But in a wise Use and a wise Enjoyment of the Present Life,
What that Good is, and where it may be found, the Preacher now proceeds to show. But, as his manner is, he does not say in so many words, "This is the Chief Good of man," or "You will find it yonder;" but he places before us the man who is walking in the right path and drawing closer and closer to it. Even of him the Preacher does not give us any formal description; but, following what we have seen to be his favourite method, he gives us a string of maxims and counsels from which we are to infer what manner of man he is who happily achieves this great Quest.
And, at the very outset, we learn that this happy person is of a noble, unselfish, generous temper. Unlike the man who simply wants to get on and make a fortune, he grudges no man his gains; he looks on his neighbours' interests as well as his own, and does good even to the evil and the unthankful. He is one who "casts his bread upon the waters " (Ecclesiastes 11:1), and who "gives a portion thereof to seven, and even to eight " (Ecclesiastes 11:2), The familiar proverb of the first verse has long been read as an allusion to the sowing of rice and other grain from a boat, during the periodical inundation of certain Eastern rivers, especially the Nile. We have been taught to regard the husbandman pushing from the embanked village in his frail bark, to cast the grain he would gladly cat on the surface of the flood, as a type of Christian labour and charity. He denies himself; so also must we if we would do good. He has faith in the Divine laws, and trusts to receive his own again with usury, to reap a larger crop the longer he waits for it ; and, in like manner, we are to trust in the Divine laws which bring us a hundred-fold for every act of self-denying service, and bless our "long patience" with the ampler harvest. But it is doubtful whether the Hebrew usus loquendi admits of this interpretation. It probably suggests another which, if unfamiliar to us, has a beauty of its own. In the East bread is commonly made in thin flat cakes, something like Passover cakes; and one of these cakes flung on the stream, though it would float with the current for a time, would soon sink; and once sunk would, unlike the grain cast from the boat, yield no return. And our charity should be like that. We should do good, " hoping for nothing again." We should show kindnesses which will soon be forgotten, never be returned, and be undismayed by the thanklessness of the task. It is not so thankless as it seems. For, first, we shall "find the good of it" in the loftier, more generous temper which the habit of doing good breeds and confirms. If no one else be the better for our kindness, we shall be the better, because the more kindly, for it. The quality of charity, like that of mercy, is twice blessed;
"It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
And, again, the task is not so thankless as it sometimes seems; for though many of our kind deeds may quicken no kindness in "him that takes," yet some of them will; and the more we help and succour the more likely are we to light upon at least a few who, when our need comes, will succour and console us. Even the most hardened have a certain tenderness for those who help them, if only the help meet a real need, and be given with grace. And, therefore, we may be very sure that if we give a portion of our bread to seven and even to eight, especially if they know that we ourselves have stomach for it all, at least one or two of them will share with us when we need bread.
But is not this, after all, only a refined selfishness? If we give because we do not know how soon we may need a gift, and in order that we may by-and-bye "find the good of it," do not even the heathen and the publicans the same? Well, not many of them, I think. I have not observed that it is their habit to cast their bread on thankless waters. If they forbode calamity and loss, they provide against them, not by giving, but by hoarding; and even they themselves would hardly accept as a model of charity a man who but toned up his pocket against every appeal, lest he should be yielding to a selfish motive, or be suspected of it. The refined selfishness of showing kindness and doing good even to the evil and the unthankful because we hope to find the good of it is by no means too common yet; we need not go in dread of it. Nor is it an altogether unworthy motive. St. Paul urges us to help a fallen brother on the express ground that we may need similar help some day (Galatians 6:1); and he was not in the habit of appealing to base motives. Nay, the very Golden Rule itself, which all men admire even if they do not walk by it, touches this spring of action ; for among other meanings it surely has this, that we are to do to others as we would that they should do to us, in the hope that they will do to us as we have done to them. There are other higher meanings in the Rule of course, as there are other and purer motives for Charity; but I do not know that we are any of us of so lofty a virtue that we need fear to show kindness in order to win kindness, or to give help that we may get help when we need it. Possibly, to act on this motive may be the best and nearest way of rising to such higher motives as we can reach. The first characteristic, then, of the man who is likely to achieve the quest of the Chief Good is the charity which prompts him to be gracious, and to show kindness, and to do good, even to the thankless and ungracious. And his second characteristic is the stedfast industry which turns all seasons to account. The man of affairs, who wants to rise, waits on occasion; he is on the watch to avail himself of the moods and caprices of men and bend them to his interest. But he who has learned to value things at their true worth, and whose heart is fixed on the acquisition of the highest good, does not want to get on so much as to do his duty under all the variable conditions of life. Just as he will not withhold his hand from giving, lest some of the recipients of his charity should prove unworthy, so also he will not withdraw his hand from the labour appointed him, because this or that endeavour may be unproductive, or lest it should be thwarted by the ordinances of heaven. He knows that the laws of nature will hold on their way, often causing individual loss to promote the general good. He knows, for instance, that when the clouds are full of rain they will empty themselves upon the earth, even though they put his harvest in peril; and that when the wind is fierce it will blow down trees, even though it should also scatter the seed which he is sowing. But he does not therefore wait upon the wind till it is too late to sow, nor upon the clouds till his ungathered crops rot in the fields. He is conscious that, though he knows much, he knows little of these as of other works of God: he cannot tell whether this or that tree will be blown down; almost all he can be certain of is that, when the tree is down, it will lie where it has fallen, lifting its bleeding roots in dumb protest against the wind which has brought it low. But this too he knows, that it is "God who worketh all;" that he is not responsible for events beyond his control: that what he is responsible for is that he do the duty of the moment whatever wind may blow, and calmly leave the issue in the hand of God. And so he is not "over exquisite to cast the fashion of uncertain evils;" diligent and undismayed, he goes on his way, giving himself heartily to the present duty, "sowing his seed, morning and evening, although he cannot tell which shall prosper, this or that, or whether both shall prove good " (Ecclesiastes 11:3-6). Windy March cannot blow him from his constant purpose, though it may blow the seed out of his hand; nor a rainy August melt him to despairing tears, though it may damage his harvest. He has done his duty, discharged his responsibility: let God see to the rest; whatever pleases God will content him.
This man, then, has learned one or two of the profoundest secrets of wisdom, plain as they look. He has learned that, giving, we gain; and, spending, thrive. He has also learned that a man's true care is himself; that all that pertains to the body, to the issues of labour, to the chances of fortune, is external to himself; that whatever form these may take, he may learn from them, and profit by them, and be content in them: that his true business in the world is to cultivate a strong and dutiful character which shall prepare him for any world or any fate; and that so long as he can do this, his main duty will be done, his ruling object attained. Totum in eo est, ut libi imperes.
Is not this true wisdom? is it not an abiding good? Pleasures may bloom and fade. Speculations may shift and change. Riches may come and go- what else have they wings for? The body may sicken or strengthen. The favour of men may be conferred and withdrawn. There is no stability in these; and if we are dependent on them, we shall be variable and inconstant as they are. But if we make it our chief aim to do our duty whatever it may be, and to love and serve our neighbour whatever the attitude he may assume to us, we have an aim always within our reach, a duty we may always be doing, a good as enduring as ourselves, and therefore a good we may enjoy for ever. Standing on this rock, from which no wave of change can sweep us, " the light will be sweet to us, and it shall be pleasant to our eyes to behold the sun," whatever the day, or the world, on which he may rise (Ecclesiastes 11:7). But is all our life to be taken up in meeting the claims of duty and of charity ? Are we never to relax into mirth, never to look forward to a time in which reward will be more exactly adjusted to service? Yes, we are to do both this and that. It is very true that he who makes it his ruling aim to do the present duty, and to leave the future with God, will have a happy because a useful life. He that walks this path of duty
For the right, and learns to deaden
Love of self, before his journey closes.
He shall find the stubborn thistle bursting
Into glossy purples, which outredden
All voluptuous garden roses."
The path may often be steep and difficult; it may be overhung with threatening rocks and strewn with "stones of offence;" but he who pursues it, still pressing on "through the long gorge" and winning his way upward,
"Shall find the toppling crags of Duty scaled,
Are close upon the shining table-lands
To which our God Himself is sun and moon."
Nevertheless, if his life is to be full and complete, he must be able to pluck whatever bright flowers of joy spring beside his path, to find "laughing waters" in the crags he climbs, and to rejoice not only in "the glossy purples" of the armed and stubborn thistle, but in the delicate beauty of the ferns, the pure grace of the cyclamens, and the sweet breath of the fragrant grasses and flowers which haunt those severe heights. If he is to be a Man, rather than a Stoic or an Anchorite, he must add to his sense of duty a keen delight in all beauty, all grace, all innocent and noble pleasure. For the sake of others, too, as well as for his own sake, he must carry with him "the merry heart which doeth good like a medicine," since, lacking that, he will neither do all the good he might, nor himself become perfect and complete. And it is proof, I think, of the good divinity, no less than of the broad humanity, of the Preacher that he lays much stress on this point. He not only bids us enjoy life, but gives us cogent reasons for enjoying it. " Even/' he says, " if a man should live many years, he ought to enjoy them all." But why? " Because there will be many dark days," days of old age and growing infirmity in which pleasures will lose their charm; days of death through which he wall sleep quietly in the dark stillness of the grave, beyond the touch of any happy excitement (Ecclesiastes 11:8). Therefore the man who attains the Chief Good will not only do the duty of the moment; he will also enjoy the pleasure of the moment. He will not toil through the long day of life till, spent and weary, he has no power to enjoy his "much goods," or no time for his soul to "make merry the glad." While he is "a young man," he will "rejoice in his youth, and let his heart cheer him," and go after the pleasures which attract youth (Ecclesiastes 11:9). While his heart is still fresh, when pleasures are most innocent and healthful, easiest of attainment and unalloyed by anxiety and care, he will cultivate that cheerful temper which is a prime safeguard against vice, discontent, and the morose fretfulness of a selfish old age.
Combined with a steadfast Faith in the Life to come.
Ecclesiastes 10:9 - Ecclesiastes 12:7
But, soft; is not our man of men becoming a mere man of pleasure? No; for he recognises the claims of duty and of charity. These keep his pleasures sweet and wholesome, prevent them from usurping the whole man, and landing him in the satiety and weariness of dissipation. But lest even these safeguards should prove insufficient, he has also this: he knows that "God will bring him into judgment"; that all his works, whether of charity or duty or recreation, will be weighed in the pure and even balance of Divine Justice (Ecclesiastes 11:9). This is the secret of the pure heart-the heart that is kept pure amid all labours and cares and joys. But the intention of the Preacher in thus adverting to the Divine Judgment has been gravely misconstrued, wrested even to its very opposite. We too much forget what that judgment must have seemed to the enslaved Jews; -how weighty a consolation, how bright a hope! They were captive exiles, oppressed by profligate despotic lords. Cleaving to the Divine Law with a passionate loyalty such as they had never felt in happier days, they were nevertheless exposed to the most dire and constant misfortunes. All the blessings which the Law pronounced on the obedient seemed withheld from them, all its promises of good and peace to be falsified; the wicked triumphed over them, and prospered in their wickedness. Now to a people whose convictions and hopes had suffered this miserable defeat, what truth would be more welcome than that of a life to come, in which all wrongs should be both righted and avenged, and all the promises in which they had hoped should receive a large fulfilment that would beggar hope? what prospect could be more cheerful and consolatory than that of a day of retribution on which their oppressors would be put to shame, and they would be recompensed for their fidelity to the law of God? This hope would be sweeter to them than any pleasure; it would lend a new zest to every pleasure, and make them more zealous in good works.
Nay, we know, from the Psalms composed during the Captivity, that the judgment of God was an incentive to hope and joy; that, instead of fearing it, the pious Jews looked forward to. it with rapture and exultation. What, for example, can be more riant and joyful than the concluding strophe of Psalms 96:1-13?
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad:
Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof:
Let the field exult and all that therein is:
And let all the trees of the wood sing for joy
Before Jehovah: for He cometh,
For He cometh to judge the earth,
To judge the world with righteousness
And the peoples with his truth:
or than the third strophe of Psalms 98:1-9?
Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof:
The world, and they that dwell therein:
Let the floods clap their hands,
And let the hills sing for joy together
Before Jehovah: for he cometh to judge the earth:
With righteousness shall he judge the world,
And the peoples with equity.
It is impossible to read these verses, and such verses as these, without feeling that the Jews of the captivity anticipated the divine judgment, not with fear and dread, but with a hope and joy so deep and keen as that they summoned the whole round of nature to share it and reflect it.
If we remembered this, we should not so readily agree with the Preachers and Commentators who assume Coheleth to be speaking ironically in this verse, and as though he would defy his readers to enjoy their pleasures with the thought of God and his judgment of them in their minds. We should rather understand that he was making life more cheerful to them; that he was removing the blight of despair which had fallen on it; that he was kindling in their dreary prospect a light which would shine even into their darkened present with gracious and healing rays. All wrongs would be easier to bear, all duties would be faced with better heart, all alleviating pleasures would grow more welcome, if once they were fully persuaded that there was a life beyond death, a life in which the good would be "comforted" and the evil "tormented." It is on the express ground that there is a judgment that the Preacher, in the last verse of this chapter, bids them banish "care" and "sadness," or, as the words perhaps mean, "moroseness" and "trouble"; though he also adds another reason which no longer afflicts him much, viz., that "youth and manhood are vanity," soon gone, never to be recalled, and never enjoyed if the brief occasion is suffered to pass.
Mark how quickly the force of this great hope has reversed his position. Only in Ecclesiastes 11:8, the very instant before he discloses his hope, he urges men to enjoy the present "because all that is coming is vanity," because there were so many dark days, days of infirm querulous age and silent dreary death before them. But here, in Ecclesiastes 11:10, the very moment he has disclosed his hope, he urges them to enjoy the present, not because the future is vanity, but because the present is vanity, because youth and manhood soon pass and the pleasures proper to them will be out of reach. Why should they any longer be fretted with care and anxiety when the lamp of revelation shone so brightly on the future? Why should they not be cheerful when so happy a prospect lay before them? Why should they sit brooding over their wrongs when their wrongs were so soon to be righted, and they were to enter on so ample a recompense of reward? Why should they not travel toward a future so welcome and inviting with hearts attuned to mirth and responsive to every touch of pleasure?
But is the thought of judgment to be no check on our pleasures? Well, it is certainly used here as an incentive to pleasure, to cheerfulness. We are to be happy because we are to stand at the bar of God, because in the judgment He will adjust and compensate all the wrongs and afflictions of time. But it is not every one who can take to himself the full comfort of this argument. Only he can do that who makes it his ruling aim to do his duty and help his neighbour. And no doubt even he will find the hope of judgment-for with him it is a hope rather than a fear-a valuable check, not on his pleasures, but on those base counterfeits which often pass for pleasures, and which betray men, through voluptuousness, into satiety, disgust, remorse. Because he hopes to meet God, and has to give account of himself to God, he will resist the evil lusts which pollute and degrade the soul: and thus the prospect of Judgment will become a safeguard and a defence.
But he has a safeguard of even a more sovereign potency than this. For he not only looks forward to a future judgment, he is conscious of a present and constant judgment. God is with him wherever he goes. From "the days of his youth he has remembered his Creator". [Ecclesiastes 12:1] He has remembered Him and given to the poor and needy. He has remembered Him, and doing all things as to Him, duty has grown light. He has remembered Him, and his pleasures have grown the sweeter because they were gifts from heaven, and because he has taken them, in a thankful spirit, for a temperate enjoyment. Of all safeguards to a life of virtue, this is the noblest and the best. We can afford, indeed, to part with none of them, for we are strangely weak, often where we least suspect it, and need all the helps we can get: but least of all can we afford to part with this. We need to remember that every sin is punished here and now, inwardly if not outwardly, and that these inward punishments are the most severe. We need to remember that we must all appear before the judgment seat of God. to render an account of the deeds done in the body. But above all-if love, and not fear, is to be the animating motive of our life-we need to remember that God is always with us, observing what we do; and that, not that He may spy upon us and accumulate heavy charges against us, but that He may help us to do well; not to frown upon our pleasures, but to hallow, deepen, and prolong them, and to be Himself our Chief Good and our Supreme Delight.
"‘Live while you live,’ the Epicure would say,
‘And seize the pleasure of the present day.’
‘Live while you live,’ the Sacred Preacher cries,
‘And give to God each moment as it flies.’
Lord, in nay view let both united be:
I live in pleasure while l live in Thee."
Finally, the Preacher enforces this early and habitual reference of the soul to the Divine Presence and Will by a brief allusion to the impotence and weariness of a godless old age, and by a very striking description of the terrors of the death in which it culminates.
While "the dew of youth" is still fresh upon us we are to "remember our Creator" and his constant judgment of us lest, forgetting Him, we should waste our powers in sensual excess; lest temperate mirth should degenerate into an extravagant and wanton devotion to pleasure; lest the lust of mere physical enjoyment should outlive the power to enjoy, and, groaning under the penalties our unbridled indulgence has provoked, we should find "days of evil" rise on us in long succession, and draw out into "years" of fruitless desire, self-disgust, and despair (Ecclesiastes 12:1). "Before the evil days come," and that they may not come; before "the years arrive of which we shall say, I have no pleasure in them," and that they may not arrive, we are to bethink us of the Pure and Awful Presence in which we daily stand. God is with us that we may not sin; with us in youth, that "the angel of his Presence" may save us from the sins to which youth is prone; with us, to save us from "the noted slips of youth and liberty," that our closing years may have the cheerful serenity of a happy old age.
To this admonition drawn from the miseries of godless age, the Preacher appends a description of the terrors of approaching death (Ecclesiastes 12:2-5), -description which has suffered many strange torments at the hands of critics and commentators. It has commonly been read as an allegorical, but singularly accurate, diagnosis of "the disease men call death," as setting forth in graphic figures the gradual decay of sense after sense, faculty after faculty. Learned physicians have written treatises upon it, and have been lost in admiration of the force and beauty of the metaphors in which it conveys the results of their special science, although they differ in their interpretation of almost every sentence, and are driven at times to the most gross and absurd conjectures in order to sustain their several theories. I need not give any detailed account of these speculations, for the simple reason that they are based, as I believe, on an entire misconception of the Sacred Text. Instead of being, as has been assumed, a figurative description of the dissolution of the body, it sets forth the threatening approach of death under the image of a tempest which, gathering over an Eastern city during the day, breaks upon it toward evening: so, at least, I, with many more, take it. And I do not know how we can better arrive at it than by considering what would be the incidents which would strike us if we were to stroll through the narrow tortuous streets of such a city as the day was closing in.
As we passed along we should find small rows of houses and shops, broken here and there by a wide stretch of blank wall, behind which were the mansions, harems, courtyards of its wealthier inhabitants. Round and within the low marrow gates which gave access to these mansions, we should see armed men lounging whose duty it is to guard the premises against robbers and intruders; these are "the keepers of the house," over whom, as over the whole household, are placed superior officials-members of the family often-or "men of power." Going through the gates and glancing up at the latticed windows, we might catch glimpses of the veiled faces of the ladies of the house who, not being permitted to stir abroad except on rare occasions and under jealous guardianship, are accustomed to amuse their dreary leisure, and to learn a little of what is going on around them, by "looking out of the windows." Within the house, the gentlemen of the family would be enjoying the chief meal of the day, provoking appetite with delicacies such as "the locust," or condiments such as "the caperberry," or with choice fruit such as "the almond." Above all the shrill cries and noises of the city you would hear a loud humming sound rising on every side, for which you would be sorely puzzled to account if you were a stranger to Eastern habits. It is the sound of the cornmills which, towards evening, are at work in every house. A cornmill was indispensable to every Eastern family, since there were no public mills or bakers except the King’s. The heat of the climate makes it necessary that corn should be ground and baked every day. And as the task of grinding at the mill was very irksome, only the most menial class of women, often slaves or captives, were employed upon it. Of course the noise caused by the revolution of the upper upon the nether millstone was very great when the mills were simultaneously at work in, every house in the city. No sound is more familiar in the East; and, if it were suddenly stopped, the effect would be as striking as the sudden stoppage of all the wheels of traffic in an English town. So familiar was the sound, indeed, and of such good omen, that in Holy Writ it is used as a symbol of a happy, active, well-provided people; while the cessation of it is employed to denote want, and desolation, and despair. To an Oriental ear no threat would be more doleful and pathetic than that in Jeremiah 25:10, "I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle."
Now suppose the day on which we rambled through the city had been boisterous and lowering; that heavy rain had fallen, obscuring all the lights of heaven; and that, as the evening drew on, the thick clouds, instead of dispersing, had "returned after the rain," so that setting sun and rising moon, and the growing light of stars, were all blotted from view. [Ecclesiastes 12:2] The tempest, long in gathering, breaks on the city; the lightnings flash through the darkness, making it more hideous; the thunder crashes and rolls above the roofs; the tearing rain beats at all lattices and floods all roads. If we cared to abide the pelting of the storm, we should have before us the very scene which the Preacher depicts. "The keepers of the house," the guards and porters would quake. "The men of power," the lords or owners of the house, or the officials who most closely attended on them, would crouch and tremble with apprehension. The maids at the mill would "stop" because one or other of the two women-two at least-whom it took to work the heavy millstone had been frightened from her task by the gleaming lightning and the pealing thunder. The ladies, looking out of their lattices, would be driven back into the darkest corners of the inner rooms of the harem. Every door would be closed and barred lest robbers, availing themselves of the darkness and its terrors, should creep in. [Ecclesiastes 12:3] "The noise of the mills" would grow faint or utterly cease, because the threatening tumult had terrified many, if not all, the grinding maids from their work. The strong-winged "swallow," lover of wind and tempest, would flit to and fro with shrieks of joy; while the delicate "songbirds" would drop, silent and alarmed, into their nests. The gentlemen of the house would soon loose all gust for their delicate cates and fruits; "the almond" would be pushed aside, "the locust loathed," and even the stimulating "caperberry provoke no appetite," fear being a singularly unwelcome and disappetising guest at a feast. In short, the whole people, stunned and confused by the awful and stupendous majesty of a tropical storm, would be affrighted at the terrors which come flaming; from "the height" of heaven, to confront them on every highway (Ecclesiastes 12:4-5).
Such and so terrible is the tempest that at times sweeps over an Eastern city. Such and so terrible, adds the Preacher, is death to the godless and sensual. They are carried away as by a storm; the wind riseth and snatcheth them out of their place. For if we ask, "Why, O Preacher, has your pencil laboured to depict the terrors of a tempest?" he replies, "Because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners pace up and down the street" (Ecclesiastes 12:5). He leaves us in no doubt as to the moral of the fable, the theme and motive of his picture. While painting it, while adding touch to touch, he has been thinking of "the long home"-or, as the Hebrew has it, "the house of eternity"; a phrase still used by the Jews as a synonym for "the grave"-which is appointed for all living, and of the mercenary professional mourners who loiter under the windows of the dying man in the hope that they may be hired to lament him. To the expiring sinner death is simply dreadful. It puts an end to all his activities and enjoyments, just as the tempest brings all the labours and recreations of a city to a pause. He has nothing before him but the grave, and none to mourn him but the harpies who already pace the street, longing for the moment when he will be gone, and who value their fee far above his life. If we would have death shorn of its terrors for us, we must "remember our Creator" before death comes; we must seek by charity, by a faithful discharge of duty, by a wise use and a wise enjoyment of the life that now is, to prepare ourselves for the life which is to come.
Death itself, as Coheleth proceeds to remind us (Ecclesiastes 12:6), cannot be escaped. Some day the cord will break and the lamp fall; some day the jar or pitcher must be broken, and the wheel, shattered, fall into the well. Death is the common event. It befalls not only the sinful and injurious, but also the useful and the good. Our life may have been like a "golden" lamp suspended by a silver chain, fit for the palace of a king, and may have shed a welcome and cheerful light on every side and held out every promise of endurance; but, none the less, the costly durable chain will be snapped at last, and the fair costly bowl be broken. Or our life may have been like the "pitcher" dipped, by village maidens, into the village fountain; or, again, like "the wheel" by which water is drawn, by a thousand hands, from the city well: it may have conveyed a vital refreshment to the few or to the many around us: but, none the less, the day must come when the pitcher will be shattered on the edge of the fountain, and the time-worn wheel fall from its rotten supports. There is no escape from death. And, therefore, as we must all die, let us all live as cheerfully and helpfully as we can; let us all prepare for the better life beyond the grave, by serving our Creator before "the body is cast into the earth from whence it came, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
This, then, according to the Hebrew Preacher, is the ideal man, the man who achieves the quest of the Chief Good:-charitable, dutiful, cheerful, he prepares for death by a useful and happy life, for future judgment by a constant reference to the present judgment, for meeting God hereafter by walking with Him here.
Has he not achieved the quest? Can we hope to find a more solid and enduring good? What to him are the shocks of change, the blows of circumstance, the mutations of time, the fluctuations of fortune? These cannot touch the good which he holds to be chief. If they bring trouble, he can bear trouble and profit by it: if they bring prosperity, success, mirth, he can bear even these, and neither value them beyond their worth nor abuse them to his hurt; for his good, and therefore his peace and blessedness, are founded on a rock over which the changeful waves may wash, but against which they cannot prevail. Let the sun shine never so hotly, let the storm beat never so furiously, the rock stands firm, and the house which he has built for himself upon the rock. Whatever may befall, he can be doing his main work, enjoying his supreme satisfaction, since he can meet all changes with a dutiful and loving heart; since, through all, he may be forming a noble character and helping his neighbours to form a character as noble as his own. Because he has a gracious God always with him, and because a bright future stretches before him in endless and widening vistas of hope, he can carry to all the wrongs and afflictions of time a cheerful spirit which shines through them with transfiguring rays, -a spirit before which even the thick darkness of death will grow light, and the solemnities of the Judgment be turned into holiday festivity and triumph. Ah, foolish and miserable that we are who, with so noble a life, and so bright a prospect, and a good so enduring open to us-and with such helps to them in the gospel of Christ as Coheleth could not know-nevertheless creep about the earth the slaves of every accident, the very fools of time!
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter