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Bible Commentaries

Mylne's Commentary on Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes 2

Verses 1-26

"I said of laughter: It is madness! And of mirth: What does it accomplish?" Ecclesiastes 2:2

Of natural gifts none is more rare than cheerfulness; that elasticity of mind, and buoyancy of spirit; that even temper, and sunshine disposition — which cheers the man himself, and all who know him. Cheerfulness, gilded with grace, and sanctified — savors most largely of the mind of Christ. It speaks . . .
of peace with God,
of resignation to His will, and
freedom from sordid appetites and cares.

Who would reprove the beaming smile; or, in due season, the hearty laugh? In youth, especially, it is pleasant to behold it — it were a somber thought to wish it gone. The cares of life will throw their shadows soon enough across the mind, and we may wish again to see some of that cheerful elasticity we were accustomed to chide.

But this is not the "laughter," nor the "mirth," that Solomon means. He meant the idle laughter, the fool’s mirth; merriment followed as an object; the love of pleasure, as the grand pursuit of life. "Laughter," like this, is "as the crackling of thorns under a pot." (Ecclesiastes 7:6.) Empty in sound — it tells of emptiness within, and savors of a mind unused to sober thought and healthy action.

Who should be cheerful as the child of God — as he, who has nothing to fear, whether on earth, or in the world to come? But, oh, my soul, let not your cheerfulness assume an air of levity. Laughter is good in moderation, and the cheerful interchange of merry thought is often refreshing to a jaded mind. But, oh, beware how you indulge it to excess, or slide unwittingly into the habit of unguarded mirth. Such mirth as this must tell most hurtfully upon you. It will . . .
mar the spirit of prayer,
unfit the mind for meditation, and
eat away the taste for heavenly things!

It is pleasing to a man to move his friends to laughter. The play on words, the studied joke, the repartee; the are of mimicking another — his tones, his gait, his actions; to see a company hanging on your words for merriment — all this is captivating.

But, child of God, beware! This will not keep you at the feet of Jesus. Human applause is dangerous, and much to be avoided. When tempted, therefore, to exceed in mirth, and lose yourself amid its fascinations — fall back upon your soberness. Remember Jesus, and the truths of Scripture; think of your past experience, and forbear.

The worldling has no spiritual sight; his eyes are gone. Thus blind he will remain — unless the Lord should give him sight. He sees neither his lost condition, nor its remedy. To him, sin is not sin — God is not God — Christ is not Christ — Heaven is not Heaven — Hell is not Hell — because he walks in darkness. My soul, be it not thus with you! If God has given you sight, are you not bound to use it to His glory? Then, let your eyes be in your head — not, like the fool’s, "to the ends of the earth." (Proverbs 17:24.)

You have an eye, if rightly used — will be quick to discern the Tempter’s snare, however well concealed. If you have fallen into sin — whose fault is it? Why have you eyes to see with, if you use them not? Say not, "I did not see it — the Tempter was too subtle for me." This is to throw discredit on the gift of God. You should have been more careful — then this grief would not have been yours.

Beware of dreaming, as you walk along, gazing on empty nothings — on your own futile imaginings. In doing so, plain duties will be overlooked. Oh, my soul, look well around you — see what your duties are. Look at them in the face. Turn not away, because they are difficult, or because your eye is fixed on something more inviting. Your wisdom is to keep your eyes at home. Home duties, and home temptations — demand your earliest and best care. Keep these, then, in the foreground of your vision — then may you safely look at what is beyond.

If you are given to abstract thought, and spend much time in study, oh, take care! None should observe their steps, like star-gazers! Some sudden call to active duties, some trifling interruption — something which tries your patience — may prove a stumbling-block, over which you would not have tripped, if your eyes had only done their duty.

And you, my soul, keep you your eyes from wandering in forbidden paths. When in the haunts of vanity, oh! keep your eyes at home; hide them within the lids of watchfulness. Beware of looking everywhere, not knowing what to look for! This leads to vanity. The showy magazine! The mirthful attire! Walking temptations, mighty to allure! My soul, you know them well. Make, then, a covenant with your eyes (Job 31:1); call in your wandering energies; restrain the prying vision of your appetites! Think of the grace of Jesus, and fix your eyes on Him!

So thought the prophet Jonah. So thought Job and Elijah, Moses and Jeremiah. (Jonah 3; Job 6:9; 1 Kings 19:4; Numbers 11:15; Jeremiah 20:14.) But were they right — these men of old — to rise in mutiny against their lives, and God’s corrective dealings? Not so the great Apostle Paul. With all his sufferings, none had such cause to feel life burdensome, as he. If ever man were justified in hating life, it was the Apostle Paul. Yet, with all this, and a strong "desire to depart and be with Christ" — he hated not his life. "To me," he said, "to live is Christ" — although he felt that it was gain to die. (Philippians 1:21; Philippians 1:23.) To hate his life, would be to hate the thoughts, the presence, and the smile of Jesus. To him these treasures were intertwined with life itself. He could not breathe, but Jesus breathed in him. He could not journey, but Jesus went with him. He could not suffer, but Jesus suffered in him. In bonds, imprisonment, and stripes; in watchings, weariness, and fastings; in perils by land, and perils on the seas — in these, and such like visitations, what was his life? It was Jesus! Jesus in his thoughts; Jesus in his heart; Jesus ever present to his soul. As long as life lasted, it was the gift of God — the vehicle, for the time, of Paul’s existence — that living state, on which was grafted, by the Spirit, the life of Jesus. How could he, then, hate life, except he hated the thought of Jesus!

Reader, this is a lesson to you and I. Be it our aim to be with Jesus; to be done forever with our sin and shame, and earnestly to long for glory; but never to hate the life, which God has given to be a blessing.

Reader, before the worlds were made, the time of death, both yours and mine, was settled, to a moment, in God’s eternal will; and when the moment comes, nothing can detain us here on earth. Until then, God has a purpose in our length of days; something or other to be done, or suffered — which purpose it is our glory to fulfill.

When God says, "Live!" then it is good to live. When He says, "Friend, come up to Me!" then it is good to die. Then, Christian, whether in sickness, poverty, or pain; in care, uncertainty, or sorrow — to you to live is Jesus. Your life is precious, to the last breath and throb, because God gives it; and because, in every throb and breath, Jesus lives in you. Hate not your life; despise it not; but ever honor it for Jesus’ sake; and live by faith in Him, who gave himself for you! (Galatians 2:20.)

Had Solomon’s wisdom left him? Did he mean to say that, after all, the drunkard, or the epicure is the happiest man? Not at all! The Preacher’s object was to ascertain which, of all earthly goods, involved the smallest disappointment.

The man of sensual pleasures looks not beyond the moment. Present enjoyment is his sole pursuit. He eats, and drinks, and, for the time, is satisfied. No distant calculations fill his mind; no stretching into things unknown; no measuring of causes and effects; no vast comparison of past and present science; no thought that carries him beyond to generations yet to come, and, in its yearnings after knowledge, sighs that it cannot live forever, in the fond pursuit!

Oh! what a thought it is! What a result of fallen nature! Apart from grace, the more a man is raised above the brutes — the more he rises in refinement, and in lofty enterprise — the more he is doomed to disappointment in the end! The world may profit by his labors and applaud his work; but what will this avail him after he is gone? Judged only with regard to earthly happiness — mental pursuits excel the love of pleasure, as darkness is excelled by light. But — weighed against eternity — sensual pleasure, and earthly wisdom, are merely on a par. Each fails alike to give a taste for Heaven; to bring the sinner to the Cross of Christ; to take the sting from death; or to regenerate the soul.

Christian, beware! We live in dangerous times, when human are and intellect are worshiped by too many. Some, even of God’s people, are led away, and think that cultivation of the taste, and mind, will fit them better for the joys of Heaven. Others, by mental culture, would teach the ignorant to love human learning. Alas! that men of God should so forget themselves! They do not consider that even in its highest flights (compared with heavenly truth), philosophy is, after all, a carnal thing. The things of earth are earthy; spiritual things are Spirit. You cannot mix the two; therefore confound them not. The one will never help the other; then try it not.

Nothing but "Christ crucified" will civilize the soul. Nothing else deserves the name. Be satisfied with nothing short of this. The mind, the taste, the intellect of man — are as much fallen as the body. Nothing which directs itself to these, can cure his soul malady. Jesus, from first to last; God’s Holy Spirit manifesting Christ; the drawings of the Almighty Father’s love — these, and these alone, uplift the soul from earth, and nurture it for Heaven!

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Bibliographical Information
Mylne, George. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". Mylne's Commentary on Ecclesiastes. 1858.