« Prev Chapter XXI. Ecclesiastes -- The Vanity of the… Next »





Keynote: 1 John ii. 15-17.

THIS book shows us the utter vanity of the world and all it contains, apart from God. It is the illustration of those words of our Lord to the woman of Samaria, "He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again." The world is here searched for an object to satisfy the heart, but in vain. All is proved to be only vanity and vexation of spirit. It is the fourth stage of the developing series concerning sanctification, and shows us the soul completely delivered from the love of the world and the things that are in the world. It is that inward escape from the world's allurements, which comes from the discovery of its utter hollowness and vanity. It is the heart made "dead" to its power. Many give up the world outwardly, who yet long after it inwardly. But 335 this man hates it. It has no longer any charms for him. In the marvelous maturing of his inward life, he has outgrown it. Its greatest gifts are but childish toys to him, and to go back to them would be for a man to return to the rattles and rings of his babyhood. This is the only true deliverance, for it weans the heart. It is the divine way of cutting the cords and breaking the bonds that chain the soul to earth, and of setting it free to soar into infinity. When we love the world, it is hard to give it up, but when it has lost its charms, it drops from our hands unheeded. And if our affections are thus weaned from earthly things, it is easy then to set them on heavenly things. Nor can a heart that has once tasted of divine joys, be ever again satisfied with the joys of earth.

This book gives us the experience of the man who has found the wisdom spoken of in the preceding book of Proverbs, and who has tried the world by this wisdom, and has proved it all to be only vanity of vanities. "I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem: and I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit." i. 12-14. It is the wise man trying the world by his wisdom, for others less wise, that he "might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under heaven all the days of their life." The 336 effect of this trial was to prove that all was "vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun." And yet this man had tried the world at its brightest and best under the most favorable possible circumstances for proving its worth. "I made me great works," he says; "I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: 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: 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. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor." But at the end of it all his sentence concerning it still was: "Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun." ii. 1-11.

This book gives us an insight into what the world is to a really sanctified heart; and it has been placed, I believe, 337 by our loving Father in the Bible, as a beacon-light to warn us, before we enter upon them, from the seducing temptations of the world. But for this book of experience, we might have been tempted perhaps to think that there must be some satisfying portion somewhere in earthly things, although we ourselves have never found it. But here a man speaks who had tried everything, and who is so sure he had left no earthly joy untried, that he asks confidently, "What can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done." ii. 12. No one can ever again be in circumstances more favorable for earthly happiness than was this man, and yet he says, from the stand-point of experimental knowledge, that "all is vanity." He has tried it for everyone who was to come after him, and, if we would but believe his testimony, and would renounce the world without trying it for ourselves, we would none of us need to go through the same disappointing experiment.

It may seem to some a sad thing that the world should be so unsatisfactory. But when we understand the reason of it, and the blessed result, we will surely praise the Lord with all our hearts that He has so arranged it. For He has commanded us to hate the world and to forsake it, and how could we obey Him if it was attractive and satisfying? If there should be poison in our food, would we not be thankful if it had so bitter a taste as to make it impossible for us to eat it? And, since there is a fatal poison in the world to all who 338 love it, shall we not be thankful that the Lord has given it such a bitter taste as to make it too nauseous to be enjoyed? If we understood this, dear friends, I think we should not grieve so bitterly over the spoiling of our pleasant pictures, nor think it so mysterious that disappointments should come. For it is a grand victory not to love the world; and the soul that has gained this victory finds itself set in a large place, and cannot but be thankful for whatever disappointment may have brought it there.

And not only is the soul here set free from the seductions of outward earthly things, but even also from the more subtle snares of earthly wisdom. There are many who scorn the physical enjoyments of earth in the shape of riches or tangible pleasures, who yet take refuge in the exercise of wisdom and knowledge. But these also are here shown to be vanity and vexation of spirit. "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: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow," i. 16-18. "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 as vanity," ii. 15.


Man is made for a divine destiny, and nowhere short of this can he be satisfied. It is not that he ought not to be, but he cannot. This is in the eternal nature of things. A learned man cannot be satisfied in the company of fools, neither can a man of culture and refinement be happy with coarse and brutal associations. They ought not, it is true, but there is something deeper than ought in the case, they cannot. And the soul that has tasted of divine wisdom, can never be happy with anything on a lower level.

"God only is the creature's home;

Though rough and strait the road,

Yet nothing else can satisfy

The soul that longs for God.

Oh, utter but the name of God

Down in your heart of hearts,

And see how from the world at once

All tempting light departs."

Therefore upon all that man tries of earthly things there can be but the one same universal sentence which is here repeated over and over, "This also is vanity." See i. 2, 14; ii. 1, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 26;   iii. 19; iv. 4, 8, 16; v. 10; vi. 2, 9; vii. 6; viii. 10, 14; xi. 8; xii. 8.

But viewed frown this earthly standpoint, all is not only seen to be vanity, but utter confusion as well. Apart from the thought of God, all is darkness beyond this present life, and all is mystery here. Neither wisdom nor reason can explain the sad perplexity of life. Everything seems to go wrong. Wickedness triumphs, 340 and righteousness suffers loss, and there is no explanation. "When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes): Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is now done under the sun: because though a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it," viii. 16, 17. "I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all," ix, 11. "All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean: to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath," ix. 2. "So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter," iv. 1.

It is the lesson of Job repeated here, that the outward works of the Lord are not an adequate expression of His heart towards us, and that therefore nothing is left to us but the sublime silence of faith, which can calmly await the day of His explanations, and can meanwhile sit down contentedly before the greatest mysteries. To 341 judge of things by what we see, there seems often to be no God. But faith can always claim His presence.

"Thrice blest is he, to whom is given

The instinct that can tell,

That God is on the field, when He

Is most invisible."

*          *          *          *          *

"God's glory is a wondrous thing,

Most strange in all its ways,

And, of all things on earth, least like

What men agree to praise.

"As He can endless glory weave

From what men reckon shame,

In His own world He is content

To play a losing game.

"Muse on His justice, downcast soul;

Muse, and take better heart;

Back with thine angel to the field

And bravely do thy part.

"God's justice is a bed, where we

Our anxious hearts may lay,

And, weary with ourselves, may sleep

Our discontent away.

"For right is right, since God is God,

And right the day must win;

To doubt would be disloyalty,

To falter would be sin."

Our book therefore, not only teaches us the vanity and confusion of all things "under the sun;" but it also lets us know that there is one way of relief, one outlet from the oppressive sense of universal emptiness and mystery, 342 and that this is to be found in the fear of the Lord and in doing His will. There are "bags which wax not old" and treasures which do not fail, and these are bestowed upon the Lord's faithful servants. All other things are vain, but "he that feareth the Lord shall come forth of them all," vii. 18. Therefore the lesson of our book is all summed up at last in one short sentence, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man," xii. 13.

All that is really necessary is declared to us in this one sentence. We cannot understand the world, we cannot find any comfort in it; it is all hopelessly empty and mysterious. But the Lord reigns, and holds the clue; and to fear Him and keep His commandments is the only thing needed to make everything straight. Obedience is the golden key to every mystery. They that do His will, shall always come, sooner or later, to know of the doctrine; and to the obedient soul, God, with His infinity, fills every void. A walk with Him is a walk through a region of grandeur, and life is transfigured before us. Let us praise Him, then, that the one only thing which is declared to be our duty, is also the one only thing which it is possible for us to do, or the doing of which can bring us any abiding peace or rest. For the "world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever."

A dear little girl of my acquaintance, whose life was the truest picture of childlike faith I ever saw, said one 343 morning, as she kneeled in prayer, "Dear Lord, I thank Thee that I have nothing to do all day to-day, but just to mind." Nothing to do but to mind! Ah! this is the blessed secret! We need not plan, we need not worry; we need only to obey, and all will come right.

Such is the lesson of our book. It is the judgment of heavenly wisdom on all that happens "under the sun," and the decision of that wisdom as to the only relief from it all. It shows us the world as it looks to the man who has died to self, as in Job, and who is living the resurrection life, as in Psalms, and has been taught the "wisdom which is from above," that belongs to that life, as in Proverbs. It is the fourth stage in the progressive steps of sanctification given us in the series of books beginning with Job and ending with the Song of Songs: and is the necessary prelude to the beautiful lesson of the Canticles. Here the world is searched to find an object to satisfy the heart, but in vain. There that Object is found. And until our hearts have learned the lesson of Ecclesiastes we shall not be prepared to receive the lesson of that wondrous mystic Song.

Hast thou learned this lesson, dear reader? Is the world "vanity of vanities" to thee, or has it yet charms to attract thee and win thy heart? Thou hast heard the command, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." Hast thou obeyed it? If not, I would sound in thy ears the accompanying sentence: "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The love of the Father may be believed 344 in and trusted by many christians, who yet have never known it to be shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and it is this inward experience and manifestation of it that is meant here. In the very nature of things this way of divine love cannot be known by the heart that loves the world; and therefore it is that the experience of Ecclesiastes must be realized before the Song of Songs can be reached.

May the Lord Himself teach and lead us here!

Texts illustrating the necessity of giving up the world, and being delivered from its bondage:-- 1 John ii. 15-I7.  Rom. xii. 2Jas. iv. 4, 14Matt. vi. 24Gal. i. 10Ps. xxix. 6John xv. 18, 191 John iii. 13Gal. vi. 14John xvii. 14-16Jas. i. 271 John iii. 1; v. 4, 5; iv. 17Titus ii. 12Mark viii. 36, 37.

« Prev Chapter XXI. Ecclesiastes -- The Vanity of the… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection