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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary
Ecclesiastes 12

 

 

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 12:1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;

Ver. 1. Remember now thy Creator.] Heb., Creators - scil., Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, called by Elihu, Eloa Gnosia, "God my makers," [Job 35:10] and by David, the "Makers of Israel." [Psalms 149:2] So Isaiah 54:5, "Thy makers is thine husbands." "Let us make man"; [Genesis 1:26] and, [Genesis 1:1] Dii creavit. Those three in one, and one in three, made all things; but man he made "fearfully and wonderfully"; [Psalms 139:14] the Father did it; [Ephesians 3:9] the Son; [Hebrews 1:8; Hebrews 1:10 Colossians 1:16] the Holy Ghost. [Psalms 33:6; Psalms 104:30 Job 36:13; Job 33:4] To the making of man a council was called. [Genesis 1:29] Sun, moon, and stars are but the "work of his fingers"; [Psalms 8:3] but man is the "work of his hands." [Psalms 139:14] "Thine hands have made me," or took special pains about me, "and fashioned me," saith Job. [Job 10:8] Thou hast formed me by the book, saith David. [Psalms 139:16] Hence the whole Church so celebrates this great work with crowns cast down at the Creator’s feet. [Revelation 4:10-11] And hence young men also, who are mostly most mindless of anything serious, for childhood and youth are vanity, are here charged to remember their Creator - that is, as dying David taught his young son Solomon, to know, love, and "serve him, with a perfect heart, and a willing mind," [1 Chronicles 28:9] for words of knowledge in Scripture imply affection and practice. Tam Dei meminisse opus est quam respirare, To remember God is every whit as needful as to draw breath, since it is he that gave us being at first, and that still gives us ζωην και πνοην, "life and breath." [Acts 17:25] "Let everything therefore that hath breath, praise the Lord," even so long as it hath breath; yea, let it spend and exhale itself in continual sallies, as it were, and egressions of affection unto God, till it hath gotten, not only a union, but a unity with him. Of all things, God cannot endure to be forgotten.

In the days of thy youth,] Augustus began his speech to his mutinous soldiers with Audite senem, iuvenes, quem iuvenem senes audierunt, You that are young hear me that am old, whom old men were content to hear when I was but young. And Augustine beginneth one of his sermons thus, Ad vos mihi sermo, O iuvenes, flos aetatis, periculum mentis, To you is my speech, O young men, the flower of age, the danger of the mind. To keep them from danger, and direct them to their duty, it is that the Preacher here exhorts them to remember God betimes, to gather manna in the morning of their lives, to present the firstfruits to God, whose "soul hath desired the first ripe fruits," [Micah 7:1] and who will "remember the kindness of their youth, the love of their espousals." [Jeremiah 2:2] God of old would be honoured with the firstlings of men and cattle, by the firstfruits of trees, and of the earth, in the sheaf, in the threshingfloor, in the dough, in the loaves. He called for ears of corn dried by the fire, and wheat beaten out of the green ears, [Leviticus 2:14] to teach men to serve him with the primrose of their childhood. Three sorts there were of firstfruits: First, Of the ears of grain offered about the passover; secondly, Of the loaves offered about pentecost; lastly, About the end of the year, in autumn. Now of the first two God had a part, but not of the last. He made choice of the almond tree, [Jeremiah 1:11] because it blossometh first; so of Jeremiah from his infancy, Timothy from his mother’s breasts, &c. He likes not of those arbores autumnales autumnal trees [ 1:13] which bud at latter end of harvest. He cares not for such loiterers as come halting in at last cast to serve God, when they can serve their lusts no longer. The Circassians, a kind of mongrel Christians, are said (a) to divide their life between sin and devotion - dedicating their youth to rapine, and their old age to repentance. "But cursed be that deceiver," saith the prophet, "that hath a male in his flock, and yet offereth to the Lord a corrupt thing." [Malachi 1:14] Wilt thou give God the dregs, the bottom, the snuffs, the very last sands, thy dotage, which thyself and friends are weary of? Shall thine oil, which should have been fuel for thy thankfulness, increase the fire of thy lusts, and thy lusts consume all? [James 4:3] How much better were it to sacrifice early, with Abraham, the young Isaacs of thine age? to bring as he did young rams unto the Lord, and even, while thou art yet a lad, a stripling, to "take heed to thy ways according to God’s Word." [Psalms 119:9] Ye shall not see my face, saith Christ, as once Joseph, except you bring your younger brother with you.

While the evil days come not,] viz., Of old age and misery; for these are seldom separated. Senectus, ut Africa, semper aliquid novi adportat, As Africa is never without some monster, so neither is old age ever without some ailment. Multa senem circumveniunt incommoda, (b) Many are the inconveniences that do encompass an old man. Solet senectus esse deformis, infirma, obliviosa, edentula, lucrosa, indocilis, et molesta, saith Cato in Plutarch, (c) Old age useth to be deformed, weak, forgetful, toothless, covetous, unteachable, unquiet. Now shall any man be so besotted and bewitched as to make that the task of his old age which should be the trade of his whole life? and to settle his everlasting only surest making or marring upon so sinking and sandy a foundation? A ship, the longer it leaks, the harder it is to be emptied; a land, the longer it lies, the harder it is to be ploughed; a nail, the further it is driven in, with the greater difficulty it is pulled out. And shall any man think that the trembling joints, the dazzled eyes, the fainting heart, the failing hands, the feeble legs of strengthless, drooping, untractable, wayward, froward old age can break up the fallow ground, can ever empty and pluck out the leaks and nails of so many years flowing and fastening?


Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 12:2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:

Ver. 2. While the sun, or the light, or the moon, &c., ] i.e., While greater and lesser comforts fail not; or before the sight of thine eyes grow dim, and as unfit to let in light as an old dusty window. The air to aged eyes seemeth dusty and misty, and the sun wadeth as the moon in a foggy evening, and the stars are out of sight; they "see through a glass darkly," as the apostle speaks in another case, [1 Corinthians 13:12] they can know no kin without spectacles; the defluxion of rheum, (a) which trickleth down the nose and cheeks, being as it were the rain, the gathering of new matter, which continually distilleth, being as it were the returning of the clouds after the rain in a moist season, and waters into an emptied fountain. Some, with relation to the former verse, interpret the words thus: Let thy Creator be remembered while the "sun is not darkened" - that is, while youth continueth; or if not so, while "the light of the sun" is not gone - that is, while thy manhood lasteth; or if not so, while the "moon is not darkened," - that is, while thine elder years are not spent; or if not so, while the "stars are not shut up," while the worst of old age hath not seized upon thee; for then "the clouds will return after the rain," - that is, one grief comes upon the neck of another, "as deep calleth upon deep at the noise of the waterspouts." [Psalms 42:7] One affliction followeth and occasioneth another, without intermission of trouble, as one billow comes wallowing and tumbling upon another, or, as in April weather, one shower is unburdened, another is brewed. Hence some of the ancient patriarchs are said to have died old men, and full of years, - they had enough of this world, and desired to depart, as Abraham, Simeon, others. Hence the poets feign that Tithonus, when he might have had immortality here, he would not. And Cato protested, that if when old he might be made young again, he would seriously refuse it. (b)


Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 12:3 In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,

Ver. 3. In the day when the keepers of the house, &c., ] i.e., The hands and arms, wherewith we defend the head and whole body - called a house also by St Paul - from harm and danger, and maintain our lives; which are therefore called the "lives of our hands," because upheld with the labour of our hands. [Isaiah 57:10] These are fitly called keepers or guardians for their usefulness, and for their faithfulness too. Numa Pompilius consecrated the hands to faith; his successor, Tallus Hostilius, being a profane, perfidious person, and a condemner of all religion, as that which did but emasculate men’s minds, and make them idle, brought in and worshipped two new gods, viz., Paver and Pallor - Fear and Paleness. (a) Like another Cain, "Sighing and trembling he was upon the earth," so the Septuagint renders that,. [Genesis 4:12] Not his hands only trembled, which is thought to be Cain’s mark, [Genesis 4:15] but his heart too. [Isaiah 7:2] Not with old age either, as here, but with the terrors of an evil conscience. But to return to the text. Old men are full of the palsy for the most part, and many other infirmities, which here are most elegantly described by a continued allegory. Men draw forth as lively as they can the pictures of their young age, that in old age they may see their youth before their eyes. This is but a vanity, yet may good use be made thereof. So contrarily the Preacher here draws out to the life the picture of old age, (b) that young men may see and consider it together with death that follows it, and "after death, judgment."

And the strong men shall bow themselves.] Nutabunt: the legs and thighs shall stagger and falter, cripple and crinkle under them, as not able to bear the body’s burden. The thigh in Latin is called femur, a ferendo, because it beareth and holdeth up the creature, and hath the longest and strongest bone in the whole body. The leg hath a shinbone and a shankbone, aptly fitted for the better moving. The foot is the base, the ground and pedestal which sustaineth the whole building. These are Solomen’s "strong men"; but as strong as they are, yet in old age they buckle under their burden, (c) and are ready to overthrow themselves and the whole body. Hence old men are glad to betake them to their third leg, a staff or crutch; Membra levant baculis tardique senilibus annis. Hence Hesiod calls them τριποδας. Let them learn to lean upon the Lord, as the spouse did "upon her beloved," [Song of Solomon 8:5] and he will stir up some good Job to be "eyes to them when blind, and feet to them when lame,." [Job 29:15] Let them also pray with David, "Cast me not off in the time of old age, forsake me not when my strength faileth." [Psalms 71:9]

And the grinders cease, because they are few.] The teeth, through age, fall out, or rot out, or are drawn out, or hang loose in the gums, and so cannot grind and masticate the meat that is to be transmitted into the stomach, for the preservation of the whole. Now the teeth are the hardest of the bones, if that they be bones, (d) whereof Aristotle makes question. They are as hard as stones, in the edges of them especially, and are here fitly compared to millstones, from their chewing office. The seat of the teeth are the jaws, where they have their several sockets, into which they are mortised. But in old men they stand wetshod in slimy humonr, or are hollow and stumpy, falling out one after another, as the cogs of a mill, so that

Fragendus misero gingiva panis inermi. ” - Juvenal.

And those that look out at the windows.] The eyes are dim, as they were in old Isaac and Jacob, A heavy affliction surely, but especially to those that have had "eyes full of adultery," [2 Peter 2:14] "evil eyes," windows of wickedness, for the conscience of this puts a sting into the affliction, is a thorn to their blind eyes, and becomes a greater torment than ever Regulus the Roman was put to, (e) when his eyelids were cut off, and he set full opposite to the sun shining in his strength; (f) or than that Greek prince that had his eyes put out with hot burning basins, held near unto them. (g)


Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 12:4 And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;

Ver. 4. And the doors shall be shut in the streets.] The ears shall grow deaf, the hearing weak, which hearing is caused by two bones within the inside of the ear, whereof one stands still and the other moves, like the two stones of a mill.

And he shall rise up at the voice of the bird.] Being awakened by every small noise; and this proceeds not from the quickness of the hearing, but from the badness of sleeping. For as Jerome speaketh, Frigescente iam sanguine, &c. :(a) The blood now growing cold, and the moisture being dried up, by which matters sleep should be nourished. The old man awakeneth with a little sound, and at midnight, when the cock croweth, he riseth speedily, (b) being not able often to turn his members in his bed. Thus he. Cocks crowing, saith another, unto old men is the scholar’s bell, that calls them to think of the things that are in God’s book every morning.

And all the daughters of music shall be brought low.] Old men, as they cannot sing tunably, but creak or scream (whence Homer compares them to grasshoppers, propter raucam vocem, for their unpleasant voice), so they can take no delight in the melodious notes of others, as old Barzillai confesseth; [2 Samuel 19:35] they discern not the harmony or distinction of sounds, neither are affected with music. (c) They must therefore labour to become temples of the Holy Ghost (in whose temple there never wants music), and sing psalms "with grace in their hearts," for, Non vex, sed votum; non musica chordula, nen cor; non clamans, non amans, psallit in aure Dei.


Verse 5

Ecclesiastes 12:5 Also [when] they shall be afraid of [that which is] high, and fears [shall be] in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

Ver. 5. Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high.] Hillocks or little stones standing up, whereat they may stumble, as being unsteady and unwieldy. High ascents also they shun, as being short winded; neither can they look down without danger of falling, their heads being as weak as their hams. Let them therefore pray for a guard of angels, putting that promise into suit. [Psalms 91:11] Let them also keep within God’s precincts, as ever they expect his protection; and then, though old Eli fell, and never rose again, yet when they fall they shall arise, for the Lord puts under his hand. [Psalms 37:24] Contrition may be in their way, but attrition shall not. Let them fear God, and they need not fear any other person or thing whatsoever.

And the almond tree shall flourish.] The hair shall grow hoary, those church yard flowers shall put forth. The almond tree blossoms in January, while it is yet winter, and the fruit is ripe in March. (a) Old age shall snow white hairs upon their heads. Let them see that they be "found in the way of righteousness."

And the grasshopper shall be a burden.] Every light matter shall oppress them, who are already a burden to themselves, being full of gout, and other swellings of the legs, which the Septuagint and Vulgate point at here, when they render it, impinguabiter locusta, - The locusts shall be made fat. Let them wait upon the Lord, as that "old disciple Mnason" [Acts 21:16] did, and then they shall "renew their strength, mount up as eagles, run, and not be weary, walk, and not faint," even then, when "the youth shall faint and be weary, and the young men utterly fall." [Isaiah 40:30-31]

And desire shall fail.] "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." [1 John 2:15] And this Cicero reckons among the commodities and benefits of old age, quod hominem a libidinis estu, velut a tyranno quodem liberet, - that it frees a man from the fire of lust. (b) It should be so doubtless, an old letcher being little less than a monster. What so monstrous as to behold green apples on a tree in winter? and what so indecent as to see the sins of youth prevailing in times of age among old decrepit goats? that they should be capering after capparis ( καππαρις), the fruit of capers, as the Septuagint and Vulgate render it here.

Because man goeth to his long home.] Heb., To his old home - scil., to the dust from whence he was taken; or to "the house of his eternity" - that is, the grave (that house of all living), where he shall lie long, till the resurrection. Tremellius renders it, in domum saeculi sui - to the house of his generation, where he and all his contemporaries meet. Cajetan, in demure mundi sui - into the house of his world; that which the world provides for him, as nature at first provided for him the house of the womb. Toward this home of his the old man is now on gait, having one foot in the grave already. He sits and sings with Job, "My spirit is spent, my days are extinct, the graves are ready for me." [Job 17:1]

And the mourners go about the streets.] The proverb is, Senex bos non lugetur, - An old man dies unlamented. But not so the good old man. Great moaning was made for old Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Samuel. The Romans took the death of old Augustus so heavily, that they wished he had either never been born or never died. Those, indeed, that live wickedly die wishedly. But godly men are worthily lamented, and ought to be so. [Isaiah 57:1] This is one of the dues of the dead, so it be done aright. But they were hard bestead that were fain to hire mourners; that as midwives brought their friends into the world, so those widows should carry them out of it. See Job 3:8, Jeremiah 9:17.


Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 12:6 Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

Ver. 6. Or ever the silver cord be loosed.] Or, Lengthened - i.e., before the marrow of the back (which is of a silver colour) be consumed. From this cord many sinews are derived, which, when they are loosened, the back bendeth, motion is slow, and feeling faileth.

Or the golden bowl be broken,] i.e., The heart, say some, or the pericardium; the brain pan, say others, or the pia mater, compassing the brain like a swathing cloth, or inner rind of a tree.

Or the pitcher be broken at the fountain.] That is, The veins at the liver (which is the place of sanguification, or blood making, as one calls it), but especially Vena porta and Vena cava. Read the anatomists.

Or the wheel be broken at the cistern,] i.e., The head, which draws the power of life from the heart, to the which the blood runs back in any great fright, as to the fountain of life.


Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Ver. 7. Then shall the dust return to the earth, &c.] What is man, saith Nazianzen, but Nους και χους, soul and soil, breath and body; a puff of wind the one, a pile of dust the other; no solidity in either. Zoroaster and some other ancient heathens imagined that the soul had wings, that, having broken these wings, she fell headlong into the body, and that, recovering her wings again, she flies up to heaven, her original habitation. That of Epicharmus is better to be liked, and comes nearer to the truth here delivered by the Preacher, Coneretum fuit, et discretum est, rediitque unde venerat; terra deorsum, spiritus sursum, - It was together, but is now by death set asunder, and returned to the place whence it came, the earth downward, the spirit upward. See Genesis 2:7, "God made man of the dust of the earth," to note our frailty, vility, and impurity. Lutum enim conspurcat omnia, sic et caro, saith one, - Dirt defiles all things; so doth the flesh. It should seem so, truly, by man’s soul, which, coming pure out of God’s hands, soon becomes

Mens oblita Dei, vitiorumque oblita caeno.

Bernard complains, not without just cause, that our souls, by commerce with the flesh, are become fleshly. Sure it is, that by their mutual defilement, corruption is so far rooted in us now, that it is not cleansed out of us by mere death (as is to be seen in Lazarus, and others that died), but by cinerification, or turning of the body to dust and ashes.

The spirit returns to God that gave it.] For it is divinae particula aurae, an immaterial, immortal substance, that after death returns to God, the Fountain of life. The soul moves and guides the body, saith a worthy divine, (a) as the pilot doth the ship. Now the pilot may be safe, though the ship be split on the rock. And as in a chicken, it grows still, and so the shell breaks and falls off. So it is with the soul; the body hangs on it but as a shell, and when the soul is grown to perfection, it falls away, and the soul returns to the "Father of spirits." Augustine (after Origen) held a long while that the soul was begotten by the parents, as was the body. At length he began to doubt this point, and afterward altered his opinion, confessing inter caetera testimonia hoc esse praecipuum, that among other testimonies this to be the chief, to prove the contrary to that which he had formerly held.


Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 12:8 Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all [is] vanity.

Ver. 8. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher.] Who chose for his text this argument of the vanity of human things, which having fully proved and improved, he here resumes and concludes. See previous verses.


Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 12:9 And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, [and] set in order many proverbs.

Ver. 9. And moreover, because the Preacher was wise.] He well knew how hard it was to work men to a belief of what he had affirmed concerning earthly vanities, and therefore heaps up here many forcible and cogent arguments; as, first, that himself was no baby, but wise above all men in the world, by God’s own testimony; therefore his words should be well regarded. Oι σοφοι ημων δευτερωσι, Our wise men expound today (said the Jews one to another), "Come, let us go up to the house of the Lord," &c. Cicero had that high opinion of Plato for his wisdom, that he professed that he would rather go wrong with him than go right with others. Averroes overly admired Aristotle, as if he had been infallible. But this is a praise proper to the holy penman, guided by the spirit of truth, and filled with wisdom from on high for the purpose. To them, therefore, and to the word of prophecy by them, must men "give heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place," &c. [2 Peter 1:19]

He still taught the people knowledge.] He hid not his talent in a napkin, but used it to the instruction of his people. "Have not I written for thee excellent things" (or three various types of books - viz., proverbial, penitential, nuptial) "in counsels and knowledge?" [Proverbs 22:20] Synesius speaks of some that, having great worth in them, will as soon part with their hearts (a) as with their conceptions. And Gregory observeth, (b) that there are not a few who, being enriched with spiritual gifts and abilities to do good, dum solis contemplationis studiis inardescunt, parere utilitati proximorum praedicatione refugiunt, while they burn in the studies of contemplation only, do shun to seek by preaching to profit their neighbours. Solomon was none of these.

Yea, he gave good heed.] Or, He made them to take good heed; (c) he called upon them ever and anon, as our Saviour did upon his hearers, "Let him that hath an ear to hear, hear." Or as the deacons in Chrysostom’s and Basil’s time used to call upon the people, in these words, Oremus, attendamus, Let us pray, let us give heed.

And sought out.] By diligent scrutiny and hard study, beating his brains, as the fowl beats the shell to get out the fish, with great vehemence. The staves were always in the ark, to show, saith Gregory, that preachers should always meditate in their hearts upon the sacred Scriptures, that if need require they may without delay take up the ark, teach the people.

And set in order many proverbs.] Marshalled them in a fit method, and set others awork for to do the like. For, Regis ad exemplum, &c. Our Henry I, surnamed Beauclerc, had in his youth some taste of learning; and this put many of his subjects into the fashion of the book, so that various learned men flourished in his time, (d) as Ethan, Heman, Chalcola as Agur, and other compilers of proverbs did in Solomon’s.


Verse 10

Ecclesiastes 12:10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and [that which was] written [was] upright, [even] words of truth.

Ver. 10. The Preacher sought, &c.] He sought and sought, by pains and prayer. He knew the rule, Bene orasse, est bene studuisse, (a) To have prayed well is to have studied well. By prayer and tears St John got the book opened. [Revelation 5:4] Luther got much of his insight into God’s matters by the same means.

To find out acceptable words.] Verba desiderata; so Cajetan renders it. Verba delectabilia; so Tremellius. Verba expetibilia; so Vatablus. Delectable and desirable words, dainty expressions, that might both please and profit, tickle the ear, and with it take the heart. Such a master of speech was Paul, [Acts 14:12] who thundered and lightened (b) in his discourses like another Pericles. Such a one was Apollos, that eloquent preacher, "mighty in the Scriptures," ειπειν δεινοτατος, like another Phocion, a weighty speaker; such were many of the Greek and Latin fathers. Ambrose for one, whom when Augustine heard preach, Veniebant, saith he, in animum meum simul cum verbis quae deligebam, etiam res quas negligebam, There came into my mind, together with the words which I chiefly looked after, the matter which till then I made no reckoning of. Et res et verba. Both deeds and words. Philip Melanchthon could dress his doctrine in dainty terms, and so slide insensibly into the hearts of his hearers. Egit vir eloquens ut intelligenter ut obedienter audiretur, as Augustine (c) hath it; This eloquent man took pains that he might be heard with understanding, with obedience. The like might be said of Calvin, famous for the purity of his style and the holiness of his matter. Viret, in whose sermons singularem eloquentiam et in commovendis affectibus efficacitatem admirabar, saith Zanchy, (d) greatly admired at his singular eloquence and skill to work upon the affections by his elaborate discourses.

And that which was written was upright.] A corde ad cor, void of all insincerity and falsehood. [Proverbs 8:8] Seducers come for the most part with pithanology - " by good words and fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple." [Romans 16:18] But our Preacher’s words are of another alloy, not more delicious and toothsome, than sound and wholesome, [2 Timothy 3:16] proceeding from a right heart, and tending to make men upright, transforming them into the same image, and transfusing them into the divine nature.


Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 12:11 The words of the wise [are] as goads, and as nails fastened [by] the masters of assemblies, [which] are given from one shepherd.

Ver. 11. The words of the wise are like goads.] To rouse up men’s drowsy and drossy spirits; to drive them, as the eagle doth her young ones with her talons, out of the nest of carnal security; to awaken them out of the snare of the devil, who hath cast many into such a dead lethargy, such a dedolent disposition, that, like Dionysius the Heracleot, they can hardly feel sharpest goads, or needles thrust into their fat hearts - "fat as grease." [Psalms 119:70] St Peter so preached that his hearers were "pricked at heart." [Acts 2:37] St Stephen so galled his adversaries that they were "cut to the heart." [Acts 7:54] And before them both, how barely and boldly dealt John Baptist and our Saviour Christ with those enemies of all righteousness, the Pharisees, qui toties puncti ac repuncti, nunquam tamen ad resipiscentiam compuncti, as one saith of them (who like those bears in Pliny, or asses of Tuscany, that have fed on hemlock), were so stupified that no sharp words would work upon them or take impression in their hearts, so brawny were their breasts, so horny their heart strings!

And as nails.] Such as shepherds fastened their tents to the ground with. Jael drove one of these tent nails through Sisera’s temples, and laid his body as it were listening what was become of the soul. [ 4:21] Now, as nails driven into pales do fasten them to their rails, so the godly and grave sentences of teachers - those "masters of assemblies" - do pierce into men’s hearts, to unite them unto God by faith, and one to another in love. Our exhortations truly should be strong and well pointed, not only to wound as arrows, but to stick by the people as forked arrows, that they may prove, as those of Joash, "the arrows of the Lord’s deliverance." And surely it were to be wished, in these unsettled and giddy times especially, that people would suffer such words of exhortation, as, like goads, might prick them on to pious practice, and, like nails, might fix their wild conceits, that they might be steadfast and immoveable, stablished in the truth, and not whiffied about with every wind of doctrine. But we can look for no better, so long as they have so mean an esteem of the ministers, those "masters of the assemblies" (whose office it is to congregate the people, and to preside in the congregations), which are given from one shepherd, the arch-shepherd [1 Peter 2:25] of his sheep, Jesus Christ, who in the days of his solemn inauguration into his kingdom, "gave these gifts unto men" - viz., "some to be apostles, some evangelists, some pastors, some teachers," &c. [Ephesians 4:11] What a mouth of blasphemy then opens that schismatical pamphleteer, (a) that makes this precious gift of Christ to his spouse, this sacred and tremendous function of the ministry, to be as mere an imposture, as very a mystery of iniquity, as arrant a fraud as the Papacy itself!


Verse 12

Ecclesiastes 12:12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books [there is] no end; and much study [is] a weariness of the flesh.

Ver. 12. And further, by these, my son, be admonished.] By these divine directions and documents, contained in this short book, wherein thou shalt find fulness of matter in fewness of words Or "by these," that is, by the Holy Scriptures, which, according to some interpreters, are called in the former verse "lords of collections," because they are as lords paramount above all other words and writings of men that ever were collected into volumes. Odi ego meos libros, saith Luther, (a) I do even hate the books set forth by myself, and could wish them utterly abolished, because I fear that by reading them some are hindered from spending their time in reading the sacred Scriptures. Of these it is that the Psalmist saith, "Moreover by them is thy servant warned" - or clearly admonished, as the word signifies - "and in doing thereof there is great reward." [Psalms 19:11]

Of making many books there is no end.] Ambition and covetousness sets many authors awork in this scribbling age, Scribimus indocti doctique, &c. Presses are greatly oppressed, and "every fool will be meddling," that he may be a fool in print. Multi mei similes hoc morbo laborant, ut cum scribere nesciant, tamen a scribendo temperare non possunt: Many are sick of my very disease, saith Erasmus; that though they can do nothing worthy of the public, yet they must be publishing; hence the world so abounds with books, even to satiety and surfeit, many of them being no better than the scurf of scald and scabby heads.

And much study is a weariness to the flesh.] Jerome renders it Labor carnis, a work of the flesh. They will find it so one day to their sorrow, that are better read in Sir Philip than in St Peter, in Monsieur Balsac’s Letters than St Paul’s Epistles. The Holy Bible is to be chiefly studied, and herein we are to labour even to being exhausted; to read till, being overcome with sleep, we bow down as it were to salute the leaves with a kiss, as Jerome exhorted some good women of his time. (b) All other books, in comparison of this, we are to account as waste paper, and not to read them further than they some way conduce to the better understanding or practising of the things herein contained and commended unto our care.


Verse 13

Ecclesiastes 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this [is] the whole [duty] of man.

Ver. 13. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter,] scil., Touching the attainment of true happiness. Let us see (for a perclose of all) where and how it may be had. Shall I tell you in two words, saith the Preacher? I will so, and see that ye mark it. In the original, the word rendered conclusion here hath the first letter bigger than the rest, to stir up the greater attention to that which follows, since in this short sentence is contained the sum of all divinity. {Hebrew Text Note}

Fear God and keep his commandments.] Bear an awful respect to the Divine Majesty, a reverential fear; and from this principle obey God in every part and point of duty. Do this, and live for ever. Do it in an evangelical way, I mean; for we can do it now no otherwise. Wish well to exact obedience, as David doth in Psalms 119:4-5, "Oh that I could keep thy commandments accurately"; and woe is me that I cannot! And then be doing as thou canst; for affection without endeavour is like Rachel, beautiful but barren. Be doing, I say, at everything, as well as at anything; for thou must not be funambulus virtutum, as Tertullian phraseth it, one that goeth in a narrow tract of obedience. No; thine obedience must be universal, extending to the compass of the whole law (which is but one copulative, as the schools speak). And then, beati sunt qui praecepta faciunt, etiam si non perficiunt, (a) they are blessed that do what they can, though they cannot but underdo. And, in libro tuo scribuntur omnes qui quod possunt faciunt, et si quod debent, non possunt. (b) They are surely written all in God’s book that do what they can, though they cannot do as they ought. I cannot let slip a note given by one that was once a famous preacher in this kingdom, and still lives in his printed sermons. The Book of Ecclesiastes, saith he, begins with "All is vanity," and ends with "Fear God and keep his commandments." Now, if that sentence were knit to this, which Solomon keepeth to the end, as the haven of rest after the turmoils of vanity, it is like that which Christ said to Martha, "Thou art troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary." That which "troubleth" us Solomon calls vanity; that which is "necessary" he calls the fear of God. From that to this should be every man’s pilgrimage in this world. We begin at Vanity, and never know perfectly that we are vain till we come to fear God and keep his commandments.

For this is the whole duty of man.] Heb., This is the whole man - q.d., He is not a complete man; he loses all his other praises that fears not God. It is the very nature and essence of man to be a reasonable creature. Now, what more reasonable than that God should be feared and served? What more irrational than irreligion? See 2 Thessalonians 3:2. And what is man without true grace but praestantissimum brutum, as one saith, a very fair beast?


Verse 14

Ecclesiastes 12:14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether [it be] good, or whether [it be] evil.

Ver. 14. For God shall bring every work into judgment.] Full loath is sinful flesh to come to judgment; but (will they, nill they), come they must, "God will bring them." Angels will hale them out of their hiding holes. Rocks and mountains will then prove a sorry shelter, since rocks shall rend and mountains melt at the presence of the Judge. Let us therefore judge ourselves, if he shall not judge us, and take unto us words against our sins, if we will not have him to take unto him words against our souls. [Hosea 14:2] And then, Ira vivamus, ut rationem nobis reddendam arbitretour, saith the heathen orator, Let us so live as those that must shortly be called to an account. For who can tell but that he may suddenly hear as that Pope did, and was soon after found dead, Veni, miser, in iudicium, Come, thou wretch, receive thy judgment. Let this be firmly believed and thoroughly digested, and it will notably incite us to the fear and service of God. This some heathens knew. Zaleucus Locrensis, in the preface to his laws, hath these words: Hoc inculcatum sit, esse Deos, et venturum esse summum et fatalem illum diem: Remember to press often upon the people these two things; first, That there are gods; next, To these gods an account of all must be given. The Areopagites at their council were wont diligently to inquire what every one of the Athenians did, and how he lived, that men knowing and remembering that once they must give an account of their lives, though but to earthly judges, might embrace honesty. (a)

With every secret thing.] For at that day of "Revelation," as it is called, we must all appear - or be made transparent, translucent, and dear, like a perfectly transparent body, as the word there signifies - before the judgment seat of Christ; [2 Corinthians 5:10] all shall be laid naked and open, the books of God’s omniscience and man’s conscience also shall be then opened, and secret sins shall be as legible in thy forehead as if written with the brightest stars or the most glittering sunbeams upon a wall of crystal. Men’s actions are all in print in heaven, and God will at that day read them aloud in the ears of all the world.

Whether it be good or evil.] Then it shall appear what it is, which before was not so clear; like as in April both wholesome roots and poisonable reveal themselves, which in winter were not seen. Then men shall give an account - (1.) De bonis commissis, of good things committed unto them; (2.) De bonis dimissis, of good things neglected by them; (3.) De malis commissis, of evils committed by them; (4.) Lastly, De malis permissis, of evils done by others, suffered by them when they might have hindered it.

Here (as also at the end of Lamentations, Isaiah, and Malachi) many of the Hebrew Bibles repeat the foregoing verse, Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, &c., yet without points, lest anything should seem added thereby to the holy Scriptures. {Hebrew Text Note} The reason hereof read in the end of the prophecy of Isaiah. {See Trapp on "Isaiah 66:24"}

Laus Deo

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/ecclesiastes-12.html. 1865-1868.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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