Let nothing of earth be our rest—God never intended so poor a portion for his redeemed ones.
The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Little Gleaner, by Various.
Our rest is built upon unchangeable promises. And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the King? Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise?
Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. Solomon had tried wisdom and folly—both separately and together—as independent sources of happiness. He had pronounced judgment upon them as vanity and vexation. But might he not have passed over some matters of weight in the decision? A second review might discover some error. He turns himself, therefore, as he had done before Ecclesiastes , to behold the two things, and compare together his contrary experiments of wisdom and folly. But here is no retractation—no modifying of his judgment.
Though it was only the judgment of one man; yet who could come after the King—with such a vast mind and treasure? The trial would only be what had been already done. The search of happiness in anything beside God must be disappointment. Yet though wisdom, as a source of rest, bears the stamp of vanity, we must not underrate its relative value. It is the gift of God, opening to us channels of rich pleasure and important usefulness to our fellow-creatures.
It excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. Shall not I commune with him about it? Cannot he who sent it, stay me under it? Now turn our eyes to the fool—walking in darkness be it remembered—responsible darkness. It is as if his eyes—instead of being in his head—were at his back.
He blunders on as if he were blind, or in the dark; his steps going backward, running in his own folly. But wide as is the difference between the wise man and the fool, on some points they are one. Solomon himself was on the same level with his meanest pauper. Both were subject to the same vicissitudes of Providence. The same last event laid them low together. What is the use of my wisdom, if at the last it brings me to no higher level than the fool? Such is the depth of selfishness and depravity yet to be purged out!
Only another picture! This is also vanity. O my God! Where is the natural heart, without some niche to the chosen idol?
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Is the renewed heart gaining ground in the struggle—the hard and fierce struggle—with its deadly influence? For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? As the fool. Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
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We have been before reminded how fleeting is the remembrance of names mighty in their generation. The great actors, that fixed the eyes of their fellow-men, and kept the world awake—where are they?
But to the mass there is often no remembrance of the wise more than the fool. Every new generation raises up a new race of rivals for renown. But after a short-lived day, that which now is, in the days to come shall all be forgotten. Few, comparatively, survive the wreck of time. Such a phantom of life is posthumous fame. Soon comes the levelling stroke—How dieth the wise man?
But take another contrast of the two classes—how different the issue! Darkness and light are not more different. The other lives even in death. Estranged as he now was from God, fretfulness stirred up—if not an hatred—yet a disgust and weariness of life. All was now become a grievous vanity. To die and be forgotten as the fool—to the man of wisdom—this seems living to no purpose. He would almost as soon be blotted out of life, as be disappointed of his airy vision—an enduring name.
Ecclesiastes (Blackwell Bible Commentaries)
When self is thus the centre of happiness—the great end of life—what a treasure of vanity do we lay in store for ourselves! This disrelish of life belongs both to the ungodly and the godly, though on very different grounds. Hell seemed to have begun on earth. Thus it is with the mass of the world—burdened with present evils—no sunbeam in the prospect—either not believing the life beyond—or with no hope of attaining it. And even in minds cast in a better mould, the revolt still remains in fretfulness and impatience.
It is the weariness of the man of God in the conflict. Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?
Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.
For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This passage presents another aspect of vanity, and to the wise man a great grief. All his great works of wisdom and labour, which had ministered to him a temporary satisfaction, after a while became to him objects of disgust. They must be left, and to whom he could not tell. David had no such anxieties. His heart had not been set upon his treasures, and therefore it was no sacrifice to him to part with them.
Besides, he well knew the consecrated use to which his wise son would apply them. But Solomon probably had his forebodings of the man who should come after him. And the history of the son fully justified the anxious question—Who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? So deeply did this trial touch the Preacher, that he again adverts to it. Must he—after a life of labour in wisdom, knowledge, and equity—must he after all become a drudge to his successor, of whom he knows nothing with any certainty?
What advantage hath he of all his labour? He heaps up his words one upon another labour, sorrow, grief, travail , to describe more emphatically the painfulness of his exercise. His heart had clung to the world, and it required sharp discipline to break it away.