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before the reader, he repeats, as calling the reader's attention to what he had said, “ Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.”
(4). As another reason for supposing that there is a preface and an appendix by another; there is completeness in the ser. mon, if we leave out the verses in question; and the conclusion of the sermon is most sublime: “ Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
Thus the first verse is like the title page of a pamphlet, announcing the author. The second verse is a general statement, calling the attention to the contents of the pamphlet. But it does not precisely point out the whole of the great theme discussed. The editor allows Solomon to do this in his own words; which he does in the third verse.
It seemed necessary to make the above somewhat protracted remarks, to show that the third verse, and not the second, is the theme of Solomon, and, therefore, the key to the whole treatise. This having been overlooked by commentators, they have necessarily failed to bring out, in its force and beauty, the connection of the parts of the treatise, and the pertinence of many passages. It is strange that some should argue, as they do, that the key (or text) is found in the middle of the discourse. And yet it has been maintained, that verse fifteen of the seventh chapter is the key. But it is perfectly natural to suppose that an inquiry, placed at the very beginning of Solomon's sermon, should be regarded as containing the essence of the whole, as the text the key to unlock the hidden treasures of the whole Book. It is all-important, therefore, that we arrive at a correct decision, as to the meaning of Solomon's theme, the third verse of chapter first.
We speak of mere worldly things, and call them sublunary; i. e., under the moon. Solomon, on the other hand, calls them tahath-hashamesh; i. c., under the sun. It is evident that Solomon meant to restrict his question to the things of this world in contradistinction to the things of another or future life. We must consider him, then, as contrasting the labors for this life with labors for another life. The former he pronounces, by the strong negative implied in the question, profitless. This life is incomplete without another. There must, therefore,
be another. He then proceeds immediately to illustrate his theme.
Verse 4. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh : but the earth abideth forever.” The original is forcible. “Generation passeth, and generation cometh.” If there is no future, the coming and going of men, generation after generation, is of little consequence. It is just a stage--a mere drama. It is a faroe. There is nothing real. There is no result worthy of the great Author of all things. Man, so far from being important, is less important than the earth on which he lives so short a time. He comes and goes, “but the earth abideth.” If man's labor terminates on earthly things, and he perishes when he dies, then the true order is reversed; man is not immortal, while the earth is immortal (i. e., so far as reason teaches). The earth is the abiding stage, while human life is a coming on and going off-a mere passing scene, soon to terminate without any important result. “What profit ?”
In the next verses, we have a comparison between several natural phenomena in their apparent barrenness of results, and human beings merely coming and going. The Hebrew ! vav, here translated “ also," is ofted used to make a comparison. We may ask, what good is accomplished by generation after generation coming on the stage of life and passing off again, and being no more; just as we may ask, what good is apparently accomplished by the sun rising and setting in a constant round; and the wind whirling about continually ; and the rivers running apparently with the view of filling the sea, but never accomplishing it, and returning again. Nothing seems to be accomplished. The sun of this morning is where it was a century ago it has made no progress. The wind of this day is as it was last year-what has it brought to pass ? The Nile of this year overflowing its banks, is but a repetition of erery year's process-it seems to have done nothing. There is a monotonous repetition of the same thing. So is man, as though he were reproduced from generation to generation, to run the same round of pain and folly, and life and death, and joy and grief. What profit hath life without another life?
But Solomon is preparing the way, even in this comparison, to show that there is to be a grand and glorious result, in the far-off future. And he brings it out, especially in the eleventh chapter, by similar figures. The Nile is not a mere waste of waters; but the bread is cast upon it which shall be found after many days (xi: 1). The changing wind brings up the clouds, to scatter their fatness on the furrowed fields (xi: 3). And the sun is not a mere circling orb, to accomplish nothing; but it brings light and joy (xi : 7). And so, the generations of men are not a mere coming and going, with no result. But the soul lives forever. “The dust,” it is true,"returns to the dust as it was; ” but “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it ” (xii : 7).
A careful examination of the whole Book will show that this idea is kept in view, viz.: that this life, with all its labors, is absolutely without value, if there is no future.
The last part of the first chapter is devoted to Solomon's qualifications for investigating the subject. He was a king over an enlightened people (v. 12). He applied himself heartily and earnestly to the search (13). He had been an observer (14). And he had discovered that the evils of this world and its deficiencies, could not be corrected and supplied by human means (15). He had evidence from communion with his own heart, that he had given himself wholly to the investigation; and the investigation itself had yielded only grief and sorrow (16–18).
The second chapter is principally employed in giving Solomon's experience of the worthlessness of this world in itself considered. He had tested it in all its forms of supposed excellence, and found nothing in it. He, therefore, returns to the question, “What hath man of all his labor, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath labored under the sun?” for this world? He says emphatically that he had found that “there was no profit under the sun” (v. 11).
In the third chapter, after showing that in this life (" under the heaven,” v. 1), events are all appointed by Providence; and after resuming the inquiry, “what profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?” (v. 9), he begins to bring out the great doctrine of a future judgment. Thus he advances, step by step, to announce a future state, which previously he had been inferring from the worthlessness of this life in itself considered; and he declares, also, the certainty of a judgment. The eleventh verse has great depth and force, and prepares the way for a full avowal of Solomon's belief in a future judgment. It is itself a declaration of a future eternal state, and the bearing of the present upon the future. Dr. James Hamilton gives the following liberal, but just translation: “He hath made everything beautiful in his time, and in the heart of everything he hath set an eternity: so that no man can find out from the beginning to the end any work that God maketh-any process that God conducteth." The word “world” in our translation, is by many able critics translated, “ remote time, eternity.” God has made everything beautiful in his time. The whole, from beginning to end, is his time—eternity is his time. And he hath set an eternity in the heart of everything. He hath given, as it were, even to inanimate things a purpose to fulfill a future destiny. And till that destiny is fulfilled, no man can find out what God designs to accomplish by it. No one can see from the beginning to the end, or the whole plan.
But the sixteenth and seventeenth verses bring out the great doctrine, which Solomon had been inferring and hinting at, in all its force and clearness. He saw “under the sun," in this world, “the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there." He saw earthly judges partial and unrighteous—wronging the innocent, and clearing the guilty. And God seems to be like them, if we look no further than this world. But this leads Solomon to the great utterance of his heart in the seventeenth verse: “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked.”
The great idea is here fully brought out, for which he had been preparing the minds of his hearers, viz.: Since there is incompleteness, and crookedness, and sorrow, and apparent injustice under the sun; and man labors in vain if his prospects terminate with this life; there must be a future judgment of the righteous and the wicked; there is a future judgment. This future judgment will have its place as well as things under the sun—as well as corrupt earthly courts-as well as our birth, death, etc. As there is a time here, “under the heaven,” v. 1, so there is a time there, at the judgment.
Bishop Patrick says, “ the last words of this verse may, in my judgment, be thus most literally translated out of the Hebrew: There is time for (judging) every purpose, and every work there.'” But the Bishop supposes the word “there" to refer to the corrupt court; whereas it seems to refer to the final judgment. There is a time for (judging) every purpose and every work there, at the final judgment. This seems to be the most consistent application of the word. ,
To condense the teachings of the whole chapter, Solomon begins with the occurrences known to all; and shows how they are in the hand of God. His sovereignty is seen in our birth and death; in killing and healing; breaking down, and building up; sorrow and joy; meeting and parting; getting and losing, etc. He then goes on to show the hand of God guiding “ponderous orbs and mighty incidents” to a far-off goal—to eternity. He brings us to the termination of all earthly events in a righteous award, God justifying himself before the universe. He then returns to the point to be illustrated, viz.: if there is no future, all is valuelessman and beast share the same fate_life is a farce, unworthy of its Author; man, with his noble powers and lofty aspirations, will at the close of this brief life be no better than a brute! And, yet, this is the infidel's proud desire-his boasted wisdom leads no further.
The fourth chapter is an example of unity in variety; containing several distinct subjects, all brought forward to illustrate the great theme, that there is no profit in life without a future state. Oppression, envy, idleness, anxious labor, the life of a miser, of a ruler, and of a subject; all terminate in vanity and sorrow,
The fifth chapter teaches the failure of formal religion, of power and of riches, to secure such advantage as the heart desires.
In the sixth chapter there is a continuation of similar themes, and the author sums up, by showing (vs. 10–12) that all those things that might be supposed to yield advantage in this life have already been named—that it is characteristic of man to seek good from them, but that in so doing he contends with God, and is no better off.
Passing over the intervening chapters, in which are many striking illustrations of the main theme, and some repetitions,