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Oh, that I were as in months past.
The fluctuations of a religious life
I. Their prevalence. Ebbs and tides of feeling are common to all life, good or bad. Religious moods are as frequent, as uncertain, and as unmanageable as any other moods, and under given conditions are absolutely beyond our control. To force ourselves up into a high state of spiritual feeling is a matter we can’t always do. Important occasions do not always find us with the necessary power, however we may have laboured for it. There is spring and summer, autumn and winter, in nature; in fact, everything in nature suggests that we must have our pauses and rests, that it is impossible to continue in one strain of thought or action without cessation or change. Beware of passing sweeping condemnations on yourself, or on others, in moments of spiritual dearth.
II. The general causes of religious fluctuation.
1. Take the constitutional.
(1) To begin with the physical. Any defect in the vital digestive organs will change the whole course of a man’s religious life. His variations, unaccountable tossings and reelings and fitfulnesses, are in very many cases the result entirely of some physical infirmity.
(2) Or it may be mental. It is wonderful how our emotions and susceptibilities are bound up with our intellectual nature. It is the brain, the bodily organism, that gives identity, distinction, character to all our life. In one sense the material is simply an instrument of the spiritual nature; but in another, and a very important sense, it is the ruling and dominating element, as far as our emotions, feelings, and experience are concerned--the spiritual taking all its complexion from the material. The wavering that may be seen in one, when another is prompt to act, is just because the intellect very frequently keeps the will in restraint. Some people act on impulse, not on reason, on probabilities that a sound and vigorous mind would not dare to trust.
(3) But again, our experience varies a good deal from another point of constitutional infirmity, and that is the moral point of view. One of the great mysteries of life is the inequalities of moral perceptions that are found in the world, irrespective of the grace of God. One man’s natural tendencies all lie towards sin; and right feeling and right doing is a perpetual conflict. No wonder if he is often overwhelmed with despair.
2. Providential, i.e. causes beyond our own control, not set in motion by our wish or desire, or by our negligence--and of all the heroes mentioned in the Bible, none suffered more in this respect than Job. When Providence inflicts wounds, sends you sorrow, don’t dream your heaviness of soul is an indication of a faithless heart. God is testing, sifting you. Have faith; all is well; grace is not yielding to sin. When it must be winter in your soul don’t you try to make it summer. “Whom the Lord loveth He,” etc.
3. Characteristic. And--
(1) amongst these is an inordinate expectation of assistance from others, which in some people amounts to nothing more nor less than a radical misconception of what religion really is. If life is to be great, noble, blessed, it must grow out of sacred independence. Religious feeling, growth, power, are not developed by the caresses and fondnesses of our friends. Your own resources are better than all other resources put together, of whatever kind or nature. Until you can get the nature of the sturdy oak, that welcomes alike the cold of winter and the piercing heat of summer, you will be in a fluctuating condition all the days of your life. Like a weather glass, as far as spiritual things are concerned.
(2) A characteristic cause of our rising and falling religious life is this, depending too much upon the efficacy of spasmodic effort.
4. The vital or radical causes, which, after all, are the real causes. They are
(1) The attempt to be religious without the religious principle; the attempt to lead a new life without a new nature, very much prevailing now, but with very fatal consequences. Lives these full of secret sin.
(2) Is the case where there has been a genuine conversion, but where the fire has burnt out, and there is nothing left but the form of godliness, and not the power.
(3) Is the case where there is a real connection with the life of God, but so feeble and fitful, that the believer is tossed about by every wind and doctrine.
III. The remedy for this inconstancy, this fluctuation.
1. Give yourself up to a very frequent and searching self-examination before God.
2. You must be more faithful in the details of your religious life. Little things grow to big things.
3. You must be more constant in your attendance upon the means of grace, more particularly the special ordinances of God’s house; but--
4. High and supreme above every other precaution and remedy, you must ever keep your heart open to the light of heaven and the grace of God; and then, whatever may be your hindrances, your drawbacks, your constitutional infirmity, or your spiritual afflictions, they shall all yield to the strength of your faith in God. (T. E. Westerdale.)
There is no sadder or more depressing condition than that in which we look back regretfully to better days and happier hours. This undertone of lamenting sorrow makes the cry of Job pathetic. He had seen better days. Because he measured God’s favour by the amount of worldly prosperity given him, he concluded God, measurably at least, had forsaken him. It was a mistaken standard by which to judge God, still it was his standard. We are interested in the experience of Job so far as it is an illustration of spiritual experience. Our spiritual or religious life, like our physical, is subject to fluctuations. There are causes and remedies for such a fluctuating spiritual condition.
I. Inquire unto the causes.
1. Physical causes. It is hard to tell how many of our spiritual fluctuations are due to our bodies. The mind and the soul have controlling power over the body; but it is just as true that the body rules them. The body is the channel of our noblest emotions and our deepest sorrows. Since the body has its effect upon the spirit, it is to be religiously guarded and cared for.
2. The mind. Its varying moods affect every other portion of our lives. Its powers, distorted by sin, carry us hither and thither. It is true religion appeals to and reaches the mind as well as the heart, the reason as well as the emotions; but the wilful wanderings and ever-restless questionings of the mind too often lead it from safe moorings. The thoughts we entertain; the kind of reading we select; the habits of judgment we cultivate--all have their effect upon our hearts.
3. Providential causes. Circumstances in which we are placed, and over which we have no control, seem to change often our entire outlook. It was so with Job. It is comparatively easy to be spiritually-minded as long as all goes well, but trouble often turns the poor weak heart from its refuge, and makes the sky look dark.
4. People too often live on too low a spiritual plane. We do not live up near enough to God. There is communion and fellowship with God that is neglected and forsaken. Men live on a plane constantly growing lower, and then wonder why their faith is not as clear, their hearts are not as warm, and their spirits as glowing as in former days: why heaven seems further away the nearer they come to eternity. They imagine God has changed, while the change is all in them. Spiritual lowlands will be sure to tell on spiritual life.
II. Inferences in connection with this subject.
1. Let no Christian conclude that because he has been subject to such changes, therefore he has lost religion and lost favour with God. This was one of Job’s troubles. Religion is something deeper than our feelings, and far more comprehensive. It finds its basis not in our varying moods nor changing emotions, but in the unchanging Word and provisions of God.
2. There must be a higher standard of life than mere feeling. If emotions were the gauge of our religious life, we could never be quite sure of our spiritual standing. There were times of depression and exaltation on the human side of the life of the Saviour. All through His chequered experience the one great principle of action was that He might do the will of God. The highest standard put before us is not our fluctuating emotions, but our earnest doing God’s will.
III. Remedies for this spiritual fluctuation.
1. Frequent strict self-examination.
2. Close attention paid to the details of life.
3. Practical activity. God wants us to work and do for Him whether we feel like doing so or not.
4. Let the windows of the soul be kept constantly open toward heaven. The Saviour did that. All availing strength comes from above. (Francis F. West.)
Humanity is a brotherhood, and the language of Job finds response in many a pious heart.
I. Declension is the first thought suggested by these words. This may have been scarcely perceptible, for as spiritual life is developed not by violent moods, not by spasmodic impulses, but gradually; as its influx is like the inflowing of the tides, so spiritual declension is gradual--it does not register itself, it is comparatively unconscious. Still, there are specific causes out of which it is produced.
1. Religious speculation. It will not do to tamper with compass or chart. What shall prevent a vessel from drifting out of its course if the needle has been made to deflect from its true position? Bible truths should be held inviolable--not that there should be unreasoning and blind acceptance of religious beliefs, but there are certain truths commended to us which are beyond controversy.
2. The cares of the world. These are fruitful causes of spiritual declension. It was no wonder that Peter would fain remain on Tabor’s summit with Christ. Under a tropical sun, nursed by the balmy air, rich and luscious fruits easily ripen; so, near the Throne, in moments akin to the hour of transfiguration, Christian graces rapidly develop; but the hourly contact with the busy world, its anxieties and distractions, are apt to be prejudicial to piety and to warp the Christian character.
3. Neglect of the means of grace. These are commended, not arbitrarily. They are the laws of the spiritual life--essential conditions of growth.
II. Solicitude is a hopeful indication. It is a sign of spiritual life. The Church at Laodicea was charged with indifferentism. “I would ye were either cold or hot.”
III. The desire may be fulfilled. (John Love.)
Job’s regret and our own
I. Let us begin by saying that regrets such as those expressed in the text are and ought to be very bitter. If it be the loss of spiritual things that we regret, then may we say from the bottom of our hearts, “Oh, that I were as in months past.” It is a great thing for a man to be near to God; it is a very choice privilege to be admitted into the inner circle of communion, and to become God’s familiar friend. Great as the privilege is, so great is the loss of it. No darkness is so dark as that which falls on eyes accustomed to the light. The man who has never enjoyed communion with God knows nothing of what it must be to lose it. The mercies which Job deplored in our text are no little ones.
1. First, he complains that he had lost the consciousness of Divine preservation. He says, “Oh, that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me.” There are days with Christians when they can see God’s hand all around them, checking them in the first approaches of sin, and setting a hedge about all their ways.
2. Job had also lost Divine consolation, for he looks back with lamentation to the time when God’s candle shone upon his head, when the sun of God’s love was, as it were, in the zenith, and cast no shadow; when he rejoiced without ceasing, and triumphed from morning to night in the God of his salvation. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” Moreover, Job deplored the loss of Divine illumination. “By His light,” he says, “I walked through darkness,” that is to say, perplexity ceased to be perplexity; God shed such a light upon the mysteries of Providence, that where others missed their path, Job, made wise by heaven, could find it. There have been times when, to our patient faith, all things have been plain.
3. Moreover, Job had lost Divine communion; so it seems, for he mourned the days of his youth, when the secret of God was upon his tabernacle. Who shall tell to another what the secret of God is?
II. But, secondly, let me remind you that these regrets are not inevitable; that is to say, it is not absolutely necessary that a Christian man should ever feel them, or be compelled to express them. It has grown to be a tradition among us, that every Christian must backslide in a measure, and that growth in grace cannot be unbrokenly sustained. There is no inherent necessity in the Divine life itself compelling it to decline, for is it not written, “It shall be in him a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life”? And there is no period of our life in which it is necessary for us to go back. Assuredly, old age offers no excuse for decline: “they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; to show that the Lord is upright.”
III. But now I am compelled to say that the regrets expressed in our text are exceedingly common and it is only here and there that we meet with a believer who has not had cause to use them. It ought not to be so, but it is so. The commonness of this lamentation may be somewhat accounted for by the universal tendency to undervalue the present and exaggerate the excellence of the past. Then, again, regrets may in some cases arise from a holy jealousy. The Christian, in whatever state he is, feels his own imperfection much, and laments his conscious shortcomings. And, let me add, that very often these regrets of ours about the past are not wise. It is impossible to draw a fair comparison between the various stages of Christian experience, so as to give a judicious preference to one above another. Consider, as in a parable, the seasons of the year. There are many persons who, in the midst of the beauties of spring, say, “Ah, but how fitful is the weather! These March winds and April showers come and go by such fits and starts, that nothing is to be depended upon. Give me the safer glories of summer.” Yet, when they feel the heat of summer, and wipe the sweat from their brows, they say, “After all, with all the full-blow of beauty around us, we admire more the freshness, verdure, and vivacity of spring. The snowdrop and the crocus, coming forth as the advance guard of the army of flowers, have a superior claim about them.” Now, it is idle to compare spring with summer; they differ, and have each its beauties. Be thankful each of you for what you have, for by the grace of God you are what you are. After making all these deductions, however, I cannot conceive that they altogether account for the prevalence of these regrets; I am afraid the fact arises from the sad truth that many of us have actually deteriorated in grace, have decayed in spirit, and degenerated in heart.
IV. Since these regrets are exceedingly common, it is to be feared that in some cases they are very sadly needful. Are there not signs of declension, that some of us might, with but a very slight examination, discover in ourselves? Is not brotherly love, in many Christians, very questionable?
V. But I must pass on to observe that these regrets by themselves are useless. It is unprofitable to read these words of Job, and say, “Just so, that is how I feel,” and then continue in the same way. If a man has neglected his business, and so has lost his trade, it may mark a turn in his affairs when he says, “I wish I had been more industrious”; but if he abides in the same sloth as before, of what use is his regret? If he doth not seek to be restored, he is adding to all his former sins this of lying before God, in uttering regrets that he does not feel in his soul.
VI. These regrets, when they are necessary, are very humbling. During the time we have been going back we ought to have gone forward. What enjoyments we have lost by our wanderings! What progress we have missed. Alas, how much the Church has lost through us! for if the Christian becomes poor in grace, he lessens the Church’s wealth of grace. VII. These regrets, then, are humbling, and they may be made very profitable in many other ways. First, they show us what human nature is. Learn again to prize what spiritual blessings yet remain. This should teach us to live by faith, since our best attainments fail us.
VIII. These regrets ought not to be continual: they ought to be removed. Go back to where you started. Do not stay discussing whether you are a Christian or not. Go to Christ as a poor, guilty sinner. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Comfort for the desponding
I. First, there is a complaint. How many a Christian looks on the past with pleasure, on the future with dread, and on the present with sorrow!
1. The first is the case of a man who has lost the brightness of his evidences.
2. Another phase of this great complaint, which it also very frequently assumes, is one under which we are lamenting--not so much because our evidences are withered, as because we do not enjoy a perpetual peace of mind as to other matters. “Oh,” says one, “Oh, that I were as in months past! for then whatever troubles and trials came upon me were less than nothing.”
3. Another individual, perhaps, is speaking thus concerning his enjoyment in the house of God and the means of grace. “Oh,” says one, “in months past, when I went up to the house of God, how sweetly did I hear!”
4. There are some of us who lament extremely that our conscience is not as tender as it used to be; and therefore doth our soul cry in bitterness,” Oh, that I were as in months past!” “When first I knew the Lord,” you say, “I was almost afraid to put one foot before another, lest I should go astray.”
5. There are some of us who have not as much zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of men as we used to have.
II. But now we are about to take these different characters, and tell you the cause and cure.
1. One of the causes of this mournful state of things is defect in prayer; and of course the cure lies somewhere next door to the cause. You do not pray as you once did. Nothing brings such leanness into a man’s soul as want of prayer.
2. Perhaps, again, you are saying, “Oh, that I were as in months past!” not so much from your own fault as from the fault of your minister.
3. But there is a better reason still that will come more home to some of you. It is not so much the badness of the food, as the seldomness that you come to eat it.
4. But frequently this complaint arises from idolatry. Many have given their hearts to something else save God, and have set their affections upon the things of earth, instead of the things in heaven. We have perhaps become self-confident and self-righteous. If so, that is a reason why it is not with us as in months past. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Because I delivered the poor that cried.
The use and application of wealth and authority
These words naturally lead us to reflect on the noble use and improvement this venerable person made of his former prosperity; to consider our own duty as represented to us in his example; and the proper objects of our compassion.
I. The proper use and application of wealth and authority. The distinctions which arise from power and subjection, from riches and poverty, from ease and affliction, appear so unequally and irregularly divided among men, and with so little regard to moral reasons, that by some superficial observers they have been formed into an objection against the wisdom and justice of God. But they execute a wise and regular scheme of providence; are necessary to preserve the order and economy of human society, and unite and endear mankind to one another. Wealth and authority must be acknowledged to distinguish us only as superior servants, appointed by our common Master, to do justice in the family and give everyone their meat in due season. We are not to imagine these favours are indulged us merely for our own sakes, to enable us to live in splendour and ease. The poor have a right and property in the abundance of those who are better supplied. Neither is any man farther justified in engrossing and hoarding up the common bounties of heaven, than may consist with this claim. These pleas of natural reason and justice religion has enforced with the authority of a positive command. With regard to the object, we are to observe, that both the obligations of the duty, and the measures prescribed to it, are under some limitations; for though our benevolence is required to be universal, yet our abilities are confined to a much narrower compass, and therefore oblige us to choice and distinction in the external applications of our charity. The motives that should prevail with us to comply with these great obligations, laid on us by justice and our religion, are that inward joy and complacency which flow back upon the soul from acts of mercy and liberality; and above all, those inestimable rewards which the Gospel has taught us to expect from these duties; pardon of sin here, and the eternal treasures of heaven hereafter.
II. The words allow us to take some inferior views into the account. While we are employed in the exercise of beneficence and charity, we appear in the venerable character of substitutes of God, commissioned by Him to reach down and distribute His blessings among our fellow subjects. On the returns of gratitude from the objects of our charity, and from the world who are witnesses of it, we are permitted to reflect with pleasure as a present encouragement designed by God to excite and reward our virtue. The other motive here proposed for our encouragement, the blessings of those whom we relieve, is in its nature properly religious; derives all its force from a conviction of our dependence on Providence, and the efficacy of human prayers. (J. Rogers, D. D.)
Eyes to the blind
That is not egotism. It is not the utterance of a puffed-up spirit. Egotism is too frequently the child of the shallows. Rarely, if ever, does it issue out of a deep and troubled heart. Egotism flourishes best where profound sorrow is least known. And here is a man who is overwhelmed with sorrow. Death has darkened every window in his home, and he is burdened with the weight of an almost intolerable grief. This is no place in which to find light, egotistical speech. Whatever words this man may speak will be crushed out of him by the very burden of his grief. It is a man going into his yesterdays to find some solace for the sorrow of today. He is calling upon memory to provide a little heart’s ease for his present bitter distress. Thrice happy the man who can call such memories to help him in the hour of his distress! “The poor that cried,” and “the fatherless,” and “those ready to perish,” and the “widow” and the “lame” and the “blind” still make their appeals in the land, and it is true today as ever that the only Christian response is the one that was made by the patriarch Job. I have noticed that controversy about the distressed and the unfortunate is often regarded as a substitute for their relief. Abstract discussions often result in misty speculations which only obscure one’s personal duty. It is often the case that controversy abounds where sympathy should reign. Again and again we find this illustrated in the experiences of our Lord. You find controversialists discussing the abstract question why such and such a man was born blind, while the blind man himself was soliciting practical aid. I believe that there is a vast amount of suffering and distress which might be effectually checked by some rearrangement of our social and economic conditions. I do not think that in these matters legislation is altogether impotent. At any rate, we can see to it that legislation puts a premium upon virtue, and not upon vice. But when legislation has done its utmost, misfortune will still be with us. In the presence of these things, surrounded by them on every side, what is the Christian attitude? The attitude of the patriarch Job. Christianity is a gospel of compassion and practical help, and to be devoid of these things is to be altogether an alien from the commonwealth of Israel. This is not new. The youngest child in this assembly could tell us that Christianity without helpfulness is a great absurdity. But while we all know these things, the danger is that we have got the right ideas without the correspondingly right feelings. It is so easy to be orthodox in mind but heterodox in heart; to have Christian ideas, but non-Christian feelings. Our Christianity may be intelligent but not sympathetic. What we want is the orthodox feeling united to the orthodox thought. How is this to be attained? I do not think we shall ever have a really deep feeling for our fellow sufferers until we have deeply suffered too. You begin to pray for the sailors when your own boy is on the deep. When you have a crippled child what a heart you have for the maimed! It sometimes seems as though God cannot draw us together in common feeling without taking us through a common sorrow. There is nothing so welds hearts together. I know of nothing more pathetic in the life of Browning than the reconciliation of himself and the great actor Macready. They had been close and intimate friends, but for some trifle or other they quarrelled, and each went his own way, and for years their helpful intercourse was broken. Then came a great trouble. About the same time they lost their wives, and a little while after, as each was walking out in his loneliness in a quiet way in a London suburb, they suddenly met face to face, and Browning, with a great burst of emotion, seized his old friend’s hand, and said, “Oh, Macready”; and Macready, with an aching heart, replied, “Oh, Browning.” That was all they could say to each other, and in the fires of a great and common grief the two severed lives were welded again. But if we have not been deepened by suffering, we can do something to deepen ourselves. Let us get face to face with realities. First of all we can remember the old trite commonplace that “truth is stranger than fiction.” We can find more pitiful things to weep over in any one street in this city than in all the works of fiction which may issue from the press in the course of the year. I don’t know what Christ will have to say to people who weep over their novels, but who never weep over the great cities as He did because of their distresses and their woes. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
Sympathy should be practical
An Italian coastguard officer reported a shipwreck to his Government in these words: “We saw the wreck, and we attempted to give every assistance possible through the speaking trumpet. We shouted ourselves quite hoarse, and notwithstanding which next morning twenty corpses were washed ashore.” A well-known Scotch professor used to tell this story, and add: “Too much of our benevolence is of the speaking trumpet variety, and even this we boast about. The Samaritan of the New Testament represents the benevolence of which the world stands in greatest need.”
Piety and riches
I. The text shows the nature of a truly righteous and powerful character, aided by great secular possessions. Job was very rich; he was also very pious
1. His impartial justice.
2. His broad charity.
3. His timely assistance of the needy.
4. His exemplary leadership.
In all these we see a truly powerful and noble character. Piety, charity, justice, grandly blended and exemplified. We see at least” that there is no incompatibility between a holy character and vast secular wealth.
II. The text shows that the most perfect piety is no security against the loss of great secular abundance. Wealth may go, but piety shall remain.
III. The text shows that the rich pious man, being in danger of losing his wealth, should, while he possesses it, use it wisely. This should inspire us--
1. To promptitude and liberality in our gifts; and
2. To a right discretion of the objects we support. It would be difficult to estimate such a life as is here set forth. A rich good man abounds with resources of good in every direction of God’s glory and the welfare of man. And if so be that the wealth be taken from us, we never lose our piety, which is the far greater possession. (Thomas Colclough.)
The blessing of him that was ready to perish.
The blessedness of doing good
I. Job had the blessing of those ready to perish.
1. A man may be ready to perish through adverse circumstances.
2. Or by some imminent danger and peril to which he is exposed.
3. In such cases men of pure benevolence interpose to save the poor unhappy wretch who is ready to perish.
4. How many in the moral world are ready to perish by their sins and iniquities. The blessing of him who is ready to perish comes on the man who relieves the needy, rescues them that are exposed to danger, and who converteth a sinner from the error of his ways.
II. Job had caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
1. Widows are placed in very distressing circumstances.
2. Often she has a large family left to her care.
3. The world is ever ready to take advantage of a desolate widow.
4. Job was kind to widows in the days of his prosperity. His conduct was generous and noble, and worthy of a great and good man. Let us imitate the example of Job. Inferences--
(1) Acts of benevolence are good proofs of a renewed heart.
(2) Those who are kind to others will be abundantly repaid.
(3) In the day of judgment works of mercy will be brought forward as evidences of piety. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Rescue the perishing
I. An urgent necessity. “Ready to perish.” Oh that we all might go to the help of the poor, who are ready to perish in the midst of the ocean of drunkenness, misery, and wretchedness. There is a want of sympathy. We find it in all classes. Men are perishing about us for want of the power of the Gospel.
II. An assured recompense. There is a sure recompense, if you will do God’s bidding. Be an enthusiast. Seek out the perishing people, and risk yourselves in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. A personal enjoyment. There has been One who, in order to save you, gave Himself. Let your blessing come upon Him as you stand in faith at the foot of the Cross. This personal enjoyment can only come to us when we are true Christians. (William Birch.)
I put on righteousness.
When others do us open wrong, it is not vanity, but charity, to do ourselves open right. And whatsoever appearance of folly or vain boasting there is in so doing, they are chargeable with all that compel us thereunto, and not we. It was neither pride nor passion in Job, but such a compulsion as this, that made him so often proclaim his own righteousness. It seemeth Job was a good man, as well as a great; and being good, he was by so much the better, by how much he was the greater. The grieved spirit of Job uttered these words for his own justification; but the blessed Spirit of God hath since written them for our instruction; to teach us, from Job’s example, how to use that measure of greatness and power which He hath given us, be it more, or be it less, to His glory and the common good. We have to learn the principal duties which concern those that live in any degree of efficiency or authority. Those duties are four.
I. A care, and love, and zeal of justice. This is the chief business of the magistrate. “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me.” The metaphor of clothing is much used in the Scriptures in this notion as it is applied to the soul, and things appertaining to the soul. We clothe ourselves either for necessity, to cover our nakedness; for security or defence against enemies; or for state and solemnity, for distinction of offices and degrees. Job’s words intimate the great love he had unto justice, and the great delight he took therein. And it is the master duty of the magistrate to do justice, and to delight in it. He must make it his chief business, and yet count it his lightsome recreation. Magistrates may learn from the examples of Job, of Solomon, and of Jesus Christ Himself. Justice is a thing in itself most excellent; from it there redoundeth much glory to God; to ourselves so much comfort, and to others so much benefit.
II. Compassion to the poor and distressed. Men’s necessities are many, and of great variety; but most of them spring from one of these two defects, ignorance, or want of skill; and impotence, or want of power: here signified by blindness and lameness. A magistrate can be “eyes to the blind,” by giving sound and honest counsel to the simple. He can be “feet to the lame,” by giving countenance and assistance in just and honest causes; and “father to the poor,” by giving convenient safety and protection to those in distress. The preeminence of magistrates consisteth in their ability to do good and help the distressed, more than others. As they receive power from God, so they receive honours and service and tributes from their people for the maintenance of that power. God hath imprinted in the natural conscience of every man notions of fear, and honour, and reverence, and obedience, and subjection, and contribution, and other duties to be performed towards kings, magistrates, and other superiors. Mercy and justice must go together, and help to temper the one the other. The magistrate must be a father to the poor, to protect him from injuries, and to relieve his necessities, but not to maintain him in idleness. He must make provision to set him on work; and give him sharp correction should he grow idle, dissolute, or stubborn.
III. Pains and patience in examination of causes. “The cause which I knew not, I searched out.” In the administration of justice the magistrate must make no difference between rich and poor, far or near, friend or foe. The special duty imposed on magistrates is diligence, and patience, and care to hear, and examine, and inquire into the truth of things, and into the equity of men’s causes. Truth often lieth, as it were, in the bottom of a pit, and has to be found and brought to light. Innocency itself is often laden with false accusations.
IV. Stoutness and courage in execution of justice. “I brake the jaws of the wicked.” Job alludes to savage beasts, beasts of prey; types of the greedy and violent ones of the world. For breaking the jaws of the wicked there is required a stout heart and an undaunted courage. This is necessary for the magistrate’s work and for the maintenance of his dignity. Inferences--
1. Of direction; for the choice and appointment of magistrates according to the above four properties.
2. Of reproof; for a just rebuke of such magistrates as fail in any of these four duties.
3. Of exhortation; to those who are, or shall be magistrates, to carry themselves therein according to these four rules. (Bishop Sanderson.)
Sermon on the election of a Lord Mayor
Job’s reflections on the flourishing estate he had once enjoyed did at the same time afflict and encourage him.
I. What a public blessing a good magistrate is: a blessing as extensive as the community to which he belongs; a blessing which includes all other blessings whatsoever that relate to this life. The benefits of a just and good government to those who are so happy as to be under it, like health to vigorous bodies, or fruitful seasons in temperate climes, are such common and familiar blessings that they are seldom either valued or relished as they ought to be.
II. The outward marks of distinction and splendour which are allotted to the magistrate. Of these the robe and diadem, mentioned by Job, are illustrations. It was intended thus--
1. To excite the magistrate to a due degree of vigilance and concern for the public good. The magistrate was made great, to inspire him with resolutions of living suitably to his high profession and calling.
2. To secure the magistrate’s person, in which the public tranquillity and safety are always involved.
3. To ensure that the magistrate is had in due estimation and reverence by all those who are subject to him. It is in the civil government, as in the offices of religion; which, were they stript of all the external decencies of worship, would not make a due impression on the minds of those who assist at them. The solemnities that encompass the magistrate, add dignity to all his actions, and weight to all his words and opinions.
4. To aid the magistrate to reverence himself. He who esteems and reverences himself will not fail to take the truest methods towards procuring esteem and reverence from others.
III. The duties of the magistrate. The chief honour of the magistrate consists in maintaining the dignity of his character by suitable actions, and in discharging the high trust that is reposed in him, with integrity, wisdom, and courage. Reputation is the great engine by which those who are possessed of power must make that power serviceable to the ends and uses of government. The rods and axes of princes and their deputies may awe many into obedience; but the fame of their goodness, and justice, and other virtues will work on more; will make men not only obedient, but willing to obey. An established character spreads the influence of such as move in a high sphere, on all around and beneath them. The actions of men in high stations are all conspicuous, and liable to be scanned and sifted. They cannot hide themselves from the eyes of the world as private men can. Great places are never well filled but by great minds; and it is as natural to a great mind to seek honour by a due discharge of a high trust, as it is to little men to make less advantages of it. A good magistrate must be endued with a public spirit, and be free from all narrow and selfish views. He must impartially distribute justice, without respect of persons, interests, or opinions. Courtesy and condescension is another happy quality of a magistrate. Bounty also, and a generous contempt of that in which too many men place their happiness, must come in to heighten his character. Of all good qualities, that which recommends and adorns the magistrate most, is his care of religion; which, as it is the most valuable thing in the world, so it gives the truest value to them, who promote the esteem and practice of it, by their example, authority, influence, and encouragement. (F. Atterbury, D. D.)
I was eyes to the blind.
Are not my eyes my own? No, nothing is your own; and until you get that truth driven into your very soul you cannot be a Christian. May not a man do what he will with his own? Yes, when he gets it. Your hand is not your own, so what about the little thing that is in it? The greater includes the less. Not a hair upon your head is your own, not a breath in your body is your own; the blood of Christ bought you every whir and every fibre, or He bought none of you. If a man has vision he holds that vision for the sake of him who has none. That is the New Testament law of property. Every man who has need of your help you can make part of yourself, and by a transmigration of souls, which has nothing to do with the old fables of metempsychosis, you can take other men into you, put yourselves into other men, and live the public life, the life philanthropic, without many people knowing much about it. Does he give nothing who is eyes to the blind, who reads the small print for those whose eyes are dim? They say, we can make out these large letters, but what is all this small writing? Is it nothing to read the Bible to a person whose eyes are failing and who cannot any longer see the sweet revelation of God in dim type? Is it nothing to sit for an hour beside some poor solitary soul on a Sunday evening and read to that soul words from heaven? Does he who does this do nothing because his name does not appear in this list or in that? The difficulty which all men have to contend with is that they cannot get away from their own little narrow conceptions of what things are. If you do not do exactly as I do and when I do it, then the enemy suggests to me that you are doing nothing, whereas you may be doing ten thousand times more than it ever entered into my imagination to conceive it possible for a man to do. Thus--There are some persons who cannot get away from the idea that unless a ministry be associated with thousands upon thousands of conversions it is doing nothing. Blessed be God, they are not judges, they are only critics. Does he do nothing who stimulates the whole humanity that is in a man? Does he do nothing who makes the coward say, “God help me to be brave, and when the enemy comes in again I will stand up against him with full-toned strength”? Do not attempt to write another man’s subscription list for him. Every man shall give account of himself to God. Enough! God is love. There are others who cannot get away from the idea that unless you have endless organisations, a whole tumult of mechanisms, you are doing nothing. Does the blind man play no part in all this wondrous drama of love? Why, the blind man should never forget who it was that led him across the thoroughfare. Even a blind man is not exempted from gratitude; even the man who has been helped ought to remember the man who assisted him; even God sits that He may receive our tributes of thankfulness,--need of them He has none, but He knows it is good for us to cleanse our selfishness by allowing to be poured through it our streams of gratitude. Have you recognised all the men who were eyes to you? I fear not. Who was eyes to you in business, when you were a young man, and could see very little? Who was that strong man with the piercing eyes that saw miles beyond the line where your vision failed, and who said to you, Thus and thus lie the horizon of destiny and the sphere of commercial possibility? You profited by that man’s eyes and that man’s guidance: what have you done for him? Are you aware that some of his children are in difficulties? Do you know that his widow would be almost happy if she had but one pound a week more than she has? Do you know that that man, then so good and strong, has not a gravestone to mark where his bones lie? You might put up one and write upon it, “He helped me, he was eyes to me; but for that man whose body lies here I should have died in the nighttime without ever having seen the light”; and that Bible passage men might read, and reading might begin to feel, and feeling might begin to pray, and praying might begin to help other young men. Who was it that counselled you when you were in difficulty? But what money value attaches to good counsel? Who cares to pay for ideas? Pay for bricks and stones, iron pillars and gaslight and painted glass, but never, saith the miser, pay for soul, mind, blood, the fury of high inspiration. Many men do not see the blind, or they would help them. Shall I tell you why many men do not see the blind? The answer is, because they do not look for them; and it is amazing how much you can miss if you never look for it. There are souls that are telling this lie to themselves, namely, Now, if only I had the opportunity I could do a good deal, but people that need this sort of help never seem to come in my way: no doubt there are many deserving cases in the world if one only knew them. How dare you go to rest in darkness after telling that falsehood? Out upon such hypocrisy! This I am prepared to say, that some of us have larger opportunities of seeing than other men have. That is of necessity true: but the other men ought to say to those who have the larger outlook, Spend this money for me; I would give it with my own hand if I knew the eases, but you have larger opportunities of seeing them: spend two hundred pounds a year for me. Think of a man having his ten thousand, fifteen, twenty thousand a year, and never making any man who has large vision of society his treasurer or his trustee. Let us remember that there is other blindness than that of the body. Here is the larger field, here is scope for genius and sympathy and prayerfulness and love. “I was eyes to the blind”--the ignorant; I taught them their letters, I gave them the key of knowledge, I showed them how to read a little for themselves, and then I gave them a book or two; and now they are reading and mentally growing; they are thinking deeply upon practical questions, and are themselves teaching other people to read. “I was eyes to the blind”--to those who were labouring in the darkness of superstition, thinking of omens, and being frightened by suggestions of spectral presences; not the great spirituality which fills the universe with the Holy Ghost, but afraid of witch and demon and imp and fairy: for them I purged the air, I made them feel that the air was a great wind of health from heaven, meant to rejuvenate men, to make men young and cheerful, glad with a solemn merriment; and now they ate telling other people that God is light, God is love, and that they who fear the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ have nothing else to fear, for they stand in the light of love. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
“Eyes to the blind”
I. The peculiarly dependent condition of the blind.
1. As to spiritual things, the blind are peculiarly dependent. In spiritual things all men are dependent. Sometimes blindness is sent in judgment. How many are the books which the blind do not possess. From how many objects of sight the Scripture draws lessons of faith. These must be more difficult to the blind than to others.
2. As to temporal things. So few professions and trades the blind can follow.
II. The duty and mode of becoming eyes to the blind. It is our duty to study the mind of God towards the blind, and to pray, and to endeavour with His help, to be like-minded, according to our opportunity. As to mode, this will apply to individuals. All should maintain the sincerest sympathy, all should be ready to give their practical help; but different individuals may help in different ways. (John Hambleton, M. A.)
Job’s social goodness
Job was evidently a common friend and benefactor, a lover of mankind, one that cheerfully employed his time, his labour, and his substance in promoting the welfare and happiness of others.
I. Job was eyes to the blind.” This is commonly understood of intellectual blindness, of those whose minds are darkened. Being eyes to them must consequently mean the enlightening those dark minds by the beams of knowledge and instruction. This figurative sense of the words need not exclude the literal one. The loss of eyesight is so touching a calamity, so irksome and comfortless a state, as to raise compassion in some breasts not apt to be much affected by other objects. The rational powers of a man, which is the inward eyesight, may be blinded by sin, by ignorance, or by distraction.
II. Job was feet to the lame. Soundness of body, and a hale constitution, with all the limbs entire, and capable of exerting their respective functions, is all the inheritance the great number of mankind is born into. Hard indeed is their lot, and very severe the dispensation under which they are fallen, who have neither bread to eat, nor hands wherewith to work for it; who are sorely maimed and crippled in their limbs, racked with tormenting pains, or wasted with lingering diseases. For such, special hospitals are provided.
III. Job was a father to the poor. He had too enlarged and generous a soul to let his bounty flow merely in the channel of his family. He is in this a very noble pattern for imitation. (Andrew Snape, D. D.)
Happy memories of past usefulness
The most beautiful invention of the poet Dante is not his picture of Beatrice, nor of Francesca, but his description of the river Eunoe, in whose waters having been immersed, one recalls at once all the good actions and thoughts of his past life. Long before the time of Dante, the poets of the heathen world had sung about a stream called Lethe, in which if one plunged he forgot the sorrows of the past. The one was the outgrowth of heathen, the other of Christian thought. The heathen could hope for nothing better than oblivion. Complete forgetfulness was all the sinful heart dared hope for. But Christianity not only points with hope to the future, but sanctifies the past. It fills men’s lives with kindly deeds and blessed memories, never to be forgotten. And in the eternal future, God’s children with memory quickened will praise Him for the past. (D. Swing.)
I was a father to the poor.
A father to the poor
The text is part of Job’s noble vindication of himself from a charge of hypocrisy and impiety. So far was Job from considering the poor as made for him, so far from neglecting and oppressing them, that his wealth and its attendant influence prompted him to become their advocate, to befriend the friendless, and to attempt the relief of every species of human distress.
I. The paternal character, as it respects the poor. It includes--
1. A real and an affectionate concern for the poor. So far was Job from considering the poor as made for his aggrandisement, to do him homage, to wait his nod, that he saw and respected himself in them; made their cause his own, entered into their afflictions, and had a heart to feel for all their wants and sorrows.
2. Well-digested schemes, and well-directed endeavours, to promote, under God, their temporal and eternal good. There can be no true charity, among the affluent, without liberality. This fallen world opens a widely extended field for the exercise of every compassionate and benevolent principle in the heart. The paternal character has a relation to the bodies of the poor, as that of a father to the bodies of his immediate offspring. More important are the souls of the poor.
II. Recommend and urge the paternal character, as it respects the poor. An argument might be brought from the very constitution of human nature. A principle of self-love is common to us all. The paternal character is more Divine, more Godlike, than anything else within the reach and ability of man. It makes that very use of talents and advantages which God designed. The character enters into the main and substantial part of Christianity. Solid comfort and felicity will ever result from it. (N. Hill.)
A father to the poor
Such a man is surely one of the most useful friends to virtue, to religion, and to society. The two principal branches of paternal care are provision and instruction. A serious and benevolent attention to the cause of the poor is a necessary part of the character of everyone who acts upon principle, either as a Christian or a man, of everyone who values either the civil or religious constitution of this country. “The righteous considereth the cause of the poor,” because he considereth them as partakers of the same nature, and children of the same Father with himself. The righteous looks into himself, and from thence learns to show compassion to others. His nature prompts him to this benevolent office; his reason inculcates it; his conscience approves it; his condition of life empowers him to fulfil it. What is led to by the principles of reason and morality, is brought home to his bosom by the declarations of the Gospel. The infirm, the industrious, and the lazy, make up the great body of the poor. The infirm claim our pity to relieve our attention to employ them; the lazy our resolution to them; the industrious force them to labour. Difficulties occur in the modelling of all schemes for the provision of the poor, from that discretionary power which must unavoidably be allowed in the execution of them. Difficulty again arises from that prevalence of luxury which we see tempts all persons to live above the rank which they hold in the society. Instruction is the second part of a father’s care. The subject of instruction for the poor is the Christian religion as established in this kingdom. The principles of the Gospel cultivate the general interests of civil society. (Archbishop Hay Drummond.)
1. By the exercise of compassion and kindness to our fellow creatures, we fulfil the intention of providence. The blessings of life are distributed in very different proportions to different classes of men. The division of mankind into rich and poor is not the effect of any particular political institution. It is altogether unavoidable in the course of human affairs. All that society has to do is to secure to the industrious the fruits of their virtuous labours. This division of mankind into rich and poor ought not to be considered as a subject of regret. There are many salutary effects which it seems well fitted to produce. It furnishes an opportunity for the exercise of human virtue, in an infinite variety of situations; it keeps alive the spirit of industry, by holding out to the industrious the hope of rising to distinction; it improves the human condition, by rendering the exertions of every individual, in his own particular sphere, more conducive than they would otherwise be to the general happiness of society. But, in this imperfect state, inequalities frequently appear, which call for the interposition of the generous. Disasters sometimes arise, which no prudence or industry can prevent. The pressure of bodily distress often makes the hands of the diligent to hang down. Hence arises a new relation; a relation between the fortunate and the miserable. Let both parties be instructed in their duty. Whatever you possess, you owe to the bounty of your Maker. You are the depositaries of His bounty, not absolute disposers. You are not at liberty to squander His gifts, as your own caprice or passion may dictate; but are required to fulfil the purpose of the Giver. In few situations are men destitute of the means of contributing to the happiness of their fellow creatures. God has not left the wretched without resource. He has ordained that compassion should be the balm of misery. The selfish, indeed, seem to behold in the whole world no being but themselves. For them alone the sun arises, the dews descend, and the earth yields its increase. Such were the sentiments of the hard-hearted Nabal.
2. The exercise of our compassion and kindness to our brethren is one of the best expressions of our piety to God. What shall we render to the Lord for all His mercies? God is Himself exalted above the reach of our most perfect services; our goodness doth not extend to Him. Our brethren are placed within the reach of our beneficence, and our charity to them is piety to our Maker. No fervours of religious affection will atone for the want of charity. Your alms must ascend with your prayers as a memorial before God.
3. By the exercise of compassion and kindness to our fellow creatures, we promote our own happiness. Benevolence is a source of pleasure. Compare the benevolent with the selfish in every situation of life. Place them in affluence, and observe how they differ. Place them in adversity, and see how they differ. Let disease come to the man who has shown no compassion to his brethren. How ill is he prepared for the evil day. Let sickness increase, let death approach; where now is the joy of the selfish? (W. Moodie, D. D.)
Home and Sunday school
Here is a matchless picture of a great and beautiful human life in that grand, calm, and stately patriarchal time, which presents a refreshing contrast to these eager, rapid, rushing days, in which God has east our lot. Each age has its own form of dignity and nobleness, and its own field of Divine service. This grand old sheikh, who was the Christus consolator of his people, was not even a member of the elect line. Job saw into the heart of the great social question of all ages when he declared himself a father to the poor. It is just the father’s wisdom, firmness, and tenderness which poverty and ignorance need. It is just this which law cannot proffer to them. This explains the reason why in all ages the true help of the poor comes from the life-warm hand of the Christian Church. It is a large subject, and one full of interest, the fatherly ministry of the Church to the poor and helpless. We dwell on one feature only. The foremost duty of a father is the nurture and culture of the children. Let us see how, when the father wholly or partially fails, the Church steps forward with its Divinely helpful hand in his room. Plato, in his conception of the ideal republic, makes the children the charge of the State from the first. He makes their culture its most sacred duty, seeing that on their wisdom, industry, and moral habits so much of the health and wealth of the community in successive generations inevitably depends. It is practically impossible on any scheme of government to get a full representation of the highest wisdom of the community in the governing powers; and the training of all the children of the community in one type elaborated by human wisdom, however, admirable, contradicts and does its best to frustrate the benignant purpose of God in the varied natural endowments of mankind. He has not made men in one type. Think of a Christian household of a lofty Christian type, where the children are trained to a noble manhood and womanhood by parents whom they both reverence and love; where the hand of authority is firm but never capricious; where God’s statutes and judgments are maintained in absolute supremacy; but where the children are never suffered to question for a moment that the motive of their maintenance is love. And whence the children are sent forth at length into the theatre of life with this deepest conviction in their hearts--that the only life worth the living is a life of service and ministry to mankind. Multiply such a home by all the homes of the community, and what a millennium of peace, and joy, and wealth would they bring in. But look at it on the other side. Think of thousands of homes, in which the children from the very first grow up in an atmosphere which taints at the spring their physical, mental, and moral life; in which they never hear the name of God or of Christ but in blasphemy. Multiply such homes by all the homes of the community, and then measure the dire and deadly ruin in which they would plunge themselves and the State at last. How does Christianity solve this question of the education of the children of a generation, with due regard to freedom of individual development on the one hand, and the need of bringing to bear on it the highest wisdom on the other? The Gospel establishes on the firmest and most lasting foundations the institution of the home. It deepens parental responsibility; it enlarges parental functions; it enhances the estimate of the momentous issues which are hanging on the due and Christian fulfilment of parental duty. The home is the ultimate unit of society. God sets the parent the pattern; God helps the parent in the task; God holds forth to the parent the prize. God attends the progress of humanity with an institution in which His truth is enshrined, in which His Spirit dwells, and which is the living and ever-present organ of His counsel and influence--the Christian Church. And here comes into the field the Sunday School. It would be wrong to say that the parental institution, the home, had failed; but a great mass of human parents are utterly unequal to the task that is laid upon them. The Church steps in with her helping hand, and sends forth from her bosom a great army of earnest, loving, and self-devoted teachers, to be as fathers to the children whose souls are fatherless, and to surround the shivering, homeless outcasts with the warm atmosphere of Christian love. This word, “I was a father to the poor,” is the key to the teacher’s position and work. Not to supersede the parent, but in every way to stimulate and help him, are teachers sent forth by the Church and by the world. Three things he must keep constantly in sight.
1. Instruction. To impart knowledge is his first and most important work. The Christian teacher mostly confines himself to the highest knowledge.
2. The teacher is to be a shepherd, a pastor to the children. Sunday school teaching is pastoral work.
3. The teacher should follow the children to their homes, and do what he can to sweeten and purify the atmosphere of their lives. I honour the Sabbath School because--
(1) It has opened a very noble field for that passion of ministry which is the Divine endowment of the Christian Church.
(2) It maintains so nobly the Christian tradition of self-denying service, draws forth so richly and trains so effectively the self-denying, self-devoted spirit.
(3) The teacher and teaching have formed a nexus, a link of connection of incalculable strength and importance, between jealous and often hostile classes of society.
(4) The Sunday School is the nursery of the Christian Church. To train the child for Christ and for His service is the great object of the teacher. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Then I said, I shall die in my nest.
The disappointments of life
If we examine the world, we shall everywhere discover variety, changeableness, and succession. Our bodies, our relations, our conditions and circumstances are perpetually changing. But this diversity constitutes the beauty and the glory of providence. It displays the Divine perfections, by rendering their interposition necessary and obvious. It furnishes means by which the dispositions of men are tried, and their characters formed. It lays hold of their hope and fear, joy and sorrow; and exercises every principle of their nature, in their education for eternity. Providence is God in motion; God fulfilling, explaining, enforcing His own word.
I. In these words we see something good. Even in his greatest prosperity, Job thought of dying. Death is always an irksome consideration to the man of the world. He strives to banish it from his thoughts. But the believer keeps up a familiar acquaintance with it. It is far more difficult to maintain a right state of mind in pleasing and prosperous circumstances, than in trying and distressing scenes.
II. We see something desirable. Who does not wish to have his possessions and enjoyments continued; to escape painful revolutions in his circumstances? We talk of the benefit of affliction--but affliction, simply considered, is not eligible. We decry the passions,--but we are required to regulate the passions, rather than expel them. Temporal things are good in themselves and needful. Our error in desiring them consists in two things.
1. In desiring them unconditionally. In praying for temporal blessings, we are always to keep a reserve upon our wishes, including submission to the will of God, and a reference to our real welfare.
2. When we desire them supremely. For whatever be their utility, they are not to be compared with spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Things are to be valued and pursued according to their importance.
III. We find something very common. It is affluence and ease cherishing confidence and presumption. It is a supposition that we shall have no changes because we feel none. The consequence is natural, and it is easily explained. Present things most powerfully impress the mind.
IV. Something very false and vain. “Then I said, I shall die in my nest.” Oh, Job! “Boast not thyself of tomorrow.” So ignorant are we of futurity, so erroneous are we in our calculations; so liable are we to mortifying vicissitudes. Whatever engages our affection may become a source of sorrow; whatever excites our hope may prove the means of disappointment. Such is the hard condition upon which we take all our earthly comforts. Are we secure from disappointment with regard to life; or health; or children; or friendship; or property? Observe, however, that we do not recommend you to cherish everlasting apprehension and gloom. It is displeasing to God when we pour the mercies He gives us to enjoy by mistrust. We may avoid solicitude, and not be guilty of the worldly confidence which we have condemned. It does require you--
1. To be moderate in your attachments, and sober in your expectations. The way to escape disappointment is to keep your hopes humble.
2. It calls upon you to seek a better ground of confidence, and to make the Lord your trust.
3. It calls upon you to seek after a preparation for all the changing scenes of life.
4. It calls upon you to look beyond this vain and mutable world to a state of solid and unchangeable happiness. (William Jay.)
The disappointments of life
We have here the sadness and lamentation of a disappointed man. Matters had turned out differently to his expectations. Many things conspired against Job, and the providence of God doomed him to disappointment. In the chapter before us, and in the next following, he speaks of the hopes that he once had, and the frustration of these hopes for which he now mourned, as he seated himself in the ashes, and clothed himself with sackcloth. Having regard to Job’s position and circumstances, none could say that his expectations were extravagant. But before old age came, he found himself with his nest torn to pieces, his reputation shattered, his prosperity perished, his influence destroyed, and foul disease threatening to sweep his body to an untimely grave. As we pass from one stage of life to another, we have to confess that many of our glowing expectations have turned out nothing but day dreams. Who has not had to mourn for frustrated hopes? These disappointments in life befall us under the providence of God; therefore we may be certain that they are meant for our instruction and discipline, as a test of principle for the maturing of our character and the promotion of our spiritual prosperity. These disappointments come in two ways.
1. We strive for that which we are never able to secure.
2. Disappointment comes to men when they reach the point for which they started, and then find it does not correspond with their expectations. Illustrate by the race for riches, or the desire for power. In the region of usefulness there is often disappointment. The same truth is illustrated in personal character. One thing this disappointment does--it drives us nearer to God. I can sometimes thank God for all the dark things in human life which prevent my leaning on anything but the One above, who is perfect both in wisdom and in love. (Charles Vince.)
Life; its hopes and disappointments, and their gracious design
(verses 18-20; 30:26, 31). It would be impossible to find a more admirable description of prosperity than that given in this chapter. Job fondly anticipated that all this prosperity and power would be continued to him. How different the result proved. Job’s experience has its counterpart in that of the children of men in general; in some, of course, more than in others, yet more or less in all. For some the disappointment of life is the disappointment of non-attainment. This may be illustrated in Abraham. What is God’s loving design in life’s disappointments? They form the medium whereby we reach higher blessings than those we miss. How was Job recompensed? Not by material blessings, which were but incidental. The true recompense lay in the purifying and perfecting of his character and life; in the spiritual blessings he reaped as the result of the discipline. So with ourselves. If rightly exercised by life’s adverse influences, we may find gain in every loss. The disappointments of life operate favourably by bringing us nearer to God. (S. D. Hillman.)
My root was spread out by the waters.--
The commendable and censurable in character
I. Here is something very good. In his greatest prosperity Job had thoughts of dying.
II. Here is something very desirable. Job desired a continuation of his providential mercies. The wrong in desiring worldly good is when we desire it unconditionally and supremely.
III. Here is something very common. Job in his affluence cherished confidence and presumption.
IV. Here is something very false. Job calculated on dying in his nest when the storm was gathering round him. (Homilist.)
My glory was fresh in me, and my bow was renewed in my hand.
The text tells us of the renown of Job, and of the way in which the providence of God continued to maintain the glory of his estate, his bodily health, and his prosperity, His glory was fresh in him. He did not achieve a hasty fame, and then suddenly become forgotten. He did not blaze out like a meteor, and then vanish into darkness. He says that his bow was renewed in his hand: whereas usually the bow loses its force by use, and is less able to shoot the arrow after a little while, and needs to lie still with a slack string, it was by no means so with him. He could send one arrow, and then another, and then another, and the bow seemed to gather strength by use. That is to say, he never seemed to be worn out in mind or body. However, this did not last always, for Job in this chapter is telling us of something that used to be--something that was--some-thing the loss of which he very sorrowfully deplored--“my glory was fresh in me.” He found himself suddenly stripped of riches and of honour, and put last in the list instead of first. So far as glory was concerned, he was forgotten as a dead man out of mind. This reads us a lesson that we put not our trust in the stability of earthly things.
I. First, then, notice the excellency of freshness. “I shall be anointed with fresh oil” (Psalms 92:10). David had been anointed while still a youth to be king over Israel. He was anointed yet again when he came to the kingdom: that outward anointing with actual oil was the testimony of God’s choice and the ensign of David’s authorisation, and oftentimes when his throne seemed precarious God confirmed him in it, and subdued the people under him. When his dominion waxed weak, God strengthened him and strengthened his servants, and gave them great victories; so that as a king he was frequently anointed with fresh oil. Freshness is a most delightful thing if you see it in another. It is a charm in nature. How pleasant to go into the garden and see the spring flowers just peeping up. How agreeable to mark the rills, with their fresh water leaping down the hills after showers of rain. But spiritual freshness has a double charm. Sometimes we know what it is to have a freshness of soul, which is the dew from the Lord.
1. How that freshness is seen in a man’s devotions. Oh, I have heard some prayers that are really fusty. I have heard them before so often that I dread the old familiar sounds. Some hackneyed expressions I recollect hearing when I was a boy. But, on the other hand, you hear a man pray who does pray, whose soul is fully in communion with God, and what life and freshness is there!
2. And so it is well to have a freshness about our feelings. I know that we do not hope to be saved by our feelings; neither do we put feeling side by side with faith; yet I should be very sorry to be trusting and yet never feeling. Whether it be joy or sorrow, let it be living feeling, fresh from the deep fountains of the heart. Whether it be exultation or depression, let it be true and not superficial or simulated. I hate the excitement which needs to be pumped up. God keep us from stale feelings, and give us freshness of emotion.
3. I believe that there is a very great beauty and excellence in freshness of utterance. Do not hinder yourself from that.
4. There should be a freshness, dear friends, about our labour. We ought to serve the Lord today with just as much novelty in it as there was ten years ago.
II. Now I will dwell upon the fear of losing it--the fear of its departure. I have heard some express the thought that perhaps the things of God might lose their freshness to us by our familiarity with them. I think that the very reverse will turn out to be the case if the familiarity be that of a sanctified heart. Let me tell you some points on which, I fear, we have good ground of alarm, for we do our best to rob ourselves of all life and freshness. Christian people can lose the freshness of their own selves by imitating one another. By adopting as our model some one form of the Christian life other than that which is embodied in the person of our Lord we shall soon manufacture a set of paste gems, but the diamond flash and glory will be unknown. Another way of spoiling your freshness is by repression. The feebler sort of Christians dare not say, feel, or do until they have asked their leader’s leave. If we want to keep up our freshness, however, the main thing is never to fall into neglect about our souls. Do you know what state the man is generally in when you are charmed by his freshness? Is he not in fine health? Let the fountain of the heart be right, and then the freshness will speedily be seen. I have shogun you the things by which a man may lose his freshness; avoid them carefully.
III. I close with the third point, which is this precious word which gives us hope of its renewal. Let us not think that we must grow stale, and heavenly things grow old with us: For, first, our God in whom we trust renews the face of the year. He is beginning His work again in the fair processes of nature. The dreary winter has passed away. Put your trust, in God, who renews the face of the earth, and look for His Spirit to revive you. Moreover, there is an excellent reason why you may expect to have all your freshness coming back again: it is because Christ dwells in you. Then there is the other grand doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. He dwells in you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 29". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany