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An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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might see that they themselves are beasts. 19. For that
which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts ; even
one thing befalleth them : as the one dieth, so dieth the
other ; yea, they have all one breath : so that man hath
no preeminence above a beast : for all is vanity. 20.
All go unto one place: all are of the dust, and all turn
to dust again.

This confusion before the wise man's eyes pressed
heavily upon his heart. He could not forget the sad
retrospect, when he had degraded himself from the
dignity of a son of God, to walk before men like a
beast. He now had before him, not only the mighty



106 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. III. 18-20.

oppression just alluded to — but the mass of mankind,
the sons of men/ in the same bestial state. How could
he restrain the saying of his heart concerning their estate^
that they might see that they themselves were beasts f For
indeed they will never know their honour, until they
have known their shame. Yet this they will never see,
until God shall manifest unto them their real state.
So degraded is man, that he cannot understand his own
degradation. Yet when we see men of vast capacity
— of the mightiest grasp of mind in earthly things —
living as if they had no souls — seeking happiness in
sensual pleasures — never looking beyond the grave —
never calculating soberly the Infinite stake of eternity
— rather determined to perish in rebel stubbornness,
than willing to return to God — does not man here sink
his immortal nature to the very lowest " brutishness ?"
The testimony of God is true to the very letter — " Man
that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the
beasts that perish." (Ps. xlix. 20 ; also 14.) This is
his spiritual level. As to animal life — all go unto one
place ; all are of the dust^ and all turn to dust again.
(Gen. ii. 7 ; iii. 19.) In the mere outward respect —
both breathe, and live, and die alike. Man hath no
preeminence above a beast ; for all is vanity ^ Let us
take the death-bed confession of one of the world's

^ Chap. viii. 11 ; ix. 3 ; Prov. viii. 4.

^ Though the animal part lies more upon Solomon's surface, yet the
spiritual level must have been before his mind. This — not the other —
required a distinct and Divine manifestation to set it before the sons of
men. ' An useful doctrine' — says a pious Romanist — ' the necessary
remembrance of this our abject condition, connected with our original
sin.' — Lorin in loco.



CH. 111.21.] EXPOSITION OP ECCLESIASTES. lOY

grandest heroes. ' I die' — said Buonaparte — ' before
my time ; and my body will be given back to the earth,
to become the food of worms. Such is the fate which
so soon awaits the great Napoleon.' Then catching a
view of the sublime contrast, he exclaimed — ' What an
abyss between my deep wretchedness, and Christ's
eternal kingdom, proclaimed, loved, adored, and
spreading through the world !'

21. Who hnoweth the spirit of a man that goeth upward^
and the spirit of the beast that gocth downward to the
earth f

Though there be no animal preeminence of man
above the beast, yet vast indeed is the difference as to
their spirits. The one goeth upward to " the Father of
spirits," *' returning to the God that gave it." (Chap,
xii. 7, with Heb. xii. 9.) The other goeth downward to
the earth. It dies with the body, and perishes for ever.
* The soul of a beast is at death like a candle blown
out ; and there is an end of it ; whereas the soul of a
man is then like a candle taken out of a dark lantern,
which leaves the lantern useless indeed, but doth itself
shine brighter."

We must not pass by this clear proof of the immor-
tality of the soul. The spirit even of the wicked goeth
upward. It appears in the presence of the Great
'• Judge of all" — who, though " filling heaven and earth
with his presence, hath prepared his throne in the
heavens." (Jer. xxiii. 24 ; Ps. ciii. 19.) Here is our

Henry.



108 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. III. 22.

lively hope — not like the feeble twinkling rays in the
dark heathen cloud. Not " life" only, but " immortal-
ity is brought to light by the Gospel." (2 Tim. i. 10.)
But wlio hnoiveth ? ^ How few realize the confidence !
All beyond the grave rests on Divine Revelation. Yet
unspeakable is the mercy, when in this clear light we
can see our ^^ spirits''' — not going downward to perish,
but " made perfect" (Heb. xii. 23) in the presence of
God for ever.

' Take then into your estimate of happiness' — as an
admirable expositor exhorts — ' the whole extent of
your existence. Let your inquiry be — how an eternity
of existence may be to you an eternity of enjoyment.
Jesus is revealed as the Son of God — the Divine Re-
deemer — the Hope of sinners. Believe in Him. Live
to Him. Thus shall you possess true honour and true
felicity. When your mortal part shall descend to the
dust, your spirit, commended into the hands of God
your Saviour, shall rise to the perfection of purity and
bliss.'"

22. Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better,
tlwbn that a man should rejoice in his own works ; for
that is his portion : for who shall bring him to see
what shaU be after him ?

Solomon is returning to his former statement. There
is a godly as well as an infidel (1 Cor. xv. 32) enjoy-
ment of " things present." Let the Christian look for

* Not expressing imcertainty. See Ps. xc. II. Prov. xxxi. 10.
" Wardlaw.



CH. III.22.] EXPOSITION OP ECCLESIASTES. 109

it in following the will of God. Here are his own
tvorks — not done in his own strength, or for his own
glory and reward. And here also is his portion. Here
he " remembers his God, and his God meets him with
his acceptance." (Isa. Ixiv. 5.) Here we have our
" rejoicing — with trembling" indeed ; yet with " the
testimony of our conscience." (2 Cor. i. 12. Gal. vi.
4, 5.) Godliness is a bright atmosphere of Christian
joy to the whole-hearted Christian. And if our pres-
ent portion be so precious, what will it be, when we
shall grasp " the prize of our high calling of God in
Christ Jesus?"

Meanwhile the future is uncertain. None can bring
us to see ivhat shall he afterward. But the simple re-
liance for the day sweeps away the tossing cares for
to-morrow. (Matt. vi. 34.) Soon will eternal rest
swallow up present anxieties. Thus sings our Chris-
tian poet : —

Set free from present sorrow,

"We cheerfully can say —
E'en let th' unknown to-morrow

Bring with it what it may.
It can bring with it nothing,

But He will bear us through :
Who gives the lilies clothing,

Will clothe his people too.

Olney Hymns, iii. 48.



110 EXPOSITION OP ECCLESIASTES. [CH. IV. 1-8.



CHAPTER lY.

1, So I returned, and considered all the oppression that
was dcme under the sun ; and, behold, the tears of such
as were oppressed, and they had no comforter ; and
on the side of their oppressors there was power ; hut
they had nxy comforter, 2. Wherefore I praised them
which are already dead more than the living which
are yet olive. 3. Yea, better is he than they both,
which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil
work that is done under the sun,

A SINFUL world is a world of selfishness. Men —
instead of feeling themselves to be members of one
great body — each bound to each other in mutual help-
fulness — live only to " seek their own " (Eph. iv. 16,
with Phil. ii. 21) at whatever cost to their fellow-
creatures. Solomon had already taken one view of
this sad spectacle. He had seen with his father " the
vilest men exalted — the throne of iniquity framing
mischief by a law." (Chap. iii. 16, lY, with Ps. xii.
8 ; xciv. 20, 21.) He now returns and considers. He
takes a wider survey. He sees oppression in every
corner — not only in the courts of justice — but in every
sphere — not only for the sake of godliness — but dU
the oppression tJiat was done under the sun} Behold! —

* ' There is not a word in our language, which expresses more detest-
able wickedness than oppression ; yet the nature of this vice cannot be
so exactly stated, nor the bounds of it so deterrainately marked, as to
say in all instances, where rigid right and justice end, and oppression



CII. IV. 1-8.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. Ill

he cries — the tears of such as he oppressed. The power
also on the side of the oppressor darkens the picture.
It is like Israel in "the iron furnace" — dragging
along a heavy chain of life in a wearisome existence.
(Exod. ii. 23, 24. Deut. iv. 20.) Twice does he allude
to the deep and poignant aggravation — no comforter —
no one to afford relief to soul or body. The tyranny
of the oppressor here reaches his summit of cruelty.
This keen trial has often been the lot of the Lord's
suffering people. "I looked on my right hand" — said
a true child of tribulation — " but there was no man
that would know me ; refuge failed me ; no man cared
for my soul." (Ps. cxlii. 4. Comp. 2 Tim. iv. 16.)
Nay, was not this beaten track consecrated by the
footsteps of the Son of God? "Reproach hath broken
my heart ; I am full of heaviness ; I looked for some
to take pity, but there was none ; and for Comforters^
but I found none." (Ps. Ixix. 20.)

Sympathy with sorrow is indeed a precious priv-
ilege. " Remember them that be in bonds " (under
oppression) ^^2iS being bound with them." (Heb. xiii. 3.)
If we cannot tread in the footsteps of a Howard,
might not much more be done ? Might not there be
a more active, self-denying alleviation of suffering?
Might not prayer and effort be in more lively exercise
to bring the sufferers to an interest in the endearing
sympathy of "The Man of sorrows " — so tenderly —
even in his glorified state " touched with the feeling "



begins. In these cases there is great latitude left for every one to de-
termine from, and consequently to deceive himself.' — Bp. Butler's
Sermon on Se^f-deeeit,



112 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [OH. IV. 1-8.

of his people's sorrow ? And yet how very little do
we realize 1;ie sorrow of others; either because they
are at a distance from us, or because we have our-
selves no intelligent and experimental acquaintance
with the particular pages of the history of sorrow !

As to the sorrow here expressed, Mr. Cecil mentions
that he often ' had a sleepless night from having seen
an instance of cruelty in the day.'^ Our tender-hearted
poet thus gives vent to his indignant grief : —

Oh, for a lodge in some vast wilderness,

Some boundless contiguity of shade.

Where rumour of oppression and deceit,

Of unsuccessful or successful war.

Might never reach me more 1 My ear is pain'd,

My heart is sick with every day's report

Of wrong and outrage with which earth is fiU'd.

Task, Book iv.

So keen were Solomon's sensibilities, that, looking
at the comparison merely in the light of temporal evil,
^/ he considered death, or even non-existence, preferable,
as a refuge from this suffering lot. The patriarch, in
his crushing sorrow, looked to the grave as his hope
of rest. " There " — said holy Job — " the wicked cease
from troubling, and there the weary be at rest. There
the prisoners rest together ; they hear not the voice
of the oppressor J^ (Job, iii. lY, 18.)

Look onward to the great end. Behold the tears of
such as loere oppressed — then to be " wiped away " —
when " the rebuke " of the oppressor " shall be taken
away from off all the earth. (Isa. xxv. 8.) Meanwhile

Memoirs by Mrs. Cecil.



CH. iy.4.] EXPOSITION OP ECCLESIASTES. 113

let us be careful to cherish our sensibilities— not in
barren sentimentalism, but in practical exercise. Our
Great Pattern not only gave his tears but his blood,
for the misery of man. Not only did he weep for sor-
row as the fruit of sin, but he " laid down his life" for
it. (1 John, iii. 16.)

4. Again, I consider all travail, and every right worhy
and that for this a man is envied of his neighbour.
This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.

How vividly Solomon draws the picture of selfish-
ness in all its features I A man pursues a 7nght tvorJc.
Yet his neighbour envies his rectitude. His own
character suffers by comparison with him. Hence the
revolt. Thus, whichever side of the world we look, it
presents the same face of vanity — the same result —
vexation of spirit. ' A man that hath no virtue in him-
self — observes our great English philosopher — ' ever
envieth virtue in others ; for men's minds will either
feed upon their own good, or upon others' evil. And
who wanteth the one will prey upon the other ; and
whoso is out of hope to attain to another's virtue, will
seek to come at even hand by depressing another's
fortune.' ' This is the " evil eye," ^ olfended with the
clear shining light. The better f/ie loork, the more is
the man hated by those who have no heart to imitate
him." Thus even godliness becomes a source of evil.

' Lord Bacon's Essays, ix. " See Mark, vii. 22.

^ Gen. iv. 8, with 1 John, iii. 11, 12. Also Daniel, vi. 4, 5. This
last example (as Abp. Whately seems to admit) contradicts Lord
Bacon's observation — that ' persons of eminent virtue, when they are
advanced, are less envied.'



114 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. IV. 1

If our godliness " condemn the world," we must expect
to be hated by the world. Unbending integrity was
the only charge brought against Aristides. And in an
infinitely higher perfection of example, the only expla-
nation of unprovoked and murderous cruelty, was —
that, irritated by his popularity, " they had delivered
him for envyJ^ (Mark, xv. 10.) This is truly a fiend-
ish passion — hating good for goodness' sake. It is like
" the star Wormwood," poisoning the fountains around.
(Rev. viii. 10, 11.) It works often under a subtle but
plausible cover. God's work must be done. But we
must be the doers of it. The thought is intolerable,
that another and more honourable than ourselves
should have the praise. We must throw something
into the balance to depreciate his fair name, and to
preserve the glory of our dearest idol — self. ' How
contrary a state' — as Bp. Taylor beautifully observes
— ' to the felicities and actions of heaven, where every
star increases the light of the otlier, and the multitude
of guests at the supper of the Lamb makes the eternal
meal more festival ! ^

Hard indeed is it to work with singleness for our
Master's name — 'labouring' — as Dr. Arnold nobly
expressed it on his death-bed — ' to do God's will ; yet
not anxious that it should be done by me, rather than
by others.' ^ Good old Fuller's prayers are much to
the point — ' Dispossess me, Lord, of this bad spirit, and

^ Holy Living, chap. iv. sect. 8-

'^ Stanley's Z/?/e, ii. 322. 'Be content that thy brother should be
employed, and thou laid by as unprofitable ; his sentence approved,
thine rejected ; he be preferred, and thou fixed in a low employment.'
— Bp. Taylor, Holy Living, chap. ii. sect. 4.



CII. IV. 5,6.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. 115

turn my envy into holy emulation. Let me labour to
exceed those in pains, who excel me in parts. Let me
feed, and foster, and nourish, and cherish the graces in
others, honouring their persons, praising their parts,
and glorifying thy name, who hath given such gifts
unto them.'*

The true power of the Gospel can alone root out
this hateful principle. If there be a living union with
Christ, will not his honour be our joy, by whomsoever
it be advanced ? If there be a true communion with
the body, the prosperity of one member will be the joy
of the whole. (1 Cor. xii. 26. Eph. iv. 16.) ' One fin-
ger envieth not another, that weareth a gold ring, as
taking it for an ornament of the whole hand — yea, of
the whole body.' "

Ah ! Christian — have not you often detected this
lust in yourself — yea — even after the Lord has had
mercy upon you ? Then surely sorrow and shame will
be your lot. And many a quickening desire will be
stirred up for the world, where it shall never be known
more. For " into that place shall not in any wise en-
ter anything that defileth." (Rev. xxi. 27.)

5. The foolfoldeth his hands together^ and eateth his own
flesh. 6. Better is an handful with quietness, than both
the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.

Another picture of vanity ! The wise man looks
from one scene to another — oppression — envy — now
idleness. What a vast fertility of excuses does the

» Good Thoughts in Bad Times. ' Cotton.



116 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH.IV.6,6.

great enemy suggest ! In the business of daily life
how many stumbling-blocks does he put in the way !
The sluggard — wasting his precious time and oppor-
tunity — mistaking idleness for quietness — heaping mis-
ery upon himself — bears the stamp of a fool. And
well does he deserve his name. He foWs ids hands to-
gether (Prov. vi. 9, 10 ; xxiv. 30-33) with heartless in-
difference, as if he would rather eat Ms yqyj flesh from
his bones, than put forth any troublesome exertion.
And yet an excuse was ready at hand. Above him he
saw the tyranny of the oppressor. Many on his own
level grudged their neighbour his happiness. And
therefore for himself he deems a little with ease to be
far better than much with toil and trouble. Nothing
is to be gained without travail. And yet the fruit of
successful travail becomes the object of envy. Far
Letter therefore he thinks an handful with quietness, than
both hands filled with the heavy tax of vexation of
spirit.^

Thjefool thus ' does nothing, because others do ill.' ^
And certainly no one has so little enjoyment of life,
as he who is doing nothing in life. As Dr. Barrow

^ Bps. Hall. Patrick, and Reynolds ; Cartwright, Beza, Lorin, and
Scott, mark this judgment, as the sluggard's false cover for his sloth.
Dr. Wardlaw inclines to the same opinion. The wise man elsewhere
gives the true and just apphcation of this heller portion. — Prov. xv. 16,
17 ; xvii. 1.

^ Bp. Patrick. And yet — as Bp. Sanderson observes — ' He is as de-
siring and craving as the most covetous wretch, that never ceaseth
tailing and mo'ling to get more, if he might but have it, and not sweat
for it.' — Sermon on Phil. iv. 11. In another part of the sermon he
speaks of him as ' content to let the world wag as it will, without any
care what shall become of him and his another day.'



OH. IV. 5, 6.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. 117

asks, when rebuking his idle gentleman — ' What title
can he have to happiness? What capacity thereof?
What reward can he claim ? What comfort can he
feel ? To what temptations he is exposed ! What
guilt will he incur ! ' Idleness indeed places a man
out of God's order. It should therefore have no place
in God's fair creation.* Work is at once the substance
and the privilege of our service. A thousand witnesses
will rise up against the sluggard's excuse — " There is
a lion without ; I shall be slain in the streets." (Prov.
xxii. IB.)

In our general calling and our daily course — ' the
strictest imprisonment is far more tolerable, than being
under restraint by a lazy humour from profitable em-
ployment. This enchaineth a man hand and foot with
more than iron fetters. This is beyond any imprison-
ment. It is the very entombment of a man, quite in
effect sequestering him from the world, or debarring
him from any valuable concerns therein.' '

But this folding of the hands together — what a dead-
ly hindrance is it in the ways of God ! A life of ease
can never be a life of happiness, or the pathway to
heaven.* Trifling indulgences greatly enervate the
soul. ' A despicable indulgence in lying in bed ' —
writes the heavenly Martyn in his early course — ' gave
me such a view of the softness of my character, that
I resolved upon my knees to live a life of more self-
denial. Tlie tone and vigour of my mind rose rapidly.



^ Sermon on Industry as a Gentleman. ' See Gen. ii. 15.

' Barrow's Sermon on Industry in General.
ISee Matt. xvi. 24. 2 Tim. ii. 3.



118 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CII. IV.7,8.

All those duties, from which I usually shrink, seemed
recreations.' Taking a high standard of example,
what say we to the quickening example of Him, who,
after a Sabbath of ceaseless labour, " in the morning
rising up a great while before day, went out, and
departed into a solitary place, and there prayed ? "
(Mark, i. 35.) To cultivate habits of self-denial — to
mind our work more than our pleasure, is of incalcu-
lable moment. Blessed, indeed, is the toil in such a
service for such a Master ! The crown and the king-
dom brighten all. In the most fainting discourage-
ment the effort to take one forward step — or even to
resist one backward step — when made under the sense
of the infinite preciousness of the favour of God, and
the constraining love of Christ — will never be made
in vain. Power will be given and felt to cut the way
through every difficulty, and to live in all the high en-
joyment of our privileged service.

7. Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun.
8. There is one alone, and there is not a second ; yea
— he hath neither child nor brother ; yet is there no
end of his labour ; neither is his eye satisfied tvith
riches ; neither saith he — ' jPor whom do I labour, and
bereave my soul of good ? ' This is also vanity; yea,
it is a sore travail.

Solomon's mind was in constant exercise. We find
him returning from one side to another, only to fasten
upon some new illustration of this world's vanity.
The slothful fool sits with \a^ folded hands — preferring
quietness at any cost. Contrasted with him, we have



CH. IV.7,8.] EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. 119

the covetous fool — full of active energy. He has cho-
sen money for his God. The miser — how well does
he deserve his name ! the luretched slave of Mammon,
grown old as a toiling, scraping, griping drudge ! He
cannot plead in excuse the necessary claims of a large
family. He is aloiie, and there is not a second; yea —
he hath neitlier child nor brotJier. Yet so long as he can
add one farthing to his hoard, he cannot bear the
thought of giving up. There is no end of Ms labour.
Labour indeed it is, without rest or satisfaction, how-
ever he may heap up his treasure. His eye is not sat-
isfied with riches. Still he craves for more. The less
need, the more raking. ' He hath enough for his back,
his calling, the decency of his state and condition ; but
he hath not enough for his eyeJ i All is sacrificed —
even to the bereaving his soul of common good. And
for ivhom all this labour ? " He heapeth up riches, and
knoweth not who shall gather them." (Ps. xxxix. 6.)
Illustrations from real life are not wanting". The
Great Marlborough — scraping together a fortune of a
million and a half— would walk through the rain at
night to save sixpence ! bereaving himself of good — for
whom ? for a family, whom he had always regarded as
his enemies.'

But it is not only the miser. Here also is the man
that spends his money upon himself, and upon his own
selfish gratifications, forgetting its true use and respon-
sibility. When once we acknowledge the bond — "Ye



*Bp. Reynolds. Comp. Prov. xxvii. 20; Hab. ii. 5-9.
^ See Mirage of Life, an interesting volume published by Religious
Tract Society.



120 EXPOSITION OF ECCLESIASTES. [CH. IV.T,8.

are not your own" (1 Cor. vi. 19) — readily shall we
add — Neither is our silver or our gold our own, but
God's ; worthless — worse than worthless ; as a selfish
possession ; an acceptable gift, when consecrated to the
service of God and his Church.

The man of covetousness would keep his money with-
in his last grasp. No other satisfaction can he realize.
But all this is vanity, and a sore travail. Never has he
soberly calculated profit and loss. Comfort, peace,
usefulness, and — what is infinitely more important —
the interests of the immortal soul — all is sacrificed to
this mean and sordid lust. A perishing sinner — ^his
shadowy portion snatched from him ; and his state for
eternity irremediable misery — such is the picture ! His
call is sudden in the midst of all his purposes of ag-
grandizement. He has "received his good things."
All is now infinite and unchangeable ruin. " So is he"
— adds our Divine Instructor — " that layeth up treas-
ure for himself, and is not rich towards God." (Luke,
xii. 18-21 ; xvi. 25.) ' Envy thou not the fool's para-
dise here, that has hell at the end of it.' ^ Now mark
the contrast — The child of God in poverty, yet in pos-
session of the Gospel treasure. "As having nothing,
and yet possessing all things " (2 Cor, vi. 10) — enrich-



Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 8 of 27)