The Religion under the Sun
We use the word "religion" in preference to "Christianity." There are many religions; there is but one Christianity, one Christ. There is but one Christian faith. Religion is used to describe the upliftings of a soul toward God and toward eternity. Man is naturally a religious being, that is, he naturally seeks after the great Creator, and thinks of the world to come. The natural man, however, in his viewpoint may have but little, if any, conception of his need of a Saviour, or of the fact that Christ is God the Son, and Son of God. In other words, the heathen are religious. The Indians, roaming the forests of America, were found to be religious.
Religion as described in the Book of Ecclesiastes takes on a twofold aspect. First of all, it has to do with the human conception of present-day morality. Second, it has to do with the human conception of things beyond this life.
1. We would demonstrate first of all the folly of the critic who condemns the Book of Ecclesiastes. The Book which we have been studying in several studies is a Book which is derided and criticized as perhaps no other Book of the Bible, The infidel delights to quote from its pages in order to upset the faith of some weak Christian who knows nothing of the deeper meanings and intents of Solomon's writings. The critic especially delights in attacking certain statements found in Ecclesiastes which have to do with the things beyond the sun. In all of this, the critic, the skeptic, the agnostic, all of them are only condemning themselves, for the Book they mock is the Book which describes them from beginning to end. It is of him, and of his class that God is writing.
The critic boasts his learning, and the sway of his wisdom. Ecclesiastes describes him because it presents everything that human wisdom can discover concerning life as it now is, and life as it will be in the ages to come.
2. We would present, secondly, the good in human religions which are "under the sun." That there is good in all of them, must be acknowledged. Heathendom, through their religious leaders, has given the world some marvelous ethical conceptions, and some wonderful rules of life. Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, and others have said much that is worthy of praise. However, when they come to things Divine, the need of a sinner, the way to righteousness and eternal life, they utterly collapse. A book might be written on the good in human religions, and, also, on the failures of those same religions.
I. RELIGION IN ITS PRESENT PERSPECTIVE (Ecclesiastes 7:15-17 )
First of all we will consider religion in its present-day conceptions.
"All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish; why shouldest thou die before thy time?" Have you ever heard such words? They are the sum and substance of the religion of the twentieth century A. D., just as they were of the tenth century B. C.
The man "under the sun" is ready to assist in deposing those who are overmuch wicked. They will join hands with anyone in vanquishing sin in its darkest forms. This is human religion. "Be not over much wicked."
The man "under the sun" is quite as ready to decry every one who is, to his mind, overrighteous. He does not believe in a piety which keeps one unspotted from the world; he disdains the life which walks apart with God; he counts as too pious the one who gives up the world and joins his Lord "without the camp." This is human religion's cry: "Be not righteous over much."
Thus the religion of man (a religion quite foreign to Christianity and saving faith) may be summed up in "not too good," and "not too bad" just "so and so."
The man "under the sun" will accord that "there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not"; he will even excuse his own sinning on that ground.
The man "under the sun" will reach some lofty sweeps in his religious idealisms. He will give some splendid advice as to chastity and conduct; he will even sweep his vision toward the "Great Spirit" and give advice about worshiping God.
Such men have their "courts" and their "holy places," and their "houses of God." Such men have their creeds and their faiths and their dogmas. A man needs no Christian believer's heritage to say some splendidly good things. For instance here is a lofty conception from Ecclesiastes:
"Keep thy foot when thou goest to the House of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil" (Ecclesiastes 5:1 ).
Socrates could easily have joined the man "under the sun" in saying:
"Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in Heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:2 ).
Plato could have urged his followers: "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it" (Ecclesiastes 5:4 ).
Confucius could well afford to have written: "Suffer, not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin" (Ecclesiastes 5:6 ).
Who is there anywhere that would hesitate to say: "Fear thou God"? (Ecclesiastes 5:7 ).
And thus God in this wonderful Book does not hesitate to move His servant to record man's highest religious ideals. It is folly to think for a moment that there is no rhythmic beauty, no moral sublimity in the precepts of the religions "under the sun." They are religions full of splendid sayings; but there is no salvation in them.
Yes, this is a religious world, and the loftiest visions and the highest reach of its religious conceptions, may thus be summarized: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God (Elohim), and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ).
In all of this there is no grace, and no glory. The conception is human, a conception builded on a system of ethical visions.
II. RELIGION IN ITS FUTURE PERSPECTIVE (Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 )
We now come to something most interesting. We are to discover wisdom's conception of God and the future. In order to do this we must shut ourselves out, for the time, from God's revelation of truth relative to faith, repentance, regeneration, Spirit-infilling, and the revelation of things to come.
Other parts of the Bible give us a full revelation of these things. The Book of Ecclesiastes, to the contrary, gives us only what human understanding and wisdom can discover concerning the future hope of the man "under the sun."
Let not any one, man or woman, imagine for one moment that we are discrediting the inspiration of the Book of Ecclesiastes. The same God who inspired Paul in the writing of the Book of Romans and of the Book of Ephesians, inspired Solomon to pen Ecclesiastes. However, God led Solomon to set forth everything which human wisdom could discover relative to the man "under the sun." We said everything; we mean everything that God wanted us to know.
1. Let us observe first a statement in Ecclesiastes 8:8 . The Scripture reads: "There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it."
The believer, of course, accepts everything stated above. He knows, however, much more than the fact that no man has power over the spirit to retain it. He knows that there is no discharge in that war, either to the saint or to the sinner. He knows, however, that time is coming an hour when a whole generation of God's people upon the earth shall never die. God said, "Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep."
He knows that "the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout * * * then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up * * to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ).
2. Let us observe a second statement in Ecclesiastes 8:10 . " So I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten, in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity."
The man "under the sun" fully realizes these everyday facts. The wicked are buried. They are gone and forgotten. The man "under the sun," however, sees nothing beyond this death. He sees the body buried, but he has no definite word about the spirit. Nothing vital about the world to come. The Indian dreams of his "happy hunting ground on the other side of death." The man "under the sun" faces a great eternal future with blinded eye?
3. Let us observe the third statement, in Ecclesiastes 3:19 , Ecclesiastes 3:20 . " For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them; as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence over a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again."
This may be true of the bodies of men and beasts; but not of the spirits. Wisdom knows nothing about the resurrection body of men. The man "under the sun," in the spirit of the agnostic, cries out, For "who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?" The man "under the sun" says "All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; * * there is one event to them all. * * They live, and after that they go to the dead" (Ecclesiastes 9:2-3 ).
Oh, how different is the story of the man who knows the Lord Jesus, and who believes God's revelation of things to come. He, like Job, can say: "Yet in my flesh shall I see God."
III. THE STORY OF THE AGED AND HIS LONG HOME (Ecclesiastes 12:2-7 )
In presenting this we are asking the privilege of quoting once more from our Book on Ecclesiastes.
The final picture of Ecclesiastes has been taken by many to be the graphic portrayal of the man "under the sun," grown old with his earth life, and now ready to depart to what the Book calls, his "long home." This is doubtless the case.
The picture is of man when the evil days come, the days when he has no pleasure in the things "under the sun." It is the time when the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened, and the clouds return after the rain; in other words, the time of "shadows."
Old age is the day "when the keepers of the house shall tremble," the old man's limbs shake, as he hobbles on his weary way. It is the day when, "The strong men shall bow themselves," no matter how strong his youth, and how erect his carriage in the olden days, now he is stooped and bent.
Old age presents the grinders ceasing, "because they are few," the teeth have decayed and are gone; "and those that look out of the windows be darkened," the eyesight begins to fail and vision is dim; "and the doors shall be shut in the streets," the giddy, thoughtless talk of youth has ceased, his words are few and weighty.
Old age finds the mastication of the food but badly done, for "the sound of the grinding is low"; and but few hours are taken in sleep, "and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird"; and the days of his pleasure seeking are past, for "the daughters of music shall be brought low."
Old age presents a caution not known in youth. There is no more the scaling of cliffs or the climbing of trees, for "they shall be afraid of that which is high"; and, there is no more childish fun for the "grasshopper shall be a burden," and then "the almond tree shall flourish," signifying, perhaps, that the hair is white with age; and "desire shall fail," that is, the body ceases to functionize, and perhaps the mind is too tired to wish or to will.
This picture portrays the man who has lived out his days of "vanity" on earth and is now going "to his long home," while "the mourners go about the streets." Then the last word is given. Death comes slowly but surely, and the man "under the sun" yields homage to this last grim lord. Ecclesiastes thus describes his death.
"Or ever the silver cord be loosed," the cord of life, or, as some put it, the spinal cord which gathers together the "cords of life," and centers them in the base of the brain, is loosed, "or the golden bowl be broken," the head, the seat of the brain, ceases to act; the brain is stopped.
"Or the pitcher be broken at the fountain"; the lungs give way, death hemorrhages set in. "Or the wheel broken at the cistern," the heart, the center of all life, ceases to beat death has come; "then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
Such is the final word, and how sad a word it is. Not one ray of light to pierce the shadows of the great beyond, save the half breathed, and deceptive hope, that the spirit has gone to God who gave it. Go with me to the burial of the man of this world. Let it be in a land where men know not God. Oh, the hopelessness of it all, not a ray of light to pierce the gloom. The most you can find there is some vague idea that the spirit has gone to Him from whom it came.
Gather with me around the grave where the unbeliever is to be buried. The one who has known but refused God's grace. What can be said or done? Perhaps, at the proper moment, a lone dove is turned loose from its prison cage, and freed to mount up and with swift pinion to disappear through the heavens. It is thus men think of death. It is thus they seek to calm their hearts in the time of their decease, but how utterly foreign to truth is all of this.
Men, apart from saving Blood, can never depart to be with Christ.
Christ in death could say: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit," and in ascension He did go up through the heavens, and was seated at the Father's right hand; but only those who are "in Him" can follow Him there. Christ spoke to His disciples of His going to the Father; and Thomas said: "Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way?" Christ answered, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me."
Ecclesiastes, without one thought of Christ or of "Atoning Blood," passed the old man's spirit to God. This is because Ecclesiastes presents man's idea of death an idea which would usher all men into the presence of a Holy God. This cannot be. In order to depart and be with Christ and God, one must have been redeemed. For no unclean thing shall enter in thereat.
Oh, man of the world, get you above the sun in your vision. Be not content with fearing God and keeping His commandments, which is, according to the man "under the sun," the whole of man. Get you away from "under the sun"; "cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils." Bow down on thy knees before a merciful God and plead His wondrous grace wrought out for you in Jesus Christ. See yourself quickened in Christ, given a new life; raised in Christ, given a new position; made to sit with Christ in Heavenly places, given a new fellowship. "Look unto Me, and be ye saved."
"Look well to the money you receive for many counterfeits are being circulated." This warning often appears in our newspapers and we do well to heed it. Counterfeiters reap their largest illegitimate harvests from the manufacture of gold coins containing a large amount of gold, but not as much as genuine coins contain. Sometimes alloy is added, while others work on genuine coins. They saw them through, remove the interior, fill up the space with base metal and unite the doctored coin by brazing. The outside in every case is real gold, the alloy hidden.
Something similar is being clone today in deceiving the Church. False teachers are removing the gold of the Atonement from the Gospel and substituting the alloy of reformation. Some are denying the Divinity of Christ and proclaiming the divinity of man. "Look well to your religion," and do as we are so often told by manufacturers: "accept no substitutes!"
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Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter