"Futility of futilities," says the Teacher, "futility of futilities! Everything is futile!"
I. THIS MAY BE A STATEMENT OF A MERE MOOD OF FEELING OWING TO INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCE. There are times when every man who lives is distressed and disappointed, when his plans come to naught, when his hopes are blasted, when his friends fail him, when his prospects are clouded, when his heart sinks within him. It is the common lot, from which none can expect to be exempt. In some instances the stormy sky clears and brightens, whilst in other instances the gloom thickens and settles. But it may be confidently asserted that, at some period and in some circumstances, every human being, whose experience of life is large and varied, has felt as though he has been living in a scene of illusion, the vanity of which has been perhaps suddenly made apparent to him, and then the language of the writer of Ecclesiastes has risen to his lips, and he has exclaimed in bitterness of soul, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"
II. THIS MAY BE A STATEMENT OF PAINFUL EXPERIENCE, DEPENDENT UPON THE SPECIAL TIMES - POLITICAL AND ECCLESIASTICAL - IN WHICH THE LOT IS CAST. Such is the mutability of human affairs, that every nation, every Church, passes through epochs of prosperity, confidence, energy, and hope; and again through epochs of adversity, discouragement, depression, and paralysis. The Israelites had their times of conquest and of progress, and they had also their times of defeat, of captivity, of subjection, of humiliation. So has it been with every people, every state. Nor have the Churches into which Christian communities have been formed, escaped the operation of the same law. So far as they have been human organizations, they have been affected by the laws to which all things human are subject. In times when a nation is feeble at home and despised abroad, when faction and ambition have reduced its power and crippled its enterprise, there is proneness, on the part of the reflecting and sensitive among the citizens and subjects, to lament over the unprofitableness and vanity of civil life. Similarly, when a Church experiences declension from the Divine standard of faith, purity, and consecration, how natural is it that the enlightened and spiritual members of that Church should, in their grief over the general deadness of the religious community, give way to feelings of discouragement and foreboding, which find a fitting expression in the cry, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!"
III. THIS MAY BE A STATEMENT OF PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTION UPON THE FACTS OF NATURE AND OF HUMAN LIFE. It would be a mistake to suppose that the cry of "Vanity!" is always the evidence of a merely transitory though powerful mood of morbid feeling. On the contrary, there have been nations, ages, states of society, with which it has been a settled conviction that hollowness and emptiness characterize all human and earthly affairs. Pessimism may be a philosophical creed, as with the ancient Buddhists and some of the modern Germans; it may be a conclusion reached by reflection upon the facts of life. To some minds unreason is at the heart of the universe, and in this case there is no ground for hope. To other minds, not speculative, the survey of human affairs is suggestive of aimlessness in the world, and occasions despondency in the observant and reflective mind. Thus even some who enjoy health and prosperity, and in whose constitution and circumstances there is nothing to justify discouragement and hopelessness, are nevertheless found, without any serious satisfaction in existence, ready to sum up their conclusions, derived from a perhaps prolonged and extensive survey of human life, in the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes, "All is vanity!"
IV. THIS MAY BE A STATEMENT OF RELIGIOUS CONVICTION, BOTH SPRINGING FROM AND LEADING TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE ETERNAL AND GLORIOUS GOD. The student of physical science looks at facts; it is his duty to observe and to classify facts; their arrangement under certain relations, as of likeness and of sequence, is his business, in the discharge of which he renders a great service to mankind. But thought is as necessary as observation. A higher explanation than physical science can give is imperatively required by human nature. We are constrained, not only to observe that a thing is, but also to ask why it is. Here metaphysics and theology come in to complete the work which science has begun. Human life is composed not only of movements, which can be scientifically accounted for, but of actions, of which the explanation is hyperphysical, is spiritual. Similarly with the world at large, and with human life and history. The facts are open to observation; knowledge accumulates from age to age; as experience widens, grander classifications are made. Still there is a craving for explanation. Why, we ask, are things as they are? It is the answer to this question which distinguishes the Pessimist from the theist. The wise, the enlightened, the religious, seek a spiritual and moral significance in the universe - material and psychical. In their view, if things, as they are and have been, be regarded by themselves, apart from a Divine reason working in and through them, they are emptiness and vanity. On the other hand, if they be regarded in the light of that Divine reason, which is order, righteousness, and love, they are suggestive of what is very different indeed from vanity To the thoughtful and reverent mind, apart from God, all is vanity; seen in the light of God, nothing is vanity. Both these seeming contradictions are true, and they are reconciled in a higher affirmation and unity. Look at the world in the light of sentience and the logical understanding, and it is vanity. Look at it in the light of reason, and it is the expression of Divine wisdom and Divine goodness.
APPLICATION. It is well to see and feel that all is vanity, if we are thus led to turn from the phenomenal to the real, the abiding, the Divine. But it will be to our hurt if we dwell upon the vanity of all things, so that pessimism be fostered, so that we fail to recognize Infinite Reason at the heart of all things, so that we regard this as the worst of all worlds, so that for us the future has no brightness. - T.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity1 Kings 10:27), and wisdom as large as the sand of the sea (1 Kings 4:29), could want no advantages, either to try experiments, or draw conclusions from them (Ecclesiastes 1:16, 17). Now this reflection of the same word upon itself is always used to signify the height and greatness of the thing expressed, as King of kings and Lord of lords denotes the highest King and the most absolute Lord. But, though this be expressed in most general and comprehensive terms, yet it must not be taken in the utmost latitude, as if there were nothing at all of solid and real good extant. It is enough, if we understand the words in a sense restrained to the subject matter whereof he here treats. For the wise man himself exempts the fear and service of God (Ecclesiastes 12:13) from that vanity under which he had concluded all other things. When, therefore, he pronounceth all to be vanity, it must be meant of all worldly and earthly things; for he speaks only of these. For these things, though they make a fair and gaudy show, yet it is all but show and appearance. It sparkles with ten thousand glories: not that they are so in themselves; but only they seem so to us through the false light, by which we look upon them. If we come to grasp it, like a thin film, it breaks, and leaves nothing but wind and disappointment in our hands. The subject which I have propounded to discourse of is this vanity of the world, and of all things here below. Whence is it that we are become so degenerate, that we, who have immortal and heaven-born souls, should stake them down to these perishing enjoyments?
I. I shall PREMISE these two or three things: —
1. There is nothing in the world vain in respect of its natural being. Whatsoever God hath made is, in its kind, good (Genesis 1:31). And therefore Solomon must not be here so interpreted, as if he disparaged the works of God in pronouncing them all vanity. If we regard the wonderful artifice and wisdom that shines forth in the frame of nature, we cannot have so unworthy a thought, either of the world itself, or of God who made it.
2. There is nothing vain in respect of God the Creator. He makes His ends out of all; for they all glorify Him according to their several ranks and orders; and to rational and considerate men are most evident demonstrations of His infinite Being, wisdom, and power.
3. All the vanity that is in worldly things is only in respect of the sin and folly of man. For those things are said to be vain which neither do nor can perform what we expect from them. Our great expectation is happiness; and our great folly is, that we think to obtain it by the enjoyments of this world. They are all of them leaky and broken cisterns, and cannot hold this living water. This is it which makes them charged with vanity. There are some things, as St. Austin and the schools from him do well distinguish, which must be only enjoyed, other things that must be only used. To enjoy, is to cleave to an object by love, for its own sake; and this belongs only to God. What we use, we refer to the obtaining of what we desire to enjoy; and this belongs to the creatures. So that we ought to use the creatures that we may arrive at the Creator. We may serve ourselves of them, but we must alone enjoy Him. Now that which makes the whole world become vanity is when we break this order of use and fruition; when we set up any particular created good as our end and happiness, which ought only to be used as a means to attain it.
II. It remains, therefore, to DISPLAY before you this vanity of the world in some more remarkable particulars.
1. The vanity of the world appears in this, that all its glory and splendour depends merely upon opinion and fancy. What were gold and silver, had not men's fancy stamped upon them an excellency far beyond their natural usefulness? This great idol of the world was of no value among those barbarous nations, where abundance made it vile. They preferred glass and beads before it; and made that their treasure which we make our scorn. Should the whole world conspire together to depose gold and silver from that sovereignty they have usurped over us, they might for ever lie hid in the bowels of the earth ere their true usefulness would entice any to the pains and hazard of digging them out into the light. Indeed, the whole use of what we so much dote upon is merely fantastical; and, to make ourselves needy, we have invented an artificial kind of riches; which are no more necessary to the service of sober nature than jewels and bracelets were to that plane-tree which Xerxes so ridiculously adorned. These precious trifles, when they are hung about us, make no more either to the warmth or defence of the body than, if they were hung upon a tree, they could make its leaves more verdant, or its shade more refreshing. Doth any man lie the softer because his bed-posts are gilt? Doth his meat and drink relish the better, because served up in gold? Is his house more convenient, because better carved or painted? It is nothing but conceit that makes the difference between the richest and the meanest, if both enjoy necessaries: for what are all their superfluous riches, but a load that men's covetousness lays upon them? Thy lands, thy houses, and fair estate are but pictures of things. What are gold and silver but diversified earth, hard and shining clay? Think, O worldling! when thou castest thy greedy eyes upon thy riches, think, "Here are bags that only fancy hath filled with treasure, which else were filled with dirt. Here are trifles that only fancy hath called jewels, which else were no better than common pebbles. And shall I lay the foundation of my content and happiness upon a fancy; a thing more light and wavering than the very air?" Nay, consider, that a distempered fancy can easily alter a man's condition, and put what shape it pleaseth upon it. If a black and sullen melancholy seizeth the spirits, it will make him complain of poverty in the midst of his abundance; of pain and sickness in the midst of his health and strength. Again, if the fancy be more merrily perverted, straight they are nothing less than kings or emperors in their own conceit. A straw is as majestic as a sceptre. If then there be so great a power in fancy, how vain must all those things be which you pursue with eagerness and impatience! since a vain fancy, without them, can give you as much satisfaction as if you enjoyed them all; and a vain fancy can, on the other hand, in the greatest abundance of them, make your lives as wearisome and vexatious as if you enjoyed nothing.
2. The vanity of the world appears in its deceitfulness and treachery. It is not only vanity, but a lying vanity; and betrays both our hopes and our souls.(1) It betrays our hopes, and leaves us nothing but disappointment, when it promiseth satisfaction and happiness.(2) It betrays the soul to guilt and eternal condemnation: for, usually, the world entangles it in strong, though secret and insensible snares; and insinuates into the heart that love of itself which is inconsistent with the love of God. The world is the devil's factor, and drives on the designs of hell. And, because of the subserviency of worldly enjoyments to men's lusts, it is almost as impossible a thing to moderate our affections towards them, or to bound our appetites and desires, as it is to assuage the thirst of a dropsy by drinking, or to keep that fire from increasing into which we are still casting new fuel.
3. As all things in the world are lying vanities, so are they all vexatious — "uncertain comforts, but most certain crosses."(1) There is a great deal of turmoil and trouble in getting them. Nothing can be acquired without it.(2) Whether they get them or no, yet still they are disappointed in their hopes. The truth is, the world is much better in show than substance; and those very things we admire before we enjoy them, yet afterward we find much less in them than we expected.(3) They are all vexation while we enjoy them.(4) They are all vexatious, as in their enjoyment, so especially in their loss.
4. The vanity of the world appears in this, that a little cross will embitter great comforts. One dead fly is enough to corrupt a whole box of the world's most fragrant ointment. The least cross accident is enough to discompose all our delights. And, besides, we are apt to slide off from the smoother part of our lives, as flies from glass, and to stick only on the rougher passages.
5. The longer we enjoy any worldly thing, the more flat and insipid doth it grow. We are soon at the bottom, and find nothing but dregs there.
6. All the pleasure of the world is nothing else but a tedious repetition of the same things. Our life consists in a round of actions; and what can be duller than still to be doing the same things over and over again?
7. The vanity of the world appears in this, that it can stand us in no stead then when we have the greatest need of support and comfort. Now in each of these the world shows itself to be exceeding vain and useless.(1) The world appears to be vain when we are under trouble of conscience.(2) The world is a vain and useless thing at the hour of death.
8. All things in the world are vain, because they are unsuitable. True, indeed, they are suited to the necessities of the body, and serve to feed and clothe that; but he is a beast, or worse, that reckons himself provided for, when only his bodily wants are supplied. Have we not all of us precious and immortal souls capable and desirous of happiness? Do not these crave to be satisfied? There is a threefold unsuitableness between worldly things and the soul.(1) The soul is spiritual: these are drossy and material. And what then hath a spiritual soul to do with clods of earth or acres of land; with barns full of corn, or bags full of gold? These are too thick and gross to correspond with its refined nature.(2) The soul is immortal; but all worldly things are perishing, and wear out in the using.(3) The necessities of the soul are altogether of another kind than those which worldly things are able to supply: and therefore they are wholly unsuitable. Natural things may well serve for natural wants: food will satisfy hunger, and raiment fence off the injuries of the weather, and riches will procure both; but the soul's necessities are spiritual, and these no natural thing can reach. It wants a price to redeem it: nothing can do this but the precious blood of Christ. It wants pardon and forgiveness: nothing can grant it but the free and abundant mercy of God. It wants sanctification and holiness, comfort and assurance: nothing can effect these but the Holy Ghost. Here all worldly things fall short.
9. The vanity of the world appears in its inconstancy and fickleness. God's providence administers all things here below in perpetual vicissitudes. It is in vain, therefore, to expect happiness from what is so uncertain. All the comforts of it are but like fading flowers, that, while we are looking on them and smelling to them, die and wither in our hands. Is it pleasures we seek? These must vary; for where there is not an intermission, it is not pleasure, but a glut and surfeit. And hence it is that they who are used to hardships taste more sweetness in some ordinary pleasures than those, who are accustomed to a voluptuous life, do in all their exquisite and invented delights. Do you pursue honour and applause in the world? This hangs upon the wavering tongues of the multitude. Is it riches you desire? These, too, are uncertain (1 Timothy 6:17). Uncertain they are in getting; and uncertain in keeping, when got. All our treasures are like quicksilver, which strangely slips between our fingers when we think we hold it fastest.
10. The vanity of the world appears in this, that it is altogether unsatisfactory. That must needs be vain which, when we enjoy it in its greatest abundance, can give us no real nor solid content. Such an empty thing is the whole world. Now, the unsatisfactoriness of the world may be clearly evinced by these two things.(1) In that the highest condition we can attain unto cannot free us from cares and crosses.(2) The world appears to be unsatisfactory, in that, be our condition what it will, yet still we desire change. And the reason of this unsatisfactoriness in worldly things is, because none of them are so good as the soul is. The soul, next to angels, is the very top and cream of the whole creation: other things are but dregs and lees compared to it. Now that which is our happiness must be better than ourselves; for it must perfect us. But these things being far worse and inferior, the soul, in cleaving to them, is secretly conscious that it abaseth and disparageth itself; and therefore cannot find true satisfaction. Nothing can fill the soul but that which eminently contains in it all good.
III. But, whatever our observations are, the USES we may make of them are these.
1. It should teach us to admire and adore the good providence of God to His children in so ordering it, that the world should be thus vain, and deal so ill with those who serve it. For, if it were not so infamous and deceitful as it is; if it did not frustrate and disappoint our hopes, and pay us with vexation when it promiseth fruition and content, what thinkest thou, O Christian, would be the end of this? would any one think of God, or remember heaven and the life to come?
2. If the vanity of the world be such, and so great; if it be only an empty bubble; if it be thus unsuitable, uncertain, and unsatisfactory, as I have demonstrated to you, what gross folly then are most men guilty of in setting so high a price upon that which is of no worth nor substance? More particularly —(1) Is it not extreme folly to lavish our precious affections upon vile and vain objects?(2) If the world be thus vain, what folly is it to lay out our most serious cares and contrivances upon it!(3) If the world be thus vain, what extreme and prodigious folly is it to take as much pains to secure the poor and perishing concernments of it as would suffice to secure heaven and eternal glory, were they laid out that way!(4) If the things of this world be so vain, what inexcusable folly is it to part with the peace or the purity of our consciences for them!(5) What desperate folly is it to purchase a vain world with the loss of our precious souls!
3. If the world be thus vain and empty, why then should we pride ourselves in or prize ourselves by any poor enjoyments of it?
4. If the world and all the enjoyments of it be thus vain, this should fortify us against the fear of death; which can deprive us of nothing but what is both vain and vexatious.
5. If the world be so vain and empty, we may learn to be well contented with our present state and condition, whatsoever it be.
(E. Hopkins, D. D.)
I. THE VANITY OF EARTHLY THINGS. "All is vanity;" that is, all things are so in themselves, when not used aright, when not employed to God's glory, or to the benefit of those around us, or in reference to our future and everlasting welfare. We may proceed to a practical illustration and use of this declaration.
1. Let us suppose the case of riches, as being the main object of a man's desire, and the acquirement of them the great business of his life. Nay, let us suppose him to succeed — to acquire great wealth — to establish his house. But if this man be without religion, what is it all more than vanity? It is possible that all this time he may never have thought about his soul; his soul which is more valuable than all the world. To what purpose will it be when his end shall come? What will his wealth do for him in the day of account? "Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days," and what is it? It is vanity, a vapour, emptiness! And what is to become of his wealth? He must "leave it unto the man that shall be after him; and who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?"
2. As to human learning. It is true that learning, and ingenuity, and wit may be made very subservient to many important purposes; but if it be apart from true religion, what doth it profit? Let us suppose a man to be stored with all science, and philosophy, with the knowledge of all history, and of every art. But if he have not the knowledge of Christ; if, withal, he is "sensual not having the spirit," what matters it? We have seen men endowed with extraordinary talents, great in research, quick in understanding, penetrating in intellect, rich in all the stores of recondite wisdom, versed in history, and as far as we can judge, possessing all knowledge; but where is the meekness of the Christian? where is docility, gentleness, and love?
3. As to the pleasures of life. Let a man have all the pleasure arising from intercourse with polished society, from rational conversation, from good and instructive books, from travelling at home and abroad, from various domestic recreations, according to his own peculiar turn of mind; yet, what does all this profit if he be destitute of true religion; if he be living to himself rather than to God? But we say, what will all this avail, if its votary or possessor be destitute of true religion here, and miserable and undone in another world!
4. We might go on to consider eminence of station, and elevated rank, and reputation, and extensive power, and commanding influence, and all beside that men are accustomed to seek after, and which they make so many sacrifices to obtain; and what are they all apart from true religion? "Vanity of vanities." Suppose a man to have gained all The reputation and dignity in the world, what will it avail if he be destitute of the "one thing needful," if he have not Sought the honour that cometh from God?
II. WHAT IS OUR CHIEF GOOD?
1. I would direct your attention to those true riches, the unsearchable riches of Christ.
2. I would recommend to you that heavenly wisdom by which you will be made wise unto salvation, which will teach you to discharge your social duties aright, and which will conduct you in safety through all the difficulties of life.
3. I would allure you to those pleasures which are for evermore.
4. I would lead you to that honour and praise which cometh from God, and which fadeth not away.
1. For, first of all, this Solomon is not the right man to testify. When he said this of life, he was in no condition Co tell the truth about it, and he did not tell the truth. Universal testimony makes this sermon the fruit of his old age. If his book was the work of Solomon's old age, the face of itself supplies the first reason why we have such a sermon; for the man who wrote this sermon, and the youth who offered that noble prayer at the dedication of the temple, are not the same man. The young king knelt down in the bloom of his youth, when the fountains of life were pure and clean; when through and through his soul great floods of power and grace rose to springtide every day; when the processions of nature and providence, the numbers of the poet, the wisdom of the sage, the labours of the reformer, and the sacrifices of the patriot, were steeped for him in their rarest beauty, endowed with their loftiest meaning, and filled with their uttermost power. But that old king in the palace, writing his sermon, is weary and worn; and, worst of all, the clear fountains of his nature are changed to puddles; the fresh, strong life has been squandered away; the delicate, divine perception blunted, clogged, and at last smothered to death. Can we wonder that such a man should write "all is vanity," when he had come Co be the vanity he wrote? Believe me, we cannot form the true estimate when the life is ruined. What he said when he was his best self, before his ruin, was true; and the estimate he made, when he was a lower man, was as much out of true as the man was.
2. Then there was an error in this man's method of testing life, that I suspect to be at the root of much of the weariness that is still felt; and that is, the man does not seem to have tried to be happy, in making others happy, in bringing one gleam more of gladness, or one pulse more of life, into any soul save his own. In the sad days recorded here, nature, books, men, women, were worth to him just what they could do for him. He gave up the present sense of God in the soul; the high uses of worship; the inspiration hidden in great books; the deep blessedness of being father, husband, friend, teacher, patriot, and reformer; buried himself in his harem; turned a deaf ear to all the pleadings of his better angel; and, when he had come to this, who can wonder that all was vanity?
3. But now I must state the reason, that to me is greatest of all, why I know all is not vanity. A thousand years after this sad sermon was written, there was born of the same great line another little Child. He had no royal training, no waiting sceptre, no kingly palace, but the tender nurture of a noble mother, and, from the first, a wonderful nearness to God, — and that was all. He grew up in a country town that had become a proverb of worthlessness. The good He knew, and the bad He knew, as I suppose it was never known before. The human heart was laid bare before Him down to its deepest recesses. None ever felt, as He did, the curse of sin, or had such a perfect loyalty and love for holiness. Nature, Providence, Heaven, and Hell were actual presences, solid certainties to His deep, true sight. Listen while I try the ring of a few sentences from each of them. "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," cries the first preacher. "Blessed are the poor, blessed are the mourners, blessed are the quiet, blessed are the hungry for the right, blessed are the giving and forgiving, blessed are the pure-hearted, blessed are the peace-makers, and blessed are the sufferers for the right," cries the second. "Be not righteous overmuch," cries the first. "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect," cries the second. "That which befalleth a beast, befalleth a man," cries the first. "The very hairs of your head are numbered," cries the second. "There is no knowledge, nor wisdom, nor device in the grave," cries the first. "I go to prepare a place for you; and I will come again, and take you to Myself, that where I am there ye may be also," cries the second. This last preacher tested life also. Whatever can be done to prove all is vanity, was done to Him. Giving out blessing, getting back cursing. Surely, if over man would write "Vanity of vanities" over life, this was the man to do it. God was to Him the Father. The future life was more of a reality than the present. He saw resurgam written over every grave, and could see past sorrow and pain, the perfect end, and say, "Of all that My Father has given Me, I have lost nothing: He will raise it up at the last day." Then, if I cannot see heaven of myself, let me look at it through His eyes. If earth grows empty and worthless to me, let me believe in what it was to Him, and be sure that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; so, holding fast by faith in Him, I may come at last to a faith in earth, and heaven, and life, and the life to come, and all that is most indispensable to the soul. If I cannot pray because I see no reason, then that bonded figure on Olivet is my reason. If I cannot distinguish between fate and providence, let me rejoice that He can, and that my blindness can make no difference to His blessing.
(R. Collyer.)I. IN WHAT SENSE WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND THAT ALL IS VANITY, The Preacher is not speaking of religious practices, or of any actions immediately commanded of God, or directly referred to Him; but of such employments as we pursue by choice, and such works as we perform in hopes of a recompense in the present life; such as flatter the imagination with pleasing scenes, and probable increase of temporal felicity; of this he determines that all is vanity, and every hour confirms his determination. The event of all human endeavours is uncertain. He that plants may gather no fruit; he that sows may reap no harvest. Even the most simple operations are liable to miscarriage, from causes which we cannot foresee; and if we could foresee them, cannot prevents. The rain and the wind he cannot command; the caterpillar he cannot destroy, and the locust he cannot drive away. But these effects, which require only the concurrence of natural causes, though they depend little upon human power, are yet made by Providence regular and certain, in comparison with those extensive and complicated undertakings, which must be brought to pass by the agency of man, and which require the union of many understandings, and the co-operations of many hands. The history of mankind is little else than a narrative of designs which have failed, and hopes that have been disappointed. To find examples of disappointment and uncertainty, we need not raise our thoughts to the interests of nations, nor follow the warrior to the field, or the statesman to the council. The little transactions of private families are entangled with perplexities; and the hourly occurrences of common life are filling the world with discontent and complaint. The labours of man are not only uncertain, but imperfect. If we perform what we designed, we yet do not obtain what we expected.
II. HOW FAR THE CONVICTION THAT ALL IS VANITY OUGHT TO INFLUENCE THE CONDUCT OF LIFE. Human actions may be distinguished into various classes. Some are actions of duty, which can never be vain, because God will reward them. Yet these actions, considered as terminating in this world, will often produce vexation. There are likewise actions of necessity; these are often vain and vexatious; but such is the order of the world, that they cannot be omitted. He that will eat bread must plough and sow. What then is the influence which the conviction of this unwelcome truth ought to have upon our conduct? It ought to teach us humility, patience, and diffidence. The consideration of the vanity of all human purposes and projects, deeply impressed upon the mind, necessarily produces that diffidence in all worldly good, which is necessary to the regulation of our passions, and the security of our innocence. He does not rashly treat another with contempt who doubts the duration of his own superiority: he will not refuse assistance to the distressed who supposes that he may quickly need it himself. He will not fix his fond hopes upon things which he knows to be vanity, but will enjoy this world as one who knows that he does not possess it.
III. WHAT CONSEQUENCES THE SERIOUS AND RELIGIOUS MIND MAY DRAW FROM THE POSITION, THAT ALL IS VANITY. When the present state of man is considered, when an estimate is made of his hopes, his pleasures, and his possessions; when his hopes appear to be deceitful, his labours ineffectual, his pleasures unsatisfactory, and his possessions fugitive, it is natural to wish for an abiding city, for a state more constant and permanent, of which the objects may be more proportioned to our wishes, and the enjoyments to our capacities; and from this wish it is reasonable to infer that such a state is designed for us by that Infinite Wisdom, which, as it does nothing in vain, has not created minds with comprehensions never to be filled.
(John Taylor, LL. D.)Thomas a Kempis, in his "Imitation of Christ," tells us that "all is vanity, except to love God and to serve Him only." One of our own novelists, in his "Vanity Fair," has torn aside the mask which hides from view the hollowness of that glitter and show which are so apt to fascinate the inexperienced. Few thoughtful men reach even middle life — not to speak of old age — without being at times oppressed by the thought of life's sameness, or without being at times impressed with a sense of the unsubstantial and unsatisfying nature of earthly things. Human life may vary from age to age in some of its details; but, in its great broad features, it is unchanging. Birth, death, work, rest, health, sickness, pain, pleasure, hope, fear, loss, gain, friendship, love, marriage, parenthood, bereavement, virtue, vice, temptation, remorse — these things were all familiar to the generations that have gone before us; they are familiar to us; they will be familiar to those who are coming after us. And, as to the transient, uncertain, perishable, and unsatisfying nature of mere earthly happiness — of happiness due to mere earthly pleasures, pursuits, and consideration this has been the trite theme of all the ages. Looking at human life apart from God and immortality' — looking at the things "seen and temporal" apart from the things "unseen and eternal" — we perceive that there is a profound element of truth in the utterance, "All is vanity." Lastly here, we must not forget that this book was written at least two thousand years ago. Since Ecclesiastes meditated on the problems of human life, one really "new thing" has been seen. The "Sun of Righteousness" has risen upon the world "with healing in His wings."
(T. C. Finlayson.)
LinksEcclesiastes 1:2 NIV
Ecclesiastes 1:2 NLT
Ecclesiastes 1:2 ESV
Ecclesiastes 1:2 NASB
Ecclesiastes 1:2 KJV
Ecclesiastes 1:2 Bible Apps
Ecclesiastes 1:2 Parallel
Ecclesiastes 1:2 Biblia Paralela
Ecclesiastes 1:2 Chinese Bible
Ecclesiastes 1:2 French Bible
Ecclesiastes 1:2 German Bible
Ecclesiastes 1:2 Commentaries