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George Mylne, 1859
[Editor’s note: This is the best devotional commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes that we have ever come across! In each verse which he comments on, George Mylne first views the verse just as Solomon intended — from the perspective of mere human wisdom. That is, the book of Ecclesiastes is simply God’s record of the rational conclusions of the wisest and most experienced man who ever lived. In other words, Solomon seriously thought upon all of life, the world and everything in it — and concluded that all are puzzling enigmas, emptiness, vanity, meaningless, purposeless, futile, hopeless, vexatious, unsatisfying, unjust, etc., etc.
Secondly, Mylne then views each verse from the Christian perspective — that is, through the lens of the cross of Jesus. From this perspective, all the enigmas are solved, all the meaninglessness and futility of life is removed, and all the injustices are rectified. Only through the cross, does life become meaningful, purposeful and satisfying!]
Reader, you know that "Scripture" comes from God. (2 Timothy 3:16.) One God inspired it all. God spoke by Moses; God spoke by Solomon; God spoke in Christ; nay, more, Christ spoke in Moses, and in Solomon too. One law, one code of morals, is contained in all. The mind of God is one, and always one — not one in Solomon, another mind in Christ. What Moses said, or Solomon taught — Christ contradicts not, but confirms. That which was duty then, is duty now. The times have changed — the precept is the same. The law could never justify. It was meant to be, and to
My soul, why seek your happiness below — here in this fallen world, where "all is vanity?" Often have you tried it, anxious still to find some earthly good. As often you have found Solomon, the Preacher, right, that "all is vanity."
The worldling, too, can say that all is vanity — and yet pursues it still. Be it not so with you! Let all that is empty here on earth, lead you to what alone will satisfy — -the grace of God, the love of God, the Lamb of God; to "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever." (Hebrews 13:8.)
Have you ever asked yourself, "Where does all this vanity come from?" My soul, it comes from you — and you received it from your father Adam! You and your fellows of the human race, have caused it all.
Whence comes the tempest?
Whence come the earthquake, the pestilence, the shipwreck, the blighted crop?
Whence come sickness, famine, death?
Whence come bereavement, affliction, and sorrow?
Whence come murder, drunkenness, wars, and immorality?
Whence come all that is vile, and sad, and disappointing?
Whence comes the universal taint — the wrongs, the groans, the misery of all created things?
My soul, they come from you; from you in Adam, and from him in you. The poison of sin that is in you, has poisoned all others besides. Since you are sinful — all is out of course. Since you are vanity — all things here are vain. The curse that fell on you — you have entailed on your children. My soul, be humbled with the thought — consider and be wise!
Look over the Book of Nature. See all the troubles of this fallen world; see all that is disjointed, vile, and fleeting; and say, "It comes from me!" My soul, you say, "All is vanity!"
Oh, look within, for all is vanity there. How swift for evil! How dead to all that is good! What rank corruption! What inbred sin! How weak your purposes for good! Anathema maranatha
How faltering your course in holiness! How weak your purposes! How faltering your course! If all is vanity without — it is tenfold vanity within! If all around is vanity — then you are the master-vanity of all.
Bless, God, then, O my soul — in Jesus you have that which is not vanity. In Jesus you have all that is solid, durable, and perfect! You have eternal riches, strength, life, pleasure, comfort, peace! In Him, what have you not? You have a sure foundation — a Rock that can never be shaken — an unfailing help!
"All is vexation of spirit!" Ecclesiastes 1:14
Who has not felt vexation?
Who knows not what it means?
The infant in its cradle,
the schoolboy at his play;
youth in all its freshness,
manhood in its prime,
and especially old age —
all, all have felt vexation!
My soul, you know it well! Your sins, your fallen nature, your infirmities — all lay you open to vexation.
How easily irritated you get!
How quick to feel offenses!
How swift to gather sorrows to yourself through your excess of sensitivity!
Often have you murmured at your lot, rising in mutiny against your Maker.
How often has your patience failed!
What trifles have often wounded you!
Some scheme of pleasure has been thwarted — and you were quite vexed!
A rainy day, or even some trifling inconvenience — has often ruffled your composure.
How often a kind reproof, a friendly warning — some imagined slight — a look — a smile withheld, and yet with no intention of unkindness — has filled you with vexation!
How often has wounded pride; a humbling sense of your infirmities; a deep conviction of your lack of judgment; the fear of standing low in man’s opinion — vexed you beyond expression!
My soul, you are not singular in your vexation. Go where you will, you will find it. The world is full of it. "All is vexation of spirit!"
This does not mean that . . .
woes may lawfully be brooded over, or
sense of injuries be cherished in the soul, or
that morbid feelings be indulged in, or
that moody silence, brooding vexation, and carking care, are healthful for the soul! Oh, no!
If God is true, if Scripture precept has its weight, and promises their meaning — vexation, O my soul, should have no part in you! Open you must be to its trials day by day. But . . .
where is your grace;
where is your active holiness;
where is your consistency;
where is your strength, your comfort, and your steadfastness
— if you are conquered by vexation?
Have you, then, learned of Christ, the lowly and the meek One, and not found rest for your soul? (Matthew 11:29.) Have you learned your lesson so badly? Go, learn it over again. Fight, then, against this habit of vexation. Give it no place within you. Look to the Comforter to help you. Taste the tranquility of God. Take every trial, as it rises, to Jesus, your Savior-Friend. Then peace shall be your portion — not vexation! Though faint, yet be pursuing, and you shall gain the victory still. (Judges 8:4.)
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid!" John 14:27
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus!" Philippians 4:7
Reader, how many things remind you what you are — a fallen creature! Not least of these, the toil and trouble of this changing world. The sun and moon, and planets in their course — the restless wind — the ever-flowing, never-tarrying river — are pictures of the ceaseless toil of man. (verse 4-7.)
The hum of cities;
the labor of the field;
the crowded factory;
the cottage loom;
the bread you eat;
the clothes you wear;
the house you live in;
the fire on your hearth
— all speak of labor! How could you have them without labor, either your own, or others? The ploughman and mechanic earn their bread with daily toil. But there are other modes of labor — labor in thought, and speech, and action — not the less trying to the human frame.
My soul, envy not those who eat the bread of idleness. God, in His love, has made the curse of labor, into a blessing! And thus the greater the toil — the greater the blessing; the more the duties done — the more advantage to the doer — if God is feared, and honored in them all.
Look at the household servant — how numerous her calls? Duties to God — to master, mistress, kinsfolk, and friends; no time to call her own; hastily summoned from her work, her meals, or her devotions. She takes her food — for what? to give her strength to labor yet again! The toil of day is done; she lays herself down — only to rise and labor on the marrow! How much to try the temper, wear the body, vex the mind! Yet, if she keeps her soul in patience, and looks to Jesus, not for salvation only, but for strength, for meekness, and a willing mind — if thus she goes the round of daily duties, no station is more dignified than hers!
Reader, whoever you are — whatever your calling — the greatest earthly blessing I can wish you, is to have much to do, and health to do it. May all your work be sanctified by prayer! In all your labor, remember Jesus! He, in a servant’s form, once labored here on earth. You say that you are wearied — He was weary too. (John 4:6.) Tell Him your every toil, and this shall comfort you. Lean on His bosom. In His abiding presence, seek your rest.
But if you know not Jesus — what comfort have you in your labor! what comfort in repose? Have faith in Jesus. Weary of sin — seek rest from sin in Jesus. Does an evil conscience trouble you — seek rest from this in Jesus. Then shall the Spirit testify of Jesus, and all your toil be rest.
The senses are but servants to the soul. The soul desires to look — and sets the eye to see. The soul desires to hear — and sets the ear to hearken. The soul is never wearied. It listens to sweet music, and lingers, longing still for more. When had the soul enough of a sweet flower? When was it ever filled to overflowing with viewing the masterpieces of nature?
Nothing on earth can satisfy the soul!
It leaves its pleasures, with a craving for more.
It sighs to increase its satisfactions.
It grieves to think how limited are all its joys.
Oh, there is a longing in the soul; a restless appetite to see and hear, to grasp, to understand; a stretching forth of thought; a yearning principle — which spurns the restrictions of the senses. And yet (such is the tribute due to sinful human nature) sense, in its feebleness, keeps down the soul. The soul, with all its energy, cannot overpower sense!
How sad, how humbling the condition of fallen man!
Yet, child of God, you have no cause to mourn. Gifted by grace with higher faculties, you have that with which to fill your soul to the full. By faith you see, hear, and taste better things — you see Jesus on the throne of God. By faith you see the "sea of glass," and hear "the voice of harpers harping with their harps." You see Heavenly and eternal realities by faith!
My soul, why linger after the things of time — when better sights, and better sounds invite you? Or why lament your straitened means — with heavenly powers so unlimited?
Then let your eye repose on Jesus!
The more you look at Him — the longer will you look.
The more you look — the more will be your power to gaze upon Him.
The more you commune with Him — the sweeter shall you find His company.
Speak much to Jesus — you shall not speak in vain. The name of Jesus shall be to you "as beds of spices, and sweet flowers." (Song of Solomon 5:13.) The whispers of the Spirit, telling of grace and peace, shall ever and always refresh your ear!
My soul, these pleasures shall never fail you!
Not like the music, that was, and is not — with no hand to sweep the chords!
Not like a feast of yesterday — which is now gone forever!
Not like the flowers that once were fragrant — and now are fragrant no longer!
Not like the beautiful landscape — which you have left behind!
Your Savior, Friend, and Comforter, is ever with you — now and to all eternity the same!
"What has been — will be again, what has been done — will be done again.
So spoke the Preacher. But "Stop," you say — "Solomon never saw the railway’s iron road. The electric telegraph was then unknown. No brilliant gas lamps converted night to day. And no balloon yet floated in the air." My friend, was Solomon, then, wrong? Can we prove his saying false? Are things, then, changed since Solomon? Can we say, "This is new?"
Ah, wisdom more than Solomon’s inspired the sacred Word; and One who, from the first, knew all things that would happen to the end of time, still said, "What has been — will be again, what has been done — will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun! Is there anything of which one can say, ’Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time!" What does the Preacher mean, then?
My friend, man is unchanged from Solomon — yes, even from Adam — until now. His nature, feelings, appetites, his sins, corruptions, and infirmities — are ever the same. The Railway carries the same freight of selfish man — as traveled formerly in other ways. The Telegraph conveys the messages of the same passions, enterprise, and avarice — as swayed our forefathers. The Gas lights up the same abodes of sin. The aviator, from his balloon, looks down on man — the very counterpart of all he was before.
Then, is there nothing new since Adam? My soul, is nothing new to you? Yes! grace is new. Neither man, nor angels knew it at the first. And my soul, you knew nothing of it, until God Himself enlightened you. No religious rite of man, no power of education, no moral character — could give it; nothing but the Spirit of the living God.
My soul, if Christ is yours, and you are Christ’s — to you all things are new indeed!
A new heart,
a new mind,
a new birth,
new company to keep,
new friends to love,
new brethren to cherish!
Yes, a new world to view — a new kingdom to inherit! All things in grace are new — all unknown before. All things in nature are new — since you have seen them in another light. New things you find in each promise, and in each precept of the Word! Your God, your Savior, and your Comforter — are newest of all. By prayer, by watchfulness, by meditation, stir up the heavenly gift; excite the new-born taste — and at every turn, you will find all things new.
O you who lack variety — why seek it here in earthly mundane things? Come, O come to Jesus, and then find all things new indeed!
Do what you may, crosses are crosses still. No are of man’s device can make the crooked, straight.
The train, or ship, which bears some dear friend away;
the quiet sea, after a night of shipwreck;
the rain that robs you of a holiday;
the broken pieces of some favorite vase —
all say the same, "The crooked must be crooked, do what you will."
Oh, there is anguish in the thought, as disappointment, stealing over the mind, throws its dark shadows on the brow — that nothing can be done! The soul then muses on its sorrow, and thinks again, "Remedy there is none! Truly this is a grief — and I must bear it!" (Jeremiah 10:19.)
Philosophy is useless then.
Stoic patience brings no real comfort with it.
A smiling face, may hide a broken heart; and lips will speak of resignation, when the worm of blasted hopes is preying on the soul! Where, then, is comfort to be found? What, then, will make the bitter, sweet; or the crooked, straight?
Not the mere fact of looking at the Word; nor yet in owning that your trials come from God. (Ecclesiastes 7:18.) Cain owned as much as this — yet Cain was wretched still. (Genesis 4:13-14.) And, reader, you will be wretched in your trials, if you can do no more.
Nothing but the Cross of Christ, makes other crosses straight! Do you know Jesus Christ? By name you know Him, doubtless; but is He in your heart? Say, are your sins forgiven? Are you at peace with God? Does the Holy Spirit dwell in you? Does He instruct your soul? If not, then must your cross be crooked still. From my heart I pity you, my friend! Bitter to you — must still be bitter, with nothing to sweeten it. Full many a blast shall blow upon you — where then is your shelter? But, oh, your soul! your precious soul! What will it be? Where will it be hereafter!
But, child of God, you know what it is to have your crosses straightened. Often have you brought them to the cross of Christ, and even rejoiced to have a cross to bear. All things are precious, which bring you to the Cross. Tried by this rule, your bitter things are sweet, and your crooked things are straight.
Believer, are you downcast at your cross? Oh, look again! Don’t you see Jesus there? Can He not make it straight? Where, then, your patience? My friend, where, then, your faith?
How simple is the truth here spoken, yet how deep! Of wounded hearts, of withered hopes it speaks — of losses, trials, and sorrows; some lighter, some more serious; yet in them all, the truth is still the same. Your favorite flower droops and dies; some keepsake gift is lost; some cherished member of the family has died. How often it rends the heart — it always costs a pang — to count one’s treasures over, and to find one lacking! Objects may still be found to fill the vacant place. But ah! the missing one is gone, not to return again, and leaves the heart to mourn its absence!
But there is a blessed secret (to those who know it) to fill such empty spaces with more than they have lost, and add ten thousand fold to their diminished store.
Christian reader, whatever you have lost — put Jesus in its place. Fill every blank with Jesus — and it shall be a blank no more! Have you lost a friend? Does memory cling to the spot before occupied? You look, and look again — and he is not there! No opening door brings back his well known form. Once you could number him among your treasures, but now you number him no more.
Hasten to fill the blank with that which cannot fail you! Do not strain your sight to gaze on emptiness, nor fill your mind with shadows of the past. Oh, fix your thoughts on Jesus! Think of Him, as your best, your dearest Friend. Think of His grace, His dying love for you.
No living friend — no friend that is departed — could love you, think of you, or watch you, as Jesus yes has done. Though other friends are gone, yet you can "number" HIM. Though earthly goods are lost, yet Jesus still is there. No blank can be a blank, when Jesus fills the void. Your losses are but gains, when they bring Jesus to your soul. See every blank through Jesus. All that you should forget — His form shall hide. All that you may remember — you still shall see in Him. Memory shall thus be chastened, and God Himself shall soften every woe.
What kind of wisdom causes grief? What kind of knowledge is it, that increases sorrow?
Perhaps it means the knowledge of the world, its vileness, its vanity, its futility, its uncertainty — to have learned that all its show is vain, and all its pleasure is fleeting. This causes grief to those who see its vanity. God’s people mourn it. And worldlings oftentimes disgusted with themselves and all around, and having nothing to sanctify the feeling — are filled with bitter disappointment.
Also to know one’s own corruption, to catch a glimpse of SELF in all its frailty; to see our sin, to taste its power — to dread the pains, and not to know the remedy — this causes grief. Sorrow like this is turned to joy, when sinners look to Jesus. Yet many saints forget the promises, and fill their souls with bitterness, from lack of faith.
Again, wisdom may mean the education of the schools — the round of human learning, and attainments in the arts. Here also grief is to be found. There is much futility and many vexations — in searching after knowledge. The mind is hampered by its limited capacity; and, having gone thus far, it sighs that it can go no farther. How many a bright experiment, thus ends in grief; and man discovers, to his cost, that human wisdom, after all, is vanity!
But, most of all, wisdom like this occasions grief, in that it tempts the soul to rest in second causes, and thus to slight the Lord. It is true, there is sometimes exquisite delight in following some cherished study; to trace the hidden things of are and science — to bring to light some fact, or principle, unknown before.
But then, what of the eternal world to come! Are you prepared for it? What of your sins? Are they forgiven? What will declining age — what will your death-bed be? What is to be the end of all your labor? If all your wisdom ends in misery; if all your knowledge only perverts your soul — is it not sorrow, after all?
Reader, would you be saved? Then learn true wisdom in another school — the school of Christ. There you will learn to know yourself. This is no trifling part of wisdom. And, better still, there will you learn to know the Savior — God, in Christ Jesus, forgiving sin, changing the heart, and bringing you to eternal glory! This wisdom never grieves; this knowledge adds no sorrow. Taste it, my friend — be happy and be wise!
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Mylne, George. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1". Mylne's Commentary on Ecclesiastes. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany