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Two Views of Life

Two Views of Life

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Published by GLENN DALE PEASE
BY ALEXANDER MACLAREN


'Thla Bor« travail hath God given to the sons of man, to be exercised therewith. — EccLES. i. 13.

'He for oar profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.'—
Hebrews xii. 10.
BY ALEXANDER MACLAREN


'Thla Bor« travail hath God given to the sons of man, to be exercised therewith. — EccLES. i. 13.

'He for oar profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.'—
Hebrews xii. 10.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on May 18, 2014
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TWO VIEWS OF LIFE BY ALEXADER MACLARE'Thla Bor« travail hath God given to the sons of man, to be exercised therewith. — EccLES. i. 13. 'He for oar profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.'— Hebrews xii. 10. These two texts set before us human life as it looks to two observers. The former admits that God shapes it ; but to him it seems sore travail, the expenditure of much trouble and efforts ; the results of which seem to be nothing beyond profitless exercise. There is an immense activity and nothing to show for it at the end but wearied limbs. The other observer sees, at least, as much of sorrow and trouble as the former, but he believes in the 'Father of spirits,' and in a hereafter ; and these, of course, bring a meaning and a wider purpose into the * sore travail,' and make it, not futile but, profitable to our highest good. I. ote first the Preacher's gloomy half-truth. The word rendered in our text * travail ' is a favourite one with the writer. It means occupation which costs effort and causes trouble. The phrase ' to be exercised therewith,' rather means to fatigue themselves, so that life as looked upon by the Preacher consists of effort without result but weariness. If he knew it at all, it was very imperfectly and dimly; and whatever may be thought of teaching on that subject which appears in the formal conclusion of the book, the belief in a future state certainly exercises no influence on its earlier portions. These represent phases through which the writer passes on his way to his conclusion. He does believe in 'God,' but, very
 
significantly, he never uses the sacred name ' Lord.' He has shaken himself free, or he wishes to represent a 817 318 ECCLESIASTES [ch.i. character who has shaken himself free from Kevela- tion, and is fighting the problem of life, its meaning and worth, without any help from Law, or Prophet, or Psalm. He does retain belief in what he calls 'God,' but his pure Theism, with little, if any, faith in a future life, is a creed which has no power of unravelling the perplexed mysteries of life, and of answ^ering the question, 'What does it all mean?' With keen and cynical vision he looks out not only over men, as in this first chapter, but over nature; and what mainly strikes him is the enormous amount of work that is being done, and the tragical poverty of its results. The question with which he begins his book is, ' What profit hath a man of all his labour wherein he laboureth under the sun ? ' And for answer he looks at the sun rising and going down, and being in the same place after its journey through the heavens ; and he hears the wind continually howling and yet returning again to its circuits ; and the waters now running as rivers into the sea and again drawn up in vapours, and once more falling in rain and running as waters. This wearisome monotony of intense activity in nature is paralleled by all that is done by man under heaven, and the net result of all is ' Vanity and a strife after wind.' The writer proceeds to confirm his dreary conclusion by a piece of autobiography put into the mouth of Solomon. He is represented as flinging himself into mirth and pleasure, into luxury and debauchery, and as satisfying every hunger for any joy, and as being
 
pulled up short in the midst of his rioting by the conviction, like a funeral bell, tolling in his mind that all was vanity. 'He gave himself to wisdom, and madness, and folly ' ; and in all he found but one result V.13] TWO VIEWS OF LIFE 819  — enormous effort and no profit. There seemed to be a time for everything, and a kind of demonic power in men compelling them to toil as with equal energy, now at building up, and now at destroying. But to every purpose he saw that there was 'time and judgment,' and therefore, 'the misery of man was great upon him.' To his jaundiced eye the effort of life appeared like the play of the wind in the desert, always busy, but sometime busy in heaping the sands in hillocks, and sometimes as busy in levelling them to a plain. We may regard such a view of humanity as gro- tesquely pessimistic ; but there is no doubt that many of us do make of life little more than what the Preacher thought it. It is not only the victims of civilisation who are forced to wearisome monotony of toil which barely yields daily bread; but we see all around us men and women wearing out their lives in the race after a false happiness, gaining nothing by the race but weariness. What shall we say of the man who, in the desire to win wealth, or reputation, lives laborious days of cramping effort in one direction, and allows all the better part of his nature to be atrophied, and die, and passes, untasted, brooks by the way, the modest  joys and delights that run through the dustiest lives. What is the difference between a squirrel in the cage who only makes his prison go round the faster by his swift race, and the man who lives toilsome days for transitory objects which he may never attain ? In the old days every prison was furnished with a tread-mill, on which the prisoner being set was bound to step up

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