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…
It is evident that the wise man does not prefer sorrow, upon its own account, to mirth; or represent sadness as a state more eligible than joy. He considers it in the light of discipline only. He views it with reference to an end. The true scope of his doctrine in this passage is, that there is a certain temper and state of heart, which is of far greater consequence to real happiness, than the habitual indulgence of giddy and thoughtless mirth; that for the attainment and cultivation of this temper, frequent returns of grave reflection are necessary; that, upon this account, it is profitable to give admission to those views of human distress which tend to awaken such reflection in the mind; and that thus, from the vicissitudes of sorrow, which we either experience in our own lot, or sympathize with in the lot of others, much wisdom and improvement may be derived. I begin by observing, that the temper recommended in the text suits the present constitution of things in this world. Had man been destined for a course of undisturbed enjoyment, perpetual gaiety would then have corresponded to his state; and pensive thought have been an unnatural intrusion. But in a state where all is chequered and mixed, where there is no prosperity without a reverse, and no joy without its attending griefs, where from the house of feasting all must, at one time or other, pass into the house of mourning, it would be equally unnatural if no admission were given to grave reflection. It is proper also to observe, that as the sadness of the countenance has, in our present situation, a proper and natural place; so it is requisite to the true enjoyment of pleasure. It is only the interposal of serious and thoughtful hours that can give any lively sensations to the returns of joy. Having premised these observations, I proceed to point out the direct effects of a proper attention to the distresses of life upon our moral and religious character. —
1. The house of mourning is calculated to give a proper check to our natural thoughtlessness and levity. When some affecting incident presents a strong discovery of the deceitfulness of all worldly joy, and rouses our sensibility to human woe; when we behold those with whom we had lately mingled in the house of feasting, sunk by some of the sudden vicissitudes of life into the vale of misery; or when, in sad silence, we stand by the friend whom we had loved as our own soul, stretched on the bed of death; then is the season when the world begins to appear in a new light; when the heart opens to virtuous sentiments, and is led into that train of reflection which ought to direct life. He who before knew not what it was to commune with his heart on any serious subject, now puts the question to himself, For what purpose he was sent forth into this mortal, transitory state: what his fate is likely to be when it concludes; and what judgment he ought to form of those pleasures which amuse for a little, but which, he now sees, cannot save the heart from anguish in the evil day?
2. Impressions of this nature not only produce moral seriousness, but awaken sentiments of piety, and bring men into the sanctuary of religion. Formerly we were taught, but now we see, we feel, how much we stand in need of an Almighty Protector, amidst the changes of this vain world. Our soul cleaves to Him who despises not, nor abhors the affliction of the afflicted. Prayer flows forth of its own accord from the relenting heart, that He may be our God, and the God of our friends in distress; that He may never forsake us while we are sojourning in this land of pilgrimage; may strengthen us under its calamities. The discoveries of His mercy, which He has made in the Gospel of Christ, are viewed with joy, as so many rays of light sent down from above to dispel, in some degree, the surrounding gloom. A Mediator and Intercessor with the Sovereign of the universe, appear comfortable names; and the resurrection of the just becomes the powerful cordial of grief.
3. Such serious sentiments produce the happiest effect upon our disposition towards our fellow-creatures, as well as towards God. It is a common and just observation, that they who have lived always in affluence and ease, strangers to the miseries of life, are liable to contract hardness of heart with respect to all the concerns of others. By the experience of distress, this arrogant insensibility of temper is most effectually corrected; as the remembrance of our own sufferings naturally prompts us to feel for others when they suffer. But if Providence has been so kind as not to subject us to much of this discipline in our own lot, let us draw improvement from the harder lot of others. Let us sometimes step aside from the smooth and flowery paths in which we are permitted be walk, in order to view the toilsome march of our fellows through the thorny desert. By voluntarily going into the house of mourning; by yielding to the sentiments which it excites, and mingling our tears with those of the afflicted, we shall acquire that humane sensibility which is one of the highest ornaments of the nature of man.
4. The disposition recommended in the text, not only improves us in piety and humanity, but likewise assists us in self-government, and the due moderation of our desires. The house of mourning is the school of temperance and sobriety. Thou who wouldst act like a wise man, and build thy house on the rock, and not on the sand, contemplate human life not only in the sunshine, but in the shade. Frequent the house of mourning, as well as the house of mirth. Study the nature of that state in which thou art placed; and balance its joys with its sorrows. Thou seest that the cup which is held forth to the whole human race, is mixed. Of its bitter ingredients, expect that thou art to drink thy portion. Thou seest the storm hovering everywhere in the clouds around thee. Be not surprised if on thy head it shall break. Lower, therefore, thy sails. Dismiss thy florid hopes; and come forth prepared either to act or to suffer, according as Heaven shall decree. Thus shalt thou be excited to take the properest measures for defence, by endeavouring to secure an interest in His favour, who, in the time of trouble, can hide thee in His pavilion. Thy mind shall adjust itself to follow the order of His providence. Thou shalt be enabled, with equanimity and steadiness, to hold thy course through life.
5. By accustoming ourselves to such serious views of life, our excessive fondness for life itself will be moderated, and our minds gradually formed to wish and to long for a better world. If we know that our continuance here is to be short, and that we are intended by our Maker for a more lasting state, and for employments of a nature altogether different from those which now occupy the busy, or amuse the vain, we must surely be convinced that it is of the highest consequence to prepare ourselves for so important a change. This view of our duty is frequently held up to us in the sacred writings; and hence religion becomes, though not a morose, yet a grave and solemn principle, calling off the attention of men from light pursuits to those which are of eternal moment.
(H. Blair, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.