Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment (Eccl. 11:9).
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 (Eccl. 12:1).
These two passages, taken from the larger context of Ecclesiastes 11:7–10 and 12:1–7, contrast the two bookends of the brief journey of life: youth and old age. They are the seasons of life during which our assessment of life will differ profoundly. The inspired wisdom of Solomon gives us a perspective regarding these two seasons of life that is unparalleled in Scripture. Recently I had a unique encounter with the dramatic contrast between youth and old age. On a Saturday, after I had officiated a wedding, my wife and I, as invited guests, went to the reception, and thus to the house of feasting. At such an occasion, very few reflect on the brevity and uncertainty of life. For the young couple bliss, joy, and high expectations were uppermost on their minds. However, when we left the house of feasting, we traveled to a hospital to visit an elderly brother who was seriously ill. Less than half an hour after our arrival, he breathed his last breath. And suddenly, surrounded by a mourning family, we found ourselves in the house of mourning. Within a few hours, we had witnessed the joyful beginning of a new marriage and the end of the lengthy marriage of an elderly couple. This experience was a powerful illustration for us that “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 his heart” (Eccl. 7:2). This brings us at once to the focal point of this article:the divergent evaluation of life by the young and the old. The passages we are considering highlight the fact that the young generally do not take to heart the inescapable reality that it is appointed unto all men—regardless of age—once to die, and after that the judgment (Heb. 9:27). Solomon reminds young people of this when with holy irony he urges them to live life to the fullest—to follow the dictates of their own heart and to feast their eyes on all that this tantalizing world appears to offer. How tempting it is for young people to be seduced by the siren song of a world that fosters the illusion that happiness is to be found in the pursuit of possessions, pleasure, popularity, prestige, and power!However, Solomon then adds the sobering warning that a day of reckoning is coming for having lived a life in pursuit of the world’s agenda—a life governed by the worship of Mammon rather than the worship of the living God. The temptation of youth—even Christian youth—is to lose sight of our frailty and mortality and to order our lives according to the world’s agenda.Young people often fail to recognize that at any given moment their dreams can be shattered by crippling injuries, terminal illness, and death itself. The day that we will stand before our Maker could be just around the corner—an appointment that cannot be cancelled. Since, however, our Creator has no pleasure in the death of sinners, but rather, that they would turn to Him and live(Ezek. 33:11), He not only moved Solomon by His Spirit to warn young people of the judgement to come, but also to seek Him in the days of their youth, saying, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” The urgency of this exhortation is inescapable, and is expressed throughout the Word ofGod: “To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart”(Ps. 95:7–8); “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2); “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33).Furthermore, Solomon adds a compelling argument for remembering our Creator in our youth: “while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them” (Eccl. 12:1). In the verses that follow,Solomon gives us a graphic description of what these evil days are—days that will greatly hinder us in devoting our time to seek our Creator as He has revealed Himself in the Lord JesusChrist, and in which He proffers peace and pardon. During the evil days of old age there will increasingly be a systemic failure of our physical and mental faculties. They will be days when debilitating illness and weakness will often manifest themselves. The pain, discomfort, and anxiety that will progressively become a daily reality can so preoccupy the elderly that it will render them nearly incapable of devoting their time and energy to their spiritual needs. How profitable it would therefore be for young people to visit the elderly in a nursing home and to witness the painful and graphic evidence of these evil days—to witness what the end of life’s journey looks like!They might then learn from the elderly how rapidly youth becomes a distant memory and how quickly and relentlessly old age will overtake us! They would hear the often-repeated phrase, “Where have the years gone? It seems like yesterday that I was young and full of energy, and now I am old and my body is breaking down.”Visiting the elderly in a nursing home would remind young people of another truth expressed by Solomon, that there is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Eccl. 3:2a). How striking that the day of our birth and the day of our death are only separated by a comma! He does not say a word about there being a time to live. That comma represents the brief span of life that separates our birth and our death—a comma that places our brief lives in the context of eternity. In light of eternity we are all the same age!Thus, after having warned young people lovingly of the judgment to come, he now also lovingly urges them not to postpone seeking God (by repenting and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ) until the evil days of old age. Everyone dreams of becoming old, but reality tells us that no one enjoys being old. Solomon tells us that it is the time when our limbs begin to tremble, when our strong bodies become weak, when teeth will be lost, when eyesight will grow dim, when one will be restricted to his home, when anxiety will increase, when hearing begins to fail, and when our basic bodily functions begin to fail. Solomon then tells us that all this will happen as a graphic reminder that “man goeth to his long home” (12:5b)—that our dust shall “return to the earth as it was,” and that our spirit(soul) will “return unto God who gave it” (12:7). That profound reality should compel young people not to order their lives according to this world’s agenda. It is an agenda so appealing, and articulated so strikingly by the rich fool who said on the eve of his unanticipated death, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19). How sobering are the words that follow: “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God!” (Luke12:20–21). Jesus summarized this when He said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). When we are young, we are not often inclined to take these matters as seriously as we ought to, being deluded by the dream of a prosperous and successful future—by pursuing a treasure on earth rather than a treasure in heaven. That’s why it is so profitable for young people to visit the house of mourning so that they may be reminded—and take to heart—that our youth is the golden age to remember our gracious Creator by responding to His loving invitation, “My son [my daughter], give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways”(Prov. 23:26). What a blessing it is, therefore, if our youth culminate sin a life in which we love and serve our Creator as He has revealed Himself in the person of His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ—and when a life of serving Him may culminate in an old age of which it can be said, “Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing” (Ps. 92:13–14). What a privilege when at the end of our journey, being “full of days,” we may say with Jacob, “I have waited for thy salvation, O LORD” (Gen. 49:18). Such is the confession of all who love the Lord Jesus Christ insincerity, for He is Jehovah’s salvation! Only when we find our salvation in Him are we living indeed! Then Asaph’s confession will also be ours, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25–26). Thus, having considered the biblical perspective regarding youth and old age, “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” (Eccl. 12:13–14).
Used with permission • July/August 2019 Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth