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his inspiration, he was now an old man. He was an experienced
He had run the whole round of pleasure. He had justified it. He had said as they say, that “there is nothing better than to eat and to drink and to be merry.” Now he knows better. He knows those of such merriment and dissipation do not fear God, it cannot be well with them: and when he says that is the wicked shall not prolong his days which are as a shadow;" young men should remember that he who lives to eat and to drink and to be merry will not live long; and, however screened and hidden may be this drinking and merriment now, it will not be hidden long—“God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing.”—He does not plead for “ amusements.”
On the same principle we interpret a multitude of other expressions found in this Book. “I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine.
I made me great works; I builded me houses and planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and orchards; .. I gathered me silver and gold; I got me men-singers and women-singers ;
I commended mirth; I said, drink thy wine with a merry heart;
... live joyfully; let thy garments be always white and thy head lack no ointment;"—these, all these, are expressions of the sentiments which Solomon entertained in the days of his pleasure.
You cannot err in fixing upon the passages which express his sentiments after the days of his pleasure were ended. The Book is full of them. After pleasure palled upon his senses, and his heart sickened with disgust of life; he chose something more wise than either-he turned to religion. His sentiments now are uttered in such passages as that, “ 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. Fear God and keep his commandments; this is the whole of mano-his duty, felicity, and interest. “Though a sinner do evil an hundred times and his days be prolonged" (as sometimes they may be), " yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God
but it shall not be well with the wicked." (Ch. 12 : 1, 13,48 : 12, 13.) Looking on the world, all its pleasure, pomp and promise, he turns from one thing to another, this, this also is vanity. Looking at the trials and fears that cluster around the pathway of life, he says, “ he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.” (7 : 18). Looking forth into another world, he sees that the retributions of that shall clear up the confusions of this, " for God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (12 : 14).
Let this suffice on the head of experience. It is plain that Solomon in this Book gives much of his own heart's history, as an argument for religion ; and that he makes three points prominent: first, his sentiments in the period of his indulgence ; second, his sentiments in the period of his disgust with life; and third, his sentiments in the after-period—the period of his piety.
II. A second characteristic of the style of this Book is a little variation from this : much of it is in the style of observation. The author not only states what his heart had felt, but what his eyes had seen. He does this for the same purpose, namely, to persuade men, especially young men, to religion. He draws an argument for it, from things that met his eyes. And while he is pursuing the argument, he sometimes unites, with the account of what he had noticed, the sentiments he entertained at the different periods we have mentioned. This, also, is perfectly natural. You would have done the same thing. If you had wished to persuade any person, you would both have mentioned the facts, (what your eyes had seen), and your own feelings in view of them your feelings at different times.
You cannot but be convinced, that Solomon argues as an observer, when
you notice the abundance of passages like the following (1: 14)—“I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and behold all is vanity." (3: 16)—“I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there, and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there." (5 : 13) To There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.” (If he had lived till this time, he might have seen the same thing.) (6:1, 2)—“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men; a man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honor, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it.” (8:9)—“All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun : there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.” (8: 16, 17)“When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth ... then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun, because, though a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find it.” (10:7)_“I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.” (He would see it now, if he were alive.) (9: 11)-“I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all.” (He knew no better. He thought so then. He could see no farther. He was a fool. He thought it was mere time and chance at that period, the period of distaste, which preceded his pious recognition of God.)
All these passages, and an abundance of others, prove to us,
that Solomon composed this Book as a man of observation : that he makes use of the things which his own eyes SEEN under the sun," to point the maxims and give strength to the arguments he utters.
We said it would be perfectly natural, that, while aiming to persuade young men to religion, he should tell them not only the facts which fell under his observation, but also his feelings in view of them at the time. He has done this—just as you would have done. Notice his account of some facts in the first verse of the fourth chapter, and his feelings in view of them in the second and third verses: “So I returned and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun, and behold, the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter, and on the side of the oppressors there was power: but they had no comforter.” (You may judge of the keenness of his observation by this last clause.) Then follows an account of the feelings he had in view of all this, when he noticed it at first : “Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead, more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun." So he thought then. He thought the dead were more to be envied than the living. He thought it would have been better still, never to have been born. Who would not think so, if he had only eyes to see earthly things; and had no faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen?
A similar account of his feelings at that time, is recorded in the second verse of the ninth chapter, when he felt more like a Deist, than a believer : “ All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and the wicked : to the good and to the clean and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not; as is the good so is the sinner; and he that sweareth as he that feareth an oath.” So he thought then. He knew no better then. Mere observers are apt to think so. He thought differently afterwards; he extended his contemplation beyond visible things—things under the sun, as he calls them so often and so significantly. Though it may be true, as far as eyes can see, that “that there is one event to all,” yet he did not therefore, adopt that pernicious maxim, “let us eat and drink for to-morrow we shall die.” He came very near doing so; he wishes young inen to know it. But he avoided that rock on which so many make shipwreck of their faith and their philosophy at the same time. He said, “I know it shall be well with them that fear God; it shall not be well with the wicked," (8:12, 13).
III. There is a third characteristic of the style of this Book, not necessary to mention indeed for the interpretation of this text, as the others were, but, considering the nature of this sermon, and to complete the ground-work for the interpretation of the whole Book, we mention it here.--It is Solomon's keen irony. He was aiming to persuade men, especially young men, to religion. No easy task! Their blood warm—their hopes ardent-death to them, apparently far-off, and the world dressed in such tempting smiles and splendor before their eyes, they will naturally cling to its gaiety and merriment. They will say they were made for it, and it was made for them; they do not see any harm in it, and they do see, there is one event to them all, to the righteous and the wicked," they are about alike in misery here, and they die alike.—Solomon responds to such sentiments in his keenest irony. He affects to agree with them. He takes up these sentiments and just preaches them back into the bosoms they came frompreaches just as these merry young men want him to preach. (9: 7)—“Go thy way; eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for now God accepteth thy works :) That is the way they want him to preach ; and in irony, in cutting sarcasm, he does it: he yields to them, and tells them that their wine and merriment are acceptable to God, on their own principles. Then he goes on with the sermon for which they have furnished the text: carry out thy principles then : “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 the life of ihy VANITY, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy VANITY" (he cannot help repeating it): “for that is thy portion in this life,” (all you are good for), “and in thy labor which thou takest under the sun” (all you can get, on your own principles). “ Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,' (music, merriment, mirth, wine, no matter what foolery), “ do it with thy might,” (now or never), “ for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest.” What cutting irony! Their own principles, carried out, just about make beasts of them! (3: 18). They must labor here, for nothing but vanity, and die, but to rot. Go on, then, if that is all you were made for, eat and drink for to-morrow you shall die. (Isa. 22: 13).
The same species of irony may be found in the ninth verse of the eleventh chapter. The author is preaching back his own sentiments into the bosom of a young man, expecting to live many years and rejoice in them, and therefore indisposed to religion. With severe sarcasm, he reminds him that youth vanishes, as the young man wishes to live in pleasure, and 'neglect God. then ! carry out your principles! “Rejoice O young man in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth," (they will soon be gone-haste in mirth or you cannot have it), is and walk in the ways of thine heart” (if you will), “ and in the sight of thine eyes” (live as you list) ;-and then the preacher adds
a solemn idea of his own, for this merry youth to carry along with him in his pleasure ;-—"but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore, remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh ;" fear nothing, care for nothing but pleasure, if you will, in this “childhood and youth,” which are vanity and because youth is soon gone, and death soon comes, and the judgment after it ;-be a fool and be merry; you say there is nothing better !—If Solomon was deep in experience and extensive in observation, he was also as remarkably keen in his irony.
The discussion of the text itself will come hereafter. These remarks on the style of this Book, lead me to utter some counsels.
1. Beware how you interpret its expressions. For example, when you read in the second chapter, “ To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to hate; a time of war;"' do not be so superficial as to suppose, that Solomon is enjoining or justifying war, and hatred, and dancing, and killing. Put the whole passage under its proper heal. It belongs to the chapter of observation. He is only stating facts as they were ; things he saw, and not telling how they should be.- Apply this advice to his expressions of experience and of irony also. Hence,
2. See what is the great drift and purpose of this Book; namely, to persuade, young men especially, to fear God, keep his commandinents, and fit for the day of judgment. This is its sole aim. In accordance with this, all its particular expressions are to be interpreted. If you interpret them wisely, now, " in the days of your youth,” they will give you an eye fixed on the judgmentseat of Christ.
3. Aim to copy Solomon's mode of reasoning-spread out his arguinentation as wide as you will. Be observers. 'Look at the world-its life, death, gold, honor, merriment, wine, wisdom, labor, laughter, tears, all that is in it, all that is visible of the works of God under the sun ; and then ask yourselves solemnly, if all this does not amount to an overwhelming argument, that there is something better for you beyond the sun, which you ought first and forth with to seek after.— Add your own experience to Solomon's. He found the world vanity. What have you found it? He sometimes even hated life. So will you; if
do not employ it for the life to come. Have you not found it " vexation of spirit already? Deeper vexations are in store for you, if you will not live unto God. Do you need any deeper ones? Have you not enough already to convince you, that your heart runs wrong, when it runs upon the world, and that your affections and purposes ought not any longer to lie supremely upon a world, which can only furnish you, as an unbeliever, two things-vanity and a grave?