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THE INCOMPREHENSIBILITY OF GOD
Job 11:7-12. Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. If he cut off, and shut up, or gather together, then who can hinder him? For he knoweth vain men: he seeth wickedness also; will he not then consider it? For vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass’s colt [Note: Perhaps it might be better to take only ver. 7 and 8. for the text, and to leave out the second head of this Discourse. In that case, the subject will be ‘The Incomprehensibility of God;’ and the great divisions of it will be those which are found in the first head in this Discourse. Then the improvement of the subject might be, to learn, 1st, To receive with meekness whatever God has revealed: (and there ver. 12. might be introduced:) 2dly, To hear with patience whatever he may inflict: (where the inefficacy, ver. 11 and the danger, ver. 12. of contending with God are stated:) and 3dly, To be thankful especially for the discovery he has given of himself in the person of his dear Son. Here it might be shewn, that God, though still incomprehensible, has given the fullest discoveries of himself. Christ is expressly called “the image of the invisible God;” and “Whosoever has seen him, has seen the Father.” In his cross, all the perfections of the Father are illustrated and glorified (Psalms 85:10.); and by the help of his Spirit (2Co 4:6) we may discover them.].
WE are not a little grieved to see a good man, under circumstances that should have called forth nothing but tenderness and compassion, run down and persecuted by his own friends, and those friends men of great intelligence and real piety. But human nature, notwithstanding it may have been renovated by divine grace, is still imperfect: and, if left under the influence of any mistaken principle, we may pursue evil with earnestness under the semblance of good, and may provoke God to anger, whilst we imagine that we are rendering him the most acceptable service. The friends of Job were eminently enlightened men: yet all in succession act towards him the part of enemies; and each in succession, with increasing acrimony, condemns him as a hypocrite before God. How painful is it to hear this address of Zophar; “Should thy lies make men hold their peace? and when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed [Note: ver. 3.]?” But, whilst we lament the sad misapplication of their arguments to the point in hand, and the bitterness of spirit with which they were urged, we must still avail ourselves of the instruction they afford us, which in some respects is equal to any that is contained in the sacred volume.
Zophar supposed, that Job had complained of God as acting unjustly towards him: and, if he had been right in his interpretation of Job’s expressions, the reproof he administered would have been just and salutary. His error in relation to Job’s real character divests his observations of all force in reference to him: but they deserve the strictest attention in reference to ourselves. From them we are naturally led to notice,
The incomprehensibility of God—
Well does David say, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable [Note: Psalms 145:3.].” Truly he is unsearchable,
In the perfections of his nature—
[Men will often talk of God, and lay down laws for him, just as if they had the most perfect knowledge of him, and of every thing relating to him. But our knowledge of God is altogether negative: we know that he is not unwise, not unholy, not unjust; but, as to any definite ideas of his attributes, we have them not. What notion have we of his natural perfections of eternity or immensity? None at all. So of his moral perfections, of justice, mercy, goodness, truth, we, in fact, know as little. We contemplate these qualities as existing in man, and are enabled to estimate with some precision their proper bearings: but, when we come to transfer these qualities to the Deity, we are much in the dark: and we are guilty of great presumption, when we prescribe rules for him, and bind him by laws that are suited for the restrictions or human actions. “He dwells in the light which no man can approach unto:” and presumptuously to ascend the mount of his habitation, or to look within the ark, is death [Note: Exodus 19:12-13. 1 Samuel 6:19.].]
In the dispensations of his providence—
[These we see; but no one of them do we understand [Note: This was as strongly affirmed by Job himself as by his friends. Compare Job 5:9; Job 9:10. with the text.]. Who will pretend to account for God’s conduct towards our first parents, in suffering them to be overcome by temptation, and to entail sin and misery on all their posterity? Who will undertake to declare all the consequences that may arise from any one event, however trivial, or all the motives which exist in the divine mind for the permission of it? We are apt to speak of things as great and small, because of the degree of importance that we attach to them: but there is nothing great, nothing small, in the estimation of God: and whoever meditates on the history of Joseph, or the facts recorded in the Book of Esther, will see, that the most casual and trifling circumstances, as they appear to us, were as important links in the chain of providence, as those which bear the clearer marks of counsel and design. The rejection of the Jews, the calling of the Gentiles, and the restoration of the Jews to the favour of their God, are events of vast magnitude in human estimation: but what the Apostle says in reference to them, is in reality as applicable to the events of daily occurrence, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out [Note: Romans 11:33.]!”]
In the operations of his grace—
[Let that first act of grace be surveyed, the destination of God’s only dear Son to be the surety and substitute of man: let the whole covenant of grace be contemplated: let every act of grace from the foundation of the world to this present moment be scrutinized: and what shall we know of it all? Let it be inquired, why God puts a difference between one nation and another, and between one individual and another: let the mode in which divine grace operates upon the soul be investigated, so as to distinguish in all things the agency of the Holy Spirit from the actings of our own minds: Who is sufficient for these things? Who is not a child and a fool in his own estimation, when he turns his attention to them? We would address our text to every child of man; “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? the measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.” “Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out [Note: Job 37:23.].” “As no man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of man which is in him; so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:11.].”]
If God be so incomprehensible, then we may see,
The folly of presuming to sit in judgment upon him—
This was the particular drift of Zophar’s admonition. He conceived that Job had complained of God as unjust towards him: and therefore, having solemnly warned Job, that “God had exacted less of him than his iniquities deserved,” he proceeded to dilate upon the character and ways of God as far exceeding all human comprehension, and to shew unto Job the folly of arraigning the conduct of the Most High. In prosecution of his argument, Zophar shews,
How incompetent we are to resist his will—
[God is almighty: and, if he is pleased “to cut off” a man’s family, “or to shut him up” in darkness and distress, “or to gather together” his adversaries against him, “what power has any man to hinder him?” We may dispute against him; but we cannot divert him from his purpose: we may complain and murmur; but “we cannot stay his hand.” “He doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth:” and, “whatever his counsel may be, that shall stand.” What folly then is it to be indulging hard thoughts of him, and to be maintaining a stoutness of heart against him, when we know beforehand that we can never prevail, that we only kick against the pricks, and that the only way of averting his wrath is, to humble ourselves before him! Think, all ye who now repine, “Will your hands be strong in the day that he shall deal with you? or will you thunder with a voice like his?”]
How unable we are to escape his judgment—
[God sees all the rebellious motions of our hearts, and will certainly call us into judgment for them. Here then, is a strong additional reason for not presuming to condemn him. To know that the indulgence of such a rebellious spirit will not avert his displeasure, were quite sufficient to suppress all risings of heart against him: but to know that it greatly augments his displeasure; to know that he marks every rebellious thought that springs up in our minds, and “that he considers it” with a view to a just and awful retribution; surely this should make us extremely cautious how we thus ensure and aggravate our eternal condemnation. On this subject we shall do well to remember the warning which God himself gave to Job; “He that reproveth God, let him answer it [Note: Job 40:2.].”]
How destitute we are of every thing that can qualify us for such an office—
[What is any man, “vain man, that would be wise?” What? “He is born” as stupid, as unteachable, and as refractory “as a wild ass’s colt [Note: See Jeremiah 2:23-24.].” Were he of the first order of created intelligences, he could know nothing of God any further than God was pleased to reveal himself to him: but he is a being of an inferior order, and that too in a fallen and degraded state; “having the eyes of his understanding darkened” by sin, and “blinded by the god of this world;” yea more, having also a thick impenetrable “veil over his heart.” What then can such a creature pretend to know of God, that he should presume to sit in judgment upon him, and to arraign his conduct? We know how incompetent a little child would be to comprehend and sit in judgment upon the designs of a great statesman; yet is there no distance between those, in comparison of that which exists between God and us. Let us bear in mind then what we ourselves are; and that will most effectually repress our arrogance, if we be tempted to judge of God.]
As the obvious improvement of this subject, let us learn,
To receive with meekness whatever God has revealed—
[We are no more to sit in judgment upon God’s word than upon his providence: if once it be ascertained that the word is a revelation from God, then are we to receive it with the simplicity of a little child. We must indeed use all possible means to attain a clear knowledge of the meaning of the Scripture, as well as to assure ourselves that it is of divine origin: but we must not wrest the word, and put an unnatural construction upon it, because we do not fully comprehend it: we must rather look up to God for the teachings of his Spirit, and wait upon him till he shall be pleased to “open our understandings to understand the Scriptures.” Did we act thus, setting ourselves against no truth that God has revealed, but receiving with humility whatever he has spoken, we should no longer behold the Church rent into parties, and the minds of men embittered against each other by controversies. Let us remember, that “the riches of Christ are unsearchable;” that “his love passeth knowledge;” and that however deep our knowledge of Scripture may be, there will always remain some things difficult to be understood: and our wisdom is, first, to improve for our benefit all that is clear; and then, in reference to the rest, to say, “What I know not now, I shall know hereafter.”]
To bear with patience whatever God has inflicted—
[Impatience does, in fact, reflect upon God either as unjust or unkind. But if we considered how “little a portion is heard of him,” that “his footsteps are not known,” and that those things which we deplore as calamities are sent by him in love for our eternal good, we should not only submit with patience to whatever he might lay upon us, but should adore him for it as an expression of his love. The issue of Job’s trials is proposed to us in this very view, as the means of composing our minds, and of reconciling us to the most afflictive providences [Note: James 5:11.]. If Job were now to live on earth again, and were to see all the benefit that has resulted both to himself and to the Church, and all the glory that has redounded to his God from the troubles that he endured, how differently would he speak of them, from what he did when under their immediate pressure! What he has seen of God’s unerring wisdom and unbounded love would make him justify God, yea and glorify him too, for all those trials which once he felt so insupportable: and, if we now by faith learn to estimate the divine character aright, we shall welcome every dispensation however afflietive, and glory in our present troubles, under the sweet assurance, that “our light shall ere long rise in obscurity, and our darkness be as the noon-day.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Job 11". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13