Solomon had shown, in the close of the foregoing chapter, how good it is to make a comfortable use of the gifts of God's providence; now here he shows the evil of the contrary, having and not using, gathering to lay up for I know not what contingent emergencies to come, not to lay out on the most urgent occasions present. This is an evil which Solomon himself saw under the sun, Ecc 6:1. A great deal of evil there is under the sun. There is a world above the sun where there is no evil, yet God causes his sun to shine upon the evil as well as upon the good, which is an aggravation of the evil. God has lighted up a candle for his servants to work by, but they bury their talent as slothful and unprofitable, and so waste the light and are unworthy of it. Solomon, as a king, inspected the manners of his subjects, and took notice of this evil as a prejudice to the public, who are damaged not only by men's prodigality on the one hand, but by their penuriousness on the other. As it is with the blood in the natural body, so it is with the wealth of the body politic, if, instead of circulating, it stagnates, it will be of ill consequence. Solomon as a preacher observed the evils that were done that he might reprove them and warn people against them. This evil was, in his days, common, and yet then there was great plenty of silver and gold, which, one would think, should have made people less fond of riches; the times also were peaceable, nor was there any prospect of trouble, which to some is a temptation to hoard. But no providence will of itself, unless the grace of God work with it, cure the corrupt affection that is in the carnal mind to the world and the things of it; nay, when riches increase we are most apt to set our hearts upon them. Now concerning this miser observe,
I. The abundant reason he has to serve God with joyfulness and gladness of heart; how well God has done for him.
1. He has given him riches, wealth, and honour, Ecc 6:2. Note, (1.) Riches and wealth commonly gain people honour among men. Though it be but an image, if it be a golden image, all people, nations, and languages, will fall down and worship it. (2.) Riches, wealth, and honour, are God's gifts, the gifts of his providence, and not given, as his rain and sunshine, alike to all, but to some, and not to others, as God sees fit. (3.) Yet they are given to many that do not make a good use of them, to many to whom God does not give wisdom and grace to take the comfort of them and serve God with them. The gifts of common providence are bestowed on many to whom are denied the gifts of a special grace, without which the gifts of providence often do more hurt than good.
2. He wants nothing for his soul of all that he desires. Providence has been so liberal to him that he has as much as heart could wish, and more, Psa 73:7. He does not desire grace for his soul, the better part; all he desires is enough to gratify the sensual appetite, and that he has; his belly is filled with these hidden treasures, Psa 17:14.
3. He is supposed to have a numerous family, to beget a hundred children, which are the stay and strength of his house and as a quiver full of arrows to him, which are the honour and credit of his house, and in whom he has the prospect of having his name built up and having all the immortality this world can give him. They are full of children (Psa 17:14), while many of God's people are written childless and stripped of all.
4. To complete his happiness, he is supposed to live many years, or rather many days, for our life is to be reckoned rather by days than years: The days of his years are many, and so healthful is his constitution, and so slowly does age creep upon him, that they are likely to be many more. Nay, he is supposed to live a thousand years (which no man, that we know of, ever did), nay, a thousand years twice told, a small part of which time, one would think, were enough to convince men, by their own experience, of the folly both of those that expect to find all good in worldly wealth, and of those that expect to find any good in it but in using it.
II. The little heart he has to use this which God gives him, for the ends and purposes for which it was given him. This is his fault and folly that he renders not again according to the benefit done unto him, and serves not the Lord God his benefactor, with joyfulness and gladness of heart, in the abundance of all things. In the day of prosperity he is not joyful. Tristis es, et felix? - Art thou happy, yet sad? See his folly: 1. He cannot find in his heart to take the comfort of what he has himself. He has meat before him; he has wherewith to maintain himself and his family comfortably, but he has not power to eat thereof. His sordid niggardly temper will not suffer him to lay it out, no, not upon himself, no, not upon that which is most necessary for himself. He has not power to reason himself out of this absurdity, to conquer his covetous humour. He is weak indeed, who has not power to use what God gives him, for God gives him not that power, but withholds it from him, to punish him for his other abuses of his wealth. Because he has not the will to serve God with it, God denies him the power to serve himself with it. 2. He suffers those to prey upon him that he is under no obligation to: A stranger eateth it. This is the common fate of misers; they will not trust their own children perhaps, but retainers and hangers-on, that have the art of wheedling, insinuate themselves into them, and find ways of devouring what they have, or getting it to be left to them by their wills. God orders it so that a stranger eats it. Strangers devour his strength, Hos 7:9; Pro 5:10. This may be well called vanity, and an evil disease. What we have we have in vain if we do not use it; and that temper of mind is certainly a most wretched distemper which keeps us from using it. Our worst diseases are those that arise from the corruption of our own hearts. 3. He deprives himself of the good that he might have had of his worldly possessions, not only forfeits it, but robs himself of it and throws it from him: His soul is not filled with good, Ecc 6:3. He is still unsatisfied and uneasy. His hands are filled with riches, his barns filled, and his bags filled, but his soul is not filled with good, no, not with that good, for it is still craving more. Nay (Ecc 6:6), he has not seen good; he cannot so much as please his eye, for that is still looking further and looking with envy on those that have more. He has not even the sensible good of an estate. Though he looks not beyond the things that are seen, yet he looks not with any true pleasure even on them. 4. He has no burial, none agreeable to his rank, no decent burial, but the burial of an ass. Through the sordidness of his temper he will not allow himself a fashionable burial, but forbids it, or the strangers that have eaten him up leave him so poor, at last, that he has not wherewithal, or those to whom he leaves what he has have so little esteem for his memory, and are so greedy of what they are to have from him, that they will not be at the charges of burying him handsomely, which his own children, if he had left it to them, would not have grudged him.
III. The preference which the preacher gives to an untimely birth before him: An untimely birth, a child that is carried from the womb to the grave, is better than he. Better is the fruit that drops from the tree before it is ripe than that which is left to hang on till it is rotten. Job, in his passion, thinks the condition of an untimely birth better than his when he was in adversity (Job 3:16); but Solomon here pronounces it better than the condition of a worldling in his greatest prosperity, when the world smiles upon him. 1. He grants the condition of an untimely birth, upon many accounts, to be very sad (Ecc 6:4, Ecc 6:5): He comes in with vanity (for, as to this world, he that is born and dies immediately was born in vain), and he departs in darkness; little or no notice is taken of him; being an abortive, he has no name, or, if he had, it would soon be forgotten and buried in oblivion; it would be covered with darkness, as the body is with the earth. Nay (Ecc 6:5), he has not seen the sun, but from the darkness of the womb he is hurried immediately to that of the grave, and, which is worse than not being known to any, he has not known any thing, and therefore has come short of that which is the greatest pleasure and honour of man. Those that live in wilful ignorance, and know nothing to purpose, are no better than an untimely birth that has not seen the sun nor known any thing. 2. Yet he prefers it before that of a covetous miser. This untimely birth has more rest than the other, for this has some rest, but the other has none; this has no trouble and disquiet, but the other is in perpetual agitation, and has nothing but trouble, trouble of his own making. The shorter the life is the longer the rest; and the fewer the days, and the less we have to do with this troublesome world, the less trouble we know.
'Tis better die a child at four,
Than live, and die so at fourscore.
The reason he gives why this has more rest is because all go to one place to rest in, and this is sooner at his rest, Ecc 6:6. He that lives a thousand years goes to the same place with the child that does not live an hour, Ecc 3:20. The grave is the place we shall all meet in. Whatever differences there may be in men's condition in this world, they must all die, are all under the same sentence, and, to outward appearance, their deaths are alike. The grave is to one, as well as another, a land of silence, of darkness, of separation from the living, and a sleeping-place. It is the common rendezvous of rich and poor, honourable and mean, learned and unlearned; the short-lived and long-lived meet in the grave, only one rides post thither, the other goes by a slower conveyance; the dust of both mingles, and lies undistinguished.