A Word For Graduates or “Vanity of Vanities”

For graduates especially, perhaps, but a word for all of us. One really doesn’t envy the youth of God’s covenant who graduate into the world of the seventies. While musing on the subject of this article the opening lines of A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens came to mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us. . .”. If we change the tense of the verbs from past to present, it strikes me that this quotation can readily be applied to our times. It is the best of times for it is the end time and Jesus Christ is coming swiftly to make all things new. From this point of view we certainly do envy covenant youth—they are privileged to live at the end of the ages and may very well be privileged to be living in the very last day. On the other hand it is the worst of times, the epoch of incredulity, the season of darkness, the winter of despair, and we have nothing before us! ‘The times are all of this, apart from a Biblical perspective. What I mean is that if we fail to view our times in the light of God’s Infallible Word we shall fall into the abyss of hopeless despair. Apart from the true, Biblical perspective there is nothing but misery in this world. 

Consider just the past ten years, which time wise comprise only a minute portion of history. There were tremendous advances made in this world. Medicine succeeded in transplanting vital organs and made great strides toward conquering many diseases. The technological accomplishments that serve to make modern life a bit more comfortable were numerous. America did what it set out to do a decade ago and staggered the world by landing men on the moon. It was a decade of unparalleled prosperity and pleasure. In the sphere of religion many found reason for optimism at the advances towards unity made by protestants and Roman Catholics alike. 

No doubt many graduation speakers will take thankful note of these things and attempt to impress their audiences that it is the best of times in which we live. They will call us to look forward to an even brighter future. 

But that is not the whole story of the past decade! There were tremendous problems that remain to this day. War and rumor of war still rage in this world. We have seen frightening race riots in which huge sections of the. cities of this land of the free and home of the brave were burned to the ground. There has been and continues to be a terrible increase in crime, especially of the more violent types, so that many areas of the cities are unsafe even during the day. Who can forget the assassinations of the able, popular brothers Kennedy? There is the revolt of the youth of the land as seen in the hippies, yippies, protest marches, campus riots. LSD, pot, speed are part of the land’s everyday vocabulary. It is a time of the “new morality,” advocating complete freedom from all standards of morals. A “healthier” attitude toward sex is advocated, the pill is pushed, skirts are raised to embarrassing heights. 

Religiously many feel man has arrived.” Among the more liberal-modernistic circles God was confidently (& blasphemously!) declared dead! The Church is urged to get with it by ceasing to preach, updating confessions, and getting out into the world and changing it. Even in traditionally Reformed circles “enlightened” theologians finally conclude that the Bible is not the infallibly inspired Word of God. Great sections of it are summarily dismissed as the mere witness of men. The Bible is said to be unreliable when it speaks of Creation, the fall, the flood etc. And, of course, the Three Forms of Unity are totally irrelevant to our times and situation. 

This is the world into which covenant youth of the seventies will graduate. What can we say to you? Only one thing may be said: Hear and do the Word of God! Live in obedience to your Maker and Saviour. In this way you stand above all of these frightening events in our world and you are unmoved. And you have a joy and hope that will never put you to shame. Charles Dickens’ words just won’t do for an evaluation of the times. We have to listen to the Word of God for that. That is what I should like to do with you. 

Get your Bible and turn with me to the only true evaluation of all of life on this earth, Ecclesiastes 1:2: “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” This expression is repeated twenty times in Ecclesiastes with obvious emphasis. The term vanity itself comes from a root that means breath or vapor. Vanity therefore is that which has no substance; it’s no more than a breath of thin air. For that reason it is useless, futile, and empty. The Bible describes our life in the same terms: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little while and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14).

Now notice the emphasis of the Preacher; “Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” He simply cannot put the matter any more strongly. Everything without exception is utterly vain! The Preacher spells out just what he means. Reading on we find in verse 3: “What profit hath a man of all his labour?” All the labors of man are vain! All of his daily pursuits, everything man does in every sphere of life, every moment is vain. The sum total of all of man’s endeavors—all his philosophy, art, learning, culture, industry, economics, science, inventions, his pursuit of pleasure and wealth, his family life—is vain. In one word, all of man’s life on this earth under the sun is futile, empty, and no more than a puff of smoke. 

This is what the inspired Preacher learned from his own experience. In verses 15-18 he tells us he pursued wisdom and gave his heart to know it. So do many today, claiming that education is the answer to the world’s ills. What is the Preacher’s conclusion? “This also is vexation of Spirit!” With much wisdom is much grief, learning increases sorrow. Then he proved his heart with mirth. “Behold this also is vanity,” he says inEcclesiastes 2:1. He gave himself to wine, he built himself houses, he amassed a fortune, gathered servants and maidens around him, built pools of water so that he was the richest man in Jerusalem and all looked enviously upon him. Of this, too, he writes, “all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Then in chapters 3 through 11 the Preacher observes all the evils of life. He sees violence perverting judgment! And how much of this do we not see today! He sees the oppression of the poor by the rich! He also observes that riches perish. And again the conclusion is the same: “Vanity of vanities!” 

Now this is life on this earth! A terrible appraisal you say? Remember, this is not the word of a depressed pessimist. This is not even the word of the wisest of men. It is the Word of GOD. This is God’s evaluation of human life. God looking down from His throne in heaven pronounces this judgment on all the works of men: “Vanity of vanities!”

Go back now to chapter one and you will find the reason. Rhetorically, the inspired Preacher asks: “What profit hath a man of all his labor?” The answer is nothing! All man’s labors are profitless. How true that really is! “One generation passeth away and another generation cometh,” Ecclesiastes 1:4, and with each passing generation passes all its achievements and with each new generation arises new achievements to replace the old and then these, too, get old and pass away. But let’s understand the new is not essentially new. It’s just the same old thing in a new appearance; it’s the old thing dressed up in a new garb. The Preacher says in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shah-be; and that which is done is that which shall be done.” And he concludes there is no new thing under the sun, nothing of which we can say “see this is new!” 

The conclusion to this is inevitable. Everything is vanity. Man reaches no lasting goal; the new is just the old. It’s as if man were on a treadmill or going about in a vicious circle. He gets nowhere. Like the sun he rises, goes down, and hasteth toward the place where he arose. As the wind he whirls about continually and returns again to his circuits. That is the plight of man. 

There is a second reason cited why all is vanity. It is that man can never make the crooked straight. There is that which is crooked. Man fell into sin and brought upon himself the terrible curse of God. The earth, too, is cursed as a result of the fall. Hence, man is crooked, this earth is crooked, the earthly life is crooked. It’s all dead in sin under the curse of God’s wrath. This is the sore travail that God has given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith! So the Preacher saw wickedness in the place of judgment and iniquity in the place of righteousness. He saw the oppressions of those that have no comforters and all the sufferings and tears that are under the sun. And how much more don’t we see today? Graft and scandal in high places of government, corruption in politics, the buying of votes, dishonesty in business. There is unspeakable filth in book and magazine, newspaper and screen. There is the murder of abortion, the lawlessness so rampant today, the complete abandonment of all morals and decency. And the only cure for all this is the fear of God in men’s hearts. But God they hate. They expel him from their schools and pronounce him dead from their pulpits and chairs of theology. And they will never change their hard hearts of stone but will persist in their evil way of vanity to the outer darkness of hell. And over all this stands the almighty God who is not mocked and He says: Vanity of Vanity, all is vanity! 

The last reason why all of this earthly life is vain is the terrible reality of death. That, too, the Preacher says in chapter Ecclesiastes 3:18-20. Man is like the beast; in fact, “they are beasts.” The reason being that what happens to the beast also happens to man; as the one dies, so the other dies. Both go to the same end; the dust from whence both were taken. This is the prospect vain man faces. After all, the vanities of life he dies like a dog! Again, do not forget, this is not the babbling of a skeptic who denies the resurrection of the dead and life after death. This is God’s Preacher talking about the stupid blindness of man! God makes very clear in the carrying out of His sentence of death that sinful man is but a beast. But sinful man still claims that this life is good and hates God. WHAT A FOOL!

Thus, my friend, the first word that must be told you is this! The world into which you graduate is utterly vain! The most that can be said for all of this life is “vanity of vanities!” If you are going to see things and discern things in the proper light, this you must understand. 

What then? Is there no more to be said? Thank {God, this is not the last word! There is hope. There is a bright future for the youth of God’s covenant. About that we shall write the next article, D.V. In the meantime read through Ecclesiastes once more. Ponder especially these passages: Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10Ecclesiastes 12:1ff., and Ecclesiastes 12:13.