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An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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(Hab. i. 13. Comp. Ps. v. 4.) Every degree oi wicked- \/
ness is over-much. We must shun the least sin as a
very pestilence. But many — so far as ordinary causes
are concerned — might have lived longer, but for their
wickedness. Take care not to loosen the reins of sin.
This were folly in its fullest extent. Flagrant sin
hurries men on towards destruction of body and soul.

' 1 Cor. iv. 6. ' It is for us to seek to know as much, and to be con-
tent to know only as much, of heavenly things as Scripture tells us, and
to remain willingly ignorant of what our All-wise Master does not
think fit to teach us.' — Abp. Whaid-y's Lesions on Morals, p. 64. Again
— most wisely — ' We should study to be wise — not above Scripture,
but in Scripture — to learn — not the things which God hath concealed,
but what he has revealed.' Again, ' To dare to believe less, or to
pretend to understand more, than Go:l has expressly revealed, is
equally profane presumption.' Detached Thoughts, p. 60.


The murderer by his over-much wickedness dies before
his natural time. The drunkard, by wasting his con-
stitution, prepares it for premature ruin. Haman's
malice (Esth. vii. 10) and Herod's pride (Acts, xii. 23)
hastened their end. Sin is therefore rash presumption
— the forerunner of certain destruction. It is to " run
upon the Almighty — even upon his neck — upon the
thick bosses of his buckler." (Job. xv. 25, 26.) Let
the sinner stop, ere his course of wickedness rise to
presumption — ere the forbearance of God have an end.
What if his next plunge — his next wilful indulgence —
should harden his heart m foolishness, and close his day
of grace forever ! Perdition will come soon enough.
Why should he provoke his Grod, that it should come
before his time ? How near may he be to the depths
of hell — whence there is no escape — where there is no
hope! How fearful not to learn the truth, till he
learns it there !

We have therefore valuable cautions against all ex-
trgjnes. It is wise for us to " make straight paths for
our feet" (Heb. xii. 13) — to preserve the mean of a
sober scriptural righteousness — to cultivate ' that gra-
cious humility which hath ever been the crown and
glory of a Christianly-disposed mind" — and to guard
against a headlong and presumptuous course. It is
good indeed to take hold of this — never to lose thy hand-
fast — never to withdraio thine hand from it. Lay it up
in thine heart as a certain truth — that the /ear o/*^7ie
Lord is the keeping of his children — the fear of the
Lord sustaining them against the deadly influence of
the fear of man. Learn to be truly righteous — wisely

^ Hooker, Pref. chap. i. 3.


'iteous. Never be satisfied with the standard of the

rid. Press onward in the path of the Bible — mark-
_ , and closely following, " the footsteps of the flock."
Never shrink from the confession of principle. But
do not court needless offence. Be determinately — not
fanatically — singular. A religion of impulse, novelty,
fashion, or eccentricity, will never practically influence.
What is wanted is the religion of reality — the stamp
of God upon the heart of man. Any other religion
is a cold — cheerless — wintry atmosphere — chilling the
healthy glow of the Christian life. No sunbeam sheds
its radiance within.

It may seem scarcely possible always to preserve the
g olden mean in the narrow path. But in " the fear of
the Lord is strong confidence." (Pro v. xiv. 26.) He
therefore that feareth the Lord comes forth of aU these
opposite temptations victorious, and untainted — in all
the honour of Christian consistency — in all the glow
of Christian liberty, guarded on every side from unholy

This well-balanced religion is of essential moment.
Admitting the full weight of the caution — Be not right-
eous over-much, we must fully acknowledge the Scrip-
tural standard — a religion of works, as well as words.
It is fearful hypocrisy to profess the Gospel, and yet
to restrain the full allegiance which our Divine Master
claims at our hands ; to seek a private walk, instea d
of th e broad manife station of £odly exercise. Soon
will " the fire try every man's work of what sort it is."
(1 Cor. iii. 13.) How much profession will then be
burnt up, that now makes a fair show even in the
Church of God 1


19. Wisdom strengtheneth the wise man^ more them ten\
mighty men, who are in the city. 20. For there is not
a just man upon earth that doeth good^ and sinneth not.

Solomon never seems to have wearied in his com-
mendation of Wisdom. He had just pronounced it to
be better than riches, (vv. 11, 12.) Now he prefers it
to strength — as the principle of Christian courage — en-
ergizing the whole soul. This ivisdom is evidently-
identified with the fear of the Lord, which had just been
pronounced to be an ejffective cover from unscriptural
extremes. There was therefore good reason to tahe hold
of it. It has more strength than mere physical courage
• — more than ten^ mighty men in defending the city.
This he elsewhere proves by an instance, that had
probably come under his own knowledge. (Chap. ix.
16 — 18.) Once and again he confirms the maxim, that
the " wise man is the strong one, — so ' strong,' that he
scaleth the city of the mighty, and casteth down the
strength of the confidence thereof." (Prov. xxiv. 5 :
xxi. 22.) And in truth — the man that is walking with
God is sheltered by Omnipotence. " The eyes of the
Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to
show himself strong in the behalf of them, whose heart
is perfect towards him." (2 Chron. xvi. 9.) Under
such a cover, what assault — whether of malice or sub-
tlety — need we fear ? ^ Fearless composure will be
the fruit of the realized vision of faith — " They that
be with us are more than they that be with them."

* An indefinite number. Comp. Gen. xxxi. 1 ; Num. xiv. 22 ;
Neh. iv. 12 ; Job, xix. 3.
" See Ps. xxvii. 1-3.


(2 Kings, vi. 15-17.) Feeble we may be in natural
power. " But he that is feeble among us shall be as
David," when with a dauntless front he dared Goliath
to the combat. (Zech. xii. 8. 1 Sam. xvii. 39 — 47.)

We have indeed good reason to cherish this uphold-
ing principle. For there is not a just man upon the
earth that sinneth not, and therefore who doth not need
the strength of this Divine ivisdom in his spiritual con-
flicts and temptations.

We must not overlook this humbling testimony to
the universal and total corruption of the whole race of
man. This important statement lies at the foundation
of all right views of truth. Till the plague is known,
the need of a remedy will never be felt, and the only
true remedy will be worthless in our eyes. In heaven
indeed jtist men are made perfect. (Heb. xii. 23.) On
earth there arejiist men that do good. But there is not
one that doeth good, and sinneth not — " no — not one." '
Every work — even the best — has the taint of the evil
nature. (Isa. Ixiv. 6.) " The lust of the flesh" defiles
the purest " working of the Spirit." There is not only
guilt in the many sins that we commit, but in the very
best principle of our good. Yet the true exposition
of this case need not give the Christian any discour-
agement. ' The pain felt is not from increased sinful-
ness, but from increased consciousness of it ; not from
his conduct having become worse, but from his moral
judgment being more enlightened, and his perception

^Ps. xiv. 3. The Romanists insist on one exception — that no one
is without venial sin, except Christ, and the most Blessed Virgin. — Lorin
on vv. 19, 20. But how could her '• spirit rejoice in God her Saviour'^
(Luke, i. 47\ if slie wag not conscious of sins that needed that Savwf/r.^


of what is wrong, and his abhorrence of it, being
stronger than before.' '

Solomon in his brightest days had made the same
humbling confession. (1 Kings, viii. 46.) Scripture
biography gives its sad confirming testimony. "^ There
is always defect, if not wilfulness ; defilement, if not
omission. The same testimony has been given in every
age by Christians of the highest maturity in Grace.
' I cannot pray' — is the oft-quoted confession of Bp.
Beveridge — ' but I sin. I cannot hear or give an alms,
or receive the sacrament, but I sin. I cannot so much
as confess my sins, but my very confessions are still
aggravations of them. My repentance needs to be re-
pented of ; my tears want washing ; and the very wash-
ing of my tears needs still to be washed over again
with the blood of my Redeemer.'^

Child of God ! is there no response from your heart?
Does not every defect in your fellow-sinner read a
fresh lesson of your own helplessness ? Can you an-
ticipate the time on earth, when, " if you say that you
have no sin, you" will not " deceive yourself ?" (1 John,
i. 8.) " If thou. Lord, shouldest mark iniquities,
Lord, who shall stand ?" (Ps. cxxx. 3.) Only he,
whose eye is upon the High Priest " bearing the in-

^ Apb. Whately's Lessons on Morals, Lesson ix. § 1.

'■* Abraham, David. Solomon, Peter, &c.

^ Private Thoughts. A devout Romanist Expositor observes on this
place, ' The Hereticks will gain nothing here in defence of their per-
verse dogma' — ' A just man sins in every good work.' — Lorin in loco.
Very differently writes a pious Protestant Expositor—* We are alUior-
rupt. We are altogether— so corrupt, that the just man in any good work
is not without sin. Hence' — he adds — ' penitently deplore thy corrup-
tion.' — Geier,


iquities of the holy things." (Exod. xxviii. 38. Comp.
Rev. viii. 3, 4.) There is no peace — no security —
against deeper sin, but an instant and continued appli-
cation to him. ' Always a sinner' — is the Christian's
name to the end, and therefore with godly Nehemiah
we will combine with the consciousness of sincerity the
cry for sparing mercy (Chap. xiii. 22) — with the rever-
end Hooker in deep prostration we will ' plead — not
our righteousness, but the forgiveness of our unright-
eousness.' ^ With holy Leighton — ' instead of all fine
notions, we fly to— Lord, have mercy on me — Christ,
have mercy on me.'^ The publican's prayer will suit
to the very last breath — nothing better — contrition for
sin — confidence in the propitiation."

21. Also — take no heed (give not thy heart, marg.) unto
all words that are spoken^ lest thou hear thy servant
curse thee. 22. For oftentimes also thine own heart
hnoweth, that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.

Also — This seems to point to an admonition sug-
gested by the statement just given of man's universal
corruption. Even the just man in his frailty, much
more the careless and ungodly, may " offend in word."
(Jam. iii. 2.) The wise counsel therefore to avoid the
vexation of this evil world is — not to resent. Take
no heed — Give not thy heart unto all words that are spo-
ken. Some words perhaps spoken " unadvisedly," or
in a passion. They were not intended for us, and we
have no right to hear them. Listeners, standing upon

* Walton's Life. " Letter to Rev. James Aiard.

* Luke, xviiL 13. i?uia9iiTL— not kT^^aov.


the tip-toe of suspicion, seldom hear good of themselves.
Lord Bacon therefore well advises ' the provident stay
of inquiry of that, which we would be loth to find.'^
It were far better not to work out matter for our' own
mortification. Saul took the prudent course against
the taunts of " the children of Belial," when he " held
his peace " (1 Sam. x. 27) — regarding them not. Da-
vid in the same wisdom " was as a deaf man, and heard
not — as one, in whose mouth were no reproofs." (Ps.
xxxriii. 13, 14.) It is often a matter of prudence, not
to examine things too closely — not to be too eagerly
inquisitive — not curiously to search into every crevice,
or to affect to hear everything. Some truth may be
learned from the saying of the Great Frederick (though
the morality be doubtful), — 'He knows not how to
govern, who does not know how to dissemble.' ' He
that will have peace' — said Bp. Hall — 'must put up
with many injuries of the tongue,' ^ else we shall al-
ways be in contention — never in quiet. The Bible is
a household book ; and happy is the house that is dis-
ciplined by its wisdom. We may hear, that our names,
characters, and concerns have been lightly spoken of
in our household. Nay — we may hear our own ser-
vant in a moment of hasty provocation curse or rail
upon us. How indignant we feel ! How ready to re-

^ Advancement of Learning, B. ii. xxiii. 5. ' Never listen ' — writes
Bp. Taylor, adverting to this text — ' at the door or windows ; for be-
sides that it contains in it danger and a snare, it is also invading my
neighbor's privacy, and a laying that open, which he therefore en-
closed, that it might not be open.'— ^oZy lAving, chap. ii. sect. vL
Oomp. chap. x. 20.

'^ Hard Places.


prove, and to give way to angry feelings ! But the
Bible rule is — Take no heed to all the ivords. Turn in
to tliine heart for a motive to forbearance, and a lesson
of charity. Well does it know, that thou thyself like-
tvise hast cursed others.

Few — if any — of us can plead — ' Not Guilty' to this
indictment of Evil-speaking — slandering and back-bit-
ing ' are all associates and kindred, which are to be
cast away together.' ^ If we recall our conversation
at the end of the day, how many breaches of the law
of love ! how seldom are our words free from that,
which we should not like to have repeated ! If it does
not amount to cursing, yet it is something said to the
disparagement of another — and said with a sort of
gratification, which we do not feel in the same degree,
when we are speaking in another's praise. Why is
this, but from the " root of bitterness " ? Oh ! the in-
finite evil of an unbridled tongue — an unloving heart !

After all — how valuable is the lesson of forbearance
in the remembrance of our former selves ! The recol-
lection that " we ourselves were sometimes hateful and
hating one another" — our hearts knoiving, and bearing
witness to the fact — furnishes the most constraining
motive " to speak evil of no man, showing all meek-
ness to all men." (Tit. iii. 2, 3.) We cannot condemn
others, when we are so conscious of having been so
guilty ourselves. We cannot expect too much from
our brethren, when we are still under the conviction
of our own weakness. The rule of humility and love
will be — Peal tenderly with others — severely with

^ Barrow's Sennom on Evil Speaking.



ourselves. Our Master's pattern illustrates the rule,
and sheds light on every step of our path.

23. AU this have I proved by wisdom. I said — / will
be wise; but it was far from me. 24. That which is
far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out? 25.
/ applied mine heart (I and my heart compassed,
marg.) to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom,
and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness
of folly, even of foolishness and madness.

The Preacher turns again to his own history. He
had first exercised his wisdom in intellectual research.
Here he soon found his bottom. Notwithstanding all
his advantages of a comprehensive understanding — all
his extensive and multifarious resources — ivJien he said
he would be wise, it was far from him — far off — deep,
deep — exceeding deep. He was always opening some
new vein in the golden mine. Yet even his powerful
mind was made to feel its limits, and to cry out — Who
can find it out ? " Such knowledge is too wonderful for
me ; it is high, I cannot attain unto it." (Ps. cxxxix. 6.)

Heavenly tvisdom teaches the same lesson, only with
a deeper and more practical impression. Our highest
knowledge is but a mere atom, when compared with
the unsearchable extent of our ignorance. The more
we know of G-od — his nature (Job, xi. 7) — his works
(Ps. xcii. 5) — his dispensations (Rom. xi. 33), the more
we are humbled in the sense of our ignorance. What
Calvin wisely calls ' a learned ignorance' ' — a well-in-

^ Imtit. lib. iii. c. xxi. § 2. Afterwards he speaks of the eager ap-


structed contentment to be ignorant oni5**t*€^eS haa. j.
covered from us — this is at once our duty and our rest.'' *^*
There is much that is far off— not only from our senses,
but from our understanding — exceeding deep to men —
even to angels. (1 Pet. i. 12.) Nay — the plainest sur-
face needs Divine teaching for the practical knowledge
of it.

Solomon^s disappointment could not be attributed to
any want of heart in his object. Nothing could ex-
ceed his indefatigable industry in its pursuit. He
heaps word upon word to attempt some adequate con-
ception of the intensity of his ardour.* ' I and my
heart turned every way — left no means unattempted
exactly to discover wisdom' * — persevering in despite
of all difficulties. He was far more stimulated by the
grandeur of his object, than disheartened by the diffi-
culty of attaining it. Nor was he content with the
mere knowledge of facts. He would seek and search
out principles — the reason of things, tracing elBfects to
their causes.

But his interest was mainly fixed in knowing the
vnckedness of foUy — specially of that sin, which bears
upon it the peculiar stamp of foUy (Gen. xxxiv. 7.) —
yea — that well deserves the name of madness. For
what is man living for his own lusts, but the picture
of man having lost his understanding? (Hos. iv. 11.)
But in this unhallowed track he plunged himself into
perilous hazard. Far better (as our first parents found

petite for hidden knowledge aa a species of madness, c. xxiiL § 2. — See
Hooker's Admirable Statements, B. I § 2. ,

> See also Chap. i. 13-17 ; vui. 16, 17. » Bp. Reynolds.


too late) to Icnoiv nothing of evil, than to learn it ex-
perimentally. Far better would it have been for
Solomon to have known foolishness and madness by
observation, by the records of conscience, by the testi-
mony of the word, than by the terrible personal ex-
periment. Who has not need of the prayer — ' Keep
thy servant also from presumptuous sins "? ^ (Ps. xix.
13.) Practical godliness is the keeping of the soul.
" He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that
wicked one toucheth him not." (1 John, v. 18.)

26. And I find more hitter than death the woman^ whose
heart is snares and nets, and her hands as hands : who-
so pleaseth (he that is good before, marg.) Ood shall
escape from her; hut the sinner shall he taken hy her.

We have had many striking pictures of the vanity
of the world, and its utter insufficiency for our happi-
ness. We are now turning over to another page to
see the vileness of sin — its certain tendency to our
misery and ruin. Solomon had often drawn this
graphical picture for the warning of others. Here he
describes the apparatus of a fowler as the picture of
the heart of the unprincipled woman. Such a tissue
of snares, nets, and hands ! — too subtle even for himself
— the wisest of the wise — to escape ! It is an affect-
ing record in the after-page of sacred history — that
*' among many nations there was no king like him, who
was beloved of his God ; nevertheless even him did
outlandish women cause to err." (Neh. xiii. 16, with

» See Prov. ii. 18, 19; v. T-b ; vi. 26 ; vii. 21-29 ; ix. 18 ; xxii. 14;
xxiii. 2*7, 28.


1 Kings, xi. 1-8.) But mark the mighty power of
the temptation ! Such a multitude of devices I Such
consummate skill in the application of them ! the spell
of enchantment chaining her deluded victims with
irresistible influence !

What then is the escape from this extreme peril ?
Man's highest moral sense — all his strength of resolu-
tion — is absolutely powerless. The Sovereign grace
of God is Omnipotent. Prayer brings this secure
cover, and spreads it over those who, like Joseph in
similar temptation (Gen. xxxix. 9, 10), are good before
him. 'He that displeaseth God by walking in the
bye-paths of sin, God shall withhold his grace from him,
and he shall be tempted, and foiled. But whoso pleaseih
God by walking in his holy ways, God shall so assist
him with his grace, that when he is tempted, he shall
escape J ^

But the sinner shall be taken by her (Prov. ii. 19 ;
xxii. 14) — described so fearfully — more bitter than
death ! We read of the bitterness of death (1 Sam. xv.
32) ; and of a worse bitterness. " The end of a strange
woman is bitter as wormwood, and her steps take
hold on hell." (Prov. v. 4, 5.) ' Death may be sweet-
ened and sanctified, made a welcome and desirable
thing to a believer. But the bitterness of hell is in-
curable. Death may be honourable, to die in a good
cause, to go to the grave in peace, lamented, desired,
with the sweet savour of a holy life, and many good
works to follow one. But for a man to putrefy alive,
under the plague of impure lust — to make shipwreck

* Bp. Sanderson, Sermon on Prov. xvi. 7.


of his honour — to put hell into his conscience — to bury
his name, his substance, his soul and body — in the
bosom of an harlot — this is a bitterness beyond that of
death' ' — not only separating the soul from the body,
but separating soul and body eternally from God.

Such is the poor deluded sinner ! and on the brink
of such frightful ruin — when he loses his only safe
keeping — watchfulness over himself — dependence upon
his God I Let us once more take this valuable lesson
from one, who eminently practised it himself, and
therefore was the better fitted to inculcate it upon us.
" I keep under my body" — said the great apostle — " and
bring it into subjection ; lest that by any means,
after I have preached to others, I myself should be a
cast-away." (1 Cor. ix. 27.)

27. Behold ! this have I found (saith the Preacher)
counting one by owe to find the account. 28. Which
yet my soul seeheth, hut I find not ; one man among a
thousand have I found ; hut a woman among all those
have I not found.

Behold I a sad testimony he is about to give. Con-
ceive him looking at the multitude of his courtiers
standing before him — counting one hy one to find the ac-
count how many faithful and true — his soul seeking, hut
not finding it clearly to his judgment. Yet the result,
as he could obtain it, found one man among a thousand
only — of godly women among them not even oTie. What
a contrast to his father's house and court I " Mine

^ Bp. Reynolds.


eyes" — said the man of God — "are upon the faithful in
the land, that they may dwell with me." (Ps. ci. 6.)

We cannot suppose, that Solomon's judgment of wo-
man was an universal sweeping condemnation. He
had no difficulty to find female virtue in its own legit-
imate sphere. And many are the testimonies which
he has given of its value. ^ Who would scruple to
adopt Luther's judgment, that ' there is nought on earth
so lovely as a woman's heart, with God's grace to guide
its love ' ? But here his view was evidently confined
to the walls of his own harem. (Comp. 1 Kings, xi. 3.)
And among the thousand " strange women " (lb. v. 1)
dwelling in that crowded seraglio he himself living in
the open breach of God's law (lb. v. 10) — in the gross
violation of marriage purity — and casting away all the
domestic happiness of endeared affection and undivided
love — how could he expect to find " the virtuous wo-
man," whom he so beautifully portrays — " her price far
above rubies"?^ Here therefore he only informs us,
that, looking where he had no warrant to find the
jewel — the result was unmingled disappointment. And
such will always be the fruit of sin. Child of God I
Be thankful for the bitterness of the draught from the
" broken cistern," as the weaning discipline, that turns
your heart back to your God.

29. Lo! this only have I found, that God hath made
man upright; hut they have sought out many inven-

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Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 15 of 27)