The Teacher introduces chapter 12 with the remark: Remember your creator in the days of your youth. This means more than bring to mind in the way that we bring an old friend to mind once a year as we address his Christmas card. In Exodus2 we read that the Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. Because God remembered his covenant he acted in the interest of his people. When the dying thief called out to Jesus on the Cross: "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom," (Luke23v42) he wanted Jesus to act in his best interest when he had the power to do so. Jesus had that power even as he hung upon the cross because he promised, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." After Joseph had interpreted the chief cupbearer's dream in prison he said, "But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison." Gen40v14. Joseph hopes that Pharaoh's butler will intercede for him and act on his behalf. So if we really remember an old friend at Christmas we shall go to see him or at least write him a letter.

The Teacher encourages the young to remember their Creator - to show concern for, and act in, God's interest. He says almost by way of conclusion: Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. v13.

We must please God while we can. It is never too early to start! When Jesus' disciples remonstrated with him about returning to Judea because of the danger that awaited him there Jesus replied, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble..." John11v9and10. Jesus is urging his followers to do God's will while they can, while the light is still shining. The darkness is coming when no man can work.

The Teacher believes, despite his gloomy view of life that the best preparation for the future is to fear God and keep his commandments.

(B) The troubles of old age.

The years are fast approaching for all of us when we will say, "I find no pleasure in them." v1. Verses 3 to 5 contain a wonderfully graphic description of the woes of old age. I can remember my old headmaster, W.E.Elliot, dealing with this passage in an RE lesson. He said very little else of interest in his RE lessons except to give a definition of circumcision that made Bim Debenham almost choke with suppressed laughter. His treatment of this passage in Ecclesiastes was quite masterly and quite an eye opener for me at the time.

So in old age the arms and legs tremble and the back is bent. v3. The teeth decay, the eyes grow dim and hearing fades. v3and4. The advanced in years cannot sleep and wake up as the birds begin to sing. v4. They are frightened to go out or take risks. v5. Golden oldies drag themselves along like a locust after the first frost. Their desires fade both for food and sex. v5. I had an old neighbour who used to say of sex, "I should need three days notice in writing just to think about it."

Old age is not a pleasing prospect. What is the best preparation for it?

    (a) Some would say don't dwell upon it. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.Mt6v34. AV Live a day at a time. Well there is a lot of sense in this although people have a nasty habit of reminding us how old we are getting. Last year I finally decided to give up playing cricket. I slipped over while keeping wicket. The opposition batsman threw down his bat to help me up! That had never happened before and it will never happen again. During the last ten years of my teaching career the boys and girls regularly inquired when I was going to retire. I remain undecided whether they asked me in hope or for reassurance - but ask me they did.

    I think we should be aware that our youth does not last forever. It might make us more sympathetic towards those who are old. It is very sad that the elderly become invisible. Everyone is pleased to know you when you are young and vibrant but when you get old you are forgotten. I preached all over Suffolk in my early twenties. That is no longer the case! It is a terrible thing to lose significance just because you grow old.

    It is as well to reflect on our short span on earth in order to make the best use of it. That does not mean we should pack in as many exciting experiences as possible but do our best to serve the living God while it is still day.

    (b) Some would say provide for it. We need to save for our old age. The wise man looks to his investments and aims to supplement his state pension when it becomes due. This is a prudent course of action. I find it is not easy to live on a teacher's pension without dipping into my capital. Nonetheless it doesn't matter how well off we are in later years, our wealth will not stop the days of trouble coming. We cannot stop the darkness falling. What resources will we have then?

    This week I went to visit my friends Henry and Jesse. Henry is 86 and has osteoporosis and Parkinson's disease. Jesse has an arthritic knee and is going blind. Yet in spite of their afflictions they are cheerful and positive. It is a pleasure to spend time in their company. They have inner resources that no amount of money can buy.

            Their is hope is built on nothing less,
            Than Jesus' blood and righteousness.

    (c) Some would say enjoy life while you can. The Teacher urges that several times in the course of his pessimistic review of this vale of tears.

    One of the keenest supporters of Brockley Cricket Club used to be old Erny. He was a small, dapper, likeable, man with a fine head of hair well into his seventies and a nut-brown complexion. Erny would watch the game with his hands thrust deep into his trouser pockets listening to the comments of the opposition which he would faithfully pass on to us after the match. He would often say to me as he quaffed his half pint in celebration of another hard earned victory, "John, life is sweet." Life did not remain sweet when arthritis crippled his fingers. Sadly Erny had no resources then to fall back on. It is doubtful, either, whether he had made any preparations for that life which is to come.

    (d) Some would say like the Teacher: Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart.....Ecc11v9.

    I had a friend who had a heart attack. This prompted him to walk out of an unhappy marriage and go and live with the only women he really loved. He followed the ways of his heart. A lady who worked at one of the schools at which I taught, left her husband to go and live with a bus driver she met while on holiday. She said to me, "John I'm going to do what makes me happy. You only live once."

    The attitude of many today is a far cry from the outlook of Maggie Tulliver, the heroine of, 'Mill on the Floss.' When she was tempted to yield to Stephen the man she loved but who was engaged to her best friend this is what she told him: We can't choose happiness either for ourselves or for another; we can't tell where that will lie. We can only choose whether we will indulge ourselves in the present moment, or whether we will renounce that, for the sake of obeying the divine voice within us - for the sake of being true to all the motives that sanctify our lives. I know this belief is hard; it has slipped away from me again and again; but I have felt that if I let it go for ever, I should have no light through the darkness of this life.

    Increasingly fewer and fewer have a light to guide them through the darkness of this life. People don't think it is important. As the darkness falls, it is. Alexander Solzenhitsen claimed that only those whose lives were based on strongly held principles survived Stalin's labour camps without being corrupted. The ones who were corrupted first were those who had previously lived to be happy.

    The Teacher does write: Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but the words that follow have an ominous ring: but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.

    Christians live by faith in Jesus who said, "Seek first his (the Father's) kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well." Mt6v33. A good, faithful, paternalistic, earthly employer looks after his loyal workers in their old age and bodily weakness. In the same way God will surely help us when we can no longer help ourselves. He has many different ways of providing for his own. I know an old, retired, Grace Baptist minister who fell on hard times when his wife died. He had no house of his own and only the state pension to live on. He was adopted by two well-to-do spinster sisters who cared for him until his death.

(C) Death's sorrow.

The Teacher uses two very striking illustrations to convey the poignancy of death. First of all he likens death to the sudden failure of a lamp: Remember him - before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken. v6. The silver chain from which the lamp swings, snaps and the shining, golden, globe falls to the ground and breaks.

It is very sad when someone who has made the world a brighter place dies. There are Christians who have done God's will and shone for him. They have illuminated our lives. The world becomes darker at their passing. As I get older the lamps are going out for me.

It is a tragedy when the winding gear at the well or the pitcher used for carrying water break: Remember him ....... before the pitcher is shattered at the spring or the wheel broken at the well. v6. They are both useful implements by which lives are sustained and refreshed.

The Brockley village blacksmith was my friend. We played cricket together for many years. Len was a great help to me. If I had a problem with a piece of machinery or needed to borrow a tool I would go along to his workshop. Len would immediately stop work and say, "What can I do for you, JR?" He was never too busy to help. When Len died prematurely it was if the pitcher had been shattered at the spring.

It is something to live in such away that others regret our passing.

Finally we do find a few words of rare comfort as the Teacher says: the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. v7. These are words of reassurance and consolation for those who remember God; who honour him and serve his interests. There is no safer place for our spirits to be than with our Creator. God will receive gladly, and welcome home, all those who love and obey Jesus. Every last believer whom God has given to his son is precious to him.

            Yes I belong to Jesus,
            Jesus belongs to me;
            Not for the years of time alone
            But for eternity.

(D) The conclusion of the matter: God's judgment. See Eccles12v13to14.

As I have indicated in my article on the Last Judgment our deeds are going to matter to God when we stand before the judgment seat. It is as well to keep this in mind and to avoid what is often called: 'easy believism.' It is not enough to say, "Jesus died on the cross for my sin." This is one basic Christian truth that most children in Britain are still aware of. It does provide a sort of comfort. I daresay there are many who think, 'If the worst comes to the worst - I shall be all right because Jesus died that I might be forgiven.'

When the carnal followers of Jesus asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." John6v28and29. If we believe in Jesus we follow him and serve God's interests as he did. It is not enough to say, "Lord, Lord;" we have to shew our love for the Master by obeying his commandments. Several of Jesus' parables illustrate the vital importance at the judgment of having laboured for the master eg. the parables of the talents and sheep and goats.

None need despair. The dying thief was saved at the last hour. It is interesting to note that in that hour he did what he could. He stopped reviling Jesus and witnessed to the other thief: "Don't you fear God, since you are under the same sentence! We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Lu23v40and41. The dying thief's service was short but very sweet. The labourer who worked in the vineyard for one hour trusting simply in the goodness of the owner received the same reward as those who worked through the heat of the day. See Mt20v1to16.

I believe that it is as well to keep constantly in view the teaching of James: As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. James2v26. James would wholeheartedly subscribe to the concluding and wisest remarks of the Teacher: Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing whether it is good or evil.