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Taking the temptation of Job for his model, Goethe has similarly exposed his Faust to trial, and with him the tempter succeeds. His hero falls from sin to sin, from crime to crime; he becomes a seducer, a murderer, a betrayer, following recklessly his evil angel wherever he chooses to lead him; and yet, with all this, he never wholly forfeits our sympathy. In spite of his weakness, his heart is still true to his higher nature; sick and restless, even in the delirium of enjoyment, he always longs for something better, and he never can be brought to say of evil that it is good. And therefore, after all, the devil is baulked of his prey; in virtue of this one fact, that the evil in which he steeped himself remained to the last hateful to him. Faust is saved by the angels.
Froude, Short Studies, vol. I.
A Shakespearean tragedy may be called a story of exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man in high estate. But it is clearly much more than this, and we have now to regard it from another side. No amount of calamity which merely befell a man, descending from the clouds like lightning, or stealing from the darkness like pestilence, could alone provide the substance of its story. Job was the greatest of all the children of the East, and his afflictions were wellnigh more than he could bear; but even if we imagined them wearing him to death, that would not make his story tragic. Nor yet would it become so, in the Shakespearean sense, if the fire, and the great wind from the wilderness, and the torments of his flesh were conceived as sent by a supernatural power, whether just or malignant. The calamities of tragedy do not simply happen, nor are they sent; they proceed mainly from actions, and those the actions of men.
Prof. A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy.
References. I. 1. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Bible Object Lessons, p. 176. I. 1-5. Spurgeon, Sermons, No. 2711. I. 4, 5. Ibid., vol. vii. No. 352.
The state of parents is a holy state, in some degree like that of the priesthood, and calls upon them to bless their children with their prayers and sacrifices to God. Thus it was that Job watched over and blessed his children; he sanctified them, he rose up early in the morning and offered burntofferings according to the number of them all. If parents, therefore, considering themselves in this light, should be daily calling upon God in a solemn deliberate manner, altering and extending their intercessions as the state and growth of their children required, such devotion would have a mighty influence upon the rest of their lives. It would make them very circumspect in the government of themselves; prudent and careful of everything they said and did, lest their example should hinder that which they so constantly desired in their prayers.
William Law, A Serious Call.
Reference. I. 5. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. vi. p. 93.
'The adversary appears,' says Miss Wedgwood ( Message of Israel ), 'among the sons of God to accuse a righteous man, but it is to bring forth that righteousness sifted and purified; and after the trials which have separated the chaff from the wheat we hear no more of Satan; the human adversaries are rebuked, but the accusing spirit is forgotten. Was he really an evil spirit? Is not the sifting spirit a part of the agency of heaven? Judaism leaves the question unanswered, or perhaps we may say it suggests an affirmative answer, though the spirit that sifts is too near the spirit that doubts for it to give that answer distinctly. The influence that questions what is good is wonderfully close to the influence that purifies what is partly evil.'
Who are these sons of God? It may be that here is a scene in the spiritual world, and that this is a vision given us of what goes on in the presence of God. But there is another explanation of it which seems to me to be far more natural, and very possibly the true one. The sons of God are not necessarily the angels. We read of the sons of God in the book of Genesis, and there it apparently refers to human beings. Man was made originally in the image of God. The sons of God are those who were made in God's image, and even when that image was defiled, still they are God's sons. We know the details of the trials which overtook Job until the time that the Lord turned the captivity of Job, and gave him twice as much as he had before.
I. The Presence of Satan. It was true in old times that whenever the sons of God came to do their worship and sacrifice, the powers of evil were there to make men cavil and do mischief; and is it not true today when we, the sons and daughters of the Lord Most High, come to present ourselves before the Lord our God, in the various congregations to which we belong, that, though there is much to comfort, and help, and to be thankful for, Satan comes also to present himself before the Lord? Satan, the great adversary, is here to mar and spoil the holy worship and the beauty of the sanctuary, for the beauty of holiness is chiefly in a holy worship in the heart.
( a ) He comes to the preacher and tries to make him think more of himself than the Lord Who bought him with His own blood. He tries to make him speak pleasant and smooth words instead of words of truth. He tries to make him do that which he thinks will please men, instead of that which will please God, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
( b ) He is present in the hearts of the Church officers, trying to make them think more of the mode in which they do it than of the One to Whom they render up their praise and all their service.
( c ) He is in the congregation, going here and there, walking to and fro, as it were; else why do people in the House of God criticize one another so much? Satan comes to take away the Word that is sown, lest it should sink into the heart and bring forth fruit for the glory of God.
II. A Holier Presence. But there is a brighter side of the whole picture. If Satan presents himself before the Lord, if he walks up and down in the midst of the congregation, are there no others here? If there are evil powers, are there not good powers, too? If our eyes could be opened we should see here all around us as we go from place to place, the angels of God watching over us. How often our foot slips, and God's angels prevent serious injury. The angels of God are here present now, good angels, to help, befriend, strengthen us, in ways which we know not and cannot understand.
III. The Presence of Jesus. There is something far higher than the presence of the angels of God; there is the very real presence of Jesus Christ, the Master Himself. He is here to bless every one who will receive Him. You cannot understand all about Christ. You cannot exactly put together these two truths that He is here, and that He is in heaven, and we long to know often how it can be. But there is the double truth the Master at God's right hand, ever living to make intercession for us; the Master here in our midst, at our very side.
Reference. I. 6-22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2457.
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
Job 1:8 ; Job 40:5-6
I. God's witness to Job was true, and Job's witness to himself was true also. God had revealed Himself to him, so that he now looked upon himself in the light of God, and felt the infinite distance between his own goodness and that of God, and so abhorred himself. This is the case with all to whom God reveals Himself.
II. When God's light shines into us, it discloses the imperfection of our perfection. All the arguing of Job's friends had failed to convince him of his deficiency. This was reserved for the sight of God Himself. Of course the eye that saw God was Job's inward eye. The eye of his understanding was enlightened.
III. God would not have witnessed to the uprightness of Job if it had not been real; but this did not hinder it from appearing as nothing in the light of God.
IV. This is the repentance of the righteous. It is not that their righteousness has been no righteousness, but God, perhaps in a moment, has shown to them greater heights, deeper depths, more earnest convictions, and so old attainments seem as if they were not. They think all that they have done is foolish, and literally they loathe themselves. 'In me there dwelleth no good thing.'
M. E. Sadler, Sermon Outlines for the Clergy and Lay-preachers, p. 75.
We have a picture of the best man who could then be conceived; not a hard ascetic, living in haughty or cowardly isolation, but a warm figure of flesh and blood, a man full of all human loveliness. Froude Short Studies, vol. 1. 298.
Reference. I. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 623. 1.8,9. J. J. S. Perowne, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv. p. 81.
'I remember,' says Matthew Arnold in the second chapter of Culture and Anarchy, 'when I was under the influence of a mind to which I feel the greatest obligations, the mind of a man who was the very incarnation of sanity and clear sense, a man the most considerable, it seems to me, whom America has yet produced Benjamin Franklin I remember the relief with which, after long feeling the sway of Franklin's imperturbable commonsense, I came upon a project of his for a new version of the book of Job, to replace the old version, the style of which, says Franklin, has become obsolete and thence less agreeable. "I give," he continues, "a few verses, which may serve as a sample of the kind of version I would recommend." We all recollect the famous verse in our translation: "Then Satan answered the Lord and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?" Franklin makes this; "Does Your Majesty imagine that Job's good conduct is the effect of mere personal attachment and affection?" I well remember how when I first read that, I drew a deep breath of relief, and said to myself: "After all, there is a stretch of humanity beyond Franklin's victorious good sense".'
He were but a poor lover whose devotion to his mistress lay resting on the feeling that a marriage with her would conduce to his own comforts. That were a poor patriot who served his country for the hire which his country would give to him.... If Christianity had never borne itself more loftily than this, do we suppose that those fierce Norsemen who had learnt, in the fiery war-songs of the Edda, of what stuff the hearts of heroes are composed, would have fashioned their sword-hilts into crosses, and themselves into a crusading chivalry? Let us not dishonour our great fathers with the dream of it. The Christians, like the Stoics and the Epicureans, would have lived their little day among the ignoble sects of an effete civilization, and would have passed off, and been heard of no more.
Talk of original Sin! Can you have a stronger proof of the original Goodness there must be in this nation than the fact that Religion has been preached to us as a commercial speculation, for a century, and that we still believe in a God?
Religion in most countries, more or less in every country, is... for the most part a wise prudential feeling, grounded on mere calculation; a matter, as all others now are, of Expediency and Utility; whereby some smaller quantum of earthly enjoyment may be exchanged for a far larger quantum of celestial enjoyment. Thus Religion too is Profit, a working for wages; not Reverence but only as Hope or Fear.
Carlyle, Signs of the Times.
Compare Browning's setting of the verse in Ferishtah's Fancies ('Two Camels').
Every good deed does good even to the doer: this is God's law.... No good deed is done, except for the sake of the good the doer is to get from it: this is man's intelligent way of blaspheming, and, so far as in him lies, annulling God's law. This is the lesson which the school of selfish philosophers have learnt from their father and prototype, who prided himself on his craft, when he asked that searching question, Does Job fear God for nought?
Augustus J. Hare.
Some people are for seeing God with their eyes, as they can see a cow, and would love God as they love a cow (which thou lovest for the milk and for the cheese, and for thine own profit). Thus do all those who love God for the sake of outward riches or of inward comfort; they do not love aright, but seek only themselves and their own advantage.
Compare also Bunyan's Grace Abounding, § 388.
The Fear of God
I. The temptations of poverty are obvious. Satan sees them at a glance. Those of wealth, that wrung from the Great Teacher the words, 'How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God,' are more subtle and hidden. Satan read the one, Jesus Christ the other.
II. The view embodied in Satan's words is one which you may have heard whispered, or loudly spoken, or taken for granted, now and here, as there and then. There is no such thing, you may be told, as a love of goodness for its own sake. There is always some ulterior aim, some selfish motive. Even religion, you will hear, even the religion of Christ, is a mere matter of selfish interest. It is nothing more, even when sincere, than a selfish device to escape from pain, and enjoy happiness hereafter.
III. If Satan is right, it is not only that there is no such thing as disinterested goodness, but God Himself is robbed of His highest and noblest attribute. You see how vital the question which the challenge stirs, and how rightly it has been said, that in the coming contest, Job is the champion, not of his own character only, but of all who care for goodness, and of God Himself.
G. G. Bradley, Lectures on the Book of Job, p. 34.
References. I. 9. W. L. Watkinson, The Ashes of Roses, p. 191. Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 22.
Apropos of the divergence of sons from the parental religion, it may be noted how Macaulay, as Bagehot observes, 'was bred up in the circle which more than any other has resembled that of the greatest and best Puritans in the circle which has presented the evangelical doctrine in its most influential and celebrated, and not its least genial form. Yet he has revolted against it. "The bray of Exeter Hall" is a phrase which has become celebrated: it is an odd one for his father's son. The whole course of his personal fortunes, the entire scope of his historical narrative, show an utter want of sympathy with the Puritan disposition.'
Carlyle, in the French Revolution, describes a dinner given at Court on the eve of the crisis: 'A natural repast; in ordinary times, a harmlesss one; now fatal, as that of Thyestes; as that of Job's sons, when a strong wind smote the four corners of their banquet-house'.
At the close of the twenty-fourth chapter of his History of England, Macaulay recounts the peril and sufferings of the luckless settlers in Darien, when the fort was besieged by an irregular host of natives, Creoles, Spanish, and Indians. 'Before the end of March a treaty was signed by which the Scotch bound themselves to evacuate Darien in fourteen days; and on the eleventh of April they departed, a much less numerous body than when they arrived. In little more than four months, although the healthiest months of the year, three hundred men out of thirteen hundred had been swept away by disease. Of the survivors very few lived to see their native country again. Two of the ships perished at sea. Many of the adventurers, who had left their homes flushed with hopes of speedy opulence, were glad to hire themselves out to the planters of Jamaica, and laid their bones in that land of exile. Shields died there, worn out and heartbroken. Borland was the only minister who came back. In his curious and interesting narrative, he expresses his feelings, after the fashion of the school in which he had been bred, by grotesque allusions to the Old Testament and by a profusion of Hebrew words.... The sad story is introduced with the words in which a great man of old, delivered over to the malice of the evil Power, was informed of the death of his children and the ruin of his fortunes: "I alone am escaped to tell thee".'
After describing, in his essay on Frederic the Great, the first strokes of ill-fortune which befell that monarch in his defeat by Marshal Daun at Kolin and the subsequent raising of the siege of Prague, Macaulay observes: 'It seemed that the king's distress could hardly be increased. Yet at this moment another blow not less terrible than that of Kolin fell upon him. The French under Marshal D'Estrées had invaded Germany. The Duke of Cumberland had given them battle at Hastenbeck, and had been defeated. In order to save the Electorate of Hanover from entire subjugation, he had made, at Closter Seven, an arrangement with the French generals, which left them at liberty to turn their arms against the Prussian dominions. That nothing might be wanting to Frederic's distress, he lost his mother just at this time.'
'The essence of greatness,' says Emerson again, 'is the perception that virtue is enough. Poverty is its ornament. It does not need plenty, and can very well abide its loss.'
Reference. I. 20-22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2457.
In his diary for 21 January, 1826, after the news of his great financial failure, Sir Walter Scott writes: 'Things are so much worse with Constable than I apprehended; that I shall neither save Abbotsford nor anything else. Naked we entered the world, and naked we leave it blessed be the name of the Lord!'
There are many ways of accepting misfortune as many, indeed, as there are generous feelings or thoughts to be found on the earth; and every one of these thoughts or feelings has a magic wand which transforms the features and raiment of sorrow on the very threshold. Job would say, 'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord'; Marcus Aurelius perhaps, 'If I am no longer permitted to love those whom I loved far above all others, it is doubtless in order that I may learn to love those whom as yet I love not'.
'I, like all mortals,' said Carlyle, 'have to feel the inexorable that there is in life, and to say, as piously as I can, God's will, God's will.'
References. I. 21. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Job, p. 29. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. liii. No. 3025.
That is to say, after all this, it is trial, it is temptation these losses of his goods, it is loss of all, it was a great word.
I. In all our fears the main thing is, not to sin.
( a ) You must not expect that you will go through this world and have it said, 'In all this nobody spoke against him'. That is not a thing to care about to go through life without calumny; but it is to be desired that we may go through every trouble and every joy without falling into sin.
( b ) Neither is it a main thing for us to think of going through life without suffering. For God's servants, the best of them, are ripened and mellowed by suffering.
( c ) Also it should not be our ambition to go through the world without sadness. If you do not feel the rod so as to smart under it, it becomes a non-effective rod to you. But if in your great trouble you do not fall into sin you are more than a conqueror over Satan.
II. In all time of trial there is a special fear of sin. ( a ) We are very apt to get impatient. We think a trial lasts too long, that the answer to prayer is delayed altogether an unconscionable time.
( b ) Sometimes we are tempted to the sin of rebellion. If it comes to rebellion against God, you know it will be a poor outlook for us. We do but bring a heavier rod upon ourselves.
( c ) Sometimes we sin by despair. Now is the time for trust, not for despair. The child that is sullen will probably have a severer discipline yet to bring him to his right bearing.
III. In acts of mourning we are not to sin. It may perhaps be a comfort in your great sorrow to let the hot floods flow. Job mourned, and yet did not sin, for he mourned and worshipped as he mourned.
IV. In charging God foolishly there is great sin. ( a ) Sometimes we charge God foolishly when we think He is unjust. If He were now to call upon you to account for your sins, and deal with you with the naked edge of the sword, you would be in hell to despair.
( b ) Some will charge and question His love, but the more He loves you the more He will rebuke you, for He sees in you a something which is so precious to Him that He would make it 'perfect through suffering'.
( c ) Sometimes we begin charging His power, and think He cannot help us. Shall some tiny animalcula, sporting with myriads of others in a drop of water, begin to judge the sin?
V. In coming clean out of the trial is our great honour. How you are apt to think you will shut yourselves up in a cupboard and never go out in the world any more, never do anything. Why, that would be one big black sin that will blot out all your life.
C. H. Spurgeon, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. III. 1890, p. 337.
Reference. I. 22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2172.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Job 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany