The preacher here further shows the vanity and folly of heaping up worldly wealth and expecting happiness in it.
I. How much soever we toil about the world, and get out of it, we can have for ourselves no more than a maintenance (Eccl. 6:7): All the labour of man is for his mouth, which craves it of him (Prov. 16:26); it is but food and raiment; what is more others have, not we; it is all for the mouth. Meats are but for the belly and the belly for meats; there is nothing for the head and heart, nothing to nourish or enrich the soul. A little will serve to sustain us comfortably and a great deal can do no more.
II. Those that have ever so much are still craving; let a man labour ever so much for his mouth, yet the appetite is not filled. 1. Natural desires are still returning, still pressing; a man may be feasted to-day and yet hungry to-morrow. 2. Worldly sinful desires are insatiable, Eccl. 5:10. Wealth to a worldling is like drink to one in a dropsy, which does but increase the thirst. Some read the whole verse thus: Though all a man’s labour fall out to his own mind (ori ejus obveniat—so as to correspond with his views, Juv.), just as himself would have it, yet his desire is not satisfied, still he has a mind to something more. 3. The desires of the soul find nothing in the wealth of the world to give them any satisfaction. The soul is not filled, so the word is. When God gave Israel their request he sent leanness into their souls, Ps. 106:15. He was a fool who, when his barns were full, said, Soul, take thine ease.
III. A fool may have as much worldly wealth, and may enjoy as much of the pleasure of it, as a wise man; nay, and perhaps not be so sensible of the vexation of it: What has the wise more than the fool? Eccl. 6:8. Perhaps he has not so good an estate, so good a trade, nor such good preferment as the fool has. Nay, suppose them to be equal in their possessions, what can a wise man, a scholar, a wit, a politician, squeeze out of his estate more than needful supplies? and a half-witted man may do this. A fool can fare as well and relish it, can dress as well, and make as good a figure in any public appearance, as a wise man; so that if there were not pleasures and honour peculiar to the mind, which the wise man has more than the fool, as to this world they would be upon a level.
IV. Even a poor man, who has business, and is discreet, diligent, and dexterous, in the management of it, may get as comfortably through this world as he that is loaded with an overgrown estate. Consider what the poor has less than the rich, if he but knows to walk before the living, knows how to conduct himself decently, and do his duty to all, how to get an honest livelihood by his labour, how to spend his time well and improve his opportunities. What has he? Why, he is better beloved and more respected among his neighbours, and has a better interest than many a rich man that is griping and haughty. What has he? Why he has as much of the comfort of this life, has food and raiment, and is therewith content, and so is as truly rich as he that has abundance.
V. The enjoyment of what we have cannot but be acknowledged more rational than a greedy grasping at more (Eccl. 6:9): Better is the sight of the eyes, making the best of that which is present, than the wandering of the desire, the uneasy walking of the soul after things at a distance, and the affecting of a variety of imaginary satisfactions. He is much happier that is always content, though he has ever so little, than he that is always coveting, though he has ever so much. We cannot say, Better is the sight of the eyes than the fixing of the desire upon God, and the resting of the soul in him; it is better to live by faith in things to come than to live by sense, which dwells only upon present things; but better is the sight of the eyes than the roving of the desire after the world, and the things of it, than which nothing is more uncertain nor more unsatisfying at the best. This wandering of the desire is vanity and vexation of spirit. It is vanity at the best; if what is desired, be obtained, it proves not what we promised ourselves from it, but commonly the wandering desire is crossed and disappointed, and then it turns to vexation of spirit.
VI. Our lot, whatever it is, is that which is appointed us by the counsel of God, which cannot be altered, and it is therefore our wisdom to reconcile ourselves to it and cheerfully to acquiesce in it (Eccl. 6:10): That which has been, or (as some read it) that which is, and so likewise that which shall be, is named already; it is already determined in the divine foreknowledge, and all our care and pains cannot make it otherwise than as it is fixed. Jacta est alea—The die is cast. It is therefore folly to quarrel with that which will be as it is, and wisdom to make a virtue of necessity. We shall have what pleases God, and let that please us.
VII. Whatever we attain to in this world, still we are but men, and the greatest possessions and preferments cannot set us above the common accidents of human life: That which has been, and is, that busy animal that makes such a stir and such a noise in the world, is named already. He that made him gave him his name, and it is known that it is man; that is his name by which he must know himself, and it is a humbling name, Gen. 5:2. He called their name Adam; and all theirs have the same character, red earth. Though a man could make himself master of all the treasures of kings and provinces, yet he is a man still, mean, mutable, and mortal, and may at any time be involved in the calamities that are common to men. It is good for rich and great men to know and consider that they are but men, Ps. 9:20. It is known that they are but men; let them put what face they will upon it, and, like the king of Tyre, set their heart as the heart of God, yet the Egyptians are men, and not gods, and it is known that they are so.
VIII. How far soever our desires wander, and how closely soever our endeavours keep pace with them, we cannot strive with the divine Providence, but must submit to the disposals of it, whether we will or no. If it is man, he may not contend with him that is mightier than he. It is presumption to arraign God’s proceedings, and to charge him with folly or iniquity; nor is it to any purpose to complain of him, for he is in one mind and who can turn him? Elihu pacifies Job with this incontest able principle, That God is greater than man (Job 33:12) and therefore man may not contend with him, nor resist his judgments, when they come with commission. A man cannot with the greatest riches make his part good against the arrests of sickness or death, but must yield to his fate.