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Bible Commentaries

Mylne's Commentary on Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes 5

Verses 1-20

"Guard your steps when you go to the house of God." Ecclesiastes 5:1

The Preacher says, "Guard your steps!" A prophet says the same, "Keep your feet from being unshod." (Jeremiah 2:25.) The advice is good. To walk unshod is a sure way to pierce yourself with many sorrows. For slip-shod grace will never advantage you — and never less so than in going to the house of prayer. Leave not your Gospel shoes at home; nor lose them along the way. If so, you will not find them when you come to worship.

What do you think of, and speak of, along the way to the house of God? If earthly things engage the mind — the doings of the past or coming week; the dress or manners of the passers by; the news you have heard; the letters you have had — if thoughts like these are in your mind up to the very threshold of the church door — this will hinder your devotions.

God’s worship must begin before you leave your home; your thoughts, your speech, your eyes — must be focused on God. Fix them on Jesus — and then you will not have them to bestow on other things. Make Christ your company along the way — and He’ll accompany you in the house of God; then all its acts shall savor of His presence.

In private worship, or in social prayer, we cannot be dwelling on worldly things — and then spring at once from earth to Heaven. Oh, there is a preparation of the heart; a setting of the countenance heavenwards; a girding the loins for fellowship with God; a deep conviction of His majesty; a pausing on the threshold of His presence — that the first word of prayer may have His blessing. If you would "guard your feet" in seasons of devotion, be sure you keep them well at other times. As is your daily walk — your prayers will be. A careless walk begets a wandering mind, unfit to gather in its thoughts, and settle them in prayer. Prayer and the daily walk act, and react, on one another. He who is much in prayer will guard his feet; and he who guard his feet properly, be much in prayer.

Nothing feeds the soul like meditation — the habit of reflecting on our ways, and Scripture truths. This leads alike to holiness, and converse with the Lord. Then, child of God, at all times "guard your feet;" not only when you go to the house of prayer.

"Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong." Ecclesiastes 5:1

In converse with a friend, it is not one alone who speaks, but two people; and of this converse, listening is as much a part, as speaking.

So is it in communing with God. Time was, my soul, with you, when prayer was but a form, and nothing more. No thought had you of listening in prayer; of watching for the breathings of the Spirit, telling you what to say to Jesus, or whispering what Jesus said to you. Now, by God’s grace you have learned to hearken. Dull is the prayer-time, when you hear not the voice of your Beloved! Oh, if you can not feel that God is speaking to you, as you speak to Him; His presence telling that He loves you, hears you, answers you — then your prayer will be to you a "tinkling cymbal," or as "sounding brass."

Often have you sat before the Savior in silent devotion — on your part silent, but not so on the part of Jesus — and found more eloquence in silence, than in fervid utterance. But oh! to speak, and be the only speaker — the Spirit bringing no response, no message from the throne! Oh then, my soul, you fall back upon your emptiness, and are sad indeed.

In prayer and devotions, be . . .
much alive in listening;
quick to discern the voice of Jesus;
and ready to obey.

Often has the Spirit beckoned you to prayer, and you have framed some fond excuse — some imagined duty, or yet some occupation that pleased you better. How often has some casual book — a journal — or a work of are, robbed you of communion with the Lord! In every room — on every table — looking from every window — there is danger, more than enough for your constancy — so beware, beware!

Look for the Spirit’s movings, when you pray. Do not grieve Him; nor resist Him in His promptings. Some word has quivered on your lips, and been withheld. And why? It savored of some duty you had wished to shun; some heart-confession that your pride refused to make; a prayer for one, for whom you did not wish to pray. The Spirit urged it; your heart said, "Nay."

Say, is not this the sacrifice of fools? My soul, this should not be. Be more ready, then, to hearken. Thus shall you hear what Jesus says — what Jesus thinks. Thus shall the Spirit indite your thoughts, direct your prayers, and nourish you for glory.

"Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong." Ecclesiastes 5:1

OH what a tender thing is Prayer! How surpassing wonderful, is man’s fellowship with God; and God’s fellowship with man!

The motions of the Spirit, how refined! How easily repelled! How lightly interfered with! How promptly thwarted in their action!

Say, do you feel a sudden burst of prayer? Do tears flow fast? Are your lips enlarged in speaking to your God? Beware, my soul, how you give up your prayer, or break the current of adoring thought. True, it may be the time for reading. The Word may be in hand — the place be open, where you are going to read. Or it may be in midst of study, when thought has been in exercise, but not with reference to prayer. Or yet you may be otherwise engaged — in secular pursuits, that may be left without a breach of duty. Quench not the Spirit’s movings — He is leading you to fellowship with God. There, in the bosom and the smile of Jesus, you will find all that is needed for the time.

If you well-versed in Christian devotion, and know the lights and shadows that attend it — you will learn to seize the moment, and lift your soul to Heaven when you ca. In studying the Word, if anything is sent with power to your soul; if thought flows quickly, and light is shed upon you from the door thus opened into Heaven — turn not to other portions, as long as the Spirit keeps you there. This were to dictate to the Spirit, to interrupt His actings, and tempt Him thus to leave you to yourself.

The treasures of the Word are His to unfold — His to apply. And if He feeds you in this, or other pasture, He has prepared a blessing for you there. You may have wished to read some other portion, as coming in its course, or as better suited to your present need. Leave that with God. Be sure that power, thus derived, will . . .
give you strength for any trial;
fit you for any duty; and
answer every end you had in view.

The Spirit knows your daily, hourly need, and He has given you what seemed Him good. Trust, then, the Spirit’s leadings. Strive to discern His intimations. And thus increase in wisdom, grace, and peace.

"Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God." Ecclesiastes 5:2

Of yourself, my soul, you are incapable of prayer. By nature you are far from God, how could you pray? If something must be said, your native powers can furnish words. But if the Spirit does not move you — it is not prayer. None but the Spirit’s voice can speak to God. None but the Spirit’s mind can reach his ear. "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will." Romans 8:26-27

Why does the Spirit dwell in you? To be the framer of your thoughts — the organ of your speech — to God: that you in Him, and He in you, might think the thoughts, and think the language of prayer. To pray without the Spirit, is the same as thinking without a mind, or speaking without the power of speech. Bright thoughts; well-rounded sentences; the flow of sentiment, and earthly sympathies — what are they? They come not from the Spirit — and they do not lead you to God.

What has the Spirit thought? What has the Spirit said, within you? Your life, your heart, your thoughts — must be centered in the Spirit. In Him you pray. In Him you praise. In Him alone you are a living thing. Without Him, while you live, you are spiritually dead.

My soul, whence all your waverings in prayer; resolves half formed, and forthwith given up; playing with sacred duties; uttering many things, but feeling not? Whence all your parleyings with conscience; pleading for grace, yet half-afraid to have it; striving against sin, yet longing to indulge it; praying against some idol, yet hugging it all the while. Whence your discomfort after prayer; conscious of not having dealt with God? Is it not this — the mind has thought — the lips have moved — without the Spirit? Why did you speak without Him? Better be silent altogether — than run before his motions.

In private prayer, fret not, though waiting times be long — though often you leave the throne, and not a word be spoken. What could you say? The Spirit spoke not. You could not but be silent.

"God is in Heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few!" Ecclesiastes 5:2

God is above in majesty and power. He hears your every word. He reads your every thought. You may forget what you have thought or said. Not so with the all-knowing and all-seeing God.

Beware of making vows to God. Who asks them of you? Make holy resolutions, if you will; and pray for grace to keep them. Have deep convictions of your own infirmity; trust only in the Spirit’s power for strength; think of the love of Jesus; be daily crucified with Christ — and thus go forth, to meet the trials of a fallen world. This will advance you more than all your vows.

Do not rashly prolong your times of worship, nor enter lightly on a course of self-imposed pious duties. If these are followed for a time, and then be given up — it is worse than if they never had been pursued. While yet your time remained, was it not still your own? Who asked you to employ it thus? God goes to meet you at the usual hour — will He not mark your breach of purpose?

Again, when prayer time is diminished, or study of the Word is hurried over — does the Spirit say, "It was not always so!" Thus God is mocked, and you receive injury. Retrograde habits speak of backward grace. Your only safety is in going forward.

"Let your words be few!" Five minutes heartfelt prayer — is better than hours of formal worship!

"Let your words be few!" Abhor the habit of empty prayer — praying for praying’s sake, it may be to eke out the moments of a given time set apart for devotional exercises. You words cannot be too many — when God is present with you. Does Jesus ever think your words too many? Does He grow weary of your company? Did He ever motion you to leave his presence? Your own infirmities cut short your prayers — Jesus can never wish you gone. Speak often to the Lord, even though your words are few. Thus moments of communion grow to hours of prayer. Originating thus, your praying times are sweeter, than when they come from formal words. Whole days may thus be spent in true devotion; in walking; eating; communing with others; your every hour may be prayerful, and your every thought may be sweet. Such seasons, oh! how precious, unutterably precious!

My soul, reckon not on their lasting. Cherish them while you have them. Be reluctant to part with them. Thus, by God’s grace, they may return again.

"Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the angel, (or temple messenger) ’My vow was a mistake!’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?" Ecclesiastes 5:6

Angels appeared on earth in times of old, bearing God’s message to His people. They heard the vows then made, and might have come to claim fulfillment.

The priests of God were called his "angels, or "messengers" (Malachi 2:7). And in the Church of Christ preachers, and ministers, are called "angels", or "messengers". (Revelation 1-3) Had vows been made before the priest, and then excuse been offered for their non-performance — the priest would say, "While you promised — was it not your own? Why did you vow — not meaning to fulfill your vow? You have not vowed to man, but unto God!" (See Acts 5:4.)

And is there not One, greater than angel, minister, or priest, to claim performance of our vows? I mean not formal vows, the solemn dedication of one’s self, or means, to God; all these are very solemn, and, if broken, must pierce the soul with many sorrows. But I mean the resolutions, whether of more or less determination, that either flit across the mind, or assume a more enduring character. Have you been sick, or afflicted in other ways? Has danger suddenly beset you? Before health were scarcely returned, or danger gone — did thankfulnes

"Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the angel, (or temple messenger) ’My vow was a mistake!’ Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?" Ecclesiastes 5:6

Angels appeared on earth in times of old, bearing God’s message to His people. They heard the vows then made, and might have come to claim fulfillment.

The priests of God were called his "angels, or "messengers" (Malachi 2:7). And in the Church of Christ preachers, and ministers, are called "angels", or "messengers". (Revelation 1-3) Had vows been made before the priest, and then excuse been offered for their non-performance — the priest would say, "While you promised — was it not your own? Why did you vow — not meaning to fulfill your vow? You have not vowed to man, but unto God!" (See Acts 5:4.)

And is there not One, greater than angel, minister, or priest, to claim performance of our vows? I mean not formal vows, the solemn dedication of one’s self, or means, to God; all these are very solemn, and, if broken, must pierce the soul with many sorrows. But I mean the resolutions, whether of more or less determination, that either flit across the mind, or assume a more enduring character. Have you been sick, or afflicted in other ways? Has danger suddenly beset you? Before health were scarcely returned, or danger gone — did thankfulness depart? Your vows of service — your fervent resolutions — where are they? Where is your change of life, solemnly pledged in the hour of need? Your former sinful books, your sinful pleasures, your sinful companions — are they renounced? Say not before the angel — still less before the living God, "It was an error; I did not mean it so. Religion is good in sickness, but in health it is not befitting."

My friend, will God accept excuses such as these? Ask your own conscience — it shall tell you true.

And you, my soul, I have a word for you — a word for every child of God: Think well before your resolutions. Even your passing thoughts are known to Him. Harbor not the thought with marked self-satisfaction, unless prepared to act upon it. Hold it far from you; let it not come within the range even of slight resolve, until you can count the cost, and see if you have faith to make the sacrifice. To break even passing resolutions unnerves the soul, and, more or less, impedes its healthy action. Remember, then, with whom you have to do, and be watchful of your vows!

"In the multitude of dreams there is also vanity!" Ecclesiastes 5:7

In telling idle dreams, there is vanity. It must be so — the Scripture says it.

"What harm?" you say; "How can I wrong myself, or others, by telling them my dreams?" The vanity is this: at best, it is needless to describe the nothings of a dreaming hour, the fantasies of a dream world. The mind which deals with Truth, thinks it a waste of breath to tell such vanities; to tread a ground, on which it finds no standing; to breathe an air without an atmosphere: sight, hearing, sound, perception, memory, all conjured up — for what? To tell the phantom wonders of a dream!

Man’s waking thoughts are mostly vanity — mere shadows, and no more. If so, then what are your dreaming thoughts, my Friend? Mere shadows of your vanity; the shadow of your shadows; the mere reflection of your nothings. Dreams mostly hinge on SELF. Their world is thus shut up within the dreamer. If you hate to speak of self — then it is irksome to you to recount your dreams. It is but another way of feeding vanity — to have the thoughts of others fixed upon yourself.

If Christ is much the subject of your thoughts — then you will not have heart, or mind, thus to employ your speech. If it is vanity to tell your dreams — then is it not vanity to think of them; to have the mind disturbed because some imaginings crossed it in its sleep?

Yet, Reader, I do not deny that God may be pleased to visit you in dreams, and stamp his truth upon you in the night. Such dreams are not to be despised; they savor of something better than yourself.

Some simple rules will tell you when a dream is good. Has it made you feel your sin — and taught you that you need a Savior? Has it brought a sense of Jesus to your soul? His love for sinners? His power to save? Have dreaming thoughts thus done some good to your soul which waking thoughts had failed to do? If so, thank God for your dream, and treasure it up; yet, not because it is a dream, but for the sake of what it taught you.

God’s ways are various. Mostly He brings us to self-knowledge in our waking hours; but it is as easy to him to do it in our sleep. Happy are they who, waking or asleep, are brought to Jesus! To them, the world itself is one vast dream. Their true, and only waking hours, are when they feel His love.

"For in the multitude of words there is also vanity!" Ecclesiastes 5:7

"When words are many, sin is not absent; but he who holds his tongue is wise!" (Proverbs 10:19.) Can it be otherwise? Words are but thoughts made audible — the inward man clothed in external form. And what is thought? It is but the working of the heart within.

"The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked!" How, then, can "many words" be free from sin? The larger the garden — the greater the room for weeds; the more the words — the greater the room for sin!

The pride of speech is natural to man, and nothing delights him more than when he is listened to. To SELF it is delightful, to be the best speaker — to give the interesting discourse, while others hearken; to tell, for hours, what SELF has thought and done. To worldly men the pleasure is unmixed; their conscience tells them not it’s vanity, nor troubles them with sense of sin. But to the child of God it is otherwise.

I ask, you, Christian reader, have you ever spoken largely, and, in after-thought, had a sense of inner delight and vanity? Your speech has been of doctrine — of Christian duty — of all that tends to edify the soul — we’ll grant it. But has not SELF crept in; self-congratulation at having spoken well — SELF, seeking to be praised for soundness, wit, or discernment? Have not the promptings of the Spirit been outstripped — your lips gone faster than His teaching? Have you not spoken often for speaking sake, reluctant to renounce the charm of hearing self — unwilling to give way to others? Poor humanity! Alas! Alas!

I pity you. Oh! it is a dangerous thing to have the gift of speech — the love, and ability to speak well. It is well to know how we may hit the golden mean; to steer midway between cold reserve, uncourteous silence, and the opposite extreme; if need be, to speak much — if more expedient, to say little. Frankness, and openness of heart, are pleasing: a readiness to impart knowledge, experience, and information is admirable: to give one’s mite to cheer the social circle with apt discourse is good. But be it ever done in meek submission to the Spirit, with inward self-possession and with prayer; that self be crucified, and God’s glory simply sought. Thus to possess the soul is glorious. Say, is not this to have the mind of Christ?


"For in the multitude of words there is also vanity!" Ecclesiastes 5:7

Oh! what a power there is in "words!" On lightning’s wings they fly, bearing their messages to heart and mind, telling invisibly, yet surely, on the hearers. Who should be as guarded as the Christian in his speech? How often a thoughtless word turns holy talk to controversy and vain jangling! How often, through a word, some worldly theme is started, then eagerly pursued — while heavenly things are disregarded! How often a single word stirs discontent, brings injuries to mind long since forgotten, and sets men harping on their grievances! How often a word kindles the smouldering embers of dislike, or fans the flame of scandal! These, and like evils, might be much avoided, if we would only think before we speak, and weigh the probable effect of what we are going to say.

It were a sad bondage to the worldly mind, forever to keep watch over its thoughts and words. To careless saints the task is likewise hard. But, to the heart well kept, Christ’s yoke is easy, and his burden light. (Matthew 11:30.) Reader, is this experience yours? Are you not bound to practice what you know? Why have you, then, the faculty of thought, as quick in its movements as the lightning’s flash; strong in its powers of forecasting; in the twinkling of an eye, able to calculate effects, and stop ideas halfway between thought, and utterance? Why, but to use your powers well!

Be quick in speech, if need be; but calm in thought, collected in discourse. Much may be done by practice; unruly tongues may be tamed, loose habits may be corrected, and every word led captive to Christ. Before you mention what you’ve seen or heard, say to yourself, "Should I repeat it? Will it foster my pride? Will it expose no faults of others? Will idle curiosity be fed, or vain remarks be made? Is it not better to keep it to myself?" Much time and comfort would be saved, did men but reason thus! Examine well the converse of a day; balance your watchfulness against your thoughtless speech. Compare the loss and gain incurred by either, and then you’ll see that, if in careful speaking there are many benefits, "in the multitude of words there is also vanity."


"I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner." Ecclesiastes 5:13

SELF is much made of in the things of time, but little thought of for eternity. If self is the body, self is also the soul. After the body-self is laid in dust, the soul-self is still alive — doubly alive for happiness or misery; self lives forever! All that we do, has influence on self, its interest, or its injury. All that self does, has bearings on its state, either in hindering, or helping its eternal good. Man, in his blindness, sees it not. Thus "bitter is put for sweet, and sweet for bitter; good is called evil, and evil good." (Isaiah 5:20.)

The miser hugs his gold. To him his gifts to others are losses. He thinks that all that is kept is gain. How different the Bible truth. "One man gives freely — yet gains even more; another withholds unduly — but comes to poverty!" (Proverbs 11:24.) Thus the Christian finds that what he keeps, he loses; and what he gives, he gains. Oh, for more faith to see this principle — and more faithfulness to act upon it! It is easy to avow it, where self is not concerned; but to say "Amen" to it, when self is called to give — this is another thing.

Reader, have you ever given in faith, and found that God increased your store? Have you ever had a hoard — a sum saved up and cherished — and yet have difficulties come and clouds obscured your prospects? (I speak not of the comfort to the soul in giving, or of the spiritual loss sustained when gifts have been withheld.) Then can you understand how "riches" may be "kept to the hurt of those who own them." If your means exceed your needs — what do you with the rest? Why do you hoard it? Is it for some unrealistic purpose — to provide for children (this may be overdone) — to meet some necessary call? Isn’t it in truth, kept for self? Ah, what will self do with it, when self is gone? Say, for what then is it kept? — the moldering corpse, or the departed soul! You keep it to your hurt!

Yet giving, of itself, profits nothing. It neither saves nor sanctifies. (1 Corinthians 13:3.) To give indeed, men must be saints indeed. Is love to Christ the motive of your gifts? Then are you qualified to give indeed — able to lend to God. (Proverbs 19:15.) Money, to pass with God, must all be coined in the mint of faith. No loan will He avow, nor interest pay, except upon that which bears Christ’s image, and His superscription. To give in faith — to give in love — to give with understanding — Reader, may this be your, and mine!

"This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes — so he departs; and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?" Ecclesiastes 5:16

As we came naked from our mother’s womb — naked shall we return. (Job 1:21) Nor shall we be able to carry in our hand anything that we had below. Oh, what a character this gives to earthly things! They are all connected with a sinful world. They are left behind, because they cannot enter Heaven. Hence the Apostle’s moral is added to the Preacher’s truth, "Having food and clothing, let us therewith be content." (1 Timothy 6:8.)

How few of man’s possessions are really needed! Take food and clothes away — the rest are mostly useless. We live in times so artificial, it is hard to say what are mere luxuries, and what are needful comforts. God’s servants often are carried down the stream of vain conformity. Did they but keep the Scripture rule in mind — what loss of time and strength would be avoided! The Scripture does not say, "Be content with what you have." (Hebrews 13:5) without a reason.

God would not stint His children, nor ask them to abstain from anything, merely for self-denial. It is that injury is wrapped in the indulgence — and good is gained in keeping from it. I beg you, reader, analyze your time, and occupations. See how far your thoughts are lost, and energy expended, in seeking things, or doing works, that are of no real use.

Even little things have great effects. Each need that you create; each needless article, or ornament, for house or person; every pursuit you follow, must have its influence on your soul — if in nothing else, at least in this respect, that more or less it occupies the mind.

You say, "It is but a moment — the thing is quickly done; the object is now bought, the arrangement is now made. It all falls in with daily occupations, and habits ready formed; no harm can possibly arise." Oh, my friend, nothing can lodge within your mind, even for a moment, but it must impact upon your life. Character is made up, for good or evil, by objects ever flitting through the mind. The more that Christ is thought of — the more the life is pure. The more the world is in the thoughts — the less will Christ be there. Little things soon make great things. A great world is made of little worldly things. Be jealous, then, with godly jealousy Beware! Your vines have tender grapes! (Song of Solomon 2:15.)

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Bibliographical Information
Mylne, George. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5". Mylne's Commentary on Ecclesiastes. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mce/ecclesiastes-5.html. 1858.