Ecclesiastes 4:2
So I admired the dead, who had already died, above the living, who are still alive.
Sermons
Praising the Dead More than the LivingHomilistEcclesiastes 4:2
The Applause of the Dead Regulated, Vindicated and ImprovedJ. Clayton.Ecclesiastes 4:2
Oppression of Man by His FellowsJ. Willcock Ecclesiastes 4:1-3
Pessimism and Christian LifeW. Clarkson Ecclesiastes 4:1-3
PessimismD. Thomas Ecclesiastes 4:2, 3
It would be a mistake to regard this language as expressing the deliberate and final conviction of the author of Ecclesiastes. It represents a mood of his mind, and indeed of many a mind, oppressed by the sorrows, the wrongs, and the perplexities of human life. Pessimism is at the root a philosophy; but its manifestation is in a habit or tendency of the mind, such as may be recognized in many who are altogether strange to speculative thinking. The pessimism of the East anticipated that of modern Europe. Though there is no reason for connecting the morbid state of mind recorded in this Book of Ecclesiastes with the Buddhism of India, both alike bear witness to the despondency which is naturally produced in the mental habit of not a few who are perplexed and discouraged by the untoward circumstances of human life.

I. THE UNQUESTIONABLE FACTS UPON WHICH PESSIMISM IS BASED.

1. The unsatisfying nature of the pleasures of life. Men set their hearts upon the attainment of enjoyments, wealth, greatness, etc. When they gain what they seek, the satisfaction expected does not follow. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. Disappointed and unhappy, the votary of pleasure is "soured" with life itself, and asks, "Who will show us any good?"

2. The brevity, uncertainty, and transitoriness of life. Men find that there is no time for the acquirements, the pursuits, the aims, which seem to them essential to their earthly well-being. In many cases life is cut short; but even when it is prolonged, it passes like the swift ships. It excites visions and hopes which in the nature of things cannot be realized.

3. The actual disappointment of plans and the failure of efforts. Men learn the limitations of their powers; they find circumstances too strong for them; all that seemed desirable proves to be beyond their reach.

II. THE HABIT OF MIND IN WHICH PESSIMIST CONSISTS.

1. It comes to be a steady conviction that life is not worth living. Is life a boon at ally why should it be prolonged, when it is ever proving itself insufficient for human wants, unsatisfying to human aspirations? The young and hopeful may take a different view, but their illusions will speedily be dispelled. There is nothing so unworthy of appreciation and desire as life.

2. The dead are regarded as more fortunate than the living; and, indeed, it is a misfortune to be born, to come into this earthly life at all. "The sooner it's over, the sooner asleep." Consciousness is grief and misery; they only are blest who are at rest in the painless Nirvana of eternity.

III. THE ERRORS INVOLVED IN THE PESSIMISTIC INFERENCE AND CONCLUSION.

1. It is assumed that pleasure is the chief good. A great living philosopher deliberately takes it for granted that the question - Is life worth living? is to be decided by the question - Does life yield a surplus of agreeable feeling? This being so, it is natural that the disappointed and unhappy should drift into pessimism. But, as a matter of fact, the test is one altogether unjust, and can only be justified, upon the supposition that man is merely a creature that feels. It is the hedonist who is disappointed that becomes the pessimist.

2. There is a higher end for man than pleasure, viz. spiritual cultivation and progress. It is better to grow in the elements of a noble character than to be filled with all manner of delights. Man was made in the likeness of God, and his discipline on earth is to recover and to perfect that likeness. 3. This higher end may in some cases be attained by the hard process of distress and disappointment. This seems to have been lost sight of in the mood which found expression in the language of these verses. Yet experience and reflection alike concur to assure us that it may be good for us to be afflicted. It not infrequently happens that

"The soul
Gives up a part to take to it the whole."

APPLICATION. As there are times and circumstances in all persons lives which are naturally conducive to pessimistic habits, it behooves us to be, at such times and in such circumstances, especially upon our guard lest we half consciously fall into habits so destructive of real spiritual well-being and usefulness. The conviction that Infinite Wisdom and Righteousness are at the heart of the universe, and not blind unconscious fate and force, is the one preservative; and to this it is the Christian's privilege to add an affectionate faith in God as the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and the benevolent Author of life and immortal salvation to all who receive his gospel and confide in the mediation of his blessed Son. - T.







Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.
Scripture itself sets us an example of applauding the virtues of the departed; but I think that in our funeral sermons, in our obituaries and on our sepulchres, there is much which needs to be regulated.

I. It must be QUALIFIED.

1. We are not to praise the dead with indiscriminate eulogy; for there is such a thing as confounding moral distinctions, as smiling alike on vice and virtue.

2. We are not to praise the dead with exaggerated panegyric. For it should never be forgotten, that however the grace of God has formed the subject of it to excellence, he was still the possessor of remaining moral infirmities.

3. We are not to praise the dead in a spirit of discontent with life.

4. We are not to praise the dead in the exercise of gratified envy.

5. We ought not to praise the dead in the spirit of relative pride.

6. In one word — we should not praise the dead without a humble and grateful recollection that all their gifts and virtues proceeded from God. Let the survivor not glory in the erudition, in the riches, in the wealth or virtue of the deceased, but let him glory only in the Lord.

II. This eulogy is to be JUSTIFIED. It may be so by a variety of reasons.

1. There is that of Scripture precedent. It speaks, in high terms, of the distinguished faith of Abraham, the patience of Job, the meekness of Moses, the devotion of the man after God's own heart, the wisdom of a Solomon, the magnanimity of a Daniel, the fortitude of a Stephen, the humanity of a Dorcas.

2. This procedure may also be sanctioned on the ground of utility. How often does the perusal of the memoirs of eminent persons excite desires in the hearts of survivors to imbibe their sentiments, to catch their spirit, and to imitate their example.

3. The principal grounds on which we are justified in praising the pious dead are connected with themselves, as —

(1)The blessedness of their condition on which they have at once entered.

(2)The developed excellences of their character.

(3)The usefulness of their course.For much of this as may have been apparent while they were yet alive, much more is very often discerned after their decease. Then are discerned in their diaries and records what were the sacred principles on which they acted, and how they were constrained by the love of Christ to live not unto themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again. Not till the crisis of death, too, has much of the usefulness of the Christian minister been made apparent.

III. The sentiment in the text is to be IMPROVED. If the question be asked — in what way shall I praise departed ministers? I answer —

1. By repenting of the treatment you often showed them while they were alive.

2. By recalling to serious reflection the important subjects of their ministry.

3. By an imitation of the excellencies with which they were clothed.

4. By meditating on your joint responsibility with them at the bar of God.

5. By a devout application to the great Head of the Church to raise up men of similar and surpassing qualifications to carry on the interests of religion in the Church and in the world.

(J. Clayton.)

Homilist.
I. It is COMMON. We see it in the political, ecclesiastical, and domestic sphere. So it has become a proverb, that the best men must die ever to have their virtues recognized. Why is this?

1. The dead are no longer competitors.

2. Social love buries their defects. In all, the great Father of Love has put a deep fountain of sympathy. Death unseals it, melts it, and causes it to flow forth in such copious streams as drown all the imperfections of the departed.

II. It is IMMORAL.

1. It is not right. Virtue should be recognized and honoured wherever seen; and more so in the duties and struggles of life than in the reminiscenees of departed worth.

2. It is not generous. That husband is mean and despicable who ignores the virtues of a noble wife while living.

3. It is unreal. To praise virtues in a man when dead, which were ever unnoticed when living, is hypocritical.

(Homilist.)

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