Say not you, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for you do not inquire wisely concerning this.
It appears from this passage that a tendency of mind with which we are familiar - a tendency to paint the past in glowing colors - is of ancient date, and indeed it is probably a consequence of human nature itself.
I. THE QUESTIONABLE ASSERTION. We often heat' it affirmed, as the author of this book had heard it affirmed, that the former days were better than these. There are politicians in whose opinion the country was formerly more happy and prosperous than now; farmers who fancy that crops were larger, and merchants who believe that trade was more profitable, in former days; students who prefer ancient literature to modern; Christian men who place the age of faith and piety in some bygone period of history. It has ever been so, and is likely to be so in the future. Others who will come after us will regard our age as we regard the ages that have passed away.
II. THE GROUND UPON WHICH THE QUESTIONABLE ASSERTION IS MADE.
1. Dissatisfaction with the present. It is in times of pain, loss, adversity, disappointment, that men are most given to extol the past, and to forget its disadvantages as well as the privileges and immunities of the present.
2. The illusiveness of the imagination. The aged are not only conscious of their feebleness and their pains; they recall the days of their youth, and paint the scenes and experiences of bygone times in colors supplied by a fond, deceptive fancy. The imaginative represent to themselves a state of the world, a condition of society, a phase of the Church, which never had real existence. By feigning all prosperity and happiness to have belonged to a past age, they remove their fancies from the range of contradiction. All things to their vision become lustrous and fair with "the light that never was on land or sea."
III. THE UNWISDOM OF INQUIRING FOE AN EXPLANATION OF A BELIEF WHICH IS PROBABLY UNFOUNDED. Experience teaches us that, before asking for the cause, it is well to assure ourselves of the fact. Why a thing is presumes that the thing is. Now, in the case before us, the fact is so questionable, and certainty with regard to it is so difficult, if not unattainable, that it would be a waste of time to enter upon the inquiry here supposed.
APPLICATION. Vain regrets as to the past are as unprofitable as are complaints as to the present. What concerns us is the right use of circumstances appointed for us by a wise Providence. Whether or not the former times were better than these, the times upon which we have fallen are good enough for us to use to our own moral and spiritual improvement, and at the same time they are bad enough to call for all our consecrated powers to do what in us lies - little as that may be - to mend them. - T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.