I. There are certain characters which in youth lose part of their youth. Something has stepped in which has spoilt life. These characters after repression, and when the time of youth is past, grow young again. Existence is transfigured. The soul is gifted with new powers, and the heart with a wealth of new feelings. They cannot help making experiments with all these new instruments. Every day is delightful, for every day there is something fresh to be tried; and the life of living seems inexhaustible. Naturally there is a dissipation of powers, a want of concentration, a want of foresight; and these things, coming in the midst of manhood or womanhood, are dangerous to progress. These characters want concentration of will towards a single and a noble aim. There is but one such aim on earth, and it is that of being like God. Concentrate, then, your will on this. Do not wish, but will, to be at one with God. "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find."
II. The second case I speak of is of characters which, passing into manhood and womanhood, retain for many years the elements of youth. This differs from the first inasmuch as youth has not been repressed, but previously enjoyed. As the chief danger of the former is dissipation of character, the chief danger of the latter lies in overfervency of character. What we want in this case is not the rooting out of youthful enthusiasm, but its direction. Endeavour to make your enthusiasm self-restrained. Begin to win the power of will over enthusiasm in the sphere of your spiritual life. Power of will comes to man when he claims and makes by faith the will of God his own. Power of self-restraint is gained when a man so loves the perfection of Christ that he cannot allow himself to run into every excitement. He stops and asks himself, "Would my Master have done this? would He have smiled upon it?"
III. The third case is that of characters who pass steadily from youth to manhood, leaving their youth behind them. Their tendency, since they have no youthfulness to complicate their nature, is to become men of one dominant idea, to let their particular business or profession absorb all the energies of their nature into itself, so that one portion of their character is especially developed and the others left untrained. They become in this way incomplete men. Educate all your being, for being devoid of the ardour of youth, and believing in steady work, you are in danger of becoming a one-sided man. Let your effort be to be manifold and many-sided, while you cling fast to your particular work. This is our Christian duty. For Christ came to save the whole of our nature, to present us at the end, body, soul, and spirit, perfect to His Father.
S. A. Brooke, Christ in Modern Life, p. 335..
I. What is it to remember God? It is, in the figurative language of the Old Testament Scriptures, to walk with God; to set the Lord always before our face; to dwell in the secret place of the Most High; to abide under the shadow of the Almighty. It is to have the thought of God constantly present to us, keeping us watchful, humble, contented, diligent, pure, peaceable.
II. Why should we thus remember God? "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth." The service to which we are called is a reasonable service. He who made us has a right to us. And let us be quite sure that in resisting His call, in fighting against the demands of our Creator, we must be on the losing side; it must be our ruin; it must be our misery.
III. "Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth." We can discern the main reasons for this urgency. (1) First, because the days of youth are happy days. As yet you have something to offer which will do God honour; and if you wait till youth is gone, you withhold from Him that acceptable sacrifice. (2) The days of thy youth are vigorous days. The work of remembering God is easier in early than in later life. If you waste this precious time, soon will the evil days come: days of unceasing toil; days of dissipating pleasure; days of bitter disappointment; days of overpowering temptation; days of rooted habits, of deep spiritual slumber. Remember then thy Creator now, while the evil days come not.
C. J. Vaughan, Harrow Sermons, 1st series, p. 305.
References: Ecclesiastes 12:1.—New Manual of Sunday-school Addresses, p. 21; Sermons for Sundays, Festivals, and Fasts, 3rd series, p. 253 J. W. Colenso, Village Sermons, p. 72; R. Newton, Bible Warnings, p. 9; J. P. Chown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx., p. 282. Ecclesiastes 12:1-7.—J. Hamilton, The Royal Preacher, p. 215; J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 382. Ecclesiastes 12:1-8.—R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 407; J. H. Cooke, The Preacher's Pilgrimage, p. 114. Ecclesiastes 12:1-14.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 222.
It is not at his death only that it may be said of any man, "He goeth to his long home." It is a continual present tense. Every moment, every step he takes, he is always on the road, getting nearer and nearer.
I. Eternity is an abyss in which the mind loses itself in a moment; and the more we try to realise, the more impossible it grows. And because we have never seen it or conceived it, we call some earthly thing, some work, some waiting-time, some sorrow, some suffering, "long." But we shall never call it long again when we have looked out into the immensities which lie on the other side the horizon of this little world. But that life the Infinite Himself calls "long." "Man goeth to his long home."
II. If that is home, then this is exile. We are not "expelled." Christ has secured us from that. But we are "banished." He deviseth means that His banished be not expelled. There is much, very much, to tell us we are not at "home" yet. The manners and the habits about us are all foreign. We are prisoners of hope, but we are prisoners; and by many things which we all feel, we know that the term of our exile will be over the moment of our death.
III. If that is home, we are travellers here. And every day should be a step homeward. We must not pitch our tents as if they were houses, for they will soon be taken down. We must not stop by the way to pick many flowers, and we must not care for little discomforts and disagreeable things as we go, seeing that our halting-places are only inns.
IV. If that is home, this is school. Hence the discipline. Life is all training. We have much to unlearn and much to learn, many habits to lose and many habits to form, before the minority of our existence here shall have fitted us for the maturity of our glorified manhood.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 10th series, p. 189.
Reference: Ecclesiastes 12:5.— Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 326.
What, we ask, is that view of man's present condition implied in the language which speaks of death and decay as a loosening of the silver cord and a breaking of the golden bowl?
I. It has been made an argument against the book of Ecclesiastes being the genuine writing of Solomon that it speaks so unmistakably of the immortality of the soul and of a judgment to come. It is asserted that these great doctrines were not revealed until after the age of Solomon. Now it must be freely confessed that it was in the later times of Jewish history, just as the temporal prosperity of Abraham's race was decaying, that the spiritual rewards of the righteous in another state were made to stand out more plainly to view. Nevertheless all along there had been an undertone running through God's revelation in which they who had ears to hear might catch the promise of a life beyond, although to grosser hearts it was doubtless a thing unknown. And if there had been these notes of immortality floating all down the rougher strain of human being, in an especial degree had they been gathered together by David and concentrated in bolder music. Such are those well-known words in Ps. xvi., "My flesh shall rest in hope, for Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine holy one to see corruption," etc. These are the songs of faith which Solomon in boyhood had learnt from his own father's lips. His extraordinary intellect would enable him, too, to appreciate, perhaps as none who went before had done, the whole strain of whispered truth as to man's immortal destiny. But the witness of Solomon ends not here. Whilst recognising fully the doctrine of the soul's exemption from death, he seems to have penetrated to the further truth that by the very nature of man our moral probation must be limited to this life. "Or ever the silver cord be loosed." Solomon regards man as essentially compounded of body and spirit. Loose the silver cord, and the creature ''man" is no longer. Suppose the disembodied soul to be subjected to a probation after death, it would not be the probation of the same creature as before, but the trial of another and different creature. You cannot separate in temptation or in worship between the body and the soul. Sever the two, and you may have a trial, but it will not be the trial of a "man."
II. "Or ever the golden bowl be broken." The idea involved by the golden bowl is that of a costly vessel which receives and retains. The idea is that of the receptiveness of man. Before this mysterious being, so richly endowed with all these capacities of living for God, of holding communion with Him, of turning from wickedness unto Him, is shattered, remember, O man, thy Creator. How knowest thou that when the golden vessel is once broken, when thy present mixed nature is shivered, and the fragments of thy flesh are scattered to the four winds, and thy spirit sent abroad into the darkness—how knowest thou of what sensations thou shalt be capable, of what impressions susceptible? Now thou art a golden bowl receptive of God; let Him come into thee and be thy God.
Bishop Woodford, Sermons on Subjects front the Old Testament, p. 155.
I. Nothing is more difficult than to realise that every man has a distinct soul, that every one of all the millions who live or have lived is as whole and independent a being in himself as if there were no one else in the whole world but he. We class men in masses, as we might connect the stones of a building. Survey some populous town; crowds are pouring through the streets; every part of it is full of life. Hence we gain a general idea of splendour, magnificence, opulence, and energy. But what is the truth? Why, that every being in that great concourse is his own centre, and all things about him are but shades, but a "vain shadow," in which he walketh and disquieteth himself in vain. He has his own hopes and fears, desires, judgments, and aim; he is everything to himself, and no one else is really anything. He has a depth within him unfathomable, an infinite abyss of existence; and the scene in which he bears part for the moment is but like a gleam of sunshine upon its surface.
II. All those millions upon millions of human beings who ever trod the earth and saw the sun successively are at this very moment in existence all together. If we have once seen any child of Adam, we have seen an immortal soul. It has not passed away as a breeze or sunshine, but it lives; it lives at this moment in one of those many places, whether of bliss or misery, in which all souls are reserved unto the end.
III. Everyone of all the souls which have ever been on earth is in one of two spiritual states, so distinct from one another that the one is the subject of God's favour and the other under His wrath, the one on the way to eternal happiness, the other to eternal misery. This is true of the dead, and it is true of the living also. Endeavour then to realise that you have souls, and pray God to enable you to do so. Endeavour to disengage your thoughts and opinions from the things that are seen; look at things as God looks at them, and judge of them as He judges. There will be no need of shutting your eyes to this world when this world has vanished from you, and you have nothing before you but the throne of God and the slow but continual movements about it in preparation of the judgment. In that interval, when you are in that vast receptacle of disembodied souls, what will be your thoughts about the world which you have left? How poor will then seem to you its highest aims, how faint its keenest pleasures, compared with the eternal aims, the infinite pleasures, of which you will at length feel your souls to be capable.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons; vol. iv., p. 80.
I. These words teach that the spirit of man is from God. The body was of His will; the life was of Himself, life of life. All things that were were of God; man only in his living spirit was from God.
II. What follows from this sonship to the Almighty? What does it mean as to man's true being? (1) That God's great gift to man is reason in its highest power of exercise; that is to say, the capacity of comprehending truth. (2) This spiritualised reason is gathered up by the girdle of individuality into the union of each separate soul in which it is impersonated. And thus again is it in God's image.
III. The words of the text speak of no absorption, of no ceasing to be. They say nothing of the separate consciousness being swallowed up into universal being, as the raindrop is swallowed up in the ocean depths. No, the girdle of individuality is the likeness of God's eternity; the unity of the soul is the transcript of His own everlasting unity.
S. Wilberforce, The Pulpit, No. 2172.
References: Ecclesiastes 12:7.—C. J. Vaughan, Old Testament Outlines, p. 165. Ecclesiastes 12:8.—H. V. Macdona, Penny Pulpit, No. 418.
I. Koheleth has achieved the quest. He has solved the problem and given us his solution of it. He is about to repeat that solution. To give emphasis and force to the repetition, that he may carry his readers more fully with him, he dwells on his claims to their respect, their confidence, their affection. He is all that they most admire; he has the very authority to which they most willingly defer. It is not out of any personal conceit, therefore, nor any pride of learning, that he recites his titles of honour. He is simply gathering force from the willing respect and deference of his readers in order that he may plant his final conclusion more strongly and more deeply in their hearts.
II. And what is the conclusion which he is at such pains to enforce? "The conclusion of the whole matter is this, that God taketh cognisance of all things. Fear God, therefore, and keep His commandments, for thus it behoveth all men to do." That this conclusion is simply a repetition, in part expanded and in part condensed, of that with which the Preacher closes the previous section, is sufficiently obvious. (1) There he incites men to a life of virtue by two leading motives: first, by the fact of the present constant judgment of God; and secondly, by the prospect of a future, a more searching and decisive, judgment. Here he appeals to precisely the same motives, though now, instead of implying the present judgment of God under the injunction "Remember thy Creator," he broadly affirms that God "taketh cognisance of all things," and instead of simply reminding the young that God will bring the ways of their heart into judgment, he defines that future judgment at once more largely and more exactly as "appointed for every secret thing' and extending to every deed, whether these be good or bad. (2) In speaking of the forms which a virtuous life should assume, he is very curt and brief. All he has to say on that point now is, "Fear God and keep His commandments." He can now say to his soul,
"What hast thou to do with sorrow
Or the injuries of tomorrow?"
for he has discovered that no morrow can any more injure him, that no sorrow can rob him of his chief good. All that he has to do is to fear God and keep His commandments, leaving the issues of his labour in the wise, gentle hands which bend all things to a final goal of good.
S. Cox, The Quest of the Chief Good, p. 264.
References: Ecclesiastes 12:8-14.—T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 267. Ecclesiastes 12:9, Ecclesiastes 12:10.—R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 422. Ecclesiastes 12:9-14.—J. H. Cooke, The Preacher's Pilgrimage, p. 129. Ecclesiastes 12:11.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ix., p. 221.
In its happy influence religion, or a filial compliance with the will of God, includes "the whole duty of man." It is self-contained felicity.
I. A new heart itself is happiness. When gifts are so good as the Gospel and its promises, so good as our kindred and friends, so good as the flowers of the field and the breath of new summer, it only needs an honest heart which takes them as they come, and which tastes unaltered the goodness of God that is in them. This is what the worldling wants; this new heart is what the God and Father of our Lord Jesus offers to you, to me.
II. The very faculty of joy is the gift of the Holy Ghost. He heals the canker of the churl, and sweetens the bitterness of the misanthrope; and by imparting the faculty of joy He has often exalted life into a jubilee and made a humble dwelling ring with hallelujahs.
III. A devout disposition is happiness. It is happiness whether outward things go well or ill.
IV. A benevolent disposition is happiness. Benevolence is God's life in the soul, diffusing in kind emotions, and good offices, and friendly intercessions; but, unlike other expenditures, the more it is diffused the more that life increases of which it is the sign: and to abound in love one towards another is to abound in hope towards God.
J. Hamilton, The Royal Preacher, p. 242.
References: Ecclesiastes 12:13.—Parker, City Temple, vol. i., p. 10; G. Salmon, Sermons in Trinity College, Dublin, p. 148; J. Thain Davidson, Talks with Young Men, p. 275; J. M. Buckley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 75.
I. Among the causes of a sceptical spirit I may assign the first place to that natural reaction against authority which results when the understanding is first emancipated from the control that restrained its free exercise during the years of earlier youth. Authority is the guide of childhood. There is in the child no prejudice, no reluctance to be taught. He is quite content to take his opinions upon trust. But the time arrives when reasoning at second hand no longer suffices us. As we acquire the power of thinking for ourselves we become also desirous to do so. And it seldom happens but that in the process we begin to doubt of what we had hitherto regarded as indisputable truths. The development of our physical powers brings with it exactly the same kind of temptations as the evolution of our intellectual faculties. The time comes when the child feels his powers expand, and when the spirit of self-reliance which the consciousness of strength and vigour inspires would make those checks and restraints to be impatiently borne which were submitted to without reluctance before.
II. Scepticism possesses an attraction, especially for the minds of the young, from an idea that it indicates strength of mind. They feel that to be superior to vulgar prejudices is something to be proud of, and they fancy that they exhibit the greater power of mind the more they can overturn of what has been established before. I believe there is no greater mistake than this. Faith is the chief power which can effect anything great in this world. When it rises to enthusiasm, it has wrought wonders and revolutionised human affairs; but even in its ordinary sober form—strong conviction and consequent readiness to act on that conviction—it is that which gives a man power to do anything great himself and to influence others. Scepticism is the absence of this power. It may be a thing deserving sympathy, or tenderness, or pity; but it certainly is not a thing to be proud of.
G. Salmon, Sermons Preached in Trinity College, Dublin, p. 130.
Reference: Ecclesiastes 12:13, Ecclesiastes 12:14.—H. Wace, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. i., p. 106.
I. These words show, not only that each of us will be judged, but that each of us will be judged for each action of his life; not for his general character whether (taken altogether) he was on the whole a worldly or a pious man, or the like, but for every single act, good or bad, of which his entire life was made up. Each separate thing done, thought, or said, will be brought up again in due order—exactly as it was done, thought, or said—weighed, sifted, and judged; for "God," says the text, "shall bring every work into judgment."
II. We look inwards, and our very hearts die within us. We see dark blots over all the past; we think of those secrets of our souls which we ourselves shrink from recalling. And all of these are to be laid bare before God! How shall we prepare ourselves for this judgment? There is but one answer to this question. There is One and One only to whom we can flee for help or succour, but He is all-sufficient. He is near at hand to hear our cry and help us; to renew, change and convert us; to help our infirmities; and He looks with loving and compassionating eyes on all our poor endeavours, on our struggles, our repentances, and our prayers; and as yet He pleads for us.
F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i., p. 122.
References: Ecclesiastes 12:14.—J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 1st series, p. 4; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xii., p. 83. 12—C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 283.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany