Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Job 21

Verses 1-34

Job 21:1-34

But Job answered and said.

Job’s third answer

There is more logic and less passion in this address than in any of Job’s preceding speeches. He felt the dogma of the friends to be opposed--

I. To his consciousness of rectitude. If their dogma was true, he must be a sinner above all the rest, for his sufferings were of the most aggravated character. But he knew that he was not a great sinner.

1. This consciousness urged him to speak.

2. It gave him confidence in speaking.

3. It inspired him with religious solemnity. The providential ways of God with man are often terribly mysterious. Under these mysterious events solemn silence rather than controversy is most befitting us.

II. To his observation of facts.

1. He saw wicked men about him. He notes their hostility to God, and their devotion to self.

2. He saw such wicked men very prosperous. They prosper in their persons, their property, and their posterity.

3. He saw wicked men happy in living and dying. Job states these things as a refutation of the dogma that his friends held and urged against him.

III. To his historic knowledge. He refers to the testimony of other men.

1. They observed, as I have, that the wicked are often protected in common calamities.

2. That few, if any, are found to deal out punishment to wicked men in power.

3. That the Wicked man goes to his grave with as much peace and honour as other men.

IV. To his theory of providence. Though nothing here expresses Job’s belief in a state of retribution beyond the grave, we think it is implied. I see not how there can be any real religion, which is supreme love to the Author of our being, where there is not a well-settled faith in a future state. Conclusion. God’s system of governing the race has been the same from the beginning. He has never dealt with mankind here on the ground of character. True, there are occasional flashes of Divine retribution which reveal moral distinctions and require moral conduct; but they are only occasional, limited, and prophetic. No stronger argument for a future state of full and adequate retribution it would be possible to have, than that which is furnished by God’s system of governing the world. (Homilist.)

Verses 1-34

Job 21:1-34

But Job answered and said.

Job’s third answer

There is more logic and less passion in this address than in any of Job’s preceding speeches. He felt the dogma of the friends to be opposed--

I. To his consciousness of rectitude. If their dogma was true, he must be a sinner above all the rest, for his sufferings were of the most aggravated character. But he knew that he was not a great sinner.

1. This consciousness urged him to speak.

2. It gave him confidence in speaking.

3. It inspired him with religious solemnity. The providential ways of God with man are often terribly mysterious. Under these mysterious events solemn silence rather than controversy is most befitting us.

II. To his observation of facts.

1. He saw wicked men about him. He notes their hostility to God, and their devotion to self.

2. He saw such wicked men very prosperous. They prosper in their persons, their property, and their posterity.

3. He saw wicked men happy in living and dying. Job states these things as a refutation of the dogma that his friends held and urged against him.

III. To his historic knowledge. He refers to the testimony of other men.

1. They observed, as I have, that the wicked are often protected in common calamities.

2. That few, if any, are found to deal out punishment to wicked men in power.

3. That the Wicked man goes to his grave with as much peace and honour as other men.

IV. To his theory of providence. Though nothing here expresses Job’s belief in a state of retribution beyond the grave, we think it is implied. I see not how there can be any real religion, which is supreme love to the Author of our being, where there is not a well-settled faith in a future state. Conclusion. God’s system of governing the race has been the same from the beginning. He has never dealt with mankind here on the ground of character. True, there are occasional flashes of Divine retribution which reveal moral distinctions and require moral conduct; but they are only occasional, limited, and prophetic. No stronger argument for a future state of full and adequate retribution it would be possible to have, than that which is furnished by God’s system of governing the world. (Homilist.)

Verse 7

Job 21:7

Wherefore do the wicked live?

Reason for the existence of the wicked on earth

I. As witnesses to attest.

1. The amount of freedom with which man is endowed. How free is man compared to everything about him.

2. The wonderful forbearance of God.

3. The existence of an extraordinary element in the Divine government of this world. We know that in heaven beings live and are happy because they are holy; we are taught that in hell there is inexpressible misery because there is such awful sin. But here are men living often to a good old age, often possessing all they can wish of earthly comfort, and yet rebels against God, without repentance, without faith, without love, and we wonder why this world is thus an exception. Earth is under a mediatorial government. This great mystery of Christ’s suffering for man, and prolonging his probation, can alone explain the other great mystery, that men of debased spirit and godless life are permitted to live here instead of being banished to hell.

II. As instruments to discipline.

1. In calling out resistance. “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; when he is tried he shall receive a crown of life.” The wicked are often as the chisel by which God carves out the good man’s character, the fires by which it is purified.

2. By calling out the Christian’s benevolence. Our compassion, prayers, self-sacrifice, work, are all called forth by the existence of the wicked.

III. As beacons to warn.

1. As to the progress of sin.

2. As to the effects of sin.

IV. As criminals to reform. This is the grand end of their prolonged life. The world is a great reformatory. (Urijah R. Thomas.)

Why do the live

?--

1. That they may have the opportunity of being reconciled to God.

2. That they may be the instruments of good to others.

3. That they may display the long suffering and forbearance of God.

4. That they may furnish an argument for a future state of retribution.

5. That they may demonstrate the equity of their own everlasting condemnation. (G. Brooks.)

Why do the wicked live

They build up fortunes that overshadow the earth, and confound all the life insurance tables on the subject of longevity, some of them dying octogenarians, or perhaps nonagenarians, or possibly centenarians. Ahab in the palace, and Elijah in the loft. Unclean Herod on the throne, and Paul, the consecrated, twisting ropes for tent making. Manasseh, the worst of all the kings of Judah, lives the longest. While the general rule is that the wicked do not live out half their days, there are instances where they live to a great age in paradises of beauty and luxury, with a whole college of physicians expending its skill in the attempt for further prolongation, and then have a funeral with coffin under mountains of calla lily and a procession with all the finest equipages of the city flashing and jingling into hue, taking the poor angleworm of the dust out to its hole in the ground with a pomp that might make the passing spirit from some other world think that the archangel Michael was dead. Go up among the great residences of our cities and read the door plates and see how many of them hold the names of men mighty for commercial or social iniquity, vampires of the century, Gorgons of the ages. Every wheel of their carriage is a Juggernaut wet with the blood of those sacrificed to their avarice and evil design. Men who are like Caligula, who wished that all people were in one neck that he might cut it off at one blow. Oh, the slain! the slain! what a procession of libertines, of usurers, of infamous quacks, of legal charlatans, of world-grabbing monsters. What apostles of despoliation! what demons incarnate thousands of men who have concentrated all their energies of body, mind, and soul into one prolonged and ever-intensified and unrelenting effort to sacrifice and blast and consume the world! I do not blame you for asking the quivering, throbbing, burning, resounding, appalling question of the text: “Why do the wicked live?” (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Verse 13

Job 21:13

And in a moment go down to the grave.

Things contingent upon a moment

Whatever begins, begins in a moment, and whatever ends, ends in a moment. Thoughts and purposes are formed in a moment--plans contemplated for years are decided in a moment--instantaneously. In so short a space everything comes to life and expires. In a moment we plant seed which takes centuries to grow, but which, in a moment only, the storm may cast down to the ground. The lightning may, in a moment, blast the work of a thousand years. A man’s character may be ruined in a moment. In a little space of time it begins to go down. Break the law of gravitation, and crash would go creation. Job is moralising thus with his friends, and it seems to him strange that one event befalls the righteous and the wicked. It is a quick text, and has a sudden termination.

1. Life is a very little thing. It may be crushed as we would crush an eggshell. It need not take an hour to strike the blow which shall shiver it. Indeed, the wonder is that with such a little thing we live at all, for death is lurking all around us--the destructive forces so thick, that it seems as if the earth was made of nothing else. The pestilence rings at no man’s door to toll of its coming, but it comes suddenly, and sweeps hundreds of men into the tomb. We stand on the grave’s brink every day.

2. Some men think death to be a long way off when the precipice is right at their side, and they are liable to fall into it at any moment. The young are not more free from the enemies of destruction than their parents. The great and the small, the good and the evil, are taken away in a moment. What is to rescue us from death’s dominion? Moses on Pisgah’s top might plead that he was but 120 years old, that his eye was not dim, that he greatly desired to enter the promised land, but the plea was too weak, and he laid him down there on the top of the Mount. The man of business may plead that he is young and healthy, and his plans not yet accomplished; but death is inexorable, and he bows his head and gives up the ghost. Charles I and Marie Antoinette might plead their royal blood, or the popular will in their exaltation, but the executioner’s axe severed their heads and their excuses in a moment. Death cares for none of these things.

3. How suddenly, too, his arrows fly. Like that night in Egypt, when suddenly at midnight the gleam of the destroying angel’s sword was seen in the darkness, and, in a moment, the firstborn of all that land passed from life to death. The king’s son and the chained captive lie side by side in death’s embrace, and a kingdom is in tears. How sudden the exit of Dickens, Thackeray, and others, hurried off ere their last chapter was written and last page dried. And sometimes death aggravates his work, and takes thousands on the battlefield, and hacks and tears them ¢o pieces; or, on the steamer, burns and scalds their flesh from their bones. Learn from destructive forces being near not to tempt Providence by carelessness and negligence. A great deal is sot down to Providence which should be set down to ourselves. And let us be always ready, since but a step between us and the grave! (Anon.)

Verse 14

Job 21:14

Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Thy ways.

The riches of grace

Job shows that wicked men may prosper in life and health (verse 7); in their multitude of children (verse 8); in tranquillity and safety (verse 9); in success and increase of their substance (verse 10); in wealth, security, and pleasure (verses 11, 12, 13). Job sets down two things--their sin, in the text; their punishment, in verse 13. The text contains three things--Wicked men’s contempt of grace. Their contempt of the means of grace. The profaneness of their lives. From the first of these,--a wicked man’s contempt of grace, observe this doctrine:--That a wicked man doth not so much as desire saving grace. A true desire of grace is a supernatural appetite to grace not had for the goodness of it. Four things in this appetite--

1. It is an appetite of the soul to grace, when the heart doth even go out of itself for the attaining of grace. A hungry appetite signifies a hunger unfeigned, which is unsupportable without meat, so that he who truly desires grace cannot be without grace: nothing can satisfy him but meat, though he had all the wealth of the world. Hunger is irrepulsable, so he who truly desires grace will not let God alone, but begs and cries for it. And hunger is humble, it is not choice in its meat, it will be content with anything.

2. It is a supernatural appetite, distinguished from that which natural men have, and yet hate grace.

3. It is an appetite or desire after grace not had. No desire is desire indeed, but true desire; because grace is above the reach of nature; because grace is contrary to nature; because grace is a hell unto the natural man. The first step to grace is to see that we have no grace. Grace which wicked men desire, is not true grace. Thy hands and thy heart are full of corruption, so that though grace lie even at thy feet, yet thou canst not receive it up, unless thou empty thy hands and thy heart. Wherefore if there be any lust, though never so dear, any bosom sin, which thou wilt not part with; it is an evident sign that thou hast not a true desire of grace. It is a vehement desire, if true; a lukewarm desire is no true desire. Though delight be an effect of true desire, yet it is also a sign of grace, because grace in potentia is in the ordinance of God. Therefore the man that desires grace, he will delight in the ordinances of grace. The more delays the greater becomes the desire; delays are as oil cost into the fire, which makes the flame the greater. If thy desires be true, thou hast gotten some grace: examine therefore thyself. They that truly desire grace, desire the means of grace. Men that desire a crop of corn, they will be at the cost, charges, and pains, for ploughing, harrowing, and sowing of their ground. How shall we get our hearts truly to desire grace?

1. Learn to know it. Grace is such an admirable thing, that if men knew it, they could not bet desire it. The taste of grace is sweet and dainty, that if we could but once taste it, our hearts would ever water after it, and we should have little lust to the contrary evil. If you would desire grace, then purge out the ill-humours of sin out of thy soul. Fear to offend God, for the fear of evil is the desire of good. The desire of the righteous is only good; he desires God, and Christ, and the eternal love of God in Christ to be manifested to him, and therein he rests himself; but the hope of the wicked is indignation, he only desires the base self of the world; but the wrath of heaven is with that, and he shall bewail his own soul, that for such base things he should refuse the eternal good, and neglect it. In God there is all good. God is such a good, that without Him nothing is good. (William Penner, B. D.)

The sinner’s prayer

I. This prayer reveals to us the awful condition of the human heart. Lower than this neither man nor demon can sink, for what is it but saying, “Evil be thou my good, darkness be thou my light”? Here we have the climax of criminal audacity. The climax of self-deception. And the climax of ingratitude.

II. This prayer shows us the nearness of God to man. The difficulty is not for man to find God, but to avoid finding Him. There is underlying this prayer a profound consciousness of the Divine presence. The sinner fools that God is near, but he would be altogether without Him, if he could.

III. This prayer expresses the conviction of men, that the Lord’s claims upon them are founded on reason and truth. God invites them to reason with Him, to consider their ways, to ascertain the character of His commandments. They desire not the knowledge of God’s ways. It is this reluctance to give the Gospel any attention, this indisposition to think about eternal things, which hardens men in their sin and folly, and ensures their destruction.

IV. This prayer sets before us the great contrast which exists between the converted and the unconverted. Those who are not converted, pray in their hearts and lives that the Lord will depart from them. The converted thirst after God as the hart pants for the water brooks.

V. This prayer illustrates the long suffering of God. The very fact that men offer this prayer and still live, exhibits the Lord’s forbearance and compassion in the most striking manner.

VI. The answer to this prayer involves the most serious consequences to those who offer it. If persevered in, the answer will come. There is a bound beyond which men cannot pass with impunity. It is a fearful thing to be left alone of God, to be suffered to sin unrestrained, and to drink in iniquity like water. This is the result of the prayer being answered. (H. B. Ingrain.)

The language of impiety

The more God does for wicked men, the more ill affected they are towards Him.

I. Observe the language of impenitent prosperity.

1. “They say.” They not only conceive it in their thoughts, but utter it in words. Persons are lost to all fear and shame, when instead of suppressing, or so much as concealing their sinful thoughts, they can publish them abroad, and let the world know their strong propensity to evil.

2. “They say unto God.” To speak to the Lord is a great privilege, and to do it with humility, reverence, and delight, is an important duty. How opposite is the language we are contemplating. How full of irreverence and daring impiety!

3. “Depart from us.” The Divine presence is exceedingly desirable to a good man, nor can he be happy without it; but it is far otherwise with the carnal heart.

4. They impiously say, “We desire not the knowledge of Thy ways.” Sinners are not only ignorant, but willing to continue so. They dislike the way in which God walks. And they are equally averse to the way in which God has directed His creatures to walk, the way of holiness and happiness, of humility and self-denial, of faith and love, and evangelical obedience.

II. The sources of this impiety. No reason can be rendered for a thing in itself so unreasonable.

1. This ignorance proceeds from pride.

2. From practical atheism.

3. From hatred and aversion.

4. From slavish fear and dread.

5. There is an utter contrariety of nature which renders the sinner averse from God, and from a knowledge of His ways. Reflections--

God repudiated

I. God offers to instruct and guide men in the knowledge of his ways. Wicked men could not say to God, Depart, unless He came near to them. No truth is more clear than that our Lord really desires to instruct men in His ways, that He may bless them with His favour. In the Bible God has revealed the methods by which we may learn His will, gain His grace, and be saved; and this Word, with all its priceless offers, His providence has placed in our hands. In the whole capabilities of human thought can there be a more wonderful, a vaster idea than this: the absolute and Almighty Sovereign, instead of subduing rebellious subjects by power, perseveringly seeking to win them by love!

II. Some repel these gracious offers. The practical response of every unregenerate soul, acquainted with the Gospel, to these proffers of God, is “Depart from me.” This is the virtual utterance, not only of the profligate and profane, but of all who practically repudiate the law of the Lord as a rule of their lives. Every sinner makes the gratification of his own propensities and desires--not the will of the Lord--the rule of his life. Even what he does that is right and good, he does because he chooses, not because God requires it.

III. The sinner’s strange reason for his repulse of God. “We desire not.” Yet the human intellect craves for knowledge. Men want to know what history, literature, philosophy, science can teach. But of the ways of the great God, who made and governs all things, they desire not to know. See some of the causes of this unreasonable aversion.

1. The mode of acquiring knowledge of God is too humbling for the depraved, human will.

2. A subtle, scarcely acknowledged unbelief in the inspiration and authority of the Bible.

3. The supreme reason is the love of sin,

4. Others do not desire a knowledge of God’s ways now. Not yet, but at some convenient future season they hope to learn more of this matter. (J. L. Burrows, D. D.)

Verse 15

Job 21:15

What profit should we have, if we pray unto Him?

The profitableness of religion

Let me first lay down the doctrine, that no man can hold the Christian view of God’s personality and dominion without his whole intellectual nature being ennobled. He no longer looks at things superficially; he sees beyond the grey, cold cloud that limits the vision of men who have no God; the whole sphere of his intellectual life receives the light of another world. The difference between his former state and his present condition, is the difference between the earth at midnight and the earth in the glow and hope of a summer morning! This is not mere statement. It is statement based upon the distinctest and gladdest experience of our own lives, and based also upon the very first principles of common sense. The finer and clearer our conceptions of the Divine idea, the nobler and stronger must be our intellectual bearing and capacity. When the very idea of God comes into the courses of man’s thinking, the quality of his thought is changed; his outlook upon life widens and brightens; his tone is subdued into veneration, and his inquisitiveness is chastened into worship. Intellectually the idea of God is a great idea. It enters the mind, as sunlight would startle a man who is groping along a path that overhangs abysses in the midst of starless gloom. The idea “God” cannot enter into the mind, and mingle quietly with common thinking. Wherever that idea goes, it carries with it revolution, elevation, supremacy. I am speaking, please to observe, not of a cold intellectual assent to the suggestion that God is, but of a reverent and hearty faith in His being and rule. Such a faith never leaves the mind as it found it. It turns the intellect into a temple; it sets within the mind a new standard of measure and appraisement; and lesser lights are paled by the intensity of its lustre. Is this mere statement? It is statement; but it is the statement of experience; it is the utterance of what we ourselves know; because comparing ourselves with ourselves we are aware that we have known and loved the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that since we have done so, our intellectual life has sprung from the dust, and refreshed itself at fountains which are accessible only to those who live in God. This, then, is the first position which I lay down for your thought and consideration, namely: That no man can entertain with reverence and trust the idea that God is, without his whole intellectual nature being lifted up to a higher plane than it occupied before; without his mind receiving great access of light and vigour. Do you tell me that you know some men who profess to believe in God, and who sincerely do believe in His existence and His government, and yet they are men of no intellectual breadth, of no speciality in the way of intellectual culture and nobleness? I hear you; I know what you say, and I believe it. But will you tell me what those men would have been, small as they are now, but for the religion that is in them? I know that at present they are very minute, intellectually speaking,--exceedingly small and microscopic. But what would they have been if the idea of God’s existence and rule had never taken possession of their intellectual nature? Besides that, they are on the line of progress. There is a germ in them which may be developed, which may, by diligent culture, by reverent care, become the supreme influence in their mental lives. Please to remember such modifications when you are disposed to sneer at men who, though they have a God in their faith and in their hearts, are yet not distinguished by special intellectual strength. You tell me that you know some men who never mention the name of God, and who, therefore, seem to have no religion at all; who are men of very brilliant intellectual power, very fertile in intellectual resources, and who altogether have distinguished themselves in the empire of Mind. I believe it. But will you tell me what these men might have been if they had added to intellectual greatness a spirit of reverence and adoration? Can you surely tell me that those men would not have been greater had they known what it is to worship the one living and true God? Not only is there an ennoblement of the nature of a man, as a whole, by his acceptance of the Christian idea of God--there is more. That in itself is an inexpressible advantage; but there is a higher profit still, forasmuch as there is a vital cleansing and purification of a man’s moral being. Let a man receive the Christian idea of God, let him believe fully in God, as revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ, and a new sensitiveness is given to his conscience; he no longer loses himself in the mazes of a cunning casuistry; he goes directly to the absolute and final standard of righteousness; all moral relations are simplified; moral duty becomes transparent;. he knows what is right, and does it; he knows the wrong afar off, and avoids it. (Joseph Parker.)

Profitable prayer

You will see at once on looking at the context in what spirit this question is asked. Job puts the words into the mouth of ungodly men, whose prosperity he could not understand, “Wherefore,” he asks, “do the wicked live, become old, yea, wax mighty in power?” Describing their outward condition he says, “Their seed is established” (verses 8-13). But blessings such as these, instead of evoking some such thanksgiving as “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits,” make them forgetful, even defiant of Him. It is an extreme and offensive utilitarianism which prompts the inquiry, and in these days if it could be proved to a mathematical demonstration that praying always produces material advantage, if prosperity and prayer were invariably associated, as fortunately they are not, the number of knees bent in outward worship would be indefinitely increased, and to all outward appearance we should become a praying nation. But perplexities gather around the subject of prayer to men of a far nobler type than those contemplated in the words before us. The uniformity of so-called nature, the absence of any expression of sympathy visible to human eye, or audible to human ear from either nature, or the God of nature, in times when we are faint with fear or overwhelmed with anxiety; the unchangeableness of God, even the sublime truth of the reality of the Divine Fatherhood lead some to think, “Well, if God is in reality my Father, He is sure to do the very best possible thing for me, whether I pray to Him or whether I do not.” So let us try and lift up the question of our text into a higher and purer atmosphere than that which, as asked by a godless, material prosperity, surrounds it.

I. Now, in order to give any answer to the question, we must be able to say to whom we pray, and must have some clear idea of what we mean by prayer. Let us address ourselves to these questions first. When we speak of prayer, to whom do we pray? Now it is quite plain that prayer can only be addressed to a personal Being. If we resolve God into an inexorable fate, from the relentless grip of which escape is impossible, then the question of our text is meaningless. Fate implies an inevitable destiny which can in no way be altered. Or if we resolve God into a mere force or energy or tendency, which works mechanically and blindly without thought or feeling or will, the question is equally meaningless. It is simply an absurdity to pray to a force, an energy, or a tendency. Or if God is an unknown God, of whom and of whose character we cannot speak with any certainty, then in no full Christian sense of the word can we pray unto Him. Or, if whilst ascribing such attributes as omnipotence and omniscience to Him, we think of Him as far removed from this world, having delegated its affairs to certain forces which, quite apart from Him, work according to certain laws, as we say, laws which He has established, but with which He has no further connection, then it is simply absurd to pray. Or if we think of Him as arbitrarily working out His own will, that will having nothing whatever to do with the welfare of His creatures, it is manifestly absurd to pray. Now all will admit that such conceptions, so current amongst us, are as contrary as they can be to what Jesus taught us about God. But whilst we may reject them, does our conception of God rise to the level of what Jesus taught us? To many the central thought about God is that which underlies the expression, to many perhaps the most common of all, and that commonness to which we owe, perhaps, more to the influence of the Prayer book than to any other cause, the expression “Almighty God.” A power which cannot be limited, a pressure from which there is no escape, a nature which knows no change, are the main elements of the conception which many entertain about God. But such physical attributes lay no sufficient basis for prayer. They may exist, to a large extent, in combination with other attributes which render prayer an absurdity. And even if we add intellectual attributes, such as infinite knowledge, a wisdom which cannot possibly err in thought or deed, we are far from having reached the central conception of God as Jesus revealed Him to us. His avowed object in coming into the world being, as He repeatedly assured us, to reveal God, surely the fact is full of significance that He never emphasised these attributes, which we put into the forefront, such attributes as infinity, unchangeableness, eternity, omnipotence, and so on? The great question is, Who is He to whom such attributes belong? To speak of God as the Almighty One, the Eternal One, the Unchangeable One, in inquiring who God is, is about as accurate and full of meaning as if in defining the rose, we were to speak of it as “the sweet” or “the red.” We want to know who it is who is infinite, who it is who is eternal, who it is who is omniscient, who it is who is unchangeable. And this is the question which Christ answers. He reveals to us God’s nature, not merely His attributes. He tells us who it is who is almighty, who it is who is unchangeable, and so on. And there is no uncertainty whatever in what He taught. Fatherliness is no mere attribute of God. Father is the one and only word which sets forth His nature; He of whom all these attributes are affirmed is the righteous Father, the Holy Father, the ideal Father. It is the Father, then, who is at the helm of the universe, over all and in all, constrained in everything He does by no law whatever save and except the law of His holy will. It is He to whom the welfare of everyone, without exception, is unspeakably dear, dearer than the welfare of your beloved child is to you.

II. Now let us ask what we mean by prayer. As used in a general and less exact sense, it often includes all that is comprehended in communion with God--adoration, confession, thanksgiving, intercession. In its narrower and more exact sense, it means simply asking, as when our Lord said, “Ask, and ye shall receive.” The best definition I ever saw of prayer is by the late T.H. Green, of Oxford, when he says, “Prayer is a wish referred to God.” Now, manifestly, what we ask from God must be regulated largely by what we think about Him. And if we pray to the God and Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, there are certain thoughts about Him which will never be absent when we ask anything from Him. The first is that the Father can grant anything we ask. Here is the true place for omnipotence. His power is not hemmed in by any bounds at all, excepting only those of physical or moral impossibilities. No force limits, for there is no force in which He is not. Force is merely the mode of His working. No law limits Him, for law is simply a term which we use to express what we have learned in apparently the inviolable mode of His action. There is no entity, no being with nature which is outside of Him which controls Him in any measure. Apart, then, from that which is physically and morally impossible, God can do everything. It is not a thing incredible that He should raise the dead. There is no sickness which He cannot heal. There is no calamity which He cannot avert. “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” Again, there is no limit on the side of God’s willingness to give us what we desire to have. This is simply an axiom if the great central truth of Christianity is conceded. But all this seems to be completely at issue with the facts which stare us in the face. It seems to be denied point blank by the experiences of life. With unutterable anguish written on uplifted face, and the body bathed in bloody sweat, the cry is extorted from us at all times, “Oh, Father, do take this cup away,” but it has to be drunk to its very dregs. The breadwinner in some dependent family, who has hardly known an idle hour, who has spent his little all, both of means and strength, on the small country farm he has tilled, obliged to sell everything that he might retain the honesty of his name, drifts into some metropolitan centre. Early and late, week after week, he strives to find employment by which to keep the wolf away from his home, but in vain. As he returns home at night he sees hunger and despair printed on the countenance he loves far better than life. What intensity does the agony of love give to his prayer. But no hand is outstretched, and he dies of a broken heart. If there is no limit on the side of the Father’s willingness to answer prayer, then why, oh! why does He not answer prayers such as these, and save His children from such crushing sorrows? Thomas Erskine, who, being before his age, was of course misunderstood, somewhere asks, “If it has taken God untold ages to make a piece of old red sandstone, how long will it take Him to perfect a human soul?” Elsewhere he writes, “The depth of our misery now is an earnest of the immensity of that blessing which is to make all this worth while.” I know of no standpoint whatever, save the one contained in such words as those, from which any light whatever can be seen playing upon the darkness. Nothing can dispel that entirely. It belongs to the primal fact of human freedom. But if it be true that the present life is but the mere tiniest fragment of a fragment in the life of any of us; if it be true that life is unending, that God’s education of us will never cease in any case until we are perfect, then there is no darkness here which may not intensify the brightness to come. So that the one and only answer, and the only limit to God’s answer to prayer is that implied in the words, “This is the will of God, even your sanctification”; or, in the words which you have in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “For our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.” Now let us in the light of these truths, remembering to whom we pray, remembering that the only limit to His answers to our prayer is not inability or unwillingness to answer, but the purpose of His holy love to make us perfect as He is perfect, let us in the light of these truths consider the question, “What profit shall we have if we pray unto Him?” It is perfectly plain from what has been said, that if prayer is true prayer, let it be for what it may, it will have attached to it, if not in word, at any rate in spirit, “Not what I will but what Thou wilt.” It cannot be otherwise if we have any worthy conception of Him to whom we pray. If that limit is attached to our prayer, there is nothing at all we cannot appropriately make the subject of prayer. Then are we to pray for success in our worldly calling, that God would bless us in our basket add in our store? By all means; only let it be remembered that success in the form in which we should choose it would very probably be about the worst thing for us, and certainly we shall not have it if it would. Are we to pray for restoration to health, when it seems as though life were about to be brought to a premature close, or when someone intensely loved by us seems to be withering away? By all means; only even then we must not forget that in all that is baffling medical skill, God is probably preparing us for the blow, which, just because He is love, He must let fall upon us. The supreme prayer is “Thy will be done.” Any prayer that overlaps the limits there laid down is the prayer of presumption, not the prayer of true faith. I have not spoken, nor is it needful, of prayer for what are commonly called spiritual blessings. We pray, and properly so, for growth in grace, for purity of life, for joyousness of heart, for control of self, that we may be delivered from uncharitableness, envy, evil speaking, covetousness, that we may be transparently truthful, that we may be patient, generous, brave and strong. But even here we must not forget that the answer to prayer may come just as certainly through failure as through success. It may come through the revelation of evil that is in us, as well as through the subjugation of such evil--that the prayer, “Lead us not into temptation,” can only be fully answered when we have passed through experiences such that we count it all joy when we fall into direst temptations. That there is profit in such prayer who can doubt, especially for people who have passed the meridian of life, and I trust younger people will realise it by and by. I say that there is profit in such prayer. We may not get the very thing we ask for, undoubtedly often shall not, but is there no profit? If when a father is obliged to say “no” to his child, he looks with love into that child’s eyes, and lays his hand affectionately upon that child’s head, is there no profit? We may feel most sensibly the Divine touch, and we may see most clearly the Divine face when the Divine love says “no.” Some one has said, “The man who does all his praying on his knees does not pray enough.” Undoubtedly. The Apostolic injunction is, “Pray without ceasing.” “What profit shall we have if we pray unto Him?” It will be in a tone of gratitude which becomes deeper and deeper until the end. In that may each of us ask the question we have been considering this morning. (Caleb Scott, D. D.)

On the nature of acceptable prayer

I. Objections urged against the duty of prayer.

1. Does not the Omniscient God know our wants and desires much better than we do ourselves? Answer--Is not prayer an acknowledgment of our dependence upon God for life, and breath, and all things? Every intelligent creature ought to acknowledge his dependence. Self-sufficiency is not the property of any created being.

2. Another objection is drawn from the immutability of the Divine nature. No petitions of ours, it has been said, can ever change Him. Answer--Though prayer produces no change in God, it may, through the promised influences of His grace, change the temper and dispositions of our minds, and prepare us for the reception of those blessings which He has promised to those who call upon Him in sincerity and truth. The change, then, is not in God, but in ourselves.

3. Another objection--As every event is foreordained, it is vain for us to imagine that God’s eternal purposes can be reversed; or that He will depart from His system in the government of the universe, in order to gratify our desires. Answer--Apply this mode of reasoning to the ordinary affairs of life, and its fallacy will at once appear. The great duties of personal religion rest on a ground of obligation similar to that of all the ordinary duties of life. On the same principle on which the farmer acts, when he ploughs his ground and sows his seed, we are morally obliged to improve all the means and ordinances of religion. Prayer is not inconsistent with the Divine decrees; it is one of the means leading to their accomplishment.

II. The nature of acceptable prayer.

1. Prayer must be the desires of the heart.

2. Prayers must be for such things only as God hath promised to give.

3. They must be fervent and persevering.

4. They must be offered in faith. We must believe that God is able and willing to grant our requests.

III. Point out some of the advantages of prayer.

1. Its fixing the heart upon God, the true centre of its happiness.

2. By fixing the heart on God, prayer prepares it for the reception of His richest blessings.

3. The benefit of prayer is particularly felt in the hour of affliction and distress, and in the immediate prospect of death. In order to give a full and satisfactory answer to the question in the text, consider man in his social, as well as his individual capacity, in social and family worship. (James Ross, D. D.)

Questioning

Men in general are not sufficiently aware of the importance of the manner of asking questions. Of so much importance is the manner, that we could cite good questions as evidences of bad men. For instance, Pharaoh’s question, “Who is the Lord that I should obey Him?” Now, in itself nothing could be more reasonable than this question. Pharaoh was a heathen, and this is just the question that a missionary would wish a heathen to ask. There was the question asked by Pilate, “What is truth?” A proper question, but always cited as a proof of the culpably indifferent state of his mind; for we are told that he did not wait for a reply. The question in our text is a reasonable inquiry, but it is here a part of a speech of the most wicked of mankind. We can suppose it asked in various manners.

1. In a trifling, impertinent manner.

2. In an unbelieving manner.

3. In a spirit of utter impiety.

4. As a grave and proper inquiry.

1. In a trifling manner; just as if a man should say, “Don’t trouble me! What you say may be very true; but at present I feel no concern about it.”

2. In a spirit of unbelief, not exactly that of an atheist.

3. In a spirit of daring impiety. There are spirits that can turn full on the Almighty with a frown of dislike, and can turn away from all appeals to their consciences respecting the claims of God, and the glory of Christ.

4. But we suppose this question asked in great simplicity. “Tell us (we might say to the inquirer), have you been long making this inquiry? How long? If only lately, it is very wonderful. How has it happened that you have deferred it so long? How did it not come among your first inquiries?” Let those persons who have not made the inquiry, think how strange it is that they have neglected it, while God has sustained them every moment till now, amidst all the manifestations of mercy. (John Foster.)

Is there reason or profit in prayer

Thus spake sceptical men in the days of Job. Thus speak sceptical men now. The question of prayer is not a question of natural science; it comes within the domain of moral science. And moral questions must be judged of by moral evidence. Prayer is a question that lies entirely between God and the soul of man, and is consequently quite removed from the field of scientific research, and out of the region of scientific analysis. Is the soul of man so constituted as to make prayer an essential element of his spiritual being? And has God made known to us His mind and will in reference to prayer? Each Person of the ever-blessed Trinity has made known His will on the subject of prayer. We may answer the question of the text by appealing to the personal experience of multitudes of all past ages. History and biography come in as witnesses to the profit and value of prayer. We learn the value of a blessing by its being taken away. What would be the moral condition of the world were there no prayer? How long would our religion exist without prayer? (Bishop Stevens.)

The profit of prayer

Men are averse to call upon God.

I. Expose and reprove the unworthy, erroneous, and carnal notions some entertain of prayer.

1. They wish to make it subservient only to their temporal interest--pray only for health, prosperity, long life, and yet imagine themselves religious people.

2. Some scorn it altogether, because they do not find it answer this low purpose.

3. Some enter their prayers in heaven only as a sort of debtor and creditor account against their sins.

4. Others view prayer as only intended to be their last resource. When they are “at their wit’s end, then they cry unto the Lord.” The iron hand of adversity, but nothing else bends their stubborn knees.

II. There is a higher kind of profit in prayer.

1. Right prayers shall obtain the forgiveness of sin.

2. A new heart is another essential blessing to be obtained by prayer.

3. Another invaluable blessing is the Holy Spirit to dwell in us.

4. Prayer may obtain His delivering grace in all exigencies, or support under them.

5. Prayer shall gain the kingdom of heaven.

III. The ground on which those who pray aright are assured of attaining all this profit.

1. The revealed character of God.

2. The express promises of God are our security. The work and office of Christ form another most important ground of security. He is our intercessor to plead for us, to present our prayers, and enforce them by His own merit. (The Evangelist.)

Prayer a profitable exercise

I. The exercise assumed. “If we pray unto Him.” Prayer implies--

1. A consciousness of want. Man is a needy creature. Destitution is his inheritance. They are best qualified to pray who know most of themselves.

2. Prayer supposes a Being capable of supplying our wants. This Being must know our necessities, and possess sufficient benevolence and power to supply them. Such is the Almighty. Prayers to saints or angels are impious, as they transfer the homage from the Creator to the creature; and absurd, as angels are as dependent as men.

3. Prayer implies an approach towards the Almighty. Man is an alien from God; far gone from original righteousness. When he begins to pray, his mind turns towards God. Hence prayer is called feeling after God, looking to Him, seeking His face, and pouring out the heart before Him.

4. Prayer includes an expression of our wants. We may express our wants fully; we should do it humbly and importunately. We should pray in faith.

II. The inquiry instituted. “What profit should we have,” etc. Selfishness is universally prevalent in the world. Wicked men are invariably selfish men. Because prayer is deemed unprofitable, therefore it is neglected. There is no exercise under heaven attended with so much profit as prayer.

1. Prayer contributes to the removal of evil. Of moral evil. Of natural evil--affliction and oppression.

2. Prayer is instrumental in procuring good. All good, for body and soul, for time and eternity. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)

The advantages of prayer

1. The pleasure and satisfaction immediately attending the several acts and instances of a devout temper

2. Prayer by a natural influence calms our passions and makes Us considerate and wise.

3. Prayer establishes our integrity and virtue against temptations; thus makes us happy in ourselves, and gains us the esteem and confidence of others, which are of the utmost advantage in life.

4. Prayer will produce a noble joy and confidence in God, and a permanent cheerfulness and tranquillity, amidst all the uncertainty of events.

5. If we can trust to the clearest dictates of reason, or to the most express promises of revelation, a religious temper and conduct will certainly procure for us peculiar guidance, assistances, and supplies from an ever-present God, though we cannot always distinctly know and assign them.

6. Prayer is the best relief in all distress, and especially when death approaches. (W. Amory.)

Is prayer of any use

1. Doubts arise as to the use of prayer in the minds of men who have no feeling of need.

2. By men who disrelish prayer.

3. By men who have regard to the uniformity of nature.

4. Doubts also arise from the fact that multitudes of prayers seem unanswered. (D. G. Watt, M. A.)

The profit of prayer

It does us good in various ways.

1. There is a certain relief to our overcharged feelings procured by means of prayer to the Almighty. A striking passage occurs in the celebrated paper by Tyndall, proposing a plan by which the efficacy of prayer should be put to the test. While he distinctly denies to prayer the power of effecting objective results, or results outside of us, Tyndall admits that the exercise is not altogether vain and valueless. It does some good. His words are, “There is a yearning of the heart, a craving for help it knows not whence. Certainly from no source it sees. Of a similar kind is the bitter cry of the hare when the greyhound is almost upon her. She abandons hope through her own efforts, and screams. It is a voice convulsively sent out into space, whose utterance is a physical relief.” Prayer is a physical relief. Herein is its value, In moments of distress the soul is relieved by giving vocal expression to its anguish. The doom is not averted by the prayer--It can have no possible result of that kind--but the prayer dominates the pain with which the soul anticipates calamity.

2. Prayer is valuable as an intellectual drill. As the mental faculties are brought into exercise by this approach to the Deity, the mind is benefited by prayer in the same way that the beefy is benefited by a turn at gymnastics. The profoundest and noblest themes engage us in our addresses to God; and expressing our thoughts usually in words, we have the additional advantage of being compelled to clearness and definiteness in our conceptions.

3. According to this theory, prayer is valuable in respect of what it does for our moral and spiritual nature. The emotional part of our being is quickened by this Divine exercise. You can at once see how humility, patience, resignation, and suchlike qualities are developed in our hearts by this means. Contact with a Being infinitely holy will also stimulate our admiration and desire for what is pure and good and noble. If I cannot benefit another by my prayers, I can, at least, by the intercourse and fellowship I have with God in them, secure for myself moral impulse and moral tone. Prayer is a means of grace, not in that it secures for our sanctification any supernatural good, but in that it brings us into communication and close converse with a Holy Being. (A. F. Forrest.)

Prayer proved to be a profitable exercise

I. The exercise assumed. “If we pray,” etc. Prayer implies four things -

1. A consciousness of want. Man is a needy creature. They are best qualified to pray who know most of themselves.

2. Prayer supposes an object capable of supplying our wants. This Being must know our necessities, and possess sufficient benevolence and power to supply them. Such is the Almighty, who is considered in this verse as the object of prayer. Prayers to saints of angels are impious, as they transfer the homage from the Creator to the creature; and absurd, as angels are as dependent as men.

II. The inquiry instituted. “What profit should we have?” etc. Selfishness is universally prevalent in the world. There is no exercise under heaven attended with so much profit as prayer.

1. Prayer contributes to the removal of evil. Of moral evil. Jabez prayed that God would keep him from evil; and God granted him that which he requested. David said, “I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” Of natural evil. Affliction. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray.” “Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them,” etc. (Psalms 107:6). Hezekiah prayed, and wept in his affliction, and God said, “Behold, I will heal thee” (1 Kings 20:5). Sorrow. “I found,” said David, “trouble and sorrow: then called I upon the name of the Lord,” etc. (Psalms 116:1-4).

2. Prayer is instrumental in procuring good. All good, for body and soul, for time and eternity, is promised to prayer. And the profit of prayer infinitely outweighs all other profit. It is Divine. Worldly profit consists in flocks, herds, money, etc. This, in faith, grace, love, happiness, etc. It is mental. Worldly profit is sensual, all for the outward man; but he who prays is enriched inwardly; all his intellectual powers are profited. It is comprehensive. Worldly profit is circumscribed and bounded by time; the profit of prayer illimitable. It is universal. Worldly profit affects us partially; this, in body, and soul, and substance.

And the profit arising from prayer is secured without risk, and retained without any fears of deprivation.

1. The conduct of the wicked is impious. They not only live without prayer, but live as if God had no right to exact this duty of them.

2. The conduct of the wicked is erroneous. They consider prayer a profitless exercise, and therefore neglect it. But this calculation is totally unfounded. Prayer avails much.

3. The conduct of the wicked is ruinous. Without prayer salvation is unattainable (Proverbs 1:24-31). (J. Benson.)

The profitableness of prayer

These words are an objection of bold, ungodly, and profane men against the duty of prayer. The stress of the argument is taken from its unprofitableness; it is said that it does not procure us the advantages which might be expected from it. But because God is pleased to incite us to the observance of His commands by the promise of a reward, and because there are peculiar blessings annexed to this duty of prayer, I shall not insist on the absolute right of God to require it. That prayer is unprofitable, the objectors must show, either from reason or from experience. They must either prove that God cannot hear prayers, or that He doth not; that it is inconsistent with the notion of God that He should be prevailed on by the prayers of men; or that by trial it has been found that He has never been prevailed on. But if men can prove from the nature or the attributes of God, that He cannot be prevailed on by the prayers of men, they need not trouble themselves to prove that He is not. But if we can prove that God is sometimes wrought on by the prayers of men, we need not trouble to prove against them, that He can be wrought upon. The blessings we receive, do, the objectors own, follow our prayers; but they will not own that they are the consequences of our prayers. The objections we now deal with are offered by those who own the being of God, and acknowledge His providence, His power, and His goodness, but raise difficulties concerning the profitableness of prayer. They say God is an unchangeable Being, not only in His nature and essence, but also in His counsels and purposes; and therefore He is not to be moved by prayers to send down gifts upon clamorous and importunate petitioners for them. All change, they say, among men argues weakness and infirmity of mind. Shall we then charge this weakness upon God? He cannot change His purposes for the better, because they are always perfectly good and wise. Whatever difficulties there may be in this objection, they are not so great as to shake our assurance, that God hears the prayers of men. For the unchangeableness of God cannot be better proved from reason or from Scriptures than His readiness to supply the wants of those who call upon Him. It is not more inconsistent with the perfections of God to be wavering and changeable than it is to be deaf to the prayers of His servants, and unable or unwilling to grant their requests. I will try to show that God may be unchangeable, and yet that He may be wrought upon by the prayers of men; or, which is all one, that He may grant those things to men upon their requests, which, without such requests, He would not grant. God’s purposes are not so absolute as to exclude all conditions. He determines to bestow His favours upon men, not indiscriminately, but upon men so and so qualified. God determines to give grace to the humble, and pardon of sins to the penitent. Humility and repentance are therefore the conditions on man’s part. God, by His infinite wisdom, foresees the wants and dispositions of all men. One of His required dispositions is prayer. The objectors may however doubt whether the dependence which God requires must necessarily be expressed and evidenced by prayer. For, they say we may trust in God, and yet not call upon Him. Nay, it may even be a sign of our entire trust and confidence, that we submit ourselves implicitly to His will, and do not trouble Him with our requests. To this false reasoning it may be answered, that if this dependence on God means anything, it must be, to all intents and purposes, the same thing as a mental prayer. For prayer consists in the elevation of the soul to God. As to the objection, that if we are worthy of God’s favours, He will grant them unasked; this is frivolous, since in God’s esteem they only are worthy who do ask. Asking is one thing requisite to make us so far worthy; and what for our own unworthiness we cannot hope, we may expect from the goodness of God, through the merits of Christ The more nicely or scrupulously we examine the grounds of this or any other religious duty, the more fully shall we be convinced of the reasonableness of it. Weak and infirm minds, who use to take up duties upon trust, and without trial, are too apt, when they hear anything that looks plausible, urged against the necessity of such duties, to be easily led away. It remains only, that being upon the mature deliberation, and impartial examining the merits of the cause, fully convinced of the reasonableness of the duty, we apply ourselves to a conscientious and faithful discharge of it; that being thoroughly persuaded of the profitableness of prayer, we do not so far overlook our own interest, as by neglect of prayer to lose those many and unspeakable advantages which we may expect from it; but that, by praying to God frequently, humbly, and fervently, we should be able to give the best, the shortest and fullest proof of the usefulness of prayer from our own experience. As we plead experience for the usefulness of prayer, so the objectors plead experience against its being profitable. They say the blessings we pray for are not granted; the evils we pray against are not removed. To make this a convincing argument against prayer, it must be supposed--

1. That because God has not yet regarded our prayers, therefore for the future He will not.

2. That because God has not regarded some prayers, therefore He will regard none.

3. That because God does not answer the particular requests of such as pray to Him, therefore He does not regard their prayers. As the contrary of all these is true, the argument of the objector is a bad one. Prayer is so weighty, so necessary, and so advantageous a duty, that we cannot take too much pains to establish it upon the firmest grounds, and to settle it upon its true foundations. Note the chief of those qualities which are most essential to a valid and effectual prayer.

1. Trust in Him to whom we pray.

2. Attention of mind whilst we pray.

3. A fervent desire of that for which we pray.

4. The deepest humility of soul and body in the act of praying.

Argue the following points--

Is prayer useless

Whether prayer ought to have any place in the sphere of human life is clearly a question of very grave importance. To Christians, prayer is the simple necessity of a newborn life--the instinctive utterance of conscious want; and God can no more disregard it than a tender mother can jest with the cry of her helpless babe. Without prayer, religious duty would degenerate into treadmill drudgery--begun with reluctance, ended with a sigh of relief. Outside the pale of the Christian Church too many there are in every social grade who look on prayer as a symptom of intellectual feebleness, of superstitious alarm, or of fanatical delusion. Examine the grounds on which this notion rests, more especially as it is held by those who have picked up a smattering of our modern science and philosophy.

1. Prayer is assumed to be useless, because of the immutability of God’s character. There is no logical resting place between theism and atheism--between a God absolutely perfect, and no God at all. Grant His existence, and every excellence must belong to Him, so completely and finally, as to be incapable either of addition or subtraction. Why hope to move such a Being with mortal entreaties? What response can they have but their own sad echoes? The objection thus urged is based on a fundamental misconception. Rightly understood, prayer is not intended to change God; it is designed rather by its reflex influence, to change ourselves; to lift us into the circle of His transforming fellowship. Immutability must not be confounded with insensibility. The crowning glory of God’s nature is, that He feels appropriately towards all things, unalterably pained with what is wrong, unalterably pleased with what is right; and the supreme object of prayer is to bring us into such relations to Him that the benignant fulness of His Godhead, free from all fitful caprices, may flow forth with unvarying willingness and certainty for our help and happiness.

2. Prayer is assumed to be useless, because of the fixity of God’s purposes. Every being gifted with intelligence acts more or less from deliberate predetermination. How much more must this be the case with Him who is the great fountain of intelligence, and who ordereth all things according to the counsel of His own mind! This is the simple truth, but does it present any valid argument against the worth of prayer? Does not prayer run parallel with God’s designs, not counter to them? Does it not ask what is agreeable to His will; not what is contrary to it? Is it not itself an ordained part of the Divine scheme--a something enjoined by the eternal Maker and Ruler of us? Heaven’s decrees no more forbid supplication than they forbid effort. Intercession with God is not an attempt to frustrate His purposes, but to obey and carry them into harmonious fulfilment.

3. Prayer is assumed to be useless, because of the unchangeableness of God’s laws. Laws of nature, men call them. Laws of God, whereby nature is governed, would be a more accurate and equally scientific definition. It is said, Will prayer alter, by so much as a hairbreadth, the course of that huge machinery, named the “System of the Universe,” any more than the shriek of perishing villages will arrest the avalanche, or extinguish the volcano? This reasoning leaves untouched the whole realm of the supernatural; and, after all, it is spiritual benedictions with which prayer is chiefly concerned, and which constitute the richest heritage God can bestow, or man receive. With respect to the physical, it is not sound philosophy to represent the world as a piece of clockwork, wound up millenniums ago, and left to run its round without further dependence on the Divine Artificer. He who made the world sustains it; is the source of all its energies, the guide of all its movements. Even human skill can utilise nature’s laws. Is the Creator more impotent than the creature?

4. Prayer is assumed to be useless, because of the infinitude of God’s wisdom and love. No incident in our chequered history, be it great or small, is hidden from His omniscient gaze. Why tell Him that of which He is already fully cognisant? Since He comprehends what we need better than we do ourselves, will He not grant or deny all the same, whether we ask or not? But prayer was never meant for any purpose so impertinent as to inform the Deity, or to teach wisdom and understanding to the Most High. But it does not follow that His blessings will be dispensed alike, sought or unsought. Prayer is the sign of moral fitness to receive. Because “God is love,” it is lame logic to conclude that He must lavish His treasures equally on those who solicit and on those who spurn them. Heaven’s kindness is not an amiable weakness, blind, impulsive. Prayer takes what love offers, and what, without prayer, can never be personally appropriated.

5. Prayer is assumed to be useless because of the withholding of God’s answer. It can hardly be denied that there is much praying that ends in nothing. It falls still-born from the lips, and is buried in the dust of abortive and forgotten things. What is the use of presenting requests which are thus unheeded? But to argue after this fashion is to jump at totally false conclusions. While we are waiting, the answer may already be given in another shape. May there not be an indolent proneness to beseech God to do precisely what He expects us to do, and what He has given us the power of doing ourselves? Does delay necessarily mean denial? Surely there are causes enough to account for unanswered prayer, without impugning its efficacy when rightly offered. Instead, therefore, of pleading untenable objections, let the worth of prayer be tried and tested by individual experience. (L. B. Brown.)

The profit of religion

There have always been men who estimate the value of a thing by its marketable and commercial qualities. “What will it profit me?” is the question that precedes every outlay and governs every action. These men have no eye for the spiritualities, the sentiments, the unuttered and unutterable glories of life. “How much will it fetch?” is their only method of determining the worth of a thing. That was the way the men of Job’s time estimated the religion he professed. Religion to them was an investment. Job’s acquaintances are not all dead yet. Blot out the notion that has possessed us, that, somehow, it will be well with the righteous, and ill with the wicked hereafter, and how many of us would say the prayers we now say, or participate in the forms and rites of worship that now engage our attention? We are religious because we think it pays. We have a kind of ineradicable notion that it will pay still more in the life to come. So it comes that religion may be degraded into the most absolute selfishness, and the highest and holiest functions of life be turned into an investment that savours of mammondom.

I. What is religion? What do we mean by service? Religion is not an observance, but a life; it is the conscious union of the soul with God, manifesting itself in conduct, and uplifting itself in speech. It is the carrying of the Divine principles of integrity, honesty, charity, love, peacefulness, and goodwill, into the daily rounds and daily duties of our common life. Serving God is the unforced obedience of love; the fulfilling of the will of God in every sphere of life to which it shall please God to call us; to work and act and think as those whose aim is to carry out the purposes of God. If you would know how to serve God, learn how to serve humanity by living for it in loving ministrations, and, if needs be, by dying for it. God is neither served nor flattered by words, or postures, or gesticulations, or the observance of days and times. He who serves his brother, Ms neighbour, even in the humblest spheres, and by the humblest means, serves God. “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

II. What will be the result of all this? What rewards does God offer? Should I be far wrong if I were to say, None? God has no system of conferring favours. He does not pay for service with Caesar’s coin. So far as the world goes, religion pure and undefiled is not a stepping stone to its most valued things. It was once the stepping stone to a Cross. Serving God is not incompatible with worldly wealth; righteousness and religion need not be barriers in the way of worldly progress. But God does not pay men for service in that way. Let me point out what my conceptions of the results of serving God are.

1. It links us to the Infinite and the Eternal. It stamps this poor, imperfect life with the Divine insignia. It touches the sordid things of earth into sanctities and sacrednesses.

2. Add the inward peace and satisfaction which comes from the consciousness of being identified with the Infinite and the Eternal; the consciousness that we are fulfilling the highest end of our being, and that, come life, or come death, God is the strength of our life, and our portion forever. Some will ask, Does not God reward service with heaven? No; service is heaven, here and hereafter. Heaven will be the result of character--developed, ripened, sanctified to the service of God. There can be no heaven for the man who has not learned to do the will of God. (W. J. Hocking.)

Of the reasonableness of religion

Religion, or the service of God, is an equivalent expression for a virtuous and good life. Religion is grounded on the very best reason, having its foundation in these three things--

I. The existence and nature of God. The being of a God is not an idle, fanciful notion, but a sacred and eternal truth, witnessed by the whole universe; so that we may as reasonably doubt whether anything at all is, as whether there be a God, who is the cause of all other things. God’s working everywhere is a plain proof of His presence everywhere. The same God, whose presence, power, and knowledge are infinite, is likewise most holy, just, good, merciful, faithful and true, and in all these attributes is “without variableness, or shadow of turning.” Religion must be a reasonable service, being founded in the existence and nature of this Almighty Being.

II. The nature of man. It is therefore reasonable. Creatures that are part bodies and part souls. Our bodies surrounded with innumerable dangers, and naturally weak and defenceless; subject to manifold wants, passions, and diseases. Our souls of a rank and order much advanced above our bodies; possessed of powers and faculties excellent in their nature, but that may become the foundation of our guilt and shame, and the means of our greater torment and misery. Religion only can preserve the peace of the mind, or restore it when lost. It is not peace alone that religion bestows, but pleasures too. The soul lives when our body dies.

III. Religion is founded in the relation betwixt God and man. I am related to God as the author of my being, and all belonging to it. God is the fountain of happiness, the object as well as the author of it. Reflections--

1. How thankful we should be for the Gospel of our blessed Saviour, and how very highly should we value it.

2. Christianity is wonderfully suited to the nature of man as a fallen creature.

3. Appeal to every man’s conscience, whether it be not a plain case what his choice ought to be? (H. Grove.)

The claims and rewards of God’s service

This question is not difficult to answer.

I. Consider these motives which ought to induce us to serve God, drawn from his character and relations. Service supposes superiority; for the greater is served by the lesser; also a right to our services, and an ability to reward them. We therefore assert as motives to the service of God--

1. The justice of His claims, grounded on His sovereign greatness; grounded on the end of our creation; grounded on His providential goodness. Consider how His claims receive additional strength from the doctrine of the Gospel, by which we are declared His purchase. At what a price did He redeem us!

2. The rewards He gives to His servants. In the present life He gives peace of mind; the supply of every want; protection from danger. In the future--what?

II. Improve the subject.

1. Think of the pleasure of serving God.

2. Think of the improvement of all our powers--for all the advantage is ours.

3. Think, by contrast, that if you do not serve God, you serve the god of this world. Think of the future rewards of ungodly service! (J. Walker, D. D.)

Profit in service and prayer

A not wholly illogical induction of the facts of life. The wicked prospered, the righteous cast down. What is the good of serving the Almighty? Answer--

I. Almighty will make it right hereafter. But--

1. This narrow range of prayer must have help now.

2. There is no other world here or nowhere is whole fact, i.e., no different administration hereafter. Justice is sovereign here and now.

3. No force with Job and his friends; knew little about hereafter, of rewards and punishments. They inclined to think God’s service paid here. Answer--

II. God’s service is rich in reward, here and now.

1. God’s service is compliance with His laws, which always pays.

2. Servant of God makes best use of what he has. Lord’s poor better off than the devil’s poor.

3. His service pays in character; makes a man unselfish.

4. Pays in spiritual rest and joy.

5. Pays to pray to God, for He answers prayer. Indirectly. Don’t always get what is asked for, but something better. Directly. Often get very thing asked. Scepticism says, “Would have got it, anyhow.” Faith answers, “God, not ‘anyhow,’ heard me.” Almighty is not then a blind force, not a chemical affinity. Almighty is a Sovereign whose it is to say whether He shall answer prayer at all, and when and how. “Jehovah God,” who “shall reign forever and ever.” (John S. Plumer.)

Verse 22

Job 21:22

Shall any teach God knowledge?

Mental independence of God

The mental independency of God involves two things--uninstructibleness and irresponsibleness. The former in man is either a calamity or a crime. But that which in any finite intelligence would be either a misfortune or a sin, is a glorious perfection in God. It is the glory of God that He cannot be instructed--that no one can teach Him knowledge. He knows all things, actual and possible. But whilst the former ought not to exist in any intelligent creature, the latter irresponsibility does not exist. No being is authorised to use his knowledge in any way he may think fit. All rational creatures are accountable for the use of their knowledge. Not so with God. He can use His infinite knowledge in any way He pleases. He is answerable to none: all are responsible to Him.

I. That all His operations must emanate from pure sovereignty. All that exists must be traced to the counsel of His own will. He received neither the plan nor motive for any act. Creation--redemption--conversion--every part of each--every Divine movement in connection with each--rises out of benevolent spontaneity.

II. That all His laws must be the transcript of His own mind. It is seldom just to regard human laws as a correct reflection of the mind of the sovereign, for a human sovereign, in most cases, receives counsels and suggestions from others; but as God has had no “counsellor,” His laws are the expression of Himself. What they are, He is. The history of His government is the history of Himself. Irresponsible power in a creature would be despotism, but in God it has, from the beginning, been mercy.

III. That all His dispensations should be cordially acquiesced in.

1. Rectitude dictates this. The Absolute Mind has a right to do what He does.

2. Expediency dictates this. Opposition is useless. No being can give Him a new idea or motive, and, therefore, no one can turn Him from His course.

IV. That all His revelations should be properly studied. A book from a Mind absolutely independent should be studied--

1. With an expectation of difficulties.

2. With the profoundest reverence. (Homilist.)

Verse 23

Job 21:23; Job 21:25-26

One dieth in his full strength . . . Another dieth in the bitterness of his soul.

Providence vindicated against the superficial observer

That which hampers men most in understanding providence is its tremendous extent. It is like a great poem, and all that one life or one observer can read is a few words, or at most, a few lines. God does not always show His hand. Sometimes He does, and when it suits Him better, He hides it. It is expedient that some mystery hang over the dispensations of this life. Whatever is unsatisfactory, therefore, at present plainly suggests that the scheme is yet unfinished. The unsatisfactory nature of the present suggests a future. Revelation steps in to tell us that this life is but the vestibule of existence. One or two considerations will modify our hasty conclusions in regard to the real fortunes of those who live and die around us, whether their circumstances be apparently prosperous or depressed.

1. Happiness and misery are by no means always according to appearance. They depend more upon the inner state of the soul than its outward surroundings, and are therefore put, to some extent, within the power of everyone.

2. Men make their judgments too much from the outside. It is the outside look of providence that puzzles us, and makes understanding difficult.

We arrive at the following conclusions--

1. God is no indifferent spectator of human fortunes, but manages them on a perfectly righteous plan.

2. The deceptive character of appearances makes it necessary to subtract a good deal from the apparent happiness and misery of the world at the outset of our investigations.

3. Physical disadvantages, and deprivation of the members and senses are capable of compensation in the other world.

4. The difficulty in understanding aright the providence of God, arises from the complex nature of many of His acts, which may have various distinct branches or departments, as penal, disciplinary, merciful, and even remunerative, all in a single stroke.

5. We can understand enough of the Divine doings to enable us to trust for the remainder.

6. The root of all happiness is a good conscience, and this is put within the reach of all.

7. A good conscience can only be had and maintained by seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness with all the means in our power.

8. And for all the purposes of practical piety, it is rather necessary we should remember the superintending arm of the great Worker, than that we should understand what He is doing. (William Isaac Keay.)

Verse 25-26

Job 21:23; Job 21:25-26

One dieth in his full strength . . . Another dieth in the bitterness of his soul.

Providence vindicated against the superficial observer

That which hampers men most in understanding providence is its tremendous extent. It is like a great poem, and all that one life or one observer can read is a few words, or at most, a few lines. God does not always show His hand. Sometimes He does, and when it suits Him better, He hides it. It is expedient that some mystery hang over the dispensations of this life. Whatever is unsatisfactory, therefore, at present plainly suggests that the scheme is yet unfinished. The unsatisfactory nature of the present suggests a future. Revelation steps in to tell us that this life is but the vestibule of existence. One or two considerations will modify our hasty conclusions in regard to the real fortunes of those who live and die around us, whether their circumstances be apparently prosperous or depressed.

1. Happiness and misery are by no means always according to appearance. They depend more upon the inner state of the soul than its outward surroundings, and are therefore put, to some extent, within the power of everyone.

2. Men make their judgments too much from the outside. It is the outside look of providence that puzzles us, and makes understanding difficult.

We arrive at the following conclusions--

1. God is no indifferent spectator of human fortunes, but manages them on a perfectly righteous plan.

2. The deceptive character of appearances makes it necessary to subtract a good deal from the apparent happiness and misery of the world at the outset of our investigations.

3. Physical disadvantages, and deprivation of the members and senses are capable of compensation in the other world.

4. The difficulty in understanding aright the providence of God, arises from the complex nature of many of His acts, which may have various distinct branches or departments, as penal, disciplinary, merciful, and even remunerative, all in a single stroke.

5. We can understand enough of the Divine doings to enable us to trust for the remainder.

6. The root of all happiness is a good conscience, and this is put within the reach of all.

7. A good conscience can only be had and maintained by seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness with all the means in our power.

8. And for all the purposes of practical piety, it is rather necessary we should remember the superintending arm of the great Worker, than that we should understand what He is doing. (William Isaac Keay.)

Verse 34

Job 21:34

How then comfort ye me in vain?

False comfort

Some years ago, I met a woman in Philadelphia, who was anxious about her soul, and had been a long time in that state. I conversed with her, and endeavoured to learn her state. She told me a good many things, and finally said she knew she ought to be willing to wait on God as long as He had waited upon her. She said God had waited on her a great many years before she would give any attention to His calls, and now she believed it was her duty to wait God’s time to show mercy and convert her soul. And she said this was the instruction she had received. She must be patient, and wait God’s time, and, by and by, He would give her relief. Oh! amazing folly! Here is the sinner in rebellion. God comes with pardon in one hand, and a sword in the other, and tells the sinner to repent and receive pardon, or refuse and perish. And now here comes a minister of the Gospel, and tells the sinner to “wait God’s time.” Virtually, he says that God is not ready to have him repent now, and is not ready to pardon him now, and thus, in fact, throws off the blame of his impenitence upon God. Instead of pointing out the sinner’s guilt, in not submitting at once to God, he points out God’s insincerity in making the offer, when, in fact, He was not ready to grant the blessing. (C. G. Finney.)
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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/job-21.html. 1905-1909. New York.