Our Last ChapterConcluded with the Words, "For Childhood and Youth are Vanity"...
Our last chapter concluded with the words, "For childhood and youth are vanity": that is, childhood proves the emptiness of all "beneath the sun," as well as old age. The heart of the child has the same needs -- the same capacity in kind -- as that of the aged. It needs God. Unless it knows Him, and His love is there, it is empty; and, in its fleeting character, childhood proves its vanity. But this makes us quite sure that if childhood can feel the need, then God has, in His wide grace, met the need; nor is that early life to be debarred from the provision that He has made for it. There are then the same possibilities of filling the heart and life of the young child with that divine love that fills every void, and turns the cry of "Vanity" into the Song of Praise: "Yea, out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise."

But our writer is by no means able thus to touch any chord in the young heart that shall vibrate with the music of praise. Such as he has, however, he gives us: "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."

This counsel must not be separated from the context. It is based absolutely and altogether on what has now been discerned: for not only is our writer a man of the acutest intelligence, but he evidently possesses the highest qualities of moral courage. He shirks no question, closes his eyes to no fact, and least of all to that awful fact of man's compulsory departure from this scene which is called "death." But following on, he has found that even this cannot possibly be all; there must be a judgment that shall follow this present life. It is in view of this he counsels "Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth," whilst the effect of time is to mature, and not destroy, the powers He has given thee: for not forever will life's enjoyment last; old age comes surely, and He who made thee, holds thy spirit in His hand, so that whilst the body may return to dust, the spirit must return to Him who gave it.

We will only pause for a moment again to admire the glorious elevation of this counsel. How good were it if the remembrance of a Creator-God, to whom all are accountable, could tone, with out quenching, the fire and energy of youthful years, and lead in the clean paths of righteousness. But, alas, how inadequate to meet the actual state of things. Solomon himself shall serve to illustrate the utter inadequacy of his own counsel. What comfort or hope could he extract from it? His were now already the years in which he must say "I have no pleasure in them." A more modern poet might have voiced his cry, --

"My age is in the yellow leaf,
The bud, the fruit of 'life,' is gone:
The worm, the canker, and the grief,
Remain alone!"

His youth was no more: its bright days were forever past, never to be restored. What remains, then, for Solomon, and the myriads like him? What shall efface the memory of those wasted years, or what shall give a quiet peace, in view of the fast-coming harvest of that wild sowing? Can Reason -- can any human Wisdom -- find any satisfactory answer to these weighty questions? None!

Verses 2 to 7 beautifully and poetically depict the fall of the city of man's body under the slow but sure siege of the forces of Time. Gradually, but without one moment's pause, the trenches approach the walls. Outwork after outwork falls into the enemy's hands, until he is victor over all, and the citadel itself is taken.

Verse 2. -- First, clouds come over the spirit: the joyousness of life is dulled, -- the exuberance of youth is quenched. Sorrow follows quickly on the heel of sorrow, -- "clouds return after rain." Those waves that youth's light bark rode gallantly and with exhilaration, now flood the laboring vessel and shut out the light -- the joy -- of life.

Verse 3. -- Then the hands (the keepers of the house) tremble with weakness, and the once strong men (the knees) now feeble, bend under the weight of the body they have so long borne. The few teeth (grinders) that may remain fail to do their required service. Time's finger touches, too, those watchers from the turret-windows (the eyes): shade after shade falls over them; till, like slain sentinels that drop at their posts, they look out again never-more.

Verse 4. -- Closer still the enemy presses, till the close-beleaguered fortress is shut out from all communication with the outer world; "the doors are shut in the streets"; the ears are dulled to all sounds. Even the grinding of the mill,[1] which in an eastern house rarely ceases, reaches him but as a low murmur, though it be really as loud as the shrill piping of a bird, and all the sweet melodies of song are no longer to be enjoyed.

Verse 5. -- Time's sappers, too, are busily at work, although unseen, till the effect of their mining becomes evident in the alarm that is felt at the slightest need of exertion. The white head, too, tells its tale, and adds its testimony to the general decay. The least weight is as a heavy burden; nor can the failing appetite be again awakened. The man is going to his age-long home[2]; for now those four seats of life are invaded and broken up -- spinal-cord, brain, heart, and blood, -- till at length body and spirit part company, each going whence it came; -- that, to its kindred dust; this, to the God who gave it.

Thus to the high wisdom of Solomon man is no mere beast, after all. He may not penetrate the Beyond to describe that "age-long home," but never of the beast would he say "the spirit to God who gave it." But his very wisdom again leads us to the most transcendent need of more. To tell us this, is to lead us up a mountain-height, to a bridgeless abyss which we have to cross, without having a plank or even a thread to help us. To God the spirit goes, -- to God who gave it, -- to Whom, then, it is responsible. But in what condition? Is it conscious still, or does it lose consciousness as in a deep sleep? Where does it now abide? How can it endure the searching Light -- the infinite holiness and purity -- of the God to whom it goes? How shall it give account for the wasted years? How answer for the myriad sins of life? How reap what has been sown? Silence here -- no answer here -- is awful indeed, -- is maddening; and if reason does still hold her seat, then "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," is alone consistent with the fearful silence to such questions, and the scene is fitly ended by a groan.

Deep even unto the shadow of death is the gloom. Every syllable of this last sad wail is as a funeral knell to all our hopes, tolling mournfully; and, like a passing bell, attending them, too, to their "age-long home"!

Oh, well for us if we have heard a clearer Voice than that of poor feeble human Reason break in upon the silence, and, with a blessed, perfect, lovely combination of Wisdom and Love, of Authority and Tenderness, of Truth and Grace, give soul-satisfying answers to all our questionings.

Then may we rejoice, if grace permit, with joy unspeakable; and, even in the gloom of this sad scene, lift heart and voice in a shout of victory. We, too, know what it is for the body thus to perish. We, too, though redeemed, still await the redemption of the body, which in the Christian is still subject to the same ravages of time, -- sickness, disease, pain, suffering, decay. But a gracious Revelation has taught us a secret that Ecclesiastes never guessed at; and we may sing, even with the fall of Nature's walls about us, "Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." Yea, every apparent victory of the enemy is now only to be answered with a "new song" of joyful praise.

It is true that, "under the sun," the clouds return after the rain; and, because it is true, we turn to that firmament of faith where our Lord Jesus is both Sun and Star, and where the light ever "shineth more and more unto perfect day."

Let the keepers tremble, and the strong men bow themselves. We may now lean upon another and an everlasting Arm, and know another Strength which is even perfected in this very weakness.

The grinders may cease because they are few; but their loss cannot prevent our feeding ever more and more heartily and to the fill on God's Bread of Life.

Let those that look out of the windows be darkened: the inward eye becomes the more accustomed to another -- purer, clearer -- light; and we see "that which is invisible," and seeing, we hopefully sing --

"City of the pearl-bright portal,
City of the jasper wall,
City of the golden pavement,
Seat of endless festival, --
City of Jehovah, Salera,
City of eternity,
To thy bridal-hall of gladness,
From this prison would I flee, --
Heir of glory,
That shall be for thee and me!"

Let doors be shut in the streets, and let all the daughters of music be brought low, so that the Babel of this world's discord be excluded, and so that the Lord Himself be on the inside of the closed door, we may the more undistractedly enjoy the supper of our life with Him, and He (the blessed, gracious One!) with us. Then naught can prevent His Voice being heard, whilst the more sweet and clear (though still ever faint, perhaps) may the echo to that Voice arise in melody within the heart, where God Himself is the gracious Listener!

Let fears be in the way, we know a Love than can dispel all fear and give a new and holy boldness even in full view of all the solemn verities of eternity; for it is grounded on the perfect accepted work of a divine Redeemer -- the faithfulness of a divine Word.

The very hoary head becomes not merely the witness of decay, and of a life fast passing; but the "almond-tree" has another, brighter meaning now: it is a figure of that "crown of life" which in the new-creation scene awaits the redeemed.

If appetite fail here, the more the inward longing, and the satisfaction that ever goes hand in hand with it, may abound; and the inward man thus be strengthened and enlarged so as to have greater capacity for the enjoyment of those pleasures that are "at God's right hand for evermore."

Till at length the earthly house of this tabernacle may be dissolved. Dust may still return to dust, and there await, what all Creation awaits -- the glorious resurrection, its redemption. Whilst the spirit -- yes, what of the spirit? To God who gave it? Ah, far better: to God who loved and redeemed it, -- to Him who has so cleansed it by His own blood, that the very Light of God can detect no stain of sin upon it, even though it be the chief of sinners. So amid the ruins of this earthly tabernacle may the triumphant song ascend above the snapping of cords, the breaking of golden bowls and pitchers, the very crash of nature's citadel: "Oh, death, where is thy sting? Oh, grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

This meets -- meets fully, meets satisfactorily -- the need. Now none will deny that this need is deep, -- real. Hence it can be no mere sentiment, no airy speculation, no poetical imagination, no cunningly devised fable that can meet that need. The remedy must be as real as the disease, or it avails nothing. No phantom key may loosen so hard-closed a lock as this: it must be real, and be made for it. For suppose we find a lock of such delicate and complicated construction that no key that can be made will adapt itself to all its windings. Many skilled men have tried their hands and failed, -- till at length the wisest of all attempts it, and even he in despair cries "vanity." Then another key is put into our hands by One who claims to have made the very lock we have found. We apply it, and its intricacies meet every corresponding intricacy; its flanges fill every chamber, and we open it with perfect facility. What is the reasonable, necessary conclusion? We say -- and rightly, unavoidably say -- "He who made the lock must have made the key. His claim is just: they have been made by one maker."

So by the perfect rest it brings to the awakened conscience -- by the quiet calm it brings to the troubled mind -- by the warm love that it reveals to the craving heart -- by the pure light that it sheds in satisfactory answer to all the deep questions of the spirit -- by the unceasing unfoldings of depths of perfect transcendent wisdom -- by its admirable unity in variety -- by the holy, righteous settlement of sin, worthy of a holy, righteous God -- by the peace it gives, even in view of wasted years and the wild sowing of the past -- by the joy it maintains even in view of the trials and sorrows of the present -- by the hope with which it inspires the future; -- by all these we know that our key (the precious Word that God has put into our hands) is a reality indeed, and as far above the powers of Reason as the heavens are above the earth, therefore necessarily -- incontestably -- DIVINE!

This brings us to the concluding words of our book. Now who has been leading us all through these exercises? A disappointed sensualist? A gloomy stoic? A cynic -- selfish, depressed? Not at all. Distinctly a wise man; -- wise, for he gives that unequivocal proof of wisdom, in that he cares for others. It is the wise who ever seek to "win souls," "to turn many to righteousness." "Because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge." No cynic is Ecclesiastes. His sympathies are still keen; he knows well and truly the needs of those to whom he ministers: knows too, how man's wretched heart ever rejects its own blessing; so, in true wisdom, he seeks "acceptable words": endeavoring to sweeten the medicine he gives, clothes his counsel in "words of delight" (margin). Thus here we find all the "words of delight" that human wisdom can find, in view of life in all its aspects from youth to old age.

For whilst it is certainly difficult satisfactorily to trace the order in detail in the book, -- and perhaps this is perfectly consistent with its character, -- yet there can be no question but that it begins by looking at, and testing, those sensual enjoyments that are peculiarly attractive to youth, and ends with the departure of all in old age, and, finally -- dissolution. There is, evidently, that much method. We may also, further, note that the body of the book is taken up with such themes as interest men who are between these two extremes: occupations, business, politics, and, as men speak, religion. All the various states and conditions of man are looked at: kings, princes, nobles, magistrates, rich and poor, are all taken up and discussed in this search for the one thing that true human reason can call absolutely "good" for man. Further method than this might perhaps be inconsistent with the confusion of the scene "under the sun" he is regarding, and his own inability to bring order out of the confusion. There would be thus true method in the absence of method, as the cry of "Vanity," doleful as it is, is alone in harmony with the failure of all his efforts. Yes, for whilst here he speaks of "words of delight," one can but wonder to what he can refer, unless it be to something still to come. Thus far, as he has taken up and dropped, with bitter discouragement, subject after subject, his burdened, overcharged heart involuntarily has burst out with the cry, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!" Words of delight! Find one in all that we have gone over that can be to a guilty sinner's ear a "word of delight" -- such as it can really take in as meeting its needs; for this seems to be the force of the word here translated "acceptable": so perfectly adapted to the needs of the heart it addresses that that heart springs joyfully to embrace it at once. We have surely, thus far, found none such. A Judge has been discerned in God; but small delight in this surely, if I am the sinner to be judged.

Verses 11-14. Wisdom's words are not known by quantity, but quality. Not many books, with the consequent weary study; but the right word -- like a "goad": sharp, pointed, effective -- and on which may hang, as on a "nail," much quiet meditation. "Given, too, from one shepherd," hence not self-contradictory and confusing to the listeners. In this way Ecclesiastes would evidently direct our most earnest attention to what follows: "the conclusion of the whole matter." Here is absolutely the highest counsel of true human wisdom -- the climax of her reasonings -- the high-water-mark of her attainments -- the limit to which she can lead us: "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil."

Who will deny that this is indeed admirable? Is there not a glorious moral elevation in this conclusion? Note how it gives the Creator-God His rightful place; puts the creature, man, in the absolutely correct relationship of obedience, and speaks with perfect assurance of a discriminative judgment where every single work, yes, "secret thing," shall be shown out in its true character as it is good or evil in His holy sight: where everything that is wrong and distorted here shall be put right.

It is truly much, but alas for man if this were indeed the end. Alas for one, conscious of having sinned already, and broken His commandments, whether those commandments be expressed in the ten words of the law, as given from Sinai, or in that other law which is common to all men, the work of which, "written in their hearts," they show -- conscience. There is no gleam of light, ray of hope, or grain of comfort here. A judgment to come, assured, can only be looked forward to, with, at the best, gloomy uncertainty, and awful misgiving -- if not with assured conviction of a fearful condemnation; and here our writer leaves us with the assurance that this is the "conclusion of the whole matter."

Who can picture the terrors of this darkness in which such a conclusion leaves us? Guilty, trembling, with untold sins and wasted years behind; with the awful consciousness that my very being is the corrupt fountain whence those sins flowed, and yet with a certain judgment before in which no single thing is to escape a divinely searching examination: better had it been to have left us still asleep and unconscious of these things, and so to have permitted us to secure, at least, what pleasure we could out of this present life "under the sun," without the shadow of the future ever thrown over us; -- yea, such "conclusion" leaves us "of all men most miserable."

I would, beloved reader, that we might by grace realize something of this. Nor let our minds be just touched by the passing thoughts, but pause for a few minutes, at least, and meditate on the scene at this last verse in the only book in our Bible in which man at his best and highest, in his richest and wisest, is heard telling us his exercises as he looks at this tangled state of affairs "under the sun" and gives us to see, as nowhere else can we see, the very utmost limit to which he, as such, can attain. If this sinks down into our hearts, we shall be the better prepared to apprehend and appreciate the grace that meets him there at the edge of that precipice to which Reason leads but which she cannot bridge. Oh, blessed grace! In the person of our royal Preacher we are here indeed at our "wit's end" in every sense of the word; but that is ever and always the place where another hand may lead us, where another Wisdom than poor feeble human Reason may find a way of escape, and "deliver us out of our distresses."

Then let us turn our ear and listen to another voice: "For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." But stay. Is this the promised grace of which even now we spoke? Is this the deliverance for which we hoped? A judgment-seat still? -- from which still no escape for any: and a "reception" according to the things done, whether they be good or bad! Wherein does this differ from Solomon's "conclusion of the whole matter"? In just two words only -- "Of Christ." It is now the "judgment-seat of Christ." Added terror, I admit, to His despisers and rejectors; but to you and me, dear fellow-believer, through grace the difference these two words make is infinity itself. For look at Him who sits upon the judgment-seat; -- be not afraid; regard Him patiently and well; He bears many a mark whereby you may know Him, and recognize in the Judge the very One who has Himself borne the full penalty of all your sins. See His hands and His feet, and behold His side! You stand before His judgment-seat. Remember, too, the word He spake long ago, but as true as ever, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life" -- and as we thus remember both His word and His work, we may be fully assured, even as we stand here, that there must be a sense, and an important sense, in which judgment for us is passed forever. I may not be able to harmonize these Scriptures; but I will cleave, at least, to that which I clearly understand; in other words, to that which meets my present needs (for we only truly understand what meets our need); afterward, other needs may arise that shall make the other scriptures equally clear. He bore my sins -- the judgment of God has been upon Him, cannot, therefore, be upon me -- into that judgment I shall never come.

Then why is it written we must all appear (or rather "be manifested," be clearly shown out in true light) before the judgment seat of Christ? There is just one thing I need before entering the joys of eternity. I am, as Jacob in Genesis xxxv., going up "to Bethel, to dwell there." I must know that everything is fully suited to the place to which I go. I need, I must have, everything out clearly. Yes, so clearly, that it will not do to trust even my own memory to bring it out. I need the Lord "who loved me and gave Himself for me" to do it. He will. How precious this is for the believer who keeps his eye on the Judge! How blessed for him that ere eternity begins full provision is made for the perfect security of its peace -- for a communion that may not be marred by a thought! Never after this shall a suspicion arise in our hearts, during the long ages that follow, that there is one thing -- one secret thing -- that has not been known and dealt with holily and righteously, according to the infinite purity of the Judgment Seat of Christ. Suppose that this were not so written; let alone for a moment that there never could be true discriminative rewards; might not memory be busy, and might not some evil thought allowed during the days of the life in the flesh, long, long forgotten, be suddenly remembered, and the awful question arise, "Is it possible that that particular evil thing has been overlooked? It was subsequent to the hour that I first accepted Him for my Saviour. I have had no thought of it since. I am not aware of ever having confessed it." Would not that silence the song of Heaven, embitter even its joy, and still leave tears to be wiped away? It shall not be. All shall be out first. All -- "every secret thing." Other Scriptures shall show us how these things are dealt with. "Every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it (that is, the day) shall be revealed in fire, and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire. If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy." (1 Cor. iii.)

That day is revealed in fire, (Divine judgment,) and gold, silver, precious stones -- those works which are of God -- alone can stand the test. All others burn like "wood, hay, stubble."

Look forward a little. In the light of these Scriptures, see one standing before that Judgment Seat. He once hung by the side of the Judge Himself upon a cross on earth. See his works being manifested. Is there one that can be found gold, silver, precious stones? Not one. They burn; they all burn: but mark carefully his countenance as his works burn. Mark the emotions that manifest themselves through the ever-deepening sense of the wondrous grace that could have snatched such an one as is there being manifested from the burning. Not a sign of terror. Not a question for a single instant as to his own salvation now. He has been with Christ, in the Judge's own company, for a long time already, and perfectly established is his heart, in the love that said to him long ago, "This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise." Now as all his works burn, the fire within burns too, and he is well prepared to sing "unto Him who loves us and washed us from our sins in His own blood." And yet stay: -- Here is something at the very last. It is his word, "Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation, and we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this man hath done nothing amiss. Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." Gold! gold at last! as we may say; and he too receives praise of God. Yes, not one that shall have the solemn joy of standing before that tribunal but has, in some measure, that praise. For is it not written, "then" (at that very time) "shall every one have praise of God." "This honor have all his saints."

Where and when does this judgment of our works, then, take place? It must be subsequent to our rapture to the air of which we have spoken, and prior to our manifestation with Christ as sons of God. For by all the ways of God, through all the ages, those scenes could never be carried out before an unbelieving hostile world. Never has He exposed, never will He so expose His saints. All will be over when we come forth with Him to live and reign a thousand years. "The bride has made herself ready," and the robes in which she comes forth -- the white linen -- are indeed the righteousnesses of the saints, but these have been "washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb."

But "all" must stand before Him; and not even yet has that been fulfilled. Cain and the long line of rejectors of mercy and light, ever broadening as time's sad ages have passed till their path has been called the "broad way," have not yet stood there. Has death saved them from judgment? No, for we read of the "resurrection of judgment" -- the judgment that comes necessarily after death, and includes the dead, and only the dead. "I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away, and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them, and they were judged every man according to their works, and death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." Here, too, we see an exact, perfect, retributive, discriminating judgment. The Book of Life bears not the name of one here. There is that one broad distinction between the saved and the lost -- the "life-line," as we may call it. How carefully are we told at the very last of this Book of Life, that we may most clearly understand, for our comfort, that the feeblest touch of faith of but the hem of His garment -- perhaps not even directly His Person, but that which is seen surrounding His Person, as the visible creation may be said to do -- (Psalms cii.25, 6) let any have touched Him there, and life results. His name is found in the Book of Life, and he shall not see the second death. Apart from this -- the second death: "the lake of fire!"

And yet, whilst "darkness and wrath" are the common lot of the rejectors of "light and love," there is, necessarily, almost infinite difference in the degrees of that darkness and fierceness of that wrath, dependent exactly on the degree of rejection of light and love. As our Lord tells us, "he that knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." All is absolutely right. Nothing more now to be made right The ages of eternity may roll in unbroken peace; with God -- manifested in all the universe as light and love -- all in all.

And now, dear readers, the time has come to say farewell for a season to our writer and to each other. Let this leave-taking not be with the groans of Ecclesiastes' helplessness in our ears. We have stood by his side and tested with him the sad unsatisfying pleasures connected with the senses under the sun. We have turned from them, and tried the purer, higher pleasures of the intellect and reason, and groaned to find them equally unsatisfying. We have looked through his wearied eyes at this scene, restless in its unending changes, and yet with nothing really new. We have felt a little, with his sensitive, sympathetic heart, for the oppressed and down-trodden "under the sun," and groaned in our helplessness to right their wrongs. We have groaned, too, at his and our inability to understand or solve the contradictory tangle of life that seemed to deny either the providence or the goodness of a clearly recognized Creator. We have followed with him along many a hopeful path till it led us to a tomb, and then we have bowed head with him, and groaned in our agonizing inability to pierce further. We have seen, too, with him that there is not the slightest discrimination in that ending of man's race, and worse, even than groans to our ears, has been the wild, sad counsel of despair, "Merrily drink thy wine." But quickly recovering from this, we have wondered with great admiration as our guide's clear reason led him, and us, still on and on to discern, a final harvest-judgment that follows all earth's sowings. But there, as we have stood beside him in spirit, before that awful judgment-seat to which he has led us, and turned to him for one word of light or comfort in view of our sin and wrong doings -- the deepest need of all -- we have been met with a silence too deeply agonizing, even for the groan of vanity. Groans, groans, nothing but groans, at every turn!

And then with what relief -- oh, what relief, ever increasing as the needs increased -- have we turned to the Greater than the greatest of men "under the sun," and, placing the hand of faith in His, we have been led into other scenes, and have found every single need of our being fully, absolutely, satisfactorily met. Our body if now the seat of sin and suffering, yet we have learned to sing in the joyful hope of its soon being "like Him forever." Our soul's affections have in Him a satisfying object, whilst His love may fill the poor, empty, craving heart till it runs over with a song all unknown under the sun, -- our spirit's deep questions, as they have come up, have all been met and answered in such sort that each answer strikes a chord that sounds with the melody of delight; -- till at last death itself is despoiled of his terrors, and our song is still more sweet and clear in the tyrant's presence, for he is no longer a "king" over us, but our "servant." Even the deepest, most awful terror of all to sinners such as we -- the Judgment-seat -- has given us new cause for still more joyful singing; for we have in that pure clear light recognized in God -- our Creator-God, our Redeemer-God -- a love so full, so true, -- working with a wisdom so infinite, so pure, -- in perfect harmony with a righteousness so unbending, so inflexible, -- with a holiness not to be flecked or tarnished by a breath, -- all combining to put us at joyful ease in the very presence of judgment -- to find there, as nowhere else possible, all that is in God in His infinity told out, ("love with us made perfect,") and that means that all the creatures' responsive love must find sweet relief in a song that it will take eternity itself to end. In our Father's House we only "begin to be merry," and end nevermore, as we sound the depths of a wisdom that is fathomless, know a "love that passeth knowledge"; -- singing, singing, nothing but singing, and ever a new song!

May God, in His grace, make this the joyful experience of reader and writer, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake! Amen.

[1] This differs from the usual interpretation, which makes this verse a metaphor of the mouth and teeth. This has been rejected above, not only on account of the direct evidence of its faultiness, and the fanciful interpretation given to the "sound of grinding," but for the twofold reason that it would make the teeth to be alluded to twice, whilst all reference to the equally important sense of "hearing" would be omitted altogether. I have therefore followed Dr. Lewis's metrical version: --

"And closing are the doors that lead abroad,
When the hum of the mill is sounding low,
Though it rise to the sparrow's note,
And voices loudest in the song, do all to faintness sink."

Although, I might here add, I cannot follow this writer in his view that Ecclesiastes is describing only the old age of the sensualist. Rather is it man as man, -- at his highest, -- but with only what he can find "under the sun" to enlighten him.

[2] The word rendered above "age-long," in our authorized version "long," -- "man goeth to his long home" -- is one of those suggestive words with which the Hebrew Scriptures abound, and which are well worth pondering with interest. To transfer and not translate it into English we might call it "olamic," speaking of a cycle: having a limit, and yet a shadowy, undefined limit. The word therefore in itself beautifully and significantly expresses both the confidence, the faith of the speaker as well as his ignorance. Man's existence after death is distinctly predicated. The mere grave is not that olamic home; for the spirit would, in that case, be quite lost sight of; nor, indeed, is the spirit alone there, -- the man goes there. It appears to correspond very closely to the Greek word Hades, "the Unseen." Man has gone to that sphere beyond human ken, but when the purposes of God are fulfilled, his abode there shall have an end: it is for an "age," but only an "age." All this seems to be wrapped up, as it were, in that one phrase -- Beth-olam, the age-long home. How blessed for us the light that has since been shed on all this. In One case (and indeed already more than in that One) that "age" has already come to an end, and the first fruits of that harvest with which our earth is sown has even now been gathered. We await merely the completion of that harvest: "Christ the first fruits: afterwards they that are Christ's, at His coming."


chapter xi we are drawing
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