Charles Bridges.

An exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes online

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ed and honoured for both worlds — partaker with his
Lord of the kingdom. Reader — be sure that this is
thy joy — thy portion— first in thine eye and in thy

9. Two are better than one, because they have a good
reward for their labour. 10. For if they faU^ the

* Anonym. Eoiposition of Ecclesiades.


one will lift up his fellow ; but woe to him, lolio is
alone when he faUeth/for he hath not another to help
him. 11. Again, if tivo lie together, then they have
heat ; but how can man be warm alon£ ? 12. And if
one prevail against him, ttvo shall withstand him;
and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

We have seen the misery of solitary selfishness. ' The
man is so absorbed in covetousness, that he sacrificeth
all his interest with his fellow-creatures.' ^ Contrast
with this dark picture the pleasures and advantages of
social bonds. Bacon quotes from Aristotle, that ' who-
soever delighteth in solitude is either a wild beast or
a god' — that is (as Abp. Whately explains it) — ' to man
— such as man is — friendship is indispensable to hap-
piness ; and that one, who has no need, and feels no
need of it, must be either much above human nature,
or much below it.' " In a variety of instances we shall
readily admit Solomon's judgment — Two are better than
one — ' more happy jointly, than either of them could
be separately. The pleasure and advantage of holy
love will be an abundant recompense for all the work
and labour of love.' ^ They have a good reward for
their labour. For have they not richer enjoyment of
the common good in the mutual effort to promote it ?

Many instances in common life illustrate this aphor-
ism. In a casual fall ready help is a Providential
mercy. Woe to him that is alone when he falleth.
Solitude may be death. (Gen. iv. 8. 2 Sam. xiv. 6.)
As if two lie together, heat is communicated. (1 Kings,

* Datb^. ' Notes on Bacoti, Essay xxvii. ' Henry.


i. 2.) In cases of assault, one might prevail, when by
additional strength we might successfully withstand him
(2 Sam. X. 11. Jer. xli. 13, 14) ; like a cord, which when
untwisted, is weak ; but when bound together threefold
(like the fabled bundle of rods) is 7ioi quickly broken.

We forget however the deep and weighty substance
of Scripture, if we confine these illustrations to their
literal application. The most sober principle of inter-
pretation will admit a reference to all that glowing
contact of united hearts, where each has a part and
responsibility in helping and comforting the other. To
begin at the beginning — with that ordinance, where
God declared his own mind — " It is not good for man
to be alone." (Gen. ii. 18. Comp. Ps. Ixviii. 6.) If it
was " not good " in Paradise, much less is it in a
wilderness world. What claim, then, has a monastic
or a celibate life to higher perfection ? When two
are brought together by the Lord's Providence (Gen.
ii. 22) — and specially when each is fitted to each other
by his grace— ^" dwelling together as heirs of the grace
of life" (1 Pet. iii. 7), in abiding union of hearts —
having one faith — one hope — one aim — who can doubt
the fact — Two are better than one? Love sweetens
toil, soothes the sting of trouble, and gives a Christian
zest of enjoyment to every course of daily life. The
mutual exercises of sympathy give energy to prayer,
and furnish large materials for confidence and praise.

Our Lord himself, who " knew what was in man,"
ordered his Church upon this wise determination.
When he " sent forth" his first ministers, " as sheep or
lambs in the midst of wolves" — weak and unprotected
— " two and two" was the arrangement. (Matt. x. 16.


Luke, X. 1-3.) Was not this upon the forethought,
that if they should /aZ^, the one should help up his fellow?
The Primitive Church — so far as circumstances per-
mitted — acted under Divine direction upon this rule
of mutual helpfulness/

We need scarcely remark, how clearly the principle
of membership is here involved. The live coal left
alone soon loses its vital heat. But heap the coals
around it, and we have a genial atmosphere. The
most lively professor left alone is in danger of waxing
cold in selfishness. But the precious ' communion of
saints^ warms the Christian from the very centre. All
is sound, when " the members of the body" (to use the
Apostle's favourite illustration) " have the same care
one for another." (1 Cor. xii. 25.) Thus "from the"
Divine " Head, the whole body, fitly joined together,
and compacted by that which every joint supplieth,
according to the efi"ectual working in the measure of
every part, maketh increase of the body to the edify-
ing of itself in love." (Eph. iv. 15, 16.)

This principle also rebukes the religious solitaire —
that isolated being, who belongs to no Church, because
no Church is perfect enough for him. ' Take a ladder'
— was Constantine's advice to such a one — ' and climb
up to heaven by thyself.' Surely it is better to belong
to an imperfect (not heretical) Church, than none ;
better to " continue steadfastly in the Apostles' doc-
trine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in

' Acts. xiii. 2 ; xv. 35-40. An old expositor observes on this text
— that * in the body all instruments of action are made by pairs; e. g.
hands— feet— eyes — ears— legs.'— Cotton.


prayers" (Acts, ii. 42) ; not only " first giving up our
own selves to the Lord," but " unto" the whole body
of the Church " by the will of God." (2 Cor. viii. 5.)
There can be no real membership with the body, except
by the communication of mutual helpfulness " accord-
ing to the measure of every part." (Eph. iv. 16, ut
supra.) The solitaire just described is in continual
danger when he falletli^ for he hath not another to help
him. The soldier falters alone; but, in fellowship with
his comrades, he advances with confidence.

All the kindly offices of friendship — especially when
cemented in the Christian bond — apply to this point.
The united prayer of " any two, who shall agree touch-
ing anything they shall ask," is sealed with acceptance.
(Matt, xviii. 19.) Mutual faithfulness (Gal. ii. 11-14 ;
vi. 1), consideration, inspection, and godly provocation
(Heb. X. 24) — all enter into the sphere of Christian re-
sponsibility, and minister to the glory of our common
Lord. Each of us has something to impart, to prevent
discouragement — to receive, to teach us humility. The
receiver is united to the giver by gratitude — the giver
to the receiver by tender compassion.

In this sympathizing union of kindred spirits, " oint-
ment and perfume rejoice the heart ; so doth the
sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel. Iron
sharpeneth iron ; so a man sharpeneth the countenance
of his friend." (Prov. xxvii. 9, 17.) The inferior may
be the helper. The great Apostle acknowledged in-
strumental support through his own son in the faitli.
(2 Cor. vii. 6. Tit. i. 4.) Jonathan, no less than David,
" strengthened" his brother's " hands in God." (1 Sam.
xxiii. 16. Here the two were better than one ; when each


was employed in lifting up his fellow. Lord Bacon
quotes the old proverb — ' A friend is another himself
— and then beautifully adds — ' No receipt openeth the
heart but a true friend, to whom you may impart
griefs, joys, fears, hopes, suspicions, counsels, and
whatsoever lieth upon the heart to oppress it.' ^

Oh I let us ponder well the deep responsibility of
our social obligations. Are we discharging them as
unto the Lord — for the honour of his name, and for the
edifying and increase of his Church? Did we but
pray for each other as we ought, what a brotherhood
would the family of man be ! The time is short. Op-
portunities are passing away. Happy those, who have
been fellow-helpers upon earth! They shall rejoice
before their gracious Lord with joy unspeakable — un-
interrupted — ^without abatement — without end.

13. Better is a poor and zoise child than an old and
foolish King, who wiU be no more admonished. 14.
For out of pyriscm he cometh to reign ; whereas he that
is born in his kingdom becometh poor.

Riches were the last instance of vanity. Here Solo-
mon affixes the stamp upon honour — man's highest
condition. This is not indeed the ordinary course.
God's people are often left in a low condition, while
the ungodly maintain a royal elevation. But such
cases do occur ; and probably he had some example be-
fore his eyes of an old and foolish king beyond the
border, raised to the throne without any fitness to reign,

ut supra


and showing his folly pre-eminently by unwillingness
to be admonished. For the man, who has no counsel
from his own store, and refuses to receive it from
another's, has an undoubted claim to the character of
a fool. Indeed old and foolish — feebleness of mind and
obstinacy linked together throw a cloud over the
splendour of an earthly crown. For ' place and dignity
can never make a man so happy, as his folly will make
him miserable.''

The contrast is minutely drawn — ^between the king
and the poor — the old man and the child — the foolish and
the ivise. The balance is given in favour of the child^
though poor. ' Such pearls are not to be slighted,
though in the dust.' ^ For we are taught to despise
not either youth (1 Tim. iv. 12) or poverty. (Jam. ii.
1-6.) Real worth is determined, not by outward show,
but by solid usefulness. Royalty itself may sink in
estimation, when set against attainments brought out
of the lowest walks of life. From many a ragged
school or wretched hovel may be dug out the richest
stores of moral and intellectual wealth, compared with
which the monarch's crown is the very tinsel of vanity.
' The king, becoming poor by his own extravagance,
stalks his little hour of magnificence, and then descends,
the ghost of departed greatness, into the land of con-
demnation.' '

This comparison is confirmed by the different event
happening to each. The child may for a while be in
inglorious poverty. But may it not be the Divine pur-

^ Pemble in loco. " Nisbet.

= Dr. Chalmers' Sermon on Text. Comp. Job. xii. 18-21, 23, 28.


pose to bring, as it were another Joseph out of prison}
or a Daniel out of captivity (Dan. 1. 6 ; vi.l), and
to raise him to an honourable elevation ? Wisdom
may be the fruit of the prison discipline, and supply to
the child what he wants in years (1 Kings, iii. 6-12) ;
while the old and foolish king — horn to an empire — horn
in his kingdom as his rightful inheritance — a beggar
dies in obscurity; (2 Kings, xxiii. 31^34 ; xxiv. 12 ;
XXV. 7 ; Lam. iv. 20.) ' The wisdom of the one may
advance him to a sceptre ; the folly of the other, as
recorded experience testifies, may wrest the sceptre from
his hand.' ^

* If he, who from a dungeon shall through his wisdom
be advanced to a throne, be preferred to him, who,
horn in his kingdom, is reduced to poverty by his folly ;
how honourable and happy will they be, who by faith
in the Son of God are advanced from the bondage of
sin and Satan to the glorious " kingdom that cannot
be moved !" ' ^ Joyous is the prospect of the resurrec-
tion morning — when their prison garments being
clianged for the glorious image of their Lord — out of
prison they shall come forth to reign — sharers of his throne
for ever.

15. 7 considered all the living which walk under the sun,
with the second child, that shall stand up in his stead.
16. There is no end of all the people, even of all that

' Pa cv. 17-22. Josephus mentions Agrippa as having ascended the
throne/rom a prism, though with no special marks of wisdom. — Antiq.
lib. xviii. c. 8 ; see also Howson and Conybeare, Travels of Si. Paul, i.
129, second edit.

« Wardlaw. » Scott.


have been before them; they also that come after shall
not rejoice in Mm. Surely this also is vanity and vexa-
tion of spirit.

The Preacher now turns to the people. He finds
the same vanity and vexation as elsewhere. He takes
an extensive survey, considering all the living which walk
under the sun. Generation after generation pass be-
fore his mind's eye. All is the same character. The
hereditary disease is fondness for change. Here is the
king with the heir apparent — the second ' — next to his
throne, that shall stand up in his stead. The homage of
all ranks is soon transferred to him. There is no end
to the fickle multitude. " Surely men of low degree
are vanity^ and men of high degree are a lie ; to lay in
the balance they are altogether lighter than vanity."
(Ps. Ixii. 9.) Such was the testimony of the Preacher's
father, abundantly confirmed by his own sad experience.
Though he had been eminently the father of his people,
how easily did the second child " steal their hearts from
him !" (2 Sam. xv. 6, 12, 13.) Wayward Adonijah in
his last days brought out the same proofs of this popu-
lar inconstancy. (1 Kings, ii. 15, with i. 6, 25.) Perhaps
Solomon himself might have been mortified by some
marks of the neglect of the setting, and worshipping
of the rising, sun.'

This appeared to the preacher to be the universal
rule ; human nature in every age alike. Tliere was no

* V. 8. The second does not suppose another child that is first — but
implies— secamf in the kingdom, in respect to his father who reigns be-
fore him, whom he succeeded at his death. — Bp. Patrick.

'See Lord Bacon's Advancement of Knowleijp^ B. TI. xxiil. 5.


end of all the people. The giddy and inconstant multi-
tude go on from generation to generation. Solomon
had seen it himself. So had others before him. So it
would go on to the end. They would abandon the
present idol, as those had done, who had been before
them. The heir that is now worshipped with servility
will have his turn of mortification. They that come
after shall not rejoice in him. " Cease ye from man,"
therefore, " whose breath is in his nostrils" — is the
much-needed exhortation — " for wherein is he to be
accounted of?" (Isa. ii. 22.) The smile of to-day may
be changed for the frown of to-morrow. (Mark, xi. 8 ;
XV. 8, 14.) The love of change is a dominant principle
of selfishness — insensible to our present blessings, and
craving for some imaginary good. ' The man is rarely
found, who is not more taken up with the prospect of
future hopes, than with the enjoyment of his present
possession.'^ This constant anxiety is an humbling
trial to Royalty. The crown of the brightest jewels
is often a crown of thorns.

But after all — think of our Great Sovereign — is not
he entitled to our undecaying, supreme, and devoted
love ? His willing people will shew no fickleness here.
He deserves all. He claims all. He gives all. Never,
therefore, let him have less than all. Will not every
service bring an hundredfold reward in peace — -joy —
salvation — heaven ?

' Lord Bacon, quoted in Poli Synapsis. See also Bp. Patrick.



1. Keep thy foot^ when thou goest into the house of God;
and he more ready to hear^ than to give the sacrifice of
fools ; for they consider not that they do evil.

The Preacher has multiplied his illustrations of his
subject — All is vanity. There is, however, one excep-
tion — the service of God. Let us then go into the
sanctuary. Precious privileges belong to the house of
God. Never does he fail to cheer his humble worship-
pers. (Isa. Ivi. *7.) ' In the word of God and prayer
there is a salve for every sore.' ^ Yet even here, —
alas ! what a mass is there of vacant service — of
traditionary form — the copy and dead imitation — no
throbbing of spiritual life ! How important therefore
is the Divine rule to maintain the vital sacredness of
the service — Keep thy foot — as with Sabbath consecra-
tion.^ Let it not be a careless step, as into an ordinary
house. Begin the holy exercise ere you leave your
home. See that your heart is engaged — not in the
trifles of the moment, but in the realizing of eternity —

^ Henry.

^ Isa. Iviii. 13, with Exod, iii. 5. Josh. v. 15. Mede supposes the
reference to the Eastern custom of putting ofif the shoes or sandals on
entering a temple for the purpose of worship. He adds— 'Not as if
Solomon, or the Holy Ghost, in this admonition intended the outward
ceremony only, and no more (that were ridiculous to imagine) ; but the
whole act of sacred reverence, commenced in the heart and affection,
whereof this was the accustomed and leading gesture.' — /Fo •A-.<-, pp.


not in company with thy friend, but in commiiiiion witlr^ ^[j^!
thy Lord. Oh ! it is awful to trifle at the church door.
Our buisness is with the High and Holy One. He " is
greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and
to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.
Holiness becometh thine house, God, for ever.'' (Ps.
Ixxxix. 7 ; xciii. 5.) Utterly revolting therefore is
that service, which is not imbued with a reverential
spirit. " In thy fear'''' — says the man of God — " will I
Avorship toward the holy temple." (Ps. v. 7.) If we
have right views of the Divine majesty, shall we not
be as sinful worms in our own eyes — how much more
in his sight ?

And is this exercise an easy work — a refuge for the
indolent from the harder toil of service ? Ah I no.
If it be "good" (lb. Ixxiii. 28)— it is hardest of all—
" to draw near to God." It needs the face steadily
set heavenward — the " girding up of the loins of the
mind" (1 Pet. i. 13) — most of all — the eye looking to-
wards that blessed mercy-seat, where God and the sin-
ner are at one, and where, at the moment that we bow
our knees before him, the great High Priest stands up
for our cause with Almighty pleading. (Heb. ix. 24.)
So prepared — so worshipping — we shall find "the
House of God to be the gate of heaven." (Gen.
xxviii. 17.)

And here lies our preparation for profitable hearing
— a matter of no small moment. Many admit the im-
{)ortance of hearing^ who have little regard to that
which makes the main difference in the house of Ood —
the remembrance of what we hear. The evil to the
barren professor is — that, not liking the close personal


application, he lays the burden of his nnprofitableness
at the Preacher's door. Solomon's rule — Be ready to
hear, is that of our Divine Master — " Take heed how
ye hear." (Luke, viii. 18.) Prayer neglected — the
exercise of faith withers. We are disposed to ask cu-
rious questions, but very unready to listen to practical

' What miserable delusion' — observes the late excel-
lent Mr. Yenn — ' to think sermons will profit awak-
ened and enlightened people, when they have no heart
to call upon God, and " worship him in spirit and in
truth !" Again — referring to one of his large London
congregations — ' I see the people greatly inattentive to
the worship, and yet hearing with seeming earnestness.
This will never do. " Worship in spirit and in truth"
must mellow the heart, and dispose it to hear with
profit ; otherwise God's Spirit is grieved and with-
drawn. The preacher may be praised ; but the soul
will not be profited.' Again — ' While the grand busi-
ness should fill their souls, a total inattention is visible
in many countenances. Their entertainment seems
only to begin, when the preacher has taken his text.
Professed believers ! can you imagine you shall receive
profit in one means of grace, when you pour contempt
on another ?' ^

Often indeed is there attendance without attention.
We look for novelty, rather than for edification, for-
getting that — as Judge Hale wisely remarked — ' our
great object is to be impressed and affected, and to
have old and new truths reduced to experience and

^ Life and Correspovdcnce, pp. 404, 540.


practice." Is it not humbling to remark, how little
we realize the deep connexion of the house of Ood with
eternity ? We seem to have done with the word, as it
has passed into our ears. But the word — be it remem-
bered—will never have done with us, till it shall have
"judged us at the last day." (John, xii. 48.)

Truly, the hindrances press heavily. Perhaps all
(save those connected with our physical temperament)
are summed up in one — " The word preached did not
profit, not being mixed with faith in them that heard
it." (Heb. iv. 2.) Cornelius and his company exhibited
a fine spirit of profitable hearing. They were ready
to hear — not the servant, but the Master — " the things
that are commanded thee of God." (Acts, x. 33.) A
message from God was looked for. The Minister's
word was " received, not as the word of man, but, as
it was in truth, the word of God." And thus it " ef-
fectually worked in them that believed." (Thess. ii. 13.)
Many indeed are the hindrances to the true and profit-
able hearing. It is not to go as to a concert — " to the
lovely song of one that playeth well upon an instru-
ment." (Ezek. xxxiii. 32.) It is not the nice adjust-
ment of the balances, to determine the little proprieties
of the preacher's tone, gesture, emphasis, or attitude ;
as if it was of little moment what he speaks, if only
he speaks in good taste. Nor is it " the man, who
looketh in the glass, and straightway forgetteth what
manner of man he was." (Jam. i. 23, 24.) Such service
can only be the, sacrijice of fools. 'A fool is the priest,
and folly the oblation.'^ For what else can it be, to

' Pp. Buraet's Life. » Dr. South on v. 2.


conceiye that the Searcher of hearts is pleased with
mere external formalism ? or to forget that " God is a
spirit," and therefore can only be acceptably wor-
shipped in spiritual service and in truth ? (John, iv.
23, 24.) This is indeed vanity in its most revolting
character — ^vanity brought into our worship — our very
religion turned into vanity. (Isa. i. 13. Matt. xv.
7-9.) Worldly thoughts, pleasures, and plans are
brought — not only to the very door, but even to the
sanctuary itself. " Our Father's house is made a house
of merchandize." (John, ii. 16.) The truth floats across
a multitude of hearers ; but no profitable impression
is left. All is absolutely worthless — a mockery of God.
And yet, such is the self-delusion of this folly, that
the heartless worshippers consider not that tJiey do evil,
(Hos. vii. 2.) But however well conceived be the out-
ward form, the substance is " the sacrifice of the wicked,
which is an abomination unto the Lord." (Prov. xv. 8.)
Account will be taken at the great day, not only for
the commission of sin, but for the service of duty.
Alas ! who of us has not cause to remember every step
of our prayerful course, as a deep and large ground of
humiliation before God ? Indeed — as a dying philos-
opher was constrained to admit — ' What would become
of- a poor sinful soul, but for that blessed, all-compre-
hensive sacrifice, and that intercession at '' the right
hand of the Majesty on high ?" ' ^ This we can plead,
and never shall we plead it in vain.

^ John Foster — Life and Correspondence, vol. ii. Very instructive is it
to mark this gigantic mind on the brink of eternity coming out from
the dark cloud of rationalistic theology.


2. Be not rash toith thy mouth, and let not thine heart
he hasty to utter anything before God : for God is in
heaven, and thou upon earth ; therefore let thy words
be few. 3. For a dream cometh through a multitude
of business ; and a fooVs voice is known by a multi-
tude of words.

This is a Divine Rule for prayer. We need not re-
strict it to public worship. Let it apply to " all prayer
and supplication." The vanity of the heart in prayer
gives full scope for this rule of discipline. Have we
not cause to pray, that we might know what prayer is ?
How little do we know — because how little time and
heart we have, given to it! How much of our own
spirit mingles with our intercourse with God I We
admit it as a duty — Nay, do we not enjoy it as a priv-

Online LibraryCharles BridgesAn exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes → online text (page 9 of 27)