Ecclesiastes 9:4
There is hope, however, for anyone who is among the living; for even a live dog is better than a dead lion.
Life is EverythingW. Clarkson Ecclesiastes 9:4
Lion or DogF. Hastings.Ecclesiastes 9:4
Reality Versus ShowA. J. Bray.Ecclesiastes 9:4
Sinners, Living and DeadHomilistEcclesiastes 9:4
The Delusion of Common Lily Rebuked and CorrectedJ. Hughes.Ecclesiastes 9:4
Inexorable DestinyJ. Willcock Ecclesiastes 9:1-6
Life and DeathD. Thomas Ecclesiastes 9:4-6
No thoughtful reader can take these remarks upon the living and the dead as complete and satisfactory in themselves. The writer of this book, as we know from other passages, never intended them so to be taken. They are singularly partial; yet when they are seen to be so, they are also singularly just. Just one aspect of life and of mortality is here presented, and it is an aspect which a wise and reflecting reader will see to be of great importance. Life is a fragment, it is an opportunity, it is a probation. Death is an end, that is, an end of this brief existence, and of what especially belongs to it. If we thought of life and death only under these aspects, we should err; but we should err if we neglected to take these aspects into consideration.


1. They part with opportunities of knowledge which they enjoyed on earth.

2. They part with passions which they experienced whilst in the bodily life.

3. They part with possessions which they acquired in this world.

4. They are soon forgotten; for those who remember them themselves depart, and a faint memory or utter forgetfulness must follow. Death is a great change, and they who undergo it leave much behind, even though they may gain immeasurably more than they lose.


1. They have knowledge. This is doubtless very limited, but it is very precious. Compared with the knowledge which awaits the Christian in the future state, that which is within our reach now and here is as what is seen dimly in a mirror. Yet how can men be too grateful for the faculty in virtue of which they can acquaint themselves with truth of the highest importance and value? Knowledge of self, and knowledge of the great Author of our being and salvation, is within our reach. We know the limitation of our period of earthly education and probation; we know the means by which that period may be made the occasion of our spiritual good.

2. With all the living there is hope. Time is before them with its golden opportunities; eternity, time's harvest, is before them with all its priceless recompense. Even if the past has been neglected or abused, there is the possibility that the future may be turned to good account. For the dead we know that this earthly life has nothing in store. But who can limit the possibilities which stretch before the living, the progress which may be made, the blessing that may be won?

APPLICATION. It is well to begin with the view of life and death which is presented in this passage; but it would not be well to pause here. It is true that there is loss in death; but the Christian does not forget the assertion of the apostle that "to die is gain." And whilst there are privileges and prerogatives special to this earthly life, still it is to the disciple of Christ only the introduction and preparation for a life which is life indeed - life glorious, imperishable, and Divine. - T.

A living dog is better than a dead lion.
I. Some sinners ARE MORE CONTEMPTIBLE THAN OTHERS. There is as much difference between some and others as there is between the "dog" and the "lion."

1. Some sinners are baser in nature than others. There are some who are constitutionally low, and mean, and sordid — like the dog.

2. Some sinners are in baser circumstances than others. Some tenant the hovels of pauperism, others dwell in palaces. Some wear the wretched appearance of starving curs, others the majestic bearing of lions.

II. The least contemptible of sinners MUST DIE. There is the "dead lion." The sinner, however noble in nature or circumstances, must die. Death to the sinner is a terrible thing.

1. It detaches him from all good.

2. It connects him with all evil.

III. The most contemptible sinner, whilst living, HAS AN ADVANTAGE over the least contemptible who is dead. Why?

1. He is living in a world fitted for happiness. Everything in the natural world is intended and suited to minister pleasure to man.

2. He is living in the sphere of redemptive mercy.


Life is an immense advancement over death. Organization is greatly in advance of inorganized matter; life is an advancement over organization, for one may exist without the other. But a rational life is as superior to simple life in itself, as life is in advance of simple lifeless organization. Reason cannot exist without life, for it is its first and essential condition; but it is different from it, and superior to it; it is an addition to it, an adornment and completion of it, it makes life great, grand, powerful, and Divine-like. The distance and difference between life and death are the difference and extreme distance between principles, viewed in their moral character, relation, and result. As life is superior to death in the power of consciousness, action, and advancement, so are true principles and good character to the false and the bad. On this ground, "a living dog is better than a dead lion."


1. Life is the period within which all is possible that is requisite and required. A dead lion is helpless and hopeless, a living dog is able and hopeful.

2. Little real goodness is better than much nominal and fanciful. A small living spark will produce a flame, which cannot be done by a large dead charcoal; a small mustard-seed will grow into a beautiful and useful tree, whereas a forest of dead roots cannot produce such results.

3. The small used rightly is better than the great unused. A small candle that gives light is better than a sun covered with darkness. A little water that can be used by the dying or thirsty is better than a river which cannot be so used. We constantly hear complaints and excuses of small possessions, of small means, of small opportunities, and of small powers, and these are made the causes of neglect and misery in the lips of those who make them. What we need, first of all, is not greater quantity, but the power of using faithfully what we have.

4. The past of life will not satisfy and meet the present demands of human need and Divine requirements. Every day creates its duties — every day brings its wants; the provision of the day covers the need of a day, as the work of the day covers the obligation of a day. The present will not cover the future, no more than the future can cover the present — every day must provide for itself; if it does not, it is a day of want, for the blessings of yesterday and to-morrow are partly dead things to us to-day.

5. The small, with evidence and security, is better than much with groundless hope and uncertainty. A little goodness done is better than much in vows and promises; a small portion of solid and real happiness is better than great superficial and uncertain pleasure; a little producing power is better than much that is unproductive; a little of actual reality possessed of truth, virtue, and religion is of far higher worth than much in boastful fancy.

6. The small with contentment is better than the great without. The value and importance of a thing to us is in the fitness of it to satisfy our heart and mind; it may be small and insufficient in its outward form or in the estimate of people relative to it, but it is better than the possession which people call, in outward appearance, grand and glorious. With contentment, which comprehends peace of conscience and tranquillity of mind, a humble position and a small possession are better than a lofty station and magnificent possession.


1. It rebukes that class who trust in fortuitous chances more than in the right conduct of life. It may indeed be, in many instances, that true conduct is often slow in bringing success and happiness, and that the contrary, in many cases in this life, leads to what many call success sooner and with greater certainty; because wrong, in a world of falsehood, has more means and ways at its disposal than truth and law have, for the means and ways of truth must be all true, or else it is no longer true itself. But the success and happiness got any way apart from a right conduct or the order of law, are neither true nor real, they are but things of wrong and misconception, and are neither to be desired nor enjoyed by the true, nor held long by the deluded wrong.

2. It rebukes another class in society, namely, those who trust more in appearance than in high principles of real life. When appearance is sought and loved for its own sake as an end, it is vanity; when it is made to conceal and deceive others, it is hypocrisy. These feelings are found everywhere in society, deforming its beauty and eating up its life and reality; they are the dead lions of society, beginning in vain appearance and ending in death.

3. It rebukes those who will not do the little they can, because they have no means or opportunities to do the great and illustrious. To bury the one talent because we are not possessors of five, or not to use the one until the other four will be possessed, is a vain delusion; and better is the man who uses his little faithfully, than he who thus vainly hopes until he possesses more: one is conscious of life and gives expression to it; the other is dead in heart and action, and notwithstanding his plans and promises, a living dog is better than his dead lion.

4. There is a rebuke here to those who neglect present duties until future time. The thing which should be done to-day, but left until the morrow, is undone, and is virtually never done. The probability is that it will never be actually done; but if it will, it will have lost some of its virtue and beauty, because it ought to have been done before. But everything in the form of a present duty, thus neglected until a future time, is virtually dead, for the future is uncertain; and if the time ever comes, our views and feelings instead of being more inclined to do the thing which thus was neglected in the past, will be more disinclined to do it, and will probably be inclined to throw it to a greater future still.

5. The words rebuke human folly that trusts in shadowy unreality rather than in reality. It is not seldom that people give away their present position and happiness because they fancy something greater and far better, and thus give up the real for the vain, and the certain for the things which too often prove unattainable. This is exemplified religiously in different forms, but is the same thing in character and result. One tries to make a good show to gain approval arid applause, or conceal some purpose which is not made known, which is hypocrisy. In such a case, inward principle is not sought, conscious enjoyment is not known; all is outward appearance, which is not life and reality, but a formal and hard affectation. There is another class, again, who make feeling all their aim. With these, knowledge is of no value, principle of truth and integrity is of no importance; unless a state of vague and excited moral intoxication absorbs all, everything is worthless. Others there are who make all their religious reality dependent upon some few points of belief, which may be nothing better than opinion, and when it comes to the test, there is neither life nor reality in them. There are others, again, who depend upon some secret purpose in God's mind for all their salvation and heaven, exclusive of all goodness by and in themselves.

6. There is here a rebuke to those who desire their possession to consist in form and magnitude rather than in quality. How feeble and foolish are we! We allow sense to control our reason, and not reason our sense; we too frequently allow fancy to govern conscience rather than conscience fancy; we submit our best judgment to sentimental delusion, rather than be governed according to the laws of truth and equity. How long shall we and others be guilty of pursuing the dead lions of vain ambition and delusive blindness, and be rebuked and punished by justice for the folly of our conduct?


1. One important lesson here intended is not to trust in the helpless. The earthly and material are helpless, for they are unfit for our moral and spiritual nature. The perishable cannot help us, for they die behind us, and are insufficient from their nature to satisfy our immortal hope and aspiration. The sinful, whatever it is, is helpless; for instead of improving, it deteriorates, and instead of adding to resources and happiness, it diminishes and destroys. The thing which is not in unity with God's will and order, with the advancement; of truth and happiness, cannot help us, and must not be trusted in. No finite thing must have all the confidence of our soul, for everything and everybody are in-sufficient to meet the wants of the soul and all its relations and conditions. We must have a living God, a living Saviour, a living Comforter, a living faith, a living hope, a living love — these will comfort and be sufficient when everything else fails and dies.

2. Another lesson intended to teach us, is not to judge things from their forms, but from their character. If we judge from appearance, we go wrong in the most common matters of life. In childhood we should put the penny above the sovereign because it is larger; and judging from outward strength and swiftness we should put the horse above man. Outward appearance, when natural and true, is an index of the inward character and meaning of things; but we must not take it alone as a final test, for it may not be genuine, and moreover, we may by something not right in us misinterpret it; it must be taken in connection with other things more safe and true as tests of quality and character.

3. We are taught to use faithfully the means and powers we possess, and not excuse our virtue upon the chance of things. What we need is not so much more power, but the use of what we possess more faithfully. In this God has given us useful lessons in the ant, the bee, and the bird; they use what they have, and they answer successfully the purpose of life.

4. There is another lesson of sacred importance taught us, namely, that God looks at the vitality of things in their nature, and not on their outward form of grandeur and greatness. God accepts of a humble publican, with his unassuming manner and confession, rather than the boastful prayer of the Pharisee. He looks at the vitality of the heart, and .not at the gorgeous outward manifestation. He accepts the attitude of the inward spirit. He is a Spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. What a comfort and encouragement is this to us all I What God thinks of us is the great thing belonging to us all alike. He demands a living thought, a living love, a living faith, and a living devotion; they are suitable in themselves, and accepted by God from all alike.

5. Another lesson of importance given us here is, that the secret of happiness is to enjoy the little we have. However small our blessings, we have more than we use to our own advancement and happiness; the reason of our misery is the non-application rightly of what we possess, and not deficiency in the quality and degree of our possession. This is often beautifully illustrated in life, you often see more happiness in the cottage than in the palace, in poverty than in wealth, in pain and affliction than in ease and health. How is this? It is because one applies and enjoys his little better than the other his greater and richer blessings.

6. I mention one more lesson taught us in the text, namely, that our goodness should be an active,, growing thing; our goodness must live to be active, and active to live. A little living seed is better than all the dead flowers in the country; so a little progressive goodness is more hopeful than all past life of virtue and religion. Growth is a preparation for the future, arising from present life and deep-rootedness. It is not the majesty and largeness of the lion that makes it undesirable, but its dead condition; as such, it is a condition of inactivity and decay rather than one of action and strength. It is not the smallness of the dog that makes it an object of desire, but its life. Under this condition it is competent of useful service, and of growth and activity. The lesson intended to be conveyed to us is, that life, action, and growth are united; and that it is needful to have life before the others can exist. The teaching of truth is, Grow in grace; let us go hence; let us not be weary in well-doing; and these things are incompatible with inactivity, stultification, and death.

IV. THE ENCOURAGEMENT AND COMFORT INTENDED TO COMMON LIFE. Most things contain in them an element of comfort, if we are able to find it, and in a fit state to receive and apply it. All comforts are not of the same kind; they vary in form and diversity, in common with other things. When you assist a man in distress with your material means, it is a comfort, or soothe his bodily pain, or restore him from the verge of death into health and vigour, it is a high comfort. When you tell a friend the way to success, or restore a wanderer from a path of danger and wrong, and put and direct him on in safety, it is comforting. When you solve any difficult problem, or dissipate some doubt and fear, or soothe a heart depressed and cast down, it is no small comfort you impart to their subjects. When you show new light upon any dark picture, or give new means to conquer difficulties, or discover new hope to vanquish the common foes of life, these are no small comforts to those who need them. These are some of the various form of comforts, and they are all valuable and needed, and accepted with gratitude by those who are in such conditions. We have in the text an encouraging comfort for the true and humble ones who are depressed and dejected by reason of their state and condition, or from the smallness of their sacrifice, or the little they can do. They look at the lofty station, splendour, power, and great gifts of others, and are discouraged and ready to flag in the path of duty, and think they have neither a plea nor a hope to be accepted of God, and be among the successful competitors of religion and heaven. But He looks not as man looks, He accepts the small and unadorned sincerity before dead splendour and outward dignified grandeur. You humble dejected ones, be then comforted, that the Lofty One looks on the humble and true ones, and accepts the mean in outward appearance, if it be true, before the most illustrious grandeur and the greatest outward ornament which a combined universe could offer Him.

(J. Hughes.)

In the estimation of an Oriental, the lion was the symbol of all that was brave and kingly — the dog, of all that was base and contemptible. Between the living dog and the living lion there could be no comparison, any more than you could compare a Christian philosopher with an African slave — there was only a contrast; but the lion dead changes the whole aspect of the thing. Its regal bearing, its voice of thunder, its courage, are gone, and nothing but the appearance is left behind. Than that, the wise man says, the living dog is better. It seems to me that the writer of Ecclesiastes has set before himself the purpose of scourging the people for their vain, pretentious, and foolish display. The great outstanding sin of the nation was a love of mere show. They set little store on the reality of the thing if they were only feasted with the appearance. There must be pomp, pageantry, glare, dazzle, grand outward show — never mind how hollow, never mind how unreal. Artificiality was ruining the nation. They had set up the dead lion, and spurned the living dog. A very foolish nation, certainly, that nation of Jews; and it does seem astonishing that grown-up men and women could have been so childish. But wait; let us ask if there is not something of this here, and now, among ourselves. Here in this Western world, among a people not poetic, not dreamy — now in an age that claims to be intensely practical — it seems to me that we are given over to appearances, and sham is lord of the ascendant. Is it difficult to prove that? I think net. Look at dress. Simple garments with simple lines, simple ornaments, plain but real; nature's grand simplicity — where will you find it? Only here and there. It is built up with fold upon fold, gaudy extravagance, glaring tinsel, diamonds of pure carbon, or diamonds of cut-glass; ornaments of gold, or ornaments of aluminum; flowers from the garden, if not, then flowers from the toy shop; anything and everything for show. Rich and poor alike are rushing into this foolish extravagance of dress. Simplicity is gone — banished to the wilds of Siberia or elsewhere, and we are given over to the gaudy and the unreal. Then, again, take our social life and customs. In certain circles, party-going and party-giving fill up a large portion of the time. The day is but a wearisome waiting or toilsome preparation for the evening's festivities. Then there will be songs and laughter — for the most part foolish, sentimental songs, and the most forced and silly laughter. And the secret of much of this party-going and party-giving is the love of display. A week's honest earnings wasted in a night; charities to the poor and deserving lessened or cut off; children defrauded of a part of their rightful inheritance: and all to show up a dead lion. Better the living dog, I am sure. See all this hard work about you; all this wear and tear of body and mind; all this straining and striving. What does it mean? It means money, money. Men make haste to be rich, that they may have more display, and in their blind eagerness fall into many snares and divers temptations. The hardy virtues are dying; the brave, simple, manly men — the heroes, the giants — are becoming extinct. Let there be some grand effort made to rescue society from this threatened danger; let us put forth our hands, and grasp again those simple, hardy virtues which were the foundation of England's greatness. Our feasting is destroying us; our luxury is wasting our manhood. Better poverty than this; better the living dog than the dead lion. Take, again, our commercial world, and you will find much worship of the dead lion, and much contempt of the living dog there. It is a maxim that if a man would succeed, he must make a show. A small house in an unpretending place will gain little or no credit. There must be display, or it is nothing. And so you have it all around you — this dead lion worship — this appearance, this shameful and fraudulent display. Everywhere people are asking for brilliance, and care little for the reality. The dead lion is enthroned — that is king, that is priest, that is philosopher, that is statesman; while the living dog, the unostentatious reality, is passed by with contempt or thrust out of sight. But what about the Church — that representative of God's kingdom on the earth — that grand and heaven-formed institution, which has nothing to do with condition, but everything to do with character? Has she protested against this love of show? Has she stood forth a reality in a world of unrealities, pure gold as compared with things of tinsel, a flower bright and fragrant, unfolding in divinest beauty under the rays of the central sun as against the cut and painted paper of man's invention? Or has she, too, drank in the spirit of the world and taken the dead lion to her arms? Splendid organizations, elaborate theologies, well-defined creeds, and a goodly array of dogmas, those are the things we have busied ourselves about. We have set too great store upon mere profession and orthodoxy, and too little store upon personal life. "What a good man is Mr. Screw! what a great Christian!" Mr. Screw never had a doubt about religion in his life, and never will. Orthodox! if he were to live through all the changes a thousand years will see, he would never have the charge of heresy preferred against him. Tell him the creed, and he will subscribe it. But he holds his money as dearer than his faith. He is devout on Sunday, and on Monday morning will pull a string and set in motion a whole organization of fraud, and then devour a widow's house, and say grace after the meal. No matter, he is orthodox, and the Church will have him. Ah! better a living dog than that dead lion. Better a widow's mite in the box and an honest, loving heart throbbing in the pew. The cry is raised in all our churches for a revival. But the revival will not come until there is more reality in our church life. We must take a pure religion into the streets. The shop, and the warehouse, and the mill, must be conducted upon principles of Christian integrity.

(A. J. Bray.)

I. IN RESPECT TO THE POSSESSION OF LIFE, We conclude, even under the greatest disadvantages, EXISTENCE IS BETTER THAN NON-EXISTENCE. To live is to be conscious. To think, to know, to reason, to act is elevation. To possess powers of estimating even misery is a matter for thankfulness. The difficulties of life should be faced courageously. "If we faint in the day of adversity our strength is small." We should always cherish hope; hope will give life. We should not yield to envy, for that is the foundation of despair. The rich have their annoyances, disappointments, trials, social ignorings and terrible losses; the poor can have their simple pleasures and healthful rest. Where there is the desire to make the best of circumstances it is wonderful how much of joy may be even found in positions that appear most pitiable. We are not wishing to imply that those under conditions of poverty should be content always to remain therein. On the contrary, we wish them ever to be seeking to improve their surroundings and their minds, but ever to remember that "a living dog is better than a dead lion."

II. IN RESPECT TO THE DECISIONS WE MAY HAVE TO ARRIVE AT IN VARIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES the truth of the text may guide us. If a man seeking employment should find a task that appears to be below his dignity, or the pay below his desert, it is better to accept such a position than to be workless and go perhaps starving, or subsisting on charity. The poor say, frequently, "Half a loaf is better than none," and this is common sense. Further, in respect to some enterprise in which a man may be tempted to embark by the promise of great profits or interest, but for which he must sacrifice some steady, but less promising occupation, it would be well for him to remember the text. Better the certainty, though small, than the profits of alluring amount, but which are problematical. In bearing certain difficulties, misrepresentations, and evils we may remember that efforts to remove them may only increase them. It is "better to bear the ills we have than to fly to others that we know not of."

III. IN JUDGING OF CERTAIN SYSTEMS the principle of the text is applicable. To-day we have to choose either rationalism, agnosticism, ultimate despair, universal suicide, or religion of some kind. We say better any form of religion than none, any vitality rather than death. Even if we have to decide between various forms of religion, we should seek that which promotes intellectual and spiritual life combined; but if we cannot find the spiritual advanced, and only cold formalism or intellectualism cultivated, then we must accept that which has life and warmth and love in it. Christianity is a system of doctrines concerning God and immortality. Anything that will keep alive the knowledge of the one and hope for the other is better than allowing it to die out.

IV. The principle of the text applies in respect to THE POSSESSION OF SPIRITUAL LIFE. To have it in however low degree is better than to have to confess to its absence. Spiritual life is characterized by peace through faith in the one great sacrifice, effort after purity, love of the Word, and practice of prayer and charity toward all. Many of the poor and unlearned are rich in this possession. They have that which is a permanent possession, too — something which will not be destroyed at death or dissipated by one's heirs. Better be the poorest and most despised on earth, with this spiritual life, than the "lion of society" without it. He that is "least in the kingdom of heaven "is greater than the lordliest worldling. Lord Byron sent to a lady who once wrote to him, pressing upon him the necessity of religion, a reply which is in harmony with what we have been saying. He said: "I thank you for your interest in me. I am bound to say that all who entertain a belief in God and religion have a tremendous advantage; for it not only affords consolations in this life, but even if there is no hereafter it smooths the downward course of life and takes from death its darkness and fear." Yet, knowing that the "living dog was better than the dead lion," that erratic, that proud, that highly-talented genius turned away and lived for the world and for misery. Alas! many imitate him even now.

(F. Hastings.)

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