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Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.
The Creator remembered
How shall we understand this? Is it an allegory describing the weakening of the body? Is it a description of the Jews in captivity? Is it a dirge from some old book of hymns? The best explanation seems this: first, the Preacher describes old age as a stormy day; secondly, the figure changes to that of a palace going to ruin; then there is a reference to “the seven evil days” of spring in the Orient, which are thought particularly dangerous to the aged; and lastly the new figures of the lamp, the fountain, and the cistern come in. It is surely no strange thing to illustrate an idea with a variety of pictures. We may make a regular progression of the lessons taught in this passage.
1. There is a hereafter. Man is not made only for this life. What would we think of the pyramid builders if they scattered pyramids over a plain, but intentionally left every one of them unfinished, with the lines sloping together so as to prophesy of an apex which was never built? Such designed incompleteness is inconceivable, the human mind being what it is. No more can we conceive of God’s having scattered over the world all the beautiful and noble lives in history, yet so that none of them should be complete. There must be a finishing some time. We are made so as to expect it. We have an organ whose function it is to anticipate it. And that organ of the heart would be as inexplicable without a hereafter as an eye without light. Where we find eyes we can presume the existence of light at some time.
2. Man is a responsible being. He can do pretty much as he pleases, but he cannot by any possibility exempt himself from the consequences of what he does. Sometime the score must be settled.
3. Death ends man’s work on earth. It is interesting to note that the terrors of death are not dwelt upon in the passage. The sombreness, the pain of it, are passed by. Writers often gloat over death; they force the melancholy of it home upon our hearts, they seem to say (as Dickens is accused of saying in effect in describing the death of little Nell), “Now let us have a cry together.” There is not the slightest touch of this in the ending of Ecclesiastes. If we have any plans for good, if we want to make this life a preparation for the glories of the future, how busy ought the thought and the sight of death to make us.
4. Reverent obedience to God is the only method of having a life that shall be worth living. God changes not, and we need not hope to change Him. He is a God of love always, but His love brings blessing only to those who seek to do His will. To those who disregard Him that same love becomes a condemnation. But how shall we keep God’s laws? Above all commands, He has given to us our final command, by keeping which we are led to keep all the rest; “this is My beloved Son; hear ye Him.” Therefore, trying to serve God while, rejecting Christ must lead to failure in God’s eyes.
5. Youth is the best time to begin serving God.
(1) It is easier to begin then. Habits are unformed, and will as easily take one shape as another. Once they are made, rearrangement comes only, as it were, by fracture.
(2) It is important to have the trend of life settled in favour of the good. You cannot do this except at the needless expense of great moral upheaval, at any time but in the early years.
(3) The more years of life consecrated to Christ, the more the quantity of good which can be done for Him. Every year away from His service is an empty year from the point of view of eternity
(4) The earlier one begins in the Christian life, the longer time he has for Christian growth. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The Creator remembered
I. An early recognition of God will become the formative principle of character. The formation of character is the true business of life. Character is the individual, the man himself. No one can be greater than his character, and no one can be less. At the centre of character there is always a governing principle. This may be one thing or another--may be a remembrance of God or a regard for the devil, may be a holy resolution or a weak sentiment. Still, it is there, and it is influential. It resembles the point of crystallization around which cluster the strange forms and colours of Nature’s workmanship. Character will surely be determined by this central principle or supreme choice. Now, to “remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth” is to yield to God as He appears in Jesus Christ, or to become a Christian. This surrender enthrones God at the very centre of character. His word then becomes law. The holy life of His Son, our Redeemer, holds the attention. The formation of character proceeds as we “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
II. Childhood’s remembrance of God becomes the perpetual recompense of service. We must bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. He “went about doing good.” He “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” Simple fidelities engaged Him. An hour of communion with His Father prepared Him for any conflict, and He often looked up into His Father’s face to gain new inspiration when He was weary or troubled. The possibility of this consciousness is the promise of the Bible. Again and again we are assured that God is interested in us. He wants to help us. He offers the confidence which Jesus knew. Now, if we can secure this confidence early in life, we shall be stronger and braver than we could otherwise be, for in every honest service we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that God is pleased. We may train ourselves to “do all to the glory of God.” If we undertake any service, we may perform it as unto Him, and net as unto our fellow-men; if we make a contribution of money, we may present it first of all to Him, and may then act as His stewards in its distribution; if we contemplate a new work, we may consult Him in prayer; if we are burdened with care, we may cast our care upon Him. At once there opens before us many rare privileges. Life with God in it moves safely.
III. The secure hope of sorrow and of death is obtained when the Creator is remembered. “Hope thou in God” is the psalmist’s exhortation. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost,” is the benediction of Paul. God is the God of hope. What a blessed truth that is! He meets us with hope, and He continues to afford hope even to the end of life. When sorrows come we are not shut up to the conviction that we are the victims of fate. There is an “afterward” to every chastisement, with “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” The end has not been reached. We are still at school. God is dealing with us as with sons. We shall bless Him by and by for life’s discipline. Meanwhile, He sustains and comforts us to such a degree that a man has even been known to say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” God is with us. We shall surely reach port. We hope, in Him. And when we approach death, who but God can afford hope? (H. M. Booth, D. D.)
The Creator remembered
In any anthology upon old age this would easily rank first. Its cast is poetical, its substance the severest prose. In it the verdict of experience is given by one who has set himself “to know wisdom and to know madness and folly.” The Preacher has simply spoken for the silent multitudes. Will the youth be sane and listen and heed, or giddy and unbelieving, till at the end he too will remorsefully cry, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”? Certain truths and principles ought ever to be bound about his neck and written on the tables of his heart.
I. The youth is God’s creation. If he doubles or denies this he will live like the beasts that perish, and be ready after a while to say that he has not pre-eminence above them. The spirit of the age is hushing the demands of the Creator and magnifying those of the created. While it professes the deepest reverence for an insect form or faultless crystal or mote of star-dust, it shuts the senses to any call to penitence, or prayer, or trust, or sacrifice, since we cannot know if there be One supreme who has uttered it. The youth is in peril. God is--no question--no perhaps. He is thy Creator. Remember Him and that thou art His, not thine own. Thy intuitions are correct; they point thee to Him.
II. In the natural order of life age most come. The lambs that gambol over the fields, the birds that sing among the branches do net dream they will ever grow old. Not a hint of future decay comes to any animal. Only the present has any fears for them. But man cannot hide from himself the fact of limitations. Even the child perceives that in the far distant time its steps will totter, its form be bowed, and its face wrinkled. The youth knows that enthusiasm will wane as the evening of life deepens. The strong man is aware that the days of decline are nearing. The house in its every part seems tumbling in pieces. The heart labours in beating, like a worn ,engine, with much noise and frequent calls for relief and repair. The thread of life, most delicate, is parting strand by strand, and the golden bowl which hung by it, in which the light has burned for fourscore years, is soon to be dashed in fragments. And so, whether it be the pitcher that no longer fetches the breath, or the wheel whose tiresome rounds of being are spent, and which has broken in upon itself, it is the end. Life has gone, aa death has come, and each to its own. The dust claims its kindred; the Lord His.
III. The curse of age is what the youth has invited. His own selfishness has robbed him of helpers. Indolence has clothed him with rags. Deceit has made all wary and suspicious of him. The cruel tongue has slain his defenders. Profligacy has consumed flesh and body, surviving a little to be tortured. Hawthorne said, “The infirmities that come with old age may be the interest on the debt of nature, which should have been more seasonably paid--often the interest will be a heavier payment than the principal.” It will always be heavier for the bad.
IV. The religious life is the true life. Man by birth and development is allied to God. He fills out the meaning of existence only by heeding the laws and impulses which the Lord gives. He shows his greatness above the creation simply by his regard for ideas and things which are not visibly one with it. Since it changes and perishes, he reaches up and grasps the unchangeable and eternal. “He would not be the most distinguished object in it if he were not too distinguished for it,” said the illustrious German. Along his divinely marked way he finds joy springing out of duties performed. The zest of building for immortality makes his slightest deed sublime.
V. The religious life prepares for the judgment. Here it would seem is the key to this treatise. Revelation must adapt itself to the capacity of the receiver. A gross mind and heart is only gradually led to more perfect Conceptions. Material things and events filled the vision of them to whom the message from heaven first came. Rewards and punishments were of a very practical nature. Food, offspring, and long life were offered to the dutiful and taken from the disobedient. It would pay to heed the commands of Jehovah. The Judge is the Lord, who has sustained and tested and known the doings of every one. The wicked must come with his daring crimes and his hidden deeds and answer therefor. That tribunal need have no terrors for the obedient. It is their vindication before any who questioned or exulted over them. And all shall see that the adjustments of another life will perfectly satisfy the inconsistencies of this. (Monday Club Sermons.)
“Remember thy Creator”
I. Remember--whom? “Thy Creator.” As we are indebted to God for our life, and health, and for the powers of the mind, it is most proper that we should remember Him. Will you not--
1. Remember Him and pray?
2. Remember Him and be thankful?
3. Remember Him and be obedient?
4. Remember Him and be watchful?
1. Youth is the time to store the memory. Life is now comparatively free, and all the powers of body and mind are capable of easy development. Now is the time when you may get into the habit of thinking about God, and into the habit of praying, and into the habit of acting from principle and for the glory of God. If you form the habit now it will ever after be easier to do right.
2. Youthful piety will save you from many sins and sorrows.
3. Youthful piety will ennoble and beautify your life.
III. Remember--why? Because evil days will come, and a time draw nigh when you will find no pleasure in good things. O how sad it will be if you let the days of youth pass by without giving your heart to Christ! (W. Whale.)
The remembrance of our Creator
I. What is implied in the injunction to remember God as our creator.
1. We are to remember that He has made us, and not we ourselves.
2. We are to bear in mind the superintending care of His providence and the riches of His grace.
3. We are to remember the authority with which, by the right of creation, God is invested; an authority to call us to account for the use we make of the privileges bestowed upon us. To Him we are responsible, and He will bring us into judgment.
II. Some reasons why we ought to remember our creator in the days of our youth.
1. And here it may fairly be demanded, Can we remember Him at too early a period? Reason as well as Revelation point out to us that the service of God cannot begin too soon.
2. This duty is most practicable in youth.
3. A third reason for remembering our Creator in youth is the uncertainty of life.
4. The remembrance of our Creator in youth will provide a remedy for the evils of life,
5. The only remaining argument I shall mention for early piety is derived from the honour which will thus accrue to religion, and the effect it will have in promoting the glory of God.
III. The means of attaining and preserving the remembrance of our Creator.
1. Since we are by nature strangers to divine truth, let us be ready to receive instruction from those who are wiser and better than ourselves.
2. Let us search the Scriptures. They are the revelation of our Creator. They will not only remind us of Him, but they contain all the knowledge of Him which it is essential to acquire, and “are able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
3. Let it be a fixed principle to avail ourselves of all other means of grace, of the ministration of the Word of God, of public and domestic worship.
4. Let us endeavour to form a habit of seeing the Creator in all things; of recognizing the hand of God in the works of nature and the course of events. If we make a right use of these great volumes which are open before us, we shall everywhere behold the agency of the Almighty.
5. We must keep a strict watch over our hearts and our conduct. (Christian Observer.)
That word “remember,” standing where it does, must mean a great deal. It must mean to keep in mind the thought of God as the shaping, constructive, sovereign influence in life. The idea of beauty the artist paints by; the idea of the special harvest the farmer tills the fields by; the chart the mariner sails by. So of the idea of God. We are to think by it; we are to feel in reference to it; we are to work under its inspiration; we are to live by the power of its life and incentive. The idea of God is illumination and power. It is interpretation, and it is the power of realization. Now for two or three thoughts urging us to this practice in youth.
1. First of all, youth is educable. If a man wants to be a mechanic, or a merchant, or a physician, he begins early. It is essential to the trade or the profession that it shall be so. If a man wants to Christianize his life, to make that life religious, ought he not to begin early, in analogy with other things which he does? Just as the hot wax receives the impression clearly and retains” it lastingly, so the impressionable mind of youth receives the stamp of the character of God more clearly and retains it more lastingly than in the subsequent periods of life.
2. Then consider, too, how simple life is when we are young. Look at the business man of forty, and see how his life has left its original simplicity. He is no longer simply a son and a brother, a friend and a student: he is himself a husband and a father, and a business man with a hundred cares and responsibilities. His life has branched out into wonderful complexity. It is intricate, complicated, hard to manage. Now, suppose that the man of forty begins to be religious. How difficult is his problem--to take that single force of the grand idea of God and send it through all these relationships in which he stands! It is like an attempt to thread not one, or ten, or a score, but a hundred needles at once. But, if the man begins early, it is different. He is a son; and he lets the love of God bear upon that relation, and seeks for the power of God to realize the meaning of it. He is a brother, a friend, a student. These are the simple relations in which he stands. Let him bring these under the divine illumination, open his heart to the power that leads him to realize the divine meaning of existence. Then, when his life enlarges, it will be a process of assimilation. Life will be simply the growth of godliness.
3. Then, again, if a man wants to make any high attainment in religion, he must begin early. What is religion but the consecration and the perfection of human life? And, if it be the consecration and perfection of human life, ought not the passion of a man’s heart to be for eminence in it?
4. If we begin early, we may expect finally the consummate blessing and power of the religious life--spontaneity in work, spontaneity in noble views of God, in noble views of men and of the future of the world, spontaneity in goodness. (G. A. Gordon.)
I. The successive stages of human life.
1. Here we have the growing stage. “The days of thy youth.” Beautiful period this! It is the opening spring, full of germinating force and rich promise.
2. Here we have the declining stage. “While the evil days come,” etc. The world, looked at through the eye of age, is a very different thing from what it is viewed through the eye of youth. There is no glow in the landscape, no streaks of splendour in the sky; there is a deep shadow resting over all.
3. Here we have the dissolving stage. “Man goeth to his long home.” The grave is the long home of his body, eternity the long home of his soul.
II. The sovereign obligation of human life. There is an obligation which runs through all these stages, meets man in every step he takes. What is it? “Remember now thy Creator.” Two things are necessary to the discharge of this obligation.
1. An intellectual knowledge of the Creator. Three ideas are included in our conception of this transcendent character.
(1) Absolute origination. We think of Him as one antecedent to all other existences, existing in the unbroken solitudes of immensity, having in Himself the archetypes of all that ever has been, of all that ever will be; and the power of giving them forms of existence distinct from Himself.
(2) Absolute proprietorship. What He has created is His unconditionally, and for ever His. “All souls are mine,” etc. There is yet another idea included in the conception of Creator.
(3) Absolute obedience. If we all have and are His, ought we not in all things to be regulated by His will? Ought not His will to be our sovereign law in all things?
2. A heart sympathy with Him. What has God done for us, and what has He promised to do? Let the heart be duly impressed with gratitude for the past, and with hope for the future, and we shall assuredly remember Him.
III. The choicest period of human life. “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.”
1. It is the best period for cultivating a godly life. Lusts lie comparatively dormant, habits are unformed, prejudices have attained no power; the conscience is susceptible, the heart is tender, the intellect is free, etc.
2. The cultivation of a godly life in youth will bless every subsequent period of being. Through manhood, through old age, through death, into eternity, and through all future times a godly life will ensure true blessedness of being. (Homilist.)
The irreligious youth
“Remember now thy Creator.”
I. Because those powers of the human spirit to which religion appeals are exercised and developed now. The youth cannot be in the same position as the infant of days, who cannot think, nor judge, nor will. The rational youth must stand on a footing different from the idiot youth. If God calls us to pursue a certain course, all who have faculties to pursue it, are, by virtue of the possession of these powers, under obligation; the possession of the powers being alike the foundation and the evidence of the claim.
II. Because God’s claims exist now. “Thy Creator.”
III. Because the season of youth is fleeting now. Infancy is gone; childhood is no more; but youth, even if but just come, is really going. Soon, therefore, it will be impossible to the irreligious youth to be a religious youth. He may become a godly man, but still he will have been an ungodly youth.
IV. Because days of evil are coming now.
1. The evil day of confirmed sinfulness is coming. Acts repeated, and states cherished, are habits. Oh, how mysterious and how mighty is the force of habit! It is a silken thread transformed by invisible processes into an iron chain.
2. The evil day of multiplied temptation is coming. The body daily grows, and with its growth may spring up some fleshly lust--it may be drunkenness, or grosser vice. The mind is gradually developed, and with its development may arise some spiritual temptation--it may be deceitfulness--scepticism--infidelity. Satan is concentrating force and power to stamp deep and clear this die--a sinful character.
3. The evil day of trouble is coming.
V. Death may be very near, and is surely coming now.
VI. Old age brings corresponding infirmities; and if it come to you, it will seem to have come but now. The “evening of life” is a common phrase for old age; let not this poetical phraseology mislead you. If old age be, in its calmness and stillness, like evening, remember that it has the duskiness and the chilliness of evening. Years blunt the bodily senses, and equally the susceptibilities of the soul. Who, therefore, in his right mind, will wait for old age, that in it he may “work out his own salvation with fear and trembling”?
VII. The greatest facilities exist now. I speak now of external advantages, I refer to the state of the spirit, and I assert that more aid is furnished by the state of the soul in youth than by the state of the soul in any other period of life. Habits are not so confirmed in youth as in more advanced years, because the confirmation of habits requires time, and much time has not yet been given.
VIII. Religion will give most joy, and it will secure most usefulness if commenced now.
1. It will give most pleasure. There is not so much to unlearn as when persons become godly late in life; and unlearning is an irksome process. If there be any pleasure in religion, the amount taken is increased by being tasted early.
2. It will secure most usefulness. Youthful piety exerts an influence peculiar to itself, and God seems to choose for usefulness chiefly those who are godly while young.
IX. Ruin may overtake a youth now. If ruin overtake you, it were better for you to have died in infancy; nay, it were better never to have been born. (S. Martin.)
Young persons exhorted to remember their Creator
I. The duty here enjoined.
1. The object is our Creator.
(1) There was a period when we had no being; had we always been in existence we could have had no Creator; but on the limited period of mortal life, both as it regards its commencement and close, the Scriptures are explicit (Job 8:9; Psalms 39:5; James 4:14).
(2) We have a Creator, and therefore did not make ourselves; could we have given ourselves existence, the duty enjoined in the text would have referred only to ourselves; but no being can make itself, as that would suppose it acted prior to its existence, which is a manifest contradiction.
(3) Our Creator is God; this is one of the first truths of revealed religion (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 6:7; Deuteronomy 4:32; Malachi 2:10).
2. The act of remembrance. To “remember our Creator” implies--
(1) A previous knowledge of Him. He has made Himself known unto us by the works of His hands (Psalms 19:1; Romans 1:20); by the acts of His providence (Psalms 104:27-28; Matthew 10:30; Acts 17:28). But more especially by the manifestations of His grace (Exodus 34:6). As a God of grace He pardons our sins, renews our hearts; and to know Him in this character is to have a consciousness that He has actually done this for us. This knowledge can be obtained only by a Divine influence (Matthew 11:27; Matthew 16:17).
(2) The frequent recollection and actual consciousness of His divine presence; to set the Lord always before us, and to consider Him as a Being essentially present in all places. This remembrance should be--
(a) Reverential; His eternal Godhead, terrible justice, and wonderful acts should inspire us with the most profound sentiments of veneration.
(b) Affectionate; His infinite love in the gift of His Son, and His amazing mercy in pardoning sin, should lead us to remember Him with feelings of the most ardent attachment.
(c) Operative; we should evince that we do remember Him, by shunning all that He abhors, and following all that He enjoins.
II. The peculiar period when this duty is to be practised--“Now, in the days of thy youth.”
1. Because He is the most worthy object for our remembrance; and that which is most worthy has the first and highest claims upon our” attention.
2. Because such a remembrance, at this time, is peculiarly acceptable to God. O how lovely is youthful piety! Under the law, the first-fruits and the first-born were God’s sole property; and the buds of being, and the earliest blossoms of youth, are the most acceptable sacrifice that we can offer to our Creator; and shall we neglect these offerings?
3. Because of the comparative ease with which it may be performed.
4. Because the present is the only certain time we can command for doing it; the past is gone, the future may never be ours.
5. From principles of justice: He is our Creator, and therefore justly claims the whole of our service.
6. From principles of gratitude; we owe our all to Him; tie remembered us in our low estate; He still remembers us; on the wings of every hour we read His patience. O what a mighty debt of gratitude is due to Him!
7. From principles of self-interest; to remember our Creator is the way to true wisdom, substantial honour, and unfading happiness. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Days of youth
We have here--
1. The successive stages of human life.
2. The primary obligation of human life. To “remember the Creator.” This remembrance of the Creator should be intelligent, loving, practical, permanent.
3. The choicest period of human life. “The days of thy youth.”
I. The days of youth are days of peculiar illusion. They live in romance. Their theory of life bears but little resemblance to stern reality. Their blooming landscape is but a mirage creation of their own fancy. Look at their views--
1. As to life’s happiness. In the home which they have painted for themselves there is no cloud, no storm, no blight. But how different they find the reality as they move on through the different stages to old age.
2. As to life’s length. Most young people put their death a long way further off than it is.
3. As to life’s improvability. Most youths feel that they ought to be religious, and they adjourn the work of spiritual culture till a time in the future, which they consider will be more convenient. But such a time never comes.
II. The days of youth are days of peculiar temptation.
1. Credulity. They are unsuspicious and confiding, and with minds but partially informed with the facts of existence, and untrained to the weighing of evidence, they are ready to accept almost any plausible proposition, especially when it is agreeable to their desires.
2. Carnality. In the first stages of human life animalism is the regnant power. All the pleasures are the pleasures of the sense.
3. Vanity. The conceit of youth is proverbial. They are vain of their appearance, their talents, if they have no wealth or ancestry.
4. Gregariousness. Strong is the tendency in young natures to follow and to blend with others.
III. The days of youth are days of peculiar value. Whilst all the years and hours of man’s short life are of priceless value the time of youth is pre-eminently precious; its hours are golden. It is pre-eminently valuable--
1. Because of its fleetness. “Youth,” says John Foster, “is not like a new garment which we can keep fresh by wearing sparingly, we must wear it daily, and it wears fast away. It is a flower that soon withereth.”
2. Because of its possibilities. The possibilities of flowers, fruit, affluent orchards, and waving fields of golden harvest are all shut up in the spring; so it is with youth, the greatness of manhood is in youth. He who wishes to be a great citizen, orator, saint, must begin in youth. (Homilist.)
Youthful piety: described and inculcated
I. To say wherein youthful piety consists. It consists, you will find, in a ready, filial, and grateful remembrance of God--a remembrance which induces acquiescence in the Divine will and subjection to it.
II. To obviate some objections to it.
1. It is time enough yet, say some, for youth to think seriously and to be pious. This objection proceeds on the supposition that youth have yet many days and years to come; but how know we what a day or even an hour may bring forth?
2. Youth is the time of enjoyment, say others: young people should enjoy themselves. True; and is there nothing to enjoy in the favour and friendship of our Creator? Nothing to enjoy in freedom from the guilt and from the power of sin? Nothing to enjoy in being good and doing good? And is there any time comparable to youth for the enjoyment of these things?
3. Religion is very well and suitable for old age and infirmity is an objection to youthful piety nearly allied to the foregoing. So it is: but is it, therefore, unsuitable to health and youth?
4. We can repent and be religious some future time, will young people themselves sometimes say, when exhorted to remember now their Creator. But to repent when we will is not in our power. Repentance is the gift of Jesus Christ, and He may righteously withhold to-morrow what we ungratefully refuse to-day.
5. Piety induces gloom and melancholy, it is often further urged. Who are they that say piety induces depression and gloom of spirit? Not the pious, but such as never felt the power of godliness or experienced the joy of faith. Are they, then, to-be believed who tell us of what they cannot possibly be judges?
6. Piety interferes with genteel and polite demeanour, it has, too, been said. This objection betrays in those who advance it great ignorance of Scripture and of scriptural character. No: the Gospel which we preach inculcates morals the most correct and chaste, tempers the most gracious, manner the most affable, behaviour the most courteous.
7. It will incur reproach, and possibly it may injure a young man’s reputation; and consequently also may retard his advancement in life to be pious too soon, is the final objection to early piety we shall choose to notice. How sordid must be the views of a parent who seeks first for his children any object below “the kingdom of God and His righteousness”! And how must “the honour which cometh of man” be desired and valued above “the honour which cometh of God only” where there exists the fear of disrepute on account of religion!
III. To state some reasons for it.
1. It is reasonable in itself--that a creature should remember his Creator; a redeemed creature his Redeemer; and an immortal creature that immortality which awaits him. We execrate ingratitude one towards another: is there nothing offensive in an ungrateful forgetfulness of our Maker?
2. God requires it. Yet, “ye have robbed Me,” may God justly say to those of our youth who forget Him and refuse to Him the homage of their hearts.
3. The mind is more susceptible of impression when young.
4. Piety in youth gives a proper bias to the affections.
5. The world will be viewed in a true light.
6. Piety in youth lays a foundation for placidity and calmness in age.
7. Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour, will be more abundantly honoured by the devotion of our first years unto His service.
IV. To recommend it earnestly to the young among you. (W. Mudge, B. A.)
The days of thy youth
I. What these days are in themselves.
1. They are days most favourable for “remembering” the Lord. It was an appointment of the olden time that the manna was to be gathered in the morning, and for any that waited till late in the day there was none, embodying a lesson the young may well remember. The promise of the Lord is to them that seek Him “early” that they shall find Him.
2. They are the days of special privilege and promise. Think of some of the inspired biographies of some of the most eminent and what they show us of the days of their youth. Joseph, for instance, whose early days must have revealed the kindling purity and nobility that made his life such a power and his very bones an inspiration. Think of Samuel in the days of his youth, in which the mother’s training and the Lord’s call show what shall be, as in after days his name stands upon the record of the worthies as “Samuel among them that call upon His name.” Turn to the Hebrew youths in Babylon, and, captives as they were, you see the power that gathered around them as in their self-denial they put aside the delicacies of the king’s table rather than incur the possibility of sin, and braved the terrors of the lions’ den and the fiery furnace that they might be faithful to God.
3. The days of youth are days that are most receptive and most retentive of what may influence them. It follows from this that there should be all possible care that the good should be received and the evil excluded. It is what is first taken into the mind that sinks the deepest and lasts the longest.
II. What they shall be if rightly used.
1. They shall be days of real and rich blessing.
(1) In order to this, however, they must be days of response to the Divine call.
(2) There must also be the full acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ as your portion. It may involve self-denial, and it will; the Lord lays it down at the very beginning of His service; but that is a noble exercise for the young under any conditions, and in connection with the service of the Lord will bring a rich blessing.
2. Being this, the days of your youth will be days of gracious promise for all the days after. The inspired description of the course is as “the shining light,” and not that only, but “that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
III. The right use should be made of these days at once.
1. It should, because of the proneness there is in youth to put off these things to the future, and how it will grow upon the man.
2. It should, too, because there are so many will seek to lead you into neglect and folly.
3. It should, too, because it will fill you with the divine portion from the beginning.
4. It should be, also, because it will not only give you a blessing for yourselves, but make you a blessing to others. (J. P. Chown.)
On the advantages of an early piety
I. The nature of the act or duty here enjoined; which is, to remember our Creator. To remember God is frequently, and in our most serious and retired thoughts, to consider that there is such a Being as God is; of all power and perfection, who made us and all other things, and hath given us laws to live by suitable to our natures; and will call us to a strict account for our observance or violation of them, and accordingly reward or punish us; very often in this world, and to be sure in the other. It is to revive often in our minds the thoughts of God and of His infinite perfections, and to live continually under the power and awe of these apprehensions.
II. What there is in the notion of God as our creator that is more particularly apt to awaken and oblige men to the remembrance of God.
1. Creation is of all others the most sensible and obvious argument of a Deity. Other considerations may work upon our reason and understanding, but this doth, as it were, bring God down to our senses.
2. The creation is a demonstration of God’s infinite power. And this consideration is apt to work upon our fear, the most wakeful passion of all others in the soul of man.
3. The creation is a demonstration of the goodness of God to His creatures. This consideration of God, as our Creator, doth naturally suggest to our minds that His goodness brought us into being; and that, if being a benefit, God is the Fountain and Author of it.
III. The reason of the limitation of this duty more especially to this particular age of our lives. “Now, in the days of thy youth.”
1. To engage young persons to begin this great and necessary work of religion betimes, and as soon as ever they are capable of taking it into consideration.
2. To engage young persons to set about this work presently, and not to defer it and put it off to the future, as most are apt to do.
3. And how much reason there is to press both these considerations upon young persons I shall endeavour to show in the following particulars.
(1) Because in this age of our lives we have the greatest and most sensible obligation to remember God our Creator: “in the days of our youth,” when the blessing and benefit of life is new, and the memory of it fresh upon our minds.
(2) The reason will be yet stronger to put us upon this, if we consider that, notwithstanding the great obligation which lies upon us to “remember our Creator in the days of our youth,” we are most apt at that time of all others to forget Him. For that which is the great blessing of youth is also the great danger of it, I mean, the health and prosperity of it; and, though men have then least reason, yet they are most apt to forget God in the height of pleasure and in the abundance of all things.
(3) Because this age is of all others the fittest and best to begin a religious course of life. And this does not contradict the former argument, though it seems to do so. For as it is true of children that they are most prone to be idle, and yet fittest to learn, so, in the case we are speaking of, both are true; that youth is an age wherein we are too apt, if left to ourselves, to forget God and religion, and yet at the same time fittest to receive the impressions of it.
(4) This is the most acceptable time of all others, because it is the first of our age. Our blessed Lord took great pleasure to see little children Come unto Him; an emblem of the pleasure He takes that men should list themselves betimes in His service. St. John was the youngest of all the disciples, and our Saviour had a very particular kindness and affection for him; for he is said to be “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
(5) This age of our life may, for anything we know, be the only time we may have for this purpose; and if we cast off the thoughts of God and defer the business of religion to old age, intending, as we pretend, to set about it at that time, we may be cut off before that time comes, and turned into hell with the people that forget God. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
The duty and advantages of early piety
1. Though we should begin to serve God even from our youth, our earliest service comes long after His favours. Before ever we come to years of discretion we have contracted a vast debt of gratitude to our Creator and Preserver; a debt which might make us very uneasy, because we can never discharge it, if there were not a pleasure in endeavouring to pay it, and if such endeavour were not all that God requires at our hands.
2. We should serve God in our youth, because that is the way to make the practice of our duty easy to us; and because, if we set out wrong, it is very hard afterwards to amend. It is true that persons have repented, though late, and have delivered themselves from the bondage of sin. There are examples of it, that none may despair; and those examples are few, that none may presume.
3. We should serve God in our youth, because, as virtue will have the first possession of us, we shall not be able to change for the worse without an uncommon resolution to do ill. The first love is usually the strongest and the most lasting.
4. Youth is also the time when, on several accounts, we are better able to serve God than we are in a more advanced age, if we have neglected our duty before. There are good qualities and favourable dispositions which often accompany it. Thus, in youth properly educated, there is a sincerity not yet lost by the practice of deceit and dissimulation; there is a modesty which is both a guard to virtue and a check to sinful actions; there is a respect for parents and masters, the natural result of a state of dependence; there is a flexibility and aptness to receive instruction, which lessens as we grow up, if self-love, pride, and conceit increase faster than understanding and judgment, and make us hasty, obstinate, and perverse; there is, lastly, a lively heat of temper, an activity both of body and mind, which, as it is dangerous when it is employed in the service of vice, so it can make a speedy progress in virtue.
5. Yet youth, with all its advantages, hath its disadvantages, and is the time when we are the most tempted to forget God; and therefore ought this precept to be inculcated upon that thoughtless age.
6. If there be joy in heaven over a sinner who repents, and God in the Scripture be represented under the image of the father in the parable, running forth to meet and to embrace his lost son as soon as he returns, yet it is very reasonable to conclude that the son who, from his youth, serves and never leaves his heavenly Father, must be dearer to Him. After we have sought happiness where happiness is not to be found, then to condemn our folly, to consider, to amend, and to bring forth the fruits of repentance is a wise part. But it is a wiser and a more generous behaviour to serve God before we have served other masters, not driven to Him, as to a last refuge, by afflictions, or disappointments, or by an immediate sense of danger, or by a weariness and dislike of the world.
7. Another reason for which youth should be well spent is the uncertainty of life.
8. We should serve God in our earlier days with a view to the ensuing days, which we may expect in the course of our life. “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,” says Solomon, “while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.” They will certainly come sooner or later, unless sudden death prevent them; and, therefore, if we be wise, we shall in our youth, before they overtake us, prepare to meet them, and provide ourselves all the assistance which we can procure to lessen those evils, and to support and comfort us under them. And what can they be, unless the favour of God, and the sense of a life spent in laudable industry, in acquiring useful knowledge, in discharging our duty to our Creator, in doing kind offices to our neighbour, in amending our faults, and improving in virtue? These are a treasure of which force and fraud cannot deprive us; which lies out of the reach of all enemies and all accidents. The calamities which fall upon us will then lose much of their weight; old age will be unto us only a nearer approach to everlasting youth; and we shall meet death, if not with cheerfulness, at least with decency and resignation.
9. To these convincing reasons for an early piety I shall only add this, that it is in no respect hard and burthensome. Youth is cheerful; and so is religion. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
I. It is the first advantage of early piety, and our first obligation to cultivate it, that our duty to our heavenly father is thereby rendered easy and pleasing to us. That custom and practice render everything easy, and most things pleasant to us, is universally known and confessed; and will in a peculiar degree be found true of piety towards God. In this case, in addition to the delight naturally arising from the performance of what is familiar to us, we shall have on the same side the approbation of our own hearts; the pleasure of habit improved by the consciousness of duty.
II. The power and effects of custom will furnish yet another argument in favour of early piety; for they will show the danger of contracting opposite habits by showing the difficulty of correcting them. The reproaches of a wounded conscience, the conviction of having offended God, the anxiety to be restored to His favour, and the uncertainty whether that favour can now be deserved and obtained; all these considerations alarm and oppress the mind of him who is grown old in transgression; and form so many difficulties in the way of his returning to the hallowed paths of virtue and religion. He has, indeed, a double task to perform, to cease to do evil, and to learn to do well; and the abuse of his youth and health in the service of sin has left this task, with all its difficulties, to infirmity and old age.
III. It will be another recommendation of early piety, that it is likely to become the most acceptable to its object; because the most suitable to his character and our own. In youth is generally found a sincerity and simplicity of heart, which recommend every part of human duty, and especially our duty to Him to whom all hearts are open. In youth, while not yet corrupted by intercourse with a corrupt world, are generally observed a diffidence and modesty, which not only form a constant guard to purity and integrity, but which bid fair to ripen into humility and devotion. In youth we find the greatest aptness to learn.
IV. One unfortunate quality in our youth, however, too often counteracts these favourable dispositions, and retards their progress in piety. Too many of them are careless and thoughtless, apt to neglect the serious consideration of their Maker and His laws. Too many of them show a levity and fickleness of mind and temper, which disinclines them to the solemn offices of religion, and prevents the performance of those offices with due fervency and steadiness.
V. It is another recommendation of early piety, and another obligation to the practice of it, that we shall thereby discharge, as far as we are required to discharge it, a debt of gratitude and justice. The first tribute of our faculties is naturally due to Him who gave them. Children, then, should be early taught to meditate upon the blessings of their Maker.
VI. Our last recommendation of early piety shall be drawn from a very obvious, but very interesting, source, the shortness and uncertainty of human life. Youth is not only the most proper season to engage in the service of our God, but perhaps the only season that may be allowed us. (W. Barrow, LL. D.)
An old sermon for young hearers
I. What is it that Solomon counsels young people to remember? He says, “thy Creator”: but what about God does he desire his hearers to keep in mind?
1. His existence, as He proves it. And He proves it most clearly by creating us; He is our Creator: He made us, every one of us, and He now owns us for His possession.
2. God’s character, as He exhibits it. The heathen think God is cruel; so they insist He must be propitiated and pleased by bloody sacrifices.
3. God’s providence, as He exercises it. Not a moment passes without our having His care. There was one very pleasant story told among the ancients about a person called Erichthonius: they said he was very comely in his body, from the waist upwards, but he had his thighs and legs like the tail of an eel, small and deformed; for a long time he did not understand that he was different from the rest of mankind, but as soon as he became conscious of his hateful weakness, he grew so melancholy that God pitied him; and then He showed him, in a dream, what gave him a fresh and splendid idea; that is to say, this poor shapeless creature was the inventor of the chariot or carriage, whereby his own want could be supplied; so God benefited him, and so he became a benefactor himself to men. Once when this story was related to a child, she suddenly said: “I suppose it is not true exactly; but if it had been, it would have been very kind, add lust like God to do it, too.”
4. God’s Word, as He has revealed it. The Bible is a message sent directly from our Maker; so He expects us all, young and old, to read it, and find out what it means. The Scriptures do principally teach what we are to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
5. God’s Church, as He has organized it. He gave His only begotten Son that He might be made Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.”
II. When, specially, are we to remember our creator? “Now, in the days of thy youth.”
1. In the beginning, remember that the young can be Christians. Why not? All they have to do is to come and ask Christ to take them, and make them His children.
2. Remember, therefore, that it is easier for young people to be Christians than it is for others; The spirit of religion is precisely that of a little child, to start with; and a religious career is exquisitely in accordance with a youthful disposition (Matthew 18:8).
3. Remember, once again, that the young have often become Christians. In the Scriptures we have the account of Jeremiah, of Paul’s sister’s son, of Timothy, of John Mark. In the primitive Church the names come to us of Polycarp, who must have loved Christ when he was four years old; and Justin Martyr has often been quoted as saying that there were many boys and girls “who had been considered disciples of the Lord in their childhood, and continued uncorrupted all their lives.” Later in history, we know Jonathan Edwards was converted before he was seven, and Matthew Henry before he was eleven years old, Isaac Watts before he reached nine.
4. Remember that the young ought always to be Christians. Many are the children of faithful training and of many prayers. God is true to His covenant, and “the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The warning not to forget God
We ought to mind this warning--
I. For the Lord’s sake. “I wish I could mind God as my little dog minds me,” said a little boy, looking thoughtfully at his shaggy friend--“he always seems so pleased to mind, and I don’t.” That little dog obeyed his young master for his master’s sake. He really loved him, and tried to show this love by the cheerful, ready way in which he obeyed him. This was the right thing for him to do; and it is just what God expects us to do.
II. For our own sake. When we really begin to remember God, and to keep His commandments, God says to each of us, as He said to the Israelites in old time--“from this day will I bless you.” And God’s blessing is worth more to us than all the world besides. “Remember now thy Creator,” was once said to a little boy. “Not yet,” said the boy, as he busied himself with his bat and ball; “when I grow older I will think about it.” The little boy grew to be a young man. “Remember now thy Creator,” his conscience said to him. “Not yet,” said the young man; “I am now about to begin my trade; when I see my business prosper, I shall have more time than I can command now.” His business did prosper. “Remember now thy Creator,” his conscience whispered to him. “Not yet,” said the man of business; “my children must now have my care; when they are settled in life, I shall be better able to attend to the claims of religion.” He lived to be a grey-headed old man. “Remember now thy Creator,” was the voice which conscience once more addressed to him. “Not yet,” was still his cry; “I shall soon retire from business, and then I shall have nothing else to do but read and pray.” Soon after this he died, without becoming a Christian. He put off to another time what he should have attended to when young, and that caused the loss of his soul. Those two little words--“Not yet”--were his ruin.
III. For the sake of others. God’s promise to Abraham, when he began to serve Him, was that he should be a blessing. And God says the same thing to all His people. And not only by our words, but by our actions, and by our prayers, we may be doing good, all the time, to those about us. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The young man’s task
To them which are young Solomon shows what advantage they have above the aged; like a ship, which, seeing another ship sink before her, looks about her, pulls down her sail, turneth her course, and escapes the sands which would swallow her as they had done the other. So they which are young need not try the snares and allurements of the world, or the issues and effects of sin, which old men have tried before them, but take the trial and experience of others, and go a nearer way to obtain their wished desires. That is this, saith Solomon: if thou woutdst have any settled peace or heart joy in this vain or transitory world, which thou hast been seeking all the time since thou wert born, thou must “remember thy Creator,” which did make thee, which hath elected thee, which hath redeemed thee, which daily preserveth thee, which will for ever glorify thee. And as the kind remembrance of a friend doth recreate the mind, so to think and meditate upon God will supply thy thoughts, dispel thy grief, and make thee cheerful, as the sight of the ark comforted David; for joy, and comfort, and pleasure is where God is, as light, and cheerfulness, and beauty is where the sun is. Now if thou wouldst have this joy, and comfort, and pleasure to be long, and wouldst escape those thousand miseries, vexations, and vanities, which Solomon, by many weary and tedious trials, sought to make naked before thee, and yet held all but vanity when he had found the way, thou must “remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth” at the first spring-time, and then thy happiness shall be as long as thy life, and all thy thoughts while thou remainest on earth a foretaste of the glory of heaven. This is the sum of Solomon’s counsel. Can a child forget his father? Is not God our Father? Therefore, who is too young to remember Him, seeing the child doth know his father? As the deepest wounds had need to be first tended, so the unstablest minds have need to be first confirmed. In this extremity is youth, as Solomon shows them before he teacheth them; for in the last verse of the former chapter he calleth youth “vanity,” as if he should speak all evil in a word, and say that youth is even the age of sin. Therefore, when he had showed young men their folly under the name of vanity, like a good tutor he taketh them to school, and teacheth them their duty, “Remember thy Creator,” as though all sin were the forgetfulness of God; and all our obedience came from this remembrance, that God created us after His own image, in righteousness and holiness, to serve Him here for a while, and after to inherit the joys which He hath Himself, which, if we did remember, doubtless it would make us ashamed to think, and speak, and do as we are wont. It is an old saying, Repentance is never too late; but it is a true saying, Repentance is never too soon. Therefore, we are commanded to run that we may obtain (1 Corinthians 9:24), which is the swiftest pace of man. The cherubims were portrayed with wings before the place where the Israelites prayed (Exodus 25:20), to show how quickly they went about the Lord’s business. The hound which runs but for the hare, girds forth so soon as he sees the hare start; the hawk which flieth but for the partridge, taketh her flight so soon as she spieth the partridge spring; so we should follow the word so soon as it speaketh, and come to our Master so soon as He calleth. If our children be deformed in their youth, we never look to see them well favoured; so if the mind be planted in sin, seldom any goodness buddeth out of that stock. For virtue must have a time to grow, the seed is sown in youth, which cometh up in age. Try thy strength but with one of thy sins, and see what shifts, what excuses, what delays it will find, and how it will importune thee to let it alone, as the devil tormented the child before he went out; if thou canst not discharge one vice that thou hast accustomed thyself unto, when all thy vices are become customs, how wilt thou wrestle with them? Therefore we bend the tree while it is a twig, and break the horse while he is a colt, and teach the dog while he is a whelp, and tame the eagle while he is young. Youth is like the day to do all our works in. For when the night of age cometh, then every man saith, I might have been learned, I might have been a teacher, I might have been like him, or him, but the harvest was past before I began to sow, and winter is come, now my fruit should ripe. Thus every man that is old saith, he cannot do that which he thought to do, and crieth with Solomon, Catechize the child in his youth, and he will remember it when he is old; so corrupt him in his youth, and he will remember that too. There be not many Lots, but many linger like Lot, loath to depart, until they see the fire burn. If the angel had not snatched him away, Lot had perished with Sodom for his delay. There be not five foolish virgins and five wise, but five for one knock when the door is shut. There be not many Simeons, but many as old as Simeon, which never yet embraced Christ in their hearts. They thought to repent before they were so old, yet now they dear for age, they are not old enough to repent yet. Is this to seek the kingdom of heaven first, or last, or not at all? Woe to the security, woe to the stubbornness, woe to the drowsiness of this age. (H. Smith.)
While the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.
Preparation for old age
Old age is a distant port for which the whole human race start, toward which they steer. More than half perish at the commencement of the voyage. Thousands and thousands are born who should have had a right in life, but whose hold is so brittle, that the first wind shakes them, and they fall like untimely fruit. Some fall by accident, some in the discharge of duties which call them to offer up their lives as a sacrifice for the common weal. The greatest number, however, are deprived of a good old age by their own ignorance or by their own misconduct; and those that reach that old age too often find that it is a land of sorrow. Now old age was not designed to be mournful but beautiful. It m the close of a symphony, beautiful in its inception, rolling on grandly, and terminating in a climax of sublimity. It is harmonious and admirable, according to the Scheme of nature. The charms of infancy, the hopes of the spring of youth, the vigour of manhood, and the serenity and tranquillity, the wisdom and peace of old age--all these together constitute the true human life, with its beginning, middle, and end--a glorious epoch. Every one of us, but especially those who are beginning in life, is aiming at a serene and happy old age, and I propose to put before you some considerations which shall direct your attention to the methods of attaining it.
1. There are many physical elements which enter into the preparation for a profitable and happy old age. The human body is an instrument of pleasure and use, built for eighty years’ wear. His body is placed in a world adapted to nourish and protect it. Nature is congenial. There are elements enough of mischief in it, if a man pleases to find them out. A man can wear his body out as quickly as he pleases, destroy it if he will; but, after all, the great laws of nature are nourishing laws, and, comprehensively regarded, nature is the universal nurse, the universal physician of our race, guarding us against evil, warning us of it by incipient pains, setting up signals of danger--not outwardly, but inwardly--and cautioning us by sorrows and by pains for our benefit. Every immoderate draft which is made by the appetites and passions is so much sent forward to be cashed in old age. You may sin at one end, but God takes it off at the other. I do not object to mirth or gaiety, but I do object to any man making an animal of himself by living for the gratification of his own animal passions. Excess in youth, in regard to animal indulgences, is bankruptcy in old age. For this reason, I deprecate late hours, irregular hours, or irregular sleep. People ask me frequently, “Do you think that there is any harm in dancing?” No, I do not. There is much good in it. “Do you, then, object to dancing parties?” No; in themselves, I do not. But where unknit youth, unripe muscle, unsettled and unhardened nerves, are put through an excess of excitement, treated with stimulants, fed irregularly and with unwholesome food, surrounded with gaiety which is excessive, and which is protracted through hours when they should be asleep, I object, not because of the dancing, but because of the dissipation. But there are many that I perceive are wasting their lives and destroying their old age, not through their passions, but through their ambition, and in the pursuit of laudable objects. I know of many artists that are wearing out their lives, day after day, with preternatural excitement of the brain; yet their aims are transcendently excellent. I know of musicians that are wearing out, night and day; yet their ambition is upward and noble. They are ignorant that they are wearing out their body by the excitement of their brains. While alcoholic stimulants waste and destroy life, and prevent a happy old age, the same thing is also done by moral stimulants. The latter is not as beastly, but it is just as wasteful of health. Whatever prematurely wears out the thinking machinery, or destroys health prematurely, carries bankruptcy into old age.
2. There ought, also, to be wisdom in secular affairs, in the preparation by the young for the coming of old age. Foresight is a Christian virtue. Every man should make such provision for himself as that he shall not be dependent upon others. Provision for moderate comfort in old age is wise. It is far better than an ambition for immoderate riches, which too often defeats itself. If men were more moderate in their expectations; if, when they had obtained a reasonable competency, they secured that from the perils of commercial reverses, more men, I think, would go into old age serene and happy.
3. In looking upon old age, we are forcibly struck with the necessity of taking pains early, and all the way through life, to accumulate stores for social enjoyment. Sociability is a part of Christian duty. Every man should take great care not to cut himself off from the sympathies of human life. Old men should take care that they be not deprived of enjoyment in the society of the young; and if a man would derive comfort from the young in his old age, he must cultivate an attachment for the young in his early life. In youth and middle age you are to secure the provision that shall supply you in old age, if you are to be nourished and made happy on such joys as these. Be not, then, selfish in your youth. Grow to your fellow-men, instead of growing away from them, and strive to live more and more in sympathy with them and for them.
4. Let me speak of the intellectual resources that are to help you in old age. Education has a more important relation to manhood than it has to the making of your outside fortune. If you are to be a lawyer, a physician, a minister, or a teacher, you need an education in order to succeed in your calling; but if you belong to none of these callings, you need an education to succeed in your manhood. Education means the development of what is in man; and every man ought to be developed, not because he can make money thereby, but because he can make manhood thereby. Education is due to your manhood. Keep your lamp full of oil, and lay up such stores of intellectual provision, that when you go into old age, if one resource fails you, you can try another. If you have learned to look under your feet every day while young, and to cull the treasures of truth which belong to theology, natural history, and chemistry; if every fly has furnished you a study; if the incrustation of the frost is a matter of interest; if the trees that come in spring, and the birds that populate them, the flowers of the meadow, the grass of the field, the fishes that disport themselves in the water--if all of these are so many souvenirs of the working hand of your God, you will find, when you come into your old age, that you have great enjoyment therein. Let me, therefore, recommend you to commit much to memory. Oh, how much a man may store up against old age! What a price is put into the hands of the young wherewith to get wisdom! What provisions for old age do they squander and throw away! It is a great thing so to have lived that the best part of life shall be its evening. October, the ripest month of the year, and the richest in colours, is a type of what old age should be.
5. I have reserved for the last the most important, namely, the spiritual, preparation for old age. It is a beautiful thing for a man, when he comes into old age, to have no more preparation to make. If piety is the garment you have worn through a long and virtuous life, you may stand in your old age in the certainty of faith, waiting only that you may pass from glory to glory. A part of this spiritual preparation consists, I think, in living all the time with the distinct consciousness that our life is a joined one; that the best part of it is that which lies beyond; and that we are not to live for the life that lies between one and eighty, but for that which lies between one and eternity. The habit of associating all your friends and friendships with this future life, while it will afford you great comfort and strength all the way through life, will give its choicest fruits and benefits in old age. As you grow old, childhood’s companions die around you every year; but if you have been living a true Christian life, although the world may seem desolate for a time, yet your thought is this: “My companions, my fellow-workers, have gone before me; I am left alone in the dreary world, but am every day being brought closer and closer to that world of everlasting blessedness. One has gone before; another has gone; the wife of my bosom, my eldest child, one after another of my children, and of their children, have gone; one after another of my neighbours and the friends of my youth have gone, and I am left behind; but I am close upon their steps. They are all there waiting for me. I have but a few days to wait, and I shall be blessed again with their high and holy society.” (H. W. Beecher.)
The clouds return after the rain.
Coming home from the burial of his little Agnes, the late Nehemiah Adams, D.D., of Boston, drew out of his pocket the ribbon-tied key of her casket. “I thought for a few minutes that I should lose my reason,” he writes. “The clouds returned after the rain,” and they were very dark and distressing. And who has not had similar experiences! And sometimes they are exquisitely painful as well as sorrowful, as when conscience reproaches us for unkindness, or remissness, or for hasty words and cruel alienation, or neglect of duty, as we hang over the coffin of a husband or wife, or parent or child, or friend, or come back from the new-made grave. The unnamed, unspeakable agony of a reproving conscience, when all redress or confession is impossible, is harder to bear than the blow itself. The after-cloud has no “silver lining”: it is murky, dismal, and almost unbearable, for it abides, and there is no relief from it. Let us be careful in life to give no occasion for such return of the clouds after the rain.
Those that look out of the windows be darkened.
In the description of the infirmities of old age, the window doubtless stands for the eyes, with lashes like lattice-work of an Oriental house, and the fringe of the iris regulating the light as a curtain. Observe that it is said, not that the windows, but “those that look out of them” are darkened: the reference, therefore, being not to the failing eyesight, as many have supposed, but rather to the growing dullness of the inner person, the mind, which takes less and less interest in the world as one advances towards senility. A person may be blind in years, yet young in heart, if he only keeps alert to the life about him. Think of Ranke beginning his “Universal History” at eighty-three years of age, and finishing his seventh volume at ninety-one! The venerable Kaiser Wilhelm not long before his death was asked by his daughter if he had not better rest a little. “No,” he replied, “I will have plenty of time to rest by and by.” In a call upon George Bancroft, at eighty-eight years of age, I found him as full of questions about men and things that he thought I knew of as if I were the representative of old times and he the interviewer. The eyes of such men may be dim, but the spirits that look out of them are not “darkened.” They are the really senile people who pull down the curtains of selfishness on amiable curiosity, on generous solicitude for the evils of society, and on delight in the good of the world, though they have not yet come to wear glasses. Let us keep at the windows until God closes them by dropping over them the curtain of the last night. And then, when the dusk of life’s eventide has fallen around us, when secular things do turn dim, we may look up through the window at the infinite sky, and see the stars of a better world coming out. (J. M. Ludlow, D. D.)
The doors shall be shut in the streets.
Literally, “double deers.” This occurs in the description of the decrepitude of an old man: “The keepers of the house (the arms) shall tremble, and the strong men (the legs) shall bow themselves, and the grinders (the teeth) cease because they are few, and those that leek out of the windows (our natural interest in the world) be darkened, and the double doors shall be shut in the street.” By “double doors” is meant those bodily functions which have double organs--eyes, cars, nostrils, lips, the openings of sense and communication with the world. It is a great thing to have the house of the soul stored with good, with true thoughts, bright hopes, sweet loves, comfortable conscience, the various feed of Divine promises, and best of all is to have God, the source of all good, inside with us when the double doors no longer open. I once heard a man cursing with screeching rage his coming blindness, and a paralytic swearing at his fate with half-palsied tongue, struggling impotently like a convict resisting the shutting of the doors of his cell. But, on the other hand, some of the sweetest-tempered persons are blind or deaf. Beethoven was full of music though deaf; the music was stored there in his knowledge of harmony through previous study. Milton’s mind was full of light, though he was blind; the vast stores of knowledge were laid in before the doers were closed. (J. M. Ludlow, D. D.)
The almond-tree shall flourish.
The almond-tree in blossom
In January, Palestine is adorned with the blossoming of the almond-tree. It breathes its life into that winter month as a promise of God sometimes lightens up and sweetens the coldness and desolation of a sorrowing spirit. When the almond-tree was in full bloom, it must have looked like some tree before our window on a winter’s morning, after a nightfall of snow, when its brightness is almost insufferable, every stem a white and feathery plume. Now you are ready to see the meaning of the text. Solomon was giving a full-length portrait of an aged man. By striking figures of speech, he sets forth his trembling and decrepitude, and then comes to describe the whiteness of his locks by the blossoming of the almond tree. It is the master-touch of the picture, for I see in that one sentence not only the appearance of the hair, but an announcement of the beauty of old age. The white locks of a bad man are but the gathered frosts of the second death, but “a hoary head is a crown of glory” if it be found in the way of righteousness. There may be no colour in the cheek, no lustre in the eye, no spring in the step, no firmness in the voice, and yet around the head of every old man whose life has been upright and Christian there hovers a glory brighter than ever shook in the white tops of the almond-tree. If the voice quiver, it is because God is changing it into a tone fit for the celestial choral. If the hand tremble, it is because God is unloosing it from worldly disappointments to clasp it on ringing harp and waving palm. If the hair has turned, it is only the grey light of heaven’s dawn streaming through the scant locks. The falling of this aged Christian’s staff will be the signal for the heavenly gate to swing open. The scattering of the almond blossoms will only discover the setting of the fruit. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Because man goeth to his long home.--
Man’s long home
Man is on his way to a long home: his lot in his long home will be determined by the manner in which he walks that homeward way; therefore, in his homeward walk he ought to “remember his Creator in the days of his youth,” and to “fear God” all his life long. It might be made to run thus: Live wisely that you may die happily. Live obediently unto God in this world that you may live joyfully with God in the next world.
I. The home-going. “Man goeth home.” He does not enter it by a sudden leap or bound, but he is, as on a journey, continuously progressing nearer and nearer to it. This is life--a constant home-going. There are what we may call years of preparation for the conscious start. When the infant first breathes these mortal airs; when the child is growing in stature and developing in mind and soul, scarcely thinking, or even knowing that, right on before, there lies an eternal destiny; and when the youth is just catching the faint glimmerings of consciousness as to duty and responsibility, and the need for heroic spiritual efforts--then is the time of a silent equipment, physically and morally, for entering on the hard, rough way of the homeward journey. And only at its close is the thought borne in on the soul that life is not to be considered as an automatic, purposeless thing, but is a well-marked and controllable progression which ends somewhere in a “long home.” When that thought is first clearly and earnestly realized by a boy or girl, then the real conscious start in the home-going is made. It usually happens, if not earlier, when the young people are in their teens. They can, at the very outset, if only they will, bound forward and gain splendid spiritual lengths. They have ardent affections, they have burning enthusiasms, which can go out untrammelled to what is highest and best. They have not yet entangled themselves with evil habits which have to be sternly battled with before they can be flung off. They have not yet come under the burden of life’s many cares, which sometimes make the feet heavy and slow in the heavenward way. Are your eyes dimmer, or your ears duller, or your limbs feebler, or your appetites blunter, or your hair whiter and scantier, or your soul less enthusiastic than in other days? Then, these are the Divine monitors telling that you are not to be always here--that, in your progressive home-going, you are fast ripening for the final exit.
II. The long home. “Man goeth to his long home,” or, as the Hebrew has it, to “his house of eternity.” Used by other and earlier writers, this may have been only a synonym for the grave; but more than this was meant by the writer of our text, for in Ecclesiastes 12:7 he speaks of “the dust returning to the dust as it was, and the spirit returning to God who gave it.” So the “long home” in his mind was, for the body the grave, and for the spirit an existence within the veil. May we not, therefore, think of man’s “long home” as having an outer and an inner court? The outer court is the grave. That is the “long home” to which our bodies are daily, hourly, going--our poor bodies, which we deck and pamper, and on which we bestow such thought and care. The inner court is within the veil. And back from it, when the spirit enters, there is no returning to these earthly scenes. It is “our house of eternity”--an eternal home. About that unseen world we know so little that it is not wise to say much.
III. The mourners left behind. When a man enters the long bright home, he receives the “Welcome home!” of the Saviour and of all the blessed. But his home-going throws a shadow on the earth: it causes an aching void, a bitter lamentation. “The mourners go about the street.” Rather since they have gone to join in “the song of them that feast,” ought we not to strive to catch the blessed infection of their celestial joy, and put on festal robes, and sing hymns of triumph over their departure? This is what we would do were the Christian hope and faith sure and strong within us. This is what we are asked to do. Listen, my mourning friends, listen! Your Saviour speaks to you, and says, Your loved ones have but come to their bright long home with Me. “Then why make ye this ado, and weep?” (T. Young, B. D.)
“The eternal house”
By some scholars “long home” is translated “enduring house,” or “perpetual house.” It seems to them that the writer looked upon earth as the embodiment of the perishable, and that beyond the earth man passes into the unchangeable. This world is the place where silver cords are loosed; and golden bowls broken, and where the mourners go about the streets; beyond this all these dissolving views cease, and the spirit dwells amid the eternal. Its house is for ever, its love is for ever, its life is like that of God. I shall ask you to think upon this idea of “an eternal house” for man. Now that science is indirectly assailing this future house--assailing it by placing man among the mere productions of Nature, among the plants and the fishes and the birds--it becomes us all to place as against such a form of science the longings of the mind, and to find in the soul’s yearnings an antidote to the coldness of materialism. We must array spirit against dust. All that materialism rests upon is an analogy: the tree dies, the insect dies, the bird and the fish die, and therefore man dies and becomes nothing. But spiritualism can summon as good an analogy. It can say God lives. He passes on from age to age, and hence man passes onward parallel with this Maker. This argument assumes only the existence of a God. With that datum all becomes easy, for man sustains a closer resemblance to Deity than to the tree, the bird, the fish. He is an image of God, and hence analogy places man in the Divine class rather than in the mundane class, and makes man a partaker of the long being of Deity rather than of the short career of the vegetable or brute world. The analogy of man and God is as rational as the analogy of man and dust. All we need do in order to escape the annihilation inferred from material philosophy is to place man in the category of spirit, and then claim for him a parallelism with Deity. We shall not, however, argue the question of immortality. We design only to ask our hearts to ponder upon the idea of the “eternal house” of man, and see how grand it is, and what a bracing atmosphere surrounds it. No one carrying such a mind and soul as man is endowed with has any right to move along through these formative years without enveloping himself in the best possible atmosphere of truth, or of dream at least, if positive truth refuse to come. As invalids flee from low, damp valleys to climb up into mountain air, that their blood may find pure nutriment and flow with new life, so the soul and intellect born into the valley of ignorance should fly from the miasma, and seek mountain heights of belief and hope. There is no one reflection which has so commended the “eternal house” to me as the thought that this house is transient--painfully, almost unjustly transient. The children of earth are so pitilessly swept away into the tomb, with all their friendships and studies and arts and happiness and longings, that we are plunged into deep wonderment whether there is a God of love and wisdom all around this earth, as close as its atmosphere, and warm as the tropic sunshine. To preserve to us the idea of God comes this idea of the “perpetual house,” an idea born out of the tears of earth, as a rose out of rain. Almost all that is valuable in this world lies back of its present living souls. The heroes that live are but a handful to the heroes that are gone. All the arts we now enjoy are the fruits of intellects and souls that have gone away. Our state was purchased for us by hands that have dissolved into dust. All the ministers of religion now living are not equal in power to the one Christ who died at Jerusalem eighteen hundred years ago. What has become of this sublime past--this past whose temples of law and art and worship are crumbling by the Nile, and by the great sea, and by the Tiber, and are covered with old ivy in England? There is but one answer worthy of our minds or our hearts: and that is, that this impressive human race has been called not to oblivion, but to its “Eternal House.” These phenomena of earth, this great past display of intellect and love and learning and wisdom and morals, belong not to the realm of material, but to the realm of the Divine; and hence, as God reaches over ages, and is not subject to decay and annihilation, so He draws His children along after Him to His perpetual mansion. This is the only solution of man’s being that does not make reason and morals and education and hope all unmeaning terms, and does not make the human soul a sounding brass full of noise without music. The words of the text, “eternal house,” not only recall to mind a lost past to be provided for, but they awaken in our mind thoughts about the future. Our earth will some time cease to be habitable by man. As its geologic forms show that it did once at least become uninhabitable, and by perhaps some sudden extinguishment of the sun did become a globe of ice such that the great mammals were frozen to death as they stood; and as at some other epoch this same little globe did all melt and become liquid as a globule of molten iron, so again in the coming centuries it will cease, suddenly or slowly, to be the home of man, and nowhere upon its whole surface will there remain even a Selkirk for its deep solitude. It must be that from a star of such vicissitudes, from a star where death comes in a few years to all, and where it came in thirty-three years to such a being as Jesus Christ, and from which one hundred and fifty times all the dear hearts upon it have been swept away, the Creator is transferring these ephemeral myriads to a more lasting home. There must be, somewhere, a “perpetual house,” into which we shall all fall when the earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved. (D. Swing.)
I. Consider the death of indifferent persons; if any can be called indifferent to whom we are so nearly allied as brethren by nature, and brethren in mortality. When we observe the funerals that pass along the streets, or when we walk along the monuments of death, the first thing that naturally strikes us is the undistinguishing blow with which that common enemy levels all. One day, we see carried along the coffin of the smiling infant; the flower just nipped as it began to blossom in the parents’ view; and the next day, we behold a young man, or young woman, of blooming form and promising hopes, laid in an untimely grave. While the funeral is attended by a numerous, unconcerned company, who are discoursing to one another about the news of the day, or the ordinary affairs of life, let our thoughts rather follow to the house of mourning, and represent to themselves what is going on there. There, we should see a disconsolats family, sitting in silent grief, thinking of the sad breach that is made in their little society; and, with tears in their eyes, looking to the chamber that is now left vacant, and to every memorial that presents itself of their departed friend. By such attention to the woes of others, the selfish hardness of our hearts will be gradually softened, and melted down into humanity.
II. Consider the death of our friends. Then, indeed, is the time to weep. Let not; a false idea of fortitude, or mistaken conceptions of religious duty, be employed to restrain the bursting emotion. Let the heart seek its relief in the free effusion of just and natural sorrow. It is becoming in every one to show, on such occasions, that he feels as a man ought to feel. At the same time, let moderation temper the grief of a good man and a Christian. He must not sorrow like those who have no hope. They whom we have loved still live, though not present to us. They are only removed into a different mansion in the house of the common Father. In due time, we hope to be associated with them in these blissful habitations. Until this season of reunion arrive, no principle of religion discourages our holding correspondence of affection with them by means of faith and hope. Meanwhile, let us respect the virtues and cherish the memory of the deceased. Let their little failings be now forgotten. Let us dwell on what was amiable in their character, imitate their worth, and trace their steps. Moreover, let the remembrance of the friends whom we have lest strengthen our affection to those that remain. The narrower the circle becomes of those we love, let us draw the closer together. But they are not only our friends who die. Our enemies also must go to their long home.
III. Consider how we ought to be affected, when they from whom suspicions have alienated, or rivalry has divided us; they with whom we have long contended, or by whom we imagine ourselves to have suffered wrong, are laid, or about to be laid, in the grave. How inconsiderable then appear those broils in which we have been long involved, those contests and feuds which we thought were to last for ever! The awful moment that now terminals them makes us feel their vanity. Let the anticipation of such sentiments serve now to correct the inveteracy of prejudice, to cool the heat of anger, to allay the fierceness of resentment. When a few suns more have rolled over our heads, friends and foes shall have retreated together; and their love and their hatred be equally buried. Let our few days, then, be spent in peace. While we are all journeying onwards to death, let us rather bear one another’s burdens, than harass one another by the way. Let us smooth and cheer the road as much as we can, rather than fill the valley of our pilgrimage with the hateful monuments of our contention and strife. (H. Blair, D. D.)
Our long home
I. Examine the term applied here to describe the grave--“the long home.” We are not to look down into the earth, but up at the skies. Above the grave we may discern the glory.
II. What an added and intensified interest belongs to those whom we have known when they pass away from us into “the long home,” thus equipped.
1. There was the process of the spirit disentangling itself from the body.
2. There was the new consciousness of the spirit, freed from the limitations of the flesh, and really entering the new world.
3. As we think upon the long home we cannot but remember that we too must finish with this world and die.
4. We, toe, must be judged, our conduct and character will be examined by the Infallible Judge.
5. We, too, must prepare. We may well consider whether the preparation is really made, and whether it is continually enlarged and perfected. (Alfred Norris.)
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
The death of the body, and separate state of souls
I. Death reduces our bodies to their primitive dust.
1. How doth this stain the pride of all flesh, and bring their glory into contempt
1. What are pedigree and noble blood that mortal man should value himself upon them?
2. Why should we give way to the slavish fear of man? He is but dust, and must die as well as we; and God can easily stop his breath, and cut of[ all his designs against us, by bringing him down to the dust of death before us.
3. How illustriously does God display His glory in our dust! What a wonderful living machine has He made it! What strength and beauty has He put into it! How has He fitted every part for the office He designed it! And when it shall be dissolved into dust again, He will build it anew with greater improvements and refinements, sprightliness and glory, than ever before.
4. How great is the condescension of the Son of God, that He would clothe Himself with our dust, and so become a mortal man like ourselves!
II. The soul does not die with the body.
1. Reason itself tells us that the soul is immortal. The very heathens themselves had strong apprehensions of the immortality of the soul; their apotheoses, and worshipping deceased men for gods, supposed their present existence in an invisible state; and the soul’s surviving the body was such a common conjecture, at least, of all ages and nations among them, that Cicero calls it the voice of nature, and Seneca thought the consent of all mankind about it had the force of a considerable argument to prove it. But we have still a better proof to insist on, and that is--
2. Divine revelation.
(1) The Scripture gives us such descriptions of death as intimate a separation of the soul from the body. (Job 34:14; Genesis 35:18; 2Ti 4:6; 2 Peter 1:13-14; Matthew 10:28.)
(2) We have accounts in Scripture of souls which, after death, have returned again to their bodies. (1 Kings 17:21-22; Matthew 27:52-53.)
(3) We have an account of souls which do exist in another world separate from their bodies. (Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 6:9-10.)
III. Immediately after death the soul appears before God, to be consigned to a separate state of blessedness or misery in another world.
1. The souls of believers, immediately after death, enter into a state of blessedness with Christ in glory. (Revelation 14:13; Psalms 49:15; Psalms 73:24; Isaiah 57:1-2; Luke 23:48; 2Co 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23; Acts 7:59; Hebrews 12:23-24; Revelation 5:7.)
2. The souls of the wicked, immediately after death, enter into a state of misery. (Acts 1:25; 1 Peter 3:19-20; Luke 16:19-31.) (J. Guyse, D. D.)
The two natures of man
1. As we lay our beloved in the grave, we recognize indeed their mortality; but at the same time we feel that this is not really they. The presence of death assures us afresh that our beloved is really the spirit which has passed out of sight.
2. This recognition of a spiritual nature as well as a material nature gives us a presumption of a higher as well as a lower destiny. We see how the frail body died inevitably: year by year it was always coming nearer to death; and we see how the strong spirit did not waste and decay in like manner, but ought to have survived.
3. We ask where the strong, sweet spirit has gone, and our hearts answer, with the Bible, It has gone to God; recalled to Him who gave it. Augustine says, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we rest not till we rest in Thee.”
4. To one who is not afraid to go to God, death is the triumphant conclusion of this life of trial. Those who pass the veil find hope changed to sight, prayer to praise. (F. Noble, D. D.)
The story of a soul
The story of a soul, its relations, its prospects, its future, is the one important thing to be considered; yet who dare draw aside the veil and read his coming history? The sacred penmen for Whom the veil of the future was in part drawn aside caught glimpses of the soul’s history in the future which they have sketehed in brief and graphic lines. The text discloses to us the single fact of the separation of the soul from the body at death and its continued existence in another sphere.
I. It retains a consciousness of its individual existence and of its personal identity. The effects of death upon the body we can distinctly trace from the suspended animation to the final dissolution. But who can show any influence of death upon the soul beyond the simple cessation of any visible action of the mind through its supposed organ the brain p If there were uniformly a decline of mental manifestations corresponding with the decline of the body through disease, if we saw that the mind always failed in perception, in memory, in reflection, and in action, just in proportion as the body failed in strength and in the power of locomotion, then we might infer that death had an influence upon the mind corresponding with its influence upon the body; yet even then we should not be warranted in saying that the mind itself had ceased to be, or that anything had occurred beyond the suppression of mental activity through its ordinary channels. You enter an apartment where a thousand wheels all connected by cogs and bands are in swiftest motion, and the shuttle is flying incessantly through a score of looms. You do not, however, see the propelling force by which all this machinery is driven. Far down under the ground, in a vault of the strongest masonry, the great fire is fed that generates the steam which, conveyed through concealed pipes, imparts motion to the engine, and thence to the thousand wheels of the factory. Of a sudden the machinery stops; the wheels are motionless, the shuttle is arrested in the middle of the loom. Now, you are not warranted in inferring that the great fire in the vault below, which you have never seen, has been suddenly extinguished, or that the supply of water in the boiler has failed, or that the boiler itself has burst, or that from any cause the engine has ceased to move. Only some connecting pipe has burst, or some band or joint concealed from you is broken. The force exists there and needs only a connecting medium to manifest its presence. What more, then, are you authorized to infer when the machinery of life stands still than that the connection between the energizing will and the muscular framework has been severed? Would you be warranted in inferring that intelligence and will were annihilated, even if simultaneously with the decay of the body you always witnessed a corresponding cessation of mental activity? The machinery has stopped, but does that prove that the fire has been put out, that the motive power is destroyed? But we do not always witness a decline of mental activity corresponding with the decay of the body. How often does the mind continue the full exercise of its every faculty up to the very moment of death; how often, indeed, does its activity seem to increase as it approaches that crisis. How evident is it that the fire is burning, that the engine is moving, that the inner force is there even while the outer machinery drags heavily, and grates and pauses, from the snapping of one and another of its bands. You can show me nothing to prove that the mind is injuriously affected by death, you can bring no proof whatever that it is annihilated. And now, with no evidence from nature of the annihilation of the spirit at death, I turn to revelation to learn what then becomes of it. And here I learn first of all that it continues to exist, a conscious spirit, retaining its personal identity. There is no suspension of consciousness; or, if any, it is only as the momentary suspension of consciousness in sleep, from which the mind awakes with new perceptions and with augmented vigour. Abraham, Moses, Elias, Lazarus and Dives are the same persons after death that they were before it, and knew themselves to be the same. This is the first fact that we gain knowledge of in the future history of the soul. And how significant is such a fact as this. What an awful discovery to the man who has lived an atheist, who has flattered himself into the belief that death was an eternal sleep. The delusion then vanishes. When death comes and his connection with this outward world is severed, he wakes up to a consciousness of existence still; the same being and beyond the possibility of annihilation, and where death has no more power. What a discovery is this for such a mind to wake up to, and understand after death!
II. The soul after death awakes to a lively and a constant sense of the presence of God. What a fearful thought for the men who have tried to convince themselves, and others, that there was no God, or that God was but a blind, indifferent, unobservant force. Think of such a mind waking up into the very presence of the living God. That is the soul’s second experience after death--it wakes up to know itself alive, and it wakes up to a personal God.
III. The soul awakes to the memory of the past. This is clearly intimated in the following context. The spirit will return to God for a judicial purpose. God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing. And in order to this, the soul itself will recall its secret and its long-forgotten sins. Indeed, there is great probability that at death the faculty of memory will be quickened into new activity and power; and that impressions buried under the dust and rubbish of years will be brought out as fresh as when first made upon the pliant but durable tablet of the heart. Now, the Scriptures teach us, as in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, that the memory is in most lively exercise after death.
IV. The soul will awake to the certainty and the near prospect of the judgment. The spirit returns to God that it may answer for the deeds it has clone here in the body. Retaining its identity, it retains its accountability; it retains its personal relations to the government of God, and to God Himself as a Ruler and a Judge.
V. The soul after death will enter upon the experience of an eternal retribution. This is the uniform representation of the Scriptures. The soul enters at once upon a state of happiness or of misery, and it knows that that state is to be eternal. O the unutterable joy or the unspeakable anguish of the mind when it first realizes the fact that it will be for ever blessed or for ever miserable! (J. P. Thompson.)
Our destiny after death
I. The destiny of the body.
1. Death is the severance of the two parts of man’s complex being; the dissolution, not of the being, but of the union, between body and soul.
2. The text points to the origin of the body. “Then shall the dust return”--not “the body.” It is described by what it was and will be: “Dust thou art,” etc. (Psalms 103:14; Genesis 18:27). The Church, in the same way, commits the body to the grave, as “dust to dust,” in the Burial Office. This is a humbling thought, and it is true, whatever view may be taken of the creation of the body.
3. It “shall return to the earth.” “Unto dust shalt thou return,” has in it the accents of Divine disappointment. An act of man has intervened, whereby the hindrance to corruption has been removed, and the corruptible body therefore pursues its natural course. “God made not death” (Wis 1:13), but man “called it to” him by forfeiting the grace which kept it away. The result is, “in Adam all die.”
4. It is bodily death to which the text refers; and the words are true now, as in the Old Covenant--though Christ redeemed both body and soul. “The body is dead because of sin” (Romans 8:10), though “the spirit is life because of righteousness.”
II. The destiny of the spirit.
1. It pursues a different route, for its origin is different. “God who gave it.” The words point to the spirit as being a special creation of God--the infusio animae. God is truly “the Father of Spirits” (Hebrews 12:9), and it can be said of souls that they are His, because He directly creates them (Ezekiel 18:8). They come from Him.
2. The spirit returns to its Source. The words, “Into Thine hands I commit” for, “commend,” Prayer-book Version of “My spirit,” are used at the departing of the soul, when leaving the body. Thus death is regarded as the withdrawal of that which had been given.
3. Here is the belief in a future life, and in a book, too, which materialists and pessimists have thought favoured their views. The soul in its individuality; the soul as a supra-sensuous substance--the spirit; the soul as the express gift of God; the soul as an immortal principle beyond the reach of that disintegration which death produces in the “houses of clay” (Job 4:19); the soul returning to Him “who only hath immortality” in an absolute sense, as Self-derived;--all this is in Ecclesiastes, before Christ had brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.
1. The remembrance of the end is one which is impressed upon us in Holy Scripture as most important (Deuteronomy 32:29; Psalms 39:4).
2. This is most necessary in the time of temptation, in making some important choice, or when languid in devotion. It acts respectively as a curb, as an adviser, as a stimulant, on those occasions.
3. If death were annihilation, to view life from the standpoint of death would be morbid; but as death is the gate to higher life, such a view is not, one of unmingled sadness, but fills this present life with interest, as its issues are seen to be eternal.
4. To seek more and more to realize how precious is the immortal spirit, God-given; and to learn how to preserve it from sin, knowing its destination. (H. W. Hutchings, M. A.)
The spirit shall return unto God who gave it.--
The immortality of the soul
The immortality of the soul may be argued--
I. From the soul itself.
1. The soul is a spiritual substance. This is evident from the fact that it possesses all the properties of spirit, and none of those that belong to matter--such as intelligence, reflection, and volition.
2. The soul is capable of endless improvement. The more knowledge the mind possesses, the better fitted it is for fresh acquisitions in knowledge. The mind possesses faculties that are but imperfectly exercised in this life; but as nothing is made in vain, there must, therefore, be a future state.
3. All men desire immortality, and are averse to annihilation. Can we suppose that a Being, infinite in wisdom and goodness, would plant such desires for immortality in His creatures if they were never to be gratified?
4. All human beings are disposed to be religious in some way. This is so natural to men, that some have chosen to define man a religious, rather than a rational, animal. All nations have their gods, to whom they pay adoration and worship; and there is nothing too mean and insignificant for man to worship, rather than to have no god. And all religions are founded in the belief of a future state.
5. The powers and faculties of the mind are strong and vigorous, when the body is weak and emaciated. “Though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” How often, when speech has failed, and the body has lost the power to raise a single limb, has the soul, by some token, evinced, not only that all its faculties remained unimpaired, but that it was leaving the world in the greatest peace.
II. A future state of existence may be concluded from the unequal distribution of rewards and punishments in this life.
1. If there be a God, He is a God of justice; and if He be a God of justice, He will fully reward the virtuous, and punish the vicious--but this He does not do in the present world; and, therefore, there must be a future state.
2. The natural tendency of virtue is, indeed, to produce happiness, and that of vice is to produce misery. But though these positions hold true in general, still there are innumerable cases in which the virtuous suffer much, and the vicious little or nothing in this world. We are therefore led to conclude that the present state is only a small part of the great plan of God’s moral government.
3. That the present life is a time of trial, or probation, is admitted on all hands, with very few exceptions. And a state of trial implies that there will be a time of review, or examination, when the probationers will be rewarded, or punished, according to their works. But this time cannot come till the state of trial is finished.
4. The doctrine that there is no future state destroys all proper distinction between virtue and vice. And, indeed, if this be the ease, they have no existence but in name; for neither is the one rewarded, nor the other punished. There would be no motives to virtue, nor any checks to vice. Do away a future state, and there is nothing for the vicious to fear, nor for the virtuous to desire.
III. The immortality of the soul and a future state are most clearly revealed in the scriptures of truth.
1. There are certain persons of whom it is said that they shall never die. But none are exempt from the death of the body. It is, therefore, the soul that shall not die.
2. The immortality of the soul may be inferred from Scripture instances of committing the spirit to God.
3. We learn from the Scriptures that the soul, on the death of the body, goes immediately to happiness or misery.
4. The Scriptures speak particularly of the existence of the soul, after the death of the body. Christ affirms that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were living in His time, in quoting and commenting on the words of the Lord to Moses at the burning bush.
1. If the soul be immortal, it must be exceedingly valuable.
2. If the soul be immortal, the loss of it must be indescribable. (O. Scott.)
The individuality of the soul
Nothing is more difficult than to realize 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. Consider our common way of regarding history, politics, commerce, and the like, and you will own that I speak truly. We generalize, and lay down laws, and then contemplate these creations of our own minds, and act upon and towards them, as if they were the real things, dropping what are more truly such. Take another instance: when we talk of national greatness, what does it mean? Why, it really means that a certain distinct definite number of immortal individual beings happen for a few years to be in circumstances to act together and one upon another, in such a way as to be able to act upon the world at large, to gain an ascendency over the world, to gain power and wealth, and to look like one, and to be talked of and to be looked up to as one. They seem for a short time to be some one thing: and we, from our habit of living by eight, regard them as one, and drop the notion of their being anything else. And when this one dies and that one dies, we forget that it is the passage of separate immortal beings into an unseen state, that the whole which appears is but appearance, and that the component parts are the realities. We still think that this whole which we call the nation is one and the same, and that the individuals who come and go exist only in it and for it, and are but as the grains of a heap or the leaves of a tree. Again: when we read history, we meet with accounts of great slaughters and massacres, great pestilences, famines, conflagrations, and so on; and here again we are accustomed in an especial way to regard collections of people as if individual units. We cannot understand that a multitude is a collection of immortal souls. I say immortal souls: each of these multitudes not only had while he was upon earth, but has, a soul, which did in its own time but return to God who gave it, and not perish, and which now lives unto Him. 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. Moreover, every one 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 is true of the living also. All are tending one way or the other; there is no middle or neutral state for any one; though as far as the sight of the external world goes, all men seem to be in a middle state common to one and all. Yet, much as men look the same, and impossible as it is for us to say where each man stands in God’s sight, there are two, and but two classes of men, and these have characters and destinies as far apart in their tendencies as light and darkness: this is the case even of those who are in the body, and it is much more true of those who have passed into the unseen state. What makes this thought still more solemn, is that we have reason to suppose that souls on the wrong side of the line are far more numerous than those on the right. It is wrong to speculate; but it is safe to be alarmed. This much we know, that Christ says expressly, “Many are called, few are chosen”; “Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat”: whereas “narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few there be who find it.” What a change it would produce in our thoughts, unless we were utterly reprobate, to understand what and where we are--accountable beings on their trial, with God for their friend and the devil for their enemy, and advanced a certain way on their road either to heaven or to hell. Endeavour, then, to realize 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. Avoid sin as a serpent; it looks and promises well; it bites afterwards. It is dreadful in memory, dreadful even on earth; but in that awful period, when the fever of life is over, and you are waiting in silence for the judgment, with nothing to distract your thoughts, who can say how dreadful may be the memory of sins done in the body? (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, all is vanity.
Two reviews of life
(with 2 Timothy 4:7-8): These two preachers were both distinguished men, aged men, men of wide experiences. Thus far they resembled each other; but the results of their experience are a perfect and a startling contrast. You would expect, with the experiences behind them, that their verdicts would be contradictory. You would expect the man for whom earth had plucked her choicest roses to present life as a gorgeous garden; and you would expect the man whose course had been a martyrdom to give a shaded view. Yet the contrast is the precise opposite of what you expect. It is from the man who has had the world’s choicest gifts lavished upon him that you hear as sad an epitaph as ever described a human life--“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” It is the man who has passed through tribulations, and experienced the worst ills of life who gives us the ring of triumph in his review.
I. The first condemns life as a failure--“All is vanity, and vexation of spirit.” What was there in his life which could explain this disappointment? I think if you look at Solomon’s life you will see it had self for its centre, earth for its circumference, human energy for its working power, and failure for its result.
II. The second reviews life as a triumph. “I have fought a good fight,” etc. The whole is a review of trial and triumph.
1. The trial consisted in the apostle having been able to endure to the end, to carry on the struggle without being turned aside. Men had called his faith fanaticism, but be did not let go his faith. Men called his hopes delusions, but he cherished them still. Men sneered at his motives, but no slur or scorn cast upon him could lead him to renounce Christ or the work given him to do. He reviews his life as a triumph simply because of this patience. In all this there is to me a great hope and comfort. Had the triumph lain in the works which he had wrought, you and I might well despair of reviewing a life such as his. But this we may review--fidelity to Christ.
2. Let us look now at the elements which made the apostle’s life such a triumph. We will place them in contrast with those we were noticing in the life of Solomon.
(1) In the apostle’s life Christ was the centre; everything revolved around Him.
(2) The spiritual was the sphere of life in which the apostle lived.
(3) The working power of his life was faith.
(4) Its result was a glorious triumph--a triumph which led to a crown. All true triumphs end in crowns, and this is a crown of character, not merely a reward for righteousness. Righteousness is the very material of which it is made. It is the crown of a spiritual sanctified character, and hence the crown fadeth not away. (C. B. Symes, B. A.)
I. Official position will never give solace to a man’s soul.
II. Worldly wealth cannot satisfy the soul’s longing.
III. Learning cannot satisfy the soul. Solomon was one of the largest contributors to the literature of the day.
IV. In the life of the voluptuary there is no comfort. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
On the proper estimate of human life
I. In what sense it is true that all human pleasures are vanity. I shall studiously avoid exaggeration, and only point out a threefold vanity in human life, which every impartial observer cannot but admit; disappointment in pursuit, dissatisfaction in enjoyment, uncertainty in possession.
1. Disappointment in pursuit. We may form our plans with the most profound sagacity, and with the most vigilant caution may guard against danger on every side. But some unforeseen occurrence comes across, which baffles our wisdom, and lays our labours in the dust. Neither the moderation of our views, nor the justice of our pretensions, can ensure success. But time and chance happen to all. Against the stream of events, both the worthy and the undeserving are obliged to struggle; and both are frequently overborne alike by the current.
2. Dissatisfaction in enjoyment is a further vanity to which the human state is subject. This is the severest of all mortifications; after having been successful in the pursuit, to be baffled in the enjoyment itself. Yet this is found to be an evil still more general than the former. Together with every wish that is gratified, a new demand arises. One void opens in the heart, as another is filled. On wishes, wishes grow; and to the end, it is rather the expectation of what they have not, than the enjoyment of what they have, which occupies and interests the most successful. This dissatisfaction, in the midst of human pleasure, springs partly from the nature of our enjoyments themselves, and partly from circumstances which corrupt them. No worldly enjoyments are adequate to the high desires and powers of an immortal spirit. Fancy paints them at a distance with splendid colours; but possession unveils the fallacy. Add to the unsatisfying nature of our pleasures, the attending circumstances which never fail to corrupt them. For, such as they are, they are at no time possessed unmixed. When external circumstances show fairest to the world, the envied man groans in private under his own burden. Some vexation disquiets, some passion corrodes him; some distress, either felt or feared, gnaws, like a worm, the root of his felicity. For worldly happiness ever tends to destroy itself, by corrupting the heart.
3. Uncertain possession and short duration. Were there in worldly things any fixed point of security which we could gain, the mind would then have some basis on which to rest. But our condition is such that everything wavers and totters around us. If your enjoyments be numerous, you lie more open on different sides to be wounded. If you have possessed them long, you have greater cause to dread an approaching change. Even supposing the accidents of life to leave us untouched, human bliss must still be transitory; for man changes of himself. No course of enjoyment can delight us long. What amused our youth, loses its charm in maturer age. As years advance, our powers are blunted, and our pleasurable feelings decline. We project great designs, entertain high hopes, and then leave our plans unfinished, and sink into oblivion.
II. How this vanity of the world can be reconciled with the perfections of its Divine Author. If God be good, whence the evil that fills the earth?
1. The present condition of man was not his original or primary state. As our nature carries plain marks of perversion and disorder, so the world which we inhabit bears the symptoms of having been convulsed in all its frame. Naturalists point out to us everywhere the traces of some violent change which it has suffered. Islands torn from the continent, burning mountains, shattered precipices, uninhabitable wastes, give it all the appearance of a mighty ruin. The physical and moral state of man in this world mutually sympathize and correspond. They indicate not a regular and orderly structure, either of matter or of mind, but the remains of somewhat that was once more fair and magnificent.
2. As this was not the original, so it is not intended to be the final, state of man. Though, in consequence of the abuse of the human powers, sin and vanity were introduced into the region of the universe, it was not the purpose of the Creator that they should be permitted to reign for ever. He hath made ample provision for the recovery of the penitent and faithful part of His subjects, by the merciful undertaking of the great Restorer of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. A future state being made known, we can account in a satisfying manner for the present distress of human life, without the smallest impeachment of Divine goodness. The sufferings we here undergo are converted into discipline and improvement. Through the blessing of Heaven, good is extracted from apparent evil; and the very misery which originated from sin is rendered the means of correcting sinful passions, and preparing us for felicity.
III. Whether there be not, in the present condition of human life, some real and solid enjoyments which come not under the general charge of vanity of vanities. The doctrine of the text is to be considered as chiefly addressed to worldly men. Then Solomon means to teach that all expectations of bliss, which rest solely on earthly possessions and pleasures, shall end in disappointment. But surely he did not intend to assert that there is no material difference in the pursuits of men, or that no real happiness of any kind could now be attained by the virtuous. For, besides the unanswerable objection which this would form against the Divine administration, it Would directly contradict what He elsewhere asserts (Ecclesiastes 2:25). How vain soever this life, considered in itself, may be, the comforts and hopes of religion are sufficient to give solidity to the enjoyments of the righteous. In the exercise of good affections, and the testimony of an approving conscience; in the sense of peace and reconciliation with God through the great Redeemer of mankind; in the firm confidence of being conducted through all the trials of life by infinite wisdom and goodness; and in the joyful prospect of arriving in the end at immortal felicity; they possess a happiness which, descending from a purer and more perfect religion than this world, partakes not of its vanity. Besides the enjoyments peculiar to religion, there are other pleasures of our present state which, though of an inferior order, must not be overlooked in the estimate of human life. Some degree of importance must be allowed to the comforts of health, to the innocent gratifications of sense, and to the entertainment afforded us by all the beautiful scenes of nature; some to the pursuits and amusements of social life; and more to the internal enjoyments of thought and reflection, and to the pleasures of affectionate intercourse with those whom we love. Were the great body of men fairly to compute the hours which they pass in ease, and even with some degree of pleasure, they would be found far to exceed the number of those which are spent in absolute pain either of body or mind. But in order to make a still more accurate estimation of the degree of satisfaction which, in the midst of earthly vanity, man is permitted to enjoy, the three following observations claim our attention:--
1. That many of the evils which occasion our complaints of the world are wholly imaginary. It is among the higher ranks of mankind that they chiefly abound; where fantastic refinements, sickly delicacy, and eager emulation, open a thousand sources of vexation peculiar to themselves.
2. That, of those evils which may be called real, because they owe not their existence to fancy, nor can be removed by rectifying opinion, a great proportion is brought upon us by our own misconduct. Diseases, poverty, disappointment and shame are far from being, in every instance, the unavoidable doom of men. They are much more frequently the offspring of their own misguided choice.
3. The third observation which I make respects those evils which are both real and unavoidable; from which neither wisdom nor goodness can procure our exemption. Under these this comfort remains, that if they cannot be prevented, there are means, however, by which they may be much alleviated. Religion is the great principle which acts under such circumstances as the corrective of human vanity. It inspires fortitude, supports patience, and, by its prospects and promises, darts a cheering ray into the darkest shade of human life.
IV. Practical conclusions.
1. It highly concerns us not to be unreasonable in our expectations of worldly felicity. Peace and contentment, not bliss and transport, is the full portion of man. Perfect joy is reserved for heaven.
2. But while we repress too sanguine hopes formed upon human life, let us guard against the other extreme, of repining and discontent. What title hast thou to find fault with the order of the universe, whose lot is so much beyond what thy virtue or merit gave thee ground to claim?
3. The view which we have taken of human life should naturally direct us to such pursuits as may have most influence for correcting its vanity. (H. Blair, D. D.)
The words of the wise are as goads.
A wise preacher aims to move his hearers
I. A wise preacher will aim to impress the minds of his hearers.
1. Every wise preacher knows that unless he impresses the minds of his hearers, he can do them no good by his preaching. Hearers must feel what they hear, or what they hear will be like sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2. Every wise preacher knows that his hearers will not feel the truth and importance of what he says unless he makes them feel it. Hearers look upon it as the part of the preacher to make them feel. They mean to be passive in hearing, unless he makes them active.
II. How he will preach in order to attain this desirable object. When any person proposes a certain end, the end which he proposes naturally suggests the proper means to accomplish it. This holds with respect to a wise preacher, who makes it his object to penetrate and impress the minds of his hearers.
1. This end will naturally lead him to use the most proper style in preaching. He will choose the best words, and place them in the best order, to enlighten the mind and affect the heart.
2. His design to penetrate and impress the minds of his hearers will lead him to exhibit great and interesting truths. He will bring much of the character, perfections and designs of God into his public discourses. He will preach Christ in the greatness of His nature, and in the glory and grace of His mediatorial character and works. He will exhibit man in the dignity of his nature, and in the importance of his destination. And he will unfold the scenes of a general judgment, and of a boundless eternity, in their own native awful solemnity.
3. For the same purpose he will explain Divine truths and describe Divine objects.
4. The wise preacher, who intends to impress the minds of his hearers, will arrange Divine truths, and exhibit Divine objects, in such an order as to reach every power and faculty of the soul, in its proper turn. Instruction should always go before declamation. It can answer no valuable purpose to inflame the passions before light is thrown into the understanding and conscience; but rather serves, on the other hand, to produce the most fatal effects.
5. The wise preacher, who means to impress the minds of his hearers, will always apply his discourse according to their particular characters. What belongs to saints, he will apply to saints; and what belongs to sinners, he will apply to sinners.
1. We learn from what has been said, the importance of ministers being good men. Piety is necessary, both to dispose and enable them to penetrate and impress the minds of their hearers.
2. We learn from what has been said, the importance of ministers giving themselves wholly to their work. If they mean to penetrate and impress the minds of their hearers, they must exhibit, in the course of their preaching, a rich variety of Divine truths. But they will soon lose a variety, and fall into a sameness in preaching, unless they constantly improve their minds in the knowledge of the doctrines and duties of religion by reading, meditation and prayer.
3. We learn from what has been said, the manner in which a minister should appear and speak in the pulpit. His voice, his looks, his gestures, and his whole deportment, should be wholly governed by his ultimate end, which is to penetrate and impress the minds of his hearers.
4. We learn from what has been said that it is not very material whether a minister preaches with notes, or without. If he aims to impress the minds of his hearers, he may attain his end by either of these modes of preaching.
5. We learn from what has been said, the great absurdity of those ministers who studiously avoid penetrating and impressing the minds of their hearers. Solomon and Christ, the prophets and apostles meant to penetrate and impress the minds of their hearers; and, by the manifestation of the truth, to commend themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. These are examples, which it is wise in preachers to follow, though it Should give pain and even offence to their hearers.
6. If it be the wisdom and duty of ministers to penetrate and impress the minds of their hearers, then they have no reason to complain of the most close and pungent preaching. They always desire such plainness and fidelity in other men, whom they employ to promote their temporal good. They wish their attorney to examine their cause with care, discover every flaw, and tell them the plain, naked truth. And they heartily desire their surgeon to probe their wounds to the bottom, and apply the moss effectual remedies, though ever so painful and distressing to endure. Why, then, should they complain of their minister for dealing plainly and faithfully with their souls? This is an absurdity in its own nature, an injury to their minister, and may be eternal destruction to themselves.
7. If it ought to be the aim of the minister to penetrate and impress the minds of his hearers, then there is blame somewhere if their minds are not penetrated and impressed. Either the minister does not aim to impress their minds, or they mean to resist the impressions of Divine truth. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The words of the wise
I. They are stimulating, “as goads.” Wise teaching, however attractive (Ecclesiastes 12:10), is never pointless. It is penetrating, incisive. It stimulates to--
1. Hatred and opposition. Ahab. (1 Kings 21:20; 1 Kings 22:8). The Pharisees (Mark 12:12).
2. Conversion. Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:5. See also Psalms 45:2; Psalms 45:5).
3. Progress and effort (2 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 3:1-18 :l).
II. They are abiding, “as nails,” etc. “Masters of assemblies,” either those who assemble persons together to hear them, or perhaps “masters of collections,” those who collect and arrange wise words. In either case they are teachers, by word of mouth or in writing. A nail “fastened” or “planted,” not only penetrates, but abides. The impression made by wise teaching is lasting. It abides--
1. To be pondered. The Blessed Virgin (Luke 2:19; Luke 2:51. See also Luke 1:66, and Genesis 37:11).
2. To be acted upon, as fixed principles, regulating the conduct. “Having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit,” etc. (Luke 8:15; see Psalms 119:11).
3. To be added to; a nail (a “peg,” as we say) on which to hang much else. Compare the promise to Eliakim (Isaiah 22:23-25).
III. They have essential unity, “given from one shepherd.”
1. The human teacher making his own (so giving harmony and unity to “words of the wise”), drawn from many sources.
2. God, the Author of all wisdom (Proverbs 2:6), the Great Prophet and Teacher of the Church (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:9-13). Harmony and unity of truth, as taught by inspired writers, and those whose teaching accords with them.
IV. Conclusion. In this description we have a rule by which--
1. The teacher should guide himself.
2. The hearer should try himself. (Archdeacon Perowne.)
The Christian ministry of literary men
There is a Christian ministry wider than that to which men are consecrated through ecclesiastical offices. They also belong to the “great company of preachers,” or teachers, who explore the heavens, or who decipher the records graven on rocks, or who analyze material forms, or who trace the evolutions of life, with those who delineate or embody the beautiful in art; all these are co-workers with “the apostles and prophets” in the service and worship of God the Father. Some of God’s servants stand nearer to the altar than others, but the sacrifice and service of these in the outermost range are ever and everywhere acceptable to Him when offered or done “in an honest and true heart.” And among these diverse gifts of God’s Spirit, who divides to men “severally as He will,” we may surely count the gift of the genius which has enriched the world with so many sweet and inspiring thoughts in the varied forms of literature. Charles Lamb has said, in his own quiet, quaint way, “I am disposed to say grace upon twenty other occasions in the course of the day besides my dinner. I want a form for setting out upon a pleasant walk, for a moonlight ramble, for a friendly meeting, for a solved problem. Why have we none for books, those spiritual repasts--a grace before Milton, a grace before Shakespeare, a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading the ‘Faery Queen’?” For literature, even in its lowlier forms, has been a ministry of comfort and help to millions. It has filled days in the lives of multitudes with solace or with sunshine which otherwise had been “dark and dreary.” Many devout people have a horror, I know, of what they call works of “fiction”: nor am I insensible of the demoralizing influence of the baser sort of such literature. But let us discriminate here, as we do in music and in painting and in poetry, nor condemn that which is wholesome with that which is vicious in books of amusement or recreation; for the greatest writers of so-called fiction have done good and blessed service often in the cause of morality and religion. There is more “pure gospel,” in the substantial sense of that cant phrase, in the writings of Charles Dickens, for instance, than in seven-tenths of our prinked sermons. Think of the gentleness, the pathos, the Divine charity which pervade his books! while even the homely, the ludicrous and the seemingly profane are always friendly to virtue. What a power he has been in the regeneration of English manners! Then think of a similar service done by his great compeer in English letters; by him who lashed the follies and the vices of “Vanity Fair,” doing a work which the pulpit was impotent or afraid to do in rebuking the fashionable extravagance and profligacy of the age; for literature could find audience in circles which were closed to homilies and Episcopal pastorals, insinuating truths which had been resented coming in dogmatic shape. And the results are marked in every sphere of English life, for it is not to an increase of ecclesiastical activity that the improved manners and morals of the English people are to be solely or chiefly traced. The influence of the press has become supreme; our greatest prophets speak through books. No man can estimate the debt which modern civilization owes to the men the weapon of whose warfare has been the pen. They have been ever forward to expose hypocrisy, to resist the tyranny of power, to plead the cause of the oppressed, and sometimes at a bitter cost. Of all powers merely human, poetry has been the most potent over the cultivated thought and feeling of the world. It holds more condensed wisdom, it speaks more directly to the primal affections, it incites the soul to grander aims, it is more nearly akin to the unction of the Divine Spirit than any other instrument or influence controlled by man. The art of making verses may be acquired, but the true poet is inspired, having deeper insight into men and things with finer faculties of interpretation: the teacher at whose feet all other men sit to catch the flow of harmonious wisdom. All gifts of genius are from heaven, but the brightest and the best is “the vision and the faculty Divine” of the poet. He is the teacher of teachers. The best thoughts of the cultivated world had birth in poetry. Every other species of intellectual power has been inspired by it. Religion, morals, government have all been penetrated and purified by it. Take one name and all it represents out of the literary annals of England, and what a void would be visible wherever the English tongue has gone! “Take the entire range of English literature,” says the late Canon Wordsworth; “put together our best authors who have written upon subjects not professedly religious or theological, and we Shall not find, I believe, in them all united so much evidence of the Bible having been read and used as we have found in Shakespeare alone.” Who can take his thoughts and reflections into the study or the closet without coming forth with deeper and diviner feelings in him--without a more awful estimate of life and its great issues? (J. H. Rylance, D. D.)
Of making many books there is no end.
If true so many years before Christ, how much more true so many years a.d.! We so often see books, we have no appreciation of what a book is. It took all civilizations, all martyr fires, all battles, all victories, all defeats, all glooms, all brightness, all centuries to make one book possible. A book; the chorus of the ages; it is the drawing-room in which kings and queens, and philosophers and poets, and orators and rhetoricians came forth to meet If I burned incense to any idol I would build an altar before a book. Thank God for books--good books, healthful books, books of men, books of women--above all, for the Book of God. “Of making many books there is no end.” The printing press is the mightiest agency for good or evil. I have an idea that it is to be the chief agency for the rescue and evangelization of the world, and that the last great battle will not be fought with guns and swords, but with types and presses, a gospelized printing press triumphing over and trampling under foot and crushing out a pernicious literature. You must apply the same law to the book and the newspaper. The newspaper is a book swifter and in more portable shape. Under pernicious books and newspapers tens of thousands have gone down. The plague is nothing to it. That counts its victims by the thou- sands; this modern pest shovels its millions into the charnel-house of the morally dead. Is there anything that I can do to help stem this mighty torrent of pernicious literature? Yes. The first thing for us all to do is to keep ourselves and our families aloof from iniquitous books and newspapers. If you ask me to-day is there anything we can do to stem this tide, I say yes, very much every way. First we will stand aloof from all books that give false pictures of human life. Life is neither a tragedy nor a farce. Men are not all either knaves or heroes. Women are neither angels nor fairies. Judging, however, from much of the literature of this day, we would come to the idea that life is a fitful, fantastic and extravagant thing, instead of a practical and useful thing. Those women who are indiscriminate readers of novels are unfit for the duties of wife, mother, sister, daughter, the duties of home life, the duties of a Christian life. We will also help to stem the tide of pernicious literature by standing aloof, we and our families, from books which have some good but a large admixture of evil. I do not care how good you are, you cannot afford to read a bad book. You say, “The influence is insignificant.” Ah! the scratch of a pin may produce the lockjaw. You out of curiosity plunge into a bad book, and you have the curiosity of a man who takes a torch into a gunpowder mill to see whether or not it will blow up. If you want to help stem the tide of pernicious literature you and your families must also stand back from books which corrupt the imagination. In the name of God, I warn some of you that your children are threatened with moral and spiritual typhoid, and if the evil be unarrested, there will be the funeral of the body, the funeral of the mind, and the funeral of the soul--three funerals in one day. If you want to help stem this tide keep aloof, you and your families, from all books that are apologetic for crime. Many of tile fascinations of book-binding are thrown around sin. Vice is horrible anyhow. It is born in shame, and it dies howling in the darkness. Paint it as writhing in the horrors of a city hospital. Cursed are the books which make impurity decent, and crime honourable, and hypocrisy noble. I mast in this connection call to your mind the iniquitous pictorials of our time. For good pictures I have great admiration. An artist with one flash will do that which an author can accomplish in four hundred pages. Fine paintings are the aristocracy of art. Engravings are the democracy of art. A good picture on one side of a pictorial will sometimes do just as much good as a book of four or five hundred pages. But you know our cities are to-day cursed with evil pictorials. These death-warrants are on every street. A young man purchases perhaps one copy, and he purchases it with his eternal discomfiture. That one bad picture poisons one soul, that soul poisons fifty souls, the fifty despoil a hundred, the hundred a thousand, the thousand a million, and the millions other millions, until it will take the measuring line of eternity to tell the height, and the depth, and the ghastliness of the great misdoing. Remember that one column of good reading may save a soul, that one column of bad reading may destroy a soul. Years ago, a clergyman passing along through the west stopped at an hotel and saw a woman copying from a book. He found the book was Doddridge’s “Rise and Progress.” This woman had been pleased with the book, which she had borrowed, and was copying a passage that impressed her very much. The clergyman happened to have a copy of Doddridge’s “Rise and Progress” in his valise, and gave it to her. Thirty years passed along, and that clergyman came to the same hotel and was inquiring about the family that had lived there thirty years before, and was pointed to a house near by. He went there and said to the woman, “Do you remember seeing me before?” She said, “I don’t remember ever to have seen you before.” “Don’t you remember thirty years ago a man giving you a copy of Doddridge’s ‘Rise and Progres ‘? Oh, yes, I remember that; that saved my soul, that book. I lent it to my neighbours and they read it, and they all came into the Church, and we had a great revival. Do you see the spire of a church out yonder? That church was built as a consequence of that book.” Oh, the power of a good book! Oh, the power of a bad book! Crowd your minds with good books, and there will be no room for the bad. The bushel full of the wheat, where can you put in the chaff? (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments.
The purpose of life
I. Life has a purpose. The architect intends the building he designs and erects to answer a specific end; so is it with the engineer, the ship-builder, the mechanic, the artist, the creator and fashioner of any work. Surely God must have had some end in view in making the universe, and in making us what we are, and in placing us in the midst of such wondrous realities.
II. What is the purpose of life?
1. It is our business to see that we get into right relationship with God. By nature and by practice we are in a state of alienation from Him; there is a breach of our own making--between Him and us. Our prime concern should be to get that breach healed. This is possible.
2. Our reconciliation to God effected, we should constantly love Him and obey Him, and seek His glory. For this He has given us life, physical strength, mental endowments, our spiritual nature. He has placed us here that we may do His will. This should be our continual aim. To engage in this employ should be considered rather a privilege than an obligation. In all pursuits and circumstances we should seek to live for God. Indeed, we can only fulfil this purpose by attending to details. It is only by being faithful in the least that we can be faithful in much. In mosaic, it is the filling up with small pieces that often gives completeness and beauty to the design. The neglect of little things sometimes leads to serious results. Let life’s details be “with God.” If we take heed to this, all our work will be done well.
3. The purpose of life embraces love and service to all mankind. In the sins and sorrows of men; in their struggle with poverty--aye, and with riches; in their temptations, and need of succour and sympathy; in all these see your field of toil. Up to your work. Perform it with glad heart and diligent hands; and never grow weary--at all events, never grow idle--till you can say, as your Master said--“It is finished.” When Dr. Donne was dying, he said, “I count all that part of my life lost which I spent not in communion with God, or in doing good.” (W. Walters.)
The moral of it all
There are times when every one of us is either constrained by sorrow, or invited by the hope of profit, to take stock of his recollections. We have all desired eagerly, we have all toiled; not one of us but has had his aspirations and his disappointments. Life has turned out, and will, we suppose, turn out differently from what we either hoped or found when we sallied forth upon its ways untried. The book is sympathetic with all who have lost their illusions; with all who watch the bright dreams die out one by one like the fairy lamps of some summer’s festival. How often have we exclaimed with the Preacher, as the hollowness of each pretence of this most pretentious world has been exposed by our own trial: “This also is vanity!” But there is another side to the subject. Some things are real. Never does the author of this book speak of religion as if it were an illusion, or of God as if He were other than true. The spiritual part by which we are related to God and know God is our genuine self. It is because the soul wants truth that it discards so impatiently the counterfeits of truth that press upon its notice. If there were not a vital spark of worth in the soul it would never criticize so severely the mass of worthlessness which surrounds it. That, then, is our subject--the vanity of the world and the worth of religion, and each of these seen, and seen only, in contrast and foil to the other.
1. We may name three things on which the moralist writes the legend of vanity--human labour, human knowledge, human pleasure.
(1) One of his thoughts about labour is that it seems a fruitless fretting against the fixed forces of nature. “The earth abideth for ever.” Suns arise and set; the wind shifts from quarter to quarter; the rivers flow to the sea, and the brooks flow to the rivers. There are times when we are oppressed with this thought, and it becomes unbearable. As one of our English noblemen, who had a mansion overlooking the beautiful valley of the Thames, said: “I cannot understand why people delight in the view of the river; there it is--flow, flow, flow, always the same!” How speedily the effect of man’s toil vanishes from the face of Nature! There is nothing more beautiful than the sight of well-ordered gardens or cultivated field; yet how quickly does Nature, as if in defiance of man’s effort at improvement, come rushing back with her weeds and wildness!
(2) Again, the contrast of human knowledge and wisdom with the sameness of human nature leads to the same reflection of disappointment. Increase of knowledge means increase of sorrow. The study of history brings to light a long series of passionate struggles after truth and good, which have incessantly to be begun anew.
(3) The Preacher turned with sickness of heart from the toil of knowledge, and betook himself to refined pleasures. The thought of death, levelling all distinctions, intruded itself upon him. The wise man is equalled in the earth at last with the fool. Life became odious to him because the work wrought under the sun was grievous to him; for all was vanity and vexation of spirit.
2. And now we come to “the conclusion of the whole matter.” If this legend, “Vanity and vexation of spirit,” is to be written upon the objects of human desire and delight, if the world sounds hollow wherever we touch it, where is reality to be found? The simple answer of the Preacher is, it is to be found in religion: “Fear God, and keep His commandments.” God is real as the soul is real. He is, as Augustine describes Him, the Life of our life, the core of our hearts. God is that pure and perfect Being for alliance and communion with whom we long. And it is the light we have from Him and in Him which makes the world look so dark, the perception of His rightness which throws into painful contrast the crookedness of men’s ways, and of His beauty which makes their wickedness so deformed. And our happiness must lie, for each one of us, in loyalty to Him, in the keeping of His laws, whether they be known to us through the study of Nature or of sacred Scriptures, or by attentive study of our own hearts and the oracular spirit of holiness, whose influence is felt therein. It is in weariness of the world that we fall hack upon the sweetness and truthfulness of pure religion for our refreshment and solace; it is when we have given up the conceit of being wiser than our forefathers, and the hope of setting crooked things straight, that we see distinctly the cultivation of our souls to be our main concern, and the only way to better the world is by reverently attending to our duty in wholeness and simplicity of heart. It is an ill thing for us if, when we have found out the hollowness of this bubble-like world, the trickiness and imposture of human nature, we say: “We will live like the rest, we will not take things seriously, we will pass on our way with a smile and a jest, trusting nothing, hoping nothing.” It is only the presence of God that is of substantial and eternal good, that can console us for the vanity of earthly things, as the Preacher found so long ago. (E. Johnson, M. A.)
Making the most of life
What is meant by “making the most of life”? The answer may be given in four distinct yet related propositions.
I. The wise reckoning of life in its end, aims, limitations, and possibilities. Life is a serious and tremendous reality; life is short at best; life is freighted with infinite possibilities of good and evil; life is a responsible trust of infinite solemnity and importance. To enter upon such a life and spend its precious years, and part with its priceless opportunities, without due consideration, with no serious thought of the future--the end, the obligations and the final issues of life--is to act the part of a fool and a wanton sinner.
II. The right choice of means for the securing of life’s great end. Life is a rational, fearful trust, which God has put into our hands, and He will hold us strictly responsible for the use and outcome of it. On the right choice of means and their wise and faithful application will depend mainly the tone, the character, the fruit, and the final outcome of life itself.
III. A jealous husbanding of all the resources at our command, in order to accomplish life’s end and mission.
IV. The utmost outlay of will and energy and effort to get the best possible results out of this brief period of probationary existence. The present is the seedtime of an eternal existence. Brief as this life is it affords the only chance of heaven. Our days are “numbered” from the start--enough, but not one too many, for the work given us to do. We must up and haste. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
The fear of God
The fear of God which he holds up before us, as the whole work and duty and happiness of man, is such a fear as blends with love, and issues in all holy obedience, in the keeping of God’s commandments, heartily, impartially, universally.
I. The principle of religion. This is the fear of God, not such a dread as wicked men have, and which makes them tremble--like the devils in their prison beneath, but a holy and reverential sense of His majesty--a belief in His presence, power, and goodness--the adoration of His love and wisdom--the reliance upon His providence and the dread of His displeasure. By consequence, the fear of God includes our belief in Him, as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. The fear of God which I now commend to you is a mixed feeling--love, faith, confidence must blend with it. This is the inward principle of religion--without it there can be no acceptable worship. There are two extremes from which it is alike distant. The one extreme is that dread, which engenders superstition and human devices for its palliation and removal.
II. This fear is seen in its results--it necessarily leads to practice; it is in connection with duty and obedience. When we see the movements of a clock, or any complex machine, we know that there is a power at work within. If the hands of a watch move, we know that there is a cause; the result follows of course. It is so with the outward acts of religion when they are right; they spring from the inward principle. The great virtue of this inward principle is, that it actuates man in his conduct universally; it gives a right aim and tendency both to his desires and affections--both to his words and works. To govern the tongue, to restrain the appetites of the body, to correct the temper, to keep down the swellings of pride, the suggestions of malice and revenge, to curb all dishonesty in desire and action, to secure temperance, soberness, and chastity; “to keep the hands from picking and stealing, and the tongue from evil speaking, lying, and slandering;” to establish truth and integrity in the deep places of the heart; these are all results flowing from an inward principle of the fear of God.
III. This is the whole of man; his whole duty, his highest achievement, his noblest work. (H. J. Hastings, M. A.)
What is the whole duty of man
The Book of Ecclesiastes resembles that of Job--its aim is not disclosed till it ends. It might be called the Book of Awakening and Renunciation. If we look at life from a mere earthly point of view it is not worth living. All is vanity; what’s the use? As the book closes it reveals the true philosophy of life.
I. The fear of god. This includes a variety of feelings.
1. Reverence. This may be viewed as threefold, according to Goethe’s profound view of education--reverence for what is above us, reverence for our equals, and reverence for what is below us.
2. The fear of offending God by doing what is sinful.
3. This fear, which springs from reverence, has in it no torment, and is closely allied to hope.
II. The obedience of God. To keep His commandments includes the whole duty of man; or this is every man’s duty. The tree of duty supports many branches.
1. Our duty to God.
2. Our duty to ourselves.
3. Our duty to others.
III. Some reasons.
1. Our whole life shall be judged.
2. Every secret thing in the whole of life shall be revealed in the judgment, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. (L. O. Thompson.)
The summary of manhood
There is no need to caution men against the fear of God. The tendency to-day is not to fear too much, but too little.
I. Fear God. Godly fear is salutary.
1. It fosters reverence.
2. It guards virtue.
3. It restrains from sin.
4. It impels to obedience; to the--
II. Keeping of God’s commandments; of the commandment.
1. To repent.
2. To believe in the Lord Jesus. These are preliminary--to keeping--
3. The great commandment; and--
4. That “like unto it,” and the command--
5. To walk in “all the statutes of the Lord.”
III. “this is the whole duty of man;” rather, “this is the whole”--that is, this is everything--“so far as man’s life is concerned.” This is everything as it relates--
1. To faith.
2. To experience.
3. To conduct.
4. To service. Thus you get the complete man. (R. C. Cowell)
The whole duty of man
This suggests as a theme for meditation the fact that the religion revealed by God includes the entire sphere of possible human activity; that there is nothing good that a man can think, do, or say, or feel, which cannot in its highest forms be shown to be rooted in, and a fruit of, the religion which God has revealed. “Fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.”
I. The first point to determine is the meaning of the word fear. It is not slavish fear; it is not the feeling that a man might have who was writhing on the earth at the approach of a despot, and expecting to be ground into dust by the stamp of his iron heel. The scriptural meaning of fear is what we suggest by the word revere. “Revere God, and keep His commandments.” This is the “fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom.” Revering God as our Creator, as the Sovereign of the universe, as the one Lawgiver, is the union of the intellect which approves, and the heart which loves, and the will which consents. They are all in the single word revere. When reverence for God exists in a human soul, the natural attitude of that soul is the attitude which led St. Paul, while yet his name was Saul, to cry out: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
II. When a child of God, revering Him, asks this question, he finds that the commandments of god include his devotions. The explanation of prayer, of the holy Sabbath, and of the Word of God is to be found in the fact that they create, maintain, and increase reverence.
III. Observe, also, that God’s commands take the form of righteousness, and these commands are simplified, and then details are presented under them. The first and great commandment is that “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, mind, and strength.” The only definition of the love of God which can satisfy the mind or the heart is “to have an intense desire to please Him.” It will apply equally to spirits in the body and out of the body. And the second is like unto it: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This does not mean more than thyself, as some fanatics have supposed, but as thyself; not in the sense of caring for thy neighbour as for thyself, or of caring for his house, his children, his life; but in this sense: that thou wilt do good to thy neighbour as thou hast opportunity, and that thou wilt not do evil to him even for thine own transient advantage. (J. M. Buckley, D. D.)
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil
The great day of judgment
Prove the absolute certainty of a day of general judgment.
1. By the Bible (Jude 1:14; Job 19:25; Psalms 9:7-8; Psalms 50:3-6; Daniel 7:9-10; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 24:15; Acts 24:25; 2 Peter 3:10-12; Revelation 20:11-13).
2. Conscience, influenced by the Holy Spirit, and resting on the inspired volume for theological information, points to the Day of Judgment for rewards and punishments to be distributed at the end of our probation.
3. The equality and justice of God’s administration are incontestable proof of a Day of Judgment.
II. The judge, the circumstances attendant on, and the immediate consequences of, the day of judgment.
1. The Judge. Jesus Christ alone, as exhibited in the Bible, is adequate for the great work of judging the world in righteousness. As Son of God, He understands all the rights of the eternal throne, the requirements of law, and the demands of justice; and as Son of man, He knows the extent of our ability, the feelings of our heaths, and the state of our nature, and can, therefore, be a merciful, gracious, and just Judge in things pertaining to God and man.
2. The circumstances attendant on the Day of Judgment, and the immediate results of the decisions of the Supreme Judge. (W. Barns.)
In the argument in which we are about to engage, we shall assume the great truth of the immortality of the soul; we shall assume, at least, that man is to live after death; for if this be denied, there is little place for reasoning as to human accountableness. I shall perhaps bring this grave question most plainly before you by imagining certain cases, in which a creature would not be accountable, or in which his being held accountable by a Supreme Power would confessedly be at variance with justice. Supposing, then, that I were to tell you of one of the inferior animals, a horse or a dog, as held accountable for its actions, so that the Creator of that animal would call it to a reckoning, and reward or punish it according to its works; there would be an instant feeling in your minds that this could hardly be true. You cannot think that the animal has intelligence enough to be placed under any law; the distinctions between right and wrong have never been apprehended by it, and because of its want of intelligence and of its supposed utter inaptitude for any moral rule, it would seem to you as though to bring the horse or the dog were little better than to bring a machine into judgment. Now, take another ease; the case of an infant, or a very young child. You would declare it palpably unjust were this infant or child alleged accountable for its actions; you would instantly say, “The child is in no sense master of its actions; its reason is not strong enough, and its conscience not formed enough, for discerning between right and wrong; and certainly, if there be accountableness in any case, there cannot be in that in which moral difference has as yet no existence.” You would do precisely the same with the idiot. You would say, “The lamp has been quenched or never kindled in this being, by whose shinings he might have been turned from evil and directed to good: how, then, can he justly be brought into judgment for his actions? how can he be a fit subject whether for punishment or reward?” Neither is it only infancy or idiocy which would make you put a human being beyond the range of accountableness. If it could be shown that a being was under some invincible constraint, actuated by a superior power, forced by irresistible passions, or compelled by irreversible circumstances, to a certain course of conduct, you would decide, and we think very justly, that he could not be accountable for his actions. A free agent alone can be accountable; one free, in such a measure, that he can make an election between evil and good, and is under no necessity of acting in this manner rather than in that. We must admit, also, another exception from accountableness. If a being be so placed that he has not sufficient information as to what is his duty, or that he is without adequate motive to its performance when discerned, it would seem unjust to make him responsible for his actions; as he must be free in order to be accountable, so he must have light enough for his direction, and inducement enough for his obedience. We are now to see whether any of these allowed pleas against accountableness can be urged by men in general; for if not, there will be an end of all objection against the doctrine of human responsibility, or that doctrine will stand out in thorough consistence with the attributes of such a Being as is God: Now, first, as to the free agency of man. You may all have heard of what is called the doctrine of necessity, or fatalism. We are told, that inasmuch as there is a succession of causes and effects in the universe, and every cause must produce its effect, there is no possibility of things being otherwise than as they are; we have no power over events, and none over actions; we cannot act but in one way, we can arrive at but one result; and it is ridiculous to talk of our being accountable, when we are but machines which do not regulate themselves. Now, this doctrine of necessity, if true at all, must be true universally. But I can see that the doctrine of necessity is false in matters of common life. It is not true that things are beyond our control; it is not true that they proceed just the same, whether we interfere or whether we do not. The fields do not wave with harvest, whether we till them or whether we do not; and it does make a difference, whether we put out a fire or suffer it to burn. Be, then, consistent, ye modern fatalists! Carry out your doctrine of necessity in all its extent, and do not confine it to religion and morals. But setting aside this doctrine of necessity, is there any real liberty of action--are not men the creatures of circumstances? are they not under an insuperable bias? is it not practically undeniable, that they will act in one way and not in another? Nay, not so; man is no machine, when the utmost has been allowed as to the tendencies and circumstances of his nature. Man is a being who can be swayed by motives; and a being influenced by motives cannot be a being impelled by necessity. Judge for yourselves; are you not conscious, when you do many things, that you might forbear to do them?--that if a greater inducement to the forbearing were presented than is urging you on to the doing, you would forbear? Then assuredly your actions are so far free, that you may justly be held to account. But a being may be free, and on that account responsible, yet he may be left in such ignorance, or possess so little moral power, that he can hardly discover the right, or follow it if discovered. There is an end of moral government, unless a rigid proportion be maintained between the demands of the ruler and the powers and opportunities of the subject. When St. Paul delivered those memorable words, “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law,” he quite settled the question, with all believers in revelation, as to accountableness varying with advantages, so that there shall be different standards for different circumstances. But, withal, we do not think you can find us the tribe of human beings whose circumstances can be given as sufficient to excuse them from the being accountable at all. You have never any right to look at those in whom the moral sense seems almost extinct, without looking also at others in whom that sense is in vigorous exercise. We gather from the fact of a moral sense being found where man has not thoroughly degraded and sensualized himself, that tilts moral sense is actually an element of our nature; yea, an element not destroyed, but only overlaid in the most degraded and sensualized. For no tribe has been met with in whom conscience could not be awakened; awakened, we say; it was not dead, but only slept. There is not one of you without a conscience. Let men say what they will as to the strength of various motives, the strongest, the most uniform, the most permanent motive with you all is the sense of duty. I do not say that this is the motive to which you most commonly yield, but I do say that this motive is always pressed on you through the instrumentality of conscience; so that whilst every other is transient, this is abiding. I dare affirm, that in every mind duty is secretly placed before interest or pleasure, though it is a hundred to one that practically interest or pleasure wilt carry it over duty. There is a light vouchsafed unto all--there is a voice which is audible by all--there is power in all to attempt the walking by the light, and the hearkening to the voice. And, therefore, with every admission that accountableness is not a fixed thing, but must vary in degree with the circumstances and capacities of the individual, we may contend in the general that God will only be acting with the most thorough justice if He act on the principle of the text--the principle of bringing “every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” Now, it has not been our object throughout our foregoing argument to show you that God does or will hold man accountable, but rather that there is nothing in the circumstances or capacities of man to militate against the doctrine of his accountableness; on the contrary, that those circumstances and capacities are such as to prove it quite just that he should be held accountable. And you may tell me that this leaves the question of human responsibility unsettled; for that God will call men to account is no necessary consequence on a proof that He might call them to account consistently with justice. Now, here again we are at issue with you; we think that the one is a necessary consequence on the other; for if God would be just in holding man accountable, would He not be unjust in not holding him accountable? The justice results from the capacities with which He has endowed man, and the circumstances in which He has placed him; and He would be unjust were He not to deal with him according to these capacities and circumstances; unjust because having proposed an end, His perfections demand of Him that He inquire whether or no it have been effected. But, in truth, if men require from us a rigid mathematical proof of their being responsible, we fairly own that it is not easy to give. We can show that the elements essential to accountableness are all found in man, and yet it may not be easy to draw out a demonstration that man is accountable. But why is this? Only because things on which there is the least doubt are often the hardest to prove. A man asks me to prove to him that he is responsible; I ask him to prove to me that he exists. He will tell me that he is his own evidence as to his existence; and I tell him that he is his own evidence as to his accountableness. That there should be such words in common use with reference to man, is itself convincing proof, that there are facts which correspond to them in his nature and condition. The whole structure of society is based on the fact of human responsibility, and it is this responsibility which keeps it together. You have only to establish that men are not accountable for their actions, and there is an end of all confidence, an end of all law, an end of all decency; the commonwealth is sick at its core, and the mainspring is snapped which actuates all the system. Neither are our modern philosophers prepared for this. They want to keep man responsible so far as accountableness may be necessary, as the cordage of society; and then they wish to prove him irresponsible, so far as accountableness has to do with his relation unto God. Vain effort! futile distinction! There is no accountableness, except accountableness to God. If I am responsible to man, it is only in a subordinate sense. I see where men want to draw the line of accountableness. They have no idea of not holding one another accountable, when their present interests are concerned; but they would like to be rid of the restraints which God’s moral government imposes, and they manage, therefore, to fix the point of human responsibility just where, if responsible, they stand exposed to eternal destruction. This will not do. We cannot admit that principles which are either universally true or universally false, shall be partially applied, chopped and squared, as may suit man’s passions or accord with his interests. We will have them everywhere or nowhere. They shall use their principles wheresoever they are applicable; they shall carry them into politics, they shall carry them into science; they shall be fatalists everywhere, they shall be responsible nowhere. And until this be done there shall be no place for argument against human accountableness, and the testimony of Scripture shall remain thoroughly consistent with all the conclusions of reason, that “God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The reasonableness and credibility of this great principle of religion, concerning a future state of reward and punishment
I. The suitableness of this principle to the most natural notions of our minds. We see, by experience, that all other things (so far as we are able to judge), minerals, plants, beasts, etc., are naturally endowed with such principles as are mesh fit to promote the perfection of their natures in their several kinds. And therefore it is by no means credible that mankind only, the most excellent of all the other creatures in this visible world, for the service of whom so many other things seem to be designed, should have such kind of principles interwoven in his very nature as do contain in them mere cheats and delusions.
1. This principle is most suitable to the general apprehensions of mankind concerning the nature of good and evil. And as the one of these doth in the essence of it imply comeliness and reward, so doth the other denote turpitude and punishment.
2. This principle is most suitable to those natural hopes and expectations which the generality of good men have concerning a state of future happiness. The better and the wiser any man is, the more earnest desires and hopes hath he after such a state of happiness. And if there be no such thing, not only nature, but virtue likewise must contribute to make men miserable; than which nothing can seem more unreasonable to those who believe a just and a wise Providence.
3. This principle is most suitable to those fears and expectations which the generality of wicked men are possessed with, concerning a future state of misery. Now, as there is no man whatsoever that is wholly freed from these fears of future misery after death, so there is no other creature but man that hath any fears of this kind. And if there be no real ground for this, then must it follow that lie who framed all His other works with such an excellent congruity, did yet so contrive the nature of man, the most noble amongst them, as to prove a needless torment and burden to itself.
II. The necessity of this principle to the right government of men’s lives and actions in this world, and the preserving of society amongst them. Nothing can be more evident than that the human nature is so framed as not to be regulated and kept within due bounds without laws; and laws must be insignificant without the sanctions of rewards and punishments, whereby men may be necessitated to the observance of them. Now, the temporal rewards and punishments of this life cannot be sufficient to this end; and therefore there is a necessity that there should be another future state of happiness and misery.
1. Not all that may be expected from the civil magistrate; because there may be many good and evil actions which they cannot take notice of, and they can reward and punish only such things as come under their cognizance.
2. Not all that may be expected from common providence; for though it should be granted that, according to the most general course of things, both virtuous and vicious actions are rewarded and punished in this life; yet there may be many particular cases which this motive would not reach unto, namely, all such eases where a man’s reason shall inform him that there is far greater probability of safety and advantage by committing a sin than can be reasonably expected (according to his experience of the usual course of things in the world) by doing his duty. But the thing I am speaking to will more fully appear by consideration of those horrid mischiefs of all kinds that would most naturally follow from the denial of this doctrine. If there be no such thing to be expected as happiness or misery hereafter, why, then, the only business that men are to take care of is their present well-being in this world, there being nothing to be counted either good or bad but in order to this. Those things which we conceive to be conducible to it being the only duties, and all other things that are cress to it being the only sins. And, therefore, whatever a man’s appetite shall incline him to, he ought not to deny himself in it (be the thing what it will), so he can have it, or do it without probable danger. Now, let any man judge what bears and wolves and devils men would prove to one another if everything should be not only lawful, but a duty, whereby they might gratify their impetuous lusts, if they might either perjure themselves, or steal, or murder, as often as they could do it safely, and get any advantage by it. But there is one thing more, which those who profess to disbelieve this principle should do well to consider, and that is this: that there is no imaginable reason why (amongst those that know them) they should pretend to any kind of honesty or conscience, because they are wholly destitute of all such motives as may be sufficient to oblige them to anything of this nature. But, according to them, that which is called virtue and religion must be one of the most silly and useless things in the world. As for the principle of honour, which some imagine may supply the room of conscience, this relates only to external reputation, and the esteem which we have amongst others, and therefore can be of no influence to restrain men from doing any secret mischief.
III. The necessity of this principle to the vindication of Divine providence. It is well said by a late author, That not to conduct the course of nature in a due manner might speak some defect of wisdom in God; but not to compensate virtue and vies, besides the defect of wisdom, in not adjusting things suitably to their qualifications, but crossly coupling prosperity with vice, and misery with virtue, would argue too great a defect of goodness and of justice. And perhaps it would not be less expedient (saith he) with Epicurus, to deny all Providence, than to ascribe to it such defects. It being less unworthy of the Divine nature to neglect the universe altogether, than to administer human affairs with so much injustice and irregularity.
IV. Application. If this be so, it will concern us then to inquire--
1. Whether we do in good earnest believe this, that there shall be a future state of reward and punishment, according as men’s lives and.actions have been in this world. If not, why do we profess ourselves to be Christians?
2. Do we at any time seriously consider this, and revolve upon it in our minds?
3. What impression doth the belief and consideration of this make upon our hearts and lives? Doth it stir up in us vehement desires, and carefulness of mind in preparing for that time? (Bp. Wilkins.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ecclesiastes 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28