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MAN’S ABUSE OF GOD’S PATIENCE
Ecclesiastes 8:11. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
SIN is in itself an evil of a crimson dye; nevertheless its malignity may be greatly increased by the aggravations with which it is attended. One can scarcely conceive any thing that can enhance its guilt so much, as the committing of it in hopes that God’s mercy will pardon it. Yet this is the very ground on which the world indulge themselves in the commission of it. “Because,” &c.
The extent of man’s wickedness—
That sin exists in the world is visible to all; but the degree in which it prevails is very little known. In what way men sin, we may judge from the exceeding depth of colouring which there is in the picture before us. They sin,
[All are not equally vicious in their lives, but all forget God, and neglect their own souls. Successive years serve only to confirm this habit. We may all adopt the confession of the church of old [Note: Jeremiah 3:25.].]
[It were well if we never sinned, but through ignorance or inadvertence: but what schemes have we formed for the accomplishment of sinful purposes! How often have we seen the sinfulness of our desires, and yet gratified them [Note: Romans 1:32.]! The very bent and inclination of our souls has been towards wickedness [Note: Job 15:16.].]
[A regard to our reputation or interests may impose some restraint. A fear of hell may also prevent the gratification of some desires: but few are kept from evil, like Joseph, by the fear of God [Note: Genesis 39:9.]: that is the only restraint which proves uniformly effectual [Note: James 2:11.].]
[We must at times have felt some convictions of conscience, but we, for the most port, stifle them by company, amusements, &c. Many attain to dreadful hardness of heart and impenitence [Note: 1 Timothy 4:2.]. The prophet’s description may well be applied to each of us [Note: Jeremiah 8:5-6.].]
Thus are “men’s hearts fully set in them to do evil”—
[They walk after the imagination of their own hearts: neither mercies nor judgments can prevail with them to do otherwise.]
If their sins were followed by a visible and immediate punishment, men would not dare to live in this manner; but God defers the execution of his judgments.
The occasion of it—
God is not an unconcerned spectator of sin. He has appointed a day for the revelation of his righteous judgment. At present he forbears to inflict vengeance. This very forbearance emboldens men to sin—“because,” “therefore.” From the delay of punishment men think,
That there is but little “evil” in sin—
[God indeed calls sin “an evil work:” but his forbearance towards sinners is thought to indicate indifference. This however is a fatal delusion. He has marked the evil of sin in many awful instances [Note: 2 Peter 2:4-6.]: he will soon undeceive this blind infatuated world [Note: Ephesians 5:6.].]
That there is no “sentence” gone forth against it—
[Men would gladly persuade themselves that they have no cause to fear. The temptation whereby the serpent beguiled Eve is cherished by them [Note: Genesis 3:4.]. But the wrath of God is indeed denounced against sin [Note: Romans 2:8-9.]. Every species and degree of sin renders us obnoxious to his displeasure [Note: Romans 1:18.].]
That the sentence (if there be any) will never be “executed”—
[Since God defers punishing, it seems possible that he may decline it altogether. The apparent disproportion between the offence and the punishment seems to countenance this idea. To confirm our hope we are apt to compare God with ourselves [Note: Psalms 50:21.]. But, however long God delay, he will surely strike at last [Note: Ecclesiastes 8:12-13.].]
Thus it is that men act in every age—
[David mentions this effect as arising from it in his day [Note: Psalms 55:19.]. St. Peter foretells the prevalence of this iniquity in the last days [Note: 2 Peter 3:3-4.]. Experience proves how universally it obtains at this hour.]
How great the folly, as well as wickedness, of unregenerate men!
[If there were only a bare possibility of eternal punishment, how mad were it to continue in sin! But God has pledged himself that he will inflict it on the impenitent [Note: Matthew 25:46.]. Every moment’s continuance in sin increases the condemnation [Note: Romans 2:4-5.]. What extreme folly then is it so to abuse the forbearance of God! May we be ashamed of ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes.]
What need have we to be cleansed by the blood and Spirit of Christ!
[What but the blood of Christ can ever expiate the guilt we have contracted? What but the Spirit of Christ can ever deliver us from such habits? That we can never renew our own souls is certain [Note: Jeremiah 13:23.]. Let us therefore wash in the fountain opened for us [Note: Zechariah 13:1.]; and let us apply to God for his almighty aid [Note: Lamentations 5:21.].]
How dreadful must be the state of those who continue impenitent!
[Then is a certain measure of iniquity which sinners are left to fill up [Note: Genesis 15:16.]: when this is full, nothing can avert the divine vengeance [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:16.]. Already are the arrows of divine justice pointed at them [Note: Psalms 7:11-13.]. Eternity itself will be the duration of the punishment [Note: Mark 9:43-48.]. The time is coming when Jerusalem’s state will be ours [Note: Luke 19:42.]. Let us then tremble lest we exhaust the divine patience [Note: Zephaniah 2:2-3.]. Let us diligently improve this day of salvation [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:2.].]
THE BLESSEDNESS OF FEARING GOD
Ecclesiastes 8:12. Surely I know that it shall be well with them which fear God.
NOTHING certain can be determined respecting God’s favour from the outward dispensations of his providence [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:1.]. The wicked seem on the whole to prosper more than others [Note: Psalms 73:5; Psalms 73:12.]; nevertheless the godly are by far the happier persons [Note: Psalms 73:15.]. It is of them only that the assertion in the text can be made. We propose to shew,
Who they are that fear God—
This, we may suppose, would be a point easy to be determined: but, through self-love and Satan’s devices, many mistake respecting it. The characters described in the text may be distinguished by the following marks:
They stand in awe of God’s judgments—
[Once they disregarded the displeasure of the Almighty [Note: Psalms 10:5.]: they would not believe that his threatenings would be executed. But now they have learned to tremble at his word [Note: Isaiah 66:2.]. Awakened by his Spirit, they exclaim with the prophet [Note: Isaiah 33:14.]. The Scriptures uniformly represent them in this light [Note: Act 16:29 and Psalms 119:120.].]
They embrace the salvation offered them—
[In their natural state they felt no need of a physician [Note: Revelation 3:17.]: they saw no suitableness in the remedy which the Gospel offered them [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23.]. Their pride would not suffer them to submit to its humiliating terms [Note: Romans 10:3.]: but now they gladly embrace Christ as their only Saviour. They flee to him, as the murderers did to a city of refuge. This is the description given of them in the inspired volume [Note: Heb 6:18].]
They endeavour to keep all the commandments-
[If ever they obeyed God at all, they served him only to the extent the world would approve. Where the lax habits of mankind forbad their compliance with the divine command, they were afraid to be singular. But they dare not any longer halt between God and Baal: they have determined, through grace, to follow the Lord fully. The language of their hearts is like that of David [Note: Psalms 119:5-6.]. This was the very ground on which God concluded that Abraham feared him [Note: Genesis 22:12.].]
These marks clearly distinguish those who fear God from all others—
[The formal Pharisee has never felt his desert of condemnation [Note: Luke 18:11.]. The merely awakened sinner has never truly embraced the Gospel [Note: Acts 24:25; Acts 26:28.]. The hypocritical professor has never mortified his besetting sin [Note: Acts 8:23.]. It is the person alone, who fears God, that unites in his experience a dread of God’s wrath, an affiance in Christ, and a love to the commandments.]
Such persons, notwithstanding appearances, are truly blessed.
In what respects it shall be well with them—
They are not exempt from the common afflictions of life. They have in addition to them many trials peculiar to themselves; yet it goes well with them,
In respect of temporal good—
[They have a peculiar enjoyment of prosperity. The ungodly find an emptiness in all their possessions [Note: Job 20:22.]; but the godly have not such gall mixed with their comforts [Note: Proverbs 10:22. 1 Timothy 6:17.]. They have also peculiar supports in a season of adversity. The wicked are for the most part miserable in their affliction [Note: Ecclesiastes 5:17.]: if kept from murmuring, it is the summit of their attainments: but the righteous are enabled to glory in tribulation [Note: Romans 5:3.], and cordially to approve of God’s dispensations towards them [Note: 2 Kings 20:19.].]
In respect of spiritual good—
[They possess a peace that passeth all understanding. They are filled with a joy utterly unknown to others [Note: Proverbs 14:10.]. The work of sanctification is gradually carried on within them [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:16.]. As they approach towards death they grow in a meetness for heaven, and are serene and happy in the near prospect of eternity [Note: Psalms 37:37.].]
In respect to eternal good—
[Who can set forth their felicity in the eternal world? Who can even conceive the weight of glory preparing for them? How will their faith be lost in sight, and their hope in enjoyment! Then indeed will that truth be seen and felt by them [Note: Psalms 144:15.].]
These things are far from being “cunningly devised fables.”
What assurance we have that it shall be thus well with them—
No truth whatever is capable of clearer demonstration. The topics from whence it might be proved are innumerable: we shall however confine ourselves to three:
The fitness of things requires it—
[No man can seriously think that there is one portion to the righteous and the wicked: there is no well-ordered government on earth where this is the case: much less can we suppose it possible in the divine government. To imagine such a thing, is to strip the Deity of all regard to his own honour. We may be sure that there shall be a distinction made in favour of his servants [Note: Malachi 3:18.].]
The promises of God insure it—
[All temporal good is expressly promised to those “who fear God [Note: Psalms 34:9.]:” all spiritual good also is given them as their portion [Note: Psalms 25:12-13.]: yea, all eternal good is laid up for them as their unalienable inheritance [Note: Psalms 103:17.]: all the promises are made over to them in one word [Note: 1 Timothy 4:8.]. Can any one doubt a truth so fully established?]
The experience of all that ever feared God attests it—
[Who ever found it unprofitable to serve the Lord [Note: Jeremiah 2:31.]? What truly devoted soul was ever forsaken by him [Note: Isaiah 49:15.]? Who ever complained that the means, by which he was brought to fear God, were too severe Or that any affliction, that increased and confirmed that fear, was too heavy? David indeed did at one time question the position in the text: but on recollection he condemned himself for his rashness and ignorance, and acknowledged that his vile suspicions contradicted the experience of God’s children in all ages [Note: Psalms 73:12-15; Psalms 73:22.].]
On these grounds we “assuredly know” the truth declared in the text—
[We do not surmise it as a thing possible. We do not hope it as a thing probable. We absolutely know it as infallibly certain. We are not surer of our existence than we are of this truth. Without hesitation therefore we deliver our message [Note: Isaiah 3:10-11.]. O that the word may sink deep into all our hearts! And that we might from experience unite our testimony to Solomon’s [Note: Proverbs 28:14.].]
We beg leave to ask, whether they who fear not God, have any such assurance in their favour?
[We are aware that they will entertain presumptuous hopes; and that, in opposition to God’s word, they will expect happiness. But does the boldest sinner dare affirm that he knows it shall be well with him? His conscience would instantly revolt at such falsehood and blasphemy. Let those then, that fear not God, stand self-condemned. Let them flee unto their God and Saviour with penitence and faith. Let them so live us to preserve the testimony of a good conscience. And then, however enlarged their expectations of good may be, they shall never be disappointed [Note: Isaiah 45:17.].]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30