Vanity of vanities, said the preacher; all is vanity.
(with 2 Timothy 4:7, 8): These two preachers were both distinguished men, aged men, men of wide experiences. Thus far they resembled each other; but the results of their experience are a perfect and a startling contrast. You would expect, with the experiences behind them, that their verdicts would be contradictory. You would expect the man for whom earth had plucked her choicest roses to present life as a gorgeous garden; and you would expect the man whose course had been a martyrdom to give a shaded view. Yet the contrast is the precise opposite of what you expect. It is from the man who has had the world's choicest gifts lavished upon him that you hear as sad an epitaph as ever described a human life — "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." It is the man who has passed through tribulations, and experienced the worst ills of life who gives us the ring of triumph in his review.
I. THE FIRST CONDEMNS LIFE AS A FAILURE — "All is vanity, and vexation of spirit." What was there in his life which could explain this disappointment? I think if you look at Solomon's life you will see it had self for its centre, earth for its circumference, human energy for its working power, and failure for its result.
II. THE SECOND REVIEWS LIFE AS A TRIUMPH. "I have fought a good fight," etc. The whole is a review of trial and triumph.
1. The trial consisted in the apostle having been able to endure to the end, to carry on the struggle without being turned aside. Men had called his faith fanaticism, but be did not let go his faith. Men called his hopes delusions, but he cherished them still. Men sneered at his motives, but no slur or scorn cast upon him could lead him to renounce Christ or the work given him to do. He reviews his life as a triumph simply because of this patience. In all this there is to me a great hope and comfort. Had the triumph lain in the works which he had wrought, you and I might well despair of reviewing a life such as his. But this we may review — fidelity to Christ.
2. Let us look now at the elements which made the apostle's life such a triumph. We will place them in contrast with those we were noticing in the life of Solomon.
(1) In the apostle's life Christ was the centre; everything revolved around Him.
(2) The spiritual was the sphere of life in which the apostle lived.
(3) The working power of his life was faith.
(4) Its result was a glorious triumph — a triumph which led to a crown. All true triumphs end in crowns, and this is a crown of character, not merely a reward for righteousness. Righteousness is the very material of which it is made. It is the crown of a spiritual sanctified character, and hence the crown fadeth not away.
(C. B. Symes, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.