The Conclusion of the Whole Matter


The Conclusion of the Whole Matter

April 26th, 1992 @ 8:15 AM

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Ecclesiastes 12:8-14

4-26-92    8:15 a.m.


And God bless the throngs of you sharing this hour on radio and on television.  You are now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the senior pastor, W. A. Criswell, bringing the message.  It is the thirteenth and the last one on the Book of Ecclesiastes.

I cannot but remark that I have never had a more profitable study in all of my long life, than I have in preparing these heretofore twelve messages on this book by King Solomon.  And we come now to the thirteenth and the last study, and read the last part of the twelfth chapter:

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

And moreover, because the Preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yes, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs.

The Preacher sought to find acceptable words; and what was written was upright—words of truth.

The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of scholars are like well-driven nails, given by one Shepherd.

And further, my son, be admonished by these; of making many books there is no end; and much study is wearisome to the flesh.

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:  Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is man’s all.

For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.

[Ecclesiastes 12:8-14]

One of the unusual things about this concluding message of this wisest man who ever lived is he started off with that word: “vanity of vanities,” hebel, emptiness, nothingness.   He started off:

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanities of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

What profit hath a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?

All things are full of labor; man cannot express it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing.

That which has been is what will be; that which is done is what will be done: and there is nothing new under the sun.

[Ecclesiastes 1:1-3, 8, 9]

That’s the way he begins.  Then after twelve chapters of every kind of experience, he comes to the concluding word and says the same thing.   Vanity of vanities, nothing of nothings, all is emptiness and nothingness.  What an unusual conclusion to life.  All of life, he says, is nothing but a chasing after a mirage.  All of life, he says, is an interminable study in futility.  Nor was there ever a man who lived who had the ability and the opportunity to enter into every conceivable and possible experience in life as did this famous, fabulous, colorful Solomon.  Nobody who ever lived was like him.

The queen of Sheba came to see him and the Book says, the Bible says, that after she looked at the life and world of Solomon, there was no spirit left in her.  That’s the word; there was no spirit left in her.  She was amazed and overwhelmed.  And she made the remark: “The half hath not been told” [from 1 Kings 10:4-7].

Can you imagine a man, for example, who had seven hundred wives and, as though that were not enough, three hundred concubines? [1 Kings 11:3].  Man without end goes broke and bankrupt with just one wife, and he had seven hundred!  You just can’t enter into things like that; and the wealth of King Solomon, and all of the mines that he ran and worked, and all of the buildings, and all the great things that he did; nobody like him who ever lived.  And yet after his experience, he speaks of wealth and its emptiness.

A man’s purse may be full but his person be empty.  Then he speaks—by the way, the Book says—[2 Chronicles] begins with the life of King Solomon, the reign of King Solomon; and in that first chapter it says that he made gold as plentiful as stones in Jerusalem [2 Chronicles 1:15] And if you’ve ever been to Jerusalem, the whole world around there is nothing but stones.  And he made gold as plentiful as stones in Jerusalem.

And his word about study, about wisdom, about learning, to my amazement there are three books in this Bible written by Solomon: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, three books in the Bible written by him.  He was an avid student and scholar.  And, of course, his life of pleasure was endless.  There were no clusters of forbidden pleasure that he didn’t partake of.  It was an amazing thing, how he gave himself to every human possibility!  And his life was filled with skepticism and cynicism.  Just like today, there are millions of multitudes in the valley of decision.  That was King Solomon; looking at everything, questioning everything, and his verdict: emptiness and nothingness; what an amazing avowal!

The wealth that he spoke of preceded what the Lord says, “You are to lay treasures up in heaven” [Matthew 6:20].  There’s nothing of a reward down here; his word about scholarship, help, and wisdom, “If it doesn’t come from God, it is nothing” [Ecclesiastes 12:13-14].

Wisdom in itself, learning in itself, never brushed away a tear or comforted a broken heart.  Solomon would be the first to say that a humble working man who knows God has more of the wisdom of life than a Ph.D. scholar who is an infidel.  And as for his word about pleasure, one of the most unusual things you’ll read in the Bible.  Solomon uses wine—drinking a cup of wine as the symbol of the pleasures of human life and here’s what he writes:

Who has woe?

Who has sorrow?

Who has contentions, 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 on 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 an adder.

[Proverbs 23:29-32]


What an amazing compendium on pleasure; the emptiness of it.

Then he comes to his epilogue and he writes, “Because the Preacher was wise, he pondered and sought out and set in order many proverbs” [Ecclesiastes 12:9].  Wisdom, true wisdom, comes from God alone.  And he wrote them out in beautiful proverbs.  And we have that entire book here in our Bible.  Then he writes, “The Preacher sought to find acceptable words; and what was written was upright, words of truth” [Ecclesiastes 12:10].  He did not write hastily; he carefully thought through, and thought out the words that he wrote—and he wrote them out of his deepest, innermost conviction—words of truth, “The words of the wise are like goads, and the words of a scholar like nails, given by one Shepherd” [Ecclesiastes 12:11].  The words of his proverbs are to goad the apathy into response, and they are like nails.  They are instruments upon which you can hang the word of truth.  And they are given by, and in our Book—the word “Shepherd” is capitalized—given by Jehovah God Himself.

That’s a beautiful thing that is constantly found throughout the Old Testament, calling Jehovah God a Shepherd.  For example, in Psalms 80, verse 1:

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,

You who lead Joseph like a flock;

You who dwell between the cherubim, shine forth.

Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh

Stir up Your strength,

And come and save us.

Restore, O God;

Cause Your face to shine,

And we shall be saved.

[Psalms 80:1-3]

  That is the Shepherd of Israel.

“And further, my son, be admonished by these: of making many books, there is no end; and much study is a weariness to the flesh” [Ecclesiastes 12:12]. You know what I read last week?  Every year, there are forty-three thousand books that are published in America alone.  It’s unthinkable the vast amount of literature that is constantly and daily produced.  There’s no end to it, he says.

Then he speaks of, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is man’s all” [Ecclesiastes 12:13].  You can’t translate that phrase here in the Hebrew.  It is called here, “for this is man’s all.”  The King James version says, “For this is the whole duty of man” [Ecclesiastes 12:13].  Someone has translated: “For this is the whole man.”  Someone has translated, “There is no more to man than this.”  Best thing that I could put together for the Hebrew is, “For this is every man.”  The “fear of God,” the reverence of God and the keeping of His commandments is the whole substance of human life and living.  Fear God, reverence the Lord—not fate, not providence, not the things of the world or its emoluments, not kings, not men—reverence God; this is the whole end and purpose of life.  It is the beginning, and the middle, and the consummation of all human existence.  And when we fail to know and to love and to reverence God, life becomes worthless and profitless.

There is a bitter epithet written on every dream and goal we have in life, if we do not love God.  You know what I think?  I think that the reason for drugs and promiscuity and all of the things that go with pleasure and drunkenness and worldliness, I think all of that is because their life is empty, hebel, it is nothing.   And in seeking to find some kind of pleasure or meaning in it, they turn to all of these unspeakable things of hurt, when what they need is just God.  That’s all; just God.  “Reverence God,” he says, “and do His commandments” [Ecclesiastes 12:13].

I want to show you something, that just in my studying, I got to thinking about it.  Any little aberration, any little deviation from the commandments of God have an awesome repercussion, any little deviation.  All right, now you look at this: Sarah was about eighty years old, and Abraham was about ninety years old, and they had no heir [Genesis 16:16].  Do you remember what Jesus said?  In the beginning, God made them male and female, and you’re not to separate; you’re not to seek beyond that Adam and Eve relationship in the garden of Eden [Mark 10:6-9, Matthew 19:4-6].   You remember what Jesus said about that?  You are to have one wife.  Remember that?  And that is to be forever.  Remember that?  That relationship is until death.  Remember that?  That’s what God said [Genesis 2:21-24]. That’s God!

All right, I want to show you what a little deviation can do, even a small deviation.  When Sarah was about eighty and Abraham was about ninety and they had no heir, instead of trusting God, [Sarah] took Hagar the handmaid and put her in the bosom of Abraham, and Ishmael was born [Genesis 16:1-4, 15].  And Ishmael is the progenitor and the father and the beginning of Islamic religion, and race, and faith, and a curse for the centuries, and the centuries—and is today!  Where did that come from; the whole Muhammadan, Islamic world with its violence, and its bloodshed, and its propagation by the sword?  From that little deviation from the command of God [Genesis 16:3-5]; it’s astonishing and amazing how God visits when we deviate and disobey His simplest word.

“Hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole man” [Ecclesiastes 12:13].  The man in manhood and the woman in womanhood is to love God and faithfully to follow His inerrant Word.  It’s a wonderful thing what Solomon does here in this passage.

Heretofore, heretofore, he has been speaking of things under the sun.  Over and over again in those twelve chapters, “under the sun, things under the sun, life under the sun,” and, in this final word, Solomon rises above the sun.  What a glory it is to find an alliance with the God of heaven and to do homage to His glorious name.

O Lord, how marvelous it is to magnify the Lord, give glory unto His name [Psalm 34:3].  It is He who spread the blue sky above us.  It is He who writes His name in the firmament beyond us.  It is the kindness of God that shines in the majesty of the sun.  It is the preciousness of God that floats upon the fleecy clouds.  It is the love of God seen in the hues of the rainbow and in the blushing of the most modest of flowers.  And it was the love and care of God that sent Jesus into this world to die for our sins [John 3:16].  That is God!

Pastor, I read this week one of the most astonishing things I had ever read in my life.  As you know, Karl Barth was the greatest theologian of this century—he died in ‘68—marvelous Swiss theologian, a great learned, learned scholarly man of God.  Well, in his old age—now this is what I read this week—in his old age, before he died—just before he died, Karl Barth made a trip around the world; all around the world.  And wherever he appeared, the people just idolized him.   And he spoke in the great universities of the earth.  And he preached in the mighty cathedrals of the world.  And he was wined and dined and welcomed by the famous of the whole creation.

Well, when he got through with his trip around the world and came back home to Switzerland, those devotees there in the scholarly university where he taught gathered around him.  And they asked Dr. Karl Barth, this incomparable theologian, they said, “When you made your trip around the world and went through all those marvelous experiences, what came to your heart?  What did you think on the inside of your soul?”  And you won’t believe it.  The great theologian smiled and said and answered, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” [“Jesus Loves Me,” Anna B. Warner, 1862].  Isn’t that an amazing thing?  Out of his great scholarship and fame, he wrote a theological treatise of about six big volumes,  and after all the years of his life, this is the whole summation of life, to love the Lord Jesus.

I have to conclude.  So he writes: “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or evil” [Ecclesiastes 12:14]. Someday, all that we are, have been, will be judged by the great Lord God of the earth; we shall stand face-to-face in His presence, all of us.  Paul writes that in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before our Lord, and receive from Him what things we have done in the flesh.”  Our lives will be replayed in the presence of the Lord, as he says in 1 Corinthians chapter 3, “On this foundation of Christ, we can build gold, silver, precious stones, or wood, hay, and stubble, but the day will reveal it, and the fire will burn it.  And, if a man’s works burn, he suffers loss” [1 Corinthians 3:11-15].

All of us someday will stand in the presence of the great Judge of all the earth.  I am accountable before God.  He gave me my arms; how do I use them?  He gave me my hands; how do I use them?  My feet, my eyes, my lips, my mind, how do I use them?  I am accountable unto God.  And then he adds in this last closing word: “Including every secret thing” [Ecclesiastes 12:14].

May I close in taking a little leaf out of my own life?  This thing of every secret thing; when I was four or five years old—and I know that I’m not recreating something in my childhood—I was not over five years old and could have been four; because when I was five years old, my family moved out of southwestern Oklahoma into a dry, dust-covered farm in eastern New Mexico.  And this happened when I was in Oklahoma, so I was four or five years of age.   And I had the greatest spiritual confrontation in my life, when I was four or five years of age.  You see, when I went to Sunday school, my father always put a nickel in my hand to take to church—to take to Sunday school.  That would be like having a quarter or fifty cents today; a nickel back yonder, eighty years ago; put a nickel in my hand to take to Sunday school.

Well, one of my little friends said to me, “You know what I do with my nickel?  I buy an ice cream cone with it.”  Well, I said to the little fellow, my friend, I said, “What does your daddy say about that?  You take your nickel that he gives you to give to the Lord and you buy an ice cream cone with it?  What does your daddy say about that?” And he replied to me, “My daddy doesn’t know it.  I keep it a secret from him.  And he thinks I give this nickel to Sunday school, but I keep it and I buy me an ice cream cone with it.”  Then he said, “You do the same.  You do the same.”  Well, I said, “What would my daddy say to me about that?”

“You keep it a secret from him.  You keep it a secret from him, and he’ll never know it, and you take your nickel and buy an ice cream cone.”

Preacher, that was the biggest spiritual confrontation I ever had in my life.  I looked at that nickel.  I looked at that nickel.  Shall I, in secret, buy an ice cream cone with it, and my dad doesn’t know it?  Shall I?  I never was more tempted in my life.  May I brag?  Thank God!  Oh, I thought of this ten thousand times!  Thank God! I said, “I will not deceive my father.  I’ll not do it.  I’ll not in secret do what would displease him and betray him.”  And I faithfully gave it to the Lord. That’s what he is talking about, these things that nobody would ever know.