A good word

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A good word

CHAPTER 17
BE NOT RIGHTEOUS OVERMUCH
"Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise; why shouldest
thou destroy thyself." Ecclesiastes 7:16.
It would seem at the first glance at this text that Solomon was swinging the
danger signal, and warning the saints against being too righteous. Whether
the king meant to do this or not, he has not wanted help to keep it
swinging on down the ages. In fact, it seems to be the delight of some to
stand upon the walls of Zion (?) and keep up the warning, lest people
indulge too profusely at the well of salvation. If righteousness be a
dangerous element in the soul; if the well of water springing up into
everlasting life can be partaken of too freely; if holiness and death, as some
seem to think, are inseparable; if an overdose of the elixir of eternal life is
possible, and may prove a poison to the patient; if all this be true, then
may some conscientiously feel themselves delegated with authority to
watch careless par takers of the divine nature, and warn them of the danger
of over indulgence. But if righteousness, either in small or large quantities,
works no harm; if the more of the divine nature one has the better; if the
stream of holiness passing through the soul leaves no deadly poison and is
separable from death; then we see no reason for danger signals, or warning
voices, or feelings of alarm. We ask, then, the question, "Is it possible to
be over much righteous?" Are there any examples of such in the Bible? If
so, in what respect were they over righteous? Will the alarm 1st please
look up the records and note a few of these examples before he scares any
more of the sheep from the water of life?
What about people in these days? Are there now any who are righteous
over much? We think we hear the answer, "Yes." Then in what respect?
Do you say, "Some will not ride on the street car, nor black their shoes,
nor take milk from the dairy, nor bread from the baker, nor go to the post
office on Sunday, and a score of other little things which other Christians
do?" Now, to the law and to the testimony. Is there anything in the Word
of God that condemns such people in these things, and proves that such
conduct is over much righteousness? Do you say, "Some carefully abstain
from wearing any gold upon their person, even to a wedding ring upon
their finger; birds’ feathers are an unknown quantity upon their hats; their
dress is so very plain; they think they must be no careful in their eating;
they never drink tea nor coffee, and swine’s flesh never comes into their
mouth"? All this indictment must be weighed by the Word of God, and
these actions or omission must be properly proved to be wrong, or these
clients must not be convicted. In candid thought, is there anything in
Scripture, either in the Old or New Testament, which declares that it is
wrong to follow a course of action as described? If not, then it is simply
prejudice that says it is righteousness in over abundance. But I hear
another say, "Some people are all the time talking about their religion, and
saying the Lord has sanctified them, and they bother other people about
not having what they have, and it makes me feel uncomfortable. They are
over much righteous." Search the Scriptures, and anything that the Word
condemns we will judge accordingly; but until then we will have to decide
that their righteousness is within bounds.
We have noticed this in the Word, that wherever there is a warning thrown
out there are also examples of those who did not heed the signal. Now, as
some would claim, here is a warning against too much righteousness; but
where are the examples of heedlessness, either in the record of the Word or
in modern times? Where is the person that the Lord would pronounce too
good? Where is the one that has done too nearly right? Where is the one
that has been too faithful and lived too close to the commands of God?
Perhaps some one is saying, "It does not mean that one can be too good or
too upright, but it means self righteousness." One has no more right to say
that text means self-righteousness than that it means any other abominable
thing. Self-righteousness is an abomination, and is nothing but "filthy rags"
Any of it is too much, and the text implies that whatever the thing in
question is, some would be well enough, but too much would not be good.
One of the largest religious newspapers in the United States has a page
devoted to questions and answers. These questions are submitted to the
people for answers; and the parties whose answers are chosen are paid for
the same. In a recent issue of this paper appeared the following question,
with its answer:
"What is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 7:16: ‘Be not righteous over much;
neither make thyself over wise; why shouldest thou destroy thyself?’"
Answer: "This verse may be taken as a caution against a Pharisaical
display of righteousness, which, while wonderfully scrupulous about the
letter, too often loses sight of the spirit of God’s command."
Probably many other answers to this question came in, but this was
chosen as the best. It is evident that the writer was not clear in his
understanding of the text, at least he was not sure, for be states, "This
verse may be taken," etc., showing that while it may mean something else,
yet it "may he taken" in the sense given.
Of course, the Lord does not want anybody to as this answer indicates,
but that the text does not mean anything of the kind will appear when a
proper study of the context is made. We believe it is right here that so
much misunderstanding of the Word comes in. A passage of Scripture, as
it stands alone, seems to teach one thing, and when used with its context
means quite another. It means something, or it would not be there. God
has not allowed meaningless words to conic into His Book. Following the
method of studying the context, we can see perhaps what the thought is.
In the previous verse Solomon says: "All things have I seen in the days of
my vanity." That is, in the days before he knew the Lord. In his natural,
unsaved state, he observed some things. One thing was, he was watching
the difference between the righteous and the wicked; the earthly
prosperity and adversity of each. And, like the unsaved today, he was
looking at things from an entirely wrong standpoint. This evidently is his
thought when he refers to seeing things in his vanity. Then he goes on to
mention some things which he had observed from that point of vision and
at that time. He says: "There is a just man that perisheth in his
righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his
wickedness." This evidently was a temptation to him, just as it was to his
father David, when he saw the wicked spreading themselves like green bay
trees. David said:
"For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the
wicked. For there are no bands in their death; but their strength is
firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neithe
He further said: "They have more than heart could wish." But he moved
around to another location and looked at them from another standpoint,
and said: "When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I
went into the sanctuary of God, then understood I their end." When he
saw things from God’s standpoint he was not tempted by them any more.
His temptation was the thought that it hardly paid to be a follower of
God. The wicked seemed to get along better than he, and evidently the
devil was tempting him to think that salvation did not pay. This was no
doubt Solomon’s trouble in the days of his vanity. He saw the righteous
perishing in his righteousness, and he saw the wicked prolonging his days
in his wickedness. Then the temptation would be that there was no profit
in salvation.
These same things obtain today; some righteous people are in poverty and
suffering, and in it all they die; while some wicked people live in luxury
and worldly prosperity, and in that they die. Looking at things from a
purely worldly standpoint one might think that it does not pay to he a
Christian; but from the standpoint of heaven the view is entirely changed,
as David soon saw. So, Solomon, seeing the state and utter end of both the
righteous and the wicked, and judging things from his standpoint of vanity,
it would be perfectly natural for him to say that there is no use in putting
too much stress on righteousness, for the righteous do not seem to get
along any better, not even so well, as the wicked. But his godly training
would not permit him to throw away all desire to be right; yet, feeling
there would be no special benefit in any great quantity of righteousness, he
says, in the language of the text: "Be not righteous over much; neither
make thyself over wise; why shouldest thou destroy thyself?" And yet,
not wanting to cast too much reflection upon the possession of
righteousness, he evidently tries to even it up in the next verse by saying:
"Be not over much wicked; neither be thou foolish (just the opposite
condition to his former statement) ; why shouldest thou die before thy
time?" I suppose Solomon thought, in his unregenerate state of vanity,
that he was keeping "in the middle of the road." He did not think it best to
get too much religion, or to be too wicked. If we mistake not, there are
To take this text to prove the possibility of being too righteous certainly
shows ridiculousness in the extreme. Yet it has been done; how much we
do not know. In Adam Clarke’s time he cites a case, and says: "It cannot
be supposed, except by those who are entirely unacquainted with the
nature of true religion, that a man may have too much holiness; too much
of the life of God in the soul. And yet a learned Doctor, in three sermons
on this text, has endeavored to show, outdoing Solomon’s infidel, ‘the sin,
folly and danger of being righteous over much.’ O rare darkness!"
many of his order still living.
Do not let the reader forget that this statement was the thought of
Solomon in the days of his vanity, when he did not know any better.
r are they plagued
like other men." Psalm 73:3.5.
To take this text to prove the possibility of being too righteous certainly
shows ridiculousness in the extreme. Yet it has been done; how much we
do not know. In Adam Clarke’s time he cites a case, and says: "It cannot
be supposed, except by those who are entirely unacquainted with the
nature of true religion, that a man may have too much holiness; too much
of the life of God in the soul. And yet a learned Doctor, in three sermons
on this text, has endeavored to show, outdoing Solomon’s infidel, ‘the sin,
folly and danger of being righteous over much.’ O rare darkness!"