A True Value Heart-Ware Store
August 6th, 1986 @ 7:30 PM
A TRUE VALUE HEARTWARE STORE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-6-86 7:30 p.m.
You marvelous young people, you cannot know how dead, dull, dry, and dreary this church is when you are away! You cannot know how much it comes to life when you are around. We have a prayer meeting in the ministers’ room before each one of our services, and I was telling those godly men there, who were praying, one of the most disastrous of all of the humiliating things I have ever come to realize in my life is this: after all these years and years and years I have come to see that all of us who are older and grown and adult do not matter to a row of pins in the spirit of a church; it is these kids that make it. Oh, and how they do! We love you, praise God for you and for the wonderful leaders the Lord hath given us, and the marvelous part is, the best is yet to come. The future is bright through you.
Now the title of the message tonight is A True Value Heartware Store. I’ve been listening to some of those radio announcers who speak of a True Value Hardware store; and we’re going to look at A True Value Heartware Store. We’re going to walk into a store and see the things that are offered in human life. And I pray God will help us to choose those things that have repercussions and overtones of everlasting value and eternal life.
Now we turn to the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Book of Ecclesiastes chapter 1, Ecclesiastes chapter 1; and here we are going to walk into that true value heartware store and see things that are offered for human life and living. Then as I say, after we look at all the things that are offered, finally we choose that which is of eternal significance and reward. Do you have it? Ecclesiastes chapter 1, got the place? Now let’s all stand together, and we are going to read verses 12 to the end of the chapter. Ecclesiastes chapter 1, verses 12 to the end of the chapter, now together:
I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.
And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.
I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
Now we will be seated and we’ll begin.
We’re going into this store of life and see what is offered. Solomon, who was the wisest man in all the world, and the chosen king over God’s people will be our representative. We will follow him and look at what is offered in this storehouse of life. First, he chooses wisdom. And as we follow through what the richest man and the wisest man of all life has chosen and has tried and experienced, we’re going to look at his appraisal, which will always be the empty rewards of riches, fame, pleasure, political and economic success. The strange thing about this, as I read it in the Bible, all of the things that he names are things that I knew as a boy, set before me as goals to reach. Oh, I can remember so well those marvelous achievements that were out there before all the young people who were thus introduced to them. And they’re going to be named here. In order to be a success in life, to achieve our potentialities, these were the things toward which we were to reach and possess. He did it, and every one of them resulted in emptiness and sorrow and disappointment, all of it. So we’ll look at it with King Solomon and see the reward of it.
He achieved every one of those goals, and, without exception, after he seized and possessed each one of them, they were as empty and disappointing as any of the failures that life could ever experience. So we’re going to name them. The first one is wisdom. Here in the passage you just read, “I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are under the sun” [Ecclesiastes 1:13]. Man, that’d be a real education, wouldn’t it? He had a degree in every area of human knowledge. And his conclusion was, “In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow” [Ecclesiastes 1:18].
I don’t see that these men who have gone to the extremity in learning all of the things that are possible in university courses and in nature, in chemistry, in astronomy and all the other sciences, I can’t see that they have discovered anything about the secrets of life: they’re just as miserable and unhappy in their achievements as everybody else that I know. That’s what Solomon found. You can know everything under the sun, learn it all, and you’re no happier than when you first began.
Well, then he said—and this is chapter 2 now—he decided that he’d find the meaning and the pleasure and the happiness of life in mirth and in laughter, and he would enjoy pleasure. And he added to it all that wine would multiply. So he names it there, in verses 1, 2, and 3. He sought the meaning and the happiness and the fulfillment of life in mirth, in pleasure, in laughter, and in wine [Ecclesiastes 2:1-3]. He sought it in entertainment. I have never in all of my born days ever dreamed of a culture and a civilization that had given itself to entertainment as American life and culture. The Lord only knows how many millions and billions of hours that our people spend looking at that crazy idiot box, endlessly! And when they get tired of that sorry programing that gets worse with every passing day, why, they seek it in a thousand other areas of modern American life. It is a world of entertainment, endlessly. He tried it, every way that he knew, and found it to be vexation of spirit and emptiness, by no means fulfilling or rewarding [Ecclesiastes 1:1].
All right, he tried another thing: in verses 4 and 5 he gives himself to great works. He built a palace beyond what any other king had ever lived in in the history of the world. “I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees: I made me pools of water”—he had a swimming pool back of even his servants’ houses—“I made me pools of water” [Ecclesiastes 2:4-6], and when he got through with that, that was as empty and unsatisfying as though he had never tried it.
Now when he got through with that, he tried possessions and riches. “I got me servants and maidens, and there were servants born in my house.” Then he added to that, “I had great possessions, cattle; I gathered me silver and gold, the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces” [Ecclesiastes 2:7-8]. He had it all; everything that money could buy or heart could imagine, he had it all. Now let me read in verses 10 and 11 and 17 his judgment of it all:
Whatever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor.
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labor that [I] had labored to do: and, behold, everything was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
Now look at him in verse 17:
Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that should be after me.
And who knoweth whether he should be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labor wherewith I have labored, and wherein I have showed myself wise under the sun. This is vanity.
Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labor which I took under the sun.
Isn’t that the beatenest thing you ever read in your life? “Everything that I have done, and everything I’ve accumulated, and everything that I possess, and everything that I have in my name, all of it I’m going to go off and leave it to somebody else. And I don’t know whether it will be a fool or whether it will be wisely used. It’s just nothing. It just comes down to nothing.”
Isn’t that a strange thing how humanity is? “If I had more, I’d be happier. All that it takes to make me happier is if I just had one more—one more dollar, or one more house, or one more ranch, or one more cow, or one more sheep, or one more oxen, or just one more, if I just had more. All it would take to make me happy would be just to have more, just more.” Isn’t that a strange aberration of the human mind? And we’re all that way, every last one of us. “If I just had more, man, I’d really have it made; I’d be happy, I’d be satisfied, I would have arrived, if I just had more.”
Did you ever hear this? A bum, a bum was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City, and through a big picture window, through a big picture window in a mansion on Fifth Avenue, he saw a man seated in a smoking jacket before a fire in the fireplace. He was there in his palatial home, seated in a beautiful chair, with all of the accouterments and embellishments of riches, watching the fire burn beyond the hearth. And that bum, that penniless outcast, watching through that picture window, seeing that rich man seated before the fire, and he thought, “Oh, how wonderful that must be. Wealthy, living in a palace, seated there in all of his affluence.” What the bum doesn’t know is this: the rich man seated there is contemplating suicide! It would never have entered that bum’s head to take his life; never had occurred to him. But that rich man in that palace, seated before that burning hearth, is planning to take his life, commit suicide.
“Preacher, does such a thing as that ever happen?” I could give you world without instance. Did you ever hear of Eastman? Did you ever hear of Kodak? Did you ever hear of Kodak? A picture taking instrument, a Kodak? Did you ever hear of a Kodak? Did you ever hear of Mr. Eastman who invented it? One of the richest, wealthiest, most affluent of all the men in America—committed suicide, took his life. You think things will make you happy? Do you? Do you really?
I heard one of the most unusual things: a boy was selling the New York Times on the street, hawking his paper, “Paper! Paper!” selling the paper. And he said to a man that paid him a nickel at that time for the paper, he said, “You know, mister, I’m richer than Andy today.” Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in the world, had just died. One time when I was in New York City, I went to visit his home; I went all through his palatial palace. Oh! Andrew Carnegie—Carnegie some people pronounce it—but that poor boy on the street selling the New York Times for a nickel an issue, “I’m richer today than Andy, because he’s dead.” For us, ever, ever to identify success or happiness or fulfillment with things, things, is one of the most tragic aberrations of human life! You never ever will find fulfillment in possessions, things; no matter what they are.
So that leads, as we are studying the Book of Ecclesiastes, that leads to one of the recurring themes in the book: the brevity of life. As James, who was pastor of the church at Jerusalem, where Solomon was king in earlier centuries, James wrote in chapter 4:14, “What is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” [James 4:14]. A vapor, a breath on a cold morning, it is soon scattered like the ruins of Nero’s palace. It is gone like the hanging gardens of Babylon. It is destroyed like the temple of Diana, Artemis, in Ephesus. And it is forgotten amid the crowded cemetery.
I go out there all the time. And as I walk into the funeral home, why, there spread before me are beautiful monuments; they are costly. They’re in the most prominent places in the cemetery, there they are. And you know what? I’ve been here forty-two years: I look at those expensive monuments, and I read them; there’s not a one of them I ever heard of, not a one, not one. Isn’t that an amazing thing? There’s not one of them that I ever heard of. The brevity of life ends in a crowded and forgotten cemetery.
Augustine said, “I don’t know whether this earthly pilgrimage is a dying life or a living death.” An Arab proverb says, “The black camel of death stalks at every tent door.” We’re all marching to the same drumbeat on the same field: we’re marching to the grave, all of us.
Now I have one or two things to speak of that brevity of life that is so emphatically presented in the Bible. The first is this: it calls us from the things of this world to the things of God. Dear Lord, great God in heaven!
Did you ever hear of Peter Waldo? Peter Waldo founded the Waldensian church, the poor men of Lyons; a great, marvelous movement. He was rich. He was a scion of a marvelous family. What happened to him was, in his riches he was flagrantly abandon in his life. He lived a dissolute and sinful life, Peter Waldo, rich. He was at a banquet, one of those drunken banquets, and the friend, his best friend, who was seated next to him at the banquet bowed his head like this, fell over like this, and was dead. It was such a shock to Peter Waldo that he began to search for the meaning and message of life. He found it in the Scriptures; and he became a preacher with the poor men of Lyons, who followed after him, going up and down the streets of the cities of Southern Europe, telling about the Lord Jesus and the hope we have in Him.
Martin Luther, Martin Luther, though he was a man of commitment, Martin Luther never searched for the truth of God until, walking down a way, his friend by his side was struck by lightning and killed, died; and so turned Martin Luther that he sought beyond the monastery and all of the rituals and rites and rules of the monastic order, sought the truth and meaning of God in his life. O God, how we need to do that! How we need to do that.
The brevity of life: the Lord teaches us not to confuse the meaning of life with things. That’s why the Lord told the parable of the rich fool [Luke 12:16-21]: he said, “I’ve got to build me bigger barns, and I’ve got to have me greater spaces, and I’ve got to add to my lands and acres.” And when God knocked at the door of his heart and said, “Foolish man! Your soul is required of you this night: then what about all these things that you have accumulated?” [Luke 12:20]
Take again the story of the rich young ruler [Luke 18:18-30]; he’s been dead for a thousand nine hundred and some odd years; do you suppose he regrets the choice that he made? Do you think he does? O Lord! Great God! Things don’t satisfy us!
I want to show you something that just was beyond anything that I quite ever thought for. There is a movie star—and I can’t think of his last name—but they say that I kind of look like him. I think his first name is Eddie. Could that be it, Eddie something? Eddie what? Alfred? Eddie Albert, that’s the guy, that’s the guy, that’s the guy. No. Well anyway, I look at the news on television before I go to bed at night. I look at it at ten o’clock. That’s the only time I look at it; I just look at the news. That sorry stuff on television is unthinkable and gets more violent and … .
A TRUE VALUE HEARTWARE STORE Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-6-86 7:30 p.m.
I. Empty Rewards of Possessions
1. Ecclesiastes 1:12-18-wisdom
2. Ecclesiastes 2:1-2-pleasure
3. Ecclesiastes 2:3-wine
4. Ecclesiastes 2:4-11-opulence
II. Observed the Brevity of Life
Ecclesiastes 1:4 – James 4:14
III. Experience Teaches Us Life Not To Be Confused With Things