Charles Bridges.

An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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" Hamilton's Royal Preacher, Lect. xi.


man^s life" — ^his real comfort of life — " consisteth not
in the abundance of the things which he possess-
eth." (Luke, xii. 15.) ' Nature is content with little,
grace with less, but lust with nothing.' ' Silver can
neither give peace, nor make up for the loss of it.
Be it however remembered, that the evil lies in the
love — not the possession of silver. Abraham had
abundance of it, but with an heavenly heart. (Gen.
xiii. 2 ; xxiv. 2, with Heb. xi. 9, 10.) David's treasures
were almost countless. Yet they were not his portion,
but his talent — always felt to be not his own — laid up
joyfully for God. (1 Chron. xxviii. 10-19 ; xxix. 1-
16.) It is the love of money — the " will to be rich —
enlarging the desire as hell, and as death, which cannot
be satisfied" (Hab. ii. 5, Comp. Isa. v. 8) — the making
riches the idol — the all — the treasure — here are the
" snares and temptations, that drown men in destruc-
tion and perdition." ^ ' The whole system of heathen
idolatry furnishes no more complete renunciation of
God. He who makes a god of his pleasure, renders
to this idol the homage of his senses. He who makes
a god of his wealth, renders to this idol the homage
of his mind ; and he therefore of the two is the more
hopeless and determined idolater. The former is

» Henrj'.

' 1 Tim. vi. 9, 10. Luther's last will and testament strongly con-
trasts the gain of godly contentment, vv. 6-8. * O Lord God, I thank
thee, that thou hast been pleased to make me a poor and indigent man
upon earth. I have neither house, nor land, nor money to leave be-
hind me. Thou hast given me a wife and children, whom I now restore
to thee. Lord, nourish, keep, and preserve them as thou hast me.'
See also Scott's valuable Practical Ohservaiiom on Agur's Prayer. Prov.
xsx, *7-9.


goaded on to his idolatry by the power of appetite.
Tlie latter cultivates his with wilful and deliberate
perseverance, consecrates his very highest powers to
its service, fully gives up his reason and his time, and
all the faculties of his understanding, as well as all
the desires of his heart, to the great object of a for-
tune in this world.' ^ "Thou, man of God, flee
these things." (1 Tim. vi. 11.) For when our desires
are running before our wants, it were far better to sit
down content where we are, than where we hope to
be in the delusion of our insatiable desire. A portion^
in this life is therefore far more to be dreaded than to
be envied. Success is enough to frighten a sober,
intelligent mind. It is often connected with the dis-
ease of spiritual consumption — insensible to present
danger. Every way, therefore, the verdict flashes
upon us — This is also vanity.

Nor is it to be forgotten, that an increase of goods is
followed with a corresponding increase of consumers.
Solomon's expensive establishment kept pace with his
increasing treasures. (1 Kings, iv. 22-26.) In all
similar cases the multitude of retainers increases. A
certain appearance must be maintained. The owner
may be a poorer man, than when he had less riches,
and fewer mouths to feed. The only good is the mere
empty pleasure of beholding with his eyes, and saying,
* These are mine.' * The poorest artisan in Rome,
walking in Caesar's garden, had the same pleasures
which they ministered to their lord. The birds made
him as good music ; the flowers gave him as sweet

* Chalmerses Commercial Dixourse on Job^ xxxi. 24-28.


^ smiles ; he there sucked as good air, and delighted in
I the beauty and order of the place, for the same reason,
\ and upon the same perception as the prince himself :
jsave only that Ceesar paid for all that pleasure vast
jSums of money, the blood and treasure of a province,
jwhich the poor man had for nothing.' ' ' I have no
comfort in all these things' — said one, who had made
for himself a princely Elysium — ' because I meet death
in every walk.' ' Ah ! David, David' — said Dr. John-
son to G-arrick, when shewing him his Twickenham
Villa — ' these are what make a death-bed terrible !'

Even in the common comforts of life — is not the
balance often in favour of the poor ? Having little to
lose, they have but little fear of losing. Their sleep is
therefore the natural fruit of weariness without care ;
whereas the alundance of the rich is often a sleeping
weight. When the last thoughts are of the world, and
the heart centred there, carefulness is the atmosphere
of the day, and hurried restlessness often the weariness
of the night. Thus are sleepless nights connected with
anxious days. Perhaps Shakespeare's royal picture
may paint the anxieties of a worldly heart, as well as
the trouble of a guilty conscience —

" How many thousands of ray poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep," &c.

Grandeur often pays a nightly penance for the tri-
umph of the day.' ^

^ Bp. Taylor's Sermon on The Foolish Exchange. See also the same
lively description, Bp. Sanderson's Fifth Sermon on Philip, iv. 11.

' Hamilton, Lect. xi. Eiwes the millionaire is said to have often
started from his sleep, and to have been found in the dead of night


This is the evil of covelousness — an " easily besetting
Bin." Multitudes condemn it in others, who little sus-
pect its influence in their own hearts. 'It is a fleshly
desire — something that has got into the place of God
— a deep, desperate, plausible, but damning sin. Men
are accustomed to give it a softer name, such as pru-
dence ; but there is no sin more hardening and stupe-
fying to the conscience.' ^

It is an awful thought, that this habit does not nec-
essarily bring an outward blot upon the Christian pro-
fession. We may " err from the faith " under this
deadly principle (1 Tim. vi. 10), without changing one
atom of our Evangelical Creed. We may slumber in
the delusion of our varying religious feelings, while
the cankering habit is fixed in the world hidden within.
Oh I what need of deep searchings of heart — " of watch-
fulness unto prayer !" Well does an old commentator
remark — ' He is rich — not who possesses much, but
who desires little'^ — we may add — whose treasure is
in his God and Saviour. For where — but in Him —
can the vast desires of our souls be satisfied ? If he
loves us, he will not lose us. Yet he will use his rod
to the end, rather than suffer that to abide in us which
his soul abhorreth.

wandering through his house, mourning over the loss of five pounds.
Mr. Cecil finely contrasts his own case in extremity with this wretch-
ed drudge — ' Sitting in ray blankets with this Bible before rae I seem
like old Elwes with a bushel of Bank-notes and India Bonds ; but
with this difference — that hemmt have all his taken away, and I shall take
fill mine tvith me.' — Fragment written in illness.

'Cecil's Original Thoughts on Scripture, pp. 182, 183.
* Brentius.


13. There is a sore evil, which I have seen under the
sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their
hurt. 14. But those ricJws perish by evil travail ; he
hegetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand, 15.
As he came forth from his mother^ s ivomb, naked shall
he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of
his labour, which he may carry away in his hand,
16. And this also is a sore evil, that in all things as
he came, so shall he go ; and what profit hath he thai
hath laboured for the wind? 17. All his days also
he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and
wrath with his sickness,

Anotlier illustration of the utter vanity of riches.
This profound book discloses many humbling secrets.
Is the man repining about his hard lot, and ready to
envy his more wealthy neighbor ? Let him study here
the lesson set before him, and return with a contented
— yea — with a thankful heart — ' Thank God ! I have
blessings with less care, temptation, and disappoint-

On no side can we look, but we see a sore evil under
the sun — painful to the eyes — ^much more to the heart.
Can we wonder at it ? The seed produces the harvest.
" Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
(Gal. vi. 7.) Mark this picture of grovelling vanity
— Bunyan's Muckrake drawn to life. Riches centred in
selfish aggrandizement, and therefore kept for the oivn-
ers thereof to their hurt. And grievous indeed is the
hurt. Such strong temptations to pride, vain-glory,
love of the world, forgetfulness of God — so many bye-
paths to perdition (1 Tim. vi. 9, 10)-— so many mighty


hindrances against entering into the kingdom ! ' They
are always a temptation. So often a rise in the world
is declension or apostacy from God. It is only when
they are consecrated to God, and laid out in the service
of our fellow-creatures — that they become a blessing.

Here, however, the fortune which the miser had
heaped up, has perisJied by some kind of evil travail.
There is nothing in his hand. He leaves his child a
beggar, and he returns to his mothers womb naked as
he came forth. (Job, i. 20. 1 Tim. vi. Y.) This may
seem a commonplace picture. But what if the reality
had its due practical influence ? What a substance of
the truest happiness would there be in living for eter-
nity 1 The miser's present course is indeed a sore evil
— all his profit of pouring out his heart upon the world
will be found at last to have been only labouring for
the wind (Hos. viii. 7 ; xii. 1) — ' embracing a shadow ;
grasping the air ; wearying himself for that which hath
no substance of true felicity in it.' ' Sickness and sm'-
row shadow his path to a clouded eternity. And
what will be the forlorn despondency in awakening to
the consciousness — ' I have wasted all the golden op-
portunities that can never be recalled, of gaining
grace, and winning heaven — wasted them in the most
senseless of all objects — heaping up treasure for no
other end than the splendour of my own name ?' " Hor-
ror taketh hold of me " in the thought of the last pas-
sage — ' even when cold in death, his hand remaining
clenched in the last convulsive grasp, with which he
sought to retain his darling treasure" — wrath from

' Matt. xix. 23. Those that tmU in richrs. Mark, x. 24.
' Pemble. ' Wardlaw.


above I — terror from within ! — a dark eternity of un-
speakable torment ! — one everlasting night I He "shall
never see light !" (Ps. xlix. 19.)

18. Behold that which I have seen ; it is good and comely
for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of
all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days
of his life, which God giveth him ; for it is his por-
tion. 19. Every man also, to whom God hath given
riches and ivealth, and hath given him power to eat
thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his
labour — this is the gift of God. 20. Eor he shall not
much remember the days of his life, because God an-
swereth him in the joy of his heart.

A bright vision comes before the wise man, in con-
trast with the frowning cloud just before. He calls
our earnest attention to it. It is a matter that he can
vouch for. Behold that tvhich I have seeii. There is a
school among us who are fond of describing' religion
by its sorrows, and who forget, or seem to forget,
their overbalancing joys. In their view it is as if we
were ' humbled and degraded, with only not despair ;
sorrowing with a perpetual sorrow.' ^ But Solomon
shews us the reality of happiness even in a world of
sin and sorrow. "All things are ours — things pres-
ent," as well as " things to come." (1 Cor. iii. 22.)
And good and comely is the privilege of connecting
our present blessings with the enjoyment of God.^

' Sewell's Christian Morals, p. 408.

' See 1 Tim. iv. 3-^. Comp. chap. ii. 24; iii. 12, 13, 22.


Is this the picture of mere worldly happiness ? as if
we might plead against over-strictness, and in favour
of more indulgence. Shall the libertine plead it in
excuse for his own lust ? We think not The law of l,
discipleship in the Old and New Testament is substan
tially the same — self-denial — taking up the cross. Sol
omon only insists that the true servant of God is really
the happiest of men — that " God giveth him richly all
things to enjoy" (1 Tim. vi. 17) — that he has a goodly
portion in the world — though not the world for his
portion — something really to be enjoyed, allotted by
him, who in temporals, as well as in spirituals, "divideth
to every man severally as he will." This is the gift of
God — every day of our life a new gift — specially to be
employed for his glory and in his service.

It is difficult to maintain a just appreciation of the
gifts of God. ' We err either in excess or in defect.' '
' A Christian' — as has been well said — ' knows the
value of the good creatures of God. But he does not
put them in the place of God.'^ It is most important
to set out Christian liberty, while we inculcate Chris-
tian mortification. We must be careful not to give
unworthy views of the real happiness to be found in
the world — not primary indeed, yet valuable, though
subordinate. Let there be no cloud upon the glory of
the Divine beneficence. Let godliness throw a sun-
beam upon all temporal enjoyments. Let us carefully
adjust the balance. We have seen that riches well-
nigh shut us out of heaven (Matt. xix. 23) — and that
" the love of them drowns men in destruction and per-

* Lavater. ' Cecil's Oriirinol Thoughts, p. G09


dition." (1 Tim. vi. 9, 10.) Must we not then cast
them away? The Preacher gives the due balance.

-iThey are not essentially evil. The evil is in their abuse
-^as we have said — in their love, not in their posses-
sion. The true difference is not in the gift, but in the
poiver to use it — to eat thereof. The gift may belong

^ to the ungodly. Tim power is the exclusi ve privilege
of the Christian . He ' is not the slave of his worldly
goods, but truly the master of them.' ^ God ' giveth
him bodily health, joy of spirit, occasions of content,
peace, and liberty, of possessing, and enjoying, and
other the like favours, without which goods are useless
to men ; and yet they depend only upon God's good-
will, and riches cannot give them ; nor man of him-
self gain them.' ^

And what of the ungodly ? His days drag heavily.
The remembrance is clouded. The road before him
dark and wearisome. But what Avith him, who ' lives
in God's grace ?' God ansivereth him in the joy of his
heart ' by the comfort of his Spirit.' ^ With him time
flies on with angels' wings. The remembrance of the
days of his life are " few and evil." (Gen. xlvii. 9.)
The glowing anticipation melts away the past. For
how soon will every spring of sorrow be dried up for
ever ! (Isa. xxxv. 10.) How bright does the eternity
of joy contrast with " the affliction but for a moment !"
(2 Cor. iv. 17.) " Pleasures " ever new are his por-
tion " at God's right hand for evermore." (Ps. xvi. 11.)

» Bp. Patrick. - Diodati. » j^j^



1. There is an evil, which I have seen under the sun ;
and it is common among men, 2. A man, to ivhom
God hath given riches, wealth, and honour ; so that
he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth
thereof; and yet God giveth him not power to eat
tJiereof ; hut a stranger eateth it. This is vanity ^
and it is an evil disease.

This evidently continues the last chapter. Covetous-
ness — that odious lust — is again before us. ' Covet-
ousness ' — says Bp. Taylor — * makes a man miserable,
because riches are not means to make a man happy.
And unless felicity were to be bought with money, he
is a vain person, who admires heaps of gold and rich
possessions.'^ The man — ^like Solomon himself —
wanted nothing for his soul of all that he desired thereof.
But here was the contrast — and the case teas common
among men. The gifts of God abounded to overflow-
ing. But here God gave not the power to eat thereof.
Sickness, affliction, or worldly disappointment, re-
strained the blessing. It seems to have been a judicial
infliction. He did not use the gifts of his bountiful
Father for their rightful purpose. Most justly there-
fore is he deprived of their blessing. " From him
that hath not shall be taken away even that which he
hath." (Matt. xxv. 29.) ' Because he has not the will
to serve God with it, God denies him the power to

* Holy Living, chap. iv. sect. viii. ' See chap. ii. 10.


serve himself v/ith it.' ^ His portion a stranger eateth.
Some artful Interested person has smoothed his way
into the miser's good graces, and melted away his sub-
stance. Thus " he heapeth up riches, and cannot tell
who shall gather them." (Ps. xxxix. 6.) Here is an-
other show of vanity — truly, an evil disease. Blessed
indeed are the gifts of God to us, when we own them
to be his property ! But never let us forget the re-
sponsibility which they bring with them — " Occupy
till I come." (Luke, xix. 13.) We all have our re-
sponsibilities. And we are happy just in the propor-
tion that we acknowledge them. Selfishness blasts
the harvest. As well might we look for it from the
seed-corn laid up in the granary, instead of being cast
into the ground. Our real happiness, therefore, is the
thankful improvement of God's own gifts— acknowl-
edging his prerogative to give the power of enjoyment,
no less than the blessing to be enjoyed. As for the
riches, wealth, and honour — * though it be but an image,
if it be a golden image, all people, nations, and lan-
guages, will fall down and worship it.^ ^ A mercy — a
special mercy is it to be delivered from Mammon idol-
atry ! — to be restrained in our worldly desires — and,
above all things, to " lay up for ourselves treasures in
heaven " — treasures, that we can never lose — that
never spend, and never perish. '

7). If a man beget an hundred children, and live many
years, so that the days of his years he many, and his
soul he not filled with good, and also that he hath no

* Henry. " Henry. =» See Matt. vi. 20.


burial, I saij, that an untimely birth is better than he.

4. For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in
darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.

5. Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any-
thing ; this hath more rest than the other. 6. Yea,
though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he
seen no good. Do not all go to one place f

In the case here supposed two of nature's fondest
desires are alluded to — a quiver full of children/ and
the days of many years. Yet if the soul is not filled
with good, nothing would be of avail for our happiness.
As a proof of the ill esteem in which he is held, his
life may end with obloquy — no respect paid the miser
at his burial — his death unhonoured, unlamented."
Sordid accumulation is a dark cloud upon his name to
the last. The Preacher decides without hesitation
upon this case. Better not to have been born at all —
or if born, to have died at the birth — to have gone at
once from the womb to the grave. ' Better is the fruit
that drops from the tree before it is ripe, than that
which is left to hang on till it is rotten. Job in his
passion thinks the condition of an untimely birth bet-
ter than his when he was in adversity. (Job, iii. 1-16.)
But Solomon here pronounces it better than the condi-

^ Pa. cxxvii. 5. Comp. Ps xvii. 14 — an hundred children — a definite
for an indefinite number. See 1 Sam. xviii. 10. Prov. xvii. 10. 1 Cor.
xiv. 19.

^ The importance attached to burial is often alluded to. Deut.
xxviii. 26. 1 Kings, xiv. 11-13. Isa. xiv. 19, 20. Jer. xxii. 18, 19, Ac.
The picture does not describe the literal want of burial, but the ab-
sence of all suitable and affectionate honour paid to his remains. — Seo
Pictorial Bible in loco.


tion of the worldling in his greatest prosperity, when
the world smiles upon him.' '

' / say, then ' — concludes the wise man — ' that an un-
timely hirtJi^ is better than he. He cometh in with
vanity,^ seeming to have been born to no purpose. He
departeth in darkness — leaving no trace or remem-
brance behind — his name — if indeed he can be said to
have a nams — is covered with darkness — he is immedi-
ately forgotten. He hath not seen the sun, Twr known
anything. His pleasures are momentary ; yet unal-
loyed. He neither sees nor knows anything to connect
him with a world of sorrow. It is a negation of en-
joyment — a peaceful shadow of existence without
guilt, disgrace, pain, or punishment. He had rest in
the womb, and now in the grave (Job, iii. 17) — rest
more than tJie other, who is still, as the man of avarice,
tossed about in restless misery — seeing no good —
a mere blank — a cumberer of the ground. Surely it
is not life, but enjoyment that gives value to existence,
and makes the vital difference. ^ Life, though a thou-
sand years twice told, without seeing good, is only pro-
tracted misery. The longest inhabitant of earth — as
well as he that hath not seen the sun — do not all go to
one place ? " The small and great are there. All are
of the dust, and all turn to dust again." (Job, iii. 19.
Chap. iii. 20.)

But may we not look at this picture on an higher
level ? All hangs upon this point — the soul — the
whole m2in— filled with good. And what good is there
that will/?? the man ? Only when as a sinner he finds

» Henrj. ^ See Chap. iv. 3. Ps. Iviii. 8. ^ See 1 Pet. iii. 10.


\ reconciled God in Christ — his way to God — his
peace with God. Never was a more refreshing truth,
than from one who found the witness and seal of it in
contact with heathen misery. ' The sweet savour of
Christ ' — writes an Indian missionary — ' is the only
antidote to the wretchedness of man.' ^ Put aside this
high privilege — or neglect it — and then to die with all
the unfulfilled responsibilities of a long life upon his
head — who can calculate the issue for eternity ? —
Truly an untimely birth is better than he. " Good were
it for that man, if he had not been born " (Matt. xxvi.
24.) Sinner ! there is time yet to pause — to pray — to
consider — " Work while it is day." For the faithful
worker eternity has no cloud. Hell is closed against
thee by the blood of Jesus. Heaven will be thy
home — the infinite reward of grace. ' Thy best rest '
— as a pious expositor remarks — * will be in the arms
of thy Saviour.' ^

7. All the labour of man is for his mouthy yet the appe-
tite is notflkd. 8. For what hath the wise man more
than the fool ? What hath the poor^ that knoweth to
walk before the living f

The labour of man is ordinarily for his mouth — for
his whole body — for the support of life. Such is the
ordinance of God — the curse of the fall — " In the
sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread." (Gen. iii. 19.)
If the curse be removed, the cross remains. Man can

* Rev. A. H. Frost, Church Missionary in Bombay. — Missionary
Record, April, 1859. ' Geier.


do more by his labour than satisfy his bodily wants.
" He that laboiireth, laboureth for himself ; for his j
mouth craveth it of him." (Prov. xvi. 26.)

Yet with all our labour the appetite is not fiUed.
The same natural cravings return from day to day.
Worldly desires are no less unsatisfied. The covetous
man — the more he has, the more he wants. ' Yain in-
deed ' — says Bp. Taylor — ' is the hope of that man,
whose soul rests on vanity.'' Strange delusion, to
suppose that more of this world would bring increase
of happiness ! This is indeed to seek where it is im-
possible* to find, and where the m^2ii\d^AQ appetite is
continually crying " Give, give." (Prov. xxx. 15.)
This lust is indeed an universal disease. For what —
in respect of satisfaction^ — hath the lolse man more than
the fool ? In real substance — " Wisdom excelleth
folly, as far as light excelleth darkness." (Chap. ii. 13.)

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Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 11 of 27)