Solomon is here drawing towards a close, and is loth to part till he has gained his point, and prevailed with his hearers, with his readers, to seek for that satisfaction in God only and in their duty to him which they can never find in the creature.
I. He repeats his text (Ecc 12:8), 1. As that which he had fully demonstrated the truth of, and so made good his undertaking in this sermon, wherein he had kept closely to his text, and both his reasons and his application were to the purpose. 2. As that which he desired to inculcate both upon others and upon himself, to have it ready, and to make use of it upon all occasions. We see it daily proved; let it therefore be daily improved: Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
II. He recommends what he had written upon this subject by divine direction and inspiration to our serious consideration. The words of this book are faithful, and well worthy our acceptance, for,
1. They are the words of one that was a convert, a penitent, that could speak by dear-bought experience of the vanity of the world and the folly of expecting great things from it. He was Coheleth, one gathered in from his wanderings and gathered home to that God from whom he had revolted. Vanity of vanities, saith the penitent. All true penitents are convinced of the vanity of the world, for they find it can do nothing to ease them of the burden of sin, which they complain of.
2. They are the words of one that was wise, wiser than any, endued with extraordinary measures of wisdom, famous for it among his neighbours, who all sought unto him to hear his wisdom, and therefore a competent judge of this matter, not only wise as a prince, but wise as a preacher - and preachers have need of wisdom to win souls.
3. He was one that made it his business to do good, and to use wisdom aright. Because he was himself wise, but knew he had not his wisdom for himself, any more than he had it from himself, he still taught the people that knowledge which he had found useful to himself, and hoped might be so to them too. It is the interest of princes to have their people well taught in religion, and no disparagement to them to teach them themselves the good knowledge of the Lord, but their duty to encourage those whose office it is to teach them and to speak comfortably to them, 2Ch 30:22. Let not the people, the common people, be despised, no, not by the wisest and greatest, as either unworthy or incapable of good knowledge: even those that are well taught have need to be still taught, that they may grow in knowledge.
4. He took a great deal of pains and care to do good, designing to teach the people knowledge. He did not put them off with any thing that came next to hand, because they were inferior people, and he a very wise man, but considering the worth of the souls he preached to and the weight of the subject he preached on, he gave good heed to what he read and heard from others, that, having stocked himself well, he might bring out of his treasury things new and old. He gave good heed to what he spoke and wrote himself, and was choice and exact in it; all he did was elaborate. (1.) He chose the most profitable way of preaching, by proverbs or short sentences, which would be more easily apprehended and remembered than long and laboured periods. (2.) He did not content himself with a few parables, or wise sayings, and repeat them again and again, but he furnished himself with many proverbs, a great variety of grave discourses, that he might have something to say on every occasion. (3.) He did not only give them such observations as were obvious and trite, but he sought out such as were surprising and uncommon; he dug into the mines of knowledge, and did not merely pick up what lay on the surface. (4.) He did not deliver his heads and observations at random, as they came to mind, but methodized them, and set them in order that they might appear in more strength and lustre.
5. He put what he had to say in such a dress as he thought would be most pleasing: He sought to find out acceptable words, words of delight (Ecc 12:10); he took care that good matter might not be spoiled by a bad style, and by the ungratefulness and incongruity of the expression. Ministers should study, not for the big words, nor the fine words, but acceptable words, such as are likely to please men for their good, to edification, 1Co 10:33. Those that would win souls must contrive how to win upon them with words fitly spoken.
6. That which he wrote for our instruction is of unquestionable certainty, and what we may rely upon: That which was written was upright and sincere, according to the real sentiments of the penman, even words of truth, the exact representation of the thing as it is. Those are sure not to miss their way who are guided by these words. What good will acceptable words do us if they be not upright and words of truth? Most are for smooth things, that flatter them, rather than right things, that direct them (Isa 30:10), but to those that understand themselves, and their own interest, words of truth will always be acceptable words.
7. That which he and other holy men wrote will be of great use and advantage to us, especially being inculcated upon us by the exposition of it, Ecc 12:11. Here observe, (1.) A double benefit accruing to us from divine truths if duly applied and improved; they are profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness. They are of use, [1.] To excite us to our duty. They are as goads to the ox that draws the plough, putting him forward when he is dull and quickening him, to amend his pace. The truths of God prick men to the heart (Act 2:37) and put them upon bethinking themselves, when they trifle and grow remiss, and exerting themselves with more vigour in their work. While our good affections are so apt as they are to grow flat and cool, we have need of these goads. [2.] To engage us to persevere in our duty. They are as nails to those that are wavering and inconstant, to fix them to that which is good. They are as goads to such as are dull and draw back, and nails to such as are desultory and draw aside, means to establish the heart and confirm good resolutions, that we may not sit loose to our duty, nor even be taken off from it, but that what good there is in us may be as a nail fastened in a sure place, Ezr 9:8. (2.) A double way of communicating divine truths, in order to those benefits: - [1.] By the scriptures, as the standing rule, the words of the wise, that is, of the prophets, who are called wise men, Mat 23:34. These we have in black and white, and may have recourse to them at any time, and make use of them as goads and as nails. By them we may teach ourselves; let them but come with pungency and power to the soul, let the impressions of them be deep and durable, and the will make us wise to salvation. [2.] By the ministry. To make the words of the wise more profitable to us, it is appointed that they should be impressed and fastened by the masters of assemblies. Solemn assemblies for religious worship are an ancient divine institution, intended for the honour of God and the edification of his church, and are not only serviceable, but necessary, to those ends. There must be masters of these assemblies, who are Christ's ministers, and as such are to preside in them, to be God's mouth to the people and theirs to God. Their business is to fasten the words of the wise, and drive them as nails to the head, in order to which the word of God is likewise as a hammer, Jer 23:29.
8. That which is written, and thus recommended to us, is of divine origin. Though it comes to us through various hands (many wise men, and many masters of assemblies), yet it is given by one and the same shepherd, the great shepherd of Israel, that leads Joseph like a flock, Psa 80:1. God is that one Shepherd, whose good Spirit indited the scriptures, and assists the masters of the assemblies in opening and applying the scriptures. These words of the wise are the true sayings of God, on which we may rest our souls. From that one Shepherd all ministers must receive what they deliver, and speak according to the light of the written word.
9. The sacred inspired writings, if we will but make use of them, are sufficient to guide us in the way of true happiness, and we need not, in the pursuit of that, to fatigue ourselves with the search of other writings (Ecc 12:12): “And further, nothing now remains but to tell thee that that of making many books there is no end,” that is, (1.) Of writing many books. “If what I have written, serve not to convince thee of the vanity of the world, and the necessity of being religious, neither wouldst thou be convinced if I should write ever so much.” If the end be not attained in the use of those books of scripture which God has blessed us with, neither should we obtain the end, if we had twice as many more; nay, if we had so many that the whole world could not contain them (Joh 21:25), and much study of them would but confound us, and would rather be a weariness to the flesh than any advantage to the soul. We have as much as God saw fit to give us, saw fit for us, and saw us fit for. Much less can it be expected that those who will not by these be admonished should be wrought upon by other writings. Let men write ever so many books for the conduct of human life, write till they have tired themselves with much study, they cannot give better instructions than those we have from the word of God. Or, (2.) Of buying many books, making ourselves master of them, and masters of what is in them, by much study; still the desire of learning would be unsatisfied. It will give a man indeed the best entertainment and the best accomplishment this world can afford him; but if we be not by these admonished of the vanity of the world, and human learning, among other things, and its insufficiency to make us happy without true piety, alas! there is no end of it, nor real benefit by it; it will weary the body, but never give the soul any true satisfaction. The great Mr. Selden subscribed to this when he owned that in all the books he had read he never found that on which he could rest his soul, but in the holy scripture, especially Tit 2:11, Tit 2:12. By these therefore let us be admonished.