Ecclesiastes 1:7
All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full; to the place from which the streams come, there again they flow.
Sermons
Pursuit of HappinessE. S. Hicks, M. A.Ecclesiastes 1:7
The Turn of the YearF. Wagstaff.Ecclesiastes 1:7
Views of Life; False and TrueJ. A. Campbell, M. A.Ecclesiastes 1:7
The Summary of a Life's ExperienceJ. Willcock Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
The Stability of NatureW. Clarkson Ecclesiastes 1:4-7
Opposite Ideas of LifeHomilistEcclesiastes 1:4-10
The Abiding EarthU. R. Thomas.Ecclesiastes 1:4-10
The Durability of the Earth Contrasted with Human MortalityJ. Foster.Ecclesiastes 1:4-10
The Earth Permanent, Man TransitoryJ. A. Jacob, M. A.Ecclesiastes 1:4-10
The Law of CircularityH. Macmillan, D. D.Ecclesiastes 1:4-10
The Passing of HumanityH. Macmillan, D. D.Ecclesiastes 1:4-10
The Passing of HumanityS. Hillyard.Ecclesiastes 1:4-10
What Passes and What AbidesA. Maclaren, D. D.Ecclesiastes 1:4-10
The Cycles of NatureD. Thomas Ecclesiastes 1:5-7
Weariness and RestW. Clarkson Ecclesiastes 1:7, 8
We have here -

I. THE COMPLAINT OF THE UNSATISFIED. "All things are full of weariness" (Revised Version).

1. There are many obvious sources of satisfaction. Life has many pleasures, and many happy activities, and much coveted treasure. Human affection, congenial employment, the pursuit of knowledge, "the joys of contest," the excitements of the field of sport, the attainment of ambition, etc.

2. All of them together fail to satisfy the heart. The eye is act satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing, nor the tongue with tasting, nor the hand with handling, nor the mind with investigating and discovering. All the streams of temporal and worldly pleasure run into the sea of the human soul, but they do not fill it. The heart, on whatsoever it feeds, is still a-hungered, is still athirst. It may seem surprising that when so much that was craved has been possessed and enjoyed, that when so many things have ministered to the mind, there should still be heart-ache, unrest, spiritual disquietude, the painful question - Who will show us any good? Is life worth having? The profundity, the commonness and constancy of this complaint, is a very baffling and perplexing problem. We surely ought to be satisfied, but we are not. The unillumined mind cannot explain it, the uninspired tongue "cannot utter it." What is the solution?

II. ITS EXPLANATION. Its solution is not far to seek; it is found in the truth so finely uttered by Augustine, "O God, thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart findeth no rest until it resteth in thee." The human spirit, created in God's image, constituted to possess his own spiritual likeness, formed for truth and righteousness, intended to spend its noble and ever-unfolding powers in the high service of the Divine, - is it likely that such a one as this, that can be so much, that can know so much, that can love the best and highest, that can aspire to the loftiest and purest well-being, can be satisfied with the love that is human, with the knowledge that is earthly, with the treasure that is material and transient? The marvel is, and the pity is, that man, with such powers within him and with such a destiny before him, can sometimes sink so low as to be filled and satisfied with the husks of earth, unfilled with the bread of heaven.

III. ITS REMEDY. To us, to whom Jesus Christ has spoken, there is a plain and open way of escape from this profound disquietude. We hear the Master say, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you... and ye shall find rest unto your souls."

(1) In the reconciliation to God, our Divine Father, which we have in Jesus Christ;

(2) in the happy love of our souls to that Divine Friend and Savior;

(3) in the blessed service of our rightful, faithful, considerate Lord;

(4) in the not unavailing service we render to those whom he loved and for whom he died;

(5) in the glorious hope of immortal life beyond the grave, we do "find rest unto our souls." - C.







All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full.
There is a truth underlying the old conceit which pictured the universe as moving in cycles. History repeats itself. Our individual experience — which is only history in its minuter detail — shows us how little of originality there is in any one of us, and how like to one another are the multifarious incidents of our daily life.

I. THE YEAR HAS REACHED ITS PRIME THROUGH STAGES DIFFERING LITTLE FROM THOSE OF FORMER YEARS. Every now and then some meteorologist, careful day by day to register the markings of his rain-gauges, his thermometers, and such other apparatus as may enable him to compare the weather of to-day with that of yesterday, comes out of his observatory to tell us of extreme heat or cold, of excursiverains or drought, or of some other phenomena which mark the year as exceptional since — well, since some other year, not so very long ago, after all, when he or his predecessors had a like tale to tell, which even then was not new, but old as the hills. Now, how true all this is in relation to human life. Some historians never tire as they tell us of the changes wrought from one age to another. They point out, and very truly, how the age of Victoria differs from that of Elizabeth; and in eloquent periods they describe how the face of society has changed, say, from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth. But they forget that the face of society may have changed a very great deal, while the heart of it may have changed but slightly. Shakespeare's master hand has left us the widest range of human character ever sketched by one pen; and that we so quickly recognize the truthfulness of every picture in that vast gallery of portraits arises from the fact that, being true to nature then, they are true to nature now.

II. BUT THOUGH THE YEAR HAS REACHED ITS PRIME, IT HAS NOT ATTAINED IT'S MATURITY. It is not the midsummer, but the autumn that brings us the season of harvest. It is not when the days are longest, nor when the earth is covered with the brightest flowers, nor when the trees of the forest wear their richest green, that men thrust in the sickle and reap. It is rather when the prime, and, in some sense, the beauty of the year is past. Nor, happily, does human life attain maturity at its meridian. There is a sense, indeed, in which the earlier manhood possesses a freshness and a vigour in which the later years of life must necessarily be wanting, and those who have thrown away the glorious opportunities of youth have lost what can never be recalled. But they who have lived half the allotted span of life, have, humanly speaking, their richest and noblest days still before them. The promises of youth have now to be followed by the ripe performances of manhood. Each season has its appointed work.

III. THE TURN OF THE YEAR IS INDICATED BY APPEARANCES MOST FITTING TO THE TIME. Year by year, in spite of human forebodings, the summer comes, and "the earth is satisfied with the fruit of God's works." With Him, stability is not dependent upon uniformity; nor is diversity of operation inimical to the unity of His plans. Hence it comes to pass that while the seasons of succeeding years afford us the never-ending variety which ministers to our pleasure at the same time that it excites our admiration, our delight and wonder are not less excited by the unfailing unity which marks all the operations of the Divine hand. So, too, in the still more complex workings of human life. Take, for example, that period of which we have already spoken as the "turn of life," the age when the last tie that bound us to the days of youth has been snapped, and when, standing on the broad plateau of middle age, we can look forward only to such changes as shall prepare the way slowly but surely for the end. It is at this time we begin to realize most clearly how distinct are the successive generations of mankind. In earlier life there were about us many upon whom, in various ways, we were more or less dependent. But one by one they have gone; and so far at least as the past is concerned, we begin to stand alone. In later life, too, those about us will be found to belong to another generation — a generation younger than we, and destined to take our place when we have passed away. Some of us need, perhaps, to learn more thoroughly how little the world is dependent for its life upon us who dwell in it but for a little time. Creatures of a day, we are so apt to live as if assured of an eternal stay. It is thus we fail to regard the fitness of things, and forget that advancing age demands thoughts and words and deeds more becoming to it than would be those of our earlier life.

IV. THE TURN OF THE YEAR REMINDS US HOW SLOW RIPENING IS SUCCEEDED BY A SWIFT HARVEST. For months the grain has been growing slowly, and though the midsummer is past, it will yet be long before the fields will be generally "white unto the harvest." "Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it until he receive the early and the latter rain." Not less varied and protracted is the discipline by which our Father seeks to produce in us the fruits of His heavenly husbandry. The restraints of childhood, the education of youth, and the cares of manhood are but so many processes by which He would lead us onward towards that perfection which is His ultimate object concerning every one. As the steady warmth of July days will prepare for the harvest the corn-blades produced by the months just past, so may the discipline of a life that has outgrown the inexperience of youth be expected to bring into fuller and more perfect maturity those graces of which but the germs have yet been formed. Anyhow, let us never suppose that, having left behind us the days of youth which were so fittingly emblemed by the changeful shine and shower of the early summer, we have lost our best opportunities for growth. It may be hard to form new habits now; but those we have formed may become more consolidated, and so our after lives, by stability of growth, may go somewhat to compensate for the shortcomings and waywardness of youth.

V. THE TURN OF THE YEAR REMINDS US THAT NATURE PROVIDES FOR THE FRUITFULNESS OF EVEN SHORT-LIVED GROWTHS. Very early in the springtime there were buds and blossoms that were none the less beautiful because their stay with us was short. The snowdrop never drank in the glory of the summer sunshine; yet the world would not have been complete without it. There are other plants that have a lesson for us beside the corn that ripens slowly, and, so to speak, centres upon itself the labours of the year. There is but one standard by which we may infallibly judge of the products of the earth, a standard applicable alike to the plant that blossoms and fades in one summer day and to the aloe blooming but once in its century, and to the oak tree that outlives many generations of men. That standard is the testing question Is its Maker's purpose served? To live to Him and grow like Him — here is the great end of our being, by the serving or failing which we shall be approved or stand condemned.

(F. Wagstaff.)

What outward things are to us, depends very much on what we are ourselves. Take a landscape for instance. What various thoughts it suggests to different people. To the farmer it suggests land for pasture, the sportsman looks at it from another point of view, the artist sees in it the varying lights and shadows. It suggests to the poet great thoughts or feelings, to the devout man the power and love of God, and so forth. The writer of this book from which our text is taken is in one of his bad moods; he is disheartened and weary of life; nature seems to reflect the sadness of his soul Rivers running into the sea, and not accomplishing anything, all seem to proclaim the vanity of life, the emptiness of life. "All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full." As a statement of fact, it is correct. And what is the sea better for them? They make no visible change in it, they do not even make it less salt; as far as an unthinking person goes, it seems sheer loss. "But the sea is never full." And so we might think it is with man. Humanity, struggling and suffering, only to pass into the sea of nothingness. Egypt was a great nation at the time of Moses, what remains now? Some pyramids and a few mummies. In our sadder moments we are inclined to cry, "Wherefore hast Thou made all men in vain?" After all, this is not the true lesson of "All the rivers run into the sea." The joy of mere living is worth the labour and is reward enough. Every little brook expresses gladness, irrespective of the end it accomplishes. Life is worth living and full of joy. In moments of health and activity we feel like that, but this will not always satisfy. Here is where the true lesson of the "Rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full" comes in. Why is the sea not full? The remainder of the verse answers the question. "Unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again." Solomon accepted the explanation of the mystery given in his day. We know the true reason. It is because the water is continually evaporating, the sun drawing the water up into the clouds, descending again, and giving beauty and fertility all around. Thus the rivers fulfil their true end. They lose life to find it again in new and more beautiful forms — not one drop is lost; every brooklet has its share in the beauty of the earth. Nothing is spent in vain in God's universe; He is a workman who never wastes a particle of force or matter. This thought is comforting and helpful. "Life is a brief span — trivial and vain," nay; no life is lost — its effect remains. No self-sacrifice, no deed of kindness is ever utterly lost. All goodness — every deed done, adds to the permanent stock on earth. It increases the heritage of truth and right which we hand on to remote ages. Thousands of years ago a man left his home and went, to live among strangers, he gave up his country and his kindred. His life was not lost, he became Abraham, the Father of the Faithful. Yes; the rivers of life run into the sea, but they are not lost. No life lived faithfully is utterly lost. It must be so, for Christ is at once the great explanation and pledge of this truth. His Cross seemed the end of all hope; yet the Cross was the triumph of His life — the beginning of everything. Without it there would have been no Resurrection, no Ascension. God brings gain out of loss. Christ has given us the assurance we shall live for ever; living to-day we shall live on for ever. The little rivers of life run into the sea of eternity, but they are not lost. Towards what sea is the river of our life flowing on unceasingly? In every continent the rivers are flowing on. There is a watershed in life, down either side our life may run. In which direction does our life run? Towards God — or away from Him, into darkness.

(J. A. Campbell, M. A.)

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Now, this view of the monotony of things has a great deal of truth in it. If you look at the matter in one aspect, there is a striking lack of originality displayed in creation. Everything material goes through the same process of birth, maturity, decay and death, whether it be a star or a universe, or the humblest insect that crawls. Our own lives, too, what a sameness there is about them, looked at from this old writer's point of view, which is very often our own. What a monotony there is about it all — what a lack of originality. We all go through the same programme in the main. We are each of us, as it were, given the main outlines of our little drama, and we are at liberty to fill in the scanty details for ourselves, all the plots are on the same model, and we seldom strike out any original line in the details. But is there not something more to be said on the matter? It is true that all things go through the same process of birth, maturity, decay and death; that in some aspects there is a deadly sameness throughout all creation from top to bottom. But there is also infinite variety, endless difference, nothing is precisely like anything else in the world. Examine as many as you like of any species of plants or animals, and no one will be found to be precisely like any other. Every dawn is different, and no two sunsets are alike; and though day succeeds day in orderly procession, yet no two days are alike in their combination of cold and heat, sunshine and shower, hurricane or sultry calm. Nor are the events they witness ever exactly reduplicated. And so with our daily lives and experiences. It is true that the plots of our little dramas are much alike, that the main outline is sketched in for us, and that we may only fill in the details of our lives. But it is those very details that we are apt to contemptuously pass by, that make our lives what they are, for better or for worse. It is in the details that individuality is shown — not in the main outline. There is no such thing as "mere detail" — detail is everything in this world. No two lives are alike, every existence is different, there is infinite variety in these very things that make our lives what they are. And the assertion that all things are full of weariness, because of their eternal sameness, is without foundation in fact. If the world seems full of weariness, the fault is in you, not in a world of infinite variety. This miserable plaint of the weariness of all things, then, is nothing new, and it is a cry that is still repeated in our ears only too often in the present day. What was the reason of it in the case of this philosophic grumbler of old? What was the reason of this unhappiness, in one who had everything that is commonly supposed to make life worth living — is the moral of the book that riches, power of intellect, artistic taste, refinement, learning, are all without value, and are powerless to give any pleasure to their possessor? By no means. All these things are good in themselves, may confer vast pleasure on those who have them, so long as they are not the end and aim of existence. Happiness is not the one aim and end of existence — it is the result of a well-lived life. If you make the attainment of happiness and pleasure the one object of existence as the Preacher did, then it will always elude you even as it did him. The Preacher was essentially an egoist, a selfish man. "How can I obtain happiness for myself?" was the cry of his soul, and although he tried every method, he never did obtain it. Just compare, for an instant, the life of this writer with its comfort, ease and luxury, to that of Jesus with its hardships, disappointments and sufferings. Both see the misery in the world, but while one sets to work to remedy it, the other sits and looks at it, and wrings his hands over it. Jesus saw the crookedness in life just as plainly as Ecclesiastes did, but instead of crooning a coronach over all human hopes and aspirations and endeavours, He set to work to make the crooked straight, bind up the brokenhearted, preach good tidings to the prisoners in the bonds of sin, and give a gospel of hope and encouragement to all; and in losing Himself in the service of others, He found a joy and peace that never left Him. It has ever been so, and it is so now. It is not from the toilers of earth that the cry of the weariness of all things goes up. It is not those who have to work from morning till night, and who are found day after day drudging away their lives at the same employments — it is not from these, as a rule, that the cry of the Preacher goes up. It is those who have nothing better to do with their time than to sit and brood over their little petty ailments or misfortunes, whose time hangs heavy on their hands, because of want of occupation, who have no conception of there being anything better in life than to pass through it as easily as possible — these are the people who are bored with existence. The men, however, who do the world's work, who try to right the wrong, straighten the crooked, raise the fallen, and improve the world, are not so; they have no time in which to indulge in the luxury of "the blues." They always find too much to do in the world, and in doing something for others they find a happiness that nothing else can bestow.

(E. S. Hicks, M. A.)

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