Rejoice, O young man, while you are young, and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and in the sight of your eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.
There is certainly no asceticism in the teaching of this book. On the other hand, there is no commendation of worldliness and voluptuousness. Human nature is prone to extremes; and even religious teachers are not always successful in avoiding them. But we seem in this passage to listen to teaching which at once recognizes the claims of human nature and of the earthly life, and yet solemnly maintains the subordination of all our pleasures and occupations to the service of our Master, and to our preparation for the great account.
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.
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth.
Our translators have slipped in a "but" where there ought to be an "and," and have thus made the Preacher set the joy of youth and the judgment of God over against each other: whereas, in fact, the judgment is put as part of the rejoicing: "Rejoice in thy youth; and know that, respecting all these, God will bring thee into judgment. "Let us look at the two parts of the text separately — joy and judgment; and then we shall see how they fit into each other, and are parts of one great truth." Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in thy youthful days, and pursue the ways of thine heart, and the things which are seen by the eyes." We are not listening to a Christian moralist: nevertheless, the sentiment is Christian. Childhood and youth, or youth and manhood, are fleeting; therefore, "Banish sorrow from thy mind, and put away sadness from thy body." He evidently does not think that the brevity and transitoriness of a thing is a reason for despising it. Neither do you and I, when we deal with ordinary matters. The rose which you pluck in the morning withers before the next morning, but you delight yourself with its colour and perfume none the less while it lasts. Youth and fresh manhood are things only of a few years; but their brevity is, to the Preacher, the reason why they should be enjoyed. "Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth." Youth is pointed back to his creation. What stamp did the Creator set upon it? What provision did He make for youth? What did He mean youth to be? Obedient, reverent, pure, diligent — all that certainly; yet as certainly fresh, joyous, vigorous. A joyless youth is as unnatural as ice in August: "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth." It may be said, "At any rate, this aspect of the truth does not need pressing in our day, and it were better to warn youth against the coming judgment." And it seems to be assumed, moreover, that there is an antagonism between these two ideas of joy and judgment; that the thought of judgment is enough of itself to quench all rejoicing in youth. But the peculiarity of our text is, that it rejects this antagonism, and makes this coming judgment a cause of rejoicing — a stimulant of the joy of youth as well as a warning: "Rejoice, and know that God will bring thee into judgment. Banish, therefore, sorrow from thy mind, and put away sadness from thy body." Whenever this book may have been written, we find in it numerous allusions to a state of society which give these words about a future judgment a peculiar meaning and force; for the book depicts a society under a capricious despotism, with all its corruptions and miseries. And as the book reveals this fearful social condition, so, likewise, it gives expression to the temper which grows up in men's minds after a long course of such oppressions — a kind of fatalism and hopelessness which tempts one to yield passively to the current of affairs; to believe that God has ceased to rule, and that order and right have vanished from the world; to snatch at every pleasure; to drown care in sensuality rather than try to maintain an integrity which is sure to be rewarded with personal and social ruin. That kind of temper, if it once gained headway, would affect all classes and ages. In the nobler and better-seasoned characters it would become a proud despair; in vulgar minds a bestial greed, and an untram-melled selilshness; in youth a prompter to unbounded sensuality. You can see, therefore, what a powerful antidote to this temper would be furnished by the truth of a future judgment. One can afford to be cheerful, oven amid oppressions and troubles like these, if the time is short, and a day coming in which wrong shall be righted, and worth acknowledged and fidelity rewarded. The judgment is a fact which confronts us as Christians — a fact emphasized by the words of Christ and of the apostles, and still further emphasized by the relation in which Christ puts Himself to it as the Judge of all men. And the attitude of even our Christian thought towards it is largely that of terror and apprehension. The element of solemnity must, in any case, dominate our thought of the last day. It cannot be other than a serious matter to appear before our Creator, and to give an account of the deeds done in the body. And assuredly it will be a day of wrath to rebels against God and to rejecters of Christ. But, withal, the truth has another side. It is not mere fancy which sees in the Judgment Day a day of consolation as well as of wrath. The Mediator is the Judge, and the blood of sprinkling has taken the terror out of judgment. Why, then, should a man, young or old, have the work or the pleasure peculiar to his age and circumstances clouded by the anticipation of judgment? Why may not the young man lawfully rejoice in his youth, provided he remembers his Creator? The mistake is in divorcing the Creator and Judge from the joy of life; whereas, God is the true joy of life. Whence come the pure pleasures of youth — its hopefulness, its energy, its mirth, its sense of beauty? Do they not come from God? Is He not the Creator of these as well as oil bone and muscle? And if these gifts are recognized as God's, are they not at once sweetened, and guarded against abuse by that very fact? Christ tells us that one office of the Holy Spirit is to "convince of judgment": that is, to show men clearly that all sin deserves and will receive the judgment of God. Is it not, then, a cause of rejoicing that God guards our pleasures against abuse, that He teaches us what true pleasure is, that He sets up a sign marked "judgment" at the border-line of excess? Is it not a real cause of rejoicing that God restrains us from incurring the judgment of sin? Can that be real pleasure which ends in rebuke and punishment? And, therefore, when we recognize our legitimate pleasures as God's gift, our joy in them is heightened. We may enjoy without fear. God will not condemn what Himself has ordained and created; and when we look forward to the great judgment, the eternal life beyond, these very pleasures take on a prophetic character. They are foretastes, earnests of something better beyond. The pleasure at His right hand here promises fulness of joy at His right hand for evermore.
It is in this healthy, bracing tone, it is in these words of manly wisdom, that the Preacher brings to a close the volume of his confessions. His tone has not always been thus bright and hopeful. It has sometimes been melancholy, cynical, sceptical, all but despairing. Bitterness, disappointment, vanity, these had been the burden of his book. But he has learnt by God's discipline the true wisdom, and he gives you the benefit of his experience. The book is that most touching of all autobiographies, the autobiography of a heart. The Preacher is a layman and an accomplished man of the world. This is no sour moralist of the schools, who condemns the vices go which he has felt no temptation, or who looks askance with an eye of something like half regret at the pleasures on which he frowns or the follies at which he sneers. Nor is he the stern ascetic who can make no allowance for human frailty and bids you crush with hand of iron the uprisings of human passion. Nor, again, is he, on the other hand, merely the sated voluptuary, who has drained the cup of pleasure to the dregs, and who, tired and disgusted with his own excesses, now with enfeebled frame and jaded appetite pronounces the mournful condemnation of his former self. He is the calm, prudent, philosophical man of the world. Such is the man. What is his teaching? What does this wise man, this man of knowledge and experience say, as, looking back at the end of the years, he sees others setting out on the voyage of life? How does he address the young? "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth." This is not, as some would persuade us, the language of cynical scorn. The Preacher does not hold up to you the empty shrivelled mask of the world that he may mock your joy. He does not take off the kingly crown and the robe of pride and show you the grinning death's head and the ghastly skeleton beneath, and bid you rejoice if you can. He means what He says. There is the full sympathy with youth. He would not teach you else. This is the secret of all true teaching. You can never win others if you are not in sympathy with them. Your words may be wise and weighty; but they will not influence men unless you can make them feel that you and they have something in common. And above all this is true with the young. How often the austere voice of age chills and repels the youthful heart. It has bright visions, golden dreams, a future which seems boundless. It has no patience with your stern maxims and your cold preaching about duty. But go to it as the Preacher goes in this book, go to it with the frank sympathy and the affectionate voice which says, Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth. Be happy in youth, for not to be happy now would be to despise one of God's best gifts of love. But will you go with him a step further? How would he ensure you this blessed gift of gladness and innocent mirth? How would he keep your heart fresh through all the coming years? By casting over it the shadow of judgment and the fear of God. "Walk in the way of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes, but know that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh, for (without God) childhood and youth are vanity." "Know that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth." He wants to see you happy. He wants you to put away sorrow from your heart and evil from your flesh. He wants you to spare yourself the misery of a wasted life, of an accusing conscience, of bitter, abiding remorse. That is why he says to you, Know that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. That is why he bids you remember your Creator. It is not to deny you one innocent pleasure, it is not to make you gloomy, misanthropic, unsociable. It is to lead you to carry everywhere with you the thought of a love which shall be as music in your hearts, whatever labour may be given you and whatever sorrows may darken your path. This is a very simple elementary truth. But is it not a truth that is too much forgotten? Do we not need to make this the fundamental article of the religious teaching of the young? Ought we not to endeavour to stamp upon their hearts that old name of God, Thou God seest me? It is the appeal to the conscience before the conscience has been seared. Will you still say, I am young, let me enjoy myself, there is time enough to think about religion by and by? I know this is a common delusion. I know it is a delusion which is sometimes fostered by pernicious teaching. I do not limit the grace of God. He can change the heart of a sinner as He changed that of Saul of Tarsus, or of the robber on the cross. But such changes are the exception. And they at least had not known the truth and wilfully turned their backs upon the truth. And even if He should give you repentance, how bitter will it be. Think of the evil habits to be overcome. Think by how sharp and painful a process all those thick layers of evil which have gathered upon you must be cut away. How hard it is to begin late in life a habit of prayer, a habit of reading the Scriptures, a habit of self-examination, a habit of self-denial and self-sacrifice. Ii we would have a pure conscience and a strong faith and a clear hope, if we would save ourselves from bitter, bitter tears and a remorse which is agony, we must remember our Creator in the days of our youth. But once more the Preacher enforces his counsel, not only by the thought of judgment to come, but by the melancholy picture of an old age which can find no pleasure in earthly things and has no God to turn to. The Preacher does not threaten you with a short term of years, he does not dwell on the uncertainty of life. He knew well how easy it is to put away such a thought, how ready we all are to admit the possibility in every case but our own. He grants you the fourscore years you expect to reach. And he puts before you the picture of your then self. With that palsied frame, with those decaying faculties, with that impaired vigour, will you serve God better? Or when your whole life has been one long forgetfulness of Him, will you find it pleasant to remember Him? can you change all at once the current of your thoughts and your affections? "Remember!" How that word checks the heedlessness and thoughtlessness of youth. "Remember!" And to you that word comes with a sweeter and more solemn sound. You are invited to remember not One only whose power fashioned you, but One whose love redeemed you.
Youths have often been compared to trees in their bloom; but, like beautiful and promising blossoms, they often disappoint the hopes they inspire. It depends upon the principles they imbibe, and the courses they pursue, whether they shall or shall not be blessings to their parents, to their friends, and to their fellow-creatures.
I. THE TRUE IMPORT OF THE ADDRESS TO YOUTH IN THE TEXT.
1. Some suppose that Solomon means to express his approbation of young people in pursuing the innocent recreations and amusements of life. They consider him as representing religion as not only free from austerity and gloominess, but as productive of the purest happiness in the present as well as in the future state. And he often does paint virtue and piety in this amiable and beautiful form (Proverbs 3:17; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7).
2. This does not appear to be Solomon's meaning in the text. He is speaking to a careless, secure, unsanctified youth, who has no fear of God before his eyes. It is therefore beyond a doubt that he means to speak ironically, and to convey an idea directly contrary to what his words literally express. But new those who are in the morning of life may be ready to ask, Why should the wise man give us, in particular, such a solemn warning to live and act under a realizing view of the great and last day? Did he not know that such a view of future and eternal realities would disturb our peace and destroy all our pleasing hopes and prospects? Why did he not make this address to the aged, who have gone through the busy scenes of life, and are just ready to appear before the supreme tribunal of their final Judge?
II. To convince you who are ready to think and speak in this manner, of THE PROPRIETY OF THE WISE MAN'S ADDRESS, and of the importance of your living in a constant preparation for your final account, I will suggest the following things to your most serious consideration.
1. Please to reflect upon your hearts, which you have carried about with you, and which you have found to be extremely corrupt and sinful. Can you conceive of any safety in trusting in such hearts, which you have found have so often betrayed, deceived, and well-nigh ruined you? Can you set any bounds to your progress in sinning? Is there any evil or danger to which you are not exposed? Is there not, then, a great propriety in the wise man's addressing you in particular; and in warning you not to walk in the ways of your hearts, which are the ways to certain and endless ruin?
2. Consider that the world in which you live, and through which you have to pass to your long home, is every way calculated to corrupt and destroy you.(1) The things of the world are full of poison, and perfectly suited to increase and draw forth the native corruption of your hearts.(2) Worldly employments, as well as worldly objects, are of a dangerous and ensnaring nature to your hearts.(3) Besides, you are in no less danger from the men of the world than from its business and objects.(4) Farthermore, the god of the world unites with the men of the world, and all its scenes and objects, to lead you in the broad road to ruin. Do you not need the admonition in the text; and all other friendly admonitions of danger? Can any thought be more proper to lie continually on your minds than your constant exposedness to live and die impenitent?
3. Bear it in your minds that you are now in a state of trial, and forming your characters for eternity.
4. Remember that God not only may, but must, call you to an account for all your conduct in this state of trial.
5. Consider whether your hearts can endure, or your hands be strong, in the day that God shall deal with you.IMPROVEMENT:
1. If there be a propriety in the solemn address to youth in the text, then it is very absurd for any to think that young people in particular may be excused for neglecting preparation for their future and eternal state.
2. If there be a propriety in the solemn address to youth in the text, then there is something very beautiful and amiable in becoming religious early in life. Piety adorns all persons who possees it; but it shines with peculiar lustre in youth, because it more clearly appears to be the effect of a change of heart than of a change of circumstances.
3. If there be a propriety in the pathetic address to the youth in the text, then there is a peculiar propriety in young persons remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy.
4. If it be proper to give young people such solemn warnings and admonitions as Solomon does in the text, then it must be extremely improper to provide for them and allow them in vain and sinful amusements. If one of these things is right, then the other is wrong.
5. It appears in the view of this subject that the death of young people is a very solemn and interesting event to the living, whether they leave the world prepared or unprepared.
Homilist.I. Their AUTHORIZATION. "Rejoice, O young man." God desires the happiness of youth, and has made abundant provision for it. Cheerful youth-hood is the condition of a healthy and vigorous manhood.
II. Their MODERATION. "Know thou." Adam in his innocence had a limiting law. God gives vast scope for human action and enjoyment; but not unbounded.
1. He will judge you at the bar of your own experience. The young man who gives full play to his passions, yields himself up to intemperance and self-indulgence, will, by an immutable law, be made to endure, as years roll on, the penalties of his immoderation. God has brought him to judgment.
2. He will judge you at the bar of your own conscience.
Know thou that for all these things God will bring thee into judgmentI. THE TRUE INTERPRETATION OF THE TEXT.
1. It has been viewed by some as grave advice: as though its purport were: "youth is the time for gaiety within the bound of moderation; a certain decorum attends every age; there is a becoming grace and spirit in the gaiety of youth; let it be indulged only in consistency with the remembrance of God and judgment."
2. But to this interpretation it is objected by others that the terms used are too broad to allow of this passage being applied in such a serious meaning. The language in the former part of the sentence is merely ironical.
II. ENFORCE AND ILLUSTRATE THIS SOLEMN WARNING. The heart of youth, if it goes in its own way, must go in a way full of moral disorder. Even if disgrace before men is escaped, there will be infinity of evil before God: neglect of God, of prayer, of self-examination, of Scripture. So much ingratitude and apostasy is there in neglect of God that a day of judgment is appointed for its punishment, With respect to this judgment, remember —
1. Its extent. "All these things" are involved in it.
2. The character of the Judge.
3. The severity of this judgment.
4. This judgment will be final and ultimate.
5. Its certainty, "God will bring thee into judgment."Heaven and earth may pass away, and shall; but not a word of God can fail. As sure as death is appointed unto all, is judgment also.
()I. THE JUDGMENT TO COME IS CERTAIN, AND CANNOT BE AVOIDED. The very heathens had some notices of it; and the consciences of mankind in general forespeak it (Psalm 73.). And the scriptures of truth clearly and fully confirm the certainty of the future judgment.
II. THE JUDGMENT TO COME IS A JUST, STRICT, AND IMPARTIAL JUDGMENT.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THAT JUDGMENT ARE MOST IMPORTANT AND ETERNAL. They are either life, or death; unutterable joy and blessedness, and that not for a year, an age, or but a few ages, but for ever and ever.
IV. THIS AWFUL JUDGMENT WILL QUICKLY COME. You may put the evil day far from your thoughts, or look upon it as at a vast distance; but it wilt quickly overtake you, and may come upon you before you are aware. There will then be an eternal entire end of all your sinful pleasing vanities; but not an end, happy would it be for you if there were, of your bitter remembrances of them; of your stinging reflections upon them, and of your overwhelming sufferings for them; these will stick close by you, and abide for ever with you.
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