Charles Bridges.

An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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ing. Let our hearts be more enlarged. The grand
example pours fourth a constraining influence. For-
wardness, sincerity, self-denying devotedness — all flow
from the experimental " knowledge of the Saviour's
grace." * That display is at once our pattern, our
standard, and our principle.

Cheerful liberality is the burden of the rule : dig-
ging open the several springs of usefulness which, hav-
ing once begun to flow, will spread into streams.
' Spring up, well ' — will every true Israelite sing.
The higher we rise to our standard, the brighter our
atmosphere, the more fruitful our course of practical

* Cotton and Henry.

^ Definite for indefinite. See Mic. v. 5.

=*See 1 Sam. i. 4, 5. Neh. viii. 10-11. Esth. ix. 22. Comp. Gen.
xliii. 34.

See 2 Cor. viii. 1-9.

"See U&ther^BEKsayiitodogood. Num. xxi. It.


habits. The likeness of our Divine Master will be the
unmistakalle stamp of our profession.

But a strange reason is given for this energy of love.
Thou hioivest not what evil shall he upon the earth.
' Therefore ' — says the selfist — ' I may want my money
for myself. Times may alter. An evil day may be
at hand. I must be prudent, and restrain. It is best
to save while I can. " Why should I take of my
bread and my flesh, and give to I know not who ?" ^
(1 Sam. XXV. 11.) 'Therefore' — says the noble-mind-
ed, trusting servant of God — ' I will improve my stew-
ardship while I have it. Like my Great Master, " I
will work the works of him that sent me while it is
day."' (John, ix. 4.) Thus the covetous worldlin g
- i^ses as the only excuse for hoarding, the very ci rcum-
stance, which Solomon produces as a motive to lib-
erality . The one applies it as an hindrance to godli-
ness — the other as an incentive to it. There is no dan-
ger of becoming poor by our charity. The God of
Heaven is the Surety for the poor. Mr. Scott gives his
valuable testimony — the result of well-tried experience.
' There is no risk in expending money in an urgent case,
and from good motives. A penurious prudence, spy^ing-
ingfrom weak faith, is impolicy as ivell as sin J ^ ' It is

^ Life, chap. viii. The Italics are the biographer's, justly pointing
special attention to the testimony. Grainger mentions an application
to the wealthy members of a congregation to increase their Minister's
income. The answers are as follows: 1. ' The more I give, the less I
have.' 2. ' I see the fore-end of my life, but I see not ray latter; I
may come to want that which I now give.' 3. ' Our minister is old,
and past preaching ; let his son, if he would, give to preaching.' 4.
'I know how to bestow my money better.' Selfishness never wants


wise ' — as Bp. Reynolds reminds us — ' to do God's
ork in God's time.' And his time is the present time
perhaps the only time that may be given. Large-
■artedness is after all true Christian prudence. "There
1 - that scattereth, and yet increaseth ; and there is that
w ithholdeth more than is meet ; but it tendeth to pover-
ty. He hath dispersed — he hath given to the poor —
his portion to seven, and also to eight J^ What is the
issue ? Is he the poorer for his bounty ? " His right-
eousness endureth for ever : his house shall be exalted
with honour." (Prov. xiii. 24. Ps. cxii. 9.) Oh ! for
the unselfish spirit, that finds the truest happiness in
ministering to the wants and sorrows of our fellow-
sinners ; and whose experience puts a fresh seal to the
Divine Tradition — " It is more blessed to give than toj
receive." (Acts, xx. 35.)

' And if a portion of your worldly substance be re-
quired for the purpose of imparting the bread of life
to the famishing millions, will you withhold it ? " Hon-
our the Lord with your substance." (Prov. iii. 9.) Let
the pleading voice of the whole heathen world be
heard. Let the claims of " the seed of Abraham, God's
friend " (Isa. xli. 8), awake the grateful sensibilities of
your heart, and open your hands to liberality. Seek
not after apologies for refusal. Cover not a grudg-
ing disposition by plausible objections. Let not con-
science be bribed and cajoled by avarice. Put not to
the credit of prudence and principle what belongs to
the account of hard-hearted selfishness, and the " love
of this present world.' Give a portion to seven and
also to eight. ^

* Wardlaw.


3. If the clouds he full of rain, they empty themselves
upon the earth ; ami if the tree fall toicards the south,
or toivards the north, in the place wliere the tree fall-
eth, there it shall he.

Solomon abounds in happy illustrations.^ Here he
pictures the sun exhaling its watery vapours from the
earth, not to retain, but to discharge them, that they
may break as clouds ' big with blessings ' upon the
earth again. And is not the man of Go d the c loud
fM of rain — blessed, as a child of Abraham, that ho
J may be made " a blessing?" (Gen. xii. 2.) The bless-

, ing will not be lost. There is good security for the

! return of well-principled benevolence. Where it has
been dispensed, there let it be looked for : there it will
be found, here or hereafter — -just as the tree — in the

place where it falleth — whether toivards the south or to-
wards the north — there it shall he.

Let me ask then — what blessing am I bringing to
my fellow-creatures — in the family — in the church — in
the world ? Does my profession attract and recom-
mend my principles ? Are those around me enriched
by my gifts and graces ? Are they benefited by my
prayers and good service ? The power to do good
flows from the willingness to do it. The very breathing

i of the heart is the principle of love. Let me not wait
for the call of importunity ; but hasten at once into
the sphere of practical work. Splendid services are
not always required ; but acts of kindness to the
weakest and the meanest of his people, worked out in
the true spirit of love to himself. (Matt. xxv. 40.)

' Mercer.


May not the accommodation of Solomon's figure
place it vividly before our eyes — how short our time /
of work may be — how soon — " noio " even the " axe
may be laid to the root of the tree" (Mat. iii. 10) and
our state unchangeably fixed for eternity ? Where the
tree faUeth, there shall it he. Death changes, purifies
nothing. Inexpressibly solemn will be the sentence
pronounced— " He that is unjust, let him be unjust still;
and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still ; and he
that is righteous, let him be righteous still ; and he
that is holy, let him be holy still." (Rev. xxii. 11.)

4. He that observeth the uoind, shall not sow ; and he
that regardeth the clovds, shall not reap.

Solomon still seems to have in his eye the di spen s-
ing of charity . And he is led to remark how trifling
hindrances damp its glow, and restrain its exercise. ^
The man who is constantly observing the wind, and
thinking how every gust will blow away his seed, icill
never sow. Nor will he who in feebleness of purpose
regards the clouds, ever reap. Just so — little objec-
tions of doubt as to the fitness of objects, under the
feigned name of prudence, occupy the mind, and tlie
season of opportunity passes away. So much for the
literal figure. Lord Bacon gives a more general ap-
plication, and remarks upon it, that there is no greater
impediment of action, than an over-curious observance \/
of time and season. He adds, ' A man must make his
opportunity, as oft as find it.'

' Advancement of Learning, Book ii. C. xxiii.


But this expressive figure describes a large class of
Christian professors of the same "doubtful mind"
(Luke, xii. 29) forming pretences against the present
season of doing good, and putting off duty to a more
fitting time. This is the man, who would not sow in
ivind or rain, lest his seed should be blown away, and
his harvest lost. Whereas by yielding to present dis-
couragements, he never does his business to good pur-
pose, and really loses his harvest. " The sluggard
will not plow by reason of the cold ; therefore shall
he beg in harvest, and have nothing." (Prov. xx. 4.)
Mark the present call to duty — the opportunity of
good now put into our hands ; not letting future con-
tingencies in the hand of God frame an excuse for de-
lay of service.

In our wider sphere of Christian responsibilities
take the same warning. A measure of discouragement
will always be connected with present duties. A plau-
sible excuse for delay will never be wanting. To-morrow
will be more favourable — the storm will be over, and
our business will be done with less hazard. So says
the trifler in his own delusion. But in fact the weather
is not in fault. There is a want of spring in the heart
— a want of decided purpose for God. He flatters him-
self that there will be a better and less hazardous time
than now — the threatening storm will have blown over
— and he will be more free for the whole-hearted ser-
vice. But the real mountain is within — " the evil
heart of unbelief — the hardening deceitfulness of sin."
(Heb. iii. 12, 13.) The faithless, sluggish heart is un-
der the power of the great enemy, beclouding his path,
palsying his strength, raising mountains of difficulties


in the way. Activity of mind, promptness of habit, de-
termination of purpose— let all be brought into exer-
cise under the overcoming power of a living faith. It
is a great work of self-possession to rise above present
discouragement — not to magnify every trifling difficul-
ty, or to start objections against present duty. This
is only " the slothful man " planting " his hedge of
thorns " or crying out in cowardly fear — " There ia a
lion in the way — a lion in the streets." (Prov. xv. 19 ;
xxii. 13.)

This well-regulated habit will bring a deep and vital
influence for good over our whole character. The tri-
fling discouragements of the luinds and the clouds are
the appointed trials of faith. And when does our God J
honour faith, till he has first tried it? Or when does
he fail to honour it, either in the trial or out of it ? '
How little should we have known of the power of
faith, the privilege of prayer, the preciousness of the
promises, the faithfulness and sympathy of the Saviour,
if difficulties had not shewn to us our weakness, and
made the Gospel a Divine reality to our souls ! The
victory over the lesser difficulties strengthens us in
conflict with the greater. The triumph will be com-
plete, and the crown glorious.

Still an halting spirit quenches the glow of Christian
'energy. Feeble effort ensures defea^. One prompt,
practical exercise is worth an hour's deliberation. Do
not despise the smallest success. Five minutes' prayer
for this object may be worth a world. Our present
happiness — so far as we realize it — consists in an in-

See I Pet. ii. 7.


telligent and affectionate preference of God — solemnly
— deliberately choosing him, in opposition to every-
thing that is constantly drawing us from him. There
is no indecision here. Trifling discouragements have
now no weight. They are cast upon God — not that
they may be removed, but that enduring perseverance
may be vouchsafed under them. Wind and clouds no
more hinder work. ' When God calls — when grace
moves — when the heart feels — when Christ is nigh — there
may be then risk and difficulties, both luind and clouds;
yet that is the time for sowing, and that the time of
reaping ; that is " the accepted time, and that the day
of salvation." ' ^

5. As thou Jcnowest Tiot what is the ivay of the spirit, nor
how the hones do grow in the womb of her that is with
child; even so thou knowest not the works of God, who
maketh all.

Another humbling and valuable recollection of
human ignorance ! Man prides himself upon what he
knows, or fancies he knows — the extent of his knowl-
edge. Much more reason has he to be humbled for the
far wider extent of his ignorance. He does not see
the harvest from the distribution of Ms charity. But
his ignorance does not disprove the fact. How little
does he know of the things before his eyes ! How ig-
norant are we of our own being ! So " fearfully and
wonderfully made !" so " curiously wrought !" (Ps.
cxxxix. 12-14.) The attempt to comprehend one's
self conquers our understanding. Anatomical experi-

* Sermon. By Rev. Josiah Bateman, p. 237.


raents may bring out some facts. Questions may be
asked. But they can only be answered by the confes-
sion of our ignorance — the way of the spirit, or the
human soul — how it is formed — whence it comes —
whether by the immediate creation of God — how it is
conveyed into and animates the body — the formation
of the body itself — how the hones (without which we
should only creep as worms) are jointed and grow in
the tvomb— the union of the soul with the body — of
the immaterial spirit with the gross corporeal substance
— in all this the soul is a'mystery to itself. We know
not the icay.

If, then, we cannot know him in his ordinary works
of nature — in his works near at home — much less can
we know the works of God, who maheth all. Truly he
" doeth great things and unsearchable ; marvellous
things without numbers." (Job, v. 9.) ' Our wisdom
is but as a drop in the bucket — yea, but a drop in the
ocean. Can our drop compare with his ocean ? A
bucket shall soon take in the ocean, as man the wisdom
of God.' 1

And ought not this sense of ignorance to furnish a
convincing reply to many things that are called objec-
tions to Revelation ? When tempted to pry — ' On
such subjects' — said a serious thinker — ' I have no con-
fidence in reason. I trust only in faith ; and as far as
we ought to inquire, I have no guide but Revelation.' *
We should indeed be prepared in this Terra incognita
to expect difi&culties ; nor should we forget our own
nature, by insisting upon a view of things to our be-

' Caryl on Job, xxviii. 14.

' Sir Humphry Davy's Collected Works, vol. ix. p. 381.


clouded reason wholly free from difficulty. If we have
not complete evidence according to our measure, should
we not be thankful for any measure that may be vouch-
safed ; instead of rejecting the guidance of the lesser
light, because it was not the sun itself? ' Knowledge
of God'^s works is valuable, just so far as it is connect-
ed with a sense of our own ignorance, and an earnest
application for Divine Teaching and practical obe-
dience. We have been well reminded — ' To dare to
believe less, or to pretend to understand more, than
God has expressly " revealed, is equally profane pre-
sumption. We should study to be wise — not above
Scripture, but in Scripture ; not in the things which
God has concealed, but what he has revealed.' ^

6. In the morning sow thy seed ; and in the evening with.-
hold not thine hand ; for thou hriowest iiot whether shall
prosper^ either this or that ; or whether they both shall
be alike good.

The seed sown upon the prepared soil promises a
rich harvest. " Sow to yourselves" — saith the prophet
— " in righteousness ; reap in mercy." (Hos. x. 12.)
The morning and evening work mark the diligence—
" instant in season — out of season." (2 Tim. iv. 2.) The
active exercise of charity seems to be the lesson pri-
marily inculcated. ^ For ' deeds of charity are the
seeds of the harvest of eternal life. * The uncertainty as
to particular results — whether this or that — instead of
bringing doubts and difficulties, quickens to diligence.

^ See Bp. Butler's Sennon on Human Ignorance.

^ Detached Thoughts from Abp. Whately's Writings p. GO.

•" Comp. 2 Cor. ix. 6-10. * Diodati.


The morning and evening imply also the continuousness V
of the exercise. Charitj'' is too often a fitful impulse, rath-
er than the daily habit. It must not be confined to alms-
giving, which is the mere external work. But let it be
with it, or without it — in every way. Lose no time —
no opportunity. A wide field lies before us. Do the
Lord's work in the morning of life ; and in the evening
withhold vof thine hand. It may be given you to be
weary of life — not of well-doing — nor of life, so far as
\\ may be filled up to the end with fruitful godliness.
Leave the result of your work in the hands of your
gracious God. " In due season we shall reap, if we
faint not." There is no uncertainty as to the end in /
the work of God. (Gal. vi. 9.) The question is not
whether any shall prosper — but what the measure —
whether thi<i or that — or ivhether both sJiaU be alike good.
" To him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure re-
ward." (Prov. xi. 18.)

But the Scriptural figure seems to point to a more
definite application. " The sower soweth the word."
(Mark, iv. 18.) When? In the morning of life. The
value of the seed sown in the hearts of the young is
beyond all calculation. If the type or character of
the young be ignorance, it is not absolute hardness —
the fruit of nature indeed, but not of nature hardened
by habit. Let them know what the world is — a mere
bauble — or worse ; what the hope of the Gospel is —
full of joy and immortality ; what are their wants —
what their resources. With all the heedlessness of
youth — its volatility and self-will : in many a case the
listlessness will be roused — the vacant look brightened
i ito intelligence — the stubbornness disciplined bv con-


viction. There is, indeed, a world of sorrow and
temptation before them. But a new and bright colour-
ing is given to their prospect. Provision is made for
the roughness of the road. A Friend is engaged on
their side — A Guide, Guard, and Father, who will
never leave nor forsake.

Nor let this work be confined to the morning. Let
vigour of perseverance hold on to tlie evening. Shut out
despondency — the extinguisher of faith. The cases of
long standing in hardness may soften. The freeness of
the Gospel is Omnipotent love. And many a high
thought and proud imagination have given way to its
attractive power. We do not forget that this cheering
prospect is connected — not with the mechanism of the
means, but with the unction and blessing from above.
And yet does not hope rise to certainty in the exercise
of faith, diligence, patience, and prayer ? We do not
presume to determine whether shall prosper — either this
or that — what word of instruction may work the Di-
vine purpose. But we know, that as the natural har-
vest is not lost, though a portion of the crop may
perish ; so the promise of the spiritual harvest is link-
ed with the use of the means, sealed in the covenant
of God, and can never disappoint. The sovereignty
of God reserves the means and times to himself. But
his faithfulness secures the substance of his promise to
the obedience and diligence of faith — and oh ! the joy
of harvest — will it not abundantly compensate for the

*7. Truly light is sweet ; and a pleasant thing it is to the
eyes to behold the sun. 8. But if a man live many |


years ^ and rejoice in them all ; yet let him remember
the days of darkness ; for they shall he many. All
that Cometh is vanity.

Solomon, drawing to the close of his discourse, brings
us nearer to eternity, and presses closely the matter
of preparation for it. Present comfort is indeed ad-
mitted. Truly light is sweat : and a pleasant thing it w
to the eyes to behold the sun. His rising is the most
magnificent spectacle in the creation. His course —
lio w it enlightens — warms — fertilizes — beautifies —
1)1 esses — filling the air with songs, and the gardens
with foliage, fruit, and fragrance ! Thus to enjoy the
light of the sun — our present earthly comfort — is siucet
to those whose hearts centre in earth : how much more
to those, who by Solomon's rules have obtained wis-
dom to be delivered from the vanity and vexation so
deeply connected with the best of this world's bless-

When we see the insect enjoying the bright sun —
expanding its wings, and spending his little day in
fluttering from flow^er to flower, who does not enjoy
its pleasures? Who would cloud or shorten them,
by reminding it that its happy life would soon pass
away — that the winter with its days of darkness must
come — and perhaps ere its arrival, some premature
cold or rain may end its existence. The present is
its all. And therefore we gladly say of it — ' Let it
sip the sweet and revel in the light and warmth ; for
to-morrow it dies.' And if man had no future — if
the present were his all — we should say too of him —
' Let him enjoy the good things of life — Let him


crown himself with rosebuds, before thej be withered ^
— ' Let him eat and drink ; for to-morrow he dies.'
(1 Cor. XV. 32.)

And thus it is ; while the sun shines upon the earthly
horizon, the evil days are put to a distance. We can
scarcely admit the possibility of a change of scene.
We exclude the prospect of darh days as an unwelcome
intruder. The young revel in their pleasure — in the
gay enjoyment, as if it would never end. But oh !
the folly — the presumption of creatures born for an
eternal existence — and to whom the present life is
but the preparation time for a never-ending one, and to
whom death is but the door of eternity — so wilfully
shutting their eyes to this near approach — determining
to live for this life only, and to let eternity take its
chance !

But whatever be the sweetness of the present pros-
perity — though we live many years, and — comparatively
speaking — rejoice in them all; yet remember — what is
beyond I Days of darkness — many — how many ! how
darh! To the man of God, indeed, all is light,
whatever his outward days may be. " Light is sown
for the righteous, and springeth up out of darkness.''
(Ps. xcvii. 10 ; cxii. 4.) A better sun than that in
the earthly firmament " rises upon him — with healing
in his wings." (Mai. iv. 2.) But the case here sup-
posed — at least mainly so — is one, who finds all " his
good things " here,'^ and looks for nothing beyond —
who has never put forth one hearty effort upon his

* See Wislom of Solomon, ii. 8.

'Luke, xvi. 25. Comp. xU. 18-20; Job, xxi. 7-13.


soul's salvation — scarcely spent a solemn thought
upon it — prepared only to live — not to die. Dmjs of
darkness — at least towards the close of life — (Chap,
xii. 1) — must be calculated upon — the bloom of health
blasted by disease — the seeds of some incurable
malady shooting up — worldly disappointments cor-
roding the mind — nature gradually sinking under the
weight of years — the natural power to enjoy gone —
(Job. X. 21, 22) — the fatal stroke of death upon some
object of the tenderest affection. And witliout the
consolations of the Bible, how many and dark will
their days be ! — as the darkness of the grave ! — (Job,
X. 21, 22) — the banishment from light! — from the
presence and favour of God ! — (Psalms xlix. 19 ; 2
Thess. i. 9) — the " outer darkness — the blackness of
darkness for ever!" (Matt. xxii. 13 ; Jude, 13.) The
sweetness of the light — the pleasantness of the sun — for
a moment — how short a moment — what a miserable
compensation for the after darkness! The poverty
of the choicest earthly pleasures as a centre of rest,
when all is dark beyond — many days — never ending !
" Woe unto you that are rich ; fOr ye have received
your consolation ! Woe unto you that are full, for
ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now, for
ye shall mourn and weep." (Luke vi. 21, 23, 24, 25.)
Soon will the despised portion of God's people shine
forth in all the glories of eternity. " Then shall the
righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of
their Father." (Matt. xiii. 4t.) Empty in contrast
with it is the best of earth's treasures — " O my soul,
thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my God. — All
my springs are in Thee." (Ps. xvi. 2 ; Ixxxvii. 7.)


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Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 23 of 27)