I. Not only has God made everything, but there is a beauty in this arrangement where all is fortuitous to us, but all is fixed by Him. "He hath made everything beautiful in its time," and that season must be beautiful which to infinite love and wisdom seems the best. "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the creation;" and, so to speak, each day that dawns, though its dawning include an earthquake, a battle, or a deluge—each day that dawns, however many it surprises, is no surprise to Him who sees the end from the beginning, and who in each evolving incident but sees the fulfilment of His "determined counsel"—the translation into fact of one other omniscient picture of the future.
II. The works of God are distinguished by opportuneness of development and precision of purpose. There is a season for each of them, and each comes in its season. All of them have a function to fulfil, and they fulfil it. To which (Ecclesiastes 3:14) the Preacher adds that they are all of their kind consummate, so perfect that no improvement can be made; and left to themselves, they will be perpetual. How true is this regarding God's greatest work: redemption! In doing it, He has done it "for ever."
III. There is a uniformity in the Divine procedure (Ecclesiastes 3:15). There are certain great principles from which infinite wisdom never deviates. Through all the operations of nature, providence, and grace "that which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past."
J. Hamilton, The Royal Preacher, Lecture VIII.
Reference: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.—Bishop Harvey Goodwin, Parish Sermons, 3rd series, p. 334.
A profound gloom rests on the second act or section of this drama. It teaches us that we are helpless in the iron grip of laws which we had no voice in making; that we often lie at the mercy of men whose mercy is but a caprice; that in our origin and end, in body and spirit, in faculty and prospect, in our lives and pleasures, we are no better than the beasts that perish; that the avocations into which we plunge, amid which we seek to forget our sad estate, spring from our jealousy the one of the other, and tend to a lonely miserliness, without a use or a charm.
I. The Preacher's handling of this subject is very thorough and complete. According to him, men's excessive devotion to affairs springs from "a jealous rivalry the one with the other;" it tends to form in them a grasping, covetous temper which can never be satisfied, to produce a materialistic scepticism of all that is noble and spiritual in thought and action, to render their worship formal and insincere, and in general to incapacitate them for any quiet, happy enjoyment of their life. This is his diagnosis of their disease.
II. But what checks, what correctives, what remedies, would the Preacher have us apply to the diseased tendencies of the time? How shall men of business save themselves from that excessive devotion to its affairs which breeds so many portentous evils? (1) The very sense of the danger to which they are exposed—a danger so insidious, so profound, so fatal—should surely induce caution and a wary self-control. (2) The Preacher gives us at least three serviceable maxims. To all men of business conscious of their special dangers and anxious to avoid them he says, (a) Replace the competition which springs from your jealous rivalry with the co-operation which is born of sympathy and breeds goodwill. (b) Replace the formality of your worship with a reverent and steadfast sincerity. (c) Replace your grasping self-sufficiency with a constant holy trust in the fatherly providence of God.
S. Cox, The Quest of the Chief Good, p. 140.
References: Ecclesiastes 3:2.—G. Dawson, Sermons on Daily Life and Duty, p. 277; J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. i., p. 57. Ecclesiastes 3:4.—J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iv., p. 334; W. Braden, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 81; G. Rogers, Ibid., vol. xxviii., p. 91. Ecclesiastes 3:6.—S. Baring-Gould, One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 107. Ecclesiastes 3:7.—A. A. Bonar, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. i., p. 123. Ecclesiastes 3:9-22.—R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 107.
I. This truth becomes more manifestly true in things in proportion as their nature rises. Everything in the world must be in its true place and time, or it is not beautiful. That is true from the lowest to the highest, only with the lowest it is not easy to discover it. It does not seem to matter where the pebble lies, on this side of the road or on the other. It may indeed do sad mischief out of its place, but its place is a wide one. The things of higher nature are more fastidious in their demands. This law holds between different kinds of men. The highest natures are most dependent upon timeliness and fitness. They must act at the right moment. When the great feast was ready at Jerusalem, and the brethren of Jesus were going up from Nazareth, as they went every year, they urged Jesus to go with them; and His answer was, "My time is not yet come, but your time is always ready." There was something so sad and so noble in His words. They, with no recognised mission, might go when and where they would. They, with no burden on their shoulders, might walk freely over the whole earth. But He, with His task, His duty—His Father's name to glorify, His brethren's souls to save, the kingdom of heaven to set up—He must wait till the door opened. He could walk only where the way was wide enough for Him to pass with His burden.
II. All the events of. life, all of God's dispensations, get their real beauty, or ugliness from the times in which they come to us or in which we come to them.
III. There are continual applications of our truth in the religious life. Each experience of Christian life is good and comely in its true place, when it comes in the orderly sequences of Christian growth, and only there, not beautiful when it comes artificially forced in where it does not belong.
IV. This truth is at the bottom of any clear notion about the character of sin. We say that we are sinful, but really we are always passing over the essential sinfulness into the things around us. It is these wicked things that make us wicked. But here comes up our truth that there are no wicked things; that wickedness is not in things, but in the displacement and misuse of things: and there is nothing which, kept in its true place and put to its true use, is not beautiful and good.
Phillips Brooks, Twenty Sermons, p. 244.
I. The difference between the splendid world of vegetation, with its myriad colours and its ever-changing life, between the animal world, with its studied gradations of form and of development, and man, is this: God hath set eternity in our hearts. All creation around us is satisfied with its sustenance; we alone have a thirst and a hunger for which the circumstances of our life have no meat and drink. In the burning noonday of life's labour man sits—as the Son of man once sat—by well-sides weary, and, while others can slake their thirst with that water, he needs a living water; while others go into cities to buy meat, he has need of and finds a sustenance that they know not of.
II. The truer and the nobler man is, the more certainly he feels all this, the more keenly he realises eternity in his heart. There are none of us, however, who do not feel it sometimes. Try to crush it with the weight of mere worldly care; try to destroy it with the enervating influences of passion or of pleasure; try to benumb it with the cold, calculating spirit of greed: you cannot kill it. God hath set eternity in our hearts. He has given us a hunger which can be satisfied only with the Bread of Life, a thirst which can be quenched only by the living water from the Rock of Ages.
III. Eternity is in our hearts; and there is a strange contrast between it and the world in which we all are, for which alone some of us are living. To do our duty here, to trust calmly in a future with God, where all our higher cravings shall be satisfied—that was the conclusion at which the Preacher arrived as the sustaining power amid the wrongs, and weariness, and inequalities of life. We stand with that great teacher in the twilight, but our faces are turned towards the rising Sun. God hath set eternity in our hearts. Are we living worthy of it? The only way of doing so is by clinging close to Him, by dying with Him to all that He died to save us from and living worthy of that life and immortality which He hath brought from out of the mists of speculation unto the light of truth by His Gospel.
T. Teignmouth Shore, The Life of the World to Come, p. 23.
The word rendered "world" is a very frequent one in the Old Testament, and never has but one meaning; and that meaning is eternity. "He hath set eternity in their heart." Here are two antagonistic facts. There are transient things, a vicissitude which moves within natural limits, temporary events which are beautiful in their season; but there is also the contrasted fact that the man who is thus tossed about, as by some great battledore, wielded by giant powers in mockery, from one changing thing to another, has relations to something more lasting than the transient. He lives in a world of fleeting change, but he has "eternity" in his heart.
I. Consider eternity set in every human heart. This may be either a declaration of the immortality of the soul, or it may mean, as I rather suppose it to do, the consciousness of eternity which is part of human nature. We are the only beings on this earth who can think the thought, or speak the word, eternity. Other creatures are happy while immersed in time; we have another nature, and are undisturbed by a thought which shines high above the roaring sea of circumstance in which we float. The thought is in us all, a presentiment and a consciousness; and that universal presentiment itself goes far to establish the reality of the unseen order of things to which it is directed. By the make of our spirits, by the possibilities that dawn dim before us, by the thoughts "whose very sweetness yieldeth proof that they were born for immortality "—by all these and a thousand other signs and facts in every human life, we say, "God has set eternity in their hearts."
II. The disproportion between this our nature and the world in which we dwell. Man, with eternity in his heart, with the hunger in his spirit after an unchanging whole, an absolute good, an ideal perfectness, an immortal being, is condemned to the treadmill of transitory revolution. "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof." It is limited; it is changeful; it slips from under us as we stand upon it: and therefore mystery and perplexity stoop down upon the providence of God, and misery and loneliness enter into the heart of man. These changeful things—they do not meet our ideal; they do not satisfy our wants; they do not last even our duration.
III. These thoughts lead us to consider the possible satisfying of our souls. The Preacher in his day learned that it was possible to satisfy the hunger for eternity, which had once seemed to him a questionable blessing. He learned that it was a loving Providence which had made man's home so little fit for him, that he might seek "the city which hath foundations." And we, who have a further word from God, may have a fuller and yet more blessed conviction, built upon our own happy experience, if we choose, that it is possible for us to have that deep thirst slaked, that longing appeased. Love Christ, and then the eternity in the heart will not be a great aching void, but will be filled with the everlasting life which Christ gives and is.
A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, 3rd series, p. 209.
References: Ecclesiastes 3:11.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 426; H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Waterside Mission Sermons, 1st series, p. 38; W. Park, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 259; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 184.
Even in the days of his vanity, Solomon saw that there would be more happiness if there were less hankering. Are the cases not numberless where, for all purposes of enjoyment, labour is lost because coupled with the constant lust of farther acquirement, or because of a strange oblivion of his own felicity on the part of the favoured possessor?
I. One great source of our prevailing joylessness is our inadvertency. We need to meditate on our human happiness. There is for our meditation, daily, hourly, lifelong, God's chief mercy—that largess of unprecedented love which is not the envied distinction of some far-off world, but is God's gift unspeakable to you, to me.
II. Another source of depression is distrustfulness. Let us rejoice in the present, and let us trust for the future. Let us pray and strive till our frame of mind is more in unison with the Lord's kindness; and in every gracious providence and in every spiritual mercy bestowed on ourselves or others dear to us let us recognise the merciful kindness of the Lord, and let us acknowledge what we recognise.
J. Hamilton, The Royal Preacher, p. 206.
It is a thought worthy of Almighty God that everything He touches partakes of His own immortality; that He cannot lay to His hand in vain; that what has once lain in His counsels must one day, sooner or later, stand out into the light, and that which once has taken form under His power must go on for ever and ever.
I. The heavens which God made at the first and the earth which God made at the first—they were and they are eternal. This world, or at least part of it, was made a paradise. Think you that man's rebellion has put God away from His first design? Nay, it has confirmed it; it has secured it. The sin brought the Cross, the Cross brought the throne of Jesus, and the throne of Jesus shall restore, and restore ten-thousandfold, the forfeited Eden.
II. From time to time God has opened His mouth and made known to man the future. And so it comes to pass that we have the "sure word of prophecy." And what is a prophecy? A thing for ever, with manifold intent. And the whole Bible—what is the Bible but one mind once revealed? And yet all the things which are transacted upon this globe—all that men say, and think, and do, all joys and sorrows, all good and evil—are only verifications and transcripts of that book; and constantly we meet God's word in our everyday life. And as I trace that strange harmony, that response between God's word and God's world, "I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever."
III. These curious bodies of ours—they are God's masterpiece. And when these bodies, spiritual, but the same, come up like the flower from the seed, what is this but "I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever "? And if so with the body, how much more with the soul. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance."
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1868, p. 44.
I. God requireth the past throughout the universe. What are our sciences but memories of the past? Astronomy is the memory of the universe; geology is the memory of the earth; history is the memory of the human race. There is nothing forgotten or left behind. The past is brought forward into the present, and out of the past the future grows. The reproduction of long-overpassed forms, the striking lack of varieties, and the recurrence of hybrids into the mother-species are all familiar illustrations of the persistency of memory in the organic world. Nature never forgets. Nothing perishes without leaving a record of it behind. The past history of the universe is not only preserved in the memory of God, but is also inscribed upon its own tablets.
II. God requireth the past for our present consolation. He takes up all we have left behind in the plenitude of His existence. The friends who have gone from us live in Him; the days that are no more are revived in Him. The successive periods of our existence, like lights and shadows on a sunny hill, have not perished in the using; their fleeting moments and impressions have been laid up for ever in the storehouse of the infinite mind. In converse with Him in whom thus all our life is hid, upon whose mind the whole picture of our existence is mirrored, we feel that, though lonely, we are not alone; though the perishing creatures of a day, we are living even now in eternity.
III. God requireth the past for its restoration. As the context indicates, it is a law of the Divine manifestation, a mode of the Divine working in every department, that the past should be brought forward into the present, the old reproduced in the new. God never wearies of repeating the old familiar things. He keeps age after age, generation after generation, year after year, the same old home-feeling in His earth for us. And is not this a strong argument that He will keep the old home-feeling for us in heaven; that we shall find ourselves beyond the river of death in the midst of all the former familiar things of our life, just as when we get out of the winter gloom and desolation of any year we find ourselves in the midst of all that made the former springs and summers so sweet and precious to us?
IV. God requireth the past for judgment. It is an awful thought that the indictment of the impenitent sinner at the bar of Divine justice has been carried about with him unconsciously all his life in his own bosom, that he himself is the strongest witness against himself. "Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked and slothful servant."
H. Macmillan, Two Worlds are Ours, p. 286.
Has man, then, no real pre-eminence over the beast? Apparently, if we grant the assumption of the Epicurean, this is the conclusion to which we must come. If man have merely an animal existence, if he have no relations to a spiritual world, if when he dies he perishes, then in what respects is he better than the beasts?
I. To this it may be replied by pointing to man's intellectual and moral endowments as conferring upon him an undeniable superiority over the brutes. There is no need to deny or question the worth and preciousness of the qualities which man thus possesses. But the more costly a machine is, so much the more is it an evil if it fail of the end for which it has been constructed. In such a case we are ready to mourn over the useless expenditure, the misapplied ingenuity, the worse than wasted power, which such a splendid failure exhibits, and are constrained to say, Whatever may be the apparent superiority of this structure over the humbler structures by its side, in which no such deficiency or failure appears, in reality the latter is to be preferred to the former; the latter, to all intents and purposes, is better than the former. It is just to such a conclusion that we shall be forced to come concerning man if we leave out of view his spiritual relations, his relations to God and to a future state of being. If we confine our view of man to his mere earthly state and animal being, what can we make of it but that he is a great mistake, a contrivance that cannot obey its master-power without frustrating the very end for which that power was placed in mastery over it? so that it would seem as if it would have been better for him to have been made as the sheep or the ox, that have no understanding, than to be endowed as he is only to be less happy and less orderly than they.
II. From so gloomy and so revolting a conclusion there seems to be but one way of escape, and that is by assuming that man's earthly being is not his whole being or the most important part of it. Man's real dignity and supremacy lies in this, that he is made for immortality; that he is capacious of the Divine; that he has relations to the infinite and the eternal; that his present state is but the vestibule of his being; and that when his journey through this toilsome and hazardous waste of earth shall have been accomplished he shall, provided he have worthily achieved his probation, reach the proper home and resting-place of his spirit in heaven.
W. Lindsay Alexander, Sermons, p. 238.
References: Ecclesiastes 3:16-22.—T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 87. Ecclesiastes 3:18 -iv. 4.—J. H. Cooke, The Preacher's Pilgrimage, p. 44. Ecclesiastes 3:22.—J. F. Stevenson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 296. 3—C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 48; G. G. Bradley, Lectures on Ecclesiastes, p. 66.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany