The Biblical Illustrator
A place for gold where they fine it.
Refining the gold
“There is a place for the gold where they fine it.” This line from the Book of Job--so strong in its monosyllables--describes a spiritual as well as a chemical process. Over and over again in the Bible godly character is described by the happy simile of gold. It would be easy to run out the points of resemblance. All nations, from the polished to the savage, have agreed in regarding it the most beautiful of metals. It typifies the “beauty of holiness.” It is an imperishable metal. When they opened the tomb of an old Etrurian king, buried twenty-five centuries ago, they found only a heap of royal dust. The only object that remained untouched by time was a fillet of gold which bound the monarch’s brow. So doth true godliness survive the havoc of time and the ravages of the grave. Gold is the basis of a solvent currency; and genuine fear of God is the basis of all the virtues which pass current among humanity. The essence of all piety is obedience to God. It is the eternal law of right put into daily practice. Too much is said in these days about the aesthetics of religion and its sensibilities. Religion’s home is in the conscience. Its watchword is the word “ought.” Its highest joy is in doing God’s will. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
And it hath dust of gold.
How to turn everything to gold
This chapter in Job describes with all a poet’s force and beauty the miner’s life in its loneliness, its dangers, and its triumphs. In those old days men endured the toil, and faced the dangers, to win the hidden gold, or precious stones. And from then till now men have ever been eager to find gold. The passion for gold is one of the strongest in the human heart. It has done much to shape the world’s history. It has given us new arts, new sciences, and new industries. It has made solitary places populous, and filled empty lands with busy multitudes. Why is gold so coveted? For one thing, it is very rare. Gold has many properties peculiar to itself. And it is very durable. The principal reason of the high esteem for gold, is because it is the chief means of exchange between buyers and sellers. Some things, precious as it is, gold cannot buy. It cannot buy wisdom, knowledge, or goodness. Its possession means power to acquire all worldly good. Happiness cannot be bought with gold. The secret I am going to tell you is,--How to turn everything into gold. Not in a literal sense. Some people, though poor, are as happy as if all gold was theirs. Their purses may never be very full, but their hearts always are of faith and love They are always bright, and have a cheery smile and a kindly word for all in trouble. Such people have found the secret of turning everything to gold. What is the secret? Paul says, “I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content” He had learned so to love the Heavenly Father’s will, so to trust Him, that all care and fear and darkness had fled out of life, and left it touched with perpetual golden light. And that is the secret that all men know who can turn things to gold. Love Christ, and follow Him, and you will have discovered the secret--how to turn everything to gold. (James Legge, M. A.)
His eye seeth every precious thing.
Every precious thing
These words refer to the miner who digs for the treasure hidden in the earth. He finds the vein of silver, and the place for the gold. But if man’s eye sees the precious things, let us think how God sees them.
I. He sees the promise and possibility. There are many things of which, at a glance, men can see the worth; things that proclaim themselves loudly. Some things only the genius can see. The gold is in the quartz, but invisible. And what a poor thing is humanity! How hard it is to find in many people any promise of any goodness, any possibility of any worth. But lo! our God bends over us, and to Him this humanity is infinitely precious. To Him it is a pearl of great price, for which He hath given all, that He may purchase it for His own. This is the glory of our God; this is the meaning of His salvation--that He sees in humanity an infinite worth, that which He can uplift and beautify and transform into His own very image and likeness.
II. He sees the effort and will, where others see only the poor result. God does not measure what we bring to Him, He weighs it. He knows what it cost.
III. He sees the great result, where we see but the process. God sees for Joseph the throne of Egypt; the sceptre of that great nation is in his hand. But what does Joseph see when carried off by the Midianites? Thus is it ever that God sees the glorious result when we see but the dreary processes. He hears the joyous shout of harvest home, where we have only the chill earth and the darkness of the grave. This is our safety and our blessedness--to give ourselves to Him who knows how to turn us to the beat account, and to let Him have His own way with us perfectly. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
The thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light.
The religious uses and limitations of science
I. The religious uses of science. “The thing that is hid man bringeth forth to light.” Some think there is nothing but antagonism between science and religion. It is obvious that the science which traces out the mind of God in nature ought to be affianced to the faith which discerns the inner grace of His heart, and will, and character.
1. Science is helping to create a perfect environment for men, and so is the sister and helpmeet of the religion which seeks to create a perfect character in them. There is a very close connection between character and environment.
2. Science has a religious use, inasmuch as it reveals more fully the Divine power, and wisdom, and goodness in nature.
3. Science has a religious use, inasmuch as it tends to establish the unity and supremacy of God. These are cardinal articles of our creed. Science has proved the unity and uniformity of nature, and so has confirmed the great doctrine that there is only one living and true God.
II. The limitations of science. It cannot take the place of religion, nor are its revelations all that the deepest heart of man most needs and desires. Scientific methods do not touch the sphere of spiritual facts. Some of Job’s words sound like a prophecy of modern, agnostic teachings. Science has its own sphere, in which its method is valid and its authority supreme. But there is another sphere in which the conscience and the spirit are the organs of observation. Let us accept with devout thankfulness the riches which science is bringing us. But let us never forget that it cannot bring us to the secret place of the Most High, or quench our deepest thirst for peace, and purity, and fellowship with God. The way to these blessings is the way of moral obedience and spiritual communion through love with God in Christ. (W. T. Bankhead, M. A., B. D.)
But where shall wisdom be found?
The speculative difficulties of an inquiring intellect solved by the heart of practical piety
Two things are prominently developed in this chapter--Man’s power and his weakness; his power to supply the material necessities of his nature, and his weakness to supply his mental cravings.
I. Every inquiring intellect has difficulties which it is anxious to remove. Two classes of intellectual difficulties--those connected with the physical realm of being, and those connected with the moral. The former class are pressing upon scientific men. The latter class by those who think on moral subjects. The difficulties in the moral department press far more heavily and fearfully on the heart of man than those in the physical.
II. That the principle which removes those difficulties can neither be purchased by wealth nor attained by investigation. A search for it in the domain of inanimate nature would be useless. So would a search for it in the domain of life, or in the domain of departed souls. (Death, SheolÌ)
III. The heart of practical piety yields a satisfactory solution of all painful, intellectual duties.
1. This is asserted by one who understands what wisdom is.
2. This is proved by the nature of the case.
The religious use of wisdom
What is this grace of wisdom, and why is it so highly exalted?
1. Wisdom, as described in the Bible, is that eager desire of knowledge which rests unsatisfied so long as a corner of darkness is left unexplored; that passion for learning which, like the fleets of Solomon, penetrated into the furthermost regions of the then known world, and brought back from the furthermost shores the stores of natural history. A spirit of inquiry may, no doubt, become frivolous and useless. But that is not its heaven-born mission.
2. The religious idea of wisdom is the exercise of “practical judgment and discretion”; “a wise and understanding heart to discern between good and bad”; the capacity for “justice, judgment, and equity.” No doubt wisdom is not in itself goodness. The Proverbs are not the Psalms, Solomon was not David. But wisdom is next door to goodness, and religion leans upon her. How much mischief has been wrought because men have refused to acknowledge that common sense is a Christian grace. What a new aspect would be put upon the idleness, the selfishness, the extravagance of youth, if we could be taught to think not only of sinfulness, but of its contemptible folly, if we could be induced, not only to confess how often we were miserable sinners but also how often we have been miserable fools; what a great security for human welfare if we were to set ourselves not only to become better, but wiser, not only to gain holiness and virtue, but, as Solomon says, to get wisdom, get understanding; to pray that He who giveth liberally and upbraideth not, would in addition to His other blessings “give us wisdom.” (Dean Stanley.)
Culture and religion
By culture we mean that condition of the instructed and trained intellect which is the result of education, refinement, and large acquaintance with the facts of nature and history. By religion we understand that personal relation to the supreme King, and that character of moral and spiritual quality which for us is Christian, and depends upon faith in the Gospel as its spring, and obedience to the law of Jesus Christ as its directing and controlling force. The relations which these sides of human action may bear to each other can never be of slight importance. Some maintain that they are antagonistic. It is said the ages of faith are not the times of intelligence. Learning causes religion to dwindle. But history shows that the epochs of man’s progress, when there is a larger force, and a more vigorous vitality, are marked by stimulus, not only to the intelligence and learning of the human mind, but also to the faith, and corresponding character of the human heart. Illustrate from the period of the revival of learning and letters. Was not this epoch also the revival of a truer faith? If learning was revived, surely also the Gospel of Jesus Christ found a new life. There was a further quickening of intellectual life in the eighteenth century. But was it not the age of Whitefield and Wesley? And what have we seen in our own time? We boast its intelligence. But it is the day of evangelism, and nowhere is such form of religious life more strong than in the centres of learning.
1. Religion is itself a means of mental discipline. One of the first objects of study which religion furnishes is the nature of the human soul itself. It is very difficult to mark the boundary where the philosophy of the mind is separated from the religion of the spirit. Religion is historic, and no man can rightly yield himself to the influence of religion without tracing the progress of Christian doctrine and the development of the Church. And what a history has been this ecclesiastical, this dogmatic history of two millenniums. This historical knowledge which religion furnishes leads us to that solitary figure whose shadow has been cast over every century since its appearance among men. Religion begins and ends with us with the knowledge of Jesus Christ. What object of human thought can afford such discipline, such inspiration, such directing, as His life and work? History is only the commentary on Christ. The events of every age only start from Him, and lead to Him again. We have left unto the last the greatest thought of all which religion presents. Whom do we worship? Whom do we seek? Who is the ultimate end of all Christian endeavour, all religious belief, all devout living? It is God--the Supreme, the Infinite, the necessary Being, source of all life, regulator of all movements, spring of all creation, the first, the last, the beginning and the end of universal being. No science can tulle us beyond the threshold of His abode. The relation of man to God includes the deep enigmas of sin and evil, the large speculation of freedom, necessity, responsibility, and law. It is no wonder that the philosophers of the schools called theology the Queen of the Sciences.
2. The other side of the relation which religion bears to mental cultivation, is that protective and medicative influence which it can exert, so as to guard against or remedy the evils, in peril of which an exclusively mental exercise always lies.
The search alter wisdom
The wisdom which man is concerned to acquire must be a wisdom which will stand him in stead throughout eternity.
I. The abstruseness and marvellousness of human discoveries. The natural philosopher is engaged in a search; and many of his discoveries are attended with very beneficial results to the world at large. Let us ascertain, then, whether he has discovered the pearl of price for which we seek. In the investigation of nature men display an energy and perseverance which is well worthy of a nobler cause. But there is no rest, no peace, no satisfaction in this quest. It is of its very nature to be restless.
II. There is an impassable limit which human discoveries cannot go beyond. The field of providence baffles us at the outset. Nature affords us no light whatever in solving the secrets of the Divine dispensations.
III. “Whence cometh wisdom?” Shall our search after it be always fruitless? The seat of wisdom is, was, and ever has been, the bosom of God. Of Him we must learn it, if we would learn it at all. His Word shall set every mind at rest., shaft disclose to us what that true wisdom is, which is the sphere of man, and in which we may acquiesce. “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.” To depart from evil is the wisdom of wisdoms, the highest, the only true wisdom. (E. M. Goulburn, D. G. L.)
The inestimable value of true wisdom, or religion
A man without religion is not wise; not so wise as he ought to be; nor so wise as he could be. It is religion that teaches a man to act worthily towards different objects--to call them by their proper names. It is religion that teaches a man to take the greatest care with the most precious things. It is religion that teaches a man how to give the best time to the most important work. It is religion that teaches a man to strive most to win the approval of Him who has it in His power to do most it is religion, in a word, that fits a man to enter heaven. (David Roberts, D. D.)
The secret of wisdom
Why is wisdom so far harder to find than anything else? Why can man read every other riddle of nature except the one riddle that fascinates him? Nothing here can escape his scrutiny; nothing can bar his advance. Look at him, the chapter says, as he digs and mines and searches and sifts and purges the dross with fire, and gathers in the assorted wealth. Look at the track where he unearths his silver, and at the furnace where he refines his gold. And yet, in spite of all this practical supremacy, this masterful intimacy over nature, is he at all nearer to the discovery of her ultimate secret? Can he dig up the truth as he can a diamond? Can he buy it in the market for coral? Nay, what avail his pearls and rubies? Somehow the secret is ever eluding him. Just when men seem nearest to it, it slips from out of their clutch. Nature is forever suggesting it, yet forever concealing it. The sea, which had seemed to be murmuring it aloud in its dreams, now says, “It is not in me”; the depth, which had enticed us into its brooding wonder, now says, “It is not with me.” Somehow they all stop short. “This is a path which no bird knows; the eye even of the vulture has never seen it; the wild beasts have never trodden it; the young lions pass not by that way; it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the birds of the air.” So the Book confesses. Ah! how that ancient experience repeats itself in us today. Never was the contrast more vivid or more crushing than now between the astounding practical efficiency of our scientific handling of earth’s material treasures, and the futility of our search for the inner secret. Still, the spectacle of nature spreads out before us its intimate invitation to come and take possession; there is no recess that we may not penetrate; no height and depth that we cannot enter. It makes itself ours, and we feel ourselves its master. We stand amazed at our own supremacy. No obstacles defeat us, no perils terrify. Down into the deep bowels of the earth we sink our shafts; over all its seas we send our fleets; our furnaces blaze, and our factories roar. How dauntless our search; how sublime our capacity, our patience, our persistence! But one thing remains as far off, as elusive as ever. Upon one discovery we cannot lay our hand. There is a point where our mastery suddenly droops; our cunning fails us, and our courage and our self-confidence drop away from under us. We snatch at what we fancied to be the thing which we desired to find, and our fingers close on emptiness. Where is it gone? Why cannot we hold it--this wisdom, this spiritual secret, this reality of things? Ah, yes, why indeed? Did we suppose that we should come upon it, hid in some mine with the sapphires and the dust of gold? Did we hope to dig it up one day? Nay, not by any such road can we arrive at wisdom; not in that fashion is it captured. The spiritual purpose, the inner reality of things is of another kind. Not by faculties such as these that our practical efficiency brings into play shall we apprehend it--“Seeing that it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the birds of the air.” Practical skill, obviously, ludicrously fails us. But practical science, the science of experimental discovery, cannot that help us? It is our very organ of discovery: cannot it discover wisdom? Alas! Here, too, we find that the very exercise of those scientific faculties by which our astounding triumphs have been achieved excludes and banishes our chance of arriving by these methods at the secret of reality. The more we know that way, the less we arrive. The spread of our science, in which we have shown ourselves so masterful, so victorious, is won at the cost of intellectual limitations which prohibit our apprehension of the one thing that we desire to know. Science has carried us further off from the secret than we were before we were scientific. It has made more evident how elusive that secret is. We stare hopelessly out at stars so remote that the light which can travel ninety-three millions of miles to the sun in eight minutes takes hours and days and years even to arrive. And far beyond those stars again a million others spread away in swarms of tangled haze. Where are we in such a universe? What is man? How can he count? What intercourse can hold between him, in his terrible minute insignificance, and it in its unimaginable vastness? How dare he thrust himself in with all his ludicrous emotions, and his absurd desires? What does that vast world know of him in its icy aloofness; there, in that unplumbed and immeasurable abyss? Back we sink to look within; but is it more hopeful, our in-look there? The dear familiar face of the earth has disappeared under the siftings of physical science. And what frightens us is that all this mechanical universe into which we are scientifically introduced omits us, ignores us, goes on without us. That which is our real life,--our thought, our will, our imagination, our affection, our passion, these cannot find themselves there; they cannot be expressed in terms of mechanism. Practical science says, “It is not in me”; organised science says, “It is not in me.” Where shall wisdom be found; is there any other road of search? Where is there a better promise of arrival? Well, there is an offer, which I think carries us a long way nearer than physical science. It is that of art. In the creative impulse, in the imaginative emotion kindled at the sight or sound of beauty, we have that which seems to open the door into the secret of existence, into the mind with which nature was made. Nature explains itself to us best as a majestic spectacle, as a living effort that finds its joy in being what it is. That is what all nature cries to us. Life teems, life dances, life sings: it is a glory just to be alive. Is not that the truth at which the sons of God shouted in the first morning of creation? The earth was so superb a fact; it stood as a picture; it grew like a poem, and it moved like music. God found His joy in flinging out His power in all this radiant majesty; He loved it for being alive, for being the expression of His love. And that joy of God in sheer existence passed into all things to become their soul. We need not inquire here for what ulterior end they were made, or what use they serve. It is so difficult to discern what will come of it all. But why ask? Enough that they are what they are. To live is to suffice; to live is to be intelligible; to live is to be justified. If only the world is content to rejoice in being what it is, it has attained. “Oh, all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord! Praise Him and magnify Him forever.” This cry of praise can sweep in so much that otherwise might perplex or distress us in the making of the world. Its hardships, its trials, its sufferings, may yet pass into the great hymn. Fire and hail, though they burn and break, yet are what they are, and as such, even as we suffer under them, we are glad to praise the Lord and magnify Him forever. The poet, the musician can suggest to us how the deeper pains of the great human tragedy may take a new meaning under the glamour of art, and can yield, under the pressure of high imagination, a sweeter, richer mystery of joy. Yes, in the passion of the artist we are close upon our secret, we are knocking at the door, as it were. Yet who can dare rest satisfied with that solution; who will stop there? Indignantly our hearts repudiate it. We cannot be as those who, like Goethe, could regard the universe as the material for a work of art. Music, poetry, may indeed, be able to suggest to us that sorrow and love and death are not all in vain; they may wring a bittersweet joy out of hardness. And yet, and yet, we dare not go round London streets today and say, “Be comforted; you are part of the eternal tragedy; you lend pathos to the human drama. Your sorrows rise into songs, your woes are gathered up into the great orchestral symphony of time. Men and women are so far more interesting when they suffer than when they succeed. If only you could see and feel it, your trouble leads to the final peace, even as the discords in a piece of musical development that crash so harshly on the ear are essential to the perfect close into which they gently resolve themselves.” No, that will not do; that cannot be our Gospel for the poor and the heavy laden. Where, then, shall it be found? Where, really, is the place of understanding? What is our last word? Is it not the same as that which is given in the Book of Job? “The fear of the Lord--that is wisdom; to depart from evil--that is understanding.” The moral life holds for us the central secret of reality. The moral life is our act of communion with the power that is at the heart of things. In it we arrive; by it we get home. A hundred problems may lie around us unsolved; we may have to walk in blindness amid a world that we can make nothing of. We may be utterly unable to account for the origin of things, or to interpret their purpose, or to foresee their end. But for all this we can afford to wait; for, deep at the core of our being we have that in us which holds us fast shut within the very light of life, within the very eternity of God. His will--that will in which the worlds move and are in being--closes round our will; His love--that love which is the fount of all creation and the end of all desire--folds itself about our little trembling flame of love. We are His; He is ours. Surrendered to the law of His life we are at peace within the very secret of all secrets. Some day we shall know and see and understand. Then the amazing purpose will unveil itself, and we shall sing our “Hallelujah, Amen.” But enough if now, blind though we be, and impotent and staggered, we yet can be aware that He, whom we possess, and who desires us, is Himself the sole supreme reality of all that exists, that He is Lord and God of all, that He will at last be all in all. By surrender to Him, by obedience to Him in His fear, lies our only present wisdom--a wisdom which holds in it the promise and the pledge of all other wisdom that can be. This is the mystery of the conscience, of the will, of the heart, of the fear of the Lord. Through it, and through it alone, can man make good his entry within the veil, within the light. This faith in the moral law is being sorely tried today, just because the vast disclosures of science seem to carry us further and further away from a world in which moral purposes prevail. The world of infinite mechanism which is opened out to us, reaching far away into appalling distances beyond our power even to imagine, at work within in a minuteness of scale which paralyses our reason, wears the air of something altogether non-moral. There seems to be no bond that holds between it and our purposes and convictions. Where are we? What significance have we? What importance dare we attribute to our tiny actions? Ah! how difficult to uphold our belief that all these rolling suns are as mere dust in the balance over against a Commandment pronouncing, “Thou shalt,” “Thou shalt not.” They cannot be weighed against a sin. The soul has that in it which outweighs them all. How difficult; yet that is our faith. “The fear of the Lord,” we say, “that is wisdom.” Can we hold it fast? Will we live and die in it? Will we utter it aloud, and stand by it in the face of all the million suns? No; the guidance, the assurance that we need must be strong, decided, masterful, absolute, if it is to bear up against the terrible counter pressure. A voice must speak which never wavers, a voice which holds in it the very sound of authority, a voice which cannot be gainsaid. And therefore, to supply this authoritative momentum, a Babe has been born into the world, through whom such an appeal as that can reach us, He will live and He will die to verify the fear of the Lord as man’s one and only wisdom. Through His lips man may know, with a certainty which no counter-experience can ever shake, that it is worth while to lose the whole world, if only he can save his soul; truth and righteousness and purity are the sole treasure that he can lay up for himself in Heaven--that he had better pluck out his right eye than gain through it a lustful pleasure--that he had better be drowned with a millstone round his neck in the depths of the sea than do a hurt to the least of God’s little ones. In the sweat of blood, in the sacrifice of the Cross, He will exhibit the unconquerable splendour of the dedicated will at the price of all that life can offer. And, moreover, He who asserts that supremacy of the moral interest is one who, by His very nature, proclaims that man, concentrating himself upon this unique moral interest, and letting all go on its behoof, finds himself one with the eternal reality of things, one with the ultimate life, one with the Father of all flesh; for He who so dies to all but the moral command is Himself the One in whom God sums up all creation. You are not, therefore, asked to despise or to condemn the wonderful world disclosed by science or revealed by art; you are not asked to think little of that vast universe, with its rolling spheres, because there is set before you, here on earth, this sole and supreme purpose--to fear God and to hate evil. For in this moral issue lies the secret of the entire sum of things; and the pure will of Jesus is the will on which all existence is framed. Win there, and you will win everywhere; win there in the moral struggle, and behold, “All things are yours, things in heaven, things in earth, and things under the earth.” All, all at last will be yours! you hold the secret of power--“For you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” But., remember, you must win there or you are lost, whatever else you may win. That is our Gospel. And here in this arena there is no one who, in Christ, may not win. Your life may become a victory. Yes; even for you, who feel, perhaps, so terribly beaten by the pressure of a hard world. (Canon Scott Holland.)
And the crystal cannot equal it.
The crystal exact
In the first place I remark that religion is superior to the crystal in exactness. That shapeless mass of crystal against which you accidentally dashed your foot is laid out with more exactness than any earthly city. There are six styles of crystallisation, and all of them divinely ordained. Every crystal has mathematical precision. God’s geometry reaches through it, and it is a square, or it is a rectangle, or it is a rhomboid or, in some way, it hath a mathematical figure. Now religion beats that in the simple fact that spiritual accuracy is more beautiful than material accuracy. God’s attributes are exact. God’s law exact. God’s decrees exact. God’s management of the world exact. Never counting wrong, though He counts the grass blades and the stars, and the sands and the cycles. His providences never dealing with us perpendicularly when those providences ought to be oblique, nor lateral when they ought to be vertical. Everything in our life arranged without any possibility of mistake. Each life a six-sided prism. Born at the right time; dying at the right time. There are no happen-sos in our theology. If I thought this was a slipshod universe I would go crazy. God is not an anarchist. Law, order, symmetry, precision. A perfect square. A perfect rectangle. A perfect rhomboid. A perfect circle. The edge of God’s robe of government never frays out. There are no loose screws in the world’s machinery. It did not just happen that Napoleon was attacked with indigestion at Borodino, so that he became incompetent for the day. It did not just happen that John Thomas, the missionary, on a heathen island, waiting for an outfit and orders for another missionary tour, received that outfit and those orders in a box that floated ashore, while the ship and the crew that carried the box were never heard of. The barking of F.W. Robertson’s dog, he tells us, led to a line of events which brought him from the army into the Christian ministry, where he served God with world-renowned usefulness. It did not merely happen so. I believe in a particular Providence. I believe God’s geometry may be seen in all our life more beautifully than in crystallography. Job was right. “The crystal cannot equal it.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living.
Mystery and dogma
It is the dogmatism of science that stands in the way of the much-needed reconciliation, even more than the dogmatism of theology. Nothing is so hostile to mystery as dogmatism. The sense of mystery is the sense of vastness, indefiniteness, grandeur. The moment you come with your dogmas to measure and explain everything, that moment the mystery, the vastness, the grandeur, begin to vanish. Rightly understood, the facts of science and the facts of theology point us on to something infinitely greater and more mysterious than the dogmas by which we try to explain, and in explaining, too often imprison and dwarf them. Yet we must have dogmas both in theology and science. No progress, no tradition, is possible without them. We must learn to use them without abusing them. (D. I. Vaughan, M. D.)
Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.
The wisdom of being religious
“To fear the Lord” and to “depart from evil” are phrases which the Scripture useth in a very great latitude to express to us the sum of religion and the whole of our duty.
I. It is usual to express the whole of religion by some eminent principle or part of it. The great principles of religion are knowledge, faith, remembrance, love, and fear. The sum of all religion is often expressed by some eminent part of it. As “departing from evil,” “seeking God.”
II. The fitness of these two phrases to describe religion. For the first, “the fear of the Lord,” the fitness of this phrase will appear if we consider how great an influence the fear of God hath upon men to make them religious. There are two bridles or restraints which God hath put upon human nature--shame and fear. Fear is the stronger. For the second phrase, “departing from evil,” the fitness of it to express the whole duty of man will appear if we consider the necessary connection that is between the negative and the positive part of our duty. He that is careful to avoid all sin, will sincerely endeavour to perform his duty. The proposition in the text is that religion is the best knowledge and wisdom. Make this good.
1. By a direct proof of it.
2. By endeavouring to show the ignorance and folly of irreligion. All that are irreligious are so upon one of these two accounts. Either because they do not believe the foundations and principles of religion, as the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and future rewards, or else because though they do in some sort believe these things, yet they live contrary to this their belief. The first sort are guilty of that which we call speculative, the other of practical atheism. Speculative atheism is unreasonable upon five accounts.
3. The third way of confirmation shall be, by endeavouring to vindicate religion from those common imputations which seem to charge it with ignorance or imprudence. Chiefly these,--credulity, singularity, making a foolish bargain. Then wouldest thou be truly Wise, be wise for thyself, wise for thy soul, wise for eternity. Resolve upon a religious course of life. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
The wisdom of fearing the Lord
The fear of God, that is recommended by our religion, supposes that we have just and proper notions of the Divine attributes and of the Divine providence and government. Our fear of Him Will naturally be a fear of offending against Him. The fear of the Lord will readily excite a sincere and ardent desire to become acquainted with all the various truths which the Almighty has revealed to the children of men. The fear of the Lord will dispose men to worship Him, and that With their whole soul, their mind, their strength. The fear of the Lord is a powerful restraint on the evil passions and corrupt inclinations of men. The fear of the Lord will excite men to the faithful performance of all their various duties to God and to their fellow men. Religion teaches that the best ends we can pursue are the glory of God, the perfection and happiness of your nature. Religion alone conveys to us that wisdom which dispels the darkness and ignorance of those things which essentially belong to our peace. The course of life which religion recommends is friendly to peace of mind, to contentment with the state we are in, to health of body, to length of days, to the vigorous exercise of all our faculties, and consequently to the full enjoyment of all the external blessings of providence. (W. Shiels.)
The nature of true wisdom
The many mistakes into which men fall in passing through life, arise from false views of our present state. This life is frequently considered as a separate and independent state of things, as if it were entirely unconnected With the future. Hence arise innumerable errors respecting the nature of true wisdom. Scripture rectifies our mistakes. It answers the question, What is wisdom? Real religion is wisdom. View it.
I. In its inward principle. “The fear of the Lord.” Not the fear that is excited by the apprehension of evil. Not slavish but filial fear. The reverence of a dutiful child. It is ever accompanied by love, joy, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost.
II. In its visible fruits. “Departure from evil.” By evil is here meant sin--every desire, and word, and action which we have reason to believe is displeasing to Almighty God. The Scriptures uniformly represent the renouncing of sin as a necessary and certain effect of the fear of God. Are we to understand that those who possess this principle, uniformly and constantly depart from all evil; so that they are entirely free from sin, and never at any time fall by the force of temptation? The state of perfect purity and absolute conformity to the will of God is never fully attained on this side the grave. Still there is a great and wide difference between the characters of those who fear God and of those who fear Him not.
III. In its excellent character. To fear the Lord is wisdom; to depart from evil is “understanding.” True wisdom is only to be found in such principles and such conduct as will lead to true happiness. The question there is, Wherein consists true happiness? Ask the religious man where he has found it. (J. S. Pratt.)
Wisdom of a religious course of life
1. Certain it is that the whole body of moral and religious laws are the laws of the wise and good Legislator of the world, whose design in imparting to us our being was doubtless to communicate a portion of His happiness and to improve it to the utmost capacity of our nature. The Divine wisdom is our security that our paths shall terminate in peace.
2. In order to vindicate the wisdom of a religious conduct it may not be improper to obviate a prejudice too commonly propagated and too easily received, namely,--That the felicities of the next world are not to be obtained according to the strict terms of Christianity, without renouncing the enjoyments of the present. The merciful Author of religion has not dealt thus hardly with mankind. Religion prohibits only those specious but destructive evils which the passions of mankind have dressed up in the disguise of pleasure; those irregular pursuits in which no wise man would ever place his happiness or could ever find it. God, who has filled the earth with His goodness and surrounded us with objects which He made agreeable to our nature, cannot be supposed to require us to reject His bounty, and to look on them all as on the fruit of that tree in paradise, which was pleasant to the eye but forbidden to be tasted. Be the pleasures of vice what they may, there is still a superior pleasure in subduing the passions of it; for it is the pleasure of reason and wisdom; the pleasure of an intellectual, not a mere animal being; a pleasure that will always stand the test of reflection, and never fails to impart true and permanent satisfaction.
3. The wisdom of a religious conduct may appear from its being the sure foundation of that peace of mind which is the chief constituent of happiness. The conditions of human life will not permit us to expect a total exemption from evils. Religion will indeed bring us internal peace of mind, but cannot secure us from external contingencies. Religion will not reverse the distinctions of station which Providence has appointed. It will not secure us from the passions of others. Religion is not less friendly in its influence on social than on private life, and is equally conducive to the happiness of the public and of individuals. All the virtues that can render a people secure and flourishing, all the duties that the best political laws require as necessary or conducive to the public tranquillity, are enjoined by our religion. Were the practice of religion generally to prevail, men would escape more than half the evils that afflict mankind.
4. The wisdom of a religious life may hence appear, because such a conduct is infinitely preferable, infinitely more prudent and secure, when we take futurity into consideration. Upon the whole, the good man enjoys superior happiness in this world, and in the next stands alone, without any rival, in his hopes and pretensions. (G. Carr.)
The whole of duty
When we find in this and so many other places of Holy Scripture, the fear of God put to express the whole of our duty, and so many good things said of it, one may justly suspect the truth of what some men, with too much boldness, have advanced, as if that obedience which proceeds from a principle of fear were altogether to be condemned, and will be of no account in the sight of God. Surely if the fear of the Lord be wisdom, the reasoning of these men must be folly. Perfect love casteth out fear, but it is the fear of men, not of God. Observe also that religion is described to us in the text by such expressions as plainly suppose it to be something practical. It consists not merely in a set of notions and opinions which may possess the head without touching the heart, but it is something which sways and influences the affections, and flows out into action, and gives life and grace, consistency and regularity to the behaviour. The fear of the Lord, to which the character of wisdom is here applied, must be supposed to show itself in the happy fruits of a well-ordered, pious, prudent, upright conduct. The fear of the Lord must be supposed to mean such a religious awe and reverence of the Divine Majesty, such a prevailing sense of God upon our minds, as will effectually incline us to obey Him in the course and conduct of our lives.
1. That is wisdom which the wisest men agree in, and pronounce to be so. The wisest men of all ages have agreed to recommend a life of religion and virtue. The best and wisest of the philosophers always were engaged on the side of religion, diligently inculcating the fear and worship of the Deity, according to that imperfect light and knowledge of Him which they could attain to by the force of reason; and pressing upon men the practice of all moral duties.
2. That is wisdom which all our observation and experience of the world does evidently confirm to be so. As experience has been always reckoned the best mistress and best guide to truth, whatsoever comes thus proved and recommended to us for wisdom, ought in all reason to be allowed to be so. And this, upon a fair and equal computation, we shall find to be on the side of religion. The Book of Ecclesiastes is no other than a demonstration of the wisdom of a religious life from observation and experience of the world. A very little experience of the world will convince us of the uncertainty of all things here below. But the happiness of the other life shall exceed our utmost expectations.
3. That is wisdom which in all occurrences whatever, and in every state of life, makes a man satisfied with himself, and of which no man ever yet found reason to repent. This is the peculiar privilege of a virtuous and religious course of life. Who ever saw reason to repent or be uneasy because he had discharged his duty, because he had made it his great care and endeavour to live in the fear of God, and a diligent observance of His commands?
4. That is wisdom which, in the final issue and event of things, will most certainly appear to be so. That must needs be the wisest course a man can take which not only tends to bring him peace and satisfaction for the present, but secures to him a portion of happiness hereafter, and that the most complete and lasting happiness, even forever and ever. When we consider the fear of God and the practice of our duty in this light, and compare it with its contrary ungodliness and vice,--when we reflect on the blessed reward of the one, and the sad ways of the other; we must be lost to all sense of good and evil if we are not fully convinced of the truth of the text. (C. Peters, M. A.)
The fear of the Lord
Can man attain the highest wisdom, the highest state of excellence, without a revelation from God? When man is set before us as possessing powers and capacities which may be said to conquer nature, how comes it to pass that the intellectual development is not equalled by moral elevation? He is described after all as not having found wisdom. Science may give knowledge, but cannot attain wisdom. Whence, then, this mystery of inconsistency, this riddle of greatness and littleness, of good and evil? Man is not in the state in which he was made. He is a ruined monument of a once noble creature. Can fallen man purchase wisdom? He may acquire wealth, but he cannot put a price upon wisdom. The fearful lesson of history gives emphasis to the word of God as to the moral degradation which has marked man in every age. Personified wisdom is seen in the person of Christ. In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom. What is the adaptation of man to receive what God is pleased to reveal? God communicates the wisdom; man receives it, appreciating and sympathising with the Divine mind, and this capability of reception existed from the very first. What is man’s proper position and duty in consequence of this Divine communication? (J. C. Cadman.)
What is wisdom
1. Wisdom is not learning. We constantly observe how much a man may know, and yet what a fool he may be.
2. Wisdom is not cleverness, though it is often mistaken for it, especially by the young, who are apt to give to a certain kind of intellectual ability a great deal more of admiration than it deserves. What we want for our practical guidance is the wisdom of the judge. If we look on practical Wisdom as that which guides us to the line of conduct best calculated to secure our happiness, it must undoubtedly be wise to secure the favour of Him who is infinite in power, and whose rewards are eternal. When we turn to the New Testament we find a basis for Christian ethics very different from that of the most enlightened selfishness. The spring of our actions must be love to Christ, and likeness to Christ the model of perfection at which we must aim. And what was the character of Christ? “Christ pleased not Himself.” He came to benefit; mindful only of the great object for which He had come, and to seek and to save them which were lost. Christ pleased not Himself, so let every one of you please his neighbour for his good to edification. Here is the paradox of Christianity. Wisdom teaches us to provide for our happiness in the most enlightened way; but here we have what seems quite a different rule; seek not your own happiness at all; live and work for the happiness of others. The key to the paradox is found in our Lord’s words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” If you want to know what are the fruits of that which is a higher and warmer thing than mere virtue, real love for others, such as that of which our Redeemer’s earthly life is the highest pattern, we need only imagine His example followed by a single individual. It is eminently true of love, “Give, and it shall be given unto you.” (J. Salmon.)
Where is wisdom found
Many are running to and fro, and knowledge is increased. Many are opening to us the wonderful paths of science. But after all we still come back to the question, “Where shall wisdom be found?” Where shall we gain that which can fully satisfy us, that which can bring us to God, and make us glad with the light of His countenance? Wisdom is an inward possession, a spiritual treasure. Its seat is not in the head, but in the heart; not in the mind, but in the affections and the life. Though knowledge is power, it is not all-sufficient. The desire for knowledge is good. Wisdom, though of heavenly origin, is yet granted us to be exercised on earth. The way to attain it is to “fear God, and keep His commandments.” This includes the departing from evil.
1. How all-important is it for the young to grasp this Divine principle, and to act upon it at once. One of the difficulties of youth is the fear of your companions. You are called by God’s own voice to set your face steadily against this. The boy who is wanting in moral courage becomes in manhood a moral coward. Again, if you do not fear God night and day, you will be led into ways of impurity which may taint your whole life, and make you miserable for years. The fear of God will be needed to break us off from bad habits.
2. Those who are older ought to be giving heed more and more to this great saying of God, which is not too high for any of us, and which every one of us can act upon if he will. Let each of us devote ourselves to the daily practice of this heavenly wisdom, rooted in the fear of the Lord. We shall never repent that self-devotion, that life-long devotion, that life-long education, that holy discipline of love. (G. E. Jelf, M. A.)
The search for wisdom
There is nothing that man doth more earnestly pursue and hunt after than wisdom and understanding; and there is nothing that God is more desirous that he should obtain. And yet such is the obstinacy of our will, and the perverseness of our nature, that when God shows us the true wisdom, and the way to it, we will not follow His directions, but seek for it according to our own fancy, where it is never to be had. The devil overthrew our first parents by persuading them to aspire to a greater measure of knowledge than God had thought fit to bestow upon them; and he hath all along made use of the same temptation to the ruin of their posterity. Those who, one would think, should be the best able to resist his temptations (I mean the “learned”), are oftentimes most easily foiled by him. Their great learning and parts, most excellent endowments, which might be very serviceable to God’s glory and the good of His Church, he persuades them to abuse in the maintaining of wrangling disputations, and unnecessary (sometimes dangerous) controversies. In this text, and chapter, Job’s three friends are very bold, and foolishly positive in their assertions concerning God’s decrees. As if they had been of God’s privy council, had stood by Him, and thoroughly understood the whole design of His providence in afflicting so severely His servant Job, they presently conclude him to be a most grievous sinner. All this Job hears and endures with patience. He was sensible enough that God had afflicted him, and he knew too that it was not for his hypocrisy, but for some secret end best known to His infinite wisdom; and therefore he inquires not after it, but labours to perform his own duty, and to receive evil from the hand of God, if He sends it to him, as well as good, and patiently to bear whatsoever burden He lays upon him. This is all the wisdom he aspires to; he meddles not with God’s secret council, nor searches after the knowledge which he knew was “too wonderful for him.” God understands the way of wisdom, and He only understands it; and He will have none else to understand it, or meddle with it.
I. What is meant by the “fear of the lord”? The fear peculiar to wicked men is not wisdom, but folly and madness--it is sin. Some men so fear God as that they will endeavour to abstain from gross and scandalous sins; but not out of any true love they have for God, or any hatred they bear to sin, but merely out of self-interest, that they may escape that vengeance which they know will one day be executed upon the ungodly. This fear is not in all men a sin; it is in some a virtue, and if it be not the wisdom here in the text, yet it is at least a good step toward the obtaining of it. Nay, this fear of God’s wrath is so far from being unlawful, that it is absolutely necessary. The true fear is such as proceeds from love, it is indeed nothing else but love, not of ourselves, as the former fear, but of God, as the only object that can deserve our affections. This grace may be styled indifferently either fear or love. This is the fear which supported Job under his mighty afflictions.
II. What it is to “depart from evil” Or sin; the only thing in the world which we can properly call evil. For everything is good that God hath made. To depart from this evil of sin in the name and fear of the Lord, is the greatest wisdom that man is capable of. But then we must be sure to do it in the fear of the Lord.
“The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,” because it, and it alone, secures the truest happiness for man, both here and hereafter. It does this--
I. By the removal of the many moral hindrances to man’s happiness. The burden of sin. A guilty conscience. Moral defilement (Romans 5:1-5).
II. By the restoration of the soul to its pristine state of purity and likeness to God (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). It creates new tastes--tastes for sublime, exalted, noble, holy things.
III. By its real tendency to secure even temporal good under ordinary circumstances. It inculcates sober, honest, industrious habits, and everything that helps men to advancement in life.
IV. By the consolation it affords under all the unavoidable trials and sorrows of the present life.
1. Consolation in the thought of the present active Providence of God (Matthew 10:29-31; Hebrews 12:8-11).
2. Consolation afforded by the gracious presence and action of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17).
3. Consolation realised in the assurance of a Divine purpose for good in all these troubles (Romans 8:28).
4. Consolation in the prospect of the glorious inheritance for which these troubles tend to fit us (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; John 14:1-3).
5. By the assurance it thus gives of dwelling in the light of God forever (Psalms 16:11; Luke 12:32; Matthew 13:43; Revelation 22:3-5). (Homiletic Magazine.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 28". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25