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
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,
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 worshipers shall worship
the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship
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,
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
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,
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 holds 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,
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"--"
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 tomorrow 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
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 above the malarial swamps of mere epicureans, 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
"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.--
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.