Can I Keep on Going?
The book of First John defines the world as the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride. It goes on to say that the world passes away and all of its lusts, but he that does the will of God abides forever. In his Spirit impressed wisdom, Solomon observed that reality working itself out before his eyes. We could consider Solomon’s observations as an extended existential Old Testament commentary on 1 John 2:15-17.
I. Chapter 7, verses 1-6 – Solomon shows that godly and wise living often values those things that are opposite of the preferences of the world.
A. A name that brings nods of respect and acknowledgement of godly virtue is far preferable to possession of the most precious material things. Even a good ointment that heals or refreshes is far from the lasting comfort and value of a good name. A good name is gained only through long and consistent practice of right and compassionate living. Job describes this in Job 29. In Job 30 he narrates the distress of losing one’s good name, in his case for no substantial reason.
B. The day of death better than the day of birth. All of us rightly rejoice at the birth of a new child. He is born, however, with a nature clogged with original sin, is by nature a child of wrath, and has before him the testing of all that a sinful, evil, and often cruel world can throw at him. The person, however, that finds life through the ransom of Christ, may say with Paul, “I prefer to die and be with Christ, which is far better.” At death his body no longer feels the oppression of corruption and decline and his spirit, now absent from the body but present with the Lord, has no more tendency to sin, is removed from any temptation to sin, sees no sin in the spirits of just men made perfect (of which group he is now a part—Hebrews 12:23, 24), and is in the presence of Christ the righteous one. Though we understandably and rightly “ooh” and “AAAh” at birth and cry and console at death, for the child of God, the latter far exceeds the former in the life into which he is being introduced.
C. Verses 2-4 – Though death is better than birth for the one that finds a redeemer and has the hope of eternal life, the intrusion of cessation of existence in the world and the termination of all earthly relations, nevertheless, brings a deep sense of loss for those left behind. The Preacher says that this shock and sadness, for those that look at it with wisdom, is instructive toward a deeper and abiding joy. Why is going to the house of mourning better than going to the house of feasting? Solomon gives us the answer.
- “For this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” In the house of mourning, one sees in empirical reality the final condition of that comes to rich and poor alike, wise and foolish alike, perverse and pure alike, cruel and merciful alike, oppressive and just alike. He refers again to this certainty as he contemplates the death of the wicked in 8:10, “Then I saw the wicked buried.” Death is certain. “It is appointed unto man once to die” (Hebrews 9:27) “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) A contemplation of the certainty of death as it is appointed and as it is the wages of sin, and the sight of its work makes a person recognize that the truth, “after that the judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27) will not bypass him. Nothing that has been accumulated, nothing that has been laughed at, nothing that has elevated the earthly position of a man will support him at the time of death or attend him as he stands unadorned with earthly position and possessions before the bar of absolute justice. Only if he is in a position to hear the verdict, “No condemnation,” will the day of death be better than the day of birth.
- The House of feasting maximizes the ruse that there is nothing before us to fear. It makes the wicked think that his life will be prolonged “like a shadow,” just longer and longer as the sun goes down (8:13). The house of feasting seeks to smother the haunting, but healthy, consciousness that we can take no measures finally to avoid being stripped of everything by the piracy of the lurker, death, sent by the just avenger, God, to bring us to judgment. Feasting fools us into thinking that we can just continue to fill our moments with tidbits of taste, or witty conversation, and avoid isolation with our thoughts of guilt that might rise up and smite us. The house of mourning strips that deadly façade from the mind.
- If sorrow is prompted by having laid to heart the reality of death and its cause, then its value far exceeds any moment of laughter. If sorrow arises from poverty of spirit in the face of the moral cause of death and the blessing of being brought to mourn for one’s sin, then the outcome will be comfort (Matthew 5:3, 4). Sadness of face in a genuine mourning for sin gladdens the heart with forgiveness.
- Since death is the wages of sin, sin can only be answered by death. Being in the presence of death reminds us of this amazingly salutary fact, that “through death” Jesus, in our nature, destroyed “him that has the power of death, that is, the devil” and delivered those “who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” This he did by making “propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:14-17). The heart of the wise, therefore, is indeed in the house of mourning reflecting on how this very death, so cold and threatening before her eyes, has been shouldered by Jesus the Redeemer and by his triumph over it has removed its sting. Fools, however, refuse to think of such things; its interrupts the jokes and the buffets and the superficial witty conversation. Why should anyone purposefully embrace a damp to her mirth?
- “Sing on, sing on,” the fool says, while the wise says, “Look at the corpse, and consider that one day your body will be such. But the spirit will return to God who gave it. What then will be your song?” Can we say “And when in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song; ‘twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.”
- “Laugh on, Laugh on. Cackle and guffaw at all the jokes and don’t let the black crepe cover your merriment,” says the fool. “You only live once and you must sap all the joy out of life while you have it.” Such frivolous focus on the pleasures of the flesh in earthly existence is vanity.
II. Chapter seven, verses 7-14: One must learn to be patient in present circumstances and trust in the providence of God and the justice of his decree.
A. Verse 7 – A wise person, with a keen sense of justice and who attempts to do right and be equitable in all his dealings, finds the phenomenon of oppression maddening. Particularly is the situation galling and inflaming to the emotions when, not only does the mighty oppress the weak, but they use their position and wealth to bribe the officials that are appointed to protect the rights of the poor and powerless. How can God be in control when truth is on the scaffold and error holds the rope? When we look at sin and evil, including the power of covetousness, as an isolated phenomenon and see how it seems to dominate every sphere of public life and worms its way into the life of the church also, we can be distressed, despairing, and angry. The human emotions and affections must, therefore, be imbued with a larger perspective on reality—one that takes account of a perspective that is known only by the propositions of divine revelation. [It is this perspective that is opened in the first six seals of Revelation 6. The Lamb of redemption opens the book sealed with seven seals, and the first seal was a presentation of his kingship, on a white horse with a bow and a crown. He controls all the movements of the earth—the strife among nations, the presence of famine; even the death of the martyrs, fifth seal, and assures them that he has yet more wrath to bring on the earth to demonstrate the malignity of human sin and the power of his justice and holiness.]
B. Verse 8 – Though the present circumstance may appear bleak, we know that in the end God will show his justice, righteousness, holiness, and judgment and every sin shall receive its due recompense. The contrite and patient in spirit that trust in God, both as a deliverer here and hereafter, will find the end of a thing true and pure and righteous. “The end of a thing,” that is, the purpose for which God decreed it, will show the wisdom of God in working all things together for good for those that love God and are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Though we can not see the end, we nevertheless have the word of God concerning these things and will submit humbly to his wisdom rather than vaunt ourselves against God and question his ways. Any portion served from the banquet of God’s purpose and grace will be salutary and confirming to the hope of eternal life.
- Verse 9 – Anger arises from impatience, which in turn arises from a sense of injustice. When anger energizes us to change a situation that in reality is unjust, then anger becomes a positive motivation and can be called righteous indignation. Jesus manifested this on notable occasions. ( Mark 3:4, 5; Matthew 21:12, 13; John 2:13-17; and to us Ephesians 4:26, 27) When anger arises from a perceived injustice to us, but in fact is based on a self-centered conceit, then anger merely compounds the sinfulness of our egocentricity. This kind of anger will lead us into error, into the way of fools. It lodges there and seethes, releasing a corrupting infection into the spirit.
- Verse 10 – A show of distrust in God’s decree sometimes results in a glorification of former days, from which we isolate memories that we have adorned with fanciful joys and innocence that simply were not true. We tend to think that sin was less prominent, and we were in greater control. Now that our day has passed and a younger set has assumed the reins, the days are bad, neither as wisely administered nor as joyfully spent as those times gone by. In so doing we overestimate our own righteousness, underestimate the constancy of sin in every person and every generation, and question the wisdom of God in carrying out his purpose from generation to generation (“For the Lord is good; His love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:5)
- Verses 11, 12 – Should a person receive an inheritance, it is a God-given privilege for earthly advantage to those that combine its material possibilities with wisdom. An old show, “The Millionaire” regularly demonstrated the futility of a windfall if it came to foolish, self-centered people. Both money and knowledge flaunted and trusted without wisdom can turn its possessors into a proverb of self-destruction sending forth circles of a vacuum that sucks in lingerers into the same hole of moral obliteration. In the case of both money and knowledge, “wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.” Here we must recall other points that have been made about the power to enjoy wealth, possessions, and honor, and particularly how the most enduring use of wealth is that which makes friends for the gospel.
- Verse 13 – In each of these issues, The Christian must recognize that, while the decree of God does not diminish the pure justice of his judgments of sinners, it does give hope that even through the crookedness of this world God maintains his control of the end of all. If for purposes of His own, we find crookedness permeating all eras, if this crookedness (as it has indeed) comes from the fall, then know that the situation allows God to bring all sin to visible judgment and to magnify the pure gratuity of his merciful intervention and to bring all the nations of all ages to see the inexhaustible beauty of Christ as the single person in whom all these attributes manifest their perfect harmony.
C. Verse 14 – In view of all these things, therefore, the person that is molded by revelatory wisdom will accept both prosperity and adversity. The one, from the standpoint of seeing prosperity as a small foretaste of the pleasures that exist at the right hand of God (Psalm 16:11), and the other as an opportunity for reflection on the shortness, vanity, and sinfulness of our own lives. God has made both of these and which of them will dominate the short future we still have in this age, we cannot tell, for God controls the progress of history in terms of his redemptive purpose—to increase wrath at times and to manifest the sovereign pleasure of mercy at others. “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:17, 18).
III. Chapter 7:15-24 – Solomon reflects on the relative nature of all human righteousness and wickedness and that none can make a final adjudication of either of these in this life if the standard of measurement is one’s temporal, and apparent, well-being. Issues of wickedness and righteousness overlap in every person’s life along the spectrum from absolute good declining to complete corruption. There is an absolute good, and there is, or will be, an absolute corruption of good; neither of these, however, can be observed in any person or situation in this life
A. Verse 15 – What Solomon observed about the wicked, Job stated as a matter of long observation in his response to Zophar in Job 21. “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their offspring are established in their presence, and their descendants before their eyes. . . . The evil man is spared in the day of calamity” (Job 21:7, 8, 30). Likewise, the righteous often find their temporal condition look like a manifestation of divine displeasure, As Job bitterly observed, “When disaster brings sudden death, he mocks at the calamity of the innocent. The earth is given into the hands of the wicked” (Job 9:23, 24). David, acting in wickedness, succeeded in killing Uriah, acting in integrity. Ahab, pouting because of a disappointed covetousness, found himself in possession of his desired treasure while Naboth, acting with integrity, honesty, and respect for his forefathers, found himself falsely accused of blasphemy and stoned to death, thus losing what he had protected in his integrity (1 Kings 21:1-16).
B. Verses 16 – 24 – This apparent incongruity, however, should not make us draw wrong conclusions about the realities of righteousness and wickedness in the world. We must not forget that the most righteous still have remaining sin that should be confessed and lamented and is always susceptible to divine correction. The openly sinful who seem to pass this life without judgment will be judged with absolute equity and they should not, therefore, become a model for living by anyone.
- Be perceptive, therefore, concerning the mixture of the wicked and the righteous in this world and, more profoundly, the integration of wickedness and righteousness in your own soul (“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” Romans 7:21-23). “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise,” (16) does not minimize the importance either of real righteousness or true wisdom from above. This statement warns against any false evaluation of either our righteousness or our wisdom. We must not judge others as if we maintain the standard of righteousness by which all others are to be evaluated. All, even the unregenerate, tend to do this. “For in passing judgments on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1). “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11, 12) By setting a standard for others that we ourselves do not maintain adds the sin of self-righteousness, thus calling into question our trust in the perfect righteousness of another (Jesus Christ). Self-righteousness, an “overly righteous” carriage, represses personal repentance and makes us more susceptible to the resentment of others, not for reasons of true righteousness, for which we should be willing to be persecuted, but for a judgmental detachment from others. In addition, this kind of “overly righteous” style brings us under divine chastening, or perhaps even wrath.
- Verse 17 – Being not “overly wicked” does not mean that a certain degree of wickedness is tolerable. It means do not give way to wickedness simply because you know that indwelling sin permeates all that you do. Do not use the doctrine of depravity, or the doctrine of sovereign grace, to give an excuse for the lack of rigorous efforts at sanctification. “Neither be a fool.” Do not use the doctrine of providence to make you stop making necessary plans for life or taking necessary precautions to preserve it. If the fool and the wise man both die, some one might reason, and even the wise find that their perceptions of reality lead them to assert the vanity of all temporal things, then why not live foolishly rather than spend the reflective energy to seek wisdom? Even though this reasoning has a plausibility from the way events appear in the world, from a moral standpoint living as a fool is wrong, and seeking true wisdom is right. Some pervert the doctrine of sin and the doctrine of Providence into fatalism and thus convert what should be motives for holiness and worship into excuses for personal moral lapses and a kind of cynical resignation to life-challenges that should be confronted with a sense of stewardship and spiritual cunning. They are among those that “turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.” (2 Peter 2:21). Jude warned against those that “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4) Paul framed a question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who die to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1, 2).
- Verse 18 – In looking at both these situations, the godly person will be discerning as to how he should consent fully to the doctrines of personal holiness and remaining sin without drawing false conclusions from either. For the one that fears God, the pursuit of personal righteousness will not merge into an attitude of self-righteousness nor make him a punctilious judger of others; nor will the reality of his own sin, pervasive and inescapable while in this fallen world and corrupt body, drive him or her to a capitulation to the ever-hovering presence of indwelling sin. “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:12-14).
- Verse 19 – The person that is truly wise, in a spiritual way, will not relent in his struggle with sin from without and from within—“Wisdom strengthens as wise man” (19). The greatest strength in this life is the strength to persevere in the high calling of conformity to Christ and to root out all that would allure our affections to be satisfied with conformity to the world. This should help us know that our greatest efforts in the perception of true righteousness are to be directed toward ourselves and not toward others. If we cannot correct ourselves, we certainly cannot see clearly to help another pilgrim along the way.
- Verses 20-22 – Rather than putting skids to our pursuit of being pleasing to God, the doctrine of sin should make us see that we never in this life reach a plateau of perfection, but always should press on. We know that the things in which we have condemned others, we also are to be found offenders. We may not conclude, therefore, that we have a right to feel superior to others even when we are most rigorously involved in the pursuit of godliness. We will remember that the things that we notice in others and find as fodder for a condemning spirit have been issues in our own lives. “Your heart knows that many times you have yourself cursed others” (22).