Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE NATURAL EMOTION OF BENEVOLENCE IS RECOGNIZED AND HALLOWED BY TRUE RELIGION. It may be maintained with confidence that sympathy is as natural to man as selfishness, although the love of self is too often allowed by our sinful nature to overcome the love of others. But when Christ takes possession, by his Spirit, of a man's inner nature, then the benevolence which may have been dormant is aroused, and new direction is given to it, and new power to persevere and to succeed in the attainment of its object.
II. RELIGION PROMPTS TO A PRACTICAL EXPRESSION OF BENEVOLENT FEELING. Too often sympathy is a sentimental luxury, leading to no effort, no self-denial. The poet justly denounces those who, "Nursed in mealy-mouthed philanthropies, Divorce the feeling from her mate - the deed." But the spirit of the Savior urges to Christ-like endeavor, and sustains the worker for men's bodily, social, and spiritual good. The bread must be cast, the portion must be given.
III. BENEVOLENCE MEETS IN ITS EXERCISE WITH MANY DISCOURAGEMENTS. The bread is cast upon the waters. This implies that in many cases we must expect to lose sight of the results of our work; that we must he prepared for disappointment; that, at all events, we must fulfill our service for God and man in faith, and rather from conviction and principle than from any hope of apparent and immediate success.
IV. A PROMISE IS GIVEN WHICH IS INTENDED TO URGE TO PERSEVERANCE. What is, as it were, committed to the deep shall be found after the lapse of days. The waters do not destroy, they fertilize and fructify, the seed. Thus "they who sow in tears shall reap in joy." In how many ways this promise is fulfilled the history of the Christian Church, and even the experience of every individual worker for God, abundantly show. In places and at times altogether unexpected and unlikely, there come to light evidences that the work has been cared for, watched over, and prospered by God himself. He does not suffer the efforts of his faithful servants to come to naught. The good they aim at, and much which never occurred to them to anticipate, is effected in God's time by the marvelous operation of his providence and his Spirit. "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." - T.
I. A SIMILITUDE. The good we give to men when we preach and teach Divine truth, when we exercise Christian influence, is seed - fruit-bearing seed. It is a blessed, but a sacred and serious, occupation to sow the seed of spiritual life.
II. A DIRECTION. Christian sowers! Cast your bread even upon the waters.
1. Even upon an unkindly soil.
2. Even in an unpromising season.
3. Liberally, though at the cost of self-sacrifice.
4. Constantly, even though it seems that the sowing has been long carried on in vain.
5. Bravely and hopefully, although the calculating, shortsighted world deride your efforts.
III. A PROMISE. After lapse of days you shall find the bread you have dispersed.
1. What is cast abroad is not destroyed.
2. Neither is it lost sight of.
3. It shall, perhaps after many days, be found again.
It may be in time; it shall be in eternity. Then "he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rejoice together." - T.
I. THAT IT IS WELL WORTHWHILE TO SPEND OUR WHOLE STRENGTH IN LOVING SERVICE. "Cast thy bread upon the waters" - scatter the precious bread-corn, drop it into the flood; that is not the act of a. fool, but of a wise man. "Give a portion to seven;" ay, go further than even that in your liberality - spend your whole strength in that which is good and beneficent, lavish your resources, let there be a generous overflow rather than a cool calculation in your service; and this whether you are acting as a citizen, as a neighbor, or as a member of the Church of Christ.
II. THAT, IF WE ARE WISE, WE SHALL LET OUR VERY IGNORANCE STIMULATE US TO EXERTION. Is it worthwhile to. sow when we cannot be sure that we shall ever reap? Since we do not know what evil may come in a week era day, had we not better turn the seed of the sower into bread for the eater? No; let our ignorance concerning the future be rather an incentive to activity. Say not, "I do not know what changes may come upon the earth; how little my labors may prove to be profitable; who will appreciate my devotion, and who will be unresponsive and ungrateful; therefore I shall suspend my exertions." Say rather, "I cannot tell what is coming; how soon I may be rewarded; how short may be the term of my life and of my opportunity here; I must therefore lose no time and waste no strength; I must do whole-heartedly all that is in my power. Because I cannot tell which of my words will fall like water on the rock, and which like seed upon the fertile soil, whether the morning or the evening labors will be rewarded, therefore I will do my best; perhaps this present effort I am now making may be the very one which has in it the seed of a glorious harvest." Thus our very ignorance may stimulate us to holy and fruitful action.
III. THAT WE SHOULD NOT ALLOW OURSELVES TO BE DISTURBED BY THE UNSYMPATHETIC FORCES ROUND US. If the clouds are full of rain, they will empty themselves on the earth without any regard to our necessity for fine weather; the tree will fall this way or that, according to the wind, whomsoever or whatsoever it will crush by its weight. The forces of nature are quite unsympathetic. Feebleness may incapacitate or death may take away our most efficient fellow-laborer; the changes that affect our human lives may reduce our means or remove our agents, or even close our agencies; but we must not be daunted, nor must we stay our hand on this account. The full mind, like the full cloud, must pour itself forth, and may do so in words and ways we do not like; the man, like the tree, must take the line toward which he strongly inclines, and this may be one that traverses our tastes and wishes, Never mind! We are not to let our good work for Christ be arrested by such incidental difficulty as that. We are to "quit us like men, and be strong," and we are to triumph over such hindrances as these.
IV. THAT WE ARE NOT TO BE IN ANY HURRY FOR THE HARVEST. The seed we cast "shall be found after many days." The husbandman hath "long patience," waiting for the fruits of the earth. The history of the noblest men is one long sermon on the blessedness of patience. It says to the Christian pilgrim and workman, "Work and wait; work diligently, intelligently, devoutly, then wait prayerfully and hopefully. Be not surprised, much less distracted, because the harvest is still far in the future; in due season you will reap, if you faint not." - C.
I. In vers. 1, 2a THE PRACTICE OF BENEVOLENCE TOWARD OTHERS is commended to us - a benevolence that is generous and profuse. "Cast thy bread," he says, "upon the waters." "Do not be afraid of showing kindness, even where thou seest no prospect of result or return; let the fiat cake of bread, the type of food to the hungry, aid to the needy, float down the stream of life. Thou wilt find one day that thou hast hit the mark, won some grateful heart" (Bradley). His words remind us of the counsel in the Gospels "to do good, hoping for nothing again, even to the unthankful and the evil" (Matthew 5:44-46; Luke 6:32-35).
"Repandez vos bienfaits avec magnificence,
II. A MOTIVE TO BENEFICENCE is laid down in ver. 2b. "For thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth." In the time of prosperity remember that a day of calamity and suffering may come, when the succor of the friends you have made may be of great service. Bad as men are, there are numerous instances of a grateful love recompensing benefits received long ago, which perhaps even the benefactor has long forgotten. "Peradventure for the good man some would even dare to die." No one can tell what vicissitudes of fortune are in store for him; and therefore it is prudent to make some provision in the present against a day of adversity. The same teaching is found in the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-9). These who spend some of their wealth in doing deeds of kindness and mercy (Luke 14:12-14) are described as laying up treasure in bags that wax not old, as providing for themselves friends who will, when this life is over, welcome them into everlasting habitations. To some this may seem but a sordid motive to benevolence; it may seem to turn that virtue into a kind of refined selfishness. But, after all, there is nothing unworthy in the motive. "Self-love is implanted in man's nature, and men who themselves affect to despise such a motive are often themselves, with all their professed loftiness of aim, actuated by no higher objects than those of pleasure, fame, or advancement" (Wright).
III. OUR IGNORANCE OF THE FUTURE FORBIDS OUR KNOWING WHAT EVIL WILL COME UPON THE EARTH. (Ver. 2b.) The world is governed by uniform laws; both good and evil are subject to them. As it is an invariable law of nature that at a certain point the clouds that are filled with rain begin to discharge their load upon the earth, and no human power can seal them up, and as it is an invincible law that the forest tree must fall before the blast, when the force with which it resists the 'fury of the wind is insufficient to save it from overthrow, so the future is shaped by laws which man cannot control, and it is a mark of prudence to be prepared for any contingencies. The tempest which deluges the earth with rain, and levels the monarchs of the forest with the ground, can neither be foreseen nor averted by man; neither can the future, whether it be charged with prosperity or adversity. The interpretation of ver. 3 as teaching that the fate of man is forever fixed at death is utterly indefensible; there is nothing whatever in the text to indicate that the writer had any such thought in his mind. And one may say, in passing, that the teaching in question can have very little foundation, when it is principally, if not altogether, founded upon a misinterpretation of this passage. Why the advocates of the doctrine, which in itself is repulsive to our ideas of reasonableness and justice, should make so much of an obscure metaphor in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and shut their eyes to the historical statement in 1 Peter 3:18-20, which is decisive upon the point in question, is difficult to understand. No outcry about the obscurity of the latter passage can annul the plain statement of fact in it, viz. that Christ after his death went and preached the gospel to the spirits of those who were overtaken by the flood in the days of Noah. Uncertainty as to the future should not, however, lead to present inactivity (ver. 5). We are not to allow "taking thought for the morrow" (Matthew 6:25) to hinder our doing good to-day; that would be as absurd as the conduct of the farmer if he were to put off from day to day the sowing or reaping of his fields because of wind or rain, until the time for sowing or for reaping had passed away. Some risk we must run in our undertakings; and if some opportunities come to us without any seeking or effort on our part, we can make others for ourselves by the exercise of our good sense, energy, or tact. "The conditions of success cannot be reckoned on beforehand; the future belongs to God, the all-conditioning" (Delitzsch). This is the idea contained in ver. 5. Two examples are given of processes of nature which are familiar to us all, but the ways and working of which are hidden from our knowledge; they are the course of the wind (not the "spirit," as in the Authorized Version), which "bloweth where it listeth" (John 3:8), and the formation of the babe "in the womb of her who is with child." These secrets being in nature, it is not wonderful that the methods of the Divine government cannot be searched out by human wisdom or ingenuity, that the ways of God should be inscrutable and past finding out. "Even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all."
IV. THE CALL TO BENEFICENT ACTIVITY IS REPEATED. (Ver. 6.) "Since the future rests in the power of One who arranges all things, but who does not act arbitrarily, and since a finite being cannot unravel the secrets of the Infinite, man should act faithfully and fulfill energetically his appointed task" (Wright). The teaching is the same as in Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;" "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good" (ver. 6). "In the morning of life be active; slumber not through its decline. Use well the gifts of youth; use, too, the special gifts of age. Thou knowest not which shall bear good fruit; it may be both." As men sow, they reap; the greater their exertions, the wider the area they cultivate, the richer usually is their harvest. The whole precept, says Plumptre, "is a call to activity in good, not unlike that of him who said, 'I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is called today: the night cometh, when no man can work' (John 9:4); who taught men to labor in the vineyard, even though they were not called to begin their work till the eleventh hour, when it was toward evening, and the day far spent" (Matthew 20:1-16) - J.W.
I. THE DUTY OF DILIGENCE. Good results do not come by chance; and although the blessing and the glory are alike God's, he honors men by permitting them to be his fellow-workers. There is no reason to expect reaping unless sowing has preceded; "What a man soweth that shall he also reap." Toil - thoughtful, patient, persevering toil - such is the condition of every harvest worth the ingathering.
II. DISSUASIVES FROM DILIGENCE. If the husbandman occupy himself in studying the weather, and in imagining and anticipating adverse seasons, the operations of agriculture will come to a standstill. There are possibilities and contingencies before every one of us, the consideration and exaggeration of which may well paralyze the powers, hinder effective labor, and cloud the prospect of the future, so as to prevent a proper use of present opportunities. This is a temptation which besets some temperaments more than others, from which, however, few are altogether free. If the Christian laborer fixes his attention upon the difficulties of his task, upon the obduracy or ignorance of the natures with which he has to deal, upon the slenderness of his resources, upon the failures of many of his companions and colleagues, leaving out of sight all counteracting influences, the likelihood is that his powers will be crippled, that his work will stand still, and that his whole life will be clouded by disappointment. The field looks barren, the weeds grow apace, the enemy is sowing tares, the showers of blessing are withheld: what, then, is the use of sowing the gospel seed? Such are the reflections and the questionings which take possession of many minds, to their discouragement and enfeeblement and distress.
III. INDUCEMENTS TO DILIGENCE. It is not questioned that the work is arduous, that the difficulties are real, that the foes are many and powerful, that circumstances may be adverse, that the prospect (to the eye of mere human reason) may be somber. But even granting all this, the Christian laborer has ample grounds for earnest and persevering effort. Of these, two come before us as we read these verses.
1. Our own ignorance of results. We have not to do with the consequences, and we certainly cannot foresee them. Certain it is that amazing blessings have sometimes rested upon toil in most unpromising conditions, in places and among people that have almost stricken the heart of the observer with despair. "Thou knowest not whether shall prosper, this or that;" "With God nothing is impossible."
2. The express command of our Divine Lord. Results we cannot foresee. But direct commands we can understand and obey. "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand." Such is the voice, the behest, of him who has a right to order our actions - to control and inspire our life. Whilst we have this commission to execute, we are not at liberty to waste our time and cripple our activities by moodily questioning what is likely to follow from our efforts. Surely the Christian may have faith to leave this in the hand of God! - T.
those, and those only, who can brave wind and rain in the open field of labor, in the wide spheres of usefulness.
I. THE FACT, AS OUR EXPERIENCE TESTIFIES. Everything that is done which is really worth doing is wrought with trouble, with some measure of difficulty and of risk, with the possibility or likelihood of failure, with struggle and some degree of disappointment - e.g., the little child in learning to walk and to talk; the boy in mastering his lesson or even his game, or in finding and taking his place in the schoolroom and the playground; the student in acquiring his knowledge, and in facing and passing his examination; the tradesman and merchant in making their purchases unit investing their money; the author in writing and printing his book; the statesman in planning and submitting his measure, etc. In all these, and in all such cases, we have to contend with adverse "winds" that blow upon us; we have to "put our foot down" firmly on the ground; we have to run the risk of unpleasant "rains," of falling and of failure. It is the constant condition of human endeavor.
II. THE BENEFICENT RESULT. This is not to be regretted; on the contrary, we may be thankful for it. It develops human character; it calls forth and strengthens all that is best within us.
1. It nourishes fortitude - a commendable capacity to endure; a readiness to accept, unmoved and untroubled at heart, whatever may befall us.
2. It creates and sustains courage - a deliberate determination to face the evil that may possibly await us.
3. It contributes to true manliness - the power to do and to endure anything and everything as Gad may will, as man may want. We pity those whose field of work, whose path of life, is unvisited by adverse winds and unpleasant rains. If they do grow up into strong and brave souls, it will be in spite of the absence of those circumstances which are most helpful in the formation of character. We have no condolence for those who have to face the strong wind and the rain; we congratulate them that they are placed where the noblest characters are shaped.
III. ITS LESSON FOR THE CHRISTIAN WORKER. Too often the workman in the Master's vineyard is inclined to lay down his weapon when the clouds gather in the heavens. But to act thus is not worthy of him. Not thus did he who "bore such contradiction of sinners against himself." Not thus have the worthiest of his disciples done - they who have done the most, and have left behind them the most fragrant memories. Not thus will they have acted who receive the gladdening commendation of their Lord "in the day of his appearing" Not thus shall we finish the work our Father has given us to do. Let the strong winds of even an unkindly criticism blow, let the dark cloud of possible failure show itself in the horizon, we will not be daunted; we will go forth to sow the good seed of the kingdom, to reap its precious harvest. - C.
I. THERE IS APPOINTED FOR MEN THE LIGHT OF YOUTH, HEALTH, AND PROSPERITY. He who rises betimes, and, turning to the east, watches for the sunrise, and then beholds the glorious orb of day rise from the plain or from the sea, and flood hill and valley, corn-field and pasture, with the radiant splendor of the morning, can enter into the language of the preacher, "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." And if then he looks into the face of a companion, a noble and generous youth, unstained by sin, undimmed by care, untouched by disease, he can well understand what is meant by the morning of life, the luster of youth, and can thank God that such a period, anal such strength, joy, and hope, have been appointed as a part of human experience. In youth and bounding health and high spirits, how fresh and winsome is the present! how alluring the future! Who would wish to cast a shadow upon the brightness which God himself has created?
II. THERE IS APPOINTED FOR MEN THE DARKNESS OF AGE, INFIRMITY, ADVERSITY, AND DEATH. The same individual whom we have regarded in the prime of his powers and the beauty of his joy will, if his life be prolonged, pass through quite other experiences. Clouds will gather about his head, the storm will smite him, the dark midnight will shroud him. There is no discharge in that war - no exemption from the common lot. He may lose his health, his powers of body or of mind, his property, his friends. He must walk through the valley of death-shade. In some form or other trouble and sorrow must be his portion.
III. THE DUTY AND THE WISDOM OF REMEMBERING THE APPROACH OF THE TIME OF DARKNESS. It may be objected that it will be time enough to think of the afflictions of life when they are actually present, and that it is a pity to cloud the sunny present by gloomy forebodings. Those who know the young and prosperous are, however, well aware that their natural tendency is altogether to ignore the likelihood of a great change in circumstances and experience. And to remember the providential appointment that our life cannot be eternal sunshine is, in many respects, a most desirable and profitable exercise. Thus shall we learn to place a due value, and no more than a due value, upon the pleasures, the diversions, the congenial pursuits of youth and prosperity. And, what is still better, thus may we be led to seek a deeper and surer foundation for our life - to acquire spiritual treasures, of which we cannot be deprived by lapse of time or change of circumstances. And thus shall we, by God's mercy, find that the darkness through which we needs must walk is but for a season, and that through it the people of God shall pass into the blessed sunshine of eternal day. - T.
I. SENTIMENTAL SADNESS, IN VIEW OF THIS LONG FUTURE. We may stroll in the churchyard, and as we read the names and ages of men who lived for thirty or forty years, but who have been in their graves for, it may be, two hundred years, we may think how small was the measure of the light on which they looked compared with that of the darkness in which they have been sleeping. And as we yield to these thoughts we feel the vanity of human affairs. Thus the shadow of the tomb falls upon and darkens the brightness of our life. It seems to us a poor thing for a man to come out of the infinite darkness behind; to walk in the sunshine for a few swiftly passing, soon-departed decades, and then go out into the immeasurable darkness on the other side. There is, however -
II. A CORRECTING THOUGHT. Why should the excellency of human life be spoiled to us by the reflection that it is limited, bound by a line which is not far off us? If it be so that there is nothing but darkness beyond, if it be true that what we see comprises all that is to be seen, then let us, for that very reason, make the most of all that we hold. If the worth of our existence is confined to the present, let us compress into the present time all the action and all the enjoyment which it will hold shall we not say -
"I will drink III. THE CHRISTIAN ASPECT OF THE SUBJECT. We know that this life will soon be over, may reach its terminus any day, and must come to its conclusion before many years have gone. What shall we be concerned about in this? 1. Not the hour or act of dying. Common human fortitude will carry us through that experience, as it has done in countless millions of cases already; much more will Christian faith and hope. 2. Not the silence and darkness of the grave. What does it signify to us that our mortal body will lie long in the grave, when we are hoping to be "clothed upon with our house which is from heaven?" 3. The long future of heavenly life. Not the many days of darkness, but the long, the everlasting day of glory is before us who believe in Christ, and who hope to dwell with him forever. For that endless day of blessedness the life we are now living is not only the preliminary but the preparation. Therefore let every day, every hour, be sacred; be so spent in faith, in love, in holy labor, in ennobling joy, that the future will be but the continuance of the present - the continuance, but also the enlargement, the glorification. Thus shall there not fall upon the life that now is the shadow of the tomb; there shall shine upon it some beams from the glory that is beyond. - C.
III. THE CHRISTIAN ASPECT OF THE SUBJECT. We know that this life will soon be over, may reach its terminus any day, and must come to its conclusion before many years have gone. What shall we be concerned about in this?
1. Not the hour or act of dying. Common human fortitude will carry us through that experience, as it has done in countless millions of cases already; much more will Christian faith and hope.
2. Not the silence and darkness of the grave. What does it signify to us that our mortal body will lie long in the grave, when we are hoping to be "clothed upon with our house which is from heaven?"
3. The long future of heavenly life. Not the many days of darkness, but the long, the everlasting day of glory is before us who believe in Christ, and who hope to dwell with him forever. For that endless day of blessedness the life we are now living is not only the preliminary but the preparation. Therefore let every day, every hour, be sacred; be so spent in faith, in love, in holy labor, in ennobling joy, that the future will be but the continuance of the present - the continuance, but also the enlargement, the glorification. Thus shall there not fall upon the life that now is the shadow of the tomb; there shall shine upon it some beams from the glory that is beyond. - C.
Romans 12:11, 12, "In diligence not slothful... rejoicing in hope." The Revised Version (in ver. 8) brings out the full meaning more clearly than the Authorized Version: "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. Yea, if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity." The light here praised is the light of life; the existence passed in the world on which the sun shines, as contrasted with the darkness of the grave, the unseen world, which to the mind of the Preacher, unillumined by the full revelation in Christ, seemed a region of shadows, dreary and insubstantial. To our thoughts such a view of the world beyond the grave, if world it could be called, in which all was dark and without any order (Job 10:21, 22), would seem calculated to rob the present of all delights. But evidently our author did not regard it as necessarily doing so. Neither did those ancient Egyptians, who had the representation of a corpse in its cerements at their banquets. To grosser minds among them the sight probably suggested the thought, "Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die." But doubtless to graver minds it suggested something nobler - that pleasure, chastened and restrained by wise foresight, is pure and more lasting than any other. So, too, the enjoyment of life commended by the Preacher is not found by him incompatible with a contemplation of death. He does not say, "Let the young and thoughtless have out their time of frivolity and short-lived mirth; the sad thoughts by which the closing years of life are naturally darkened will only come to them too soon." He rather would have men to rejoice in all the years of their life, though they be many. "Days of evil may come; clouds may, during long hours of sorrow, obscure the glory of the sun; but even if a man live many days, he should endeavor to rejoice in them all: and all the more so, if a long night of darkness awaits him at the close of his earthly career" (Wright). By the days of darkness, which are many, he evidently means the condition after death; for he distinctly differentiates them from the days of life, in all of which there should be joy, in spite of passing trials and distresses. For all men days of darkness are in store; let all, therefore, make the most of the present, and by a wise guidance of their conduct, by a beneficent activity, let them acquire the right and the ability to enjoy the innocent joys with which God has been pleased to bless and enrich our lives, seeing that "all that cometh" after life is vanity. It is true that to us the world beyond the grave appears in a different light. We believe in the everlasting felicity of the righteous in the "many mansions" which remain for those who have during this life been faithful to God, and have qualified themselves for higher service and more perfect enjoyment of him in the world to come. But this belief need not, should not, lead us to despise the bounties we have in this world from the hand of God. A devout and grateful acceptance and use of all the blessings he has bestowed upon us, a joy in living and seeing the light of the sun, should be much easier to us if we are conscious of reconciliation to God, and regard death as the entrance to a higher life. - J.W.
I. THE DIVINE PROVISION OF LIFE'S JOYS. If this language be not the language of irony - and it seems better to take it as sober serious truth, - then we are taught that the delights of this earthly existence, however they are capable of abuse, are in themselves not evil, but proofs of the Creator's benevolence, to be accepted with devout thanksgiving. In dealing with the young it is especially important to avoid warring with their innocent pleasures. These may sometimes seem to us trivial and unprofitable; but a juster view of human nature will convince us that they are wisely appointed to fulfill a certain place and office in human life.
II. THE DIVINE APPOINTMENT OF FUTURE JUDGMENT. Conscience suggests that we are responsible beings, and that retribution is a reality. What conscience suggests revelation certifies. The Bible lays the greatest stress upon individual accountability. We are taught in the text that we are not only responsible for the work we do in life, but for the pleasures we pursue. Certainly it is of the greatest advantage that men should recollect in the days of happiness the assurances of Scripture, that God shall ere long bring them into judgment. Such recollection will check any inclination to unlawful enjoyments, and will prevent undue absorption in enjoyments which are in themselves lawful, but to which a disproportionate value may be attached. There is a sense in which, as we are here reminded, "youth and the prime of life are vanity." They will prove to be so to those who imagine that they will last, to these who pride themselves in them and boast of them, to those who use them only as the Opportunity of personal pleasure, to those who forget their Creator, neglect his Law, and despise his Gospel
III. THE POSSIBILITY OF ACCEPTING GOD'S GIFTS AND OF USING THEM UNDER A SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY, AND WITH A VIEW TO THE GREAT ACCOUNT. If every blessing in this life be taken as coming directly from the great Giver's hand, as a token of his favor, and as the result of the mediation of his blessed Son, then may the very enjoyments of this life become to Christians the occasion of present grace and the earnest of fullness of joy. - T.
Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12, 22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:9). Moreover, we obtain an excellent meaning by taking them in their natural sense. We may indeed ask for -
I. THE NECESSITY FOR SUCH COUNSEL. It may be said - What need is there for offering such an exhortation? Young manhood is certain to take all the indulgence which is good for it, without any man's bidding; the danger is not on the side of defect, but of excess. That certainly is so generally. But there is the religious devotee, who thinks he is pleasing God by abstaining from all bodily comforts, and enduring all physical sufferings. There is also the ascetic moralist, who thinks that he is conforming to the highest standard of ethics when he practices a rigorous abstinence, and goes through life denying himself the delights to which outward nature and inward instincts invite him. There is also the man of prudent policy, who thinks that in a state of society such as that in which the Preacher lived and wrote, where there is no security for life or property, it is better not to enter into new relationships or to embark in great enterprises; let life be cut down to its smallest limits. Hence the necessity for such a cheery invitation as that in the text. But we must mark -
II. THE EXTENT TO WHICH IT GOES. Clearly the words must not be taken in their widest possible sense. That would be not liberty, but license; that would not encourage enjoyment, but sanction vice. The Preacher would have the young man, who is full of strength, energy, hope, affection, have the full heritage which the Father of spirits and Author of this world intended and provided for him. Let him give play to all the sound impulses of his nature; let him taste the exquisite enjoyment of a pure affection and of happy friendship; let him be an eager and earnest competitor in the contest of strength, of skill, of the studio, of the mart, of the council, of the senate; let him throw his full energies into the activities, recreations, ambitions, aspirations, of his time; let him play his part as his heart inclines and as his capacities enable him. But let him not cross the line which divides virtue from vice, wisdom from folly, conscientiousness from unscrupulousness. For there has to be taken into account -
III. ONE POWERFULLY RESTRAINING THOUGHT. God will bring him into judgment. And God's judgment is threefold.
1. He judges us every moment, deciding whether our thought, our feeling, our action, is right or wrong; and he is thus continually approving or disapproving, and is constantly pleased or displeased. Surely this is not a Divine judgment to be disregarded.
2. He causes an evil habit to be visited, sooner or later, with the penalty which appropriately follows it - sickness, feebleness, poverty, mental incapacity, human condemnation, ruin, death, as the case may be.
3. He reserves the day of trial and of account for the hour when life is over. - C.
Whatsoever mine eyes desired," he says, "I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on all the labor that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun." From this he turned to the joys and employments of an intellectual life - acquired knowledge and wisdom, studied the works of nature, analyzed human character in all its phases, and applied himself to the solution of all those great problems connected with the moral government of the world and the destiny of the soul of man. Here he was baffled. The discoveries he made were he found, useless for curing any of the evils of life, and at every point he met with mysteries which he could not solve, and his sense of failure and defeat convinced him that though "wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness," it does not satisfy the soul. "What, then, is the result of his inquiries, of his pain and labor in searching after the highest good? Do his withering speculations leave anything untouched which may reasonably be the object of our pursuit, and which may afford us the satisfaction for which he sought in vain in so many quarters? Does he decide that life is, after all, worth living, or is his conclusion that it is not? In the closing sections of his book some answer is given to these questions; something positive comes as a pleasing relief from all the negations with which he had shut up one after another of the paths by which men had sought and still seek to attain to lasting happiness. Two conclusions might have been drawn from the experience through which he had passed. "Since the employments and enjoyments of life are insufficient to give satisfaction to the soul's craving, why engage in them, why not turn away from them in contempt, and fix the thoughts solely on a life to come?" an ascetic might ask. "Since life is so transitory, pleasure so fleeting, why not seize upon every pleasure, and banish every care as far as possible?" an Epicurean might ask. "Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die." Neither of these courses finds any favor in the mature judgment of Solomon, or of the writer who draws his teaching from the experience of the Jewish king. "Rejoice," he says, rebuking the ascetic; "know thou that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment," he adds, for the confusion of the Epicurean. He speaks with the authority of one who had fully considered the problems of life, and with the solemnity of one whose earthly career was hastening to its close; and he addresses himself to the young, as more likely to profit by his experience than those over whom habits of life and thought have more power. But of course all, both young and old, men and women, can learn from him if they will, according to the gospel precept, "become as little children," and listen with reverence and simplicity. The counsel which the Preacher has to give is bold and startling. "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy 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." What does he mean? Are his words ironical, or spoken in sober earnest? A very long time ago they caused some perplexity to translators and commentators. In the earliest translation of this book into another language, that into Greek, this passage was considerably modified and toned down. The translator put in the word "blameless" after "walk," and the word "not" into the next part of the sentence. "Walk blameless in the ways of thine heart, and not after the sight of thine eyes." But any such tampering with the text was not only profane, but also senseless, for it simply destroyed the whole meaning of the passage. But granting that we have in our English a fair reproduction of the original, can there be any mistake about the interpretation of it? Is it possible that it may mean, "Rejoice if you will, follow your desires, have your fling, go forth on the voyage of life, ' youth at the prow, and pleasure at the helm,' but know that the end of it all are the penal flames"? Some have thought that that is the meaning of the words. But a little consideration of them, and comparison of them with other passages in the book, will show us that it cannot be. Our author on several occasions, after showing us the vanity of earthly pursuits, falls back on the fact that there are many alleviations of our lot in life, which it is true wisdom to make use of - many flowers of pleasure on the side of the hard road which one may innocently pluck. Thus he says (Ecclesiastes 2:24), "There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw that it was from the hand of God." And again (Ecclesiastes 9:7), "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy vanity... for that is thy portion in this life." And the same lesson he repeats there, but in a tone of deeper solemnity, balancing and steadying the inclination to pleasure, which in few of us needs to be stimulated, with the thought that for every one of our actions we shall have to give an account at the judgment-seat of God. Surely this thought is a sufficient corrective to the abuse of the teaching which a perverse mind might make, and a proof that the enjoyments spoken of are such as do not degrade the soul. A gloomy asceticism which would unlawfully diminish human happiness is forbidden; a thankful acceptance of all the blessings God gives us, and a constant remembrance of our responsibility to him, is commended to us. With all the repugnance of a healthy mind, our author recoils from that narrow and self-righteous fanaticism which has done so much to deepen the gloom of life, and to turn religion into an oppressive yoke. He does not, however, go to the other extreme; but while he bids the young to enjoy the morning of life, he at the same time admonishes them in all things to have the fear of God before their eyes. Youth and manhood are vanity; their joys are fleeting, and will soon be past. Must we, therefore, neglect them, and indulge in equally vain and fleeting regrets? No; but rather put away all morose repining, and spare ourselves all unnecessary pain, and cultivate a cheerful contentedness with our lot. If the morning will soon be past, let us enjoy its light while it lasts, mindful of him who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift. The thought of him will not dull any innocent happiness, for he has made us capable of joy, and given us occasions of experiencing it. That no fears need be felt about the application of this teaching to actual life is abundantly proved by the words that follow, in the solemn and stately passage with which the twelfth chapter opens. The idea all through is that piety should be bound up with the whole life - with the buoyancy and gaiety of youth, as well as with the decaying hopes and failing strength of age. That religion is not merely a consolation to which we may betake when all other things fail, but all through the food by which the soul is nourished. The fact is put very strongly. If in youth God is not remembered, it will be difficult in age, when the faculties begin to lose their vigor, to think of him for the first time, and consecrate one's self to him. The mere accumulation of the weaknesses, both physical and mental, which attend the close of life will absorb the attention and Crowd out other thoughts. "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." And then he goes on to draw a picture, full of pathos sad solemnity, of the gradual dissolution of human life with the advance of age, of the decay and death into which the strongest fall, even if they endure for many years. One cannot make out all the successive images with equal clearness, but the evident purpose of the whole passage is clear enough. In the evil days the light of the sun, moon, and stars is darkened, and the sky is time after time overcast with returning clouds. The light of youth has fled, and with it the self-confidence and strength by which the life was sustained. Like some household in Egypt when the plague of darkness came down upon it and put an end to all tasks and pleasures, and filled every heart with a paralyzing terror, so is the state of man "perplexed with fear of change." "The keepers of the house tremble, the strong men bow themselves, the terrified servants cease their labor, none look out of the windows, the street doors are shut, the sound of human bustle and activity dies away, the shrill cry of the storm-bird is heard without, and all the daughters of music are hushed and silent." And then, in language still more enigmatical, other of the humiliating characteristics of old age are set forth - its timidity and irresolution, the blanched hair, the failing appetite. These signs accumulate rapidly; for man goes to his long, his eternal home, and the procession of mourners is already moving along the street. "Remember," he says, "thy Creator ere the day of death; ere the silver cord be loosened which lets fall and shivers the golden bowl that feeds with oil the flame of life; ere the pitcher be shattered by the spring, and the fountain of life can no longer be replenished; ere the wheel set up with care to draw up from the depths of earth the cool waters give way and fall itself into the well. Therefore remember thy God, and prepare while here to meet him, before that the dust shall return upon the earth dust as it was; for the spirit shall then return to God who gave it." "It was a gift from him, that spirit. To him it will return. More he says not. Its absorption, the re-entering, of the human unit into the eternal and unknown Spirit, would be a thought, it would seem, alien to a Hebrew. But we must not press his words too far. As just now he spoke of a judgment, but gave us no picture of the sheep on the right hand and the goats on the left, so here he has no more to say, no clear and dogmatic assertion of a conscious and separate future life. 'Into thy hands I commend my spirit,' said the trustful psalmist. 'Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,' said he who bowed his head upon the cross, who tasted death for our sakes. Our Preacher leaves the spirit with its God - that is all, and that is much. 'God will call us to judgment,' he has said, and now he adds, 'The body molders, the split passes back to the God who gave it' (Bradley). Many are the reasons which might be adduced to give weight to the admonition, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. The uncertainty of life, e.g., renders it unwise in any who begin to realize their responsibilities, and to act for themselves, to postpone self-consecration to God. If not done now, when the affections are fresh, when habits are beginning to form, there is risk of its not being done at all. Certainly it is more difficult to make a change, and to enter upon the higher life when the heart is taken up with a love of other things, when the attention and interest are absorbed in other cares. Then, too, love of our Creator and service of him are due from us in the best of our days, in the time of our strength and energy, and not merely when we are weary and worn out with following our own devices, and are anxious merely to escape utter ruin and overthrow. True it is that the repentant prodigal is welcomed when he returns to his Father's house; the worker beginning even at the eleventh hour receives his wages as though he had been the whole day in the vineyard. But their sense of gratitude, Wonder, and awe at the love which has overlooked their faults and shortcomings is the source of a joy far inferior to that of those who have never wandered, who have served faithfully with all the strength and all the day, upon whom the sunshine of God's favor has ever rested. Another and final reason why it is wise to remember our Creator in the days of youth is that this is the secret of a happy life. The happiness which is disturbed by remembrance of God is not worth the name. That alone gives satisfaction - the satisfaction after which the Preacher sought so long and in so many quarters - which springs from communion with God. It alone is intense, it alone is lasting. Arising as it does from the relations of the spirit of man with him who created it, it is raised above all the accidents of time and change. The sooner, therefore, that we begin this life of holy communion and service, the longer period of happiness Shall we know, the surer will be our ground of confidence for the future, when the day comes for leaving the world. "Over against the melancholy circumstances of decay and decline, as the end of life draws on, will be set the bright memories of the past, the consciousness of present help, and the hope of a joyous immortality. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!' was the sentence of one whose wisdom sprang only from his experience of an earthly life, and upon whose mind the burden lay of human sorrows and cares. But "a greater than Solomon," One whose wisdom is Divine, whose power to remove every burden is daily seen, has an infinitely more hopeful message for us. "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.... I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." - J.W.