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THE FOLLY OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PRESUMPTION
Job 9:2-4. How should man be just with God? If he will contend with him, he cannot answer him one of a thousand. He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened against him, and hath prospered?
THE fundamental doctrines of our holy religion are not like the deductions of human reason, which leave a degree of doubt upon the mind: they correspond with something within us, which contributes to assure us that the things which we have received upon the divine testimony are unquestionably true. The inspired writers indeed, knowing by whom they were inspired, delivered without hesitation those things of which they had no internal evidence, as well as those which were confirmed by their own experience. Nevertheless there is a peculiar energy in their mode of declaring experimental truths: they make them a subject of appeal to their very enemies, and challenge the whole universe to deny the things whereof they affirm. Thus it was with Job. Bildad had charged him with asserting his own perfect innocence, and accusing God as unjust in his proceedings towards him: “Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice!” Job, in his reply, allowed the premises of his opponent, but denied the consequences which were deduced from them: “I know it is so of a truth;” that is, I know God will not pervert justice: “but” I deny that I ever intended to justify myself before God, or to harden myself against him; for I am as fully convinced of the folly of acting in such a manner, as you or any one else can be: “How can man,” &c.
In this reply Job strongly asserts two things;
The folly of justifying ourselves before God—
Many there are who justify themselves before God—
[Few indeed, if any, will deny that they have sinned: but all unregenerate persons will deny that they deserve the wrath of God: at least, if, on account of some flagrant transgression, they be constrained to confess themselves obnoxious to eternal punishment, they hope by some repentance or reformation to compensate for their sins, and to establish a righteousness whereby they may find acceptance with God.]
But this proceeds from an ignorance of the divine law—
[“The law of God is perfect [Note: Psalms 19:7.];” “the commandment is exceeding broad [Note: Psalms 119:96.]:” it extends not to actions only, but to the thoughts and desires of the heart [Note: “Thou shall not covet,”i. e. Thou shall not harbour, thou shalt not even have, an inordinate desire, Romans 7:7.]; and it requires perfect and perpetual obedience [Note: Galatians 3:10.]. On our failure in any one particular, it denounces a curse against us [Note: Galatians 3:10.]; and from that period it can never justify us. It admits of no repentance on our part, or relaxation on God’s part [Note: Matthew 5:18.]. It is as immutable as God himself: and it is owing to men’s ignorance of this law that they so foolishly build upon it as the foundation of their hopes.]
None who understand this law will ever look for justification from it—
[If amongst a thousand perfect actions, one only were found defective, it were sufficient to condemn us for ever. But, if we will try ourselves by the law, we shall not find “one action of a thousand,” no, nor one in our whole lives, that will not condemn us. If we should presume to “contend with God” respecting the perfection of our best action, how soon would he confound us! Even we will venture to expose the folly of such presumption. Bring forth your action to the light: was there nothing amiss in its principle, nothing defective in the manner, nothing of a selfish mixture in its end? See if you can answer a weak sinful creature like yourselves: and, if you cannot, how will you “answer” the pure heart-searching “God?”
See then the folly of hoping ever to “be just with God;” and adopt the language of David, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified [Note: Psalms 19:12; Psalms 40:12; Psalms 130:3; Psalms 143:2.].”]
But there is another point in the text to which we must advert, namely,
The folly of hardening ourselves against God—
Those who justify themselves before God are equally prone to harden themselves against him—
[This they do by their unbelief and impenitence: they will not give credit to the declarations of God concerning them: they think, in direct opposition to all that God has spoken, that he will never execute his threatenings against the transgressors of his law. They profess to hope that repentance will appease his anger; and yet they put off their repentance from year to year, and take occasion even from his mercy to sin the more against him.]
The folly of this appears,
From the character of God—
[If God were ignorant of what passes in our minds, or unable to punish us for our sins, we need not concern ourselves so much about him. But are “the thick clouds a covering to him, so that he cannot see us [Note: Job 22:13-14.]?” or “are we stronger than he, so that we can provoke him to jealousy [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:22.]” without any fear of his resentment? No: “he is wise in heart, and mighty in strength:” he beholds the most secret emotions of our hearts, and will surely call us into judgment for them. What folly is it then to “harden ourselves against him,” when “neither rocks nor mountains can conceal us from him,” nor the whole universe combined deliver us from his hands [Note: Daniel 4:37. Proverbs 11:21.]!]
From the experience of men—
[”Who amongst all the sons of men ever prospered,” while he lived in an impenitent and unbelieving state? Many indeed have been wealthy and powerful [Note: Psalms 73:3-12.]; but who ever had solid peace in his conscience? Who ever had real comfort in a dying-hour? Who ever had happiness in the eternal world? This is the only prosperity that deserves our notice; and, in this view of it, the question in the text is unanswerable.
But, if we cannot tell of one that prospered, can we not recount multitudes that have been marked as objects of God’s most signal vengeance? Was not the rebellious Pharaoh visited with ten successive plagues, and drowned at last, with all his army, in the Red Sea [Note: Exodus 9:17; Exodus 14:17; Exodus 14:28.]? Was not the vain-glorious Nebuchadnezzar changed, as it were, into a beast for the space of seven years for his impious boasting against God [Note: Daniel 5:20-21.]? Was not his son Belshazzar warned by a hand-writing on the wall, in the midst of his lewd, drunken, and blaspheming revels; and, agreeably to the prediction, dethroned and slain that very night [Note: Daniel 5:22-28; Daniel 5:30.]? But why do we mention individual instances, when we are told, that “every one who, after repeated reproofs, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy [Note: Proverbs 29:1.]?” Who that considers this denunciation, must not confess, that such opposition to a God of infinite wisdom and power is madness itself?]
These things then being clear, the following advice cannot but approve itself to the consciences of all—
Be attentive to the concerns of your souls—
[To “repent, and believe the Gospel,” was the advice which Jesus himself gave to his hearers: and it is as necessary for you as it was for them. But it may be thought that an attention to spiritual concerns will interfere with your worldly prosperity. This however is not a necessary consequence: there can be no doubt but that, if you serve God faithfully, the world will hate you: but prudence and diligence may advance your temporal interests even in spite of the world’s hatred. Be it so, however: your temporal and spiritual welfare, we will say, are in direct opposition to each other: can it be doubted which you should prefer? Is not the soul of more value then ten thousand worlds? Seek then the prosperity which God approves, and which will continue for ever.]
Study the Gospel in particular—
[It is the Gospel alone that can enable you to answer that important question, “How shall man be just with God?” That takes your eyes off from human attainments, and directs them to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is there “set forth as a propitiation for sin, that, through him, God may be just, and yet the justifier of penitent and believing sinners [Note: Romans 3:24-26.].” From thence you learn, that Christ’s obedience unto death is a sufficient plea against all the accusations of God’s law; and that, if you be washed in his blood, God himself will not behold in you the least spot or blemish [Note: Ephesians 5:25-27.]. It was from “the Gospel as originally preached to Abraham,” that he found out the method of a sinner’s acceptance with God [Note: Galatians 3:6-9.]. All the Apostles acquiesced in this way of salvation: they all renounced their own works in point of dependence, and sought for mercy through faith in Christ [Note: Galatians 2:15-16.]. Let the Gospel then, whether as written by the first ministers of Christ, or as preached by those who now follow their steps, be your meditation and delight: so shall you find support under the most accumulated trials, and be accepted of your God in the day of judgment.]
THE EVIL OF A SELF-JUSTIFYING SPIRIT
Job 9:20-21. If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life.
IN controversies of every kind, and more especially in those which relate to religion, the disputants are, for the most part, more anxious to obtain the victory than to discover truth. Hence, instead of putting that precise construction on each other’s words which they were designed to bear, they labour to turn to their own advantage every expression of their adversary, and to derive from it an argument for the support of their own cause. Even good men are by no means so candid as they ought to be in relation to this matter, more especially when they become heated by opposition. The friends of Job were exceedingly faulty in this particular. They first charged Job with hypocrisy; and then, when he asserted his own innocence in relation to that heinous sin, they represented him as asserting his freedom from all sin, and as justifying himself as a righteous person before God. This was by no means the intention of Job: on the contrary, he here explicitly declares, that “no man can be just before God [Note: ver. 2.],” and that he should stand utterly self-condemned if he should presume to arrogate to himself any such measure of perfection. He had stated in the foregoing verse, that if he should dare to contend with God, he could neither withstand his power, nor put himself into a capacity to make good his cause before him [Note: ver. 19.]: and now he renounces with abhorrence any such impious idea. Of the former verse of our text, this is the plain and obvious meaning: and in the latter verse, the same idea seems yet more strongly, though not so plainly, stated: “Though I were perfect,” so far as not to be aware of any evil that I had ever committed, “yet would I not know my soul,” or pretend to know it as the heart-searching God does: “I would despise my own life,” and submit to any death, rather than presume to offer such an insult to the Majesty of heaven. Thus he avows, in opposition to the charge that had been brought against him, first, the folly, and next, the impiety, of a self-justifying spirit. These two we propose to consider in their order:
The folly of a self-justifying spirit—
By a self-justifying spirit we understand, a persuasion of mind that we do not deserve God’s wrath and indignation, but, on the contrary, that we do deserve his favour and blessing. Now supposing a person to indulge this spirit, what does he, in fact, affirm? He affirms, if not in words, yet by clear inference, what “his mouth must utterly condemn.” He affirms,
That there is no truth in the Scriptures—
[The Scriptures in every part cither affirm, or take for granted, that man is a sinner, justly condemned, and standing in need of mercy at the hands of an offended God. Now to talk of perfection, or of being righteous before God, is to assert directly the reverse of what the Scriptures assert, and, consequently, to say that there is no truth in them. But will any one dare to speak thus concerning the sacred oracles? will not his own mouth instantly condemn him as a proud and wicked infidel? or, if he profess to believe the Holy Scriptures, and yet maintain the notion of his being righteous before God, will not his own mouth still condemn him as guilty of the grossest inconsistency? Believer or unbeliever, he must equally stand self-refuted, and self-condemned.]
That there is no sin in his heart—
[We ask not whether there be any flagrant iniquities that can be laid to his charge: it is sufficient if once, in ever so small a degree, in act, word, or thought, he have transgressed, or fallen short of, the perfect law of God: having offended thus far, he has broken the law, and is from that moment subjected to its curse [Note: Galatians 3:10.]. Now to be justified by the very law that condemns us, is a contradiction in terms: so that the person who pretends to be just before God must either deny that he has any sin in his heart, or maintain the contradiction before stated. If it be said, that he may imagine that the law admits of imperfections, and justifies us notwithstanding those imperfections, we answer, that we cannot make laws of our own, but must take the law as we find it: and that the law, being a perfect transcript of God’s mind and will, can be satisfied with nothing but perfect and perpetual obedience: and consequently, if ever we have transgressed it in the smallest measure, we are, and must for ever be, condemned by it. To deny the perfection of the law would be to deny the perfection of God, which is atheism: and to admit its perfection, and yet dream of justification by it, is such an absurdity, as every man’s own mouth must condemn. The only possible ground of being justified by it must be, that we have no sin in our hearts: and, if any man dare affirm that, his own mouth has already proved him most ignorant and perverse [Note: 1 John 1:8.].]
That he has no need of a Saviour—
[If he be righteous himself, he has no need to be clothed in another’s righteousness, nor any need of an atonement for his sins: consequently, as far at least as relates to that individual, God has sent his own Son in vain. And will any man say that God, in making his Son “a propitiation for the sins of the whole world,” was under a mistake, and that for himself he needed no such exercise of mercy? Why then does such a man call himself a Christian? If he stood in no need of Christ, and is in a state of justification without Christ, he should cease to “name the name of Christ:” for whilst he continues to do so, his own mouth condemns him, and proves him perverse. “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain [Note: Galatians 2:21.].”]
But let us proceed to notice,
The impiety of it—
It was not without good reason that Job expressed such an abhorrence of the spirit that was imputud to him: for the indulging of it is,
A criminating of God—
[There is not a perfection of the Deity which is not dishonoured by a self-justifying spirit. It impeaches and vilities his truth; seeing that he has represented all to be in a state of guilt and condemnation before him. It denies his justice; since he threatens all men with death, when there are some who do not deserve it. It degrades his wisdom; since it supposes that that wonderful contrivance of providing a surety for us, and laying our sins upon him, was unnecessary. It holds up to derision also his mercy and grace, which are proclaimed as incomprehensibly great and glorious, when the very offer of them is only an empty sound. Hear what God himself says: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar [Note: 1 John 1:10.].” Can any thing be conceived more heinous than this? Should we not “despise our own lives,” and submit to ten thousand deaths, rather than be guilty of it?]
A contempt of our own souls—
[God has provided a salvation for us, and offered it freely to all who will accept it in and through his beloved Son; and has told us, that “there is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved,” but that of Jesus; and yet we choose to ground our claim of happiness on the purity and perfection of our own character, rather than submit to be saved in his appointed way. But is not this madness? Will a man deal so with his temporal interests? will he risk the loss of them upon a mere phantom of his own imagination, in direct opposition to the plainest dictates of his understanding? Surely, if men had the least value for their souls, they would not so trifle with them; they would at least endeavour to ascertain what degree of weight was due to their opinions, and whether there was any rational ground for them to expect God’s blessing in a way so contrary to his own most express and solemn declarations. But their total indifference about the issue of their confidence shews, that they account their souls of no value, or, as Solomon expresses it, “they despise their own souls [Note: Proverbs 15:32.].”]
A trampling under foot the Son of God—
[This is God’s own representation of the sin. In rejecting the sacrifice of Christ, there being no other sacrifice, we cut ourselves off from all hope of salvation; yea, “we trample under foot the Son of God, and count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and do despite to the Spirit of grace [Note: Hebrews 10:26-29.].” What amazing impiety is this! We are apt to confine our ideas of impiety to gross sins committed against our fellow-creatures: and such an error as self-righteousness we suppose to be of very little importance. But it is not thus that God estimates sin: he views sin chiefly as it dishonours him, and more especially as it militates against that stupendous effort of his love, the redemption of the world by the blood and righteousness of his beloved Son. Know then, that to justify ourselves, is to repeat, in fact, the conduct of those who crucified the Lord of glory; it is to “crucify him afresh,” and to say, “We will not have this man to reign over us.”]
This subject may be further improved,
For our conviction—
[Who was it that used the language in our text? It was Job, of whom God himself testified, that “he was a perfect and upright man.” And if he could not justify himself before God, who are we, that we should presume to do so? Are we more perfect than he? Hear how he speaks of himself, a few verses after our text [Note: ver. 30, 31.]; and then see what our views of ourselves should be. Nor was Job singular in his views of himself: the language of all the most eminent saints, both in the Old and New Testament, is precisely similar [Note: See Psalms 130:3; Psalms 143:2.Proverbs 20:9; Proverbs 20:9. Isaiah 6:5; Isaiah 64:6. Php 3:4-9 and especially 1 Corinthians 4:4.] — — — And such must be ours also, if ever we would find mercy at the hands of God: we must “humble ourselves, if ever we would be exalted.”]
For our consolation—
[Some are discouraged at the sight of their own vileness, and are ready to think that such unworthy creatures as they can never be saved. And such thoughts they might well have, if justification were, either in whole or in part, by any righteousness of our own. But “we are to be justified freely by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus [Note: Romans 3:24-26.];” it is “the ungodly whom God justifies [Note: Romans 4:5.];” not indeed those who continue ungodly, but those who come to Christ in an ungodly state, desiring to be cleansed from the guilt and power of their sins: those persons are justified the very moment they believe in Jesus, and that too from all the sins they have ever committed [Note: Acts 13:39.]. Here indeed is abundant consolation for “the weary and heavy-laden” sinner; here indeed he may find rest to his soul. Remember then what the Apostle has said; “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners:” and that Paul himself, when he was a bloody persecutor and blasphemer, obtained mercy, on purpose that the extent and riches of God’s grace might be displayed in him, as a pattern and encouragement to all who should ever desire acceptance with their offended God [Note: 1 Timothy 1:15-16.]. Follow his example then, and believe in Jesus for the remission of your sins: say, as the prophet encourages you to do, “In the Lord Jesus have I righteousness and strength;” for “in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and in him shall they glory [Note: Isaiah 45:24-25.].” The very name by which the Lord Jesus himself delights to be called, is, “The Lord our Righteousness [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Job 9". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12