MAN’S TWO DAYS: BIRTHDAY AND DEATH DAY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-2-92 8:15 a.m.
And may God bless and be praised for the dedicated gifts and talents of these young people. And welcome the uncounted 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 bringing the message, the fifth one, from the Book of Ecclesiastes. And the message is an exposition of the seventh chapter of the Ecclesiastes and is entitled The Two Days of Man: His Birthday and His Death Day. Ecclesiastes 7:
A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.
Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, For that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart . . .
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. The heart of fools is in the house of mirth . . .
The end of a thing is better than its beginning . . .
In the day of prosperity, be joyful. But in the day of adversity consider: Surely God hath set the one over against the other.
First, our birthday, and I speak of it as physical and then as spiritual. It is remarkable to me the infinite detail in which, and by which, the Lord in His inspired Word [2 Timothy 3:16], will describe the birth of a little child; Jochebed and Amram and the birth of Moses told at length in the Book of Exodus [Exodus 2:1-10]; the story of Peninnah and Hannah and Elkanah and the birth of Samuel the first of the prophets [1 Samuel 1:1-28, 3:20], pages of it.
And when we come to the New Testament, page after page, describing the birth of John the Baptist, and his mother Elizabeth [Luke 1:5-25, 57-80], and Jesus our Lord, and His mother Mary [Luke 1:26-38, 2:1-16]. The birthday of the man; and nothing changes the life of a family like the coming of a little child into the home. This is a parable of the birth anew and again when we are born into the kingdom of God. Our birthday, our spiritual birthday, when we were saved and the unusual pair of the likeness of the author of Ecclesiastes; he speaks of it as our name being added into that of the family of our Lord [John 1:12].
We are written, by name, into the Lamb’s Book of life [Revelation 20:15]. We are inscribed, by name, on the breastplate of the High Priest. We are engraven in the palms of His hands. And he uses a glorious similitude here; “better than precious ointment” [Ecclesiastes 7:1]. In our Western culture, we have no part, ever, in anointing for a special entrance, or service, or avocation. But in the ancient day, when the Book was written, to be anointed was a beautiful experience. The high priest who was anointed, covered with perfume [Exodus 40:13]. The altar in front of the veil was covered with ointment, perfume [Exodus 35:15]. And someone like David, even as a boy, was anointed to be king over Israel [1 Samuel 16:12-13]. And he likens our being born into the family of God as one who is anointed [Ecclesiastes 7:1]. And thus, we are named; better than to be anointed, our name written in the family of God [Luke 10:20]; born again into the fellowship of God’s precious children [John 1:12], and what a wonderful thing to be known as a part of God’s precious family.
There are those who aspire that their names be known in social circles. There are those who aspire that their names be known in the political extravagance of the nation. How much better that our names be known among the people of the Lord such as our Lord said about Mary. What she has done will be spoken of here as a memorial tribute wherever this gospel is preached [Matthew 26:12-13]. So Mary remembered, so Dorcas, so Lydia, so Priscilla, so Phoebe; these precious ones who are born into the kingdom and family of our Lord. And how wonderful to be known as a helper and a prayer partner such as Barnabas; he is the Son of Consolation [Acts 4:36]. How wonderful thus to be born into God’s world, a member of a sweet family and be to born into the kingdom of our Lord? [John 3:3].
Our birthday, a great day; our death day, the greater day [Ecclesiastes 7:1]; isn’t that an amazing avowal? And the day of death is better than the day of one’s work. What he is speaking there is, there comes a time in my life when I become conscious of my sins. We call it reaching the day of accountability. And I become conscious that my sin has separated me from God [Isaiah 59:1-2]. And I am what the Bible calls, dead in trespasses and in sins [Ephesians 2:1]. And this death day, and this consciousness that I am a lost sinner, brings about a marvelous triumph in my life. That’s how I become a Christian. And that’s how I become a child of the Lord.
My death day, when I am sensibly cognizant of the judgment of God upon my sin; the author speaks of it in an unusual way. He speaks of it in contrast of one going to the house of feasting and one going to the house of mourning [Ecclesiastes 7:2]. Going to the house of feasting is such a sorrowful commitment and waste of life. When you read the Bible, oh, dear, so many tragedies attend the house of feasting. They were eating and drinking and carrying on when Noah entered the ark [Matthew 24:38]. They were feasting and drinking and carrying on around the golden calf when God said their corpses will fall in the wilderness [Exodus 32:6, 10]. Samson dined and wined, lying in the lap of Delilah, when he lost his strength [Judges 16:19-21]. Nabal drunk, as the Bible says, like a stone when God slew him [1 Samuel 25:36-38]. And Amnon, who violated Tamar his sister, was slain during a feast [2 Samuel 13:1-33]. And, one of the most unusual turns of history, the last great feast became a funeral in the history of the Babylonian Empire. “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” [Daniel 5:25], the kingdom is ended in a feast.
Contrary to that the author speaks of our going to the house of mourning; and how infinitely better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting [Ecclesiastes 7:2]. For in that house of mourning, conscious of our sins and our separation from God [Isaiah 59:1-2], we are raised and resurrected to a new life in our Lord [Ephesians 2:1-5]. Isn’t that the story of Ninevah? When Jonah entered into the city saying, “Yet forty days and Ninevah shall be destroyed,” and, from the king down, the people dressed in sackcloth and sat in ashes, and God repented, changed His mind, and spared the city in the house of mourning [Jonah 3:4-10].
I haven’t time to read it, the fifty-first Psalm and the one hundred nineteenth Psalm, when David, “I acknowledge my sin” [Psalm 51:3, 119:25-32]—and David was restored in the house of mourning [Psalm 51:17]. Or Manasseh, because of his sins against God, the Lord delivered him into the hands of Assurbanipal the king of Assyria and, there in fetters, he repented in the house of mourning. And God restored him and sent him back as king over his people Judah [2 Chronicles 33:11-13].
The house of mourning; the author says here an unusual thing, he says, “The end of all men is in death; the living will take it to heart in the house of mourning” [Ecclesiastes 7:2]. In the house of feasting and revelry, a wise man is not found and there’s no prophet. But in the house of mourning, we lay it to heart [Ecclesiastes 7:4]. We learn in our bowing, and in our repentance, in our confession, and in opening our hearts to the Lord [1 John 1:9].
I want to make an aside here that is one of the strangest things that I read in all history and in all human life. The author speaks of in the day of prosperity be joyful; in the day of adversity consider; surely God has set the one over against the other [Ecclesiastes 7:14]. The equipoise, the equipoise of the providences of God, they are amazing to me! Prosperity, and God hath set over against it in equipoise: adversity, paradise. And God hath set over against it pain. The city of God, enter through gates of pearl [Revelation 21:21] and pearl is a jewel of pain, and wounding, and hurt. And all of life is like that; the juxtaposition of whatever is wonderful in your life and what hurts. For example, Bobby Burns, the greatest poet of Scotland, died when he was about thirty-six. How gifted and wonderful that glorious poet, and his life filled with sorrow.
Pleasures are like poppy spread,
You seize the flow‘r, the bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls on the river,
A moment white—then gone for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
[from “Tam O’Shanter,” Robert Burns, 1790]
Isn’t it strange? Or like Thomas Carlyle, also born in Scotland, one of the finest, most gifted authors in English literature; miserably married and every night to go home to bitterness and hatred. Or like John Milton, a glorious, incomparable Puritan Christian poet, and when he’s about forty years of age he becomes blind. Or like William Cowper who wrote “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and other glorious hymns, a poet of the finest order, but detracted by depression.
Beethoven, man which there is no greater author of music in the earth, and he’s deaf. One of the strangest stories I have ever read in my life; when he played with that Viennese symphony the Fifth Symphony, Beethoven, when he got through, the people were ecstatic. They had never heard such music in their lives. And they stood up and they applauded, and applauded and stood up, and Beethoven, deaf, facing his players, and somebody walked up to him out of the orchestra and got ahold of him and turned him around so that he could see the people as they stood up in applause. Isn’t that an amazing thing?
And the apostle Paul, “Lest I be exalted . . . by the abundance of the revelations given unto me, there was sent to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be over exalted” [2 Corinthians 12:7]. Or even the Lord Jesus; how beautiful and precious a life and how tragically sorrowful in His death.
I haven’t time again to read the roll call of the heroes of the faith, the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, these great, godly, marvelous saints of the Lord [Hebrews 11:1-35], and the whole last part of that chapter speaks of their sufferings [Hebrews 11:36-40]. Isn’t that an amazing thing how God, as he says here, places one over against another. And I can tell you this, no matter who you are—pastor, deacon, people—when you are blessed of the Lord, you count on it, there’s going to be a hurt and a suffering in your life; but we are thus brought into a resurrection relationship with the Lord Jesus [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17], who knew all about what it means to be hurt and to suffer [Hebrews 4:15].
I have to close. Speaking of our spiritual birth, when we are born anew into the kingdom of God [John 3:3], now to speak of our physical death: “The day of death is better than the day of one’s birth” [Ecclesiastes 7:1], and “the end of a thing is better than its beginning” [Ecclesiastes 7:8]. When I look at life I see that; the seed sowing, the plowing, the cultivating and the best is the harvest; a journey afar and the best is the end, coming home. On a voyage in a ship, the best part is coming into port; a war, like Clebe McClary, the best part is the end, the victory. And so with our lives, over and over again, we see it, the best part is the end; a Joseph in a pit, in a prison, and finally, premier [Genesis 37:24-41:43]. A Moses, fleeing for his life out of Egypt, spending those years and years in the wilderness; in the end, God took him. The Lord took him [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. The Lord Jesus, suffering on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50], triumphant in His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7]. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, with his back to the City of Destruction, and finally entering across the river into the City of God. So with us, as Paul writes in Philippians 1:21: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain.”
The best part of my life will be its end, its conclusion, its death. Oh, what God hath wrought for us who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9]. The day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth [Ecclesiastes 7:1], or any of the glorious experiences we’ve had in our pilgrim way. In the day of our death, we enter into God’s estate; we become the recipient of the inheritance God hath prepared for those who love Him [1 Peter 1:4].
“Now we see through a glass, darkly,” just somewhat, “but then face to face” [1 Corinthians 13:12]. When we have the Lord’s Supper, we feel the Lord’s presence [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. But think of sitting down with our Savior at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9]; just looking at Him, just being in His presence. The Lord prepared a breakfast for those seven disciples in the twenty-first chapter of John [John 21:9-14]. The Lord ate supper in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Luke with those eleven apostles [Luke 24:41-43]. And I just—it’s beyond my imagination to sit down with our Lord and just look at Him; just see Him.
The same Lord—and the Holy Scriptures go out of their way to avow we are going to be the same people there as we are here, only perfect. Our Lord was the same Lord; Mary recognized Him by the way He pronounced her name. He had a certain way of saying “Mary” [John 20:14-16]. John recognized Him by the way He folded up a napkin. He had a certain way of folding up a napkin [John 20:3-8]. Cleopas in Emmaus recognized Him by the way He said a blessing [Luke 24:29-31]. Our Lord had a certain way of saying a blessing. And Thomas recognized Him by the scars in His hand and in His side; the same Lord Jesus [John 20:26-28]. And, you are going to be you; and, I am going to be I; and, we are going to we. Sitting down with our blessed Savior and in the last of the Revelation it says, “And His servants shall serve Him” [Revelation 22:3].
Ten thousand times have I been asked, “Pastor, when I go to heaven am I just going to sit there and sit there?” Great God in the Lord’s created universe, the rejuvenated redeemed universe, some will be over ten cities, some over five! [Luke 19:16-19] We’ll all have tremendous assignments serving our Lord. I’d be happy just to wash His feet. And there’ll be no more death, and no more sorrow, and no more pain, and no more sin [Revelation 21:4]. And there will be no more blindness, they’ll see. And there will be no more deafness, they’ll hear. And there will be no more hurt. We will be with our Lord forever and ever [John 14:3]. That’s why he says the day of our death is better than the day of our birth [Ecclesiastes 7:1]. For that final day is the day of our ultimate and glorious victory.
“O Death, where now is thy sting? O Grave, where now is thy victory? Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 Corinthians 15:55, 57].
DAYS: BIRTHDAY AND DEATH DAY
2. Physical –