The Biblical Illustrator
Hear attentively the noise of His voice.
What is Elihu’s message
What he really contributes to the main argument of the book is, that suffering may be medicinal, corrective, fructifying, as well as punitive. The friends had proceeded on the assumption, an assumption abundantly refuted by Job, that his calamities sprang, and only could spring from his transgressions. In their theology there was no room for any other conclusion. But, obviously, there is another interpretation of the function of adversity which needs to be discussed, if the discussion is to be complete; and this wider interpretation Elihu seeks to formulate. According to him, God may be moved to chastise men by love, as well as by anger; with a view to quicken their conscience, to instruct their thoughts, and give them a larger scope; in order to purge them, that they may bring forth more and better fruit; to rouse them from the lethargy into which, even when they are spiritually alive, they are apt to sink, and to save them from the corruption too often bred even by good customs, if these customs do not grow and change. His main contention has indeed, since his time, become the merest commonplace. But this pious commonplace was sufficiently new to Job and his friends to be startling. To them Elihu, when he contends that God often delivers the afflicted by and through their afflictions, must have seemed to be either uttering a dangerous heresy, or speaking as one who had received new light and inspiration from on high. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)
The phenomena of nature
Elihu regarded nature--
I. As the result of the Divine agency. He speaks of the thunder as the voice of God. “The sound that goeth out of His voice,” “the voice of His Excellency.” He speaks of the lightning as being directed under the whole heaven by Him, even unto the “ends of the earth.” Modern science spreads out theoretic schemes between nature and God. It speaks of laws and forces. This was not the science of Elihu; he regarded man as being brought face to face with God in nature.
II. As the revealer of the Divine character. He recognised--
III. As the instrument of the Divine purpose. “And it is turned round about by His counsels; that they may do whatsoever He commandeth them upon the face of the world in the earth. He causeth it to come, whether for correction, or for His land, or for mercy.” (Homilist.)
For He saith to the anew.
The lessons of the snowflakes
I. We learn that what God gives is pure. The beautiful snow, in its purity, is a type of His gifts. To be pure is certainly a state to earnestly desire, and strenuously endeavour to attain. It requires the crucible of affliction and discipline to reach it, and God often, yea, indeed, constantly uses it.
II. That what God gives is beautiful. Nothing is so beautiful as a field of fresh-fallen snow. The snow grows more beautiful when you examine it closely. But think of the source from whence they come, and each little form will be to you a profitable teacher. God gave the snow, and it is thus beautiful; so beautiful are all His gifts. Beauty is a quality in objects not to be ignored. When God makes beauty, how infinitely superior it is in beauty to the beauty constructed by the hand of man.
III. That what God gives is good. Were it not for the kindly snow, in some countries, not one grain of wheat would live through the rigorous cold of the winter. But the very wheat is warmed into life by the protection of the snow.
IV. The snow teaches us to be impartial. In this it accords with the Word of God. It bestows its benefits upon a community, it neglects none.
V. We learn a lesson of caution. How easily soiled is the snow, because of its very whiteness and cleanness. Its susceptibility to soil and dirt is a constant pleading that one be careful not to soil it. The fairer, whiter, cleaner a thing is, the more easily is it soiled.
VI. One more lesson--the evanescence of all earthly things. The fields, now hidden from view by their snowy covering, will soon be seen again; and when the snow is gone, how brief will seem to have been the season of its sojourn! Out of this lesson comes another--the duty of readiness to meet the Bridegroom. (Wallace Thorp.)
I. The snow in its interesting phenomenon. The snow falls in beautiful showers almost every year, and covers the face of nature. Multitudes admire its beauties, but few understand its singular formation, important uses, and varied design. These things ought not so to be. We should make ourselves acquainted with the works of God, especially such common gifts as the rain, and wind, and snow. This would lead our thoughts from nature to nature’s God; and then His wisdom, and power, and goodness as seen therein would excite our admiration. The snow, this wonderful creature of God, has been thus described--“Snow is a moist vapour drawn up from the earth to, or near the middle region of the air, where it is condensed, or thickened into a cloud, and falls down again like carded wool, sometimes in greater and sometimes in lesser flakes. The snow and the rain are made of the same matter, and are produced in the same place, only they differ in their outward form, as is obvious to the eye, and in their season. Rain falls in the warmer seasons, the clouds being dissolved into rain by heat; snow falls in the sharper seasons, the clouds being thickened by the cold. The place where the snow is generated is in the air, from thence it receives a command to dispatch itself to the earth, and there to abide.” Three things respecting the snow may just be noticed.
1. Its whiteness. The whiteness of snow, observe naturalists, is caused by the abundance of air and spirits that are in transparent bodies. “The whiteness of snow,” says Sturm, “may be accounted for thus--it is extremely light, and thin, consequently full of pores, and these contain air. It is further composed of parts more or less thick and compact, and such a substance does not admit the sun’s rays to pass, neither does it absorb them: on the contrary, it reflects them very powerfully, and thus gives it that white appearance which we see in it” (Isaiah 1:18).
2. Form. “The little flakes,” observes the pious author just named, “generally resemble hexagonal stars; sometimes, however, they have eight angles, and at others ten, and some of them are of quite an irregular shape. The best way of observing them is to receive the snow upon white paper, but hitherto little has been said of the cause of these different figures.”
3. Abundance. “Hast thou,” said God to Job, “entered into the treasures of snow?”
II. The snow in its efficient source. The philosopher may explain its secondary, or instrumental causes, but the Christian recognises and acknowledges its first and original cause. Elihu, in the text, and in other parts of this chapter, traces, or notices, the thunder and the lightning, the snow and the rain, the whirlwind and the cold, the frost and the clouds, to their Divine source. “For He saith” (i.e., He commands)
“to the snow, Be thou on the earth.” The source from whence the snow proceeds, illustrates--
1. God’s power. When the Almighty Maker wills a thing, He has only to speak, and it is done.
2. God’s sovereignty. The sovereignty of God means His power and right of dominion over His creatures, to dispose and determine them as seemeth Him good. The snow affords an instance of the exercise of this attribute--on God’s will depends the time, the quantity, and the place.
3. God’s justice. The text itself refers to this very attribute. “For He causeth it to come, whether for correction, or for His land, or for mercy.” And Elihu, in the end of the chapter, where he closes his conversation with Job, on the attributes of God, as seen in His works, gives prominence to His justice. “Touching the Almighty, we cannot find Him out: He is excellent in power, and in judgment, and in plenty of justice: men do therefore fear Him.” And the Almighty Himself, in the next chapter, tells Job that He sometimes sends His snow and hail in justice, that sinners may be punished for their sins (Job 38:22-23).
4. God’s goodness.
5. God’s providence.
III. The snow in its varied purposes. “He causeth it,” i.e., “the cloud, with whatever is its burden, to unladen and disburden itself”--“for correction, or for His land, or for mercy.” We must here observe--
1. The Lord sometimes sends the snow in the way of correction. The Hebrew is, for a rod--so we put it in the margin. Thunder and rain is the rod (1 Samuel 12:17-19). And who can tell but God may send His snow, and wind, and cold, to punish us for our unmindfulness of His mercies, and opposition to His laws?
2. The snow may be sent for the benefit of God’s land. “For His land” (verse 13). “The world is His, and the fulness thereof.” The clouds, therefore, drop down their moisture for the benefit of God’s land, that the beasts may have pasture; plants, nourishment; and that there may be provision for all God’s offspring (Psalms 104:10-14; Psalms 104:27-28; Psalms 65:9-13).
3. The design of God in sending the snow may be merciful.
IV. Our duty as implied in Elihu’s address to Job. “Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God” (verse 14). The works of God are wonderful--wonderful in their magnitude, variety, beauty, usefulness, and order--these are to be considered. Consider them, therefore; many see them, who never consider them. Consider them reverently. Patiently. Calmly. Closely. God’s works will bear inspection. Frequently. Devoutly. Not merely that your minds may be informed, but your heart drawn out towards God, in pious affections. We learn from this subject--
1. The generality of men pay little attention to the wondrous works of God, that such indifference is very criminal, and that it is the duty of ministers to awaken the attention of their people to the subject.
2. Special and particular providences demand special and particular attention. “Hearken unto this.”
3. The perfect ease with which God can punish the wicked, and hurl them to destruction.
4. The present time affords a fine opportunity for the exercise of Christian benevolence.
5. The precious privileges of those who are interested in the favour of God. (The Pulpit.)
The snow and its lessons
I. We may learn from the snow that it is possible to do a great deal of good without making very much noise. The snow is a great blessing. The Psalmist says, “He giveth snow like wool” (Psalms 147:16). Wool, as we know, is very warm. Winter garments are made of wool, and so we keep out the cold. The snow is God’s winter garment for the earth. It covers up the tender roots and plants with its thick clothing, and protects them from the cutting frosts which would otherwise destroy them. Then the snow is useful for the watering of the earth (Isaiah 55:10-11). When we look upon the beauty of spring, and the many glories of the summer, we must not forget the part which the snow took in producing these things. And yet, while the snow is so useful to the earth, how silently it does its work (Matthew 6:2).
II. Take care what footprints you leave behind you. The fresh snow is a very faithful record of our footsteps. It is in a more serious sense that we also leave our footprints behind us as we walk down the lane of life. I do not mean upon the snow, but upon the memories and characters of those who have known us.
III. Another lesson the snow has taught us is the power of little things. A snowflake is a little thing, but many snowflakes make “a white world.” Success in life consists very much in a constant attention to little things. We cannot always find opportunities of doing great deeds.
IV. The last of our lessons is that God loves holiness. Nothing is whiter than the snow. No sin can enter heaven. (R. Brewin.)
Suggestions of the snow
The Old Testament far more than the New employs the phenomena of nature to symbolise truth. The birth of snow, far up upon soft clouds, or yet more tenuous ether, gives rise to pleasant suggestions of the ways of God in nature. To a child, snow descending is like feathers, as if the great globe were a bird coming to its moulting and shedding all its old plumes. Or, if snow be likened to flowers, then the raindrops in the upper air are buds, and snow is the blossoming or budding raindrops. Or, if the poet renders his thought, the snow is the great husbandman, and plants the moisture borrowed from lake and sea, and in due time shakes down upon the earth the plumy grains that have been reared in the heaven above. Or yet again, as an emblem, Quarles might have noticed the rare beauty of the snow. Each flake of snow is more exquisite in structure than anything mortal hands can make. Why should not the raindrops come pelting down rounded like shot--as they do in summer? The earth, then, it might be thought, had all the beauty of form and flower that it needed; but in winter, cold and barren, the sky is the gelid garden and sends down exquisite bloom, fairer than the lily of the valley. Not only is each flake beautiful, but so are all its weird and witching ways. If undisturbed the snow falls with wondrous levity, as if in a dream or reverie; as if it hardly knew the way, and wavered in the search of the road. It touches the ground with airy grace, as if like a sky bird it touched the bough or the twig only to fly again. But when once embodied, it hangs upon bush and tree, ruffling the black branch with lace, or cushioning the evergreen branch with the rarest and daintiest white velvet. Or, when winds drive it or send it in swirls around and above all obstructions, drifting it into banks with rim and curvature, like which no pencil or tool can match, it still, out of all its agitation, works lines of grace and beauty that have been the admiration of the world from the beginning. This child of the storm is itself beautiful, and the artist of beauty. Consider the weakness and the power of the snow. Can anything be gentler and more powerless? It comes not as a ball from the rifle, or an arrow from the bow, or a swooping hawk descending from the sky for its prey. A child’s hand catches and subdues it; and ere he can see it, it is gone. A baby can master that which masters mankind. Boys gather it, and it is submissive; it resists nothing. All things seem stronger than the snow new born. Yet, one night’s weaving, and it covers the earth through wide latitudes and longitudes with a garment that all the looms of the earth could not have furnished. One day more and it sinks fences underneath it, obliterates all roads, and levels the whole land as spade and plough, and ten thousand times ten thousand engineers and workmen could not do it. It lays its hand upon the roaring engine, blocks its wheels and stops its motion. It stands before the harbour, and lets down a white darkness which baffles the pilot and checks the home-returning ship. It takes the hills and mountains, and gathering its army until the day comes, without sound of drum or trumpet, it charges down; and who can withstand its coming in battle array? What power is thus in the hosts of weakness! So the thoughts of good men, small, silent, gathering slowly, at length are masters of time and of the ages. If such be the power of God’s weakness, what must be the Almightiness of God, the thunder of His power? Consider, also, that the descending snow has relations not alone thus to fancy, but is a worker too. We send abroad to the islands of South America, and to the coast quays, to bring hither the stimulant that shall kindle new life in the wasted soils and bring forth new harvests. Yet from the unsullied air the snow brings down fertility in the endless wastes that are going on,--exhaled gases, from towns and from cities, multiplied forms that are vandals, wanderers in the sky. Caught in the meshes of the snow, the ammoniacal gases and various others are brought down by it and laid upon the soil; and it has become a proverb that the snow, fresh and new-fallen, is the poor man’s manure. It gathers again, then, the waste material of the earth, whose levity carries it above, and lays with equal distribution over all the lands that which brings back to them their needed fertility. (Henry Ward Beecher.)
What are its mute lessons to us?
1. Winter presents us with a special study, of the richness, wisdom, and greatness of the Divine order of the world. The religion of winter worship is preeminently the religion of the supernatural--the religion of Christ. It is the impulse of a religious spirit to recognise the beauty, the wisdom, the grandeur of these manifestations of the Creator. Power, beauty, and goodness are revealed.
2. Winter may be made the text of an important social study. It has potent influences upon character, and upon the duties and sympathies of life. What a lesson it is in the distribution of God’s gifts. Everywhere nature--God’s order--rebukes selfishness. Winter is potent as a social civiliser. Home is fully realised only in winter climes. Winter appeals to human charities and sympathies.
3. Winter is a fine moral study, full of spiritual lessons and analogies, such as Christ would have elicited. It is something that there is a break upon mere acquisition--a season when accumulation is arrested, when even God does not seem to be lavishing gifts. Winter brings a due recognition of the beauty and glory of the earth that God has made, its wondrous forms and forces. It brings a sense of obligation to the marvellous providence of the earth’s economy--the relation of seed time to sowing, of winter to summer; and all the while the uniform wants of life supplied, one season providing for another which produces no supplies. How transient all earthly conditions and forms of beauty and strength! How unresting, how unhasting the law of change. The supreme analogy of winter is death. To this winter of human life we all must come. (Henry Allon, D. D.)
Lessons of the snow
I. Consider its beauty. Its shape and colour have always charmed the naturalists and the poets. Its beauty is its own, unique, artistic, Divine. This beauty suggests a higher beauty, as articulated in thought, in character, and life. The beauty of any life consists in that circlet of excellences called the fruit of the Spirit. That life is beautiful whose touch is healing, whose words are comforting, and whose influence is ennobling. Delicacy and sweetness belong to the highest music. The purer the soul, the more of delicacy and sweetness will be in it. A beautiful life carries the Christ heart. Not only is each snow crystal a thing of beauty, but its ways are ways of pleasantness. How graceful the curves and beautiful the lines of falling snowflakes! How gently they touch the earth! With feathery softness they weave about the trees and bushes the rarest lace work, defying all the looms of the modern world. The snow is an artist unequalled in all the world. Its ways are full of grace and beauty. And beauty in the soul expresses itself in comely ways and winsome deeds. Spirituality will not only transfigure the countenance, but clothe the hands and feet with tenderness and grace.
II. Consider the purity of the snow. It is clean, white, and bright. But when it comes in contact with soot, its purity is defiled and its comeliness destroyed. What a pitiable sight is a soul defiled by the soot of sin! Snow undefiled is bewitchingly beautiful, but when tainted it is repulsive. The sight of doves and snow made David yearn for a pure heart.
III. Consider the variety of the snowflakes. The snowflake has been examined by the microscope, and its revelations disclosed. Revelations of crowns studded with brilliants, of stars with expanding rays, of bridges with their abutments, and temples with their aisles and columns. “Scientific men have observed no less than a thousand different forms and shapes in snow crystals. While they shoot out stars like chiselled diamonds, they reveal endless variety. O what a God is ours! Everywhere in nature we see diversity. We stand amazed before the various types of mind. When we say the snow crystal is a picture of God’s thought, we also are forced to believe it is expressed in a thousand different ways.
IV. Consider the usefulness of the snow. It is a stimulant and fertiliser. Exhausted soils are enlivened and strengthened by the snow. Gases are captured by it, and they descend in showers to enrich and beautify the fields. Utility is a widespread law. Waste material is caught up and made to serve another purpose. See how the snow covers with its woollen mantle uncomely objects, and simultaneously protects those hidden potencies which under the vernal equinox unfold into bud and leaf, blossom, fruit. Beneath that white shroud the forces of spring are allying and marshalling, like soldiers on the field. Snow is a source of irrigation. In countries of great elevation, where the rains are only periodical, the inhabitants depend wholly on the snow to enrich and fertilise their fields. Viewing human life in the light of a Divine philosophy, we are forced to the conclusion that the winter of our trials is essential to soul-fruitage. Lowell saw in the first fall of snow the picture of a great sorrow, but a sorrow sweetened by the elements of hope. Reposing in the thought of a universal Father, and having assurances that winter will give place to spring and the melodies of birds, let us see in our trials and afflictions the means ordained for our entrance into glory. In Haydn’s Creation the opening passage abounds in dissonances, a fit representation of chaos; but they soon give way to harmonies, choral and symphonic, that fill the soul with dreams of immeasurable glory and unearthly peace. And as in music, so in life, discords will end in harmonies, and sweet strains fill earth and sky. Death may seem to silence the harp of life, yet it is only as a pause in music that is preparatory to richer, sweeter, and fuller tones. (J. B. Whitford.)
He sealeth up the hand of every man.
God known by the sealing up of man’s hand
The primary reference to this statement is to the season of winter. Then the earth is hard With frost, and perhaps covered with snow. This brings to man a diminution of power. Scope for his usual activity is cut off. Not only does the labour of the husbandman in great measure cease, but other forms of outdoor labour as well, the necessary materials being no longer plastic in the workman’s hand. The hand of man is so effectually sealed that, for a time, numerous industries fail. While this is the primary reference of the statement, it may be much more widely applied. On every side God sets a limit to man. In relation to everything he comes to a point where he finds his hand “sealed up.” This, no doubt, is a necessity of his limited nature.
1. God sealeth up man’s hand in the realm of nature, that we may know His work in the supply of our necessary food. For that we are dependent on the earth, and the elements: and we can do many things towards extracting from them the food which we need. We can plough, and sow, and harrow, and weed. But in this case man comes to a point where God sealeth up his hand. There is another class of operations which is equally necessary to secure the desired result. There must be apportionment of moisture and sunshine; and there may be mildew and blight. But as regards all this, man is utterly helpless. We have no power over the clouds and sunshine. All that kind of operation belongs entirely to God. This is a special reason for adoration and gratitude when the work is completed, seeing it is so peculiarly and manifestly the work of God. If the harvest were, from first to last, our own work, how proud should we be! how self-sufficient and how forgetful of God!
2. God sealeth up the hand of man by events in Providence, that all men may know His work as the Ruler of the world. Providence is just God’s work in this sense. It sets Him before us as the righteous Governor of the universe. Men can do many things, but they cannot do everything. This comes very much from the concealments of Providence. There is a thick veil spread over the doings of God in order that men may fear before Him. This applies to nations as well as to individuals. Both the one and the other must move very much in the dark as regards circumstances and results, but not as regards principles. For principles are immutable, and God intends us to act from these. How often does God actually arrest courses of human action by sudden combinations in providence which make them impossible--as in the confusion of tongues at Babel.
3. God sealeth up man’s hand by affliction, that men may know His work in their individual life. Affliction is no doubt a part of providence, but it is an isolated part. It is individual in its action, and it enforces the knowledge of God’s work in the personal sphere. This it does by sealing up the hand. Then we feel how little we had in our own power even when we were at our best, and how completely we were at the mercy of a higher. And we see also how well things can go on without us.
4. God seals up the hand of every man when, by His Spirit, He convinces him of sin, that all may know His work in the matter of the soul’s salvation. Here we are in the region of conscience. Practical lesson. We must accept our weakness, and all the limitations of our present condition, if we are ever to know God’s work. (A. L. Simpson, D. D.)
Hearken unto this, O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God.
God’s wondrous working
The teaching of Scripture, both in the Old Testament and in the New, impresses upon us a recognition of the most intimate connection between God and all the forces and events of nature and providence. The thunder is His voice, the clouds are the dust of His feet.
I. How is it done? By what means is it brought about? Let us take the wind and the clouds to illustrate this question. “The wind bloweth where it listeth: thou hearest the sound thereof; but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth.” We can exercise no control over it; it seems to be under no control. But closer examination throws doubt upon the opinion that wind and cloud movements are mere chance work. Some winds are found to be very fixed in their season, their direction, and their force. To find out how the clouds are formed, and the winds rise and fall, is the work of science. Law and order must prevail wherever science can work. But suppose that, one by one, natural phenomena have been traced to their proximate causes throughout the whole domain of nature and natural law, and science brings us its final results, we have no reason, with the Scriptures in our hands, and their truths hid in our hearts, to receive those results with any other feeling than rejoicing. We know from Scripture that God is not a God of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). But we must not allow ourselves to be imposed upon by the use of ambiguous terms. Suppose we could trace up the existing universe to its primeval germ or germs; we are no nearer the discovery of the origin of things. The laws of nature, proximate causes, or whatever other phrase may be preferred, are not forces, much less are they powers; they are merely the modes in which the force or the power operates. Underneath and beyond all these laws, or modes, or sequences, there is a mysterious power which science cannot catch, which it knows to exist, but which has ever evaded its search. Tyndall is right, because strictly scientific, when he says that natural phenomena are, one by one, being associated with their proximate causes; but he may be wrong when he adds that the idea of personal volition mixing itself in the economy of nature is retreating more and more, because here he ventures beyond his sphere, and makes science speak as if it had something to say on a question concerning which he himself allows that it ought not to venture an opinion. For what if this mysterious Power at the back of things should itself be a Person whose volition is the most potent factor of all? Professor Darwin says: “As man can produce, and certainly has produced, a great result by his methodical and conscious means of selection, what may not Nature effect?” We reply: Infinitely more, provided Nature possesses infinite wisdom and power to adopt the methods and to make the selections, along with the personal volition which originates them all. But this “Nature” is none other than the God of the Bible, who created the heavens and the earth, and who made man in His own image.
II. By whom is it done? By what agent is it brought about? The world by its wisdom has never known God. God reveals Himself. While science searches all His workings, it finds everywhere the “hiding of His power,” but Himself it cannot find. God can be known only by those who hear His own voice making Himself known. By faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God. By faith also we know that the worlds are upheld and balanced by the same Power which made them. The laws of nature are the methods by which the God of creation and providence disposes and balances the things which He has made. It is strange that the How should be confounded with the Who, or that the reign of law should be imagined to set aside the necessity, and render doubtful the existence, of a lawgiver. A watch is made, so also is a tree. The method of making does not in either case supersede the necessity of a maker. The laws of painting do not produce a picture of a tree without the hand and skill and volition of a painter tracing every detail. When we listen to the winds, or look upwards to the clouds, or, standing upon the shore, look out upon the stormy ocean, there may be in these no articulate voice to direct us to the character and name of that power which made and moves them. But surely the Maker and the Mover of winds and clouds and storms is not so weak and helpless but that He may speak for Himself, and make Himself understood by intelligent creatures. It is true, and must in the very nature of the case remain ever true, that to the mere scientific explorer God remains unknown, “declining all intellectual manipulation.” When now we search the Scriptures as those who desire to hear God’s own voice, to listen to His own explanation of how the world was fashioned, and how it is upheld, we find, it may be, many things hard to be understood; but we find also the constant declaration of the Divine omnipresence, as superintending, directing, and actively working, according to His own eternal purpose, whatsoever comes to pass. The relation of God’s providential power to His creative power is a matter rather of profitless speculation than of practical importance. Jonathan Edwards suggests, as an illustration, the forming and sustaining of an image in a mirror. The first rays of light from the object falling on the mirror form the image, and there is a constant and unbroken stream of rays which sustain it. The forming and sustaining powers are substantially one. The relation likewise of God’s free and universal agency in providence toward other free agencies and secondary causes, raises many interesting questions, which, however, are also of little profit. Sufficient unto us are the facts that God is not, and cannot be, the author of sin; that no violence is offered to the will of the creatures; that the liberty or contingency of second causes is not taken away, but rather established, inasmuch as the same providence which causeth all things to come to pass, ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes. And again, the relation of God’s general to His particular providence, the adjustment of events to the whole, and at the same time to each and every one of its minutest parts, suggests many problems which it is hard, perhaps impossible, to solve. Sufficient for us is the assurance that, however complicated the task may seem to us, with God all things are possible. And the God to whom all this power and wisdom belong, is revealed to us in the person of Jesus, who is the effulgence of His glory, and the very image of His substance, who says to us: “He that hath seen We hath seen the Father.” In the earthly life of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, the man of science will find problems as hard to solve, and mysteries as difficult of comprehension, as those which meet him on the field of nature. There is the same mysterious power, the same awful presence, and the same failure of an intellectual manipulation to capture and define it.
III. Why is it done? For what purpose is it brought about? This question is obviously two fold, according as it is asked by science or religion, in reference to the modes of action or the motives of the agent. The former may be answered in a single sentence. Every event, regarded scientifically, is first an effect, and then also a cause; whatever flows from it shows the purpose for which it was itself brought about. Physically, the event is intended to produce whatever, according to the laws of nature, flows from it. But the question remains whether, speaking strictly of the material world and its phenomena, the God of nature and of providence has, or can have, any ends in view which are outside the domain of physical science. When He makes the clouds His chariot, or walks upon the wings of the wind, does He confine Himself to purely physical work? According to Elihu, in our text, it is far otherwise; for those clouds and that wind may be carrying heavy loads of mercy or of judgment. The physical, the moral, and the spiritual--the personal, the national, and the universal--are all departments of the same government, and that government is personal and absolute. It is sometimes affirmed that the teaching of Scripture--at least, of the Old Testament--is not to be applied to modern life and the providence of God in relation to it, inasmuch as God was then dealing in a special way with a theocratic nation, which was specially under His authority, in a sense in which no nation now is. But this involves an obvious fallacy: for
1. It can, at most, apply only to the particular methods of the Divine government with that particular nation, and not the principles of the Divine government generally.
2. We find those principles applied in Scripture to other nations besides Israel.
3. We find the same mysteries exercising men’s minds then as now.
4. The same principles are carried into the New Testament, and are there treated as universal in their scope. Even what might seem the most exceptional dealings of the Lord towards His people are adduced for the purpose of impressing upon us the principles involved, and supplying us with examples. Elijah, for instance, was a man like ourselves, says James, and the efficacy of his prayers teaches us that we, too, may pray with expectation. It is true that Scripture reveals to us the presence of God manifesting itself by miracle, as well as by ordinary providence. But we are not now concerned with the methods of the Divine manifestation, only with the fact that the will and power of God are present, and that they are supreme. Grant this, and the question of miracles becomes a purely secondary one. Even the will of the creature man is a potent force among those of the world around him, many of which at least are under its control so far as to be directed towards particular ends which they would not otherwise accomplish. In this respect also man was made in the image of his Maker; and no account of nature and providence can possibly be adequate which does not make allowance for the will of God as the Supreme Power over all. It is not the extraordinary or miraculous merely in the natural world which may be made subservient to moral and spiritual ends. But the ordinary laws of nature are so disposed and balanced that they cooperate for such ends also. It is well, no doubt, in view, for example, of bad trade, agricultural depression, the prevalence of disease or personal, social, or national disaster--it is well to examine carefully the natural causes of these things, and to remove them if we can. But is that all our duty! Mr. Froude says: “The clergy are aware all the time that the evils against which they pray depend on natural causes, and that prayer from a Christian minister will as little bring a change of weather as the incantations of a Caffre rainmaker.” Now, certainly, if the prayers of the Christian minister are to be classed along with the Caffre rainmaker’s incantations, as the same in kind and similar in their motive and design, Mr. Froude is right,. But is this a fair or accurate description of the case? The Christian minister, we submit, is called upon to pray, not because his prayer can change the weather, but because his God can do so. Pestilence comes through uncleanness and the neglect of sanitary measures; therefore in this department let all due precautions be taken to avert it. It comes also from the hand of God, and therefore it is a proper subject for humiliation and prayer. For surely it is both irrational and profane to assert that we ourselves may so overrule and direct the forces of Nature, by sanitary precautions and otherwise, as to alleviate or avert the cholera, and yet to maintain that the God to whom we pray has no power so to do. Depression in trade may be due to economic causes, it is due also to the finger of God. We may, and often do, err, however, in attempting to read God’s providence from the wrong end, by asking what God means by it, instead of inquiring what lesson we ourselves may learn from it. We may err in reading God’s providence for others instead of for ourselves. We may err in directing too exclusive attention to what we call special providences, and thinking too little of ordinary and everyday Divine protection. All events have, at least, a two-fold aspect--one in relation to their proximate causes and effects among the laws of nature, which reads its appropriate lesson as to the use or neglect of means for averting evil, and another in relation to the hand and will of God, which reads its lessons too, no less clearly and impressively than the former. It is a narrow and unworthy view of the Divine government, akin to that spirit which makes God altogether such an one as ourselves, to suppose that when we have found one manifest design and adaptation of any event in one department, there can be no other designs or adaptations in other directions which we do not observe. It is one evidence of the wisdom by which the forces of nature are disposed and balanced that nothing is allowed to run to waste, but that all is economised and made to go as far as possible. In conclusion, let me advert to three practical points on which the subject under consideration has an important bearing.
1. In the sphere of social and national life, the hand of God, by means of natural law, visits iniquity with chastisement, and His voice calls to thankfulness, penitence, and prayer. God is supreme, but also immediate and personal, Governor among the nations. As by means of natural law He visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, and makes the show of the sinner’s countenance testify against him, so likewise He assures us by His providence, as well as by His word, that righteousness exalteth a nation, and that sin becomes a nation’s reproach. Nations, as well as individuals, receive Divine calls to gratitude, repentance, and prayer.
2. The duty and the efficacy of prayer are to be considered solely in the light of our second question. The proper use of means for the accomplishment of given purposes belongs to the first department--the How; and this ought not to be neglected. But prayer looks directly to God, and has nothing to do with secondary causes. The range of prayer is as wide as the providence of God. Whatever difficulties may beset the philosophy of the subject, we can pray best, most scripturally, most truly, when we forget all about its philosophy and its difficulties. These all lie in the region of natural law and secondary causes, with which prayer has nothing to do. It is vain to attempt any compromise or division of territory between natural law on the one side and effectual prayer on the other. All prayer must, in the nature of the case, be limited and conditioned by the submission of the petitioner’s will to the will of Him to whom he prays, and should involve thanksgiving and adoration. Some attempt to exclude prayer from the physical world as a force not provided for, and of no avail, and would limit it to things more purely spiritual. But if the reign of law excludes prayer from the physical world, it excludes it equally from every department. For the frames and feelings of the human spirit, the workings of conscience, and all that belongs to the spiritual world, are as much under the reign of law as the motions of the tides or the phases of the moon, and events are as much settled in the one sphere as in the other. And the same line of argument, if consistently carried out, would paralyse all human effort in every direction whatever. If we are to have law and prayer at all, we must have them cooperating as fellow servants in the same sphere, and there is no possibility of an amicable division of the land between them.
3. In all the work of the Church, specially in the work of the pulpit, we have to do, directly and mainly, with the Word of God. Our work lies in another sphere from that of the scientific explorer in the domain of natural law. The world needs the Gospel; we have the authority of God for saying that Christ Jesus can save to the uttermost. Paul said to Timothy, “Preach the Word”; he charged him also to turn away from the oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called (1 Timothy 6:20). The surest way to drive all enemies from the field is to preach the Word, to let it speak for itself. (James Smith, MA.)
Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds?
Note, in the address of Elihu, his close observation of God’s works in nature, and the admirable use he makes of them.
I. The fact in nature. Wonderful creations of God are the clouds, well deserving our admiration and our study. What a beautiful fact is the balancing of the clouds! Think of the material of which the cloud is composed. There it is, a fleece asleep on the bosom of the blue. Can we explain the balancing? How the hard ice or heavy water turns into light steam, or how the steam condenses into water, or hardens into ice again? Why it is that one day may frown with the storms of winter, and the next smile with the light of spring? Heat, gravitation, electricity, are useful names for the facts we observe, but how much explanation do they give?
II. The fact in experience. Elihu’s words were intended to carry the thoughts of Job beyond the clouds of heaven: for the Book of Job is not a treatise of natural philosophy, but of moral and spiritual truth. Are there no clouds in our sky? Is all bright--without a single shadow? Such a sky would he more than we could bear. Our heads are too weak to stand it. Blessed be God for clouds! They temper the scorching sky, and make the atmosphere more sweet, more healthy. They open a new field for the exhibition of the Divine attributes; they present masses for the light of His character to irradiate and glorify. And is there no balancing of our clouds? Does a single affliction ever gather over us which God does not weigh and measure and control? Infinite Wisdom is at work to determine the form and degree of our earthly trials; and He will not “suffer us to be tempted above what we are able to bear.” Still, how little we know about it! We see the purpose of some of our sorrows; the evil they lead us to correct, the danger they teach us to avoid; but, for anything we can tell, God has many other purposes in them, of which we shall never know till they are revealed to us in heaven. (F. Tucker, B. A.)
Which is perfect in knowledge.
Of the omniscience of God
These words are a declaration of that Divine attribute, the perfection of knowledge.
I. God is a Being indeed with perfect knowledge.
1. Knowledge is a perfection without which the foregoing attributes are no perfections at all, and without which those which follow can have no foundation. Where there is no knowledge, eternity and immensity are as nothing; and justice, goodness, mercy, and wisdom can have no place.
2. That God must be a Being indeed with perfect knowledge, appears from His having communicated certain degrees of that perfection. For whatever perfection is in any effect, must of necessity have been much more in the cause that produced it. Nothing can give to another that which it hath not in itself. Though nothing can give what it has not, yet any cause may forbear to give all that it has.
3. From the immensity and omnipresence of God may the same truth be likewise clearly evinced. Wherever Himself is, His knowledge is, which is inseparable from His being, and must therefore be infinite.
II. The particular nature and circumstances of the Divine knowledge.
1. The object of this knowledge. It is a knowledge of all things absolutely. Our knowledge is short as our duration, and limited as our extent. The knowledge of God is a knowledge of all the actions of men; of all their thoughts and intents; and even of future and contingent events. Even the most contingent futurities, the actions of free agents, cannot be conceived to be hidden from his foresight. How can foreknowledge in God be consistent with liberty of action in men? Premise that our infinite understandings are not able to comprehend all the ways of infinite knowledge, and that the question is not whether men’s actions are free, but how that freedom of action which makes men to be men, can be consistent with foreknowledge of such actions. If these two things were really inconsistent, and could not be reconciled, it would follow, not that men’s actions were not free (for that would destroy all religion), but that such free actions as men’s are, were not the objects of the Divine foreknowledge. Foreknowledge does not cause things to be. The futurity of free actions is exactly the same, whether they can, or could not, be foreknown.
2. The manner of this Divine knowledge. We cannot, in particular, explain all the ways, manners, and circumstances of infinite knowledge. We can only make a few general observations. The Divine knowledge is not, as ours and the angels, a knowledge of things by degrees and parts. It is a perfect comprehension of everything, in all possible respects at a time, and in all possible circumstances together. It is not, as ours, only a superficial and external knowledge, but an intimate and thorough prospect of their very inmost nature and essence. It is not, as ours, confused and general, but a clear, distinct, and particular knowledge of every, even the minutest, thing or circumstance. It is not, as ours, acquired with difficulty, consideration, attention, and study, but a knowledge necessarily and perpetually arising of itself.
3. The certainty of this Divine knowledge. It is absolutely infallible, without the least possibility of any degree of being deceived.
III. A few practical inferences.
1. If the Divine knowledge is perfect, it is a proper object of our admiration and honour.
2. If God knows all, even our most secret actions; then ought we to live under the power of this conviction, in all holy and godly conversation, both publicly and in private.
3. Learn the folly of all hypocrisy; the obligation to purity of heart.
4. If God knows all future events, we may safely depend and trust on His providence, without being over-solicitous for the time to come.
5. See the folly of pretending to foreknow things.
6. If God alone knoweth the thoughts of men, we ought not to be forward in judging others. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
Hast thou with Him spread out the sky?
For beauty, for inspiration, for health and refreshment, for a sense of freedom and enlargement, is there anything like the sky when the earth does not bury it out of sight by her vapours, nor foul and tarnish it by her smoke? Or again, for teaching and for sublimest instruction, for tenderness and for strength, for measurelessness and everlastingness, is there anything like the sky? How it attracts us and draws us all out of doors, makes it impossible for us to live within any doors! We must be under the sky. And how it rewards us! The first step when we leave the threshold, what a meeting between a man’s face and the face of the sky! It is a spirit and life to us. It bathes us. It is anodyne in the evening, it kisses us in the morning. It is vital enough, intense enough to enter and flow through the centre of every blood globule, every nerve and every atom. More, it positively is soul for our soul, for it kindles thought and affection; yea, still more, it is inmost spirit for our inmost spirit, for God is in the sky and gives Himself to us through it. If you do not receive God through the sky that is your fault; it is neither God’s fault nor the fault of the sky. For I, at any rate, am conscious of receiving God every day of my life through the sky. Hence the sky feeds our reverence; quickens worship; teaches us how to worship; puts all littleness and partiality out of our worship; makes our worship large, and grand, and impartial as the sky; takes fear and distrust from us, creates in us faith and a hope that will not die. When you feel dark and doleful within the narrow prison of your own personality, do go out to God’s sky, liberate yourself, let your soul expand in its openness. There is an infinite hope for us in the sky, and God has put it there. All prophets, therefore, and these Scriptures refer us to the sky. You know how full the prophets of this Old Book are of reference to the sky and to Him who stretched it out. “God alone stretcheth out the heavens,” saith Job. “O Lord, my God,” says David, “Thou art very great;. . .Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain.” The sky is a veil or a curtain between His glory and the outer glory. But what we call the outer glory--sky--is His glory come through. His vitality presses on the bike curtain. The blue curtain is pervious in every point to His Spirit. The tender infinite sky is God’s remoter robe, and His robe is full of Him--full of His virtues. He holdeth back the face of His throne, and hangeth the blue curtain before it. Let me note here that the word translated sky in our text is plural in the Hebrew, and means “the ethers” or the tenuous atmospheres which are intermediate between our heaven and that other glory which mortal eyes cannot see. And in justifying the words “stretcheth out” and “spreadeth,” as applicable to the “ethers” or the sky, let us observe, once for all, that the things most solid and those most attenuated are all one substance. Strictly, there is but one substance in the visible and invisible universe. The ether of the sky is just as metallic as gold, or silver, or steel. These metals may any day be made ether again. Nothing is so solid and nothing so strong as the everlasting sky. It is the “stretched out” spirit substance; the sweet transparency. It is the image and the mirror of the invisible God, and one word expresses both, the ether and His Spirit. The breath of God is what we call Holy Spirit, and the “stretched out” sky simply clothes His breath or spirit to us who are so dull of comprehending His Spirit--the great, clear, infinite sky--so that it is the manifestation, the image of the Spirit of God. We must allow God to hang the picture before us; He knows what we want. We are wise enough to follow this Divine method in putting pictures before the eyes of our little ones, and having awakened wonder and secured their interest we then proceed to give them the ideas of which the pictures are the signs. Now of all pictures, the infinite curtain dotted over with its innumerable golden suns is the picture. It is God holding before our eyes the shadow of Himself. The boundless, over-arching tent which is spread over all the worlds and heavens of His children is simply the image of His own boundlessness. It is one, like God--fathomless, measureless, strong, and endless. As of all scenes the sky is first and largest, likewise among things serviceable it is of the very first use. It is the infinite, the invisible servant of God. It is the first of all His ministering angels. It is always blessing us and without a sound. It is always teaching us. It teaches us more than all sounds and voices ever taught us or ever can teach. It teacheth us concerning the Spirit of God, concerning the face of God, and concerning the operation of God. And if you want to learn what His Trinity is, I implore you not to learn it from men, or books, but from God’s teaching. It is the Father representing His own adorable Trinity to His children, and how unspeakably superior to all our definitions, whether Athanasian or otherwise! “Lift up your eyes,” He says, “and behold My infinite ether, behold it by day and behold it by night. When you have considered with admiration and reflection My infinite ether, then consider the sun which is in the bosom of the ether, the child, the only begotten of the infinite ether. Then, thirdly, think of the breath of the ether coming down into your blood and frame, and of the beam of light, both alike proceeding from the Father, and the Son, from the infinite ether and from the sun in the sky. It is impossible to imagine either a more expressive or a more impressive teaching about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit than God has made the sky. From the sky we have breath for the lungs and light for the eyes, and from the adorable Trinity the breath and illumination of His Spirit for our eternal life. Think of the infinitude of the living spirit which is behind the ether, and think of that central light which lightens all the suns, which the suns simply reflect, and think again of the living spirit and the living light giving themselves to every atom child in the universe for the eternal life of every child of the Father in His visible heavens. God has given to us the sublimest teaching in the sublimest way. Now as if to insist that we must carry over the whole sky and all that is in the sky into our Gospel--and if you do not carry it into the Gospel then it is no Gospel of God, for wherever your Gospel came from I am certain that the first teaching of God is in His infinite sky--God shows us therein a mirror of Himself spread out before us. The sky is “a molten looking glass” to reflect God’s face. Likewise we read, “Thy tabernacle, thy tent in which thou dwellest with thy children.” But who can speak of the children folded within the infinite curtain of the sky? All worlds have, of course, their own atmospheres, but beyond their distinct atmospheres there is one ethereal mantle, one sky that includes them all. One blue tent comprehends all constellations and all planets, but nothing is so firm as this fixed tent. Why do we call it firm? Because it is immovable. Winds blow and storms rage in your planetary atmosphere, but never in the ether. If ten thousand times ten thousand suns, which are now in the firmament, were to burn out and become extinct tonight, it would not in the very least touch or affect the infinite or the eternal ether which over-arches all worlds. It is imperturbable because it is God’s image, like Himself, imperturbable, and yet infinitely delicate and tender. God breathes through this skyey tent, and His tent at every point inbreathes the breath of God. His sleeping and waking children throughout the universe sleep and wake throughout their Father’s all-breathing tent of azure and of gold. “He stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent for His children to dwell in,” and He breathes through into the tent, into every spirit and bosom of every child, because the ethers are many. One ether above another, one ether within another, adapted to the diverse requirements of His children, and yet all the inner and inmost ethers of angels and of men, all the material heavens of immensity, and all the invisible heavens are but one Father’s tent to dwell in. Lift up your eyes on high and behold the countless homes in your Father’s infinite tent; the children of each orb in the sky, of incomputable number. How ineffable then is the thought of all the children of all the worlds and all the heavens in one tent of an infinite God. Scope enough opens here to admit of foreign travel to all eternity. There is also family enough here to occupy and interest us to all eternity. We shall have an everlasting opportunity of entertaining strangers and of being entertained by strangers. But the thing which specially concerns us is that beautiful transformation we are undergoing from being grubs of the earth to becoming God’s butterflies of the sky--the transformation of God’s children from being planetary children to becoming His children of the heavens. In the present form of our nature we can only live in the dense atmosphere of our own earth, but God is generating an inner man within us. He who asked us just now to think of Him who “formed us in the womb” asks us now to think of our outer form as a womb in which He is forming the inner creature which shall be able to breathe His ether, and after that the sublimer ether, until at last in our highest refinement we shall be able to breathe the sublimest ether, namely, the ether of His own presence and glory. Suppose, for an illustration of our formation and our transfiguration, that we take those strange denizens of our sky called comets, which appear to be planets in the making, that is, they so appear to me, and I shall so think of them till I am better instructed. They have all been generated and thrown off by some sun. All earths and comets are children of suns. The comets have too much of the fiery energy of their original. The comets are too recent; they require ages and ages to cool down--as our own planet did--before they can become grass-growing, fruit-growing habitations. But mark the beautiful process. To what immeasurable distance from their parent sun these comets rush, as though they were bent on entering the outer darkness! But behold in due time, perhaps in their hundredth year, if not then, in their seven hundredth year, or in their thousandth year, they begin to rush as fast back under the attraction of their parent the sun--just as fast as they had all the centuries been receding from the sun. What a process! Receive instruction. In travelling from the sun they are cooling, cooling, and bathing themselves in distant and more distant atmospheres, and impregnating themselves with foreign virtues, and then in returning to the sun they renew their energy and are impregnated with solar electricities. And this strange law of receding from and then advancing towards the sun continues until the happy balance is struck, and they become mild and temperate worlds. In the light of this law contemplate the present strangely inconsistent earth life of man. Child though he is of God, shot out of His bosom, yet there is in him a terribly strong tendency of turning his back on God, and rushing away in the strength of his own will, as though he would rush on to darkness, chaos, desert, hell, and find a region without God--without hope. But the moment comes--the moment of his greatest distance, perhaps his greatest sin--when he bethinks himself, pulls himself up and repents, bends round, turns, moves towards his God with all the earnestness that heretofore he went from Him, comet-like. Thus it is that he, too, acquires experience, w the experience of distance, the experience of darkness, the experience of his own fiery passions; and then the experience of God’s breath, of God’s harmonising truth, of God’s pure, calm, changeless, eternal love, until ultimately he attains to great riches of nature, the riches of darkness, the riches of light, the riches of personality, the riches Of God, and becomes a divinely balanced character, a noble son of God. (John Pulsford.)
Teach us what we shall say unto Him.
Man and God
I. Suggestions concerning man.
1. The sublimest act, speaking to God. “Teach us what we shall say unto Him; for we cannot order our speech by reason of darkness. Shall it be told Him that I speak? If a man speak, surely he shall be swallowed up.” Speaking to God is an act implying a belief in the personality, presence, and susceptibility of God. Concerning this act, Elihu here intimates three things:
2. A sad tendency. This is suggested in the words, “Men see not the bright light which is in the clouds.” Although the reference here is of course to the physical fact, it is certainly suggestive of the mental tendency, which is very strong in some, to look at the dark side of things. You see this tendency--
II. Declarations concerning God. There are four facts concerning God here declared; and as they have been noticed more than once before, it will be sufficient just to mention them.
1. His greatness is referred to. “With God is terrible majesty.”
2. His inscrutability is referred to. “We cannot find Him out.”
3. His righteousness. “He is excellent in power and in judgment, and in plenty of justice.”
4. His independency. “He respecteth not any that are wise of heart.” (Homilist.)
And now men see not the bright light which is in the clouds.
Light in the clouds
Faith can see light when to human sense all is dark and dismal; can distinguish stars in the darkest night, sunbeams in the blackest clouds. I do not profess accurately to determine the meaning of our text. Possibly the words are to be interpreted in their literal signification, referring to changes in the weather, by which God, in a manner unknown to man, accomplishes His wise and benevolent purposes. But a cloud is so common a figure to denote adversity, light to denote prosperity, a cold north wind a painful dispensation of Providence, and fair weather a time of comfort and tranquillity, that I do not hesitate to make application of the words to the present condition of believers.
I. The clouds. Clouds not infrequently gather around the path of the Christian in his pilgrimage to heaven. To look for perpetual sunshine is a vain and foolish expectation in passing through the vicissitudes of this stormy world. If man be born to trouble, assuredly the Christian has no exemption from the common lot of human nature. His example is Christ, and in conformity with Christ his religious character must attain its purity and perfection. Like his great Master, he must learn obedience in the things which he suffers You believe in Providence; now is the time to trust it. You believe in the chastening hand of your heavenly Father: then say to God, “Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me.” How will the cloud disperse? In what way will it end? That must be left between yourself and God. The order of Providence has been arranged with reference to the character of the believer.
II. The bright light. The light is here, though men see it not. Some people are not accustomed to observe the monition of Providence. The events must come in all their reality before they are correctly appreciated. Light and shade are mingled in the dispensations of Providence, as in the scenery of nature; and in the darkest shade we shall discern some light if we look for it in a right disposition of mind. Some will not see shade; others will not see light. The silvery margin of the cloud is a pleasant sign. Or is the bright light a pencil of rays, breaking through an opening in the thin and fleecy cloud, as you may often have observed it in the summer’s evening? It tells you the sun has not set. It still shines through the cloud. Or is the bright light the bow in the clouds, the reflected light of sunbeams separated in their rich and beautiful colours? This is the emblem of promise, the token of good. It means promise in sorrow, and promise is ever present in the darkest day of our lives.
III. The passing wind. The wind here is not that which bringeth up the rain from the chambers of the south, but that which disperses the clouds, and produces fair weather. You may experience something of the same kind of dispersion of your gloom and sorrow. The wind that drives away the cloud may seem rough and cold. But be the wind what it may, rough or gentle, cold or warm, it is sent by the Lord. Our troubles are of His appointment, our deliverance at His disposal; and He will disperse the troubles, and send deliverance at such a time, and by such means as He sees best. Be it ours, then, to see that the trials accomplish the good purpose of God, and then we may expect their speedy removal. (R. Halley, D. D.)
The bright light in the clouds
Prom Elihu we learn that any seeming defect in the Divine arrangements must be attributable, not to any want of skill or wisdom in the Divine Ruler of all things, but rather to the short-sightedness of man’s imperfect vision. Taken in this point of view, the text presents us with ample materials for deep reflection upon the Divine character, and at the same time administers to us instructive reproof. How apt are we to indulge in a repining and complaining spirit, when we cannot see the whole machinery of God’s government working according to our notions of equity and goodness. “Vain man would be wise,” says Zophar to Job; his restless and soaring spirit would fain explore the whole treasure house of knowledge; and yet, with all this panting after wisdom, how little does the most gifted of earth’s sons comparatively know of God as revealed in the broad and thinly-leaved volume of the Divine works. If there be so much that is dark and mysterious in the works of God so richly spread around us, and in the works of God so warmly beating within us, what wonder is it if we are unable to track out to our satisfaction the higher dealings of God’s moral government? There is, however, always the bright light of wisdom and benevolence shining in the darkest cloud; and it does not shine the less really because unobserved by our short-sighted vision. In all God’s dispensations, He doubtless has ever a reason of wisdom and love, though it may be involved in the clouds of obscurity, and unknown to us. We see merely a few of the cross wheels, and are at a loss to understand the meaning of their revolvings. But to Him who ordereth all things, and who seeth the end from the beginning, every wheel appears properly adjusted for its own special work. Remember, then, that upon those who are really living by faith in the Son of God, though they may not always recognise it, the bright light of the heavenly favour is shining in the darkest cloud of Providence; and what we know not now, we shall know hereafter. (W. J. Brock, A. B.)
Light on the cloud
The argument is, let man be silent when God is dealing with him; for he cannot fathom God’s inscrutable wisdom. The text represents man’s life under the figure of a cloudy day.
I. We live under a cloud and see God’s way only by a dim light. As beings of intelligence, we find ourselves hedged in by mystery on every side. All our seeming knowledge is skirted, close at hand, by dark confines of ignorance. What then does it mean? Is God jealous of intelligence in us? Exactly contrary to this. He is a Being who dwelleth in light, and calls us to walk in the light with Him. By all His providential works He is training intelligence in us, and making us capable of knowledge. The true account is, that the cloud under which we are shut down is not heavier than it must be. How can a Being infinite be understood by a being finite? Besides, we have only just begun to be; and a begun existence is, by the supposition, one that has just begun to know, and has everything to know. How then can he expect, in a few short years, to master the knowledge of God and His universal kingdom? There is not only a necessary, but also a guilty limitation upon us. And therefore we are not only obliged to learn, but, as being under sin, are also in a temper that forbids learning, having our minds disordered and clouded by evil. Hence come our perplexities; for, as the sun cannot show distinctly what is in the bottom of a muddy pool, so God can never be distinctly revealed in the depths of a foul and earthly mind. The very activity of reason, which ought to beget knowledge, begets only darkness now, artificial darkness. We begin to quarrel with limitation itself, and so with God. He is not only hid behind thick walls of mystery, but He is dreaded as a power unfriendly, suspected, doubted, repugnantly conceived. We fall into a state thus of general confusion, in which even the distinctions of knowledge are lost. Reminded that God is, and must be, a mystery, we take it as a great hardship, or, it may be, an absurdity, that we are required to believe what we cannot comprehend. Entering the field of supposed revelation, the difficulties are increased in number, and the mysteries are piled higher than before. God in creation, God in Trinity, God incarnate. Man himself. Man in society. Practically, much is known about God and His ways--all that we need to know; but, speculatively, or by the mere understanding, almost nothing save that we cannot know. The believing mind dwells in continual light; for, when God is revealed within, curious and perplexing questions are silent. But the mind that judges God, or demands a right to comprehend Him before it believes, stumbles, complains, wrangles, and finds no issue to its labour.
II. There is abundance of light on the other side of the cloud and above it. This we might readily infer from the fact that so much of light shines through. The experience of every soul that turns to God is a convincing proof that there is light somewhere, and that which is bright is clear. It will also be found that things which at one time appeared to be dark--afflictions, losses, trials, wrongs, defeated purposes, and deeds of suffering, patience, yielding no fruit--are very apt, afterward, to change colour, and become visitations of mercy. And so where God was specially dark, He commonly brings out, in the end, some good or blessing, in which the subject discovers that his heavenly Father only understood his wants better than he did himself. Things which seemed dark or inexplicable, or even impossible for God to suffer without wrong in Himself, are really bright with goodness in the end. What then shall we conclude, but that on the other side of the cloud there is always a bright and glorious light, however dark it is underneath? Hence it is that the Scriptures make so much of God’s character as a light-giving power, and turn the figure about into so many forms.
III. The cloud we are under will finally break way and be cleared. On this point we have many distinct indications. Thus it coincides with the general analogy of God’s works, to look for obscurity first, and light afterward. Illustrate--Creation; animals blind at birth; the manner of our intellectual discoveries, etc. Precisely what is to be the manner and measure of our knowledge, in the fuller and more glorious revelation of the future, is not clear to us now; for that is one of the dark things or mysteries of our present state. But the language of Scripture is remarkable: it even declares that we shall see God as He is. It is even declared that our knowledge of Him shall be complete. Let us receive from this subject--
1. A lesson of modesty. Which way soever we turn in our search after knowledge, we run against mystery at the second or third step. There is no true comfort in life, no dignity in reason, apart from modesty.
2. How clear it is that there is no place for complaint or repining under the sorrows and trials of life. God is inscrutable, but not wrong. If the cloud is over you, there is a bright light on the other side; and the time is coming, either in this world or the next, when that cloud will be swept away, and the fulness of God’s light and wisdom poured around you. 3 While the inscrutability of God should keep us in modesty, and stay our complaints against Him, it should never suppress, but rather sharpen, our desire for knowledge. (Horace Bushnell, D. D.)
Light in the clouds
These words illustrate--
I. That dark season when clouds of unforgiven guilt overhang and oppress the soul. Like those dense clouds which, long gathering, thicken into a distinct and compact mass so is the huge guilt of the sinner who is alienate from God. As thick clouds conceal the sun, and obstruct the light of day, so this accumulated guilt hides from the wretched sinner all light of the favour of God.
II. Those dark and sorrowful seasons that sometimes occur in the Christian’s career. There are seasons and days when the light of the Lord is withheld, and he must walk on, and work in the darkness. Yet never is his darkness altogether dark. At such times there is no change in God, no withdrawment of Christ. The sun all the while is in his proper place in the heavens.
III. The cloudy seasons of adversity and affliction. It is part of the method of Divine procedure in the education of the human race, and for the development of the higher faculties of our nature, to subject us to suffering. Our lives would become hard and unlovely were it not for the soft sorrows that fall on us, the trials that beat on us, and the clouds that drench us. But whatever the sorrows that overtake us, when they have accomplished their mission they pass away. (W. T. Bull, B. A.)
The bright light on the clouds
There are a hundred men looking for storm where there is one man looking for sunshine. My object will be to get you and myself into the delightful habit of making the best of everything.
I. You ought to make the best of all your financial misfortunes. During the panic a few years ago you all lost money. Compression: retrenchment. Who did not feel the necessity of it? Did yon make the best of this? Are you aware of how narrow an escape you made? Suppose you had reached the fortune toward which you were rapidly going? You would have been as proud as Lucifer. How few men have succeeded largely in a financial sense, and yet maintained their simplicity and religious consecration! Not one man out of a hundred. The same Divine band that crushed your storehouse, your bank, your office, your insurance company, lifted you out of destruction. The day you honestly suspended in business made your fortune for eternity. “Oh!” you say, “I could get along very well myself, but I am so disappointed that I cannot leave a competence for my children.” The same financial misfortune that is going to save your soul will save your children. The best inheritance a young man can have is the feeling that tie has to fight his own battle, and that life is a struggle into which he must throw body, mind, and soul, or be disgracefully worsted.
II. Again, I remark, you ought to make the best of your bereavements. The whole tendency is to brood over these separations, and to give much time to the handling of mementoes of the departed, and to make long visitations to the cemetery, and to say, “Oh, I can never look up again; my hope is gone; my courage is gone; my religion is gone; my faith in God is gone! Oh, the wear, and tear, and exhaustion of this loneliness!” The most frequent bereavement is the loss of children. Instead of the complete safety into which that child has been lifted, would you like to hold it down to the risks of this mortal state? Would you like to keep it out on a sea in which there have been more shipwrecks than safe voyages? Is it not a comfort to you to know that that child, instead of being besoiled and flung into the mire of sin, is swung clear into the skies? So it ought to be that you should make the best of all your bereavements. The fact that you have so many friends in heaven will make your own departure very cheerful. The more friends here, the more bitter good-byes; the more friends there, the more glorious welcomes. Though all around may be dark, see you not the bright light in the clouds--that light the irradiated faces of your glorified kindred?
III. So also I would have you make the best of your sicknesses. When you see one move off with elastic step and in full physical vigour, sometimes you become impatient with your lame foot. When a man describes an object a mile off, and you cannot see it at all, you become impatient of your dim eye. When you hear of a healthy man making a great achievement, you become impatient with your depressed nervous system or your dilapidated health. I wilt tell you how you can make the worst of it. Brood over it; brood over all these illnesses, and your nerves will become more twitchy, and your dyspepsia more aggravated, and your weakness more appalling. But that is the devil’s work, to tell you how to make the worst of it: it is my work to show you a bright light in the clouds. Which of the Bible men most attract your attention? You say, Moses, Job, Jeremiah, Paul. Why, what a strange thing it is that you have chosen those who were physically disordered! Moses--I know he was nervous from the blow he gave the Egyptian. Job--his blood was vitiated and diseased, and his skin distressfully eruptive. Jeremiah had enlargement of the spleen. Who can doubt it who reads Lamentations? Paul--he had a lifetime sickness which the commentators have been guessing about for years, not knowing exactly what the apostle meant by “a thorn in the flesh.” I gather from all this that physical disorder may be the means of grace to the soul. The best view of the delectable mountains is through the lattice of the sick room.
IV. Again, you ought to make the best of life’s finality. There are many people that have an idea that death is the submergence of everything pleasant by everything doleful. Oh, what an ado about dying! We get so attached to the malarial marsh in which we live that we are afraid to go up and live on the hilltop. We are alarmed because vacation is coming. Eternal sunlight, and best programme of celestial minstrels and hallelujah no inducement. Let us stay here and keep cold and ignorant and weak. Do not introduce us to the saints of old. I am amazed at myself and at yourself for this infatuation under which we all rest. Men, you would suppose, would get frightened at having to stay in this world instead of getting frightened at having to go toward heaven. I congratulate anybody who has a right to die. By that I mean through sickness you cannot avert, or through accident you cannot avoid--your work consummated. “Where did they bury Lily?” said one little child to another. “Oh!” she replied, “they buried her in the ground.” “What! in the cold ground?” “Oh no, no! not in the cold ground, but in the warm ground, where ugly seeds become faithful flowers.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The bright light in the cloud
Take text to illustrate the disposition of men to look upon the dark side of things.
I. the text will apply to the sceptic in relation to the dark things of revelation. These men see the clouds, and through the unbelief of their heart these clouds blacken and spread until they cover the whole firmament of revelation. That there are clouds hanging over this Book, it is far more Christian to admit than to deny. But, thank God, though we see the clouds, the clouds which the sceptic sees, we do not see them like him. We see a bright light upon them. There are several things which give the darkest of them a bright light.
1. There is the love of the Infinite Father. This shines through all its pages.
2. The unspotted holiness of our Great Example.
3. The provision He has made for our spiritual recovery.
4. The existence of a blessed immortality. Immortality is a bright light upon all the clouds of revelation. The clouds give variety and interest to the scene--they soften and cool the brilliant and burning rays.
II. The text will apply to the factious faultfinders of God’s providence. Some people are everlastingly musing on the difficulties of providence.
1. The permission of moral evil is a cloud.
2. The apparent disregard of God to the moral distinctions of society is a cloud. “All things come alike to all,” etc.
3. The power which wickedness is often allowed to exercise over virtue, is a cloud--chains, dungeons, stakes.
4. The premature deaths of the good and useful are a cloud. We feel these clouds. But there is a bright light upon these clouds. The belief that they are local, temporary, transitional, is a bright light upon all the clouds. Out of their darkness and confusion will one day come a beautiful system. “Our light afflictions which are but for a moment,” etc.
III. The text will apply to the misanthropic in relation to the character of race. There are men who have gloomy and uncharitable views of the character of mankind. All men are as corrupt as they can be--virtue is but vice in a pleasing garb. Very dark indeed are the clouds which these men see hanging over society; there is no ray to relieve their darkness. Stiff, we see bright light upon the clouds--there is not unmitigated, unrelieved corruption. There is the light of social love which streams through all the ramifications of life. There is a light of moral justice which flames forth when the right and the true are outraged. There is the light of true religion. There are men who are throwing on society the right thoughts, putting forth the right efforts, and breathing to heaven the right prayers.
IV. The text will apply to the desponding christian in relation to his experience. There are hours in the experience of many of the good when all within is cloudy. The proneness to fall into sin, the coldness of our devotional feeling, the consciousness of our defects, the felt distance between our ideal and ourselves, sometimes bring a sad gloom over the heart.” We walk in darkness, and have no light. But here are bright lights, however, upon this cloudy experience. In the first place, the very feeling of imperfection indicates something good. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” etc. “Blessed are they that mourn,” etc. In the second place, most of those who are now in heaven once felt this. Christ is ready to help such as you. From this subject we learn--
1. To cultivate the habit of looking upon the bright side of things.
2. To anticipate the world of future light. (Homilist.)
The light in the clouds
1. We live on the unilluminated side of the cloud between God’s throne and His earthly children, and only needful rays shine through; and yet the rays are quite sufficient for your guidance and for mine. We have quite sufficient truth shining through the cloud for us to walk in the paths of obedience, waiting for the time when we shall get above the cloud, and behind the cloud, into the overwhelming brightness that plays forever round the throne.
2. The infinite light behind the throne is infinite love. That cloud is light and love, and every ray that streams through to us is a love ray from the infinite, the abounding and inexhaustible love in the eternal Godhead. God governs the world by most beautiful laws of compensation. Suffering has many compensations, not only in its influence upon the sufferer, in humbling him, bringing him into a sense of dependence, inspiring in him a spirit of prayer, quickening his faith, and working out the principles of righteousness, but suffering hath its happy influence upon others.
3. The future will clear up many a mystery. By-and-by shall come the last great day of revelation, when nothing that is right shall be found to have been vanquished, and nothing that is wrong shall be found to have triumphed. Learn--
God usually orders it that through penitence come praise and forgiveness, through trial comes triumph; yea, the cloud itself sends down mercy. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Clouds with silver linings
How much is said in Scripture about clouds! Clouds are the appropriate signs of mystery, and majesty, and mercy. It is impossible to look upon a cloud without being impressed perhaps more with the appropriateness of it as a vesture of God’s greatness and His divinity, than even sea or mountain. Clouds have an interpreted force. They have gentle and bright teachings. They are capable of daguerreotyping upon our paths bright letters, if we will but stop to read them. See whether we can detect some of the light.
1. In the character of God, the cloud has silver linings. “Dark with excessive light His skirts appear.” In nature, God appears to us very much more as the God of mystery than as the God of mercy. To me nature is no gospel. The character of God is a great, strange, dark cloudland; but it has its silver lining. He dwells in incommunicable, inaccessible light. Yet on the fringes of that cloud which vests Him, and passes before His throne, we see indications and traces of the benignity and beauty of His character. The Bible is only something like a cloud before the throne of God. He holds back the splendour of His own Being, for we could not bear it.
2. In the pathway of providence the clouds have a silver lining. The providence in which God moves is frequently as cloudy as even the vesture that robes round His own being and character. How unreasonable it is for us to suppose that all providential arrangements are to be known and seen by us. God’s justice is terrible, but it is lined with mercy; God’s terror is terrible, but it is lined with love; God’s power is terrible, but it is lined with wisdom.
3. In the interpretation of truth, the cloud has often a silver lining. The words of the Book have great darkness in them. It is much easier to ask questions on the difficulties of Scripture than it is to answer them.
4. In the ordinances of religion the cloud has a silver lining. Learn that we must be cheerful under the darkness. Finally, there are clouds in some parts of the universe that have no silver linings. (E. Paxton Hood.)
The bright light in the cloud
God appears, the last of the dramatis personae. He comes in the whirlwind, and out of the cloud, sweeping through the heavens: He proclaims His majesty: “Gird up now thy loins like a man, for I will demand of thee, and answer thou Me.” The cloud is God’s pavilion. It is the appropriate medium through which the Infinite reveals Himself to man. In the nature of the case it is not possible to have a revelation without a corresponding adumbration of Him. He is like the sun, which cannot be seen without a dimness intervening between it and the naked eye. This is God’s way of revealing Himself: He must needs obscure His glory in manifesting it. The complaint of Elihu is that men behold the cloud, but not the bright light within it.
I. As to God’s personality. To know Him is the summit of human aspiration. This is life eternal, to know God, and Jesus Christ who is the manifestation of God. It is an easy thing to utter His name; but who can apprehend the tremendous truth suggested in that little word of three letters! Infinitude is embraced in it. When Simonides was entrusted by King Hiero with the duty of defining God, he returned at the close of the day to ask for further time. A week, a month, a year passed by, and then he reported, “The more I think of Him, the more He is unknown to me.” There have been campaigns of controversy, centuries of research, libraries of theology, and still here we are asking, What is God? The cloud bewilders us. But one thing we know, God is Love. This is the bright light. Whatever else we fail to grasp, this we may fully apprehend. If Jesus Christ had done no more, as Madame de Gasparin said, than to reveal the Divine Fatherhood, that would have compensated for His incarnation.
II. As to God’s character. His attributes of truth, justice, and holiness, are the habitation of His throne. The thought of the Divine holiness appalls us, for we are defiled, and by our sins infinitely separated from Him. But again, love is the bright light. The cross stands in the midst of the Divine holiness. The cross is preeminently the manifestation of the Divine love. At the moment when Jesus died, the veil of the Temple was rent in twain, and a new and living way was opened up for sinners into the Holiest of all.
III. As to the Divine decrees. Or, God’s dealings with us from the eternal ages. The very suggestion offends us. Yet we must be aware that God would not be God if He had not foreknown and foreordained whatsoever cometh to pass. It is vain, however, to undertake to simplify the doctrine. But here, again, love is the bright light. God’s decrees are founded in His mercy. Election has never kept one out of heaven, but it has brought an innumerable multitude into it.
IV. As to Divine providence. Here, surely clouds and darkness are round about Him. Pain, sorrow, disappointment, are our common portion. We are all burden bearers. Why must we be? Here, again, love is the bright light. All God’s dealings with us are illumined by the thought that He does not willingly afflict us. He is making all things work together for our good. Not long ago, in the Chinese quarter at San Francisco, under one of the theatres, I saw a child of six years with her mother in a narrow room, with joss gods all round them. For a coin, the little one sang to us. It was a strange place for a gush of heaven’s melody. This is what she sang:--
“Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.”
Oh, that we might all carry away with us the assurance of our Father’s love! Whatever darkness may gather, this is the bright light. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Light in the cloud
Few things are so indefinite, or at least undefined, as darkness and light. Grief and gladness are not any more alike to all, than darkness and light are the same to every one of us. As I reckon my happiness according to the memory of some past affliction, so I estimate my troubles by remembering my joys. My past and future make one another. I never can take the weeping that endures for a night, without preparing the way for the joy that cometh in the morning. This cannot be other than a very gracious doctrine.
1. Nothing is more brilliant, nothing more simple, more available, than the gospel of Christ; but nothing is more easily injured or covered up by the fancies and fictions exhaling upwards from ourselves. Truth is truth, always the same, do what you will with it; but you may put curtains and clouds between truth and yourselves that shall leave you in the darkness of error. It is not the fault of the sun when the clouds eclipse it.
2. We bring you to Christian hope as the light of the new life--the sense of pardon through a surety, and the hope of glory as the purchase of another. Only remember that your iniquities may have separated between you and your God.
3. The countenance of the Father of lights may be covered and concealed, when there is no false doctrine, no backsliding, directly from us to make the barrier our own. (H. Christopherson.)
The bright light in the clouds
Here appears to be a figurative allusion to the occurrences which are under the control of Divine providence, under the similitude of the clouds, and the bright design which is sometimes beyond the reach of the human mind to understand.
I. These occurrences resemble the clouds sometimes.
1. In their sudden appearance.
2. In their various magnitude.
3. In their happy effects. Every cloud brings its proportion of gloom, yet each cloud is a vehicle of blessing.
II. There is something cheering in all the dispensations of Providence.
1. The character of God is a bright light. Giving splendor and beauty to the events of Providence, as the rising sun fringes with golden brightness the darkest cloud it meets in its course.
2. The promises are a bright light in the clouds. This is the light of truth, bright with the faithfulness of the Eternal. There is no exigency can arise, but there is an appropriate promise. Some of them are very comprehensive. It is well to have the memory stored with these promises.
3. The past conduct of the Lord is a bright light in the clouds. The review of the past should encourage confidence in reference to the present and the future. The moral influence of reflection on past mercies is to awaken hope even when God appears to clothe Himself with clouds and thick darkness.
III. Causes which prevent us from seeing the bright light in the clouds.
1. Constitutional or physical dejection will do this. The health or sickness of the body has a much greater influence over our spiritual enjoyments than some Christians imagine. Body and soul are too closely allied not to sympathise most deeply with each other.
2. There are, however, other causes, both intellectual and moral, such as defective views of Divine truth. Some have such imperfect and erroneous views of God’s Word that they seem to have no consolation in any time of trouble.
2. Want of faith in the wisdom and goodness of God. Faith is just that to the soul which sight is to the body. The sun shines though the blind man sees it not: so Christ, “The Light,” shines, but only the believing mind sees Him. Others see not this bright light. (Evangelical Preacher.)
The clouds, the light, and the wind
1. The “bright light,” which is the symbol of God’s personality.
2. The “clouds,” which are a symbol of those obscurities which hide God from our eyes.
3. The “wind,” which is the symbol of that Divine power by which these obscurities are removed, so that men may see God. The whole difficulty of Job was that he could not see God. He could not understand why God afflicted him.
I. The difficulties of finding God are here set before us. The obscurity is often in ourselves. It is often traceable to the infinite and illimitable nature of God. How is God to reveal Himself so as to satisfy the human mind and heart? Only in the way which God has chosen, could God effectually reveal Himself to creatures like ourselves. There must be gradual approaches of His mind to ours. There must be a condescension to our finiteness. God makes the path to Himself as plain as He can, considering the difficulties which are naturally in our way. Look first at the clouds. Our ignorance is a cloud. Finiteness is another name for this ignorance; and finiteness means fallibility, i.e. liability to err. The nature of man, limited and feeble in comparison with the subject on which his thoughts have to be engaged, makes man feel that about him are mists and shadows which he cannot penetrate.
II. The removal of the difficulties. They can only be removed by God. God can drive away man’s feebleness by His own freely given grace, The will of God is engaged in our salvation.
III. Few things in nature are stronger than the wind. The wind is the symbol of God’s Spirit. God has come to us in His Son Jesus Christ, and God speaks by His Spirit, through His Word. (Samuel Pearson, M. A.)
Fair weather cometh out of the north: with God is terrible majesty.
The testimony of nature to the terrible majesty of God
These words occur towards the close of that remonstrance of Elihu which he addressed to Job his friend, and is immediately followed by the answer of the Lord Himself out of the whirlwind. The text is simply one of those propositions or evidences by which the speaker sought to establish the greatness and inscrutableness of God. The operations of God in nature are given in evidence of the wrongness of expecting to comprehend God Himself. If you cannot understand the works and ways of the Almighty, is it any marvel that the Almighty Himself quite baffles your scrutiny? Why should the fact that fair weather cometh out of the north, suggest the inference that with God is terrible majesty? If every operation and production of nature may be ascribed immediately to the agency of God, then is every such operation and production a direct evidence of the wonderfulness of God, not to be surveyed by a devout and thoughtful mind, without emotions of awe as well as delight! It gives a dignity to every blade of grass, that it may be considered as the handiwork of God. It is not that each or any of the operations or productions is in itself overwhelming in testimony to the greatness of God, but that each is part of one vast system, each bears witness to the same stupendous fact, that God is nature, or that nature is but God, perpetually and universally at work. And I want nothing else to make me look on God with unbounded amazement and awe. If I think of fair weather as coming out of the north, I must think of God as acting in all the laboratories of nature, disposing the elements, bringing the winds out of His treasures, gathering the clouds, and giving the sunshine. Nature, nothing but nature’s God everywhere busy,--this is God in His inscrutableness; this is God in His magnificence; this is God in His wonderfulness. “With God is terrible majesty.” In the text there is also a testimony to the constancy and the uniformity of the actings of God in the material world. “Fair weather cometh out of the north.” You may always reckon on this. It has been thus from the beginning; and so fixed and stable is the course of nature, that by observing the signs you may calculate the changes with a precision little short of certainty. Consider what effect ought to be produced on men, and will be produced on the righteous, by the constancy which seems to encourage the scoffers. If God be unchangeable in the operations of nature, does not even this furnish some kind of presumption that He will be unchangeable in all other respects? Our present lesson is not so much one taught by creation, when viewed by itself, as one which creation traces in illustration or corroboration of the Bible. If it be ordinarily true, that “fair weather cometh out of the north,” then is this coming of fair weather another evidence of the constancy or uniformity of nature, and because we are so made and constituted, that we expect and reckon on this constancy or uniformity, therefore it is another evidence of that faithfulness of God which insures the accomplishment of every tittle of His word. Thus is there a voice to me in the constancy of nature, confirming that voice which comes forth to me from the pages of Scripture. Fair weather from the north, is neither more nor less than God’s accomplishment of His word--a word which if neither spoken nor written, is to be found in the expectation which Himself hath impressed, that nature will be fixed in her workings; and whatever tells me afresh that God is faithful to His word, tells me that vengeance may be deferred, but that it shall yet break forth on the wicked in unimaginable fury, and that the righteous may wait long, but cannot wait in vain, for an incorruptible inheritance that shall not fade away. And there is yet a peculiarity in the text, which ought not to be overlooked, and in considering which we shall again be led to the theology of revelation, yea, to find the Gospel in our text. The expression which Elihu uses in reference to God, is evidently one which marks dread and apprehension--“With God is terrible majesty”; words which show the speaker impressed with a sense of the awfulness of the Creator, rather than drawn towards Him by thoughts of His goodness and compassions. And it would hardly seem as if this were to have been expected, considering what the fact is on which the speaker’s attention had been professedly fixed. I know when it is that God’s majesty is most commonly recognised by those who observe the phenomena of nature. It is not when “fair weather cometh out of the north”; it is rather when the Almighty rideth on the hurricane--when He darkeneth the firmament with His tempests, and sendeth forth His lightnings to consume. If any one of you be witness to the progress of a storm, as it sweeps along in its fury, your sensations as the winds howl, and the torrents descend, and the thunders roll, and the waves toss, are sensations of dread and alarm; and if in the midst of this turmoil of elements your thoughts turn upwards to God, who hath His way in the whirlwind, and at whose feet the clouds are the dust, you are disposed to regard Him with unmingled fear--to shrink from Him as manifesting, in and through this tremendous emblazonry, the heavenly attributes at war with such creatures as yourselves. And then if there come the hushing of the tempest, and the darkened firmament be suddenly cleared, and the landscape which just before had been desolated and drenched, be beauteously lit up with the golden rays of a summer sun, oh, then it is that there will be awakened within you grateful and adoring emotions, and that God whose terrible majesty you had been ready to acknowledge as the Voice of His thunders was heard, will appear to you a bountiful and beneficent Being, whom even the sinful may approach, and by whom the unworthy may be shielded. But you will observe that it was just the reverse with Elihu. It is the fair weather from the north which would make you exclaim, “How good, how gracious is God”; but It was the fair weather from the north which made Elihu exclaim, “How terrible is God.” And there is the theology of revelation in this, if there be not the theology of nature. It is not so much the storm, it is rather the calm, which should lead me to think on the tremendousness of God. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
Touching the Almighty, we cannot find Him out.
An unknown quantity
It is well that there should be an immeasurable and unknown quantity in life and in creation. Even the unknown has its purposes to serve; rightly received, it will heighten veneration; it will reprove unholy ambition; it will teach man somewhat of what he is, of what he can do and can not do, and therefore may save him from the wasteful expenditure of a good deal of energy. “Touching the Almighty, we cannot find Him out.” All space leads up to the infinite. There comes a time when men can measure no longer; they throw down their instrument, and say, This is useless; we are but adding cypher to cypher, and we can proceed no further. Space has run up into infinity, and infinity cannot be measured. Nearly all the words, the greater words, that we use in our thinking and converse, run up into religious greatness. Take the word “time.” We reckon time in minutes and hours, in days and weeks and months and years and centuries, and we have gone so far as to speak of millenniums; but we soon tire; arithmetic can only help us to a certain point. Here again we draw up the measuring line or calculating standard, and we say, It is useless, for time has passed into eternity. These are facts in philosophy and in science, in nature and in experience,--space rising into infinity; time ascending into eternity: the foot of the ladder is upon earth, but the head of the ladder is lost in infinite distance. Take the word “love.” To what uses we put it! We call it by tuneful names; it charms us, it dissipates our solitude, it creates for us companionship, interchange of thought, reciprocation of trust, so that one life helps another, completing it in a thousand ways, great or small. But there comes a point even in love where contemplation can go no further; there it rests--yea, there it expires, for love has passed into sacrifice; it has gone up by way of the Cross. Always in some minor degree there has been a touch of sacrifice in every form of love, but all these minor ways have culminated in the last tragedy, the final crucifixion, and love has died for its object. So space has gone into infinity, time into eternity, love into sacrifice. Now take the word “man.” Does the term terminate in itself--is the term man all we know of being? We have spoken of spirit, angel, archangel; rationally or poetically, or by inspiration, we have thought of seraphim and cherubim, mighty winged ones, who burn and sing before the eternal throne, and still we have felt that there was something remaining beyond, and man is ennobled, glorified, until he passes into the completing term--God. They, therefore, are superficial and foolish who speak of space, time, love, man, as if these were self-completing terms; they are but the beginnings of the real thought, little vanishing signs, disappearing when the real thing signified comes into view, falling before it into harmonious and acceptable preparation and homage. So then, faith may be but the next thing after reason. It may be difficult to distinguish sometimes as to where reason stops and faith begins; but faith has risen before it, round about it; faith is indebted to reason; without reason there could have been no faith. Why not, therefore, put reason down amongst the terms, and so complete for the present our category, and say, space, time, love, man, reason,--for there comes a point in the ascent of reason where reason itself tires, and says, May I have wings now? I can walk no longer, I can run no more; and yet how much there is to be conquered, compassed, seized, and enjoyed! and when reason so prays, what if reason be transfigured into faith, and if we almost see the holy image rising to become more like the Creator, and to dwell more closely and lovingly in His presence? All the great religious terms, then, have what may be called roots upon the earth, the sublime words from which men often fall back in almost ignorant homage amounting to superstition. Begin upon the earth; begin amongst ourselves; take up our words and show their real meaning, and give a hint of their final issue. He who lives so, will have no want of companionship; the mind that finds in all these human, social, alphabetical signs of great religious quantities and thoughts, will have riches unsearchable, an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. Why dwarf our words? Why deplete them of their richer and more vital meanings? Why not rather follow them in an ascending course, and rejoice in their expansion, and in their riches? The religious teacher is called upon to operate in this direction, so far as he can influence the minds of his hearers; it is not his to take out of words all their best significations, but rather to charge every human term with some greater thought, to find in every word a seed, in every seed a harvest, it may be of wheat, it may be of other food, but always meant for the satisfaction and strengthening of our noblest nature. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Inscrutable--first connect this word with two other words, responsibility and goodness. Did you say that only decrees that are indicated by overwhelming misfortunes are inscrutable? Why, everything, the simplest, runs towards and finally runs into the inscrutable. The more we know the more are we brought into consciousness of the unknown, of the unknowable. “Behold, we know not anything,” says the poet, and as he contemplates the good that shall fall “at last--far off--at last, to all,” he adds, “So runs my dream: but what am I?” Ah, there is the inscrutable thing. What am I? What are you? Is not each of us an enigma? What strange, various, sometimes contradictory, opposing, conflicting influences and forces have gone to make us the curious bundles of inconsistencies that we are! Heredity, circumstances, companionships, and so on, we say, have all gone to mould us, to cabin us, to confine us, to expand us, or to contract us; to constitute, to define our liberty. Myself--thyself, that is the inscrutable. And yet, for thyself thou art responsible! Whatever theorists may argue or however they may talk, society--the world--holds a man responsible for himself, the inscrutable. That it is the inscrutable does not deny the responsibility. Neither does it with regard to the world in general. At every point we feel ourselves fall against the inscrutable. There is not a day, there is not a condition in life in which we are not brought face to face with that which we cannot understand. Everywhere, and in all things there is the inscrutable, and there is a responsibility for the world. There is somewhere a will that is responsible for it. There is a government in it. The world is a charge to some will, because if there is one thing that asserts itself in this world it is will power. Things may be very strange, and they often are so strange that we get bewildered, even frightened; but the very strangest thing that could be, that which is disowned by the whole universe, by a certain stream of tendency that runs through the whole universe, would be that it is all a disorder, a blind drive and drift. Most certainly it is not that. If you realise that you are responsible for the mass of inscrutability that you call yourself, why should you hesitate to recognise that there is providence--that is, a mind supremely responsible for the wide, vast inscrutableness which we call the world? But are not the inscrutable decrees which make it hard to submit incompatible with a perfect goodness? Ah, you are putting a question on which treatises without number have been written since the world began, and treatises without number may be written still, and the question puzzle on. It is one not to be discussed now. Only, I pray you to note two things. There is always a voice whispering that goodness will have the last word, even in what is overwhelming. An appalling calamity happens. Yes, “Terrible, terrible,” you say; but that appalling calamity calls attention--attention that would not have been called if it had not been appalling--to evils that can be remedied and should be remedied. It sets people in motion for remedies. There is immediate suffering, and it may be on even a terrible scale, but there is immediate gain, on a far greater scale, for the world. The prince cut off in the flower of his age, your boy taken away in the flower of his days--ah, broken hearts, indeed; but see how this young prince, taken away, has preached to the whole nation, he has united the empire in a wonderful sympathy, and so from a wide induction it might be proved temporal loss transformed into spiritual and moral gains. Even when you feel that the iron hand of judgment has descended terribly, there is a touch of the velvet in that hand which speaks of mercy. And further, when you speak of perfect goodness, remember that you and I do not know what perfect goodness is. We know only in part. Our point of view is that of very limited conception. We speak of nature, but who knows all nature? We speak of providence, but who knows all providence? We would need to bring in eternity, the eternity in which God works. But one full of promise, cut off in the flower of his age! Well, well. But does not this suggest that a promise cannot be lost? Nothing--nothing is lost. Potencies are not destroyed. There is a potency in that life which surely, surely is not annihilated. May not the call hence be a way of bidding the young man arise into a higher and nobler royalty? And those bereaved, may it not be a way of purifying and cleansing in the fire, bidding them to arise and live more earnestly, and live more nobly, and grasp the crown of life which the Lord has promised? We cannot tell all that perfect goodness means. The surgeon hesitates not to thrust his knife into the quivering flesh, and the poor patient cries. It is agony, but agony for future blessing; and so is there not many an agony for a future blessing, with an eternal weight of glory before it? Ah, we must be still, or if not still we must stretch hands of faith, lame hands of faith, and gather dust and chaff, and call to what we feel is Lord of all. (J. M. Lang, D. D.)
God a mystery
Ignorance of the modes of the Divine operation forms no ground for doubting the Divine intervention in human affairs. “Touching the Almighty, we cannot find Him out,” because our faculties are unable to comprehend infinity; but this disability no more warrants us in questioning the fact of His active providence, than would the mystery of the works of a watch warrant us in denying their existence or active operations. Consider this remark of Elihu in reference to the Almighty. As to His being. Its nature is wrapt in impenetrable mystery. We know that God is a Spirit, but what a spirit is we know not. Our ideas on this subject are negative; we know what a spirit is not. In the Scriptures no attempt is made to define the Divine nature. It is described only by its attributes and perfections. But as to the Divine attributes, we are in equal ignorance. We call God omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, infinite; but all we can understand by these terms is, that He is not limited as to power, knowledge, time, and space. Nor are we much more enlightened as to the work of creation. With the broad fact we are acquainted, but of the mode we know nothing. But how matter came into existence, and the mode by which it was formed into these various shapes, we are entirely ignorant. If we presume to penetrate the ways of providence, we find ourselves equally involved. Beyond the bare fact we are lost. God is shrouded in mystery. And what is life? Of what is it composed? Where does it reside? On what combinations does it depend? How untraceable are the dispensations of providence as to the affairs of men! The history of the world is an enigma. Nor is God less concealed in the operations of grace. And the mode in which Christianity has been propagated is full of mystery. As to the future, we are in almost equal ignorance. Think also of the permission of evil in the world; the condition of the soul in its intermediate state; and of humanity after judgment. What our text teaches is, that ignorance of the mode of the providential dispensations forms no justification for disbelief of their Divine origin, nor for doubts of their equity. Many things are mysterious, because too abstruse for our faculties; but assuredly God is originating and directing them in a spirit of wisdom and goodness, which will make them issue in benefit to all. The more mysterious the Almighty is, the more we are bidden to study Him. His works and His Word are the deep things of God, of which a superficial reading is worse than useless. What subjects there are for meditation! The grandest and most interesting beyond all others--subjects which concern the High and Mighty One, creation, providence, grace, the things of time and eternity, life, death, and resurrection--subjects which even the “angels desire to look into.” But let our studies be conducted with cautious reverence. Generally, freedom of inquiry is safe; but there are points into which it is dangerous to pry. Usually, all facts are open to inspection, but not speculation on mode and means. (J. Budgeon, M. A.)
It is no uncommon thing in these times to hear people saying that it seemed as if God was careless--as if He had forgotten His people. Men call upon God, but call upon Him to all appearance in vain. He does not hear them; at least, no answer comes. But God did hear, and did answer. There is mystery regarding the why of God’s working, and there is mystery regarding the how. We cannot explain the one or the other. The path is invisible to us; but the path is there. Chemists and students of nature generally hold that there is nothing in nature deserving the name of providence; that force is eternal and that all things go on in obedience to immutable law. But these students of nature presume too much. It is a way they have. Self-conceit has made them blind. There is much in nature which they do not know, and much which they can not know. Can they indicate the lightning’s track or trace the course of the wind? Even admitting that science has made a change in men’s minds regarding material phenomena, what is to be said of the mind itself? Why was George Washington saved amid the wreck of Braddock’s command? What if Major Andre had not been captured? How different the history of those later years if General Grant had been shot at Belmont! At that critical moment of the cornfield what restrained the hands of the Confederates that they did not fire? And at a brief period thereafter what tempted him to leave his tent and thus avoid the fatal bullet? What is it that so miraculously preserves the equality of the sexes? But these are stray examples of which there are millions. There is mystery everywhere. There are three things which it is well always to bear in mind when thinking of the ways of God. First, God may interfere in the affairs of the world without men knowing it; second, God may influence motives without men knowing it; third, God may touch the secret and subtle springs of nature without men knowing it. Experience is a better teacher than science. (Judson Sage, D. D.)
He is excellent in power, and in judgment.--
“He is excellent . . . in judgment.” Is there any judgment displayed in the distribution of things? Is the globe ill-made? Are all things in chaos? Is there anywhere the sign of a plummet line, a measuring tape? Are things apportioned as if by a wise administrator? How do things fit one another? Who has hesitated to say that the economy of nature, so far as we know it, is a wondrous economy? Explain it as men may, we all come to a common conclusion, that there is a marvellous fitness of things, a subtle relation and interrelation, a harmony quite musical, an adaptation which though it could never have been invented by our reason, instantly secures the sanction of our understanding as being good, fit, and wholly wise. “And in plenty of justice.” Now Elihu touches the moral chord. It is most noticeable that throughout the whole of the Bible the highest revelations are sustained by the strongest moral appeals. If the Bible dealt only in ecstatic contemplations, in religious musings, in poetical romances, we might rank it with other sacred books, and pay it what tribute might be due to fine literary inventiveness and expression; but whatever there may be in the Bible supernatural, transcendental, mysterious, there is also judgment, right, justice: everywhere evil is burned with unquenchable fire, and right is commended and honoured as being of the quality of God. The moral discipline of Christianity sustains its highest imaginings. Let there be no divorce between what is spiritual in Christianity and what is ethical,--between the revelation sublime and the justice concrete, social, as between man and man; let the student keep within his purview all the parts and elements of this intricate revelation, and then let him say how the one balances the other, and what cooperation and harmony result from the interrelation of metaphysics, spiritual revelations, high imaginings, and simple duty, and personal sacrifice, industry as of stewardship, of trusteeship. This is the view which Elihu takes. God to him was “excellent in power, and in judgment, and in plenty of justice; He will not afflict.” A curious expression this, and differently rendered. Some render it, He will not answer; or, He will not be called upon to answer for His ways; He will give an account of Himself to none; there is a point beyond which He will not permit approach. Yet the words as they stand in the Authorised Version are supported by many collateral passages, and therefore may be taken as literal in this instance. He will not willingly afflict; He is no tyrant; He is not a despot who drinks the wine of blood, and thrives on the miseries of His creation: when He chastens it is that He may purify and ennoble the character, and bring before the vision of man lights and promises which otherwise would escape his attention. Affliction as administered by God is good; sorrow has its refining and enriching uses. The children of God are indeed bowed down, sorely chastened, visited by disappointments; oftentimes they lay their weary heads upon pillows of thorns. Nowhere is that denied in the Bible; everywhere is it patent in our own open history; and yet Christianity has so wrought within us, as to its very spirit and purpose, that we can accept affliction as a veiled angel, and sorrow as one of God’s night angels, coming to us in cloud and gloom, and yet in the darkest sevenfold midnight of loneliness whispering to us Gospel words, and singing to us in tender, minor tones as no other voice ever sang to the orphaned heart. Christians can say this; Christians do say this. They say it not the less distinctly because there are men who mock them. They must take one of two courses; they must follow out their own impressions and realisations of spiritual ministry within the heart; or they must, forsooth, listen to men who do not know them, and allow their piety to be sneered away, and their deepest spiritual realisations to be mocked out of them, or carried away by some wind of fool’s laughter. They have made up their minds to be more rational; they have resolved to construe the events of their own experience, and to accept the sacred conclusion, and that conclusion is that God does not willingly afflict the children of men, that the rod is in a Father’s hand, that no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless, afterward it worketh out the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Believe me, they are not to be laughed out of that position. They are reasonable men, men of great sagacity, men of affairs, men who can deal with questions of state and empire; and they, coming into the sanctuary--the inmost, sacred sanctuary--are not ashamed to pray. This is the strength of Christian faith. When the Christian is ashamed of his Lord the argument for Christianity is practically, and temporarily, at least, dead. Why do we not speak more distinctly as to the results of our own observation and experience? Great abstract truths admit of being accented by personal testimony. “Come and hear, all ye that fear God,” said one, “and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” If a witness will confine himself to what he himself has known, felt and handled of the Word of Life, then in order to destroy the argument you must first destroy his character. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
In plenty of justice.
The excellence of the Divine justice
Perhaps the foremost characteristic of God that men are tempted to disparage is His justice. They do not relish that which is opposed to their enjoyment, and to the successful issue of their purposes. And as they have a sense of guilt, and cannot fail to see that their conduct brings them into conflict with the Almighty, since He must be offended with the violation of His law, they first wish that He were not the righteous Being that He is, and then they deny Him this essential quality. By so weak a process is it they create a God to their liking.
1. Justice ranks high from its own inherent character. In the old mythology of Greece the Goddess of Justice sat by the side of Jupiter. In all lands the tribunals of justice are next the altars of religion. When men would ask for that which they prize the most among their fellow men, they ask for justice. When the Athenians would most honour Aristides, they called him “the just.” Justice is the parent of many virtues. The moral sense of every man pronounces the excellence of this noblest virtue. It is excellent in God. It gives a sense of security and repose that our God is a God of justice.
2. Justice is an attribute essential to the complete revelation of God. This quality some men deny in God; if they do not deny it, they degrade it. The first excellence in a judge is that he be just. God administers His government with no respect of persons, and with an undeviating regard to the principles of equity.
3. Justice guards the manifold interests of the Divine empire. Justice to each and all is the result of only the choicest wisdom. No neglect, or partiality, or injustice, can be charged against Him.
4. Justice ministers to the greatest happiness of God’s subjects. This sense of the Divine justice gives solace in the trials of the world.
5. Justice admits the exercise of mercy. Biblical theology allows no rivalry between these two cardinal attributes of God. God has devised an atonement of such a character that, on the one hand, the majesty and sanctity of His law are vindicated, and on the other hand, a full pardon can be granted to sinners who embrace this Divine provision. That which it would not be safe to do in civil society, it is safe to do under this Divine plan for human redemption.
6. Justice demands the punishment of the guilty. Under the economy of grace it demands the punishment of the finally impenitent. It is a strange infatuation that has seized some minds, sensible on every other subject, that there is to be no suitable punishment of sin hereafter. They claim that God is too good to inflict merited penalty; that the doctrine of eternal punishment is a censure upon His fatherhood; that hell has no place under the Divine administration. But sin is here, and suffering is here. Sin causes suffering now, and the penalties of wrong-doing are before our eyes everywhere. The hardest problem is not to account for hell and future punishment, but it is to account for sin and suffering at all. Under the government of a supremely good and powerful God, why is there sin and its necessary woe? We know that sin is. We know that dreadful penalty is. If sin shall go into the future life, if it shall wax great and strong there, if it shall forever lift its defiance against the eternal throne, it will bear--it must bear--its eternal penalty. It is not the eternity of sin, nor the eternity of punishment, which challenges our belief, it is not the duration of them, but the existence of them. Of their existence we know. If, then, endless sinning continues, endless punishment should. God is just. He has issued a just law, harmonious with His own character, as an authoritative guide to men. Inasmuch as they have all broken this law, He has graciously devised, if we may say so, a plan of salvation, by which they can be pardoned and justified, while yet the law is sustained. Now, if they reject this plan, if they will not be saved through Christ, if they prefer to stand on the old basis of the law, it only remains that judgment shall be given by the law. It demands perfect obedience. It imposes death as the penalty of sin. The law, with its announced penalty, God, as a just God, must sustain. The unbeliever in Christ, must, therefore, meet the penalty. There is no recourse. Divine justice demands the punishment of the guilty. It will inflict upon no one more than he deserves. (Burdett Hart, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 37". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24