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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 12

Simeon's Horae HomileticaeHorae Homileticae

Verse 1


Ecclesiastes 12:1. 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.

INSTRUCTION may profitably be given in a variety of ways: indeed, in order to be effectual, it must be accommodated in some measure to the dispositions and habits of the persons addressed. To one who is wayward and self-willed, the pungency of irony may be well applied; whilst with the tractable and docile, the more simple and direct way of affectionate exhortation may be of more avail. Both these methods are adopted by Solomon in the passage before us. In the verses immediately preceding our text, he addresses a young man whom he supposes to be bent on the prosecution of his evil ways: “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will call thee into judgment.” Then, after a serious admonition to avoid the evils which ungovernable passions will bring upon him, he affectionately exhorts him to devote his early life to the exercises of true piety.
It is observed by some, that the word which in our text is rendered “thy Creator,” is, in the original, in the plural number, “thy Creators:” and the passage in that view is supposed to mark the concurrence of the three Persons in the ever-blessed Trinity, in the formation of man; according to what is written in the book of Genesis, “Let us make man in our image [Note: Genesis 1:26.].” But without drawing your attention to any observations of a critical nature, I shall endeavour simply to shew you,


What is implied in “remembering our Creator”—

Of course, it cannot be supposed that it is a mere act of the memory which is here recommended, but such a remembrance as befits the relation in which we stand to him as his creatures. We should remember then,


His authority over us—

[As the work of his hands, we have received from him all our powers, whether of mind or body. It is of his bounty alone that we have been endowed with the faculty of reason, which elevates us above all the rest of this lower world, and brings us into a near conformity with that higher order of created intelligences, the holy angels. But for what purpose has he thus distinguished us, but that we might render him services worthy both of our present state, and our future destinies? “He has formed us for himself, that we might shew forth his praise.” This is the end for which we are to live: nor is any thing on earth to divert us from the course which HE has marked out for us. Obedience, it is true, is due to our parents, and to all others whom the providence of God has placed over us: but the authority of the creature must always be regarded as subordinate to that of our Creator; and, if at any time the will of man stand opposed to the will of God, we must then reply, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” Whatever solicitations we may have from without or from within to violate any part of God’s revealed will, we must withstand them manfully, and resist them even unto death. Knowing that “we are not our own, but God’s, we must glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his.”]


The commands he has given us—

[We will not here enter into the different commandments of the law, but draw your attention rather to that great commandment of the Gospel to believe in Christ: “This is his commandment,” says St. John, “that ye believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ [Note: 1 John 3:23.].” This command should be had in constant remembrance. It is addressed to every child of man. There is no one so innocent, as not to need a Saviour; nor any one so guilty, but that he may, through penitence and faith, obtain an interest in that Saviour, whom God has provided for a ruined world. Do not imagine, my young friends, that you are not concerned in this, or that it will be time enough for you to attend to it, when you shall feel a greater need of mercy. You all are sinners: you all have a consciousness within yourselves that you have done many things which you ought not, and left undone many things which you ought to have done: you therefore have in your own bosoms a witness that you need a Saviour: and as in the presence of the Most High God, I declare unto you, that there is no mercy for the young, any more than for the old, but in the name, and through the mediation, of Jesus Christ: “there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ.” Go then to this Saviour, and implore mercy at his hands. Look to him as dying for your sins, and “as reconciling you to God by the blood of his cross.” Let every one of you from day to day wash in the fountain of his blood, and clothe yourselves with the robe of his unspotted righteousness, and live altogether upon “his fulness, receiving out of it” continual supplies of all needful grace.]


His continual presence with us—

[“God is in every place, beholding the evil and the good,” and wherever you are, you should see, as it were, this inscription written, “Thou God seest me [Note: Genesis 16:13.].” This is a point which you should never forget for one single moment: for it is only by bearing this in mind that you will be kept from the indulgence of secret sins. When no human eye is upon us, we are apt to think that we may give a greater latitude to our conduct: but we should remember that the darkness is no darkness with God, but the night and the day to him are both alike: “there is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” Oh, if you bear this in remembrance, you will never do what you know to be wrong, nor utter what you know to be false: you will act in all things as in the immediate presence of your God, and will do nothing but what you believe to be good and acceptable in his sight.]


His determination to judge us in the last day—

[God “has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained, even by his Son Jesus Christ.” In that day all shall be summoned to his judgment-seat, the old and the young, the rich and the poor: not one that has ever been born into the world shall then be absent: the child that died in the birth, as well as the man of a hundred years old, shall be summoned to receive his everlasting doom, according to what they have done in the body, whether it be good or evil. To those who die before they have attained the knowledge of good and evil, we doubt not but that the mercy of God will be extended: but to those who have lived to your age, judgment or mercy will be dispensed according as you have remembered or forgotten God. Most awful is that declaration of the Psalmist, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God [Note: Psalms 9:17.].” If you have forgotten his authority over you, and especially his command to believe in his Son Jesus Christ; if you have forgotten that his eye was always upon you, inspecting your most secret thoughts, and noting them down in order to his future judgment; and if you have lived without any concern about the sentence that shall then be passed upon you; it will indeed be an awful day to you, a commencement of such misery as no words can describe, no imagination can conceive. Remember then that God marks down in the book of his remembrance your every act, and every word, and every thought; and that it is your wisdom so to live, that, whether called at an earlier or later period of life, you may give up your account to him with joy, and not with grief.]

Such is the duty of all without exception: but the text requires me more particularly to shew,


Why we should thus remember him in early life—

It were easy to accumulate reasons on so plain a point: but we shall content ourselves with assigning a few of the most obvious;


This is the most favourable time—

[It is of the nature of sin to harden the heart and to sear the conscience: and therefore the less we have been habituated to sin, the more hope there is that a good impression may be made upon our minds. We cannot agree with those who represent the hearts of youth as a sheet of white paper, on which you may write either good or evil: for, alas! there is evil, not merely written, but inscribed there in a most abundant measure, and in characters that are almost indelible: but we cordially accede to this truth, that the young are as yet only like plants sprouting from the earth, pliable and easy to be trained; whilst at a more advanced age they become like trees, which retain their form, unyielding, and unmoved. From the very employments too of men in more advanced life, there arise many disadvantages: being drawn to a more vigorous pursuit of earthly things, they are, not unfrequently, so oppressed with “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things, that the good seed which has been sown in them, cannot grow up unto perfection.” But from these things young people are comparatively free. Besides, at this season they have an express promise from God, which they cannot plead in future life [Note: Proverbs 8:17.]: and therefore in a variety of views they may well consider this as “the most convenient season” for piety that can ever occur.]


It may, for aught we know, be the only time that shall be allotted us—

[The youngest and the healthiest amongst us may be speedily removed. Let any one survey the monuments that surround him, and he will see that multitudes have been cut off at his age, though once they appeared as likely to live as any who have survived him. And what if disease or accident arrest you before you have truly devoted yourselves to God? Will you have any opportunity to repair your error in the grave? “Is there any work or device there,” by which you can accomplish what here was left undone? No: “as the tree falleth, so it lieth:” and as you die, in a converted or unconverted state, so you must remain for ever. “To-day then, while it is called to-day, harden not your hearts,” as the generality, alas! are but too prone to do.]


No other thing in the universe can so contribute to our present happiness—

[It is quite a mistake to imagine that happiness can be found in the vanities of time and sense. From infallible authority we can declare that every thing under the sun is mere “vanity and vexation of spirit.” But in the service of God there is real joy: his ways are all, without exception, “ways of pleasantness and peace:” and “in keeping his commandments there is great reward.” Ask any one whether he ever regretted that he had given himself up to God too soon? We have heard of men, even of good men, as Job and Jeremiah, cursing the day of their birth: but who ever cursed the day of his new birth? At every period of life this is a subject that will bear reflection and impart delight: and in proportion as we grow in piety will our joy in God be increased.]


There will certainly come a time when we shall wish we had sought the Lord in early life—

[The text speaks of “evil days as coming:” and sooner or later they are coming to all. There is a time of sickness or old age coining, “wherein we shall have no pleasure” in earthly things: and shall we not then wish, that we had sought the Lord in our youth? Shall we then look back with pleasure on the sins that we have committed, or on the vanities that have kept us from God? Nothing but the consolations of God will then be of any avail to make us happy amidst the evils, which, from pain or debility, we shall have to sustain. But there is a time of death also which we must meet: and what will be our thoughts at that period? Then it will be of little moment to us what joys or sorrows we have met with in our former life. All our anxiety will be about the future. Oh! with what force will that question press upon the mind, “Am I ready? Am I prepared to meet my God?” How different will our feelings then be, according as we have given up ourselves to God in our early youth, or put off the work of our souls to a dying hour! and what an unfit season will that be to begin that work! Go one step farther: follow the soul into the eternal world: view it standing at the judgment-seat of Christ: What will be its feelings at that day? I need not say: your own consciences will tell you. At this moment, even though you choose not to live the life of the righteous, you are saying inwardly in your hearts, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.” Then, as these times must come, let us work while it is day, knowing assuredly, that the night is coming when no man can work, and when we shall bitterly lament, that ever we lost this day of our visitation, and neglected the things belonging to our everlasting peace.]


The younger part of our audience—

[You are now going to take upon you the vows that were made in your behalf in baptism [Note: Confirmation.]. “Now” therefore more particularly “remember God.” Remember, that he sees the way in which you perform this duty: he sees whether you endeavour truly to approve yourselves to him, or whether you only mock him by a thoughtless compliance with an established form. Go to him, and surrender up yourselves wholly to him, as “the first-fruits of his creatures,” and you will have reason to bless God to all eternity that ever you were called to perform this solemn service. But, if you go without any sincere desire to devote yourselves to him, you will only harden your own hearts, and increase the guilt you have already contracted. “Let me however hope better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” Yes, dearly Beloved, we will hope, respecting some of you at least, that we “have not bestowed upon you labour in vain.”]


To those who have grown to man’s estate—

[Every argument used with the young, presses with additional weight on you, and says, with greatly augmented force, “Remember NOW thy Creator.” If in your earlier days you were led to comply with this advice, I will venture to ask, Do you repent of having done so? Is not the chief matter of your regret, that you did not give yourselves up to him at a yet easier period, and that you have not adhered more steadfastly to the engagements you entered into? If you have, on the contrary, advanced in the Divine life, and grown from babes to young men, or from young men to fathers, does not that afford you matter of very exalted joy? Go on then, “forgetting what is behind, and reaching forward to that which is before:” and know that, “when the days arrive in which you shall say, you have no pleasure in them,” you shall experience “a joy with which the stranger intermeddleth not;” which this world can neither give nor take away; and which shall be to you a pledge and earnest of everlasting felicity in the bosom of your God.]

Verses 13-14


Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter; Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall briny every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

IN this book are many things difficult to be understood, and capable of being perverted by any one who desires to justify himself in an undue attachment to the world. But a reference to the condition of the author will enable us to explain the whole in a satisfactory and consistent manner. Solomon was possessed of all that this world could afford; and he rendered every object, and every employment, subservient to his own comfort. In all this he sinned not. It was not in the use of God’s creatures that he sinned, but in the abuse of them. And we also may both possess and enjoy all that God in his providence has allotted to us, if only we enjoy God in the creature, and have earth subordinated to heaven. What the real drift of all his observations was, is told us in the words which we have just read, and which give us a clew to all that he has before spoken. In them we see,


The sum of all moral and religious instructions—

Many things we have to say both on the subject of morals and of religion: but they are all comprehended in this one saying, “Fear God, and keep his commandments.”
In this is contained the whole substance of religion—
[By the fear of God we understand, not a slavish dread of him, but a holy filial regard, arising from a sense of his relation to us as a reconciled God and Father. And in “keeping his commandments” we include a due attention to that great commandment of the Gospel, the believing in our Lord Jesus Christ for salvation [Note: 1 John 3:23.]. We must distinguish carefully between a legal and an evangelical interpretation of these terms, lest we confound the Gospel with the Law: we must guard especially against a reliance on our obedience, as if it could in any way, or in any degree, purchase salvation for us. But, if we he duly jealous on these points, we need never be afraid of asserting, that all true religion is comprehended in the duties inculcated in our text. Every thing else is subservient to these things: the most important principles are of little use, except as they conduce to this end. It was for this that the Lord Jesus Christ undertook and executed the whole work of redemption: “To this end Christ both died and rose and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and living [Note: Romans 14:9.],” and “purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].” All the promises of the Gospel are given to us for this end, to “make us partakers of the Divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.],” that we may, under their gracious influence, “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].” In a word, it is this which is the scope and end of all our ministrations; we are sent “to turn men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Acts 26:18.].”]

In this all is contained that deserves the attention of a rational being—
[It is of very small consequence whether we have more or less of this world: its pleasures, riches, honours, are but for a moment. What enjoyment has the Rich Man now of all his sumptuous fare? or what sense has Lazarus of all his former wants? All is passed away; and nothing remains of all the good or evil that befell them in this world, but a responsibility for the use they made of it. The period allotted for the enjoyment of earthly things is but a day, an hour, a moment. What does it signify to a man acting a play, whether he performs the part of a king or a beggar? Whatever his real character be, that he assumes, and that he retains, as soon as the last scene has ended. So the only thing that is of importance to us is, What is that character which we shall sustain to all eternity? Have we been rebellious and disobedient? or have we feared God and wrought righteousness? Those are the points that will determine our future destinies; and therefore they are the only points deserving of any serious regard.]
But this leads us more particularly to notice,


The consideration that gives to it all its weight and importance—

This will be the one point of inquiry at the last day—
[God will come to judge the world: and, when examining the state of every individual, he will not ask, What sect we were of: or, What our sentiments and professions were; but, What our practice was, and What the habit of our minds towards him? I may even say, that that which passes under the name of Christian experience, will be of no account, as distinct from the duties inculcated in our text. It is radical and universal holiness alone, that God values: and, if that be right in its principle and end, it is the only thing which will be regarded in God’s estimate of our character. In a word, it is “the whole of man;” it is his whole duty, and his whole happiness: his whole duty, as comprehending universal holiness; and his whole happiness, as being really a foretaste of heaven itself.]

According to this will our eternal state be fixed—
[Some of this will appear in our external conduct, but some will be found only in the internal habit of the mind; because there is very rarely scope for discovering in outward act all that the grace of God will from in the heart. “Every secret thing” therefore, every secret desire, purpose, inclination, appetite, affection, will go to the forming of God’s estimate, and the determining the measure of our future recompence. If these have been evil, the best acts will have lost their value: but if these have been good, the smallest acts that can possibly have been performed, the widow’s mite, or a cup of cold water given to a disciple, will be ranked amongst the most acceptable services, and be acknowledged as such by God himself. If we have really had “the fear of God in our hearts,” and “walked in his fear all the day long,” and, under the influence of that principle, laboured to approve ourselves to him in all things, we shall assuredly hear him say to us in that day, “Well done, good and faithful servants, enter ye into the joy of your Lord.”]
This subject will be of the greatest use,


To correct the errors of those who affect superior light—

[Many there are who leave out all practical godliness from their system, They can think of nothing but God’s eternal decrees, and of the finished work of Christ for us; forgetting that there still remains a work for him to accomplish in us. They would account all such views as have been presented to you, legal, and unfit to be offered to a Christian auditory. What Solomon accounted “the conclusion of the whole matter,” and “the whole of man,” they account as nothing. But so did not Peter, who says, that “in every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him [Note: Acts 10:35.].” Nor was Paul of their opinion; for he has declared (and in the very epistle where he most enlarges on the decrees of God), that it is “by patient continuance in well-doing we must attain to glory and honour and immortality [Note: Romans 2:7. with 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.].” And we do not hesitate to say, that if an angel from heaven were to be sent to preach the Gospel, the statements before given would constitute a very principal part of his ministrations. St. John in his visions saw an angel flying through the whole world, to carry the everlasting Gospel to people of all nations and tongues: and the words in which he addressed the whole human race were like those of our text, “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come [Note: Revelation 14:6-7.].” Here is the very exhortation of Solomon, enforced with the identical consideration which he urges; and it is expressly called, “The everlasting Gospel.” Let those who affect a higher and superior tone be convinced of their mistake. Let them bring forward all the sublimest truths of Christianity in their place; but let “this be the conclusion of the whole matter;” for, whether they will believe it or not, this is “the one thing needful,” and “the whole of man.”]


To dispel the fears of those whose knowledge is yet dim—

[As there are many who delight in nothing but the deepest mysteries of our religion, so there are many who make those mysteries an occasion of continual disquietude. The doctrines of predestination and election are ever present with their minds, as grounds of terror and despondency: they cannot see that they are of the number of God’s elect; and therefore they imagine that all exertions on their part are in vain. But the fears of this people are such as ought no longer to be indulged: for there is no man in the universe that is authorized to consider himself as one of God’s elect, any farther than he has “the spot of God’s children” upon him. It is by his fear of God, and his obedience to God’s commandments, that he must judge of his state before God: and to judge of his election by any other standard, is only to deceive his own soul. If then those who distress themselves about the doctrines of election would dismiss those subjects from their minds, and contemplate only what is more within the sphere of their comprehension, they would do well. Let me recommend this plan to all. Look not at God’s decrees, which you can never explore, but at the visible effects of his grace upon your souls: and, if you can find “the works of faith, and labours of love, and patience of hope” evidenced in your conduct, you may from thence assuredly infer “your election of God [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:3-4.];” since those are indisputably the fruits of his grace: and his grace has been communicated according to his purpose, which “he purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9. Jeremiah 31:3.].”]


To regulate the conduct of those whose views are scriptural and just—

[“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom [Note: Psalms 111:10.]:” and to get this in a more uniform and abiding exercise, is to be the one object of our lives. It is the beginning and “the conclusion of the whole matter.” O that this were better understood amongst us! An old writer observes, that religion consists not in Notions, but Motions: and the observation, though quaint, is true. The difference is not always visible at first sight: and the one if often mistaken for the other; but, if separated, they are as wide asunder as heaven and hell. Let it never be forgotten, that holiness of heart and life is that which constitutes our meetness for heaven; and that it is only by growth in that, that we can ever honour God on earth, or secure the enjoyment of him in a better world.]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/ecclesiastes-12.html. 1832.
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