He has made every thing beautiful in his time: also he has set the world in their heart…
I. ETERNITY IS SET IN EVERY HUMAN HEART. The expression may be either a declaration of the actual immortality of the soul, or it may mean, an I rather suppose it to do, the consciousness of eternity which is part of human nature. The former idea is no doubt closely connected with the latter, and would here yield an appropriate sense. "In our embers is something that doth live." Whatsoever befalls the hairs that get grey and thin, and the hands that become wrinkled and palsied, and the heart that is worn out by much beating, and the blood that clogs and clots at last, and the filmy eye, and all the corruptible frame; yet, as the heathen said, "I shall not all die," but deep within this transient clay-house, that must crack and fall and be resolved into the elements out of which it was built up, there dwells an immortal guest, an undying personal self. In the heart, the inmost spiritual being of every man, eternity, in this sense of the word, does dwell. But, probably, the other interpretation of these words is the truer, — that the Preacher is here asserting, not that the heart or spirit is immortal, but that, whether it is or no, in the heart is planted the thought, the consciousness of eternity — and the longing after it. The little child taught by some grandmother Lois, in a cottage, knows what she means when she tells him "you will live for ever," though both scholar and teacher would be puzzled to put it into other words. When we say eternity flows round this bank and shoal of time — men know what we mean. Heart answers to heart — and in each heart lies that solemn thought — for ever! That eternity which is set in our hearts is not merely the thought of ever-during Being, or of an everlasting order of things to which we are in some way related. But there are connected with it other ideas besides those of mere duration. Men know what perfection means. They understand the meaning of perfect goodness; they have the notion of infinite wisdom and boundless love. These thoughts are the material of all poetry, the thread from which the imagination creates all her wondrous tapestries. By the make of our Spirits, by the possibilities that dawn dim before us, by the thoughts "whose very sweetness yieldeth proof that they were born for immortality," — by all these and a thousand other signs and facts in every human life we say — "God has set eternity in their hearts!"
II. THE DISPROPORTIONATE BETWEEN THIS OUR NATURE AND THE WORLD IN WHICH WE DWELL. Every other creature presents the most accurate correspondence between nature and circumstances, powers and occupations. .Man alone is like some poor land-bird blown out to sea and floating half-drowned with clinging plumage on an ocean where the dove "finds no rest for the sole of her foot," or like some creature that loves to glance in the sunlight but is plunged into the deepest recesses of a dark mine. In the midst of a universe marked by the nicest adaptations of creatures to their habitation, man alone, the head of them all, presents the unheard-of anomaly that he is surrounded by conditions which do not fit his whole nature, which are not adequate for all his powers, on which he cannot feed and nurture his whole being. Is this present life enough for you? Sometimes you fancy it is. "This world not enough for me!" you say — "yes! it is, only let me get a little more of it, and keep what I get, and I shall be all right." So then — "a little more" is wanted, is it? And that "little more" will always be wanted, and besides it, the guarantee of permanence will always be wanted, and failing these, there will ever be a hunger that nothing can fill which belongs to earth. A great botanist made what he called "a floral clock" to mark the hour of the day by the opening and closing of flowers. It was a graceful and yet a pathetic thought. One after another they spread their petals, and their varying colours glow in the light. But one after another they wearily shut their cups, and the night falls, and the latest of them folds itself together and all are hidden away in the dark. So our joys and treasures — were they sufficient did they last, cannot last. After a summer's day comes a summer's night, and after a brief space of them comes winter, when all are killed and the leafless trees stand silent.
III. THE POSSIBLE SATISFYING OF OUR SOULS. The Preacher in his day learned that it was possible to satisfy the hunger for eternity which had once seemed to him a questionable blessing. Standing at the centre, he saw order instead of chaos, and when he bad come back, after all his search, to the old simple faith of peasants and children in Judah, to fear God and keep His commandments, he understood why God had set eternity in man's heart, and then flung him out, as if in mockery, amidst the stormy waves of the changeful ocean of time. And we, who have a further word from God, may have a fuller and yet more blessed conviction, built upon our own happy experience, if we choose, that it is possible for us to have that deep thirst slaked, that longing appeased. We have Christ to trust to and to love. As in mysterious and transcendent union the Divine takes into itself the human in that person of Jesus, and Eternity is blended with Time; we, trusting Him and yielding our hearts to Him, receive into our poor lives an incorruptible seed, and for us the soul-satisfying realities that abide for ever mingle with and are reached through the shadows that pass away.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.