MAN at his very best is only man; and well might David ask, “What is man?” In part, he is but red earth, as Adam was when he came fresh from his Maker’s hand. Solomon tells us, in the 10th verse of this chapter, “That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man.” Whoever has lived, and however wise and good and great he may have been, he has been only man. Sum him up, add all together, — the beauties of his body, the skill of his mind, even the virtues of his spirit; and what is he then but man?
And man is but vapour, which appeareth for a little while, and then vanisheth away; he is as thin and airy and unsubstantial as his own breath. He comes and he goes; he is here such a little while that he can scarcely be said to be, for he doth but begin to be ere he closes his being so far as this world is concerned. As man is as light as vanity itself, Solomon urges that it is idle and vain for him to attempt to contend with God.
He puts it thus in the 10th verse, “Neither may he contend with Him that is mightier than he.” It is always unwise to contend with one who is mightier than yourself; but when the disparity is so great as between man and God, — the creature of an hour and the self -existent Creator, the poor feeble worm called man and the almighty invincible God, — you see at once what folly it is even to think of battling with him. He is indeed foolish who would contend with his Maker.
Unforgiving towards God
Shall the wax war against the fire? There is no hope for us in such contention; yet how frequently do we — even we who are His children — begin to contend with our God! If He chastens ns, if He takes away our comforts, if He permits us to be disappointed in our aspirations, straightway we begin to enquire, “Why is this?” And I have known times when that question has been carried very, very far, when some whom we have esteemed have seemed to pick a quarrel with God, and they would not forgive Him. Their dear one was taken away, and they called God cruel. If they did not say as much, they thought it; and they have kept the anniversary of that bereavement, still unforgiving towards their God. That kind of rebellious spirit creates ten times more pain than the affliction itself did. Then the rod falls more heavily than it otherwise would have done; and the soul, dashing itself against the pricks, wounds itself against the goad far more than it was originally intended to be wounded.
No, beloved, we cannot contend with our Maker. Are we wiser than He? Do we understand Providence better than He does? Can we sit in judgment upon Him? Let us only think of Him aright, and we shall say, “I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because Thou didst it;” and, by the grace of God, we shall get even further than that, and be able to say with the patriarch Job, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” What we often lack is the spirit of complete submission. If our childhood — I mean the childhood that comes of our regeneration and adoption into God’s family, — if that childhood does not teach us this submission, our common-sense ought to teach us. We ought to feel how absurd it is that we who are but as a fly should fight with the flame, for we can but burn ourselves by such folly. We cannot possibly carry on successful contention against One who is so great, so good, so wise, as the infinitely-glorious God.
Warning of danger
I am going to speak to any who are in that contending state of mind, and also to others who perhaps may get into such a state unless they are warned of the danger to which they may be exposed. The ship that is on the stocks, and that has never been out at sea, is astonished when it is told that such-and-such a vessel leaks in the day of storm; but when that ship is itself launched, and gets out on the rough waters, it may come to wonder how the timbers resist the billows, and how it is that anything keeps afloat at all. You who are young and inexperienced in the Christian life, and have never done business on great waters, may think yourselves competent to judge and to condemn the older ones for all their deficiencies and failures; but, peradventure, when you get into the same seas yourselves, you may behave no better than they have done. Therefore, take warning beforehand, and learn from Solomon’s words a lesson concerning yourselves, that you may never set yourselves in opposition to the Lord God, or compare yourselves with Him.
Days of our lives
We do know something about our present life, and what we do know about it should humble us in the presence of God, for, first, it is very short. Observe that Solomon here says nothing about the “years” of our life, he only counts it by “days.” At the very best, we can only count our lives by days. I know that we are often tempted to reckon that we shall live to a ripe old age; but, suppose we should be spared seventy or eighty years, what a short time the longest life is!
Our life, besides being very short, is singularly uncertain. We do not know that we shall have even another day of this life; while we are sitting in the pew, our life may end. We cannot tell that we shall see next Sabbath day; another Thursday night may never return to us. Do not let us forget this fact, for if the thought be unpleasant to us, it is because there is something wrong within. The child of God, when he is right with his Father, forgets the uncertainty, and remembers that all things are certain in the eternal purpose and decree of God, and that all changes are wisely ordained, and therefore the uncertainty causes him no distress.
Yet again, my brethren, our life is not only short and uncertain, but, while we have it, it is singularly unsubstantial. Many things which we gain for ourselves with much care are very unsatisfying. Have you never heard the rich man confess that it is so? Have you never heard the scholar, who has won many degrees, and stood at the head of his profession, declare that, the more he knew the less he felt that he knew? In his acquirement of knowledge there was much vexation of spirit, and he could sympathize with Solomon when he said that “much study is a weariness of the flesh.” There is nothing truly substantial apart from God, the Everlasting One, who liveth and abideth for ever.
Now, look ye, my brethren; it ill becomes us, whose lives are so uncertain, and whose lives at the best are so unsubstantial, to begin to contend with Him in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways. It were better far for us at once to submit ourselves to Him, and to learn that in Him we live, and move, and have our being. It were well for us also to give the Lord all this poor life, be it what it may, to be used in His service, and to be spent for His glory. It will give us something comforting and cheering to look back upon, if we have submitted to Him, and laid hold upon His way of salvation in Christ Jesus. And if, by His Grace, we have lived in Him, and with Him, and through Him, and to Him, it will be real life, life that is substantial, “the life that is life indeed.”
Can we ever think of contending with Him? No, that can never be; rather let us come and creep beneath the shadow of His wings, let us be as little chicks that hide beneath the hen, and He shall cover us under His wings. His truth shall be our shield and buckler, we shall lose our nothingness in His eternal all, and we shall become great, blessed, happy, everlasting, in our God, through Christ Jesus, His dear Son.
Excerpted from the sermon titled “The Known and the Unknown” (Ecclesiastes 6:12) by CH Spurgeon dated 8 April 1886. You are encouraged to read the full text of the sermon from https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-known-and-the-unknown/#flipbook/