Charles Simeon Commentary - Ecclesiastes 7:4 - 7:4

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Ecclesiastes 7:4 - 7:4

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Ecc_7:4. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

IN order to learn what loss we have sustained in our intellectual powers through the introduction of sin into the world, it is not necessary for us to investigate the mysteries of our holy religion, which exceed the comprehension of any finite intelligence: we need only look to the ethics that are revealed to us in God’s blessed word; and we shall see, even in them, that darkness has veiled the human mind, and there is an utter contrariety between the sentiments of fallen man and the plainest declarations of Almighty God. Take, for instance, the declarations which precede my text: “The day of death is better than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting:” and “sorrow is better than laughter.” Will any one say that these apophthegms are agreeable to the general apprehension of mankind? Is there not, on the contrary, something in them extremely paradoxical, and, at first sight, almost absurd? Yet are these sentiments unquestionably true, as are those also which my text records: “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”

It shall be my endeavour,

I.       To confirm these different positions—

It is not Solomon’s intention to say, that a wise man can never go to the house of mirth, any more than that a fool may not sometimes go to the house of mourning. The question is not, To which of the places these different characters may occasionally go; but, To which of them their “hearts” are inclined. Let us then inquire,

1.       Where is the heart of the wise!

[We hesitate not to say, that a man who is taught of God, and made wise unto salvation, has “his heart in the house of mourning;” and that for the following reasons:

First, because he there learns the most invaluable lessons. There he sees what is the lot of fallen man; “He is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” He sees, also, what may speedily become his own lot; for “he knows not what a day or an hour may bring forth.” He sees how vain and empty are all earthly things; in that not all the wealth or honour that ever was possessed by man can either avert calamity, or assuage the pain arising from it. Above all, he sees the excellence of true religion, which can apply a balm to every wound, and turn tribulation itself into an occasion for joy [Note: Rom_5:3.].

Next, his heart is in the house of mourning, because there he has scope for the exercise of the finest feelings of his soul. There is compassion excited towards his suffering fellow-creature, and sympathy with him in his afflictions. True, these feelings are in some respects painful: but there is in them something so exquisite and refined, that they afford, if I may so speak, the sublimest pleasure of which the human mind is capable; and assimilate us, in a very eminent degree, to our God and Saviour, who “is touched with the feeling of our infirmities [Note: Heb_4:15.],” and “in all our afflictions is himself afflicted [Note: Isa_63:9.].” Nor can the sufferings of a fellow-creature be seen without exciting in our bosoms thanksgivings to God, who has been pleased to withhold his chastening rod from us, and to make us his honoured instruments of imparting comfort to our afflicted brethren. This also, though not attended with any ebullition of joy, is a very sublime and delightful feeling; not unlike to that of Joseph, when his bowels yearned upon his brother Benjamin, and a prospect was opened to him of making his own advancement an occasion of benefit to his whole family: “He made haste, and sought where to weep; and entered into his chamber, and wept there [Note: Gen_43:29-30.].”

A still further reason why his heart is in the house of mourning is, that there he meets, and enjoys, and honours God. God has said, that “he meeteth those who rejoice in working righteousness [Note: Isa_64:5.].” And, truly, he fulfils this word in a more especial manner to those who abound in works of mercy, because he considers himself as the object of that love, wherever it be exercised, and in whatsover it be employed [Note: Mat_25:35-36.]. I will appeal those who have frequented the house of mourning, whether they have not often found God more present with them there, than even in their own chamber. In truth, God is honoured there with more than common tributes of acknowledgment. There is he referred to as the All-wise Disposer of all events, and as the gracious Father that corrects only in love and for his people’s good. There, too, is he set forth in all his glorious perfections, and especially in all the wonders of redeeming love: and there is he invariably set forth as the author of the very good which is at that hour dispensed to the trouble soul; so that the creature, his instrument, is overlooked, and he alone is glorified.

Say then, brethren, whether here be not ample reason for the preference shewn to “the house of mourning:” and whether he be not not truly wise, whose heart has dictacted such a choice as this?

In contrast with this, we ask,]

2.       Where is the heart of the fool?

[It is “in the house of mirth.” And why? One reason is that there he is enabled to forget himself. Men do not like to reflect upon their own state before God: and they account any thing desirable, which can dispel unwelcome thoughts, and furnish a pleasing occupation for their minds. Hence it is that all places of amusement are so thronged: and even the house of God is made to administer to our satisfaction; the irksomeness of prayer being rendered tolerable by the fascinations of music, and the charms of eloquence. Hence, too, every one who can devise a new expedient for preventing time from hanging heavy on our hands, will be sure to gain our patronage, and be welcomed and rewarded as a public benefactor.

Another reason is, that the fool there finds what is most gratifying to his corrupt taste. One has an appetite for conviviality and licentiousness: another affects the more decent gratifications of music, and dancing, and such like: another, more elevated in the scale of being, desires rather the intellectual and refined pleasures of science and philosophy. But each is an epicure in his way: and, though their pursuits be different, each in his own line is as insatiable as the other. He is never weary of his favourite pursuit. He desires to be amused; and makes the gratification of his own particular taste the end of all his studies and pursuits. In a word, he lives only to have his own taste gratified, and to administer to the gratification of those who are like-minded with himself: and wherever he can attain these ends, there his heart is, and there his most select abode,

But there is yet another reason for his preference: and that is, that “in the house of mirth” he finds himself countenanced in his neglect of God. Every man has a secret consciousness that he ought to seek after God in the first place, and to postpone to that every other duty and enjoyment. But when he sees others as remiss in this duty as himself, he comforts himself with the thought, that he is no worse than others: and with the hope, that God will never mark with his displeasure what is so generally regarded as innocent and inoffensive. At all events, he finds nothing to reproach him there. “In a house of mourning” he would see many things repugnant to his habits: for even a fool there puts on, for the time, the semblance of wisdom: and assents to the truth, that the care of the soul is the one thing needful. But “in the house of mirth.” all that he either hears or sees bids him to be of good courage, and not to question for a moment the approbation of his Judge.]

I think that the positions in my text are now made sufficiently clear; so that we may with propriety proceed,

II.      To point out their bearing on the Christian’s life and conversation—

These principles may doubtless he pressed too far: and they are then carried to excess, when they are regarded as prohibiting all friendly intercourse with the ungodly world: for our blessed Saviour himself honoured with his company a wedding feast, and a feast, too, that was provided for him by an ignorant and unhumbled Pharisee. But, taking these different positions with such a latitude as both reason and Scripture will fairly admit, the least that we should learn from them is,

1.       To be on our guard against acquiescing too easily in popular opinions—

[From the positions which we have just considered, the carnal mind revolts. Yet, not only are these positions confirmed by our blessed Lord, but they are expressed by him in for stronger terms than by Solomon himself. “Blessed are ye poor: blessed are ye that hunger now: blessed are ye that weep now: blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake, But woe unto you that are rich: woe unto you that are full: woe unto you that laugh now: woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you [Note: Luk_6:20-26.].” It is obvious that light and darkness are scarcely more opposite than these declarations are to the sentiments and habits of the world at large. But are we therefore to question the truth of them, or to refuse submission to them? No: we are to regard the Scriptures as the only authorized standard of opinion; and to them must our sentiments be conformed. Even if the whole world combine to reprobate what the Scriptures enjoin, we must not be deterred from following what God prescribes; but must boldly say, “Let God be true, but every man a liar [Note: Rom_3:4.].”]

2.       To take eternity into our estimate of present things—

[In the passage just cited from the Sermon on the Mount, we see that every declaration of our blessed Lord is founded on the aspect which our present state has upon the eternal world. And I would ask, What would the Rich Man and Lazarus now think of the condition in which they were severally placed when in this lower world? Would carnal mirth be commended by the one, or temporal distress be deprecated by the other, in such terms us the spectators of their widely different condition were once wont to use respecting them? Methinks the enjoyments and sufferings of time would be deemed by them scarcely worthy of a thought; and eternity would swallow up every other consideration. And so it will be with us, ere long. Indeed, even at this present moment, every man’s conscience bears witness to this truth, however in the habits of his life he may contradict it. I cannot therefore but entreat all to consider what will be their views of present things, when they shall have left this transient scene; and to regulate their judgment now by what they believe to be the uniform tenour of God’s word, and the full conviction of every creature, whether in heaven or in hell.]

3.       To examine well the tendencies and inclinations of our hearts—

[In the prospect of death and judgment, men may be led to adopt sentiments which they do not cordially approve, and to follow a conduct in which they have no delight. I ask not. then, what you either say or do under such circumstances. I ask not whether you put a force upon your inclinations, abstaining from indulgences in which you would be glad to revel, and performing services from which you would gladly be excused: I ask, What are the pursuits which your heart affects? What is your real and predominant taste? and what is the employment in which you chiefly delight? I need not say what would be the taste of an angel, if he were sent to sojourn here: nor need I tell you what was the taste of our blessed Saviour and his holy Apostles: of these things no one of you can entertain a doubt. This, then, I say, Seek now to be, what ere long you will wish you had been: seek to be in heart, what you are bound to be in act. It is by the inward dispositions of your souls that you will be judged in the last day. What if, like Doeg. you were “detained before the Lord.” if yet you had no pleasure in the service of your God? Would your worship be pleasing and acceptable to God? No: “your heart must be right with him.” if you would either please him here, or be accepted of him hereafter. To every one of you, therefore, I say, Inquire not where your bodies are but where your hearts: “for as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he [Note: Pro_23:7.],”]

4.       To conform ourselves to the suggestions offered in our text—

[Let not any one think them too strong, or that the conduct which they recommend is too self-denying. I have already shewn, that the same things are spoken by Christ himself; and I must further observe, that the whole tenour of God’s blessed word suggests and enjoins the same. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world: if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him: for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world [Note: 1Jn_2:15-16.].” What is there “in the house of mirth” which is not here proscribed? Again: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom of by which the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world [Note: Gal_6:14.].” Think at how low a rate the world esteems an object that is crucified, and a man. in the very article of death upon a cross, affects all that the world could give him. Surely, if these and other passages of the same tendency be duly weighed, there will be no difficulty in apprehending the true import of my text, nor any doubt upon our minds, which of the two objects before us should be preferred. Let this preference, then, be seen in the whole of of our life and conversation. I say not, that we should never go to “the house of mirth?” but only that, our heart should not be there; and that, if called there by any peculiar occurrence, we should go, not as those that would be at home there, hut as physicians to a hospital, where they desire to do all the good they can, but are glad to come away again, and to breathe a purer atmosphere.

Well do I know that it is not in the power of all to visit the abodes of misery, and to spend their time in administering to the necessities of the poor. But, where these offices can be performed consistently with the duties of our own peculiar sphere, they are most pleasing in the sight of God, and not a little profitable to our own souls [Note: If this were preached in behalf of a Benevolent Society, an appeal might here be made to those engaged in it, whether they have not experienced the truth of Pro_11:25 and Isa_57:10-11.] — — — But those who cannot embark to any extent in the office of visiting the afflicted, may yet facilitate the execution of it in others by their liberal contributions [Note: Here, whether the Institution be of a public or private nature, a statement may be of the methods pursued, and of the good done.] — — — And if, from the peculiarity of our engagements, we are so circumstanced, that we cannot personally frequent “the house of mourning,” let us at least shew that our hearts are there; and that we have no occupation more congenial with our minds, than to “rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”]