Ecclesiastes 3:3

There is nothing so interesting to man as human life. The material creation engages the attention and absorbs the inquiring activities of the student of physical science; but unless it is regarded as the expression of the Divine ideas, the vehicle of thought and purpose, its interest is limited and cold. But what men are and think and do is a matter of concern to every observant and reflecting mind. The ordinary observer contemplates human life with curiosity; the politician, with interested motives; the historian, hoping to find the key to the actions of nations and kings and statesmen; the poet, with the aim of finding material and inspiration for his verse; and the religious thinker, that he may trace the operation of God's providence, of Divine wisdom and love. He who looks below the surface will not fail to find, in the events and incidents of human existence, the tokens of the appointments and dispositions of an all-wise Ruler of the world. The manifold interests of our life are not regulated by chance; for "to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."

I. LIFE'S PERIODS (ITS BEGINNING AND CLOSE) ARE APPOINTED BY GOD. The sacredness of birth and death are brought before us, as we are assured that "there is a time to be born, and a time to die." The believer in God cannot doubt that the Divine Omniscience observes, as the Divine Omnipotence virtually effects, the introduction into this world, and the removal from it, of every human being, Men are born, to show that God will use his own instruments for carrying on the manifold work of the world; they die, to show that he is limited by no human agencies. They are born just when they are wanted, and they die just when it is well that their places should be taken by their successors. "Man is immortal till his work is done."

II. LIFE'S OCCUPATIONS ARE DIVINELY ORDERED. The reader of this passage is forcibly reminded of the substantial identity of man's life in the different ages of the world. Thousands of years have passed since these words were penned, yet to how large an extent does this description apply to human existence in our own day! Organic activities, industrial avocations, social services, are common to every age of man's history. If men withdraw themselves from practical work, and from the duties of the family and the state, without sufficient justification, they are violating the ordinances of the Creator. He has given to every man a place to fill, a work to do, a service of helpfulness to render to his fellow-creatures.

III. THE EMOTIONS PROPER TO HUMAN LIFE ARE OF DIVINE APPOINTMENT. These are natural to man. The mere feelings of pleasure and pain, the mere impulses of desire and aversion, man shares with brutes. But those emotions which are man's glory and man's shame are both special to him, and have a great share in giving character to his moral life. Some, like envy, are altogether bad; some, like hatred, are bad. or good according as they are directed; some, like love, are always good. The Preacher of Jerusalem refers to joy and sorrow, when he speaks of "a time to laugh, and a time to weep;" to love and hate, for both of which he declares there is occasion in our human existence. There has been no change in these human experiences with the lapse of time; they are permanent factors in our life. Used aright, they become means of moral development, and aid in forming a noble and pious character.

IV. THE OPERATION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS APPARENT IN THE VARIED FORTUNES OF HUMANITY. This passage tells of accumulation and consequent prosperity, of loss and consequent adversity. The mutability of human affairs, the disparities of the human lot, were as remarkable and as perplexing in the days of the Hebrew sage as in our own. And they were regarded by him, as by rational and religious observers in our own time, as instances of the working of physical and social laws imposed by the Author of nature himself. In the exercise of divinely entrusted powers, men gather together possessions and disperse them abroad. The rich and the poor exist side by side; and the wealthy are every day impoverished, whilst the indigent are raised to opulence. These are the lights and shades upon the landscape of life, the shifting scenes in life's unfolding drama. Variety and change are evidently parts of the Divine intention, and are never absent from the world of our humanity.

V. THE MORAL AND SPIRITUAL ISSUES OF HUMAN LIFE BEAR MARKS OF DIVINE WISDOM AND ORDER. It cannot be the case that all the phases and processes of our human existence are to be apprehended simply in themselves, as if they contained their own meaning, and had no ulterior significance. Life is not a kaleidoscope, but a picture; not the promiscuous sounds heard when the instrumentalists are "tuning up," but an oratorio; not a chronicle, but a history. There is a unity and an aim in life; but this is not merely artistic, it is moral. We do not work and rest, enjoy and suffer, hope and fear, with no purpose to be achieved by the experiences through which we pass. He who has appointed "a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven," designs that we should, by toil and endurance, by fellowship and solitude, by gain and loss, make progress in the course of moral and spiritual discipline, should grow in the favor and in the likeness of God himself. - T.

A time to kill, and a time to heal
The work of grace upon the soul may be divided into two distinct operations of the Spirit of God upon the heart; the one is to break down the creature into nothingness and self-abasement before God; the other is to exalt the crucified Jesus as "God over all, blessed for ever" upon the wreck and ruin of the creature. And these two lessons the blessed Spirit writes with power upon every quickened vessel of mercy.

1. There is, then, "a time to kill" — that is, there is an appointed season in God's eternal counsels when the sentence of death is to be known and felt in the consciences of all His elect. That time cannot be hurried, or delayed. The hands of that clock, of which the will of God is the spring, and His decrees the pendulum, are beyond the reach of human fingers to move on or put back. The killing precedes the healing, and the breaking down goes before the building up; the elect weep before they laugh, and mourn before they dance. In this track does the Holy Spirit move; in this channel do His blessed waters flow. The first "time," then, of which the text speaks is that season when the Holy Ghost takes them in hand in order to kill them. And how does He kill them? By applying with power to their consciences the spirituality of God's holy law, and thus bringing the sentence of death into their souls — the Spirit of God employing the law as a ministration of condemnation to cut up all creature-righteousness.

2. But it is not all killing work. If God kills His people, it is to make them alive (1 Samuel 2:6); if He wounds them, it is that He may heal; if He brings down, it is that He may lift up. There is, then, "a time to heal." And how is that healing effected? By some sweet discovery of mercy to the soul, by the eyes of the understanding being enlightened to see Jesus, and by the Holy Ghost raising up a measure of faith in the heart whereby Christ is laid hold of, embraced in the affections, testified to by the Spirit, and enthroned within, as "the hope of glory."

3. But we pass on to another time — "a time to break down." This implies that there is a building to be overthrown. What building is this? It is that proud edifice which Satan and the flesh have combined to erect in opposition to God, the Babel which is built up with bricks and lime to reach the topmost heaven. But there is a time in God's hand to break down this Babel which has been set up by the combined efforts of Satan and our own hearts.

4. There is "a time to build up." This building up is wholly and solely in Christ, under the blessed Spirit's operations. But what building up can there be in Christ, except the creature is laid low? What has Jesus as an all-sufficient Saviour to do with one who can stand in his own strength and his own righteousness?

5. But there is "a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance." Does a man only weep once in his life? Does not the time of weeping run, more or less, through a Christian's life? Does not mourning run parallel with his existence in this tabernacle of clay? for "man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards." Then "a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up," must run parallel with a Christian's life, just as much as "a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance." But these times and seasons are in the Father's hand; and, "what God has joined together, let no man put asunder." Never talk of healing till you can talk of killing; never think of being built up, until you have been broken down; never expect to laugh, until you have been taught to weep; and never hope to dance, until you have learned to mourn. Such only as are taught of God can enter into the real experience of these things; and into them, sooner or later, each according to his measure, does God the Holy Spirit lead all the ransomed family of Zion.

(J. C. Philpot.)

A time to weep, and a time to laugh
The play impulse is, I verily believe, as sacred in the Divine intention as the work impulse. Indeed, Dr. Bushnell has undertaken to show how what he calls the state of play is the ultimate state of redeemed and regenerated humanity, up to which it climbs through previous discipline in the working state; and though in his argument he has not actually done so, yet I presume he would regard that prophetic picture of the new heavens and the new earth wherein Zechariah declares that "the streets of Jerusalem shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof" as only a poetic description of the heavenly employments of children of a larger growth. For, when we come to look a little deeper than the surface, what do we mean by play? Coming home at the end of the day, weary and worn and fretted, you open the door upon your little one roiling and tumbling upon the floor with a kitten. It is certainly not a very classical nor a very dignified scene, and yet, somehow, your heart straightway softens to it, and you sit down and watch the romp with a sense of sympathy and refreshment that you have not had through all the dull and plodding day. Why is it? Why, but because after all that is life without effort or care or burden, joy without labour or rivalry or tedium, bounding motion and bubbling glee without anxiety and without remorse! And what is such a life, disengaged from its animal characteristics and ennobled by a spiritual insight, but the true idea of heaven, where, if there be activity, there will be no effort, but where all that we do and are will be the free spontaneous outburst of the overflowing joy and gladness that are in us.

I. MERE AMUSEMENT OUGHT NOT TO BE, AND CANNOT HEALTHILY BE, THE END OF ANY LIFE. We speak of child-life as the play period of a human existence. And yet, have you never noticed that even the child cannot play, unless he has climbed up into the sphere of play through the toilsome vestibule of work? We see him careering over the ground in the wild joy of his young freedom, climbing the trees, scaling the hillsides, racing through the fields, or gambolling on the grass, and we say, "what glad surrender to pure impulse!" But do we remember how he has come to that free command of himself, his limbs and lungs and muscles; how he has tottered first of all on his tiny feet, and fallen, and risen, only to fall again; how by slow gradations he has taught his muscles to obey his will, and his feet to do the bidding of his thought, and his hands to grasp and hold the things he reaches after? Not without effort, surely, has he come into that larger freedom of the first play state; and not without work, as his best qualification for the really sacred privilege of amusement, has God meant that any one of us should come to our playing moments!

II. WHAT ARE THE PRINCIPLES THAT OUGHT TO REGULATE OUR AMUSEMENTS? Those principles are threefold. Our amusements ought to be genuine, innocent and moderate.

1. Let me explain what I mean by a genuine amusement. If amusement has, as we have seen, a definite and recognizable place in every healthful and well-ordered life, then we must at least require of it that it shall honestly serve its purpose — that it shall really and veritably recreate, re-create us. Now, viewed in this light, I did not, e.g. call a ball a genuine amusement. Our amusements ought to leave us fresher and brighter than they found us, net jaded and irritable and lack-lustre-eyed when the next day's duties roll back upon us. And therefore, I do not wonder that a great many young persons especially, who seek their amusements (Heaven save the mark!) in such channels, are constrained to "key themselves up" to work by the artificial means of unhealthy stimulants.

2. If amusement is not something outside but inside the sanctions of an earnest and Christian life, then our amusements ought also to be innocent. The concern of one who is deciding the question between amusements that are innocent and those that are not innocent, is with the drama as he actually and ordinarily finds it; and this includes the drama whether classic or tragic or comic, or seminude and spectacular; and if any complain that the Church of God frowns upon innocent amusements, and if it utters no downright condemnation, at least withholds its approval from innocent forms of amusement, let them remember that it is because ordinarily those who have once crossed a certain line in this matter, no matter what may be their professions of decorum or religion, are far too commonly wont to cast all restrictions utterly and absolutely behind them. For there is in fact almost absolutely no pretence of discrimination in these things, and persons of pure lives and unspotted name are seen, in our day, gazing upon spectacles or hearkening to dialogue, which, whether spoken or sung, ought to bring a blush of shame to any decent cheek.

3. But, let us also remember, amusement may be thoroughly innocent in its nature, and yet very easily be excessive or immoderate in its measure.

(Bp. H. C. Potter.)

Human life is made up of summers and winters — it may be, in most cases, with a larger proportion of winters than summers, but seldom, indeed, without some days of bright sunshine and joyous hope. Each season, too, ought, in the very nature of things, to meet with a fitting response in the experiences of the soul. When the darkness is round about our path, circumstances all adverse, when sorrow saddens the heart, or death impoverishes the life, then is a "time to weep." But when the cloud is lifted, and the brightness of the sunshine once more inspires us with hope and fills us with joy; when our enterprises prosper, and our homes are scenes of love and peaceful happiness; when present success not only yields pleasure, but gives the earnest of a still richer blessing, then is the "time to laugh." Both of these seasons are of God. As He has ordained summer and winter for the earth, so has He ordained that human life should have these alternating experiences, and in both alike we are to remember that we are His, and even in our lighter hours do all to the glory of God. There are some to be found who think recreation, even of the most harmless character, a waste of time which, if not positively sinful, is, at all events, a sign of spiritual weakness. Reasons in favour of such a course are not difficult to seek. There is the solemn responsibility with which life is invested in virtue of the great work to be done, and the hindrances in face of which it has to be prosecuted. Here, it may be argued, is the battle between good and evil, prosecuted under conditions so unequal that the servants of God must be bound to give all diligence in order to maintain His cause. With temptations so subtle, so numerous, so widespread, and so skilfully adapted to all varieties of taste and circumstance; with such mighty forces all actively engaged for the dishonour of God and ruin of human souls, there cannot be any opening for mere enjoyment. Nay, the very feeling is out of harmony with all the circumstances of the conflict. While souls are perishing, how can we have the heart to be glad, or find the time to enter even into the most refined and elevating pleasures of social life? The first answer to this must surely be that the theory breaks down under the weight of its own conclusions. It is an impossible standard of duty which it endeavours to set up, and it collapses under its own extravagance. Hero and there a man may really detach himself from these human interests, and there may be circumstances which mark him out for a special position in which he is absorbed by the one thought of the deliverance of human souls. It may be even that there are exceptional times in which like the prophet Jeremiah the servant of the Lord is ready to cry, "Oh, that mine head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!" But this cannot be the normal experience even of the most earnest Christians. All are not prophets; all prophets are not Jeremiah; Jeremiah was not always in a state of mind like this; in short, men must have a different nature before they can attain to this complete suppression of human sympathies and interests. But the moment it ceases to be real and becomes a mere piece of assumed Christian devotion, that moment it loses, not only its power, but everything which gives it a religious quality at all. But there is this further objection to it. It is not proved to be the best method of securing the particular object in view. In the struggle against evil a wise man will surely look round and study the defences by which it is sustained. In the attack on a strong citadel the attention of the skilful strategist is first directed to the outlying forts which guard its approaches. The same law applies to our Christian work. Individual souls are affected by the society to which they belong, and the influence of society must depend largely upon the institutions — including even those which have to do with the amusements of life — which exist in its midst. The perversions which mislead the minds of men have to be got rid of before the truth can reach them. In this work, even in a land which calls itself Christian, there is need for the ploughshare before the ground can be made ready for the scattering of the seed of the kingdom. The argument, then, is twofold. We have to assert the rule of Christ over all the scenes of human life, seeking so to purify its pleasures that they shall not be hindrances to the spiritual life. But we have also to give a true representation of the Christian spirit, and we fail in this if we convey the impression that in our religion there is no time for recreation. Has not our Father given us the capacity for joy, and does He not mean us to profit by it?

(J. G. Rogers, B. A.)

Break, Build, Building, Death, Heal, Kill, Pulling, Slay, Tear
1. by the necessary change of times, vanity is added to human travail
11. is an excellence in God's works
16. as for man, God shall judge his works hereafter, though here he be like a beast

Dictionary of Bible Themes
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

     5880   humour

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

     4903   time
     5547   speech, power of

Eternity in the Heart
'He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also He hath set the world in their heart.'--ECCLES. iii. 11. There is considerable difficulty in understanding what precise meaning is to be attached to these words, and what precise bearing they have on the general course of the writer's thoughts; but one or two things are, at any rate, quite clear. The Preacher has been enumerating all the various vicissitudes of prosperity and adversity, of construction and destruction, of society and solitude,
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

'A Time to Plant'
'A time to plant.'--Eccles. iii. 2. The writer enumerates in this context a number of opposite courses of conduct arranged in pairs, each of which is right at the right time. The view thus presented seems to him to be depressing, and to make life difficult to understand, and aimless. We always appear to be building up with one hand and pulling down with the other. The ship never heads for two miles together in the same direction. The history of human affairs appears to be as purposeless as the play
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

For what Christian Men of Our Time Being Free from the Marriage Bond...
15. For what Christian men of our time being free from the marriage bond, having power to contain from all sexual intercourse, seeing it to be now "a time," as it is written, "not of embracing, but of abstaining from embrace," [1977] would not choose rather to keep virginal or widowed continence, than (now that there is no obligation from duty to human society) to endure tribulation of the flesh, without which marriages cannot be (to pass over in silence other things from which the Apostle spares.)
St. Augustine—On the Good of Marriage

But Thou who Both Hast Sons, and Livest in that End of the World...
11. But thou who both hast sons, and livest in that end of the world, wherein now is the time not of casting stones, but of gathering; not of embracing, but of abstaining from embracing; [2244] when the Apostle cries out, "But this I say, brethren, the time is short; it remains, that both they who have wives be as not having;" [2245] assuredly if thou hadst sought a second marriage, it would have been no obedience of prophecy or law, no carnal desire even of family, but a mark of incontinence alone.
St. Augustine—On the Good of Widowhood.

Letter xxvi. (Circa A. D. 1127) to the Same
To the Same He excuses the brevity of his letter on the ground that Lent is a time of silence; and also that on account of his profession and his ignorance he does not dare to assume the function of teaching. 1. You will, perhaps, be angry, or, to speak more gently, will wonder that in place of a longer letter which you had hoped for from me you receive this brief note. But remember what says the wise man, that there is a time for all things under the heaven; both a time to speak and a time to keep
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux—Some Letters of Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux

The Conclusion of the Matter
'Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; 2. While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain; 3. In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, 4. And the doors shall be shut in
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

Of Self-Annihilation
Of Self-Annihilation Supplication and sacrifice are comprehended in prayer, which, according to S. John, is "an incense, the smoke whereof ascendeth unto God;" therefore it is said in the Apocalypse that "unto the Angel was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all Saints'' (Chap. viii. 3). Prayer is the effusion of the heart in the Presence of God: "I have poured out my soul before God" saith the mother of Samuel. (1 Sam. i. 15) The prayer of the wise men at the feet of
Madame Guyon—A Short and Easy Method of Prayer

Introductory Note.
[a.d. 145-220.] When our Lord repulsed the woman of Canaan (Matt. xv. 22) with apparent harshness, he applied to her people the epithet dogs, with which the children of Israel had thought it piety to reproach them. When He accepted her faith and caused it to be recorded for our learning, He did something more: He reversed the curse of the Canaanite and showed that the Church was designed "for all people;" Catholic alike for all time and for all sorts and conditions of men. Thus the North-African

The Lapse of Time.
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."--Eccles. ix. 10. Solomon's advice that we should do whatever our hand findeth to do with our might, naturally directs our thoughts to that great work in which all others are included, which will outlive all other works, and for which alone we really are placed here below--the salvation of our souls. And the consideration of this great work,
John Henry Newman—Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. VII

"For they that are after the Flesh do Mind,"
Rom. viii. s 5, 6.--"For they that are after the flesh do mind," &c. "For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." There are many differences among men in this world, that, as to outward appearance, are great and wide, and indeed they are so eagerly pursued, and seriously minded by men, as if they were great and momentous. You see what a strife and contention there is among men, how to be extracted out of the dregs of the multitude, and set a little higher
Hugh Binning—The Works of the Rev. Hugh Binning

How the Silent and the Talkative are to be Admonished.
(Admonition 15.) Differently to be admonished are the over-silent, and those who spend time in much speaking. For it ought to be insinuated to the over-silent that while they shun some vices unadvisedly, they are, without its being perceived, implicated in worse. For often from bridling the tongue overmuch they suffer from more grievous loquacity in the heart; so that thoughts seethe the more in the mind from being straitened by the violent guard of indiscreet silence. And for the most part they
Leo the Great—Writings of Leo the Great

The Holy War,
MADE BY SHADDAI UPON DIABOLUS, FOR THE REGAINING OF THE METROPOLIS OF THE WORLD; OR, THE LOSING AND TAKING AGAIN OF THE TOWN OF MANSOUL. THE AUTHOR OF 'THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS.' 'I have used similitudes.'--Hosea 12:10. London: Printed for Dorman Newman, at the King's Arms in the Poultry; and Benjamin Alsop, at the Angel and Bible in the Poultry, 1682. ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR. Bunyan's account of the Holy War is indeed an extraordinary book, manifesting a degree of genius, research, and spiritual
John Bunyan—The Works of John Bunyan Volumes 1-3

A Sermon on Isaiah xxvi. By John Knox.
[In the Prospectus of our Publication it was stated, that one discourse, at least, would be given in each number. A strict adherence to this arrangement, however, it is found, would exclude from our pages some of the most talented discourses of our early Divines; and it is therefore deemed expedient to depart from it as occasion may require. The following Sermon will occupy two numbers, and we hope, that from its intrinsic value, its historical interest, and the illustrious name of its author, it
John Knox—The Pulpit Of The Reformation, Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

"Who Walk not after the Flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the Flesh,"
Rom. viii. 4, 5.--"Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh," &c. If there were nothing else to engage our hearts to religion, I think this might do it, that there is so much reason in it. Truly it is the most rational thing in the world, except some revealed mysteries of faith, which are far above reason, but not contrary to it. There is nothing besides in it, but that which is the purest reason. Even that part of it which is most difficult to man,
Hugh Binning—The Works of the Rev. Hugh Binning

Appendix 2 Extracts from the Babylon Talmud
Massecheth Berachoth, or Tractate on Benedictions [76] Mishnah--From what time is the "Shema" said in the evening? From the hour that the priests entered to eat of their therumah [77] until the end of the first night watch. [78] These are the words of Rabbi Eliezer. But the sages say: Till midnight. Rabban Gamaliel says: Until the column of the morning (the dawn) rises. It happened, that his sons came back from a banquet. They said to him: "We have not said the Shema.'" He said to them, "If the column
Alfred Edersheim—Sketches of Jewish Social Life

It is not surprising that the book of Ecclesiastes had a struggle to maintain its place in the canon, and it was probably only its reputed Solomonic authorship and the last two verses of the book that permanently secured its position at the synod of Jamnia in 90 A.D. The Jewish scholars of the first century A.D. were struck by the manner in which it contradicted itself: e.g., "I praised the dead more than the living," iv. 2, "A living dog is better than a dead lion," ix. 4; but they were still more
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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