All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perishes in his righteousness…
The Preacher is not now in his noblest mood; he offers us a morality to which he himself at other times rises superior, and which cannot be pronounced worthy by those who have heard the great Teacher and learnt of him. We will look at -
I. THE LOWER STANDARD HERE HELD UP.
1. His view of sin. And here we find three things with which we are dissatisfied.
(1) Sin is not represented to us as in itself an intolerable thing (ver. 17). We are allowed to think of it as something that would be allowable if indulged within certain limits; and if it did no serious injury to our life or to our health. But we know that, apart from its fatal consequences, all wickedness is "an abominable thing which God hates," an essentially evil thing.
(2) The invariable penalty of sin is overlooked. We are not reminded that wickedness always makes us suffer, in spirit if not in health, in soul if not in circumstance.
(3) We are likened to one another rather than with the Holy One (vers. 20-22). The strain is this: we need not be much troubled by the presence of some sin in our hearts and lives; all men are guilty, and we are only like our fellows; if there be those who are reproaching us, we are censuring them in return; we are standing on the same level, though it may be a common condemnation.
2. His view of righteousness. The Preacher sees two unsatisfactory features in righteousness.
(1) It does not always prolong life and secure success (ver. 15).
(2) It leads the best men into a painful loneliness. "Why shouldest thou be desolate? (ver. 16, marginal reading); i.e. why be so honest and so pure and so true that thou canst not associate with the unscrupulous, whose standard is lower than thine own? Be content with that measure of righteousness which comes up to the common standard. Such is the Preacher's counsel in this mood of his. But we who have learnt of a Greater and Wiser than he, of him who was not only the wisest of men but the Wisdom of God," cannot be satisfied with this; we aspire to something loftier and worthier; we must rise to -
II. THE HIGHER STANDARD. Taught of Jesus Christ, we:
1. Have a truer view of sin. We regard it as a thing which is only and utterly evil, offensive to God, constantly and profoundly injurious to ourselves, to be hated and shunned in every sphere, to be cleansed from heart and life.
2. Have a truer conception of righteousness. We look upon it as
(1) that which is in itself precious beyond all price;
(2) that which allies us to God in nature and character;
(3) that which is to be cherished and pursued at all costs whatever;
(4) that which makes our present life beautiful and noble, and leads on to fax greater excellence and far deeper joy hereafter. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness.