The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The Vanity of Pleasure
By reading the two chapters together we get a good notion of Coheleth"s world, and of the world which is possible to any man who has abundant leisure and plenty of money. Coheleth tried to shape out a world which would be approved by wisdom—that Isaiah, by information and understanding of things; and he soon found that it was bounded on the one hand by the Unknowable, and on the other by the Impossible. Then he would try what money could do, and the result of his money-spending he gives in this chapter. He would not spend it in a foolish way, but lay it out to the best advantage. He would constitute himself into a kind of Board of Works, and do things on a large and commanding scale. Alongside with this he would enjoy all possible personal pleasure, and make life as far as possible at once ornamental and useful. Coheleth girds himself together for a great and final task, and the result of that task, as well as the process of its accomplishment, we have now to consider.
"I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity" ( Ecclesiastes 2:1).
Coheleth made a set business of this profit-finding. This was no hasty, ill-methodised scheme, but something done by a regular programme and carried out with systematic discipline. Other people had made snatches at pleasure and profit, and their foolish lives had been a useless game, displaying much energy and resulting in nothing; but he determined to make a business of it, and to humble the proud and mocking world. This determination, backed by large resources, ought to end in something good, if any good was possible. Coheleth was the rich man in the Gospel before his time,—the man who said, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry."
"I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life" ( Ecclesiastes 2:2-3).
He would drink a good deal and study a good deal. He tried intoxication for the body and inspiration for the mind. "I resolved to draw my flesh with wine;" I will not live a cold, starved, shivering life, but will deal generously with myself. "He who drinks water thinks water." I will mingle strong wine; and as good jewels should have good setting, I will quaff the glowing liquor out of goblets gold inside and out, and chased by cunning hands. I will spur the laggardly flesh, and make it keep up in the hot race with my aspiring and persistent mind. I will give my mind to meditation, and answer the riddles which have vexed the aphorists and psalmists, the seers and sages of Israel. The king will write his proud name under every enigma, and by the breath of his genius he will dispel the cloud which settles on all human thinking. How keen was his tone! How resolute is this kingly temper! Judgment had been pronounced upon this process before, but the judgment might have been pronounced upon a series of accidents, rather than upon a skilfully-devised and resolutely-executed plan. The former judgment was: "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise." That judgment said, interrogatively and affirmatively: "Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder." This might have been a partial judgment in the view of Coheleth. So we reason about the follies and disasters of other men: we think that if the whole matter had been planned out beforehand regularly and definitely, and if all the lines had been kept in their places, a very different issue might have been eventuated. So Coheleth will give himself to wine and to wisdom; he will not drink like a fool, but like a philosopher; and at the end we shall see whether the wine or the wisdom was the stronger force.
"I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me" ( Ecclesiastes 2:4-9).
Coheleth begins by driving idleness off the premises, and therein he begins wisely. No idle man can be happy. No late riser sees the beauties of the morning. The sun will not allow the dew to wait the coming of the sluggard. Industry is God"s medicine, God"s blessing, God"s preventive of a thousand mischiefs. So Coheleth would live a busy life and make other people as busy as himself. "I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards." So the happy programme of industry unfolds its long and energetic scroll. Then see Coheleth in his sanctum with many papers before him,—plans of gardens, plans of reservoirs, plans of fountains, plans of vineyards: money no object; distance no consideration: he will build a heaven in his own grounds, and shut out the devil with bricks well burnt and well laid. See the king "going out early in the morning from Jerusalem to the famed rocks of Etam, a fertile region delightful with paradises and running springs: thither the king in robes of white rode in his chariot, escorted by a troop of mounted archers, chosen for their youth and stature and clad in Tyrian purple, whose long hair, powdered with gold-dust, sparkled in the sun." And away they went to find heaven, or to make it if they found it not. What could stand before them? The greatest of kings, the strongest of archers, the fleetest of horses!—they must get all they want though they have to pluck it from the very stars, or raise it from below the bed of the rocks. "I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees." How merrily the story runs! There are no breaks or crooks in all the flowing strain; there is no halting here, no limping, no failure. The story is not, "I wanted to do it; I wished to do it; I tried to do it;" but "I did it!" I blew a blast on the king"s trumpet, and people came pouring down the hills and surging up the valleys to do the king"s pleasure. I touched the mountains of difficulty, and they fled away in smoke; I stamped my foot, and rivers parted to let me through dryshod; I waved my hand, and the threatening clouds broke up in smiles. My horses covered the whole breadth of the road, and if any man saw me coming he fled in reverence, and made haste to clear the way for the king. I was determined to make all things beautiful, to throw verdure over the bare rocks, to trim the unkempt paths, and to make the earth rich with the jewellery of flowers. And lovely was Jerusalem, the city of the great king! Silver was nothing counted of, and the cedar was more plentiful than the pine, and the air was full of odours that made men glad. Yet there was something wanting. Everything was quiet, too quiet, quiet even to sadness; so I bethought me what was wanting, and asked the wise men to say what had been left out; and lo! the thing we had forgotten was music. So I gat me men singers and women singers, and musical instruments of every sort: at night the city was lulled to slumber by the tender lute, and in the morning was awakened by the clash of cymbals, and all day long the movement was rhythmic under the tone of clanging trumpets and the throb of resonant drums, lightened and vitalised by human voices full of music, rich and thrilling. The dwellers upon the mountains caught the cadence and danced with ecstasy; yea, the enemy heard it and fled from the city of the Lord. Nor was I yet content. "Whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy." Wherever there was a niche I enriched it with a statue. Wherever there was a corner I planted a tree. I caused the willing water to run everywhere to please the eye and make the hidden roots glad in the time of drought. I filled up the outline utterly to the very last point, nor did I hesitate to add gold to gold and beauty to beauty, until for richness and loveliness Jerusalem was the joy of the whole earth. "And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen: and he had a thousand and four hundred chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen, whom he bestowed in the cities for chariots, and with the king at Jerusalem.... And Solomon had horses brought out of Egypt, and linen yarn." "She gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices great abundance, and precious stones: neither was there any such spice as the queen of Sheba gave king Solomon."
Now let us hear what Coheleth says of the whole mountain of his greatness.
"Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun" ( Ecclesiastes 2:11).
But nothing would have convinced him or this beforehand. Every man must do his own wickedness. Every man must break his own head. Every man must burn his own fingers. We cannot believe one another. We are told that the way of transgressors is hard, but this does not deter a solitary soul from transgression; every man thinks that it will not be hard in his particular case, just as "all men think all men mortal but themselves." What is it, then, that Coheleth contributes to human experience in this history? He shows that it is not in the power of houses, vineyards, gardens, orchards, trees, and pools of water to satisfy the heart: of man. In one word, the material can never satisfy the spiritual. Build your fine houses, put on gold where you have now laid on gilt, put musical instruments in every room, make your beds of down and carpets of embroidered silk, and sit down in the midst of it on a chair of ivory, and one pang of heart-hunger will turn the whole glittering scene into ghastly mockery. You sigh for something better; for the child dead years ago; for the heart that always knew you best; for the footfall which means companionship and sympathy.
It is exactly at this point that the best results of science fail to touch the life of the heart. Science gets no further than Coheleth got Science indeed would seem to be the modern Coheleth. Its programme is ample; its industry is indomitable; it spares no money, no time, no toil. Science may say: "I made me great works; I builded me houses; I sent out my messengers afar; I searched the garden and the orchard, and dug deeply into mines far down in darkness; I chartered ships to sail in dangerous seas; I fitted out expeditions to coasts unknown, but supposed to be rich in spoil; I set men to watch the stars, to break the rocks, to study the flowers, and to pass all nature through chemic process and trial; and I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit." The heart cannot be satisfied with ashes. The mind cannot be satisfied with its own conquests. There is an aching void; there is an outgoing of desire; there is a cry of the heart which demands some better answer than its own echo.
This testimony of Coheleth should correct the discontent of men who think that if they had more they would be happier. How to eradicate this fallacy from the human heart is the great problem of all wise teachers. Man is determined to live in his circumstances and to regulate his happiness by his possessions. "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." This is frankly admitted to be true, yet that which is admitted in theory is continually contradicted in practice: another house, and we would be satisfied; another field, and the estate would be complete, and the heart would say, This is enough; an income just doubled, and behold all would be peace and sunshine. The testimony of Coheleth is before us, and it will be read as an exercise in rhetoric, but never applied as a doctrine in practical morals. How wonderfully the testimony of the king confirms the word of Jesus Christ!—"A man"s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." What is the supreme lesson of Christian experience as bearing upon this matter of worldly satisfaction? It is this: "Godliness with contentment is great gain.... And having food and raiment let us be therewith content." "I have learned, in whatsoever state I Amos, therewith to be content." The testimony of Coheleth should excite the inquiry, Is there not something more—something better than we see in this world? It is worth while passing through all the painful experience of the king to have this inquiry solemnly excited in the heart. Our quest is not to end in bitterness and disappointment, but is to show that this world is not complete in itself, and that other worlds lie within the possible conquest of man. Discontent may thus be turned to spiritual advantage; when ambition is dead the spirit of prayer may begin to awaken. When all the garden shows that it is but a decorated tomb, the soul may begin to ask itself whether there is not something beyond which faith may realise, a glorious heaven which the spirit may enjoy.
Trace human life, and see how man lays down one world after another, discontented and anxious, and looking for a better portion: the infant"s world of toys is soon abandoned; so is the boy"s world of games, amusements, and educational preparations; so is the youth"s world of plans, schemes, enterprises, and dreams of progress and wealth,—each world becomes exhausted in due time. Nothing but exhaustion will ever teach man that heaven is not on earth. He may be told this as a doctrine, and he may not intellectually dissent from the teaching, but with an incurable and unintelligible perversity he persists in digging in the earth, as if he could find some subterranean passage to celestial satisfaction and quietude. Is not our common daily life a religious parable, of which the heart; should know the meaning? What is the meaning of that heart-tug? What is the meaning of that long lingering look over the hills, as if you expected an angel to appear in the solemn cloud and fill up what is wanting in life? Think! What we want is the Son of God; the comfort of God"s grace; the love of God"s truth; and the sweet contentment of repose on the arm that is almighty, and the love that cannot die. "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." This appeal can have no effect upon man until he has exhausted all the lower fountains and gardens of pleasure. When the younger son had spent all that he had he said he would arise and go to his father. It would appear as if we too must make away with everything we hold in possession before we can arise and claim the bread of heaven. "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich." "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." God complains of a double iniquity on the part of his chosen ones: "My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." All the disappointments of life—its bitter hunger, its intolerable darkness, its inevitable grave—should drive us to seize the holy promise: "They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures." This is the great Gospel, the good tidings, the deep meaning of all that was done for the human race by the Son of God.
"And I turned myself to behold Wisdom of Solomon, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done" ( Ecclesiastes 2:12).
The man that cometh after the king can only do what the king has done, though probably on a much meaner scale. What building can be more durable than the pyramids? What can be richer than the palaces of kings? The great thing that Coheleth did for human experience was to carry a certain line of it to its uttermost extent. Suppose a man has sailed over all seas, and made special notes and charts of his voyages; suppose the whole action to have been done by the most scientific men of the time, assisted by the finest instruments, no seaman could afford to be ignorant of the researches of such voyagings and calculations. Coheleth did something like this for mankind. He tasted every cup, and wrote a label upon each: he made money do its very uttermost, and then plainly told what that uttermost was—"vanity and vexation of spirit"! This is a great contribution to have made to human history, and if people would but believe it they would be spared infinite trouble and disappointment. But every man thinks he can improve upon what Coheleth did; and so generation after generation goes on, and each rolls over the precipice unwarned by the one which went over last. Our irrationalism is more seen in morals than in anything else. In legislation we have precedents, and we consult them with critical care; in commerce we have authorities from whom we dissent only with extreme reluctance; so in navigation, in architecture, and many other pursuits; but in morals we run straight in the face of every precedent, and where on the moral chart there are marked rocks, shoals, or whirlpools, we take our life-vessel straight upon them, and so enlarge the grave of the fool and the suicide. Morally, man is insane. Intellectually, he may be a philosopher; morally, he is a madman. We often say of some people, Take him off his own particular line of reading or work, and he is almost contemptibly weak. This is true of the human race in a profound sense: we are clever, sharp, able, ingenious, thrifty, and successful; but let us go into the region of morals, and we seem not to know the right hand from the left. We will not believe Coheleth; otherwise we should say, It has been proved that happiness does not come as the result of mere possession; the money game has been played out, and is a failure; eating and drinking, display and recreation, merry dance and agile trick, have all passed on and left behind them nothing but sick hearts and wasted lives; bodily appetites have been sated, and the man has died under the glut of his unrestrained desires. This would be so; but instead of this every man goes over the same ground for himself, and though one sends messages from perdition to his surviving brethren, they heed not his burning words, but go to him in a gallop, laughing as they run down the steep and fall into the last abyss.
"Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness" ( Ecclesiastes 2:13).
Wisdom sees the true dimensions of things. Wisdom knows their value. Folly walks in the darkness, and stumbles step after step. Wisdom has resources of its own: it can live in the past; it can dream of the future; it can people solitude with sweet companionship, and fill the wilderness with corn, and wine, and fruitful fields. Folly has no inner self, no music at home, no storehouse of reflection, no harp of joy. It must go out for everything. It pays the highest price for its immediate satisfaction, and drinks the killing liquor on the premises, without laying up aught for the days that are to come. Beautiful figure this—"as far as light excelleth darkness"! How far is that? Can we lay a measuring line on that vast space? Look at the mountains in the deepening twilight of evening: what are they but gigantic shadows? and in an hour more they will be but parts of the darkness itself. But look at them in the morning—how lofty, how solemn, how august! Look where the sun turns them into polished silver, and where the coming shadow cools and modifies the far-spreading radiance: see the bald rock at the top; the stray pine a little lower down; yonder a rill threading its timid way, and little patches of verdure here and there; birds now and lambs low down on the greener slopes, and round the whole a mighty, tender, gladdening light. This is wisdom as compared with folly. "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." The light has always been claimed by the divine. "Walk as children of the day." It is promised that a time of intellectual discrimination shall come upon the Church: "Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not." The great gift of God to the Church is a gift of light: "But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings." Paul said that he had been brought into a "marvellous light." It is notable that the whole inner life of man is divided into two sections only, and these are respectively described as wisdom and folly. It would seem as if there were no medium position to be occupied. The ten virgins were equally divided into wise and foolish. This principle of dual division in intellectual life and in moral character seems to run throughout the whole Biblical revelation.
Now comes a mystery which was a trouble to the mind and heart of Coheleth:—
"Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool" ( Ecclesiastes 2:15-16).
So it would seem. There is enough in society to confound the wise man"s wisdom and to trouble the good man"s peace. Things are not all straight, and smooth, and simple, and easy. To the browsing cattle all landscapes are alike. The dog in his kennel knows not one star from another. The unconscious bird will sing in your house whether there be a child born or a child dead. But thinking man is stunned by many collisions, bewildered by many mysteries, and prayer is struck from his pleading lips by appearances which seem to say, God there is none, and righteousness is a fool"s dream. The wise man dies and the fool dies, and nature makes no difference as to their burial. No angel is seen to hover over the wise man"s grave more than over the fool"s, and but for tolling bell and surpliced priest it might be but a beast that is laid down, and not the singing Milton or the dreaming Bunyan. And all is soon forgotten. The hot tears will evaporate, the sigh will mingle with the wind, the bent tree will straighten again when the storm ceases. This was the mystery which puzzled Coheleth and which puzzles us. The wise man and the fool die, and perhaps the fool has the better tombstone of the two. The fool leaves an estate, and the wise man leaves only an example. The fool leaves a will to be read, and the wise man leaves a character to be studied. But who cares to study it? Who would study a character if thereby he ran the risk of missing a train! Then this question was forced upon Coheleth: What is the good.? what is the use? what does it all come to? A man strives after Wisdom of Solomon, and dies on the doorstep of her lofty habitation. A fool runs after madness, and has a short life and a merry one. A man reads many books, studies many subjects, passes many examinations, takes many prizes, and just when he is going to reap the best results of his toil he topples into the grave, and a sod is thrown on his quiet heart. Coheleth says in effect: There is no guarantee for the wise man"s life more than for the fool"s. No man has a life-lease which he can count upon and force to a literal fulfilment. Uncertainty is marked upon everything, and no man knows whether he will draw a blank or a prize from the fickle lottery. "There is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever." In all ages men have been stunned by the apparent confusion of wise and foolish which has occurred in the order and progress of divine providence. The prophet says, "The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart." The psalmist says, "For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others." So the confusion is not on the human side only, but on the side which we have consented to describe as divine. The mystery lies there and presses upon life with the weight of a grievous burden. It is God who smites; it is God who drives men to premature graves; it is God who has taught the mystery of death to the opening mind of childhood. Why should these things be? This question will trouble the ages until God himself shall answer it.
"Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity. Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. For there is a man whose labour is in Wisdom of Solomon, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity" ( Ecclesiastes 2:17-23).
The voice of a man who is utterly sated with life. He thought that something would have come of it, but nothing came. He said, "I will make these dead stones live," and behold, when his genius and art had done their utmost, the stones were but statues. He said, "I will turn this water into wine," but lo! when his magic had played its little trick, it was found that the conjuror had only changed the colour, not the quality, of the liquid. He said, "I will find heaven on earth;" and behold, after all his searching, and devising, and construction, he confessed that he had only found a grave. "Therefore," says Coheleth, "I hated life." I found, too, that I was only working for the man who was to come after me. I was making a chair for him to sit upon, and stocking a wardrobe to clothe him with rare raiment. I could take nothing away with me. Nor is this the worst of it. I know not whether my successor will be a wise man or a fool; yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. How can I tell what the man will do who cometh after me? He may cut down my choice trees; he may fill up the pools and destroy the fountains which sent up their sparkling dew all day long; he may turn my favourite rooms into kennels for his dogs; he may handle my most sacred relic with irreverent hands, and venture with commercial mind to set a price upon it. Oh, sad, sad!, He will not consult my memory, he will not honour my name; surveying all that I have gathered together for my pleasure and enjoyment, he may call the whole the king"s folly. Therefore I despaired of life, for a busy seedtime brought next to nothing of a harvest, and what little I did put into the garner I left for my unknown successor. A man writes books, and his successor sells them for waste-paper. A man plants a tree, and his successor fells it to make a gate-post. "This also is vanity and a great evil." And there is no rest. Even sleep is a species of discontentment. It is not a benediction, but a refuge; it is not peace, it is only silence. The world is a failure, and it is full of lies and mockery and sadness. We have found Moses complaining that life became too great a burden to him: "And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness." The prophet Jeremiah was overwhelmed with the same thought, asking this poignant question: "Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labour and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?" The student has said: "In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." The king could not sleep in his palace in the days of Daniel; even palaces cannot guarantee the sleep which God giveth to his beloved. So it must be confessed that Providence is a daily mystery, and often a daily torment, even to the most reverently studious minds. The suggestion of the whole of this contemplation of human tumult is that surely there must come a time of explanation and reconcilement. Surely there is something beyond all this wind and rain, and all this bitterness of soul. It is impossible that such a life as ours can have been created for this end only. Reason and instinct both arise to suggest that a time of explanation is beyond, and that in immortality we shall see the full meaning of time.
"There is nothing better for a Prayer of Manasseh, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God" ( Ecclesiastes 2:24).
A short and easy rule would be, Eat it up; consume it; eat and drink to-day, and to-morrow die. This is what comes of endeavouring to fill the infinite with the finite, and to feed the soul through the medium of the body. Coheleth was perfectly right within given limits; it is because his limits were too narrow that his whole philosophy was defective, and his moral tone without spiritual dignity. Many men who are in error are not wrong for want either of intelligence or sincerity, but simply for want of enlargement of definition, and true perspective in proportion and colour. Coheleth overlooked the fact that goodness is self-rewarding. The heaven is in the action itself. Even if men were to die to-morrow, the heaven which comes of doing a good action to-day never can be taken from the honest heart. It is a profound and criminal mistake to suppose that because a man must die to-morrow he need not trouble himself to do good to-day. He who assists honest poverty, leads a blind man across a busy thoroughfare, helps a child to open the door of life and advance in honourable business, dries the tears of helpless sorrow, has a heaven in the very action itself, even supposing that death should be the end of all things, and there should be neither mourning nor joy beyond the last struggle. Then Coheleth forgot that goodness does not cease with the life of the good man. Even excluding the common interpretation of immortality, we cannot deny the immortality of holy influence shed by a lofty and noble example. When men die in the body they do not die as to recollection; their names may be inspirations in which great battles are fought, and great sacrifices endured with heroic patience. We cannot get rid of immortality in one form or another. When, by a daring imagination, we have closed the city of the New Jerusalem, destroyed its gates of pearl, silenced its harps of gold, dried up its fountains of water, and, in short, made an end of the whole dream of the celestial world, there remains the immortality of recollection, thought, love, and grateful honour. Our contention, therefore, must always be that it is worth while to do good for its own sake, and always worth while so to live that death shall give a tenderer sanctity to every deed of our hand and every thought of our mind. Coheleth forgot, further, that results are not measurable and statable in words. Even Coheleth himself, in the midst of all his hatred of life and despair, has left the great teaching that even a king could not find satisfaction in things finite and perishing. Coheleth was impatient: he wanted things to come to hand and at once; he wanted the good man and the wise to be visibly glorified, so as to confound the fool. This is not the way of the kingdom of heaven upon earth. The kingdom of God is as a grain of mustard seed. The spiritual kingdom, once within a Prayer of Manasseh, gradually educates him to see that the least things have value, and that even in things that die there are hints and seals of immortality. "A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children"s children" in the greatest sense of the word. "Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee." So in our eating and drinking to-day we may add a new sensation to the feast by remembering the poor and the hungry. "Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared." As to the wicked Prayer of Manasseh, he studies himself alone, and is content with his own aggrandisement. Argument is lost upon him, and prayer itself is hardly heard on his behalf. "Though he heap up silver as the dust, and prepare raiment as the clay; he may prepare it, but the just shall put it on, and the innocent shall divide the silver."
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 2". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25