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light excelleth darkness." The ground of this difference is, (verse 14,) that the wise man "pondereth the paths of his feet," acting with a prudent reference to consequences; while the fool rushes on whithersoever blind desire impels him, in total recklessness of final results. "The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness." But notwithstanding this difference, "one result happeneth to them all." He himself, with all his wisdom, (verse 15,) was no more happy than the fool. Why then should he aim to become more wise than the latter? Each was alike miserable here, and both together would sink into the same oblivion in future. "And how dieth the wise man? as the fool." Wisdom and folly were alike empty and vain, relatively to the great end of existence, real happiness, a most painful and agonizing reflection, to be sure, but one which the principles assumed forced upon his mind. It is no matter of wonder, that when such was the apprehended tendency of all things, external and internal, visible and invisible, the preacher should affirm the following sentiment as the result of all his inquiries and experiments.
"Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous to me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
But there was one consideration, (verses 18, 19,) not yet referred to, which, in connection with those before elucidated, rendered all the "labor that he had taken under the sun" absolutely hateful to him, to wit, that he should leave every thing to the "man that should be after him," without the possibility of knowing the use he would make ofit, or whether he would himself be 66 a wise man or a fool." Yet this individual would have absolute control over all the results of the labor in the performance of which he had exhibited so much wisdom. The consummationof his observations and experiments was, verse 20, fixed and hopeless despair of any real good to man from any labor that he could perform. A man for example, conducts all his affairs "in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity." Yet all that he has thus gained, a man who had not labored therein would receive as his portion. This in the estimate of the preacher," was a great evil," a source of the greatest vexation and agony of mind. The individual himself derived no advantage, (verse 22,) from all his labor, and from the vexation of his heart, "wherein he had labored under the sun," all his. days, (verse 23,) being spent in sorrow and grievous travail, his heart taking no rest even in the night. This he con
cludes, "is also vanity," in other words an unwise arrangement of the dispensations of providence pertaining to man. Such is the irreversible condition of man when he departs from the living God and makes himself his own centre. His mind then becomes a crucible in which the influence of all things external and internal is turned into the "gall of bitterness." The individual who has come into such a state, may well exclaim,
"Me miserable! which way shall I fly
Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?
Yet when the mind comes into such a relation to God and the universe, very seldom, under the conclusion which wisdom dictates, that its course of wretchedness is and must be, because it does thus result, wrong, does it retrace its steps to the paths of purity and peace. On the other hand, the thicker the gloom, and the deeper the despair to which its principles lead, the more fixed does its mad purpose become to hold on to these principles, and the more insusceptible is it to any influence which would draw it back to the "paths of life." "I am affrighted and confounded," says Mr. Hume, "with the forlorn solitude in which I am placed by my philosophy. When I look abroad, I see on every side, dispute, contradiction, and distraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance. What am I, or who? From what cause do I derive my existence or to what condition shall I return? I am confounded with these questions and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, environed with the deepest darkness." Now why did not this individual, when he became thus sensible of "the forlorn solitude" in which his principles had placed him, perceive and admit in these very results, the fact that those principles are not and cannot be true? and thus retreat from that gloomy position to the regions of light and truth? But no. The more distinctly conscious, we repeat, the mind that has once yielded itself to the control of such principles becomes of their desolating tendencies, the stronger and more resistless is their hold upon it. And when the influence of such principles have been fully consummated in the soul, by extinguishing in it all sense and hope of good, and placing it in a position of infinite solitude and desolation, then it is fully pre
pared for a final descent into the abyss of doubt, darkness, and gloom beneath it. Then it is prepared for the exclamation,
Solomon commenced a course of self-indulgence,for the avowed purpose of determining whether in its direction the great good which humanity should seek, is to be found. When he has found, from bitter experience, that such a course of life leads to nothing but vexation of spirit, what is his conclusion? That men should turn from mirth and folly, to piety and truth? Instead of this, we are urged to yield our entire existence to the principle of self-gratification, as the only good that remains He even represents the counsel thus to act, as from
"There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I?
This small amount of good, he adds, (verse 26,) God would allow those who were pleasing to him to enjoy, the amount to be obtained from "wisdom, and knowledge, and joy," that is, hilarity, self-indulgence, the good referred to in the preceding verses. Upon those not acceptable to him, on the other hand, he had devolved the anxiety and care of amassing wealth to be left in the hands of others whom he regards with favor. Such an arrangement of providence, he adds, is void of any important results, and is a source of grievous vexation to all who understand it.
"For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy; but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also, is vanity and vexation of spirit.”
There is no sentiment to which the Preacher has yet given utterance, that is really more impious, and indicates a state of depravity more deep than that contained in the passage under consideration, when its true meaning is developed. He had said before, that in "much wisdom is much grief; and he that "increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow." He had represented all the joy resulting from self-indulgence, the only good,as he affirms,left to man, as vain, transitory, and finally resulting in "vexation of spirit." He then says, in the passage before us, that the amount of good to be derived from such
meagre sources, God will indeed give to him "that is good in his sight." He had also represented the labor of amassing wealth, &c., as in itself grievous, and ending in unhappiness. Thus to amass, and at last to leave what is gained to those who are "good before God," this is the travail imposed upon the sinner. Such was the arrangement of Providence in respect to the righteous and the wicked, an arrangement which he then pronounces to be "vanity and vexation of spirit." When the mind has come to entertain such sentiments in respect to God, it has well nigh fallen beyond the possibility of recovery.
The first eight verses of chapter 3, are occupied with aphorisms of a singular character, aphorisms to which the mass of the readers of the Bible attach no definite meaning or design. For example,
To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven:
"A time to be born, and a time to die: a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted:
"A time to kill,and a time to heal: a time to break down, and a time to build up:
"A time to love, and a time to hate: a time of war, and a time of peace."
If the question is put, what is the meaning and design of these sayings? for what purpose were they uttered? what relation do they sustain to the leading idea of the writer? or what is their connection with what precedes and follows them? few individuals would be prepared to give an intelligent answer to any such queries. Contemplated, however, in the light of the plan and design of the book, which we are now elucidating, their meaning is obvious. The preacher had previously given utterance to the sentiment, that the only good that remains for man, is "to eat and drink," &c. -that is, that we make the most of the present moment, yielding ourselves to the influence of our propensities, without respect to the future. The special object in the present chapter is, to exhibit the considerations in view of which he was confirmed in that sentiment. The first consideration he adduces, is the one presented in the verses under consideration, to wit, that our condition, with all the changes, revolutions, and allotments pertaining to it, is fixed and settled by the immutable decree and arrangement of providence, that every thing will take place according to that arrangement, all
our efforts, and desires, and purposes to the contrary, notwithstanding. Hence, he adds, verse 9, that all efforts on our part to modify our condition and circumstances, or to prevent or alter the good or ill allotted us from occurring at the time appointed, will be profitless and vain.
"What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?"
There is a time for everything, a place for every event, and every thing will take place at its time. It only remains for us to float on with the current of events, taking things as they occur, and thus making the most we can of the present moment, without attempting to change or modify our condition.
He then, (verse 10.) expresses the sentiment that we have commented on before, to wit, that he had fully comprehended the grievous labor that God had imposed upon the sons of men, that they might be afflicted by it. He states this, (that is, affirms his knowledge of the subject,) as a reason why. confidence should be placed in his teachings.
He then (verse 11) adduces a very peculiar feature of creation and providence, as preparatory to a statement subsequently to be made. God had indeed "made every thing beautiful in its season," that is, adapted it in its nature to awaken curiosity, so as to generate a universal desire to comprehend it. At the same time, he had placed the universe in such relations to the mind, that the designs of God, in all his works, "from the beginning to the end," should be completely, and impenetrably veiled from human understanding.
"He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart; so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end."
Under such circumstances, true wisdom and piety always draw conclusions favorable to truth and rectitude, and thus "patiently wait for the salvation of the Lord." Impiety and unbelief, on the other hand, in the presence of the same considerations, draw precisely the opposite conclusions. What they cannot comprehend, they assume as unwisely arranged, and madly rush upon present gratification,as the only good for man. Such was the course of the king of Israel, during the era of his apostacy. While the designs of God, in creation and providence, however, were veiled from his comprehension, there was one thing that he had discovered, (verse 12,) to wit, that no good was to be hoped for, or attained, but from this-to