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God I could see that spirit of serious piety universally prevailing amongst you, which, wherever it doth prevail in young ones, is such a token of good to themselves, to their friends, and to the church of Christ!
Where it is otherwise, I look upon you with compassion and sorrow; but blessed be God, not with despair. I am not without hope, that God hath purposes of love and grace to serve on many of you; especially those, who have been the children of so many good instructions, and so many prayers, as I have reason to believe many of you are; and who cau tell, but this is the day, and this the ordinance, in which these gracious purposes are to take place?
I know, that the first step to your safety is a sense of your danger. We live in a world so full of snares, the Righteous scarcely are saved*; and yet I fear, some of you have very little apprehension of this danger, very little concern about The whole armour of Godt, so necessary to preserve you from it. And therefore, not to give you any vain and groundless alarm, but to produce, if possible, that holy caution and solicitude of soul, which may be the happy means of your security and preservation, I am now setting myself to discourse on some of the most awful words, which are any where in the whole book of God, addressed to persons of your age. I hope you will listen to them, and that God will make them as a kind of solemn trumpet, whereby those that are spiritually dead may be awakened; so awakened, as that the other trumpet to which they refer, and which will surely awaken your sleeping dust, may be heard not with sorrow, but with delight.
It is observable, that Solomon had a great regard to young people in his writings; and it is an evidence of his wisdom that he had so, for youth is the age of discipline. He therefore gives them line upon line, and precept upon precept. Sometimes he soothes, and sometimes he rebukes; sometimes he beseeches them with paternal tenderness, and sometimes persuades them, as Knowing the terrors of the Lord; and saves them as with fear, plucking them out of the fires. And this he doth in the words I have now been reading; Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thine heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth; and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes. But know thou, that for all these things, God will bring thee into judgment.
It will be my business-to explain, and-to inforce the
caution, and then-to conclude with some reflections upon it. May the plain, but awful things I am to deliver, be, as The words of the wise are, like goads, to pierce and rouse our minds, and like nails fastened in a sure place by the skilful masters of assemblies, which being given out from the one great Shepherd, are succeeded by his grace, and improved to his glory! I. I am to explain the words I have been reading.
And, in order to fix the sense of them, I shall only observe, that some understand them, as intimating Solomon's readiness to allow young people in the innocent pleasures and gaieties of life; whilst others interpret the whole as a solemn and a lively warning of the great danger they were in, of running into the most fatal excess. I shall in a few words give you my reasons, both why I mention the former, and why I prefer the latter of these senses.
1. Some understand these words, as an intimation of Solomon's readiness to indulge young people in all the innocent entertainments of life.
They paraphrase the words in a soft and easy manner, as if he had said, "Do not imagine, Oh young man that I give thee lessons of morality and piety in a gloomy humour, or with any rigorous and unkind design. Far from desiring to lay thee under any unnecessary restraint, I rather exhort thee to rejoice in the days of thy youth, those best days, in which the spirits are brisk and lively, and all the powers of nature in their most vigorous state. Let thine heart then cheer thee: Wear an habitual smile upon thy countenance, indulge that gaiety which is so natural in the spring-season of life; so natural, and indeed so decent. Walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: Seek out every innocent object of amusement; gratify thy genius, thy temper, thy relish, in all the particularities of it; provided only that thou dost still remember thy future account, acknowledging God in thy ways, and guarding against every abuse of his goodness, every thing that would on the whole be offensive to him, and detrimental to thyself."
My brethren, I readily own, that there is nothing in this paraphrase of the words which is unbecoming the piety and wisdom of the author, and that he has in effect said the same in several passages of this very book. There is hardly a senti
Eccles. xii. 11. Isai. xxii. 23.
There is There is
ment, which he more frequently repeats than this. nothing, says he, in express words again and again, nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of his labour*. It is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun; for it is his portion, and a heart to rejoice in it is the gift of Godt. Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart: Let thy garments be always white, and thine head lack no ointment. And once more, I recommend Mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat and to drink, and to be merry§. The sense of which, if we would find a sense worthy of the author, must no doubt be this," that religion is far from forbidding a cheerful use of the enjoyments of life; and that without such a use they are given to the possessor in vain ;" who indeed can otherwise hardly be called the possessor, but rather the steward and purveyor for the next heir, who may perhaps be as profuse, as his predecessor was penurious and insatiable.
And I hope you will not imagine, that in what I have farther to say, I intend any thing inconsistent with these observations and advices. To be devout, and to be melancholy, are two very different things; and the greatest enemies of religion could not call it by a more invidious and unjust name, than a Walking mournfully before the Lord of hosts. Instead therefore of dissuading you from a life of true pleasure, I would rather direct you to it, and only urge you to despise that which is visionary and mean, to secure that which is solid and noble ; in a word, to decline no delights which will not interfere with others much more valuable, none which will not be mingled with regret, or followed by a lasting anguish, a thousand times. more than an equivalent for them. And so far as these precautions will admit, I will venture to say, even in this sense, Rejoice O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth. Nevertheless I am well persuaded this is not, and cannot be, the original sense of the words; and therefore I add,
2. They are rather to be understood, as an awful and lively caution to young persons, to be upon their guard against those gratifications whereby conscience might be wounded, and God dishonoured.
I suppose, with the general stream of commentators, that
* Eccles. ii. 24. iii. 12, 13, 22. † Eccles. v. 18, 19.
Eccles, ix. 7, 8.
the words are an ironical way of expressing, in a more pointed and lively manner, the very contrary to what they seem literally to speak; Like that speech of Elijah concerning Baal, when he said, Cry aloud, for he is a God; or that of Micaiah to Ahab, Go up to Ramoth Gilead, and prosper +; or that of our Lord to his disciples, sleep on now, and take your rest‡: To which, I suppose, we may add that saying of God concerning Adam after his fall, Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evils. Thus do these words most strongly forbid what they seem to allow, and are as if he had said, "Thou poor thoughtless creature, who in this giddy intoxication of youth, art so madly bent upon sensual pleasure, take thy fill of it, and withhold not thine heart from any joy. Follow all the most impetuous appetites of nature, and wantonly bound over every restraint of reason and piety, trample on the admonition of all thy teachers, shake off the fetters of a strict education, and burst the bonds of religion, like threads of flax when they are touched by the flame. But think not, Oh sinner, that thou shalt always carry it off with that haughty triumph. Know, that as thou hast thy day, God will also have his: A day of strict account, and of ample recompence. Know, that for all these things, God will bring thee into judgment; and if thou canst find out no expedient, to conceal thee from an all-seeing eye, or to defend thee from an omnipotent hand, a deluge of wrath will bear thee away to everlasting destruction: Dearly shalt thou then pay for every present indulgence, and every sweet morsel shall then be turned, and be as the gall of asps within thee."
This, I say, appears to be the evident meaning of these words: And that for this plain reason; that some of the phrases made use of, are such as are never taken in a good sense, and therefore cannot admit the former interpretation. Solomon doth indeed, as you have heard, exhort his readers to eat and drink, and enjoy the good of their labours: But where can you find him, or any other sacred writer, exhorting or allowing men to walk in the way of their heart, and in the sight of their eyes? I am sure, that phrase generally signifies an indulgence to the irregularities of appetite and passion, in the neglect of reason and of scripture. Thus the Israelites are charged to wear Fringes on their garments, that they might remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and might not seek after their own heart, and their own eyes; that is, as it follows, that they
1 Kings xviii. 27.
+1 Kings xxii. 15.
Numb. xv. 39
Mat. xxvi. 45.
might not go a whoring from God after those gay and luxurious idolatries, which regaled the senses, while they debauched the soul. And thus the wicked Israelite, whom God would separate to evil out of all the tribes, is represented as vainly and arrogantly saying* I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my own heart; that is, as it follows, to add drunkenness to thirst, or one riot to another. And once more; To judge after the sight of the eyest, is a proverbial expression, to signify partial and corrupt judgment. We have no reason therefore to imagine, that Solomon would vary the signification of a phrase already so expressly fixed in some of the sacred writings; which he was himself obliged not only to read, but to transcribe‡, as he undoubtedly did on his accession to the throne; where he had also read it again and again, that The imagination of man's heart is only evil from his youth§; and he had himself elsewhere said, that foolishness is so closely bound up in the heart of a child, that not only words of admonition, but the rod of correction is necessary to drive it away. To these general remarks on the usual signification of the phrases occurring here, we may also farther add, that the connection of these words would lead us to understand them as an ironical rather than a serious concession, since they conclude with what seems a very awful menace, But know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment: As if he should have said, "Assure thyself, thou must answer for all." Which sense is farther illustrated by what follows in the last verse of this, and the first of the next chapter, [which are very unhappily divided from each other, as several other passages are, which have indeed a very close and necessary connection;] Therefore, remove sorrow from thy heart, i. e. the regret which would follow these sensual indulgencies, if thou walk in the way of it, and put away evil from thy flesh, i. e. those carnal pleasures which religion forbids, or those punishments they would certainly draw down upon thee; for childhood and youth are vanity. And remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth¶, instead of sacrificing them to vanity and folly. You easily see there is a beautiful and lively opposition between the several parts of the period on this interpretation, which on the other must be much injured, if not entirely destroyed.
I would farther observe, that the judgment, to which Solomon here refers, must undoubtedly be that of a future state;
*Deut. xxix. 19.
+ Isa. xi. 3.
. Deut. xvii. 18, 19.