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Our design, in checking the immoderate inclination we have to contrive fanciful schemes of happiness, is to make you enjoy with tranquillity such blessings as you have. Most men render themselves insensible to their present advantages by an extravagant passion for future acquisitions. The avidity, with which they wish to acquire more riches, prevents their enjoying what they actually possess; the avidity with which they desire to obtain a station more elevated in society, prevents their tasting the pleasure of that in which Providence has placed them. In a word, our design is to engage you to proportion the pains you take to obtain worldly advantages to the true value of them. Above all, the design, the chief design we have in denouncing a vain and unsatisfactory being in this world, is to engage you to seek after a happy futurity in the presence of God; to engage you to expect from the blessings of a future state what you cannot promise yourself in this. And what, my soul, canst thou expect during the short period of this life, if the remainder will resemble the past, if in future years thy condition will resemble that of the former days, if thou must pass through the same vicissitudes, suffer the same maladies, be witness to the same injustice, see the same infidelity, and the same perfidy?
But if all mankind ought to preserve themselves from the disorder of fanciful schemes of future pleasure, they above all are bound to do so, who are arrived at old age, when years accumulated bring us near the infirmities of declining life, or a dying bed. Such a man ought to say to himself, What can I henceforth expect in this world? Should an unheard-of revolution happen in my favour, should the face of the universe be changed, should all the advantages of the world unite, and present themselves to me, what benefit could I derive from them?
What advantage could I derive from a wellfurnished table? I, whose palate has lost the faculty of tasting and relishing food? What advantage could I derive from a numerous levee? I, to whom company is become a burden, and who am in a manner a burden to myself? What advantage could I derive from elegant apartments, and extensive landscapes; I, whose eyes are incapable of discerning objects, whose body, almost motionless, is confined to an easy chair, or a sick bed? In one word, what benefit can I reap from a concurrence of all the advantages of life, I, who am within a few steps of the gates of death? Happy! when my life comes to an end, to be able to incorporate my existence with that of the immortal God! Happy! when I feel this earthly tabernacle sink, to be able to exercise that faith, which is an "evidence of things not seen!" Happy to ascend to that "city, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God!" Heb. xi. 1. 10.
May we all, my dear brethren, live, grow old, and die in these sentiments! God grant us the grace. To him to be honour and glory for ever. Amen.
DISGUST WITH LIFE.
ECCLESIASTES ii. 17.
I hated life, because the work that is wrought
under the sun is grievous unto me. WERE we to estimate life by the idea which Solomon gives of it in the words of the text, it should seem there was very little wisdom in our congratulating one another, this morning, on beginning a new year. There should seem better reasons for deploring our fate, because we are alive, than for congratulating one another on the happiness of seeing another new year's day. Ye desolate families, in which death has made such cruel breaches! I think, while this day naturally brings to your remembrance those dear parts of yourselves, you ought rather to shed tears of joy than sorrow! And you," Rachel, weeping for your children," you ought rather "to be comforted for the children" that are, than for those that "are not." It should seem that the benedictions of the servant of God, who preceded us this morning in this pulpit, and to which we are going to join ours, were very unsuitable to the tender affections we owe you, and to which this solemnity adds a new degree of activity and force.
Long may you live, said we this morning to one another; may God bless you, your fellowcitizens, your relations, your friends, and your children, long may they live! Enjoy the blessings of peace, prosperity in commerce, stability in freedom, riches and plenty in abundance! Attain, and, if it be possible, go beyond the usual limits of the life of man, and may every day of that life be distinguished by some new prosperity. These were the benedictions and prayers which our friends uttered to us and we to them. And yet the Wise Man tells us, that riches and plenty, that the best established liberty and the most prosperous trade, that the blessings of peace and all the advantages of this life, are nothing but vanity. He does more, after he had experienced all the pomp of worldly grandeur, and immensity of wealth, the utmost refinement of pleasure, and the most extensive reputation, after he had been the happiest mortal that ever lived upon earth, he tells us in the words of the text, "I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me."
What then, must we revoke the congratulations of this morning? Do we come to pray to God to send out his destroying angels to return us that mortality which has been ravaging our towns and provinces? Are we come to collect all our prayers into this one of Jonah, "O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live," chap.
* Preached on the first day of the year 1728.
It is this contrast of ideas that we will endeavour to reconcile, for in this point of light we are going to consider the words of the text, and to treat of disgust with the world and contempt of life. Happy! if we be able by any observations of ours to abate the asperity of your minds in regard to the hateful things of life, and to engage you to make a holy use of every thing agreeable in it. Happy! if, by turning your attention to the amiable side of life, we may inspire you with gratitude to God for preserving it, in spite of the many perils to which it is exposed; and if, by showing you the other side, we may incline you to quit it with joy, whenever it shall please God to require it. This is the substance of all our acclamations and prayers in your favour to-day. Almighty and most merciful God, condescend to ratify in heaven what we are sincerely endeavouring to effect on earth! Amen.
iv. 3; or, in this of Elijah, "It is enough, now, | Yet I think we have sufficient reasons to preO Lord, take away my life, for I am not better sume, that the Wise Man puts these words into than my fathers!" 1 Kings xix. 4. the mouth of a libertine, so that though they contain a truth, yet they cannot be proposed in proof of a doctrine. I suppose we must entertain the same idea of another passage, which seems to establish one of the finest maxims of morality, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest," chap. ix. 10. But if you consider, that this is a consequence drawn from the irony just before, "Go, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart," ver. 7, you will suppose, as we do, that it contains a pernicious maxim, like that mentioned by, the prophet, "let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die," Isa. xxii. 13.
I suppose it is Solomon himself who speaks the words of my text, and not any one of the interlocutors, whom he introduces in his book. I suppose that he expresses in the words his own sentiments, and not those of any other person; and that he tells us not what he thought while his reason was wandering, and he was pursuing the vanities of the world, but what he thought after his recovery, and when he was under the direction of divine wisdom.
This observation is absolutely necessary for the understanding of the text. The great difficulty of the Book of Ecclesiastes is owing to the great variety of persons who are introduced there, each of whom proposes maxims conformable to his own principles. Is it the same man, who says in one place, "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart. Live joyfully all the days of thy vanity, for that is thy portion in this life, and God now accepteth thy works," chap. ix. 7. 9; and in another place, "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee to judgment?" chap. xi. 9. Is it the same man, who says in one place, "I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry," chap. viii. 15; and in another place, "I said of laughter, it is mad; and of mirth, what doth it?" chap. ii. 2. Is it the same man, who says in one place, "The dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it," chap. xii. 7; and in another place, "The dead have no more a reward, for the memory of them is forgotten: to him that is joined to all the living there is hope, but the dead know not any thing, for a living dog is better than a dead lion?" chap. ix. 4, &c.
Expositors of this book, perhaps, have not always paid a sufficient attention to this variety. Which of us has not, for example, quoted against the doctrine of invocation of saints these words, "The living know that they shall die, but the dead know not any thing; their love, and their hatred is now perished, neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun?" chap. ix. 5, 6. VOL. II.-9
There are other inspired books, as well as this of Ecclesiastes, subject to the same misinterpretation. Under pretence that the Scripture is divinely inspired, people quote texts indiscriminately. Certainly it is divinely inspired, and for this reason we should always reject such maxims as would tend to defeat the design of it. Without this precaution you may prove by Scripture things the most opposite to the design of Scripture; you may prove that God has violated his promises, because it is said in Scripture, "where is the promise of his coming?" Or you may prove that atheism is preferable to religion, because the Scripture says, "there is no God;" and so by a hundred other passages you may prove a hundred similar absurdities.
But the connexion of our text with preceding and following verses, and its perfect harmony with the design of the Wise Man, which was to decry the world and its pleasures, and by his own experience to undeceive such as made idols of them, confirm, in my opinion, the judgment we have formed of them; the whole authorizes us to consider the words as proceeding from the mouth of Solomon himself, expressive of his own sentiments and not those of others, and what he thought after his reconversion, and not what his opinion was during his dissipation.
I. On this principle, we will first rid the text of several false meanings, which it may seem at first sight to countenance; for as there is a disgust with the world, and a contempt of life, which wisdom inspires, so there is a hatred of the world that arises from evil dispositions. We may be disgusted with life from a principle of melancholy-from a principle of misanthropy
from a principle of discontent-and, which is still more singular, we may be disgusted with the world through an excessive esteem for the world, and hate life through a too violent attachment to it.
1. We may hate life because we are melancholy. Only he, whose ideas are disconcerted by a dark and gloomy temper, can say fully and without qualification, "I hate life." To attribute such a disposition to the Wise Man is to insult the Holy Spirit who animated him. All the advantages of life, I grant, cannot procure us perfect happiness, yet every one may procure us some satisfaction, transient but real, provided we enjoy each with such moderation as wisdom prescribes. Instead of exclaiming in melan
choly mood against society, "What friends! What friendships!" Enjoy the innocent pleasures of society, and you will find that they can contribute to suspend your pain, to dissipate your anxieties, and to relieve your wearisome attention to your misfortunes. Instead of exclaiming against fortune, and saying, "Riches and honours, what are they good for?" Enjoy, as far as justice and benevolence will allow, the advantages of fortune, and you will experience that they may procure you some agreeable accommodations, which you are permitted, yea commanded to relish. Instead of exclaiming against reputation, and saying, "What doth it signify to be known and esteemed among mankind?" Enjoy the advantages of reputation, and you will experience some satisfaction in being respected by intelligent persons in society. Though, in general, the world is unjust in estimating ability and virtue, yet there are many rational members of society, who know how to distinguish gold from tinsel, and real ability from parade.
2. Some are disgusted with life from a prin ciple of misanthropy. What is a misanthrope, or a hater of mankind? He is a man, who avoids society only to free himself from the trouble of being useful to it. He is a man, who considers his neighbours only on the side of their defects, not knowing the art of combining their virtues with their vices, and of rendering the imperfections of other people tolerable by reflecting on his own. He is a man more employed in finding out and inflicting punishments on the guilty than in devising means to reform them. He is a man, who talks of nothing but banishing and executing, and who, because he thinks his talents are not sufficiently valued and employed by his fellow-citizens, or rather, because they know his foible, and do not choose to be subject to his caprice, talks of quitting cities, towns, and societies, and of living in dens or in deserts. Intercourse with mankind is disagreeable, you say. Very well, I grant it. But do you know what would make it infinitely more disagreeable? I will tell you. It would be, if all the members of society were animated with your spirit. What a society would that be, which should be composed of people without charity, without patience, without condescension!
sisting the inhabitants of it, and our contempt of life should always be accompanied with charity for the living.
3. Sometimes a spirit of discontent produces disgust with the world, and contempt of life. To hear the people I mean, one would think it was impossible that this world should be governed by a wise Being, because, forsooth, they are doomed with the rest of mankind to live in a valley of trouble. But who art thou, thou miserable man, to conceive ideas so false, and to form opinions so rash! Learn to know thyself, and to do thyself justice! If thou shouldst be required by the rigorous judgment of God to expiate thy crimes, would not be in the vanity of this world, it would be in the flames of hell! It would not be in the society of men, faithless in trade, inconstant in friendship, insipid in conversation, troublesome in application, perfidious in contracts, it would be in the society of the devil and his angels! It would not be in the narrow compass of this life, the brevity of which may be justly compared to a vapour lost in the air, a flower fading in the sun, a dream vanishing in the morning, it will be in a succession of ages, in the boundless gulfs of eternity.
4. I said finally, my brethren, that we were sometimes disgusted with the world through an excess of fondness for the world, and hated life through an over valuation of it. "Oh heart of man, deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked!" Jer. xvii. 9. Who would not think, to hear some men exclaim, “Ah human life, I only wish to free myself from thy connexions, and thou, wicked world, I detest thee!" Who would not think that these people were convinced of the vanity of the world! But undeceive yourselves. Man enters the world as an enchanted place. While the charm lasts, the man I speak of is in raptures, and thinks he has found the supreme good. He imagines that riches have no wings, that splendid fortune has no reverse, that the great have no caprice, that friends have no levity, that health and youth are eternal: but as it is not long before he recovers his senses, he becomes disgusted with the world in the same proportion as he had been infatuated with it, and his hatred of life is exactly as extravagant as his love of it had been; that is to say, these sentiments, which seem so just and respectable, do not proceed from serious reflections on the views, which an immortal soul ought to have: that to say, you would have consented to renounce all hopes of future happiness, and to be for ever separated from God, had not the spring of your life passed away with so much rapidity, had your connexions been more durable, had your interest at court been better supported.
My text does not inculcate such sentiments as these. The Wise Man had met with a great many disagreeable events in society which had given him a great deal of pain, but, far from being driven out of it, he continued to reside in the world, and to amend and improve it by his wise counsel and good example. Read the Book of Proverbs, and this of Ecclesiastes, and observe how he endeavours to preserve society from damage by exposing the snares into which he himself had fallen. Behold, being converted himself, he endeavours to "strengthen his brethren, and to teach transgressors the ways of God!" How accurately does he describe all conditions of life! With what charity does he condescend, if I may venture to speak so, from the cedars of Lebanon to the hyssop upon the wall, so that there is no profession so mean, nor any man so obscure in his profession, that he does not either direct or improve. Disgust with the world should never prevent our as
How pitiable is your condition! In it you unite the misfortunes of time with the miseries of eternity. You disclaim both heaven and earth, you are disgusted with the vanity of the one, and you have no taste for the other. A worldling indemnifies himself by present enjoyments for the loss of future bliss, of which he has no prospect; and a Christian indemnifies himself by enjoying pleasures in prospect for the loss of sensual delights; but you! at what do you aspire? Your condition is the height of misery, as it is the height of absurdity.
It is not in any of these senses that the Wise Man says, "I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me." He would have us understand, that the earth has more thorns than flowers-that our condition here, though incomparably better than we deserve, is however inadequate to our just and constitutional desires-that our inconveniences in this life would seem intolerable, unless we were wise enough to direct them to the same end that God proposed by exposing us to suffer them-in a word, that nothing but hope in a future state formed on another plan can render the disorders of this world tolerable. So much may serve to explain the meaning of the Wise Man.
The phantoms that seduced Solomon during his dissipation may be reduced to two classes. The first suppose in the dissipated man very little knowledge, and very little taste; and it is astonishing that a man so eminently endowed with knowledge could set his heart upon them. The second may more easily impose on an enlightened and generous mind. In the first class I place riches, grandeur, and voluptuousness, with all their appendages. If these be, as they certainly are, the most common idols of mankind, it is for a reason inglorious to them, it is because most men have very little knowledge and very little taste.
The world has phantoms more specious, life has charms more capable of seducing a generous heart, and of imposing on a liberal mind. I put these into three classes. In the first I put the advantages of science-in the second the pleasures of friendship-in the third the privileges, I mean the temporal privileges of virtue and heroism. I will endeavour to unmask these three figures, and to prove, that the very dispositions which should contribute most to the pleasure of life, mental abilities, tenderness of heart, rectitude and delicacy of conscience, are actually dispositions which contribute most of
all to imbitter life.
1. If ever possessions could make man happy, Solomon must certainly have been the happiest of mankind. Imagine the most proper and the most effectual means of acquiring knowledge, joined to an avidity to obtain it, both were united in the person of this prince. We individuals, when we have received from Heaven abilities for science, we generally want assistance to cultivate them. What individual is able to send emissaries into distant climes to make observations to perfect geography, physic, astronomy, botany, navigation? An individual, to make collections, to ascertain reports, to
procure materials, must carry on works, which, in a word, more properly belong to the beasts of burden of the learned world than to himself, whose time should be better employed in exercising, and improving his own natural abilities. An individual seldom has it in his power to gain access to the museums of great men, and to procure the productions of their pens, or to consult the oracles that proceed from their mouths. An individual is often condemned to turn the studies that naturally employ his liberal mind into a mercenary trade, the only means of providing bread for himself and his family. In some protestant states youth are but half educated for want of endowments, and people choose rather to pluck the unripe fruits of the finest genius than to furnish him with the means of bringing them to perfection. A king, a rich king like Solomon, is free from all these difficulties. He has all the assistance necessary to the cultivation of his mind, and to the full gratification of his avidity for science. He says, what perhaps you have not sufficiently observed, "I turned myself to behold wisdom," that is, I applied myself to the sciences, and "what can the man do that cometh after the king?" chap. ii. 12. That is, who will ever have such innumerable means of acquiring and perfecting knowledge as those with which royal advantages furnish me?
Accordingly the world was filled with the science of this prince, and his science has given occasion to a great many fabulous histories. To him has been attributed a book entitled the "Contradiction of Solomon," condemned by Pope Gelasius, and other works named "Inchantments, clavicula, necromancy, ideas, neomænia, letters to king Hiram." Some ancient fathers thought that the pagan philosophers had read his writings, and that Aristotle in particular had taken his "History of animals" from the works of this prince. Josephus says, that he composed a "book of charms" to heal the incurable, and that one Eleazar, a Jew, had found in it a secret, by which he freed a person from possession, a reverie mentioned by Origen. The schoolmen have agitated a great many indiscreet questions concerning the science of Solomon, and have inquired, whether he were more learned than the angels and the Virgin Mary; and they have persuaded themselves not only that he was a great poet, a great physician, and a great astronomer, but also that he understood all the mysteries of the theology of the schools, and was well acquainted with the doctrine of transubstantiation.
We have better evidence of the science of Solomon than these visionaries. The Scripture itself informs us, that God "gave him a wise and an understanding heart, so that there was none like him before, neither after him should any arise like unto him," 1 Kings iii. 12; that he was "wiser," that is a greater philosopher, "than all the children of the east country, and all the Egyptians," chap. iv. 30, 31. By the children of the east we understand the Arabian philosophers, Chaldeans, and the Persians, so famous for their erudition, and particularly for their profound knowledge of astronomy. He was wiser than all the Egyp tians, that is, the most consummate doctors of Egypt, a country famous in the time of Moses
for its literature, called by the pagans the mother of arts, and who boasted that they first of all men knew how to take dimensions of the stars, and to calculate their motions, as Macrobius, Diodorus of Sicily, and many other authors affirm. The Scripture says that Solomon was "wiser than Ethan, Heman, Chalcol, and Darda:" names which the Jews understand in a mystical sense, meaning by Ethan Abraham, by Heman Moses, and Chalcol Joseph. The Scripture says farther, that he composed "three thousand proverbs, and a thousand and five songs; that he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon, even unto the hyssop, that springeth out of the wall, also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes," ver. 32, 33. Some of these works are a part of the canon of Scripture, but the rest are lost.
Now what says this great man concerning science? He acknowledges indeed that it was preferable to ignorance, "the wise man's eyes,' says he, "are in his head," that is, a man of education is in possession of some prudential maxims to regulate his life, whereas an illiterate man "walketh in darkness:" but yet says he "it happeneth even to me, as it happeneth to the fool, and why was I then wise?" ver. 15. And again, "the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing; for in much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow," chap. i. 8. 18. So again, in another place, after he had proposed some rules for the government of life, he adds, "My son be admonished by these, for of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh," chap. xii. 12. I wish I could weigh every expression. Observe however two imperfections of science.
condemn your discourses and your publications, and will pronounce with decisive tone this is not solid, that is superficial! The superiority of your understanding will raise up against you a world of ignorant people, who will say, that you corrupt the youth, because you would guard them against prejudice; that you stab orthodoxy, because you endeavour to heal the wounds which pedantry and intolerance have given it; that you trouble society, because you endeavour to purify morality, and to engage the great as well as the small, magistrates as well as people, to submit to its holy laws. They will prefer before you, both in the state and in the church, novices who are hardly fit to be your disciples.
1. Observe first the little progress made in science by those who pursue it to the highest pitch. As they advance in this immense field they discover, shall I say new extents, or new abysses, which they can never fathom. The more they nourish themselves with this rich pasture, the more keen do their appetites become. "The eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing, and of making many books there is no end."
2. Remark next the little justice done in the world to such as excel most in science. "He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow, and it happeneth even to me as it happeneth to a fool." Yes! after you have spent all your youth, after you have impaired your health, after you have spent your fortune to improve your own mind, and to enable you to improve those of other men, "it will happen to you even as it happeneth to a fool." You will be told, that sciences have nothing in them that deserve the attention of a man of quality. A man of mean extraction, who carries himself like a lord, will tell you that a man of birth ought to aspire at something more noble than meditating on questions of law, studying cases of conscience, and explaining holy Scripture. You will be told, that there is not half the knowledge required to sparkle in political bodies, and to decide on a bench the lives, and fortunes, and honours of mankind. Presumptuous youths will judge, and without appeal
Blessed idiots! You, who surrounded with a circle of idiots like yourselves, having first stupified yourselves with your own vanity, are now intoxicated with the incense offered your admirers; you, who, having collected a few bombastic phrases, are spreading the sails of your eloquence, and are bound for the occan of glory: you, whose sublime nonsense, stale common-places, and pedantic systems, have acquired you such a reputation for learning and erudition as is due only to real merit: your condition seems to me often preferable to that of first-rate geniuses, and most accomplished scholars! Ah! "Wisdom is vanity and vexation of spirit-of making many books there is no end-it happeneth even to me as it happeneth to the fool-there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool, for all shall be forgotten-therefore I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me."
2. The second disposition, which seems as if it would contribute much to the pleasure of life, but which often embitters it, is tenderness of heart. Let the sacred names of friendship and tenderness never come out of some mouths; let them never be used by profane people to express certain connexions, which far from having the reality have not even the appearance of rational sensibility! Would you give these names to such vague associations as are formed only because you are a burden to yourselves; to connexions in which the sentiments of the heart have no share, in which nothing is intended except the mutual performance of some capricious customs or the assuaging of some criminal passions, to the impetuosity of which you like brute beasts are given up? Would you give these names to those unpleasant interviews, in which while you visit, you inwardly groan under the necessity of visiting, in which the mouth protests what the heart denies, in which, while you outwardly profess to be affected with the misfortunes of another, you consider them inwardly with indifference and insensibility, and while you congratulate them on the prosperity which Providence bestows, you envy their condition, and sometimes regard it with a malice and mortification you cannot help discovering?
By friendship and tenderness, I mean those affectionate attachments produced by a secret sympathy, which virtue cements, which piety sanctifies, which a mutual vigilance over each other's interests confirms with indissoluble, I had almost said eternal, bonds. I call a friend