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Remedies against vanity are, mortification, patience, wisdom. The difficulty of getting wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 7:3. Sorrow is better than laughter— A sorrowful appearance is often better than laughter; for, notwithstanding the sadness of the countenance, the heart may be happy: Desvoeux: who thinks, that not real sorrow, but the appearance of it only, is meant; such a serious countenance as is compatible with inward joy and satisfaction, though absolute grief does not seem to be so.
Ecclesiastes 7:5. The song of fools— Mr. Desvoeux, in a long and learned note, has shewn, that this song of fools refers to the encomiastic songs of strolling bards, who were a kind of extempore singers of stories at banquets, going from place to place, and suiting their performances to the taste of those who paid or entertained them; and praises are so palatable, especially to the great and rich, that it would be a wonder if songs which were to be paid for had not been filled with the encomiums of the purchasers; and I suppose nobody will doubt that such songs were more pleasant to the hearers, and better paid for, than the reprimands of wise men. See Tull. de Oratore, ii. 86, and Pope's Essay on Homer, p. 52.
Ecclesiastes 7:7. Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad— Surely oppression shall give lustre to a wise man; and a gift corrupteth the heart. Every sentence contained in the first eight verses of this chapter offers an instance of the wrong judgment of the ignorant; and this is carried on so as to mention the judgments of the wise only, on the several subjects which are instanced; and not those of the ignorant, which are supposed to be sufficiently known. Yet those judgments of the ignorant must be always kept in view, as being the reverse of the sentiments of the wise. Thus by that mutual opposition they afford each other a mutual light. Now the subjects here spoken of are, on the one hand, oppression, or, according to some, calumny; and, on the other hand, gifts or generosity. The opinion of the generality of men concerning those subjects, compared together, is known. They certainly give the preference to a liberal above an oppressive government: and of consequence Solomon's maxim must either express or lay the foundation for some advantage arising even from oppression and tyranny; and what advantage can there possibly be in tyranny, besides its giving the wise man opportunity of exerting his abilities, or trying his virtues, and thereby adding lustre to his wisdom? This is exactly what the word יהולל ieholel, may and does originally mean. Desvoeux.
Ecclesiastes 7:8. And the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit— Better is he who considereth long, than he whose spirit is high. We have, in this and the preceding verses, the first proof of the third general proposition. Most men, unmindful of futurity, prefer a delicate life to that course whereby a good reputation can be attained; yet a good reputation is preferable by much to the most refined luxury, Ecclesiastes 7:1. A birth-day is every where a day of joy, whereas the day in which any one dies is a day of tears; yet the day of one's birth is the beginning of his troubles, which, to all outward appearance, are at an end the day on which he leaves this world, Ecclesiastes 7:2. Few would choose to go to a house of mourning, if it were in their option to go to a feast; yet the consideration of one's end, which obtrudes itself upon the mind in a house of mourning, is a very profitable one; and what can you get at a feast equivalent to that? The wise knoweth it, and chooseth accordingly. The fool or ignorant behaves likewise agreeably, to his wrong notions. A grave and serious deportment is not so welcome in the world as a merry countenance, which is considered as the surest token of a contented heart. Yet how often is the outward appearance deceitful! Ecclesiastes 7:2-4. To be told of your faults by a discreet man, may be of real service to you; whereas the highest encomiums bestowed on you by the poetical panegyrics of flatterers, are as vain and as insignificant as the noise of burning thorns. Yet how few are there, who do not love adulation? Ecclesiastes 7:5-6. Tyranny and oppression are the worst of evils in the eye of the world, and justly so; yet the effects of oppression, with respect to the wise, is to make wisdom more conspicuous; and bribery, though relished by such as are the objects of it, is the real source of the greatest evil, the corruption of our morals, Ecclesiastes 7:7. Any thing is more perfect (and consequently preferable) when finished, than when it is just begun; yet love of novelty, on the one hand, and aptness to be tired on the other, generally get the better of that very obvious reason. A hasty, assuming, peremptory, decisive man, frequently gets more applause than he who is called tedious, because he takes time to consider; yet how widely do they differ in the eye of reason! Ecclesiastes 7:8.
Ecclesiastes 7:9. To be angry;—for anger— To grieve; for grief, &c.] So our translators have rendered the original word, chap. Ecclesiastes 2:23. See also chap. Ecc 5:17 and Ecclesiastes 11:10; and, thus rendered, it answers Solomon's purpose much better than anger.
Ecclesiastes 7:11-12. Wisdom is good with an inheritance— Wisdom is as good as an inheritance; nay, more profitable to them who see the sun; because both wisdom and money are a shelter to their possessors; but the advantage of the knowledge of wisdom is, that it preserveth the life of them who seek it. The preference given to wisdom is not doubtful; but the reason given for that preference, as expressed in most translations, does not seem to have much strength in it. Wisdom gives life to them that have it; and does not money likewise supply them that have it with the means both of supporting, and of preserving their life in time of danger? And is not the equality in that respect allowed in the beginning of the verse? Where then lies the advantage? The sacred orator's meaning will appear in its true light, if, by a proper distinction between the several significations of the original word בעל baal, we understand what he says of the seekers, and not of the possessors, of wisdom. The excellency of wisdom in this respect also is manifest, since its influence reaches those who have not yet acquired it, provided they love it, and are in pursuit of it; whereas money can be of no service to its fondest admirers, except they have it in their actual possession: So that the phrase in the text signifies not a matter or possessor of wisdom, but one who is addicted to it; a philosopher according to the true signification of the word: for, hanc sapientiam qui expetunt Philosophi nominantur: nec quicquam aliud est Philosophia, si interpretari velis, quam studium sapientiae.* See Cicero de Offic. Ecc 2:2 and Desvoeux. Having delivered his first proof, Ecclesiastes 7:8, the sacred orator engages in a useful digression, the occasion of which I take to be this: He had mentioned several things, which, how proper soever they were to be taken notice of, in order to establish the proposition in hand, might be easily misconstrued, and wrong inferences drawn from them. Therefore it was fit that he should remove those inferences, before he passed to his 2nd proof; especially as they might have proved very detrimental to our ease and contentment in this world. To this effect he gives several advices, or precepts, the observation of which will be a sure guard against any danger arising from those wrong inferences; and then he enlarges upon the right he had to give such advices, from his unwearied application in examining every thing which is the object of human understanding, and from the knowledge that he had acquired through that application, though his success had greatly fallen short of his wishes. The first advice is, not to find fault with, or murmur at the dispensations of Providence, or, which is the same thing, to repine at our own condition, as if we had been kept in reserve for worse days than those of our forefathers. Such a complaint would betray our ignorance (which is here, as usual, styled foolishness), and an unpardonable neglect of inquiring into the matter complained of. For, in fact, it is not true that things from which men can derive any happiness are worse now than they were in former ages. Whatever was good in former times is so still, Ecclesiastes 7:9-10. Wisdom and riches still preserve their respective value. But wisdom has a great advantage over money; for, it will hinder a man from running into dangers, or engaging in undertakings, or taking a course of life, whereby a rich, but ignorant and imprudent, man must be brought to certain death. Ecclesiastes 7:11-12.
* Those who seek this wisdom are denominated Philosophers: nor is Philosophy any thing else, if you will have it defined, than the study of wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 7:13. Consider the work of God— Second advice. We should content ourselves with contemplating the works of God, without presuming to judge of them, or to set right that which is not so in our apprehension: because it is in no man's power to alter the appointment of God.
Ecclesiastes 7:14. In the day of prosperity be joyful— In the day of prosperity enjoy it; but in the day of adversity, consider also that God hath made it in opposition to the other, to the end that man should not find out any thing of His ways. The common interpretations of this text are not easily to be reconciled. That which I have given appears the most proper. For, what are we to say was the Almighty's design in ordering this world so, that the most opposite things, as prosperity and adversity, must come each in their turn, and very often without our being able to discover any other cause of either, than the will of the all-dispensing power? Certainly one consequence of this appointment is, to shew that man his folly who takes upon himself to determine concerning the ways of Providence. God's judgments are unsearchable, and his ways past finding out. Romans 11:33.
The ways of heav'n are dark and intricate, Puzzled in mazes, and perplex'd with errors: Our understanding traces them in vain, Lost and bewilder'd in the fruitless search; Nor sees with how much art the windings run, Nor where the regular confusion ends.
Now this is the very design which is ascribed to our Maker. If you take the words find after him, for a metaphorical expression, to find any thing after, or behind another, you must go the same way he went before you; you must in a manner trace him, and of course be acquainted with his ways: but, as God would not have us trace his conduct in the government of the universe, he ordered the affairs of this world in such a manner, that through the mutual opposition between the several parts of his appointment, confusion seems to prevail, and the grounds of his determinations are hidden from us. See Desvoeux and Addison.
Ecclesiastes 7:15. In his righteousness—In his wickedness— Notwithstanding his righteousness—Notwithstanding his wickedness. This and the preceding verse contain the third advice. We should receive both prosperity and adversity as coming from the hand of God, without either immoderate joy or unbecoming despondency. The one must be enjoyed, and the other submitted to, from a deep sense of God's wisdom, who has thus ordered the affairs of this world, that we might have sufficient proofs of his goodness and other perfections, and yet that we should not be able to reconcile every thing which happens to us with those very attributes, or fully to discover his ways. This point of doctrine, viz. that the ways of Providence are inscrutable, so directly contradicts the pride of men who pretend that their reason can account for every thing, that it was proper for the author to support it with some proof: but he chose to do it rather by alleging experience, the most unexceptionable of all arguments, than in any other way. And the instance that he alleges is full to the point. The conduct of the Almighty, in the distribution of good and evil in this world, is not to be accounted for, since it does often happen that the sinner is not punished, and that the righteous is not rewarded. Desvoeux.
Ecclesiastes 7:16. Why shouldst thou destroy thyself?— Why shouldest thou be left alone? There is a very remarkable opposition in this and the following verse between the several excesses there mentioned, and a very proper distinction between the consequences which are to be apprehended from them. I cannot say that modern interpreters have entirely destroyed that opposition. Righteous and wicked, wise and foolish, are very proper terms of opposition; but that they may remain so each of them must retain the signification wherein that opposition lies; and that signification cannot be retained, if you represent either righteousness or wickedness, wisdom or folly, as productive of consequences which can never be apprehended from what is commonly understood by those words: For in that case the reader is led to conclude that they are taken in a different sense from that wherein their opposition is visible; and then he is at a loss where to find this opposition. Thus the opposition itself may be at least weakened and obscured by a neglect which seems at first to affect a different part of the sentence only; and I am afraid it is greatly so in our version: Ecclesiastes 7:16. Be not, &c.—Why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Ecclesiastes 7:17. Be not, &c.—Why shouldest thou die before thy time? One easily perceives how a premature death is the consequence of an excess of wickedness and folly; but, to make destruction a consequence of an excess or over-affectation of wisdom or righteousness, looks like propounding a riddle. It is true, we are dissuaded from both; yet it is plain from what follows, as well as from the nature of the subject, that they are not to be put upon a level; yet this would be the consequence of Solomon's advice, as worded in the received version; for destruction undoubtedly implies more, and is a worse evil, than death. Therefore, if the over-righteous and over-wise be the man who strives to be foolishly particular, and to distinguish himself from the rest of the world by an ill-judged affectation of righteousness and wisdom, (as his being set in opposition to the wicked and foolish requires that he should,) it is not probable that Solomon represented destruction as the consequence of such a man's behaviour. Now the original word תשׁומם tishomem, might be translated, be made an object of wonder: which signification tallies very well with the case of a man who strives to distinguish himself by running into an over-affectation either of righteousness or wisdom: therefore it is not possible to determine ourselves for the one, rather than for the other, except it be from the farther consideration of some other circumstance. The two warnings annexed by the sacred orator to the directions that he gives, that one should avoid the opposite excesses, must, by the manner in which they are worded, answer each other. Thus it is necessary that something which a man would fain avoid should be mentioned in the first as well as in the second; and this consideration has induced me, with Le Clerc, to prefer the first signification. See Desvoeux, and Le Clerc.
Ecclesiastes 7:18. It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this— The good which thou shouldest take hold of consisteth in this (nay, thou shouldest never withdraw thine hand from it), that he who feareth God shall avoid all these inconveniences. See Desvoeux, p. 314.
Ecclesiastes 7:19. Wisdom strengtheneth the wise— That wisdom (see Ecclesiastes 7:18.) will strengthen the wise, more than ten princes which are in a city. From the 16th to the 20th verse we have the fourth advice. All affectation must be avoided. An over-affectation to be better or wiser than the rest of mankind, can turn to no good account. This affectation of righteousness is real folly: Ecclesiastes 7:16-20. The contrary extreme is still more pernicious, though it is the case of many to fall into it, lest they should be deemed hypocrites. But avowed and excessive wickedness may easily bring a man to a shameful and untimely end, especially if it be accompanied with the foolishness, or heedlessness, which often makes men run headlong into any thing which their passions prompt them to: Ecclesiastes 7:17. Therefore the middle course between any kind of affectation must be taken, and constantly pursued. That middle course consists in the fear of God, whereby a man avoids all excesses, and all inconveniences arising from them: Ecclesiastes 7:18. This is the true wisdom; the true principle of spiritual strength, whereby a man may be better enabled to go through this world, than any town to stand the attacks of her enemies, though ten powerful princes should unite in her favour, and join their forces to defend her bulwarks. This is a support which can never fail: Ecclesiastes 7:19-20.
Ecclesiastes 7:21-22. Curse thee—cursed others— Speaking evil of thee—hast spoken evil of others. Symmachus in both these places renders the word by λοιδορειν . Many good men's consciences will never accuse them of having cursed others; but where is he who never spoke an evil word of his neighbour? These two verses contain the fifth and last advice. The tranquillity of our mind is not to be disturbed by every idle report or discourse wherein we are wronged. We must not even mind such reports, lest we should find our servants among those who revile us; which, though very common, is even more provoking than to be slandered by strangers. A very proper motive is added to enforce that advice. We may know from our own experience upon what slight foundations scandal is generally grounded; and that it is the way of the world, even for the best men to be sometimes evil spoken of; since it has been too often our case, in our unregenerate state, not to be so sparing as we ought of other men's characters: Ecclesiastes 7:22.
Ecclesiastes 7:23. All this have I proved by wisdom— All this have I knowingly examined: I said, I will be wise; but wisdom went far from me: Ecclesiastes 7:24. Whatever is so far off, nay, removed to the greatest depth, who shall find it? Desvoeux.
Ecclesiastes 7:25. To seek out wisdom, and the reason of things— To seek out wisdom and reason, and that I might know the wickedness of ignorance, and the foolishness of that which is in the greatest esteem, See chap. Ecclesiastes 2:2. That the advices above given might be the better received, our author declares that he speaks of nothing but what he has examined with all the care and application which human wisdom can suggest. "I resolved, says he, to be thoroughly wise; and though I was stopped far short of the end that I proposed, by the very nature of the inquiries in which I was engaged, yet I went as far as I possibly could: Ecclesiastes 7:23. The farther I advanced, the more I was convinced that wisdom was flying from me. Yet I did not leave off the pursuit of knowledge, and of whatever is the object of human reason. The wickedness or impiety which is the natural consequence of ignorance, the foolishness of every thing which men generally value the most, were also the subjects of my earnest inquiries;" Ecclesiastes 7:24-25. However, his discoveries, abstractedly from what is to be said hereafter of the excellency of wisdom, were confined to a few articles. First, bad women are excessively dangerous, and, on account of the many evils which are brought upon men by their means, may be ranked in the same class with death itself. Their arts and wiles are such, that it is scarcely possible for any one to escape out of their snares, except he is one of those who, by a constant pursuit of true virtue and holiness, have made themselves acceptable to God Almighty. Secondly, though some men may, through that means, be enabled to avoid being led into a wicked course of life; yet there is no one bad woman, but is mistress either of such bodily charms, or of such persuasive arts, as to be able to gain some men to her own ends. How they can, or why they have been by nature so framed as to be able to compass those ends, is a secret as yet undiscovered: but the fact itself is attested by daily experience, and Solomon had more of that experience than any man. Thirdly, Whatever devices men may have either sought out, or been led into, sometimes to their own destruction, God is no ways answerable for them, as he created them upright, and still offers them his grace. This is the only consideration which deserves to be insisted on; and it is such, that we must keep it constantly in view, whenever we are talking of men's mistakes or misdemeanours.
Ecclesiastes 7:26. Whose heart is snares and nets— Who herself is a company of hunters; nay, her heart is nets; her hands are bands. He who is good in the presence of God shall escape from her, &c. The simile is here taken from hunting; and there is a distinction plainly marked in the original, and well observed by the ancients, between the woman herself on the one hand, and her heart and hands on the other; which I have endeavoured to preserve in the version that I have given. See Desvoeux, p. 396.
Ecclesiastes 7:27-28. Behold, this have I found, &c.— Behold, this have I found (saith the orator), examining them one by one, to find out the reason of it: Ecclesiastes 7:28. Which my soul seeketh still, without being able to find it; one man, I say, among a thousand have I found, but a woman among them all I did not find. It is amazing how different the expositions have been of this very elliptical passage. The only supplement which can be had from the context is, that which the reader will find expressed in the paraphrase on the following verse; namely, that Solomon found most men so disposed, as to be easily taken in the snares which are laid; there having been but very few of his acquaintance, to whom this part of his observation could be applied; He who is good in the presence of God shall escape from her: and, with respect to the women of his acquaintance, that they had all answered the character he had given: Ecc 7:26 without finding a single one who was not like a band of hunters, out of whose hand the fugitive deer seldom escapes. Thus Solomon does in a manner fill up the vacancies which are seemingly left in the text. Let us observe, however, that through Divine Grace being good seems to be the best preservative against the spells of bad women; which induced me to preserve that expression of the original, Ecc 7:26 and not to change it, as the authors of the received version did, into that which is the infallible effect of being really good; viz. pleasing God, but not the thing itself.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, We have in this chapter strange paradoxes to the unwise, but great truths to him who understandeth.
1. A good name is better than precious ointment; a name eminent for the exercise of every gracious and christian temper, is infinitely preferable to all the possessions of earth, and more fragrant than the richest perfume. And,
2. The day of death than the day of one's birth; that is, to those who die in the Lord, and are dismissed from the burthens of mortality to tell in him; a consummation devoutly to be wished for, which for ever puts a period to all our sins and sorrows, and opens the golden gates of life and immortality.
3. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting; society is not evil, but indulgence is always dangerous: to mourn is painful, but great good often arises from it; and especially apt are those melancholy seasons, when the dead are carried forth, and the corpse and the coffin are before us, to make impressions on our hearts more blessed in their issue and influence, than any that we should receive in the house of feasting. They bid us learn to die, remember, and prepare for it; they give us a striking exhibition of the end of all men, and make us feel that dust we are, and unto dust returning; and the living will lay it to his heart, at least those who are wise will do so, and not forget to make application of the subject to their own hearts.
4. Sorrow is better than laughter; better for our souls at least; for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better; when beholding departing friends, while we mourn over them, we are quickened to give greater diligence to follow them, and make our calling and election sure; or affected with godly sorrow for sin, which worketh repentance unto salvation, never to be repented of: while laughter often has ill effects, destroys the spirit of seriousness, makes the heart light and vain, and estranges it from God. Therefore the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, in meditation, engaged with thoughts of mortality, though the objects be not before him; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth; they cannot bear a serious reflection: if a solemn impression of any scene of death have been made upon them, they hasten to some gay company to efface it; and are in their element when mirth and jollity reign.
5. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise; however sharp or grating it may be at first, the effects of it will be salutary; and it will be our wisdom, and in the issue our comfort, to have heard and profited thereby: and therefore rather to be chosen than the song of fools; either their flatteries which tickle the ear, or their songs and carousals, which are vain, unprofitable, pernicious; for as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of a fool, loud and noisy, but suddenly expiring; and succeeded with groans and wailing without end. This also is vanity.
2nd, Solomon had observed the oppressions under the sun; here he notes one sad effect of them.
1. Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; either under the length and severity of his own trials he is ready to grow impatient; or, observing the sufferings of the innocent under the power of the wicked, he is tempted to question the equity of the divine providence; and a gift destroyeth the heart, occasions justice to be perverted to oppression, or destroyeth a heart of gifts, such is the generous heart of the wise.
2. He exhorts to patient waiting for the issue; for, however dark and louring the scene may appear, when oppressors rule, yet mark the end; for better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof; God will break the rod of the wicked, as he did that of Pharaoh, and relieve the injured innocent, as his Israel of old, from their hands. Thus the patient in spirit, who meekly submits to God's providential afflictions, and waits quietly upon him, is better, a better man, and will soon be proved infinitely happier, than the proud in spirit, whose lofty looks God will abase, and who, unable to endure the chastisements brought upon them, as wild bulls in a net, fret and torment themselves only the more.
3. He warns us against the effusions of anger. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry, impatient of contradiction or delay, and firing on every spark of provocation; but repress the risings of resentment; be flow to wrath; and, if it swells, see that it quickly subsides; for anger resteth in the bosom of fools; they entertain it, and, though they cover it with deceit, they wait only for an opportunity to take their revenge.
4. We must not be always complaining of the evil of our times, as men are too apt to be, and fancying the former days better than these; when, in truth, it is merely our ignorance of former days that makes us imagine this. The great concern of every man in bad days is, to mend one; and then the times will soon be better.
3rdly, We have,
1. Some of the great commendations of wisdom.
(1.) It is good with an inheritance; it is in its own nature good, but with an inheritance it renders a person more distinguished, and enables him to be more extensively useful; and by it there is profit to them that see the sun; men in general enjoy the blessing of a wise man's affluence.
(2.) Wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence, or a shadow, under which we sit in safety: severally, they are a protection; united, they mutually conspire to increase each other's efficacy.
(3.) It giveth life to them that have it, and this is wisdom's peculiar excellency: riches often endanger the life of their possessor, but, with divine knowledge, experimentally possessed, spiritual life is inseparably connected.
(4.) It is better than strength; for wisdom strengtheneth the wise, inspires them with courage, directs them how to act, and enables them to foil the attacks of their enemies, more than ten mighty men which are in the city; which is safer under the care of such prudent counsellors, than if guarded by numerous warriors.
2. Our duty is submission and conformity to the divine will. Consider the work of God, the perfection and excellence thereof, to silence all murmuring against the dispensations of his providence, which would be also vain as it is vile: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? whatever afflictions he sends, or judgments he executes, none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what dost thou? therefore, in every condition, our duty is to make the best improvement of it. In the day of prosperity, when God showers down his spiritual and temporal blessings, be joyful, acknowledge his hand, praise him for the mercy, and improve it to his glory: but in the day of adversity, which will come in its turn, consider the end for which the affliction was sent, and seek to correspond with God's designs therein. Note; This is a changing world; we should neither be too much elated with prosperity, nor depressed with adversity; but rejoice with trembling, and look forward in hope: for God hath set the one over-against the other, each in its season to work together for his faithful people's good, to the end that men should find nothing after him; either nothing that he can amend in the work of God, or nothing certain here below; and therefore he must live upon the divine providence, and be prepared for whatever God hath prepared for him.
3. The dispensations of providence which seem most dark ought not to stagger us. All things have I seen in the days of my vanity, the days of his life, or those more afflictive ones of his departure from God: and perhaps the observations that he here makes might, on former occasions, have contributed to his fall, and tempted him to infidelity. There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, not eternally; for his state, God-ward, is secure; but the greatest piety does not exempt men from the heaviest afflictions; nay, perhaps it exasperates the enmity of the wicked against them, and gives occasion to their persecutors; and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness, prospers, and is successful, even to old age; and, perhaps, protected by the very fruits of his injustice: but this is not the place of recompence; the day is at hand, when the calamities of the righteous shall be found their greatest mercies, and the prosperity of the wicked their ruin.
4. He gives an admonition to the self-righteous, and a warning to sinners. Be not righteous over-much; which does not refer to true righteousness, of which we cannot have too much; but to the affection of appearing righteous before men: when persons are rigid censurers of others, place religion in austerities which God never enjoined, or by intemperate zeal hurt that cause which they profess to defend: neither make thyself over-wise, either above what is written, or opinionated of thy abilities, severely critical, arrogantly dictating; why shouldest thou destroy thyself? by needless austerities, or meddling in other men's matters, to provoke their wrath; or, why shouldest thou be stupid? regarded as such, through thy foolish conduct; or desolate, every one shunning thy acquaintance, and hating thy company. Be not over-much wicked, run not into riot and excess; or, do not fright thyself, so as to be cast down into despair, under a sense of thy guilt; and thus it stands contrasted with the proud presumption before rebuked: neither be thou foolish, so as to be terrified with needless fear, or to grow profligate; why shouldest thou die before thy time? hastened to the grave by intemperance or the sword of justice.
5. The fear of God will be our best preservative. It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this admonition and advice; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand, continue a diligent observer of these things; for, he that feareth God shall come forth of them all, saved from the dangerous extremes, preserved amidst all difficulties, and, under the divine guidance, enabled to walk in the straight path of wisdom and truth, without deviating to the right hand or the left.
6. Though to do good; and avoid evil, is the labour, desire, and prayer of every gracious soul that is born of God; yet infirmities cleave to the best: So that there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good to the full extent of the Adamic law—the law of works, and sinneth not: we must not expect to meet with any among the sons of men, who are not compassed with infirmity.
7. It is wise to turn a deaf ear to whatever might provoke or exasperate us. Take no heed unto all words that are spoken; be not curious to inquire what others think or say of you; and seem not to hear what had better be dropt in silence than brought to an explanation. Give not thine heart, in the original; be not uneasy or solicitous about it, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee, whose insolence and ingratitude would render the provocation the greater (and they who hearken to their servants' words will often hear disagreeable things). We must bear with others, if it were only through the consciousness of our having been in the same condemnation. For oftentime also thine own heart knoweth, that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others, wished them ill, spoken of them disrespectfully, or laid on them hard censures: the sense of our own failings should preserve us from anger, and the provocation remind us of, and humble us for, the sins of the like nature which we ourselves have committed.
4thly, Solomon had proved the vanity of all things by dear-bought experience, and here he acknowledges it.
1. He owns the defects of his wisdom, after all his pursuits. All this have I proved by wisdom; all that he has spoken in the foregoing chapters: I said, I will be wise; so far as the greatest industry would carry the most enlarged understanding, he was resolved to go: and with the most indefatigable diligence he pursued the research; but still it fled his grasp; he could not fathom the depths, either of nature, providence, or grace; many things were hid, and, while the effects were evident, the causes of them were mysterious. Thus it was far from me; the wisdom that he sought he was unable to attain; that which is far off, or far off that which has been; the works of creation and providence are far above the human comprehension, the knowledge of former things lost in oblivion, or that wisdom, which was originally in man, now departed from him; and exceeding deep, who can find it out? God's perfections and providences are by us unsearchable; the attempt to fathom them will but convince us of our own weakness.
2. He desired to be acquainted with folly as well as wisdom, and applied his heart to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: sin is exceedingly deceitful; it requires pains to strip off the mask, and discover its deep malignity: but when its sinfulness is seen, then shall we upbraid our folly for having yielded to it, and count those pleasures madness which promised the highest satisfaction, especially those fleshly lusts, to which Solomon here seems particularly to allude. Note; True penitents cannot find a name bad enough with which to brand their abominations, and upbraid their own folly and sin.
3. The result of the inquiry was, a discovery of the great evil that he had committed in yielding to the sinful love of women; on which, with deepest anguish, he now reflects. I find more bitter than death, the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands; the sweets of sin were momentary, the pangs of it mortal and abiding. Now his convictions began to fasten upon his soul, he feels the very agonies of death in his conscience: the smiles and blandishments which promised so much pleasure have left a sting behind, the poison of which drinketh up the spirit: and, once entangled in these fatal cords, hard, very hard it is to recover; and every new indulgence adds strength to the snare, and tenders the hope of recovery the more desperate. Whoso pleaseth God, shall escape from her; he will preserve them in the hour of temptation; for of ourselves we have no power to withstand for a moment. If we be, therefore, kept from the temptation, or under it, we must regard it as a great mark of God's favour, and acknowledge it with deep thankfulness: but the sinner shall be taken by her; God will, in judgment, give him up to his own heart's desires, and suffer him to perish in the iniquities that he has chosen.
4. He observes the sad and sinful state of man in general, and concludes with pointing out the source whence all the evil proceeds. Behold, this have I found (saith the Preacher), the bitterness of a harlot's snares, or the fewness of the faithful; counting one by one, to find out the account, both men and women, within the compass of his knowledge, earnestly solicitous to find out, if but one excellent among them, which yet my soul seeketh, and hitherto had sought almost in vain, one man among a thousand have I found faithful; so few, so very few, then walked in the narrow way: or, of a thousand who have fallen into the snares of the adulteress, not more than one have escaped; but a woman among all those have I not found; of all the bad women he had known, not one in a thousand was ever reclaimed: or perhaps among all his wives and concubines, he found not one who answered that character of virtue and excellence which he sought. Lo! this only have I found from the scriptures of truth, that God hath made man upright, perfect in knowledge and righteousness; but sad experience now evinces how fearfully apostate he is become, and far removed from his once happy state. They have sought out many inventions; not content with the station in which God had placed them, they affected to be as wise as the Elohim, and, daring to pluck the forbidden fruit, lost their innocence, were plunged into sin, wretchedness, and shame, which their miserable excuses but rendered the more notorious; and their corrupted offspring copy their destructive ways: and yet, through the grace of God, a glorious multitude, which no one can number, have been and shall be saved from all these pollutions.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28