The Biblical Illustrator
Elihu also proceeded and said.
The portrait of a true preacher
I. The side he has to take. “I have yet to speak on God’s behalf.” Sin is a controversy with God. The true preacher has to take the side of God in the discussion.
1. He has to defend the procedure of God. He has to justify the ways of heaven.
2. He has to vindicate the character of God. The true preacher has to clear his Maker of all ungodly accusations.
3. He has to enforce the claims of God. His claims to their supreme love and constant obedience.
4. He has to offer the redemption of God. To show forth the wonderful mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
II. The knowledge he has to communicate. “I will fetch my knowledge from afar.” Literally, the true preacher has to fetch his “knowledge from afar.”
1. “From afar” in relation to the intuitions of men. The facts of the Gospel lie far away from the inbred sentiments of the human soul.
2. “From afar” in relation to the philosophical deductions of men. Human reason could never discover the essential truths of the Gospel.
3. “From afar” in relation to the natural spirit of men.
III. The purpose he has to maintain. “I will ascribe righteousness unto my Maker.” Elihu’s purpose seemed to be, to demonstrate to Job that God was righteous in all His ways, and worthy of his confidence. With this conviction he will show--
1. That no suffering falls on any creature more than he deserves.
2. That no work is demanded of any creature more than he can render.
IV. The faithfulness he has to exhibit. “Truly my words shall not be false: He that is perfect in knowledge is with thee.” (Homilist.)
Behold, God is mighty and despiseth not any.
The law of reverence
Contempt, whether of men or of things, is a feeling that is alien to God. With Him there is no littleness; He neither spurns, nor slights, nor disregards. And the reason is that He is so mighty.
I. God is great in intelligence and despiseth not. How great that intelligence is, in its reach, in its grasp, in its certainty, the Scriptures keep continually before us. He whom we worship is the “Only Wise.” God sees things not only in themselves, but in their connections, sources, and results; sees them with all those secret accompaniments that make matters that are apparently trivial really significant and momentous. Therefore, though man may be careless, he cares; what man holds lightly, he esteems. We argue from the inerrancy of the Divine judgment. We found on the comprehensiveness of the Divine mind. God is great in knowledge and despiseth not, depreciating neither person nor tiring.
II. God is great in holiness and despiseth not. He is so pure and exalted a moral Being Himself, He must needs hold everything of importance into which the moral element enters. Take the minutest moral deflection. He cannot think lightly of that. Sin is sin, whatsoever its scale. He cannot think lightly of the least moral aspiration. The feeblest of our longings, the stretching of a hand, the breathing of a sigh, the dropping of a tear, are matters of interest and importance to Him whose kingdom is a kingdom of uprightness, and who longs for that kingdom to come in the hearts and lives of men. The righteous Lord loveth righteousness. His very purity is a sure guarantee that the yearnings and the strivings of a sin-weary heart will always be precious in His sight. Then beware of contempt. Do not belittle the moral realities. Do not belittle sin. Too often we meet goodness with a spirit of levity.
III. God is great in His love and despiseth not.
1. The greatness of God’s love is a pledge that He will not despise the least or the lowliest disciples. He is not the God of the strong merely, He is the God of the weak.
2. The greatness of God’s love is a pledge that He does not despise the least or the lowliest needs.
3. The greatness of God’s love is a pledge that He will not despise the least and lowliest services. Whatsoever love offers, love will value, love will store up, and love will reward. Two practical lessons.
“He despiseth not any”
It is a poor result of vast wealth or great learning, or cultivated taste, when a man affects superiority and despises others. True wisdom should make us humble, not haughty. God is mighty. Yet His power is the omnipotence of right, and truth, and love. God’s infinite might has co-existent with it, infinite right and infinite love. This wonderful combination in the Divine character is now before us.
1. Behold this combination in the lower orders of creation. The minutest insects are as well provided for as the cattle on a thousand hills. Compared with man, what are they? Yet God despiseth them not.
2. In the revelation of His Word. All language does but poorly express the great thoughts of God. Yet He condescends to all degrees of thought, The old philosophers concealed their thoughts from common people.
3. In the subjects of the Divine regard. Men are in danger of despising each other. God despiseth not any.
4. In the incarnate life of Christ, how near He seems to come to men! It would not be difficult to survey Hebrew society, and pick out the despised classes--lepers, lost women, publicans. Jesus came very near to the weak and weary, the reviled and persecuted, and they found recovery and rest in Him.
5. In the agencies He employs, God does not pass by His own best materials among men; but He uses the humble prayer of a desolate widow, or the effort of some silent worker, who speaks a word for the Master in quiet places of the city. In the moral world there is no need to despise the day of small things.
6. In the sacrificial atonement of Christ. The magnet of the Cross meets all conditions of men, all types of character, all degrees of education, all depths of ignorance, all forces of rebellion and self-will.
7. In the great gathering of the redeemed. There the rich and the poor, the master and the servant, meet together. Jesus is Lord and brother of men. Deity is linked with humanity in the marks and memories of the manger, the carpenter’s home, and the Cross. Many who have had scant mercy from man, will enjoy there the triumphs of the mercy of God in Christ. (W. M. Statham.)
You can buy complete sets of all the flowers of the Alpine district at the hotel near the foot of the Rosenlaui glacier, very neatly pressed and enclosed in cases. Some of the flowers are very common, but they must be included, or the fauna would not be completely represented. The botanist is as careful to see that the common ones are there, as he is to note that the rarer specimens are not excluded. Our blessed Lord will be sure to make a perfect collection of all the flowers of His field, and even the ordinary believer, the everyday worker, the common convert, will not be forgotten. To Jesus’ eye, there is beauty in all His plants, and each one is needed to perfect the fauna of paradise. May I be found among His flowers, if only as one Out of myriad daisies, who with sweet simplicity shall look up and wonder at His love forever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s reverence for man
No one renders a better service to his fellows than he who leads them to a true conception of the character and purpose of God. No one has been so grievously misunderstood, caricatured, and aspersed as God. Men have looked at Him with sceptical eyes, melancholy eyes, sin-damaged eyes, tear-filled eyes, and many of their readings have been grotesque, unsatisfactory, and mischievous. How much misery has resulted froth the thought that God is impersonal--that the throne of the universe is without a King, that we are in the hands of a remorseless fate, that blind forces are evermore giving us shape, that we are accountable to no authority beyond ourselves! How much misery has resulted from the thought that God is cruel! Some have imagined God a merciless monster, an infinite detective, a harsh taskmaster, a vindictive gaoler. How much evil has been caused by the thought that God is exclusive--that only a select number are His children, that for the rest He has no love, no care, no blessing! How much evil has been caused by the thought that God is indifferent, that He dwells in splendid isolation, too self-absorbed to heed man’s anguish, to ease his woes, redress his wrongs! Here, then, is our thought--God has a profound reverence for man; and this is so because of His unequalled greatness. This we know runs counter to our general way of thinking. We think of greatness as isolating, separating, and not as uniting men. We think contempt a proper sort of thing, and not often do we see greatness and gentleness going together. Our great teacher John Ruskin says “One of the signs of high breeding in men generally will be their kindness and mercifulness.” And Shakespeare says: “Mockery is the fume of little hearts.” Now, whatever we may find in men, we see that the greatness of God is not aloofness, not high disdain, not proud contempt, but infinite love, eternal compassion, omnipotent tenderness, absolute devotion to man’s interests. Behold, God is mighty--so mighty that we are awed as we think of Him. But He despiseth not, for in Him might and mercy are combined. This is an oft-recurring note of the Bible. “I will sing of Thy power,” says the Psalmist, but he adds, “Yea, I will sing aloud of Thy mercy.” And again, “He telleth the number of the stars, He calleth them all by their names.” But what says the context: “He healeth the broken in heart; He bindeth all their wounds.” Oh, beautiful juxtaposition of power and tenderness, knowledge and grace. God does not despise any person. No human soul is valueless in the eye of God; it is more than all else to Him--the jewel of priceless value, the gem of peerless worth. Disparagement of man has been a note of all times, and not least of our own. Man’s contempt for man finds luxuriant expression, and all its signs are ugly. Sometimes we see men despising others because of their poverty. Not for this reason does God despise men. Among the indigent He has found His princeliest souls, His most faithful servants. The ban of poverty is nothing to Him. Sometimes we see men despising others because they are commonplace. The world swarms with the colourless, the insignificant, the inept, the failing. Not so does God regard men. The colourless are full of suggestions to Him; the commonplace all have a place in His great heart. He does not measure men superficially, but radically. He takes note, not of the accidental, but of the essential. God is willing to take in hand the inept, the unbrilliant, the unpromising, and to bring their lives to an undreamt-of glory and greatness. Sometimes we see men despising their fellows because of their sinfulness. Man never appears so mean and worthless as when his sin is obvious. He, to whom sin is most offensive; He, whom it has cost more than anyone, despiseth not any sinner. He loves the sinner in spite of his sin, for love sees what nothing else can see. It is in Jesus Christ we see this truth best illustrated. He went straight to the worst. He touched the outcast, and he became a denizen of God’s Kingdom. More than comforting is the precious truth that no soul is God-despised. He who despiseth not any person does not despise our desires. How often we despise ourselves because of the paucity of our good desires, or else on account of their feebleness. Well, we may sit in stern judgment on ourselves, and it is well, perhaps, we do so, but God despiseth not any desire. And God does not despise any service. Sometimes we disparage our services. We think them slight, imperfect, obscure. God never overlooks the quiet, obscure workers. Do not despise yourself. Are you poor? So have been earth’s noblest children, so have been the peers of piety. Are you sinful? Thank God for the consciousness of your sin; it is a stepping-stone to salvation. Remember, the Church is made up of transmuted failures. God gives to men a second chance, and He delighteth in mercy. Do not despise your fellows. Moreover, it is ours to make it as easy as possible for every prodigal son of our Father to come home. Do not despise God. The adjuration is not unnecessary. Alas! this is the fatal fault of men; they disesteem their Maker, Redeemer, Friend. The Apostle asks: “Despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (J. Pearce.)
Then He sheweth them their work, and their transgression that they have exceeded.
Showing up our transgressions
I. General remarks on the text.
1. Sin is properly attributable to man. It is “their work.” If God suffers moral evil to exist, He is not the author of it. Satan may tempt, but cannot constrain to the commission of sin. The whole guilt of it lies upon the offender. It first exists as simple apprehension, is then approved, and, being conceived in the heart, it brings forth actual transgression, until it is finished in death.
2. It is the prerogative of God effectually to convince men of sin; or, “to show unto them their work.” No man ever saw his sinfulness in a proper light until it was thus discovered to him.
3. The Lord frequently imparts this knowledge in a season of affliction: “then” it shows unto men their work. It was in deep adversity that Job was made to possess the iniquities of his youth, to recollect what had been long forgotten, and to feel the burden of his guilt.
4. The knowledge of our sinfulness is necessary to true repentance, and to our believing in Christ for eternal life. Sorrow for sin, confessing and forsaking it, will be the immediate effect. An irreconcilable hatred to sin, and an earnest desire to have it mortified and subdued, will be the necessary consequence of a true conviction of its evil nature.
II. In what respects the Lord may be said to “show unto men their transgressions.”
1. He makes known to them the fact that they are sinners, and that their transgressions are their own.
2. The Lord convinces them not only of the fact, but also of the evil of sin, and causes them to repent of that, as well as of its consequences.
3. When persons are truly convinced Of sin, the Lord not only shows them their work end their transgression, but also” that they have exceeded.” They are made to see that they have sinned with a high hand. God employs various means, and accompanies them with various effects. God often renews the discovery of sin in our later experience. (B. Beddom,, M. A.)
He openeth their ear to discipline.
1. Notice the discipline which God uses in His family. Many of us are froward children and need discipline. Job needed it, and had it; we are not told why, except that God meant to try his graces, and bring them into exercise. Paul was disciplined, and if he had not been well-disciplined, he would never have been such a scholar. The first feature in God’s discipline for His family is what Paul calls, “apprehending them.” A laying fast hold of conscience. Has Jesus apprehended you? This apprehending is sometimes very severe discipline. The next feature of discipline is translation. He translates the poor sinner out of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son. There shall be transformation as well as translation. The discipline which our God exercises in His Church is for the express purpose of exercising all the graces that He imparts to the soul. By discipline Jehovah nourishes His own life in the souls of His children. By this discipline, decision of character is effected.
2. The obedience to be effected. “He openeth their ears to discipline.” Jehovah opens the ears of His people to discipline in such wise as that they shall oven wait and listen for more discipline--more of the exercise of Divine wisdom and power, to carry out His wise purposes and designs. The teaching of Jehovah goes on thus blessedly in the experience of His people: for it is written, “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be their peace.” (Joseph Irons.)
The advantages of affliction
It is assumed in the text that the righteous may experience painful changes, severe afflictions--great calamities may overtake them. Some of the advantages of these afflictions we consider.
1. Afflictions tend to promote self-knowledge by leading to serious and faithful self-examination.
2. Afflictions tend to soften and humble the mind, and dispose us to confess, to bewail, and to forsake our transgressions.
3. Afflictions tend to promote our instruction in righteousness.
4. Afflictions tend to promote our entire sanctification, and, if patiently endured, will issue in everlasting glory. But afflictions are not necessarily salutary. Sometimes they are not improved; and when they are not improved, instead of being a blessing they are indeed a curse. (Robert Alder.)
Out of the strait into a broad place.
An invitation to straitened souls
What is literally straitness? The word “strait” means “narrow.” The place between two mountains or two seas is a strait or narrow passage. A strait implies a difficulty of choice. “I am in a strait betwixt two.” We say of a man, when he cannot pay his debts, that he is in straitened circumstances. Other countries have similar terms. In Scotland they say “pinched,” or “hampered,” in America that “he has a hard row to hoe,” alluding to the hoeing of sugar or corn. We say a man is in a strait when he has a large family and a small income. As strait places are unpleasant in temporal circumstances, they are also unpleasant in spiritual affairs. Then pray “Bring me out of a strait place tonight.”
1. One reason is, that the grand design of Christ may be answered.
2. Another reason is, that our heavenly Father wants to take us into a broad place.
3. His desire is, that we should be contented with all our circumstances. “Contentment is great gain.” (J. Caughey.)
Because there is wrath.
The wrath of God
The language of the text may be spoken to every impenitent and unbelieving sinner of the human race.
I. The actual. “There is wrath.”
1. This wrath is Divine. By virtue of God’s perfection He is in the possession of an emotional nature, He has the attribute of wrath. Instead of this property being inconsistent with the other attributes of God, it is absolutely necessary to constitute Him morally perfect. This wrath is undoubtedly a great reality.
2. This wrath is merited. Sin merits wrath. Sin is the wrong act of a moral substance, a substance in the possession of free-will. In this act there are rebellion, robbery, and ingratitude. Hence sin merits the Divine indignation. Hence, wherever there is sin there is also suffering.
3. This wrath is impartial. It has been revealed from heaven against angels and against men, without respect of person. It has been revealed against every sinful act of every sinful being.
II. The probable. There may be destruction. “Beware lest He take thee away with His stroke.”
1. He hath power to do it.
2. He has threatened to do so.
3. Some who were as near saved as you have been lost.
III. The impossible. There cannot be deliverance. “Then a great ransom cannot deliver thee,” literally, “cannot turn thee aside.” Deliverance is impossible--
1. By a great ransom of material wealth. Though we could give mines of gems, oceans of pearls, worlds of gold and silver, yet such a ransom price could not deliver us.
2. By a great ransom of animal life.
3. By the ransom of the Highest, Christ Jesus. “Christ gave Himself a sacrifice for us.” (Homilist.)
1. There is “wrath” in the government of God.
2. This “wrath” may overtake the sinner any moment.
3. When it overtakes him in this way, he has no means of deliverance. (Homilist.)
Whether these words were suited to the ease of Job or not, they are certainly applicable to all impenitent sinners, and contain--
I. An important assertion. “Because there is wrath.” From this declaration it is evident that it has been known from the earliest ages that God is displeased with sin, and has often revealed His anger against the ungodliness of men.
1. This assertion must be explained. The anger, hatred, and wrath of God are not impure passions in Him, as they are in man. All who violate the precepts of His law become obnoxious to its awful penalties, and justly incur the punitive wrath of the Divine Lawgiver (Romans 2:3-9).
2. This assertion must be confirmed. This is evident from the Scriptures, which assure us that the Lord is “angry with the wicked.”
II. An affectionate admonition.
1. The exercise of caution. “Beware!” Deeply consider your state and character before God--remember your awful responsibility, and the intimate connection which subsists between a state of mortal probation and eternal retribution (Galatians 6:7-8); be wise, and know the day of your visitation.
2. The pursuit of salvation. An apprehension of Divine wrath should induce a diligent use of the means appointed for our deliverance; this is the only way of being rescued from sin and ruin.
III. An impressive argument; “Lest He take thee away,” etc.
1. The sinner’s punishment is inevitable. “Lest He take thee away with His stroke.” Incorrigible impenitence leads to unavoidable ruin (Romans 6:21); sin will surely find us out, “for the wicked shall not go unpunished.” His stroke signifies a sudden calamity or awful judgment. Such was the deluge--the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah--the punishment of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram--the death of Herod, Ananias, and Sapphira, etc. (Genesis 7:1-24; Genesis 19:27; Numbers 16:31-33; Acts 5:1-10; Acts 12:20-23).
2. The sinner’s punishment is irremediable. “Then a great ransom cannot deliver thee.” To ransom is to deliver, either by price or by power. The present life is the only day of salvation. There is no Redeemer for the finally lost. They have nothing to offer for their ransom, nor can any possible price purchase, or power rescue them from interminable perdition. What, then, is our present state? (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Take heed; regard not iniquity; for this hast thou chosen rather than affliction.
Affliction better than sin
Elihu rebukes Job with a becoming dignity, for some rash and unadvised speeches which the severity of his other friends, and the sharpness of his own anguish, had drawn from him, and particularly cautions him in the passage before us. Illustrate and prove the general proposition, that there can be no greater folly than to seek to escape from affliction by complying with the temptations of sin. That the greater part of mankind are under the influence of a contrary opinion, may be too justly referred from their practice. How many have recourse to sinful pleasures to relieve their inward distress. In order to evade sufferings for righteousness’ sake, thousands make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, through sinful compliances with the manners of the world.
1. Sin separates us from God, the only source of real felicity. That man is not sufficient to his own happiness is a truth confirmed by the experience of all who have candidly attended to their own feelings. This makes men seek resources from abroad, and fly to pleasures and amusements of various kinds, to fill up the blanks of time, and divert their uneasy reflections. God alone can be the source of real happiness to an immortal soul. Sin bereaves the soul of man of this its only portion. Afflictions are often the means of bringing the soul nearer to Him.
2. Affliction may not only consist with the love of a father, but may even be the fruit of it. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.” A good man may even glory in tribulation. But sin is always both evil in its nature, and pernicious in its effects.
3. Sin is evil whether we feel it or not, and worst when we are most insensible of it. To be past feeling, in this respect, is the worst woe we can possibly bring upon ourselves. Affliction, though a bitter, is a salutary medicine. It is the discipline by which we are trained to glory, honour, and virtue. The greatest error we can fall into, is that of taking this world for the place of our rest. To cure this fatal mistake, God visits us with affliction.
4. In afflictions we are commonly passive, but always active in sin. The one is left to our choice, the other is not. When we suffer in the cause of virtue, we are in the hand of our most faithful and everlasting friend; but when we sin, in order to avoid suffering, we commit ourselves into the hands of that malicious and cunning enemy, who goeth about seeking whom he may devour.
5. The evil of affliction is of short duration, but that of sin perpetual. (R. Walker.)
Caution against losing the crown through fear of the cross
Three things to be observed in Job’s case.
1. Job, before his afflictions, is called a man “perfect and upright,” one that feared God, and eschewed evil: that is, both a moral man and a pious man. Before anyone may suppose that the lamentations of Job suit his case, he must be clear that he has lived like Job.
2. A great part of Job’s complaints are made in answer to the three friends. Whatever Job’s sin was, it was not hypocrisy. No wonder that when accused, Job should break out in strong cries of grief, defend his innocence, and hold fast his integrity.
3. Some of Job’s complaints are absolutely sinful; they are murmurings of self-righteousness and rebellion. Job would not submit to the chastisement of God. The other three had accused Job falsely, but Elihu accused him justly. If any take comfort from reading these sinful complaints of Job, and think that, because Job complained in the way he did, they may do the like, they are greatly mistaken. And if any go further and think that because, like Job, they utter sinful complaints, like him too they shall be pardoned and accepted in the end, they are yet more mistaken. Unless they are brought, like the penitent patriarch, to see and confess with self-abhorrence the sinfulness of their murmurs, those complaints will be the ruin of their souls, even though they may be expressed in simple language. It is owned that it is hard to bear affliction. A wounded spirit is tempted to breathe hard sayings against God. But a child of God will not indulge such a temper. He will know the wickedness of it. There are many, however, who do not murmur against God’s dealings with them, who may still be accused of choosing iniquity rather than affliction. In truth, it may be charged against all unconverted men. There is an affliction which all who live in a careless, unconverted state must suffer before they can have any hope of salvation. To everyone whose conscience tells him that he has not yet been brought to a sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the word of the Lord is, “Take heed.” It would be a false and unscriptural representation of Christ and religion, to make it appear a light or an easy thing to be His disciple. And he who does not find it a life of constant struggle and watchfulness, of difficulty and self-denial, may be certain that he is altogether mistaken if he thinks he is a believer. Let no man flatter himself that the way to glory is a path strewed with flowers, one in which he may take his fill of pleasure and indulge his indolence. The true profession of Christianity is inseparable from suffering. It would be well for all those who are living in security, who have no fear for the safety of their souls, if they would examine the grounds of their confidence, and ask themselves in what way they bear their cross daily? What afflictions of the righteous fall to their lot? If they find that they really are not bearing the cross; that they are suffering none of the “afflictions of the righteous,” they may be sure that their confidence is not the assurance of faith, but the presumption of ignorance . . . It generally happens that a believer’s comforts and spiritual consolations rise higher in proportion to his trials and conflicts. (R. W. Dibdin, M. A.)
Who teacheth like Him?
--Like whom? you ask. Like Him who is the great Teacher and Enlightener of the Church--even God, the Holy Spirit. This question is a sort of challenge to us to point out any teacher equal to the Lord. In what points does the teaching of God the Holy Spirit exceed all other teaching? Consider
I. The nature of His instructions. There are many valuable things, no doubt, which man’s wisdom has to teach. But look--
1. At the amazing nature of the facts which the Spirit has revealed to us. This mystery, that God so loved the world as to send His Son to shed His blood for it; nothing is worthy of the name of wonderful and glorious compared with this mystery, that God was manifest in the flesh, and died for me upon the Cross.
2. Who is like this glorious Teacher in the holiness of His instructions? The Holy Bible is the Spirit’s lesson book. It is there that all His glorious precepts are embodied.
3. And the Holy Spirit’s lessons are indispensable. The instructions which man’s wisdom gives may be useful and important in their way. But we can get to heaven without them. The Spirit teaches us the only way that leads there.
II. The way in which He gives these instructions. Note the variety of instruments which He employs, and through which He gives instruction to the heart. His chief instrument is the Written Word. Here is doctrine, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness. He teaches also by the living voices of His ministers; and, through them, what a multiplicity of arguments does He employ! And He teaches by His providence; by afflictions; by humbling providences; by mercies and loving kindnesses. Are they looking to the world for happiness and satisfaction? He makes that world so bitter to them by its crosses and vexations that they are forced to learn the lesson of its emptiness and vanity. He further enlightens the eyes of their understandings.
III. The results of His instructions. Let the Holy Spirit preach, and then the man’s faith, and the man’s practice, both are changed. They pray that God the Holy Ghost will vouchsafe to be your teacher and your guide, that He will illuminate the eyes of your understanding, and that He will reveal Christ unto your hearts. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
God’s teaching, our example
The God of the Bible is represented to us under different names and views peculiar to Himself. He is represented to us as the source and comprehension of all truth, goodness, happiness, and glory. When we try to reduce our conception of God to a finite form, the best conception we can form of Him is the highest combination of all the attributes that are good, pure, and glorious. We now view Him as our Divine Teacher.
I. The teaching character of the Divine order. The teaching intention is seen everywhere in the established economy of the whole arrangement of the constitution of the universe. It is not an arrangement to be noticed here and there, but a matter of law and universality, unchangeable and regular. The whole range and laws of nature, the whole animal economy--providence, revelation, Christianity, and the whole works of God as known to us--have a teaching commission. All have their science to make known to men; all have their influence in the moulding of human character. Everything has its message; everything is backed by Divine law and authority. This order is intended, in its teaching power, to lead and reunite us with the source and end of our life, and thus to realise the chief good of our being.
1. The supreme order of which we are subjects is one of universal relation and dependence. Illustration: relation of parent and child. One is made to teach, and the other to be taught.
2. As a teaching power, the order of which we are subjects is one of advancement. The whole is intended to advance. The order of God is ever forward.
3. The order under which we live is one of universal and unending obligation. A condition of dependence is one of obligation. To our obligation there is neither limit nor end. All we have are things to fulfil our obligation with, and the degree of our possession is the limit of our obligation.
4. The order in which we are established is one of useful purpose in its laws and provisions. The high design is to fit all its dependent creatures for the end of their being. The order of God intends to economise all its gifts and talents. No talent is to be buried, no power is to lie dormant, no plot uncultivated, and no opportunity unemployed. All are fitted for themselves, for one another, and all to show the praise of the great teacher Himself.
5. The teaching order of God has fit and sufficient resources to meet its requirements, and fulfil its designs. Everything is an educational link to some higher development. The order of God has everything in itself to make it complete. He requires no foreign element. All perfect order precludes the possibility of deficiency, or any goodness outside itself.
II. God’s teaching is our pattern to follow. All men require much teaching themselves before they are competent to teach others. Teaching is Divine.
1. God’s teaching is our pattern in the kindness of its execution. There is nothing harsh and oppressive in the teachings of God. He allures by promises, and leads on by the cords of tenderness and love; giving us a pattern how to teach those who are under our care and our charge.
2. The teaching of God is one of repeated application. God repeats His calls and applications. If one way and means are not effectual, He tries and uses others.
3. The Divine teaching is one of rule and order. Every period has its work, every work has its laws, and every act its certain and fit results. Constancy is one rule. Attention to small points is another. Earnest action is another. Every power must act its part.
4. The teaching of God is one of gradual advancement. Our wants and capacities, in the order of being, keep pace with each other. When one is small, the other is not great; and as one increases the other advances. God suits His teaching to our wants and powers.
5. God’s teaching contains in it hard lessons for us in our present state and condition.
6. God teaches, by suitable means, to accomplish the end He has in view.
III. The aim and end of Divine teaching. Wisdom is right in the end in view, and the means used to obtain it. One end is--to teach us self-insufficiency and trust in Him. Another, to teach us the evil of disobedience and sin. Another, to educate our nature in its highest powers, to its highest possible capacity. That we should understand the law of His order, and respect it. To fit us for the precise work intended to be done by us. To lead us to Himself, and to make us fit for all His will and purpose. Conclusion--The obligation on our part which the Divine administration of teaching involves. (T. Hughes.)
The being and agency of God
I. His being, as here presented. Elihu points our attention to three great facts concerning this Great Being.
1. He is mighty. “Behold, God exalteth by His power.”
2. He is independent. “Who hath enjoined Him His way?” He is amenable to no one beyond Himself.
3. He is righteous. “Who can say, Thou hast wrought iniquity?”
4. He is adorable. “Remember that thou magnify His work, which men behold.” Man is here called upon to adore Him in His works, which are visible to all.
5. He is incomprehensible.
II. His agency as here presented. His agency both in the mental and the material domains is here referred to.
1. His agency in the mental realm. He is a Teacher. “Who teacheth like Him?” He is an incomparable Teacher.
(a) By symbols. All the works of nature are the symbols, the hieroglyphics He employs. “The heavens declare Thy glory,” etc.
(b) By example. “He bowed the heavens and came down,” and He acted out His grand lessons in the life of a wonderful Man--the Man Christ Jesus.
2. His agency in the material realm. Four ideas are suggested here concerning His agency in nature. It is--
God is great, and we know Him not.
The knowledge of God
These words recall the supreme questions which divide hostile philosophies. Even Christian apologists have maintained that God is inaccessible to human thought, and that our highest knowledge of Him can have only a relative truth. Many who are antagonistic to the. Christian faith maintain that man’s knowledge is necessarily limited to the universe of phenomena, and that all attempts to pass beyond it are the result of an ambitious discontent with the eternal limitations of our intellectual power. The words of the text cannot mean that God is absolutely unknown. We know God, and therefore we worship Him; but there is infinitely more to know. His greatness passes beyond the widest limits, not only of our actual knowledge, but of all knowledge possible to us. This truth is pressed upon us in whatever direction thought may travel.
1. Our hearts should be filled with awe when we meet to worship Him.
2. That God is great, and we know Him not, should encourage the largest and freest confidence in His ability and willingness to meet and to satisfy all the exigencies of our personal life.
3. It is the infinite greatness of God--a greatness that can never be defined or exhausted by created thought--which alone enables us to accept calmly, and without dread, the gift of immortality.
4. If this is the strength and joy of those who are conscious that through His infinite mercy their sins are forgiven, and they are restored to the light and blessedness of His love, it is full of terror to all with whom He is not at peace, and who are exposed to His eternal condemnation. (R. W. Dale, D. D., LL. D.)
The unknowable God
Unknown, unknowable--truly; yet not on that account unusable and unprofitable. That is a vital distinction. The master of science humbly avows that he has not a theory of magnetism; does he, therefore, ignore it, or decline to inquire into its uses? Does he reverently write its name with a big M, and run away from it, shaken and whitened by a great fear? Verily, he is no such fool. He actually uses what he does not understand. I will accept his example, and bring it to bear upon the religious life. I do not, scientifically, know God; the solemn term does not come within the analysis which is available to me; God is great, and I know Him not; yet the term has its practical uses in life, and into those broad and obvious uses all men may inquire. What part does the God of the Bible play in the life of the man who accepts Him and obeys Him with all the inspiration and diligence of love? Any creed that does not Come down easily into the daily life to purify and direct it, is by so much, imperfect and useless. I cannot read the Bible without seeing that God (as there revealed) ever moved His believers in the direction of courage and sacrifice. These two terms are multitudinous, involving others of kindred quality, and spreading themselves over the whole space of the upper life. In the direction of courage--not mere animal courage, for then the argument might be matched by gods many, yet still gods, though their names be spelt without capitals; but moral courage, noble heroism, fierce rebuke of personal and national corruption, sublime and pathetic judgment of all good and all evil. The God-idea made mean men valiant soldier-prophets; it broadened the piping voice of the timid inquirer into the thunder of the national teacher and leader; for brass it brought gold; and for iron, silver; and for wood, brass; and for stones, iron; instead of the thorn it brought up the fir tree, and instead of the brier the myrtle tree, and it made the bush burn with fire. Wherever the God-idea took complete possession of the mind, every faculty was lifted up to a new capacity, and borne on to heroic attempts and conquests. The saints who received it “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire; out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” Any idea that so inspired in man life and hope, is to be examined with reverent care. The quality of the courage determines its value and the value of the idea which excited and sustained it. What is true of the courage is true also of the sacrifice which has ever followed the acceptance of the God-idea. Not the showy and fanatical sacrifice of mere blood letting: many a Juggernaut, great and small, drinks the blood of his devotees; but spiritual discipline, self-renunciation, the esteeming of others better than one’s self, such a suppression of the self-thought as to amount to an obliteration of every motive and purpose that can be measured by any single personality--such are the practical uses of the God-idea. It is not a barren sentiment. It is not a coloured vapour or a scented incense, lulling the brain into partial stupor or agitating it with mocking dreams; it arouses courage; it necessitates self-sacrifice; it touches the imagination as with fire; it gives a wide and solemn outlook to the whole nature; it gives a deeper tone to every thought; it sanctifies the universe; it makes heaven possible. Unknown--unknowable! Yes; but not therefore unusable or unprofitable. Say this God was dreamed by human genius. Be it so. Make Him a creature of fancy. What then? The man who made, or dreamed, or otherwise projected such a God, must be the author of some other Work of equal or approximate importance. Produce it! That is the sensible reply to so bold a blasphemy. Singular if man has made a Jehovah, and then has taken to the drudgery of making oil paintings and ink poems, and huts to live in. Where is the congruity? A man says he kindled the sun, and when asked for his proof, he strikes a match which the wind blows out! Is the evidence sufficient? Or a man says that he has covered the earth with all the green and gold of summer, and when challenged to prove it, he produces a wax flower which melts in his hands! Is the proof convincing? The God of the Bible calls for the production of other gods--gods wooden, gods stony, gods ill-bred, gods well shaped, and done up skilfully for market uses: from His heavens He laughs at them, and from His high throne He holds them in derision. He is not afraid of competitive gods. They try to climb to His sublimity, and only get high enough to break their necks in a sharp fall. Again and again I demand that the second effort of human genius bear some obvious relation to the first. The sculptor accepts the challenge, so does the painter, so does the musician--why should the Jehovah-dreamer be an exception to the common rule of confirmation and proof? We wait for the evidence. We insist upon having it; and that we may not waste our time in idle expectancy, we will meanwhile call upon God, saying, “Our leather which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in heaven.” (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The greatness of God
I. The greatness of God infinitely surpasses our knowledge of Him. “Behold, God is great, and we know Him not.” Consider how imperfect our knowledge is--l. Of the Divine nature. We are greatly to seek in the first notion of God, that He is a Spirit; then, that He is a Trinity in Unity.
2. Of the Divine decrees and counsels. We must conjecture uncertainly about His decrees, because we are so distant and so incompetent in all our speculations about the Divine nature.
3. Of the Divine work in creation and providence.
II. Useful inferences.
1. What an inestimable treasure the Holy Scriptures ought to be esteemed by us.
2. How reasonable a thing it is for us to love one another in some differences of opinion and thought while we are on this side heaven.
3. How justly the wise and the good mind may be longing after that state where their knowledge of God may be advanced to such unspeakable degrees, suitably both to the nature of God and the capacious nature of our souls. (Nathanael Resbury, A. M.)
For He maketh small the drops of water.--
God’s greatness in small things
We lose God in His greatness, and it is well for us to be told that the great God can do small things, and that small things are often the illustrations of His greatness.
I. God illustrates His greatness in doing small things. Illustrate from the statesman, who can find time to contribute to the literature of his country; the great builder, who cares for minute ornament. Or from God’s attention in creation to every detail. Or from the ritualism of the old dispensation, which included the elaborate and minute. It is to reduce God to our littleness, to suppose that He measures all things by our scale. He does not even measure time by our computation. Great and small are terms which have not the same meaning with God as with man. How can anything be great to Him but Himself? He regulates the ripples on the sea of human life, caused by trivial circumstances, as well as the lifting up of the floods, when the angry waves threaten us with shipwreck. God is great, and He is so great that He is gentle; there are no hands so strong, and none so tender. God does great things, but He does them silently. The greatest forces operate without bustle and noise. Gentleness is the perfection of strength.
II. Christ, the manifested God, does all things beautifully, small as well as great things. He comes, as all the race come, by birth. “He grew in wisdom and stature.” No one but a teacher, “in whom were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” could have discoursed with such beautiful simplicity on the highest themes, The doctrine of providence tie brings down to the little things of daily life. What a Gospel He gives us in a few words. His conduct to childhood illustrates the singular beauty with which He did everything.
III. The way to greatness is to do small things. Men who have obtained greatness have begun with the beginning of things. Great men have always been men of detail--great works are done by careful attention to little things. To overlook the importance of small things, is to forget that these give birth to great things. Life, to a great extent, is made up of small things. It is with small things we build up character. (H. J. Bevis.)
God’s incomprehensible greatness illustrated by little things
I. Man cannot comprehend it. “God is great, and we know Him not, neither can the number of His years be searched out.”
1. Man cannot comprehend His nature. Great in Himself. All His attributes transcend our understanding.
2. Man cannot comprehend His history. “Neither can the number of His years be searched out.” In the presence of His greatness--
II. Little things illustrate it. “For He maketh small the drops of water”; or, as some render it, “He draweth up the drops of water.” Elihu seems to connect God’s greatness with His attention to the drops of water.
1. The greatness of His wisdom is seen in the small. Take the microscope and examine life in its minutest form, and what wonderful skill you discover in the organisation: as much wisdom as the telescope will show you amongst the rolling worlds of space.
2. The greatness of His goodness is seen in the small.
3. The greatness of His taste is seen in the small. Take the wing of the smallest insect, or the smallest grain of ore, and what exquisite forms and what beautiful combinations of colour.
4. The greatness of His power is seen in the small (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 36". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25