before the dust returns to the ground from which it came, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
preceding verses, there is no doubt at all as to the Preacher's meaning in the text; he has death in his view, and he suggests to us -
I. ITS CERTAINTY. Childhood must pass into youth, and youth into prime, and prime into old age - into the days which are bereaved of pleasure (ver. 1); and old age must end in death. Of all the tableaux which human life presents to us, the last one is that of "the mourners going about the streets." Other evils may be shunned by sedulous care and unusual sagacity, but death is the evil which no man may avoid.
II. ITS MEANING. What does death mean when it comes?
1. It means a shock to those that are left behind. The mourners in the street express in their way the sadness which is afflicting the hearts of those who weep within the walls. Here and there a death occurs which disturbs no peace and troubles no heart. But almost always it comes with a shock and an inward inexpressible pain to those who are bereaved. Even in old age the hearts of near kindred and dear friends are troubled with a keen and real distress.
2. It means separation. Man "goes to his long home." They who are left go to their darkened home, and he who is taken goes to his long home, to dwell apart and alone, to revisit no more the familiar places, and look no more into the faces of his friends. They and he henceforth must dwell apart; the grave is always a very long distance from the old home.
3. It means loss. The loss of the beautiful or the useful, or of both together. "Our life may have been like a golden lamp suspended by silver chains, fit for the palace of a king, and- may have shed a welcome and a cheerful light on every side; but even the durable costly chain will be snapped at last, and the beautiful 'bowl be broken.' Our life may have been like 'the bucket' dropped by village maidens into the village fountain, or like the ' wheel' by which water is drawn from the village well, - it may have conveyed a vital refreshment to many lips; but the day must come when the bucket will be shattered on the marble edge of the fountain, and the timeworn wheel drop into the well" (Cox). The most beautiful life vanishes from our sight; the most useful life is taken away.
4. It means dissolution. "The dust shall return to the earth as it was." Our body, however fair and strong it may be, however trained, clothed, adorned, admired, must return to "dust and ashes," must be resolved into the elements from which it was constructed.
5. It means departure. "The spirit shall return unto God who gave it." This is by far the most solemn view of death. At death we "return to God" (see Psalm 90:3). Not, indeed, that we are ever far from him (see Acts 17:27; Psalm 139:3-5). We stand and live in his very near presence. Yet does there come an hour - the hour of death - when we shall consciously stand before our Divine Judge, and when we shall learn from him "our high estate" or our lasting doom (2 Corinthians 5:10). Death means departure from the sphere of the visible and tangible into the close and conscious presence of the eternal God.
III. ITS MORAL. The one great lesson which stands out from this eloquent description is this: Be the servant of God always; take care to know him and to serve him at the end, by learning of him at the beginning, and serving him throughout your life. Remember your Creater in youth, and he will acknowledge you when old age is lost in death, and death has introduced you to the judgment-scene. Happy is that human soul that has drawn into itself Divine truth with its earliest intelligence, and that has ordered its life by the Divine will from first to last; for then shall the end of earth be full of peace and hope, and the beginning of eternity be full of joy and of glory. - C.
1. As we lay our beloved in the grave, we recognize indeed their mortality; but at the same time we feel that this is not really they. The presence of death assures us afresh that our beloved is really the spirit which has passed out of sight.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall returnI. DEATH REDUCES OUR BODIES TO THEIR PRIMITIVE DUST.
1. How doth this stain the pride of all flesh, and bring their glory into contempt
1. What are pedigree and noble blood that mortal man should value himself upon them?
2. Why should we give way to the slavish fear of man? He is but dust, and must die as well as we; and God can easily stop his breath, and cut of[ all his designs against us, by bringing him down to the dust of death before us.
3. How illustriously does God display His glory in our dust! What a wonderful living machine has He made it! What strength and beauty has He put into it! How has He fitted every part for the office He designed it! And when it shall be dissolved into dust again, He will build it anew with greater improvements and refinements, sprightliness and glory, than ever before.
4. How great is the condescension of the Son of God, that He would clothe Himself with our dust, and so become a mortal man like ourselves!
II. THE SOUL DOES NOT DIE WITH THE BODY.
1. Reason itself tells us that the soul is immortal. The very heathens themselves had strong apprehensions of the immortality of the soul; their apotheoses, and worshipping deceased men for gods, supposed their present existence in an invisible state; and the soul's surviving the body was such a common conjecture, at least, of all ages and nations among them, that Cicero calls it the voice of nature, and Seneca thought the consent of all mankind about it had the force of a considerable argument to prove it. But we have still a better proof to insist on, and that is —
2. Divine revelation.(1) The Scripture gives us such descriptions of death as intimate a separation of the soul from the body. (Job 34:14; Genesis 35:18; 2 Timothy 4:6; 2 Peter 1:13, 14; Matthew 10:28.)(2) We have accounts in Scripture of souls which, after death, have returned again to their bodies. (1 Kings 17:21, 22; Matthew 27:52, 53.)(3) We have an account of souls which do exist in another world separate from their bodies. (Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 6:9, 10.)
III. IMMEDIATELY AFTER DEATH THE SOUL APPEARS BEFORE GOD, TO BE CONSIGNED TO A SEPARATE STATE OF BLESSEDNESS OR MISERY IN ANOTHER WORLD.
1. The souls of believers, immediately after death, enter into a state of blessedness with Christ in glory. (Revelation 14:13; Psalm 49:15; Psalm 73:24; Isaiah 57:1, 2; Luke 23:1. 48; 2 Corinthians 5:1, 8; Philippians 1:21-23; Acts 7:59; Hebrews 12:23, 24; Revelation 5:1., 7.)
(J. Guyse, D. D.)
2. This recognition of a spiritual nature as well as a material nature gives us a presumption of a higher as well as a lower destiny. We see how the frail body died inevitably: year by year it was always coming nearer to death; and we see how the strong spirit did not waste and decay in like manner, but ought to have survived.
3. We ask where the strong, sweet spirit has gone, and our hearts answer, with the Bible, It has gone to God; recalled to Him who gave it. says, "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we rest not till we rest in Thee."
4. To one who is not afraid to go to God, death is the triumphant conclusion of this life of trial. Those who pass the veil find hope changed to sight, prayer to praise.
(F. Noble, D. D.)
I. IT RETAINS A CONSCIOUSNESS OF ITS INDIVIDUAL EXISTENCE AND OF ITS PERSONAL IDENTITY. The effects of death upon the body we can distinctly trace from the suspended animation to the final dissolution. But who can show any influence of death upon the soul beyond the simple cessation of any visible action of the mind through its supposed organ the brain p If there were uniformly a decline of mental manifestations corresponding with the decline of the body through disease, if we saw that the mind always failed in perception, in memory, in reflection, and in action, just in proportion as the body failed in strength and in the power of locomotion, then we might infer that death had an influence upon the mind corresponding with its influence upon the body; yet even then we should not be warranted in saying that the mind itself had ceased to be, or that anything had occurred beyond the suppression of mental activity through its ordinary channels. You enter an apartment where a thousand wheels all connected by cogs and bands are in swiftest motion, and the shuttle is flying incessantly through a score of looms. You do not, however, see the propelling force by which all this machinery is driven. Far down under the ground, in a vault of the strongest masonry, the great fire is fed that generates the steam which, conveyed through concealed pipes, imparts motion to the engine, and thence to the thousand wheels of the factory. Of a sudden the machinery stops; the wheels are motionless, the shuttle is arrested in the middle of the loom. Now, you are not warranted in inferring that the great fire in the vault below, which you have never seen, has been suddenly extinguished, or that the supply of water in the boiler has failed, or that the boiler itself has burst, or that from any cause the engine has ceased to move. Only some connecting pipe has burst, or some band or joint concealed from you is broken. The force exists there and needs only a connecting medium to manifest its presence. What more, then, are you authorized to infer when the machinery of life stands still than that the connection between the energizing will and the muscular framework has been severed? Would you be warranted in inferring that intelligence and will were annihilated, even if simultaneously with the decay of the body you always witnessed a corresponding cessation of mental activity? The machinery has stopped, but does that prove that the fire has been put out, that the motive power is destroyed? But we do not always witness a decline of mental activity corresponding with the decay of the body. How often does the mind continue the full exercise of its every faculty up to the very moment of death; how often, indeed, does its activity seem to increase as it approaches that crisis. How evident is it that the fire is burning, that the engine is moving, that the inner force is there even while the outer machinery drags heavily, and grates and pauses, from the snapping of one and another of its bands. You can show me nothing to prove that the mind is injuriously affected by death, you can bring no proof whatever that it is annihilated. And now, with no evidence from nature of the annihilation of the spirit at death, I turn to revelation to learn what then becomes of it. And here I learn first of all that it continues to exist, a conscious spirit, retaining its personal identity. There is no suspension of consciousness; or, if any, it is only as the momentary suspension of consciousness in sleep, from which the mind awakes with new perceptions and with augmented vigour. Abraham, Moses, Elias, Lazarus and Dives are the same persons after death that they were before it, and knew themselves to be the same. This is the first fact that we gain knowledge of in the future history of the soul. And how significant is such a fact as this. What an awful discovery to the man who has lived an atheist, who has flattered himself into the belief that death was an eternal sleep. The delusion then vanishes. When death comes and his connection with this outward world is severed, he wakes up to a consciousness of existence still; the same being and beyond the possibility of annihilation, and where death has no more power. What a discovery is this for such a mind to wake up to, and understand after death!
II. THE SOUL AFTER DEATH AWAKES TO A LIVELY AND A CONSTANT SENSE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD. What a fearful thought for the men who have tried to convince themselves, and others, that there was no God, or that God was but a blind, indifferent, unobservant force. Think of such a mind waking up into the very presence of the living God. That is the soul's second experience after death — it wakes up to know itself alive, and it wakes up to a personal God.
III. THE SOUL AWAKES TO THE MEMORY OF THE PAST. This is clearly intimated in the following context. The spirit will return to God for a judicial purpose. God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing. And in order to this, the soul itself will recall its secret and its long-forgotten sins. Indeed, there is great probability that at death the faculty of memory will be quickened into new activity and power; and that impressions buried under the dust and rubbish of years will be brought out as fresh as when first made upon the pliant but durable tablet of the heart. Now, the Scriptures teach us, as in the parable of Dives and Lazarus, that the memory is in most lively exercise after death.
IV. THE SOUL WILL AWAKE TO THE CERTAINTY AND THE NEAR PROSPECT OF THE JUDGMENT. The spirit returns to God that it may answer for the deeds it has clone here in the body. Retaining its identity, it retains its accountability; it retains its personal relations to the government of God, and to God Himself as a Ruler and a Judge.
V. THE SOUL AFTER DEATH WILL ENTER UPON THE EXPERIENCE OF AN ETERNAL RETRIBUTION. This is the uniform representation of the Scriptures. The soul enters at once upon a state of happiness or of misery, and it knows that that state is to be eternal. O the unutterable joy or the unspeakable anguish of the mind when it first realizes the fact that it will be for ever blessed or for ever miserable!
(J. P. Thompson.)
1. Death is the severance of the two parts of man's complex being; the dissolution, not of the being, but of the union, between body and soul.
2. The text points to the origin of the body. "Then shall the dust return" — not "the body." It is described by what it was and will be: "Dust thou art," etc. (Psalm 103:14; Genesis 18:27). The Church, in the same way, commits the body to the grave, as "dust to dust," in the Burial Office. This is a humbling thought, and it is true, whatever view may be taken of the creation of the body.
3. It "shall return to the earth." "Unto dust shalt thou return," has in it the accents of Divine disappointment. An act of man has intervened, whereby the hindrance to corruption has been removed, and the corruptible body therefore pursues its natural course. "God made not death" (Wisd. 1:13), but man "called it to" him by forfeiting the grace which kept it away. The result is, "in Adam all die."
4. It is bodily death to which the text refers; and the words are true now, as in the Old Covenant — though Christ redeemed both body and soul. "The body is dead because of sin" (Romans 8:10), though "the spirit is life because of righteousness."
II. THE DESTINY OF THE SPIRIT.
1. It pursues a different route, for its origin is different. "God who gave it." The words point to the spirit as being a special creation of God — the infusio animae. God is truly "the Father of Spirits" (Hebrews 12:9), and it can be said of souls that they are His, because He directly creates them (Ezekiel 18:8). They come from Him.
2. The spirit returns to its Source. The words, "Into Thine hands I commit" for, "commend," Prayer-book Version of "My spirit," are used at the departing of the soul, when leaving the body. Thus death is regarded as the withdrawal of that which had been given.
3. Here is the belief in a future life, and in a book, too, which materialists and pessimists have thought favoured their views. The soul in its individuality; the soul as a supra-sensuous substance — the spirit; the soul as the express gift of God; the soul as an immortal principle beyond the reach of that disintegration which death produces in the "houses of clay" (Job 4:19); the soul returning to Him "who only hath immortality" in an absolute sense, as Self-derived; — all this is in Ecclesiastes, before Christ had brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.
2. This is most necessary in the time of temptation, in making some important choice, or when languid in devotion. It acts respectively as a curb, as an adviser, as a stimulant, on those occasions.
3. If death were annihilation, to view life from the standpoint of death would be morbid; but as death is the gate to higher life, such a view is not, one of unmingled sadness, but fills this present life with interest, as its issues are seen to be eternal.
4. To seek more and more to realize how precious is the immortal spirit, God-given; and to learn how to preserve it from sin, knowing its destination.
(H. W. Hutchings, M. A.)
The spirit shall return unto God who gave it
I. FROM THE SOUL ITSELF.
1. The soul is a spiritual substance. This is evident from the fact that it possesses all the properties of spirit, and none of those that belong to matter — such as intelligence, reflection, and volition.
2. The soul is capable of endless improvement. The more knowledge the mind possesses, the better fitted it is for fresh acquisitions in knowledge. The mind possesses faculties that are but imperfectly exercised in this life; but as nothing is made in vain, there must, therefore, be a future state.
3. All men desire immortality, and are averse to annihilation. Can we suppose that a Being, infinite in wisdom and goodness, would plant such desires for immortality in His creatures if they were never to be gratified?
4. All human beings are disposed to be religious in some way. This is so natural to men, that some have chosen to define man a religious, rather than a rational, animal. All nations have their gods, to whom they pay adoration and worship; and there is nothing too mean and insignificant for man to worship, rather than to have no god. And all religions are founded in the belief of a future state.
5. The powers and faculties of the mind are strong and vigorous, when the body is weak and emaciated. "Though the outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day." How often, when speech has failed, and the body has lost the power to raise a single limb, has the soul, by some token, evinced, not only that all its faculties remained unimpaired, but that it was leaving the world in the greatest peace.
II. A FUTURE STATE OF EXISTENCE MAY BE CONCLUDED FROM THE UNEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS IN THIS LIFE.
1. If there be a God, He is a God of justice; and if He be a God of justice, He will fully reward the virtuous, and punish the vicious — but this He does not do in the present world; and, therefore, there must be a future state.
2. The natural tendency of virtue is, indeed, to produce happiness, and that of vice is to produce misery. But though these positions hold true in general, still there are innumerable cases in which the virtuous suffer much, and the vicious little or nothing in this world. We are therefore led to conclude that the present state is only a small part of the great plan of God's moral government.
3. That the present life is a time of trial, or probation, is admitted on all hands, with very few exceptions. And a state of trial implies that there will be a time of review, or examination, when the probationers will be rewarded, or punished, according to their works. But this time cannot come till the state of trial is finished.
4. The doctrine that there is no future state destroys all proper distinction between virtue and vice. And, indeed, if this be the ease, they have no existence but in name; for neither is the one rewarded, nor the other punished. There would be no motives to virtue, nor any checks to vice. Do away a future state, and there is nothing for the vicious to fear, nor for the virtuous to desire.
III. THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL AND A FUTURE STATE ARE MOST CLEARLY REVEALED IN THE SCRIPTURES OF TRUTH.
1. There are certain persons of whom it is said that they shall never die. But none are exempt from the death of the body. It is, there. fore, the soul that shall not die.
2. The immortality of the soul may be inferred from Scripture instances of committing the spirit to God.
3. We learn from the Scriptures that the soul, on the death of the body, goes immediately to happiness or misery.
4. The Scriptures speak particularly of the existence of the soul, after the death of the body. Christ affirms that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were living in His time, in quoting and commenting on the words of the Lord to Moses at the burning bush.
IV. INFERENCES: —
1. If the soul be immortal, it must be exceedingly valuable.
2. If the soul be immortal, the loss of it must be indescribable.
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)
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