FOLLY AND

UNREASON. To the writer of Ecclesiastes, who regarded wisdom as “the

principal thing,” it was natural to discern in mischievous principles of

government the cause of general unwisdom and foolishness.

 

Ø      The governor himself, although he may be credited with craft and

cunning, is morally injured and degraded, sinks to a lower level,

loses self-respect, and forfeits the esteem of his subjects.

 

Ø      The governed are goaded to madness by the impossibility of

Obtaining their rights, by the curtailment of their liberties, and

by the loss of their property. Hence arise murmurings, discontent,

and resentment, which may, and often do, lead to conspiracy,

insurrection, and revolution.

 

Ø      THE DUTY OF ALL UPRIGHT MEN TO SET THEIR FACES

AGAINST SUCH EVIL PRACTICES. A good man must not ask —

Can I profit by the prevalence of injustice? Will my party or my friends

be strengthened by it? He must, on the contrary, turn away from the

question of consequences; he must witness against venality and

oppression; he must use all lawful means to expose and to put an

end to such practices. And this he is bound to do from the highest

motives. Government is of DIVINE AUTHORITY  and is to be

based upon Divine principles. Of God we know that “righteousness

and  judgment are the habitation of His throne” (Psalm 97:2). 

They are unworthy to rule who employ their power for base and

selfish ends.

 

v. 8

Ø      To human life. The beginning may, in the view of men, be neutral; but, in

the view of the religious man, the birth of a child is an occasion for

gratitude. Yet, if that progress be made which corresponds with the

Divine ideal of humanity, if character be matured, and a good life-work

be wrought, then the day of death, the end, is better than the day of birth,

in which this earthly existence commenced.

 

 

V, 10 -

·         APPLICATION. Vain regrets as to the past are as unprofitable as are

complaints as to the present. What concerns us is the right use of

circumstances appointed for us by a wise Providence. Whether or not the

former times were better than these, the times upon which we have fallen

are good enough for us to use to our own moral and spiritual

improvement, and at the same time they are bad enough to call for all our

consecrated powers to do what in us lies — little as that may be — to

mend them.

 

Let us exhibit wisdom by trying to make the best of the present instead of

dreaming about the past.

 

 

 

 

Bad Women a Curse to Society (7:25-28)

 

It is generally considered that in this language we have the conclusion

reached by Solomon, and that his polygamy was largely the explanation of

the very unfavorable opinion which he formed of the other sex. A monarch

who takes to himself hundreds of wives and concubines is scarcely likely to

see much of the best side of woman’s nature and life. And if marriage is

divinely intended to draw out the unselfish, affectionate, and devoted

qualities of feminine nature, such a purpose could not be more effectually

frustrated than by an arrangement which assigns to a so-called wife an

infinitesimal portion of a husband’s time, attention, interest, and love. For

this reason it is not fair to take the sweeping statement of this passage as

expressing a universal and unquestionable truth. What is said of the

bitterness of the wicked woman, and of the mischief she does in society,

remains for ever true; but there are states of society in which good women

are as numerous as are good men, and in which their influence is equally

beneficial.

 

  • THE INJURIOUSNESS OF BAD WOMEN EXEMPLIFIES THE

PRINCIPLE THAT THE ABUSE AND CORRUPTION OF GOOD

THINGS IS OFTEN THE CAUSE OF THE WORST OF ILLS.

 

  • THE WICKEDNESS OF BAD WOMEN DISPLAYS ITSELF IN

THEIR HABIT OF ENSNARING THE FOOLISH; FOR THEY WILL

NOT AND CANNOT SIN ALONE.

 

  • THE PRESENCE OF BAD WOMEN IN SOCIETY IS THE GREAT

TEMPTATION TO WHICH MEN ARE LIABLE, AND THE GREAT

TEST BY WHICH THEY ARE TRIED.

 

  • THE BITTERNESS OF BAD WOMEN MAY BY CONTRAST

SUGGEST THE EXCELLENCE OF THE VIRTUOUS AND THE

PIOUS, AND MAY PROMPT TO A GRATEFUL RECOGNITION OF

THE INDEBTEDNESS OF SOCIETY TO HOLY AND KINDLY

FEMININE INFLUENCES.

 

 

************************** SAVING A CITY - IF NO MORE

CONCERN OVER SOUL NO WONDER NO CONCER OVER CITY

mAKE LOVE NOT WAR

 

7:19-22

 

Ø      The wisdom of its rulers. These the wise men are now supposed to be;

and the meaning is that a city’s safety depends more upon the mental

sagacity of those who guide its affairs than upon the extent and depth

of its material resources; that “wise statesmen,” for instance, “may

do more” for it “than able generals” (Plumptre), and skilful inventors

than Herculean laborers (compare Ecclesiastes 9:16, 18); and if more

upon the mental sagacity of its governors, much more upon their moral

earnestness. The wisdom to which the Preacher alludes is unquestionably

that which fears God, keeps His commandments, and gives life to all that

have it. Hence even more indispensable for a city’s safety is it that her

dignitaries should be good than that they should be great.

 

 

Ø      The piety of its people. This a legitimate deduction from the statement

that “there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and

sinneth not” (v. 20). In introducing this sentiment, suggested probably

by the utterance of Solomon (II Kings 8:46), the Preacher may have

wished to call up the thought that once upon a time ten righteous men,

could they only have been found (which they were not), would have

saved a city (Genesis 18:32), and to point to the fact that no such

expectation as that of saving a city by means of its righteous men

need be cherished now as a reason for resorting to the next best defense

— that of MORAL WISDOM instead of BRUTE FORCE.   Yet THE

TRUTH REMAINS that righteousness, holiness, piety, could it only

be  attained, would be a far more endurable and impregnable wall of

protection to a people than either mighty armies or wise statesmen.

 

·         LESSONS.

 

1. Righteousness and wisdom THE HIGHEST CIVIL GOOD!

2. The permanence of a state determined by the number of its good men.

3. The power of moral goodness in both individuals and empires.

4. The universal corruption of mankind.

 

 

VS, 23-29

 

·         THE SORROWFUL FINDING.

 

Ø      Concerning the strange woman. Not “heathenish folly” (Hengstenberg),

but the flesh-and-blood harlot of Proverbs (2:16-19; 5:3-13). With

respect to her the Preacher calls attention — speaking, no doubt, from

personal experience, and recording the results of his own observation —

to:

 

o        Her seductive arts. “Her heart is snares and nets,” luring with her false

beauty, bewitching voice, and voluptuous person, numerous unthinking

and inexperienced persons, chiefly young men devoid of understanding

(Proverbs 7:7), into her embrace.

 

o        Her deceptive gifts. While promising her lovers liberty, she only leads

them into slavery. “Her hands are as bands;” and while flattering

them with promises of hidden sweets, what she gives them is an

experience “more bitter than death,” i.e. an inward wretchedness

more intolerable to the soul than even darkness and the grave.

“Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death”

(Proverbs 7:27).  (I have a question!  In our culture, there is still

prostitution, (the oldest profession), but with the promiscuousness of

young women in society, does that make prostitution less necessary?

CY - 2021)

 

o        Her powerless charms — in some eases. Fascinating to the natural

heart, and especially to sensual dispositions, her attractions have no

influence upon pure minds and religious souls. “Whoso pleaseth God

shall escape from her;” either never be captivated by her spells, or be

recovered from them before it is too late.

 

o        Her miserable victims. Those she leads off as prey are “sinners,” in

whose hearts sin rules as a dominating principle; who are:

 

§         carnally  minded, and delight to make provision for the

 flesh, to fulfill the  lusts thereof (Romans 8:1; 13:14);

§         lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God (II Timothy 3:4);

§         foolish and disobedient souls,  who serve divers lusts and

      pleasures (Titus 3:3).

 

 

Ø      Concerning womankind.

 

o        The Preacher’s finding was incorrect if designed as a universal

negative, in the sense that, while in a thousand men taken at random one

might be found good, in a thousand women similarly taken not one

could be found entitled to be so characterized. The best refutation of

such woman-hating utterances is to point to” the numerous examples of

noble women mentioned in Old Testament Writ, and of the devoted

heroines of New Testament days, “whose names stand forth

conspicuously, side by side with those of men, in the muster-roll

of the ‘noble army of martyrs’” (Wright).

 

o        The Preacher’s finding may have been correct if accepted only as the

record of his own individual experience. In this case, either his lot must

have fallen in very evil times in respect of moral corruption, rivaling the

days that were before the Flood (Genesis 6:11; 7:1), or he himself must

have mixed with extremely questionable characters and limited his

investigations to the lowest strata of society. It is doubtful if in any age,

at least since the Flood, the condition of mankind has been so

deplorably degenerate as the Preacher’s language implies.  (The

problem with this statement is Christ told of the end times when men

and women would act like those in the days before the Great Flood

and of those who made up the cities of Sodom and Gommorah,

implying the possibility of our days matching them!  CY  - 2021

 

o        The Preacher’s finding may be endorsed if it only means (as is probably

the case) that woman less frequently attains to her ideal than man does

to his — which, however, need not argue deeper depravity in woman

than in man, but may point either to the loftier character of woman’s

ideal than of man’s, or to the greater difficulties that stand in the way

of woman realizing her ideal than hinder man from reaching his.

 

 

Ø      Concerning the human race.

 

o        THEIR ORIGINAL CONDITION HAD BEEN ONE OF UPRIGHT-

      NESS.   This one of two conclusions to which the Preacher had been

conducted, viz. that whatever of evil was now perceptible in man’s

nature HAD NOT PROCEEDED FROM THE HAND OF GOD!

 

o        Their present condition was one of “INVENTIVE REFINED

      DEGENERACY!  (Delitzsch). A second result to which the Preacher

had been led. Man had lapsed from his primitive condition of moral

simplicity and had become an ingenious inventor; not always of

things indifferent, but frequently of things immoral in themselves,

and LEADING TO IMMORALITY AND SIN  as their results.

 

·         LESSONS.

 

1. The value of wisdom as a human pursuit.

2. The worth of experience as a teacher.

3. The danger of sensuality.

4. The excellence of piety as a protection against impurity.

5. The inestimable worth of a good woman.

6. The rarity of noble men.

7. The certainty that man is not what God made him.

 

 

 

                                    Perfection is not on Earth (20, 29)

 

It would be a mistake to attribute these statements to anything peculiar in

the experience and circumstances of the author of this book. The most

attentive and candid observers of human nature will attest the truth of these

very decided judgments. Christians are sometimes accused of exaggerating

human sinfulness, in order to prepare for the reception of the special

doctrines of Christianity; but they are not so accused by observers whose

opportunities have been wide and varied, and who have the sagacity to

interpret human conduct.

 

·         THE NATURE OF SIN. It is:

 

Ø      deflection from a Divine standard,

Ø      departure from the Divine way,

Ø      abuse of Divine provision, and

Ø      renunciation of Divine purpose.

 

·         THE UNIVERSALITY OF SIN. This is both the teaching of Scripture

and the lesson of all experience in every land and in every age.

 

·         THE EXCEPTION TO SIN. The Divine Man, Jesus Christ, alone

among the sons of men, was faultless and perfect.  He was:

 

Ø      “separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26)

 

·         THE SPIRITUAL LESSONS TAUGHT BY THE PREVALENCE

OF SIN.

 

Ø      The duty of humility, contrition, and repentance.

Ø      The value of the REDEMPTION and SALVATION  which in the

      gospel Divine wisdom and compassion have provided as THE ONE

UNIVERSAL REMEDY  for the one universal evil that afflicts

mankind.

 

8:11

 

·         A GREAT INSTANCE OF HUMAN IMPIETY. “Because sentence

against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the

sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” The abuse of clemency is a sadder

sign of depravity than the violation of commandment; to trample on God’s

mercy a greater wickedness than to break His Law.

 

 

·         A GREAT DIVERGENCE IN INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCE.

Between that of the long-lived and deeply-dyed sinner who defies the

Divine Law and despises the Divine mercy, and that of the good man and

humble who fears God and walks in his commandments and ordinances.

The former, in spite of all his shameless audacity and boundless impiety,

attains not to real happiness“it shall not be well with the wicked,”

either here or hereafter (Isaiah 3:11). The former, notwithstanding his

depressed condition, and perhaps brief life, is possessed of the secret of

inward happiness“it shall be well with them that fear God,” both in this

world and the next (ibid. v. 10; 1 Timothy 4:8).

 

8:16

·         BUSINESS ACTIVITY IS ACCOMPANIED WITH MANY

PERILS. The laborer, the craftsman, the merchant, the lawyer, all have

their various employments and interests, which are in danger of becoming

engrossing. Perhaps the main temptation of the very busy is towards

worldliness. The active and toiling are prone to lose sight of everything

which does not contribute to their prosperity, and especially of the higher

relations of their being and their immortal prospects. Young men entering

upon professional and commercial life need especially to be warned against

worldliness, to be reminded that it is possible to gain the whole world, and

yet to lose the, soul, the higher and worthier life. A man may become

covetous, or at least avaricious; he may lose his sensibilities to what is

noblest, purest, and best; he may adopt a lower standard of value, may

move upon a lower plane of life.

 

 

 

                                                Diligence (9:10)

 

The prospect of death may add a certain zest to life’s enjoyments, but we

are reminded in this passage that it is just and wise to allow it to influence

the performance of life’s practical duties.

 

·         RELIGION HAS REGARD TO MAN’S PRACTICAL NATURE. The

hand is the instrument of work, and is accordingly used as the symbol of

our active nature. What we do is of supreme importance, both by reason of

its cause and origin in our character, and by reason of its effect upon

ourselves and upon the world. Religion involves contemplation and

emotion, and expresses itself in prayer and praise; but without action

all is in vain.

 

·         RELIGION FURNISHES THE LAW TO MAN’S PRACTICAL

NATURE. We are expected to put up the prayer, “What wilt thou have me

to do?” (Acts 9:6) in response to this prayer, precept and admonition are given;

and so the “hand findeth its work.

 

Ø      True religion prescribes the quality of our work — that actions should

be just and wise, kind and compassionate.

 

Ø      And the measure of our work. “With thy might” is the Divine law. This

is opposed to langor, indolence, depression, weariness. He who considers

the diligence and assiduity with which the powers of evil are ever

working in human society will understand the importance of this

urgent admonition.

 

·         RELIGION SUPPLIES THE MOTIVES TO DILIGENCE IN THE

EMPLOYMENT OF THE PRACTICAL NATURE.

 

Ø      There is the very general motive suggested in the context, that what is to

be done for the world’s good must be done during this present brief and

fleeting life. There is doubtless service of such a nature that, if it be not

done here and now, can never be rendered at all.  As Christ said, “I

must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day:  The night

cometh when no man can work.”  (John 9:4)

 

Ø      Christianity presents a motive of preeminent power in the example of the

Lord Jesus Christ, who came to work the work of Him who sent Him,

who went about doing good, who found it His food to do His Father’s

will, whose aim it was to finish the work given Him to do.

 

Ø      Christianity enforces this motive by one deeper still; the Christian is

inspired with the desire to live unto the Lord who lived and died

for him. Grateful love, kindled by the Divine sacrifice, expresses

itself by consecrated zeal.

 

 

                        The Praise of Wisdom (9:13-18)

 

It has been remarked that, whilst the leading idea of religion in the earliest

stage of Israel’s history was the Law, this idea took at a later period the

form of wisdom. It is not well to discriminate too carefully between that

wisdom which is shown in great works and that which is synonymous with

piety. All light is from God, and there is no holier prayer than that in His

light we may see light. (Psalm 36:9)  It is a commonplace remark that men may

be clever and yet not good; but every reflecting mind discovers in a character

so described a lack of harmony. The philosopher, the sage, the leader in

learning or science, should, beyond all men, be religious. “An undevout

astronomer is mad.” No more melancholy and pitiable spectacle is to be

seen on earth than the able man whose self-confidence and vanity have led

him into atheism. In considering the case of the truly wise man, it is well to

regard him as displaying wisdom not only upon the lower but upon the

higher plane.

 

·         WISDOM MAY BE ASSOCIATED WITH LOWLY STATION.

Solomon was an example of an illustrious and splendid king who was

famed for wisdom. But the instance of the text is striking; poverty and

obscurity are not necessarily inconsistent with unusual insight, ability,

and skill.

 

·         WISDOM MAY ACCOMPLISH GREAT WORKS WITH SMALL

MEANS. A mighty king with a numerous and formidable army besieges a

small city. How shall the besieged offer resistance to the foe? The

inhabitants are few, feeble, ill-armed, half-starved; and their case seems

hopeless. But a citizen hitherto unknown, with no apparent resources,

arises to lead the dispirited and helpless defenders. Whether by some

marvelous device, or by the magnetic power of his presence and spirit, he

accomplishes a task which seemed impossible — vanquishes the besiegers

and raises the siege. Such things have been, and they are a rebuke to our

worldly calculations, and an inspiration to courage and to faith.

 

·         WISDOM MAY NEVERTHELESS IN PUBLIC BE

OVERLOOKED AND DESPISED. “No man remembered that same poor

man.” How often does it happen that the real originator, the prime mover,

gains no credit for the enterprise which he conceived, and for whose

success he prepared the way; whilst praise is given to some person of

social or political eminence who joined the movement when its success was

assured! It is “the way of the world.”

 

·         YET WISDOM, UNHONORED IN PUBLIC, MAY BE

ACKNOWLEDGED IN SECRET AND IN QUIETNESS. Those who

look below the surface and are not dazzled by external splendor, those who

listen, not merely to the earthquake, the thunder, and the tempest, but to

the “still, small voice,” discover the truly wise, and, in their heart of hearts,

render to them sincere honor. Much more He who seeth in secret

recognizes the services of His lowly, unnoticed servants who use their gifts

for His glory, and work in obscurity to promote His kingdom, by whose toil

and prayer cities are sanctified and saved.

 

·         THUS WISDOM IS SEEN TO BE THE BEST OF ALL

POSSESSIONS AND QUALITIES. There is greatness which consists in

outward splendor, and this may awe the vulgar, may dazzle the imagination

of the unthinking. But in the sight of God and of just men, true greatness is

that of the spirit; and the truly wise shine with a luster which poverty and obscurity cannot hide, and which the lapse of ages cannot dim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

9:13-18

 

The picture of wisdom crying aloud in the street into unheeding ears

(Proverbs 1:20-25) has often been reproduced, as e.g. in the persons

of Jehovah’s prophets (Leviticus 26:43; II Chronicles 36:16; Isaiah

53:1; Matthew 21:34-36) and of Christ (John 5:40). To this day the

world’s treatment of Christ is not dissimilar, his words of wisdom

being by men for the most part despised, and in particular the

special wisdom he displayed in effecting their deliverance from

sin and Satan BY HIMSELF submitting to shame and death,

and extending to them the offer of a full and free forgiveness,

                                    being frequently regarded with scorn and contempt.

 

 

ch. 10

 

Ø      The fool’s heart is in the wrong place, in contrast to the wise man’s,

            which is always in the right place (Hengstenberg). This sentiment is true.

The fool’s heart is not directed towards those objects upon which its

affections ought to be set, while the wise man’s is. This is enough to

make folly an unsafe conductor.

 

Ø      The evil of this phenomenon. It discourages merit, and inflates folly with

pride; rewards incapacity, and despises real ability; places influence in

wrong hands, and weakens the power of good men to benefit their age.

 

 

 

 

 

vs. 8-11

Ø      A warning to transgressors. That Nemesis (goddess of revenge in

      literature) may overtake them in the very act of their evil doing. If they

break through a neighbor’s fence to steal his fruit, or pull down his wall

so as to injure his property, they need not be surprised if they are caught

in the act. Wickedness has a habit of avenging itself, sometimes with

great rapidity and with terrible severity, on those who perpetrate it.

This is true of all breaking down of those fences or laws with which

God has girt man. Every violation of law — physical, intellectual,

moral, social, religious — is visited with its own particular biting

serpent of penalty.

 

Ø      A caution to reformers. If they will set themselves to pull down the old

walls of decayed and worthless institutions, or to break through the

fences of time-honored customs, they must prepare themselves for being

bitten by the serpents in the crannies — for encountering the opposition,

criticism, hate, and often persecution of those who have vested interests

in the abuses proposed to be rectified or swept away. Reformers should

count the cost before beginning their work of reformation.

 

 

Ø      The inevitable recompense of all wrongdoing. If the stone-moving

alludes to the removing of a neighbor’s landmark, then the proverb stands

as a reminder of the curse pronounced against that ancient sin

(Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17). The use of landmarks, at least as then

employed, has ceased; but the distinction between “mine” and thine

remains; and every invasion of another’s rights is a wickedness which in

course of providence will receive its just recompense of reward

(Exodus 20:15).

 

 

·         BITING SERPENTS AND TARDY CHARMERS.If the serpent

bite before it is charmed, then is there no advantage in the charmer;” or,

“Surely the serpent will bite without, or where there is no, enchantment”

(v. 11); which again offers two thoughts.

 

Ø      That the serpent of temptation will do its deadly work unless timorously

repressed. This may be done:

 

o       by resisting its first approaches, if they  cannot be eluded

      altogether (James 4:7),

 

o       by crushing down the rising inclination within one to yield,

 

o       by diligently considering the sinfulness  of that to which one

      is solicited (Genesis 39:9),

 

o       by calling in the help of God against the adversary

      (Ephesians 6:10-18).

 

Ø      That if once the serpent of temptation has done its deadly work there is

no use whatever of resorting to such means of repression. Such means

are then too late. To employ them then is much the same thing as to

shut the stable door when the horse is out!

 

 

 

 

                                    Folly Self-Betrayed (10:1, 3)

 

To the writer of this book it seemed that the great antithesis of human life,

of human society, was pointed out by the distinction between wisdom and

folly. As by wisdom he meant not merely speculative knowledge or

profound statecraft, but, much rather, reflective habits, deliberate

judgment, and decisive action, in the practical affairs of life; so by folly he

intended exactly the opposite of such character and mental habits. A

certain contemptuous and weary abhorrence of the foolish breathes

through his language. His remarks are full of insight and justice.

 

·         FOLLY MAY FOR A TIME BE CONCEALED. A grave countenance,

a staid demeanor, a reticent habit, may convey the impression of wisdom

which does not exist. Men are disposed to take a favorable view of those

occupying high station, and even of those possessing great estates. The

casual acquaintances of men who are slow and serious in speech, or are

exalted in rank, often credit them with wisdom, when there has been no

proof of its existence.

 

·         FOLLY WILL CERTAINLY, SOONER OR LATER, BE

REVEALED BY CIRCUMSTANCES. A little folly is the ill savor that

mars the perfume. The understanding of the fool faileth him while he

walketh by the way. The test is sure to be applied which will prove whether

the coin is genuine or counterfeit. The hollow reputation must collapse. A

critical time comes when counsel has to be given, when action has to be

taken, and at such a time the folly of the pompous and pretentious fool is

made manifest to all. Sounding phraseology may impose upon men for a

season; but there are occasions when something more than words is

needed, and such occasions reveal the emptiness and vanity of the foolish.

 

Ø      Pedantry is not learning,

Ø      profession is not religion,

Ø      pretence is not reality;

 

neither can the show be, for any length of time, taken for the substance.

 

·         FOLLY, THUS EXPOSED, DESTROYS A MAN’S REPUTATION

AND INFLUENCE, The revulsion is sudden and complete, and may even

go to unreasonable lengths. It is presumed that, because the highest

expectations have been disappointed, not even the slightest respect or

confidence is justifiable. A little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.

 

·         APPLICATION. The chief lesson of this passage is the value of sincerity,

thoroughness, and genuineness of character. It is not every man who has

the knowledge, the natural insight, the large experience of life, which go to

make up wisdom. But no man need pretend to be what he is not; no man

need proclaim himself a sage or a mentor; no man need claim for himself

the deferential regard and homage of others.

 

He who will order his way by such light as he can gain by reflection,  

by the study of the Scriptures, and by prayer, WILL NOT GO FAR

ASTRAY!   Sincerity and modesty may not gain a temporary reputation

for profundity of wisdom; but they will not expose their possessor to the

humiliation and shame of him who, professing himself to be wise,

becomes manifest to all men as a fool.

 

10:1

                                                Dead Flies (v. 1)

 

Among the Jews oil rendered fragrant by being mixed with precious drugs

was used for many different purposes. With it priests and kings were

anointed when they entered upon their offices; guests at the tables of the

rich were treated to it as a luxury. It was used medicinally for outward

application to the bodies of the sick, and with it corpses and the clothes in

which they were wrapped were besprinkled before burial. Very great care

was needed in the preparation of the material used for such special

purposes. Elaborately confected as the ointment was, it was easily spoiled

and rendered worthless. It was, accordingly, necessary not only to take

great pains in making it, but also in preserving it from contamination when

made. If the vase or bottle in which it was put were accidentally or

carelessly left open, its contents might soon be destroyed. A dead fly would

soon corrupt the ointment, and turn it into a pestilent odor. So, says the

Preacher, a noble and attractive character may be corrupted and destroyed

by a little folly — an insignificant-looking fault or weakness may outweigh

great gifts and attainments. It is not a case of the unthinking multitude

taking advantage of a foible, or inconsistency, or little slip, to depreciate

the character of one raised far above them in wisdom and honor, in order

to bring it down to their level; of envy leading to an unjust and ungrateful

sentence being pronounced upon an almost faultless character. But the

warning is that deterioration may really set in, the precious ointment be

actually changed into a disgusting odor, the wisdom and honor be

outweighed by the little folly (“outweigh,” Revised Version). The same

teaching is given in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians St. Paul warns his

readers that their toleration of a heinous sin in one of their members was

poisoning the whole spiritual life of the Church (I Corinthians 5.). The

fervor of their religious emotions, the hatred of sin and love of holiness

which had led them to separate themselves from heathen society, the

aspirations and endeavors after purity and righteousness which naturally

follow upon an intelligent and earnest acceptance of Christian truth, were

all being undermined by their omission of the duty that lay upon them, that

of isolating the gross offender, and of expelling him from their community

if he gave no signs of penitence and amendment. They might themselves be

orthodox in belief and unblamable in conduct, but this sin would soon, if

unchecked, lower the whole tone of the community, and nullify all the

good that had been attained to. “Know ye not,” he said, “that a little leaven

leaveneth the whole lump?” It was impossible to allow the fault to remain

and to keep the evil influence it exerted within bounds; it would spread like

infection, and be persistent until it had corrupted the whole community.

And what is true of a society is true of an individual. The fault which

shows itself in a character is not like a stain or flaw in a marble statue,

which is confined to one spot, and is no worse after the lapse of years, but

like a sore in a living body, which weakens and may destroy the whole

organism. One cause why the evil influence spreads is that we are not on

our guard against it, and it may grow to almost ungovernable strength

before we are really convinced that there is any danger. We can recognize

at once great errors and heinous vices, and the alarm and disgust they

excite, prepare us to resist them; but little follies and weaknesses often fill

us with an amused contempt for them, which blinds us to their great power

for evil. The dead body of the fly in the vase of ointment is so insignificant

a source of corruption, that it surprises us to discover that the fermentation

it has produced has tainted the whole mass. Weight for weight, there is an

enormous disproportion between the precious fluid and the wretched little

object which has corrupted it; yet there is no ignoring of the fact that the

mischief has been done. In like manner does a little folly outweigh wisdom

and honor; an uncorrected fault spreads its influence throughout a whole

character and life. How often has the lesson been brought home to us, both

in our reading of histories and biographies and in our own experience, of

the widespread mischief done by a small foible or weakness!

 

“The little rift within the lute

That by-and-by will make the music mute.”

 

 

 

                                                Dead Flies (v. 1)

 

Among the Jews oil rendered fragrant by being mixed with precious drugs

was used for many different purposes. With it priests and kings were

anointed when they entered upon their offices; guests at the tables of the

rich were treated to it as a luxury. It was used medicinally for outward

application to the bodies of the sick, and with it corpses and the clothes in

which they were wrapped were besprinkled before burial. Very great care

was needed in the preparation of the material used for such special

purposes. Elaborately confected as the ointment was, it was easily spoiled

and rendered worthless. It was, accordingly, necessary not only to take

great pains in making it, but also in preserving it from contamination when

made. If the vase or bottle in which it was put were accidentally or

carelessly left open, its contents might soon be destroyed. A dead fly would

soon corrupt the ointment, and turn it into a pestilent odor. So, says the

Preacher, a noble and attractive character may be corrupted and destroyed

by a little folly — an insignificant-looking fault or weakness may outweigh

great gifts and attainments. It is not a case of the unthinking multitude

taking advantage of a foible, or inconsistency, or little slip, to depreciate

the character of one raised far above them in wisdom and honor, in order

to bring it down to their level; of envy leading to an unjust and ungrateful

sentence being pronounced upon an almost faultless character. But the

warning is that deterioration may really set in, the precious ointment be

actually changed into a disgusting odor, the wisdom and honor be

outweighed by the little folly (“outweigh,” Revised Version). The same

teaching is given in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians St. Paul warns his

readers that their toleration of a heinous sin in one of their members was

poisoning the whole spiritual life of the Church (I Corinthians 5.). The

fervor of their religious emotions, the hatred of sin and love of holiness

which had led them to separate themselves from heathen society, the

aspirations and endeavors after purity and righteousness which naturally

follow upon an intelligent and earnest acceptance of Christian truth, were

all being undermined by their omission of the duty that lay upon them, that

of isolating the gross offender, and of expelling him from their community

if he gave no signs of penitence and amendment. They might themselves be

orthodox in belief and unblamable in conduct, but this sin would soon, if

unchecked, lower the whole tone of the community, and nullify all the

good that had been attained to. “Know ye not,” he said, “that a little leaven

leaveneth the whole lump?” It was impossible to allow the fault to remain

and to keep the evil influence it exerted within bounds; it would spread like

infection, and be persistent until it had corrupted the whole community.

And what is true of a society is true of an individual. The fault which

shows itself in a character is not like a stain or flaw in a marble statue,

which is confined to one spot, and is no worse after the lapse of years, but

like a sore in a living body, which weakens and may destroy the whole

organism. One cause why the evil influence spreads is that we are not on

our guard against it, and it may grow to almost ungovernable strength

before we are really convinced that there is any danger. We can recognize

at once great errors and heinous vices, and the alarm and disgust they

excite, prepare us to resist them; but little follies and weaknesses often fill

us with an amused contempt for them, which blinds us to their great power

for evil. The dead body of the fly in the vase of ointment is so insignificant

a source of corruption, that it surprises us to discover that the fermentation

it has produced has tainted the whole mass. Weight for weight, there is an

enormous disproportion between the precious fluid and the wretched little

object which has corrupted it; yet there is no ignoring of the fact that the

mischief has been done. In like manner does a little folly outweigh wisdom

and honor; an uncorrected fault spreads its influence throughout a whole

character and life. How often has the lesson been brought home to us, both

in our reading of histories and biographies and in our own experience, of

the widespread mischief done by a small foible or weakness!

 

“The little rift within the lute

That by-and-by will make the music mute.”

 

So numerous are the sources from which danger arises, that a long list

might be made of the little sins by which the characters of many good men

and women are often marred:

 

o       indolence,

o       selfishness,

o       love of ease,

o       procrastination,

o       indecision,

o       rudeness,

o       irritability,

o       over-sensitiveness to praise or blame,

o       vanity,

o       boastfulness,

o       talkativeness,

o       love of gossip,

o       undue laxity,

o       undue severity,

o       want of sell-control over appetites and passions,

o       obstinacy,

o       parsimony.

 

Such are some of the follies which outweigh wisdom

and honor — which stamp the character of a man as unworthy of that

respect which his gifts and graces would otherwise have secured for him.

Numerous though these follies are, they may be reduced to two great

classes

 

                        1.  faults of weakness and

                        2. faults of strength.

 

·         FAULTS OF WEAKNESS. This class is that of those which are largely

negative, and consist principally in omission to give a definite and worthy

direction to the nature; e.g. want of self-control, love of ease, indolence,

procrastination, indecision, selfishness, heartlessness. That these are faults

which create widespread mischief, and excite a general contempt for the

characters of those in whom they appear, will scarcely be denied by any,

and illustrations of them are only too abundant. Want of self-control over

appetites and passions led David into the foulest crimes, which, though

sincerely and passionately repented of, were most terribly avenged, and

have for ever left a stain upon his name. Love of ease is the only fault

which is implied in the description of the rich man in the parable (Luke

16:19), a desire to be comfortable and avoid all that was disagreeable, but

it led him to such callous indifference to the miseries of his fellows as

disqualified him for happiness in the world to come. A similar fault stained

the character of that young ruler who came running to Christ and asked,

“Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” From his youth up

he had obeyed the commandments, and his ingenuous, sweet character and

disposition attracted the love of the Savior. But his love of the world made

him unwilling to practice the self-denial needed to make him perfect. He

went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mark 10:17-22).

His cowardice that led him to make “the great refusal” was the dead fly

that corrupted the precious ointment. A very striking illustration of the

deterioration of a character through the sin of weakness and indecision is

to be found in the life of Eli. He was a man possessed of many beautiful

qualities of mind and spirit — gentle, unselfish, devoid of envy or jealousy,

devout and humble; but was “a wavering, feeble, powerless man, with

excellent intentions but an utter want of will.” His parental indulgence led

him to exercise no restraint over his children, and the consequence was that

when they grew up their conduct was grossly scandalous and depraved.

His authority and power as a ruler were not used to check the evils Which

in his heart he loathed, and so his folly outweighed all the wisdom and

honor he possessed. His good qualities have not preserved his memory

from contempt. (I Samuel chapters 2-4)  For contempt is the feeling

instinctively excited in those who witness moral weakness and indecision.

This is the sting of the rebuke addressed to the Church of Laodicea, “I know

thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew

thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). In Dante’s description of the

lower world special infamy is attached to this class of offenders — that of

those who have never really lived, who have never awakened to take any

part either in good or evil, to care for anything but themselves. They are unfit

for heaven, and hell scorns to receive them. “This miserable mode the dreary

souls of those sustain who lived without blame and without praise. They

were mixed with that caitiff choir of angels, who were not rebellious nor

were faithful to God, but WERE FOR THEMSELVES!  Heaven chased

them forth to keep his beauty from impair; and the deep hell receives them

not, for the wicked would have some glory over them. They are unknown to

fame.  Mercy and judgment disdain them. Let us not speak of them, but look

and pass.”

 

 

 

 

 

V. 8

·         THE HEDGE OF HUMAN LAW. Human law requires of us that we

shall pay the debts we owe, that we shall make our contribution to the

protection of the society of which we are members, that we shall respect

the rights of our neighbors. Breaking this hedge, we pay the penalty which

the law inflicts; this “serpent” may be only a small fine, or it may be loss of

liberty or even life.

 

 

 

 

12:1

 

·   THE GLORY OF YOUTH. Whatever may be said of youth in the way

of qualification, there is one thing that may be said for it which greatly

exalts it — it may be wise with a profound and heavenly wisdom, for it

may be spent in the fear and in the love of God (see Proverbs 1:7;

Job 28:28). To “remember its Creator,” and to order its life according

to that remembrance, is the height and the depth of human wisdom.

Knowledge, learning, cunning, brilliancy, genius itself, is not so desirable

nor so admirable a thing as is this holy and heavenly wisdom. To know

God (Jeremiah 9:24), to reverence Him in the innermost soul, to love

Him with all the heart (Mark 12:33), to be obedient to His

commandments, to be patiently and cheerfully submissive to His will, to be

honoring and serving Him continually, to be attaining to His own likeness in

spirit and character, — surely this is the glory of the highest created

intelligence of the noblest rank in heaven, and surely this is the glory of our

human nature in all its ranks. It is the glory of our manhood, and it is the

glory of youth. Far more than any order of strength (Proverbs 20:29),

or than any kind of beauty (II Samuel 14:25), or than any measure of

acquisition, does the abiding and practical remembrance of its Creator and

Savior glorify our youth. That makes it pure, worthy, admirable, inherently

excellent, full of hope and promise. We may add, for it belongs to the text

as well as to the subject:

 

5-7

·   ITS MORAL. The one great lesson which stands out from this

eloquent description is this: Be the servant of God always; take care to

know Him and to serve Him at the end, by learning of Him at the beginning,

and serving Him throughout your life. Remember your Creater in youth,

and He will acknowledge you when old age is lost in death, and death has

introduced you to the judgment scene. Happy is that human soul that has

drawn into itself Divine truth with its earliest intelligence, and that has

ordered its life by the Divine will from first to last; for then shall the end of

earth be full of peace and hope, and the beginning of eternity be full of joy

and of glory.

 

 

·   THE DESCRIPTION HERE GIVEN OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE.

Amplifying this terse and impressive language, we may hear the wise man

addressing the youthful, and saying, “Remember that thou hast a Creator;

that thy Creator ever remembers thee; that He not only deserves, but

desires, thy remembrance; that:

 

Ø      His character should be remembered with reverence,

Ø      His bounty with gratitude,

Ø      His Law with obedience and submission,

Ø      His love with faith and gladness,

Ø      His promises with prayerfulness and with hope.”

 

 

o THE PERIOD HERE RECOMMENDED FOR THE RELIGIOUS

LIFE. Religion is indeed adapted to the whole of our existence; and what

applies to every age of life, applies with especial force to childhood and

youth.

 

Ø      Youth has peculiar susceptibilities of feeling, and religion appeals to

            them.

Ø      Youth has especially opportunities of acquiring knowledge and

            undergoing discipline, and religion helps us to use them.

Ø      Youth has abounding energy, and religion assists us to employ this

            energy aright.

Ø      Youth is a time of great and varied temptations, and religion will enable

            us to overcome them.

Ø      Youth is introductory to manhood and to age; religion helps us so to live

when young that we may be the better fitted for the subsequent stages of

life’s journey.

Ø      Youth may be all of life appointed for us; in that case, religion can

            hallow those few years which constitute the earthly training and probation.

 

·   THE SPECIAL REASONS FOR ATTENDING TO THIS ADMONITION.

 

Ø      It is a tendency of human nature to be so absorbed in what is present

      to the senses as to overlook unseen and eternal realities.

Ø      Our own age is peculiarly tempted to forget God, by reason of the

prevalence of atheism, agnosticism, and positivism (and by

worldliness living in a secular culture - CY - 2021)

Ø      Youth is especially in danger of forgetting the Divine Creator, because

the opening intelligence is naturally interested in the world of outward

things, which presents so much to excite attention and to engage inquiry.

 

·   THE ADDITIONAL FORCE WHICH CHRISTIANITY IMPARTS

TO THIS ADMONITION. The figure of our blessed Lord Himself appears

to the imagination, and we seem to hear His winning but authoritative voice

pleading with the young, and employing the very language of the text. He

who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me” (Matthew 19:14).

He who, beholding the young inquirer, loved him, draws near to every

youthful nature, and commands and beseeches that reverent attention,

that willing faith, that affectionate attachment, which shall lead to a life

of piety, and to an immortality of blessedness.

 

 

 

ch. 11:9 to 12:7

 

                                    Youth and Age (v. 9 - ch. 12:7)

 

The greater part of the Book of Ecclesiastes is of a somber character. It

records the experiences of one who sought on all sides and with passionate

eagerness for that which would satisfy the higher wants of his nature the

hunger and thirst of the soul — but who sought in vain. Ordinary coarse,

sensual pleasures soon lost their charm for him; for he deliberately tried —

a dangerous experiment to see if in self-indulgence any real satisfaction

could be found. From this failure he turned to a more promising quarter.

He sought in “culture,” the pursuit of beauty and magnificence in art, the

pathway to the highest good, on the discovery of which his soul was set.

He used his great wealth to procure all that could minister to a refined

taste. He built palaces, planted vineyards and gardens and orchards; he

filled his palaces with all that was beautiful and costly, and cultivated every

pleasure which is within the reach of man. Whatsoever mine eyes desired,”

he says,I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy Then

I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on all the labor

that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit,

and there was no profit under the sun.” From this he turned to the joys and

employments of an intellectual life — acquired knowledge and wisdom,

studied the works of nature, analyzed human character in all its phases, and

applied himself to the solution of all those great problems connected with

the moral government of the world and the destiny of the soul of man.

Here he was baffled. The discoveries he made were he found, useless for

curing any of the evils of life, and at every point he met with mysteries

which he could not solve, and his sense of failure and defeat convinced him

that though “wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness,” it

does not satisfy the soul. “What, then, is the result of his inquiries, of his

pain and labor in searching after the highest good? Do his withering

speculations leave anything untouched which may reasonably be the object

of our pursuit, and which may afford us the satisfaction for which he

sought in vain in so many quarters? Does he decide that life is, after all,

worth living, or is his conclusion that it is not? In the closing sections of his

book some answer is given to these questions; something positive comes as

a pleasing relief from all the negations with which he had shut up one after

another of the paths by which men had sought and still seek to attain to

lasting happiness. Two conclusions might have been drawn from the

experience through which he had passed. “Since the employments and

enjoyments of life are insufficient to give satisfaction to the soul’s craving,

why engage in them, why not turn away from them in contempt, and fix the

thoughts solely on a life to come?” an ascetic might ask. “Since life is so

transitory, pleasure so fleeting, why not seize upon every pleasure, and

banish every care as far as possible?” an Epicurean might ask. “Let us eat

and drink; for to-morrow we die.” Neither of these courses finds any favor

in the mature judgment of Solomon, or of the writer who draws his

teaching from the experience of the Jewish king. “Rejoice,” he says,

rebuking the ascetic; “know thou that for all these things God will bring

thee into judgment,” he adds, for the confusion of the Epicurean. He

speaks with the authority of one who had fully considered the problems of

life, and with the solemnity of one whose earthly career was hastening to

its close; and he addresses himself to the young, as more likely to profit by

his experience than those over whom habits of life and thought have more

power. But of course all, both young and old, men and women, can learn

from him if they will, according to the gospel precept, “become as little

children,” and listen with reverence and simplicity. The counsel which the

Preacher has to give is bold and startling. “Rejoice, O young man, in thy

youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the

ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for

all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” What does he mean?

Are his words ironical, or spoken in sober earnest? A very long time ago

they caused some perplexity to translators and commentators. In the

earliest translation of this book into another language, that into Greek, this

passage was considerably modified and toned down. The translator put in

the word “blameless” after “walk,” and the word “not” into the next part of

the sentence. “Walk blameless in the ways of thine heart, and not after the

sight of thine eyes.” But any such tampering with the text was not only

profane, but also senseless, for it simply destroyed the whole meaning of

the passage. But granting that we have in our English a fair reproduction of

the original, can there be any mistake about the interpretation of it? Is it

possible that it may mean, “Rejoice if you will, follow your desires, have

your fling, go forth on the voyage of life, ‘ youth at the prow, and pleasure

at the helm,’ but know that the end of it all are the penal flames”? Some

have thought that that is the meaning of the words. But a little

consideration of them, and comparison of them with other passages in the

book, will show us that it cannot be. Our author on several occasions, after

showing us the vanity of earthly pursuits, falls back on the fact that there

are many alleviations of our lot in life, which it is true wisdom to make use

of — many flowers of pleasure on the side of the hard road which one may

innocently pluck. Thus he says (ch.  2:24), “There is nothing

better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should

make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw that it was from the

hand of God.” And again (ch. 9:7), “Go thy way, eat thy bread

with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy

works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no

ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy

vanity… for that is thy portion in this life.” And the same lesson he repeats

there, but in a tone of deeper solemnity, balancing and steadying the

inclination to pleasure, which in few of us needs to be stimulated, with the

thought that for every one of our actions we shall have to give an account

at the judgment-seat of God. Surely this thought is a sufficient corrective

to the abuse of the teaching which a perverse mind might make, and a

proof that the enjoyments spoken of are such as do not degrade the soul. A

gloomy asceticism which would unlawfully diminish human happiness is

forbidden; a thankful acceptance of all the blessings God gives us, and a

constant remembrance of our responsibility to Him, is commended to us.

With all the repugnance of a healthy mind, our author recoils from that

narrow and self-righteous fanaticism which has done so much to deepen

the gloom of life, and to turn religion into an oppressive yoke. He does

not, however, go to the other extreme; but while he bids the young to

enjoy the morning of life, he at the same time admonishes them in all things

to have the fear of God before their eyes. Youth and manhood are vanity;

their joys are fleeting, and will soon be past. Must we, therefore, neglect

them, and indulge in equally vain and fleeting regrets? No; but rather put

away all morose repining, and spare ourselves all unnecessary pain, and

cultivate a cheerful contentedness with our lot. If the morning will soon be

past, let us enjoy its light while it lasts, mindful of Him who is the Giver of

every good and perfect gift. The thought of Him will not dull any innocent

happiness, for He has made us capable of joy, and given us occasions of

experiencing it. That no fears need be felt about the application of this

teaching to actual life is abundantly proved by the words that follow, in the

solemn and stately passage with which the twelfth chapter opens. The idea

all through is PIETY SHOULD BE BOUND UP WITH THE WHOLE

LIFE  — with the buoyancy and gaiety of youth, as well as with the

decaying hopes and failing strength of age. That religion is not merely a

consolation to which we may betake when all other things fail, but all through

the food by which the soul is nourished. The fact is put very strongly. If in

youth God is NOT REMEMBERED  WILL BE DIFFICULT IN AGE

 when the faculties  begin to lose their vigor, to think of Him for the first

time, and consecrate one’s self to Him.

 

The mere accumulation of the weaknesses, both physical and mental, which

attend the close of life will absorb the attention and crowd out other

thoughts. “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the

evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no

pleasure in them.” And then he goes on to draw a picture, full of pathos

sad solemnity, of the gradual dissolution of human life with the advance of

age, of the decay and death into which the strongest fall, even if they

endure for many years. One cannot make out all the successive images with

equal clearness, but the evident purpose of the whole passage is clear

enough. In the evil days the light of the sun, moon, and stars is darkened,

and the sky is time after time overcast with returning clouds. The light of

youth has fled, and with it the self-confidence and strength by which the

life was sustained. Like some household in Egypt when the plague of

darkness came down upon it and put an end to all tasks and pleasures, and

filled every heart with a paralyzing terror, so is the state of man “perplexed

with fear of change.” “The keepers of the house tremble, the strong men

bow themselves, the terrified servants cease their labor, none look out of

the windows, the street doors are shut, the sound of human bustle and

activity dies away, the shrill cry of the storm-bird is heard without, and all

the daughters of music are hushed and silent.” And then, in language still

more enigmatical, other of the humiliating characteristics of old age are set

forth —

 

Ø      its timidity and irresolution,

Ø      the blanched hair,

Ø      the failing appetite.

 

These signs accumulate rapidly; for man goes to his long, his eternal home,

and the procession of mourners is already moving along the street.

“Remember,” he says, “thy Creator ere the day of death; ere the silver cord

be loosened which lets fall and shivers the golden bowl that feeds with oil

the flame of life; ere the pitcher be shattered by the spring, and the fountain

of life can no longer be replenished; ere the wheel set up with care to draw

up from the depths of earth the cool waters give way and fall itself into the

well. Therefore remember thy God, and prepare while here to meet Him,

before that the dust shall return upon the earth dust as it was; for the spirit

shall then return to God who gave it.” “It was a gift from Him, that spirit.

To Him it will return. More he says not. Its absorption, the re-entering, of

the human unit into the eternal and unknown Spirit, would be a thought, it

would seem, alien to a Hebrew. But we must not press his words too far.

As just now he spoke of a judgment, but gave us no picture of the sheep on

the right hand and the goats on the left, so here he has no more to say, no

clear and dogmatic assertion of a conscious and separate future life. Into

thy hands I commend my spirit,’ said the trustful psalmist (Psalm 31:5).

‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,’ said He who bowed

His head upon the cross (Luke 23;46), who tasted death for our sakes.

Our Preacher leaves the spirit with its God — that is all, and that is much.

‘God will call us to judgment,’ he has said, and now he adds, ‘The body

molders (slowly decays), the spirit passes back to the God who gave it’

(Bradley). Many are the reasons which might be adduced to give

weight to the admonition, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy

youth. The uncertainty of life, e.g., renders it unwise in any who begin to

realize their responsibilities, and to act for themselves, to postpone self-

consecration to God. If not done now, when the affections are fresh, when

habits are beginning to form, there is risk of its not being done at all.

Certainly it is more difficult to make a change, and to enter upon the higher

life when the heart is taken up with a love of other things, when the

attention and interest are absorbed in other cares. Then, too, love of our

Creator and service of Him are due from us in the best of our days, in the

time of our strength and energy, and not merely when we are weary and

worn out with following our own devices, and are anxious merely to

escape utter ruin and overthrow. True it is that the repentant prodigal is

welcomed when he returns to his Father’s house; the worker beginning

even at the eleventh hour receives his wages as though he had been the

whole day in the vineyard. But their sense of gratitude, Wonder, and awe

at the love which has overlooked their faults and shortcomings is the

source of a joy far inferior to that of those who have never wandered, who

have served faithfully with all the strength and all the day, upon whom the

sunshine of God’s favor has ever rested. Another and final reason why it is

wise to remember our Creator in the days of youth is that this is the secret

of a happy life. The happiness which is disturbed by remembrance of God

is not worth the name. That alone gives satisfaction — the satisfaction after

which the Preacher sought so long and in so many quarters — which

springs from communion with God. It alone is intense, it alone is lasting.

Arising as it does from the relations of the spirit of man with Him who

created it, it is raised above all the accidents of time and change. The

sooner, therefore, that we begin this life of holy communion and service,

the longer period of happiness shall we know, the surer will be our ground

of confidence for the future, when the day comes for leaving the world.

“Over against the melancholy circumstances of decay and decline, as the

end of life draws on, will be set;

 

Ø      the bright memories of the past,

Ø      the consciousness of present help, and

Ø      the hope of a joyous immortality.

 

Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!’ was the sentence of one whose wisdom

sprang only from his experience of an earthly life, and upon whose mind

the burden lay of human sorrows and cares. But “a greater than Solomon,”

One whose wisdom is Divine, whose power to remove every burden is

daily seen, has an infinitely more hopeful message for us. “Let not your

heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s

house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to

prepare a place for you.... I will come again, and receive you unto myself;

that where I am, there ye may be also.”  (John 14:1-3)

 

 

                        The Epilogue (vs. 8-12)

 

The sentence, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!” with which the Book of

Ecclesiastes opened, is found here at its close. And doubtless to many .it

will seem disappointing that it should follow so hard upon the expression

of belief in immortality. Surely we might say that the nobler view of life

reached by the Preacher should have precluded his return to the pessimistic

opinions and feelings which we can scarcely avoid associating with the

words, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!” But on second thoughts the

words are not contradictory of the hope for the future which v. 7

expresses. The fact that Christians can use the words as descriptive of the

worthlessness of things that are seen and temporal, as compared with those

that are unseen and eternal, forbids our concluding that they are necessarily

the utterance of a despairing pessimism. A great deal depends upon the

tone in which the words are uttered; and the pious tone of the writer’s

mind, as revealed in the concluding passages of his book, would incline us

to believe that the sentence, “all is vanity,” is equivalent to that in the

Gospel, “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his

own soul?” (Mark 8:36)   No one can deny that the ‘De Imitatione Christi’

(the imitation of Christ) is a noble expression of certain aspects of Christian

teaching with regard to life. And yet in the very first chapter of it we have

these words of Solomon’s quoted and expanded. “Vanity of vanities; and

all is vanity beside loving God and serving Him alone.

 

·   It is vanity, therefore, to seek after riches which must perish, and to trust in them.

·   It is vanity also to  lay one’s self out for honors, and to raise one’s self to a high

   station.

·   It is vanity  to follow the desires of the flesh, and to covet that for which we

   must afterwards be grievously punished.

·   It is vanity to wish for long life, and to take little care of leading a good life.

·   It is vanity to mind only this present life, and not to look forward to those

   things which are to come.

·   It is vanity to love that which passes with all speed, and not to hasten

   thither where ever lasting joy abides.”