I said in my heart, Go to now, I will prove you with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.…
Three views of human life are given in this remarkable chapter.
I. THE THEATRICAL VIEW OF LIFE (vers. 1-11). The writer seeks to prove his heart with mirth and laughter; he treats his flesh with wine; he gathers peculiar treasure; he is enamoured of greatness, magnificence, and abundance; he delights in architecture, scenery, literature, music, song. Everything is spectacular, dazzling, wonderful. This is a very misleading idea of the world in which we find ourselves.
1. It is partial. Nothing whatever is said here of the problems which challenge us — of duty, enterprise, discipline, work, sacrifice, suffering; nothing about character or conduct. It really leaves out two-thirds of life, and the noblest two-thirds.
2. It is exaggerated. It contemplates great works, great possessions, and great fame. Life is largely made up of commonplace tasks, homely faces, uneventful days, monotonous experiences.
3. It is selfish. You see throughout how prominent the individual is. It is all "I." The writer never thinks of other people except as they may enhance his pleasure, or be spectators of his glory.
4. It is superficial. There is not a word about conscience, righteousness, responsibility. Now beware of the theatrical view of life — of the great, the gaudy, the glistering. True life, as a rule, is simple, sober, and severe. Beware of companions who would represent life to you in a gay and voluptuous light. Beware also of your reading, and see that it does not give a false and delusive idea of the life that awaits you. The world is not a theatre, not a magician's cave, not a carnival; it is a temple where all things are serious and sacred.
II. THE SEPULCHRAL VIEW OF LIFE (vers. 12-23). Men usually start with the rosy ideal of life, and then finding its falsity — that there are tears as well as laughter — they sink into vexation and despair, and paint all things black as night. But the world is not emptiness; it is a cup deep and large, delightful and overflowing. Fulness, not emptiness, is the sign of the world. There is the fulness of nature — of intellectual life — of society — of practical life — the manifold and enduring unfolding of the interests and movements and fortunes of humanity. There is the fulness of religious life. A true man never feels the world to be limited, meagre, shallow. God is no mockery, and He will not mock us.
III. THE RELIGIOUS VIEW OF LIFE (vers. 24-26).
1. The purification and strengthening of the soul will secure to us all the brightness and sweetness of life.
2. And as the Spirit of Christ leads to the realization of the bright side of the world, so shall it fortify you against the dark side. Carry the Spirit of Christ into this dark side, and you shall rejoice in tribulation also. In one of the illustrated magazines I noticed a picture of the flower-market of Madrid in a snowstorm. The golden and purple glories were mixed with the winter's snow. And in a true Christian life sorrow is strangely mingled with joy. Winter in Siberia is one thing, winter in the flower-market of the South is another thing; and so the power of sorrow is broken and softened in the Christian life by great convictions, consolations, and hopes. Do not accept the theatrical view of life; life is not all beer and ski[ties, operas, banquets, galas, and burlesques. Do not accept the sepulchral theory of life; it is absolutely false. Toequeville said to Sumner, "Life is neither a pain nor a pleasure, but serious business, which it is our duty to carry through and conclude with honour." This is a true and noble conception of life, and it can be fulfilled only as Christ renews and strengthens us.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity.