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Answer to C. F's Query respecting Eccles.
See Theol. Misc, for Oct. 17 86.
In explaining the word of God, we should remember that there is in every portion one precise meaning, previously to our employing our ingenu. ity upon it, which it is our business, with reverent attention to investigate. To discover that meaning, we should soberly and carefully examine the context, and consider the portion in question in the relation in which it stands,
Now whatever difficulties may occur in the book of Ecclesiastes, the grand scope of it is evi. dent; namely, from experiment and observation to form a practical proof of the vanity of all worldly possessions, enjoyments, attainments, and distinctions; from which this conclusion is drawn: that “ To fear God and to keep his commandments is the whole of man:" his whole business, interest, honour, and felicity, as well as duty; all else being “vanity and vexation of spirit.”
Among other instances, the inspired writer adduces, as a case in point, this anecdote, (if I may so call it) of the poor wise man; who, though eminently useful in delivering the city by his wisdom, yet was ungratefully neglected and forgotten by his fellow-citizens; and had consequently rather mortification than benefit from his superior endowments, and the good use to which he put them; except what arose froin the satisfactions of benevolence, the testimony of his conscience, and the expectation of a gracious recompence from God.
What city this was, or who the great king that besieged it, or who the wise man that delivered it were, may employ man's curiosity, but can never be known by us, and is nothing at all to our purpose. But it is much to our purpose to learn from this scripture,
1. That even wisdom, (i. e. superior abilities improved by learning, and matured by experience and observation,) though far the most valuable of natural distinctions, yet abstracted from religion, and considered merely with reference to our situation in life, can do just nothing towards rendering us happy; but is equally vain and vexatious with those other distinctions that nature values and grace despises. When accompanied with external wealth, authority, and eminence, it exposes a man to the more malignant opposition, and envy, (and “ who can stand before envy?) When found in a poor obscure
the benefit; but it does not rescue the possessor from hardship and penury, whilst it em
bitters them with more exquisite sensibility, irri. tated by disappointment, and the ingratitude which he experiences.
Thus “ all is vanity;" and we are taught to despair of happiness from ourselves and the world, and to seek it from God alone.
2. We may hence learn to do good from higher motives, than the expectations of gratitude, respect, praise, or kindness from man; viz. out of love to God, gratitude to the Author of all our mercies, disinterested benevolence, and an expeco tation of the gracious recompence to be conferred at the resurrection of the just. Thus we shall “ not “be weary of well-doing,” which otherwise we shall be, first or last, through the perverseness and ingratitude of mankind.
3. We are taught to watch and pray against such a perverted judgment, as is here stigmatized. It is very common to judge of the action by the person, not the person by the action; and to neg. lect, nay despise and condemn, the very same things in one, which we affect to admire in another. External prosperity, greatness, or reputation, give a splendour to trivial actions; and it becomes fashionable, and even creditable, to applaud; in so doing men consult their own reputation, and endeavour to obtain admiration by being admirers of an admired character. But
poverty and obscurity cloud and degrade even what is really excellent; and he who can confer no eclat, must expect few to notice bim. But this is a very unreasonable prejudice, looks very ill in the example before us, is condemned by St. James,' and should be avoided by the followers of the meek and lowly Jesus,
.- 4. We are taught to prefer solid usefulness, to empty praise. The poor wise man's services, though forgotten by man, are recorded with honour in holy writ. We are all greatly beset with the teniptation of preferring the approbation of men to real usefulness; but we should remem. ber that however now neglected, the latter will be“ found to praise, and honour, and glory;" when the former shall end in shame and everlasting contempt.
Lastly, We are taught to beware of forgetting our benefactors, especially such inferiors as have been serviceable to us; who are liable to be neg. lected in proportion as they need our grateful assistance. Had a rich and prosperous person been ihus forgotten, it had been of less consequence, but the case of the poor man was very hard. Perhaps we have some poor benefactor concerning whom we may ask, as Ahasuerus of Mor. decai, what hath been done to him for this ser
! James ii. 3-5.
vice? and perhaps conscience may answer, Nothing. This hint may have its use.
These lessons we may learn from the plain meaning of this scripture; and though they do not decide any question about justification, efficacious
grace, or the believer's privileges, (which are abundantly declared in other scriptures ;) yet they are of important use in forming the christian's judgment, and directing his conduct. And I would gladly know by what authority any man, overlooking these plain useful instructions, by the help of a warm imagination, sets himself to find gospel mysteries in this passage? We should not a priori have looked for a delineation of doctrinal truth in such a subject as Solomon is treating of. We can scarcely by fair interpretation, find one explicit word of the distinguishing doc tripes of grace in the whole book; and it would puzzle the most ingenious of these fanciful expositors fairly to accommodate the circumstances of this story to the work of redemption. Two purposes indeed, such as they are, may be answered by such interpretation.
1. Loose professors are encouraged in their vain confidence, by hearing that none of the redeemed are more mindful of, or thankful to their Saviour than themselves, “ No man remembered that same
poor man:" In diametrical opposition to the whole current of scripture, wbich declares, that