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II.3737   In commenting on Sections II. and III. of this Book I found that both the exposition of the sacred text and the application of its lessons to the details of modern life would gain in force by being handled separately. The second part of each of these chapters consists mainly, therefore, of an exhortation based on the previous exposition, the marginal notes indicating the passages of Holy Writ on which these exhortations are based. There are not many Englishmen who devote themselves solely or mainly to the acquisition of Wisdom, and who, that they may teach the children of men that which is good, live laborious days, withdrawing166 from the general pursuit of wealth and scorning the lures of ease and self-indulgence; such men, indeed, are but a small minority in any age or land. Nor do those who give themselves exclusively to the pursuit of Pleasure constitute more than a small and miserable class, though most of us have wasted on it days that we could ill spare. But when the Hebrew Preacher, having followed his quest of the supreme Good in Pleasure and Wisdom, turns to the affairs of Business—and I use that term as including both commerce and politics—he enters a field of action and inquiry with which we are nearly all familiar, and can hardly fail to speak words which will touch us close home. For, whatever else we may or may not be, we are most of us among the worshippers of the great god Traffic—a god whose wholesome, benignant face too often lowers and darkens, or ever we are aware, into the sordid and malignant features of Mammon.

Now in dealing with this broad and momentous province of human life the Preacher exhibits the candour and the temperance which marked his treatment of Wisdom and Mirth. Just as he would not suffer us to think of Wisdom as in itself an evil, nor of Pleasure as an evil, so neither will he allow us to think of Business as essentially and of necessity an evil. This, like those, may be abused to our hurt; but none the less they may all be used, and were meant to be used,167 for our own and our neighbours' good. Pursued in the right method, from the right motive, with the due moderation and reserve, Business, as he is careful to point out, besides bringing other great advantages, may be a new bond of union and brotherhood: it develops intercourse among men and races of men, and should develop sympathy, goodwill, and a mutual helpfulness. Nevertheless, thrift may degenerate into miserliness, and the honest industry of content into a dishonest eagerness for undue gains, and a wise attention to business into an excessive devotion to it. These degenerate tendencies had struck their roots deep into the Hebrew mind of his day, and brought forth many bitter fruits. The Preacher describes and denounces them; he lays an axe to the very roots of these evil growths: but it is only that he may clear a space for the fairer and more wholesome growths which sprang beside them, and of which they were the wild bastard offshoots.

Throughout this second section of the Book, his subject is excessive devotion to Business, and the correctives to it which his experience enables him to suggest.

1. His handling of the subject is very thorough and complete. Men of business might do worse than get the lessons he here teaches by heart. According to him, their excessive devotion to affairs springs from a "jealous rivalry"; it tends to form in them a grasping168 covetous temper which can never be satisfied, to produce a materialistic scepticism of all that is noble, spiritual, aspiring in thought and action, to render their worship formal and insincere, and, in general, to incapacitate them for any quiet happy enjoyment of their life. This is his diagnosis of their disease, or of that diseased tendency which, if it be for the most part latent in them, always threatens to become pronounced and to infect all healthy conditions of the soul.

Devotion to Business springs from Jealous Competition: Ch. iv., v. 4.3838   Coheleth's description is so true and pertinent, it hits so many of our modern faults and sins, that I am obliged to cite my authority for every paragraph lest I should be suspected of putting a private and personal interpretation on these ancient words.

(a) Let us glance once more at the several symptoms we have already heard him discuss, and consider whether or not they accord with the results of our own observation and experience. Is it true, then—or, rather, is it not true—that our devotion to business is becoming excessive and exhausting, and that this devotion springs mainly from our jealous rivalry and competition with each other? If, some two or three and twenty centuries ago, the Jews were bent every man on outdoing and outselling his neighbour; if his main ambition was to amass greater wealth or to secure a larger business than his competitors, or to make a handsomer show before the world; if in the urgent169 pursuit of this ambition he held his neighbours not as neighbours, but as unscrupulous rivals, keen for gain at his expense and to rise by his fall; if, to reach his end, he was willing to get up early and go late to rest, to force all his energies into an injurious activity and strain them close to the snapping-point: if this were what a Jew of that time was like, might you not easily take it for a portrait of many an English merchant, manufacturer, lawyer, or politician? Is it not as accurate a delineation of our life as it could be of any ancient form of life? If it be, as I think it is, we have grave need to take the Preacher's warning. We gravely need to remember that the stream cannot rise above its source, nor the fruit be better than the root from which it grows; that the business ardour which has its origin in a base and selfish motive can only be a base and selfish ardour. When men gather grapes from thorns and figs from thistles, then, but not before, we may look to find a satisfying good in "all the toil and all the dexterity in toil" which spring from this "jealous rivalry of the one with the other."

It tends to form a Covetous Temper: Ch. iv., v. 8.

(b) Nor, in the face of facts patent to the most cursory observer, can we deny that this eager and excessive devotion to the successful conduct of business tends to produce a grasping, covetous temper which, however much it has gained, is for ever seeking more. It is not only170 true that the stream cannot rise above its source; it is also true that the stream will run downward, and must inevitably contract many pollutions from the lower levels on which it declines. The ardour which impels men to devote themselves with eager intensity to the labours of the Market may often have an origin as pure as that of the stream which bubbles up on the hills, amid grass and ferns, and runs tinkling along its clear rocky channels, setting its labour to a happy music, singing its low sweet song to the sweet listening air. But as it runs on, if it swell in volume and power, it also sinks and grows foul. Bent at first on acquiring the means to support a widowed mother, or to justify him in taking a wife, or to provide for his children, or to win an honourable place in his neighbours' eyes, or to achieve the chance of self-culture and self-development, or to serve some public and worthy end, the man of business and affairs too often suffers himself to become more and more absorbed in his pursuits. He conceives larger schemes, is drawn into more perilous enterprises, and advances through these to fresh openings and opportunities, until at last, long after his original ends are compassed and forgotten, he finds himself possessed by the mere craving to extend his labours, resources, influence, if not by the mere craving to amass—a craving which often "teareth" and "tormenteth" him, but which can only be exorcised by an exertion of spiritual171 force which would leave him half dead. "He has no one with him, not even a son or a brother;" the dear mother or wife is long since dead; his children, to use his own detestable phrase, are "off his hands"; the public good has slipped from his memory and aims: but still "there is no end to all his labours, neither are his eyes satisfied with riches." Coheleth speaks of one such man: alas, of how many such might we speak!

To produce a Materialistic Scepticism; Ch. iii., vv. 18-21.

(c) The "speculation" in the eye of business men is not commonly of a philosophic cast, and therefore we do not look to find them arguing themselves into the materialism which infected the Hebrew Preacher as he contemplated them and their blind devotion to their idol. They are far, perhaps very far, from thinking that in body and spirit, in origin and end, man is no better than the beast, a creature of the same accident and subject to "the same chance." But though they do not reason out a conclusion so sombre and depressing, do they not practically acquiesce in it? If it is far from their thoughts, do they not live in its close neighbourhood? Their mind, like the dyer's hand, is subdued to that it works in. Accustomed to think mainly of material interests, their character is materialised. They are disposed to weigh all things—truth, righteousness, the motives and aims of nobler172 men—in the scales of the market, and can very hardly believe that they should attach any grave value to ought which will not lend itself to their coarse handling. In their judgment, mental culture, or the graces of moral character, or single-hearted devotion to lofty ends, are not worthy to be compared with a full purse or large possessions. They regard as little better than a fool, of whom it is very kind of them to take a little care, the man who has thrown away what they call "his chances," in order that he may learn wisdom or do good. Giving, perhaps, a cheerful and unforced accord to the current moral maxims and popular creed, they permit neither to rule their conduct. If they do not say, "Man is no better than a beast," they carry themselves as if he were no better, as though he had no instincts or interests above those of the thrifty ant, or the cunning beaver, or the military locust, or insatiable leech—although they are both surprised and affronted when one is at the pains to translate their deeds into words. Judged by their deeds, they are sceptics and materialists, since they have no vital faith in that which is spiritual and unseen. They have found "the life of their hands," and they are content with it. Give them whatever furnishes the senses, whatever in them holds by sense, and they will cheerfully let all else go. But such a materialism as this is far more injurious, far more likely to be fatal,173 than that which reflects, and argues, and utters itself in words, and refutes itself by the very powers which it employs. With them the malady has struck inward, and is beyond the reach of cure save by the most searching and drastic remedies.

To make Worship Formal and Insincere; Ch. v., vv. 1-7.

(d) But now if, like Coheleth, we follow these men to the Temple, what is the scene that meets our eye? In the English Temple, I fear, that which would first strike an unaccustomed observer would be the fact that very few men of business are there. They are "conspicuous by their absence," or, at best, noted for an only occasional attendance. The Hebrew Temple was crowded with men; in the English Temple it is the other sex which predominates. But glance at the men who are there? Do you detect no signs of weariness and perfunctoriness? Do you hear no vows which will never be paid, and which they do not intend to pay even when they make them? no prayers which go beyond any honest and candid expression of their desires? Do you not feel and know that many of them are making an unwilling sacrifice to the decencies and the proprieties, instead of worshipping God the Spirit in spirit and nerving themselves for the difficulties of obedience to the Divine law? Listen: they are saying, "Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we bless Thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of174 this life; but above all for Thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory." But are these ineffable spiritual benefits "above all" else to them? Do they care for "the means of grace" as much even as for the state of the market, or for "the hope of glory" as much as for success or promotion? Which is most in their thoughts, their lives, their aspirations, for which will they take most pains and make most sacrifices—for what they mean by the beautiful phrase "all the blessings of this life," or for that sacred and crowning act of the Divine Mercy, "the redemption," in which God has once for all revealed his fatherly forgiving love?

What is it that makes their worship formal and insincere? It is the very cause which, as the Preacher tells us, produced the like evil effect upon the Jews. They come into the Temple with pre-occupied hearts. Their thoughts are distracted by the cares of life even as they bend in worship. And hence even the most sacred words turn to "idle talk" on their lips, as remote from the true feeling of the moment as "the multitude of dreams" which haunt the night; they utter fervent prayers without any due sense of their meaning, or any hearty wish to have them granted.

And to take from Life its Quiet and Innocent Enjoyments. Ch. v., vv. 10-17.

(e) Now surely a life so thick with perils, so beset175 with temptations, should have a very large and certain reward to offer. But has it? For one, Coheleth thinks it has not. In his judgment, according to his experience, instead of making a man happier even in this present time, to which it limits his thoughts and aims, it robs him of all quiet and happy enjoyment of his life. And, mark, it is not the unsuccessful man of business, who might naturally feel sore and aggrieved, but the successful man, the man who has made a fortune and prospered in his schemes, whom the Preacher describes as having lost all faculty of enjoying his gains. Even the man who has wealth and abundance, so that his soul lacketh nothing of all that he desireth, is placed before us as the slave of unsatisfied desire and constant apprehension. Both his hands are so full of labour that he cannot lay hold on quiet. Though he loves silver so well, and has so much of it, he is not satisfied therewith; his riches yield him no certain and abiding delight. And how can he be in "happy plight" who is

"debarred the benefit of rest?

When day's oppression is not eased by night,

But day by night, and night by day, oppress'd?

And each, though enemies to either's reign,

Do in consent shake hands to torture him."

The sound sleep of humble contented labour is denied176 him. He is haunted by perpetual apprehensions that "there is some ill a-brewing to his rest," that evil in some dreaded shape will befall him. He doubts "the filching age will steal his treasure." He knows that when he is called hence he can carry away nothing in his hand; all his gains must be left to his heir, who may either turn out a wanton fool or be crushed and degraded by the burden and temptations of a wealth for which he has not laboured. And hence, amid all his toils and gains, even the most prosperous and successful man suspects that he has been "labouring for the wind" and may reap the whirlwind: "he is much perturbed, and hath vexation and grief."

Is the picture overdrawn? Is not the description as true to modern experience as to that of "the antique world"? Shakespeare, who is our great English authority on the facts of human experience, thought it quite as true. His Merchant of Venice has argosies on every sea; and two of his friends, hearing him confess that sadness makes such a want-wit of him that he has much ado to know himself, tell him that his "mind is tossing on the ocean" with his ships. They proceed to discuss the natural effects of having so many enterprises on hand. One says—

"Believe me, Sir, had I such venture forth,

The better part of my affections would


Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still

Plucking the grass, to know where sits the wind;

Peering in maps for ports, and piers, and roads;

And every object that might make me fear

Misfortune to my ventures, out of doubt

Would make me sad."

And the other adds—

"My wind, cooling my broth,

Would blow me to an ague, when I thought

What harm a wind too great at sea might do.

I should not see the sandy hour-glass run,

But I should think of shallows and of flats,

And see my wealthy Andrew, dock'd in sand,

Vailing her high-top lower than her ribs

To kiss her burial. Should I go to church

And see the holy edifice of stone,

And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks,

Which, touching but my gentle vessel's side,

Would scatter all her spices in the stream;

Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks:

And, in a word, but even now worth this,

And now worth nothing? Shall I have the thought

To think on this; and shall I lack the thought

That such a thing bechanced would make me sad?"

"Abundance suffereth not the rich to sleep;" the thought that his "riches may perish in some unlucky adventure" rings a perpetual alarum in his ears: "all his days he eateth in darkness, and is much perturbed, and hath vexation and grief." These are the words of the Hebrew Preacher: are not our own great poet's178 words an expressive commentary on them, an absolute confirmation of them, covering them point by point? And shall we envy the wealthy merchant whose two hands are thus "full of labour and vexation of spirit"? Is not "the husbandman whose sleep is sweet, whether he eat little or much," better off than he? Nay, has not even the sluggard who, so long as he hath meat, foldeth his hands in quiet, a truer enjoyment of his life?

Of course Coheleth does not mean to imply that every man of business degenerates into a miserly sceptic, whose worship is a formulated hypocrisy and whose life is haunted with saddening apprehensions of misfortune. No doubt there were then, as there are now, many men of business who were wise enough to "take pleasure in all their labours," to cast their burden of care on Him in whose care stand both to-morrow and to-day; men to whom worship was a calming and strengthening communion with the Father of their spirits, and who advanced, through toil, to worthy or even noble ends. He means simply that these are the perils to which all men of business are exposed, and into which they fall so soon as their devotion to its affairs grows excessive. "Make business, and success in business, your chief good, your ruling aim, and you will come to think of your neighbours as selfish rivals; you will begin to look askance on the lofty spiritual179 qualities which refuse to bow to the yoke of Mammon; your worship will sink into an insincere formalism; your life will be vexed and saddened with fears which will strangle the very faculty of tranquil enjoyment:" this is the warning of the Preacher; a warning of which our generation, in such urgent sinful haste to be rich, stands in very special need.

2. But what checks, what correctives, what remedies, would the Preacher have us apply to the diseased tendencies of the time? How shall men of business save themselves from being absorbed in its interests and affairs?

The Correctives of this Devotion are a Sense of its Perils; Ch. v., vv. 10-17.

(a) Well, the very sense of the danger to which they are exposed—a danger so insidious, so profound, so fatal—should surely induce caution and a wary self-control. The symptoms of the disease are described that we may judge whether or not we are infected by it; its dreadful issues that, if infected, we may study a cure. The man who loves riches is placed before us that we may learn what he is really like—that he is not the careless happy being we often assume him to be. We see him decline on the low bare levels of covetousness and materialism, hypocrisy and fear; and, as we look, the Preacher turns upon us with, "There, that is the slave of Mammon in his habit as he lives. Do you care180 to be like that? Will you break your heart unless you are allowed to assume his heavy and degrading burden?"

And the Conviction that it is opposed to the Will of God as expressed in the Ordinances of his Providence, Ch. iii., vv. 1-8.

This is one help to a wise content with our lot; but he has many more at our service, and notably this,—that an undue devotion to the toils of business is contrary to the will, the design, the providence of God. God, he argues, has fixed a time for every undertaking under heaven, and has made each of them beautiful in its season, but only then. By his wise kindly ordinances He has sought to divert us from an injurious excess in toil. Our sowing and our reaping, our time of rest and our time for work, the time to save and the time to spend, the time to gain and the time to lose,—all these, with all the fluctuating feelings they excite in us: in short, our whole life, from the cradle to the grave, is under, or should be under, law to Him. It is only when we violate his gracious ordinances,—working when we should be at rest, waking when we should sleep, saving when we should spend, weeping over losses which are real gains, or laughing over gains which will prove to be losses—that we run into excess, and break up the peaceful order and tranquil flow of the life which He designed for us.

In the Wrongs which He permits Men to inflict upon us; Ch. iii., v. 16-Ch. iv., v. 3.

Because we will not be obsequious to the ordinances181 of his wisdom, He permits us to meet a new check in the caprice and injustice of man—making even these to praise Him by subserving our good. If we do not suffer the violent oppressions which drew tears from the Preacher's fellow-captives, we nevertheless stand very much at the mercy of our neighbours in so far as our outward haps are concerned. Unwise human laws or an unjust administration of them, or the selfish rapacity of individual men—brokers who rig the market; bankers whose long prayers are a pretence under cloak of which they rob widows and orphans, and sometimes make them; bankrupts for whose wounds the Gazette has a singular power of healing, since they come out of it "sounder" men than they went in: these are only some of the instruments by which the labours of the diligent are shorn of their due reward. And we are to take these checks as correctives, to find in the losses which men inflict the gifts of a gracious God. He permits us to suffer these and the like disasters lest our hearts should be overmuch set on getting gain. He graciously permits us to suffer them that, seeing how often the wicked thrive (in a way and for a time) on the decay of the upright, we may learn that there is something better than wealth, more enduring, more satisfying, and may seek that higher good.


But above all, in the immortal Cravings which He has quickened in the Soul. Ch. iii., v. 11.

Nay, going to the very root of the matter and expounding its whole philosophy, the Preacher teaches us that wealth, however great and greatly used, cannot satisfy men, since God has "put eternity into their hearts" as well as time: and how should all the kingdoms of a world that must soon pass content those who are to live for ever?3939   M. de Lamennais—the founder of the most religious school of thinkers in modern France, from whom such men as Count Montalembert, Père Lacordaire, and Maurice Guérin, drew their earliest inspiration—asks, "Do you know what it is that makes man the most suffering of all creatures?" and replies, "It is that he has one foot in the finite and the other in the infinite, and that he is torn asunder, not by four horses, as in the horrible old times, but between two worlds." This saying, "God has put eternity into their hearts," is one of the most profound in the whole Book, and one of the most beautiful and suggestive. What it means is that, even if a man would confine his aims and desires within "the bounds and coasts of Time," he cannot do it. The very structure of his nature forbids it. For time, with all that it inherits, sweeps by him like a torrent, so that, if he would secure any lasting good, he must lay hold of that which is eternal. We may well call this world, for all so solid as it looks, "a perishing world;" for, like our own bodies, it is in a perpetual flux, perishing every moment that it may live a little longer, and must183 soon come to an end. But we, in our true selves, we who dwell inside the body and use its members as the workman uses his tools, how can we find a satisfying good whether in the body or in the world which is akin to it? We want a good as lasting as ourselves. Nothing short of that can be our chief good, or inspire us with a true content.

"Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So do our minutes hasten to their end;

Each changing place with that which goes before,

In sequent toil all forwards do contend:"

and we might as well think to build a stable habitation on the waves which break upon the pebbled shore as to find an enduring good in the sequent minutes which carry us down the stream of time. It is only because we do not understand this "work of God" in putting eternity into our hearts and therefore making it impossible for us to be content with anything less than an eternal good; it is because, plunged in the flesh and its cares and delights, we forget the grandeur of our nature, and are tempted to sell our immortal birthright for a mess of pottage which, however much we enjoy it to-day, will leave us hungry to-morrow: it is only, I say, because we fail to understand this work of God "from beginning to end," that we ever delude ourselves with the hope of finding in ought the earth yields a good in which we can rest.


Practical Maxims deduced from this View of the Business-life.

(b) A noble philosophy this, and pregnant with practical counsels of great value. For if, as we close our study of this Section of the Book, we ask, "What good advice does the Preacher offer that we can take and act upon?" we shall find that he gives us at least three serviceable maxims.

A Maxim on Co-operation. Ch. iv., vv. 9-16.

To all men of business conscious of their special dangers and anxious to avoid them, he says, first: Replace the competition which springs from your jealous and selfish rivalry, with the co-operation which is born of sympathy and breeds goodwill. "Two are better than one. Union is better than isolation. Conjoint labour has the greater reward." Instead of seeking to take advantage of your neighbours, try to help them. Instead of standing alone, associate with your fellows. Instead of aiming at purely selfish ends, pursue your ends in common. Indeed the wise Hebrew Preacher anticipates the golden rule to a remarkable extent, and, in effect, bids us love our neighbour as ourself, look on his things as well as our own, and do to all men as we would that they should do to us.

A Maxim on Worship. Ch. v., vv. 1-7.

His second maxim is: Replace the formality of your worship with a reverent and steadfast sincerity. Keep your foot when you go to the House of God. Put obedience185 before sacrifice. Do not hurry on your mouth to the utterance of words which transcend the desires of your heart. Be not of those who

"words for virtue take,

As though mere wood a shrine would make."4040   Horace, Ep. 6, Lib. I:
"Virtutem verba putant, ut
Lucum ligna."

Do not come into the Temple with a pre-occupied spirit, a spirit distracted with thoughts that travel different ways. Realise the presence of the Great King, and speak to Him with the reverence due to a King. Keep the vows you have made in his House after you have left it. Seek and serve Him with all your hearts, and ye shall find rest to your souls.

A Maxim on Trust in God. Ch. v., vv. 8-17.

And his last maxim is: Replace your grasping self-sufficiency with a constant trust in the fatherly providence of God. If you see oppression or suffer wrong, if your schemes are thwarted and your enterprises fail, you need not therefore lose the quiet repose and settled peace which spring from a sense of duty discharged and the undisturbed possession of the main good of life. God is over all, and rules all the undertakings of man, giving each its season and place, and causing all to work together for the good of the loving and trustful186 heart. Trust in Him, and you shall feel, even though you cannot prove,

"That every cloud that spreads above,

And veileth love, itself is love."

Trust in Him, and you shall find that

"The slow sweet hours that bring us all things good,

The slow sad hours that bring us all things ill

And all good things from evil,"

as they strike on the great horologe of Time, are set to a growing music by the hand of God; a music which rises and falls as we listen, but which nevertheless swells through all its saddest cadences and dying falls toward that harmonious close, that "undisturbed concent," in which all discords will be drowned.

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