Charles Simeon Commentary - Ecclesiastes 7:16 - 7:16

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Ecclesiastes 7:16 - 7:16

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:



Ecc_7:16. Be not righteous orermuch.

THIS is the sheet-anchor of ungodly men. They hate to see a zeal for God and therefore endeavour to repress it. From the dlays of Cain to this hour, they who have been born after the flesh, have persecuted those who have been born after the Spirit [Note: Gal_4:29.]. And when they find that neither contempt nor threat-enings will avail any tiling, they will venture, as Satan before them did [Note: Mat_4:6.], to draw their weapons from the very armoury of God.

It must be confessed, that the sense of this passage is not obvious at first sight; and it has been variously interpreted by commentators. Some have thought it to be the speech of an infidel recommending Solomon. in reply to his observation in the preceding verse, to avoid an excess either in religion or in vice. But it is evidently a serious admonition given by Solomon himself. In ver. 15. he mentions two things which had appeared strange to him, namely, Many righteous people suffering even unto death for righteousness sake; and, many wicked people, whose lives were justly forfeited, eluding, either through force or fraud, the punishment they deserved. From hence he takes occasion to caution both the righteous and the wicked; the righteous, ver. 16, not to bring trouble on themselves by an injudicious way of manifesting their religion, or to “suffer as evil-doers;” and the wicked, ver. 17, not to presume upon always escaping with impunity; for that justice will sooner or later surely overtake them. He then recommends to both of them to pay strict attention to the advice given them, and to cultivate the true fear of God, ver. 18, as the best preservative against wickedness on the one hand, and indiscretion on the other.

This being the sense of the whole passage, we proceed to the consideration of the text; in illustrating which we shall,

I.       Explain the caution—

The misconstruction put upon the text renders it necessary to explain,

1.       To what the caution does not extend—

[Solomon certainly never intended to caution us against loving God too much; seeing that we are commanded to “love him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength [Note: Mar_12:30.]:” nor against serving the Lord Jesus Christ too much; since he “died for us, that we might live to him [Note: 2Co_5:15.];” and we should be “willing to be bound or even to die for his sake [Note: Act_21:13. Luk_14:26.]:” nor against too much purity of heart; for we are required to purify ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit [Note: 2Co_7:1.], yea, to purify ourselves even as he is pure [Note: 1Jn_3:3.] — — — Nor could he mean to caution us against too much deadness to the world; for, provided we conscientiously fulfil the duties of our station, we cannot be too much “crucified to the world [Note: Gal_6:14.];” we should no more be of the world than Christ himself was [Note: Joh_17:14; Joh_17:16.]. Nor, lastly, did he intend to warn us against too much compassion for souls; for, provided our mode of manifesting that compassion be discreet, it would be well if our “head were waters, and our eyes a fountain of tears, to weep for the ungodly day and night [Note: Jer_9:1.].” These indeed are things in which the world does not wish to see us much occupied: they would rather that we should put our light under a bushel. But no inspired writer would ever caution us against excess in such things as these. St. Paul makes the proper distinction between the regard which we should shew to carnal and to spiritual objects: “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;” because therein is no possibility of excess [Note: Eph_5:18.].]

2.       To what the caution does extend—

[An intemperate seal appears to be the principal thing against which the text is levelled. Too high a conceit of our own wisdom, a hasty persuasion that we are right, and an indiscreet method of fulfilling what we suppose to be our duty, may be found in persons who really mean well. Two apostles, from zeal for their Master, would have called fire from heaven to consume a village that had refused him admission [Note: Luk_9:54.]: and n third defended his Master with a sword, to the endangering of his own life, and to the dishonour of the cause he had espoused [Note: Joh_18:10.]. Thus do many at this day contend for the truth in private in an unbecoming spirit, and go forth to propagate it in public to the neglect of their proper duty, and the injury of the Christian cause [Note: 1Co_7:20.]. A blind superstition may also be fitly comprehended in the caution. This obtained in a very great degree among the judaizing Christians: and still prevails over a great part of the Christian world: would to God we could except even Protestants themselves from the charge!. How often do we see a most rigorous regard paid to rites that are of human invention, whilst the true spirit and temper of Christianity is sadly neglected! Alas! what fiery and fatal contentions have arisen from this source! There is a needless scrupulosity also which ought to be avoided. What schisms has this occasioned in the Church. when, on account of one or two things, in which they could not agree, men have rent the seamless robe of Christ into a thousand pieces! What injury have men done to their bodies by penances of man’s device! What trouble and perplexity have they also brought upon their souls by rash vows, and foolish impositions! Such was the spirit against which St. Paul guarded the Christians at Colosse [Note: Col_2:18-23.]. And Solomon’s caution against the same will be useful in every age and place. A self-justifying dependence on our own works is nearly allied to the foregoing evils, and is thought by some to be the more immediate object of Solomon’s censure. But if we allow it not the first place, we may very properly mention it as another mistaken method of displaying our righteousness. Every person is prone to it: and the most upright persons need to be cautioned against it, because there is not any thing more destructive in its issue. It deprives us of all the benefit of whatever good we do; yea, it makes even the death of Christ of no effect [Note: Gal_5:4.]: we can never therefore be too strongly guarded against it. We may have much zeal of this kind: but it is a zeal without knowledge. Nor is there any salvation for us, unless, like the holy Apostle, we renounce it utterly [Note: Php_3:9.].]

Having explained at large the import of this caution, we shall,

II.      Subjoin some advice—

We fear that, however great occasion there may be to caution sincere people against erroneous methods of exercising their religion, there is far more occasion to exhort the world in general to pay some attention to their duty. Our first advice therefore is,

1.       Be truly righteous—

[They who are most ready to quote the text, are, for the most part, those who are adverse to the exercise of all religion. And when they exclaim, ‘Be not righteous over-much,’ their meaning is, ‘Be not righteous at all,’ They would be far better pleased to see all walking in the broad road, than to be put to shame by those who are walking in the narrow path. But let no scoffs keep you from the performance of your duty. If the world set themselves against religion, let not that deter any upright soul. Our Lord has taught us to expect that our “greatest foes would be those of our own household.” Let us not be discouraged if we find it so. Let our inquiry be, What is duty? and, having found that, let nothing turn us aside. Let us not be satisfied with the degree of righteousness which the world approves. Let us examine the Scripture to see what God requires. Let us see how the saints of old served God; and let us labour in every thing to “do his will on earth, even as it is done in heaven.” This is a conduct which will tend, not to our destruction, but salvation. To act otherwise will issue in our ruin; since “Whosoever doth not righteousness is not of God [Note: 1Jn_3:10.].” But to walk after this rule is to ensure present and everlasting peace.]

2.       Be wisely righteous—

[“It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing;” and to “maintain a conscience void of offence towards both God and man.” But we are far from recommending a wild inconsiderate regard for religion. We ought to exercise a sound judgment in all things. “I Wisdom,” says Solomon, “dwell with Prudence [Note: Pro_8:12.].” There is certainly much room for discretion in the performance of our duty even towards God himself. We may so reprove a fault as to harden those whom we endeavour to reclaim, and, by casting pearls before swine, may cause them to turn again and rend us [Note: Mat_7:6.]. We may exercise our Christian liberty so as to cast a stumbling-block before others, and destroy the souls whose salvation we ought to seek to the uttermost [Note: 1Co_8:11.]. Many things may be “lawful which are not expedient.” We should therefore consult times, persons, places, things [Note: Ecc_8:5.]; and “walk in wisdom toward them that are without.” Our determination should be, “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way [Note: Psa_101:2.],” And our prayer should be, “O give me understanding in the way of godliness. In every part of our conduct we should be circumspect, that being “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, we may shine among them as lights in the world.” Thus should we unite “the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove [Note: Mat_10:16.].” And in so doing we shall both adorn our holy profession, and “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”]

3.       Be righteous enough

[There is more danger of defect than of excess in this pursuit. Indeed whereinsoever you are truly righteous it is not possible to be righteous overmuch. We are to “walk as Christ himself walked,” and to “be perfect even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect. Have you attained much? be thankful for it: but go forward. If you were as holy as St. Paul himself, you must “not think you have already attained, or are already perfect, but, like him, you must forget the things that are behind, and reach forward unto that which is before, and press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The higher you are in grace, the richer will you be in glory. Begin then, all of you, to “run the race that is set before you.” The prize is worth all your care. Lose it not for want of due exertion. But “laying aside every weight, and the sin that doth most easily beset you, run with patience your appointed course, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of your faith;” and let your constant motto be, “This one thing I do [Note: Php_3:13.]” Endeavour, every step you take, to walk in the fear of God. This is the advice of Solomon himself [Note: ver. 18.]; nor can there be any better preservative against extremes than this. By this you will be kept from the undue bias of fleshly wisdom, and from consulting with flesh and blood: by this you will be enabled to maintain your conversation in the world with “simplicity and godly sincerity.” Cultivate this, and the path of duty will be clear: cultivate this, and you will never lose the promised reward.]