Again, I saw futility under the sun.
I. THE EVILS OF A SOLITARY LIFE. (Vers. 7, 8.) The picture is drawn with a very few touches, but it is remarkably distinct and vivid. It represents a "solitary, friendless money-maker - a Shylock without even a Jessica; an Isaac of York with his faithful Rebecca." He is alone, he has no companion, no relative or friend, he knows not who will succeed him in the possession of his heaped-up treasures; and yet he toils on with unremitting anxiety, from early in the morning till late at night, unwilling to lose a moment from his work as long as he can add anything to his gains. "There is no end of all his labor." The assiduity with which he at first applied himself to the task of accumulating riches distinguishes him to the end of life. At first, perhaps, he had to force himself to cultivate habits of industry and application, but now he cannot tear himself away from business. His habits rule him, and take away from him both the ability and the inclination to relax his labors and to enjoy the fruit of them. Have we not often seen instances of this folly in our own experience? Those who have lived a laborious life, and have been successful in their undertakings, toiling on to the very last, afflicted with an insatiable avarice, never satisfied with their riches, and only enjoying the mere consciousness of possessing them? Have we not noticed how such a man gets to be penurious and fretful and utterly unfeeling? He gathers in eagerly, and often unscrupulously, and gives out reluctantly and sparingly. He starves himself in the midst of abundance, grudges the most necessary expenses, and denies himself and those dependent upon him the commonest comforts. The misery he inflicts upon himself does not open his eyes to the folly of his conduct; he grows gradually callous to discomforts, and finds in the sordid gains which his parsimony secures an abundant compensation for all inconveniences. And not only does he doom himself to material discomfort and to intellectual impoverishment by setting his desires solely upon riches, but he degrades his moral and spiritual character. If he must keep all he has to himself, he must often ignore the just claims of others upon him; he must steel his heart against the appeals of the poor and needy, and. he must look with scorn and contempt upon all those who are generous and liberal in helping their fellows. And so we find such men gradually growing harsher and more unsympathetic, until it seems at last as if they regarded every one about them with suspicion, as seeking to wrest from their hands their hard-earned gains. And what is the pleasure of such a life? How is it such men do not say within themselves, "For whom do I labor, and bereave my- soul of good?" The folly of their conduct springs from two causes.
1. They forget that unremitting, fruitless toil is a curse. As a means to an end, toil is good, as an end in itself it is evil. It was never contemplated, even when man was innocent, that he should be idle. He was placed in the garden of Eden to dress and to keep it. But it is either his fault or his misfortune if he is all his life a slavish drudge. It may be that he is forced by the necessities of his position to labor incessantly and to the very end, to make a livelihood for himself and for those dependent upon him, but his condition is not an ideal one. If he could secure a little leisure and relaxation, it would be all the better for him in every sense of the word. And therefore for the miser to toil like a mere slave, when he might save himself the trouble, is an evidence of how blinded he is by the vice to which Be is addicted.
2. A second cause of the miser's folly is his ignoring the fact that riches have only value when made use of. The mere accumulation of them is not enough; they must be employed if they are to be of service. No real, healthy enjoyment of them is to be obtained by merely contemplating them and reckoning them up. Used in that way they only feed an unnatural and morbid appetite.
II. Over against the miseries of a selfish, solitary life, our author sets THE loyalties OF COMPANIONSHIP. (Vers. 9-12.) Friendship affords considerable mitigation of the evils by which life is beset, and a positive gain is secured by those who cultivate it. Three very homely figures are used to describe these advantages. The thought which connects them all together is that of life as a journey, or pilgrimage, like that which Bunyan describes in his wonderful book. If a man is alone in the journey of life, he is liable to accidents and discomforts and dangers which the presence of a friend would have averted or mitigated. He may fall on the road, and none be by to help him; he may at night lie shivering in the cold, if he has no companion to cherish him with kindly warmth; he may meet with robbers, whom his unaided strength is insufficient to beat off. All these figures illustrate the general principle that in union there is mutual helpfulness, comfort, and strength, verification of which we find in all departments of life - in the family, in the intercourse of friends, and in the Church. The benefits of such fellowships are undeniable. "It affords to the parties mutual counsel and direction, especially in seasons of perplexity and embarrassment; mutual sympathy, consolation, and care in the hour of calamity and distress; mutual encouragement in anxiety and depression; mutual aid by the joint application of bodily or mental energy to difficult and laborious tasks; mutual relief amidst the fluctuations of worldly circumstances, the abundance of the one reciprocally supplying the deficiencies of the other; mutual defense and vindication when the character of either is injuriously attacked and defamed; and mutual reproof and affectionate expostulation when either has, through the power of temptation, fallen into sin. 'Woe to him that is alone when he so falleth-and hath not another to help him up!' - no one to care for his soul, and restore him to the paths of righteousness" (Wardiaw). So far as the application of the principle to the case of ordinary friendship is concerned, the wisdom of our author is instinctively approved of by all. The writings of moralists in all countries and times teem with maxims similar to his. Some have thought that this virtue of friendship is too secular in its character to receive much encouragement in the teaching of Christianity; that it is somewhat overshadowed, if not relegated to comparative insignificance, by the obligations which a highly spiritual religion imposes. The fact that the salvation of his soul is the one great duty of the individual might have been expected to lead to a new development of selfishness, and the fact that devotion to the Savior is to take precedence of all other forms of affection might have been expected to diminish the intensity of love which is the source of friendship. And not only have such ideas existed in a speculative form, but they have led, in many cases, to actual attempts to realize them. The ancient hermits sought to cultivate the highest form of Christian life by complete isolation from their fellows; they fled from society, dissevered themselves from all the ties of blood and friendship, and shunned all association with their kind as something contaminating. And in our own time, among many to whom the monastical life is specially repulsive, the very same delusion which lay at the root of it is still cherished. They think that love of husband, wife, child, or friend conflicts with love of God and Christ; that if the human love is too intense it becomes a form of sin. And along with this is generally found a cruel and dishonoring conception of the Divine character. God is thought of as jealous of those who take his place in the affections, and the loss of those loved is spoken of as a removal by him of the "idols" who had usurped his rights. That such teaching is a perversion of Christianity is very evident. The New Testament takes all the forms of natural human love as types of the Divine. As the father loves his children, so does God love us. As Christ loved the Church ought a husband to love his wife, ought his followers to love one another. No bounds can be set to affection; he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God." The one great check, that our love for another should not be allowed to lead us to do wrong or condone wrong, is not upon the intensity, but upon the perversion of affection, and leads to a purer, holier, and more satisfying exercise of affection. That Christ, whose love was universal, did not discourage friendship is evident from the fact that he chose twelve disciples, and admitted them to a closer intimacy with himself than others enjoyed, and that even among them there was one whom he specially loved. It was seen, too, in the affection which he manifested to the family in Bethany - Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. In the time of his agony in Gethsemane he chose three of the disciples to watch with him, seeking for some solace and support in the fact of their presence and sympathy. The truth of Solomon's statement that "two are better than one" was confirmed by Christ's sending out his disciples "two and two together" (Luke 10:1), and by the Divine direction given by the Holy Ghost when Barnabas and Saul were set apart to go together on their first great missionary enterprise (Acts 13:2). But over and above these instances of Christ's example in cultivating friendship, and of the advantages of mutual co-operation in Christian work, the peat principle remains that true religion cannot come to any strength in an isolated life. We cannot worship God aright if we "forsake the assembling of ourselves together;" we cannot cultivate the virtues of which holiness consists - justice, compassion, forbearance, purity, and love - if we isolate ourselves; for all these virtues imply our conducting ourselves in certain ways in all our relations with others. We lose the opportunity of helping the weak, of cheering the disheartened, and of co-operating with those who are striving to overcome the evils by which the world is burdened, if we withdraw into ourselves and ignore others. So far, then, from the wisdom of Solomon in this matter being, in comparison with the fuller revelation through Christ, of an inferior and almost pagan character, it is of permanent and undiminished value. Our acquaintance with Christian teaching is calculated to lead us to form quite as decided a judgment as Solomon did as to the evils of a solitary life, and the advantages of friendship. - J.W.
Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
(T. C. Finlayson.)
TopicsExample, Purpose, Returned, Vain, Vanity
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 4:7-8
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
And for Your Fearlessness against them Hold this Sure Sign -- Whenever There Is...
The Upbringing of Jewish Children
Letter xxxvi (Circa A. D. 1131) to the Same Hildebert, who had not yet Acknowledged the Lord Innocent as Pope.
Scriptures Showing the Sin and Danger of Joining with Wicked and Ungodly Men.
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