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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ ecclesiastes-11.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Ecclesiastes 11:1. Cast thy bread upon the waters.] “Bread,” rendered in Isaiah 28:28, “bread corn.” It has been supposed that there is an allusion to the manner of sowing the seed-corn of the rice plant during the time of the flooding of the fields. But it is doubtful whether this kind of grain was cultivated in Judea in the times of Solomon. The peculiarity of Egyptian agriculture may have suggested this image, where the seed is sown literally “upon the waters” before the inundation of the Nile has subsided. Perhaps the writer had no peculiar usage of agriculture in his mind, but by a bold figure represents a free-handed benevolence which does not too nicely calculate cost and results.
Ecclesiastes 11:2. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight.] “Seven and eight” and similar combinations are often used in the sense of undefined plurality. (Mich. Ecclesiastes 5:5, Proverbs 30:15, Amos 1:3.) The meaning here is clear: seven must not be the limit, but rather “seven and more.”
Ecclesiastes 11:3. And if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.] This figure is suitable to represent the idea of irrevocable Divine judgments overtaking man; but it may be doubted whether it requires that idea. The more probable signification, and more suitable to the theme of these verses, is given by Lange: “The utility of the tree remains the same, whether it falls upon the ground of a possessor bordering it to the north or to the south; if it does not profit the one, it does the other. And it is just so with the gifts of love; their fruit is not lost, although they do not always come to light in the manner intended.”
Ecclesiastes 11:5. The way of the spirit.] Lit. The way of the wind. The same word signifies both wind and spirit. The double meaning may be taken as most in harmony with the latter part of the verso. We cannot track and discover all the mysteries of nature. (John 3:8.) Nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child.] The formation of man’s physical nature in the womb has always been regarded as peculiarly mysterious. (Psalms 139:13-16.)
Ecclesiastes 11:6. And in the evening with-hold not thine hand.] Lit. “towards evening.” Be diligent both early and late. Either this or that.] Either the labour of the morning or of the evening.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ecclesiastes 11:1-6
THE PRECEPTS OF BENEVOLENCE
Benevolence is goodness considered, not as an internal state, but as an active habit. As such, it needs the direction of principles and rules, otherwise this genial impulse may degenerate into softness, and fail in various ways of producing the highest possible good. Precepts and rules are but the true method of performing any work or duty when that method is interpreted in language. Benevolence has its precepts.
I. Learn to Venture Much. (Ecclesiastes 11:1.) We are not certain that our kindest works shall have their proper effect, either in winning the gratitude or securing the permanent benefit of others. In the moral. as well as in the natural, world, there is an appearance of waste and failure. Yet the impulse of benevolence must not from hence be discouraged, nor wait for the time of action till it has the fullest assurance of success. We must learn to venture much, for we have often to cast our seeds of kindness “upon the waters,” not knowing whither they will be carried, often, too, with as little prospect of reaping any ultimate good as if we scattered them upon the barren foam of the sea. The prospect of immediate success must not be our motive. We have to act upon a higher and a nobler principle.
1. We must learn to do good for its own sake. It destroys the nobility of goodness if we are anxious to ascertain what profit we shall have. Moral action that depends entirely upon the spur of reward only belongs to the lowest degrees of spiritual life. The angels do all for love and nothing for reward. The highest virtue is bold to act, indulges in the liberties of a free spirit, and is contented with the luxury of doing good.
2. We must have faith in the imperishableness of good deeds. It is true that the promise of immortality is only to the doer himself. “He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (1 John 2:17.) Much of his work must perish, tainted as it is with human infirmity, and imperfect. Yet all that is of sterling value in it shall abide. Good deeds springing from the fount of purity and unselfishness can never die. They are preserved for ever in the favourable remembrance of God. Even in the present life we are permitted to see some of the fruits and rewards of them. The long delay of their due recognition and recompense may discourage us, but if we are faithful and unwearied in duty we shall see fruit “after many days.”
3. We must consider that the issues and rewards of our life are with God. In allowing our goodness freely to spend itself, we are imitating the property of our Heavenly Father, and we may safely leave with Him our keeping and our reward. He knows all the issues of the good man’s life, and all the riches of his sure recompense in eternity. These are greatly hidden from us here; therefore, in the meantime, we must learn the uses of that faith which ventures all. Venture is the very soul of the religious life—the attitude of the righteous towards the great things of God yet to be revealed; and the spirit of it penetrates all the forms of duty.
II. Do not adopt a Quantitative Standard of Duty. (Ecclesiastes 11:2.) We must not order our benevolence by a cold, arithmetical law. If the purpose to bless seven candidates for our good offices be the limit we have set to our charity, that limit should not be so final and irreversible as to prevent us from extending our kindness yet to another, if he also stands in need of our favour.
1. True goodness is above the tyranny of minute maxims and rules. That portion of moral conduct which consists in doing good to others has its own laws; but these are wide. Like the laws of nature, they are general and all-pervading. They cannot be represented by a severe and formal code, which does not rise above the letter, and knows nothing of that generous and free spirit of goodness which giveth life. The loving heart disdains the suggestions of that austere and cynical spirit of economy which says, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 12:5.) The highest goodness acknowledges no law but the law of love.
2. True goodness often secures a grateful return of favours. “Thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.” It is, therefore, wise and prudent to create an interest beforehand, so that we may have succour in the day of calamity. We know not what disaster may cast us upon the kindness of others. Let us, therefore, by the deeds of love, make them our friends now. There is a reward which comes to the good man from society. In the time of prosperity he needs it for his encouragement; but in the time of adversity, it may be his very health and life.
3. True goodness has always some beneficial results. (Ecclesiastes 11:3.) Through the ingratitude of mankind, and the moral perversity that is in the world, our good deeds may often seem to fail. Yet they will have some grateful issue—some precious results which cannot altogether die. These may fall out in quite a different direction from the course of our expectation. In any way, there will be benefit and blessing. The utility of the tree is not destroyed whether it falls to the north or to the south. In any case it will be a profit to some one.
III. Do not Act by Constraint. (Ecclesiastes 11:3.)
1. The constraint of law can never produce the highest goodness. It is possible for a man to do the deeds of kindness, not so much from love as from a sense of right. In the same proportion as he acts herein from any external constraint does he fail to rise to the true nobility of goodness. “The quality of mercy is not strained.”
2. The only constraint should be that of love. If the clouds be “full of rain” they must burst in showers of blessing upon the earth. They are the natural image of a heart that can hold out no more, that blesses by a sweet constraint, and in doing good to others relieves itself. The highest natures are not ashamed to own the gracious necessity under which they are laid by love.
IV. Be not Over-Cautious. (Ecclesiastes 11:4.) He who is always watching with nervous anxiety the wind and rain, and must have the most perfect conditions before he begins his work, can only meet with but poor success. There is a certain boldness about true feeling that does not wait till all is clear and perfectly ascertained. In the uncertainties of the present life, there is a moral obligation to act upon imperfect evidence, upon assurances whose solidity is not quite beyond a doubt. The impulse of affection and love will often carry a man beyond the warrant of the logical understanding. He who is timid and hesitating cannot accomplish much god. It is best to follow the promptings of the generous heart, whithersoever they will lead, without waiting for that assurance of certainty which is never perfectly given to man in this life. In moral action, over-refinements arc dangerous—they are impracticable. Therefore, he who waits for action till the most complete conditions favour him may have long to wait, and must suffer many disadvantages.
1. He must lose many opportunities of doing good. If a man does not attempt the duty lying immediately before him, the opportunity may slip away for ever. He must be poor in good works who makes too careful a selection of what he shall do.
2. Such delay tends to paralyse effort. Caution is a valuable principle when used to secure accuracy in moral conduct, and to enable a man to walk surefootedly in this present life. But over-caution amounts to a disease, relaxes the sinews of effort, and impairs the moral force. He who puts off the doing of good actions, from time to time, loses the healthfulness which a vigorous activity would give him, and in the end scarcely accomplishes anything.
V. Be Earnest and Untiring. (Ecclesiastes 11:6.) Earnestness and perseverance are the sure conditions of ultimate success. The holy examples of all the wise and good, and the solemn verities amidst which we now live, alike enforce these upon us. This earnestness and untiring devotion to every good work implies—
1. A wide and varied action. It extends throughout every part of our working time—from “morning” till “evening.” It is distributed over an ample field, and embraces opportunities on every side. It implies—
2. A surer and more plentiful reward. If we sow with a liberal and diligent hand, some seeds will be sure to spring up. We may be discouraged by the appearance of a waste of power. God may destroy some of the seeds we sow, but He will preserve others. The work of the morning, or the work of the evening, may perish, yet we may fondly hope that one of them, at least, will succeed. In any case, the diligent worker shall see some profit of his labour. Then, too, the success may happen to be very great. “Thou knowest not … whether they both shall be alike good.” The law still holds in every case, “He that soweth plentifully shall reap plentifully.”
VI. Consider that God often Hides from Us the Success of Our Work. (Ecclesiastes 11:5.) It is not possible for us to know the full extent of the impressions we make upon the minds and hearts of others. The good seed we sow may be borne very far, and quite beyond our observation and knowledge ripen into precious fruit. God, in this thing also, does hide Himself. Our works, as well as the deepest things of our soul, are laid up with Him, awaiting that Judgment which shall make all things manifest. The labours of love cannot be fully reckoned up in this world. This ignorance of the whole cause of our success is—
1. A necessity of our present condition. Man is still the greatest mystery to himself. The delicacy of the human spirit is such that it is impossible to say how far it is affected by the words and acts of another. In our present imperfect stage we cannot have full light either upon the reasons of God’s dealings, or upon the issues of our conduct. This ignorance, in both cases, may be a necessary discipline. It is suitable to a life of faith, and for perfecting the grace of humility.
2. It is analogous to our ignorance of nature’s mysteries. We can observe the effects and direction of the wind, but cannot tell “whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.” (John 3:8.) We have no faculty to observe where the wind arises, and where it breathes out its last gasp. In like manner we are ignorant of the mystery of organic life—most notably of human life. Science can do much in classifying facts and reducing them to general laws, but cannot arrive at the ultimate mystery. How our physical nature is developed in the darkness of the silent womb, and prepared for the light and work of life, is still inexplicable to us. If we are ignorant of what is so intimately connected with ourselves, how can we presume to know all the work that God is doing in the world? Let us stand in awe and reverence before the depths of Divine knowledge, which conceal so much from our most piercing sight. Enough for man to know, that there is duty to be done, there are safe principles to act upon, and all faithful workers are sure of reward.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Ecclesiastes 11:1. Suppose that you are in the South Sea Isles, where the bread-fruit grows, and that by chance, or on purpose, you scatter some of its precious bunches on the sea. At the moment you may feel that they are lost; but, should the winds and waters waft them to one of those reef islands with which such seas are thickly studded, the wandering seeds may get washed ashore, and beneath those brilliant suns may quickly grow to a bread-fruit forest. And should some disaster long years after wreck you on that reef, when these trees are grown and their clusters ripe, you may owe your sustenance to the bread which you cast on the waters long ago. Such is God’s husbandry. Do the right deed. Do it in faith, and in prayer commend it to the care of God. And though the waves of circumstance may soon waft it beyond your ken, they only carry it to the place prepared by Him. And whether on an earthly or heavenly shore, the result will be found, and the reaper will rejoice that he once was a sower [Dr. J. Hamilton].
In the eyes of mere economists and calculators, many deeds of love may seem but a reckless waste, and the hope of any real advantage or fruit of them a vain presumption. But the same God who gives to the good man the impulse of duty also gives him his faith. Thus he learns to work beyond the warrant of appearances, and to leave his reward with God.
The seeds of goodness, scattered by a loving hand in the most unpropitious circumstances, may yet become the life of many.
In the course of history, the corruptions of the Church have grown so great that the times required bold men who would venture to cast their seeds of truth upon the waters that, to common eyes, only seemed to give them sepulchre. An ocean of prejudices, prescriptive authority, venerable fictions, and worldly interests, was ready to swallow up their truth. But the seeds they sowed found nourishment and the favour of heaven; they have ripened into successive harvests, and have become the life and rejoicing of many.
The ingratitude of men may seem unprofitably to engulf the labours of love, yet those labours cannot entirely fail of reward. The least possible result is, that they return with blessing into the bosom of the doer.
Ecclesiastes 11:2. Miss no opportunity of performing kind actions. Though you should have bestowed your bounty on seven—on a number which you might deem sufficient—should an eighth present himself, do something for him also, for you know not what evil shall be upon earth. You know not in this world of mutation how soon you may be the pensioner instead of the almoner. You know not how soon you may be glad of a crust from those who are at present thankful for your crumbs. Beneficence is the best insurance [Dr. J. Hamilton].
We are not in danger of erring on the side of large bounty. Our natural selfishness inclines us rather to keep within the mark than to go beyond it.
The best use we can make of the talents committed to us is by their means to secure friends.
In the time of our prosperity we may not perceive what stores of love our kindness has caused to be laid up for us. It needs the occasion of our calamity to unlock them.
We can store up mechanical energy, so that it remains quiescent till such time as we have need of it for effective work. In like manner we can store up for ourselves the energy of love in the hearts of men, and in the day of our distress it will become a power to bless and save.
In what opposite ways may the same consideration be applied? The very circumstance which Solomon here urges as a reason for present and generous liberality, the covetous worldly-minded man pleads as an apology for hoarding. I know not, he says, “what evil may come upon the earth.” I must, therefore, take good care of what I have got. Who can tell but I may otherwise come to dependence, and die poor myself? A prudent precaution to prevent our becoming a burden upon others in the time of age and infirmity, is by no means to be condemned. But it is an awful perversion, when the apprehension of future possibilities is made an excuse for griping avarice. How much more noble the use that is made, by the spirit of God, of our ignorance of the future! Instead of withholding from others on this ground, says Solomon, rather give while you have to give, and give liberally: lose not the precious opportunity; “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Enjoy, then, the pleasure of present beneficence [Wardlaw].
Ecclesiastes 11:3. As the clouds are formed, not as an end, in themselves, but that they may water the earth, so God bestows His bounties upon men that they may bless others.
The good heart owns no necessity but that of its own loving nature.
A cloud full of rain, and yet leaving the earth beneath it parched and desolate, would be an anomaly in the natural world; and is not a griping, narrow-souled, selfish rich man an anomaly of the same kind? God has given him the means of making “his very paths drop fatness.” … In what manifest opposition, then, to the ways and to the will of God does such a man live, when no drop of this plenteous rain is emptied upon the thirsty earth! when he lives only to hoard and heap up his accumulating treasures; or to lay them out only for the gratification of his own vanity and ambition, or of his sensual ease and pleasure? Such a man is a kind of monstrosity in the moral world—fit to be the object of no other feelings than those of contempt and pity on the part of his fellows; and certain to inherit the displeasure and wrath of Him, whose tender mercies are over all His works [Buchanan].
Our bounty can never be entirely lost. If we do good in all directions, we shall find the reward of it in some direction, though not, perhaps, where we had most looked for it.
Though there be discretion required in charity to know the worth of the persons on whom it is bestowed (Psalms 112:5), yet where the intention of the giver is honest, and endeavours to discern what manner of persons they are to whom he gives, though he may be mistaken, and let his charity fall upon the worst, his reward shall be no less than if it fell upon the better sort; for thus also may this similitude be turned into an argument for charity, as holding forth the certainty of the reward thereof, whether the objects of it be good or bad [Nisbet].
Ecclesiastes 11:4. It is easy to find excuses for the neglect of our duty.
Timidity is a source of moral weakness. Trembling caution can accomplish very little. There is a dauntlessness about faith which does not wait till all is most favourable.
If we are never to do an act of kindness till we are perfectly sure that it will not be abused, and that it will really and fully accomplish the purpose we intend by it, we shall never perform any such act at all. If I am never to give an alms until I know the whole history, past and future, of the individual who is to receive; if I am never to befriend one who is in difficulty and distress till I can be positively assured that he will prove himself worthy of it; if I am never to bestow my money on any undertaking for promoting the temporal or spiritual welfare of my fellow-men till I have infallible proof that there shall be no mistake committed in the management of it, and that it shall effect all the good which its authors are looking for and aiming at, I may as well resolve at once to do nothing in the way of spending my worldly substance for the interests of religion or humanity at all [Buchanan].
Certainty is not attainable in the business of common life, therefore men are content to act upon probabilities. Why should they require more in moral duties?
The great preachers of the Gospel have had the courage to sow the seed of the Word when the temper of the time seemed altogether unfavourable. They did not wait till all were willing hearers.
Ecclesiastes 11:5. The way of the human spirit from the Creator’s power to the consciousness of life, thought, and feeling, and the manner of its strange union with this material frame, are mysteries of which human knowledge can give no perfect account. We can no more determine the ultimate facts of it than we can distinctly mark the place of the rising and expiring of the viewless wind.
The old mystery of life, which has puzzled the thoughtful in all ages, still returns. God retains the secret as a standing challenge to man.
Throughout all the seeming nature there remains this mysterious, generative, life-giving process in the vegetable, the animal, and especially in the human birth, as a constant symbol of the supernatural presence, or of the old unspent creative force, still having its witness in continually recurring acts, ever testifying to the great Divine secret that baffles science, and to the explanation of which she cannot even make an approach [Dr. T. Lewis, in Lange].
Let us apply ourselves to the duty lying near us, and for the assurance of reward and success be content to know that there is an invisible power, accomplishing in secret and in darkness the will of heaven.
Our spirits might well faint amidst all the discouragements of duty, were we not assured that somewhere there is perfect knowledge and never-failing power. This is the stable centre of the soul.
Ecclesiastes 11:6. We cannot calculate beforehand the success, in special instances, of our labours to do good. The result will, doubtless, show that there has been some waste of power. But this should not discourage us.
We may be tempted to try nothing by the morbid apprehension of failure. The better course is to calculate on some of our attempts failing; and on this account, that we may have the greater probability of succeeding in some, to make them the more numerous; whilst, at the same time, we bring to bear upon every one of them the entire amount of prudence and forethought we possess, that, as far as lieth in us, we may ensure a favourable issue to them all [Wardlaw].
For sowing—for doing well, every time serveth; and who knoweth which shall do best in the acceptance of God, and in the advancing of our blessedness? Be, therefore, diligent and sow continually. It is not in sowing as it is in buying and selling; in those, things are done by weight and by measure; but in sowing? there is a scattering abroad in a free and full manner. Wherefore, when it is said of the righteous man, “He hath dispensed, he hath given to the poor,” Theodoret noteth upon it, “He imitateth those that sow their seed abundantly, scattering it about in hope of filling their hands again” [Jermin].
Ecclesiastes 11:7. Truly the light is sweet.] Light as the symbol of life. (Psalms 36:9, Job 3:20.)
Ecclesiastes 11:8. Yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many.] Days of misfortune and gloom in this world, and a yet longer season in the dark sojourn of the dead. In the imperfect revelation of the time, the state of the departed was considered as dark and cheerless. All that cometh is vanity.] Everything that happens in the course of the world’s history and in daily life; more especially every man, since men are the prime movers and chief figures in all these things.
Ecclesiastes 11:9. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth.] These words need not be understood as ironical. There is a sober and healthy joy which is consistent with the remembrance of the judgment. And walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes.] There are lawful pleasures both for the heart and eyes; yet in all these things the solemn reckoning of the future must be kept in view.
Ecclesiastes 11:10. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart.] The word signifies “sorrow, dissatisfaction,” not as in the LXX. and Vulgate, “anger.” The command to “rejoice,” in Ecclesiastes 11:9, is here followed by a warning against the opposite state of feeling. Put away evil from thy flesh.] Evil in the sense of misfortune—some evil condition of life.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ecclesiastes 11:7-10
THE COUNSELS OF WISDOM TO THE CHILDREN OF PLEASURE
Wisdom commends the rational and sober use of pleasure. But when pleasure is pursued for its own sake, leads to forgetfulness of God, or weakens the power of moral control, it becomes an evil. But even those who are most careful herein have need constantly to keep before them certain solemn truths.
I. To Remember how Empty the Most Favoured Life is of any Solid Good. The wise man is ready to admit all the good that life contains. He does not, in the spirit of a gloomy philosophy, condemn all enjoyment,
1. The consciousness of existence is itself a pleasure. (Ecclesiastes 11:7.) Light speaks to us of all that is glad, joyous, and free; and light is the symbol of life. Existence is an inheritance, and we fondly cling to it, even when bereft of all else. To enjoy the light of the sun and the comfort of the elements is, in itself, pure delight.
2. Some lives may have a large capacity for pleasure. This may be favoured by the length of life. A man may live “many years, and rejoice in them all.” Time is, at least, one dimension of the capacity of life; and if it be extended in other dimensions by the ability to enjoy and improve it, life may be filled with much good. Or, take life in the season of its greatest power of enjoyment. (Ecclesiastes 11:9.) Youth is the time of the greatest vigour, when the sense of enjoyment is keenest. Care has not yet begun to corrode the mind, nor faith in man to lessen, nor hope to lose her charms. The young man may well “rejoice” in his “youth.”
3. A life devoted entirely to pleasure, however favoured, has no solid worth. He who lives to satisfy his appetites, unmindful of the claims of duty and of his solemn reckoning with God, will find at the close of life that he has been grasping a shadow. The pleasing forms die in his embrace, like those of a dream when one awaketh. If a man has anything to dread from the judgment, life, however blessed by outward favours, must be but a sad portion after all. But, taking man at his best estate here, and comparing it with the sublimer destinies awaiting him in future worlds, it will be found that the successive stages of life are vanity. The rosy dawn and the bright morning of life may be beautiful, but they hold their perfection only for a little moment. The day, meanwhile, hastens on to its close, and a night of uncertain duration shuts up the scene. The contemplation of life must produce a despairing sadness, unless a man has the hope of immortality. This hope shifts the centre of the soul from the region where all is unsubstantial and vain, and places it where all is real and abiding. This idea raises and transforms life. Without it, life will be found to be empty of any enduring worth.
II. To Consider the Dread Abode to which They are Hastening. (Ecclesiastes 11:8.) The Old Testament speaks in very gloomy language of that dark house where souls are detained after death. The darkness that rested upon life and immortality could not be cleared away until His coming who was the life and light of men. Yet even the advanced light of the Gospel does not completely relieve the gloom with which this dread subject afflicts and oppresses the human mind. Departed saints have still, in some form, to submit to the long reign of death. Still, “waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body,” they groan for perfection and full investiture. With all the superior light and hope of the Gospel, the subject is yet sufficiently solemn. There are views of the state of the dead upon which it is salutary that we should dwell, even while we cherish the brightest hope of reward. This tends to preserve that humility which is proper to our present condition, and to set the pleasures of the world in their true light. The following thoughts arise whenever we contemplate the state of the dead:
1. There is the sense of obscurity and neglect. A man is removed from the eyes of the living, and though his memory is preserved awhile, he is, at length, forgotten. There is an idea of utter neglect. It seems as if the invisible thread of love and memory, which connects the two worlds, becomes at last severed. With all the dear human hopes and feelings that now fill us, we cannot contemplate such a fate without due solemnity.
2. There is the sense of uncertainty. Whenever we think of what is beyond our knowledge, and especially of that in which we ourselves must play an important part, vague fears arise in the mind. With our present experience, we are not able to conceive of the manner in which they live who have put off this vesture of mortality. And this very uncertainty becomes an oppression. This is, indeed, relieved by faith; yet despite of all, it will now and then suggest itself to contemplation.
3. There is the sense of privation. There must be such, as far as this life is concerned. When we have passed the bounds of time and space, the pleasures of this world exist for us no more. We seem half afraid that even there we shall lack many enjoyments. Thus, in certain moods of mind, must we think of that long night which succeeds our mortal day. Though such thoughts should not be the governing ideas of our spiritual life, yet they are valuable for several purposes of discipline. They impart that soberness to the mind, by which we learn to taste the pleasures of life as those who have shortly to enter upon a scene of unknown and untried things. To every one, the wise man says, “let him remember the days of darkness: for they shall be many.”
III. To be Mindful of the Solemn Judgment Awaiting Mankind. (Ecclesiastes 11:9.) This does not refer to any penalties of sin in the present life, though these are Divine Judgments, but rather to that solemn reckoning which God will make with all mankind. The fact of human responsibility makes a future Judgment necessary. Mankind will not be judged in masses, but each one by himself. “God will bring thee into judgment.”
1. The moral worth or worthlessness of each human life will be estimated. The true character of each man will be revealed. The Judgment is spoken of as that which shall make manifest what we really are. (2 Corinthians 5:10.)
2. The judgment will be against all lives in which there has been a non-recognition of God. The youth is reminded that for the joy which is so natural to his season of life, for walking in the ways of his heart and in the sight of his eyes, God will bring him into judgment. This does not necessarily mean condemnation. He who in life’s work or pleasures recognises God, and is governed by spiritual ideas, though he may feel solemn as he thinks of the test to which he shall be brought, has yet nothing to fear. It will be a test discovering what he is, not one which destroys. Like gold which is proved in the fire, the Judgment will, indeed, be a trial for all the righteous, but it will not be destruction. But he who in his pleasures and works has forgotten God, has lived without a due sense of responsibility, and of the awful future, has all to fear from the Holy One, who is determined to put all sin out of His sight. Nothing that is evil can live in the light of His countenance, and all is sad and unprofitable upon which that light does not shine. Human life in all its duties, joys, and sorrows, is sanctified and raised by the continual desire to please God. Without this the whole of life comes under condemnation.
IV. To Allow these Facts Practically to Influence the Conduct. (Ecclesiastes 11:10.) In this section the wise man dwells upon the chief facts of probation and destiny. No stage of life is permanent, but all is fleeting. All are hastening to that long dark night in which no man can work. All alike await the Judgment, even the best and holiest needing to find mercy of the Lord in that day. What course of conduct is the wisest in the face of these solemn truths? How, especially, is the youth, to whom the world offers the strongest temptations, so to order his life, lest he should come into the condemnation of the Judgment?
1. He should remove the causes of inward trouble. “Remove sorrow from thy heart.” Sin, in its many forms, is the cause of all trouble and sorrow. All disorders in the universe arise from this one bitter root. If sin is put away, though a man may have outward trouble, yet the depths of him will be lightened up with the presence of God; and in a rich hope, and an approving conscience, he will have the comfort of an unearthly joy. The youth who follows his desires, without any moral restraint, must sooner or later know sad grief heavy at his heart. Conscience will one day awake and afflict his soul.
2. He should avoid the physical penalties of sin. There are spiritual sins for which the flesh is not chastised. There are carnal sins whose penalties man is made to bear in his body. Some vices injure health, exhaust physical vigour, and bring acute misery. “Put away evil from thy flesh” is the counsel of wisdom to those who are tempted to try dangerous pleasures. A man may well reflect whether he does not pay too high a price for the sinful indulgence of the flesh. These natural chastisements foredate the Last Judgment, and full retribution for all sin. Their lessons should be early learned, lest youth should transmit to age the inheritance of suffering and shame. To put away evil from the heart, and sorrow from the flesh, is to garnish and prepare the soul, that heavenly influences there may take up their abode. The joy of opening life is a hollow vanity, unless a man has learned to cherish those joys which time can never fade.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Ecclesiastes 11:7 : All light is pleasant; ’tis the very smile of nature, the gloss of the world, the varnish of the creation, a bright paraphrase upon bodies. Whether it discover itself in the modesty of a morning blush, and open its fair and virgin eyelids in the dawning of the day; or whether it dart out more vigorous and sprightful beams, shining out in its noonday glory; whether it sport and twinkle in a star; or blaze and glare out in a comet; or frisk and dance in a jewel; or dissemble and play the hypocrite in a glow-worm; or epitomize and abbreviate itself in a spark, and show its zeal in the ruddiness of its complexion in the yolk of the fire; or grow more pale, pining, or consuming away in a candle. However it is pleased to manifest itself, it carries a commanding lustre in its face.… Is it not a pleasant thing to behold a sun? nay, to behold but a candle, a deputed light, a vicarious light—the ape of a sunbeam? [Culverwell.]
Light is the emblem of all that is joyous in life. Sorrow and melancholy seek the shade and the darkness.
It is only the brightest passages, the best moments of life, that can be aptly and truly represented by the light. Sin has disturbed the harmony between the natural and the spiritual worlds.
Ecclesiastes 11:8. If a man’s life is not approved of God, prosperity, however long continued, will end in the darkening of all that is hopeful and bright in life. This is but the prelude of a sadder privation beyond life.
The most favourable instances of the worldly prosperity of godless men do not affect the truth, that all that cometh of such a life is vanity.
In the years of thy life, therefore, remember these days. In thy days of delight, remember these days of trouble, and let the remembrance of them make thee to provide against them by well ordering thy life [Jermin].
As long as life is coming, or to come, its vanity does not appear. On the contrary, there is nothing thought of then but content and satisfaction; nothing but Elysian prospects, dreams of happiness, and landscapes of Paradise. For there is a strange fallacy in Hereafter; and distance, which lessens objects to the eye, magnifies them to the mind. We are big with the hopes of that part of life which is coming on, and live day after day upon the fancy of what to-morrow will produce, like the spectators of a play still in expectation of the next scene; but yet, when to-morrow comes, we find it just like yesterday, vain and without content; and so will every to-morrow be when it comes to be to-day [Norris].
There are days of darkness which will come to the just, in this world; but it is not a darkness which hides God. Rather is it like that of night, which uncovers the celestial globe, and reveals bright glories in the heavens which were never seen by day.
Ecclesiastes 11:9. When the heart is in a right state no joy will harm, provided only it be true joy, and not merely a corrupting mirth. Enjoy it, then, if there is anything pleasant for the sight or hearing provided you sin not against God [Luther].
To walk in the ways of the heart and in the sight of the eyes may be taken in a bad sense, as representing that wilfulness in conduct which does not acknowledge God. But there is a proper use both of the heart and of the eye. God denies no lawful pleasures to that faculty which loves, or to that which appreciates the forms of beauty in the world. The principle by which life is governed is the chief thing. To the pure, all these things are pure.
The stronger the temptations to unlawful pleasures, the stronger should be felt the restraints of religion.
In the enjoyments of pleasure, a man should have the thought ever present with him that he is living under the shadow of the Day of Judgment—a shadow which is deepening fast. This will prevent him from abusing that which was intended for his training and improvement.
To be brought face to face, at last, with God will of itself be terrible distress to all who have not learned in life to find their chief delight in Him.
Ecclesiastes 11:10. There are inward and outward troubles—sources of pain to the body and to the mind. From some of these our goodness cannot deliver us; but from the worst forms of them we can be saved by obedience to the will of God.
That heart which God’s Spirit has renewed and occupies, however oppressed with the troubles of life, can have no essential and crushing sorrow.
He who is saved from sin is saved from the cause of the deepest troubles. He possesses the true life, and therefore enjoys the gladness which it brings. He becomes a partaker of the Divine nature, and is blessed.
Godliness, while it raises and purifies the spirit of man, does also redeem the flesh from many evils. Herein is a prophecy of a more complete redemption for the body. The tree of life in Paradise heals all the ills of man.
Let, therefore, the youthful worldling pause. Let him not suffer his fond hopes, and dazzling visions of the future, to deceive him, “for childhood and youth are vanity.” The promises they make to the thoughtless, carnal mind, are false. The halo which they throw around the world is a deceitful glare. The joyous anticipations in which they indulge are continually liable to disappointment; and every day, every hour, events may arrive that will sweep them utterly away, or bury them in darkness and death [Buchanan].