1. A good name is better than precious ointment.2. The day of death " " " the day of birth.3. The house of mourning " " " the house of feasting.4. Borrow " " " laughter.5. The rebuke of the wise " " " the song of fools.6. The end of a thing " " " the beginning.7. The patient in spirit " " " the proud in spirit.
Lofty, indeed, is the level to which Solomon has attained by such unpopular conclusions, and it proves fully that we are listening in this book to man at his highest, best. Not a bitter, morbid, diseased mind, simply wailing over a lost life, and taking, therefore, highly colored and incorrect views of that life, as so many pious commentators say; but the calm, quiet result of the use of the highest powers of reasoning man, as man, possesses; and we have but to turn for a moment, and listen to Him who is greater than Solomon, to find His holy and infallible seal set upon the above conclusions. "Blessed are the pure in heart, -- they that mourn, -- and the meek," is surely in the same strain exactly; although reasons are there given for this blessedness of which Solomon, with all his wisdom, had never a glimpse.
Let us take just one striking agreement, and note the contrasts: "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth." That is, the loftiest purest wisdom of man recognizes a quality in sorrow itself that is purifying. "In the sadness of the face the heart becometh fair." In a scene where all is in confusion, -- where Death, as King of Terrors, reigns supreme over all, forcing his presence on us hourly, where wickedness and falsehood apparently prosper, and goodness and truth are forced to the wall, -- in such a scene of awful disorder, laughter and mirth are but discord, and grate upon the awakened spirit's ear with ghastly harshness. Whilst an honest acceptance of the truth of things as they are, looking Death itself full in the face, the house of mourning not shunned, but sought out; the sorrow within is at least in harmony with the sad state of matters without; the "ministration of death" has its effect, the spirit learns its lesson of humiliation; and this, says all wisdom, is "better."
And yet this very level to which Reason can surely climb by her own unaided strength may become a foothold for Faith to go further. Unless Wrong, Discord, and Death, are the normal permanent condition of things, then sorrow, too, is not the normal permanent state of the heart; but this merely remains a question, and to its answer no reason helps us. Age after age has passed with no variation in the fell discord of its wails, tears, and groans. Generation has followed in the footsteps of generation, but with no rift in the gloomy shadow of death that has overhung and finally settled over each. Six thousand years of mourning leave unaided Reason with poor hope of any change in the future, -- of any expectation of true comfort. But then listen to that authoritative Voice proclaiming, as no "scribe" ever could, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." Ah, there is a bright light breaking in on the dark clouds, with no lightning-flash of added storm, but a mild and holy ray, -- the promise of a day yet to break o'er our sorrow-stricken earth, when there shall be no need for mourning, for death no more shall reign, but be swallowed up in victory.
But turn over a few pages more, and the contrast is still further heightened. The sun of divine revelation is now in mid-heaven; and not merely future, but present, comfort is revealed by its holy and blessed beam. Come, let us enter now into the "house of mourning," not merely to clasp hands with the mourners, and to sit there in the silence of Ecclesiastes' helplessness for the benefit of our own hearts, nor even to whisper the promise of a future comfort, but, full of the comfort of a present hope, to pour out words of comfort into the mourners' ears. Tears still are flowing, -- nor will we rebuke them. God would never blunt those tender sensibilities of the heart that thus speaks the Hand that made it; but He would take from the tears the bitterness of hopelessness, and would throw on them His own blessed Light, -- a new direct word of revelation from Himself, -- Love and Light as He is, -- till, like the clouds in the physical world, they shine with a glory that even the cloudless sky knows not.
First, then, all must be grounded and based on faith in the Lord Jesus. We are talking to those who share with us in a common divine faith. We believe that Jesus died: but more, we believe that He rose again: and here alone is the foundation of true hope or comfort. They who believe not or know not this are as absolutely hopeless -- as comfortless -- as Ecclesiastes: they are "the rest which have no hope." True divine Hope is a rare sweet plant, whose root is found only in His empty tomb, whose flower and fruit are in heaven itself. Based on this, comforts abound; and in every step the living Lord Jesus is seen: His resurrection throws its blessed light everywhere. If One has actually risen from the dead, what glorious possibilities follow.
For as to those who are falling asleep, is He insensible to that which moves us so deeply? Nay; He Himself has put them to sleep. They are fallen asleep [not "in," as our version says, but] through (dia) Jesus. He who so loved them has Himself put them to sleep. No matter what the outward, or apparent, causes of their departure to sight, faith sees the perfect love of the Lord Jesus giving "His beloved sleep." Sight may take note only of the flying stones as they crush the martyr's body; mark, with horror, the breaking bone, the bruised and bleeding flesh; hear the air filled with the confusion of shouts of imprecation, and mocking blasphemy; but to faith all is different: to her the spirit of the saint, in perfect calm, is enfolded to the bosom of Him who has loved and redeemed it, whilst the same Lord Jesus hushes the bruised and mangled form to sleep, as in the holy quiet of the sanctuary.
Let our faith take firm hold of this blessed word, "fallen asleep through Jesus," for our comfort. So shall we be able to instil this comfort into the wounded hearts of others, -- comforting them with the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. What would Solomon have given to have known this?
Second, the mind must be gently loosened from occupation with itself and its own loss; and that by no rebuke or harsh word, so out of place with sorrow, but by the assumption, at least, that it is for the loss that the departed themselves suffer that we grieve. It is because we love them that our tears flow: but suppose we know beyond a question that they have suffered no loss by being taken away from this scene, would not that modify our sorrow? Yea; would it not change its character completely, extracting bitterness from it? So that blessed Lord Himself comforted His own on the eve of His departure: "If ye loved me, ye would rejoice because I go unto my Father, for my Father is greater than I." The more you love me, the less -- not the more -- will you sorrow. Nay; you would change the sorrow into actual joy. The measure of the comfort is exactly the measure of the love. That is surely divine. So here, "You are looking forward to the day when your rejected Lord Jesus shall be manifested in brightest glories: your beloved have not missed their share in that triumph. God will show them the same "path of life" He showed their Shepherd (Ps. xvi.), and will "bring them with Him" in the train of their victorious Lord.
Third. But is that triumph, that joy, so far off that it can only be seen through the dim aisles and long vistas of many future ages and generations? Must our comfort be greatly lessened by the thought that while that end is "sure," it is still "very far off," -- a thousand years may -- nay, some say, must -- have to intervene; and must we sorrowfully say, like the bereaved saint of old, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me"? Not at all. Better, far better than that. For Faith's cheerful and cheering voice is "we who are alive and remain." That day is so close ever to faith that there is nothing between us and it. No long weary waiting expected; and that very attitude -- that very hope -- takes away the "weariness" from the swift passing days. Those dear saints of old grasped and cherished this blessed hope that their saviour Lord would return even during their life. Did they lose anything by so cherishing it? Have we gained by our giving it up? Has the more "reasonable" expectation that, after all, the tomb shall be our lot as theirs, made our days brighter, happier, and so to speed more quickly? Has it made us more separate from the world, more heavenly in character, given us less in common with the worldling? Has this safe "reasoning" made us to abound in works of love, labors of faith, and in patience of hope, as did the "unreasonable" and "mistaken" hope of His immediate coming the dear Thessalonians of old? For look at the first chapter, and see how the "waiting for the Son from heaven" worked. Again I ask, have we improved on this? Can we improve upon it? Was it not far better, then, for them -- if these its happy accompaniments -- to hold fast, even to their last breath, that hope; and even to pass off this scene clasping it still fondly to their hearts, than our dimmed and dull faith with -- it may be boldly said -- all the sad loss that accompanies this?
Hold it fast, my brethren, "We who are alive and remain." Let that be the only word in our mouths, the only hope in our hearts. It is a cup filled to the brim with comfort. How they ring with life and hope in contrast with the dull, heavy, deathful word of poor Ecclesiastes -- "For that is the end of all men"!
Oh, spring up brighter in all our hearts, thou divinely given, divinely sustained Hope!
Fourth. -- "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first."
Another sweet and holy word of comfort. We have seen Jesus putting His saints to sleep, as to their bodies; and here we see the same Lord Jesus Himself bidding them rise. No indiscriminate general resurrection this: "the dead in Christ" alone are concerned: they rise first. He who died for them knows them; and they, too, have known His voice in life: that same voice now awakens them, and bids them rise as easily as the little damsel at the "Talitha Cumi"! How precious is this glorious word of the Lord! How perfect the order! No awe-inspiring trumpet, "sounding long and waxing loud," as at Sinai of old, awakening the panic-stricken dead, and bidding them come to an awful judgment. Such the picture that man's dark unbelief and guilty conscience have drawn. Small comfort would we have for mourners were that true. God be thanked it is not. Their Saviour's well-known voice that our dead have loved shall awaken them, ringing full and true in every tone and note of it with the love He has borne them. Then the voice of the Archangel Michael, the great marshal of God's victorious hosts shall range our ranks. This accomplished, and all in the perfect divine order of victory, the trumpet shall sound and the redeemed shall begin their triumphant, blissful, upward flight.
Fifth. -- But the Spirit of God desires us to get and to give the comfort of another precious word. In no strange unknown company shall we who are alive and remain start on that homeward journey, but "together with them." Who that has known the agony of broken heart-strings does not see the infinitely gracious tender comfort in those three words, "together with them"? There is reunion. Once more we shall be in very deed with those we love, with never a thought or fear of parting more to shadow the mutual joy. In view of those three words it were simple impertinence to question whether we shall recognize our dear saints who have preceded us. Not only would such a question rob them of their beauty, but of their very meaning. They would be empty and absolutely meaningless in such case. Sure, beyond a peradventure, is it that our most cherished anticipations shall be far exceeded in that rapturous moment; for we can but reason from experience, whilst here the sweetest communion has ever been marred by that which there shall not be.
How sweet the prospect, my sorrowing bereaved readers! We shall, as God is true, look once more into the very faces of those we have known and loved in the Lord on earth. They awake to recognition as Magdalene at the word "Mary;" not to a renewed earthly companionship, nor to a relationship as known in the flesh, as poor Mary thought, but to a sweeter, as well as higher; a warmer, as well as purer communion; for the tie that there shall bind us together is that which is stronger, sweeter than all others, even here, -- Jesus Christ the Lord.
But stay! Does this really meet fully the present sorrow? Does it give a satisfying comfort? Is there not a lurking feeling of disappointment that certain relationships with their affections are never to be restored; therefore, in certain ways, "recognition" is not probable? For instance, a husband loses the companion of his life. He shall, it is true, meet and recognize with joy a saint whom he knew on earth, but never again his wife. That sweet, pure, human affection, is never to be renewed. Death's rude hand has chilled that warmth forever. The shock of death has extinguished it forevermore. Is that exactly true? Is that just as Scripture puts it? Let us see.
We may justly reason that if, in the resurrection, relationships were exactly as here, sorrow would necessarily outweigh joy. To find broken families there would be a perpetuation of earth's keenest distresses. To know that that break was irreparable would cause a grief unutterable and altogether inconsistent with the joy of the new creation. Marriage there is not, and hence all relationships of earth we may safely gather are not there. But the natural affections of the soul of man have they absolutely come to nothing?
That soul, connected as it is with that which is higher than itself -- the spirit -- is immortal, and its powers and attributes must be in activity beyond death. It is the seat of the affections here, and, surely, there too. Why, then, shall not these affections there have full unhindered play? Let us seek to gather something from analogy. Knowledge has its seat in the spirit of man, and here he exercises that faculty; nor does the spirit any more than the soul cease to exist; nor are its attributes therefore to be arrested. Yet we read of knowledge in that scene, "it shall vanish away." And why? Is it not because of the perfect light that there shines? Human knowledge is but a candle, and what worth is candlelight when the noonday sun shines? It is overwhelmed, swallowed up, by perfect light. It "vanishes away," -- is not extinguished, any more than is human knowledge, by the shock of death or change; but perfection of Light has done away with the very appearance of imperfection. Now is this not equally and exactly true of that other part of the divine nature -- Love? Here we both know in part and love in part. There the perfection of Love causes that which is imperfect -- the human affection of the soul -- to "vanish away." The greater swallows up the less. The infinite attraction of the Lord Jesus -- that "glory" which He prayed that we might see (John xvii.) -- overwhelms all lower affections with no rough rude shock as of death, but by the very superabundance of the bliss. His glory! What is it but the radiant outshining of His infinitely blessed, infinitely attractive, divine nature, -- Love and Light, Light and Love, -- each swallowing up in their respective spheres every inferior imperfect reflection of them that we have enjoyed here in this scene of imperfection, leaving nothing to be desired, nothing missed; allowing perfect play to every human faculty and affection, -- crushing, extinguishing none. Death has not been permitted to annul these faculties. The perfect love of the Lord Jesus has outstripped them, swallowed them up in warmer affections, sweeter communion.
The coming of that precious Saviour is close: just as close is the fulfillment of those words, "together with them." "He maketh the clouds His chariots," and in those chariots we are taken home "together."
Sixth. -- "To meet the Lord in the air." Another word of divine comfort, again. How bold the assertion! Its very boldness is assurance of its truth. It becomes God, and God only, so to speak that His people may both recognize His voice in its majesty and rest on His word. No speculation; no argument; no deduction; no reasoning; but a bare, authoritative statement, startling in its boldness. Not a syllable of past Scripture on which to build and to give color to it; and yet when revealed, when spoken, in perfect harmony with the whole of Scripture. How absolutely impossible for any man to have conceived that the Lord's saints should be caught up to meet Him "in the air." Were it not true, its very boldness and apparent foolishness would be its refutation. And what must be the character of mind that would even seek to invent such a thought? What depths of awful wickedness it would bespeak! What cruelty thus to attempt to deceive the whole race! What corruption, thus to speak false in the holiest matters, attaching the Lord's name to a falsehood! The spring from which such a statement, if false, could rise must be corrupt indeed. But, oh, how different in fact! What severe righteousness! what depths of holiness! what elevated morality! what warmth of tender affection! what burning zeal, combined with the profoundest reasoning, characterize every word of the writer of this same statement! Every word that he has written testifies that he has not attempted to deceive.
There is, perhaps, one other alternative: the writer may have believed himself thus inspired, and was thus self-deceived But in this case far gone in disease must his mind have been; nor could it fail constantly to give striking evidence of being thus unhinged in other parts of his writings. This is a subject with which unbalanced minds have shown their inability to be much occupied without the most sorrowful evidences of the disease under which they suffer. Let there be independence of the Scriptures (as there confessedly is in this case), and let man's mind work in connection with this subject of the Lord's second coming, and all history has but one testimony: such minds become unbalanced, and feverish disquietude evidences itself by constant recurrence to the one theme. Find, on the other hand, one single instance, if you can, in which such a mind makes mention once, and only once, of that subject that has so overmastered every other as to have deceived him into the belief that falsehood is truth, his own imagination is the inspiration of the Spirit of God!
Have you not wondered why this wondrous word of revelation occurs thus in detail once and only once? Is it not one of the weapons of those who contend against this our hope that we base too much on this isolated Scripture text? Not that that is true, for all Scripture, as we have said, is in perfect harmony and accord with it; but what a perfect, complete, thorough answer, this fact gives to the other alternative -- that the writer was self-deceived. This is impossible; or, like every other self-deceived man that ever lived, he would have pressed his one theme in every letter, forced it on unwilling minds every time he opened his mouth or took up his pen.
"No wild enthusiast ever yet could rest
'Tis an attractive theme. Long could we linger here, but we must pass on; but before leaving, let us see if we were justified in saying that whilst this word is based on no previous Scripture, yet, when spoken, it is in harmony with all. First, then, is it not in perfect accord with the peculiar character and calling of the Church? Israel, as a nation, finds her final deliverance on the earth. Her calling and her hopes have ever been limited to this scene. Fitting then, indeed, it is that she be saved by her Deliverer's feet standing once more on the Mount of Olives (Zach. xiv.4), and the judgment of the living nations should then take place. But with the Church, how different: her blessings heavenly; her character heavenly; her calling heavenly. Is it not, then, in accord with this that her meeting with her Lord should be literally heavenly, too? Israel, exponent of the righteous government of God, may rightly long to "dip her foot in the blood of the wicked." Nor can she expect or know of any deliverance except, as of old, in victories in the day of battle. The Church, exponent of the exceeding riches of His grace, is of another spirit; and our deliverance "in the air" permits -- nay, necessitates -- our echoing that gracious word of our Lord, "Father, forgive them."
Then too, how beautifully this rapture follows the pattern of His whom the Lord's people now are following even to a dwelling that has no name nor place on earth (John i.38, 39). The clouds received Him: they, too, shall receive us. Unseen by the world He left the world, too busy with its occupations to note or care for the departure of Him who is its Light. So the poor feeble glimmer of the Lord's dear people now shall be lost, secretly, as it were, to the world in which they shine as lights, leaving it in awful gloomy darkness till the Day dawn and the Sun arise.
Nor is illustration or type lacking. In Enoch, caught up before the judgment of the flood, surely we may see a figure of the rapture of the heavenly saints before the antitype of the flood, the tribulation that is to try "the dwellers upon the earth," as in Noah brought through that judgment, a picture of the earthly ones.
In this connection, too, what could be more exquisitely harmonious than the way in which the Lord thus presents Himself to the expectant faith of His earthly and heavenly people? To the former the full plain Day is ushered in by the Sun of Righteousness arising with healing in His wings: for that Day they look. To the latter, who are watching through the long hours of the night, the Bright and Morning Star shining ere the first beams of the Sun are thrown upon the dark world is the object of faith and hope.
Is not the word that believers shall, "meet the Lord in the air" in absolute accord with these different aspects of the Lord as Star and Sun? Most certainly it is.
More than at any other time, a solid foundation for comfort is needed in times of deep grief. Then the hosts of darkness press round the dismayed spirit; clouds of darkness roll across the mental sky; the sun and all light is hidden; in the storm-wrack the fiery darts of the wicked one fall thick as rain. Every long-accepted truth is questioned; the very foundations seem to dissolve. A firm foothold, indeed, must we have on which to stand at such a time. Faith must be seen not at war with her poor blind -- or at least short-sighted -- sister Reason, but in perfect accord, leading her, with her feebler powers, by the hand. But here is where the world's efforts to comfort -- and, indeed, alas, the worldly Christians too -- lack. Sentimentalism abounds here; and the poor troubled heart is told to stand fast on airy speculations, and to distil comfort from wax-flowers, as it were, -- the creations of the imagination. How solid the comfort here given in contrast with all this. God speaks, and in the Light, that with clear yet gentle ray, exactly meets the needs of our present distress, -- in the Love that in its infinite tenderness and beautiful delicacy knows how to heal the wounded spirit, -- in the grand authority that rests on no other word or testimony for proof, -- and yet in the perfect, absolute harmony with the whole scope of His own holy word, we, His children, recognize again His voice; for never man could speak thus, and we are comforted, and may comfort one another.
It is true. It is divine. We shall meet the Lord in the air. Happy journey that, in such a company to such a goal, -- to meet the Lord! Who can picture the joy of that upward flight? What words extract the comfort of that meeting, -- the Lord, -- our Lord, -- alone with Him, -- "together with them," -- in the quiet chambers of the air!
Seventh. -- "And so shall we ever be with the Lord." There is an eternity of unmingled bliss. How short the time of separation, oh ye mourning ones, compared with this! The pain is but for a moment, whilst there is a far more exceeding and eternal weight of comfort.
What a contrast! Death is the sad, gloomy, mysterious, unknown boundary for all, groans Ecclesiastes, "for that is the end of all men." There is no end to the joy of the redeemed, says Revelation; and Faith sings "forever with the Lord." What deep need of Himself has this man's heart, that He has made. If in this sad scene we get one ray of true comfort it is when "with Him"; one thrill of true joy it is when "with Him"; one hour of true peace it is when "with Him." We were intended, meant, created, to need Him. Let us remember that, and then see the sweet comfort in that word, "so shall we ever be with the Lord." Man is at last, may it be said, in his element. His spirit gets the communion that it needs -- with Him forever; his soul, the love it needs, in Him forever; his body the perfection it needs -- like Him forever! Is not this revelation self-evidently of God -- worthy of Him -- possible only to Him?
Again, let us ask what would Solomon have given for a song like this, instead of his mournful, groan "for death is the end of all men"! Alas, as he goes on, he finds that even this is not the case, except as regards the scene "under the sun." He finds it impossible to escape a conclusion, as startling as it is logical, that there is another scene to which death may introduce, from which there is no escape.
Our writer, ignorant as he confessedly is of this glorious light of divine revelation, still speaks in praise of the feeble glimmer that human wisdom gives. From his point of view, wealth and wisdom are both good, -- are a "defense" or "shadow" to their possessors; but still that which men generally esteem the most -- wealth -- is given the second place; for knowledge, or wisdom, has in itself a positive virtue that money lacks. It "gives life to them that have it," animates, preserves in life, modifies, at least in measure, the evils from which it cannot altogether guard its possessor; and, by giving equanimity to a life of change and vicissitude, proves, in some sort, its own life-giving energy. How infinitely true this is with regard to Him who is absolute infinite Wisdom, and who is our Life, it is our health and joy to remember.
The Preacher continues: Ponder the work of God, but you will find nothing in anything that you can see that shall enable you to forecast the future with any certainty. Adversity follows prosperity, and my counsel is to make the best use of both, -- enjoy this when it comes, and let that teach you that God's ways are inscrutable, nor can you straighten out the tangle of His providences. Evidently he intends these vicissitudes that still follow no definite rule, so that man may recognize his own ignorance and impotence. In one word, reason as you may from all that you can see, and your reason will throw no ray of light on God's future dealings. And there again, having brought us face to face with a dense, impenetrable cloud, Ecclesiastes leaves us.
How awful that dark cloud is, it is difficult for us now to realize, so accustomed are we to the light God's word has given. But were it possible to blot out entirely from our minds all that Word has taught us, and place ourselves for a moment just by the side of our "Preacher," look alone through his eyes, recognize with him the existence of the Creator whose glorious Being is so fully shown in all His works, and yet with nothing whereby to judge of His disposition toward us except what we see, -- in the physical world the blasting storm sweeping over the landscape that but now spoke only in its beauties and bounties of His love and benevolence, leaving in its desolating track, not only ruined homesteads and blighted harvests; but, far worse, the destruction of all our hopes, of all the estimates we had formed of Him. In the world of providences the thoughts of His love, based on yesterday's peace and prosperity, all denied and swept away by to-day's sorrows and adversities, -- awful, agonizing uncertainty! And, since all is surely in His hand, to be compelled to recognize that He permits, at least, these alternations "to the end that (with that express purpose) man should find nothing of what shall be after Him"! Reason, or Intelligence, with all her highest powers, stands hopeless and helpless before that dark future, and wrings her hands in agony.
But look, my beloved reader, at that man who speeds his way with fleet and steady footfall. His swift tread speaks no uncertainty nor doubt of mind. Mark the earnest, concentrated, forward look. His eye is upward, and something he sees there is drawing him with powerful magnetic attraction quite contrary to the course or path of men at large. He presses against the stream: the multitude are floating in the other direction. As with the kine of Bethshemesh, some hidden power takes him in a course quite contrary to all the ties or calls of mere nature. Look at him, -- irrespective of anything else, the figure itself is a grand sight. The path he has chosen lies through the thorny shrubs of endurance, afflictions, necessities, distresses, stripes, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watchings, and fastings. No soft or winsome meadow-way this, nor one that any would choose, except he were under some strong conviction, -- whether true or false, -- that will surely be admitted. For men have at rare times suffered much even in the cause of error; but never for that which they themselves knew to be false, and which at the same time brought them no glory, -- nothing to feed their vanity, or pride, or exalt them in any way. Admit, then, for a moment, that he is self-deceived, under some strong delusion, and that the object of which he is in pursuit is but a phantom. Then mark the path in which that phantom leads: it has turned him from being a blasphemer, persecutor, and an insolent, overbearing man (1 Tim.1), into one of liveliest affections, most tender sympathies, a lowly servant of all; it has given him a joy that no wave of trouble can quench, a song that dungeons cannot silence, a transparent truthfulness which permits a lie nowhere; and all this results from that which is in itself a delusion, -- a lie! Oh, holy "delusion"! Oh, wondrous, truth-loving, wonder-working "lie"! Was ever such a miracle, that a falsehood works truth? -- that a delusion, instead of leading into marsh, or bog, or quicksand, as other will-o'-the-wisps ever and always have, leads along a morally elevated path where every footstep rings with the music of divine certainty, as though it trod upon a rock! Such a miracle, contrary to all reason, is worthy of acceptance only by the blind, childish, credulity of infidelity. Whatever the object before him, then, it is real; his convictions are soberly and well founded; he runs his race to no visionary, misty goal; but some actual reality is the lode-star of his life. Let us listen to his own explanation: "forgetting those things that are being, reaching forth unto those that are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." But Solomon, the wisest of the wise, groans no man can find out "that which shall come after him"; or, in other words, that future of which Paul sings: I have heard a voice that has called from heaven, and looking up I have seen a Light that has darkened every other. One in beauty and attraction infinite, -- to Him I press. He is before me, and not till Him I reach will I rest. Blessed contrast!
Now, my dear reader, let us also seek to keep our eye on that same Object, for the man at whom we have been looking is one just like ourselves, with every passion that we have, and the One who drew him can draw you and me, -- Who satisfied him can satisfy us, for He who loved and died for him has loved and died for us.
And since we are not now contemplating the wondrous cross, but His glory, let us sing together: --
Oh, my Saviour glorified!
Worthy of the sweetest praise
For those clust'ring glories prove
Holy Light, whose searching ray
Hark, my soul! Thy Saviour sings;
For no film of shade above
Find I then on God's own breast
Oh, my Saviour glorified,
But the Preacher's experiences of anomalies are by no means ended. These alternations of adversity and prosperity, he says, whilst there is no forecasting when they will come, so there seems to be no safeguard, even in righteousness and wisdom, against them. They are not meted out here at all on the lines of righteousness. The just man dies in his righteousness, whilst the wicked lives on in his wickedness: therefore be not righteous overmuch; do not abstain, or withdraw thyself, from the natural blessings of life, making it joyless and desolate; but then err not on the other side, going into folly and licentiousness, -- a course which naturally tends to cut off life itself. It is the narrow way of philosophy: as said the old Latins, "Medio tutissimus ibis," "midway is safety"; but Solomon is here again, as we have seen before, on a far higher moral elevation than any of the heathen philosophers, for he has one sheet-anchor for his soul from the evils of either extreme, in the fear of God.
As for the despairing, hopeless groans of "vanity," we, with our God-given grace, learn to feel pity for our Author, so for his moral elevation do we admire him, whilst for his sincerity and love of truth we learn to respect and love him. See in the next few verses that clear, cold, true, reason of his, confessing the narrow limits of its powers, and yet the whole soul longs, as if it would burst all bars to attain to that which shall solve its perplexity. "Thus far have I attained by wisdom," he says, "and yet still I cry for wisdom. I see far off the place where earth can reach and touch the heavens; but when, by weary toil and labor, I reach that spot, those heavens are as inimitably high above me as ever, and an equally long journey lies between me and the horizon where they meet. Oh, that I might be wise; but it was far from me."
Now, in our version, the next verse reads very tamely and flat, in view of the strong emotion under which it is so clear that the whole of the book was written. "That which is far off and exceeding deep, who can find it out?" The Revised, both in text and margin, gives us a hint of another thought, "That which is, or hath been, is afar off," etc. But other scholars, in company with the Targum and many an old Jewish writer, lift the verse into harmony with the impassioned utterances of this noble man, as he expresses in broken ejaculatory phrase his longings and his powerlessness:
"Far off, the past, -- what is it?
He must unravel the mystery, and turns thus, once more, with his sole companion, his own heart, to measure everything, -- even sin, folly, impiety, -- and more bitter even than that bitter death that has again and again darkened all his counsel and dashed his hopes, is one awful evil that he has found.
One was nearest Adam in the old creation. Taken from his side, a living one, she was placed at his side to share with him his wide dominion over that fair, unsullied scene. Strong where he was weak, and weak where he was strong, how evidently was she meant of an all-gracious and all-wise Creator as a true helpmeet for him: his complement -- filling up his being. But that old creation is as a vessel reversed, so that the highest is now the lowest, -- the best has become the worst, -- the closest may be the most dangerous; and foes spring even from within households. Intensified disorder and confusion! When she who was so clearly intended by her strength of affection to call into rightful play the affections of man's heart, whose very weakness and dependence should call forth his strength -- alas, our writer has found that that heart is too often a snare and a net, and those hands drag down to ruin the one to whom they cling. It is the clearest sign of God's judgment to be taken by those nets and bands, as of his mercy, to escape them. Thus evil ever works, dual -- as is good -- in character. Opposed to the Light and Love of God we find a liar and murderer in Satan himself; corruption and violence in man, under Satan's power. The weaker vessel makes up for lack of strength by deception; and whilst the man of the earth expresses the violence, so the woman of the earth has become, ever and always, the expression of corruption and deceit, as here spoken of by our preacher, "her heart snares and nets; her hands as bands."
But further in his search for wisdom, the Preacher has found but few indeed who would or could accompany him in his path. A man here and there, one in a thousand, would be his companion, but no single woman. This statement strongly evidences that the gospel is outside his sphere; the new creation is beyond his ken. He takes into no account the sovereign grace of God, that in itself can again restore, and more than restore, all to their normal conditions, and make the weaker vessel fully as much a vessel unto honor as the stronger, giving her a wide and blessed sphere of activity; in which love -- the divine nature within -- may find its happy exercise and rest. Naturally, and apart from this grace, the woman does not give herself to the same exercise of mind as does the man.
But then, is it thus that man came from his Maker's hands? Has He, who stamped His own perfection on all His works, permitted an awful hideous exception in the moral nature of man? Does human reason admit such a possible incongruity? No, indeed. Folly may claim license for its lusts in the plea of a nature received from a Creator. Haughty pride, on the other hand, may deny that nature altogether. The clearer, nobler, truer, philosophy of our writer justifies God, even in view of all the evil that makes him groan, and he says, "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions."
Interesting as well as beautiful it is to hear this conclusion of man's reason, not at all in view of the exceeding riches of God's grace, but simply looking at facts, in the light that Nature gives. Man neither is, nor can be, an exception to the rule. God has made him upright. If not so now, it is because he has departed from this state, and his many inventions, or arts (as Luther translates the word significantly), his devices, his search after new things (but the word "inventions" expresses the thought of the original correctly), are so many proofs of dissatisfaction and unrest.
He may, in that pride, which turns everything to its own glory, point to these very inventions as evidences of his progress; and in a certain way they do unquestionably speak his intelligence and immense superiority over the lower creation. Yet the very invention bespeaks need; for most truthful is the proverb, "Necessity is the mother of invention"; and surely in the way of Nature necessity is not a glory, but a shame. Let him glory in his inventions, then; and his glory is in his shame. Adam in his Eden of delights, upright, content, thought never of invention. He took from God's hand what God gave, with no need to make calls upon his own ingenuity to supply his longings. The fall introduces the inventive faculty, and human ingenuity begins to work to overcome the need, of which now, for the first time, man becomes aware; but we hear no singing in connection with that first invention of the apron of fig-leaves. That faculty has marked his path throughout the centuries. Not always at one level, or ever moving in one direction, -- it has risen and fallen, with flow and ebb, as the tides; now surging upward with skillful "artifice in brass and iron," and to the music of "harp and organ," until it aims at heaven itself, and the Lord again and again interposes and abases by flood and scattering, -- now ebbing, till apparently extinct in the low-sunken tribes of earth. Its activity is the accompaniment usually of the light that God gives, and which man takes, and turns to his own boasting, with no recognition of the Giver, calling it "civilization." The Lord's saints are not, for the most part, to be found amongst the line of inventors. The seed of Cain, and not the seed of Seth, produces them. The former make the earth their home, and naturally seek to beautify it, and make it comfortable. The latter, with deepest soul-thirst, quenched by rills of living water springing not here; with heart-longings satisfied by an infinite, tender, divine Love, pass through the earth strangers and pilgrims, to the Rest of God.
Let us glance forward a little. The Church is not found on earth; but the earth still is the scene of man's invention; and with that surpassing boast "opposing and exalting himself above all that is called God, or is worshiped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God showing himself that he is God," he heads up his wickedness and ingenuity together, in calling down fire from heaven and in making "the image of the beast to breathe." (Rev. xiii.14, 15.) 'Tis his last crowning effort, -- his day is over, -- and the flood and the scattering of old shall have their awful antitype in an eternal judgment and everlasting abasing.
But the heavenly saints have been caught up to their home. Is there invention there? Does human ingenuity still work? How can it, if every heart is fully satisfied, and nothing can be improved? But then is all at one dead level? No, surely; for "discovery" shall abide when "invention" has vanished away, -- constant, never-ceasing "discovery." The unfoldings, hour by hour, and age by age, of a Beauty that is infinite and inexhaustible, -- the tasting a new and entrancing perfection in a Love in which every moment shows some fresh attraction, some new sweet compulsion to praise!
Discovery is already "ours," my reader -- not invention; and each day, each hour, each moment, may be fruitful in discovery. Every difficulty met in the day's walk may prove but its handmaid; every trial in the day's path serve but to bring out new and happy discoveries. Nay, even grief and sorrow shall have their sweet discoveries, and open up to sight fountains of water hitherto altogether unknown, as with the outcast Egyptian mother in the wilderness of Paran, till we learn to glory in what hitherto was our sorrow, and to welcome infirmities and ignorance, for they show us a spring of infinite Strength and a fountain of unfathomable Wisdom, that eternal Love puts at our service! Oh, to grow in Faith's Discoveries!
Philip had a grand opportunity for "discovery," in the sixth of John; but, poor man, he lost it; for he fell back on creature resources, or, in other words, "Invention." Brought face to face with difficulty, how good it would have been for him to have said, "Lord Jesus, I am empty of wisdom, nor have I any resources to meet this need; but my heart rests in Thee: I joy in this fresh opportunity for Thee to display Thy glory, for thou knowest what Thou wilt do." Oh, foolish Philip, to talk of every one having a little, in that Presence of infinite Love, infinite Power. Do I thus blame him? Then let this day see me looking upward at every difficulty, and saying "Lord, Thou knowest what Thou wilt do."
The morning breaks, my heart awakes,
Am I to roam afar from home,
The mists hang dank, on front and flank,
Nor this alone would make me groan, --
Thus I'm beset with foes, and yet
For never haze dims upward gaze, --
And like the dew each dayspring new
No wisdom give; I'd rather live
No strength I ask, for Thine the task
Then Lord, thy breast is, too, my rest;
Yes, e'en on earth may song have birth,