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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 1

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-18

Ecclesiastes 1:2 . Vanity of vanities. This is the Hebrew form of the superlative degree of comparison; as, the heaven of heavens, the song of songs, &c. He adds, “vexation of spirit,” because his researches found neither bottom nor end. Thus Paul, in the study of providence, exclaimed, Ο Βαθος , “oh the depth!” We cannot penetrate far into the expanse of heaven, yet we see enough to charm the eye, and delight the mind.

Ecclesiastes 1:6 . The wind goeth toward the south. Captain Dampier, a circumnavigator, has written on winds, with a view to assist sailors in their course. The subject did not escape the notice of Solomon. The sun rules the seasons, and the variations of the winds affect their mildness, or their rigour. Periodical winds are inscrutably regulated by the Creator. The whirl of the earth occasions easterly winds for twenty eight degrees, on each side the equator; then the eddies return and fall on the north of France and England, in south-west gales and showers, which make our climate so happy. In Canada they have north-west gales, from the snow-capt mountains, which make their winters severe. Dampier notices the land breezes all along the west coast of South America. Other phenomena of breeze and gale, of calm and hurricane, are occasioned by the rarity and density of the atmosphere.

Ecclesiastes 1:13 . I gave my heart to seek and search out wisdom. After being a student of nature for half a century, he was no nearer an end. He surpassed all others, Ecclesiastes 1:16, in moral and physical science, as is allowed by the sacred historian, 1 Kings 4:30-34; yet the boundaries of infinity circumscribed at every point the daring stretches of his mind.

Ecclesiastes 1:18 . He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. An attentive examination of false systems tends to becloud the understanding, and to induce a spirit of scepticism which it is difficult wholly to avoid, but which injures the peace and joy of early piety. The youthful mind is not able to follow the learned abettor of a system in the discrepancy of argument; and so doubts and sorrows follow him often to his grave. The grand seat of modern atheism in Europe, lies in the heart, the evil heart of unbelief. The characters of the men we know. They are seducers of women, lovers of wine, ambitious without bounds, and blasphemers of piety. “Oh my son, come not thou into their assembly.”


Solomon had a most illustrious father, equally distinguished by piety, wisdom, and conquest. Solomon was born with a large share of intellectual powers, as appears from his choice of wisdom. He also spent his whole life in researches of sacred knowledge, and was painfully made to know his own heart by a transition from wisdom to folly, and by obscuring his religious glory with strange women at a pagan shrine. Fraught with all these treasures, treasures which cost him much, he comes forward to instruct posterity concerning the insufficiency of earthly bliss, and to guide them by early piety to the fear of God, and to all holy obedience. This wise prince, and father of moral philosophy, pregnant with his subject, five times repeats the words of his text. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; vanity of vanities, all is vanity, and vexation of spirit. I have been taught by my sire, that the heavens and the earth shall wax old, and perish as a garment. Psalms 102:25. So one generation passes away after another; the sun now shining in splendour hastes to hide behind the hill; the summer breezes wafting the fragrance of the south, recoil in the northern cold, nip the beauteous flowers, and cover the earth with snow. The majestic rivers lose their placid streams in the tumult of the troubled sea. Thus all nature is a routine of labour, vanity, and decay; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. This is the introduction to his book; the sentiments he strikingly exemplifies in his own life. Favoured with all the advantages of a king, he gave up a part of each day to literary pursuits, and eclipsed the east in wisdom. And what resources of happiness did it open in his soul? Why truly resources of vexation, grief, and sorrow. And have not the same sentiments been most tragically exemplified by the literati, who have figured away on the theatre of Europe for the last century? Born with gigantic powers of mind, they spent the whole of life in the acquisition of language and science; they acquired a superabundance of knowledge which operated as a chaos, from which their misguided heads and impure hearts could not deduce the plain principles of purity, happiness, and peace. They affected to grasp the world of science, while they remained completely ignorant of their own hearts. They obtruded themselves as preceptors of princes, and lawgivers to the people, while they knew not how to govern themselves. They despised marriage, the purest source of social bliss; they flattered the great, and imitated them in their crimes. They talked of the law of nature and of nations with passions unrestrained: for in fact, they acknowledged no law but the dogmas of their own school. Of virtue, they talk with a divine reverence; but the sequel proved it was merely to give circulation to their books, and the more effectually to corrupt the incautious public in principle and practice. Hence they were adored in literary fame; but on approaching them in the habits of domestic life, they were presently despised and hated. The sacred volume alone forms the grand barrier against the inundation of their principles. Against that book therefore they pointed all their artillery of satire and wit, for argument they had none; and against piety and holiness, somewhat disfigured by superstition, they discovered the enmity of their hearts. Thus they were impoverished by pride, restless by dissipation, abandoned of patrons, and secretly pursued by the avenging hand of heaven. Thus Rousseau, impelled by misery, forsook France, and sought in Switzerland the innocent joys of early life; but wept while he sat on a rock and saw the happiness of the peasants. Thus all knowledge which does not lead the soul to a resemblance of God, realizes the closing maxim of this chapter: He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/ecclesiastes-1.html. 1835.
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