There is no limit to all the people who were before them. Yet the successor will not be celebrated by those who come even later. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
This is no doubt a paradox. For one man who seeks to become wise, there are a hundred who desire and strive for riches. For one man who desires the friendship of the thoughtful and prudent, there are ten who cultivate the intimacy of the prosperous and luxurious. Still, men's judgment is fallible and often erroneous; and it is so in this particular.
I. WISDOM ENNOBLES YOUTH AND POVERTY. Age does not always bring wisdom, which is the gift of God, sometimes - as in the case of Solomon - conferred in early life. True excellence and honor are not attached to age and station. Wisdom, modesty, and trustworthiness may be found in lowly abodes and in youthful years. Character is the supreme test of what is admirable and good. A young man may be wise in the conduct of his own life, in the use of his own gifts and opportunities, in the choice of his own friends; he may be wise in his counsel offered to others, in the influence he exerts over others. And his wisdom may be shown in his contented acquiescence in the poverty of his condition and the obscurity of his station. He will not forget that the Lord of all, for our sakes, became poor, dwelt in a lowly home, wrought at a manual occupation, enjoyed few advantages of human education or of companionship with the great.
II. FOLLY DEGRADES AGE AND ROYALTY. In the natural order of things, knowledge and prudence should accompany advancing age. It is "years that bring the philosophic mind." In the natural order of thins, high station should call out the exercise of statesmanship, thoughtful wisdom, mature and weighty counsel. Where all these are absent, there may be outward greatness, splendor, luxury, empire, but true kingship there is not. There is no fool so conspicuously and pitiably foolish as the aged monarch who can neither give counsel himself nor accept it from the experienced and trustworthy. And the case is worse when his folly is apparent in the mismanagement of his own life. It may be questioned whether Solomon, in his youth, receiving in answer to prayer the gift of wisdom, and using it with serious sobriety, was not more to be admired than when, as a splendid but disappointed voluptuary, he enjoyed the revenues of provinces, dwelt in sumptuous palaces, and received the homage of distant potentates, but yet was corrupted by his own weaknesses into connivance at idolatry, and was unfaithful to the Lord to whose bounty he was indebted for all he possessed.
APPLICATION. This is a word of encouragement to thoughtful, pure-minded, and religious youth. The judgment of inspiration commends those who, in the flower of their age, by God's grace rise above the temptations to which they are exposed, and cherish that reverence toward the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. - T.
Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.
There is no topic on which the Bible maintains a more lucid and entire consistency of sentiment than the superiority of moral over all physical and all external distinctions. One very animating inference to be drawn from our text is, how much may be made of humanity. Did a king come to take up his residence amongst us — did he shed a grandeur over our city by the presence of his court, and give the impulse of his expenditure to the trade of its population — it were not easy to rate the value and the magnitude which such an event would have on the estimation of a common understanding, or the degree of personal importance which would attach to him who stood a lofty object in the eye of admiring townsmen. And yet it is possible, out of the raw and ragged materials of an obscurest lane, to rear an individual of more inherent worth than him who thus draws the gaze of the world upon his person. By the act of training in wisdom's ways the most tattered and neglected boy who runs upon our pavements do we present the community with that which, in wisdom's estimation, is of greater price than this gorgeous inhabitant of a palace. Even without looking beyond the confines of our present world, the virtue of humble life will bear to be advantageously contrasted with all the pride and glory of an elevated condition. The man who, though among the poorest of them all, has a wisdom and a weight of character which makes him the oracle of his neighbourhood — the man who, vested with no other authority than the meek authority of worth, carries in his presence a power to shame and to overawe the profligacy that is around him — the venerable father, from whoso lowly tenement the voice of psalms is heard to ascend with the offering up of every evening sacrifice — the Christian sage, who, exercised among life's severest hardships, looks calmly onward to heaven, and trains the footsteps of his children in the way that leads to it — the eldest of a well-ordered family, bearing their duteous and honourable part in the contest with its difficulties and its trials — all these offer to our notice such elements of moral respectability as do exist among the lowest orders of human society, and elements, too, which admit of being multiplied far beyond the reach of any present calculation. But, to attain a just estimate of the superiority of the poor man who has wisdom, over the rich man who has it not, we must enter into the calculation of eternity — we must look to wisdom in its true essence, as consisting of religion, as having the fear of God for its beginning, and the rule of God for its way, and the favour of God for its full and satisfying termination — we must compute how speedily it is, that, on the wings of time, the season of every paltry distinction between them must at length pass away; how soon death will strip the one of hie rags, and the other of his pageantry, and send them in utter nakedness to the dust; how soon judgment will summon them from their graves, and place them in outward equality before the Great Disposer of their future lot, and their future place, through ages which never end; how in that situation the accidental distinctions of life will be rendered void, and personal distinctions will be all that shall avail them; how, when examined by the secrets of the inner man, and the deeds done in their body, the treasure of heaven shall be adjudged only to him whose heart was set upon it in this world; and how tremendously the account between them will be turned, when it shall be found of the one, that he must perish for lack of knowledge, and of the other, that he has the wisdom which is unto salvation. And let me just state that the great instrument for thus elevating the poor is that Gospel of Jesus Christ, which may be preached unto the poor. It is the doctrine of His Cross finding an easier admission into their hearts than it does through those barriers of human pride and human resistance, which are often reared on the basis of literature. Let the testimony of God be simply taken in, that on His own Son He has laid the iniquities of us all — and from this point does the humble scholar of Christianity pass into light, and enlargement, and progressive holiness.
It has been thought that Ecclesiastes must here be referring to some well-known event of his own times: but, if this be the case, the event has not yet been identified. Perhaps he is simply presenting an imaginary but possible case, for which there had been quite sufficient basis in many a political revolution. In those old kingdoms and empires it was always possible that even a beggar or prisoner might rise to the throne, whilst the monarch who had been born to the crown might, in his old age, perhaps through his own folly, become a poor man in his own kingdom. Such was the instability of the most exalted of earthly positions. And Ecclesiastes sketches the picture of the young upstart — a usurper wise and skilful enough to make himself the leader of a successful revolution, and to place himself in the stead of the old monarch. So great is the popularity of this usurper that he becomes the idol of the hour: millions flock around his standard, and place him on the throne. But even this popularity is, in turn, an evanescent thing; "those who come after him" (the people of a younger generation) "shall not rejoice in him." He, too, has only his day. It may be that, even during his lifetime, he loses the popular favour: and, at the best, he soon passes away in death, and is speedily forgotten. Thus the glory and fame even of monarchy itself is also "vanity and feeding on wind." It would not be difficult to find many a "historical parallel" to this picture. One of the most striking has occurred within the memory of some of us. When Louis Philippe, the aged King of France, who would not be admonished by the signs of the times, had at length to flee from his own kingdom in 1848, Louis Napoleon, who, not long before, had been for five years a prisoner in the fortress of Ham, appeared in Paris, and, throwing himself into the midst of political affairs, gradually became more and more popular, until in due time he became President of the Republic, and ultimately Emperor of France. We know how he was worshipped by the masses of the French people, how there was "no end of all the people" who flocked around him in their enthusiasm. And we know how, after many years of royal splendour, the collapse came suddenly at last, and how, after the defeat at Sedan, the nation, almost as one man, turned round and kicked the idol they had worshipped. Even one of our own poets had hailed him as "Emperor evermore!" But where is all his "glory" now? Surely "vanity of vanities" might well be inscribed on the tomb of Napoleon
III. And, indeed, the career of many a man who has been borne along into high position on the wave of popular enthusiasm furnishes a most salutary lesson as to the real value of mere earthly fame and greatness.
TopicsChasing, Delight, Desire, Happy, However, Later, Latter, Lead, Meaningless, Ones, Pleased, Purpose, Rejoice, Spirit, Stood, Striving, Successor, Surely, Vanity, Vexation, Was-yet, Wind, Yet
Outline1. vanity is increased unto men by oppression
4. by envy
5. by idleness
7. by covetousness
9. by solitariness
13. by willfulness
Dictionary of Bible ThemesEcclesiastes 4:14
LibraryThe Order of Thought which Surrounded the Development of Jesus.
As the cooled earth no longer permits us to understand the phenomena of primitive creation, because the fire which penetrated it is extinct, so deliberate explanations have always appeared somewhat insufficient when applying our timid methods of induction to the revolutions of the creative epochs which have decided the fate of humanity. Jesus lived at one of those times when the game of public life is freely played, and when the stake of human activity is increased a hundredfold. Every great part, …
Ernest Renan—The Life of Jesus
In making the following thread to the rich literature on Constantine the plan has been to confine almost wholly to Monographs, since to refer to all histories, encyclopædias, and the like which treat of him would be endless. Only such few analyzed references are introduced as have special reasons. Even with this limit it cannot be at all hoped that the list is exhaustive. Considerable pains has been taken, however, to make it full, as there is no really extended modern list of works on Constantine, …
Eusebius Pamphilius—The Life of Constantine
And for Your Fearlessness against them Hold this Sure Sign -- Whenever There Is...
43. And for your fearlessness against them hold this sure sign--whenever there is any apparition, be not prostrate with fear, but whatsoever it be, first boldly ask, Who art thou? And from whence comest thou? And if it should be a vision of holy ones they will assure you, and change your fear into joy. But if the vision should be from the devil, immediately it becomes feeble, beholding your firm purpose of mind. For merely to ask, Who art thou  ? and whence comest thou? is a proof of coolness. …
Athanasius—Select Works and Letters or Athanasius
The Upbringing of Jewish Children
The tenderness of the bond which united Jewish parents to their children appears even in the multiplicity and pictorialness of the expressions by which the various stages of child-life are designated in the Hebrew. Besides such general words as "ben" and "bath"--"son" and "daughter"--we find no fewer than nine different terms, each depicting a fresh stage of life. The first of these simply designates the babe as the newly--"born"--the "jeled," or, in the feminine, "jaldah"--as in Exodus 2:3, 6, 8. …
Alfred Edersheim—Sketches of Jewish Social Life
Letter xxxvi (Circa A. D. 1131) to the Same Hildebert, who had not yet Acknowledged the Lord Innocent as Pope.
To the Same Hildebert, Who Had Not Yet Acknowledged the Lord Innocent as Pope. He exhorts him to recognise Innocent, now an exile in France, owing to the schism of Peter Leonis, as the rightful Pontiff. To the great prelate, most exalted in renown, Hildebert, by the grace of God Archbishop of Tours, Bernard, called Abbot of Clairvaux, sends greeting, and prays that he may walk in the Spirit, and spiritually discern all things. 1. To address you in the words of the prophet, Consolation is hid from …
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux—Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux
Scriptures Showing the Sin and Danger of Joining with Wicked and Ungodly Men.
Scriptures Showing The Sin And Danger Of Joining With Wicked And Ungodly Men. When the Lord is punishing such a people against whom he hath a controversy, and a notable controversy, every one that is found shall be thrust through: and every one joined with them shall fall, Isa. xiii. 15. They partake in their judgment, not only because in a common calamity all shares, (as in Ezek. xxi. 3.) but chiefly because joined with and partakers with these whom God is pursuing; even as the strangers that join …
Hugh Binning—The Works of the Rev. Hugh Binning
It is not surprising that the book of Ecclesiastes had a struggle to maintain its place in the canon, and it was probably only its reputed Solomonic authorship and the last two verses of the book that permanently secured its position at the synod of Jamnia in 90 A.D. The Jewish scholars of the first century A.D. were struck by the manner in which it contradicted itself: e.g., "I praised the dead more than the living," iv. 2, "A living dog is better than a dead lion," ix. 4; but they were still more …
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament
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