Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
David and Solomon: Their Experience of Life
By Robert Leighton (16111684)
From A Sermon upon Imperfection and Perfection
THIS same verdict we have from his son Solomon, after much experience in all things; who, having the advantage of peace and riches, did particularly set himself to this work, to a most exact enquiry after all things of this earth. He set nature on the rack, to confess its utmost strength for the delighting and satisfying of man; with much pains and art he extracted the very spirit of all, and, after all, he gives the same judgment we have here; his book writ on the subject being a paraphrase on this sentence, dilating the sense and confirming the truth of it. It carries its own sum in those two words which begin and end it; the one, Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, and the other, Fear God and keep His commandments, for that is the whole duty of man. And these here are just the equivalent of those two; the former of that beginning word, I have seen an end of all perfection, and the latter of that concluding one, But Thy commandment is exceeding broad.
When mean men speak of the vanity of this worlds greatness, and poor men cry down riches, it passes but for a querulous, peevish humour to discredit things they cannot reach, or else an ignorant misprision of things they do not understand; or, taking it a little further, but a self-pleasing shift, a willingly under-prizing of these things of purpose to allay the displeasure of the want of them; or, at the best, if something of truth and goodness be in the opinion yet, that the assent of such persons is (like the temperance of sickly bodies) rather a virtue made of necessity than embraced of free choice. But to hear a wise man, in the height of these advantages, proclaim their vanity, yea, kings from the very thrones whereon they sit in their royal robes, give forth this sentence upon all the glories and delights about them, is certainly above all exception. Here are two, the father and the son: the one raised from a mean condition to a crown; instead of a shepherds staff, to wield a sceptre, and that after many afflictions and dangers in the way to it, which, to some palates, gives a higher relish and sweetness to honour than if it had slid on them ere they could feel it, in the cheap, easy way of an undebated succession. Or, if any think Davids best days a little cloudy, by the remains of insurrections and oppositions, in that case usual, as the jumblings of the sea not fully quieted for a while after the storm is over; then, take the son, succeeding to as fair a day as heart can wish, both a complete calm of peace and a bright sunshine of riches and royal pomp, and be able to improve these to the highest. And yet both these are perfectly of the same mind on this great point. The son having peace and time for it, though a king, would make his throne a pulpit, and be a preacher of this one doctrine, to which the fathers sentence is the fittest text I have seen.