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19; Gal. i. : 15; stirring up the gift of God which is in us, 1 Tim. i. 6; and exquisite inspection into the objects of our investigation, that we may not, through our own negligence, be deficient in any desirable attainment, 1 Cor. xii. 31; xiv. 12. Twelfthly, it is the will of God, that even our honourable and necessary employments should be accompanied with sore travail, that we may be kept humble, weaned from the creature, and made more thankful for any assistance the Lord may afford us in our labours, and for any blessing attending them.
. 13. The study of the creatures is of excellent use to lead us to the knowledge of the Creator, Rom. i. 19; Ps. cxi. 2.
14. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
The former words shewed the exactness of Solomon's enquiry into natural and human things : that it was the labour of an aged convert (for he was drawn away from God in his old age, 1 Kings xi. 4.) and of a wise king' ; that it was an accurate and deep search, not loose or superficial; that it was undertaken with great impulse of heart, and with a special call of God: and now after all this he con
cludes, first, that he had seen, that is, diligently regarded and fully understood, as the issue of this enquiry, all the works done under the sun, Exod. iii. 3; Eccles. ii. 13, 14; namely, the several kinds of them, 1 Kings iv. 33. He had acquired as large and intuitive a knowledge as human curiosity or industry, with all suitable assistance, could attain: which appears not to be arrogant boast, but a true account of the fruit of his studies, the Holy Spirit testifying the same thing of him, 1 Kings iv. 29, 34 ; x. 23. Secondly, that he found all to be “ vanity and vexation of spirit;” not only vain and ineffectual to confer happiness, but what is worse, apt to bring much trouble and affliction into his heart who is too earnestly conversant with them. Interpreters give several explications of this word, evil or affliction of spirit: breach, contrition, torment of spirit, feeding upon or consuming the spirit, or vanity, or feeding on the wind, as fruitless labour is expressed, Hosea xii. 1; 1 Cor. ix. 26. Thus he applies his general conclusion, particularly to all kinds of knowledge, natural or moral. There is sore travail in its acquisition, danger of forgetting it, continual discovery of more ignorance in himself than was observed before, together with insufficiency and impossibility of perfecting the understanding, or satiating its
desires. These and many other considerations render knowledge itself altogether vain to the procuring of true happiness.
15. That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.
This is the cause of the vanity of knowledge, because it cannot rectify any thing in us which is amiss, nor supply any thing which we want to make us happy, Eccles. vii. 13. The wisest and most wealthy king, with all his power and information, was not able to remedy all the evils he saw, or to supply all the defects he could discover.
The words admit of two senses, first, in relation to knowledge itself, to shew its vanity and vexation: for, first, much of it is tormenting, intricate, and abstruse, so that it cannot be clearly and plainly demonstrated, but the mind in its various enquiries remains dark and unsatisfied: there are Svevónta, things hard to be understood, not only in the Scriptures, 2 Pet. iii. 16; but in the book of nature, Job xxviii. 20, 21; xxxvii. 14-16; xxxviii. 16–33. Innumerable are the defects of this kind; so that the things of which a man is ignorant, are infinitely more than those which he knows. Secondly, in re
lation to the efficacy of knowledge. The heart and life of man are naturally crooked and perverse, very wicked and deceitful, Jer. xvii. 9; Ps. cxxv. 5; and exceedingly defective, both in principles and in power to do good, Rom. iïi. 23; 2 Cor. iii. 5. Now the most exquisite natural knowledge is vot able to rectify these evils, either by restoring man to his original integrity, or by supplying his numerous defects. Such knowledge will puff up, 1 Cor. viii. 1; but it will not sanctify, Rom. i. 20, 21, 32; Jude v. 18. The Lord indeed, by his grace and spirit, effects both, Luke iii. 5; Ps. Ixxxiv. 11; 1 Thes. ii. 10; Ephes. iii. 19; 1 Cor. i. 5: but no natural or acquired knowledge is sufficient to produce this important change. And as knowledge cannot rectify what is amiss in man, so it cannot restore order and purity in the world : sin bas brought much disorder, corruption, and confusion upon the whole creation, Rom. viii. 20; innumerable are the defects and failings every where; and the wisdom of man cannot correct any of them, but must leave them as it found them, vain and imperfect. So it will be until the time of the restitution of all things, when God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and deliver the creature from the bondage of corruption into a glorious liberty, Acts iii. 21 ; 2 Peter iii. 13. All this he affirms of the most excellent natural knowledge: how much more vain and unprofitable, therefore, are the perverse and impertinent studies of many, which are entirely destitute of solidity or usefulness, Col. ii. 8; 1 Tim. vi. 4, 5; Rom. i. 22; 1 Cor. i. 20.
16. I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem; yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
17. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
This is a prolepsis, in which he anticipates an objection, that the knowledge of the creatures might make a man happy; and that if he had not attained it, it was not from any defect in them, but from the narrowness of his own understanding. To which he replies, that if any person could have obtained felicity from them, it must have fallen to his lot, on account both of the greatness of his endowments and of his indefatigable industry; as ch. ii. 12. “I communed with mine heart:" I cast up