Although it is uncertain to us, the future is still certain. Everything that will take place is certain. It will happen at the right time and in the right way. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose, under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There are many mysteries in God’s Providence. Yet, this truth about a certain future provides us with hope and comfort. It also imparts wisdom about how to respond to God’s Providence.
Alexander Nisbet expands on this verse, drawing out its full meaning and application. The following is an updated extract from his commentary on the book of Ecclesiastes.
1. How Do We Know the Future is Certain?
Nisbet says that this verse helps to calm the hearts of the godly. Especially when faced with the many sad changes that take place in this world. It helps to wean their hearts from seeking happiness in earthly things. It encourages us all to observe the most appropriate opportunity for our actions and purposes. It teaches us to depend on the One who has the times in His power.
This verse includes every event. It does not merely include the daily operation of God’s Providence in creation. Voluntary and other actions that seem to be most within human power are also involved. The verse says: “To everything there is a season”. The examples in the verses that follow relate to both human actions and events in creation. The word “season” literally means a fixed, appointed or predetermined time. It is translated in this way in Esther 9:27 and Ezra 10:14.
The fact that the suitable time (season) for everything is fixed refers to God’s eternal decree which foreordained all events. This is clear by comparing it with verse 11 which says that God has made everything beautiful in his season. This also applies to men’s purposes or resolutions (particularly those in which they delight). This is what the word translated “purpose” literally means (see Genesis 34:19). There is a time for these, literally, a set time (Nehemiah 2:6). Men cannot even conceive or resolve to do anything outside the set time, much less put it into action. The words may also point us to our duty to observe the most appropriate time for all our actions.
2. How Should We Respond to A Certain Future?
(a) Future events are uncertain to us
We do not know the time in which they will happen by natural causes (Proverbs 27:1). Yet they are all clearly foreseen and certainly foreordained from eternity (Acts 15:18) by the infinitely wise Lord. They cannot happen sooner or later than the time that He has appointed for them. It is mainly in relation to His eternal counsel that it is said: “To everything there is a season”.
(b) Man’s will is not independent
Man is not absolute master of his purposes. The Lord does not try to see what will happen in the future depending on the inclination of man’s free will. In His eternal counsel, God has wisely ordered every purpose. “There is a time for every purpose”. The word “purpose” means volition or the act of the will. Thus, it means human purposes, as several of the examples in the following verses show.
(c) Wicked men cannot will or act outside of God’s purpose
What God’s law forbids it forbids in any moment of time. Thus, there is no approved season or time for sinful actions or purposes. Despite this, wicked men are able neither to act nor purpose wickedness, except in the time in which God has resolved to permit it. He can withdraw His restraining grace (which He is not obliged to give). Every purpose even includes wicked men’s plots and actions (such as persecuting the godly). “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose”.
(d) We are not required to do every duty at every season.
The right opportunity should be identified carefully. This is done by considering the general rules of the Word. Especially considering what duties those circumstances require (James 5:13). We also need to pray for the Lord’s teaching to understand the times (1 Chronicles 12:32). We must consider seriously the solemn rebuke to those who are ignorant of this (Jeremiah 8:7). If we seek to enjoy true happiness, our duty is to observe opportune seasons. “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose”.
(e) We can have peace even in the worst of times
This helps greatly to calm the hearts of the godly in all the sad changes of circumstances in this world. They consider that all these happen in the times and seasons set and fixed for them in God’s eternal counsel. God considered the welfare of His own from all eternity (Jeremiah 31:3). He is occupied in bringing their good out of the worst that can happen in time (Romans 8:28). In particular, they must believe that enemies cannot even plot, much less stir up trouble or persecution against them except at the time in which God has permitted it for their good (1 Peter 4:17). Neither can their trials continue longer than the set time comes for expressing His favour again in delivering them (Psalm 102:13). This helps to keep vexation from the hearts of the godly. It helps to keep them in cheerful possession of spiritual happiness. “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven”.
(f) Our heart cannot find happiness in earthly things
This also helps to wean men’s hearts from seeking happiness in anything besides God Himself. This is because God appoints when and how long they will enjoy these things. Besides, they can only enjoy anything beneath the sun for a season. “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”.
(g) God’s Providence extends to everything
God’s providence does not only extend to all events and purposes within the Church (although it exercised here in a special way (Psalm 76:1). It also extends all corners of the earth and even to hell. Neither men, nor devils, Heathen nor unbelievers can act or plot against Him or His blessed people except at the best times for His glory and the good of His own. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”.
(h) The same truth can be applied in various ways
The fact that there is season and time for everything is foreordained by God helps to calm the hearts of the godly and make them carefully observe the right time. Yet as it also means many changes in time it helps to wean men’s hearts from earthly things which can only be enjoyed for a time.
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