Charles Bridges.

An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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confirms the testimony. Ask Marolle — the French
confessor in his filthy dungeon — enduring all that man
could heap upon him for the crushing of his confi-


deuce. Doubt might sometimes rise up like the locusts
eating up the pleasant green things. (Exod. x. 15.)
But on the main point he was ready. ' It is — and it
shall he — well. * Eighty-and-six years' — was Polycarp's
witness — ' have I served my Master, and he hath
never wronged me.' How could he after all have
turned his back upon him, who had never turned away
from him? "I have fought the good fight"— is the
voice of a yet nobler witness — " Henceforth the crown.''
(2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.) But not less decided is the judg-
ment — I know that it shall not he well. The blessing
and the curse stand upon the same firm rock — the
word of God ; not one jot or tittle of which has ever
fallen to the ground. What then is my present state ?
Living for heaven — or for hell? my God! for
which ? May the stamp upon me be " a brand plucked
out of the fire ! — a sinner saved by grace !" ^

14. Tliere is a vanity that is done upon the earth, that
there be just men, unto whom it hajfypeneth according
to the work of the wicked : again, that there be wicked
men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of
the righteous. I said that this is also vanity. 15.
Then I commoided mirth, because a man hath no bet-
ter thing under the sun, than to eat, aTid to drink, and
to be merry ; for that shall abide with him of his
lahour the days cf his life, which God gi^eth him un-
der the sun.

^ Zech. iii. 22, with Eph. ii. 8 ; 1 Cor. xv. 10. Dathe remarks upon
these verses as ' a fine testimony to the certainty of a future life a(
death and judgment.'

life aftejr



We have another picture of vanity doubly marked.
The All-wise and righteous Governor of the world
never forgets the vitally-important distinction between
the righteous and the wiclced. But he is not pleased to
make it the standard of his providential dispensation.
(Cliap. ix. 1, 2.) It often therefore happeneth as if
the just were punished, and the wicked rewarded. It
happeneth, not as if it fell out apart from the fore-
knowledge and providence of God ; but in the ordi-
nary course of the Divine Government. ' Nothing' — as
Beza remarks — ' is more repugnant to reason than this
apparently strange distribution.' It would seem as
if the righteous " had cleansed his heart in vain." (Ps.
Ixxiii. 13.) This may justly be called a vanity — not \/
as reflecting upon the government of God in permitting
them ; but because the instruments are the fruit of
man's corruption, and the display is that of the utterly
unsatisfactory state of earthly things. But — be it re-
membered — we only see the surface view. There are
depths in Providence far beyond our vision. In his
own time and way the Lord will bring perfect order
out of seeming confusion, and astonish us with the
manifestation of his glory.

After all, tliis is only a vanity upon the earth. ' In
the other world good is given to the good, and evil to
the evil." ^ Here — though we know but little, yet
enough to be quiet. Providences were not made only v/
for man now, but for man in eternity. Meanwhile it
i< beautiful to mark how they fulfil, and thus confirm,
Scripture ; so that a wise observer is at once rich in
experience, and established in the good ways of God.

^ Lavater


' Say then — Christian sufferer — does thine heart re-
bel, to se3 tliG wicked prosper, and thyself in woe ?
Say, wouldst thou change? Is he better off than
thou? Are his earthly blessings better than thy
grace? Is not Jesus more than silver and gold to
thee ? Hast thou the lesser portion, because thou hast
the Lord ?' ^ Leave thyself with God, and be at peace.
Let this living faith preserve thee from that brooding
discontent, which seems to throw a cloud upon the
goodness of thy most gracious God. (Chap. ii. 24 ; iii.
12; V. 18. 1 Tim. iv.-3-5.) Never suppose that the
overflow of temporal enjoyments can form the chief
good. Enjoy the gifts of God — whatever portion of
them be allotted to thee, as the stream from the foun-
tain of his special interest in thee. (Gen. xxxiii. 5.)
This enjoyment can never be in unholy sensualism, or
unrestrained indulgence — but with that Christian mirth
— cheered — as in the bright era of the Church (Acts,
ii. 46) — with the smile of Divine acceptance, which
makes " a continual feast." ^ Let this be our abiding
portion all the days of our life — every new day bring-
ing a fresh gift of God for his service and glory.
Whatever we may lose, the grand interest is secured.

16. Wheii I applied my heart to know wisdom, and
see the business that is come upon the earth (for also
there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his

* Mylne.

^ Prov. XV. 15, ' He is not here commending Epicurean pleasure,
but he teaches, that when man cannot see or alter his own condition,
the best thing is to abstain from vain cares, and to content himself
with a quiet life, enjoying the good tilings of God.' — DathL



eyes) ; 17. Then Ihehdd aU the ivorh of God^ that a
man cannot find out tJie work that is done under the
sun, because, though a man labour to seek it out, yet he
shall not find it; yea further, though a vnse man think
to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it

' Too much attention' — we are wisely reminded —
cannot be bestowed on that important — yet muck-
neglected branch of learning — the knowledge of man's
ignorance.'^ Here how deep and humbling is the
picture ! All the efforts of diligence — earnest perse-
verance — intense application of heart — the laborious
exercise of sleepless nights ^ — all fail to enlighten. A
vast terra incognita lies beyond us. The most pro-
found inquirer can only stand upon the ocean's shore,
and cry — " the depth" of the arbitrariness ? — no —
but " of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How un-
searchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding
out." (Rom. xi. 33.) Yet if all was brought down to
our poor level — if revelation contained no mysteries —
if it were stripped of everything supernatural — surely
its credentials, as professing to come from God, would
be very doubtful.' It is natural to expect — according
to Butler's impregnable argument — that Revelation
should have its difficulties, as well as Creation — his
word thus corresponding with his works. Nor ought

' Detached Thou^jhts and Aphormns, from Abp. Whately's Writings.

"^ Luther on this passage remarks, that he never gained anything ex-
cept by the labour of xlcepless nights. On the other hand an old Com-
mentator recommends, ' that our evening meditations should rather
be devotional than scholastical.' 'To beat our brain' — he adds—
' will leave it without fruit or rest' — Cotton.

' See Job, xi. 7-10.


we ' to draw doivn or submit the mysteries of God to
our reason, Ifbut contrariwise to raise and advance our
reason to the Divine truth.' ^

We open our Bibles. The doctrines instantly press
upon us with difficulties. But to cavil is rebellion.
If we reject one doctrine for its difficulties, we may as
well reject another, standing as they all do upon the
same testimony. The first lesson that Pythagoras
taught was silence. The same lesson meets us in the
Bible school, " Be still, and know that I am God."
(Ps. xlvi. 10.) He makes no mistakes. But "he
giveth not account of any of his matters." (Job, xxxiii.
13.) It is no more unnatural, that some of the doc-
trines of Revelation should overwhelm our understand-
ing, than that the sun in full blaze should overpower
our sight. Yet if the mind is shaken, the heart is
upheld in energy. It is faith — not indolence. Exer-
tion and diligence are in full activity.

Clearly Revelation was not proposed to indulge
curiosity, but to provide a remedy for man's blindness
and misery. If it be viewed with a merely speculative
eye, we marvel not, that it should stir up hard thoughts
of God. But facts — if they do not convince, are yet
sufficiently clear to silence, the gainsayer. That man

^ Lord Bacon's Advancement of Learning b. ii. c. vi. 2. ' The preroga-
tive of God extendeth as well to the reason as to the will of man So
that as we are to obey his law, though we find a reluctition in our will,
so wo are to believe his words, though we find a reluctation in our
reason. For if we believe only that which is agreeable to our sense,
we give consent to the matter, not to the author, which is no more
than we would do to a suspected and discredited witness. '—/i. c.
XXV. 1.



is ol^viously treated — and ever has been treated since
Adam's fall — as a creature under punishment — let who
will dispute — none can deny. Does not this strongly
prove a sure, though mysterious connexion with
Adam's sin, charged upon his children to the end ?

But to advert to one field of inquiry — the business
that is done upon the earth. To obtain a clear and
satisfying view of the whole framework of the Divine
government — to search into the reason of the adminis-
tration, and out of all the seeming incongruities to
bring out one work of beauty, order, and completeness
— all this is labour and travail. And after all the at-
tempt is vain — Man cannot find out the work. Labour
and wisdom — the two grand instruments of discovery
— even in their combined exercise, both leave us in
darkness. We can only pray for humility to believe,
that whatever is done — however contrary to our ap-
prehensions, is both wise and righteous. Secret it
may be, but always holy, so that

' When reason fails

"With all lier powers,
Then faith prevails

And love adores.' — Watti.

The mystery of perplexity is " a mystery of godliness."
The fact is — as Bp. Butler admirably states it —
' Every secret that is disclosed — every discovery which
is made — every new effect which is brought to view,
serves to convince us of numberless more which re-
main concealed, and which we had before no suspicion
of. There is no manner of absurdity in supposing a
veil on purpose drawn over some scenes of infinite
power, wisdom, and goodness, the sight of which


might some way or other strike us too strongly ; or
that better ends are designed and served by their be-
ing concealed, than could be by their being exposed to
our knowledge. The Almighty may cast " clouds and
darkness round about him," for reasons and purposes
of which we have not the least glimpse or conception.' ^
Light enough he has given to make faith rational, and
to leave unbelief without excuse.

Are we then to refrain from searching into the worhs
of Ood f So far from it — we are encouraged " to seek
them out." (Ps. cxi. 2.) A spiritual understanding of
the " loving-kindness of the Lord" will be to us an en-
riching harvest. (Ps. cvii. 43.) But how many a self-
deluded victim has Satan reasoned into the bottomless
pit ! The pride of disputation is man's native corrup-
tion. Let that be restrained, and " light ariseth in the
darkness." (Ps. cxii. 4.) Man's ignorance is to be
traced to an understanding darkened by the fall. The
remedy therefore, which restores from this awful
calamity, will bring restored rays into the dark prison.
The heart turned away from its proud reasonings —
reason humbled to " the obedience of faith" — will
bring a new atmosphere of light. " The entrance of
thy words giveth light ; it giveth understanding unto
the simple." (Ps. cxix. 130.) ' Give me the Bible' —
cried an eminent Christian — ' and may the Lord give
me faith to fix on it, or my head will grow giddy with
amazement, confusion, and dread !' "^ Bright indeed

^ See hia profound and interesting sermon on the Text. Comp
Analogy, Fart ii. Chap. iv.

" Memoirs of Mrs. Hawkes^ p. 381.


and encouraging are the remarks of a thoughtful mind
— ' If we have not banished the Divine Spirit by slights
and excesses ; if we have fed his lamp in our hearts
with prayer ; if we have improved and strengthened
our faculties by education and exercise, and then sit
down to study the Bible with inquiring and teachable
minds, we need not doubt of discovering its meaning ;
not indeed purely — for where find an intellect so
colourless as never to tinge the light that falls upon it ?
not wholly — for how fathom the ocean of God's word ?
but with such accuracy, and to such a degree as shall
suffice for the uses of our spiritual life.' ^ Take another
testimony from a sound practical Cliristian — ' I find
that the benefit I receive from Scripture in a great
measure depends upon myself. How often, in turning
to it to clear up some historical sequence, or some ob-
scure doctrine, to find material for imagination, or
ground for hypothesis, I only get at the shell instead
of the kernel ! Or again — if in high-wrought times, a
clearer insight be afforded, how prone are we to seek
and improve and define it by our own strength, and so
to bring human fictions, instead of Divine Truth to
light ! The mysteries of Holy Scriptures are revealed to
us, only when we are seeking for nothing else, hut for the
luay of reconciliation with God, and for help in our hat-
tie loith selfishness and sinJ Again, ' I learn more and
more to discern the Divine wisdom, which has set
limits to revelation. All that we need for our hap-
piness is given us ; and were the curtain lifted further

* Guesses at Truth. First Series, p. 285.


from holy mysteries, man would be lost in hopeless
bewilderment.' ^

After all however, " secret things," as " belonging to
the Lord our God," will remain " secret" still. But
" the things that are revealed" will be the precious por-
tion for " us and for our children" — for all the pur-
poses of godly obedience.'' As much light as is con-
ducive to our welfare will be graciously vouchsafed.
If the midday beams be withheld, let us thankfully
walk in the twilight — improving diligently what is
given — not murmuring at what is restrained. " Perfect
day" would leave no room for the exercise of faith —
the discipline of the present dispensation — wisely ap-
pointed to humble us in the sense of ignorance, and to
wean us from self-conceit in the exercise of confidence
in God. In this spirit we shall be humble, patient,
diligent, intelligent learners, sitting at the feet of our
Divine Teacher ; not disputing, or leaning unto our
own understanding, but willing to be led in his own
best way, on any ground, by any means that may seem
good in his sight.

In fine — let it be remembered, that man^s highest
intellect can never receive one spiritual apprehension.
' Our endeavour therefore to be wise above what is
written, must involve us in sin and perplexity, and can
never lead to any satisfactory conclusions. But to
believe and obey here will be a preparation for that
world hereafter, where " we shall know even as also
we are known." ' ^

^ IJfe of Perthes. Chap. xxix. xxxvi.
See Deut. xxix. 29. ' Scott. 1 Cor. xiii. 12.




1. For all this 1 considered in my heart even to declare all
this, that the righteoits and the wise^ and their works,
are in the hand of God ; no man knoweth either love
or hatred by all that is before them. 2. All things come
alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and to
the wicked; to the good, and to the clean, and to the un-
clean ; to him. that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeih
not; as is the good, so is the sinner ; and he that swear-
eth, as he that fear eth an oath.

The mysteries of Providence still pressed heavily upon
Solomon's mind. Proud man would bring the God
of heaven and earth to his bar. His humble child is
taught the infinite distance between the creature and
God. He therefore bows before him, and hears the
voice out of the cloud — "Be still, and know that I am
God." (Ps. xlvi. 10.) He could not find out all the
work of God. (Chap. viii. 17.) But his search brought
out many valuable discoveries. The security of God's
people was a bright and precious truth. He considered
in his heart to declare all this, that the righteous and the
wise are in the hand of God. Where could they be
safer ? Here is rest indeed. What more do we de-
sire as the ground of our confidence, than this truth
sealed and witnessed on the conscience — -All his saints
are in thy hand? (Deut. xxxiii. 3.) We are spared no
trials however severe — no conflict however painful —


no furnace however heated. But nothing touches our
foundation. We are in Ins hand. We are " a crown
and diadem." Gladly would the great enemy seem c
the prize. But we are in the Icand of the Lord. (L^ii.
Ixii. 3.) We are in the fold — exposed to peril. But
the security is — " None shall pluck them out of iny
hand:' (John, x. 28.)

Our worlcs also are with God — remembered for good,
and to be brought out before the assembled world " in
that day, when he maketh up his jewels." (Mai. iii. 16,

And yet — notwithstanding this high privilege, the
heart of God towards us — whether it he love or hatred —
no man knoweth hy all that is before them. ^ All things
come alike to all. There is one event to the righteous —
to the good — to the clean — to him that sacrificeth — to him

t/ ' Romish perversion insists from this declaration, that no one cau
know himself to he the object of Divine love. Melanchthon (quoted by
Bp. Patrick) calls it ' the interpretation of monks, who distorted the
words of Solomon, and wreathed them to their own dotages,' "*lhe
more pious expositors of this school— not absolutely denying the
doctrine — declare it to be ' a deep and difl&cult dogma.' Lorin con-
siders the Apostle's persuasion (Rom. viii. 38, 39) to be a special revela-
tion to himself. But in truth the statement has no distinct reference
to this point of controversy. S-.)lomon only assures us, that no man
can ground a personal confidence upon all that is before them, since all
things corne alike to all. The true Scriptural doctrine remains firm —
equally so the confidence grounded upon it. "We have known and
believed the love that God hath to us. The Spirit itself beareth witness-
with our spirit, that we are the children of God." (1 John, iv. 16. Rom.^
viii. 15.) ' The very principal, and indeed effectual effect of faith is
that persuasion and trust, whereby we assuredly believe the forgiveness
of sins. The which trust he that taketh away from faith, doth alto-
gether weaken and destroy it.' — Serraiu


that fearcth an oath — on the one side ; to the wicked —
to the unclean — to him that sacrificeth not — to him that
fiwcarcth on the other side. The same Providential dis-
pensations belong to both. If Abraham was rich, so
was Haman. (Gen. xiii. 2. Esth. v. 11.) If Ahab was
shiin in battle, so was Josiah. (1 Kings, xxii. 34.
2 Kings, xxiii. 29.) The Lord's outward dispensation ^
proved therefore neither his hve nor his hatred. There-

" Judge not the Lord by feeble sense."

Olney Hymns.

The inward work is the real demonstrative evidence.
A larger portion of outward prosperity may be dealt
out to the wicked. (Ps. Ixxiii. 2-12.) Yet where is
the child of God who would envy this lot, or who
would change for it the lowest experience of his
Father's love ?

3. This is an evil ammig all things that are done under
the sun^ that there is one event unto all; yea, also the
heart of the sons of men is full of evil; and madness is
in their heart while they live, and after that they go
to the dead.

Solomon is here continuing his subject. He seems
to consider that in some view it is an evil, that all
things come alike to all. Not that he reflects upon this
appointment of God, as if it were evil in itself. But it
is evil in its consequence and abuse as it were of no
account whether men were righteous or wicked, since
there is one event to all.^ We cannot wonder at this

' See Ps. Ixxiii. 11-13


perversion, when the heart is described to be evil — yea^
full of evil—Q\\\ habitual — deliberate — unmingled —
from the fountain-head. Stand before the mirror.
How hard to believe one's self so vile as is here
pourtrayed ! And yet, when under the deep teaching
of the Spirit of God, how can one forbear the confes-
sion—" Behold 1 I am vile." (Job, xl. 4.) ' Lord'—
said the dying Thomas Scott — ' abhor me not, though
I be most abhorrible.' There can be no exaggeration
or mistake. It is our Maker — the Great Searcher of
the heart — he who alone knows it — it is he that writes,
and draws the picture.' Nay, he gives a list of the
enormities — pouring out of the heart — defiling every
member of the body — every faculty of the soul.^ Nor
is the picture confined to any particular age or nation.
It is the heart of the sons of men — the history of every
child of man in his natural unconverted state. Even
under the highest influence of morality — evil passions,
as vile as the source from whence they come — are only
waiting the unrestrained moment, ere the torrent flow
out. Nor are the ignorant only in the list. Men of the
most acute sagacity — the most profound wisdom — the
largest grasp of mind — the most honoured talent, are
shut up in the same prison — the blinded captives of sin !
Can there be a more humiliating picture of man ? This
fulness of evil unrestrained rushes onward to madness
— be it remembered — responsible madness — the will
consenting to the sin — the heart loving it— the whole
course of it pursued to the end. Let the sinner think
a moment. Is not every act of rebellion against God

» See Jer. xvii. 9, 10. * See Matt xv. 19.


!i act of madiiess f For " who hath hardened himself
against God, and hath prospered ?" Or " who hath re-
sisted his will?" (Job, ix. 4. Rom. ix. 19.) Then look
at man in his character, habits, and judgment. His
choice of worldly in preference to heavenly things
surely betrays the loss of the right exercise of his un-
derstanding. It is the maniac throwing away his gold,
and preferring straws to pearls. You see man in
miserable delusion — the unconscious dupe of an univer-
sal imposition.

Such is the dark view as Solomon saw it, and as
every man — had he eyes to see — might see it in his
own heart, or in the world around him. Shall we
extend the view to the spiritual apprehensions of the
Gospel — man's interest in it, and his perverted judg-
ment of it ? What is the sight before us ? A world
of sinners on the brink of ruin ! Yet the greatest
good — the great gift of God — that which covers us
from all evil, and blesses us with all good — that which
fits us to lead a Divine life on earth, and to die full
of immortal hopes — this good is slighted — despised I
Surely it is no libel, but plain solemn truth, to look at
this sight, and cry — Madness is m their hearts !

And then again, to see this mass of our fellow-sin-
ners, trifling with infinite evil — the everlasting wrath
of God ; while the wheels of night and day are fast
hurrying them unprepared to " fall into his hands !"
(Heb. x. 31.) Can this be the sight of rational beings ?
What else but madness in their hearts could thus drive
them onward to self-destruction ?

Sad, indeed, is the consciousness that this is no men-
tal aberration, but ii spiritual world within, where all


is distorted and contradictory ; and where the unhappy
victims of the delusion are so depraved, that they can-
not understand their own depravity. Such a world
of evil ! Did we but know it, could we trifle with sin ?
It is impossible for the sinner to be more dangerously
mod than he is, except by growing into greater wicked-
ness. What worse madness is human nature capable
of? — fleeing from God — from mercy — ^from heaven —
serving the devil — drudging in the world of vanity

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Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 18 of 27)