Ecclesiastes 7:16, 17
Be not righteous over much; neither make yourself over wise: why should you destroy yourself ?…
This language must be interpreted in accordance with the rules of rhetoric; it is intended to convey a certain impression, to produce a certain effect; and this it doer The Preacher aims at inculcating moderation, at cautioning the reader against what a modern poet has termed "the falsehood of extremes." In interpreting this very effective language we must not analyze it as a scientific statement, but receive the impression which it was designed to convey.
I. HUMAN NATURE IS PRONE TO EXTREMES. In how many instances may it be observed that a person is no sooner convinced that a certain object is desirable, a certain course is to be approved, than he will hear and think of nothing else! Is liberty good? Then away with all restraints! Is self-denial good? Then away with all pleasures! Is the Bible the best of books? Then let no other volume be opened! Is our own country to be preferred to all beside? Then let no credit be allowed to foreigners for anything they may do!
II. THIS TENDENCY TO EXTREMES IS OWING TO THE DOMINANCE OF FEELING. Calm reason would check such a tendency; but the voice of reason is silenced by passion or prejudice. Impulsive natures are hurried into unreasoning and extravagant opinions and habits of conduct. The momentum of a powerful emotion is very great; it may urge men onwards to an extent unexpected and dangerous. Whilst under the guidance of sober reason, feeling may be the motive power to virtue and usefulness; but when uncontrolled it may hurry into folly and disaster.
III. YIELDING TO THIS TENDENCY OCCASIONS THE LOSS OF SELF-RESPECT AND OF SOCIAL INFLUENCE. The man of extremes must, in his cooler moments of reflection, admit to himself that he has acted the part of an irrational being. And he certainly gains among his acquaintances the reputation of a fanatic; and even when he has sound and sober counsel to give, little heed is taken of his judgment.
IV. MODERATION IS USUALLY THE WISEST AND JUSTEST PRINCIPLE OF HUMAN CONDUCT. A great moralist taught the ancient Greeks that the ethical virtues lie between extremes, and adduced many very striking instances of his law. Bravery lies between foolhardiness and cowardice; liberality between profusion and niggardliness, etc. That a very insufficient theory of morals was provided by this doctrine of "the mean" would universally be admitted. Yet no account of virtue can be satisfactory which does not point out the importance of guarding against those extremes of conduct into which men are liable to be hurried by the gusts of passion that sweep over their nature. Who has not learned by experience that broad, unqualified assertions are usually false, and that violent, one-sided courses of action are in most cases harmful and regrettable? There is wisdom in the old adage which boys learn in their Latin grammar, In medio tutissimus ibis. - T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?