In the book of Ecclesiastes, or The Preacher, Solomon has left us his own biography, the progress of a seeker after pleasure, the history of Solomon the prodigal, written by Solomon the preacher. He gives us in the first chapter not only the preface of the book, but the keynote of its sad contents, for it has well been styled the saddest book in all the Bible.
Thus speaks Solomon the sage, but we love better to hear the voice of Solomon the saint, for he said, “Thy love is better than wine. He brought me into his banqueting-house, and his banner over me was love.” How dark are the forbidden ways! How sweet the roads of holy fellowship!
“As much as if he said, It is all a weary go-round. This system of things is a perpetual self-repetition—quite sickening. One generation goes, another comes. The sun rises, and the sun goes down. That was what the sun did yesterday, and what I expect it will do to-morrow. The wind blows north, and the wind blows south; and this is all it has been doing for these thousand years. The rivers run into the sea, and it would be some relief to find that sea growing fuller; to perceive the clear waters wetting the dry shingle, and brimming up to the green fields, and floating the boats and fishes up into the forest: but even that inconvenient novelty is denied us; for though the rill and many a river have been tumbling many a world of water into it, this tide will not overstep its margin; the flood still bulges, but still refuses to cross its bounds. Words themselves are weariness, and it would tire us to enumerate those everlasting mutations and busy uniformities which make up this endless screw of existence. There are no novelties, no wonders, no discoveries. This universe does not yield an eye-full, or an arm-full to it’s occupant. The present only repeats the past, the future will repeat them both. The inventions of to-day are the forgotten arts of yesterday, and our children will forget our wisdom, only to have the pleasure of fishing up, as new prodigies, our obsolete truisms. There is no new thing under the sun, yet no repose. Perpetual functions and transient objects—permanent combinations, yet shifting atoms—sameness, yet incessant change, make up the monotonous medley. Woes me for this weary world!”
Solomon began by seeking the Supreme Felicity in knowledge, but the quest was vain. Had he laboured to know Christ he would have found that knowledge a fountain of delight;
Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
Solomon gives a description of the ways in which he sought vainly after the chief good. He was placed at a great advantage, for he had a great mind, and vast resources at command: if he found no satisfaction when he had the whole world to ransack, how much less can common men hope to find it in their far narrower estates, and much more limited knowledge? There is no satisfaction apart from God.
He did not confine his researches to graver studies, but gathered all he could from the frivolities and insanities of human nature. We may consider him as devouring the lighter as well as the heavier literature of his times, and studying the comic side of things; yet the result was the same, the hunger of the soul was not satisfied with laughter any more than with hard study. So it ever must be. The library is not heaven, nor is the theatre of broad farce a Paradise.
In his mental fever he tossed from side to side, from grave to gay, sobriety to exhilaration, but found no rest, and how could he? for rest is in God alone.
But in wine there is madness and not happiness, as drunkards prove.
He had a fit of building, and it amused him till the works were completed, and then he was as discontented as before. Had he built high as Babel’s tower he would not have reached heaven.
But in all his gardens he could not grow the tree of life or the plant of content, and therefore he failed here also.
But in all his treasure houses, and halls of music, he could neither lay up the pearl of great price, nor hear the song of sweet peace. The poorest man of faith in his kingdom was happier far than he. Alas, poor rich Solomon!
But it remained only to make him more deeply feel the hollowness of earthly joys; it made the void in his heart the more manifest, and by its light he saw the more clearly the “darkness visible” in which he groped.
The little joy he felt in the pursuit of any one of his various objects vanished when he had realized it. He became a worn out man, jaded, yet altogether unable to take rest. He went round and round like a mill horse, harnessed to his toil, but never advancing beyond the weary circle of unrest. To know Jesus, to love God, to find satisfaction in heavenly things, this is wisdom, and the follies of Solomon should drive us thither. God grant it may be so.