Job Chapter Seven
Job's troubles. (1-6) Job expostulates with God. (7-16) He begs release. (17-21)
Commentary on Job 7:1-6
(Read Job 7:1-6)
Job here excuses what he could not justify, his desire of death. Observe man's present place: he is upon earth. He is yet on earth, not in hell. Is there not a time appointed for his abode here? yes, certainly, and the appointment is made by Him who made us and sent us here. During that, man's life is a warfare, and as day-labourers, who have the work of the day to do in its day, and must make up their account at night. Job had as much reason, he thought, to wish for death, as a poor servant that is tired with his work, has to wish for the shadows of the evening, when he shall go to rest. The sleep of the labouring man is sweet; nor can any rich man take so much satisfaction in his wealth, as the hireling in his day's wages. The comparison is plain; hear his complaint: His days were useless, and had long been so; but when we are not able to work for God, if we sit still quietly for him, we shall be accepted. His nights were restless. Whatever is grievous, it is good to see it appointed for us, and as designed for some holy end. When we have comfortable nights, we must see them also appointed to us, and be thankful for them. His body was noisome. See what vile bodies we have. His life was hastening apace. While we are living, every day, like the shuttle, leaves a thread behind: many weave the spider's web, which will fail, 14. But if, while we live, we live unto the Lord, in works of faith and labours of love, we shall have the benefit, for every man shall reap as he sowed, and wear as he wove.
Commentary on Job 7:7-16
(Read Job 7:7-16)
Plain truths as to the shortness and vanity of man's life, and the certainty of death, do us good, when we think and speak of them with application to ourselves. Dying is done but once, and therefore it had need be well done. An error here is past retrieve. Other clouds arise, but the same cloud never returns: so a new generation of men is raised up, but the former generation vanishes away. Glorified saints shall return no more to the cares and sorrows of their houses; nor condemned sinners to the gaieties and pleasures of their houses. It concerns us to secure a better place when we die. From these reasons Job might have drawn a better conclusion than this, I will complain. When we have but a few breaths to draw, we should spend them in the holy, gracious breathings of faith and prayer; not in the noisome, noxious breathings of sin and corruption. We have much reason to pray, that He who keeps Israel, and neither slumbers nor sleeps, may keep us when we slumber and sleep. Job covets to rest in his grave. Doubtless, this was his infirmity; for though a good man would choose death rather than sin, yet he should be content to live as long as God pleases, because life is our opportunity of glorifying him, and preparing for heaven.
Commentary on Job 7:17-21
(Read Job 7:17-21)
Job reasons with God concerning his dealings with man. But in the midst of this discourse, Job seems to have lifted up his thoughts to God with some faith and hope. Observe the concern he is in about his sins. The best men have to complain of sin; and the better they are, the more they will complain of it. God is the Preserver of our lives, and the Saviour of the souls of all that believe; but probably Job meant the Observer of men, whose eyes are upon the ways and hearts of all men. We can hide nothing from Him; let us plead guilty before his throne of grace, that we may not be condemned at his judgment-seat. Job maintained, against his friends, that he was not a hypocrite, not a wicked man, yet he owns to his God, that he had sinned. The best must so acknowledge, before the Lord. He seriously inquires how he might be at peace with God, and earnestly begs forgiveness of his sins. He means more than the removing of his outward trouble, and is earnest for the return of God's favour. Wherever the Lord removes the guilt of sin, he breaks the power of sin. To strengthen his prayer for pardon, Job pleads the prospect he had of dying quickly. If my sins be not pardoned while I live, I am lost and undone for ever. How wretched is sinful man without a knowledge of the Saviour!
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Job》
 Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling?
Is there not — Job is here excusing what he cannot justify, his passionate longing for death.
A time — Is there not a time limited by God, wherein man shall live in this sinful, and miserable world? And is it a crime in me, to desire that God would bring me to that joyful period? Our time on earth is limited and short, according to the narrow bounds of this earth. But heaven cannot be measured, nor the days of heaven numbered.
Hireling — Whose time is short, being but a few years, or days, whose condition is full of toil and hardship.
 As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work:
Shadow — That is, the sun-set, the time allotted for his rest.
 So am I made to possess months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed to me.
So — This so respects not so much the desire of an hired servant, as the ground of it, his hard toil and service.
Possess — God, hath given me this as my lot and inheritance.
Months — So he calls them rather than days, to note the tediousness of his affliction.
Vanity — Empty and unsatisfying.
Nights — He mentions nights, because that is the saddest time for sick and miserable persons; the darkness and solitude of the night being of themselves uncomfortable, and giving them more opportunity for solemn and sorrowful reflections.
 My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust; my skin is broken, and become loathsome.
Worms — Which were bred out of Job's corrupted flesh and sores.
Dust — The dust of the earth upon which he lay.
Broken — By ulcers in all parts of it.
 My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope.
Swifter — The time of my life hastens to a period.
Shuttle — Which passes in a moment from one end of the web to the other.
Hope — Of enjoying any good day here.
 O remember that my life is wind: mine eye shall no more see good.
O — He turns his speech to God. Perhaps observing, that his friends grew weary of hearing it. If men will not hear us, God will: if men cannot help us, he can: for his arm is not shortened, neither is his ear heavy.
 The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more: thine eyes are upon me, and I am not.
No more — In this mortal state: I shall never return to this life again.
Am not — If thou cast one angry look upon me, I am not; thou canst look me into eternity.
 As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.
No more — Never until the general resurrection. When we see a cloud which looked great, as if it would eclipse the sun, of a sudden dispersed and disappearing, say, Just such a thing is the life of man, a vapour that appears for a while and then vanisheth away.
 He shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him any more.
Any more — He shall no more be seen and known in his former habitation. It concerns us to secure a better place when we die: for this will own us no more.
 Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Therefore — Since my life is so vain and short, and when once lost, without all hopes of recovery. I will plead with God for pity before I die; I will not smother my anguish within my breast, but will ease myself by pouring out my complaints.
 Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?
A sea — Am I as fierce and unruly as the sea, which, if thou didst not set bounds to it, would overwhelm the earth? Or, am I a vast and ungovernable sea-monster? Which thou must restrain by thy powerful providence.
That, … — That thou shouldest guard and restrain me with such heavy and unexampled miseries? We are apt in affliction to complain of God, as if he laid more upon us than there is occasion for: whereas we are never in heaviness, but when there is need, nor more than there is need.
 What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him?
What, … — What is there in that poor, mean, creature called man, miserable man, as this word signifies, which can induce thee to take any notice of him, or to make such account of him? Man is not worthy of thy favour, and he is below thy anger; that thou shouldest concern thyself so much about him, as one near and dear to thee?
 And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?
And try, … — What is man that vain, foolish creature, that thou shouldest magnify or regard, or visit him, (with thy mercy and blessings, that thou shouldest so far honour and regard him, as by thy visitation to preserve his spirit, or hold his soul in life) and try him, which God doth not only by afflictions, but also by prosperity and both inward and outward blessings? That thou shouldst observe his motions every moment, as in care for him, and jealous over him?
 How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till I swallow down my spittle?
How long — How long will it be ere thou withdraw thy afflicting hand? Swallow - That I may have a breathing time: a proverbial expression.
 I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?
Sinned — Although I am free from those crying sins, for which my friends suppose thou hast sent this judgment upon me, yet, I freely confess I am a sinner, and therefore obnoxious to thy justice.
What, … — To satisfy thy justice, or regain thy favour? Who dost know and diligently observe all mens inward motions, and outward actions; and therefore, if thou shalt be severe to mark mine iniquities, I have not what to say or do unto thee. My case is singular, none is shot at as I am.
 And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.
Pardon — Seeing thou art so gracious to others, why may not I hope for the same favour from thee? Dust - If thou dost not speedily help me, it will be too late.
But I shall not be — It will be to late to shew me favour.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Job》
07 Chapter 7
Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth?
An appointed time
I. The nature of the fact which is here affirmed.
1. That the existence of man will be terminated by death. When sin was committed, the order and harmony of the universe was disturbed, and then the solemn and awful sentence was pronounced. What is the world itself, but a vast charnel house, to be filled with the ashes of innumerable dead?
2. The existence of man is confined to a narrow compass. There has been a serious abridgment of the average length of life. All the Scripture representations describe the extreme brevity of human life. We are pushed on by the hand of time, from the various objects we meet with in our course, wondering at the swiftness with which they are taken from our vision, and astonished at the destiny which winds up the scene and ratifies our doom.
3. The existence of man is, as to its precise duration, uncertain and unknown. We know not the day of our departure. There is an impervious gloom about our final departure which no man can penetrate. But all is well known to the wisdom of God. With Him all is fixed--to us, all is uncertain.
4. Our departure from this world is for the purpose of our mingling in scenes which are beyond the grave. We do not depart and sink into the dulness of annihilation. This life is but the threshold of eternity; we are placed here as probationers for eternity.
II. The feelings which arise from the contemplation of it. There is a universal inclination to avoid these truths; they are regarded in general as merely professional; and there is much in the world to counteract their influence. All this can only be removed by the Spirit of God.
1. We ought to make our final departure the subject of habitual contemptation.
2. We should be induced to moderate our attachment to the world, from which we shall so soon be separated.
3. You should be induced to seek an interest in that redeeming system by which you may depart in peace, with the prospect of eternal happiness.
4. We should be induced to pursue with Christian diligence those great employments which the Gospel has proposed. (James Parsons.)
Life as a clock
Our brains are seventy year clocks. The angel of life winds them up at once for all, then closes the cases, and gives the key into the hand of the angel of resurrection. “Tic-tac, tic-tac!” go the wheels of thought. Our will cannot stop them, madness only makes them go faster. Death alone can break into the case, and, seizing the ever-swinging pendulum which we call the heart, silence at last the clicking of the terrible escapement we have carried so long beneath our aching foreheads. If we could only get at them as we lie on our pillows, and count the dead beats of thought after thought, and image after image, jarring through the overtired organ. Will nobody block those wheels, uncouple their pinion, cut the string which holds those weights? What a passion comes over us sometimes for silence and rest, that this dreadful mechanism, unwinding the endless tapestry of time, embroidered with spectral figures of life and death, might have but one brief holiday! (J. Holmes.)
The hand of God in the history of a man
I. There is a Divine appointment ruling all human life. Not that I single out man’s existence as the sole object of Divine forethought, far rather do I believe it to be but one little corner of illimitable providence. A Divine appointment arranges every event, minute or magnificent. As we look out on the world from our quiet room it appears to be a mass of confusion. Events happen which we deeply deplore--incidents which appear to bring evil, and only evil, and we wonder why they are permitted. The picture before us, to the glance of reason, looks like a medley of colour. But the affairs of this world are neither tangled, nor confused, nor perplexing to Him who seeth the end from the beginning. God is in all, and rules all. In the least as well as in the greatest, Jehovah’s power is manifested. It is night, but the watchman never sleepeth, and Israel may rest in peace. The tempest rages, but it is well, for our Captain is governor of storms. Our main point is that God rules mortal life; and He does so, first, as to its term, “Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth?” He rules it, secondly, as to its warfare, for so the text might most properly be read, “Is there not an appointed warfare for man upon earth?” And, thirdly, He rules it as to its service, for the second clause of the text is, “Are not his days as the days of an hireling?”
1. First, then, God’s determination governs the time of human life.
2. But we must now consider the other translation of our text. It is generally given in the margin of the Bibles. “Is there not an appointed warfare to man upon earth?” which teaches us that God has appointed life to be a warfare. To all men it will be so, whether bad or good. Every man will find himself a soldier under some captain or another. Alas for those men who are battling against God and His truth, they will in the end be clothed with dishonour and defeat. No Christian is free to follow his own devices; we are all under law to Christ. A soldier surrenders his own will to that of his commander. Such is the Christian’s life--a life of willing subjection to the wilt of the Lord Jesus Christ. In consequence of this we have our place fixed and our order arranged for us, and our life’s relative positions are all prescribed. A soldier has to keep rank and step with the rest of the line. As we have a warfare to accomplish, we must expect hardships. A soldier must not reckon upon ease. If life be a warfare, we must look for contests and struggles. The Christian man must not expect to go to heaven without opposition. It is a warfare, for all these reasons, and yet more so because we must always be upon the watch against danger. In a battle no man is safe. Blessed be God that the text says “Is there not an ‘appointed’ warfare?” Then, it is not our warfare, but one that God has appointed for us, in which He does not expect us to wear out our armour, or bear our own charges, or find our own rations, or supply our own ammunition. The armour that we wear we have not to construct, and the sword we wield we have not to fabricate.
3. The Lord has also determined the service of our life. All men are servants to some master or another, neither can any of us avoid the servitude. The greatest men are only so much the more the servants of others. If we are now the servants of the Lord Jesus, this life is a set time of a labour and apprenticeship to be worked out. I am bound by solemn indentures to my Lord and Master till my term of life shall run out, and I am right glad to have it so. Now, a servant who has let himself out for a term of years has not a moment that he can call his own, nor have any of us, if we are God’s people. We have not a moment, no, not a breath, nor a faculty, nor a farthing that we may honestly reserve. You must expect to toil in His service till you are ready to faint, and then His grace will renew your strength. A servant knows that his time is limited. If it is weekly service, he knows that his engagement may be closed on Saturday; if he is hired by the month, he knows how many days there are in a month, and he expects it to end; if he is engaged by the year, he knows the day of the year when his service shall be run out. As for us, we do not know when our term will be complete. The hireling expects his wages; that is one reason for his industry. We, too, expect ours--not of debt truly, but of grace, yet still a gracious reward. God does not employ servants without paying them wages, as many of our merchants now do.
II. Secondly, the inferences to be drawn from this fact.
1. First, there is Job’s inference. Job’s inference was that as there was only an appointed time, and he was like a servant employed by the year, he might be allowed to wish for life’s speedy close, and therefore he says, “As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work.” Job was right in a measure, but not altogether so. There is a sense in which every Christian may look forward to the end of life with joy and expectancy, and may pray for it. At the same time, there are needful modifications to this desire to depart, and a great many of them; for, first, it would be a very lazy thing for a servant to be always looking for Saturday night, and to be always sighing and groaning because the days are so long. The man who wants to be off to heaven before his life’s work is done does not seem to me to be quite the man that is likely to go there at all. Besides, while our days are like those of a hireling, we serve a better master than other servants do.
2. I will tell you the devil’s inference. The devil’s inference is that if our time, warfare, and service are appointed, there is no need of care, and we may cast ourselves down from the pinnacle of the temple, or do any other rash thing, for we shall only work out our destiny. “Oh,” say they, “we need not turn to Christ, for if we are ordained to eternal life we shall be saved.” Yes, sirs, but why will you eat at meal time today? Why, sirs, nothing in the world more nerves me for work than the belief that God’s purposes have appointed me to this service. Being convinced that the eternal forces of immutable wisdom and unfailing power are at my back, I put forth all my strength as becometh a “worker together with God.”
3. I will now give you the sick man’s inference. “Is there not an appointed time to men upon earth? Are not his days also like the days of an hireling?” The sick man, therefore, concludes that his pains will not last forever, and that every suffering is measured out by love Divine. Therefore, let him be patient, and in confidence and quietness shall be his strength.
4. Next comes the mourner’s inference--one which we do not always draw quite so readily as we should. It is this: “My child has died, but not too soon. My husband is gone; ah, God, what shall I do? Where shall my widowed heart find sympathy? Still he has been taken away at the right time. The Lord has done as it pleased Him, and He has done wisely.”
5. Furthermore, let us draw the healthy man’s inference. I have no end of business--too much, a great deal; and I resolved “I will get, all square and trim as if I were going off, for perhaps I am.” You are a healthy man, but be prepared to die.
6. Lastly, there is the sinner’s inference. “My time, my warfare, and my service are appointed, but what have I done in them? I have waged a warfare against God, and have served in the pay of the devil; what will the end be?” Sinner, you will run your length, you will fulfil your day to your black master; you will fight his battle and earn your pay, but what will the wages be? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow.
Longing for sunset
The title of this sermon is the subject of a picture. The artist shows an overworked and weary slave, earnestly looking to the western sky, and longing for the evening shadow which will say his work is done.
I. The different forms of that experience in which the soul “earnestly desireth the shadow,” or the coming on of the night of death. The natural instinct of man is to desire to live. Yet there is a settled mood or habit of the soul in which there is longing for sunset.
1. One form of this experience arises out of painful and exhausting sickness. Months of bitterness and wearisome nights had, for Job, worn away the instinct of life. The grave seemed to him a desirable refuge from his distresses.
2. When the infirmities of old age creep on, and life continues after the loss of nearly all the friends among whom it was passed.
3. Those under the shadow of a mighty sorrow from God often long for sunset. Worldly disappointments sometimes almost craze the agonised spirit.
4. The baffled hero of the Church, after a long conflict with wickedness, often yearns for the end of his course. (Illustrate from Luther.)
5. The high, Christian experience which finds delight in working for God upon earth, yearns also for a full communion with Him in heaven.
II. Is such an experience healthy and desirable in any of its forms? When inspired by a clear realisation of the celestial glories, it certainly is both healthy and desirable. The real Christian often needs this longing for God as the solace and hope of his work. But every form of this experience which arises from disgust of life, is both unhealthy and undesirable. It is not a normal condition of the soul of man to wish to die, simply as a relief from the cares and toils of this world. Men love activity. It is a sure sign of unhealth when the manly vigour of the soul succumbs to its sorrows, and longs for the rest of the grave. The physical system is itself broken down. Such a state of mind is also undesirable. It oppresses the soul with a heavy load, so that it can bear no burden of duty. It envelops the life in a cloud of darkness, so that it cannot see the light. It is to be prayed against, laboured against, and lived against, with the utmost tenacity of will.
III. How far is it right or wrong to harbour this disgust of life? We cannot condemn this longing for death in the souls of those worn out by disease, but we cannot sanction the very common notion that it is to any extent the proof of grace in the heart. So far as the desire of the grave is concerned, it is simply the breaking down of nature, and not the incoming of grace. It is right too for the aged man to look joyfully towards the end. And if for the aged, why not for the oppressed? No one who is called to live has any right to wish to die. Every Christian is sinning against God, when he permits, himself to loathe, or to neglect the actual work to which he is clearly called. Observe, then, the supreme dignity of a joyful, earnest, working life in God. That is better far than a constant longing for sunset: God gives a higher importance to our living than to our dying. Yet, though a working life is to be desired in itself, it is not true that a Christian is always best trained in the sunshine. Some of the most precious of the graces grow best in the darkness, and the choicest disciples very often pass their lives under a cloud. But we must not forget that the shadow will be falling soon, nor neglect to prepare for death. And it is well to keep in mind the blessings which the sunset will bring to the weary saint. (W. H. Corning.)
I am made to possess months of vanity.
The wasted weeks of sickness
“Months of vanity” indicate a protracted time of uselessness, when no good cause is furthered by us, and we ourselves seem rather to be failing in piety than growing in grace; a time of suffering without Divine consolation; months which look not even like months of discipline, because no good end seems to be served by the affliction. The modes of spiritual distress are almost as varied as the modes of spiritual progress.
I. The experience of “months of vanity.” We must carefully distinguish between these and months of sin, or of punishment for sin.
1. Job’s “months of vanity” were the result of disastrous circumstances.
2. Sickness was another factor of Job’s distress.
3. Job suffered from the injudicious sympathy of his friends. There was no lack of tenderness in these men. They were, however, wholly mistaken in the man; they wholly misread the meaning of his affliction and the purpose of God.
4. Job was in the hand of Satan. Are there not times when every woe is aggravated, and all the sufferer’s courage sapped by the consciousness that no help is being vouchsafed? There are powers of evil which make themselves felt, thoughts that come charged with doubt, despair, and death. These are the things that try a man, seeming to make his life valueless and his piety a dream.
II. The Divine meaning in these “months of vanity.” All this takes place in the providence of God. The consciousness of the sufferer is no true exponent, as his past experience is no measure of the Divine purpose.
1. These “months of vanity” revealed the energy of Job’s endurance. There are Christians whose mere endurance is a greater triumph of grace than the labours and successes of others.
2. See the manifest victory of Job’s faith. His utterances become more and more the utterances of faith. The manifest victory of faith becomes an enlargement of faith.
3. An enlarged thought of God was another of the fruits of Job’s “months of vanity.” (See the last chapter.)
4. The profound compassion and awe awakened in others by the sight of the good man’s sufferings. We always need to have a new flow of sympathy, to be disturbed in our self-complacency; the tragedy of life unfolds itself to us; we are awestricken to mark God’s dealings with human souls. We learn in what a man’s life consists; we watch with patience for the assured victory of the human spirit. Life becomes nobler and grander; homely piety takes on a new dignity as the infinite possibilities of the patient soul appear. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
The design and improvement of useless days and wearisome nights
I. Useless days and wearisome nights may be the portion of the best of men. To those who, like Job, are righteous and upright in the sight of God, and have been, like him, healthy, vigorous, and useful, “months of vanity” are months void of health, activity, and usefulness. But this to an aged Christian is not so grievous as that there are months of vanity in which he is capable of doing little for the glory of God and the good of his fellow creatures. An ancient writer calls old age “a middle state between health and sickness.”
II. Months of vanity and wearisome nights are to be considered as the appointment of God and to be improved accordingly. God intends hereby--
1. To restrain an earthly spirit, and bring His people to serious consideration and piety. In order to restrain the inordinate love of the world, God is pleased to visit men with pain and sickness. He gives them time to think and consider.
2. To exercise and strengthen their graces, especially their humility, patience, meekness, and contentment. It is very difficult habitually to practise these virtues, especially if we have long enjoyed health and ease. But when God toucheth our bone and our flesh, He calls us to and disposeth us for the exercise of them.
3. To promote the good and advantage of others. It is the observation of a lively writer “that God makes one-half of the human species a moral lesson to the other half.” Thus He set forth Job as an example of enduring affliction and of patience.
4. To confirm their hopes and excite their desires of a blessed immortality. They tend to confirm their hopes of it. Reflections--
When any disease severely attacks us, we are ready to imagine that our trouble is almost peculiar to ourselves; attended with circumstances which have never been before experienced. So we think, but we are deceived. The same complaint has been formerly made; others have exceeded us in sufferings, as much as they have excelled us in patience and piety. There are disorders which make our beds uneasy. Some circumstances render the night particularly tedious to those who are sick.
1. Its darkness. Light is sweet.
2. Its solitariness. In the day the company and conversation of friends help to beguile the time. At night we are left alone.
3. Its confinement. In the day change of place and posture afford temporary relief. At night we are shut up, as it were, in a prison.
4. Its wakefulness. If we could get sleep we should welcome it as a very desirable blessing. It would render us, for a time, insensible to pain. Sometimes we cannot sleep. Suggest some useful reflections--
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.
The web of life
These words fitly describe the quickness with which the days of our life glide away. The weaver at his frame swiftly throws the shuttle from side to side, backwards and forwards, and every throw leaves a thread behind it, which is woven into the piece of cloth he is making. And Job compares human life to the shuttle’s motions.
I. The swiftness of our days. When anything is gone, and gone forever, we begin to think more of its value. “Man is like a thing of nought--his time passeth away like a shadow.”
II. Each day has added another thread to the web of life. What is our life but a collection of days? Each day adds something to the colour and complexion of the whole life--something for good or evil. Thus each day is, as it were, a representative of the whole life. Of how great importance then is every day!
III. We weave now what we wear in eternity. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Scriptures declare that our life will be brought into evidence to show whether we were believers in Christ or not. Then let us ask ourselves these questions--
1. On what are we resting our hope of salvation?
2. Is it our sincere desire to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ?
3. Do we live in the spirit of prayer?
4. How has the day of our life been spent? What have we done for God’s glory? (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
The web of life
I. The swiftness of our days. We are apt not to prize them till they are gone. Each was full of mercies: did we appreciate them? Each was full of opportunities: did we use them wisely or abuse them?
II. Each day adds a thread to the web of life. Each day has its influence for good or evil, for sin or holiness, for God or Satan.
III. What we now weave we shall wear in eternity. What is the web your life is weaving? Application--
1. On what are you resting your hopes of salvation?
2. Is it your sincere desire to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus?
3. Do you live in the spirit of prayer?
4. Consider at the close of each day how it has been spent.
5. What, on the whole, is the texture and colouring of the web of your life as you look upon it in the light of another dying or opening year? (Homiletic Review.)
The web of life
A Christian man’s life is laid in the loom of time to a pattern which he does not see, but God does: and his heart is a shuttle. On one side of the loom is sorrow, and on the other joy; and the shuttle, struck alternately by each, flies back and forth, carrying the thread, which is white or black as the pattern needs. And in the end, when God shall lift up the finished garment and all its changing hues shall glance out, it will then appear that the deep and dark colours were as needful to beauty as the bright and high colours. (H. W. Beecher.)
How brief it is! Who stood sentinel by the gate of Shushan when the royal couriers, bearing hope to the Jews, dashed through, burying their spurs in their horses’ flanks--who stood on the platform by the iron rails that stretch from Holyhead to London, when signals flashed on along the line to stop the traffic and keep all clear, an engine and carriage dashed by with tidings of peace or war from America--saw an image of life. The eagle poising herself a moment on the wing, and then rushing at her prey; the ship that throwing the spray from her bows, scuds before the gale; the shuttle flashing through the loom; the shadow of a cloud sweeping the hillside, and then gone forever; the summer flowers that vanishing, have left our gardens bare, and where were spread out the colours of the rainbow, only dull, black earth, or the rotting wreck of beauty--these with many other fleeting things, are emblems by which God through nature teaches us how frail we are, at the longest how short our days. (T. Guthrie.)
Am I a sea, or a whale, that Thou settest a watch over me?
Watch and ward
These words are part of that first great cry to heaven that broke from the stricken soul of Job. He seems to expostulate with the Almighty for treating him so harshly. He, a poor, weak, frail mortal, was being handled as firmly and as severely as though he was as boisterous and encroaching as an angry sea; as savage and as dangerous as a monster of the river or the deep. His heart and his flesh cry out against this. I am not going to upbraid Job for this. It is far more the groaning of the flesh than the insurrection of the soul. God knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust. There are great lessons here, nevertheless. God exercises a direct control in the universe His hand hath made, and all things are under a law of restraint. Job himself was conscious of this restraining law. “Thou settest a watch over me.” Every individual has to bend to this superior will; is held in check by this unseen hand. No man can accomplish the full gratification of his desires, can work out the full execution of his plans. He is held back by the force of public sentiment; by the power of conscience; by lack of capacity; by the force of circumstance; and by the direct interposition of the will of God. Job’s words imply perplexity, doubt, question, and distress because of this restraint. You and I know his line of feeling and of thought very well, we fret and murmur within the chain that binds us, the fetters that restrain us, the ropes that hold us in. There are good reasons why man should be watched even more closely, reined in more firmly, than anything in the material universe beside. Man possesses a higher nature, and sustains a nearer relationship to God. He is the offspring of God. Man is the only being that has a capacity to break through the lawful boundaries and limits of his place and sphere. He can overleap the laws of moral being, and become a curse to himself and to his kind. He has even a tendency to deviate and rush across the true line of his being, the just and righteous limitations of his nature. Nothing but man in all nature has a tendency to get out of his place. And man is also the only creature capable of definite improvement under the control and superintendence of God. It is a grand thing then, a noble privilege, a gracious mercy that God sets a watch over us, puts us under special ward, and makes His providence so that all things shall work together for good. And our true wisdom lies in this, that we seek, and suffer, and yield ourselves to God’s wise and good control. If we will, His government of us shall be the law of love, the law of life. Self-will is our peril. To take our own course is, in the most serious sense, to take our own life. “Thy will be done.” That is the way of wisdom. Love holds the reins of government, and God is Guardian, Controller, Governor, and Guide. (Good Company.)
Man marked and watched
Certain men are not only plagued by conscience and dogged by fear, but the providence of God seems to have gone out against them. Just when the man had resolved to have a bout of drinking, he fell sick of a fever, and had to go to the hospital. He was going to a dance; but he became so weak that he had not a leg to stand upon. He was forced to toss to and fro on the bed, to quite another tune from that which pleases the ballroom. He had yellow fever and was long in pulling round. God watched him, and put the skid on him just as he meant to have a breakneck run downhill. The man gets better, and he says to himself, “I will have a good time now.” But then he is out of berth, and perhaps he cannot get a ship for months, and he is brought down to poverty. “Dear me!” he says, “everything goes against me. I am a marked man”; and so he is. Just when he thinks that he is going to have a fair wind, a tempest comes on and drives him out of his course, and he sees rocks ahead. After a while he thinks, “Now I am all right. Jack is himself again, and piping times have come.” A storm hurries up; the ship goes down, and he loses all but the clothes he has on his back. He is in a wretched plight: a shipwrecked mariner, far from home. God seems to pursue him, even as He did Jonah. He carries with him misfortune for others, and he might well cry, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that Thou settest a watch over me?” Nothing prospers. His tacklings are loosed; he cannot well strengthen his mast; his ship leaks; his sails are rent; his yards are snapped; and he cannot make it out. Other people seem to get on, though they are worse than he is. Time was when he used to be lucky too; but now he has parted company with success, and carries the black flag of distress. He is driven to and fro by contrary winds; he makes no headway; he is a miserable man, and would wish that the whole thing would go to the bottom, only he dreads a place which has no bottom, from which there is no escape, if once you sink into it. The providence of God runs hard against him, and thus he sees himself to be a watched man. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Man magnified in view of God’s providence
This is an expression of wonder, petulance, and expostulation at the strangeness of God’s dealings. They seemed to Job unsuitable and disproportionate. Viewing himself as the object of them, he was amazed and disaffected at their character and scale. He deemed such an exertion of force, such a stretch of observation, such an expense of care and agency, unmeet, and wasted on so inconsiderable and impotent an object. Surely it is unnecessary and unbecoming condescension in Thee to stoop at such an expense of care and effort, to repress his designs and chastise his faults! Contempt and derision are alone suited to the case of such a puny creature . . . Man is treated by God as though he were a thing of magnitude, consequence, might, and value. The providence of God magnifies man, proves him to be an object of wonderful interest, concern, and solicitude to his Maker. Herein is a mystery. Why am I thus? Wherein does the value consist? None of His stupendous and potent creatures has cost Him, and yet does cost Him so much as poor, feeble, short-lived I, who, if blotted out of creation, would make a void too small to be felt or seen. But God measures values not by material volume, or physical efficiency, but by likeness to Himself, spiritual furniture, length of being. Then, since Thou hast made me thus, I marvel not that Thou dost care for me thus. I marvel not that by so many precautions, and by such frequent checks and corrections, Thou restrainest me from ruining so precious a substance, and filling with wretchedness so durable a being. The discovery of this invisible value may serve to explain the fact of God’s vigilance and jealousy over man, but it does not account for the methods in which they are exhibited. The character of God’s providence over man is well described in the phrase of Job, “Thou settest a watch over me,” which denotes constant distrust, observation, and vigilance, an attitude of suspicion and alarm. Can this be a true picture of the way in which the great God treats feeble man? I should expect more summary and decisive measures. Yet God saves man, as it were, by stratagem, with much painstaking and multiplied endeavours. Here a new phase of human greatness presents itself. Man is not only a spiritual and immortal creature, but a being of will, a voluntary agent, the arbiter of his own destiny. Liberty is a dangerous thing, involving fearful hazards. The control of a wise, good despot might be much safer. God can only “set a watch over me,” and eye me with affectionate solicitude. And surely He spares no expense to persuade me to choose aright, and impress me with a sense of my own importance, and of the vastness of the stake dependent on my choice. Then, brethren, esteem and treat yourselves as your God esteems and treats you. So respected and cared for by God, begin to respect and care for yourselves. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
“Am I a sea, or a whale?”
Job was in great pain when he thus bitterly complained.
I. I have, first, to say that some men seem to be specially tracked and watched by God. We hear of persons being “shadowed” by the police, and certain people feel as if they were shadowed by God; they are mysteriously tracked by the great Spirit, and they know and feel it. All men are really surrounded by God. He is not far from every one of us. “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” Some are singularly aware of the presence of God. Certain of us never were without a sense of God. With others God’s watch is seen in a different way.
1. They feel that they are watched by God, because their conscience never ceases to rebuke them.
2. In some this watching has gone farther, for they are under solemn conviction of sin.
3. Certain men are not only plagued by conscience and dogged by fear, but the providence of God seems to have gone out against them. Yes, and God also watches over many in the way of admonition. Wherever they go, holy warnings follow them.
II. Secondly, we notice that they are very apt to dislike this watching. Job is not pleased with it. Do you know what they would like?
1. They want liberty to sin. They would like to be let loose, and to be allowed to do just as their wild wills would suggest to them.
2. They wish also that they could be as hard of heart as many others are.
3. Men do not like this being surrounded by God--this wearing the bit and kicking strap--because they would drop God from their thoughts.
4. Once more, there are some who do not like to be shadowed in this way, because they want to have their will with others. There are men--and seamen to be found among them--who are not satisfied with being ruined themselves, but they thirst to ruin others.
III. The third part is this--that this argument against the Lord’s dealings is a very bad one. Job says, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that Thou settest a watch over me?”
1. To argue from our insignificance is poor pleading; for the little things are just those against which there is most need to watch. If you were a sea, or a whale, God might leave you alone; but as you are a feeble and sinful creature, which can do more hurt than a sea, or a whale, you need constant watching.
2. After all, there is not a man here who is not very like a sea, or a sea monster in this respect, that he needs a watch to be set over him. A man’s heart is as changeable and as deceitful as the sea.
3. I shall now go further, and show that, by reason of our evil nature, we have became like the sea.
IV. Last of all, I would remark that all they complained of was sent in love. They said, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that Thou settest a watch over me?” but if they had known the truth they would have blessed God with all their hearts for having watched over them as He has done.
1. First, God’s restraint of some of us has kept us from self-ruin. If the Lord had not held us in we might have been in prison; we might have been in the grave; we might have been in hell! Who knows what would have become of us?
2. God will not always deal roughly with you. Perhaps tonight He will say His last sharp word. Will you yield to softer means? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I would not live alway.
We are led to say with Job, “I would not live alway.”
I. From the state of things around us. They are subject to dissolution, and are actually dissolving. Every year we behold proofs and symptoms of this. Years as they pass speak to us of the consummation of all things. Is it a thing desirable to live alway in the dissolving scene?
II. From the condition of mankind. “One generation goeth and another cometh.” “The fathers, where are they?”
III. From the nature of human enjoyments. Human enjoyments there are, but they are fluctuating, and the memory of our early joys is all of them that remains. Human enjoyments not only fade and decay; they are often blasted in the bud or the blossom. Besides the real disappointments and evils of life there are imaginary evils. Some have hours of deep and awful melancholy. There is a time of life with every thinking person, when he looks no more forward to worldly objects of desire, when he leaves these things behind, and meditates the evening of his day. Then he thinks on the mercies of a past life, and takes up songs of praise.
IV. From difficulty in the duties of life. Favourable circumstances often attend our entrance into the world. By and by difficulties arise. It is sometimes difficult to fulfil the demands of justice. Even in a high station honours are apt to fade, and cares to multiply.
V. From the remains of sin. At first the Christian says, “I will keep all Thy commandments.” Then temptation prevails. Experience convinces him that human resolution is weak, that the heart is deceitful, that sin is wedded to mortality.
VI. The death of friends makes us say with job, “I would not live alway.” Friendship sweetens life; but the course of human affection is often interrupted, is often varied, is often embittered. The happiest union on earth must be dissolved, and the love of life dissolves with it. A beautiful view of providence opens. That which constitutes our greatest felicity on earth makes us most willing to depart. The friends of our youth have failed. The hour of departure rises on the soul, for we are going to a land peopled with our fathers, and our kindred, and the friends of our youth, Already our spirits mingle with theirs. (S. Charters.)
Death better than life
“I would not live alway.” The preference of death to life is the utterance, not of a devout and hopeful but of a despairing and repining spirit. With such a load of misery pressing upon him, and with no earthly comfort to relieve his anguish, it is not surprising that this godly man should give vent to his sorrows in a manner which cannot be wholly justified, and for which we find him afterwards expressing his contrition. It is right for a man to choose death rather than sin, but it can never be right for a man to choose death rather than life, when it is the will of God that he should live. A restless and rebellious longing for dissolution must always have the nature of sin: but the deliberate preference of heaven to earth may be characteristic of the Christian. Death is a change desirable to the believer.
I. Because it is the termination of all the evils and temptations by which he is surrounded here upon earth. The evil, even in the happiest life, outweighs the good. There are but two things really profitable and desirable upon earth,--godliness and contentment; and even these, although they make earthly sorrow tolerable, can neither wholly remove it, nor deprive it altogether of its power to disquiet us. The great work of sanctification is never wholly completed in this life. The holiest man is daily exposed to manifold temptations, and falls under them daily. Such is the power of remaining corruption, that the best man living upon earth is guilty of frequent departures from the requirement of God, and constantly falls short of it. Is this then a state in which a reasonable being would wish to remain forever? There is, in every child of God, a moral necessity of dying, that he may be fitted for eternal life.
II. Because it is the appointed entrance into a state of perfect holiness and inalienable joy. The change from earth to heaven is not indeed fully completed till the resurrection. A Christian cannot die. Death to the believer is but a shadow of death. It is wrong to think of the eternal life and happiness which is assured after death to the faithful in Christ, as nothing more than an expansion to all eternity of the life which we now have, exempted from all pain and sorrow, and fed with a continual supply of such pleasures as we are now capable of enjoying. That is a very low and very unscriptural view of the excellency of the glory which is to be revealed. The life which is promised to the believer is nothing less than a participation, through the Incarnate Son, in that fulness of life which makes the eternal being and infinite blessedness of God Himself. Such being the prize of our high calling, let us give all diligence to make our calling sure, lest, having this great hope held out to us, we should fall short of it. (W. Ramsay.)
“I would not live alway”
These words may signify a preference for immediate death, but they are capable of a modified and Christian sense; that this life would be undesirable if it were perpetual; that it would be better to die than to live here always. We have no sympathy with that sour, repining, self-torturing, mood, that selects and combines all that is dark and sad and discouraging in the present existence, and calls it a picture of human life. That is an unchristian mood. It is a false view. This world is full of beneficence to all creatures that inhabit it. Man cannot move or think but he experiences the arrangements of the Divine love. True, we meet with much to dishearten and sadden us. If our anxieties and sorrows were all brought together in one view, and it were forgotten how many alleviations and respites there were, how many mercies mingled with sorrows, what strength given for the occasion, what kind remembrance of our frames, and what tempering of the wind to the shorn lamb, the picture would be a black one indeed. But when we further reflect on the end of these chastenings, the wise purposes they serve in our moral education, the blessed results they accomplish for our minds and hearts, then we can bow contentedly to the appointments of God’s love. If good was not educed out of evil, evil would be a problem beyond our power to solve. Though troubled, then, by earthly ills, they shall not extinguish our love of life, or make us murmur under its wholesome corrections, its blessed ministries and teachings. Though we would not live alway, it is not because life’s cup has no sweetness to delight us, nor is it because it has in it bitterness and tears. The hopes, friendships, and privileges of existence are great, substantial, and noble things. They yield pure, elevated, and entrancing enjoyments. We would live for what of good and fair and affectionate and true there is in the present lot. And, on the other hand, we would live also for its purifying afflictions, its humbling reverses, its spiritualising bereavements, and healthy, though severe discipline. But though we would live, and live contentedly and joyfully, yet would we not live alway here. The whole arrangement of things, and the whole constitution of man, show that this world could not be a final home for us--that we could not endure to be immortal below. Even the most worldly would tire of the world, if they believed that they must abide in it always. The body, too,--exquisite in its construction, but frail, feeble, fatigued,--this could not be immortal here. We would not live alway, for friends have left us, and gone hence. From the bright and holy scenes of the upper world, from mansions of rest and glory, from bowers of beauty and bliss, they bend to invite us to ascend and dwell with them. That the future state is to be a social state, there can be no doubt. Moreover, our intellectual nature demands a finer culture, a wider range, and fewer lets and hindrances than it has here. With must of us the intellectual possibilities largely remain uncultivated. We wish, for ourselves and for the race, in the good time of our Father’s will, a removal to a condition better fitted than this to refine, unfold, and exalt our mental powers, in accordance with the manifest design of their Author, and their own ceaseless aspirations. Then again, we seek a nearer communion with Jesus and with God, higher excellence and virtue, a greater expansion of the moral and spiritual part of our nature. Much may be done, indeed, in this state. Our higher nature, with all its powers and aspirations, will be called into a new and happy exercise, of which the most blessed moments on earth have given us hardly any idea There is a faith that plucks out the sting of death, a resurrection that brings life and immortality to light. (A. A. Livermore.)
Continuance on earth not desired by the believer
The love of life is natural to all men. For the wisest purposes it has been implanted within us. But the Gospel has brought life and immortality to light, and has shown us that the valley of the shadow of death forms a passage for the believer to a world of light and glory everlasting. The reception of this Gospel into the heart changes both the scenes of mortality and the state of the mind, so as to regulate the love of life, produce a subjection to the will of God, and lead to a certain and cheery prospect of felicity beyond the grave.
I. The reasons which lead the Christian to desire a continuance in life. There are some who, through fear of death, are all their lifetime subject to bondage. This may be owing to the natural character and habit of the mind, to bodily indisposition, or to the power of temptation; or it may arise from a consciousness that they are destitute of the necessary meetness for heaven. Some desire life that they may yield themselves to Satan as servants. The Christian’s desire for continuance may arise--
1. From our relative connection with others. We are all bound by strong and tender ties.
2. It may arise from a sense of former slothfulness, or backslidings from the ways of God. Then, when death appears to be approaching, fear is excited.
3. It may arise from love to the Redeemer’s cause.
II. The reasons which lead good men, notwithstanding their natural love of life, to desire a departure from the present state. They know that there is a state of immortality and glory actually in existence beyond the grave.
1. A prospect of perfect freedom from suffering leads believers to entertain this desire.
2. So does a sense of the evil of sin.
3. The believer longs to quit this mortal state, because death will introduce him to a better Sabbath, and a perfect society.
4. The anticipated enjoyment of God and the Lamb is a strong reason why the righteous would not live alway. Learn what gratitude is due to God for His Gospel. Hence all our hopes arise; and by its cordial reception the believer is delivered from the love of life, and from the fear of death. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Why the believer does not wish to live always
A truth may sometimes be uttered in a bad spirit. This is. But it may be expressed with an intelligent submission to the Divine will, and be cherished in harmony with the Christian principles. There are reasons which induce the believer to utter this sentiment.
1. He knows it is not the will of God that he should live always. “It is appointed unto all men once to die.”
2. Because here the work of grace is but imperfectly developed. At present his piety is only elementary. “Now we know in part.”
3. Here the full blessing of justifying righteousness cannot be enjoyed. This blessing is now enjoyed by faith, and faith is fluctuating.
4. Here God is at best but imperfectly worshipped. The holy soul desires to worship God with undivided thought and affection. This outer court worship is too often interrupted by the din and bustle of worldly traffickers. Thoughts and affections are often intruders when the mind would be engaged in God’s worship.
5. The change is absolutely necessary for the completion of our blessedness and the perfection of the Divine glory. We must go home to be happy. In the consolations, hopes, and joys the believer realises in death God is glorified. (Evangelical Preacher.)
Reasons why good men may look forward with desire to the termination of life
The sentiment of the text is not unfrequently the breathing of a guilty soul--racked with remorse, stung by an accusing conscience, haunted by the recollection of deeds of guilt, and prompted by the hope, if not the sober belief, that death shall prove the end of all. The words of the text, however, do not necessarily imply either impiety or impatience. Even good men may be weary of life, and long for its close.
1. Good men may be so fax reconciled to death, from their experience of the evils of life, and the unsatisfactory nature of all earthly enjoyments. In infancy, we rejoice in parental care: in youth, our imagination is gladdened by the beauty and novelty of the scene around us; we live in hope, and are ignorant of the evil to come; in the maturity of life, we exercise, with peculiar satisfaction, our ripened powers, and draw liberally on the stores of friendship and affection. Yet is this world termed a vale of tears; and they who have lived the longest, and enjoyed the greatest portion of the world’s good, have with one voice declared their days to have been both few and evil.
2. Good men may be led to look forward with desire to the termination of life, from the changes taking place around them, and particularly the deaths of companions and friends.
3. Good men may be reconciled to death, and may be led even to desire it, from the remains of sin and their growing desire after perfection. (James Grant.)
A reasonable desire
I. Where a child of God would not live always. On earth. The utmost to be enjoyed or expected on this side heaven, cannot make him wish that it may be always with him as now, that this may be his everlasting abode.
1. You that are men of the world, would you live always?
2. You that have much of this world’s goods, would you live alway?
II. Why a child of God would not live alway in this present state. It is common for men in distress to wish for death, as having no other notion of it than of its being a freedom from their present pain and misery.
1. Because it is the will of God that the child of God should not live alway.
2. Saints would not live alway, from the concern and zeal they have for God’s glory.
3. From love to Christ the saint is willing to depart.
4. A child of God would behave after the example of Christ.
5. As feeling the evils of the present state, and having the believing prospect of a better.
III. What is implied in this saying?
1. That the saint believes he is one who is already, through grace, prepared for a better life.
2. While in this world, a child of God should think and speak, not as an inhabitant of it, but as a traveller through it; not as one fixed here, but as one in motion towards a better country, that is, a heavenly.
IV. In what manner should a child of God thus speak?
1. With a deep sense of the evil of sin, which hath made this world so undesirable.
2. With great seriousness, upon the consideration, how awful a thing it is to die.
3. Not as peremptorily fixing the time to what date he would have his life drawn out, or when cut off, but with entire resignation, referring the matter to God.
V. To whom may a saint speak thus?
1. To God by way of appeal.
2. To others we may utter this, when speaking of the concerns of our souls, and of eternity, to engage them to regard us as those who are dying, and well satisfied in the choice we have made, of God for our portion, and heaven as our home.
3. To himself. Application--
The advantage of not living alway
The Quiver contains a paper on “Butterflies,” by the late Rev. Dr. Hugh Macmillan. This must have been one of the last papers written by that charming writer, and most cultured of men, and it is a curious coincidence that just before the great change came to him he should have written thus, “Death is ‘the shadow feared by man,’ as apparent destruction; but should we live always as we now live upon the earth, should we never pass through the experience of death, we should remain mere human embryos, undeveloped beings forever. It is only through death that the mortal can put on immortality. It is only undergoing a metamorphosis as complete as and at present more inexplicable than that which the caterpillar undergoes when it passes through the apparently lifeless condition of the chrysalis and becomes a butterfly, that we can pass from the seeming hopeless condition of the grave to the winged condition of the angel, acquire the full power of our being, and soar from earth to heaven.” (Christian Endeavour Times.)
There is nothing to which human nature is more averse than to dissolution. Death presents himself to the imagination of every man, clothed with terrors.
1. A due respect to the Divine will would deter us from wishing to “live alway.” Our life is not made transient by any malignant power. Why should we turn with regret from any allotment to which it is the will of God we should submit? There is, in submission to the laws to which the all-wise Creator hath subjected our nature, both safety and virtue.
2. We may be reconciled to the necessity of dying by considering who have passed through the gate of death.
3. The condition of this present state is such that no Christian can wish to live in it always. Not that it becomes us to find fault with the circumstances of our present existence. It is problematical whether our virtue or our trials would prevail, if our probation were prolonged; but discretion would seem to plead for the shortest exposure to evil. Death releases us from the temptations, ignorance, and sorrows of this probationary existence.
4. A just consideration of the future life will reconcile us entirely to the transitoriness of this. If to die were to cease to be, we might with a desperate tenacity cling to this present existence, chequered and unsatisfactory as it is.
5. By His death, the “Captain of our salvation” hath overcome death, and made the passage through the grave the ordinary entrance to the reward of our inheritance. What a body of motives is here to induce you, when your Creator shall call you out of this life, to depart willingly! Lay them up in your memories. (Bishop Dehon.)
Death preferable to life
There are few stronger principles in the human breast than the love of life. The desire of self-preservation is instinctive, and operates long before reason dawns, or experience attaches us to the pleasures of existence. Nor are men attached to life merely by the principle of instinct. “I could willingly die,” said an expiring Christian, “were there not friends to whom it is hard to say farewell.” Life is made pleasant, and attachment to it is strengthened by friendship and the social relations. And then our fears have exhibited death with terrific aspect, and surrounded it with horrid drapery. The coffin, the shroud, the darkness and dampness, the silence and coldness of the grave, the worm and the corruption, and the untried and eternal state into which death introduces the soul, are circumstances calculated to make the stoutest heart recoil, and cling with closest grasp upon its hold of life. But these attachments and apprehensions are incident to our frailty. Through the grace of God, they may be overcome and renounced. The believer in Christ can say, “I would not live alway.”
I. There is the greatest wisdom in this choice, since should he live alway, the evils of the present life could be prolonged and perpetuated.
1. I would not live alway, exposed to the evils incident to this mortal body--under the continual infliction of God’s original curse upon man, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”; or perpetually exposed to the ravages of the “pestilence that walketh in darkness,” and to the violence of the “sickness that wasteth at noonday”;--to be forever a partaker of that nature whose beauty is a “fading flower,” whose “strength” is “labour and sorrow,” whose eyes fail through dimness, and whose ears grow dull of hearing, and whose head totters with infirmity, and whitens with the frosts of age, whose limbs are scorched with fever, and racked with pain, and then chilled with ague, and shaken with anguish,--to be frozen by the severity of winter and burn by the fervour of summer.
2. I would not live alway, the subject of mental infirmity. What ignorance beclouds the mind of wretched man! How much carefulness and painstaking must be expended before he can be taught things the most necessary to be known! How often is his judgment, even in its most vigorous exercise, erring and imperfect! Frequent are his mistakes, and erroneous his conclusions, even in affairs of the utmost importance, and which intimately concern his own welfare.
3. I would not live alway, in the midst of a selfish and malignant world, where my conduct is misrepresented, my motives misunderstood, my character assailed, and my best interests injured and obstructed; where envy displays her malignant features, and detraction employs her envenomed tongue to destroy my reputation; where jealousy invents, and malice contrives, their cruel purposes to disturb my peace.
4. I would not live alway, the witness, as well as the subject of human miseries. It is painful to the benevolent heart to witness the misfortunes and follies of men. It is painful to “discern, among the youth, a young man void of understanding,” wasting his patrimony in extravagance and dissipation; degrading the noble faculties of body and mind, with which God has endowed him; and descending prematurely down to the grave, and to the shades of eternal death, the victim of accursed intemperance. It is painful to see the impenitent and prayerless sinner, careless of his rebellion, and thoughtless of his danger, sporting with the menaces of Jehovah, and mocking at the threatenings of the Almighty, and yet to know that between him and eternal burnings there only intervenes--what is liable to be sundered at any moment--the thin fragile veil of flesh.
5. Well may the Christian, the witness of such spectacles, and himself the servant of unholy passions, declare, I would not live alway. When his faith is firm, doubts and obscurities will sometimes arise and weaken it. When his hopes are bright, sin and impenitence will obscure and darken them. When his love to God and men is fervent, unholy feelings will spring up and dampen and allay it. When the Sun of Righteousness shines upon him, his iniquities will often arise like a thick cloud, envelop him in spiritual darkness, and leave him in mental misery.
6. I would not live alway, exposed to temptations and enticements to sin. The alluring example of men whom, for some good qualities, the Christian has been taught to respect, will offer its persuasions to divert him from the path of life. Learning, and intelligence, and wit, and persuasion, will be employed by those who in appearance are angels of light, to weaken his allegiance to his crucified Master.
7. Himself the subject and witness of misery and sin, the Christian will say, I would not live alway, especially since God has otherwise determined. His daily prayer will be, “My Father, Thy will be done”; and acquiescence in the will of God will constitute the perfection of his religious character. He will therefore desire to depart from this wretched life, knowing that God has prepared some better thing for him.
II. There is wisdom in the Christian’s choice, for, should his life not terminate, he would not be admitted into the joys of heaven.
1. His corruptible body would not then put on incorruption, nor his mortal, immortality. “The righteous shall shine forth as the sun; they shall shine as the brightness of the firmament and as the stars forever and ever.” The Saviour said that the children of the resurrection will be equal to the angels, and therefore will resemble angels in their glory and beauty.
2. In heaven, the faculties of the mind, as well as those of the body, will in a wonderful measure be strengthened and perfected. The memory, perfected and made retentive, will preserve whatever is committed to its trust. The understanding, thus aided by the other mental powers, redeemed and invigorated, will be making perpetual advances in knowledge. For not only will the faculties of the mind be improved, but the field of investigation will be proportionably enlarged. The scene of observation and improvement will not be this little earth, and its limited productions, but the wonders and glories of the celestial regions. I would not live alway, in prospect of such an increase of knowledge and intelligence, the perpetual subject of mental imperfection, of ignorance and weakness.
3. I would not live alway, away from my home. How many pleasing associations and tender recollections are awakened by the mention of home! Around what place do the affections linger with such strong attachment, or what spot looks bright and happy, when the rest of the world appears dark and cheerless, but that characterised by the expressive word home? Where do the skies wear a peculiar brightness, and nature present peculiar cheerfulness and loveliness, but at home? But heaven is the Christian’s home. Here, he is a stranger and a sojourner; but he is travelling to a city which hath foundations, the abode of friendship and peace. Divine love is the sacred principle that animates all hearts in the regions of bliss, from the “rapt seraph” to him who has “washed his robes in the blood of the Lamb.” It unites the inhabitants of heaven in an indissoluble bond of harmony, and attaches them to God Himself. Security also is there. Security from the influence of unholy affections, from the temptations and hostility of wicked men, and from the enmity and malice of the great spiritual foe. With the Prince of Peace, peace shall ever reign, and from the right hand of God shall flow the river of His pleasures for evermore.
4. I would not live alway separated from my pious friends, in whose sacred society and holy friendship I found such delight and profit, but who have preceded me in their entrance into glory. For in heaven the pious friendships of this world shall be renewed and perpetuated.
5. I would not live alway, for in the midst of that holy brotherhood is Jesus Christ, their elder brother, the faithful and true witness; that Jesus, the desire and Saviour of all nations; and whom I desire to see; my Saviour I to whom I have so often prayed, and in whom I have so long trusted; Him who has for years been my invisible teacher and defence, and whom, though not seeing, yet have I loved! (S. Fuller.)
What is man, that Thou shouldst magnify him?
Here is a question that is both answered and unanswerable.
I. A scriptural solution of the question.
1. What is man as a creature? A piece of modified dust, enlivened by the breath of God (Genesis 2:7). An earthen vessel (2 Corinthians 4:7). He is grass (Isaiah 40:6; Isaiah 40:8). A drop of a bucket, or dust that will not turn the scale (Isaiah 40:15). Vanity (Job 7:16; Isaiah 40:17).
2. What is man as a fallen creature? An ignorant creature (Isaiah 1:3). A guilty (Romans 3:23). A condemned (John 3:18-19). A polluted (Job 15:16; Isaiah 1:16). A diseased (Isaiah 1:6). Impotent (Ezekiel 16:4; Ezekiel 16:6). Rebellious (Numbers 20:10; Isaiah 1:2).
II. In what respects it may be said that the Lord magnified man. He magnified man at the creation. By the care He showeth towards him in the course of His providence. By assuming human nature. By giving us such great and precious promises. By making man a sharer of His throne. Observe--
1. How amazing that the Lord should thus notice sinful man! He who is the High and Lofty One.
2. The base ingratitude of sinners who rebel against so kind a Benefactor.
3. If God thus magnify man, ought not man to endeavour to magnify God, i.e., praise and extol Him? (T. Hannam.)
The dignity and possibility of manhood
The doctrine of this text seems to be that man is a creature of such insignificance, so sinful, frail, and unimportant, that he is utterly unworthy of the care and attention that God pays to him. That this is true, none of us doubt. Infidels have often used this truth in their attempts to prove that God cannot pay the regard to man that the Bible declares He does. Yet these words of the text clearly and distinctly teach other truths--the greatness of man, because God has magnified him; the duty of man, because God has blessed him; the possibilities of man, because God has set His heart upon him. View man in the light of his privileges, in the light of his possibilities, in the light of Calvary, he then becomes a creature of infinite worth; and the highest service which a servant of God can be engaged in, is that of seeking the elevation, the conversion of men. It is the nobler aspect of man we are to study. I would lead you young men to self-respect. Distinguish between self-respect and self-conceit. One is the child of ignorance, the other the fair daughter of knowledge.
I. The dignity of man.
1. We are dignified because magnified of God. So far as we know, man is the consummation of creative skill. Man is both material and spiritual, presenting a marvellous combination of the two. He is a middle link in the chain of being, holding both ends together. He partakes much of the grossness of earth, yet much of the refinement of heaven. Without man, between the atom and the angel there would be a chasm, Man is the golden chain between the two. He is a little world in miniature, for in his frame there is an epitome of the universe. Truly, in the character of his being he is magnified. No one who thinks of his capabilities can dispute it. The capabilities of some men must be enormous. The dignity of man is further enhanced, if we consider that he possesses an immortal soul. He has a life that must run parallel with the life of the Eternal; a life that neither sin, death nor hell can quench. How awful does this make the importance of even a single man! Notice also man’s exalted position in this world. He is lord of creation. This world was built as a house, for which man is the tenant.
2. We are dignified, because beloved of God. Our text says that God has set His heart upon man. This glorious truth is written on the page of inspiration with the clearness of a sunbeam (John 3:16). Surely such love must make man the envy of the angels. It seems as though man had received more care, attention, and love than all other parts of His dominion put together. On our weal the Deity has expended Himself, communicated to us in Christ Jesus all that was communicative in His being and character.
II. What conduct is worthy of the dignity of man? I take a high standard of appeal, and ask you, in the light of your noble faculties, in the light of all the mercies bestowed on you in creation and providence, in the light of God’s infinite love, what conduct becomes you? What should be your bearing towards yourselves, your Saviour, your God? You are unanimous in your verdict that a sinful, sensual life is utterly beneath the dignity of manhood. Take another kind of life. A life of mere self-gratification. Perhaps more promising young men are ruined through this kind of living than any other. But it is unworthy of a man. The end of a life that is true is not happiness in any shape or form, but character that shall fit us for eternity. In every man that has not this as his supreme desire, his one aim, only a fraction of manhood is awakened. The portions of his nature which make it worth while to be, are dormant. The trembling anxiety about our privileges, our welfare, our debt to God--which leads us to trust in Him--this makes a life true.
III. What are the possibilities of such a magnified being?
1. There is a possibility of any lost self-respect being restored. Some of you may have started wrong. This has destroyed self-respect. This is one of the most potent evils incident to a sinful life. Remember that character is under a law of perpetuity. It has an element in it which will make it almost immutable. “Evil tends to evil permanence.” Then let me tell you the glad news of the Gospel. There is a possibility of self-conquest. Self-control, for real usefulness, is as necessary as self-respect. How are we to exercise it? Will resolution, will determination do? My only hope is in God the Holy Spirit; in seeking Divine grace and power. To all of us there is the joyous possibility of a sublime life. Then, talk not of destiny, but believe in your own, and working like men, trusting like children, fulfil it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The philosophy of human worth
From the East proceeded first the light of Divine knowledge, of art, and of science, that threefold cord with which the loins of our civilisation are girded. In what boasted philosopher of heathendom do we find a single sentiment, on the subject in point, equal to the one contained in our text? To a Father the patriarch Job confidently looked, both in his prosperity and adversity; it was not to a God afar off that he poured out the feelings of his heart. It is true he was deeply awed at the infinity and consequent mysteriousness of his Divine Father; but while, on the one hand, he was overwhelmed with majesty and incomprehensibility, on the other, he was soothed and cheered with condescension and love. The Divine character, and the ways of providence, appear to have occupied the thoughts of this large-minded and holy man, to the exclusion of almost everything else. It was not a thing, it was a person towards whom his thoughts and affections rationally and instinctively turned. The law which influenced this good man was moral. The grand centre of attraction, and source of all spiritual life and glory, was God Himself, “the Father of lights.” Now wherefore did Job thus seek after God, and look upon righteousness, or moral excellence, as the chief concern of his existence? Because something within prompted him to do so. There are two great generic ways in which God reveals Himself to man. Objectively, or through any physical medium such as His works, or assumed experiences, and subjectively, or in the conscious spirit. There was something more than mere figure in these words of our blessed Saviour, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” “What is man that Thou shouldst magnify him?” The patriarch appears to have been astonished that so vile, impotent, and short-lived a creature as man, should be specially noticed and favoured by his Maker. Whatever his ideas may have been of human dignity and worth, it is quite obvious that they were associated with a strong conviction of human degradation and vanity. And is not this a true estimate, the proper mean between two extremes, one of which exalts man far too high, whilst the other debases him far too low? If we looked no further than the outward nature and condition of man, we could only regard him as a unique kind of animal, inferior in some respects, though superior in others, to his fellow tenants of the earth. Were his animal nature the whole of man, in what would consist his preeminence over “the beasts that perish”? And yet this animal nature is all that our senses can take cognisance of. Considering him, however, in the light of analogy, it is clear that there may be undeveloped faculties and destinies, Of a high and inconceivable order, slumbering in his breast, but concealed from all inspection. Such was the pleasing theme of poetic song and philosophic speculation. These are by no means adequate effectively to counteract the sceptical conclusions of sense respecting the nature and destinies of man. Hence the uncertainty of the wisest and best of the old heathen philosophers. The plain truth is that the world by wisdom knew nothing conclusively about these things. The vantage ground on which the Bible places our feet, has raised us immeasurably higher than the wisest heathen, as such, ever stood. Guided by the torch of heaven, let us consider why God may be said to “magnify man, and set His heart upon him.”
1. Man is magnified by the gift of an intellectual nature.
2. In the possession of a moral nature.
3. In being the object of a Divine redemption.
4. In the omnipresent and omniactive superintendence of Divine providence over human affairs.
5. Immortality and future blessedness strikingly illustrate the text. If you believe these things, what manner of persons ought you to be? (Jabez Cole.)
Man magnified by the Divine regard
It is the character of almost all speculative systems of unbelief, that, whilst they palliate or excuse the moral pravity of our nature, they depreciate and undervalue that nature itself. Some deny that there is a “spirit in man.” Others deny man an immortality. Some would persuade us that we are but atoms in the mass of beings; and to suppose ourselves noticed by the Great Supreme, either in judgment or in mercy, is an unfounded and presumptuous conceit. The Word of God stands in illustrious and cheering contrast to all these chilling and vicious speculations. As to our moral condition, it lays us deep in the dust, and brings down every high imagination. But it never abases our nature itself. Man is the head and chief of the system he inhabits, and the image of God. He is arrayed in immortality, and invested with high and awful capacities both of good and evil.
I. Certain considerations illustrative of the doctrine of the text.
1. God hath “magnified” man by the gift of an intellectual nature. We see unorganised matter without life; matter organised, as in vegetables, with life, but without sensation; and, in the inferior animals, with life, sense, and a portion of knowledge, but without reason. But, in man, the scale rises unspeakably higher. His endowments are beyond animal life and sensation, and beyond instinct. Man is the only visible creature which God, in the proper sense of the word, could “love.” No creature is capable of being loved, but one which is also capable of reciprocal knowledge, regard, and intercourse.
2. By the variety and the superior nature of the pleasures of which He has made him capable. His are the pleasures of contemplation. These the inferior animals have not. The pleasures of contemplation are inexhaustible, and the powers we may apply to them are capable of unmeasurable enlargement. His are the pleasures of devotion. Can it be rationally denied that devotion is the source of even a still higher pleasure than knowledge? His are the pleasures of sympathy and benevolence. His are the pleasures of hope.
3. The text receives its most striking illustration from the conduct of God to man considered as a sinner. If under this character we have still been loved; if still, notwithstanding ingratitude and rebellion, we are loved; then, in a most emphatic sense, in a sense which we cannot adequately conceive or express, God hath “set His heart” upon us. Mark the means of our reconciliation to God, and mark the result.
4. Consider the means by which God’s gracious purpose of “magnifying man,” by raising him out of his fallen condition, is pursued and effected.
II. The practical improvement which flows from facts so established.
1. We are taught the folly and voluntary degradation of the greater part of the unhappy race of mankind.
2. The subject affords an instructive test of our religious pretensions.
3. To form a proper estimate of our fellow men, and of our obligations to promote their spiritual and eternal benefit. (R. Watson.)
On the nature and character of man
The heathen sage, who bid us know ourselves, might give the precept, but it was out of his power to put us in a way of obtaining the proper information. The present state of man can only be understood from the history of man, as the best natural philosophy must be built upon the history of nature. When man came first from the hands of his Creator, he was neither sinful nor mortal; but as the happiness of a rational being must be the object of his free choice, and cannot possibly be otherwise, life and happiness were proposed to man on such terms as put him to a trial. There can be no reward but to obedience, and there can be no obedience without liberty, that is, without the liberty of falling away into disobedience and rebellion. As man consists of soul and body, and is allied to the visible and invisible world, no transactions pass between God and man without some intermediate visible figure; therefore life and death were proposed to Adam, under the two symbols of the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The latter was the instrument of temptation. By partaking of the tree of life, the nature of man would have been refined and spiritualised upon earth. The enemy of God’s glory and man’s happiness was permitted to enter into paradise in the form of a serpent, who having prevailed first upon the weaker sex, deceived Adam by her means. Thus the life of paradise was forfeited. It appears then that man is now in a state of banishment from his native paradise, and driven out into the wide world. The tempter who first seduced him into sin, is carrying on the same plan of enmity and opposition to this day. We find such contrarieties in the nature of man as can never be accounted for but from the history of his fall. In the fall of man there are two things to be considered, the sin and the punishment. The act of disobedience proceeded from a sinful desire, suggested by the devil, of rising by forbidden means, and without any dependence upon God, to a state of superior wisdom and greatness. Look attentively into this original act of man’s disobedience, and you will discover that every lust and passion of which man is capable, prevailed on that occasion. The “lust of the flesh” was indulged in eating; the “lust of the eye” in coveting what was forbidden; and the “pride of life” in the affectation of a superior condition, to which there was no title. Man cannot now sin by the same act as Adam did; but all his sin is after that pattern. His three vices are, intemperance, covetousness, and pride. There is an irregular conflict in human nature which we cannot account for, but upon the principle of original sin. The effect of original sin is evident from that lamentable symptom of it, an alienation of the mind from God: for there certainly is in man, such as he is now, a distaste of God, and of all that relates to Him. This cannot be nature, it must be a depravation of nature. The other evidences of the fall of man are to be found in its punishment, which comprehends the several particulars of labour, poverty, sickness, and death. It appears then that man is in a fallen state, subject to the power of sin, and the penalty of disobedience. In consequence of this evil nature, it is good for man to be afflicted, as it is necessary that his dross should be separated by a fiery trial in the furnace. (W. Jones, M. A.)
God’s dealings with insignificant man
Pride is the great besetting sin of our corrupt nature. This it is which unfolds man’s self-righteousness, self-seeking, self-dependence, and self-complacency, in all their varied forms. It will show itself as family pride, professional pride, intellectual pride, yea, and in that low and contemptible exhibition of it, even the love of personal attraction.
I. Man’s littleness. As a creature. As a fallen creature. Is it too much to say that he is lower than the beasts? It is a strong expression. Is it too much to say that sin has sunk man as low as Satan? Man is a sinful, guilty, and condemned creature. The law condemns him. All that is in God condemns the impenitent, unbelieving sinner. Man is a proud, self-righteous sinner. There is no man but what has some apparently good qualities--at least, he thinks he has them--and these blind him to all his bad qualities, and he thinks he can blind God with them.
II. God’s most wondrous dealings with man. Out of these materials does God choose a people and erect a temple to His own glory. How wonderful is the exhibition of God’s grace in the conversion of a sinner! Look at the wondrous display of grace in redemption, and in bringing all the redeemed ones safe to glory. See in this subject the greatness of God: notice how contemptible is our pride when we can look down upon others. Though our Lord shows us our littleness, yet we ought not to forget that He has magnified us. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
God’s perpetual providence in life; its mystery and its meaning
The question must have been asked by Job in the profoundest earnestness. The sudden shocks of sorrow had been bringing him face to face with the awful mysteries of eternal providence, and making him feel their power as he had never felt it before. The question expresses each of the first of those great mysteries which the stern reality of trouble had forced upon his thoughts. It was no curious inquiry on his part; it was one which the agony of his life had compelled him to meet. You will perceive this by considering the experience he had recently passed through. He had reached that desire for death which sometimes rises from the strong pressure of deep and sorrowful thought. Then arose the mysterious question, Why did God prolong his life? To live amid the desolation of his great sorrow: and struggling with awful doubts, was a constant trial, and why did God thus “try him every moment” by keeping him alive? Remember, too, that Job had remained for days and nights in silence under the open sky. Looking at nature in his sorrow, the mighty march of the stars, in the far-off wilderness of space, and the solemn glory of the day as it rose and faded, and the voices of the winds as they came and went through the land, would all make him feel the majesty of God and the insignificance of man. Taking the words in their broadest meaning, the subject presented by them is God’s perpetual providence in life.
I. Its mystery. We shall not feel it as Job felt it unless we accept his belief in the incessant action of God’s providence in human history. He did not regard life as governed by general laws usually, and by the living God only occasionally. He said God “visited man every morning.” Job’s view of human life was that the souls of men were surrounded and influenced by the ever-present, ever-acting God, How common is the belief that “in the beginning” God created certain general laws, and that He has retired into His eternity, leaving them to govern the universe, interfering Himself now and then, when a great crisis demands His action. We speak of general and special providence as if there were some real distinction between the two, and as if all providence were not the activity of the living God, equally present everywhere. Now this distinction is unscriptural and unreasonable. If God directs the great events, He also directs every event, for all are bound together. Besides, how do we know which are great and which are small? We must go back to the strong, simple faith of such men as Job and David before we can realise the mystery which they felt in life. Accepting, then, that view of an incessant providence, the difficulty which Job felt must have risen from two sources: the greatness of God, “What is man, that Thou shouldst magnify him?” and the nature of the discipline through which He conducted life, “That Thou shouldst try him every moment?”
1. Take the first source of the mystery which Job felt in the unceasing providence of God: the greatness of God compared with the insignificance of man. He felt God was so great, that for Him to visit man in sorrow was to magnify the frail child of time by exalting it to even a moment’s notice of the Infinite One. We do not feel the mystery of God’s dealings with man with the same intensity as Job and the men of old time must have felt it.
2. Look at the other aspect of God’s perpetual providence--The nature of the discipline through which God conducts life. This was evidently the other source of the difficulty that perplexed the patriarch. Life had become to him one overwhelming trial, yet he believed that every element of that trial was sent or permitted by God. Why? Some men have to learn the mystery of discipline in the sternest school of suffering. Now, accepting the Bible faith that God orders all our life, is it not evident He is trying us every moment? Why does He stoop from His vast empire to visit thus the creatures of a day? Christianity has revealed two things, corresponding to the two-fold character of this mystery.
The tragedy of life
This is a cry wrung from the heart of a man who was passing through a season of awful tribulation. His life, which was formerly smooth and prosperous, had now become, all at once, a very tragedy of sorrow. Not one gleam of hope was visible throughout the whole range of his earthly circumstances. His misfortunes had indeed come in battalions. What wonder if Job, thus crushed to the very dust by his calamities and by his friends, deserted, as it seemed, both by God and man, and left to wrestle all alone with his sorrow, should, out of his weakness, utter this cry of remonstrance to the Almighty? Here Job, feeling himself overwhelmed by his calamities, is remonstrating with God for taking so much notice of man as even to visit him with trial. Why cannot the Almighty “let” a poor worm “alone”? Surely it is “magnifying” man unduly--it is making altogether too much of a creature so frail--for God thus to “turn His thoughts towards man,” and “visit” him with such incessant and overwhelming “trials”! When we ourselves have been passing through some bitter experience, have we not been tempted to feel as if the trial were overdone? Have we not been tempted to think, Surely the Almighty could have effected His purpose with less expenditure of suffering? Thinking of the woes of humanity, we ask, Why is there not more economy of all this pain? Why break a butterfly on the wheel? It is the old thought of Job, born of the old and ever-recurring mystery that attends so much of the earth’s sorrow. We must meet the mystery with faith. We ought to believe that He who can keep in their places Orion and the Pleiades; can make no mistake in guiding and overruling human destinies. We ought to believe that the Father of all is as loving as He is wise, and that, in spite of all appearances, there is throughout His universe a true economy of suffering. What God Himself is, remains our best reason for trusting Him in everything He does. Consider some of the ends which are subserved by what we may call the tragic element in our human life.
1. It tends to deliver us from shallow and frivolous conceptions of our own nature. There are many influences at work which tend to give to human nature and life an aspect of littleness. Our very being is itself animal as well as spiritual. We have many needs and cravings in common with the brutes. Our nature, moreover, touches the surrounding world at countless points, many of which are as “pin points.” Things which are in themselves but trifles, have often a wondrous power over us. No doubt the comedy of life has also its uses. God has not endowed us with the sense of humour for nothing. Laughter is a kind of safety valve. But there is danger of our life being dwarfed into pettiness, and of our losing a true sense of the inherent dignity of our nature. Precisely here comes in the tragic element of life to counteract this tendency. Just as the loftiest mountains throw the largest and deepest shadows, so these dark shadows of human experience bear witness to the original grandeur of our being. You cannot have tragedy without a certain greatness. Even those tragedies of life which are due directly to human sins, testify to the greatness of the nature which has been so sadly and shamefully perverted. With regard to those terrible calamities which sometimes come into men’s experience without any fault of their own, how often is it the case that these ordeals of trial bring to light the noblest traits of character. Is not the Cross of Calvary itself the crowning illustration of how the loftiest greatness of humanity may be revealed against the dark background of the deepest sorrow? Look also at affliction as a means of discipline and education, and we can scarcely fail to be impressed with the greatness of that nature which God subjects to trials so great. This is the thought which lies latent even in poor Job’s remonstrance. Whatever we may do with our life, God evidently does not trifle with it; whatever we may think of our nature, God evidently does not think lightly of it. Thus, then, the tragic element in our life tends to redeem it from pettiness, to deliver us alike from prosaic stolidity and shallow sentimentalism, and to inspire us with a sense of the sacredness of our being.
2. This same element in life confronts men directly with the thought of God. Men, in their sinfulness, banish God from their hearts, and try to forget Him in their lives. But God refuses to be forgotten. For our own good, He will, if necessary, simply compel us to recognise His presence. He will make men feel that a higher will than theirs is at work. When there comes some sudden and extraordinary visitation, men are aroused to reflection. The appalling magnitude of the calamity startles them. The very fact that some event presents an inscrutable mystery, awakens them to the sense of an infinite wisdom overruling the projects and actions of mankind.
3. This same tragic element of life tends to deepen our reverence and tenderness towards our fellowmen. Our very experience of the world sometimes tends to make us hard and cold and censorious. Even our own troubles do not always deepen the springs of our charity. We may shut ourselves up in our griefs, and morbidly exaggerate our trials until we become morose and peevish, instead of sympathetic and gentle. But here, too, comes in the tragedy of life to counteract this selfish tendency. Ever and again there occurs some terrible event involving others in a sorrow which dwarfs our own griefs. And a great calamity invests even the meanest with interest. It tends to draw us out of ourselves, and to open the floodgates of sympathy and benevolence. Think, finally, how we are living together under the shadow of the closing tragedy of all. Prince and peasant, master and servant, all are travelling to that. Death gives a tragic touch even to the beggar’s personality. Let us cultivate reverence and tenderness towards one another; for we are all of us living in a world that has its terrible possibilities of experience. (T. Campbell Finlayson.)
Measured by the shadow
So Job speaks out of deep affliction; he is puzzled to know why God heaps sorrows on man and makes his life one long trial. How is it that the Almighty should consider a weak mortal sufficiently important to be made the object of so much interest and the subject of such severe correction? Let us attempt an answer to this question.
I. Man is a creature of consequence, or God would not thus visit him. The Psalmist asks the same question, but from a very different point of view (Psalms 8:3-4). It is here that we usually look for the signs of human greatness and royalty--in the direction of man’s power, action, rule, and achievement. Job is concerned with man’s weakness, perplexity, suffering, humiliation, and failure. What is man, that Thou shouldst magnify him with miseries? Job feels the greatness of man in the greatness of his suffering. The conflict and sorrow of human life are indubitable signs of dignity. We often enough look poor, feel poor, but we cannot be poor. There is a singular greatness about us somewhere, or we should not be distinguished by infinite and endless sorrows. Our importance is demonstrated by the length and depth of the shadows that we make. The shouts of conquerors, the sceptres of princes, the triumphs of scientists, the masterpieces of artists, and the scarlet of merchantmen are so many signs of our status; yet the sense of anxiety, the problems which torture the intellect, our wounded affections, the smart of conscience, our painful sense of limitation and disability, the groan of the afflicted, the burden of living, and the terror of dying are not less signs of our fundamental greatness. Is it not, indeed, often the case that we are more affected by the dignity of men when they suffer than when they are strong? that in misfortune we discern a loftiness and sacredness never discovered in them in their prosperity? and if we never felt their majesty in life, do we not awake to it when they die, and uncover at their grave? It is also true that in deep affliction we realise most vividly the greatness of our own nature. Stripped of outward, meretricious greatness, Job begins to feel that he is great; his sorrows show him his consequence before God. The very humility born of trouble is a sign of greatness.
II. Man is a creature of guilt, or God would not thus visit him.
1. There is no cruelty in God. Nero condemned men to prison and then treated them as condemned malefactors simply to feast his eyes on their agonies, by, and by releasing them. This world is no laboratory of aimless vivisection. “For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.”
2. There is no injustice in God. “The right of a man before the face of the Most High.” Nowhere is the right of a man more sacred than before the face of the Most High.
3. There is no levity in God. Some talk as if this world were a mere spectacle, a great theatre of shadows where God watches the long tragedy with an aesthetic eye. But there is no levity in the Ruler of the universe. All revelation teaches how real human sorrow is to God. What, then, is man, that God visits him with endless correction? Why does He fill his soul with anguish? There is only one answer: man is an offender, his sin is the secret of his misery. In vindicating himself against his friends Job denied that he was guilty of any conscious, specific, secret transgression; but he knew that he was a sinner before God. Immediately after the text he confesses, “I have sinned.” It was all there: his suffering brought home the sense of guilt. The broken law makes the shadow of death.
III. Man is a creature of hope, or God would not thus visit him. “What is man, that Thou shouldst magnify him?” Sinful and afflicted as he may be, he is yet a creature of hope, or God would not thus lavish discipline upon him. Terrible as this world may be, it is not hell, nor the region of despair. Hope is written with sunbeams on the forehead of the morning; spring writes the lovely word in the grass with flowers; it is emblazoned in the colours of the rainbow. God visits us, then, that He may awake in us the consciousness of sin, and discipline us out of our sin into health of spirit. Again and again Job says, “Let me alone.” And that appeal is often on our lips. “Let me alone,” cries one, that I may examine this curious world, and do not disturb me with thoughts of infinity and eternity. “Let me alone,” pleads another, so that I may enjoy life, and do not harass me about righteousness, guilt, and judgment. “Let me alone,” entreats a third, and cease to interrupt my money making by sickness and misfortune. “Let me alone,” cry those whose hearths are threatened; leave my friends, and spare me bitter bereavements. But this is exactly what God will not do. He visits us every morning, and tries us every moment, that He may arouse us to our true state, great need, and awful danger. Having awoke in us the sense of sin, through the discipline of suffering God perfects us. Yes, this--this is the grand end. “Behold, I will melt them, and try them” (Jeremiah 9:7). “The Lord hath proved thee and humbled thee, to do thee good at thy latter end.” (W. L. Watkinson.)
And try him every moment.--
Why doth God try us every moment? Because we are one moment in one temper, and the next moment in another. The acting frame of a man’s heart this hour cannot be collected from the frame it was in an hour before; therefore there is a continual trial. Some things if they be tried once, they are tried forever; if we try gold, it will ever be as good as we found it, unless we alter it: as we try it to be, so it continues to be. But try the heart of man this day, and come again the next and you may find it in a different condition; today believing, tomorrow unbelieving; today humble, tomorrow proud; today meek, tomorrow passionate; today lively and enlarged, tomorrow dead and straightened; pure gold today, and tomorrow exceeding drossy. As it is with the pulse of a sick man, it varieth every quarter of an hour, therefore the physician tries his pulse every time he comes, because his disease alters the state of his body. So it is with the distempered condition of man’s spirit. God having tried our pulse, the state of our spirit, by crones or by mercies this day, next day He tries us too, and the third day He tries us again, and so keeps us in continual trials, because we are in continual variations. That sickness and disease within us alters the state and condition of the soul every moment. Our comfort is that God hath a time wherein He will set our souls up in such a frame as He shall need to try us, but that once. Having set us up in a frame of glory, He shall not need to try our hearts for us, or to put us to the trial of ourselves any more, we shall stand as He sets us up to all eternity. (J. Caryl.)
I have sinned; what shall I do unto Thee, O Thou Preserver of men!
The sinner’s surrender to his Preserver
A confession. “I have sinned.” In words this is no more than a hypocrite, nay, a Judas, might say. Do not many call themselves “miserable sinners” who are indeed despicable mockers? Yet seeing Job’s heart was right his confession was accepted.
1. It was very brief, but yet very full. It was more full in its generality than if he had descended to particulars. We may use it as a summary of our life. “I have sinned.” What else is certain in my whole career? This is most sure and undeniable.
2. It was personal. I have sinned, whatever others may have done.
3. It was to the Lord. He addresses the confession not to his fellow men but to the Preserver of men.
4. It was a confession wrought by the Spirit. See verse 18, where he ascribes his grief to the visitation of God.
5. It was sincere. No complimentary talk, or matter of ritualistic form, or passing acknowledgment. His heart cried, “I have sinned,” and he meant it.
6. It was feeling. He was cut to the quick by it. Read the whole chapter. This one fact, “I have sinned,” is enough to brand the soul with the mark of Cain, and burn it with the flames of hell.
7. It was a believing confession. Mingled with much unbelief, Job still had faith in God’s power to pardon. An unbelieving confession may increase sin.
II. An inquiry. “What shall I do unto Thee?” In this question we see--
1. His willingness to do anything, whatever the Lord might demand, thus proving his earnestness.
2. His bewilderment: he could not tell what to offer, or where to turn; yet something must be done.
3. His surrender at discretion. He makes no conditions, he only begs to know the Lord’s terms.
4. The inquiry may be answered negatively. What can I do to escape Thee? Thou art all around me. Can past obedience atone? Alas! as I look back I am unable to find anything in my life but sin. Can I bring a sacrifice? Would grief, fasting, long prayers, ceremonies, or self-denial avail? I know they would not.
5. It may be answered evangelically. Confess the sin. Renounce it. Obey the message of peace: believe in the Lord Jesus, and live.
III. A title. “O Thou Preserver of men!” Observer of men, therefore aware of my case, my misery, my confession, my desire for pardon, my utter helplessness. Preserver of men. By His infinite long-suffering refraining from punishment. By daily bounties of supply keeping the ungrateful alive. By the plan of salvation delivering men from going down to the pit. By daily grace preventing the backsliding and apostasy of believers. Address upon the point in hand--
1. The impenitent, urging them to confession.
2. The unconcerned, moving them to inquire, “What must I do to be saved?”
3. The ungrateful, exhibiting the preserving goodness of God as a motive for love to Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
What to do in case of sin
1. What to do in case of sin is a point of the highest consideration.
2. Sincere confession of sin makes the soul very active and inquisitive about the remedies of sin.
3. A soul truly sensible of sin is ready to submit to any terms which God shall put upon him.
4. God is to be consulted and inquired after in all doubtful cases, especially in our sin cases. (J. Caryl.)
Complaining to God
It is his God whom the pious Job is thus apostrophising. “I, the poor pismire in the dust, will my error or my wrong-doing affect Omnipotence? Ah! pardon my transgression, whatever it be, ere it be too late! A little while, and I shall lie down in the dust, and even Thy keen eye will look for me in vain.” What are we to say to such language? It is a monotone that you will hardly find monotonous. Where is the patience, the submission, so calm, so dutiful, so beautiful of the Job whom we knew before? Is there a trace of it left? Surely from first to last we have not as yet one touch of such meek acquiescence in suffering, as we have seen, some of us, on beds of pain--such as we would pray earnestly to attain unto, in some measure, in our own hour of trial. We see nothing of the frame of mind in which a Moslem, whose very name implies submission, or a Stoic, a Marcus Aurelius, to say nothing of a Christian, would wish to meet the sharpest pang. We feel--do we not? that the very object of these wild cries is partly to intensify our sense of the woes that fell on Job, yet mainly to make us feel how boundless is his bewilderment at finding this terrible measure of suffering meted out as the seeming recompense for a life of innocence. And yet we are intended to feel with him. Admirable, pious, well-intentioned as are the words of Eliphaz, they seem to belong to another spiritual world than that of Job’s cries. We cannot but feel the sharp contrast between them, and you will feel with me that some great question must be at stake, some vital problem stirring in the air, or we should not be called on to listen, on the one hand, to the calm, well-rounded, unimpeachable teaching of Eliphaz, and, on the other, to the bitter, impassioned complaints, the almost rebellious cries of one whose praise is in all the Churches. This, then, is the one question which will be pressed on us more and more as we read the book, How is it that the saint, the saintly hero, who stands in the forefront of the drama, uses language which we dare not use, which we would pray to be preserved from using in our bitterest hour of suffering. How is it that, thus far at least, the foremost of his opponents speaks nothing which is not to be found on the lips of psalmist or prophet, little that is not worthy of lips which have been touched by a still higher teaching? How is it that, for all this, we shall, as we know, in due time have the highest of all authorities for holding that he and they, in their insight into the highest truths, fall below the Job whom they rebuke, and whom we ourselves cannot but reprove? Surely, so far, the great Judge of this debate must be listening with full approval to the good Eliphaz; with stern, if pitiful displeasure to the wild cries of Job. (Dean Bradley.)
And why dost Thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?
Why some sinners are not pardoned
No man should rest until he is sure that his sin is forgiven.
I. I shall first take our text as a question that may be asked, as in job’s case, by a true child of God. “Why dost Thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?” Sometimes this question is asked under a misapprehension. Job was a great sufferer; and although he knew that he was not as guilty as his troublesome friends tried to make out, yet he did fear that, possibly, his great afflictions were the results of some sin. “If it be caused by sin, why dost Thou not first pardon the sin, and then remove its effects?”
1. Now I take it that it would have been a misapprehension on Job’s part to suppose that his afflictions were the result of his sin. Mark you, we are, by nature, so full of sin that we may always believe that there is enough evil within us to cause us to suffer severe affliction if God dealt with us according to justice; but do recollect that, in Job’s case, the Lord’s object, in his afflictions and trials, was not to punish Job for his sin, but to display in the patriarch, to His own honour and glory, the wonders of His grace. It may happen to you that you think that your present affliction is the result of some sin in you, yet it may be nothing of the kind. It may be that the Lord loves you in a very special manner because you are a fruit-bearing branch, and He is pruning you that you may bring forth more fruit. There are certain kinds of affliction that come only upon the more eminent members of the family of God; and if you are one of those who are thus honoured, instead of saying to your Heavenly Father, “When wilt Thou pardon my sin?” you might more properly say, “My Father, since Thou hast pardoned mine iniquity, and adopted me into Thy family, I cheerfully accept my portion of suffering, since in all this, Thou art not bringing to my mind the remembrance of any unforgiven sin, for I know that all my transgressions were numbered on the Scapegoat’s head of old.”
2. Sometimes, also, a child of God uses this prayer under a very unusual sense of sin. You know that, in looking at a landscape, you may so fix your gaze upon some one object that you do not observe the rest of the landscape. If you fix your eye upon your own sinfulness, as you well may do, it may be that you will not quite forget the greatness of Almighty love, and the grandeur of the atoning sacrifice; but, yet, if you do not forget them, you do not think so much of them as you should, for you seem to make your own sin, in all its heinousness and aggravation, the central object of your consideration. There are certain times in which you cannot help doing this; they come upon me, so I can speak from my own experience.
3. There is another time when the believer may, perhaps, utter the question of our text; that is, whenever he gets into trouble with his God. I fear that some of you must have known at times what this experience means; for between you and your Heavenly Father--although you are safe enough, and He will never cast you away from Him--there is a cloud. You are not walking in the light, your heart is not right in the sight of God.
II. The question in our text may be asked by some who are not consciously God’s children. “Why dost Thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?”
1. And, first, I think that I hear somebody making this kind of inquiry, “Why does not God pardon my sin, and have done with it? When I come to this place, I hear a great deal about atonement by blood, and reconciliation through the death of Christ; but why does not God just say to me, ‘It is true that you have done wrong, but I forgive you, and there is an end of the matter’?” With the utmost reverence for the name and character of God, I must say that such a course of action is impossible. God is infinitely just and holy, He is the Judge of all the earth, and He must punish sin. God will not permit anarchy in order that He may indulge your whims, or vacate the throne of heaven that He may save you according to your fancy.
2. Perhaps somebody else says, “Well, then, if that is God’s way of salvation, let us believe in Jesus Christ, and let us have pardon at once. But you talk about the need of a new birth, and about forsaking sin, and following after holiness, and you say that without holiness no man can see the Lord.” Yes, I do say it, for God’s Word says it. The curse of sin is in the evil itself rather than in its punishment; and if it could become a happy thing for a man to be a sinner, then men would sin, and sin again, and sin yet more deeply; and this God will not have.
3. “Well,” says another friend, “that is not my trouble. I am willing to be saved by the atonement of Christ, and I am perfectly willing to be made to cease from sin, and to receive from God a new heart and a right spirit; why, then, does He not pardon me, and blot out my transgressions?” Well, it may be, first, because you have not confessed your wrong-doing. May it not be possible, also, you who cannot obtain pardon and peace, that you are still practising some known sin?
4. “Well,” say you, “I do not know that this is my case at all, for I really do, from my heart, endeavour to give up all sin, and I am sincerely seeking peace with God.” Well, perhaps you have not found it because you have not been thoroughly earnest in seeking it.
5. There is still one thing more that I will mention as a reason why some men do not find the Saviour, and get their sins forgiven; and that is, because they do not get off the wrong ground on to the right ground. If you are ever to be pardoned, it must be entirely by an act of Divine, unmerited favour. Now perhaps you are trying to do something to recommend yourself to God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》