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But Job answered and said.
Job’s answer to Eliphaz
We must come upon grief in one of two ways and Job seems to have come upon grief in a way that is to be deprecated. He came upon it late in life. He was in solid prosperity and positive and genuine comfort. Grief must tell heavily whenever it comes upon a man in such a condition. This accounts for his lamentation, and whine, and long-drawn threnody. He was not accustomed to it. Some have been born into trouble, and they have become acclimatised. Blessed are they who come upon grief in that method. Such a method appears to be the method of real mercy. Grief must come. The devil allows no solitary life to pass upward into heaven without fighting its way at some point or other. Grief delights in monologue. Job seems scarcely to lay himself down mentally upon the line adopted by Eliphaz. It is most difficult to find the central line of Job’s speech. Too much logic would have spoiled the grief. Reasoning there is, but it comes and goes; it changes its tone; it strikes the facts of life as the trained fingers of the player might strike a chord of music. Note how interrogative is Job’s speech. More than twenty questions occur in Job’s reply. Grief is great in interrogation. Job is asking, “Are the old foundations still here? Things have surely been changed in the nighttime, for I am unaccustomed to what is now round about me.” Notice how many misunderstandings there are in the speech of the suffering man! Job not only misunderstood his friends and his pain, he misunderstood all men, and the whole system and scheme of things. How suffering not rightly accepted or understood colours and perverts the whole thought and service of life! Job thinks life not worth living. So much depends on our mental mood, or our spiritual condition. Hence the need of our being braced up, fired, made strong. We are what we really are in our heart and mind. Keep the soul right and it will rule the body. The Bible never shrinks from telling us that there is grief in the world, and that grief can be accounted for on moral principles. The Bible measures the grief, never makes light of it. But it can be sanctified, turned into blessing. Any book which so speaks as it does deserves the confidence of men who know the weight and bitterness of suffering. Do not come to the Bible only for condolence and sympathy; come to it for instruction, inspiration, and then you may come to it for consolation, sympathy, tenderest comfort, for the very dew of the morning, for the balm of heaven, for the very touch of Christ. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Job’s first reply
In his reply to Eliphaz, Job first takes hold of the charge of impatience and hasty indignation made in the opening of the fifth chapter. He is quite aware that his words were rash when he cursed his day and cried impatiently for death. But had Eliphaz duly considered his state, the weight of his trouble causing a physical sense of indescribable oppression? We need not fall into the mistake of supposing that it is only the pain of his disease which makes Job’s misery so heavy. Rather is it that his troubles have come from God; they are “the arrows of the Almighty.” Mere suffering and loss, even to the extremity of death, he could have borne without a murmur, But he had thought God to be his friend. Why on a sudden have these darts been launched against him by the hand he trusted? What does the Almighty mean? The evil-doer who suffers knows why he is afflicted. The martyr, enduring for conscience’ sake, has his support in the truth to which he bears witness, the holy cause for which he dies. Job has no explanation, no support. He cannot understand Providence. The God with whom he supposed himself to be at peace suddenly becomes an angry, incomprehensible Power, blighting and destroying His servant’s life. Existence poisoned, the couch of ashes encompassed with terrors, is it any wonder that passionate words break forth from his lips? A cry is the last power left to him. So it is with many. The seeming needlessness of their sufferings, the impossibility of tracing these to any cause in their past history, in a word, the mystery of the pain confounds the mind and adds to anguish and desolation an unspeakable horror of darkness. Sometimes the very thing guarded against is that which happens; a man’s best intelligence appears confuted by destiny or chance. Why has he, amongst the many, been chosen for this? Do all things come alike to all, righteous and wicked? The problem becomes terribly acute in the case of earnest, God-fearing men and women who have not yet found the real theory of suffering. Endurance for others does not always explain. All cannot be rested on that. Nor, unless we speak falsely for God, will it avail to say, These afflictions have fallen on us for our sins. For even if the conscience does not give the lie to that assertion, as Job’s conscience did, the question demands a clear answer, why the penitent should suffer--those who believe--to whom God imputes no iniquity. If it is for our transgression we suffer, either our own faith and religion are vain, or God does not forgive excepting in form, and the law of punishment retains its force. We have here the serious difficulty that legal fictions seem to hold their ground even in the dealings of the Most High with those who trust Him The truth is, that suffering has no proportion to the guilt of sin, but is related in the scheme of Divine providence to life in this world, its movement, discipline, and perfecting in the individual and the race. (Robert A. Watson, D. D.)
Job’s great suffering
I. Unappreciated by men. This is the meaning of the first five verses. Eliphaz had no conception of the profundity and poignancy of Job’s suffering. There are two things indicated here in relation to them.
1. They were unutterable. “My words are swallowed up.” His whole humanity was in torture.
(1) He suffered in body. “He was smitten with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of the head, and he took a potsherd to scrape himself withal, and sat down amongst the ashes.”
(2) He suffered in mind. “The arrows of the Almighty were within him, whose poison drank up his spirits.”
2. They were irrepressible. “Doth the wild ass bray when tie hath grass? Or loweth the ox over his fodder?” The idea here is, I cannot but cry; my cries spring from my agonies. Had not the wild ass his grass, he would bray with a ravenous hunger; and had not the ox his fodder, he too would low in an agony for food; this is nature, and my cries are natural--I cannot help them. Who can be silent in torture? His suffering was--
II. Misunderstood by friends. “Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” This language seems to me to point to Job’s impression of the address which Eliphaz had delivered to him. Job seemed to feel--
1. That the address of Eliphaz was utterly insipid. “Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt?” As if he had said, your speech lacks that which can make it savoury to me; it does not apply: you misunderstand my sufferings: I suffer not because I am a great sinner, as you seem to imply: my own conscience attests my rectitude: nor because I need this terrible chastisement, as you have said: you neither understand the cause nor the nature of my sufferings, therefore your talk is beside the mark.
2. That the address of Eliphaz was truly offensive. “The things that my soul refused to touch are as my sorrowful meats.” Does not this mean what Dr. Bernard says, “the things you speak--your unmeaning, insipid words and similes--are as the loathsomeness of my food, or are as loathsome to my soul as food now is to my body”? You intrude remarks on me that are not only tasteless, because of their unsuitability, but that are as disgusting as loathsome food.
III. Intolerable to himself. He longed for death; he believed that in the grave he would have rest.
1. Though his life was unbearable, he would not take it away himself. He felt that he Was not the proprietor, only the trustee of his life.
2. He was not forgetful of his relation to his Maker. “I have not concealed the words of the Holy One.” I have not shunned to declare my attachment to Himself and His cause. His sufferings did not obliterate his memory of his Creator, drive him from His presence, or impel him to blasphemy or atheism. No, he still held on. God was the Great Object in his horizon; he saw Him through the thick hot steam of his fiery trials.
3. Though his life was unbearable, he knew that it could not last long. “What is my strength that I should hope? and what is mine end that I should prolong my life?” etc. Whether God will loose His hand and cut me off, and thus put an end to my existence or not, I cannot endure long. I am not made “of stone or brass,” and I cannot stand these sufferings long. However powerful the human frame may be, great sufferings must sooner or later break it to pieces.
4. Though his life was unbearable, he was conscious of an inner strength. “Is not my help in me? And is wisdom driven quite from me?” No strength like this, physical strength is good, intellectual strength is better, but moral strength is the best of all. (Homilist.)
Oh that my grief were thoroughly weighed.
Heaping up one scale
We have no objection to weigh all Job’s griefs. But what shall we put in the other scale? He who counts the hairs of our head, and puts our tears in a bottle, will not make light of human grief. In His scale it will be weighed to the utmost grain. But God has two scales, whereas Job has evidently only one.
1. In one scale look how he has put his self. The first personal pronoun is heavy enough in these speeches. Job’s friends perceived his egoistic spirit, and heaped up therefore the opposite scale. What art thou compared to the Eternal? Very sublime is the God whom Eliphaz puts over against Job. He fills all--man is nothing. No man’s thoughts or sufferings are to be seen or heard or reckoned against the Absolute. But should I not say “I”? Am I in no sense to feel myself and be an egoist? in my solemn hours I cannot but know and dwell with a very real being within me which is my ego. God and sin are nothing to me unless first of all I have a personality, What is the indwelling of Christ, unless I have a separate individuality Into which He can come? David says, “I am a little lower than the angels.” May I not say the same? Yes, say it; say it loud and clear. But balance it. Put into the other scale, for example, your fellow men. Other men have as intense a self as you. They, too, are crowned with glory and dignity, and have their range of feelings, strong and tender, like thyself. “Let each esteem other better than himself.” Put also into the other scale over against thyself the great Other. Down on the seashore when we wander, or when we look out on the starry heavens, how clearly and with all its mystery we say “I.” But as we say it, there comes back from the ebon walls of night the echo of the voice of That Other, which brings ourself into equilibrium. We sweep our hands out and whisper to ourselves, “my power,” or we lift up our heads, proud in the consciousness of our knowledge. But when God sweeps His hand across the heavens, or lifts up the might of His knowledge, then the pride of the human heart is humbled. We bow our heads in silence; not crushed out of all consciousness, but balanced and rightly weighed by the thoughts of men and God.
2. Job’s egoism arose from his sorrow. How much he makes of his afflictions. His howling is dismal. Chapters 6 and 7 are one long lamentation, with much poetry in them, but truly a terrible heaping up of one scale. What shall we do to balance human sorrow? Laugh at it? Call it nothing? Call it commonplace? Nay, let us try and put something over against it which may outweigh it. Philosopher! hast thou aught which can balance a broken heart or a soul convulsed with agony? Surely thou hast something. Let us try your maxims, your precepts of self-control and of wholesome thought. Put them into the opposite scale; Bacon’s “Essay on Adversity,” beautiful extracts from Marcus Aurelius. Put them all in. Now lift up the balance and see. Ah! they weigh nothing. Scientist! canst thou do this great work? Go and tell Job your germ theories. Explain to him the nature of his sloughing sores, and see if you can answer his complaint. No, never. Religionist, what can you put into the opposite scale? Let us hear your doctrine. “God is the potter and man the clay. We are creatures of His, and He can do as seems best. Let us learn to submit to His sovereign will. The discipline is good, though bitter.” Oh, what bitter drops of acid are all these to wounded souls. You only crush a man when you hurl at him, at such a time, God’s sovereignty. No, lot us put into the opposite scale human sympathy. Let us acknowledge all the pain and sorrow and affliction of the sufferer. Let us suffer it, and feel its weight. Let our tears flow. Put our sufferings and our feelings into the opposite scale. Let us seek to put God’s sympathy into the opposite scale. Not the absolute hard stern Deity Eliphaz labours to construct. Let us speak of His tenderness and pity. Is it not said, Jesus wept? Christ’s tears will outweigh ours. When looking down into the dark and horrid grave, listen what Christ says, “Thy brother shall rise again.” That is Christ’s sympathy to balance thy crushing pain.
3. Job asks of God the question, “What have I done?” Ah! well might he heap up that scale; piling up to the heavens his sins, and offences, and ignorance. Probably there would be no scale large enough to hold our iniquities. Is this right? Oh yes. Know thy sins, O soul, all of them, black as hell and heavy as lead, and high enough to hide the light of heaven. But be not men of one idea. Have two ideas. Look into the other scale and see, if you can, a drop of Christ’s precious blood. Lift up the scales, and see if this drop of precious blood does not balance all your sins. Yes! Thank God it does, cries out Bunyan. Nay, more, it outweighs them. “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” (J. D. Watters, M. A.)
1. It is a duty to weigh the saddest estate and afflicted condition of our brethren thoroughly. But what is it to weigh them thoroughly? It is not only to weigh the matter of an affliction, to see what it is which a man suffers, but to weigh an affliction in every circumstance and aggravation of it; the circumstance of an affliction is often more considerable then the matter of the affliction. If a man would confess his sins, he is to confess not only the matter of them, as sins are the transgressions of the law, and errors against the rule, but he must eye the manner in which sin hath been committed, the circumstances with which it is clothed, these render his sin out of measure, and out of weight sinful. Likewise, would a man consider the mercies and favours received from God, would he know them thoroughly, and see how much they weigh, let him look, not only what, but how, and when, and where, and by whom he hath received them. There may be a great wickedness in a little evil committed, and a great mercy in a little good received. Secondly, He that would weigh an affliction thoroughly, must put himself in the case of the afflicted, and (as it were) make another’s grief his own: he must act the passions of his brother, and a while personate the poor, the sick, the afflicted man: he must get a taste of the wormwood and of the gall upon which his brother feedeth: in a word, he must lay such a condition to heart. In these two points, this holy art of weighing grief, consists: consideration of circumstances, and sympathy of the smart. Mere speculation moves little. We have no feeling of another’s suffering, till we have a fellow feeling. The bare theory of affliction affects no more than the bare theory of fire heats.
2. It is an addition to a man’s affliction, when others are not sensible of his affliction. Our high priest is none of your senseless priests, who care not what the people endure, so they be warm and at ease.
3. We can never rightly judge till we thoroughly weigh the condition of an afflicted brother. For Job conceived that Eliphaz proceeded to judgment before he had been in consideration.
4. A man who hath not been, or is not afflicted himself, can hardly apprehend what another endures who is under affliction. If we had a Mediator in heaven that had not been tempted on earth, we might doubt whether He would be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, whether sinning infirmities or sorrowing infirmities. (J. Caryl.)
For the arrows of the Almighty are within me.
4. Killing. (J. Caryl.)
The poisoned arrows of the Almighty
By “poisoned arrows” we must understand, not only his boils, the heat and inflammation of which had dried up Job’s moisture, vigour, and strength, but all his other outward troubles also, which stuck fast in him; and his inward temptations, and sense of God’s wrath flowing therefrom, which, like the inward deep wound of the arrow, had, by the furious poison thereof, so exhausted him that he was ready to faint, and give it over. Learn--
1. Though to quarrel and complain of God, in any case, be a great fault, yet it pleads for much compassion to saints when they do not make a stir about their lot, except when their trouble is extreme.
2. It is the duty of those in trouble to turn their eyes off all instruments, that they may look to God.
3. As it is our duty always to entertain high and reverent thoughts of God, so trouble will cause men to know His almighty power.
4. It is a humbling sight of God Almighty’s power in trouble, when His strokes are like arrows, and do not only pierce deep, and come suddenly and swiftly upon men, as an arrow doth, but especially do speak God angry at them, in that He makes them His burr (target) at which He shoots.
5. In this case of Job, the number of troubles doth contribute much to afflict the child of God, every particular stroke adding to the weight.
6. Albeit sharp troubles, inflicted by the hand of God, be very sad to the people of God, yet all that is easy in comparison of the apprehension of God’s anger in the trouble and perplexities of spirit, and temptations arising upon those troubles.
7. Temptations, and sense of Divine displeasure under trouble, will soon exhaust created strength, and make the spirits of men succumb.
8. It is a great addition to the present troubles and temptations of saints, when terrors and fears for the future do assault and perplex them; especially when they apprehend that God is pursuing them by these terrors.
9. When once a broken mind is haunted with terrors add fears, their wit and fancy may multiply them beyond what they are, or will be, in reality. (George Hutcheson.)
Of religious melancholy
Job’s affliction was sent to him for the trial of an exemplary and unshaken virtue; and because it was sent for that reason only, and not as any mark of Divine displeasure, therefore how great soever the calamity was in another respect, yet was it by no means insupportable, because there still remained to him the great foundation of comfort, in the assurance of a good conscience, and the expectation of God’s final favour. He had in his own mind, even in the midst of his affliction, the satisfaction to reflect with pleasure on his past behaviour, and to strengthen his resolutions of continuing in the same course for the future. Though no calamity could well be heavier than that of Job, yet when the disposition of the person comes also to be taken into the act, there is a trouble far greater than his, namely, when the storm falls where there is no preparation to bear it; when the assault is made from without, and within there is nothing to resist it. In other cases, the spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but when the spirit itself is wounded, who can bear it? There is another state, most melancholy and truly pitiable, and that is of those who, neither by the immediate appointment of Providence, as in the case of Job, nor by the proper effect of their own wickedness, as in the case of an evil conscience, but by their own imagination and groundless fears, by indisposition of body and disorder of mind, by false notions of God and themselves, are made very miserable in their own minds. They fancy, though without sufficient reason, that the arrows of the Almighty are within them. Consider the chief occasions of such religious melancholy.
1. Indisposition or distemper of body. This is by no means to be neglected, slighted, or despised: for, as the mind operates continually upon the body, so the body likewise will of necessity influence and operate upon the mind. It is not unusual to see the good understanding even of a reasonable person, borne down and overburdened by bodily disorder. The principal sign by which we may judge when the indisposition is chiefly or wholly in the body is this, that the person accuses himself highly in general, without being able to give any instances in particular; that he is very apprehensive, of he does not well know what; and fearful, yet can give no reason why. The misery is very real, though without good foundation. In such cases all endeavours ought to be used to remove the bodily indisposition.
2. Want of improvement under the exercise of religious duties is complained of. Many piously and well-disposed persons, but of timorous and melancholy constitutions, are under continual apprehensions that they do not grow better, that they make little or no improvement in the ways of religion, and that they cannot find in themselves such a fervent zeal and love towards God, as they think is necessary to denominate them good Christians. If by want of improvement is only meant want of warmth and affection in the performance of their duty, then there is no just ground for trouble of mind upon that account. In the same person there are sure to be different degrees of affection at different times, according to the varying tempers of the body. No man can keep up at all times an equal vigour of mind. Vain suspicions that our obedience proceeds not from a right principle, from a true and unfeigned love of God, are by no means any just cause for uneasiness of mind, provided that we sincerely perform that obedience, by a life of virtue and true holiness.
3. An apprehension of exclusion from mercy by some positive decree and fore-appointment of God. From nature and reason, this apprehension cannot arise. Nor in Scripture is there any foundation for any such apprehension. There may be some obscure texts, which unstable persons may be apt to misinterpret to their own and others disquiet; but surely the whole tenour, design, and aim of Scripture should be the interpreter of particular passages. The plain texts should be the rule by which the obscurer ones are interpreted. It is quite evident that there is no ground in Scripture for any pious person to apprehend that possibly he may be excluded from mercy by any positive decree or fore-appointment of God.
4. The fear of having committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. But distinguish between sin against the Holy Ghost and blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Such blasphemy was the sign of an incurably wicked and malicious disposition. It is quite impossible for any truly sincere and well-meaning person to be guilty of this malignity, or to have any reason of apprehending he can possibly have fallen into it.
5. A cause of much trouble to some is found in wicked and blasphemous thoughts. These are not so much sin as weakness of imagination arising from infirmity of body. They may he only signs of a tender conscience, and of a pious disposed mind.
6. Another cause is the conscience of past great sins, and of present remaining infirmities. Infirmities as weaknesses and omissions, are fully allowed for in the Gospel. Forgiveness of them is annexed to our daily prayers. And sins blotted out, ought to be forgotten by us, as God says they are by Him. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass?
The satisfied ass
The patriarch introduces this illustration to prove to his friends that his complainings were not in vain. His troubles were not imaginative. This quaint subject is instructive and interesting to all. It teaches two lessons.
I. He who is satisfied does not complain. He goes straight on to the enjoyment of the possession he has acquired. The ox or the ass that has abundance of food does not make lamentation. Job meant to say that this was the case with him. If he were only reaping the fruit of his conduct, he would not complain; or even if his suffering had been the result of sinful indulgence, or came to him from evil doing, or thinking, he would have submitted. But he suffered greatly, knowing at the same time that he was altogether innocent. He had not received his just reward, and therefore he did complain.
II. Employment is the root of content. Laziness breeds contention. The man who has honest work to do, and does it, eats and is satisfied. It is your hungry, idle men who are agitators. It is so--
1. Because the busy man has no time for brooding on his cares. The ass or the ox at his food has something to occupy his attention, and has therefore not a moment to spare for braying.
2. Because he has no opportunity for shallow noise. If he wished to bray or low, the very fact of having his mouth full would prevent him. So men whose hands are full of employment, cannot cast down the work they are engaged upon, for the mere sake of airing their grievances. When the wild ass has been well filled, and when the ox has finished his fodder, then they will waste their time in mischief and discontent. The proper remedy for restless agitation is plenty of work, and the labour which is ever necessary to procure and prepare our daily wants. (J. J. S. Bird.)
Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt?
Seasoning for Christianity
Salt gives a zest to many unpalatable things, and is an invaluable condiment. The health, the digestion, the entire well-being of man, demand its use. The patriarch is alluding to those matters which give zest to life, even as salt gives zest to food. Some things axe pleasant enough to eat, and require nothing wherewith to be seasoned. Sugar is sweet in itself. So there are some occupations and pleasures of life which need nothing to render them enjoyable. But there are other things which, like unsavoury or tasteless food, demand some addition to give them a zest or make them more pleasant to perform. A few examples will make the meaning plain:--
I. Take a mother and her babe. If we look at her disinterestedly, we shall see what a vast amount of unpleasant labour she must undergo. No toil is too great, no work too exhausting, no effort too repulsive. In itself such patience or self-denial would be considered an intolerable hardship. But when the unsavoury morsel is taken with the salt of love, how sweet to the taste does it become! What would otherwise be a painful labour is turned into a delightful joy.
II. Take a man and his business. What is business but a toil--a painful, bitter, wearisome contest, rising early and toiling late? It is One of the unsavoury things to which the words of the patriarch may allude. To swallow it for its own sake alone would cause a good many to make a very wry face. And what is the salt of business? Why, it is money and gain. What a zest these impart to the hardest labour and the early toil! How sweetly goes down the hardship when the clinking coins are counted from the till at night.
III. Take the toiling student. How hard he labours over his midnight lamp! Amusement is forsworn, pleasures and relaxation are given up. But the flavour improves when eaten with the salt of ambition or the desire of honour. Then the toil is transformed into a pleasure and the trouble into a labour of love.
IV. So also we may take the Christian soldier. Who can say that the Christian life is pleasant in itself? It is humiliation, sorrow, bitterness, disappointment. It means an apparently unavailing contest with powers that are more powerful than ourselves. But once flavour the Christian life with salt, and how different it becomes! Flavour the bitterness with the love of God, the blessed sympathy of Christ, the glorious reward beyond, and then as the golden sunshine gilds and beautifies the most rugged scene, so the bitterness is turned into a sheen of glory and the toil is forgotten. (J. J. S. Bird.)
The treatment of the unsavoury
Unsavoury means insipid, without taste. It is necessary to add salt in order to make it either palatable or wholesome. The literal truth of this no one can doubt. Insipid food cannot be relished, nor would it long sustain life. “The Orientals eat their bread often with mere salt, without any other addition except some dry and pounded summer savory, which last is the common method at Aleppo.” It should be remembered also that the bread of the Orientals is commonly mere unleavened cakes. The idea of Job in this adage or proverb is, that there was a fitness and propriety in things. Certain things went together, and were necessary companions. One cannot be expected without the other; one is incomplete without the other. Insipid food requires salt in order to make it palatable and nutritious, and so it is proper that suffering and humiliation should be united. There was a reason for his complaints, as there was for adding salt to unsavoury food. Some have supposed that Job means to rebuke Eliphaz severely for his harangue on the necessity of patience, which he characterises as insipid, impertinent, and disgusting to him; as being, in fact, as unpleasant to his soul as the white of an egg was to his taste. Dr. Good explains it as meaning, “Doth that which hath nothing of seasoning, nothing of a pungent or irritating power, within it, produce pungency or irritation? I, too, should be quiet, and complain not if I had nothing provocative or acrimonious; but, alas! the food I am doomed to partake of is the very calamity which is most acute to my soul, that which I most loathe, and which is most grievous and trying to my palate.” But I see no reason to think that in this he meant to reproach Eliphaz for an insipid and unmeaning address. (Albert Barnes.)
A cure for unsavoury meats: or, salt for the white of an egg
This is a question which Job asked of his friends, who turned out to be so unfriendly. Thus he battles with those “miserable comforters” who inflamed his wounds by pouring in verjuice and vinegar instead of oil and wine. The first of them had just opened fire upon him, and Job by this question was firing a return shot. He wanted the three stern watchers to understand that he did not complain without cause. His were not sorrows which he had imagined; they were real and true, and hence he asks this question first, “Doth the wild ass bray when he hath grass? or loweth the ox over his fodder?” If these creatures lift up their notes of complaint, it is when they are starving. He was like one who finds no flavour in his food, and loathes the morsel which he swallows. That which was left to him was tasteless as the white of an egg; it yielded him no kind of comfort; in fact, it was disgusting to him. The speech, also, to which Job had listened from Eliphaz the Temanite did not put much sweetness into his mouth; for it was devoid of sympathy and consolation. Here he tells them that Eliphaz had administered unto him unsavoury meat without salt;--mere whites of eggs, without taste. Not a word of love, pity, or fellow feeling had the Temanite uttered. We may now forget the much tortured patriarch Job, and apply this text to ourselves.
I. The first point will be this, that a want of savour is a very great want in anything that is meant for food. Everybody knows that all kinds of animal life delight in food that has a flavour in it. It is exactly the same with regard to the food of our souls. It is a very great fault with a sermon when there is no savour in it. It is a killing fault to the people of God when a book contains a good deal of what may be true, but vet lacks holy savour--or what, in others words, we call “unction.” But what and of savour is that which we expect in a sermon?
1. I answer, first, it is a savour of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. The next necessity to secure savour is a devout spirit in the preacher--a savour of devotion.
3. Another matter goes to make up sweet savour in a discourse, and that is, a savour of experience. But these three things are not the whole of it. There is a sacred something: it is not nameless, for I will name it by and by: it is a heavenly influence which comes into man, but which has no name among the things that belong to men. This sacred influence pervades the speaker, flavouring his matter, and governing his spirit, while at the same time it rests upon the hearer so that he finds his mind awake, his faculties attentive, his heart stirred. Under this mysterious influence the hearer’s spirit is in a receptive condition, and as he hears the truth it sinks into his soul as snowflakes drop into the sea. Take away from any preaching or any teaching Christ as the subject, devotion as the spirit, experience as the strength of testimony, and the Holy Ghost as being all in all, and you have removed all the savour; and what is left? What can we do with a savourless Gospel?
II. I find a rendering given to the text, which, if it be not absolutely accurate, nevertheless states an important truth, namely, that that which is unsavoury from want of salt must not be eaten.
1. There is a great deal in this world which is unsavoury for want of salt; I mean in common conversation. Alas, it is easy to meet with people--and even people wearing the Christian name--whose conversation has not a particle of salt, in it. Nothing that tends to edification is spoken by them. Their talk has an abundance of gaiety, but no grace in it. They exhibit any amount of frivolity, but no godliness. Again, there is some talk in the world--I hope not among professors--which has no salt in it even of common morality; and consequently it corrupts, and becomes impure and obnoxious.
2. Now, the same thing is true, not only of common conversation, but of a great deal of modern teaching. If a man’s discoursing has not salt enough in it to keep false doctrine out of it, it is not the kind of food for you. Clean provender is not so scarce that you need to eat carrion.
III. The third point is, that there are certain things in the world which need something else with them. “Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?” There are many things in this world which we cannot tolerate by themselves; they need seasoning with them.
1. One of the first of these may read us a lesson of prudence; that is, reproof. It is a Christian duty to reprove a brother who is in a fault, and we should speak to him with all gentleness and quietness, that we may prevent his going farther into evil, and lead him back to the right way. It is the habit of some brethren to do everything forcibly; but in this case one needs more love than vigour, more prudence than warmth, more grace than energy. Rebuke, however kindly you put it, and however prudently you administer it, will always be an unsavoury thing: therefore, salt it well. Think over it. Pray over it. Mix kindness with it. Rub the salt of brotherly love into it. Speak with much deference to your erring friend, and use much tenderness, because you are not faultless yourself. Savour your admonitions with affection, and may the Lord make them acceptable to those who need them.
2. Now for other matters which many people do not like by themselves; I mean, the doctrines of the Gospel. The true doctrines of the Gospel never were popular, and never will be; but there is no need for any of us to make them more distasteful than they naturally are. Man is a king, so he thinks, and when he hears of another king he straightway grows rebellious. If the Gospel be distasteful we must add a flavouring to it. What shall it be? We cannot do better than flavour it with holiness! Where there is a holy life men cannot easily doubt the principles out of which it springs.
3. Now, a third egg which cannot be eaten without salt is affliction. Afflictions are very unsavoury things. Afflictions are unsavoury meat. What is to be done with them, then? Why, let us salt them, if we can. Salt your affliction with patience, and it will make a royal dish. By grace, like the apostle, we shall “glory in tribulations also.”
4. I will not detain you longer to speak about persecution, though that is another unsavoury article, with which salt of consolation is much to be desired.
5. But, lastly, there is the thought of death. Is not death an unsavoury thing in itself? The body dreads dissolution and corruption, and the mind starts back from the prospect of quitting the warm precincts of this house of clay, and going into what seems a cold, rarefied region, where the shivering spirit flits naked into mystery untried. “What salt,” say you, “shall I mingle with my thoughts of death?” Why, the thought that you cannot die; since because He lives you shall live also. Add to it the persuasion that though you be dead, yet shall you live. Thoughts of the resurrection and the swinging open of the pearly gates, and of your entrance there. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I have not concealed the words of the Holy One.
Concealing the words of God
1. The testimony of a good conscience is the best ground of our willingness to die.
2. The counsels of God, His truths, must be revealed. It is as dangerous, if not more, to conceal what God hath made known, as to be inquisitive to know what God hath concealed.
3. The study of a godly man is to make the Word of God visible.
4. It is a dangerous thing for any man to conceal the Word of God, either in his opinion or in his practice. (J. Caryl.)
God, the Holy One
This is a title too big for anyone but God. All holiness is in God. God is so holy that properly He only is holy. God is called the Holy One in three respects: Because He is all holy in Himself; because we receive all holiness from Him; and because we are to serve Him in holiness and righteousness all our days. God is holy in His nature. His essence is purity. He is holy in His Word. He is holy in His works. These three put together lift up the glory of God in this title, “The Holy One.” Or we may consider God, the Holy One,
1. Radically and fundamentally, because the Divine nature is the root and original, the spring of all holiness and purity.
2. God is the Holy One by way of example and pattern, or in regard of the rule and measure of holiness.
3. By way of motive. He is, as the rule of holiness, so likewise the reason of our holiness.
4. God is the Holy One effectively, because He works, conveys, and propagates all holiness to and in the creature. Man can no more make himself or another holy, than he can redeem another or himself.
5. He is called the Holy One by way of eminency, or super-excellence, because His holiness is infinitely beyond all the holiness of men and angels. Holiness in angels is a quality; holiness in God is His essence. God is above men and angels, because He is absolutely perfect in holiness. And God is ever equally holy, ever in the same degree and frame of holiness. The holiness of man consists in his conformity to the holiness of God. There is a two-fold conformity: a conformity to the nature of God, and a conformity to the will of God, or to that which God wills. These make up the total holiness of the creature. (Joseph Caryl.)
Concealing the words of God
Job’s distress was aggravated by the remarks of his friends, but he turned the guns of the enemy upon themselves, and extracted comfort from what was meant to grieve. He had not concealed the words of the Holy One; had taught his family the great sacrificial truth; was a most faithful witness for God, and made open confession of his own faith in the one holy God.
I. Here is a sin to be avoided--concealing the words of the Holy One.
1. We can conceal these words from ourselves. We do this when we will not permit this word to search our own heart and ways--when we conceal the Gospel, and go about to find out some way of our own for self-salvation. We should hide the Gospel in our heart, but not from our heart. We conceal it when we do not receive the whole of revelation, but pick and choose out portions of it.
2. We conceal these words from others by not confessing the truth at all, or by a sinful silence after confession, or by concealing the words of the Lord by our own words, or by clouding the truth with error, or by an inconsistent life. We must shine as lights.
II. Arguments for avoiding this sin.
1. The man who conceals the Word is out of order with God. The design of words is to make known the speaker’s mind. If you conceal His words you are not in harmony with anything God has made. All declare His glory. Think of the consequences which would have followed if others had done so.
2. The motive to conceal is sinful. It may be cowardice, self-love, or the avoidance of shame.
3. By concealing God’s words we are disloyal to God and unlike the Saviour. Think of how this will appear on a dying bed--“I knew the saving secret, but I never told even a child of it.” How will this look at the last day?
III. Two methods by which we may avoid this sin.
1. By taking care that you make an open profession of your faith and unite with the people of God.
2. When you have done that, by keeping yourself clear of sinful silence by very often speaking to others of the things of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
To him that is afflicted pity should be showed from his friend.
A message to doubters
Such is the rendering of the Authorised Version; but, unfortunately, it is a rendering which misses almost entirely the thought of the sacred writer. As a glance at the context will show, the words form a part of Job’s complaint against his friends. In the darkest hour of his need, when he was despairing, and ready to faint, when, as he says, he was “forsaking” or “losing his hold of the fear of the Almighty,” they had failed him. He had looked to them for kindness, for sympathy, and trust, and lo! they had turned against him; and what he says is this: “To him that is ready to faint, kindness is due from his friend. Even to him that is forsaking the fear of the Almighty.” And now, beside this retranslation, set this admirable comment from the pen of one of our most brilliant Old Testament scholars: “How ignored,” he says, “this great verse has been! How different were the history of religion if men had kept it in mind! How much sweeter and swifter would the progress of Christianity have proved! The physicians of religious perplexity have too often been Job’s comforters; and the souls in doubt who should have been gathered to the heart of the Church, with as much pity and care as the penitent or the mourner, have been scorned, or cursed, or banished, or even put to death.” My message is to doubters, to those who are forsaking or losing their hold of the fear of the Almighty. The ministers of the temple of truth, it has been happily said, are of three kinds: first, there are those stationed at the gate of the temple to constrain the passers-by to enter in; secondly, there are those whose function it is to accompany inside all who have been persuaded to enter, and display and explain to them the treasures and secrets of the place; and thirdly, there are those whose duty it is to patrol the temple, keeping watch and ward, and defending the shrine from the attacks of its enemies. It was, I need hardly say, this last duty which, in the providence of God, was assigned to Bishop Butler. With what marvellous vigilance and skill he performed his Divinely appointed task every student of his great work knows full well. “Defences of Christianity” usually become obsolete as rapidly as modern weapons of warfare. There is perhaps no class of literature to which the saying “Every age must write its own books” more literally applies than the literature of Apologetics. Nevertheless, greatly as the lines both of attack and defence have shifted since the days of Butler and the eighteenth century, there are few books in the whole range of religious literature which will so well repay the care of the student today as Butler’s great Analogy. “Forty-five years ago,” Mr. Gladstone once wrote in a letter to his friend James Knowles, “Bishop Butler taught me to suspend my judgment on things I knew I did not understand. Even with his aid, I may often have been wrong. Without him, I think I should never have been right. And, oh! that this age knew the treasure it possesses in him, and neglects.” Without attempting to indicate even in outline the aim and purpose of Butler’s work, two or three points may be singled out for special emphasis:
1. There is one lesson at least which no student of Butler can well fail to learn, namely, to treat serious things seriously. From his youth up Butler had been accustomed to meditate deeply on some of the greatest problems of life and religion. The search after truth, he tells us, he had made the business of his life. And it wounded him to the quick to hear men, who had given scarce as many days as he had given years to thinking about Christianity, calmly assuming it to be false, and with a light heart proclaiming to all the world that there was “nothing in it.” That a man should be compelled, reluctantly and sorrowfully compelled, to relinquish his old faith, and to sever the ties that bound him to his past--that Butler could understand. But that any man could witness the discrediting of Christianity with something like a chuckle of satisfaction and delight, filled him with amazement. Yes, Butler is very serious, “serious,” it has been well said, “as a gamester, serious as a physician with life and death hanging on the clearness of his thoughts and the courage of his resolve, serious as a general with a terrible and evenly balanced battle on his hands.” And is not this a temper which we need more and more to cultivate today in our handling of the great questions of religion? There is something truly heartrending in the fashion in which nowadays men will suffer themselves to reason about religion, cheerfully indifferent to the magnitude of the issues at stake. Christianity may be true, Christianity may be false; at least do not let us treat it as though its truth or falsity no more concerned us than the truth or falsity of a mathematical proposition. Let us realise what Christianity is, what it has done, what it is doing, before we strive to discredit its message to men. For, remember, if Christianity be destroyed, it will not mean simply that one star has faded from the firmament above us; it will mean that the sun has gone forever from our sky.
2. My next point will bring us into closer grips with our subject. Let me remind you, still following Butler’s guidance, that intellectual difficulties may be for some of us a necessary part of our probation. I do not mean that this, even supposing it to be true, is sufficient to dispose of our difficulties. But it may help us to look upon them more calmly, more reasonably, if we can learn to think of them as our part in the vast and complex moral discipline which God has appointed for the perfecting of His children on earth. It is not unreasonable to conclude, as Butler does, that “what constitutes, what chiefly and peculiarly constitutes, the probation of some may be the difficulties in which the evidence of religion is involved; and their principal and distinguished trial may be how they will behave under and with respect to these difficulties.” Temptation, we know, assails every man; but the methods of the tempter are manifold. Some are tempted to covetousness, some to indulgence of the flesh, some to quick and angry speech, some to sullen gloom and moroseness. But for some among us God has willed it that our testing shall come in the uncertainties and doubts which crowd in upon our minds whensoever we contemplate Him and His truth. As the hammer’s stroke on the metal plate reveals the hidden flaw, so in our intellectual trials does God make proof of us. He discovers our pride, He lays bare our insincerity, He tests our love of truth, the moral soundness of our whole being. Blessed, thrice blessed, is he whose life rings true under that all-revealing stroke.
3. It may be, however, this is a line of argument which does not appeal to us. Then let us, still following Butler’s guidance, seek the help we need by yet another path. Is not the root of most of the things which are objected against Christianity, and consequently of most of our difficulties in regard to it, in the limitations of our knowledge? And is it not the frank recognition of these limitations which is needed, perhaps above everything else, to win back for us our lost peace of mind? Some of you will remember the quiet scorn which Butler pours upon those who, as he says, “are weak enough to think they are acquainted with the whole course of things.” “Let reason be kept to,” he goes on; “and, if any part of the Scripture account of the redemption of the world by Christ can be shown to be really contrary to it, let the Scripture, in the name of God, be given up; but let not such poor creatures as we go on objecting against an infinite scheme, that we do not see the necessity or usefulness of all its parts, and call this reasoning.” We ask questions which no man can answer, questions to which Christ Himself has given us no answer, and then we murmur because the heavens are silent to our cry. Who will solve for us the grievous mystery of pain? Why is nature “red in tooth and claw”? Why do little children die? Why is all our life so full of griefs and graves? “My God, my God, why--?” Questions like these are naked swords, which pierce the hand that strives to grasp them. Men will meet, said an old Greek, with many surprises when they are dead; and perhaps, adds one of our modern thinkers, one will be the recollection that when we were here we thought the ways of Almighty God so easy to argue about.
4. But, if this is so, if, indeed, we know so little, how, it may be asked, is it possible to come to a decision at all? Press the argument from our ignorance to its logical conclusion, and what does it spell but intellectual suspense, the paralysis of action? What in the long-run is Butler’s doctrine but just so much grist to the agnostic’s mill? But to argue thus is to forget what Butler himself is careful to point out, namely, that our knowledge, though limited, is real. “We know in part,” but we know; “we see in a mirror darkly,” but we see. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”--not more than that, but also not less than that; not light everywhere, for even revelation does not solve all questions, but light on my path, light to walk by. Many things are dark, but some at least are clear, and we can begin with these. Is not goodness the principal thing? Is not man’s duty to follow after goodness, the highest goodness which is known to him? “We needs must love the highest when we see it.” And is not this highest goodness incarnate for us in Jesus Christ? Therefore, whatever else is dark, it must be right to follow Christ. Keep the things that perplex, and perhaps confound you, in their right place. Do not let them blind you to your first and plainest duty. After all, we are under no necessity to have a definite answer for every question which the restless wit of man can frame. Concerning many of them, it does not matter whether we have any opinion or not; neither if we have are we the better nor if we have not are we the worse. These things can wait. That which ought not to wait, which with many of us has waited far too long already, is our decision to yield ourselves to Christ. Once more I say, Whatever else is dark, it must be right to follow Christ. (G. Jackson, B. A.)
It would be unfair to call the three men false friends. They were sincere, but being mistaken, they failed to discharge the high offices of true friendship.
I. There are times in a man’s life when the need of friendship is deeply felt.
1. Man was made for friendship. Deep and constant is his craving for the love of others, and equally deep and strong is his tendency to reciprocate the same. Without friendship his nature could no more be developed than could the acorn without the sunshine or the shower. Isolation would be man’s death, solitary confinement has always been felt the most severe and intolerable of punishments.
2. Man requires friendship. Without the aid of friendship he would die in infancy; he requires friendship to nourish, to succour, and to train him.
3. Affliction intensifies the need of friendship. In times of suffering the need of friendship is specially felt.
II. At these times professed friends are often terribly disappointing. Job says in language of great poetic beauty and tenderness, that he was as much disappointed with his friends now as were the troop of Tema, and the companies of Sheba, who travelling over the hot sand, parched and wearied, came to a spot where they expected to find refreshing streams and found none. “My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook,” etc. He does not mean perhaps that they were false, but that they deceived him not intentionally but by mistake.
1. Instead of pity they gave him unsympathetic talk. Had they wept and said nothing he would have been comforted; or had they spoken to the point and expressed sympathy he might have been comforted; or had they tenderly acknowledged the mystery of the Divine procedure in all, it might have soothed in some measure his anguished heart. But Eliphaz talked grandly and perhaps with a cold heart, he never touched the mark but by implication, charged him with being a great sinner because he was a great sufferer, and strongly reprobated his language of distress.
2. Instead of “pity” they gave him intrusive talk. “Did I say bring unto me, or give a reward for me of your substance?” etc. “If a man applies to his friends for pecuniary aid, and that aid is refused him he may be disappointed, but he cannot at once condemn them and charge them with unkindness, as they may be under circumstances which render it perfectly impossible for them to comply with his request. But if he asks of them nothing but commiseration and sympathy, and even these are denied him, he cannot but consider such denial as a great piece of inhumanity and cruelty. Now this was precisely the case with Job.”--Bernard.
3. Instead of “pity” they gave him irrelevant talk. “Teach me, and I will hold my tongue; and cause me to understand wherein I have erred. How forcible are right words! but what doth your arguing prove?” etc. In all this he evidently reproves Eliphaz for the irrelevancy of his talk. He seems to say, you have not taught me anything, you have not explained the true cause of my affliction. Nothing that you have said is applicable to me in my miserable condition.
4. Instead of “pity” they gave him ungenerous talk. Here the patriarch acknowledges that the extravagant language which, in the wildness of his anguish, he used in the fourth chapter was mere “wind.” “Do you imagine to reprove words?” etc., and states that their carping at such utterances was as cruel as the overwhelming of the fatherless. Language spoken in certain moods of mind should be allowed to pass by, almost without notice. Anguish often maddens the mind, and causes the tongue to run riot. It is ungenerous in friends to notice language which, under the tide of strong emotions, may be forced from us.
(1) He urges them to look upon him, and not at his words.
(2) He assures them of the sincerity even of his language. I have an inner sense by which I can determine what is right or wrong in speech. Mistaken friendship is sometimes as pernicious and irritating as false friendship. (Homilist.)
My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook.
The uses and lessons of disappointment
The meaning of this passage is, that Job had been disappointed. He hoped his friends would have comforted him in his sorrows; but all his expectations from that quarter had failed. He had been like weary and thirsty travellers in a desert, who came to the place where they hoped and expected to find water, but who, when they came, found that the streams were dried up, and had vanished away.
I. The forms in which disappointments occur. They are as numerous and as varied as our hopes. There are two uses of hope. One is to stimulate us to exertion by the prospect of some good to be obtained and enjoyed. The other is to be held in the Divine hand as a means of checking, restraining, humbling, recovering, and controlling us.
1. Disappointments which relate to the acquisition of property. Some desire to be rich; and some desire the reputation of being rich. The majority of those who with such ends in view seek property, are destined to be disappointed.
2. Those who aim at distinction in honour and office are often disappointed.
3. Those who attempt to build up their family name, and obtain distinction in their children. Few hopes are more likely to be disappointed. A blight often rests upon the effort to found a family name. Honours are scattered by a rule that no one can study out.
4. Those who seek for happiness solely in the things of this life. Multitudes seek it; a few profess to find it to an extent that rewards their efforts; the man disappointed in one thing, at one time, hopes to find it in another.
II. The reasons why disappointments occur.
1. Because the plans and expectations which were formed were beyond any reasonable ground of calculation, based on the ordinary course of events, or what ordinarily happens to man. Many illusions play upon the minds and around the hearts of men. They arise from several sources. We are either ignorant of or forgetful of the usual course of events, and do not take that into our calculation; or we anticipate in the future what does not commonly occur; or we trust in our “star,” or our destiny, and suppose that ours is to be an exception to the common lot; or we are merely presumptuous, relying on what we suppose is our talent, or something in us which will exempt us from the common lot of mankind; or we feel that there is a charm around us and our family. So we engage in the execution of our plans with as sanguine a feeling as if we were certain that they would be all successful. As a law of our nature it is wise that this should be so, if we would only admit the possibility that we might be disappointed, and if we would not murmur when disappointment comes.
2. Because our expectations were such as were improper in themselves. They related to things in which we ought not to have cherished hope.
3. Because disappointments may be for our good. He who sees all things perceives that success may be perilous for us.
III. Lessons which our disappointments should teach.
1. All our plans in life should be formed with the possibility of failure in view. Possibility, not gloomy foreboding. Life would be a burden if fear had the same place in the economy which hope now has.
2. We should form such plans and cherish such hopes as will not be subject to disappointment. Such as relate to religion and are founded on that. Others may be successful, these certainly will be. For evidence of this see that they who become true Christians are not disappointed in what religion promises in this life. The mind has a conviction of its own that religion will not disappoint. And we have God’s promises. Those, therefore, who have felt what disappointment is in regard to worldly hopes and prospects, religion invites to herself, with the assurance that it will never disappoint them; and she points them to heaven as the place where disappointment never comes. (Albert Barnes.)
Brethren as brooks
The figure is derived from the winter brooks which pour down the Arabian wadies, full, turgid, roaring, fed by snow and ice, discoloured--black with the melted ice, but which vanish away under the first heat of the summer sun.
I. Friends are often, like winter brooks, full so long as they are fed. In this, then, may be found their likeness to that false friendship which is never so strong and noisy and babbling as when it is living upon your substance. As long as these friends can draw from your abundance, their professions are loud--they are like the full, strong stream of winter.
II. Friends often give, like “winter brooks,” promises which are unfulfilled. The Arabs say of a treacherous friend, “I trust not in thy torrent.” The caravan wends its way through the sultry desert. The drivers remember a valley where, in the spring, the waters flowed in a copious stream. They turn aside to seek it. Behold, nothing but a torrent-scarred gorge! (Note--Verse 18 should be translated thus: “[The caravans] turn aside out of the way; they go to a desert and perish.”) Thus with false friendship. In your adversity you recall the promises of those whom you befriended. You turn to them in your distress and perplexity. You go “to a desert”!
III. Friends often withdraw in adversity like brooks in summer. “What time they wax warm they become slender; when it is hot they are consumed out of their place.” “First the stream flows more narrowly,--then becomes silent and still; at length every trace of water disappears by evaporation.” Accurate description of the conduct of “friends,” who have not the courage to break openly with you, but desert you by degrees. In the light of this how comforting the reflection that there is a Friend who sticketh closer than a brother. He is the river of the water of life--no failing stream. (J. L. Lafferty.)
Friends jail in adversity
Sir W. Scott had become a bankrupt by lavish expenditures on his castle, etc. The heaviest blow was, I think, the blow to his pride. Very early he begins to note painfully the different way in which different friends greet him, to remark that some smile as if to say, “Think nothing about it, my lad, it is quite out of our thoughts”; that others adopt an affected gravity, “such as one sees and despises at a funeral,” and the best-bred “just shook hands and went on.”
Teach me, and I will hold my tongue.
The virtue of silence
This is the passionate outcry of a soul in trouble. Misfortune and loss have fallen heavily upon Job. His spirit is sorely stricken. The presence of Eliphaz and his many words of advice bring neither comfort nor hope, and almost in angry defiance the cry bursts from his lip. “Teach me, and I will hold my tongue. Cause me to understand wherein I have erred. How forcible are right words! but what doth your arguing reprove?” Angrily and hopelessly Job describes himself as “one that is desperate.” His eager demand is to know whether the trials and calamities that have come upon him are in reality due to exceeding wickedness and special sinfulness on his part. Let us take the words, “Teach me, and I will hold my tongue,” as the prayer of the earnest soul in the presence of God. In the experience of every Christian man occasions arise--alas, how often!--when words of unrestrained anger are allowed to escape from the lips--bitter, biting words that wound many a heart, that work havoc in the home, that make others wonder and even stumble, that bring discredit on the Christian profession. Truly the words of the apostle James are not the language of exaggeration. The tongue is a fire; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Well may our prayer to God daily be, “Teach me, and I will hold my tongue.” Or, again, is not the same prayer needed in regard to our common conversation? Our speech is not always “with grace,” and, apart altogether from words of wrath and bitterness, there is a general carelessness which is to be deplored. Through sheer thoughtlessness incalculable harm is often done. The prayer is indeed necessary. “Teach me, and I will hold my tongue.” Usefully, however, as this text may be employed in enforcing common Christian duties and graces, my chief aim is to apply it to the culture of our deeper spiritual experience. The golden virtue of silence is not much in demand at the present time. On all hands the tendency is towards speech. It is a superficial age. Loudness and self-advertisement are in evidence rather than quietness and contemplation. Now I submit that when the prayer for Divine teaching is earnestly offered, there will be greater readiness to keep silence, greater desire for the quieter side of Christian life, greater longing for that deeper spirituality which does not always, or even chiefly, manifest itself in words. Even in the ordinary affairs of life the instructed man is not the man most eager to speak. Knowledge should bring humility, and a deepening sense of the tasks yet to be achieved. It is the man of little knowledge who is generally most eager to parade his opinions. In the spiritual culture of men it is not those who have passed through the deepest experiences that are most ready to speak of such things. The Divine teaching emphasises the importance and the value of silence quite as much as of speech. It enforces the need for quietness and meditation. How weary one often grows of the way in which Christ and Christianity are talked about on every side! How terrible is the lack of serious thought, or the presence of empty and complacent speech! Dr. Martineau has well said, “If theological gossip were the measure of religious faith, we should be the devoutest of all human generations.” I fear not! Curiosity, rather than reality, is the note that is sounded. Even in our Churches we must surely be grieved, and sometimes alarmed, by the lack of depth and seriousness. Earnest thought and prayerful aspiration are not too much in evidence. We talk too much: we strive too much. With our many organisations, societies, schemes, we are in danger of putting too high a value on the power of speech to the depreciation of the spirit that waits in silence and communes with God. Our aim seems largely to be to make speakers. Now I know well the need that exists for such help. Far be it from me to depreciate it! Yet I feel strongly that we are confronted by the peril of overestimating this kind of service. We are only too apt to forget the value of the man of quiet spirit, and to exalt unduly the man of many words and ready speech. I want to enter a plea on behalf of the silent man. There are undoubtedly in all the Churches many who could not give utterance to the deep thoughts and lofty aspirations stirring within them, and yet whose lives have in them the very spirit of Jesus Christ, and stamped upon them what is none other than the beauty of holiness. The time of difficulty and crisis clearly reveals their strength and their value. Great, indeed, is our loss when we fail to appreciate the man of few words, but of real spiritual power. One of our besetting dangers today is that of words outrunning experience. This peril must always prevail where speech is unduly exalted and praised. Where all are encouraged and frequently over persuaded to speak, utterance and conviction will find considerable difficulty in keeping company. Let the expression exceed the experience, and the spirit of unreality will creep in and will soon rule. Unreality will in the end beget contempt for the things professed, and indifference towards them. This is undoubtedly one of the explanations of the falling away of some in our Churches whose zeal has, for a time, been greatly in evidence. On the other hand we often find, especially among young people, that some of the very best of them are reserved in speech on religious matters, unwilling to discuss what is most sacred to them, unprepared as yet to reveal their deepest thoughts and experiences. The forcing house has no attraction for them, and they shrink back from what seems undue familiarity with Divine things. Too often such are looked upon with suspicion, or spoken of with censure, by many glib of tongue yet unworthy to stand by their side. Let it be borne in mind, then, that while the Divine illumination may make men preachers and teachers, yet its result in producing silence and meditation is not to be overlooked nor lightly regarded. An intense hatred of sin, a clear conception of pardon, an earnest meditation on the wonders of grace and redemption, a tarrying long at the Cross of Calvary and dwelling on its mystery and glory--such vital experiences may well produce in the soul humility, awe, and silence. The quietness of the Divine method must not, then, be lost sight of. The virtue of silence must be more highly prized. Growth should be steady, not sudden; regular, not spasmodic. To this end personal communion with God, individual fellowship with Him is indispensable. The soul that waits in silence learns the deepest lessons, finds the richest treasures. Christ Himself found His truest strength in His solitary companionship with the Father. Silence has its place, therefore, in spiritual development. Speech is not to be underestimated. But there is little danger of that mistake being made. Far greater is the peril of an undue exaltation of the value of speech, and a corresponding depreciation of the virtue of silence. “Teach me, and I will hold my peace,” is a prayer full of promise for the common days and common ways of life, as well as for its special experiences and special crises. (H. P. Young.)
And cause me to understand wherein I have erred.--
Man liable to error
1. Man is subject to error. To error in speech, to error in practice, to error in judgment. Man by nature can do nothing else but err. All his goings are goings astray, and all his knowledge is bottomed upon an heap of false principles. All his works (by nature) are errata, and the whole edition of his life a continued mistake.
2. That man is in a fair way to truth, who acknowledgeth he may err.
3. An error strictly and properly taken is that which we hold or do out of bare ignorance of the truth.
4. That an erring brother or friend must not be importuned barely to leave his error, but he must be made to understand his error. (J. Caryl.)
How forcible are right words!
The force of right words
Who has not felt the superiority of the power of Job’s words compared with those of the words of his friends?
How is this? Job suffered, struggled, and sorrowed, and therefore he learned something of the human heart. Irritating to him were the words of his friends. Those words were as nothing; they reproved nothing; they appealed to nothing in the sorrow-stricken man. Righteous words would have been precious to him; hence his bitter disappointment after listening to the effusion of Eliphaz. Who has not felt the feebleness of mere platitudes when the soul has longed for sympathy?
I. That words may possess a righteous or unrighteous character. “Right words.” God declared to Job’s friends, “Ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as My servant Job hath.”
1. The power of speech is a Divine gift. Whether words were originally given, or were elaborated by the faculty of speech, does not alter the question of the Divine origin of the gift. Without speech, where would have been the outcome of man’s spiritual energies? How the soul speaks in the voice! “Burning words” proclaim the power of the spirit that is in man.
2. The Divine gift of words is intended to be a righteous power. By perversion of words sin was introduced; by the righteousness of words error and evil shall be destroyed. The words of God “are spirit and life.”
3. In proportion to the excellence of the gift will be the responsibility of the speaker. “By thy words shalt thou be justified,” etc.
II. The power of words for good or evil is in proportion to their righteousness or unrighteousness. “Doth not the ear try words?” “Righteous words reprove.”
1. The words of God are instruments of righteousness. “Do not My words do good?” (Micah 2:7.)
2. The words of man are only righteous as they harmonise with the words of God. “Let your speech be always with grace” (Colossians 4:6).
3. In the “war of words” the righteous words shall be victorious. Great is truth, and must prevail.
4. Divine power operates through the words of the good. “I will be to thee a mouth and wisdom.” Therefore “how forcible are right words!”
5. Evil words are destructive. “Whose word doth eat as doth a canker.” The unrighteous words of Job’s friends possessed a power that forced him to exclaim, “How forcible are right words!” (Bishop Percival.)
Words are right three ways.
I. In the matter, when they are true.
II. In the manner, when they are plain, direct, and perspicuous.
III. In their use, when they are duly and properly applied; when the arrow is carried home to the white, then they are right words, or words of righteousness. When this threefold rightness meets in words, how forcible, how strong are such words! (J. Caryl.)
The potency of language
Language is more than the expression of ideas. It sustains a more vital relation. Thought is a remote abstraction until it becomes visible, tangible, concrete, in words. Hence Wordsworth, with profound philosophy, wrote, “Language is the incarnation of thought.” But more than this, a man knows not what he thinks until he tries to put it into words. The tongue or pen sometimes like a whetstone sharpens thought, giving it edge and point; sometimes like a painter’s pencil, it communicates definiteness, precision, and exquisite colouring to the outlines of thought; again, like a prism, it seems to analyse and separate blended ideas; again, like a crystal, it imparts clearness, symmetry, brilliance; or like a mirror, it reflects and multiplies the rays of light. Verily, “how forcible are right words!” (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent