Ecclesiastes Chapter 8

 
 

CHAPTER VIII.

Still continues the praise of "wisdom." For if, as the last verses of the previous chapters have shown, there be but very few that walk in her paths, she necessarily lifts those few far above the thoughtless mass of men; placing her distinguishing touch even on the features of her disciples, lighting them up with intelligence, and taking away the rudeness and pride that may be natural to them.

"Man's wisdom lighteth up his face--its aspect stern is changed."

If this, then, the result, listen to her counsels: "Honor the king," nor be connected with any conspiracy against him. It is true that authorities are as much "out of joint" as everything else under the sun; and instead of being practically "ministers of God for good," are but too often causes of further misery upon poor man; yet wisdom teaches to wait and watch. Everything has a time and season; and instead of seeking to put matters right by conspiracy, await the turn of the wheel; for this is most sure, that nothing is absolutely permanent here--the evil of a tyrant's life any more than good. His power shall not release him from paying the debt of nature; it helps him not to retain his spirit.

This too I saw,--'twas when I gave my heart
To every work that's done beneath the sun,--
That there's a time when man rules over man to his own hurt.
'Twas when I saw the wicked dead interred,
And to and from the holy place (men) came and went.
Then straight were they forgotten in the city of their deeds.
Ah, this was vanity!

Thus our Preacher describes the end of the tyrant. Death ends his tyranny, as it does, for the time being at least, the misery of those who were under it. Men follow him to his burial, to the holy place, return to their usual avocations--all is over and forgotten. The splendor and power of monarchy now show their hollowness and vanity by so quickly disappearing, and even their memory vanishing, at the touch of death. And yet this retributive end is by no means speedy in every case. Sentence is often deferred, and the delay emboldens the heart of man to further wickedness. Still, he says, "I counsel to fear God, irrespective of present appearances. I am assured this is the better part: fear God, and, soon or late, the end will justify thy choice."

Beautiful and interesting it is thus to see man's unaided reason, his own intelligence, carrying him to this conclusion: that there is nothing better than to "fear God"; and surely this approves itself to any intelligence. He has impressed the proofs of His glorious Being on every side of His creature, man, "Day unto day uttereth speech"; and the Sun, that rejoiceth as a strong man to run his race, voices aloud, in his wondrous adaptations to the needs of this creation on which he shines, His Being--His eternal power and godhead. Not only light but warmth he brings, for "there is nothing hid from the heat thereof," and in this twofold benevolence testifies again to his Creator, who is Love and Light. Further, wherever he shines he manifests infinite testimonies to the same truth. From the tiny insect that balances or disports itself with the joy of life in his beams, to the grandeur of the everlasting hills, or the majesty of the broad flood of ocean--all--all--with no dissentient, discordant voice, proclaim His being and utter His creative glory. Nor does darkness necessarily veil that glory: moon and stars take up the grand and holy strain; and what man can look at all--have all these witnesses reiterating day and night, with ever-fresh testimonies every season, the same refrain,

"The Hand that made us is divine,"

and yet say, even in His heart, "There is no God!" Surely all reason, all wisdom, human or divine, says "Fool!" to such.

Thus, step by step, human wisdom treads on, and, as here, in her most worthy representative, "the king," concludes that it is most reasonable to give that glorious Creator the reverence due, and to "fear" Him.

But soon, very soon, poor reason has to stop, confounded. Something has come into the scene that throws her all astray: verse 14--

"'Tis vanity, what's done upon the earth; for so it is,
That there are righteous to whom it haps as to the vile;
And sinners, too, whose lot is like the doings of the just.
For surely this is vanity, I said."

Yes, man's soul must be, if left to the light of nature, like that nature itself. If the sky be ever and always cloudless, then may a calm and unbroken faith be expected, when based on things seen. But it is not so. Storm and cloud again and again darken the light of nature, whether that light be physical or moral; and under these storms and clouds reason is swayed from her highest and best conclusions; and the contradictions without, are faithfully reflected within the soul.

"And so I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labor the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun." Here we get the heralds of a storm indeed. They are the first big drops that bespeak the coming flood that shall sweep our writer from all reason's moorings; the play of a lightning that shall blind man's wisdom to its own light; the sigh of a wind that soon shall develop into a very blast of despair.

What a contradiction to the previous sober conclusion, "It shall be well with them that fear God"! Now, seeing that there is no apparent justice in the allotment of happiness here, and the fear of God is often followed by sorrow, while the lawless as often have the easy lot,--looking on this scene, I say, "Eat, drink, and be merry"; get what good you can out of life itself; for all is one inextricable confusion.

Oh, this awful tangle of providences! Everything is wrong! All is in confusion! There is law everywhere, and yet law-breaking everywhere. How is it? Why is it? Is not God the source of order and harmony? Whence, then, the discord? Is it all His retributive justice against sin? Why, then, the thoroughly unequal allotment? Here is a man born blind. Surely this cannot be because he sinned before his birth! But, then, is it on account of his parents' sinning? Why, then, do the guilty go comparatively free, and the guiltless suffer? Sin, surely, is the only cause of the infliction. So the disciples of old, brought face to face with exactly this same riddle, the same mystery, ask, "Master, who did sin--this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither." Another--higher, happier, more glorious reason, Jesus gives: "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." So the afflicted parents weep over their sightless babe; so they nurse him through his helpless, darkened childhood, or guide him through his lonely youth, their hearts sorely tempted surely to rebel against the providence that has robbed their offspring of the light of heaven. Neighbors, too, can give but little comfort here. Why was he born blind? Who did the sin that brought this evident punishment?

Oh wait, sorrowing parents! wait, foolish friends! One is even now on His glorious way who shall with a word unravel the mystery, ease your troubled hearts, quell each rebellious motion, till ye only sorrow that ever a disloyal thought of the God of Love and Light has been permitted; and, whilst overwhelming you with blessing, answer every question your hearts--nay, even your intelligences--could ask.

Oh wait, my beloved readers, wait! We, too, look on a world still all in confusion. Nay, ourselves suffer with many an afflictive stroke, whose cause, too, seems hidden from us, and to contradict the very character of the God we know. One only is worthy to unlock this, as every other, sealed book--wait! He must make Himself known; and, apart from things being wrong, this were impossible. "The works of God must be made manifest." Precious thought! Blessed words! Sightless eyes are allowed for a little season, that He--God--may manifest His work in giving them light--accompanied by an everlasting light that knows no dimming. Tears may fall in time, that God's gentle and tender touch may dry them, and that for ever and ever. Nay, Death himself, with all his awful powers shall be made to serve the same end, and, a captive foe, be compelled to utter forth His glory. Lazarus is suffering, and the sisters are torn with anxiety; but the Lord abides "two days still in the same place where he" is. Death is allowed to have his way for a little space--nay, grasp his victim, and shadow with his dark wing the home that Jesus loves; and still He moves not. Strange, mysterious patience! Does He not care? Is He calmly indifferent to the anguish in that far-off cottage? Has He forgotten to be gracious? or, most agonizing question of all, Has some inmate of that home sinned, and chilled thus His love? How questions throng at such a time! But--patience! All shall be answered, every question settled--every one; and the glorious end shall fully, perfectly justify His "waiting."

Let Death have his way. The power and dignity of his Conqueror will not permit Him to hasten. For haste would bespeak anxiety as to the result; and that result is in no sense doubtful. The body of the brother shall even see corruption, and begin to crumble into dust, under the firm and crushing hand of Death. Many a tear shall the sisters shed, and poor human sympathy tell out its helplessness. But the Victor comes! In the calm of assured victory He comes. And the "express image of the substance" of the Living God stands face to face as Man with our awful foe, Death. And lo, He speaks but a word--"Lazarus, come forth!"--and the glory of God shines forth with exceeding brightness and beauty! Oh, joyous scene! oh, bright figure of that morn, so soon approaching, when once again that blessed Voice shall lift itself up in a "shout," that shall be heard, not in one, but in every tomb of His people, and once more the glory of God shall so shine in the ranks upon ranks of those myriads, that all shall again fully justify His ''waiting"!

It was indeed a blessed light that shone into the grave of Lazarus. Such was its glory, that our spirits may quietly rest forever; for we see our Lord and Eternal Lover is Conqueror and Lord of Death. Nor need we ask, with our modern poet, who sings sweetly, but too much in the spirit of Ecclesiastes,

Where wert thou, brother, those four days?
There lives no record of reply,
Which, telling what it is to die,
Had surely added praise to praise.

The resurrection of Lazarus does tell us what it is for His redeemed to die. It tells that it is but a sleep for the body, till He come to awaken it,--that those who thus sleep are not beyond His power, and that a glorious resurrection shall soon "add praise to praise" indeed.

But do not these blessed words give us a hint, at least, of the answer to that most perplexing of all questions, Why was evil ever permitted to disturb the harmony and mar the beauty of God's primal creation, defile heaven itself, fill earth with corruption and violence, and still exist even in eternity? Ah, we tread on ground here where we need to be completely self-distrustful, and to cleave with absolute confidence and dependence to the revelation of Himself!

The works of God must be manifested; and He is Light and Love, and nothing but Light and Love. Every work of His, then, must speak the source whence it comes, and be an expression of Light or Love; and the end, when He shall again--finding everything very good--rest from His work to enjoy that eternal sabbath, never to be broken, shall shew forth absolutely in heaven, in earth, and in hell, that He is Light and Love, and nothing but that.

Light and Love!--blending, harmonizing, in perfect equal manifestation, in the cross of the Lord Jesus, and--Light now approving Love's activity--in the righteous eternal redemption of all who believe on Him; banishing from the new creation every trace of sin, and its companion, sorrow; whilst the Lake of Fire itself shall prove the necessity of its own existence to display that same nature of God, and naught else--Love then approving the activity of Light, as we may say.

As Isaiah shows, in the millennial earth, in those

"Scenes surpassing fable, and yet true--
Scenes of accomplished bliss"--

there is still sorrowful necessity for an everlasting memorial of His righteousness in "the carcases of those men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and (mark well the sympathies of that scene) they shall be an abhorring to all flesh." Love rejected, mercy neglected, truth despised, or held in unrighteousness, grace slighted,--nothing is left whereby the finally impenitent can justify their creation except in being everlasting testimonies to that side of God's nature, "Light," whilst "Love," and all who are in harmony therewith, unfeignedly approve. All shall be right. None shall then be perplexed because "there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous." All shall be absolutely right. No whisper shall be heard, even in hell itself, of the charges that men so boldly and blasphemously cast at His holy name now.

God is all in all. His works are manifested; and whilst it is His strange work, yet Judgment is His work, as every age in Time has shown; as the Eternal age, too, shall show--in time, this judgment is necessarily temporal; in eternity, where character, as all else, is fixed, it must as necessarily be eternal!

Solemn, and perhaps unwelcome, but wholesome theme! We live in a time peculiarly characterized by a lack of reverence for all authority. It is the spirit of the times, and against that spirit the saint must ever watch and guard himself by meditation on these solemn truths. Fear is a godly sentiment, a just emotion, in view of the holy character of our God. "I will forewarn whom ye shall fear," said the Lord Jesus: "Fear him which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him." The first Christians, walking in the fear of the Lord as well as the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied; and when Annanias and Sapphira fell under God's judgment, great fear came on all the church; whilst apostasy is marked by men feeding, themselves without fear.

All shall be "right." It is the wrong and disorder and unrighteous allotment prevailing here that caused the groans of our writer. Let us listen to them. Their doleful, despairing sound shall again add sweeter tone to the lovely music of God's revelation, speaking, as it does, of One who solves every mystery, answers every question, heals every hurt; yea, snatches His own from the very grasp of Death; for all is right, for all is light, where Jesus is, and He is coming. Patience! Wait!