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The title of the book, ver. 1.
The general doctrine, All is vanity, ver. 2, 3.
Proved from the shortness of life, and the perpetual changes of all
the creatures, ver. 4 - 7.
From the unsatisfying toil of men, and the return of the same things
over again, ver. 8 - 11.
The vanity of knowledge, ver. 12 - 18.
1: The preacher - Who was not only a king, but also a teacher of God's
people: who having sinned grievously in the eyes of all the world, thought
himself obliged to publish his repentance, and to give publick warning to
all, to avoid those rocks upon which he had split.
2: Vanity - Not only vain, but vanity in the abstract,
which denotes extreme vanity. Saith - Upon deep consideration and long
experience, and by Divine inspiration. This verse contains the general
proposition, which he intends particularly to demonstrate in the following
book. All - All worldly things. Is vanity - Not in themselves for they
are God's creatures and therefore good in their kinds, but in reference
to that happiness, which men seek and expect to find in them. So they
are unquestionably vain, because they are not what they seem to be, and
perform not what they promise, but instead of that are the occasions of
innumerable cares, and fears, and sorrows, and mischiefs. Nay, they are
not only vanity but vanity of vanities, the vainest vanity, vanity in
the highest degree. And this is redoubled, because the thing is certain,
beyond all possibility of dispute.
3: What profit - What real and abiding benefit? None at all. All is
unprofitable as to the attainment of that happiness which all men are
enquiring after. His labour - Heb. his toilsome labour, both of body
and mind in the pursuit of riches, or pleasures, or other earthly things.
Under the sun - In all worldly matters, which are usually transacted in the
day time, or by the light of the sun. By this restriction he implies that
the happiness which in vain is sought for in this lower world, is really to
be found in heavenly places and things.
4: Passeth - Men continue but for one, and that a short age, and then
they leave all their possessions, and therefore they cannot be happy here,
because happiness must needs be unchangeable and eternal; or else the
certain knowledge of the approaching loss of all these things will rob
a man of solid contentment in them. Abideth - Through all successive
generations of men; and therefore man is more mutable than the very earth
upon which he stands, and which, together with all the comforts which he
enjoyed in it, he leaves behind to be possessed by others.
5: The sun - The sun is in perpetual motion, rising, setting, and
rising again, and so constantly repeating its course in all succeeding
days, and years, and ages; and the like he observes concerning the
winds and rivers, (Ec 1:6,7), and the design of these similitudes seem
to be; to shew the vanity of all worldly things, and that man's mind
can never be satisfied with them, because there is nothing in the world
but a constant repetition of the same things, which is so irksome, that
the consideration thereof hath made some persons weary of their lives;
and there is no new thing under the sun, as is added in the foot of the
account, ver.(9), which seems to be given us as a key to understand the
meaning of the foregoing passages. And this is certain from experience
that the things of this world are so narrow, and the mind of man so vast,
that there must be something new to satisfy the mind; and even delightful
things by too frequent repetition, are so far from yielding satisfaction,
that they grow tedious and troublesome.
6: The wind - The wind also sometimes blows from one quarter of the
world, and sometimes from another; successively returning to the same
quarters in which it had formerly been.
7: Is not full - So as to overflow the earth. Whereby also he
intimates the emptiness of mens minds, notwithstanding all the abundance
of creature comforts. Rivers come - Unto the earth in general, from whence
they come or flow into the sea, and to which they return by the reflux of
the sea. For he seems to speak of the visible and constant motion of the
waters, both to the sea and from it, and then to it again in a perpetual
8: All things - Not only the sun, and winds, and rivers, but all other
creatures. Labour - They are in continual restlessness and change, never
abiding in the same state. Is not satisfied - As there are many things in
the world vexatious to men, so even those things which are comfortable, are
not satisfactory, but men are constantly desiring some longer continuance
or fuller enjoyment of them, or variety in them. The eye and ear are
here put for all the senses, because these are most spiritual and refined,
most curious and inquisitive, most capable of receiving satisfaction, and
exercised with more ease and pleasure than the other senses.
9: There is - There is nothing in the world but a continued and
tiresome repetition of the same things. The nature and course of the
beings and affairs of the world, and the tempers of men, are the same
that they ever were and shall ever be; and therefore, because no man
ever yet received satisfaction from worldly things, it is vain for any
person hereafter to expect it. No new thing - In the nature of things,
which might give us hopes of attaining that satisfaction which hitherto
things have not afforded.
11: No remembrance - This seems to be added to prevent the objection,
There are many inventions and enjoyments unknown to former ages. To this he
answers, This objection is grounded only upon our ignorance of ancient times
which if we exactly knew or remembered, we should easily find parallels to
all present occurrences. There are many thousands of remarkable speeches
and actions done in this and the following ages which neither are, nor ever
will be, put into the publick records or histories, and consequently must
unavoidably be forgotten in succeeding ages; and therefore it is just and
reasonable to believe the same concerning former ages.
12: I was king - Having asserted the vanity of all things in the
general, he now comes to prove his assertion in those particulars wherein
men commonly seek, and with greatest probability expect to find, true
happiness. He begins with secular wisdom. And to shew how competent a
judge he was of this matter, he lays down this character, That he was the
preacher, which implies eminent knowledge; and a king, who therefore
had all imaginable opportunities and advantages for the attainment of
happiness, and particularly for the getting of wisdom, by consulting all
sorts of books and men, by trying all manner of experiments; and no ordinary
king, but king over Israel, God's own people, a wise and an happy people,
whose king he was by God's special appointment and furnished by God, with
singular wisdom for that great trust; and whose abode was in Jerusalem
where were the house of God and the most wise and learned of the priests
attending upon it, and the seats of justice, and colleges or assemblies of
the wisest men of their nation. All these concurring in him, which rarely
do in any other men, make the argument drawn from his experience more
13: I gave my heart - Which phrase denotes his serious and fixed
purpose, and his great industry in it. To search - To seek diligently and
accurately. By wisdom - By the help of that wisdom wherewith God had
endowed me. Concerning - Concerning all the works of God and men in
this lower world; the works of nature; the works of Divine providence;
and the works and depths of human policy. This travel - This difficult
and toilsome work of searching out these things, God hath inflicted as a
just punishment upon man for his eating of the tree of knowledge. To
be exercised - To employ themselves in the painful study of these things.
14: Seen - Diligently observed. Vanity - Not only unsatisfying, but
also an affliction or breaking to a man's spirit.
15: Crooked - All our knowledge serves only to discover our miseries,
but is utterly insufficient to remove them; it cannot rectify those
disorders which are either in our own hearts and lives, or in the men and
things of the world. Wanting - In our knowledge. Or, counted out to
us from the treasures of human learning. But what is wanting, will still
be so. And that which is wanting in our own knowledge, is so much that
it cannot be numbered. The more we know, the more we see of our own
16: Communed - I considered within myself. Great - In wisdom.
Have gotten - As I had a large stock of wisdom infused into me by God,
so I have greatly improved it by conversation, and study, and experience.
Than all - Whether governors, or priests, or private persons.
In Jerusalem - Which was then the most eminent place in the world for
17: To know - That I might throughly understand the nature and
difference of truth and error, of virtue and vice.
18: Grief - Or, displeasure within himself, and against his present
condition. Sorrow - Which he does many ways, because he gets his knowledge
with hard and wearisome labour, both of mind and body, with the consumption
of his spirits, and shortening of his life; because he is often deceived
with knowledge falsely so called, and often mistakes error for truth, and
is perplexed with manifold doubts, from which ignorant men are wholly
free; because he hath the clearer prospect into, and quicker sense of
his own ignorance, and infirmities, and disorders, and withal how vain
and ineffectual all his knowledge is for the prevention or removal of
them; and because his knowledge is very imperfect and unsatisfying, yet
increasing his thirst after more knowledge; lastly, because his knowledge
quickly fades and dies with him, and then leaves him in no better, and
possibly in a much worse condition than the meanest and most unlearned man
in the world.