Here is an admonition both to old people and to young people, to think of dying, and get ready for it. Having by many excellent precepts taught us how to live well, the preacher comes now, towards the close of his discourse, to teach us how to die well and to put us in mind of our latter end.
I. He applies himself to the aged, writes to them as fathers, to awaken them to think of death, Eccl. 11:7, 8. Here is, 1. A rational concession of the sweetness of life, which old people find by experience: Truly the light is sweet; the light of the sun is so; it is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold it. Light was the first thing made in the formation of the great world, as the eye is one of the first in the formation of the body, the little world. It is pleasant to see the light; the heathen were so charmed with the pleasure of it that they worshipped the sun. It is pleasant by it to see other things, the many agreeable prospects this world gives us. The light of life is so. Light is put for life, Job 3:20, 23. It cannot be denied that life is sweet. It is sweet to bad men because they have their portion in this life; it is sweet to good men because they have this life as the time of their preparation for a better life; it is sweet to all men; nature says it is so, and there is no disputing against it; nor can death be desired for its own sake, but dreaded, unless as a period to present evils or a passage to future good. Life is sweet, and therefore we have need to double a guard upon ourselves, lest we love it too well. 2. A caution to think of death, even in the midst of life, and of life when it is most sweet and we are most apt to forget death: If a man live many years, yet let him remember the days of darkness are coming. Here is, (1.) A summer’s day supposed to be enjoyed—that life may continue long, even many years, and that, by the goodness of God, it may be made comfortable and a man may rejoice in them all. There are those that live many years in this world, escape many dangers, receive many mercies, and therefore are secure that they shall want no good, and that no evil shall befal them, that the pitcher which has come so often from the well safe and sound shall never come home broken. But who are those that live many years and rejoice in them all? Alas! none; we have but hours of joy for months of sorrow. However, some rejoice in their years, their many years, more than others; if these two things meet, a prosperous state and a cheerful spirit, these two indeed may do much towards enabling a man to rejoice in them all, and yet the most prosperous state has its alloys and the most cheerful spirit has its damps; jovial sinners have their melancholy qualms, and cheerful saints have their gracious sorrows; so that it is but a supposition, not a case in fact, that a man should live many years and rejoice in them all. But, (2.) Here is a winter’s night proposed to be expected after this summer’s day: Yet let this hearty old man remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. Note, [1.] There are days of darkness coming, the days of our lying in the grave; there the body will lie in the dark; there the eyes see not, the sun shines not. The darkness of death is opposed to the light of life; the grave is a land of darkness, Job 10:21. [2.] Those days of darkness will be many; the days of our lying under ground will be more than the days of our living above ground. They are many, but they are not infinite; many as they are, they will be numbered and finished when the heavens are no more, Job 14:12. As the longest day will have its night, so the longest night will have its morning. [3.] It is good for us often to remember those days of darkness, that we may not be lifted up with pride, nor lulled asleep in carnal security, nor even transported into indecencies by vain mirth. [4.] Notwithstanding the long continuance of life, and the many comforts of it, yet we must remember the days of darkness, because those will certainly come, and they will come with much the less terror if we have thought of them before.
II. He applies himself to the young, and writes to them as children, to awaken them to think of death (Eccl. 11:9, 10); here we have,
1. An ironical concession to the vanities and pleasures of youth: Rejoice, O young man! in thy youth. Some make this to be the counsel which the atheist and the epicure give to the young man, the poisonous suggestions against which Solomon, in the close of the verse, prescribes a powerful antidote. But it is more emphatic if we take it, as it is commonly understood, by way of irony, like that of Elijah to the priests of Baal (Cry aloud, for he is a god), or of Micaiah to Ahab (Go to Ramoth-Gilead, and prosper), or of Christ to his disciples, Sleep on now. “Rejoice, O young man! in thy youth, live a merry life, follow thy sports, and take thy pleasures; let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, cheer thee with its fancies and foolish hopes; entertain thyself with thy pleasing dreams; walk in the ways of thy heart; do whatever thou hast a mind to do, and stick at nothing that may gratify the sensual appetite. Quicquid libet, licet—Make thy will thy law. Walk in the ways of thy heart, and let thy heart walk after thy eyes, a rambling heart after a roving eye; what is pleasing in thy own eyes do it, whether it be pleasing in the eyes of God or no.” Solomon speaks thus ironically to the young man to intimate, (1.) That this is that which he would do, and which he would fain have leave to do, in which he places his happiness and on which he sets his heart. (2.) That he wishes all about him would give him this counsel, would prophesy to him such smooth things as these, and cannot brook any advice to the contrary, but reckons those his enemies that bid him be sober and serious. (3.) To expose his folly, and the great absurdity of a voluptuous vicious course of life. The very description of it, if men would see things entirely, and judge of them impartially, is enough to show how contrary to reason those act that live such a life. The very opening of the cause is enough to determine it, without any argument. (4.) To show that if men give themselves to such a course of life as this it is just with God to give them up to it, to abandon them to their own heart’s lusts, that they may walk in their own counsels, Hos. 4:7.
2. A powerful check given to these vanities and pleasures: “Know thou that for all these things God shall bring thee into judgment, and duly consider that, and then live such a luxurious life if thou canst, if thou darest.” This is a kolasterion—a corrective to the foregoing concession, and plucks in the reins he had laid on the neck of the young man’s lust. “Know then, for a certainty, that, if thou dost take such a liberty as this, it will be thy everlasting ruin; thou hast to do with a God who will not let it go unpunished.” Note, (1.) There is a judgment to come. (2.) We must every one of us be brought into judgment, however we may now put far from us that evil day. (3.) We shall be reckoned with for all our carnal mirth and sensual pleasures in that day. (4.) It is good for all, but especially for young people, to know and consider this, that they may not, by the indulgence of their youthful lusts, treasure up unto themselves wrath against that day of wrath, the wrath of the Lamb.
3. A word of caution and exhortation inferred from all this, Eccl. 11:10. Let young people look to themselves and manage well both their souls and their bodies, their heart and their flesh. (1.) Let them take care that their minds be not lifted up with pride, nor disturbed with anger, or any sinful passion: Remove sorrow, or anger, from thy heart; the word signifies any disorder or perturbation of the mind. Young people are apt to be impatient of check and control, to vex and fret at any thing that is humbling and mortifying to them, and their proud hearts rise against every thing that crosses and contradicts them. They are so set upon that which is pleasing to sense that they cannot bear any thing that is displeasing, but it goes with sorrow to their heart. Their pride often disquiets them, and makes them uneasy. “Put that away, and the love of the world, and lay thy expectations low from the creature, and then disappointments will not be occasions of sorrow and anger to thee.” Some by sorrow here understand that carnal mirth described Eccl. 11:9; the end of which will be bitterness and sorrow. Let them keep at a distance from every thing which will be sorrow in the reflection. (2.) Let them take care that their bodies be not defiled by intemperance, uncleanness, or any fleshly lusts: “Put away evil from the flesh, and let not the members of thy body be instruments of unrighteousness. The evil of sin will be the evil of punishment, and that which thou art fond of, as good for the flesh, because it gratifies the appetites of it, will prove evil, and hurtful to it, and therefore put it far from thee, the further the better.”
III. The preacher, to enforce his admonition both to old and young, urges, as an effectual argument, that which is the great argument of his discourse, the vanity of all present things, their uncertainty and insufficiency. 1. He reminds old people of this (Eccl. 11:8): All that comes is vanity; yea, though a man live many years and rejoice in them all, All that has come already, and all that is yet to come, how much soever men promise themselves from the concluding scenes, it is all vanity. What will be will do no more to make men happy than what has been. All that come into the world are vanity; they are altogether so, at their best estate. 2. He reminds young people of this: Childhood and youth are vanity. The dispositions and actions of childhood and youth have in them a great deal of impertinence and iniquity, sinful vanity, which young people have need to watch against and get cured. The pleasures and advantages of childhood and youth have in them no certainty, satisfaction, nor continuance. They are passing away; these flowers will soon wither, and these blossoms fall; let them therefore be knit into good fruit, which will continue and abound to a good account.