Ecclesiastes 3:1 - Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Bible Comments


Ecclesiastes 3:1. Season-time.] Season signifies a certain period or term; time denotes a division of time in general.

Ecclesiastes 3:2. A time to plant, &c.] Used in O. T. as a metaphor to describe the founding and destruction of cities.

Ecclesiastes 3:7. A time to rend and a time sew.] The rending of garments on hearing sad tidings, and sewing them when the season of grief is past.



Man forms designs for his own happiness, gives free scope to his powers, and traces out the course of his life. Yet there is over him a higher system of things, a stern and terrible Power by which he is overmastered and subdued. He is made, after all, to fulfil the designs of heaven. The Divine control over every domain of creation is supreme over all other sovereignties. This is evident from the following facts:

I. The Divine Control is exerted throughout all time. Human history is inserted between the two eternities. In the infinite solitudes of the past, before the birth of time, the mind has not whereon to rest, nor can the eye pierce beyond the present order of things into the immense future. Between these there is a range of time, forming the platform upon which human history is erected. Here the mind can rest, and survey the rule of the Supreme.

1. God made time for us by giving a peculiar direction to His power. Before time was, or ever any creature was made, He dwelt in that eternity which knows no periods. No voice could be heard in that vast solitude but His own. Yet He was not content to remain thus solitary, but surrounded Himself with those intelligencies upon whom He might pour the illustrations of His wisdom and benevolence. Thus the Divine power directed by goodness has created time for us wherein all the circumstances and issues of all creatures are displayed.

2. God rules over the whole course of time which He has made. Origination gives a natural title to possession. God has exerted His power and wisdom both in time and space, and therefore has an undisputed claim to reign supreme over each realm.

3. God’s Supreme Control is to be observed chiefly in the events of time. Events take place at certain seasons, and a season is a portion cut off from time. They are its joints, or articulations—critical periods of time. What has been ripening slowly through long years comes to the birth at a moment in the grand decisive events of history. Thus the Deluge, the giving of the Law, the establishment of Judaism, the founding of Christianity, the invention of Printing, the Reformation, are some of the great births of time. They are seasons when it is most of all observed that there is a wise and Infinite Power above, directing the great issues of time. These are the joints that connect and strengthen the whole frame of human history. The smooth course of affairs often fails to excite attention, but great events startle men into surprise, and invite contemplation. The thoughtless world is thus roused to behold the mighty hand of the great Ruler of all.

II. The Divine control is marked by an unchangeable order. The times and seasons in which every purpose comes to full ripeness are predetermined by God. With Him there is no disordered mixture of things—no wild confusion. Infinite wisdom cannot be taken by surprise, or plunged of a sudden into perplexity. All the events of time arise from a fixed order of things. They are determined by a plan, dimly seen by us, but traced in stern and clear lines by a steady hand, and with the precision and confidence of infinite skill. We call this regular order of things law, for so it is as seen from our point of view; but on God’s side it is the exercise of will; not indeed of an uncertain and capricious nature, but following method—the will of the Father of Lights—a clear and illumined will. This is unchangeable by us, or by any other power.

1. Infinite wisdom and power lead to such a result. God has no need to make experiments to try some doubtful issue. He has no mistakes to repair, nor can any reason arise to oblige Him to retouch and modify His plan. In His vast design no element, however small, is omitted or overlooked. He has power to carry all His purposes into effect; hence such a Being has no cause or reason to oblige Him to depart from a fixed order.

2. The study of nature teaches us that there must be such an order in human events. There is such a fixed order in the physical world, in the great orbs that roll above us. The laws of nature are regular, severe, exact. We can depend upon them in their inflexible constancy. All things in the universe are ordered by number, weight, and measure. Are we to suppose that the regular plan of the Divine government is only concerned with lifeless matter, and does not also extend with equal accuracy and completeness to souls? Is man alone to be made the sport of blind chance, when all movements and changes of created things are governed by a rigid law? Man, with all the events of time that concern him, reveals an infinite complication, yet surely the boundless wisdom of God is equal to the task of governing him according to a regular plan? The most slippery elements of human affairs are held by the Divine hand.

3. The Bible is full of this doctrine. What reason teaches us to expect, the Bible reveals as a fact. The added light of Revelation enlarges our prospect, and strengthens our sight of the wide realms over which God rules. What is the Gospel itself but the kingdom of God, implying authority, law, and order? The more we look into God’s latest Revelation, the more are we persuaded that there is nothing that concerns human nature which is left out by the Divine plan. The teaching of the Bible is that man, as an inhabitant of this world, and as a candidate for immortality, is completely under the control of the Supreme.

III. The Divine control is illustrated by the whole course of human affairs. The hand of God in history can be clearly perceived by every one whose attention is at all awake. The proudest is brought, sooner or later, to confess that God has “beset him, behind and before.” The kings of the earth who have” taken counsel together against the Lord and His Anointed “have either been tamed to submission, or in mad rebellion have broken themselves against the bars of destiny. History is but a revelation of the fixed principles of Providence. A survey of this scene of man will give abundant illustration of the completeness of the Divine control throughout the whole extent of human history.

1. It is illustrated in the individual life.

(1.) The boundaries of that life are determined. Birth and death are the extreme limits between which each single life receives a manifestation. Life is purely a gift. We sought it not: it was thrust upon us. Though flowing to us through human channels, it rises from the Fountain of Life. We were summoned into His presence. The time of our public appearance here was appointed by Providence, and we must accept it for good or evil. We are here, called from the abyss of nothing by the Almighty power. The time of our departure hence is also determined. Though that time is to us unknown, yet where our journey of life shall end is known fully to the Great Disposer of all things. He has already drawn the circle which we must fill, nor can we by all our skill and care enlarge it, nor enclose a greater area from the territory of life allotted to us.

(2.) The discipline of that life is determined. We pass through various changes of fortune, and these are employed by Divine Providence as a means of spiritual education. We are planted, and again plucked up—we enter upon new modes of life, and old scenes pass away from us, never to return. Structures which we had raised in confidence and hope are broken down, and with a sadder heart and dearly-bought experience we build again as best we may. We are stunned by disease, as if killed by the terrible blow; and then healed again to receive what awaits us in life. In the merchandise of life, we experience the excitement of loss and gain; and what we have secured by energy and kept with care we may be obliged, in the emergencies of fortune, to cast away.

(3.) The emotions of our life are determined. We have no command over our joys or our sorrows. They arise from the constitution of our nature, acted upon by the various changes in the world around us. There are times when sorrow lifts the sluices of our tears, and we cannot intercept their flow; again the season of joy comes and shakes our countenance into ripples of laughter. There are times too of excessive emotion, when to mourn or to dance seems to be the only fit expression of the great force with which both grief and pleasure possess our frame.

(4.) The seasons of special duty are also determined. War and peace, silence and speech, are here selected as the type of many. In a world of conflicting interests and passions, there are times when even the most peaceful disposition is dragged into a contest, and then the season comes when the conditions of peace ought to be cheerfully accepted. There are times when silence is the highest duty, lest we should pluck the unripe fruit of wisdom, or speak words out of season to some heavy heart. Then the moment comes when we should hold no longer from speaking, but give utterance to the thought within us to instruct, to comfort, and to bless. The seasons both of silence and speech are forced upon us, when the most sullen is compelled to utterance, and the most noisy tongue is silenced.

2. It is illustrated in the life of nations. The history of nations is analogous to that of individuals, but it is drawn to a larger scale. It is developed through greater measures of time. Nations, like individuals, have peculiarities of character, and special elements of strength and weakness. As the moral determinations of a man’s early life change the whole course of his subsequent history, so it is with nations. By great moral crises they rise to superior influence and grandeur, or date from them the first symptoms of decline. History shows that the Divine control over the life of nations is complete.

(1.) They have their allotted span of life. For them, too, there is a “time to be born and a time to die.” They rise, flourish, and decay, and run through a strange and eventful course between the cradle and the grave. One nation after another has passed away. We have but the poor remains of their glory embalmed in history. Rome and Carthage, and mighty Babylon—where are they? The mighty past is full of the graves of empires. Divine Providence calls a people to be a nation, and when their course is run they go down into the dust of time. They were “planted” and then “plucked up,” they were gathered and then dispersed by weakness, and completely undone.

(2.) They have times of severe Providential visitations. They are wounded as by the thrusts and stabs of some terrible fortune; they are healed again, recover strength, and live to complete their history.

(3.) They pass through the varied changes of public feeling. In times of great public calamity they are constrained to weep and mourn; and in some great national excitement of joy they assume the proper circumstances of mirth and rapture.

(4.) They have the alternations both of prosperity and adversity. They have their times “to get,” and “to lose,” “to gather,” and to “cast away.”

(5.) They have times of special duty. Now, by the pressure of circumstances, or by a sense of propriety, they are forced to silence; and again, the time comes for self assertion. Hence, love and hatred, peace and war.

3. It is illustrated in the life of Churches. The life of the Church itself, as the Kingdom of God, survives the destruction of States and all the changes of the world; the seed of the Kingdom is imperishable. But separate Churches have histories as strange and eventful as those of the individual.

(1.) They have a fixed period of existence. They are founded, endowed with spiritual life; and after flourishing, it may be through centuries, they die out. They are “planted” and “plucked up;” gathered as stones for a building, and, like the Temple at Jerusalem, they are scattered. Where are the Seven Churches of Asia now? Where those flourishing African Churches of the early centuries? Infidelity and superstition grow rank over the ruins of once famous Churches. Ecclesiastical systems change; they have no natural immortality. Each system will have its day. There is no miracle wrought to preserve the garments of religious thought and Church order from waxing old, and decaying through the wilderness of history.

(2.) They have seasons of manifest Divine Visitation. There are times when God, in His dealings with His Church, compels attention. There are manifest visitations of God to His people both of anger and love. By the corruption of doctrine, and the influence of the world, by neglecting her true mission, and by prosperity, the Church is corrupted, and Divine judgments threaten, and at length fall upon her. Then is the season to weep and mourn and to rend the garments. Providence often resorts to terrible means, as if the Lord would slay His people. Then there are times of blessed visitation, when the Church is increased and prosperous; the sharp wound is healed, the season of joy and exultation has come.

(3.) They have seasons of special duty. There are times when Churches can afford to be silent and regard the cavils and opposition of others with a lofty indifference. It is often best to maintain peace, and to allow the fury without to spend its own violence and utterly exhaust itself. But the fit time for self-assertion arrives, and the Church must carry the war into the enemies’ camp. The Christian Religion itself has been the occasion of terrible conflicts, and men have kindled the flame of fierce passions upon the altar of God. The temper of the world towards the Churches of different periods varies. It is fickle and inconstant like human affection. There is for the Church, in regard to her relations with the world, a “time to love, and a time to hate.” For the Church of every age there are “times and seasons which the Father hath put into His own power.” They are all a portion of the eternal plan.


MORTALITY is a huge time-piece wound up by the Almighty Maker; and after he has set it a-going nothing can stop it till the Angel swears that time shall be no longer. But here it ever vibrates and ever advances—ticking one child of Adam into existence, and ticking another out. Now it gives the whirr of warning, and the world may look out for some great event; and presently it fulfils its warning, and rings in a noisy revolution. But there! as its index travels on so resolute and tranquil, what tears and raptures attend its progress! It was only another wag of the sleepless pendulum: but it was fraught with destiny, and a fortune was made—a heart was broken—an empire fell. We cannot read the writing on the mystic cogs as they are coming slowly up; but each of them is coming on God’s errand, and carries in its graven brass a Divine decree. Now, however—now, that the moment is past, we know; and in the fulfilment we can read the flat. This instant was to say to Solomon, “Be born!” this other was to say to Solomon in all his glory, “Die!” That instant was to “plant” Israel in Palestine; that other was to “pluck him up.” And thus inevitable, inexorable, the great clock of human destiny moves on, till a mighty hand shall grasp its heart and hush for ever its pulse of iron [Dr. J. Hamilton].


Ecclesiastes 3:1. In all the afflictions of the good, it is an element of consolation that the severe season will have an end, and in the great future a brighter one will arise. It is the highest prudence to await in patience God’s time.

The fact that there is a Divine plan to be observed amidst all the seeming disorder of human things, is the charter of our liberty, the very foundation of our hope. Under the dominion of a wild and reckless chance, we could not walk sure-footedly in this life, nor cherish a deathless hope of better things awaiting us in the life to come.
There are atmospheres that support, and others that extinguish flame. There are beliefs that have a like effect upon the soul. Without the recognition of a superior power controlling all things, the torch of hope cannot burn.
The plan of God must be distinguished from fate and destiny. Some ancient philosophers taught that God Himself was subjected to an iron necessity, that the resistless walls of fate constrained even the Highest. We know that God is above His plan; that it is framed by Infinite Wisdom, maintained by Infinite Power, and pervaded by the Spirit of Infinite Love.

The plan of God results not from mere will, supported by a terrible and uncertain power. His will is not wilfulness, or caprice. We know what we are to expect from one who is wise and good.
The view of the machinery of the Divine Government, constructed with such infinite skill, and moved on by a terrible power, would of itself oppress and overwhelm our soul. Human nature must languish even under the contemplation of the highest regularity and order. But there is an infinite tenderness above all, and within the awful circles of wisdom and power there is a Divine bosom on which weary souls can repose, and where they are safe from fear.
Even Christ Himself became subject to the plan of God. He waited for His “baptism” and His “hour.” His greatest enemies could not prevail against Him till the appointed season had come.

1. Consolation for the righteous in the day of trouble. They know that there will be a period to their sorrow, and that comfort and rest await them.
2. Assurance of the triumph of truth and right. He who has formed the plan of nature’s vast year is the Holy One, and in the upshot of all things He will vindicate His own character. He will make the cause of the right and the true to triumph.
3. The condemnation of the false and wrong. The most rebellious will be forced at last to submission; and he who has enjoyed his fancied liberty, because judgment appeared to linger, will find that he is overtaken at last.

There is no wandering out of the reach of God’s perfect knowledge, no slipping through the hands of Omnipotence. God’s hand is as steady as His eye; and certainly thus to reduce contingencies to method, instability and chance itself to an unfailing rule and order, argues such a mind as is fit to govern the world [South].

Nothing can come from the most carefully constructed of human schemes till the pre-determined hour has struck, even if all men on earth were to put forth the most violent efforts. God will not suffer the hands of His great clock to be pointed by the kings and princes and lords of the earth [Luther].

The things “under heaven” have but a time—a brief season. There is awaiting the good and the true the calm and untroubled flow of the ages of eternity.

Ecclesiastes 3:2. There is “a time to be born,” and however much a man may dislike the era on which his existence is cast, he cannot help himself: that time is his, and he must make the most of it. Milton need not complain that his lot is fallen on evil days; for these are his days, and he can have no other. Roger Bacon and Galileo need not grudge their precocious being, that they have been prematurely launched into the age of inquisitors and knowledge-quenching monks—for this age was made to make them. And so with the time to die. Voltaire need not offer half his fortune to buy six weeks’ reprieve; for if the appointed moment has arrived it cannot pass into eternity without taking the sceptic with it. And even good Hezekiah—his tears and prayers would not have turned the shadow backward, had that moment of threatened death been the moment of God’s intention [Dr. J. Hamilton].

How immense is the difference between the circumstances of one human being and another!—and yet this is made by, what seems to us, the mere accident of birth. “This babe to be hail’d and woo’d as a Lord, and that to be shunn’d like a leper!” Thus the Supreme Power determines the “bounds of our habitation” by appointing the time and place where we shall make our entrance upon life.
Each human soul born into the world is an entirely new product. It never existed before. Matter continues the same through all changes and evolutions, but souls are strictly new. The observation of this common fact prepares the mind to accept the great mystery of creation.
To be born is—

1. To enter upon scenes of life already prepared for us. The world was made ready for our habitation, and the circumstances of society were prepared for us long before we came.
2. To incur the obligation of duty. The fact that we are created by a higher Power implies a certain relation to that Power, and therefore corresponding duties.
3. To take our part in the system of Providence. We become, at birth, a part of the established order of things; we must take our place and accept our condition.
4. To enter upon a state of probation. There is another great event awaiting us, determined by the Divine decree—death. Life is the season in which the character is to be fitted for the next scene of things to which God shall call us.

The gift of Life.—

1. It is a Divine gift. God alone can impart it. The breathing marble is but a figure of speech. The Spirit of God, the primal force of the universe, is “sent forth, and they are created.”
2. It is a blessed gift. Our creation is the foundation of all the blessings that we can enjoy in any world. All the riches and advancement belonging to thought and feeling from hence take their rise.
3. It is an awful gift. Existence is a terrible responsibility, for we may make it an evil and a curse.

Believers and Christians know that no tyrant’s sword can kill or destroy them, and that before their hour comes no creature whatever can harm them. Hence they do not trouble and worry themselves much about death, but when it comes they die unto the will of God as He pleases, like lambs and young children [Luther].

The busiest of mortals must find a time to die. Death has been described as “the land without any order,” and, as it seems to us, without any order the King of Terrors carries off his victims. But Providence observes a fixed order. There is for every mortal course a fixed hour to close.
The time and manner of our death are to us unknown. This uncertainty is beneficial—

1. On social grounds. Man, by this provision, does not end his labours till the last moment in which he can be useful to society.
2. On religious grounds. The motives for seeking God are strengthened by the uncertainty of life.

But above all, believe it, the sweetest Canticle is Nunc dimittis. where a man hath obtained worthy ends and expectations. Death hath this also, that it openeth the gate to good fame, and extinguisheth envy [Bacon].

The time of death is one—

1. Of parting from all the associations of life. Those scenes of nature and of man which had become endeared to us are rudely torn from our heart. There is a complete loss of the world.
2. Of an oppressive sense of loneliness. There is no human breast on which the parting soul can rely. The dread journey must be attempted alone, as far as human supports are concerned.
3. Of the dread of the unknown and untried. The unknown is ever the terrible.

And so there is “a time to plant.” The impulse comes upon a man of fortune, and he lays out his spacious lawn, and studs it with massive trees; and he plants his garden, and in the soil imbeds the richest and rarest flowers. And that impulse fades away, and in the fickleness of sated opulence the whole is rooted up, and converted into a wilderness again. Or by his own or a successor’s fall, the region is doomed to destruction; and when strangling nettles have choked the geraniums and the lilies, and, crowded into atrophy, the lean plantations grow tall and branchless, the axe of an enterprising purchaser clears away the dark thickets, and his plough-share turns up the weedy parterre [Dr. J. Hamilton].

God has often plucked up the heathen and planted His own people. The Church is a cleared enclosure in the midst of the wilderness of the world.
The Heavenly Husbandman will pluck up every plant that is unfit for His garden.
The growths of sin and error can only flourish for a time. No advantage of situation can give them a title to continuance. The season for plucking up will come, for God must remove them out of His sight.

Ecclesiastes 3:3. God often resorts to terrible means in order to purify His Church.

Affliction is sometimes sharp, and seems to be the prelude to death; but it is not in itself an end. God only ordains death as a passage to life. He is the Heavenly Physician who wounds but to heal.
The hurt comes before the healing, and affliction before the fruition of blessedness.
The miracles of healing performed by Our Lord contain a prophecy of what He will do as the Restorer of Paradise. He will heal all the wounds of His people, and give them life to enjoy in its best condition.
Times of healing, whether of bleeding and sick nations, of rent and distempered Churches, or wounded spirits, are in God’s hand; and, till His time come, all essays of other physicians for healing are in vain; and therefore He is to be humbly employed and depended upon for that end, considering that however times of healing be fixed with Him, yet the importunity of penitents is ordinarily a comfortable forerunner of their being healed [Nisbet].

The most famous and enduring of works have been destroyed, and the glories of each succeeding age are often built upon the ruins of the past.
No worldly fortune so great but God can break it down, as He will for every man at death. All the works of man are doomed. Those structures alone shall abide that are raised upon the everlasting foundations.
When this life is past, there will be, for the good, an end of the succession of breaking down and building up. For them there is prepared the city which shall never be spoiled by the invader.
God builds again the walls of the Church when He grants great spiritual prosperity and increase.
In the Church’s lowest condition the faithful few need not despair; the “time to build up” will come.
The progress of all human things is towards final and complete ruin. But upon these ruins God will raise everlasting habitations.
In the midst of failure and destruction, the wise may hope and take courage. Their ruined structures shall be built again. We must fail here; but if we are one with God, we shall find all re-constructed for us on a larger plan, and with more refined elegance.

Ecclesiastes 3:4. We cannot fix the seasons of sorrow or of joy; they are forced upon us by the decrees of Providence.

With the good, joy always comes last. Their history is a transcript of the history of Christ. He suffered first, and then entered into His glory.
The weeping of the world is but tears shed over the grave of hope; it is the anguish of despair. But the righteous weep with a sadness which takes comfort. Their darkest prospect is rounded by the glory of unfading hope.
There are seasons when the Church must hang her harp upon the willows and weep the tears of memory and long regrets; but the night of weeping shall be followed by the morning of joy.
It is best to yield to the feeling of the time, for this is the design of Providence. The children of this world try to force themselves to laughter when they ought to weep—there is a deep misery underlying their loudest joy.
Tears are, as it were, the blood of the wounds of the soul, which manifest the greatness of them; and so the light skipping of the body in dancing is but the shadow of the light and lofty flying of the mind in joy [Jermin].

The Lord hath His own times fixed wherein He will fill the mouths of His people with laughter, and turn their mourning into dancing by making them see the performance of those promises which they could hardly believe, healing their spiritual distempers, guarding their hearts against the vexation of affliction, giving them such sweet foretastes of their future happiness that they cannot but skip for joy, even in the midst of the worst that men can do to them. And when His time for making His people laugh and dance cometh, the world cannot hinder it [Nisbet].

No one can fix a date and say, I shall spend that day merrily, or I must spend it mournfully. The day fixed for the wedding may prove the day for the funeral; and the ship which was to bring back the absent brother, may only bring his coffin. On the other hand, the day we had destined for mourning, God may turn to dancing, and may gird it with irresistible gladness [Dr. J. Hamilton].

There are extremes of joy and sorrow which must receive a corresponding expression. From their very nature, they must be of brief duration. There is an average healthy pulse for the spiritual as well as for the natural man. The soul must not be dissolved in rapture so as to give no heed to the claims of duty.
The extreme forms of human emotion show that this world is not our place of rest. Ours is not that calm and untroubled joy which the righteous look for beyond life. The Fountain of Life above is no intermittent spring.

Ecclesiastes 3:5. Destruction and re-building—These words describe all history.—

1. The history of material and social progress. This is mainly a breaking-up of institutions which have been proved a failure—no longer able to accompany the soul into higher latitudes; or it is the substitution of new methods because they are better and more potent than the old—as in skilful inventions and contrivances.
2. The history of thought. Old fashions of thinking have passed away, and new systems have been built up. And so it will be to the end, as long as the constitution of the mind is unchanged.

Human monuments cannot endure for ever. They are broken down, to be replaced by other works of taste and skill. The material progress of man requires such renewal. A like necessity exists in intellectual progress. Each age requires a new embodiment of the truth. Hence the necessity of current literature.
Christ said to the Jews, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate.” It was God’s house no longer. When the Church has reached this stage of corruption, the time for scattering her stones is not far off. But God cherishes the purpose of building in the midst of this work of undoing. The glorious Christian Temple was raised upon the ruins of Judaism.
“There is a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” There is a time when the fondness of friendship bestows its caresses, and receives them in return with reciprocal sincerity and delight: and a time when the ardour cools; when professions fail; when the friend of our bosom’s love proves false and hollow-hearted, and the sight of him produces only the sigh and tear of bitter recollection. We refrain from embracing because our embrace is not returned [Wardlaw].

The love of God to His Church is unchangeable, but the special expressions of His love—i.e., His favour, varies. The souls of the righteous are sometimes cast down as if God did not permit them always to enjoy His closest and most retired affection.

Providence has ordained it that not even in religion itself shall we have a constant rapture of delight. In the most entrancing music of the soul, there must be pauses of silence.

Ecclesiastes 3:6. There is a time when every enterprise succeeds; when, as if he were a Midas, whatsoever the prosperous merchant touches is instantly gold. Then comes a time when all is adverse—when flotillas sink, when ports are closed, and each fine opening only proves another and a tantalising failure. And so there is “a time to keep and a time to cast away.” There is a time when in the cutting blast the traveller is fain to wrap his cloak more closely around him; a time when in the torrid beam he is thankful to be rid of it. There is a time when we cannot keep too carefully the scrip or satchel which contains the provision for our journey; a time when, to outrun the pursuing assassin, or to bribe the red-armed robber, we fling it down without a scruple. It was a time to keep when the sea was smooth, and Rome’s ready market was waiting for the corn of Egypt; but it was a time to cast the wheat into the sea when the angry ocean clamoured for the lives of thrice a hundred passengers [Dr. J. Hamilton].

We have here—

1. A recognition of the duty of industry. There is “a time to get.” Providence calls men to active diligence in the sober pursuit of this world’s good.
2. The vicissitudes of fortune. No human power can contrive that our fortunes shall be constant and unbroken. They may be undermined by the merest accident; or we may be deprived of the power to enjoy them.
3. The prudence proper in extremity. It is right carefully to preserve the results of our labour, but there are emergencies when, to serve some higher purpose, we must part with our most cherished earthly good.

That which is subject to such violent changes, and which we must be prepared to lose, cannot be our chief good. It is no part of our real selves, no lasting inheritance of the soul.
Even our life, the dearest treasure we possess, must be rendered up at the high demands of duty.
The treasures of the mind and soul are alone exempt from this inexorable law. Capricious fortune cannot force us to resign immortal wealth.
We must not attach our hearts to that which we may lose so soon.

Ecclesiastes 3:7. There is a time when calamity threatens or grief has come, and we feel constrained to rend our apparel and betoken our inward woe; a time when the peril has withdrawn, or the fast is succeeded by a festival, when it is equally congruous to remove the symbols of sorrow. There is “a time to keep silence”—a time when we see that our neighbour’s grief is great, and we will not sing songs to a heavy heart; a time when, in the abatement of anguish, a word of sympathy may prove a word in season; a time when to remonstrate with the transgressor would be to reprove a madman, or, like the pouring of vinegar on nitre, would be to excite a fiery explosion; but a time will come when, in the dawn of repentance, or the sobering down of passion, he will feel that faithful are the wounds of a friend [Dr. J. Hamilton].

Providence has ordained that great and violent griefs shall not be perpetual. The rents of sorrow are healed by time; wherefore time has been called “the comforter.”
There are seasons when man must pay his tribute to nature, and assume the proper circumstances of woe. Again the season arrives when it is seemly to remove the ensigns of sorrow.
Silence should go before speech, for only in the silence of meditation can speech be wisely framed.
Silence is the proper attitude of the soul.—

1. Before a great sorrow. The small griefs of men are noisy and demonstrative, but the greatest griefs are silent. They choke the utterance.
2. Before a great mystery. When words fail to give to the vast and infinite shape and outline, we can only stand and wonder and adore. In the inner shrine of religious thought we must cover our faces.

O the strong buckler of a circumspect defence, silence! O the most faithful foundation of stability! For many being well settled with a stable heart, yet unawares have fallen by the error of a wandering tongue [St. Ambrose].

There are some seasons wherein the Lord’s people are to refrain from speaking even that which is in itself good, and might prove so to others. As

1. When we are called to learn from others (Job 32:7);

2. When men turn brutish, and declare themselves incapable of profiting, and the more they are spoken to are the more enraged in their wickedness (Matthew 7:6), and so incorrigible that others can neither have access to deal with them, nor with God for them (Amos 5:13); and,

3. When the truth hath been often before sufficiently asserted and cleared even to their conviction (Matthew 27:14) [Nisbet].

God broke the long silence which reigned before the world was made by saying, “Let there be light.” We should only break silence to speak words of quiet power, rich in the purity of truth and goodness, and tending to diffuse peace and joy.
The resulting force of one body acting upon another depends upon the angle at which it is struck. Words spoken in proper season strike the mind directly with full effective force, while those which are ill-timed can only strike with diminished power.
Seasons for speaking.

1. To give testimony for the truth.
2. To rebuke sin.
3. To comfort the afflicted.
4. To vindicate the innocent.
5. To instruct.

Providence has supreme control over those actions which seem to lie most within our own power. The most refractory under Heaven’s government must accept the seasons of silence and speech with the same helpless resignation as they must accept the natural seasons of the year.

Ecclesiastes 3:8. We have no complete command over our love and hatred, for they depend upon causes beyond ourselves. They are the opposite poles of human emotion, and, like the magnetic needle, they obey the forces of attraction and repulsion.

There is a period when, from identity of pursuit, or from the spell of some peculiar attraction, a friend is our all in all, and our idolatrous spirits live and move and have their being in him; but with riper years or changing character, the spell dissolves, and we marvel at ourselves that we could ever find zest in insipidity, or fascination in vulgarity. And just as individuals cannot control their hatred and their love, so nations cannot regulate their pacifications and their conflicts. But just at the moment when they are pledging a perpetual alliance, an apple of discord is thrown in, and to avenge an insulted flag, or settle a disputed boundary, or maintain the tottering balance of power, wager of battle is forthwith joined [Dr. J. Hamilton].

God has both the mild and the stormy passions of human nature entirely under His command.
The changes of our hearts’ emotion are determined by Providence working slowly through time.
The system of Divine Providence is made up of antagonistic elements, of which each one in turn will have its brief season. If we accept the facts of human nature as they are, we cannot expect otherwise than that wars and commotions will arise. History is but the development of the possibilities latent in man.
In the recital of the chief examples of the Divine Control, the series is concluded by the mention of peace, for this is the goal and Sabbath of all God’s ways with man. The end of all the strife and agitation of this troubled year of existence is to secure eternal peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

6 A time to get,a and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.