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An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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the way of duty, that is contrary to any other known

Now turn our eyes to the fooV — walking in darkness
(be it remembered — responsible darkness). It is as if
his eyes — instead of being in his head — were at his
back. He blunders on as if he were blind, or in the
dark ; his steps going backward, running in his own
folly. 'He wants the lantern of God's Word and
Spirit to direct him into a right path.' ^ Whatever be
his earthly wisdom, an angel would say of such a man
— " There goes a poor blind creature, groping his way
to hell." '

But a melancholy sight it is — to see natural light
breaking in upon the mind, without one ray of spirit-
ual light dawning upon the heart ! the want of reality
— of Divine impression — laborious trifling in the let-
ter of Scripture — knowing nothing of His teaching.

* See the same contrast, c. x. 2.

' A Familiar Comnwdarie on Ecclesiasks, by Thomas Grainger, 4to.

* Cecil's Original Thoughts, p. 205.


wliom Augustine beautifully designates as the ' inner
master of the inner man — teaching in the school of
the breast.' '

But wide as is the difference between the ivise man
and the fool^ on some points they are one. Solomon
himself was on the same level with his meanest pau-
per. Both were subject to the same vicissitudes of
Providence. ^ The same last event laid them low
together. ^''Wliy was I then more wisef What is
the use of my wisdom, if at the last it brings me to
no higher level than the fool V Here surely the wise
m,an becomes the fool — disputing the ways of God —
looking for some elevation above his fellow-creatures.
Such is the depth of selfishness and depravity yet to
be purged out ! Only another picture ! This is also
vanity. my God! how does every view within
bring fresh matter for self-loathing in thy sight I
Where is the natural heart, without some niche to the
chosen idol ? Is the renewed heart gaining ground
in the struggle — the hard and fierce struggle — with
its deadly influence?

16. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of
the fool for ever ; seeing that which now is in the days
to come shall all he forgotten. And how dieth the wise
man f As the fool. 17. Therefore I hated life ; he-
cause the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous
unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

We have been before reminded how fleeting is the

' See his Confessions, B. IX. c. 9. ' See Chap. ix. 2.


remembrance of names mighty in their generation.^
The great actors, that fixed the eyes of their fellow-
men, and kept the world awake — where are they?
'Time is a depth, that swallows up all things.'^ The
man of science hoped to secure — though not his body
— yet his name from decay. But to the mass there is
often no remembrance of the wise more than the fool.
Every new generation raises up a new race of rivals
for renown. But after a short-lived day, that which
now is, in the days to come shall all be forgotten. Few,
comparatively, survive the wreck of time. Such a
phantom of life is posthumous fame.^ Soon comes the
levelling stroke — How dieth the wise man? As the fool.
The grave is the " long home" (chap. xii. 4) for both
till the resurrection morn.

But take another contrast of the two classes — how
different the issue ! For the one is secured " everlast-
ing remembrance ;" the other is doomed to degraded
oblivion. (Fs. cxii. 6. Prov. x. 7.) — Does the one die
as the other f Darkness and light arc not more differ-
ent. Hear the wise man's history of them both.
" The wicked is driven away in his wickedness : but
the righteous hath hope in his death. (Prov. xiv. 32.)
' The one is dead, even while he is alive. The other
lives even in death.'*

* See Chap. i. 11. " Grainger.

' 'Posthumous reputation !' said the venerable Scott on his death-bed
(who had as strong a claim to it as most of his fellow-men), ' the veriest
bubble, with which the devil ever deluded a wretched mortal ! But
posthumous usefulness, in that there is indeed something. That was what
Moses desired, and Joshua, and David, and the prophets — the Apostles
also — and most of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.'

* 13p. Reynolds.


Yet this equalizing level was a source of deep ex-
ercise to tlii^ Preacher. Estranged as he now was from
God, frctfulness stirred up — if not an hatred' — yet a
disgust and weariness of life. All was now become a

\J grievous vanity. To die and be forgotten as the fool —
to the man of wisdom — this seems living to no purpose.
He would almost as soon be blotted out of life, as be
disappointed of his airy vision — an enduring name.
When self is thus the centre of happiness — the great
end of life — what a treasure of vanity do wc lay in
store for ourselves ! Would it not have been better
for Solomon — instead of being weary of his life, ' rather
to have been weary of his sin in seeking happiness in
earthly things V ^ Again — the contrast forces itself
upon us — Solomon once consecrating his high wisdom
to the glory of God — now alienating it from the great
object, and all his life vanity and vexation of spirit!

This disrelish of life belongs both to the ungodly and
the godly, though on very different grounds.^ ' I hate
life^ — wrote Voltaire to his friend — ' and yet I am
afraid to die.' Can we wonder ? The infidel's bosom,

4 so full of disappointed ambition — tormenting con-
science — a dark eternity ! Hell seemed to have begun
on earth. Thus it is with the mass of the world —
burdened with present evils — no sunbeam in the pros-

^ The word used here and in the next verse means — not only to hate
in the literal sense of the term, but to have little regard for — to be in-
different to. (Gen. xxix. 30, 31.) Taylor's Hehreio Cmcwdance.
Geier translates it — ' I have loved less. I have not cared for — I have
not made of great account.'

^ Cotton.

' Lavater, in Ecdesiasten. Tigurini, 12mo. 1584.


pect— either not believing the life beyond — or with no
hope of attaining it.^ And even in minds cast in a
better mould, the revolt still remains in fretfulness and
impatience.^ Nothing can set things right, or keep
tliem so, but the clear confidence that God's will is our
happiness, and that all is ordered in the school of dis-
cipline, so as to " work together for our good." (Rom.
viii. 28.) ' Thou bruisest me, Lord' — said the dying
Calvin, in a moment of intense suffering — ' but it amply
sufficeth me, that it is thy hand.'^ ' My affliction' —
said another saint at the same crisis — ' is but the smit-
ing of his merciful hand, and therefore it is an oint-
ment savouring of heaven.'*

This taedium of life in a Christian habit is in a
heavenly mould. It is the weariness of the man of God
in the conflict. Happy though he be, " he groans,
being burdened" — a tempting enemy, a corrupt heart
— a disappointing world — all quicken the " desire to
depart, and to be with Christ, which is very far better."

* See also Lord Chesterfield's Letter, pp. 4, 5. F. Perthes gives an
affecting account of a visit to his friend Niebuhr (see his Life and Letters,
i. 350) shortly before his death. ' The purer his heart— the deeper his
sensibilities —the more he feels the want of some firm support for his
soul. He fights with uncertainty, and quarrels with life. He said to
me, I am weary of life ; only the children bind me to it. He repeatedly
expressed the bitterest contempt for mankind. And, in short, the
spiritual condition of this remarkable man cuts me to the heart, and
his outpourings alternately elevated and horrified me.' — Memoirs of
Frederick Perthes, iL 123.

^ Job, iii. 1. Elijah, 1 Kings, xix. 4. Jeremiah, xx. 14, 15. Jonah^
iv. 3.

' Scott's Contin. of Milner ; Life of Calvin, p. 474.

* Life of Rev. J. Macdonald, Missionary at Calcutta.


(Philip, i. 23, Gr.) Oh ! let not the cry be dormant or
feeble — ' Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.' (Rev. xxii.

18. Tea^ I hated all my labour which I had taken under
the sun : because I should leave it unto the man that
shall be after me. 19. And who knoweth whether he
shall be a wise man or a fool ? yet shall he have rule
over all my labour wherein I have laboured^ and where-
in I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is
also vanity. 20. Therefore I went about to cause my
heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the
sun. 21. For there is a man whose labour is in wisdoin^
and in knowledge^ and in equity ; yet to a man that
hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion.
This also is vanity and a great evil. 22. For what
hath man of all his labour^ and of the vexation of his
hearty wherein lie hath laboured under the sunf 23.
For all his days are sorrows^ and his travail grief ; yea,
his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also

This passage presents another aspect of vanity, and
to the wise man a great grief. All his great loorks of
wisdom and labour, which had ministered to him a
temporary satisfaction, after a while became to him
objects of disgust. They must be left, and to whom he
could not tell. David had no such anxieties. His
heart had not been set upon his treasures, and there-
fore it was no sacrifice to him to part with them.
Besides, he well knew the consecrated use to which his
wise son would apply them. (1 Chron. xxviii. 11-21 ;


xxix. 1-22.) But Solomon probably had his forebod-
ings of the man ivJio should come after him. And the
history of the son fully justified the anxious question —
Who hioiceth whether he shall he a ivise man or a fool ?
(Ps. xlix. 10. Comp. xxxix. 6.) So deeply did this
trial touch the Preacher, that he again adverts to it.
Must he — after a life of labour in ivisdom, hnx)ivledge^
and equity — must he after all become a drudge to his
successor, of whom he knows nothing with any certain-
ty ? What advantage hath he of all his labour ? ^ He
heaps up his words one upon another {labour, sorrow,
grief, travail), to describe more emphatically the pain-
fulness of his exercise.

And yet this great evil may have been overruled for
Solomon's good. His heart had clung to the world, and
it required sharp discipline to break it away. ' Often
had he bored and sunk into the earth for some rich
mine of satisfaction.'^ But repeated failures caused
his heart to despair. And might not this restlessness
of earthly rest have been his Father's restoring dis-
cipline? This is the canker on the supreme pursuit of
this world's portion. We may possess the creature,
but never shall we enjoy it, till God is on the throne
above it. (Ps. Ixxiii. 25.) There will be no cleaving
to God, till the vanity of all, in comparison with him,
has been experimentally acknowledged. my God I
may I feel the vanity of everything that turns away
my heart from thee ! We must have an holdfast some-
where ; and we sought it in the creature, because we
knew not where else to look for it. But when we
have once gained an everlasting footing on an un-

* See Chap. i. 3 ; iii. 9. * Henry.


changeable covenant — better promises — higher privi-
leges — richer prospects, fix our hearts, and " give us
peace : not as the world giveth.'^ (John xiv. 27.)

The special trial, however, to which Solomon here
alludes, presses heavily upon many a Christian heart.
The fruits of our labour — in wisdom and knowledge — or
in providential gifts — will they descend from us into
worthy, or unworthy hands? to a wise man, or a fool?
will they be devoted to the Church, or be desecrated
to the world ? Shall we be able to perpetuate a good
name in godly, well-doing children, and to commit our
trust into their hands with peaceful confidence? How
does this anxious exercise urge upon us the obligation
of training our children for God I Hence a lively
glow to our last act of parental faith. If there be a
cloud upon our setting sun, behind that cloud will be
"a sun that goeth down no more" — the display of
eternal love and faithfulness.

If this be a sore " trial of faith " to the Christian,
what is the threatened chastisement to the ungodly !
(v. 26. Deut. xxviii. 30-3B.) Without a refuge-
without covenant promises — without sustaining sup-
port ! All his labour barren ! All his days — not
sorrowful only, but actual sorrow — the very mass of
sorrow and grief- — a mind racked with care. Even
niglii brings no rest. * See what fools they are, that
make themselves drudges to the world, and do not
make God their rest ' ' — all is vanity. Who will not
listen to the pleading voice of the Saviour — contrast-
ing this field of fruitless disappointment with Ms own

^ Henry.


offer of solid peace and satisfaction? "Wherefore
spend ye your money for that which is not bread, and
your labour for that which satisfieth not ? Hearken
diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and
let your soul delight itself in fatness." (Isa. Iv. 2.)
Welcome every sinner, that feels his need of this
precious remedy!

24. There is nothing better for a man, than that he should
eat and drinh, and that he should make his soul enjoy
good in his labour. This also I saw, that it teas from
the hand of God. 25. For who can eat, or who else
can hapten hereunto, more than I? 26. For God
giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and
Icnoioledge, and joy : but to the sinner he giveth travail,
to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that
is good before God. This also is vanity and vexor
tion of spirit.

The surface view of this passage might seem to
savour of the rule — " Let us eat and drink, for to-mor-
row we die." (1 Cor. xv. 32. Comp. Luke, xii. 19.)
But did Solomon really mean, that there was nothing
better for a man — for a sinner — with an immortal soul
— with an eternal stake at issue — nothing better for him
than sensual indulgence ? Far from it ! The case be-
fore us determines and limits his true meaning. Solo-
mon is not here ' speaking of the Supreme good, but
of that greatest good, which may be had from earthly
things.' ^ A man is brooding over his disappointments.

' Desvoei]x's Di.mrk.iicn en Eiclesiaites, p. 22.


Let him take a brighter, and a more thankful view
and enjoyment of his mercies. (1 Tim. vi. 17. Comp.
iv. 3-5 ; Deut. xvi. 11.) Let him give diligence to
prove his character — good before God ; and then, in
the confidence of the Divine favour, let him rejoice in
his temporal blessings. This pleasure of eating and
drinking is totally distinct from the mere animal ap-
petite. It recognizes the Christian principle — " whether
ye eat or drink — do all to the glory of God." ' " The
world'' — with all its legitimate enjoyments— is the
Christian's portion. (1 Cor. iii. 22.) — None beside
have right to them. And he only with this reserve —
" using the world, as not abusing it." (lb. vii. 31.) —
V making its pleasures subordinate — not primary. For
ill does it become us to give our first joy to an earthly
feast, with the bright prospect before us — " of eating
and drinking with our Lord in his kingdom." (Luke,
xxii. 28-30.)

We might ask also — Whence this present enjoyment ?
Is it not reached out to us from the hand of God — -that

^ 1 Cor. X. 31. ' This,' as Geier remarks, 'jiChristiaHrrnot Epimi-
rean doctrine.' Pascal's asceticism belonged to a very different school,
to a religion of superstition and self- righteousness. His sister— Mrs.
Perier — informs us, ' that he was on a continual war against his senses,
and constantly denied them everything that they could find pleasure
in. When necessity forced him to do anything from which he might
have received some delight, he used a wonderful art to withdraw his
mind from it, lest he should take any share of pleasure.' — Life of 3L
J'ascal, p. 26. Amsterdam, 1711. Much more in accordance with the
Gospel was the spirit and experience of an eminent Christian — ' I can
truly say, that while I become daily more convinced of the empty and
unsubstantial nature of all earthly possessions and enjoyments, I find
all the innocent pleasures and accommodations of life doubled and
trebled to me.' — Correspondence of Rev. J. T. Notiige. Seeleys. 24-26.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. Yl

most loving Father, wliose blessing puts love into all
our outward mercies? Can we think anything ill,
that comes from this source ? Here we receive — not
only the good things themselves, but the power to
make a right use of them. The Freacher himself could
speak with a deep-toned experience. — For ivho can eat,
or ivlio haste hei^eunto, more than he f ' What power
could others have to enjoy them, when he could not V '
And yet in the path of wandering how barren — yea— -
how poisonous was the sum total I " The pleasant
plants were planted, and set with strange slips ; and
the harvest was a heap in the day of grief and of des-
perate sorrow." (Isa. xvii. 11.)

This seems to be the Divine dispensation. Good ^
and evil are portioned out according to character.
Where the stamp — Good in his sight — is broadly mark-
ed, gifts and grace flow out abundantly. Wisdom and
knowledge brighten the path heavenward. Joy glad-
dens the heart. Common mercies are sealed with
covenant love. Two words suffice to describe the man
of God's present happiness — " Godliness with content-
ment." (1 Tim. vi. G.) ' This only makes him master
of the utmost comfort worldly things can afford.'''
Here is the substance of " the promise of the life that
now is," and the earnest " of that which is to come."
(1 Tim. iv. 8.) In this school of Divine instruction
(Philip, iv. 11, 12, Gr.) the man of God is disciplined
for heaven.

No such brightness beams upon the sinners lot.

* Bp. Reynolds.

" Pemble's works, folio, 1568. Solomon's Rdradatim and Repentance,
The Book of Eeclesiasies Explairied.


Prudent and prosperous he may be. But God giveih
to him travail as his portion — to gather and heap up —
not to enjoy. The unfaithful steward is cast out. His
privileges are transferred, for better improvement, to
him that is good before God} Yes — he is the man ac-
cepted and honoured. To all beside the burden of the
song is still the same — This also is vanity and vexation
of spirit. "But to him that soweth righteousness shall
be a sure reward."^ (Prov. xi. 18.)

* Comp. Luke, xix. 20-26, with p]sth. viii. 2; Prov. xiii. 22 ; xxviii.
8. 'It is the end of God's predestination, that all things befalling
the wicked should redound to the glory of God's mercy towards the
elect.' — Cotton. Perhaps, however, this is rather the exercise of his
sovereignty, than his rule of universal government.

^ Mr. Venn remarks in a letter to a friend — ' On Sunday I preached
with comfort and liberty on a text (shame be it to me 1) I never spoke
from before. It is one of those texts, which hath great complaints
against Gospel ministers for neglecting it. You will find it in Eccles.
ii. 26.' — Life and Corespondence~a precious biography. Many excellent
ministers, though here falling under Mr. Venn's censure, stand clear
before their Master in not shunning to declare all the counsel of God
from other scriptures equally important. We give Mr. Venn's judgment,
only as illustrating the various degrees of force and interest, with
which the Spirit applies the Divine testimony.



1. To everything there is a season^ and a time to every
purpose under the heaven.

Solomon is still pursuing his argument. Everything
around us is in a perpetual change. What vanity,
therefore, is it to seek solid happiness in so shift-
ing a scene ! As well might we find rest on the toss-
ing ocean, as in a fluctuating world. There is no
stable centre. It is " the wheel of nature." (Jam.
iii. 6.) Sometimes one spoke is uppermost — sometimes
the opposite. But all is constant motion.

And yet all these fluctuations are under absolute
control. It is not a world of chance, or of fate. All
events — even the most apparently casual — all those
voluntary actions, that seem to be in our own power,
with all their remotest contingencies — are overruled.
To everything there is a season — a fixed time^ — a prede-
termined purpose, on which — and not on man's care,
thought, or effort — everything depends. Of this pur-
pose we know nothing. But " known unto God are
all his works from the beginning of the world."
(Acts, XV. 18.) His eye has been upon everything,
gi-eat and small, from all eternity. All is his un-
changeable will. ' If God ' — as Charnock write? —
' could change his purpose, he would change his na-
ture.' *

* Sec the word Ezra, x. 14 ; Esth. ix. 27, 31.
' Discourse of the Immutability of God.


The perversity of sin has indeed disturbed the order
of God's providence. But the work progresses. " The
wheel in the middle of the wheel " (Ezek. 1. 15-21)
moves forward, and performs the appointed work.
Caprice, short-sighted ignorance, and fickleness of
purpose, distinguish the works of man. But here
everything is worthy of God. " He hath abounded
towards us in all wisdom and prudence." (Eph. i. 8.)
It is * the wise, and regular, and orderly administra-
tion of One, who sees the end from the beginning, and
to whom there is no unanticipated contingency ; and
whose omniscient eye, in the midst of what appears to
us inextricable confusion, has a thorough and intuitive
perception of the endlessly diversified relations and
tendencies of all events, and all their circumstances,
discerning throughout the whole the perfection of har-
mony.' '

There is, then, a season for every work of God, and
it comes in its season. Every work has its part to fulfil,
and it does fulfil it. There was a season for IsraeFs
deliverance from Egypt, and for the return from Baby-
lon. Nothing could either force on, or keep back, the
time. " On the selfsame day,^^ the deliverance was at
once developed and consummated. (Exod. xii. 41.
Ezra, i. 1.) To have looked for it at any other time
— whether sooner or later — would only have brought
disappointment. There was " the fulness of time," the
appointed season — the fittest time — -for the Saviour's
advent. (Gal. iv. 4.) An earlier period would have
Mndered many important purposes, or at least clouded

* "Wardlaw.


their full development. The delay demonstrateS*4fe« —
utter weakness of all other remedies. What could
reason do with all her intellectual energy (1 Cor. i.
21), or the law with all its heavenly sanctions ? (Rom;
viii. 3.) Successive disappointments prepare the wel-
come to the one— alone — efficient remedy.

Ri|.^litly to time things is the property of wisdom.
And here indeed " the Lord is a God of judgment,"
not only willing, but " waiting " the time, " that he
may be gracious, and have mercy. Blessed " — truly
" blessed are all they that wait for him." (Isa. xxx.
18.) Child of God ! remember it is thy Father's will,
which hath appointed the season, and determined the
purpose. All the wheels of Providence subserve the
purposes of grace. Every dispensation is most fitly
chosen, and issued under the commission to do for thee
nothing but good. (Rom. viii. 28.) It is the will of
the Omnipotent God of wisdom and love. His will
is always the best reason, and without it there could
be no reason at all. If thy " times are in his hand "
(Ps. XXXI. 15), in what better hands could they be ?

Our times aro in Thy hand ;
God, we wish them there ;
Our life, our friends, our souls, we leave
Entirely to Thy care.

Our times are in Thy hand ;
Why should we doubt or fear ?
A Father's hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.

Here is thy best happiness in a world of vanity and
sorrow. The grace for the present moment is inex-


haustible and always ready, and (so writes an excellent
Christian) ' as exactly and exquisitely suited to your
case and mine every instant, as if it had been appointed

Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 5 of 27)