J. M. Davies, Canada
The preacher in Ecclesiastes set out to discover that which would be of profit to all men everywhere and at any time. This was the burden of his quest. He was well qualified for the task as he was the wisest and the wealthiest of men. Whatever his eyes desired he kept not from them, and he retained his wisdom during the time he was occupied with what proved to be vanity. His consultant was his own heart. Not once does he refer to the Word of God to seek guidance. He sought to discover the secret of true and abiding happiness in the things of time, the things which are under the sun. In his disillusionment he testifies that there is no permanent satisfaction in gratifying the lusts of the flesh. He cries out that “all is vanity and vexation of spirit”. There is no satisfaction in the lust of the eyes or the pride of life, 2. 1-11, so the greater than Solomon said “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again”, John 4. 13. Man’s thirst cannot be quenched at such broken cisterns. Then, to his dismay, the Preacher realizes that wisdom cannot provide a permanent solution for the many problems of life and death. These are inscrutable. The flickering torch of human wisdom goes out and leaves man in the dark when he most needs light, Eccles. 3. 1-11. Furthermore, his labours under the sun bring no permanent acquisition or compensation. The corrupting blast of death and its inevitable stroke leave him empty-handed and he goes out of the world just as he came. He brought nothing in, he will take nothing out, 5. 9-16. The only answer he can give is “it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink”, v. 18. He sees nothing better than this. It is the philosophy of the natural man bereft of the light of the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Verily there is no profit, no permanent gain, from the mere pursuit of things under the sun. God has set eternity in the heart of man and apart from God man can never satisfy his deepest longings and desires.
How different a view is presented by the apostle, the greatest of preachers and one who was blessed with great wisdom. In his imprisonment we hear no groan or moan. He makes musical instruments out of his chains and makes melody in his heart to the Lord. He is not living for time but for eternity. He is concerned with things in the heavenlies rather than with things under the sun. Here is one who has found true gain.
1. “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ”,
Phil. 3. 7. Paul’s experience on the Damascus road brought a tremendous revolution. Of the saints at Antioch it is said that they turned to the Lord. The Thessalonian Christians had turned to God from idols. Paul at his conversion turned his back on all the past. The seven things he might have gloried in as a man in the flesh he regarded as filth, or refuse. Thirty years had passed since that memorable day in his experience, which was also an epochal day in world history in view of the impact he has made upon its course. But the passage of time had brought no change in that decision for he says “and do count them but dung”. He had caught such a vision of the glory of Christ that everything else paled into insignificance. The glory of that revelation never lost its grip on him. It continued to be the motivating force of his life and upheld him in the hour of his severe trial.
Comparatively few have been called to suffer the loss of all things on account of Christ. In this category the apostle holds a place of pre-eminence. But down through the centuries and up to the present time there are those who in this matter are following in the footsteps of the apostle. Many in other lands have been put out of their homes and been treated as strangers by their families because of confessing Christ as Lord. The excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord has sustained them and great will be their reward in a coming day.
2. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”, 1
. 21. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes did not and could not view death in that way. His interests and treasures were on earth and therefore he hated death because it would remove him from the scene where these things were. The man who would inherit his wealth might be a fool who would squander it all, being totally devoid of that mental ability to make good use of it. Again he might die at a time and place where a pompous funeral could not be arranged which would be an awful calamity! Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all was that in six months or more the Preacher and his wisdom would be completely forgotten. There would be no statue erected in his honour.
How different was Paul’s view of things. He gloried in the fact that death would bring him immeasurable gain. To be absent from the body meant to be present with the Lord. Neither was he anxious about the stewardship of the truth which had been committed to him. This he had committed to the Lord and he was certain that the Lord would preserve the truth until that day. As the Lord had committed His own to the Father in John 17, so the apostle had committed the “good deposit” to the Lord Himself. Consequently he was happy to bid farewell to his labours and toils. Death would be gain to him because to him to live was Christ. This was life with a capital L, life at its summit.
3. “That I may win Christ”,
3. 8 (that I may gain Christ, R.V.). In his letter to the Corinthians Paul uses this word of winning others for the Lord. He that winneth souls is wise, he must exercise wisdom. Hence Paul was prepared to subordinate his personal rights and liberties in order to gain some. In Matthew 18. 15 the Lord gave instruction on gaining a brother who had trespassed, winning his confidence and affection once again. This is not always possible, for the contentions of a brother who has been offended are like the bars of a castle and often the cause of the estrangement may not be easily removed. But any obstacle in winning the Lord’s favour must be in the believer. In the Philippian Epistle, therefore, Paul speaks of counting all things as refuse that he might win or gain Christ. He was anxious to win the good-will, the favour and the “well done” of his Lord, and he would leave no stone unturned in order to attain this. To him nothing was comparable in value to the prize of the high calling. He pursued this goal with the same zeal as he had manifested in his unconverted days when he persecuted the church. He uses the same word for both: I persecuted, I follow after, I press on. He was untiring in his devotion and in his determination to win or to gain the “well done” of his Lord. His exercises and experience have been recorded for our admonition and example.