THE PROFIT OF ALL OUR LABOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-24-91 8:15 a.m.
And the Lord be praised for you wonderful young people. And welcome the uncounted throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a worshiping part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the senior pastor bringing the message entitled The Profit of All Our Labor.
We are preaching through the Book of Ecclesiastes. And this is the second sermon. And the text is the third verse of the first chapter: “What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?” [Ecclesiastes 1:3].
Of all of the enigmatic writings in Christian and religious literature, there is no book, no writing, more enigmatic than the Book of Ecclesiastes. It is the sphinx of Old Testament literature. It is the writing of a man who, with human reasoning, is facing the insoluble and contradictory problems of human life and human experience. And, as such, whether it be he, Solomon, the author, or whether it be the greatest philosopher who ever looked at experience, or whether it be we who live in this or any other generation, when you seek an answer to the inexplicable experiences of human life, you inevitably come to abject and abysmal despair.
That is why when you read classical scholarly theological treaties on the Book of Ecclesiastes; they write such tragic reviews concerning it. And these three that I have copied are but typical of any number of scholarly critiques of this Book of Ecclesiastes. Here’s one:
There is no spiritual uplift embodied within these pages. Ecclesiastes accomplishes only one thing—confusion. Reason is elevated throughout the whole work as the tool with which man may seek and find truth.
The author of Ecclesiastes is a rationalist, a skeptic, a pessimist, and a fatalist. In most respects, his view runs counter to his religious fellow Jews.
And a third one:
Ecclesiastes conveys the view that life is profitless, totally absurd. Virtue does not bring reward and God stands distant, abandoning humanity to chance and death. Qôheleth discerns no moral at all, for life amounts to nothing.
These are typical reviews of the Book of Ecclesiastes. But I hasten to point out two other considerations. And the first is this. What we have here in this book is the recounting of the experience of a man who had every opportunity to test and to try every facet of life. And it could be an exposition of the Word of our Lord in John 4: “Whoever drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again” [John 4:13].
No man who ever lived had the ability and the possibility of testing all human experience, as did Solomon. And he writes this essay in his old age. He had entered into every possible experience in human life. And there never has been a man that I have ever read of, who had that abounding infinite possibility. He had wisdom as from heaven itself. He had abounding riches. He was the emperor, sole ruler, of an empire. And any choice that he wished to make was his for the asking. I cannot imagine, for example, any ruler of any age who had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines; but he did [1 Kings 11:3].
And all of those experiences that come to a man of absolute authority were his possession and he tried it all. And having experienced it all, he writes in his old age the verdict of what it is like to hope to find human satisfaction in the experiences, and awards, and achievements of this world.
Now the second consideration: having experienced all of these things that he has tried, which only he was able to do, he comes to one of the most glorious conclusions you could ever seek for in human life or in the revelation of God. When he comes to his final chapter, chapter 12 of the Book of Ecclesiastes, you won’t read in all God’s Word a greater appeal or a tribute to the presence and blessing of the Lord God on those who seek the favor of our heavenly Father. He says in the first verse of the twelfth chapter, he says: “You remember God all the days of your life,” not just at the end of it or at the meridian height of it, but in the youth days of it [Ecclesiastes 12:1]. We’re to remember God all of our lives!
And he concludes the whole volume, this is the summation of the whole experience: Reverence God, fear God [Ecclesiastes 12:13], observe what He is given us to keep; and these things, that only heaven can bestow, will be yours to enjoy forever. That is the Book of Ecclesiastes!
So we’re going to look at it in detail. Chapter 1: in chapter 1, he speaks of the repetitive phenomenon of all life. It’s the same thing over, and over, and over again. One generation comes and experiences it, passes away; the next generation comes and experiences, passes it away. The sun rises, goes down, then comes back in the same place—same thing over and over again. The wind goes toward the south, and then blows toward the north, and then comes back where it started over and over again. The rivers run into the sea then they are full and run again into the sea. Then man, he lives a toilsome and wearisome life, over and over and over again.
All things are full of labor [Ecclesiastes 1:8]. The eye is not satisfied with seeing. The ear is not filled with hearing [Ecclesiastes 1:8]. That which has been will be. That which is done and what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun [Ecclesiastes 1:9-10]. It is repetitive over and over and over again. That’s his observation of all human life. Your life, every human life follows a pattern of over, and over, and over again: You are born; you live; you age; you die. And that is true of every human life. The repetitiveness of it is wearisome, he says.
And I think of Samson. The Philistines put out his eyes and bound him to a long pole and he did grind, and grind, and grind, and grind at the prison mill [Judges 16:21]. And finally, Samson prayed: “O God, let me die with the Philistines” [Judges 16:30]. That’s what he says is human life: it’s the same thing over, and over, and over again [Ecclesiastes 1:9-10].
Then in chapter 2—this is the great egoistic chapter [Ecclesiastes 2:1-26]. There are 26 verses in it and there are 36 “I”s:
Verse 1: “I said in my heart…” [Ecclesiastes 2:1].
Verse 2: “I said…” [Ecclesiastes 2:2].
Verse 3: “I searched how (to gratify my flesh)” [Ecclesiastes 2:3].
Verse 4: “I made my works great; I built myself houses; I planted vineyards” [Ecclesiastes 2:4].
Verse 5: “I made myself gardens and orchards…” [Ecclesiastes 2:5].
Verse 6: “I made myself water pools” [Ecclesiastes 2:6].
Verse 7: “I acquired male and female servants…” [Ecclesiastes 2:7].
Verse 8: “I gathered myself silver and gold and special treasures…” [Ecclesiastes 2:8].
Verse 9: “I became great, and excelled more than all who were before me” [Ecclesiastes 2:9].
Everything that he did, he did to minister to himself. His whole life revolved around himself. Then he says—the most abysmal and abject of all of the despairing words you’ll ever read in literature—he says:
Then I looked on the works that my hands had done, and on the labor in which I had toiled: and all was vanity and grasping for the wind, there was no profit under the sun [Ecclesiastes 2:11].
So I said in my heart, As it happens to the fool, it also happens to me; why was I then more wise? Then I said, this also is vanity [Ecclesiastes 2:15].
There is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool; all now will be forgotten in days to come. And how does a wise man die? as a fool dies.
Therefore I hated life; because of the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me: for all is vanity and grasping for the wind.
I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun: because I must leave it to the man who will come after me.
And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? yet he will rule over all my labor in which I have toiled, and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.
Therefore I turned my heart in despair of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun.
Now there’s no doubt but that every syllable of that is the Lord’s truth. A wise man dies and a fool dies, both of them die [Ecclesiastes 2:16]. You know, when I read this, it came to my mind—I just wonder if Solomon wrote that out of the experience of his own family? No matter how much a man has; no matter what great works of which he’s capable; no matter what—the vast wealth he may achieve—finally, it comes to naught. He leaves it to somebody else and there’s no satisfaction in it [Ecclesiastes 2:18-19]. His heart is still hungry and empty because you can’t feed the soul with things. Now, I say, I wonder if Solomon came to that conclusion out of the experience of his own family?
Look at it for just a moment. David was a king blessed of God. That’s his father. He had everything: wealth, popularity, significance, acquisition—the absolute monarch of an empire and blessed of heaven in everything that he did. David had everything. Was he content? Was he happy? Was he satisfied? It was David who killed Uriah the Hittite [2 Samuel 11:14-21] in order that he might take Uriah’s wife with [2 Samuel 11:27] whom he had already been indiscreet and had made her pregnant [2 Samuel 11:2-5]. And he killed Uriah in order to take Bathsheba who was Solomon’s mother [2 Samuel 12:24]. Isn’t that remarkable that a man who has everything, but he’s unhappy and discontent?
All right, take again—out of Solomon’s family: Amnon was the firstborn in the household of David [2 Samuel 3:2]. Amnon was heir to the throne. And Amnon had everything both then and in prospect. He was to be the king of Israel. And Amnon took Tamar who refused to lie with him. Amnon took Tamar, and by force and by violence, he raped her. Then after he had raped her, he hated her and cast her out on the street. And Tamar wailed the loss of her virginity [2 Samuel 13:10-19].
Absalom, her full brother, bided his time. And Absalom seized Amnon and slew him with his own hands [2 Samuel 13:28-29]. And Absalom himself was slain with the spear of Joab [2 Samuel 18:14-15]. And that’s why Solomon was king. These had been slain, and they had everything; yet they were empty-hearted, and discontented. And that’s Solomon’s family. And that’s out of which Solomon became ruler and king over Israel.
Isn’t that a remarkable thing? No matter how much you have, and no matter what you achieve, and no matter what advancement in your life and experience, your heart is still empty, and hungry, and not satisfied with things.
Now, chapter 3: chapter three, he looks at himself and he says—we begin in verse 18:
I said in my heart concerning the condition of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like beasts.
For what happens to the sons of men also happens to beasts; one thing befalls them: as one dies, so dies the other; surely, they all have one breath; man has no advantage over a beast: for all is vanity.
All go to one place; all are from the dust, all return to dust.
Who knows the spirit of the sons of men which goes upward, and the spirit of the beast which goes downward.
I have heard that before in Psalm 49, beginning at verse 10:
Wise men die, likewise the fool and the senseless person perish, and they leave their wealth to others.
Their inner thought is, that there houses will last for ever, their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names.
Nevertheless, though an honor, that does not reign, a man is like a beast that perishes…
Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them… All their beauty shall be consumed in the grave…
Isn’t that the Lord’s truth? An animal, a beast, or you: you’re born; the beast is. You eat; so does he. You drink; so does he. You breathe; so does he. You see; so does he. You hear; so does he. You propagate; so does he. You age; so does he. And you die; so does he. Just what profit is it that a man is not a beast? They live alike and die alike. “But…”—and what an enormous interjection—“but—and the qôheleth, Solomon says—but God has put eternity, ha olam, ha olam—God hath put eternity in our hearts”; verse 11 [Ecclesiastes 3:11].
Psalm : “O God, thou art from ha olam to ha olam, from eternity to eternity, from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God!” [Psalm 93:2]. And that’s the word he uses about us: “God hath put eternity in our hearts” [Ecclesiastes 3:11]. A man may be an atheist and an infidel, but he can’t deny that there’s a difference between him and a beast. He has a consciousness of a world beyond! And he lives in a body that turns to dust, yes [Ecclesiastes 3:20]. But on the inside of that body, there is something that seeks a forever; something beyond the grave; and something beyond death. And he can’t help, no matter who he is, he can’t help but to look and to think those thoughts that go beyond the dust, and the dirt, and the death. He can’t help it! God put it in his soul and in his heart [Ecclesiastes 3:11]. He’s different!
I sometimes think of that word “perturbation, perturbation.” Perturbation is a word used by astronomers, perturbation. And an illustration of its use is for years and centuries, years and years, the planets acted strangely as though they were attracted by a great mass out there beyond. But nobody ever saw that mass. Nobody ever described it. Telescopes could not go that far to find it. But the planets acted strangely when they went around.
And then, in scientific advancement, we came to the day when we could see it. It was a planet out there, and they named it Pluto. And that planet made that perturbation, that perturbation [in] the actions and the activities of the other planets. It pulled them toward that mass. The indescribable property of gravity pulled. And perturbation is in your heart no matter who you are. Somehow there’s something beyond death that seizes your mind and your thinking and your soul, and you can’t help it. You can’t help it!
Jesus, one time, said of Himself: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath nowhere to lay His head” [Luke 9:58]. Now that, of course, is a description of His own pathetic and sorrowful life. But look, people, there’s an overtone in that word: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nest; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” The foxes are perfectly at home in this life; and the birds of the air are perfectly at ease in this existence; but you’re not. You’re not!
I don’t care what kind of a house you live in. Or, I don’t care what of the mass of wealth that you have achieved, there’s something on the inside of your heart that doesn’t rest; that doesn’t rest. There’s something over and beyond, and you can’t find an answer for it in this world. You can’t do it!
I think of the story of that prodigal boy. Do you remember what it says? He fain would have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat [Luke 15:16]. But try as he may, he couldn’t find food and rest for his soul by the husks that he was trying to eat in this world. And the Book says that the boy began thinking about home and his father’s house [Acts 15:17-19]. He couldn’t help it; nor can I.
I am a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear;
Heaven is my home:
Sorrows and dangers stand
Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland,
Heaven is my home.
[“I’m But a Stranger Here,” Thomas R. Taylor]
My home is not here; my home is in heaven. And my heart is never at rest until I find Him who guides me to that heavenly mansion in the sky [John 14:2-3]. However you may think that I am content in this life, there are things that come to mind that make you remember another world, and another life, another existence, another place, another home.
It may be the fading light of a twilight that brings it to your mind; or it may be walking under the stars of heaven and the vast infinitude of God’s universe and it comes to your mind. It may be the remembrance of a strain of music or maybe a verse from a poem. Or it may be looking at the mirror and the signs of age are in your face and in your hands. Or it may be standing at a grave; and somehow you cannot drown the thoughts, however you may seek to drink them away, or coarsely, in pleasure, scatter them away from the thought of mind impressed on your heart. And you can’t help it.
I read of an unusual thing: a botanist, a gifted botanist, made a clock. And in that clock, he made flowers, twelve of them, to follow the light of the day, twelve of them. And hour by hour by hour by hour each one of those flowers would open and its petals would spring apart and it went into full bloom—an hour, an hour, an hour, an hour—all twelve flowers. Then that same botanist made those flowers, their chalices, closed; and they closed, and they closed, and they closed until all twelve of them were in the dark. That was his idea of life.
Sweet people, do you remember this? Prime Minister Menachem Begin—who was my friend—Prime Minister Menachem Begin came here to Dallas to be here in our pulpit and to speak to our people. Oh dear, they went through this building, seeking if there was a bomb! We had surveillance on police a full day before. And they prepared an anti-Semitic demonstration out there in the streets on both sides. Do you remember that?
And on Saturday when Menachem Begin was to come to be here to speak to us on Sunday, do you remember word came to him that his wife had died? And he immediately turned and went back home to Israel. Do you remember that? Do you remember this? When Begin went back to Israel and buried his sweet wife, he never appeared in publicly to this day. His life closed like those chalices. His life closed like those petals. He left government. He left his premiership. He left his public appearances. He closed the door like those petals in death.
Dear God, how like that all of us are. Death concludes everything that we have, or know, or experience here in life. That’s why we preach the gospel. That’s why our hope is not in this world, or in the things of this world. But our hope is in Christ [1 Timothy 1:1]. “For all things are yours . . . whether the world—this world, or life, or death or things present or things to come; all are yours” [1 Corinthians 3:21-22]. And you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s [1 Corinthians 3:23]. Here we have no continuing place or home [Hebrews 13:14]. Our home is in heaven [Philippians 3:20]. And whatever we possess in this life, we leave it behind. It’s closed.
But the life that is to come in Christ is sweet and precious. We lift up our faces and look forward to that high and holy and heavenly day when the possession, true and everlasting, is given to us in Christ Jesus; not here, but there; beyond the grave in the life that is yet to come [Matthew 6:19-21].
And that’s our appeal to you, sweet and precious people, to open your heart to the blessed Lord Jesus, to receive Him for all that He has promised to be. God bless us as we lift up our faces to that beautiful and heavenly, and world and life that is yet to come—all of it a gift in the love of our precious Lord. In this moment when we sing our appeal, to take Jesus as Savior [Romans 10:9-13], to come into the fellowship of the church, to answer the call of the Holy Spirit in your heart; on the first note of the first stanza, come, and welcome in the name of the living Lord, amen.
THE PROFIT OF ALL OUR LABOR
2. Solomon was able
to test every human possibility to discover “All is vanity”
3. Author’s inescapable
conclusion – chapter 12 – You remember God all the days of your life
Chapter 1 – ever recurring, unending phenomenon in life
1. Sun rises and
2. Wind blows north
3. Rivers flow into
4. Endless wearisome
routine of life and seasons – like Samson, death being the only escape
Chapter 2 – the great ego chapter
1. “I said,” “I
said in my heart,” “I searched,” “I made great works,” “I made,” “I acquired,” “I
2. All vanity in
the end, “As it happens to the fool, it also happens to me; why was I then more
wise? Then I said, This also is vanity.”
1. No different
than a beast
2. But God puts
eternity in our hearts
3. Our home is not
here, it is in heaven and our real life is yet to come