Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE TYRANNY OF THE OPPRESSOR.
1. This implies power, which may arise from physical strength, from hereditary authority, from rank and wealth, or from civil and political position and dignity. Power will always exist in human society; drive it out at one door, and it will re-enter by another. It may be checked and restrained; but it is inseparable from our nature and state.
2. It implies the misuse of power. It may be good to have a giant's strength, but "tyrannous to use it like a giant." The great and powerful use their strength and influence aright when they protect and care for those who are beneath them. But our experience of human nature leads us to believe that where there is power there is likely to be abuse. Delight in the exercise of power is too generally found to lead to the contempt of the rights of others; hence the prevalence of oppression.
II. THE SORROWFUL LOT OF THE OPPRESSED.
1. The sense of oppression creates grief and distress, depicted in the tears of those suffering from wrong. Pain is one thing; wrong is another and a bitterer thing. A man will endure patiently the ills which nature or his own conduct brings upon him, whilst he frets or even rages under the evil wrought by his neighbor's injustice.
2. The absence of consolation adds to the trouble. Twice it is said of the oppressed, "They had no comforter." The oppressors are indisposed, and fellow-sufferers are unable, to succor and relieve them.
3. The consequence is the slow formation of the habit of dejection, which may deepen into despondency.
III. THE REFLECTIONS SUGGESTED BY SUCH SPECTACLES.
1. No right-minded person can look upon instances of oppression without discerning the prevalence and lamenting the pernicious effects of sin. 'To oppress a fellow-man is to do despite to the image of God himself.
2. The mind is often perplexed when it looks, and looks in vain, for the interposition of the just Governor of all, who defers to intervene for the rectification of human wrongs. "How long, O Lord!" is the exclamation of many a pious believer in Divine providence, who looks upon the injustice of the haughty and contemptuous, and upon the woes of the helpless who are smitten and afflicted.
3. Yet there is reason patiently to wait for the great deliverance. He who has effected a glorious salvation on man's behalf, who has "visited and redeemed his people," will in due time humble the selfish tyrant, break the bonds of the captive, and let the oppressed go free. - T.
(1) not only many who, without the courage of the suicide, wish themselves in their grave; but
(2) also many more who believe that human life is worth nothing at all, even less than nothing; who Would say with the Preacher, "better than both is he who hath not been;" who would respond to the English poet of this century in his lament -
"Count o'er the joys thy life has seen, I. COMFORT IN HIS SORROWS. He never has reason to complain that there is "no comforter." Even if human friends and earthly consolations be lacking, there is One who fulfils his word, "I will not leave you comfortless;" "I will come to you;" "I will send you another Comforter, even the Spirit of truth." Whether suffering from oppression, or from loss, or bereavement, or bodily distress, there are the "consolations which are in Jesus Christ;" there is the "God of all comfort" always near. III. RESOURCES WHICH ARE UNFAILING. In the fellowship he has with God, in the elevated enjoyments of devotion, in the intercourse he has with holy and earnest souls like-minded with himself, he has sources of sacred joy, "springs that do not fail." IV. THE SECRET OF HAPPINESS IN ALL HIS HUMBLEST LABOR. He does everything, even though he be a servant or even a slave, as "unto Christ the Lord;" and all drudgery is gone; life is filled with interest, and toil is crowned with dignity and nobleness. V. JOY IN UNSELFISH SERVICE OF HIS KIND. VI. HOPE IN DEATH. - C.
I. COMFORT IN HIS SORROWS. He never has reason to complain that there is "no comforter." Even if human friends and earthly consolations be lacking, there is One who fulfils his word, "I will not leave you comfortless;" "I will come to you;" "I will send you another Comforter, even the Spirit of truth." Whether suffering from oppression, or from loss, or bereavement, or bodily distress, there are the "consolations which are in Jesus Christ;" there is the "God of all comfort" always near.
III. RESOURCES WHICH ARE UNFAILING. In the fellowship he has with God, in the elevated enjoyments of devotion, in the intercourse he has with holy and earnest souls like-minded with himself, he has sources of sacred joy, "springs that do not fail."
IV. THE SECRET OF HAPPINESS IN ALL HIS HUMBLEST LABOR. He does everything, even though he be a servant or even a slave, as "unto Christ the Lord;" and all drudgery is gone; life is filled with interest, and toil is crowned with dignity and nobleness.
V. JOY IN UNSELFISH SERVICE OF HIS KIND.
VI. HOPE IN DEATH. - C.
Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13, 22) to be the only good for man, but now he finds that even that is not always to be secured. There are evils and miseries that afflict his fellows, against which he cannot shut his eyes. A vulgar sensualist might drown sorrow in the wine-cup, but he cannot, "His merriment is spoiled by the thought of the misery of others, and he can find nothing 'under the sun 'but violence and oppression. In utter despair, he pronounces the dead happier than the living" (Cheyne). If he does not actually deny the immortality of the soul, and is therefore without the consolation of believing that in a life to come the evils of the present may be reversed and compensated for, he ignores it as something of which we cannot be sure. We may see in this passage the germ of a higher character than is to be formed by the most elaborate self-culture; the spontaneous and deep compassion for the sufferings of others which the writer manifests tells us that a nobler emotion than the desire of personal enjoyment fills his mind. He tells us what he saw in his survey of society, and the feelings which were excited within him by the sight.
I. THE WIDESPREAD MISERY CAUSED BY INJUSTICE AND CRUELTY. (Ver. 1.) His description has been only too frequently verified in one generation after another of the world's history.
"Man's inhumanity to man
II. THE FEELINGS EXCITED BY A CONTEMPLATION OF HUMAN MISERY. (Vers. 2, 3.) One good point in the character of the speaker we have already noticed, and that is that he cannot banish the thought of the distresses of others by attending to his own ease and self-enjoyment. He is not like the rich man in the parable, who fared sumptuously every day, and took no notice of the hungry, naked beggar covered with sores that lay at his gate (Luke 16:19-21). On the contrary, a deep compassion fills his heart at the thought of the oppressed who have no comforter, and the fact that he cannot deliver them or ameliorate their lot does not lead him to consider it unnecessary for him to distress himself about them; it rather tends to deepen the despondency he feels, and to make him think those happy who have done with life, and rest in the place where "the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary be at rest" (Job 3:17). Yea, better, he thinks, never to have been than to see the evil work that is done under the sun (ver. 3). The distress which the sight of the sufferings of the oppressed produces is unrelieved by any consolatory thought. The writer does not, as I have said, anticipate a future life in which the righteous are happy, and the wicked receive the due reward of their deeds; he does not invoke the Divine interposition on behalf of the oppressed in the present life, or speak of the salutary discipline of sufferings meekly borne. In short, we do not find here any light cast upon the problem of evil in a world governed by a God of infinite power, wisdom, and love, such as is given in other passages of Holy Scripture (Job, passim; Psalm 73.; Hebrews 12:5-11). But we may freely admit that the depth and intensity of feeling with which our author speaks of human misery is infinitely preferable to a superficial optimism founded, not upon Christian faith, but upon an imperfect appreciation of moral an-d spiritual truth, and generally accompanied by a selfish indifference to the welfare of others. A striking parallel to the thought in this passage is to be found in the teaching of Buddhism. The spectacle of miseries of old age, disease, and death, drove the Indian prince, Cakya Mouni, to find in Nirvana (annihilation, or unconscious existence) a solution of the great problem. But both are superseded by the teaching of Christ, who gives us to understand that "not to have been born" is not a blessing which the more spiritually minded might covet, but a state better only than that exceptional misery which is the doom of exceptional guilt (Matthew 26:24). - J.W.
I. THE UNQUESTIONABLE FACTS UPON WHICH PESSIMISM IS BASED.
1. The unsatisfying nature of the pleasures of life. Men set their hearts upon the attainment of enjoyments, wealth, greatness, etc. When they gain what they seek, the satisfaction expected does not follow. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. Disappointed and unhappy, the votary of pleasure is "soured" with life itself, and asks, "Who will show us any good?"
2. The brevity, uncertainty, and transitoriness of life. Men find that there is no time for the acquirements, the pursuits, the aims, which seem to them essential to their earthly well-being. In many cases life is cut short; but even when it is prolonged, it passes like the swift ships. It excites visions and hopes which in the nature of things cannot be realized.
3. The actual disappointment of plans and the failure of efforts. Men learn the limitations of their powers; they find circumstances too strong for them; all that seemed desirable proves to be beyond their reach.
II. THE HABIT OF MIND IN WHICH PESSIMIST CONSISTS.
1. It comes to be a steady conviction that life is not worth living. Is life a boon at ally why should it be prolonged, when it is ever proving itself insufficient for human wants, unsatisfying to human aspirations? The young and hopeful may take a different view, but their illusions will speedily be dispelled. There is nothing so unworthy of appreciation and desire as life.
2. The dead are regarded as more fortunate than the living; and, indeed, it is a misfortune to be born, to come into this earthly life at all. "The sooner it's over, the sooner asleep." Consciousness is grief and misery; they only are blest who are at rest in the painless Nirvana of eternity.
III. THE ERRORS INVOLVED IN THE PESSIMISTIC INFERENCE AND CONCLUSION.
1. It is assumed that pleasure is the chief good. A great living philosopher deliberately takes it for granted that the question - Is life worth living? is to be decided by the question - Does life yield a surplus of agreeable feeling? This being so, it is natural that the disappointed and unhappy should drift into pessimism. But, as a matter of fact, the test is one altogether unjust, and can only be justified, upon the supposition that man is merely a creature that feels. It is the hedonist who is disappointed that becomes the pessimist.
2. There is a higher end for man than pleasure, viz. spiritual cultivation and progress. It is better to grow in the elements of a noble character than to be filled with all manner of delights. Man was made in the likeness of God, and his discipline on earth is to recover and to perfect that likeness. 3. This higher end may in some cases be attained by the hard process of distress and disappointment. This seems to have been lost sight of in the mood which found expression in the language of these verses. Yet experience and reflection alike concur to assure us that it may be good for us to be afflicted. It not infrequently happens that
"The soul APPLICATION. As there are times and circumstances in all persons lives which are naturally conducive to pessimistic habits, it behooves us to be, at such times and in such circumstances, especially upon our guard lest we half consciously fall into habits so destructive of real spiritual well-being and usefulness. The conviction that Infinite Wisdom and Righteousness are at the heart of the universe, and not blind unconscious fate and force, is the one preservative; and to this it is the Christian's privilege to add an affectionate faith in God as the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and the benevolent Author of life and immortal salvation to all who receive his gospel and confide in the mediation of his blessed Son. - T.
APPLICATION. As there are times and circumstances in all persons lives which are naturally conducive to pessimistic habits, it behooves us to be, at such times and in such circumstances, especially upon our guard lest we half consciously fall into habits so destructive of real spiritual well-being and usefulness. The conviction that Infinite Wisdom and Righteousness are at the heart of the universe, and not blind unconscious fate and force, is the one preservative; and to this it is the Christian's privilege to add an affectionate faith in God as the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and the benevolent Author of life and immortal salvation to all who receive his gospel and confide in the mediation of his blessed Son. - T.
vice which Christianity has done much to discourage and repress; but in unchristian communities its power is mighty and disastrous.
I. THE FACTS FROM WHICH ENVY STRINGS.
1. Generally, the inequality of the human lot is the occasion of envious feelings, which would not arise were all men possessed of an equal and a satisfying portion of earthly good.
2. Particularly, the disposition, on the part of one who is not possessed of some good, some desirable quality or property, to grasp at what is possessed by another.
II. THE FEELINGS AND DESIRES IN WHICH ENVY CONSISTS. We do not say that a man is envious who, seeing another strong or healthy, prosperous or powerful, wishes that he enjoyed the same advantages. Emulation is not envy. The envious man desires to take another's possessions from him - desires that the other may be impoverished in order that he may be enriched, or depressed in order that he may be exalted, or rendered miserable in order that he may be happy.
III. THE MISCHIEF TO WHICH ENVY LEADS.
1. It may lead to unjust and malevolent action, in order that it may secure its gratification.
2. It produces unhappiness in the breast of him who cherishes it; it gnaws and corrodes the heart.
3. It is destructive of confidence and cordiality in society.
IV. THE TRUE CORRECTIVE TO ENVY.
1. It should be considered that whatever men acquire and enjoy is attributable to the Divine favor and loving-kindness.
2. And that all men have blessings far beyond their deserts.
3. It becomes us to think less of what we do not or do possess, and more of what we do.
4. And to cultivate the spirit of Christ - the spirit of self-sacrifice and benevolence. - T.
I. THE FASCINATION OF SUCCESS. A great many men resolve to attain distinction in their sphere. They put forth "labor, skilful labor," inspired by feelings of rivalry; they are animated by the hope of surpassing their fellows, of rising above them in the reputation they achieve, in the style in which they live, in the income they earn, etc. There is very little that is profitable here.
1. It must necessarily be attended with a large amount of failure: where many run, "but one receiveth the prize."
2. The satisfaction of success is short-lived; it soon loses its keen relish, and becomes of small account.
3. It is a satisfaction of a very low order.
II. THE TEMPTATION TO INDOLENCE. Many men are content to go through life moving along a much lower level than their natural capacities, their educational advantages, and their social introductions fit them and entitle them to maintain. They crave quietude; they want to be free from the bustle, the worry, the burden of the strife of life; they prefer to have a very small share of worldly wealth, and to fill a very little space in the regard of their neighbors, if only they can be well left alone. "The sluggard foldeth his hands; yea, he eateth his meat" (Cox). There is a measure of sense in this; much is thereby avoided which it is desirable to shun. But, on the other hand, such a choice is ignoble; it is to decline the opportunity; it is to retreat from the battle; it is to leave the powers of our nature and the opportunities of our life idle and unemployed.
III. THE WISDOM OF THE WISE. This is:
1. To be contented with our lot; not to be dissatisfied because there are others above us in the trade or the profession in which we are engaged; not to be envious of those more successful than ourselves; to recognize the goodness of our Divine Father in making us what we are and giving us what we have.
2. To let our labors be inspired by high and elevating motives; to work with all our strength, because
(1) God loves faithfulness;
(2) we cannot respect ourselves nor earn the esteem of the upright if we are indolent or faulty;
(3) diligence and devotedness conduct to an honorable success, and enable us to render greater service both to Christ and to mankind. - C.
I. RESTLESS AMBITION. (Ver. 4.) Revised Version, "Then I saw all labor and every skilful work, that it cometh of a man's rivalry with his neighbor" (margin). The Preacher does not deny that labor and toil may be crowned with some measure of success, but he notices that the inspiring motive is in most cases an envious desire on the part of the worker to surpass his fellows. Hence he asserts that in general no lasting good is secured by the individual worker (Wright). The general community may benefit largely by the results achieved, the progress of civilization may be advanced by the competition of artist with artist, but without a moral gain being attained by those who have put forth all their strength and exerted to the utmost all their skill. They may still feel that their ideal is higher than their achievements; they may see with jealous resentment that their best work is surpassed by others. The poet Hesiod, in his 'Works and Days,' distinguishes between two kinds of rivalry - the one beneficent and provocative of honest enterprise, the other pernicious and provocative of discord. The former is like that alluded to here by the Preacher, and is the parent of healthy competition.
"Beneficent this better envy burns - II. INDOLENCE. (Ver. 5.) "The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh;' While there are some who fret and wear themselves out in endeavors to surpass their neighbors, others rust out in ignoble sloth. The hands of the busy artist are deftly used to shape and fashion the materials in which he works, and to embody the ideas or fancies conceived in his mind; the indolent fold their hands together, and make no attempt either to excel others or to provide a living for themselves. The one may, after all his toil, be doomed to failure and disappointment; the other most certainly dooms himself to want and misery. "He feeds upon his own flesh," and destroys himself. The sinfulness of indolence, and the punishment which it brings down upon itself, are plainly indicated in many parts of Holy Scripture (Proverbs 6:10, 11; Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 20:4; Matthew 25:26; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). But the special point of the reference to the vice here seems to be the contrast which it affords to that of feverish ambition. The two dispositions depicted are opposed to each other; both are blameworthy. It is foolish to seek to escape the evils of the one by incurring: those of the other. A middle way between them is the path of wisdom. This is taught us in ver. 6. Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit." The rivalry that consumes the strength, and leads almost inevitably to disappointment and vexation of spirit, is deprecated; so also, by implication, is the inactivity of the indolent. The "quietness "which refreshes the soul, and gives it contentment with a moderate competence, is not idleness, or the rest of sloth. It is rest after labor, which the ambitious will not allow themselves to take. The indolent do not enjoy it, their strength wastes away from want of exercise while those of moderate, chastened desires can both be diligent in business and mindful of their higher interests; they can labor assiduously without losing that tranquility of spirit and peace of mind which are essential to happiness in life. - J.W.
II. INDOLENCE. (Ver. 5.) "The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh;' While there are some who fret and wear themselves out in endeavors to surpass their neighbors, others rust out in ignoble sloth. The hands of the busy artist are deftly used to shape and fashion the materials in which he works, and to embody the ideas or fancies conceived in his mind; the indolent fold their hands together, and make no attempt either to excel others or to provide a living for themselves. The one may, after all his toil, be doomed to failure and disappointment; the other most certainly dooms himself to want and misery. "He feeds upon his own flesh," and destroys himself. The sinfulness of indolence, and the punishment which it brings down upon itself, are plainly indicated in many parts of Holy Scripture (Proverbs 6:10, 11; Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 20:4; Matthew 25:26; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). But the special point of the reference to the vice here seems to be the contrast which it affords to that of feverish ambition. The two dispositions depicted are opposed to each other; both are blameworthy. It is foolish to seek to escape the evils of the one by incurring: those of the other. A middle way between them is the path of wisdom. This is taught us in ver. 6. Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit." The rivalry that consumes the strength, and leads almost inevitably to disappointment and vexation of spirit, is deprecated; so also, by implication, is the inactivity of the indolent. The "quietness "which refreshes the soul, and gives it contentment with a moderate competence, is not idleness, or the rest of sloth. It is rest after labor, which the ambitious will not allow themselves to take. The indolent do not enjoy it, their strength wastes away from want of exercise while those of moderate, chastened desires can both be diligent in business and mindful of their higher interests; they can labor assiduously without losing that tranquility of spirit and peace of mind which are essential to happiness in life. - J.W.
I. ABUNDANT MATERIAL WEALTH ATTRACTS ATTENTION AND EXCITES DESIRE.
II. THE DISPOSITION AND HABIT OF MIND WITH WHICH OUR POSSESSIONS ARE ENJOYED IS OF MORE IMPORTANCE THAN THEIR AMOUNT.
1. This appears from a consideration of human nature. "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses."
2. And experience of human life enforces this lesson; for every observer of his fellow-men has remarked the unhappiness and pitiable moral state of some wealthy neighbors, and has known cases where narrow means have not hindered real well-being and felicity.
III. IT IS HENCE INFERRED THAT A QUIET MIND WITH POVERTY IS TO BE PREFERRED TO WEALTH WITH VEXATION. So it seemed even to Solomon in all his glory, and similar testimony has been borne by not a few of the great of this world, Nor, on the other hand, is it uncommon to find the healthy, happy, and pious among the poor rejoicing in their lot, and cherishing gratitude to God for the station to which they were born, and for the work to which they are called.
1. The comparison made by the wise man in this passage is a rebuke to envy. Who can tell what, if his two hands were filled with earthly good, he might, in consequence of his wealth, be called upon to endure of sorrow and of care?
2. On the other hand, this comparison is an encouragement to contentment. A handful is sufficient; and a quiet heart, grateful to God and at peace with men, can make what others might deem poverty not only endurable but welcome. It is God's blessing which maketh rich; and with it he addeth no sorrow. - T.
I. THE EVILS OF A SOLITARY LIFE. (Vers. 7, 8.) The picture is drawn with a very few touches, but it is remarkably distinct and vivid. It represents a "solitary, friendless money-maker - a Shylock without even a Jessica; an Isaac of York with his faithful Rebecca." He is alone, he has no companion, no relative or friend, he knows not who will succeed him in the possession of his heaped-up treasures; and yet he toils on with unremitting anxiety, from early in the morning till late at night, unwilling to lose a moment from his work as long as he can add anything to his gains. "There is no end of all his labor." The assiduity with which he at first applied himself to the task of accumulating riches distinguishes him to the end of life. At first, perhaps, he had to force himself to cultivate habits of industry and application, but now he cannot tear himself away from business. His habits rule him, and take away from him both the ability and the inclination to relax his labors and to enjoy the fruit of them. Have we not often seen instances of this folly in our own experience? Those who have lived a laborious life, and have been successful in their undertakings, toiling on to the very last, afflicted with an insatiable avarice, never satisfied with their riches, and only enjoying the mere consciousness of possessing them? Have we not noticed how such a man gets to be penurious and fretful and utterly unfeeling? He gathers in eagerly, and often unscrupulously, and gives out reluctantly and sparingly. He starves himself in the midst of abundance, grudges the most necessary expenses, and denies himself and those dependent upon him the commonest comforts. The misery he inflicts upon himself does not open his eyes to the folly of his conduct; he grows gradually callous to discomforts, and finds in the sordid gains which his parsimony secures an abundant compensation for all inconveniences. And not only does he doom himself to material discomfort and to intellectual impoverishment by setting his desires solely upon riches, but he degrades his moral and spiritual character. If he must keep all he has to himself, he must often ignore the just claims of others upon him; he must steel his heart against the appeals of the poor and needy, and. he must look with scorn and contempt upon all those who are generous and liberal in helping their fellows. And so we find such men gradually growing harsher and more unsympathetic, until it seems at last as if they regarded every one about them with suspicion, as seeking to wrest from their hands their hard-earned gains. And what is the pleasure of such a life? How is it such men do not say within themselves, "For whom do I labor, and bereave my- soul of good?" The folly of their conduct springs from two causes.
1. They forget that unremitting, fruitless toil is a curse. As a means to an end, toil is good, as an end in itself it is evil. It was never contemplated, even when man was innocent, that he should be idle. He was placed in the garden of Eden to dress and to keep it. But it is either his fault or his misfortune if he is all his life a slavish drudge. It may be that he is forced by the necessities of his position to labor incessantly and to the very end, to make a livelihood for himself and for those dependent upon him, but his condition is not an ideal one. If he could secure a little leisure and relaxation, it would be all the better for him in every sense of the word. And therefore for the miser to toil like a mere slave, when he might save himself the trouble, is an evidence of how blinded he is by the vice to which Be is addicted.
2. A second cause of the miser's folly is his ignoring the fact that riches have only value when made use of. The mere accumulation of them is not enough; they must be employed if they are to be of service. No real, healthy enjoyment of them is to be obtained by merely contemplating them and reckoning them up. Used in that way they only feed an unnatural and morbid appetite.
II. Over against the miseries of a selfish, solitary life, our author sets THE loyalties OF COMPANIONSHIP. (Vers. 9-12.) Friendship affords considerable mitigation of the evils by which life is beset, and a positive gain is secured by those who cultivate it. Three very homely figures are used to describe these advantages. The thought which connects them all together is that of life as a journey, or pilgrimage, like that which Bunyan describes in his wonderful book. If a man is alone in the journey of life, he is liable to accidents and discomforts and dangers which the presence of a friend would have averted or mitigated. He may fall on the road, and none be by to help him; he may at night lie shivering in the cold, if he has no companion to cherish him with kindly warmth; he may meet with robbers, whom his unaided strength is insufficient to beat off. All these figures illustrate the general principle that in union there is mutual helpfulness, comfort, and strength, verification of which we find in all departments of life - in the family, in the intercourse of friends, and in the Church. The benefits of such fellowships are undeniable. "It affords to the parties mutual counsel and direction, especially in seasons of perplexity and embarrassment; mutual sympathy, consolation, and care in the hour of calamity and distress; mutual encouragement in anxiety and depression; mutual aid by the joint application of bodily or mental energy to difficult and laborious tasks; mutual relief amidst the fluctuations of worldly circumstances, the abundance of the one reciprocally supplying the deficiencies of the other; mutual defense and vindication when the character of either is injuriously attacked and defamed; and mutual reproof and affectionate expostulation when either has, through the power of temptation, fallen into sin. 'Woe to him that is alone when he so falleth-and hath not another to help him up!' - no one to care for his soul, and restore him to the paths of righteousness" (Wardiaw). So far as the application of the principle to the case of ordinary friendship is concerned, the wisdom of our author is instinctively approved of by all. The writings of moralists in all countries and times teem with maxims similar to his. Some have thought that this virtue of friendship is too secular in its character to receive much encouragement in the teaching of Christianity; that it is somewhat overshadowed, if not relegated to comparative insignificance, by the obligations which a highly spiritual religion imposes. The fact that the salvation of his soul is the one great duty of the individual might have been expected to lead to a new development of selfishness, and the fact that devotion to the Savior is to take precedence of all other forms of affection might have been expected to diminish the intensity of love which is the source of friendship. And not only have such ideas existed in a speculative form, but they have led, in many cases, to actual attempts to realize them. The ancient hermits sought to cultivate the highest form of Christian life by complete isolation from their fellows; they fled from society, dissevered themselves from all the ties of blood and friendship, and shunned all association with their kind as something contaminating. And in our own time, among many to whom the monastical life is specially repulsive, the very same delusion which lay at the root of it is still cherished. They think that love of husband, wife, child, or friend conflicts with love of God and Christ; that if the human love is too intense it becomes a form of sin. And along with this is generally found a cruel and dishonoring conception of the Divine character. God is thought of as jealous of those who take his place in the affections, and the loss of those loved is spoken of as a removal by him of the "idols" who had usurped his rights. That such teaching is a perversion of Christianity is very evident. The New Testament takes all the forms of natural human love as types of the Divine. As the father loves his children, so does God love us. As Christ loved the Church ought a husband to love his wife, ought his followers to love one another. No bounds can be set to affection; he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God." The one great check, that our love for another should not be allowed to lead us to do wrong or condone wrong, is not upon the intensity, but upon the perversion of affection, and leads to a purer, holier, and more satisfying exercise of affection. That Christ, whose love was universal, did not discourage friendship is evident from the fact that he chose twelve disciples, and admitted them to a closer intimacy with himself than others enjoyed, and that even among them there was one whom he specially loved. It was seen, too, in the affection which he manifested to the family in Bethany - Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. In the time of his agony in Gethsemane he chose three of the disciples to watch with him, seeking for some solace and support in the fact of their presence and sympathy. The truth of Solomon's statement that "two are better than one" was confirmed by Christ's sending out his disciples "two and two together" (Luke 10:1), and by the Divine direction given by the Holy Ghost when Barnabas and Saul were set apart to go together on their first great missionary enterprise (Acts 13:2). But over and above these instances of Christ's example in cultivating friendship, and of the advantages of mutual co-operation in Christian work, the peat principle remains that true religion cannot come to any strength in an isolated life. We cannot worship God aright if we "forsake the assembling of ourselves together;" we cannot cultivate the virtues of which holiness consists - justice, compassion, forbearance, purity, and love - if we isolate ourselves; for all these virtues imply our conducting ourselves in certain ways in all our relations with others. We lose the opportunity of helping the weak, of cheering the disheartened, and of co-operating with those who are striving to overcome the evils by which the world is burdened, if we withdraw into ourselves and ignore others. So far, then, from the wisdom of Solomon in this matter being, in comparison with the fuller revelation through Christ, of an inferior and almost pagan character, it is of permanent and undiminished value. Our acquaintance with Christian teaching is calculated to lead us to form quite as decided a judgment as Solomon did as to the evils of a solitary life, and the advantages of friendship. - J.W.
I. THE COMPANIONSHIP OF DOMESTIC AND SOCIAL LIFE IS THE ORDER OF NATURE AND THE APPOINTMENT OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. There are cases in which men are called upon to deny themselves such companionship, and there are cases in which they have been, by no action of their own, but by the decree of God, deprived of it. But the constitution of the individual's nature and of human society are evidence that the declaration regarding our first father holds good of his posterity - that is, in normal circumstances - "It is not good for the man to be alone."
II. SUCH COMPANIONSHIP SUPPLIES A MOTIVE AND A RECOMPENSE FOR TOIL. A man can work better, more efficiently, perseveringly, and happily, when he works for others than when he works only for himself. Many a man owes his habits of industry and self-denial, his social advancement and his moral maturity, to the necessity of laboring for his family. He may be called upon to maintain aged parents, to provide for the comfort of a sickly wife, to secure the education of his sons, to save a brother from destitution. And such a call may awaken a willing and cheerful response, and may, under God, account for a good work in life.
III. THE ABSENCE OF SUCH COMPANIONSHIP MAY BE A SORE AFFLICTION, AND MAY BE THE OCCASION OF UNWISE AND BLAMABLE DISSATISFACTION AND MURMURING. Under the pressure of loneliness, a man may relax his efforts, or he may fall into a discontented, desponding, and cynical frame of mind. He may lose his interest in life and in human affairs generally. He may even become misanthropic and skeptical.
IV. THE TRUE CORRECTIVE OF SUCH UNHAPPY TENDENCIES IS TO BE FOUND IN THE CULTIVATION OF SPIRITUAL FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST, AND IN A WIDE CIRCLE OF SYMPATHY AND BENEVOLENCE. No one need be lonely who can call his Savior his Friend; and Christ's friendship is open to every believer. And all Christ's disciples and brethren are of the spiritual kindred of him who trusts and loves the Redeemer. Where kindred "according to the flesh" are wanting, there need be no lack of spiritual relatives and associates. All around the lonely man are those who need succor, kindly aid, education, guardianship, and the heart purifies and refines as it takes in new objects of pity, interest, and Christian affection. And the day shall come when the Divine Savior and Judge shall say to those who have responded to his appeal, "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me." - T.
I. FELLOWSHIP MAKES LABOR EFFECTIVE. "Two have a good reward for their labor." If this was so in the day of the writer of Ecclesiastes, how much more strikingly and obviously is it so today! Division of labor and co-operation in labor are the two great principles which account for the success of industrial enterprise in our own time. There is scope for such united efforts in the Church of Christ - for unity and brotherly kindness, for mutual help, consideration, and endeavor.
II. FELLOWSHIP PROVIDES SUCCOR IN CALAMITY. When two are together, he who falls may be lifted up, when if alone he might be left to perish. This is a commonplace truth with reference to travelers in a strange land, with reference to comrades in war, etc. Our Lord Jesus sent forth his apostles two and. two, that one might supply his neighbor's deficiencies; that the healthy might uphold the sick; and the brave might cheer the timid. The history of Christ's Church is a long record of mutual succor and consolation. To raise the fallen, to cherish the weakly, to relieve the needy, to assist the widow and fatherless, - this is true religion. Here is the sphere for the manifestation of Christian fellowship.
III. FELLOWSHIP IS PROMOTIVE OF COMFORT, WELL-BEING, AND HAPPINESS. "How can one be warm alone?" asks the Preacher. Every household, every congregation, every Christian society, is a proof that there is a spirit of mutual dependence wherever the will of the great Father and Savior of mankind is honored and obeyed. The more there is of brotherly love within the Church, the more effective will be the Church's work of benevolence and missionary aggression upon the ignorance and sin of the world.
IV. FELLOWSHIP IMPARTS STRENGTH, STABILITY, AND POWER OF RESISTANCE. TWO, placing themselves shoulder to shoulder, can withstand an onset before which one alone would fall. "The threefold cord is not quickly broken." It must be remembered that the work of religious men in this world is no child's play; there are forces of evil toresist, there is a warfare to be maintained. And in order to succeed, two things are needful: first, dependence upon God; and secondly, brotherhood with our comrades and fellow-soldiers in the holy war. - T.
are better than one." The union of hearts and lives means -
I. SHARING SUCCESS. "They have a good reward for their labor." If two men work apart, and succeed in their labor, each has his own separate satisfaction. But if they confide their hopes, and tell their triumphs, and share their joys together, each man has much more "reward for his labor" than if he strove apart. It is one of the blessings of earlier life that its victories are so much enhanced by their being shared with others; it is one of the detractions from later life that its successes are confined to so small a sphere.
II. RESTORATION. (Ver. 10.) The falling of the solitary traveler in the unfrequented and dangerous path is a picture of the more serious and often fatal falling of the pilgrim in the path of life. To fall into disgrace, or (what is worse) into sin and evil habitude, and to have no true and loyal friend to stand by and to hold out the uplifting hand, to cover the shame with the mantle of his unspotted reputation, to lead back the erring soul with his strength and rectitude into the way of wisdom, into the kingdom of God - to such a man, in such necessity, the "woe" of the preacher may well be uttered.
III. ANIMATION. (Ver. 11.) "In Syria the nights are often keen and frosty, and the heat of the day makes men more susceptible to the nightly cold. The sleeping-chambers, moreover, have only unglazed lattices, which let in the frosty air.... And therefore the natives huddle together for the sake of warmth. To lie alone was to lie shivering in the chill night air." Moreover, it may be said that to sleep in the cold is, in certain temperatures, to be in danger of losing life, while the warmth given by contact with life would preserve vitality. To be "alone" is to live a cold, cheerless, inanimate existence; to be warmed by human friendship, to be animated by contact with living men, is to have a measure, a fullness, of life not otherwise enjoyed.
IV. DEFENSE. (Ver. 12.) "Our two travelers (see above), lying snug and warm on their common mat, buried in slumber, were very likely to be disturbed by thieves who had dug a hole into the barn or crept under the tent.... If one was thus aroused, he would call on his comrade for help" (Cox). It is not only the prowling thief against whom a man may defend his companion. By timely warning, by wise suggestion, by sound instruction, by faithful entreaty, by practical sympathy, we may so stand by one another, that we may save from the worst attacks of our most deadly spiritual enemies; thus we may save one another from falling into error, into unbelief, into vice, into shame and sorrow, "into the pit." We conclude, therefore:
1. That we should prize human friendship most highly, as that which furnishes us with the opportunity of highest service (see Isaiah 32:2).
2. That we should so choose our companions that we shall have from them the help we need in the trying hour.
3. That we should gain for ourselves the strength and succor of the Divine Friend. - C.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 (latter part)
I. DUTY. To know, to reverence, to love, to serve God, is our supreme obligation, For we came forth from him; we are indebted to him for all that makes us what we are, owing all our faculties of every kind to his creative power. We have been sustained in being every moment by his Divine visitation; we have been enriched by him with everything we possess, our hearts and our lives owing to his generous kindness all their joys and all their blessings; it is in him that we live and move and have our being; we sum up all obligations, we touch the height and depth of exalted duty, when we say that "he is our God." Moreover, all this natural obligation is enhanced and multiplied manifold by all that he has done for us, and all that he has endured for in the salvation which is in Jesus Christ, his Son.,
II. INTEREST. To know, to love, to serve God, - this is our highest and truest interest.
1. It means the possession of his Divine favor; and that surely is much, not to say everything, to us.
2. It constitutes our real, because our spiritual, well-being; it causes us thereby and therein to realize the ideal of our humanity; we are at our very best imaginable when we are in fellowship with God and are possessing his likeness.
3. It secures to us a happy life below, filled with hallowed contentment, and charged with sacred joy, while it conducts to a future which will be crowned with immortal glory.
III. AFFECTION. To live in the service of Jesus Christ is to act as our human relationships demand that we should act. It is to give the deepest and purest satisfaction to those from whom we have received the most self-denying love; it is also to lead those for whom we have the strongest affection in the way of wisdom, in the paths of honor, joy, eternal life. - C.
I. WISDOM ENNOBLES YOUTH AND POVERTY. Age does not always bring wisdom, which is the gift of God, sometimes - as in the case of Solomon - conferred in early life. True excellence and honor are not attached to age and station. Wisdom, modesty, and trustworthiness may be found in lowly abodes and in youthful years. Character is the supreme test of what is admirable and good. A young man may be wise in the conduct of his own life, in the use of his own gifts and opportunities, in the choice of his own friends; he may be wise in his counsel offered to others, in the influence he exerts over others. And his wisdom may be shown in his contented acquiescence in the poverty of his condition and the obscurity of his station. He will not forget that the Lord of all, for our sakes, became poor, dwelt in a lowly home, wrought at a manual occupation, enjoyed few advantages of human education or of companionship with the great.
II. FOLLY DEGRADES AGE AND ROYALTY. In the natural order of things, knowledge and prudence should accompany advancing age. It is "years that bring the philosophic mind." In the natural order of thins, high station should call out the exercise of statesmanship, thoughtful wisdom, mature and weighty counsel. Where all these are absent, there may be outward greatness, splendor, luxury, empire, but true kingship there is not. There is no fool so conspicuously and pitiably foolish as the aged monarch who can neither give counsel himself nor accept it from the experienced and trustworthy. And the case is worse when his folly is apparent in the mismanagement of his own life. It may be questioned whether Solomon, in his youth, receiving in answer to prayer the gift of wisdom, and using it with serious sobriety, was not more to be admired than when, as a splendid but disappointed voluptuary, he enjoyed the revenues of provinces, dwelt in sumptuous palaces, and received the homage of distant potentates, but yet was corrupted by his own weaknesses into connivance at idolatry, and was unfaithful to the Lord to whose bounty he was indebted for all he possessed.
APPLICATION. This is a word of encouragement to thoughtful, pure-minded, and religious youth. The judgment of inspiration commends those who, in the flower of their age, by God's grace rise above the temptations to which they are exposed, and cherish that reverence toward the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. - T.
I. THE VANITY OF TRUSTING IN CIRCUMSTANCE APART FROM CHARACTER. It is well enough to bear a royal name, to have a royal retinue, to move among royal surroundings. Old age may forget its infirmities in the midst of its rank, its honors, its luxuries. But when royalty is dissevered from wisdom, when it has not learned by experience, but has grown downwards rather than upwards, the outlook is poor enough. The foolish king is likely enough to be dethroned, and to "become a beggar in his own kingdom." An exalted position makes a man's follies seem larger than they are; and as they injuriously affect every one, they are likely to lead to universal condemnation and to painful penalty. It is of little use to be enjoying an enviable position if we have not character to maintain and ability to adorn it. The wheel of fortune will soon take to the bottom the man who is now rejoicing on the top of it.
II. THE NEEDLESSNESS OF DESPAIR IN THE DEPTH OF MISFORTUNE. Whilst the old and foolish king may decline and fall, the wise youth, who has been disregarded, will move on and up to honor and to power, and even the condemned prisoner may mount the throne. The history of men and of nations proves that nothing is impossible in the way of recovery and elevation. Man may "hope to rise" from the bottom, as he should "fear to fall' from the top of the scale. Let those who are honestly and conscientiously striving, though it may be with small recognition or recompense, hope to attain to the honor and the reward which are their due. Let those who have suffered saddest disappointment and defeat remember that men may rise from the very lowest estate even to the highest.
III. THE ONE UNFAILING SOURCE OF SATISFACTION. The old and foolish king may deserve to be dethroned, but he may retain his position until he dies; the wise youth may fail to reach the honors to which he is entitled; the innocent prisoner may languish in his dungeon even until death opens the door and releases him. There is no certainty in this world, where fortune is so fickle, and circumstance cannot be counted upon even by the most sagacious. But there is one thing on which we may reckon, and in which we may take refuge. To be upright in our heart, to be sound in our character, to be true and faithful in life - this is to be what is good; it is to enjoy that which is best - the favor of God and our own self-respect; it is to move toward that which is blessed - a heavily future. - C.
I. The image of "AN OLD AND FOOLISH KING, WHO WILL NO MORE BE ADMONISHED;" who, though "born in his kingdom, becometh poor." He is debauched by long tenure of power, and scorns good advice and warning. "We see him driven from his throne, stripped of his riches, and becoming in his old age a beggar." His want of wisdom undermines the stability of his position. Though he has in the regular course inherited his kingdom, and has an indefeasible right to the crown he wears - though for many years his people have patiently endured his misgovernment - his tenure of office becomes more and more uncertain. A time comes when it is a question whether the nation is to be ruined, or a wiser and more trustworthy ruler put in his place. He is compelled to abdicate, or is forcibly deposed or driven from his kingdom by an invader, whose power he is unable to resist. His noble birth, his legal fights as a sovereign, his gray hairs, the amiability of his private character, do not avail to secure for him the loyal support of a people whom his folly has alienated from him. The same idea of folly vitiating, the dignity of old age is found in Wisd 4. 8. 9, "Honorable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair unto men, and unspotted life is old age." The biographies of Charles I. and James II. of England, and of Napoleon III., furnish examples of kings who learned nothing from experience, and scorned all warnings brought upon themselves misery like that hinted at by Solomon. The first of them met his death at the hands of his exasperated subjects, and the other two, after deep humiliations, died in exile.
II. The second instance of strange vicissitude is that of ONE WHO STEPS FROM A DUNGEON TO A THRONE. It is by his wisdom that he raises himself to the place of ruler over the neglected community. From obscurity he attains in a moment to the height of popular favor; thousands flock to do him homage (vers. 15, 16a, "I saw all the living which walk under the sun, that they were with the youth, the second, that stood up in his stead. There was no end of all the people, even of all them over whom he was," Revised Version). The scene depicted of the ignominy into which the worthless old king falls, and the enthusiasm with which the new one is greeted, reminds one of Carlyle's vivid description of the death of Louis XV. and the accession of his grandson. The courtiers wait with impatience for the passing away of the king whose life had been so corrupt and vile; he dies unpitied upon his loathsome sick-bed. "In the remote apartments, dauphin and dauphiness stand road-ready... waiting for some signal to escape the house of pestilence. And, hark! across the (Eil-de-Boeuf, what sound is that - sound' terrible and absolutely like thunder'? It is the rush of the whole court, rushing as in wager, to salute the new sovereigns: 'Hail to your Majesties!'" The body of the dead king is unceremoniously committed to the grave. "Him they crush down and huddle underground; him and his era of sin and tyranny and shame; for behold! a New Era is come; the future all the brighter that the past was base" ('French Revolution,' vol. 1. Ecclesiastes 4.). The same kind of picture has been drawn by Shakespeare, in 'Richard II.,' act 5. sc. 2, where he describes the popularity of Bolingbroke, and the contempt into which the king he displaced had sunk. Yet, according to the Preacher, the breeze of popular favor soon dies away, and the hero is soon forgotten. "They also that come after him shall not rejoice in him." The dark cloud of oblivion comes down and envelops in its shade both those who deserve to be remembered, and those who have been unworthy of even the brief popularity they enjoyed in their lifetime. "Who knows," says Sir Thos. Browne, "whether the best of men be known, or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot than any that stand remembered on the known account of time?" ('Urn-burial'). The fickle and short-lived character of all earthly fame should convince us of the futility of making the desire of the applause of men the ruling motive of our lives; it should lead us to do that which is good because it is good, and not in order "to be seen of men," and because we are responsible to God, in whose book all our deeds are written, whether they be good or whether they be evil. The sense of disappointment at the vanity of human fame should dispose our hearts to find satisfaction in the favor of God, by whom all our good deeds will be remembered and rewarded (Psalm 37:5, 6; Galatians 6:9; Matthew 25:21). - J.W.