In this Chapter the Preacher finisheth his discourse, and a beautiful close he makes of it, running up all into the love and fear of God, as the great object of man's creation, and the ultimate end of man.
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
A beautiful and most affectionate address the Chapter opens with to the youthful part, in recommending and enforcing an earnest regard to God, as the Creator. No doubt the Preacher meant it, under both views of the Creator, in nature and in grace: and having closed the former Chapter with an address to the young, he begins this in the same strain. We may consider this as one of the inferences from the whole sermon. Having fully proved the vanity of human life, the younger part of those who attended to his discourse, are here called upon to make the proper conclusion from it. There is a beauty in this verse, which a mere English Reader, unacquainted with the original Hebrew, could not possibly know, unless pointed out to him. I mean, that the word Creator, is in the original plural Creators; and ought by our translators to have been so rendered. And the importance of it is much greater than at first view some may imagine. For it implies the grand fundamental truth of the Bible, namely, that the one glorious and eternal, Jehovah, hath his existence and self-being totally distinct from all his creatures, and doth exist in a three-fold character of persons; Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Hereby confirming the same glorious truth as was revealed at the opening of the Bible; Jehovah Alehim, in each person of the Godhead, concurred and co-operated in the creation of man. Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness: Genesis 1:26. And as a still further confirmation of this glorious doctrine, we find the same word in that passage plural; Job 35:10, where is God my makers, who giveth songs in the night?
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain: (3) In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, (4) And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low; (5) Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
I detain the Reader to admire the wonderful beauty, as well as the great elegance in stile and figure, of those several expressions in the description of the desolated winter of old age. The sun, and moon, and stars of heaven, how bright soever they shine, have no lustre to the blind eyes of the aged. The clouds returning after the rain, is uncommonly striking to denote that unceasing infirmity of the aged, where, when one disease somewhat abates, there is a return, and the recurrence of another. The trembling of the head, the weakness of the limbs, and the tottering state of decrepit nature, through all, are strikingly represented under these several images. It would be to hold a faint taper of the night to aid the light of the sun, the attempt to heighten the beauties by description. What I beg the Reader to observe with me in the perusal, and which the Preacher seems particularly to have had in view, is, that if age be thus necessarily oppressed from the common and unavoidable infirmities incident to such seasons, what must it be to have the pressure of unpardoned sin, an unawakened state of unrenewed nature added to the load. Oh! what a wretched old age is that which is full of transgression, without God and without Christ: ignorant of Jesus and his salvation, unregenerated, unwashed in Christ's blood, and, as to any saving knowledge, of his grace and power, unconscious whether there be any Holy Ghost. Isaiah 65:20.
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. (7) Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. (8) Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.
In what elegance of language the Preacher hath here described death. But, Reader! it is not the elegance of words that can soften the stroke of death. What Solomon saith so often concerning life, may be equally applied to the folly of life. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, all is vanity. And it is the greatest of all vanities, to overlook the awfulness of a subject in the pomp of words in which it is represented. It may be summed up in a more comprehensive manner: death is blessed in Christ. It is cursed out of Christ. Hence Christ told the Jews, If ye believe not that I am He, ye shalt die in your sins. John 8:24. Oh! to hear that voice, and to know our own personal interest in what it proclaims: blessed are the dead that die in the Lord! Revelation 14:13.
And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. (10) The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. (11) The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. (12) And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
It is a part which requires much grace from God, to have a choice of pure words in preaching, as well as pure doctrine. Sound speech, (one calls it) that cannot be condemned. Titus 2:8. But the plainest language is most scriptural. And the word of God, in its own pure, simple, unadulterated form, is most likely to take effect. The polished handle of a sword will give no additional keenness to its edge. And the word of God, when naked, will be most cutting, and quick, and powerful. Hebrews 4:12. But after all, it is the master of assemblies, who can alone fasten his own word as goads upon the minds of the people. And who, but Jesus, is that Master, that one Shepherd, which can do this? Ezekiel 34:23; Zechariah 14:9. Blessed Master! do thou cause thy word to have an abiding influence in my heart; and there let it be fastened by thine own almighty arm as a nail in a sure place. Isaiah 22:23; Ezra 9:8.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (14) For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
Here is the finishing sentence of this whole sermon of Solomon. And in it we have the epitome of the Bible. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. And this fear is sometimes put for the whole of vital godliness. I will put my fear in their hearts, saith God (respecting the everlasting covenant), that they shall not depart from me. Jeremiah 32:40. And that this fear, which is a child-like filial fear, includes the whole of our gracious habits, in relation to our interest in the covenant, is evident from what our Lord told the Jews in answer to their question of obedience. What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? said they. Jesus answered, and said unto him, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. John 6:29. Hence Solomon's conclusion corresponds to the gospel. The fear of God in the belief of him whom God hath sent, is the whole of man. And the judgment by the Son of man, is to determine it. For all judgment is committed unto the Son, that all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father which hath sent him. John 5:22-23.
READER! may we not, after the perusal of this Chapter, and indeed from the whole of the Preacher's sermon, as contained in this book of the Ecclesiastes, take up both the wise man's direction to the young, and the Psalmist's direction to the old, and in his form or words, cry out and say, Both young men and maidens, old men and children, praise the name of the Lord; for his name only is excellent, and his glory above the earth and heaven. This, indeed, is the conclusion of the whole matter, and this is the whole of man!
See; my soul, from the perusal of Solomon's whole discourse, and as the sum and close of Solomon's whole experience, the emptiness and vanity of all besides. I have seen (with he) all the works that are done under the sun; and behold all is vanity and vexation of spirit. And wilt thou not, my soul, learn from so notable a proof, how utterly insufficient all earthly things must be to give comfort? Shall Solomon complain at the head of a kingdom, that emptiness, vanity, and disappointment attended all; and wilt thou expect a different issue from earthly attainments? Say! Canst thou acquire possessions like his or, even if acquired, couldst thou be sure to keep them? or if keeping, would a different close mark thine from Solomon's?
Turn, my soul, turn from all these things to Jesus. His grace, his love, his good will, his favor, which is better than life itself, will give the finishing enjoyment to every other blessing, or make up the want of it, if denied thee. It is Jesus which must put a sweetness and a relish into all the comforts which are found, in creatures of any kind. And if Jesus be not in it, there can be no sweetness in it at all. Come, then, thou dear Lord, come and bless the young man in his youth, and the old man in his grey years. And then, when the grasshopper shall be a bur den, and even desire of all nature's enjoyments shall fail; thou wilt be the strength of the heart, and the portion to satisfy forever. Oh! grant Lord, both to him that writes, and him that reads, that ere the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bow be broken; the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return unto God that gave it; Jesus may be the all in all to our souls, the conclusion of the whole matter, and the sum and substance of all our joy. May we have the full interest of Jesus, and all that is his, by faith in this life, and in the life to come, then we shall be satisfied with the everlasting enjoyment of him by sight, when we awake up after his likeness. Amen.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter