Monday, June 5th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ job-2.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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And Satan came also among them.
Spiritual agencies, good and evil, in sickness
This is one of those mysterious chapters of Holy Scripture wherein God hath graciously vouchsafed, for the strengthening of our faith and loving trust in Him, a brief glimpse of that which is continually going on, day by day, in regions mysterious to mortal vision, and in which, could we but at all times feel it, we are so greatly concerned. Scripture is consistent in its testimony throughout--that there is a prince of darkness, a fallen angel, whose constant aim it is to effect our eternal ruin. In this case the evil messenger is permitted by the Most High to afflict one of His own righteous servants with grievous losses and poverty and sore disease, for the trial and purification of his faith.
I. Satan is from time to time allowed to move the Lord to afflict even his most faithful people in various ways. The Lord’s ways toward His people, and indeed toward all men, are most mysterious, but from the analogy of His dealings with the patriarch Job we may safely conclude that they are full of secret love and mercy towards them, and designed to promote their everlasting happiness.
II. The Lord gives Satan only a limited power over His own people. As the Lord said, “He is in thine hand, but save his life,” so in your case He may have given him liberty to proceed just so far, and no further, with you.
III. Faith untried is faith not proved acceptable. Many a man deceives himself with the empty counterfeit of faith. Hence an ordeal is requisite in which numbers fall away, whilst the faith of others is brought out as pure gold refined from the furnace of affliction. God graciously keep you from falling away in this your season of trial.
IV. Satan is most frequently the Lord’s agent in the infliction of disease and other trials. But Satan defeats his own purposes in afflicting God’s people, because their faith, through God’s grace, is thereby strengthened. In order the better to strengthen his position in attacking believer’s faith, Satan will often incite his nearest and dearest relatives to seek to withdraw his heart’s allegiance from God. He did this in the case of Job. In the moments of his fancied triumph Satan moved Job’s wife to assist him in the deadly warfare. But God had not forsaken him. (J. C. Boyce, M. A.)
The afflictions of Job
In language of the most stately and beautiful kind there is set before us the mystery of Providence. This passage is but one step in the development of a sublime moral lesson, but it has nevertheless a certain completeness of its own.
I. The character of temptation.
1. God is not the author of it. In temptation there are three parts.
(1) The external conditions which tend to bring it about. God may be the author of these conditions.
(2) The state of heart which makes temptation tempting to us. God is not the author of this.
(3) There is the special thought in the mind, the suggestion to do the deed, which is the focusing of the pre-existing and undeveloped feelings of the heart. Satan is the author of this.
2. But God permits us to be tempted. He allows natural laws to work about us, and historical events to shape themselves, and persons and things to come into contact with us, in such ways that temptation arises. Whatever is, is by His permission.
3. God permits temptation for our good. In our lesson we see that it was permitted in Job’s case in order to bring out clearly the stability of his faith in God. God is not careless or thoughtless in His permission of our trial.
4. Our friends sometimes unwittingly make temptation harder to us. Job’s wife spoke to him in sympathy. “Renounce God and die” is not a fling of sarcasm, but a weak and honest attempt to give comfort.
5. Temptation is never necessarily successful. It was not so in Job’s case.
II. Bearing temptation. Job’s example gives some practical lessons.
1. See the solitude of the tempted soul. The barriers of the soul cannot be passed. There alone we each must confront temptation and have our fight with it.
2. Job rightly says to his wife that to renounce God would be foolish. If Job had renounced God he would have been irrational, because he would have given up the only source of help possible.
3. Job shows us that faith is the only reasonable attitude of man towards God. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The afflictions of Job
The trial of Job, as it is portrayed, suggests three truths.
I. Satan is a personal being. That this is the old doctrine no one denies; but it is asked by many, whether such belief has not been outgrown with all our progress in theological thought. Over against all speculative opinion we have to set the plain teaching of God’s Word. The language here is figurative, but it must mean something. Satan is not an abstraction. Observe that Satan here is called the accuser. Milton’s story of the fallen angels is only a human invention. The interpretation which makes him a mere personification of evil would make Jesus Christ a mere personification of goodness.
II. God permits Satan to tempt believers. The great enemy of the soul in its race toward heaven is Satan.
III. God sets a limit to the power of Satan. “Behold, he is in thine hand; only spare his life.” The tempter could go no further than he was permitted to. But the mystery to Job was that such permission was given at all. If his troubles had come from an enemy, or even from his “miserable comforters,” he could have borne them more easily; but that they should have fallen from his Father’s hand, that puzzled him. That is the puzzle of human life. Our best relief is that Satan’s power has a limit; it cannot go beyond God’s permission. No soul needs to be under the control of temptation--it cannot hold the human will; it is not the supreme force in the world. One thing is stronger: the power of God in Jesus Christ, and that power is pledged to every soul in its fight with sin. (T. J. Holmes.)
Still he holdeth fast his integrity.
A commendation of Job’s integrity
1. Constancy in piety, notwithstanding the sharp temptations of an afflicted condition, is a singular commendation in God’s esteem; for hereby Job so acquits himself that the old characters of his piety are not sufficient without this new addition to his commendation (1 Peter 1:7). And the reason of this is insinuated in the word “holding fast,” which in the original imports a retaining and holding of a thing firmly and with our whole strength, because of difficulties and opposition; as the traveller keeps his garment on a windy day.
2. Whatever it be in religion wherewith men please themselves, yet nothing pleaseth God better than sincerity and uprightness when it is persevered in under affliction, and in a trying condition.
3. As God is specially pleased with men’s sincerity, so it is against this that Satan plants his chief engines and battery. Satan did not assault Job’s outward prosperity, but to better his integrity thereby. Nor is it men’s formality or outward profession that he doth so much malign, if he can keep them from being sincere in what they do.
4. Albeit it be no small difficulty to stand fast, and to continue straight and upright in sharp trials, yet the truly sincere are, by the grace of God, able to do it, and to abide never so many and sharp assaults. Even weak grace, supported by God, is a party too hard for all opposition.
5. It is an act of Divine wisdom, when things of the world are going to ruin, not to cast away piety also, and a good conscience; or, because God strips us of outward contentments, therefore to turn our back upon that which ought to be a cordial under all pressures: for this is commended as an act of great wisdom in Job, when other things were pulled from him, still “he held fast his integrity.” To take another course will nothing benefit men, or ease their griefs, but doth indeed double their losses. (George Hutcheson.)
Graces held fast in trial
1. That Satan in all his temptations plants his chiefest battery against sincerity. Satan did not care at all to pull Job’s oxen from him, or his sheep from him, or his children from him, but to pull his grace from him; therefore it is said, Job held that fast.
2. That whatsoever a godly man loseth, he will be sure to lay hold of his graces, he will hold spirituals, whatever becomes of temporals. As it is with a man at sea in a shipwreck, when all is cast overboard, the corn that feeds him, and the clothes that cover him, yet he swims to the shore if he can, with his life in his hand. Or as it is with a valiant standard bearer, that carries the banner in war, if he sees all lost he will wrap the banner about his body, and choose rather to die in that as his winding sheet than let any man take it from him.
3. That grace doth not only oppose, but conquers Satan and all his temptations. He doth prevail in his integrity (so the Hebrew may be rendered in the letter).
4. That true grace gains by opposition. True grace is increased the more it is assaulted. (J. Caryl.)
God unchangeable toward the afflicted servant
He is still His servant, and one prominent among His children, and a word is now added showing that Jehovah notes the fidelity of His own: “Holdeth fast his integrity.” How beautiful is this! Poor and stricken, bereft of all, Job is still “My servant.” The living God loses not interest in His tried and suffering ones. Drink deep from this sweet well. Though change of circumstance oft brings change in those we once called friends, and those from whom we look for comfort give only blame, God is not a man that He should change, and it is still “My servant Job.” (H. E. Stone.)
The moral law and its observance
The lowest step of the religious life is obedience to the moral law, and our time can never be lost when we are gazing at those simple, infinite, eternal sanctions. This is to all Christian life as the primitive granite on which the world is built. The man who strives to be faithful to the moral law, be he even a heathen or a publican, may be nearer to the kingdom of God than they who, in theologic hatreds, systematically violate its most essential precept: “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” The sum and substance of the moral law, as Christ set it forth, is truth and love. Only a few men are, in the highest sense, men of principle. A man of principle is one of the noblest works of God. He has learned the sacredness of eternity, the awful axiomatic certainty of law. Two most necessary cautions.
1. None of you may suppose for a moment that it needs no more than an appeal to reason and to conscience to secure obedience to this moral law. This, as all history proves, is a vital error.
2. You cannot see the face of God unless you keep your bodies in temperance, soberness, and chastity. It is not the grandeur of the moral law alone which can help you in this. You have to hear the voice of Christ. (Dean Farrar, D. D.)
Although thou movedst Me against him.
1. That Satan is an earnest and importunate solicitor against the people and Church of God.
2. That pure, or rather impure, malice stirreth Satan against the people of God.
3. That God doth afflict His people sometimes without respect unto their sins. Thou didst move Me against him without cause.
4. That God will at the last give testimony for the clearing of the innocency of His servants against all Satan’s malicious accusations. (J. Caryl.)
Satan’s malicious incitements
The expression “although thou movedst Me against him” is startling. Is it an admission, after all, that the Almighty can be moved by any consideration less than pure right, or to act in any way to the disadvantage or hurt of His servant? Such an interpretation would exclude the idea of supreme power, wisdom, and righteousness which unquestionably governs the book from first to last. The words really imply a charge against the adversary of malicious untruth. The saying of the Almighty is ironical, as Schultens points out: “Although thou, forsooth, didst incite Me against him.” He who flings sharp javelins of detraction is pierced with a sharper javelin of judgment. Yet he goes on with his attempt to ruin Job, and prove his own penetration the keenest in the universe. (R. A. Watson.)
All that a man hath will he give for his life.
The proverb put into Satan’s mouth carries a plain enough meaning, and yet is not literally easy to interpret. The sense will be clearer if we translate it, “Hide for skin; yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” The hide of an animal, lion or sheep, which a man wears for clothing will be given up to save his own body. A valued article of property often, it will be promptly renounced when life is in danger; the man will flee away naked. In like manner all possessions will be abandoned to keep oneself unharmed. True enough in a sense, true enough to be used as a proverb, for proverbs often express a generalisation of the earthly prudence, not of the higher ideal; the saying, nevertheless, is in Satan’s use of it, a lie--that is, if he includes the children when he says, “All that a man hath will he give for himself.” Job would have died for his children. Many a father and mother would. Possessions, indeed, mere worldly gear, find their real value or worthlessness when weighed against life, and human love has Divine depths which a sneering devil cannot see. A grim possibility of truth her in the taunt of Satan that, if Job’s flesh and bone be touched, he will renounce God openly. The test of sore disease is more trying than loss of wealth at least. Job was stricken with elephantiasis--one of the most terrible forms of leprosy, a tedious malady, attended with intolerable irritation and loathsome ulcers. (Robert A. Watson, D. D.)
Satan’s estimate of human nature
The Book of Job is a historical poem, and one of the most ancient. In form it is dramatic. We have to be on our guard as to the degree of authority with which we invest the statements of the different interlocutors. Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz spoke for themselves only. We must not think all their utterances were inspired. So the utterances of Satan are his own, and are not to be treated as inspired. This proverbial sentence means that a man will give up everything to save his life. The insinuation is that Job served God from merely selfish considerations. Satan was only measuring Job and mankind generally by his own bushel. It must be admitted that there is a degree of truth in the saying. If it had not been so, there would have been no plausibility about it, and it could have imposed on no one. A lie, pure, simple, and unadulterated, does little harm in the world. Some one hath pithily said, “A lie always needs a truth for a handle to it; else the hand would cut itself which sought to drive it home upon another.” The worst lies, therefore, are those whose blade is false, but whose handle is true. There is an instinctive love of life in every human being. Life is sweet, even with all its trials, sorrows, and, in many cases, miseries; and there is a clinging to it in every heart. And this love of life is not only an instinctive principle: within certain limits it may even be a positive duty. But the affirmation of the text is not true--
I. To the history of even unregenerate human nature. Even in the unconverted there are principles, some evil and some good, which, becoming dominant, subordinate to themselves the love of life. Such as the passions of hatred and revenge; the love of adventure; duellings; love of knowledge; science; salvation of the imperilled by water, fire, or disease. So, in the name of humanity, we may repudiate the assertion that, as a universal thing, men will do anything to save their lives.
II. How much less true is the text of the renewed heart. That which is the ruling passion in a man rules over the love of life, as well as other things in him. In the truly godly man the ruling passion is love to God, and love to his neighbour for God’s sake, and that dominates over all things else. The adversary, though he used every advantage, could not succeed in shaking Job’s confidence in God. (Illustrate from cases of three Hebrew youths, Daniel, Paul, etc.) Satan spoke words of calumny, not of truth. Learn--
1. Through our self-love Satan’s most insidious temptations come to us. With this estimate of human nature in his mind, he has kept continually appealing to men’s love of life, and it is astonishing in how many cases he has at least partially succeeded.
2. The truest greatness of humanity lies in falsifying this assertion of Satan. Since we call ourselves by the name of Christ, let us be distinguished by His unselfishness. That only is a heroic life which forgets itself in service. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The value of life
Life is equally distinguished by brevity and calamity. Nevertheless life has always been considered the most valuable treasure, the most enviable prize. The love of it is unquestionably the most vigorous principle of our nature. It is interwoven with our very frame. As we grow up, to this supreme passion every other inclination pays homage. This adherence to life we have undertaken to justify. There is nothing in it unworthy of the philosopher or the Christian, the man of reason, or the man of faith.
I. The importance of human life.
1. Appeal to authority, the authority of the varied scriptural references to life, such as, “A living dog is better than a dead lion.”
2. Contemplate human life as the work of God. “Marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty!” But in this lower world the chief is Thy creature, man. All is under the influence of his power or his skill. See the animal world. See the material world. Everything justifies the supremacy he possesses. His very form is peculiar. What majesty is there in his countenance! He is fearfully and wonderfully made. There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Most High giveth him understanding. He is capable of knowing, and serving, and enjoying his Creator; he has reason and conscience; he is susceptible of vice and virtue, of morality and religion.
3. Human life has an intimate, unavoidable, inseparable connection with another world, and affords us the only opportunity of acquiring good. If we confine our attention to the present momentary state of man, he will appear a perplexing trifle. He has powers and capacities far above his situation; he has wants and wishes which nothing within his reach can relieve and satisfy. He is great in vain. But as soon as he is seen in connection with another state of being, he is rescued at once from perplexity and insignificance. As soon as we seize this point of vision, all is intelligible. Immortality, what a prerogative! Eternity, what a destiny! A preparation for it, what a calling! The importance of a thing is not to be judged of by the magnitude of its appearance, or the shortness of its continuance, but by the grandeur and variety and permanence of its effects. Nothing can equal the importance of the present life, as a state of probation, according to which our future and unchangeable happiness or misery will be decided. For, upon this principle, none of your actions can be indifferent. Consider that, as is your way, such will be your end.
4. Consider human life in relation to our fellow creatures, and as affording us the only opportunity of doing good. The means of the temporal and spiritual welfare of mankind are not poured down immediately from heaven. God divides the honour with us. He gives, and we convey; He is the source, and we are the medium. It is by human instrumentality that He maintains the cause of the Gospel, speaks comfort to the afflicted, gives bread to the hungry, and knowledge to the ignorant. But remember, all your usefulness attaches only to life. Here alone you can serve your generation according to the will of God, by promoting the wisdom, the virtue, and the happiness of your fellow creatures. Would you exercise patience? This is your only opportunity. Would you exercise self-denial? This is your only opportunity. Would you exercise Christian courage, or Christian candour and forbearance, or beneficence? This is your only opportunity. Would you discover zeal in the cause of your Lord and Master Here alone can you recommend a Saviour, and tell of His love to sinners. Let us--
II. Specify some of the useful inferences which flow from belief in the importance of human life.
1. We should deplore the destruction of it.
2. We should not expose it to injury and hazard.
3. We should be thankful for the continuance of it.
4. We should not be impatient for death.
5. We may congratulate the pious youth.
6. If life be so valuable, let it not be a price in the hands of fools. Learn to improve it. Do not live an animal, a worldly, or an idle life. (William Jay.)
To love life a Christian duty
The love of life is a principle which evidently belongs to our race. The attachment to life has not been engendered since the fall. It is rather the marred and mutilated relic of one of the features of man’s early perfection. This love of life was a fragment of immortality. The love of life survives all that can make life desirable. Take away this principle of the love of life, and the whole fabric of human society would be shaken. The power of the civil magistrate would lose its strong hold on the minds of the rebellious; vice would set no limits to the extent of its profligacy, for no dread would attach to the sternest of penalties. It may be true that the love of life is seldom or never completely lost in the desire for immortality. Life may be lawfully loved--there is not necessarily anything sinful in the love of life. But what are our reasons for loving life? Do we love it because we employ it on worldly pleasures or pursuits, or because it may be consecrated to the glory of God and to the high purposes of eternal salvation? If the latter, then it is an actual duty to desire length Of days. Where the heart is converted by the power of the Holy Spirit, the chief longing is to live to God’s honour. While it is the great end of our being to promote God’s glory, we cannot do this and not at the same time promote our own everlasting happiness. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
The love of life
Though these words were uttered by the father of lies, they are no lie.
I. The love of life is the simplest and strongest principle of nature. It operates universally on every part of the brute creation, as well as on every individual of the human race, perpetually, under all circumstances, the most distressing as well as the most pleasing, and with a power peculiar to itself; while it arms the feeble with energy, the fearful with courage, whenever an occasion occurs for defending life, whenever the last sanctuary of nature is invaded, and its dearest treasure endangered. It operates with a steady, constant influence, as a law of nature, insensible and yet powerful. It corresponds, in the animated world, with a great principle of gravitation in the material system, or with the centripetal force by which the planets are retained in their proper orbits, and resist their opposite tendency to fly off from the centre. We see men still clinging to life when they have lost all for which they appeared to live. The Scriptures frequently recognise and appeal to this fundamental principle. The only promise, annexed to any of the ten commandments exhibits life as the chief earthly good, and its prolongation as the reward of filial piety.
II. Some reasons for this instinctive attachment to life.
1. The first reason respects the preservation of life itself. That which, of all our possessions, is the most easily lost or injured, is that on the continuance of which all other things depend. The preservation of life requires incessant attention and exertion. The spark of life is perpetually exposed to the danger of extinction. Nothing but the strongest attachment to life could secure it. Life, we cannot forget, in its highest use, is the season of our trial for an eternal state of being. The results of the whole process of redemption, the accomplishment of the greatest designs of the Deity, are involved in the continuance of this probationary state of existence.
2. The promotion of industry and labour. Life must be loved in order that it may be preserved, and preserved in order that it may be employed. In every state of society, the greater part of the community must necessarily be subjected to labour. Under the best possible form of government, some must produce what is to be enjoyed by others. How great a benefit is that necessary condition of labour which acts as a barrier of defence against the wildness of human passions.
3. The protection of life from the hand of violence. Without some strong restraining sentiment, the life of individuals would be exposed to continual danger from the disordered passions of others. The love of life, so strongly felt in every bosom, inspires it with a proportionate horror of any act that would invade the life of another. The magistrate and the law owe their whole protective efficacy to that sentiment of attachment to existence which is a law written in every heart.
III. Improve the subject.
1. Infer the fall of man: the universal apostasy of our nature from the state in which it originally proceeded from the Divine Author. Created with this inextinguishable desire of existence, we are destined to dissolution. Our nature includes two contradictory principles--the certainty of death, and the attachment to life. This fact affords the clearest evidence that we are now placed in an unnatural, disordered, disjointed condition; that a great and awful change has passed upon our race since our first father came from the hand of God. This change must be owing to ourselves.
2. The subject reminds us of the salvation which provided us the antidote to our ruined condition.
3. It may serve to remind of the medium by which this Divine life is imparted and received. The connecting medium is faith.
4. The duty and obligation under which we lie: to impart the knowledge and enjoyment of these vital, eternal blessings to our suffering fellow sinners. (R. Hall, M. A.)
If he did not make, he used it, and so made it his own. It finds expression for an universal truth; it is true to history, and true to experience. Matthew Henry says of this account of Satan, “It does not at all derogate from the credibility of Job’s story in general, to allow that this discourse between God and Satan, in these verses, is parabolical, and an allegory designed to represent the malice of the devil against good men, and the Divine restraint which that malice is under.” That is not the view which is now taken of the Book of Job by reverent students, but it is interesting, as showing that the parabolic feature in it has always been recognised.
I. How true this proverb is concerning man’s care for his bodily life! In that pastoral age, when property mainly consisted in flocks and herds, skins became one of the principal articles of exchange; they were, in fact, what our coined money is, the medium of purchase and sale. “Before the invention of money, trade used to be carried on by barter--that is, by exchanging one commodity for another. The men who had been hunting in the woods for wild beasts, would carry their skins to market, and exchange them with the armourer for bows and arrows.” Translated into our modern language, the proverb would read, “Thing after thing, everything that a man possesses, he would give to preserve his life.” There is no intenser passion than the desire to retain life. The tiniest insect, the gentlest animal, holds life as most dear, and battles for it to the very last. The foe that man most dreads, all earthly creatures dread. The impress of sacredness lies on the life even of the meanest and most worthless. Man can calmly lose everything but his life. Poor men cling to life as truly as rich men. Wise men hold life as tightly as ignorant men. Young men regard life no more anxiously than do old men. Do what you will, you cannot make the fact of your own death real to you. “All men think all men mortal but themselves.” The love of life and fear of death is the same in the Christian as in the ordinary man. Conversion to God neither changes the natural instincts of man as a creature, nor the particular elements of a man’s character. Good John Angel James used to say, “I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying.” All our life long we may be in bondage through fear of death. We are only sharing the common instinct of the creature. “Skin after skin, all that we have we will give for our life.” Why has God made life thus sacred?
1. To accomplish His purpose, the time of each man’s life must be in His hands. Life is a probation for us all, and one man requires a longer probation than another. God must hold in His hands both the incomings and outgoings of life. And yet man can easily reach and spill his own life. How then shall he be guarded from taking his own life? God has done it by making the love of life the one master instinct in every man.
2. The order and arrangement of society could not be maintained if men had unlimited control over their own lives, and felt no check from this instinct. Think how the reasons which now induce men to take their own lives would then gain aggravated force. For the smallest things--a trifling anxiety, a passing trouble, a commonplace vexation, slighted love, unsuccessful effort--men would be destroying themselves. What would be the uncertainties, the whirl of change, the wretchedness of this world’s story, if men were unchecked by this instinct of life? Widows moan, and orphans weep, and homes are desolated now; but then, what would it be then, if life were lightly esteemed and could be flung away for trifles?
3. But for this instinct of life, man would have no impulse to toil. Through work moral character is cultivated. We must work if we would eat. We must work if we would be happy. We must work if we would be “meetened for the inheritance of the saints in the light.” And yet who would work if there were not this instinct of life? What motive would be left to urge us to make earnest endeavours, and to overcome difficulties? The one thing that really inspires our mills, and Shops, and warehouses, and studies, is this instinct of life, this passion for life that dwells in all our breasts.
4. This instinct is the secret of our safety from the lawless and violent, Suppose that our life was of no greater value than our property, then we should be at the mercy of every lawless man, who would not hesitate to kill us for the sake of our purse. As it is, even in the soul of the burglar, there is this impress of the sacredness of life, and only at the utmost extremity will he take our life, and so imperil his own.
II. What a satire the proverb is when applied to man’s care of his soul-life! Yet that soul-life is the man’s real and abiding life. His body-life is but a passing, transient thing. The soul-life is Divine and immortal. The body-life is akin to the life of the creatures; the soul-life is kin with God. I live. That is not the same as saying, My heart pulsates, my lungs breathe, my blood courses, my nerves thrill, my senses bring me into relation with outward things. It is equal to saying, An “I” dwells within me. That “I” is a spark struck off from the eternal fire of God. I am a spiritual being, an immortal being. Let the word life mean spiritual life, then how much will men lose rather than lose their souls? How do men reckon sacrifices when their souls are imperilled? What strange delusion can possess men that they can be careless of their priceless treasure? Why do men, who are souls, barter their heavenly birthright for a pottage of worldly pleasure? God Himself seems to wonder over so painful and so surprising a fact. He exclaims, “Why will ye die? O house of Israel, why will ye die?” It is said that within the caterpillar there is a distinct butterfly, only it is undeveloped. The caterpillar has its own organs of respiration and digestion, quite distinct from and independent of that future butterfly which it encloses. There are some insects called Ichneumon flies, which, with a long, sharp sting, pierce the body of the caterpillar, and deposit their eggs in its inside. These soon turn into grubs, which feed within the caterpillar. It is remarkable that the caterpillar seems uninjured, and grows on and changes to the cocoon, or chrysalis, and spins its silken grave, as usual. But the fact is, that these grubs do not injure the worm; they only feed on the future butterfly that lies within the caterpillar. And then when the period for the fluttering of the butterfly comes, there is only a shell--the hidden butterfly has been secretly consumed. Need the lesson be pointed out? May not a man have a secret enemy within his own bosom, destroying his soul, though not interfering with his apparent well-being during the present state of existence; and whose mischievous work may never be detected until the time comes when the soul should burst forth from the earthly cerements, and spread its wings, and fly free in the heavenlies? Souls are lost now. Souls are won now. To win souls now may cost us sacrifice. Skin after skin a man should be willing to give in order to save his soul’s life. (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
The fear of death
Man is, as the Greek poet speaks, “a life-loving creature.” He is ever, whilst sound and sane, averse to death. We may have very little to live for, yet we cling to the thorn which pierces us. The last messenger is unwelcome to royalty in purple, to beggars in rags; to the thoughtless multitude, to the thoughtful few.
I. The aversion of the sceptic. The unbeliever can approach death only with feelings of intense distress. Death disinherits him of all things, and leaves him poor indeed. Let a shallow scepticism trumpet as it may the supreme attractions of the gulf of nothingness, human nature can only leap into that gulf with a shriek. Alas! that since Christ has lived, death should ever again have become such a king of terrors.
II. The aversion of the secularist. The man who believes in another world, but who has not lived for it. How reluctant are such to die! It is not difficult to understand this aversion. The Lord has come to demand an account of the stewardship, and the faithless servant trembles. They have lived in sense and sin, and are unprepared for the judgment. The “sting of death is sin.”
III. The aversion of the saint. It is a fact that good men have an aversion to dying. We see this in the prayer of David, “O spare me that I may recover strength,” etc. Hezekiah’s prayer also. The Perfect Man reveals this hesitancy. “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death.” Paul also, “Not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon.” We should like to draw the coronation raiment of purple and gold over this frayed, coarse garb of pilgrimage. And it is ever thus with all the disciples of Jesus. We recoil from dying. On what is this aversion based?
1. There is a natural love of the world we must leave. A person realises a fortune, and on a given day exchanges the old cottage for a mansion. Glad of the aggrandisement, he yet bids adieu to his old home with a regretful sigh. It is something thus with a man leaving this world for a grander destiny. This world may be the battered cottage, poor by the side of the high palace which awaits us, yet is this life and world dear to us. Here we sprang into being, and received our ideas of all glorious things. Our joys and sorrows have made the scenes of life sacred to us, and it is strange how the fibres strike from us, and unite us to the earth on which we live. Thus, when the time comes to part with earth and its ties, there is a struggle in the bosom of the saint.
2. There is a natural distaste for death as considered in itself. We cannot be reconciled to death however we may be assured of its harmlessness. Life is such a magnificent dowry that it makes us nervous to see it placed, even for a moment, on the brink of peril. To a Christian there is but the shadow of death, yet the shadow of such a disaster is abhorrent to our deepest nature. Christianity has taken the sting out of death, and yet one dislikes a serpent even when it has lost its sting.
3. There is a natural shrinking from the mysterious glories of the future. Man always shrinks when on the eve of realising some great ambition. The saint is impelled by desire, and repelled by trembling anticipation. He falters on the verge of the great universe of mysterious glory. Let us seek so to live that our aversion to death may have in it no dark or ignoble elements, and Christ will, perchance, make death light to us--lighter than we sometimes think. (The Pulpit.)
The love of life
The love of life is a powerful instinct. God has implanted it in the bosom wisely. And during the natural years of life, this instinct holds us to it, as the stem holds an apple to the bough. (H. W. Beecher.)
Behold, he is in thine hand.
Satan malevolently dealing with Job’s personality
I. Satan’s low estimate of human nature. His language here clearly implies that even a good man’s love of goodness is not supreme and invincible. He states--
1. That goodness is not so dear to him as life. “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” Self-preservation is a strong instinct in human nature, and therefore a Divine principle; but it is not true that it is ever the strongest feeling in the human heart. A man who has come under the dominion of love for the true, the beautiful, and the good, holds his life as subordinate to the high principles of genuine religion and godly morality. This is a fact which the history of martyrdom places beyond debate. Thousands of men in Christendom today can say with Paul, “I count not my life dear unto me,” etc. He states--
2. That great personal suffering will turn even a good man against God. Such is the connection of the body with the soul that great bodily suffering has undoubtedly a tendency to generate a faithless, murmuring, and rebellious spirit.
II. Satan’s great power over human nature. We infer--
1. That his great power moves within fixed limits.
2. That his great power is used to torture the body and corrupt the soul. The ancients ascribed many physical diseases direct to the devil. Physical evils do spring from moral, and the devil is the instigator of the morally bad. See how he corrupts Job’s wife. “Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God and die.” If you substitute the word “bless” for “curse,” you still have the impious spirit of the wife: then in heartless irony she counsels her husband to blaspheme his God. Perhaps she meant, “Thou hast been blessing God under thine affliction thus far, go on with thy cant, and die, for death would be desirable both to thyself and me.” Satan acted thus not only on Job’s body, but on the soul of Job’s wife, and both in order to tempt the patriarch to sin against his Maker.
III. Satan’s grand purpose with human nature. What was his master purpose? To turn Job against God. And is not this his grand purpose with all men? There is one thought about his purpose, however, suggested by the text, encouraging to us, it is frustratable. Up to the present point he failed with Job. Three things are worthy of attention here concerning Job in frustrating the purpose of Satan.
1. He reproves his wife. “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh.”
2. He vindicates God. “What? shall we receive good at the hands of God, and shall we not receive evil?”
3. He is commended by inspiration. Here is the Divine testimony to Job’s state of mind amid the torturing of the devil. “In all this did not Job sin with his lips.” (Homilist.)
Man in the hands of Satan
Job has held and still holds a unique place as the representative sufferer of the human race. This hero of meekness, all but overwhelmed with blank hopelessness, paralysed in the inmost nerve of his life, isolated from all that makes living bright and precious, and left, to all human seeming, absolutely helpless in the hands of a slandering and malignant fate, has so burnt his story into the imagination of mankind that it will never disappear so long as hearts are crushed by the wheels of care, and souls are bruised by the blows of temptation. The Old Testament has no more vital element. But is Job a real man, in the hands of a real devil, and sustained and made victorious by a real God, or have we nothing more substantial than fibrous figures woven into a beautiful tapestry by the deft fingers of a nimble fancy? It is plain that the author moves almost wholly in the poetical realm. So the conviction settles in our minds that the thought and fact of this book are cast into a mould as real as that of Agamemnon: a drama intended not for the eye of sense, but for the eye of the mind. Admitting the poetical form of the book, we must ask whether all our highest poetry does not rest on the immutable basis of fact. Illustrate from “In Memoriam,” George Eliot’s “Spanish Gipsy,” “Adam Bede,” etc. The history of Job is actual, and not a whit less so, because the form of the story is ideal and dramatic. The important question is, Are the truths which Job’s story embodies and illumines, eternal and universal; and do the ideas set forth concerning God and man, evil and good, go to the root of things, and expound the essential nature of our human life? The one thing urgent for us to know, is not, was there a Job, but is there a light from God in the history of Job that guides the reason and conscience? Does Job teach us how to live the best life, and cling with inviolable tenacity to God, not in Uz, but in London? Is God greater than evil? Can He subdue it, and will He? A glance at the prologue of the poem is enough to convince us that the book is expressly written to solve these deep and perplexing problems of the mind. Poem though it be in form, its exhaustless fascination is its philosophy. Like Milton’s great classic, it is a defence of the ways of God to men; a bold facing of plausible but false interpretations of life and destiny; a thorough and tremorless exposure of their inherent absurdity and unreason, and an unfaltering vindication of the character of God from all the aspersions of lazily-thinking Zophars, parrot-like Bildads, and fatalistic Elihus. See the special motive of Job’s fierce trial. He is not suffering for his sins. It is not a case of the ancestral “eating of sour grapes.” Nor is Job put into the furnace of affliction that he may come forth as gold. His affliction is not the apprenticeship of a strong nature to the educational influences of sorrow and temptation. What then is the special motive for this singular and significant experience? Listen to the colloquy in heaven between Satan and God concerning Job! Satan, the slanderer, says, “Doth Job fear God for nought?” Job knows well enough what he is about, and is simply making the best investment of his powers the market of human life offers. The case is crucial. The test is faultless. The experiment is carried to the maximum of severity. No element of evil is omitted. There then is the stake! How fare the combatants? That is the question at issue. See the swift changes through which Job is put. Satan is permitted to do his worst, and he does it with terrible suddenness and completeness. But all experiments fail utterly. The idea remains triumphant, that God is lovable in Himself and for Himself. Disinterested love of the Eternal is its own reward. He is lovable, notwithstanding fearful evils in our lot, and in our world. (J. Clifford, D. D.)
But save his life.
The worth of a good man
I. Because it is good in itself. Everything of inherent worth is worthy of preservation, even apart from the idea of utility. The jewel, though it be seldom worn as an ornament, must be carefully kept. So faith in the unseen, a reverent trust in God and fervent piety, had given a jewel-like beauty and value to the character of Job. Hence it must be spared.
II. Because it is useful to society. There are many things useful to society. Genius, and the honest pursuit of commercial enterprise, aid the common good of men. But nothing is more beneficial to society than true moral character. Men like Job are the strength, hope, and inspiration of the race. Remove them, and social life becomes dark, cold, and barren. Society has need to pray for the longevity of good men.
III. Because it shall be a pattern to after generations. The Bible is a pattern book of moral life. It is not only a book of cold precepts, but of sympathetic lives. Men need patterns in every sphere of work--in the mechanical and architectural, as well as in the moral. Many a man has become an artist through looking at a beautiful picture. While gazing upon it, the fires of genius have kindled within him. So the lives of men like Job have awakened the desire for piety within many a heart.
IV. Because the devil would only have liked to put an end to it. Could he have killed Job, he would have put out the best light of the times; have plucked the richest blossom of the season. But God would not allow this. He had to expend more discipline on Job yet. God has more love for His people than to let the devil do whet he likes with them. The power of Satan is limited, but fearful enough as it is. Are you afflicted? God watches you. Fear not!
V. Are our lives worth saving? (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Curse God and die.
She only comes on the scene to heighten for one moment the intensity of her husband’s desolation and misery. “Renounce,” she says, “God and die.” “Leave the unprofitable service of this God, who has left thee to so undeserved a fate. Leave Him and quit life, a life that has nothing left worth living for.” It seems hard indeed, hard above all to those who have known the blessings of an English and a Christian home, that such a sneer and such advice should come from such a quarter. It pains us, as with an unwelcome shock. Let me recall to you that when, some sixty years ago, the poet-painter William Blake drew some wonderfully powerful illustrations to the Book of Job, he, the English husband of a loyal and affectionate wife, refused to follow the course of the story in this terrible detail. All the rest he could portray, step by step; but here he stayed his hand, and those who can turn to his much-prized drawings will see Job’s wife vindicated against the scorn of centuries, kneeling beside her husband, and sharing his patient misery. They will see her still by his side, through each and all of his future pangs and agonies, and restored with him to a common happiness in the closing scene. There was something in the record of Job’s sufferings too keen and bitter, too remote, may we not thankfully say, from the experience of English and Christian married life, for that sensitive and gifted spirit, so often on the borderland where genius touches madness, to bear to reproduce. And it might well be so. “Curse God and die,” she said. The depths of human misery seemed sounded. How many human souls might, in one way or another, have lent an ear to the suggestion. A Roman might have turned upon his unjust gods and died by his own hand, like Care, with words of defiance on his lips. Others might have sought the same fate in dull despair. Not so Job. (Dean Bradley.)
Some have spoken very strongly about Job’s wife. She has been called a helper of the devil, an organ of Satan, an infernal fury. Chrysostom thinks that the enemy left her alive because he deemed her a fit scourge to Job by which to plague him more acutely than by any other. Ewald, with more point, says, “Nothing can be more scornful than her words, which mean, Thou, who under all the undeserved sufferings which have been inflicted on thee by thy God, hast been faithful to Him even in fatal sickness, as if He would help or desired to help thee who art beyond help,--to thee, fool, I say, bid God farewell, and die!” There can be no doubt that she appears as the temptress of her husband, putting into speech the atheistic doubt which the adversary could not directly suggest. Brave and true life appears to her to profit nothing if it has to be spent in pain and desolation. She does not seem to speak so much in scorn as in the bitterness of her soul. She is no infernal fury, but one whose love, genuine enough, does not enter into the fellowship of his sufferings. (R. A. Watson, D. D.)
A despairing cry
Sorrow and pain work a ferment in the soul that is terrible. Our theme is the folly and wickedness of impeaching God.
1. The folly of impeaching the justice, wisdom, or love of God. Think of human ignorance. Compared with the material or brute creation man is great, but not great when compared with his Maker. Sydney Smith satirically described Lord Jeffrey as dissatisfied with the Almighty in the construction of the solar system, particularly as to the rings of Saturn. Men nowadays do soberly set up their judgment in opposition to the will and wisdom of God. They know but part, yet talk as if they understood the Almighty to perfection.
2. The guilt of such a course is equally great. It is a practical repudiation of the authority of God, who commands us to be patient and obedient. It is akin to the dreadful sin of blasphemy, an act that under no circumstances can ever be tolerated. (C. H. Buckley, D. D.)
The blasphemy of despair
Job’s wife is typical of a class of persons that has always existed in the world. Such persons lose sight of all that is bright in life, hem themselves in with the blackest gloom, seek a path only in the darkness where no star shines, allow distrust to take entire possession of their souls, and hatred to reign supreme in the domain of their affections, and then end their career like Pope’s reprobate knight, of whom the poet says, “And sad Sir Balaam curses God and dies.” In human life we often meet with persons whose gloomy minds throw a shadow on everything with which they come into contact. We protest against pessimism as being false in theory, and impossible in practice. Even dark things have a bright side, which can be seen if looked for in a proper spirit.
I. The causes of despair.
1. False views of God. A man’s theology very largely influences his life. Spiritual ideas are at the root of all others. Whatever a man thinks of God and religion, will largely mould his character. Despair arises from two causes: the pessimism of men who are opponents of God, haters of God; and the hard, encrusted, stern, unbending Calvinism, which professes to be overpowered by God’s love, which love is, however, always limited to those holding the doctrine. The pessimistic raving is indicative of a despair which has taken a fixed and settled position in the soul. Hope has fled, and all the brightness, even to the last spark, has departed from life.
2. Misanthropic notions respecting the human race. The loss of faith in our fellow men is a prolific cause of despair. We place confidence in men, and we are betrayed; we trust them, and they deceive us. So we lose faith in mankind: we sink into a condition of sullen moroseness, which is but the forerunner of despair.
3. Denial of God’s existence. Atheism is a gloomy creed. To take away God is to deprive the world of hope, to rob it of its highest consolation, and consequently to plunge the human race into the blackest despair.
II. The folly of despair.
1. It shuts out of view possible changes for the better. The clouds encompass us, the darkness hems us in, we see no light, and we lose hope, never dreaming that behind the mists a sun is shining, which will sooner or later dispel the gloom and illumine the world with its beams.
2. It injures the soul. Like all evil passions, it grows with what it feeds on.
3. It is a rebellion against God. Evil is not the universe. Goodness is eternal. God lives, and His mercy fails not. Despair is rank blasphemy against heaven.
III. The remedy for despair. It is the religion of Jesus, with the great and eternal truth which it enunciates--God is love. Recognising the fact that there is a God, and that His mercy is over all that His hands have made, how can we ever despair? We know that we are in His hands, and that therefore we are sure. Let us then leave the demon of despair to atheists, and those who have neither faith in God nor confidence in man, but for ourselves we must cling to the eternal truth that God is love. (George Sexton, M. A. , LL. D.)
Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?
A right view of life
The inspiration of the Book of Job is sufficiently established--
(1) By internal evidence;
(2) by the testimony of the Jews;
(3) by the manner in which other inspired writers speak of him.
Admiring, reverencing, and feeling for Job, the love of his example makes a strong impression, and to obtain equal resignation, equal possession of our souls in misfortune, we think that we should scarcely deprecate that ordinance which should subject us to equal affliction. Unmoved by every evil, Job declares his trust in God, and justifies his resignation in the words of the text. These words imply--
I. That everything is ordained by God. With the existence and with the moral government of God, Job was already well acquainted. He knew that the Omniscient Ruler was not indifferent to the affairs of men, that as there was in nature an immutable difference between good and evil, so that difference was accurately marked by the Judge of all. That Job trusted that everything was under the direction of a supreme governor is certified by many passages of this book. Natural good and evil are equally ordered by heaven. It appears a harsh doctrine to say that evil proceedeth from God; but to this expression we are forced by the poverty of language. Job means to say that the happiness and the sufferings of men proceed from the same source,--God, the Governor of all. This sentiment is more worthy of attention in Job, because he lived in a country where there was no recorded revelation of the Divine will. The sentiment is remarkable also from the situation in which it is uttered: at a time when he was reduced to the utmost distress, when even the most heroic would have sunk under such sufferings. These misfortunes might have been accounted for by the agency of man or by chance. They were not of such extraordinary nature as to seem at once to flow from God. Job looked to a higher source. He knew that those things called natural and moral causes are under the direction of the Almighty. Though they operate in the common course of things, yet that course is directed by the unerring hand of Providence, and the continued support of the Omnipotent Ruler. The belief of God is consonant to Scripture. In the governing of the world everything seems to happen by second causes, yet God is the director of these causes. Sometimes God may make a special interference, but God governs usually, bestows good and inflicts evil, by general laws, and not by special appointments, as the emergency of the case may require. We should acknowledge the hand of God in all His dispensations. Men are but the instruments in the hands of God for the accomplishment of His designs.
II. Job considered it as an unavoidable consequence of our present state that the life of man should be chequered with good and evil. His mind seemed prepared for events of the kind that now happened. A uniform state of happiness or misery is never allotted to anyone. The virtues of a man cannot be proved, nor his latent evil inclinations detected by one uniform state.. And God chooseth to judge men, not by His own previous knowledge of them, but by the manner in which they shall conduct themselves here. In the lot of everyone, therefore, there is k mixture. Job’s prosperity itself prepared the way for his misfortunes! Adversity seems to attach itself with uncommon perseverance to some individuals; and some men are distinguished by an almost continued course of one fortune. But the most prosperous meet with some adverse incidents. God is what we call a moral governor, that is, He judges the actions of men, and will deal with them according to their conduct. The complete retribution for our deeds we are to expect only in another life. And there is much wisdom in the variety of the dispensations of Providence, independently of the moral government of God. The frailty of our nature unfits us for bearing well uninterrupted prosperity or adversity.
(1) Let us, then, submit with thankfulness to this form of the Divine administration, in which everything works together for wise purposes.
(2) Let us not dare to blame Providence if we think our evils too severe, or do not see their immediate good tendency. What right have we to censure the administration of heaven? We have not sufficient penetration to discern what is fittest to be done in this immense government of the world, or even in the affairs of men.
(3) In this mixed state of good and evil let us look forward to and prepare for that everlasting world, where we shall receive good only at the hand of God.
III. Job was resolved to receive each state with an equal mind. The whole of his history shows that he did so. Job’s friends seem to have been impressed with the erroneous notion that God afflicts here in proportion to iniquity. They conceive Job, amidst all his protestations of integrity, to have committed some enormous crime, and to have been a consummate hypocrite. Each, then, in his turn, upbraids the unfortunate sufferer, and accounts for all his misfortunes from the justice of the Almighty. Here now shine forth the virtues of Job, and the calm equanimity of his temper. He is concerned for the honour of the Supreme Being more than for the justification of his own character. He takes their harsh language in good part.
(1) Explain the nature of resignation. Distinguish the various counterfeits that may assume its appearance. The more excellent any grace is, the greater pains is taken to counterfeit it. As a pious resignation is honourable, it has often been assumed where there are no just pretensions to it. Cold insensibility has often assumed the name of resignation. Natural indolence takes this appearance. Habitual carelessness glories in driving from its thoughts the ills of the passing day. And obstinate conceit pretends to preserve an unaltered countenance. But natural temper of any kind is not virtue. Insensibility can never be acknowledged as resignation to the misfortunes of life. Job felt as his situation demanded. As want of feeling does not constitute the grace of resignation, neither is refraining from all utterance of feeling an essential part of it: The feelings of the heart have a natural language. It is the business of religion not to suppress but to correct the feelings of man. Resignation does not preclude endeavours for relief. Religion does not command us to sustain a burden from which exertion may deliver us. It is the duty of man to render his situation as comfortable as circumstances permit. Resignation permits us to feel as nature dictates, but restrains our sorrows within due bounds.
(2) Considerations which should lead to the practice of resignation. It is the Lord who doth afflict. Affliction, generally viewed, is the consequence of sin. Blessings are accumulated in the lot of man. We often mistake the real nature of what are called evils. They tend to produce good effects. And Christ, our Lord, bore with perfect resignation evils and afflictions of the most severe nature. A due consideration of these points may, through God’s blessing, lead us to the state of mind which Job obtained. (L. Adamson.)
God’s gifts of good and evil
The attitude of Job toward life is at this point heroic, and his speech is one of the great heroic speeches of the world. We shall perhaps apprehend his thought better if for the words “good and evil” we substitute fortune and misfortune, happiness and sorrow. Happiness always seems good to us; sorrow always seems evil. Job has been happy beyond the average lot: fortune has attended him, things have gone well with him, and all that he has done has prospered. What is fortune? It is some nameless intangible force that sides with us, that puts what we want in our way, and that instructs us how to seize the opportunity of success; for the most egoistic of us is, after all, dimly conscious that many things happen to him without his seeking. What is misfortune? It is this same mysterious power ranged against us, and no longer our ally, but our enemy. Without any action on our part, any deviation from the righteousness and moral order of our lives, all things begin to be against us. If we had blasphemed and lost faith in rectitude, if we had been foolish, indolent, or vicious, we could understand it; but we have done and been none of these things. If Job could say, “I deserve this because I did so and so,” it would greatly simplify the position; at all events, it would relieve the soul of that most intolerable of all suspicions, that God has blundered. But Job is too honest a man to admit a wrong he has not committed; simply because he is an upright man, he must be upright towards himself as well as towards God. So, then, he is driven to a diviner philosophy. Shall we receive happiness and fortune from the hands of God, and not sorrow and misfortune? Is it not the same power that makes things work for us, and work against us? Is there not something in the very order of life which ensures that every man has his just proportion of bitterness measured out to him, because without that tonic drop of bitterness in the cup the wine of life would corrupt by its own sweetness, and happiness become our worst disaster? That is the thought of Job, and it is a great and memorable thought. Now let us try to analyse this thought: not so much from the intellectual side as from the spiritual and the human.
1. The first thing that Job feels is that happiness and sorrow, fortune and misfortune, are equally of God; and simple as such a thought sounds, it is really the profoundest that the mind of man can conceive. To begin with, it puts an end to the popular conception of the devil, and to all those religious systems of theology which are based upon the antagonism of the Divine and the diabolical spirit. Thus, for example, the main doctrine in the religion of Persia is the presence of two great spirits in the world, the one of light, the other of darkness, who contend for the mastery of man and of the world. Man is seized by each in turn, is blessed and cursed, is comforted and menaced; for the good spirit does nothing but good, and the evil nothing but evil. Thus the world is ruled by a divided deity, and the one work of God is evermore to checkmate and undo the work of the devil. So far as English theology goes, John Milton and John Bunyan invented the devil between them; and their view of the world is practically the view of the Persian. But now turn to the Book of Job, and what do you find? In the great prologue to the drama, Satan appears indeed; but it is as the chained and impotent antagonist of God. He can do Job no harm without a Divine permission. The devil of Milton, who wages war against the Highest, and all but triumphs, would have been to the writer of this great drama an absolutely impious conception. The devil of the popular imagination, who torments man when God is not looking, and works evil in the world in spite of the goodness of God, would have been an equally impious and intolerable conception. Better were it to have no God than a God who reigns but does not govern; who does good as far as He can, but finds that good forever undone by a power of evil over whom He has no control. No, says Job, darkness and light both belong to God, and to Him the darkness is as the light. There is but one Ruler of the universe.
2. The second stage of Job’s thought is, that it would be equally insensate and selfish to expect only fortune and happiness, and never sorrow or misfortune, in our lives. And why? Because misfortune happens to others, and we see that in some way or other sorrow is part of the human lot. Had Job never known searchings of heart on this very subject during the long day of his prosperity? Is there any man who can avoid sometimes wondering why things go so well with him and so ill with others? Does not the happy man sometimes feel as though he had cheated in the great game of life, and in escaping sorrow had evaded something of the burden of existence which all ought to bear according to their strength? We all remember the exquisite story of the renunciation of Buddha: how he sees the leper by the wayside, the old man tottering on the dusty road, the corpse carried out to burial, and asks, “Is life always like this?” and then goes back with sad eyes to his palace, and a voice in his soul which tells him he has no right to enjoy only when there is so much to endure. And we remember also how that thought worked in his gracious and tender heart until he felt that he could not fulfil his destiny unless he also sorrowed; that not to sorrow was not to share the true brotherhood of the world: and so he goes forth in the dead of night, and rides far and fast, till he comes to the forest solitude, where he puts aside his kingship and becomes only a man, a beggar with the beggar, an outcast with the outcast. It was so Chat Job felt in this first shock of his calamity. He had received good through such long years: should he complain now that he received evil? He had received good; let him now show that happiness had not corrupted him, by at least having the grace of gratitude, and learning to say with reverence and resignation, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
3. One thing at least is certain, and it is a thing that Job deeply feels in this hour: that whatever part happiness may play in our lives, sorrow is necessary for us, as a factor in our moral development. Let us be sure of it--it does not do for us to be too happy. Few of us can carry the full cup without spilling it. Even those who have the finest natural endowment of tenderness and sentiment are apt to grow proud, hard, callous, indifferent to suffering, careless of the deeper poetry of life and the higher visions of the spirit,, when happiness knows no admixture of sorrow. But who has not felt his heart strangely softened in the hour of loss? Who has not found himself looking on the world with gentler and more pitiful glances after having looked into the eves of death? The evidence of this real need of sorrow in human life is seen in the fact that all the great lives of the world have been the tried lives. The names that thrill us, the histories that inspire our virtue, the episodes of heroism that gladden us and exalt us, are all linked in some way with suffering. There is, in fact, nothing in mere happiness that is exalting or inspiring. There is no more uninteresting person in the world than the person who has uniformly succeeded in life. We would rather have died with Gordon in the Soudan than have made a fortune out of nitrates; have done the work that Livingstone or Moffat did, than have “fed on the lilies and lain on the roses” of life with the luckiest millionaire who never knew a want unsatisfied or a calamity that could not be averted. Some acquaintance with sorrow is absolutely necessary to modify the corrupting effect of too uniform a happiness. The great lives have usually been lives that were greatly tried, and herein is their fascination; the greatest men have always been those who know the use of sorrow, and have learned to say: What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? Do we find it hard to say this? Do we who call ourselves Christians find it hard? I do not say that it is, or ever can be, easy; but if we are indeed Christians we shall not fail in grace to say it, For what commentary on the words of Job is there so penetrating or complete as the story of Jesus? With a consciousness of perfect integrity, such as not even Job could hope to emulate, He never murmured under the worst stroke of calamity. He turned His back to the smiter, and was, as a lamb before her shearers, dumb. And His one word amid it all is an even grander word than Job’s; it is--“Father, not My will, but Thine be done.” And finally, in the very spirit of Job, He accuses no evil power of malice, but sees in all the tragedy something permitted by God for His own supreme and blessed ends, and knows that through the evil of men God’s purpose will be done, and God’s goodness find a final and complete vindication.
4. I notice, finally, then, that there are two kinds of peace possible to us: the peace of fact, and the peace of principle, The peace of fact is but another phrase for stoicism. It is in a sense the peace of nature: the natural stubborn elements in us which collect and harden themselves under misfortune, and refuse to yield. In all ages of the world this kind of peace has been possible to men. It is always possible for us to train ourselves in silence, in mute resistance to the stroke of fate, and to resist endlessly. But the higher peace is the peace of principle, and this is the peace of Christ. It is not negative, but positive. The peace of fact is the peace of Prometheus under the unjust wrath of Heaven; the peace of principle is the peace of Job, in the sense that God is good. It, is sustained by our faith in certain principles and supreme truths, the chief of which is the unbounded goodness and unerring wisdom of God. It is the peace of conquest; the peace of inner vision; the peace of justified and resolute hope. (W. J. Dawson.)
Relative good and evil in human life
Things that are evil in our estimation may be the appointment of the only wise God. Many such things do occur in human life and to reconcile our minds to these is one great object, and one of the happiest effects of religion. The thought suggested by the text, that we receive many blessings from that God who sees fit at times to visit us with distress, is happily adapted to effect these ends.
I. The blessings which God has conferred upon its are far more numerous than the painful events which He may have permitted to befall us. Recall the blessings of existence, that honourable rank which we hold among the creatures. Remember His parental care. And let us not forget His most precious benefits which respect our more important and eternal concerns,--the provision He has made for our instruction, improvement, spiritual comfort, and everlasting happiness. Now number up all the evils you have experienced through life. Do they not in a manner disappear amid these so countless blessings? Man is indeed born to trouble. A material frame and an imperfect state, our own irregular passions or the passions of others, must necessarily be sources of many evils. But how few of these fall to the lot of any one individual.
II. The good we have received is unspeakably great and important; the evils we have suffered are comparatively but light and inconsiderable. How precious are the gifts of reason, of memory, of judgment. How excellent the feelings and affections of the heart. Still more valuable are our spiritual blessings. Compared with all these in point of real weight and importance, what are all the ills which we now experience? They reach only to our mortal nature, and are confined to the period of the present life. What has been the amount of the evils which you have received from the hand of God? He may have deprived you of this world’s goods; or removed from you tender and affectionate friends; or visited you with bodily distress and pain. If God has continued to us blessings of the highest value, dare we repine if He mingle them with light afflictions which only lesson some of the enjoyments of a present state?
III. God’s goodness is unceasing and uninterrupted; any evils which he sends are occasional and temporary. A continued exertion of power and goodness preserves us in being, God unceasingly furnishes the means of life. Every moment of our lives we taste and see of the goodness of God. But is it in this manner that God hath dispensed His judgments and afflictions? It is but occasionally that we feel God’s chastening hand. And suffering is seldom of long duration.
IV. The good we receive from the hand of God is altogether unmerited; the evils we experience are what we justly deserve. Always unprofitable, too often ungrateful, in many instances disobedient and rebellious, we cannot imagine a claim we should have to the goodness of God. Yet amid all this unworthiness and demerit, innumerable and inestimable blessings have been conferred upon us. Recall the evils which we have experienced through life, and say whether they are not the appointments of perfect righteousness, and upon the whole far less severe than we deserve. May we not frequently trace those of which we most loudly complain to our own folly and perverseness? And do not our human frailties justify God if He were pleased to send even severer evils than any we have experienced? The consideration of the good which we receive should not merely silence the murmurs of discontent, it should reconcile our minds to the afflicting dispensations of His providence. God’s goodness gives us a just view of His character, and lays a foundation for trust and confidence in Him. If that God who has given us such unquestionable proofs of His goodness sees fit to visit us with evil, it must be with a kind and benevolent design--for some gracious and important end. Whatever distress may be allotted to us, or in what trying situations we may be placed, yet His goodness, His loving kindness are still exercised towards us. Shall our feelings and affections towards God be regulated by some rare acts of His providence towards us, rather than by His long-continued uniform conduct? This surely would be most unreasonable. (Robert Bogg, D. D.)
The evils of life
Experience will convince us that unmixed happiness was never intended to be the portion of man in his present state. The good and evil of life are so intimately connected together that while we pursue the one we often unavoidably meet with the other. There is no condition of life but has its own troubles and inconveniences. Neither the virtuous nor the wise, the learned nor the prudent, in their pilgrimage through life, can altogether avoid those rocks which often prove so fatal to the peace of the mind. Pain, in a certain proportion, is always infused as an essential ingredient in the cup of which it is appointed for all men to drink. A general conviction of the wisdom and goodness of Providence ought, in some measure, to reconcile us to the hardships and miseries to which we are subjected while We continue in this life. But our persuasion of the rectitude of God does not rest merely on general principles. Our reason, assisted by revelation, is able to discover several wise purposes that are answered most effectually by the present mixture of good and evil in the world. It calls forth the faculties of the mind into action, and obliges men to shake off those habits of indolence and inactivity that are so fatal to the further improvement of the soul. To the happiness of man, as a reasonable being, it is necessary that his several faculties be all duly exercised on objects suited to the peculiar state of each. Only a world of difficulties and inconveniences would furnish employment for all our powers. There is in every man a natural principle of indolence, which renders him averse to exertions of every kind, but particularly to those of thought and reflection. Uninterrupted prosperity tends to increase this natural indolence. Inconveniences serve to quicken our invention, and to excite our industry, in discovering by what means we may most effectually remedy these inconveniences.
I. The evils of life open our eyes and make us sensible of real wants. They constrain us to collect all our strength, and to summon up all our resolution to withstand. Losses and disappointments rouse men to greater diligence and assiduity. Difficulties serve to form our souls to habits of attention, of diligence, and activity. Obstacles give a new spring to the mind. Difficulties overcome enhance the value of any acquisitions we may have made.
II. The evils of life exercise and improve the virtues of the heart. The world, as a state of moral discipline, would be inadequate for its purpose if all events that befall us were of one kind. The situation most favourable to the progressive improvement of the human character is a mixed state of good and evil. Prosperity gives opportunity to practise temperance and moderation in all things. Calamities are equally favourable to the interests of virtue in the human heart. They correct levity and thoughtlessness. Adversity gives a seasonable check to vain and overweening self-conceit. A patient resignation to the good pleasure of the Almighty must likewise be reckoned among the happy fruits produced by afflictions. Adversity disengages us from this life, directs our attention, and raises our views to another and a better world. We may therefore infer how much it is our duty to acquiesce in the wisdom and goodness of Providence, which has appointed the intermixture of good and evil in this probationary state of our existence. (W. Shiels.)
On the mixture of good and evil in human life
A mixture of pleasure and pain, of grief and joy, of prosperity and adversity, is incident to human nature. That there is a variety of good and evil in the world, of which every man who comes into it partakes at some time or other, requires no further proof than to desire each individual to reflect on the various changes that may have taken place through his life, and then to determine for himself whether the world has always gone either smoothly or roughly with him. Some persons seem to pass through life more pleasantly than others. Some seem to meet with hard usage on all sides. Reasons for the mixture of good and evil in human lives may be given.
I. This life is intended for a state of probation and trial. It is by the mixture which befell holy Job that we become acquainted with his true character. Had he been less under the rod of affliction at one time, or less kindly treated by the Almighty at another, he would not have proved himself that “perfect and upright man” which his behaviour in both states discovered him to be. By similar means good men in all ages of the world have been proved; the providence of God rendering their condition sometimes prosperous and sometimes grievous, as the surest way of trying their virtue and confirming their faith.
II. The mixture of good and evil prevents our building too much on prosperity, or sinking too easily into despair on adversity; either of which, by the certainty of their continuance, would endanger our casting off all dependence upon, and hopes from, the overruling providence of God. By the uncertainty of things here the most successful and happy persons are kept in some awe through fear of a change of condition and circumstances; whilst the most unfortunate may live in constant hope of a relief from their troubles; and both be thereby taught a due dependence on God in every state and condition of life.
III. This mixture of good and evil sets us upon looking forward to, and endeavouring to obtain, a more fixed and unchangeable state than falls to our present lot. Were we to receive nothing but good here, there is no doubt but we should think it good for us always to be here; but by reason of the mixture of evils there are few who would not be glad to exchange a worse condition for a better. What must we do to make ourselves easy under such changing conditions? Not surely covet to return to such inconstant enjoyments as may be suddenly taken away from us; but rather strive to obtain those of a more durable nature. Reason teaches us that things perishable and subject to change are not worthy to be compared to those which are more durable, and always the same. God is pleased to afflict His greatest favourites, to make them the more earnest in their pursuits after future happiness, as well as to qualify them for the attainment of its superior degrees. (C. Moore, D. D.)
Good and evil
Our use of these words is very lax. There is a sense in which it is impossible for us to receive that which is evil at the hand of God. There is a sense in which we speak of Him as one from whom all good gifts come. The terms good and evil may be absolute or they may be relative. A thing may be in itself absolutely good, whereas to me it may be relatively what seems evil. I may individually be a sufferer for that which is for the general good. On the other hand, that which is absolutely evil may be to me relatively a source of advantage. The sick rooms of the human race are the schoolrooms of compassion, and the battlefields of the world are the training grounds of heroism. Distinguish between that which is in itself intrinsically good and evil and that which is to us in our experience good and evil. On this distinction will hinge very many of our relations to God. God has placed man upon the earth in a universe that is endowed with infinite possibilities, and He has left man to find out these possibilities for himself; and man, until he found them out, has constantly injured himself through ignorance, and has frequently mistaken that which was created for his benefit and thought it a curse. Take, for example, such a power as electricity. What were the thoughts of generations now long buried when they watched the summer sky blazing with fire, or stood by the blackened ruins of some stricken homestead? Did they dream then, in their ignorance, that this same force should one day flash intelligence from pole to pole, and carry a faint whisper upon its docile current? Did it not seem to them then, nothing but pure beauty, nothing but cruel violence? Does it not seem to us now, infinite wisdom? Man has to learn the use of the weapons in the armoury of God, and until he has learnt their use he does not know what they are, he misapplies them, and oftentimes injures himself, then rebels and calls out against God’s cruelty. The wise man--that is, the religious man--arguing from what he knows to what he does not know, believes that the wisdom and goodness of God will soon shine out clear in the light of later knowledge. God could only have made man as He has made him, a child in the eternal years, and placed him in the midst of laws and forces and powers the use of each and all to be learned by experience. (W. Covington, M. A.)
Evil from the hand of God
The story of Job shows--
1. The instability of all human affairs, the uncertainty of all earthly possession.
2. That the best of men may be the most afflicted. Afflictions are no certain proof of the Divine displeasure nor that the afflicted are unrighteous persons.
3. That however God, for wise and gracious purposes, may afflict His servants, He will not forsake them in their afflictions, but will make the most painful events work for their good, and terminate in their happiness. Everything shows the present life to be, not a state of uninterrupted enjoyment, but of trial and discipline; a mixed scene, in which pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, prosperity and adversity, are intermingled. And the Scriptures teach those sentiments, and exhibit those examples of suffering virtue, which are calculated to afford the good man support and comfort under all the trials and afflictions of life. Our text supposes that evil as well as good comes from the hand of God, and that we ought to receive, or accept, the one at His hand as well as the other.
I. Show that evil as well as good comes from the hand of God. That second causes operate in producing the evils that take place, and that creatures are the instruments of them, is no reason why they should not be considered as coming from the hands of God. The government of God is carried on, and His designs are accomplished, by the agency of second causes. When we speak of second causes, a prior cause is always supposed, on whom they are dependent, and to whom they are subservient. In other parts of Scripture evil as well as good is declared to come from the Divine hand (Judges 2:15; 2Sa 12:11; 1 Kings 9:9; 2 Kings 6:33; Nehemiah 13:18; Isaiah 14:7; Jeremiah 4:6; Amos 3:6; Micah 1:12, etc.). All things, evil as well as good, are under the government of God. By evil is meant whatever is painful; by good, whatever is pleasurable. Sin, what is called moral evil, cannot exist in God, nor proceed from Him. Actions are righteous or wicked according to the views and motives of the actor. Sin exists only in the creature, and proceeds entirely from the creature: it consists in what is contrary to the will of God. It is denominated evil because it is painful and bitter in its effects. God has so constituted man, and connected causes and effects in the moral world, that whatever is morally wrong is productive of pain and misery. His wisdom and goodness in this constitution of things is manifest.
II. Those considerations which should dispose us, with devout submission, to receive evil at the hand of God, as well as good.
1. Everything is under the direction of a Being who is infinitely wise, powerful, and good. He is too wise and just and good and merciful to allot any more pains and sufferings to any of His creatures than are merciful.
2. Some measure of evil seems to be necessary in the present state of man for his discipline and improvement, and to prepare him for higher enjoyment. The present life is the mere infancy of our existence. Our Father allots to us, not what is most gratifying, but what will best promote our improvement. Evil is included in the means which God employs in training up His children for immortality and glory. The greatest characters have been formed in the school of adversity. Man is formed to be the child and pupil of experience, to gain knowledge from practice, to become virtuous and happy by the free exercise of the powers God has given him, and so evil seems unavoidable until, instructed by experience, man chooses only good, and is prepared for the full enjoyment of it.
3. At the hand of God we are continually receiving much good. Whatever evils we experience, enjoyment preponderates. The ordinary course of things is a state of enjoyment, of which evil is an infraction. The evils we lament are but an abatement of the good we receive; therefore it is right that we should be always resigned and thankful. Much of the evil man feels he creates to himself by his unreasonable desires and improper views and sentiments.
4. Strictly speaking, nothing is evil as it comes from the hand of God. We call it evil because it occasions us pain and suffering. Under the government of God there is no absolute evil. Evil is partial and temporary; its extent is limited; it had a beginning, and will end in universal happiness.
5. Observation and experience may teach us that, in many instances, God hath made evil productive of good. See the stories of Job, and of Jacob.
6. As God has made some of the greatest evils productive of good, it is rational to conclude that He will make all evil subservient to and productive of good. This conclusion naturally arises from just views of His character, perfections, and government. Learn, then, to look above creatures, to look through all second causes; to see God in all things, and all in God. Let us be always resigned to His will, put our whole confidence in Him, and be entirely devoted to Him. Let us look forward to the happy time when evil shall be no more; but life and peace and joy and happiness shall be universal and eternal. (Anon.)
On submission to the Divine will
Under the distresses of human life, religion performs two offices: it teaches us how we ought to bear them; and it assists us in thus bearing them. Three instructions naturally arise from the text.
I. This life is a mixed state of good and evil. This is a matter of fact. No condition is altogether stable. But the bulk of mankind discover as much confidence in prosperity, and as much impatience under the least reverse, as if providence had first given them assurance that their prosperity was never to change, and afterwards had cheated their hopes. What reason teaches is to adjust our mind to the mixed state in which we find ourselves placed; never to presume, never to despair; to be thankful for the goods which at present we enjoy, and to expect the evils that may succeed.
II. Both the goods and the evils come from the hand of God. In God’s world, neither good nor evil can happen by chance. He who governs all things must govern the least things as well as the greatest. How it comes to pass that life contains such a mixture of goods and evils, and this by God’s appointment, gives rise to a difficult inquiry. Revelation informs us that the mixture of evils in man’s estate is owing to man himself. His apostasy and corruption opened the gates of the tabernacle of darkness, and misery issued forth. The text indicates the effect that will follow from imitating the example of Job, and referring to the hand of the Almighty the evils which we suffer, as well as the goods which we enjoy. To dwell upon the instruments and subordinate means of our trouble is frequently the cause of much grief and much sin. When we view our sufferings as proceeding merely from our fellow creatures, the part which they have acted in bringing them upon us, is often more grating than the suffering itself. Whereas if, instead of looking to men, we beheld the cross as coming from God, these aggravating circumstances would affect us less; we would feel no more than a proper burden; we would submit to it more patiently. As Job received his correction from the Almighty Himself, the tumult of his mind subsided; and with respectful composure he could say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away,” etc.
III. We who receive good from the hand of God, should receive with patience the evils which He is pleased to inflict. Consider--
1. That the good flyings which God has bestowed afford sufficient evidence for our believing that the evils which He sends are not causelessly or wantonly afflicted. In the world which we inhabit, we behold plain marks of predominant goodness. What is the conclusion to be thence drawn, but that, in such parts of the Divine administration as appear to us harsh and severe, the same goodness continues to preside, though exercised in a hidden and mysterious manner?
2. That the good things we receive from God are undeserved, the evils we suffer are justly merited. All, it is true, have not deserved evil equally. Yet all of us deserve it more or less. Not only all of us have done evil, but God has a just title to punish us for it. When He thinks proper to take our good things away, no wrong is done to us. To have enjoyed them so long was a favour.
3. The good things which at different times we have received and enjoyed are much greater than the evils which we suffer. Of this fact it may be difficult to persuade the afflicted. Think how many blessings, of different sorts, you have tasted. Surely more materials of thanksgiving present themselves than of lamentation and complaint.
4. The evils which we suffer are seldom, or never, without some mixture of good. As there is no condition on earth of pure, unmixed felicity, so there is none so miserable as to be destitute of every comfort. Many of our calamities are purely imaginary and self-created; arising from rivalship or competition with others. With respect to calamities inflicted by God, His providence has made this merciful constitution that, after the first shock, the burden by degrees is lightened.
5. We have even reason to believe that the evils themselves are, in many respects, good. When borne with patience and dignity, they improve and ennoble our character. They bring into exercise several of the manly and heroic virtues; and by the constancy and fidelity with which we support our trials on earth, prepare us for the highest rewards in heaven. (Hugh Blair, D. D.)
Submission under afflictive dispensations of providence
I. The sentiment of this inquiry. We may define evil as a something done or suffered by us which is contrary to the original purpose of God in our creation, and to the original constitution of our nature. Thus there is sin, or moral evil. There is physical evil, in the numberless infirmities, pains, and sufferings of life. All the evil which exists in the world is either sin in itself, or sin in its consequences. But though afflictions are the evidences of sin’s existence, and the penalty of its commission, they may be overruled to moral advantage. We may regard Job as proposing the inquiry, Shall we, sinful, weak, and erring mortals, who have forfeited all rights to the blessings of providence, receive only good from God, and be exempt from evils, which for our sins we most righteously deserve? Shall we have no mixture of judgment with mercy, of chastisement with favour?
II. The reasonableness of this sentiment.
1. We deserve evil. We have stoned. If we saw and felt as we ought to do, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, our inquiry would be, “Shall we receive any good at the hand of God?”
2. We often incur evil by our own conduct. The courses which multitudes pursue bring sorrow and disaster, disease and difficulties. How many of the miseries of mankind result altogether from sin, from vicious indulgence, from a reckless course of dissipation, or from sheer folly and imprudence! The Divine Being was not bound in justice to prevent the disordered state of man, nor to arrest its evils, when it had taken place.
3. We are in a state of probation. Trials form a test of character, a trial of principles, a sifting of motives. Afflictions are designed to promote our moral improvement.
III. The spirit of Job’s inquiry. It is the language of devout submission. It is the language of heavenly hope and lofty confidence in God. Job entertained a profound veneration for the Divine character, and a high-toned reliance upon infinite goodness and faithfulness. (Henry H. Chettle.)
Good in evil
I. What is the meaning of Job’s appeal? The appeal relates rather to ourselves than to God. The whole connection turns upon the state of the recipient. The question turns upon ourselves. God is in no sense the author of evil. All originated with the creature. The word evil here refers to physical evil. Job is speaking of his own sufferings. The meaning and force of this appeal is seen in attending to the meaning of the word “receive.” To receive is very different from to submit. Receive is usually employed in a good sense. You receive what is good. It supposes a willingness on the part of the subject, especially when the term is employed by the person himself. Shall we bless God for the good and not for the evil? Shall we not give Him credit for both?
II. Arguments likely to induce this state of mind. Since God gives us good, when a dispensation of a seemingly different character comes, we ought to be slow to say that it is of a different character in its consequences. When trouble and suffering come, we ought to infer that it is intended for our advancement in good. All the good we have has travelled to us through an intensity of suffering; it is applied to us, and comes to us through suffering.
1. Good was procured to us through suffering. A suffering Saviour.
2. Good is applied to us through evil. If we suffer with Christ we shall be glorified with Him.
3. Good is consummated to us through evil. (Capel Molyneux, B. A.)
On the duty of resignation
I. How far we are allowed to grieve for our calamities: or how far grief is consistent with a state of resignation. Christianity may regulate our grief, as it does every other passion; but does not pretend to extinguish it. Ungrateful and unwelcome things will make harsh and ungrateful impressions upon us. Our sensibility, whether of joy or misery, arises in proportion to our ingenuity. A man of a coarser frame shall slight those afflictions which fall heavy upon a more refined disposition. An over-refined delicacy, however, is almost as bad an extreme, as an unfeeling stupidity. It is allowable, it is even commendable for us to feel a generous movement of soul, and to be touched with the distresses of other people. Grief may even sometimes be necessary to take off any hardness of heart, and to make it more pliant and ductile, by melting it down. If our self-feeling be the foundation of our fellow feeling, then, as soon as reason can shine out in its full strength, the virtues of humanity and tender-heartedness will spring up, as from a willing soil, in a mind prepared and softened by grief. The first starts and sallies of grief, under any calamity, are always pardonable; it is only a long and continued course of grief, when the soul refuses to be comforted, that is inexcusable. And it is most inexcusable when it bears no proportion to its real cause. Melancholy in excess is an accursed spirit. Violent tempestuous sorrows are like hurricanes; they soon spend themselves, and all is soon clear and serene again. There is more danger from a silent, pensive grief, which, like a slow lingering fog, shall continue a long time, and blot the face of nature all around. We must guard against any settled habit of grief. It is our duty to promote social happiness. Cheerfulness and inoffensive pleasantry make us agreeable to others, whereas habitual melancholy damps the good humour of society. Not to enjoy with cheerfulness the blessings which remain to us, is not to treat them as what they are, namely, blessings, and consequently matters of joy and complacency. Sorrow is criminal when we have little or nothing to torment us but, what is the greatest tormenter of all, our own uneasy spirit. They who are continually complaining of inconveniences seem incapable of relishing anything but heaven; for which a complaining temper will by no means prepare them.
II. Upon what principles our resignation to God is to be founded. A full confidence in the Deity, Job had, that He would make the sum of his happiness, either here or hereafter, greatly exceed that of his misery. To found virtue upon the will of God, enforced by proper sanctions, is to found it upon a rock. Arguments from the unendowed beauty of virtue, and from the abstract fitnesses of things, are of too fine and delicate a texture to combat the force of the passions, or to stand the shock of adversity. The hopes of a better world can alone make this tolerable to us. We know little of a future state from the light of nature. Revelation has enlarged our views, it insures to us, what reason could never prove, a fulness of pardon upon our repentance, and an uninterrupted enjoyment of clear happiness, truth, and virtue, forever and ever. What we must feel as men, we may bear as more than men, through the grace of God.
III. Some rules for the practice of this duty of submission.
1. Do not expect perfect happiness. That depends not upon ourselves alone, but upon a coincidence of several things which seldom hit all right.
2. If you would not be overmuch troubled at the loss of anything, take care to keep your affections disengaged. As soon as you have placed your affections too intensely beyond a certain point on anything below, from that moment you may date your misery. We lean upon earthly things with too great a stress, the consequence of which is, that, when they slip from under us, our fall is more hurtful, in proportion to the weight and stress with which we relied upon them.
3. Reflect on the advantages you have rather than be always dwelling on those you have not. Turn your thoughts to the bright side of things. Lead a life which knows no vacancy from generous sentiments, and then “the spirit of a man will sustain his infirmities.” How many are more miserable than you!
4. Reflect, how reasonable it is, that our wills should be conformable and resigned to the Divine. Look then upon this world as one wide ocean, where many are shipwrecked and irrecoverably lost, more are tossed and fluctuating, but none can secure to themselves, for any considerable time, a future undisturbed calm. The ship, however, is still under sail, and whether the weather be fair or foul, we are every minute making nearer approaches to, and must shortly reach the shore. And may it be the haven where we would be! Then shall we understand that what we mistook for and miscalled misfortunes, were, in the true estimate of things, advantages, invaluable advantages. When all human means fail, the Deity can still, upon any extraordinary emergency, adapt His succours to our necessities. (J. Seed, M. A.)
Submission under affliction
The value of scriptural precepts is often doubted from the tardiness with which their favourable results manifest themselves; indeed the good effects of obedience are frequently waited for in vain, and the pursuit of righteousness is attended with decided inconvenience and suffering. Under such circumstances we must arm ourselves against the scoff of the unbeliever; and the observations of those who seek excuses for the practice of evil; and the suggestions of our own sinful hearts. Instances are not infrequent of whole lives being passed, without any shadow of recompense for the most assiduous and scrupulous adherence to the commands of the Almighty. Then it is men find the inestimable advantages of clinging to the Word of God. Consistency of moral and religious goodness is the peculiar duty of a Christian. Those who feel the imperfection of present joys, must use their best endeavours to guide themselves by the Word of God invariably. The Scriptures teach us to submit with humble resignation to the dispensations of providence. No state of society can be imagined, as long as a disproportion of talent, industry, and virtue prevails among men, in which we can avoid seeing a vast deal of misery around us: the extent of that misery is generally apportioned to our degree of deficiency in one or all of these qualities. But distress and misfortune may be due to a good man’s frailties, and it is reasonable to suppose that we should avoid many chastisements if we would make diligent search into our own hearts. The best of men find abundant weaknesses on which to exercise their vigilance, their self-denial, their self-abasement, and self-correction. Well might Job feel apprehension lest his children, in their prosperity, should forget God, and cling to the creature more than the Creator. We find a remarkable example of religious consistency in one who had not the full benefit of the Christian dispensation. It has been said that the disorder with which Job was afflicted generally produced in those subject to it Impatience and desperation. Under the taunts of the friends Job fell into infirmity and sin, His chief failure wan vanity, the frequent accompaniment of every human virtue. It is not for ordinary men to expect any peculiar interference of God to restore them to reason and humble submission to the Divine will; but the Lord graciously condescended to remind His servant of the power against whose decrees he had presumed to murmur; and then to show him the Divine mercy in restoration. What an example does this goodness of God to Job afford, to trust in Him, to serve and humbly obey Him, to persevere in the strict line of duty, and to guide and govern ourselves implicitly by His blessed Word, under every trial of temptation or of suffering. (M. J. Wynyard, B. D.)
In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
The result of a partial test
A man may find occasions for self-congratulation in his resignation to affliction, and of, pride even in the thought of his humility. And certainly, in a subordinate sense, we may reflect upon these things with pleasure; with very different sensations, at least, from those with which we remember our perverseness and our sins. But the danger is lest this glorying should intrude into the highest place, and become incongruous with what ought to be the thoughts of a sinner saved and upheld by grace alone. The danger is that it should come to diminish, in his view, the glory of his Redeemer’s righteousness and holiness, and should somewhat weaken in his mind the thought of his entire dependence, as a weak and helpless creature, upon His power and continual aid. The heartbreaking thought of the restored penitent, though not so blessed in itself, is far less dangerous, than in some minds the exultation of one who, consistently with truth, can “thank God that he is not as other men are.” “In all this Job sinned not with his lips,” admonishing us, that a different scene will be opened in the subsequent pages. And those who have stood their ground in severe trials, and have exhibited a faithful and consistent testimony, should reflect how much it may have depended on the ordering of the circumstances of their distress,--that the trouble ended where it did end, or that the enemy was not suffered to do his worst. It is a proud thing to think I should have stood, where we see a brother fall! Therefore it is that the apostle calls upon “them that are spiritual,” when they would restore by their admonitions or reproof a brother who is overtaken with a fault, to do it in a spirit of meekness, “considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (John Fry, B. A.)
Patience as simple resignation
We have here put before us the highest and most perfect type of “patience,” in the sense of simple resignation. It is the greatest picture ever drawn of that calm, unhesitating, and profound acquiescence in the will of God, which, to borrow the words of Dean Stanley, was one of the “qualities which marked Eastern religions, when to the West they were almost unknown, and which even now is more remarkably exhibited in Eastern nations than among ourselves.” “Thy will be done” is “a prayer which lies at the very root of all religion.” It stands among the foremost petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. It is deeply engraven in the whole religious spirit of the sons of Abraham, even of the race of Israel. In the words, “God is great” (Allah Akbar), it expresses the best side of Mohammedanism, the profound submission to the will of a heavenly Master. It is embodied in the very words, Moslem and Islam. And we, servants of the Crucified One, must feel that to be ready to leave all in God’s hands, not merely because He is great, but because we know Him to be wise, and feel Him to be good, is of the very essence of religion in its very highest aspect. Bishop Butler has well said that though such a passive virtue may have no field for exercise in a happier world, yet the frame of mind which it produces, and of which it is the fruit and sign, is the very frame of all others to fit man to be an active fellow worker with his God, in a larger sphere, and with other faculties. And the very highest type of such submission we have set before us in Job. Poor as he now is, he is rich in trust and in nearness to his God; and Christian souls, trained in the teaching of Christian centuries, will feel that if there is a God and Father above us, it is better to have felt towards Him as Job felt, than to have been the lord of many slaves and flocks and herds, and the possessor of unclouded happiness on a happy earth. (Dean Bradley.)
When Tiribazus, a noble Persian, was arrested, at first he drew his sword and defended himself; but when they charged him in the king’s name, and informed him that they came from the king, he yielded willingly. Seneca persuaded his friend to bear his affliction quietly, because he was the emperor’s favourite, telling him that it was not lawful for him to complain whilst Caesar was his friend. So saith the Christian. Oh, my soul! be quiet, be still; all is in love, all is a fruit of Divine favour. (Thomas Brooks.)
Making friends with the inevitable
There is an old saying, “Past cure past care.” Is this a proverb that belongs only to the world, or may it receive a Christian application? Surely it is descriptive of the grace of true resignation. We sometimes hear of “bowing to the inevitable”; but the Christian knows a better way than bowing to the inevitable--he makes use of it. There is a wonderful passage in George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss which illustrates my meaning. Honest Luke is striving to comfort the poor, ruined, and paralysed miller. “Help me down, Luke. I will go and see everything,” said Mr. Tulliver, leaning on his stick and stretching out his other hand towards Luke. “Ay, sir,” said Luke, as he gave his arm to his master, “you’ll make up your mind to it when you’ve seen everything. You’ll get used to it. That’s what my mother says about her shortness of breath. She says she’s made friends wi’t now, though she fought agin it sore when it first came on. She’s made friends wi’t now.” Making friends with the inevitable! That appears to me to be the way of the disciples of Christ--the inevitable loses its sting when we try to turn it to godly ministry. Adversity can be so used as to become our helper to higher things.
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil.
They had good intentions, and goodness of heart. We have here a striking instance of disinterested friendship.
I. Its constancy. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar heard of the reverses that had come upon Job. The general way of the world would have caused them to turn their backs upon him. When a man is alone, and possessing no social advantages, he is neglected. So also a man in full health and vigour, amusing, instructive, energetic, is sought after as a companion, but when laid low with disease few care for his company. Job’s friends set us a notable example then in their constancy. His losses, poverty, distress, and disease did not alienate their friendship or their regard.
II. Its activity. An idle friendship is a useless one. Profession is all very well, but something more than profession is required in a friend. Even kind words will not bind up broken vows. The friendship of Job’s friends was active. We see this--
1. From the trouble they took. Apparently they lived at some distance off. But distance is nothing to affectionate interest, and they took the journey with the best of motives--that of affording comfort and solace.
2. From the means they employed. They did not run off to Job direct, but they met together and took counsel how they might best accomplish the means they had in view. This involved additional trouble, but it proved how true was the interest they felt.
III. Its wisdom. Sympathy is often misdirected. It loses its power and efficacy by some shortsighted indiscretion. It takes a long time to learn how to administer consolation in the most acceptable manner. How did they begin their purpose? By openly blurting out their purpose and object? By commonplaces of condolence? By wisely shaking their heads and parrot-like repeating the expression, “We thought it would come to this! This is the lot of all men”? Nay, they manifested their sympathy by silent tears. We must all have sorrow, we shall all need sympathy. Let us be very thankful if we have faithful friends, and may we know how best to show them regard. And may the subject lead us to value above all the blessed sympathy of Christ. (J. J. S. Bird.)
I. It was deepened by adversity. The effect on their minds of the overwhelming calamities which overtook Job was not to drive them from him, but to draw them to him. Adversity is one of the best tests for friendship. The Germans have a proverb, “Let the guests go before the storm bursts.” False friends forsake in adversity. When the tree is gay in summer beauty, and rich in aroma, bees will crowd around it and make music amongst its branches; but when the flower has fallen, and the honey has been exhausted, they will pass it by, and avoid it in their aerial journeys. When your house is covered with sunshine, birds will chirp at your windows, but in the cloud and the storm their notes are not heard--such bees and birds are types of false friends. Not so with true friendship; it comes to you when your tree of prosperity has withered; when your house is shadowed by the cloud and beaten by the storm. “True friends,” says an old writer, “visit us in prosperity only when invited, but in adversity they come to us without invitation.” In this respect, Christ is the highest manifestation of genuine friendship. He came down from His own bright heavens because of our adversity. “He came to seek and to save the lost,” etc.
II. It was prompted to relieving labour. The friendship of these men was not a passing sentiment, an evanescent emotion, it was a working force; it set them to--
1. A self-denying work. They bit their homes and directed their footsteps to the scene of their afflicted friend. Travelling in those days meant something more than it does in these times, when means of transit are so accessible, agreeable, and swift. And then, no doubt, it required not a little self-denying effort to break away from their homes, their numerous associations, and the avocations of their daily life. Their friendship meant self-denying effort. This is always a characteristic of genuine friendship--spurious friendship abounds in talk and evaporates in sighs and tears; it has no work in it.
2. A self-denying work in order to relieve. They “came to mourn with him and to comfort him.” Man can comfort man. The expressions of true sympathy are balm to a wounded heart, and courage to a fainting soul. In this feature of genuine friendship Christ was again transcendent. “He came to preach deliverance to the captive--to open the prison door to them that are bound--to bind up the broken-hearted,” etc.
III. It was vicariously afflicted. “And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice and wept; and they rent everyone his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven.” If this language means anything, it means soul suffering. The very sight of their friend’s over whelming afflictions harrowed their hearts. We are so constituted that the personal sufferings of our friend can bring sufferings to our heart as great, and often greater.
IV. It was tenderly reticent. Why were they silent? We are sometimes silent with amazement; sometimes because we know not what words to utter on the occasion; sometimes because the tide of our emotion rises and chokes the utterance. Why were these men silent? For any of these reasons? Perhaps for all. Anyhow, in their silence there was wisdom--silence on that occasion was better than speech. (Homilist.)
“Weep with them that weep.” Just as we should be glad in the gladness of others, so we must grieve in the griefs of others. There are people who find it almost impossible to do this. They can neither feel for nor with others. They are naturally unsympathetic. This exhortation comes to such as a duty. They must learn the art, and so thoroughly that they will sympathise naturally and truly. It is no excuse to say that we cannot. We must. Dr. Dale is a case in point. This is what his son says of his father: “He was not selfish, but he was apt to be self-absorbed, engrossed by his own thoughts, and so absorbed as to be heedless of those whom he met, and of what was going on around him; he often gave offence unwittingly. His nature was not sympathetic. The faculty so bestowed on some, he had to cultivate sedulously and patiently as one of the moral virtues . . . He was conscious of his defect, and set himself to overcome it, not as a mere infirmity, but as a fault: He became sympathetic by sympathising.” Dr. Dale was not singular in this instinctive lack of sympathy. There are many similarly destitute of the grace of sorrowing. (Homilist.)
Interview of Job and his three friends
The misfortunes of princes have a particular tendency to excite our pity and compassion, even though their afflictions may have arisen from their own imprudent and culpable behaviour. Many instances of such generous behaviour might be collected from profane history. See the case of David in his treatment of King Saul. Among the foremost of those who seem to have been hurled suddenly from the highest pinnacle of fortune to the very lowest pit of misery and wretchedness stands holy Job, a powerful and wealthy prince of the patriarchal ages. Touched with the sad tidings of his sufferings, three neighbouring chieftains agree to visit and condole with their suffering friend. Their design was, on their setting out, humane, charitable, and friendly. Yet from the unhappy turn things took, their visit was but the occasion of new sorrow to Job. They had heard of Job’s calamities, but appear to have been overwhelmed when they saw his miserable condition. They evidently thought thus: As his afflictions are so extraordinary and personal, so must his crimes have been his own also. We have heard of no public wickedness, so he must be a secret sinner; and the best advice we can give is, urge him to confess and bewail his guilt, that so he may obtain God’s pardon, and be restored to his former prosperity. The false principle they maintained was, that God never suffers the righteous to be afflicted. To them Job’s calamities were a sure sign of his proportionate wickedness. One of them was cruel enough to say, “God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.” Practical reflections. By the tenor of Eliphaz’s speeches we may judge that he was artful and insinuating, specious and plausible, one who knew how to make the most of a bad argument. Bildad speaks in a graver and milder strain; but the fierceness of Zophar exceeds all bounds. When reason fails, anger and abuse supply its place. Let us be cautious how we trample down a bruised reed, how we despise one over whom the rod of affliction, and poverty, and misery hangeth; as if we thought that the faculties of the soul, the integrity of the heart, depended on the health and clothing of the body. Let us be cautious how we let pride and perverseness influence our reason; and particularly in disputes about matters of opinion let us be careful never to judge harshly or uncharitably of those who differ from us; never to entrench and fortify ourselves within the pale of error, when conviction and truth knock aloud for admittance. What positive good may we learn from imitating the behaviour of holy Job himself? View him in the great and exalted character of a pious and good man, combating adversity, and vexed and harassed with the unjust and cruel suspicions, the peevish and petulant accusations of mistaken friends. He tries to convince them of their mistake. At last he appeals to the whole tenor of his life and manners. See how remarkably pious were all his principles, how solid his virtue, how eminent his true wisdom in fearing God, and God alone! Job’s patience is proverbially known. A word is necessary on Job’s infirmities. Job was not without his failings. As long as he was left to the workings of his own mind, it is said that “he sinned not.” But when his integrity was called in question by his perverse friends, it wrung from him some little excursion of complaint, some few passionate exclamations, which, in the bitterness of his anguish, he could not suppress. There was sometimes also a weariness of life, a wishing for death, an impatience of spirit, which were shades and blemishes in character. Job was sometimes led beyond the bounds of decency, but he quickly repented in dust and ashes, and was as quickly received again into God’s favour. From whence we may learn how readily God overlooks and forgives the infirmities of our nature, provided the heart is staunch in its obedience. (C. Moore, M. A.)
The mistaken friends
Job was irritated and out of temper when he said to his friends, “Miserable comforters are ye all.” Like many another man, before and since, Job was wounded in the house of his friends.” The individuality of these three men comes to view in their first speeches. “They are not represented as foolish, obstinate bigots, but as wise, humane, almost great men. True-hearted, truly loving, devout, religious men.” Eliphaz is the true patriarchal chieftain, grave and dignified, erring only from exclusive adherence to tenets hitherto unquestioned. “He deals with the infirmity of all mortal natures, and the blessed virtue of repentance.” “Bildad, with little originality or independence of character, reposes partly on the wise saws of antiquity, partly on the authority of his older friend.” His mistake is this: It is quite true that nothing which God sends to man proceeds from injustice, but it is not true that everything comes from justice. Bildad thinks his commonplace utterance is sufficient to explain all the mysteries of human life. “Zophar was, apparently, a younger man; his language is violent, at times coarse and offensive; he represents the prejudiced and narrow-minded bigots of every age.” From the haughty elevation of his narrow dogma he cannot even apprehend Job’s form of experience. The very point of the poem is that what these men say is true in itself, but becomes unsuitable, and even false, when attempt is made to apply it to a particular case.
1. Observe the condition of mind in which these friends found Job. It was precisely the condition most difficult of comprehension by anyone who thinks that religious experience ought to take certain definite and prescribed forms. Job had not that light of immortality shining on the mystery of life and suffering, which has come to us in Christ. What could we do with human suffering if that blessed light were blotted out? The calamities of Job had been overwhelming. He was in the first stage of distress. He was desperate, he was bowing, almost in despair, while all the waves and billows were passing over him. He was crushed, humbled, agonised; for the moment his trust in God was paralysed. Self-restraint was temporarily lost; he half suspected change in God, and felt all the agony of a soul that was being forsaken. Such a state of mind is not guilty. It is but natural response. But it puzzles many. The condition revealed in chap. 3 seems to many persons hopelessly wrong. And unless something in our own experience reveals the secret, it is quite hopeless to attempt to vindicate it. We have seen men in just this state of mind. We have passed through it ourselves. The man Christ Jesus shows us the truth of this experience. In agony of soul, that is in harmony with the agony of Job, He cried from the darkness of His Cross, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
2. How did these friends think to comfort such a man, in such a frame of mind? The friends had three rounds of conversation (if Zophar’s third be recognised in chap. 27); but they have only one idea, which is variously presented and illustrated. It may be stated in the form of a syllogism. God, who is just, bestows blessings on the godly, but afflicts the wicked. But Job is most heavily afflicted by God. Therefore Job is wicked, and deserves the punishment of his sins; and is bound to repent, confess, and bewail those sins. In the first speech all this is stated in general terms; all is impersonal, indirect; the rule of the world, the order of providence, the infirmity of mortal nature, the virtue of repentance. In the next speech Eliphaz takes Job’s desperate words as the proof that their suspicion was well founded. Some secret and terrible impiety accounted for his exceptional sufferings. Becoming excited as their views are resisted, the friends get so far as to threaten Job with even more and greater sufferings. It was manifest in those days; it is much more manifest now, that no one explanation of human suffering can be sufficient. The troubles of life may be sent as the punishment of sin; they may be sent as chastisement and discipline. But there are continually cases arising of suffering for which neither punishment nor discipline provide adequate explanation. The dealings of God with men cannot be arbitrarily mapped out and limited, as the believers in dogma think they can.
3. What was the effect of their representations on Job? It brought him deeper suffering than any of his former calamities; because it brought him very near to questioning and mistrusting God. It is desperate work keeping hold of God, when a man is compelled to doubt God’s justice, and see nothing but His power. The friends who came to comfort Job, in fact, lead him down into the lowest depth of misery, smiting the good man in his tenderest part, in his confidence and hope in God. There is no darkness over any human soul like the darkness of a lost or mistrusted God. Let us learn that the relations between God and His people are large and wide and free. We need to beware of theories and forms of belief, however plausible they may seem, which are forced to explain every case that may arise, or are felt to be untrue to life, to conscience, and genuine feeling. In contrast with the mistaken comforting of these friends we may put the holy charm of Christ’s sympathy. His is a fellow feeling of our infirmity, without any limitation from received opinion. Christ does not approach His suffering disciples as their fellow men do, Men say: According to our system and theories, it must be thus and thus with him. But Christ comes to the man and says: How is it with thee? Nay, Christ knows exactly how it is with him, and comforts His suffering servant, “as one whom his mother comforteth.” (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
And none spake a word unto him.
Silence, not speech, the best service of friendship in sorrow
Here is a demonstration of true friendship. Note the way in which these friends at first endeavoured to comfort Job. They did not speak.
I. Silence is the strongest evidence of the depth of our sympathy towards a suffering friend.
1. The comforting power of a friend lies in the depth of his sympathy.
2. Silence is a better expression of deep sympathy than speech.
II. Silence is most consistent with our ignorance of Divine providence towards our suffering friend. How little we know of God’s procedure in the affairs of human life: So long as these friends kept silence they acted as comforters; but as soon as they launched into speech they became Job’s tormentors.
III. Silence is most congenial with the mental state of our suffering friend. The soul in deep sorrow seeks silence and solitude. Mere word-condolers are soul- tormentors. Then be silent in scenes of sorrow; overflow with genuine sympathy, but do not talk. (Homilist.)
Bishop Myriel had the art of sitting down and holding his tongue for hours, by the side of the man who had lost the wife he had loved, or of a mother bereaved of her child. (Victor Hugo.)
For they saw that his grief was very great.--
The trials of Job, and his consolations under them
“They saw that his grief was very great.” Job was the friend of God, and the favourite of heaven: a person known in the gates as an upright judge, and a public blessing; his seasonable bounties made the widow’s heart rejoice, and his liberal charities were as eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. Yet of him it is said: “his grief was very great.” But the faithful and compassionate God, in whom this patriarch placed all his confidence, sustained his fainting mind, and strengthened his heart in his agonising struggles.
I. The nature, variety, and severity of Job’s calamities. His trials began with the loss of all his wealth and property. His afflictions came with an accumulating force. From his honours and usefulness he was driven, with as much rapidity as from his other sources of comfort. The mournful consequences of being visited with a singular distemper, and of his being stripped of his property and bereaved of his children, was the desertion of those who had formerly professed to venerate his character, and the total loss of influence and reputation in the places of concourse. The general opinion was that God had forsaken him, and therefore men might despise and revile him. Even the wife of his bosom added to his distress. And Job sometimes in Ills depression lost all sense of God’s favour.
II. The causes assigned why an unerring and righteous God permitted so great and good a man as Job to be so singularly afflicted. Afflictions cannot come upon us without the Divine permission. But Job’s friends perverted this sentiment.. They urged that all calamities are the punishments of sin secretly allowed, or freely indulged in. Job must have been living in the transgression of the Divine commandments or he would not have been so sorely afflicted. It is made an argument against religion, that its highest attainments cannot exempt the godly from calamities. The just are often more tried than other men. But the truth is, that God is glorified by the afflictions of His children, and their best interests are promoted thereby.
1. Job’s trials were designed and calculated to convince him, and to convince the saints in every age, that God is sovereign in His dispensations. He claims it as His right to order the lot of His children on earth according to His own unerring wisdom. So important is the habitual persuasion of the Divine Sovereignty, that in chapter 38, the Almighty is represented as pleading His own cause in this respect. He is the great First Cause, of whom and for whom are all things. His people may well trust in God, though He hides His countenance; venerate their Heavenly Father, though He corrects them; and walk by faith, not by sight. Much of religion lies in submitting to the sovereignty of God, especially when the events of Providence appear to us peculiarly mysterious.
2. Job was tried in order to correct and remove his imperfections, and to promote in his soul that spiritual life which Divine grace had already begun. History represents Job as devoted to God, eminent for holiness, and distinguished for the most active benevolence and extensive usefulness. But there were certain blemishes which needed the powerful influence of the fiery furnace to purify and eradicate. There was a spirit of dejection, fretfulness, and distrust, which at times prevailed over his heroic patience. And there was a self-righteous opinion of his own goodness. With too presumptuous a confidence he wishes to argue matters even with a holy God. His arrogant language he penitently confesses and laments in the last chapter of the book. His tribulation wrought humility and self-abasement, so did it also work patience. His sufferings also increased his compassion for the afflicted.
3. Job’s trials were intended to convince him, and to convince mankind, that though God afflicts the dearest of His children, yet He most seasonably and graciously imparts to them both support and deliverance. We cannot expect temporal deliverance and exaltation, like that of Job, but we may be sure that we shall receive of the Lord’s hand a double recompense of joy for all our sorrow.
III. The considerations which supported and relieved the mind of Job in his days of adversity and tribulation.
1. Seeing the hand of God in all his afflictions. “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.”
2. The full persuasion that his Redeemer would never abandon him.
3. The prospect of resurrection from the dead, a believing persuasion, and a lively hope of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Although immortality was not then brought to light by any outward revelation, the Spirit of God wrought in this illustrious patriarch that genuine faith which is the evidence of things not seen, and which enabled him to connect humble faith in an ever-living Redeemer with the lively hope of an inheritance in the heavens. (A. Bonar.)
Someone says, “God had one Son without sin, but no Son without sorrow.” The line of saints has been a striking one. Men burdened with terrific duties, overwhelmed with affliction, stoned and sawn asunder, persecuted, afflicted, tormented. There is a matter of subsidiary but yet striking interest to which we must advert, namely, the prominence given to Satan in connection with this affliction. The gospel theory of affliction does not name him. “Whom God loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” But here Satan is the accuser, the adversary, and he, with God’s permission, brings upon Job all his troubles. But although in the early twilight of truth all things are not discerned so clearly as in gospel noonday, it is striking how near the fullest truth the writer comes. There have been darkling thoughts in the minds of men on this matter. Some few shallow spirits have never sufficiently resisted temptation to feel its reality and force; nor sufficiently sympathised with the sorrow of the world to feel the mystery of evil. There have been three great lines of thought on this matter of the principle of evil. There have been those who have thought that the Evil One was the Great God, the Lord Almighty. Sometimes they have developed this into the basis of religion, like the devil worshippers in Santhalistan, in Southern India, and in Ceylon. Sometimes they have made it only the basis of their practical life, as the fraudulent, who, in England, in the nineteenth century, believe the god of falsehood and of fraud a stronger providence than the God of truth and honour; or the despairing and remorseful, who think God vengeance only. Sometimes, as in the old Manichean doctrine, men have shrunk from believing in the supremacy of an Evil Deity, but have believed him equal in power to the Good God, and have explained all the mixing of human conditions by the divided sovereignty which governs all things here. And Ormuzd, the god of light, and Ahriman, the god of darkness, have sat on level thrones, confronting one another in constant but unprogressive conflict. The writer of the Book of Job had never lapsed into the despair that deemed evil supreme, nor into that alarm which feared it was equal in power to God. According to him, Satan is powerless to inflict outward trouble or inward temptation, excepting as permitted by the Lord. Substantially, the doctrine of this book on the power of evil is the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of the devout in all ages. Give heed to it. Evil is not Divine in its power, nor eternal in its mastery over men. It works within strictest limits; the enemy only by permission can touch either soul or body. Be not afraid, nor yield to despair. Love is the supreme and the eternal thing; therefore rejoice. Accusing Job--God gives Satan liberty and power to afflict. The affliction is suggested by Job’s enemy, with the hope of destroying his integrity. It is permitted by God with an intent very different; namely, that of developing it. It is no vivisection of a saint that is permitted merely to gratify curiosity as to the point at which the most vigorous vitality of goodness will break down. Little knowing the Divine issue which would proceed from his assault, the enemy goes forth to his envious and hateful task. There is an awful completeness about this calamity of Job. The strokes of it are so contrived that, although some interval may be between them, they are all reported in the same day.
1. Observe that affliction is by God’s ordinance part of the general lot of man. A state of perfect happiness, if such were possible, would not be suitable for a world of imperfect virtue.
2. We should not be astonished when afflictions touch us. We all get into the way of assuming that somehow we are to be exempt from the usual ills.
3. Remember that a universal experience has testified that affliction has its service, and adversity its sweetness. Without affliction who could avoid worldliness? It is the sorrows of this life that raise both eye and expectation to the joys of the life to come. Without affliction there would be but little refinement--no tender ministries, no gracious compassion, no self-forgetful sympathy. All the passive virtues, which are so essential to character, thrive under it--such as endurance, patience, meekness, humility. Prosperity coarsens and scars the conscience; affliction gives it tenderness. The necessity for stronger faith itself strengthens it.
4. It is but a deduction from this to add: Remember, therefore, affliction is not hate, but love. “Whom God loveth He chasteneth.” Lord Bacon forgot Job when he uttered his fine aphorism: “Prosperity was the blessing of the Old Testament, but adversity of the new.” (Richard Clover.)