Lawrenceburg, Ky., April, 1865.
DEAR BROTHER BEEBE: - As I have a few leisure moments, I will try to comply with the request of my brother, made through the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, in the fifth number of the current volume, which is as follows:
"As an inquirer after truth, I solicit the views of Elder J. F. Johnson on Eccl. xii., more particularly on the grinders."
THOMAS J. TRIPLETT.
I think that the physiology of the human system is portrayed in this connection, and more particularly in the wane of life when the things of this world can afford us but little enjoyment. I have at different times within the last ten or twelve years, been asked my opinion on this connection of the scriptures, and have willingly given such views as I have had, but not having heard any others express their sentiments on the subject, I knew not but that mine were peculiar to myself until very recently.
After seeing the foregoing request and expressing my opinion to a friend in this place on the subject, he observed that he had "Scott's Commentaries on the Bible," and, on examination we found them so near the views that I had given, that some on comparing our opinions might suppose me guilty of plagiarism; or, in other words, "stealing thunder" of Dr. Scott. Such, however, is not the fact; for I never saw Scott's ideas, nor those of any other commentator until recently, and long after my own were formed and expressed.
The chapter commences, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth." The Lord's dealings with the children of Israel were signalized by many miraculous works in their behalf, such as were not done for any other nation. From the time that he called Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, out of Macedonia, in all their wanderings until carried into Egypt, during their bondage there, their deliverance therefrom, in the destruction of the enemies that pursued them; their passage through the wilderness, the overthrow and driving out of mighty kings and nations that opposed them; his watchful eye over them; his mighty hand stretched out, doing wonders for them, until he finally settled them in a land flowing with milk and honey. There he gave them a national government, guaranteeing to them the land with all its blessings, saying, "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land," (Isa. i. 10,) but threatening them with terrible destruction should they forget or cease to remember the Lord. - See Deut. vi. 12; viii. 11, 14, 19; and hence "the preacher's" injunction with many other similar ones, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them."
Here the writer reminds us that the days of decrepitude will soon hasten on, the years of the decline of life draw nigh, when the senses, organs and powers of the system will be so much enervated, obscured or destroyed as to lessen or spoil all their enjoyments, however many blessings and privileges the Lord may have heaped upon us; sad truth, realized by many who have been signally favored, "While the sun or the moon or the stars be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain." Or when in the decline of life, the organs of sight shall be obscured, that the sun's genial rays shall appear darkened, his light dimmed; when the light of the moon and stars shall be too feeble to illumine the nocturnal pathway; and when after the rain, instead of the return of the cheerful beams of the sun, it shall be as though the dark clouds were still hovering in the heavens by reason of the failing of the eyesight. "In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble."
The body is compared in scripture to a temple, house or tabernacle, in John ii. 19, 21, and 2 Cor. v. 1. The hands are the more active members of the body in washing, cleansing, clothing and otherwise keeping the house in order; and as they become feeble and tremulous in the decline of life, I suppose that they are here alluded to as "the keepers of the house." "And the strong men shall bow themselves." As the lower limbs of the body support the entire frame, and convey it from place to place by their strength; and as they are bowed and enfeebled by the weight and toil of years, and thereby fail to bear up the burdens and perform the drudgery as in the days of youth and vigor, I suppose they are here referred to.
"And the grinders cease because they are few," (or "fail because they grind little," as said in the margin.) My brother requests my views "more particularly" of this part of the chapter, but I know not that I need say more. I think it has special allusion to the teeth, as they perform the important office of grinding or masticating the food, and thereby preparing it for the support and nourishment of the entire system. Should brother T. become so far advanced in years (if he has not already) as to witness that those teeth, commonly called grinders, cease to perform the work of grinding, (for they usually fail first having most of the work to perform,) and only chop or mince the diet, whereas they could once grind it as to powder, he will have a realizing sense of the truth of this expression.
"And those that look out of the windows be darkened." This part of the subject no doubt has reference to the eyes, the sight of which becomes weak and dim, as the blighting effect of years and the consequent decline of all other organs and members fail with them.
"And the doors shall be shut in the streets when the sound of the grinding is low." The passways through which the nutriment travels to the various parts of the system become closed or obstructed because of the imperfect manner of grinding, masticating or properly preparing the aliment for the body, and thus enfeeble and hasten the decline of all its complicated machinery.
"And he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low." How often it is the case that in extreme old age we become excitable as little children, when the shrill notes of a bird will startle us; and more especially when our time-worn and weary system becomes so frail and feeble by reason of age, that we are unable to take proper exercise; we became restless upon our beds at night, and when the morning dawns, the chirping of the bird or the crowing of the cock will rouse us from our slumbers to toil and tremble through another weary day. Our vocal organs or musical powers are likewise debilitated and disorganized with the general wreck, their melody is brought down, so that when we attempt the song, it is apparent that the daughters of music are brought low. "Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way."
When in youthful vigor and activity we can sport over the precipice, or play upon the housetop; whereas, in the years of our decrepitude we tremble at the idea of occupying an exalted position, and quake with fear at finding an obstruction in our pathway, lest we should be hurled to the ground.
"And the almond-tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail." The hoary head presents the appearance of the almond-tree flourishing its white blossoms; but blossoms are transient things, and the blossoming head presages that the period of our dissolution is fast approaching. Let as keep in view one bowed down with the weight of years, feeble and languid, with weary limbs and feeble powers, barely sufficient to bear up the tottering frame, and when he has all he can trudge along with, the smallest additional weight, even a grasshopper, as it were, will become a burden. Moreover, his "desire shall fail," the world and its all have lost charms, he is about to take his flight, or his plunge to his "long, long home;" and either for feeling or for fashion "the mourners," draped in sable mantles, "go about the streets."
"Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken." I suppose the wise man here alluded to the nervous cord which with its thousands of ramifications convey the sense of feeling to all parts of the system. Loose it from its reservoir (the nervous fluid is said to have its seat in the brain) that feeds and supplies it, and sensation would immediately cease in all parts of the system, and consequently death directly ensues.
"Or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel be broken at the cistern." I suppose that Cruden is correct when he explains the word pitcher to signify in a certain sense such vessels in the human body as convey vital supplies into the several parts of it, as the veins, arteries, &c. The circulation of the vital fluid or blood through the system is truly wonderful. Dr. Watts, said to be the master-poet, says,
"Our heart contains a thousand springs,
And dies if one be gone;
Strange that a harp of a thousand strings,
Should keep in tune so long."
Thrown out from the heart through the great aorta, or main arterial trunk, which ramifies into myriads of branches that penetrate the whole system, and meet at their extremities as many myriads of venal branches to convey it back to the heart and lungs, the blood performs its constant and complete circuit; and, let the heart be compared to a fountain, or cistern, the great artery the pitcher, and the circulating medium the wheel, we have a striking illustration of the expression. Break either the pitcher or the wheel and then must "the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return to the God who gave it," to receive its final and irrevocable doom; for the unalterable decree of Jehovah is, "Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return."
When we review the transient career of our fast fleeting lives, the utter impossibility of all earth's emoluments to satisfy, happify or even to perpetuate them beyond a span, we may truly say with the "Preacher," "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity;" and with the poet,
"How vain are all things here below,
How false, and yet how fair;
Each pleasure hath its poison, too,
And every sweet a snare."
Brother Beebe, I have penned the foregoing thoughts rather hurriedly, and perhaps have written as much as you will be willing to peruse and publish at one time, and feeling, that I lack both time and capacity to pursue the subject further. I hope that my brother Triplett will excuse me for passing over the remaining part of the chapter, for I do not feel as if I could write profitably at this time.
Greeting all the household of faith, I desire to remain their brother and servant most affectionately,
J. F. JOHNSON.