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Bible Commentaries

Mylne's Commentary on Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes 3

Verses 1-22

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under Heaven:
a time to be born — and a time to die,
a time to plant — and a time to uproot,
a time to kill — and a time to heal,
a time to tear — down and a time to build,
a time to weep — and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn — and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones — and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace — and a time to refrain,
a time to search — and a time to give up,
a time to keep — and a time to throw away,
a time to tear — and a time to mend,
a time to be silent — and a time to speak,
a time to love — and a time to hate,
a time for war — and a time for peace." Ecclesiastes 3:1-9

"There is a time for everything." That is, there is a divinely appointed time when God ordains each varying circumstance to happen. Some things proceed directly from his hand. In others, man is the agent — man’s love or hatred, skill or power, mysteriously working the will of God. Thus human purposes are over-ruled, and the worst passions of the heart are turned to good account. Thus "wicked hands" fulfilled the "counsel" of Jehovah in nailing the Lord of glory to the cross. (Acts 2:23.)

The "time to kill" was "beautiful." It sealed the covenant with blood — the blood of Jesus.

The "time to hate" was "beautiful," when Shimei cursed David. (2 Samuel 16:10.) The sin was Shimei’s, the benefit was David’s — the benefit, the beauty of sanctified affliction; the grace of resignation to the will of God.

The "time to scatter" was "beautiful," when Job was stripped of all that he possessed. The patriarch confessed it beautiful, and blessed God’s holy name. (Job 2.)

"Beautiful," with the Shunamite, the "time to weep." Her only child was taken: yet she said, "It is well." (2 Kings 4:26.)

And yet, no dint of human patience, or of moral fortitude, gives beauty to affliction, or makes us recognize God’s righteous hand. When you are told . . .
of shipwreck, famine, pestilence, or battle;
of families left fatherless;
of widowed mothers bereft of an only child;
of wealth in a moment turned to poverty;
of loss in trade, or sudden fire.

When blood runs cold with what you see or hear;
when sympathy is on the rack,
when bitterness pervades the soul; or
when some act of Providence befalls yourself, and lays you low
— then can you say, "It is beautiful! It is the Lord. It must be good — God Himself has done it!" (Isaiah 38:15.)

Ah, this requires a spirit taught of God, a mind renewed by grace; a heart at peace with God. This requires one to have brought his sins to Jesus; and, in the school of Christ, to have learned to look at all things with the mind of God. Such wisdom comes from Heaven. It is not stoical. It hardens not the heart, nor deadens it to tender sympathy. It is not a dogged resignation, nor cold indifference. It is faith prevailing over flesh; hope smiling in its tears; patience enduring to the end, and calmly triumphing over unbelief!

What does this verse mean? What world, what heart is meant? Truly the world is in the heart of man — the world in all its vanity and sin. But was it God who set this world there? The work was Satan’s. He set it there, and man, with suicidal hands, finished what he began. This cannot be the world which the Preacher means.

Then say, what do the words mean? Compare them with the context. You will see that God has set the world — the world of all that happens here — in the "heart," or midst, of all the times and seasons, which the Preacher names. Survey his list of joys and sorrows, of purposes and events. (Verses 2-8.) Is not "the world" — your world and mine, the world of all our history — set in the "heart" of all the seasons, numbered there?

The sailor’s "world;" his voyaging to and fro, his storms and calms, his shipwrecks, and his prosperous adventures; the whole is set in the heart of changing winds — east, west, and north, and south encircling him with breezes foul or fair.

The farmer’s world, again, is "set" in the "heart" of varying seasons — sunshine and shadow, snow and rain, and frost and thaw, working with seeming opposition, yet with secret unison, the purposes of God, and good of man. What more uncertain than the wind? What less to be relied on than the weather?

So is it with the things of life — sickness and health, prosperity and woe — giving each other place in quick succession.

Life for a year, a month, a day, an hour — life for a moment! What is it, reader? What has it been? What will it be to you? It is as it has been; it will be as now it is — in length uncertain, and diverse in its hue. It is so uncertain, that none can "find out the work that God works from the beginning to the end." (Verse 11.)

And, Child of God, is it not so with you? The frost and thaw — the sun and rain — the calm, the storm, are not more needful to the soil — than varying experience to you — to nourish grace, to nip evil in the bud, to exercise and fructify the soul. Bless God for changes and uncertainties, whether in spiritual frames or outward things. Seek not to have your "world" torn from the "heart" of varying dispensations, but look to God, in Christ, to overrule them all.

"Concerning the condition of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals." Ecclesiastes 3:18

It is well to be reminded of our origin; to see that out of the same materials, were made both man and beast. He who made one — made both; from the same lump He made them. "By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, until you return to the ground — because from it you were taken. For you are dust — and to dust you shall return!" Genesis 3:19

Reader, even now say to the dust, "You are my father;" and to the worm, "You are my mother and my sister!" (Job 17:14.) Nay, take the potsherd on the dunghill — and in it, greet your kindred dust. If you are brother to the worm — then you are a "near connection" are you to the clay potter’s vessel. Who made you differ from other forms of dust and clay? Not you yourself, but God! God’s image was in man at first — His likeness was in soul, imparting to the outward man a godlike form; the moral life, thus given, lighting humanity with godlike qualities. Man’s nature was suffused with glory not its own. It was lent — to be recalled at will — not permanently given. And when sin came in, God’s image fled — and man became a fallen creature.

Reader, compare yourself with other animals. Say, which is better off — yourself, or they? They are dust, and so are you. They are mortal — are not you the same? The beasts have nothing godlike — by nature, what have you? Nothing that is godly — nothing but what is fallen and corrupt. You are like the fallen Angels — that is all.

In death, do you have "preeminence" over the beasts? They die, and so they end. If they have not bliss in the world to come — at least they have no misery. If the spirit of the beast goes "downward to the earth" (verse 21) — does yours go down to Hell? Will it indeed go "upward?" Far better be a beast, and perish thus — than live eternally in misery.

And you, my soul, in your new nature, what do you have? Nothing but what you have "received." (1 Corinthians 4:7.) It was not yours — God gave it to you. But for His grace, you would have been more brutish than the beasts! This was your nature; such is your nature still. God alone makes you to differ. Blinder than Bartimeus — more dead than Lazarus — where have you light and life? Only in Jesus! Only in the Comforter! See, then, your nothingness. Fear not to take it to yourself. Yours is the sin — the righteousness is God’s. Yours is the corruption — His is the glory. Grace gives you nothing of your own. It clothes you, crowns you, fills you, with Jesus. Then be content. In self-esteem be nothing; be everything in Jesus.

"All are from the dust, and all return to dust!" Ecclesiastes 3:20

What a mysterious thing is life! The moving, feeling, breathing, thinking! Wherein consists the principle of being? Who can define it? Who can fathom it? Who can analyze it? The powers, the tastes, perceptions of the mind — what are they? The are of painting the works of nature — taking the form, the tints, the softness of the landscape, and tracing it on canvas; the faculty of drawing from the soul the combination of sweet sounds, and thus devising melody; the power of searching and pursuing science — Reader, what is it? Say, in what corner of the mind does it grow. What chamber of the brain does it inhabit?

And, then, the instinct of the brutes — the horse, the donkey, the dog, the elephant! Those wondrous faculties! Intelligence, almost akin to human! What is it? Where was it, before it came? Where is it, when it’s gone? It was, and is not!

Of all wonders — life is surely the greatest. But still it is a greater mystery that life should be, and cease to be — that life be turned to death, soundness to rottenness, and rottenness to dust! That man and beast should mingle dust with dust, and none be able to discover which is which!

My soul, this leads you to conclusions, facts, and feelings, which are overwhelming to your powers. It bids you to shelter beneath immortality; "mortality" that is "swallowed up of life "mortality exchanged for incorruption. For a season you have lived, and live still within an earthy frame; your energies called forth, your feelings exercised, by earthly things. Hence your phenomena of heart and mind; hence all the phases of your being; hence all the mysteries of which we speak. Thus flesh and spirit dwell together for a time.

As age advances, the soul draws in its feelers. Its faculties shrink back within itself; its powers thus fade, and fade away — until, lo! the curtain drops in death, and all is veiled! Then earth returns to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust. Man, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things are then alike again. Who then shall say, "This the philosopher’s dust — and this is the dog’s dust! This is fair woman’s dust — and this is the worm’s dust!"

Reader, you will dwell in dust! In dust will you abide, until resurrection sounds shall greet your ear — when the earth casts out the dead. Say, where shall you appear?

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Bibliographical Information
Mylne, George. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3". Mylne's Commentary on Ecclesiastes. 1858.