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An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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ilege ? Yet how little we realize its power — preva-
lence — majesty ! Our business with God is infinitely
greater than with all the world beside. Bright indeed
is our encouragement — ' nothing,' as Bp. Taylor beauti-
fully observes, 'but desiring of God to give us the
greatest and best of things we can need, and which
can make us happy.' ^ And yet such waywardness I
such ignorance ! such rash utterance of the mouth! such
hastiness of spirit! "strange fire before the Lord."
(Lev. X. 1.) Oh I the blessedness of realizing the In-
dwelling Intercessor " helping our infirmities !" There
will be no more cold generalities — coming without an
errand — the sure mark of an insensible heart. The
Spirit brings up our real wants and concerns, frames

* Hdy Living, chap. iv. sect. vii.


our desires, r.ud moulds every thought " according to
the will of God." (Rom. viii. 26, 21.) 'To pray with-
out the Spirit' — as an experimental writer observes
— ' is the same as thinking without a mind, or
speaking without the power of speech. In Him alone
thou art a living thing. Whence all thy waverings in
prayer — thy discomfort after prayer — conscious of
having dealt with God, yet not prevailed ? Is it not
this ? The mind has thought, the lips have moved —
without the Spirit. Better be silent altogether than
run before his motions.'^

The want of this " preparation of heart" to speak
in the Lord's ear makes the heart careless and irrev-
erent, and brings guilt upon the holy exercise. The
thought of " the Lord in heaven sitting on his throne,"
and the defiled sinner on earth standing before him
(Isa. vi. 5-8), the infinite distance between his great-
ness and our vileness — ' this would keep us from that
heart-nonsense, which, though the words be sense, yet
through the inattention of the heart, are but as imper-
tinent confused dreams in the Lord's ears."* Here
is a wholesome bridle to our rashness, but no re-
straint upon the Spirit of adoption. The way is open
— not only to a Father's throne, but to a Father's

The few words here directed are words well weighed
— well chosen and ordered. They contrast strongly
with the " vain repetitions"- — such as the frantic orgies
of Baal — the Romish Pater-nosters — or the Pharisees'
long prayers — " thinking they shall be heard foi' their

* Mylne. - Leighton on 1 Pet. iii. 12.


much speaking."* But * God hears us not the sooner
for many words ; but much the sooner from earnest
desire, to which let apt and sufficient words minister,
be they few or many.' ' The feloness of the words is
not the main concern j but whether they be the words
of the heart — ' whether they be gold or lead' ^ — what
life there is in them. For ' nothing is more unaccepta-
ble to God, than to hold on speaking, after we have
left off praying.'* So long as the heart and the tongue
flow together, never suppose that your Lord will be
weary of our many words. The exercise may be in-
definitely extended — the true spirit of the rule is not
transgressed. It stands indeed to remind us ' that his
goodness must not cause us to forget his greatness -^^
that "the throne of grace" is a throne of majesty
(Comp. Heb. xii. 28, 29, with Deut. iv. 24) ; and there-
fore that the confidence of the child must be tempered
with the humility of the sinner.

But the few ivords imply the heart set in order be-
fore utterance — a thoughtful mind in a spiritual habit.
It is often large and mighty prayer in a narrow com-
pass. There is more substance in a few minutes' real
communion, than in an hour of formal exercise. There
is no artificial method — all is full of feeling and confi-

* Matt. vi. 7, with 1 Kings, xviii. 26. Solomon speaketh not against
all length in prayer (for Christ prayed whole nights), nor against all
repetition, when it proceedeth from zeal, love, and holy fervency— as
that of Daniel (ix. 16-19) ; but of that, which is a 'vain ingeminat-
ing of the same thing without faith or wisdom.' — Bp. Reynolds.

' Bp. Taylor, vt supra.

^ Nottidge's Correspondence, p. 419.

* Dr. South's Sermon on the Text. • Ih.


dence — all is sealed with gracious acceptance/ To
maintain this tone of feeling, ought not the Christian
to study his prayers, as the minister does his sermon ?
each remembering himself to be in the awful presence
of God ? The keeping of the mind and heart with
God is most valuable discipline for prayer. Any de-
fect here restrains the holiest privileges of the Gospel.
A protracted exercise may be only empty formalism —
prayerless prayer — the sacvifice of fools — routine, not
vitality. The heart is far from God.

Loose and incoherent impulses also contrast with the
few sober, recollected luords. They are like the con-
fused images of a dream, flowing out of the hurry of
distracting business. ' As a multitude of business pro-
duces a dream, so multitude of words discovers the
folly.^^ And "in the multitude of" such "words" —
where the tongue pours out its torrent separate from
the heart — assuredly " there wanteth not sin." (Pro v.
X. 19.) The indwelling word is the storehouse, that
supplies the matter, and inspires confidence for prayer.
For " if ye abide in me" — saith the Saviour — " and my
words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it
shall be done unto you." (John, xv. 7.) Prayer — such
prayer as this, drawn out from the Divine treasury — is
a sacred exorcist, which puts legions to flight. Never
parley with the rushing thoughts of this world's vanity,
or of inner unbelief. In a posture of resistance, all is

^ See Luke, xviii. 13, 14 ; Acts, ix. 6.

^ Bp. Eeynolds: — ' Where two sentences are connected together by
a copulative, there is frequently imparted a similitude between them.
Prov. XXV. 23-25, 27. lb. See also Wardlaw in loco.


brightness and energy, well poised and balanced in
readiness for the conflict.

Here then is the true spirit of prayer — collected —
deliberate — pursued. It is not advancement only, but
possession. Only give it permanence in the habit of
faith. The Divine work will develop itself in prayer,
" in newness of spirit" — with tlie heart in earnest. It
is in holy secrecy that the fouI takes the firmest hold.
There may be no words — or only stammering words
(Isa. xxxviii. 14) — little beside sighs and tears. (Ps.
vi. 6. Lam. iii. 56.) Yet is it the remedy for con-
scious weakness — as the dying Foster — after adverting
to some matters of utter helplessness — added — ' But I
can pray, and that is a glorious thing J '^ But let the
feeling have full vent in the " intercession of the Di-
vine Spirit with groanings which cannot be uttered ;"
and this, not as the result of unnatural animal excite-
ment, but as the expression of the intense breathing
of the spiritual life. (Rom. viii. 26.)

4. When thou vowest a vow unto the Lord, defer not to
pay it ; for lie hath no pleasure in fools : pay that
which thou hast vowed, 5. Better is it that thou
shouldest not voiv, than that thou shouldest voiv and
not pay, 6. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to
sin ; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an
error. Wherefore should God he angry with thy
voice, and destroy the work of thine hands. *1, For
in the multitude of dreams and of many words there
are also divers vanities : but fear thou God,

* m supra.


The rules in the former verses apply to the ordinary
service of God. This relates to a special exercise.
The warning, however, against rashness and haste ap-
plies here, 'lest we beg a blessing, and fall into a
snare.'' Indeed this subject of vows requires a very
careful and delicate treatment. A solemn engagement
advisedly made with God is a transaction needing
much prayer and consideration. It should rest upon
the clear warrant of God's word. It should concern
a matter really important, suitable, and attainable. It
should be so limited, as to open a way for disentangle-
ment under unforeseen contingencies,^ or altered cir-
cumstances. It will be an hindrance or an help,
according as it is the result of impulse, or of intelli-
gence. There must be a real conviction of our total
weakness, acted out in simple dependence upon Omnip-
otent grace ; else the most sincere vow will be found
too feeble an engagement for the hour of temptation,
and will issue in discouragement and perplexity. The
soul is rather ensnared than helped, and the enemy
gains an advantage even in the very posture of resist-
ance. And yet some special season of covenanting
with God may be valuable, to strengthen the weakness
of the young disciple, to remind him when he is apt to
forget, and to humble him in the consciousness of short-
coming or fall. The early choice is often so wavering
— ' convinced by the grace of God, not persuaded j and
then persuaded, but not resolved ; and then resolved.

^ Bp. Taylor's Holy Living, ut supra.
' See Judg. xi. 30-35.


but deferring to begin ; and then beginning, but in
weakness and uncertainty.'^

Yows however are not like prayers — our daily work,
" without ceasing." (1 Thess. v. 17.) We have burdens
and infirmities enough pressing upon us. Let us be
careful, that we do not rashly or needlessly multiply
them. The obligation indeed more fully belongs to
the Old dispensation. 2 The "law of liberty" gives no
express direction. We might suppose that a clear ap-
prehension of the terms of the Gospel would render
vows altogether unnecessary. For are we not bound
by direct, sacred, and constraining obligation to con-
secrate to the Lord all that we are — all that we have —
all that we can do — independent of an extra bond ?
Here we are brought to the utmost that can be re-
quired. And yet Scriptural allowance appears to be
made, in order to meet the infirmity of the case just
alluded to. The Evangelical Prophet seems to con-
nect the ordinance with Gospel times. The " subscrib-
ing with the hand to the Lord," under the outpouring
of the Spirit, was evidently a special bond, and an
acceptable service.' And even in the history of IsraeFs
solemn covenanting with God, the " blood sprinkled
upon the people" made provision for the breach of the
covenant, and gives an Evangelical character to the
transaction. (Heb. ix. 19, 20.) May not Sacraments
also be considered, not only as the seals of God's

^ Bp. Taylor's Sermon on Growth in Sin, Part ii.

^ Lawful Vows, Gen. xxviii. 20-22; I Sam. i. 11. Rules to perform
vows, Num. XXX. 2; Deut. xxiii. 21-23. Thanksgiving Vows, Ps. Ixvi.
13, 14; cxvi. 12, 14-18.

^ See Isa. xliv. 3-5. Comp. Jer. 1. 4, 5.


faithfulness to us, but as the pledges of our devoted-
ness to Him? (Comp. 1 Pet. iii. 21.)

Here, however, is not the direction to make a vow,
but the obligation — having made it — cheerfully and
iastantly to pay it. It is an engagement we should
be careful to discharge to man ; much more to God.
(Deut. xxiii. 21. Ps. Ixxvi. 11.) The rule is therefore
emphatically repeated — Defer not to pay it. Fay that
ivhich thou hast vowed. Jacob's forgetfulness brought
upon him the scourging rod. (Gen. xxxv. 1, 2, with
xxviii. 20-22.) Hannah deferred not to pay. (1 Sam.
i. 11. 24-28.) Instant readiness is the best proof of
sincerity. Oh ! my God — what is there ? — is there
anything — that withholds my whole heart this moment
from thee ? Let me live under the awful weight of
the words — He hath no pleasure^ in fools — 'who go
about, one while to flatter him in making a vow, and
afterwards to mock him in refusing or delaying to pay
it.^ Far better to have refrained from the vow, which
was a self-imposed obligation,' than from the payment,
which is now a bond upon the soul. To refuse to en-
list may be guiltless ; but to desert the colours is to be
guilty of death. We had need be cautious in making
vows, that we may be upright in paying them. " Make
a straight path for our feet." Go onward in single-
ness and simplicity of heart. There must be a living
faith, not only that we may lay hold at the beginning,
but hold on to the end. All depends — not only on
laying hold, but holding on.

^ An energy of meaning in a meiosis of expression. Comp. Ps. v.
f> ; Prov xvii. 20.

^ Bp. Reynolds. ' See Deut. xxiii. 22.


But VOWS contrary to GocVs word cannot bind a
right conscience. A vow cannot make that right which
is morally wrong. What is contrary to the law can
never be a legitimate engagement to the Lawgiver.
Herod's engagement (Matt. xiv. 9), therefore, would
have been more honoured in the breach than in the
observance. 'Know' — saith Bp. Sanderson — 'that
neither oath, vow, nor other tie whatever, is allowed
by Almighty God to bind thee to sin ! Oppose then
against all thy rash promises and vows that solemn
promise and vow thou madest unto God in the face of
the congregation, and tookest the holy sacrament upon
it in thy baptism — " to keep his holy commandments,
and to continue his faithful soldier and servant unto
life's end." Let equity teach thee, that the first bond
should be first discharged ; and reason, that if an oath
or a vow must stand, the first should rather.'^

Every member — so active is the principle of sin ! —
stirs the whole body. The rashness of t/w mouth
causes the flesh — the whole corrupt mass — to sin. To
how many inconsiderate and unwarranted vows does
this warning apply ! (Judg. xi. 30. 1 Sam. xiv. 24.)
Never suffer thy mouth to promise what thou canst not,
and oughtest not to perform. This is to bring sin
upon us, by seeking occasion for it, when God has left
us free. (Acts, v. 4.) The vow of celibacy, without
the gift of continency — what a torrent of sin has it
poured in upon the Church ! It might often occur un-
der the Jewish economy, that a man — greedy of emi-
nence in the Church — would vow before the priest

Sermon on Presumptiums Sim.


beyond his power and intention ; and when the claim
was pressed (see 1 Sam. ii. 13), he would attempt to de-
ny the extent of his engagement. Many a modern
hypocrite hath laid this snare for himself. To stand
high with his brethren, he sets apart " that which is
lioly." His carnal appetite subsequently " devours it,"
and '' after vows he makes inquiry" to avoid the obli-
gation.^ Let him not say hefore the angel,"^ that it was an
error — a thoughtless mistake. Oh ! clothe not the hate-
ful sin with so slight a name. Let it be seen in its
fearful colours — its heavy aggravations. The Omnis-
cient Searcher of hearts strips off the flimsy cover —
God is angry at his voice ; and destroys the work of his
hands. Such awful mockery the God of Truth could
never pass by with impunity.

The fruit of this deceit proves its source. No steady
purpose can flow from half-hearted principle. All such
words and professions therefore have as little substance,
as the multitude of dreams. In many words how fruit-
ful is the harvest ! A single thoughtless word lights

* See Prov. xx. 25.

' Lampe considers here a reference to the Angel of the covenant.
Mede seems to take it collectively — more than one — and considers the
cherubim of glory on the mercy-seat, and the carved cherubim on the
walls of the temple, all to signify that where God's sacred memorial is
— the ensign of his covenant and commerce with men — there the bles-
sed angels out of duty give their attendance.' — JVorJss, book ii. 345.
However ingenious this exposition may be, the more probable reference
is to the priest, because it was his express duty to receive the vow in
God's stead, and to give dispensation, acceptance, and discharge, as the
matter might require. See Lev. v. 4-8 ; also xxvii. 11, 12. See also
the name of angel or messenger of the Lord given to the Priest, Mai.
ii. 7. Comp. Rev. i. 20.


up the fire. A ivord of discontent stirs the troubled
waters. Many ivords — divers vanities. " The Lord
knoweth the thoughts of men, that they are but vain''
(Ps. xciv. 1 1) — multiplied provocations ! But the
remedy is before us. Fear thou God. Here is the grand
fundamental of godliness — inseparably linked with
every Christian grace — not impulse, but principle —
the "bit and bridle" to repress the rashness of the flesh
— the habit of holy discipline to frame the spiritual
service — "Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. And
let him be your fear ; and let him be your dread."
(Isa. viii. 13.) Let him have the best — not the dregs.
Let him have the whole confidence — the whole heart.

But be sure that every exercise —ordinary or special
— has the one distinctive character of " a living" and
"spiritual sacrifice." (Rom. xii. 1. 1 Pet. ii. 5.) All
ascends upwards on one ground — thi'ough one way of
access (Heb. xiii. 15) — with one plea for acceptance.
And here sins of infirmity, no less than sins of presump-
tion, when confessed and repented of, are covered,
cleansed, and blotted out forever. (lb. x. 19-22.)
What do we know of vital religion, unless we come to
God by this his own — ^his only — way of acceptance ?

8. If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent per-
verting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel
not at the matter ; for he that is higher than the highest
rcqardeth, and there he higher than they.

W'e need not in this book always expect continuous
connexion. It is not the regular dissertation upon a
given subject, but a rapid survey of the different points



in the great sphere before him. Yet this verse falls
in with one great object of the Book, which is to com-
pose the minds of the servants of God to stillness and
confidence under his inscrutable dispensations. Solo-
mon supposes a wide extent of unjust oppression — not
a village — town — city — but a province under perverting
influence. This is truly a dark page in providence,
which exercises " the patience and faith of the saints"
(Ps. Ixxiii. 12, 13. Jer. xii. 1), stumbles the ill-instruct-
ed, and opens wide the caviller's mouth.

But — as Bp. Butler wisely remarks — ' there may
be the wisest and best reasons, why our happiness and
misery should be put in each other's power in the de-
gree in which it is.' ^ There is therefore no cause to
marvel at the matter^ as if it were unexpected, to allow
hard thoughts of God, to complain of his dispensations,
or to be weary of his service. There is an appeal to
a higher court. All will be set right there. If the
oppressor be high, the Higher than the highest regardeth.
(Ps. X. 11-14 ; xii. 5. Prov. xxii. 12, 13.) He does
not look on as an unconcerned spectator. If he
" keeps silence," his forbearance is not forgetfulness.''
He is only waiting — as in his dealings with the chosen
nation — his own best and fittest time for their deliver-
ance. (Exod. iii. 7-9.) Messiah's kingdom is bright-

* Analogy^ part i. c. iii. ' It is not necessary we should justify the
dispensations of Providence any further than to shew, that the things
objef ted against may, for aught we know, be consistent with justice
and truth — not only consistent with justice, but instances of it.' — lb.
part ii. c. viii.

» See Ps. 1. 21.



ened with the sunbeam — " He shall deliver the needy
when he crieth ; the poor also, and him that hath no
helper." (Ps. txxii. 12-14.)

High and lofty as the oppressors of the Church may
be, let us look upward. " The Lord reignethP Here
is our present stay. (lb. xlvi. 10 ; xcvii. 1, 2 ; cxlvi. 7,
10.) " I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of
the afflicted, and tlie right of the poor." (lb. cxl. 12.)
His angelic messenger — higher than the oppressors —
may be the swift invisible instruments of vengeance. (lb.
ciii. 20 ; civ. 4, with 2 Kings, xix. 35 ; Acts, xii. 20.)
The Lord cometh — Here is our " blessed hope." He
will assert his own sovereign right, and remove all in-
equalities. (Tit. ii. 13. Mai. iii. 5 ; iv. 1-3.) " Rest" to
the oppressed will be the joyous consununation of that
day, (2 Thess. i. Y.)

9. Moreover^ the profit of the earth is for all; the King
himself is served hy the field.

Moreover — connects this statement, though somewhat
obscurely, with the preceding.^ Perhaps the suprem-
acy of God giving to all an equal interest in the earth,
was intended as a memento, that common interest and
mutual dependence should check unjust oppression.

Gradation of rank is indeed the ordinance of God,
evil only, when the higher abuse their elevation. Yet
there is a level, where " the rich and the poor meet to-
gether." (Prov. xxii. 2.) The curse upon the ground
is so far mitigated, that while " bread' is still " eaten

* See PoU synopsis.


in the sweat of the face" (G-en. iii. 17) there is profit
— directly or indirectly— /o?^ all. The many live by it.
The highest cannot live without it. The King him-
self is served hy the field. He is more dependent upon
the labourer, than the labourer is on him. He has
more need of the labourer's strength, than the labour-
er has of his royal crown. Agriculture was an ordi-
nance of God before the fall.' ' And of all the arts of
civilized man, it is transcendently the most essential
and valuable. Other arts may contribute to the com-
fort, the convenience, and the embellishment of life.
But the cultivation of the soil stands in immediate
connexion with our very existence. The life itself, to
whose comfort, convenience, and embellishment other
arts contribute, is by this to be sustained, so that
others without it can avail nothing. In their depend-
ence on the field all are equal. The prince and the
peasant are alike served of it J "^ Humility, therefore,
is the lesson for the rich ; contentment for the poor.
All of us may be reminded of the important truth,
with its daily responsibilities — that all are members
of one body — parts of one great whole. Independence
is man's proud delusion. The desire of this preroga-
tive was his fall and ruin. (Gen. iii. 4, 5.) Gracious
therefore and wise is the dispensation, that sweeps it
away. The highest cannot say to the lowest — " I have
no need of thee." (1 Cor. xii. 21.) No man lives for
himself, but for the body. Mutual helpfulness con-
tributes to the increase and prosperity of the whole.
(Eph. iv. 15, 16.)

* See Gen. ii. 15. '■^ Wardlaw.


10. He that lovelh silver shall not he satisfied with silver^
nor he that loveth ahundaiice with increase. This is
also vanihj. 11. When goods are increased^ they are
increased that eat them, and what good is there to the
owners thereof^ saving the beholding of them with their
eyes. 12. The sleep of a labouring man is sweety
whether he eat little or much; but the abundance of the
rich will not suffer him. to sleep.

The tempter may paint a brilliant prospect of happi-
ness. But fact and experience prove, that he that loveth
silver or any worldly abundance will be satisfied neither
with the possession, nor with the increase. The appetite
is created — not satisfied. The vanity of this disease
is coveting what does not satisfy when we have it.
Hunger is satisfied with meat, and thirst with drink.
But hunger or thirst for this world's wealth is as un-
satisfied at the end, as at the beginning.' * Could
yon' — says a lively expositor — ' change the solid earth
into a single lump of gold, and drop it into the gaping
mouth of avarice, it would only be a crumb of tran-
sient comfort, a cordial drop, enabling it to cry a
little louder, ' Give — give."' So true is it, that "a

' Classic testimony confirms the declaration —
'Crescit amor nummi, quantum ipsa pecunia crescit.'

Juven, Sat. xiy. 189.
* Creverunt et opes, et opum furiosa libido,
Et cum possideas plurima, plura petunt.' — Ovid, Faslu
' Semper avarus eget.' — Hor. Lib. i. Ep. 2.
The two words used in the New Testament indentify themselves
with each other— ^f/lapyupio, the love of money (1 Tim. vi. 10) —
n?^ove^ia (Col. iii. 5), the desire for more. For who would desire more
of that which he did not love ?

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Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 10 of 27)