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curiosity. Some wish for knowledge, for the sake of notoriety; and this is but a low vanity. Some wish for knowledge, that they may make sale of it; and this is but a base covetousness. Some wish for knowledge, that they may improve others; and this is charity. Some wish for knowledge, that they may be improved themselves; and this is wisdom"." And again, our English moralist says, "Of the numbers who pass their time among books, very few read to be made wiser or better, apply any general reproof of vice to themselves, or try their own manners by axioms of justice. They purpose, either to consume those hours, for which they can find no other amusement, to gain or preserve that respect which learning has always obtained; or to gratify their curiosity with knowledge, which, like treasures buried and forgotten, is of no use to others or themselves." They, whose studies have no further end than this, must find as the preacher says, that "in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."
So too in the case of pleasure-there are few probably, who in the vain idleness of amusement, or more sadly in forbidden excess, have not felt as the heathen and atheistic poet has said, that,
"Medio de fonte leporum
Surgit amari aliquid, quod in ipsis floribus angat 9,"
7 Sup. Cant. Ser. xxxvi.
9 Lucret. lib. iv. 1126.
8 Johnson's Rambler, No. 87.
or, as Solomon expresses the same mournful truth, that, "Even in laughter the heart is sad, and the end of that mirth is heaviness."
Riches and power have been too often weighed in the moral balance to leave any doubt as to their relation to human happiness. Many amidst all the pride and pomp of wealth have testified how they have felt, that it has been to them but a precious bane, and that "Man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain; while he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them1.” Many a statesman even on the pinnacle of greatness has been ready to exclaim
"Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye."
How many in disappointment and disgrace have felt
“Had I but served my God with half the zeal
But though experience thus agrees with the assertion of the preacher as to the vanity of earthly pursuits, the inferences to which these alike lead us are then only just, when such desires are exalted into an undue importance, and not kept in subordination to the will of God. Solomon is far from intending to show, that all, which men do, or can
1 Ps. xxxix. 6.
2 Shak. Hen. VIII. Act iii. Scene 2.
do upon earth, is but vanity. We much misconstrue his meaning, if we understand it to be, that all the business and occupation of mankind, their toils and their pleasures, their knowledge, their pursuits, their hopes and their wishes, are but vexation of spirit; and that, do what man may, and endeavour what he can, there is indeed for him no profit under the sun.
"The fool it is," he
If this were his conclusion, the necessary consequence would be, that he would advocate a life of careless ease, or abstracted contemplation. But far from this, the life, that Solomon recommends is evidently one of action. says, "that foldeth his hands together," and again, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it in thy might." He therefore would show, that if the pursuits of men be vain, it is the fault of those who engage in them in such a manner as to make them so and if there be vanity and vexation of spirit on earth, it is because men will not remember, that earth is but a preparation for heaven. He only abases the wisdom of man, that he may magnify the counsels of God; and so bring us willingly to assent to that result, with which he sums up the whole. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."
The practical conclusion, that I would draw from this consideration of the meaning of Solomon, is to enforce the same lesson that he does, with the more certain sanction which our fuller revelation affords; and with the assistance of those means of practical obedience, supplied by our more perfect dispensation. Whatever obscurity may have rested upon the doctrine before, by the gospel at least, "life and immortality are brought to light." In Christ Jesus is both the certainty of the resurrection established, and the means set forth, by which we may attain to that resurrection in blessedness. Pure and sublime principles of conduct are laid down. High and ennobling motives are supplied. Great and gracious help is promised. And thus are a glorious end, fitting means, and a sufficient strength furnished for the whole course of life.
God has placed man on earth with the intention doubtless, that the things of earth should be his business and occupation here. He has done nothing in vain. Every thing is properly adapted to its end, and excellently fitted to display the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Almighty. The things of earth are good in themselves, and, when rightly used, tend only to good; since they contribute to the enjoyment of life, and are the means, in the use of which man is to exercise the faculties God has given him, and to prepare his nature for a higher and better state. But both these characters must
be taken together. Earthly things must not be viewed as the means of enjoyment only, but of improvement also. And, if they be regarded in this light, and used with this view, they are, by the grace of God, neither vanity, nor vexation of spirit. They are, on the contrary, the method, in which it has pleased the Almighty to try and prove the creatures he has made. They are the means, by which, while he guides them on through grace to glory, he gives them not only hope of an hereafter, but enjoyment here: so that he who uses this world as not abusing it, will, in whatever station he is placed, fulfil the purpose of God, who created him -be an humble instrument in advancing His glory; and, in so doing, secure to himself that due share of happiness, which it is permitted man to experience here on earth.
This is the conclusion to which the reflections of Solomon tend. And more specially still he says,
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes, but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”
There is something in this conclusion, which comes home to such a congregation as I am now addressing, with an especial force of personal application. Very many of those present are young men, now preparing to enter upon the respective