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minister of the New Testament" — to expound Solomon
by Christ ; not forcing an unnatural interpretation,
but feeling that both the Testaments, like our two
eyes, mutually assist and enlighten each other. Or —
to use another figure. The Book of Ecclesiastes— as
a component part of the Revelation — -is the germ of
what the Gospel more fully develops. It is the same
God — the same creature — the same duties and obliga-
tions. We cannot therefore fully enforce and apply
Ecclesiastes, except by the aid of Gospel light.

He does not presume to have swept away all ob-
scurities from the sky. But possibly a few rays of

' lectures on the Book of Ecdmaste.-^, 2 vols. 8vo. 1821.


light may have been cast upon the dark clouds. For
instances of failure in interpretation he would crave
forbearance. For success he would give the glory
where alone it is due. He has endeavoured to place
before him the apostolical rule — As every man hath
received the gift^ even so minister the same one to another-,
as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any
man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God ; if any
man minister, let him do it as of the ability ivhich God
giveth : that God in all things may he glorified through
Jesus Christ, to ichom he praise and dominion for ever
and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. iv. 10, 11.)

Hinton Martell Rccton/,
Wimhorne^ Dorset,

December 10, 1859.


.'t'-^^.c- i/^.


•■^'i^ /-c



or THE ''a




1. The words of the Preacher, the Son of David, King
in Jerusalem.

These are no common ivords. They are weighty in
substance, golden in value. But their highest stamp
is, that they are, as with the olden prophets, ivords
from the month of God.^ Let us take them, not only
as the words of Solomon, the wisest of men, bufas the
words of " the only wise God." Let them come to us
in the full conviction of their Divine original. Folly
and weakness is our name ; but, oh, let us be as a little
child before every word of the testimony, with a su-
preme desire to know the mind of God, not disputing ;
" not leaning to our own understanding" (Prov. iii. 5);
but patient, humble learners before our heavenly
Teacher. Thus must we " humble ourselves" (Matt.
xviii. 3, 4), if we would profit by the precious instruc-
tion. ' When a man' (such was the dying witness of
an intellectual Christian) ' comes to that book as a
child, he will find wonders in it to make him marvel.' '

^ Preface, with Jer. i. 1, 2. Amos, I 1.

' Newman Hall's Memoir of Dr. Oordon, x>. 15Q.


Observe Solomon in his new name and character,
given to him only in this book — the Preacher. This
sacred office he places in the foreground. For was it
not more honourable to be the instructor of his people ^
than to be King in Jerusalem? If this was a ju^^t
estimate in Solomon's time, much more is it in our
own. The ordinance of preaching is now more fully
consecrated, as the grand instrument of Divine grace.
(1 Cor. i. 21.) It tunes the heavenly song of "joy
over the repenting sinner." (Luke, xv. 10.) It brings
out the purchased jewels to be eternally fixed in the
mediatorial crown. It anticipates the work of angels
in" gathering together the elect of God." (Matt. xxiv.
31.) Surely then this office may be recognized as a
far higher glory than to have discovered a planet, or
to have founded a dynasty.

But let us see the Royal Preacher in office, ' gar-
nislied by God with great and glorious gifts.' ^ Behold
him consecrating that temple, on which he had centred
his whole heart, and his untold treasures. With him
is the " assembly of the elders of Israel, and all the
Heads of the tribes of Israel." No priest or Levite
performs the service. " Kneeling down upon his
brazen scaffolding," " the king turned his face about,
and blessed all the congregation of Israel." And when
with pleading confidence he had led the solemnities of
the national worship, he dismisses the assembly with a

' '] he best critics render tlie original word, Koheleth, " One that
gathereth ;" collecting the people for public instruction— ^/^e Preacher.
— h'ee Scott. Holden strongly defends the feminine termination. —
Prelim. Dissert, pp. xxxviii.-xlvii. See also Poll Si/nopsis, and Rosen-
muller's Scholia,


valuable word of practical exhortation.—

heart be perfect with the Lord our God

his statutes, and to keep his commandments as at this


The Preacher^s ordinary course combined oral and
written instruction. "He taught the people knowl-
edge ; and that which was written was upright, even
words of truth," (chap. xii. 9, 10.) His oral teaching
was wondrously diversified in every track of science.
' He was the encyclopaedia of that early age.' (1 Kings,
iv. 30-33.) From all nations around, and from all
ranks, they flocked to hear his wisdom. (lb. 34.)
Our Lord reads us a lesson of conviction from one of
these illustrious strangers : " The queen of the south
shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and
shall condemn it ; for she came from the uttermost
parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and,
behold, a greater than Solomon is here." (lb. x. Matt,
xii. 42.)

At his last period of life the Preacher laboured with
unwearied devotedness, to repair the dishonour to God
from his evil example. " He still taught the people
knowledge, and sought to find out acceptable words."
(Chap. xii. 9, 10.) Perhaps this office, as with restored
Peter in after days, was the seal of his restoration.
" When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
Feed my sheep." (Luke, xxii. 32 ; John, xii. 15-17.)

But however his vast stores of wisdom may have fit-
ted him for his work, the school of experience furnish-
ed a far higher qualification. His main subject is the
utter vanity of earthly show, and the substantial

* 1 Kings, viii. 1 ; xiv. 55-61, with 2 Chron. vi. 13.


happiness of the enjoyment and service of God ; and
who could touch these points with such sensibility and
demonstration, as he, who had so grossly " committed
the two evils — having forsaken the fountain of living
waters, and hewn out to himself cisterns, broken cis-
terns, that could hold no water ?"^ (Jer. ii. 13.)
Most poignantly would he witness to the " evil and
bitterness" (lb. 19,) of this way of folly. (Jer. ii. 13,

The Preacher''s parentage also added weight to his
instructions — The Son of David I How much did he
owe to his godly and affectionate counsel ! ^ Indeed
he stands out as a bright illustration of his own con-
fidence, that the " trained child," though for a while —
perhaps a long while — he may be a wanderer from the
path, yet, when he is old — in his last days — he shall
not depart from it." (Prov. xxii. 6.) Let God be
honoured in the practical exercise of faith, and his
promise will be made good in his own most fitting
time — " I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed after
thee." 3

^,^^We have also before us the Preacher^s dignity — King
in Jerusalem. His royal influence must indeed have
been shaken by the gross display of idolatrous lust.
On the other hand, the special credentials of his birth

^ Hamilton's Royal Preacher, Lect. ii. "He pierced everything to the
very ground.' — Hooker, b. v. 2.

^ 1 Kings, ii. 2-4. 1 Chron. xxviii. 9. Prov. iv. 3-13.

' Gen. xvii. 7. ' Though descent from wicked parents ought to bo
no ground of prejudice against their godly children, yet descent from
godly parents is a comfortable advantage to godly children, as clearing
up their right to such promises as are made to the seed of the upright.
Ps. xxxvii. 26 ; cxii. 2.' — Nisbct On Ecclesiastes, 4to. 1694,


(2 Sam. vii. 12-14), the seal of Divine love upon him
(lb. xii. 24, 25 ; Neh. xiii. 26), and his rich endow-
ments (1 Kings, iii. 5-12) could not be forgotten.

In looking backward we find, that the sacred office
has been filled from all ranks of life, from the Kin(j in
Jerusalem to the herdman of Tekoa (Amos, i. 1), and
the fishermen of Galilee. (Matt. iv. 18-22.) But in
all this diversity of ministration, " the treasure has
been in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the
power may be of God." (2 Cor. iv. 1.)

2. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of
vanities, all is vanity.

This verse appears to have been intended to be the
compendium of the whole treatise. The subject opens
upon us abruptly ; and no wonder ; The Preacher^s
heart is so filled with it. He longs to make a forcible
impression. His text is ' the whole world, with all the
pleasures, and profits, and honours, and endeavours,
and business, and events that are under the sun.'^ He
brings out his subject with a vast variety of illustra-
tion, and then closes with emphatically repeating his
judgment. He seems as if he could not give full ex-
pression to his convictions. It is not only vain, but
vanity^ itself. He redoubles his asseveration to show

* Bp. Sanderson's Sermon on Eccles. vii. 1.

'^ Chap. xii. 8. ' The original word means a thing insufficient and
worthless, that soon vanishes away, like a vapour or a bubble ' — Taylor's
Hebrew Concordance. ' It shows that man cannot find in the world that
which he aims at.'— Dathii Notce in Eccles. 8vo. Halac. 1721. * It
made a show of contentment, but performed nothing of that which it
seemed to promise.'— Bp. Patrick.


the certainty of it, and that all is unmixed vanity in its
highest degree — vanity of vanities.'^ Nor does this
belong only to a part. Everything severally, all
things collectively — all is one expanse — one vast heap
of numberless perishing vanities. ' I affirm again and
again, that there is nothing in this world, but what is
the vainest vanity.'^ All is therefore utterly inefficient
for the great end of man^s true happiness. It only en-
larges his desires in the endeavour to gratify them.
But it leaves behind ' an aching void,' a blank, that it
cannot fill up.^

^ A superlative form of speech, to set forth the highest vanity, like
*• Song of Songs," &c. Cant. i. 1.

'^ Bezae Periphrasis, 12mo. 1589.

' Cowper. The picture of Lord Chesterfield, given by himself
furnishes' the most striking commentary on this statement — 'I have run
the silly rounds of business and pleasure, and have done with them alL
I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world, and consequently know
their futility, and I do not regret their loss. I appraise them at their
real value, which is in truth very low : whereas they that have not ex-
perienced always overrate them. They oiilj' see their gay outside, and
are dazzled with the glare. I have been behind the scenes ; I have
seen all the coarse pulleys and dirty ropes, which exhibit and move
the gaudy machine ; and I have seen and smelt the tallow-candles
which illuminate the whole decoration, to the astonishment and admi-
ration of an ignorant audience. When I reflect back upon what I
have seen, what I have heard, and what I have done, I can hardly
persuade myself that all that frivolous hnrrj'', and bustle, and pleasure
of the world, had any reality. But I look upon all that has passed as
one of those romantic dreams which opium commonly occasions, and I
by no means desire to repeat the nauseous dose for the sake of the
fugitive dream. Shall I tell you, that I bear this melancholy situation
with that meritorious constancy and resignation which most people
boast of? No ; for 1 really cannot help it. I bear it, because I must
bear it, whether I will or no. I think of nothing but killing Time the
best I can., now that he is become mine enemy. It is my resolution to


So saith the Preaclhev — repeating his office, to give
weight to his decision. Nor is it the judgment of a
soured mind — of one, who was leaving the world, only
because the world was leaving him. The book bears
evidence, that his mind was in full and clear vigoui*.
He had lived the life all over. He loathed himself for
his dear-bought experience of it, and was now " come
to himself," and seeking a better portion in his Father's
house. (Luke, xv. 13-20.)

Yet the Preacher^s verdict casts no reflection on the
works of God, which at their original formation their
Maker had pronounced to be " very good."^ He
speaks of them here — not as God made, but as sin has
marred them. Things instrinsically excellent are
perverted by their abuse. " The creature is" now
" made subject to vanity." (Rom. viii. 20.)

Repeatedly does Solomon remind us that the bless-
ings of the creature, when used for the glory of God,
are lawful in themselves, and become the source of
rich and legitimate enjoyment.'' But here lies the
evil. Man buries his heart in their vanity. He makes
them his chief good — his happiness and rest. But
" vanity " is the stamp on " man " even " in his best
estate." ' It pervades — as we have said — every class.

sleep in the carriage during the remainder of the journey.'— See Bp.
Home's interesting Sermon on ' Joshua's Choice,' and compare the fine
contrast, Isa. Ixv. 14,

^ Gen. i. 31. Comp. chap. iii. 11 ; Ps. xix. 1; cxi. 2, 3.

^ Chap. ii. 24-26 ; iii. 12, 13 ; ix. 1-9. Comp. 1 Tim. vi. 17 ; iv.

^ Ps. xxxix. 5, 6. ' Behold then, Lord '—prays the pious Bishop
Home—* the vanity of man ; and be so merciful unto him, as to open
his eyes, that he may behold it himself.'



The ricli, the learned, the ambitious, build their Babels
upon the cheat of the great deceiver. — Nay — the poor
have ' their little Babylon of straw.' ^ Everywhere it.
is one picture. To give a deeper impression of it, the
wise man puts it forth in a vehement exclamation, as
if overwhelmed with his own perception of it, and
wondering at the delusion of seeking happiness from
a mere* vapour. So deeply has the love of vanity struck
its roots into the heart, that the delusion cannot be
too strongly exposed.

But have we no balancing reality ? Are we to fret
under the desponding inquiry — " Who will show us
any good ?" (Ps. iv. 6.) ' May I have Christ with
me in the world ' — prayed the heavenly Martyn — ' not
substituting imagination in the place of faith, but see-
ing outward things as they really are, and thus obtain-
ing a radical conviction of their vanity.' ^ Here we
mark the hero of faith, his " victory overcoming the
world." (1 John, v. 4.) Here is the grand thing —
that which alone is important. Earthly things look
grand, till the trial has proved their vanity ; heavenly
things look mean, till the trial has developed their
glory. Calculate both worlds — each in its relative
value. ' In " looking at the things that are not seen
and eternal," how is the brightness of " the things that
are seen and temporal " eclipsed !' ^ And yet never
can we look off from this " seen and temporal " sphere,
till we look beyond it. TJien truly the sight of the
brighter world will make this world a wilderness I

^ Young's Night Thoughts. ^ See his Life.

' See 2 Cor. iv. 18.


* -world ! thou art too small ;
We seek another higher,
Whither Christ guides us ever nigher,
Where God is all in all.' ^

3. What profit hath a man of oE his labour which he
hath done under the sun ?

The mass of mankind revolt from the Preacher's
judgment. He therefore throws down the challenge.
What profit? General propositions must often admit
of limitations. Labour, physical and moral, brings its
own harvest. (Prov. xiv. 23.) Nay, there is a dig-
nity in manual labour. Hath not the example of the
Son of God ' blotted out all the stain of meanness,
and made it a work worthy of the greatest of men ? '
But as regards the chief good, what can all our re-
sources effect ? Apart from God, the world is poor
indeed. Disappointment brings weariness. Success
gives no permanent satisfaction.

'The world's all title-page, without contents.' "

Cast up its account. Nothing but cyphers remains.
The theory is falsified by experience. Its comforts
are withering. They stop on this side the grave. All
is dark beyond. As one said, who had built for him-
self a splendid elysium, ' I have no comfort in all this,
because I meet death in every walk.' To expect, there-
fore, from the world that which is not in it, is surely
to " spend labour for that which satisfieth not." (Isa.
Iv. 2.) Yea, as a punishment for this perversity —

* Tersteegen in Lyra Oermanica, 17 th Sunday after Trinity.
' See Mark, vi. 3.— Scott.
' Young's Xight Thoughts.


" Behold, is it not of the Lord of Hosts that the peo-
ple shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall
weary themselves for very vanity ?" (Hab. ii. 13.)
In fact, men are so willing to be deceived, that they
take up with the very shadow of profit. For what
appears to be substance is more accurately described
as an unreal thing, having no being at all. ^ The
appetite indeed for wisdom, riches, honour, and sensual
indulgence, may be indefinitely enlarged. But sup-
posing the possession of this world's all — " Wkai shall
it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and
lose his own soul ?" (Matt. xvi. 26.) The man of
the world may be orthodox in his creed and moral in
his practice. But he has stumbled at the very thresh-
old. He has placed the world before God — the body
before the soul — time before eternity.'^

What, then, will it be at the last, when the account of
all our labour must be rendered up ? when the man of
pleasure and the servant of sin shall stand before God ?
Will not the question then flash upon the conscience —
" What fruit had ye then in those things, whereof ye
are now ashamed ?" ' There is none of you ' — saith Bp.
Taylor — ' that ever entered this house of pleasure but
he left the skirts of his garment in the hands of shame,
and had his name rolled in the chambers of death.
What fruit had ye then ? This is the question.' ' And
where will the answer be given, but in darkness and
despair ? " The end of those things is death." (Rom.
vi. 21.) Such is the fruitless labour under the sun,

* See Prov. xxiii. 5.

» See Luke, xii. 15-20.

' Sermons on Apples of Sodom, Part L


Let man spend bis pains on a world (as Henry some-
what quaintly contrasts) ' above the sun, that needs not
the sun, for the glory of God is its light,*where there
is work without labmtr, and with great profit.' ^ " They
are before the throne of God, and serve him day and
night in his temple." ^ The pleasures of this service
Tiever wear out.

4. One generation passeth away, and another generation
Cometh; hut the earth abideth forever. 5. The sun
also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to
his place where he arose. 6. The wind goeth toward
the south, and turneth about unto the north ; it whirl-
eth about continually, and the wind returneth again
according to his circuits. 7. All the rivers run into
the sea, yet the sea is not full ; unto the place from
whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

The changeableness of man, as contrasted with the

* In loco.

' Rev. vii. 15. Comp. xxii. 3. Robert Burns, the poet of nature,
while a young man, writes to his fatlier, ' I am quite transported at
the thought, that ere long— perhaps very soon — I shall bid adieu to
all the pains, and uneasiness, and disquietudes of this weary life ; for
I assure you I am heartily tired of it. It is for this reason I am more
pleased with the last three verses of the seventh chapter of the Revela-
tion, than with any ten times as many in the whole Bible ; and would
not exchange the noble enthusiasm with which they inspire me for all
that this world has to offer me.' See his Life. Yet all this was only
the religion of sentiment. It brought neither holiness nor peace.
Burns, with all his emotion, was the wretched slave of lust. How
sad to admire, without the taste to enjoy ! The picture is glowing.
The scenery is lovely. But is the holiness of God the element of the
atmosphere ? Is it the heaven of imagination that we love ? Or is
it the heaven where Christ is the Sun— the centre— the everlasting
joy ? See Rev. xxL 23.


permanency of his abode, furnishes another proof of
utter vanity. Man and his labour are swept away, as
if they had *iiever been. ' The earth is a stage — per-
sons passing and vanishing before our eyes.' ^ It is
continually shifting its inhabitants. One generation
passeth away to make room for another. Fathers are
going ; children are coming after. None stayeth.
The house abideth, but the tenants are continually
changing. Could they remain to enjoy it, there might
be some solid, because some permanent, profit. But
eternity and unchangeableness are the necessary
grounds of happiness.'* The ultimate destiny of the
earth is, that it, " and the works that are therein, shall
be burned up." (2 Pet. iii. 10, 11.) Yet a substratum
for the " new earth," which " we, according to his
promise, look for," (lb. v. 13,) may be reserved. At
all events, as compared with man's passing away, it
abideth ever, till its end in connection with the purpose
of God be eternally accomplished. So long as there
shall remain " a seed to serve him," and " one genera-
tion to praise his works to another," (Ps. xxii. 30 ;
cxlv. 4,) so long it abideth.

See how everything presents the same picture. The
sun, after so many thousand courses, ariseth and goeth
down . . halting to his place (Ps. xix. 4-6 ; civ. 19-22).
The wind is always shifting, returning again according
to his circuits. (Ps. cxxxv. 7 ; Jer. x. 13.) The cur-

^ Beza.

^ ' Solomon reasons that a man's happiness cannot be upon this
earth, because it must be some abiding thing that must make him
happy— abiding, to wit, in his enjoyment. Now, though the earth
abideth, yet, because man abides not on the earth to possess it, there-
fore his rest and happiness cannot be here.' Leighton on 1 Pet. i. 3, 4*


rents of the rivers run into the sea, which yet is not fuU,
but returns them in clouds and vapours to water the
earth. (Ps. civ. 8, 9.) ' All this seems a weary go-
round — constant movement combined with constant
sameness. So many emblems of man's restless state !
Should they not rouse us to " work while it is day "
(John ix. 4) — filling up our own little sphere " of ser-
vice according to the will of God in our generation "
(Acts, xiii. 36) — looking to " fall asleep in Jesus, rest-
ing from our labours, and our works following us ?"
(Rev. xiv. 13.)

8. AU things are full of labour ; man cannot utter it:
the eye is not satisfied vnth seeing^ nor the ear filled
with hearing.

Every step of advance shows more clearly the
" weary land." Labour, not rest, is our portion. (Chap,
ii. 11, 22.) '' Man riscth up early, and late taketh
rest, and eateth the bread of carefulness."^ All things,
even the most cheerful exercises, are fuU of labour.
What therefore brings toil, brings only additional
proof that all is vanity. Indeed, in so many ways is
this weariness felt, that man cannot utter it. In all
the inconceivable variety, we are as far from rest, as
the sun, the mind, the rivers, in their respective spheres.
As the Christian philosopher profoundly remarks —
* Our own will, although it should obtain its largest
wish, would always keep us in uneasiness.' " Men

* See Bp. Home's beautiful note. * The whole passage seems only
intended to express, in a popular manner, the stated revolutions of the
visible creation.' Holden in loco.

' Ps. cxxvii. 2, Prayer-book Version. ' PascaL


seek, and they find ; and yet they toil again, no nearer
the prize than at the beginning. Nay, even the de-
lights enjoyed through the medium of the senses cloy.
Seeing and hearing bring no permanent satisfaction.
(Chap. iv. 8 ; v. 10, 11. Comp. Prov. xxvii. 20 ; xxx.
15, 16.) They would fain describe, if they could, the
bitterness and extent of their disappointment. Men
cry for more and more of the world. But when it
comes, it does not satisfy. Do they ever dream of
rest ? ' Whence arise distractions of heart, thoughts
for to-morrow, rovings and inquisitions of the soul
after infinite varieties of earthly things, swarms of

Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 2 of 27)