I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.
Solomon says of the mirthful man, of the man who makes others laugh, that he is a madman. We need not suppose that all laughter is indiscriminately condemned, as though gloom marks a sane person and cheerfulness an insane. "Rejoice evermore" is a Scriptural direction, and blithe-heartedness ought to be both felt and displayed by those who know that they have God for their Guardian and Christ for their Surety. It is the laughter of the world which the wise man calls madness.
I. That conflict of which this creation is the scene, and the leading antagonists in which are Satan and God, is a conflict between falsehood and truth. And it is in consequence of this that so much criminality is everywhere in Scripture attached to a lie, and that those on whom a lie may be charged are represented as more especially obnoxious to the anger of God. Now, whilst the bold and direct falsehood gains for itself general execration, mainly perhaps because felt to militate against the general interest, there is a ready indulgence for the more sportive falsehood which is rather the playing with truth than the making a lie. Here it is that we shall find laughter which is madness, and identify with a madman him by whom the laughter is raised. The man who passes off a clever fiction, or amusingly distorts an occurrence, or dexterously misrepresents a fact, may say that he only means to be amusing; but as he can hardly fail to lower the majesty of truth in the eyes of his neighbour, there may be ample reason for assenting to the wise man's decision, "I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?"
II. But it is not perhaps till laughter is turned upon sacred things that we have before us the madness in all its wildness and injuriousness. The man who in any way exercises his wit upon the Bible conveys undoubtedly an impression, whether he intend it or not, that he is not a believer in the inspiration of the Bible; and he may do far more mischief to the souls of his fellow-men than if he engaged openly in assaulting the great truths of Christianity.
III. The great general inference from this subject is that we ought to set a watch upon our tongues, to pray God to keep the door of our lips. "Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt."
H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2532.
References: Ecclesiastes 2:4.—J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 14. Ecclesiastes 2:4-11.—J. J. S. Perowne, Expositor, 1st series, vol. x., p. 313.
Ecclesiastes 2:11The general practice of men of business, their custom of year by year taking stock, examining their books, and striking a balance to know how they stand, is a lesson of the highest value. Our everlasting salvation may turn on it. People go on dreaming that all is right when all is wrong, nor wake to the dreadful truth till they open their eyes in torment. If men take such care of their earthly fortunes, how much greater our need to see how we stand with God, and do with our spiritual what all wise merchants do with their earthly interests: review the transactions of every year.
I. In this review we should inquire what we have done for God. We have had many, daily, innumerable opportunities of serving Him, speaking for Him, working for Him, not sparing ourselves for Him who spared not His own Son for us. Yet how little have we attempted; and how much less have we done in the spirit of our Saviour's words, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" It is impossible even now to review our lives without feeling that there is no hope for us out of Christ, and that the best and the busiest have been unprofitable servants.
II. In this review we should inquire what we have done for ourselves. If "the harvest is past, and the summer ended, and we are not saved," what other verdict than "Vanity!" can conscience and truth pronounce on the years that are gone? Years are lost, but the soul is not yet lost. There is still time to be saved. Make for the city of refuge. Believe in Christ, for whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but hath everlasting life.
III. In this review we should inquire what we have done for others. Suppose that our blessed Lord, sitting down on Olivet to review the years of His busy life, had looked on all the works which His hands had wrought, what a crowd, a long procession, of miracles and mercies had passed before Him! Trying our piety by this test, what testimony does our past life bear to its character? Happy those who, at however great a distance, and in however imperfect a manner, have attempted to follow Christ!
In conclusion: (1) This review, God's Spirit blessing it, should awaken careless sinners. (2) This review should stir up God's people.
T. Guthrie, The Way to Life, p. 61.
References: Ecclesiastes 2:11.—J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 38. Ecclesiastes 2:12-14.—Ibid; p. 85. Ecclesiastes 2:12-23.—T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 49. Ecclesiastes 2:12-26.—J. J. S. Perowne, Expositor, 1st series, vol. xii., p. 70; G. G. Bradley, Lectures on Ecclesiastes, p. 52; R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 65; J. H. Cooke, The Preacher's Pilgrimage, p. 22.
Ecclesiastes 2:16-23I. The noblest renown is posthumous fame, and the most refined ambition is the desire for such fame. And of this more exalted ambition it would appear that Solomon had felt the stirrings. But even that cold comfort was entirely frozen in the thought which followed. From the lofty pinnacle to which, as a philosophic historian, he had ascended, Solomon could look down and see not only the fallibility of his coevals, but the forgetfulness of the generations following. He knew that there had often been great men in the world; but he could not hide it from himself how little these men had grown already, and how infinitesimal the greatest would become if the world should only last a few centuries longer. And so far Solomon was right.
II. But if this be the phantom for which the worldling toils and sighs, there is a posthumous fame which is no illusion. If there be no eternal remembrance of the world's wise men any more than of its fools, it is otherwise with the wise ones of the heavenly kingdom. God has so arranged it that "the righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance." There is not in all the universe a holy being but God has found for it a resting-place in the love of other holy beings, and that not temporarily, but for all eternity. The only posthumous fame that is truly permanent is the memory of God; and the only deathless names are theirs for whose living persons He has found a place in His own love, and in the love of holy beings like-minded with Himself.
J. Hamilton, The Royal Preacher, Lecture VII.
References: Ecclesiastes 2:24-26.—J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 106. 2—C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 26. Ecclesiastes 3:1.—H. Hayman, Rugby Sermons, p. 139. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.—R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 92. Ecclesiastes 3:1-15.—T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 75. Ecclesiastes 3:1, Ecclesiastes 3:16-22.—J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 152.
I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?
I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.
I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards:
I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits:
I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees:
I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:
I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.
Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.
The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.
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.
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.
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? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.
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 is also vanity.
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 labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.
For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?
For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.