Charles Simeon Commentary - Ecclesiastes 7:10 - 7:10

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Ecclesiastes 7:10 - 7:10

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Ecc_7:10. Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.

IN the writings of Solomon we find many maxims, which, if uttered by an uninspired man, would be controverted; but to which, as suggested by inspiration from God, we submit without gainsaying. That which is delivered in the passage before us does not, at first sight, carry its own evidence along with it: but the more it is investigated, the more will it appear to be a dictate of sound wisdom, and worthy of universal acceptation. That we may derive from it the full benefit which it is calculated to impart, let us consider,

I.       What is the inquiry which is here discouraged—

It is not every comparison of existing circumstances with the past, that is here reprobated—

[In many situation! we may, with the utmost propriety, institute an inquiry into the reasons of any change which may have taken place. A man, in relation to his own temporal concerns, would be very unwise if he neglected to do so. Suppose, for instance, his business, which was formerly in a very prosperous state, have failed, can we condemn him for inquiring into the occasion of that failure? Should we not think him worthy of severe blame. if he did not labour to find out the cause of this change in his circumstances: in order, if possible, to apply a remedy before it was too late — — — Nor is all inquiry precluded in relation to the concerns of the nation. If there have been a plain and visible decline in the national prosperity, all who are affected by it are entitled, with modesty, to inquire whence that decline has arisen: and to express to those who are in authority their sentiments respecting it; and to point out what they conceive to be the most judicious and effectual means of remedying the existing evils — — — In reference to the concerns of the soul, to neglect such inquiries would be the height of folly and wickedness. Suppose a person to have formerly walked with God, and experienced much of His presence in his soul, and now to have become destitute of all spiritual life and comfort: should not he ask. “Wherefore were the former days better than these?” Yes: to examine into this matter is his bounden duty. The Apostle says. “Let a man examine himself:” and the Lord Jesus counsels the Ephesian Church. “when they had left their first love, to remember from whence they had fallen, and to repent, and do their first works [Note: Rev_2:5.].” So that it is clear, that the prohibition respecting such inquiries is not universal, but must be limited to such occasions as Solomon had more especially in view.]

The comparisons which are here discouraged, are those which are the mere effusions of discontent—

[In every age, discontented men have been forward to make this inquiry; “What is the cause that the former days were better than these?” They make no endeavour to ascertain the correctness of their sentiments: but, taking for granted that they are right, they demand the reason of so strange a phenomenon. Now it is a curious fact, that this is the habit of discontented men in every age. Those who are now advanced in life, can remember, that, in their early days, the very same clamour was made by discontented men as at this hour: and, if we go back to every preceding generation, we shall find the same complaints respecting the deterioration of the times: but we shall never arrive at that time, when the people confessed themselves to be in that exalted state in which our imaginations place them. Certainly, if ever there was a time and a place that might be specified as that happy æ ra when there was no occasion for complaint, it was the state of the Jews in the days of Solomon: for, in respect of peace and prosperity, there never was a nation to be compared with the Jews at that time. Yet, behold, it was at that time, and under those circumstances, that the reproof was given: “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former times were better than these?” Hence, then, we see what is the inquiry which Solomon discourages: it is that which has no just foundation, and which is the offspring of spleen and discontent.]

These distinctions being duly adverted to, we are prepared to see,

II.      Why the making of it is unwise—

I will assign two reasons: it is unwise, because,

1.       It is erroneous in its origin—

[It is not true that former times, on a large and extended scale, were better than these. Improvements may have been made in some respects, and matters may have been deteriorated in others; or particular persons and places may be in less favourable circumstances now than formerly: but times have been much alike in all ages. There is in every situation a mixture of good and evil. To every man this is a chequered scene. There are no people loaded with unqualified goods nor are there any oppressed with unmitigated evil. But men know of former times only by report, and by very partial report too: whereas, existing circumstances they know by actual experience: and they are more observant of one evil, than of a hundred blessings.

In relation to our own times and country, the very reverse of what is here assumed is true. Never did the nation stand higher amidst the nations than at this day [Note: In 1822.]. Never was civil liberty held more sacred, or better regulated for the good of the community. Never did religion flourish in a greater extent. Never was there such a combination of all ranks and orders of men to diffuse religion and happiness over the face of the earth. Never were the wants and necessities of human nature provided for in such a variety of forms. There is not a trouble to which humanity is exposed, but societies are formed to prevent or to alleviate its pressure. Never were the blessings of education so widely diffused. In a word, such is the increase of all that is good amongst us, and such the efforts making to extend it over the face of the whole earth, that, instead of looking to former times as better than our own, we may rather hail the approach of the millennial period, when the Messiah himself shall reign, and diffuse peace and happiness over the face of the whole earth.]

2.       It is pernicious in its tendency—

[What is the tendency of this inquiry, but to hide from our eyes the blessings we enjoy, to magnify in our minds the evils we endure, and to render us dissatisfied even with God himself? It is notorious, that they who are most clamorous about the comparative excellence of former times, pass over all our present mercies as unworthy of notice. Nothing has any attraction for them, but some real or supposed evil. And their aim is, to diffuse the same malignant feeling throughout the whole community. And, though in their own immediate purpose they do not intend to complain of God himself, they do so in effect: for it is his providence that they arraign, and his dispensations that they criminate [Note: Exo_16:7. Num_14:27.]. “There is not evil in the city, any more than good, but God is the doer of it [Note: Amo_3:6.]:” and it were far more likely to be rectified through personal humiliation before him, than by intemperate and factious clamours against his instruments. In the midst of such complaints there is not a word to call forth gratitude to God, or even submission to his holy will. There is no recollection of our ill deserts, no admiration of God’s tender mercies, no encouragement to praise and thanksgiving. Nothing but murmuring is uttered, nothing but discontent is diffused. Whether, therefore, men consider their own happiness, or the happiness of the community, they will do well to abstain from this invidious inquiry; or, if at any time they feel disposed to make it. to ascertain, in the first instance, that the grounds of their inquiry are just.]

A word of advice shall close the present subject—

1.       Instead of complaining of the times, let us all endeavour to make them better—

[Much is in our power, for the improvement of the worst of times. It must be expected, in this distempered world, that troubles of some kind or other will arise; they cannot be wholly averted from individuals, or families, or nations. But. if all ranks of the community would unite, as they might well do, to lighten the burthens of each other, and to contribute, according to their respective abilities, to the happiness of the community, we should have little occasion to complain of present times, and none at all to institute invidious comparisons with former times.]

2.       Let us seek that which will render all times and seasons happy—

[Religion is a cure and antidote to every ill, whether of a public or private nature. Amongst those who were endued with piety in the Apostolic age, you find none who were “murmurers and complainers.” Their habit of mind is better expressed by those words of the Apostle, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere, and in all things, I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need [Note: Php_4:11-12.].” Having tasted of redeeming love, they are become comparatively indifferent to every thing else. Whatever they possess, they account on undeserved mercy: whatever they want, they regard as scarcely worthy of a thought. They know that “all things shall eventually work together for their good.” “They are hid, in the secret of their Saviour’s presence, from the strife of tongues: and whilst the minds of others are agitated with violent and malignant passions, theirs are “kept in perfect peace.” This, then, I would earnestly recommend to you: Let your first concern be about your own souls. Seek for reconciliation with your offended God; and endeavour to walk in the light of his countenance. Then, whatever others may do, you may look forward to better times, when all troubles shall have fled away, and your happiness be unalloyed in the bosom of your God.]