Ecclesiastes 1:9

If, in the ancient days in which this book was written, men were already experiencing the weariness which comes from their familiarity with the scenes of earth and the incidents of life, how much more must this be the case at the present time! It is, indeed, ever characteristic of the favorites of fortune, that they "run through" the possibilities of excitement and of pleasure before their capacity for enjoyment is exhausted, and cry for new forms of amusement and distraction. It is remarkable how soon such persons are reduced to the painful conviction that there is nothing new under the sun.

I. THE LOVE AND QUEST OF NOVELTY ARE NATURAL TO MAN. When we examine human nature, we find there a deep-seated interest in change. What is called "relativity," the passage from one experience to another, is indeed an essential condition of mental life. And transition from one mode of excitement to another is a constituent of a pleasurable life. Thus, in the case of the intellectual man, the aim is to know and to study ever new things; whilst in the case of the man of energy and activity, the impulse is to view new scenes, to undertake new enterprises. It is this principle in our nature which accounts for the efforts men put forth, and for the sacrifices to which men willingly submit.

II. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF REAL NOVELTY IN THE NATURAL WORLD AND IN HUMAN AFFAIRS. A little reflection will convince us that continuous novelty is unattainable. The laws of nature remain the same, and their sameness produces effects which with familiarity produce the effect of monotony. The conditions of human life do not materially vary from year to year, from age to age. And human nature possesses certain constant factors, in virtue of which men's employments and pleasures, hopes, sufferings, and fears remain substantially as they were in former times. The chief exception to this rule arises from the fact that what is old to one generation is for a while new to its successor. But it must not be forgotten that the individual, if favor-ably circumstanced, soon exhausts the variety of human experience. The voluptuary offers a reward to him who can invent a new pleasure. The hero weeps for want of a new world to conquer. The child of fortune experiences in the satisfaction of his wants, and even his caprices, the ennui which is a proof that he has followed the round of occupations and pleasures until all have been exhausted. Thus the most favored are in some cases the least happy, and the most ready to join in the complaint, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"

III. IT IS THE SPIRITUAL REALM WHICH IS ESPECIALLY CHARACTERIZED BY NEWNESS. If it is impossible that the Book of Ecclesiastes should be written over again in the Christian ages, the reason is that the fuller and sublime revelations made by the Son of God incarnate have enriched human thought and life beyond all calculation. There is no comparison between the comparative poverty of knowledge and of life, even under the Mosaic economy in ancient times, and "the unsearchable riches of Christ." None can exhaust the treasures of knowledge and wisdom, the possibilities of consecrated service and spiritual progress, distinctive of the Christian dispensation. Christianity is emphatically a religion of newness. It is itself the new covenant; its choicest gift to man is the new heart; it summons the disciples of the Redeemer to newness of life; it puts in their mouth a new song; whilst it opens up in the future the glorious prospect of new heavens and a new earth. God comes in the Person of his Son to this sin-stricken humanity, and his assurance and promise is this: "Behold, I make all things new." And in fulfillment of this assurance, the Church of Christ rejoices in the experience expressed in the declaration, "Old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new." - T.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be. &&&
One of the things which strike an observer of human beings is the disposition they perpetually betray to imagine and expect something in the future, different from all that has been in the past. We not only anticipate futurity, but anticipate it as bearing a character, and doing a work, peculiar to itself. This habit is seen in all, and is revealed in nearly every way. Futurity is to do wonders. It is to cure all diseases, to correct all mistakes, to purge from all vices. To realize our conception, it must possess the mysterious powers of magic. The past is not permitted to afford any guidance in our mental wanderings into time to come. It will be affected by no such vulgar laws as have been used to operate. It will have a sphere and dominion of its own. It will present an improved series of life and providence. We speak of it as "doing," "bringing," "making" things, often forgetting that it is only the duration in which they are done, and brought, and made, by God and men.

I. The first application we make of the sentiment is to LIFE. Who does not entertain a vague notion that some considerable variety will be introduced into his future life, some great change in the mode and manner of his outward existence? Yet this is a notion which a little reflection and a little memory may serve to rebuke. There is, perhaps, no solid ground on which to hope that in respect to circumstances this year will not be, to you, as the last. There is no reasonable probability, perhaps, that you will go into a different way of business, a different sphere, a different station. And as to more directly personal matters, it is certain that the common processes and ways of life will continue the same. Eating and drinking, sleeping and waking, thinking and speaking, weeping and rejoicing, will continue to be the daily experiences and occupations of all. There is something appalling in all this, when considered alone. This monotony of life is very solemn, and very sad. And it is because men feel it to be so dismal and distressing, that they constantly do violence to all sense and fact in fancying that the future will afford, they know not how, a different kind of being and of occupation. Hope is the safety-valve of tribulation and satiety: but for it, verily there would be more suicides. What are we but, in a figure, drivers over the same ground of life, with little variety but that of a fine or a wet day, a summer or a winter season, good or bad roads? And what is the remedy? As to hoping, that is a poor and an insufficient one. It is rather an excuse than a reason for peace and contentment. When men take no interest in food, what is the cure? We seek to create an appetite, by rectifying the system, giving the powers health and tone. And this must be the cure here. Men are miserable; they complain of the world, of their fellows, of their lot; this dish is bad, that is badly dressed, and so on. The fault is in the men. They want an appetite for life. Let there be that, and however common and plain the provision, there will be no lack of relish. But while that is wanted, the costliest delicacies and nicest preparations will impart but a mean and meagre gratification. A fictitious taste will always be a fickle one. Men tire of that for which they have no strong and healthy craving. Even stimulants lose their power, and to sustain the effect you must increase the consumption. The greater part of men have no serious purpose in life. They are destitute of great and abiding purposes, towards which to direct their energies, and which may give importance and continuity to their existence. Their history is not one united whole, but is made up of scraps; it is not a stream flowing on to one specific point, but so many unconnected pools. They labour not in continuous service, but chance-work. They are not filled with a solemn and spiritual idea, not engrossed by a momentous truth, not moved by an all-absorbing passion. Be assured that nothing can give zest and vivacity to life but a deep interest in the soul, and that nothing can secure that like the minding of the things of the Spirit. The only way to realize the charm, and fulness, and power of your being, is to live yourselves, in the Bible sense of the expression; to live spiritually, to live for Christ, to live toward God. This is the life that you were made for, and redeemed for; and, without it, the end of your being cannot be attained, its large capacity cannot be filled, its rich privilege cannot be enjoyed. Having this, you will not complain of the littleness of events and lots, for everything is great to him who connects it with responsibility, eternity, and God; or of their meanness, for everything is glorious to him who regards it as the occasion and the instrument of a Divine service and a spiritual salvation; or of their staleness, for everything is new to him who brings to it an eager will, a full purpose, and affections renewed and stimulated by the love of Jesus and the love of men. "Newness of life" must be sought for, not in strangeness of condition, but ever-quickened spirituality of soul. And let me, in this connection, press home to you the thought, that you have before you an everlasting future. The provision you have to make is not for time, but for eternity. Even if a skilful management of your materials could infuse something like freshness into your existence here, what is your resource for the endless hereafter? The mistake you ere making now, even did not more solemn considerations interpose, would be a mistake in the world to come. It is a solemn business to provide for the immortal interest of souls like yours, to secure them against the oppressive monotony of changeless being. All external expedients must of necessity fail, and the only hope remains in an intellect ever opening upon some fresh view of the truth of God, and a heart ever growing into a closer likeness to His holiness, and a fuller fellowship in the eternal Spirit.

II. We apply the sentiment to RESPONSIBILITY. Every one who has noticed his own heart or the hearts of others must have perceived how prone is man to rely on time for the production of mental, moral and spiritual changes in himself. They know there are intellectual defects, but they expect them to be supplied; they know there are improper habits, but they expect them to be corrected; they know there are sinful principles, but they expect them to be removed. They do not intend to continue ignorant, or irregular, or ungodly. Now, it is of the first importance to remember and possess, as a practical conviction, that time does nothing, in the ease of any of the changes that take place in men's minds and hearts and lives, besides the affording a season in which they may be effected. He who expects to be mended merely by time, whatever the nature or measure of his defects, will find himself in as poor a plight as he who should stand by the stream till all the waters have passed along. Time will not change the nature of the seed sown, but only afford opportunity for its growth. Men will never be learned without study; will never be purged of bad habits without self-denial and decision and perseverance; will never become Christians, or, as Christians, abound in grace, without repentance, earnest faith, mortification of the flesh, crucifixion of the members, the entire and unconditional conversion of the heart to God and godliness. Is it not, after all, the moral pains, the effort of will, the self-sacrifice required, that let and hinder you? Is not your case exactly like that of a man who begrudges the toil and trouble of clearing a field that is overrun with weeds, and postpones them, in hope that hereafter the labour needed may be less? We implore you to take counsel of past experience. The hope of this present time was the hope of years ago. As you think or rather dream now, you used to dream. With what result? You have not attained the expected change. Will not holiness and duty involve renewal, a labour, a fight? Will it not always require the utmost unity of heart, and strength of will, and application of power? "Ah," say you, "but there is the Holy Spirit." But does He dispense with sorrow for sin, and subjection to Christ, and strenuous exertion? Will He weep for you, repent for you, believe for you, obey for you? Does He work without means and motives? The question then returns, What do you now? No reasonable man can look into the future with any confidence, while he is going on in sin; and he who says, "Time works wonders, I shall be wise, though now a fool, I shall be correct and consistent, though now far from being so, I shall be holy though now cherishing worldliness," only postpones, but thereby augments, not diminishes, the labour.

III. We apply the sentiment to PROVIDENCE. The term "providence" is used here, of course, in a restricted sense, to denote the course of events taking place upon the globe. All events are under the control and direction of God; and all are connected, directly or indirectly, with the establishment and extension of His spiritual kingdom. We know of no distinction between ecclesiastical and worldly providence. All things are given into the hand of Christ, and He orders and governs all for the sake of His Body, the Church. The principles of spiritual providence will remain the same. Sometimes we fear. The question is suggested, "If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?" It is highly probable that we are fast entering upon scenes to try the faith and fortitude even of "the elect." It would, however, be a grievous error to suppose that, whatever the materials and outward forms of providence may be, its principles and purposes are not abiding and immutable. The laws which govern all physical and spiritual things "change not." To fulfil the blessed designs of the Gospel is still His end. Christianity is the reason and the rule of all things. Whatever happens is a step towards the final and full attainment of the highest, holiest and most gracious purposes. That which seems to hinder is made to help. The path may be strange, but the Guide will bring them home. The prescription may be in an unknown tongue, but the Physician will complete their cure. God's dispensations may be hidden, but God is not; and "all things are yours, for ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's." Are you Christ's? The scenes and processes of Providence are more alike in every ago than many, at first sight, may suppose. Sometimes the past, especially the ancient ages of the world, seem to have been very different from our own. And, doubtless, in some respects, thank God, they were. But when their spirit is separated from their form, and allowance is made for the fact that they are ancient, that we have, therefore, their great and prominent events and features, without the filling up of things minor and multitudinous, they are not so peculiar after all. What a different earth would ours appear to him who saw nothing but its mountains! God does not work so much by sudden and violent operations as in a gradual and silent way. The most important processes in Nature and in Providence are the most silent. The moral instrument of God's providence is the same. Whatever change may take place in the human mind, in social customs and relations, in outward and material circumstances, truth will still be the means of advancing the Divine designs respecting our world. Our duty is therefore as plain as it is important, to study, to feel, to speak, to act, to spread the truth; in particular, the living and abiding truth of Christianity. Let us not, then, spend our time and waste our powers in a vain attempt to comprehend or predict events, but let us set about wholesome and unchanging duty. We are not called to be moral astrologers but moral husbandmen, and a miserable thing it would be for us to cast nativities and — die.

(A. J. Morris.)

The prerogative of imagining and looking into the future is one of which men avail themselves with the least moderation. How much time is spent in conjectures! See this illustrated in the flattering expectations of youth; the sad fore-castings of the sorrowful; our conjectures about political complications; the schemings of enthusiasts and partisans; and even in the musings of men who, rising above what is merely pleasant or useful, have the Good in view. This is certainly not the most profitable course. Else, why nothing but a bitter aftertaste left of extravagant expectations when these are disappointed? This is commonly thought to be the language of satiety. If it be regarded as a complaint, springing out of a longing for novelty, and adducing as its grievance that there is none to be found, then such a mental condition must be inferred; for when the mind in its hankering after new impressions fails to gain any, there sensibility must have become wholly dead. But these words stand here without reference to a personal experience, as a deliberate observation, followed by a steady and many-sided contemplation of the world.


1. We must have regard, not at all to the exterior, but to the interior of events, both in the material and in the spiritual world. The exterior is ever varying, the interior is ever the same. What of the ever-changing situations of the heavenly bodies? The same laws have determined them from the beginning. What of the changes that appear in my body, in the plant world? The same powers and their laws are ever at work there to produce essentially the same forms. The Unchangeable is everywhere impressed upon His works!... So in what concerns you more closely, into which you may fathom still more deeply — the spiritual world. Why wonder at a fellow-creature who furnishes you with an unusual sight by extraordinary virtues or vices, wisdom or folly, skill in thought and action or unaccountable peculiarity in these? Look into his soul! There are the same faculties as in yourself, and the operations of the same laws. Consider the great mystery how the two worlds to which you belong are united; how mind is ever gaining fresh dominion over matter, and thereby advancing human fellowship, and education, and convenience. See in this nothing novel. They are all but evolutions of the same Divine thoughts, advances toward the same goal of His grace, according to the same plan of His wisdom; in short, "there is nothing new under the sun."

2. To him who everywhere in the world seeks the Lord, there is no distinction between Great and Little. If the Lard does everything, and is active in everything, then everything must be worthy of Him, and no one thing will rise superior to another, as He is always equal to Himself. With Him in view, therefore, every event will reveal the same power or principle. This may appear strange to those who consider only the outside of things, and judge by the impressions which it produces on their sense and feeling. They overlook the greatness and glory of the Little; hence they deem great events to spring from trifling causes, and see novelty in quick, unexpected revolutions; hence the wondering gaze of folly here, and their stupid blindness before God's revelation there. They see not the same elements and laws in the desolating storm as in the morning breeze; in the sudden death as in the steadily-maintained warfare of life and death. A new light of truth flames high in some quarter, and errors vanish. Now, what astonishment seizes men, and what congratulations abound! This, because they see not the heralding sparks of that, and the secret decay of these.


1. Every one holding this view finds so much the more cause to be contented with the post which God has assigned to him in the world. To him nothing is vain, and every position in the world may be fraught with benefit.

2. With such a view of the world, a man will use even in little and common things far greater diligence than others. Herein we see the humility of the pious man, which is a source of much good both to himself and to the world. Neglecters of the Little are sorry promoters of the good cause, and never come by fair means to the Great.

3. It hence follows that, more than any other, this mode of looking at the world is connected with the assured hope that we shall succeed from time to time in becoming better. This is one of the first characteristics of the future to be perceived. Not so to the man who is waiting for somewhat outwardly great and extraordinary. He is doomed to much anxiety and disappointment. By looking, then, through the surface of earthly things into their inner essence, we see the true connection of the Divine government; are able to greet the future as a friend, of whose thoughts we are sure, however changed his demeanour; and in modesty and humility may calm ourselves with the conviction that we shall receive from our Heavenly Father henceforth nothing different from what His love has already bestowed upon us in the past.

(F. D. E. Schleiermacher.)

There are conclusions in science which are inevitable and independent of the student, except so far as his intellect is clear enough to understand them; but the moral conclusions, and the conclusions of the practical conduct which a man shall try from certain data or propositions upon which he or others shall be agreed — those vary with his immediate state of conscience or spirit. Now, with regard to this principle that Solomon found to be a great weariness. The conclusions that a man shall draw from it are very much dependent upon the man himself. There is a desire in man for that which is best. As long as the river ran into an eternity, it seemed to be lovely, but when we find that has got into a circle too, and that the water will come down in rain back again, that becomes a weariness. Man has a passion for something new; fairy tales, and many romances are built upon a desire that there should be something that has not been, and this spirit in a child is no doubt a great element of joy. Now, whether this weariness is yours, I know not; that it has been a passing feeling — judging from myself — I conclude, but as it is the fate to be so, it is the wisest thing to see what good it has, and to rejoice that this year will bring nothing new at all, that it will be the old story again, which will at times be a weariness, but also at times a joy; for remember that human life is based upon this great postulate — "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done, is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun." Men try many ways to find out something new, but it is in vain. They travel sometimes for a change, and they go to the East, but they find that there are people there the same as elsewhere, and even travelling sometimes gets a weariness. What has been will be. Humanity is the same. Others try visiting. You get new people to come and see you, and you find out the old tune in new mouths. There are no new people scarcely. It is the old story; there is a little difference in the instrument perhaps, but you hear the old tunes, the commonplace talk, the same things over again, and why not? That is the way of life — let a wise man accept it. Now, see why it is the way. We have all to start from the beginning. We have all to build up, not what many of you love to build up — a house made with hands, but the end of life is to build up "a house not made with hands," to be hereafter "eternal in the heavens." When a man sees clearly that to build his character is of more consequence than to build his fame and fortune, then he is wise, for instead of he — a poor weakling — having to face the unknown, he knows what is coming, he learns to rejoice that he can consult the fathers, for what happened yesterday is a future precedent, and finding the thing that has been is that which shall be, the elements of uncertainty — fear and terror — are removed. If then I forget for a moment that the building of a character is the only wise thing for which I came into the world, and for which all other things exist, as far as I am concerned, then this glorious repetition, this wonderful monotony, this constant changeableness, is an element of my success. I know pretty much what duties and circumstances life can bring, I know its utmost, I have seen its worst and its best, and I know what I am about; I can go forth to build, knowing the materials I have at my disposal, what the dangers and difficulties I have to encounter, and the issues that will come to pass, and so for to-morrow I am prepared. For remember that of all a man's possessions, the past is the surest, greatest, and most useful. The past is man's storehouse, it is his volume to which he goes again and again for advice as to the future. He turns it over, as we turn over the pages of a book of law or a dictionary. He knows where to find each thing he wants. So when to-morrow comes, and brings me a difficulty, I go to yesterday, and, turning the volume over, I look for bodily pain perhaps, and I find that in a certain month of a certain year I suffered bodily pain to a degree to make sleep impossible, and life a despair. But it says at the end — "Got through it, not so bad as I thought." And so the past is my dictionary, I know the meaning; it is my book of precedents, I know what will happen. Some man speaks evil of you, and, when you are young, it disturbs you much. It is like a scratch on the skin, it does not go deep, but it gives you an amazing pain while it lasts. But one fool saying another is a fool is simply a statement that he is a fool, and 'thus to the wise man the past is a great hope for the future. It contains balm, consolation and comfort. It is the history of difficulties that turned out not to be so difficult. It is the history of struggles that came to an end. It is the history of long nights that were always followed by morning. Therefore to the wise man it is a joy to say with Solomon: "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun." We have character to build up, and we require the old circumstances, ways, results, the inevitable methods of God, in order that we may surely and safely build. Then as we have to learn things, and follow them for ourselves, it is needful that the same old story be applied to each of us, for were the circumstances of a man's life greatly to vary, the character that would result must vary too. I am content. I look forward to this year, I confess, with no great enthusiasm, because I have .ceased to be an enthusiast, and am simply a workman now. Life will bring me nothing new. Therefore if you expect me to be eager — excuse me — I have seen the show before. But no terror is possible, no cowardice, and no fear. I go forth with a grave heart, and the reason of it is this — "What has been, will be." Old deliverances are the deliverances of the future. The thing that has been shall be, God who did deliver in the olden time, will deliver now, and the fixity of God, and the uniformity of human experience, then, instead of being (as they were to Solomon) a weariness and vexation, shall become at last a comfort and joy. So that, beginning a new year, we begin it with courage and quiet Confidence: The chances are, not one of us will find the year too much for us, because we have tried "a great many years, and have got the better of them. The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hands of the Philistine." Thus then I rejoice, and look forward to the three hundred and sixty-five days with all their monotony — the sun rising and setting at the same time and place, knowing that through the same pane of glass the sun will shine (if it shines at all), with a quiet faith and confidence. For if the sun should rise in a different way I should not be ready for it. If the sea should take to going up-hill, there would be very sad changes with regard to human nature. If the law of gravity should take another change in consequence of the millennium, it would be a very sorry thing for human life. But human life is built up, all churches are erected, all institutions are founded, all coal pits sunk, all candles lighted, all the steps of men move according to one great proposition — what has been shall be.

(G. Dawson.)

There are few people who do not form in their minds agreeable plans of happiness, made up of future flattering prospects, which have no foundation except in their own fancies. This disposition, so general among mankind, is also one of the principal causes of their immoderate desire to live. A child fancies that as soon as he shall arrive at a certain stature, he shall enjoy more pleasure than he hath enjoyed in his childhood, and this is pardonable in a child. The youth persuades himself that men, who are what they call settled in the world, are incomparably more happy than young people can be at his age. Thus we go on from fancy to fancy, and from one chimera to another, till death arrives, subverts all our imaginary projects of happiness, and makes us know by our own experience what the experience of others might have fully taught us long before, that is, that the whole world is vanity. Of this vanity I would endeavour to convince you, and I dedicate this discourse to the destruction of imaginary schemes of happiness. All the past hath been vanity, and all the future will be vanity to the end of the world. The thing that hath been, is that which shall be: and that which is done, is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun.

I. Let us first of all determine the sense of the text, and EXAMINE WHAT ERROR THE WISE MAN ATTACKS.

1. When the wise man says that which hath been, is that which shall be, he doth not mean to attribute a character of firmness and consistency to such events as concern us. A spectator young in his observations, and distant from the central point, is amazed at the rapid changes, which he beholds suddenly take place like the creation of new worlds; he supposed whole ages must pass in removing those enormous masses, public bodies, and in turning the current of prosperity and victory. But should he penetrate into the spring of events, he would soon find that a very small and inconsiderable point gave motion to that wheel, on which turned public prosperity, and public adversity, and which gave a whole nation a new and different appearance. Sometimes the rare qualities of one single general animate a whole army, and assign to each member of it his proper work, to the prudent a station which requires prudence, to the intrepid a station which requires courage, and even to an idiot a place where folly and absurdity have their use. From these rare qualities a state derives the glory of rapid marches, bold sieges, desperate attacks, complete victories and shouts of triumph. The general finishes his life by his own folly, or is supplanted by a party cabal, or sinks into inaction on the soft down of his own panegyrics, or a fatal bullet, shot at random and without design, penetrates the heart of this noble and generous man. Instantly a new world appears, and that which was is no more; for with this general victory and songs of triumph expired. It would be easy to repeat of individuals what we have affirmed of public bodies, that is, that the world is a theatre in perpetual motion, and always varying; that every day, and in a manner, every moment exhibits some new scene, some change of decoration. It is, then, clear that the proposition in the text ought to be restrained to the nature of the subject spoken of.

2. But these indeterminate words, "that which hath been shall be, and there is no new thing under the sun," must be explained by the place they occupy. Without quoting other examples, we observe that the words under consideration occur twice in this book, once in the text, and again in the fifteenth verse of the third chapter, where we are told, that which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been. However, it is certain that these two sentences, so much alike in sound, have a very different meaning. The design of Solomon in the latter passage is to inform such persons, as tremble at the least temptation, that they were mistaken. But in our text the same words, the thing that hath been is that which shall be, have a different meaning. It is evident by the place in which the wise man put them that he intended to decry the good things of this life, to make the vanity of them appear, and to convince mankind that no revolutions can change the character of vanity essential to their condition. We often declaim on the vanity of the world; but our declamations are not unfrequently more intended to indemnify pride than to express the genuine feelings of a heart disabused. We love to declaim against advantages out of our reach, and we take vengeance on them for not coming within our grasp by exclaiming against them. A man waiting on the coast to go abroad wishes for nothing but a fair wind, and he does not think that he shall find other, and perhaps greater, calamities in another climate than those which compelled him to quit his native soil. This is an image of us all. Our minds are limited, and when an object presents itself to us we consider it only in one point of view, in other lights we are not competent to the examination of it. Hence the interest we take in some events, in the revolutions of states, the phenomena of nature, and the change of seasons; hence that perpetual desire of change. Eyes never satisfied with seeing, and ears never filled with hearing. Poor mortals, will you always run after phantoms! No, it is not any of the revolutions you so earnestly desire can alter the vanity essential to human things: with all the advantages which you so earnestly desire, you would find yourself as void, and as discontented as you are now.

II. LET US ENDEAVOUR TO ADMIT THESE TRUTHS WITH ALL THEIR EFFECTS. Let us attempt the work, though we have so many reasons to fear a want of success. There are four barriers against imaginary projects; four proofs, or rather four forces of demonstrations in evidence of the truth of the text.

1. Let us first observe the appointment of man, and let us not form schemes opposite to that of our Creator. When He placed us in this world, He did not intend to confine us to it: but when He formed us capable of happiness, He intended we should seek it in an economy different from this. Without this principle man is an inexplicable enigma: his faculties and his wishes, his afflictions and his conscience, his life and his death, everything that concerns man is obscure, and beyond all elucidation. His faculties are enigmatical. Tell us, what is the end and design of the faculties of many Why hath he the faculty of knowing? What, is it only to arrange a few words in his memory? Only to know the sounds or the pictures to which divers nations of the world have associated their ideas? Hath man intelligence only for the purpose of racking his brain, and losing himself in a world of abstractions, in order to disentangle a few questions from metaphysical labyrinths, what is the origin of ideas, what are the properties, and what is the nature of spirit? Glorious object of knowledge for an intelligent being! An object in general more likely to produce scepticism than demonstration of a science properly so called. Let us reason in like manner on the other faculties of mankind. His desires are problematical. What power can eradicate, what power can moderate his desire to extend and perpetuate his duration? The human heart includes in its wish the past, the present, the future — yea, eternity itself. Explain to us what proportion there can be between the desires of man and the wealth which he accumulates, the honours he pursues, the sceptre in his hand, and the crown on his head? His miseries are enigmatical. Who can reconcile the doctrine of a good God with that of a miserable man, with the doubts that divide his mind, with the remorse that gnaws his heart, with the uncertainties that torment him. His life is a mystery. What part, poor man, what part are you acting in this world? Who misplaced you thus? His death is enigmatical. This is the greatest mystery of all enigmas. Lay down the principle, which we have advanced, grant that the great design of the Creator, by placing man amidst the objects of this present world, was to draw out and extend his desires after another world, and then all these clouds vanish, all these veils are drawn aside, all these enigmas explained, nothing is obscure, nothing is problematical in man. His faculties are not enigmatical; the faculty of knowing is not confined to such vain science as he can acquire in this world. He is not placed here to acquire knowledge, but virtue. If he acquire virtue, he will be admitted into another world, where his utmost desire of knowledge will be gratified. His desires are not mysterious. When the laws of order require him to check and control his wishes, let him restrain them. When the profession of religion requires it, let him deny himself agreeable sensations, and let him patiently suffer the cross, tribulations and persecutions. After he shall have thus submitted to the laws of his Creator, he may expect another period, in which his desire to be great will be satisfied. His miseries are no more enigmatical; they exercise his virtue, and will be rewarded with glory. His life ceases to be mysterious. It is a state of probation, a time of trial, a period given him to make choice of an eternity of happiness, or an eternity of misery. His death is no longer a mystery, and it is impossible that either his life or his death should be enigmas, for the one unfolds the other. We conclude, then, that the destination of man is one great barrier against imaginary schemes of happiness. Change the face of society; subvert the order of the world: put despotical government in the place of a democracy; peace in the place of war, plenty in the place of scarcity, and you will alter nothing but the surface of human things, the substance will always continue the same. The thing that hath been, is that which shall be; and that which is done, is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

2. The school of the world opens to us a second source of demonstrations. Enter this school, and you will renounce all vain schemes of felicity. There you will learn that the greatest part of the pleasures of the world, of which you entertain such fine notions, are only phantoms. There you will find that those passions, which men of high rank have the power of fully gratifying, are sources of trouble and remorse, and that all the pleasure of gratification is nothing in comparison of the pain of one regret caused by the remembrance of it. In a word, you will there understand that what may seem the most fortunate events in your favour will contribute very little to your happiness.

3. But if the school of the world is capable of teaching us to renounce our fanciful projects of felicity, Solomon is the man in the world the most learned in this school, and the most able to give us intelligence. Accordingly we have made his declaration the third source of our demonstrations. I know no one more proper to teach us a good course of morality than an old reformed courtier, who chooses to retire after he hath spent the prime of his life in dissipation. On this principle, what an impression ought the declaration of Solomon to make on our minds! Few men are so fascinated with the world as not to know that some things in it are vain and vexatious. Most men say of some particular object, This is vanity: but very few are so rational as to comprehend all the good things of this life in the same class, and to say of each, as Solomon did, This also is vanity. A poor peasant, whose ruinous cottage doth not keep out the weather, will readily say, My cottage is vanity: but he imagines there is a great deal of solidity in the happiness of him who sleeps in a superb palace. Solomon knew all these conditions of life, and it was because be knew them all that he declaimed against them; and had you, like him, known them all by experience, you would form such an idea as he did of the whole.

4. To reflections on the experience of Solomon add your own, and to this purpose recollect the history of your life. Remember the time when sighing and wishing for the condition, in which Providence hath since placed you, you considered it as the centre of felicity, and verily thought could you obtain that state you should wish for nothing more. You have obtained it. Do you think now as you did then?

III. From all these reflections WHAT CONSEQUENCES SHALL WE DRAW? That all conditions are absolutely equal? That as they, who actually enjoy the most desirable advantages of life, ought to consider them with sovereign contempt, so people, who are deprived of them, ought not to take any pains to acquire them, and to better their condition? No, God forbid we should preach a morality so austere, and so likely to disgrace religion. On the one hand, they, to whom God hath granted the good things of this life, ought to know the value of them, and to observe with gratitude the difference which Providence hath made between them and others. Do you enjoy liberty? Liberty is a great good: feel the pleasure of liberty. Are you rich? Wealth is a great good: enjoy the pleasure of being rich. Behold the man loaded with debts, destitute of friends, pursued by inexorable creditors, having indeed just enough to keep himself alive to-day, but not knowing how he shall support life to-morrow, and bless God you are not in the condition of that man. Do you enjoy your health? Health is a great good: relish the pleasure of being well. Nothing but a fund of stupidity or ingratitude can render us insensible to temporal blessings, when it pleases God to bestow them on us. As they, to whom Providence hath granted the comforts of life, ought to know the value of them, and to enjoy them with gratitude, so it is allow-able — yea, it is the duty of such as are deprived of them to endeavour to acquire them, to meliorate their condition, and to procure in future a condition more happy than that to which they have hitherto been condemned, and which hath caused them so many difficulties and tears. Self-love is the most natural and lawful of all our passions. The more riches you have the more able will you be to assist the indigent. The higher you are elevated in society, the more you will have it in your power to succour the oppressed. Our design, m restraining your projects, is to engage you patiently to bear the inconveniences of your present condition, when you cannot remedy them: because whatever difference there may seem to be between the most happy and the most miserable mortal in this world, there is much less, all things considered, than our misguided passions imagine. Our design, in checking the immoderate inclination we have to contrive fanciful schemes of happiness, is to make you enjoy with tranquillity such blessings as you have. Most men render themselves insensible to their present advantages by an extravagant passion for future acquisitions. Above all, the design, the chief design we have in denouncing a vain and unsatisfactory being in this world, is to engage you to seek after a happy futurity in the presence of God; to engage you to expect from the blessings of a future state what you cannot promise yourself in this. But if all mankind ought to preserve themselves from the disorder of fanciful schemes of future pleasure, they above all are bound to do so, who are arrived at old age, when years accumulated bring us near the infirmities of declining life, or a dying bed. What advantage could I derive from a well-furnished table, I, whose palate hath lost the faculty of tasting and relishing food? What advantage could I derive from a numerous levee, I, to whom company is become a burden, and who am in a manner a burden to myself? In one word, what benefit can I reap from a concurrence of all the advantages of life, I, who am within a few steps of the gates of death? Happy! When my life comes to an end, to be able to incorporate my existence with that of the immortal God! Happy! When I feel this earthly tabernacle sink, to be able to exercise that faith, which is an evidence of things not seen! Happy to ascend to that city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God! (Hebrews 11:1, 10).

(J. Saurin.)

There is no new thing under the sun
(with 2 Corinthians 5:17): — These words bring before us two opposite standpoints which perhaps may be best described as the world's standpoint and Christ's standpoint. The one represents the Old Testament, the other the New. Solomon and Paul are the two types of these two different tendencies which are here brought before us — the world's standpoint and Christ's standpoint. Now, on the very threshold of the subject, we are arrested by a mighty paradox. If one had been asked beforehand to decide what would have been the origin of these two passages he should certainly, I think, have said that it would have been exactly the reverse. If there ever was a man in this world who ought to have felt the freshness and the joy and the glow of morning's dawn, of the thing called existence, that man was Solomon. If there ever was a man who ought to have felt the extreme jadedness, commonplaceness, disjointedness of the thing called life, that man was Paul. And yet, strange and wondrous paradox, Solomon found life to be flat, stale, and unprofitable — a thing with all the glow and glory superseded and washed out. Paul felt life to be absolutely ringing with novelty. If any man be in Christ, he is not only new, but a new creation, "Old things are passed away": and "behold all things are become new." Now, which of these views is the true one? They are both true! That is the mystery, that is the problem to be solved to-day — how two such different estimates of men can both at one and the same moment be true. Now, I think, if you look at these passages, you will find that the two passages themselves give two decided hints as to the reason of the paradox — suggest two causes why two such opposite statements are each of them true of the men whom they represent; why the one man found life to be all novelty, and the other man a scene of commonplaceness. Let us consider these, in the first instance, as an explanation of the reason of the difference of these two views, that Solomon was under the delusion that novelty was to be found in things, in outward objects — "There is no new thing under the sun." Paul, on the other hand, has taken his stand on a totally different principle; he says that novelty lies, and must always lie, not in things, but in men — "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature," or a new creation: "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." It was no change in the outward creation that made Paul feel the sense of novelty in passing into Christianity. How could it? The mirror cannot reveal anything that is not already in the room. You may put a new glass into the mirror, you may polish the old glass a hundred times, but unless you change the furniture beforehand the impression carried to the eye will be exactly the same. Now, let us take the opposite. Let us say, instead of beginning with polishing the mirror, or putting new glass into the mirror, we shall begin by changing the furniture of the room — in other words, by renewing the man. You find in everyday life, you and I find in this world, that a change in inward experience actually produces an absolutely new picture on a perfectly old mirror. You entered, e.g. some time ago into a picture gallery, your eye rested there incidentally upon something classical, say the battle of Lake Regulus or the Three Hundred that fought at Thermopylae; it rested there, but glanced immediately away. What was Thermopylae to you, with no knowledge of classical history? In five minutes that sight had no more impression on your organism than if it had never existed; you had forgotten its existence. Years pass away: you had begun to study classical studies, without reference to this picture. One day, incidentally, again you entered the same picture gallery: suddenly your eye was fastened, riveted. What a beautiful picture that is! How classical; how it makes the past live and breathe and glow! I never saw anything that expressed to my mind so vividly the old features of the Attic race. And yet that picture is not altered in outward lineament or feature: it is worse than better of the wear. It is the old glass in the mirror, but you have caught the glow of another scene — "Old things have passed away; and, behold, all things have become new." And now, perhaps, you can understand what it was that gave to this man of Tarsus such a thrill and glow in beholding this aspect of nature and of life. He, too, as much as you on these occasions, had been experiencing the hollowness, the barrenness, the nothingness of human existence. Suddenly, suddenly there flashed before him an ideal, a present, a beauty before which the heavens fled away. There came to him the sight of an ideal perfect beauty, and before that ideal of beauty the world burst anew into bloom; and was not Nature, too, glad in mood that half-hour? In very truth the beauty of that idea filled all things — it put out the sun and moon; it put out the stars; it put out the glory of the landscape; it extinguished the forms of Nature and sat upon them; it occupied the place of all things that had occupied his senses before; it made common things precious; it made little things large and grand; it turned the water into wine; it lightened the long and weary marches in Macedonia, Thessalonica, Attica, Achaia; it lightened the long and weary drudgery of commonplace life — of tent-making, the buying, the selling, the jabbering of everyday talk about things of no interest at all. This round earth everywhere was bound with gold chains about the feet of God. Say — in sight of such a transformation as this, in sight of a transformation that came, not from a new glass in Nature's mirror, but from a new impulse imparted to the innermost soul — can you wonder that the great Apostle of the Gentiles should have thus prescribed, inscribed, and stereotyped for ever his experience of the source of novelty — "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new"? I come now to the second of the great principles by which the passage explains its own paradox; the reason why Solomon failed to find that novelty in the things in which Paul expressed himself to have met with what was fresh and new. The second reason I take to be this: Solomon was under a second delusion, he not only thought that novelty lay in things, but he thought that novelty was to be reached by a change of the present, by a doing away with the present. Paul, then, has made the great discovery that in order to get novelty we do not require a change at all: it is the past — "If any man is in Christ he is a new creature," because "old things are passed away," therefore "all things are become new." Solomon had sown his wild oats and passed from the far country into his father's house, he had become a highly respectable member of society, but he was very much astonished to find that the seeds he had sown in the far country — he had finished the sowing of his wild seeds — were attending him in his father's house. It was the past that troubled Solomon. There is a saying common in this world, "It will be all the same a hundred years hence." A more foolish saying, perhaps, never existed. The weight that presses upon you and me is not of the present, but a weight of former years. He must be a poor-minded man, even if he has passed from the far country into his father's house, even if he has sown the wild oats, and is at what we call a staid and sober period of life — he must, I say, be a poor-minded man that never says to himself: "Have I left no cross on the wayside? I am safe now; I have planted my feet upon a rock, but have I left no record, no cross over which my brother man shall fall?" Is there nothing which can comfort a man under these circumstances — supposing you and I have got this fever of the past, this sense of old. things present upon us — is there anything which can be to you and me a source of possible comfort? Yes, there is one. Provided now it were revealed to you and me by faith, revealed in such a way that my faith could accept it, that all this time when I thought I was travelling, leaving crosses by the wayside, there was a Being, a mysterious Power, coming up behind me and taking up every cross that I had planted down and transmuting — not cancelling it, that would be impossible, the past can never be restored — but in the literal sense of the word atoning for it, in the sense of a ladder by which my brother, instead of falling, may rise. If, for example: you saw Joseph, that you put last year into the dungeon, step on to the throne of Egypt, not in spite of that, but by reason of it; for that dungeon which you meant to be his destruction had become the first necessary step to his throne. Say, in such a sense as that, in such a sense of transmuted energy as that, would not the regenerated man feel a sense of freedom which would make life bright, happy, and new? Now, that was the case with this man Paul; he had been regenerated, sown his wild oats in the far country — although different from Solomon's, they had been very wild seeds indeed — and so he had still remaining the memory of those seeds. His life was very unhappy, for the old things had prevented the new things from appearing new. It was no mere sense of the abstract horror of sins that weighed him down, that made him cry, "O, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Paul had killed a man — killed a man in his youth; the blood of the martyr Stephen lay upon him. That concrete, that personal thing, that thing which continued to meet him at every turn of life, again and again, with odious, horrid touch, it was that which weighed him down, and it was that against which he prayed time after time that it might be removed. "All the perfumes of Arabia would not cleanse that little hand," all the freedom from punishment, all the regeneration would not blot cub this dark deed, this murder of Stephen, and he prayed if by any means this cup might pass from him. One day he heard a voice saying to him, "My strength is perfected in your weakness, My strength is perfected in your weakness," and he looked up and suddenly there met him an awful, nay, a glorious apparition; he seemed to see before him the same form that had stood by him at the last, and now it was carrying his cross, that awful deed of shame, the murder of Stephen; but as he gazed, suddenly the brazen cross became gold, it became lighted to all the rays of sunshine; and suddenly, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, there flashed upon Paul a new thought, revelation — he had unconsciously been making Christ's kingdom; he had not only made Stephen, but he had made Christianity; he had planted in that blood the first seed of a Church which will never die, and the worn-out man of Tarsus cried, "I am free! I am free! Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

(G. Matheson, D. D.)

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