I have seen the burden that God has laid on men to occupy them.
The author of Ecclesiastes was too wise to take what we call a one-sided view of human life. No doubt there are times and moods in which this human existence seems to us to be all made up of either toil or endurance, delight or disappointment. But in the hour of sober reflection we are constrained to admit that the pattern of the web of life is composed of many and diverse colors. Our faculties and capacities are many, our experiences are varied, for the appeals made to us by our environment change from day to day, from hour to hour. "One man in his time plays many parts."
I. IN LIFE THERE IS MYSTERY TO SOLVE. The works and the ways of God are too great for our feeble, finite nature to comprehend. We may learn much, and yet may leave much unlearned and probably unlearnable, at all events in the conditions of this present state of being.
1. There are speculative difficulties regarding the order and constitution of things, which the thoughtful man cannot avoid inquiring into, which yet often baffle and sometimes distress him. "Man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end."
2. There are practical difficulties which every man has to encounter in the conduct of life, fraught as it is with disappointment and sorrow. "What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?"
II. IN LIFE THERE IS BEAUTY TO ADMIRE. The mind that is not absorbed in providing for material wants can scarcely fail to be open to the adaptations and the manifold charms of nature. The language of creation is as harmonious music, which is soothing or inspiring to the ear of the soul. What a revelation is here of the very nature and benevolent purposes of the Almighty Maker! "He hath made everything beautiful in its time." And beauty needs the aesthetic faculty in order to its appreciation and enjoyment. The development of this faculty in advanced states of civilization is familiar to every student of human nature. Standards of beauty vary; but the true standard is that which is offered by the works of God, who "hath made everything beautiful in its time." There is a beauty special to every season of the year, to every hour of the day, to every state of the atmosphere; there is a beauty in every several kind of landscape, a beauty of the sea, a beauty of the heavens; there is a beauty of childhood, another beauty of youth, of healthful manhood and radiant womanhood, and even a certain beauty peculiar to age. The pious observer of the works of God, who rids himself of conventional and traditional prejudices, will not fail to recognize the justice of this remarkable assertion of the Hebrew sage.
III. IN LIFE THERE IS WORK TO DO. Labor and travail are very frequently mentioned in this book, whose author was evidently deeply impressed by the corresponding facts - first, that God is the almighty Worker in the universe; and, secondly, that man is made by the Creator like unto himself, in that he is called upon by his nature and his circumstances to effort and to toil. Forms of labor vary, and the progress of applied science in our own time seems to relieve the toiler of some of the severer, more exhausting kinds of bodily effort. But it must ever remain true that the human frame was not intended for indolence; that work is a condition of welfare, a means of moral discipline and development. It is a factor that cannot be left out of human life; the Christian is bound, like his Master, to finish the work which the Father has given him to do.
IV. IN LIFE THERE IS GOOD TO PARTICIPATE, There is no asceticism in the teaching of this Book of Ecclesiastes. The writer was one who had no doubt that man was constituted to enjoy. He speaks of eating and drinking as not merely necessary in order to maintain life, but as affording gratification. He dwells appreciatingly upon the happiness of married life. He even commends mirth and festivity. In all these he shows himself superior to the pettiness which carps at the pleasures connected with this earthly existence, and which tries to pass for sanctity. Of course, there are lawful and unlawful gratifications; there is a measure of indulgence which ought not to be exceeded. But if Divine intention is traceable in the constitution and condition of man, he was made to partake with gratitude of the bounties of God's providence.
V. ALL THE PROVISIONS WHICH DIVINE WISDOM ATTACHES TO HUMAN LIFE ARE TO BE ACCEPTED WITH GRATITUDE AND USED WITH FAITHFULNESS, AND WITH A CONSTANT SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY. In receiving and enjoying every gift, the devout mind will exclaim, "It is the gift of God." In taking advantage of every opportunity, the Christian will bear in mind that wisdom and goodness arrange human life so that it shall afford repeated occasion for fidelity and diligence. In his daily work he will make it his aim to "serve the Lord Christ."
1. There is much in the provisions and conditions of our earthly life which baffles our endeavors to understand it; and when perplexed by mystery, we-are summoned to submit with all humility and patience to the limitations of our intellect, and to rest assured that God's wisdom will, in the end, be made apparent to all.
2. There is a practical life to be lived, even when speculative difficulties are insurmountable; and it is in the conscientious fulfillment of daily duty, and the moderate use of ordinary enjoyments, that as Christians we may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. - T.
"Destiny!" What a word! Orthographically it is composed of seven parts, as if, in the use of the sacred number, "seven," it was intended, by its very structure, to express, to all ages, its profound significance — viz, sufficiency, fulness, completion, perfection! Such, indeed, is the sweeping import of the word "destiny." It means a state of things that is complete, perfect. It signifies that this world — with its empires that rise and fall — its marvellous incidents that are enacted by human wisdom, courage, strife and ambition — its generations that are born, that live and die — its joys and sorrows — its shifting seasons and rolling years: this earth, as it now exists, is under a management that is sufficient, perfect! — a management of which it can be said: "A sparrow cannot fall to the ground without notice" — that is, without permission and purpose! Destiny has a "Clock" — "a huge timepiece" which measures off the events in this fixed order of things. On its dial-plate is inscribed this world-wide truth: "To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven." By what "Hand" is this "Clock of Destiny" wound up and managed in all its complicated machinery? In other words: What is the superintending power of this fixed order of things? One answer says: "Fatalism makes the pendulum oscillate, fitting cog to cog and wheel to wheel, controlling all the movements of the dial-gnomon." God is here given the go-by, while absolute necessity and fixed, cold, unconscious law are delegated with all power. Fatalism annihilates intelligence and free-will in the world's government. It declares that "Everything from a star to a thought; from the growth of a tree to a spasm of sorrow; from the coronation of a king to the falling of a sparrow is connected with and under the positive control of molecular force." In short, destiny's timepiece is wound up and kept in running order by a "hand" tuner divine! The third chapter of Ecclesiastes was written in the interest of the Divine Hand managing the "Clock of Destiny" — in other words, to teach the glorious doctrine of special providence. O ye priests "of science falsely so called," ye prophets of the "Unknowable," ye "wise men" who make law supreme and deify force — let the Hebrew sage teach you a better creed! Yea, ye, doubters, ye of unbelief, as to the doctrine of special providence in things great and small — listen to this: "God doeth!" not fate. His acts "shall be for ever," not of short duration but of eternal import. He is independent of all contingency — the wicked cannot frustrate the Almighty's purposes: "Nothing can be put to it and nothing can be taken from it." His government is for man's highest good — by each swing of the pendulum the Divine Father would move the race nearer to Himself: "And God doeth it that they should fear before Him." He is never surprised — nothing is new to Him, nothing old. He acts in the eternal Now. All things — past, present, future — are ever under His all-seeing eye: "That which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been." It is, however, impossible for us now to understand all about the management of this "huge timepiece," which measures off the events great and small, in the fixed course of things. So says the author of my text in verse 11: "No man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end." But this shortsightedness, on our part, is no reason why we should question the wisdom of what is being done, or, in any way, withhold our confidence and love from God as a Father — who is ever doing for us "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." And, now, in view of the fact that "the Lord reigneth" — that the "Clock of Destiny" is God's machine, ever running in the interest of man's highest good — what should be our daily conduct and highest ambition? Let this third chapter of Ecclesiastes give us, in closing, an exhortation, as it has already imparted to us profound instruction. In ver. 12 let us read that it is our mission here "to do good" — in ver. 13, "to enjoy the good of all our labour," seeing that this is "the gift of God" — in vers. 16, 17, not to fret ourselves because of evil-doers, "for God shall judge the righteous and the wicked" — in vers. 18-21, not to be disheartened or over-mournful because of death, for though "that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts" — all coming from and going to the same place — "dust": yet "there is a spirit in man that goeth upwards." He is immortal, and hence can say: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Finally, vers. 22, "Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in all his works." Do good and rejoice in that good — this is man's duty! Scatter sunbeams to expel darkness — build up blazing fires to warm and cheer the cold, weary and worn! Be kind — be charitable — save your neighbour from tears, groans, heartaches! Swell the refrain of merry Christmas carols! Ring out the bells of New Year greeting! "Rejoice ever-morel"
To everything there is a season.
The principle which Solomon asserts, and which is of extreme importance in all matters connected with our practical life in this world, is also of equal importance in religious matters. It is true of religion as of all other things, that in it too there is a time for all things, a time to be merry and a time to be sad; and moreover that true wisdom consists in regulating these times, not in leaving them to take their chance (so to speak), but in fixing seasons and periods as aids to the various religious feelings. Let me then bring under your notice a few points illustrative of the method which the Church adopts, a method which is the carrying into religion the principle of the text, cutting out our time, allotting to each portion its proper work, and so economizing the whole and guarding against waste and misuse. The first instance I shall take will be that of our observance of the Sunday. I ask myself — why is this day set apart as it is? and looking upon it not merely as a day of animal rest, but as a day of religious service, the reply is ready, that although men ought to serve God every day, yet they are more likely to remember their duty if a special day be set apart for the purpose; the Sunday, in fact, is a great practical call to worship God; the most thoughtless person cannot fail to have the duty of worship brought before him; no man can by possibility live in this country, and not know that prayer and praise are a duty; few men can have failed to have heard of Christ's Sacraments, however much they may have neglected them. The great truth also of the resurrection of the Lord, the great truth upon which all our own hopes of a resurrection depend, how completely and powerfully is that preached by this same institution! for Sunday is emphatically the feast of Christ's Resurrection. It is in strict accordance with this principle that the Church has attached a peculiar solemnity to the Friday. As Easter Day throws a light of joy upon all the Sundays in the year, so is it deemed right that the awful event of Good Friday should throw a shade of sadness upon all other Fridays; accordingly you will find the Friday marked in the Prayer-book as a day of fasting and abstinence. Is this a vain rule, a relic of Popery, a remnant of the Dark Ages? I think that sober, thoughtful Christians will not say so; for indeed there is nothing which will tend so much to Christianize the mind, if I may so speak, as to meditate upon the Passion of the Lord Christ. On the same principle we have certain days set apart for the commemoration of saints. The first founders of the kingdom of Christ, those to whose zeal and faithfulness we owe the preservation of the precious deposit of faith, are men to be kept ever in our minds as the great champions of God's noble army, whose faith we may well follow. It may be said that every Christian will have a grateful sense of the debt he owes to the apostles and martyrs of Christ; yea, but the question is whether the debt will not be discharged more punctually and more completely, if the work be arranged upon system, if a day be set apart for consideration of the character and works of this apostle, and another for that; in fact, if a person throws himself into the Church system and follows her mode of commemorating the saints, is it not to be expected that he will take a more complete view of the various characters and excellences of the apostles, than a man who acknowledged their excellence in general, but does not thus study them in detail? Take the Ember weeks as another example of the same principle. It is desirable that God's blessing should be invoked by the Church at large upon those who are ordained to the ministry, and upon whose faith and pure conversation so much of the prosperity of the Church depends; how can this great end be best secured? by appointing to the work its proper time. Once more, take the round of great festivals, which, beginning with Advent, terminate in Trinity Sunday. You cannot have failed to observe the manner in which the round of feasts brings before us all the great Christian doctrines; how the Church, preparing at first for the advent of Christ, exhibits Him to us as a babe in swaddling-clothes, then carries us up to His betrayal and death, His burial, His rising again, His ascension into heaven, the coming of the Holy Ghost, and then exhibits to us the full mystery of Godhead, the incomprehensible Three Persons in One God. Lastly, I will take as an example of the Church system the season of Lent. Its meaning may be briefly stated thus, it is the season of penitence. Season of penitence? a person may say, ought not all seasons to be seasons of penitence? Truly; but as there is a time for all things, so has penitence its special time; and the Church requires of us that for forty days before the Passion of Christ, we should meditate upon and grieve over the sins which caused His death. I think I need not say much to convince you of the wisdom of this appointment; if you were perfect, like the angels, you would not require such a season; there is no change of season in heaven, because the blessed spirits around God's throne have but one occupation, and that is to sing His praise; but in like manner "there is no night there," because, being freed from the burden of the flesh, there is to them no weariness; and just as in this world night is necessary for us, which has no existence in heaven, so on earth we may find help to our souls from those aids to our infirmity, which the Church on earth requires, but which the Church triumphant knows not.
(with ver. 10): — There are many falsehoods written over the ashes of the dead; but none more flagrant and profane than that inscribed on the monument erected in Westminster Abbey, by the Duke and Duchess of Queensberry, to the memory of the poet Gay. It was written by Gay himself, and reads thus —
"Life is a jest, and all things show it;
I thought so once, but now I know it."What a miserable estimate of the grand existence of man on earth! What a gross misrepresentation of the lessons taught by God's works and ways! What a libel on the momentous revelations of the future world! What a noble answer to Gay's wretched falsehood Longfellow supplies in his "Psalm of Life"! How many souls have been stirred to action by its trumpet-call! How many true and brave lives have been lived in response to its appeal!
I. THE REALITIES OF LIFE SURROUND US ALL. There are the realities of your calling; the duties connected with it, which you feel must be discharged in the most efficient manner possible; the responsibilities attaching to it, which perhaps in several ways are heavy; the temptations to swerve from the line of rectitude, and practise that which is mean and sinful; the worry and anxiety arising out of the keenness of competition, the sharp dealing and fraud of your fellow-men, and the uncertainties of all secular life. We are not to be slothful in our secular pursuits; if we are, we may as well give them up altogether; yet, at the same time, we should see that we have them all in subordination to our spiritual interests, and the life to come. Often the realities of life thicken around men while they are destitute of all preparation. They have failed to exercise forethought-neglected to make provision for the future. All previous periods of life have seen them unfaithful to themselves, to their opportunities, to their calling. You can never redeem what you have lost; but you may avoid losing more. It is of no use bemoaning the past. "Let the dead past bury its dead!" At once embrace the opportunities of the "living present." Forget the things which are behind, and reach towards the things which are before.
II. HEARKEN TO THE WORD OF COUNSEL, AS TO THE WAY IS WHICH YOU SHOULD MEET THE REALITIES OF LIFE AND TURN THEM TO GOOD ACCOUNT. Cultivate earnestness of character. History furnishes us with some rare instances of earnest" purpose and endeavour — vigorous grappling with the realities of life, that should inspire us with enthusiasm. "I am doing a great work," said Nehemiah, while rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, "so that I cannot come down." "This one thing I do," exclaims the Apostle Paul. Minutius Aldus, a famous printer at Venice in the sixteenth century, had this significant inscription placed over the door of his office — "Whoever thou art, Aldus entreats thee again and again, if thou hast business with him, to conclude it briefly, and hasten thy departure: unless, like Hercules to the weary Atlas, thou come to put thy shoulder to the work, then will there ever he sufficient occupation for thee and all others who may come. In the diary of Dr. Chalmers, under the date of March 12th, 1812, there occurs this entry — "I am reading the life of Dr. Doddridge, and am greatly struck with the quantity of business which he put through his hands. O God, impress upon me the value of time, and give regulation to all my thoughts and to all my movements. .May I be strong in faith, instant in prayer, high in my sense of duty, and vigorous in the occupation of it! When I detect myself in unprofitable reverie, let me make an instant transition from dreaming to doing." I think it was Sir James Mackintosh who said that whenever he died, he should die with a host of unaccomplished purposes and unfinished plans in his brain. So every earnest man will leave behind him many a half-finished, and even many an unattempted work. Nevertheless, with a true and earnest heart we may complete some things — we may weave the threads of life into a fabric of varied use and beauty — and, like David of old, serve our generation by the will of God before we fall on sleep, and are laid among our fathers. Once more, nothing will so help you to deal with the realities of life as true religion. Do you possess it, and are you living under its influence?
At no period of the year are the sunsets so varied and beautiful as in autumn. The many-coloured woods of the year's eventide correspond to the many-coloured clouds of the sunset sky; and as the heavens burst into their brightest hues, and exhibit their loveliest transfigurations when the daylight is fading into the gloom of night, so the year unfolds its richest tints and its fairest charms when it is about to sink into the darkness and desolation of winter. The beauty of the autumnal tints is commonly supposed to be confined to the fading foliage of the trees. This is indeed the most obvious feature of the season — that which appeals to every eye, and reads its lesson to every heart. But nature here, as everywhere else, loves to reproduce in her smallest things the peculiarities of her greatest. It was a beautiful myth, created by the glowing imagination of the Greek poets, that the great god Pan, the impersonation of nature, wedded the nymph Echo; so that every note which he blew from his pipe of reeds awakened a harmonious response in her tender bosom. Most truly does this bright fancy represent the real design of nature, according to which we hear on every hand some curious reverberation of some familiar sound, and see all things delighting to wear each other's robes. The fading frees pipe their many-coloured music aloft on the calm blue October air — for the chromatic scale is the harmonious counterpart of the musical — and the lowly plants that grow beneath their shadow dance to the music. The weeds by the wayside are gifted with a beauty in the decline of life equal to that of the proudest oaks and beeches. Each season partakes to some extent of the characteristics of all the other seasons, and shares in all the varied beauties of the year. Thus we find an autumn in each spring in the death of the primroses and lilies, and a harvest in each summer in the ripe hay-fields; and every one has noticed that the sky of September possesses much of the fickleness of spring in the rapid change of its clouds and the variableness of its weather. Very strikingly is this mutual repetition by the seasons of each other's characteristic features seen in the resemblance between the tints of the woods in spring and in autumn. The first leaves of the oak expand from the bud in a pale tender crimson; the young leaves of the maple tree, and all the leaves that appear on a maple stump, are of a remarkable copper colour; the immature foliage of the hazel and alder is marked by a dark purple tinge, singularly rich and velvety-looking. Not more varied is the tinting of the autumnal woods than that of the spring woods. And it may be remarked that the colour into which any tree fades in autumn is the same as it wears when it bursts the cerements of spring, and unfolds to the sunny air. Its birth is a prophecy of its death, and its death of its birth. Nature's cradles have not more of beginning in them than of ending; and nature's graves have not more of ending in them than of beginning. No one can take a walk in the melancholy woodland in the calm October days without being deeply impressed by the thought of the great waste of beauty and creative skill seen in the faded leaves which rustle beneath his feet. Take up and examine one of these leaves attentively, and you are astonished at, the wealth of ingenuity displayed in it. It is a miracle of design, elaborately formed and richly coloured — in reality more precious than any jewel; and yet it is dropped off the bough as if it had no value, and rots away unheeded in the depths of the forest. Myriads of similar gems are heaped beneath the leafless trees, to moulder away in the rains of November. It saddens us to think of this continual lavish production and careless discarding of forms of beauty and wonder, which we see everywhere throughout nature. Could not the foliage be so contrived as to remain permanently on the trees, and only suffer such a periodical change as the evergreen ivy undergoes? Must the web of nature's fairest embroidery be taken down every year, and every year woven back again to its old completeness and beauty? Is nature waiting for some great compensation, as Penelope of old waited for her absent husband, when she unravelled each evening the work of each day, and thus deluded her eager lovers with vain promises? Yes! she weaves and unweaves her web of loveliness each season — not in order to mock us with delusive hopes, but to wean us from all false loves, and teach us to wait and prepare for the true love of our souls, which is found, not in the passing things of earth, but in the abiding realities of heaven. This is the secret of all her lavish wastefulness. For this she perpetually sacrifices and perpetually renews her beauty; for this she counts all her most precious things but as dross. By the pathos of her autumn loveliness she is appealing to all that is deepest and truest in our spiritual nature; and through her fading flowers and her withering grass, and all her fleeting glories, she is speaking to us words of eternal life, whereby our souls may be enriched and beautified for ever.
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