May 21st, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-21-67 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The choir you see is our teenage choir, our Chapel Choir. The message today is in keeping with our young people. It is from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The book begins, "The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem,Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity" [Ecclesiastes 1:1-2]. Then follows the chapters of which I will speak in a moment. And finally the twelfth, the concluding and the climactic word of the Preacher:
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 moon, or the light, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain.
Vanity of vanities saith the preacher; all is vanity.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
[Ecclesiastes 12:1-2, 8, 13]
Solomon calls himself qoheleth. Qoheleth refers to one who addresses an assembly. But when the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was made, the translators used the word, the Greek word, ecclesiastes. And Jerome, who translated the Septuagint into the Latin Vulgate, used the same and identical word, ecclesiastes. And our English Bible, the Book is entitled Ecclesiastes, the word is translated in the text as it is used in the Hebrew, "the preacher," qoheleth, "the preacher."
Qoheleth, Solomon, did something for human experience that no one else apparently has ever done. He carried certain aspects of it to its farthest extremity. He made money to its utmost, and then wrote down what that utmost is. And his word is, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" [Ecclesiastes 1:2]; emptiness of emptiness, all is emptiness. He made pleasure do its utmost, then wrote down what that extremity was. "Vanity of vanities," saith the preacher, "all is vanity." He made indulgence do its utmost, then wrote down what that utmost was. He said, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." He made worldly fame and affluence, grandeur, success do its utmost then wrote down that the utmost is. "Vanity of vanities," saith qoheleth, "all is vanity." He drank every cup and labeled it. He sailed every sea and charted it. And when he had done, he said, that every world and every experience has its satiation, its satiety, its saturation, its emptiness. He tried one world after another, and when he was done with each he said it is old and out-worn and used.
I think of the child’s world of toys, soon outgrown. The boy’s world of amusement and games, it is soon abandoned. The youth’s world of enticement and of heightening interest, and all of the things that belong to the elastic tread of a young man, it is soon outgrown and forgotten. And the man’s world of science and the illusion of progress and achievement, really and ultimately bring no new reality and no new life.
Possibly the most marvelous of all the miracles of our generation is the development of the airplane. They are miracles of wonder dashing through the sky. And yet, though the journey is to New York, or a San Francisco – all it means is that we’re there a few hours earlier. And we become so accustomed to the wonder of it that it if it loses thirty minutes in a thousand miles, we are disappointed and disgruntled. After all, however fast you arrive, it is still just you that lands. If we make it to the moon, and to Jupiter, and to Mars, and to Saturn, we’ll still be the same there as we are here.
The marvel of radio: oh, I can remember in our little village the first radio and the whole town’s people gathering around to look at it. And the miracle – the miraculous presentation of television! How soon are they common, and commonplace, and accustomed. Yesterday, visiting in Baylor a young man hurt in an accident, I said to him, "Why aren’t you looking at television?" He said, "I’ve been watching it so long I’m weary of it, I’m tired of it."
All of the marvelous and wonderful things of technology and scientific advancement really bring no new reality and no new life. It has with it a satiety, a saturation, a commonness, that finally wearies the flesh. So the preacher said, having followed every avenue of life, having tasted every human experience, having carried it to its utmost extremity, his verdict was "Vanity of vanities, saith qoheleth, all is vanity" [Ecclesiastes 12:8].
Now to read the book and to follow the verdict of his experiences in life would be, first of all, to think how full of despair, how gloomy, how dark. But no, out of those multitudinous experiences, he was led to a new world and a new life and new hope, and he found it in God. "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth" [Ecclesiastes 12:1]. Hear the "conclusion of the whole matter" [Ecclesiastes 12:13]: reverence God, love God, trust in God, be obedient to His way and Word and will, and life is filled with light and glory and purpose and meaning. There’s no satiety; there’s no ennui, there is no saturation in the ableness of the soul to grow greater heavenward, God-ward, Christ-ward, upward.
So, following the words of his book, may I point out some of the things that he would say and does say? First: that not in itself, in this world, and in life do we find its ultimate purpose and meaning, but we find that purpose and meaning in life from a light shed upon it from afar, from above, from heaven. As the globe itself is dark in itself, and can only be seen in a light that falls upon it from afar, so is life, its purpose and its meaning; in ourselves it is hopeless, purposeless, without meaning. We cannot find in human speculation the ultimate purpose and meaning of life. It only comes outside of us, beyond us, from afar, from a revelation of God. We cannot understand time, aside from eternity. We cannot understand the here without the hereafter. We cannot understand the meaning of this life and world without the glories of heaven. And this is the mistake that our modern generation has made, and this has given birth to its existential philosophy, which is a world view of hopeless despair. When we shut out God, close the gates of heaven, put aside the Book, the world becomes a vast cemetery, a charnel house; the full stop is death. We need, says qoheleth, the light of the revelation of the presence of God to find meaning and purpose in our lives.
A second thing: the preacher says our lives are fashioned and controlled by a power above us and beyond us. "Remember now thy Creator" [Ecclesiastes 12:1]. Somebody made us, and not we ourselves. It would surprise us in what narrow limits – and they, mostly moral decisions – that are left to us in this life. Why was I not born a hundred years ago? Why do I live in America? Why am I not a Hottentot? What did you have to do with whether you were born a male or a female? Practically all of the great decisions of our lives have been formed, and framed, and chosen by a power above us. Somebody made us; somebody set us in this world; somebody has fashioned us, and that somebody, qoheleth says, is God. "Remember now thy Creator": fear, reverence, and love God.
A third thing that he says: these great remembrances are to be called to mind, especially and particularly in the days of our youth [Ecclesiastes 12:1]. Why youth? For this reason: all of the outworking of life, all of it is the result of the decisions that are made in the days of our childhood and our youth. What a man does in the days of his manhood and womanhood, these things to which man places his heart and hand are almost always the outworkings of the decisions that he made when he was a child.
When I gave my life to be a preacher as a youngster, there walked in front of me an old man. He was the brother of the evangelist. He fell into his brother’s arms, and with many tears he said, "Brother, God has called me to preach, and I’ve felt that call since I was a youth, but I turned, I’ve turned aside from God’s will for my life these many, many years. But now I surrender, I yield my life to be a preacher." He was a farmer. He was in New Mexico right next to the Texas line. The announcement was made the following Sunday afternoon that he’d preach his first sermon. I was there on the front seat to listen to the brother of the evangelist preach his first sermon. He stood up there, opened his Bible. His face was burned and swarthy from the New Mexico sun, from the wind and the storms that blow over those high plains. His bones were old and creaky. His gestures were awkward and ludicrous. His grammar was unthinkable. And the message that he presented was the poorest and the sorriest, even as a small boy I thought I’d ever heard. And that was the end of his ministry.
The time to get ready for life’s work is when you are young. If you are going to be a physician, if you are going to be a technician, if you are going to be a businessman, if you are going to be a lawyer, a professional man, whatever you are going to do, get ready for it now. "Remember in the days of thy youth" [Ecclesiastes 12:1].
The decision of marriage is almost and always and inevitably made in youth. Sometimes I wonder at God’s wisdom Himself. Ah! the heaviness of the decision that has to be made in human life, but not in our experience – not in the background of our days, but in the inexperience of youth – ah, the mistakes! This week, which is typical of all the weeks: how many have been in my study? And most of the times, when somebody comes, and especially people I do not know, I am supposing they are having trouble, living in marital discord, unhappiness, misery. Three marriages out of every five in so many areas of our country are ending in divorce. And there have been many years, mayor, when in the city of Dallas there are more divorces than there are marriages. And these young people – oh! that a contract like that, that a covenant like that could be made in prayer and in searching God’s will – but that’s youth.
Samuel Palmer Brooks was the president of Baylor University when I attended the school. And I heard him say in chapel, after he’d been president there something like twenty-five, twenty-seven years, Dr. Brooks said, "In the twenty-five years I’ve been president of Baylor University I have never had one single student yet take my advice about marriage; not one, not one, not one." Yet, it’s in the youth time of life that that all-important decision is made. And the outworking of character in the man is but the bent of the twig, the turn of the life in the days of his youth. You can take a little oak and tie it in a knot and let it grow to be a great tree; it is set. And what we are in manhood and in womanhood is nothing but the outworking of the decisions we have made, and the commitments we have known, in the days of our childhood and youth.
May I remind you of a story that is familiar to all of us? When David stood before King Saul and said, "On the other side of the Vale of Elah stands an uncircumcised, blaspheming Philistine by the name of Goliath. And he has challenged God’s armies, and there is not a man, there is not a warrior in all Israel who dares confront him." And that ruddy-faced lad said, "I will challenge him" [1 Samuel 17:32]. And Saul said, "You? Why, you have neither sword nor armor, and you are but a youth, and he is a man of war from his youth. Not you!" [1 Samuel 17:33]. And the ruddy-faced lad answered, "Thy servant was a keeper of the sheep, my father’s flock. And while I was keeping the sheep, there came a lion and stole away one of the lambs, and there came a bear and stole away one of the lambs. And I pursed the predator, and I rescued the lamb out of his mouth, and I smote him and slew him." Then the lad added, "And the same Lord God that delivered into my hands the lion and the bear will deliver into my hands also this blaspheming Philistine" [1 Samuel 17:34-37]. The man is but the ultimate of the youth. And when the youth knew God, and loved God, and trusted in God, the grown man was no less "a man after" – as God Himself says, "after God’s own heart" [1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22].
I read this statistic this last week. I think he’s either following a percentage that maybe includes the whole world; anyway it’s a fantastic thing – there is not one out of five thousand beyond eighteen years of age who ever turns to the Lord, and there is not one, this article said, out of two hundred and fifty thousand that ever turns to God beyond twenty-five years of age. Whether true or no, it is in youth time that the determining decisions of life are made. "Remember," said qoheleth, "remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth" [Ecclesiastes 12:1]. Give your heart to God as a young man. Find God’s will for your life as a youngster. Commit your days to the Lord as a child.
Now the last. And qoheleth said the ultimate purpose and reality and meaning in life is to love God, a reverent devotion to the Lord God, and obedience, and acceptance, and yieldedness, and surrender in His will for our lives [Ecclesiastes 12:13]. Ah, what a change that would be in our souls if we could learn to do that! Lord, I trust Thee. I believe in Thee, and what God hath purposed for me, this shall I accept as the highest, finest decision for me and my life: what God shall will. Nor shall I be testive or unhappy in my lot and my life. Whatever my assignment shall be, dear God, in that shall I rejoice, obedient, loving Thee.
This is a little boy talking, "Most every day," he says:
A little boy comes driving by our house
With the nicest little pony
Just the color of a mouse,
And a groom rides close behind him
So he won’t get hurt, you see,
And I used to wish the pony
And the cart belonged to me.
I used to watch him from our porch
And wish that I could own
His pony and his little cart,
And drive it out alone.
And once when I knelt down to pray
I asked the Lord that He
Would fix it so the pony
And the cart belonged to me.
But yesterday I saw him
Where he lives, and now I know
Why he never goes out walking
‘Cause his legs are withered so!
And last night when I was kneeling,
With my hand on mother’s knee
I was glad he had the pony
And the cart instead of me.
["The Pony Cart," author unknown, in The Herald and Presbyter, Vol. 93, 1922]
Ah, Lord! My lot is heavy, and my burden is unbearable, and God’s cast my life in a difficult place. You don’t know. And what God has assigned for us is His highest wisdom, and I shall rejoice in it and be glad. If sickness is my lot, Lord, help me to endure it triumphantly. If to face assignments greater than my soul can bear; may God give me wisdom that I know how to do it gloriously. How ever the Lord’s assignment to me, help me, Lord, in it to glorify and honor Thy blessed and holy name. So if I’m to be a preacher, Lord, help me to be a wonderful preacher for Thee. If am to be a physician, Lord, help me to be a glorious doctor for Thee. If am to be an industrialist, help me, Lord, to magnify Thee. If am I am to be a housewife, if I am to be a stenographer, if am to be a technician, if am to be a day laborer; Lord, whatever it is, may I do my utmost for Thee, honor Thee, glorify Thee. And when you come to that place that you can do that, whatever God’s choice, whatever the Lord’s assignment, triumphantly as unto the Lord, you have found the true meaning and message of life; so says qoheleth, God’s preacher. And it is the will of God that all of us name His name, serve Him humbly, love Him deeply, commit to Him our souls, our every tomorrow.
And while we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you give himself to Jesus; a family you, coming into the fellowship of the church; a couple, or one somebody you. In this balcony round there’s a stairway at the front and the back; come and stand by me. The throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I come, pastor, and here I stand. I decide for God today, and here I come." As the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. Come now. Decide now. And when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. "Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming today." Or just one somebody you, make it now. Do it now. On the first note of the stanza, come now, while we stand and while we sing.