the Fifth Week of Lent
Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible Coke's Commentary
by Thomas Coke
ECCLESIASTES; OR, THE PREACHER.
THIS Book is generally allowed to have been written by Solomon; and it is the opinion of many great men, that he wrote it upon his repentance after his fall. Expositors have varied greatly, concerning the main scope and design of it; and their different opinions have been accurately discussed by a late learned and laborious writer; who, after examining the opinions of others, gives us his own, which we here subjoin, as it appears the most reasonable. "The book intitled in Greek Ecclesiastes, and in English The Preacher, seems to be a philosophical discourse, written in a rhetorical style, here and there interspersed with verses, which gave a handle to rank it among the poetical books." The author's design is, to prove the immortality of the soul, or, rather, the necessity of another state after this life, from such arguments as may be afforded by reason and experience. In the course of the argument, the author now and then inserts some observations which do not directly respect the main design of the treatise, but must be looked upon as either consequences, naturally arising from the same principles which it was his business to establish, in order to come to the main conclusion; or considerations, without which his principles must have lain exposed to objections and chicaneries, from the libertines or pretended free-thinkers of his age. My reasons for being of this opinion are chiefly two: the one is taken from the conclusion of the book (where see the note); the other from the whole series of the discourse, where I can find no connection of ideas, no design pursued, no constant method observed upon any other scheme. But to judge of the whole series, and to determine what it requires, that series must be consulted at length. The whole discourse may be reduced to three propositions; every one of which, when properly rejected upon, yields a strong proof of a future state of rewards and punishments. But it must be observed, that though in all reasonings two propositions must be apprehended by the mind, in order to form any conclusion, yet it is not always necessary that both should be expressed. When the second is so obvious, that it in a manner obtrudes itself upon the mind as soon as the first is mentioned; or so certainly true, that no man in his right senses can well question it; then a philosopher may, according to the strictest rules, and an orator generally does, leave it to be understood and supplied by the attentive reader or hearer: and this is what the logicians call an enthymeme. Now I hope this proposition,—"Human affairs are under the inspection of a wise, powerful, and infinitely, perfect Being, who can never be supposed to act but agreeably to his attributes,"—will be easily granted to be one of those which may be left unexpressed in a religious argument: Then let it be considered as the minor or second proposition of a syllogism, whereof any of the three we are going to mention is the major, or first, proposition; and I am much mistaken if the doctrine that I look upon as being chiefly taught in this book does not appear to be the regular consequence of such a syllogism. These three propositions, every one of which is attended with its proper apparatus of proofs and special observations, are the following:
—I. No labour or trouble of men in this world ever be so profitable as to produce in them a lasting contentment and thorough satisfaction of mind. See chap. Ecclesiastes 1:2-3.
—II. Earthly goods, and whatever we can acquire by our utmost trouble and labour in this world, are so far from making us lastingly happy, that they may in general be even looked upon as real obstacles to our ease and tranquillity. See chap. Ecclesiastes 5:13.
—III. Men know not what is or is not truly advantageous to them, because they are either ignorant or unmindful of that which must come to pass after they are dead. See chap. Ecclesiastes 6:12. Therefore any one may conclude that there must be a state of true solid happiness for men out of this world; except He, who is allowed to have made them what they are, and to have implanted in their hearts that strong desire of happiness which often makes them tolerable in this world, be absurdly supposed to have acted whimsically in their formation, and to act so still in the dispensation of Providence. See Desvaeux's Philosophical and Critical Essay on Ecclesiastes, and the subsequent notes which are chiefly from him, in proof of the truth and propriety of the scheme proposed.