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the second chapter—" I said of laughter it is mad, and of mirth what doeth it; and the fifteenth verse of the eighth chapter“ Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry;" infidelity has put on a malignant smile, as if she had found at once a refutation of the Bible in its inconsistency, and liberty for the indulgence of chosen “amusements” and sensuality, .
Libertines and infidels are not always worth noticing. Most of their pretences are a compound of folly and falsehood, both silly and dishonest. And when men have descended so low as that, they are ordinarily best treated, when left to become wise and right, or not, just as they shall choose. Many a foolish man has become confirmed in error, when his error has been dignified by noticing it. But some of these ideas are worthy of notice; especially, as the notice of them may lead us to a just understanding of the writer of this Book; and as some serious minds also have been embarrassed by expressions contained in it.
The text before us has not escaped misconception: I hated life because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto
This has been said to justify an entire disgust with life. It has also been adduced as a proof, that a man of religious sentiments must be so far led off from the ordinary feelings of humanity, as to hate life and the world; and must therefore be unfit for society, in respect to enjoying it, or aiming to promote its good. And, it may be, that a true believer sometiines, in dejection and trouble, may seek to justify the gloom of his sentiments, and his dark dislike of a wearisome life, by supposing himself to resemble the author of the text-I hated life.
Before, therefore, we enter upon the special consideration of the text itself, we propose to furnish an explanation of the peculiarities of this Book; a matter which seems necessary, not only for a just explanation of the text itself, but for justifying the explanation, and for guarding the Book in general from misconstruction.
On this point we have several ideas to present. We want your entire attention. We are going to teach you a matter for you
to remember whenever you read this Book of Solomon.
To this object we devote this sermon. We will attend to the particular idea of the text hereafter.
Let us enter upon the subject. Let us learn how to interpret the Book before us—a Book containing some expressions which sound strange to many ears.
We make one remark, as a clue to the meaning of the author, as a key to unlock the mysteries hidden here, as a wand to sweep away the fogs and clouds, which infidelity, worldliness, and libertinism, (always superficial), have hung round the expressions of this author. The remark is this :That almost the entire sum of this Book is composed in the style of experience and observation. In some passages the writer speaks from experience. In others he speaks from observation. In others still, he mingles both these together, grounding his ideas on both what he had seen and what he had himself felt.
I. He speaks as a man of experience. Examine the sixteenth and seventeenth verses of the first chapter: “I communed with mine own heart, saying, lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem : yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly." So in the second chapter, to the end of the tenth verse, he speaks of his own experience. “I said in mine heart, go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure ... I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine .. I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and orchards." And he goes on to tell of his servants, and cattle, and singers, and silver, and gold, and delights, not " withholding his heart from any joy.” In the same style of experience he utters the fifteenth verse of the eighth chapter (already cited), “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat and to drink, and to be merry.”—The same style of experience, of history, of autobiography, runs through the Book.
If ever there was a man qualified by the experience of it, to tell what pleasure is worth, that man was Solomon, the author of the Book before us. He was “ king over Israel in Jerusalem," in the days of its highest splendor. His proud city glittered with gold. It abounded in luxury-in every refinement. To its glory all the civilized world had contributed. Egypt had sent thither in profuse abundance, the finest of her wheat. The East had sent the choicest of her delicacies,—the aroma of her plants to breathe their perfumes on the air of Palestine, and the glitter of her gems to flash in the sun-light abroad, or adorn the persons that moved amid the splendor of her proud palaces at home. The South and the West had contributed all the adornments of architecture. Science and art contributed to the enjoyments of taste. Arabia had sent in her mathematics. Tyre and Sidon their purple and fine linen. Poesy sang. Music found a home there. And amid all these resources and all this splendor, Solomon gave loose reins to his desires to enjoy them all, better situated than ever man was, before or since, to prove by his own experiences what the pleasures of the world are worth. And in this Book, he has given us an account of the whole matter. He has summed it up in five words—VANITY AND VEXATION OF SPIRIT. He summed it up (just as you would have done if you had had his wisdom and trial), on the ground of his own experience. He had tried it all, and knew what was its value; and as he recapit
ulates to us in this Book his experiences, he tells us how he turned from one pleasure to another, and one earthly promise to another, with the sickening feeling, this also is vanity.—It is on this principle that he makes his remarkable introduction-an introduction which has no parallel or resemblance in any other writing that we have ever seen: “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” He spake from the heart; he was a man of experience. He had tried “ amusements."
Now let me ask you to notice, in his own phraseology, how this remark about his style is applicable. Commence with the text itself. “I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me.” When did he hate it? How are we to understand him? Is he telling us what he thinks now? or what he thought while his reason was entranced and he was pursuing the vanities of the world ?--If you were to write your own biography, how would you write it? Suppose you had been eagerly pursuing some object for a time, and afterwards had altered your sentiments in distaste and disappointment, and still afterwards had set your heart upon something very different, and suppose you were going to employ your own experience as an argument to persuade other people to take a wiser way than you had taken at first, how would you be apt to express yourself? You would have three different points to hold up. At one time, you would mention the sentiments you entertained at the period when you were eagerly pursuing your favorite object. At another time, you would mention the sentiments you entertained at the period when you had concluded to abandon it. At another time, you would mention the sentiments you entertain now, when having set your heart upon another object, you are aiming, by the force of your own experience, to induce your friend to shun the error and
the wisdom of your example. And if you were much gifted in the art of persuasion, your ideas would move backwards and forwards from one of these periods to another, in order to bring into frequent contrast the benefits of one course and the evil of its opposite. Well : Solomon has done precisely this in the book before us. He has done just as you would have done. He states his sentiments after his recovery from error, and while he is under the direction of Divine wisdom. He states his sentiments in the outset. And he states his sentiments in the intermediate time-in the day of his disappointment, when he had got no farther than to hear and feel the rebuke of truth, but had not yet taken its positive direction. And he passes from one of these to another, under no rule but that of the heart's logic, more intent on persuasion than on the name of scholarship. And when he says, “ I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me,” there is no difficulty in perceiving to what period of his heart's history he alludes. Manifestly he does
not express his present sentiments. He speaks of the past; he employs what the grammarians call the “past tense,” I hated life: he does not say he hates it now. Just as manifestly, he does not express the sentiments he entertained when he was pursuing, with all the zest of his heart, the vanities of the world. The expression refers to the other period—to the time of his disappointment, disgust, and dissatisfaction to the moment when he awoke from his dream, and found it was a dream : I hated life. Nothing is more natural. He had been living for mere pleasure. It did not satisfy him. It could not. He knew of nothing better to live for. His pleasures palled upon his senses—his heart was sick-he was disgusted with life itself: I hated life.
It may be that some of you can sympathize with him, far enough at least to understand him. Tax your recollection. Has there been no moment when you were disgusted with life itself? Have you not felt so? When your plans have been dashed, or your pride mortified, or your hearts have sickened amid your worldly vanities, or your health has failed and your spirits sunk, and all the world seemed to you a bubble, a dream; have you not wondered what you lived for; and amid this empty and sickening scene, been disgusted with life itself? Very well; Solomon would have you
He would convince you, that sooner or later you must. He would employ this feeling as an argument, first to turn off the heart from the world's deceitful promises, and second, to turn it to something better--to that love and service of God, wherein life shall be as valuable, as, spent upon the world, it ought to be disgusting.- Do not stop with your disgust.
Follow Solomon farther. Heart-sick of the world, do not ask merely in distaste and despondency, what do I live for? or, in disgust and despair, do not wish you had never lived at all. Turn to the great and valuable ends of your existence, which Solomon has summed up in the closing sentence of this Book, and calls the conclusion of the whole matter- Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man, for God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.”
On the same principle we interpret the verses immediately after the text. “Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun, because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after
And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool ?” So he felt when he had become disgusted with his dissipation, and before he had turned him to labor for another life and another world. How natural his expression! It is an artistsketch of the heart of a selfish man! "I hated labor, because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me,” wise or fool. He must leave it, be it crown, or gold, or splendor. He must leave it, and perhaps the son that inherits it shall be a fool! He
must leave it; and this was the lament of his selfishness, at the time of his disgust with life. If he had now been a man of benevolence, it inight have given him some satisfaction, that what he should leave behind him might contribute something to the good of his successor. But he was not yet a man of religious benevolence. He was a man of selfishness, and of selfish disgust and dissatisfaction, mourning that he must leave his gold to his heir, and exchange his royal purple for the shroud of the tomb.
In the expression, “ who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool, yet shall he have rule over all my labor,”' possibly Solomon utters his present sentiments, and not the sentiments of his period of disgust. We told you that the sentiments of these two periods were sometimes mingled together in his argument. Take your choice betwixt the two. Neither is very unnatural. A wise man, a pious man, may very well feel that his living for another world has an enforcement from the fact, that his heirs may be fools, and the inheritance he leaves them may do them no good : this reflection may very well come in, to check his remaining worldliness of spirit, or to induce him to do good with his possessions before he is dead, and others shall employ them to do hurt. A man disgusted with life and the world may very well find his sentiments of disgust strengthened by the idea, that all his labors and possessions may be as vain for his children as they have been for himself. Fools may be his heirs ! fools may take the avails of his labor! and as he thinks of it, his increased disgust may exclaim, “this also is vanity.”
On the same principle we interpret the fifteenth verse of the eighth chapter. It is a piece of autobiography. The author is telling, not what is his opinion now, but what his opinion was once; not what it was in his period of disgust with life, but what it was before that, in the period of his dissipation. “I commended mirth”-(he does not commend it now), _“I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat and to drink and to be merry.” So he thought in his season of pleasure and dissipation. He thought there was nothing better. He thought just as the silly sons of pleasure think now. fesses it to them. He tells them that he has been over their ground, he has tried the whole matter, he was once foolish enough to feel as they feel, “ that there is nothing better under the sun than to eat and to drink and to be merry. And
now, as a man of experience, as an old hand in the business, who has been through the whole, and knows all about it, he claims to be heard, when he tells them, “this also is vanity-it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days which are as a shadow ; because he feareth not before God” (8: 13).--Young men would do well to hear him. He ought to be heard. Besides