The Biblical Illustrator
But I have understanding as well as you.
The effect of the friends’ speeches upon Job
The whole world, Job feels, is against him, and he is left forlorn and solitary, unpitied in his misery, unguided in his perplexity. And he may well feel so. All the religious thought of his day, all the traditions of the past, all the wisdom of the patriarchal Church, if I may use, as I surely may, the expression, is on one side. He, that solitary sufferer and doubter, is on the other. And this is not all, or the worst. His own habits of thought, his own training, are arrayed against him. He had been nursed, it is abundantly clear, in the same creed as those who feel forced to play the part of his spiritual advisers. The new and terrible experience of this crushing affliction, of this appalling visitation, falling upon one who had passed his life in the devout service of God, strikes at the very foundation of the faith on which that life, so peaceful, so pious, and so blessed, as it has been put before us in the prologue to the tragedy, has been based and built up. All seems against him; his friends, his God, his pains and anguish, his own tumultuous thoughts; all but one voice within, which will not be silenced or coerced. How easy for him, had he been reared in a heathen creed, to say, “My past life must have been a delusion; my conscience has borne me false witness. I did justice, I loved mercy, I walked humbly with my God. But I must in some way, I know not how, have offended a capricious and arbitrary, but an all-powerful and remorseless Being. I will allow with you that that life was all vitiated by some act of omission or of commission of which I know nothing. Him therefore who has sent His furies to plague me, I will now try to propitiate.” But no! Job will not come before his God, a God of righteousness, holiness, and truth, with a lie on his lips. And so he now stands stubbornly at bay, and in this and the following two chapters he bursts forth afresh with a strain of scorn and upbraiding that dies away into despair, as he turns from his human tormentors, once his friends, to the God who seems, like them, to have become his foe, but to whom he clings with an indomitable tenacity. (Dean Bradley.)
Independency of thought in religion
Now in these verses Job asserts his moral manhood, he rises from the pressure of his sufferings and the loads of sophistry and implied calumny which his friends had laid upon his spirit, speaks out with the heart of a true man. We have an illustration of independency of thought in religion, and this shall be our subject. A man though crushed in every respect, like Job, should not surrender this.
I. From the capacity of the soul.
1. Man has a capacity to form conceptions of the cardinal principles of religion. He can think of God, the soul, duty, moral obligation, Christ, immortality, etc.
2. Man has a capacity to realise the practical force of these conceptions. He can turn them into emotions to fire his soul; he can embody--them as principles in his life.
II. From the despotism of corrupt religion. Corrupt religion, whether Pagan or Christian, Papal or Protestant, always seeks to crush this independency in the individual soul.
III. From the necessary means of personal religion. Religion in the soul begins in individual thinking.
IV. From the conditions of moral usefulness. Every man is bound to be spiritually useful, but he cannot be so without knowledge, and knowledge implies independent study and conviction.
V. From the teachings of the Bible. The very existence of the Bible implies our power and obligation in this matter.
VI. From the transactions of the judgment. In the great day of God men will have to give an account of their thoughts and words as well as deeds. Let us, therefore, have the spirit of Job, and when amongst bigots who seek to impose their views on us and override our judgment, let us say, “No doubt ye are the people, end wisdom shall die with you; but I have understanding as well as you.” (Homilist.)
I am as one mocked of his neighbour, who calleth upon God, and He answereth.
The man who gets answers may mock him who gets none
The antecedent to “who” seems to be uncertain. It may be Job; it may be the neighbour about whom Job speaks. They who have had experience of God’s tenderness to help them and hear their prayers, should be very tender to others, when they call to them, and seek their help. Learn--
1. It is the privilege of the saints, when men fail and reject them, to make God their refuge and their recourse to heaven.
2. The repulses which we meet with in the world, should drive us nearer to God.
3. Prayer and seeking unto God are not in vain or fruitless.
4. As it is sinful, so it is extremely dangerous to mock those who have the ear of God, or acceptance with God in prayer. (Joseph Caryl.)
But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee.
An appeal to the living creatures
Rosenmuller supposes that this appeal to the inferior creation should be regarded as connected with Job 12:3, and that the intermediate verses are parenthetic. Zophar had spoken with considerable parade of the wisdom of God. He professed to have exalted views of the Most High. In reply to this, Job says that the views which Zophar had expressed were the most commonplace imaginable. He need not pretend to be acquainted with the more exalted works of God, or appeal to them as if his knowledge corresponded with them. Even the lower creation--the brutes, the earth, the fishes--could teach him knowledge which he had not now. Even from their nature, properties and modes of life, higher views might be obtained than Zophar had. Others suppose the meaning is that in the distribution of happiness, God is so far from observing moral relations that even among the lower animals, the rapacious and the violent are prospered, and the gentle and innocent are the victims. Lions, wolves, and panthers are prospered--the lamb, the kid, the gazelle are the victims. The object of Job is that rewards and punishments are not distributed according to character. This is seen all over the world, and not only among men, but even in the brute creation. Everywhere the strong prey upon the weak; the fierce upon the tame; the violent upon the timid. Yet God does not come forth to destroy the lion and the hyena, or to deliver the lamb and the gazelle from their grasp. Like robbers, lions, panthers, and wolves prowl upon the earth; and the eagle and the vulture from the air pounce upon the defenceless; and the great robbers of the deep prey upon the feeble, and still are prospered. What a striking illustration of the course of events among men, and of the relative condition of the righteous and the wicked. (Albert Barnes.)
Religious lessons taught to man
1. The great lesson which the animal creation, regarded simply as the creature and subject of God, is fitted to teach us, is a lesson of the wisdom and power and constant beneficence of God. Job reminds the friends that what they had been laying down to him in so pompous a manner constituted only the mere elements of natural religion, and that a man had only to look around him and observe and ponder the phenomena of the visible universe, to be abundantly convinced that God, the maker of all things, was also the upholder of all things, and the supreme disposer of all events. Job sends us to the animal creation that we may gather from it instances of the greatness of the Creator’s hand, and the constancy of the Creator’s providence. Himself invisible, God is revealed in all the work of His hands, and it needs but the observing eye and the candid judgment to satisfy every one of His being and His perfections. God reveals Himself no less in the lapse of events than in the arrangements of creation. There is no nation, there is no household, but has in the record of its own experience abundant manifestations of His constant, and wise, and gracious superintendence of the affairs of earth. In the lesson which is thus taught to us concerning God, the animal creation bears its part. Not one of the creatures but is “fearfully and wonderfully made”; not one of them but is wisely and mercifully provided for. For every one of them there is a place, and to this each is adapted with transcendent skill and beneficence. Even the lower animals may be our teachers and speak to us of God.
2. The way in which the creatures spend their life, and use the powers which God has given them. In many respects they are examples to us, and by the propriety of their conduct rebuke the folly and wickedness of ours. The beasts, etc., will teach us the following things as characteristic of their manner of life.
Does God treat men here according to character
I. The experience of human life. The fact that Job here refers to--the prosperity of wicked men, may be regarded--
1. As one of the most common facts of human experience. All men in all lands and ages have observed it, and still observe it. It is capable of easy explanation: the conditions of worldly prosperity are such that sometimes the wicked man can attend to them in a more efficient way than the righteous. As a rule, the more greed, cunning, tact, activity, and the less conscience and modesty a man has, the more likely he is to succeed in the scramble for wealth.
2. One of the most perplexing facts in human experience. What thoughtful man in passing through life has not asked a hundred times, “Wherefore do the wicked prosper?” and has not felt, with Asaph, stumbling into infidelity as he saw the prosperity of the wicked?
3. One of the most predictive facts in human experience. This fact points to retribution.
II. The history of inferior life. “But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee,” etc. Solomon sends us to the ant; Agur to the coney, the locust, the spider; Isaiah to the ox and the ass; Jeremiah to the stork, the turtledove, the crane, the swallow; and the Heavenly Teacher Himself to the fowls of the air. Job’s argument is that the same lack of interference on God’s part in the free operations of men in this life, in punishing the wicked and rewarding the good, you see around you in all the lower stages of life. Look to the beasts of the field. Does the Governor of the world interfere to crush the lion, the tiger, the panther, or the wolf from devouring the feebler creation of His hands? Does He come to the rescue of the shrieking, suffering victims? Behold the “fowls of the air.” See the eagle, the vulture, the hawk pouncing down on the dove, the thrush, the blackbird, or the robin. Does He interfere to arrest their flight, or curb their savage instincts? “Speak to the earth.” See the noxious weeds choking the flowers, stealing away life from the fruit trees, does He send a blast to wither the pernicious herb? Not He. Turn to the “fishes of the sea.” Does He prevent the whale, the shark, and other monsters from devouring the smaller tenants of the deep? No; He allows all these creatures to develop their instincts and their propensities. It is even so with man. He allows man full scope here to work out what is in him, to get what he can.
III. The maxims of philosophic life. “Doth not the ear try His words? and the mouth taste His meat? With the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days is understanding.” There is something like a syllogism in this verse.
1. That the more the mind exercises itself upon moral questions, the more capable it is to pronounce a correct judgment. Just as the gourmand gets a nicer appreciation of the qualities of wines and viands as he exercises his palate, so the mind gets a clearer conception of things the more it makes them the subject of reflection.
2. That the ancients did greatly exercise their minds on these subjects, and therefore their judgment is to be taken, and it confirms Job’s conclusions. (Homilist.)
Our duty to the creatures
In order to enforce the moral and religious duty which we all owe to the inferior creatures, consider--
I. The nature of our authority over them.
1. It arises out of that capacity of reason which places us above them. And as reason is our great distinction and prerogative, it is that alone which is to influence us in the exercise of the power which it has entrusted to our hands. As these creatures are endowed with a capacity to enjoy pleasure, and as abundant provision is made for the gratification of their several senses, reason teaches us to conclude that the Creator wills their happiness, and that our nobler faculties are to be employed, not in counteracting, but in furthering His benevolent purpose. Whatever unnecessarily deprives them of any portion of their enjoyment, violates the authority of reason, and deposes the sovereign of the lower world from that throne which he converts into an engine of tyranny and oppression.
2. This, likewise, is constituted authority. Man has received the creatures by an original grant from the hands of their Maker. In virtue of this all-comprehensive endowment, the investiture of property is added to the natural authority of reason, so that we have an unquestionable right to make all the tribes of being subservient to our interest. But our authority is limited--it is the authority of men over dependents, not of demons over their victims. We are not at liberty to use the creatures as we please. Where necessity ends, inhumanity begins. The meanest reptile on earth has its inalienable rights, and it is at our peril that we immolate them on the altar of our hard-hearted selfishness. The persecuted, injured, suffering children in nature’s universal family are not forgotten by their beneficent Parent, nor will their wrongs remain unredressed.
II. Their claims upon our humanity and kindness. The creatures who are beneath us ought not only to be protected from ill-treatment, but they are entitled to humane and benevolent consideration, as parts of the great family specially committed to our guardianship. Many, who would shrink from the imputation of cruelty, by a constitutional indifference to the wants and sufferings of the beings around them, are really chargeable with all the wretchedness which it is in their power to prevent and alleviate. A wise and considerate humanity in its direct operation is most beneficial to universal happiness; and in its indirect influence as an example, fails not to deter many an incipient offender from the premeditated act of cruelty, while it gently diffuses its own benignant spirit through the circle in which it unostentatiously moves, protecting, saving, blessing all. And nothing tends to our felicity so much as cherished feeling of enlightened benevolence. Many reasons may be assigned why the inferior creatures ought to excite in us such a spirit.
1. They are the creatures of God.
2. They have the same origin with ourselves.
3. They are the care of Divine providence.
4. Their claims arise out of the lessons they teach.
5. They confer on us innumerable benefits of another kind. Of the general usefulness of the creatures we have the most palpable evidence every day.
6. Remember their susceptibility to pain. And we may add--
7. That these creatures owe all their natural sufferings to the fall of man; and to him therefore they have a right to look for sympathy. (J. Styles, D. D.)
Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee.
The teaching of the earth
To the attentive ear all the earth is eloquent; to the reflecting mind all nature is symbolical. Each object has a voice which reaches the inner ear, and speaks lessons of wise and solemn import. The stream murmurs unceasingly its secrets; Sibylline breeze in mountain glens and in lonely forests sighs forth its oracles. The face of nature is everywhere written over with Divine characters which he who runs may read. But beside the more obvious lessons which lie as it were on the surface of the earth, and which suggest themselves to us often when least disposed for inquiry or reflection, there are more recondite lessons which she teaches to those who make her structure and arrangements their special study, and who penetrate to her secret arcana. She has loud tones for the careless and superficial, and low suggestive whispers to those who hear with an instructed and attentive mind. And those who read her great volume, admiring with the poet and lover of nature the richly-coloured and elaborate frontispieces and illustrations, but not arrested by these--passing on, leaf after leaf, to the quiet and sober chapters of the interior--will find in these internal details revelations of the deepest interest. As we step over the threshold, and penetrate into the inner chambers of nature’s temple, we may leave behind us the beauty of the gardens and ornamented parterres; but we shall find new objects to compensate us: cartoons more wonderful than those of Raphael adorning the walls; friezes grander than those of the Parthenon; sculptures more awe-inspiring than those which have been disinterred from the temples of Karnak and Assyria. In descending into the crust of the earth, we lose sight of the rich robe of vegetation which adorns the surface, the beauties of tree and flower, forest, hill, and river, and the ever-changing splendours of the sky; but we shall observe enough to make up for it all in the extraordinary relics of ancient worlds, strewn around us and beneath our feet. This lesson which the earth teaches, it may be said, is a very sombre and depressing one. True in one sense; but it is also very salutary. Besides, there is consolation mingled with it. The teaching of the earth does not leave man humbled and prostrated. While it casts down his haughty and unwarrantable pretensions, it also enkindles aspirations of the noblest kind. While it shows to him the shortness of his pedigree, it also reveals to him the greatness of his destiny. It declares most distinctly, that the present creation exceeds all the prior creations of which the different strata of the earth bear testimony, and that the human race occupies the foremost place among terrestrial creatures. It teaches unmistakably that there has been a gradual course of preparation for the present epoch--that “all the time worlds of the past are satellites of the human period.” There are a thousand evidences of this in the nature and arrangement of the earth’s materials, so clear and obvious that it is impossible to misunderstand them. The nature of the soil on the surface; the value, abundance, and accessibility of the metals and minerals beneath; the arrangement of the various strata of rock into mountain and valley, river and ocean bed: all these circumstances, which have had a powerful influence in determining the settlement, the history, and the character of the human race, were not fortuitous--left to the wild, passionate caprices of nature--but have been subjected to law and compelled to subserve the interests of humanity. The carboniferous strata themselves, their geographical range, and the mode in which they have been made accessible and workable by volcanic eruptions, clearly evince a controlling power--a designing purpose wisely and benevolently preparing for man’s comfortable and useful occupancy of the earth. Some object that the teaching of the earth is delusive and uncertain. This opinion is fostered by the varied, and, in many cases, conflicting readings and interpretations of the geological record. Theories have been formed which more advanced knowledge has demonstrated to be false and untenable; and these hasty conclusions have tended in some measure to throw discredit upon the whole study, by giving it a vague appearance. It was to have been expected beforehand that a science, offering such great temptations to speculation, so flesh and young and buoyant, with such boundless fields for roaming before her, would have been excited to some extent by the vagaries of fancy, and that individuals on the slenderest data would build up the most elaborate structures. But geology, upon the whole, has been less encumbered with these than perhaps any other science; and the researches of its students have been conducted in a singularly calm and philosophical spirit. Every step has been deliberately taken; every acquisition made to its domains has been carefully surveyed; and hence, we are at this moment in possession of a mass of observations which, considering the very recent origin of the science, is truly astonishing, and which is entitled to the utmost confidence. Furthermore, the teaching of the earth is not irreligious--is not calculated to undermine our faith in the inspiration of the Bible, and to nurture infidel propensities. This objection has been frequently brought against it, and urged with vehemence and rancour; and a feeling of repulsion, a strong and unreasonable prejudice, has in consequence been raised against it in the minds of many pious and estimable individuals. They look upon the science with dread, and place the study of it in the same category with that of the blasphemous dogmas of the Rational School. I believe that a careful study of the leading works, and accumulated facts of geology, by any candid, unbiassed mind, will result in the conviction that nothing connected with the progress of science has ever yet truly infringed the integrity of revelation. (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)
The Gospel of nature
And what on Job’s lips was irony and taunt stands for something totally different to many of you. You have come from the great cities where you know the world, but not the earth, and you wish that here earth and sea would teach you some secret of mental renewal and physical recuperation. And the more devout among you will wish that you might speak to the earth and it might teach you of the great and eternal God. Such teaching would be in harmony with many of the passages in the Old Testament. It is true that, except in the Song of Songs, with its vineyards a-blossom and a-bud, with its gardens astir with fragrance, and with its streams that flow from Lebanon, the Old Testament reveals little feeling for scenery as scenery. But right through all its books there is an evident appreciation of earth and sea and mountains and stars, as revealing the greatness of the Creator. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” “He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap.” “The sea is His and He made it.” From such sayings as these you can learn how good men stood amazed in the midst of creation, and strained reverent eyes towards the High and Lofty One who inhabiteth eternity. There are those on both sides who speak as though religion and science are set in eternal antagonism, and too often the laboratory is regarded as the natural enemy of the temple. But as a matter of fact, science is really a side chapel in the great cathedral of humanity, upbuilt by the reverence and worship of the world. The most capable man of science is the man who is best endowed with capacity for thinking God’s thoughts after Him. And the more we learn of the wonders of creation, the greater the marvel of Him who created and sustains. Hence it comes to pass that whatever the scientist may say, science itself makes for an intensifying of religion. It would seem, then, that if we speak to the earth it can teach us something about religion. The shimmering sea, the bold black rocks, the sun flooding headland and sands with a searching splendour can tell us of the greatness and power of Him who conceived, created, and sustains the marvel of their appearing. Nature is the garment of God. So far, then, the beginnings of a religion. But man is so made that he wants more than the garment of the Divine. The robe is magnificent, but what of the heart that beats beneath? After Solomon was dead there grew up a legend that his regal garments shrouded a heart of fire. Do the fires that glow at the earth centre represent the heart of God, or where may we turn for our revelation? A religion begins when men learn something, anything, about God. But a Gospel only begins when men learn about His heart. And there is no original Gospel of nature. But to begin with, all that the earth shows you is a God of power and wisdom. Now, the important thing in a revelation of God is not simply that you know Him, but the character of the God that you know. It were better, perhaps, for men not to be aware of a God who is less than righteousness and love. And the only God that nature shows you is a personification of energy and wisdom Further, much that might seem informing in nature concerning God would be absolutely misleading. There is one side of the world process that Tennyson speaks of as “Nature red in tooth and claw.” By that he means that one part of the animal creation lives on the other. The tiger rends the fawn, and the pike will feed on the smaller fish. Is God, then, callous to cruelty? We cannot believe that He is. Yet it is something beyond nature that teaches us to trust there is some hidden meaning in all this that at present we do not see. But, mind you, we dare to hope this because we know something of the heart of God. We do not learn it from nature. Not all the cold heights of the snow-crowned Alps, and not all the deeps of the big blue sea could have taught us this. They could give us the beginnings of a religion. But heart cries to heart, and your heart wants to know about the heart of the Eternal. It is knowledge of the heart of God that makes a Gospel. And you must turn elsewhere fox that. And to where shall you turn? Where, indeed, save to the Christ? True Christianity is an exposition of a Personality, and the Personality of Christ was an expression of the heart of God. Therefore, it is to Him that you must look when you are in search of a Gospel. And once you have found a Gospel in Christ, then you may find a Gospel in nature. And how? Job says, “Speak to the earth., and it shall teach thee.” We have seen that he was right in so far as we ask the earth to teach us of the wisdom and power of God. But it has no original message beyond that. It is echo and not originality that enables it to speak forth a Gospel. In the matter of the higher phases of religion, nature gives to you essentially what you first give her. She intensifies, glorifies, clarifies what you know already of the heart of God, but she cannot originate a Gospel. For proof of the fact that you only get from nature in the spiritual sphere what you first give to her, you have only to think of her varying interpretation in the minds of different men. Take, for example, say Wordsworth and Matthew Arnold. Arnold was a Stoic, born out of due time, and so he found in nature what was first shown him in his shadowed heart. He tells us himself how he looked out on the beach at Dover when the night was calm, and the full, spacious tide was flooded with moonlight. Most of us at such an hour would have gazed, subdued to tranquillity. But Arnold heard the shifting pebbles grating on the shore, and the tremulous cadence of the waves brought for him
The eternal note of sadness in.
And where Wordsworth would have felt that the goodness of God was rimming a world with the glory of a heavenly light, he only thought with Sophocles of the turbid ebb and flow of human misery. And to him the outgoing tide represented the receding of the sea of faith, and he only heard--
Its melancholy long-withdrawing roar,
Retreating to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edge drear
And naked shingles of the world.
That is to say, he heard bodied forth in the sounding sea the sombre intuitions and dismal forebodings of his own soul. Now, Wordsworth, with all his austerity of demeanour, was an optimist, and his most sombre moods are touched with a quiet gladness. He believed in a gentle God, and he had high hopes for man, and nature yielded him a Gospel that was one with his beliefs. So, when he looked out on the fields, it was his faith
. . .That every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.
This meant that he enjoyed the air. And because in his own soul there glowed “the light that never was on sea or land,” therefore, when he stood on some headland, and saw the sun rise, he knew a visitation from the living God, and was wrapt into a still communion and ecstasy of thanksgiving. Nature gave back to him, intensified and clarified, the Gospel he first gave to her. And the supreme message of this sermon this morning is a deduction from what I have just said. You are on holiday, and detached from the workaday world, and hence you have leisure for spiritual culture. I would, therefore, have you realise the facts of your religion, and call the sleeping spiritualities of your soul to life. I would bid you recall all you have ever known and hoped of the love of God, all you have ever felt of the imperativeness of the good Life. And with these ideas consciously in your mind look out on nature for that which shall symbolise them, and so make them more clear and more beautiful to your soul. See in the white foam of some spreading wave an emblem of that purity that is so earnestly to be desired. See in the anemone that clings to the rock a suggestion of the tenacity with which you should hold to the bedrock of moral principle that is your spiritual safety; and realise that as each tide leaves the anemone the more developed for its engulfing, so, though faithfulness to principle means a whelming beneath waves of trouble, yet shall you grow the more spiritually strong what time the waters of affliction compass you round about. If you go into the country, and walk through the fields white to harvest, think of Him who walked as you two thousand years ago. And as you realise that their beauty is the sacrifice of the earth that men may Live, remember Him who died in the very summer of His manhood, that Life everlasting might be ours. “O loving God, if Thou art so lovely in Thy creatures, how lovely must Thou be in Thyself.” It is to the reverent soul and the devout mind that nature yields a Gospel. (J. G. Stevenson.)
After the holiday
St. Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:10) says, “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and no kind is without signification.” He means, I suppose, that God has many ways of teaching men. It may be that there is a teacher for every faculty--for every avenue into the soul. A teacher for the ear--“holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” A teacher for the eye--for we are bidden by the Great Teacher to lift up our eyes and look on the fields, the flowers, the birds, the corn. In this age of much printing and many books, we too often think that we are learning only when we are reading. A man is regarded as a student who is always poring over books. But there were great students before there were books. Books are only transcripts of things, or if they are not they ought to be--records of what their authors saw or heard, or felt or imagined; and their value is in proportion to their fidelity to the sights, sounds, feelings, imaginations which proceeded. So that highly as we should value books, there are things more valuable--teachers greater than books. The earth is a greater, more reliable, more inspiring teacher than any books about her. The greatest learn of the earth itself. Sir Isaac Newton learnt of the earth more than of books. Charles Darwin spent his days in contact with nature far more than in his library. And the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ, felt this. I think He was a greater student of things than of books. And whilst He pointed men to the law and the prophets, He also pointed them to the earth as their teacher. His word “consider,” in such passages as “Consider the lilies of the field,” Consider the ravens,” implies careful observation and reflection. As most of you know, I have been among the mountains, and these have chiefly been my teachers.
1. Now, how has all this beauty come into being? By delicate and gentle methods, such as the artist’s when he paints a picture? No, the very reverse of this has been the case. All this glory of form and colour is the result of the mightiest forces--forces which seemed to be only destructive--which no one would have thought tended to beauty; but they have. The glory of the mountains is the result of a mighty struggle. They are not the children of peace, but of a sword. And is it not so in life? The beauty of holiness--how is that wrought, by peaceful, quiet means, by “the rest and be thankful” method? No, by a similar strife. Just as God moulds these great mountains by forces that seem only destructive, so He moulds human life by means that seem cruel, but are not--by difficulty, by adversity, by loss, by sorrow, by things from which we shrink. But if these were taken out of life, how poor a set of beings we should be. The struggle which made the mountains was of long duration. Geology used to regard the earth as thrown into its present form by great and sudden upheavals. It is now generally admitted that the method was far slower and more gradual. And is it not so with the glory of character? That is not the child of one sharp, sudden, decisive struggle, though such may have contributed to its formation, but of long-continued strife against evil and long-continued pursuit of good. It is by the patient continuance in well-being that the prize of eternal life is won. We cry, Are we never to rest on our arms--never to repose in our tents--never utter the victor’s shout? Were it so the glory would be gone from life. Life would become dull and commonplace. The glory of life is in the conflict!
2. The mountains tell us not to judge by appearance. Few things are more deceptive in appearance than mountains. They belong to a land of illusion. You look at a great mountain like Mont Blanc, and to climb it seems only like a morning’s walk across the snow. Some of the peaks near it which are far lower--some by thousands of feet--look as high or even higher. It is not till you bring the telescope to your aid that you realise the vastness of its height. The earth teaches no lesson more strongly than this, “Judge not by appearance.” Appearances nearly always mislead. Is it not so in the human realm? Here appearances conceal quite as often as they reveal. I once had a very sharp lesson on this point. I was at a conversazione, and noticed a man whose head and face were guiltless of the smallest scrap of hair. You know the look this gives. I said to a friend near me, “Who is that idiot?” He replied, “Professor, the great authority on international law.” I have never forgotten that incident. Since then I have remembered that the jewel may be in the leaden rather than the golden casket.
3. The earth teaches us that there are things beyond description. Beyond description in words, beyond description even in painting. Leslie Stephen, one of the most renowned of Alpine climbers, in a recent book says, “He has seen, and tried for years to tell, how he is impressed by his beloved scenery, and annoyed by his own bungling whenever he has tried to get beyond arithmetical statements of hard geographical facts.” With an envious sort of feeling he tells how Tennyson, who had never been higher than 7000 feet, was able to accomplish, through the genius of the poet, what he, with his far larger knowledge of the Alps, had never been able to do. He refers to a four-line stanza, which describes Monte Rosa as seen from the roof of Milan Cathedral, as really describing mountain glory. Here are the lines -
How faintly flushed, how phantom-fair
Was Monte Rosa hanging there;
A thousand shadowy-pencilled valleys,
And snowy dales in golden air.
That is lovely, but even that would give no idea, to one who had never seen, of the surpassing glory of that great mountain. Here lies the preacher’s difficulty. He has to speak of that which is beyond language to express. Even the apostles felt this difficulty, and so they spoke of a “peace which passeth understanding,” of “a joy unspeakable and full of glory”; of “the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” But what eye cannot see, or ear hear, or the heart conceive, God reveals by His Spirit. (W. G. Horder.)
The discipline of life
Speak to the earth, and it will teach thee of God; of order; of man; of thyself. It cannot teach thee more. Consult the higher Teacher. Two kinds of agency enter into the discipline of life. There are first the elements that constitute the matter of life itself. These elements are such as make the inward and outward history of the individual being: parentage, education, examples, tendencies and temperaments. The matter which makes the history of life continues always to be an influence of life. The course of our studies, the activity of our business, the nature of our opinions, and of our friendships, the force of our affections, our health and sickness, our success or failure, our poverty or wealth, or ideas of poverty and wealth--all, in fact, that makes the sum of our being, physical, social, moral, and spiritual. The second kind of agency is that which we exercise of ourselves, and upon ourselves. A man is thus both the object and the agent of his own discipline. This kind of discipline cannot be too early begun, it cannot be too late continued. It may be too long deferred. It is by this agency of ourselves that we turn all things to account, that we make them our true property. But what is this discipline to act on? What is any education to act on, but on the human being, on the soul and its manifestations, on thought, on feeling, on habit, on conduct? It requires some discipline to think, in the true sense, at all. Whenever a real thought is born, it first meets with resistance, but when accepted, soon becomes a tradition. Feeling not under the guidance of thought is but blind impulse, and habits growing out of such impulse, even if blameless, become only mechanical routine. What is life for? The end of discipline is to make life that for which it is given. By deciding what that is, we determine at once the purpose of life, and the direction of its culture--moral and spiritual. Life, then, is for action, for work; for action and for work in the order of duty and of goodness. (Henry Giles.)
Each season has its appropriate moral. Each lays upon us its own solemn obligation and duty. From a general and even a cursory sketch of the outward world, everyone must confess that the Almighty Maker of all things is a being of infinite benevolence and goodness. In connection with this fact of His benevolence, we must also feel our own constant dependence upon His bounty. There is incessant illustration of Divine providence. We cannot but view the constant reproduction of sustenance for mankind as a strong argument for Christian cheerfulness. But the facts of the harvest teach us, both in reference to our temporal affairs, and the more important concerns that relate to our everlasting salvation--where God operates, man must cooperate. “Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee.” As we watch the anxious husbandman placing his corn seed into the ground, let every soul that is anxious for the spiritual improvement of those around it take courage. “In due time he shall reap, if he faint not.” Let our thoughts pass from the present life, which we spend here on earth as a shadow, unto that day, which cannot be far from any, when we ourselves shall be, in our bodies, sown for the great harvest of the assembled universe. That sowing cannot be contemplated by anyone without sensations of the profoundest awe and interest. (Thomas Jackson, M. A.)
Whispers of the spring
The argument of the patriarch is based on the fact that the hand of God is to be traced everywhere in nature and in human life. The words of the text are a striking expression of the truth that--
I. The earth is a material symbol of spiritual ideas. This thought has ever been dear to spiritual minds. They have loved to trace in visible nature suggestions regarding the invisible. It was preeminently characteristic of the Hebrews that they associated God with all natural phenomena. When Christ came He added intensity to the idea by connecting God with all natural life in its most commonplace as in its grandest manifestations. So the idea took possession of the Christian Church that nature and Scripture are but two pages of one revelation.
II. It is for us to interpret its symbolism and find its hidden meanings. Restrict attention to lessons suggested by the returning spring. What whisperings of hope, of trust, of joy may the inner ear catch as we speak to the earth in this season of its re-creation.
1. Speak, and it will teach thee of its Author. We see everywhere the operation of a marvellous power. Everywhere life and beauty are manifesting themselves. You may find secondary causes to explain the phenomena, but at last you are driven to the necessity of recognising one great first cause.
2. Speak to the earth, and it will teach thee of God’s superabounding care for the lowliest forms of life. The lowliest forms are shaped with the same care, and adorned with the same profusion that belong to the mightiest creations of God.
3. Speak to the earth, and it will teach thee that God means our human life to be bright and joyous. God recognises our innate sense of beauty, the imagination, the heart, with its chambers of imagery, and He makes appeal to this sense in the loveliness with which this spring season adorns the earth. Be not afraid of joy and brightness in life; they are no foes of a true spirituality.
4. Speak to the earth, and it will teach thee lessons of hopefulness.
III. Speak then to the earth.
1. Hold frequent communion with nature. Such a habit expands the mind and refines the feelings.
2. Bring to the study of nature a spiritual heart. The “dry light of reason” is not enough if you would hear the subtlest whispers of nature’s voice.
3. Connect, as Christ did, all nature with God. He is the centre and all-pervading Spirit. Without the Divine idea nature is a harp from which the strings have been taken, a riddle to which there is no answer, a mystery without possibility of solution. (James Legge, M. A.)
Man and nature
In this age of bustle and toil, when the time set apart for quiet meditation and real recreation is so limited, we feel the more indebted to nature for the comforting cheer she brings us. One of the saddest things about our modern civilisation is that so many thousands of our fellow creatures have so little opportunity for obtaining instruction and pleasure from the sights and sounds of nature. The world of nature is in a very real sense our other self. When we stretch out our hands we feel her; we open our eyes and behold her; and her voices fill our ears. Our flesh is made of her dust; our nerves quiver with her energy; our blood is red with the life drawn from her bosom. In us is the principle of life, but in the surrounding world of nature are the conditions of that life. “Speak to the earth and it shall teach thee.” With how many voices does she speak to us. The world of nature is like its God, entire wherever we see a touch of His finger, whole in every one of its parts. In our own thoughts we detect irregularity, uncertainty, and imperfection; but in nature all is regular, blameless, and perfect. We can never sufficiently admire the perfection and harmony of nature’s works; even the lowest and smallest organisms, or the most delicate parts of these, like the fertilising parts of plants, are carried out with an infinite care and untiring labour, as if this particular part of nature were the only part, and that upon it she had been free to expend all her art and all her power. She never tires, never bungles her work. Not once or twice has she produced her masterpieces of workmanship, but myriads of times. And the same ideal perfection is to be found everywhere--perfection infinitely repeated. The abundance of natural beauty invites our most serious contemplation and presses itself upon our consideration. Disclosing itself to our view it will, almost without fail, deliver us from the care and anxiety of the moment. It will lift us out of present selfishness or foreboding fears and place us in a state of quiet rest. This is why a man who is tormented by passion or deep sorrow is revived and restored and sent on his way stronger in hope and abler for the duties of the day and hour by contact with nature. Nature is meant to minister to us, to contribute to our inward help and healing. There is as much Divine purpose in the coming of the seasons as in the recurrence of our daily duties, burdens, and temptations. God made the earth for the nurture of our spirits as well as for the support of our bodies. Can we with the eye of sense look at the heavens above us, and with the eye of faith pierce the external blue, and believe that the God who lives in the universe is a Being who has ears, but heareth not; who has eyes, but seeth not; who has a heart, but knows nothing of the wants and the needs of that broken heart of ours? This earth has not been framed by a mere utilitarian on the principle of feeding and clothing so many million consumers, but with regard also to soul, to provide the inner eye scenes of beauty and sublimity, to train our spirits to thought above dead matter by the spiritual forms with which matter is clothed, to lift us up from the dull content of animal existence to thoughts of illimitable freedom and range. We do not go to nature as constantly, intelligently, and earnestly as we should do. We do not resort to her as a teacher sent from God, as a great revealer of Divine truth. And yet we may hear the Divine voice in nature if we open our ears to her message. That voice was forever in the ears of the Psalmist; he heard God’s voice in the hurricane and in the calm. And the reason why we today do not hear God speaking to us in nature is that we allow the murmur of the world to stifle the whisper of heaven. To hold silent communings with the silent God in nature we must leave the bustle of the world behind us. We have come to regard mere bustle as so essential an element of human life that a love of solitude is taken as a mark of eccentricity. Too much solitude undoubtedly brings too great a self-consciousness. The hurry and worry of modern life causes shallow thought, unstable purpose, and wasted energy. The antidote is that silence and meditation, that communion with nature and our own heart, without which no great purpose is carried out and no great work is conceived or done. Nature’s pictures ought to awaken into active life all that is really beautiful in the sense of man. “Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee.” If we cannot paint her glories or print them upon the speaking pages of a book, we can at least feel these glories and they should tend to our moral and spiritual elevation. There seems to be a distinct need in our time for something of the freshness of natural religion to be infused into our life. To shake ourselves free from artificial restrictions and restraints to which we ordinarily may be content to be subjected, to relax all conventional swathings, and to go forth in childlike liberty and ease and eagerness, is to learn the secret of nature. “Live more simply and purely in all things” is the message of nature; have intenser faith, be open-hearted, keep the soul in a quiet, receptive attitude. In no haste herself, she checks the hurry and fury of our habits and ensures a lofty calmness. The eagle is said to escape atmospheric tumult by rising into an upper calm that is always accessible. And, thanks to nature, there are blest arcadian retreats, easy of access, to all who care to seek for them, where pictures of wondrous beauty may be impressed upon the mind which for many a day will form a pleasant and profitable recollection to the beholder. The great thing is to be sincere and loving, ever thinking of nature as a revelation of God. Science is apt to give us a strained view of the world and to make us see only a chain of antecedents and sequences; it is apt to kill the finer and sweeter aspects of nature; on the other hand, the constant groping in the dust and grime of the market, and the incessant pursuit of pleasure are liable to paralyse all noble impulses and aspirations and make us think that the world is only for ignoble use and comfort. We must learn to look with Christ’s eyes at the earth on which we dwell and to see in it the revelation of the life and movement of the living God. (A. M. Sime.)
Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?
God and nature
If one could possibly laugh the laugh of the scornful, surely there is temptation enough in the teachings of a modern science, and in the attempt to build up before us a self-created world without God. But we are not endowed with such a scornful spirit. Modern science is too wonderful, and its discoveries too fascinating for us to laugh at it. We never dream of suggesting that a vast edifice crammed with machinery and automatic looms, which can produce webs of finest texture and perfect design, could possibly have evolved itself from some primary simple structure. And why should we commit such an outrage on our common reason, as to suggest that this world, unaided by any outside hand, could have made itself? But if we add to this evolutionary theory, the teaching that God may have endowed the materials and life of the world with an inner spirit of development and adaptation, it would become, at least, reasonable. No one who is familiar with the types of life on the earth, and their remarkable history, can fail to perceive that there is in all forms, even in the lowly fungus and the blade of grass, a certain power of choice and adaptation. But whence came that power of choice and adaptation? No combination of chemical elements could make it. None other could impart it than the hand of a Person. We can observe, too, a wonderful linking together of all the forms of life from the lowly creature to the highest man, though there are more blanks in the chain than the links which have been discovered. Yet, how is it possible for one species to pass on to a higher stage without some external directing power?
I. The Christian sees nature as a scientist. As the Christian studies a flower he marks the secret intelligence which directs every part of it. The embryo in the seed knows which part of it must descend to the earth, and which part must be raised up to the heavens. The leaves place themselves at proper intervals, and follow out their cyclical order. The plant creeps or climbs or shoots upwards with an intelligent adaptation, and the flowers mix their colours and exhale their odours to allure the passing bee. A Christian watches all this intelligence in a flower, and with deeper reason than ever he can add, “God is the maker of that flower.” The Christian, as he delights in spelling out the arithmetical principles on which the chemical elements unite, asks who taught them the laws of their combinations. Or as he takes his stand on the great orbit, and marvels as he sees planet after planet come up in sublime order, and roll on majestically in its marked and bounded path, he repeats with deeper conception his belief in the greatness and power of the Almighty. He can read, too, the records of the rocks, the story of the fire and water, of the grinding and building up of the earth’s crust, of life that existed long before the advent of man. As a scientist he can do all this, but to him it is all the work of God, who is infinite in His power and duration, who works His great works by these methods, and in these marvellous ways which science discovers and unfolds.
II. The Christian sees nature as a poet. A flower is not a clever piece of machinery of subtle forces and delicate laws. Beautiful must have been the hands, and beautiful the thoughts of Him who could, out of gross earth, cause the primrose to make its petals or the wild briar its tinted flowers. The Christian looks at the flower, and to him it is a poem written by the hand of God. Even uncouth flowers and hideous creatures become transformed when looked at in this light, and suggest far-reaching thoughts of that wisdom which makes things useful as well as beautiful. It is delightful to have the poet’s eye, and thus to look on God’s nature. The spiked blade of grass, the curving stalk of corn, the uplifted bole of the pine, the waving autumn field, and the moving life of the spring, are the visible lines and measures of a great Divine poem. The crawling worm, the soaring bird, the chirp of the sparrow, and the melody of the lark, the cows in the field, and the snake in the grass, all repeat and increase the lines-Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God.
III. The Christian sees nature as a pantheist. As scientific men, we open up our senses to impressions from the outer world. As they come in by this way, they spell out God, the Creator, the Architect, Infinite and Omnipotent. As we open other and deeper sensibilities, and the charm, the grace, the tenderness, the strength and life of nature flow in, they write out in measured form God the Ever Glorious and Wondrous. (J. D. Watters, M. A.)
The hand of the Lord
Nothing can be disposed of without the good pleasure and providence of God, who hath the life and breath of all creatures, men as well as others, in His hand. Learn--
1. A providence is not seen and adored in dispensations which do not please us. When we do not distinctly see and adore providence in ordinary, we meet with intricate and thorny questions about it.
2. Though men, in their sins, presume to debate and question the matter of God’s providence, yet they will not get it shifted nor denied.
3. When men turn atheists, and fall a questioning the providence of God, they ought to be sharply dealt with and refuted. It is the common interest of saints not to let the providence of God be denied in the faith whereof they are so often comforted in darkness. And zeal for God should cause them to abhor any thoughts prejudicial to His glory.
4. As God hath a dominion over all His creatures, particularly over living things, and man in special, so the study of this dominion will help to open our eyes to see Him and His providence, and to clear His providence in every particular.
5. As God’s dominion over every living thing, so, particularly, His dominion over man is to be studied and improved. Therefore it is particularly instanced here that the breath of all mankind is in His hand.
6. God’s dominion over man reacheth even to his life, and no less. The study of this invites us to stand in awe of God. To trust Him in difficulties. To look upon ourselves, not as made for ourselves, but to be subservient to His dominion. When we thus submit to and acknowledge His absolute dominion, we should be without anxiety, as knowing in whose hand we and our concernments are, and should leave it on Him to give a good account of everything He doeth, and believe that His actings will be like the worker, who is God, and our God, though we cannot discern it for the present. (George Hutcheson.)
Everywhere and yet forgotten
There is much temper here, but there is very much also of good common sense. Job wished to show that the fact of the presence of God in all things was so clearly discernible that men need not borrow the eagle’s wing to mount to heaven, nor need they enter into the bowels of Leviathan to find a chariot wherein to enter the depths of the sea.
I. The present hand of God upon everything.
1. This is one of the doctrines which men believe, but are constantly forgetting.
2. This is a fact of universal force.
3. A truth worthy of perpetual remembrance.
II. Our absolute dependence upon a present God at this very moment.
1. Our life is entirely dependent upon God.
2. So are our comforts.
3. So is the power to enjoy those comforts. If this be true concerning temporals, how doubly true is it with regard to spiritual things. There is no Christian grace which has in it a particle of self-existence.
III. Lessons from this subject. Child of God, see where thou art. Thou art completely in the hand of God. Thou art absolutely and entirely, and in every respect, placed at the will and disposal of Him who is thy God. Art thou grieved because of this? Does this doctrine trouble thee? Let your conversation be as becometh this doctrine. Speak of what thou wilt do, and of what will happen, always in respect to the fact that man proposes, but God disposes. To the sinner we say, Man, you are in the hand of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. A sense of our own extreme insignificance.
II. A consciousness of our absolute dependence. II we are in God’s hands, He can do with us as He will.
III. A mighty influence in life and behaviour. It impresses us with a feeling of--
1. Intense humility.
2. Great thankfulness.
3. Earnest effort. Effort to develop our moral nature.
IV. A readiness to acquiesce in all the dispensations of so great a being. (J. J. S. Bird.)
Behold, He breaketh down.
Perhaps Job uses this lofty language concerning God for two reasons.
1. To show that he could speak as grandly of the Eternal as his friends had spoken.
2. To show that he had as correct and extensive a view of God’s agency as they had. He gives them here at least six different ideas of God’s agency.
I. That it is active both in the mental and the moral world.
II. That it is destructive as well as restorative. “Behold, He breaketh down, and it cannot be built again.”
III. That it extends to individuals as well as to communities. “He shutteth up a man, and there can be no opening.”
IV. That it is absolutely sovereign and resistless.
V. That it operates in the unseen, as well as in the visible. “He discovereth deep things out of darkness,” etc.
VI. That it in no case appears to recognise moral distinctions among men. Not a word does Job here say about the righteous and the wicked in relation to God’s agency. His object being to show that God did not treat man on the ground of moral character. (Homilist.)
Taketh away the understanding of the aged.
The text is part of an address in which Job enumerates a variety of events in which, more or less prominently, the interference of Divine providence was to be traced.
I. The peculiar dispensation which the text brings before us. Job is not stating here a general rule of the Divine procedure, but only alluding to an event of occasional occurrence.
1. The nature of the calamity referred to. It deals with the mind. The operations of the mind are deranged and disabled. This is the heaviest calamity to which human nature is subject. We cannot conceive of a more pitiable object than a man bereft of understanding.
2. The subject of the calamity. “The aged.” Not exclusively. It often overtakes persons in the meridian of life.
3. The author of the calamity. In some cases the individual himself, by evil propensities. Sometimes the loss of understanding is occasioned by the conduct of others. The Divine interference must be recognised as permitting the calamity, but in the text it is treated as the occasion of it. It may be a part of that plan which God has formed, in unerring wisdom and infinite love, as best calculated to secure the attainment of His benevolent designs.
II. Some probable reasons for which such dispensations may occur. The understanding may sometimes be taken away--
1. As a just penalty for a perverted and injurious use of the intellectual faculties. Scripture teaches that we may often calculate on the loss of a privilege as the just penalty of its abuse; nor can human reason question the propriety of this.
2. To exhibit, in the most striking manner, human frailty, and the entire dependence of all upon God Himself. We can scarcely conceive of any case which so forcibly impresses us with these truths.
3. As a means of important instruction and salutary discipline to those more immediately connected with the sufferers.
4. To show the danger of procrastination on the subject of personal religion. How many persons are satisfying themselves in a present neglect of the soul and eternity, under a determination to regard these points more seriously in advancing years! But they cannot be sure of the continued exercise of those mental faculties, the continuance of which would be essential to carrying their salutary resolutions into effect. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24