Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
I. THE HOUSE OF GOD. By this is to be understood no doubt a place, a building, probably the temple at Jerusalem. But clearly it follows from this language that in the view of the writer of Ecclesiastes the idea of the locality, the edifice, is almost lost sight of in the idea of the spiritual presence of Jehovah, and in the society and fellowship of sincere and devout worshippers. God, it was well understood, dwelleth not in temples made with hands, but abideth in his people's hearts.
II. THE SACRIFICE OF FOLLY. In every large gathering of professed worshippers there is reason to fear there are those with whom worship is nothing but a form, a custom. The sacrifice of such is outward only; their postures, their words, may be unexceptionable, but the heart is absent from the service. Inattention, want of true interest, unspirituality, take the place of those penitential acknowledgments - that heavenward aspiration - which are acceptable to him who searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of the children of men. The sacrifice of such formal and irreverent worshippers is justly designated a sacrifice of fools. They consider not their own nature, their own needs; they consider not the attributes of him whom they profess to approach with the language of adoration, of gratitude, of petition. They are, therefore, not only irreligious; they are foolish, and they seem to say to every sensible observer that they are fools.
III. THE WORSHIP OF THE WISE. In contrast with the careless and undevout we have here depicted the spirit and the demeanor of true worshippers. They are characterized by:
1. Self-restraint. The modest repression of all that savors of self-assertion seems to be intended by the admonition, "Keep thy foot," which is as much as to say, "Take heed to thy steps, observe with care thy way, wander not from the path of sincerity, beware of indifference and of obtrusiveness.'
2. Reference. Such as becomes the creature in approaching the Creator in whose hand his breath is, and whose are all his ways; such as becomes the sinner in addressing a holy God, whose Law has been broken, whose favor has to be implored.
3. A spirit of attentive and submissive hearing. "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth," is language becoming to the lowly and reverent worshipper; he shall be made acquainted with God's Law, and he shall rejoice in God's promises. - T.
Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God.
I. ONE'S PROPER BEARING IN THE LORD'S HOUSE (vers. 1-7).
1. In the first three verses carelessness and loose speech are condemned in all who come into the presence chamber of the Almighty. So it is when subjects appear before any sovereign to do him honour or make request. Exact address and studied phrase are required. The free and easy spirit which will not regard these is expelled hastily and with great indignation. Earthly dignities are but a faint type of the heavenly. The soul which faintly realizes this will come before Him with "few words," if he be a Sinaitic worshipper; "in fulness of faith" and "with boldness," if he be a Christian believer.
2. In the further admonition, hasty and ill-considered pledges are forbidden. Impetuous promising is the worst kind of trifling, and the Church or person who incites another to it only works him harm. We are in agreement with the Mosaic legislation regarding such impiety, "If thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee." Sin lies, not in the refusal to make a partial and ill-considered pledge to God, but in not heeding that first of all His commands, "Give me thine heart." Cordial assent to this requirement makes one an accepted worshipper, whose acts and words do not conflict when he appears before God. Thoughtless, giddy, garrulous lips here are an abomination unto Him. One might better be dreaming and know it.
II. THE DUTY OF RELYING UPON THE DIVINE JUSTICE (vers. 8, 9). The victims of tyranny and wrong have not ceased wailing. We hear their pitiful cries in every era of the world's history.
III. THE DELUSIVE CHARACTER OF WEALTH (vers. 10-12). To denounce riches generally is as though one inveighed against the air: all men breathe it. All men just as naturally long for these material treasures. But our lungs are fitted to receive only a certain volume; we cannot use more. We cannot store it for consumption, enjoying it all the more that others have not as much. And the like is true of these earthly possessions. Beyond the mere provision for food, and raiment, and shelter, and our varied tastes, they have no power to minister, though piled high and broad as the pyramids. "He cannot reach to feel them," as the philosopher says. Yet the deceit is universal, that the more one can amass the nearer he will come to perfect contentment. He will not believe that he chases thus only a shadow — that it is as far from his embrace when he counts his millions as when he had only units. He may as well expect to quench his thirst by drinking of the ocean.
(De Wm. S. Clark.)
I. WORSHIP (vers. 1-7).
1. The proper manner of worship is here suggested to us. It mush be with a full intention of the heart and not merely with the outward symbols. Always in worship, even when it is most freed of external props, there is the opportunity for a lack of right intention, and, therefore, a lack of meaning to God as well as to men. Worship must always be interpreted by the condition of heart of the worshipper.(1) Thought is necessary to due worship (ver. 1). It would be a good thing for every one of us if we would ask ourselves as we pass through the portals of God's house, "Do I really mean to worship God this hour?" If we cannot say yes, would it not be better for us not to enter?(2) Deliberateness is necessary to acceptable worship (ver. 2). To be rash with our mouth, to rattle off a formula, however well constructed, without weighing the meaning, this is not to please God.(3) Brevity is a virtue in worshipful utterance. God is high above us; we are here in a position that should make us most deeply respectful towards Him. We should use well-weighed words before Him, and well-weighed words are few. The touching prayers of the Bible — the publican's, Christ's on the cross, Soul's at his conversion — were brief.
2. Vows formed a considerable element in the old Jewish worship, and are more or less recognized in the New Testament. We promise to do certain things: to be faithful to Christ and His Church, to love our fellow-Christians, to obey those who are over us in Christ, etc. These are vows, pledges given to God, and they should be kept as scrupulously as we would keep a business obligation signed with our own hand.
II. A difficult passage concerning STATECRAFT follows. The State may be mismanaged, but it is wisest to make the best of it. "If thou seest oppression of the poor and violation of justice and righteousness in the government of a province, be not astonished at the matter. Such perversion of state-craft is not confined to the petty officials whose deeds you know. Clear up to the top of the Government it is apt to be the same. For there is a high one over a high one watching, and higher persons over them, and all are pretty much alike" (ver. 8). "But the advantage of a land in every way is a king devoted to the field" (ver. 9). The idea here is that the old simple agricultural form of government was the best for the people of that day. The general meaning is that good government comes from having rulers who are not rapacious for their own aggrandizement, but have the interests of the country at heart.
III. The matter of RICHES, which requires such special thought to-day, when riches come easily and to many, was not without its importance in the olden time.
1. Wealth then as now was unsatisfying (ver. 10). It held out promises which it had no power to fulfil. It said to men, "Be rich and you will be happy." They became rich, but they were not happy. The soul is made to crave the most ethereal kind of food; but the rich man tries to satisfy it with coarse things. It is made to hunger for the things of heaven; he thrusts upon it the things of earth.
2. Here also is emphasized the thought that the increase of wealth is not satisfying (ver. 11).
3. And then comes the old lesson, which many a rich man has confessed to be true, but which those who are not rich find it very hard to believe true, that labour with contentment is better than wealthy idleness (ver. 12). Many a successful millionaire has confessed that his happiest hours were in the beginning of his career, when he felt that he must work hard for his wife and babies, and when he returned home at night with a sweet sense of contented fatigue that never comes now in his anxious days of great prosperity."
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Homilist.I. THAT YOU SHOULD ENTER THE SCENE OF PUBLIC WORSHIP WITH DEVOUT PREPARATION. "Keep thy foot," etc. The mad whom Solomon addresses is supposed to be on his way to the house of God. The character of a man's step is often an index to the state of his soul. There is the slow step of the dull brain and the quick step of the intensely active; there is the step of the proud and the step of the humble, the thoughtless and the reflective. The soul reveals itself in the gait, beats out its own character in the tread.
1. Realize the scene you are entering. It is "the house of God." Whom are you to meet? "The high and holy One," etc. Draw not hither thoughtlessly. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet," etc. (Exodus 3:5). "How dreadful is this place!" etc. (Genesis 28:16, 17). Do not rush hither.
2. Realize the solemnity of the purpose. It is to meet with the Mighty Creator of the universe, whom you have offended and insulted. It is to confess to Him, and to implore His forgiveness.
II. THAT YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO THE INSTRUCTION OF PUBLIC WORSHIP WITH DEEP ATTENTION. Having entered the house of God, it is your duty to be more "ready to hear, than to offer the sacrifice of fools."
1. You should attend with profound carefulness to the services of God's house, that you may avoid a great evil, — that of "offering the sacrifice of fools." Mere bodily sacrifices are the sacrifice of fools (Ezekiel 33:31). Lip services are the sacrifice of fools (Isaiah 29:13). The hypocritical services are the sacrifices of fools (Luke 18:11. 12). What are the sacrifices that God will accept? (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 66:2).
2. You should attend with profound carefulness to the services of God's house that your mind may be in a right state to receive true good. "Be more ready to hear," etc.(1) Be ready to hear teachably. Let the soul be open as the parched garden in summer to the gentle showers.(2) Be ready to hear earnestly. Wonderful things are propounded in the house of God; things vitally connected with your everlasting well-being.(3) Be ready to hear practically. All the truths are to be appropriated, embodied, and brought out in life.
III. THAT YOU SHOULD ATTEND TO THE ENGAGEMENTS OF PUBLIC WORSHIP WITH PROFOUND REVERENCE. "Be not rash with thy mouth," etc. Let thy words be in harmony with thy real state of soul; and see that thy state of soul is truthful and right. There seem to be two reasons here against vapid verbosity in worship.
1. The vast disparity between the worshipper and the object he addresses. "For God is in heaven," etc. Duly realize His presence and greatness, and you will become all but speechless before Him. Isaiah did so (Isaiah 6:1-6).
2. The fearful tendency of an empty soul to an unmeaning verbosity (ver. 3).
The prayer and the dream: — There is an analogy instituted between voluminous prayer and the voluminous dream. The dream arises out of the various transactions of business, and the fool's prayer springs from the variety of his vocabulary. Confusion is the characteristic of both. They are produced by external influences. The soul as a directing rational power is asleep. Dim memories of things mingle in a wild phantasmagoria before the closed portals of the sense of the dreamer. It is just so with the worshipping word-monger. The nature and character of God, the promises, Scripture language, are floating before the closed vision of the pietistic dreamer, and his prayers are a jumble of disjointed things. This will always be the case with him who gives himself up to the external influences. But as it is better to dream than to be dead, so is it always better to pray, even disjointedly and wildly, than to be without that breath of the spiritual life. The mere enthusiast, guided by no reason in his devotions, may be brought under its direction; but how shall mere reason become enthusiastic? We answer, by the action of the Spirit of God on the soul. What we need is this Spirit. We can prophesy to the dry bones, and clothe them with flesh; but the Spirit of God is needed that they may stand up and become an army of God. "Come, O breath, and breathe on those slain, that they may live," is to be our prayer. When we have got the answer to that petition, we shall be living, loving, active Christians.
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