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we must observe three things; first, the error which he attacks— next, the arms he makes use of—and lastly, the end he proposes in attacking it. Suffer me, before I enter on the discussion of these articles, to give you a more exact idea of my meaning, and to lead you more fully into the plan of this discourse. :
In the first article I shall try to develope the idea of Solomon, and to engage you to enter into the most intricate labyrinths of your own hearts, and to make you acknowledge that we are all, more or less, prejudiced in favor of this bewitching opinion, that future life will produce something more solid and satisfactory than we have hitherto found, especially if we obtain some advantages, which we have long had in prospect, but which we have not yet been able to obtain.
In the second part we will prove, that even supposing the happiest revolutions in our favor, we should be deceived in our hopes, so that whether they happen or not we shall be brought to acknowledge that there is nothing in this world capable of rendering us perfectly happy.
In the last place we shall conclude from these two principles with the wise man, that, though a reasonable creature may be allowed to better his condition, and to obtain a happier state in this world than the past or the present, yet he ought by no means to promise himself much success, and that, in one word, it is in God alone, and in the hope of a future state of happiness in another life, that we ought to place our felicity.
I. Let us first of all determine the sense of the text, and examine what error the wise man attacks. We have already explained what idea we affix to his expressions, but as they are vague and
indeterminate, they must be first of all restrained by the nature of the subjects, of which he speaks, and secondly explained by the place they occupy.
1. When the wise man says, that which hath been, is that which shall be, he doth not mean to attribute a character of firmness and consistency to such events as concern us. No man ever knew better than he the transitoriness of human affairs : but it is not necessary to our knowledge of the subject to occupy a post as eminent as that which he held; for a superficial view of the condition of public bodies, and of that of individuals will be sufficient to open a wide field to our reflections. .
The condition of public bodies is usually founded on materials so brittle, that there is no rooni to be astonished at sudden and perpetual variations. A spectator young in his observations, and distant from the central point, is amazed at the rapid changes, which he beholds suddenly take place like the creation of new worlds; he supposed whole ages must pass in removing those enormous masses, public bodies, and in turning the current of prosperity and victory. But should he penetrate into the spring of events, he would soon find that a very small and inconsiderable point gave motion to that wheel, on which turned public prosperity, and pube lic adversity, and which gave a whole nation a new and different appearance.
Sometimes all the wise counsels, the cool deliberations, the well concerted plans, that constitute the prosperity of a nation, proceed from the prudence of one single head. This one head represses the venality of one, and the animosity of another, the ambition of this man, and the avarice of that. Into this head one single vapor ascends; prosperity relaxes it? death strikes it off. Instantly a new world arises, and then that which was no
more, for with that head well concerted measures, cool deliberations, and wise counsels all vanished away.
Sometimes the rare qualities of one single general animate a whole army, and assign to each member of it his proper work, to the prudent a station which requires prudence; to the intrepid a station which requires courage, and even to an idiot a place where folly and absurdity have their use. From these rare qualities a state derives the glory of rapid marches, bold sieges, desperate attacks, complete victories and shouts of triumph. This general finishes his life by his own folly, or is supplanted by a party cabal, or sinks into inaction on the soft down of his own panegyrics, or a fatal bullet, shot at random and without design penetrates the heart of this noble and generous man. Instantly a new world appears, and that which was is no more; for with this general victory and songs of triumph expired.
Sometimes the ability and virtue of one single favorite enable him to direct the genius of a prince, to dissipate the enchantments of adulation, to become an antidote against the poison of flattery, to teach him to distinguish sober applause from selfinterested encomiums, and to render him accessible to the complaints of widows and orphans. This favorite sinks into disfavor, and an artful rival steps into his place. Rehoboam neglected the advice of prudent old counsellors, and followed the suggestions of inconsiderate youth. Any one of these changes produces a thousand consequences.
It would be easy to repeat of individuals what we have affirmed of public bodies, that is, that the world is a theatre in perpetual motion, and always varying ; that every day, and in a manner, every moment exhibits some new scene, some VOL. v.
change of decoration. It is then clear, that the proposition in the text ought to be restrained to the nature of the subject spoken of.
2. But these indeterminate words, that which hath been shall be, and there is no new thing under the sun, must be explained by the place they occupy. Our chief guide to determine the meaning of some vague propositions of an author is to examine where he placed them, and what precise idea he had in his mind when he wrote them. By observing this rule we find, that the same phrases are often taken in different senses. Without quoting other examples, we observe, that the words under consideration occur twice in this book, once in the text, and again in the fifteenth verse of the third chapter, where we are told, that which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been. However, it is certain, that these two sentences so much alike in sound have a very different meaning. The design of Solomon in the latter passage is to inform such persons, as tremble at the least temptation, that they were mistaken. We complain, say they, that God exercises our virtue more than he does that of other men, and though he allows these rude attacks, yet he doth not afford us strength sufficient to resist them. No, saith Solomon, whatever variety there may appear to be in the conduct of God towards men, yet there is always a certain uniformity, that characterizes his conduct. Indeed he giveth five talents to one, while he commits only one talent to another, and in this respect there is a variety : but he doth not require of him, to whom he hath committed one talent, an account of more than one talent, while he calls him to account for five talents, to whom he committed five, and in this respect there is a perfect uniformity in his conduct; and so of the rest. I know that whatsoever God doth, (these are the words of Solomon) I know that whatsoever God doth, it shall be forever : nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it, and God doth it that men should fear before him. That which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been, and God requireth that which is past..
But in our text the same words, the thing that hath been is that which shall be, have a different meaning. It is evident, by the place, in which the wise man put them, that he intended to decry the good things of this life, to make the vanity of them appear, and to convince mankind, that no revolutions can change the character of vanity essential to their condition. The connection of the words establishes the meaning. From what events do mankind expect, saith he, to procure to themselves a firm and solid happiness in this life? What efforts can be hereafter made greater than what have been made ?. Yet what profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun ? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the world continueth the same, the sun ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north, and the wind returneth again according to his cir. cuits. All rivers run into the sea, and whence they come thither they return again, ver. 3—7. The moral world exactly resembles the world of nature. It is in vain to expect any vicissitude that will render the remaining part of life more happy than the former. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, ver. 8. or, as it may be translated with considering ; nor the ear filled with hearing, or as the words may be rendered, the ear never ceases