Page images

to what period of his heart's history he alludes. Manifestly he does not express his present sentiments. He speaks of the past; he employs what the grammarians call the “ past tense,I hated life: he does not say he hates it now. Just as manifestly, he does not express the sentiments he entertained when he was persuing, with all the zest of his heart, the vanities of the world. The expression refers to the other period—to the time of his disappointment, disgust, and dissatisfaction-to the moment when he awoke from his dream, and found it was a dream : I hated life. Nothing is more natural, He had been living for mere pleasure. It did not satisfy him. It could not. He knew of nothing better to live for. His pleasures palled upon his senses—his heart was sick-he was disgusted with life itself: I hated life.

It may be that some of you can sympathize with him, far enough at least to understand him. Tax your recollection. Has there been no moment when you were disgusted with life itself ? Have you not felt so? When your plans have been dashed, or your pride mortified, or your hearts have sickened amid your worldly vanities, or your health has failed and your spirits sunk and all the world seemed to you a bubble, a dream ; have you not wondered what you lived for ; and amid this empty and sickening scene, been disgusted with life itself ? Very well; Solomon would have you feel so. He would convince you that sooner or later you must. He would employ this feeling as an argument, first to turn off the heart from the world's deceitful promises, and second, to turn it to something better—to that love and service of God, wherein life shall be as valuable, as, spent upon the world, it ought to be disgusting-Do not stop with your disgust. Follow Solomon faster. Heart-sick of the world, do not ask merely in distaste and despondency, what do I live for? or, in disgust and despair, do not wish you had never lived at all. Turn to the great and valuable ends of your existence, which Solomon has summed up in the closing sentence of this Book, and calls the conclusion of the whole matter_ Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man, for God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.”

On the same principle we interpret the verses immediately after the text. “Yea I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun, because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool ?” So he felt when he had become disgusted with his dissipation, and before he had turned him to labour for another life and another world. How natural his expression! It is an artist sketch of the heart of a selfish man ! * I hated labor, because I should leave it, unto the man that shall be after me,” wise or fool. He must leave it, be it crown, or gold, or splendor. He must leave it, and perhaps the son that inherits it shall be a fool! He must leave it ; and this was the lament of his selfishness, at the time of his disgust with life. If he had now been a man of benevolence, it might have given him some satisfaction, that what he should leave behind him might contribute something to the good of his successor. But he was not yet a man of religious benevolence. He was a man of selfishness, and of selfish disgust and dissatisfaction, mourning that he must leave his gold to his heir, and exchange his royal purple for the shroud of the tomb.

In the expression, who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool, yet shall he have rule over all my labor," possibly Solomon utters his present sentiments, and not the sentiments of his period of disgust. We told you that the sentiments of these two periods were sometimes mingled together in his argument. Take your choice betwixt the two. Neither is very unnatural. A wise man, a pious man, may very well feel that his living for another world has an enforcement from the fact, that his heirs may be fools, and the inheritance he leaves them may do them no good: this reflection may very well come in, to check his remaining worldliness of spirit, or to induce him to do good with his possessions before he is dead, and others shall employ them to do hurt. A man disgusted with life and the world may very well find his sentiments of disgust strengthened by the idea, that all his labors and possessions may be as vain for his children as they have been for himself. Fools may be his heirs! fools may take the avails of his labor! and as he thinks of it, his increased disgust may exclaim, “this also is vanity.”

On the same principle we interpret the fifteenth verse of the eighth chapter. It is a piece of autobiography. The author is telling, not what is his opinion now, but what his opinion was once ; not what it was in his period of disgust with life, but what it was before that, in the period of his dissipation. “I commended mirth”—(he does not commend it now),- “ I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat and to drink and to be merry.” So he thought in his season of pleasure and dissipation.

He thought there was nothing better. He thought just as the silly sons of pleasure think now. He confesses it to them. He tells them that he has been over their ground, he has tried the whole matter, he was once foolish enough to feel as they feel, “ that there is nothing better under the sun than to eat and to drink and to be merry," And now, as a man of experience, as an old hand in the business, who has been through the whole, and knows all about it, he claims to be heard, when he tells them," this also is vanity-it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his

days which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God” (viii. 13). --Young men would do well to hear him. He ought to be heard. Besides his inspiration, he was now an old man.

He was an

experienced man. He had run the whole round of pleasure. He had justified it. He had said as they say, that “ there is nothing better than to eat and to drink and to be merry.” Now he knows better. He knows those of such merriment and dissipation do not fear God, it cannot be well with them : and when he says that “the wicked shall not prolong his days which are as a shadow;" young men should remember that he who lives to eat and to drink and to be merry will not live long; and, however screened and hidden may be this drinking and merriment now, it will not be hidden long“ God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing.”—He does not plead for "amusements.”

On the same principle we interpret a multitude of other expressions found in this Book. “I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine.

I made me great works: I builded me houses, and planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and orchards;

I gathered me silver and gold; I got me mensingers and women-singers ;

I commended mirth; I said, drink thy wine with a merry heart; ... live joyfully ; let thy garments be always white and thy head lack no ointment;" - these, all these, are expressions of the sentiments which Solomon entertained in the days of his pleasure.

You cannot err in fixing upon the passages which express his sentiments after the days of his pleasure were ended. The Book is full of them. After pleasure palled upon his senses, and his heart sicknened with disgust of life; he chose something more wise than either-he turned to religion. His sentiments now are uttered in such passages as that, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them. Fear God and keep his commandments; this is the whole of man—" his duty, felicity, and interest. “Though a sinner do evil an hundred times and his days be prolonged " (as sometimes they may be), “yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God but it shall not be well with the wicked.” (Ch. xii, 1, 13,-viii. 12, 13.) Looking on the world, all its pleasure, pomp, and promise, he turns from one thing to another, this also is vanity. Looking at the trials and fears that cluster around the pathway of life, he says, "he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.” (vii. 18). Looking forth into another world, he sees that the retribution of that shall clear up the confusions of this, " for God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (xii. 14).

Let this suffice on the head of erperience. It is plain that Solomon in this Book gives much of his own heart's history, as an argument for religion; and that he makes three points prominent: first, his sentiments in the period of his indulgence ; second, his

sentiments in the period of his disgust with life; and third, his sentiments in the after-period—the period of his piety.

II. A second characteristic of the style of this Book is a little variation from this: much of it is in the style of observation. The author not only states what his heart had felt, but what his eyes had seen. He does this for the same purpose, namely, to persuade men, especially young men, to religion. He draws an argument for it, from things that met his eyes. And while he is pursuing the argument, he sometimes unites, with the account of what he had noticed, the sentiments he entertained at the different periods we have mentioned. This also, is perfectly natural. You would have done the same thing. If you had wished to persuade any person, you would both have mentioned the facts, (what your eyes had seen), and your own feelings in view of them-your feelings at different times.

You cannot but be convinced, that Solomon argues as an observer, when you notice the abundance of passages like the following (i. 14—“I have SEEN all the works that are done under the sun, and behold all is vanity.” (iii: 16)—“I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there, and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there." (v. 13)—“ There is a sore evil whch I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.” (If he had lived till this time he might have seen the same thing,) (vi, 1, 2)—“There is an evil which I have SEEN under the sun, and it is common among men ; a man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honor, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it.” (viii

. 9)—“All this have I SEEN, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt." (viii. 16, 17--“When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth. ... then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun, because, though a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find it.” (x. 7)—"I have SEEN servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.” (He would see it now, if he were alive.) (ix. 11)-"I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.” (He knew no better. He thought so then. He could see no farther. He was a fool. He thought it was mere time and chance at that period, the period of distaste, which preceded his pious recognition of God.)

All these passages, and an abundance of others, prove to us, that Solomon composed this Book as a man of observation: that he makes use of the things which his own eyes had " SEEN under the sun,” to point the maxims and give strength to the arguments he utters.


We said it would be perfectly natural, that, while aiming to persuade young men to religion, he should tell them not only the facts which fell under his observation, but also his feelings in view of them at the time. He has done this—just as you would have done. Notice his account of some facts in the first verse of the fourth chapter, and his feelings in view of them in the second and third verses : "So I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun, and behold, the tears of such as mere oppressed, and they had no comforter, and on the side of the oppressors there was power: but they had no comforter.” (You may judge of the keenness of his observation by this last clause.) Then follows an account of the feelings he had in view of all this, when he noticed it at first: "Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead, more than the living which are not yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.” So he thought then. He thought the dead were more to be envied than the living. He thought it would have been better still, never to bave been born. Who would not think so, if he had only eyes to see earthly things; and had no faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen?

A similar account of his feelings at that time, is recorded in the second verse of the ninth chapter, when he felt more like a Deist than a believer: "All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and the wicked: to the good and to the clean and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not; as is the good so is the sinner; and he that sweareth as he that feareth an oath,” So he thought then. He knew no better then. Mere observers are apt to think so. He thought differently afterwards; he extended his contemplation beyond visible things -things under the sun, as he calls them so often and so significantly. Though it may be true, as far as eyes can see,

" that there is one event to all," yet he did not therefore adopt that pernicious maxim, “ let us eat and drink for to-morrow we shall die.” He came very near doing so; he wishes young men to know it. But he avoided that rock on which so many make shipwreck of their faith and their philosophy at the same time. He said, "I know it shall be well with them that fear God; it shall not be well with the wicked," (viii. 12, 13).

III. There is a third charcteristic of the style of this Book, not necessary to mention indeed for the interpretation of this text, as the others were, but, considering the nature of this sermon, and to

« PreviousContinue »