A True-Value Heartware Store
November 17th, 1991 @ 10:50 AM
A TRUE-VALUE HEARTWARE STORE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Ecclesiastes 1, 2
11-17-91 10:50 a.m.
Glorious orchestra and marvelous congregation beyond the assembly here in this dear sanctuary; God be praised for the throngs and multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of our precious First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the senior pastor delivering the message entitled A True Value Heartware Store. H-e-a-r-t, “Heartware Store”: you never heard a title like that in your born days! Don’t you look at me as though you knew all about that! You cannot imagine the change in my studying, having preached through these days and months, many of them in the life of Christ through the Gospel of Mark, and now changing to the Book of Ecclesiastes. It is in a different world, and I have never done it before. And it is a revelation to me.
So it starts, “The dābār of qōheleth, the son of David, king in Jerusalem” [Ecclesiastes 1:1]. In Hebrew that’s the first word, dābār. It means “words.” It also means declarations, statements, avowals, revelations. It is used one thousand four hundred times, that word dābār; one thousand four hundred times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and is translated in the King James Version of the Bible eighty-five different ways. You have a good example of what it means in the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1]. It starts off, dābār, the avowal, the revelation, the statement, the asseverations of these ten dābār words. The dābār of “qōheleth,” translated here in my version and yours as “Preacher” [Ecclesiastes 1:1]—Qōheleth has nothing approaching our modern idea of a preacher. Qōheleth is the word for the man who stands before a great, open public assembly and delivers some oration. That is what he describes himself as being. I copied down here three translations of that Hebrew word. “The words of the proclaimer,” that is one version; another, “The sayings of the speaker,” that is another version; and I wrote down here a third one, “The words of the spokesman.” So what we have here is the summation of the experience of a man who has tried everything in human life, and he is addressing his words, his statements, his asseverations to the whole creation: those who lived a long time ago, those who live today, those who are going to live forever. This is the avowal of qōheleth, the great public speaker and proclaimer of what he has learned [Ecclesiastes 1:1].
Now, he had every opportunity to experience every possible facet of human life. He was not only by far the richest man that ever lived, but he was an absolute monarch, head of a great empire, and every life and every providence was in his hands.
That is the reason I called this A True-Value Heartware Store. He could buy anything. He could go anywhere. He could experience any depths or heights or breadth of human life. So we begin with what he avows. Having the ability and the open-door opportunity to experience everything in existence, he starts off with this avowal: “I,” qōheleth, the king over Israel in Jerusalem [Ecclesiastes 1:12], “I set my heart” [Ecclesiastes 1:13]. Then, he names these things that he has experienced: first, learning the truth of existence. He calls it wisdom:
I set my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning everything that is done under heaven: the burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised.
I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.
What is crooked cannot be made straight; and what is lacking cannot be numbered.
I communed with my heart, saying, Look, I have attained greatness. I have gained more wisdom than all that were before me. My heart has understanding of great wisdom and knowledge.
And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly: and I perceived that this is also grasping for the air, for the wind.
For in much wisdom is much sorrow: and he who increases knowledge increases regret and grief.
What an amazing assignment, and assessment, and experience of trying to find what is true! And he avows here that what God has left out man cannot put in. It is beyond our understanding. That’s an amazing thing, how limited we are in our grasping of the truth of God!
I could not help but think while our pastor was preaching this morning at the 8:15 hour—he was quoting the most famous astronomical scientist in the world, who is a blatant infidel! And that blatant infidel, this great astronomical scientist, was making fun of us when he says that there are billions of universes and billions of stars in those universes, and we believe that an old man with a long white beard sits up there somewhere and he made and controls all of this infinitude of the Almighty! Ha, ha, ha, ha! And he laughs at us who believe in the Lord God.
That’s not what I want to know! I know there are universes out there! I know there are billions of stars out there! What I want to know is, where did it come from? Who made it? What I want to know is, where did I come from, and who made me sensitive to the reality of somebody I call “God?” Where did that come from in my soul? Where did that come from in my heart? What makes me hungry and seeking after the Lord God in heaven? That’s what I want to know. And that’s what he says here; he found out what God did we can’t enter into, and we can’t add to what God has done. When a man attempts, for example, to create just, say, life, what he does, he imitates death more than he imitates life. If you have been over there in London and looked at those figures of Madame Tussaud, my soul! they look more like death than they look like life. Only God can create these beings such as we who live and breathe and call upon His name. And he says here that these things are beyond us; we can’t reach them, we can’t touch them, nor understand them [Ecclesiastes 1:5, Job 37:5].
When I seek the ultimate truth of God, I reach a horizon; and then when I come to that horizon, there’s another horizon; and when I reach the edge of that horizon, there’s another! And when finally I climb the highest hills, the stars are as far away from me as they ever were. That’s why he says it’s a grasping after the wind [Ecclesiastes 1:14]. We can never ultimately understand. The great truth of God is beyond us.
Number two: then he says, “I set my heart to pleasure. Come now, I will test you and will enjoy pleasure. But this also I found to be vanity” [Ecclesiastes 2:1]. He says, “Whatever my eyes desired, I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure” [Ecclesiastes 2:10], trying to find the truth of Almighty God, and trying to seek it now in pleasure.
Solomon loved many women. As the daughters of Pharaoh, he loved women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites. “Solomon clung to these in love, and he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines” [1 Kings 11:2-3]. Law, me! I’ve got one, and that’s about as much as I can put my arms around for fifty-six years—one, one. “Yeah,” he says. “I’m going to keep it that way, one.”
Seven hundred wives—law, me! When he went home at night, what?—and three hundred concubines! No wonder he says, “That’s a grasping after the wind” [Ecclesiastes 1:14]. Oh, dear!
Then he says, “I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine [Ecclesiastes 2:3], with liquor.” It’s an interesting comment what he avows about drinking liquor. “Wine,” he says, “is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led thereby is not wise” [Proverbs 20:1].
Then he added to it:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger long at the wine; those who go in search of mixed wine.
Do not look upon the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly.
At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.
That’s what he found in trying to find pleasure and happiness in wine, in liquor.
Beatenest thing you could ever think for in your life! I lived in the days of Prohibition. And along came all of these purveyors of bootlegging, and they said, “Let’s get everybody drinking. Let’s put a liquor store in every town and on every corner, and we will drink ourselves to prosperity.” Did you ever hear that phrase before? Like these gamblers today in Texas, “We’re going to gamble our way to prosperity.” Wonderful! If that’s what makes us all prosperous, let’s drink ten times as much and gamble forty times as big a sum of money. Isn’t that funny? Then they say, “No, we don’t mean that. We mean moderation. We drink in moderation. And we drink in moderation. And we gamble in moderation.” That’s just like a sin, you know. “We’re going to steal in moderation. We’re going to lie in moderation. We’re going to murder in moderation.” What inanity of thinking! And that’s what he found. “When I sought to find pleasure and happiness and meaning in drinking, it came to the biting of an adder, and a stinging of a viper!” [Proverbs 23:32]. Then he says:
I made my works great; I built myself houses and planted myself vineyards.
I made myself gardens and orchards. I planted fruit trees.
I made myself water pools in which to water the growing trees.
I acquired male and female servants. I had servants born in my house. Yea, I had greater possessions than anybody who was ever before me.
I gathered silver and gold and treasures. I acquired the male and female singers, the delights of sons of men, musical instruments of all kind.
And I became great and excelled more than all those that were before me in Jerusalem.
Then I looked on all the things that I possessed, and all of the great works I had accomplished, and all that my hands had done, and on the labor in which I had toiled, and it was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.
Isn’t that the most amazing thing you ever heard of in your life? I copied out of Josephus, the great historian, I copied out of Josephus:
This is Solomon, going out early in the morning from Jerusalem to the famed rocks of Etam, a fertile region, delightful with paradises and running springs. Thither the king in robes of white rode in his chariot, escorted by a troop of mounted archers chosen for their youth and stature, and clad in Tyrian purple, whose long hair, powdered with gold dust, sparkled in the sun.
Can you imagine what a king and what a glory? There is Solomon and he owns the earth. The queen of Sheba came from afar to see him, and looking on his glorious works, said, “Surely, surely, the half hath not been told” [1 Kings 10:6-7]—more marvelous than anything this earth had ever seen! And when he built all of his great public buildings, and when he had possessed everything the human heart or hand could achieve, he said, “It is vanity and a grasping after the wind” [Ecclesiastes 2:11].
Isn’t that amazing? Envy a man like that? Envy a man like that? A bum walking down Fifth Avenue in New York City looks on the inside of a window, and he sees there a rich man dressed in purple and silk, sitting before a fire that burns on the hearth. And that bum, out there on the street shivering in the cold, “Oh, if I could just be like him!” What the bum doesn’t know is, the rich man seated there in his purple and silk before the fire on the hearth is contemplating suicide!
You think I’m crazy? One of the great men of all time is inventor Eastman, who invented the Kodak and was one of the famous inventors of the world and one of the richest men in the earth. How did he die? He died of a suicide! Isn’t that amazing? We think, man, if we possess, if we just acquire, if we just had. Solomon says, having it all, it was vanity and a grasping of the wind [Ecclesiastes 2:26].
I think of that crazy thing I ran across one time, when Andrew Carnegie died. Have you been in his beautiful palatial home in New York City? When Andrew Carnegie died, there was a boy, a street urchin, on the street selling papers. And the headline was that Andrew Carnegie had died. And that boy said, “I’m richer than Andrew Carnegie today”—a street boy—“cause he’s dead, and I’m alive.” It’s hard to get joy and pleasure out of possessions. This is what he says.
Now, a second avowal here: he speaks of the brevity of life. “One generation passes away, another generation comes just like that: and only the earth abides forever” [Ecclesiastes 1:4]. Isn’t that the Lord’s truth, the brevity of life! In a few days I’ll be eighty-two years of age. And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you it seems as yesterday—and I’ve been in my now forty-eighth year here as pastor of this church, now senior pastor—it seems to me yesterday that I came here to be undershepherd of this dear congregation. The brevity of life; how soon it passes away, gone like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, destroyed like the glorious pillars of the temple of Diana in Ephesus, scattered like the palace ruins of Nero in Rome, and forgotten like the crowded graves in a cemetery—all of these thousands of roads leading to death. Great God, what is the meaning? What is the truth? Augustine said of our earthly pilgrimage, “I don’t know whether it’s a dying life or living death.” The Arab proverb says, “That dark black camel stops at every tent door.” Great God, all of us are marching to the same beat, walking on the same field, all of us facing that inevitable and ultimate hour. We die. And the very suddenness of death, many, many times awakens us to God. O Lord, how we need Thee!
Peter Waldo, one of the great mighty men of history, living in the 1100s, founder of the Waldensian movement, the Waldensian church, Peter Waldo was a young man, rich and filled with worldly pleasure, and at a gorgeous banquet, by his side sat his best friend. And while they were eating there in that banquet, his best friend suddenly slumped over on the table and died. That was the thing that sent Peter Waldo into a search for the meaning of life. Same thing happened to Luther. Martin Luther, walking together with his best friend, he was suddenly stricken, struck by lightning and died there. And Martin Luther began that search after God.
I have been preaching over there on the East Coast, and I didn’t know it, but that wonderful man, pastor over there with whom I worked in achieving my Ph.D. degree—he and I studied together—I didn’t know it, he died just like that. As I thought back in the death of that wonderful friend—we studied for several years together every day—I thought of the first funeral that I could remember. It was a little girl in my elementary class in school. And I went to the funeral service. And I can never forget the awe and the wonder of what had happened to that little friend of mine. Death! Death! O God, how we need Thee as this inevitable path leads down to the dust and to the grave! That’s what he found in the brevity of life [Ecclesiastes 1:4].
I must conclude. He learned and he has avowed to us that life is never to be confused with things, things. So he writes it like this:
There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, common among men:
A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself in all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to eat of it.
Can you believe that? God has given to that man riches and wealth and honor, and he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet he doesn’t have power of eat of it.
Dr. Truett, our great predecessor here, was a close friend to John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and Dr. Truett and John D. Rockefeller, Sr. were in the back seat of a limousine up there in Cleveland, Ohio, riding down the street. And John D. Rockefeller, Sr. said to Dr. Truett, “You know, they say I’m the richest man in the world. But what I eat doesn’t agree with me.” He had an ulcerated stomach. “What I eat doesn’t agree with me, and my clothes don’t fit.” He was skinny and bony, and his clothes were like on a scarecrow. Richest man in the world! Isn’t that what that says? God gives them wealth and riches and He does not give them power to eat of it [Ecclesiastes 6:1-2]. Isn’t that a sight? Man alive! I could sure enjoy it, but oh! This is vanity and it is an affliction:
“If a man”—now you listen to him:
If a man beget a hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness; I say, that a stillborn child is better than he.
For that stillborn child comes and departs in darkness.
Though it has not seen the sun, nor known anything: this hath more rest than that man,
Even if he lives a thousand years twice—but has not seen goodness.
Isn’t that the most amazing thing you would ever think for? This Solomon said that a stillborn child is better off than a man of the world whose life is consumed with things, and he gives his life to the acquisition of all kinds, and then names them. Isn’t that what our Lord taught us? This rich man who said, “Look, I am increased. My fields are plentifully abounding in harvest. I am going to tear down my barns and build greater.” And that night, so says our Lord, God comes and knocks at his door and says, “This night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be that you have acquired?” [Luke 12: 16-21]. What do you say? Somebody else has them, just like everything you have—somebody else will soon possess it. And when you give yourself to those things, God says a stillborn child is better off than you! [Ecclesiastes 6:3]. Isn’t that an amazing thing?
And that’s exactly what the apostle Paul wrote. He wrote over here:
Godliness with contentment is gain.
We brought nothing into this world, we can take nothing out . . .
Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil: for which some have strayed from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
[1 Timothy 6:6-10]
Great God, that stillborn child, that just rings in my head, that stillborn child is better off, says this wisest man in the world, than a man who gives himself to things, to things! [Ecclesiastes 6:3].
You know, I read the beatenest thing you could ever think for. There was a rich man who was dying there in his home, in his house, on his bed. He was dying. And he was somehow possessed with his hands, with his hands, with his hands. And his wife called the man’s best friend and said, “Would you come?” And this man’s best friend came to the home. And the wife said, “I’m going to take you up to the bedroom. Your best friend is dying on that bed and he’s possessed with his hands; possessed with his hands. Would you talk to him?” So the best friend went up to the room and to the bed. And there that man was possessed with his hands. And his friend talked to him and said, “Why, there’s nothing in your hands, there’s nothing in your hand, nothing wrong with your hands.” And the rich man replied, “Great God, Jim, they’re so empty!” That’s life for those who give themselves to things. Your hands are so empty.
I have to close but I want to take time to do this. Friday night, I went to the Meridian Adult divisional leadership banquet. And at that banquet that boy there was the main speaker, our illustrious pastor, Dr. Joel Gregory, and he referred to and recited a large part of an essay. And I was closing my sermon with that essay. I just couldn’t believe it. It is written by a illustrious author named Robert J. Hastings. And it is entitled, “The Station.”
Tucked away in our unconscious minds is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long, long trip that almost spans the continent.
We’re traveling by passenger train, and out the windows we drink in the passing scenes of cars on highways, children waving at the crossing, cattle grazing on a distant hill, row upon row of corn and wheat, flat lands, valleys, mountains, hills, city skylines, villages.
But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour, we will pull into the station. There will be bands playing and flags waving.
And once we get there, so many wonderful dreams will come true. So many wishes will be fulfilled, and so many pieces of our lives finally will be put together.
How restless we pace the aisles—waiting, waiting, waiting for that final destination: the station.
Sooner or later, we must realize there is no one station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.
“When we reach the station, that will be it!” we cry. Translated it, means, “When I’m 18, that will be it! When I buy a new 450 SL Mercedes, that will be it!”
How do you like that? I got one, given to me! I didn’t buy it.
“When I put the last kid through college, that will be it! When I have paid off the mortgage, that will be it! When I win a promotion that will be it! When I reach the age of retirement, that it will be it! I shall live happily ever after.”
Unfortunately, when we get it, then it disappears. The station somehow hides itself at the end of an endless journey.
[from “The Station,” Robert J. Hastings]
That’s God’s truth. The only thing that answers the hunger of the human heart is God! And our only ultimate and final destination has to be the heaven with our Lord. And that’s why we’re preaching the gospel, and that’s why we’re singing songs of appeal, and that’s why we’re praying for you.
If you’ve been a part of this service, listening on television, you’ll find a telephone number on the screen. Call it. If you don’t know how to accept Jesus as your Savior, call that number. There’ll be a dedicated, consecrated man or woman who will show you the way into the kingdom of God. And if you’ll open your heart and accept Jesus as your Savior, I’ll see you in heaven some glorious and triumphant day.
And to the great throng in the sanctuary and the balcony round, down a stairway, and the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles: “Pastor, I’ve decided for Jesus today, and I’m answering with my life.” Do it now, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing. “This is God’s day for me, and I’m on the way. I’m coming.” And bless you, and bless you as you come. Amen.