Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.Ecclesiastes 7:2
We are apt to blame society for being constrained and artificial, but its conventionalities are only the result of the limitations of man's own nature. How much, for instance, of what is called 'reserve' belongs to this life, and passes away with its waning, and the waxing of the new life! We can say to the dying, and hear from them things that, in the fullness of health and vigour, could not be imparted without violence to some inward instinct. And this is one reason, among many others, why it is so good to be in the house of mourning, the chamber of death. It is there more easy to be natural,—to be true, I mean, to that which is deepest within us. Is there not something in the daily familiar course of life, which seems in a strange way to veil its true aspect? It is not Death, but Life, which wraps us about with shroud and cerement.
—Dora Greenwell, Two Friends, pp. 38, 39.
Compare Sterne's famous sermon on this text:—'So strange and unaccountable a creature is man! He is so framed that he cannot but pursue happiness, and yet, unless he is made sometimes miserable, how apt he is to mistake the way which can only lead him to the accomplishment of his own wishes,' etc.
Every one observes how temperate and reasonable men are when humbled and brought low by afflictions, in comparison of what they are in high prosperity. By this voluntary resort unto the house of mourning, which is here recommended, we might learn all these useful instructions which calamities teach, without undergoing them ourselves, and grow wiser and better at a more easy rate than men commonly do.... This would correct the florid and gaudy prospects and expectations which we are too apt to indulge, teach us to lower our notions of happiness and enjoyment, bring them down to the reality of things, to what is attainable.
Sorrow, terror, anguish, despair itself, are often the chosen expressions of an approximation to the highest good. Our sympathy in tragic fiction depends on this principle; tragedy delights by affording a shadow of the pleasure which exists in pain. This is the source also of the melancholy which is inseparable from the sweetest melody. The pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself. And hence the saying, It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of mirth.
It is the sinful unhappiness of some men's minds that they usually disaffect those that cross them in their corrupt proceedings, and plainly tell them of their faults. They are ready to judge of the reprover's spirit by their own, and to think that all such sharp reproofs proceed from some disaffection to their persons, or partial opposition to the opinions which they hold. But plain dealers are always approved in the end, and the time is at hand when you shall confess these were your truest friends.
—Richard Baxter, Preface to the Reformed Pastor.
A truth told us is harder to bear than a hundred which we tell ourselves.
Nothing serves better to illustrate a man's character than what he finds ridiculous.
'During that time' (his agitation on behalf of Calas' descendants) 'not a smile escaped me without my reproaching myself for it, as for a crime.'
'Froude,' said Keble once to Hurrell Froude,' you said you thought Law's Serious Call was a clever book; it seemed to me as if you had said the Day of Judgment will be a pretty sight.'
There is not a greater foe to spirituality than wrath; and wrath even in a righteous cause distempers the heart.
Reference.—VII. 8.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Ecclesiastes, p. 363.
Past and Present
The actual connexion of these words of the text is quite in keeping with the tone and temper of the writer of this book. He does not mean, at least as the chief purpose of this rebuke, to glorify the present with its opportunities and possibilities at the expense of the past. It would hardly be in accordance with the prevailing pessimism of the writer to strike here a hopeful and inspiring note. The whole trend of his teaching is that life is illusive, and a man should not build his hopes too high, and look for permanence in any source of joy. Moderation is the great secret.
I. It is a common infirmity of old age, but it is not confined to age, to disparage the present and to glorify the past. It is a merciful provision of our nature which makes us forget the pains and sorrows of the past, and when we do remember them sets them in a soft and tender light, letting us see some of the good which has come from them. And as the sorrows of the past seem diminished by distance, by a strange reversion the joys loom larger and finer. To a reflective mind the pleasures of memory are sweeter than the pleasures of possession or even the pleasures of anticipation. And this tendency seen in our everyday life is also reflected on a larger scale in history. All old institutions gain allies for their existence in sentiment and respect for what has displayed the quality of permanence. We judge of the past by what has come down to us of the past, and make unfavourable comparison of the present with it. We forget among other things the greatly extended sphere for human activity now; and we forget that with the treasures of the past which we possess time has weeded out much that was inferior.
II. It is a natural bias of the mind, and in many respects a very beautiful thing, to glorify the past. The danger of it comes in when it makes light of the present, and destroys the healthful faith that would save the present from despair. We must not let the past sit on us like an old man of the sea, choking us and fettering our movements. It is for this stupid purpose that the past is generally used by the ordinary laudator temporis acti. The underlying idea is that anything that now can be done must be feeble and not worth doing. Such an idea kills effort and robs life of dignity. It paralyses the present and mutilates the future. On the one hand we have ever with us the man whose attitude to life is summed up in the dictum, 'Whatever is, is right,' who opposes change of all sorts, and is quite content with the actual state of affairs. On the other hand, some adopt the opposite, and equally false, statement as a motto, 'Whatever is, is wrong'. Strange though it may appear, the two positions may be the fruit of the selfsame spirit, and have their origin in the same point of view. In their essence they have both their cause in want of faith. The man who is content with the present does not see that it exists to be carried forward into a nobler future; and the man who disparages the present and glorifies the past does not see that the very same causes are at work, that the present is really the outcome and fruition of the past which he praises, and if he be right the poverty of the present stultifies the past he loves. And both attitudes, that of the unreasoning conservative who will not look forward, and that of the sentimental mediævalist who will only look back, deprive us of the hope and vigour to make our days true and noble.
III. To have the manly, hopeful attitude instead of the despairing one of our text, we do not need to believe in the perfectibility of the race; we only need to believe in its improvability under the right conditions. Our days are better than former days in this. But we have greater opportunities, to us have come the wisdom of the ancients, the ripe fruit of experience, advantages of knowledge, wider outlets for every gift All this will be of none avail if we love not faith. Without faith we have no sure guarantee that will make effort purposeful, and we will sigh for a mythical golden age lying behind us as a race. The golden age is before us if God leads us on. With such faith we need not look back upon former days longingly, upheld in our own day by the thought of God's presence.
—Hugh Black, University Sermons, p. 293.
References.—VII. 10.—C. Kingsley, The Water of Life. VII. 11-29.—Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 260.
The best gift that history can give us is the enthusiasm it arouses.
Both in politics and in art Plato seems to have seen no way of bringing order out of disorder, except by taking a step backwards. Antiquity, compared with the world in which he lived, had a sacredness and authority for him; the men of a former age were supposed by him to have had a sense of reverence which was wanting among his contemporaries.
An obsolete discipline may be a present heresy.
See also Ben Jonson's Discoveries, secs. xxi. cxxiii.
'Carlyle,' said Maurice, 'believes in a God who lived till the death of Oliver Cromwell.'
The Goodness of Gladness
I. Well that, you say, we can very easily do. Our difficulty up to the present time has not been to be joyful when prosperity has smiled upon us, but to find that prosperity which should bring us joy. Is that true? Or is it not rather true, as Bishop Butler has told us in his solemn way, that 'Prosperity itself, while anything supposed desirable is not ours, begets extravagant and unbounded thoughts,' and that prosperity itself is a real and lasting source of danger. Is it not a matter of common observation that the danger which prosperity sets up is precisely this, the danger of discontent
II. But literally this advice is, In the day of good be good! And perhaps that brings out the meaning to us better than a better reading would. If God gives you happiness, be happy in it; if light, walk in the light; if joy, enjoy it! We are sharers of the glorious Gospel of the happy God. People are too often afraid of happiness. And they are afraid of admitting that they have reason to be happy.
III. It would be nice to think that this only pointed to a modesty which was unable to boast of anything, even to God's good gifts. But it points to nothing of the kind. If we could trace it back we should find that it points away to the old notion about jealous Gods, and to the superstition that they were always waiting to pounce down upon you if things were going too well. God, the God of Love, Whom Jesus taught us to call Father, jealous of the deepest, highest virtue of our souls which makes us likest Him!
—C. F. Aked, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii., 1907, p. 110.
The Equipoise of God
The thought which occupies the writer's mind here is that of the compensations of experience. He has lit on the great truth that human life is very subtly and finely equalized. He is not preaching the doctrine of equality, as if there were no difference between man and man. He is too honest to assert, as Pope asserted, that whatever is, is right. But he is preaching that in individual lives, there is such an exquisite balancing of things, that a man has little cause for discontent or for murmuring at the providence of God.
I. The Balancing of Our Gifts.—Think, for example, of the gift of genius. Genius is one of the most godlike gifts that has ever been granted to the human family. It is more than ability. It is more than talent. Genius is talent with the lamp lit. Genius is insight—enthusiastic insight, that sees, and seeing loves, and loving, speaks. And yet this genius, so choice and rare a gift that there is never an ardent youth but covets it, wears a crown of thorns upon its head. Do not be envious of the man of genius. The; man of genius is the man of sorrows. There are joys for you, there are quiet and happy blessings, to which the genius shall always be a stranger. He has his work to do, and he must do it, and the world will bo nearer God because of Him; but God has set one thing over against the other.
II. The Balancing of Our Powers.—Take for example the power of an iron will. An iron will always commands respect. There is something in it we cannot help admiring. It is a gallant thing, that high persistence, which nothing can daunt or baffle or depress. And every valley is exalted for it, and every mountain is brought low before it, and it will cleave its path through thickest forest, and find a ford across the swiftest river. There is something godlike in that spectacle. It is a power that is largely coveted. And yet how often the man of iron will misses the best that life has got to offer! He misses all its sweetness and its kindness, and the love that lingers in the sunny meadow, and he is lonely when other hearts are glad, and pitiless where other hearts are pitiful. It is not all gain, that iron will. There is often a certain loss with all the gain. There is a loss of sympathy, of happy brotherhood, of the kindliness which makes us glad tonight Therefore do not be angry with your Maker if you can never be a determined person. He hath set one thing over against the other.
Or shall we take the power of imagination? That is one of the most blessed of our powers. It is a shelter when the blast is on the wall.
III. The Balance of Experience.—Consider the experience of prosperity. It seems so easy to be good when one is prosperous. It seems such a pleasant thing to be alive. It is so different from battling with adversity, and living always on the brink of failure. And yet I question if these battling people are not as a rule far happier than the rich. I question if they are not generally more contented than the man who has everything the world can offer. There are boys who were in school with me who have been so prosperous that I never meet them without saying, 'God pity you!' Everything fine and delicate and generous seems to have dried up and worn away. Prosperity does not always mean contentment. It does not always mean the singing heart. Without the leaven of the grace of God, it very generally means the opposite. And therefore the wise man does not fret himself over him who prospereth in his way. He knows that God sets one thing over against the other.
—G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p. 87.
References.—VII. 14.—J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. i. p. 142. W. L. Alexander, Sermons, p. 215. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (8th Series), pp. 68, 74.
The two main qualities for a long life are a good body and a bad heart.
Compare M. Arnold's Mycerinus.
Reference.—VII. 15-18.—T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 165.
The words, righteous over much, are apt to be a good deal in the mouths of sinners when they are pressed by their own consciences, or their spiritual guides and advisers, to practise some unpleasant duty or reform some pleasant vice.
I. How far is this manner of speaking justifiable in the persons who use it? The text is oftener quoted in a mood half-sportive, and as a short way of silencing unpleasant discussion, than as a serious ground of argument But the misery of it is, that men act on it quite in earnest They cannot themselves believe that it will bear the weight they lay upon it, and yet they are not afraid to conduct themselves as if it were the only commandment God had ever given.
II. How far is it warranted by the generel tenor of Scripture?
a. This action of over-righteousness cannot stand with that precious corner-stone of our faith, the Doctrine of the Atonement.
b. Another test is the doctrine of sanctification.
c. Another great doctrine, which is utterly inconsistent with the vulgar use of the text, is the inequality of the future remarks of the blessed in heaven.
d. When the analogy of faith, and the clear words of our Saviour, and the lives and deaths of all the Saints are against a doctrine, it is quite certain that any single expression which may seem to assert it must be wrongly interpreted.
III. The text was intended as a warning against the very error which it is so often and so unfortunately used to encourage. Nothing could be further from the Wise Man's intentions than that construction which the too subtle apologists of lukewarmness in religion are so ready to fasten on the text
—John Keble, Sermons Occasional and Parochial, p. 1.
The book has been said, and with justice, to breathe resignation at the grave of Israel.... Attempts at a philosophic indifference appear, at a sceptical suspension of judgment, at an easy ne quid nimis (7:16). Vain attempts, even at a moment which favoured them! shows of scepticism, vanishing as soon as uttered before the intractable conscientiousness of Israel.
—Literature and Dogma, II.
Let not the frailty of man go on thus inventing needless troubles to itself, to groan under the false imagination of a strictness never imposed from above; enjoining that for duty which is an impossible and vain supererogating. Be not righteous over much, is the counsel of Ecclesiastes; why shouldest thou destroy thyself? let us not be thus overanxious to strain at atoms, and yet to stop every vent and cranny of permissive liberty, lest nature, wanting these needful pores and breathing places, which God hath not debarred our weakness, either suddenly burst out into some wide rupture of open vice or frantic heresy, or else fester with repressing and blasphemous thoughts, under an unreasonable and fruitless rigour of unwarranted law.
Man is neither angel nor brute, and the misfortune is that whoever would play the angel plays the brute.
As an aged man of the world, whose recollections went back into the last century, is reported to have said: 'When I was young, nobody was religious; now that I am old, everybody is religious, and they are both wrong'.
No man undertakes to do a thing for God, and lays it aside because he finds perseverance in it too much for him, without his soul being seriously damaged by it He has taken up a disadvantageous position. This is not a reason for not trying, but it is a reason for trying soberly, discreetly, and with deliberation.
—F. W. Faber.
Almost everybody you see in Oxford believes either too much or too little.
Righteous Over Much
Our text is characteristic of one of the lines of thought which run through this strange book. The book is autobiographical in the true sense, that it gives a record of personal thought and experience. The book is the fruit of the contact of a Jew with alien philosophy and civilization, the author had seen the world and had tried the different ways of life which have ever been possible to men. The book is full of world-weariness. The satiety which comes from such a life seems at first to have destroyed all serious earnest purpose; and he pronounced upon all things the verdict of vanity, that everything was equally worthless, and nothing counted much anyway. The withered world-weary life, so frankly revealed in this autobiography, is itself the most terrible sermon that could be preached from the book, of the vanity of a life lived apart from God.
I. The words of our text with their doctrine of moderation suggest a common thought in Greek philosophy. It might be called the very central thought of Aristotle's Ethics that virtue is moderation, not of course meaning moderation in indulging in anything wrong, but that wrong itself means either excess or deficiency. He defines virtue as a habit or trained faculty of choice, the characteristic of which lies in observing the mean. 'And it is a moderation firstly, inasmuch as it comes in the middle or mean between two vices, one on the side of excess, the other on the side of defect; and secondly, inasmuch as, while these vices fall short of, or exceed, the due measures in feeling and in action, it finds and chooses the mean or moderate amount.'
II. There is much to be said for this doctrine of moderation even in what is called righteousness, at a time like that in which the writer lived, when righteousness was looked on by most as external ceremonies and keeping of endless rules, rather than as spiritual passion. There is often much justification for the sneer at overmuch righteousness at all times, when the soul has died out of religion and the punctilious keeper of the law becomes self-complacent and censorious of others. It is, however, only in a very limited degree, and only when the true meaning of righteousness is obscured, that there is any truth in the cynical counsel. If righteousness is inward conformity to the holy will of God, then there can be no limitations set to the standard of righteousness. From this point of view the prudential policy of our text is really a terrible moral degradation. Our Lord pronounces this ineffable blessing upon the very men whom this worldly wisdom sneers at. 'Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness.' They may not have the success and popularity which the prudent trimmer achieves. They have not the pleasant satisfaction and easy contentment which come to the dulled soul. They are weighted by the consciousness of sin and are driven by a sense of spiritual want They are tormented by a passion for purity, and they pine after holiness, and nothing but God can fill the aching void of heart But how can there be blessing along with pining, with want, with hunger and thirst, with unappeased desire? Wherein are they blessed? In this way, that desire is ever a note of life. When life begins, need begins. Life is a bundle of want And the higher the desire, the higher the life. The mind hungers and thirsts for knowledge; and when desire stops, mental development stops. The work of spiritual life is spiritual desire, a moral longing for conformity to the will of God.
—Hugh Black, University Sermons, p. 20.
Wise Over Much
Here the doctrine of moderation is extended to the intellectual sphere, that the safest course is to avoid extremes and to do nothing in excess. The truth of this advice is seen more clearly if we translate the word 'destroy' a little more fully. The primary idea of the word is that of silence, being put to silence, and thus it came to mean to be laid waste or destroyed. But the root meaning is to be made desolate, solitary, and was sometimes used of a lonely solitary way. So that the question of the writer might be put, Why make thyself solitary? Why isolate thyself? The exceptional always isolates. The ordinary man of the street cannot see your faraway visions of truth or beauty or holiness. The thinker is lonely.
I. How pitifully true this is can be seen in the whole history of human thoughts. In loneliness, in sickness of heart, in despair of the unknown, has every inch of ground been gained for the mind of man. Further there is justification for it even from a moral point of view. As the temptation of the over-righteous is censoriousness and self-satisfaction, so the temptation of the overwise is what St. Paul calls the vainly puffed-up mind, a besotted conceit and pride, as if wisdom will die with them, and which looks down with contempt on the vulgar, unlettered throng.
II. But as censoriousness came not from too much righteousness, but from too little, so contemptuous pride is the failing not of real but of spurious wisdom when wisdom is supposed to be information. Knowledge of facts, knowledge of books, it lends itself to the puffed-up mind. But these things, scientific facts, literature, are not wisdom; they are only the implements of wisdom, the material with which wisdom works—wisdom is always humble, for if, knows how little it knows. Quite apart, however, from the possibility of this mistake which gives a, kind of colour to his sneer, the advice of Ecclesiastes appeals to us Today because it fits in with our modern temper. Ours is a time when the supremacy of the practical over the speculative is complete. In politics) we say that we do not want theories, and ideal reforms, and Utopian schemes; we want the practical, the thing that is expedient at the moment. In religion we are told that theology, opinions, beliefs, convictions do not count, but only the plain duties of life, the practical virtues, kindness, tolerance and such like. Even in science the speculative is ruled out, or must take a back seat.
III. It is true that in all these regions, in politics, and religion, and science, the test of the tree must be its fruit. But we are inclined to take too narrow a view of what the fruits are, and we can easily overreach ourselves by our exclusive standard of what is practical. These practical things on which we lay so much stress do not arrive ready-made but are the results from a hidden source In politics will the fruit of expediency not wither when the root principle is cut away from it? In religion will the plain moral duties remain when faith is dead? In science even the practical man can only apply the discoveries and ascertained truths acquired by the natural philosophers. In all branches of life, though it may not pay to be overwise, and though the secret of success may be to confine yourself to the narrow limits of practical things, yet the progress of the world has been due, and must always be due, to these very same eager, strenuous searchers after truth, to those who sought for knowledge as for hid treasure, to those finely tuned spirits who have followed truth though it led them into the wilderness.
—Hugh Black, University Sermons, p. 32.
References.—VII. 16.—J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p. 327. VII. 17.—J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p. 110.
Of little threads our life is spun, and he spins ill who misses one.
Reference.—VII. 18.—T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 175.
Here is commended the provident stay of inquiry of that which we would be loth to find: as it was judged great wisdom in Pompeius Magnus that he burned Sertorius' papers unperused.
The Law of Equivalents
The meaning would seem to be: Take no heed of tale-bearing; do not attach too much importance to words that are spoken in secret and not intended for thine own ear. Do not listen to servants talking about thee in the kitchen; do not be distressed by what men say about thee in the streets; do not judge thyself too much by thy nickname: 'for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise——'
I. This is the law of equivalents. Men hear what they have spoken. If you have sowed the air with pearly words, you will reap a pearly harvest 'Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.' Do not play the eavesdropper. Otherwise thou shalt hear no good of thyself. If thy servants curse thee, or speak unkindly of thee, think, for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed them.
II. Now there is another application, and it is, that what we ourselves have done we should not condemn in others. Christianity is in this section of the Scriptures very practical. There is no hymn-singing down these dales, it is a cruel east wind that blows in our face.
Is there a Spirit in the air, in the speaking heavens, that takes record and note of what we are about? I believe there is, I am sure there is. Is there a Spirit that deals out a series of equivalents—as thou, so he; as he, so thou? Yes, we are not so ill-treated as we first thought; we did intend to get up a case against this man, a case of libel, and we, the plaintiff, may be the greater libellist of the two.
There is a great deal of negative ill. We do not tell lies, we act them. How awful a thing living is! Do not make remarks upon some other man, but scrutinize and sit in judgment upon thyself; be jealous about thine own integrity, and thou wilt be merciful to other men's infirmities. But where would be conversation? There would be none, until men learned to speak about great subjects, the very speaking about them cleansing the mouth and purifying the heart, the very eloquence of the tongue being as a baptism of the heavens. Let us get into great themes, noble contemplations, then we shall be advancing towards the pure heavens, with all their untold star jewels.
III. Every man sins according to his own peculiar infirmity, and every man cultivates some specific and favourite virtue What we have to aim at is wholeness of character. We have a very imperfect vocabulary; but we are going to learn the vocabulary of God, and then we shall be able to say what our new feelings are like. I cannot see much now, but I believe it is there to be seen. That is the great faith that comforts and inspires us.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple. Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 238.
Perhaps the best part of old age is its sense of proportion which enables us to estimate misfortunes, or what seem to be such, at their true proportions.
—James Payn in Nineteenth Century, September, 1897.
The Reason of Things
'I applied mine heart to seek out the reason' is enough; 'of things' is a phrase put in by men who, with mistaken generousness, desire to assist inspiration. I. He is a very foolish man who wants to pry too much into the reason of things. A good many things in life have to be taken just as they are and just as they come, and the Lord permits a ready simple reading of many things which might be so taken as to perplex faith and bewilder imagination. Men are in some instances made to pry; they cannot be content with what is known and visible and accessible; some men cannot live on the commonplace, some dainty souls could never live upon simple mother-made bread, they must have other things to eat, and they cannot get them, and in a vain futile endeavour to get these other things their souls wither and perish and pass away. Do not be too wise; be not righteous over much, neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? These are the inquiries of the wise man himself.
II. We cannot, however, all avoid looking round and wondering at the marvellous structure' and economy and intermixture and dramatic interplay of things. It is a right wonderful universe so far as we can see it, and that is a very little way and a very little portion; still, if things be so mysterious, at once so august and so abject within the little sphere that is visible or accessible, what may they be, what must they be, on the wider lines, on the complete outline, as God has figured and controlled it? For my own part, and this is a matter upon which personal testimony must be taken for what it is worth, I have come to the conclusion that there is no explanation of life, nature, and all things under the sun and above the sun that we have heard anything about that is so simple, so complete, and so satisfactory as that they were all made and are all under the gentle and mighty control of a living personal God.
Some of the reasons of things may be discovered almost immediately by a test which we call by the Latin word conduct The reason is written upon the very face of the situation. That is very good up to a given point; that did not escape the keen eyes of Solomon, and he therefore says, 'There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in wickedness'. That is the side that must be taken in if we would institute a complete and just purview of the conditions and issues of human life so far as they are known to us.
III. The religious explanation is to my own mind the largest and truest that has as yet been suggested. Certainly it leaves mysteries, but it also interposes this consideration, You are finite, God is infinite, you can see but a very small portion of any case or situation just now; by and by the clouds will be dispersed and God will accompany you over the whole line of His providence so far as you are concerned, and He will give you the explanation, the answer shall follow the enigma, the solution shall quickly ensue upon the problem, and one day you will be able to see and to say that God has even in the night-time been working for the culture and the final sanctification and uttermost benediction of human nature.
1. The religious conception of all these things is ennobling, it enables the soul to say, It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth good in His sight; it is the Lord, let Him turn my tears into telescopes through which I can see the farthest stars in His empire; it is the Lord, let Him tear me to pieces that He may build me up again a stronger, truer, and manlier man. These are the teachings of the Christian religion.
2. The Christian conception is not only ennobling, it is tranquillizing; one of the special miracles of the Gospel of Christ is that it works peace in the heart.
3. The religious conception is inspiring. Watchman, what of the night? He says, I see a quivering as of an awakening star. Again we ask, and he says, The dawn is already on the hilltop. Again, and he says, Awake and rise, for the sun is here, and to feel it claims your service and promises you a great reward.
—Joseph Parker City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii. p. 89.
There are only two good men: one is not born yet, and the other is dead.
I began to... get an especial scorn for that scorn of mankind which is a transmuted disappointment of preposterous claims.
See Lowell's Sonnets, Iv.
Charles Kingsley objects to Fénelon's Télémaque, that 'no woman in it exercises influence over man, except for evil.... Woman—as the old monk held, who derived femina from fe—faith, and minus—less, because women have less faith than men—is in Télé-maque, whenever she thinks or acts, the temptress, the enchantress.
'I wish,' writes Maeterlinck in The Treasure of the Humble, 'that all who have suffered at woman's hands and found them evil, would loudly proclaim it and give us their reasons; and if those reasons be well founded, we shall indeed be surprised.... It is women who preserve here below the pure fragrance of our soul, like some jewel from heaven, which none knows how to use; and were they to depart, the spirit would reign alone in a desert. Those who complain of them know not the heights whereon the true kisses are found, and verily I do pity them.'
You have had false prophets among you—for centuries you have had them—solemnly warned against them though you were; false prophets, who have told you that all men are nothing but fiends and wolves, half beast, half devil. Believe that, and indeed you may sink to that. But refuse that, and have faith that God 'made you upright,' though you have sought out many inventions; so, you will strive daily to become more what your Maker meant and means you to be, and daily gives you also the grace to be.
—Ruskin, Crown of Wild Olive, Lect. III.
'Every one,' says Cervantes, 'is as God made him, and often a great deal worse.'
The State of Innocence
Adam and Eve were placed in a garden to cultivate it; how much is implied even in this! 'The Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden, to dress it and to keep it.' If there was a mode of life free from tumult, anxiety, excitement, and fever of mind, it was the care of a garden. Adam was a hermit, whether he would or no. True; but does not this very circumstance that God made him such point out to us what is our true happiness, if we were given it, which we are not? At least we see in type what our perfection is, in these first specimens of our nature, which need not, unless God had so willed, have been created in this solitary state, but might have bean myriads at once, as the angels were created. And let it be noted, that, when the Second Adam came, He returned, nay, more than returned to that life which the first had originally been allotted. He too was alone, and lived alone, the immaculate Son of a Virgin Mother; and He chose the mountain summit or the garden as His home. Save always, that in His case sorrow and pain went with His loneliness; not, like Adam, eating freely of all trees but one, but fasting in the wilderness for forty days—not tempted to eat of that one through wantonness, but urged in utter destitution of food to provide Himself with some necessary bread,—not as a king giving names to fawning brutes, but one among the wild beasts,—not granted a helpmeet for His support, but praying alone in the dark morning,—not dressing the herbs and flowers, but dropping blood upon the ground in agony,—not falling into a deep sleep in His garden, but buried there after His passion; yet still like the first Adam, solitary,—like the first Adam, living with His God and Holy Angels.
—J. H. Newman.
Reference.—VIII. 4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1697.
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.
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.
Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.
Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.
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.
Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?
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.
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.
Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?
Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?
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.
Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city.
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:
For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.
All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.
That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?
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:
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.
Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:
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.
Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.