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Moral evil as viewed by an enlightened natural religionist
How does Eliphaz appear to view sin?
I. As excluding the sinner from the sympathy of the good. He may mean here, either, Who will sympathise with thy opinions as a sinner? or, Who will sympathise with thy conduct as a sinner? “Call now, if there be any that will answer thee.” Thy conduct is such that none of the holy will notice thee. This was all untrue as applied to Job, yet it is perfectly true in relation to sin generally. Sin always excludes from the sympathy of the good.
II. As by its own passions working out the destruction of the sinner. “Wrath killeth the foolish man, and envy slayeth the silly one.” His own wrath and his own envy. The malefic passions, in all their forms, are destructive.
III. As enjoying prosperity only to terminate in ruin.
1. Sinners often prosper in the world. They “take root.”
2. The prosperity must come to a termination. It is only temporary. It often vanishes during life.
3. At the termination the ruin is complete.
IV. As fated to produce misery wherever it exists.
1. Misery follows sin by Divine ordination.
2. A sinful man, so sure as he is born, must endure trouble. Such was this old Temanite’s view of moral evil, and, in the main, his view is true. (Homilist.)
And envy slayeth the silly one.
--Plutarch says of human passions that they are not evil in themselves, but good affections, which nature has furnished us withal, for great and noble uses. Right, reason, wisdom, and discretion ought to rule; but all our powers and passions have their proper place, and they follow the resolution of our judgment, and exert themselves so far as reason shall direct. Were this order well observed, how blest, how happy, should we be! But how shamefully do we invert the order of our nature! If brutes could understand, they would rejoice in their condition of necessity, and despise our estate of liberty and reason, when they observe how fatally we abuse them. By indulging our passions we destroy our happiness. Eliphaz insults this holy sufferer Job, and would have him believe that he was this malicious man whose vice had killed him, and this envious man whose spite had slain him. Still, apart from Job, the maxim of the text remains a truth,--“Envy slayeth the silly one.”
I. Explain the vice of envy. When may a man be said to be of an envious mind? Envy is a regret of mind, or an inward trouble at the prosperity of another. There are other vices, as ambition, malice, pride, that carry a resemblance of envy, and are related to it; but they either proceed from a different principle, or terminate in some particular object. They are confined and limited, but envy is indefinite. The principle, the formal reason of this singular vice of envy is, a repining, a gnawing, a trouble in the mind, that any man should prosper. It is more or less predominant and rancorous according to the tempers of men and the indulgence that it finds. Sometimes it appears without disguise; the passion of the envious overcomes him. Sometimes you may see it in a man’s very gratulations; you may discern his envy in his most kind expressions. Sometimes he vents his angry tumour in a pleasing narration of all the evil, or the darker part, of your condition. Sometimes his envy bubbles out in vain insinuations of his own deserts. Sometimes it lurks in a vain pretence of self-denial, of a mortified temper, and of a contempt of the world. Sometimes they throw their envy upon their spleen, and then they think they may vent it freely, and without reflection upon themselves. Sometimes it appears under a cloak of piety and religion. And envy will express itself, as occasion offers, in rapine, violence, and murder.
II. The truth of his character. Or how justly it is said of an envious man, that he is a silly one. His folly is extreme, apparent, and indisputable. Wisdom consists in three particulars. In a perfect knowledge of our happiness, or what is proper for us to pursue, and what to shun. In a right understanding of the fittest means, whereby we may attain the good and avoid the evil. In a skilful application of those means to their ends, that they may operate the most effectually towards the bringing our designs to pass. How folly is directly opposite to wisdom. A fool is one whose understanding is prejudiced, whose judgment is not free; who is governed by his passions, drawn into false opinions, wild, unreasonable ends, and destructive measures. But such a silly one as this is, is that of the text; he endures and cherishes a vice that blinds his reason, and puts him out of all possibility of being happy. An envious man is a common nuisance, that everyone is offended with, and no man can endure. Silly man; while he designs to hurt his neighbour, he destroys himself. His spite and indignation make him overshoot all modest bounds. There is such a complication of evil qualities in envy and detraction; of curiosity, conceit, and pride; of meddling, judging, and malicious censure, as makes the guilty nauseous to all. No man can be happy but in the way of his nature. And therefore he that will grasp at that which is out of his line, he that must have what he lists, and will have all things go according to his mind, or will be angry, is sure to be always miserable. He that does not consider his condition simply, as it is in itself, but with relation and respect to other persons, shall never be easy while he lives.
III. The fatal effects of this foolish vice. It destroys him.
1. It affects his body. Envy, peevishness, and discontent, ferment and sour the blood, precipitate the motion of the spirits, urge outrageous passions, fill the mind with angry thoughts, hinder rest, destroy appetite, take away all enjoyment, breed grief and melancholy, and end in a sickly, livid look, in lassitude, consumption, and despair.
2. It vitiates his mind, and destroys the moral life. If envy divests a man of his virtue and his reason, it must of necessity destroy his soul too.
IV. The methods of recovery.
1. He that would be free from envy must endeavour to deserve, as well as may be, both of God and man. True virtue gives a man an humble opinion of himself; acquaints him with his own defects, or what he is not, as well as what he is.
2. You must bring your mind to a good opinion of your own condition. He that would be easy in his mind must govern his desires, and make the best of what he has.
3. You must wean your affections from the world, and learn to value it at no higher a rate than it deserves. What then remains but that we endeavour to subdue our passions, to master our spirits, and to live according to reason in the world. (J. Lambe, D. D.)
Wrath and envy
I. We have wrath. Notice--
1. Its nature. Wrath is not comely, but it is sometimes useful. A man who never knows anger is in nine case out of ten a colourless being who has neither energy nor brilliance nor power. God is angry. The apostle implies that it may be indulged in without sin. But there are extremes. It may betoken an ungoverned disposition; it may indicate a cruel, passionate, vindictive spirit. It may show a hasty, thoughtless, impetuous, unbalanced character. Apart from this, unnecessary wrath is disagreeable and unpleasant to all. Its habitual indulgence alienates all good. This brings us to note--
2. Its consequence--“Wrath killeth the foolish man.” How does it kill? It killeth the best feelings. It stifles all sense of justice, right, caution, honour. It checks the best impulses and engenders cruelty. It killeth peace and happiness. How many an after-pang it produces, how bitter the divisions, the heart-burnings, the evil it causes! It filleth the body itself. Instances are not uncommon of life being forfeited in a fit of anger. It undermines the health and, even if it has no more effect, creates a morose, peevish, miserable disposition.
II. Envy. The word translated “envy” may mean “indignation.” The two are only divided one from another by a very narrow line. Envy is an evil indignation with another because he happens to be better off than ourselves. We are told that “envy slayeth the silly man.” Notice how this is the case--
(1) It weareth away his peace. Look at Ahab envying the vineyard of Naboth. For desire the covetous man fretteth away his life.
(2) It recoils with fatal consequences. It causes deadly results. It leads to the commission of crimes, which bring deadly punishments. Envy is the father of murder. It urged on Cain to put his brother to death. Hence it causeth the slaying of those who give way to it. One word on the description of the characters here spoken of. They are called “foolish” and “silly.” What apt and suggestive names for those who give way to the influence of such injurious and pernicious passions, as they afterwards find to their own injury and loss! The name applied to those who refuse to obey the dictates of Divine wisdom is “fools.” (Homilist.)
I have seen the foolish taking root.
1. Wicked men may flourish in great outward prosperity.
2. Wicked men may not only flourish and grow, but they may flourish and grow a great while. I ground it upon this; the text saith that they take root: I have seen the foolish take root; and the word notes a deep rooting. Some wicked men stand out many storms, like old oaks; like trees deeply rooted, they stand many a blast, yea, many a blow. Spectators are ready to say, such and such storms will certainly overthrow them, and yet still they stand; but though they stand so long that all wonder, yet they shall fall.
3. Outward good things are not good in themselves. The foolish take root. The worst of men may enjoy the best of outward comforts. Outward things are unto us as we are. If the man be good, then they are good. There is a great difference between the flourishing of a wise man and the flourishing of a fool; all his flourishing in the earth is no good to him, because himself is not good. Spiritual good things are so good that, though they find us not good, yet they will make us good; we cannot have them indeed, and be unlike them.
4. The enjoyment of outward good things is no evidence, can be made no argument, that a man is good. And yet how many stick upon this evidence, blessing themselves because they are outwardly blessed! (J. Caryl.)
Affliction cometh not forth of the dust.
“Affliction comet, h not forth of the dust, nor doth trouble spring out of the ground.” The liability of man to suffering is one of the most palpable truths addressed to our observation or experience, and at the same time one of the most affecting that can call forth the susceptibilities of a well-regulated mind. Innumerable and diversified are the immediate or proximate causes from which these sorrows spring. The study of human suffering is unquestionably a melancholy one, and to some it may appear not only gloomy but also useless. It is therefore, above all things, expedient that we labour to extract from suffering its due improvement, as forming one part, and an important part, of the dealings towards us of a God of mercy--a God who has engaged to make all things work together for the good of His people.
I. Is there anything in us of ourselves that naturally or necessarily exposes us to suffering? The text at least insinuates that there is. It is strong even in its negative statement, and replete with meaning, when it informs us that “affliction cometh not of the dust.” Reason tells us that in ourselves there must be some provoking cause of the woes we feel. We must have offended our Maker. Revelation settles this matter on a surer basis. The great fact is, that by sin the human race have purchased sorrow, and by their guilt they have provoked it. Never has there lived and died a man whose history has not furnished evidences innumerable of the dependence of sorrow upon sin. In many instances we can trace up a definite affliction to a definite sin. These instances concern both individuals and nations.
II. Has God any benevolent end in view in infusing affliction so copiously into the cup of our temporal lot? That suffering, while it traces itself to sin, as its provoking cause, is measured out by the God of heaven, and is decidedly under His control, at once as to degree and duration, is a truth which we deem it unnecessary to pause in proving. How are we to reconcile the Divine agency in the matter with the goodness and the love which, while they characterise, at the same time constitute, the glory and the grandeur of His nature?
1. God often sends afflictions to His enemies for the purpose of melting their hearts and subduing them to Himself. Even in the natural world, and in the conduct of men, we are conversant with such a thing as the production of real good out of seeming evil. Every day and hour God is making the dispensations of His providence, more especially afflictive dispensations, to subserve, to pave the way for, and to promote, the purposes of His grace. As God pulverises, purifies, and invigorates the weary soil by the keen blasts, the nipping frosts, and the drifting snows of winter, thus preparing it for a favourable reception of the seed by the husbandman in the spring, so does God not unfrequently, by the rude storm of adversity or the chilling visitation of affliction, soften, melt down, and prepare the barren hearts of the children of men for the good seed of the Word of truth.
2. God often sends affliction to His enemies with a view to their conversion into friends. And when He visits it upon His people, it is for the purpose of promoting their improvement and advancement in the Divine life. Even in the case of the wicked, God’s judgments are not necessarily of a penal character. But uniformly, and without exception, in the case of His genuine people, affliction is sent in love. And inconceivably various are the benevolent ends affliction is calculated to subserve and promote. Learn that we should be humble under affliction. The simple reflection that it springs from and is attributable to our own disobedience and guilt should be sufficient to summon up and to keep alive this emotion. We should also learn to be resigned when the hand of the Almighty is laid upon us. And in every case we should seek to improve affliction for God’s glory and our own good. (W. Craig.)
The uses of suffering
It is a common thing for men to look upon pain as wholly evil. But deeper reflection shows that suffering is not thus purely evil--a thing to be utterly feared and hated. It is often an instrument employed for good.
I. Suffering cannot be wholly evil.
1. A life without trouble would be one of the worst things for man.
2. Nothing which is a necessity of our nature is utterly evil. Suffering is one of those things which no one can avoid in this imperfect state of existence.
3. The innocent often suffer. A great deal of pain is endured which cannot be deemed retributive, cannot be termed punishment. Look at the animal creation, and at the sorrows which men unjustly endure--the cruel wrongs of poor slaves, innocent prisoners, and oppressed peoples.
4. The most highly gifted natures are the most susceptible of pain.
5. Jesus Christ condescended to endure suffering.
II. Suffering answers useful purposes.
1. It is a motive power in the development of civilisation.
2. It is one of the great regenerative forces of society.
3. One of the most beneficent uses consists in its preventive power.
4. It is the necessary condition of sacrifice.
5. It affords scope for the exercise of the passive virtues,
6. It will make the joys of heaven more rich and sweet. Remember that all discipline benefits or injures according to the spirit in which we receive it. (T. W. Maya, M. A.)
The troubles of life Divinely appointed
I. This is a troublesome world.
1. The elements of which the world is composed are not only troublesome, but often destructive to mankind.
2. The great changes which take place in the world from year to year render it not only troublesome, but very distressing and destructive to its inhabitants. Every one of the four seasons of the year brings with it peculiar trials, labours, dangers, and diseases.
3. Many parts of the world are filled with a vast variety of animals, which are extremely hostile and troublesome to mankind.
4. This world is full of evil, on account of the moral depravity which universally prevails among its human inhabitants. Man is the greatest enemy of man.
5. This is a troublesome world on account of the heavy and complicated calamities which are inflicted by the immediate hand of God.
II. Why has God ordained this state of things? He could have made this world as free from trouble as any other world now is, or even will be. There is reason to believe that God framed the world in view of the apostasy of Adam, and adapted it to the foreseen state of his sinful posterity.
1. God ordained this to be a troublesome world, because mankind deserve trouble.
2. To wean mankind from it.
3. To prepare those who live in it for their future and final state. Improvement--
(1) Since God has ordained this to be a troublesome world, it is a very great favour that He has given us His Word, which unfolds His wise and holy designs in making and governing all things.
(2) God has wise and good reasons for not making this world any more troublesome than it is.
(3) As all are born to trouble, some are not so much more happy than others as we imagine.
(4) It is folly and presumption in any to expect that they shall escape the common evils of life, and enjoy uninterrupted prosperity and happiness.
(5) We ought to live in the universal exercise of sympathy and compassion, and in submission to the will of God.
(6) All who live in this troublesome world should be truly religious. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
I. Affliction is the appointment of providence. What the vanity of false science would ascribe to second causes is, by sound observation, as well as by the sacred writings, attributed to the providence of God. It is neither the effect of chance nor the result of blind necessity. Here complete happiness is not the destined portion of mortals. On this point personal experience will not contradict the report of general observation. “We are born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward.” The present is a probationary stage. In the first stage of our being we are subjected to moral discipline. To a probationary state, suffering is requisite.
II. Affliction is intended to improve our nature and promote our happiness. It contributes much to the formation of a character that is amiable and respectable. It purifies the soul, strengthens mutual sympathy, and makes us men of a milder nature. It produces pious resignation and humility. Adversity is a happy means of correcting the haughty disposition. Affliction has often humbled the mighty. It begets fortitude. A brave and generous people, becoming affluent and luxurious, lose their martial intrepidity and their virtue. They who struggle with hazards and hardships acquire the highest energy of soul--a firm, intrepid spirit, that is not disquieted by apprehensions and alarms, nor even appalled by danger which threatens existence. Affliction does us good by moderating our attachment to the world. When the angel of adversity takes away those gifts from the prosperous which engrossed their affection, it is fixed more on the Giver. Affliction is the salutary correction of a Father, who intends it to be ultimately productive of the happiness of His children. The Lord makes good to arise out of evil. Present trouble is connected with future happiness. Then “sorrow not as those who have no hope.” Never indulge gloomy views of human life, nor murmur at the chastening of the Almighty. Always act a virtuous part. It is guilt, and guilt alone, which arms affliction with the stings of scorpions. Be virtuous, and you shall never have the bitterness of remorse to add to the severity of misfortune. (T. Laurie, D. D.)
Why is misery permitted to enter into the creation, to interrupt its harmony, to deface its beauty, and counteract the plan of the Creator? Some heathens have inferred that the world cannot be under the care and direction of an all-powerful Superintendent. Some philosophers say the souls of men had existed in a former state, and the evils and sufferings of this life were to be considered as inflictions for crimes committed in their state of pre-existence. Others framed the hypothesis of two supreme, co-eternal, and co-equal beings, acting in opposition to each other. The sacred writings give a different account of those evils that afflict mankind. It is in them taught that the degenerate state of our nature requires Such correction and discipline, such an intermixture of good and evil as we now observe and experience in the world. Our present state of being is a state of trial or school of virtue. Afflictions, far from being indications of God’s neglecting and disregarding His creatures, are expressions of His paternal care and affection. The afflictions of heaven are never sent but with a merciful intention. Notice some moral and religious advantages that may result from afflictions.
1. Afflictions have a natural tendency to form us to virtue by disposing the mind to consideration. Sin cannot stand the test of consideration. Suffering has a natural tendency to reform the disobedient and inadvertent, to confirm and improve the virtues of the good, and to secure and advance the future happiness of both.
2. Sufferings remind us of God’s providence and of our dependence. This they do by the conviction they bring that our strength is but weakness, and that we are subject to infirmities which we cannot remove, and to wants which we cannot supply.
3. Sufferings have a tendency to correct in us a too partial and confined attachment to the world. It is doubtless in the actual power of the Almighty to secure Us a smooth and easy passage through this vale of life, and guard us from all evil. But what His power might grant His wisdom sees fit to withhold. In our future state, when we take a retrospective view of our lives, they will appear in a light very different from that in which we see them at present. What we now consider as misfortunes and afflictions will appear to have been mercies and blessings. We shall see that the intentions of the Deity were benevolent when His inflictions seemed severe. Let us, then, meet every dispensation of Providence with the most submissive resignation to the will of that supremely gracious Sovereign of nature whose unerring wisdom can alone determine what is good or evil for us, and whose unbounded goodness will direct all things finally to the happiness of His creatures. (G. Gaff.)
Preparation for and improvement of our afflictions
The words of Eliphaz imply that the general state of man in this world is a state of trouble and affliction. Yet those afflictions and troubles do neither grow up by a certain regular and constant source of nature, nor are they merely accidental and casual. They are sent, disposed, directed, and managed by the conduct and guidance of the most wise providence of Almighty God. If there were no other ends in God’s sharp providence than to keep men humble and disciplinable, His ways would be highly justified.
I. What preparation is fit to be made every man before afflictions come.
1. A sound conviction of the truth that no man can by any means expect to be exempt from afflictions. Every man shares in common public calamities. And every man has his own personal evils, such as befall the body, the estate, the name, or men’s friends and relations. No man is exempt from these crosses at any time by any special privilege, and sometimes they have fallen in together in their perfection, even upon some of the best men that we read of. Even the most sincere piety and integrity of heart and life cannot give any man any exemption or privilege from afflictions of some kind. This consideration may silence that murmuring and unquiet and proud distemper that often ariseth in the minds of good men; they are ready to think themselves injured if they fall under the calamities incident to mankind. They sometimes even take up the idea that they are hated or forsaken of God because sorely afflicted.
2. Another preparative is to reason ourselves off from overmuch love and valuation of the world. Philosophy hath made some short essay in this business, but the doctrine of the Gospel has done more.
(1) By giving us a plain and clear estimate and valuation of this world; and
(2) by showing us a more valuable, certain, and durable estate after death, and a way of attaining it.
3. Another preparative is to keep piety, innocence, and a good conscience before it comes. Have the soul as clear as may be from the guilt of sin, by an innocent and watchful life in the time of our prosperity, and by a sincere and hearty repentance for sin committed.
4. Next preparative is to gain a humble mind. When affliction meets with a proud heart, full of opinion of its own worth and goodness, there ariseth more trouble and tumult than can arise from the affliction itself. If any man considers aright, he hath many important causes to keep his mind always humble.
5. Another preparative is a steady resolved resignation of a man’s self to the will and good pleasure of Almighty God. That will is sovereign, wise, and beneficent.
6. The last preparative is, labour to get thy peace with God through Jesus Christ.
II. How afflictions incumbent upon us are to be received, entertained, and improved.
1. A man under affliction should have a due consideration of God as a God of infinite wisdom, justice, and mercy.
2. He should realise that afflictions do not rise out of the dust, but are sent and managed by the wise disposition of Almighty God.
3. That the best of men are visited by afflictions, and it is but need they should.
4. That all the Divine dispensations are so far beneficial or hurtful as they are received and used.
5. The consequences of all these considerations lead us into the following duties: To receive affliction with all humility, with patience, and subjection of mind; to return unto God, who afflicts; to pray unto God; to depend and trust upon God; to be thankful; to put ourselves upon a due search and examination of our hearts and ways.
III. The temper and disposition of mind we should have upon and after deliverance from afflictions.
1. We ought solemnly to return our humble and hearty thanks to Almighty God.
2. Endeavour to express the thankfulness by a sincere and faithful obedience to the will of God.
3. Take good heed lest the heart be lifted up into presumption upon God. And--
4. Be vigilant and watchful lest evil take you at unawares. Nothing is more likely to procure affliction than security and unpreparedness of mind. It is well also to keep deliverances out of affliction in memory. (M. Hale.)
Is affliction reasonable
This world really is what it seems to be--a passing stage for the discipline and improvement of beings destined for another existence. It is, however, one thing to theorise soberly and rationally upon the wondrous plan of Providence, and another to apply the truth which is thus recognised practically to ourselves. While we cannot help believing what appears to be true, such belief may go but a very short way in determining us to do what appears to be reasonable. Hence the variance between profession and practice, between principle and conduct, which appears in the world. And hence the necessity for some more pressing and operative motives than those of mere abstract reason and conviction, to compel such an attention to the truths of our Divine religion as may make its efficacy savingly felt If the first and greatest of the uses of adversity be to lead us to the knowledge of God, the second in importance is to make us feel for our fellow men, and to call into exercise our dormant charities. What manner of man is he who can behold unmoved the piteous spectacle of human misery which everyday life exhibits? Truly, not such an one as either approves himself to his God or recommends himself to his fellow men. God’s dealings with us have their chiefest reference to the purification of our hearts and minds, and the development of our faculties and affections. As far as these ends are produced, the purposes of His providence are answered. But His object vindicates His goodness, His means approve His wisdom. Important as is the duty of relieving the distressed, it is subordinate to the still more important one of purifying our own hearts and minds, and renewing a right spirit within us. Indeed, it is only as the former is subservient to the latter of these duties that it can be religiously commended. Have we, then, any bowels of compassion toward our fellow men, or any sentiment of gratitude towards God, if we withhold that liberal exercise of charity which He has thus graciously promised to consider as done unto Himself by imputation? The means with which you have been blessed by Providence have not been conferred upon you chiefly or primarily for your own sakes. (S. O’Sullivan, A. M.)
The shortness and vanity of human life
I. A pathetical description of the shortness, etc., of human life. Afflictions and calamities of innumerable kinds seem necessarily and constantly to attend the life of man.
II. A declaration that these miseries and troubles do not arise from chance or necessity. They come from the wise providence of God governing the world. This, indeed, is the only true and solid comfort that can possibly be afforded to a rational and considerate mind.
III. It is implied that there are many just and good and useful ends upon account of which God permits so many afflictions.
1. Some of those things which we usually esteem among the troubles and afflictions of life are such as may justly, and must necessarily, be resolved into the absolute sovereignty and dominion of God. Of this kind are mortality in general, and the shortness of human life; the unequal distribution of riches and honour and the good things of this present life; the different capacities and abilities of mind; the different tempers and constitutions of body; the different states and conditions wherein God has originally placed man in the world. Of these things there can, there needs, be no other account given than the absolute sovereignty and dominion of God. Hath not the Master a right to employ His servants in what several stations He pleases, more or less honourable, provided, in His final distribution, He deals equitably with each of them in their several and respective degrees?
2. A greater part of the troubles of life, and the afflictions we are apt to complain of, are not the immediate and original appointment of God at all, but the mere natural effects and consequences of our own sin. Most sins, even in the natural consequences of things, are, at some time or other, attended with their proper punishment. This consideration ought to make us acquiesce, with all humility and patience, under that burden which not God, but our own hands have laid upon us. But even the afflictions which are the consequences of our own folly may, by a wise improvement, by bearing them as becomes us, and by exercising ourselves to wisdom under them, become the matter of an excellent virtue, and may turn into the occasion of much religious advantage.
3. Some of the greatest afflictions and calamities of life are the effects of God’s public judgments upon the world for the wickedness and impiety of others. These are sufficient grounds of contentment and acquiescence, of willing submission and resignation to the Divine will. The ends God intends in afflictions are four--
1. To teach us humility and a just sense of our own unworthiness.
2. To lead us to repentance for our past errors.
3. To wean us from an over-fond love of the present world.
4. To try, improve, and perfect our virtues, and make some particular persons eminent examples of faith and patience to the world.
(1) It is a very wrong and unjust conclusion to imagine, with Job’s friends, that whoever is much afflicted must consequently have been very wicked, and that God is very angry with him.
(2) From what has been said there appears great reason for men to resign themselves with all patience to the will of God; and to rely upon Him with full trust and assurance (in all possible circumstances of life) that He will direct things finally to our best advantage. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
Trouble a part of human life
A life without trouble would be very uninteresting. Our opportunities for greatness would be narrowed down if trials were gone. I watched a glorious sunset, marvelling at the beauty wherewith the evening skies were all ablaze, and adoring Him who gave them their matchless colouring. On the next evening I resorted to the same spot, hoping to be again enraptured with the gorgeous pomp of ending day, but there were no clouds, and therefore no glories. True, the canopy of sapphire was there, but no magnificent array of clouds to form golden masses with edges of burning crimson, or islands of loveliest hue set in a sea of emerald; there were no great conflagrations of splendour or flaming peaks of mountains of fire. The sun was as bright as before, but for lack of dark clouds on which to pour out his lustre his magnificence was unrevealed. A man who should live and die without trials would be like a setting sun without clouds; he would have scant opportunity for the display of those virtues with which the grace of God had endowed him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I would seek unto God.
Marvels and prayer
Nothing could be better than the counsel proffered in the text, nothing more certain than the grounds on which he rests his counsel. To seek unto God, and spread out one’s cause before Him, that must be the best thing to do in any emergency. Does not the wonderful actually take place often in human life? Is it only in the great world that marvels occur, unexpected and great elevations, turnings, unfoldings, light, and help? Is it not mere blindness that refuses to see the marvellous in our own sphere, and seeks it far away in old times, or on foreign shores? If we believe that God encompasses and pervades all human life, shall we not see God’s hand in all these things, and learn to look to Him with expectation, what, ever our circumstances may be?
I. Why, then, do we not expect marvellous things from God?
1. One reason is that we go too much by past experience. We have difficulty in rising above the familiar.
2. Some think too much of law. The idea of law pervading all things, not only facts and phenomena of nature, but thought and feeling, soul and heart, has wrought itself deep into many minds. There seems no room for the strange, the marvellous. Men forget two things, freedom and God. A spirit is something not included in the rigid system of law. A spirit is itself a cause, and originates. It produces. That lies in the very nature of a moral being; and God is infinitely free, and deals with the soul in ways unsearchable.
3. Men think only of their own working, and not of God’s. Consequently they settle down into small expectations.
4. We fear to lessen our own diligence by the expectation of great and marvellous things being done for us.
II. Some reasons why we should cherish the expectation of the great and marvellous. Such an expectation is essential to the praying spirit. Prayer expects great things. Could it not breathe courage and joy into us in our own individual sphere, if we could live habitually in the belief that God may do astonishing things for us--raising us out of difficulties, opening a way for us where none appears? (J. Leckie, D. D.)
Refer all to God
Zachary Macaulay and Wilberforce, the friends of slaves, lived near to each other and were great friends. The latter had such a high opinion of the learning of the former that when he wanted information about any matter he would cry jokingly, “Come, let us look it out in Macaulay.” To compare small things with great, this is just what we ought to do when in a moral difficulty. “Come,” we should say, “let us look it out in Christ: what would He wish us to say or do in this matter?” It is chiefly because the Bible tells us the mind of God as revealed in Jesus Christ that it is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. (Quiver.)
Which doeth great things and unsearchable.
The great God as viewed by an enlightened natural religionist
He regarded Him as--
I. A trustworthy God. Four things demonstrate the trustworthiness of the Almighty.
1. His love. We could not trust an unloving God. Before we commit our cause, our interest, our all to any being, we must be assured of his love to us.
2. His truthfulness. Truthfulness lies at the foundation of trustworthiness. It is, alas, too true that we trust the false, but we trust them believing that they are true. God is true in Himself. He is truth. He is the One Great Reality in the universe. God is true in His revelations. It is “impossible for Him to lie.”
3. His capacity. Capability of realising what we expect and need in the object in which we confide is essential to trustworthiness.
4. His constancy. Constancy is essential to trustworthiness.
II. That he regarded Him as a wonder working God. His God was not merely a trustworthy, but an active God.
1. Eliphaz refers to His works in general, “which doeth great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number,” or as the margin has it, “till there be no number”--passing beyond the bounds of arithmetical calculation. To all His numerous works he applies the epithets “great,” “unsearchable,” “marvellous.” His works in the material universe are wonderful. Go through all the scientific cyclopaedias in the libraries of the world, and you will only have a few specimens of His marvellous achievements. Take the microscope, and you may, like Leeuwenhoek, discover a thousand million animalculae, whose united bulk will not exceed the size of a grain of sand, and all having distinct, formations, with all the array of functions essential to life. Take the telescope: and survey “the milky way,” and you will find the central suns of a million systems all larger than the solar economy to which our little planet belongs. His works in the spiritual world are even more wonderful.
2. Eliphaz refers to His works in particular.
(1) He refers to the vegetable sphere. “Who giveth rain upon the earth: and sendeth waters upon the fields.” What a blessed thing is rain! In seasons of drought its value is deeply felt. Our little sages ascribe rain to certain laws: they point us to the shifting of winds and changing of temperatures as the causes of rain. But this old sage of Teman referred the showers to God. “He giveth rain upon the earth.” This is inspired philosophy.
(2) He refers to the human sphere. He sees God in human history. In God’s conduct towards mankind he sees two things. He favours the good. He confounds the evil. (Homilist.)
God a great worker
The works of God answer the style or attributes of God. He is a great God, and His are great works. The works of God speak a God. And here are four things spoken in this one verse, of the works of God, which speak aloud: this is the finger of God. I will first bundle them together, and then both take and weigh them asunder.
1. Great things,
4. Innumerable; or without number.
No works of man or angel are capable of such a fourfold stamp as this; no, nor any one work of all the creatures put together. Man may fathom the works of man, his closest ways are not past finding out. More directly. First, He doth great things. There is a greatness upon everything God doth: the great God leaves, as it were, the print of His own greatness even upon those things which we account little: little works of Nature have a greatness in them considered as done by God; and little works of Providence have a greatness in them, considered as done by God: if the thing which God doth be not great in itself, yet it is great because He doth it. Again, when it is said God doth great things we must not understand it as if God dealt not about little things, or as if He let the small matters of the world pass, and did not meddle with them: great in this place is not exclusive of little, for, He doth not only great, but small, even the smallest things. The heathens said their Jupiter had no leisure to be present at the doing of small things, or it did not become him to attend them. God attendeth the doing of small things, and it is His honour to do so. You will say, What is this greatness, and what are these great things? I shall hint an answer to both, for the clearing of the words. There is a two-fold greatness upon the works of God. There is (so we may distinguish)--First, the greatness of quantity. Secondly, the greatness of quality or virtue. And as these works of creation, so the works of providence are great works: when God destroys great enemies, the greatness of His work is proclaimed. So, great works of mercy and deliverance to His people are cried up with admiration, and hath given us such a deliverance as this, saith Ezra 9:13. The spiritual works of God are yet far greater; the work of redemption is called a great salvation. It is the property of God to do great things: and because it is His property He can as easily do great things as small things. And if it be the property of God to do great things, then it is a duty in us to expect great things.
1. He that doth great works ought to have great praises.
2. Seeing God doth great works for us, let us show great zeal (J. Caryl.)great love unto the Lord.
The works of God unsearchable
And these works are unsearchable, two ways. First, in regard of the manner of doing: we cannot find out the ways and contrivances of God’s work. His ways are in the deep, and His footsteps are not known. Secondly, His works are unsearchable in their causes or ends; what it is which God aims at or intends, what moves or provokes Him to such a course is usually a secret. He doth such things us no man can give an account of, or render a reason why. If the works of God are unsearchable, then, we are to submit unto the dispensations of God, whatsoever they are; though we are not able, according to reason, to give an account of them. (J. Caryl.)
That those which mourn may be exalted to safety.
The exaltation and safety of the penitent
I. Of the character which God approves. That of the lowly and contrite.
1. He is not adverting to those who are low and depressed in outward circumstances. Divine lowliness is the effect of grace.
2. There can be no true humiliation for sin which does not express itself in godly sorrow.
II. How he expresses that approbation. “He resisteth the proud; He giveth grace to the humble.” God expresses His approbation of His saints, not only by their elevation to exalted privileges and honours, but by their security. (Stephen Bridge, M. A.)
He disappointeth the devices of the crafty.
The disappointment of the crafty
The word “crafty” may mean “prudent,” but usually it denotes such as are wickedly “cunning.” The meaning of the text is, that with how much art and subtilty soever wicked men may lay their plots and ill designs, there is a God who both can and frequently doth disappoint and baffle them, make them vain, and of none effect.
I. When may we suppose the disappointments of crafty men’s devices to be from God? That is, as the extraordinary effects of His particular and special providence. Reference need not be made to such as are miraculous.
1. When a disappointment shall be brought about in a way evidently strange, surprising, and unusual.
2. The hand of God is in those disappointments which involve men either in those very mischiefs which they had prepared for others, or at least in others, for their grievousness and soreness, not unlike them.
3. When the devices of wicked men shall luckily meet with a disappointment, just at that very time, when they are ripe and ready for execution.
4. When good men, at the very time of their praying for their enemy’s disappointment, shall obtain their desire.
5. When a great number of unexpected accidents shall, as it were, conspire to begin, carry on, and at last consummate any notable disappointment.
II. How eminently God’s hand appeared in the deliverances of this nation. Which we this day, Nov. 5, commemorate.
III. Practical inferences. God’s deliverances should--
1. Discourage the crafty from forming any more schemes.
2. Encourage us, in all our straits and difficulties, to place our hope and confidence in God.
3. To make our earnest prayers to God for help in our time of need.
4. Since God has done such wonderful things for us, we must be sure not to forget to glorify Him. (Sir Wm. Dawes, Bart. , D. D.)
The designing projects of ambitious men defeated
1. It hath been a matter of fatal experience that there always were, in all ages of the world, devices of wicked men, and designs of mischief; and it is consistent with the wisdom and goodness of God to suffer designing men to carry on their ambitious projects with a probable show of success.
(1) Possibly to exercise the prudence and courage of the innocent, and virtuous, when their designs are laid very deep.
(2) To discover the inveterate malice and secret cruelty of those men’s tempers, who, under the calm, mild, and endearing names of religion, and the public good, do stick to no villainies to push on their black designs.
(3) Perhaps that God may manifest His particular and vigilant care of His Church, even reduced to extremities.
2. These devices have been, by the good providence of God, miraculously defeated. They have been vain, not only in respect of others against whom they were levelled, but also mischievous to those that contrived them.
3. The natural result of these particulars is to praise God, and we, being delivered, ought to glorify Him. (Tho. Whincop, D. D.)
He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
1. The wisdom of natural men is nothing but craft or wit to do wickedly.
2. Satan makes use of subtle, crafty men, and abuseth their parts for his own purposes.
3. The crafty are full of hopes that their devices will succeed; and full of trouble, because they succeed not.
4. What such plot and devise, they labour to act and effect.
5. Crafty men may devise strongly, but they have not strength sufficient to accomplish their devices.
6. It is a great and wonderful work of God, to disappoint the devices and stop the enterprises of crafty men. (J. Caryl.)
So the poor hath hope.
The expediency of preventive wisdom
By God’s different treatment of men, according to their different characters, the afflicted receive comfort, and the unrighteous are silenced and restrained. “So the poor hath hope, and iniquity stoppeth her mouth.” The words recommend--
I. A careful imitation of the divine goodness, by showing a compassionate regard to those who are really destitute and afflicted. The amiable perfection of the great Original, the excellence and beauty of unlimited goodness, if duly regarded, must prove a sufficient persuasive to study this resemblance; the rational and delightful resemblance of that Divine bounty which is good to all, and whose tender mercies are over all His works. An example so perfect may justly warm our hearts to attempt the nearest imitation which human frailty can accomplish; to be merciful as our Father, our Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, our kindest Friend, our constant Benefactor.
II. The restraint and correction of the disorderly and the wicked. “And iniquity stoppeth her mouth.” How affecting it is to consider that so many thousand wretched creatures are now actually employed in multiplying distempers, now swallowing those deadly potions, that, by slower degrees indeed, but with the certainty of a bullet, must soon fatally end their days. How infectious, how shameless is this horrible vice! These things ought not so to be. What then is to be done to stop, to remedy this growing evil? Inattention cannot do it. Despair cannot do it. Public communities and private persons, everyone in his respective station must exert his zealous, honest endeavours in this important cause; the cause of religion and humanity, the cause of our country, and the cause of God. Once resolve upon the good work--and resolve to pursue it--with God’s blessing, it is half accomplished. (Lord Bishop of Worcester, 1750.)
Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth.
“Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth.” There are comparatively few happy ones on this world of ours. What is happiness? The word is derived from “hap.” It may signify a happening of any kind, good or bad. Luck and hap stand to each other in the relation of cause and effect. Now “hap” means joyous haps alone. Happiness practically means the preparation for all haps, of whatever sort they may be. The happy man is he of deep and earnest thought, who, with judicial calmness, can weigh all events, and estimate their value for himself: the man who can honestly probe his own purposes in life, and fairly test their moral worth. He can force every hap or event of life to leave him a higher man than it found him. The man who is prepared to meet and master all crosses is the only man who can say, “All things work together for my good.” All are within the control of a power that can compel them to do his will; all are within the compass of a goodness that will compel them to be my correctors. All haps of life are his. It may be urged that other than Christian men can possess this power; that anyone may, by mastering the laws of human nature and of society, by strengthening the power of will, and adhering to the determined purpose, achieve this mighty sovereignty. But it may be said that all this energy of purpose is God’s work, though it be not known as Christian work. Every good thing is from above. And surely right effort, for a right purpose, is a good thing. Happiness and pleasure are frequently used as though they were synonymous terms, when in truth they are nothing of the kind. All men of pleasure are not necessarily happy men. The Christian is a man of pleasure, he lives to please, not himself however, but God. Happiness and pleasure are synonymous in the Christian life, and in that alone. (J. M’Cann, D. D.)
God’s merciful chastening of His children
I. The lord corrects His people. By “correct” understand “rebuke.” It is a rebuke that He sendeth, and that to detect our sins. Forget not that those whom He corrects are His children. If you ask why He chastens them, it is because they are but children. Do not imagine that because God thus dealeth with His children, He does not deal with them in apparent severity. Look at the instance of Job. But though there may be an appearance of severity, it is always in tenderness. It is but “in measure.” Remember this, whatever God may take away from His child, He never takes away Himself.
II. An exhortation. “Despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty.” By the term “Almighty” we are to understand “God all-sufficient.” All-sufficient in everything, power, tenderness, sympathy, all we want. The word “despise” is used in the sense of loathing, a feeling of disgust at the chastening of the Almighty. God makes the ingredients of the cup sometimes very bitter. We may despise the chastening by forgetting whose chastening it is. We despise it when we slight it.
III. The consolation. The same God that gives the wound, can alone bind it up. This truth we should be learning every day. (J. H. Evans.)
Happy under Divine corrections
1. That afflictions to the children of God at sorest are but corrections. Blessed is the man whom God corrects. You will say, But what is a correction? And how differenced from judgments and punishments, and wherein do they agree? They agree, first, in the efficient cause. God lays His hand on man in both. Secondly, they agree in the matter; the same evil, the same trouble to one man is a correction, to another a judgment. Thirdly, they may agree also in the degree; a trouble or an affliction may fall and lie as heavy, and be as painful to sense upon a child of God, as upon the vilest wretch in the world; he may be as poor, as friendless, as sick as any wicked man. What, then, is this correction? And where will the correction and the judgment part? I conceive that the infirmities of the saints, and the Sins of the wicked differ, as judgments and corrections differ. Then, where do they part? Surely, where corrections and judgments part. Especially in two things.
(1) In the manner how;
(2) In the end why they are inflicted. First, the Lord never corrects His children with such a heart as He carries in laying trouble upon wicked men. The heart of God is turned toward His children when He corrects them; but His heart is turned from a wicked man when He punishes him. Secondly, the difference is as broad about the end. When God lays the rod of correction upon His child, He aims at the purging out of his sin, at the preventing of his sin, at the revealing of a fatherly displeasure against him for his sin. The Lord would only have him take notice that He doth not approve of him in such courses. When these ends are proposed, every affliction is a correction. But the afflictions of the ungodly are sent for other ends. First, to take vengeance on them. Secondly, to satisfy offended justice.
2. A child of God is in a happy condition under all corrections. Corrections are not sent to take away his comforts, but to take away his corruptions. Again, corrections are not manifestations of wrath, but an evidence of His love (Revelation 3:21). And if any doubt, can a man be happy when his outward comfort is gone? Doubtless he may: for a man is never unhappy, but when he hath lost that wherein happiness doth consist. The happiness of a godly man doth not consist in his outward comforts, in riches, in health, in honour, in civil liberty, or human relations; therefore in the loss of these he cannot be unhappy. His happiness consists in his relation to and acceptance with God, in his title to and union with Jesus Christ. He hath not lost anything discernible out of his estate. Suppose a man were worth a million of money, and he should lose a penny, would you think this man an undone man No: his estate feels not this loss, and therefore he hath not lost his estate.
3. A godly man cannot be unhappy while he enjoys God. And he usually enjoys God most, when he is most afflicted. (J. Caryl.)
All affliction is not for correction. Note some of the benefits remarked upon by Eliphaz.
1. Restoration. “He maketh sore, and bindeth up,” etc. When brought to repentance, by God’s correction, the sinner is tenderly nursed back to health.
2. Assurance of God’s unwearied kindness. God does not grow tired of the work of rescue. His loving kindness is signally displayed in His deliverance of the trusting soul from the greatest and most tremendous calamities. The best earthly friend has limitations to his power to help.
3. A relation of amity between the soul and the powers that have injured it. The transgressor of God’s laws is chastised, but the man who puts himself in harmony with God’s will, and yields submission to His laws, finds all nature tributary to his welfare.
4. Deliverance from anxiety over small and common ills of life. Such are hard to bear. As the heart is, so is the man. Tranquillity of heart comes in answer to prayer, or as a fruit of the Spirit, which God gives to comfort and strengthen His afflicted ones. Faulty as human nature is and needing correction, the chastisement which God administers to accomplish it is indispensable to the highest type of character. (Albert H. Currier.)
This passage is true, but it is not the whole truth concerning suffering. Eliphaz takes the position of one who has special insight into Divine truth.
I. He touches upon the facts in the matter.
1. The chief fact before him is that suffering is real. The reality of it is the very substructure of his thought. It is not well for us to brood over sorrows. But it is not well for us to deal with them by shutting our eyes to them. A large part of the Scripture is occupied with the trials of life. Pain is here a colossal, awful fact.
2. Another fact patent to Eliphaz was that suffering comes from God. It is “the chastening of the Almighty.” God is not responsible for everything which He permits. He is not responsible for sin. Nor is He responsible for suffering as a whole, which has come into the world as the result of sin. But He is responsible for the method of the application of individual sufferings, now that suffering is here. The saint can look up out of his sorrows and say, “God means something by this for me.” From God’s point of view no suffering is intended to be wasted.
II. Eliphaz proceeds to show the purpose of suffering.
1. Its purpose is to lead one to self-inspection, confession of sin, and repentance.
2. But the true intention of it, of course, lies back of the thing itself. Suffering is not for suffering’s sake. There is always in God’s thought a sequence to come.
III. The result of God’s corrective afflictions is shown.
1. Eliphaz shows it to be an advance for the soul, which is led by them to penitence.
2. He shows that outward prosperity comes to those who accept God’s correction and turn from their sins. In his words we find an idealisation of the prosperity of the righteous. There may be a literal reference to the present life. It may refer to the blessedness in the future life of the saint who patiently accepts God’s correction here. Righteousness as a rule pays, and wickedness as a rule does not pay. The conclusion of the whole matter is set forth in the words, “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth.” (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Divine chastisement conducive to happiness
Happy is the man whom God correcteth. How multiform and unexpected are the incidents of human life!
I. When does the chastisement of the Almighty conduce to our happiness? l. When it induces thoughtfulness. It is surprising how little we think, i.e., think seriously and well. Of eternal things we hardly think at all. The correction of the Almighty leads us to say, Wherefore hath the Lord done this? Hence thoughtfulness deepens and increases.
2. When it reminds us of our frailty. The consideration of our latter end avails much to moderate our attachment to a world the fashion of which passeth away, and from which we ourselves are hastening.
3. When it induces more earnest prayer. It is no easy matter to keep alive the power of religion in the soul. Nothing but habitual watchfulness and prayer will do it. To this we are naturally averse, and this natural aversion doth remain even in them that are regenerate. There are few who do not know how cold and formal, how negligent and careless we can become in prayer. Happy is it when our trouble leads us to greater and more importunate earnestness in prayer.
4. When it raises our minds above sublunary things. The soul, chastened and corrected here, will affect the rest which remains for her hereafter.
5. When it endears to us the Lord Jesus Christ. When our sin is discovered to us, how all-desirable does Jesus Christ become. Never do we so fully appreciate this gift as when we are racked with pain, worn with disease, and when, standing on the verge of time, we are about, expectantly, to launch away into the eternal world.
II. Why, therefore, should chastisement not be despised?
1. Because it is the correction of a tender Father. A loving father does not willingly afflict his child. Amidst our severest sufferings God is our Father still.
2. Because God is almighty to save and to deliver. A father may make as though he heard not the cry of a corrected child: nevertheless, the cry of a broken and contrite heart will move and interest him.
3. Because God designs our spiritual good thereby. The Lord woundeth and maketh us sore, purposely for the fuller and more glorious manifestation of His own power and goodness, first in the humiliation, and then in the salvation of our souls. He empties us of self-love and carnal complacency, to fill us with His grace and Spirit. He tries our faith to prove its preciousness. Shall we then dread the fire that refines?
4. Because Christ went before us to glory through sufferings. Nothing should be undervalued that tends to make us like Jesus Christ.
5. Because it tends to meeten us instrumentally for heaven. There must be a preparedness of mind for its society, its converse, its employments. This is nowhere so readily acquired as in the school of affliction. (W. Mudge.)
The afflictions of the good
The view of Eliphaz seems to be--
I. That affliction, through whatever channel it may come, is to a good man a beneficent dispensation. “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth; therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty,” etc. He regards affliction, in these verses, as coming from a variety of sources. He speaks of “famine,” of “war,” of “the scourge of the tongue” (slander), and points even to the ravages of wild beasts, and the stones of the field. Truly, human suffering does spring up from a great variety of sources, it starts from many fountains, and flows through many channels. There are elements both within him and without that bring on man unnumbered pains and sorrows. But his position is that all this affliction, to a good man, is beneficent. Why happy?
1. God corrects the good man by affliction. “Whom God correcteth.”
2. God redeems the good man from affliction. “For He maketh sore, and bindeth up; He woundeth, and His hands make whole. He shall deliver thee in six troubles; yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee.” The affliction is only temporary: the Almighty in His time removes it. He that maketh sore binds up, He that woundeth maketh whole.
3. God guards the good man in affliction. “Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue; neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh. At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh; neither shalt thou be afraid of the beasts of the earth.” The Eternal is with His people in the furnace: He is a wall of fire round about them, He hides them in His pavilion. “My God hath sent His angel to shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me.”
4. God blesses the good man in affliction. These blessings are indicated--
(1) Facility in material progress. “For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field; and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.” Whether the “stones and beasts of the field” here point to the obstructions of the agriculturist, or to the progress of the traveller, it does not matter, the idea is the same,--the absence of obstructions. In worldly matters the great God makes straight the path of His people.
(2) Peace and security in domestic life. “Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out.”
(3) Flourishing posterity. “Thou shalt know also that thy seed shall be great (margin, much), and thine offspring as the grass of the earth.” This is a blessing more esteemed in distant ages and Eastern lands than in modern times and Western climes.
5. God perfects the good man by affliction. It will ripen the character and prepare for a happy world, Three ideas--
(1) That true religion is a life which grows in this world to a certain maturity.
(2) That when this maturity is reached, his removal from the worm will take place.
(3) That affliction is one of the means that brings about this maturity.
II. That this affliction, as a beneficent dispensation to a good man, should be duly prized and pondered by him. Reverence the chastening of the Almighty. Do not murmur; do not complain. It would be well if the afflicted saint would ever ponder the origin, the design, the necessity and tendency of his sufferings. Conclusion--This first address of Eliphaz--
1. Serves to correct popular mistakes. It is popularly supposed that the farther back we go in the history of the world, the more benighted are men: that broad and philosophic views of God and His universe are the birth of these last times. But here is a man, this old Temanite, who lived in a lonely desert, upwards of 3000 years ago, whose views, in their loftiness, breadth, and accuracy, shall bear comparison, not only with the wisest sages of Greece and Rome, but with the chief savants of these enlightened times. This old Temanite was outside the supposed inspired circle, and yet his ideas seem, for the most part, so thoroughly in accord with the utterances of the acknowledged inspired men, that they are even quoted by them.
2. Suggests a probable theological misunderstanding. Most biblical expositors and theological writers regard Eliphaz as considering Job a great sinner, because he was a great sufferer. How can this be reconciled with the fact that Eliphaz starts the paragraph with, “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth”? In the whole of the paragraph, in fact, he shows that it was a good thing for a good man to be afflicted. Does he contradict himself? It may be so, for he was human, and therefore errable; but my impression is, that Eliphaz drew his conclusion that Job was a great sinner, not merely, if at all, from his great sufferings, but from the murmuring spirit which he displayed under them, as recorded in the third chapter. (Homilist.)
Chastening not to be despised
1. There is, or possibly may be an averseness in the best of God’s children for a time, from the due entertainment of chastenings. Every affliction is a messenger from God, it hath somewhat to say to us from heaven; and God will not bear it, if His messengers be despised, how mean soever. If you send a child with a message to a friend, and he slight and despise him, you will take it ill.
2. The lightest chastenings come from a hand that is able to destroy. When the stroke is little, yet a great God strikes. Although God give thee but a touch, a stripe which scarce grazes the skin: yet He is able to wound thee to the heart. Know, it is not because He wants power to strike harder, but because He will not, because He is pleased to moderate His power; thou hast but such a chastening, as a child of a year old may well bear; but at that time, know, thou art chastened with a hand able to pull down the whole world; the hand of Shaddai, the Almighty gives that little blow. Men seldom strike their brethren less than their power; they would often strike them more, their will is stronger than their arm. But the Lord’s arm is stronger (in this sense) than His will. He doth but chasten, who could destroy. (J. Caryl.)
Benefits of afflictions
Volcanic dust makes rich soil. Splendid flowers are being grown in the matter from La Soufriere that was once molten and terrifying. After the eruption of 1812 the quantity of vegetables produced on an estate near Kingston was unprecedented. So afflictions and hardships fertilise the soul and make it more prolific in patience, sympathy, faith, and joy.
Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue.
The scourge of the tongue
I. The scourge. “The scourge of the tongue.”
1. There is the lying tongue. It perverts facts. It turns the lame out of the way and misleads the blind.
2. There is the cursing tongue.
3. There is the obscene tongue.
4. There is the scolding tongue. What martyrs have some members of a family become! A scolding tongue withers and blights everything it comes across, just like the lightning withers and blasts the tree it strikes. It is as a goad to an ox, the mosquito to the traveller, the thorn eating into the gangrened flesh.
II. The deliverance. “Thou shall be hid from the scourge of the tongue.” It is one of the peculiarities of God’s promises that He does not undertake to remove evils. We shall be hid--
1. By the direct influence of Divine power. God will restrain the evil speaker and the rage of the ungodly.
2. By the sanctifying influence of Divine grace. There axe some creatures who when water is poured on them repel the same by the nature of their skin or feathers. So the heart which is prepared by grace, casts aside and rejects the evil word, or the cruel insinuation, or the boisterous abuse; these things have no power over it.
3. By the resignation of a chastened spirit. The chastened spirit of the Christian disarms the shafts of the evil tongue, and, bending before the furious blast, is spared the poignant stings of malice.
4. By the prospect of future freedom. The nauseous taste of medicine is little heeded when the anticipated end is considered, which is restored health and renewed strength. So in the view of future glory and entire sanctification, the present bitterness will be little regarded. (J. J. S. Bird.)
The scourge of the tongue
Some folks lay themselves out to be as unpleasant as they can and say disagreeable things. They are the wasps of human intercourse. The candid friends whom Canning so abhorred, the people who “speak their mind,” but have a mind that were far better not spoken. (H. O. Mackey.)
Thy tabernacle shall be in peace.
Returning from a journey
These words may be considered as a promise made to a good man, with regard to his absence from home. When he goes a journey at the call of providence, he may leave all his concerns with the Lord whom he serves, for He will guide his steps, and suffer no evil to befall him nor any plague to come nigh his dwelling. The person to whom this promise is made is supposed to have a house. It is called a “tabernacle, or tent.” It would be well for us to view our abode, however pleasing and durable it may appear, as only a temporary residence--a shelter of accommodation for a traveller. David calls his palace the “tabernacle of his house.” Home has a thousand attractions. But dear as it is, we must sometimes leave it. Sometimes journeys are necessary. When God calls us abroad, He will take care of us, and we may hope to find the proverb true, The path of duty is the path of safety. Hence he is reminded of the welfare of his house and family in his absence. Thou shalt know that thy tabernacle is in peace. Peace means prosperity. Peace is harmony. There can be no happiness in a family, among the members of which are found reserve, suspicions, bickerings, contentions. Peace is preservation. To how many disasters is a family exposed if God withdraws His protection. Nor shall the tabernacle only be preserved, but the owner too. We always travel in jeopardy. Are no suitable returns to be made to the God of our salvation? A man would sin if his gratitude were not lively and practical. He would sin, did he not confide in God for the future more simply and firmly. Learn, domestic piety crowns domestic peace. (William Jay.)
Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age.
The death of the Christian
I. Death is inevitable. “Thou shalt come.” This remark is very trite, simple, and common. But while this is a truth so well known, there is none so much forgotten.
II. Death to the christian is always acceptable. “Thou shalt come to thy grave”; intimating a willingness, and a cheerfulness to die. Thou shalt not be dragged or hurried. A Christian has nothing to lose by death.
III. The Christian’s death is always timely. “In full age.” But good people do not live longer than others. The most pious man may die in the prime of youth. The text does not say “old age,” but “full age.” A “full age” is whenever God likes to take His people home. There are two mercies to a Christian. He will never die too soon. And he never dies too late.
IV. The christian will die with honour. “Like a shock of corn.” I believe we ought to pay great respect to saints’ bodies. “The memory of the just, is blessed.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The good man’s grave
If this passage be taken in its restricted application to the mere animal existence of man on earth, the promise it contains will be found to be fulfilled in only a few comparatively of the people of God. But in the ease of such, life means something more than mere duration, or the mere succession of outward events. A good man’s life consists chiefly in the extent to which he realises the fruits of his godliness, and the fulness of his age is reached in the maturity of those graces which are implanted within him by the Spirit of God. In this light the passage may be regarded as verified in the case of every really pious man, whatever be the term of his continuance here on earth. The passage suggests the following thoughts--The spiritual life in man is always progressive. Where real spiritual vitality exists, maturity is always reached before the individual is removed by death. The whole process is under the watchful eye of the Great Proprietor of all. And we are reminded of the true nature and real purposes of death to the child of God. It is simply the agency by which he is transferred from a scene where his longer continuance would be injurious, to a higher and nobler sphere. The question naturally arises, In what relation the two terms of existence, which lie on either side of the point of transit, stand to each other? Had the question been asked in the case of an unfallen being, there would be no difficulty in answering it. The difficulty concerns fallen but redeemed man. For them the grave is robbed of its terrors. Around it gather associations, not of defeat but of victory; not of humiliation but of honour. Through its portals the weary pilgrim passes to his home. Paganism, conscious only of the presence of decay, kindled for the dead the funeral pyre; but Christianity, expectant of the resurrection, lays their bodies reverently in the dust, and inscribes upon their sepulchre, In Christ he sleeps in peace,” (W. Lindsay Alexander, D. D.)
A pious old age
I. In what does this ripeness or fitness for heaven consist? There must be in such a character sincerity. I mean there must be integrity in their first transactions with God. A shock of corn fully ripe reminds us of steadfastness. To be spiritually minded is also implied in a Christian’s ripeness or fitness for glory.
II. In what respects is such a good old age desirable? There is nothing desirable in old age itself.
1. It is a proof of sincerity.
2. It gives opportunity for considerable growth in grace.
3. It recommends religion to others.
4. It tends to an extraordinary fitness for heaven.
Such are some of the advantages of a religious old age. And this is a subject in which all are deeply concerned. Improve the present season, for “what a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (S. Lavington.)
Ripe for the harvest
The life of man, morally and spiritually considered, must not be measured by length of days, but rather by the degree to which the end of existence has been attained. Consider this interesting promise.
1. The emblem under which it is conveyed suggests to us the care and affection with which the great Head of the Church regards the progress and the end of His servants.
2. The comparison of the text implies that progress belongs to the very nature of religion, and therefore is its invariable and indispensable law.
3. There is a state of grace attainable on earth which may be fitly described as a state of maturity. Consider in what that maturity consists.
4. It should reconcile us to such losses to reflect that a state of maturity necessitates the reaping. (Daniel Katterns.)
Preparation for death
I. A consideration of the change to take place in the dissolution of the body. Through man’s transgression death entered the world--“so death passed upon all men.” Our first parent came from the hands of God, created after His likeness, impressed with immortality.
II. A consideration of the period of death’s arrival. How few die in old age! It is “full age” with us when we are prepared to depart--when the work is done we have to do.
III. The manner of death’s arrival. The last enemy wears a thousand forms.
IV. Some reflections. Christians do not repine at God’s decree. The Christian is taught to believe that whilst the spirit is in God’s keeping, the body also is not undeserving His cognisance. (George Anthony Moore.)
The parable of harvest
This text literally reads, “Like as a shock of wheat that is lifted up.” It is a perfect vision of the closing days of harvest. It is the consummation of the year; the last triumphant act in a long drama of skill and patience.
1. The first parable of harvest is, that harvest is God’s memorial, and the parable of His love. His promise is that while the bow is in the heaven, springtime and harvest shall not fail. God sets the bow for a sign, a bright watcher or minister, to declare His goodwill to us. How miraculous a thing is the wheat harvest of the world! The wheat harvest in the East is the one supreme event of the year. This is the first and chief lesson of the harvest; we are God’s pensioners, and He spreads the table in the wilderness.
2. The order of the world is use first, and beauty second. There are many things more beautiful than corn. True, it has a certain humble grace of its own, but it is the democratic grace of the worker, not the aristocratic grace of the idler. You could live in a world without roses, but not in a world without corn; you like to have perfume, but you must have bread.
3. The harvest is the parable of life itself. How little spoils both. How irrevocable the tendencies of each! A slight error spoils the year’s husbandry, as slight errors often spoil a whole life. See in corn an illustration of the solidarity of life itself. The corn travels the wide world over. It has no local limit, it is cosmopolitan. It has no personal life; its life is for the race. In these respects the parable of life is revealed. We live in infinite relations, beyond our relation to the soil we thrive in, and the age we are said to live in. We sow ourselves as corn is sowed, and others reap; even as we before reaped what others sowed.
4. The harvest is the parable of death. What is death? We know that decomposition is recomposition. Nothing perishes, for there is no waste in nature. Here we have the revelation of the true purpose of life--which is use; and of the true triumph of life--which is to be sacrificed, as the corn must be plucked and ground before it can become bread. (G. W. Dawson.)
How to grow old gracefully
Or how to grow old so that age, as it advances, may be an honour and comfort to us, and terminate in peace and happiness.
1. Bear in mind that we must grow old. This is the law of our being, fixed and certain as the law of mortality.
2. If we would grow old gracefully, we must possess true piety; faith in Christ as our Saviour, and hope in God as our everlasting portion.
3. We must cultivate a love of nature.
4. We must continue to take an interest in the young, and in whatever is moving around us, affecting the welfare of society and the cause of Christ.
5. There are some peculiar faults and sins--incident to age--against which we must be guarded, if we would grow old gracefully. Such as peevishness. “There are two things which a man ought not to fret about,--what he can help, and what he cannot.” Avarice or covetousness. Jealousy of whatever is new, and a proneness to think that things are growing worse because they are different from what they were in former days. And an unwillingness to let go of the duties, responsibilities, and honours of life, retire from the stage of action and be forgotten. This is indeed a hard lesson to learn.
6. There are certain virtues which demand to be cultivated, if we would grow old gracefully. Such as patience, liberality, cheerfulness, hopefulness, readiness to yield the field of labour and responsibility to them that are younger; and an habitual and cheerful posture of readiness to leave the world and go to be with Christ. (J. Hawes, D. D.)
By a natural instinct, man reads in all the short-lived objects around him the images of his own decay. Nothing is lovelier to look upon, nothing is more evanescent in its loveliness, than the varied vegetation which clothes the landscape. And in its evanescence man has ever contemplated the emblem of his mortality. These emblems are not altogether mournful. While there are those suggestive of an untimely fate, there are others that delineate the end of man in its seasonableness as a natural close, a full consummation, a ripeness as of the harvest. Contemplate the true maturity of man.
I. The maturity of man in its characteristics. To die old seems a natural wish. Death in old age comes not with a shock, as of something abrupt, unexpected, but as a natural issue--the culmination of life’s manifest destiny, the measurement of the full circle of life’s journey. It carries the associations of the sunset, of the harvest--tender, but not sombre and sad. And these are right and religious feelings. For man’s life on earth is a great thing, a sacred power, a most momentous and immeasurable trust. The error of mankind is not that they place life too high, but that they think far too little of its true value, of its most awful responsibility. Scripture has not taught us to think lightly of life, or to wish an early removal from it. It cultivates the appreciation of life as a great and holy thing. Used as a power of getting and of doing good, life is a glorious privilege. Life on earth has its completed circle--its threescore years and ten--when it has rounded that little orbit, the bodily life has reached its maturity, beyond which it is not fitted to survive, and sinks into the dust as naturally as the ripened corn falls into the ground. But if that were all, it were hard to tell why it should be a thing of Divine promise. That were a poor consolation, to have the full term of life, and to come to the grave in however ripe an age, if the grave were all. But the body is not the man--only the vehicle and tabernacle of the man. It is the soul that is the man; and the man is then only “as a shock of corn in his season,” when he is mature in the spiritual and immortal part. The decay of the body imposes no inevitable decline in the soul’s higher life. Time leaves no mark on the mind, except of growing power. If, then, the full age of man be of the spirit--ripeness for immortality--what are the characteristics of one ready to be garnered into heaven?
1. Christian maturity is the fulness of spiritual life. Man is of “full age” when the whole circle of Christian excellences is present in the character, and each unfolded in its due proportion. When all the graces meet in a person, they robe him with a glory known only to Christianity. The last attainment is completeness. Christianity is the union of all the graces, not only in their completeness, but in their individual fulness. In our second birth are included all the elements of final perfection--not then come to their full measure, but from that moment the formative principles of character should advance to maturity.
2. Christian maturity is the fulness of spiritual experience. We associate experience with life--Christian experience with the Christian life; and this adds elements and aspects to the piety, which are not found in its first rise--mellowing, sobering, enriching the whole spiritual man, as with the golden glow of autumn. There is a wide difference between the effect of worldly experience and of Christian experience. The former disenchants the heart of all its youthful illusions, and makes it distrust all appearances and persons, and hope for nothing better than vanity and vexation of spirit. The effect of Christian experience is to transfer the hopes and affections to the realities of a higher world, and to deepen their power. The follower of Christ is conducting a great experiment as to the power of the Gospel. And he finds as he goes on, that it justifies all his confidence. Faith becomes experience--less liable to be moved away by blasts of unbelief, or by assaults of temptation. The disciple becomes an established Christian.
3. Christian maturity is completed by spiritual usefulness. Christianity will make a man useful in every way, secular as well as religious. But no measure of secular service can be accepted as an apology for the neglect of the higher work, which is laid to every man in Christ’s kingdom. Spiritual life and experience are the preparatives and the power of usefulness. As they are enlarged, they nourish and enrich that spiritual fruitfulness which puts the crown on Christian maturity.
II. The conditions of christian maturity. How is it prepared? The shock of corn is the result of a process. Christian maturity represents the whole course and combination of influences that have been at work in the man. Nothing can mature that has not life. Among the conditions of a Christian maturity we name--
1. Early decision for Christ. True piety takes its rise in a cordial surrender to Christ, and it reaches its maturity in the completeness of that surrender.
2. Progressive piety. There would be no harvest if the seed plant only rooted and sprung up above ground, and never advanced any further. There is a succession of stages of growth--“first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” No man, at whatever stage of his Christian course you find him, is all that he needs to be. There must be progress in Christian intelligence, growth in Christian faith--which worketh by love. There must be assiduous cultivation of piety, which will include a growing love to the sanctuary, to the Bible, to the service of prayer, to the scene of communion. There will be a growing devoutness approaching ever closer to the spirit of heaven, and waiting the call to enter into the joy of the Lord. (J. Riddell.)
Death in a ripe old age
Many men avoid all consideration of death, and never venture to speak on the subject. If this be the result of ignorance, it is to be lamented; if it be the result of doubt as to their future existence, their reserve and silence may tend greatly and unnecessarily to perpetuate and increase the doubt. A future life was the expectation of the sages of antiquity, seeing that such an end of man as appears at his death is unworthy of the great powers conferred upon him by the Creator, and inadequate to man’s knowledge and earnest thought and prayer about an endless life. Jesus Christ has brought life and immortality to light by His Gospel. He has with great simplicity and beauty revealed to us the character and providence of His Father and our Father, of His God and our God. This is the highest evidence of, and surest testimony to a future life possessed by our race. It is worthy of universal reception, and brings light to the understanding and solace to the heart. Death has a mighty power to destroy many things that mar the happiness of life. What a lesson it reads to the covetous, the malicious! What a beautiful scene, or what a painful and miserable scene, a death bed can be made! But in the case of the truly good, the power of the life will be greater than the impression of the death. (R. Ainslie.)
Corn husking time
“As a shock of corn cometh in in his season.” There is difference of opinion as to whether the Orientals knew anything about the corn as it stands in our fields. After harvest in America, the farmers gather, one day on one farm and one day on another, put on their rough husking apron, take the husking peg, which is a piece of iron with a leathern loop fastened to the hand, and with it unsheath the corn from the husk, and toss it into the golden heap. Then the waggons will come along and take it to the corn crib. Possibly the Hebrews knew about Indian maize, and husked it just as we do. Lessons--
1. It is high time that the king of terrors were thrown out of the Christian vocabulary. Many talk of death as though it were the disaster of disasters, instead of being to a good man the blessing of blessings.
2. First frost and then sunshine. We all know that husking time was a time of frost. We remember we used to hide between the corn stacks, so as to keep off the wind. But after a while the sun was high up, and all the frost went out of the air, and hilarities awoke the echoes. So we all realise that the death of our friends is the nipping of many expectations, the freezing, the chilling, the frosting of many of our hopes. But the chill of the frosts is followed by the gladness that cometh in like a shock of corn cometh in in his season.
3. The husking process. The husking time made rough work with the ear of corn. The husking peg had to be thrust in, and the hard thumb of the husker had to come down on the swathing of the ear, and then there was a pull, and a ruthless tearing, and a complete snapping off, before the corn was free. If the husk could have spoken it would have said, “Why do you lacerate me?” That is the way God has arranged that the ear and the husk shall part. That is the way He has arranged that body and soul shall separate. You can afford to have your physical distresses when you know that they are forwarding the soul’s liberation. This may be an answer to the question, “Why is it that so many really good people have so dreadfully to suffer?” Some corn is hardly worth husking. With good corn the husking work is severe. There must be something valuable in you, or the Lord would not have husked you.
4. Husking time was a neighbourly reunion. There was joyous feasting together when the work was done. Heaven will be a time of neighbourhood reunion.
5. All the shocks come in in their season. Not one of you having died too soon, or too late, or at haphazard. Cut down at just the right time. Husked at just the right time. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Consolations in the death of aged Christians
“Thou shalt come to thy grave in full age.” In this text there is the promise of a comfortable death. Thou shalt come to thy grave with freedom of mind, and without reluctance, satisfied with life, waiting for a release, and at full maturity, dropping kindly like ripe fruit, or as a stack of corn fully ripe is gathered into the barn or storehouse at the time of harvest. Aged Christians--
I. Lay under the common sentence of death all their days. They were under the sentence of death all the while they lived in this world, and a long life was only a longer reprieve. We knew that our friends were mortal, all the while they lived with us.
II. It is comfortable to consider how long they were spared and continued to us in a useful state. What great reason for thankfulness to God for sparing the comfort of their useful lives. Often, then, recall the more remarkable instances of their former usefulness, and exemplary character while they lived. We have not done with our departed friends when we have lodged them in the grave; we must remember what was eminent and exemplary in the several stations of life, and circumstances of things through which they passed.
III. Consider the great honour put upon them who were long serviceable in this world. They have had a greater exercise of Divine care over them, and a larger experience of Divine goodness in the many expressions of a gracious concern for their good, of seasonable interposure, and distinguishing favour. What a mercy it was to our deceased friends to ripen by long standing, in wisdom and experience, and to be successful instruments of the Divine glory, and of good to the world, for a great while together!
IV. Consider how often the aged outlive their own usefulness. It is no wonder if active natures and brisk spirits, long exercised in painful service, begin at length to decay. The more zealous and industrious they are in the service of God, the more likely they are to find their natural strength abated in advancing age. Sometimes good and useful men are disabled for service by the weakening of their intellectual powers. Then their death becomes less grievous.
V. Consider how well prepared they were for death and how ripe for another world. It is a melancholy thing to think of an aged person dying unprepared. But when they are prepared in the habitual temper of their minds and a blessed composure of spirit, what an evidence this becomes of the truth and value of religion.
VI. Consider the merciful release from the long fatigues and conflicts of life. They are set free from all the burdens of nature, which sometimes are very grievous, and all the afflictions of life, which often create them a great deal of trouble. All the labours of life and difficulties of service cease. They are delivered from the power of all their spiritual enemies, and set out of reach of all their attempts.
VII. Consider the blessed state they are entered upon and the infinite advantage of a removal. They leave a state of sin and sorrow, of the burdens of nature and miseries of life, for a state of purity and peace, of liberty and enlargement, where all their burdens are removed and their desires satisfied. Consider with pleasure the high advancement and honour of our deceased friends, the noble enjoyments, the pure delights, the perfect satisfaction and joy. An undue concern for the death of good men, looks a little selfish, and like envying their happiness.
VIII. Think of the nearness of our own dissolution and how soon we shall meet together again. We are following them apace to the other world. What a comfort it is to be followers of them who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.
IX. It is a considerable reason of comfort that there are many surviving relations left. We can never say that we are wholly bereaved. Men sometimes live in their posterity several ages. (W. Harris, D. D.)
The grave relieved of its terror
Eliphaz urges Job to repent of his wickedness, and promises him great good as the consequence. His words suggest--
I. That old age will help to relieve the grave of its terror. Life to those in old age has lost its genial glow; desire has failed; the limbs have lost their vigour; the appetites their relish; the senses their keenness; the faculties their activity; the heart, most of its friendships, its hopes, its aims. They have outlived their interest in the world; their old friends are in the dust; they are surrounded by strangers; they bow beneath the weight of years, and oftentimes welcome the grave. Yes, apart from religion, there is much in old age to make the grave even attractive. But how few of the human family are allowed to reach the grave in this way.
II. That spiritual maturity will help to relieve the grave of its terror.
1. True religion is a life which grows in this world to a certain maturity.
2. When this maturity is reached in a man, his removal from this world will take place. It ripens in some much sooner than in others.
3. The removal of such from the world will be no terror to them. It will take place under the superintendence of the great Husbandman. This spiritual maturity it is that deprives the grave of its terror. Here then are two helps to relieve for us the terror of the grave. Old age is one. Spiritual maturity of character is the great relieving power. (Homilist.)
The Christian ripe for the garner
I. Mark the analogy between corn and a good man. “Thou shalt come to thy grave,” etc.
1. In both cases there is labour. Spontaneous harvests do not spring up in this world. If a larger yield is to be produced, and a better quality obtained, he puts more management into his land, and bestows more labour upon It, and the result, in most instances, is a rich crop.
2. The life of a good man, like corn, is a great mystery. If the little, tiny seed which grows in your field baffles you, how much more God’s work in the human heart! We need not trouble ourselves about the process; the great question is, “Has the incorruptible seed of the Word of God entered into my nature?”
3. Corn has life in it, and will grow! The men who tell us that Christianity is being played out, are the men into whose souls it has never been played in!
4. The good man, like corn, is nourished by various influences. Through how many processes must a tiny seedling pass, and to how many influences must it be subjected, before it becomes bread on our tables? And how many influences are necessary to form and mature the character of a good man?
5. The great agent is the Holy Spirit, who softens the heart to receive “the incorruptible seed.”
6. Adversity helps to mature a good man’s character. It is said that each day’s sunshine, in the month of June, is worth a million of money to our farmers; but if all the days of summer and autumn were unbroken sunshine, would that be helpful to full barns and big hay stacks? No! David said, “It was good for me that I was afflicted,” and millions have made the same confession. These blights and disappointments of life are designed to remind us that eternal fields are within our reach--fields which are always rich in golden harvests. Temporal loss often leads to spiritual gain, and millions have exclaimed, with Richard Baxter, “Oh! healthful sickness! Oh! comfortable sorrow! Oh! gainful loss! Oh! enriching poverty! Oh! blessed day that I was afflicted!”
II. And what is meant by a good man coming to the grave in a full age. “Thou shalt come to thy grave,” etc.
1. That he has filled up the measure of human life. We often measure life by length; God measures it by depth and breadth. We look at quantity; God looks at quality. Many a man has died full of good works, long before he has reached forty years of age. Others have passed the allotted span of human life, and left no good works behind them.
2. Coming to the grave like a shock of corn, fully ripe, means the maturity of Christian character. The farmer knows the proper time for cutting down the corn. If he cut it down too soon the ear would not be filled, and if he waited too long, the best of the corn would be shaken and wasted. Our times are wholly in the hands of unerring wisdom and unsearchable goodness, and He will not allow death to overtake us too soon, or be delayed a moment too long.
3. And observe the certainty of all this. “He shall come.” Some bestow great labour on that which yields them no profit. The old age of a good man is always richer than his youth. God cares as much for the poor remnant of an old man’s life that remains, as for the fresh and stainless period of his youth. And one of the most enviable sights out of heaven, is that of a good old man, waiting, with undimmed powers and unsoured temper, till his Master shall say, “He is ripe for the garner.” Indeed, when such a man dies, it is heaven’s testimony that he’s ready for heaven. The great Dr. Clarke, in old age, looking back on a useful life, and forward to a glorious rest, said, “I have enjoyed the spring of life: I have endured the toils of summer; I have culled the fruits of autumn. I am now passing through the rigour of winter, and I am neither forsaken of God nor abandoned of man. I see at no great distance the dawn of a new day: the first of a spring which shall be eternal. It is advancing to meet me. I run to embrace it. Welcome, eternal spring.” Did you ever meet with a godly man who was not prepared to die when death came? Never!
4. A good man, like a shock of corn, is safely garnered. Corn is laid up to be preserved; but that is not all. It is also laid up that it may be used. The best use of corn comes after it has been cut down. Some people imagine that heaven will be a place of perpetual indolence and selfish delights. That is not the Bible conception of heaven. I know that heaven is a place of rest, but then, as Baxter says, “it is not the rest of a stone, but a rest consistent with service; an activity without weariness, a service which is perfect freedom.” When a good man dies, he is not flung away as a useless instrument, to be no longer employed in his Master’s service, but passes from the humbler services on earth to the nobler service of heaven; from an obscure to a loftier service, “where His servants do serve Him.” The sanctity of a good man’s soul is not lost at death, but will continue to grow forever.
(1) To the unconverted we say, “Sow to yourselves in righteousness” (Hosea 10:12).
(2) To the Christian we say, “Be not weary in well doing,” etc. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,” etc. (Philippians 4:8-9).
(3) Let the aged be encouraged. (H. Woodcock.)
The ripened life garnered
I. To produce the shock of corn, there must have been seed sown.
II. The seed sown must have contained the principle of corn life.
III. There must have been a prepared and proper soil.
IV. The seed must have grown gradually.
V. The plant must have been supplied with nourishment from the root inwardly and by air, rain, etc., outwardly. This is absolutely necessary in nature, or the plant will wither and die. It is the same in the kingdom of grace. “The trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:3), must be sustained by the sap from the root, and by the Spirit’s operation through the Word and ordinances.
VI. In growing up it must have been exposed to many vicissitudes. Cold, heat, drought, flood, and tempest are common between seed-time and harvest; and our Lord has declared to His disciples, that in this world they shall have tribulation.
VII. It must have had sunshine to ripen it. No harvest without sunshine; nor can the soul ripen without the shinings in of the rays of the Sun of Righteousness.
1. Of the truth.
2. Of God’s countenance.
3. Of heaven. Conclusion--
1. The husbandman sows seed for the purpose of reaping a joyful harvest. He cuts down the corn when it is golden in the ear that it may not be lost, and when the Lord’s time is fully come, He sends forth His reapers.
2. The husbandman separates the grain from the straw, so the Lord separates the spirit from the body. “The body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness.”
3. The ingathering is profitable and joyous.
(1) To the husbandman. Christ sees the travail of His soul, and is satisfied.
(2) To the angels and Church above.
(3) To the glorified spirit.
4. Shall we then mourn or regret our loss? (W. P. Tiddy.)
A ripe old age
We have here pictured a ripe and venerable old age--a good man coming safely out of all the drill and discipline of the present life, taken up from all, and housed forever in the glory and garner of the sky. Polishing and ripening are rough and warm work. The soul of man undergoes rough and trying treatment here; but the path of sorrow is the way to joy; and the path of suffering is the way to glory.
I. The suggestive simile by which the life of the aged saint in this world is depicted. Corn, ripe corn, ready for the husbandman and home. Corn suggests the ideas of preciousness, maturity, diversity of influences, and manifoldness. Let us seek that our lives may be valuable as ripe corn, and not valueless as empty chaff.
II. The glorious destiny for which the aged saint in this world is being disciplined.
1. The saint as well as the sinner has to meet the same inevitable lot, so far as the body is concerned.
2. The saint goes to his grave, but the wicked is driven there.
3. The good are not destroyed when they come to the grave, but are gathered into the garner. Let these reflections cheer us in remembrance of our departed, sainted friends, and in anticipation of our own departure. (F. W. Brown.)
The ripe Christian
The illustration is drawn from agricultural life. It is the close of harvest, and the busy reapers are carrying home the spoil. There are few scenes to be witnessed upon earth more pleasing and attractive. How suggestive of comfort and plenty! What a picture of happy industry and well-rewarded toil. How exquisite the patches of colour! How merry and melodious the song! Mark how skilfully the reaper handles his sickle, and clutches the corn; one sweep, and the whole armful is down, and laid so neat and level that when the band is put round the sheaf almost every straw is of equal length. The single stem is called “a stalk of corn”; the armful, which the reaper cuts down with one sweep of his hook, is called “a sheaf”; whilst a bundle of sheaves, placed together and set upright, ready to be borne away to the homestead, is styled, from an old Dutch root, “a shock of corn.” Well, what an interesting and significant metaphor this is! and how suggestive! How much there is in that bundle of wheat-sheaves, now ready to be carried home, to remind you of the aged Christian, who has served his generation by the will of God! What anxiety has been expended upon that corn! Through what risks and storms has it come! A thousand contingencies might occur to check the growth or affect the quality of the grain, and the value of the harvest. But now it has been brought safely through all these risks. The little green thing has become a vigorous and fruitful stalk. The farmer’s solicitude is over; his months of anxious toil are ended; the grain is safely gathered in--how much in all this to suggest the closing scene in the life of a ripe believer. “Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season.” As we read the text we naturally think of the old and grey-headed saint. How many years of anxiety have been expended upon him! How many storms have swept over him! Through what a variety of experience has he passed! Perhaps in early life he gave little promise of a long and useful career. Yet here he is, come to life’s close in happiness and honour. He has weathered the blasts, he has borne his fruit, he has served his generation, and all that remains for him is just to be gathered in--gently borne away to the homestead of heaven. Yet I would not have you run away with the idea that the text applies exclusively to the aged. This prominent idea is not so much old age, as ripeness, maturity. It does not say, “Thou shalt come to thy grave in old age,” but “in a full age.” There is a difference. Old age is not absolutely promised to all God’s people; but a “full age” is. It is noticeable that, although in the early history of the human race many lived to a great length of time, even to hundreds of years, it is not recorded in Scripture of any of these that they died “in a good old age, and full of years”; not until we come to Abraham is such a record given; although his term of life was but a fourth of that of many who had gone before him; the reason probably being that, though Abraham’s years were fewer, yet his virtues were greater; his life was a life of faith, and therefore of completeness. I have seen a matured saint cut off at twenty; and another man, not nearly so ripe, at threescore and ten. You may remember how, addressing young men, Solomon, with characteristic sagacity, makes the distinction I am indicating. “My son,” he says, “keep my commandments: for length of days, and long life, shall they add to thee”; intimating, of course, that the natural tendency of virtue is to lengthen a man’s days; but that, whether such a man’s days shall be many or few, he shall, at all events, have “a long life,” in the sense of a full and complete one.
“They err, who measure life by years,
With false and thoughtless tongue:
Some hearts grow old before their time,
Others are always young.
‘Tis not the number of the lines
On life’s fast-filling page;
‘Tis not the pulse’s added throbs,
Which constitute true age.”
Amongst moral and responsible beings, that life is really the longest, however brief its outward term, into which the largest amount of beneficent activity is condensed. Thoughts suggested here in regard to a good man’s death.
1. It is not unwelcome. “Thou shalt come to thy grave.” He is not driven or dragged to it, as may be said of many an ungodly man. God makes him willing when He has made him ready. I have often been struck with the fact that, when the end of a Christian’s life begins to draw near, however reluctant he had been hitherto to leave the world, and however he may even have dreaded his departure, all that reluctance and fear melts away.
2. The death of a good man is seasonable. “As a shock of corn cometh in in his season.”
3. As death is welcome to the ripe believer, and seasonable, so it is honourable. It is no ignominious blow; it is not a crushing, humiliating stroke; it is a release, an enfranchisement, a coronation. (J. Thain Davidson, D. D.)
Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear It, and know thou it for thy good.
“So it is”
Thus closed a forcible speech by Eliphaz the Temanite; it may be called his “summing up.” He virtually says, “What I have testified in the name of my friends is no dream of theirs. Upon this matter we are specialists; and bear witness to truth which we have made the subject of research and experience. Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know thou it for thy good.” By this declaration he sets forth his teaching with authority, and presses it home. He persuades Job to consider what he had said, for it was no hasty opinion, but the ripe fruit of experience. I shall not follow Eliphaz; I am only going to borrow his closing words, and use them in reference to Gospel testimony; which is to us a thing known and searched out.
I. To begin with, these words may well describe the qualification of the teacher. He will be poorly furnished if he cannot run in the line which Eliphaz draws in the words of our text.
1. He should have an intimate knowledge of his subject. How can he teach what he does not know? When we come to talk about God, and the soul, and sin, and the precious blood of Jesus, and the new birth, and holiness and eternal fife, the speaker who knows nothing about these things personally must be a poor driveller. A blind man, who is teaching others about colour and vision? A preacher of an unknown God? A dead man sent with messages of life? You are in a strange position.
2. I must add that he should have a personal experience of it, so that he can say, “Lo this, we have searched it, so it is.” It is unseemly that an ignorant man should keep a school. It is not meet that a dumb man should teach singing. Shall an impenitent man preach repentance? Shall an unbelieving man preach faith? Shall an unholy man preach obedience to the Divine will? He who would learn to plough, must not be apprenticed to one who never turned a furrow. We must know the Lord, or we cannot teach His way.
3. What is wanted in a successful teacher is a firm conviction of the truth of these things, growing out of his having tested them for himself. He must say, with emphasis, “So it is.” The Lord’s Word must be true. Why do you “hope” about it? Believe it and enjoy it. But people will go hoping and hoping and limping; as if to be lame were the proper thing. A ministry of hesitation must be ruinous to souls. When Divine truth is held fast, then let it be held forth, and not till then.
4. Once more a needful qualification for a teacher of the Word is earnestness and goodwill to the hearer. We must implore each one of our hearers to give earnest heed. We must cry to him with our whole heart, “Hear it, and know thou it for thy good.” Without love, there can be no real eloquence. The great Saviour’s heart is love, and those who are to be saviours for Him must be of a loving spirit. True love will do the work when everything else has failed. Knowledge of our subject avails not without love to our hearers. There are three ways of knowing, but only one sort is truly worth the having. Many labour to know, merely that they may know. These are like misers, who gather gold that they may count it, and hide it away in holes and corners. This is the avarice of knowledge. Such knowledge turns stagnant, like water shut up in a close pond--above mantled with rank weed, and below putrid, or full of loathsome fife. A second class aspire to know that others may know that they know. To be reputed wise is the heaven of most mortals. One does not eat merely that others may know that you have had your dinner, and one should not know merely to have it known that you know. The third kind of knowledge is the one worth having. Learn to know that you may make other people know. This is not the avarice but the commerce of knowledge. Acquire knowledge that you may distribute it. Light the candle, but put it not under a bushel. Be taught that you may teach. This trading is gainful to all who engage in it.
II. The argument for the hearer. “Lo this, we have searched it, so it is.” The argument directed to the hearer is the experience of many, confirming the statement of one. “We have searched it, so it is.” I should like to bear my own personal witness to a few things about which I am fully persuaded. “Lo this, we have searched it, so it is.”
1. And my first witness is that sin is an evil and a bitter thing. I think I may speak for you and say, “We have searched this out, and we know that it is so.” We have seen sin prove injurious to our fellow men.
2. I wish to testify to the fact that repentance of sin, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, bring a wonderful rest to the heart, and work a marvellous change in the whole life and character.
3. Next, we beg to bear our witness to the fact that prayer is heard of God. God does hear prayer. We bear our witness to that fact with all our strength, and therefore we say about it, “Lo this, we have searched it, so it is; hear it, and know thou it for thy good.”
4. Another testimony we would like to bear, namely, that obedience to the Lord, though it may involve present loss, is sure to be the most profitable course for the believing man to take.
5. We beg to say that the old-fashioned Gospel is able to save men, and to arouse enthusiasm in their souls.
III. We have here the exhortation to the inquirer.
1. “This, we have searched it, so it is; hear it.” But oh, if you wish to be saved, hear the Gospel! Let nothing keep you away from God’s sanctuary, where the real Gospel is proclaimed. Hear it! If it is not preached exactly in the style which you would prefer, nevertheless, hear it. “Faith cometh by hearing.”
2. The next thing that he says is, “Know it.” Hear it and know it; go on hearing it until you know it. To know Christ is life eternal.
3. Our text means--know it in a particular way. “Know thou it for thy good.” The devil knows a great deal. He knows more than the most intelligent of us; but he knows nothing for his good. All that he knows sours into evil within his rebellious nature.
(1) How is a man to know anything for his good? This knowledge must first be a practical knowledge. Does the Word say “Repent”? If you want to know what repentance means, repent at once. If you want to know what faith is, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and when you have believed, you will know what believing is. The best way to know a virtue is to practise it.
(2) To know a thing for our good is to know it for ourselves. “Know it for thy good.” I find that one rendering is, “Know it for thyself.” Another man’s God is no God to me; he must be “my Lord and my God.”
(3) I must add that we only know things for our good when we know them believingly. To a sinner a promise is as dark as a threatening, if he does not believe it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany