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Ecclesiastes 12:1. Thy Creator.] The Hebrew word is in the plural form, denoting the fulness and wealth of the Divine nature. While the evil days come not.] The time of joyless old age as contrasted with the glad season of youth.
Ecclesiastes 12:2. While the sun, or the light, or the stars be not darkened.] The separate mention of the sun and light is not to be considered as tautology. Aben Ezra explains that by the light is signified the morning light, which, though identical with that proceeding from the sun, is yet poetically different. The darkening of these natural lights signifies the diminishing of joy and the coming of the season of adversity. (Isaiah 13:10, Amos 8:9, Ezekiel 32:7.) Nor the clouds return after the rain.] A description of what often happens, in those countries, during the rainy season of winter. After a great discharge of rain, the clouds gather again, the signal for another storm. One trouble follows closely upon another.
Ecclesiastes 12:3. The keepers of the house shall tremble.] The human body, being the habitation of the soul, is often compared to a house or tent. (Job 4:19, Wis. 9:15, Isaiah 38:12, 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2 Peter 1:13.) The description given here is that of a rich mansion or castle, not that of an ordinary house. It is a house having the necessary things of war and luxury; soldiers to defend it and keep watch on the turrets; servants for attendance, and to prepare food for a large household. The furniture and surroundings are those of a magnificent and lordly dwelling—the hanging lamps, the golden bowl, the splendid fountain. (Ecclesiastes 12:6.) By “the keepers of the house” are signified the arms, one of whose chief uses is defence. In old age they become weak and tremulous. And the strong men shall bow themselves.] These are the legs which, from failing strength, bend under the weight of years. And the grinders cease because they are few.] The “millers” or “grinders” are the teeth, which in old age become few. They cease, in the sense of failing in ability to perform their proper function. In Hebrew, the form of the word is feminine, in allusion to the custom by which the grinding for the household was performed by female slaves. And those that look out of the windows be darkened.] Not ordinary windows, but some opening in a lofty part, such as a turret. The castle, which would have its “strong men,” would also have its watchers on the heights. These answer to the eyes, which are placed aloft as on a watch-tower. Dimness of sight is the common infirmity of old age.
Ecclesiastes 12:4. And the doors shall be shut in the streets.] Some expositors say that by “the doors” the mouth is intended. But this is scarcely likely, as the mouth had been sufficiently described before. The description answers better to the ears, for a double organ is plainly signified, and one by which we hold intercourse with the outer world. When the sound of the grinding is low.] This refers not to the failure of the powers of mastication, but to the failure of hearing. The old man but feebly hears the most familiar household sounds, such as those of the maids grinding corn. And he shall rise up at the voice of the bird.] In allusion, probably, to the sleeplessness of old men,
Ecclesiastes 12:5. Afraid of that which is high.] Referring to the difficulty which an old man feels in ascending a hill. Fears shall be in the way.] The smallest dangers are magnified by his weakness till they become formidable. The almond tree shall flourish.] The almond tree flourishes in the midst of winter, and bears its blossoms on a leafless stem. These blossoms, notwithstanding their red colour, have, as they fall, the appearance of white snow-flakes. Dry, bleak, barren old age, with its silvery hair, is thus represented. The grasshopper shall be a burden.] Some explain this of their singing and chirping, which may easily annoy the old man. Others—taking the word in the strictly literal sense of locust—say that the reference is to these as an article of food which is too strong for the impaired digestion of the aged. Others, again, say that they represent that which devours, hereby signifying those forces which are hostile to life. Various other interpretations are given, more or less fanciful, but all are foreign to the simplicity of the figure. Here, it will be found that the meaning that would occur to the simplest reader is the best. The old man cannot bear the least weight. Desire shall fail.] Every kind of desire, whether it be the appetite for food, or that of the sensual passions. Because man goeth to his long home.] Lit. “to his eternal house.” This is inserted parenthetically—all these things are signs that life is shortly about to cease. The expression is found in Tob. 3:6, and was familiar to Roman literature. As the word rendered “eternal” also signifies the world, it may be that the idea of time is not prominent here, and that we have but a form of the phrase “the other world.”
Ecclesiastes 12:6. Or ever the silver cord be loosed.] Man’s living organism is here described by a new figure. It is now a golden lamp, hanging by a silver cord. Hereby is signified the thread of life, and that life is a noble and precious thing. Or the golden bowl be broken.] The vessel containing the oil which supports the flame. This answers to the brain, the organ of the noblest functions of man, and also the source of that stimulus by which all the processes of the body are carried on. Or the pitcher be broken at the fountain.] This gives a different idea from the golden bowl, and evidently refers to that organ which draws nourishment from something outside the body. Like the broken pitcher, the lungs are no longer able to draw in the vital air. Or the wheel broken at the cistern.] The same figure as the last, but representing a different part of the arrangement for drawing water—the cistern wheel for raising and lowering the bucket. Life is represented under the image of a wheel in constant motion. This, probably, suggested James 3:6, “The wheel of nature.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ecclesiastes 12:1-7
INCITEMENTS TO EARLY PIETY
The Royal Preacher now leaves speculation, as leading to no substantial result, and turns, with better hopes, to practical matters. He had observed much of this scene of man, and thought deeply upon the mysteries of life and destiny; but he has no brilliant discovery of ultimate wisdom to announce which could settle these questions. He is more inclined to give those few and simple counsels which are far more profitable for himself and for all who hear him. A man always returns gratefully to these when he has grown tired of the conflict of thought and controversy. Thus the Epistles of “Paul the Aged” deal more with the “faithful sayings” than with the deep things of doctrine. Experience teaches a man to rely only upon what is sure. As a master in the school of heavenly wisdom, Solomon calls his young friends around him, exhorting and entreating them to early piety. He lays before them those motives and reasons which commend the fear of God to youth.
I. It is a Rational Duty. (Ecclesiastes 12:1.) The whole of what we understand by piety is made to consist of the remembrance of our Creator. Nor is this too narrow a basis: it really includes all duty. The fact that God is our Creator is the foundation fact upon which lies all what we know and feel, or are capable of. Practically, to recognise our relationship to God herein is the sum of all duty. If God is our Creator, He will make provision for our sustenance, for our preservation, for our spiritual education and improvement. After the reflection, “Thy hands have made me and fashioned me,” how natural is the prayer, “give me understanding that I may learn thy commandments.” (Psalms 119:73.) To remember God is to keep Him always before us, to be mindful of what He is, to obey His will, and to pay Him thanks. It is like the son’s remembrance of his father’s home, bringing back tender associations fresh to his mind, acting as a restraint from evil ways, and strengthening the motives of filial duty. God as our Creator has certain rights which we must acknowledge. The only rational service for man is to do what is right in accordance with the relations in which he is placed. This makes early piety the only consistent and reasonable course. All late coming to the knowledge of a God is a culpable forgetfulness. Though the mercy of God be not hereby overtasked, there is in this tardy recognition of duty something ungracious.
1. God has a right to our entire and life-long service. The obligation to the loving service of our Creator never ceases for a moment, but always remains with us. Why should we either heedlessly thrust that obligation aside, or keep it in abeyance until we are sated with the world’s pleasures, and fondly hope to return to it as a last resource when all else has failed? The service of God should fill the whole area of duty, and the whole course of our time. The true and complete model of the religious life—God’s ideal of humanity—is that which was manifested in Christ, whose whole life was devoted to His “Father’s business.” In that life there were no violent changes, no painful struggles to recover lost ground; but from the earliest dawn of thought and feeling, duty was accepted, and the communication with Heaven kept open. The perfection of this model should not appal us, for it is our duty to make as near an approach to it as possible. “The measure of Christ” is the limit to which we ought to tend, though that limit stretches so far beyond us.
2. God has a right to our constant love and gratitude. His character is such as to demand and win our love. He does not use the instruments of terror to lash us into a tender regard for Himself, but seeks to attract us by His loving kindness. Therefore, our love to Him should be deep, simple, and free, as nature. In O.T. times, the love of such an awful Being would be that of a distant, reverential love, represented by the phrase (which is there the prevailing element) “the fear of God”—that wholesome dread of offending Him. But in the latter revelation, mediation comes to our help; and in Christ, God is brought closer to our human heart and sympathy. We are drawn “with the cords of a man, with the bands of love.” (Hosea 11:4.) Hence our heart is under the stronger obligation to answer back to God. As we were made in His image, we are capable of these high favours and solemn duties. Gratitude is but one of the forms of love. It is love contemplating favours, and grasping the hand that blesses. The energy of the living God still goes forth, working in nature, Providence, and grace. Hence the demand upon our gratitude is constant, and ever will be so while our relations with our Creator last. It is irrational to deprive Him of this service during any part of our lives.
3. God has a right to be glorified in us. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” because they are obliged to obey those eternal conditions which he has laid upon them. They have no power to resist His will, or to conspire against universal order. But man glorifies God, not as conquered by force, but as submissive to His will. Our nature should act as a mirror to the Divine nature, reflecting His truth, His love, His righteousness. When we shine with that heavenly light, thus falling upon our soul, God is glorified. We return, though somewhat dim and impaired, the graces of His image. God has a right to find in every man an answering mind and heart. To refuse the homage of these is to expose ourselves to the penalty of Divine judgments, by which it is likewise possible for God to be glorified in us. Early piety avoids so disastrous a risk.
4. It is not a reasonable thing that we should give the mere dregs of our life to God. It is not grateful conduct towards the Author of our being to drive a close bargain with Him, practically asking the question, How little service can we render consistent with our final safety? This is base ingratitude, sins against every law of love, and lacks that nobility of spirit which is essential to our true dignity. If we put off the service of God till it is late in our day of life, and troubles thicken, and we are cut off from consolations elsewhere, we are but offering to Him a miserable remnant—a wasted heritage—what is blind, halt, and lame. Besides, we cannot be sure that even this shall be possible to us. The most ardent and vigorous youth cannot reckon with certainty upon long life. Hence, if delay shows a will most incorrect to heaven, it is also dangerous. The uncertainty of life, as well as the reason of the thing, preaches early piety.
II. It Assuages the Sorrows of Age. (Ecclesiastes 12:2-6.) In youth, the power to taste pleasure is strong. The more complicated evils of life—sorrowful regrets, the sense of loss and failure, dissatisfaction with the world—as yet lie far in the future. But they will come, those “evil days” that yield no pleasure. The joyous light within will grow dim, darkening and rendering cheerless the world without. The summer of life was not quite free from troubles, but these were slight and passing as a summer shower. The clouds quickly opened again, and there was the “clear shining after rain.” But it is far otherwise in winter. The storm is gloomier and more sweeping now, and the brief pauses of it are but the preparation for a more merciless deluge of rain, for a louder and more melancholy wailing of the winds. In old age, troubles come apace. Even before this time there are evil days and the light begins to fail. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-2.) The description of old age given here is general, being in certain respects true of all, but the picture is too dark and melancholy to represent the old age of the righteous. The character which the writer had in view is evidently that of a man of the world, who had lived for pleasure, who is now no longer able to enjoy, and who has no consolations within to assuage his sorrows. Such, at least, is the original of the picture; yet it may be considered as aptly describing the main features of old age, as they appear to an ordinary spectator. These infirmities and calamities lead to the outer chambers of death, where man awaits his conflict with the last enemy.
1. Death approaches the aged with many terrors. To the young man whose strength is overwhelmed by violence, death is indeed terrible. But to old age, death seems to come with all the refinements of slow torture.
(1.) There is the failure of those powers which carry out the purposes of human activity. The arms, those “keepers of the house,” so valuable for defence, now begin to tremble, and are powerless against the foe. They were once able to shape the stubborn material around to the mind’s purpose and design, but now they have lost their cunning. The legs, which once ministered swiftly to the will, stood firm against assault, imparted the sense of freedom, and gave a man sovereign command over the whole area of his work, now bow themselves for very feebleness.
(2.) The failure of the nobler senses. The eyes—those windows by which the soul looks upon the outer world—are darkened, for the old man brings to them no longer the power of seeing. The ears—one of the entrances for intelligence, and ways of communication with the world outside—are closed, so that they obstruct the paths of sound. The most familiar sounds are scarcely distinguished, the sweet music of speech at length dies away, and the old man becomes completely shut up within himself.
(3.) The failure of the powers of enjoyment. The power to taste all pleasures, coarse or refined, now fails. Savoury meats and luscious entertainments now pall upon the sense. Singing men and singing women cease to charm.
(4.) The increased power of little things to annoy. The grasshopper is now a burden, the slightest obstacle is magnified into an object of dread, and every little hill becomes a mountain of difficulty. Short breath, dim eyes, failing limbs, give man a painful sense that he is vanquished by nature.
2. The event of death to the aged suggests the most melancholy images to the mind. It is the destruction of the palace of the soul, with all its appliances for defence and luxury. It is the breaking of the golden lamp of life. It is the fatal arrest of that revolving wheel by which we draw what is to us the water of life. The permanent cessation of motion in physical nature means death. The exact meaning of this is, that the body as an organism ceases to exist. There are other movements set up, even when the body lies still in death. “The dust returns to the earth as it was.” Of the earthly side of man’s nature, we have here an end. The grave is the goal of all that is mortal. The body goes a progress from dust to dust, from a lowly origin to cold dishonour.
3. Without spiritual consolations the condition of old age is most lamentable. The perpetual joy that reigns in the breast of the godly man can mitigate the sorrows of old age. The worst evils become disarmed when we can afford to set them at naught by the consciousness of strong consolation within. When the eye grows dim, and the ear ceases to be charmed by sweet sounds, celestial light shines inward with richer effulgence, and the soul listens to diviner harmonies. With the spiritual man, the power to enjoy God increases as his human strength decays. Godliness even modifies some of the physical conditions of age by saving a man from the penalties of sensuality and vice. He who has learned to preserve the honour of his body by temperance and sobriety of behaviour, when he comes to grey hairs will not be such a deplorable ruin as the sinner who has grown old in sin. Thus early piety assuages the sorrows of age, and raises a joy within the breast which no calamities can dislodge.
III. It Deprives of Terror the Soul’s Inevitable Appearance before God. (Ecclesiastes 12:7.)
1. To appear before God is the destination of every human soul. The flesh ends in dust. Man sinks down to that from which he arose. But man is made in the image of God, and therefore in the image of His immortality. There is a part of him that can never die. While the flesh goes down to dust, there is another movement of the spirit upward to God. Each human soul must take that solemn journey to God. However much it may dread the meeting, it cannot pass one side of Him, or in any way avoid Him, but must go straight into His presence. In their “long home”—that other house of life—all men, for good or ill, must await God.
2. That appearance must bring the ungodly into conflict with the Divine Judgments. Sin leaves a mark upon the soul that death itself is not able to efface. God “changes man’s countenance and sends him away,” but the spiritual character of the soul cleaves to it still. Man in that other world must for ever live with himself; and what he is, so shall be his condition. None but the pure and holy can remain in God’s sight, and enjoy the comfort of His presence. If a man has not answered the purpose intended by his Creator, he cannot be approved, but must suffer the Divine displeasure.
3. The godly will come to his Creator in peace. To be summoned into the presence of God is sufficiently solemn, even for the purest and holiest of mankind. But such will come, not to an offended, but to a reconciled God. The solemn meeting will be peace, and prosperity, and endless refreshment. In the dread passage out of life into eternity, the good man learns to say, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” And when his spirit takes its everlasting flight unto Him who gave it, he shall find that the light which was sown for him springs up into a harvest of blessedness. He who has remembered his Creator in the days of his youth shall be able, in his time of age and decay, to utter with confidence the prayer, “Lord, remember me.” Early piety is the only perfectly graceful conduct towards the Author of our being, the most acceptable sacrifice, the best provision against the sorrows of life, and the terrors of the last trial. The soul needs the strongest ground for courage and hope when this present world vanishes, and there is nothing to intercept its vision of the throne of God.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Ecclesiastes 12:1. Practically considered, the root of all moral evil is forgetfulness of God.
Remembrance imparts to great facts and impressions the beauty and influence of presence. Thus the truth of God’s nature and our duty comes upon us with fresh power.
The mention of the Creator, here, shows the right which He has in us, and our obligation.
Your own happiness is concerned in your compliance with this counsel. That happiness is unworthy of the name which is disturbed by the remembrance of God. The contemplation, and enjoyment, and service of the Divine Being, must be the honour and the blessedness of every rational nature. There is a propriety, a beauty, and a glory in early piety [Wardlaw].
Of his last years this old man says, “I have no pleasure in them.” Once on a time existence was a gladness, and the exuberant spirits overflowed in shouts and songs of hilarious ditties. So abundant was the joy of life, that, like the sunbeams in a tropic clime, it was needful to shade it, and with a Venetian lattice of imagined sorrows and tragic tales, the young man assuaged the over-fervid beams of his own felicity. Now there is no need of such artificial abatements. It is not easy for the old man to get a nook so warm that it will thaw the winter of his veins. To say nothing of a song, it is not easy for him to muster up a smile; and as he listens with languid interest to the news of the day, and, in subtile sympathy with his own failing faculties, as he disparages this modern time and its dwindled men, it is plain that, as for the world, its avocations and amusements, its interests and its inhabitants, he has little pleasure in them [Dr. J. Hamilton].
Ecclesiastes 12:2. The conditions of external nature, in their aspect towards ourselves, are determined by our own state. Nature is gay, or sad, or languishing, according to the several moods of our soul. When we lose the power of enjoying it, the world itself may be said to pass away.
As the light declines, the gayest colours of life fade, and, at length, all is reduced to a dreary blank. So it shall be with the youth who vainly depends upon the continuance of the world’s happiness.
He only is preserved from bitter disappointments and long regrets, who seeks that light of heavenly joy which increases while all other lights grow dim.
We should use our mercies and privileges which are common to us with other men, to wit, our bodily sight, our reason, and all other comforts, which may be signified by the lights here mentioned, so as we may be still mindful of the decay and failing of them at death; and often think with ourselves what a comfort it will be to see by faith Him that is invisible favourable to us, to behold Christ the Sun of Righteousness shining in mercy upon us, and to have the Day-Star, His Spirit, arising in our hearts never to set again, even when all other lights and outward comforts will be darkened [Nisbet].
In youth, troubles come like rain, which, though inconvenient while it lasts, leaves no devastation behind. But in age, troubles are like rain falling upon a flood already threatening and which, at length, carries away man’ into eternity (Psalms 90:5).
Old age is a Tierra del Fuego—a region where the weather never clears. Once, when a trivial ailment came, the hardy youth could outbrave it, and still go on with his daily duties. But now, every ailment is important, and they are never like to end. The cough is cured only to be succeeded by an asthma, and when the tender eyes have ceased to trickle, the ears begin to tingle. Once upon a time a few drops might fall into the brightest day, like a settling shower in June; and there were apt to be hurricanes, equinoctial gales, great calamities, drenching and devastating sorrows. But now, the day is all one drizzle, and life itself the chief calamity, and there is little space for hope where the weather is all either clouds or rain [Dr. J. Hamilton].
Ecclesiastes 12:3. As each power and sense fails, man descends by so many steps into the grave.
By the failure of sight—the noblest of the senses—a man has already entered “the valley of the shadow of death.”
In old age, a man is compelled, in a terribly real sense, to retire from the world. Shut in from outward joys, he must live with himself. How cheerless if he has no Divine Comforter!
When old age, with its ever-increasing feebleness, draws on, “the keepers of the house”—the once-powerful arms that shielded the body from every hostile assault, that triumphantly defended it even in the shock of battle—“shall tremble.” Their force is gone; they can no longer grasp a weapon, or strike a blow. The “strong men” too, that were like the pillars of the building—the firm and well-jointed limbs that bore the body up, unconscious of its weight—“shall bow themselves,” and sink down helpless beneath the load. “And the grinders shall cease because they are few”—the toothless jaws shall at length refuse their office—the very mechanism by which the waste of nature’s energies was wont to be repaired, losing its power to act, and thereby accelerating the progress of decay. “And those that look out of the windows”—the sentinels that kept watch in the lofty towers, and whose function it was to descry and announce the approach of danger—those bright and beaming eyes that, erewhile, looked forth far and wide on surrounding things, shall “be darkened”; their range of vision will become contracted, and blind Isaac shall not know his younger from his elder son [Buchanan].
In the consciousness of failing strength, the good man feels that he belongs the more to God.
Ecclesiastes 12:4. When hearing fails, a man is shut in from more than half the world. Even affection and love can only minister to such by some other and more difficult entrance.
But not only is the door of audience closed, the door of utterance is also shut. “The grinders have ceased,” and with lips collapsed and organs all impaired, it is an effort to talk; and bending silently in on his own solitude, the veteran dozes in his elbow-chair the long summer hours when younger folks are busy. But, if he dozes in the day, he does not sleep at night. At the voice of the bird, at the crowing of the cock, although he does not hear it, he can keep his couch no longer. He rises, but not because he has any work to do, or any pleasure to enjoy [Dr. J. Hamilton].
Aristotle hath observed it well, that by hearing, the things of others are made known to ourselves, as by our voice and tongue we are able to make known our own things to another. But when old age cometh, the glory of this most excellent work is humbled and “brought low,” the anvil is worn, the hammer is weak, the drum is unbraced, the pure air is grown thick, the music is marred, the doleful toll of the passing bell being ready to sound, and to ring out [Jermin].
He can afford to part with the delights of music who has learned to make melody in his heart.
Ecclesiastes 12:5. He has neither enterprise nor courage. Once it was a treat to press up the mountain side and enjoy the majestic prospect. Now there is no high place which is not formidable; and even to the temple, it is a sad drawback that it stands on Zion, and that it is needful to “go up.” “The almond tree flourishes, and the grasshopper is burdensome.” Teaze him not with your idle affairs. In that load of infirmities he has enough to carry, and though it be not the weight of a feather, do not augment his burden who totters under the load of many years. For “desire has failed.” You can grapple with heavy tasks; you can submit to severe toil and protracted self-denial, for you have a purpose to serve—you have an end in view. But with him there is no inducement, for there is no ulterior [Dr. J. Hamilton].
The hoary head of old age—the flourishing of the almond tree—forebodes the dreary winter that shuts the scene of mortal life.
In this present state—this earthly house—man is but as a guest that tarrieth for a night; but in that “house of eternity”—that other world—to which he is hastening, man has his final and permanent habitation.
It should be our aim to make preparation for our comfort, peace, and joy, in that world where we shall dwell the longest.
Ecclesiastes 12:6. Though death involves the destruction of the entire mortal frame, yet it may begin in any one of the great centres of life—the brain, the heart, or the lungs. The “silver cord” of nervous matter may be “loosed,” and the delicate mechanism by which the body is supplied with blood and air may be rendered useless.
Science has thrown much light upon those wonderful processes by which physical life is maintained. But its greatest discoveries are chiefly the clearing, and settling into more definite form, of that knowledge which was held in solution by mankind for ages. Poetry has often anticipated science, and the prophet comes before the investigator.
The fountain of natural life remains for the race, but the individual is only permitted to draw from it for a short time.
The bucket and the wheel are broken; the water can no longer be drawn; and instead of the busy and lively scene that was wont to surround the well’s mouth, all is solitude and silence, the ground untrodden, the water stagnant [Wardlaw].
Ecclesiastes 12:7. However fairly it may be garnished, man lives but in a house of clay whose end is dust.
The humble destination of the mortal part of us should be a rebuke to pride.
Some rationalistic expositors maintain that these words teach that the soul loses its individuality, and is absorbed into God. But we are plainly taught that man, as a spirit, returns to God, not to perish by dispersion in His infinity, but to be judged. (Ecclesiastes 12:14.) Hence moral responsibility will remain, and this is not possible unless the conscious selfhood in each man remains.
Natural likeness to God—for we are spirit as well as flesh—makes us capable of appearing before Him in a spiritual world. But moral likeness to Him can alone turn that solemn necessity into blessedness.
We know not what mysterious things await the spirit when it returns to God; but we know that the law of love holds good, as the condition of happiness, in all worlds.
Our spirits are God’s free gift, and therefore all the powers and faculties thereof ought to be employed to the honour of the Giver. (Romans 11:36.) He is to be depended on, and acknowledged for the preservation of them (Job 10:12); and all crosses upon body and spirit to be submitted unto. (Hebrews 12:9.) [Nisbet.]
Ecclesiastes 12:8. Vanity of vanities.] This repetition of chapter Ecclesiastes 1:2 shows that these words are intended to be placed at the head of the conclusion of the book. They introduce the epilogue.
Ecclesiastes 12:10. Acceptable words.] Pleasant, agreeable words. We are reminded of the “gracious words” of Our Lord. (Luke 4:22.) And that which was written was upright.] In accordance with the standard. They corresponded with eternal realities, and were, therefore, true.
Ecclesiastes 12:11. The words of the wise are as goads.] The author thus classes himself with the writers of proverbial wisdom. The Sapiential Books of the O. T. would come under this description. Such words are “as goads;” they have the power of penetrating deeply into the heart. And nails.] Used synonymously with “goads.” Fastened by the masters of assemblies.] The maxims of wisdom, as united into one assembly or collection. Which are given from one shepherd.] In the sense of a leader of a congregation, or chief of a school. The wisdom of many is pervaded by a spirit of unity. Hengstenberg considers that there is a reference to God as the author of the Sacred Books.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ecclesiastes 12:8-11
THE VINDICATION OF A TRUE RELIGIOUS TEACHER
The Church, though guided and informed by the Spirit of God, must have human teachers. Human words, written or spoken, are necessary to convey the suggestions of inspiration. Physical nature can be known by observation and research; but we can only know a person when he pleases to reveal himself by speech. God has spoken in past ages to minds fitted to receive and convey His truth. He who affirms that he possesses true spiritual wisdom, and speaks on behalf of God, puts forward a high claim. Upon what grounds can such a claim be vindicated? Solomon here answers this question for himself, and the claims of all true religious teachers admit of the like justification. These claims may be examined as they have reference to the teacher himself, or to his work. He may be vindicated, therefore:
I. By the Worth of His personal Qualifications. God has always chosen the purest and the noblest natures to convey His truth to mankind. The men who instruct us in the pages of the Written Word were fit instruments for so high an office; and all who presume to teach the Church the will of God must be sufficiently endowed in mind, and heart, and strength of purpose. Every true spiritual teacher should partake of the qualities which the author of this book claims for himself.
1. He has the gift of spiritual wisdom (Ecclesiastes 12:9). He is in the possession of truths which lie not idly in his mind, but are quick and powerful, influencing the heart and life. To have wisdom is the one thing needful for the conveyance of it. God must first speak to the soul of a teacher before he can instruct the Church in words of living power. He can teach the people knowledge as long as he continues to utter, not only the old truths, but also the latest things which he has heard from God. This imparts the freshness of the morning to what may be, in reality, as old as time itself.
2. He has the power and impulse to teach wisdom. He is not content to be wise for himself; he must teach the people. This requires special talents, and a disposition towards the work.
(1) The power of conveying knowledge in a portable form. “He gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.” These are compact and terse expressions of truth—fulness and wealth in little compass. It is sometimes an advantage to be able to exchange the scattered and cumbrous possessions of the mind for their golden equivalents of thought. We owe much to those who have expressed the wisdom of many in brief and pointed sayings.
(2.) The power of conveying knowledge in an agreeable form. “Acceptable words,” not of necessity to all, but to the true children of wisdom. There are those who are “of the truth,” and who therefore recognise the features of truth as by an unerring instinct. To such the words of wisdom are pleasant, and find welcome entrance and commendation.
(3.) The power of high moral purpose. The Royal Preacher had a high moral purpose to urge him to his task. He collected the maxims and chief things of wisdom, not for intellectual display or recreation, but in order that he might awaken in the souls of men the love of truth and the sense of duty. Such a purpose made him thoroughly in earnest. He announced no curious speculations, remote from the true interests of man; but, in words of solemn earnestness, set forth the simple facts of experience and of duty. The religious teacher has the strongest reason for earnestness, because he is concerned with eternal verities which will have untold significance when the world has passed away. All genuine teachers of the Church of God know and feel great spiritual truths, and tell them forth from the abundance of their heart. But further; the true religious teacher is vindicated.
II. By the Verification of His Work. He who is endowed with the necessary qualities of mind, and heart, and earnest purpose, must be a successful leader of the thought and effort of God’s people. Given such a teacher, and we can predict the results of his work. But we can reverse the process, and from the nature of the work, judge the worth and fitness of the teacher. Thus we are capable of verifying what is submitted to us as truth. We have a stronger foundation than mere authority for the essential facts of our spiritual nature. Even Christ Himself was not above appealing to that standard of truth which is preserved in every pure mind and heart. To all such, His sayings were true. We have, in this section, certain marks by which we can assure ourselves of the truth of what is delivered to us.
1. The teaching should be conformed to the standard of eternal truth. “That which was written was upright; even words of truth.” In the physical world, there are fixed directions—such as the level and the vertical. In like manner, in the spiritual world, there is a normal and standard of right. Whatever is conformed to this shall live through the ages; and whatever is not so conformed, men will, in the course of time, allow most willingly to die. Conscience, enlightened by the Spirit of God, has a correct eye to discover what is right and true in morals and religion. And whatever offends, that eye cannot be allowed long to endure.
2. The teaching should have the power of penetrating the heart. (Ecclesiastes 12:11.) Like “goads” and “nails,” spiritual truth has the power of penetrating the heart of the children of God, and there fixing itself. Divine Revelation, above all, has this wonderful property. Whatever in the literature of the world is deepest, and touches most our inmost part, is derived from that Blessed Book. All the rest, however beautiful or worthy in itself, does but gild and play upon the surface of our souls. If our hearts are sincere, and open to spiritual impressions, they can thus judge of the claims of any teacher to be the messenger of God’s truth.
3. The teaching should commend itself to the children of wisdom. It should find a welcome in all sincere and upright souls. Wisdom is sure to be “justified of her children.” She speaks those things which they know to be true to their own nature, instincts, and longings.
4. The teaching should be in harmony with all previous truth. “Which are given from one shepherd.” However diversified the utterances of truth by different minds, that truth is at one with itself. The light may be coloured by the medium through which it passes, or broken up into refractions, yet these can be traced to the same pure and single light of heaven. The Bible is an instance of such unity, because, though the work of many authors, it is pervaded by one purpose, and bears the impress of one presiding mind. In the successive stages of revelation, the truth is advanced further, but it is in perfect continuity with all that has preceded. Thus, by these several marks, the work of the true teachers of the Church may be verified, and proved to be really the work of God. Their claim to be heard may be supported upon the surest evidence. Even the Bible itself cannot be regarded as so securely resting upon authority as to set aside the necessity of enquiring into the nature and morality of its doctrines and precepts. Our spiritual nature answers to these, that they are right, pure, and true. Strong as the Scripture is in the support of external evidence, it is sublimely strong in the witness which it bears to itself. These “words of the wise” can be verified by their conformity to the standard of right, by their power to touch the heart and conscience, and by their adaptation to all the necessities of the soul. The authors are many, but they have contributed to form one book, which conveys a perfect unity of impression to every spiritual mind. It has the characteristic of every true book, and that is, that it has one central idea—one principal theme. That idea is one of surpassing greatness, for it concerns the most important and lasting interests of mankind.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Ecclesiastes 12:8. These words are repeated in order to show that all human endeavour and greatness are vain, if the silent dust is all that remains of man.
The hand of death will lift from before the eyes of the dying the veil of delusive fascination that covered the emptiness of earthly joys; and this solemn truth, inscribed upon them all, will appear in its dread reality, and be felt in all its bitterness by the disappointed and foreboding heart [Wardlaw].
He who sees the vanity of life, is best prepared to learn the fear of God, and the ways of duty (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
This is but a half-truth. Human existence cannot be considered as wholly vain when it is regarded in the light of the hereafter.
Ecclesiastes 12:9. All who possess true wisdom have necessity laid upon them to teach it. The wisest cannot communicate his wisdom by some sudden influence. He must take upon himself the humble duty of teaching.
The knowledge of Divine things is the only stable foundation for piety. If the feelings are not fed from hence, they do but waste and consume the energy of the soul.
Instead of hiding in his own breast those treasures of wisdom and knowledge he had acquired—instead of treating them as a mere intellectual luxury, or of selfishly hoarding them up for his own behoof—he was at pains to turn them to account, in the way of promoting the great interests of morality and religion.… This was not a subject on which to speak at random. It demanded something better than hasty and superficial thoughts. He laid himself out, accordingly, to discover, by profound meditation, by practical and persevering study, the best and most appropriate things that could be said; and to condense and adjust them into those terse and pointed sentences which are usually designated by the name of proverbs [Buchanan].
The reason of things lies in little compass, if the mind could at any time be so happy as to light upon it. All philosophy is reduced to a few principles, and those principles comprised in a few propositions. And as the whole structure of speculation rests upon three or four axioms, or maxims, so that of practice also bears upon a very small number of rules. And surely there was never yet any rule or maxim that filled a volume, or took up a week’s time to be got by heart. The truth is, there could be no such thing as art or science, could not the mind of man gather the general natures of things out of the numberless heaps of particulars, and then bind them up into such short aphorisms or propositions, so that they may be made portable to the memory, and therefore become ready and at hand for the judgment to apply, and make use of, as there shall be occasion [South].
Ecclesiastes 12:10. The truth may often be unpalatable, but it should not be so expressed as to give offence to those who hear it. The most harsh truths can always be so combined with others as to produce a grateful impression. In the doctrines of grace, and mercy, and hope for man, the true teacher of the Church has abundant material for imparting sweetness to his message.
Every faithful instructor of God’s people maintains a strict regard for truth, while he seeks, on the other hand, to make it lovely in the eyes of mankind.
The guidance of inspiration did not render unnecessary the activity of genius in the writers of the Sacred Books. They were able to clothe the truth in forms of beauty, and with all the agreeable diversity of their several gifts.
There were two objects at which he especially aimed—the one, to set down only that which was upright, even words of truth; the other, to find acceptable words in which to convey his thoughts. He knew how often the most weighty and precious lessons were rendered utterly distasteful, and even offensive, by the unsuitable language in which they were expressed.… He understood human nature. He knew that many will be led who will not be driven; that it is often very possible to conciliate where it would be hopeless to attempt to coerce; that rudeness seldom fails to aggravate and embtter the enmity and opposition which gentleness would soothe and sweeten—nay, that so apparently a small matter as mere style—the propriety, the elegance, the felicity of the form of speech in which a truth is delivered—will, with many minds, gain for it a place and power which, in their case at least, it would never otherwise have acquired [Buchanan].
Writing gives a permanence to truth, and preserves it from the wrongs of time. It makes the progress of humanity possible by securing the results of all past victories over ignorance.
We owe much to the gifted men who have made great truths permanent for us in forms of beauty. They prepare and spread the repasts of the mind and soul.
Speaking is but like a burning coal, which giveth heat and some light near at hand; but writing is like a shining lamp, which giveth light afar off [Jermin].
Ecclesiastes 12:11. All true words of lasting significance to man have power to enter the depths of the soul and to fasten themselves there.
As the Bible dwells upon the subject of all human anxieties, and speaks in the language of human experience and sympathy, its words have a pre-eminent power in piercing the heart.
The power of a book depends, not entirely upon its own worth, but also upon the condition of the reader. There are states of mind and heart in which the words of the Bible come home to us with overwhelming power.
St. Cyprian, therefore, saith: take not those things which are eloquent, and serve to delight the ears, but those that are strong and powerful to work upon the heart, to wound and gall the conscience, to rouse a carnal security. Such goads were the words of St. Peter, when they that heard them were pricked in their hearts, and cried out to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Of these goads, that is true, which from heaven was spoken to Saul, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” [Jermin].
How often has it thus happened that some single sentence of Scripture—heard, perhaps, in some sermon, or read in some book, of which nothing else whatever is remembered—has been so fixed, in a moment, in the sinner’s mind that he could not get rid of it? He tried to forget it; he wandered, it may be, all over the world, in the hope and with the desire of being able to free himself from the disquietude it created; but the nail could not be drawn out [Buchanan].
The words of the wise, who have spoken true things concerning the deepest interests of man, though they are many and diversified, are pervaded by a spirit of unity. They are but separate beams of one central light.
The “shepherds” who have taught the Church by their words contained in the Scripture, though they lived in different ages, and belonged to widely diverse classes of society, have produced a volume which, in the highest sense, is one Book. It is one, not by an outward, but by an organic, unity. One living power fills and informs every part.
But this unity of Scripture, where is it? From what point shall we behold and recognize it? Surely from that in which those verses (Ephesians 1:9-10) will place us, when we regard it as the story of the knitting anew the broken relations between the Lord God and the race of man; of the bringing the First-begotten into the world, for the gathering together all the scattered and the sundered in Him; when we regard it as the true Paradise Regained—the true De Civitate Dei—even by a better title than those noble books which bear these names—the record of that mystery of God’s will which was working from the first to the end “that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ [Trench].
Ecclesiastes 12:12. My Son.] An expression appropriate to the master of wisdom when addressing his pupils; equivalent to “my scholar,” or “dear reader.” (Proverbs 1:8.) Of making many books there is no end.] The plural form sometimes denotes the parts of one treatise, and conveys the general idea of “much writing.” The word may be, therefore, rendered collectively, “in making a great book there is no end.” Great labour for little result. These words may also be understood of the heathen literature, which on many subjects was misleading, and really settled no question.
Ecclesiastes 12:13. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter.] There is an implied reference to Ecclesiastes 12:12. Here the wise man concludes, since it is useless to make a long book. Fear God.] Lit. “God fear.” The object of fear is put first for the sake of emphasis. For this is the whole duty of man.] “The whole of man.” His destiny depends on this. “For that belongs to all men.” Luther.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ecclesiastes 12:12-14
We have here the parting counsels of one whose native ability, careful culture, long and varied experience, and spiritual wisdom, gave him the right to claim a hearing for his weighty words. He does not speak as a young and untried man, who, lacking experience, is yet able to reason from principles, and therefore gives advice with little hesitation. His counsels are not a brilliant intellectual effort, forcing attention upon itself; they arise rather from a heart which had endured the pain of conflict with temptation, doubt, and failure. The language is that of affectionate entreaty, and is concerned with those few and simple truths which age bequeaths to youth as the only heritage of any enduring value. The wisest man, when he draws near to the end of life, has little else to say than to commend old and familiar truths. Therefore, the Royal Preacher dwells upon the folly of useless struggles after the unattainable—the claims of duty—and the solemnities of the Judgment.
I. Leave Fruitless Speculation. (Ecclesiastes 12:12.) The statements of this Book touch many mysteries, in whose mazes the mind might easily be lost; but their chief use is to admonish the reader against the actual evils of life, and to stir him up to duty. Those speculations which only minister to curiosity are regarded as possessing two fatal disadvantages.
1. They do not reach a final settlement of any question. “Of making many books there is no end.” Literature is a necessity of every civilized nation. It preserves the best thoughts and sentiments of their wisest men, and is the very soul of that society in which it was produced. As long as there is mental activity among a people, their literature must be ever growing. Each age, also, claims and requires a different representation of truth, for the simple reason that it is different, in several respects, from every former age. Thus the making of many books cannot come to an end, for the mental activity of mankind must continue. But, in another sense, books do not come to an end. Many of them deal in curious speculations regarding the nature, state, and destiny of man. However confident their authors may have been in the certainty of their conclusions, or however numerous the readers who have yielded their assent, the eternal questioning comes up again and again, and nothing is settled. The old mysteries are inquired into by successive ages of thinkers. They are viewed from every side, and set in various lights of argument and illustration; yet still mankind are as far as ever from their perfect solution. It is true that the Bible admits these mysteries; yet the Bible shows where the mind of man may rest in safety and peace, and what is the proper attitude of the soul until such time as God shall be pleased to give more light. The literature of the world upon speculative subjects reaches no certain conclusion; yet it will continue to make the unavailing attempt as long as human society lasts. It is not wise to allow the mind to be unduly occupied with what is so unsatisfactory, especially if hereby we are drawn aside from our plain duty and constancy of our faith in the immutable things.
2. They are a wearisome exercise. “Much study is a weariness of the flesh.” This is true of the pursuit of ordinary knowledge. Nothing can be gained but by severe and constant exercises of the mind. Natural indolence must be overcome, the fear of difficulties overmastered, and all the anxieties of inquiry endured. The thinker has to pay the penalty of a weary brain and exhausted energies. When the knowledge gained is certain, and profitable for use or for delight, there is a grateful recompense. But how sad the fate of him who endures all the labour and anxiety for some pitiful and controverted conclusion! He wearies himself upon a profitless and endless task.
II. Make Practical Use of what is Certainly Known. Solomon could have written at greater length upon the subjects on which he treated. He draws not to an end from lack of wealth in thought or language. But why go on? Life is too short for prolonged exercises of this kind. Duty is at hand, and there are stern realities to face. The reader is exhorted to give his attention to the “words of the wise,” for they deal with those eternal truths which most concern man to know. They are truths not framed to satisfy the curious and unprofitable appetites of the mind, but to touch the heart, to rouse up the conscience, and to teach man his duty. What is thus certainly known is sufficient for every practical purpose.
1. It is sufficient to guard us against real evils. The Preacher has yet this to say, “By these, my son, be admonished.” These words of the wise give warning against the greatest evils to which man is exposed. There are many calamities which afflict man in his fortune or his flesh, but these are light and passing when compared with the crushing and lasting evils that may fall upon the soul. These are the only real calamities. To lie under the displeasure of God is the awful disaster. The Psalmist, speaking of the testimonies of God, says, “Moreover by them is thy servant warned.” No long and laborious study is required to learn what those evils are which we ought to dread most and to avoid. Unlike the speculations of the natural mind, the whole case of our spiritual danger may be put before us in few words.
2. It is sufficient to teach us what is our highest good. The “conclusion of the whole matter” is given in few and earnest words. They speak of duty to the Highest, and this is all that concerns man to know. When the whole of man’s existence is taken into account, this alone has any real importance for him. How loved, how honoured once, avails him not if, after life is ended, he does not rest in the smile of God. Therefore, our only concern is to learn our duty, that we might not be ashamed when we come to appear before Him. Such knowledge is not too wonderful for us, but is obvious and familiar, easy and intelligible. It may be considered as consisting of two elements.
(1.) Right feelings towards God. “Fear God.” The Scripture lays great stress upon the condition of the heart, because from it proceed the “issues of life.” The streams cannot be pure and sweet if the fountain is defiled. The heart determines what a man really is, for it is the origin and spring of moral action. The whole state of the feelings towards God is here spoken of under the name of fear, which (in the O.T. especially) is a word of wide signification. It is that feeling which both fears and loves—that filial awe which trembles lest it should offend, and yet knows no servile dread while it dwells under the shadow of a Father’s love. It is not the fear of ignorance which trembles at the thought of unknown terrors, but that intelligent fear which arises from a due recognition of the relations in which we stand to God. It springs from the earnest realities of our moral situation, and is that disposition of the soul by which alone we can walk humbly with God.
2. Practical Obedience. “Keep His commandments.” Right feelings towards God must issue in obedience. Regard for another—for his person, for his rights, for the claims of his affection towards us, disposes us to a ready and loving service. Unless feeling does spend and employ itself in duty, it uses the power of the soul to no purpose, and only deceives us with the semblance of goodness. Uprightness in the life is the only infallible proof of uprightness in the heart. The commandments of God are the authoritative statements of our duty to all that is above, around, and beneath us. They have regard to all what we ought both to know, to feel, and to do. They are the statutes of God’s kingdom, which all His subjects are bound to obey. According to the state of our heart, we feel them either a painful restraint, or the very charter of our liberty. Love to God turns them into a delight. When He enlarges our heart, we can run the ways of His commandments. The two great commandments of the Law speak of nothing else but right feelings, because, if these are present, right practice is sure to follow. There is a true “invariable sequence” in moral things.
III. Recognise the Fact of Human Accountability. (Ecclesiastes 12:14.) “For God shall bring every work into judgment.” The future is thus brought into view in order to strengthen the motives for obedience. The Judgment to come is rendered necessary by the fact of human accountability. As certain as there is moral disorder in the world, and there is a God over all of infinite justice and purity, so certain is it that. He will interfere with the course of human affairs, summon men before His bar, and assign to each his proper portion and place. If men are responsible to God, it is necessary that at some time their account should be rendered. However remote from Him we may feel ourselves to be, we shall have to come to Him for reckoning. The doctrine of the future Judgment is intended to influence our moral feeling and practice. This fact of human accountability, pointing as it does to the Judgment, should be practically recognised.
1. Because it raises and ennobles the idea of life. We may regard the fact, that we shall have to appear before God for Judgment, as a disadvantage—a source of dread and alarm. And so it must be, if we have resisted His will, and thus come under condemnation. But the fact of our accountability renders it possible for us, through the mercy of God, to obtain the reward of the righteous. Thus a prospect is opened, so sublime that the thought of it gives a supreme value to our life. The idea of Judgment implies that man shall live in a future state—that his individuality shall remain. This thought transfigures our poor human life, redeems it from the imputation of vanity, and our condition from meanness. Our inheritance is not brief life, but eternity.
2. It acts as a wholesome moral restraint. It is true that love in its highest moods does not think of restraint, but delights in its own freedom. Yet restraint is salutary, for it aids and guards weak virtue; and the highest virtue may be prevented thereby from the dangers of a fall. The thought that evil shall surely be punished is the first motive that urges us to righteousness—the higher and nobler motive comes afterwards. Also, the thought that even good actions shall come under the scrutiny of the Judge of all, tends to make us careful. Since the whole of our conduct shall be tested, we should look well to the purity of our motives.
3. It casts the soul entirely upon God. From His justice we can have no confident hope that we should see salvation, but rather we have much to fear. The chastisements of nature, and in the course of Providence, seem inflexible in their awful regularity. We have really no sure refuge but in the infinite charity of God. To please Him by our loving obedience should be the great endeavour of our life; for if we have this testimony, we may cherish a humble confidence that He will receive us in peace. Before the dread tribunal we all alike stand in need of mercy. If we can cast our souls upon God, even “these things to come”—though so terrible in themselves—cannot separate us from His love, which for us in Gospel times “is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Ecclesiastes 12:12. The Preacher doth wisely exhort us that we prefer saving studies, which are easily perceived, everlasting in their benefit, before those the search whereof is infinite, and the end whereof at last is only weariness and misery [Jermin].
“My son.”—The voice of warning should have the style and tone of affection, and have regard to the ultimate good of him to whom it is addressed.
He who listens to admonition is one of the children of wisdom.
In the study of the Scripture, men should not aim at their comfort only, but mainly that they may receive clear information and warning of their sin and hazard, the true remedy thereof, and the way to attain to it; for this is one use to be made of this Book, and consequently of the rest of Scripture [Nisbet].
There is a deceitful literature of the world which attempts to deal with the highest questions that concern humanity. It refuses the teaching of Scripture regarding the nature, the chief good, and the destiny of man. It rejects the supernatural aid of faith, which imparts a now faculty to man, by which alone he can have consciousness of truths beyond the dull and prosaic scenes of this mortal life. There is no reason why such unwarranted speculations should not go on for ever. They never reach to any certainty on which the soul of man can rest. Hence men become dissatisfied with them, and in their efforts to obtain something better, only substitute one folly for another. This false wisdom, admired as philosophy in one age, becomes the derision and scorn of the next.
Whatever is built upon God’s truth shall stand. All other foundations shall be removed when the storm arises; and though men may presume to build upon them again, yet their work is destined likewise to perish.
The truths of religion which bear upon practical duty are few and simple; but the speculations of the human mind, unaided by Divine light, are endless and confused. Hence he who engages in their study wearies himself in a fruitless task.
The study of the Word of God engages the attention, but it gives rest to the soul. All who love His law have great peace.
Ecclesiastes 12:13. This conclusion is not the summing up of the reflections in this Book, but rather the practical end which “The Preacher” had in view. He is now coming to the chief point which concerns all.
“The conclusion of the whole matter is one of those “nails” and “goads” by which “The Preacher” endeavours to affect the heart and conscience.
The fear of God delivers the soul from every other fear—from the anxieties of restless inquiry—from distrust and suspicion of God—from murmuring and discontent.
To fear God is in our hearts to serve and honour Him; to keep His commandments is the outward demonstration of this inward devotion, in the conversation and actions of our lives to show ourselves [Jermin].
The keeping of the commandments is inseparably connected with the fear of God, because all true feeling is bound by a pleasing necessity to engage itself in the service of its object.
Reconciliation to God is like entering the gate of a beautiful avenue which conducts to a splendid mansion. But that avenue is long, and in some places it skirts the edge of dangerous cliffs; and, therefore, to save the traveller from falling over where he would be dashed to pieces, it is fenced all the way by a quickset hedge. That hedge is the commandments. They are planted there that we may do ourselves no harm. But, like the fence of the fragrant brier, they regale the pilgrim who keeps the path, and they only hurt him when he tries to break through [Dr. J. Hamilton].
In the fear of God, and obedience to His will lies all that has any permanent value for man. Everything else will pass away, but this has an enduring substance.
It is not only the whole duty, but the whole honour, and interest, and happiness of man [Wardlaw].
Ecclesiastes 12:14. “God shall bring:” loath is guilty man to come into judgment, and therefore he crieth to the hills to cover him, to the mountains to fall upon him; but mountains and hills and all shall forsake him, and God shall bring him to it. The best way, therefore, is of ourselves beforehand to go unto His judgment, and in our own hearts to arraign ourselves before God, for that is which will make His Judgment to be comfortable to us [Jermin].
The fact that God often comes into judgment with man, in the course of human history, is included in these words. But the future Judgment is chiefly intended because the spirit returns to God that its true character may be revealed, and its true place assigned.
The future judgment will discover the realities of human conduct, for it will proceed upon perfect knowledge.
There will be such a development of character as shall justify the Supreme Judge, and the judgments He pronounces and executes, in the consciences of the condemned, and certify His unimpeachable righteousness to angels and men [Wardlaw].
The Judgment will bring to light both the hidden things of good and of evil—the secret deeds of shame, and the kind offices of retiring and modest worth.
In the light of the solemn account which we must all render to God, the life of man becomes as a seed from which a mighty forest is to spring.
The Christian lays the comfort to his heart that judgment is committed to the Son of Man. He knows that he has a Judge who can be “touched with the feeling” of his “infirmities.” The purest soul needs this assurance.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29