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Wherefore, Job, I pray thee, hear my speeches.
Personal applications of truth
Here is the great failure in the case of the three friends and Elihu: they speak broad generalities; they are sure the doctrine is right. With these, as mere utterances, we have no fault to find; but where was the wisdom which could apply the doctrine to the individual case? Where the holy skill that could touch the wound without aggravating it? Where that learned and eloquent tongue that could speak a word in season to him that is weary, and speak as if he were singing? Who could utter himself without making any noise; who could declare a judgment without perpetrating a violence? Such condolence is the very balm of heaven, but such comfort was never associated with bald generalities, rough, vague statements of truths, however profound; such condolence, such solace, can only be applied out of the heart that has itself become rich in experience, and learned through many a long school day to suffer and be strong. Common places, however profound and beautiful, cannot touch the agony of life. By “common places” is here meant statements which may for their truthfulness pass without challenge; they have become amongst the established truths of the world; they are accepted; the Church listens to them as to falling rain; they excite no surprise; they come and operate as by a gracious necessity. But what we want is particular application, study of every individual case; each heart has its own history, each spirit knows its own want. So, in listening to great broad declarations from the pulpit, we must each receive these declarations according to our individual need: they cease to be merely general when they become definitely and personally applied. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The Spirit of God hath made me.
On the general dispensation of the Holy Spirit with respect to the new creation
The Holy Spirit completed the work of creation in all its parts. With respect to the new creation, the work is threefold.
I. His rich and copious influences and operations. The dispensation of the Spirit with respect to the new creation may be considered as follows:--
1. The plentiful effusion of the Spirit’s influences.
2. The ministry of the Spirit, in the Gospel, is called the ministry of the Spirit by way of eminence.
3. In the Gospel the Spirit is promised to all ranks and degrees of men.
4. Our Lord teaches all His disciples to pray for the Spirit (Luke 11:13).
5. The chief comfort which our Lord left to His disciples at His departure was the Spirit.
II. The work of the Spirit with respect to the human nature of Christ, the head of the new creation.
1. Spirit miraculously formed our Lord’s human nature, soul and body, in the womb of the Virgin.
2. He filled the human nature of our Lord with holiness; He sanctifies the new nature of the believer.
3. He carried on the progressive work of grace in our Lord’s soul and body; He carries on the sanctification of the believer unto perfection.
4. He anointed our Lord with all extraordinary powers necessary for the discharge of His offices; He anoints the believer for the discharge of every duty
5. He enabled our Lord to work miracles. He enables the believer to conquer sin and Satan: and are not these great miracles?
6. He directed and comforted our Lord in all His troubles. He directs and comforts believers in all their troubles.
7. He enabled our Lord to offer Himself without spot to God. He enables the believer to meet death in peace and purity.
8. He preserved our Lord’s dead body that it saw no corruption. He will gather the remains of the believer’s body, wherever they are.
9. He raised our Lord from the dead. He will raise the believer at the last day.
10. He glorified our Lord’s human nature. He will glorify the believer, when raised from the tomb.
II. He has borne witness concerning our Lord ever since He raised Him from the dead. He will write the name of the believer in the Book of Life.
III. The work of the Spirit upon the members of Christ’s mystical body. (J. Kidd, D. D.)
The breath of the Almighty hath given me life.--
The value of life
There are two conflicting theories of the origin of man. One brings him upward from the brute, the other downward from God.
1. Life, in its origin, is infinitely important. The birth of a babe is a mighty event. The Scandinavians have a very impressive allegory of human life. They represent it as a tree, the “Igdrasil,” or tree of existence, whose roots grow deep down in the soil of mystery; the trunk reaches above the clouds; its branches spread out over the globe. At the foot of it sit the past, present, and future, watering the roots. Its boughs, with their unleafing, spread out through all lands and all time; every leaf of the tree is a biography, every fibre a word, a thought, or a deed; its boughs are the histories of nations; the rustle of it is the noise of human existence onwards from of old; it grows amid the howling of the hurricane--it is the great tree of humanity.
2. Human life is transcendently precious from the services it may render to God in the advancement of His glory. Man was not created as a piece of guess work, flung into existence as a waif. There is purpose in the creation of every human being. What is the purpose of life? Man was created to be happy, to be holy! That is the double aim of life--duty first, then happiness as the consequence. The highest style of manhood and womanhood is to be attained by consecration to the Son of God.
3. Life is infinitely valuable from the eternal consequences flowing from it. This world is a solemn vestibule of eternity.
1. How careful we ought to be to husband life.
2. What a stupendous crime wanton war becomes!
3. How short life is, yet infinite in its reach and retribution! What sort of life are you living? (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Behold, I am according to thy wish in God’s stead.
The philosophy of mediation
The words mediation and intercession present fundamentally the same idea--a coming between, to bridge over a gulf, or to avert a stroke. Some being to stand between him and God, and to be the interpreter of God’s dealing with him, and of his thought about God, was what Job’s heart yearned after. The one question which man demands to have answered, as the condition of his peace, is this--Is there any being, having prevailing power with God, who can be touched as a brother with the feeling of our infirmities, and who can bear the feeling of our infirmities with him in all his transactions with God on our behalf? Intercession rests on the fact that there is a complete humanity in God. There is already the human within the orb of the Divine nature. The thought of the creature acting upon God except through a Mediator who is God, destroys that which is most essential in the idea of God. We talk of the love of God in Christ as though it were born when Christ took on Himself the burden of our sins and cares. He but drew forth and revealed, so that every eye could see it, that which had been there from all eternity. Here is the true deep ground of all intercession. We have not to create anything, we have not to change anything, we have but to draw forth what is already waiting to be drawn forth from the Divine heart. Then what need is there of the Mediator? There was a Divine necessity that God should be self-revealed as the Mediator, that this God-like form of God should take shape and appear in our world. Creation is the Divine thought clothing itself in visible form; and it comes forth into form because to give Himself forth is the most God-like act of God. But there were depths in the Divine nature, secret things of the Divine counsels, which no material creation was full enough or rich enough to draw forth into expression. In the Mediator we see the infinite riches of grace and mercy, compassion and tenderness, which had else remained pent-up within God’s heart. What must be the form of the Mediator to fulfil the conditions, and to satisfy, not the longings of the human heart only, but the necessities of the human life?
1. According to our wish in God’s stead. God only can stand in the stead of God. There is that absolute difference between God and every creature, that the only being who can make known God is God Himself.
2. “I also,” says Elihu, laying down the conditions of a Mediator’s nature and work, “am formed out of the clay.” Is there one who knows both,--the things of God and the things of a man, by interior knowledge, in whom the two experiences meet? Yes, is the answer of revelation. There is one God: there can be but one God-man. The Word made flesh. Receiving Him as our Mediator who is able to stand in the stead of God, and yet wears the form of clay by our side, we see--
1. That He is our peace.
2. He is here to explain and to justify our discipline.
3. He is here to fulfil our largest and loftiest hope.
He is made like unto us on earth, that we may be made like unto Him in heaven, that we may behold His glory, and, beholding, share. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
God’s dealings with man
Turn attention first on those operations of the Holy Ghost through which, as we believe, God acts on man, urging him to righteousness, and warning him against iniquity. There is much of mystery around these operations; we recognise them by their effects. These operations are not only hidden from others, they are hidden from the very party himself, within whose breast they are making themselves felt. The operations of the Spirit are not to be altogether separated from the actings of one’s own mind. If it can be shown that in acting on us through the operations of His Spirit, God makes use of a created instrumentality, there would be little difficulty in proving, from this very circumstance, that He deals with us in tenderness and compassion There have been many who have supposed that Elihu is none other than the Redeemer Himself; but without supposing this, it cannot be denied that the language of our text would be wondrously appropriate on the lips of the Mediator, and, indeed, that in the largest significance it cannot be justly used by any other. It is of great importance to assign its just worth to each part of the scheme of redemption, in order not to dwell upon anyone to the comparative forgetfulness of any other. That the Mediator died for us is not the whole of the Gospel: that He ever lives for us is to the full as important an announcement. Elihu certainly assumes the character of a messenger sent from God, and under this character there is much that is emphatic and interesting in his words. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
God is greater than man.
Why dost thou strive with Him?
Man’s contentions, with God
The mysterious meeting place of the Divine and human wills. Unknown by us and undiscoverable. Both wills are operative, and can only be reconciled by filial acquiescence. Man has two prerogatives to choose, and to complain. Our complainings rebuked.
I. The nature of man’s contentions with God.
1. Man complains of his lot. The inevitable taken stoically. The inevitable kicked against. The Israelites murmured in the desert. A crook in every lot.
2. Men strive against the commandments of God. God speaks not only by circumstances, but by His Word. Yet men complain. Another law within them. The commandments are not adapted to human life. Religion too theoretical. Not fitted for tried and tempted man. In business, the shop window lies when man admires the truth. A low moral tone induced in society. Slippery ways fashionable. God’s law politely bowed out of the house and the world, and sometimes the Church.
3. Men contend with the promises of God. Too good to be true. Afraid to appropriate them. Men dare not believe.
II. The folly of resisting God and the consequent wisdom of yielding to him.
1. Such strivings do not advance our best spiritual interests. They do not make us happy. Fret and fume hinder growth. Quietness necessary. The tree strikes root where it is.
2. Such contentions impeach the wisdom of God. Religion is practical. God made man. He knows what is in man. His Son became man. Religious men have been practical men.
3. The success of such contentions would be fatal to us. Such strife not directed against power of God. He could crush us. We have liberty of moral action; but prophecy and revelation to warn us. Our joy and duty to fall into the hands of God. “In all thy ways,” etc. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding.” God is greater than man. In wisdom, goodness, and love. This greatness is communicated to those who trust in Him. (Samuel Pearson, M. A.)
For God speaketh once.
Elihu’s first discourse
Elihu says, God does speak to men in various ways. It is not true that He gives no account of Himself, and of His dealings with men. Two or three of God’s ways Elihu specifies.
1. God quickens men to thought and moral emotion in the silence and slumber of the night; deep religious intuitions and yearnings take form in visions. One method of Divine approach is through the Gate of Dreams. By such solemn visitations God has in all ages “uncovered the ear” of men otherwise deaf to their instructions, and sealed or stamped on their minds the special admonition of which they stood in need; or--for this may be the force of the image--conveyed to them, in this sealed and private way, the confidential hint or warning He wished them to receive.
2. God speaks to men by pain, when he corrects and chastens them through suffering. In expounding this, Elihu certainly has Job in his eye. Is there no hope even for such a sufferer as this? There is no school in which men learn so much, or so fast, as in the school of suffering; there is no experience by which the soul is so purged and chastened as by the experience of pain and loss. The Divine rebuke is as the ploughing up of the hardened and weed-stained soil, that it may bring forth more and better fruit.
3. If even these fail God sends a messenger--man or spirit--to interpret their thoughts and emotions to them. As he describes this third way, it may be that Elihu, who has already generalised the experience of Job and Eliphaz, turns his eye upon himself. For he himself had been moved and taught by God. The deep “conviction” to which he was now giving utterance, was, as he more than once insists, an “inspiration” from above. And this inspiration, this new interpretation of the facts of human life, probably came to him through one of the thousand messengers whom God employs to “show man what is right.” But while he claims a Divine teaching and inspiration for himself, Elihu does not claim to be favoured above his fellows. God’s messengers come to all, and come with the same end in view--to show us what is right, and to pour the light and peace of heaven on our darkened and distracted hearts. Even grave and sober commentators, however, have found in these verses the whole mystery of redemption. In the “angel” of verse 23, they see “the Angel of the presence,” the “Angel Jehovah”; and in the “ransom” of verse 24, “the Sacrifice of the Cross”; and hence they attribute to Elihu at least some “provision” of the “great mystery of godliness.” Such a method of interpretation is, in my judgment, forced and unnatural. (Samuel Cox, D. D.)
Here it is said that God sometimes addresses men without their perceiving it,--not certainly from any want of clearness in the communication, but because they are wanting in reverence. Three ways in which we may believe the Deity to hold communications with His children. One is through the visible world around us; another, by direct communion with the human Spirit; and yet another, by commissioned interpreters of His mind and will.
I. In the works of nature. There can be no direct intercourse of mind with mind. The only way that I can intimate to another what is passing in my mind, is by pointing to some other visible object, which shall represent to him the unseen thought. Language consists of images either naturally suggestive of certain thoughts and emotions, or appropriated to that purpose, which are brought up before us by letters or sounds differing according to the dialect of the country. Since this is the language of nature, we might suppose that God would communicate with His children in this way; and most certainly He does, to a far greater extent than is generally understood. There must be very few who, in looking on the natural world, have not been conscious of strong impressions made upon them at times. We ought then to regard the natural world as a medium of communication.
II. By direct action on the spirit of man. This is reasonable; but it cannot be proved to the satisfaction of anyone who doubts it, for the same reason that we cannot demonstrate any of our sentiments and emotions. Still, this unseen communication of the Spirit of God with our spirits is believed by every religious mind. It is true the measure of such communications cannot be ascertained, nor can they be distinguished, as a rule, from the operation of our own minds. We should extend our faith, and believe this to be common, and in the usual order of providence, and not a mysterious and unusual thing. To those who can see God in all things where His agency is present, the moral world becomes more deeply interesting, more sublime and beautiful, than the visible.. We can look through human nature up to the God of nature.
III. Through the scriptures, written by commissioned interpreters of His mind and will,--particularly those who have recorded the life and character of Jesus Christ. In Him the Divine was blended with the human, so as to present at once the perfection of Divine and human character, giving us a living image of that union which we could not otherwise understand. It may be asked, “Why should God address men again? Is not the voice of nature clear enough?” It was not the defect of God’s previous communications, but the faithlessness of men to their destiny, their worldliness and corruption, which darkened their spiritual vision, and made it necessary to give new light from on high. It was, as the Bible teaches, in concession to human sin, not on account of the want of other original means of light, that the Christian revelation was made. It is not everyone who understands how God communicates with us through the Scriptures. It is not by the letter alone. To this must be added the suggestions which they give, the trains of thought which they awaken. The direct information which the words convey to us, seems to be of little worth compared with the life-giving power of the Spirit which works through the Word. (W. B. O. Peabody.)
In a dream.
A hard case
How persevering is Divine love. God has voices which He uses in such a way that men must and shall hear.
I. So, then, first, let us begin with what is a very humbling consideration, namely, that man is very hard to influence for good. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” According to the text, before God Himself can save men, He has to open their ears: “Then He openeth the ears of men.” Towards God, men’s ears are often stopped. Original sin engenders in men great carelessness about Divine things. How quickly they are aroused by talk about politics! Their ears are stopped by carelessness. Often, too, there is another form of stopping, which is very hard to get out of the ear; that is, worldliness. “I am too busy to attend to religion!” In some cases the ear is stopped by prejudice. It would be a foolish thing for a man to prejudice himself into rags and beggary; but it is far worse when a man prejudices himself out of life eternal into everlasting woe. With a great many more the ear seems to be doubly sealed up by unbelief. They will not believe that which God Himself has spoken. It may also be stopped by self-sufficiency; when a man has enough in himself to satisfy him, he wants nothing of Christ. Then there is another difficulty. If we get through the ear, and the man is influenced to listen, his heart does not retain that which is good, he so soon forgets it. Hence the text says of the Lord, “He openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction.” Ah! we think the child, the man, the woman, has learned that truth at last; but it is much as if we had written it on a blackboard, it is soon wiped out. How shall men be saved? We cannot impress them; or, if we do impress them, how often it ends in nothing! Another difficulty must be noticed: that is, the purpose of so many men; indeed, the secret purpose of all men; and from this purpose men have to be withdrawn. The purpose of most men is to seek after happiness, and their notion is that they will find it by having their own way. Ay, and there is one thing more which is, perhaps, the greatest barrier of all. It is not merely their deafness of ear, and their unretentiveness of spirit, and their resoluteness of purpose; but it is their pride of heart. Oh, this is like adamant; where shall we find the diamond that can cut a thing so hard as man’s pride? God save us from that sin! It needs God to do so, for only He can “hide pride from man.”
II. Now, secondly, though man is hard to influence, God knows how to come at him, and He does it in many ways. According to the text, He sometimes does it “in a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men in slumberings upon the bed.” I have no doubt that many, many times, men’s sleeping thoughts have been the beginnings of better things for them. You see, reason holds the helm of the vessel when we are awake, and as a consequence it keeps conscience down in the hold, and will not let him speak; but in our dreams, reason has quitted the helm, and then, sometimes, conscience comes up, and in his own wild way he begins to sound such an alarm that the man starts up in the night. Did you ever notice how God aroused Nebuchadnezzar, that greatest man, perhaps, of his age? Why, in a dream! God gets at other men in a different way, namely, by affliction, or by the death of others. So have I known men aroused by strange providences. If God does not come at men by strange providences, how often He does it by singular words from the preacher! Then God has a way of coming to men’s hearts by personal visitations, without dream, without speech, without voice.
III. When God does get at men He accomplishes great purposes. His purpose is, first, to withdraw man from his own purpose. “That He may withdraw man from his purpose.” Sometimes a man has proposed at a certain moment to commit a sin, and God stops him from doing it. He also withdraws men from their general purpose of continuing in sin. I find the translation may be, that God withdraweth man from his work, from that which has been his life work; from the whole run and tenor of his conversation, God withdraws him. A man goes out after having received the Word of the Lord, and he is a different man from that hour. Then what else does God do? He hides pride from man. That is a very strange expression, certainly, to “hide pride from man.” Did none of you ever hide away a knife from a child? Have you never hidden away fruit from your little children when they have had enough, and they would have eaten more if they could find it? God often hides pride from men because, if man can find anything to be proud of, he will be. Then lastly, He thus secures man’s salvation from destruction. “He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.” How wonderfully has God kept some of us back from what would have been our destruction if we had gone on! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Dreams-their philosophy and use
All dream, and each knows what a dream is better than he can be told.
I. Their philosophy.
1. What originates a dream? Probably it has more causes than one, and different kinds of dreams have different causes. The cause of some may be found in the state of body at the time. The cause of others may be found in something that has made more than ordinary impression on the mind. “A dream,” says the wise man, “cometh from a multitude of business.”
2. Why do thoughts take such grotesque forms in dreams? The reason may be this,--the mind in sleep is left uncontrolled by the will. If the thought is of an unnatural kind, it will go on producing the unnatural and the monstrous. In dreams the mind is like a vessel without a rudder. The laws of association heave her about in all directions.
II. Their uses.
1. They serve to throw some light on our spiritual constitution.
(1) They show the soul’s power for involuntary action; action in which the will is not concerned. There are two kinds of involuntary action. In obvious peril, we involuntarily seek safety. In the presence of axiomatical truths we involuntarily believe; in the view of the truly beautiful, we involuntarily admire and love. There is an involuntary action that is wrong. It arises from a thorough infirmity of the will, through the indulgence of the passions, and long habits of sin.
(2) The soul’s power for vivid realisation. In dreams the spirit sees the objects with all the vividness of reality. When awake, we see outward objects through our sensations; but the objects which come to us in dreams we see directly face to face.
(3) The soul’s power of rapid movement.
(4) The soul’s power of uncorporeal action.
(5) The soul’s power of moral character.
2. They are sometimes the organs of Divine communication. The subject teaches that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Homilist.)
He is chastened also with pain upon his bed.
Two chapters in the hook of human life are hard to understand--the prosperity of the wicked, and the afflictions of the righteous. The Book of Job is a luminous commentary on both. Carefully studied, these verses furnish a chain of reason which will make clear to reverent minds the source and meaning of earthly affliction.
I. The Lord Jehovah is a sovereign (verse 13). “He giveth not account of any of His matters.” It is from this point that the problem of human evil in all its forms must begin to be solved. And if our inquiries should end where they begin, with the absolute sovereignty of God, there would be no just ground of complaint. God has all power and right in His own universe. He is not bound to justify any single act of His to human reason. The first treatment of all affliction, is to give it welcome. It is the uttered will of God. It is to be taken without any reason, not because there is none, but because we have no right to be shown it. But while God is a sovereign, and does His pleasure, it is not His pleasure to afflict men willingly nor hastily, for--
II. He speaks again and again before He strikes (verses 14-18). These verses are a picture of the patience of God in His dealings with men. He will exhaust every form of warning and every tone of voice. When men in their waking hours are dull to the voices of God, then He invades their sleep.
III. Suffering under the government of God is often added to instruction and entreaty (verses 19-22). The discipline of suffering is not confined to any one part of man’s nature. It ranges freely through body, mind, and spirit. It appears in disordered nerves; in the failure of natural desires; or the very sources of health become choked and deranged; with many the joy of living is clouded with the shadow of an ever-present death. All this we recognise as the faithful picture of many a human life, and wonder at it. We call it a mystery; but the mystery ceases when we look at these things from the right angle of vision. Suffering under the government of God is a necessity of Divine benevolence. It is the last device of love. We have to learn that this world is not our real home. Nothing but suffering, in most lives, can work this healthful conviction. It is among the first laws of a successful life that the kingdom of Christ and its righteousness must stand before the kingdom of self and its pride. How do men learn this? The great mass of men are made perfect in this wisdom by means of suffering. They must be bitterly disappointed in their struggle after the lower things before they learn to put the first last and the last first. Failure is the keen knife that pierces their pride.
IV. Earthly afflictions cease when three results are attained when men understand their purpose (verse 23). When men turn to God with prayer (verse 26). And when they repent of their sins (verse 27). Understanding, prayer, penitence,--look at these conditions of relief for a moment. Affliction can do us no good till we bow to its meaning. The ends of all God’s acts are moral ends. As a result of affliction, how natural, as a condition of relief, how indispensable is prayer! The twin grace of prayer is penitence. Neither can survive the other. Neither can exist without the other. These three are the first fruits of sanctified trial. Only the doctrine of Divine providence, ruling the world for moral ends, has ever riven the dark clouds of human suffering, and drawn the blessing of their spring rain upon the hearts of men. (Sermons by Monday Club.)
The mission of sickness
I. The great incidency of human nature to sickness and bodily diseases. The best of men are not exempt from them. This incidency to sickness and bodily diseases is founded partly in the frame of our natures, partly the common accidents of life, but especially the great inlet to all calamity, namely, sin, and our fatal apostasy from God. Then what reasons we have for thankfulness, for every moment’s enjoyment or continuance of health. And as we should be thankful for health, we should be also submissive in sickness.
II. Sickness and bodily diseases have a great deal of instruction in them. It pleases God frequently to inflict them for this very end; that men might thereby be brought to the knowledge of themselves, and their duty towards Him. This may appear--
1. From a consideration of God, who has all along made it plain in the revelations of His Word, that He has that love and goodwill to mankind, He never afflicts them for affliction’s sake.
2. From a consideration of the calamity itself. By diseases and sickness we are taught the absolute vanity and uncertainty of this world, with all the comforts of it; the beauty of all vanisheth before us upon a sick bed. By sickness we gain an easier insight into our own guilt, and all the unreasonable provocations we have given the Almighty, throughout the whole course of our lives. Sometimes the sin is read in the very distemper itself.
III. What an allay to so great a calamity it is to have a messenger or interpreter. Some understand here the ministry of an angel. The value of such a messenger may be seen--
1. In our indisposedness to do anything oft good purpose for ourselves.
2. The great mistakes we are apt to fall into.
3. A mediator is of further advantage, to implore God on our behalf. Learn to live under a wise expectation of such a calamity. Let us not despise at such times the help of God’s ministers. (Nathanael Resbury, D. D.)
The right improvement of sickness and other distress
I. A case of distress supposed. The words lead our thoughts to a very common spectacle--that of a person suffering under pain and dangerous illness, and oppressed at the same time by much darkness and anxiety of mind. These things very frequently go together. “Without are fightings, within are fears.”
II. It will be well to call in a competent adviser. Let him that is grieved with sickness send for his proper spiritual counsellor.
III. The text suggests what, in general, such an adviser will have to do. He must show unto the afflicted person God’s righteousness. In proportion as he shall be able to do this, through Divine grace, he will prove “one of a thousand” to him who is in want of guidance and consolation.
IV. They declare the consequences, through the Divine mercy, if sound counsel be faithfully followed. If the patient has a docile, sincere and childlike disposition of mind, the truth delivered will be blessed to him, and the fruits will show it. (E. Bather, M. A.)
If there be any messenger with him, an interpreter.
How to visit the sick
It is not man’s torment or ruin that God desires, but his reformation and amendment. To this end He speaks to men in dreams. When that will not do, by afflictions. To make those afflictions more intelligible and effectual, He sends a messenger, either an angel, by office, not by nature; or an interpreter--of the mind and will of God. Doctrine--That the seasonable instruction of sick and languishing persons is a work, as of great advantage, so of great skill and difficulty.
I. It is of great advantage. Some are apt to think that sick bed applications are in a manner useless and ineffectual. Observe--
1. That the instruction of sick persons is God’s institution.
2. God’s mercy is proposed by Himself, and may be offered by ministers, even to languishing persons.
3. Sick bed repentance is not wholly impossible, though it be hard. Sickness is one means that God useth to work repentance.
II. It is of great difficulty.
1. It is a work which God hath put into the hands of His chief officers, His ministers, who ought to be the most accomplished persons.
2. It is not every minister who is fit for this work. How ministers or Christian friends may and ought to apply themselves to sick persons for their good, and the discharge of their own consciences.
(1) Endeavour must be used to understand the state of the sick person.
(2) The great business is to bring the sick man to a true sight of his state and condition.
(3) Ministers and others must take heed lest, while they avoid one extreme, they run upon another; which is a common error in practice.
(4) The same methods are not to be used to all sick persons. Regard must be had to difference of tempers; of education and conversation; and of guilt.
(5) It is a very bad guide to follow the counsels or desires of sick persons, or their carnal friends.
(6) The same course (for substance) is to be taken for the conversion of sick and healthful persons.
(7) The greatest care mast be to keep sick persons from those errors whereby such persons commonly miscarry. Such as insensibleness of their danger; willingness to be deluded; carelessness and listlessness; resting in generals; the concealment of some hidden way of wickedness.
(8) Taking heed of healing the souls of sick persons slightly. This we are very apt to, from the sick man’s greedy desire of comfort; from the expectation and desire of carnal friends; from our own careless hearts, that love not to put ourselves to any trouble or reproach, which we shall meet with, if we be faithful to the ease.
1. To ministers. Learn the great difficulty of ministerial work. What angelical abilities doth it require! Acuteness, to discern the sick man’s temper; knowledge, to understand the nature of all spiritual diseases; wisdom, to make suitable applications. A minister had need know all things, understand all persons, discern the subtleties of men’s hearts, and not be ignorant of the wiles of the devil.
2. To people. Is it of such difficulty? Oh, labour you to do your work in health, while time and strength last, before the evil days come. (Matthew Poole, A. M.)
The Gospel preached by Elihu
Though the words of the text are taken out of the oldest book in the Bible, they contain the elements and breathe the spirit of the Gospel. Scarcely less uniform is the experience of God’s people in every age. Consider the words as a Divinely inspired description of the way of salvation intended for the instruction of a true believer then under the deepest afflictions, but equally designed for the edification of those who in these last times are feeling the burden of their sins. We discover six states of the sinner.
1. A state of impending ruin. “His soul draweth near to the grave.”
2. A state of grace. “If there be a messenger with him,” etc.
3. A state of justification. “I have found a ransom.”
4. A state of sanctification. “He shall return to the days of his youth.”
5. A state of peace with God. “He will be favourable unto him.”
6. A state of glory. “He shall see His face with joy.”
The text closes with a brief recurrence to the gracious cause of all this progressive advancement from repentance to glory. (C. A. Hulbert, M. A.)
Footsteps of mercy
I. When God has, in the way of providence, prepared any human heart for a work of grace, one of the first means of blessing the chosen man is to send Him a messenger. I suppose the passage before us may be primarily referred to Christian ministers, who become, through God the Holy Ghost, interpreters to men’s souls. But I prefer to believe, with many expositors, that the full meaning of these words will never be found in ministers of mortal race; we must rather refer it to the Great Messenger of the covenant, the Great Interpreter between God and man, whose presence to the sin-sick soul is a sure prophecy of mercy. Another description that belongs to Him, as I believe, is an interpreter. Jesus Christ is indeed a blessed interpreter. An interpreter must understand two languages. Our Lord Jesus understands the language of God. He knows how to speak with God as the fellow of God, co-equal and co-eternal with Him. He can make out the sighs and cries and tears of a poor sinner, and He can take up the meaning, and interpret them all to God. Moreover, Jesus understands our language, for He is a man like ourselves, touched with a feeling of our infirmities, and smarting under our sicknesses. This messenger, then, this interpreter, is He not “One among a thousand”? O peerless Jesus! who among the sons of the mighty can be compared with Thee?
II. Now, secondly, wherever this Divine messenger comes, according to the text, He reveals God’s uprightness.
III. The third stage is this--“Then He is gracious unto him.” God deals with convinced sinners in a way of grace. Every word here is weighty. “Then He is gracious unto him.” Mark the time--then! God is gracious to a man when, Christ having come to him as a messenger and an interpreter, he is led to discern his own sin and God’s uprightness. The way as well as the time demands your notice. It is through the messenger that God is gracious. Then--that is when the messenger comes. When Jesus interposes then God is gracious.
IV. Let us proceed to the next stage--God delivers the sinner. “He saith, Deliver him from going down into the pit.”
V. The last thing is that God explains to the sinner whom He delivers the reason of his deliverance. “Deliver him from going down into the pit; I have found a ransom.” “I have found a ransom”--a covering. You notice these words, “I have found a ransom.” You do not find it for yourselves. You could not ever have discovered it, much less have brought it into the world. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I have found a ransom.--
The finding of the ransom
These words were from the lips of Elihu, the companion and counsellor of Job. The men of that day had but dim visions of Him that was to come; they had to look through, the type to the antitype; through the symbol to the thing signified. “I have found a ransom.” This indicates in the man who spake it--
I. A knowledge of man’s state. A ransom signifies the price of redemption from captivity. Before we apply for a ransom we must feel that we are involved. Sensibility to our suffering condition is the very foundation work of an appeal to Jesus. Man by nature is in bondage; he is taken captive by Satan at his will.
II. The means of man’s deliverance. “I have found a ransom.” The prisoner finds a ransom--where? In the offers of the worldly-wise? In the counsellings and suggestions of self? Nay; no man ever breathed this assurance until his eyes were fixed on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. To what else could he turn?
III. The acquisition of this knowledge. That is, a knowledge of your own heart in a state of nature, and a knowledge of the ransom that is provided for you in the dispensations of grace. Both the one and the other proceed immediately from the Spirit of God. He convinces of sin, and He alone. “I have found a ransom” implies that the ransom was sought for; and this seeking is a course of humble, diligent, and persevering prayer. (T. J. Judkin, A. M.)
The ransom found
I. Man’s perilous state. He was “going down to the pit.”
1. Man in his fallen and debased condition. Crown fallen from his head; fallen from holiness, dignity, dominion, happiness, etc.; into guilt, depravity, and misery.
2. It denotes man’s passage to the grave. Sin introduced disease and death.
3. It represents our exposedness to the pit of destruction. The tendency of the sinner was towards perdition. His sin had doomed him to it. And sin also was ripening him for it. His steps were downwards towards the gates of perdition, the regions of endless woe. What a dreadful state!
II. Displayed His gracious regards towards him. Now God’s interposition on his behalf must have been altogether gracious.
1. Deity was entirely independent of man. He could easily have blotted out the human race, and have formed creatures every way more worthy of His regards.
2. Man had nothing to interest Jehovah in his welfare. No moral excellency; no reasonable apologies for his crime; no possibility of giving a return.
3. Jehovah had every reason to punish. Justice was injured, holiness insulted, goodness abused, etc., yet mercy prevailed.
III. To the means of deliverance provided. “I have found a ransom.”
1. The source of our deliverance. “I” have found, etc. Man did not find, nor yet angels, but God found a ransom. Oh yes! God alone possessed stores of wisdom sufficient for the great and mighty undertaking.
2. The instrument of our deliverance was a ransom. That ransom was His own Son. “He gave His Son,” “Spared not His own Son,” etc. The price of our ransom was “the precious blood of Christ.”
3. The mode of our ransom. This was done by assuming our nature; obeying the law; dying for sin; overcoming the powers of hell; rising from the grace, etc. (Isaiah 53:4-11; Romans 4:15; Colossians 1:20).
1. What ruin and misery sin has produced.
2. What Divine mercy has provided.
3. What the Saviour’s merits hath procured.
4. The necessity of feeling ourselves personally interested in the blessings of redeeming grace. “He that hath the Son, hath life.”
5. The grateful return we Should render for the loving kindness and redeeming mercy of God. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Deliverance from the pit
Let it never be forgotten that, in all that God does, He acts from good reasons. You observe that the text, speaking of the sick man, represents God as saying, “Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.” If I understand the passage as relating solely to a sick man, and take the words just on the natural common level where some place them, I would still say that the Lord here gives a reason why He suspends the operations of pain and disease, and raises up the sufferer: “I have found a ransom.” There is always a reason for every act of grace which God performs for man. So let each one of us think, “If I have been raised from sickness, if my life, which was almost gone, has been spared, I may not know why God has done it, but certainly He has done it in infinite wisdom and compassion.” There is such a thing as sickness of the soul, which is, in God’s esteem, far worse than disease of the body; and there is such a thing as recovery from soul-sickness.
I. Now, coming to our text, I shall ask you, first, to look with me upon a man in great peril. This is his peril: he is “going down to the pit.” That phrase describes his whole life, going down, down.
1. Notice, first, that this is a daily and common danger. If we are unconverted, if we are unrenewed by Divine grace, every one of us is in danger of going down into the pit of woe.
2. Further, there are some who, of set purpose, are going down to the pit. In this chapter Elihu said of some that God sends sickness to them that He may withdraw them from their purpose.
3. There are some, also, who are going down to the pit through their pride.
4. There are others who feel some present apprehension of coming judgment.
5. If you add to all this the fact that the man, as Elihu describes him, was suffering from a fatal sickness, so that he dreaded the actual nearness of death, you have indeed an unhappy case before you.
II. Now let us notice, in the second place, a new principle in action: “Then He is gracious unto him.” What does that mean?
1. Well, “grace” means, first, free favour.
2. But grace has another meaning in Holy Scripture; it means saving interference, a certain Divine operation by which God works upon the wills and affections of men, so as to change and renew them.
III. This brings me to my third point, which is concerning how this grace operates. It operates by a word of power. This man was going down to the pit, but God said, “Deliver him.” To whom is this command spoken?
1. It appears to be addressed to the messengers of Divine justice.
2. More than that, the man was not only bound by justice, but he was fettered by his sin. His sins held him captive, and they were dragging him down to the pit. There was drunkenness, for instance, which held him as in a vice, so that he could not stir hand or foot to set himself free.
3. I see this same man, in after life, attacked by his old sins.
IV. I finish by noticing that, in this case, God supplies us with His reason for delivering a soul, and it is an argument of love: “Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.” Observe that the text says, “I have found a ransom.”
1. This ransom is an invention of Divine wisdom. I do not think it would ever have occurred to any mind but the mind of God Himself to save sinners by the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. Notice, next, that God has not only invented a way of deliverance, but He has found a ransom
2. So that it is a gift of Divine love: “Deliver him from going down to the pit.” It does not say, “because there is a ransom,” or “I will accept one if he finds it and brings it”; but the Lord Himself says, “I have found a ransom.” It is the man who sinned, but it is God who found the ransom.
3. And is there not something very wonderful in the assurance of this truth? This is God’s “Eureka! I have found a ransom. I did not look for a ransom among the angels, for I knew they were too weak to furnish it. I looked not for it among the sons of men, for I knew it was not to be found there, they were too fallen and guilty. The sea said, ‘It is not in me.’ All creation cried, ‘It is not in me.’” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He shall return to the days of his youth.
The autumn crocus
If the snowdrop may be called the morning star that ushers in the dawn of the floral year, the crocus may be said to be its sunrise. So much is the crocus associated with the showers and the sunbeams of April, that it requires a special mental effort, even when the fact is known, to realise that it also blooms in the fading light and amid the withering foliage of September. There are well-known species of crocus that flower only during the autumnal months. In Switzerland the sandy meadows along the banks of the Alpine streams are covered with myriads of autumn crocuses, whose exquisitely pure and delicate amethystine hue in the glowing sunshine is a feast of colour of which the eye never wearies. Every one is familiar with the pale violet saffron crocus, which blooms according to soil and position from the end of September to the beginning of November. If the yellow spring crocus is the golden sunrise of the floral year, the lilac autumn crocus is its sunset. The autumn crocus is a type of one of the most interesting phenomena of nature and of human life. In many departments there are numerous instances of the recurrence at a later period of something that belongs to an earlier time. The crimson and gold of the sunrise is repeated in the splendour of sunset. The older one grows, the more pathetic does the tender grace of each spring become. So much of what we loved and lost never comes back, that the beauty of the spring touches us like the brightness of a perfect day, when the grave is closing over dear eyes that shall never more behold it. Why should the inferior things of nature return, and those for whose use they were all made, lie unconscious in the dust? The aged live in the springs of the past and their life goes forward to another and brighter spring in the eternal world, of which the springs of earth are only fleeting types and shadows. But though the bright flame of their spring crocus has burnt down to the socket, and only the green monotonous leaves remain behind, is there no re-kindling in the withered plot of their life of the autumn crocus, whose more sober hue befits the sadder character of the season? Yes, man’s life, too, has its Indian summer and its autumn crocus. The season of decay brings to him also reminiscences of the bright season of renewal. Often, where others see only withered leaves, the heart feels the springing of vernal flowers. Job, describing the happiness which he had in former years, and longing for its return, says, “Oh that I were as I was in the days of my youth!” This phrase literally means the vintage season, the time of fruit gathering; and the authorised version, adopting another translation which the phrase also bears, unwittingly expresses the subtle connection between youth and age, the spring and the autumn, the blossoming and the fruit time of life. The true days of Job’s youth was the period when his life became young again through the maturity of his powers, and the consummation of his hopes. It was in the autumn of his life that he enjoyed all those blessings of prosperity whose loss he deplores. The legitimate symbolic use of autumn is as the season of ripeness--fulness of power, not of decay. That there are days and signs of youth in the time of the harvest and vintage of life everyone can testify. The autumn fields are “happy” with the flowers that tell of spring, with the remembrance of days that are no more. True, indeed, the autumn crocus is not the same flower as the spring crocus. It has hues deeper and more intense. It speaks of change and decay. So the joys of our early life, which we recall in late years, are not the same as when they stirred our young blood; we colour them with the deeper and tenderer hues of our own spirit. In the physical sphere of man there are numerous instances of the spring crocus blooming again in the autumn. The cutting of new teeth, and the growth of young hair, in old age, are by no means so infrequent as we might suppose. The eagle’s power of self-renewal has been manifested by many an aged form. In the mental sphere the growth of the autumn crocus is much more common than in the physical, and much more precious and beautiful. How numerous and splendid are the examples of intellect disclosing its fullest powers at the very close of life! As an old man Cute learnt Greek. Goethe was fourscore years old when he completed the second part of Faust. Literary men have often recorded the peculiar delight with which in their later years they have returned to the studies of their youth. The Chinese encourage their students to persevere in their mental pursuits to extreme old age, by bestowing the golden button of the successful candidate upon a man when he is eighty years old, although he has failed in all his previous examinations. But it is in the sphere of the soul that the autumn crocus blooms most beautifully. The rejuvenescence of the soul, the renewal of the spiritual life, may be the experience of all. This youthful victoriousness--the inward man being renewed more and more while the outward man is decaying--is the glory of every true Christian’s old age. Only the fire that comes down from heaven can preserve the youth of the spirit amid all the changes and sorrows of life. Religion really lived keeps the heart always young, always tender. It teaches us that nothing beautiful or good once possessed is wholly lost to us; that there is a deeper truth in the words, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” than even its poet knew. (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)
He looketh upon men.
A penitential spirit
I. Presents to us the extent of the Divine inspection. “He looketh upon men.” God’s omniscience ought to make us adore and tremble. He watches over men’s actions, and there is no darkness or shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves from His eye. He looks upon men universally. He sees them all at one glance, in one view.
II. Unfolds the language of unfeigned repentance. Here God fixes His eyes upon one who says, “I have sinned.” The man who makes a confession like this is far better in the sight of God than he who says he has no sin, and deceives himself. Here is--
1. A confession of having by sin offended against God. Wherever the Spirit of God has begun to work upon the soul, there will be this sense of unworthiness, this conviction of sin.
2. A confession of having abused the best of blessings. “I have perverted that which was right.” That is, Thy holy providence gave me many and peculiar favours, which I employed to a bad purpose, or entirely neglected.
3. A confession of having experienced disappointment in the ways of sin. “I have done all this, and it profiteth me not.” Every penitent can testify that the way of transgressors is hard.
III. Discovers the triumph of retaking grace. This humble penitent who looks to the Redeemer, obtains grace in His sight; for the Lord--
1. prevents his soul from enduring eternal perdition.
2. Raises him to the everlasting enjoyment of Divine illumination. Learn--
(1) The richness of God’s pardoning mercy, extending even to sins of perverseness.
(2) The madness of impenitent sinners; they must be banished to the pit, never to see the light.
(3) The importance of imploring daily a penitential spirit. We sin daily; therefore beg always for mercy. (T. Spencer.)
Three points arising out of the text.
I. The fact that God looketh upon man. This is the doctrine of God’s omniscience. Go wheresoever we may, whether in the crowd or in solitude, we can never escape from the eye of God. He sees the very thoughts of our hearts; He reads the motives from which actions spring. This is a very marvellous truth--it almost baffles our comprehension. The eye of God is not only upon us, it is upon the entire universe. This must be a necessary attribute of God. How should God govern the world if He were not able at one glance to scan the thoughts and actions of all mankind?
II. The character of a true penitent. This includes--
1. The personal consciousness of sin. Sin brought home to the individual, sin acknowledged--sin confessed as a burden resting upon the individual himself; not merely a burden shared in common with others.
2. The absence of all self-excusing. “I have perverted that which was right.” An insincere penitent will always endeavour rather to palliate his fault than otherwise; to extenuate his trespass, The true penitent is rather ready to aggravate than to extenuate the sins of which he is conscious.
3. Hopeless dissatisfaction. “It profiteth me not.” Every transgressor of God must be brought, at one time or another, to exclaim, “It profiteth me not.” Sin always comes with the offer of profit. The temptation to transgress would fall powerless if it were not accompanied with the bribe of some prospective advantage.
III. The blessed effects following true repentance. Two things--
1. Deliverance from condemnation “He will deliver his soul from going into the pit.” This speaks of full and complete forgiveness.
2. Translation to reward. “His life shall see the light.” He shall be translated to everlasting life. (Bishop Boyd Carpenter.)
God looking upon men
Whether God visits with affliction, with adversity, or prosperity, yet all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.
I. He looketh upon man. As a Creator. As the Governor of the world. As a holy Being. As the Judge of men. As a compassionate parent looks upon his family.
II. The penitent man looking up to God.
1. “I have sinned.” This supposes reflection. “I thought on my ways.” This supposes self-abhorrence. “Woe is me, for I am undone.” This supposes godly sorrow, sorrow for sin. I have sinned. My sin has brought misery and evil upon myself, and exposed me to future punishment.
2. “And perverted that which was right.” These words may be considered in reference to the dispensations of providence, whether prosperous or adverse. They are perverted by man. Man perverteth his way as to opinion; as to moral practice; for interest or gain, as well as pleasure.
III. The merciful determination of God in behalf of the penitent. “He will deliver his soul from going down to the pit, and his life shall see the light.” These expressions are sometimes used for deliverance from natural death to life and health. Sometimes these expressions are used figuratively for deliverance from distress, and restoration to happiness. God will hear our cry, and deliver us out of all our troubles. (J. Walker, D. D.)
The penitent pardoned
True repentance begins in conviction, awakens contrition, leads to confession, and ends in conversion. Many encouragements are given to sinners to repent.
I. God sees the conduct of penitent sinners.
1. God looks upon men universally. Our power of vision is limited. God sees all things.
2. God looks upon men individually. No man can hide from God.
II. God hears the confession of penitent sinners. Many have sinned who do not admit their sinfulness; many confess their sins who do not forsake them.
1. The true penitent confesses his sins. The penitent’s confession is full, free, and sincere.
2. The true penitent acknowledges his folly. We have perverted our spiritual blessings.
3. The true penitent admits his disappointment. Sin is a great blunder. There is no satisfaction in sin.
III. God delivers the soul of penitent sinners. God knows the backwardness of the trembling penitent, and seeks to encourage him with the fullest assurance of pardon.
1. God saves the penitent from eternal death.
2. God rewards the penitent with eternal life. (J. T. Woodhouse.)
The penitent’s creed
There is the whole philosophy of penitence in the text.
I. The creed of penitence.
1. An absolute good and evil, right and wrong. There are those in whose sight the burden of a guilty conscience is but a bad form of hypochondria. While the world lasts, the penitent’s creed will express the conviction and reefing of mankind.
2. I have perverted that which is right. This is the second article of the penitent’s confession of faith. No man knows what “I” means, but the man who has felt himself isolated from God by transgression. According to the pantheistic philosophy, there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as sin. Man sins like a sullen dog, or a vicious horse.
3. And it profited me not. “The wages of sin is death.” If any other confession than this of the text were possible for a sinner in the long run, and after full experience of an evil way, it would simply mean that the righteous God had ceased to be the ruler of the world.
II. The confession of penitence. “If any say, I have sinned.” That implies fundamentally that evil is not of God. God has made a being capable of sin, but God has not made sin. Saying to God, “I have sinned,” is essential to complete forgiveness; on what ground of reason does this necessity rest? If a man is convinced, is not that sufficient? God demands confession.
1. Confession alone makes the penitence complete.
2. Confession alone re-establishes that filial relation, without which the penitence can have no lasting fruits,
III. The fruits of confession through the abounding mercy and love of God. The fruits here set forth are two fold. He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. A glory shall gild its path, even through this weary wilderness of discipline. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
Jehovah’s look of love
I. God’s merciful regard to man. “He looketh upon man.” The looking upon man is not of a general kind; it is expressive of that kind, benignant attention which has immediate respect to the welfare of its objects. It is not the scrutinising look of a hard and rigorous taskmaster, who feels a pleasure in finding out a fault; it is the look of a Father, who, though when He sees evil may not and cannot suffer it to pass unnoticed, desires to behold nothing but what is right, and affectionately fixes His eyes upon the least sign of a favourable kind in the conduct of His child.
II. What God expects from man. He looks to discover a humbled, penitent state of heart. All morality, and all that is called religion which is not founded on a sense of guilt, and which does not rise from humiliation for sin, is but a splendid delusion, a mere form, and shadow, and mockery of piety. There must be the full, open, frank acknowledgment of guilt. Confession is the first, proper, natural language of repentance. When your minds are deeply humbled, you will not only confess that you have sinned, but you will feel and acknowledge too that it “profited you not.”
III. The blessings which God imparts to those who comply with this demand. “He will deliver his soul from going down into the pit, and his life shall see the light.” It is not certain Elihu meant more than that humiliation before God would he the means of preserving Job’s life, and of restoring him to his former peace and prosperity. We can have no difficulty in giving to the language a much wider and more general meaning. Beyond the grave there is a deeper and more awful pit. But there is now no condemnation to the humble and believing penitent. (Stephen Bridge, M. A.)
God waiting to discover repentance, and to accept the penitent
1. God’s eye is fixed upon every individual of the family of man. The very opposite sentiment, the negation of this truth, was maintained by some of the most eminent heathen philosophers. Their notions of the Deity were such as led them to conceive it impossible that He should be in any way concerned with the things of this our world.
2. What God specially looks for is a full confession of sin.
(1) An acknowledgment of sin’s essential guilt, as a perversion of that which is right.
(2) Confession of the actual fact of sin.
(3) Acknowledgment of its disappointing and deceptive folly.
3. Such penitent confession shall turn to our unspeakable advantage. Learn then to view the confession of sin as a duty of the first importance. The language of confession in our text every living being has reason to make his own. (Robert Eden, M. A.)
The unprofitableness of sin in this life an argument for repentance
The great folly and perverseness of human nature is in nothing more apparent than in this, that when in all other things men are generally led and governed by their interests, and can hardly be imposed on by any art, or persuaded by any solicitation, to act plainly contrary to it; yet, in matter of their sin and duty, they have little or no regard to it. Of this every sinner, when he comes to himself and considers what he hath done, is abundantly convinced. In these words is a great blessing and benefit promised on God’s part, and a condition required on our part.
1. A penitent confession of our sins to God.
2. A true contrition for our sin; not only for fear of the pernicious consequences of sin, but from a just sense of the evil nature of sin, and the fault and offence of it against God.
3. Here is a description of the evil nature of sin--it is a perverting of that which is right. Sin is a perverting of the constitution and appointment of God, and of the nature and order of things. When we do that which is right, we act agreeably to the design and frame of our beings; we do what becomes us; but sin perverts the nature of things and puts them out of course.
4. An acknowledgment of the mischievous and pernicious consequences of sin. This is not only true as to the final issue and event of an evil course in the other world, but even in respect of this world and the present life, the practice of some sins is plainly mischievous to the temporal interests of men; that others are wholly unprofitable.
1. What has been said upon this argument ought particularly to move those who have so great a consideration of this present life, and the temporal happiness of it, that the practice of all virtues is a friend to their temporal as well as eternal welfare, and all vice is an enemy to both.
2. This likewise takes off all manner of excuse from sin and vice. It pretends not to serve the soul, and to profit our future happiness in another world; and if it be an enemy also to our present welfare in this world, what is there to be said for it?
3. All the arguments used to convince men of the folly of a wicked course, are so many strong and unanswerable reasons for repentance. Men make mistakes about repentance. Some make the great force and virtue of it to consist, not so much in the resolution of the penitent, as in the absolution of the priest. Some make repentance to consist in the bare resolution of amendment, though it never has its effect. (J. Tillotson, D. D.)
Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man.
He who believes in the being of a God, must logically believe in the doctrine of Divine providence. That providence is over all things--a general providence--must imply a particular providence, for all generals are made up of particulars. And to God nothing can be great or small. We cannot understand the mysteries of Divine providence, any more than we can perfectly comprehend the mysteries of the work of creation. God’s government is truly paternal. He cares for His children, and more especially for their higher interests. Nothing can happen to us by chance, for everything is ordered and regulated by His wisdom and power and goodness. By various ways the discipline of Divine providence may be exercised upon us, and we may gather illustrations of its purpose from various sources.
1. We perceive the moral purpose of Divine providence in overruling the original curse. That which has fallen upon our whole race as a dark cloud brought upon us by sin, has yet its edges fringed with silvery light, and we learn that there is hope for men even in the midst of the curse.
2. In the usual consequences of vice and virtue, of holiness and sin. All observation and testimony makes it clear that God is on the side of virtue, and against vice; that no crimes pass unnoticed by His eye. Although there are not such uniform consequences following transgression or virtue as to make us think that in this life the whole judgment is complete, yet there is enough to tell us that there is verily a God that judgeth in the earth; that while there is a good deal yet wrong, there is a day coming when God will judge men according to the Gospel. The sins of the flesh are punished in the flesh. The sins of the spirit are punished in the spirit. Where there is reformation, the immediate consequences of men’s sins are not obviated in every instance, and yet it is a step in the right direction.
3. This arrangement of Divine providence is strongly marked in the inherent vanity which is stamped on all earthly good. Why do I but pursue that which flits before me, and eludes my grasp like a shadow? This is intended to teach man this great lesson, that out of God Himself man shall not be happy; no earthly good can be man’s end and rest.
4. Another illustration may be found in the special dispensations of Divine providence. God has reserves of wisdom, of goodness, and of severity. Learn from this view of the providence of God that providences are paternal, moral, and remedial. But the entire scheme of God’s providence rests upon the scheme of God’s redemption and mercy. (Francis A. West.)
God’s work with man
The summing up and practical application of Elihu’s defence of Job’s character, and vindication of God’s dealings with him. Turning from Job to the entire race he says; “Lo, all these”--
I. The subject of the Divine operations. “Man.”
1. An intelligent being. God can work with him and expend upon him the resources of His wisdom, love, and power (Job 32:8).
2. Fallen and depraved. Man needs the Divine operations and without them he must perish (Genesis 1:16; Genesis 6:5; Romans 8:7).
3. Redeemed. God works for man’s recovery through Christ (John 5:17), but does not supersede the necessity of human effort (Philippians 2:12-13).
II. The means of the Divine operations. “Lo, all these”--
1. Dreams and visions of the night (verse 15). The effects of some dreams prove that the soul has listened to the voice of God.
2. The secret and silent inspirations of the spirit (verse 16). The dream leads to alarm and enquiry, then the spirit opens the avenues of the soul, pours in the light, and a permanent impression is produced
3. Afflictions (verses 19-22). A mournful picture, correction to prevent destruction (2 Chronicles 33:12-13; Psalms 119:67).
4. Efforts of friends (verses 23, 24). The parent, minister, friend, who as the God-sent “interpreter” leads the afflicted to God’s favour is esteemed as “one of a thousand.”
5. The frequency of the Divine operations. “Oftentimes.” When one means fails God employs another.
III. The design of the Divine operations (verse 30).
1. To save “from the pit.” Metaphors teach truth. Hell is a dreadful reality. The unsaved are on their way to it. God looked into Himself and “found a ransom” that man might not “go down into the pit”; and all the means His love can devise are adopted to secure this purpose.
2. To make life bright and happy. “Enlightened with the light of the living,” read from verse 25. (Samuel Wesley.)
Trials sent of God to save the soul
Everybody knows the story of Job. The several steps in the ladder of God’s purposes appear as follows:--
1. Earthly worries are heavenly blessings, not curses. Coming from the oldest book in the Bible, we behold in Job the representative man of trouble. The fact that afflictions were sent upon him, only proves that God had not let go of him yet. Darkness was but a proof of light, just as the shadow on the sundial proves the existence of the sun. These disturbances of our times only show that God does care what becomes of us. The best friend the Alpine climber can have is the faithful guide, who arouses him from fatal drowsiness by blows, harsh and painful.
2. The second step is, God’s rule in visiting sorrows upon us is purpose, not simply permission. He does not merely permit troubles to come upon us, He sends them. Any other idea implies that somebody is stronger than God. If anyone chastises us, let it be our Heavenly Father.
3. God worketh. The heathen have a god, Brahma, who rests in an eternal sleep. We have a God that worketh. He saves us as the surgeon, by earnest, resolute work--cutting off a limb, or taking away an eye. Caught in the grip of providence, we can say nothing. The fountain cannot be constructed without demolishing much that is beautiful; the grass, the soil upheaved, the unsightly debris, are all processes of necessary work. At last all is put back again, the green soil is restored, and a fountain is the result. So is it with the fountain of the new life.
4. The range of the omnipotent eye is over all the world at once. He subdues us by concerted processes, and persistent ones. “I could have taken a hurt,” says one, “but to be utterly overthrown is more than I deserved,” which shows the heart still in rebellion.
5. The fifth step indicates God’s aim to be the full redemption of man. It is from the pit tie saves him. God means business; He means at whatever cost to save souls.
6. We have God’s promise to give perfect light out of darkness, hope instead of unbelief, Heaven instead of the pit. By and by we realise that it is after all better that things should be as they are, that intelligence guides the universe.
In view of this, one of two things you can do--
1. You can resist this purpose. But no man ever prospered who resisted God’s will; or,
2. You accept this will, and adjust your purposes accordingly. If you yield, He will cease His chastisements. And this is natural, easy, and proper. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
An old-fashioned conversion
I. The matter in hand is to compare an old-fashioned conversion with those of the present time, and the first note we shall strike is this: it is quite certain from the description given in this thirty-third chapter of Job that the subjects of conversion were similar, and men in the far-gone ages were precisely like men in these times. Reading the passage over, we find that men in those times needed converting; for they were deaf to God’s voice (verse 14); they were obstinate in evil purposes (verse 17), and puffed up with pride. They needed chastening to arouse them to thought, and required sore distress to make them cry out for mercy (verses 19-22). They were very loth to say, “I have sinned,” and were not at all inclined to prayer. Salvation was only wrought by the gracious influences of God’s Spirit in the days of Job, and it is only so accomplished at this present hour. Man has not outgrown his sins.
II. The second note we shall strike is this, that in those olden times the worker of conversion was the same,--“all these things God worketh.” The whole process is by Elihu ascribed to God, and every Christian can bear witness that the Lord is the great worker now; He turns us, and we are turned.
III. The most interesting point to you will probably be the third: the means used to work conversion in those distant ages were very much the same as those employed now. There were differences in outward agencies, but the inward modus operandi was the same. There was a difference in the instruments, but the way of working was the same. Kindly turn to the chapter, at the fifteenth verse; you find there that God first of all spoke to men, but they regarded Him not, and then He spoke to them effectually by means of a dream: “In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed.” Now, this was an extraordinary means of grace, seldom used now. It is much more profitable for you to have the word in your houses which you can read at all times, and to have God’s ministers to proclaim clearly the gospel of Jesus, than it would be to be dependent upon visions of the night. The means, therefore, outwardly, may have changed, but still, whether it be by the dream at night, or by the sermon on the Sabbath, the power is just the same: namely, in the word of God. God speaks to men in dreams; if so, He speaks to them all nothing more and nothing different from what He speaks in the written word. Now, observe, that in addition to the external coming of the word, it seems from the chapter before us, in the sixteenth verse, that men were converted by having their ears opened by God. Note the next sentence, He “sealeth their instruction.” That was the means of conversion in the olden times. God brought the truth down upon the soul as you press a seal upon the wax: you bear upon the seal to make the impress, and even thus the power of God pressed home the word. By sealing is also sometimes meant preserving and setting apart, as we seal up documents or treasures of great value, that they may be secure. In this sense the Gospel needs sealing up in our hearts. We forget what we hear till God the Holy Ghost seals it in the soul, and then it is pondered and treasured up in the heart: it becomes to us a goodly pear], a Divine secret, a peculiar heritage. This sealing is a main point in conversion. It appears, also, that the Lord, in those days, employed providence as a help towards conversion--and that providence was often of a very gentle kind, for it preserved men from death. Read the eighteenth verse: “He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.” Many a man has had the current of his life entirely changed by an escape from imminent peril. But further, it seems that, as Elihu puts it, sickness was a yet more effectual awakener in the common run of cases. Observe the nineteenth verse, “He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain: so that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat.” In addition to this sickness, the person whom God saved was even brought to be apprehensive of death--“Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers.” It were better for you to be saved so, as by fire, than not to be saved at all. But now, notice that all this did not lead the person into comfort; although he was impressed by the dream and sickness, and so on, yet the ministry of some God-sent ambassador was wanted. “If there be a messenger with him,” that is a man sent of God--“an interpreter,” one who can open up obscure things and translate God’s mind into man’s language--“one among a thousand,” for a true preacher, expert in dealing with souls, is a rare person “to show unto man his uprightness, then he is gracious unto him.” God could save souls without ministers, but He does not often do it.
IV. Fourthly, the objects aimed at in the old conversions were just the same as those that are aimed at nowadays. Will you kindly look at the seventeenth verse. The first thing that God had to do with the man was to withdraw him from his purpose. He finds him set upon sin, upon rebellion. The next object of the Divine work was to hide pride from man, for man will stick to self-righteousness as long as he can. Another great object of conversion is to lead man to a confession of his sin. Hence we find it said in the twenty-seventh verse, “He looketh upon man, and if any say, I have sinned and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not, he will deliver his soul from going into the pit.” Man hates confession to his God; I mean humble, personal, hearty confession.
V. Fifthly, the process of conversion in days of yore exactly resembled that which is wrought in us now as to its shades.” The shadowy side wore the same sombre hues as now. First of all, the man refused to hear; God spake once yea twice, and man regarded Him not: here was obstinate rebellion.
VI. But now, sixthly, the lights are the same, even as the shades were the same. You will note in Elihu’s description that the great source of all the light was this: “Deliver him from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom.” There is not a gleam of light in the case till you come to that Divine word,--and is it not so now? Then this precious gospel being announced to the sinner, the comfort of it enters his soul in the exercise of prayer: “He shall pray unto God, and He will be favourable unto him.” Next, it appears that the soul obtains comfort because God gave it His righteousness--“for He will render unto man His righteousness.” And then the man being led to a full confession of his sin in the twenty-seventh verse, the last cloud upon his spirit is blown away, and he is at perfect peace. God was gracious to the man described by Elihu. God Himself became his light and his salvation, and he came forth into joy and liberty. There is nothing more full of freshness and surprise than the joy of a new convert.
VII. And last of all, which is the seventh point, the results are the same, for I think I hardly know a better description of the result of regeneration than that, which is given in the twenty-fifth verse: “His flesh shall be fresher than a child’s, he shall return to the days of his youth” “Old things have passed away, behold all things are become new!” And with this change comes back joy. See the twenty-sixth verse: “He shall see His face with joy; for He will render unto man His righteousness”; and the thirtieth verse: “To bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 33". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany