May 21st, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
David, Decision, Indulgence, Opportunity, Preachers, Septuigent, Teenager, Vanity, Vulgate, Youth, 1967, Ecclesiastes
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-21-67 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Remembering God. The twelfth chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes is a summary of the exhortation that Solomon, the king in Jerusalem, has made to his people. It reads like this:
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; While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
Then his conclusion:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
The king of Jerusalem, Solomon, calls himself qoheleth, the words of qoheleth, the Son of David, king in Jerusalem. In the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible, the translators used the word ecclesiastes to translate that word qoheleth. Qoheleth is a word referring to a man who addresses an assembly. So when the Septuagint translation into Greek used the word ecclesiastes, it was followed exactly by Jerome in the Latin Vulgate, and so came to us in the translation "preacher," the words of the Preacher, the words of qoheleth, the Son of David, king in Jerusalem.
What qoheleth did, what Solomon did, was something unique in human experience. He took every facet of life to its ultimate extremity, then he wrote down what that extremity was. He tasted every cup and labeled each one. He sailed every sea and charted every course. He made money do its utmost; then he wrote down what that uttermost was, "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; emptiness of emptiness, saith the preacher, All is vanity, all is emptiness" [Ecclesiastes 12:8].
He made pleasure do its utmost, then he wrote down what that "uttermost" was. "Vanity, emptiness of emptiness, saith the preacher; all is emptiness" [Ecclesiastes 12:8]. He made indulgence do its utmost, then he wrote down what that uttermost was. "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity." He made worldly fame and affluence and praise and grandeur and success do its utmost, then he wrote down what that uttermost was. "Vanity of vanities, saith qoheleth; all is vanity, emptiness." As he lived in one successive world after another, and tried one experience after another, when he had brought it to its utmost, then he wrote down what that uttermost was: satiety, satiation, ennui, a fullness that became sickening.
And as we compare the experience of qoheleth in our own lives, our judgments are no different. There is a world of infancy, but the toys of the child are soon abandoned. There is a world of boyhood, but the games and amusements of boyhood are soon outgrown. There is a world of youth, but the interests and the enticements and the enterprises of youth are soon abandoned. And the world of the man, building, research, science, achievement, actually brings no new life and no new reality.
I often think of that in this technological age in which we live. Is there any greater wonder in the world than an airplane? Yet finally and ultimately, for all of its technological advance and the miracle of its creation, all that it brings is you get to New York or you get to Los Angeles or you get to San Francisco maybe a few hours earlier. And we become so accustomed to it, that if it loses thirty minutes in a thousand miles we are disgruntled and dissatisfied. And when you get there, it is just there that you are, the same you.
A man goes through the air seven hundred miles and hour in a jet plane. And another one follows in an old wagon behind a floppy-eared mule. When both of them land in the hospital, neither the guy in the jet falling out of the sky or the fellow following the floppy-eared old mule kicked in the head by that critter, in the hospital, they both look strangely alike. If we ever make it to Mars or to Jupiter or to the moon, we’ll still be just the same.
I can remember when radio, the little radio in our town, I can remember when every citizen in that little village gathered at Mr. Miller’s house. He had a newfangled contraption called a radio, all filled around with batteries and great big Victor-looking horns, and the roaring of the static and all that went along with it. But it was a marvelous thing, an unbelievable thing! And I remember when television came, what marvelous wonders they are! Yesterday at Baylor Hospital, I went to see one of our young men who has been there sick for some time in an accident. And I said to him, "Why don’t you have your television set on?" He said, "I’m so sick of it; I’m so tired of it. I just don’t want to look at it anymore."
All of life is like that. Our so-called progress and our so-called achievements and our tremendous technological advances really bring to us no new realties and no new life. "Vanity of vanities," said qoheleth, "I’ve tried them all. They are filled with satiety and satiation."
Well, one reading the Book of Ecclesiastes and applying it to the experience of life as we know it, it might think that this man is a profound pessimist. Not so, for the book does not end in bitterness and disillusionment and despair. After he had experienced it all and had brought every experience in life to its uttermost, then he found and wrote and discovered a great and eternal truth, and that truth he writes in the concluding and twelfth chapter of his book [Ecclesiastes 12:13]. The meaning of life and the depths of life and the rewards of life are to be found, not in us and in the satiety of our experiences, but it is to be found in God, in the great Creator and keeper and Savior of our souls.
Now, may I follow that as he presents it here in the book? First: in our lives and in this world, there is to be found no ultimate meaning. But its meaning is to be found from afar, from above, from a light from heaven that is shed upon it. In ourselves, with all of our human rationalizations and speculations, life is ultimately without purpose and without meaning. And if you have read anything of modern philosophy, an interpretation of life – especially existentialism, which is the craze of the modern philosopher – you know how true that is. The modern philosophy, the existentialists, the modern interpretation of life is that, it is without meaning and without purpose. We don’t know where we came from; we don’t know whither we’re going to, and the whole thing is fortuitous and accidental.
When we find the meaning of life in ourselves, in our own speculations, it becomes dark and hopeless and purposeless. For life in this world, to have any meaning at all, it must come by revelation; it must come from above. It must come from afar.
Could I illustrate it like our world? Our world is in darkness, except as the light of God’s heavenly Son comes upon it, plays upon it [2 Corinthians 4:6]. So with the meaning and the understanding of all things in our lives: you cannot understand time outside the background of eternity. You cannot understand the here without also the hereafter. You cannot interpret our life with any meaning on this globe and leave out heaven. And that is the mistake of the human race; they think they can find meaning in life and leave out God, close the Book, and find it in their own wills and ways and understanding; you cannot. To leave God out, and to leave heaven out, and to leave eternity out is to make our world dark and ultimately nothing but a charnel house, a vast illimitable cemetery. Our meaning and our purpose cannot be found in ourselves; it must be found from above, from God.
All right, a second thing that he says: there is a power above our lives that shapes us and forms us, and it is in those omnipotent hands that we are made and that our lives and frames are cast. "Remember now thy Creator" [Ecclesiastes 12:1]. "Oh," but someone says, "I don’t believe in such doctrine as that, that a Power above me shapes my life and guides my destiny. I don’t believe in those omnipotent sovereignties that you speak of, as being Lord and Almighty. I shape my own life. I’m the captain of my own destiny." Well, in a certain narrow limit, and only in the moral equation.
Let me ask you, why weren’t you born a hundred years ago? Let me ask you, why weren’t you born a Hottentot? Let me ask you, why were you born a man, if you’re a man; or a woman, if you’re a woman? Just exactly what did you have to do with your birth? That you were born in this generation and not a hundred years ago, that you were born the color you are and not some other color; that you were born the sex you are and not some other sex. Just exactly what did you have to do with these things? And do you think that you will choose the day of your demise? Do you know when you are going to die? In narrow limits, in very narrow limits, we have choice and mostly moral. "Shall I love God and serve God, or shall I not?" But outside of those very small and moral limits, our lives are in the elective purposes of Someone far above us whom qoheleth calls "our Creator."
All right, a third thing that he says that he’s learned. Number three: it is in the days of youth. It is in the days of youth. "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth" [Ecclesiastes 12:1]. It is in the days of youth, in the glory time, in the springtime of life that we are especially and particularly to seek the face and will of God.
Now why that? For very obvious reasons. It is in youth time that all of these decisions are made that color all of the years of afterlife, in the youth time. I’ve often wondered why God did it that way. The youth is so inexperienced. You can’t put an old head on young shoulders. And he is so without judgment and without background. Yet every destiny-determining decision that guides his life is made when he’s a young man, or a young woman, mostly made in childhood. For example, what you do in life, your work in life, is largely, largely determined in childhood, in youth. The choice of what you’re going to do cannot be made in later life; it’s too late. It has to be made in youth. "Remember now thy Creator, God’s will for us, in the days of thy youth" [Ecclesiastes 12:1].
When I went down the aisle in a tent revival meeting cast in the middle of the town in which I grew up, there preceded me an older man. His brother was holding the revival meeting, a very gifted preacher. And he preceded me, this older man, fell into the arms of his brother, and said, "God has called me to preach. And I’ve heard that call since I was a youth, but I have refused. But now I answer God’s call and I’m going to be a preacher." Oh there were many tears, and great emotion and great feeling, and then he set down there on the front row.
Then I went up, I was just a little fellow, then I went up and gave the preacher my hand and said, "I felt God’s call through all those previous few years of my life, and I was giving my heart and life to be a preacher." Then I sat down by the side of that older man. Now that older man was a farmer, and all of his life he had been out there on a New Mexico farm. I grew up on the Texas line, and his farm, his place, was in New Mexico. And he was weather-beaten and rough; takes somebody like that to stand that weather out there.
So the next Sunday afternoon it was announced that he was going to preach his first sermon. And I went to the service in the tent and sat on the front row in order to listen to the brother of the evangelist preach his first sermon. He stood up there. His bones creaked. His gestures were uncouth. His language was ungrammatical. He had one of the most ineffective messages I ever listened to and thought so even as I was a boy seated on the front seat, listening to him as he delivered his first sermon. And so far as I know, that was the end of his ministry.
If you’re going to do something, you had better get ready for it; and the time to get ready for it is when you are a youth, when you are a child. Are you going to be a doctor? You better start getting ready as a young man. Are you going to be a professional man? Are you going to be a businessman? Are you going to be God’s servant in the pulpit? The time to make that decision is in youth. The years that follow after are too late.
One of the finest families that I’ve ever known in this church had a boy, and that boy refused to go to school, and he refused to go to college, and he refused to train himself, one of the most obstreperous young fellows I ever knew. Then, as the years passed, he decided that, "I want to go to school. I want to go to college. I want to prepare myself." By that time he had a wife and a family. And you can imagine how much preparation he did with a wife and a family, and all the years gone by, for that particular profession to which he wanted to give himself. It’s too late. Remember now God’s will for your life in the days of your youth; it’s in youth time that the decision is made concerning what you’re going to do in the vocation to which you give yourself.
All right, another thing: it’s in youth time that the decision is made about building a home, and about marrying. Oh! There’s not anything in the earth that I would, under God, that I could do for young people as I would like to do in putting into their hearts and into their minds the experience of older life. But you can’t talk to them; you can’t reason with them. So far as I know, what Samuel Palmer Brooks said – the Baylor University president under whom I went to school – he said, "In all of the years that I’ve been president of Baylor University, I’ve never had one student yet to take my advice about getting married; not one, not one."
Three out of five marriages in so many areas of our nation end in divorce. There are many years in Dallas County when there are more divorces than there are marriages. And the unhappinesses and the miseries, all that attend; if you want to know what hell and damnation is like, the best illustration I can give you is when you marry the wrong person. And that decision is made when you are young, and sometimes in your teens. Remember now God in the days of your youth.
I must hasten. A third thing: in this decision, your character. What you are, what you are like is mostly determined when you are young. You can take a little piece of an oak tree, and tie a knot in it, actually, when it’s young. But as the years pass, to untie that knot or unbend that tree would be to break it asunder. It’s not viable; it’s not amenable anymore. So human character is like that: when you are young it’s malleable, it’s moldable, it’s conformable, it’s teachable. But when you get older you don’t change. "Can the leopard change its spots, or the Ethiopian its skin?" [Jeremiah 13:23].
This very week a dear woman came to me and said, "But he says, ‘I have changed.’" I said, "Has he been converted? Has he had an experience with God?"
"No," she said, "but he says he’s changed." I said, "Men don’t change outside of God. If he’s a whoremonger in adulthood, outside of the power of God, when he comes to you and says, ‘I want to build my home again and I want to be your husband again, and I want us to marry again.’" I said, "Outside of God, he doesn’t change." For those character projections are set when you are young, and you continue on, you continue on. Outside of the changing, regenerating power of Almighty God, and what you are is what you do when you are young.
May I illustrate that before I leave the point? Do you remember when David stood before Saul, and David said, "Since there are none other in the armies of Israel that will go out to fight this uncircumcised Philistine, Goliath, since there’s no man of war in Israel who will do it, I will do it" [1 Samuel 17:32]. And Saul the king said, "You? You? Why this man is eight feet, six inches tall, and his staff, his spear is like a weaver’s beam. You? Why it’s unthinkable!" [1 Samuel 17:33]. But the boy replied, "Sir, when I was keeping my father’s flock, a lion came and stole away the lamb. And upon another occasion a bear came and stole away a lamb. And I followed him and smote him and rescued the lamb out of his teeth [1 Samuel 17:34-35]. And the same Lord God that delivered into my hands the lion and the bear will deliver into my hands this blaspheming Philistine" [1 Samuel 17:36-37].
What you do in all the days of later life are just a projection and a continuation of what you are doing when you are young. "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth" [Ecclesiastes 12:1]. It’s the days of decision. And when we decide for God, thereafter, the whole pattern of life somehow always reverts to the Almighty. But if we reject God in our youth, thereafter, barring a miraculous intervention, all of our life reflects that rejection. I read this week – and I think the statistics are not true; you may have a basis of computing it in the whole world and not say "in Dallas" – but this last week I read, "Only one in five thousand ever decide for God after they’re eighteen years of age." And then the second sentence, "And only one in two hundred fifty thousand ever decide for God beyond twenty-five years of age." If we are ever going to do anything for God, to accept the Lord, to live for the Lord, to follow the Lord, if we are ever going to be God’s servants we must be God’s servants when we are young.
Now I must conclude. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" [Ecclesiastes 12:13]. This is our assignment, this: I am to learn God’s will for my life. What does God want me to do? And I am to obey it conscientiously, faithfully, lovingly, trustingly.
If I am to be a preacher, then let me be a preacher for God, not for personal success, or fame, or stipend, or reward, but for God. And if I am to be a physician, let me be a physician for God. If I am to be a teacher, let me be a teacher for God. If I am to be a housewife, let me be a housewife for God. If I am to be a stenographer, let me be a stenographer for God. If I am to be a salesman, let me be a salesman for God. If I am to be a construction worker, let me be a construction worker for God. Whatever the whole conclusion of the whole matter, let my life be lived in reverential love and trust in God, observing the things that He hath given me to keep and to do. Then, no longer is life filled with emptiness, and satiety, and ennui, and satiation, and dreariness, but life is filled with the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [2 Corinthians 4:6]. And everything is a matter of devoted worship and holy commitment. This is God’s triumphant and victorious will for those who place their trust in Him.
Now we must close. While we sing our song of appeal, somebody to give himself to Jesus, somebody to put his life in the fellowship of the church; a family you, a couple you, one somebody you. While we sing this song, would you come and stand by me? On the first note of the first stanza, "Here I am, preacher, and here I come." A child, a youth, you; if the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart and bids you come, make it now, do it today, while we stand and while we sing.
Dr. W. A. Criswell
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