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nay, he knows it better than any other: but this thought comforts him, that he hath begun that life that is above, and beyond all vanity. The words are weighty and full. It is not a problem, or a doubtful thing; but surely every man is vanity, I may call it a definition, and so it is proved", What is man? He is like to vanity, and his days are as a shadow that passes away. His days do not only soon decline and pass away as a shadow, but also they are like vanity. While he appears to be something, he is nothing but the figure and picture of vanity. He is like it, not the copy of it, but rather the original and idea of it; for he hath derived vanity to the whole creation; he hath subjected the creatures to it, and hath thrown such a load of it upon them, that they groan under it; and so vanity agrees to him properly, constantly, and universally. Every man, and that at his best estate, as the word is, in his settled and fixed state; set him as sure and high as you will, yet he is not above that, he carries it about with him as he does his nature.
This is a very profitable truth to think on, though some kind of hearers, even of the better sort, would judge it more profitable to hear of cases of conscience; but this is a great case of conscience, to consider it well, and carry the impression of it home with you on your hearts. The extreme vanity of ourselves, that we are nothing but vanity; and the note that is added here, Selah, if it import any thing to the sense and confirmation of what it is added to, it agrees well to this : but if it be only a musical note, to direct, as some think, the elevation, or, according to others, the falling of the voice, it fits the sense very well. For you have man here lifted up and cast down again; lifted up man at his best estate, and from that thrown down to nothing, even in that estate he is altogether vanity. What is that? It is, as the word signifies, an earthly vapour, and it is generally used to signify things of the least and meanest use, the most empty airy
& Psal. cxliv. 2, 3.
things. So idols are oft called by that name; they are nothing in respect of what is attributed to them by the children of men; and such a thing is man, he seems to be something, and is indeed nothing, as it is Psal. lxii. 9. Men of low degree are vanity: possibly that may be granted for a truth, and they pass for such; and he adds, Men of high degree are a lie : they promise something, and look bigger like, but they are nothing more, except this, a lie, and the greater they are, the louder lie.
This it is, then, that we should acquaint ourselves with, that man, in this present life, in all the high advantages of it, is an empty, feeble, fading thing. If we look to the frame of man's body, what is he but a muddy wall, an house of clay, whose foundation is in the dust. If we look within, there is nothing there but a sink and heap of filth. The body of man is not only subject to fevers, hectics, &c. that makes the wall to moulder down; but, take him in his health and strength, what is he but a bag of rottenness; and why should he take delight in his beauty? which is but the appearance of a thing, which a fit of sickness will so easily deface, or the running of a few years spoil the fashion of; a great heat or a cold puts that frame into disorder; a few days sickness lays him in the dust, or much blood gathered within gathers fevers and pleurisies, and so destroys that life it should maintain; or a fly or a crumb of bread may stop his breath, and so end his days.
If we consider men in societies, in cities and towns, often hath the overflowing scourge of famine and pestilence laid them waste, and from those they cannot secure themselves in their greatest plenty and health, but they come in a sudden, and unlooked for. If we could see all the parts and persons in a great city at once, how many woes and miseries should we behold there ? how many either want bread, or scarcely have it by hard labour? then, to hear the groans of dying persons, and the sighs and weepings of those about them; how many of these things are within the walls of great cities at all times? Great palaces cannot hold out death, but it breaks through and enters there, and thither ofttimes the most painful and shameful diseases that are incident to the sons of inen resort. Death, by. vermin, hath seized on some of the greatest of kings that have ever been in the world. If we look on generals who have commanded the greatest armies, they carry about with them poor frail bodies, as well as others; they may be killed with one small wound, as well as the meanest soldier; and a few days intemperance hath taken some of the most gallant and courageous of them away in the midst of their success. And, sure I am, he who believes and considers the life to come, and looks on this, and sees what it is, makes little account of those things that have so big a sound in the world, the revolutions of states, crowns, kingdoms, cities, towns; how poor inconsiderable things are they, being compared with eternity! And he that looks not on them as such is a fool.
Ver. 6. Surely every man walks in a vain shew; surely they
are disquieted in vain : he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.
There is a part of our hand-breadth past since we last left this place, and, as we are saying this, we are wearing out some portion of the rest of it: it were well, if we considered this so as to make a better improvement of what remains, than, I believe, we shall find, upon examining of our ways, of what is past. Let us see if we can gain the space of an hour, that we may be excited to a better management of the latter part of our time than we have made of the former.
We are all, I think, convinced of the vanity of man, as to his outside, that he is a feeble, weak, poor
creature; but we may have hope of somewhat better, , in that which is the man indeed, his mind and intellectual part. It is true, that that was originally excellent, and that there is somewhat of a radical excellency still in the soul of man; yet it is so desperately degenerate, that, naturally, man, even in that consideration, is altogether vanity, in all the pieces of him; his mind is but a heap of vanity, nothing there but ignorance, folly and disorder; and if we think not so, we are the more foolish and ignorant. That which passes with great pomp, under the title of learning and science, it is commonly nothing else but a rhapsody of words and empty terms, which have nothing in them to make known the internal nature of things.
But even those who have the improvement of learning and education, who understand the model and
government of affairs, that see their defects, and entertain themselves with various shapes of amending and reforming them, even in those we shall find nothing but a sadder and more serious vanity. It is a tormenting and vexing thing for men to promise to themselves great reformations and bettering of things; that thought usually deludes the wisest of men; they must at length come to that of Solomon, after much labour to little purpose, that crooked things cannot be made straight", yea, many things grow worse, by labouring to rectify them; therefore he adds, but he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
As for knowledge in religion, we see the greatest part of the world lying in gross darkness: and even amongst Christians, how much ignorance of these things! which appears in this, that there are such swarms and productions of debates and contentions, that they are grown past number, and each party confident that truth is on his side, and ordinarily, the most ignorant and erroneous, the most confident and most imperious in their determinations; surely it were a great part of our wisdom to free our spiritą
a Eccles. i. 15,
from these empty fruitless janglings, that abound in the Christian world.
It were an endless toil to go through all degrees, professions and employments of men in the world; we may go through nations, countries, crafts, schools, colleges, courts, camps, councils of state, and parliaments, and find nothing in all these, but still more of this trouble and vexation in a more fine dress and fashion, altogether vanity.
Every man walks in a vain shew.] His walk is nothing but a going on in continual vanity, adding a new stock of vanity, of his own coining, to what. he has already within, and vexation of spirit woven all along in with it. He walks in an image, as the word is, converses with things of no reality, and which have no solidity in them, and he himself as little. He himself is a walking image, in the midst of these images. They that are taken with the conceit of images and pictures, that is an emblem of their own life, and of all other means also. Every man's fancy is to himself a gallery of pictures, and there he walks up and down, and considers not how vain these are, and how vain a thing he himself is.
My brethren, they are happy persons, (but few are they in number), that are truly weaned from all those images and fancies the world doats so much upon. If many of the children of men would turn their own thoughts backwards in the evening but of one day, what would they find for the most part, but that they have been walking among these pictures, and passing from one vanity to another, and back again to and fro; to as little purpose as the running up and down of children at their play! He who runs after honour, pleasure, popular esteem, what do you think? does not that man walk in an image, pursuing after that, that hath no other being but what the opinion and fancy of men give to it, especially the last, which is a thing so fluctuating, uncertain and inconstant, that while he hath it, he hath nothing? The other image that man follows