Then answered Zophar the Naamathite.Gregory, that these three men are types of God's worst enemies, or that they scarcely speak a word of good, except what they have learned from Job. Is it not rather true that their words, taken by themselves, are far more devout, far more fit for the lips of pious, we may even say, of Christian men, than those of Job? Do they not represent that large number of good and God-fearing men and women, who do not feel moved or disturbed by the perplexities of life; and who resent as shallow, or as mischievous, the doubts to which those perplexities give rise in the minds of others, of the much afflicted, or the perplexed, or of persons reared in another school than their own, or touched by influences which have never reached themselves? So Job's friends try in their own way to "justify the ways of God to man" — a noble endeavour, and in doing this, they have already said much which is not only true, but also most valuable. They have pleaded on their behalf the teaching, if I may so speak, of their Church, the teaching handed down from antiquity, and the experiences of God's people. They have a firm belief, not only in God's power, but in His unerring righteousness. They hold also the precious truth that He is a God who will forgive the sinner, and take back to His favour him who bears rightly the teaching of affliction. Surely, so far, a very grand and simple creed. We shall watch their language narrowly, and we shall still find in it much to admire, much with which to sympathise, much to treasure and use as a storehouse of Christian thought. We shall see also where and how it is that they misapplied the most precious of truths, and the most edifying of doctrines; turned wholesome food to poison; pressed upon their friend half truths, which are sometimes the worst of untruths. We shall note also no less that want of true sympathy, of the faculty of entering into the feelings of men unlike themselves, and of the power of facing new views or new truths, which has so often in the history of the Church marred the character and impaired the usefulness of some of God's truest servants. We shall see them, lastly, in the true spirit of the controversialist, grow more and more embittered by the persistency in error, as they hold it, of him who opposes them. The true subject of this sacred drama is unveiling itself before our eyes. Has he who serves God a right to claim exemption from pain and suffering? Is such pain a mark of God's displeasure, or may it be something exceedingly different? Must God's children in their hour of trial have their thoughts turned to the judgment that fell on Sodom and Gomorrah, or shall they fix them on "the agony and bloody sweat" of Him whose coming in the flesh we so soon commemorate?
Homilist.I. QUESTIONABLE REPROOF. Reproof is often an urgent duty. It is the hardest act of friendship, for whilst there are but few men who do not at times merit reprehension, there are fewer still who will graciously receive, or even patiently endure a reproving word, and "Considering," as John Foster has it, "how many difficulties a friend has to surmount before he can bring, himself to reprove me, I ought to be much obliged to him for his chiding words." The reproof which Zophar, in the first four verses, addressed to Job suggests two remarks.
1. The charges he brings against Job, if true, justly deserve reproof. What does he charge him with?(1) Loquacity. "Should not the multitude of words be answered? and should not a man full of talk be justified?" As the tree with the most luxuriant leafage is generally least fruitful, so the man "full of talk" is, as a rule, most empty. It is ever true that in the "multitude of words there wanteth not sin," and "every man should be swift to hear and slow" to speak. He charges him(2) With falsehood. "Should thy lies make men hold their peace?" For "lies," in the margin we have "devices." Zophar means to say that much of what Job said was not according to truth, not fact, but the ungrounded inventions or fancies of his own mind. He charges him(3) With irreverence. "And when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed?"(4) With hypocrisy. "But thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in mine eyes."
2. The charges, if true, could not justify the spirit and style of the reproof. Considering the high character and the trying circumstances of Job, and the professions of Zophar as his friend, there is a heartlessness and an insolence in his reproof most reprehensible and revolting. There is no real religion in rudeness; there is no Divine inspiration in insolence. Reproof, to be of any worth, should not merely be deserved, but should be given in a right spirit, a spirit of meekness, tenderness, and love. "Reprehension is not an act of butchery, but an act of surgery," says Seeker. There are those who confound bluntness with honesty, insolence with straightforwardness. The true reprover is of a different metal, and his words fall, not like the rushing hailstorm, but like the gentle dew.
II. NECESSARY TEACHING. These words suggest that kind of teaching which is essential to the well-being of every man.
1. It is intercourse with the mind of God. "Oh that God would speak, and open His lips against thee." The great need of the soul is direct communication with God. All teachers are utterly worthless unless they bring God in contact with the soul of the student. If this globe is to be warmed into life the sun must do it.
2. It is instruction in the wisdom of God. "And that He would show thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is!" God's wisdom is profound; it has its "secrets." God's wisdom is "double," it is many folded; fold within fold, without end.
3. It is faith in the forbearing love of God. "Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth."
Canst thou by searching find out God?
1. The duty of searching into Divine things is one recognised and acted out by very few. Let your own observations convince you of this. It is only by a knowledge of God's character that we can hope to keep His law.
2. The proper objects of the search. Such as God's mind about you. God in His dispensations and His ways. This is practical; and it is far more profitable to spend our energies on such considerations as these, than on speculations which are too deep for us, at least while we are on this side the grave, and in the flesh. To know God's mind about Himself, I invite even the man that would study the character of the Most High, and would "know the Lord."
3. What measure of success in such study may we expect? Success will not be limited to improvement. It will bring consolation.
(P. B. Power, M. A.)
I. GOD IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE IN RESPECT TO THE GROUND OF HIS EXISTENCE. God owes His existence to Himself, yet we are obliged to suppose there is some ground or reason of His existing, rather than not existing. We cannot conceive of any existence which has no ground or foundation. The ground or reason of God's existence must be wholly within Himself. What that something in Himself is, is above the comprehension of all created beings.
II. GOD IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE IN RESPECT TO MANY OF HIS PERFECTIONS.
1. Eternity. God is eternal. He never had a beginning. We can conceive of a future, but not of a past eternity. That a being should always exist without any beginning is what men will never be able to fathom, either in this world, or that which is to come.
2. Omnipresence. The immensity of the Divine presence transcends the highest conceptions of created beings. God is equally present with each of His creatures, and with all His creatures at one and the same instant.
3. Power. God can do everything. His power can meet with no resistance or obstruction. Who can stay His hand? The effects of Divine power are astonishing.
4. Knowledge. That knowledge takes in all objects within the compass of possibility. Such knowledge is wonderful; it is high; we cannot attain unto it.
5. The moral perfections of God in extent and degree surpass our limited views.
III. GOD IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE IN HIS GREAT DESIGNS. None of the creatures of God can look into His mind and see all His views and intentions as they lie there. His counsels will of necessity remain incomprehensible, until His Word or providence shall reveal them to His intelligent creatures.
IV. HE IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE IN HIS WORKS. Their nature, number, and magnitude stretch beyond the largest views of creatures. No man knows how second causes produce their effects; nor how the material system holds together and hangs upon nothing.
V. HE IS UNSEARCHABLE IN HIS PROVIDENCE. Whatever God has done, He always intended to do; but we do not know at present all the reasons of His conduct, nor all the consequences that will flow from it. Respecting future events, God has drawn over them an impenetrable veil. Improve and apply the subject.
1. In a very important sense God is truly infinite. To be incomprehensible is the same as to be infinite.
2. The incomprehensible nature of the Supreme Being does by no means preclude our having clear and just conceptions of His true character.
3. If God be incomprehensible by His creatures, we have no reason to deny our need of a Divine revelation.
4. If God is incomprehensible in His nature and perfections, then it is no objection against the Divinity of the Bible that it contains some incomprehensible mysteries.
5. Then it is very unreasonable to disbelieve anything which He has been pleased to reveal concerning Himself, merely because we cannot comprehend it.
6. Ministers ought to make it their great object in preaching, to unfold the character and perfections of the Deity.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)
I. ASSERT AND ILLUSTRATE THE DOCTRINE OF THE TEXT. That God is incomprehensible. If in the Godhead we gaze and pry too boldly into eternal generation and procession, and the ineffable unity of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, it will but dazzle and confound our weak faculties. All the attributes of God are infinite in their perfection, and whosoever goes about to fathom what is infinite, is guilty of the folly of that countryman, in the poem, who sitting on the bank side, expects to see the stream run quite away, and leave its channel dry; but that runs on, and will do so to all ages. We cannot comprehend the whole extent of God's moral attributes. Though God were so far discoverable by the light of reason, as served to render the idolatry and wickedness of the pagan world inexcusable (Romans 1), yet God being infinite, and His perfections a vast abyss, there are therefore mysteries in the Godhead which human reason cannot penetrate, heights which we cannot soar.
II. REFLECTIONS UPON THIS PROPOSITION. Use it —
1. To let out the tumour of self-conceit.
2. To justify our belief of mysteries.
3. To vindicate the doctrine of providence. The incomprehensibleness of God solves all the difficulties that clog the doctrine of providence.
(Richard Lucas, D. D.)
1. We should learn to be humble.
2. Infer how base a thing is idolatry, or image worship.
3. If God is incomprehensibly glorious, how should we admire and adore Him!
4. Let us calmly submit to all His dispensations in providence.
5. Seeing that the nature of God is so wonderfully glorious, let us study to know Him.
6. Learn the reasonableness of faith.
7. This subject should render the heavenly state exceedingly desirable; for in that state "we shall know even as we are known."
I. BY WAY OF INSTANCE OR INDUCTION OF PARTICULARS.
1. Instances on the part of the object. The nature of God, the excellency and perfection of God, the works and ways of God, are above our thoughts and apprehensions. We can only understand God's perfections as He communicates them, and not as He possesses them. We must not frame notions of them contrary to what they are in the creature, nor must we limit them by what they are in the creature. The ways of God's providence are not to be traced. We take a part from the whole, and consider it by itself, without relation to the whole series of His dispensations.
2. Instances on the part of the subject, or the persons capable of knowing, God in any measure. The perfect knowledge of God is above a finite creature's understanding. Wicked men are full of false apprehensions of God. And good men have some false apprehensions. The angels do not arrive at perfect knowledge of Him.
II. BY WAY OF CONVICTION. If the creature be unsearchable, is not the Creator much more unsearchable. He possesses all the perfections which He communicates, and many which cannot be communicated to a creature.
III. THE CLEAR REASON OF IT. Which is this — the disproportion between the faculty and the object; the finiteness of our understandings, and the infiniteness of the Divine nature and perfections. Apply this doctrine —
1. It calls for our admiration, and veneration, and reverence.
2. It calls for humility and modesty.
3. It calls for the highest degree of our affection.
(J. Tillotson, D. D.)
1. Certain considerations from which you will infer the presumption of expecting that the nature of God should be either discernible or demonstrable by reason. If we would but observe how little way our reason can make when labouring amongst things with which we are every day conversant, we should be prepared to expect that when applied to the nature of the Deity, it would be found altogether incompetent to the unravelling and comprehending of it. We are to ourselves a mystery. There is a presumption which outweighs language in expecting that we can apprehend what is God, and how He subsists. A revelation from God may be expected to contain much which must overmatch all but the faith of mankind. We are continually in the habit of admitting things on the testimony of experience, which without such experience we should reject as incredible. We may assert this in respect to many of those operations of nature which are going on daily and hourly around us, e.g., husbandry. We do not, in regard of the things of this lower creation, measure what we believe by what we can demonstrate. Where then is the justice and the reasonableness of our carrying up to the highest investigations of God a rule which, if applied to the facts or phenomena of nature, would make us doubt the one half, and disbelieve the other? If we reject one property of God, because incomprehensible, we must, if consistent, reject almost every other. This is not sufficiently observed. It is customary to fasten on the mystery of the Trinity as the great incomprehensible in God, and to speak of it as tasking our reason in a measure far higher than the rest. We admit that whilst the whole of a revelation may be above our reason, there may be parts which seem contrary to it; and if there exists a repugnance between reason and revelation, we do right in withholding our assent. If it could be shown that the received doctrine of the Trinity did violence to the conclusions of reason, there would be good ground for rejecting that doctrine and regarding the Bible as wrongly interpreted.
2. There is no repugnance to reason in the doctrine of the Trinity. It is above reason, but not contrary to reason. The sense in which God is three, is not the sense in which God is one. The doctrine stated with simplicity, the doctrine that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are so distinct as not to be one with the other, and so united as to be one God, carries nothing on its front to convict it of absurdity. There is no contradiction in three being one, unless it be said that the three are one in the same respect. We are not now endeavouring to establish the fact that Scripture teaches the doctrine of the Trinity; we only show that there is nothing in the doctrine which reason can prove impossible. The testimonies of Scripture to the Divinity of Father, Son, and Spirit, are numerous and explicit; the declarations that there is only one God rival these in amount and clearness. You will be told that this doctrine is a speculative thing; that even if it is true, it is not fundamental; and that, whatsoever place it may fill in scholastic theology, it is of little or no worth in practical Christianity. Remember one truth. If the doctrine of the Trinity be a false doctrine, your Redeemer, Jesus Christ, was nothing more than a man. The Divinity of Christ stands or falls with the Trinity or Unity.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
1. It was a great gain to our race that at last the search for an Incarnation came up to a real, visible being. Man had gone about as far as he could upon a theology of legend and absurdity. There was no valuable religious faith in the world at the time of the Advent. The Roman Empire had all forms of greatness except religious faith. Mankind will always exchange legend for history. The development of reason works against myth and in favour of the actual. Examine further the quality of this Christ idea. It was the first incarnation lying within the field of evidence. How far was this Christ an-incarnation of the Divine?
2. It should soften our judgment that we do not know the nature of Deity. There is every reason for supposing that man was created in the intellectual likeness of God, and hence for God to become manifest in Christ was only a filling to the full of a cup partly filled in the creation of man. Man himself held a part of the Divine image. Christ held it all. The picture of Jesus Christ is the best picture conceivable of a mingling of the earthly and the heavenly. The whole scene is above life and below the infinite. It was God brought down, and man lifted up.
I. I KNOW THERE IS A GOD, BECAUSE HE HAS REVEALED HIMSELF TO MEN. In all ages God has spoken to men, and given them a knowledge of Himself. All along the ages God was constantly speaking to men, and revealing Himself to His people. As large numbers of these men gave their lives as witnesses for God's revelation, I believe their testimony, and am aided in searching to know God for myself.
II. BECAUSE HE HAS REVEALED HIMSELF TO ME. In three ways —
1. In His Holy Word.
2. In the world in which I live.
3. In my own heart, and soul, and life.
III. BECAUSE HE MADE THE WORLD. It could not have made itself.
IV. BECAUSE I CAN SEE HIS WISDOM IN THE HARMONY AND DESIGN WHICH EXIST IN THE WORLD. Wherever you see design, you may be sure there has been a designer. Things do not happen by chance.
V. I AM CONFIRMED IN MY KNOWLEDGE OF GOD WHEN I LEARN THAT MEN EVERYWHERE HAVE BELIEVED IN GOD. Go wherever you will, you will find men who believe in God. Rather than be without God, men will make one. The universal failure of man has not been to have no God, but to have too many.
(Charles Leach, D. D.)
Homilist.I. This is a RIGHTEOUS occupation.
1. It agrees with the profoundest instincts of our souls. "My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God." It is the hunger of the river for the ocean — every particle heaves towards it, and rests not until it finds it.
2. It is stimulated by the manifestations of nature. His footprints are everywhere, and they invite us to pursue His march.
3. It is encouraged by the declarations of the Bible. "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him whilst He is near."
4. It is aided by the manifestations of Christ. "Christ is the brightness of His Father's glory," etc.
II. This is a USEFUL occupation.
1. There is no occupation so spirit-quickening. The idea of God to the soul is what the sunbeam is to nature. No other idea has such a life-giving power.
2. There is no occupation so spirit-humbling.
3. There is no occupation so spirit-ennobling. When the soul feels itself before God, the majesty of kings, and the splendour of empires are but childish toys.
III. This is an ENDLESS occupation. "Canst thou by searching find out God?" Never fully. The finite can never comprehend the Infinite.
1. This endless work agrees with the inexhaustible powers of our nature. Searching after anything less than the Infinite would never bring out into full and vigorous action the immeasurable potentialities within us.
2. This endless work agrees with the instinct of mystery within us. The soul wants mystery. Without mystery there is no inquisitiveness, no wonder, no adoration, no self-abnegation.
I. THAT IT SEEMS TO BE A SIN TO ATTEMPT TO FIND IT OUT. Our lust after knowledge should be put under restraint. It was a forbidden curiosity that ruined the first members of our race. Certain it is that we are under limitations; and it must be very unadvised to pretend to find out God to perfection. And —
II. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ACCOMPLISH IT. Neither prophets nor apostles were capable of comprehending all knowledge: at least they were not thought fit to be entrusted with more important discoveries. Some things angels even might not look into. Will reason supply the deficiency? The immensity of the Divine nature, and the weakness of human capacities, will be perpetual discouragements to such a rash experiment. It is true that the eternal power and Godhead of the Creator are so easily deducible from the things that are made, that those are pronounced without excuse that do not discern them, and act agreeably to their conviction. But what is man that he should with so much impatience covet to know the hidden things of God before the time? Secret things belong unto God. Highly then does it concern us to cheek that petulant and wanton desire of prying into things which God hath industriously concealed from us. We may know quite enough to make us religious here, and happy hereafter. It is not unreasonable to believe that it will be one of the beatitudes of good men to have their understandings enlarged at the great day of the manifestation of all things. Let no one fancy he is injured, or that God's ways are not equal, in not suffering us at present to see Him as He is; since He never intended that this life should be a state of perfection in any kind. Let us be thankful that God has graciously revealed to us the way of salvation, and not be dissatisfied that He hath not given us to understand all mysteries and all knowledge.
(James Roe, M. A.)
1. We can apprehend that God is a being of all possible perfection. He is the first, or self-existent being. What has no cause for its existence, we naturally think can have no bounds.
2. We cannot find God out to perfection. Were He less perfect, the attempt might not be so utterly impossible. That we cannot perfectly know God may be argued from the narrowness of our faculties, and from the great disadvantages for knowing God which we lie under in the present state. Moreover God is infinite, and all created understandings are but finite. We cannot fathom infinite perfection with the short line of our reason; or soar to boundless heights with our feeble wing; or stretch our thoughts till they are commensurate to the Divine immensity. Consider some particular perfections — eternity, immensity, omniscience, and omnipotence. Consider the moral attributes of God His holiness, goodness, justice, truth. Practical reflections —
1. Let us adore this incomprehensible Being. It is the grandeur, the infinity of His perfections which makes Him a proper object of adoration.
2. Whenever we are thinking or speaking of God, let us carry this in our minds, that He is incomprehensible. This will influence us to think and speak honourably of Him.
3. This will help us to form a more raised conception of the happiness of the heavenly state.
I. AS TO THE CREATION. That work of God is perfect, with regard to the ends for which it was designed. But our wisdom is not sufficient always to trace out the Divine.
1. We cannot perfectly understand the production and disposal of things at the beginning. Creation is of two kinds: out of nothing, and out of pre-existent matter. Of creation out of nothing, it is not possible that we should form the least conception. Of creation out of preexistent matter we can have some idea, but only an inadequate one.
2. We cannot perfectly understand the causes of things in the stated course of nature. A thousand questions might be started, about which the wisest philosophers can only offer their conjectures. The way of God is too deep and winding for us to find out. We have no reason to boast of our knowledge of the works of God, since what we know not is much more considerable than what we know.
3. We cannot perfectly understand the reasons and ends for which all things are what they are, and their exact adjustment and correspondence to these ends. The general and ultimate end of all things is the glory of God. And we can perceive that things are admirably fitted to answer this end. Yet we do not clearly understand in what manner each thing contributes to this purpose. We should be cautioned against censuring any of the works of God in our thoughts, because we are not able to tell what good they answer.
II. AS TO PROVIDENCE. We can easily demonstrate that there is a providence, and this, in all its dispensations, consonant to the perfections of God, but we can by no means fathom all the depths of it. Some instances may be given in which the unsearchableness of the ways of providence appears. Such as —
1. God's manner of dealing with the race of mankind, especially in suffering it to be in a state so full of sin and confusion, of imperfection and misery.
2. The providence of God, as exercised over His Church, is beyond our deciphering. Why is the Church so small; and why has it been so overrun with errors and corruptions?
3. The providence of God in weighing out the fates of kingdoms, nations, and families. Baffled as we are in our attempts to solve a thousand perplexing difficulties which present themselves to our minds, we should inquire with modesty, judge with caution, and always remember that God is not bound to give us any account of His matters.
4. The providence of God in relation to particular persons will be forever inexplicable. Some reasons why the ways of providence are inscrutable may be given. We have not a thorough insight into the nature of man. God governs man according to the nature He has given. The ends of providence are unknown to us, or known very imperfectly; therefore they appear to us so perplexed and intricate.
5. Only a small part of providence comes under our notice and observation. How then can we know the beauty of the whole? The subject teaches the greatest resignation both of mind and heart.
I. IN RELATION TO THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES. By our strongest efforts we cannot know what the essential properties are of a Being infinitely perfect. By the attributes of God, we are to understand the several apprehensions we have of Him according to the different lights wherein our minds are capable of beholding Him, or the different subjects upon which He is pleased to operate.
1. With respect to God's power. That power is a perfection will not be disputed. How shall we form to ourselves any perfect idea of infinite power? Especially if we consider Omnipotence as operating on mere privation, and raising almost an infinite variety of beings out of nothing. And if creation implies only the disposing of existing things into a beautiful and useful order, this equally gives us a sublime idea of power.
2. With respect to God's eternity. Who can distinctly apprehend how one single and permanent act of duration should extend to all periods of time, without succession of time? But how the eternity of God should be one single and permanent act of duration, present to all past as well as future time, is a difficulty sufficient to turn the edge of the finest wit, and the force of the strongest head.
3. With respect to the immensity of God. That a single individual substance, without extension or parts, should spread itself into and over all parts; that it should fill all places, and be circumscribed to no place, and yet be intimately present in every place; are truths discoverable by reason and confirmed by revelation. To say that God is present only by His knowledge does not solve the difficulty of conceiving His ubiquity. Where God is present in any attribute, He is essentially present.
4. With respect to the omniscience of God. God does not only foreknow what He has effectually decreed shall come to pass, but what is of a casual and contingent nature, and depends on the good or ill use man will make of his liberty. So that we must suppose in God a certain and determinate knowledge of events, which yet are of arbitrary and uncertain determination in their causes. The best answer is, that God is present to all time, and to all the events which happen in time. Futurity in respect to Him is only a term we are forced to make use of, from the defects of our finite capacity. The difficulty, however, of His predictions remains. We have more clear and distinct ideas of the moral perfections of His nature, than of His incommunicable properties.
II. IN RELATION TO THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
1. How far is God's wisdom affected or impeached by the sufferings of good men? One of the principal designs of God is to promote the interests of religion. The sufferings of good men appear to obstruct such a design, as they seem to lessen the force of those arguments which we draw from the temporal rewards of religion; and as circumstances of distress are commonly supposed to sour and embitter the spirits of men. The promises made to the Jews rap all along upon temporal blessings and enjoyments. But the principal motives to our Christian obedience are taken from the happiness and rewards of a life after this. Religion does, however, entitle men to the temporal advantages of life, but the Christian promises relate principally to the inward peace and tranquillity of mind which naturally flow from a religious conduct; or to the inward consolations wherewith God is sometimes pleased more eminently to reward piety in this life. The necessary supports of life are assured. To lay too great a stress on the temporal rewards of religion seems of ill consequence to religion on two accounts. As it tends to confirm people in the opinion that the happiness of human life consists in the abundance of things that a man possesses. And men are hereby tempted to suspect the truth of religion itself, or to make false and uncharitable judgments on persons truly religious. Such judgments the friends made of suffering Job.
2. Prejudices against the goodness of God. The notion we have of goodness is, that it disposes to good and beneficent actions. But pain and sickness, etc., are things naturally evil. Such things seem inconsistent with the nature of God. But God may have special ends in view in afflicting, and He may be treating men as a parent treats his child.
3. Prejudices concerning the justice of God. But the best of men are conscious to themselves of many sins and defects which might justly have provoked God to inflict what they suffer upon them. And this life is not properly a state of rewards and punishments, but of trial and discipline. So the afflictions of good men are parts of the training work of Divine goodness and mercy. Seek then to have the best and largest thoughts of the Divine perfections you possibly can. Frequently reflect on the moral perfections of the Divine nature. Since we cannot by searching find out the Almighty to perfection, nor even discover all the particular reasons of His providence in this world, let us labour for eternity. There our minds will not only be united to God in perfect vision, but our hearts in perfect love.
I. ALL THE NATURAL SEARCHING IN THE WORLD CANNOT FIND OUT GOD. Man's reason is not equal to the work of apprehending the spiritual. We are compelled to rest conjecturally upon visible impressions; we can go no further. Supposing we are intelligent enough to set every faculty to this searching work, the result would be the same. The world by wisdom never yet knew God; common earthly intelligences move in every ether direction than towards heaven. Philosophy deals with things on the earth, under the earth, and above the earth; but not one tittle of that which relates to God forms any part of it. The high-class moralists of the most civilised heathen states have no standing at all in their religious creeds. In them you perceive at once the utmost length that an unenlightened understanding can go.
II. THERE IS A SEARCHING WHICH CAN FIND OUT GOD, YET NOT UNTO PERFECTION. "Search the Scriptures." For thousands of years there was a dispensation in which terror prevailed over hope, and a hard bondage over spiritual liberty. It was deeply covered with a veil which hid the wonderful workings of God, as a pardoning and a reconciled Father in Christ Jesus. But when the mind has become acquainted with Scripture facts, what is its real gain? It knows more, but does it ascend higher? By such searching no man profitably finds out God. Notwithstanding all that the best searching achieves, in the way of experimental knowledge, not the holiest saint that ever searched the most, is able to find out the Almighty in His perfection.
III. IN WHAT MANNER ARE WE TO GLORIFY GOD IN THE DISCOVERY OF HIS REDEMPTIVE CHARACTER? Our desires must be longing and panting after fuller flowings in of His love. It is in the heart that we are' the most sensible of the tender relationship which He bears to us.
(F. G. Crossman.)
1. We find evidence of the unsearchableness of God in His own Being and perfections. Hence all the humiliating failures of the ancients in their endeavours to find out God. In the economy of nature and providence. In those providential aspects which more immediately concern our own happiness.Practical lessons.
1. We should be prepared for some corresponding difficulties in the written word.
2. We should show great diffidence and caution in interpreting the disclosures which God has been pleased to make of Himself, whether in nature or revelation.
3. We should cherish a feeling of thankfulness for the knowledge we already possess.
(D. Moore, M. A.)
I. OF WHAT WE CANNOT FIND OUT. These are things both in providence, nature, and grace. What wonder that there is a mystery in the Trinity, that the mode of the Deity's existence is too high for earthly thought? The inability which we may feel to understand the reason of a fact, does not in the slightest degree interfere with the fact being credible. A great moral lesson is taught us. The propensity of man is to self-exaltation. He overvalues his own righteousness, his own wisdom, his own power. There is both a wisdom and an utility in the fact that we cannot by searching find out the Almighty to perfection. There are truths which, as facts, we must receive, though the reasons of them we may be inadequate to apprehend. Still we must remember,, that nothing like a blind unreflecting credulity is imposed upon us.
II. WHAT WE MAY REACH TO. Though we cannot in the abstract comprehend how the three in their essence are but One, yet what Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to us we may know, together with the unity of their will and purpose, so as to exhibit to us most clearly our consolation and salvation.
1. The Father is displayed in this unapproachable Godhead, the Former and Maintainer of all created things.
2. Whereas the Father in shewing mercy must not obliterate justice, it is in His Son, the eternal wisdom of God, that these two, apparently so opposite, are brought into union.
3. Though we cannot comprehend how the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, yet the necessity of the new birth is plain enough; and the might of the Spirit to effect it is sufficiently described. Thus, while we cannot find out the Almighty to perfection, we have enough of His dealings exhibited to guide our conduct. And remember that it is necessary to search into truth, not speculatively, but experimentally and practically.
(John Ayre, M. A.)
(C. Beard, B. A.)
1. The adorable first person of the Trinity, the Father, is and must ever be beyond the grasp of our senses and faculties. It is generally agreed that the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, is, and ever will be, beyond the direct and immediate notice of all creatures. He is far beyond the grasp of both our bodily and mental faculties. The brightest manifestation of the Godhead is in the incarnation of the Son of God. We may behold His glory, as of the only-begotten of the Father, but we can go no further. This manifestation is for all practical purposes sufficient. But even in Christ divinity shone forth under great obscuration. Whatever eludes all our senses and faculties is to us necessarily clad with mysteriousness. Whatever is concealed from every perceptive power excludes the possibility of original knowledge. In such a case learning without instruction is impossible.
2. The incomprehensibility of God's nature and ways is often asserted in His Word. Nowhere is the incomprehensibility of God spoken of in Scripture as cause of sorrow to the pious. Our inability to find out the Almighty to perfection is not merely moral, but natural. The same would have been true if man had not sinned.
3. So very wonderful are the perfections of God, compared with the attributes of the most exalted creature, that His nature and ways must always be mysterious, just in proportion to our knowledge of their extent. How should man, as compared with God, have knowledge either extensive or absolute? God's plans are founded on the most perfect knowledge of all things. Man's information is very imperfect both in scope and degree. The moral character of God presents greater wonders than His natural attributes. His moral character — holiness, justice, goodness, truth, faithfulness — is presented in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
4. God has shown Himself to be incomprehensible in His works of creation. Out of nothing God made all things, our bodies and our souls, all we are, all we see, all that is within us, above us, beneath us, around us. Most of our knowledge of God is negative. Our positive knowledge of Him is very limited. There will ever be topless heights of Divine knowledge, to which we shall have to look up with inquiring awe.
5. In God's government and providence are several things which must ever make them incomprehensible to us. How noiseless are most of His doings. But when He chooses He can make our ears to tingle. God hides His works and ways from man by commonly removing results far from human view. God's ways respecting means are very remarkable. He, apparently, often works without means. Perceiving no causes in operation, we expect no effects. God also employs such instruments as greatly confound us. We often tremble to see God pursuing a course which, to our short sight, seems quite contrary to the end to be gained.Lessons —
1. The Christian lives and walks by faith, not by sight.
2. As the object of God in all His dealings with His people is His own glory and their eternal good, so they ought heartily to concur in these ends, and labour to promote them. God's glory is more important than the lives of all His creatures.
3. Let us put a watch upon our hearts and lips, lest we should think or say more about God's nature and ways than befits our ignorance and our selfishness.
4. Note how excellent are Divine things. "Divinity is the haven and Sabbath of all man's contemplations." Every honest effort to spread the knowledge of God is praiseworthy.
(W. S. Plumer, D. D.)
(Haeckel, History of Creation.)
( R. Baxter.)
If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands towards Him.
1. Prepare your hearts, or rightly dispose and order your hearts especially with reference to subsequent acts and exercises. If we would be truly happy, we must seek happiness within.
1. A prepared heart is thoughtful and considerate. The careless and trifling never attain peace of mind. A prepared heart is a penitent and humble heart. Sin is the great hindrance to human happiness; and the removal of it is therefore absolutely necessary.
2. A prepared mind is a decided mind. The mind thinks with reference to decision; otherwise thinking is a vain employ, a mere mocking of intelligence. If a man decides under that preparedness which serious thoughtfulness, prayer, and the aid of God concur to supply, it will determine to make the cultivation and salvation of the soul the great end of life.
2. Stretch out the hand towards God. This denotes the act and habit of prayer. The expression "stretching forth the hand" is strikingly descriptive of true and prevalent prayer. It was an action over a sacrifice, and it marked man's submission to the rites which God had appointed his trust in them, and his appeal to God upon their presentation. It was an action which acknowledged God as the source of supply and help. It was the action of desire. It was an action of waiting upon God.
3. Personal reformation. "If iniquity be in thine hand put it far away." Those who sin are not generally the men who pray; but some do. They pray both in public and in secret, and yet do not renounce all evil. The most perverse attempt that man has ever made, is to reconcile religion with the practice of sin. This will appear if you consider the only principles upon which such an attempt can be made. It may suppose that God loves religious services for their own sake. Or that God can be deceived by a show of outward piety, if outward morality be superadded, or that men may sin because grace abounds. Or that the end of religion is to save men from punishment. If, then, you have practised iniquity, renounce it entirely, and renounce it forever. If it be shut up secretly "in thine heart," let it not remain there any longer. Conscience is privy to it, and will smite you for it in your seasons of calm reflection. If the price of iniquity is in your hand, divest yourself of the evil thing. Make restitution to the men you have injured. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness." When iniquity is put away then comes true peace. The blessing of God is given, and conscience approves of the act. The conscious. ness of integrity and uprightness is a source of the purest enjoyment.
4. The fourth direction relates to a godly family discipline. In ancient times the heads of families were the priests. Nor did parents cease, in a very important sense, to be the priests in their families after the establishment of the Levitical priesthood. In this respect no change has taken place under the Christian dispensation. The office of the head of the family is to instruct his household in the truths of God's law and Gospel. Our ancestors understood this duty. Together with religious concern, there is to be the actual putting away of evil from your families. From a proper course of family discipline and order God's blessing will not be withheld. "For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be steadfast and shalt not fear." "Thy face" shall be "lifted up" in holy confidence towards God; and it shall be undefiled by a spot of guilty shame towards men.
Good Company.Zophar tells Job of his faults, and of God's secret knowledge of him, and winds up with the words of the text, which, while they are altogether inappropriate and undeserved in Job's case, are in principle grandly true, in form sweetly beautiful, and may well provide us with pleasant food. "If thou shalt prepare thy heart, and stretch out thine hands toward Him." That is the attitude of supplication, and doubtless has here the idea of prayer. But it has much more than that. It means that the heart and the hands are to go together, are to move in unison; that the hands must do what the heart prompts, and that as the heart is prepared to take in God, the hands are to be at the control of God. The prepared heart receives Christ as guest, and the willing hands are told off to wait upon Him all the time. The stretching of the hands here means also a habit of desire. It includes willing obedience. It is the attitude of one who is willing, waiting, and even eager to be of service. This consecration of the heart, and this dedication of the hands, will lead to the due fulfilment of the next verse, "If iniquity be in thine hands, put it far away." That is to say, all the misdoings of the past are to be sorrowed over, repented of, and put away. Heart and hands are alike to be clean, and a new leaf is to be turned over in the volume of life, no more to be blotted by guilt, or inscribed with the writing of self-condemning sin. Adapt the meaning of Zophar to our day, and it comes to this, no wickedness is to be permitted to dwell under any roof we can call our own. We are to turn it out, and keep it out of our homes, let it have no place by our hearthstones, no shelter in kitchen or parlour. True religious principle will not turn and trifle, will not dally with wrong-doing. "For then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot." A manly religion, a godly fidelity will enable a man to look all the world in the face. "Thou shalt not fear." Only true religion can so endow a man. "Perfect love casteth out fear." "Thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away." The good man's life is like a river, ever flowing, through various scenery of mingled barrenness and beauty. The rough, barren, sad, sorrowful, through which it passes, will never, never be reproduced.
Homilist.I. GODLINESS DEVELOPED IN THE SPIRITUAL ACTIVITY OF A MAN'S LIFE. The activity which Zophar recommends has a threefold direction —
1. Towards his own heart. "If thou prepare thine heart."
2. Towards the great God. "And stretch out thine hands towards Him."
3. Towards moral evil. "If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away."
II. GODLINESS DEVELOPED IN THE SPIRITUAL BLESSEDNESS OF A MAN'S LIFE. Zophar specifies several advantages attending the course he recommended.
1. Cheerfulness of aspect.
2. Steadfastness of mind.
3. Fearlessness of soul.
4. A deliverance from all suffering.
5. Uncloudedness of being.
(Prof. James, Psychology.)
Thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away.
I. I am not going to limit the application of the text to Job and his friends, for it has also a message for many of us at the present time; and I shall take it, first, WITH REFERENCE TO THE COMMON TROUBLES OF LIFE WHICH AFFECT BELIEVING MEN AND WOMEN. These troubles of life happen to us all more or less. They come to one in one shape, and perhaps life thinks that he is the only man who has any real misery; yet they also come to others, though possibly in another form. The Lord of the pilgrims was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief"; and His disciples must expect to fare even as their Master fared while here below; it is enough for the servant if he be as his lord. You, who are just now enduring misery, should seek to be comforted under it. Perhaps you will ask me, "Where can we get any comfort?" Well, if you cannot draw any from your present experience, seek to gather some from the past. You have been miserable before, but you have been delivered and helped. There has come to you a most substantial benefit from everything which you have been called to endure. Let us gather consolation also from the future. If, as the apostle truly says, "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous," recollect how he goes on to say, "Nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." "Thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away." How will that be?
1. Well, first, by the lapse of time. Time is a wonderful healer.
2. Ay, but there is something better than the lapse of years, and that is when, during a considerable time, you are left without trial. That is a sharp pain you are now enduring; but what if you should have years of health afterwards? Remember how Job forgot his misery when, in a short time, he had double as much of all that he possessed as he had before. There is wonderfully smooth sailing on ahead for some of you when you are once over this little stretch of broken water.
3. And besides the lapse of time, and an interval of rest and calm, it may be — it probably is the fact with God's people — that He has in store for you some great mercies. When the Lord turns your captivity, you will be like them that dream; and you know what happens to men who dream. They wake up; their dream is all gone, they have completely forgotten it. So will it be with your sorrow. Be of good courage in these dark, dull times, for, mayhap this text is God's message to thy soul, "Thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away." It has bee so with many, many, many believers in the past. What do you think of Joseph sold for a slave, Joseph falsely accused, Joseph shut up in prison? But when Joseph found out that all that trial was the way to make him ruler over all the land of Egypt, and that he might be the means of saving other nations from famine, and blessing his father's house, I do not wonder that he called his elder son "Manasseh." What does that name mean? "Forgetfulness" — "for God," said he, "hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house."
II. I should be greatly rejoiced if, in the second place, I might speak A CHEERING WORD TO POOR SOULS UNDER DISTRESS ON ACCOUNT OF SIN.
1. Well, now, I exhort you, first of all, to look to Christ, and lean on Christ. Trust in His atoning sacrifice, for there alone can a troubled soul find rest. There was never a man yet who, with all his heart, did seek the Lord Jesus Christ, but sooner or later found Him; and if you have been long in seeking, I lay it to the fact that you have not sought with a prepared heart, a thoroughly earnest heart, or else you would have found Him. But, perhaps, taking Zophar's next expression, you have not stretched out your hands toward the Lord, giving yourself up to Him like a man who holds up his hands to show that he surrenders. Further, you may and you shall forget your misery, provided you fulfil one more condition mentioned by Zophar, and that is, that you are not harbouring any sin: "If iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away, and let not wickedness dwell in thy tabernacles." "Oh!" you say, "but how am I to do it?" Christ will help you. Trust Him to help you. Oh, do see that you let not wickedness dwell in your tabernacles, you who are the people of God, and you who wish to be His, if you would have Zophar's words to Job fulfilled in your experience, "Then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot; yea, thou shalt be stedfast, and shalt not fear: because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away."
III. Now let me tell you HOW SWEETLY GOD CAN MAKE A SINNER FORGET HIS MISERY.
1. The moment a sinner believes in Jesus Christ with true heart and repentant spirit, God makes him forget his misery, first, by giving him a full pardon.
2. Next, he rejoices in all the blessings that God gives with His grace.
IV. THIS TEXT WILL COME TRUE TO THE SICKENING, DECLINING, SOON-DEPARTING BELIEVER. If thou hast believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and if thou art resting alone upon Him, recollect that, in a very short time, "thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away." In a very, very, very short time, your suffering and sadness will all be over. I suppose the expression, "waters that pass away," signifies those rivers which are common in the East, and which we meet with so abundantly in the south of France. They are rivers with very broad channels, but I have often looked in vain for a single drop of water in them. "Then," perhaps you ask, "what is the use of such rivers?" Well, at certain times, the mountain torrents come rushing down, bearing great rocks, and stones, and trees before them, and then, after they have surged along the river bed for several days, they altogether disappear in the sea. Such will all the sorrows of fife and the sorrows even of death soon be to you, and to me also. They will all have passed away, and all will be over with us here. And then, you know, those waters that have passed away will never come back again. Thank God, we shall recollect our sorrows in heaven only to praise God for the grace that sustained us under them; but we shall not remember them as a person does who has cut his finger, and who still bears the scar in his flesh. We shall not recollect them as one does who has been wounded, and who carries the bullet somewhere about him. In heaven, you shall not have a trace of earth's sorrow; you shall not have, in your glorified body, or in your perfectly sanctified soul and spirit, any trace of any spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thou shalt shine forth.
And thou shalt be secure.i.e., whatever may be the present portion of his lot, he needs not to be anxious about the future; he may be easy concerning that, because he has such comfortable ground of expectation from it. If he enjoys the blessings of life, he may enjoy them securely; he has great reason to expect their continuance, and that the providence of God will protect him from all pernicious and fatal accidents. Zophar made this mistake in his reasoning; what was with great reason to be expected from the general course of God's providence, he made an invariable rule of judging and censuring in each single instance. Suppose —
1. That the recompenses of vice and virtue were dubious; that the sanctions of the Gospel were not so ascertained as to exclude all scruple and distrust concerning them: even upon this supposal, religion would be much the safest side of the question. When we are considering the danger or the safety which respectively belongs to vice or virtue, in order to a just representation of the matter, we must take into our account the risks and prospects of both sides what it is which the man of religion and the man of no religion do respectively venture, and what on each side is the propounded recompense. As to: religion, the risks, if any, are small and inconsiderable; and its prospects vast and very promising. The risks are ordinarily small in themselves, and always small on comparison. Godliness has the promise of this life. In comparison with its prospects the risks of religion were always inconsiderable. A very encouraging prospect deserves a proportionable venture. So men think, and so they act in the common commerce and dealings of the world. They do not insist upon downright demonstration for the certainty of their success in what they aim at. If the appearances be fair, there is no man who stands debating for more evidence, or refuses reasonable and promising conditions. We desire no more in the business of religion; nay, we need not so much. If religion promises for the general a pleasant and easy passage through this life, and always a state of infinite and endless bliss and glory beyond it; if it promises this, upon reasons as firm and unexceptionable, as the nature of the case, and of such proofs will admit; if with all this vast encouragement, it requires, for the main, no other sacrifice than of such indulgences as would be injurious either to ourselves or others, what account can be given of that monstrous indifference wherewith the notice of so great a gain is commonly entertained? What are the prospects and risks of vice and irreligion? The prospects are inconsiderable, the risks are dangerous and fatal. The promises of vice fall miserably short in the performance. Vice may promise pleasure, but it will pay in pain. The prospects of sin with regard to this life are dark and gloomy; and with regard to the next they are infinitely worse. The risk of the sinner who resolves to persist in his wicked courses, is no less than to encounter the wrath of God, and to arm Divine justice against his own soul.
2. In the favourable circumstances of life and fortune, the good man is best qualified for enjoying them with the least alloy, the least apprehension of a change for the worse. To the righteous it is no abatement of their present felicities that they must exchange them one day for others which shall be brighter and more perfect. They are sure that "when this mortal shall put on immortality," that immortality will be blessed and triumphant. That comfortable hope will balance a good deal against those natural fears of death and dissolution, which otherwise were enough to jar the most harmonious conjunction of the world's blessings. The wicked, even upon their own principles, are entirely destitute of this cordial preservative. The more pleasing life is, the more melancholy (one would think) should be the thought of parting with it.
3. So great is the difference between the case of the good man and the wicked, that, whereas the latter can scarce bear up amid all the affluences of a prosperous fortune, the former has the support of the brightest hopes. The severest pinches of adversity are improved by a religious disposition into occasions of weaning us from the world, and of turning us to God; of strengthening our faith, and of elevating our hope, and of enlarging our spirits towards the Father of them. He who has all his happiness and all his prospects on this side the grave, is miserably disappointed when these are defeated.
4. What mightily heightens the good man's security, both in the misfortunes and felicities of his present state, is the assurance he has of favour with the great Governor of the world, and the Supreme Disposer of all events. We see, therefore, that whatever circumstance or station of life may be allotted us, religion is necessary to carry us through it with satisfaction and comfort.
(N. Marshall, D. D.)
But the eyes of the wicked shall fail...and their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost.
Homilist.1. Here is the loss of energy. "The eyes of the wicked shall fail." The soul's eyes gone, and the spiritual universe is midnight.
2. Here is the loss of safety. "They shall not escape." All efforts directed to safety utterly fruitless.
3. Here is the loss of hope. "Their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost." The idea is that the loss of hope is like death, the separation of the soul from the body. What the soul is to the body, the dominant hope is to the soul, the inspirer of its energies and the spring of its being. The loss of the dominant hope is like death in two respects.(1) In respect to its painfulness. The loss of the dominant hope is like death —(2) In respect to its ruinousness. When hope takes her exit from the soul all beauty departs, all pleasures end, all usefulness is gone.
( R. Baxter.).
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