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BY REV. I. S. SPENCER, D. D.
Brooklyn, N. Y.
HATRED OF LIFE.
“Therefore I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is griev
ous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.”—Ecclesiastes 2: 17.
We directed your attention to this passage on a former occasion. At that time, we desired to lay the foundation of a just interpretation of it. We could not then do more in the space of time your indulgence allows to us. We propose now a more close attention to the text itself. But it will be necessary to advert to the principle we then laid down-a principle needful to be kept steadily in mind by any and every man, who would have a right understanding of the book of Ecclesiastes.
The principle was this : that Solomon wrote this book to persuade men, especially young men, to religion, by an argument drawn from his own life. On the ground of that life, he holds up the world before the eye of a young man, simply to have him look at it as it is, in all its forms and promise, and then make up his mind whether it is worth the consideration he gives to it, while for its sake, he continues in his irreligion, and does not seek first the favor of God. To show the world in its just light, Solomon speaks as an old practitioner, and an old observer-a man of feelings and of eyes. And while he adverts so constantly throughout the book to his own experience and observation, as a man who had tried riches and pomp and pleasure, and who had lived long enough to see all that the wide-spread shiftings and fluctuations of this world can heave up; he distinguishes three points of his own heart's history :
First, Sometimes he tells what he felt and thought, at the period when he was going on in the full tide of worldly enjoyment and hope:
Second, Sometimes he expresses the sentiments he entertained at the period when he had found that the world could not answer his purpose, and found himself heart-sick and disgusted with it all; and before he had turned to God, placing his affections and directing his aims upon something better than earth :
Third, Sometimes he expresses the sentiments he entertained now ; when he had chosen “the fear of God” and “the keeping of his commandments;" and when, as an old hand in the matter, he could tell irreligious young people what the world's offers were good for; and what was the only thing that was worth living for.
The text before us expresses the sentiments he entertained in the second of these periods, which we have denominated the period of disgust. You perceive he speaks of the past-he speaks of himself-he speaks as a man of experience and observation : “I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” You perceive, he saw the world in its true light, so far as it is considered by itself, and not considered in its relation to another. He was heart-sick of it all; he even hated life ; i. e. he was disgusted with it-he saw it useless, and found it distasteful. Things met his eyes which threw a cast of vanity over all human existence; and feelings came up in his heart, which made even life itself in such a world as this, a sickening portion, a burden, an empty and distressful dream. So he felt without religion. So he found life. So he would have all the irreligious feel. So he would assure them that they shall find life, sooner or later, just as surely as they live in this world without God. Sooner or later, (much as they love the world, and eagerly as they pursue it,) they shall half wish, or quite wish, they had never lived at all.
Let us enter into this subject. Let us spread out this lesson. Let us cast our eyes over the whole scenes of an irreligious life, and see if anywhere we can discern anything which ought not to make an irreligious man sympathize wiih Solomon in his period of disgust-I hated life.
Not to exhaust this subject, but to give some hints of its extent, we name to you six ideas:
1. The confusion and darkness which cover life ;
6. Failure of even that intellectual excellence, which rises above “ amusements” and sensuality.
I. It needs no argument to prove that the dispensations of God are often shrouded in impenetrable darkness. But the depth of that midnight hovers over the head of an irreligious man. God's promises cast light where nothing else can; and one of the present, and often realized advantages of religion, is to be found in the fact, that the Divine dispensations are all of them confirmatory of the Divine promises, and all illustrative of their significance. There is not a thing so strange, a distress so deep, a night so dark, but the very unacceptableness of the matter brings along with it to the Christian some lesson of profit, as it bears on an immortality to come, or some balın of comfort, as God stands by his people in the furnace of trial. With the wicked, with the worldly, it is not so. They read time by the light of time's own torch, flickering and fitful. They read the world aside from the light cast back upon it from the anticipated fires of its coming conflagration. Hence they cannot read rightly. Time, the world, life, are all misunderstood; and so misunderstood by an irreligious man, that he is compelled to be disgusted with life, or else act very much on the proposal of licentiousness, let us eat and drink for to-morrow we shall die—(Is. 22: 13.)
How can a man be satisfied here, or be anything better than sickened with life, when at every glance over society, his eyes meet with instances of virtue depressed, and vice prosperous ? Where is the equity in this ? On what principle is it, that the man who has done most good to society is often least rewarded and least esteemed by society; and the man who has done most evil to his generation shall be the very man upon whom earth confers most of her advantages, and men of the world lavish most of their smiles? The wicked often prosper. The righteous often suffer. Confusion seems to reign over life. As a man looks upon it, his eyes behold strange things; and as he thinks in the days of his youth, of entering upon that capricious scenes wherein awards are distributed, not according to merit, to industry, to worth ; how can he avoid being disheartened and disgusted with a life which proposes to him, he knows not what? He has no religion. He cannot think or feel on religious principles. He sees only uncertainty and confusion. On the one hand, he beholds men, whom he is compelled to despise, seated in high places of honor and trust; and on the other hand, he beholds men, whose transactions are detestable, gifted with every desired prosperity. He says to himself “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to the men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all”—(9:11). So he thinks. He knows no better. He sees no farther. And can you wonder, that he should be thoroughly heart-sick of a life, which he must go and spend amid such a scene of turmoil, confusion, and uncertainty? Is it any wonder, if, disgusted with all that life and the world can offer, he should just let time and chance dispose of them as they will ? Or if he looks forward to the end, all the end that his now worldly soul cares anything about, how can he avoid dissatisfaction, the most perfect disgust with life, while he says, as man “came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to God as he came, and shall take nothing of his labor, which he may carry away in his hand? And this is a sore evil, that in all points, as he came so he shall go; and what profit hath he that hath labored for the wind? All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.”—(5: 15-17.) How can he
also the one under the sun, that i this is an evil amond he
avoid disgust with life, while his lips, untaught in the language of Israel, are saying, (9: 2-5.) “ all things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not; as is the good so is the sinner, and he that sweareth as he that feareth an oath : this is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all; yea also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead : for to him that is joined to all the living there is hope ; for a living dog is better than a dead lion : for the living know they shall die; but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward, for the memory of them is forgotten ?"As the mind of this irreligious man sweeps over all human life, from the time of man's birth in nakedness, down to the period when time has worn the letters from his tomb-stone, and the memory of all is alike for gotten ; is it any wonder, if such a life disgusts him? if, sick at heart, he turns away from its darkness, distresses and perishing memory? Life, the world, time, were never designed to be read in their own light simply. They were designed to be read in the full blaze of eternity. A wise man cannot be anything else than dissatisfied with life, while all his ideas linger on things this side the tomb. He may prosper here, he may not. And whether he does or not, he deems a matter of chance,-and since all die alike and alike are forgotten, a matter of indifference. He is dissatisfied with the world : he is dissatisfied with God when he thinks of Him; and dissatisfied with himself, whether he considers his experience or contemplates his prospects. “I hated life, because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me."--He should look beyond the sun,-beyond the world,-beyond time. His disgust with life cannot be easily cured in any other method. Eternity alone can explain the darkness and disorders of time.
II. After all the earthly bounties of God, and all the provisions He has made to meet the wants, capacities, and tastes of our common humanity; there never yet has been a man who arrived at anything like a full satisfaction. This was one of Solomon's stings of experience. He tried hard to attain contentment. He run the full round of pleasure. He tried wealth. He tried honor. He tried pomp and splendor. He tried science. He tried wine. He was resolved to be happy: “ whatever mine eyes desired I kept not from them; I withheld not my heart from any joy, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor, and this was my portion of all my labor”-(2: 10.) But it all would not do. He tried in vain. His hopes were blasted, and his heart saddened and sickened by the very profusion in which he sought satisfaction. And then he sums up the matter in a method most instructive to a votary of the world: “I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on all the labor that I had labored to do, and behold all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun”—(2:11.) "I hated life.”—The difference between Solomon and our worldlings is this : He succeeded; most of our worldlings fail! He was disgusted by success ; most of our worldlings are disgusted by failure! His disgust with life bore off his mind towards the life that is to come ; THEIR disgust, confined to experienced things, and not calling their thoughts to things hoped for, only fastens their mind more fixedly on the life that now is. But it will all be in vain. They cannot compel the world to satisfy them. They will be as much disgusted when the next year is closing upon them as they are now, when the last sands of this are falling, and when their hearts are so far from satisfaction. No matter what a worldly man attains, it does not answer his purpose. It disappoints him. It cheats him. It cheats him just as much in successes as in failures, “ neither is his eye satisfied with riches”-(4: 8.) And it is a thousand wonders, that he does not become more disgusted with life than he is, and sooner disgusted. It is a thousand wonders that he does not perceive that his dissatisfaction springs, not from the limitation of his successes, but from the very nature of the objects he pursues. Such objects never can satisfy him. Give hiin anything and he will crave more. And. if he would only stop now, and take one sober thought about the ashes, the phantom, the dream he is pursuing, he could not avoid being disgusted with a life distressfully expended on such vanities. Every unbeliever in the world would be disgusted with life, if he would only notice the emptiness of that for which he is spending it. He is doomed-no, he dooms himself, to walk in a valley of trouble. Its end is as dark as its portion is troublesome; and it is no wonder, that as long as he is an irreligious man his most sober and deep thought compels him to wish or half wish, that he had never lived at all!- There is but one rock of repose for an immortal soul,—and that rock is Christ.
III. The same, or a worse species of dissatisfaction with life may very well result from what is often experienced amid once valued and sought intimacies and attachments.--Let us do the melancholy justice. Let us not attribute all their downcast feelings to a dark and gloomy disposition, nor to the east wind that has shattered their nerves. Where is the man, whose heart has not saddened at the recollection of professions once made to him ? Who is there that has not found occasion to exclaim, what a world ! what friendships !-what friends! How soon their affections cool! How readily they fly from me in trouble! They could love me in prosperity, but they forsake me in adversity! Perfidious wretches ! They could bask in the sunshine of my favor, when my favor was good for anything for them; they could de