The Word of God now turns our attention from the natural joy of life under the sun and its spiritual implications to a similar reality, the joy and strength of youth.
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes (Eccl. 11:9a).
The Word of God here comes first of all with an exhortation to rejoice, which is perhaps easy to overlook, given the warnings that follow. That calling to rejoice, however, is important. It sets before us the work of God in our human nature, as God made us, and in which we are given to walk in our youth. We grow from childhood into adulthood, with a strength of life and energy that are the natural design of God and a good gift of God in itself. Though this gift is not given to all in the same manner because the afflictions and sorrows that touch the life of man in a fallen world touch children also, yet it is the normal pattern of life in childhood and youth under the sun that is in view.
Youth is a time of discovering the world that God has made and upholds. It is the time to plan and seek out the things of this life, our place and calling. The world that God has made opens itself in opportunities, paths of life to walk, of work and labor. In youth, the eye is young, sees the things of this life with an anticipation that the clouded eye of old age no longer has. Childhood and youth are a gift of God.
The Word of God here addresses this reality of childhood and youth: Rejoice in it. Not rejoice that you are young, but in your youth rejoice in that which God gives and sets before you. “Let thy heart cheer thee,” or “make good thine heart,” with that which is right and fitting to its joy. The text exhorts the young man to do this in the “days of thy youth.” “Walk in the ways of thine heart,” that is, explore your talents, gifts, and interests, follow them with the enthusiasm of youth. The text speaks likewise of walking “in the sight of thine eyes,” which is what Solomon did.
He describes in chapter 1 the works that he did in his strength of youth: “I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards” (Eccl. 1:4–8). He was engaged in all the labor and activity of life. He says also: “And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour” (Eccl. 1:10).
This activity arises out of the heart, figuratively, just as the physical organ pumps blood throughout the body. Out of the heart are the issues of life, and it is fitting that we enter into the activities of life in our youth and rejoice in them. The joy in the activity itself, of laboring and building, as well as the sense of achievement are its proper fruit and our portion. Solomon says “this was my portion of all my labour” (Eccl. 1:10), for the things that are made do not themselves abide.
The activity and joy in it belong to God’s design of man’s life. Even in the Garden of Eden man was to work, “to dress it and to keep it” (Gen. 2:15). But sin has also entered the world, and through the Fall that same heart has become corrupt so that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). We are totally depraved by nature, and out of the heart of fallen man issues forth the pollution of sin.
That same heart, figuratively, is thus the spiritual and ethical center of man’s life, the spiritual direction center of our activity. It is also the fountain of sin in our nature and its stain cleaves to all our activity. In the deepest sense, in a regenerated heart, that spiritual center is made new and becomes the fountain of a new life in Christ lived by faith under the Word of God. But we live by faith through the presence of the flesh and indwelling sin. Thus the warning comes:
…but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment (Eccl. 11:9b).
It is “thee,” the young man or woman, the sinner, that shall be brought into judgment for their works. The spiritual principle in that calling to rejoice, therefore, is importantly a calling to walk consciously before the
Lord in all that activity of life. In our planning and delight in the creation under the sun and in the joy of youth and its energy and works we are called to “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” (Eccl. 12:1).
The fool walking after the folly of his own heart labors in the service of sin and his own lust. God is not in his thoughts. This is not the rejoicing to which the text calls us. Rather, it is a godly joy in the strength of our life in the service of God, which is the rejoicing to be sought and which must shape our walk. Not any desire of heart, but that which genuinely cheers it or makes good the heart, in what is right and fitting before God, is to be the way of our heart in our youthful walk. For that yields the testimony of a good conscience before God.
The same thought is addressed to the son in Proverbs concerning the heart and its activity:
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand not the left: remove thy foot from evil (Prov. 4:23–27).
We will be brought before God in the hall of judgment; we will stand and give an account. A believing child of God whose sins are covered in the blood of Christ and His righteousness also so labors in the fear of God, knowing that this is not a threat but rather a sobering, life-transforming truth. Serving to keep us from a heedless walk in sin and the way of the world, the Word calls us to a conscious walk after that fear of God in the way of godliness. It calls us to remember the Creator as we walk in His creation. That is the intention of this warning here as is clear from its intended fruit.
Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity (Eccl. 11:10).
Sorrow is that which vexes and angers. It is that which provokes God to anger because of sin. It therefore works grief and shame in the heart of one who walks consciously in it before God. Such sorrow works condemnation to one who is heedless, walking in the folly of sin. Out of the heart this sorrow arises, and the calling is to mortify it by putting sin and its sorrow away from our heart, to “keep thy heart with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23a).
Similarly, the text says, “put away evil from thy flesh,” or as we find elsewhere, “flee also youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22). The calling is both an internal one and an external one, to put away sin in the heart as well as in our walk, to keep ourselves in soul as well as in body from evil.
The reason given is also to be noted. Childhood and youth belong to the transitory reality and character of life; they “are vanity.” Vanity, not in the sense of empty, but fleeting, a state of life that quickly passes away. This time of life is momentary and eventually we grow older and the infirmities of age come. Just as the purpose of the previous verses was to set before us the contrast between the light and the days of darkness, so the following verses contrast the strength of youth and the infirmity of age for the same purpose. Therefore, remember thy Creator, remember Him now, at the time of youth and in the days of thy youth.