The Biblical Illustrator
Surely I would speak to the Almighty.
Man speaking to God
There is a great deal of human speaking that has to do with God. Most speak about God, many speak against God, and some speak to God. Of these there are two classes--Those who occasionally speak to Him under the pressure of trial; those who regularly speak to Him as the rule of their life. These last are the true Christ-like men.
I. Speaking to God shows the highest practical recognition of the Divine presence. It indicates--
1. A heart belief in the fact of the Divine existence.
2. A heart belief in the personality of the Divine existence. What rational soul would speak to a vain impersonality? Man may justly infer the personality of God from his own personality.
3. A heart belief in the nearness of the Divine existence. It feels that He is present.
4. A heart belief in the impressibility of the Divine existence. It has no question about the Divine susceptibility.
II. Speaking to God shows the truest relief of our social nature. Social relief consists principally in the free and full communication to others of all the thoughts and emotions that must affect the heart. Before a man will fully unbosom his soul to another, he must be certified of three things--
1. That the other feels the deepest interest in him. Who has such an interest in us as God?
2. That the other will make full allowance for the infirmities of his nature. Who is so acquainted with our infirmities as God?
3. That the other will be disposed and able to assist in our trials. Who can question the willingness and capability of God?
III. Speaking to God shows the most effective method of spiritual discipline.
1. The effort of speaking to God is most quickening to the soul.
2. The effort of speaking to God is most humbling to a soul.
3. The effort of speaking to God is most spiritualising to the soul. It breaks the spell of the world upon us; it frees us from secular associations; it detaches us from earth; and it makes us feel that there is nothing real but spirit, nothing great but God, and nothing worthy of man but assimilation to and fellowship with the Infinite.
IV. Speaking to God shows the highest honour of a created spirit. The act implies a great capacity. What can show the greatness of the human soul so much as this exalted communion? (Homilist.)
But ye are forgers of lies.--
Lies easily forged
Lying is so easy that it is within the capacity of everyone. It is proverbially easy. “It is as easy as lying,” says Hamlet, when speaking of something not difficult. You can do it as you work or as you walk. You can do it as you sit in your easy chair. You can do it without any help, even in extreme debility. You lie, and it does not blister your tongue or give you a headache. It is not attended with any wear and tear of constitution. It does not throw you into a consumption--not even into a perspiration. It is the cheapest of sins. It requires no outlay of money to gratify this propensity. There is no tax to pay. The poorest can afford it, and the rich do not despise it because it is cheap. Neither does it cost any expenditure of time. After the hesitancy of the first few lies you can make them with the greatest ease. You soon get to extemporise them without the trouble of forethought. The facilities for committing this sin are greater than for any other. You may indulge in it anywhere. You cannot very well steal on a common, or swear in a drawing room, or get drunk in a workhouse; but in what place or at what time can you not lie? You have to sneak, and skulk, and look over your shoulders, and peep, and listen, before you can commit many sins; but this can be practised in open day, and in the market place. You can look a man in the face and do it. You can rub your hands and smile and be very pleasant whilst doing it. (J. Teasdale.)
Will ye speak wickedly for God and talk deceitfully for Him?
Special religious pleaders
Job finds them guilty of speaking falsely as special pleaders for God, in two respects. They insist that he has offended God, but they cannot point to one sin which he has committed. On the other hand, they affirm positively that God will restore prosperity if confession is made. But in this, too, they play the part of advocates without warrant. They show great presumption in daring to pledge the Almighty to a course in accordance with their idea of justice. The issue might be what they predict; it might not. They are venturing on ground to which their knowledge does not extend. They think their presumption justified because it is for religion’s sake. Job administers a sound rebuke, and it extends to our own time. Special pleaders for God’s sovereignty and unconditional right, and for His illimitable good nature, alike have warning here. What justification have men in affirming that God will work out His problems in detail according to their views? He has given to us the power to apprehend the great principles of His working. There are certainties of our consciousness, facts of the world and of revelation, from which we can argue. Where these confirm we may dogmatise, and the dogma will strike home. But no piety, no desire to vindicate the Almighty, or to convict and convert the sinner, can justify any man in passing beyond the certainty which God has given him to that unknown which lies far above human ken. (R. A. Watson, D. D.)
Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him
A misinterpreted verse, and a misapprehended God
How often have these words been the vehicle of a sublime faith in the hour of supreme crisis! It is always matter of regret when one has to take away a cherished treasure from believing hearts.
Now this verse, properly translated and rightly understood, means something quite different from what it has ordinarily been considered to mean. You will find in the Revised Version a rendering differing from the accepted one--“Though He slay me, yet will I wait for Him,” it reads. So that instead of being the utterance of a resigned soul, submissively accepting chastisement, it is rather the utterance of a soul that, conscious of its own integrity, is prepared to face the worst that Providence can inflict, and resolved to vindicate itself against any suggestion of ill desert.” Behold, He will slay me. Let Him. Let Him do His worst. I wait for Him in the calm assurance of the purity of my motives and the probity of my life. I await His next stroke. I know that I have done nothing to deserve this punishment, and am prepared to maintain my innocence to His face. I will accept the blow, because I can do no other, but I will assert my blamelessness.” It is a lesson, not in the blind submissiveness of a perfect trust, but in the unconquerable boldness of conscious rectitude. There is nothing cringing or abject in this language. And this is in harmony with the whole tenor of the context, which is in a strain of self-vindication throughout. But, in order to understand the real sentiment underlying this exclamation, we must have a correct conception of the theory of the Divine action in the world common to that age. Job is thinking of Jehovah as the men of his time thought of Him, as the God who punished evil in this world, and whose chastisements were universally regarded as the evidence of moral transgression on the part of the sufferer. It is a false theory of Providence and of Divine judgment against which the patriarch so vehemently protests. He has the sense of punishment without the consciousness of transgression, and this creates his difficulty. “If my sufferings are to be regarded as punishment, I demand to know wherein I have transgressed.” It is the attitude of a man who writhes under the stigma of false accusation, and who is prepared to vindicate his reputation before any tribunal. The struggle represented for us with so much dramatic power and vividness in this poem is Job’s struggle for reconciliation between the God of the theologians of his day and the God of his own heart. And is not this a modem as well as an ancient struggle? Does not our heart often rise within us to resent and repel the representations of Deity that the current theology gives? Job had to answer to himself, Which of these two Gods is the true one? If the God of the theological imagination Were the true God, he was prepared to hold his own before Him. This Divine despot, as the stronger, might visit him with His castigations, but in his conscious integrity, Job would not blench. “Behold, He will slay me; I will wait for Him. I will maintain my cause before Him.” Now, is this a right or a wrong attitude in presence of the Eternal Righteousness? Is there blasphemy in a man’s maintaining his conscious innocence before God? As there was a conventional God in Job’s day, a God who was a figment of the human fancy, dressed up in the judicial terrors of an oriental despot, so is there a conventional God in our own day, the God of Calvinistic theologians, in whose presence men are taught that nothing becomes them but servile submission and abject self-vilification. But is that view compatible, after all, with what the Scripture tells us, that man is created in the very image, breathing the very breath of God? We have been taught to imagine that we are honouring God when we try to make ourselves out as bad as bad can be. What are the strange phenomena produced by this conventional conception? Why, that you will hear holy men in prayer, men of inflexible rectitude and spotless character, describing themselves to God in terms that would libel a libertine. This was Bildad’s theology. By a strange logic he fancied he was glorifying God by disparaging God’s handiwork. He declares (Job 25:5) that the very stars are not pure in God’s sight though God made them, and then falls into what I may call the vermicular strain of self-depreciation. “How much less man, that is a worm and the son of man who is a worm?” We have to judge theologies by our own innate sense of right and justice; and any theology which requires us to defame ourselves, and say of ourselves evil things not endorsed by our own healthy consciousness, is a degrading theology, one dishonouring alike to man and to God his Maker. Job’s inward sense of substantial rectitude, both in intention and in conduct, revolted against this God of his contemporaries who was always requiring him to put himself in the wrong whether he felt so or not. And Job obeyed a true instinct in taking up that attitude. God does not want us to tell Him lies about ourselves in our prayers and hymns. But I will venture to say that any attitude that is not truly manly is not truly Christian or religious. “Stand upon thy feet,” said the angel to the seer. The fact is, the conscience of good or evil is the God within us, and supreme. What my conscience convicts me of, let me confess to; but let me confess nothing wherein my conscience does not condemn me, out of deference to an artificial deity. Let us dare to follow our own thoughts of God, interpreting His relation and providence towards us through our own best instincts and aspirations. This is what Jesus taught us to do. He revealed and exemplified a manly and man making faith, as far removed as possible from that slavish spirit which is so characteristic of much pietistic teaching. Christ said, Find the best in yourselves and take that for the reflection of God. Reason from that up to God, He says. “How much more shall your heavenly Father!” Bildad and the theologians of his school transferred to their conception of Deity all their own pettinesses and foibles, and consequently conceived of Him as a being greedy of the adulation of His creatures, jealous of a monopoly of their homage. One who could not bear that anybody should be praised but Himself, and who was pleased when they unmanned themselves and wriggled like worms at His feet. To think thus of God is at once to degrade Him and ourselves. Let us not be afraid of our own better thoughts of God, assured that He must be better than even our best thoughts. I say Job was the victim of a false theology. When he was left to his own healthier instincts he took another tone. In the early chapters of this book he is represented to us as one of the sublimest heroes of faith. Under a succession of the most appalling and overwhelming calamities that stripped him of possessions and bereaved him of almost all that he loved in the world, he rises to that supreme resignation to the Divine will which found expression in perhaps the noblest utterance that ever broke from a crushed heart, “The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” It is difficult to believe that it is the same man who rose to this sublime degree of submission who now adopts the semi-defiant tone of the words of my text--“Behold, He will slay me. I will wait for Him; I will maintain my cause before Him.” The fact is that while it is the same mane it is not the same God. The God of the earlier chapters is the God of his own unsophisticated heart. In Him he could trust as doing “all things well.” But the God of this later part of the story is the God of perverse human invention; not the Creator of all things, but one created by the imaginations of men who fashioned an enlarged image of themselves and called that “God.” Job would not have wronged God if he had not had the wrong God presented to him. It was his would be monitors who had thought that God “was altogether such an one as themselves,” who were guilty of this crime. And again, had Job himself been a Christian, had he possessed the ethical sense, and judged himself by the ethical standards that the teaching of Jesus created, he would not have adopted this attitude of proud self-vindication. For then, though his outward life might have been exemplary, and his social obligations scrupulously fulfilled, he would have understood that righteousness is a matter of the thoughts and motives, as well as of the outward behaviour. Judging himself by the moral standards of his time, he felt himself immaculate. It is pleasant to know from the last chapter, that before the drama closes Job comes to truer thoughts of God and a more spiritual knowledge of himself. He perceives that his heart, in its blind revolt, has been fighting a travesty of God and not the real God. Then, so soon as he sees God as He is, and himself as he is, his tone changes again. She accent of revolt is exchanged for that of adoring recognition, and the note of defiance sinks into a strain of penitential confession. “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (J. Halsey.)
A trustful resolution
Such was the determinate resolution of the venerable and pious Job. In the history of this good man three things are evident.
1. That all things are under the Divine control.
2. Piety and integrity do not exempt from trials.
3. All things eventually work together for good to them that love God.
I. The situation in which Job was placed.
1. A great change had taken place in his worldly concerns. The day of adversity had come upon him.
2. But still Job’s case was not yet hopeless nor comfortless. There was still the same kind Providence which could bless his future life. There were his children. News comes that they are all killed.
3. Where now shall we look for any comfort for Job? Well, he has his health. But now this is taken away.
4. There was one person from whom Job might expect comfort and sympathy--his wife. Yet the most trying temptation Job ever had came from his wife.
5. Still Job had many friends. But those who came to help him proved “miserable comforters.” Every earthly prop had given way.
II. Job’s determination.
1. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
2. Job might confidently trust in the Lord, because he had not brought his sufferings upon himself by his own neglect or imprudence.
3. Job’s trust or faith was of the right kind. Trust in God implies that the depending person has an experimental knowledge of His power, wisdom, and goodness. Trust in God includes prayer, patience, and a reconciliation to the Divine will. Remarks--
1. What a wonderful example of patience and resignation we have in Job.
2. What decision of character and manly firmness are exemplified in the conduct of this good man.
3. How well it was for Job that he trusted and patiently waited to see the salvation of God. (B. Bailey.)
Perfect trust in extreme trial
To most persons there is some affliction which they account the extreme of trouble. The estimate of “particular troubles changes, however, with circumstances.
I. Job’s meaning. Trust in God is built on acquaintance with God. It is an intelligent act or habit of the soul. It is a fruit of religious knowledge. It is begotten of belief in the representations which are given of God, and of faith in the promises of God. It is a fruit of reconciliation with God. It involves, in the degree of its power and life, the quiet assurance that God will be all that He promises to be, and will do all that He engages to do; and that, in giving and withholding, He will do that which is perfectly kind and right. The development of trust in God depends entirely upon circumstances. In danger, it appears as courage and quietness from fear; in difficulties, as resolution and as power of will; in sorrow, as submission; in labour, as continuance and perseverance; and in extremity, it shows itself as calmness.
II. Is Job’s strong confidence justifiable? We may not think all Job thought, or speak always as Job spoke; yet we may safely copy this patient man.
1. God does not afflict willingly.
2. God has not exhausted Himself by any former deliverance.
3. In all that affects His saints, God takes a living and loving interest.
4. Circumstances can never become mysterious, or complicated, or unmanageable to God. We must in our thoughts attach mysteriousness only to our impressions: we must not transfer it to God.
5. God has in time past slain His saints, and yet delivered them.
III. The example Job exhibits. Job teaches us that it is well sometimes to imagine the heaviest possible affliction happening to us. This is distinct from the habitual imagination of evil, which we should avoid, and which we deprecate. Job teaches as that the perfect work of patience is the working of patience to the uttermost--that is, down to the lowest depths of depression, and up to the highest pitch of anguish. He teaches that the extreme of trial should call forth the perfection of trust. Our principles are most wanted in extremity. Job shows that the spirit of trust is the spirit of endurance. We may also learn that to arm ourselves against trial, we must increase our confidence. True trust respects all events, and all Divine dispensations. All--not a particular class, but the whole. All that happens to us is part of God’s grand design and of God’s great plan respecting us: Let me commend to you Job’s style of speech. To say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” will involve an effort, but there is no active manifestation of true godliness without exertion. Even faith is a fight. It is one of the simplest things in spiritual life to trust, but often that which involves a desperate struggle. Ignorance of God’s intentions may sometimes say to us, “distrust Him”; and unbelief may suggest, “distrust Him”; and fear may whisper, “distrust Him”; but, in spite of all your foes, say to yourself, “I will trust Him.” The day will come when such confidence in God, as that which you are now required to exercise, will no longer be needed. In that day God will do nothing painful to you. He will not move in a mysterious way, even to you, and you will chiefly be possessed by a spirit of love; but until that day dawns, God asks you to trust Him. (Samuel Martin.)
Faith, like all Christian graces, is a thing of growth, and therefore capable of degree.
I. Faith is direct knowledge. It is a kind of intuition.
1. It does not depend, like scientific knowledge, on the testimony of the senses.
2. It does not rest, like judicial decisions, on the truthfulness of witnesses, and the consistency of evidence.
3. It is not founded, like mathematical convictions, on logical demonstration.
4. Intellect combines these together to reveal the soul to itself.
5. Faith thus perceives the wants of the soul, and the fitness of revealed truth to satisfy them.
II. Faith acts on a person. Its object is God--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
1. A person is more complex than any proposition, and offers to the soul an immense number of points of contact. It is an undeveloped universe.
2. A person is a profounder reality than a doctrine. Character is more steadfast than a theory.
3. God is the universe, and can sympathise with every soul. God in Christ is a universe of mercy to the sinner.
III. It concerns the weightiest destinies of the soul and is attested by conscience.
1. It does not tolerate indifference.
2. It arouses the faculties to their utmost.
3. It comes in contact with revealed holiness. The soul cannot rest in evil. It requires truth and justice.
Without these it is a lever without a fulcrum.
1. Faith gives rest without indifference.
2. It provides happiness without delusion. (J. Peters.)
This is one of the supreme sayings of Scripture. It rises, like an Alpine summit, clear above all ordinary heights of speech, it pierces the clouds, and glistens in the light of God. If I were required to quote a selection of the sublimest utterances of the human mind, I should mention this among the first, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Methinks I might almost say to the man who thus spoke what our Lord said to Simon Peter when he had declared Him to be the Son of the Highest, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee.” Such tenacious holding, such immovable confidence, such unstaggering reliance, are not products of mere nature, but rare flowers of rich almighty grace. It is well worthy of observation that in these words Job answered both the accusations of Satan and the charges of his friends. Though I do not know that Job was aware that the devil had said, “Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast Thou not set a hedge about him and all that he hath?” yet he answered that base suggestion in the ablest possible manner, for he did in effect say, “Though God should pull down my hedge, and lay me bare as the wilderness itself, yet will I cling to Him in firmest faith.” The arch-fiend had also dared to say that Job had held out under his first trials because they were not sufficiently personal. “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath, will he give for his life. But put forth Thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse Thee to Thy face.” In the brave words before us Job most effectually silences that slander by, in effect, saying, “Though my trial be no longer the slaying of my children, but of myself, yet will I trust in Him.” He thus in one sentence replies to the two slanders of Satan; thus unconsciously doth truth overthrow her enemies, defeating the secret malice of falsehood by the simplicity of sincerity. Job’s friends also had insinuated that he was a hypocrite. They inquired of him, “Who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?” They thought themselves quite safe in inferring that Job must have been a deceiver, or he would not have been so specially punished. To this accusation Job’s grand declaration of his unstaggering faith was the best answer possible, for none but a sincere soul could thus speak. Will a hypocrite trust in God when He slays him? Will a deceiver cling to God when He is smiting him? Assuredly not. Thus were the three miserable comforters answered if they had been wise enough to see it. Our text exhibits a child of God under the severest pressure, and shows us the difference between him and a man of the world. A man of the world under the same conditions as Job would have been driven to despair, and in that desperation would have become morosely sullen, or defiantly rebellious! Here you see what in a child of God takes the place of desperation. When others despair, he trusts in God. When he has nowhere else to look, he turns to his Heavenly Father; and when for a time, even in looking to God, he meets with no conscious comfort, he waits in the patience of hope, calmly expecting aid, and resolving that even if it did not come he will cling to God with all the energy of his soul. Here all the man’s courage comes to the front, not, as in the case of the ungodly, obstinately to rebel, but bravely to confide. The child of God is courageous, for he knows how to trust. His heart says, “Ay, Lord, it is bad with me now, and it is growing worse, but should the worst come to the worst, still will I cling to Thee, and never let Thee go.” In what better way can the believer reveal his loyalty to his Lord? He evidently follows his Master, not in fair weather only, but in the foulest and roughest ways. He loves his Lord, not only when He smiles upon him, but when He frowns. His love is not purchased by the largesses of his Lord’s golden hand, for it is not destroyed by the smitings of His heavy rod. Though my Lord put on His sternest looks, though from fierce looks He should go to cutting words, and though from terrible words He should proceed to cruel blows, which seem to beat the very life out of my soul, yea, though He take down the sword and threaten to execute me therewith, yet is my heart steadfastly set upon one resolve, namely, to bear witness that He is infinitely good and just. I have not a word to say against Him, nor a thought to think against Him, much less would I wander from Him; but still, though He slay me, I would trust in Him. What is my text but an Old Testament version of the New Testament, “Quis separabit”--Who shall separate? Job does but anticipate Paul’s question. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation,” etc. Was not the same spirit in both Job and Paul? Is He also in us? If so, we are men indeed, and our speech is with power, and to us this declaration is no idle boast, no foolish bravado, though it would be ridiculous, indeed, if there were not a gracious heart behind it to make it good. It is the conquering shout of an all-surrendering faith, which gives up all but God. I want that we may all have its spirit this morning, that whether we suffer Job’s trial or not we may at any rate have Job’s close adherence to the Lord, his faithful confidence in the Most High. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Peace and joy and chastisement
This sentiment is founded on the belief that God is our sole strength and refuge; that if good is in any way in store for us, it lies with God; if it is attainable, it is attained by coming to God. Inquirers seeking the truth, prodigals repentant, saints rejoicing in the light, saints walking in darkness--all of them have one word on their lips, one creed in their hearts. “Trust ye in the Lord forever.” There is another case, in which it is equally our wisdom and duty to stay ourselves upon God; that of our being actually under punishment for our sins. Men may be conscious that they have incurred God’s displeasure, and conscious that they are suffering it; and then their duty is still to trust in God, to acquiesce, or rather to concur in His chastisements. Scripture affords us some remarkable instances of persons glorifying, or called on to glorify God when under His hand. See Joshua’s exhortation to Achan. The address of Jonah to God from the fish’s belly. It should not be difficult to realise the state of mind described in the text, and yet some find difficulty in conceiving how Christians can have hope without certainty, sorrow and pain without gloom, suspense with calmness and confidence. I proceed then to describe this state of mind. Suppose a good man, who is conscious of some deliberate sin or sins in time past, some course of sin, or in later life has detected himself in some secret and subtle sin, what will be his state when the conviction of his sin, whatever it is, breaks upon him? Will he think himself utterly out of God’s favour? He will not despair. Will he take up the notion that God has forgiven him? He has two feelings at once--one of present enjoyment, and another of undefined apprehension, and on looking on to the day of judgment, hope and fear both rise within him. (J. H. Newman, B. D.)
Job endured, as seeing Him who is invisible; he had that faith which has realised to itself the conviction that, somehow or other, all things are working together for good to them that love God, and which calmly submits itself without anxiety to whatever God sees fit to lay upon it. Faith comprehends trustfulness. It is the larger term of the two. None of us can have lived any length of time in the world without having, as part of our appointed trial, been visited with pain and sickness, with the loss of friends, and with more or less of temporal misfortune. How these chastisements have been borne by us, has depended upon how far we have taught ourselves to look upon them as a precious legacy from Christ our Saviour, as a portion of His Cross, as a token of His love. Looking back upon what, at the time, you considered the great misfortunes of your life, can you not now see the gracious designs with which they were sent? In this is there not a powerful argument in favour of trustfulness, and a most satisfactory evidence that “in quietness and confidence” will be our strength? In proportion as we have the Spirit of Christ, will be our desire to be made like unto Him in all things; and this resemblance can never be attained without a following of Him in the path of suffering, and a submission and trustfulness like His as we pass along it. There is, however, the danger of our endeavouring, by any movement of impatience, to lighten the burden which our Heavenly Father has laid on us; of taking matters, as it were, into our own hands, and so thwarting or making of none effect the merciful designs of providence towards us. We must take care that our passiveness and silence are the result of Christian principles. There is a silence which arises from sullenness, and a passiveness which comes from apathy or despair. Trials are sent us in order that when we feel their acuteness, we may raise our thoughts to Him who alone can lighten them, and bless them to us. We ought to feel that it is sin to doubt the gracious purposes of God towards us, or to receive them in any other than a thankful spirit. How mercifully we are dealt with we shall be the more ready to acknowledge, the more we reflect upon the manner of God’s visitations towards us. But it is not in personal and domestic trials only that this spirit of trustfulness will be our safeguard and support. In all those perplexities which arise from our own position in the Church, and the Church’s position in the world, and which would otherwise bewilder us, our trustfulness will come to our refuge. And there never was greater need of a trustful spirit among Churchmen than at the present time. (P. E. Paget, M. A.)
Fortitude under trial
Trust in God is one of the easiest of all things to express, and one of the hardest to practise. There is no grace more necessary, and when attained there is no grace more blessed and comforting. But if blessed when attained, it is difficult of attainment. It is no spontaneous growth of the natural mind, but implies a work of grace which the Holy Ghost can alone accomplish. It requires a deep realisation of the Divine presence, of the Divine wisdom, and of the Divine love. On our side there must be an active effort, and an utter renunciation of all trust on that effort, that simple looking out of ourselves which it is indeed most difficult to reconcile with the active instincts of the mind.
I. It is amid sorrow and trial that trust can alone be exercised. No time here on earth is free from temptation and danger, and therefore no time here on earth can we cease to rely upon God. The very meaning of trust implies doubt within and danger without, the man who trusts, if we already knew everything, where would be faith? If we already possessed everything, where would be hope?
II. This sure confidence is not the attribute of any trust which we may place in any object. It is, indeed, the nature of trust to operate in times of difficulty; but yet the success with which it can do this depends ever upon the nature of that which is trusted--the foundation on which the house of trust is built. There are two arguments which single out God as the alone object of our trust. There meet in God all the attributes which deserve confidence. And they do not meet in any other; they are not to be found, even singly, in any other.
III. Our trials ought to make our confidence more deep and constant. Has He not warned us beforehand of their existence? He has explained the very cause and reason why they are permitted--reasons to which the conscience and the experience of every believer will most deeply assent. Then let us pray for grace to hold fast our hope steadfast unto the end. (Edward Garbett, M. A.)
Joy out of suffering
The joy of the world ends in sorrow; sorrow with Christ and in Christ, yea, and for our sins, for Christ’s sake, ends in joy. We have many of us felt how the world’s joy ends in sorrow. We must not, would not, choose our suffering. “Any pang but this,” is too often the wounded spirit’s cry; “any trouble but this.” And its cry may bear witness to itself, that its merciful Physician knows well where its disease lies, how it is to be probed to the quick, how to be healthfully healed. Job refutes Satan’s lie. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” He holds not back his very, self. He gives up freely all which he is--his very
I. “Though He slay me.” Oh, glorious faith of older saints, and hope of the resurrection, and love stronger than death, and blessed bareness of the soul, which for God would part with all but God, knowing that in God it will find all! yea, which would give its very self, trusting Him who took itself from itself, that it should find again (as all the redeemed will find) itself a better self in God. Till we attain, by His mercy, to Himself, and death itself is past, there is often need, amid the many manifold forms of death, wherewith we are encompassed, for that holy steadfastness of the patriarch’s trust. The first trials by which God would win us back to Himself are often not the severest. These outward griefs are often but the “beginning of sorrows.” Deeper and more difficult far are those sorrows wherewith God afflicts the very soul herself. A bitter thing indeed it is to have to turn to God with a cold, decayed heart; “an evil thing and bitter” to have destroyed ourselves. Merciful and very good are all the scourges of the All. Good and All-Merciful. The deeper, the more merciful; the more inward, the more cleansing. The more they enter into the very soul, the more they open it for the healing presence of God. The less self lives, the more Christ liveth in it. Manifold are these clouds whereby God hides, for the time, the brightness of His presence, and He seemeth, as it were, to threaten again to bring a destroying flood over our earthliness. Yet one character they have in common, that the soul can hardly believe itself in a state of grace. Hard indeed is it for hope to live when faith seems dead, and love grown cold. Faint not, thou weary soul, but trust! If thou canst not hope, act as thou wouldst if thou didst hope. If thou canst see nothing before thee but hell, shut thine eyes and cast thyself blindly into the infinite abyss of God’s mercy. And the everlasting arms will, though thou know it not, receive thee and upbear thee. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
I never have delivered a discourse on trust in God but that someone has thanked me for it. Confidence in Him is a constant necessity, but there are always some in special need. To fail of this possession is like a captain’s putting to sea without fresh water, or like a mother who should think of sending a son to college without a Bible in his trunk. There are sudden surprises in life, when trouble comes like a cyclone. All we can do is to coil the rope about the belaying pin and wait. Fair-weather faith is abundant, cheap and worthless. It is easy to trust God when the larder is full and the dividends large. Indeed, there is then danger of self-content and self-conceit. But we want a faith that will hold in the teeth of the tempest. The disciples did not doubt Christ’s power when peace rested on the lake, but when the storm came they cried to Him, “Master, save! we perish!” That courage is worthless which blusters in the tent and retreats at the cannon’s mouth. That amiability which is seen where there is no provocation, or that temperance which is maintained where no temptations assail, is of little merit. The trust spoken of in the text is a childlike faith. We can learn much from the trustfulness of a child. It feels its weakness, and puts confidence in the parent. If he betray it, he destroys the child’s confidence. Absence of faith in God is infidelity. Unbelief is dry rot to the character. A little child is not anxious as to whether there will be food for the table, or a pillow for its tired head; he leaves it all to his parent. Much of the worry which nowadays results in softening of the brain and paralysis, is only borrowed trouble. Why take thought for the morrow? Our fears strangle our faith. The soul is nightmared. We grow choleric, and complain of God’s treatment of us. We forget what is left to us. Some of you have camped out this summer, and learned how much you have at home is not absolutely needful. I said to a noble Christian merchant, who, by no fault of his, had suddenly become bankrupt, “Your decks have been swept clean by the gale, but did it touch anything in the hold?” The thought, he said, was a comfort to him. I was in a home of sorrow today, where the grief was peculiarly tender and sore, but there was the hope of heaven when the beloved went home. God sometimes strips us that we may be freer to run the race to heaven. The nobleness of this trust is to feel that Christ is left, though superfluous things are taken. The Bible is left, the Holy Spirit and heaven remain. No loss is comparable to the loss of Christ from the soul, yet men do not hang crape on the door, or even have a sleepless night at that loss. But anxiety for this is wholesome. To be forced to say with the poet--
“A believing heart has gone from me,”
is worse than to have a house burned, or a child die. Again, the childlike faith shown in the text is perfectly unsuspecting. See that beggar’s babe clinging to the mother’s rags that hardly cover it. Why should we, when in darkened paths, hesitate to trust our Heavenly Parent implicitly? He has pledged us all things, and doubt is an insult to Him. I stood on the heights of Abraham a few weeks ago, and recalled the victory of Wolfe, with thrilling emotion, but did not forget those steps, one by one, through dark, narrow, and precipitous paths, that led that gallant general to victory. You have your heights of Abraham to scale ere triumph crowns you. Each one has his trials. There is a skeleton in each closet, a crook in each lot. Character grows under these stages of discipline. Trust Him day by day. Live, as it were, from hand to mouth. Do present duty with present ability. Trust in God for victory, and be content with one step at a time. (Theodore L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Unconditional trust in God
The measure of our being is the measure of our strength. He only is really strong who is strong in the Lord. He only who is strong in the Lord rises superior to circumstances. He whose soul is in his circumstances is weak in exact proportion as his heart is set upon surroundings. He who gives himself to the world gets nothing to self--to soul--in return. He who gives himself to God, though he may receive no objective blessing, gets God in return--finds a nobler self--saves by losing. Neither worldly splendour, nor state of our bodily health, affords any criterion to the state of our soul. We are prone to think adverse things are necessarily punitive. But the trials of Christians are disciplinary.
I. Job’s words are autobiographical. They afford insight into the state of Job’s heart, and they tell us what he had been. Trials not only show character; they reveal history. When we see a man standing morally erect in circumstances the most dire that ever fell to the lot of mortal, we cannot doubt that we have insight into his history. Job had trusted in God, had lived near to Him in the past, and so he is strong, and rises above circumstances in the adverse present. Character is not formed by one effort of will, no, nor by ten, fifty, or five hundred.
II. These words are educational. They teach us that the child of God lives by faith. There are people who assume, perhaps they really experience a species of trust in God so long as all goes well with them. When the possessions of the self-complacent man are lost, we look in vain for evidences of contentment, thankfulness, philosophic bearing. The child of God does not regard his relationship to God as simply commercial. The professor only may calculate upon the advantage which, in a worldly sense, his religion is likely to bring. The child of God has no such thoughts. Christianity is commercial in the sense that to get we must give; yet it is not commercial, as we understand the word, for he who gives most of self to Christ, thinks least about what he receives in return. The child of God bases his trust upon the last contingency. Like a crane, a waggon, or a barge, some men can bear only a certain strain. The truth is that the pruning knife is never welcome, and we always think its edge would have been less keen had that been taken which is left, and that left which is taken. But Job could base his trust upon the very last contingency.
III. These words are prophetical.
1. With respect to this life. What a man is at any time is an index to what he will be. Our daily procedure goes upon the supposition that our present character indicates our future. The present indicates the future if we continue in the same track.
2. With respect to a future life. There is a slaying which is not slaying. The child of God shall never die. (J. S. Swan.)
Trust without calculation
The friends of Job have their counterparts in every age of the world. Whenever men are in trouble, there are those who undertake the task of comforting, without any qualifications for it. They lack sympathy. When it is expected that they will minister comfort, they bring forth all the stock sentiments which those who are not in trouble squander upon those who are: the respectable commonplaces which, like ready-made garments, do not in reality fit any, because they are meant to fit all. No wise man will needlessly proffer himself as a comforter. The more wise he is, the more profoundly he will shrink from intruding upon the sanctity of an afflicted soul. The difference between Job and his friends is exactly this, that he had gone down to first principles, and they had not. You can trace beneath all his utterances a something which enables him to withstand all their poor, superficial talk. What that something was is set forth in the text. It was a trust in God, i.e., God’s character, which not even the most crushing stroke of Divine power could destroy. You will never understand the meaning of faith unless you remember that it is identical with trust. If we would understand how trust at last reaches an uncalculating perfection, consider how trust builds itself up in regard to an earthly benefactor or father. It begins with kind acts. Some one does something very generous and disinterested towards us. The child becomes aware of the ever-present care and self-denying goodness of the parent. One act, observe, does not usually furnish a rational ground of trust. Only when that act of kindness is followed by others does settled trust arise. Hence trust is, in fact, confidence in the character of another. The child, after long experience of the father’s love, acquires such faith in the parent’s character that it can trust even when he acts with seeming unkindness. There are cases in which even one action would command the homage of our hearts. It is by one transcendent act of love that Christ has fixed forever His claim. He has given Himself for us. However we reach it, this trust is for the man an all-powerful factor ever after. Once it is placed beyond question that God loves us, then we will not allow any subsequent chastening, any “frowning providence” to shake our faith in His unchanging love. Trust such as this is eminently rational. It rests on evidence. We have proved God worthy of our heart’s confidence. The trust which is first built up of benefits received gradually becomes uncalculating. The highest reverence and devotion towards God is disinterested. Self, or what self may win or miss, fades out of view. The words are felt to be exaggerated in expressing the joyful and absolute self-forgetfulness of him who is dwelling in the presence of Infinite Perfection. A heart at one with God, knowing no will but His, perfect in its trust, carries within it peace and heavenly mindedness wherever it may abide in this wide universe; while a heart distrustful of God, swept by gusts of passion and self-will, lacking the one feeling which alone gives stability, can find heaven nowhere. Remember that faith may be genuine even when it is feeble. Small hope for you and me if it were not so. But to the faith which I have been describing all faith must approximate: so far as faith falls short of it, it is imperfect; and if we do not aim at the highest, we shall be only too likely to remain without faith in any degree. (J. A. Jacob, M. A.)
The triumph of faith
Faith is the reliance of the heart on God. On the one hand, it is not any mere operation of the understanding. On the other hand, it is not any assurance about our state before God. There are, perhaps, two chief ways in which we may arrive at the assurance that we are children of God. The one is looking to Christ; the other is the examination of Scripture, to see what are the marks of God’s children. When faith is true, there are many degrees and stages in it. We may have a faith which can just touch the hem of Christ’s garment, and that is all that it can do; and if it does this it is healing, because it is true. But there is a wide difference of degree between this infancy of faith and its manhood. It requires a strong faith to look beyond and above a frowning providence, and to trust in God in the dark. It is the Word of God, and not the dispensations of providence, which is the basis on which faith rears her column, the soil into which she sinks her roots; and resting on this she can say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” But it is very important to distinguish between two things which many, and especially young Christians, often confound together, that is, faith and feeling. Changeful as we are in every way, there is no part of us so subject to change as our feelings--warm one day, and even hot, how cold and chilled they are the next. If we walk, not by feeling but by faith, then, when all around us and all within us is dark, we shall still cling to God’s faithful Word; we shall feel that it is we who change, and not God. (George Wagner.)
The perfect faith
When a soul is able to declare that, even under the smiting, ay, even under the slaying of God, it is able still to trust in Him, everyone feels that soul has reached a very true and deep, sometimes it must seem a rare faith in Him. Yet men must have attained this before they can be in any complete or worthy way believers in God. Merely to trust Him when He is manifestly kind to them, is surely not enough. The words of the text might be said almost in desperation. It is a question whether a faith thus desperate is faith at all. There is something far more cordial about these words of Job. They anticipate possible disappointment and pain; but they discern a hope beyond them. Their hope lies in the character of God. Whatever His special treatment of the soul may be, the soul knows Him in His character. Behind its perception of God’s conduct, as an illumination and as a retreat, always lies its knowledge of God’s character. The relations of character and conduct to each other are always interesting. Conduct is the mouthpiece of character. What a man is declares itself through what he does. Each is a poor weak thing without the other. Conduct without character is thin and unsatisfying. Conduct is the trumpet at the lips of character. Character without conduct is like the lips without the trumpet, whose whispers die upon themselves, and do not stir the world. Conduct without character is like the trumpet hung up in the wind, which whistles through it, and means nothing. It is through conduct I first know what character is. By and by I come to know character by itself; and in turn it becomes the interpreter of other conduct. To know a nature is an exercise of your faculties different from what it would be to know facts. It involves deeper powers in you, and is a completer action of your life. When a confidence in character exists, see what a circuit you have made. You began with the observation of conduct which you could understand; through that you entered into knowledge of personal character; from knowledge of character you came back to conduct, and accepted actions which you could not understand. You have made this loop, and at the turn of the loop stands character. It is through character that you have passed from the observation of conduct which is perfectly intelligible into the acceptance of conduct which you cannot understand, but of which you only know who and what the man was who did it. The same is true about everyone of the higher associations of mankind. It is true about the association of man with nature. Man watches nature at first suspiciously, seeing what she does, is ready for any sudden freak, or whim, or mood; but by and by he comes to know of nature’s uniformity. He understands that she is self-consistent. Same is true about any institution to which at last man gives the direction of his life. We want to carry all this over to our thought of God, and see how it supplies a key to the great utterance of faith in the text. It is from God’s treatment of any man that man learns God. What God does to him, that is what first of all he knows of God. If this were all, then the moment God’s conduct went against a man’s judgment, he must disown God. But suppose that the man, behind and through the treatment that God has given him, has seen the character of God. He sees God is just and loving. He goes up along the conduct to the character. Through God’s conduct man knows God’s character, and then through God’s character God’s conduct is interpreted. Everywhere the beings who most strongly and justly laid claim to our confidence pass by and by beyond the testing of their actions, and commend themselves to us, and command our faith in them by what we know they are. Such a faith in the character of God must shape and influence our lives. (Phillips Brooks.)
For an hypocrite shall not come before Him.
The several sorts of hypocrisy
Job’s friends urged that because God had grievously afflicted him, he must needs have been a very wicked man. Job in reply maintains his innocency. He insists that God afflicts for other reasons, in His own good pleasure. He is sure that God cannot expect from him a false confession, or that his proceedings should be justified by any wrong supposition. God will, in the end, distinguish His faithful servant from the hypocrite. The word “hypocrite” is here used in opposition to such a sincere person as can maintain his own ways before God.
1. The greatest and highest degree of hypocrisy is when men, with a formed design and deliberate intention, endeavour under a pretence of religion and an appearance of serving God, to carry on worldly and corrupt ends. Such were the Scribes and Pharisees, whom our Saviour denounced. The apostles describe the same kind of hypocrisy in the characters of the worst men who were in following ages to arise in the Church (2 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:16; 1 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:11; Titus 3:10; 2 Peter 2:1). This then is the highest degree of hypocrisy, and the word is now generally used in this worst sense.
2. There are those who do not absolutely mean to cast off all religion, nor dare in their own hearts totally to despise it; but yet willingly content themselves with the formal part of it, and by zealously observing certain outward rites and ceremonies, think to atone for great defects of sobriety, righteousness, and truth. Of the same species of hypocrisy are they guilty in all ages who make the advancement of religion and the increase of the kingdom of Christ to consist chiefly in the external, temporal, or worldly prosperity of those who are called by His name.
3. A lower degree of hypocrisy is the behaviour of those who have indeed right notions of religion, but content themselves with vain resolutions of future repentance, and for the present live securely in the practice of sin. Against this hypocrisy, this deceitfulness of sin, our Saviour warns us (Matthew 24:42).
4. The lowest degree of hypocrisy is that of those who not only have right notions of religion and a due sense of the indispensable necessity of repentance and reformation hereafter, but even at present have some imperfect resolutions of immediate obedience, and even actual but yet ineffectual endeavours after it (Romans 7:19; comp. Matthew 13:5; Matthew 13:20). It is no better than a secret hypocrisy to account ourselves righteous for not being guilty of other faults, while the false heart indulges itself in any one known habitual sin, and speaks peace to itself by attending, only to one part of its own character. The use of what has been said is that from hence every man may learn not to judge his neighbour, who to his own master standeth or falleth, but to examine seriously the state of his own heart. Which, whosoever does, carefully and impartially, and with the true spirit of a Christian, will find little reason to be censorious upon others. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
Then call Thou, and! will answer.
There are places where, if you speak with a loud voice, your words will come back to you after a short interval with the utmost distinctness. This repetition is called an echo. The ancients thought this mysterious being was an Oread, or mountain nymph, born of the air and earth, who loved a beautiful youth, and because her affection was not returned, she pined away until nothing was heard but her voice, and even then she could not speak until she was spoken to. In the text are two kinds of echo. God calling to man, and man answering; and then man speaking to God, and God answering.
I. God calling and man answering. It is God who always begins first in every good thing. Our religion tells us distinctly that it was not man who first called upon God, but God who first called upon man. God sought man to do him good, even when he had sinned and deserved to be punished. And that is what He has always done since. God has not been silent. He has spoken out, not by the dull, unchanging signals of nature that do the telegraph work of the world, but in human language, in human thoughts and words. God addresses you personally in the Holy Scriptures. Will you be silent to Him? Will no response, no echo come from your heart to His voice?
II. Man calling and God answering. David once said, “Be not silent unto me, O Lord.” He had prayed, but he had got no answer. But God was all the time preparing to give him the answer that he needed. In the natural world you cannot have an echo everywhere. Sometimes in nature an echo is made more or less indistinct according to the state of the weather. An echo in nature repeats your very words exactly. Some echoes refuse to send back a whole sentence, and only repeat the last word of it. God’s response is an answer to your whole prayer. He often does for you exceeding abundantly above all that you can ask or think. Is not it wonderful that by a breath you can call up such marvellous responses? “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble.” (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)
How many are mine iniquities and sins?
Struggles of conscience
In Luther’s day the precise evil under which men laboured was this: they believed in being self-righteous, and so they supposed that they must have good works before they might trust in Christ. In our day the evil takes another shape. Men have aimed at being self-righteous in quite a singular fashion; they think they must feel worse, and have a deeper conviction of sin before they may trust in Christ. It is really the same evil, from the same old germ of self-righteousness, but it has taken another and more crafty shape. It is with this deadly evil I want to grapple. In the Puritanic age there was a great deal of experimental preaching. Some of it was unhealthy, because it took for its standard what the Christian felt and not what the Saviour said; the inference from a believer’s experience, rather than the message which goes before belief. We always get wrong when we say one Christian’s experience is to be estimated by what another has felt.
I. By way of consolation. The better a man is the more anxious he is to know the worst of his case. Bad men do not want to know their badness. It should comfort you to know that the prayer of the text has been constantly offered by the most advanced of saints. You never prayed like this years ago when you were a careless sinner. It is indeed very probable you do already feel your guilt, and what you are asking for have in measure realised.
II. By way of instruction. It sometimes happens that God answers this prayer by allowing a man to fall into more and more gross sin, or by opening the eyes of the soul, not so much by providence as by the mysterious agency of the Holy Spirit. I advise you to particularise your sins; to hear a personal ministry, seek a preacher who deals with you as a man alone by yourself; seek to study much the law of God.
III. By way of discrimination. Take care to discriminate between the work of the Spirit and the work of the devil. It is the work of the Spirit to make a man feel that he is a sinner, but it never was His work to make a man feel that Christ would forget him. Satan always works by trying to counterfeit the work of the Spirit. Take care not to make a righteousness out of your feelings. Anything which keeps from Christ is sin.
IV. By way of exhortation.
1. It is a very great sin not to feel your guilt, and not to mourn over it, but then it is one of the sins that Jesus Christ atoned for on the tree. It is only Jesus who can give you that heart which you seek. Christ can soften the heart, and a man can never soften it himself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
How many are my sins
The meaning of a question is often determined by its reason, spirit, tone. At this stage of the controversy between Job and his would be friends, Job turns his speech from them to God. Smarting under their reproofs, in perplexity dark and deep about the ways of God, Job turns to Him with mournful complaint. The faith that breaks forth in majestic tone--“Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him”--again seems to be mixed with gloomy doubts; bitterness and melancholy mark his utterances. He says to God, “How many are my iniquities and my sins?” We know the end of the story. Job was proved right in the main. With what motive, and in what spirit shall we ask this question? Is it wise question to ask? If God were to answer it, literally, directly, and immediately, would we not be utterly overwhelmed in despair? God answered Job’s question in a way very different from what he expected. God so revealed Himself to the patriarch that he exclaimed, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” God will deal very tenderly with a soul sincerely asking the question of the text. No man will have any arithmetical answer. But a sincere seeker desiring to know his state as a sinner will come to know enough. Sin has reference to its standard; to its action; and to its effects. All true religion has its deep foundation in the knowledge and conviction of sin. It strikes its strong roots down through the feelings into the conscience. (Donald Smith Brunton.)
Wilt Thou break a leaf driven to and fro?
A pitiful plea
Poor Job! Who could have been brought lower? In his deep distress he turns to God, and finding no other plea so near at hand he makes a plea of his own distress. He compares himself to the weakest thing he could think of. He draws an argument out of his weakness. It is a common figure he uses, that of a leaf driven to and fro. To this Job likens himself--a helpless, hopeless, worthless, weak, despised, perishing thing. And he appeals to God. “Out of pity upon my utter weakness and nothingness, turn away Thy hand, and break not a leaf that is driven to and fro.” The apprehension is so startling, the appeal is so forcible, that the argument may be employed in a great many ways. How often have the sick used it, when they have been brought to so low an ebb with physical pain that life itself seemed worthless. Not less applicable the plea to those who are plunged into the depths of poverty. So too with those who are in trouble through bereavement. Perhaps it is even more harassing in eases of mental distress, for, after all, the sharpest pangs we feel are not those of the body, nor those of the estate, but those of the mind. When the iron enters into the soul, the rust thereof is poison. Many a child of God may have used this plea, or may yet use it.
I. The plea is such as arises from inward consciousness. What plea is more powerful to ourselves than that which we draw from ourselves? In this case Job was quite certain about his own weakness. How could he doubt that? I trust many of us have been brought into such a humble frame of mind as to feel that, in a certain sense, this is true of us. What a great blessing it is to be made to know our weakness! But while it is a confession of weakness, the plea is also an acknowledgment of God’s power to push that weakness to a direful conclusion.
II. This is also a very pitiful plea. Though there is weakness, yet there is also power, for weakness is, for the most part, a prevalent plea with those who are strong and good. The plea gathers force when the weakness is confessed. How a confession of weakness touches your heart when it comes from your child!
III. This plea is rightly addressed. It is addressed to God. It can be used to each person of the Blessed Trinity in Unity. “Oh, the depths of Thy loving kindness! Is it possible that Thou canst east away a poor, broken-hearted trembler, a poor, fearing, doubting one, who would fain be saved, but who trembles lest he should be cast away?”
IV. The plea is backed up by many cases of success. Give one illustration. The case of Hannah, the mother of Samuel; or the case of King Manasseh. Or our Lord’s dealing with sinful women.
V. The text is a faint plea which invites full succour. It meant this. “Instead of breaking it, Thou wilt spare it; Thou wilt gather it up; Thou wilt give it life again.” Oh, you who are brought to the very lowest of weakness! use that weakness in pleading with God, and He will return unto you with such a fulness of blessing that you shall receive pardon and favour.
VI. We may use this plea--many of us who have long known the saviour. Perhaps our faith has got to be very low. O Lord, wilt Thou destroy my little faith? It is weal: and trembling, but it is faith of Thine own giving. Oh, break not the poor leaf that is driven to and fro! It may be your hope is not very bright. You cannot see the golden gates, though they are very near. Well, but your hope shall not be destroyed because it is clouded. Perhaps you are conscious that you have not been so useful lately as you were. Bring your little graces to Christ, as the mothers brought their little children, and ask Him to put His hands upon them and to bless them. Bring your mustard seed to Christ, and ask Him to make it grow into a tree, and He will do it; but never think that He will destroy you, or that He will destroy the work of His hands in you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God and human frailty
The thin, frail leaf--would God break that? God, the all-powerful, dealing with the feeble life of Job! God, perhaps, would bruise the leaf, but He would not break it.
I. A leaf is the frailest among frail things. A leaf is, in many ways, a type of man. Physically, mentally, humanly, morally. We have come into this world with constitutions tainted by sin, surrounded by temptations to evil.
II. A leaf is the fittest emblem of man’s mortality. Will the eternal God act harshly with the ephemeral man? What is it to “break a leaf”? To treat it as a thing of insignificance, to leave it to the sport of circumstances, to let it be hurried out of sight as a mean and mortal thing. How delicate is man, physically considered; how surrounded is he by the majestic forces of nature! Yet God has plainly said, “I care for this leaf more than for all the works of My hands.” Mortal though man is, he enshrines within him an everlasting being.
III. A leaf is subject to a variety of dangers. Blight may settle on it; the tornado might tear it from the parent stem; the rain and the dew may be withheld; the scorching sun may wither; the birds of the heaven may devour it. We look at man, and we say, How subject is he to manifold forms of danger!
1. The hand of trial might break us. The difference between what we can bear and what we cannot may be a very slight degree. God will not lay upon us more than we are able to bear.
2. The hand of temptation may break us. Our reserves are soon used up. There is a kind of omnipresence of temptation. Yet no temptation hath overtaken us, but such as we are able to bear. The resisting power has been given us.
3. The hand of transition might break us. The leaf has to endure the most sudden and severe changes of temperature; but these minister to its strength and life. Think of the changes of human life--from affluence to poverty, from companionship to solitude, from one estate to another. Then comes the great change. But all the changes of our life are ordered by God, and leave us sometimes saddened, but not broken or destroyed.
IV. A leaf is the wonderful work of God. And a most wonderful work it is. And God made man. From the first His care has been for His lost child, His voice has been to the sons of men, and the great atonement has been a sacrifice for the world. We believe in God’s care for every leaf in the great forest of humanity.
V. A leaf is often broken by man. God’s tender mercies are over all His works. He will not break a leaf. Man will. There are those who come near the secrets of human lives, and could write interesting volumes, if they dared, on broken human leaves. Close with reflections--
1. Think of the strength of God.
2. Think of the possibilities of life.
3. Think of the position we occupy.
4. Think of the end that is coming. (W. M. Statham.)
A picture and a problem of life
I. A picture of life. It is a “leaf driven to and fro.” The words suggest four ideas.
1. Insignificance. “A leaf,” not a tree.
2. Frailty. “A leaf.” How fragile. The tree strikes its roots into the earth and often grows on for many years. But the leaf is only for a season. From spring to autumn is the period that measures its longest duration.
3. Restlessness. “Driven to and fro.” How unsettled is human life! Man is never at rest.
4. Worthlessness. A leaf that has fallen from the stem and tossed by the winds is a worthless thing. On its stem it was a thing of beauty and a thing of service to the tree, but now its value is gone. Job felt that his life was worthless, as worthless as a withered leaf and “dry stubble.”
II. A problem of life. “Wilt Thou break a leaf driven to and fro?” This question may be looked upon in two aspects.
1. As expressing error in sentiment. The idea in the mind of Job seems to have been that God was infinitely too great to notice such a creature as he, that it was unworthy of the Infinite to pay any attention whatever to a creature so insignificant and worthless. Two thoughts expose this error.
2. As capable of receiving a glorious answer. “Wilt Thou break a leaf driven to and fro?” Wilt Thou torment me forever? Writ Thou quench my existence? Take this as the question of suffering humanity, and here is the answer, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” “I have come that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly.” (Homilist.)
Thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth.
The iniquities of youth visited
The errors and sins of youth do often entail a very fearful responsibility and very heavy misery upon after life. Youth, which is the season of the first, and sometimes of the most violent temptation, is also unhappily the season of the greatest weakness. Of both temptation and weakness they are usually quite ignorant. The entrance of the path of active life is beset with dangers; and many are led away captive by divers lusts before,reason had fairly become seated upon her throne. These things do not pass over the mind like an idle wind. The stream of sin cuts furrows deep and wide into the very substance of man’s moral nature, overturns all that is good and lovely, overwhelms the fair blossoms and hopes of an intellectual harvest, and even if it retires, leaves, like the receding tide, but a barren surface, uncomely to the mental eye, and ungenial to all religious culture. Some of the evil consequences of early sin are found in the natural tendency of such a course of life; or, rather, in the effects which the providence of God causes, even in this world, to follow a deviation from His laws of moral government. Those who are grossly licentious in their youth pay part penalty by a premature and painful decay of their bodily faculties. Those who waste early years in mere frivolity become, in after life, men of confined intellectual views, and disinclined to all serious occupation. But temporal inconvenience and distress are not the only evil consequences arising from the iniquities of their youth. While religion does not discourage cheerfulness in youth, remember how awful is the warning which she utters to those who regard little else than mere amusement and present gratification. The habits formed in youth will mainly influence the whole future life. (J. Chevalier, B. D.)
The aggravations and sorrows of youthful iniquities
Sin is the source of all the sorrows that attend human nature; and its early workings, in the younger parts of life, lay a foundation for bitter reflections and for many sufferings afterwards. God’s “writing bitter things against him” seems to be an allusion to the custom of princes or judges, who used to have their decrees or sentences written, to signify their certain establishment. The “iniquities of his youth” were the sins committed in his younger days. His “possessing” these may relate to his distressing reviews of them, and to the grievous rebukes which he apprehended befell him on their account. Doctrine--That the sins of youth are highly provoking to God, and lay a foundation for bitter sorrows afterwards.
I. Why are the sins of youth highly provoking to God? Young people are apt to think themselves excusable for their sins and follies, and to be unconcerned about them. They imagine that the tricks and frolics of youth are very little, if at all displeasing to God, and that He will easily excuse and pardon them. But these thoughts of their hearts are some of their greatest and most dangerous follies. These lay them open to temptation, and harden and embolden them in the ways of sin. Such sins are transgressions, and they proceed from a corrupt and depraved nature, from evil dispositions of heart against the holy and blessed God, and from a disrelish of Him. Some peculiar circumstances aggravate youthful sins.
1. They are committed against God’s remarkable care and kindness towards you, while you are least able to help yourselves. What a kind benefactor has this God been! It must be very provoking in you to sin against such a kind and gracious, such a merciful and bounteous, such a great and good God as this.
2. They are an abuse of the most vigorous active part of your life. “The glory of young men is their strength.” If your strength is prostituted to sin, what provocation that must be to the God who gave it. In youth your minds are most active, and capable of being employed with sprightliness and fervour.
3. They are a waste of that valuable time of life which should be especially employed to lay in a stock for after use and service. The time of youth is the learning and improving time.
4. They strengthen and increase sinful habits within you. They are a confirmation and increase of those depraved dispositions that naturally belong to you as fallen creatures. You hereby consent to them and approve of them.
5. They destroy and pervert the advantage of tender affections. Sins of youth have a malignant influence upon your affections, making them exceeding sensual and vain. How dull and cold your affections become with regard to spiritual things!
6. They have a mischievous influence upon other young people. The evil example and enticements you set before them, are strong temptations to them to throw up all religion, and to run into the same excess of riot with you.
7. You cannot pretend, as some older persons do, that the cares or hurries of the world are your temptations to sin, or to neglects of the service of God, and of your soul’s concerns.
II. These provoking sins of youth lay a foundation for bitter sorrows afterwards.
1. In their own nature they tend to the bitterest sorrows. They separate between the holy God and you. They bring sufferings in character, circumstance, health, and lives.
2. They bring dreadful judgments of God in this life. His judgments concur with the natural tendencies of sin. Youthful sinners forfeit the promises of long life and prosperity, and expose themselves to the vengeance of God.
3. It is the fixed appointment of God that you shall either be brought to bitter repentance for your sins of youth in this world, or shall suffer severely for them in the next. If you live and die without sorrowing, after a godly sort, for the sins of youth, and without applying by faith to the blood of Christ for a pardon, you must unavoidably suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. Then be convinced of the need of pardoning and renewing grace. (John Guyse, D. D.)
Age lamenting the sins of youth
It would be hard, in any country which has been evangelised, to find an individual without some consciousness of sin. As God hath ever revealed Himself as a sin-hating God, He will never cease, by His dealings with man, to demonstrate this until the end of the world. The great mass of sinners certainly do not meet their recompense in this world, but they undoubtedly will in the next. This is not the great dispensation of rewards and punishments. It may be laid down, without fear of contradiction, that the consequences of the sins of the people of God are sure to meet them in this life; not that they may atone by their sufferings here for sins from whose eternal punishment they are delivered by the merits of Christ (for that were absurd to suppose), but in order that they may be better able to understand and enter into the mind of God with respect to sin, in order that they may feel its hatefulness and be purified from the love of it. The words of holy Job, which we have taken in hand to consider, give testimony to this. Job was, in the scriptural sense of the word, a just or justified man, yet we have him the greatest human example on record “of suffering affliction.” There is a connection between cause and effect in every part of God’s moral government of the world, and there never yet was sorrow where sin had not gone before it; not even the exception which some might feel inclined to make--the Man of Sorrows, Christ the Lord; He was afflicted because He bare our sins in His own body. We say then, with respect to the affliction of Job, that it was by no means an arbitrary or capricious dispensation of Jehovah. There was sin somewhere, or bitter things would never have been written against him. Job’s friends were good, though in their method of dealing with Job, mistaken men. Job denies their (personal) accusation, and asserts his innocence. Job’s friends were right in connecting sin with sorrow, but they were wrong in accusing Job of hypocrisy and gross dereliction from duty. Job was right in vindicating himself from the particular charges, but he erred in too strongly asserting his general innocence. Job’s error we find out from this, that his affliction was not removed until he made a full confession of his unworthiness; and the error of his friends we see in the atonement which Job was required to make for them. After pleading with God, there seems as if, suddenly, memory poured in a stream of light along the dark forgotten path of years gone by, exposing thoughts, words, and actions which he had supposed were hidden in the irrevocable past. Who can tell the searchings of that conscience, the clearness with which it saw in each stroke of the rod a remembrance of some former disobedience, compelling Job to acknowledge the justice as well as the severity of his punishment. Is it possible that a hoary head found in the way of righteousness should be thus defiled with the dust of repentance for the follies of early life; that the crown of gold which had been given to ripe and righteous age should now be dimmed and tarnished by the memorial of long forsaken transgression? Yes, David was an old man when he prayed to God, “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions.” It may be said that men do not sin so much from ignorance of the evil of disobedience, as from the foolish hope that it will be passed over by the Almighty--that it will never meet them again. It is under this delusion the young man acts, who, plunging into a course of transgression, takes no heed to cleanse his way according to God’s Word. Fancy the case of one, the prime of whose life has been devoted to sensualism. “His bones are full of the sin of his youth.” Sin cannot go unpunished; it may not be visited here on some, but hereafter their doom is certain. God will make us feel most keenly the guilt for which He pardons us; and our transgressions subsequent to our pardon will not be passed over. Think not, therefore, lightly of sin. Think not that yours will never meet you again. (C. O. Pratt, M. A.)
The possession of the iniquities of youth in afterlife
There is something striking in the expression “possessing the iniquities,” etc. It is as though the iniquities of youth so adhered and cleaved to a man in riper years that there was no possibility of shaking them off. The sins committed in the spring-time of life tell fearfully on its maturity and its decline. Two general points of view.
I. The warning to those who are just at the outset of life. We must make good the truth, and illustrate the fact, that men possess in afterlife the iniquities of their youth. The power of the warning must depend on the demonstration of the truth. How difficult, with reference to the things of the present state of being, it is to make up by after diligence for lost time in youth. If there have been a neglected boyhood, the consequences will propagate themselves to the extreme line of life. The ability changes with the period, and what we do not do at the right time, we want the strength to perform at any subsequent time. The same truth is exemplified with reference to bodily health. The man who has injured his constitution by the excesses of youth, cannot repair the mischief by after-abstinence and self-denial. The seeds of disease which have been sown while the passions were fresh and ungoverned, are not to be eradicated by the severest moral regimen which may be afterwards prescribed and followed. The possession of the iniquities of the youth which we wish most to exhibit is that which affects men when stirred with anxiety for the soul, and desirous to seek and obtain the pardon of sin. The indifference to religion which marks the commencement of a course will become in later life an inveterate and powerful habit. However genuine and effectual the repentance and faith of a late period of life, it is unavoidable that the remembrance of misspent years will embarrass those which you consecrate to God. Even with those who began early, it is a constant source of regret they began not earlier. By lengthening the period of irreligion, and therefore diminishing that of obedience to God, we almost place ourselves amongst the last of the competitors for the kingdom of heaven.
II. The explanation which this fact affords of proceedings which might otherwise seem at variance with God’s moral government. Job spoke matter of fact, whether or no he judged rightly in the view he took of his own case. The principle is, that the sins which righteous men have committed during the season of alienation from God, are visited upon them in the season of repentance and faith; so that they are made to possess, in suffering and trouble, those iniquities which have been quite taken away, so far as their eternal penalties are concerned, There is a vast mistake in supposing that the righteous may sin with impunity. We seem warranted in believing that peculiar trouble falls on the righteous, because riley are righteous, and because, therefore, God’s honour is intimately concerned in their being visited for transgression. If God is to be shown as displeased with the iniquities of His own people, as well as of His enemies, it must be seen in this life. The consequences of sin in God’s people must be experienced on this side the grave. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The sins of youth possessed in afterlife
Job regarded his calamities as the just demerits of his youthful failures and misdoings. Consider this sentiment--The evil deeds of a man’s early history are followed by their natural and legitimate consequences in his after life. Even as it respects (he present state, men cannot sin with impunity. This sentiment is illustrated--
I. In man’s physical constitution. Several species of iniquity are followed at an earlier or later period by consequences seriously felt in our bodily organisation. Many of the prevalent maladies of mankind are not the direct administrations of heaven, but the rightful consequences of actions which are violations at once of physical and moral laws; and if men will be guilty of these violations, God must work a miracle to prevent those results. Afflictive providences may be simply the sorrows which individuals unjust and cruel to themselves draw down upon their own heads. Illustrate by drunkenness, and by the sin of impurity. Than this crime there is none which more directly and surely entails physical suffering and death. Would you wish to avoid those maladies which, while they undermine and ruin the constitution, are the result of men’s own follies and crimes? Then avoid the practice of sin now. Devote your bodies and spirits to the service of Christ and the duties of eternity.
II. In man’s pecuniary interests and social position. Property and a respectable standing in society are blessings. We may pervert them, and thus use them for evil. We may apply them to their lawful uses, and thus make them the instruments of great and permanent good. Nothing more seriously affects a man’s worldly interests and his social standing than the course and conduct of his youth. Illustrate by Hogarth’s picture, “The Idle and Industrious Apprentice.” Through all time and everywhere these two propositions will hold true.
1. If property and respectability are not possessed at the outset of life, a course of vice in youth will prevent a man ever obtaining them.
2. If possessed at the outset, the same course will certainly deprive him of their possession. Like all rules, these admit of exceptions. By a course of vice, we mean certain species of vice, such as idleness, gambling, lying, pride, dishonesty, immorality. If you yield to vicious habits, your iniquities, like the wind, will carry you away. Providence will frown on your path. God will not interrupt His general administrations to work miracles for your advancement. His blessing will not attend you; and therefore your ways will not prosper.
III. In man’s mental and moral history. The mental powers we possess are among the chief blessings we hold from God. Hence the mind should be the object of careful and incessant culture. Alas! multitudes neglect the culture of the mind for the pursuit of sensual objects, and destroy its capabilities, either wholly or in part, by vice. Mental disorganisation is often the direct result of early crime. Early rioting distorts the imagination and beclouds the intellect. But the most distressing and fearful part of the inheritance remains. Is no possession entailed on man’s moral nature? Habits are made by youthful sins. The conduct of youth becomes the character of the man. Mere inattention to religion in youth grows and strengthens into a character fraught with imminent danger. You may not be openly immoral. But if you disregard the claims of the Gospel, you will grow up to maturity practical unbelievers. Growing in piety as you advance in years, you will increase in favour both with God and man. Your path will be one of usefulness, peace, and glory. (W. Waiters.)
The sins of youth productive of the sorrows of age
I. The sins of youth. Disregard of parental authority, forgetfulness of God, refusal of instruction, evil company, sensuality, intemperance, vain amusements, etc.
II. The sins of youth are highly provoking to God.
1. They are committed against His tender care and love towards them when they are least able to help themselves.
2. They are an abuse of the most vigorous part of life. Then the body is most active, healthy, and strong; then the mind is clear, and gradually strengthening, and very susceptible; then the talents can be better consecrated to the service of God. But all those rich advantages are prostituted to the service of sin and Satan.
3. It is an awful waste of precious time--that time which should be employed in gaining knowledge, purity, joy, and Christian experience.
4. They are contaminating in their influence. “One sinner destroyeth much good.”
5. The sins of youth, if persisted in, will tend to confirm the person in the commission of crime. The tenderness of human passions gradually decreases; warnings, etc., lose their influence; afflictions, judgments, death itself, at length affect not.
III. The sins of youth lay the foundation for bitter remorse, and sometimes for severe punishment. They often subject the sinner to judicial punishment in this life. The sins of youth affect--
1. The body. It is often wasted by disease which sin has produced.
2. The mind. This frequently suffers more than the body. “The spirit of a man may sustain his infirmities, but a wounded spirit who can bear?”
3. The future. Frequently the prospect is dark and dreadful; a “fearful looking for of judgment,” etc. Application--
1. Let the young be convinced that they need saving and renewing grace.
2. Let those who now bear the iniquities of their youth apply to the Almighty Saviour. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
The man possessing the iniquities of his youth
How very different do what Job calls “the iniquities of his youth” appear as regards each one’s own early history! One knows of none at all; another knows of some, but thinks very lightly of them; another “possesses his,” as Job did, which yet was not in a right way.
I. The iniquities of youth--what they are. The world judges by a poor standard, and views things through a perverted medium.
1. Iniquity in youth is of the very same character as iniquity in after life. Is there not frequent mistake on this point? How common are falsehoods in early life. Some think lightly of profane language in the young. There are several sins very common among the young--swearing, lying, stealing, fornication, etc. This is the fact, the moral law of God is fixed and unchangeable.
2. The unconverted life in youth is a course of “iniquity.” This some may think uncharitable; but our question is, How does God view things? How would He have us to view them? Is the case uncommon, of a man decent, decorous, virtuous, but one thing lacking, the heart given to God? There is iniquity, then, in that. For what is iniquity? That which is contrary to what is just and equal in God’s judgment.
3. In everyone who has been young there has been iniquity. There is iniquity in original sin, and in all sin in youth.
II. The ways in which God may “make a man possess the iniquities of his youth.”
1. In the way of retribution. The indulged love of pleasure and self-gratification in youth deadens the feelings, blunts the affections, and leaves the man a thoroughly selfish, hard-hearted creature. And if the youth be merely moral, without godliness, it often grows into the most confirmed self-righteousness in middle life.
2. In the way of conviction. His method of conviction varies in its process.
3. In the way of conversion.
4. In the way of consolation.
5. In the way of caution. “Go and sin no more” is the language of Christ to every pardoned penitent.
6. In the way of godly education of the young.
Some seem to think the consciousness of faults in their own youth should make them silent as to the faults of the young now, and if silent, then inactive in endeavours to correct them. This would be to help perpetuate our own and others’ faults. (John Hambleton, M. A.)
Possessing the sins of youth
Let it be remarked first, that they are the words of a good man. A second preliminary remark which I make is, that the words of our text were spoken by this good man when he was well advanced in life. In the beginning of the book, for example, we are informed that the patriarch had sons and daughters, and from what is said of their eating and drinking in their elder brother’s house, it is clear that some of them at least must have come to man’s estate. Their father must have been in middle life or beyond it. A third remark is, that these words were uttered by a good man well advanced in life, when he was under the pressure of severe and complicated affliction. Again, these words of our text are addressed to God, and that the language of the verse is of a judicial or forensic character. Job is arguing with God as the judge of the whole earth. He says in effect, “Thou hast pronounced a severe and terrible sentence upon me; Thou hast written bitter things against me; Thou makest me to inherit the sins of my youth; it is obvious to me, from the numerous and terrible and varied afflictions which are befalling me, that even the transgressions of my early years, which I thought had been long ago forgotten and forgiven, are coming upon me, and He who saith, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’ is demanding reparation.”
I. That youth is a season often marked by folly and iniquity. A consideration of the nature of the case would lead us to conclude that this is what might be expected. If a person were sent to walk in a place where there were many and dangerous pitfalls, many steep and lofty precipices, many and fierce wild beasts, there would be danger at any time of his being injured or destroyed, but that danger would be immeasurably increased if he were sent to walk in such a place while there was little or no light. In such circumstances it is almost certain that he would sustain injury,--it is highly probable that he would lose his life. Now, analogous to the position of the individual supposed is that of a young person in the world. There are many and dangerous pitfalls, and not a few of these which are in reality the most deadly are carefully concealed. The wealth and the honour and the pleasure of the present life have roads leading from them to great moral precipices, by which has been occasioned the ruin of many souls, and the poverty and disappointment and disease that exist in the world are fraught with danger. The young are like persons who walk in the dark--they have little knowledge or experience of these things; they naturally imagine that “all is gold that glitters.” Having been treated with kindness and truthfulness by those with whom they have had to do in infancy, they are induced to put confidence in those with whom they are brought into contact in after life. The animal and emotional part of their nature is powerful, while the intellectual and moral part of it is weak. Passion is strong while there is comparatively little moral restraint, and the soul is like a ship with its sails spread out to a fresh breeze, while from a deficiency of ballast there is danger every hour of its foundering amidst the waters. Not only might we come to such a conclusion from a consideration of the nature of the case, but the same truth is suggested by the warnings and exhortations of Scripture. Has it not been said, “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth,” “by what means shall a young man cleanse his way,” “exhort young men to be sober-minded”?
II. It is a very common thing for men to wish and attempt to get rid of the folly and iniquity of their youth. This is done in many ways.
1. How many are there, for example, who attempt to get rid of their sins by excusing them! Have you not heard persons speaking of the folly and sin that have been seen in the conduct of others in their younger years, concluding their remarks by saying, “But these were only the follies and sins of youth. We do not wish or expect to see old heads on young shoulders; we do not wish or expect to see in the young the staid and prudent demeanour of those who are more advanced in life; men must sow their wild oats at some period or other of their lives, and surely it is better far to do it in their early days than afterwards”? Now just as men are disposed to speak and think of the sins of others will they be disposed to think and speak of their own; or if there be a difference, it will be on the side of charity towards themselves.
2. How often do we attempt to palliate our sin and folly when we cannot altogether excuse them! There, for example, is the sensualist. When he thinks and speaks of his past conduct does he not seek consciously or unconsciously to diminish its enormity? Listen to him and observe the fine names which he is accustomed to use, and the convenient coloured roundabout phraseology in which he wraps up and paints his wickedness. He has been a drunkard, that is, he has not been once, but many times in a state in which the powers of mind and body were incapable, through the influence of intoxicating drink, of doing that for which God designed them, he could not think, and talk, and walk like a man; yet he speaks only of “living somewhat freely, of being a little elevated at times, of having occasionally taken a glass too much,” and when men speak of him as a drunkard he regards it as a gross insult.
3. Again, how often do we attempt to get rid of our sins by making some kind of atonement for them. They are willing to mortify themselves, and they engage in a course of obedience and worship with an earnest desire to make up by zeal and punctuality now for their lack of service in other days; ignorant of the free spirit of the Gospel of Jesus, they serve God in a spirit of bondage, their consciences meanwhile echoing the terrible declarations of the Scriptures, “By the deeds of the law no flesh living can be justified.” “Cursed is everyone who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.”
III. It is a very common thing for God to show men the fruitlessness of all such attempts as those of which we have been speaking and to make them possess the iniquities of their youth. There are some philosophers who hold that no thought or feeling which has ever passed through the mind of man is lost, but that it lives, although it may be in some dark recess of memory, and may at any time be brought forth in vividness and power; and there are many facts within the circle of the experience of all of us which suggest the great probability at least of this notion. The thoughts and feelings of man’s soul are not like the rays of light--those of today having no connection with or dependence on those of yesterday; but they are like the branches of a tree resting on and nourished by the roots. The roots of a man’s life are in the past, and he cannot, even if he would, break away from it. The gentle soul of an aged Christian, filled with the full assurance of hope, will sometimes shudder at the recollection of sinful passion long ago pardoned and subdued, even as the dark blue glassy surface of a tropical sea will sometimes heave from the influence of some remote ocean storm.
1. We observe then, first, that God often recalls our past sins to us by means of the dispensations of providence. When a man feels himself prematurely old, and knows, as he often does, that decay is the fruit of what he himself sowed in other years, how can he fail to read his sin in his punishment? But it is not only when there is a close connection between the sin and suffering that sin is brought to remembrance. There is sometimes in the very nature of the event that which is fitted to suggest scenes and circumstances of our past life. Look, for example, to the case of Jacob. He was deceived by his uncle Laban, and brought by a trick to marry Leah instead of Rachel. The conduct of Laban was a severe affliction to Jacob at the time, and it proved the source of discomfort and domestic strife afterwards; is it not in the highest degree probable that when the patriarch was so deceived and made to smart in this way, he thought of the fact that he himself had been guilty of conduct very like that of his uncle when he went in to his old blind father and said, “I am thy elder son, thy son Esau”? The case of Jacob’s sons in the land of Egypt is a very striking illustration of this. “We are verily guilty concerning our brother in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.”
2. Again we observe, that God often recalls past sins to us by the preaching of the Gospel. The woman of Samaria said of Jesus, who had preached the Gospel to her, “He told me all things that ever I did.”
3. Now why does God thus make a man possess the sins of his youth? Is it not that we may feel our need of the mercy which God has provided for us in the Gospel of His Son? (J. B. Johnston, D. D.)
The sins of youth in the groans of age
The popular thought is, let age be grave, and youth be gay. I question its rightness for two reasons.
1. Because where there is not godliness there is the strongest reason for the greatest gravity and gloom of spirit.
2. Where this godliness is, there is even stronger reason for joy in age than in youth. Call attention to the solemnity of youthful life.
I. Youth has its sins.
1. Want of knowledge. Youth is a period of ignorance and inexperience.
2. The force of passions. In the first stages of life we are almost entirely the creatures of sense: physical appetite, not moral ideas, rule us; we are influenced by feeling, not faith; the mind is the vassal of matter.
3. Susceptibility to influence. This is a characteristic of youth; the sentiments, language, conduct of others are powerful influences in the formation of its own. Character is formed, in fact, on the principle of imitation.
II. The sins of youth descend to age. Job regarded himself as heir to them; they were his heritage, he could not shake them off. Youthful sins are bound by the indissoluble chain of causation to the man’s futurity. There are three principles that secure this connection.
1. The law of retribution.
2. The law of habit.
3. The law of memory.
III. Their existence in age is a bitter thing.
1. They are bitter things to the body in old age. Every sin has an evil effect on the physical health.
2. They are bitter things to the soul in old age. To the intellect, the heart, and the conscience.
IV. They are a “bitter thing” in age, even where the sufferer is a godly man. Old errors cannot be corrected; old principles cannot be uprooted; old habits cannot be broken in a day. The conclusion of the whole is this,--the importance of beginning religion in youth. The chances are that unless it is commenced in youth, it will never be commenced at all. There are but few conversions in middle life. As we begin we are likely to end. (Homilist.)
The iniquities of youth repossessed
I. Explain the language of the text.
1. “Thou writest bitter things against me.” This refers either to the record which God keeps of our offences, or to the punishments which He has decreed against us. Men cannot bear to be reminded of their sins. God keeps a record. There is an avowed and express purpose for which our sins are written down. With every sin God writes a curse.
2. “Thou makest me to possess the inequities of my youth.” The conscience of the sinner himself is also made the depository of his manifold offences. It is an unspeakable mercy, if, by any means, God makes us to possess or remember the iniquities of our youth. But the manner in which He does this is often most painful and distressing. He sends affliction upon men in such ways that they are often compelled to see the very sin which they have committed in the temporal chastisement which they suffer. Some sins are brought to our recollection--
1. By bodily diseases.
2. By the ruin of our worldly circumstances.
3. By our feeling the influence of bad habits.
4. By trouble of conscience and a restless mind.
II. Apply the subject to various characters.
1. Awaken those who are secure and asleep in a careless and irreligious life.
2. Affectionately warn young people against the temptations to which they are exposed.
3. Speak words of comfort to the humble-minded. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
The influence of youthful sin
Among the reminiscences of a political leader published by a Boston journal, is one of a national convention of the party to which he belonged. He says that the first day’s proceedings developed the fact that the balance of power in the nomination of a candidate for the Presidency would rest with the delegation from a certain State. The delegates met in caucus at night with closed doors. In the discussion that ensued, the name of a prominent man was urged, and was received with favour. Only one of the delegates, a judge of some eminence in the State, knew him personally, and he not intimately. He was asked for his opinion. In reply, he said that he was at college with the prospective candidate, and he would relate one incident of college life. He did so, and it showed that the young man was in those days destitute of moral principle. The delegates were satisfied that, although brilliant, he was a man they could not trust, and they unanimously resolved to cast the votes of the State for his rival. The next day the vote was given, as decided, and the man to whom it was given was nominated and elected. Little did the young college man think, when he committed that escapade, that a score of years later it would be the sole cause of his missing one of the great prizes of earth--that of being the ruler of millions of people. But sin is always loss, and unless it is blotted out by the blood of Christ, it will cause the sinner to lose the greatest prize attainable to a human being in the world beyond the grave--eternal life (Luke 13:3).
Thou settest a print upon the heels of my feet.
True religion there cannot be without an abiding sense of our responsibilities. We must discover and realise our moral obligations, or we can never meet and discharge them. What is meant by moral responsibility? It implies that God will call man to account for his whole character and conduct, and will render to every man accordingly. To every man time is a state of probation, and eternity a state of retribution. The doctrine of our responsibility lies within us, graven on our very being by the Spirit of God Himself. We are apt to forget the extent of this responsibility. We look upon it as a mere generality. Note, then, we are responsible for our thoughts and our actions. The responsibility extends to every word of our lips, and to every stepping of our feet. As we walk, we write the history of our movements--write them down forever. Some footprints can outlive ages, as the geologists show us. God will remind you that He put a print into the heel of your foot, that He might bring you into judgment for your movements upon earth. Here is a thought upon a part of our responsibilities we are apt to forget. We cannot move but we carry with us our Christian obligations, and our consequent relationship to the day of judgment necessarily attending those obligations. Every single step has left behind it an eternal footprint which determines in what direction we walk, in what character we move.
1. Wherever we move we carry with us our personal and individual responsibility. In every change of place and contact with man on the travel we act as beings who must give an account to God. Then call to mind the obligations that rest on you.
2. We are all so constituted as to exert a relative influence on each other. There is no member of the human family who does not sustain some relation, either original or acquired, either public or private, either permanent or temporary; nor is there any relation which does not invest the person sustaining it with some degree of interest. Do we think as we ought of this? (J. C. Phipps Eyre, M. A.)
And he, as a rotten thing, consumeth, as a garment that is moth-eaten.
“A revival of commercial confidence cannot be expected so long as rotten trading establishments continue to deceive the world.” The cause of bad trade is that we have neglected personal religion, and have been almost eaten up by a selfish cancer. There would never be either a failure or a panic if all commercial men made the Lord Jesus their secret but active partner in every business transaction. We are apt to consider a defect in our character to be nothing more than as a spot of rust on a bright fender by the kitchen fire. It is really the fruit of a spiritual dry rot, which while we appear pious and respectable in outside show, is eating away the inner strength of true manhood. When love and benevolence fade it is on account of a rotten thing which consumeth the good actions of a Christian, as a moth consumes a garment. Years ago, our Christian light shone brightly--some of us were the life of religious meetings, the pioneer in saving the lost, the foremost in every good work. Once some of us felt that we had something to live for, but a stupor has come over us, and we have lost all anxiety to fulfil our destiny. Inquire into the private history of those who exhibit feebleness and decay in their Christian life, in the hope that we may discover our evils and obtain a remedy. Consider private prayer. The cause of neglect may be an indulged sin. Look at the motives of your actions. Look into the shop window of your religion. A word to those who are outwardly respectable, but are inwardly bound by a secret chain to some evil thing. It is of your own will that you are bound to your sin. You might escape, if you would. Have you chained yourself to sin? (W. Bird.)
Struggles of conscience
I. A little by way of consolation. We desire to comfort you who wish to feel more and more your sins. The best of men have prayed this prayer of the text before you. Remember that you never prayed like this years ago when you were a careless sinner. Then you did not want to know your guilt. Moreover, it is very probable that you do already feel your guilt, and what you are asking for you already have in measure realised.
II. A few words of instruction. See how God will answer such prayers. Sometimes by allowing a man to fall into more and more gross sin. Or by opening the eyes of the soul; not so much by providence, as by the mysterious agency of the Holy Spirit. How can we get to know our sins and the need of the Saviour?
1. Hear a personal ministry.
2. Study much the law of God.
3. Go to Calvary.
III. A few sentences by way of discrimination. Discriminate between the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the devil. It is the work of the Spirit to make thee feel thyself a sinner, but it never was His work to make thee feel that Christ could forget thee. Satan always, works by trying to counterfeit the work of the Spirit. Then take care thou dost not try to make a righteousness out of thy feelings.
IV. A last point by way of exhortation. It is a very great sin not to feel your guilt, and not to mourn over it, but then it is one of the sins that Jesus Christ atoned on the tree. Come to Jesus, because it is He only who can give you that heart for which you seek; and because He can soften thy heart, and thou canst never soften it thyself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24