Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. INTRODUCTION. (Vers. 1-4.) The speaker begins by announcing that he has something further of weight to say in justification of the ways of God to man. He has "words for God" to utter. Though God's works are his justification, and he needs no defence at the hands of man, yet it may be said that the free exercise of reason, in setting forth the glory of his goodness and justice, is an acceptable service to him. If he delights in the unconscious testimony of babes and sucklings (Psalm 8.), still more must he delight in the conscious spontaneous offerings of man's matured thought at his shrine, The great works of Christian theologians and apologists, such as Calvin's 'Institutes' or Butler's 'Analogy,' are the tributes of reason to the honour of God. But they are valueless unless they have that quality which Elihu so emphatically claims, sincerity, truth. He who ventures to speak for God must speak, not with the purpose of temporary expediency, but out of the consciousness of eternity.
II. THE JUSTICE OF GOD REVEALED IN THE HISTORY OF MAN. (Vers. 5-21.) The course of life, argues the speaker, shows that a chastening, a purifying, but at the same time a loving, Power is at work in the world. This is supported:
1. By a general view of human life. (Vers. 6-15.) God is revealed in the different courses of men's lives as Power, but not as arbitrary Power. His greatness is not associated with contempt for the lowliness of man. It is not reckless of right and wrong. It upholds the moral order - the godless sink unsupported into the ruin their own conduct has prepared for them; while those who suffer from the injustice of others are succoured and defended. God's watchful eye is upon all just men, from the king whose throne he establishes, whose dignity he guards, to the captive in his chains, to the beggar in his misery. This, as we have so often seen, is the firm foundation-truth which runs beneath the whole of this book, and through the whole of the Bible. And the seeming exceptions to these principles of the Divine administration are now explained as merely seeming; for they come under the principle of chastisement, which is but another illustration of love. According to this view - never more feelingly set forth than here-suffering may be, not the brand of guilt, but the silent token of love in the form of discipline. Without positive guilt there may be moral stagnation, in which the germs of future evil are discovered by the eye of the Divine Educator. Evil is forming in tendency or thought when it has not blossomed into deeds. Then comes the visit of God in suffering to warn, to hint of danger, to "open the ear" to instructions that were thought unnecessary in the days of perfect peace and self-complacency. And if the mind yields to this gracious leading, and bends itself to docility to this new revelation of the holy will, all shall yet be well. The season of depression and disaster will be passed through, and the sheep who have heard the Shepherd's voice will find themselves led once more into the green pastures of content (vers. 6-11). But the God who is revealed to us in this tender and gracious aspect in the course el experience, under the condition of obedience, becomes clothed in sternness and severity to those who resist. Those who venture to war with law, to rebel against omnipotence and justice, can but meet an unhappy doom. In wondrous ways, unknown to man, God is able to bring men to their destined goal (vers. 12-14). The great lesson, then, is to betake one's self to self-examination (the opening of the ear) and to prayer when the visitants of God's chastening love are knocking at the door of our heart. The lesson is expressed by pointing to the sad examples of unsubmissive, prayerless lives! These, like spots where the dew falls not, cannot thrive. Hearts, like bare rocks, that will not melt in the sun, callous, impenitent, heedless, perish for want of knowledge, of faith, of God; but those whose whole nature has been broken up and laid open by suffering are prepared to receive the seed of eternal wisdom which the Divine Husbandman seeks in such times to implant (ver. 15).
2. By reference to Job's vicissitudes. (Vers. 16-21.) In these verses, which are so obscure in meaning in our version, a deduction is made from the foregoing principles in reference to the case of Job. In ver. 16 the verb should be taken in the present, "God's leading," or "is for leading" him out of his present straitened and distressed condition; but what if the conditions of submission, penitence, and docility are wanting in Job? Assuming that there is this want, solemn warnings are given - that he cannot, if in a state of sin, escape the judgment of God; that if he allows the fire of suffering to madden him into impiety instead of purifying his spirit, he will find himself in an evil plight, for no cries nor efforts can avail to extricate him from the fangs of doom. Let not Job, then, says the speaker (ver. 20), perhaps pointing to the dark warning of the sky, long after the night (of judgment); for whole peoples pass away in that terrible darkness when the wrath of God is outpoured! And to conclude the warnings, let Job beware of the turning of the heart to vanity - the natural thoughtlessness of mankind in presence of the judgments of God. The application is unfair as regards Job; still, we are reminded indirectly that it is not sufficient to hold a true theory of God's moral government in general, without applying it to the facts of our own lives. Men may harshly apply great principles to our character and condition in the world; this cannot absolve us from the duty of applying them truly and honestly for ourselves.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD REVEALED IN NATURE. (Ver. 22-37:24.)
1. The wisdom and power of God as seen in nature's wonders. (Ver. 22-37:13.) Introduction. (Vers. 22-25.) The sublime power of God fills every observer of Nature with awe. Who is a Ruler as he? Who can improve upon Nature? She is the great mechanist, artist, designer, executor. Man may produce new varieties of plants and, to some extent, of animals by the exercise of intelligence, but "o'er that art which men call nature is another art which nature makes." Art is the highest effort of human nature; and what nature can he honour who honours not the human? If, then, you have a quarrel with God, what is this but to dispute the beauty and the good of things, which all men delight to celebrate, on which no eyes are weary of looking with wonder?
2. Look, then, at the grandeur of the phenomena of nature - the rain the clouds the storms. (Ver. 26-37:5.) Read the words of the description, compare them with your own feelings. In the very vagueness and vastness of nature there is a power to impress the imagination. This array of beauty and of grandeur is not only far beyond, but totally unlike, anything that man can conceive or accomplish. No words can better set forth these profound and unutterable impressions than the words of great poets, "thrown out" as it were at a distant, illimitable object which cannot be defined. "God thunders with his voice wondrously, doth great things that we understand not:" this is the sum of all. The indefinite grandeur of images and sounds, which is so impressive in the highest poetry, represents the inarticulate but overwhelming voice of nature which tells of the Being and the goodness of God. Again, these effects point to causes; and the regularity of effects to the regularity of causes; and the whole series of effects and causes resolves itself into the conception of law, high, unerring, unbroken. Even with a very imperfect knowledge of the structure of the cosmos, there is some dim perception of these truths: how much more should consummate science impress them upon the spirit! Every phenomenon that strikes with awe the senses, or that gently excites the wonder and curiosity of the mind, hints at an Intelligence which is ever at work. The snow, the rain-torrents, which give pause to the labours of man, and compel his gaze to the sky; the crouching of the wild beast in his lair before the fury of the storm; the rushing forth of the blasts as from some hidden repository (as the Greeks fabled, the cave of AEelus); the congelation of the waters; the clouds discharging their weight of moisture or flashing forth their lightnings; - all speak of superhuman power, ell-controlling and still guiding the march of nature by a principle of right; now scourging men's folly, and now rewarding and blessing their obedience. In the fearful and beautiful scenes of the storm and of winter we indeed no longer see signs of the personal displeasure of God. We explain them by the "laws of nature." But none the less do these phenomena tell of the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God, and hint to us the duty and the need of prayer to him who gave to Nature her laws.
3. Inferences; exhortations. (Job 37:14-24.) If this be the view Nature gives us of her God and of our Creator, instead of murmuring at him or disputing his dealings, let Job and all sufferers draw the true conclusions amidst the dark enigmas of their lives. Let the preceding impressions be laid well to heart, and in quiet contemplation let the mystery of the Divine operations be reviewed. Can man explain the secrets of nature? If not, why should he expect to explain fully that which is a part of the same system, under the same rule, controlled by the same God, namely, his own life and its mingled web of weal and woe (ver. 14, sqq.)? "We have but faith; we cannot know." "If man is not called by God to his side in other matters of his daily doing, to be as a judge and counsellor, and this can be expected by none, and none presumes to murmur against that order, it is right that man should not demand that the method of God's government should be shown him in this world, but that he should acquiesce in it, whether he understands it or no; that he should believe his Word, and await his good in patience" (Cocceius). CONCLUSION. find now the speaker - pointing to the rising storm which has been gathering during his discourse, brings his words, in solemn iteration and summing-up, to a close (vers. 21-24). The aspect of yonder heaven is a symbol of Job's position in relation to God. The light that flashes in its wonted splendour behind the clouds is not seen just now, but a wind rises and sweeps those clouds away; and so the God who is concealed for a time, and of whom we are in danger of entertaining wrong thoughts, may suddenly, to our surprise and shame, discover himself. Let us, then, humble ourselves in presence of the destiny that just now is full of darkness. From the gloom as of midnight there bursts forth the gleam as of gold - brilliant token of the sublime power of Jehovah. And God remains inaccessible to sense, to knowledge, dwelling in the unapproachable light. But, amidst all the terror and the mystery, the voice of conscience, the moral sense in man, tells him that, though God be incomprehensible, this much concerning him may be known - he is no Perverter of right and justice; he is the infallibly good and wise, just and holy One. This faith is the foundation of reverence, of piety; and as for the "self-wise," the men wise in their own conceits, God holds them in no regard. (On the dazzling light, the symbol of the majesty of God, compare the hymn of Binney, "Eternal Light! Eternal Light!") - J.
I. THE FALSE CLAIM TO SPEAK ON GOD'S BEHALF. This claim is put forth repeatedly.
1. By officialism. Because certain people hold a high office, they assume that they have a fight to represent God. But they may be true in their work and in discharging the proper functions of their office, and yet quite false in pretending to speak for God. God does not confine his heavenly communications to official channels.
2. By authoritative orthodoxy. No one can read the sad records of ecclesiastical history without seeing what ungodly passions have been engaged in the battles of theology. Dare we say that the issue of these miserable conflicts has always been a triumph for truth?
3. By personal dogmatism. Young men, such as Elihu, declare that they are speaking for God. They are very positive. But are they infallible? Would it not be well to see that God is not absolutely dependent on our advocacy? Vast mischief has accrued through bungling and even unrighteous attempts to vindicate God's truth and God's action. Can he not take care of his own cause? Shall we, like Uzzah, interfere at every crisis to save the ark of God from destruction? Much unbelief is simply due to unwise advocacy and defence of religion. Sometimes it is best to say nothing, but to trust God's cause to himself. "Be still, and know that I am God."
II. THE NECESSARY DUTY OF SPEAKING ON GOD'S BEHALF. There are times when God requires his people to speak for him, and we dare not be silent under all circumstances. Wrong must be denounced, error corrected, truth maintained, the gospel made known. How, then, can this advocacy be saved from the mischievous effects which follow from a wrong way of speaking for God?
1. By a Divine commission. They who speak for God must be called by God. Whatever be their human mission, they certainly need a Divine vocation. Let a man be well assured in his heart that God has called him before he opens his lips. The assurance may not come by any mystic voices, but by clear indications of providence, the prompting of conscience, the faculty to speak, the open door.
2. By a hold of truth. The teacher must be taught. The, advocate must have his brief; the envoy his despatch. The Christian missionary must be clear in his own grasp of Christian truth. We have the best guide to truth in the Bible. If any one would speak for God, let him follow the teachings of this book.
3. By sympathy with the Spirit of God. We cannot even speak the truth we know wisely and well, unless we are guided by the present influence of the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to study our Bibles. We must be much in prayer, we must live near to God, so that we may speak in the strength and spirit of God. - W.F.A.
I. KNOWLEDGE MUST BE FETCHED FROM AFAR. True to his character, the brilliant but pretentious young Elihu makes an ostentatious claim to having gone far for the knowledge that he is now about to declare. It might be said that many precious truths lie at our feet ready for us if only we would have the humility to stoop for them. Diamonds sparkle in the dust; we need not be for ever straining after the stars. Still, there is a knowledge that can only be got by far searching.
1. Over a wide realm. Elihu is about to launch forth into the great sea of nature. The infinite variety of facts and the grand harmony of laws there displayed are not perceived at a glance. Truth covers a large area. Many of our notions are erroneous just because our inductions are too narrow. We judge of the world by the parish. We estimate man by our private circle of acquaintances. We value life by our own experience. We must learn to break down the barriers, to master our shortness of sight, to take broad views, and look down long vistas of truth.
2. By persevering thought. A mere glance at truth is not enough. We must search for wisdom as for hidden treasure.
II. KNOWLEDGE FETCHED FROM AFAR VINDICATES THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. This is the conclusion to which Elihu has come. The three friends had declared for the same result, but they had started from much narrower premisses, and their cramped ideas could not satisfy Job. Elihu professes to take a wider view of the world, and so to establish his conclusion on a broader basis. We have only to know enough of God to be assured that all he does is good. The hard thoughts of God which we are tempted to entertain spring from partial and one-sided views of his works.
III. CHRIST HAS BROUGHT US KNOWLEDGE FROM AFAR WHICH REVEALS THE GOODNESS OF GOD. We are not left entirely to our own dim groping after truth in the great wilderness of existence. What we could never have discovered for ourselves has been brought to us by Jesus Christ. He has come from afar, from the distant heavens; and he has brought the knowledge of God and of eternity to earth. Now, if we would have the highest wisdom, our first course is, like Mary, to sit at the feet of Jesus. When we do this we shall learn that all that God does is good. Then we shall see that he is our Father, and that love is the principle that pervades all his government of the world. Some of us may yet be far from a perception of these glorious truths - because we are far from Christ. We have to know and trust him in order to reach the truest and best thoughts of God. - W.F.A.
I. IN HIS JUDGMENTS UPON THE UNGODLY. "He preserveth not the life of the wicked."
II. IN HIS JUSTICE TO THE OPPRESSED. "He giveth right to the poor;" "He deliverth the poor in his affliction" (ver. 15).
III. IN HIS REGARD FOR THE OBEDIENT AND PURE. "He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous." This is especially seen -
IV. IN HIS DISCIPLINE AND CORRECTION OF THE RIGHTEOUS. This topic Elihu expands. While the Almighty suffers the wicked to perish, he maintains the lot of the oppressed and righteous poor, keeping them ever in view, and ever working all things together for their good.
1. In leading them to an established honour. "With kings are they on the throne." He "doth establish them for ever, and they are exalted."
2. He sanctifies their sorrows as means of spiritual discipline and correction. "If they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction, he showeth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded."
3. He imparts instruction, warning them away from the dangers of iniquity.
4. He crowns their obedience with ample reward. "If they obey and serve him," he makes them to spend their days in prosperity. How does this anticipate the final condition of Job? and in the process of this Divine poem, how is the unravelling of the mystery, the knot of human suffering, gradually promoted? Again, with another motive to urge Job to repentance, Elihu points out .
5. That even the righteous, if they are disobedient to the Divine instructions and correction, "shall perish by the sword, and they shall die without knowledge." He makes a direct application of the whole teaching to Job: "Even so would he have removed thee out of the strait into a broad place;" but lays at Job's door the accusation of fulfilling the judgment of the evil-doer and suffering, as he does, for the severities of "judgment and justice." The principle of Elihu's teaching is just, if his application of it is faulty. All may learn
(1) to acknowledge,
(2) to bow to,
(3) to harmonize their life with, the perfect work of God. - R.G.
I. GOD'S MIGHT DOES NOT DESTROY HIS MERCY, It is only a very low and earthly view that could lead us to suppose that it might do so. When small men are lifted up they begin to display their littleness by despising those who are beneath them. But no such conduct can be ascribed to the great God. We must not suppose that any one of his creatures is so humble that he will not stoop to care for it. His is not the rude strength of the giant.
II. GOD'S MERCY IS CONFIRMED BY HIS MIGHT. The truth is the opposite to what we might fear if we judged by the small experience of earthly greatness. God has no temptation to despise any of his creatures. He does not wish to make a display of his greatness.
1. He does not despise the small. Feeble strength and slight capacity lead to contempt among men; but what is the greatest strength, what the highest capacity in the sight of God, in whose eyes all men are but as dust and ashes? If he despised any, he would despise all.
2. He does not despise the wicked. He knows their sin, folly, and helplessness. He seems to treat them with contempt, as psalmists and prophets describe his actions. But all that he really does is to frustrate their foolish designs and show that he cannot be touched by their vain rebellion. If God despised the wicked, he would despise all his children, because in the light of his holiness the best men are covered with the shame of guilt.
III. GOD'S MIGHT AND MERCY WORK TOGETHER. The might gives effect to the mercy. If God is mighty, and if also he does not despise any, we may be sure that he will use his great power for the benefit of helpless creatures who are not beneath his notice. Sympathy is not enough for salvation, without strength. God has both.
IV. THE MIGHT AND MERCY OF GOD SHOULD LEAD US TO TRUST IN HIM. We have not to deal with an aristocratic Divinity who looks with contempt on the "dim multitude." Though high above us, God does not despise us; then we may venture to confide in him. No trouble is so foolish that he will not take account of it, if it realty vexes one of his children. Those who are despised by their fellow-men may take comfort from the thought that they are not so regarded by their God. It is well to find a refuge from the contempt of the world in the sympathy of God.
V. WE SHOULD NOT DESPISE ANY OF OUR BRETHREN. If God has not despised them, dare we do so? Whatever feelings may be provoked by the baseness and meanness of men, contempt is never justifiable. God respects the dignity of the child whom he has made in his own image; and we should learn to treat with respect the lowest of our fellow-men. Contempt not only hurts the feelings of the most humble, it degrades the most vicious. We shall not save the sinner by despising him; the only method is Christ's method - loving him and treating him as a brother. - W.F.A.
I. ITS SOURCE. How does this kingly state come to be conferred on men?
1. By Divine favour. God favours righteousness. This is not apparent on earth, or, at all events, under circumstances of trouble and disappointment. Yet in the long run God sustains and exalts those who follow his will. No man can lift himself up to the high places of God. God, and God alone, raises up and casts down. God "withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous."
2. On condition of righteousness. This is not an arbitrary condition.
(1) It is just. The right should prevail. Good men are best fitted to be in the exalted positions.
(2) It is natural. If "the meek shall inherit the earth" by a silent law that gives them possession of it, the righteous shall rule it by force of a similar law in the very constitution of things. Right tends to prevail, for there is "a stream of tendencies that makes for righteousness."
3. Through faith. We must add this Christian thought to the teaching of Elihu, if we would have a complete view of the truth. Our own self-made righteousness will never exalt us to a kingly throne. There is no royalty about it. The kingly grace attaches to that righteousness of faith which is the gift of God.
II. ITS CHARACTER. In what sense is it said that righteous men are to be with kings on the throne? How can Christians be regarded as kings?
1. In true glory. Good men may not enjoy worldly glory; they may be poor, despised, obscure. Yet in the sight of God and the angels they may be sitting as kings with crowns on their heads. Royal dignity is not a matter of display. There is a glory which no eye of sense can see.
2. In spiritual power. Kings in the East, and in the olden time, were rulers who made their power felt; and in the Bible kingship involves ruling authority as well as reigning dignity. Now, there is influence in goodness. The man of character carries weight with his advice. In course of time he gains respect, and so acquires influence.
3. In future possession. These ideas of the kingship of the good point to a yet unseen future for their perfect realization. Righteousness is not yet by any means universally dominant. The future has in store for us a glorious kingdom of God, when all evil shall be suppressed, and when goodness shall take its rightful place. In that perfect Messianic age, with Christ reigning as King of kings, all his people will have the honour and power of royalty. In the mean time let us recollect that the kingdom must begin within. Until we can rule our own souls we are not fit to sit as kings. Kingly natures are those that have mastered themselves, and so are capable of ruling others. Righteousness implies self-mastery. When the self-mastery is complete it will be time to ask about the larger kingship. - W.F.A.
I. SUFFERING IS FOR DISCIPLINE. This is Elihu's great thought, and he returns to it again and again. It is familiar to us, but it seems to have been a new idea in the days of Job, and a fresh revelation for him and his friends. It is not the less important to us because we are well acquainted with it. Still, we have to enter into the meaning of it, and employ it as the key for unlocking the mysteries of our experience. Discipline is very different from punishment.
1. It is for the good of the sufferer. Punishment may be so; kind parents punish their children to benefit them. But this is not the sole object of punishment, which is also instituted to deter bad men from crime by the fear of its infliction, and to warn others by the wholesome lesson of its example. Discipline, on the other hand, is wholly schooling, entirely for the benefit of those who are subjected to it.
2. It is not necessarily consequent upon sin. Punishment is only for guilt; but discipline is for education. It may be the more needed on account of sin; but it is not confined to its effect on sin. Christ the Sinless was made perfect by the things which he suffered (Hebrews 5:8, 9).
II. DISCIPLINE MUST BE RIGHTLY RECEIVED IF IT IS TO PROFIT. It is quite possible for it to be entirely thrown away upon the sufferer. Gold is purified by the fire because gold is but a dead metal. But souls are living, and the effects of the fires of affliction upon them are dependent on voluntary action. They may harden, they may consume, they may purify, they may strengthen. If they are to benefit as discipline they must be received in the right spirit. Now, this spirit is indicated by the open ear. The discipline brings a message from God. It does not only affect our feelings. It aims at reaching our thoughts. Probably it will do us no good at all if it does not lead us to think. An intelligent appreciation of God's dealings with us is valuable for discipline to work its right end. Then we need to think about our own way in life. Affliction arrests our attention and helps us to search our heart and see whether we have not been doing wrong; it encourages us to survey our whole life with a view to improving it for the future.
III. GOD HELPS HIS PEOPLE TO RECEIVE DISCIPLINE ARIGHT. We need to pray for grace to make the best use of affliction. When our hearts are right with God he will aid us to do this.
1. He will incline the heart to learn. When we are stubborn and self-willed, discipline is of little use. It may tend to break down the obstruction; but as long as that is standing it does little good. The disciple must be docile. Now, the inward influence of the Holy Spirit helps us to become docile under discipline.
2. He will assist the understanding to comprehend. We want to know what God is teaching us by his discipline. Our own wild, prejudiced ideas may lead us quite astray. Therefore it is well to fall upon our knees and pray that God will show us what he means by the special discipline he is putting us through - what he is teaching us, and whither he would lead us. - W.F.A.
I. AFFLICTION IS NOT THE GREATEST EVIL. In our selfish cowardice we look for some escape from pain, as though that were our supreme foe. But sin is worse than suffering - more hurtful, more objectionable in itself. Any escape from trouble that leaves wickedness untouched is no salvation; but any process, however painful, that frees us from the power of sin is salvation.
II. AFFLICTION MAY BE NO EVIL AT ALL. In itself, of course, it is undesirable. But its "peaceable fruits of righteousness" may be so wholesome and profitable that, on the whole, the affliction must be accounted a good thing. We should judge of any experience by its results, not by its passing phases. We have to learn that the pain that blesses is really itself a blessing. The black cloud that brings a refreshing shower is not a threatening storm. The spur that drives us from the desert where we would perish to the streams of living water is not a cruel instrument of torture. The heavy blow that awakens us when we are sleeping in the snow the sleep that would end in death is nothing less than an angel of mercy.
III. AFFLICTION MAY BE A REAL DELIVERER. We have now to ask how this paradox can be true.
1. By humbling pride. When all is well we are tempted to be self-sufficient and self-satisfied. But in suffering we are cast low, and then our lowliness may be our salvation.
2. By inducing thought. We let the happy hours glide by in careless ease, dreaming life away. Trouble arouses us with a trumpet-blast. It odes, "Awake! Think!"
3. By revealing sin. In our humility and our reflectiveness we are led to a consciousness of sin.
4. By driving us to God. We need most of all to be delivered from ourselves and to be brought back to God. The utter helplessness of great trouble urges us in this direction.
IV. AFFLICTION DELIVERS FROM ITSELF. It is its own deliverer when it is rightly received.
1. The right reception of it overcomes its bitterness. There is no such victory over pain as the capacity to endure it with equanimity. We are more delivered from an evil when the thing we have regarded as evil ceases to hurt us than when we only escape from its clutches.
2. The patient endurance of it brings it to an end. When God sees that his scholar has learnt the desired lesson, he can close the book. No more of the scorching lines need be spelt out with tearful eyes. The student has graduated. Henceforth he is free from the old drudgery. Therefore the true way to escape from dreaded suffering which God sends as discipline is not to murmur against it, but to make the best use of it, in order that, being purified by fire, we may become vessels fit for the King's use. - W.F.A.
I. LIFE IS IN DANGER OF BECOMING NARROW. Various influences combine to narrow it.
1. Selfishness. The disposition to think much of ourselves dwarfs the world to us. But when we are thus living chiefly for our own ends, we are shut into a small circle of personal, private interests, and, the great world being ignored, we ourselves shrink into littleness.
2. Worldliness. When we are absorbed in things of this world, the other and larger world is lost to view. The consequence is that we become short-sighted, and thought and interest are shut in to the domain of the visible and temporal.
3. Conventionality. We lose the courage of personal conviction, and fall back on the ideas and practices of our neighbours.
4. Routine. Since all goes smoothly, the mill grinds on in a dreamy atmosphere of changeless indifference. Then our lives miss the stimulus of a rousing call to arduous service.
II. GOD DELIVERS FROM NARROWNESS BY MEANS OF AFFLICTION.
1. A Divine work. Seeing how hurtful the narrowness is, and desiring us to escape from it, he puts forth his hand to draw us out of the imprisonment it involves. It is difficult for one who has fallen into a mountain gorge, and who lies among the stones bruised and battered, to lift himself up and climb the steep and treacherous crags. He who has fallen into a strait in life needs the strong arm of God to draw him out.
2. Accomplished through affliction. God comes to the rescue of his straitened servant. But the method of deliverance is strange and unexpected. Affliction is itself a strait; it seems to press on the soul, to hamper and limit its activity. Yet this is the very instrument employed in delivering the victim of narrowness, Narrowness of circumstances may deliver from narrowness of soul. The very pressure of this new strait rouses us and bids us exert ourselves. Then, as it cures our errors, it leads us out of its own constraints.
III. GOD'S DELIVERANCE SETS US IS A BROAD PLACE. First there is a fresh strait, a hard pressure of trouble on the right hand and on the left, with no door of escape. But when the affliction has accomplished its work there is deliverance.
1. Liberty of action. "The truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). God desires his people to serve willingly and lovingly, not with fetters on their ankles. The freedom is of a soul "at leisure from itself." There is a large place with great scope for work, which can only be enjoyed in unselfishness and unworldliness.
2. Breadth of view. It is wonderful how the vision is broadened by the experience of sorrow. Although at first it may be cramped and confined to the immediate present by the absorbing influence of pain, when deliverance comes, this is followed by a wonderful mental expansion. No one knows the depth and breadth of life who has not been through the waters of affliction.
3. Largeness joy. The broad place is open to the fresh air and the bright sunshine. Delivered from dank and dreary narrow regions, we can rejoice in our God-given liberty. This bliss is partly enjoyed on earth; it will be perfect in heaven, the large place of life and liberty. - W.F.A.
I. MAN LOOKS FOB DELIVERANCE THROUGH A. RANSOM. This is not only a Christian idea. It is found in the Old Testament, and it is to be traced through heathen systems of religion, though among these systems it appears in a degraded and corrupted state.
1. Man has a sense of bondage. This he feels. When conscience is aroused, he has the most intense consciousness of its galling fetters. "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24).
2. Man cannot escape from his bondage. The old brigand, Satan, that great robber of souls, has too tight a hand on his victims to let them go free whenever they choose to escape from his clutches. Habit is a stronger bandage than the cords with which Samson was bound. The deliverance must come from without.
3. This deliverance must be at a great cost. We do not know what the cost must be, nor how it should be settled. It cannot be true, as some of the Fathers held, that a price must be paid to Satan that he may consent to liberate man. He never consents. He can have no compensation. The liberation is by the overthrow of Satan and the conquest of his domain. The Bastille must be stormed and hurled down if its prisoners are to escape. But this can only be done at great cost.
II. CHRIST IS THE RANSOM FOR THE DELIVERANCE OF MAN. This is his own statement (Matthew 20:28). His advent with humiliation in a state of servitude was a Divine payment - a sacrifice on the part of God. His death was his own surrender of his life for the liberation of man from sin. We need not understand why the ransom had to be paid in order to see that it has been paid. A clear idea of the reason and necessity of the payment might help our faith. Still, the fact is the great thing to know. Christ has given himself fur us, and through him we have liberty.
III. THE GREATEST RANSOM MAY BE UNAVAILING.
1. If it is not rightly paid. Men make great sacrifices in asceticism; yet there is no reason to think that they are of any adequate value, because they are not required by God, and they serve no good end.
2. If there is no repentance. The work of Christ is for the benefit of all who will avail themselves of it. But a first condition of profiting by it is repentance. While a man holds to his sin he cannot enjoy the benefits of Christ's sacrifice. For him Christ has died in vain.
3. If it is not accompanied try faith. This is the connecting link that joins the soul to Christ. All that he has done for us remains outside us, not touching our life and need, till we learn to confide in him. CONCLUSION. It is worse for the ransom to be paid in vain than for it not to be paid at all. They who reject Christ are doubly without hope, for they are without excuse. - W.F.A.
I. DIVINE EXALTATION.
1. The experience. God's people are not kept in perpetual depression. Sometimes they are cast down to the dust. But this is not their continual state. Salvation is not attained by means of ceaseless humiliation. There is exaltation
(1) in gladness, rejoicing over the love of God;
(2) in strength, rising to achieve great service in the kingdom;
(3) in victory, triumphing over failure and evil.
2. Its source. God exalts. Man cannot truly exalt himself, and when he tries to do so, pride and vanity give him an ugly fall. Success in this world even is dependent on God's providence; much more are true elevation of character and exaltation of energy dependent on his favour.
3. Its accomplishment. God exalts by his power. It is much to know that God is almighty as well as most merciful and gracious. To be favoured by one who had small resources would be pleasant, but it could not be very helpful. But God's power goes with his love to effect his good designs.
II. INCOMPABARLE INSTRUCTION. "Who teacheth like him?"
1. How God teaches
(1) By experience. He puts us to a school of life; he makes us feel the reality of his lessons. The sorrows and joys, the humiliations and the exaltations are all parts of the Divine instruction.
(2) In revelation. This Divine instruction carries us out of ourselves and opens to us visions of heavenly truth. God teaches partly through prophets and apostles in the Scriptures, but mainly through Christ in his great life, death, and resurrection.
2. Why his teaching is incomparable.
(1) Because he knows the lesson. The Teacher is a master of his subject. God knows all truth. Who, then, can teach it as he will teach it?
(2) Because he understands the pupils. This condition is necessary if the lesson is not to miss the mark. Great scholars are not always great teachers, because they cannot always enter into the difficulties of beginners and expound to the simple and ignorant what they are themselves most familiar with.
(3) Because he spares no pains. He is in earnest in desiring to teach his children. He is not like the listless teacher who drones over his perfunctory task. God means to get his lessons into the dullest of his pupils, and, being in earnest and full of sympathy, he is unequalled.
III. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THE EXALTATION AND THE INSTRUCTION. Each helps the other.
1. The exaltation a method of instruction. As we rise higher we leave the mists of the valley, and at the same time our horizon expands. Gladness and strength and victory open our eyes to the love of God and the glory of the kingdom. Adversity has its lessons, but so also has prosperity.
2. The instruction an element of the exaltation. We cannot become great in mind until we rise above the petty, narrow, ignorant conceptions that belong to our more backward state. Spiritual greatness implies enlarged knowledge as well as an increase in other graces. When Christ sets his people in places of joy and honour, they have to show appreciation of their privileges by opening their souls to receive the fuller truth that he reveals. - W.F.A.
I. CONSIDER HOW WORTHY OF PRAISE ARE THE WORKS OF GOD. We do not prize them so much fro' their vast bulk and infinite number as for their character and the manner in which they are executed. A small statue is more admirable than a huge boulder, and a minute and finely cut gem more precious than a great sea crag. Wherein, then, shall we find the specially praiseworthy characteristics of the works of God?
1. In thoroughness. The infinitely little is as well wrought as the infinitely great. Thought and care are lavished on tiny insects. Exquisite workmanship is seen in humble weeds. The unseen parts of God's works are as perfect as those which are most prominent. The hosts of flowers that bloom on uninhabited prairies are as beautiful as those that smile at us from an English hedgerow.
2. In harmony. The various parts of God's works fit together and aid one another with mutual services. Not only is there a general peaceable arrangement of nature, but there is also a reciprocity that makes each part necessary to the whole. Plants live on the soil, animals on the plants, and these again on the perishing bodies of animals.
3. In beauty. The direct utility of nature might have been served in an ugly fashion. Clouds might all have been black, and leaves and flowers and earth of one dull hue. But God has breathed a spirit of beauty over his works.
4. In joy. God has made existence itself to be a gladness. Insects, birds, and beasts rejoice in the sunlight of a summer day. Man finds life a source of joy.
5. In progress. All nature is moving on in a grand progress to higher forms of life and more perfect types of organization. It is lull of hope, and it looks forward to God's greater future works.
II. REMEMBER HOW WELL IT IS THAT WE SHOULD PRAISE GOD FOR HIS WORKS.
1. In gratitude. We are ourselves part of his works, and we have to thank him that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." Then other works of God minister to our welfare, and as we profit by their utility or enjoy their beauty, it is becoming that we should praise him who is the Maker and Giver of them all.
2. In admiration. It is a miserable thing to sink into that cynical pessimism that can only criticize adversely and can never see and enjoy merit. It passes for cleverness, but it is really a form of dulness, for it is the result of a want of capacity to perceive the good points of that which only arrests attention on account of its real or supposed defects. This habit of mind prevents us from rising to any true greatness ourselves, because men are dawn upwards by admiration. When, however, we have learnt to admire the works of God, it is only fitting that we should go on and adore their great Artificer. The praise of the picture is the praise of the artist. Yet there are lovers of nature who seem to forget her Author.
3. In aspiration. The wings of praise carry the soul aloft. When we sing of the great and marvellous works of God with the heart and the understanding, we shall enter into the thoughts of God lovingly and with sympathy. We grow like what we adore. Following the angels in songs of praise, we shall grow like the angels in heavenly character, if we live in a spirit of worship, praising God not only by the hymns of the sanctuary, but by the grand psalm of a whole life of worship. - W.F.A.
I. GOD IS IRRESISTIBLE. This is the Mohammedan inference, and of course a necessary and true one, although it dues not describe all that we know of God. We know that it is simply foolish to run against the laws of nature. We cannot deflect one of them by a bait's breadth. But the laws of nature are the ways of God. Therefore there can be but one end to our opposition to God; it must fail. The sooner we own this obvious truth and act upon it the better for ourselves. If we cease to run madly against the will of God, we may repent and turn to the better way; if we still hurl ourselves headlong against it, we can but dash ourselves to pieces.
II. GOD IS UNFATHOMABLE. If we could measure God, he would cease to be God, for he would be no longer infinite. Therefore, instead of being surprised that we meet with mysteries in him, we should expect it, and take it as a sign that we are dealing with One who is vastly greater than we are. The child cannot understand all the actions of his earthly father. How, then, can any man think to understand God? This does not mean that we can know nothing of God. For God may be known as far as he has revealed himself to us, and as far as we are able to rise to a comprehension of some things in his nature. We may know God truly; but we cannot know him adequately. Before the awful mystery of his greatness we tremble, humbled and abashed.
1. Therefore we are not in a position to judge of God's actions. We see but a minute fraction of them. Their roots lie in dark depths beyond the reach of our inquiry; their purposes stretch far beyond the utmost rim of our horizon.
2. Therefore we should learn to trust God. We must walk by faith, for we cannot see all.
III. GOD IS ALMIGHTY TO SAVE. The Christian God is more than the Mussulman Allah. He is not like an inexorable Oriental despot. He is full of sympathy for his children, listening to their cry and coming to save them in their need. If he is great, that is the more reassuring for us when we put our trust in him. It is vain for us to resist him; but it is safe for us to trust him. Even the mysteriousness of God invites our confidence when once we are assured of his love. His almighty power is able to save unto the uttermost, and his great and wonderful thought invites us to repose in his wisdom. Henry Vaughan, in 'Silex Scintillans,' says -
"There is a God, some say -