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An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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And what are the lessons we learn from this picture
of change? — Man's impotence and inconstancy — the
certainty of disappointment in expecting stable happi-
ness from such an unstable world. All is with God.
The order is in his own mind. The issue will be to
his own glory. Yet many of the wheels of his Provi-
dence are very mysterious. Nay — even *' they were so
high, that they were dreadful." (Ezek. i. 18.) But in
whose hands are the wheels, with all their motions ?
Look — not on the wheels — but on the Great Worker,
His wisdom and love. The voice speaks peace. " Be
still, and know that I am God." (Ps. xlvi. 10.)

But a pondering mind is greatly needed to mark the
loving display of the dispensations of God. (Ps. cvii.
43.) The endless vicissitudes belonging to them throw
great light upon the path Divinely appointed for us
from eternity, as that most suited to our individual
work. Hence we learn that lesson of happiness, which,
if St. Paul had not declared his attainment of it (Philip,
iv. 11), we should have thought would have been the
labour of a life.

' In fine, thus Solomon, by an induction of divers
particulars, and those very various, and each by way
of antithesis, with his contrary joined to him — some
natural actions, some civil, some domestical, some vi-
cious, some virtuous, some serious and solemn, others
light and ludicrous, some wise, some passionate — by
all these he assureth us, that there is a holy and wise
work of God in pre-defining, ordering, limiting, tem-
pering, disposing of all these and the like affairs of
men, and so qualifying in the life of a man one con-
trary with another, and balancing prosperity and ad-



92 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. III. 8.

versity by each other — that in every condition a good
man may find cause of praising God, and of trusting
in him, and of exercising this tranquillity and content-
ment of mind even in contrary conditions, because the
holy hand of God is in the one as well as in the other.' ^
Yet the diversified changes in all this work of special
Providence greatly exercise faith and patience. If the
sun shines to-day, the darkening cloud may come to-
morrow. One thing only remains unchangeable —
" the glorious Gospe] of the blessed God " — God's love
to his people — Christ's work perfected for them, and
in them. Not a shadow of change is found here. All
is a rock firm for eternity. As regards the contrast
between earth and heaven, ' there are many of the
things for which there is a time on earth, for which
there is no time there. To those who are horn inio
that better country, there is no time to die. Those
that are planted in God's house on high shall never be
phicked up. There, there is nothing to hurt nor to
destroy ; but perpetual health, and lasting as eternity.
There the walls of strong salvation shall never be bro-
ken dawn. There, there is no time to tueep, for " sor-
row and sighing are " forever " fled away" — no time
to mourn ; for when they have left this vale of tears,
" the days of their mourning are ended." There, it is
all a time of peace, and all a time of love. There, mon-
uments are never defaced nor overthrown. For those
who are " pillars in the temple" above, with the new
name written on them, " shall go out no more." There,
in the sanctity of the all-superseding relationship, there

* Bp. Reynolda



CH. III. 9, 10.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. 93

will be no severance ; but those friends of earth, who
have been joined again in the bonds of angelhood,
will never need give the parting embrace ; for they
shall be ever with one another, and ever with the
Lord.'^ Meanwhile " have faith in God." Calmly
and joyfully wait his best time, in the assurance, that
in his own mind, and in the dispensations of his love —
to everything there is a season, and a time for every
purpose under the sun.

9. What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he
lahoureth? 10. / have seen the travail^ which God
hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.

The question is again repeated ^ — What profit can
man's labour bring out for his true happiness ? We /
may thank God for a thousand disappointments, if
only we have learned the valuable lesson, not to look
for indulgence, where he intends discipline. He may '^
permit some apparently casual event to sweep away
the result of years. After all it is only a broken cis-
tern. 'All man's best labours here only increase his
heap of vanities." The soul is impoverished. Noth-
ing is added to its comforts. The Lord alone offers
the substance. *

Looking then to him — anxious soul — stretch your
expectation to the uttermost. The world has left you

^ Hamilton Lect. viii. Conclusion.
"" See chap. i. 3 ; ii. 22, 23. Comp. v. IG.

' Anonymous Exposition of Ecciesiastes. London, 1680. Re-
printed at Brighton, 1839.

* Comp. rtov. viii. 21. Isa. Iv. 2



94 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. III. 9-10.

dissatisfied, restless, and imliappy. Now let God's
remedy be fairly tried. If this does not fill up the
void, ease the disquietude, and sustain the heart in the
conflict — let it be cast away. The testimonies to its
efficacy are undoubted. ' It is all that is valuable ' —
said the dying Scott. ' You may think that it does
little for me now. But it is all. I have found more
in Christ, than I ever expected to want.' ^ Another
witness we have in the last exercise of the venerated
Simeon — ' I am in a dear Father's hand. All is secure.
I see nothing but faithfulness — and immutability — and
truth. I have not a doubt or a fear, but the sweetest
peace.' ^ ' Firm in hope ' — was the last breath of the
revered Bishop of Calcutta. ^ So fully does the pre-
cious remedy unfold its entire satisfaction and triumph
in the moment of nature's extremity !

Then as to the present state of trial. Solomon had
seen all the changes of life, and marked the Divine
reason for them. They were not the fruit of blind
confusion, but the chastening travail, which God hath
given to the sons of men to he exercised in it. Never
was it his purpose, that earth should be his children's
home. The consecrated pathway therefore to the
" rest that remaineth to " them is appointed " through
much tribulation " * — Praised be God ! through a wil-



' IJfe, pp. 556, 549. « Life, pp. 807, 808.

^' Preface to Bishop of Winchester's valuable Funeral Sermon.

* Heb. iv. 9 with 1 Thess. iii. 3. Hev. vii. 14.

' G< d to the sons of men this world hath given,
Not for a place of rest, but exercise ;
To try their patience, and submission learn
To his disposal, who hath all things rank'tf



CH. III.ll.] EXPOSITIOX OF ECCLESIASTES. 95

derness — not through an Eden. If we do not find our
happiness in his dispensations, where shall we look
for it ? 'I loYe ' — said the saintly Fletcher to Mr.
Venn — ' the rod of my heavenly Father. How gen-
tle are the strokes I feel I How heavy those I de-
serve I' ^ Christian confidence is the present fruit of
this travail in the school of discipline. And all will
end at last in the unclouded brightness of the eternal
consummation.

11. He hath made everything beautiful in his season ;
also he hath set the tvorld in their heart, so that no
man can find out the work that God malceth from the
beginning to the end.

This was the judgment of God of his created works
— "very good." (Gen. i. 31.) Each was marked by
its own peculiar beauty. The minutest insect to the
eye of Christian intelligence displays a beauty, as if
the whole Divine mind had been centered in its forma-
tion. The seasons of the universe — " seed-time and
harvest — and cold and heat — and summer and winter
— and day and night (lb. viii. 22) — all bear the same
marks " — beautiful in his season. But the more direct

In beauteous order, though to us confus'd
Their motions seem, because the wondrous plan
Is hid from human eyes.' —
Choheleth ; or. The Royal Preacher. A literal paraphrase of the
Book of Ecclesiastes with considerable spirit, by an unknown author,
1768— with the strong imprimatur of Mr. Wesley, Dr. A. Clarke,
and Professor Lee.

* Venn's Life and Correspondence.



96 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. III. 11.

reference here is to those endless vicissitudes of life,
which have just been detailed. ' Works of Provi-
dence, as works of creation, may begin in a chaos,
and seem " without form and void " (Gen. i. 2) ; but
they end in admirable order and beauty J ' Everything
is suited to its appointed use and service — perfect in
all its parts — not only good, and without confusion ;
but heautifid — if not in itself — yet in Ms season — all
circumstances considered — most orderly, and every
way befitting. Nay — even evil, though in itself most
revolting, yet by a wise exercise of Omnipotence, is
overruled for good, and exhibits the beauty of the
Divine workmanship. The histories of Joseph and
Esther illustrate this beauteous harmony — the combina-
tion of circumstances fitting in their proper places —
all in due connection and dependence.

Also the world — not this vaiu world of pleasure —
but the Universe — the Book of nature — the whole
course and changes of human affairs — this he hath set
in the Jieart of man — as the object of his intense inter-
est and delight. He has put i^ito his heart a vast desire
to study, and great power to comprehend it in all its
order and beauty — except that^ the field is so wide —
the capacity so limited — life so short — our knowledge
of the past so imperfect, and of the future so clouded,
that no man can find out the work that God maJceth
from the beginning to the end. Indeed much of his
work is begun in one age, and finished in another.



*Bp. Keynolds. Gen. 12.

* A friend has directed attention to this translation ofGesenius
(Gibbs's edition.) Lord Bacon gives it — ' Yet cannot man/ &c.



CH. III. 11.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. 97

The development therefore is necessarily imperfect.
Many things seem to lie in a confused heap. But
when one part is compared with another — when all is
put togethei", and God's work viewed as a wliolc — all
is beauty and order .^ The elaborate work in the loom
is often only seen piece by piece. The wise mixture
of the colours, as the work advances, tends to form
the elegance of the piece. The full beauty of the
work froin the beginning to the end is only known to
the Great Director, who sees the end from the begin-
ning." We can neither unravel the thread of his coun-
sels, nor grasp the infinite perfection of his work.
Thoughtful study and reverential praise are our most
profitable exercise. " the depth !" ^

^ ' We have seen the part only — not the whole.' Locke, quoted
by Rosenmiiller, who very justly adds — ' No sentiment is more pow-
erful to check the unwarrantable complaint relative to our condi-
tion. — Scholia in loco.

" Rom. xi. 33. The writers in Poll Synopsis remark upon this as
a most difficult verse. Dr. Chalmers writes — ' This is one of the
most remarkable verses in the Bible, with a preciousness of mean-
ing in it, and great profundity.' — Daily Scripture Readings. Lord
Bacon thus expounds it {Advancement of Learning, B. I. section iii.) :
'Solomon declares — not obscurely — that God hath framed the mind
of man as a mirror or glass, capable of the image of the universal
world, and joyful to receive the impression thereof, as the eye joyeth
to receive light ; and not only delighted in beholding the variety of
things and vicissitude of times, but raised also to find out and dis-
cern the ordinances and decrees, which throughout all those changes
are infallibly observed. And although he doth insinuate, that the
Fuprerae or summary law of nature (which he calleth the work
which God made from the beginning to the end) is not possible to be
found out by man ; yet that doth not derogate from the capacity of
the mind, but may be referred to the impediments, as of shortness of
life, ill conjunction of labours, ill tradition of knowledge, ever from

5



98 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. III. 12, 18.

12. I know that there is 7io good in them, but for a man
to rejoice, and to do good in his life. 13. And also
that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the
good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

This statement is often in substance repeated.' The
repetition shows its importance. God would have us
observe it. He encourages us to trust him. And
how does he return our trust by the overflowing fulfil-
ment of promised grace beyond prayer and expecta-
tion I Have we him with us ? Then surely joy should
be our element. Endeavor to enjoy him in everything
— everything in him. Look at our temporal mercies
only. When can we find time to count them ? Yet
if we do not bring them before our mind, how can we
ever be thankful for the receipt of them ? But never
let the enjoyment of the present swallow up the recol-
lection of, and gratitude for, past mercies. Of the
future we know nothing. It is evidently therefore the
path of wisdom to make the best use of the present —
not perplexing ourselves with that which we cannot
alter, but improving the fittest opportunities for prac-
tical usefulness, and cheerfully bearing the natural
changes which belong to a changing world.

A cheerful expectation of the best hath a fountain of joy with him ;
Ask for good, and have it ; for thy friend would see thee happy. ^

This thankful godliness is a bright portion in a cold,

hand to hand, and many other inconveniences, whereunto the con-
dition of man is subject.'

> See V. 22 ; ii. 24 ; v. 18-20.

' Tupper's Proverbial Philosophy.



C^JTi



OH. III. 12, 18.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIABJI|||ii^ , 99 * Jp 1

disappointing world — a true enjoyment — a real^oo^ '^i=^



-not to be found ' in the creatures, but from the
of God to do good with them, or to enjoy the good of
them.''

This addition is here made to the former statement.
The man not only rejoices^ but he does good all Ids days.
And what an increase is it to our own happiness, that
our God and Saviour should have indulged us with
the privilege of thus promoting his glory ! We might
have been secluded in a monastery, conflicting with
our own corruptions, or occupied with the selfish con-
templation of our own happiness ; and never have
had our hearts enlarged with the joyous privilege of
doing good. Whereas now he has made us not only
the recipients, but the almoners, of grace ; not only
" enriched " with all blessings in our own souls, but
" unto all bountifulness " (2 Cor. ix. 11), to supply the
wants of others. Thus the happiness of every mem-
ber of the body is increased by contributing to tlie
welfare of the body. We are blessed with our father
Abraham, that we may be made " a blessing." (Comp.
Gen. xii. 3, with Gal. iii. 9.) Is it not a privilege to
feel, that as the servants of God, we have no work to
do merely on our own account ? We are chosen of
God, that, by doing his work, we may be a blessing to
man. To enjoy our own blessings is the stimulus to
communicate them. Never can we ourselves " eat the
fat, and drink the sweet " (1 Tim. vi. 17, 18), and for-
get to " send portions to them for whom nothing is
prepared." (Neh. viii. 10-12.) * It is human nature

Cotton.



100 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. III. 14, 15.

to live to self— Divine grace to live to the Lord — tlie
highest luxury of enjoyment to serve him through our
fellow-creatures.' ' In the act of doing good, we enjoy
the fruit of our labour.

If therefore — as our Lord assures us — " it is more
blessed to give than to receive " (Acts, xx. 35) — how
can a selfish man be happy ? Yet it is not for us to
cast away the gifts of God. Let us rather stand upon
a higher level, and acknowledge the responsibility of
being stewards for him. ^ If this be the gift of God —
' that we may have this good ' — as a pious expositor
instructs us — ' ask it of him.' ^ The man of prayer
will receive largely. Nay — what is there that he is
not warranted to expect ?

14. / know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall he for
ever: nothing can he put to it, nor anything taken
from it : and God doeth it, that men should fear before
him. 15. That which hath been is now ; and that
which is to be hath already been ; and God requireih
that which is past.

^ MS. Note of Kev. Dr. Marsh to the author.

''Luke, xix. 13. * The goods of this world are not at all a trifling
concern to Christians, considered as Christians. "Whether, indeed,
we ourselves shall have enjoyed a large or a small share of them,
will be of no importance to us an hundred years hence. But it
will he of the greatest importance, whether we shall have em-
ployed the faculties and opportunities granted to us in the increase
and diffusion of those blessings among others.' — Abp. Whately's
Notes on BacorCs Essays, xxxiv. Saurin mentions in one of his
sermons an epitaph on the tomb of a charitable Christian — ' He
exported his fortune before him into heaven by his charities. He
is now gone thither to enjoy it.' — See Luke, xvi. 9.

' Geier.



CH. III. 14, 15.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. 101

' Often has the vanity of the works of man been
declared. It follows to describe the character of the
works and counsel of God.' * And here observe the
striking view of his unchangeableness. His works
pass away, when their use is finished. But his eternal
counsel — the working of his counsel — What he doeth,
it shall he for ever — not to be altered or set aside by
man's will or power. The counsel of the Lord endur-
eth for ever ; the thoughts of his heart to all genera-
tions. (Ps. xxxiii. 11. Comp. Prov. xix. 21 ; xxi. 30.)
Amid outward changes and seeming confusion all
things are carried out unchangeably. His decrees are
like the " chariots coming out between mountains of
brass " (Zech. vi. 1) — firm and immovable. The sen-
tence comes from his own mouth — " My counsel shall
stand, and I will do all my pleasure." (Isa. xlvi. 10.)
Truly " he is of one mind, and who can turn him ?"
(Job, xxiii. 13.) Of this glorious unchangeableness —
* that little thereof we darkly apprehend we admire ;
the rest with religious ignorance we humbly and
meekly adore.' ^

Thus sings the man of God of the perfection of his
works — " He is a Rock ; his work is perfect." (Deut.
xxxii. 4.) Nothing can he put to it, nor anything taken
from it. There is nothing defective — nothing redun-
dant. How splendidly does his Providence display
every attribute of his name ! — " All his ways " — so
the song continues — " are judgment. A God of truth,
and without iniquity— just and right is he." Turn we
from the brightness of his Providence to a yet higher

* Lavater. « Hooker, b. v. c. ii. 6.



102 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. III. 14, 16.

display. Can we forbear extending our view to his
work of all works — his crowning work — his master-
piece of Divine workmanship ? " It is finished " —
was the triumphant cry. One word was enough. ' For
ever — was the stamp of perfection — Nothing can he
added to it, nor anything taken from it.

The prophet finely contrasts this immutable salva-
tion with the fading nature of earthly things. " The
moth shall eat them up like a garment. But my right-
eousness" — saith Jehovah — " shall be for ever, and my
salvation from generation to generation." (Isa. li. 6.)
Here there is the ground of godly /e«r, and reverential
worship — " Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord
God Almighty ; just and true are thy ways, thou King
of saints. Who shall not fear thee, Lord, and glo-
rify thy name ?" (Rev. xv. 3, 4.)

And yet in the midst of all external changes there
is substantial uniformity. That which hath been is now,
and that which is to he hath already heen. The work of
God is the same in every age. The scene seems to be
acting over again. God requireth that ivhich is past.
He calls it back before him as the precedent for his
present and future dispensations.

Solomon had before shewn this uniformity in nature.
(Chap. i. 9, 10.) In Providence the same laws of
government are in force, as from the beginning. There
are few events, but what may find their counterpart
from the annals of the past. The children of God are
exercised in the same trials ; and the same proofs of
sustaining and delivering grace are vouchsafed to them,

See John, xix. 30. Gr.



CH. III. 16, 17.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. 103

as to Noah, Abraham, and the saints of old. ' Some
indeed of them are so scantily versed in their Bibles,
that they " think it strange concerning the fiery trial
which is to try them, as though some strange thing had
happened unto them" (1 Pet. iv. 12.) — as though none
had ever wrestled through, as they have been called to
do. But a deeper searching of the Sacred Records
will shew, that " the same afflictions are accomplished
in our brethren which have been in the world." *' There
liath no temptation taken you" — the apostle reminds
us — "but such as is common to man." (1 Pet. v. 9 ;
1 Cor. X. 13.) If then we cannot alter the dispensa-
tions of God, let us set ourselves down to the more
profitable work of altering our own judgment of
them. A murmuring spirit subdued to quietness will
be much to the honour of God. We shall soon pro-
nounce our verdict — that *' all the paths of the Lord
are mercy and truth" (Ps. xxv. 10) — all as they ought
to be — all as we could wish them to have been, when
we shall look back upon them in the clear light of
eternity.

16. Andj moreover, I saw under the sun the place of
judgment, that wickedness was there ; and the place
of righteousness, that iniquity was there. 17. I said in
mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wick-
ed : for there is a time there for every purpose and for
every work,

A thoughtful mind is often exercised on the apparent

^ See 2 Peter ii. 4-9.



104 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. III. 16, IT.

inequalities of Divine Government. Solomon's ob-
servant eye could not overlook that, which has been a
stumbling-block to men of reason, who only dispute
about what they see, and therefore are ready to find
fault with the appointments far beyond their wisdom.
May we not hope that Solomon found rest in his diffi-
culties where his father had found it (Ps. Ixxiii, 16, 17) —
in the sanctuary of God ? This injustice is seen in the
best governments. ' The guardian of the innocent of-
ten becomes the hangman of the innocent.'' This
evil has also sometimes been found where we should
have little expected it. Samuel was directed to rebuke
it in Eli ; yet it afterward appeared in his own house.
(1 Sam. iii. 13 ; viiL 3-5.) Power, if it be not the
instrument of promoting godliness, only makes its pos-
sessor a wolf or a tiger to his fellow-creatures. So
dangerous is worldly elevation ! The pinnacle is a
hazardous position. Our corrupt nature can bear but
little raising. There is one ever ready to help us to
climb. But let it be our desire to be kept upon lowly
ground. We cannot know what is in our heart, till
the stirring power of temptation has brought it before
our eyes.

It is also a great aggravation of vnchedness, when it
stands in the very place of judgment and righteousness. °
How clearly does this disorder prove, that '' all the
foundations of the earth are out of course !" (Ps. Ixxxii.
1-5.) Yet all will soon be set right. God will judge
over again these unrighteous judgments, judging both

^ Serran.

^ Bzek. yiii. 6, 11 Matt. xxvi. 59. Acts, xxiii. 3.



OH. III. 18-20.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. 105

the righteous and the wicked with unerring righteous-
ness. (Acts, xvii. 31.)

But why does he delay his work ? There is a time
for ever?/ purpose^ and for every work. " Shall not the
Judge of all the earth do right? Shall not God
avenge his own elect speedily ?" (Gen. xviii. 25 ;
Luke, xviii. 7, 8.) There is not a breath of " the loud
cry under the altar — How long?" but it brings the
pledge of a speedy decision. (Rev. vi. 9, 10.) Before
us " we look" for the joyous hope, " according to his
promise, of the new heavens, and the new earth, where-
in dwelleth righteousness." (2 Pet. iii. 13.) Wait then
the light of eternity. Hold fast the Christian confi-
dence with unshaking grasp. "At evening time it shall
be light." (Zech. xiv. 7.) All will furnish matter on
both sides for the everlasting Alleluia. (Rev. xix. 1-6.)

18. / said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons
of men, thai God might manifest thein, and that they



Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 7 of 27)