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Approaching the end of his treatise, Koheleth, in view of apparent anomalies in God's moral government, and the difficulties that meet man in his social and political relations, proceeds to give his remedies for this state of things. These remedies are
(1) beneficence and active life (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6);
(2) joyful light-heartedness (Ecclesiastes 11:7-9);
(3) piety (Ecclesiastes 11:10-Ecclesiastes 12:7).
Section 16. Leaving alone unanswerable questions, man's duty and happiness are found in activity, especially in doing all the good in his power, for he knows not how soon he himself may stand in need of help. This is the first remedy for the perplexities of life. The wise man will not charge himself with results.
Cast thy bread upon the waters. The old interpretation of this passage, which found in it a reference to the practice in Egypt of sowing seed during the inundation of the Nile, is not admissible. The verb shalach is not used in the sense of sowing or scattering seed; it means "to cast or send forth." Two chief explanations have been given.
(1) As to sow on the water is equivalent to taking thankless toil (compare the Greek proverb, Σπείρειν ἐπὶ πόντῳ), the gnome may be an injunction to do good without hope of return, like the evangelical precept (Matthew 5:44-46; Luke 6:32-35).
(2) It is a commercial maxim, urging men to make ventures in trade, that they may receive a good return for their expenditure. In this case the casting seed upon the waters is a metaphorical expression for sending merchandise across the sea to distant lands. This view is supposed to be confirmed by the statement concerning the good woman in Proverbs 31:14, "She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her bread from far;" and the words of Psalms 107:23, "They that go down to the sea in ships, that do Business in great waters." But one sees no reason why Koheleth should suddenly turn to commerce and the trade of a maritime city. Such considerations have no reference to the context, nor to the general design of the book. Nothing leads to them, nothing comes of them. On the other hand, if we take the verse as urging active beneficence as the safest and best proceeding under men's present circumstances, We have a maxim in due accordance with the spirit of the rest of the work, and one which conduces to the conclusion reached at the end. So we adopt the first of the two explanations mentioned above. The bread in the East is made in the form of thin cakes, which would float for a time if thrown into a stream; and if it be objected that no one would be guilty of such an irrational action as flinging bread into the water, it may be answered that this is just the point aimed at. Do your kindnesses, exert yourself, in the most unlikely quarters, not thinking of gratitude or return, but only of duty. And yet surely a recompense will be made in some form or other. Thou shalt find it after many days. This is not to be the motive of our acts, but it will in the course of time be the result; and this thought may be an encouragement. In the Chaldee Version of parts of Ecclesiasticus there is extant a maxim identical with our verse, "Strew thy bread on the water and on the land, and thou shalt find it at the end of days". Parallels have been found in many quarters. Thus the Turk says, "Do good, throw it into the water; if the fish does not know it, God does." Herzfeld quotes Goethe—
"Was willst du untersuchen,
Wohin die Milde fliesst!
Ins Wasser wirf deine Kuchen;
Wer weiss wet sie geniesst?"
"Wouldst thou too narrowly inquire
Whither thy kindness goes!
Thy cake upon the water cast;
Whom it may feed who knows?"
Voltaire paraphrases the passage in his 'Precis de l'Ecclesiaste'—
"Repandez vos bienfaits avec magnificence,
Meme aux moins vertueux ne les refusez pas.
Ne vous informez pas de leur reconnoissance;
Il est grand, il est beau de faire des ingrats."
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight. This further explains, without any metaphor, the injunction of beneficence in Ecclesiastes 11:1. Give portions of thy "bread" to any number of those who need. Delitzsch and others who interpret the passage of maritime enterprise would see in it a recommendation (like the proceeding of Jacob, Genesis 32:16, etc.) not to risk all at once, to divide one's ventures into various ships. But the expression in the text is merely a mode of enjoining unlimited benevolence. The numbers are purposely indefinite. Instances of this form of speech are common enough (see Proverbs 6:16; Proverbs 30:7-9, etc.; Amos 1:3. etc.; Micah 5:5; Ecclesiasticus 23:16; 26:5, 28). Wordsworth notes that the word for "portion" (chelek) is that used specially for the portion of the Levites (Numbers 18:20); and in accordance with his view of the date of the book, finds here an injunction not to confine one's offerings to the Levites of Judah, but to extend them to the refugees who come from Israel. For thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. A time may come when you yourself may need help; the power of giving may no longer be yours; therefore make friends now who may be your comfort in distress. So the Lord urges, "Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness" (Luke 16:9). It seems a low motive on which to base charitable actions; but men act on such secondary motives every day, and the moralist cannot ignore them. In the Book of Proverbs secondary and worldly motives are largely urged as useful in the conduct of life. St. Paul reminds us that we some day may need a brother's help (Galatians 6:1). The Fathers have spiritualized the passage, so as to make it of Christian application, far away indeed from Koheleth's thought. Thus St. Gregory: "By the number seven is understood the whole of this temporal condition … this is shown more plainly when the number eight is mentioned after it. For when another number besides follows after seven, it is set forth by this very addition, that this temporal state is brought to an end and closed by eternity. For by the number seven Solomon expressed the present time, which is passed by periods of seven days. But by the number eight he designated eternal life, which the Lord made known to us by his resurrection. For he rose in truth on the Lord's day, which, as following the seventh day, i.e. the sabbath, is found to be the eighth from the creation. But it is well said, 'Give portions,' etc. As if it were plainly said, 'So dispense temporal goods, as not to forget to desire those that are eternal. For thou oughtest to provide for the future by well-doing, who knowest not what tribulation succeeds from the future judgment'" ('Moral,' 35.17, Oxford transl.).
If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth. This verse is closely connected with the preceding paragraph. The misfortune there intimated may fall at any moment; this is as certain as the laws of nature, unforeseen, uncontrollable. When the clouds are overcharged with moisture, they deliver their burden upon the earth, according to laws which man cannot alter; these are of irresistible necessity, and must be expected and endured. And if the tree fall toward the, south, etc.; or, it may be, in the south; i.e. let it fall where it will; the particular position is of no importance. When the tempest overthrows it, it lies where it has fallen. When the evil day comes, we must bend to the blow, we are powerless to avert it; the future can be neither calculated nor controlled. The next verse tells how the wise man acts under such circumstances. Christian commentators have argued from this clause concerning the unchangeable state of the departed—that there is no repentance in the grave; that what death leaves them judgment shall find them. Of course, no such thought was in Koheleth's mind; nor do we think that the inspiring Spirit intended such meaning to be wrung from the passage. Indeed, it may be said that, as it stands, the clause does not bear this interpretation. The fallen or felled tree is not at once fit for the master's use; it has to be exposed to atmospheric influences seasoned, tried. It is not left in the place where it lay, nor in the condition in which it was; so that, if we reason from this analogy, we must conceive that there is some ripening, purifying process in the intermediate state. St. Gregory speaks thus: "For when, at the moment of the falling of the human being, either the Holy Spirit or the evil spirit receives the soul departed from the chambers of the flesh, he will keel, it with him for ever without change, so that neither, once exalted, shall it be precipitated into woe, nor, once plunged into eternal woes, any further arise to take the means of escape" ('Moral.,' 8.30).
He that observeth the wind shall not sow. The fact of the uncertainty and immutability of the future ought not to make us supine or to crush out all diligence and activity. He who wants to anticipate results, to foresee and provide against all contingencies, to be his own providence, is like a farmer who is always looking to wind and weather, and misses the time for sowing in this needless caution. The quarter from which the wind blows regulates the downfall of rain (comp. Proverbs 25:23). In Palestine the west and north-west winds usually brought rain. He that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. For the purpose of softening the ground to receive the seed, rain was advantageous; but storms in harvest, of course, were pernicious (see 1 Samuel 12:17, etc.; Proverbs 26:1); and he who was anxiously fearing every indication of such weather, and altering his plans at every phase of the sky, might easily put off reaping his fields till either the crops were spoiled or the rainy season had set in. A familiar proverb says," A watched pot never boils." Some risks must always be run if we are to do our work in the world; we cannot make a certainty of anything; probability in the guide of life. We cannot secure ourselves from failure; we can but do our best, and uncertainty of result must not paralyze exertion. "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy" (Romans 9:16). St. Gregory deduces a lesson from this verse: "He calls the unclean spirit wind, but men who are subjected to him clouds; whom he impels backwards and forwards, hither and thither, as often as his temptations alternate in their hearts from the blasts of suggestions. He therefore who observes the wind does not sow, since he who dreads coming temptations does not direct his heart to doing good. And he who regards the clouds does not reap, since he who trembles from the dread of human fickleness deprives himself of the recompense of an eternal reward" ('Moral.,' 27.14).
As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit. In this verse are presented one or two examples of man's ignorance of natural facts and processes as analogous to the mysteries of God's moral government. The word translated "spirit" (ruach) may mean also "wind," and is so taken hero by many commentators (see Ecclesiastes 1:6; Ecclesiastes 8:8; and comp. John 3:8). In this view there would be two instances given, viz. the wind and the embryo. Certainly, the mention of the wind seems to come naturally after what has preceded; and man's ignorance of its way, and powerlessness to control it, are emblematic of his attitude towards Divine providence. The versions, however, seem to support the rendering of the Authorized Version. Thus the Septuagint (which connects the clause with Ecclesiastes 11:4), ἐν οἷς ("among whom," i.e. those who watch the weather), "There is none that knoweth what is the way of the spirit (τοῦ πνεύματος);" Vulgate. Quomodo ignoras quae sit via spiritus. If we take this view, we have only one idea in the verse, and that is the infusion of the breath of life in the embryo, and its growth in its mother's womb. Nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child. Our version, by its insertions, has made two facts out of the statement in the Hebrew, which is literally, holy the bones (are) in the womb of a pregnant woman. Septuagint, "As (ὡς) bones are in the womb," etc.; Vulgate, Et qua ratione compingantur ossa in ventre praegnantis, " And in what way the bones are framed in the womb of the pregnant." The formation and quickening of the foetus were always regarded as mysterious and inscrutable (comp. Job 10:8, Job 10:9; Psalms 139:15; Wis. 7:1, etc.). Wright compares M. Aurelius, 10:26, "The first principles of life are extremely slender and mysterious; and yet nature works them up into a strange increase of bulk, diversity, and proportion." Controversies concerning the origin of the soul have been rife from early times, some holding what is called Traducianism, i.e. that soul and body are both derived by propagation from earthly parents; others supporting Creationism, i.e. that the soul, created specially by God, is infused into the child before birth. St. Augustine confesses ('Op. Imperf.,' 4.104) that he is unable to determine the truth of either opinion. And, indeed, this is one of those secret things which Holy Scripture has not decided for us, and about which no authoritative sentence has been given. The term "bones" is used for the whole conformation of the body (comp. Proverbs 15:30; Proverbs 16:24); meleah, "pregnant," means literally, "full," and is used like the Latin plena can here and nowhere else in the Old .Testament, though common in later Hebrew. Thus Ovid, 'Metam.,' 10.469—
"Plena patris thalamis excedit, et impia dire
Semina fert utero."
And 'Fast.,' 4.633—
"Nunc gravidum pecus est; gravidae sunt semine terrae
Telluri plenae victima plena datur."
Even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. Equally mysterious in its general scope and in its details is the working of God's providence. And as everything lies in God's hands, it must needs be secret and beyond human ken. This is why to "the works of God" (Ecclesiastes 7:13) is added, "who maketh all." The God of nature is Lord of the future (comp. Amos 3:6; Ec 18:6); man must not disquiet himself about this.
In the morning sow thy seed. Do not let your ignorance of the future and the inscrutability of God's dealings lead you to indolence and apathy; do your appointed work; be active and diligent in your calling. The labor of the farmer is taken as a type of business generally, and was especially appropriate to the class of persons whom Koheleth is instructing. The injunction occurs naturally after Ecclesiastes 11:4. And in the evening withhold not thine hand. Labor on untiredly from morn till evening. It is not an advice to rest during midday, as that was too hot a time to work (Stuart), but a call to spend the entire day in active employment, the two extremities being mentioned in order to include the whole. Work undertaken in a right spirit is a blessing, not a curse, shuts out many temptations, encourages many virtues. Some see here a special reference to the maxim at the beginning of the chapter, as though the author meant, "Exercise thy charity at all times, early and late," the metaphor being similar 'to that in 2 Corinthians 9:6, "He which soweth sparingly," etc. Others find a figure of the ages of, man in the "morning and evening," thus, "From earliest youth practice piety and purity, and continue such conduct to its close." This leads naturally to the subject of the following section; but it may be doubted whether this thought was in the author's mind. It seems best to take the paragraph merely as commending activity, whether in business or in benevolence, without anxious regard to results which are in higher hands. "Withhold not thy hand," i.e. from sowing; Μὴ ἀφέτω ἡ χείρ σου. For thou knowest not whether shall prosper, which of the two sewings, either this or that, the morning or evening sowing. It is a chance, and a man must risk something; if one fails, the other may succeed. Or whether they both shall be alike good. The uncertainty rouses to exertion; labor may at any rate secure half the crop, or even give a double produce, if both sewings succeed. So in religion and morality, the good seed sown early and late may bear fruit early or late, or may have blessed results all along. The Vulgate is less correct, Et si utrumque simul, melius or, "And if both together, it will be better."
Section 17. The second remedy for the perplexities of the present life is cheerfulness—the spirit that enjoys the present, with a chastened regard to the future.
Truly the light is sweet. The verse begins with the copula vav, "and," which here notes merely transition, as Ecclesiastes 3:16; Ecclesiastes 12:9. Do not be perplexed, or despondent, or paralyzed in your work, by the difficulties that meet you. Confront them with a cheerful mien, and enjoy life while it lasts. "The light" may be taken literally, or as equivalent to life. The very light, with all that it unfolds, all that it beautifies, all that it quickens, is a pleasure; life is worth living, and affords high and merited enjoyment to the faithful worker. The commentators quote parallels Thus Euripides, 'Iph. in Aul.,' 1219—
Μή μ ἀπολέσῃς ἄωρον ἡδύ γὰρ τὸ φῶς
Λεύσσειν τὰ δ ὐπὸ γῆν μή μ ἰδεῖν ἀναγκάσῃς
"O slay me not untimely; for to see
The light is sweet; and force me not to view
The secrets of the nether world."
Plumptre cites Theognis—
Κείσομαι ὤστε λίθος
Αφθογγος λείψω δ ̓ ἐρατὸν φάος ἠελίοιο.
"Then shall I lie, as voiceless as a stone,
And see no more the loved light of the sun."
A pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. To behold the sun is to enjoy life; for light, which is life, is derived from the sun. Virgil speaks of "coeli spirabile lumen" ('AEn.,' 3.600). Thus Homer, 'Od.,' 20.207—
Εἴ που ἔπι ζώει καὶ ὁρᾷ φάος ἠελίοιο
Εἰ δ ἤδη τέθνηκε καὶ εἰν Αΐ́δαο δόμοισιν.
"If still he live and see the sun's fair light,
Or dead, be dwelling in the realms of Hades."
But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all. The conjunction ki at the commencement of the verse is causal rather than adversative, and should be rendered "for." The insertion of "and" before "rejoice" mars the sentence. The apodosis begins with "rejoice," and the translation is, For if a man live many years, he ought to rejoice in them all. Koheleth has said (Ecclesiastes 11:7) that life is sweet and precious; now he adds that it is therefore man's duty to enjoy it; God has ordained that he should do so, whether his days on earth be many or few. Yet let him remember the days of darkness. The apodosis is continued, and the clause should run, And remember, etc. "The days of darkness ' do not mean times of calamity as contrasted with the light of prosperity, as though the writer were bidding one to be mindful of the prospect of disastrous change in the midst of happiness; nor, again, the period of old age distinguished from the glowing light of youth. The days of darkness signify the life in Hades, far from the light of the sun, gloomy, uncheered. The thought of this state should not make us hopeless and reckless, like the sensualists whose creed is to "eat and drink, for to-morrow we die" (1Co 15:1-58 :82; Wis. 2:1, etc.), but rouse us to make the best of life, to be contented and cheerful, doing our daily duties with the consciousness that this is our day of labor and joy, and that "the night cometh when no man can work ' (John 9:4). Wisely says Beu-Sira, "Whatsoever thou takest in hand, remember the end, and thou shalt never do amiss" (Ecclesiasticus 7:36). We are reminded of the Egyptian custom, mentioned by Herodotus (2. 78), of carrying a figure of a corpse among the guests at a banquet, not in order to damp pleasure, but to give zest to the enjoyment of the present and to keep it under proper control. "Look on this!" it was cried; "drink, and enjoy thyself; for when thou diest thou shalt he such." The Roman poet has many a passage like this, though, of course, of lower tendency. Thus Horace, 'Carm.,' 2.3—
"Preserve, O my Dellius, whatever thy fortunes,
A mind undisturbed, 'midst life's changes and ills;
Not cast down by its sorrows, nor too much elated
If sudden good fortune thy cup overfills," etc.
(See also 'Carm.,' 1.4.) For they shall be many; rather, that they shall be many. This is one of the things to remember. The time in Sheol will be long. How to be passed—when, if ever, to end—he says not; he looks forward to a dreary protracted period, when joy shall be unattainable, and therefore he bids men to use the present, which is all they can claim. All that cometh is vanity. All that comes after this life is ended, the great future, is nothingness; shadow, not substance; a state from which is absent all that made life, and over which we have no control. Koheleth had passed the sentence of vanity on all the pursuits of the living man; now he gives the same verdict upon the unknown condition of the departed soul (comp, Ecclesiastes 9:5). Till the gospel had brought life and immortality to light, the view of the future was dark and gloomy. So we read in Job (Job 10:21, Job 10:22), "I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and of the shadow of death; a land of thick darkness, as darkness itself; a land of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness." The Vulgate gives quite a different turn to the clause, rendering, Meminisse debet tenebrosi temporis, et dierum multorum; qui cum venerint, vanitatis arguentur praeterita, "He ought to remember … the many days; and when these have come, things passed shall be charged with vanity"—which implies, in accordance with an haggadic interpretation of the passage, that the sinner shall suffer for his transgressions, and shall then learn to acknowledge his folly in the past. It is unnecessary to say that the present text is at variance with this rendering.
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth. Koheleth continues to inculcate the duty of rational enjoyment. "In youth" is during youth; not in the exercise of, or by reason of, thy fresh, unimpaired powers. The author urges his hearers to begin betimes to enjoy the blessing with which God surrounds them. Youth is the season of innocent, unalloyed pleasure; then, if ever, casting aside all tormenting anxiety concerning an unknown future, one may, as it is called, enjoy life. Let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth. Let the lightness of thy heart show itself in thy bearing and manner, even as it is said in Proverbs (Proverbs 15:13), "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance." Walk in the ways of thine heart (comp. Isaiah 57:17). Where the impulses and thoughts of thy heart lead thee. The wording looks as if the personal identity, the "I," and the thought were distinct. We have a similar severance in Ecclesiastes 7:25, only there the personality directs the thought, not the thought the "I," And in the sight of thine eyes. Follow after that on which thy eyes fix their regard (Ecclesiastes 2:10); for, as Job says (Job 31:7), "The heart walketh after the eyes." The Septuagint, in deference to the supposed requirements of strict morality, has (at least according to the text of some manuscripts) modified the received reading, translating the passage thus: Καὶ περιπάτει ἐν ὁδοῖς καρδίας σου ἄμωμος καὶ μὴ ἐν ὁράσει ὀφθαλμῶν, "And walk in the ways of thine heart blameless, and not in the sight of thine eyes." But μὴ is omitted by A, C, S. Others besides the Seventy have felt doubts about the bearing of the passage, as though it recommended either unbridled license in youth, or at any rate an unhallowed Epicureanism. To counteract the supposed evil teaching, some have credited Koheleth with stern irony. He is not recommending pleasure, say they, but warning against it. "Go on your way," he cries, "do as you list, sow your wild oats, live dissolutely, but remember that retribution will some day overtake you." But the counsel is seriously intended, and is quite consistent with many other passages which teach the duty of enjoying life as man's lot and part (see Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12, Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15, etc.). The seeming opposition between the recommendation here and in Numbers 15:39 is easily reconciled. The injunction in the Pentateuch, which was connected with a ceremonial observance, ran thus: "Remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart, and your own eyes, after which ye used to go a-whoring." Here unlawful pleasures, contrary to the commandments, are forbidden; Ecclesiastes urges the pursuit of innocent pleasures, such as will stand scrutiny. Hoelemann, quoted by Wright, observes that this verse is the origin of a famous student-song of Germany, a stanza or two of which we may cite—
"Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus;
Post exactam juventutem, post melestam senectutem,
Nos habebit humus ….
"Vita nostra brevis est, brevi finietur,
Venit mors velociter, rapit nes atrociter,
It is not Epicureanism, even in a modified form, that is here encouraged. For moderate and lawful pleasure Koheleth has always uttered his sanction, but the pleasure is to be such as God allows. This is to be accepted with all gratitude in the present, as the future is wholly beyond our ken and our control; it is all that is placed in our power, and it is enough to make life more than endurable. And then to temper unmixed joy, to prove that he is not recommending mere sensuality, to correct any wrong impression which the previous utterances may have conveyed, the writer adds another thought, a somber reflection which shows the religious conclusion to which he is working up. But know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment (mishpat). It has been doubted what is meant by "judgment," whether present or future, men's or God's. It has been taken to mean—God will make thy excesses prove scourges, by bringing on thee sickness, poverty, a miserable old age; or these distresses come as the natural consequences of youthful sins; or obloquy shall follow thee, and thou shall meet with deserved censure from thy fellow-men. But every one must feel that the solemn ending of this paragraph points to something more grave and important than any such results as those mentioned above, something that is concerned with that indefinable future which is ever looming in the dim horizon. Nothing satisfies the expected conclusion but a reference to the eternal judgment in the world beyond the grave. Shadowy and incomplete as was Koheleth's view of this great assize, his sense of God's justice in the face of the anomalies of human life was so strong that he can unhesitatingly appeal to the conviction of a coming inquisition, as a motive for the guidance of action and conduct. That in other passages he constantly apprehends earthly retribution, as the Pentateuch taught, and as his countrymen had learned to expect (see Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 7:17, Ecclesiastes 7:18), is no argument that he is not here rising to a higher view. Rather, the fact that the doctrine of temporal reward and punishment is found by experience to fail in many cases (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:14) has forced him to state his conclusion that this life is not the end of everything, and that there is another existence in which actions shall be tried, justice done, retribution awarded. The statement is brief, for he knew nothing more than the fact, and could add nothing to it. His conception of the soul's condition in Sheol (see Ecclesiastes 9:5, Ecclesiastes 9:6, Ecclesiastes 9:10) seems to point to some other state or period for this final judgment; but whether a resurrection is to precede this awful trial is left in uncertainty here, as elsewhere in the Old Testament. Cheyne and some other critics consider this last clause to be an interpolation, because it appears to militate against previous utterances; but this argument is unreasonable, as the paragraph comes in quite naturally as the needed conclusion, and without it the section would halt and be incomplete. A similar allusion is contained in the epilogue (Ecclesiastes 12:14). A correcter, who desired to remove all seeming contradictions and discrepancies from the work, would not have been satisfied with inserting this gloss, but would have displayed his remedial measures in other places. Of this proceeding, however, no traces are discernible by an unprejudiced eye.
Ecclesiastes 11:10-12:7.—Section 18. The third remedy is piety, and this ought to be practiced from one's earliest days; life should be so guided as not to offend the laws of the Creator and Judge, and virtue should not be postponed till the failure of faculties makes pleasure unattainable, and death closes the scene. The last days of the old man are beautifully described under certain images, metaphors, and analogies.
Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart. The writer reiterates his advice concerning cheerfulness, and then proceeds to inculcate early piety. Kaas, rendered "sorrow," has been variously understood. The Septuagint has θυμόν, the Vulgate gram; so the margin of the Authorized Version gives "anger," and that of the Revised Version "vexation," or "provocation." Wordsworth adopts this last meaning (relating to 1 Kings 15:30; 1 Kings 21:22; 2 Kings 23:26, etc; where, however, the signification is modified by the connection in which the word stands), and paraphrases, "Take heed lest you provoke God by the thoughts of your heart." Jerome affirms that in the term "anger" all perturbations of the mind are included—which seems rather forced. The word is better rendered, low spirits, moroseness, discontent. These feelings are to be put away from the mind by a deliberate act. Put away evil from thy flesh. Many commentators consider that the evil here named is physical, not moral, the author enjoining his young disciple to take proper care of his body, not to weaken it on the one hand by asceticism, nor on the other by indulgence in youthful lusts. In this ease the two clauses would urge the removal of what respectively affects the mind and body, the inner and outer man. But the ancient versions are unanimous in regarding the "evil" spoken of as moral. Thus the Septuagint gives πονηρίαν, "wickedness;" the Vulgate, malitiam. Similarly the Syriac and Targum. And according to our interpretation of the passage, such is the meaning here. It is a call to early piety and virtue, like that of St. Paul (2 Corinthians 7:1), "Having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Do not, says Koheleth, defile thy body by carnal sins (1 Corinthians 6:18), which bring decay and sickness, and arouse the wrath of God against thee. For childhood and youth are vanity. This time of youth soon passes away; the capacity for enjoyment is soon circumscribed; therefore use thy opportunities aright, remembering the end. The word for "youth" (shacharuth) occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament, and is probably connected with shachon, "black," used of hair in Leviticus 13:31. Hence it means the time of black hair, in contradistinction to the time when the hair has become grey. The explanation which refers it to the time of dawn (Psa 110:1-7 :8) seems to be erroneous, as it would then be identical with" childhood." The Septuagint renders it ἄνοια, "folly;" the Vulgate, voluptas, "pleasure;" the Syriac, "and not knowledge, but the word cannot be rightly thus translated. The two terms are childhood and manhood, the period during which the capacity for pleasure is fresh and strong. Its vanity is soon brought home; it is evanescent; it brings punishment. Thus Bailey, 'Festus'—
"I cast mine eyes around, and feel
There is a blessing wanting;
Too soon our hearts the truth reveal,
That joy is disenchanting."
"When amid the world's delights,
How warm soe'er we feel a moment among them—
We find ourselves, when the hot blast hath blown,
Prostrate, and weak, and wretched."
Bread upon the waters; or, rules and reasons for practicing beneficence.
I. RULES. Beneficence should be practiced:
1. Without doubt as to its result. One's charity should be performed in a spirit of fearless confidence, even though the recipients of it should appear altogether unworthy, and cur procedure as hopeless and thankless an operation as "casting one's bread upon the waters" (verse 1), or "sowing the 'sea' (Theognis).
2. Without limit as to its distribution. "Give a portion to seven, yea even unto eight" (verse 2); that is, "Give to him that asketh, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away" (Matthew 5:42). Social economics may, bug the sermon on the mount does not, condemn indiscriminate or promiscuous giving. One's bread should be cast upon the waters in the sense that it should be bestowed upon the multitudes, or carried far and wide rather than restricted to a narrow circle.
3. Without anxiety as to its seasonableness. As "he that observeth the wind will not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap" (verse 4), so he who is always apprehensive lest his deeds of kindness should be ill-timed is not likely to practice much beneficence. The farmer who should spend his days in watching the weather to select just the right moment to plough and sow, or reap and garner, would never get the one operation or the ether performed; and little charity would be witnessed were men never to give until they were quite sure they had hit upon the right time to give, and never to do an act of kindness until they were certain the proper, objects to receive it had been found.
4. Without intermission as to its time. "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand" (verse 6). Who would practice beneficence as it should be practiced must be as constantly employed therein as the husbandman is in his agricultural operations. Philanthropy is a sacred art, which can only be acquired by pains and patience. Intermittent goodness, charity performed by fits and starts, occasional benevolence, never comes to much, and never does much for either the giver or receiver. Charity to be efficient must be a perennial fountain and a running stream (1 Corinthians 13:8). The charitable man must be always giving, like God, who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, etc. (Matthew 5:45), and who giveth unto all liberally (James 1:5).
II. REASONS. Beneficence should be practiced for the following reasons:
1. It is certain in the end to be recompensed. (Verse 1.) The kindly disposed individual, who fearlessly casts his bread upon the waters by doing good to the unkind and the unthankful (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35), may have a long time to wait for a return from his venture in practical philanthropy; but eventually that return will come, here on earth, in the inward satisfaction that springs from doing good, perhaps in the gratitude of those who experience his kindness, hereafter in the welcome and the glory Christ has promised to such as are mindful of his needy brethren on earth (Matthew 25:40).
2. No one can predict how soon himself may become an object of charity. As surely as the clouds when full of rain will empty themselves upon the earth, and a tree will lie exactly in the place where it falls (verse 3), so surely will seasons of calamity, when they come, descend on rich and poor alike; yea, perhaps strike the wealthy, the great, and the good with strokes which the indigent, the obscure, and the wicked may escape. Hence the bare consideration of this fact, that bad times may come—not only depriving one of the ability to practice beneficence, but rendering one a fit subject for the same (the latter of these being most likely the Preacher's thought)—should induce one to be charitable while he may and can. This may seem a low, selfish, and unworthy ground on which to recommend the practice of philanthropy; but does its meaning not substantially amount to this, that men should give to others because, were bad times to strip them of their wealth, and plunge them into poverty, they would wish others to give to them? And how much is this below the standard of the golden rule (Matthew 7:12)?
3. No amount of forethought will discover a better time for practicing beneficence than the present. As no one knows the way of the wind (John 3:8), or the secrets of embryology (Psalms 139:15)—in both of which departments of nature, notwithstanding the discoveries of modern science, much ignorance prevails—so can no one predict what kind of future will emerge from the womb of the present (Proverbs 27:1; Zephaniah 2:2), or what shall be the course of providence on the morrow. Hence to defer exercising charity till one has fathomed the unfathomable is more than merely to waste one's time; it is to miss a certain opportunity for one that may never arrive. As today only is ours, we should never cast it away for a doubtful to-morrow, but "Act in the living present, Heart within and God o'er head." (Longfellow.)
4. The issues of beneficence, in the recipients thereof, are uncertain. That an act of charity, or deed of kindness, whensoever done, will prosper without fail in the experience of the doer thereof, has been declared (verse 1); that it will turn out equally well in the experience of him to whom it is done is not so inevitable. Yet from this problematical character of all human philanthropy as to results should be drawn an argument, not for doing nothing, but for doing more. Art atrabiliar soul will conclude that, because he is not sure whether his charity may not injure rather than benefit the recipient, he should hold his hand; a hopeful and happy Christian will feel impelled to more assiduous benevolence by reflecting that he can never tell when his kindly deeds will bear fruit in the temporal, perhaps also spiritual, salvation of the poor and needy. "The seed sown in the morning of life may bear its harvest at once, or not till the evening of age. The man may reap at one and the same time the fruits of his earlier and later sowing, and may find that both are alike good" (Plumptre).
1. "As therefore ye have opportunity, do good unto all men" (Galatians 6:10).
2. Weary not in well-doing (Galatians 6:9).
3. Take no thought for tomorrow (Matthew 6:34).
4. Cultivate a hopeful view of life (Proverbs 10:28).
Conditions of success in business.
I. THE MEASURES TO BE ADOPTED.
1. Enterprises not free from hazard. "Cast thy bread upon the waters," meaning, "launch out upon the sea of business speculation." The man who would succeed must be prepared to venture somewhat. A judicious quantity of courage seems indispensable to getting on. The timid merchant is as little likely to prosper as the shrinking lover.
2. Prudence in dividing risks. "Divide the portion into seven, yea, eight parts," which again signifies that one should never put all his eggs into one basket, commit all his goods to one caravan, place all his cargo in one ship, invest all his capital in one undertaking, or generally venture all on one card.
3. Confidence in going forward, The agriculturist who, is always, watching the weather—"observing the wind and regarding the clouds (verse 4)—will make but a poor farmer; and he who is constantly taking fright at the fluctuations of the market will prove only an indifferent merchant. In business, as in love and war, the man who hesitates is lost.
4. Diligence and constancy in labor. The person who aims at success in business must be a hard and. incessant, not a fitful and intermittent, worker. If a farmer, he must sow betimes in the morning, and pause not until hindered by the shades of night. If a merchant, he must trade both early and late. If an artisan, he must toil week in and week out. It is "the hand of the diligent" that "maketh rich" (Proverbs 10:4).
II. THE MOTIVES TO BE CHERISHED.
1. The expectation of a future reward. "Thou shalt find it [thy bread] after many days." Such enterprises, though attended with risk, will not all fail, but will generally prove successful—not immediately, perhaps, but after an interval of waiting, as the ships of a foreign merchant require months, or even years, before they return with the desired profits.
2. The anticipation of impending calamity. As no man can foresee the future, the prudent merchant lays his account with one or more of his ventures coming to grief. Hence, in the customary phrase, he "divides the risk," and does not hazard all in one expedition.
3. The consciousness of inability to forecast the future. Just because of this—illustrated in verses 3 and 5—the man who aspires to prosper in his undertakings dismisses all overanxious care, and instead of waiting for opportunities and markets, makes them.
4. The beige of ultimately succeeding. Though he may often fail, he expects he will not always fail; hence he redoubles his energy and diligence. "In the morning he sows his seed, and in the evening withholds not his band," believing that in the end his labors will be crowned with success.
1. That business is not incompatible with piety.
2. That piety need be no hindrance to business.
3. That each may be helpful to the other.
4. That both should be, and are, a source of blessing to the world.
Verses 7, 8
Carpe diem: memento mori; or, here and hereafter contrasted.
I. HERE, A SCENE OF LIGHT; HEREAFTER, A PLACE OF DARKNESS. Under the Old Testament the abode of departed spirits was usually conceived of as a realm from which the light of day was excluded, or only dimly admitted (Job 10:21, Job 10:22).
II. HERE, A GARDEN OF DELIGHT; HEREAFTER, A WILDERNESS OF VANITY. Life beneath the sun, even to the most miserable, has pleasures which are wanting to the bodiless inhabitants of the underworld (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
III. HERE, A PERIOD OF FEW DAYS; HEREAFTER, A TERM OF MANY. At the longest, man's duration upon earth is short (Job 14:1; Psalms 39:5); in comparison, his continuance in the narrow house, or in the unseen world, will he long.
1. Enjoy life heartily, as a good gift of God.
2. Use life wisely, in preparation for the world to come.
Verses 9, 10
Advice to a young man or woman.
I. A GRAND PERMISSION—to enjoy life. "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth," etc.
1. Not a sanction to self-indulgence. The Preacher does not teach that a young man (or, indeed, any man) is at liberty to "make provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:14); to have asserted or suggested that a youth was permitted by religion to follow his inclinations wherever they might lead, to plunge into sensuality, to sow his wild oats (as the phrase is), would have been to contradict the Law of God as given by Moses (Numbers 15:39).
2. Not a protest (ironical) against asceticism. The Preacher does not say that God will judge men if they despise his gilts and refuse to enjoy them, Doubtless, in so far as asceticism springs from a contemptuous disregard of God's providential mercies, it is sinful; but this is hardly the case the Preacher has in view.
3. But a warrant for reasonable pleasure. The young man or maiden is informed that he or she may enjoy the morning of life to the utmost of his or her bent, "walking in the ways of his or her heart, and in the sight of his or her eyes," provided always such pleasures as are sinful are eschewed. Moreover, the Preacher's language appears to hint that such enjoyment as is here allowed is both appropriate to the season, the days of youth, and demanded by the nature of youth, being the legitimate gratification of the heart and eyes.
II. A SOLEMN WARNING—the certainty of judgment. "But know thou that for all these things," etc. The judgment of which the Preacher speaks is:
1. Future. The great as size will be held, not on earth, but in the unseen world; not in time, but in eternity. That the Preacher had no clear perception of either the time, place, or nature of this judgment, is probably correct, but that he alluded to a dread tribunal in the great hereafter seems a legitimate conclusion from the circumstance that he elsewhere (Ecclesiastes 8:14) adverts to the fact that in this life men are not always requited either for their righteousness or for their wickedness. What was comparatively dark to the Preacher is to us clearly illumined, viz. that after death is the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
2. Divine. The Judge will not be man, but God (Ecclesiastes 3:17; Psalms 62:12; Isaiah 30:18). This fully discovered in the New Testament, which states that God shall judge men by Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16; 2 Timothy 4:1).
3. Individual. The judgment will be passed, not upon mankind in the mass, or upon men in groups, but upon men as individuals (2 Corinthians 5:10).
4. Certain. As the Preacher himself was not dubious, so would he have the young to know that the future judgment will be a momentous reality (Hebrews 12:23; 2 Peter 2:9).
III. AN URGENT DUTY—to banish sorrow and evil.
1. To remove sorrow from the heart. Either
(1) the sorrow of vexation, in which case the counsel is to avoid cherishing a peevish, morose, or discontented spirit, such as arises from looking at the dark side of things, and to cultivate a cheerful disposition—a state of mind which accepts whatever lot falls to it in providence (Philippians 4:11). Or
(2) that which causes sorrow to the heart, viz. sin; in which case, again, the exhortation is to abstain from all ungodliness, the real root of heart-bitterness (Deuteronomy 29:18; Proverbs 1:31; Galatians 6:8), and to follow holiness, which alone contains the secret of happiness (Psalms 106:3; Isaiah 48:18).
2. To put away evil from the flesh. Doubtless
(1) physical evil, pain, suffering, affliction, whether occasioned by the self-inflicted tortures of asceticism or by the accidentally incurred strokes of disease—a clear injunction to promote the body's comfort and health. But also
(2) everything that may induce suffering or evil in the flesh; hence once more sin which, apart altogether from those wickednesses which are against the body (1 Corinthians 6:15), has a tendency to engender disease and accelerate death.
IV. A SERIOUS REASON—the vanity of boyhood and manhood.
1. Both are transient. Youth and the prime of life will not last, but will pass away. Hence they should be kept as joyous and pure as possible. Only one thing more unfortunate for the after-development of the soul than a sunless youth, namely, a sinful youth. If the opening years of man's pilgrimage on the earth should be radiant with happiness, much more should they be glorified with holiness.
2. Both are inexperienced. Hence their fervid impulses should be moderated and restrained by the solemn considerations that spring from the brevity of life and the certainty of a future judgment.
1. That youth should be happy and serious.
2. That man's existence has a future and a present.
3. That privilege and responsibility ever go together.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Verses 1, 2
Works of charity.
There can be little doubt that these admonitions apply to the deeds of compassion and beneficence which are the proper fruits of true religion. Especially in some conditions of society almsgiving is expedient and beneficial. In times of famine, in cases of affliction and sudden calamity, it is a duty to supply the need of the poor and hungry. At the same time, the indiscriminate bestowal of what is called charity unquestionably does more harm than good, especially in a state of society in which few need suffer want who are diligent, frugal, temperate, and self-denying. But there are many other ways in which benevolence may express itself beside almsgiving. The Christian is called upon to care both for the bodies and for the souls of his fellow-men—to give the bread of knowledge as well as the bread that perisheth, and to provide a spiritual portion for the enrichment and consolation of the destitute.
I. THE NATURAL EMOTION OF BENEVOLENCE IS RECOGNIZED AND HALLOWED BY TRUE RELIGION. It may be maintained with confidence that sympathy is as natural to man as selfishness, although the love of self is too often allowed by our sinful nature to overcome the love of others. But when Christ takes possession, by his Spirit, of a man's inner nature, then the benevolence which may have been dormant is aroused, and new direction is given to it, and new power to persevere and to succeed in the attainment of its object.
II. RELIGION PROMPTS TO A PRACTICAL EXPRESSION OF BENEVOLENT FEELING. Too often sympathy is a sentimental luxury, leading to no effort, no self-denial. The poet justly denounces those who, "Nursed in mealy-mouthed philanthropies, Divorce the feeling from her mate—the deed." But the spirit of the Savior urges to Christ-like endeavor, and sustains the worker for men's bodily, social, and spiritual good. The bread must be cast, the portion must be given.
III. BENEVOLENCE MEETS IN ITS EXERCISE WITH MANY DISCOURAGEMENTS. The bread is cast upon the waters. This implies that in many cases we must expect to lose sight of the results of our work; that we must he prepared for disappointment; that, at all events, we must fulfill our service for God and man in faith, and rather from conviction and principle than from any hope of apparent and immediate success.
IV. A PROMISE IS GIVEN WHICH IS INTENDED TO URGE TO PERSEVERANCE. What is, as it were, committed to the deep shall be found after the lapse of days. The waters do not destroy, they fertilize and fructify, the seed. Thus "they who sow in tears shall reap in joy." In how many ways this promise is fulfilled the history of the Christian Church, and even the experience of every individual worker for God, abundantly show. In places and at times altogether unexpected and unlikely, there come to light evidences that the work has been cared for, watched over, and prospered by God himself. He does not suffer the efforts of his faithful servants to come to naught. The good they aim at, and much which never occurred to them to anticipate, is effected in God's time by the marvelous operation of his providence and his Spirit. "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."—T.
Encouragement to Christian toilers.
The lesson of this verse, if the figure be dropped, may be expressed thus: Act upon principles and not upon likelihood.
I. A SIMILITUDE. The good we give to men when we preach and teach Divine truth, when we exercise Christian influence, is seed—fruit-bearing seed. It is a blessed, but a sacred and serious, occupation to sow the seed of spiritual life.
II. A DIRECTION. Christian sowers! Cast your bread even upon the waters.
1. Even upon an unkindly soil.
2. Even in an unpromising season.
3. Liberally, though at the cost of self-sacrifice.
4. Constantly, even though it seems that the sowing has been long carried on in vain.
5. Bravely and hopefully, although the calculating, shortsighted world deride your efforts.
III. A PROMISE. After lapse of days you shall find the bread you have dispersed.
1. What is cast abroad is not destroyed.
2. Neither is it lost sight of.
3. It shall, perhaps after many days, be found again.
It may be in time; it shall be in eternity. Then "he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rejoice together."—T.
Verses 4, 6
Fulfill duty and disregard consequences.
These statements and admonitions respect both natural and spiritual toil. The husbandman who labors in the fields, and the pastor and the missionary who seek a harvest of souls, alike need such counsel. The natural and the supernatural alike are under the control and government of God; and they who would labor .to good purpose in God's universe must have regard to Divine principles, and must confide in Divine faithfulness and goodness.
I. THE DUTY OF DILIGENCE. Good results do not come by chance; and although the blessing and the glory are alike God's, he honors men by permitting them to be his fellow-workers. There is no reason to expect reaping unless sowing has preceded; "What a man soweth that shall he also reap." Toil—thoughtful, patient, persevering toil—such is the condition of every harvest worth the ingathering.
II. DISSUASIVES FROM DILIGENCE. If the husbandman occupy himself in studying the weather, and in imagining and anticipating adverse seasons, the operations of agriculture will come to a standstill. There are possibilities and contingencies before every one of us, the consideration and exaggeration of which may well paralyze the powers, hinder effective labor, and cloud the prospect of the future, so as to prevent a proper use of present opportunities. This is a temptation which besets some temperaments more than others, from which, however, few are altogether free. If the Christian laborer fixes his attention upon the difficulties of his task, upon the obduracy or ignorance of the natures with which he has to deal, upon the slenderness of his resources, upon the failures of many of his companions and colleagues, leaving out of sight all counteracting influences, the likelihood is that his powers will be crippled, that his work will stand still, and that his whole life will be clouded by disappointment. The field looks barren, the weeds grow apace, the enemy is sowing tares, the showers of blessing are withheld: what, then, is the use of sowing the gospel seed? Such are the reflections and the questionings which take possession of many minds, to their discouragement and enfeeblement and distress.
III. INDUCEMENTS TO DILIGENCE. It is not questioned that the work is arduous, that the difficulties are real, that the foes are many and powerful, that circumstances may be adverse, that the prospect (to the eye of mere human reason) may be somber. But even granting all this, the Christian laborer has ample grounds for earnest and persevering effort. Of these, two come before us as we read these verses.
1. Our own ignorance of results. We have not to do with the consequences, and we certainly cannot foresee them. Certain it is that amazing blessings have sometimes rested upon toil in most unpromising conditions, in places and among people that have almost stricken the heart of the observer with despair. "Thou knowest not whether shall prosper, this or that;" "With God nothing is impossible."
2. The express command of our Divine Lord. Results we cannot foresee. But direct commands we can understand and obey. "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand." Such is the voice, the behest, of him who has a right to order our actions—to control and inspire our life. Whilst we have this commission to execute, we are not at liberty to waste our time and cripple our activities by moodily questioning what is likely to follow from our efforts. Surely the Christian may have faith to leave this in the hand of God!—T.
Verses 7, 8
Light and darkness.
The alternation of day and night is not only contributive to human convenience, it is symbolical of human experience.
I. THERE IS APPOINTED FOR MEN THE LIGHT OF YOUTH, HEALTH, AND PROSPERITY. He who rises betimes, and, turning to the east, watches for the sunrise, and then beholds the glorious orb of day rise from the plain or from the sea, and flood hill and valley, corn-field and pasture, with the radiant splendor of the morning, can enter into the language of the preacher, "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." And if then he looks into the face of a companion, a noble and generous youth, unstained by sin, undimmed by care, untouched by disease, he can well understand what is meant by the morning of life, the luster of youth, and can thank God that such a period, anal such strength, joy, and hope, have been appointed as a part of human experience. In youth and bounding health and high spirits, how fresh and winsome is the present! how alluring the future! Who would wish to cast a shadow upon the brightness which God himself has created?
II. THERE IS APPOINTED FOR MEN THE DARKNESS OF AGE, INFIRMITY, ADVERSITY, AND DEATH. The same individual whom we have regarded in the prime of his powers and the beauty of his joy will, if his life be prolonged, pass through quite other experiences. Clouds will gather about his head, the storm will smite him, the dark midnight will shroud him. There is no discharge in that war—no exemption from the common lot. He may lose his health, his powers of body or of mind, his property, his friends. He must walk through the valley of death-shade. In some form or other trouble and sorrow must be his portion.
III. THE DUTY AND THE WISDOM OF REMEMBERING THE APPROACH OF THE TIME OF DARKNESS. It may be objected that it will be time enough to think of the afflictions of life when they are actually present, and that it is a pity to cloud the sunny present by gloomy forebodings. Those who know the young and prosperous are, however, well aware that their natural tendency is altogether to ignore the likelihood of a great change in circumstances and experience. And to remember the providential appointment that our life cannot be eternal sunshine is, in many respects, a most desirable and profitable exercise. Thus shall we learn to place a due value, and no more than a due value, upon the pleasures, the diversions, the congenial pursuits of youth and prosperity. And, what is still better, thus may we be led to seek a deeper and surer foundation for our life—to acquire spiritual treasures, of which we cannot be deprived by lapse of time or change of circumstances. And thus shall we, by God's mercy, find that the darkness through which we needs must walk is but for a season, and that through it the people of God shall pass into the blessed sunshine of eternal day.—T.
Verses 9, 10
In joy remember judgment!
There is certainly no asceticism in the teaching of this book. On the other hand, there is no commendation of worldliness and voluptuousness. Human nature is prone to extremes; and even religious teachers are not always successful in avoiding them. But we seem in this passage to listen to teaching which at once recognizes the claims of human nature and of the earthly life, and yet solemnly maintains the subordination of all our pleasures and occupations to the service of our Master, and to our preparation for the great account.
I. THE DIVINE PROVISION OF LIFE'S JOYS. If this language be not the language of irony—and it seems better to take it as sober serious truth,—then we are taught that the delights of this earthly existence, however they are capable of abuse, are in themselves not evil, but proofs of the Creator's benevolence, to be accepted with devout thanksgiving. In dealing with the young it is especially important to avoid warring with their innocent pleasures. These may sometimes seem to us trivial and unprofitable; but a juster view of human nature will convince us that they are wisely appointed to fulfill a certain place and office in human life.
II. THE DIVINE APPOINTMENT OF FUTURE JUDGMENT. Conscience suggests that we are responsible beings, and that retribution is a reality. What conscience suggests revelation certifies. The Bible lays the greatest stress upon individual accountability. We are taught in the text that we are not only responsible for the work we do in life, but for the pleasures we pursue. Certainly it is of the greatest advantage that men should recollect in the days of happiness the assurances of Scripture, that God shall ere long bring them into judgment. Such recollection will check any inclination to unlawful enjoyments, and will prevent undue absorption in enjoyments which are in themselves lawful, but to which a disproportionate value may be attached. There is a sense in which, as we are here reminded, "youth and the prime of life are vanity." They will prove to be so to those who imagine that they will last, to these who pride themselves in them and boast of them, to those who use them only as the Opportunity of personal pleasure, to those who forget their Creator, neglect his Law, and despise his Gospel
III. THE POSSIBILITY OF ACCEPTING GOD'S GIFTS AND OF USING THEM UNDER A SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY, AND WITH A VIEW TO THE GREAT ACCOUNT. If every blessing in this life be taken as coming directly from the great Giver's hand, as a token of his favor, and as the result of the mediation of his blessed Son, then may the very enjoyments of this life become to Christians the occasion of present grace and the earnest of fullness of joy.—T.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Verses 1-4, 6
Incentives to Christian work.
These are not the words of some Very young man who has much fervor and little experience; they are those of one who has known the disappointment and disenchantment of life. They come, therefore, with the greater force to us. We gather from them—
I. THAT IT IS WELL WORTHWHILE TO SPEND OUR WHOLE STRENGTH IN LOVING SERVICE. "Cast thy bread upon the waters"—scatter the precious bread-corn, drop it into the flood; that is not the act of a. fool, but of a wise man. "Give a portion to seven;" ay, go further than even that in your liberality—spend your whole strength in that which is good and beneficent, lavish your resources, let there be a generous overflow rather than a cool calculation in your service; and this whether you are acting as a citizen, as a neighbor, or as a member of the Church of Christ.
II. THAT, IF WE ARE WISE, WE SHALL LET OUR VERY IGNORANCE STIMULATE US TO EXERTION. Is it worthwhile to. sow when we cannot be sure that we shall ever reap? Since we do not know what evil may come in a week era day, had we not better turn the seed of the sower into bread for the eater? No; let our ignorance concerning the future be rather an incentive to activity. Say not, "I do not know what changes may come upon the earth; how little my labors may prove to be profitable; who will appreciate my devotion, and who will be unresponsive and ungrateful; therefore I shall suspend my exertions." Say rather, "I cannot tell what is coming; how soon I may be rewarded; how short may be the term of my life and of my opportunity here; I must therefore lose no time and waste no strength; I must do whole-heartedly all that is in my power. Because I cannot tell which of my words will fall like water on the rock, and which like seed upon the fertile soil, whether the morning or the evening labors will be rewarded, therefore I will do my best; perhaps this present effort I am now making may be the very one which has in it the seed of a glorious harvest." Thus our very ignorance may stimulate us to holy and fruitful action.
III. THAT WE SHOULD NOT ALLOW OURSELVES TO BE DISTURBED BY THE UNSYMPATHETIC FORCES ROUND US. If the clouds are full of rain, they will empty themselves on the earth without any regard to our necessity for fine weather; the tree will fall this way or that, according to the wind, whomsoever or whatsoever it will crush by its weight. The forces of nature are quite unsympathetic. Feebleness may incapacitate or death may take away our most efficient fellow-laborer; the changes that affect our human lives may reduce our means or remove our agents, or even close our agencies; but we must not be daunted, nor must we stay our hand on this account. The full mind, like the full cloud, must pour itself forth, and may do so in words and ways we do not like; the man, like the tree, must take the line toward which he strongly inclines, and this may be one that traverses our tastes and wishes, Never mind! We are not to let our good work for Christ be arrested by such incidental difficulty as that. We are to "quit us like men, and be strong," and we are to triumph over such hindrances as these.
IV. THAT WE ARE NOT TO BE IN ANY HURRY FOR THE HARVEST. The seed we cast "shall be found after many days." The husbandman hath "long patience," waiting for the fruits of the earth. The history of the noblest men is one long sermon on the blessedness of patience. It says to the Christian pilgrim and workman, "Work and wait; work diligently, intelligently, devoutly, then wait prayerfully and hopefully. Be not surprised, much less distracted, because the harvest is still far in the future; in due season you will reap, if you faint not."—C.
The true workman.
The idea of the text is that something must be endured, and something must be dared, if we mean to achieve anything of any account. If a man wants to sow, he must not mind being assailed by the wind while he is at work; or if he wants to reap, he must not stay indoors because it threatens to rain. We must be ready to endure, we must be prepared to run risks, if we have any thought of taking rank among the successful workers of our time. God does not give his bounties to those who will only walk the road when it is perfectly smooth and sheltered; nor does he permit us to win triumphs if our heart misguides us at the sight of difficulty or danger. Success is for those, and those only, who can brave wind and rain in the open field of labor, in the wide spheres of usefulness.
I. THE FACT, AS OUR EXPERIENCE TESTIFIES. Everything that is done which is really worth doing is wrought with trouble, with some measure of difficulty and of risk, with the possibility or likelihood of failure, with struggle and some degree of disappointment—e.g; the little child in learning to walk and to talk; the boy in mastering his lesson or even his game, or in finding and taking his place in the schoolroom and the playground; the student in acquiring his knowledge, and in facing and passing his examination; the tradesman and merchant in making their purchases unit investing their money; the author in writing and printing his book; the statesman in planning and submitting his measure, etc. In all these, and in all such cases, we have to contend with adverse "winds" that blow upon us; we have to "put our foot down" firmly on the ground; we have to run the risk of unpleasant "rains," of falling and of failure. It is the constant condition of human endeavor.
II. THE BENEFICENT RESULT. This is not to be regretted; on the contrary, we may be thankful for it. It develops human character; it calls forth and strengthens all that is best within us.
1. It nourishes fortitude—a commendable capacity to endure; a readiness to accept, unmoved and untroubled at heart, whatever may befall us.
2. It creates and sustains courage—a deliberate determination to face the evil that may possibly await us.
3. It contributes to true manliness—the power to do and to endure anything and everything as Gad may will, as man may want. We pity those whose field of work, whose path of life, is unvisited by adverse winds and unpleasant rains. If they do grow up into strong and brave souls, it will be in spite of the absence of those circumstances which are most helpful in the formation of character. We have no condolence for those who have to face the strong wind and the rain; we congratulate them that they are placed where the noblest characters are shaped.
III. ITS LESSON FOR THE CHRISTIAN WORKER. Too often the workman in the Master's vineyard is inclined to lay down his weapon when the clouds gather in the heavens. But to act thus is not worthy of him. Not thus did he who "bore such contradiction of sinners against himself." Not thus have the worthiest of his disciples done—they who have done the most, and have left behind them the most fragrant memories. Not thus will they have acted who receive the gladdening commendation of their Lord "in the day of his appearing" Not thus shall we finish the work our Father has given us to do. Let the strong winds of even an unkindly criticism blow, let the dark cloud of possible failure show itself in the horizon, we will not be daunted; we will go forth to sow the good seed of the kingdom, to reap its precious harvest.—C.
Verses 7, 8
The shadow of the tomb.
Let a man rejoice, says the Preacher, in his long bright days of prosperity; but let him remember that the time is drawing on when he will sleep his long sleep beneath the ground; and many as his days have been when the light of the sun was sweet to his eyes, very many more will be the days of darkness which will follow. It is open to us all to indulge in some—
I. SENTIMENTAL SADNESS, IN VIEW OF THIS LONG FUTURE. We may stroll in the churchyard, and as we read the names and ages of men who lived for thirty or forty years, but who have been in their graves for, it may be, two hundred years, we may think how small was the measure of the light on which they looked compared with that of the darkness in which they have been sleeping. And as we yield to these thoughts we feel the vanity of human affairs. Thus the shadow of the tomb falls upon and darkens the brightness of our life. It seems to us a poor thing for a man to come out of the infinite darkness behind; to walk in the sunshine for a few swiftly passing, soon-departed decades, and then go out into the immeasurable darkness on the other side. There is, however—
II. A CORRECTING THOUGHT. Why should the excellency of human life be spoiled to us by the reflection that it is limited, bound by a line which is not far off us? If it be so that there is nothing but darkness beyond, if it be true that what we see comprises all that is to be seen, then let us, for that very reason, make the most of all that we hold. If the worth of our existence is confined to the present, let us compress into the present time all the action and all the enjoyment which it will hold shall we not say—
"I will drink
Life to the lees …. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence"?
III. THE CHRISTIAN ASPECT OF THE SUBJECT. We know that this life will soon be over, may reach its terminus any day, and must come to its conclusion before many years have gone. What shall we be concerned about in this?
1. Not the hour or act of dying. Common human fortitude will carry us through that experience, as it has done in countless millions of cases already; much more will Christian faith and hope.
2. Not the silence and darkness of the grave. What does it signify to us that our mortal body will lie long in the grave, when we are hoping to be "clothed upon with our house which is from heaven?"
3. The long future of heavenly life. Not the many days of darkness, but the long, the everlasting day of glory is before us who believe in Christ, and who hope to dwell with him forever. For that endless day of blessedness the life we are now living is not only the preliminary but the preparation. Therefore let every day, every hour, be sacred; be so spent in faith, in love, in holy labor, in ennobling joy, that the future will be but the continuance of the present—the continuance, but also the enlargement, the glorification. Thus shall there not fall upon the life that now is the shadow of the tomb; there shall shine upon it some beams from the glory that is beyond.—C.
Verses 9, 10
Human joy and Divine judgment.
That these words are not to be taken ironically is probable, if not certain, when we consider how frequently the Preacher had given substantially the same counsel before (see Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12, Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:9). Moreover, we obtain an excellent meaning by taking them in their natural sense. We may indeed ask for—
I. THE NECESSITY FOR SUCH COUNSEL. It may be said—What need is there for offering such an exhortation? Young manhood is certain to take all the indulgence which is good for it, without any man's bidding; the danger is not on the side of defect, but of excess. That certainly is so generally. But there is the religious devotee, who thinks he is pleasing God by abstaining from all bodily comforts, and enduring all physical sufferings. There is also the ascetic moralist, who thinks that he is conforming to the highest standard of ethics when he practices a rigorous abstinence, and goes through life denying himself the delights to which outward nature and inward instincts invite him. There is also the man of prudent policy, who thinks that in a state of society such as that in which the Preacher lived and wrote, where there is no security for life or property, it is better not to enter into new relationships or to embark in great enterprises; let life be cut down to its smallest limits. Hence the necessity for such a cheery invitation as that in the text. But we must mark—
II. THE EXTENT TO WHICH IT GOES. Clearly the words must not be taken in their widest possible sense. That would be not liberty, but license; that would not encourage enjoyment, but sanction vice. The Preacher would have the young man, who is full of strength, energy, hope, affection, have the full heritage which the Father of spirits and Author of this world intended and provided for him. Let him give play to all the sound impulses of his nature; let him taste the exquisite enjoyment of a pure affection and of happy friendship; let him be an eager and earnest competitor in the contest of strength, of skill, of the studio, of the mart, of the council, of the senate; let him throw his full energies into the activities, recreations, ambitions, aspirations, of his time; let him play his part as his heart inclines and as his capacities enable him. But let him not cross the line which divides virtue from vice, wisdom from folly, conscientiousness from unscrupulousness. For there has to be taken into account—
III. ONE POWERFULLY RESTRAINING THOUGHT. God will bring him into judgment. And God's judgment is threefold.
1. He judges us every moment, deciding whether our thought, our feeling, our action, is right or wrong; and he is thus continually approving or disapproving, and is constantly pleased or displeased. Surely this is not a Divine judgment to be disregarded.
2. He causes an evil habit to be visited, sooner or later, with the penalty which appropriately follows it—sickness, feebleness, poverty, mental incapacity, human condemnation, ruin, death, as the case may be.
3. He reserves the day of trial and of account for the hour when life is over.—C.
The vanity and glory of youth.
(See homily on Ecclesiastes 12:1.)—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WILLCOCK
Provision for the future.
Fruitless though many of the quests had been on which the Preacher had set out, lost though he had often been in the mazes of barren and withering speculation, something he did succeed in gaining, which he now places on record among the concluding sentences of his book. Though truth in its fullness is out of man's reach, the path of duty is plain; essential wisdom may never be discovered, but some practical lessons for the guidance of life, which after all are what most we need, are to be won from the search. Perhaps to many minds these may seem commonplace. It may be thought that after all the bustle of the enterprise, after all the zeal and energy expended in carrying it through, the gain is small. Surely some new thing of greater value might have been brought out of the far-off one of philosophy and speculation than the counsels given here to be beneficent and active, since a time may come when we shall need the help of others, and the harvest may far exceed all our expectations. But from the very nature of the case such murmurings are unreasonable. No new thing can be brought to light in the moral world. Conscience proclaims the same duties age after age; and all that is left to him who would advance the cause of righteousness is to give clearer utterance to the voice of God in the heart, to show the imperative claims of duty, and in some instances to suggest new and weighty motives for obedience to them. None need, therefore, scorn the simple terms in which the Preacher sums up the practical lessons he would have us lay to heart. There is nothing novel or wonderful in what he says, but probably those epithets would be fairly applicable to the change that would be produced in our lives if we obeyed his counsels. There is a close connection between verse and verse in this section (verses 1-6), but a formal division of it into logical parts is impracticable. The Hebrew or Oriental mind had a different mode of ratiocination from ours. We may, however, note the stages in the current of thought.
I. In verses 1, 2a THE PRACTICE OF BENEVOLENCE TOWARD OTHERS is commended to us—a benevolence that is generous and profuse. "Cast thy bread," he says, "upon the waters." "Do not be afraid of showing kindness, even where thou seest no prospect of result or return; let the fiat cake of bread, the type of food to the hungry, aid to the needy, float down the stream of life. Thou wilt find one day that thou hast hit the mark, won some grateful heart" (Bradley). His words remind us of the counsel in the Gospels "to do good, hoping for nothing again, even to the unthankful and the evil" (Matthew 5:44-46; Luke 6:32-35).
"Repandez vos bienfaits avec magnificence,
Meme aux moins vertueux ne les refusez pas."
(Voltaire, 'Precis de l'Ecelesiaste.')
Let many experience your beneficence, says the Preacher; confine it not within narrow limits. He speaks of seven or eight, according to the Hebrew manner of indicating an indefinite but large number (Micah 5:5). His specification is not to be taken literally, any more than our Lord's "seventy times seven" as indicating the literal number of times we are to forgive (Matthew 18:22).
II. A MOTIVE TO BENEFICENCE is laid down in verse 2b. "For thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth." In the time of prosperity remember that a day of calamity and suffering may come, when the succor of the friends you have made may be of great service. Bad as men are, there are numerous instances of a grateful love recompensing benefits received long ago, which perhaps even the benefactor has long forgotten. "Peradventure for the good man some would even dare to die." No one can tell what vicissitudes of fortune are in store for him; and therefore it is prudent to make some provision in the present against a day of adversity. The same teaching is found in the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-9). These who spend some of their wealth in doing deeds of kindness and mercy (Luke 14:12-14) are described as laying up treasure in bags that wax not old, as providing for themselves friends who will, when this life is over, welcome them into everlasting habitations. To some this may seem but a sordid motive to benevolence; it may seem to turn that virtue into a kind of refined selfishness. But, after all, there is nothing unworthy in the motive. "Self-love is implanted in man's nature, and men who themselves affect to despise such a motive are often themselves, with all their professed loftiness of aim, actuated by no higher objects than those of pleasure, fame, or advancement" (Wright).
III. OUR IGNORANCE OF THE FUTURE FORBIDS OUR KNOWING WHAT EVIL WILL COME UPON THE EARTH. (Verse 2b.) The world is governed by uniform laws; both good and evil are subject to them. As it is an invariable law of nature that at a certain point the clouds that are filled with rain begin to discharge their load upon the earth, and no human power can seal them up, and as it is an invincible law that the forest tree must fall before the blast, when the force with which it resists the 'fury of the wind is insufficient to save it from overthrow, so the future is shaped by laws which man cannot control, and it is a mark of prudence to be prepared for any contingencies. The tempest which deluges the earth with rain, and levels the monarchs of the forest with the ground, can neither be foreseen nor averted by man; neither can the future, whether it be charged with prosperity or adversity. The interpretation of verse 3 as teaching that the fate of man is forever fixed at death is utterly indefensible; there is nothing whatever in the text to indicate that the writer had any such thought in his mind. And one may say, in passing, that the teaching in question can have very little foundation, when it is principally, if not altogether, founded upon a misinterpretation of this passage. Why the advocates of the doctrine, which in itself is repulsive to our ideas of reasonableness and justice, should make so much of an obscure metaphor in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and shut their eyes to the historical statement in 1 Peter 3:18-20, which is decisive upon the point in question, is difficult to understand. No outcry about the obscurity of the latter passage can annul the plain statement of fact in it, viz. that Christ after his death went and preached the gospel to the spirits of those who were overtaken by the flood in the days of Noah. Uncertainty as to the future should not, however, lead to present inactivity (1 Peter 3:5). We are not to allow "taking thought for the morrow" (Matthew 6:25) to hinder our doing good to-day; that would be as absurd as the conduct of the farmer if he were to put off from day to day the sowing or reaping of his fields because of wind or rain, until the time for sowing or for reaping had passed away. Some risk we must run in our undertakings; and if some opportunities come to us without any seeking or effort on our part, we can make others for ourselves by the exercise of our good sense, energy, or tact. "The conditions of success cannot be reckoned on beforehand; the future belongs to God, the all-conditioning" (Delitzsch). This is the idea contained in 1 Peter 3:5. Two examples are given of processes of nature which are familiar to us all, but the ways and working of which are hidden from our knowledge; they are the course of the wind (not the "spirit," as in the Authorized Version), which "bloweth where it listeth" (John 3:8), and the formation of the babe "in the womb of her who is with child." These secrets being in nature, it is not wonderful that the methods of the Divine government cannot be searched out by human wisdom or ingenuity, that the ways of God should be inscrutable and past finding out. "Even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all."
IV. THE CALL TO BENEFICENT ACTIVITY IS REPEATED. (1 Peter 3:6.) "Since the future rests in the power of One who arranges all things, but who does not act arbitrarily, and since a finite being cannot unravel the secrets of the Infinite, man should act faithfully and fulfill energetically his appointed task" (Wright). The teaching is the same as in Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;" "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good" (Ecclesiastes 9:6). "In the morning of life be active; slumber not through its decline. Use well the gifts of youth; use, too, the special gifts of age. Thou knowest not which shall bear good fruit; it may be both." As men sow, they reap; the greater their exertions, the wider the area they cultivate, the richer usually is their harvest. The whole precept, says Plumptre, "is a call to activity in good, not unlike that of him who said, 'I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is called today: the night cometh, when no man can work' (John 9:4); who taught men to labor in the vineyard, even though they were not called to begin their work till the eleventh hour, when it was toward evening, and the day far spent" (Matthew 20:1-16)—J.W.
Verses 7, 8
Enjoyment of the present.
The cloud of pessimism rises from the Preacher's mind as he thinks of the happiness which a well-ordered life may after all yield. God has placed some pleasures within our reach, and if we do not by our willfulness defeat his purpose, we may enjoy much innocent peace and happiness. And this assertion, coming so closely as it does upon the admonition to be diligent in carrying out the business that we have to do, implies that it is the well-earned reward of the worker, and not the ease and luxury of the idle sensualist, that wins the word of approval. "This joy of life, based upon fidelity to one's vocation, and sanctified by the fear of God, is the truest and highest enjoyment here below" (Delitzsch). Only those have a right to enjoy life who are zealous in the discharge of the duties that belong to their lot. The order of thought is the same as in Romans 12:11, Romans 12:12, "In diligence not slothful … rejoicing in hope." The Revised Version (in Romans 12:8) brings out the full meaning more clearly than the Authorized Version: "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. Yea, if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity." The light here praised is the light of life; the existence passed in the world on which the sun shines, as contrasted with the darkness of the grave, the unseen world, which to the mind of the Preacher, unillumined by the full revelation in Christ, seemed a region of shadows, dreary and insubstantial. To our thoughts such a view of the world beyond the grave, if world it could be called, in which all was dark and without any order (Job 10:21, Job 10:22), would seem calculated to rob the present of all delights. But evidently our author did not regard it as necessarily doing so. Neither did those ancient Egyptians, who had the representation of a corpse in its cerements at their banquets. To grosser minds among them the sight probably suggested the thought, "Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die." But doubtless to graver minds it suggested something nobler—that pleasure, chastened and restrained by wise foresight, is pure and more lasting than any other. So, too, the enjoyment of life commended by the Preacher is not found by him incompatible with a contemplation of death. He does not say, "Let the young and thoughtless have out their time of frivolity and short-lived mirth; the sad thoughts by which the closing years of life are naturally darkened will only come to them too soon." He rather would have men to rejoice in all the years of their life, though they be many. "Days of evil may come; clouds may, during long hours of sorrow, obscure the glory of the sun; but even if a man live many days, he should endeavor to rejoice in them all: and all the more so, if a long night of darkness awaits him at the close of his earthly career" (Wright). By the days of darkness, which are many, he evidently means the condition after death; for he distinctly differentiates them from the days of life, in all of which there should be joy, in spite of passing trials and distresses. For all men days of darkness are in store; let all, therefore, make the most of the present, and by a wise guidance of their conduct, by a beneficent activity, let them acquire the right and the ability to enjoy the innocent joys with which God has been pleased to bless and enrich our lives, seeing that "all that cometh" after life is vanity. It is true that to us the world beyond the grave appears in a different light. We believe in the everlasting felicity of the righteous in the "many mansions" which remain for those who have during this life been faithful to God, and have qualified themselves for higher service and more perfect enjoyment of him in the world to come. But this belief need not, should not, lead us to despise the bounties we have in this world from the hand of God. A devout and grateful acceptance and use of all the blessings he has bestowed upon us, a joy in living and seeing the light of the sun, should be much easier to us if we are conscious of reconciliation to God, and regard death as the entrance to a higher life.—J.W.
Verse Ecclesiastes 11:9-Ecclesiastes 12:7
Youth and age.
The greater part of the Book of Ecclesiastes is of a somber character. It records the experiences of one who sought on all sides and with passionate eagerness for that which would satisfy the higher wants of his nature—the hunger and thirst of the soul—but who sought in vain. Ordinary coarse, sensual pleasures soon lost their charm for him; for he deliberately tried—a dangerous experiment to see if in self-indulgence any real satisfaction could be found. From this failure he turned to a more promising quarter. He sought in "culture," the pursuit of beauty and magnificence in art, the pathway to the highest good, on the discovery of which his soul was set. He used his great wealth to procure all that could minister to a refined taste. He built palaces, planted vineyards and gardens and orchards; he filled his palaces with all that was beautiful and costly, and cultivated every pleasure which is within the reach of man. "Whatsoever mine eyes desired," he says, "I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on all the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun." From this he turned to the joys and employments of an intellectual life—acquired knowledge and wisdom, studied the works of nature, analyzed human character in all its phases, and applied himself to the solution of all those great problems connected with the moral government of the world and the destiny of the soul of man. Here he was baffled. The discoveries he made were he found, useless for curing any of the evils of life, and at every point he met with mysteries which he could not solve, and his sense of failure and defeat convinced him that though "wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness," it does not satisfy the soul. "What, then, is the result of his inquiries, of his pain and labor in searching after the highest good? Do his withering speculations leave anything untouched which may reasonably be the object of our pursuit, and which may afford us the satisfaction for which he sought in vain in so many quarters? Does he decide that life is, after all, worth living, or is his conclusion that it is not? In the closing sections of his book some answer is given to these questions; something positive comes as a pleasing relief from all the negations with which he had shut up one after another of the paths by which men had sought and still seek to attain to lasting happiness. Two conclusions might have been drawn from the experience through which he had passed. "Since the employments and enjoyments of life are insufficient to give satisfaction to the soul's craving, why engage in them, why not turn away from them in contempt, and fix the thoughts solely on a life to come?" an ascetic might ask. "Since life is so transitory, pleasure so fleeting, why not seize upon every pleasure, and banish every care as far as possible?" an Epicurean might ask. "Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die." Neither of these courses finds any favor in the mature judgment of Solomon, or of the writer who draws his teaching from the experience of the Jewish king. "Rejoice," he says, rebuking the ascetic; "know thou that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment," he adds, for the confusion of the Epicurean. He speaks with the authority of one who had fully considered the problems of life, and with the solemnity of one whose earthly career was hastening to its close; and he addresses himself to the young, as more likely to profit by his experience than those over whom habits of life and thought have more power. But of course all, both young and old, men and women, can learn from him if they will, according to the gospel precept, "become as little children," and listen with reverence and simplicity. The counsel which the Preacher has to give is bold and startling. "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment." What does he mean? Are his words ironical, or spoken in sober earnest? A very long time ago they caused some perplexity to translators and commentators. In the earliest translation of this book into another language, that into Greek, this passage was considerably modified and toned down. The translator put in the word "blameless" after "walk," and the word "not" into the next part of the sentence. "Walk blameless in the ways of thine heart, and not after the sight of thine eyes." But any such tampering with the text was not only profane, but also senseless, for it simply destroyed the whole meaning of the passage. But granting that we have in our English a fair reproduction of the original, can there be any mistake about the interpretation of it? Is it possible that it may mean, "Rejoice if you will, follow your desires, have your fling, go forth on the voyage of life, ' youth at the prow, and pleasure at the helm,' but know that the end of it all are the penal flames"? Some have thought that that is the meaning of the words. But a little consideration of them, and comparison of them with other passages in the book, will show us that it cannot be. Our author on several occasions, after showing us the vanity of earthly pursuits, falls back on the fact that there are many alleviations of our lot in life, which it is true wisdom to make use of—many flowers of pleasure on the side of the hard road which one may innocently pluck. Thus he says (Ecclesiastes 2:24), "There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw that it was from the hand of God." And again (Ecclesiastes 9:7), "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy vanity … for that is thy portion in this life." And the same lesson he repeats there, but in a tone of deeper solemnity, balancing and steadying the inclination to pleasure, which in few of us needs to be stimulated, with the thought that for every one of our actions we shall have to give an account at the judgment-seat of God. Surely this thought is a sufficient corrective to the abuse of the teaching which a perverse mind might make, and a proof that the enjoyments spoken of are such as do not degrade the soul. A gloomy asceticism which would unlawfully diminish human happiness is forbidden; a thankful acceptance of all the blessings God gives us, and a constant remembrance of our responsibility to him, is commended to us. With all the repugnance of a healthy mind, our author recoils from that narrow and self-righteous fanaticism which has done so much to deepen the gloom of life, and to turn religion into an oppressive yoke. He does not, however, go to the other extreme; but while he bids the young to enjoy the morning of life, he at the same time admonishes them in all things to have the fear of God before their eyes. Youth and manhood are vanity; their joys are fleeting, and will soon be past. Must we, therefore, neglect them, and indulge in equally vain and fleeting regrets? No; but rather put away all morose repining, and spare ourselves all unnecessary pain, and cultivate a cheerful contentedness with our lot. If the morning will soon be past, let us enjoy its light while it lasts, mindful of him who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift. The thought of him will not dull any innocent happiness, for he has made us capable of joy, and given us occasions of experiencing it. That no fears need be felt about the application of this teaching to actual life is abundantly proved by the words that follow, in the solemn and stately passage with which the twelfth chapter opens. The idea all through is that piety should be bound up with the whole life—with the buoyancy and gaiety of youth, as well as with the decaying hopes and failing strength of age. That religion is not merely a consolation to which we may betake when all other things fail, but all through the food by which the soul is nourished. The fact is put very strongly. If in youth God is not remembered, it will be difficult in age, when the faculties begin to lose their vigor, to think of him for the first time, and consecrate one's self to him. The mere accumulation of the weaknesses, both physical and mental, which attend the close of life will absorb the attention and Crowd out other thoughts. "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them." And then he goes on to draw a picture, full of pathos sad solemnity, of the gradual dissolution of human life with the advance of age, of the decay and death into which the strongest fall, even if they endure for many years. One cannot make out all the successive images with equal clearness, but the evident purpose of the whole passage is clear enough. In the evil days the light of the sun, moon, and stars is darkened, and the sky is time after time overcast with returning clouds. The light of youth has fled, and with it the self-confidence and strength by which the life was sustained. Like some household in Egypt when the plague of darkness came down upon it and put an end to all tasks and pleasures, and filled every heart with a paralyzing terror, so is the state of man "perplexed with fear of change." "The keepers of the house tremble, the strong men bow themselves, the terrified servants cease their labor, none look out of the windows, the street doors are shut, the sound of human bustle and activity dies away, the shrill cry of the storm-bird is heard without, and all the daughters of music are hushed and silent." And then, in language still more enigmatical, other of the humiliating characteristics of old age are set forth—its timidity and irresolution, the blanched hair, the failing appetite. These signs accumulate rapidly; for man goes to his long, his eternal home, and the procession of mourners is already moving along the street. "Remember," he says, "thy Creator ere the day of death; ere the silver cord be loosened which lets fall and shivers the golden bowl that feeds with oil the flame of life; ere the pitcher be shattered by the spring, and the fountain of life can no longer be replenished; ere the wheel set up with care to draw up from the depths of earth the cool waters give way and fall itself into the well. Therefore remember thy God, and prepare while here to meet him, before that the dust shall return upon the earth dust as it was; for the spirit shall then return to God who gave it." "It was a gift from him, that spirit. To him it will return. More he says not. Its absorption, the re-entering, of the human unit into the eternal and unknown Spirit, would be a thought, it would seem, alien to a Hebrew. But we must not press his words too far. As just now he spoke of a judgment, but gave us no picture of the sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left, so here he has no more to say, no clear and dogmatic assertion of a conscious and separate future life. 'Into thy hands I commend my spirit,' said the trustful psalmist. 'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,' said he who bowed his head upon the cross, who tasted death for our sakes. Our Preacher leaves the spirit with its God—that is all, and that is much. 'God will call us to judgment,' he has said, and now he adds, 'The body molders, the split passes back to the God who gave it' (Bradley). Many are the reasons which might be adduced to give weight to the admonition, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. The uncertainty of life, e.g; renders it unwise in any who begin to realize their responsibilities, and to act for themselves, to postpone self-consecration to God. If not done now, when the affections are fresh, when habits are beginning to form, there is risk of its not being done at all. Certainly it is more difficult to make a change, and to enter upon the higher life when the heart is taken up with a love of other things, when the attention and interest are absorbed in other cares. Then, too, love of our Creator and service of him are due from us in the best of our days, in the time of our strength and energy, and not merely when we are weary and worn out with following our own devices, and are anxious merely to escape utter ruin and overthrow. True it is that the repentant prodigal is welcomed when he returns to his Father's house; the worker beginning even at the eleventh hour receives his wages as though he had been the whole day in the vineyard. But their sense of gratitude, Wonder, and awe at the love which has overlooked their faults and shortcomings is the source of a joy far inferior to that of those who have never wandered, who have served faithfully with all the strength and all the day, upon whom the sunshine of God's favor has ever rested. Another and final reason why it is wise to remember our Creator in the days of youth is that this is the secret of a happy life. The happiness which is disturbed by remembrance of God is not worth the name. That alone gives satisfaction—the satisfaction after which the Preacher sought so long and in so many quarters—which springs from communion with God. It alone is intense, it alone is lasting. Arising as it does from the relations of the spirit of man with him who created it, it is raised above all the accidents of time and change. The sooner, therefore, that we begin this life of holy communion and service, the longer period of happiness Shall we know, the surer will be our ground of confidence for the future, when the day comes for leaving the world. "Over against the melancholy circumstances of decay and decline, as the end of life draws on, will be set the bright memories of the past, the consciousness of present help, and the hope of a joyous immortality. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!' was the sentence of one whose wisdom sprang only from his experience of an earthly life, and upon whose mind the burden lay of human sorrows and cares. But "a greater than Solomon," One whose wisdom is Divine, whose power to remove every burden is daily seen, has an infinitely more hopeful message for us. "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you …. I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."—J.W.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24