Verses 23–29

Solomon had hitherto been proving the vanity of the world and its utter insufficiency to make men happy; now here he comes to show the vileness of sin, and its certain tendency to make men miserable; and this, as the former, he proves from his own experience, and it was a dear-bought experience. He is here, more than any where in all this book, putting on the habit of a penitent. He reviews what he had been discoursing of already, and tells us that what he had said was what he knew and was well assured of, and what he resolved to stand by: All this have I proved by wisdom, Eccl. 7:23. Now here,

I. He owns and laments the deficiencies of his wisdom. He had wisdom enough to see the vanity of the world and to experience that that would not make a portion for a soul. But, when he came to enquire further, he found himself at a loss; his eye was too dim, his line was too short, and, though he discovered this, there were many other things which he could not prove by wisdom.

1. His searches were industrious. God had given him a capacity for knowledge above any; he set up with a great stock of wisdom; he had the largest opportunities of improving himself that ever any man had; and, (1.) He resolved, if it were possible, to gain his point: I said, I will be wise. He earnestly desired it as highly valuable; he fully designed it as that which he looked upon to be attainable; he determined not to sit down short of it, Prov. 18:1. Many are not wise because they never said they would be so, being indifferent to it; but Solomon set it up for the mark he aimed at. When he made trial of sensual pleasures, he still thought to acquaint his heart with wisdom (Eccl. 2:3), and not to be diverted from the pursuits of that; but perhaps he did not find it so easy a thing as he imagined to keep up his correspondence with wisdom, while he addicted himself so much to his pleasures. However, his will was good; he said, I will be wise. And that was not all: (2.) He resolved to spare no pains (Eccl. 7:25): “I applied my heart; I and my heart turned every way; I left no stone unturned, no means untried, to compass what I had in view. I set myself to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, to accomplish myself in all useful learning, philosophy, and divinity.” If he had not thus closely applied himself to study, it would have been but a jest for him to say, I will be wise, for those that will attain the end must take the right way. Solomon was a man of great quickness, and yet, instead of using that (with many) as an excuse for slothfulness, he pressed it upon himself as an inducement to diligence, and the easier he found it to master a good notion the more intent he would be that he might be master of the more good notions. Those that have the best parts should take the greatest pains, as those that have the largest stock should trade most. He applied himself not only to know what lay on the surface, but to search what lay hidden out of the common view and road; nor did he search a little way, and then give it over because he did not presently find what he searched for, but he sought it out, went to the bottom of it; nor did he aim to know things only, but the reasons of things, that he might give an account of them.

2. Yet his success was not answerable or satisfying: “I said, I will be wise, but it was far from me; I could not compass it. After all, This only I know that I know nothing, and the more I know the more I see there is to be known, and the more sensible I am of my own ignorance. That which is far off, and exceedingly deep, who can find it out?” He means God himself, his counsels and his works; when he searched into these he presently found himself puzzled and run aground. He could not order his speech by reason of darkness. It is higher than heaven, what can he do? Job 11:8. Blessed be God, there is nothing which we have to do which is not plain and easy; the word is nigh us (Prov. 8:9); but there is a great deal which we would wish to know which is far off, and exceedingly deep, among the secret things which belong not to us. And probably it is a culpable ignorance and error that Solomon here laments, that his pleasures, and the many amusements of his court, had blinded his eyes and cast a mist before them, so that he could not attain to true wisdom as he designed.

II. He owns and laments the instances of his folly in which he had exceeded, as, in wisdom, he came short. Here is,

1. His enquiry concerning the evil of sin. He applied his heart to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness. Observe, (1.) The knowledge of sin is a difficult knowledge, and hard to be attained; Solomon took pains for it. Sin has many disguises with which it palliates itself, as being loth to appear sin, and it is very hard to strip it of these and to see it in its true nature and colours. (2.) It is necessary to our repentance for sin that we be acquainted with the evil of it, as it is necessary to the cure of a disease to know its nature, causes, and malignity. St. Paul therefore valued the divine law, because it discovered sin to him, Rom. 7:7. Solomon, who, in the days of his folly, had set his wits on work to invent pleasures and sharpen them, and was ingenious in making provision for the flesh, now that God had opened his eyes is as industrious to find out the aggravations of sin and so to put an edge upon his repentance. Ingenious sinners should be ingenious penitents, and wit and learning, among the other spoils of the strong man armed, should be divided by the Lord Jesus. (3.) It well becomes penitents to say the worst they can of sin, for the truth is we can never speak ill enough of it. Solomon here, for his further humiliation, desired to see more, [1.] Of the sinfulness of sin; that is it which he lays the greatest stress upon in this inquiry, to know the wickedness of folly, by which perhaps he means his own iniquity, the sin of uncleanness, for that was commonly called folly in Israel, Gen. 34:7; Deut. 22:21; Jdg. 20:6; 2 Sam. 13:12. When he indulged himself in it, he made a light matter of it; but now he desires to see the wickedness of it, its great wickedness, so Joseph speaks of it, Gen. 39:9. Or it may be taken there generally for all sin. Many extenuate their sins with this, They were folly; but Solomon sees wickedness in those follies, an offence to God and a wrong to conscience. This is wickedness, Jer. 4:18; Zech. 5:8. [2.] Of the folly of sin; as there is a wickedness in folly, so there is a folly in wickedness, even foolishness and madness. Wilful sinners are fools and madmen; they act contrary both to right reason and to their true interest.

2. The result of this enquiry.

(1.) He now discovered more than ever of the evil of that great sin which he himself had been guilty of, the loving of many strange women, 1 Kgs. 11:1. This is that which he here most feelingly laments, and in very pathetic expressions. [1.] He found the remembrance of the sin very grievous. O how heavily did it lie upon his conscience! what an agony was he in upon the thought of it—the wickedness, the foolishness, the madness, that he had been guilty of! I find it more bitter than death. As great a terror seized him, in reflection upon it, as if he had been under the arrest of death. Thus do those that have their sins set in order before them by a sound conviction cry out against them; they are bitter as gall, nay, bitter as death, to all true penitents. Uncleanness is a sin that is, in its own nature, more pernicious than death itself. Death may be made honourable and comfortable, but this sin can be no other than shame and pain, Prov. 5:9, 11. [2.] He found the temptation to the sin very dangerous, and that it was extremely difficult, and next to impossible, for those that ventured into the temptation to escape the sin, and for those that had fallen into the sin to recover themselves by repentance. The heart of the adulterous woman is snares and nets; she plays her game to ruin souls with as much art and subtlety as ever any fowler used to take a silly bird. The methods such sinners use are both deceiving and destroying, as snares and nets are. The unwary souls are enticed into them by the bait of pleasure, which they greedily catch at and promise themselves satisfaction in; but they are taken before they are aware, and taken irrecoverably. Her hands are as bands, with which, under colour of fond embraces, she holds those fast that she has seized; they are held in the cords of their own sin, Prov. 5:22. Lust gets strength by being gratified and its charms are more prevalent. [3.] He reckoned it a great instance of God’s favour to any man if by his grace he has kept him from this sin: He that pleases God shall escape from her, shall be preserved either from being tempted to this sin or from being overcome by the temptation. Those that are kept from this sin must acknowledge it is God that keeps them, and not any strength or resolution of their own, must acknowledge it a great mercy; and those that would have grace sufficient for them to arm them against this sin must be careful to please God in every thing, by keeping his ordinances, Lev. 18:30. [4.] He reckoned it a sin that is as sore a punishment of other sins as a man can fall under in this life: The sinner shall be taken by her. First, Those that allow themselves in other sins, by which their minds are blinded and their consciences debauched, are the more easily drawn to this. Secondly, it is just with God to leave them to themselves to fall into it. See Rom. 1:26, 28; Eph. 4:18, 19. Thus does Solomon, as it were, with horror, bless himself from the sin in which he had plunged himself.

(2.) He now discovered more than ever of the general corruption of man’s nature. He traces up that stream to the fountain, as his father had done before him, on a like occasion (Ps. 51:5): Behold, I was shapen in iniquity. [1.] He endeavoured to find out the number of his actual transgressions (Eccl. 7:27): “Behold, this have I found, that is, this I hoped to find; I thought I could have understood my errors and have brought in a complete list, at least of the heads of them; I thought I could have counted them one by one, and have found out the account.” He desired to find them out as a penitent, that he might the more particularly acknowledge them; and, generally, the more particular we are in the confession of sin the more comfort we have in the sense of the pardon; he desired it also as a preacher, that he might the more particularly give warning to others. Note, A sound conviction of one sin will put us upon enquiring into the whole confederacy; and the more we see amiss in ourselves the more diligently we should enquire further into our own faults, that what we see not may be discovered to us, Job 34:32. [2.] He soon found himself at a loss, and perceived that they were innumerable (Eccl. 7:28): “Which yet my soul seeks; I am still counting, and still desirous to find out the account, but I find not, I cannot count them all, nor find out the account of them to perfection. I still make new and amazing discoveries of the desperate wickedness that there is in my own heart,” Jer. 17:9, 10. Who can know it? Who can understand his errors? Who can tell how often he offends? Ps. 19:12. He finds that if God enters into judgment with him, or he with himself, for all his thoughts, words, and actions, he is not able to answer for one of a thousand, Job 9:3. This he illustrates by comparing the corruption of his own heart and life with the corruption of the world, where he scarcely found one good man among a thousand; nay, among all the thousand wives and concubines which he had, he did not find one good woman. “Even so,” says he, “When I come to recollect and review my own thoughts, words, and actions, and all the passages of my life past, perhaps among those that were manly I might find one good among a thousand, and that was all; the rest even of those had some corruption or other in them.” He found (Eccl. 7:20) that he had sinned even in doing good. But for those that were effeminate, that passed in the indulgence of his pleasures, they were all naught; in that part of his life there did not appear so much as one of a thousand good. In our hearts and lives there appears little good, at the best, but sometimes none at all. Doubtless this is not intended as a censure of the female sex in general; it is probable that there have been and are more good women than good men (Acts 17:4, 12); he merely alludes to his own sad expe 10ca rience. And perhaps there may be this further in it: he does, in his proverbs, warn us against the snares both of the evil man and of the strange woman (Prov. 2:12, 16; 4:14; 5:3); now he had observed the ways of the evil women to be more deceitful and dangerous than those of the evil men, that it was more difficult to discover their frauds and elude their snares, and therefore he compares sin to an adulteress (Prov. 9:13), and perceives he can no more find out the deceitfulness of his own heart than he can that of a strange woman, whose ways are movable, that thou canst not know them. [3.] He therefore runs up all the streams of actual transgression to the fountain of original corruption. The source of all the folly and madness that are in the world is in man’s apostasy from God and his degeneracy from his primitive rectitude (Eccl. 7:20): “Lo, this only have I found; when I could not find out the particulars, yet the gross account was manifest enough; it is as clear as the sun that man is corrupted and revolted, and is not as he was made.” Observe, First, How man was made by the wisdom and goodness of God: God made man upright; Adam the first man, so the Chaldee. God made him, and he made him upright, such a one as he should be; being made a rational creature, he was, in all respects, such a one as a rational creature should be, upright, without any irregularity; one could find no fault in him; he was upright, that is, determined to God only, in opposition to the many inventions which he afterwards turned aside to. Man, as he came out of God’s hands, was (as we may say) a little picture of his Maker, who is good and upright. Secondly, How he was marred, and in effect unmade, by his own folly and badness: They have sought out many inventions—they, our first parents, or the whole race, all in general and every one in particular. They have sought out great inventions (so some), inventions to become great as gods (Gen. 3:5), or the inventions of the great ones (so some), of the angels that fell, the Magnates, or many inventions. Man, instead of resting in what God had found for him, was for seeking to better himself, like the prodigal that left his father’s house to seek his fortune. Instead of being for one, he was for many; instead of being for God’s institutions, he was for his own inventions. The law of his creation would not hold him, but he would be at his own disposal and follow his own sentiments and inclinations. Vain man would be wise, wiser than his Maker; he is giddy and unsettled in his pursuits, and therefore has many inventions. Those that forsake God wander endlessly. Men’s actual transgressions are multiplied. Solomon could not find out how many they are (Eccl. 7:28); but he found they were very many. Many kinds of sins, and those often repeated. They are more than the hairs on our heads, Ps. 40:12.