Here Solomon fastens upon another instance of the vanity of this world, that frequently the more men have of it the more they would have; and on this they are so intent that they have no enjoyment of what they have. Now Solomon here shows,
I. That selfishness is the cause of this evil (Eccl. 4:7, 8): There is one alone, that minds none but himself, cares for nobody, but would, if he could, be placed alone in the midst of the earth; there is not a second, nor does he desire there should be: one mouth he thinks enough in a house, and grudges every thing that goes beside him. See how this covetous muckworm is here described. 1. He makes himself a mere slave to his business. Though he has no charge, neither child nor brother, none to take care of but himself, none to hang upon him, or draw from him, no poor relations, nor dares he marry, for fear of the expense of a family, yet is there no end of his labour; he is at it night and day, early and late, and will scarcely allow necessary rest to himself and those he employs. He does not confine himself within the bounds of his own calling, but is for having a hand in any thing that he can get by. See Ps. 127:2. 2. He never thinks he has enough: His eye is not satisfied with riches. Covetousness is called the lust of the eye (1 John 2:16) because the beholding of it with his eyes is all that the worldling seems to covet, Eccl. 5:11. He has enough for his back (as bishop Reynolds observes), for his belly, for his calling, for his family, for his living decently in the world, but he has not enough for his eyes. Though he can but see it, can but count his money, and not find in his heart to use it, yet he is not easy because he has not more to regale his eyes with. 3. He denies himself the comfort of what he has: he bereaves his soul of good. If our souls are bereaved of good, it is we ourselves that do bereave them. Others may bereave us of outward good, but cannot rob us of our graces and comforts, our spiritual good things. It is our own fault if we do not enjoy ourselves. Yet many are so set upon the world that, in pursuit of it, they bereave their souls of good here and for ever, make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience, bereave themselves not only of the favour of God and eternal life, but of the pleasures of this world too and this present life. Worldly people, pretending to be wise for themselves, are really enemies to themselves. 4. He has no excuse for doing this: He has neither child nor brother, none that he is bound to, on whom he may lay out what he has to his satisfaction while he lives, none that he has a kindness for, for whom he may lay it up to his satisfaction and to whom he may leave it when he dies, none that are poor or dear to him. 5. He has not consideration enough to show himself the folly of this. He never puts this question to himself, “For whom do I labour thus? Do I labour, as I should, for the glory of God, and that I may have to give to those that need? Do I consider that it is but for the body that I am labouring, a dying body; it is for others, and I know not for whom—perhaps for a fool, that will scatter it as fast as I have gathered it—perhaps for a foe, that will be ungrateful to my memory?” Note, It is wisdom for those that take pains about this world to consider whom they take all this pains for, and whether it be really worth while to bereave themselves of good that they may bestow it on a stranger. If men do not consider this, it is vanity, and a sore travail; they shame and vex themselves to no purpose.
II. That sociableness is the cure of this evil. Men are thus sordid because they are all for themselves. Now Solomon shows here, by divers instances, that it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18); he designs hereby to recommend to us both marriage and friendship, two things which covetous misers decline, because of the charge of them; but such are the comfort and advantage of them both, if prudently contracted, that they will very well quit cost. Man, in paradise itself, could not be happy without a mate, and therefore is no sooner made than matched. 1. Solomon lays this down for a truth, That two are better than one, and more happy jointly than either of them could be separately, more pleased in one another than they could be in themselves only, mutually serviceable to each other’s welfare, and by a united strength more likely to do good to others: They have a good reward of their labour; whatever service they do, it is returned to them another way. He that serves himself only has himself only for his paymaster, and commonly proves more unjust and ungrateful to himself than his friend, if he should serve him, would be to him; witness him that labours endlessly and yet bereaves his soul of good; he has no reward of his labour. But he that is kind to another has a good reward; the pleasure and advantage of holy love will be an abundant recompence for all the work and labour of love. Hence Solomon infers the mischief of solitude: Woe to him that is alone. He lies exposed to many temptations which good company and friendship would prevent and help him to guard against; he wants that advantage which a man has by the countenance of his friend, as iron has of being sharpened by iron. A monastic life then was surely never intended for a state of perfection, nor should those be reckoned the greatest lovers of God who cannot find in their hearts to love any one else. 2. He proves it by divers instances of the benefit of friendship and good conversation. (1.) Occasional succour in an exigency. It is good for two to travel together, for if one happen to fall, he may be lost for want of a little help. If a man fall into sin, his friend will help to restore him with the spirit of meekness; if he fall into trouble, his friend will help to comfort him and assuage his grief. (2.) Mutual warmth. As a fellow-traveller is of use (amicus pro vehiculo—a friend is a good substitute for a carriage) so is a bedfellow: If two lie together, they have heat. So virtuous and gracious affections are excited by good society, and Christians warm one another by provoking one another to love and to good works. (3.) United strength. If an enemy find a man alone, he is likely to prevail against him; with his own single strength he cannot make his part good, but, if he have a second, he may do well enough: two shall withstand him. “You shall help me against my enemy, and I will help you against yours;” according to the agreement between Joab and Abishai (2 Sam. 10:11), and so both are conquerors; whereas, acting separately, both would have been conquered; as was said of the ancient Britons, when the Romans invaded them, Dum singuli pugnant, universi vincuntur—While they fight in detached parties, they sacrifice the general cause. In our spiritual warfare we may be helpful to one another as well as in our spiritual work; next to the comfort of communion with God, is that of the communion of saints. He concludes with this proverb, A threefold cord is not easily broken, any more than a bundle of arrows, though each single thread, and each single arrow, is. Two together he compares to a threefold cord; for where two are closely joined in holy love and fellowship, Christ will by his Spirit come to them, and make the third, as he joined himself to the two disciples going to Emmaus, and then there is a threefold cord that can never be broken. They that dwell in love, dwell in God, and God in them.