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mony to the truths of Christianity, and utterly abhor those who poison the soul by plausible sophistries, as Lord Brougham detested Rousseau. The famous writings of our modern times which nearest approach the Proverbs in love of truth and moral wisdom are those of Bacon and Shakspeare.
In striking contrast with the praises of knowledge which permeate the Proverbs, is the book of Ecclesiastes, supposed to have been written in the decline of Solomon's life, when the pleasures of sin had saddened his soul, and filled his mind with cynicism. Unless the book of Ecclesiastes is to be interpreted as ironical, nothing can be more dreary than many of its declarations. It even seems to pour contempt on all knowledge and all enjoyments. “In much knowledge is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. . . . What profit hath a man of all his labor ? ... There is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool. . . . There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink. . . . A man hath no pre-eminence over a beast; all go to the same place. . . . What hath the wise man more than the fool? ... There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in wickedness. ... One man among a thousand have I found, but a woman among all those have I not found. ... The race is not to the swift, the
battle to the strong; neither bread to the wise, nor riches to the man of understanding. . . . On all things is written vanity.” Such are some of the dismal and cynical utterances of Solomon in his old age. The Ecclesiastes contrasted with the Proverbs is discouraging and sad, although there is great seriousness and even loftiness in many of its sayings. It seems to be the record of a disenchanted old man, to whom all things are a folly and vanity. There is a suppressed contempt expressed for what young men and the worldly regard as desirable, equalled only by a sort of proud disdain of success and fame. There is great bitterness in reference to women. Some of the sayings are as mournful jeremiads as any uttered by Carlyle, showing great scorn of what ninety-nine in one hundred are vain of, and pursue after, as all ending in vanity and vexation of spirit. We can understand how riches may prove a snare, how pleasure-seeking ends in disappointment, how the smiles of a deceitful woman may lead to the chamber of death, how little the treasures of wickedness profit, how sins will find out the transgressor, how the heart may be sad in the midst of laughter, how wine is a mocker, how ambition is Babelbuilding, how he who pursueth evil pursueth it to his death; we can understand how abundance will produce satiety, and satiety lead to disgust, — how disappointment attends our most cherished plans, and low
all mortal pursuits fail to satisfy the cravings of an immortal soul. But why does the favored and princely Solomon, in sadness and bitterness, pronounce knowledge also to be a vanity like power and riches, especially when in his earlier writings he so highly commends it? Is it true that in much wisdom is much grief, and that the increase of knowledge is the increase of sorrow? Can it be that the book of Ecclesiastes is the mere record of the miserable experiences of an embittered and disappointed sensualist, or is it the profound and searching exposition of the vanities of this world as they appear to a lofty searcher after truth and God, measured by the realities of a future and endless life, which the soul emancipated from pollution pants and aspires after with all the intensity of a renovated nature ? When I bear in mind the impressive lessons that are declared at the close of this remarkable book, the earnest exhortation to remember God before the dust shall return to the earth as it was, I cannot but feel that there are great moral truths underlying the sarcasm and irony in which the writer indulged. And these come with increased force from the mouth of a man who had tasted every mortal good, and found it all, when not properly used, a confirmation of the impossibility of earth to satisfy the soul of man. The writer calls himself “the preacher,” and surely a great preacher he was, — not to a throng of “fashionable worshippers” or a crowd of listless pleasure-seekers, but to all ages and nations. And if he really was a living speaker to the young men who caught the inspiration of his voice, how terribly eloquent he must have been !
I fancy that I can see that unhappy old man, worn out, saddened, embittered, yet at last rising above the decrepitude of age and the infirmities which sin had hastened, and speaking in tones that could never be forgotten. “Behold, ye young men ! I have tasted every enjoyment of this earth; I have indulged in every pleasure forbidden or permitted. I have explored the world of thought and the realm of nature. I have been favored beyond any mortal that ever lived; I have been flattered and honored beyond all precedent; I have consumed the treasures of kings and princes. I builded me houses, I planted me vineyards ; I made me gardens and orchards, I made me pools of water; I got me servants and maidens, I gathered me also silver and gold ; I got me men-singers and women-singers and musical instruments; whatsoever my eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy, — and now, lo! I solemnly declare unto you, with my fading strength and my eyes suffused with tears and my knees trembling with weakness, and in view of that future and higher life which I neglected to seek amid the dazzling glories of my throne, and the bewilderment of fascinating joys, - I now most earnestly declare unto you that all these things which men seek and prize are a vanity, a delusion, and a snare; that there is no wisdom but in the fear of God.”
So this saddest of books closes with lofty exhortations, and recognizes moral obligations which are in harmony with the great principle enforced in the Proverbs, – that there is no escape from the penalty of sin and folly; that whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap. The last recorded words of the preacher are concerning the vanity of life, – that is, the hopeless failure of worldly pleasures and egotistical pursuits in themselves alone to secure happiness; the impossibility of lasting good disconnected with righteousness; the fact that even knowledge, the greatest possession and the highest joy which a man can have, does not satisfy the soul.
These final utterances of Solomon are not dogmas nor speculations, they are experiences, — the experiences of one of the most favored mortals who has lived upon our earth, and one of the wisest. If, measured by the eternal standards, his glory was less than that of the flower which withers in a day, what hope have ordinary men in the pursuit of pleasure, or gain, or honor? Utter vanity and vexation of spirit! Nothing brings a true reward but virtue, — unselfish labors for others, supreme loyalty to conscience, obedience to God. Hence, such profound experience so frankly published, such sad