Ecclesiastes 1:2
"Futility of futilities," says the Teacher, "futility of futilities! Everything is futile!"
All is VanityJohn Taylor, LL. D.Ecclesiastes 1:2
All is VanityD. Thomas Ecclesiastes 1:2
Is All VanityT. C. Finlayson.Ecclesiastes 1:2
The Folly of SolomonR. Collyer.Ecclesiastes 1:2
The Trial of VanityH. Smith.Ecclesiastes 1:2
The Vanity of Earthly ThingsJ. Maude.Ecclesiastes 1:2
The Vanity of the WorldE. Hopkins, D. D.Ecclesiastes 1:2
Vanity of VanitiesCanon Liddon.Ecclesiastes 1:2
The Summary of a Life's ExperienceJ. Willcock Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
Human Life and Human LaborW. Clarkson Ecclesiastes 1:2, 3
If we regard this book as Solomon's own record and statement of his remarkable experience of human life, it must be deemed by us a most valuable lesson as to the hollowness and emptiness of worldly greatness and renown. If, on the other hand, we regard the book as the production of a later writer, who lived during the troubled and depressed period of Jewish history which followed the Captivity, it must be recognized as casting light upon the providentially appointed consequences of national sin, apostasy, and rebellion. In the former case the moral and religious significance of Ecclesiastes is more personal, in the latter case more political. In either case, the treatise, as inspired by Divine wisdom, demands to be received and studied with reverential attention. Whether its lessons be congenial or unwelcome, they deserve the consideration of those of every age, and of every station in society. Some readers will resent the opening words of the treatise as gloomy and morbid; others will hail them as the expression of reason and wisdom. But the truth they contain is independent of human moods and temperaments, and is only to be fully appreciated by those whose observation is extensive and whose reflection is profound. The wise man makes a broad and unqualified statement, that all things earthly and human are but vanity.

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 vanity
Certainly, he, who had riches as plentiful as the stones of the street (1 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.)

This is the key-note of the book. The word "vanity" means a breath of wind, and thus it comes to mean something airy, fictitious, and unsubstantial. As the expression, "holy of holies" conveys the meaning of that which is holy beyond every other thing, so this word in the sense of emptiness beyond comparison is applied by the writer to the course of nature and to the work of man. Again and again he takes excursions into the natural world, and again and again he returns to the old refrain, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." The writer of these words felt that the order of the world was out of joint. But language like this has been more often used by those who have had bitter experience of life. Human nature is wont to turn round upon itself, and when it has drunk out the cup of indulgence will express disgust of gratifications which have ceased to please. "Vanity of vanities" was the speech of the great English cardinal as he lay dying and reflected that he had given the best years of his life for the present without care for the future. This was the temper of the language ascribed to Prince Louis XIV. of France when death was near at hand, and his life of pleasantry was closing. Vanity of vanities! And something like this may be heard in more than one London household at this time of the year at the close of the season. Three or four months of fatigue have been prepared for and submitted to as a military campaign would be prepared for. Time, peace of mind, health, regular hours of prayer, have been sacrificed to the pursuits of some social will-o'-the-wisp. To marry this daughter, to secure this introduction, to achieve more distinction than others, have been the objects before the minds of many. And now, when time and money, health and temper have been sacrificed and nothing achieved, we hear in modern language the words of the text from numbers rushing away by express train to bury their disappointment in country villages. "Vanity of vanities!" This earthly life cannot possibly satisfy a being like man if it be lived apart from God. Apart from God, wisdom leads to disappointment and lands us at death in the sublime despair of philosophy. Apart from God, wealth and all that it can command yields much less satisfaction than intellectual achievement, since it is further removed from the higher and imperishable nature of man. Apart from God, Nature, regarded as matter inter. penetrated by force, presents nothing on which man's inmost being can rest. Here we have only cycles of laws repeating themselves through the ages with a momentum which mocks our intellects. Vanity, emptiness, and disappointment are traced on Nature, on wealth and thought. As a matter of fact man does not find in either real satisfaction. He finds only a wasting fever of the heart, nothing which makes him strong for life, or in the hour of approaching death. The reason is plain. All that belongs to earth has failure in it, and man's life has come under this failure as well as Nature. All we may see is not as it should be. The best of men are conscious of this. The telling of circumstance against him, the tendency downwards of which he is conscious, the precautions which he takes against himself in the shape of rule and law — all these things tell, and tell truly, of some big catastrophe from which human life has suffered in its deepest recesses. Nature, too, with its weird mysteries speaks to the same effect. And here the apostle comes to our aid when he tells us that "the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope." He also says, "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now." Nature has on it this certificate of failure. Besides this, wealth and Nature are finite, so that they must fail to satisfy a being like man. The human soul, itself finite, is made for the Infinite. The soul cannot comprehend the Infinite, but it can apprehend the Infinite. In the inmost source and heart of man God has placed a vast, unfathomable capacity for understanding Himself. Man can think of a Being who has "neither beginning of days nor end of years," who "inhabits eternity," and is Himself eternal. And as man struggles more and more perfectly to apprehend this Being, to reach Him, to enjoy Him, to possess Him, he feels that the counterpart of all that is deepest and most mysterious in himself is the eternal world, and that he can only really be satisfied with that, and with nothing else or less. "Thou hast made us for Thyself," says , "and our heaths are restless until they rest in Thee." Man is like those captives of whom we read who, once having believed a throne to be within their grasp, have never settled down as contented subjects. He is predestined for an unseen magnificence; and therefore when he turns to survey the grandest objects that woo his heart in this earthly life he can exclaim, not indeed in scorn, but in a spirit of religious and strictest accuracy, "Vanity of vanities!" Once more; all that belongs to created life passes quickly away. All around is vanishing. "One generation passeth away and another cometh," so says the Preacher. "Man fades away like the grass," so sings the psalmist. "The earthly house of our tabernacle shall be dissolved," so adds one apostle. "The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat," so proclaims another apostle. Yes, all is passing, even the choice furniture of the human mind itself, all but the imperishable. Personality with its moral history in the past survives; all else goes, and is forgotten. And therefore it is because Nature and the outer husks of life do not satisfy that they cannot afford a stay for the imperishable soul of man. "Vanity of vanities!" he exclaims as he discovers their real character. But to this way of regarding the matter there is an objection. Is it a healthy one? Is it calculated to make man do his duty in that state of life in which it has pleased God to call him? Will it help him to do his duty enthusiastically and thoroughly? Is he not likely to fail, and to make life responsible for the failure? To this I say that human effort is only vanity when it is pursued without reference to God. Man's capacities are given to lead him to God, and all that leads to Him, so far from being vanity, is lasting and substantial. The man who is living for another world is not less alive to his duties here, His heart has followed his treasure; his citizenship is already in heaven; he looks at "the things which are not seen": he lives as "a stranger and pilgrim": he is but a soldier on campaign duty. All that comes in his way is precious, as enabling him to conquer the enemy and to reach his home.

(Canon Liddon.)

These are the words of a wise and a bold preacher. He was wise in seeing that which men in general did not see; and he was bold in speaking so plainly that which was contrary to the general opinion.

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?


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.

(J. Maude.)

This book begins with, "All is Vanity," and ends with, "Fear God, and keep His commandments." From that to this should be every man's pilgrimage in this world; we begin at vanity, and never know perfectly that we are vain, until we repent with Solomon. "Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." As though he were exceeding glad, that after so many dangers through the route of vanity, yet God let him see the haven of rest. The whole narration doth show that Solomon wrote this book after his fall. When he had the experience of vanities, and seen the folly of the world, what evil comes of pleasure, and what fruit groweth of sin, he was bold to say, "Vanity of vanities," etc.; which he avoucheth with such a protestation, as though he would justify it against many adversaries; for all the world is in love with that which he calls vanity. To testify his hearty conversion unto Cod, he calls himself a preacher, in the witness of his unfeigned repentance; as if God had said unto him, "Thou being converted, convert thy brethren," and be a preacher, as thou art a king. So when we are converted, we should become preachers unto others, and show some fruits of our calling, as Solomon left this book for a monument to all ages of his conversion. Thus having found as it were the mine, now let us dig for the treasure, "Vanity of vanities," etc. This is Solomon's conclusion: when he had gone through the whole world, and tried all things, like a spy sent into a strange country, as if he were now come home from his pilgrimage, they gather about him to inquire what he hath heard and seen abroad, and what he thinks of the world, and these things which are so loved among men, like a man in admiration of that which he had seen, and not able to express particularly one after another, he contracts his news into a word. You ask me what I have seen, and what I have heard, "Vanity," saith Solomon. And what else? "Vanity of vanities." And what else? "All is vanity." This is the history of my voyage: I have seen nothing but vanity over the world. So the further he did go, the more vanity he did see, and the nearer he looked the greater it seemed, till at last he could see nothing but vanity. So his drift is to show that man's happiness is not in these things which we count of, but in those which we defer. His reason is, they are all vanity; his proof is because there is no stability in them, nor contentation of mind; his conclusion is therefore, Contemn the world, and look up to heaven from whence ye came, and whither ye shall go. This is the scope which Solomon aims at, as though we did all seek happiness, but we go a wrong way unto it; therefore he sounds a retreat, showing that if we hold on our course, and go forwards as we have begun, we shall not find happiness, but great misery, because we go by vanity. Now Solomon, full of wisdom, and schooled with experience, is licensed to give his sentence of the whole world. This is no reproach to the things, but shame to him which so abused them, that all things should be called vanity for him. If he did not things vainly, nothing should be vain in the world; whereas now, by abuse, we may see sometimes as great vanity in the best things as in the worst. For are not many vain in their knowledge, vain in their policies, vain in their learning, as others are vain in their ignorance? A spiritual eye doth see some vanity or other in everything, as appeareth betwixt Christ and His disciples at Jerusalem (Luke 21:6; Matthew 24:1). They gazed upon the building of the temple as a brave thing, and would have Christ to behold it with them; but He did see that it was but vanity, and therefore said, "Are these the things that ye look upon?" As if He should say, How vain are you to gaze upon this! If Christ thought the beauty of His temple a vain thing, and not worth the sight, which yet was beautified and built by His own prescription, how should Solomon express all the vanity of the world, to which all men have added more and more since the beginning I Therefore when Solomon beheld such a plurality, and tot quot of vanities, like surges coming one upon another in plaits and folds, he spake as though he would show us vanity hatching vanities: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." The first saying doth pass without let; but the last rubs and sinks not into the hearts of men so easily as it is spoken. Methinks I hear some men dispute for Baal, and bid Solomon stay before he comes to "all is vanity." It may be that sin is vanity, and pleasure is vanity; but shall we condemn all for sin and pleasure? What say you to beauty, which is nature's dowry, and cheereth the eye, as sweet meat doth the taste? Beauty is like a fair picture; take away the colour, and there is nothing left. Beauty indeed is both a colour and a temptation, the colour fadeth and the temptation snareth. But what say you to riches, which make men lords over the rest, and allow them to go brave, and lie soft, and fare daintily, and have what they list? Riches are like painted grapes, which look as though they would satisfy a man, but do not slake his hunger, nor quench his thirst. Riches indeed do make a man covet more, and get envy, and keep the mind in care. You shall hear them say oftentimes, It is a vain world, a wicked world, a naughty world, yet they will not forsake it, to die; like dastard soldiers, who rail against the enemy, but dare not fight against him. "All is vanity;" but this is "vanity of vanities," that men will follow that which they condemn. Oh that here were a full end or conclusion of vanities; but.behold a greater vanity is behind; for our religion is vanity, like the Scribes and Pharisees, having a bare show of holiness, and scarce that. What then? "Turn away mine eyes," and my ears and my heart too, "from vanity." Try and prove thou no longer, for Solomon hath proved for thee; it is better to believe him than try with him.

(H. Smith.)

This is the substance of this great man's last estimate of life. You read it, and, as you read, you watch the writer trying to fight down the black shadows as they rise. Here and there too, all through his sermon, he will say a noble thing on the right side; as if the old power of piety was strong enough yet to burn through, and force its way to the parchment. But, when the best is said and done, the result is a belief in a God who exacts more than He gives, and punishes more readily than He blesses. And so it is that this woeful estimate of life has made this book by far the most difficult to understand in the whole range of the Scriptures. The statements in it are as positive as any other. Solomon is as clear when he says, "Man has no pre-eminence over a beast," as John is when he says, "Beloved, now are we the sons of God." So it comes to pass, that, if you take this book as it stands, and undertake to believe it, the result is very sad. It chills all piety, paralyzes all effort, hushes all prayer. If there is grief in wisdom, had I not better be a fool? It cannot be denied, again, that the book is but the vocal utterance of many a silent sermon in many a lonely heart. It was this, no doubt, that made it the text-book of Voltaire and the bosom friend of Frederick the Great. Its monotones of despair are echoed out of a thousand experiences. When a friend wished a great English statesman a happy new year, "Happy!" he said; "it had need be happier than the last, for in that I never knew one happy day." When an English lawyer, whose life had seemed to be one long range of success, mounted the last step in his profession, he wrote, "I in a few weeks shall retire to dear Eneombe, as a shore resting-place between vexation and the grave." When one said to the great Rothschild, "You must be a happy man," he replied, "I sleep with pistols under my pillow." The most brilliant man of the world in the eighteenth century said, "I have enjoyed all the pleasures of life, and I do not regret their loss; I have been behind the scenes, and seen the coarse pulleys and ropes and tallow-candles." And the most brilliant poet of the last generation said, "The lapse of ages changes all but man, who ever has been, and will be, an unlucky rascal." Now, then, for all this, I have but one answer. I cannot believe it. In the deepest meaning of the truth and the life, this assertion that all is vanity is utterly untrue. God never meant life to be vanity; and life is not vanity. And that we are right and all such men wrong can be proven, I think, outside our own experience, on several different counts.

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.)

? — How are we to regard this utterance as to the "vanity" of all things, the "profitless" character of human labour, the wearisome monotony of the world? Must we indorse it, because we find it here in the Bible? Or, must we, on the other hand, condemn it and denounce it, as if it contained no truth whatever? I submit that we need do neither. We may believe that Ecclesiastes had been taught by his own experience some valuable lessons as to the practical conduct of life, and that he was able to give some very wise counsel to those younger than himself; and yet we may also believe that this wisdom was dearly bought, and that his outlook on the world, when he became "a sadder and a wiser man," was largely coloured by his own past conduct. A man who outgrows his sins and follies may not always outgrow, in this world, all their consequences. A penitent profligate may be able to give us very sound advice; but it does not follow that his estimate of human affairs is altogether accurate and healthful. We are not bound to indorse the view which regards all things "under the sun" as simply presenting the aspect of a vain and wearisome monotony; but we may learn wisdom from the fact that even the outlook of a religious man may be coloured by a long course of previous irreligion and worldliness. Whilst, however, we are not bound to indorse this melancholy estimate of Ecclesiastes, and whilst we may regard it as coloured and exaggerated by the weariness begotten of his former life, we need not denounce or condemn it as if it were simply the utterance of a morose pessimism or a sated worldliness. There is an element of profound truth in this estimate of the things "seen and temporal." A Christian apostle tells us that "the creature was made subject to vanity," and to "the bondage of corruption." Another Christian apostle reminds us that "the world passeth away and the lust thereof" — "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." 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.)

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