Charles Bridges.

An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

. (page 21 of 27)
Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 21 of 27)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



had seen — misgovernment. He had often alluded to
this disorder as a national evil ; * specially when men
have been raised, or have risen, to an high elevation.
" The brother of low degree may rejoice in that he is
exalted." (Jam i. 9.) It may be — as in Joseph's case
— for an enlarged sphere of usefulness. ^ The Great
Ruler " takes the poor out of the dust, that He may
set him with the princes of his people." (Ps. cxiii. 7,
8.) The records of all ages — particularly of our own
— shew men raised from the people to the highest hon-
our in the state. The evil here noted is the misplacing
of men— folly set in great dignity — ' men by indignities
coming to dignities.' ^ This is an error which proceed-
eth from the ruler. The responsibility lies at his door
to fix the fittest men in the paces which most need
them ; " doing nothing " either " by partiality " or
]jy prejudice. And a matter of much evil and grief is
the capricious advancement of despicable upstarts —
power placed in unworthy hands — great interests en-
trusted to men of low life, who have neither will nor
wisdom rightly to discharge their trust. While these
minions — the creatures of the rulers^ own will — are
advanced, ' the rich in knowledge and large capacities '

^ See Prov. xix. 10; xxvi. 1; xxviii. 12, 28; xxx.2I, 22.

^ Ps. cv. 17-22, and David, lb. Ixxviii. 10-72.

^Bacon's Essat/s, xi. 'Ahab' — it has beea well observed— ' displays
in clear lines tlie irreparable mischief which can be done to society by
a character intrinsically insignificant, when external circumstances have
exalted it into a situation among the public agents of the world.' —
Archdeacon Evans's Scripture Biography, iii, 158.

* Such as by our Edward II. Comp. Prov. xxviii. 3 ; Ksth. iii. 1.

' Evidently opposed to folly. See also Ps. xlv. 12.


— well qualified for high offices — are sitting in low
places. A similar sight — servants on horses^ ' and jprin-
ces walking on (he earth to do them honour (Esth. vi. 8,
9) Solomon elsewhere describes, as " one of the evils
which the earth cannot bear." '

If order is heaven's first law, whatever infringes
this law presents a distorted view of the Divine econ-
omy. If servants rule, and masters serve — if subjects
dictate, and kings bend before them, it is the power
of man's will — not of God's ordinance. Hooker's
dying comfort was to meditate on 'the blessed obedi-
ence and order of angels, without which peace could
not be in heaven. And oh' — he added — ' that it might
be so on earth !' ' If we then rule, let it be so as to
give no pretext for discontent or revolt. If Ave be in
a subordinate position, let it be to fulfil the responsi-
bilities of our position, without seeking to " come up

The evil is greatly increased, when the high stations
of the Church are bestowed upon unworthy men, pass-
ing by men of God, sound in doctrine, and upright in
heart. But as Lord Bacon quotes the proverb — 'A
place sheweth the man ; and it sheweth some to the
better and some to the worse.'* It is hard to say how
a man will behave himself in his high responsibility,
till he has been tried. None but those who are divine-

- A mark of honour— Kzek. xxiii. 23. Jer. xvii. 25. The latter text
marks a National honour — let Briton mark it well — connected with the
National keeping of the Sabbath. (Vv. 21-25.) The custom is con-
tinued to the present day. See Harmer.

' See Prov. xxx. 21, 22. " See Izaak Walton's />?/>. '

* E^f^at/ xi. yt mpm.


ly-furnished can stand the trial, and glorify God
in it.

Such is this world — a mere pageant — a " fashion
that passeth away," with all its pomp, and glory, and
cheat. Lord ! let me be ever content with my appoint-
ed lot, never aspiring to any higher name or reputa-
tion. How little exaltation could I safely bear with
such a corrupt and worldly heart ! What a mercy is
it to be kept upon humble ground, not climbing the
pinnacle, where the head so soon turns giddy, and
where special watchfulness is needed ; because the
greater the height, the greater the fall. Never, let
me seek great things for myself, " when thou hast said
— Seek them not." (Jer. xlv. 5.)

8. He that diggetli a pit shall fallinto it ; and whoso
breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him. 9. Whoso
removeth stones shall be hurt thereivith ; and he that
deaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.

These four pithy illustrations obviously point to
one and the same end. Evil shall fall upon the heads
of its own authors. He that diggeth the pit may /all
into it himself.^ As the breaking of an old hedge might
hazard the serpenfs bite ; ^ so the attempt to root up
ancient fences of government may be an undoing pro-
ject.^ The removal of stones from a building may
bring them upon our head. Even the cleaving of wood

*See Job, V. 13. Ps. vii 15, 16; ix. 15 ; cxli 10. Prov. '5,6;
xxvi. 27 ; xxviii. 10. Examples of Haman (Esth. vii. 10), Daniel's
enemies (Dan. vi. 24). "^ See Amos, v. 19.

' See 2 Sam. xviii 4. 1 Kings, i. 5 : ii. 25.


may be a work of personal danger.^ ' Let there be
neither a secret conspiracy against the established order
of things, nor a violent inroad on its fences and land-
marks : else there may be a recoil on the perpetrators
themselves ; just as the renders and pullers down of
things material are in danger of being hurt therewith.' ^
It is far more easy to blame than to mend ; to pull
down the house, than to build it up again. And yet
such is the power of self-delusion, that if the mysterious
finger could shew the hand-writing upon the wall — on-
ward men will go — so natural and easy is the down-
ward path !

10. If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then
must he put forth more strength ; hit vnsdom is profit-
able to direct.

Whatever be the object of the man in cleaving the
wood, he cannot work effectively with blunted tools. If,
therefore, Jie does not ivhet his hatcliet\s edge, he must
l)ut forth more strength; yet only to belabour the tree
with heavy, but ineffectual blows. Thus unskilful and
indolent workmen often increase their difficulties by
the want of hearty exertion. In working for God, our
materials are rough. Feeble, indeed, are our efforts
to cleave the knotty ivood. The stubborn will resists,
and there is no apparent result.

But is it not the secret of this bluntness, that we
have not wJietted tJie edge, that prayer has been let
down — that faith has been in slumbering exercise —

* See Deut. xix. 5.

' Dr. Chalmers' Scripture R^.adincjs.


that the lust of the world has been indulged — and
heavenly prospects clouded ? Yet we must not cast
away the enfeebled weapon. Let the edge he whetted.
Substitute a religion of sustained energy for a religion
of complaints. We are fighting for a " kingdom that
suffer eth violence." The crown is hard to get, and
harder still to keep. But " the violent" — those who
liave ivhetted their edge and put forth more strength —
they " take it by force." (Matt. xi. 12.) So far as faith
is in real exercise — it must and will prevail.

* Fight, though it may cost thy life ;

Storm the Kingdom, but prevail ;
Let not Satan's fiercest strife

Make thee, warrior, faint or quail.

' Art thou faithful ? then oppose
Sin and wrong with all thy might ;

Careless how the tempest blows.
Only care to win the fight' *

But, after all, the grand cause of failure is, that we
,do not go straight to God for the strength of Omnipo-
tence to be " made perfect in our weakness." (2 Cor.
xii. 9.) There having gone and whetted, the edge — now
to your work. They that have a little strength, shall
have more. " He giveth power to the faint, and to
them that have no might, he increaseth strength." (Isa.
xl. 29.) Ours is not a fitful work — of strong, but tfevn-
porary, excitement. The thought that it is God's
work — done for God — done on earth, as it cannot be
done in heaven — this puts energy into every effort. It

^ Lyra Germmiica. Septuagesima Sunday.


is not the work of the scholar or the theologian, but
of the practical servant of God. It is not the work
of natural power, but of Christian confidence. ' When'
— as godly Bp. Latimer declares — ' I am in a settled
assurance about the state of my soul, methinks then I
am as bold as a lion. But when I am eclipsed in my
comforts, I am so fearful a spirit, that I could run into
a very mouse-hole.' Here is the true ivhetting of the
edge. The secret of our strength is the recollection of
our standing as a child accepted. To hold on in ad-
vance only a single step is victory. We think not of
the hardness of the fight, but of Him who is ever with
us — ever sufficient for us. One promise of His grace
is more powerful to hold us up, than all the assaults
of hell to throw us down.

There will indeed be perplexities to the end. But
vnsdom — " the wisdom that is from above " — is projit-
able to direct. It puts us in the right way of working.
It sets before us the best objects, and the most fitting
occasions. The want of this practical luisdom has
hindered much good, and induced much injury to the
great end. Children have been trained in gloom,
rather than in brightness. Amiable people have been
revolted from the Gospel by well-meaning but unsuited
faithfulness. Imprudence — perhaps only a single in-
stance — has excited a prejudice, very hard to melt
away. And therefore for consistency and usefulness
in our sphere of duty, what so important as to take
the precious promise as the polar star of our course ?
— " If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God,
that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not ;
and it shall be given him." (Jam. i. 5.)


11. Surety the serpent will bite zoithout enchantment, and
a babbler is no better.

Scripture elsewhere alludes to man's power in en-
chanting the serpent. But tvithout enchantment surely
the serpent will bite. It is his nature. (Yerse 8.) The
babbler is no better.^ It is as much his nature to babble,
and quite as dangerous, as for the serpent to bite. He
is all tongue. And well indeed is this " tongue de-
scribed as an unruly evil, full of deadly poison ! " (Jam.
iii. 8.)

The evil here more distinctly in view is breach of
confidence. So baneful is its influence — that it is
hardly safe to " trust in a friend, or to put confidence in
a guide." Nay — it may sometimes be wise to " keep
the door of our mouth from her that lieth in our bos-
om." (Mic. vii. 5.) ' The dismantling and rending of
the robe from the privacies of human intercourse ' can-
not be justified. ' He that entrusts a secret to a friend,
goes thither as to a sanctuary ; and to violate the rites
of that is sacrilege and profanation of friendship.'^
Follow in ' its course a secret thus let loose. One tells
it to another. Thus it goes from mouth to mouth —
from ear to ear ; depositing in many hearts what never
should be known ; gathering as it flies untold excess
of scandal. If " itching ears " are bad (2 Tim. iv. 3);
itching lips are worse — more hurtful in the end.'^

^ 'A babbler is nothing better than a serpent, who stings without prov-
ocation.' Luther's Version. — See Beza. The marginal reading —
' Master of the tongue' — supposes the proud independence of all restraint.
See Ps. xii, 4

" Bp. Taylor's Sermon on the Good and Evil Toiu/ue.

^ Mylne.


Learn to prize the friend who can keep a secret as an
inestimable jewel. To resist the charm of telling the
secret unadvisedly — is an honourable mark — " shewing
all good fidelity in all things." (Tit. ii. 10.)

The evil of this hahbling involves all the fruits of pure
selfishness — tossing about our neighbour's name —
the dearest part of him — as the veriest bauble. And
how naturally do we slide into this sin — ere we are
aware of it ! Everywhere it goes with us — at home
and abroad — in large or small society — in common in-
tercourse of the day. The tongue flowing without
restraint, becomes " the fountain sending forth bitter
waters." If it be the prerogative of man to enchant
the serpent, much more is it the Omnipotence of God to
"bridle the tongue." ''No man^^ — it is emphatically
stated — " can tame it." (Jam. iii. 8.) The sins of the
tongue are deeply marked in the word of God, as mat-
ter for discipline, humiliation, and prayer. Oh ! for
that careful, tender sensibility, that makes a conscience
of a word — of a look." No sins tend more to banish
the Divine Comforter from our houses and from our
hearts. What proof can there be of grace in the
heart, if there be not a bridle on the tongue ? ^

12. The words of a wise man's mouth are graciotis
(Heb. Grace) ; but the lips of a fool tviU sivalloiv Mm
up. 13. The beginning of tJie words of his mouth is
foolishness ; and the end of his talk is mischievous
madness. 14. A fool also is full of words : a man
cannot tell what shall be ; and what shall be after him^

' See Jam. i. 26.


wlio can tell him ? 15. Tlie labour of the foolish
wearieth every one of them ; because he knoweth not
how to go to the city.

Again we have the contrast drawn out between wis-
dom and folly — between that which cometh from God,
and the flowing stream of our corrupt nature. The
tongue — as Bp. Taylor describes it in his graphic col-
ouring — ' is a fountain both of bitter waters and of
pleasant. It sends forth blessing and cursing. It
praises God, and rails at men. It is sometimes set on
fire, and then it puts whole cities in combustion. It is
unruly, and no more to be restrained than the breath
of a tempest. It is volatile and fugitive. Reason
should go before it ; and when it does not, repentance
comes after it. It was intended for an organ of the
Divine praises ; but the devil often plays upon it, and
then it sounds like a screech-owl, or the groans of
death ! Sorrow and shame,' folly and repentance, are
the notes and formidable accents of that discord.' ^

How valuable then is the art of enchanting our
tongues ; bringing them under wholesome discipline, so
that they may pacify and instruct, instead of bringing
the serpent's sting ! And truly heavenly wisdom per-
vades the entire and new man, as folly pervades every
faculty of the old man. The loords therefore of the
wise man\s mouth are gracious — grace in the very es-
sence. Thus was it with our Divine Master. The en-
raptured Prophet could not restrain his song — " Thou
art fairer than the children of men : grace is poured

' Sermon on the


into thy lips." (Ps. xlv. 2.) And when this Incarnate
^\'isdom was manifested — can we marvel, that they
wondered " at the gracious words, which proceeded
out of his mouth"? (Luke, iv. 22.)

Solomon elsewhere draws the same picture of the
iiodly tongue — " The tongue of the just is as choice sil-
\(r. The lips of the righteous feed many. The
tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright. The heart
of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to
his lips." * And " how forcible are these right and
gracious words f (Job, vi. 25.) Did they not melt
the iron heart of Esau? (Gen. xxxiii. 1-16.) Did
they not recall the rash purpose of David to a consid-
erate restraint? (1 Sam. xxv. 22-35.)

Take, again, a modern example from the annals of
our Church History. What did Luther owe to the
gracious words of his friend Staupitz, bringing him out
of bondage ! ' In order to be filled with the love of
that which is good, you must first be filled Avith the
love of God. If you wish to be really converted, do
not follow these mortifications and penances. Love
him who has first loved you.' These words — the His-
torian adds — ' penetrated the heart of Luther. Guided
by tliis new light, he consulted the Scriptures. He
looked to all the passages, which speak of repentance
and conversion — words, which were no longer dreaded,
but became the sweetest refreshment. Those passages
of Scripture, which once alarmed him, seemed now — he
says — to run to him from all sides, to smile, to spring
up, and play around him.' '

*Prov. X. 20, 21 ; xv. 2 ; xvi. 23. Comp. Ps. xxxvii. 30.
' D'Aubigne'a Jlixfory of the German Reformation.


There is indeed a power in godliness beyond man's
wisdom. Grcwe is often mightier than intellect. The
man whose " conversation is seasoned with this grace "
will be ready with his " answer" against many an acute
disputant on the arena of scepticism/ Considering
his tongue as a talent to be used for his Master's glory,
and having his heart as a treasury filled with the things
of God — his gracious ivords will be full of power.
Few can listen, without being wiser and better.

Here is wisdom in its solid influence. Now mark
the contrast oi folly. The lips of the fool swallow up
himself. Adonijah's self-willed proclamation was to
his own ruin. (1 Kings, i. 5 ; ii. 25.) Rehoboam's
foolishness: — giving grievous instead of gracious ivm^ds
to his people — made " his own tongue to fall upon him-
self." (lb. xii. 1-19. Comp. Ps. Ixiv. 8.) Wisdom
guides the nearest way to our own security. (Prov. x.
9.) — Folly the surest road to our own ruin. Look at
the lips of the fool filled with scorn against his Maker
— his scoffing contempt alike of his niercy and his judg-
ments — are not these the words of folly in the path of
ruin ? (Ps. ii. 1-4.) And will not the justly merited
destruction at the great day of retribution fearfully —
irrevocably — swallow him up? (Jude, 14, 15.)

Nor are thefooVs lips only a curse to himself. They
become a pest to all around him — from beginning to
end. The beginning of his words is foolishness. But
he goes from bad to worse — often as if he was worked
up to a phrenzy. If his oracular voice does not com-
mand attention, he is all on fire — all is a blaze and

» See Col. iv. 6.


smoke — till his anger becomes a sort of mischievous
madness. Thus this combustible talker spreads mis-
chief wherever he goes — in his family — in society, stir-
ring round about him " envy and strife, confusion, and
every evil work."

The next distinctive feature in the portrait of the
fool is his torrent of words— ^/'mK of words — Many
words but few ideas — a Babel system of confusion —
mere word-rubbish. He talks from first to last in the
circle of folly — talking and talking on at random, de-
termining to have the last word, although at the end
it is the same as at the beginning — such common-place
truisms that no man can tell what shall he — what shall
come next ; and so loose and incoherent, that what
shall he after him loho can tell him ?

In fact, it is generally found, that those who have
the most discourse have the least knowledge. Words
are too often the substitute for thinking, rather than
the medium of thought. In the use of them men think
they know their own wisdom. But how few compara-
tively know their own foolishness ! The fool passing
from his words to his daily business — his labour tvea-
ries every one connected with him. Impertinently busy,
without any object ; yet so extreme is his ignorance
upon the most ordinary matters — such a total want of
common sense — that it is as if he kneiu not the plainest
track — how to go to the city, close at hand. We won-
der not that man should be v;earied with his inter-
course, yielding as it does no profitable result. Thus
' men, who neglect to employ Christ for "eye-salve, that
they might see ".(Rev. iii. 18) things of greatest con-
cernment for liis glory, and for the salvation of their


own souls, are often, for their so-doing, left to miscarry
in their most common affairs.'^ Man's wisdom be-
comes his foolishness, if he is content to live without
dependence upon his God.

We do not often see this portrait of the fool fully
drawn out. Yet we are frequently conversant with
persons gifted with great volubility of speech, com-
bined with perfect shallowness of understanding ; and
who, if they were strongly excited, would pour forth
the overflowing foolishness here described. Indeed
the fountain principle is in us all from the beginning.
" Foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child "
(Prov. xxii. 15) ; and unless it give place to the Om-
nipotence of the gracious principle, its enfeebling and
perverting influence will fully proclaim itself. The
man who neglects Divine Teaching, will be a fool to
the end of his days in heavenly wisdom, with all the
fearful responsibility of wilful folly.

16. Woe to thee, land, ivlien thy King is a child, and
thy princes eat in the morning. Vl. Blessed art thou,
land, when thy King is the son of nobles, and thy
princes eat in due season, for strength and not for


Solomon's code of morals comes out with greater
point and brightness, the more it is examined. This
book of Ecclesiastes is truly a hand-book of morals, for
all ranks and classes of society. And not among the
least important is the place which Solomon gives *to

^ Nisbet.


the great and noble of the earth. Kings and rulers
like himself, far from being exempted by their rank
from the common laws of men, are strongly warned
against sins, which might have seemed to belong only
to the lowest and most degraded of their people. In
point of fact — the higher the rank, the more aggravated
the sin. And that of intemperance, here reproved, is
not only ruinous to the prince, but brings a curse upon
the nation. ^

Solomon had learned naturally to connect the per-
sonal character of the Monarch with the prosperity
of the land. A child in years — as Josiah, and others
— may be a national blessing.* But when the king
" icas a child in understanding," (as was his own son
in the maturity of age) ^ — then tvoe unto thee, land.
(Isa. iii. 4.) The character and habits of the princes
were generally after the example of the Sovereign.
A corrupt king (like our Charles II.) brings up a cor-
rupt court. If he were indulging his ease and pleas-
ure, tliey would probably plunge into the same gulf
(Hos. vii. 3-5), giving up the morning — the prime of
the day — to appetite ; rather than appropriating it,
as they were bound to do, to the public service.*

' Sec 1 Kings, xvi, 9, 10 ; xx. 16-21.

" 2 Chron. xxxiv. 1-3. Cartwright, writing in Elizabeth's days,
adds to the list 'Edward VI. in our memory'— but with this signifi-
cant reserve — 'so long as he was guided by his own judgment and

' See 2 Chron. xii. 13.

* See Jer. xxi. 12. ' The breakfast of the Orientals usually con-
sisted of the simplest eatables. Hence to feast in the morning was a
proof of intemperance, as well as neglect of duty. — Holden. See Pic-
torial BihU.


In contrast with the ivoe of a childish monarch, is
the blessing of a king — the. son of vohles. And as
before, it was the child, not in years, but in qualities ;
so he now speaks of a king — noble — not in blood, but j
in wisdom and godliness. For ' this is the true nobil-
ity, when piety, wisdom, righteousness, and the fear of
God, do adorn the royal blood, and render persons
truly illustrious. Nobility of blood, without nobility
of virtue and holiness, addeth nothing to a governor
at all.'^ The completeness of the blessing is, when
the king reigneth in righteousness, and the princes —
folloAving his example — "rule in judgment." (Isa.
xxxii. 1.) The contrast is marked in well-disciplined
exercise. They did not eat in the morning in unre-
strained indulgence — but in due season — in modera-
tion, for strength, and not for drunkenness — " making
provision for the flesh " — to satisfy the wants — not
"to fulfil the lust thereof." (Rom. xiii. 14.) This
habit of self-control was emphatically commended to
rulers with some experience of its need and value —
" It is not for kings, Lemuel, it is not for kings to
drink wine, nor for princes strong drink ; lest they
drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21 23 24 25 26 27

Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 21 of 27)