Death, Mourning, and Sorrow

“The day of death (is better) than the day of one’s birth.” To the unsaved reader these words will be sufficient to confirm their opinion that Koheleth (Solomon) was a pessimist. To the enlightened believer the same words will reveal him as a spirit-taught optimist. From the viewpoint of Ecclesiastes what is this present life? It is summed up in the words “Vanity and vexation of spirit” to all those who have not reached the conclusion of the whole matter” (xii. 13, 14). This present life is expressed in the synonymous clause “all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow” (vi. 12). At the end of that life there is the “one event,” and the “one place.”

.. As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand” (v. 15).

The flesh profiteth nothing. This life can only be blessed and purposeful when it is viewed as a place of discipline and training, fitting one for true service and life that is life indeed in resurrection. The day of our birth ushers us into a sphere dominated by the law of sin and death. We are at birth” sown in corruption,” dishonour, weakness, merely a natural (soul-ical) body. Resurrection changes all this. We are raised in incorruption, glory, power, and–with a spiritual body. The first state is connected with Adam (I Cor. xv. 45, Eccles. vi. ]0, Heb.) the second with Christ.

If these facts are appreciated in any degree, we shall also appreciate the words of Ecclesiastes “the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s life.” At death the pilgrimage ceases, the lessons are over, the discipline done. For the believer sin’s punishment, power and presence will have for ever passed away. The death which has fallen upon him shall never fall again. The present life with all its blessings and pleasures and opportunities is a life spent in corruption, and in the sphere of a curse. Such a condition cannot be immortal. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither can corruption inherit incorruption. This being so, even though the mind and heart shrink from the valley of the shadow of death, one can see that it is a necessity (“change” will be the equivalent for the living saints) if we would enter into the full blessedness of redemption.

Ecclesiastes is under no false idea that death is a friend” or a “bright angel.” That is left to the unbeliever in his endeavour to hide the terror of the last enemy. The believer taught by the Scripture is under no illusions as to death. Job could even dare to speak of “worms destroying his body” when he knew that his Redeemer lived. Paul can speak of death and the grave without softening either awful word, because resurrection robbed them of their sting and their victory. Ecclesiastes teaches that the only ones in this life who can enjoy any good in it, in the true sense, are those who have faced its transient character, realized the fact that this is not their rest but their school, and who, knowing that life in its fulness cannot be entered until we awake satisfied with Christ’s likeness, set their mind on things above where Christ is. As a result of believing that the day of death is better than the day of birth, Koheleth continues:

“It is 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 lay it to heart” (vii. 2).

The man of the world argues in an exactly opposite direction. Seeing that death is the end of all men, he says, “Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Again it is the hope of resurrection that makes the difference. Both can say “tomorrow we die,” but the one as a result says feast, the other fast. It is a natural thing to say, If this brief life is to end in death, why not make the most of it? Why not get all the good one can out of it, in other words, put sadness and sorrow out of sight; eat, drink and be merry. That is natural. Taught by the Spirit of truth however, we reason that if this present life is to end in death and the full blessings of redemption cannot be entered by flesh and blood; moreover, if there are spheres of service to be entered in the life to come that shall bear some analogy to our faithfulness here, and if an eternal weight of glory lies over against a light affliction which is but for a moment, if moreover, love to our Redeemer compels us to stand on His side, go without the camp and suffer His reproach-then we cannot help becoming pilgrims and strangers, declaring by our very abstention that we seek a country that lies beyond the grave, that our pleasures are associated with our Saviour, and that while sin and death and the curse are everywhere apparent, we cannot find it in our heart to eat, drink and be merry, but rather find greater and deeper joy in those circumstances which superficially are the saddest and darkest hours of life.

“The living will lay it to heart” (vii. 2); further, “Sorrow is better than laughter” (vii. 3) for the same reason, “for by the sadness of the countenance (external) the heart (internal) is made better” (vii. 3). The world thinks only of the face, the believer thinks more of the heart. True wisdom recognises the essential difference.

.. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning (and will be thereby made’ better ‘);
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (vii. 4).

Association with mourners may not prove so enjoyable to the flesh as the hilarity of feasting and mirth, but

“It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool. This also is vanity” (vii. 5, 6).

The choice of worldliness is fleeting. The brief hour of mirth is oft followed by days of bitterness. The poor untaught world sees nothing beyond this present age, and the majority of Christians seem to have conspired to perpetuate its blindness. Present Christendom with its worldliness, its pleasures, its fleshly inducements, its forsaking of the narrow path, its philosophy, its politics, all proclaim the negation of resurrection. The Church is fast approaching the form of godliness which involves the denial of the power of the resurrection, and with it in song and sermon sounds the hoary tradition that puts resurrection aside, bridges the gulf between the flesh and the spirit, and seeks to improve that which is corrupt, carnal and mortal. Ecclesiastes vii. is sober truth.

Let us hear the rebuke of the wise, and seeing the end of all men let us lay it to heart. From The Berean Expositor, Volume 12, page 52

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