Charles Bridges.

An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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and sin — living under the curse of God, and on the
brink of damnation.

And yet more awful is the thought, that, as regards
the mass — madness is iii their hearts tvhile they live.
They persist in this course to the end. Time will soon
be a blank and shadow — Eternity a present reality,
where the madmen will be brought to their senses in
hopeless conviction. As sure as the Bible is true — this
is true. After that they go to the dead. — Alas ! not to the
" blessed dead that die in the Lord.". (Rev. xiv. 13.)
What meetness has there been for that home ? No
home, therefore, can be for them in that state of bliss.
How important is it to cherish deep spiritual sensibili-
ties ! This picture — could we behold it with the
piercing eye of eternity — would be perhaps the sight
every moment of our poor thoughtless fellow-sinners,
pouring into the regions of dark despair, adding their
miserable souls to the countless millions fixed for ever
— in the world of " weeping and gnashing of teeth."
(Matt. xxii. 11.) Awful beyond thought or conception
is the immortality of hell. What a wondrous power
of preventing mercy, and of Omnipotent grace must
there be in the Gospel — that can hide a sinner from



such hopeless ruin, and bring him out into light, liberty,
and salvation! Whatever points to the Redeemer
brings this sovereign remedy to view.

4. Far to him ihot is joined to dU the living there is hope;
for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5. For the
living hww that they shall die; hut the dead hioiv not
anything ; neitJier have they any more a reward; for
the memory of them is forgotten. 6. Also their love,
and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished ;
7ieither have they any more a portion in anything
that is done under the sun.

Solomon had before taken an opposite view. He
" had praised the dead which were already dead, more
than the living, which were yet alive." ^ Here however
he praises the high advantage of life above death.
Awful indeed is it to see the state of the living — their
hearts full of evil — even to madness. But while there
is life — while we are joined to all theliving, there is hope.
Living on the land of hope, the very possibility of es-
caping the dark despairing home of the impenitent
dead, is an unspeakable blessing. One almost seems
to realize the awful scene of these dark regions.^ And
comparing the meanest thing with the noblest dead,
we are ready to take up the Proverb — A living dog is
better than a dead lion.'

Another ground for this preference is that the living
know that they shall die. Hence therefore the time and

See Chap. iv. 2, 3. ^ .See Isa. xiv. 9-12.

' The dog is often spoken of as the meanest of creation (Matt. xv.
26. Phil. iii. 2.) — the lion as the noblest of beasts (Prov xxx. 30.)


opportunity — perhaps also the desire — to make prep-
aration. There is time to fix our interest in heaven
— to live upon the real substantial of godliness — to
look upon this world's glare with sober dignity, as
utterly beneath " the high calling of God in Christ
Jesus." All of this world is passing away. The glory
and great end of life is that life, which makes it
" gain to die." (Phil. i. 21.) Its possession is but for
a moment — ' only an annuity for life ; not a portion fof
eternity.' ^

On the other hand, the deadknow not anything. They
have no further knowledge of anything here on earth.^
They have no further reward of their worldly labour.
The memory of them is ^oon for gotten. The love, hafred^
and envy, which they bore to others, and others to them,
is now perished — so far as connected with this world.
Whatever might have been their portion on earth, they
have it no longer.

This is the world — all that it can give. This is the
substance of those who have their " portion — their good
things in their lifetime." (Ps. xvii. 14. Luke, xvi. 25.)
What is it to thee — child of God ! — but a very bubble ?
What is it as compared with thy rich reversion — '' be-
gotten as thou art to an inheritance incorruptible,
undefiled, and that fadeth not away ?" (1 Pet. i. 3, 4.)
And yet to see men of large and comprehensive minds
— living as if there was no God to whom they are ac-
countable — no heaven or hell to receive them for ever

^ Ileniy.

"^ '] liis Bp. Hall produces as an argument against invocation of saints,
' the ground of which is their notice of our earthly condition and
special devotions.' — Old Religion, chap. x. sect. ii.


-or as if these states were painted shadows, instead
of Divine realities ! This surely is besotted blindness.
Can it be anything but wilful wickedness, that centres
the heart in alienation from God — in darkness and in
death ?

7. Go thy way^ eat thy bread with joy^ and drink thy
luine with a merry heart ; for God now accepteth thy
works. 8. Let thy garments he always white^ and let
thy head lack no ointment. 9. Live joyfully luith the
wife whom thou hvest all the days of the life of thy
vanity^ which he hath given thee under the sun^ all the
days of thy vanity : for what is thy portion in this life^
and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun f

Some striking pictures of vanity have been before us.
Here is God's bright remedy. Go thy way. Enjoy
your mercies while you have them. The charge of
melancholy is a libel upon religion. The man that is
an heir to " a lively hope, anchored within the veil"
(1 Pet. i. 3. Heb. vi. 19) — what ground has he for
melancholy ? Why — we find him " greatly rejoicing,"
even in the midst of " heaviness." (1 Pet. i. 6.) A sin-
ner has no right — a Christian — supported by Divine
strength, favour, and consolation, has no reason — to
complain. His treasure includes the promise of all
that he wants, in deep sense of his own unworthiness,
and of his Father's undeserved love.

Eat thy bread and drink thy wine with a merry heart.
Temporal blessings are doubly sweet, as coming from
him. He is exalted to bestow — we are invited to re-
ceive — them. All is our special portion. We are not


only the heirs of heaven, but we are new-born to " in-
herit the earth." (Ps. xxxvii. 11. Matt. v. 5.) He has
the clearest confidence for the heaven above, who has
that heaven now in his own soul.

Thus indeed we have the largest — because the sanc-
tified — enjoyment of earthly blessings. We have them
in connexion with the grand mystery of mercy — Ood
now accepteth our work. Bright indeed is the sunbeam
of Divine favour. The way is now opened — friendship
with his fallen creatures, who had no right to expect
anything but eternal banishment from his presence.
The blood of the sacrifice has made the consecrated
pathway. Through this medium all his thoughts
are peaceful to us. The true means noiu to enjoy the
creature is to find this acceptance with God. Doubt
not his fatherly heart. Expect nothing from him but
good. Expect no good from any other quarter.

Solomon's directions are for a joyous religion. We
must not indeed forget the " time to mourn" (chap. iii.
4) nor the moderation needed in our times of rejoicing
(1 Cor. vii. 30), nor the profit of seasons of Immiliation
and restraint. (Dan. x. 2, 3.) Yet we should remem-
ber our obligation to shine — to exhibit our ivhite gar-
ments of praise,^ and use the fragrant ointment (John,
xii. 3), as the customary mark of festive occasions.
Nor should this be the rule for particular times, or
peculiar circumstances. Let thy garments he always
tvhite — a rule in the true spirit of the precept, which
involves both our duty and our privilege — " Rejoice
evermore.'' (1 Thess. v. 16.) In our deepest sorrow

• See Esth. viii, 15. And comp. Rev. iii. 4, 5, 18



our ground for rejoicing is the same. It is indeed too
rare to find a real Christian — much more rare to find
a joyful one. And yet a gloomy professor is a sad
sight ; neither the Church nor the Gospel has sympathy
with him. He is gloomy, not because he has too much
religion, but too little. Glad indeed should we be to
bring him out of his dark shadow — to bring a sunbeam
upon his brooding spirit. Let him think of the glo-
rious work of the Divine Mediator — giving to his afflict-
ed ones " beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." (Isa.
Ixi. 3.) Do we really believe the Gospel to be " glad
tidings of great joy ?" (Luke, ii. 10.) Then surely we
belie this professed belief by " hanging our heads like
a bulrush" (Isa. Iviii. 5) and shewing the marks of an
inveterate melancholy ! Is there no danger, lest an
unthankful spirit should wither our present blessings ?
It is not well to take account from day to day of the
mercies — sovereign and undeserved — flowing in upon
us ? Ill does it become us to appear before our Father
with a wrinkled brow instead of acknowledging his
just claim to our afi'ectionate, dutiful, unreserved, de-
lighting confidence.

Solomon could not have laid down his last rule of
happiness without a poignant pang, in the recollection
of his own awful violation of it — Live joyfully with
the wife tvhom thou lovest — a single — undivided love —
so contrary to the unrestrained lust, which had been
his appetite and indulgence.* Here is indeed a special
freeness of delight and liberty of love — yet under the

' See 1 Kincra, xi. 1-3.



godly restraint of honour and sobriety. (Gen. xxvi. 8.
Prov. V. 19.)

This rule gives no sanction to the state of celibacy,
as a higher IcA^el of Christian perfection ^ — contrary
to our Maker's express declaration — " It is not good
that the man should be alone " (Gen. ii. 18) and not less
opposed to " marriage " — as declared to be not only
lawful and blameless, but ^'honourable in all men."
(Heb. xiii. 4.)

The difference between conjugal and adulterous
love, is — 'that in the one a man may live joyfully —
sweetly enjoying his life — the other belongs to one,
whose " feet go down to death ; her steps take hold on
hell." (Prov. v. 5.) The godly union of souls in mu-
mutual forbearance with each other's infirmities, and
mutual stimulating each other's graces — this surely is
' a fragment of true happiness that has survived the
fall.'^ As one remarks — who had tasted this sweet
cup with the most refined enjoyment — ' Conjugal hap-
piness lives in the depths of the heart, even amid the
sorrows and trials of life. Indeed it is by these only
the more deeply rooted, as I know by my own experi-
ence, thank God.' '

^ Bp. Taylor strikes the balance in his own beautiful style, prepon-
derating on the opposite side. — Sfe ids Sermon on the Marriage Ring,
Part ii.

^ Mylne.

' Letter of Caroline Perthes to her married daughter. In an after
letter this admirable woman writes with a Christian balance — ' Your
mutual love can be a means of happiness and blessing, only as it in-
creases your love to God. And can you not imagine, that to turn di-
rectly to God, and love him without the intervent'on of any human
medium, may be far, far better ? . . . I believe that every 3'^oung '^


And well will the man acknowledge this gift ivhich
God hath given him (Prov. xix. 14) under the sun — to
be, if not his best — ^yet his temporal portion — his staff
— support — earthly rest. ' Child of God — Chrisfs
glory, dignity, and office is to love his bride — the
Church. Thy glory is to imitate thy Lord.'^

And yet how wisely are we reminded — twice, for our
deeper impression — that these days of enjoyment are
the days of the life of our vanity — " few and evil " at
best. (Gen. xlvii. 9.) As to tlie present vanity — most
valuable is the advice — ' Cling to one another in your
grief. Let neither conceal it from the other. Do not
try to calm one another down, but rather let your sor-
row flow out into a common stream. It will then be
changed into a quiet happiness, and will unite you
more intimately than mere prosperity ever could have
done. Cling to one another, I say. Community of
love changes the profoundest grief into a blessing
from God.' ^ As to the future, the recollection comes
to us. Sooner or later — one or the other will be in
desolate loneliness. Here then we may listen to the
voice of one who speaks from the mouth of God —
'' This I say, brethren — the time is short ; it remaineth,
that those that have wives be as though they had
none." (1 Cor. vii. 29.) ' All those things that now
please us shall pass from us, or we from them ; those

n;au acts wisely, when she turns her aftections to God, instead of look-
injr about her with yearning and anxiety for an earthly object. This
latter is a melancholy state of mind, which withers and dries up the
heart, and annihilates all happinesp.' — JJfe of Perthes, chap. xxiiL

» Mylne.

' I/ife qf Perthes, chap, xxxii.


things that concern the other life are permanent as the
numbers of eternity. And although at the resurrec-
tion there shall be no relation of husband and wife,
and no marriage shall be celebrated but the marriage
of the lamb ; yet then shall be remembered how men
and women passed through this state, which is a type
of that ; and from this Sacramental union all holy
pairs shall pass to the spiritual and eternal, where
love shall be their portion, and joys shall crown their
heads, and they shall lie in the bosom of Jesus, and
in the heart of God, to eternal ages.' ^

10. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy
might ; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowl-
edge, nor wisdom in tJw grave, tvhither thou goest.

Conjugal and social affections are our warranted
indulgence ; but not so that we should be given up to
v^/them. We have now a rule, to stimulate the glow of
vital energy. There are Avorks to be done — difficulties
to be overcome — talents to be traded with — the whole
might to be engaged. And in truth — ' man's wisdom in
this dying world consists in cheerfully using present
comforts, and diligently attending to present duties.' "
Every moment brings its own responsibility. And the
rule for the discharge of this responsibility is — Whatso-
ever thy handjindeth to do, do it tvith thy might. Obvi-
ously some limitation is implied. ' What we are ad-
monished thus to do must be in its nature lawful and

^ Bp. Taylor's Marriage Ring. Finis.
'^ Scott.


right. The hand may find to do what God has forbid-
den. But this, instead of being done with might, must
not be done at all.' ^ That which occasion calls for
(Judge, ix. 33, M. R.), in the path of duty and of
Providence, is the thing to he done. The active exercise
of the hands as the instrument of the work, will bring
a fruitful result.

This direction finds its place in the Apostolical code
— "Not slothful in business" (Rom. xii. 11) — Do it
loith thy might. Sir M. Hale's advice is full of weight
— ' The crumbs and fragments of time should be fur-
nished with their suitable employments. It is precious ;
and therefore let none of it be lost." Again — ' Re-
member to observe industry and diligence ; not only
as civil means to acquire a competency for yourself
and your family, but also as an act of obedience to
his command and ordinance ; by means whereof you
make it become in a manner spiritualized into an act
of religion.''

How ready is this obedience, when the object is near
the heart ! What energy it gives to that effort, which
is so needful for success. For indeed ' nothing of
worth or weight, can be achieved with half a mind,
with a faint heart, with a lame endeavour.' ' Would
Stephenson have accomplished his locomotive triumph,
with a powerful opposition thwarting him at every
step of his progress — if he had not done it tvith his
might ? Every man must have an object of pursuit to v
keep him in healthful exercise. The dreaming priv-

* Wardlaw.

• On Redemption of Time.

"Dr. Barrow's Sermon on Industry.


lege of doing nothing will soon melt away into real
misery. ' Let others take the riches' — said Melanch-
thon — ' give me the work.'

But the main sphere for this important and invalu-
able rule is the work for eternity — the " working out
of our own salvation." (Phil. ii. 12.) The purchase
price binds us to the work under the most constrain-
ing obligation. (1 Cor. vi. 20.) We cease to be our
own, from the first moment that we are bound to him.
And here — in his work — is need of our might — all
our might — might flowing from the fountain of might.
There is no illusion of great things to be done at some
distant future. It is the present energy — the moment's
work — the instant sacrifice— the whole-hearted service
— the first of the day — the first part all the day.
Who ever found Satan asleep in his work ? ' It is law-
ful ' — the proverb reminds us — ' to be taught even by
an enemy. '^ His might is always put out to work.
So let it be with me. Let my might be thrown into ev-
ery prayer. Let every effort of faith — every exercise
of perseverance be at work. As a godly Puritan ex-
presses his ' good wish that ivhat my hand findeth to do
— / may do it ivith all my might : that I may be of the
number of those that spend themselves with labour,
and not of those who waste in rust and laziness.
Lord ! let me rather wear out in the work, than consume
(like a garment laid by with moths) for want of use.' ^
Ought not this verse to be our daily text — written
in our inward parts — before us in our first waking

^ • Pas est et ab hoste doceri.'

"Swinnock's Christian Mart's Calling^ Part I. Cbap xxvi. Finis.


hour — ' What have I to do to-day ? What duty — Avhat
work of love? — what talent to be employed ? What
service does my Lord call me to do for him ?' — " Lord!
what wilt thou have me to do ?" (Act?, ix. 6.) The
more vigorous the excercise, the more strength. Every
step supplies the strength. '' The way of the Lord is
strength to the upright" — and how is it communicated ?
"They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their
strength." (Prov. x. 29. Isa. xl. 29-31.)

But look at our Great Exemplar — How fine the ex-
hibition of determination for the work — " I must work
the works of him that sent me while it is day." Here
was doing with his might — the motive also was the
same — " The night cometh, when no man can work."
(John, ix. 4.) There is no ivork, nor device, nor
knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, loldther thou
goest. Here the highest glory of earth concludes.
Thou art travelling to the end. Every moment
brings thee nearer. And when come to the grave^
there is no work there. We cannot do our undone
duties there. All power is withered and gone.
There is no device there. All scheming is gone. No
way of escape can be planned. No knowledge is there
of any means of help. No wisdom — spiritual or intel-
lectual — nothing that distinguishes man made in the
image of God from " the beasts that perish." A mel-
ancholy picture of man — arrived at " the house ap-
pointed for all living !" (Job, xxx. 23.) And what —
if he shall have trifled away his " twelve hours of the
day" (John xi. 9) — if his light shall have gone out —
if his work shall have been found undone — if the night
shall have overtaken him, while amusing himself with


the foors word — To-morrow! If religion is no business
now, what will it be in the dying hour ? One day may
be worth years. Wasted hours will find us out at last.
A little neglect will be an eternal loss. Oh, the dread-
ful gain of winning the world by the loss of heaven !
There will be but one wail throughout eternity, con-
demning self— justifying God — " my soul, thou hast
destroyed thyself." (Hos. xiii..9.) For our great work
we have only one little life, which with all its precious
privileges and solemn responsibilities is passing — oh I
how quickly — away !

Make haste, man, to do

Whatever must be done ;
Thou hast no time to lose in sloth,

Thy day will soon be gone.

Make haste, man, to live!

Up, then, with speed, and work;

Fling ease and self away :
This is no time for thee to sleep;

Up, watch, and work, and pray.

Make haste, man, to live.

Make haste, O man, to live ;
Thy Time is almost o'er;
sleep not, dream not, but arise;
The Judge is at the door.

Make haste, man, to live.
Bonar's Hymna of Faith and Hope^ p. 262.

11. I returned^ and saiv under tJie sun, that the race is
not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, oieither
yet h^ead to the wise, nor yet riches to men of under-
stanjding, nor yet favour to men of skill ; but time
and chance happeneth to them all.


Solomon is now returning to another view of the
matter, which caused him perplexity. If he would have
us " work out" our object ivith might, it must be " with
fear and trembling/' (Philip, ii. 12.) Persons of feeble
and undecided habits may lose many valuable oppor-
tunities of doing good. On such let the rule be closely
applied — " Whatsoever thy handfindeth to do, do it tvith
thy mighty Others of a more sanguine temperament
never dream of any issue but success. They need a
balance on the other side — humility — self-distrust. Let
them be here reminded, that the best means, and the
most powerful agency, will not ensure success ; and
that, when they have done the work, they must commit v
the event to God.

It is natural indeed to believe, that the race would
l>e to the swift, and the battle to the strong ; that prudent
icisdom would obtain a competent provision, and court-
ly skill would be the way to favour. But it is not al-
ways so. The racer may make an incautious step.
' The fortune of war' (so called) may take an unfavour-
able turn. Men of wisdom continue to be poor, and
gifted with no very successful /ai7o?Yr. Oh ! Christian
— do not you find it hard to possess gifts, and not to
rest in them?— to have riches, and not to trust in
them? — to have wisdom and skill, and not to glory
in them ? — to exercise simple dependence upon God, as
if we had and were nothing ? Far is he from discour-
aging the use of means. He would only direct us in
the use of them not to " sacrifice to our net." (Hab. i.

There is, indeed, an adaptation of these means to
the end, and a tendency to work the proposed end.


But with all men's practised and persevering efforts,
s/tlie is^ue is with God — Time and chance happeneih
unto them all. Not that there is anything fortuitous
or unforeseen, but something that we cannot see — some
opportunity of time — favourable or unfavourable —
which balances against seeming probabilities — some
occurrence ' which Providence casts in the way, wliich
determines success with a decisive effect upon our lot
in life. We see not the direction, and therefore we
cannot clearly judge. But all things fall into the place
infallibly ordained by God. And if it is casual to us,
it is counsel to him — a train of causes appointed to
" work the counsel of his own will" (Eph. i. 11) the
under-working of that hand which made the worlds.
And this wise and holy hand directs the most apparent-
ly fortuitous events to the accomplishment of his own
most righteous will. * Shall we then claim to know
the secresies of his Providence ? No — rather let us lie
before him in silent unreserved submission, and leave
to him the free liberty to guide and govern us in his
own way. We are sure to come out clear from all our
perplexity, if our eye be steadily fixed upon him. But
none of this doubtfulness belongs to the ways of God.
There is no uncertainty in the Christian race. (1 Cor.
ix. 26.) The battle is for the strong in the strength
of the Lord. " The meat that endureth" is reserved to
^ the " labourer." (John, vi. 27.) If fools go away with
the world, we envy them not. The man of under-
standing grasps an unsearchable treasure. The favour

^ The proper meaning of the word chance. So translated 1 Kings
V. 4

' See 1 Kings, xxii. 34. Esth. vi. 1-11.

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Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 19 of 27)