Click here to learn more!
THE WICKEDNESS, MADNESS, AND MISERY OF UNREGENERATE MEN
Ecclesiastes 9:3. The heart of the sons of men is full of evil; and madness is in their heart while they live; and after that, they go to the dead.
IF we look only on the surface of things, we shall think that all things come alike to all, since all are subject to the same afflictions, and go down to the grave in their appointed season. But the righteous, however afflicted, “are in the hands of God [Note: ver.1.],” who ordereth and overruleth every thing for their good; whereas the wicked, however prosperous, are left to run their career of sin, till they fall into the pit of everlasting destruction. The state and end of unregenerated men are awfully declared in the words before us; wherein is depicted,
[“The hearts of unregenerate men are full of evil.” Every species of filthiness, whether fleshly or spiritual [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.], abounds within them [Note: Romans 1:29-31.]. They have not a faculty either of body or soul that is not defiled with sin [Note: Romans 3:10-18.]. So full of iniquity are they, that there is no good within them [Note: Genesis 6:5.Romans 7:18; Romans 7:18.]. And this is the state, not of a few only, but of every child of man, till he has been renewed by the Holy Spirit [Note: John 3:6. Tit 3:3 Jeremiah 17:9.].]
[It may well be expected that creatures so depraved should manifest their depravity in the whole of their conduct. And in truth they do so: for they are even mad. They pour contempt upon the greatest good. Can any thing be compared with the salvation of the soul? And do they not disregard this! And is not such conduct madness? They also disregard the greatest of all evils, the wrath of God. And would not this be madness. if there were only a bare possibility of their falling under his everlasting displeasure? How much more then, when it is as certain, as that there is a God! Moreover, they continue in this state, for the most part, “as long as they lire.” If they acted only through ignorance, or were drawn aside for a little time by temptation, or if they turned from this way, as soon as they came to the full exercise of their reason, yea, if they rectified their conduct as soon as their own consciences condemned it, they would have some shadow of an excuse. But, when they persist, against light and knowledge, against warnings and judgments, yea, against their own vows and resolutions, what is it but madness itself? Let a man act in such a way with respect to the things of this world, and no one will hesitate a moment to pronounce him mad [Note: Luke 15:17.].]
[How pleasant soever the ways of ungodly men appear, they will soon terminate in death [Note: Job 20:5-9.]. But the righteous also must go the grave: no doubt therefore it is another death that is here spoken of, even “the second death in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.” This is affirmed by God in the strongest manner [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:9. Psalms 9:17.]: and, however disbelieved by those whom it most concerns, it shall assuredly be found true at the last. Yea, we have even now the consciences of men attesting this awful truth: and if we should say, that the ungodly, after such a life, should “go to” heaven, instead of to “the dead,” though they might be wicked enough to wish it, they would not be mad enough to believe it. They have a presentiment, in spite of all their reasonings to the contrary, that “their end shall be according to their works [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:15.].”]
How necessary is it to deal faithfully with the souls of men!
[Should we “prophesy smooth things” unto people who are perishing in their sins, and who before another Sabbath may be “gone to the dead?” Should we, if we beheld a stranded vessel, seek to amuse the sailors, instead of affording them direction and assistance? How much less then if we ourselves were embarked with them, and were partners of their danger?. Surely then every time we preach, we should bear in mind that both our hearers and ourselves are dying creatures, and that, if we forbear to warn them, we ruin ourselves for ever [Note: Ezekiel 33:8.].]
How earnestly should every one seek to be born again!
[Does the notion of regeneration appear absurd [Note: John 3:7; John 3:9.]? Let all hear and understand the grounds of that doctrine. What must we think of God, if he should fill heaven with sinners incorrigibly wicked, and incurably mad? Or what happiness could such sinners find in heaven, even if they were admitted there? There must be a meetness for the heavenly state [Note: Colossians 1:12.]: and that meetness can be obtained only by means of the new birth [Note: John 3:5-6.]. A new heart must be given us [Note: Ezekiel 36:25-26.], and we must be made “new creatures in Christ Jesus [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:17.].” Let all then seek this renewal of their hearts [Note: Ephesians 4:22-24.]: for, unless they be born again, they shall never enter into God’s kingdom [Note: John 3:3.].]
How greatly are all regenerate persons indebted to the Lord Jesus Christ!
[They were once even as others: if there was any difference, it was only in their acts, and not in their hearts [Note: Ephesians 2:3.]. But they are delivered from their sins [Note: Romans 6:14; Romans 8:2.], endued with soundness of mind [Note: 2 Timothy 1:7.], and made heirs of everlasting life [Note: John 5:24.]: and all this they have received through the atoning blood and prevailing intercession of the Lord Jesus. What a Benefactor then is he! And how should the hearts of all be knit to him in love! O “let them give thanks whom the Lord hath redeemed [Note: Psalms 107:1-2.]:” and let all seek these blessings at the hands of a gracious and almighty Saviour.]
EARNESTNESS IN RELIGION RECOMMENDED
Ecclesiastes 9:10. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither than goest.
THE greater part of mankind imagine, that a continued round of worldliness and pleasure will consist with religion. But their opinion is contradicted by the whole tenour of Scripture, which uniformly enjoins deadness to the world and devotedness to God. There are however some who err on the other side: and who make religion to consist in penances, and pilgrimages, and mortifications, and a total abstinence from all indulgences, however innocent, not excepting even the comforts and endearments of domestic life. In direct opposition to these are the words of Solomon in all the preceding context. He contends, that neither a cheerful use of the bounties of Providence, nor a prudent participation of the elegancies of life, nor a free enjoyment of conjugal affection, will at all interfere with our “acceptance with God,” provided our ardour in the pursuit of heavenly things be not diminished by them [Note: ver. 7–10.]. With this St. Paul also agrees: for he says, that “God hath given us all things richly to enjoy;” and, that “godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come.”
It is not our intention, however, to enter into this general question; but rather to confine ourselves to the direction of Solomon in the text: in which we notice,
Industry in temporal concerns is doubtless an important duty; and we may certainly understand the words before us as inculcating, and enforcing this duty. But the advice must relate also to spiritual concerns, in transacting which more especially, the utmost zeal is necessary.
Every man has a work to do for his soul—
[The unconverted have to get a sense of their guilt and danger, to turn unto their God with the deepest penitence and contrition, and to have their souls renewed after the divine image — — — The penitent have also a great work to do. They have only just set out upon their race, and have as yet all the ground before them, over which they are to run. They have to obtain the knowledge of Christ, and get their souls washed in his blood; and, in conformity to his example, to serve God in newness of heart and life — — — The converted too, whatever attainments they may have made, have still much which their “hand findeth to do.” They have many lusts to mortify, many temptations to withstand, many conflicts to sustain, many graces to exercise, many duties to perform: to their latest hour they will be required to “glorify God with their bodies and their spirits, which are his”—-]
This work must be “done with all our might”—
[It must be done speedily, without delay.—None of us have any time to lose. Whatever be our state at present, we know not how long our lives may be continued. The young and healthy are mortal, as well as the old and diseased; and the sturdy oak may be blown down while the bending rush survives. We should therefore imitate David, who says, “I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”
It must be done heartily, without remissness.—It is not sufficient to enter upon this work with indifference, and to prosecute it in a cold lifeless manner. We must “give all diligence to make our calling sure,” and “to be found of Christ in peace:” we must “strive to enter in at the strait gate, since we may seek, and not be able.” Even “the righteous are scarcely saved,” and with great difficulty. If any dream of salvation as a matter easily to be accomplished, they will “perish in their own delusions.”
It must be done perseveringly, without weariness.—There is no period when we are at liberty to relax our endeavours. While we are in the world, we are still an the field of battle, and surrounded with enemies that are ever ready to take advantage of us. It is not till death that we can “put off the harness:” “till then, there is no discharge in this warfare.” We must “not faint, or be weary in well-doing, if ever we would reap;” but must “be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”]
To impress this salutary advice upon our minds, let us proceed to consider,
The argument with which it is enforced—
We all are dying creatures, and continually hastening to the grave. Whether we be going to our business, or our pleasure, or our rest, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing, we are “going to our grave.” The precise distance of our grave is hid from us: some arrive at it almost as soon as they set out on their journey: multitudes, when thinking of nothing less, drop into it suddenly, and are seen no more. Those who have walked towards it for a considerable time, have stronger and stronger intimations of their approach towards it. Many are seen with one foot already in it: and all, sooner or later, make it their long home.
From hence arise two very powerful arguments for enforcing diligence in the concerns of the soul. In the grave,
There is “no work” to be done—
[This life is the time for work: the next life is the time for recompence. The works needful to be done are, to “repent and believe the Gospel:” but in the eternal world there is no opportunity for performing either.
We cannot repent.—A kind of repentance indeed there will be among those who have perished in their sins: they will “weep, and wail, and gnash their teeth” with anguish: they will be sorry, not that they sinned, but that they subjected themselves to misery: sin will appear formidable to them on account of its consequences, but not hateful on account of its malignity. If they were restored to another state of probation, they would in a little time resume their former courses. As now on a bed of sickness they promise to amend their lives, but, when restored to health, become as careless as ever, so it would be with them if they returned every from hell itself: their hearts are unrenewed, and consequently their deposition to “wallow in the mire” of sin would infallibly lead them into their former habits of worldliness and sensuality. They must for ever remain the same obdurate sinners, because the Spirit of God will never descend into their hearts to renew them unto repentance.
We cannot believe in Christ.—Those who have perished will, it is true, believe many things which now they disbelieve: they will believe that Christ is a Saviour, and that he is the only Saviour of sinful men: but they will never believe in him for salvation, because he will never again be offered to them as a Saviour. No tidings of redemption will ever be heard in those dreary mansions. Never will they hear such words as those, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.” No promise of acceptance is given them; and therefore there can be no scope for the exercise of faith: nor, if there were an opportunity to believe, would they be able to embrace it; because “faith is the gift of God;” and they who reject his offers of it in this world, will never have it offered to them in the world to come.
This argument cannot but have the greatest weight with even considerate mind; and the rather, because it is urged by our Lord himself: “Work while it is day; for the night cometh wherein no man can work [Note: John 9:4.].”]
There is no remedy to be devised”—
[While we are in this world, our “knowledge and wisdom” may be applied with effect. There is a “device” for the restoration of God’s banished people [Note: Compare 2 Samuel 14:14. with Job 33:24.]; and, if we be wise enough to adopt it, we cannot fail of obtaining mercy at the last day. But, if we neglect to use the remedy which is now afforded us, no other will remain for us; nothing can ever be devised whereby we may alter, or avoid, or mitigate, or shorten our doom.
We cannot alter it.—When once the Judge has said, “Go, ye cursed,” we can never prevail on him to reverse the sentence, and say, “Come, ye blessed.” Now, though “we are under condemnation, and the wrath of God abideth on us [Note: John 3:18; John 3:36.],” yet we may obtain reconciliation through the blood of Jesus, and be made heirs of a heavenly inheritance. But no such change can be effected in the eternal world: “as the tree falleth, so it will lie for ever.”
We cannot avoid it.—We may “call upon the rocks to fall upon us, and the mountains to cover us from the wrath of the Lamb,” but they cannot perform the friendly office. “If we should go up to heaven, or make our bed in hell, or take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, there would God seize us, and thence would he bring us” by his irresistible power, in order that we might suffer the just reward of our deeds.
We cannot mitigate it.—Here men may flee to business or pleasure: they may drown care in intoxication, and obtain some relief from it in sleep: they may shake it off in a measure by infidelity. But in the eternal world they will find no jovial companions to associate with, nothing to divert their thoughts, nothing to alleviate their pains: “wrath will have come upon them to the uttermost,” and their misery will be complete.
We cannot shorten it.—Men in this world have one method (as they think) of terminating their miseries, namely, by suicide. A poor and fatal “device” indeed! yet such as it is, they resort to it for relief. But in the future world even this refuge will fail them: “they shall seek death, but shall not find it; and shall desire to die, but death shall flee from them [Note: Revelation 9:6.].” Eternity will be the duration of their woe: “the smoke of their torment will ascend up for ever and ever.”
How forcible then is this argument! If any “device” remained for them, and their “knowledge and wisdom” could be effectual for their relief, then they might be the more indifferent about the improvement of their day of grace. But since “this is the only accepted time, the only day of salvation,” surely they should “work out their salvation instantly with fear and trembling,” and seek “the things belonging to their peace, before they be for ever hid from their eyes.”]
Those who are postponing their work—
[Like those who neglected the rebuilding of the temple, we are apt to say, “The time for this work is not yet come.” Youth look forward to adult age; and they who are grown to manhood think that a more advanced period of life will be more favourable for the exercises of religion: and even the aged put off the work from day to day, hoping for some “more convenient season.” But how many thousands perish by deferring that work which they acknowledge to be necessary! Sickness and death find them in an unconverted state, and hurry them unprepared into the presence of God. O that all of us, whether old or young, would guard against these fatal consequences, and turn to God “this day, while it is called To-day.”J
Those who are trifling with their work—
[There are many who would be offended, if they were thought regardless of religion, who yet by their listlessness and formality shew that they have no real delight in it. They are exact in their attendance on ordinances; but they engage in them with a lukewarm Laodicean spirit: they have “the form of godliness, but not the power.” But what can such persons, think of the representations which the Scripture gives us of the Christian life? It is there described as a race, a wrestling, a combat; all of which imply the strongest possible exertions. Would to God that this matter were duly considered; and that we called upon “our souls, and all that is within us,” to prosecute this great concern. To every thing that might divert our attention from it, we should answer with Nehemiah, “I am doing a great work, and cannot come down [Note: Nehemiah 6:3-4.].” It is in this way only that we shall ever be enabled to adopt the words of our dying Lord, “Father, I have glorified thee on earth. I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”]
Those who are heartily engaged in their work-
[While the greater part of mankind make their worldly duties an excuse for neglecting religion, there are some who run into a contrary extreme, and make their religious duties an excuse for neglecting their worldly concerns. But this will bring great dishonour on religion. We are placed in the world as social beings, and have civil and social, as well as religious, duties to perform. These must be made to harmonize: and all must be attended to in their order. We must “not be slothful in business, though we must be fervent in spirit; for in both we may serve the Lord.” Indeed our relative duties are, in fact, religious; because they are enjoined by God, and may be performed as unto God: nor are they less acceptable unto him in their place than the more spiritual services of prayer and praise. While therefore we would exhort all to an immediate, earnest, diligent, patient, unremitted attention to the concerns of their souls, and encourage them to disregard all the persecutions which they may endure for righteousness sake, we would entreat them also to “walk wisely in a perfect way;” and to shew by their conduct that religion is as conducive to the interests of society, as it is to the welfare of the soul.]
WISDOM NOTIONALLY APPROVED, BUT PRACTICALLY DISREGARDED
Ecclesiastes 9:14-16. There was a little city, and few men within it: and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man: and he by his wisdom delivered the city: yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.
WHETHER the account here given us was an actual occurrence, or only a parabolic representation, we will not undertake to determine: but certainly the event described may easily be supposed to have taken place, and to have come to the knowledge of Solomon. In fact, a precisely similar event had taken place within the memory of Solomon; the only difference being, that the city was saved by “a wise woman,” instead of “a poor wise man.” After the rebellion of Absalom had been suppressed, a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, caused the defection of all the tribes of Israel. David therefore sent an army to pursue Sheba, and to besiege any city in which he should have taken refuge. Joab finding that Sheba was shut up in a city called Abel, went and “battered the wall of the city, to throw it down.” Then “a wise woman” called to Joab, and remonstrated with him on the subject of the assault which he was making; and undertook, that, if he would suspend his assault, the object of his indignation should be sacrificed, and his head be cast over the wall. She then “went to all the people, in her wisdom,” and prevailed on them to execute her project; and thus effected by her wisdom the deliverance of the city, and the preservation of all its inhabitants [Note: 2 Samuel 20:1-2; 2Sa 20:6; 2 Samuel 20:15-22.]. The minute resemblance which there is between this history and the event mentioned in the text, renders it highly probable, that the passage before us is a parable, founded upon the very fact which is here recorded.
But, whether it be a fact, or a parable, with what view is it mentioned? Some think that it is intended to represent the work of redemption by our Lord Jesus Christ, and the sad neglect with which he is treated, notwithstanding the benefits he has conferred. According to these persons, the interpretation is this. The little city, with a small garrison, is the Church, which confessedly consists of but “a little flock.” The great king who comes against it, and besieges it, is Satan, with all his hosts, even all the principalities and powers of hell. The poor wise man is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the counsels of eternal Wisdom, has devised a way for the deliverance of his people; yet after the deliverance he has wrought out for them, is by the generality most grievously neglected.
Now though there are parts of this which do not exactly accord with such an interpretation, yet we should not have altogether disapproved of the interpretation, provided Solomon himself had not given us any clew whereby to discover his real meaning: for it is not necessary that a parable should be applicable in all its parts: it is sufficient if in its main scope it be fitted to illustrate the point which it is intended to shadow forth. But we are precluded from affixing to this passage the sense which we have now suggested, because Solomon’s own reflection upon the supposed event determines beyond all controversy its precise import. Solomon intended to commend wisdom, as he frequently does in other parts of this book: in one place he exalts wisdom above folly [Note: Ecclesiastes 2:13.]; in another, above wealth [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:12.]; in another, above soldiers [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:19.], and weapons of war [Note: ver. 18.]. Thus in our text he exalts it above strength; “Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength.” Hence the subject for our consideration is two-fold;
The excellency of wisdom—
Wisdom is practical understanding, or knowledge regulated by sound judgment. Now this is greatly superior to physical force, in every point of view:
In relation to temporal concerns—
[The particular instance here adduced, the deliverance of a city by some extraordinary devices, will lead us to notice the operations of wisdom in the different departments of civilized life.
In war and politics it prevails far beyond mere bodily strength, however great. It is from superior skill in arms that we, who are so few in number, have been enabled to conquer an immense extent of territory, and by a very small army to keep in subjection eighty millions of people, who have scarcely one feeling, or one sentiment, in common with ourselves. And it is from the wisdom of our Constitution, and of our Governors, that we, under God, have rode out the storm which overwhelmed the rest of Europe, and have been enabled to rescue from their bondage the prostrate nations all around us. Had there been less wisdom at our helm, we, and all the nations of Europe, should probably at this moment have been sunk in the lowest state of degradation and misery.
In arts and manufactures the excellency of wisdom also most eminently appears. See the machinery that is used in every branch of trade! A few children are enabled to effect in a month what thousands of grown people could not by mere manual labour accomplish in a year.
Nor is the excellency of wisdom less visible in science and philosophy. Who can calculate the benefits that have arisen from the study of astronomy, and the invention of the compass? How light is all human strength when placed in the balance against these products of intellectual research!
In truth, it is wisdom which most elevates us above the beasts; and draws as broad a line of distinction between man and man, as light and darkness do in the material world.]
In relation to spiritual affairs—
[Here wisdom is all. See what mere human efforts can effect in heathen lands: what penances, what pilgrimages, what sufferings of different kinds, will men have recourse to, in order to obtain peace in their own souls! yet can they never obtain it. They may weary themselves even unto death, yet can they never secure to themselves any spiritual benefit whatever.
But let a man attend to the councils of wisdom given him by our blessed Lord, and all that he can desire is attained at once. Peace will flow into his soul, as soon as ever his conscience is sprinkled with the blood of Christ. His powers are invigorated with preter-natural strength, the moment he by faith apprehends the Lord Jesus: from being so weak as not to be able to do any thing, he becomes instantly so strong as to be “able to do all things [Note: John 15:2.Philippians 4:13; Philippians 4:13.].” A new set of energies are developed, and such as Satan is not able to withstand. That enemy, who with assured confidence of success besieged the soul, is constrained, like Sennacherib, to flee with precipitation and disgrace [Note: James 4:7.]. In a word, the simple device of a “life of faith upon the Son of God” effects every thing, liberating the soul from all its bondage, and making it victorious over all its enemies.]
But from daily observation, we are constrained to lament,
The disregard shewn it, notwithstanding its acknowledged worth.
By how few are its dictates attended to as they ought to be! Alas! they are neglected and despised, by the great mass of mankind.
By the gay and thoughtless—
[They have no ear for the counsels of Wisdom. They will commend her in general terms; but will have as little as possible to do with her instructions. Let the parent labour ever so much to instil wisdom into the minds of his children, he will find, to his grief, that the enchantments of folly baffle all his efforts. It should seem no difficult task to prevail on them to think before they act, and to regulate their conduct by sound principles: but though he give “line upon line, and precept upon precept,” he will have reason to bless himself, if, after all his endeavours, his family do not embitter his days by their faults and follies. The word of God too may be acknowledged by them as good: but not a precept in it is suffered to have an ascendant over their mind. Sabbath after Sabbath are divine instructions poured into their ears; but none are suffered to descend into the heart. In fact, they are despised; and if obtruded upon the mind as principles of action, they are rejected with scorn and contempt.]
By the formal and self-righteous—
[Wisdom’s sublimest dictates are by these regarded as the reveries of a heated imagination. The whole life of faith is foolishness in the eyes of a self-righteous Pharisee. He sees no suitableness in it to the end proposed. He thinks that an attendance on ordinances, and a performance of some moral duties, are quite sufficient: Why should he mourn and weep? What is there in faith that can benefit his soul? Why may not his works find acceptance with God? In vain is he told that the Gospel is “the wisdom of God in a mystery;” and that the very angels in heaven are made wiser by the revelation of it to the Church [Note: Ephesians 3:10.]. In vain is he told what the Lord Jesus Christ, that “Wonderful Counsellor,” has done for the redemption of a ruined world, and will do in all who believe in him. No sense of obligation abides upon his mind; no expressions of gratitude flow from his lips: the Benefactor is forgotten, and the benefit despised: and he chooses rather to seek his resources within himself, than to depend for them on the bounty of another.]
The backsliding professor—
[The man who has once “professed godliness,” has given his testimony to the excellence of wisdom. But when he declines from the way of godliness, he revokes his testimony, and becomes an open advocate for folly: he proclaims to all, that the ways of wisdom are incapable of affording him any solid comfort; or, at all events, that there is more happiness to be found in the vanities of time and sense, than in the service of the living God. Yes, thou backslider, thou “exaltest folly, and praisest the wicked [Note: Proverbs 28:4.]:” and, if thou condemnest, as thou must, the inhabitants of the city that left their benefactor to pine away in poverty and contempt, much more must thou condemn thyself, who hast, by thy declensions, “crucified the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”]
Let me now improve the subject, by recommending to your adoption,
A life of consideration and thoughtfulness—
[The man who has begun to think and to consider, has already got more than half way to heaven. It is inconsideration that ruins the whole world. Would men but inquire from day to day, What have I done? Has it been consonant with the dictates of sound wisdom? Have I proposed to myself the best ends, and have I pursued them by the fittest means? how much evil would they avoid, and how much misery would they escape! O that I might prevail upon you to enter on such a course as this! Admirable is that advice of Solomon, “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house [Note: Proverbs 24:27.].” This is what any prudent builder will do, though he is only constructing a temporary habitation for the body: and how much more should we do it, who are building for the immortal soul! Adopt this plan then: think what you have to do for God: think by what means you may best advance the interest of your souls; and redeem, as it were, every hour in preparation for eternity. “Walk, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”]
A life of real piety—
[Nothing but this will inspire true wisdom: nothing but this will enable us to counteract with effect the assaults of our great adversary. Let us seek from above “a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of might:” then, whether we be poor or rich, we shall assuredly be victorious. Indeed the poor are for the most part more highly favoured than the rich. The rich are too apt to be self-confident and self-sufficient; whilst the poor accept thankfully the proferred aids of the Gospel. Hence “the things which are hid from the wise and prudent, are frequently revealed to babes;” and hence, whilst the rich are vanquished, the poor are crowned with victory. Let it not be forgotten, that “in the Lord alone we have either righteousness or strength.” “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts:” yes, by the Spirit of the living God revealing the Saviour to us, and communicating strength out of his fulness, we shall be “enabled to withstand in the evil day,” and shall have that joyful song put into our mouths, “Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”]
THE DESTRUCTIVE INFLUENCE OF SINNERS
Ecclesiastes 9:18. One sinner destroyeth much good.
THE influence of every man in his sphere is considerable. Solomon had seen a remarkable instance of a poor man delivering by his wisdom a small and ill-garrisoned city from the besieging army of a very powerful monarch. From hence he was led to consider the superiority of wisdom above wealth or power. On the other hand, he saw that, as a wise and good man might be extremely useful, so a foolish and wicked man might do a great deal of injury, to those around him. Hence, contrasting the two, he observed, “Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.”
In illustrating the latter member of the sentence, we shall point out the truth of it,
[Men of all classes in the community may greatly affect the state to which they belong.
A weak and ambitious monarch, how soon may he involve his people in war, and reduce them to the very brink of ruin! Such was Solomon’s only son, who, in the space of a few weeks, goaded ten tribes out of the twelve that he ruled over, to revolt from him, and to establish a separate and independent kingdom [Note: 1 Kings 12:16.].
An aspiring subject also may, by exaggerating the people’s grievances, and promising them effectual redress, stir up multitudes to insurrection, and involve a nation in all the horrors of civil war. Thus did Absalom [Note: 2 Samuel 15:2-6; 2 Samuel 15:10-14.]: and thus have demagogues in every age, in every state.
What immense evil too may not a cruel persecutor effect! How may such an one waste the Church of God and destroy it! One Jezebel could murder a whole host of prophets [Note: 1 Kings 18:13.]; and one Saul depopulate the Christian Church [Note: Acts 9:1-2.]. And, in this nation as well as others, time was, when one cruel bigot kindled fires in every part of the country, to extirpate, if possible, those, who would not return to the justly reprobated errors of her religion.
If a great man be conspicuous for impiety and profaneness, his conduct will be attended with a most baneful influence. Soon will sycophants imitate his example, till irreligion becomes the fashion of the day, and every thing sacred is trampled under foot. What an awful instance of such success have we in Jeroboam; who, the more effectually to detach from Judah the ten revolted tribes, erected idols in Dan and Bethel, which from that hour became, and ever afterwards remained, the objects of worship through the whole kingdom [Note: Hosea 5:11. In this verse is mentioned not his success only, but the evil it brought upon them.]! Hence he is continually stigmatized with the name of “him who made Israel to sin [Note: 1 Kings 22:52.]!”
But indeed any enormous sinner, of whatever class, does much to destroy the peace and prosperity of his country. What is it that arms God against a nation, and provokes him to visit it with war, pestilence, and famine? Is it not sin? Every sinner therefore, in proportion as he increases the nation’s guilt, contributes also to its punishment. In many instances we know, that the whole kingdom of Israel suffered for the offence of one; not for that of David only, who was the monarch [Note: 2 Samuel 24:10; 2 Samuel 24:15.]; but for that also of Achan, an obscure individual [Note: Joshua 22:20.]: nor till the last day will it appear what injury this nation has sustained by means of every one here present.]
[What confusion is brought into any house by an imperious husband, a contentious wife, or an undutiful, stubborn child! Instead of love and harmony, there is little else than brawling and quarrelling; so that the very sight of each other, which ought to call forth all the tender emotions of their hearts excites nothing but enmity and disgust.
A man addicted to lewdness, gaming, intemperance, evil company, or idleness, to what wretchedness may he soon reduce his family! “God has put a price into the hand of such an one to make his dependents happy, but he knows not how to use it [Note: Proverbs 17:16.].” He might support them in ease and comfort, but brings them to want and desperation. How many instances of this are found in every town and village!
Nor can we easily estimate the good which a whisperer and a tale-bearer may destroy. Behold, he comes into a house where friends or relatives are cemented in the strictest bonds of union and amity: but he creates suspicion, and alienates their minds, and kindles feuds, and fills with animosity the bosoms that once glowed with mutual affection [Note: Proverbs 16:28.].
But what shall we say of the vile seducer, who under the mask of friendship enters the house of his unsuspecting neighbour, and avails himself of the opportunity to decoy his daughter, or to defile his wife? Alas! what incalculable misery does such a man create! For the sake of a momentary gratification, how many hearts does he pierce with the deepest and most lasting sorrow! What disgrace does he bring upon the whole family, involving the innocent with the guilty in irremediable shame, and bowing them down with grief that hurries them to the grave! Would to God that, if such a character exist in this assembly, he might be smitten with remorse, and wounded to his inmost soul!]
In the church of God—
[On whom shall we fix our eyes, as hostile to the Church’s welfare, so soon as on the careless minister? To him God has committed the improvement of sabbaths, and ordinances, and of the sacred oracles. To him he has given souls to be nurtured and disciplined for heaven. But the traitor is intent only on his own gains or pleasures: he performs his weekly task, not caring whether any be edified or not: he wastes the precious opportunities, that can never be recalled; and, in the course of his ministry, leads thousands to destruction. Yes; as far as his influence extends, he makes null and void all the purposes of God’s grace, and all the wonders of redeeming love. When, humanly speaking, he might have been a blessing to the world, and an ornament to his profession, he brings his sacred function into reproach, scattering the flock whom he should have gathered, and destroying whom he should have saved. Such an one is Satan’s best friend, and the greatest enemy of God and man.
Much good also may be destroyed, especially where men are awake to the concerns of religion, by a proud disputatious sectary. I speak not here of those who dissent from the Established Church, but of those who create divisions within the Church by unduly insisting on matters of minor importance, and of doubtful disputation. Though the sentiments of such an one be not fundamentally erroneous, yet if he be laying an undue stress on matters that are comparatively indifferent, and forming parties in the church, he distracts the minds of the simple; he puffs up many with pride; he loosens the bonds of brotherly affection; he weakens the hands of a pious minister, and he causes many to relapse into formality and indifference [Note: Romans 16:17-18.]. Of such a character were Hymeneus [Note: 2 Timothy 2:16-18; 2 Timothy 2:23; 2 Timothy 3:6; 2 Timothy 3:13.], and Alexander [Note: 2 Timothy 4:14-15.]: and “one such root of bitterness will trouble and defile many [Note: Hebrews 12:15. See also 1 Corinthians 5:2; 1Co 5:6 and Galatians 5:7; Galatians 5:9.]:” on which account we should be as studious as possible to stop their growth [Note: Titus 1:13-14; Titus 3:9-11.].
There is scarcely any one in the universe who does greater injury to the Church than the professor who walks dishonourably. One act of his brings disgrace upon the whole Church of God, and makes religion to stink in the very nostrils of those around him [Note: Genesis 34:30.]. Instantly do the ungodly begin to triumph [Note: Psalms 35:19; Psalms 35:25.], to arraign all the people of God as hypocrites, and to represent religion itself as a mask for every thing that is vile [Note: 2 Peter 2:2.]. Thus the wicked are hardened, the weak are offended, the saints are dishonoured, and the very name of God is blasphemed in the world [Note: 1 Timothy 6:1.]. How does God himself complain of this in the case of David [Note: 2 Samuel 12:14.]! and how incalculable must the evil be, when multitudes are thus offended, and set against the very means of salvation!
There is yet one more character that we shall mention, whose conduct indeed is less extensively destructive, but not less injurious to those within his sphere, we mean, the scoffer. He brings no disgrace upon religion, because he makes no profession of it. Nor can he greatly impede its progress in the world, because he is not invested with authority or influence. But perhaps there is some relation, some friend, whom he can discourage by sneers and ridicule, if not also by menaces and actual unkindness. Suppose then that, in one single instance, he succeed in breaking the bruised reed and quenching the smoking flax; who shall appreciate the good he has destroyed? to ruin one for whom Christ died; and who, but for such an obstacle, would have got safe to heaven [Note: Romans 14:15.]! If the whole world be of no value in comparison of a soul [Note: Matthew 16:26.], then, in that single act, the scoffer has done more harm than the whole world can recompense.]
Let us guard against receiving evil from others—
[It was a heathen poet that said, “Evil communications corrupt good manners;” and from him the Apostle quotes it, for the edification of the Church of Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:33. It is an Iambic verse from Menander.]. Behold then what reason itself, as well as Scripture, teaches us in reference to the subject before us. One person infected with the plague may do us more injury than a hundred healthy persons can do us good. I would earnestly entreat all, therefore, and young persons especially, not to admit to their friendship so much as “one” associate, whose ways are evil. For who can tell to what an extent the principles and conduct of such a man may prevail, to efface the good impressions that have been made upon his mind, and to induce habits that may prove fatal to his soul? If I regarded nothing but your temporal prosperity, I should give this advice: but when I take eternity into the account, I cannot but urge it upon every one here present, and say with the Apostle, “Come out from amongst such persons altogether, and be separate from them, and do not so much as touch the unclean thing” or person that may contaminate your soul.
Let us to the utmost of our power repair the evil which we ourselves have done—
[Suppose us ever so free from the more flagrant instances that have been mentioned, there is not one amongst us who has not done much evil by means of his example. We have all lived, like the world around us, in a neglect of God and of our own souls: and, in so doing, have countenanced the same conduct in others. Thus, whether we intended it or not, we have confirmed many in their ungodly ways, and have contributed to their eternal ruin. Let us go now, and undo what we have done: alas! we cannot find one half of them: many are not known by us: many are gone to distant parts: many are already in the eternal world: and, if we should attempt to convert those to whom we can get access, they would laugh at us as fools, or despise us as hypocrites. Besides, all of them in their respective spheres have diffused the contagion which they received from us: and thus have put it beyond the reach of man to trace, or even to conceive, the evil we have done. And does not all this call for penitence? Yes; if our “head were a fountain of tears to run down incessantly” to the latest hour of our lives, it would be no more than the occasion calls for. But with our penitence we must unite our utmost efforts to repair the evil we have done.
To repair it with respect to God, is the work of Christ only. He alone can render satisfaction for our sins; his blood alone can cleanse us from the guilt we have contracted by them. But with respect to man we may do something, though we cannot do all that we could wish. Let us begin with our example: this speaks the most forcibly, and the most extensively. Let us, by giving up ourselves to God, shew others what they ought to do: and let our light so shine before men, that they may be constrained to glorify God, and to take shame to themselves. Next, let us use our influence: be it small or great, let us not neglect to exert it, that by every means in our power we may counteract our past evils, and stir up others to flee from the wrath to come. Finally, let us be fervent in our intercessions at the throne of grace, that God may take to him his great power, and establish his kingdom upon earth. Let us particularly pray for those, whom, in any respect, we may have allured from the path of duty. Thus, like the great Apostle, we shall make some compensation to the world for all the injuries it has sustained by our means, and shew, that, if one sinner can destroy much good, one saint can effect much which shall be a ground of joy and gratitude to all eternity.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany