Ecclesiastes Chapter 11



We are drawing near the end,
and to the highest conclusions of true human wisdom; and full of deepest
interest it is to mark the character of these conclusions. Reason speaks;
that faculty that is rightly termed divine, for its possession marks those
who are "the offspring of God." He is the Father of
spirits, and
it is in the spirit that Reason has her seat; whilst in our Preacher she
is enthroned, and now with authority utters forth her counsels. Here we
may listen to just how far she can attain, mark with deepest interest,
and indeed admiration, the grand extent of her powers; and at the same
time their sorrowful limit,--note their happy harmony up to that limit,
with her Creator; and then, when with baffled effort and conscious helplessness,
in view of the deepest questions that ever stir the heart, she is able
to find no answer to them, and groans her exceeding bitter cry of "Vanity,"
to turn and listen to the grace and love of that Creator meeting those
needs and answering those questions,--this is inexpressibly precious; and
with the light thus given we must let our spirits sing a new song, for
we are nigh to God, and it is still true that "none enter the king's gate
clothed with sackcloth." Joy and praise have their dwelling ever within
those boundaries; for He inhabiteth the praises of His people.

In the first eight verses
of our chapter we shall thus find man's Reason running in a beautiful parallel
with the divine, and yet in marked contrast with the narrow, selfish, short-sighted
policy of the debased wisdom of this world. Their broad teaching is very
clear; look forward,--live not for the present; but instead of hoarding
or laying up for the evil day, cast thy bread--that staff of life, thy
living--boldly upon the waters, it shall not be lost. You have, in so doing,
intrusted it to the care of Him who loseth nothing; and the future, though
perhaps far off, shall give thee a full harvest for such sowing. But, to
be more explicit, give with a free hand without carefully considering a
limit to thy gifts ("a portion to seven and also to eight" would seem to
have this bearing), for who knows when, in the future, an evil time to
thee may make thee the recipient of others' bounty.

Can we but admire the harmony,
I say again, between the voice of poor, feeble, limited human wisdom and
the perfect, absolute, limitless, divine wisdom of New Testament revelation:

"For I mean not that other
men be eased and ye burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time
your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also
may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality." This is very
closely in the same line. But Solomon continues: Nay, see the lessons that
Nature herself would teach (and he is no wise man, but distinctly and scripturally
"a fool," who is deaf to her teachings, blind to her symbols). The full
clouds find relief by emptying themselves on the parched earth, only to
receive those same waters again from the full ocean, after they have fulfilled
their benevolent mission; and it is a small matter to which side, north
or south, the tree may fall, it is there for the good of whoever may need
it there. *

[* The current interpretation
of this clause, that it speaks of the future state of man after death,
seems hardly in keeping with the context, and certainly not at all in keeping
with the character and scope of the book. Ecclesiastes everywhere confesses
the strict limitation of his knowledge to the present scene. This is the
cause of his deepest groanings that he cannot pierce beyond it; and it
would be entirely contrary for him here, in this single instance, to assume
to pronounce authoritatively of the nature of that place or state of which
he says he knows nothing.]

The accidental direction
of the wind determines which way it falls; but either north or south it
remains for the good of man. In like manner watch not for favorable winds;
dispense on every side, north and south, of thy abundance; nor be too solicitous
as to the worthiness of the recipients. He who waits for perfectly favorable
conditions will never sow, consequently never reap. Results are with God.
It is not thy care in sowing at exactly the right moment that gives the
harvest; all that is God's inscrutable work in nature, nor can man
tell how those results are attained. Life in its commencements is as completely
enshrouded in mystery now as then. No science, no human wisdom has, or--it
may be boldly added--ever can throw the slightest glimmer of clear light
upon it. Thy part is diligence in sowing, the harvest return is God's care.
"In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand"
is wisdom's counsel here, just as a higher wisdom teaches "Preach the word:
be instant in season and out of season."

Thus human reason and divine
wisdom "keep step" together till the former reaches its limit; and very
soon, in looking forward, is that limit reached. For listen now to her
advice, consequent on the foregoing. Therefore she says, Let not the enjoyment
of the present blind thee to the future; for alas there stands that awful
mysterious Exit from the scene that has again and again baffled the Preacher
throughout the book. And here again no science or human reason ever has
or ever can throw the faintest glimmer of clear light beyond it. That time
is still, at the end of the book, the "days of darkness." As poor Job in
the day of his trial wails: "I go whence I shall not return, even to the
land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of darkness as darkness
itself, and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light
is as darkness." So Ecclesiastes says, "let him remember the days of darkness,
for they shall be many." Oh sad and gloomy counsel! Is this what
life is? Its bright morning ever to be clouded,--its day to be darkened
with the thoughts of its end? Oh sorrowful irony to tell us to rejoice
in the years of life, and yet ever to bear in mind that those years are
surely, irresistibly, carrying us on to the many "days of darkness." Yes,
this is where the highest intellect, the acutest reason, the purest wisdom
of any man at any time has attained. But

Where Reason fails, with
all her powers,

There Faith prevails and
Love adores.

Where the darkness by reason's
light is deepest, there Love--Infinite and Eternal--has thrown its brightest
beam, and far from that time beyond the tomb being "the days of darkness,"
by New Testament revelation it is the one eternal blessed Day lit up with
a Light that never dims; yes, even sun and moon unneeded for "The glory
of God enlightens it, and the Lamb is the Light thereof." Think of a Christian
with that blessed hope of the coming of his Saviour to take him to that
well-lighted Home--His Father's House--with the sweet and holy anticipations
of seeing His own blessed Face,--once marred and smitten for him; of never
grieving Him more, of sin never again to mar his communion with Him, of
happy holy companionship for eternity with kindred hearts and minds all
tuned to the one glorious harmony of exalting "Him that sits upon the throne
and the Lamb,"--of loving Him perfectly, of serving Him perfectly, of enjoying
Him perfectly,--think of such a Christian saying, as He looks forward to
this bliss, "All that cometh is vanity,"and we may get some measure
of the value of the precious word of God.

But now with a stronger blow
our writer strikes the same doleful chord: "Rejoice, O young man, in thy
youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk
in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou,
that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment."

One would think that there
could be no possible misunderstanding the sorrowful irony of the counsel
"to walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes,"--expressions
invariably used in an evil sense (compare Num. xv. 39; Isa. lvii. 17);
and yet, to be consistent with the interpretation to similar counsel in
other parts of the book, expounders have sought to give them a Christian
as if they were given in the light of revelation and not in the semi-darkness
of nature. But here the concluding sentence, "Know thou, that for all these
things God will bring thee into judgment," is quite unmistakable.

But here is indeed a startling
assertion. Where has our writer learned, with such emphatic certainty,
of a judgment to come? Have we mistaken the standpoint whence our book
was written? Has the writer, after all, been listening to another Voice
that has taught him what is on the other side of the grave? Does Revelation
make itself heard here at last? Or may, perhaps, even this be in perfect
harmony with all that has gone before, and be one step further--almost
the last step--along the path that unaided (but not depraved) human Reason
may tread? In a word, does Nature herself give Reason sufficient light
to enable her, when in right exercise, to discover a judgment-seat in the
shadows of the future?

This is surely a question
of deepest--yes, thrilling--interest; and, we are confident, must be answered
in the affirmative. It is to this point that our writer has been climbing,
step by step. Nature has taught him that the future must be looked at rather
than the present; or, rather, the present must be looked at in the light
of the future; for that future corresponds in its character to the
present, as the crop does to the seed, only exceeds it in intensity
the harvest exceeds the grain sown. Thus bread hoarded gives no harvest;
or, in other words, he who lives for the present alone, necessarily, by
the simplest and yet strongest law of Nature, must suffer loss:
is Judgment by Nature's law. This, too, is the keynote of every verse--"the
future," "the future"; and God, who is clearly discerned by Reason as behind
Nature, "which is but the name for an effect whose Cause is God,"--God
is clearly recognized as returning a harvest in the future, in strict
and accurate accord with the sowing of the present. This is very
clear. Then how simple and how certain that if this is God's irrefragable
law in Nature, it must have its fulfillment too in the moral nature of
man. It has been one of the chief sorrows of the book that neither wrong
nor confusion is righted here, and those "days of darkness" to which all
tends are no discriminative judgment, nor is there anything of the kind
in a scene where "all things come alike to all." Then surely, most surely,
unless indeed man alone sows without reaping,--alone breaks in as an exception
to this law,--a thought not consonant with reason,--there must be to him
also a harvest of reaping according to what has been sown: in other words
a Judgment. Although still, let us mark, our writer does not assume
to say anything as to where or when that shall be, or how brought about,
this is all uncertain and indefinite: the fact is certain;
and more
clear will the outline of that judgment-seat stand out, as our writer's
eyes become accustomed to the new light in which he is standing,--the fact
is already certain.

Solemn, most solemn, is this;
and yet how beautiful to see a true reason--but let us emphasize again
not depraved, but exercising her royal function of sovereignty over
the flesh, not subject to it--drawing such true and sure lessons from that
which she sees of the law of God in Nature. It is a reasonable, although
in view of sin, a fearful expectation; and with exactness is the word chosen
in Acts: Paul reasoned of judgment to come; and reason, with conscience,
recognized the force of the appeal, as "Felix trembled."

Thus that solemn double appointment
of man: death and judgment has been discerned by Nature's light, and counsel
is given in view of each. We said that our writer had reached the climax
of his perplexities in view of death in chap. ix. when he counseled us
to "merrily drink our wine"; but now judgment discerned, death itself even
not necessarily the end, at length soberness prevails; and with an evident
solemn sincerity he counsels "Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and
put away evil from thy flesh, for childhood and youth are vanity."