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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Ecclesiastes 4

Verses 1-16

Ecclesiastes 4:1-2

Compare John Morley's Critical Miscellanies, I. pp. 84 f.

Reference. IV. 1. A. W. Momerie, Agnosticism, p. 204.

Ecclesiastes 4:8

See Quarles's Emblems, II. 2.

Ecclesiastes 4:9

'The best things come, as a general thing,' says Mr. Henry James in his Monograph on Hawthorne (p. 81), 'from the talents that are members of a group; every man works better when he has companions working in the same line, and yielding the stimulus of suggestion, comparison, emulation. Great things of course have been done by solitary workers; but they have usually been done with double the pains they would have cost if they had been produced in more genial circumstances. The solitary worker loses the profit of example and discussion.'

Hopeful I acknowledge myself in a fault, and had I been here alone, I had by sleeping run the danger of death. I see it is true that the wise man saith, Two are better than one. Hitherto hath thy company been my mercy.

Bunyan.

Reference. IV. 9, 10. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Sermons for the Christian Year, p. 512.

Ecclesiastes 4:10

I drown the past in still hoping for the future, but God knows whether futurity will be as great a cheat as ever. I sometimes think it will. I tell you candidly, I am sometimes out of spirits, and have need of cooperation, or Heaven knows yet what will become of my fine castles in the air. So you must bring spirits, spirits, spirits.

Cobden to his Brother.

Ecclesiastes 4:12

'We are three people, but only one soul,' said Coleridge, speaking of Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, and himself.

The Threefold Cord

Ecclesiastes 4:12

It is sometimes good to ask ourselves what are the real roots or foundations of our personal religion, apart from what we receive as revealed truth. The answer, if we can find it, will give us the contents of our natural religion, our faith apart from revelation and authority.

I. What are the marks or tests which give some of our experiences a much higher value than others, so that we feel that there is something Divine about them?

a. They bring with them their own satisfaction. We feel that they are a positive, absolute value.

b. They have a universal quality. They take us out of ourselves, out of the small circle of our private personal interests.

c. They delight and uplift us in such a way that when they are gone we feel that we are still the better for having had them.

These are the three marks of what St. Paul calls the things of the Spirit the higher and better world which is all about us and among us and within us, but which is not to be seen by everybody, nor by anybody at all times. The things of the Spirit are first precious for their own sake; they have God and not our little selves for their centre; and they bring us a peace and happiness which does not wholly perish when they are gone.

II. Now what are the experiences which have these qualities? They are of three kinds.

d. First of all, contact with moral goodness has this character. So far as we are brought close to goodness, and especially goodness in the form of disinterestedness, sympathy, love, we feel that we have reached the heart of life, that we are lifted out of ourselves, and that we are enjoying a happiness which, come what may, will make us richer for life. This is one strand in our threefold cord.

e. There is the love of truth this is the second strand in our threefold cord. No matter in what field we are seeking the truth, we feel, when we have found it, that here is something which exists in its own right, which stands proudly aloof from our little personal schemes, and which we are permanently the better for having found.

f. The third strand in our threefold cord is the appreciation of beauty. And surely this mysterious sense of beauty, which seems to serve very few practical uses in human life, in proportion to its strength and diffusion, must have been given us by God as a revelation of Himself. It has the three marks of spirituality which I have mentioned. It takes us out of ourselves, as pure affection, and pure seeking after truth take us out of ourselves; and it is, or should be, in its own degree a permanent enrichment of our life. There is then a sacredness about these three experiences, which we should all feel. The good, the true, and the beautiful, are attributes of God's nature, and we stand on holy ground when we are brought into contact with them.

W. R. Inge, All Saints' Sermons, p. 211.

References. IV. 12. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 166. J. Keble, Sermons from Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 395. V. 1. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 253. V. 1-9. T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 125. V. 1-12. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ecclesiastes, p. 350.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 4". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/ecclesiastes-4.html. 1910.