Sunday, March 26th, 2023
the Fifth Sunday of Lent
the Fifth Sunday of Lent
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Parker's The People's Bible Parker's The People's Bible
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 23". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ jpb/ job-23.html. 1885-95.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Job 23". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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Job's Review of the Controversy
With the exception of a short interruption by Bildad, the Shuhite, the great conference is at an end. In the twenty-third and through several succeeding chapters, Job conducts a very striking and instructive colloquy. The three comforters have practically said all they have to say, and they have left Job very much as they found him. They have eloquently expressed all that they knew of the way and purpose of God. And we must not hold them guilty of ignorance; they were true up to the time in which they lived; they did the best they could for their friend. It is easy to go back from the end of the book to the beginning, and to chastise them with rods; but this is not, from a literary point of view, fair or just. If they had wilfully kept back anything, then we might have charged them with selfishness and with injustice to the spirit of truth and the ministry of sympathy; but having made their speeches, one by one, and word by word, we are hardly going too far in saying that they had evidently told all they knew. There is a good deal in seeing a witness, in hearing the tone of his voice, in observing how he conducts himself under examination and cross-examination. This, of course, is a condition we cannot now enjoy: but all the words are here, singular words they are, full of colour, full of life, ardent, resolute, fearless; there is no sign about them of anything being wantonly or purposely withheld. It is sad to see men turn away who came to do us good, and who have failed in their purpose. Watch them retiring! They would have healed Job if they could, but they did not know the cure for this malady, it was wholly unfamiliar; maxim, and nostrum, and moral law, and well-ascertained precept, went for nothing in the fierceness of this unknown distress. It seemed as if they were throwing pieces of paper into a furnace: the paper was written all over with good words, but the fire crinkled and cindered it. The men had not instruments adapted to their work. Who could empty the Atlantic with a thimble? Their hands were too short; they could not reach the reality of the case. Many short-handed comforters there be; men of little strength, little knowledge; men of letters; men of information but not of inspiration; men who know only what they have been told, who have never by some marvellous spirit of strength forced themselves to new positions along the line of human wisdom. But a very good thing has been done: Job has been driven back upon himself. He has said, No: these men have not touched the reality of the case yet: they have had surgical instruments enough, liniment enough, nostrums enough, but they did not know what disease they were treating; so their wisdom became folly, and their energy wasted itself in well-meant exertions. It is something when a man is driven back upon himself to think religiously. Herein is a happy effect of an imperfect sermon: the hearer can always profit himself by delivering a better, silently if he can. Herein is the advantage of reading books that were written under the impression that they would solve everything and have ended by solving nothing. Could the preacher but drive the hearer back into his own consciousness, into the sanctuary of his own thought, into the mystery of his own being, and get him to ask great questions, there would be some hope of the Christian ministry even yet. Job said in effect: You have not touched me: you have made a false diagnosis of my disease; you have been like doctors who have been treating asthma as if it were a case of rheumatism; you have been wrong in all your inferences regarding my state; in a sense I could contemn you and sneer at you: miserable comforters are ye all: the moment you showed anything like coarseness and impertinence I felt angry with you; only when your voices fell into soft and tender tones did I say, These men mean well, I had better hear them; but they do not know my case, and therefore I must look elsewhere for help. It is in that "elsewhere" that we find our subject.
Job looks round for God, as a man might look round for an old acquaintance, an old but long-gone friend. Memory has a great ministry to discharge in life: old times come back, and whisper to us, correct us or bless us, as the case may be; old hymns and psalms that now in our higher culture we despise and quote with suggestive emphasis, even these sometimes come singing round the corner, as if they would attract our attention without being rude or violent; sometimes in the aching heart there comes up a longing to get back to the old altar, the old sanctuary, the old pastor; after listening to all new doctors the heart says, Where is your old friend? where the quarter whence light first dawned? recall yourself: think out the whole case. So Job would seem now to say, Oh that I knew where I might find him! I would go round the earth to discover him; I would fly through all the stars if I could have but one brief interview with him; I would count no labour hard if I might see him as I once did. We are not always benefited by a literally correct experience, a literally correct interpretation even. Sometimes God has used other means for our illumination and release, and upbuilding in holy mysteries. So Job might have strange ideas of God, and yet those ideas might do him good. It is not our place to laugh even at idolatry. There is no easier method of provoking an unchristian laugh, or evoking an unchristian plaudit, than by railing against the gods of the heathen. Job's ideas of God are not ours, but they were his; and for a man to live out his own ideal of religion is the beginning of the right life: only let a man with his heart-hand seize some truth, hold on by some conviction, and support the same by an obedient spirit, a beneficent life, a most charitable temper, a high and prayerful desire to know all God's will, and how grey and dim soever the dawn, the noontide shall be without a cloud, and the afternoon shall be one long quiet glory. Hold on by what you do know, and do not be laughed out of initial and incipient convictions by men who are so wise that they have become fools.
Job says, Now I bethink me, God is considerate and forbearing:
"Will he plead against me with his great power? No; but he would put strength in me" ( Job 23:6 ).
It is something to know so much. Job says, Bad as I am, I might be worse; after all I am alive; poor, desolated, impoverished, dispossessed of nearly everything I could once handle and claim as my own, yet still I live, and life is greater than anything life can ever have: so I am not engaged in a battle against Omnipotence; were I to fight Almightiness, why I should be crushed in one moment: the very fact that I am spared shows that although it may be God who is against me, he is not rude in his almightiness, he is not: thundering upon me with his great strength; he has atmosphered himself, and is looking in upon me by a gracious accommodation of himself to my littleness. Let this stand as a great and gracious lesson in human training, that however great the affliction, it is evident that God does not plead against us with his whole strength; if he did so, he who touches the mountains and they smoke has but to lay one finger upon us nay, the shadow of a finger and we should wither away. So, then, I will bless God; I will begin to reckon thus, that after all that has gone the most has been left me; I can still inquire for God, I can still even humbly pray; I can grope, though I cannot see; I can put out my hands in the great darkness, and feel something: I am not utterly cast away. Despisest thou the riches of his goodness? Shall not the riches of his goodness lead thee to repentance? Hast thou forgotten all the instances of forbearance? Is not his very stroke of affliction dealt reluctantly? Does he not let the lifted thunder drop? Here is a side of the divine manifestation which may be considered by the simplest minds; here is a process of spiritual reckoning which the very youngest understandings may conduct. Say to yourself Yes, there is a good deal left: the sun still warms the earth, the earth is still willing to bring forth fruit, the air is full of life: I know there are a dozen graves dug all around me, but see how the flowers grow upon them every one: did some angel plant them? whence came they? Life is greater than death. The life that was in Christ abolished death, covered it with ineffable contempt, and utterly set it aside, and its place is taken up by life and immortality, on which are shining for ever the whole glory of heaven. Job will yet recover. He will certainly pray; perhaps he will sing; who can tell? He begins well: he says he is not fighting Omnipotence, Omnipotence is not fighting him, and the very fact of forbearance involves the fact of mercy.
Will he grow from this point? will he advance? He will. We shall see that he distinctly advances in his argument:
"But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" ( Job 23:10 ).
When a man says that, he has come forth; the miracle is done. Why wait for the completed miracle of the universe? It is finished in every grass-blade, in every fowl that flies in the open firmament, in every breath that is in our nostrils. Having given us life, he will never see us die, but by our own rashness; he will not be guilty of manslaughter: the gift of life pledges him in that direction. Hear the patriarch had he lived now he could not have been wiser "He knoweth the way that I take" the dark, sinuous way; not one straight mile in it; sometimes uphill, so that my very strength gives way, and I would almost return to the starting-point, and then suddenly down a deep and threatening declivity, the end of which no eye can see; and then off into stony places, and across broad wildernesses; and then up to the very lips in cold, cold rivers: but he watches all the way; the light and the darkness are both alike unto him; he knoweth my downsitting and mine uprising, my going out and my coming in; he watches me as if I were an only child: blessed be his name for ever: when he hath tried me, tested me, pierced me through and through, thrown me into the fire, watched the burning in all its effect upon me when he has got out the last speck of dross, he will put me into his crown; I shall be for the King's use through eternal day. Who says that Job has fallen, taken the wrong view, lapsed into infidelity? He is now hiding himself in rocks; he is now standing in the very sanctuary of God: see how he pulls himself together! God is forbearing, because he is not issuing against me all his strength: God knows the way that I take, and he is trying me: he knows there is some gold in me: who would try dross, knowing it to be dross only? The very fact of the trial means that there is something to be tried, and something worth saving, and something that God can turn to high uses. Is this an ancient lesson? Are there men who can jeer at this as something spoken three thousand years ago, or five thousand years ago to some poor sorrowing old sheik in the Eastern land? Why, this is the very speech we need. We are being tried. Every man is undergoing a process of investigation, scrutiny, trial, education, drill, evolution, development, call it what you please, there is the substantial truth: nor have we yet found than any one great fact in all the evangelical theology has to be changed in view of the lights that are now shining from real or artificial heavens. We are being chastened, mellowed, really and vitally tried. Is it not so? Look at experience. Let the apostle state it in his Greek way: "No chastening" or trial, or affliction, or temptation, or sorrow "for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward " there is the unknown sphere, the unending time, the ineffable sanctuary of real issues and abiding realities. We are singing a hymn, and that is the refrain; a poet has not yet arisen to put it into form, to yoke it to fit letters, but the hymn is in us, and singing in us, and singing around us, and the refrain is "nevertheless, afterward." How well it comes in! How happily it terminates each verse! "Nevertheless, afterward." We, rise from the bed of affliction saying so; we come back from life's daily battle in the marketplace saying so; we close the letter that has crushed our last hopes saying so; we return from the black churchyard, the pit of bodily death, hardly saying so articulately, but saying so in the heart, so that friends can understand the motion of our lips, saying, Being interpreted, that motion is, "Nevertheless, afterward." The whole creation is saying this, whilst groaning and travailing in pain; it is sustained in its agony by the "nevertheless, afterward" of an eternal promise.
Does Job advance? He strikes again upon the right chord:
"Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power who can understand?" ( Job 26:14 ).
In other words, These are the lower endings of his ways: this is the ladder-foot; it rests upon the earth, but where is its head? In other words; These are whisperings of his ways, the silences of his going, the mere appearances and throbbings of a mysterious motion: but the fulness of God, in all his meaning, and love, and strength, and redemption, who can tell? That must always be so. There must always be an unknown quantity in God, and we must always be moved by a desire to know that unknown element and force; yet we rejoice that we cannot know God in all the fulness of his being. We know him sympathetically: we know him, as it were, intuitively. If he will not come to us, we will carve a marble slab, and write upon it a Bible of our own. We must have him. If things did not take shape, we should be able to dismiss the idea of God more readily; but events form themselves: there is a building behind us. Our life is not a gathering up of unrelated ideas and circumstances, a mere association created by proximity; life is coherent, symmetric, a palace-like structure, strange in architecture, wonderful in elevation. We see it now! For a long time we thought that one day had no relation to another; that one event was altogether independent of another; we have now discovered the law of sequence, the law of attachment shall I say? the law of chain-making; call it by any name you please, only the result of your naming must be that God's purpose in life takes shape, form, and appeals by its very symmetry and completeness to our highest consciousness, and calls for the confirmation, not of genius, which is rare, but of experience, which is universal. We are dwelling in the lower parts of things, seeing but their beginnings, hearing but their whisperings; we shall be wise when we know that we are ignorant; we shall begin to be great when we know that we are nothing. If any man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself, and nobody else: and self-deception is the profoundest humiliation of mankind. We shall grow in knowledge when we grow in reverence, when we stand before a sunrise or a sunset and fail to see the glory because our tears blind us. Reverence, veneration, sense of infinity, will help any man to grow, to become strong and wise and healthy.
We shall yet see Job released from his captivity. He says that his character is good though his life is troubled. That pains him very much:
"My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live" ( Job 27:6 ).
"If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God." Job has lived for us this mystery, namely, that a man may have a perfect integrity (using the term in its human sense) and yet have an afflicted life. We need some men to do things for us. It is not in the power of any one of us to sweep the whole circumference of human experience. We live in one another, and for one another, and we have typical, emblematical men to whom we point, saying, This man has proved it; that man is the evidence of it. Solomon has returned from his voluptuous journey; he sits down in disappointment, in shame, and says, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." We are, therefore, entitled to look at the examples of wicked men, the examples of good men, and to draw inferences bearing upon the whole system of things from what they have seen and been and done. It is something to know that we have maintained our integrity, and yet may have been seized by great temptations, and be subjected to intolerable trials. Such is the mystery of human life "so abject, so august"; so like a tragedy; sometimes fraying itself down into comical associations and relations: still, a wondrous life; its very pain signifying its dignity, its very ambition testifying to its immortality.
So Job lived in a universe that was large, secure, well-governed, and a universe that would consummate itself in goodness. Job has said to us so far in his colloquy for we have confined ourselves to one point The universe is a roomy place, and is not measured by any one man's estate; it is larger than any one man has yet reckoned, and is well-built; its pillars are firm. There is a spirit of righteousness running through all the universe, a spirit of judgment, a spirit of pure criticism that cannot be deceived, and that will not rest until all things fall into massive harmony, or stand up in speckless beauty and purity. Job thus became more and more contented with the world, and being contented with that, it was easy to descend into the little details of his own life. Why not reason so? The argument à fortiori may begin at one of two opposite points; we may reason upward from the little and the known to the unknown, and be pressed with all logical strength to conclusions that seem to baffle us; or we may come from the other end and say, The sky is so secure that probably the roof built over my head by God, which I cannot see, is quite as secure: the laws of nature, so called, whatever they may be, are firm, beneficent, inexorable, and yet not wanting in a kind of weird compassionateness: it may be, therefore, that there are other laws, within those of nature gracious, tender, redeeming, dealing with sin, and dealing with every mystery that makes life sad. So the very heavens may help us, and the strong earth may minister to our spiritual security. It is something to live in a society about whose security we have no doubt. It is something to know that there is a court of law in which justice will be done, whoever falls. This is the comfort of every citizen. Once let there be a doubt about this, and citizenship is fraught with peril and distrust. But in a well-ordered community there is this central feeling: justice will be done; whatever the controversy is, it will be settled in the long run fairly and equitably; criticism will be brought to bear, and learning, and righteousness, and all that dignifies human life, and the issue in this commonwealth will be justice to rich and poor, to strong and helpless. It is surely something to know this about a mere social state. Amplify and spiritualise the argument, and it becomes this: all things are done in righteousness: God sitteth upon the throne: nothing escapes His attention: all things work together for good to them that love God: there is a spirit of redemption in the universe, as well as a spirit of righteousness. The Judge of the whole earth will do right. Time is not reckoned by today, or tomorrow, or the third day: God keeps the time, and when he says, "It is finished," we shall answer, "It is well."
Man Desiring God
God comes only into the heart that wants him. Every man keeps the key of the door of his own heart, but God will not wrench that key from his hand. The Almighty has great power, but he never uses it to break down the will of man, and say, "You shall love me, in spite of your own will and prejudice." All that God though he be clothed with omnipotence and have at his girdle the keys of all worlds says is, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and will open the door, I will come in to him." God does not force his way into the human heart, saying, "I have made the heart and I will reign in it, and subdue your will to mine, so that you shall have me as God, whether you will or not." He is God in the heavens above and in the earth beneath, and he gives to none the glory of his name; yet it is in the power of the obscurest man that breathes to shut God out of his heart and to say, "I will not have the Holy One to reign over me."
Everything depends upon the tone and purpose of the heart. Do we really, with the whole heart, desire to find God, and give ourselves wholly into his hands? That is our starting point. If any man, really and truly, with all the desire of the soul, longs to find God, there is no reason why he should not be found. How is it with our hearts? Do they go out but partially after God? Then they will see little or nothing of him. Do they go out with all the stress of their affection, all the passion of their love, do they make this their one object and all-consuming purpose? Then God will be found of them; and man and his Maker shall see one another, as it were, face to face, and new life shall begin in the human soul. But except a man desire with his whole heart and strength to find God, no promise is given in the living word that God will be found. It is possible to desire God under the impulse of merely selfish fear, but such desire after God seldom ends in any good. It is true that fear is an element in every useful ministry. We would not, for one moment, undervalue the importance of fear in certain conditions of the human mind. At the same time, it is distinctly taught in the Holy Book that men may, at certain times, under the influence of fear, seek God, and God will turn his back upon them, will shut his ears when they cry, and will not listen to the voice of their appeal. Nothing can be more distinctly revealed than this awful doctrine, that God comes to men within certain seasons and opportunities, that he lays down given conditions of approach, that he even fixes times and periods, and that the day will come when he will say, "I will send a famine upon the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." When men are in great physical pain, when pestilence is in the air, killing its thousands week by week, when wheat-fields are turned into graveyards, when God's judgments are abroad in the earth, there be many who turn their ashen faces to the heavens! What if God will not hear their cowardly prayer? When God lifts his sword, there be many that say, "We would flee from this judgment." And when he comes in the last, grand, terrible development of his personality, many will cry unto the rocks, and unto the hills to hide them from his face; but the rocks and the hills will hear them not, for they will be deaf at the bidding of God! We wish to make this dark side of the question very plain indeed; because there are persons who imagine, that they may put off the greatest considerations of life until times of sickness, and times of withdrawment from business, and times of plague, and seasons that seem to appeal more pathetically than others to their religious nature. God has distinctly said, "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind: Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer." Let no man rest under the impression that he can call upon God at any time and under any circumstances, for there is a black mark at a certain part of your life; up to that you may seek God and find him, beyond it you may cry, and hear nothing but the echo of your own voice! How then does it stand with us in this matter of desire? Is our desire after God living, loving, intense, complete? That desire itself is prayer; and the very experience of that longing brings heaven into the soul!
Let us now turn from this sombre part of the subject. Yet if I had not declared this, some soul might have spoken to me some day, bitterly and keenly. If I had allowed any man to escape until I had told him this, with piercing accents, might he not by-and-by have turned round upon me and said, "You did not tell me about times and seasons; you left me under the impression that I could put this thing off until the latest hour of my life, and just when I was drawing up my feet to die, I might pray, and I should be taken into heaven"? No man can charge the preacher thus. There is a period, there is a day of mercy; and "the sun of mercy once set, shall rise no more!" Whatsoever, therefore, our hand findeth to do, let us do it with our might. We must work while it is called day, for the night cometh when no man can work. We speak these words with the solemnity of the heart, and the pathos of a man who is trembling upon the brink of eternity himself; and if any man take them in a flippant spirit, the iniquity be upon his own head, the wickedness he perpetrates shall come down upon his own heart!
This desire on our part is in answer to the desire of God. There is more or less of mystery about this part of the question. Still it is a mystery we are capable of grappling with, in all the practical bearings of the case at least. The desire after God does not begin on our part. God has not hidden himself from man for the purpose that he might allow his creature, his lost child, to cry after him. We love God because he first loved us. If we desire God it is because God first desired us. God asks for our heart as his tabernacle; he surrounds us night and day with ender, pathetic appeals; he says, "If any man love me, I will come in, and make my abode in his heart." He plies us, as mother never plied her prodigal child to come home again; and there is not one word of grace, or pathos, or tender entreaty, which he has withheld from his argument, if haply he might find his way with our glad consent, into our heart of hearts. Do we desire God? Then it is because God first desired us. Do we feel kindlings of love towards him? Our love is of yesterday; God's love comes up from unbeginning time, and goes on to unending eternity! There is nothing in his teaching that is likely to feed the self-sufficiency of men, or to put men into a false position, or to degrade the sovereignty and wondrous grace of God. For there is nothing at all in our hearts that is good and true and tender, that is not inspired by God the Holy Ghost!
Do we really desire to find God, to know him, and to love him? If so, that desire is the beginning of the new birth; that longing is the pledge that our prayers shall be accomplished in the largest, greatest blessing that the living God can bestow upon us. Still it may be important to go a little further into this, and examine what our object is in truly desiring to find God. It may be possible that even here our motive may be mixed; and if there is the least alloy in our motive, that alloy will tell against us. The desire must be pure. There must be no admixture of vanity or self-sufficiency; it must be a desire of true, simple, undivided love. Now, how is it with the desire which we at this moment may be presumed to experience? What is our object in desiring to find God? Is it to gratify intellectual vanity? That is possible. It is quite conceivable that a man of a certain type and cast of mind may very zealously pursue theological questions without being truly, profoundly religious. It is one thing to have an interest in scientific theology, and another thing really and lovingly to desire God for religious purposes. It is possible, to take an interest in the human frame, to be an ardent student of physiology, and yet not to have one spark of benevolence towards humanity, individual or social, in the heart. Is it not perfectly conceivable that a man shall take delight in dissecting the human frame, that he may find out and understand its structure; and yet do so without any intention ever to heal the sick, or feed the hungry, or clothe the naked? Some men seem to be born with a desire to anatomise; they like to dissect, to find out the secret of the human frame, to understand its structure and the interdependence of its several parts. So far we rejoice in their perseverance and their discoveries. But it is perfectly possible for such men to care for anatomy, without caring for philanthropy; to care about anatomy, from a scientific point of view, without any ulterior desire to benefit any living creature. So it is perfectly conceivable that a man may make the study of God a kind of intellectual hobby, without his heart being stirred by deep religious concern to know God as the Father, Saviour, Sanctifier, Sovereign of the human race. We therefore do not make any apology for putting this question so penetratingly. It is a vital question. Do you seek to know more of God simply as a scientific theological enquirer? Why do you desire to know God? Is it to solve the problem of rulership and sovereignty? It is very possible that men may put to themselves such a task as this: "We have heard a great deal from men of science about cause and effect; the law of continuity and the law of succession. Now I intend to find out whether it is a law a dead law that is behind all this phenomena, or whether it is a living being." A man may start out on his journey after God with a purpose like that, and the probability is he will not find the God of the heart, the God of grace, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why then do you desire to find out God? Is it to be delivered from some immediate difficulty? Some of us become very religious in proportion as our difficulties increase around us. We say that if God would only deliver us out of this perplexity, we should surely begin to pray unto him, and love him and serve him. When we are weak, when we are in pain, when days are long and nights are wearisome, because of some oppressive disease or affliction, then we say, "If God would raise me up from this bed of affliction, I know I should give the remainder of my days to him." Is it in this spirit that we are seeking God, and desiring the Living One? Is there some great shadow lying over tomorrow? Are we almost afraid of Monday morning coming, because the pressure of great difficulty will be felt by us in our family relationships, or in our business responsibilities; and are we now saying, "If God would lift me over this great wall, on the other side I should fall down before him and pray, and nevermore would I leave his feet"? Are we quite sure that we mean what we say under such circumstances? We have experience to guide us upon this matter; we have observation to consult upon this case. There are many men who can plead guilty to the charge, that in certain crises, they professed and vowed that if God would deliver them they would be religious ever after, and they can also confess how far it is possible to desire God in that way and to be false to the solemn vows spoken in the most critical hours. What does your experience say upon this matter? You know how ill you were, you know when the physicians shook their heads and said they could do no more for you, when you family gathered around you, and were about to bid you farewell, you said in your heart, "If I could but be raised up again, I should be a new man, and have a desire after better things. If God would but spare me and recover my strength, I know I should be a good man." You said that, and you were raised up again. How long did the vow keep you under its discipline? How long did that pledge, extorted in such pain, rule your life and control your purpose? A day? Yes. A week? Perhaps. A year? No! Where are you now? Perhaps farther off than ever; because slighted mercies mean harder hearts, neglected opportunities mean blinder eyes. How is it with you now? We repeat, that it is possible for a man to be desiring God because he is under the pressure of some peculiar difficulty and obligation, and his desire simply means this: If God would deliver me I think I would serve him, but all the probabilities are, that as soon as I enjoy the blessing I should forget my vow. Is the ground now tolerably clear of difficulties? Have we said sufficient about the danger of merely selfish fear and cowardly concern in this matter of seeking after God? Have we shown with sufficient suggestiveness that it is possible to seek after God from an intellectual point of view, and to care little or nothing about him religiously? That it is possible to seek out rulership and sovereignty, without going in quest of Fatherhood and redemptiveness? Is it clear to us by experience, as well as by exposition, that many a man, made a coward by affliction, has sought to make himself a saint through cowardice, and has turned out to be an arrant liar or a horrible hypocrite? If so, we may advance to our third enquiry, How then may I seek God so that I may find him religiously and know him as he is in his heart, and feel the redeeming grace and power of which I hear much in the gospel of his Son? We will answer that enquiry with a full, glad heart.
We are to seek God as men who know there is no other help for us. If there be the least distraction of feeling or affection on our part as to this point, we cannot find God! If we suppose that God is to be found in any other way than that in which he himself has revealed, all our enquiry will end in the bitterest disappointment. If we think that God is one among many, that there be many solaces and many sources of strength in human life, and that God is but one of them, even the chief of them, he will not show the lustre of his face, or the grace of his heart to us. We must come to him as men who can say, "We have tried every other source of strength and consolation, and behold, they are broken cisterns that can hold no water. We have consulted other physicians; we have spent all we have upon them, and have become worse rather than better; now we come to thee, God of salvation, God of grace, that we may find healing and recovery." How is it with us at this point? Have you still some lingering feeling that there is a complement to religion, a supplement to it, something that is required to round it off and make it complete? Then do not be surprised that you do not find God, and do not know him, in the truly Christian sense of the term. No man can know God, until his heart has been emptied of every desire but a desire after Christ; and of every conviction but a conviction that God alone can meet faith in himself by the life that is eternal. See the poor woman in the crowd, who has spent all her living on seeking health, and has spent that living in vain. She comes behind the Great Teacher, in the crowd secretly, saying, "If I may but touch the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole." She had tried every other resource, gone to every professed healer, had been filled with disappointment, and she was about to give up in despair; and in that critical hour of her experience, she touched the Saviour and was healed. It must be literally so with us. We must shut every other book, turn from every other teacher, forsake every broken cistern and every shallow fountain, and come to God and say, "We find life nowhere else; can we find it in thee, thou living One?" When a man is shut up to this course, pressed down to this point, and goes in quest of God in this spirit, he will return from his investigation filled with the grace and love of God, and made bright and joyous with the hope of the gospel. If we would really and truly find God, we must go to him as men who have lost all right of standing before him. No man is allowed to stand before God on equal terms. No sinner is permitted to go to God and say, "I come with a case, part of which I can meet myself; I wish to discuss this thing in thy hearing, and take thy counsel upon it." That is not religious language. That is the language of pride, it is the language of self-sufficiency, it is the language of sin. How, then, are we to go? Not as the Pharisee went. The Pharisee went to the temple, but he found no justification there. He went to the right place, but he went in the wrong spirit. He prayed, but his prayer was rather to himself than to God. It was an exhibition of himself in set, stiff, religious language; a prayer, in the true sense of the term, it was not, and it never entered heaven. How then are we to go? As the publican went He went and lifted not up so much as his eyes unto heaven; he smote upon his breast; he condemned himself; he had no status in the house of God; he had no right to be there. But he came on the ground of mercy; and his beautiful prayer which a child might store in its young heart, and the most ignorant might learn in a moment was this: "God be merciful to me a sinner!" That man went from the temple to his house justified, forgiven, pardoned. If he he had stood upon one speck of his own right; if he had laid but a finger-tip upon any one virtue he had ever exhibited; if he had said, "I make this the ground of my claim, I put this in as a right and title to thy consideration," God would not have regarded his prayer. But self-renouncing, self-distrusting, hungering and thirsting after mercy and righteousness, God heard his cry, and he left the temple without the burden he took to the holy place.
It is thus we must desire God; as the one object of life's hope, as the one life without which we cannot live, as the one grace and comfort without which the heart would perish. We may put it into what words we please; select our own phraseology, but it comes to this, that except we renounce every other help, and renounce the conviction that we can do anything of ourselves on the ground of righteousness, we never can find God as the Redeemer and Saviour of our souls. What then is wanted? This: that we should now empty ourselves of everything that is of the nature of self-flattery; that we should view our own resources with contemptuous self-distrust, and look upon our own life with hatred and abhorrence, and then say, "Oh that I knew where I might find him!" We should open our eyes after that prayer and see God! Where? At the cross? Yes. But why at the cross? Because on it! It is God that is on the cross; it is God that dies for the sinner; it is God that brings our peace by righteousness, purity by holiness. We shall see them there, and the sight will be to us the beginning and the pledge of heaven.
But what is that exercise of the heart or of the mind by which we lay hold of religious things, livingly and with advantage, so that we derive from them strength and comfort and hope? It is a religious word. It is a word of one syllable. The youngest may remember it. It is faith. We are saved by faith. It is trust; it is the casting of the heart upon these things, and living according to them; the life coming out of faith being nothing in itself, but as it comes out of that divine eternal root, faith in the Son of God. Jesus always insisted upon having faith. When the very poorest man came up to him, he said, "Dost thou believe?" When the man wanted his withered hand healed, he said, "Dost thou believe?" When the leper came to him, he said, "Dost thou believe?" He never said, "Dost thou fear?" but always said. "Hast thou faith?" He never said, "Hast thou dread of God?" He never said, "Art thou so afraid of God's power that thou desirest to run away from it and hide thyself?" He always put one question he never changed his question "Hast thou faith; dost thou believe; is it thine heart's desire that this should be done unto thee?" In some places he could not do many mighty works because of the unbelief of the people. The question then comes to be this: Have we faith? We can only receive God through the medium of our belief. God enters our heart, because we open the door of our trust He does not come to us with difficult propositions and hard questions, and set us perplexing and baffling tasks. He says to the heart, "Art thou broken?" He says to the desire, "Art thou complete?" He says to our faith, "Dost thou rest on me?" And in so far as we can say, "Yes, Lord," he will give us the blessing we need, and dwell in the heart that is prepared for him! Men find God in different ways. Some find him in great pain and affliction; and others never would have found him but for fire and loss and death and desolation! Others have been drawn to him by the kind ministry of loving parents, or brothers, or sisters. There is an infinite variety in the details, but there is no variety in the principle. We must desire God with a true heart, with an unmixed love, and then he will come to us and be our God.
It is possible to resist all appeals. I am not so sanguine as to imagine that any appeal of mine, or any other man's, is irresistible, if so be you set your mind to resist it. A man may put his fingers into his ears and resolutely say, "I will not hear this." Or he may listen with his ears, and stop the hearing of his heart, and say, "Not a word of this shall sink into my being." It is perfectly possible for a man to answer arguments, and to bandy objections, and to criticise positions, and yet know nothing of the reality and sweetness of the gospel and grace of God. Do you really desire God to dwell in your hearts? That desire is prayer. Do you say, I wish I knew how to pray? The desire of your heart is the best prayer; it is the only true prayer. You may not be able to utter a word, or if you do utter words, you may stumble and blunder in every sentence; but God looks at the desire of the heart and the purpose of the soul; and the sighing of the wounded and the contrite brings him from his hiding-place, and to the trouble of the heart he extends his strength.
To the Christian let me say: No man can find out God unto perfection. You will not suppose that you have concluded your studies of the divine nature. In proportion as you are really religious, you will be the first to resent the suggestion that you have done more than just begun your studies of the divine Person, the divine law, and the divine grace. Let the word of God dwell in you richly. But some may need an exhortation: those who once did desire to know God, and who once professed to have found him, and who united themselves with the children of God, and made open profession of the gospel of Christ. Where are they now? They began enthusiastically; there was emphasis in their early testimony; there was holy boldness in their early declarations and first efforts in Christian service. Where are they now? "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings, I will receive you graciously and love you freely!" That is God's word to the backslider. Knowing the power of temptation, and by how many ways the devil may come into one's soul and steal the good seed, and harden the opening heart, and destroy religious impressions, and quench and stifle aspiration, we send after you the cry of the Living One, whom you have deserted, "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings!" Come to us again. Be not ashamed to excess; be ashamed of your sin, but do not let your shame destroy any hope that is in you, or any good desire that stirs your heart. Do not let the shame that you ought to feel kill you! Feel ashamed burn with shame; feel agony of contrition; put your head in the dust. Come amongst the people of God again, owning your sin, your evil behaviour, and, knowing what you have done, you will walk the more softly and cautiously in years to come. Do not be criticising the finger that points the road, and forget to take the journey. Do not say to the fingerpost, "You should have been higher and broader," Go the road! That is what you have to do. The devil could have no greater joy a grim and terrible joy is his than to find you quarrelling with the guide, quarrelling with the index finger and not walking one step of the road. Rise, thy Father calleth thee! Go to him and say, "Father, I have sinned before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." And, ere thou hast gone so far, he will lock thee in his heart, he will give thee home in his love!