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The Preacher is still prosecuting the same subject, of the insufficiency of all things here below to give comfort. And the whole chapter is but one and the same train of reasoning on this important point.
So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.
It is impossible not to be struck with the strength of argument which the Preacher makes use of, in order to enforce the doctrine of human vanity. In whatever way he directs his attention, and whatever object meets his eye, he seems to raise sermons from everything to lead to the same conclusion. And it is yet more remarkable, that what Solomon saw and observed in his day, every reflecting mind may equally behold, and draw the same conclusions now in our day: human life is not changed, but vanity is still marked upon all. Oh! how blessed it is, in confirmation of the vast and infinite importance of the gospel of Christ! Where shall we look for happiness, but to Jesus? We may well say, as the Apostle did, Lord, to whom shall we go, thou hast the words of eternal life. John 6:68 .
Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.
Solomon was not singular in this opinion: a voice from heaven proclaimed the same, Revelation 14:13 . But, Reader! it is blessed to live, or die; provided we live, or die, in the Lord. Paul's situation was the desirable one: Philippians 1:21 .
Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun. (4) Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit. (5) The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh. (6) Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
If we read these verses, as they refer to the carnal, graceless, and ungodly, how striking they are. What is life, in all its highest attainments out of Christ? But if we read them in reference to a soul in grace, the handful only with Jesus, yea, the cup of cold water which Jesus gives, is blessed. This is what the apostle calls, having nothing, and yet possessing all things. 2 Corinthians 6:10 .
Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun. (8) There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.
By vanity under the sun, surely the Holy Ghost meant to teach his people, that all above it is satisfying. So that here indirectly, the Holy Spirit is following up his gracious office in glorifying Christ. And in the instance which the Preacher hath given of a worldling, whose carnal eye is never satisfied, and whose carnal heart can never say, It is enough! he hath finely represented, though it is a mournful sight, the general character of fallen men. Reader! look round in every direction: survey the various instances in human life, and say, whether the world at large, in the endless pursuits of things of the world, is not thus employed. Oh! what a decided proof of man's ruin by the fall! Blessed Jesus! what but thy glorious undertaking, in redemption, could have gathered thy people out of it?
Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. (10) For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. (11) Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? (12) And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
If we spiritualize these verses, they will be beautiful and instructive. For if Jesus and my soul be the two here spoken of, sure I am, that I shall be lifted up whensoever I fall. In every place, and upon every occasion, my advantages will be great indeed. I shall find warmth, and life, and light, and love. But without Jesus, there is a woe indeed, and a fatal fall: for who but Jesus, can raise a fallen sinner? In his strength I shall be strong, and if thus joined to the Lord Jesus by one Spirit, even God the Holy Ghost, here is a three-fold cord, which cannot be broken.
Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. (14) For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.
The sense of these verses is very plain. The folly spoken of in scripture, means a state void of Christ, who is himself wisdom. Poverty with Jesus is blessed. Any state, and every state, without Jesus, is wretched. If we read this, or any other part of scripture, when speaking of folly in this point of view, those two scriptures will beautifully illustrate and explain it. The first is, Isaiah 27:11 ; and the second Job 28:28 .
I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead. (16) There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.
If we read those aphorisms of the Preacher without looking for the explanations of them in the gospel, we shall be led to consider them rather as the melancholy effusions of a mind soured with life, than as the reflections of a wise and prosperous king, who, from the experience of carnal vanities, had formed those just conclusions, in order to lead the heart to the pursuit of better things. Nothing can be more evident, than that the Holy Ghost designed from the public confession of Solomon, on these interesting points, in which all men by nature are so eagerly engaged, to teach, that the whole is vanity. And from a full conviction; that all is vanity out of Christ, to make this a means in his Almighty hand, to lead the church to Christ. And these divine truths, when blessed to this end, become blessed indeed! We have a beautiful and comprehensive conclusion to this effect, in a verse of the Psalms. Psalms 119:96 .
MY soul! hast thou learnt to form similar conclusions to the Preacher from the same causes; and in a right estimate of human life, made calculations what the close will be? Hast thou beheld the tinge of vanity which is given to all, and from hence directed thy views to all precious Jesus, the complete, the soul-satisfying, the supreme, the only good? Oh! thou the pearl of great price! in thee I find everything that is substantial and satisfying: yea, durable riches and righteousness. Possessing thee, thy church must possess all things: for thou art all in all to thy people. And what endears thee, oh! thou lovely One, to the heart of all that know thee, and enjoy thee, is, that thou art freely given, freely bestowed by God our Father, without our deserts, without our conscious want of thee, without our desire, nay, without our first wishes, and even against all our natural dislike to thee. Yes! blessed Jesus! never should we have sought thee, hadst thou not sought us: never should we have loved thee, hadst thou not first loved us. But in the endless pursuit of any, and every vanity rather than Jesus, would our poor, blind, and deluded nature, have gone on, turning from one creature comfort to another, until death had finished all, and we had lain down in the silent grave, with sorrow and disappointment!
Oh! ye that are now entering life, full of high prospects of health and youth and the many gilded objects before you, inviting you by their syren songs to ruin; oh! that the Lord may give you to seek grace, to avoid being lost amidst the deceitful pursuits of what the world calls pleasure. Look to Solomon. Hear what the Preacher said. And before you have run the mad round of vanity and folly, which can terminate in nothing short of disappointment and vexation of spirit, make now a right calculation. Look unto Jesus. Behold how glorious in his person: how blessed in his grace and mercy! how suited to the circumstances of poor, fallen, dying creatures! Think, from what misery he can save - Think to what happiness he can bring - How delightful his fellowship! How sweet his society. And while he becomes all that the soul can need now; how fully will he satisfy the soul to all eternity? Hear, ye young; and the Lord direct your choice. It is Jesus that calls at the entering in of the gates: and his promise is like himself, unalterable and sure. He saith, I love them that love me: and those that seek me early shall find me.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany