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Title: Old Groans and New Songs - Being Meditations on the Book of Ecclesiastes
Author: Jennings, Frederick Charles, 1847-1948
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Old Groans and New Songs - Being Meditations on the Book of Ecclesiastes" ***

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OLD GROANS

AND

NEW SONGS

BEING

Meditations on the Book of Ecclesiastes



by

F. C. JENNINGS,

NEW YORK.



Glasgow:

PICKERING & INGLIS, PRINTERS & PUBLISHERS,

The Publishing Office, 73 Bothwell Street.

LONDON:

S. BAGSTER & SONS, LTD., 15 Paternoster Row, E.C


1920



PREFACE.

The chief object of a word of preface to the following notes is that
the reader may not expect from them more, or other, than is intended.
They are the result of meditations--not so much of a critical as a
devotional character--on the book, in the regular course of private
morning readings of the Scriptures--meditations which were jotted down
at the time, and the refreshment and blessing derived from which, I
desired to share with my fellow-believers.  Some salient point of each
chapter has been taken and used as illustrative of what is conceived as
the purpose of the book.  As month by month passed, however, the
subject opened up to such a degree that at the end, one felt as if
there were a distinct need entirely to re-write the earlier chapters.
It is, however, sent forth in the same shape as originally written; the
reader then may accompany the writer, and share with him the delight at
the ever-new beauties in the landscape that each turn of the road, as
it were, unexpectedly laid out before him.

There is one point, however, that it may be well to look at here a
little more closely and carefully than has been done in the body of the
book, both on account of its importance and of the strong attack that
the ecclesiastical infidelity of the day has made upon it: I refer to
its authorship.

To commence with the strongest position of the attack on the Solomon
authorship--necessarily the strongest, for it is directly in the field
of verbal criticism--it is argued that because a large number of words
are found in this book, found elsewhere alone in the post-exilian
writers, (as Daniel or Nehemiah,) therefore the author of the book must
surely be post-exilian too.  It would be unedifying, and is happily
unnecessary, to review this in detail--with a literature so very
limited as are the Hebrew writings cotemporary with Solomon: these few,
dealing with other subjects, other ideas, necessitating therefore
another character of words, it takes no scholar to see that any
argument derived from this must necessarily be taken with the greatest
caution.  Nay, like all arguments of infidelity, it is a sword easily
turned against the user.  As surely as the valleys lie hid in shadow
long after the mountain-tops are shining in the morning sun, so surely
must we expect evidences of so elevated a personality as the wise king
of Israel, to show a fuller acquaintance with the language of his
neighbors; and employ, when they best suited him, words from such
vocabularies--words which would not come into general use for many a
long day; indeed until sorrow, captivity, and shame, had done the same
work for the mass, under the chastening Hand of God, as abundant
natural gifts had done for our wise and glorious author.

Thus the argument of Zöckler--"the numerous Aramaisms (words of Syriac
origin) in the book are among the surest signs of its post-exile
origin"--is really turned against himself.  Were such Aramaisms
altogether lacking, we might well question whether the writer were
indeed that widely-read, eminently literary, gloriously intellectual
individual of whom it is said, "his wisdom excelled the children of the
East country and all the wisdom of Egypt, for he was wiser than all
men."  Surely, that Solomon shows he was acquainted with words other
than his own Hebrew, and made use of such words when they best suited
his purpose, is only what common-sense would naturally look for.  There
is no proof whatever that the _words themselves_ were of late date.
Christian scholars have examined them one by one as carefully, and
certainly at least as conscientiously, as their opponents; and show us,
in result, that the words, although not familiar in the Hebrew
vernacular, were in widely-current use either in the neighboring
Persian or in that family of languages--Syriac and Chaldaic--of which
Hebrew was but a member.

The verdict of impartiality must certainly be "not proven," if indeed
it be not stronger than that, to the attempt to deny to Solomon the
authorship of Ecclesiastes based on the _words_ used.

The next method of argument is one in which we shall feel ourselves
more at home, inasmuch as it is not so much a question of scholarship,
but ordinary intelligent discernment.  Time and space forbid that I
attempt here a full or detailed exhibit of the sentences, thoughts,
ideas in the book itself which are taken as being quite impossible to
King Solomon.  I will, however, attempt to give a representative few
that may stand for all.  In the body of the book I have touched, in
passing, on the argument deduced from the words in the first chapter,
"_I was king;_" so need only to ask my readers' attention to it there.

That "he says of himself that he was wiser and richer than all before
him in Jerusalem points, under enlightened exposition, clearly to an
author different to the historical Solomon."  Indeed!  If my readers
can appreciate the force of such an argument, they do more than can I.
That the writer should seek that his words should have the full force,
his experiences have the full weight that could only attach to one in
every way gifted to test all things to their uttermost, is taken as
clear proof, "under unbiased exposition," that the only one who was
_exactly thus gifted was not the author_!  The claim to freedom from
bias is in almost ludicrous harmony with such reasoning.

Again, "that also which is said--chap. vii. 10--of the depravity of the
times accords little with the age of Solomon, the most brilliant and
prosperous of Israelitish history."  Another lovely example of
rationalistic "freedom from bias"!  For what is this that is said of
the "depravity of the times" so inconsistent with the glory of
Solomon's reign in chap. vii. 10?  "Say not thou, What is the cause
that the former days were better than these?  For thou dost not inquire
wisely concerning this."  And this is proof of the "depravity of the
times"!--not proof, mark, of just that very thing that is the heart and
soul of the book: the weary, unsatisfied, empty heart of poor man
looking backward or forward for the satisfaction that the present
always fails to give "under the sun," and which he, who was wiser than
all who came before him, Solomon, warns his readers _against_!  Oh,
poor blind rationalism! missing all the beauties of God's Word in its
own exceeding cleverness, or--folly!  How would the present application
of such reasoning sound!  The Victorian era is certainly one of the
most "brilliant and prosperous of" English "history"; hence no one can
ever speak now of "the good old times."  Such language is simply
impossible; we never hear it!  So if some astute reasoner of the future
comes across such allusion in any writings, it will be clear proof that
the author was _post-Victorian_!  Far more so if, as here, such writer
_rebukes_ this tendency!

"Altogether unkingly sound the complaints in chap. iii. 17 ('I said in
my heart God shall judge the righteous and the wicked; for there is a
time there for every purpose and for every work'); iv.; x. 5-7 (let my
reader refer for himself to these), concerning unjust judges," etc.
"These are all lamentations and complaints natural enough in a
suffering and oppressed subject; but not in a monarch called and
authorized to abolish evil."  It is most difficult to deal seriously
with what, if the writer were not so very learned, we should call
nonsense unworthy of a child.  Look at the verse to which he refers,
and which I have quoted in full; and extract from it, if your "biased"
judgment will permit, an "unkingly complaint" in any word of it!  And
it is at such formidable arguments as this that some of us have been
trembling, fearing lest the very foundations must give way under the
attack!  A little familiarity is all that is needed to beget a
wholesome contempt.

Here is one more interesting illustration of the "unbiased,"
"scientific" reasoning of rationalism.  The object is, you know, to
"determine exactly the epoch and writer of the book;" and this is how
it must be done.  "According to chaps, v. 1, and ix. 2, the temple
worship was assiduously practised, but without a living piety of heart,
and in a hypocritical and self-justifying manner; the complaints in
this regard remind us vividly of similar ones of the prophet
Malachi--chap. i. 6, etc."  What then is the basis for all this
verbiage about the temple worship?  Here it is: "Keep thy foot when
thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give
the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil."  This
sentence shows that it is impossible that Solomon wrote the book: there
were no "fools" in _his_ time, who were more ready to give a careless
sacrifice than to hearken: all fools only come into existence _after
the exile_, in the days of Malachi!  And this is "higher criticism"!


Enough as to this line.  We will now ask our learned friends, since
Solomon has been so conclusively proved not to have written it, Who
did?  And when was it written?  Ah, now we may listen to a very medley
of answers!--for opinions here are almost as numerous as the critics
themselves.  United in the one assurance that Solomon could not have
written it, they are united in nothing else.  One is assured it was
Hezekiah, another is confident it was Zerubbabel, a third is convinced
it was Jesus the son of Joiada--and so on.  "All opinions," as Dr.
Lewis says, "are held with equal confidence, and yet in every way are
opposed to each other.  Once set it loose from the Solomon time, and
there is no other place where it can be securely anchored."

This brings us then to the positive assertion that from the evident
purpose of the book, the _divine_ purpose, no other than Solomon could
be its author.  He must be of a nation taken out of the darkness and
abominations of heathendom;--there was only one such nation,--he must
then be an _Israelite_.  He must live at an epoch when that nation is
at the summit of its prosperity;--it never regained that epoch,--he
must then have lived _when_ Solomon lived.  He must, in his own person,
by his riches, honor, wisdom, learning, freedom from external political
fears, perfect capacity to drink of whatever cup this world can put
into his hand to the full--represent the very top-stone of that
glorious time; and not one amongst all the sons of men answers to all
this but _Solomon the son of David, king in Jerusalem_.


To Him who is "greater than Solomon"--to Him who is "above the sun"--to
Him whom it is the divine purpose of the book to highly exalt above
all--would I commit this feeblest effort to show that purpose, and, as
His condescending grace permits, further it.    F. C. J.



OLD GROANS AND NEW SONGS;

OR,

_MEDITATIONS ON ECCLESIASTES._


Perhaps there is no book within the whole canon of Scripture so
perplexing and anomalous, at first sight, as that entitled
"Ecclesiastes."  Its terrible hopelessness, its bold expression of
those difficulties with which man is surrounded on every side, the
apparent fruitlessness of its quest after good, the unsatisfactory
character, from a Christian standpoint, of its conclusion: all these
points have made it, at one and the same time, an enigma to the
superficial student of the Word, and the arsenal whence a far more
superficial infidelity has sought to draw weapons for its warfare
against clear revelation.  And yet here it is, embedded in the very
heart of those Scriptures which we are told were "given by inspiration
of God, and which are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for
correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may
be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."  Then with this
precious assurance of its "profitableness" deeply fixed in our hearts
by a living faith, and in absolute dependence on that blessed One who
is the one perfect Teacher, let us consider the book.

First, then, let us seek to get all the light we can from all the
exterior marks it bears before seeking to interpret its contents.  For
our primary care with regard to this, as indeed with regard to every
book in the Bible, must be to discover, if possible, what is the object
of the book,--from what standpoint does the writer approach his subject.

And first we find it in that group of books through which the voice of
man is prominent--Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Canticles.  In these is heard
the music of man's soul; often--nay, mostly--giving sorrowful and
striking evidence of discord, in wail and groan, in tear and sigh; and
yet again, in response evidently to the touch of some Master hand, that
knows it well,--a tender, gracious, compassionate touch,--rising into a
song of sweetest harmony that speaks eloquently of its possibilities,
and bears along on its chords the promise and hope of a complete
restoration.  But we shall search our book in vain for any such
expression of joy.  No song brightens its pages; no praise is heard
amid its exercises.  And yet perfectly assured we may be that, listened
to aright, it shall speak forth the praise of God's beloved Son; looked
at in a right light, it shall set off His beauty.  If "He turns the
wrath of man to praise Him," surely we may expect no less from man's
sorrows and ignorance.  This, then, we may take it, is the object of
the book, to show forth by its dark background the glory of the Lord,
to bring into glorious relief against the black cloud of man's need and
ignorance the bright light of a perfect, holy, revelation; to let man
tell out, in the person of his greatest and wisest, when he, too, is at
the summit of his greatness, with the full advantage of his matured
wisdom, the solemn questions of his inmost being; and show that
greatness to be of no avail in solving them,--that wisdom foiled in the
search for their answers.

This, then, we will conclude, is the purpose of the book and the
standpoint from which the writer speaks, and we shall find its contents
confirm this in every particular.

It has been well said that as regards each book in holy writ the "key
hangs by the door,"--that is, that the first few sentences will give
the gist of the whole.  And, indeed, pre-eminently is such the case
here.  The first verse gives us who the writer is; the second, the
beginning and ending of his search.  And therein lies the key of the
whole; for the writer is the son of David, the man exalted by Jehovah
to highest earthly glory.  Through rejection and flight, through battle
and conflict, had the Lord brought David to this excellence of glory
and power.  All this his "son" entered into in its perfection and at
once.  For it is that one of his sons who speaks who is _king_, and in
_Jerusalem_, the city of God's choice, the beautiful for situation, the
joy of the whole earth.  Such is the story of verse 1.  Nothing could
possibly go beyond the glory that is compassed by these few words.  For
consider them, and you will see that they ascribe "_wisdom_, and
_honor_, and _riches_, and _power_" to him of whom they are spoken; but
it is human wisdom and earthly power, all "under the sun."  And now
listen to the "song" that should surely accompany this ascription; note
the joy of a heart fully and completely satisfied now that the pinnacle
of human greatness is attained.  Here it is: "Vanity of vanities,"
saith the Preacher, "vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"  The word
_hahvehl_ is always translated, as here, "vanity."  It is sometimes
applied to "idols," as Deut. xxxii. 21, and would give the idea of
emptiness--nothingness.  What a striking contrast!  Man has here all
that Nature can possibly give; and his poor heart, far from singing, is
_empty_ still, and utters its sad bitter groan of disappointment.  Now
turn and contemplate that other scene, where the true Son of David,
only now a "_Lamb as it had been slain_," is the center of every
circle, the object of every heart.  Tears are dried at the mention of
His name, and song after song bursts forth, till the whole universe of
bliss pours forth its joy, relieves its surcharged heart in praise.
"Vanity of vanities," saith the Preacher.  That is the _old_ groan.
"Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof, for
Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed to God by Thy blood, out of every
kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, and hast made them kings
and priests, and they shall reign over the earth."  That is the _new_
song.  Oh, blessed contrast!  Does it not make Him who Himself has
replaced the groan by the song precious?  Has it, then, no value?

And this is just the purpose of the whole book, to furnish such
striking contrasts whereby the "new" is set off in its glories against
the dark background of the "old,"--rest against labor, hope against
despair, song against groan; and so the third verse puts this very
explicitly,--"What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh
under the sun?"

The wisest and the greatest of men is seeking for an answer to this
question.  And this verse is too important in its bearing on the whole
book to permit our passing it without looking at that significant word
"profit" a little closer.  And here one feels the advantage of those
helps that a gracious God has put into our hands in these days of
special attack upon His revelation, whereby even the unlearned may, by
a little diligence, arrive at the exact shade of the meaning of a word.
The word "profit," then, is, in the Hebrew, _yithrohn_, and is found in
this exact form only in this book, where it is translated "profit," as
here, or "excellency," as in chap. ii. 13.  The Septuagint translates
it into a Greek one, meaning "advantage," or perhaps more literally,
"that which remains over and above."  In Eph. iii. 20 it is rendered
"exceeding abundantly above."  Hence we gather that our word intends to
convey to us the question, "After life is over, after man has given his
labor, his time, his powers, and his talents, what has he received in
exchange that shall satisfy him for all that he has lost?  Do the
pleasures obtained during life fully compensate for what is spent in
obtaining them?  Do they satisfy? and do they remain to him as "profit"
over and above that expenditure?  In a word, what "under the sun" can
satisfy the longing, thirsting, hungering heart of man, so that he can
say, "My heart is filled to overflowing, its restless longings are
stilled, I have found a food that satisfies its hunger, a water that
quenches its thirst"?  A question all-important, surely, and it will be
well worth listening to the experience of this seeker, who is fitted
far above his fellows for finding this satisfactory good, if it can be
found "under the sun."

First, then, the Preacher, like a good workman, takes account of what
material he has to work with.  "Have I," he says, "any thing that
others have not had, or can I hope to find any thing that has not been
before?"  At once he is struck with that "law of circuit" that is
stamped on every thing: generation follows generation; but no new
earth, _that_ remains ever the same; the sun wheels ceaselessly in its
one course; the winds circle from point to point, but whirl about to
their starting-place; the waters, too, follow the same law, and keep up
one unbroken circuit.  Where can rest be found in such a scene?  Whilst
there is unceasing change, nothing is _new_; it is but a repetition of
what has been before, and which again soon passes, leaving the heart
empty and hungry still.  Again, then, let us use this dark background
to throw forward another scene.  See, even now, "above the sun" Him who
is the Head and perfect Exponent of the creation called the _new_.  Is
there any law of constant unsatisfying circuit in Him?  Nay, indeed,
every sight we get of Him is _new_; each revelation of Himself
perfectly satisfies, and yet awakens appetite for further views.

  "No pause, no change those pleasures
    Shall ever seek to know;
  The draught that lulls our thirsting
    But wakes that thirst anew."


Or, again, look at that blessed "law of circuit" spoken of in another
way by one who has indeed been enlightened by a light "above the sun"
in every sense of the word, in 2 Cor. ix.  It is not the circling of
winds or waters, but of "grace" direct from the blessed God Himself.
Mark the perfection stamped upon it both by its being a complete
circle--never ending, but returning again to its Source,--and by the
numerical stamp of perfection upon it in its seven distinct parts (or
movements) as shown by the sevenfold recurrence of the word "all," or
"every," both coming from the same Greek word.

1.  "God is able to make _all_ grace abound unto you."  There is an
inexhaustible _source_.  We may come and come and come again, and never
find _that_ fountain lowered by all our drafts upon it.  Sooner, far
sooner, should the ocean be emptied by a teacup than infinite "power"
and "love" be impoverished by all that His saints could draw from Him.
_All_ grace.

2.  "That ye _always_."  There is no moment when this circle of
blessing need stop flowing.  It is ever available.  No moment--by day
or night, in the quiet of the closet or in the activities of the day's
duties, when in communion with friends or in the company of foes,--when
that grace is not available.  At _all_ times.

3.  "Having _all_ sufficiency"--perfect competence to meet just the
present emergency.  A sufficiency, let us mark, absolutely independent
of Nature's resources,--a sufficiency beautifully illustrated by
"unlearned and ignorant" Peter and John in the presence of the learned
Sanhedrim.  Let us rejoice and praise God as we trace these three
glorious links in this endless chain of blessing.  _All_ sufficiency.

4.  "In _all_ things" (or "in every way").  It is no matter from what
side the demand may come, this precious grace is there to meet it.  Is
it to deal with another troubled anxious soul, where human wisdom
avails nothing?  Divine wisdom and tact shall be supplied.  Courage if
danger presents itself, or "all long-suffering with joyfulness" if
afflictions tear the heart.  In _all_ things.

5.  "May abound to _every_ good work."  Now filled to the brim, and
still connected with an inexhaustible supply, the vessel _must_
overflow, and that on every side.  No effort, no toil, no weariness, no
drawing by mechanical means from a deep well; but the grace-filled
heart, abiding (and that is the only condition) in complete dependence
upon its God, naturally overflows on every side--to _all_ good work.

6.  "Being enriched in _every thing_" (we omit the parenthesis,
although full of its own divine beauty), (or, "in every way").  This is
in some sort a repetition of No. 5, but goes as far beyond it as the
word "enriched" is fuller than the word "sufficient."  The latter fills
the vessel, as we have said, up to the brim; the former adds another
drop, and over it flows.  In view of these "exceeding great and
precious promises," we may say,--

  "Oh wherefore should we do ourselves this wrong,
  Or others, that we are not always strong?"

since we may be enriched in _all_ things.

7.  "To _all_ bountifulness."  This stream of grace is never to
stagnate, or it will lose all its character of blessing, as the manna
hoarded for a second day "bred worms, and stank."  Thus every single
Christian becomes a living channel of blessing to all around, and the
circle is now completed, by once more returning to the point whence it
started, "Which causeth through us thanksgiving to God," and closes
with no weary wail of "All things are full of labor," but joyful songs
resound on every side, and at every motion of this circle of blessing
ascends "thanksgiving to God."  For just exactly the same full measure
is seen in the thanksgiving ascending at the end as in the grace
descending in the beginning.  There it "abounded," filling the vessel
full till it overflowed in the same measure, "abounding" in blessings
to others who needed, and these forthwith pass on the stream in
"abounding" thanksgiving to God.  The apostle himself, as if he could
not suffer himself to be excluded from the circle of blessing, adds his
own note at the close with "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable
gift."  And shall we not, too, dear brother or sister now reading these
lines, let our feeble voice be heard in this sweet harmony of praise?
Has not this contrast between the new song and the old groan, again we
may ask, great value?

Having, then, seen in these first few verses the purpose of the book
and the standpoint of the writer, we may accompany him in the details
of his search.  First he repeats, what is of the greatest importance
for us to remember (v. 12), "I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in
Jerusalem."  He would not have us forget that, should he fail in his
search for perfect satisfaction, it will not be because he is not fully
qualified both by his abilities and his position to succeed.  But
Infidelity, and its kinsman Rationalism, raise a joyful shout over this
verse; for to disconnect the books of the Bible from the writers whose
name they bear is a long step toward overthrowing the authority of
those books altogether.  If the believer's long-settled confidence can
be proved vain in one point, and that so important a point, there is
good "hope" of eventually overthrowing it altogether.  So, with
extravagant protestations of loyalty to the Scriptures, they, Joablike,
"kiss" and "stab" simultaneously, wonderfully manifesting in word and
work that dual form of the evil one, who, our Lord tells us, was both
"liar and murderer from the beginning."  And many thousand professing
Christians are like Amasa of old, their ear is well pleased with the
fair sound of "Art thou in health, my brother?" and they, too, take "no
heed to the sword" in the inquirer's hand.  Judas, too, in his day,
illustrates strongly that same diabolical compound of "deceit and
violence," only the enemy finds no unwary Amasa in Jesus the Lord.
"Betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss" tears the vail from him at
once; and in the same way the feeblest believer who abides in Him, is
led of that same spirit; and "good words and fair speeches" do not
deceive, nor can betrayal be hidden behind the warmest protestations of
affection.

But to return: "How could," cries this sapient infidelity, which today
has given itself the modest name of "Higher Criticism,"--"how could
Solomon say, 'I _was_ king,' when he never ceased to be that?"  Ah! one
fears if that same Lord were to speak once more as of old, He would
again say, "O fools and blind!"  For is it not meet that the writer who
is about to give recital of his experiences should first tell us what
his position _was_ at the very time of those experiences?  That at the
very time of all these exercises, disappointments, and groanings, he
_was_ still the highest monarch on earth, king over an undivided
Israel, in Jerusalem, with all the resources and glories that accompany
this high station, pre-eminently fitting _him_ to speak with authority,
and compelling _us_ to listen with the profoundest respect and
attention.

Yes, this glorious monarch "gives his heart"--that is, applies himself
with singleness of purpose "to seek and search out by wisdom concerning
all things that are done under heaven."  No path that gives the
slightest promise of leading to happiness shall be untrodden; no
pleasure shall be denied, no toil be shirked that shall give any hope
of satisfaction or rest.  "This sore travail hath God given to the sons
of men to be exercised therewith."  That is, the heart of man hungers
and thirsts, and he _must_ search till he does find something to
satisfy; and if, alas! he fail to find it in "time," if he only drinks
here of waters whereof he "that drinks shall thirst again," eternity
shall find him thirsting still, and crying for one drop of water to
cool his tongue.  But then with what bitter despair Ecclesiastes
records all these searchings!  "I have seen all the works that are done
under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit," or
rather, "pursuit of the wind."  Exactly seven times he uses this term,
"pursuit of the wind," expressing perfect, complete, despairing failure
in his quest.  He finds things all wrong, but he has no power of
righting them; "that which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that
which is wanting cannot be numbered."  But perhaps we may get the
secret of his failure in his next words.  He takes a companion or
counselor in his search.  Again exactly seven times he takes counsel
with this companion, "_his own heart_,"--"I communed with my own
heart."  That is the level of the book; the writer's resources are all
within himself; no light from without save that which nature gives; no
taking hold on another; no hand clasped by another.  He and his heart
are alone.  Ah! that is dangerous as well as dreary work to take
counsel with one's own heart.  "Fool" and "lawless one" come to their
foolish and wicked conclusions there (Ps. xiv. 1); and what else than
"folly" could be expected in hearkening to that which is "deceitful
above all things"--what else than lawlessness in taking counsel with
that which is "desperately wicked"?

Take not, then, for thy counselor "thine own heart," when divine love
has placed infinite wisdom and knowledge at the disposal of lowly faith
in the Lord Jesus Christ, "who of God is made unto us wisdom," and "in
whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

But does our Preacher find the rest he desires in the path of his own
wisdom?  Not at all.  "For in much wisdom is much grief, and he that
increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."  "Grief and sorrow" ever
growing, ever increasing, the further he treads that attractive and
comparatively elevated path of human wisdom.  Nor has Solomon been a
lonely traveler along that road.  Thousands of the more refined of
Adam's sons have chosen it; but none have gone beyond "the king," and
none have discovered anything in it, but added "grief and
sorrow"--sorrowful groan!  But the youngest of God's family has his
feet, too, on a path of "knowledge," and he may press along that path
without the slightest fear of "grief or sorrow" resulting from added
knowledge.  Nay, a new song shall be in his mouth, "_Grace_ and _peace_
shall be multiplied _through the knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord_."
(2 Pet. i. 2).  Blessed contrast!  "Sorrow and grief" multiplied
through growth in human wisdom: "Grace and peace" multiplied through
growth in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!

My beloved reader, I pray you meditate a little on this striking and
precious contrast.  Here is Solomon in all his glory, with a brighter
halo of human wisdom round his head than ever had any of the children
of men.  Turn to 1 Kings iv. 29:--


"And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and
largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore.

And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the
east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt.

For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and
Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations
round about.

And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and
five.

And he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto
the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and
of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.

And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all
kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom."


Is it not a magnificent ascription of abounding wisdom?  What field has
it not capacity to explore?  Philosophy in its depths--poetry in its
beauties--botany and zoology in their wonders.  Do we envy him?  Then
listen to what his poor heart was groaning all that time: "In much
wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth
sorrow"!  Now turn to _our_ portion above the sun--"the knowledge of
God and of Jesus our Lord": infinitely higher, deeper, lovelier, and
more wondrous than the fields explored by Solomon, in constant
unfoldings of riches of wisdom; and each new unfolding bringing its own
sweet measure of "grace and peace."  Have not the lines fallen to us in
pleasant places?  Have we not a goodly heritage?  Take the feeblest of
the saints of God of today, and had Solomon in all his glory a lot like
one of these?



CHAPTER II.

The wise man, having found that wisdom brought with it but increased
sorrow, turns to the other side--to all those pleasures that the flesh,
as we speak, enjoys.  Still, he gives us, as in chap. i., the result of
his search before he describes it: "I said in my heart, 'Go to now; I
will prove thee [that is, I will see if I cannot satisfy thee,] with
mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure:' and behold, this also is vanity.  I
said of laughter, 'it is mad;' and of mirth, 'what doeth it?'"  For he
now has tried wine, the occupation of laying out of vinyards, gardens,
parks, the forming of lakes, and the building of houses, all filled
without stint, with every thing that sense could crave, or the soul of
man could enjoy.  The resources at his command are practically
limitless, and so he works on and rejoices in the labor, apparently
with the idea that now the craving within can be satisfied, now he is
on the road to rest.  Soon he will look round on the result of all his
work, and be able to say, "All is very good; I can now rest in the full
enjoyment of my labor and be satisfied."  But when he does reach the
end, when every pleasure tried, every beauty of surrounding created,
and he expects to eat the fruit of his work, instantly his mouth is
filled with rottenness and decay.  "Then I looked on all the works that
my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do; and,
behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit; and there was no profit
under the sun."  Thus he groans again,--a groan that has been echoed
and re-echoed all down the ages from every heart that has tried to fill
the same void by the same means.

Ah! wise and glorious Preacher, it is a large place thou art seeking to
fill.  "Free and boundless its desires."  Deeper, wider, broader than
the whole world, which is at thy disposal to fill it.  And thou mayest
well say, "What can the man do that cometh after the king?" for thou
hadst the whole world and the glory of it at thy command in thy day,
and did it enable thee to fill those "free and boundless desires"?  No,
indeed.  After all is cast into that hungry pit, yawning and empty it
is still.  Look well on this picture, my soul; ponder it in the secret
place of God's presence, and ask Him to write it indelibly on thy heart
that thou forget it not.  Then turn and listen to this sweet voice: "If
any man thirst" (and what man does not?) "let him come unto Me, and
drink.  He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his
belly shall flow rivers of living water."  Thirst not only quenched,
but water to spare for other thirsting ones,--the void not only filled,
but running over with a constant flow of blessing.  Who can express the
glories of that contrast?

Pause, beloved reader: turn your eyes from the page, and dwell on it in
thy spirit a little.  What a difference between "no profit under the
sun" and "never thirst"!--a difference entirely due simply to coming to
Him--Jesus.  Not a coming once and then departing from Him once more to
try again the muddy, stagnant pools of this world: no, but to pitch our
tents by the palm-trees and the springing wells of Christ's presence,
and so to drink and drink and drink again of Him, the Rock that follows
His people.  But is this possible?  Is this not mere imaginative
ecstasy, whilst practically such a state is not possible?  No, indeed;
for see that man, with all the same hungry longings of Solomon or any
other child of Adam; having no wealth, outcast, and a wanderer without
a home, but who has found something that has enabled him to say, "I
have learned, in whatsoever state I am, to be content.  I know both how
to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere, and in all things,
I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to
suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth
me." (Phil. iv. 11-13.)

What, then, is the necessary logical deduction from two such pictures
but this: The Lord Jesus infinitely surpasses all the world in filling
the hungry heart of man.

Look, oh my reader, whether thou be sinner or saint, to Him--to Him
alone.

This, then, brings us to the twelfth verse of chapter two, which
already, thus early in the book, seems to be a summing up of his
experiences.  "I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and
folly:" that is I looked "full face," or carefully considered, these
three things that I had now tested; and whilst each gave me only
disappointment and bitterness as to meeting my deepest needs, yet "I
saw that there was a profit in wisdom over folly, as light is
profitable over darkness."  This then is within the power of human
reason to determine.  The philosophy of the best of the heathen brought
them to exactly the same conclusion.  Socrates and Solomon, with many
another worthy name, are here in perfect accord, and testify together
that "the wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walketh in
darkness."  Not that men _prefer_ wisdom to folly; on the contrary;
still even human reason gives this judgment: for the wise man walks at
least as a _man_, intelligently; the spirit, the intelligence, having
its place.  But how much further can reason discern as to the
comparative worth of wisdom or folly?  The former certainly morally
elevates a man _now_; but here comes an awful shadow across reason's
path: "but I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them
all.  Then said I in my heart, as it happeneth to the fool, so it
happeneth even to me: and why was I then more wise?  Then I said in my
heart, that this also is vanity."  Ah! in this book in which poor man
at his highest is allowed to give voice to his deepest questions, in
which all the chaos, and darkness, the "without form and void" state of
his poor, distracted, disjointed being is seen; death is indeed the
King of Terrors, upsetting all his reasonings, and bringing the wisdom
and folly, between which he had so carefully discriminated, to one
level in a moment.  But here, death is looked upon in relation to the
"works" of which he has been speaking.  Wisdom cannot guarantee its
possessor the enjoyment of the fruits of his labors.  Death comes to
him as swiftly and as surely as to the fool, and a common oblivion
shall, after a little, swallow the memory of each, with their works.
This thought the Preacher dwells upon, and as he regards it on every
side, again and again he groans, "This also is vanity." (_vv._ 19, 21,
23.)  "Therefore I hated life, yea, all my labor which I took under the
sun," and "therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all
my labor which I took under the sun."  For what is there in the labor
itself?  Nothing that satisfies by itself.  It is only the anticipation
of final satisfaction and enjoyment that can make up for the loss of
quiet and ease now; prove _that_ to be a vain hope, and the mere labor
and planning night and day are indeed "empty vanity."

Thus much for labor "under the sun," with self for its object, and
death for its limit.  Now for the contrast again in its refreshing
beauty of the "new" as against the "old" "Therefore, my beloved
brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of
the Lord, forasmuch as ye know your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
(1 Cor. xv. 58.)  "All my labor vanity" is the "groan" of the old, "for
death with its terrors cuts me off from my labor and I leave it to a
fool."  "No labor in vain" is the song of victory of the new, for
resurrection with its glories but introduces me to the precious fruit
of those labors, to be enjoyed forever.

Oh my brethren, let us cherish this precious word, "not in vain;" let
us be indeed "persuaded" of it, and "embrace" it, not giving up our
glorious heritage, and going back, as the Christian world largely is in
this day, to the mere human wisdom that Solomon the king possessed
above all, and which only led then, as it must now and ever, to the
groan of "vanity!"  But "_not_ in vain" is ours.  No little one
refreshed with even a cup of cold water but that soon the fruit of even
that little labor of love shall meet its sweetest recompense in the
smile, the approval, the praise of our Lord Jesus; and that shall make
our hearts full to overflowing with bliss; as we there echo and re-echo
our own word: it was indeed, "not in vain."

The chapter closes with the recognition that, apart from God, it is not
in the power of man to get any enjoyment from his labor.  Our
translation of verse 24 seems quite out of harmony with the Preacher's
previous experiences, and the verse would better read (as in Dr. Taylor
Lewis' metrical version):

  "The good is not in man that he should eat and drink
  And find his soul's enjoyment in his toil;
  This, too, I saw, is only from the hands of God."



CHAPTER III.

Chapter three may be paraphrased, I think, somewhat in this way: Yes,
life itself emphasizes the truth that nothing is at one stay here;--all
_moves_.  There is naught abiding, like the winds and waters that he
has noted in chapter one; man's life is but a wheel that turns: death
follows birth, and all the experiences between are but ever varying
shades of good and evil, evil and good.  (Let us bear in mind this is
not faith's view, but simply that of human wisdom.  Faith sings a song
amidst the whirl of life:

  "With mercy and with judgment,
  My web of time He wove;
  And aye the dews of sorrow
  Were lustred with His love.")


But then if nothing thus rests as it is, it becomes a necessary
deduction that, if wisdom has collected, and labored, and built, folly
will follow to possess and scatter, what profit then in toiling?  For
he sees that this constant travail is of God who, in wisdom
inscrutable, and not to be penetrated by human reasoning, would have
men exercised by these constant changes, whilst their hearts can be
really satisfied with no one of these things, beautiful as each may be
in its time.  So boundless are its desires that he says, "Eternity" has
been placed in that heart of man, and naught in all these
"time-changes" can fill it.  Still he can see nothing better for man,
than that he should make the best of the present, for he cannot alter
or change what God does or purposes, and everything he sees, speaks of
His purpose to a constant "round," a recurrence of that which is past
(as verse 15 should probably read.)

But still man's reason can make one more step now, one further
deduction from the _law of circuit_, as soon as God, even though He be
known only by nature's light, is introduced; and that is, the present
wrong and injustice so evident here, must in some "time" in God's
purposes, be righted; God Himself being the Judge.  This seems to be a
gleam of real light, similar to the conclusion of the whole book.  Yes,
further, this constant change--is there no reason for it?  Has God no
purpose in it?  Surely to teach men the very lesson of their own
mortality: that there is naught abiding--men and beasts are, as far as
unaided human wisdom can see, on one level exactly as to that awful
exit from this scene.  It is true there may be--and there are strong
grounds for inferring that there _is_--a wide difference between the
spirit of man, and the spirit of beasts, although the bodies of each
are formed of, and return to the dust; but who can tell this
absolutely?  Who has seen and told what is on the other side of that
dread portal?  None.  So then, again says the wise Preacher, my wisdom
sees only good in enjoying the present, for the future is shrouded in
an impenetrable cloud, and none can pierce it.

Precious beyond expression becomes the glorious bright beam of divine
revelation, as against this dense and awful darkness of man's ignorance
on such a question.  How deep and terrible the groan here, "For all is
vanity."  Yet the pitch-dark background shall serve to throw into
glorious relief, the glory of that light that is not from reason, or
nature; but from Him who is the Father of Lights.  Yes, He bids us look
on this picture of the wisest of men, tracing man and beast to one end
and standing before that awful door through which each has disappeared,
confessing his absolute inability to determine if there be any
difference between them.  Death surely triumphs here.  It is true that
there may be a possible distinction between the "breath," or vital
principle of each; but this uncertainty only adds to the mystery, and
increases a thousand fold the agonizing need for light.  God be thanked
that He has given it.  The darkest problem that has faced mankind all
through the weary ages, has been triumphantly solved; and the sweetest
songs of faith ever resound about the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus--nay
rather, about the glorious person of that risen Christ Himself, for He
is Himself the leader of the Joy.  "In the midst of the congregation
will I praise Thee."

So then, in sharp and blessed contrast to the wise man and his
groaning, let us lift our eyes up and ever up, past the tombs and
graves of earth; yea, past thrones and principalities, and powers in
the heavens; up and still up, even to the "_throne of the Majesty on
High_" itself; and look on One sitting even there, a _Man_--oh mark it
well, for He has been of woman born--a _Man_,--for of that very One it
was once said, "Is not this the carpenter?"--now crowned with glory and
honor; and listen, for He speaks: "I am He that liveth, and was dead,
and behold I am alive for evermore."  Consider Him!  And whilst we look
and listen, how does that word of the Preacher sound, "A man hath no
pre-eminence above a beast!"  And this is our portion, beloved reader.
He might indeed have had all the glory of that place, without the agony
of the garden, without the suffering and shame of the cross, had He
been content to enjoy it alone.  But no--He must have His own with Him;
and now death has been abolished as to its terror and power, so that
the groan of old is replaced by the triumphant challenge: "O death,
where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Cor. xv. 55.)

The resurrection of Jesus not only makes possible--not only makes
probable--but absolutely assures the glorious triumphant resurrection
of His own who have fallen asleep: "Christ the firstfruits, afterward
they are Christ's at His coming."  But further, is this "falling
asleep" of the saint to separate him, for a time, from the conscious
enjoyment of his Saviour's love?  Is the trysting of the saved one with
his Saviour to be interrupted for awhile by death?  Is his song

  "Not all things else are half so dear
  As is His blissful presence here"

to be silenced by death?  Then were he a strangely conquered foe, and
not stingless, if for one hour he could separate us from the enjoyed
love of Christ.  But no, "blessed be the Victor's name," not for a
moment.  "Death is ours" and "absent from the body" is only "present
with the Lord."  So that we may answer the Preacher's word, "A man hath
no pre-eminence above a beast," with the challenge, To which of the
_beasts_ said He at any time, "This day shalt thou be with Me in
paradise"?

Let the Preacher groan, "all is vanity;" the groan is in perfect--if
sorrowful--harmony with the darkness and ignorance of human reason; but
"_singing_" alone accords with _light_; "Joy cometh _in the morning_,"
and if we but receive it, we have in "Jesus Risen" light enough for
perpetual, unending, song.



CHAPTER IV.

But we must follow our Preacher, who can only turn away with bitterness
from this closed door of Death, once more to take note of what is
"under the sun."  And sad and sorrowful it is to him to mark that the
world is filled with oppression.  He has already, in the previous
chapter, noted that "wickedness was there in the place of judgment and
iniquity in the place of righteousness," and the natural consequence of
this is oppression.  Wherever men have _power_ they use it to bring
forth _tears_; therefore far better, cries Solomon, to be out of such a
scene altogether; yea, better still, never to have come into it at all.
Have we no sympathy with the Preacher here?  Does he not give
expression to one sad "touch of nature that makes the whole world kin"?
Do we not recognize that he, too, was traveling through exactly the
same scene as we find ourselves to be in?  That tears were raining on
this crust of earth in that far-off time, exactly as they are to-day?
Yes, indeed, it was a tear-soaked earth he trod, as well as we.  But
then that other man was also in the same scene exactly, who said, too,
that it was certainly "far better" to be out of it; but--precious
contrast! _that_ was because of the loveliness and sweet attraction of
One known outside of it; whilst the very needs of others in the
scene--those "tears," in a way, of which the wise man speaks, and which
he knew no way of stopping--alone kept him in it, and made him consent
to stay.  For Paul had "heard a sweeter story" than Solomon had ever in
his wisdom conceived; had "found a truer gain" than all Solomon's
wealth could give him; and his most blessed business it was to proclaim
a glad tidings that should dry the tears of the oppressed, give them a
peace that no oppressor could take away, a liberty outside all the
chains of earth--a spring of joy that tyranny was powerless to affect.

Now let us, by the grace and loving kindness of our God, consider this
a little closer, my readers.  We have concluded that we find this book
included in the inspired volume for this very purpose, to exalt all
"the new" by its blessed contrast with "the old."  We may too, if we
will, look around on all the sorrows and tears of this sad earth, and
groan "better would it be to be dead and out of it; yea, better never
to have been born at all."  And a wise groan, according to human
wisdom, this would be.

But when such wisdom has attained to its full, it finds itself far
short of the very "foolishness of God"; for, on the other hand we may,
if we will, praise God with joyful heart that we are at least _in the
only place in the whole universe, where tears can be dried, and
gladness be made to take their place_.  For is there oppression, and
consequent weeping, in heaven?  Surely not.  Tears there are, in
plenty, in hell; for did not He who is Love say, "there shall be
weeping and gnashing of teeth"?  But, alas! those tears can be
dried--_never_.  But here Love can have its own way, and mourning ones
may learn a secret that shall surely gild their tears with a rainbow
glory of light, and the oppressed and distressed, the persecuted and
afflicted, may triumphantly sing, "Who shall separate us from the love
of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Nay, in all these things we are
_more than conquerors_, through Him that loved us."  Ah, is there not,
too, a peculiar beauty in those words "more than conquerors"?  What can
be more than a conqueror?  A ship driven out of its course by the
tempest, with anchor dragging or cable parted, is no "conqueror" at
all, but the reverse.  That ship riding out the gale, holding fast to
its anchorage, is truly a conqueror; but that is all.  But the vessel
being driven by the very tempest to the haven where it would be, is
better off still, and thus "more than conqueror."  So it is with the
saint now; the tempest drives him the closer to Him who is indeed his
desired haven, and thus he is more than conqueror.  Is not, then, this
earth a unique place?--this life a wonderful time?  A few years
(possibly a few hours) more, and we shall be out of the scene of sorrow
and evil forever; nor can we then prove the power of the love of Christ
to lift above the sorrow either ourselves or others.  O my soul, art
thou redeeming the time--"ransoming from loss" (as it might literally
be worded) the precious opportunities that are around thee on every
side, "because the days are evil"?  The very fact that the days are
evil--that thou art in the place of tears--gives thee the
"opportunities."  When the days cease to be evil, those special
opportunities, whatever may be the service of the redeemed, will be
gone forever.

But the Preacher still continues his search "under the sun," and turns
from oppression and tears to regard what is, on the surface at least, a
comparatively happy lot--"right work," by which a man has attained to
prosperity and pre-eminence.  But as he looks closer at a case which,
at first sight, seems to promise real satisfaction, he sees that there
is a bitter sting connected with it,--a sting that at once robs it of
all its attraction, and makes void all its promise of true rest,--for
"for this a man is envied of his neighbor."  His success is only cause
of bitter jealousy, and makes him the object not of love, but of envy,
to all about him.  Success, then, and a position of pre-eminence above
one's competitors, gained by skillful toil, is rather to be avoided as
vanity and pursuit of the wind,--a grasping at an empty nothingness.

Is the opposite extreme of perfect idleness any better?  No; for
plainly the idler is a fool who "eateth his own flesh"; that is,
necessarily brings ruin upon himself.  So human wisdom here closes the
meditation with--what human wisdom always does take refuge in--the
"golden mean," as it is called, "better a single handful with quiet
rest, than both hands filled only by wearying toil and vexation of
spirit."  And true enough this is, as every man who has tested things
at all in this world will confirm.  Accumulation brings with it only
disappointment and added care,--everything is permeated with a common
poison; and here the wisdom of the old is, in one sense, in full
harmony with the higher wisdom of the new, which says "godliness, with
contentment, is great gain," and "having food and raiment, let us be
therewith content."

If we look "above the sun," however, there is a scene where no sting
lurks in all that attracts, as here.  Where God Himself approves the
desires of His people for more of their own, and says to them with
gracious encouragement, "covet earnestly the best gifts."  Yes; but
mark the root-difference between the two: the skillful, or right labor,
that appears at first so desirable to the Preacher, is only for the
worker's own advantage,--it exalts him above his fellows, where he
becomes a mark for their bitter envy; but these "gifts" that are to be
coveted are as far removed from this as the poles.  In that higher
scene, the more a gift exalts "self," the less is that gift.  The
"best"--those which God calls "best"--are those that awake no envy in
others; but bring their happy owner lower and ever lower to the feet of
his brethren to serve them, to build _them_ up.  The Corinthians
themselves had the lesser gifts in the more showy "tongues," and
"knowledge"; but one family amongst them had the _greater_,--"the
household of Stephanas," for it had addicted itself to the _service_ of
the saints.

But let us not leave this theme till we have sought to set our hearts
a-singing by a sight of Him who is, and ever shall be, the source as
well as the theme of all our songs.  We but recently traced Him in His
glorious upward path till we found Him resting on the throne of the
Majesty on high.  But "he that ascended, what is it but that he also
descended?"  So, beloved readers, though it may be a happily familiar
theme to many, it will be none the less refreshing to look at that
"right work" of our blessed Lord Jesus, "who, being in the form of God,
thought it not robbery to be equal with God."  That is the glorious
platform--as we might, in our human way of speaking, say--upon which He
had abode all through the ages of the past.  He looks above--there is
none, there is nothing higher.  He looks on the same plane as
Himself--He is equal with God.  There is His blessed, glorious place,
at the highest pinnacle of infinite glory, nothing to be desired,
nothing to be grasped at.

He moves; and every heart that belongs to that new creation awakens
into praise (oh, how different to the "envy" of the old!) as He takes
His first step and makes Himself of no reputation.  And as in our
previous paper we followed Him in His glorious upward path, so here we
may trace His no less glorious and most blessed path down and ever
lower down, past Godhead to "_no reputation_"; past authority to
_service_; past angels, who are servants, to _men_; past all the
thrones and dignities of men to the manger at _Bethlehem and the lowest
walk of poverty_, till He who, but now, was indeed rich is become poor;
nay, says of Himself that He has not where to lay His head.  No "golden
mean" of the "handful with quietness" here!  Yes, and far lower still,
past that portion of the righteous man, endless life,--down, down to
the humiliation of _death_; and then one more step to a death--not of
honor, and respect, and the peace, that we are told marks the perfect
man and the upright, but the death of lowest shame, the criminal
slave's death, the _cross_!  Seven distinct steps of perfect
humiliation!  Oh, consider Him there, beloved!  Mocked of all His foes,
forsaken of all His friends!  The very refuse of the earth, the thieves
that earth says are too vile for her, heaping their indignities upon
Him.  "Behold the man," spat upon, stricken, and numbered with
transgressors; and, as we gaze, let us together listen to that divine
voice, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus," for
that is _our_ "right work," and there is no fear of a man being "envied
of his neighbor" for right work of that kind.

But time and space would fail us to take up in detail all these
precious contrasts.  All Solomon's searches "under the sun" tell but
one story: There is nought in all the world that can satisfy the heart
of man.  The next verse furnishes another striking illustration of
this.  He sees a solitary one, absolutely alone, without kith or kin
dependent on him, and yet he toils on, "bereaving his soul of good" as
unceasingly as when he first started in life.  Every energy is still
strained in the race for those riches that satisfy not at all.
"Vanity" is the Preacher's commentary on the scene.  This naturally
leads to the conclusion that solitude, at least, is no blessing; for
man was made for companionship and mutual dependence, and in this is
safety.  (Verses 9 to 12.)

Verses 13 to the end are difficult, as they stand in our authorized
version; but they speak, I think, of the striking and extraordinary
vicissitudes that are so constant "under the sun."  There is no lot
abiding.  The king on his throne, "old and foolish," changes places
with the youth who may even step from the humiliation of prison and
chains to the highest dignity: then "better is the poor and wise youth
than the old and foolish king."  But wider still the Preacher looks,
and marks the stately march of the present generation with the next
that shall follow it; yea, there is no end of the succession of surging
generations, each boastful of itself, and taking no joy in--that is,
making little account of--that which has gone before.  Each, in its
turn, like a broken wave, making way for its successor.  Boastful
pride, broken in death, but still followed by another equally boastful,
or more so, which, in its turn, is humbled also in the silence of the
grave.  It is the same story of human changes as "the youth" and "the
king," only a wider range is taken; but "vanity" is the appropriate
groan that accompanies the whole meditation.  In this I follow Dr.
Lewis's version:--

  Better the child, though he be poor, if wise,
  Than an old and foolish king, who heeds no longer warning;
  For out of bondage came the one to reign--
  The other, in a kingdom born, yet suffers poverty.
  I saw the living all, that walked in pride beneath the sun,
  I saw the second birth that in their place shall stand.
  No end to all the people that have gone before;
  And they who still succeed, in them shall find no joy.
      This, too, is vanity,--a chasing of the wind.



CHAPTER V.

With the opening of this chapter we come to quite a different theme.
Like a fever-tossed patient, Ecclesiastes has turned from side to side
for relief and rest; but each new change of posture has only brought
him face to face with some other evil "under the sun" that has again
and again pressed from him the bitter groan of "Vanity."  But now, for
a moment, he takes his eyes from the disappointments, the evil
workings, and the sorrows, that everywhere prevail in that scene, and
lifts them up to see how near his wisdom, or human reason, can bring
him to _God_.  Ah, poor bruised and wounded spirit!  Everywhere it has
met with rebuff; but now, like a caged bird which has long beaten its
wings against its bars, at length turns to the open door, so now
Ecclesiastes seems at least to have his face in the right
direction,--God and approach to Him is his theme,--how far will his
natural reason permit his walking in it?  Will it carry him on to the
highest rest and freedom at last?

This, it strikes me, is just the point of view of these first seven
verses.  Their meaning is, as a whole, quite clear and simple.  "Keep
thy foot,"--that is, permit no hasty step telling of slight realization
of the majesty of Him who is approached.  Nor let spirit be less
reverently checked than body.  "Be more ready to hear, than to give the
sacrifice of fools."  Few be thy words, and none uttered thoughtlessly,
for "God is in heaven and thou upon earth," and many words, under such
an infinite discrepancy in position, bespeak a fool as surely as a
dream bespeaks overcrowded waking hours.  Oh fear, then, to utter one
syllable thoughtlessly or without meaning, for One listens to whom a
vow once uttered must be paid, for not lightly canst thou retract the
spoken vow with the excuse "It was unintentional,--it was not seriously
meant."  His Messenger or Angel is not so deceived; and quickly wilt
thou find, in thy wrecked work and purposes astray, that it is _God_
thou hast angered by thy light speech.  Then avoid the many words
which, as idle dreams, are but vanity; but rather "fear thou God."

After weighing the many conflicting views as to verses 6 and 7, the
context has led me to the above as the sense of the words.  Nor can
there be the slightest question as to the general bearing of the
speaker's argument.  Its central thought, both in position and
importance, is found in "God is in heaven and thou upon earth,
therefore let thy words be few,"--its weighty conclusion, "Fear thou
God."

Now, my beloved readers, there is a picture here well worth looking at
attentively.  Regard him: noble in every sense of the word,--with
clearest intellect, with the loftiest elevation of thought, with an
absolutely true conception of the existence of God.  Who amongst men,
let thought sweep as wide as it will amongst the children of Adam, can
go or has gone, beyond him?  What can man's mind conceive, he may ask,
as well as man's hand do, that cometh after the King?  Yea, let our
minds go over all the combined wisdom of all the ages amongst the wise
of the world, and where will you find a loftier, purer, truer
conception of God, and the becoming attitude of the creature in
approaching Him than here?  For he is not a heathen, as we speak, this
Solomon.  He has all that man, as man, could possibly have; and that
surely includes the knowledge of the existence of God,--His power
eternal, and His Godhead, as Romans i. clearly shows.  The heathen
themselves have lapsed from that knowledge.  "_When they knew God_" is
the intensely significant word of Scripture.  This is, indeed,
diametrically contrary to the teaching of modern science--that the
barbarous and debased tribes of earth are only in a less developed
condition--are on the way _upward_ from the lowest forms of life, from
the protoplasm whence all sprang, and have already passed in their
upward course the ape, whose likeness they still, however, more closely
bear!  Oh, the folly of earth's wisdom!  The pitiful meanness and
littleness of the greatest of modern scientific minds that have "come
after the King" contrasted even with the grand simple sublimity of the
knowledge of Ecclesiastes.  For this Preacher would not be a proper
representative _man_ were he in debased heathen ignorance.  He could
not show us faithfully and truly how far even unaided human reason
could go in its recognition of, and approach to, God, if he had lost
the knowledge of God.  Low, indeed, is the level of man's highest, when
in this state, as the Greeks show us; for whilst they, as distinct from
the Jews, made wisdom the very object of their search, downward ever do
they sink in their struggles, like a drowning man, till they reach a
foul, impure, diabolical mythology.  Their gods are as the stars for
multitude.  Nor are they able to conceive of these except as influenced
by the same passions as themselves.  Is there any reverence in approach
to such?  Not at all.  Low, sensual, earthly depravity marked ever that
approach.  That is the level of the lapsed fallen wisdom of earth's
wise.  How does it compare with Solomon's?  We may almost say as earth
to heaven,--hardly that,--rather as hell to earth.  Solomon, then,
clearly shows us the _highest possible conception of the creature's
approach to his Creator_.  This is as far as man could have attained,
let him be at the summit of real wisdom.  His reason would have given
him nothing beyond this.  It tells him that man is a creature, and it
is but the most simple and necessary consequence of this that his
approach to his Creator should be with all the reverence and humility
that is alone consistent with such a relationship.

But high indeed as, in one point of view, this is, yet how low in
another, for is one heart-throb stilled?  One tormenting doubt removed?
One fear quieted?  One deep question answered?  One sin-shackle
loosened?  _Not one_.  The distance between them is still the distance
between earth and heaven.  "God is in heaven, and thou upon earth."
Nor can the highest, purest, best of human reason, as in this wise and
glorious king, bridge over that distance one span!  "Fear thou God" is
the sweetest comfort he can give,--the clearest counsel he can offer.
Consider him again, I say, my brethren, in all his nobility, in all his
elevation, in all his bitter disappointment and incompetency.

And now, my heart, prepare for joy, as thou turnest to thy own blessed
portion.  For how rich, how precious, how closely to be cherished is
that which has gone so far beyond all possible human conception,--that
wondrous revelation by which this long, long distance 'twixt earth and
heaven has been spanned completely.  And in whom?  JESUS, The Greater
than Solomon.  We have well considered the less,--let us turn to the
Greater.  And where is that second Man to be found?  Afar off on earth,
with God in heaven?  No, indeed.  "For when He had by Himself purged
our sins He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high"; and
"seeing, then, that we have a great high priest, that is passed
_through the heavens_, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our
confession."  Oh, let us consider Him together, my brethren.  In
holiest Light our Representative sits.  He who but now was weighted
with our guilt, and made sin for us, is in that Light ineffable,
unapproachable.  Where, then, are the sins?  Where, then, the sin?
Gone for all eternity!  Nor does His position vary at all with all the
varying states, failings, coldness, worldliness, of His people here.
With holy calm, His work that has perfected them forever perfectly
finished, He _sits_, and their position is thus maintained unchanging.
Clearly, and without the shadow of the faintest mist to dim, the
infinite searching Light of God falls on Him, but sees nought there
that is not in completest harmony with Itself.  Oh, wondrous
conception!  Oh, grandeur of thought beyond all the possibility of
man's highest mind!  No longer can it be said at least to one Man,
woman-born though He be, "God is in heaven, and thou upon earth"; for
He, of the Seed of Abraham, of the house of David, is Himself in
highest heaven.

But one step further with me, my brethren.  We are in Him, there; and
that is our place, too.  The earthward trend of thought--the letting
slip our own precious truth--has introduced a "tongue" into Christendom
that ought to be foreign to the Saint of heaven.  No "place of worship"
should the Christian know--nay, _can_ he really know--short of heaven
itself.  For, listen: "Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter
_into the holiest_ by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way
which He hath consecrated for us through the vail,--that is to say, His
flesh,--and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw
near," etc.  We too, then, beloved, are not upon earth as to our
worship, (let it be mixed with faith in us that hear).  Israel's "place
of worship" was where her high priest stood, and our place of worship
is where our great High Priest sits.  Jesus our Lord sowed the seed of
this precious truth when he answered the poor sinful woman of Samaria,
"The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at
Jerusalem, worship the Father.  But the hour cometh, and now is, when
the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth,
for the Father seeketh such to worship Him."

But, then, are not "words to be few"?  Good and wise it was for Solomon
so to speak; "few words" become the far-off place of the creature on
earth before the glorious Majesty of the Creator in heaven.  But if
infinite wisdom and love have rent the vail and made a new and living
way into the Holiest, does He now say "few words"?  Better, far better,
than that; for with the changed position all is changed, and not too
often can His gracious ear "hear the voice of His beloved"; and, lest
shrinking unbelief should still hesitate and doubt, He says plainly "In
_everything_, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your
requests be made known unto God."  For He has shown Himself fully, now
that vail is down,--all that He is, is revealed to faith; and a Heart
we find--with reverence and adoring love be it spoken--filled with
tenderest solicitude for His people.  Letting them have cares only that
they may have His sympathy in a way that would not otherwise be
possible; and thus again He invites "casting all your care upon Him,
for He careth for you."  Nor is there a hint in the holiest, of
weariness on God's part in listening to His people, nor once does He
say "enough; now cease thy prayers and supplications."  How could He so
speak who says "_Pray without ceasing_"?  Then if, as assuredly we have
seen, Solomon shows us the highest limit of human thought, reason, or
conception, if we go even one step beyond, we have _exceeded_ human
thought, reason, or conception; (and in these New Testament truths how
far beyond have we gone?)  And what does that mean but that we are on
holy ground indeed, listening to a voice that is distinctly the voice
of God,--the God who speaks to us, as He says, in order "_that our joy
may be full_."

But the Preacher continues to give, in verses 8 and 9, such counsel as
he can to meet the discordant state of things everywhere apparent.
"When thou seest violent oppression exercised by those in authority,"
he says, "marvel not; think it not strange, as though some strange
thing were happening; thou art only looking on a weed-plant that
everywhere flourishes 'under the sun,' and still thou mayest remember
that these oppressors themselves, high though they be, have superiors
above them: yea in the ever-ascending scale of ranks and orders thou
mayest have to go to the Highest--God Himself; but the same truth hold
good, and He shall yet call powers and governors to answer for the
exercise of their authorities.  This for thy comfort, if thou lookest
_up_; but, on the other hand, look _down_, and thou shalt see that
which goes far to humble the highest; for even the king himself is as
dependent as any on the field whence man's food comes."

True, indeed, all this; but cold is the comfort, small cause for
singing it gives.  Our own dear apostle seems to have dropped for a
moment from his higher vantage-ground to the level of Solomon's wisdom
when smarting under "oppression and the violent perverting of
judgment," he cried to the high priest, "God [the higher than the
highest] shall smite thee, thou whited wall."  But we hear no joyful
singing from him in connection with that indignant protest.  On the
contrary, the beloved and faithful servant regrets it the next moment,
with "I wist not, brethren."  Not so in the silent suffering of
"violent oppression" at Philippi.  There he and his companion have
surely comfort beyond any that Solomon can offer, and the overflowing
joy of their hearts comes from no spring that rises in this sad desert
scene.  Never before had prisoners in that dismal jail heard aught but
groans of suffering coming from that inner prison, from the bruised and
wounded prisoners whose feet were made fast in the stocks; but the
Spirit of God notes, with sweet and simple pathos, "the prisoners heard
them"; and oh, how mighty the testimony to that which is "above the
sun" was that singing!  It came from the Christian's proper
portion,--your portion and mine, dear fellow-redeemed one,--for Jesus,
our Lord Jesus, our Saviour Jesus, is the alone fountain of a joy that
can fill a human heart until it gives forth "songs in the night," even
in one of earth's foul abodes of suffering and oppression.  He is the
portion of the youngest, feeblest believer.  Rich treasure!  Let us
beware lest any spoil us of that treasure, for we can only "sing" as we
enjoy it.

But once more let us listen to what the highest, purest attainment of
the wisdom of man can give.  And now he speaks of wealth and the
abundance of earthly prosperity which he, of all men, had so fully
tested.  "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, nor
he that loveth abundance, with increase"; and again there is the
sorrowful groan, "This is also vanity."  "If goods increase," he
continues, "the household necessary to care for them increases
proportionately, and the owner gets no further satisfaction from them
than their sight affords.  Nay, he who toils has a distinct advantage
over the wealthy, who is denied the quiet repose the former enjoys."
Carefully the Preacher has watched the miser heaping up ever, and
robbing himself of all natural enjoyment, until some disaster--"evil
travail"--sweeps away in a moment his accumulations, and his son is
left a pauper.  And such, at least, is every man he marks, be he never
so wealthy, when the end comes.  Inexorable Death is, sooner or later,
the "evil travail" that strips him as naked as he came; and then,
though he has spent his life in selfish self-denial, filling his dark
days with vexation, sickness, and irritation, he is snatched from all,
and, poor indeed, departs.  Such the sad story of Solomon's experience;
but not more sad than true, nor confined by any means to Scripture.
World-wide it is.  Nor is divine revelation necessary to tell poor man
that silver, nor gold, nor abundance of any kind, can satisfy the
heart.  Hear the very heathen cry "_semper avarus eget_"--"the miser
ever _needs_"; or "_Avarum irritat non satiat pecunia_"--"the wealth of
the miser satisfies not, but irritates."  But more weighty and
far-reaching is the word of revelation going far beyond the negation of
the king.  "They that desire to be rich fall into temptation and a
snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in
destruction and perdition, for the love of money is the root of all
kinds of evil, which some reaching after have been led astray from the
faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows."

But let us pass to the last three verses of the chapter.  The Preacher
here says, in effect, "Now attend carefully to what I tell thee of the
result of all my experience in this way.  I have discerned a good that
I can really call comely or fair.  It is for a man to have the means at
his command for enjoyment, and the power to enjoy those means.  This
combination is distinctly the 'gift of God.'  From such an one all the
evils that make up life pass off without eating deep into his being.  A
cheerful spirit takes him off from the present evil as soon as it is
past.  He does not think on it much; for the joy of heart within, _to
which God responds_, enables him to meet and over-ride those waves of
life and forget them."

This is in perfect conformity with the whole scope of our book: and it
is surely a mistake that the evangelical doctors and commentators make
when they seek to extract truth from Solomon's writings that is never
to be attained apart from God's revelation.  On the other hand, a large
school of German rationalists see here nothing beyond the teaching of
the Epicure: "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."  Rather does
it show the high-water mark of human reason, wisdom, and
experience,--having much in common with the philosophy of the world,
but going far beyond it; and then, at its highest, uttering some wail
of dissatisfaction and disappointment, whilst the majestic height of
divine revelation towers above it into the very heavens, taking him who
receives it far above the clouds and mists of earth's speculations and
questionings into the clear sunlight of eternal divine truth.

So here Solomon--and let us not forget none have ever gone, or can ever
go, beyond him--gives us the result of his searchings along the special
line of the power of riches to give enjoyment.  His whole experience
again and again has contradicted this.  Look at the 12th verse of this
very chapter.  "The sleep of the laboring man is sweet, _but the
abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep_."  No, no.  In some
way to get _joy_, he confesses he must have _God_.  He combines in
these verses these two ideas--"Joy" and "God."  Look at them.  See how
they recur: four times the name of God, thrice a word for joy.  Now
this raises Solomon far far above the malarial swamps of mere
epicureanism, which excluded God entirely.  It shows how perfect the
harmony throughout the whole book.  It is again, let us recall it, the
high-water mark of human reason, intelligence, and experience.  He
reasons thus: (1) I have proved the vanity and unsatisfactory character
of all created things in themselves, and yet can see no good beyond
getting enjoyment from them.  (2) The power, therefore, for enjoyment
cannot be from the things themselves.  It must be from God.  He must
give it.  (3) This assumes that there must be some kind of accord
between God and the heart, for God is the spring, and not the
circumstances without.  So far the power of human reason.  High it is,
indeed; but how unsatisfactory, at its highest.  Consider all that it
leaves unsaid.  Suppose this were where you and I were, my reader, what
should we learn of the way of attaining to this "good that is fair"?
Shall we ask Ecclesiastes one single question that surely needs clear
answer in order to attain it?

I am a sinner: conscience, with more or less power, constantly accuses.
How can this awful matter of my guilt in the sight of that God, the
confessed and only source of thy "good," be settled?  Surely this is
absolutely necessary to know ere I can enjoy thy "good that is fair."
Nay, more: were a voice to speak from heaven, telling me that all the
past were blotted out up to this moment, I am well assured that I could
not maintain this condition for the next moment.  Sin would well up
from the nature within, and leave me as hopeless as ever.  I carry
_it_--that awful defiling thing--with me, in me.  How is this to be
answered, Ecclesiastes?--or what help to its answer dost thou give?...

And there is silence alone for a reply.

Once and only once was such a state possible.  Adam, as he walked in
his undefiled Eden, eating its fruit, rejoicing in the result of his
labor, with no accusing conscience, God visiting him in the cool of the
day and responding to all his joy,--there is the picture of
Ecclesiastes' "good that is fair."  Where else in the old creation, and
how long did that last?  No; whilst it is refreshing and inspiring to
mark the beautiful intelligence and exalted reasoning of Ecclesiastes,
recognizing the true place of man in creation, dependent, and
consciously dependent, on God for "life and breath and all things," as
Paul spoke long afterwards, appealing to that in the heathen Athenians
which even they were _capable_ of responding to affirmatively; yet how
he leaves us looking at a "good that is fair," but without a word as to
how it is to be attained, in view of, and in spite of, sin.  That one
short word raises an impassable barrier between us and that fair good,
and the more fair the good, the more cruel the pain at being so utterly
separated from it; but then, too, the more sweet and precious the love
that removes the barrier entirely, and introduces us to a good that is
as far fairer than Solomon's as Solomon's is above the beasts.

For we, too, my dear readers, have our "good that is fair."  Nor need
we fear comparison with that of this wisest of men.

Survey with me a fairer scene than any lighted by this old creation sun
can show, and harken to God's own voice, in striking contrast to poor
Solomon's portraying its lovely and entrancing beauties for our
enjoyment.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath
blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,
according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the
world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,
having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ
to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will to the praise of
the glory of His grace wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved:
in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins
according to the riches of His grace."

Dwell a little on this our own fair good; mark its sevenfold
perfection; go up and down the land with me.  Let us press these grapes
of Eshcol, and taste their excellence together.

_First: Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world_.--A threefold
cord, that is, indeed, not soon broken.  "Chosen," God's own love and
wisdom is the fount and spring whence all flows.  And that in blessed
connection with the dearest object of His love--"in Him."  "Before the
foundation of the world."  In the stability and changelessness of
Eternity,--before that scene that is, and ever was, characterized by
change, began,--with its mirth and sorrow, sunshine and shadow, life
and death.  Blessed solid rock-foundation for all in God and Eternity.

_Second: To be Holy_.--Separated from all the defilement that should
afterwards come in.  Thus His electing love is always marked first by
separation from all evil.  It can never allow its object to be
connected with the slightest defilement.  The evil was allowed only
that He might reveal Himself as Love and Light in dealing with it.

_Third: without blame_.--So thoroughly is all connected with past
defilement met that not a memory of it remains to mar the present joy.
The defilement of the old creation with which we were connected has
left never a spot nor a stain on the person that could offend infinite
holiness.  Clean, every whit.  Bless the Lord, oh my soul!

_Fourth: In love_.--Thus separated and cleansed from all defilement not
mere complacency regards us.  Not merely for his own pleasure, as men
make a beautiful garden, and remove everything that would offend their
taste, but active love in all its divine warmth encircles us.  My
reader, do you enjoy this fair good?  If you be but the feeblest
believer it is your own.

_Fifth: Adoption of Children_.--Closest kind of love, and that so
implanted in the heart as to put that responsive home-cry of "Abba,
Father," there, and on our lips.  Yet nothing short of this was the
"good pleasure of His will.

_Sixth.--Taken into favor in the Beloved_: the wondrous measure of
acceptance "in the Beloved One."  Look at Him again.  All the glory He
had in eternity He has now, and more added to it.  Infinite complacency
regards him.  That, too, is the measure of our acceptance.

_Seventh_.--But no shirking that awful word,--no overlooking the awful
fact of sin's existence.  No; the foundation of our enjoyment of our
own fair good is well laid "in whom we have redemption through His
blood, _even the forgiveness of sins_."

Sin, looked at in infinite holy Light,--thoroughly looked at,--and
Blood, precious Blood, poured out in atonement for it, and thus put
away forever in perfect righteousness.

Now may the Lord grant us to realize more fully, as we progress in our
book, the awful hopelessness that weighs on man's sad being, apart from
the blessed and infinitely gracious revelation of God.



CHAPTER VI.

Remembering how far the writer of our book excels all who have ever
come after him, in ability, wisdom, or riches, his groans of
disappointment shall have their true weight with us, and act as
lighthouse beacons, warning us from danger, or from spending the one
short fleeting life we have in treading the same profitless pathway of
groaning.

So chapter six opens, still on the same subject of wealth and its power
to bless.  A sore evil, and one that weighs heavily on man, has Solomon
seen: riches, wealth, and honor, clustering thick on the head of one
person, and yet God has withheld from him the power of enjoying it all.
As our own poet, Browning, writes that apt illustration of King Saul:

                "A people is thine,
  And all gifts, which the world offers singly, on one head combine!
  High ambition, and deeds which surpass it, fame crowning them all,
  Brought to blaze on the head of one creature--King Saul."


So sorrowful is this in our preacher's eyes, and so thoroughly does it
bespeak a state of affairs under the sun in confusion, that Solomon
ventures the strongest possible assertion.  Better, he says, an
untimely birth, that never saw light, than a thousand years twice told,
thus spent in vanity, without real good having been found.  How bitter
life must show itself to lead to such an estimate!  Better never to
have been born than pass through life without finding something that
can satisfy.  But this is not looking at life simply in itself, for
life in itself is good, as the same poet sings:

  "Oh, our manhood's prime vigor!  No spirit feels waste,
  Not a muscle is stopped in its playing nor sinew unbraced.
  Oh, the wild joys of living! the leaping from rock up to rock,
  The strong rending of boughs from the fir-tree, the cool silver shock
  Of the plunge in a pool's living water!
  How good is man's life--the mere living! how fit to employ
  All the heart and the soul and the senses forever in joy!"


It is because man has, of all the creation of God, an awful shadow
hanging over him--"death and darkness and the tomb," with the solemn,
silent, unknown "beyond" lying before him, robbing him of rest.  Angels
have present pure delight, with no such shadow possible--they die not.
The beast may enjoy his pasture, for no thought of a coming death
disturbs him.  Life may be full of a kind of enjoyment to such; but
man, poor man, when awake to the possibilities of his own being, as it
surely becomes man to be (and that is just the point of this book--we
are not looking upon man as a mere animal, but as a reasoning creature,
and as such he), is robbed of present rest and enjoyment by an
inevitable fate to which he is hastening, and from which there is no
possible escape.  Do not all go to one place?--that vague "Sheol,"
speaking of the grave, and yet the grave, not as the _end_, but an
indefinite shadowy existence beyond?  All, all go there; and with no
light on _that_, better, indeed, "the untimely birth which came in
vanity and departs in darkness;" for this, at least, has the more rest.
Bitter groan this, indeed!

For the Preacher continues: "Does man's labor satisfy him?  Can he get
what is really 'good' from it?"  No.  For never is his appetite filled
so that it desires nothing more.  The constant return of its thirst
demands constant toil; and fool and wise must alike obey its call.
This is not confined to bodily food, but covers that bitter hunger and
thirst of the heart, as the use of the word soul (margin) shows.  The
longings of the wise may be for a higher food.  He may aim above the
mere sensual, and seek to fill his soul with the refined, but he
_fails_, as indeed do all, even "the poor man who knows to walk before
the living;" that is, even the poor man who, with all the disadvantages
of poverty, has wisdom enough to know how to live so as to command the
respect of his fellows.  Wise indeed must such be; but he, no more than
the fool, has found the "good" that forever satisfies hunger and
thirst, and calms to rest the wandering of the soul, which, like the
restless swallow, is ever on the wing.  Man is made up of desire, and
one glimpse with the eyes, something seen, is at least something
secured, and it is better than all mere longing, which is vanity and
the pursuit of the wind.  For everything has long ago been named _from
its own nature_; and in this way its name shows what it is.  Thus man,
too, (Adam,) is, and ever has been, known from his name, from "adamah,"
earth; his name so showing his mortality.  If thus he has been made by
his Creator, how vain for him to hope to escape his fate, for with Him
no contention is possible.  What use, then, in many words (not things)
since they afford no relief as against that end? they only increase
vanity.  Then the last sad wail of this subject: "Who knoweth what is
really _good_--satisfying for man--during the few fleeting years of his
vain life here, which he passes as a shadow; and when he is gone, who
can tell him what shall be after him under the sun"?

Let that wail sink down deep into our ears.  It is the cry that has
been passed, in ever increasing volume, from heart to heart--every
empty hollow heart of man echoing and re-echoing, "Who will show us any
good?"  Now turn and listen to One who came to answer that fully, and
in His word to Mary, the sister of Lazarus, He does distinctly, in
words, answer it.  She had chosen the portion that He could call
"good."  And was that travail and toil, even in service for Himself?
No, that was rather her sister's portion; but a seat--expressive of
rest--(consider it), a listening ear, whilst the Lord ministered to
her;--and that is all that is needful!  What a contrast between this
poor rich king, communing with his own heart to find out what is that
good portion for man; and the rich poor saint in blessed communion with
infinite Love, infinite Wisdom, infinite Power, and resting satisfied!
Surely, Solomon in all his glory had no throne to be compared to hers,
as she sat lowly "at His feet."  And mark carefully, for thy soul's
good, that word of tender grace that the Lord said, This is "needful."
He who had listened to the groan of man's heart through those long four
thousand years, and knew its need fully and exactly, says that this
good portion must not be regarded as any high attainment for the few,
but as the very breath of life--for all.  If He knows that it is
needful for thee, then, my soul, fear not but that He will approve thy
taking the same place and claiming Mary's portion on the ground of thy
_need alone_.

Yes, but does this really answer the root cause of the groan in our
chapter?  Is the shadow of death dispelled by sitting at His feet!  Is
death no longer the dark unknown?  Shall we learn lessons there that
shall rob it of all its terrors, and replace the groan with song?  Yes,
truly, for look at the few significant foot-prints of that dear Mary's
walk after this.  See her at that supper made for the Lord at Bethany.
Here Martha is serving with perfect acceptance--no word of rebuke to
her now; she has learned the lesson of that day spoken of in the tenth
of Luke.  But Mary still excels her, for, whilst sitting at His feet in
that same day of tenth of Luke, she has heard some story that makes her
come with precious spikenard to anoint His body for the burial!
Strange act!  And how could that affectionate heart force itself calmly
to anoint the object of its love for burial?  Ah! still a far sweeter
story must she have heard "at His feet," and a bright light must have
pierced the shadow of the tomb.  For, look at that little company of
devoted women around His cross, and you will find no trace of the no
less devoted Mary, the sister of Lazarus, there.  The other Marys may
come, in tender affection, but in the dark ignorance of unbelief, to
search for Him, in His empty tomb on the third day.  She, with no less
tender affection surely, is not there.  Is this silence of Scripture
without significance, or are we to see the reason for it in that "good
portion" she had chosen "at His feet"?--and there did she hear, not
only the solemn story of His cross leading her to anoint His body for
the burial, but the joyful story of His resurrection, so that there was
no need for _her_ to seek "the living amongst the dead;"--she _knew_
that He was risen, and she, as long before, "_sat still in the house_"!
Oh, blessed calm!  Oh, holy peace!  What is the secret of it?  Wouldst
thou learn it!  Sit, then, too, "at His feet," in simple conscious
emptiness and need.  Give Him the still more blessed part of
ministering to thee.  So all shall be in order.  Thou shalt have the
good portion that shall dispel all clouds of death, and pour over thy
being heaven's pure sunlight of resurrection; and, with that Light,
song shall displace groan, whilst thy Lord shall have the still better
part--His own surely--of giving; for "more blessed it is to give than
to receive."



CHAPTER VII.

But whilst the King has not that most blessed light, yet there are some
things in which he can discriminate; and here are seven comparisons in
which his unaided wisdom can discern which is the better:--

  1.  A good name            is better than precious ointment.
  2.  The day of death       "    "     "   the day of birth.
  3.  The house of mourning  "    "     "   the house of feasting.
  4.  Borrow                 "    "     "   laughter.
  5.  The rebuke of the wise "    "     "   the song of fools.
  6.  The end of a thing     "    "     "   the beginning.
  7.  The patient in spirit  "    "     "   the proud in spirit.


Lofty, indeed, is the level to which Solomon has attained by such
unpopular conclusions, and it proves fully that we are listening in
this book to man at his highest, best.  Not a bitter, morbid, diseased
mind, simply wailing over a lost life, and taking, therefore, highly
colored and incorrect views of that life, as so many pious commentators
say; but the calm, quiet result of the use of the highest powers of
reasoning man, as man, possesses; and we have but to turn for a moment,
and listen to Him who is greater than Solomon, to find His holy and
infallible seal set upon the above conclusions.  "Blessed are the pure
in heart,--they that mourn,--and the meek," is surely in the same
strain exactly; although reasons are there given for this blessedness
of which Solomon, with all his wisdom, had never a glimpse.

Let us take just one striking agreement, and note the contrasts: "It is
better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of
feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to
his heart.  Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the
countenance the heart is made better.  The heart of the wise is in the
house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."
That is, the loftiest purest wisdom of man recognizes a quality in
sorrow itself that is purifying.  "In the sadness of the face the heart
becometh fair."  In a scene where all is in confusion,--where Death, as
King of Terrors, reigns supreme over all, forcing his presence on us
hourly, where wickedness and falsehood apparently prosper, and goodness
and truth are forced to the wall,--in such a scene of awful disorder,
laughter and mirth are but discord, and grate upon the awakened
spirit's ear with ghastly harshness.  Whilst an honest acceptance of
the truth of things as they are, looking Death itself full in the face,
the house of mourning not shunned, but sought out; the sorrow within is
at least in harmony with the sad state of matters without; the
"ministration of death" has its effect, the spirit learns its lesson of
humiliation; and this, says all wisdom, is "_better_."

And yet this very level to which Reason can surely climb by her own
unaided strength may become a foothold for Faith to go further.  Unless
Wrong, Discord, and Death, are the normal _permanent_ condition of
things, then sorrow, too, is not the normal permanent state of the
heart; but this merely remains a question, and to its answer no reason
helps us.  Age after age has passed with no variation in the fell
discord of its wails, tears, and groans.  Generation has followed in
the footsteps of generation, but with no rift in the gloomy shadow of
death that has overhung and finally settled over each.  Six thousand
years of mourning leave unaided Reason with poor hope of any change in
the future,--of any expectation of true comfort.  But then listen to
that authoritative Voice proclaiming, as no "scribe" ever could,
"Blessed are they that mourn, _for they shall be comforted_."  Ah,
there is a bright light breaking in on the dark clouds, with no
lightning-flash of added storm, but a mild and holy ray,--the promise
of a day yet to break o'er our sorrow-stricken earth, when there shall
be no need for mourning, for death no more shall reign, but be
swallowed up in victory.

But turn over a few pages more, and the contrast is still further
heightened.  The sun of divine revelation is now in mid-heaven; and not
merely future, but present, comfort is revealed by its holy and blessed
beam.  Come, let us enter now into the "house of mourning," not merely
to clasp hands with the mourners, and to sit there in the silence of
Ecclesiastes' helplessness for the benefit of our own hearts, nor even
to whisper the promise of a future comfort, but, full of the comfort of
a present hope, to pour out words of comfort into the mourners' ears.
Tears still are flowing,--nor will we rebuke them.  God would never
blunt those tender sensibilities of the heart that thus speaks the Hand
that made it; but He would take from the tears the bitterness of
hopelessness, and would throw on them His own blessed Light,--a new
direct word of revelation from Himself,--Love and Light as He
is,--till, like the clouds in the physical world, they shine with a
glory that even the cloudless sky knows not.

_First_, then, all must be grounded and based on faith in the Lord
Jesus.  We are talking to those who share with us in a common divine
faith.  _We believe that Jesus died_: but more, _we believe that He
rose again_: and here alone is the foundation of true hope or comfort.
They who believe not or know not this are as absolutely hopeless--as
comfortless--as Ecclesiastes: they are "the rest which have no hope."
True divine Hope is a rare sweet plant, whose root is found _only_ in
His empty tomb, whose flower and fruit are in heaven itself.  Based on
this, comforts abound; and in every step the living Lord Jesus is seen:
His resurrection throws its blessed light everywhere.  If One has
actually risen from the dead, what glorious possibilities follow.

For as to those who are falling asleep, is _He_ insensible to that
which moves us so deeply?  Nay; He Himself has put them to sleep.  They
are fallen asleep [not "in," as our version says, but] _through_
(_dia_) Jesus.  He who so loved them has Himself put them to sleep.  No
matter what the outward, or apparent, causes of their departure to
_sight_, faith sees the perfect love of the Lord Jesus giving "His
beloved sleep."  Sight may take note only of the flying stones as they
crush the martyr's body; mark, with horror, the breaking bone, the
bruised and bleeding flesh; hear the air filled with the confusion of
shouts of imprecation, and mocking blasphemy; but to faith all is
different: to her the spirit of the saint, in perfect calm, is enfolded
to the bosom of Him who has loved and redeemed it, whilst the same Lord
Jesus hushes the bruised and mangled form to _sleep_, as in the holy
quiet of the sanctuary.

Let our faith take firm hold of this blessed word, "fallen asleep
through Jesus," for our comfort.  So shall we be able to instil this
comfort into the wounded hearts of others,--comforting them with the
comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.  What would
Solomon have given to have known this?

_Second_, the mind must be gently loosened from occupation with itself
and its own loss; and that by no rebuke or harsh word, so out of place
with sorrow, but by the _assumption_, at least, that it is for the loss
that the departed themselves suffer that we grieve.  It is because we
love them that our tears flow: but suppose we know beyond a question
that _they_ have suffered no loss by being taken away from this scene,
would not that modify our sorrow?  Yea; would it not change its
character completely, extracting bitterness from it?  So that blessed
Lord Himself comforted His own on the eve of His departure: "If ye
loved me, ye would rejoice because I go unto my Father, for my Father
is greater than I."  The more you love me, the less--not the more--will
you sorrow.  Nay; you would change the sorrow into actual joy.  _The
measure of the comfort is exactly the measure of the love_.  That is
surely divine.  So here, "You are looking forward to the day when your
rejected Lord Jesus shall be manifested in brightest glories: your
beloved have not missed their share in that triumph.  God will show
them the same "path of life" He showed their Shepherd (Ps. xvi.), and
will "bring them with Him" in the train of their victorious Lord.

_Third_.  But is that triumph, that joy, so far off that it can only be
seen through the dim aisles and long vistas of many future ages and
generations?  Must our comfort be greatly lessened by the thought that
while that end is "sure," it is still "very far off,"--a thousand years
may--nay, some say, _must_--have to intervene; and must we sorrowfully
say, like the bereaved saint of old, "I shall go to him, but he shall
not return to me"?  Not at all.  Better, far better than that.  For
Faith's cheerful and cheering voice is "we who are alive and remain."
That day is so close ever to faith that there is nothing between us and
it.  No long weary waiting expected; and that very _attitude_--that
very hope--takes away the "weariness" from the swift passing days.
Those dear saints of old grasped and cherished this blessed hope that
their saviour Lord would return even during their life.  Did they lose
anything by so cherishing it?  Have we gained by our giving it up?  Has
the more "reasonable" expectation that, after all, the tomb shall be
our lot as theirs, made our days brighter, happier, and so to speed
more quickly?  Has it made us more separate from the world, more
heavenly in character, given us less in common with the worldling?  Has
this safe "reasoning" made us to abound in works of love, labors of
faith, and in patience of hope, as did the "unreasonable" and
"mistaken" hope of His immediate coming the dear Thessalonians of old?
For look at the first chapter, and see how the "waiting for the Son
from heaven" worked.  Again I ask, have we improved on this?  _Can_ we
improve upon it?  Was it not far better, then, for them--if these its
happy accompaniments--to hold fast, even to their last breath, that
hope; and even to pass off this scene clasping it still fondly to their
hearts, than our dimmed and dull faith with--it may be boldly said--all
the sad loss that accompanies this?

Hold it fast, my brethren, "_We who are alive and remain_."  Let that
be the only word in our mouths, the only hope in our hearts.  It is a
cup filled to the brim with comfort.  How they ring with life and hope
in contrast with the dull, heavy, deathful word of poor
Ecclesiastes--"For that is the end of all men"!

Oh, spring up brighter in all our hearts, thou divinely given, divinely
sustained Hope!

_Fourth_.--"For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a
shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and
the dead in Christ shall rise first."

Another sweet and holy word of comfort.  We have seen Jesus putting His
saints to sleep, as to their bodies; and here we see the same Lord
Jesus Himself bidding them rise.  No indiscriminate general
resurrection this: "the dead in Christ" alone are concerned: they rise
first.  He who died for them knows them; and they, too, have known His
voice in life: that same voice now awakens them, and bids them rise as
easily as the little damsel at the "Talitha Cumi"!  How precious is
this glorious word of the Lord!  How perfect the order!  No
awe-inspiring trumpet, "sounding long and waxing loud," as at Sinai of
old, awakening the panic-stricken dead, and bidding them come to an
awful judgment.  Such the picture that man's dark unbelief and guilty
conscience have drawn.  Small comfort would we have for mourners were
that true.  God be thanked it is not.  Their Saviour's well-known voice
that our dead have loved shall awaken them, ringing full and true in
every tone and note of it with the love He has borne them.  Then the
voice of the Archangel Michael, the great marshal of God's victorious
hosts shall range our ranks.  This accomplished, and all in the perfect
divine order of victory, the trumpet shall sound and the redeemed shall
begin their triumphant, blissful, upward flight.

_Fifth_.--But the Spirit of God desires us to get and to give the
comfort of another precious word.  In no strange unknown company shall
we who are alive and remain start on that homeward journey, but
"together with them."  Who that has known the agony of broken
heart-strings does not see the infinitely gracious tender comfort in
those three words, "together with them"?  There is reunion.  Once more
we shall be in very deed with those we love, with never a thought or
fear of parting more to shadow the mutual joy.  In view of those three
words it were simple impertinence to question whether we shall
recognize our dear saints who have preceded us.  Not only would such a
question rob them of their beauty, but of their very meaning.  They
would be empty and absolutely meaningless in such case.  Sure, beyond a
peradventure, is it that our most cherished anticipations shall be far
exceeded in that rapturous moment; for we can but reason from
experience, whilst here the sweetest communion has ever been marred by
that which there shall not be.

How sweet the prospect, my sorrowing bereaved readers!  We shall, as
God is true, look once more into the very faces of those we have known
and loved in the Lord on earth.  They awake to recognition as Magdalene
at the word "Mary;" not to a renewed earthly companionship, nor to a
relationship as known in the flesh, as poor Mary thought, but to a
sweeter, as well as higher; a warmer, as well as purer communion; for
the tie that there shall bind us together is that which is stronger,
sweeter than all others, even here,--Jesus Christ the Lord.

But stay!  Does this really meet fully the present sorrow?  Does it
give a satisfying comfort?  Is there not a lurking feeling of
disappointment that certain relationships with their affections are
never to be restored; therefore, in certain ways, "recognition" is not
probable?  For instance, a husband loses the companion of his life.  He
shall, it is true, meet and recognize with joy a saint whom he knew on
earth, but never again his _wife_.  That sweet, pure, human affection,
is never to be renewed.  Death's rude hand has chilled that warmth
forever.  The shock of death has extinguished it forevermore.  Is that
exactly true?  Is that just as Scripture puts it?  Let us see.

We may justly reason that if, in the resurrection, relationships were
exactly as here, sorrow would necessarily outweigh joy.  To find broken
families there would be a perpetuation of earth's keenest distresses.
To know that that break was irreparable would cause a grief unutterable
and altogether inconsistent with the joy of the new creation.  Marriage
there is not, and hence all relationships of earth we may safely gather
are not there.  But the natural affections of the soul of man have they
absolutely come to nothing?

That soul, connected as it is with that which is higher than
itself--the spirit--is immortal, and its powers and attributes must be
in activity beyond death.  It is the seat of the affections here, and,
surely, there too.  Why, then, shall not these affections there have
full unhindered play?  Let us seek to gather something from analogy.
Knowledge has its seat in the spirit of man, and here he exercises that
faculty; nor does the spirit any more than the soul cease to exist; nor
are its attributes therefore to be arrested.  Yet we read of knowledge
in that scene, "it shall vanish away."  And why?  Is it not because of
the perfect light that there shines?  Human knowledge is but a candle,
and what worth is candlelight when the noonday sun shines?  It is
overwhelmed, swallowed up, by perfect light.  It "vanishes away,"--is
not extinguished, any more than is human knowledge, by the shock of
death or change; but perfection of Light has done away with the very
appearance of imperfection.  Now is this not equally and exactly true
of that other part of the divine nature--Love?  _Here_ we both know in
part and love in part.  _There_ the perfection of Love causes that
which is imperfect--the human affection of the soul--to "vanish away."
The greater swallows up the less.  The infinite attraction of the Lord
Jesus--that "glory" which He prayed that we might see (John
xvii.)--overwhelms all lower affections with no rough rude shock as of
death, but by the very superabundance of the bliss.  His glory!  What
is it but the radiant outshining of His infinitely blessed, infinitely
attractive, divine nature,--Love and Light, Light and Love,--each
swallowing up in their respective spheres every inferior imperfect
reflection of them that we have enjoyed here in this scene of
imperfection, leaving nothing to be desired, nothing missed; allowing
perfect play to every human faculty and affection,--crushing,
extinguishing none.  Death has not been permitted to annul these
faculties.  The perfect love of the Lord Jesus has outstripped them,
swallowed them up in warmer affections, sweeter communion.

The coming of that precious Saviour is close: just as close is the
fulfillment of those words, "together with them."  "He maketh the
clouds His chariots," and in those chariots we are taken home
"together."

_Sixth_.--"To meet the Lord in the air."  Another word of divine
comfort, again.  How bold the assertion!  Its very boldness is
assurance of its truth.  It becomes God, and God only, so to speak that
His people may both recognize His voice in its majesty and rest on His
word.  No speculation; no argument; no deduction; no reasoning; but a
bare, authoritative statement, startling in its boldness.  Not a
syllable of past Scripture on which to build and to give color to it;
and yet _when_ revealed, _when_ spoken, in perfect harmony with the
whole of Scripture.  How absolutely impossible for any man to have
conceived that the Lord's saints should be caught up to meet Him "_in
the air_."  Were it not true, its very boldness and apparent
foolishness would be its refutation.  And what must be the character of
mind that would even seek to invent such a thought?  What depths of
awful wickedness it would bespeak!  What cruelty thus to attempt to
deceive the whole race!  What corruption, thus to speak false in the
holiest matters, attaching the Lord's name to a falsehood!  The spring
from which such a statement, if false, could rise must be corrupt
indeed.  But, oh, how different in fact!  What severe righteousness!
what depths of holiness! what elevated morality! what warmth of tender
affection! what burning zeal, combined with the profoundest reasoning,
characterize every word of the writer of this same statement!  Every
word that he has written testifies that he has _not_ attempted to
deceive.

There is, perhaps, one other alternative: the writer may have _believed
himself_ thus inspired, and was thus self-deceived  But in this case
far gone in disease must his mind have been; nor could it fail
constantly to give striking evidence of being thus unhinged in other
parts of his writings.  This is a subject with which unbalanced minds
have shown their inability to be much occupied without the most
sorrowful evidences of the disease under which they suffer.  Let there
be independence of the Scriptures (as there confessedly is in this
case), and let man's mind work in connection with this subject of the
Lord's second coming, and all history has but one testimony: such minds
become unbalanced, and feverish disquietude evidences itself by
constant recurrence to the one theme.  Find, on the other hand, one
single instance, if you can, in which such a mind makes mention _once,
and only once_, of that subject that has so overmastered every other as
to have deceived him into the belief that falsehood is truth, his own
imagination is the inspiration of the Spirit of God!

Have you not wondered why this wondrous word of revelation occurs thus
in detail once and only once?  Is it not one of the weapons of those
who contend against this our hope that we base too much on this
isolated Scripture text?  Not that that is true, for all Scripture, as
we have said, is in perfect harmony and accord with it; but what a
perfect, complete, thorough answer, this fact gives to the other
alternative--that the writer was self-deceived.  This is impossible;
or, like every other self-deceived man that ever lived, he would have
pressed his one theme in every letter, forced it on unwilling minds
every time he opened his mouth or took up his pen.

  "No wild enthusiast ever yet could rest
  Till half mankind were like himself possessed."


'Tis an attractive theme.  Long could we linger here, but we must pass
on; but before leaving, let us see if we were justified in saying that
whilst this word is based on no previous Scripture, yet, when spoken,
it is in harmony with all.  First, then, is it not in perfect accord
with the peculiar character and calling of the Church?  Israel, as a
nation, finds her final deliverance on the earth.  Her calling and her
hopes have ever been limited to this scene.  Fitting then, indeed, it
is that she be saved by her Deliverer's _feet standing once more on the
Mount of Olives_ (Zach. xiv. 4), and the judgment of the living nations
should then take place.  But with the Church, how different: her
blessings heavenly; her character heavenly; her calling heavenly.  Is
it not, then, in accord with this that her meeting with her Lord should
be literally heavenly, too?  Israel, exponent of the righteous
government of God, may rightly long to "dip her foot in the blood of
the wicked."  Nor can she expect or know of any deliverance except, as
of old, in victories in the day of battle.  The Church, exponent of the
exceeding riches of His grace, is of another spirit; and our
deliverance "in the air" permits--nay, necessitates--our echoing that
gracious word of our Lord, "Father, forgive them."

Then too, how beautifully this rapture follows the pattern of His whom
the Lord's people now are following even to a dwelling that has no name
nor place on earth (John i. 38, 39).  The clouds received Him: they,
too, shall receive us.  Unseen by the world He left the world, too busy
with its occupations to note or care for the departure of Him who is
its Light.  So the poor feeble glimmer of the Lord's dear people now
shall be lost, secretly, as it were, to the world in which they shine
as lights, leaving it in awful gloomy darkness till the Day dawn and
the Sun arise.

Nor is illustration or type lacking.  In Enoch, caught up before the
judgment of the flood, surely we may see a figure of the rapture of the
heavenly saints before the antitype of the flood, the tribulation that
is to try "the dwellers upon the earth," as in Noah brought through
that judgment, a picture of the earthly ones.

In this connection, too, what could be more exquisitely harmonious than
the way in which the Lord thus presents Himself to the expectant faith
of His earthly and heavenly people?  To the former the full plain Day
is ushered in by the Sun of Righteousness arising with healing in His
wings: for that Day they look.  To the latter, who are watching through
the long hours of the night, the Bright and Morning Star shining ere
the first beams of the Sun are thrown upon the dark world is the object
of faith and hope.

Is not the word that believers shall, "meet the Lord in the air" in
absolute accord with these different aspects of the Lord as Star and
Sun?  Most certainly it is.

More than at any other time, a solid foundation for comfort is needed
in times of deep grief.  Then the hosts of darkness press round the
dismayed spirit; clouds of darkness roll across the mental sky; the sun
and all light is hidden; in the storm-wrack the fiery darts of the
wicked one fall thick as rain.  Every long-accepted truth is
questioned; the very foundations seem to dissolve.  A firm foothold,
indeed, must we have on which to stand at such a time.  Faith must be
seen not at war with her poor blind--or at least short-sighted--sister
Reason, but in perfect accord, leading her, with her feebler powers, by
the hand.  But here is where the world's efforts to comfort--and,
indeed, alas, the worldly Christians too--lack.  Sentimentalism abounds
here; and the poor troubled heart is told to stand fast on airy
speculations, and to distil comfort from wax-flowers, as it were,--the
creations of the imagination.  How solid the comfort here given in
contrast with all this.  _God_ speaks, and in the _Light_, that with
clear yet gentle ray, exactly meets the needs of our present
distress,--in the _Love_ that in its infinite tenderness and beautiful
delicacy knows how to heal the wounded spirit,--in the grand
_authority_ that rests on no other word or testimony for proof,--and
yet in the perfect, absolute _harmony_ with the whole scope of His own
holy word, we, His children, recognize again His voice; for never man
could speak thus, and we are comforted, and may comfort one another.

_It is true_.  _It is divine_.  We shall meet the Lord in the air.
Happy journey that, in such a company to such a goal,--to meet the
Lord!  Who can picture the joy of that upward flight?  What words
extract the comfort of that meeting,--the Lord,--our Lord,--alone with
Him,--"together with them,"--in the quiet chambers of the air!

_Seventh_.--"And so shall we ever be with the Lord."  There is an
eternity of unmingled bliss.  How short the time of separation, oh ye
mourning ones, compared with this!  The pain is but for a moment,
whilst there is a far more exceeding and eternal weight of comfort.

What a contrast!  Death is the sad, gloomy, mysterious, unknown
boundary for all, groans Ecclesiastes, "for that is the end of all
men."  There is no end to the joy of the redeemed, says Revelation; and
Faith sings "forever with the Lord."  What deep need of Himself has
this man's heart, that He has made.  If in this sad scene we get one
ray of true comfort it is when "with Him"; one thrill of true joy it is
when "with Him"; one hour of true peace it is when "with Him."  We were
intended, meant, created, _to need Him_.  Let us remember that, and
then see the sweet comfort in that word, "so shall we _ever_ be with
the Lord."  Man is at last, may it be said, in his _element_.  His
spirit gets the communion that it needs--with Him forever; his soul,
the love it needs, in Him forever; his body the perfection it
needs--like Him forever!  Is not this revelation self-evidently of
God--worthy of Him--possible only to Him?

Again, let us ask what would Solomon have given for a song like this,
instead of his mournful, groan "for death is the end of all men"!
Alas, as he goes on, he finds that even this is not the case, except as
regards the scene "under the sun."  He finds it impossible to escape a
conclusion, as startling as it is logical, that there is another scene
to which death may introduce, from which there is no escape.

Our writer, ignorant as he confessedly is of this glorious light of
divine revelation, still speaks in praise of the feeble glimmer that
human wisdom gives.  From his point of view, wealth and wisdom are both
good,--are a "defense" or "shadow" to their possessors; but still that
which men generally esteem the most--wealth--is given the second place;
for knowledge, or wisdom, has in itself a positive virtue that money
lacks.  It "gives life to them that have it," animates, preserves in
life, modifies, at least in measure, the evils from which it cannot
altogether guard its possessor; and, by giving equanimity to a life of
change and vicissitude, proves, in some sort, its own life-giving
energy.  How infinitely true this is with regard to Him who is absolute
infinite Wisdom, and who is our Life, it is our health and joy to
remember.

The Preacher continues: Ponder the work of God, but you will find
nothing in anything that you can _see_ that shall enable you to
forecast the future with any certainty.  Adversity follows prosperity,
and my counsel is to make the best use of both,--enjoy this when it
comes, and let that teach you that God's ways are inscrutable, nor can
you straighten out the tangle of His providences.  Evidently he
_intends_ these vicissitudes that still follow no definite rule, so
that man may recognize his own ignorance and impotence.  In one word,
reason as you may from all that you can _see_, and your reason will
throw no ray of light on God's future dealings.  And there again,
having brought us face to face with a dense, impenetrable cloud,
Ecclesiastes leaves us.

How awful that dark cloud is, it is difficult for us now to realize, so
accustomed are we to the light God's word has given.  But were it
possible to blot out entirely from our minds all that Word has taught
us, and place ourselves for a moment just by the side of our
"Preacher," look alone through _his_ eyes, recognize with him the
existence of the Creator whose glorious Being is so fully shown in all
His works, and yet with nothing whereby to judge of His disposition
toward us except what we _see_,--in the physical world the blasting
storm sweeping over the landscape that but now spoke only in its
beauties and bounties of His love and benevolence, leaving in its
desolating track, not only ruined homesteads and blighted harvests;
but, far worse, the destruction of all our hopes, of all the estimates
we had formed of Him.  In the world of providences the thoughts of His
love, based on yesterday's peace and prosperity, all denied and swept
away by to-day's sorrows and adversities,--awful, agonizing
uncertainty!  And, since all is surely in His hand, to be compelled to
recognize that He _permits_, at least, these alternations "_to the end
that_ (with that express purpose) man should find nothing of what shall
be after Him"!  Reason, or Intelligence, with all her highest powers,
stands hopeless and helpless before that dark future, and wrings her
hands in agony.

But look, my beloved reader, at that man who speeds his way with fleet
and steady footfall.  His swift tread speaks no uncertainty nor doubt
of mind.  Mark the earnest, concentrated, forward look.  His eye is
upward, and something he sees there is drawing him with powerful
magnetic attraction quite contrary to the course or path of men at
large.  He presses against the stream: the multitude are floating in
the other direction.  As with the kine of Bethshemesh, some hidden
power takes him in a course quite contrary to all the ties or calls of
mere nature.  Look at him,--irrespective of anything else, the figure
itself is a grand sight.  The path he has chosen lies through the
thorny shrubs of endurance, afflictions, necessities, distresses,
stripes, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watchings, and fastings.  No
soft or winsome meadow-way this, nor one that any would choose, except
he were under some strong conviction,--whether true or false,--that
will surely be admitted.  For men have at rare times suffered much even
in the cause of error; but never for that which they themselves _knew_
to be false, and which at the same time brought them no glory,--nothing
to feed their vanity, or pride, or exalt them in any way.  Admit, then,
for a moment, that he is self-deceived, under some strong delusion, and
that the object of which he is in pursuit is but a phantom.  Then mark
the path in which that phantom leads: it has turned him from being a
blasphemer, persecutor, and an insolent, overbearing man (1 Tim. 1),
into one of liveliest affections, most tender sympathies, a lowly
servant of all; it has given him a joy that no wave of trouble can
quench, a song that dungeons cannot silence, a transparent truthfulness
which permits a lie nowhere; and all this results from that which is in
itself a delusion,--a lie!  Oh, holy "delusion"!  Oh, wondrous,
truth-loving, wonder-working "lie"!  Was ever such a miracle, that a
falsehood works truth?--that a delusion, instead of leading into marsh,
or bog, or quicksand, as other will-o'-the-wisps ever and always have,
leads along a morally elevated path where every footstep rings with the
music of divine certainty, as though it trod upon a rock!  Such a
miracle, contrary to all reason, is worthy of acceptance only by the
blind, childish, credulity of infidelity.  Whatever the object before
him, then, it is _real_; his convictions are soberly and well founded;
he runs his race to no visionary, misty goal; but some actual reality
is the lode-star of his life.  Let us listen to his own explanation:
"forgetting those things that are being, reaching forth unto those that
are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling
of God in Christ Jesus."  But Solomon, the wisest of the wise, groans
no man can find out "that which shall come after him"; or, in other
words, that future of which Paul sings: I have heard a voice that has
called from heaven, and looking up I have seen a Light that has
darkened every other.  One in beauty and attraction infinite,--to Him I
press.  _He is before me_, and not till Him I reach will I rest.
Blessed contrast!

Now, my dear reader, let us also seek to keep our eye on that same
Object, for the man at whom we have been looking is one just like
ourselves, with every passion that we have, and the One who drew him
can draw you and me,--Who satisfied him can satisfy us, for He who
loved and died for him has loved and died for us.

And since we are not now contemplating the wondrous cross, but His
glory, let us sing together:--

  Oh, my Saviour glorified!
  Now the heavens opened wide
  Show to Faith's exultant eye
  One in beauteous majesty.

  Worthy of the sweetest praise
  That my ransomed heart can raise,
  Is that Man in whom alone
  God Himself is fully known.

  For those clust'ring glories prove
  That glad gospel "God is Love,"
  Whilst those wounds, in glory bright,
  Voice the solemn "God is Light."

  Holy Light, whose searching ray
  Brings but into perfect day
  Beauties that my heart _must_ win
  To the Sinless once made Sin.

  Hark, my soul!  Thy Saviour sings;
  Catch the joy that music brings;
  And, with that sweet flood of song,
  Pour thy whisp'ring praise along.

  For no film of shade above
  Hides me now from perfect Love.
  Deep assurance all is right
  Gives me peace in perfect Light.

  Find I then on God's own breast
  Holy, happy, perfect rest,
  In the person of my Lord,--
  "Ever be His name adored!"

  Oh, my Saviour glorified,
  Turn my eye from all beside.
  Let me but Thy beauty see,--
  Other light is dark to me.


But the Preacher's experiences of anomalies are by no means ended.
These alternations of adversity and prosperity, he says, whilst there
is no forecasting _when_ they will come, so there seems to be no
safeguard, even in righteousness and wisdom, against them.  They are
not meted out here at all on the lines of righteousness.  The just man
dies in his righteousness, whilst the wicked lives on in his
wickedness: therefore be not righteous overmuch; do not abstain, or
withdraw thyself, from the natural blessings of life, making it joyless
and desolate; but then err not on the other side, going into folly and
licentiousness,--a course which naturally tends to cut off life itself.
It is the narrow way of philosophy: as said the old Latins, "Medio
tutissimus ibis," "midway is safety"; but Solomon is here again, as we
have seen before, on a far higher moral elevation than any of the
heathen philosophers, for he has one sheet-anchor for his soul from the
evils of either extreme, in the fear of God.

As for the despairing, hopeless groans of "vanity," we, with our
God-given grace, learn to feel pity for our Author, so for his moral
elevation do we admire him, whilst for his sincerity and love of truth
we learn to respect and love him.  See in the next few verses that
clear, cold, true, reason of his, confessing the narrow limits of its
powers, and yet the whole soul longs, as if it would burst all bars to
attain to that which shall solve its perplexity.  "Thus far have I
attained by wisdom," he says, "and yet still I cry for wisdom.  I see
far off the place where earth can reach and touch the heavens; but
when, by weary toil and labor, I reach that spot, those heavens are as
inimitably high above me as ever, and an equally long journey lies
between me and the horizon where they meet.  Oh, that I might be wise;
but it was far from me."

Now, in our version, the next verse reads very tamely and flat, in view
of the strong emotion under which it is so clear that the whole of the
book was written.  "That which is far off and exceeding deep, who can
find it out?"  The Revised, both in text and margin, gives us a hint of
another thought, "That which is, or hath been, is afar off," etc.  But
other scholars, in company with the Targum and many an old Jewish
writer, lift the verse into harmony with the impassioned utterances of
this noble man, as he expresses in broken ejaculatory phrase his
longings and his powerlessness:

  "Far off, the past,--what is it?
  Deep,--that deep!  Ah, who can sound?
  Then turned I, and my heart, to learn, explore.
  To seek out wisdom, reason--sin to know--
  Presumption--folly--vain impiety.


He _must_ unravel the mystery, and turns thus, once more, with his sole
companion, his own heart, to measure everything,--even sin, folly,
impiety,--and more bitter even than that bitter death that has again
and again darkened all his counsel and dashed his hopes, is one awful
evil that he has found.

One was nearest Adam in the old creation.  Taken _from_ his side, a
living one, she was placed _at_ his side to share with him his wide
dominion over that fair, unsullied scene.  Strong where he was weak,
and weak where he was strong, how evidently was she meant of an
all-gracious and all-wise Creator as a true helpmeet for him: his
complement--filling up his being.  But that old creation is as a vessel
reversed, so that the highest is now the lowest,--the best has become
the worst,--the closest may be the most dangerous; and foes spring even
from within households.  Intensified disorder and confusion!  When she
who was so clearly intended by her strength of affection to call into
rightful play the affections of man's heart, whose very weakness and
dependence should call forth his strength--alas, our writer has found
that that heart is too often a snare and a net, and those hands drag
down to ruin the one to whom they cling.  It is the clearest sign of
God's judgment to be taken by those nets and bands, as of his mercy, to
escape them.  Thus evil ever works, dual--as is good--in character.
Opposed to the Light and Love of God we find a liar and murderer in
Satan himself; corruption and violence in man, under Satan's power.
The weaker vessel makes up for lack of strength by deception; and
whilst the man of the earth expresses the violence, so the woman of the
earth has become, ever and always, the expression of corruption and
deceit, as here spoken of by our preacher, "her heart snares and nets;
her hands as bands."

But further in his search for wisdom, the Preacher has found but few
indeed who would or could accompany him in his path.  A man here and
there, one in a thousand, would be his companion, but no single woman.
This statement strongly evidences that the gospel is outside his
sphere; the new creation is beyond his ken.  He takes into no account
the sovereign grace of God, that in itself can again restore, and more
than restore, all to their normal conditions, and make the weaker
vessel fully as much a vessel unto honor as the stronger, giving her a
wide and blessed sphere of activity; in which love--the divine nature
within--may find its happy exercise and rest.  Naturally, and apart
from this grace, the woman does not give herself to the same exercise
of mind as does the man.

But then, is it thus that man came from his Maker's hands?  Has He, who
stamped His own perfection on all His works, permitted an awful hideous
exception in the moral nature of man?  Does human reason admit such a
possible incongruity?  No, indeed.  Folly may claim license for its
lusts in the plea of a nature received from a Creator.  Haughty pride,
on the other hand, may deny that nature altogether.  The clearer,
nobler, truer, philosophy of our writer justifies God, even in view of
all the evil that makes him groan, and he says, "Lo, this only have I
found, that God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many
inventions."

Interesting as well as beautiful it is to hear this conclusion of man's
reason, not at all in view of the exceeding riches of God's grace, but
simply looking at _facts_, in the light that Nature gives.  Man neither
is, nor can be, an exception to the rule.  God has made him upright.
If not so now, it is because he has departed from this state, and his
many inventions, or _arts_ (as Luther translates the word
significantly), his devices, his search after new things (but the word
"inventions" expresses the thought of the original correctly), are so
many proofs of dissatisfaction and unrest.

He may, in that pride, which turns everything to its own glory, point
to these very inventions as evidences of his progress; and in a certain
way they do unquestionably speak his intelligence and immense
superiority over the lower creation.  Yet the very invention bespeaks
need; for most truthful is the proverb, "Necessity is the mother of
invention"; and surely in the way of Nature _necessity_ is not a glory,
but a shame.  Let him glory in his inventions, then; and his glory is
in his shame.  Adam in his Eden of delights, upright, content, thought
never of invention.  He took from God's hand what God gave, with no
need to make calls upon his own ingenuity to supply his longings.  The
fall introduces the inventive faculty, and human ingenuity begins to
work to overcome the need, of which now, for the first time, man
becomes aware; but we hear no singing in connection with that first
invention of the apron of fig-leaves.  That faculty has marked his path
throughout the centuries.  Not always at one level, or ever moving in
one direction,--it has risen and fallen, with flow and ebb, as the
tides; now surging upward with skillful "artifice in brass and iron,"
and to the music of "harp and organ," until it aims at heaven itself,
and the Lord again and again interposes and abases by flood and
scattering,--now ebbing, till apparently extinct in the low-sunken
tribes of earth.  Its activity is the accompaniment usually of the
light that God gives, and which man takes, and turns to his own
boasting, with no recognition of the Giver, calling it "civilization."
The Lord's saints are not, for the most part, to be found amongst the
line of inventors.  The seed of Cain, and not the seed of Seth,
produces them.  The former make the earth their home, and naturally
seek to beautify it, and make it comfortable.  The latter, with deepest
soul-thirst, quenched by rills of living water springing not here; with
heart-longings satisfied by an infinite, tender, divine Love, pass
through the earth strangers and pilgrims, to the Rest of God.

Let us glance forward a little.  The Church is not found on earth; but
the earth still is the scene of man's invention; and with that
surpassing boast "opposing and exalting himself above all that is
called God, or is worshiped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God
showing himself that he is God," he heads up his wickedness and
ingenuity together, in calling down fire from heaven and in making "the
image of the beast to breathe."  (Rev. xiii. 14, 15.)  'Tis his last
crowning effort,--his day is over,--and the flood and the scattering of
old shall have their awful antitype in an eternal judgment and
everlasting abasing.

But the heavenly saints have been caught up to their home.  Is there
invention there?  Does human ingenuity still work?  How can it, if
every heart is fully satisfied, and nothing can be improved?  But then
is all at one dead level?  No, surely; for "discovery" shall abide when
"invention" has vanished away,--constant, never-ceasing "discovery."
The unfoldings, hour by hour, and age by age, of a Beauty that is
infinite and inexhaustible,--the tasting a new and entrancing
perfection in a Love in which every moment shows some fresh attraction,
some new sweet compulsion to praise!

Discovery is already "ours," my reader--not invention; and each day,
each hour, each moment, may be fruitful in discovery.  Every difficulty
met in the day's walk may prove but its handmaid; every trial in the
day's path serve but to bring out new and happy discoveries.  Nay, even
grief and sorrow shall have their sweet discoveries, and open up to
sight fountains of water hitherto altogether unknown, as with the
outcast Egyptian mother in the wilderness of Paran, till we learn to
glory in what hitherto was our sorrow, and to welcome infirmities and
ignorance, for they show us a spring of infinite Strength and a
fountain of unfathomable Wisdom, that eternal Love puts at our service!
Oh, to grow in Faith's Discoveries!

Philip had a grand opportunity for "discovery," in the sixth of John;
but, poor man, he lost it; for he fell back on creature resources, or,
in other words, "Invention."  Brought face to face with difficulty, how
good it would have been for him to have said, "Lord Jesus, I am empty
of wisdom, nor have I any resources to meet this need; but my heart
rests in Thee: I joy in this fresh opportunity for Thee to display Thy
glory, for thou knowest what Thou wilt do."  Oh, foolish Philip, to
talk of every one having a _little_, in that Presence of infinite Love,
infinite Power.  Do I thus blame him?  Then let this day see me looking
upward at every difficulty, and saying "Lord, Thou knowest what Thou
wilt do."

  The morning breaks, my heart awakes,
    And many thoughts come crowding o'er me,--
  What hopes or fears, what smiles or tears
    Are waiting in that path before me?

  Am I to roam afar from home,
    By Babel's streams, in gloom despondent?
  On sorrow's tree must my harp be
    To grief's sad gusts alone respondent?

  The mists hang dank, on front and flank,
    My straining eye can naught discover;
  But well I know that many a foe
    Around that narrow path doth hover.

  Nor this alone would make me groan,--
    Alas, a traitor dwells within me;
  With hollow smile and heart of guile
    The world without, too, plots to win me.

  Thus I'm beset with foes, and yet
    I would not miss a single danger:
  Each foe's a friend that makes me wend
    My homeward way,--on earth a stranger.

  For never haze dims _upward_ gaze,--
    Oh, glorious sight! for there above me
  Upon God's throne there sitteth One
    Who died to save--who lives to love me!

  And like the dew each dayspring new
    That tender love shall onward lead me:
  My thirst shall slake, yet thirst awake
    Till every breath shall pant:--"I need Thee."

  No wisdom give; I'd rather live
    In conscious lack dependent on Thee:
  Each parting way I meet this day
    Then proves my claim to call upon Thee.

  No strength I ask, for Thine the task
    To bear Thine own on Shepherd-shoulder.
  Then Faith may boast when helpless most,
    And greater need make weakness bolder.

  Then Lord, thy breast is, too, my rest;
    And there, as in my home, I'm hidden,--
  Where quiet peace makes groanings cease,
    And Zion's songs gush forth unbidden.

  Yes, e'en on earth may song have birth,
    And music rise o'er Nature's groanings,--
  Whilst Hope new born each springing morn
    Dispel with joy my faithless moanings.



CHAPTER VIII.

Still continues the praise of "wisdom."  For if, as the last verses of
the previous chapters have shown, there be but very few that walk in
her paths, she necessarily lifts those few far above the thoughtless
mass of men; placing her distinguishing touch even on the features of
her disciples, lighting them up with intelligence, and taking away the
rudeness and pride that may be natural to them.

"Man's wisdom lighteth up his face--its aspect stern is changed."

If this, then, the result, listen to her counsels: "Honor the king,"
nor be connected with any conspiracy against him.  It is true that
authorities are as much "out of joint" as everything else under the
sun; and instead of being practically "ministers of God for good," are
but too often causes of further misery upon poor man; yet wisdom
teaches to wait and watch.  Everything has a time and season; and
instead of seeking to put matters right by conspiracy, await the turn
of the wheel; for this is most sure, that nothing is absolutely
permanent here--the evil of a tyrant's life any more than good.  His
power shall not release him from paying the debt of nature; it helps
him not to retain his spirit.

  This too I saw,--'twas when I gave my heart
  To every work that's done beneath the sun,--
  That there's a time when man rules over man to his own hurt.
  'Twas when I saw the wicked dead interred,
  And to and from the holy place (men) came and went.
  Then straight were they forgotten in the city of their deeds.
  Ah, this was vanity!

Thus our Preacher describes the end of the tyrant.  Death ends his
tyranny, as it does, for the time being at least, the misery of those
who were under it.  Men follow him to his burial, to the holy place,
return to their usual avocations--all is over and forgotten.  The
splendor and power of monarchy now show their hollowness and vanity by
so quickly disappearing, and even their memory vanishing, at the touch
of death.  And yet this retributive end is by no means speedy in every
case.  Sentence is often deferred, and the delay emboldens the heart of
man to further wickedness.  Still, he says, "I counsel to fear God,
irrespective of present appearances.  I am assured this is the better
part: fear God, and, soon or late, the end will justify thy choice."

Beautiful and interesting it is thus to see man's unaided reason, his
own intelligence, carrying him to this conclusion: that there is
nothing better than to "fear God;" and surely this approves itself to
any intelligence.  He has impressed the proofs of His glorious Being on
every side of His creature, man.  "Day unto day uttereth speech;" and
the Sun, that rejoiceth as a strong man to run his race, voices aloud,
in his wondrous adaptations to the needs of this creation on which he
shines, His Being--His eternal power and godhead.  Not only light but
warmth he brings, for "there is nothing hid from the heat thereof," and
in this twofold benevolence testifies again to his Creator, who is Love
and Light.  Further, wherever he shines he manifests infinite
testimonies to the same truth.  From the tiny insect that balances or
disports itself with the joy of life in his beams, to the grandeur of
the everlasting hills, or the majesty of the broad flood of
ocean--all--all--with no dissentient, discordant voice, proclaim His
being and utter His creative glory.  Nor does darkness necessarily veil
that glory: moon and stars take up the grand and holy strain; and what
man can look at all--have all these witnesses reiterating day and
night, with ever-fresh testimonies every season, the same refrain,

  "The Hand that made us is divine,"

and yet say, even in His heart, "There is no God!" Surely all reason,
all wisdom, human or divine, says "Fool!" to such.

Thus, step by step, human wisdom treads on, and, as here, in her most
worthy representative, "the king," concludes that it is most reasonable
to give that glorious Creator the reverence due, and to "fear" Him.

But soon, very soon, poor reason has to stop, confounded.  Something
has come into the scene that throws her all astray: verse 14--

  "'Tis vanity, what's done upon the earth; for so it is,
  That there are righteous to whom it haps as to the vile;
  And sinners, too, whose lot is like the doings of the just.
      For surely this is vanity, I said."


Yes, man's soul must be, if left to the light of nature, like that
nature itself.  If the sky be ever and always cloudless, then may a
calm and unbroken faith be expected, when based on things seen.  But it
is not so.  Storm and cloud again and again darken the light of nature,
whether that light be physical or moral; and under these storms and
clouds reason is swayed from her highest and best conclusions; and the
contradictions without, are faithfully reflected within the soul.

"And so I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the
sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide
with him of his labor the days of his life, which God giveth him under
the sun."  Here we get the heralds of a storm indeed.  They are the
first big drops that bespeak the coming flood that shall sweep our
writer from all reason's moorings; the play of a lightning that shall
blind man's wisdom to its own light; the sigh of a wind that soon shall
develop into a very blast of despair.

What a contradiction to the previous sober conclusion, "It shall be
well with them that fear God"!  Now, seeing that there is no apparent
justice in the allotment of happiness here, and the fear of God is
often followed by sorrow, while the lawless as often have the easy
lot,--looking on this scene, I say, "Eat, drink, and be merry;" get
what good you can out of life itself; for all is one inextricable
confusion.

Oh, this awful tangle of providences!  Everything is wrong!  All is in
confusion!  There is law everywhere, and yet law-breaking everywhere.
How is it?  Why is it?  Is not God the source of order and harmony?
Whence, then, the discord?  Is it all His retributive justice against
sin?  Why, then, the thoroughly unequal allotment?  Here is a man born
blind.  Surely this cannot be because he sinned before his birth!  But,
then, is it on account of his parents' sinning?  Why, then, do the
guilty go comparatively free, and the guiltless suffer?  Sin, surely,
is the only cause of the infliction.  So the disciples of old, brought
face to face with exactly this same riddle, the same mystery, ask,
"Master, who did sin--this man, or his parents, that he was born
blind?"  "Neither."  Another--higher, happier, more glorious reason,
Jesus gives: "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that
the works of God should be made manifest in him."  So the afflicted
parents weep over their sightless babe; so they nurse him through his
helpless, darkened childhood, or guide him through his lonely youth,
their hearts sorely tempted surely to rebel against the providence that
has robbed their offspring of the light of heaven.  Neighbors, too, can
give but little comfort here.  Why was he born blind?  Who did _the
sin_ that brought this evident punishment?

Oh wait, sorrowing parents! wait, foolish friends!  One is even now on
His glorious way who shall with a word unravel the mystery, ease your
troubled hearts, quell each rebellious motion, till ye only sorrow that
ever a disloyal thought of the God of Love and Light has been
permitted; and, whilst overwhelming you with blessing, answer every
question your hearts--nay, even your intelligences--could ask.

Oh wait, my beloved readers, wait!  We, too, look on a world still all
in confusion.  Nay, ourselves suffer with many an afflictive stroke,
whose cause, too, seems hidden from us, and to contradict the very
character of the God we know.  One only is worthy to unlock this, as
every other, sealed book--wait!  He must make Himself known; _and,
apart from things being wrong, this were impossible_.  "The works of
God must be made manifest."  Precious thought!  Blessed words!
Sightless eyes are allowed for a little season, that He--God--may
manifest _His_ work in giving them light--accompanied by an everlasting
light that knows no dimming.  Tears may fall in time, that God's gentle
and tender touch may dry them, and that for ever and ever.  Nay, Death
himself, with all his awful powers shall be made to serve the same end,
and, a captive foe, be compelled to utter forth His glory.  Lazarus is
suffering, and the sisters are torn with anxiety; but the Lord abides
"two days still in the same place where he" is.  Death is allowed to
have his way for a little space--nay, grasp his victim, and shadow with
his dark wing the home that Jesus loves; and still He moves not.
Strange, mysterious patience!  Does He not care?  Is He calmly
indifferent to the anguish in that far-off cottage?  Has He forgotten
to be gracious? or, most agonizing question of all, Has some inmate of
that home sinned, and chilled thus His love?  How questions throng at
such a time!  But--patience!  All shall be answered, every question
settled--every one; and the glorious end shall fully, perfectly justify
His "waiting."

Let Death have his way.  The power and dignity of his Conqueror will
not permit Him to hasten.  For haste would bespeak anxiety as to the
result; and that result is in no sense doubtful.  The body of the
brother shall even see corruption, and begin to crumble into dust,
under the firm and crushing hand of Death.  Many a tear shall the
sisters shed, and poor human sympathy tell out its helplessness.  But
the Victor comes!  In the calm of assured victory He comes.  And the
"express image of the substance" of the Living God stands face to face
as Man with our awful foe, Death.  And lo, He speaks but a
word--"Lazarus, come forth!"--and the glory of God shines forth with
exceeding brightness and beauty!  Oh, joyous scene! oh, bright figure
of that morn, so soon approaching, when once again that blessed Voice
shall lift itself up in a "shout," that shall be heard, not in one, but
in every tomb of His people, and once more the glory of God shall so
shine in the ranks upon ranks of those myriads, that all shall again
fully justify His "waiting"!

It was indeed a blessed light that shone into the grave of Lazarus.
Such was its glory, that our spirits may quietly rest forever; for we
see our Lord and Eternal Lover is Conqueror and Lord of Death.  Nor
need we ask, with our modern poet, who sings sweetly, but too much in
the spirit of Ecclesiastes,

  Where wert thou, brother, those four days?
  There lives no record of reply,
  Which, telling what it is to die,
  Had surely added praise to praise.

The resurrection of Lazarus does tell us what it is

for His redeemed to die.  It tells that it is but a sleep for the body,
till He come to awaken it,--that those who thus sleep are not beyond
His power, and that a glorious resurrection shall soon "add praise to
praise" indeed.

But do not these blessed words give us a hint, at least, of the answer
to that most perplexing of all questions, Why was evil ever permitted
to disturb the harmony and mar the beauty of God's primal creation,
defile heaven itself, fill earth with corruption and violence, and
still exist even in eternity?  Ah, we tread on ground here where we
need to be completely self-distrustful, and to cleave with absolute
confidence and dependence to the revelation of Himself!

The works of God must be manifested; and He is Light and Love, and
nothing but Light and Love.  Every work of His, then, must speak the
source whence it comes, and be an expression of Light or Love; and the
end, when He shall again--finding everything very good--rest from His
work to enjoy that eternal sabbath, never to be broken, shall shew
forth absolutely in heaven, in earth, and in hell, that He is Light and
Love, and nothing but that.

Light and Love!--blending, harmonizing, in perfect equal manifestation,
in the cross of the Lord Jesus, and--Light now approving Love's
activity--in the righteous eternal redemption of all who believe on
Him; banishing from the new creation every trace of sin, and its
companion, sorrow; whilst the Lake of Fire itself shall prove the
necessity of its own existence to display that same nature of God, and
naught else--Love then approving the activity of Light, as we may say.

As Isaiah shows, in the millennial earth, in those

  "Scenes surpassing fable, and yet true--
  Scenes of accomplished bliss"--

there is still sorrowful necessity for an everlasting memorial of His
righteousness in "the carcases of those men that have transgressed
against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be
quenched; and (mark well the _sympathies_ of that scene) they shall be
an abhorring to all flesh."  Love rejected, mercy neglected, truth
despised, or held in unrighteousness, grace slighted,--nothing is left
whereby the finally impenitent can justify their creation except in
being everlasting testimonies to that side of God's nature, "Light,"
whilst "Love," and all who are in harmony therewith, unfeignedly
_approve_.  All shall be right.  None shall then be perplexed because
"there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the
wicked; again, there be wicked men to whom it happeneth according to
the work of the righteous."  All shall be absolutely right.  No whisper
shall be heard, even in hell itself, of the charges that men so boldly
and blasphemously cast at His holy name now.

God is all in all.  His works are manifested; and whilst it is His
strange work, yet Judgment _is_ His work, as every age in Time has
shown; as the Eternal age, too, shall show--in time, this judgment is
necessarily temporal; in eternity, where character, as all else, is
fixed, it must as necessarily be _eternal_!

Solemn, and perhaps unwelcome, but wholesome theme!  We live in a time
peculiarly characterized by a lack of reverence for _all_ authority.
It is the spirit of the times, and against that spirit the saint must
ever watch and guard himself by meditation on these solemn truths.
Fear is a godly sentiment, a just emotion, in view of the holy
character of our God.  "I will forewarn whom ye shall fear," said the
Lord Jesus: "Fear him which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast
into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him."  The first Christians,
walking in _the fear of the Lord_ as well as the comfort of the Holy
Ghost, were multiplied; and when Annanias and Sapphira fell under God's
judgment, great _fear_ came on all the _church_; whilst apostasy is
marked by men feeding, themselves without fear.

All shall be "_right_."  It is the wrong and disorder and unrighteous
allotment prevailing here that caused the groans of our writer.  Let us
listen to them.  Their doleful, despairing sound shall again add
sweeter tone to the lovely music of God's revelation, speaking, as it
does, of One who solves every mystery, answers every question, heals
every hurt; yea, snatches His own from the very grasp of Death; for all
is _right_, for all is _light_, where Jesus is, and He is coming.
Patience!  Wait!



CHAPTER IX.

The last two verses of Chapter VIII. connect with the opening words of
this chapter.  The more Ecclesiastes applies every faculty he has to
solve the riddle under the sun, robbing himself of sleep and laboring
with strong energy and will, he becomes only the more aware that that
solution is altogether impossible.  The contradictions of nature baffle
the wisdom of nature.  There is no assured sequence, he reiterates,
between righteousness and happiness on the one hand, and sin and misery
on the other.  The whole confusion is in the sovereign hand of God, and
the righteous and the wise must just leave the matter there, for "no
man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them."  What
discrimination is there here?  Do not all things happen alike to all?
Yes, further, does not Time, unchecked by any higher power, sweep all
relentlessly to one common end?  Love cannot be inferred from the "end"
of the righteous, nor hatred from the "end" of the sinner; for it is
one and the same death that stops the course of each.  Oh, this is
indeed an "evil under the sun."

Darker and darker the cloud settles over his spirit; denser and still
more dense the fogs of helpless ignorance and perplexity enwrap his
intelligence.  For, worse still, do men recognize, and live at all
reasonably in view of, that common mortality?  Alas, madness is in
their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead; and
then all hope for them, as far as can be seen, is over forever.  Dead!
What does that mean?  It means that every faculty, as far as can be
seen, is stilled forever.  The dead lion, whose majesty and strength,
while living, would have even now struck me with awe, is less
formidable as it lies there than a living dog.  So with the dead among
men: their hatred is no more to be feared, for it can harm nothing;
their love is no more to be valued, for it can profit nothing; their
zeal and energy are no more to be accounted of, for they can effect
nothing; yea, all has come to an end forever under the sun.  Oh, the
awfulness of this darkness!  "Then I will give," continues
Ecclesiastes, "counsel for this vain life in conformity with the dense
gloom of its close.  Listen!  Go eat with joy thy bread, and merrily
drink thy wine; let never shade of sorrow mar thy short-lived pleasure;
let no mourning on thy dress be seen, nor to thy head be oil of
gladness lacking; merrily live with her whom thy affection has chosen
as thy life-companion, and trouble not thyself as to God's acceptance
of thy works--that has been settled long ago; nor let a sensitive
conscience disturb thee: whatsoever is in thy power to do, that do,
without scruple or question;[1] for soon, but too soon, these days of
thy vanity will close, and in the grave, whither thou surely goest, all
opportunities for activity, of whatever character, are over, and
that--_forever_!"

Strange counsel this, for sober and wise Ecclesiastes to give, is it
not?  Much has it puzzled many a commentator.  Luther boldly says it is
sober Christian advice, meant even now to be literally accepted, "lest
you become like the monks, who would not have one look even at the
sun."  Hard labor indeed, however, is it to force it thus into harmony
with the general tenor of God's word.

But is not the counsel good and reasonable enough under certain
conditions?  And are not those conditions and premises clearly laid
down for us in the context here?  It is as if a whirlwind of awful
perplexities had swept the writer with irresistible force away from his
moorings,--a black cloud filled with the terrors of darkness and death
sweeps over his being, and out of the black and terrible storm he
speaks--"Man has but an hour to enjoy here, and I know nothing as to
what comes after, except that death, impenetrable death, ends every
generation of men, throws down to the dust the good, the righteous, the
sober, as well as the lawless, the false, and the profligate; ends in a
moment all thought, knowledge, love, and hatred;--then since I know
nothing beyond this vain life, I can only say, Have thy fling;--short,
short thy life will be, and vain thou wilt find this short life; so get
thy fill of pleasure here, for thou goest, and none can help thee, to
where all activities cease, and love and hatred end forever."

This, we may say, based on these premises, and excluding all other, is
reasonable counsel.  Does not our own apostle Paul confirm it?  Does he
not say, if this life be all, this life of vanity under the sun, then
let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die?  Yea, we who have turned
aside from this path of present pleasures are of all men most
miserable, if this vain life be all.

And are we to expect poor unaided human wisdom to face these awful
problems of infinite depth without finding the strongest evidence of
its utter incapacity and helplessness?  Like a feather in the blast,
our kingly and wise preacher (beyond whom none can ever go) is whirled,
for the time being, from his soberness, and, in sorrow akin to despair,
gives counsel that is in itself revolting to all soberness and wisdom.
Nothing could so powerfully speak the awful chaos of his soul;
and--mark it well--_in that same awful chaos_ would you and I be at any
moment, my reader, if we thought at all, but for one inestimably
precious fact.  Black like unto the outer darkness is the storm-cloud
we are looking at, and the wild, despairing, yet sad counsel, to "live
merrily" is in strict harmony with the wild, awful darkness, like the
sea-gull's scream in the tempest.

Let us review a little the path of reasoning that has led our author to
where he is; only we will walk it joyfully in the light of God.

"No man knoweth love or hatred by all that is before him."  We have
looked upon a scene where a holy Victim--infinitely holy--bowed His
head under the weight of a judgment that could not be measured.  It was
but a little while, and the very heavens could not contain themselves
with delight at His perfect beauty, His perfect obedience; but again,
and yet again, were they opened to express the pleasure of the Highest
in this lowly Man.  Now, not only are they closed in silence, but a
horror seems to enwrap all creation.  The sun, obscured by no
earth-born cloud, gives out no spark nor ray of light; and in that
solemn darkness every voice is strangely hushed.  From nine till noon
the air was filled with revilings and reproaches--all leveled at the
one sinless Sufferer; but now, for three hours, these have been
absolutely silent, till at last one cry of agony breaks the stillness;
and it is from Him who "was oppressed and afflicted, yet opened not His
mouth; was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before
her shearer is dumb, so opened He not His mouth:"--"Eli, Eli, lama
sabachthani"--"My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!"

There, my beloved readers, look there!  Let that cross be before us,
and then say, "No man knoweth love or hatred by all that is before
them."  Are not both revealed there as never before?  Hatred!  What
caused the blessed God thus to change His attitude towards the One who
so delighted Him that the heavens burst open, as it were, under the
weight of that delight?  There is but one answer to that question.
_Sin_.  Sin was there on that holiest Sufferer--mine, yours, my reader.
And God's great hatred of sin is fully revealed there.  I know "hatred"
when I see God looking at my sin on His infinitely holy, infinitely
precious, infinitely beloved Son.  * * * *

Let us meditate upon, without multiplying words over this solemn theme,
and turn to the Love that burns, too, so brightly there.  Who can
measure the infinity of love to us when, in order that that love might
have its way unhindered, God forsakes the One who, for all the
countless ages of the eternal past, had afforded Him perfect "daily"
delight, was ever in His bosom--the only one in that wide creation who
could satisfy or respond, in the communion of equality, to His
affections--and turns away from Him; nay, "it pleased the Lord to
bruise Him"; "He hath put Him to grief."  Ponder these words; and in
view of who that crucified Victim was, and His relationship with God,
measure, if you can, the love displayed there, the love in that one
short word "so"--"God _so_ loved the world that He gave His only
begotten Son;"--then, whilst viewing the cross, hear, coming down to us
from the lips of the wise king, "No man knoweth love or hatred."  Hush!
Ecclesiastes, hush!  Breathe no such word in such a scene as this.
Pardonable it were in that day, when you looked only at the disjointed
chaos and tangle under the sun; but looking at that cross, it were the
most heinous sin, the most unpardonable disloyalty and treason, to say
now, "No man knoweth love."  Rather, adoringly, will we say, "In this
was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His
only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent
His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  And _we have known and
believed the love that God has to us_."

Yea, now let "all things come alike to all:"--that tender Love shall
shed its light over this stormy scene, and enable the one that keeps
_it_ before him to walk the troubled waters of this life in quiet
assurance and safety.  Death still may play sad havoc with the most
sensitive of affections; but that Love shall, as we have before seen,
permit us to weep tears; but not bitter despairing tears.  Further, it
sheds over the spirit the glorious light of a coming Day, and we look
forward, not to an awful impending gloom, but to a pathway of real
light, that pierces into eternity.  The Day!  We are of the Day!  The
darkness passes, the true light already shines!  Then listen, my
fellow-pilgrims, to the _Spirit's_ counsel: "But ye, brethren, are not
in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.  Ye are all
the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the
night, nor of darkness.  Therefore, _let us not sleep_, as do others,
but _let us watch and be sober.  For they that sleep, sleep in the
night; and they that are drunken, are drunken in the night.  But let us
who are of the Day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and
love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation_."

Our poor preacher, in the darkness of the cloud of death, counsels,
"merrily drink thy wine."  And not amiss, with such an outlook, is such
advice.  In the perfect Light of Revelation, lighting up present and a
future eternity, well may we expect counsel as differing from this as
the light in which it is given differs from the darkness.  _"The night
is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works
of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.  Let us walk
honestly, as in the Day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in
chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord
Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts
thereof_."  _Amen and Amen_.

But once again our Preacher turns; and now he sees that it is not
assuredly possible for the advice he has given to be followed, and that
even in this life neither work, device, knowledge, nor wisdom, are
effective in obtaining good or in shielding their possessor from life's
vicissitudes.  The swift--does he always win the race?  Are there no
contingencies that more than counterbalance his swiftness?  A slip, a
fall, a turned muscle, and--the race is not to the swift.  The
strong--is he necessarily conqueror in the fight?  Many an unforeseen
and uncontrollable event has turned the tide of battle and surprised
the world, till the "fortune of war" has passed into a proverb.  The
skillful may not be able at all times to secure even the necessaries of
life; nor does abundance invariably accompany greater wisdom, whilst no
amount of intelligence can secure constant and abiding good.[2]

Time and doom hap alike to all, irrespective of man's purposes or
proposings, and no man knows what his hap shall be, since no skill of
any kind can avail to guide through the voyage of life without
encountering its storms.  From the unlooked-for quarter, too, do those
storms burst on us.  As the fishes suspect no danger till in the net
they are taken, and as the birds fear nothing till ensnared, so we poor
children of Adam, when our "evil time" comes round, are snared without
warning.

Absolutely true this is, if life be regarded solely by such light as
human wisdom gives: "Time and doom happen alike to all."  The whole
scene is like one vast, confused machine, amongst whose intricate
wheels, that revolve with an irregularity that defies foresight, poor
man is cast at his birth; and ever and anon, when he least expects it,
he comes between these wheels; and then he is crushed by some "evil,"
which may make an end of him altogether or leave him for further
sorrows.  All things seem to work confusedly for evil, and this caps
the climax of Ecclesiastes's misery.

Here is the sequence of his reasoning:

Firstly, There is no righteous allotment upon earth; the righteous
suffer here, whilst the unjust escape.  Nay,

Secondly, There is an absolute lack of all discrimination in the death
that ends all; and,

Thirdly, So complete is that end, bringing all so exactly to one dead
level, without the slightest difference; and so impenetrable is the
tomb to which all go, that I counsel, in my despair, "Eat, drink, and
be merry, irrespective of any future."

Fourthly, But, alas! that, too, is impossible; for no "work, nor
device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom," can assure freedom from the evil
doom that haps, soon or late, to all.

Intensified misery! awful darkness indeed!  And our own souls tremble
as we stand with Ecclesiastes under its shadow and respond to his
groanings.  For the same scene still spreads itself before us as before
him.  Mixed with the mad laughter and song of fools is the continued
groan of sorrow, pain, and suffering, that still tells of "time and
doom."

A striking instance of this comes to my hand even as I write; and since
its pathetic sadness makes it stand out even from the sorrows of this
sad world, I would take it as a direct illustration of Ecclesiastes's
groan.  At Nyack on the Hudson a Christian family retire to rest after
the happy services of last Lord's Day, the 21st of October--an unbroken
circle of seven children, with their parents.  Early on the following
morning, before it is light, a fire is raging in the house, and four of
the little children are consumed in the conflagration.  The account
concludes: "The funeral took place at eleven o'clock to-day."  That is,
in a little more than twelve hours after retiring to sleep, four of the
members of that family circle were in their graves!  Here is an "evil
time" that has fallen suddenly indeed; and the sad and awful incident
enables us to realize just what our writer felt as he penned the words.
With one stroke, in one moment, four children, who have had for years
their parents' daily thought and care, meet an awful doom, and all that
those parents themselves have believed receives a blow whose force it
is hard to measure.  Now listen, as the heathen cry, "Where is now
their God?"  Why was not His shield thrown about them?  Had he not the
power to warn the sleeping household of the impending danger?  Is He so
bound by some law of His own making as to forbid his interfering with
its working?  Worse still, was He indifferent to the awful catastrophe
that was about to crush the joy out of that family circle?  If His was
the power, was His love lacking?

Oh, awful questions when no answer can be given to them;--and nature
gives no answer.  She is absolutely silent.  No human wisdom, even
though it be his who was gifted "with a wise and understanding heart,
so that none was like him before him, neither after him should any
arise like unto him," could give any answer to questions like these.
And think you, my reader, that nature does not cry out for comfort, and
feel about for light at such a time?  Nor that the enemy of our souls
is not quick in his malignant activity to suggest all kinds of awful
doubt?  Every form of darkness and unbelief is alive to seize such
incidents, and make them the texts on which they may level their
attacks against the Christian's God.

But is there really no eye to pity?--no heart to love?--no arm to save?
Are men really subject to blind law--"time and doom"?

Hark, my reader, and turn once more to that sweetest music that ever
broke on distracted reason's ear.  It comes not to charm with a false
hope, but with the full authority of God.  None but His Son who had
lain so long in His Father's bosom that He knew its blessed heart-beats
thoroughly, could speak such words--"Are not five sparrows sold for two
farthings."  Here are poor worthless things indeed that may be truly
called creatures of chance.  "Time and doom" must surely "hap" to
these.  Indeed no; "not one of them is forgotten before God."  Ponder
every precious word in simple faith.  God's _memory_ bears upon it the
lot of every worthless sparrow; it may "fall to the ground," but not
without Him.  He controls their destiny and is interested in their very
flight.  If it be so with the sparrow, that may be bought for a single
mite, shall the _saint_, who has been bought at a price infinitely
beyond all the treasures of silver and gold in the universe, even at
the cost of the precious blood of His dear Son,--shall _he_ be subject
to "time and doom"?  Shall his lot not be shaped by infinite love and
wisdom?  Yes, verily.  Even the very hairs of his head are all
numbered.  No joy, no happiness, no disappointment, no perplexity, no
sorrow, so infinitesimally small (let alone the greatest) but that the
One who controls all worlds takes the closest interest therein, and
turns, in His love, every thing to blessing, forcing "_all to work
together for good_," and making the very storms of life obedient
servants to speed His children to their Home.

Faith _alone_ triumphs here; but faith _triumphs_; and apart from such
tests and trials, what opportunity would there be for faith _to_
triumph?  May we not bless God, then, (humbly enough, for we know how
quickly we fail under trial,) that He _does_ leave opportunity for
faith to be in exercise and to get victories?

God first reveals Himself, and then says, as it were, "Now let Me see
if you have so learned what _I am_ as to trust _Me_ against all
circumstances, against all that you see, feel, or suffer."  And what
virtue there must be in the Light of God, when so little of it is
needed to sustain His child!  Even in the dim early twilight of the
dawning of divine revelation, Job, suffering under a very similar and
fully equal "evil time," could say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath
taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord:" accents sweet and
refreshing to Him who values at an unknown price the confidence of this
poor heart of man.  And yet what did Job know of God?  _He_ had not
seen the cross.  _He_ had not had anything of the display of tenderest
unspeakable love that have we.  It was but the _dawn_, as we may say,
of revelation; but it was enough to enable that poor grief-wrung heart
to cry, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."  Shall we, who enjoy
the very meridian of revelation light;--shall we, who have seen _Him
slain for us_, say _less_?  Nay, look at the wondrous _possibilities_
of our calling, my reader,--a song, nothing but a song will do now.
Not quiet resignation only; but "strengthened with all might, according
to His glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with
_joyfulness_,"--and that means a song.

How rich, how very rich, is our portion!  A goodly heritage is ours.
For see what our considerations have brought out: a deep _need_
universally felt; for none escape the sorrows, trials, and afflictions,
that belong, in greater or less degree, to this life.

The highest, truest, human wisdom can only recognize the need with a
groan, for it finds no remedy for it--time and doom hap alike to all.

God shows Himself a little, and, lo! quiet, patience, and resignation
take the place of groaning.  The need _is_ met.

God reveals His whole heart fully, and no wave of sorrow, no billow of
suffering, can extinguish the joy of His child who walks with Him.
Nay, as thousands upon thousands could testify, the darkest hour of
trial is made the sweetest with the sense of His love, and tears with
song are mingled.

Oh, for grace to enjoy our rich portion more.

But to return to our book.  Its author rarely proceeds far along any
one line without meeting with that which compels him to return.  So
here; for he adds, in verses 13 to the end of the chapter, "And yet I
have seen the very reverse of all this, when apparently an inevitable
doom, an 'evil time,' was hanging over a small community, whose
resources were altogether inadequate to meet the crisis--when no way of
escape from the impending destruction seemed possible--then, at the
moment of despair, a 'poor wise man' steps to the front (such the
quality there is in wisdom), delivers the city, comes forth from his
obscurity, shines for a moment, and, lo! the danger past, is again
forgotten, and sinks to the silence whence he came.  But _this_ the
incident proved to me, that where strength is vain, there wisdom shows
its excellence, even though men as a whole appreciate it so little as
to call upon it only as a last resource.  For let the fools finish
their babbling, and their chief get to the end of his talking; then, in
the silence that tells the limit of their powers, the quiet voice of
wisdom is heard again, and that to effect.  Thus is wisdom better even
than weapons of war, although, sensitive quality that it is, a little
folly easily taints it."

Can we, my readers, fail to set our seal to the truth of all this?  We,
too, have known something much akin to that "little city with few men,"
and one Poor Man, the very embodiment of purest, perfect wisdom, who
wrought alone a full deliverance in the crisis--a deliverance in which
wisdom shone divinely bright; and yet the mass of men remember Him not.
A few, whose hearts grace has touched, may count Him the chief among
ten thousand and the altogether lovely; but the world, though it may
call itself by His name, counts other objects more worthy of its
attention, and the poor wise man is forgotten "under the sun."

Not so above the sun.  There we see the Poor One, the Carpenter's Son,
the Nazarene, the Reviled, the Smitten, the Spit-upon, the Crucified,
seated, crowned with glory and honor, at the right hand of the Majesty
in the heavens; and there, to a feeble few on earth, He sums up all
wisdom and all worth, and they journey on in the one hope of seeing Him
soon face to face, and being with Him and like Him forever.



[1] I believe this is distinctly the bearing of these words, and not as
in our version.

[2] There seems lo be an intensive force to these words, constantly and
in each phase becoming stronger, in evident antithesis to the "work,
device, knowledge, and wisdom," that Ecclesiastes had just counseled to
use to the utmost in order to obtain "good" in this life.



CHAPTER X.

The climax of Ecclesiastes' exercises seems to have been reached in the
previous chapter.  The passionate storm is over, and now his thoughts
ripple quietly along in proverb and wise saying.  It is as if he said
"I was altogether beyond my depth.  Now I will confine myself only to
the present life, without touching on the things unseen, and here I can
pronounce with assurance the conclusion of wisdom, and sum up both its
advantages and yet inadequacy."

The proverbs that follow are apparently disjointed, and yet, when
closely looked at, are all connected with this subject.  He shows, in
effect, that, take any view of life, and practically wisdom has
manifold advantages.

Ver. 1.  The least ingredient of folly spoils as with the corruption of
death the greatest wisdom.  (There is only One whose name is as
ointment poured forth untainted.)

Ver. 2.  The wise man's heart is where it should be.  He is governed by
his understanding, (for the heart in the Old Testament is the seat of
the thought as well as of the affections, as the same word, "_lehv_,"
translated "wisdom" in the next verse shows), a fool is all askew in
his own being.  His heart is at his left hand.  In other words, his
judgment is dethroned.

Ver. 3.  Nor can he hide what he really is for any length of time.
"The way," with its tests, soon reveals him, and he proclaims to all
his folly.

Ver. 4.  Yielding to the powers above rather than rebelling against
them, marks the path of wisdom.  This may be an example of the testing
of "the way" previously spoken of, for true wisdom shines brightly out
in the presence of an angry ruler.  Folly leaves its place,--a form of
expression tantamount to rebelling, and may throw some light on that
stupendous primal folly when angels "left their place," or, as Jude
writes, "kept not their first estate, but left their habitation," and
thus broke into the folly of rebelling against the Highest.  For let
any leave their place, and it means necessarily confusion and disorder.
If all has been arranged according to the will and wisdom of the
Highest, he who steps out of the place assigned him rebels, and discord
takes the place of harmony.  The whole of the old creation is thus in
disorder and confusion.  All have "left their place."  For God, the
Creator of all, has been dethroned.  It is the blessed work of One we
know, once more to unite in the bonds of love and willing obedience all
things in heaven and in earth, and to bind in such way all hearts to
the throne of God, that never more shall one "leave his place."

Vers. 5-7.  But rulers themselves under the sun are not free from
folly, and this shows itself in the disorder that actually proceeds
from them.  Orders and ranks are not in harmony.  Folly is exalted, and
those with whom dignities accord are in lowly place.  It is another
view of the present confusion, and how fully the coming of the Highest
showed it out!  A stable, a manger, rejection, and the cross, were the
portion under the sun of the King of kings.  That fact rights
everything even now, in one sense, to faith for the path closest to the
King must be really necessarily the _highest_, though it be in the
sight of man the lowest.  Immanuel, the Son of David, walking as a
servant up and down the land that was His own--The Lord Jesus, The Son
of Man, having less than the foxes or birds of the air, not even where
to lay his head,--Christ, the Son of God, wearied with His journey, on
the well of Sychar,--this has thrown a glory about the lowly path now,
that makes all the grandeur of the great ones of the earth less than
nothing.  Let the light of His path shine on this scene, and no longer
shall we count it an evil under the sun for folly and lawlessness to
have the highest place, as men speak, but rather count it greatest
honor to be worthy to suffer for His name, for we are still in the
kingdom and patience of the Lord Jesus Christ,--not the Kingdom and
Glory.  That shall come soon.

Vers. 8-10.  But then, Ecclesiastes continues, is there complete
security in the humbler ranks of life?  Nay, there is no occupation
that has not its accompanying danger.  Digging or hedging, quarrying or
cleaving wood,--all have their peculiar difficulties.  Although there,
too, wisdom is still evidently better than brute strength.

Vers. 11 to 15 turn to the same theme of comparison of wisdom and
folly, only now with regard to the use of the tongue.  The most gifted
charmer (lit. master of the tongue) is of no worth _after_ the serpent
has bitten.  The waters that flow commend the spring whence they issue.
Grace speaks for the wise: folly, from beginning to end, proclaims the
fool; and nowhere is that folly more manifested than in the
boastfulness of assertion as to the future.

  "Predicting words he multiplies, yet man can never know
  "The thing that shall be; yea, what cometh after who shall tell?
  "Vain toil of fools!  It wearieth him,--this man who knoweth naught
  "That may befall his going to the city."


This seems to be exactly in line with the apostle James: "Go to now, ye
that say, To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and continue
there a year, and buy, and sell, and get gain: ye who know not what
shall be on the morrow."

Vers. 16-18.  The land is blessed or cursed according to her head.  A
well-marked principle in Scripture, which has evidently forced itself
on the notice of human wisdom in the person of Ecclesiastes.  A city
flourishes under the wise diligence of her rulers, or goes to pieces
under their neglect and sensual revelry.  For the tendency to decay is
everywhere under the sun, and no matter what the sphere,--high or low,
city or house,--constant diligence alone offsets that tendency.

Ver. 19.  The whole is greater than its part.  Money can procure both
the feast and the wine; but these are not, even in our preacher's view,
the better things, but the poorer, as chapter vii. has shown us.  We,
too, know that which is infinitely higher than feasts and revelry of
earth, and here money avails nothing.  "Wine and milk," joy and food,
are here to be bought without money and without price.  The currency of
that sphere is not corruptible gold nor silver, but the love that
gives,--sharing all it possesses.  There it is love that answereth all
things:--the more excellent way, inasmuch as it covers and is the
spring of all gifts and graces.  Without love, the circulating medium
of that new creation, a man is poor indeed,--is worth nothing, nay,
_is_ nothing, (1 Cor. xiii.) He may have the most attractive and showy
of gifts: the lack of love makes the silver tongue naught but empty
sound,--a lack of love makes the deepest understanding naught; and
whilst he may be a very model of what the world falsely calls charity,
giving of his goods to feed the poor, and even his body to be burned,
it is love alone that gives life and substance to it all,--lacking love
it profits nothing.  He who abounds most in loving, and consequent
self-emptying, is the richest there.  The words of the Lord Jesus in
Luke xii. confirm this: "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself,
and is not rich toward God."  The two are in direct contrast.  Rich
here--laying up treasure for one's self here--_is_ poverty there, and
the love that gives _is_ divine riches.  For he who loves most has
himself drunk deepest into the very nature of God, for God is Love, and
his heart fully satisfied with that which alone in all the universe can
ever satisfy the heart of man, filled up,--surely, therefore,
rich,--pours forth its streams of bounty and blessing according to its
ability to all about.  How thoroughly the balances of the sanctuary
reverse the estimation of the world.

But, then, how may we become rich in that true, real sense?  To obtain
the money that "answereth all things" under the sun, men _toil_ and
_plan_.  Perhaps as the balances of the sanctuary show that selfish
accumulation here is poverty there, so the means of attaining true
riches may be, in some sort, the opposite to those prevailing for the
false--"quietness and confidence."

The apostle, closing his beautiful description of charity, says:
"Follow after charity."  Ponder its value--meditate on its
beauties--till your heart becomes fascinated, and you press with
longing toward it.  But as it is difficult to be occupied with "Love"
in the abstract, can we find anywhere an embodiment of love?  A person
who illustrates it in its perfection, in whose character every glorious
mark that the apostle depicts in this 13th chapter of Corinthians is
shown in perfect moral beauty--yea, who is in himself the one complete
perfect expression of love.  And, God be thanked, we know One such;
and, as we read the sweet and precious attributes of Love, we recognize
that the Holy Spirit has pictured every lineament of our Lord Jesus
Christ.  Wouldst thou be rich, then, my soul?  Follow after, occupy
thyself with, press toward, the Lord Jesus, till His beauties so
attract as to take off thy heart from every other infinitely inferior
attraction, and the kindling of His love shall warm thy heart with the
same holy flame, and thou shalt seek love's ease--love's rest--in
pouring out all thou hast in a world where need of all kinds is on
every side, and thus be "rich toward God."  So may it be for the
writer, and every reader, to the praise of His grace.  Amen.

Where are we, in time, my readers?  Are we left as shipwrecked sailors
upon a raft, without chart or compass, and know not whether sunken
wreck or cliff-bound coast shall next threaten us?  No; a true divine
chart and compass is in our hands, and we may place our finger upon the
exact chronological latitude and longitude in which our lot is cast.
Mark the long voyage of the professing Church past the quiet waters of
Ephesus, where first love quickly cools and is lost; past the stormy
waves of persecution which drive her onward to her desired haven, in
Smyrna; caught in the dangerous eddy, and drifted to the whirlpool of
the world in Pergamos, followed by the developed Papal hierarchy in
Thyatira, with the false woman in full command of the ship; past
Sardis, with its memories of a divine recovery in the Reformation of
the sixteenth century:--Philadelphia and Laodicea alone are left; and,
with mutual contention and division largely in the place of brotherly
love, who can question but that we have reached the last stage, and
that there is every mark of Laodicea about us?  This being so, mark the
word of our Lord Jesus to the present state of the professing Church:
"Thou sayest I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of
nothing, but knowest not that thou art poor, and blind, and naked, and
wretched, and miserable."  Yes, in the light of God, in the eyes of the
Lord, in the judgment of the sanctuary, we live in a day of _poverty_.
It is this which characterizes the day in which our lot is cast,--a
lack of all true riches, whilst the air is filled with boastings of
wealth and attainment.

Further, I can but believe that we whose eyes scan these lines are
peculiarly in danger here.  Thyatira goes on to the very end.  Sardis
is an offshoot from her.  Sardis goes on to the end.  Philadelphia is
an offshoot from her.  Philadelphia goes on to the end, and is thus the
stock from whence the proud self-sufficiency of Laodicea springs.  If
we (you and I) have shared in any way in the blessings of Philadelphia,
we share in the dangers of Laodicea.  Yea, he who thinks he represents
or has the characteristics of Philadelphia, is most open to the boast
of Laodicea.  Let us have to do--have holy commerce--with Him who
speaks.  Buy of Him the "gold purified by the fire."  But how are we to
buy?  What can we give for that gold, when He says we are already poor?
A poor man is a bad buyer.  Yes, under the sun, where toil and
self-dependency are the road to wealth; but above the sun quietness and
confidence prevail, and the poor man is the best--the only--buyer.
Look at that man in Mark's Gospel, chapter x., with every mark of
Laodicea upon him.  _Blind_, by nature; _poor_, for he sat and _begged;
naked_, for he has thrown away his garment, and thus surely _pitiable,
miserable_, now watch him buy of the Lord.

"What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?"

"Lord, that I might receive my sight."

"Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole."

And the transaction is complete; the contract is settled; the buying is
over.  "Immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the
way."  Yes; there is just one thing that that poor, naked, blind man
has, that is of highest value even in the eyes of the Lord, and that is
the quiet confidence of his poor heart.  All Scripture shows that that
is what God ever seeks,--the heart of man to return and rest in Him.
It is all that we can give in the purchase, but it buys all He has.
"All things are possible to him that believeth."  In having to do with
the Lord Jesus we deal with the rich One whose very joy and rest it is
to give; and it is surely easy _buying_ from Him whose whole heart's
desire is to _give_.  Nothing is required but need and faith to
complete the purchase.

"Need and Faith" are our "two mites."  They are to us what the two
mites were to the poor widow--all our "living," all we have.  Yet,
casting them into the treasury, God counts them of far more value than
all the boasted abundance of Laodicea.  They are the servants, too,
that open all doors to the Lord.  They permit no barriers to keep Him
at a distance.  That gracious waiting Lord then may enter, and sweet
communion follow as He sups with poor "Need and Faith"--Himself
providing all the provender for that supper-feast.



CHAPTER XI.

We are drawing near the end, and to the highest conclusions of true
human wisdom; and full of deepest interest it is to mark the character
of these conclusions.  Reason speaks; that faculty that is rightly
termed divine, for its possession marks those who are "the offspring of
God."  He is the Father of _spirits_, and it is in the spirit that
Reason has her seat; whilst in our Preacher she is enthroned, and now
with authority utters forth her counsels.  Here we may listen to just
how far she can attain, mark with deepest interest, and indeed
admiration, the grand extent of her powers; and at the same time their
sorrowful limit,--note their happy harmony up to that limit, with her
Creator; and then, when with baffled effort and conscious helplessness,
in view of the deepest questions that ever stir the heart, she is able
to find no answer to them, and groans her exceeding bitter cry of
"Vanity," _then_ to turn and listen to the grace and love of that
Creator meeting those needs and answering those questions,--this is
inexpressibly precious; and with the light thus given we must let our
spirits sing a new song, for we are nigh to God, and it is still true
that "none enter the king's gate clothed with sackcloth."  Joy and
praise have their dwelling ever within those boundaries; for He
inhabiteth the praises of His people.

In the first eight verses of our chapter we shall thus find man's
Reason running in a beautiful parallel with the divine, and yet in
marked contrast with the narrow, selfish, short-sighted policy of the
debased wisdom of this world.  Their broad teaching is very clear; look
forward,--live not for the present; but instead of hoarding or laying
up for the evil day, cast thy bread--that staff of life, thy
living--boldly upon the waters, it shall not be lost.  You have, in so
doing, intrusted it to the care of Him who loseth nothing; and the
future, though perhaps far off, shall give thee a full harvest for such
sowing.  But, to be more explicit, give with a free hand without
carefully considering a limit to thy gifts ("a portion to seven and
also to eight" would seem to have this bearing), for who knows when, in
the future, an evil time to thee may make thee the recipient of others'
bounty.

Can we but admire the harmony, I say again, between the voice of poor,
feeble, limited human wisdom and the perfect, absolute, limitless,
divine wisdom of New Testament revelation:

"For I mean not that other men be eased and ye burdened; but by an
equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for
their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want:
that there may be equality."  This is very closely in the same line.
But Solomon continues: Nay, see the lessons that Nature herself would
teach (and he is no wise man, but distinctly and scripturally "a fool,"
who is deaf to her teachings, blind to her symbols).  The full clouds
find relief by emptying themselves on the parched earth, only to
receive those same waters again from the full ocean, after they have
fulfilled their benevolent mission; and it is a small matter to which
side, north or south, the tree may fall, it is there for the good of
whoever may need it there.[1]

The accidental direction of the wind determines which way it falls; but
either north or south it remains for the good of man.  In like manner
watch not for favorable winds; dispense on every side, north and south,
of thy abundance; nor be too solicitous as to the worthiness of the
recipients.  He who waits for perfectly favorable conditions will never
sow, consequently never reap.  Results are with God.  It is not thy
care in sowing at exactly the right moment that gives the harvest; all
_that_ is God's inscrutable work in nature, nor can man tell how those
results are attained.  Life in its commencements is as completely
enshrouded in mystery now as then.  No science, no human wisdom has,
or--it may be boldly added--ever can throw the slightest glimmer of
clear light upon it.  Thy part is diligence in sowing, the harvest
return is God's care.  "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening
withhold not thy hand" is wisdom's counsel here, just as a higher
wisdom teaches "Preach the word: be instant in season and out of
season."

Thus human reason and divine wisdom "keep step" together till the
former reaches its limit; and very soon, in looking forward, is that
limit reached.  For listen now to her advice, consequent on the
foregoing.  Therefore she says, Let not the enjoyment of the present
blind thee to the future; for alas there stands that awful mysterious
Exit from the scene that has again and again baffled the Preacher
throughout the book.  And here again no science or human reason ever
has or ever can throw the faintest glimmer of clear light beyond it.
That time is still, at the end of the book, the "days of darkness."  As
poor Job in the day of his trial wails: "I go whence I shall not
return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of
darkness as darkness itself, and of the shadow of death, without any
order, and where the light is as darkness."  So Ecclesiastes says, "let
him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many."  Oh sad and
gloomy counsel!  Is _this_ what life is?  Its bright morning ever to be
clouded,--its day to be darkened with the thoughts of its _end_?  Oh
sorrowful irony to tell us to rejoice in the years of life, and yet
ever to bear in mind that those years are surely, irresistibly,
carrying us on to the many "days of darkness."  Yes, this is where the
highest intellect, the acutest reason, the purest wisdom of any man at
any time has attained.  But

  Where Reason fails, with all her powers,
  There Faith prevails and Love adores.


Where the darkness by reason's light is deepest, there Love--Infinite
and Eternal--has thrown its brightest beam, and far from that time
beyond the tomb being "the days of darkness," by New Testament
revelation it is the one eternal blessed Day lit up with a Light that
never dims; yes, even sun and moon unneeded for "The glory of God
enlightens it, and the Lamb is the Light thereof."  Think of a
Christian with that blessed hope of the coming of his Saviour to take
him to that well-lighted Home--His Father's House--with the sweet and
holy anticipations of seeing His own blessed Face,--once marred and
smitten for him; of never grieving Him more, of sin never again to mar
his communion with Him, of happy holy companionship for eternity with
kindred hearts and minds all tuned to the one glorious harmony of
exalting "Him that sits upon the throne and the Lamb,"--of loving Him
perfectly, of serving Him perfectly, of enjoying Him perfectly,--think
of such a Christian saying, as He looks forward to this bliss, "All
that cometh is _vanity_," and we may get some measure of the value of
the precious word of God.

But now with a stronger blow our writer strikes the same doleful chord:
"Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in
the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the
sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will
bring thee into judgment."

One would think that there could be no possible misunderstanding the
sorrowful irony of the counsel "to walk in the ways of thy heart, and
in the sight of thine eyes,"--expressions invariably used in an evil
sense (compare Num. xv. 39; Isa. lvii. 17); and yet, to be consistent
with the interpretation to similar counsel in other parts of the book,
expounders have sought to give them a _Christian_ meaning, as if they
were given in the light of revelation and not in the semi-darkness of
nature.  But here the concluding sentence, "know thou, that for all
these things God will bring thee into judgment," is quite unmistakable.

But here is indeed a startling assertion.  Where has our writer
learned, with such emphatic certainty, of a judgment to come?  Have we
mistaken the standpoint whence our book was written?  Has the writer,
after all, been listening to another Voice that has taught him what is
on the other side of the grave?  Does Revelation make itself heard here
at last?  Or may, perhaps, even this be in perfect harmony with all
that has gone before, and be one step further--almost the last
step--along the path that unaided (but not depraved) human Reason may
tread?  In a word, does Nature herself give Reason sufficient light to
enable her, when in right exercise, to discover a judgment-seat in the
shadows of the future?

This is surely a question of deepest--yes, thrilling--interest; and, we
are confident, must be answered in the affirmative.  It is to this
point that our writer has been climbing, step by step.  Nature has
taught him that the future must be looked at rather than the present;
or, rather, the present must be looked at in the light of the future;
for that future corresponds _in its character_ to the present, as the
crop does to the seed, only exceeds it _in intensity_ as the harvest
exceeds the grain sown.  Thus bread hoarded gives no harvest; or, in
other words, he who lives for the present alone, necessarily, by the
simplest and yet strongest law of Nature, must suffer loss: _this is
Judgment by Nature's law_.  This, too, is the keynote of every
verse--"the future," "the future"; and God, who is clearly discerned by
Reason as behind Nature, "which is but the name for an effect whose
Cause is God,"--God is clearly recognized as returning a harvest in the
_future_, in strict and accurate accord with the sowing of the
_present_.  This is very clear.  Then how simple and how certain that
if this is God's irrefragable law in Nature, it must have its
fulfillment too in the moral nature of man.  It has been one of the
chief sorrows of the book that neither wrong nor confusion is righted
here, and those "days of darkness" to which _all_ life tends are no
discriminative judgment, nor is there anything of the kind in a scene
where "all things come alike to all."  Then surely, most surely, unless
indeed man alone sows without reaping,--alone breaks in as an exception
to this law,--a thought not consonant with reason,--there must be to
him also a harvest of reaping according to what has been sown: in other
words a _Judgment_.  Although still, let us mark, our writer does not
assume to say anything as to where or when that shall be, or how
brought about, this is all uncertain and indefinite: the fact is
_certain_; and more clear will the outline of that judgment-seat stand
out, as our writer's eyes become accustomed to the new light in which
he is standing,--the fact is already certain.

Solemn, most solemn, is this; and yet how beautiful to see a true
reason--but let us emphasize again not _depraved_, but exercising her
royal function of sovereignty over the flesh, not subject to
it--drawing such true and sure lessons from that which she sees of the
law of God in Nature.  It is a _reasonable_, although in view of sin, a
fearful expectation; and with exactness is the word chosen in Acts:
Paul _reasoned_ of judgment to come; and reason, with conscience,
recognized the force of the appeal, as "Felix trembled."  Thus that
solemn double appointment of man: death and judgment has been discerned
by Nature's light, and counsel is given in view of each.  We said that
our writer had reached the climax of his perplexities in view of death
in chap. ix. when he counseled us to "merrily drink our wine"; but now
judgment discerned, death itself even not necessarily the end, at
length soberness prevails; and with an evident solemn sincerity he
counsels "Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil
from thy flesh, for childhood and youth are vanity."



[1] The current interpretation of this clause, that it speaks of the
future state of man after death, seems hardly in keeping with the
context, and certainly not at all in keeping with the character and
scope of the book.  Ecclesiastes everywhere confesses the strict
limitation of his knowledge to the present scene.  This is the cause of
his deepest groanings that he cannot pierce beyond it; and it would be
entirely contrary for him here, in this single instance, to assume to
pronounce authoritatively of the nature of that place or state of which
he says he knows nothing.



CHAPTER XII.

Our last chapter concluded with the words, "For childhood and youth are
vanity": that is, childhood proves the emptiness of all "beneath the
sun," as well as old age.  The heart of the child has the same
needs--the same capacity in kind--as that of the aged.  _It needs God_.
Unless it knows Him, and His love is there, it is empty; and, in its
fleeting character, childhood proves its vanity.  But this makes us
quite sure that if childhood can feel the need, then God has, in His
wide grace, _met the need_; nor is that early life to be debarred from
the provision that He has made for it.  There are then the same
_possibilities_ of filling the heart and life of the young child with
that divine love that fills every void, and turns the cry of "Vanity"
into the Song of Praise: "Yea, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings
Thou hast perfected praise."

But our writer is by no means able thus to touch any chord in the young
heart that shall vibrate with the music of praise.  Such as he has,
however, he gives us: "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."

This counsel must not be separated from the context.  It is based
absolutely and altogether on what has now been discerned: for not only
is our writer a man of the acutest intelligence, but he evidently
possesses the highest qualities of moral courage.  He shirks no
question, closes his eyes to no fact, and least of all to that awful
fact of man's compulsory departure from this scene which is called
"death."  But following on, he has found that even this cannot possibly
be all; there must be a _judgment_ that shall follow this present life.
It is in view of this he counsels "Remember thy Creator in the days of
thy youth," whilst the effect of time is to mature, and not destroy,
the powers He has given thee: for not forever will life's enjoyment
last; old age comes surely, and He who made thee, holds thy spirit in
His hand, so that whilst the body may return to dust, the spirit must
return to Him who gave it.

We will only pause for a moment again to admire the glorious elevation
of this counsel.  How good were it if the remembrance of a Creator-God,
to whom all are accountable, could tone, with out quenching, the fire
and energy of youthful years, and lead in the clean paths of
righteousness.  But, alas, how inadequate to meet the actual state of
things.  Solomon himself shall serve to illustrate the utter inadequacy
of his own counsel.  What comfort or hope could he extract from it?
His were now already the years in which he must say "I have no pleasure
in them."  A more modern poet might have voiced his cry,--

  "My age is in the yellow leaf,
  The bud, the fruit of 'life,' is gone:
  The worm, the canker, and the grief,
            Remain alone!"


His youth was no more: its bright days were forever past, never to be
restored.  What remains, then, for Solomon, and the myriads like him?
What shall efface the memory of those wasted years, or what shall give
a quiet peace, in view of the fast-coming harvest of that wild sowing?
Can Reason--can any human Wisdom--find any satisfactory answer to these
weighty questions?  _None_!

Verses 2 to 7 beautifully and poetically depict the fall of the city of
man's body under the slow but sure siege of the forces of Time.
Gradually, but without one moment's pause, the trenches approach the
walls.  Outwork after outwork falls into the enemy's hands, until he is
victor over all, and the citadel itself is taken.

Verse 2.--First, clouds come over the spirit: the joyousness of life is
dulled,--the exuberance of youth is quenched.  Sorrow follows quickly
on the heel of sorrow,--"clouds return after rain."  Those waves that
youth's light bark rode gallantly and with exhilaration, now flood the
laboring vessel and shut out the light--the joy--of life.

Verse 3.--Then the hands (the keepers of the house) tremble with
weakness, and the once strong men (the knees) now feeble, bend under
the weight of the body they have so long borne.  The few teeth
(grinders) that may remain fail to do their required service.  Time's
finger touches, too, those watchers from the turret-windows (the eyes):
shade after shade falls over them; till, like slain sentinels that drop
at their posts, they look out again never-more.

Verse 4.--Closer still the enemy presses, till the close-beleaguered
fortress is shut out from all communication with the outer world; "the
doors are shut in the streets"; the ears are dulled to all sounds.
Even the grinding of the mill,[1] which in an eastern house rarely
ceases, reaches him but as a low murmur, though it be really as loud as
the shrill piping of a bird, and all the sweet melodies of song are no
longer to be enjoyed.

Verse 5.--Time's sappers, too, are busily at work, although unseen,
till the effect of their mining becomes evident in the alarm that is
felt at the slightest need of exertion.  The white head, too, tells its
tale, and adds its testimony to the general decay.  The least weight is
as a heavy burden; nor can the failing appetite be again awakened.  The
man is going to his age-long home[2]; for now those four seats of life
are invaded and broken up--spinal-cord, brain, heart, and blood,--till
at length body and spirit part company, each going whence it
came;--that, to its kindred dust; this, to the God who gave it.

Thus to the high wisdom of Solomon man is no mere beast, after all.  He
may not penetrate the Beyond to describe that "age-long home," but
never of the _beast_ would he say "the spirit to God who gave it."  But
his very wisdom again leads us to the most transcendent need of _more_.
To tell us this, is to lead us up a mountain-height, to a bridgeless
abyss which we have to cross, without having a plank or even a thread
to help us.  To God the spirit goes,--to God who gave it,--to Whom,
then, it is responsible.  But in what condition?  Is it conscious
still, or does it lose consciousness as in a deep sleep?  Where does it
now abide?  How can it endure the searching Light--the infinite
holiness and purity--of the God to whom it goes?  How shall it give
account for the wasted years?  How answer for the myriad sins of life?
How reap what has been sown?  Silence here--no answer here--is awful
indeed,--is _maddening_; and if reason does still hold her seat, then
"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," is alone consistent with the
fearful silence to such questions, and the scene is fitly ended by a
groan.

Deep even unto the shadow of death is the gloom.  Every syllable of
this last sad wail is as a funeral knell to all our hopes, tolling
mournfully; and, like a passing bell, attending _them_, too, to their
"age-long home"!

Oh, well for us if we have heard a clearer Voice than that of poor
feeble human Reason break in upon the silence, and, with a blessed,
perfect, lovely combination of Wisdom and Love, of Authority and
Tenderness, of Truth and Grace, give soul-satisfying answers to all our
questionings.

Then may we rejoice, if grace permit, with joy unspeakable; and, even
in the gloom of this sad scene, lift heart and voice in a shout of
victory.  We, too, know what it is for the body thus to perish.  We,
too, though redeemed, still await the redemption of the body, which in
the Christian is still subject to the same ravages of time,--sickness,
disease, pain, suffering, decay.  But a gracious Revelation has taught
us a secret that Ecclesiastes never guessed at; and we may sing, even
with the fall of Nature's walls about us, "Though our outward man
perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day."  Yea, every apparent
victory of the enemy is now only to be answered with a "new song" of
joyful praise.

It is true that, "under the sun," the clouds return after the rain;
and, because it is true, we turn to that firmament of faith where our
Lord Jesus is both Sun and Star, and where the light ever "shineth more
and more unto perfect day."

_Let_ the keepers tremble, and the strong men bow themselves.  We may
now lean upon another and an everlasting Arm, and know another Strength
which is even _perfected_ in this very weakness.

The grinders may cease because they are few; but their loss cannot
prevent our feeding ever more and more heartily and to the fill on
God's Bread of Life.

_Let_ those that look out of the windows be darkened: the inward eye
becomes the more accustomed to another--purer, clearer--light; and we
see "that which is invisible," and seeing, we hopefully sing--

  "City of the pearl-bright portal,
  City of the jasper wall,
  City of the golden pavement,
    Seat of endless festival,--
  City of Jehovah, Salera,
    City of eternity,
  To thy bridal-hall of gladness,
  From this prison would I flee,--
          Heir of glory,
  That shall be for thee and me!"


_Let_ doors be shut in the streets, and _let_ all the daughters of
music be brought low, so that the Babel of this world's discord be
excluded, and so that the Lord Himself be on the _inside_ of the closed
door, we may the more undistractedly enjoy the _supper of our life_
with Him, and He (the blessed, gracious One!) with us.  Then naught can
prevent His Voice being heard, whilst the more sweet and clear (though
still ever faint, perhaps) may the echo to that Voice arise in melody
within the heart, where God Himself is the gracious Listener!

_Let_ fears be in the way, we know a Love than can dispel all fear and
give a new and holy boldness even in full view of all the solemn
verities of eternity; for it is grounded on the perfect accepted work
of a divine Redeemer--the faithfulness of a divine Word.

The very hoary head becomes not merely the witness of decay, and of a
life fast passing; but the "almond-tree" has another, brighter meaning
now: it is a figure of that "crown of life" which in the new-creation
scene awaits the redeemed.

If appetite fail here, the more the inward longing, and the
satisfaction that ever goes hand in hand with it, may abound; and the
inward man thus be strengthened and enlarged so as to have greater
capacity for the enjoyment of those pleasures that are "at God's right
hand for evermore."

Till at length the earthly house of this tabernacle may be dissolved.
Dust may still return to dust, and there await, what all Creation
awaits--the glorious resurrection, its redemption.  Whilst the
spirit--yes, what of the spirit?  To God who gave it?  Ah, far better:
to God who loved and redeemed it,--to Him who has so cleansed it by His
own blood, that the very Light of God can detect no stain of sin upon
it, even though it be the chief of sinners.  So amid the ruins of this
earthly tabernacle may the triumphant song ascend above the snapping of
cords, the breaking of golden bowls and pitchers, the very crash of
nature's citadel: "Oh, death, where is thy sting?  Oh, grave, where is
thy victory?  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the
law.  But thanks be to God that giveth us the victory through our Lord
Jesus Christ."

This meets--meets fully, meets satisfactorily--the need.  Now none will
deny that this need is deep,--_real_.  Hence it can be no mere
sentiment, no airy speculation, no poetical imagination, no cunningly
devised fable that can meet that need.  _The remedy must be as real as
the disease, or it avails nothing_.  No phantom key may loosen so
hard-closed a lock as this: it must be real, and be made for it.  For
suppose we find a lock of such delicate and complicated construction
that no key that can be made will adapt itself to all its windings.
Many skilled men have tried their hands and failed,--till at length the
wisest of all attempts it, and even he in despair cries "vanity."  Then
another key is put into our hands by One who claims to have made the
very lock we have found.  We apply it, and its intricacies meet every
corresponding intricacy; its flanges fill every chamber, and we open it
with perfect facility.  What is the reasonable, necessary conclusion?
We say--and rightly, unavoidably say--"He who made the lock must have
made the key.  His claim is just: they have been made by one maker."

So by the perfect rest it brings to the awakened conscience--by the
quiet calm it brings to the troubled mind--by the warm love that it
reveals to the craving heart--by the pure light that it sheds in
satisfactory answer to all the deep questions of the spirit--by the
unceasing unfoldings of depths of perfect transcendent wisdom--by its
admirable unity in variety--by the holy, righteous settlement of sin,
worthy of a holy, righteous God--by the peace it gives, even in view of
wasted years and the wild sowing of the past--by the joy it maintains
even in view of the trials and sorrows of the present--by the hope with
which it inspires the future;--by all these we know that our key (the
precious Word that God has put into our hands) is a reality indeed, and
as far above the powers of Reason as the heavens are above the earth,
therefore necessarily--incontestably--DIVINE!

This brings us to the concluding words of our book.  Now who has been
leading us all through these exercises?  A disappointed sensualist?  A
gloomy stoic?  A cynic--selfish, depressed?  Not at all.  Distinctly a
wise man;--wise, for he gives that unequivocal proof of wisdom, in that
he cares for others.  It is the wise who ever seek to "win souls," "to
turn many to righteousness."  "Because the preacher was wise, he still
_taught the people knowledge_."  No cynic is Ecclesiastes.  His
sympathies are still keen; he knows well and truly the needs of those
to whom he ministers: knows too, how man's wretched heart ever rejects
its own blessing; so, in true wisdom, he seeks "acceptable words":
endeavoring to sweeten the medicine he gives, clothes his counsel in
"words of delight" (margin).  Thus here we find all the "words of
delight" that human wisdom _can_ find, in view of life in all its
aspects from youth to old age.

For whilst it is certainly difficult satisfactorily to trace the order
in detail in the book,--and perhaps this is perfectly consistent with
its character,--yet there can be no question but that it begins by
looking at, and testing, those sensual enjoyments that are peculiarly
attractive to _youth_, and ends with the departure of all in _old age_,
and, finally--dissolution.  There is, evidently, that much method.  We
may also, further, note that the body of the book is taken up with such
themes as interest men who are between these two extremes: occupations,
business, politics, and, as men speak, religion.  All the various
states and conditions of man are looked at: kings, princes, nobles,
magistrates, rich and poor, are all taken up and discussed in this
search for the one thing that true human reason can call absolutely
"good" for man.  Further method than this might perhaps be inconsistent
with the confusion of the scene "under the sun" he is regarding, and
his own inability to bring order out of the confusion.  There would be
thus true method in the _absence_ of method, as the cry of "Vanity,"
doleful as it is, is alone in harmony with the failure of all his
efforts.  Yes, for whilst here he speaks of "words of delight," one can
but wonder to what he can refer, unless it be to something still to
come.  Thus far, as he has taken up and dropped, with bitter
discouragement, subject after subject, his burdened, overcharged heart
involuntarily has burst out with the cry, "Vanity of vanities, all is
vanity!"  Words of delight!  Find one in all that we have gone over
that can be to a guilty sinner's ear a "word of delight"--such as it
can really _take in as meeting its needs_; for this seems to be the
force of the word here translated "acceptable": so perfectly adapted to
the needs of the heart it addresses that that heart springs joyfully to
embrace it at once.  We have surely, thus far, found none such.  A
Judge has been discerned in God; but small delight in this surely, if I
am the sinner to be judged.

Verses 11-14.  Wisdom's words are not known by quantity, but quality.
Not many books, with the consequent weary study; but the right
word--like a "goad": sharp, pointed, effective--and on which may hang,
as on a "nail," much quiet meditation.  "Given, too, from one
shepherd," hence not self-contradictory and confusing to the listeners.
In this way Ecclesiastes would evidently direct our most earnest
attention to what follows: "the conclusion of the whole matter."  Here
is absolutely the highest counsel of true human wisdom--the climax of
her reasonings--the high-water-mark of her attainments--the limit to
which she can lead us: "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."

Who will deny that this is indeed admirable?  Is there not a glorious
moral elevation in this conclusion?  Note how it gives the Creator-God
His rightful place; puts the creature, man, in the absolutely correct
relationship of obedience, and speaks with perfect assurance of a
discriminative judgment where every single work, yes, "secret thing,"
shall be shown out in its true character as it is good or evil in His
holy sight: where everything that is wrong and distorted here shall be
put right.

It is truly much, but alas for man if this were indeed the end.  Alas
for one, conscious of having sinned already, and broken His
commandments, whether those commandments be expressed in the ten words
of the law, as given from Sinai, or in that other law which is common
to all men, the work of which, "written in their hearts," they
show--conscience.  There is no gleam of light, ray of hope, or grain of
comfort here.  A judgment to come, _assured_, can only be looked
forward to, with, at the best, gloomy uncertainty, and awful
misgiving--if not with assured conviction of a fearful condemnation;
and here our writer leaves us with the assurance that this is the
"conclusion of the whole matter."

Who can picture the terrors of this darkness in which such a conclusion
leaves us?  Guilty, trembling, with untold sins and wasted years
behind; with the awful consciousness that my very being is the corrupt
fountain whence those sins flowed, and yet with a certain judgment
before in which no single thing is to escape a divinely searching
examination: better had it been to have left us still asleep and
unconscious of these things, and so to have permitted us to secure, at
least, what pleasure we could out of this present life "under the sun,"
without the shadow of the future ever thrown over us;--yea, such
"conclusion" leaves us "of all men most miserable."

I would, beloved reader, that we might by grace realize something of
this.  Nor let our minds be just touched by the passing thoughts, but
pause for a few minutes, at least, and meditate on the scene at this
last verse in the only book in our Bible in which man at his best and
highest, in his richest and wisest, is heard telling us his exercises
as he looks at this tangled state of affairs "under the sun" and gives
us to see, as nowhere else can we see, the very utmost limit to which
he, as such, can attain.  If this sinks down into our hearts, we shall
be the better prepared to apprehend and appreciate the grace that meets
him there at the edge of that precipice to which Reason leads but which
she cannot bridge.  Oh, blessed grace!  In the person of our royal
Preacher we are here indeed at our "wit's end" in every sense of the
word; but that is ever and always the place where another hand may lead
us, where another Wisdom than poor feeble human Reason may find a way
of escape, and "deliver us out of our distresses."

Then let us turn our ear and listen to another voice: "For we must all
appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive
the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it
be good or bad."  But stay.  Is this the promised grace of which even
now we spoke?  Is this the deliverance for which we hoped?  A
judgment-seat still?--from which still no escape for any: and a
"reception" according to the things done, whether they be good or bad!
Wherein does this differ from Solomon's "conclusion of the whole
matter"?  In just two words only--"_Of Christ_."  It is now the
"judgment-seat of Christ."  Added terror, I admit, to His despisers and
rejectors; but to you and me, dear fellow-believer, through grace the
difference these two words make is infinity itself.  For look at Him
who sits upon the judgment-seat;--be not afraid; regard Him patiently
and well; He bears many a mark whereby you may know Him, and recognize
in the Judge the very One who has Himself borne the full penalty of all
your sins.  See His hands and His feet, and behold His side!  You stand
before _His_ judgment-seat.  Remember, too, the word He spake long ago,
but as true as ever, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth
my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and
shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life"--and
as we thus remember both His word and His work, we may be fully
assured, even as we stand here, that there must be a sense, and an
important sense, in which judgment for us is passed forever.  I may not
be able to harmonize these Scriptures; but I will cleave, at least, to
that which I clearly understand; in other words, to that which meets my
present needs (for we only truly understand what meets our need);
afterward, other needs may arise that shall make the other scriptures
equally clear.  He bore my sins--the judgment of God has been upon Him,
cannot, therefore, be upon me--into that judgment I shall never come.

Then why is it written we must all appear (or rather "be _manifested_,"
be clearly shown out in true light) before the judgment seat of Christ?
There is just one thing I need before entering the joys of eternity.  I
am, as Jacob in Genesis xxxv., going up "to Bethel, to dwell there."  I
must know that everything is fully suited to the place to which I go.
I need, _I must have_, everything out clearly.  Yes, so clearly, that
it will not do to trust even my own memory to bring it out.  I need the
Lord "who loved me and gave Himself for me" to do it.  _He will_.  How
precious this is for the believer who keeps his eye on the Judge!  How
blessed for him that ere eternity begins full provision is made for the
perfect security of its peace--for a communion that may not be marred
by a thought!  Never after this shall a suspicion arise in our hearts,
during the long ages that follow, that there is one thing--one secret
thing--that has not been known and dealt with holily and righteously,
according to the infinite purity of the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Suppose that this were not so written; let alone for a moment that
there never could be true discriminative rewards; might not memory be
busy, and might not some evil thought allowed during the days of the
life in the flesh, long, long forgotten, be suddenly remembered, and
the awful question arise, "Is it possible that that particular evil
thing has been overlooked?  It was subsequent to the hour that I first
accepted Him for my Saviour.  I have had no thought of it since.  I am
not aware of ever having confessed it."  Would not _that_ silence the
song of Heaven, embitter even its joy, and still leave tears to be
wiped away?  _It shall not be_.  All shall be out first.  All--"every
secret thing."  Other Scriptures shall show us how these things are
dealt with.  "Every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day
shall declare it, because it (that is, the day) shall be revealed in
fire, and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is.  If
any man's work abide, he shall receive a reward.  If any man's work
shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved,
yet so as by fire.  If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God
destroy."  (1 Cor. iii.)

That day is revealed in fire, (Divine judgment,) and gold, silver,
precious stones--those works which are of God--alone can stand the
test.  All others burn like "wood, hay, stubble."

Look forward a little.  In the light of these Scriptures, see one
standing before that Judgment Seat.  He once hung by the side of the
Judge Himself upon a cross on earth.  See his works being manifested.
Is there one that can be found gold, silver, precious stones?  Not one.
They burn; they all burn: but mark carefully his countenance as his
works burn.  Mark the emotions that manifest themselves through the
ever-deepening sense of the wondrous grace that could have snatched
such an one as is there being manifested from the burning.  Not a sign
of terror.  Not a question for a single instant as to his own salvation
now.  He has been with Christ, in the Judge's own company, for a long
time already, and perfectly established is his heart, in the love that
said to him long ago, "This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise."
Now as all his works burn, the fire within burns too, and he is well
prepared to sing "unto Him who loves us and washed us from our sins in
His own blood."  And yet stay:--Here is something at the very last.  It
is his word, "Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same
condemnation, and we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of
our deeds, but this man hath done nothing amiss.  Lord, remember me
when Thou comest into Thy kingdom."  Gold! gold at last! as we may say;
and he too receives praise of God.  Yes, not one that shall have the
solemn joy of standing before that tribunal but has, in some measure,
that praise.  For is it not written, "then" (at that very time) "shall
every one have praise of God."  "This honor have all his saints."

Where and when does this judgment of our works, then, take place?  It
must be subsequent to our rapture to the air of which we have spoken,
and prior to our manifestation with Christ as sons of God.  For by all
the ways of God, through all the ages, those scenes could never be
carried out before an unbelieving hostile world.  Never has He exposed,
never will He so expose His saints.  All will be over when we come
forth with Him to live and reign a thousand years.  "The bride has made
herself ready," and the robes in which she comes forth--the white
linen--are indeed the righteousnesses of the saints, but these have
been "washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb."

But "_all_" must stand before Him; and not even yet has that been
fulfilled.  Cain and the long line of rejectors of mercy and light,
ever broadening as time's sad ages have passed till their path has been
called the "broad way," have not yet stood there.  Has death saved them
from judgment?  No, for we read of the "resurrection of judgment"--the
judgment that comes necessarily after death, and includes the dead, and
only the dead.  "I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it,
from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away, and there was
found no place for them.  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand
before God; and the books were opened, and another book was opened,
which is the Book of Life: and the dead were judged out of those things
which were written in the books, according to their works.  And the sea
gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell delivered up the
dead which were in them, and they were judged every man according to
their works, and death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.  This
is the second death.  And whosoever was not found written in the Book
of Life was cast into the lake of fire."  Here, too, we see an exact,
perfect, retributive, discriminating judgment.  The Book of Life bears
not the name of one here.  There is that one broad distinction between
the saved and the lost--the "life-line," as we may call it.  How
carefully are we told at the very last of this Book of Life, that we
may most clearly understand, for our comfort, that the feeblest touch
of faith of but the hem of His garment--perhaps not even _directly_ His
Person, but that which is seen surrounding His Person, as the visible
creation may be said to do--(Psalms cii. 25, 6) let any have touched
Him there, and _life_ results.  His name is found in the Book of Life,
and he shall not see the second death.  Apart from this--the second
death: "the lake of fire!"

And yet, whilst "darkness and wrath" are the common lot of the
rejectors of "light and love," there is, necessarily, almost infinite
difference in the degrees of that darkness and fierceness of that
wrath, dependent exactly on the degree of rejection of light and love.
As our Lord tells us, "he that knew his Lord's will, and prepared not
himself, shall be beaten with many stripes.  But he that knew not, and
did commit things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes.
For unto whomsoever much is given of him shall be much required; and to
whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."  All is
absolutely _right_.  Nothing more now to be _made_ right The ages of
eternity may roll in unbroken peace; with God--manifested in all the
universe as light and love--all in all.

And now, dear readers, the time has come to say farewell for a season
to our writer and to each other.  Let this leave-taking not be with the
groans of Ecclesiastes' helplessness in our ears.  We have stood by his
side and tested with him the sad unsatisfying pleasures connected with
the senses under the sun.  We have turned from them, and tried the
purer, higher pleasures of the intellect and reason, and groaned to
find _them_ equally unsatisfying.  We have looked through his wearied
eyes at this scene, restless in its unending changes, and yet with
nothing really new.  We have felt a little, with his sensitive,
sympathetic heart, for the oppressed and down-trodden "under the sun,"
and groaned in our helplessness to right their wrongs.  We have
groaned, too, at his and our inability to understand or solve the
contradictory tangle of life that seemed to deny either the providence
or the goodness of a clearly recognized Creator.  We have followed with
him along many a hopeful path till it led us to a tomb, and then we
have bowed head with him, and groaned in our agonizing inability to
pierce further.  We have seen, too, with him that there is not the
slightest discrimination in that ending of man's race, and worse, even
than groans to our ears, has been the wild, sad counsel of despair,
"Merrily drink thy wine."  But quickly recovering from this, we have
wondered with great admiration as our guide's clear reason led him, and
us, still on and on to discern, a final harvest-judgment that follows
all earth's sowings.  But there, as we have stood beside him in spirit,
before that awful judgment-seat to which he has led us, and turned to
him for one word of light or comfort in view of our sin and wrong
doings--the deepest need of all--we have been met with a silence too
deeply agonizing, even for the groan of vanity.  Groans, groans,
nothing but groans, at every turn!

And then with what relief--oh, what relief, ever increasing as the
needs increased--have we turned to the Greater than the greatest of men
"under the sun," and, placing the hand of faith in His, we have been
led into other scenes, and have found every single need of our being
fully, absolutely, satisfactorily met.  Our body if now the seat of sin
and suffering, yet we have learned to sing in the joyful hope of its
soon being "like Him forever."  Our soul's affections have in Him a
satisfying object, whilst His love may fill the poor, empty, craving
heart till it runs over with a song all unknown under the sun,--our
spirit's deep questions, as they have come up, have all been met and
answered in such sort that each answer strikes a chord that sounds with
the melody of delight;--till at last death itself is despoiled of his
terrors, and our song is still more sweet and clear in the tyrant's
presence, for he is no longer a "king" over us, but our "servant."
Even the deepest, most awful terror of all to sinners such as we--the
Judgment-seat--has given us new cause for still more joyful singing;
for we have in that pure clear light recognized in God--our
Creator-God, our Redeemer-God--a love so full, so true,--working with a
wisdom so infinite, so pure,--in perfect harmony with a righteousness
so unbending, so inflexible,--with a holiness not to be flecked or
tarnished by a breath,--all combining to put us at joyful ease in the
very presence of judgment--to find there, as nowhere else possible, all
that is in God in His infinity told out, ("love with us made perfect,")
and that means that all the creatures' responsive love must find sweet
relief in a song that it will take eternity itself to end.  In our
Father's House we only "begin to be merry," and end nevermore, as we
sound the depths of a wisdom that is fathomless, know a "love that
passeth knowledge";--singing, singing, nothing but singing, and ever a
new song!

May God, in His grace, make this the joyful experience of reader and
writer, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake!  Amen.



[1] This differs from the usual interpretation, which makes this verse
a metaphor of the mouth and teeth.  This has been rejected above, not
only on account of the direct evidence of its faultiness, and the
fanciful interpretation given to the "sound of grinding," but for the
twofold reason that it would make the teeth to be alluded to _twice_,
whilst all reference to the equally important sense of "hearing" would
be omitted altogether.  I have therefore followed Dr. Lewis's metrical
version:--

  "And closing are the doors that lead abroad,
  When the hum of the mill is sounding low,
  Though it rise to the sparrow's note,
  And voices loudest in the song, do all to faintness sink."


Although, I might here add, I cannot follow this writer in his view
that Ecclesiastes is describing only the old age of the sensualist.
Rather is it man as man,--at his highest,--but with only what he can
find "under the sun" to enlighten him.

[2] The word rendered above "age-long," in our authorized version
"long,"--"man goeth to his _long_ home"--is one of those suggestive
words with which the Hebrew Scriptures abound, and which are well worth
pondering with interest.  To transfer and not translate it into English
we might call it "olamic," speaking of a cycle: having a limit, and yet
a shadowy, undefined limit.  The word therefore in itself beautifully
and significantly expresses both the confidence, the faith of the
speaker as well as his ignorance.  Man's existence after death is
distinctly predicated.  The mere grave is not that olamic home; for the
spirit would, in that case, be quite lost sight of; nor, indeed, is the
spirit alone there,--the _man_ goes there.  It appears to correspond
very closely to the Greek word Hades, "the Unseen."  Man has gone to
that sphere beyond human ken, but when the purposes of God are
fulfilled, his abode there shall have an end: it is for an "age," but
only an "age."  All this seems to be wrapped up, as it were, in that
one phrase--_Beth-olam_, the age-long home.  How blessed for us the
light that has since been shed on all this.  In One case (and indeed
already more than in that One) that "age" has already come to an end,
and the first fruits of that harvest with which our earth is sown has
even now been gathered.  We await merely the completion of that
harvest: "Christ the first fruits: afterwards they that are Christ's,
at His coming."



THE BIBLE TRUTH PRESS, 63 FOURTH AVENUE, NEW YORK.



  "ABOVE THE SUN."

  Cease, ye Saints, your occupation with the sorrow-scenes of earth;
  Let the ear of faith be opened, use the sight of second birth.
  Long your hearts have been acquainted with the tear-drop and the groan;
  These are _weeds_ of foreign growing, seek the _flowers_ that are your own.

  He who in the sandy desert looks for springs to quench his thirst
  Finds his fountains are but slime-pits such as Siddim's vale accursed;
  He who hopes to still the longing of the heart within his breast
  Must not search within a scene where naught is at one moment's rest.

  Lift your eyes _above_ the heavens to a sphere as pure as fair;
  There, no spot of earth's defilement, never fleck of sin-stain there.
  Linger not to gaze on Angels, Principalities, nor Powers;
  Brighter visions yet shall greet you, higher dignities are ours.

  All night's golden constellations dimly shine as day draws on,
  And the moon must veil her beauties at the rising of the sun.
  Let the grove be wrapt in silence as the nightingale outflings
  Her unrivaled minstrelsy, th' eclipse of every bird that sings.

  Michael, Israel's Prince, is glorious, clad in panoply of war;
  *"Who is as the God of Israel" is his challenge near and far;
  But a higher still than Michael soon shall meet your raptured gaze,
  And ye shall forget his glories in _your_ Captain's brighter rays.

* "Michael" means "Who is as God."

  List a moment to the music of the mighty Gabriel's voice,
  With its message strange and tender, making Mary's heart rejoice.
  Then on-speed, for sweeter music soon expectant faith shall greet:
  His who chained another Mary willing captive at His feet.

  But, let mem'ry first glance backward to the scenes "beneath the sun,"
  How the fairest earthly landscape echoed soon some dying groan.
  There the old-creation's story, shared between the dismal Three:
  Sin and Suffering and Sorrow summed that Babel's history.

  Now the contrast--vain ye listen for one jarring note to fall;
  For each dweller in that scene's in perfect harmony with all.
  Joy has here expelled all sadness, perfect peace displaced all fears--
  All around that central Throne makes the true "music of the spheres."

  Now upsoar ye on faith's pinion, leave all creature things behind,
  And approach yon throne of glory.  Love in Light ye there shall find;
  For with thrill of joy behold One--woman-born--upon that Throne,
  And, with deepest self-abasement, in _His_ beauties read your own.

  Joyful scan the glories sparkling from His gracious Head to Feet;,
  Never one that does not touch some tender chord of memory sweet;
  And e'en heaven's music lacks till blood-bought ones _their_ voices raise
  High o'er feebler angel choirs; for richer grace wakes nobler praise.

  Vain the quest amongst the thronging of the heavenly angel band
  For one trace of human kinship, for one touch of human hand;
  'Mongst those spirits bright, ethereal, "man" would stand a man alone;
  Higher must he seek for kinship--thought amazing--on God's Throne!

  Does it not attract your nature, is it not a rest to see
  One e'en there at glory's summit, yet with human form like thee?
  Form assumed when love compelled Him to take up your hopeless case,
  Form He never will relinquish; ever shall it voice His grace.

  Wondrous grace! thus making heaven but our Father's house prepared;
  Since, by One who tells God's love, in wounded human form 'tis shared.
  See, His Head is crowned with glory! yet a glory not distinct
  From an hour of deepest suffering, and a crown of thorns succinct.

  Draw still closer, with the rev'rence born of love and holy fear;
  Look into those tender eyes which have been dimmed with human tear--
  Tears in which _ye_ see a glory hidden from th' Angelic powers;
  Ours alone the state that caused them, their beauty then alone is ours.

  Look once more upon that Head: finds memory no attraction there
  In the time when, homeless-wandering, night-dews filled that very hair?
  Brightest glories sparkle round it--crowned with honor now; and yet,
  Once it found its only pillow on storm-tossed Gennesaret!

  See that Hand! it once grasped Peter's as he sank beneath the wave,--
  Snatched the widow's son at Nain from the portal of the grave,--
  Touched with healing grace the leper, gave the light to him born dark.
  _Deeper love to you is spoken in that nail-print--precious mark_!

  Let your tender gaze now rest on those dear Feet that erstwhile trod
  All the weary, painful journey leading Him _from_ God _to_ God;
  Took Him in His gentle grace wherever need and suffering thronged,
  Or one lonely soul was found who for the living water longed.

  Those the very Feet once bathèd with a pardoned sinner's tears,
  And anointed, too, with spikenard speaking Mary's love and fears;
  Took Him weary on His journey under Sychar's noontide heat,
  Till the thirsty quenched His thirsting, and the hungry gave Him meat.

  Blessed Feet! 'tis only _sinners_ see the depth of beauty there;
  _Angels_ never have bowed o'er them with a penitential tear.
  Angels may regard the nail-print, with a holy, reverent calm;
  Ye who read the _love_ it tells of, _must_ break forth with thankful psalm.

  Draw yet nearer, look more fondly; yea, e'en nestle and abide
  In that covert from the storm-blast, in the haven of His Side.
  That deep wound speaks man's great hatred, but His love surpassing great:
  _There were focused, at one spear-point, all God's love and all man's hate_!

  Rest, ye saints! your search is ended; ye have reached the source of peace.
  By the side of Jesus risen, earth's dull cares and sorrows cease.
  Here are Elim's wells and palm-trees, grateful shade and waters cool,
  Whilst in Christ's deep love there's healing far beyond Bethesda's pool.

  Closer, closer, cluster round Him, till the kindling of that Love
  Melt your hearts to like compassions whilst amid like scenes ye move.
  Only thus abiding in Him can ye fruitfulness expect,
  Or, 'mid old-creation sorrows, new-creation love reflect.

  Ever closer gather round Him, till "the glory of that Light"
  Dims the old creation glitter, proves earth's glare to be but--night!
  Gaze upon Him till His beauties wing your feet as on ye run,
  Faith soon bursting into sight, in God's clear day "Above the Sun."

  F. C. J.



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