Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. INTRODUCTORY ADDRESS TO THE FRIENDS. (Vers. 1-6.) He asks for a patient hearing, because he is not about to complain of man, but of a terrible enigma which may well excite the amazement, the dread wonder of men, as being beyond their power to unravel. He speaks as one the very foundations of whose faith are shaken, as he thinks of this painful and Perplexing "riddle of the earth." "Because reason cannot comprehend the mystery of the crees, and why nod deals often so hardly with his children, bitter thoughts will arise from time to time in devout hearts, and cause them to tremble in great dismay" (Zeyss). (See Psalm 37:1; Psalm 73:12; Jeremiah 12:1.) The solid columns of our reason, so to speak, are shaken by doubts of the justice of God's government of the world.
II. APPEAL TO EXPERIENCE: THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED, CONTRASTED WITH THE AFFLICTIONS OF THE RIGHTEOUS, IN THIS LIFE. (Vers. 7-26.)
1. Traits of godless prosperity. (Vers. 7-16.)
(1) The wicked are fortunate in their persons (ver. 7). Instead of being cut off by premature death, as Zophar had maintained, they remain in vigour to a good old age.
(2) In their families. They see their posterity flourishing before them like young scions from the old root (ver. 8).
(3) In their houses. Peace dwells there, free from alarm, and no chastising rod of Providence falls upon them (ver. 9).
(4) In their herds and flocks - the great elements of Oriental wealth (vers. 10, 11).
(5) In their merry life. Sportive throngs of children play around them, full of joyous pranks and frolic, while the sound of music charms the ear (vers. 11, 12).
(6) Their easy death. Their days are spent in comfort to the very last, quite in opposition to the gloomy pictures which the friends have drawn of their fearful and violent ends (Job 11:20; Job 18:14; Job 20:11). They disappear suddenly, painlessly, into the unseen world - theirs is a euthanasia (ver. 13)! Such a life may be lived, such a death may be met, without a spark of religion to justify or explain it (vers. 14, 15). They are men, these wicked ones, whose language to God has been, "Depart from us!" Their happiness awakens no gratitude towards its Source; they deem worship and prayer to be useless. Job proceeds with his description, and declares further, to support his position, "Lo, not in their hand stands their good." That is, not they are, but God is himself, the Author of their prosperity; and it is this which makes the problem so dark and hard to solve. "The counsel of the wicked be far from reel' (ver. 16). Here flashes out once more the true, deep faith of the patriarch. Despite all the mystery and all the temptation, he will endure to the end; never will he renounce his God (Job 1:11; Job 2:5).
2. These lessons of experience confirmed, with reference to the positions of the friends. (Vers. 17-21.) Bildad had spoken (Job 18:5, 12) of the quenching of the light of the wicked man and of his sudden overthrow. Job questions the universal application of this. "How often," etc.? is here equivalent to "How seldom," etc.! How often does God distribute sorrows in his anger? with allusion to Job 20:23 (ver. 17). This doubting questioning still continues in ver. 18, "How often do they become as straw before the wind, and like chaff which the tempest carries away?" (see Job 20:8, 9). "God lays up for his children his calamity?" referring to Eliphaz's words (ver. 4) and Zophar's (Job 20:10). Job proceeds (ver. 20) to refute this theory of satisfaction by substitution. "Let his eyes see his destruction; and of the fiery wrath of the Almighty let him drink!" The allusion is to Zophar (Job 20:23). And further, against this theory (ver. 21); in his dull insensibility the wicked man cares nought for the fate of his posterity. "For what pleasure is his house after him?" - what interest or concern has the selfish egotist in the sufferings of his descendants after he is dead and gone? And if this be so, how can it be alleged that the wicked man is punished in his posterity? "If the number of his moons is allotted to him." The thought is that the selfish, pleasure-seeking bad man is content, if only he lives out the full measure of his days. What amidst these perplexities can keep the soul true to God and steadfast in the pursuit of goodness? Experience suggests these doubts; and a larger experience must solve them. The Christian knows that in God's ordering of life the outward prosperity is often unrelated to moral worth. The good things of this world cannot satisfy; without a good conscience earthly happiness is impossible. Often the worldly prosperity enjoyed by the bad man is the means of his destruction. This is not the scene of final recompense and retribution. Doubtless God, whose counsels are inscrutable, will indemnify pious sufferers for these earthly privations.
3. Restatement of the enigma. (Vers. 22-26.) The contrast in men's destinies to our expectations involves a Divine counsel which we may not presume to understand. "Shall one teach God knowledge, who judges those that are high?" (ver. 22). The friends had brought this thought forward (Job 4:18; Job 15:15) with the view of supporting their narrow theory of retribution. Conversely, Job would refute by the same means this short-sighted view, pointing to the unfathomable depth and mystery of the counsels and laws of God for the government of the world. Two examples illustrate this. One man dies in bodily ease and comfort - his troughs full of milk, strong and vigorous to the marrow of his bones (vers. 23, 24). Another dies with bitterness in his soul, and has not enjoyed good (ver. 25). And yet they are united in one common fate, though their moral worth is so different and so contrasted. "With one another they lie on the dust of the grave, and the worms cover them." "Both, heirs to some six feet of clod, are equal in the earth at last" (ver. 26).
III. CORRECTION OF HIS FRIENDS FOR THEIR PARTIAL JUDGMENT OF THE OUTWARD CONDITION OF MEN. (Vers. 27-34.) He knows their thoughts, and the malice with which they ill-treat him, with the object of proving him by any means, fair or unfair, a hypocrite. "Where," they say, "is the house of the tyrant? and where the tent inhabited by wicked men?" Job alludes still to the repeated descriptions of Eliphaz and Bildad (Job 15:34; Job 18:15, 21) of the overthrow of the tent of the wicked man (ver. 28). Have they, then, not asked the wanderers by the way (Lamentations 1:12; Psalm 80:12), and will they mistake their tokens? The instances of prosperous bad men and unhappy good men which these persons can produce - they must not misunderstand nor reject them. The "tokens" are the memorable and wonderful events of this kind (ver. 29). Then follow the summary contents of these people's experiences (ver. 30): "That on the day of destruction the wicked is spared, on the day of wrath they are led away" from its devastating fury, so that they suffer nothing. "Who will show him his way to his face? and if he has acted, who will repay it to him?" (ver. 31). This is Job's question. It concerns God, the unfathomably wise and mighty Author of the destinies of men. "And he" (alluding to ver. 30) "is brought to burial" in honour and pomp, "and on a mound he keeps watch," like one immortalized in a statue or tomb. His tumulus remains to record his name and memory, while Bildad had described the memory of the wicked as perishing from the earth, his name being forgotten. Ver. 33, "The clods of the valley lie softly upon him" - the valleys being the favourite burying-places in the East - "and all the world draws after him," treading the same path which multitudes have done before. CONCLUSION. (Ver. 34.) "How will you now so vainly comfort me?" Falsehood only remains from their replies. There is some truth both in Zophar's and in Job's speeches. But both represent one side only of the truth. The end of the wicked man is that which Zophar depicts. Yet the temporal prosperity of the wicked, lasting to the latest hour of life, is often seen. Job cannot deny the facts of Zophar; but neither can Zophar deny the exceptions pointed out by Job. The friends are blind to these, because the admission of them would overthrow the whole battery of their attack. Job remains nearer to the truth than Zophar (Delitzsch). The godless are often greatly exalted, to fall the more deeply afterwards. "Raised up on high to be hurled down below" (Shakespeare). "Lofty towers have the heavier fall" (Horace,'Od.,' 2:10. 10; Juvenal, 'Sat.,' 10:104, sqq. on the fate of Sojanus). But it is the belief in a future judgment and a future life which can alone give patience under the anomalies and contradictions of the present. The God who is "upright, true, and all-disposing" hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, and "reward every man according to his works." "This is certain, that God is infinitely just; whether or not we apprehend him, he is so. When we think his ways are imperfect, we should remember that the imperfection is only in our understanding. It is not the ground or the trees that turn round; but the truth is, we are giddy, and think so Because I cannot see the light, shall I say that the sun does not shine? There may be many reasons that may hinder me. Something may cover the eye, or the clouds may cover the sun, or it may be in another horizon, as in the night; but it is impossible for the sun, so long as it is a sun, not to shine It was not for Job's sin that God afflicted him, but because he was freely pleased to do so; yet there was a reason for this pleasure which was to discover that grace of patience given him by God, to the astonishment of the world and the confutation of the devil" (South). - J.
I. THE RIGHT OF REPLY IS JUSTLY CLAIMED. Job has heard enough from his friends. He is impatient to answer them. Surely they should allow him to do so.
1. This right is conceded law. The worst criminal may be defended by counsel, may call witnesses in his favour, may make his own statement. In civil eases both sides are heard before judgment is pronounced.
2. This right should be allowed in social life. It is not just to condemn any one unheard. There may come to us a damaging tale concerning a person; it is our duty to suspend our judgment till he has given his explanation.
3. This right ought to be permitted in theology. It was a theological as well as a personal discussion that Job was carrying on with his friends. But in theology people are most impatient of hearing anything contrary to their own views. Yet it is not just to condemn those who differ from us until we have heard what they have to say on their side of a question.
II. THE RIGHT OF REPLY IS HELPFUL IN THE INTERESTS OF TRUTH. We are all tempted to take partial, one-sided views of things. It is only By bringing light from all quarters that we can see the rounded totality of truth. Therefore discussion helps truth. At first, indeed, it may not seem to do so, and, indeed, there seems to be a certain irony in it, for the most eager combatants are usually furthest from a just con-caption of what they are contending for. But after the discussion is over, those who look on are better able to understand the whole subject. Thus the discussion of Job and his friends throws light on the mystery of Providence. The creeds of Christendom were forged in the fires of controversy. Theology is a result of discussion. The right of reply has given breadth, depth, and definiteness to it. Truth is not helped by the persecution of error.
III. THE RIGHT OF REPLY IS A CONSOLATION TO THE MISJUDGED. Job only asks for this. When he has spoken his friends may mock on. There is some humour in his tone, or perhaps a bitter scorn. Truth is strong. Only let it shine out in its native strength, and calumny must wither before it. Any unjust accusations will then only break themselves like waves that are dashed to pieces on the crags. We can afford to be indifferent to falsehood and error if we can speak out and let the truth be fairly seen.
IV. THE RIGHT OF REPLY WILL BE GIVEN ULTIMATELY TO ALL, It will be of little use to those who are in the wrong. To be able to stand up in the searching light of eternity and reply for a bad case is no desirable privilege. Rather than attempt to reply, the self-convicted sinner will call on the mountains and hills to cover him. But those who are honestly endeavouring to make the truth manifest in face of great opposition and gross misapprehension may learn to possess their souls in patience if they will come to understand that the oppression and injustice are but temporary. Though silenced for a season, ultimately truth will speak out with a trumpet-voice. In conclusion, let us remember that God has a right of redly to all man's foolish sophistry, to all his shuffling excuses. All error and pretence will be pulverized annihilated when God speaks his great answer to cavillers, unbelievers, and opponents of every kind. - W.F.A.
I. THE COMPLAINT THAT IS OF MORE THAN MAN'S DOINGS. Job does not only complain of man's injustice. That would be hard to bear; and yet a strong soul should be able to withstand it, trusting in a higher justice that will set all right at last. But the mystery, the horror, the agony, of Job's complaint, spring from the persuasion that his troubles are to be attributed to a more than earthly origin. They are so huge and terrible that he cannot but ascribe them to a superhuman source. This fact intensifies the complaint in many respects.
1. The mystery of the supernatural. Man quails before it. The bravest hero who is not afraid of any human strength trembles at the thought of the unseen.
2. The power of the Divine. Job can resist man, but he cannot stand out against God. It is not mortal frailty, but immortal Omnipotence, that assails him. The contest is unequal.
3. The apparent injustice of the Just One. This is hardest of all. It would be possible to bear the lower injustice if assured of the impartiality and triumph of the higher justice. But when Job looks up for justice to its great central throne, even there he seems to see wrong, misapprehension, and unfair treatment. It is not that Job directly charges God with injustice; but there is in his heart an all-perplexing, baffling thought, discouraging confidence. Though we may not doubt God, it is hard to bear his hand when he seems to go against justice and love. Here is the great test of faith.
II. THE COMPLAINT THAT GOES BEYOND MAN'S EARS. As Job complains of what is done by more than man, so he cries to a power above the human. The sublimity of the drama is seen in its relations with the unseen world. It assumes more than heroic proportions. It is concerned with God as well as man.
1. The complaining cry. Job continually lifts up his voice to God. We have to learn to look above the earth. It is foolish to complain of God, but it is natural to complain to God. If we even think hard thoughts of God, it is not necessary for us to bury them in the secrecy of our own breasts. There they will only burn as hidden fires, and consume all faith and hope. It is far better to be courageous, and confess them frankly to God himself. He can understand them, judge them fairly, and see the sorrow and perplexity from which they have sprung. And it is he who can dissipate them.
2. The merciful Heaven. God hears every cry of his children, and when faith is mixed with fear he accepts the faith and dispels the fear. Men judge their fellows harshly for their complaining utterances. God is like the patient mother who soothes her fretful child. Though the cry is wrung from the heart in an agony of dismay, so that no hope of relief is visible through the blinding veil of tears, God does not fling it back with angered dignity; he treats it with pitying mercy. If only the soul will give itself utterly up to him, even in its darkness and despair, he will hear and save. - W.F.A.
(1) in prolonged life;
(2) in the power and influence they are permitted to gain;
(3) in their family prosperity;
(4) in their freedom from calamity;
(5) in their domestic security;
(6) in their abundance and joy.
This mystery Job does not instantly unravel But what is the effect of all this prosperity on the wicked? It does not humble him nor make him thankful As an uneven glass distorts the fairest image, so their impure and ill-regulated minds turn the goodness of God into an occasion of impious rejection. "Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us." The distortions of the evil mind pervert the goodness of God into -
I. AN OCCASION OF IMPIOUS DESPIAL OF THE DIVINE NAME. They refuse to know God. They shut out the knowledge of God from their hearts. With a wicked "Depart!" they resist the Holy One. They have no aspiration after a holy corn reunion, or the vision of the pure. The Lord is abhorrent to them. Their tastes are corrupt; their preferences are for evil. Truly they pervert and reverse all good things. They put darkness for light, and light for darkness. They put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. The very call to adoration and praise they turn into an occasion of despisal and rejection.
II. In their perversions they make the Divine goodness AN OCCASION FOR A DESPISAL OF THE DIVINE WAYS. This is always the danger of them who have abundance and yet lack the fear of God. This is the basis of a teaching long afterwards touchingly taught concerning the rich, to whom it is so "hard" to "enter into the kingdom of heaven." The satisfied man becomes the self-satisfied, even though indebted to another for his possessions. Then the spirit of independence becomes a spirit of revulsion against all authority that might be raised over it. So they who "spend their days in wealth" say," We desire not the knowledge of thy ways."
III. This same spirit ripens into AN ABSOLUTE REFUSAL TO SUBMIT TO THE DIVINE AUTHORITY. "What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?" So far is the goodness of God from leading him to repentance who is evil in spirit. Wickedness is the fruit of an ill-directed judgment, and it tends to impair the judgment more and more. It distorts all the moral sensibilities, and therefore all the moral processes. If the judgment were accurately to decide in favour of the Divine Law and its obligatory character, the perverted preferences of the mind would reject the testimony, and by a rude rebellion within would prevent a right decision from being arrived at. Even the check and restraint of the enlightened judgment becomes a signal for resistance. Its goad is kicked against; its repressions refused; its warning unheeded; its plain path, narrow and difficult to follow, is rejected, and a broad and easy way, in which the foolish heart finds its pleasure, chosen in preference. So the Divine authority is rejected and despised. The ill effects of rejecting the Divine authority are seen:
1. In the loss of the guidance of the supreme wisdom.
2. In the inevitable injuries resulting from following a false and erroneous judgment.
3. In the demoralization of the life.
4. In the final vindication of the Divine authority. - R.G.
I. THE FACTS AS WITNESSED IN LIFE.
1. An established family. Job's home is desolate. The seed of the wicked is established in their sight. They have their children about them.
2. Security. (Ver. 8.) "Their houses are safe from fear." They are not haunted by the alarms of guilt. On the contrary, they are very comfortable and self-satisfied (ver. 9).
3. Freedom from chastisement. The rod of God is not upon them. The righteous man is chastised; the godless man is spared (ver. 9).
4. Good fortune. Their cattle breed successfully (ver. 10). The mishaps which fall to the lot of others avoid them. A certain good fortune follows them, even into those chances of life which are beyond human control.
5. Pleasure. These wicked people are not troubled by their sins. They have no puritanical scruples to sour them. They spend their days in gaiety (vers. 11, 12).
6. Prosperity lasting till death. (Ver. 13.) They do not have the reverse of fortune which the three moralizers assumed to be their lot. A long life of wealth and ease is followed by a quick and almost painless death. Here is unmitigated prosperity from the cradle to the grave.
II. THE DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES OF THESE FACTS. Because they are so prosperous the wicked harden themselves against God.
1. Dispensing with God. (Ver. 14.) They think they can do very well without God. This world's goods satisfy them, and of this world's goods they have a sufficiency. They have no need to cry to God for help for they are not in trouble. They see no reason for prayer, for they have all they want without it.
2. Rejecting God. (Ver. 15.) These prosperous wicked people go further than to live without God. They actually rebel against him. Being self-sufficient, they decline to admit that they are under any obligation to serve God. Thus their very prosperity increases their sin.
III. THE GREAT MYSTERY OF THESE FACTS. This is inexplicable from the standpoint of Job's friends. If suffering is only the punishment of sin, the wicked must suffer, or there is no just Judge over all. By pointing to the plain facts of life Job is able to refute the pedantic dogmas of his critics. Theology that will not stand the test of life is worthless. But graver questions are at issue than those that merely concern the correctness of orthodox notions. Where is the justice of facts as Job sets them forth? To him all is a profound mystery. Now, it is something to be brought to this point. There is a mystery in the course of life which we cannot fathom. Then let us not attempt to judge, but confess our ignorance. Still, if there is to be an outlook towards the light, we must seek it in two directions.
1. In the prospect of a future life. There God will rectify the inequalities of this life.
2. In attaching less weight to outward circumstances. Prosperity is not the greatest good. On both sides, among the disappointed good as well as among the fortunate wicked, too much is made of external things. True prosperity is soul-prosperity. "The life is more than meat" etc. - W.F.A.
Job 13:7). The presumption of the foolish advocates of an effete orthodoxy now reaches a greater height, and they virtually assume to teach God. Their dogma is above Divine revelation. If the two differ, so much the worse for the revelation. Let us see how this same error may be found in other branches of life and thought.
I. IN AUTHORITATIVE ORTHODOXY. It cannot be said that the mere act of calling in the aid of authority to establish and support what we believe to be the truth implies a disposition to assume to be the teachers of God. But there is a tendency in absolute reliance on authority to move towards that absurdity which reaches its climax in the folly that Job ascribes to his friends. The tendency is to think the settled opinion of our party or section of the Church a certain and infallible truth. Thus people are urged to submit to such settled opinion without inquiry. Though God may have given teaching available to all in nature and in the Scriptures, though he may be speaking in the hearts of his children by the voice of his Spirit, all these Divine communications are set aside in favour of the one human authoritative utterance. Instead of this being subject to the test of nature, Scripture, and conscience, God's voice in those three channels is translated and often distorted into accordance with the dogma of authority.
II. IN PRIVATE JUDGMENT. The same error may be seen in the opposite direction, in a sort of ultra-Protestant employment of the right of freedom of thought. The individual man asserts his opinion as infallible, regardless of the ideas of all other people. He poses as "Athanasius contra mundum," without possessing the title to independence which was earned by the hero of Nicaea. The mischief is not that he is independent - surely everybody should think for himself; it is that he rejects all external aids to knowledge, and sets up his own reason, or often his own prejudice, as the standard of truth. He rejects the Pope of Rome that he may be his own pope. Even the Divine revelation in the Bible must be interpreted so as to agree with his opinions. Instead of going to the Scriptures as a humble learner seeking light, he approaches them as one who has made up his mind, and who mast now get the Bible to echo his notions. The same mistake is made by those who presume to judge nature or providence, thinking they would have done better if they had been in God's place.
III. IN PRAYER. Is it not very common for people to pray as though they were instructing God? They inform him of what he already knows far better than they know it themselves. God invites our confidence and confession; but this is that we may put ourselves into right relations with him, not that we may tell him anything of which he would be ignorant but for our prayer. Or people go further, and offer instructions to God as to the way in which he should act. Prayer, instead of being a supplication, becomes a dictating to God. Entreaty is virtually converted into a demand. We have to learn to submit to the higher knowledge as well as the higher authority of God. Prayer needs to be more simply the trusting of ourselves to God for him to do with us just what he knows to be best. - W.F.A.
I. DEATH HAPPENS ALIKE TO ALL. As Shakespeare puts it, this may be said of all of us -
"Nothing can we call our own, but death: II. DEATH IS NOT FELT TO BE THE SAME BY ALL. Our feelings are affected by contrasts and changes, not by our absolute condition at any moment. The candle-light that looks brilliant to the prisoner in a dungeon, is most gloomy to a man who has just come from the sunshine. Death is all loss and darkness to one who is suddenly snatched away from earthly enjoyment, but it is a haven of rest to the storm-tossed soul. The same death has very different meanings according to our spiritual condition. In sin and worldliness and heathenish ignorance, death is a going out into the darkness. To the Christian it is falling asleep in Christ. III. THESE IS NO EARTHLY ADJUSTMENT OF LOTS. Job is quite right. It is vain to expect it. If it has not come yet, we have no reason to believe that it will come later on, even at the last. There is nothing in experience to warrant us in the hope that it will come at all. In many respects, no doubts moral causes work out visible effects on earth. But this is by no means universal, nor are the effects always adequate to the requirements of justice. IV. THERE MUST BE A FUTURE LIFE. The story is not complete on earth. It breaks off suddenly without any kind of finish. This abruptness of the visible ending of life points to a continuance beyond the grave. Justice requires that the unfinished life should have its appropriate conclusion. Not from necessity of nature, but from moral considerations, we conclude that the broken threads must be picked up and drawn together again to make the perfect pattern. V. THE SPIRITUAL LIFE IS INFINITELY SUPERIOR TO THE MATERIAL. It looks as though the differences of external fortune could be treated with contempt. The good have misfortune, the bad have prosperity. These are slight matters in the eyes of Providence, because real prosperity, is spiritual prosperity, and that is only possible to those who live a right life. - W.F.A.
II. DEATH IS NOT FELT TO BE THE SAME BY ALL. Our feelings are affected by contrasts and changes, not by our absolute condition at any moment. The candle-light that looks brilliant to the prisoner in a dungeon, is most gloomy to a man who has just come from the sunshine. Death is all loss and darkness to one who is suddenly snatched away from earthly enjoyment, but it is a haven of rest to the storm-tossed soul. The same death has very different meanings according to our spiritual condition. In sin and worldliness and heathenish ignorance, death is a going out into the darkness. To the Christian it is falling asleep in Christ.
III. THESE IS NO EARTHLY ADJUSTMENT OF LOTS. Job is quite right. It is vain to expect it. If it has not come yet, we have no reason to believe that it will come later on, even at the last. There is nothing in experience to warrant us in the hope that it will come at all. In many respects, no doubts moral causes work out visible effects on earth. But this is by no means universal, nor are the effects always adequate to the requirements of justice.
IV. THERE MUST BE A FUTURE LIFE. The story is not complete on earth. It breaks off suddenly without any kind of finish. This abruptness of the visible ending of life points to a continuance beyond the grave. Justice requires that the unfinished life should have its appropriate conclusion. Not from necessity of nature, but from moral considerations, we conclude that the broken threads must be picked up and drawn together again to make the perfect pattern.
V. THE SPIRITUAL LIFE IS INFINITELY SUPERIOR TO THE MATERIAL. It looks as though the differences of external fortune could be treated with contempt. The good have misfortune, the bad have prosperity. These are slight matters in the eyes of Providence, because real prosperity, is spiritual prosperity, and that is only possible to those who live a right life. - W.F.A.
I. A WARNING TO THE WICKED NOT TO PRESUME ON A PRESENT EXEMPTION FROM CALAMITY. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Thus is man perverse, blind, foolish. The declaration of a final, inevitable judgment is the effectual check upon foolish presumption. The wicked man is a weak man, whose own conscience makes a coward of him. The appeal to his fear and dread is the effectual check upon his carelessness.
II. In the reservation of the Divine judgment, THE OPPRESSED RIGHTEOUS ONES MAY FIND A TRUE GROUND OF CONSOLATION. Revenge is not a pious sentiment. To desire punishment upon the wicked from vindictive feelings is far from the pure mind; but he that is unjustly traduced may abide in hope that one day a Divine judgment will bring hidden things to light, and make the righteousness of the falsely accused shine as the light. The Divine judgments being always wise and good and just - the judgments of the loving God - they will find their echo of approval in the heart of every wise and just man. The final Divine judgments will commend themselves to the utmost tenderness of the human heart; for their absolute rightness will be apparent.
III. The reservation of the Divine judgment against wickedness WILL AFFORD OPPORTUNITY FOR THE FINAL VINDICATION OF THE DIVINE WAYS. In his great condescension it may please God to vindicate his dealings with the sons of men, when each will have evidence of the righteousness of his doings. Clouds and darkness may now hide the Divine purpose and the Divine methods of procedure; but all will be clearly revealed, and hidden iniquity be exposed and oppressed goodness vindicated and the Divine ways justified. The certainty, the strictness, the equity, the unbiassed rectitude of the Divine judgment, are causes for dreading it. A lowly, reverent, obedient spirit is the true preparation for the final award. Judgment, though delayed, will not be forgotten. "God shall judge the righteous and the wicked." - R.G.
I. WE MUST UNDERSTAND THOSE WHOM WE WOULD HELP.
1. By mixing with them. Job's friends took the first step. They travelled from their remote homes across the desert and came to see him. We can only help the miserable if we first go among them and see them with our own eyes. Much philanthropy fails by reason of distance and separation. We cannot know people till we are with them. Christ came down from heaven and lived among men.
2. By freedom from prejudice. Job's friends came with fixed notions. They only looked at Job through their coloured spectacles. We can never understand people till we throw aside all our preconceived notions about them and look at them as they are.
3. By sympathy. This must be insisted on over and over again. The lack of it was the chief cause of the failure of Job's friends. The presence of it is the first essential for understanding people.
II. TRUTH IS A PRIMARY CONDITION OF CONSOLATION. I. In regard to the sufferer. It is useless to ignore his sufferings, or to try to reason him into the belief that they do not exist. The attempt to help will be spoilt if we argue that what he knows to be undeserved is really his due. Any view that does not regard him as he is spoils all efforts to console.
2. In regard to the remedy. It is worse than useless to offer wrong remedies. The trite commonplaces of consolation are only irritants. Some of them are known to be false in fact. Others have not the ring of sincerity about them when repeated by the comforting friend. However true they have been once, they have ceased to bear any meaning that people believe in.
III. SPIRITUAL CONSOLATION IS CONDITIONED BY SPIRITUAL TRUTH.
1. In thought. We cannot console others with dogmas that we do not believe in ourselves. If we have no faith in Christ we cannot use the Name of Christ to heal the wounds of others. Unless we look forward to a future life it is vain for us to talk about the "many mansions" when we are trying to console others. There is a foolish notion that we should talk up to the maximum of orthodoxy, even though we do not live and think up to it. But this notion is only an excuse for cant, and nothing is more vexing to the sufferer than to be treated with cant. Let us say only what we believe.
2. In fact. Delusions cannot afford permanent consolations, They may soothe pain and alarm for the moment; but they cannot endure, and when the mistake of them is discovered the result will be a deeper despair than ever. If, however, we could succeed in lulling all distress on earth by means of a false hope, the consolation itself would be a most terrible calamity. The soul needs truth more than comfort. It is better to hear the painful truth now than at the great judgment. But there is another truth, one which gives real consolation - the truth of the gospel of Christ. - W.F.A.