Page images

a solitary exception, he will die with, and carry up to the judgment. Whatever he may think, or purpose, or flatter himself to believe, he will, so to speak, stand before God at last in his every-day dress. There will be no change of raiment when death shall come; the thoughts and the habits, and the sins of his life, will go with him up to the bar of God.

The truth is, most men are the dupes of a good resolution. They mean to repent and seek God's favor before they die; they have no thoughts of dying as they live; but, alas ! the heart's deceitfulness, and the providence of God, cheat their intentions. Death takes them by surprise. Not one person in a hundred, probably, dies the death he expects to die, or by the disease he imagines will end his days. Very few die when, or where, or in the manner they anticipate. One may be expecting death long, and yet, at last, it comes at an hour or in a way unexpected, and he is surprised. I have often been surprised at this fact. There is a marked and warning Providence in it. There is a fearful significance in the Saviour's words, “Watch, therefore, for you know not what hour your Lord doth come.”

God would have us live religion, if we mean to reap its consolations in death, and its rewards beyond. If our eternal hopes hang only upon our intentions, they are not worth a straw. If we are living as we would be unwilling to die, we shall, most likely, die without hope. What we each are to-day, and have been in years past, and expect to be in future years, if God spare us, we shall, in all probability, be, at the hour of death, and forever after. It is a startling truth. It is a warning voice that we do well to heed. “What! am I to die just as I am now living---with no other preparation---in my present character---with so many duties neglected---with so many sins upon me---with so little relish for holiness---so little of the spirit of angels and glorified saints! My God! let me not be deceived ; let me anticipate the day of my dying ; and what I would be then, let me seek to be now, and every day and hour of my life.”

[blocks in formation]

SOLOMON'S EXPERIENCE AND OBSERVATION. " 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.”—Eccles. ii. 17.

THERE are few parts of the sacred Scriptures more difficult of interpretation than the one which contains this text. The style of the Book is peculiar ; and the rapid transition of thought from one subject to another, and from one state of mind to another-atransition often made without any express mention of it—throws an air of obscurity, and, indeed, sometimes an appearance of contradiction over the sentiments uttered.

Hence, the most extravagant ideas have sometimes been deduced from it ;—the most mischievous, the most absurd. Some expressions in it have been employed in a manner which might well rejoice libertines ; and the licentious themselves have sometimes seized upon ideas.contained in it, to justify all the extravagances of an unbridled licentiousness. They have very eloguently repeated that passage in the seventh verse of the ninth chapter, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart," as if it were a fit motto for a man of pleasure. With equal animation and eloquence, they have recited that passage in the twenty-forth verse of the second chapter—" There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour," as if it were designed to give loose reins to indulgence.

And infidelity, as well as libertinism, has made itself merry over the supports supposed to be found in some of these chapters. It has called ideas found here contradictory—the whole Book a jumble of inconsistencies. Bringing together the second verse of the second chapter" I said of laughter it is mad, and of mirth what doeth it ;" and the fifteenth verse of the eighth chapter—" Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry ; infidelity has put on a malignant smile, as if she had found at once a refutation of the Bible in its inconsistency, and liberty for the indulgence of chosen " amusements" and sensuality.

Libertines and infidels are not always worth noticing. Most of their pretences are a compound of folly and falsehood, both silly and dishonest. And when men have descended so low as that they are ordinarily best treated, when left to become wise and right, or not, just as they shall choose. Many a foolish man has becoine confirmed in error, when his crror has been dignified by noticing it.--But some of these ideas are worthy of notice ; especially, as the notice of them may lead us to a just understanding of the writer of this Book ; and as some serious minds also have been embarrassed by expressions contained in it.

The text before us has not escaped misconception : I hated life because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me. This has been said to justify an entire disgust with life. It has also been adduced as a proof, that a man of religious sentiments must be so far led off from the ordinary feelings of humanity as to hate life and the world ; and must therefore be unfit for society, in respect to enjoying it, or aiming to promote its good. And, it may be, that a true believer sometimes, in dejection and trouble, may, seek to justify the gloom of his sentiments, and his dark dislike of a wearisome life, by supposing himself to resemble the author of the text-I hated life.

Before, therefore, we enter upon the special consideration of the text itself, we propose to furnish an explanation of the peculiarities of this Book; a matter which seems necessary, not only for a just explanation of the text itself, but for justifying the explanation, and for guarding the Book in general from misconstruction.

On this point we have several ideas to present. We want your entire attention. We are going to teach you a matter for you to remember whenever you read this Book of Solomon.

To this object we devote this sermon. We will attend to the particular idea of the text hereafter.

Let us enter upon the subject. Let us learn how to interpret the Book before us--a Book containing some expressions which sound strange to many cars.

We make one remark, as a clue to the meaning of the author, as a key to unlock the mysteries hidden here, as a wand to sweep away the fogs and clouds, which infidelity, worldliness, and libertinism, (always superficial), have hung round the expressions of this author. The remark is this :- That almost the entire sum of this

[ocr errors]

Book is composed in the style of experience and observation. In some passages the writer speaks from experience. In others, he speaks from observation. In others still, he mingles both these together, grounding his ideas on both what he had seen and what he had himself felt.

1. He speaks as a man of erperience. Examine the sixteenth and seventeenth verses of the first chapter: “ I communed with mine own heart, saying, lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem; yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly.” So in the second chapter, to the end of the tenth verse, he speaks of his own experience. " I said in mine heart, go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore, enjoy pleasure ... I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine . . I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards ; I made me gardens and orchards.” And he goes on to tell of his servants, and cattle, and singers, and silver, and gold, and delights, not "withholding his heart from any joy.” In the same style of experience he utters the fifteenth verse of the eighth chapter (already cited,) “ Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat and to drink, and to be merry.”—The same style of experience, of history, of autobiography, runs through the book.

If ever there was a man qualified by the experience of it, to tell what pleasure is worth, that man was Solomon, the author of the Book before us. He was “king over Israel in Jerusalem,” in the days of its highest splendor. His proud city glittered with gold. It abounded in luxury-in every refinement. To its glory all the civilized world had contributed Egypt had sent thither in profuse abundance the finest of her wheat. The east had sent the choicest of her delicacies,-the aroma of her plants to breathe their perfumes on the air of Palestine, and the glitter of her gems to flash in the sun-light abroad, or adorn the persons that moved amid the splendour of her proud palaces at home. The South and the West had contributed all the adornments of architecture. Science and art had contributed to the enjoyments of taste. Arabia had sent in her mathematics. Tyre and Sidon their purple and fine linens. Poesy sang. Music found a home there. And amid all these resources and all this splendor, Solomon gave loose reins to his desires to enjoy them all, better situated than ever man was, before or since, to prove by his own experience what the pleasures of the world are worth. And in this Book, he has given us an account of the whole matter. He has summed it up in five words—VANITY AND VEXATION OF SPIRIT. He summed it up (just as you would have done if you had had his wisdom and trial), on the ground of his own experience. He

had tried it all, and knew what was its value; and as he recapitulates to us in this Book his experiences, he tells us how he turned from one pleasure to another, and one earthly promise to another, with the sickening feeling, this also is vanity. It is on this principle that he makes his remarkable introduction-an introduction which has no parallel or resemblance in any other writing that we have ever seen: “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity." He spake from the heart; he was a man of experience. He had tried" amusements.

Now let me ask you to notice, in his own phraseology, how this remark about his style is applicable. Commence with the text itself. "I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me. When did he hate it? How are we to understand him? Is he telling us what he thinks now? or what he thought while his reason was entranced and he was pursuing the vanities of the world?-If you were to write your own biography, how would you write it? Suppose you had been eagerly pursuing some object for a time, and afterwards had altered your sentiments in distaste and disappointment, and still afterwards had set your heart upon something very different, and suppose you were going to employ your own experience as an argument to persuade other people to take a wiser way than you had taken at first, how would you be apt to express yourself? You would have three different points to hold up. At one time, you would mention the sentiments you entertained at the period when you were eagerly pursuing your favorite object. At another time, you would mention the sentiments you entertain at the period when you had concluded to abandon it. At another time, you would mention the sentiments you entertain now, when having set your heart upon another object, you are aiming, by the force of your own experience to induce your friend to shun the error and copy the wisdom of your example. And if you were much gifted in the art of persuasion, your ideas would move backwards and forwards from one of these periods to another, in order to bring into frequent contrast the benefits of one course and the evils of its opposite-Well: Solomon has done precisely this in the book before us. He has done just as you would have done. He states his sentiments after his recovery from error, and while he is under the direction of Divine wisdom. He states his sentiments in the outset, And he states his sentiments in the intermediate time-in the day of his disappointment, when he had got no farther than to hear and feel the rebuke of truth, but had not yet taken its positive direction. And he passes from one of these to another, under no rule but that of the heart's logic, more intent on persuasion than on the name of scholarship. And when he says, “I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grevious unto me," there is no difficulty in perceiving

« PreviousContinue »