Solomon had shown the vanity of pleasure, gaiety, and fine works, of honour, power, and royal dignity; and there is many a covetous worldling that will agree with him, and speak as slightly as he does of these things; but money, he thinks, is a substantial thing, and if he can but have enough of that he is happy. This is the mistake which Solomon attacks, and attempts to rectify, in these verses; he shows that there is as much vanity in great riches, and the lust of the eye about them, as there is in the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life, and a man can make himself no more happy by hoarding an estate than by spending it.
I. He grants that the products of the earth, for the support and comfort of human life, are valuable things (Ecc 5:9): The profit of the earth is for all. Man's body, being made of the earth, thence has its maintenance (Job 28:5); and that it has so, and that a barren land is not made his dwelling (as he has deserved for being rebellious, Psa 68:6), is an instance of God's great bounty to him. There is profit to be got out of the earth, and it is for all; all need it; it is appointed for all; there is enough for all. It is not only for all men, but for all the inferior creatures; the same ground brings grass for the cattle that brings herbs for the service of men. Israel had bread from heaven, angels' food, but (which is a humbling consideration) the earth is our storehouse and the beasts are fellow-commoners with us. The king himself is served of the field, and would be ill served, would be quite starved, without its products. This puts a great honour upon the husbandman's calling, that it is the most necessary of all to the support of man's life. The many have the benefit of it; the mighty cannot live without it; it is for all; it is for the king himself. Those that have an abundance of the fruits of the earth must remember they are for all, and therefore must look upon themselves but as stewards of their abundance, out of which they must give to those that need. Dainty meats and soft clothing are only for some, but the fruit of the earth is for all. And even those that suck the abundance of the seas (Deu 33:19) cannot be without the fruit of the earth, while those that have a competency of the fruit of the earth may despise the abundance of the seas.
II. He maintains that the riches that are more than these, that are for hoarding, not for use, are vain things, and will not make a man easy or happy. That which our Saviour has said (Luk 12:15), that a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses, is what Solomon here undertakes to prove by various arguments.
1. The more men have the more they would have, Ecc 5:10. A man may have but a little silver and be satisfied with it, may know when he has enough and covet no more. Godliness, with contentment, is great gain. I have enough, says Jacob; I have all, and abound, says St. Paul: but, (1.) He that loves silver, and sets his heart upon it, will never think he has enough, but enlarges his desire as hell (Hab 2:5), lays house to house and field to field (Isa 5:8), and, like the daughters of the horse-leech, still cries, Give, give. Natural desires are at rest when that which is desired is obtained, but corrupt desires are insatiable. Nature is content with little, grace with less, but lust with nothing. (2.) He that has silver in abundance, and has it increasing ever so fast upon him, yet does not find that it yields any solid satisfaction to his soul. There are bodily desires which silver itself will not satisfy; if a man be hungry, ingots of silver will do no more to satisfy his hunger than clods of clay. Much less will worldly abundance satisfy spiritual desires; he that has ever so much silver covets more, not only of that, but of something else, something of another nature. Those that make themselves drudges to the world are spending their labour for that which satisfies not (Isa 55:2), which fills the belly, but will never fill the soul, Eze 7:19.
2. The more men have the more occasion they have for it, and the more they have to do with it, so that it is as broad as it is long: When goods increase, they are increased that eat them, Ecc 5:11. The more meat the more mouths. Does the estate thrive? And does not the family at the same time grow more numerous and the children grow up to need more? The more men have the better house they must keep, the more servants they must employ, the more guests they must entertain, the more they must give to the poor, and the more they will have hanging on them, for where the carcase is the eagles will be. What we have more than food and raiment we have for others; and then what good is there to the owners themselves, but the pleasure of beholding it with their eyes? And a poor pleasure it is. An empty speculation is all the difference between the owners and the sharers; the owner sees that as his own which those about him enjoy as much of the real benefit of as he; only he has the satisfaction of doing good to others, which indeed is a satisfaction to one who believes what Christ said, that it is more blessed to give than to receive; but to a covetous man, who thinks all lost that goes beside himself, it is a constant vexation to see others eat of his increase.
3. The more men have the more care they have about it, which perplexes them and disturbs their repose, Ecc 5:12. Refreshing sleep is as much the support and comfort of this life as food is. Now, (1.) Those commonly sleep best that work hard and have but what they work for: The sleep of the labouring man is sweet, not only because he has tired himself with his labour, which makes his sleep the more welcome to him and makes him sleep soundly, but because he has little to fill his head with care about and so break his sleep. His sleep is sweet, though he eat but little and have but little to eat, for his weariness rocks him asleep; and, though he eat much, yet he can sleep well, for his labour gets him a good digestion. The sleep of the diligent Christian, and his long sleep, is sweet; for, having spent himself and his time in the service of God, he can cheerfully return to God and repose in him as his rest. (2.) Those that have every thing else often fail to secure a good night's sleep. Either their eyes are held waking or their sleeps are unquiet and do not refresh them; and it is their abundance that breaks their sleep and disturbs it, both the abundance of their care (as the rich man's who, when his ground brought forth plentifully, thought within himself, What shall I do? Luk 12:17) and the abundance of what they eat and drink which overcharges the heart, makes them sick, and so hinders their repose. Ahasuerus, after a banquet of wine, could not sleep; and perhaps consciousness of guilt, both in getting and using what they have, breaks their sleep as much as any thing. But God gives his beloved sleep.
4. The more men have the more danger they are in both of doing mischief and of having mischief done them (Ecc 5:13): There is an evil, a sore evil, which Solomon himself had seen under the sun, in this lower world, this theatre of sin and woe - riches left for the owners thereof (who have been industrious to hoard them and keep them safely) to their hurt; they would have been better without them. (1.) Their riches do them hurt, make them proud, secure, and in love with the world, draw away their hearts from God and duty, and make it very difficult for them to enter into the kingdom of heaven, nay, help to shut them out of it. (2.) They do hurt with their riches, which not only put them into a capacity of gratifying their own lusts and living luxuriously, but give them an opportunity of oppressing others and dealing hardly with them. (3.) Often they sustain hurt by their riches. They would not be envied, would not be robbed, if they were not rich. It is the fat beast that is led first to the slaughter. A very rich man (as one observes) has sometimes been excepted out of a general pardon, both as to life and estate, merely on account of his vast and overgrown estate; so riches often take away the life of the owners thereof, Pro 1:19.
5. The more men have the more they have to lose, and perhaps they may lose it all, Ecc 5:14. Those riches that have been laid up with a great deal of pains, and kept with a great deal of care, perish by evil travail, by the very pains and care which they take to secure and increase them. Many a one has ruined his estate by being over-solicitous to advance it and make it more, and has lost all by catching at all. Riches are perishing things, and all our care about them cannot make them otherwise; they make themselves wings and fly away. He that thought he should have made his son a gentleman leaves him a beggar; he begets a son, and brings him up in the prospect of an estate, but, when he dies, leaves it under a charge of debt as much as it is worth, so that there is nothing in his hand. This is a common case; estates that made a great show do not prove what they seemed, but cheat the heir.
6. How much soever men have when they die, they must leave it all behind them (Ecc 5:15, Ecc 5:16): As he came forth of his mother's womb naked, so shall he return; only as his friends, when he came naked into the world, in pity to him, helped him with swaddling-clothes, so, when he goes out, they help him with grave-clothes, and that is all. See Job 1:21; Psa 49:17. This is urged as a reason why we should be content with such things as we have, 1Ti 6:7. In respect of the body we must go as we came; the dust shall return to the earth as it was. But sad is our case if the soul return as it came, for we were born in sin, and if we die in sin, unsanctified, we had better never have been born; and that seems to be the case of the worldling here spoken of, for he is said to return in all points as he came, as sinful, as miserable, and much more so. This is a sore evil; he thinks it so whose heart is glued to the world, that he shall take nothing of his labour which he may carry away in his hand; his riches will not go with him into another world nor stand him in any stead there. If we labour in religion, the grace and comfort we get by that labour we may carry away in our hearts, and shall be the better for it to eternity; that is meat that endures. But if we labour only for the world, to fill our hands with that, we cannot take that away with us; we are born with our hands griping, but we die with them extended, letting go what we held fast. So that, upon the whole matter, he may well ask, What profit has he that has laboured for the wind? Note, Those that labour for the world labour for the wind, for that which has more sound than substance, which is uncertain, and always shifting its point, unsatisfying, and often hurtful, which we cannot hold fast, and which, if we take up with it as our portion, will no more feed us than the wind, Hos 12:1. Men will see that they have laboured for the wind when at death they find the profit of their labour is all gone, gone like the wind, they know not whither.
7. Those that have much, if they set their hearts upon it, have not only uncomfortable deaths, but uncomfortable lives too, Ecc 5:17. This covetous worldling, that is so bent upon raising an estate, all his days eats in darkness and much sorrow, and it is his sickness and wrath; he has not only no pleasure of his estate, nor any enjoyment of it himself, for he eats the bread of sorrow (Psa 127:2), but a great deal of vexation to see others eat of it. His necessary expenses make him sick, make him fret, and he seems as if he were angry that himself and those about him cannot live without meat. As we read the last clause, it intimates how ill this covetous worldling can bear the common and unavoidable calamities of human life. When he is in health he eats in darkness, always dull with care and fear about what he has; but, if he be sick, he has much sorrow and wrath with his sickness; he is vexed that his sickness takes him off from his business and hinders him in his pursuits of the world, vexed that all his wealth will not give him any ease or relief, but especially terrified with the apprehensions of death (which his diseases are the harbingers of), of leaving this world and the things of it behind him, which he has set his affections upon, and removing to a world he has made no preparation for. He has not any sorrow after a godly sort, does not sorrow to repentance, but he has sorrow and wrath, is angry at the providence of God, angry at his sickness, angry at all about him, fretful and peevish, which doubles his affliction, which a good man lessens and lightens by patience and joy in his sickness.