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concerned in them; they may enable us to understand that very strong language of St. James, “ Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! The tongue is a little member, but it is a fire, a world of iniquity ; it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature, and is itself set on fire of hell."
I repeat it, these thoughts are very awful and very terrible, but they may, they must be profitable. Whom do they chiefly concern? The elder and the young. The elder, as regards their own conduct, and as servants of CHRIST, first of all; and next as regards their way of speaking to and before children. I say, elder people,-parents, for instance, and those who are grown up,-know by bitter experience that these things are true. I cannot but hope and think that there are numbers of persons who would give worlds, if they had them, to be able to forget many things they have seen and heard, and unsay much that they have said; but if that may not and cannot be, let them remember those who are under their charge, and as yet unspotted by the world : let them treat young persons, speak to them, speak before them, train them, and do their best to help us to teach them and train them as “ members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of Heaven.” A heathen once said, as a bad sign of evil times, that “there was no reverence for childhood.” We ought surely to reverence the innocence of those who are fresh from the Hands of their CREATOR, fresh from the Arms of their Saviour in Holy Baptism, and, above all, to remember His most solemn and affecting words, when He set a little child before His Disciples :—"Whoso shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.—Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones ; for I say unto you, That their Angels do always behold the face of My FATHER which is in Heaven,"
EARNESTNESS IN WORSHIP.
ECCLESIASTES v. I.
“Keep thy foot when thou goest unto the house of God, and be more ready
to hear, than to offer the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil."
THERE is no book more calculated to make us serious and earnest, if rightly understood and truly laid to heart, than the book of Ecclesiastes. There are, indeed, in the book many things of themselves hard to be understood, but the main drift of it is not at all hard to be understood ; which is, first, to impress upon us the utter vanity of all that we are apt to think so much of—the things under the sun, and so to lead us to that of which we think too little—the world unseen ; to make us feel the great solemn truth, that the time is short, the fashion of this world passeth away; that all go unto one place, all are of the dust, and all turn unto dust again; that there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave whither we are going, --each is going, he knows not how soon! However hard, therefore, many of the words of the Preacher are, and however dark some of his sayings are, thus much is, at least, easy and clear, that he is preaching to the world the vanity of all things under the sun. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better? For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth like a shadow ?” This is like the key.note of the whole strain ; a sort of sad melancholy air, which seems, as we read or hear it, to pierce to the very inmost soul, and make us cry out with the holy Psalmist, “O, remember how short my time is ; wherefore hast Thou made all men for nought ?”
Any one who really ventures to look upon this world of sin and sorrow as it is, and to reflect how fast the fashion of it passes away, might sit down and read this book of Ecclesiastes, and listen to it like melancholy music, till he might almost dream his short vain life away, in meditating with a mixture of awe and astonishment on the frail, and uncertain, and perishing condition of all things under the sun. Some, perhaps, might be tempted to think nothing of any importance; as if, time being short, and life given us for enjoyment, we have little to do but to make the most of it, whilst it lasts. So did the impious, described in the book of Wisdom, “ Reasoning with themselves, but not aright, they said, Our life is short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no remedy. Our time is a very shadow that passeth away, and after our end there is no returning : Come on then, let us enjoy the good things that are present; let us crown ourselves with rose-buds before they be withered; i. e. “ let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." These words were written with an eye to those, who, before the coming of our LORD, chose to be unbelieving and dissolute. Because they must soon, very soon, leave the world, therefore they determined to lose no time, but gave themselves up, as many Christians do now, to lewd pleasures and riotous mirth, and plunged themselves deeper and deeper in sin.
What passed across their minds was the extreme shortness of life, and precariousness of enjoyment: thus reasoned they with themselves, but "not aright." For what is the only real true lesson which the vanity of all things ought to teach us ? the necessity of being deeply serious, and in earnest about the one thing needful—our religion; that only thing which is of any lasting consequence.
And thus he reasoned who reasoned " aright.” The wisest man, who begins this wonderful book with the solemn sentence, “Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” ends it by telling us what alone is not vanity, and what the vanity of all things else should warn us, while we have time, to embrace and hold fastnamely, true holiness, and its end everlasting life. “Hear,” he
“ the conclusion of the whole matter : Fear God, and keep His commandments,” for this is the whole, the whole duty, the whole happiness, or as it is in one word, “ the whole of man,” both in time and in eternity. For this he was created, for this he was born, and sent into the world, to live to God's glory, and to do His will; to this all his powers of body and soul should be directed, sanctified, and governed, “to fear Gov, and keep His commandments.” And what is said of these? That they will last for ever. • The fear of the LORD is clean, and endureth for ever :" we are to serve Him in fear and reverence here, as we hope to see Him in that eternal world where Angels, his best and purest servants, veil their faces in His Presence. Again, “ He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever," i. e. he who abideth in CHRIST, as a member of His Body, and guided by His Eye, and sanctified by His SPIRIT, has in him life, and a seed of immortality: to him God's commandment is life everlasting. Thus it is, that the Psalmist so touchingly says, contrasting our frailty and vanity with God's eternal never failing mercy, and showing us our great business in this short life, to fear Him, and keep His commandments : “He knoweth whereof we are made, He remembereth that we are but dust. The days of man are but as grass, for he flourisheth as a flower of the field; for as soon as the wind goeth over it it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more; but the merciful goodness of the LORD endureth for ever and ever upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness upon children's children;" and he adds, even upon such as keep His covenant, and think upon His commandments to do them.”
I have said thus much about the Book of Ecclesiastes, from which the text is taken : it teaches us the vanity of things temporal, only to lead us on more earnestly to things eternal. Of this world, it says, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity;" of the next world, it might seem to say, verity of verities, all is verity.” Here nothing is real, there every thing is real; and whatever does not help us to this great end, “to fear God and to keep His commandments,” and prepare ourselves for His Presence, and to abide His Judgment, is a dream, and something worse than a dream.
It is not merely that Heaven and earth shall pass away; but it is because we belong to a kingdom which shall not pass away, that
we are to serve God with reverence and godly fear. It is not merely because every man living is altogether vanity, but because each, during the few short years of his vain life, is on his trial, whether he will serve God or no, that his whole business is to keep God's Commandments. It is not that time is so short, but that Eternity depends on it; it is not that death is so certain, but that Judgment comes after it.
This it is which makes every moment we have spared us, every thing we do, every
word we utter, every thought we cherish, of so vast unutterable importance. It is because “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” It is because the things which are not seen are eternal.
We have seen that the great lesson of the book is, that nothing is of importance which does not in some way or other lead us more devoutly to fear God, and keep His commandments.” The next sentence, which tells us, that every thing we do shall be brought into judgment, makes every thing of importance, especially every act of religion, every thing we do, and say, and think. Whereas, the truth is, that what ought to be our best and most solemn acts in life, unless we are very careful indeed, may become “vanities," as much as the vainest. Thus, the Wise man seems to give specimens of things, which in themselves are vain, but which, by a holy use, may be turned to good account, and made not vain ; e. g. riches, which, hoarded up, are vanity, and ill-spent, are vanity, but of which, spent well and in the fear of God, and according to His will, our Lord says, we may make to ourselves friends. On the other hand, he seems to warn us, that the most solemn acts in life, in particular the acts of religion, our behaviour in coming to God's House and Service, may be vanity itself: i.e. as the text calls it," the sacrifice of fools,” who neither know nor care what they are about, and so " consider not that they do evil.”
Now, it is sad enough, that Christians cannot be brought, by laying to heart the vanity of all things, of the shortness of time, of the certainty of death and judgment, to fear God, and keep His commandments, and provide for eternity. But it is yet more sad to think, that those most solemn acts of their lives which should impress them most with the fear of God, and bring them most in sight of death and judgment, should be in any way trifled with, and made vain, or worse than vain. Yet that they