To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:…
Our author makes a fresh start. He drops the autobiographical style of the first two chapters, and casts his thoughts into the form of aphorisms, based not merely upon the reminiscences of his own life, but upon the experience of all men. He gives a long list of the events, actions, emotions, and feelings which go to make up human life, and asserts of them that they are governed by fixed laws above our knowledge, out of our control. The time of our entrance into the world, the condition of life in which we are placed, are determined for us by a higher will than our own, and the same sovereign power fixes the moment of our departure from life; and in like manner all that is done, enjoyed, and suffered between birth and death is governed by forces which we cannot bend or mould, or even fully understand. That there is a fixed order in the events of life is, to a certain extent, an instinctive belief which we all hold. The thought of an untimely birth or of an untimely death shocks us as something contrary to our sense of that which is fit and becoming, and those crimes by which either is caused are generally regarded as specially repulsive. Yet there is an appointed season for the other incidents of life, though less clearly manifest to us. Our wisdom lies, not in mere acquiescence in the events of life, but in knowing our duty for the time. The circumstances in which we are placed are so fluctuating, and the conditions in the midst of which we find ourselves are so varying, that a large space is left for us to exercise our discretion, to discern that which is opportune, and to do the right thing at the right time. The first class of events alluded to, the time of birth and the time of death, is that of those which are involuntary; they are events with which there can be no interference without the guilt of gross and exceptional wickedness. The actions and emotions that follow are voluntary, they are within our power, though the circumstances that call them forth at a precise time are not. The relations of life which are determined for us by a higher power give us the opportunity for playing our part, and we either succeed or fail according as we take advantage of the time or neglect it. The catalogue given of the events, actions, and emotions which make up life seems to be drawn up without any logical order; the various items are apparently taken capriciously as examples of those things that occupy men's time and thoughts, and at first sight the teaching of our author does not seem to be of a distinctively spiritual character. To a superficial reader it might appear as if we had not in it much more than the commonplace prudence to be found in the maxims and proverbs current in every country: "Take time by the forelock;" "He that will not when he may, when he would he shall have nay;" "Time and tide wait for no man," etc. But we are taught by Christ himself that knowing how to act opportunely is a large part of that wisdom which is needed for our salvation. He himself came to earth in the "fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4), when the Jewish people and the nations of the world were prepared by Divine discipline for his teaching and work (Acts 17:30, 31; Luke 2:30, 31). The purpose of the mission of John the Baptist, calculated as it was to lead men to godly sorrow for sin, was in harmony with the austerity of his life and the sternness of his exhortations. It was a time to mourn (Matthew 11:18). The purpose of Christ's own mission was to reconcile the world to God and to manifest the Father to men, so that joy was becoming in his disciples (Mark 2:18-20). He taught that there was a time to lose, when all possessions that would alienate the heart from him should be parted with (Mark 10:21, 23); and that there would be a time of gain, when in heaven the accumulated treasures would become an abiding possession (Matthew 6:19, 20). "That which the Preacher insists on is the thought that the circumstances and events of life form part of a Divine order, are not things that come at random, and that wisdom, and therefore such a measure of happiness as is attainable, lies in adapting ourselves to the order, and accepting the guidance of events in great things and small, while shame and confusion come from resisting it." But such teaching is applicable, as we have seen, to the conduct of our spiritual as well as of our secular concerns. The fact that there are great changes through which we must pass in order to be duly prepared for the heavenly state, that we may have to forfeit the temporal to secure the eternal, that the new life has new duties for the discernment and fulfillment of which all our powers and faculties need to be called into full exercise - should make us earnestly desire to be filled with this wisdom that prompts to opportune action. "If any of you lack wisdom," says St. James, "let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5). - J.W.
Parallel VersesKJV: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: