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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Ecclesiastes 7

 

 

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name [is] better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.

Ver. 1. A good name is better than precious ointment.] Yea, than great riches. {See Trapp on "Proverbs 22:1"} The initial letter (a) of the Hebrew word for "good" here is larger than ordinary, to show the more than ordinary excellence of a good name and fame among men. {Hebrew Text Note} If whatsoever David doeth doth please the people, if Mary Magdalen’s cost upon Christ be well spoken of in all the churches, if the Romans’ faith be famous throughout the whole world, [Romans 1:8] if Demetrius have a good report of all good men, and St John set his seal to it, this must needs be better than precious ointments; the one being but a perfume of the nostrils, the other of the heart. Sweet ointment, olfactum afficit, spiritum reficit, cerebrum iuvat, affects the smell, refresheth the spirit, comforts the brain: a good name doth all this and more. For,

First, As a fragrant scent, it affects the soul, amidst the stench of evil courses and companies. It is as a fresh gale of sweet air to him that lives, as Noah did, among such as are no better than walking dunghills, and living sepulchres of themselves, stinking much more worse than Lazarus did, after he had lain four days in the grave. A good name preserveth the soul as a pomander; and refresheth it more than musk or civit doth the body.

Secondly, It comforts the conscience, and exhilarates the heart; cheers up the mind amidst all discouragements, and fatteth the bones, [Proverbs 15:30] doing a man good, like a medicine. And whereas sweet ointments may be corrupted by dead flies, a good name, proceeding from a good conscience, cannot be so. Fly blown it may be for a season, and somewhat obscured; but as the moon wades out of a cloud, so shall the saints’ innocence break forth as the light, and their righteousness as the noonday. [Psalms 37:6] Buried it may be in the open sepulchres of evil throats, but it shall surely rise again: a resurrection there shall be of names, as well as of bodies, at the last day, at utmost. But usually a good name comforts a Christian at his death, and continues after it. For though the name of the wicked shall rot, his lamp shall be put out in obscurity, and leave a vile snuff behind it, yet "the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance"; they shall leave their names for a blessing. [Isaiah 65:15]

And the day of death, than the day of one’s birth.] The Greeks call a man’s birthday, γενεθλιον quasi γενεσιν αθλων; the beginning of his nativity, they call the begetting of his misery. "Man that is born of a woman, is born to trouble," saith Job. [Job 14:1] The word there rendered born, signifieth also generated or concieved; to note that man is miserable, even as soon as he is "warm in the womb," as David hath it. [Psalms 51:5] If he lives to see the light, he comes crying into the world, a fletu vitam auspicatur, saith Seneca. (b) Insomuch as the lawyers define life by crying, and a stillborn child is all one as dead in law. Only Zoroaster is said to have been born laughing, but that laughter was both monstrous and ominous. (c) For he first found out the black art which yet profited him not so far as to the vain felicity of this present life. For being king of the Bactrians, he was overcome and slain in battle by Ninus, king of the Assyrians. Augustine, who relates this story, saith of man’s first entrance into the world, Nondum loquitur, et tamen prophetat, ere ever a child speaks, be prophesies, by his tears, of his ensuing sorrows. Nec prius natus, quam damnatus, no sooner is he born, but he is condemned to the mines or galleys, as it were, of sin and suffering. Hence Solomon here prefers his coffin before his cradle. And there was some truth in that saying of the heathen, Optimum est non nasci, proximum quam celerrime mori: For wicked men it had been best not to have been born, or being born, to die quickly; since by living long they heap up first sin, and then wrath against the day of wrath. As for good men, there is no doubt but the day of death is best to them, because it is the daybreak of eternal righteousness; and after a short brightness, as that martyr said, gives them, Malorum ademptionem, bonorum adeptionem, freedom from all evil, fruition of all good. Hence the ancient fathers called those days wherein the martyrs suffered their birthdays, because then they began to live indeed: since here to live is but to lie dying. Eternal life is the only true life, saith Augustine.


Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 7:2 [It is] better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that [is] the end of all men; and the living will lay [it] to his heart.

Ver. 2. It is better to go to the house of mourning.] To the terming house, as they term it, where a dead corpse is laid forth for burial, and in that respect weeping and wailing, which is one of the dues of the dead, (a) whose bodies are sown in corruption, and watered usually with tears. It is better therefore to sort with such, to mingle with mourners, to follow the hearse, to weep with those that weep, to visit the heavy hearted, this being a special means of mortification, than to go to the house of feasting, where is nothing but joy and jollity, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine, yea, therefore eating and drinking, because tomorrow they shall die. Ede, bibe, lude, post mortem nulla voluptas. (b) What good can be gotten among such swinish epicures? What sound remedy against life’s vanity? It is far better therefore to go to the house of mourning, where a man may be moved with compassion, with compunction, with due and deep consideration of his doleful and dying condition; where he may hear dead Abel by a dumb eloquence preaching and pressing this necessary but much neglected lesson, that "this is the end of all men, and the living should lay it to heart"; or, as the Hebrew hath it, "lay it upon his heart," work it upon his affections; inditurus est iliad animo suo, so Tremelius renders it, he will so mind it as to make his best use of it, so as to say with Job, "I know that thou wilt bring me unto death"; [Job 30:23] and with David, "Behold, thou hast made my days as a span"; [Psalms 39:4-5] and as Moses, who when he saw the people’s carcases fall so fast in the wilderness, "Lord, teach us," said he, "so to number our days, as to cause our hearts" (of themselves never a whit willing) "to come to wisdom." [Psalms 90:12]


Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 7:3 Sorrow [is] better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.

Ver. 3. Sorrow is better than laughter.] Here, as likewise in the two former verses, is a collation and prelation; "Sorrow," or indignation conceived for sin, "is better than laughter," - i.e., carnal and profane mirth. This is παραδοξον αλλ ου παραλογον, as Nazianzen speaks in another case, a paradox to the world, but such as may sooner and better be proven than those paradoxes of the ancient Stoics. The world is a perfect stranger to the truth of this sacred position, as being all set upon the merry pin, and having so far banished sadness, as that they are no less enemies to seriousness, than the old Romans were to the name of the Tarquins. These Philistines cannot see how "out of this eater can come meat, and out of this strong, sweet"; how any man should reasonably persuade them to "turn their laughter into mourning, and joy into heaviness." [James 4:9] A pound of grief, say they, will not pay an ounce of debt; a little mirth is worth a great deal of sorrow; there is nothing better than for a man to eat and drink and laugh himself fat: spiritus Calvinianus, spiritus melancholicus - a Popish proverb - to be precise and godly is to bid adieu to all mirth and jollity, and to spend his days in heaviness and horror. This is the judgment of the mad world, ever beside itself in point of salvation. But what saith our Preacher, who had the experience of both, and could best tell? Sorrow is better, for it makes the heart better; it betters the better part, and is therefore compared to fire, that purgeth out the dross of sin, to water, that washeth out the dregs of sin, yea, to eye water, sharp, but sovereign. By washing in these troubled waters the conscience is cured, and God’s Naamans cleansed. By feeding upon this bitter sweet root, God’s penitentiaries are fenced against the temptations of Satan, the corruption of their own hearts, and the allurements of this present evil world. These tears drive away the devil much better than holy water, as they call it; they quench hell flames, and as April showers, they bring on in full force the May flowers both of grace [1 Peter 5:5] and of glory. [Jeremiah 4:14] What an ill match therefore make our mirthmongers, that purchase laughter many times with shame, loss, misery, beggary, rottenness of body, distress, damnation, that hunt after it to hell, and light a candle at the devil for lightsomeness of heart, by haunting ale houses, brothel houses, conventicles of good fellowship, sinful and unseasonable sports, and other vain fooleries, in the froth whereof is bred and fed that worm that never dies? A man is nearest danger when he is most merry, said Mr Greenham. And God cast not man out of paradise, saith another reverend man, that he might here build him another, but that, as that bird of paradise, he might always be upon the wing, and if at any time taken, never leave groaning and grieving till he be delivered. This will bring him a paradise of sweetest peace, and make much for the lengthening of his tranquillity and consolation. [Daniel 4:27] Oh, how sweet a thing is it at the feet of Jesus to stand weeping, to water them with tears, to dry them with sighs, and to kiss them with our mouths! Only those that have made their eyes a fountain to wash Christ’s feet in, may look to have Christ’s heart a fountain to bathe their souls in.


Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 7:4 The heart of the wise [is] in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools [is] in the house of mirth.

Ver. 4. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning.] He gladly makes use of all good means of minding his mortality, and holds it a high point of heavenly wisdom so to do. Hence he frequents funerals, mingles with mourners, hears etiam muta clamare cadavers, makes every tomb a teacher, every monument a monitor, (a) lays him down in his bed as in his grave, looks upon his sheets as his winding sheet. Ut somnus mortis, sic lectus imago sepulchri. If he hears but the clock strike, sees the glass run out, it is as a death’s head to preach memento mori to him; he remembers the days of darkness, as Solomon bids, [Ecclesiastes 11:8] acts death aforehand, takes up many sad and serious thoughts of it, and makes it his continual practice so to do, as Job and David did. The wiser Jews digged their graves long before, as that old prophet; [1 Kings 13:30] Joseph of Arimathea had his in his garden to season his delights. John, Patriarch of Alexandria (surnamed Eleemosynarius, for his bounty to the poor), having his tomb in building, gave his people charge it should be left unfinished, and that every day one should put him in mind to perfect it, that he might remember his mortality. The Christians in some part of the primitive Church took the sacrament every day, because they looked to die every day. Augustine would not for the gain of a million of worlds be an atheist for half an hour, because he had no certainty of his life for so short a time. His mother, Monica, was heard oft to say, How is it that I am here still? (b) The women of the Isle of Man, saith Speed, (c) whensoever they go out of their doors, gird themselves about with the winding sheet that they purpose to be buried in, to show themselves mindful of their mortality. The philosopher (d) affirms that man is therefore the wisest of creatures, because he alone can number, - Bruta non numerant; this is an essential difference, - but especially in that divine arithmetic of so "numbering his days as to apply his heart to wisdom." [Psalms 90:12] This speaks him wise indeed, right in his judgment, right also in his affections. This will render him right in his practice too; as it did Waldus, the merchant of Lyons, who seeing one suddenly fall down dead before him, became a new man, and chief of those old Protestants, the poor men of Lyons, (e) called also Waldenses from this Waldus.

But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.] {See Trapp on "Ecclesiastes 7:3"} As the heart of the wicked is light and little worth, so it is their trade to hunt after lying vanities (as the child doth after butterflies), to "rejoice in a thing of nothing"; [Amos 6:13] he wiles away his time, either in "weaving spiders’ webs or hatching cockatrice’ eggs"; [Isaiah 59:5] froth or filth {αφροσυνη, Mark 7:22} is their recreation. Sad and serious thoughts they banish, and therefore love not to be alone. They hate to hear of that terrible word death - as Louis XI of France commanded his servants not once to mention it to him, though he lay upon his deathbed. They live and laugh as if they were out of the reach of God’s rod, or as if their lives were riveted upon eternity, They can see death in other men’s brows and visages, not feel it in their own bowels and bosoms. When they behold any laid in their graves, they can shake their heads and say, This is what we must all come to; but after a while all is forgotten, - as water stirred with a stone cast into it hath circle upon circle on the surface for present, but by and by all is smooth as before. As chickens in a storm haste to be under the hen’s wing, but when that is a little over they lie dusting themselves in the sunshine; so it is here. Good thoughts fall upon evil hearts as sparks upon wet tinder; or if they kindle there, fools bring their buckets to quench them, run into merry company to drink, or otherwise drive away those troublesome heart qualms and melancholy dumps, as they call them. This is to excel in madness, &c. {See Trapp on "Proverbs 10:23"}


Verse 5

Ecclesiastes 7:5 [It is] better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.

Ver. 5. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise.] Sharp truth takes better with an honest heart than a smooth supparasitation. Seneca compares flattery to a song or symphony; but it is a syren’s song, and our ears must be stopped to it; for like the poison of asps, it casts one into a sleep, but that sleep is deadly. Those that had the sudor Anglicus, or sweating sickness, died assuredly, if allowed to sleep; those, then, were their best friends that kept them waking, though haply they had no thank for it; so are wise and merciful reprovers. "Faithful are these wounds of a friend." [Proverbs 27:6] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 27:6"} David was full glad of them; [Psalms 141:5] so was Gerson, who never took anything more kindly, saith he that writes his life, than to be plainly dealt with. The bee can suck sweet honey out of bitter thyme, yea, out of poisonous hemlock. So can a wise man make benefit of his friends, nay, of his enemies. It is good to have friends (as the orator said of judges), mode audeant quae sentiunt, so they dare deal freely. This an enemy will do for spite; and malice though it be an ill judge, yet is a good informer. Augustine, in an epistle to Jerome, approves well of him that said, There is more good to be gotten by enemies railing than friends flattering. These sing Satan’s lullaby, such as casts into a dead lethargy, and should therefore be served as Alexander the Great served a certain philosopher whom he chased out of his presence, and gave this reason, Because he had lived long with him, and never reproved any vice in him; or as the same Alexander dealt by Aristobulus, the false historian, who had written a book of his noble acts, and had magnified them beyond truth, hoping thereby to ingratiate and curry favour: Alexander having read the book, cast it into the River Hydaspes, and told the author it were a good deed to throw him after, Qui solus me sic pugnantem facis. (a)


Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 7:6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so [is] the laughter of the fool: this also [is] vanity.

Ver. 6. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot.] Much noise, little fire; much light, little heat. So here is much mirth, little cause; a blaze it may yield, but is suddenly extinct; this blaze is also under a pot; the gallantry of it is checked with troubles and terrors; it is insincere many times; it is but the "hypocrisy of mirth," as one calls it. It is truly and trimly here compared to a handful of brushwood, or sear thorn, under the pot. Ecquando vidisti flammam stipula exortam, claro strepitu, largo fulgore, cito incremento, sed enim materia levi, caduco incendio, nullis reliquiis, saith Apuleius - a very dainty description of carnal joy, and agreeable to this text. And herewith also very well suits that of the Psalmist, "Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath." [Psalms 58:9] Fools themselves are but thorns twisted and folded together; [Nahum 1:10] "briars"; [Micah 7:4] "brambles." [ 9:14] Their laughter is also fitly compared to thorns, because it chokes good motions, scratcheth the conscience, harbours the vermin of base and baggage lusts. And as themselves, like thorns, shall be thrust away and utterly burnt with fire in the same place, [2 Samuel 23:6-7] so their joy soon expireth, and proves to be rather desolation than consolation - as lightning is followed with rending and roaring, as comets outblaze the very stars, but when their exhaled matter is wasted, they vanish and fill the air with pestilent vapours. The prophet Amos telleth the wicked that "their sun shall go down at noonday." [Amos 8:9] Surely as metals are then nearest melting when they shine brightest in the fire, and as the fishes swim merrily down the silver streams of Jordan till they suddenly fall into the Dead Sea, where presently they perish, so it fares with these merry Greeks that fleer (a) when they should fear, and laugh when they should lament. "Woe to you that laugh," [Luke 6:25] saith Christ; how suddenly are they put out as the fire of thorns! [Psalms 118:12]


Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 7:7 Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.

Ver. 7. Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad,] viz., Till such time as he hath recollected himself, and summoned the sobriety of his senses before his own judgment - till he hath reasoned himself and prayed himself out of his distemper, as David (a) did in Psalms 73:16-17 Anger is a short madness, fury a frenzy; and who so apprehensive of an injury as the wise man? and who so wise as not sometimes to be overcarried by his passion to his cost? Oppression may express that from the meekest Moses which he may sorely repent, but knows not how to remedy. Anger displays reason in the wisest sometimes, and especially in case of calumny - for the eye and the good name will bear no jests, as the proverb hath it. A man can better bear a thong on the back than a touch on the eye. You shall find some, saith Erasmus, that if death be threatened, can despise it, but to be belied they cannot brook, nor from revenge contain themselves. How could we digest that calumny (might Erasmus well think then) that he basely casts upon our profession in his epistle to Bilibaldus? Ubicunque regnat Lutherus, ibi literarum est interitus: duo tantum quaerunt, censum, et uxorem: Wheresoever Luther prevails, learning goes down; wealth and wives is all they look after. How ill himself, with all his wisdom, could endure this kind of oppression, appears by his Hyperaspistes, and many other his apologies - for by his playing on both hands, Nec evangelicorum vitavit censuras, nec apud episcopos et monachos gratiam inivit, (b) he was beaten on both sides, which made him little less than mad; and it was but just upon him. David’s grief was that his enemies traduced and abused him without cause. Job and Jeremiah make the same complaint, and were much troubled. Defamations, they knew well, do usually leave a kind of lower estimation many times, even where they are not believed. (c) Hence Paul’s apologies and self-commendation, even to suspicion of madness almost. Hence Basil, in an epistle ad Bosphorum Episcop: Quo putas animum meum dolore affecit fama calumniae illius quam mihi offuderunt quidam, non metuentes Iudicem perditurum omnes loquentes mendacium? Tanto videlicet ut prope totam noctem insomnem duxerim: With what grief dost thou think, saith he, did that calumny oppress my mind, which some (not fearing the Judge that shall destroy all them that speak lies) did cast upon me? Even so much that I slept not almost all the night; so had the apprehended sadness possessed the secrets of mine heart.

And a gift destroyeth the heart,] i.e., Corrupts it, makes it blind, and so destroys it; as the eagle lights upon the hart’s horns, flutters dust in his eyes, and so by blinding him brings him to destruction. (d) See Deuteronomy 16:19. {See Trapp on "Deuteronomy 16:19"} Let a judge be both wise (for his understanding) and righteous (for his will), a gift will mar all, as it is there: it dazzleth the eyes, and maketh a wise man mad.


Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 7:8 Better [is] the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: [and] the patient in spirit [is] better than the proud in spirit.

Ver. 8. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning.] No right judgment can be made of anything unless we can see the end of it. God seems oft to go a contrary way to work, but by that time both ends be brought together, all is as it should be, and it appears that he doth all things in number, weight, and measure. We may learn (saith Mr Hooper, (a) martyr, in a certain letter exhorting to patience) by things that nourish and maintain us, both meat and drink, what loathsome and abhorring they come unto, before they work their perfection in us: from life they are brought to the fire, and clean altered from what they were when they were alive; from the fire to the trencher and knife, and all to be hacked; from the trencher to the mouth, and as small ground as the teeth can grind them; from the mouth into the stomach, and there so boiled and digested before they nourish, that whosoever saw the same would loathe and abhor his own nourishment, till it come to perfection. But as a man looketh for the nourishment of his meat when it is full digested, and not before, so must he look for deliverance when he hath suffered much trouble, and for salvation when he hath passed through the strait gate, &c. Let the wise man look to the end, and to the right which in the end God will do him, in the destruction of his oppressors; and this will patient his heart and heal his distemper. We "have heard of the patience of Job, and what end the Lord made with him. Be ye also patient," you shall shortly have help if ye hold out waiting. "Mark the upright man, and behold the just, for" - whatsoever his beginning or his middle be - "the end of that man is peace." [Psalms 37:37] Only he must hold out faith and patience, and not fall off from good beginnings; for as the evening crowneth the day, and as the grace of an interlude is in the last scene, so it is constancy that crowneth all graces, and he only that "continueth to the end that shall he saved." Laban was very kind at first, but he showed himself at parting. Saul’s three first years were good. Judas carried himself fair, usque ad loculorum officium, saith Tertullian, till the bag was committed to him. Many set out for heaven with as much seeming resolution as Lot’s wife did out of Sodom, as Orphah did out of Moab, as the young man in the Gospel came to Christ; but after a while they fall away, they stumble at the cross, and fall backwards. Now to such it may well be said, The end is better than the beginning. Better it had been for such never to have known the way of God, &c. Christ loves no lookers back. See how he thunders against them. [Hebrews 10:26-27; Hebrews 10:38-39] So doth St Paul against the Galatians, because they "did run well," but, lying down in that heat, they caught a surfeit, and fell into a consumption.

And the patient in spirit is better than the proud, &c.] Pride is the mother of impatience, as infidelity is of pride. "The just shall live by faith" [Habakkuk 2:4] - live upon promises, reversions, hopes - wait deliverance or want it, if God will have it so. "But his soul, which," for want of faith to ballast it, "is lifted up," and so presumes to set God a time wherein to come or never come, [2 Kings 6:33] "is not upright in him." Some things he doth, as it were a madman, not knowing or greatly caring what he doth, saith Gregory. (b) He frets at God and rails at men - lays about him on all hands, and never ceaseth, till in that distemperature he depart the world, which so oftentimes himself had distempered, as the chronicler (c) concludes the life of our Henry II.


Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 7:9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.

Ver. 9. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry.] The hasty man, we say, never wants woe. For wrath is an evil counsellor, and enwrappeth a man in manifold troubles, mischiefs, and miseries. It makes man like the bee, that vindictive creature, which, to be revenged, loseth her sting, and becomes a drone; or, like Tamar, who, to be even with her father-in-law, defiled him and herself with incest. "Cease, therefore, from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in anywise to do evil." [Psalms 37:8] Athenodorus counselled Augustus to determine nothing rashly, when he was angry, till he had repeated the Greek alphabet. Ambrose taught Theodosius, in that case, to repeat the Lord’s Prayer. What a shame it is to see a Christian act like Hercules furens, or like Solomon’s fool, that casts firebrands, or as that demoniac, [Mark 2:3] out of measure fierce! That demoniac was "among the tombs," but these are among the living, and molest those most that are nearest to them.

For anger resteth in the bosom of fools.] Rush it may into a wise man’s bosom, but not rest there, lodge there, dwell there; and only where it dwells it domineers, and that is only where a fool is master of the family. Thunder, hail, tempest, neither trouble nor hurt celestial bodies. See that the sun go not down upon this evil guest: see that the soul be not soured or impured with it, for anger corrupts the heart, as leaven doth the lump, or vinegar the vessel wherein it doth continue. (a)


Verse 10

Ecclesiastes 7:10 Say not thou, What is [the cause] that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.

Ver. 10. Say not thou, What is the cause? &c.] This, saith an interpreter, (a) is the continual complaint of the wicked moody and the wicked needy. The moody Papists would murder all the godly, for they be Canaanites and Hagarens. The needy profane would murder all the rich, for they are lions in the grate. Thus he. It is the manner and humour of too many, saith another, (b) who would be thought wise to condemn the times in an impatient discontentment against them, especially if themselves do not thrive, or be not favoured in the times as they desire and as they think they should be. And these malcontents are commonly great questionists. What is the cause? say they, &c. It might be answered, In promptu causa est, - Themselves are the cause, for the times are therefore the worse, because they are no better. Hard hearts make hard times. But the Preacher answers better: "Thou dost not wisely inquire concerning this"; q.d., The objection is idle, and once to have recited it, is enough to have confuted it. Oh "if we had been in the days of our forefathers," said those hypocrites in Matthew 23:30, great business would have been done. Ay, no doubt of it, saith our Saviour, whereas you "fill up the measure of your fathers’ sins," and are every whit as good at "resisting of the Holy Ghost" as they were. [Acts 7:51] Or if there were any good heretofore more than is now, it may be said of these wise fools, as it was anciently of Demosthenes, that he was excellent at praising the worthy acts of ancestors - not so at imitating of them. (c) In all ages of the world there were complaints of the times, and not altogether without cause. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, complained; so did Noah, Lot, Moses, and the prophets; Christ, the archprophet, and all his apostles; the primitive fathers and professors of the truth. The common cry ever was, O terapora! O mores! Num Ecclesias suas dereliquit Dominus? said Basil, - Hath the Lord utterly left his Church? Is it now the last hour? Father Latimer saw so much wickedness in his days, that he thought it could not be but that Christ must come to judgment immediately, like as Elmerius, a monk of Malmesbury, from the same ground gathered the certainty of Antichrist’s present reign. What pitiful complaints made Bernard, Bradwardine, Everard, Archbishop of Canterbury (who wrote a volume called Obiurgatorium temporis, the rebuke of the time), Petrarch, Mantuan, Savanarola, &c.! In the time of Pope Clement V, Frederick king of Sicily was so far offended at the ill government of the church, that he called into question the truth of the Christian religion, till he was better resolved and settled in the point by Arnoldus de Villanova, who showed him that it was long since foretold of these last and loosest times, that iniquity should abound - that men should be proud, lewd, heady, highminded, &c. (d) [1 Timothy 4:1 2 Timothy 3:1-4] Lay aside, therefore, these frivolous inquiries and discontented cryings out against the times, which, in some sense reflect upon God, the Author of times - for "can there be evil in an age, and he hath not done it?" - and blessing God for our gospel privileges, which indeed should drown all our discontents, let every one mend one, and then let the world run its circuits - take its course. Vadat mundus quo vult: nam vult vadere quo vult, saith Luther bluntly, - Let the world go which way it will: for it will go which way it will. "The thing that hath been, is that which shall be," &c. [Ecclesiastes 1:9-10] Tu sic debes vivere, ut semper praesentes dies meliores tibi sint quam praeteriti, saith a father, (e) - Thou shouldst so live that thy last days may be thy best days, and the time present better to thee than the past was to those that then lived.


Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 7:11 Wisdom [is] good with an inheritance: and [by it there is] profit to them that see the sun.

Ver. 11. Wisdom is good with an inheritance,] (a) So is it without it, but not so good, because wealth is both an ornament, an instrument, and an encouragement to wisdom. Aristides, saith Plutarch, (b) slandered and made justice odious by his poverty, as if it were a thing that made men poor, and were more profitable to others than to himself that useth it. God will not have wealth always entailed to wisdom, that wisdom may be admired for itself, and that it may appear that the love and service of the saints is not mercenary and meretricious. But godliness hath the promises of both lives. And the righteous shall leave inheritance to his children’s children. Or if he do not so, yet he shall leave them a better thing, for "by wisdom" (abstracted from wealth) "there is profit"; or, it is "more excellent," or "better," (as the Hebrew word signifies), as the apostle in another case, "And yet show I you a more excellent way" [1 Corinthians 12:31] - viz., that graces are better than gifts; so here, that wisdom is better than wealth. And if Jacob may see "his children the work of God’s hands," framed and fitted by the word of God’s grace ("the wisdom of God in a mystery,") this would better preserve him from confusion, and "his face from waxing pale," than if he could make his children "princes in all lands"; [Psalms 45:16] yea, this will make him to sanctify God’s name, yea, to ‘sanctify the Holy One,’ and with singular encouragement from the God of Israel. [Isaiah 29:22-23]


Verse 12

Ecclesiastes 7:12 For wisdom [is] a defence, [and] money [is] a defence: but the excellency of knowledge [is, that] wisdom giveth life to them that have it.

Ver. 12. For wisdom is a defence, and money, &c.] Heb., A shadow; viz., to those that have seen the sun (as in the former verse), and are scorched with the heat of it - that are under the miseries and molestations of life. Wisdom in this case is a wall of defenee and a well of life. Money also is a thorn hedge, of very good use, [Job 1:10] so it be set without the affections, and get not into the heart, as the Pharisees’ ενοντα did. [Luke 11:41] Their riches were got within them, and, by choking the seed, kept wisdom out.

Wisdom giveth life to them that have it.] For "God is both a sun and a shield," or shadow. "He will give grace and glory." [Psalms 84:11] Life in any sense is a sweet mercy, but the life of "grace and of glory" may well challenge the precellency. No marvel, therefore, though wisdom bear away the bell from wealth, which, as it serves only to the uses of life natural, so, being misused, it "drowns many a soul in perdition and destruction," [1 Timothy 6:9] and proves "the root of all evil"; [1 Timothy 6:10] yea, it taketh away the life of the owner thereof. [Proverbs 1:19] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 1:19"} It is confessed that wealth sometimes giveth life to them that have it, as it did to those ten Jews that had treasures in the field, [Jeremiah 41:8] and doth to those condemned men that can take a lease of their lives. But Nabal’s wealth had undone him, if Abigail’s wisdom had not interposed. And in the other life money bears no mastery. Adam had it not in paradise, and in heaven there is no need of it.


Verse 13

Ecclesiastes 7:13 Consider the work of God: for who can make [that] straight, which he hath made crooked?

Ver 13. Consider the work of God, &c.] q.d., Stoop, since there is no standing out. See God in that thou sufferest, and submit. God by a crooked tool many times makes straight work; he avengeth the quarrel of his covenant by the Assyrian, that rod of God’s wrath, though he thinks not so. [Isaiah 10:5-7] Job could discern God’s arrows in Satan’s hand, and God’s hand on the arms of the Sabean robbers. He it is that "killeth and maketh alive," saith holy Hannah; "he maketh poor and maketh rich, he bringeth low and lifteth up." [1 Samuel 2:6-7] All is done according to the counsel of his will; who, as he may do what he pleases, so he will be sure never to overdo; his holy hand shall never be further stretched out to smite, than to save. [Isaiah 59:1] This made David "dumb, for he knew it was God’s doing." [Psalms 39:2] "It is the Lord," said Eli, "let him do," [1 Samuel 3:18] and I will suffer, lest I add passive disobedience to active. Aaron, his predecessor, had done the like before him upon the same consideration, in the untimely end of his untowardly children. [Leviticus 10:3] Jacob, likewise, in the rape of Dinah. [Genesis 34:5] Agnovit haud dubie ferulam divinam, saith Pareus on that text; he considered the work of God in it, and that it was in vain for him to seek to make that straight which God had made crooked. There is no standing before a lion, no hoisting up sail in a tempest, no contending with the Almighty. "Who ever waxed fierce against God and prospered?" [Job 9:4] Who ever got anything by kicking against the pricks, by biting the rod which they should rather have kissed? See Isaiah 14:27, Job 9:12-13; Job 34:12-18. Set God before your passions, when they are up in a hurry, and all will be hushed. Set down proud flesh when it bustles and bristles under God’s fatherly chastisements, and say soberly to yourselves, Shall I not drink of the cup that my Father, who is also my physician, hath put into mine hands; stand under the cross that he hath laid on my shoulders; stoop unto the yoke that he hangeth on my neck? Drink down God’s cup willingly, said Mr Bradford the martyr, and at first when it is full, lest if we linger we drink at length of the dregs with the wicked. Ferre minora volo, ne graviora feram. That was a very good saying of Demosthenes, who was ever better at praising virtue than at practising it. Good men should ever do the best, and then hope the best. But if anything happen worse than was hoped for, let that which God will have done be borne with patience.


Verse 14

Ecclesiastes 7:14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.

Ver. 14. In the day of prosperity be joyful.] Here we have some fair days, some foul - crosses like foul weather, come before they are sent for; for as fair weather, the more is the pity, may do hurt, so may prosperity, as it did to David, [Psalms 30:6] who therefore had his interchanges of a worse condition, as it was but needful; his prosperity, like checker work, was intermingled with adversity. See the circle God goes in with his people; (a) in that thirtieth Psalm David was afflicted; [Psalms 30:5] he was delivered and grew wanton; then troubled again; [Psalms 30:7] cries again; [Psalms 30:8-9] God turns his mourning into joy again. Thus God sets the one against the other, as it were, in equilibrio, in even balance, for our greatest good. Sometimes he weighs us in the balance and finds us too light, then he thinks best to make us "heavy through manifold temptations." [1 Peter 1:6] Sometimes he finds our water somewhat too high, and then as a physician, no less cunning than loving, he fits us with that which will reduce all to the healthsome temper of a broken spirit. But if we be but prosperity proof, there is no such danger of adversity. Some of those in Queen Mary’s days who kept their garments close about them, wore them afterwards more loosely. Prosperity makes the saints rust sometimes; therefore God sets his scullions to scour them and make them bright, though they make themselves black. This scouring if they will scape, let Solomon’s counsel be taken, "In the day of prosperity be joyful," - i.e., serve God with cheerfulness in the abundance of all things, and reckon upon it, the more wages the more work. Is it not good reason? Solomon’s altar was four times as large as that of Moses; and Ezekiel’s temple ten times larger than Solomon’s; to teach that where God gives much, he expects much. Otherwise God will "curse our blessings," [Malachi 2:2] make us "ashamed of our revenues through his fierce anger," [Jeremiah 12:13] and "destroy us after he hath done us good." [Joshua 24:20]

In the day of adversity consider.] Sit alone, and be in meditation of the matter. [Lamentations 3:28] "Commune with your own consciences and be still," [Psalms 4:4] or make a pause. See who it is that smites thee, and for what. [Lamentations 3:40] Take God’s part against thyself, as a physician observes which way nature works, and helps it. Consider that God "afflicts not willingly," or "from his heart"; it goes as much against the heart with him as against the hair with us. [Lamentations 3:33] He is forced of "very faithfulness" [Psalms 119:75] to afflict us, because he will be true to our souls and save them; he is forced to diet us, who have surfeited of prosperity, and keep us short. He is forced to purge us, as wise physicians do some patients, till he bring us almost to skin and bone; and to let us bleed even ad deliquium animae, till we swoon again, that there may be a spring of better blood and spirits. Consider all those precious passages, [Hebrews 12:3-12] and then lift up the languishing hands and feeble knees. For your further help herein, read my treatise called "God’s Love Tokens," and "The Afflicted Man’s Lessons," passim.


Verse 15

Ecclesiastes 7:15 All [things] have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just [man] that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked [man] that prolongeth [his life] in his wickedness.

Ver. 15. All things have I seen in the days of my vanity,] i.e., Of my life, which is so very a vanity that no man can perfectly describe it, or directly tell what it is. He came somewhat near the matter that said it was a spot of time between two eternities.

There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness.] The first man that died, died for religion. How early did martyrdom come into the world! How valiant for the truth and violent for the kingdom have God’s suffering saints been ever since, preferring affliction before sin, and choosing rather to perish in their righteousness than to part with it! Ignatius triumphed in his voyage to Rome to suffer, to think that his blood should be found among the mighty worthies, and that when the Lord makes inquisition for blood, he will recount from the blood of righteous Abel, not only to the blood of Zaccharias, son of Barachias, but also to the blood of mean Ignatius. "Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake," [Matthew 5:10] {See Trapp on "Matthew 5:10"}

And there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life.] This, as the former event likewise, proves a great stumblingblock to many; to see good men perish, bad men flourish and live long in sin, with impunity, credit, and countenance, as Manasseh, that monster of men, who reigned longest of any king of Judah. Jeroboam lived to see three successions in the throne of Judah. Thus the ivy lives when the oak is dead. David George, that odious heretic, lived to a great age, and died in peace and plenty. Ann Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset, wife of the Protector, Edward Seymour, after she had raised such tragedies about precedence with Queen Catherine, and caused the ruin of her husband and his brother the admiral, died A.D. 1587, being ninety-nine years of age. (a) Length of days is no sure rule of God’s favour. As plants last longer than sensitive creatures, and brute creatures outlive the reasonable, (b) so among the reasonable it is no news, neither should it trouble us, that the wickedly great do inherit these worldly glories longer than the best; it is all they are like to have, let them make them merry with it. Some wicked men live long that they may aggravate their judgment, others die sooner that they may hasten it.


Verse 16

Ecclesiastes 7:16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?

Ver. 16. Be not righteous over much, neither make, &c.] Virtue consists in a mediocrity. Omne quod est nimium vertitur in vitium. A rigid severity may mar all. (a) "Let your moderation, το ετιεκες, be known to all men"; [Philippians 4:5] prefer equity before extremity: utmost right may be utmost wrong. He is righteous over much that will remit nothing of his right, but exercise great censures for light offences; this is, as one said, to kill a fly upon a man’s forehead with a beetle. Justice, if not mixed with mercy, degenerates into cruelty. Again, he is righteous more than is meet that maketh sins where God hath made none, as those superstitiostdi of old, and the Papists to this day do with their "Touch not, taste not, handle not: which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship," &c. [Colossians 2:21; Colossians 2:23] Will worshippers are usually over wise, i.e., overweening, and also too well conceited of their own wisdom and worth. Hence it is that they cannot do, but they must overdo, (b) till "wearied in the greatness of their way," [Isaiah 57:10] they see and say that it had been best to have held the king’s highway, chalked out unto them by the "royal law," [James 2:8] that "perfect law of liberty." [James 1:25] Via regis temperata est, nec plus in se habens, nec minus; { c} the middle way is the way of God, neither having too much, nor yet too little. True it is, saith the heathen orator, (d) that nemo pius est qui pistatem caret, no man is godly, that is afraid of being so. But then it is no less true, and the same author speaks it, Modum esse religionis, nimium esse superstitiosum non oportere; { e} that there is a reason in being religious, and that men must see they be not superstitious. Solomon saith, that he that wrings his nose overhard, brings blood out of it. Pliny saith, he that tills his land too much, doth it to his loss. (f) Apelles said those painters were to blame, qui non sentirent quid esset satis, that could not see when they had done sufficient. (g) It is reported of the river Nile, that if it either exceed or be defective in its due overflowings of the land of Egypt, it causeth famine. (h) The planet Jupiter, situated between cold Saturn and hot Mars, Ex utroque temperatus est, et saluteris, saith Pliny, (i) partakes of both, and is benign and wholesome to the sublunary creatures.


Verse 17

Ecclesiastes 7:17 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?

Ver. 17. Be not wicked over much,] viz., Because thou seest some wicked men live long, and scape scot free for the present, as Ecclesiastes 7:15. For God may cut thee short enough, and make thee die before thy time - i.e., before thou art fit to die - and when it were better for thee to do anything rather than die, since thou diest in thy sins, which is much worse than to die in a ditch. Now they are too much wicked, and egregiously foolish, that "add rebellion to sin," [Job 34:37] "drunkenness to thirst," [Deuteronomy 29:19] "doing wickedly with both hands earnestly," [Micah 7:3] refusing to be reformed, hating to be healed. These take long strides toward the burning lake, which is but a little before them. The law many times lays hold of them, the gallows claims its right, they preach in a Tyburn tippet, as they say; or otherwise, God cuts them off betime, even long before, as he knows their thoughts and dispositions long before. We used to destroy hemlock even in the midst of winter, because we know what it will do if suffered to grow. "Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days." [Psalms 55:23] God cut off Eli’s two sons in one day for their excessive wickedness; and further threatened their father, that there should not be an old man left in his house for ever. [1 Samuel 2:32] Wicked men die tempore non suo, as the text is by some rendered. The saints die not till the best time, not till their work is done - and then God sends them to bed; the two witnesses could not be killed while they were doing it - not till that time, when if they were but rightly informed, they would even desire to die.


Verse 18

Ecclesiastes 7:18 [It is] good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.

Ver. 18. It is good that thou shouldst take hold of this,] i.e., Of this golden mean, walking accurately by line and by rule, and continuing constant in thine integrity, not turning aside to the right hand or to the left. As for those that "turn aside unto those crooked ways" [Psalms 125:5] of being just too much by needless scrupulosity, or wicked excessively by detestable exorbitancy, "the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity," as cattle led to the slaughter, or malefactors to execution; whereas, "he that feareth God shall come out of them all." He shall "look forthright," [Proverbs 4:25] and shall have "no occasion of stumbling." [1 John 2:10] He shall also be freed from, or pulled as a "firebrand out of the fire." [Zechariah 3:2]


Verse 19

Ecclesiastes 7:19 Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty [men] which are in the city.

Ver. 19. Wisdom strengtheneth the wise, &c.] Prudence excelleth puissance, and counsel valour. This made Agamemnon set such a price upon Ulysses; Darius, upon Zopyrus; the Syracusans, upon Archimedes; the Spartans, upon Leonidas, who, with six hundred men, dispersed five hundred thousand of Xerxes his host. (a) Those that are wise to salvation go ever under a double guard; the peace of God within them, the power of God without them. No sultan of Babylon or Egypt (who have that title from the Hebrew word here rendered mighty men) did ever go so well guarded. {See Trapp on "Proverbs 21:22"}


Verse 20

Ecclesiastes 7:20 For [there is] not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

Ver. 20. For there is not a just man upon earth.] No, this is reserved for the state of perfection in heaven, where are "the spirits of just men made perfect." [Hebrews 12:23] It was the cavil wherewith the Pelagians troubled St Augustine, whether it were impossible that by the absolute power of God a just man might not live on earth without sin? (a) But what have we to do here with the absolute power of God? His revealed will is, "That there is not a just man upon earth that doth good and sinneth not"; nay, that sinneth not, even in his doing of good. Our righteousness, while we are on earth, is mixed, as light and darkness, dimness at least, in a painted glass dyed with some obscure and dim colour; it is transparent and giveth good, but not clear and pure light. It is a witty observation of a late learned divine, (b) that the present tense in grammar is accompanied with the imperfect, the future with the preter-pluperfect tense; and that such is the condition of our present and future holiness. Our future is more than perfect, our present is imperfect indeed, but yet true holiness and happiness. {See Trapp on "Proverbs 20:9"}


Verse 21

Ecclesiastes 7:21 Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:

Ver. 21. Also take no heed.] But be "as a deaf man that heareth not, and as a dumb man, in whose mouth there is no reproof." [Psalms 38:13] If thou answer anything, say as he in Tacitus did to one that railed at him, Tu linguae, ego vero aurium dominus, Thou mayest say what thou wilt, but I will hear as I wish; or as once a certain steward did to his passionate lord, when he called him knave, &c.: - ‘Your honour may speak as you please, but I believe not a word that you say, for I know myself an honest man.’ The language of reproachers must be read like Hebrew, backwards. Princes used to correct the indecencies of ambassadors by denying them audience. Certain it is, that he enjoys a brave composedness that sets himself above the flight of the injurious claw. Isaac’s apology to his brother Ishmael, viz., patience and silence is the best answer to words of scorn and petulance, said learned Hooker. I care not for man’s day, saith Paul. [1 Corinthians 4:3] Non cum vanum calumniatorem, I regard not a vain slanderer, saith Augustine. Wicelius and Cochleus gave out that we Lutherans betrayed the Rhodes to the Turk, saith Melanchthon. These impudent lies need no confutation, dicant ipsi talia quoad velint, let them tell such loud and lewd lies as many as they will. When a net is spread for a bird, saith Augustine, the manner is to throw stones at the hedge. These stones hurt not the bird, but she, hearing and fearing this vain sound, falls into the net. In like manner, saith he, men that fear and regard the vain sound of all ill words, what do they but fall into the devil’s net, who thereby carries them captive into much evil, many troubles and inconvenience?

Lest thou hear thy servant curse thee.] Who should in duty speak the best of thee, though frample and froward, cross and crooked. [1 Peter 2:18] Or by "servant" understand base, inferior people, such as were Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and those "abjects" that "tare David’s name, and ceased not." [Psalms 35:15]


Verse 22

Ecclesiastes 7:22 For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.

Ver. 22. For oftentimes also thine own heart knows.] Conscience is God’s spy, and man’s overseer; and though some can make a sorry shift to muzzle her for a time, or to stop their own ears, yet ipsa se offert, ipsa se ingerit, saith Bernard; sooner or later she will tell a man his own to some tune, as they say; she will not go behind the door to let him know that he himself likewise hath cursed others, as now by God’s just judgment others curse him. The conscience of our own evil doings, though hid from the world, should meeken us toward those that do amiss. See Titus 3:3. Say to yourselves, -

Aut sumus, aut fuimus, aut possumus esse quod hic est.

Either we are, or will be, or we are able to be what this is. The wrong that David had done to Uriah helped him to bear the barkings of that dead dog Shimei. Here, then, "Take no heed unto all words," &c., as in the former verse. For, nihil amarius quam id ipsum pati quod feceris, (a) there is nothing more bitter than to suffer that which thou hast done to others; because those sufferings sting the conscience with unquestionable conviction and horror, as is to be seen in Adonibezek, who acknowledged with a regret, a just remuneration. [ 1:7]


Verse 23

Ecclesiastes 7:23 All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it [was] far from me.

Ver. 23. I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.] Solomon here seems to say of wisdom, as Nazianzen doth of God the author of it, Tantum recedit, quantum capitur. Not that wisdom itself doth fly away, but because that they who have most of it do especially understand that it exceedeth the capacity of any one to be able to comprehend it (as Basil (a) gives the reason), so that they that think they have got demonstrations perceive afterwards that they are no more than topica aut sophisticae rationes, topical or sophistical arguments, as Lyra here noteth. Bonus quidam vir solebat esse solus, &c., saith Melanchthon: a certain well meaning man was wont to walk and study much alone, and lighting upon Aristotle’s discourse concerning the nature of the rainbow, he fell into many odd speculations and strange conceits; and, writing to a friend of his, told him that in all other matters, though dark and obscure, he had outdone Aristotle; but in the matter of the rainbow he had outdone himself. After this he came into the public schools, and disputed of that argument, Et tote prorsus coelo a veritate aberrabat suis phantasiis; { b} and then he came to see that he had been utterly out, and strangely miscarried by those phantasies which he had so strongly fancied.


Verse 24

Ecclesiastes 7:24 That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?

Ver. 24. That which is far of and exceeding deep.] Not the minions of the muses, Mentemque habere queis bonam, et esse corculis datum est. (a) For though they should eviscerate themselves, like spiders, crack their sconces, or study themselves to death, yet can they not "understand all mysteries and all knowledge" [1 Corinthians 13:2] in natural things, how much less in supernatural! whereas weak sighted and sand blind persons, the more they strain their eyes to discern a thing perfectly, the less they see of it, as Vives hath observed. (b) It is utterly impossible for a mere naturalist, that cannot tell the form, the quintessence, that cannot enter into the depth of the flower, or the grass he treads on, to have the wit to enter into the deep things of God, "the mystery of Christ which was hid" [Ephesians 3:9-10] from angels till the discovery, and since that they are still students in it. David, though he saw further than his ancients, [Psalms 119:99] yet he was still to seek of that which might be known. [Psalms 119:96] Even as those great discoverers of the newly found lands in America, at their return were wont to confess, that there was still a plus ultra, something more beyond yet. Not only in innumerable other things am I very ignorant, saith Augustine, but also in the very Scriptures, multo plura nescio quam scio, (c) I am ignorant of many more things by odds than I yet understand. This present life is like the vale of Sciaessa, near unto the town called Patrae, of which Solinus saith, that it is famous for nothing but for its darksomeness, as being continually overcast with the shadows of nine hills that do surround it, so that the sun can hardly cast a beam of light into it. (d) Properemus ad coelestem Academiam, Let us hasten to the university of heaven, where the least child knows a thousand times more than the deepest doctor upon earth.


Verse 25

Ecclesiastes 7:25 I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason [of things], and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness [and] madness:

Ver. 25. I applied mine heart.] Circuivi ego et cot meum, so the original runs; I and my heart turned about, or made a circle to know, &c. He took his heart with him, and resolved, hard or not hard, to make further search into wisdom’s secrets. Difficulty doth but whet on heroic spirits: it doth no whit weaken but waken their resolutions to go through with the work. When Alexander met with any hard or hazardous piece of service, he would say, Iam periculum par anime Alexandri, He ever achieved what he enterprised, because he never accounted anything impossible to be achieved. David was well pleased with the condition of bringing in to Saul the foreskins of a hundred Philistines. If a bowl run downhill, a rub in the way does but quicken it; as if up hill, it slows it. A man of Solomon’s make, one that hath a free, noble, princely spirit, speaks to wisdom, as Laelius in Lucan did to Caesar,

Iussa sequi tam velle mihi, quam posse, necesse.

And to know the wickedness of folly.] The "sinfulness of sin." [Romans 7:13] Sin is so evil that it cannot have a worse epithet given it. "Mammon of unrighteousness," [Luke 16:11] is the next odious name to the devil.

Even the foolishness of madness.] That by one contrary he might the better know the other. Folly may serve as a foil to set off wisdom; as gardeners suffer some stinking stuff to grow near their sweetest flowers.


Verse 26

Ecclesiastes 7:26 And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart [is] snares and nets, [and] her hands [as] bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.

Ver. 26. And I found more bitter than death.] Amantes amentes: Amor amaror, Plus aloes quam mellis habet. Knowest thou not that there is bitterness in the end? Heus scholastiae, said the harlot to Apuleius, Hark, scholar, your sweet bits will prove bitter in the close. (a)

Principium dulce est, at finis amoris amarus.

The pomegranate, with its sweet kernels, but bitter rind, is an emblem of the bitter sweet pleasure of sin. It is observed of our Edward III that he had always fair weather at his passage into France, and foul upon his return. (b) Laeta venire Venus, tristis abire solet. The panther hides her head till she sees her time to make prey of those other beasts that, drawn by her sweet smell, follow her to their own destruction. (c) The poet’s fable, that pleasure and pain complained one of another to Jupiter, and that, when he could not decide the controversy between them, he tied them together with chains of adamant, never to be sundered.

The woman.] The wanton woman, that shame of her sex. A bitch, Moses calls her; [Deuteronomy 23:18] St Paul, a living ghost, a walking sepulchre of herself. [1 Timothy 5:6] Cum careat pura mente, cadaver agit. "This I find," saith Solomon, where "I" is "I" with a witness; he had found it by woeful experience, and now relates it for a warning to others. Saith he -

Quid facies facies veneris cum veneris ante?

Non sedeas, sed eas: ne pereas, per eas. ”

Whose heart is snares and nets.] Heb., Hunters’ snares; for she "hunteth for the precious life," {Proverbs 6:26} and the devil, by her, hunts for the precious soul, there being not anything that hath more enriched hell than harlots. All is good fish that comes to these nets; but they are "taken alive by the devil at his pleasure" [2 Timothy 2:26]

And her hands as bands.] To captivate and enslave those that haunt her, as Delilah did Samson, as the harlot did the young novice, [Proverbs 7:22] as Solomon’s Moabitish mistress did him, and as it is said of the Persian kings, that they were captivarum suarum captivi, (d) captives to their concubines, who dared to take the crown from their heads, or do anything to them almost, when others might not come near them uncalled upon pain of death [Esther 4:11]

Whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her.] As Joseph did, and Bellerophon, though with a difference: Joseph out of a principle of chastity, Bellerophon of continence. The continent person refrains either for love of praise, or fear of punishment, but not without grief, for inwardly he is scalded with boiling lust, as Alexander, Scipio, and Pompey were, when, tempted with the exquisiteness and variety of choicest beauties, they forbare. Vellem, si non essem imperator. I would if I were not a general. But now the chaste man, who is good before God - one whom he approves and takes pleasure in - is holy both in body and spirit, [1 Corinthians 7:34] and this with delight, out of fear of God and love of virtue. God did much for that libidinous gentleman, who, sporting with a courtezan in a house of sin, happened to ask her name, which she said was Mary; whereat he was stricken with such a remorse and reverence, that he instantly not only cast off the harlot, but amended his future life. (e)

But the sinner shall be taken by her.] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 22:14"} The poet’s fable, that when Prometheus had discovered truth to men, that had long lain hid from them, Jupiter, or the devil, to cross that design, sent Pandora, - that is, pleasure - that should so besot them, as that they should neither mind nor make out after truth and honesty.


Verse 27

Ecclesiastes 7:27 Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, [counting] one by one, to find out the account:

Ver. 27. Behold, this I have found.] Eυρηκα, Eυρηκα, ‘I have found it, I have found it,’ said the philosopher. Vicimus, Vicimus, We have prevailed, we have prevailed, said Luther, when he had been praying in his closet for the good success of the consultation about religion in Germany. So the Preacher here, having by diligence set open the door of truth, (a) cries, Venite, videte, Come and see my discoveries, in the making whereof I have been very exact, "counting one by one," ne mole obruerer, lest I should be oppressed with many things at once.


Verse 28

Ecclesiastes 7:28 Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.

Ver. 28. Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not.] There is a place in Wiltshire called Stonhenge, for various great stones lying and standing there together: of which stones it is said, (a) that though a man number them "one by one" never so carefully, yet that he cannot find the true number of them, but that every time he numbers them he finds a different number from that he found before. This may well show, as one well applies it, the erring of man’s labour in seeking the acconnt of wisdom and knowledge; for, though his diligence be never so great in making the reckoning, he will always be out, and not able to find it out.

One man among a thousand.] Haud facile iuvenies multis e milibus unum. There is a very great scarcity of good people. These are as Gideon’s three hundred, when the wicked, as the Midianites, lie "like grasshoppers for multitude upon the earth," [ 7:7; 7:12] and as those Syrians, [1 Kings 20:27] they fill the country, they darken the air, as the swarms did the land of Egypt; and there is plenty of such dust heaps in every corner.

But a woman among all those have I not found,] i.e., Among all my wives and concubines, which made him ready to sing, Femina nulla bona est. There is no good woman. But that there are, and ever have been, many gracious women, see, besides the Scriptures, the writings of many learned men, De illustribus feminis. Concerning Illustrious Women. It is easy to observe, saith one, that the New Testament affords more store of good wives than the Old. And I can say, as Jerome does, Novi ego multas ad omne opus bonum promptas, I know many Tabithas full of good works. But in respect of the discovery of hearts and natures, whether in good or evil, it is harder to find out thoroughly the perfect disposition of a woman than of men; and that I take to be the meaning of this text.


Verse 29

Ecclesiastes 7:29 Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.

Ver. 29. That God hath made man upright,] viz., In his own image - i.e., " knowledge" in his understanding part, "rightness" in his will, and "holiness" in his affections: [Colossians 3:10] his heart was a lump of love, &c., when he came first out of God’s mint, he shone most glorious, clad with the royal robe of righteousness, created with the imperial crown. [Psalms 8:5] But the devil soon stripped him of it; he cheated and robbed him of the crown, as we use to do children, with the apple, or whatsoever fruit it was that he tendered to Eve: Porrexit pomum et surripuit paradisum. (a) He also set his limbs in the place of God’s image, so that now, Is qui factus est homo differt ab eo quem Deus fecit, as Philo saith, man is now of another make than God made him. Totus homo est inversus decalogus, Whole evil is in man, and whole man in evil. Neither can he cast the blame upon God, but must fault himself, and flee to the second Adam for repair.

But they have sought out many inventions.] New tricks and devices, like those poetic fictions and fabulous relations, whereof there is neither proof nor profit. The Vulgate Latin hath it, Et ipse se infinitis miscuit quaestionibus; And he hath entangled himself with numberless questions and fruitless speculations. See 1 Timothy 1:4; 1 Timothy 6:4, "doting about questions," or question sick. Bernard reads it thus, Ipse autem se implicuit doloribus multis, but he hath involved himself in many troubles, the fruit of his inventions, shifts, and shirking tricks. {see Jeremiah 6:19}

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1865-1868.

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