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An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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clear meaning.

"Bp. HaU.



any other source, so far as eternity is concerned, is
utter vanity.

And yet how often do we see intellectual wisdom
separated from this life-giving knowledge ! How much
laborious trifling has been expended upon the letter
of the Bible by those, who have been wholly ignorant
of its real spiritual meaning! In the argument of
Christian evidences the infidel has been often confuted
by the unbeliever. The demonstration of the truth is
irresistible. But the reality and influence is little
known. The outposts are successfully defended. But
the citadel is uncared for.'

Since the advantage of this true wisdom is so vast,
let the diligence in seeking it be proportioned. If it
is worth seeking at all, it is worth seeking^rs^." And
if it be not sought firsts it will not be sought at all.
' Specially let us take care, lest being destitute of faith
— the only ivisdom of Christians — we be found dead in
sin — and this life ended — in eternal death. Although
thou be poor in this world's substance, so long as thou
art wise in the Lord, thou wilt be nevertheless in
good mind from the hope of eternal life in heaven.'

We cannot but mark how this Divine knoivledge
opens the deepest mysteries in the simplest forms.
Admirably does Bp. Taylor contrast the man of nature
with the man of God. ' The one understands by
nature ; the other by grace. The one by human learn-
ing ; the other by Divine. The one reads the Scrip-
tures without ; the other within. The one understands

* By such critics as Grotius — such champions as Lardner.
" See the Rule, Matt. vi. 33. » Geier.


by reason ; the other by love. And therefore he does
not only understand the sermons of the Spirit, and
perceives their meaning ; but he pierces deeper, and
knows the meaning of that meaning — that is, the secret
of the Spirit — that which is spiritually discerned.' ^
Where is the Divinely-instructed scholar, who does
not long for clearer light, and more energy in the
Christian life ?

13. Consider the work of God; for who can make that
straight^ that he hath made crooked ?

" The works of the Lord are great, sought out of
all them that have pleasure therein. His work is
honourable and glorious." (Ps. cxi. 2, 3.) Such is the
Psalmist's commendation. Who will not respond to
it ? Solomon here places tlie ivork of Providence be-
fore us, and bids us consider it. And truly a most
interesting and enriching study it is. " Whoso is wise,
and will observe these things, even they shall under-
stand the loving-kindness of the Lord." (Ps. cvii. 43.)
Difficulties will start up before us. But all is in per-
fect harmony. He makes no mistakes ; buf'hegiveth
not account of any of his matters." (Job, xxxiii. 13.)

There is indeed no want of conformity to his own
Divine standard. Yet there are many things crooked
in man's eye, because they cross his own will, and
thwart his own imaginary happiness. It is needful
discipline that there should be — as has been said — ' a
crook in every lot.' Man's will goes one way — God's
dispensation another. In every part of his course man

* Sermon before tlie University of Dublin.



must expect to meet with his crook — specially perhaps
in his most tender — because most needed part. And
hard is it to bear, till the spirit is thoroughly tamed
to bear it.^ ' Yet no power of man can make it
straight ; only he that made can mend it.' '^

But we must not forget, how often we are the framers
of our own troubles. How hard it is to love the crea-
ture, and not over-love it ! And yet if the Lord loves
our souls, he will remove our idols. Children, too
closely fastened to the heart, will be either continued
as a thorn in the flesh, or pass away from our eyes as
a shadow. Either way our sweetest comforts will be-
come our deepest afflictions.

Most profitable therefore is it carefully to ponder
the dealings of God with us. Let us command our
judgment and reason to stand by, that we may with
reverence, submission, and faith, consider the work of
God. The vision in his own time will speak for it-
self. We can see light and order above, when all
seems confusion below. Meanwhile let us mark his
hand, rest and stay upon his will, and gather up care-
fully all the instruction of his discipline. When the
whole work shall be complete — every particle will be
seen to have fallen just into its own proper place.
And all will then appear One Great Whole every way
worthy of God — the eternal manifestation of his glory.

14. Jn the day of prosperity be joyful ; hut in the day
of adversity consider. God also hath set the one over

' See Jer. xxxi. 18.

■^ Boston. See Job, ix. 12 ; xxxiv. 29. Isa. xliii 13. Lam. iii. 87.
Dan. iv. 37.


against the other, to the end that man should find
nx)thing after him.

Consider the work of God. Here — Christian — is thy
refuge and thy rest. Here enjoy quiet communion —
satisfied confidence. And here learn that ' man's wis-
dom consists in observing G-od's unalterable appoint-
ments, and suiting himself to them.'^ Mark the wise
and gracious balancing of his dispensations. Surely
in Providence — no less than in grace — " he hath
abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence."
(Eph. i. 8.) " He giveth us richly all things to enjoy."
(1 Tim. vi. 17.) He means therefore that we should
enjoy them — not wantonly, or selfishly, but as oppor-
tunities of glorifying him, and doing good to our fel-
low-creatures. His rule therefore is — In the day of
prosperity he joyful. ' In the day of good be thou in
good. When God gives thee prosperity, do thou enjoy
it with a cheerful and thankful heart.' ^ " Not to serve
him with joy fulness'^ was under the legal dispensation
charged upon Israel as a heavy indictment — as an un-
grateful return for undeserved mercies." (Deut. xxviii.
46, 47. Comp. xvi. 11 ; xxvi. 1-11.) How much more
constraining is the obligation under the Gospel, when
love infinitely greater and more free has been so glo-
riously displayed ! Ill does it become us to walk be-
fore our Father with a wrinkled brow, doubting, de-
sponding. No, rather — let us give him his just right in
an affectionate and delighting confidence.

And yet if we be joyful, must we not rejoice with


Bp. Reynolds. Comp. Chap. iii. 4 ; viii. 15 ; ix. 7-9.



trembling? (Ps. ii. 11.) Is it not a day of prosperity, a,
time of special temptation ? How hard to maintain
an honourable walk, and the enjoyment of Christian
privilege, in the atmosphere of ease ! Never in times
of ease is the prayer out of season — ' In all time of our
wealth, Good Lord, deliver us.' ^

And yet — ' let me be rich — great — ^honourable ^ — is
the cry on all sides. Ah ! could the deluded votary
realize the consequence of this wish — the gratification
of this heart's desire ! In how many cases would it be
Satan's great — perhaps fatal — advantage ! Humility —
godly watchfulness — weanedness of heart — this is the
safe — the consecrated path — the path to " glory, hon-
our, immortality." Wise indeed therefore is the ap-
pointment, that makes the day of prosperity to be not
our ent{7^e lot. It is hard to hold a full cup steady.
There is a valuable balance of tJie day of adversity,
equally of Divine appointment. For " shall we re-
ceive good at the hands of the Lord ? And shall we
not receive evil ? " ^ This day is indeed most impor-
tant, not only as our school of discipline, but as the
test of our improvement in this school. For "if pros-
perity doth best discover vices, adversity doth best
discover virtue." The diligent improvement* of this

^ Litany.

" Job, ii. 10. Comp. Isa. xlv. 7. Amos, iii. 6.

^ Lord B^^on, Essay v.

* We insist upon diligent improvement. For Abp. Whately wisely re-
minds us, 'Let no man flatter liimself, tliat anytliing external will
make him wise or virtuous, without his taking pains to learn wisdom
or virtue from it. And if any one says of any affliction — 'No doubt
it is all for my good'— let him be reminded to ask himself, whether he
is seeking to get any good out ofit.^ Notes on Bacon's Essay, ut supra.


day brings with it a mighty blessing. The internal
malady is checked. Creature dependence is put away.
In the darkest hour of the day we can look up with
confidence and enjoyment. All is passing away, and
withering. But " thou art my portion, Lord." (Ps.
cxix. 57.) Give me faith to believe all thy love to me.

We do not however always connect the two things
— being in the day^ and knowing how to act in it.
When the resolution is thoroughly carried out — never
more to question, complain, fear, or faint ; when sec-
ond causes — those sharply-piercing thorns — have been
wholly cast out, rich fruit has been already gathered.
We have learned in the school training-lessons of incal-
culable value. Our joy is not crushed. It is only
tempered with sober and most profitable consideration.
We are taught to mark the hand and character of
God (Deut. viii. 5) — the humbling cause (Job, x. 2.
Ps. xxxix. 11) — the gracious end' — how to obtain sup-
port (Ps. 1. 15 ; Ixxxvi. 7) — how to realize more fully
the enriching blessing (Ps. xciv. 12, 13) — how to assure
ourselves of deliverance (1 Cor. x. 13) — how to antici-
pate complete and eternal compensation.'^ Precious
teaching ! Child of God — this is thy present privilege
— sustaining thy confidence — -rejoicing thy heart.

Thus the brightest prosperity is found in nature's
darkest adversity. We all know how the vicissitudes
of the natural seasons — set over against eacli other —
conduce to the healthiness of the atmosphere. Hence
the adoring acknowledgment — " Thou hast made suui-

^ Heb. xii. 10. Jam. v. 11. 1 Pet. i. 6, 7.
« Heb. xii. 11. Zech. xiii. 9. Rev. vii. 14.


mer and winter " (Ps. Ixxiv. 17) — and the merciful
promise — that " while the earth remaineth, they shall
not cease." (Gen. viii. 22.) Not less necessary is a
measure and proportion of each of these seasons to
maintain the Christian temperament in healthful vig-
our. Either without the other would be defective in
operation. The day of prosperity would be dangerous
exaltation (2 Cor. xii. 7) — the day of adversity^ faint-
ing despondency. (Ps. cxxv. 3. Isa. Ivii. 16.) The one
set against tJw other is therefore Divine perfection of
arrangement. ^ The proportions of each vary accord-
ing to the sovereign will and wisdom of the Great
Disposer (Ps. xc. 15) ; " and his work is perfect."
(Deut. xxxii. 4.) *

And yet is it. not wonderful, that, when the adjust-
ment is made with such unerring skill, that balance
should always be on our side ? This is the more won-
derful, when we remember that we have not deserved
one moment of the p)'osperity vouchsafed, and that we
have deserved far more than all the adversity that we
have suffered. On the one side — may we not say with
the Patriarch — " We are not worthy of the least of all
thy mercies" (Gen. xxxii. 10) — on the other side — with
tlie godly scribe (Ezra, ix. 13), " Thou, God, hast
punished us less than our iniquities deserve " ? Prac-
tical and experimental religion is only learned in that
extremity, that brings us to contrite prayer, and casts
us in unreserved trust upon our God. Is then the
godly man mournful ? At least he need not — save by
his own fault — be miserable. The Lord has never ap-

' See Bp. Reynolds' beautiful note.


pointed temporal prosperity as the undoubted seal of
his love. "All things come alike to all." (Chap. ix. 2.)
His covenant, while it includes the rod for his child,
secures him from the curse.^ And when the soul is at
peace, temporal adversity will be — comparatively at
least — little felt. It may cloud the physical enjoy-
ment. But it will not shake the solid foundation, nor
touch the blessedness of Divine acceptance. ' Give up
the doctrines of Jesus Christ ' — said Mr. Cecil in his
last illness — ' all is pitch darkness without it — dark as
a Socinian — dark as a moralist. There is no light,
but what Christ brings. All important truth is in the
Bible, and I feel that no comfort enters sick curtains
frSm any other quarter.' ^

Surely then God has so wisely disposed these changes,
and so accurately appointed their several proportions,
that a man shall find nothing after him — nothing super-
fluous, defective, or irregular. If a man should take
upon himself to review the work after him, and con-
ceive that a greater or less degree of prosperity or ad-
versity would have been better — or that either would
have sufficed, without the balance of the other — he
only stands before us in all the folly and presumption
of fancying himself to be wiser than God. What God
has done, he has done best. He has indeed kept his
own time, and used his own means — ^not ours. But he
has made us to see in the end, that his time and means
were better than ours. Whatever seems to oppose or
to perplex — remember — it is our Father's work ; and
let us learn to take a cheerful view of that lot, which

' See Pa. Ixxxix. 30-85. ' Memoirs by Mrs. Cecil.


he has ordained soldy for our happiness, and which
under his guidance will turn to the best account. Oh !
think of the many now before the throne, who are
blessing God to all eternity for that wise, providen-
tial dealing, which under Divine grace prepared them
for their home, and brought them to it with everlasting

joy- *

15. All things have I seen in the days of my vanity.
There is a just man, thai perisheth in his righteoicsness ;
and there is a wicked man, that prolongeth his life in
his wickedness.

Solomon was a man of vast observation. His whole
life indeed at best was made up of days of vanity ^ —
how much more his time of apostasy from God. Yet
he had employed it in making an extensive survey of
the world before him. Often has he mentioned the
sight before his eyes (Chap. iv. 1-4 ; v. 8) — so stum-
bling to the ignorant, and staggering to the faith even
of the children of God (Ps. Ixxiii. Jer. xii. 1) — the Just
man perishing in his righteousness. This was the first
record from the fall (Gen. iv. 8). And all successive
records of tlie Church confirmed the testimony. " He
that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey." (Matt,
xxiii. 35, with Isa. lix. 15.) The Divine dealings with
tlie luiched man show also a mysterious exercise of
Sovereignty. Sometimes he is not permitted to " live
out half his days." At other times he ^^ prolongeth his
life in his wickedness." (Job, xxi. 1, with Ps. Iv. 23.)

» See Chap. vi. 12 ; ix. 9.


Yet after all—'' Say ye to the righteous—' It shall
be well with him.' " (Isa. iii. 10.) Where is the ser-
vant of God, that would exchange the most abject pov-
erty for the highest prosperity of the wicked f If the just
man perisheth, " he shall enter into peace." (Isa. Ivii.
1, 2.) If the wicked jprolongeth his days, continuing in
sin, surely the very sight of him excites — not our. envy
— but our deepest compassion. We can only tremble,
lest this prolmigation should be the righteous and mer-
ciful God " enduring him with much long-suffering
as a vessel of wrath, fitted for destruction." (Eom. ix.

There is therefore no reason to be stumbled either
at the calamities of the just man, or at the continued
prosperity of the wicked. Divine teaching expounds
the dark chapter of Providence (Ps. Ixxiii. 16-20), and
shews them to be displays of wisdom and love. Soon
will all mysteries be eternally cleared up. " Clouds
and darkness" will melt away. "Righteousness and
judgment" will be fully manifested to be " the habita-
tion of the throne" (Ps. xcvii. 2) of the Great
Sovereign of the Universe. And the everlasting song
of the hosts of heaven will be — "Alleluia ! for the Lord
God Omnipotent reigneth." (Rev. xix. 6.)

16. -Se not righteous over-much; neither make thyself
over-wise ; why shouldest thou destroy thyself? 11. Be
not over-much wicked; neither be thou foolish ; ichy
shouldest thou die before thy time ? 18. It is good that
thou shouldest take holdofthis ; yea, also from this with-
draw notthi7ie hand; for he thatfeareth Ood shall come
forth of them all.



The two strange things that had fallen under Solo-
mon's observation — the righteous perishing in his right-
eousness^ and the wicJced escaping with impunity — sug-
gested double cautions. On the one side the externally
righteous need to be guarded against a false religion ;
and even the upright against a false display of true
religion. On the other — the wicked — escaping for a
time — let them not presume upon continued security.

The first caution — Be not righteous over-much — is
the sheet-anchor of the profane — the ungodly — the
formalist I What havoc does the great deceiver make
with Scripture — shooting God's arrows from his own
quiver ! — teaching his deluded victims to " wrest the
Scriptures to their own destruction !" And how
strange is it to see, that, while they hate the grand
truths of the Bible, and wholly repudiate it as their
rule of faith and practice, they will gladly quote it —
nay — they will insist upon its authority, when at any
point it seems to bear upon their side !

We cannot wonder, therefore, that this should be
one of their favourite texts — held in liigh estimation.
However clear may be its true meaning, it seems to
admit of so many shades of interpretation, as if it
would allow any man to fix his own rule and standard.
The insincere professor finds an excuse for loving the
world in his heart, and meeting it half way in his
practice. He may have a plea for avoiding all the
offence of the cross. He may revolt from the most
spiritual doctrines and exercises of the Gospel. He
has one answer at hand against every warning.
'There is an express rule from God. Its authority
therefore is undoubted. We must not carrv matters


too far. Everything must have its place. There are
certain proprieties of life — conventional usages of good
society — that must be regarded. Religion must keep
to its proper place, and its proper time. The direc-
tion is plain — Be not righteous over-much.^

Such is the rule, as expounded by the votaries of the
world. But is it really possible to transgress it, so as
to have too much of the substance of religion ? A
sinful being, " in whom dwelleth no good thing" (Rom.
vii. 18) — too good! righteous over-much! Impossible
to conceive a warning of God against this danger!
* Too religious — in the proper sense of the word,' Abp.
^Whately well reminds us^ — ' we cannot be. We can-
not have the religious sentiments and principles too
strong, if only they have a right object. We cannot
love God too warmly, or honour him too highly, or
strive to serve him too earnestly, or trust him too im-
plicitly ; because our duty is to love him with oE our
heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, and all our
< strength.' It is surely absurd to warn the carnal man
'against an excess of spirituality — the earthly-minded
man against over-much seeking of heavenly things.
The danger obviously lies in defect, not in excess ; in
stopping short, not in going too far. Strip this per-
verted caution of its false cover ; and too often at last
it means — Be not righteous at all. For unquestion-
ably its advocates have more sympathy with men of
no religion, than with those whose high and heavenly
character condemns their own worldly profession.

To whom then, and to what, does the admonition

* Annotations on Bacon's Essays, xvii.

yii.ic-m] EXPOSITION of ecclesiastes. 207

apply ? We have seen that it does not warn us against
true righteousness. But it is a wholesome caution "
against the ' vain aflfection of it.' ' Every right prin-
ciple has its counterfeit. We have monkery and
celibacy as the shadow of Christian perfection — pen-
ances and self-imposed austerities in lieu of the true
mortification of the flesh — the name for the reality —
the skeleton for the living man. Here ' the name of
the mean is given to the extreme." That which in
sobriety is righteousness often carries its name beyond
the true boundary. It includes — what the heavenly
Martyn dreaded in himself — ' talking much, and ap-
pearing to be somebody in religion.' ' Details may be J
easily multiplied. Religion is made to consist mainly
in externals. Self-conceited professors insist upon
their own Shibboleth/ without regard to the difi'erent
judgments of their brethren. Christian duties are
pressed beyond their due proportion, interfering with
immediate obligations, and making sins, where God
has not made them. Scrupulosity in matters indiffer-
ent takes the place of the free obedience of the Gospel.
In the exercise also of Christian graces there may be
danger of extremes. Boldness may verge to rashness,
benevolence into indiscriminate waste, candour into
weakness. In all these and many other details the
Scriptural line seems to be passed, and the warning is
justly applied — Be not righteous over-much.

Even ' in well-doing there may be over-doing,^ ^ and
this over-doing may inadvertently progress towards

* Lord Bacon, quoted by Bp. Patrick.
' Bp. Reynolds. See also Mercer, in loco.
• Life, Part i. * See Judg. xii. 5. ' Henry.


undoing. liideed much of this is not religion, but
superstition, which ' is not the excess of godliness' (as
Abp. Yv^hately remarks) ' but the misdirection of it —
the exhausting of it in the vanity of man's devising.' ^
It is important that our religion should be reasonable,
consistent, uniform — not a matter of opinion, but of
the heart. Great indeed is our need, and consttnt
should be our prayer — " let me have understanding
in the way of godliness." (Ps. ci. 2.)

But we are warned against another extreme. Neither
make thyself over-much ivise — a wholesome practical
rule ! Avoid all affectation or high pretensions to
superior wisdom. Guard against that opinionative
confidence, which seems to lay down the law, and
critically finds fault with every judgment differing
from our own. The Apostle gives this warning with
peculiar emphasis and solemnity — " This I say, through
the grace given unto me, to every man that is among
you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought
to think, but to think soberly, according as God has
dealt to every man the measure of faith." ^ ' The more
humble thou art, the more wary and circumspect thou
wilt be ; and the more wary the more safe.' ^

A question is put to give energy to the warning —
Why shouldest thou destroy tJiyseljf Men may be mar-
tyrs to trifles magnified unduly. They may bring

* Ut suprc. So an old Expositor writes—* Religion is one thing —
superstition is another — tiot the excess of the same thing. ^ Brentius in loco.

^ Rom. xii. 3. ' Not to be wise above what he ought to be, but to
be wise unto sobriety.' — Professor Scholefield's accurate version Hints
far an Improved Translation.

' Bp. Reynolds.


needless trouble upon themselves, by making conscience j
of doubtful or subordinate matters. And thus, unless
the exercise of wisdom is tempered with humility and /
reverence, it may be the " pride that goeth before de^
strudionJ^ (Pro v. xvi. 18.) To be wise up to that)\
which is written, is diligence — a bounden obligation.
To be " wise above that which is written," is presump-
tion, as if affecting to be acquainted with the whole of
Divine truth. To intrude into God's province of//
" secret things" — is over-wisdom — passing the boundary\
line — " vainly puffed up by the fleshly mind." (Deut. \
xxix. 29. Col. ii. 18.) It may be provoking the judg- 1
ment of our own destruction. J

Another caution — and a remarkable one — is added
from the opposite quarter — Be 7iot over-much wicked.
Not as if one particle of wickedness could be tolerated
by Him, who is " of purer eyes than to behold iniquity."

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Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 14 of 27)