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referred to will present themselves to the mind, when the heart
and when the whole being is peacefully anchored in a settled faith in the paternal grace and providence of God, together with a firm belief of the great truths of inspiration, on the one hand, or when in a state of alienation from God, when divorced from the system of revealed truth, subject to the darkness and gloom of skepticism, and wholly given up to worldly and sensual indulgences, on the other. Few individuals have more fully fathomed the depths of these two distinct and opposite states of mind than Solomon, and no other individual has ever lived who was so perfectly qualified to embody the sentiments common and peculiar to each state pertaining to the same great truths. The wisdom which dictated the volume of inspiration is strikingly manifest in seizing upon such a signal occasion to embody and reveal these distinct and opposite sentiments.
This then, as we suppose is the plan and design of the book of Ecclesiastes. In his apostacy from God, Solomon had become skeptical in respect to the truths of Inspiration. His descent into the gross abominations of heathenism is a full verification of such a statement. The sensual delights to which his whole existence was surrendered, failed to afford him the satisfaction anticipated, when, in their pursuit, he forsook" the fountain of living waters." The natural consequence was a state of settled melancholy and despondency, pervaded and embittered by feelings and sentiments of deep dissatisfaction with the dispensations of providence in respect to man. Such was the fixed character and tendency of his mind, however, that whatever sentiments or feelings he might, at any time, entertain in respect to any subject, such feelings and sentiments would naturally and necessarily embody themselves in the form of universal maxims or proverbs. The sentiments recorded in the book before us would be the legitimate product of the operations of such a mind, in such a state. Inspiration has recorded those sentiments, not as pearls of truth and wisdom, but as the apples of Sodom which the mind must generate and feed upon, which, in its departure from the living God, grasps the temporary, the finite, and the sensual, as the supreme good, and at the same time, receives to its embrace the ghastly form of skepticism.
The parts of the book which are exceptions to the above remarks will be noticed in their place.
ELUCIDATION. Such, as we suppose, is the book of Ecclesiastes. We will dow advance into the interior of the production itself, for the
purpose of elucidating its most important contents, in the light
“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity;"--may be said to contain the text of which the subsequent parts of the discourse are an exemplification. It is doubtful whether the true meaning and design of any single passage of the Bible has been more generally misunderstood or misapplied than this. It has been the standing text from which the pulpit and press have descanted on the “vanity of sublunary things.” Poets too have caught the dull theme, and erabalmed it in unpoetic verse to be sung. for the edification of the church and the world.
“ How vain are all things here below,
How false, and yet how fair!
And every sweet a snare."
the solemn stillness of night reveals to our contemplation. All these things are in themselves beautiful and good. Are they, at the same time, as vain and false, as they are fair and attractive to the human eye and heart? And shall
And shall we, while we thus regard them, call upon all the immortal powers within us, to render thanks to the Author of our being, for bestowing them upon us ? No sentiment is more foreign to the truly sanctified mind, even with regard to the sublunary gifts and dispensations of Providence with respect to man, than that embodied in the passage before us. To such a mind, a mind whose blissful centre is God, and whose heart of pure benevolence is the home of every being great and small, capable of good, “everything is beautiful in its season.” “Every creature of God” (every gift and dispensation of his paternal providence,) " is good, and nothing to be refused," " being received with thanksgiving and sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” With such minds, even afflictions have their conscious use. In their final results they move those well-springs of blessedness, which, in the depths of the soul, are springing up into everlasting life. The notes of melody which bless and delight us most, are those which melt our hearts in sympathy with scenes of sadness. Of all the spots on earth, there is not one in itself so sad as that of the sepulchre,
" Where once the Crucified was borne,
And veiled in midnight gloom.” Yet it is at this very spot that the sanctified mind drinks the deepest drafts of blessedness. So when those feelings which afflictions induce are blended with those emotions of peaceful acquiescence in the divine will, and joyful assurance of divine favor, which always dwell in such a mind, a state of blessedness results, which, if it does not carry the soul within the precincts of heaven, places it in some of the most peaceful bowers of the Beulah that lies upon its borders. “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” What place is there, in a mind that thus regards all the gifts and dispensations of Providence, in respect to man, for the sentiment that all things here below are 6 yanity and vexation of spirit ?” To such a mind everything is good, because that all things are valued according to their intrinsic and relative worth, and used for the very end for which they were created and bestowed upon creatures. When God, and "things unseen and eternal"
have their place in the heart, things seen and temporal have their place also, and in that place fill out the sum of human blessedness. When the mind has come into such a relation to sublunary things, the only sentiment it knows in respect to the gifts and dispensations of Providence, are
" These are thy glorious works, Parent of good,
Thy goodness beyond thought, and power divine." But when, in a state of divorcement from God, and “things unseen and eternal,” the mind seeks in the sublunary, the temporary, and the finite, its supreme good, these latter objects, instcad of producing the blessedness they are adapted and were designed to produce, become to the mind, even while they maintain their supremacy over it, empty and vain ; yea, sources of embittered disappointment and vexation. The reason is obvious. When God is displaced from his supremacy in the soul, “ an aching void” is left there which nothing finite can fill. The finite and temporary, however, is sought as the supreme good, and sought with the expectation that it will not only fill that void, but meet completely every demand of the immortal mind. Embittered disappointment is the necessary result. In consequence of a necessary reaction in the depths of the inner being, these objects, instead of producing the real happiness they were designed and are adapted to produce, become, in consequence of the false position in which the mind has placed itself relatively to them, sources of positive vexation to it. Nor does the dissatisfaction stop here. The mind becomes vexed, not only with the objects which it is pursuing as the supreme good, but with the Author of all things, himself, for placing such objects before the mind. Creation and the Creator alike become to it objects of embittered vexation. To reveal the influence of objects finite and temporary, when the mind, instead of regarding and seeking them as subordinate, seeks them as the supreme good, and thus places itself in a false position in respect to them, is the object of the passage before us. Thus understood, it is a standing revelation of a momentous truth, a revelation of the necessary results of sin, and especially of skepticism upon the mind. Skepticism, from its fixed and changeless nature, weaves the winding sheet of the soul, and surrounds it with the darkness and gloom of the eternal sepulchre. Even those objects which are adapted to bless the mind, and which, when rightly used, do, in connection with the supreme good, fill its capacity for blessedness to the full, are rendered to the same mind, not only empty and vain, but sources of agonizing vexation. Such is the text of which the subse quent discourse is an elucidation. The author now proceeds to illustrate his main proposition by reference to par ticular facts.
The first illustration is the assertion, verse 3, that all the labor of man does and must terminate on that which is a source of no real benefit to him, an assertion really true relatively to the state of mind under consideration, that is when sublunary objects are sought as the supreme good “What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?” There are two changeless wants of man in respect to his own activity, mental and physical—that such activity shall be productive of visible results—and that these results shall, in their own nature, be adapted to meet, and shall actually meet the fundamental wants of his soul. An individual once advertised for laborers. The
offered were ample, and each laborer was to receive his money as each day's work was completed. The work to be done was this. With a small hammer, such as the jeweler uses, every man was to labor in a given place for the purpose of splitting a great rock in pieces. Of the multitude that applied, but one solitary individual would consent to work with the instrument assigned. All the others preferred to endure the pressure of grinding poverty and hunger, to the far more intolerable burden of continued labor with no important visible results arising from it. A changeless law of universal mind stands revealed in such facts as this. That mind must de continually wrung with an almost intolerable agony which is under the necessity of never-to-be-suspended labor, with no important results arising from it. In a position if possible, still more agonizing, is the mind that is doomed to perpetual activity, while it is and must be oppressed with the continued consciousness, that its activity will ever terminate upon results which it cannot but regard, as in themselves empty and vain. Now this is the precise condition in which the mind is brought in relation to the objects of its activity, when the infinite and eternal has ceased to be the soul's great center, and the finite and temporary are pursued as the supreme good. All the objects of pursuit are then to the