Page images

complete the ground-work for the interpretation of the whole Book, we mention it here,-It is Solomon's keen irony. He was aiming to persuade men, especially young men, to religion. No easy task! Their blood warm-their hopes ardent-death to them, apparently far-off, and the world dressed in such tempting smiles and splendor before their eyes, they will naturally cling to its gaiety and merriment. they will say they were made for it, and it was made for them; they do not see any harm in it, and they do see, there is "one event to them all, to the righteous and the wicked," they are about alike in misery here, and they die alike.-Solomon responds to such sentiments in his keenest irony. He affects to agree with them. He takes up these sentiments and just preaches them back into the bosoms they came from-preaches just as these merry young men want him to preach. (ix. 7)—"Go thy way; eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for now God accepted thy works:" That is the way they want him to preach; and in irony, in cutting sarcasm, he does it: he yields to them, and tells them that their wine and merriment are acceptable to God, on their own principles. Then he goes on with the sermon for which they have furnished the text: carry out thy principles then: "let thy garments be always white, and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest, all the days of thy VANITY, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy VANITY," (he cannot help repeating it): "for that is thy portion in this life," (all you are good for), "and in thy labor which thou takest under the sun" (all you can get on your own principles). "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do," (music, merriment, mirth, wine, no matter what foolery), do it with thy might," (now or never), " for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither tho goest." What cutting irony! Their own principles, carried out, just about make beasts of them! (iii. 18). They must labor here for nothing but. vanity, and die, but to rot. Go on, them, if that is all you were made for, eat and drink, for to-morrow you shall die. (Isa. xxii. 13). The same species of irony may be found in the ninth verse of the eleventh chapter. The author is preaching back his own sentiments into the bosom of a young man, expecting to live many years and rejoice in them, and therefore indisposed to religion. With severe sarcasm, he reminds him that youth vanishes, as the young man wishes to live in pleasure, and neglect God. Go on then! carry out your principles! "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth," (they will soon be gone-haste in mirth or you cannot have it), "and walk in the ways of thine heart" (if you will), "and in the sight of thine eyes" (live as you list);-and then the preacher adds a solemn idea of his own, for this merry youth to carry along with

him in his pleasure ;-" but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore, remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh;" fear nothing, care for nothing but pleasure, if you will, in this "childhood and youth," which are vanity-and because youth is soon gone, and death soon comes, and the judgment after it;-be a fool and be merry; you say there is nothing better!-If Solomon was deep in experience and extensive in observation, he was also as remarkably keen in his irony.

The discussion of the text itself will come hereafter. These remarks on the style of this Book, lead me to utter some counsels.

I. Beware how you interpret its expressions. For example, when you read in the second chapter, "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to kill and a time to heal ; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to hate; a time of war; do not be so superficial as to suppose, that Solomon is enjoining or justifying war, and hatred, and dancing, and killing. Put the whole chapter under its proper head. It belongs to the chapter of observation. He is only stating facts as they were; things he saw, and not telling how they should be.-Apply this advice to his expressions of experience and of irony also. Hence,

2. See what is the great drift and purpose of this Book ; namely, to persuade, young men especially, to fear God, keep his commandments, and fit for the day of judgment. This is its sole aim. In accordance with this, all its particular expressions are to be interpreted. If you interpret them wisely, now," in the days of your youth," they will give you an eye fixed on the judgment seat of Christ.

3. Aim to copy Solomon's mode of reasoning-spread out his argumentation as wide as you will. Be observers. Look at the world-its life, death, gold, honor, merriment, wine, wisdom labor laughter, tears, all that is in it, all that is visible of the works of God under the sun; and then ask yourselves solemnly, if all this does not amount to an overwhelming argument, that there is something better for you beyond the sun, which you ought first and forthwith to seek after.-Add your own experience to Solomon's. He found the world vanity. What have you found it? He sometimes even hated life. So will you; if you do not employ it for the life to come. Have you not found it "vexation of spirit" already? Deeper vexations are in store for you, if you will not live unto God. Do you need any deeper ones? Have you not enough already to convince you, that your heart runs wrong, when it runs upon the world; and that your affections and purposes aught not any longer to lie supremely upon a world, which can only furnish you, as an unbeliever, two things-vanity and a grave?




"Therefore I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit."-Ecclesiastes ii. 17. WE directed your attention to this passage on a former occasion. At that time, we desired to lay the foundation of a just interpretation of it. We could not then do more in the space of time your indulgence allows to us. We propose now a more close attention to the text itself. But it will be necessary to advert to the principle we then laid down-a principle needful to be kept steadily in mind by any and every man, who would have a right understanding of the book

of Ecclesiastes.

The principle was this: that Solomon wrote this book to persuade men, especially young men, to religion, by an argument drawn from his own life. On the ground of that life, he holds up the world before the eye of a young man, simply to have him look at it as it is, in all its forms and promise, and then make up his mind whether it is worth the consideration he gives to it, while for its sake, he continues in his irreligion, and does not seek first the favor of God. To show the world in its just light, Solomon, speaks as an old practitioner, and an old observer-a man of feelings and of eyes. And while he adverts so constantly throughout the book to his own experience and observation, as a man who had tried riches, and pomp, and pleasure, and who had lived long enough to see all that the wide-spread shiftings and fluctuations of this world can heave up; he distinguishes three points of his own heart's history:

First, Sometimes he tells what he felt and thought at the period when he was going on in the full tide of worldly enjoyment and hope:

Second, Sometimes he expresses the sentiments he entertained at the period when he had found that the world could not answer his purpose, and found himself heart-sick and disgusted with it all; and before he had turned to God, placing his affections and directing his aims upon something better than earth:

Third, Sometimes he expresses the sentiments he entertained now when he had chosen "the fear of God" and " the keeping of his commandments ;" and when, as an old hand in the matter, he could tell irreligious young people what the world's offers were good for; and what was the only thing that was worth living for.

The text before us expresses the sentiments he entertained in the second of these periods, which we have denominated the period of disgust. You perceive he speaks of the past-he speaks of himself -he speaks as a man of experience and observation: "I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me for all is vanity and vexation of spirit." You perceive, he saw the world in its true light, so far as it is considered by itself, and not considered in its relation to another. He was heart-sick of it all; he even hated life; i. e. he was disgusted with it-he saw it useless, and found it distasteful. Things met his eyes which threw a cast of vanity over all human existence; and feelings came up in his heart which made even life itself in such a world as this, a sickening portion, a burden, an empty and distressful dream.-So he felt without religion. So he found life. So he would have all the irreligious feel. So he would assure them that they shall find life, sooner or later, just as surely as they live in the world without God. Sooner or later, (much as they love the world, and eagerly as they pursue it, (they shall half wish, or quite wish, they had never lived at all.

Let us enter into this subject. Let us spread out this lesson. Let us cast our eyes over the whole scene of an irreligious life, and see if anywhere we can discern anything which ought not to make irreligious men sympathize with Solomon in his period of disgust -I hated life.

Not to exhaust this subject, but to give some hints of its extent, we name to you six ideas :

1. The confusion and darkness which cover life;

2. The results of a worldly experience;

3. Knowledge of men;

4. Excessive fondness for the world;

5. Failure in worldly endeavors;

6. Failure of even that intellectual excellence which rises above "amusements" and sensuality.

I. It needs no argument to prove that the dispenations of God are often shrouded in impenetrable darkness. But the depth of God's that midnight hovers over the head of an irreligious man. promises cast light where nothing else can; and one of the present, and often realized advantages of religion, is to be found in the fact, that the Divine dispensations are all of them confirmatory of the Divine promises, and all illustrative of their significance. There is not a thing so strange, a distress so deep, a night so dark, but the very unacceptableness of the matter brings along with it to the Christian some lesson of profit, as it bears on an immortality to come, or some balm of comfort, as God stands by his people in the furnace of trial. With the wicked, with the worldly it is not so.

They read time by the light of time's own torch, flickering and fitful. They read the world aside from the light cast back upon it from the anticipated fires of its coming conflagration. Hence they cannot read rightly. Time, the world, life, are all misunderstood; and so misunderstood by an irreligious man, that he is compelled to be disgusted with life, or else act very much on the proposal of licentiousness, let us eat and drink for to-morrow we shall die—(Is. xxii. 13.)

How can a man be satisfied here, or be anything better than sickened with life, when at every glance over society, his eyes meet with instances of virtue depressed, and vice prosperous? Where is the equity in this? On what principle is it, that the man who has done most good to society is often least rewarded and least esteemed by society; and the man who has done most evil to his generation shall be the very man upon whom earth confers most of her advantages, and men of the world lavish most of their smiles? The wicked often prosper. The righteous often suffer. Confusion seems to reign over life. As a man looks upon it, his eyes behold strange things; and as he thinks in the days of his youth, of entering upon that capricious scene, wherein awards are distributed, not according to merit, to industry, to worth; how can he avoid being disheartened and disgusted with a life which proposes to him, he knows not what? He has no religion. He cannot think or feel on religious principles. He sees only uncertainty and confusion. On the one hand, he beholds men, whom he is compelled to dispise seated in high places of honor and trust; and on the other hand, he beholds men, whose transactions are detestable, gifted with every desired prosperity. He says to himself "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to the men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all"-(xi. 11). So he thinks. He knows no better. He sees no farther. can you wonder that he should be thoroughly heart-sick of a life which he must go and spend amid such a scene of turmoil, confusion, and uncertainty? Is it any wonder, if, disgusted with all that life and the world can offer, he should just let time and chance dispose of them as they will? Or if he looks forward to the end, all the end that his now worldly soul cares anything about, how can he avoid dissatisfaction the most perfect disgust with life, while he says, as man "came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to God as he came, and shall take nothing of his labor, which he may carry away in his hand? And this is a sore evil, that in all points, as he came so he shall go; and what profit hath he that hath labored for the wind; All his days also he eateth in darkness and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.”—(v. 15–17.) How can he avoid disgust with life, while his lips, untaught in the


« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »