The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"... full of trouble."—Job 14:1
This is one of the exaggerations quite pardonable to men in hours of agony.—There have been bright minds that have found more joy than sorrow in the world.—Unquestionably there is a diversity of temperament, and that ought to be taken into account in every consideration of the whole subject of human discipline.—It certainly seems as if some lives were left without the brightness of a single gleam of hope; one trouble succeeds another like cloud coming after cloud, until the whole horizon is draped in blackness.—Consider the many sources and springs and occasions of trouble in human life.—Take the individual constitution: some men seem to be born utterly wanting in all the conditions of health; from infancy upward they are doomed to depression, weakness, pain, and all the influences which contribute towards settled melancholy; others, again, seem to be wounded every day through their children; the hard-hearted, the ungrateful, the impenitent, the selfish, the thoughtless; others again have no success in business; whatever they do perishes in their hands; they are always too late in the morning; they always feel that some other man has passed by them in the race of life, and plucked the fruit which they intended to enjoy; others, again, are beaten down in the conflict for the want of physical strength, or mental energy, or rational hopefulness: they think it is no use proceeding further; they say the fates are against them, and so they sink into neglect, and pass away without leaving any traces of successful work in life.—We must distinguish between the trouble which is external, physical, and traceable more or less to our own action, and that mysterious heart-trouble which comes from solemn moral reflection, from the reckoning up of sins, and from a thoughtful calculation of all the actions, thoughts, and purposes which have deserved divine condemnation.—There is no trouble to be compared with the trouble of the mind.—He is not poor who has left to him an estate of thought, reflection, contemplation, and the power of prayer.—In talking of trouble we should also talk about its mitigations. Is it possible that there can be a life anywhere on which some beam of sunshine does not alight? We are not now talking about the insane, or those who suffer from increasing and continued melancholy, but about the general average of human life; and, so speaking, surely we can always find in the hardest lot some mitigation of the burden, some compensation for extra darkness and difficulty.—We should look out for the mitigations.—Instead of arguing from the difficulty we should argue from the strength which is able to bear it in some degree. All this is never easy to do, and he would acquire no influence over men who sought to drive away their burdens, their difficulties, and their fears.—Better look at them seriously, add them up as to their real value, and so acquire standing-ground in the estimation of the hearer as to be enabled to proceed to enumerate mercies, blessings, alleviations, and the like, so as to mitigate the horrors of the actual situation.—Then, whatever trouble we may have, we must remember that it is not to be compared with the distress of him who said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death."—We think of him, and justly so, at all times as a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.—No man had sorrow like Christ's.—He is therefore not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but from his own experience he is sensitive to all our sufferings, and responsive to all our appeals.—Then we should look at the "afterwards" promised to those who bear discipline well and pass through chastisement patiently and unmurmuringly: "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby."
Job's Reply to His Three Friends. I.
Job 12-14 "And Job answered and said, No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you" (
"And Job answered and said, No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you" (Job 12:1-2).
This was unkind; but very human! Perhaps it was provoked: for we think we have discovered a tone of taunting in the three eloquent speeches which have been addressed to the patriarch. Was it worthy of Job to return taunt for taunt? Was it worthy of Elijah to mock the idolatrous worshippers? We must not separate ourselves from the human race, and stand back in the dignity of untouched critics, and say what was worthy, or what was not worthy; we must rather identify ourselves with the broad currents of human experience, and take other men as very largely representing what we would have done under the same circumstances. "There is none righteous, no, not one." Criticism may be the supreme vice. Job represents ourselves in this quick and indignant introduction. He will get better as he warms to his subject. Indeed, all the speakers have done this, straight through the story, as we have clearly seen. They began snappishly, peevishly, mockingly; but somehow a mysterious influence operated upon them, and every man concluded his speech in most noble terms. Better this than the other way. Do not some men always begin well and end ill? Are not some lives like inverted pyramids? Happy is the man who, however beefly he may begin the tale of his life, grows in his subject—expands, warms, radiates—until all that was little and mean in the beginning is forgotten in the splendour and magnificence of the consummation. Still, Job does begin sharply. He lifts his hand, and by a circular movement strikes every man of the three in the face, and leaves them smarting under the blow for a little while.
Job accuses the three men of being guilty of narrow criticism. Narrow criticism spoils everything. It also provokes contempt That which is out of proportion always elicits a sneering criticism: it is too high, too low; it is exaggerated in one dimension, it is out of square, and out of keeping with the harmony and the fitness of things, so that a half-blind man could almost see how the whole thing is out of true geometry. Whatever is so is pointed at, and is remarked upon, either with flippancy or with contempt. When did the bowing wall ever attract to itself the respect of the passer-by? When did ever that which is onesided, obviously out of plomb, draw to itself the commendation of any sensible critic? Job said: So far as you have gone you are right enough: who knoweth not such things as these? Your criticism lacks breadth; you are like a point rather than an edge; you see one or two things most clearly, but you do not take in the whole horizon: your minds are intense rather than comprehensive. This is the fault of the world! It is peculiarly and incurably the fault of some men. They see single points with an intensity indescribable, and you cannot get them to see any other point, and complete the survey of the whole. They are men of prejudice, stubborn men; they imagine that they are faithful, when they are only obstinate; they suppose themselves to be real, when they are only incapable. It is illustrated on every hand. Narrow criticisms have driven men away from the Church who ought to have been its pillars and its luminaries. We must, therefore, take in more field. There is what may be called a sense of proportion in man. Not only has man an ear by which to try words, and a palate by which to test foods, but he has in him a sense of proportion: he seems to know without a schoolmaster when a thing is the right length, the right shape; whether there is enough, or too much of it. Ask him to define this feeling in words, or justify it by canons of art, and he cannot do so. But there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding. The untaught man stops before a house that is ridiculously low, and points it out. Why should he do so? What is it that moves him but that inscrutable and undefinable sense of proportion, which would seem to be in every man? So with a house that is disproportionately high. Though in haste, the man draws up to look at it, to point it out; or if he be without companion he remembers the disproportionate thing, and relates at home what he has seen on the road. Why may not men build as they please without criticism? Simply because there is a common sentiment, a common opinion, an inborn sense of proportion and right; and men cannot be exaggeratedly individual without provoking criticism for their offence against the established customs and conclusions of the world. The three friends of Job, we now begin to see, had but a very short view of life, it was a very high one, and it went in the right direction; they were all religious men, but narrowly religious. They would have been more religious if they had been more human. They would have better represented God if they had broken down in tears, hung upon Job's neck, and said—Oh, brother, the hand is hard upon thee, and to us it is a mystery that tests our faith in God. But they were too sternly and squarely theological: they knew where God began and ended, what circuit he swept; and they judged everything by a narrow and unworthy standard. It is not enough to be right in points; it is not enough to have excellent traits of character: the whole character must be moulded symmetrically, and the whole man must be taken in before any one point of him can be understood. So it is with the living God: we are not to take out individual instances and dwell upon them in their separateness: we are to take in the whole horizon, and judge of every star in the firmament by every other star that shares the great honour of lighting the universe.
Then, again, Job points out that there is always another view to be taken than the one which is represented:—
"I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you" (Job 12:3).
We always omit to take in the opinion of the other man. That is papal infallibility; and it lives in every country under heaven. We forget that there is another man in the house who has not yet spoken, and until he has spoken the whole truth has not been declared. There is a child crying, and until we understand through what gamut its cry passes we cannot comprehend the whole situation of things. The dying man is as essential a witness in this great evidence, concerning God and providence, as is the testimony of the most robust and energetic witness. The truth is not with any three men. No three points can represent the circle. And God always works in circles, he knows nothing about any other geometrical figure. It seem to occur here and there, no doubt; but when taken into relation with all other things, the universe is a globe, a sphere, an infinite dewdrop. Who, then, stands up and says, Behold, this is the whole truth of God, and beside it there is nothing to be said? A man who should utter such words should be excommunicated from the altar, until he has learned that he knows nothing, and is but part of an immeasurable totality. Job insists upon being heard; he says, There are not three in this company, but four; and four is an even number, and the even number must be heard. There must be no triangular constituency in the great moral universe. Each man sees something which no other man sees; and until we have got the other man's testimony we are operating upon a broken witness. Every man in the church should pray. When the last little child has uttered his sentence, when the poorest, frailest woman has breathed her wordless sigh into the great supplication, then heaven will have before it the whole prayer of humanity. But are there not men who are instructed in theology? The worse for the world if their instruction has led them to narrowness and to finality! Theology is not a profession; it is the whole human heart, touched, kindled with a passion that seeks God. We must hear the patient as well as the doctor; we must hear the sufferer as well as the comforter; we must listen to Job as well as to his three friends.
Then Job cannot get away from what wicked men say:—
"I am as one mocked of his neighbour, who calleth upon God, and he answereth him: the just upright man is laughed to scorn" (Job 12:4).
Everything seems to favour this view. Said Job, Look at me; my neighbours who were wont to consult me now mock me; they who knew that I have called upon God say, God has answered him in sore boils, and has thrown him to the dust that he may know how great is his hypocrisy: these many years I have maintained a character as a just upright man, now I am laughed to scorn: what else can I do? Look at me: what an answer I am to their sarcasm! I cannot touch myself at any point without inflicting wounds upon my flesh with my own fingers; I am a stranger to my nearest and dearest friends: how can I claim that God hears and answers prayer? When they mock, I know they can justify their taunt; when they laugh me to scorn, I know that there is reason in the malignant laughter. So Job, too, swings down to the dark point; so Job also becomes as narrow as his critics. But there is some palliation for the narrowness which Job takes to, for he is under pain, the thong has cut to the bone; he has nobody to speak to that can understand a word that he says: if he was narrow, it was most excusable in him. Job says:—
"He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease" (Job 12:5).
An apparently unintelligible statement. The Revised Version says—"In the thought of him that is at ease there is contempt for misfortune." Take the figure of the lamp. The idea would then be that of a long dark road; a man has passed through it safely, he is in the house of security, and when he hears of some poor traveller struggling along the same road, and afraid his light will be blown out, he cares nothing for him; he himself being at ease at home "despises" the man who is struggling along the dark road with a lamp that threatens to be blown out before the journey is completed. Take the other idea, which is in substance the same,—namely, that ill-regulated or unsanctified prosperity leads to the contempt of other men less fortunate—other men to whom prosperity is denied. A sad effect indeed, contempt for misfortune, reviling men and saying, They ought to have done better, they have themselves to blame for all this: look at me; I have no misfortune; I have lost nothing, I miss nothing, whatever I touch becomes gold, and wherever I look upon the earth a flower acknowledges the blessing of my glance. Such is the boast of impious prosperity, unsanctified and irrational success. This is the necessity of the case, unless there be a vivid realisation of the providence of God in human life. Every night when the good man adds up his book he must write at the foot of the page, "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" Then the more he has the better. He will never say look at me; he will say, Look at God: how kind his bounties are, and large! His mercy endureth for ever: the Lord my God teacheth me to get wealth; I must spend my wealth to the honour and glory of him who has taught my hands their skill, and gifted my mind with its peculiar and gracious faculty. When Job came into misfortune he heard the laughter of the mocker. He understood the rough merriment but too well; he said—It is always so: "he that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease"; the men who are now laughing at me are men who have shared my bounty in brighter days. Alas, poor human nature! I am now laughed to scorn by the men who once would have been made happy by the touch of my hand.
Then Job becomes his better self. He goes out, and he takes a broad and a right view of human nature—a medicine always to be recommended to diseased minds. "Canst thou minister to a mind diseased?" Yes, by taking the sufferer up the mountain, down the river, across the sea; bringing him into close identity with the spirit of nature, the healing spirit, the spirit of benediction, the spirit of sleep. Job stands up like a great natural theologian, and preaches thus:—
"But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee: and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? in whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind" (Job 12:7-10).
He who talks so will surely live again! He is very low down now, but he will come up, because the spirit of wisdom has not deserted him. He will reason upwards. He will make himself acquainted with all the nature that is accessible to him. So we say to all men, Make the most of scientific inquiry: have telescopes and microscopes, and go to day-schools and night-schools: study every little insect that lives that you can bring under your criticism: acquaint yourselves with the habits of fowls and fishes, and animals of every name, and plants of every genera: go into all departments of nature; and depend upon it you are on the stairway which if followed will bring you up into the higher air and the broader light. Never believe there are two Gods in the universe—the God of nature and the God of the Bible. There is but one God, There are two aspects of his revelation. Every pebble belongs to God. You cannot lose a pebble. The thief cannot run away without running into the very arms of the God he seeks to fly from. You cannot steal a single insect out of the museum of nature. You cannot take up one little grain of sand, and escape with it. All our felonies are little vulgar larcenies; they are all on the surface; we can mete out to them adequate punishment: but no man can steal from God in the sense of losing out of the creation anything which God has put into it. And everywhere God has written his name in large letters. The microscope is one of the doors into heaven; the telescope is another—a thousand doors all in one, and all falling back on their golden hinges to let the worshippers through in millions. Who ever introduced into the Church the most horrible heresy that nature is not God's, or that contempt for nature is the only appropriate attitude in relation to it, or the only right feeling regarding it? God is the gardener. He knows all the roses. You cannot steal a rose-leaf without his eye being upon you, and without his voice saying to the conscience, That rose-leaf is mine. You cannot shake a dewdrop off a flower without God knowing that the position of the dewdrop has been changed. There is not a little creature whose heart requires a microscope of the greatest power to see it that has not been, in one way or another—do not bewilder yourselves as to methods—created by the power and wisdom of God. We must, too, remember that there are two classes of workers. Some of our brethren are studying, according to Job's direction, "the beasts," "the fowls," "the earth," "the fishes of the sea." They are still our brethren; they are not to be despised. Others are studying the greater things of God,—that is to say, studying somewhat of his thought, purpose, love. They are the higher students, but they are still members of the same glorious academy. When the theologian says that the naturalist is contemptible, he is guilty of falsehood; when the naturalist says that the theologian is fanatical, he is guilty of falsehood: the two should be brothers, living together in amity and charity.
Job lays down a great doctrine which seems to have been forgotten:—
"Doth not the ear try words? and the mouth taste his meat?" (Job 12:11).
What is the meaning of the inquiry? Evidently this—that there is a verifying faculty in man: the ear knows when the sentence has reached the point of music; the ear knows not only words, but, figuratively, understands reasoning; and the ear, taken as the type of the understanding, being the door through which information goes, says, Yes, that is right; No, that is wrong. Doth not the mouth taste meat, has not man a palate? The palate pronounces judgment upon everything that is eaten, saying, That is sweet, that is bitter; this is good, wholesome; that is poisonous and utterly to be rejected. What is that wondrous thing called the palate? It is not merely an animal appendage, but it is a critical faculty; it is something in the mouth that says, This may be taken, but not that. Now Job argues: As certainly as the ear tries words, and the mouth tastes meat, there is a spirit in man which says, That is true, and that is false; that is right, and that is wrong: has God given man an ear and a palate for the trying of words and the tasting of foods, and left him without understanding? The appeal is to the inward witness, the individual conscience, the inextinguishable light, or a light that can only be extinguished by the destruction of everything that makes a man. Here is the great power of Christ over all his hearers. He knows there is an answering voice. Once there stood a scribe, or other man of letters and wisdom, who said, when Christ answered a question wisely, "Well, Master, thou hast said the truth." A man knows when he hears the truth. He may not know it today, and under this light, and within a certain number of instances; but there comes a time when every man is judge, gifted with the spirit of penetration; and by so much as he exercises that spirit of penetration will he become wise unto salvation, and in proportion as he distrusts it will he either grieve the Spirit or quench the Holy Ghost.
So Job will not be satisfied with Bildad's tradition or with the broad generalisations of Eliphaz; he will try the words, put them to the test of spiritual experience, and pronounce upon them as he may be guided by the Spirit of the living God. That is all any Christian teacher should desire. He must find his authority in his hearers. They must begin with him wherever they can. There may be times when the hearers will separate themselves from the teachers, saying, We cannot follow you there; we have not been up so high, we have not been so far afield; we know nothing about what you are now saying, but you have said a thousand things we do know, a thousand things we have tasted and felt and handled, and we will stand there altogether, hoping that by-and-by we may ascend to higher heights, and take in the wider magnitudes: then there shall be between teacher and taught a spirit of masonry, of true love, of mutual trust; the taught shall say, Teacher sent from God, pray on, go higher and higher, but remember that we cannot go so quickly, and that at present we are upon a lower level; and the teacher should say—O fellow-students, let us pray together, and go a step at a time, and wait: for the very last scholar, and where there is most infirmity let there be most love, where there is truest doubt let there be largest sympathy, and in all things let there be loving communion in Christ Jesus. Men animated by that spirit can never get far wrong. They may have a thousand misconceptions, so far as mere opinions and words are concerned, but they are right in the substance of their being, right in the purpose of their nature, right in their motive and intention, and at the last they shall stand in the light, and thank the God who did not desert them when the midnight was very dark, and the winter was intolerably cold.
Job's Reply to His Three Friends. II.
In the latter part of the twelfth chapter Job shows that he has a fuller and grander conception of God than any of his three comforters have. He is not behind them in the instinct or in the enjoyment of divine worship. When he speaks of God he lifts up our thought to a new and sublime level: "With him is wisdom and strength, he hath counsel and understanding" (Job 12:13). Regarded metaphysically or spiritually, God is the great mystery of all things; he covers all the range appropriate to counsel, wisdom, and understanding: he is spiritually incomprehensible. Then actively—
"Behold, he breaketh down, and it cannot be built again: he shutteth up a man, and there can be no opening, Behold, he withholdeth the waters, and they dry up: also he sendeth them out, and they overturn the earth" (Job 12:14-15).
What can man do? He cannot bring a single rain-cloud into the dry sky with promise of refreshment and fertility for the barren and languishing earth; he cannot make the sun rise one moment sooner than he is appointed by law astronomical to rise. Poor man! He can but stand in presence of natural phenomena with note-book in hand, putting down what he calls memoranda, looking these very carefully and critically over, and turning them into classical utterances which the vulgar cannot understand. But he is kept outside; he is not allowed to go to the other side of the door on which is marked the word Private. And as for God's actions amongst the great and the mighty of the earth, they are as grasshoppers before him:—
"He leadeth counselors away spoiled, and maketh the judges fools. He looseth the bond of kings, and girdeth their loins with a girdle" (Job 12:17-18)
He takes off their glittering diamond band, and replaces it with a slave's girdle. "He leadeth princes away spoiled, and over-throweth the mighty" (Job 12:19). Yet the mighty boast themselves: they live in palace, and in castle, and in strong tower; they indulge in jeering and jibing at those who have no such security. What are they in the sight of God? God is no respecter of persons: God looks upon character—the very substance of life, its best and enduring quality; and where he finds right character he crowns it, he makes it better still by added blessing. But are there not those who set up their own enigmas and riddles as philosophies and revelations?
"He removeth away the speech of the trusty, and taketh away the understanding of the aged. He poureth contempt upon princes, and weakeneth the strength of the mighty" (Job 12:20-21).
When did God pour contempt upon the poor, those who have no helper, and those for whom there is no man to speak? When was he hard with the afflicted and the infirm? So Job magnifies what he himself has seen of the providence and grace of God, and makes himself as it were a solitary exception to the great sovereignty of the heavens; yet now and again he says, in effect—almost in words—it shall not always be so: he who has bowed me down shall straighten me again, and I shall yet live to praise him. Now and again he stands up almost a poet and a prophet, for by anticipation he enjoys the deliverance and the triumph which he is sure must supervene.
Having spoken to the comforters, therefore, in their own theological language, and showed that he was a greater theologian than any of them, he gives them to understand that in their argument they have somehow missed something:—
"What ye know, the same do I know also: I am not inferior unto you. Surely I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God" (Job 13:2-3).
He turns away from the three talkers, practically saying, Let me continue this controversy with heaven, and not with earth: you vex me, you fret me; you do not touch the reality of the case; yours are all words, clever and beautiful words, but you never come near my wound: away! Let me speak directly to the condescending heavens: though judgment has fallen upon me, yet mercy will come from the same quarter. Job, therefore, feels that the three friends have missed something. He gropes after God. He says, The answer must come whence the mystery has come: you did not afflict me, and you cannot heal me: this is a matter of original application, of direct appeal to heaven: he who began must finish; you have nothing to do with it. How happy we should often feel ourselves if we could shake our souls free from uninformed sympathisers, and from people who offer us keys which were never meant to open the lock of God's mystery! This is what Job does. He says in effect—I have listened to you, your words have passed over me, the ear has heard them, and rejected them; now give me opportunity of talking with God.
"But ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value" (Job 13:4).
What is it that feels this to be the case in our human education? We listen to men, and say—So far, good: there is sense in what you say; you are not without mental penetration; unquestionably your appeals are marked by ability: but somehow the soul knows that there is something wanting. The soul cannot always tell what it is, but there is a spirit in man which says—The statement to which you have just listened is onesided, imperfect, incomplete; it wants rounding into perfectness. Surely there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding. Wise men come before us, and say, Here is the world: what more do you want? A beautiful little world, a mere speck of light no doubt, still, there is room enough in the world to live in: we may cultivate the earth and rejoice in all its productions, flower and fruit alike: what more do you want? We listen, and say, That is a good argument: certainly the world is here, and a world that gives fruits and flowers, and has in it birds of its own, birds that cannot fly beyond its atmosphere, birds made to sing in this cage, and to make the children of men glad. But we no sooner consent to the solidity of the argument than a voice within us says—O fool, and slow of heart! You are bigger than any world God ever made, greater than the universe on which he seems to have lavished an infinity of wisdom and strength: in this poor little fluttering heart lies a divinity that mocks all space, and defies all time, and tramples upon all the challenges and offers of the material universe. Then men say, Be learned, be wise; science is the providence of life, submit to it; there are certain known measurable laws, accept them, and live within them: roof yourself well in with laws and proved generalisations, and be content. No sooner have we admitted that the appeal is good and strong, certainly up to a given point unquestionably so, than the same voice within us says, Have they ever told you what life is? and you live! Not what life is beyond the stars, but what your own life is? Have they ever seen it, measured it, weighed it, revealed it to your sight? Why, sir, you live! That is a mystery next to the fact that God lives. What is life? As well ask you to be content with your garments and pay no attention to your physical condition, as ask you to be content with things that are outside your mind and neglect the mind itself. So with many a criticism passed upon the Christian religion; we feel that the criticism is clever, sharp, pungent, acute; if it were a question of mere criticism we should say, It is admirably done; but when the critic has ceased, this mysterious voice, this inner self, this impalpable, invisible thing called the soul, or the spirit, says, The statement is incomplete: it is wanting in vitality; the men who have made that statement are conscious themselves that they have not touched the limit of things. So Job felt. He said, "What ye know, the same do I know also; I am not inferior unto you." Up to a given point we go step for step, and say, The reasoning is perfectly good, but after that what remains? What after death, what after visible facts; what about will, motive, passion, love, and all the mysterious spiritual forces that throw man into tumult or gladden him with sacred joy? About these things you seem to have nothing to say.
Job therefore directs them to keep their tongues quiet, saying, "O that ye would altogether hold your peace! And it should be your wisdom" (Job 13:5). That is not mere mockery; that is solid philosophy. In presence of some mysteries we must simply be silent. He who can be reverently silent in the presence of such mysteries is a great scholar in the school of God; he has courage to say, I do not know. He is along the line, he is eloquent at many a point, but he suddenly comes to points in the line which confuse him and defy him, and there he closes his lips: but his silence is prayer, his speechlessness is religion; this is not the dumbness of opposition, it is the silence of adoration.
Now Job asks a question or two, the principle of which applies to all ages:—"Will ye speak wickedly for God?" (Job 13:7). What an extraordinary combination of terms! If a man speak about God, can he do so "wickedly"? The answer is a melancholy Yes. Some of the things we shall have most deeply to repent of may be our sermons respecting God. We have created our sermons, and tried to force God into them, and to make him a consenting partner in our evil deed. Who will arise to speak righteously about God, and call him Father? To what evil treatment has he been subjected! How cruel have men been with God! First of all they conceive a certain theory of the Almighty, and then they bend everything into the lines which they have laid down. There are those who would overpower conscience by sovereignty. This is never to be allowed. God never comes into conflict with the human conscience. From the beginning he has been careful to keep himself, so to say, in harmony with the self which he has given to man, in the sense of being a spirit which could discern good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice, partiality and impartiality. There are those who have said that God has damned some portions of the human race. Who ever said so is a liar! He "speaks wickedly for God." Whoever says to the human conscience, Sit down: you have no right to ask about this appearance of partiality on the part of God, speaks deceitfully for the most high. "God is love"; "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life." Who can challenge great speeches like that? These are the appeals that make the whole world kin. There you find no show of favour or partiality or selection. Whenever God goes beyond what we believe to be the letter of the law, it is never to exclude but always to include men whom we thought were for ever to be kept outside. He says to the Jew, What if I go after the Gentile? I made the Gentile as certainly as I made the Jew. And what said the most stubborn of Jews? At a certain time of spiritual revelation he said, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." There you have a philosophy that will stand the wear and tear of life; there you have a gospel that you can stand up and preach to the living and the dead. Alas! it is possible to have an immoral theology; in other words, it is possible to "speak wickedly for God." We are to stand upon great principles, eternal truths, the sweet and proved realities of grace. There you are strong, with all the strength of personal experience; there you are gracious, with all the tenderness of real human sympathy. There is a God preached by some men that ought never to be believed in. Such men have no authority for their preaching in Holy Scripture. If they quote texts, they misquote them; if they point to chapter and verse, they never point to context. The providence of God must always illustrate the grace of God, and God "is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil"; "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust": "God is love." He must be spoken of in loving language; he must be revealed in all the attributes which indicate passion, mercy, tenderness, pity, clemency, care for the infirm, the feeble, the desolate, and the lost. In doing so, do we forget the righteousness of God? Certainly not, but it is the glory of righteousness to be compassionate; it is the glory of justice to flower out into charity. There is no unrighteousness in God. But partiality would be unrighteousness. First to give man a conscience, and then to insult and dishonour it, would be unrighteous. To teach that God has chosen one man to go to heaven and another man to go to hell, is to perpetrate a direr blasphemy than was done by the hand of Iscariot. This great evangelical doctrine must be declared in all its fulness and gravity, in all its argumentative nobleness, and in all its sympathetic tenderness, if the world is to be affected profoundly and savingly. The world is never affected by an argument which it cannot understand: men are moved by passions, impulses, instincts, intuitions,—by something coming to them which has a correspondence in their own nature, and to which that which is in them answers as an echo to a voice.
Now let us take our stand on these great principles, and the world will not wish us to withdraw our ministry. When we thus magnify God we unite the human race; we do not break it up and distribute it, classify it and mark it off for monopolies and primacies and selfish sovereignties: we unite the human heart in all lands and climes, in all ages and under all circumstances. Nothing may be so impious as piety. Nothing may be so irreligious as religion. "If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
Job having thus rebuked his friends makes what he terms a "declaration":—
"Hear diligently my speech, and my declaration with your ears" (Job 13:17).
Then he begins to say that all things are done by God; he says, Whatever is, God rules, and overrules; it is therefore not to be judged by the moment, or by some limited line, or newly-invented standard. God must have time, as well as nature. You say you must give nature time; you must remember that the seasons are four in number, and that they come and go in regular march and harmony. What you accord to nature you ought not to deny to God. It has pleased him so to make the world that not only is there in it one day, but there is a Tomorrow, and there is a third day: on the third day he perfects his Son. We must await the issue, and then we shall be called upon to judge the process. Now we see so little; we know next to nothing; we spend our lives in correcting our own mistakes: by-and-by the process will be consummated, and then we shall be asked to pronounce a judgment upon it; and in heaven's clear light, and in the long day of eternity, we shall see just what God has done in the human race, and why he has done it Oh for patience!—that mysterious power of waiting which is a kind of genius; the silence that holds its tongue under the assurance that at any moment it may be called upon to break into song, and testimony, and thanksgiving. Silence is part of true religion. He is not ignorant who says, I do not know. He may be truly wise; he may be but indicating that up to a given point he feels sure and strong and clear, and he is waiting at a door fastened on the other side until those who are within open it and bid him advance. Be it ours to be close to the door, for it may open at any moment, and we may be called to advance into larger spaces and fuller liberties.
Job is not afraid to say that "the deceiver and the deceived" are both in the hands of God. Job is not afraid to say that all affliction is sent of heaven, and that no affliction springs out of the dust. Job is represented, in the English version, as saying, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." But that is not what Job did say. He said he will slay. It would be beautiful to retain the English just as we find it, but justice of a grammatical kind will not allow it Job says: He will slay me, but I will still call his attention to great principles: in the very agony of death I will hold up before him that which he himself has told me. So Job, by a gracious and happy self-contradiction, says he will be slain, and yet he will contend; he will fall, and yet from the dust he will plead. Surely in the man's heart was hidden a promise which he dare not divulge in words, but which was all the time warning him, comforting him, inspiring him, and making his weakness the very best and purest of his power.
Job's Reply to His Three Friends. III.
We have often had occasion to rejoice when Bible speakers have come down to a line with which we are ourselves familiar. Upon that line we could judge them correctly, as to their wisdom and understanding of human affairs. It is the peculiar distinction of Bible speakers and writers that now and again they ascend to heights we cannot climb: what they are uttering upon these sunlit elevations we cannot always tell; the great men are out of sight, often out of sound; we hear but reports of what they are declaring, and they themselves are more echoes than voices; they cannot tell what they have seen, or heard, or spoken; they have been but instruments in the hands of God. But, ever and anon, they come down to the common earth, and talk in our mother-tongue, and look us steadfastly in the face: then we can form some true judgment of the value of their thinking, of the scope of their imagination, and of the practical energy of their understanding. An instance of that kind occurs in the fourteenth chapter. Job begins to talk about "Man." So long as he talked about himself there was a secret behind his speech which we could not penetrate. There is, indeed, a secret of that kind behind every man's speech. No man says all he knows; no man can say all he means: behind the most elaborate declarations there are mysteries of motive and thought and purpose, which the man himself can never represent in adequate words. But now Job will speak about man in general; that is to say, about the human race; and when he begins so to speak, we can subject his words to practical tests, and assign them their precise value in historical criticism.
What does Job say about man? Is it true that man is a creature whose existence is measurable by days? What are "days"?—mere fleeting shadows of time, hardly symbols of duration, going whilst they are coming, evaporating whilst we are remarking upon their presence? How long is it between sunrise and sunset? To the busy man it is nothing. To the idle man it is, and ought to be, a long time: but to the energetic servant, busy about his Lord's work, what is the day?—A little rent in the sky, a little gleam of light shining through a great immeasurable darkness. Is it true, then, that man's existence, as we know it, is measurable by days? Are his days but a handful at the most? Are the days of our years statable in clear numbers? Does human existence humble itself to be settled by the law of averages? Has that mysterious quantity, that awful secret, human life, been dragged to the table of the arithmetician and made to accommodate itself to some form of statistics, so that whatever A or B may do, the common man, the medial quantity, will live to forty years, or fifty, and the whole stock of the human population may be struck down at that figure? Calculate upon that: offer them prices at that: write out their policies at that figure. Is it so, that man who can dream poems and temples and creations can be scheduled as probably finishing his dream at midnight or at the crowing of the cock? Are we so frail? Is life so attenuated a thing, that at any moment it: may snap, and our best and dearest may vanish for ever from our eyes? Job was either correct or incorrect when he said that: every man can judge the patriarch at this point. Is man like a flower which cometh forth, and is cut down? Is he no stronger than that? Beautiful indeed: a child of the sun, a spot of loveliness in a desert of desolation,—a comely child: but may he die in the cradle: may his cradle become his coffin? May he never learn to walk, to talk, to love? It is so, or it is not so? There is no need to expend many words about this. Job is now talking about facts, and if the facts can be produced as against him here, we may dismiss him when he takes wing and flies away to horizons that lie beyond our ken.
But Job may be right here, and if he here talk soberly, truly, with wise sadness, he may be right when he comes to discuss problems with which we are unfamiliar. Is man "full of trouble"? Does any man need to go to the lexicon to know what "trouble" means? Is that word an etymological mystery? Do people know trouble by going to school? or do they know it by feeling it? Does the heart keep school on its own account? Do men know grief at first sight, and accost it as if they were familiar with it, and had kept long companionship with it in existences not earthly? The patriarch says "full" of trouble. That is a broad statement to make, and it is open to the test of practical observation and experience. What does "full of trouble" literally mean in the language which the patriarch employed? It means, satiated with trouble; steeped, soaked in trouble; so that the tears could be wrung out of him as if he had been purposely filled with these waters of sorrow. Is that true? Is man full of trouble,—in other words, may trouble come into his life by a thousand different gates? Is it impossible to calculate, on awakening in the morning, how trouble will come into the heart—through the gate of business, through personal health, through family circumstances? Will the letter-carrier bring a lapful of trouble to the man's breakfast-table? Is man full of trouble, sated with sorrow, soaked and steeped in the brine of grief? We can tell: here we need no learned annotator with ponderous books and far-reaching traces of words: the heart knoweth its own bitterness. Who has ever stumbled at the first and second verses of the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Job, saying, These verses are not true? Nay, who has not gone to them in the dark and cloudy time and the day of desperate sorrow, and said, These words express the common experience of the race? Then Job says, man "fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not." Is this true, or is the word "shadow" a rhetorical expression? Is not our life more like a stable rock? Is not our existence firm like a mountain? Can we not say positively that we shall go into such and such a city, and continue there a year, and buy, sell, and get gain? Has the Lord not allowed us to use the one little word "year" as if we had a right to it? Were we speaking about a long lifetime or an eternity then modesty might restrain our speech; but does the Lord say we are not to lay claim to one year for residence in a foreign city for commercial purposes, but that even in a promise for a year we must say, "if the Lord will"? Let this question be settled by facts. Do not be led away by words, however many and vital, but say, Has Job thus far laid his hand upon the realities of human experience? Is he but indulging in flights of imagination, and painting pictures which have no reference to the realities of life?
Assuming Job to be right, the question comes, How to account for this? Surely man, as we know him, cannot be made to be a creature of "days," the subject of "trouble,"—a "flower" for transitoriness of existence, or a "shadow" for evanescence? "Man" is the first word in the chapter, and it is a larger word than "days," "trouble," "fear," "shadow"; to use the word in the old English sense, these terms do not equivocate with the word "man." There is something more than we see: there is the argument of consciousness,—an argument without words; that great terrible argument of sentiency, inward knowledge, instinct, intuition, call it what you may: there is something in "man" that will say to "fear" and "shadow," You do but represent one little section of my existence: I am more than you are: I am not a daisy which an ox can crush; I am not a shadow which can be chased away from the wall: in some respects I am weak enough—a mere child of days; my breath is in my nostrils, I know, but I know also that there is something within all the enfoldings and complications of this mysterious condition of life which says it will not die. Left to construct an argument in words, that argument might be borne down by a greater fury of words; but how to deal with the divinity that stirs within us! After all our arguing is done, that mysterious spirit says it lives still; that mysterious Galileo says, when the inquisitorial argument and the torture process are all concluded, I still live: I cannot, will not die; only one power can crush me, and that is the power that made me. Yes, there is an argument of consciousness, after all controversy in words has had its windy way.
Now Job comes to the fixed realities of life. He says, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one "—(Job 14:4). There he would seem to be philosophical in the modern sense of the term: he would appear to have fixed his reasoning upon what we call the law of cause and effect. He speaks like a wise man. The proposition which he lays down here is one which is open to immediate and exhaustive scrutiny. But he proceeds: "Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass" (Job 14:5). Is all that true? Do we live an "appointed" time on the earth? Are our days meted out to us one by one, and is a record kept by the Divine Economist, and can we not beg just one more day, to finish the marble column, or to put one last touch to the temple whose pinnacles are already glistering in the sun? Is all settled? Have we only liberty to obey? Let facts declare themselves. Job's appeal to heaven, based upon these supposed facts, is full of pathos. You find the appeal in the sixth verse—"Turn from him, that he may rest, till he shall accomplish as an hireling his day." In other words, Do not look at him, O God; but let him do his little day's work, and go to his beast's refuge in the ground. Or in other words, The discrepancy between thy look and his fate would drive man mad: spare him thy glance: if thou hast made him to be but a superior beast of burden, oh! do not look at him; he would misunderstand thy look,—it would seem to touch somewhat of kinship in his soul, and thy look might give him a hope which thou hast determined to blight;—Lord of mercy, do not look at the man thou hast doomed to die; let him run through his little tale of work, and bury himself in the eternal night. Job already begins to feel a movement of the soul which cannot be content with words of a negative kind. Why should man be so affected by the look of God? No beast prays to be released from the overruling observation of God. What is this masonry that understands the signs of the heavens? What is it within us that answers to an appeal made from the highest places? There we come upon the line of mystery: and my affirmment is that nowhere do we find answers direct, clear, simple, complete, and grand to all the hunger of the soul as we find in the Book of God—a Book which covers the whole space, answers the inquiry, turns the question into exultation and praise.
Job reasons, and reasons wrongly. The reasoning is good, but the application is inadequate and fallacious, thus:—
"For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant" (Job 14:7-9).
Beautiful! fact turned into poetry: the tree blossoms under the touch of Job's reasoning. But what does he make of it? We shall see presently. Meanwhile, Job says "there is hope of a tree." If there is hope of anything, there must be hope of man. If you can find anywhere in nature a point at which hope begins, you have seized the key of the whole situation. If anything can die, and live again, you have secured the whole revelation of God's purpose concerning man. We only need to find it anywhere. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed: after the mustard seed has been given the rest is but a commonplace: the trunk, the branches, the singing birds,—what are these but mere sequences that cannot help themselves? the miracle is in the seed itself—the first thought, the first word. Given an alphabet, and you have given a literature; given one thought, and you have given companionship to God. Job admitted the whole case the moment he got so far in his reasoning as to say "there is hope of a tree." Job did not at once see what his reasoning; led to. It was enough, however, to have a good beginning.
Now see how he drops where he ought to have risen. The contrast begins in the tenth verse—"But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost." Does Job end there? Job cannot give up the case yet; even when he is denying a thing he asks questions which call it back again for consideration; he cannot release his hand upon the great possibility: he lets it go so far, even an arm's length, and then he asks a question, and the subject turns back, and says, You are not done with me yet; we must have larger speech than we have yet had: come, let us continue together in sweet and hopeful fellowship, for out of discussion, contemplation, and prayer light may break, morning may dawn. Therefore Job having declared that "man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost," ends with—"and where is he?" He does not say—"and is nowhere," "and is not," "and cannot be found any more." Sometimes the very asking of a question is like the offering of a prayer; sometimes a question may be so put as to involve its own answer. Do not scorn men who gather around the Bible and ask questions concerning it; do not wonder that men cannot get at the meaning if the whole Bible all at once, and become completed saints at one day's sitting over the sacred oracles; Jesus Christ encouraged the asking of great questions; he believed that the very asking of great questions was itself a process of education. So Job says, "Where is he?" "As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: so man lieth down, and riseth not" (Job 14:11-12): is that a full-stop? No; Job cannot come to a period yet; he is at a colon, the very next stop to a full one, but not a full one—"So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep." Words difficult for us to understand, but still, read in the spirit of Job's hopefulness when he put the question, they may be made to meet a secret hope that there is coming a time in which man's resurrection shall contrast with nature's dissolution. Who can tell? Nay, the very word "sleep" has in it somewhat of hope—"They shall not awake," are they then but slumbering? It may be. "Raised out of their sleep,"—are they, then, but recruiting their energy in a night's rest? So it may be. We believe it. Life and immortality are brought to light through the gospel; and, bringing Christ's preaching to bear upon the Book of Job, we see that many a dark place is lighted up. This is not a post hoc? We are not bringing back history upon history as a mere controversial resort; this is the right and philosophical method of reading life—to bring the third day to bear upon the first day to explain all its mystery and illumine all its darkness. Jesus Christ thus reasoned, and we are prepared to follow him in all his argument. Job should have reasoned the other way: but who is always right? Who is always equal to the occasion? It is easier to lie down than to stand up; it is easier to go down a hill than to struggle against a steep. We cannot blame the patriarch. He might have reasoned—"There is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant," and if a common vegetable can do this, how much more shall man respond to the touch divine, and abolish death, and be like the golden wheat, springing up out of corruption, sixtyfold, an hundredfold, in answer to the sower's care! But we are not always equal to ourselves. In one man the "selves" are many. Sometimes the man is almost an angel; sometimes he is a mighty reasoner, and can hold his work clear up to the midday sun, and defy that bright critic to show a flaw in all the process, yet that selfsame man is often tired, worn down, overborne by the long-lasting fatigues of life, so that he can hardly utter his own prayers, or crown them with an energetic Amen. Do not, therefore, rush in upon a man at his weakest moment, and say, This is what he believes: see what a palpable hypocrisy, what an ill-concealed weakness of the soul. That is not the man. Meet him tomorrow, and the vitality will be back in his eye, and the thunder will have returned to his voice. Address yourself to a man at his highest point, as God does: God answers our ideal prayers, and interprets our ideal selves, and thus sees in us more than we can for the moment see in our own nature. How we sometimes miss the parable of the growing world! All nature teaches resurrection: the trees do but sleep; the earth itself does but gather around her the coverlet of snow, and say, like a tired mother, Let me sleep awhile. All nature is a Bible written with the finger of God upon the one subject of resurrection. There is a rising again; there is a return to the paths of life; there is a perpetual urgency of nature towards larger growth. Sometimes the summer is so rich, so warm, so fecundant, that it would seem as if winter could never come back, as if the earth had entered upon the days and the delights of Paradise.
One thing is certain: we have yet to die; we have yet to be, so far as the body is concerned, like water spilt upon the ground which cannot be gathered up, we have yet to yield up the spirit into the hands of him who created it. A right beautiful thing to do when we get into the right state of mind! Then there is no dying: there is a falling asleep, there is an ascension, there is a "languishing into life," there is a process of passing into the bosom of God. O thou bright little dewdrop, thou dost not tremble with pain when the sun comes to call thee up to set thee in the rainbow! O poor shrinking heart of man, trembling flesh, misgiving, doubtful spirit, when thy Lord comes thou shalt not know that thy feet are in the river: he will kiss thee into peace, and life, and heaven!
Job's Reply to His Three Friends. IV.
A very curious specimen of the black and white art of colouring is this whole speech of Job. Sometimes it appears to be all blackness, and then it is suddenly and tenderly relieved by whiteness, like the radiance of a large, soft planet. We must not, therefore, put our finger down upon any one point and say, This is the speech. The speech has a million points, and they belong to one another, and can only be understood in their relation and their unity. We have seen Job half in the grave; yea, more than half—nothing out of it but his head: but, blessed be God, so long as the head is out of the tomb we hear eloquent speech about life, and death, and trouble, and hope. And was not the heart out of the grave as well as the head,—that is to say, all the affectional sentiments, all the moral impulses, all that makes a man more than a mere genius? Truly so.
Job now opens a new source of consolation:—
"Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands" (Job 14:15).
What artist likes to throw away his own painting? Critics do not like it: they are perfectly ingenious in discovering flaws in it; but the artist himself says: I painted that picture with my heart. We have heard of the unwillingness of a preacher to throw away his own discourses. Said one to me—a gentle soul, now with the gentle angels, a man whose mind was all beauty, and whose heart was all love—"The critics have been hard upon my sermons, but I know what fire and life and force I spent upon them." They represented the man's best power; he had embodied his very soul in the living sentences of these discourses: how could he cut them up, and scatter the fragments, as if they had cost him nothing? We have heard the mother say, when the sword was in mid-air to divide the child, "O my lord, give her the living child." It was a mother's cry, and Solomon detected the maternal tone in the agony. What mother likes to abandon her own child? and is not a father represented as being pitiful to his children?—"like as a father pitieth his children." That would seem to be the argument of Job in this fifteenth verse—"Thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands:" thou wilt not let cold cruel death break up thy child, cover him up with dust, and stamp him with the seal of annihilation and oblivion. Thus God has set many teachers within us; all our affections, emotions, impulses, everything that connects us one with another in social confidence and mutual honour,—all these forces and ministries are meant to teach us that he himself is the same as we are, multiplied by infinity. Why not? God created man in his own image: in the image of God created he him. He is a little God, but he belongs to the divine family; he boasts not of royal blood, but of blood divine: when he stumbles, he falls like a son of God; when he breaks away from altar and sanctuary and oath, he seems to tear the heavens, so large does he become in God's estimation, so greatly does he bulk amid the material things that are round about him and above him: what a gap, what a vacancy, what a loss! No darkness clouds the blue heaven when the beast dies, but when man dies who knows what pain quivers at the heart of things? A beautiful thought it was for Job to realise that man was the work of God's hands. What is it that distinguishes one life from another,—say, one voice from another, one hand from another? Are not all human hands alike? Cannot all men paint with equal skill? They have the same canvas, the same colours, the same brushes: now let them proceed one by one, and the signature of the one in colour will be equal to the signature of the other. But such is not the fact: the higher artist says to the younger and lower, What your picture wants is this touch. It lives! That one touch has separated the former picture from the present by the length of infinity. So all things are the work of God's hands—the beast and the angel: but who can measure the distance between the two? Thus this word "desire"—yearning—is the right word,—a wringing of the heart, a drawing out of the soul in exquisite solicitude tenderly tender, as if God would touch without harming, lift up and set down without leaving any marks of violence upon his child. All this is helpful, not because it is ancient in history, but because it concurs with our own desire and experience. The love we bestow upon anything is the value of it: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life." We measure all things by the love we assign them. Applying that same standard to God, how much must he love the world who, in any sense, died for it!
Then Job alters his tone:—
"For now thou numberest my steps: dost thou not watch over my sin?" (Job 14:16).
Let us take it (though there is no little difficulty about the mere grammar of the passage) that Job is arguing from providence to morals. He proceeds in his reasoning from "steps" to "sin." He would seem to trace the same criticism—"for now thou numberest my steps": therefore, as thou art so particular and critical about my steps, dost thou let my sin go past without observation? The passage has been rendered variously, but this would seem to be a meaning which inheres in the thought, because it is certainly true to our present conception of God's rule. Let us be strong on the point of providence first. Have no fear of the ultimate condition of any man's mind when that mind is perfectly certain as to the reality of a superintending providence. Deism may end in Christianity. Everything will depend upon its spirit: if it is haughty, intolerant, self-idolatrous, it will end in nothing but vanity; but if it can say, reverently, Up to this point I am clear; here I can stand, and think, and pray, and hope, be sure that the issue will be right. Is there, then, a providence in life? Do not think of some other man's life only, but think of your own life when you are called upon to reply to this inquiry. Now go back, begin at the very first page of your own life: how unconnected the sentences, how almost incoherent the style; what a singular want of relation as between one part and another! So it is.
Unquestionably it is rough reading at the first. Now turn over a page. Has no light come? You answer, Yes, a little light has begun to dawn. Go on to the next page: add one day to another: let the events settle down into proportion; and presently you will begin to see that even your life has been as it were the darling of God. You have to deny yourself before you can deny divine providence. The matter is no longer theoretical, or you could easily dismiss it; but when a man is bound first to commit suicide before he can cease to believe, then God has wrought in him a gracious and blessed miracle. Job thus reasons: My steps are watched; I am an observed man; what I thought was a belt of cloud is a belt of omnipotence, and I cannot get through it; what I considered to be but a thin mist in the air is the very throne of God: I can do nothing without leave; I live by permission. Up to this point Job might have said: I am perfectly clear. But if so, what more? Does God pay so much attention to that which is without, and no attention to that which is within? Is he careful to measure a man's steps, and oblivious of man's transgression? This is the great reasoning, the fearless logic, that goes forward from point to point, and forces the soul to face the consequences of facts.
That Job is sure that his sin is watched is evident from the next verse:—
"My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and thou sewest up mine iniquity" (Job 14:17).
Job was acquainted with Oriental customs; he knew that the judge wore a scrip or a pouch, and that in this scrip were put all the documents which related to the particular case: the judge took them out of the scrip one by one. But there was something more than the general scrip or receptacle of the documentary evidence—"Thou sewest up mine iniquity": not only had the Oriental judge or accuser an open pouch in which he kept documents needful for the establishment of his case, but he had an inward and lesser compartment, carefully sewn up, in which were the special proofs that the general impeachment was sound. In the scrip there were two compartments—one in which was the general accusation against the man, and the other in which there were the special and critical proofs cited to establish the charge. This is what Job saw when he looked upon God. Said he: I see the scrip, the full pouch; I see the documents that are written against me; and behind them all are proofs I cannot deny; the case is well ordered and set forth with masterly skill; not a point will be overlooked, and where I am strongest in denial God will be strongest in evidence. Job's conception of the divine providence in its moral relations was not that of a general oversight, or of a loose-handed indictment as against any man or number of men; Job said in effect: Men make mistakes about this matter; they confuse their documents and their references; sometimes they lose papers which are essential to their case, and sometimes they cannot read all their own hands have written; and therefore even the wicked man will escape a just judgment: but when God undertakes to be judge, there is the scrip, there is the general accusation, there are the particular proofs, day and date down to hour and moment, and locality down to a footprint, and there is no reply to omniscience.
Now the patriarch turns, as has been his recent wont, to nature—
"And surely the mountain falling cometh to nought, and the rock is removed out of his place. The waters wear the stones: thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man" (Job 14:18-19).
Nature is terrible as well as gracious. What is so monotonous as sunshine? What is so mocking as the fixed stars? We cannot change their temper; we can work no miracle upon their image: there they shine, from century to century, from millennium to millennium. Praise the sun who may, and that he is worthy of praise who will deny, but his is a monotonous friendship. If the clouds did not come to help us we could not bear the sun's fierce love. What if we owe as much to the clouds as to the sun? What if the attempering atmosphere has made the heavens possible as a source of enjoyment? Is there not a great principle of mediation even in nature? Does the sun shine straight upon the earth without anything between? Woe betide the earth then! The poor little handful of soil we call the earth could not live tor a moment it would stagger under the fierce blaze: but there is scattered between the sun and the earth a great intermediary ministry, a mollifying and attempering influence. And is there not a daysman between God and humanity? Is there not what answers to an atmosphere between the Essential Glory and this poor time-space and flesh-life, this mystery of body and soul chained together for one tumultuous hour? Job saw the mountain falling. Mountains do not fall in our country. True: but they do fall in volcanic regions; they fall where earthquakes are almost familiar: there "the rock is removed out of his place." We do not learn everything in our own little land; we must go the world over to learn something of God's method. Here the mountains are firm; yonder they are thrown up as if they were toys in the mighty hands of some player, who trifled with them and made them spin in the air. Here the rocks are emblems of solidity, but where earthquakes are known they are torn out of their places and hurled miles away. And even where there is no violent action of nature, there is a continual process of decay or ruin—"the waters wear the stones." All nature is wearing. Nature is killing, as well as making alive, every moment. The little, gentle, beautiful, soft, plashing water is wearing away the great rocks; the continual dropping of water will wear the stone. What we think gracious is often severe, and what we think severe is often gracious. But Job has fixed his mind upon this great fact—that mountains cannot be relied upon, rocks cannot; be built upon, strong stones cannot be depended upon if there is water near—flowing, active water. Water will get the better of any rock. That which seems to be nothing in comparison will wear the other out, and send the rock flowing down the stream. Job, therefore, gets sight of the severe aspect of nature, and he reasons upward from mountain, and rock, and stone, and things growing out of the dust to man, and says, "Thou destroyest the hope of man": here you have volcanic action, earthquakes tearing out rocks, waters wearing stones, beautiful growths washed away, and a sudden, strange, awful blight falling in blackness upon the hope of the soul. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
What is the meaning of all this as applied to man? The meaning is perpetual overthrow—"Thou prevailest for ever against him." It is man who always goes down; it is the creature who is bowed under the hand of the Creator. O vain man, know this! What canst thou do against God? Why bruise thy poor fingers in thumping upon the eternal granite? Why dare Omnipotence to battle? "Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace"; "we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God"; lay down the arms of rebellion, and cry for quarter from the heavens: thou canst not prevail. Let the tumbling mountain teach thee, and the falling rock be an analogy for thy guidance; yea, let the stones perishing under the water teach thee, and see as the roots are washed out of the earth by the very rains that might have nourished them how terrible may be the providence of God. Say—It is useless to fight against heaven; heaven's weapons are stronger than mine, so are heaven's hands; all the resources of infinity are with God, and I am nothing but a child of dust, and my breath is in my nostrils: I will look unto the hills whence cometh my help, and I will pray to him whom I have too long defied. That would be a wise man's speech made tender by the tears of penitence. Man is always loser when he fights against God. Even when he seems to excel he excites but curiosity. If a man live a hundred years, he is pointed out as a curiosity in nature; attention is drawn to him as one who may have been forgotten as the angels were calling up the population of earth to heaven: he is questioned by curiosity; he is looked at by curiosity; he is written about as a curiosity. Why, ought he not to be set up as one who has defied God, and succeeded? There is a spirit in man which says, This is no triumph against eternal law, this is a curious instance, a rather striking exception: look at him very quickly, for tomorrow he may be gone! There is no successful warring against heaven. "Thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away." There is a displacement of the first image. We say—How changed from what he was when I saw him last! Then there was fire in his eye, there was military dominance in his voice; then he had but to speak, and it was done, within the circle in which he was lord: and now look how decrepit he is: how he falters, how he apologises for every request he makes, how dependent he is upon the meanest of those who are round about him! If he stoop, he cannot raise himself up again; being raised, he cannot stoop without danger. Poor man! how withered in complexion, how deathlike in aspect, how frail altogether! And he once was strong and bright and genial! Nor is this exceptional; this is universal. Such is the lot of every man. About the strongest giant will be said some day: He will never rise again; his life is now a question of moments; the great towering man is laid low, and cannot lift himself into his original attitude. Not only is there a displacement of the first image, but the vanity of family promotion is dead within him. He cares not what becomes of any one. "His sons come to honour, and he knoweth it not." He asks his own sons what their names are; he looks upon his own children with the vacancy of absent ignorance; he asks his own child where he lives now; he asks the younger if he is not the elder, and he mistakes the elder for the younger; and when he is told that his child is now high in society, he asks a question about him upside down, and inflicts upon his honour the stigma of an unconscious irony. "And they are brought low, but he perceiveth it not." He is not even aware that their moral character has gone down; when they use profane language, he cannot discern between such language and the speech of prayer, all language has lost all meaning for him. And all dress and culture and station and name, whether high or low, he cannot tell. And this is man! No, says nature, this is not man: this is but a phase of man; this is but one chapter in the tragedy of man: the issue is not yet Even while man's flesh has pain, "his soul within him shall mourn." There is hope in that very word "mourn." Why mourn? Because all the instincts say, What is to become of us? All the passions of man's nature say, Are we to die? The marvellous power within man that prayed and sang and lived cannot die without protesting against its own murder. Read the soul of man, if you would believe in the immortality of man. Even when man longs to sleep he longs to wake again; even when he says he shall be but as one of the common lot and go down to the ground, he says, Shall I not live again? The very question is an argument; the very inquiry is part of a great process of reasoning: to be able to ask the question is to be able to answer it affirmatively.
Job's Reply to His Three Friends. V.
Now that the case in some measure of completeness is before us, we may profitably consider the history on a larger scale than its merely personal aspect. We have elements enough, in these fourteen chapters, for the construction of a world. We have the good man; the spirit of evil; the whole story of affliction and loss, pain and fear; and we have three comforters, coming from various points, with hardly various messages to be addressed to a desolate heart. Now if we look upon the instance as typical rather than personal, we shall really grasp the personal view in its deepest meanings. Let us, then, enlarge the scene in all its incidents and proportions; then instead of one man, Job, we shall have the entire human race, instead of one accuser we shall have the whole spirit of evil which works so darkly and ruinously in the affairs of men, and instead of the three comforters we shall have the whole scheme of consolatory philosophy and theology, as popularly understood, and as applied without utility. So, then, we have not the one-Job, but the whole world-Job: the personal patriarch is regarded but as the typical man; behind him stand the human ranks of every age and land.
We have little to do with the merely historical letter of the Book of Genesis: we want to go further; we want to know what man was in the thought and purpose of God. The moment we come to printed letters, we are lost. No man can understand letters, except in some half-way, some dim, intermediate sense, which quite as often confuses as explains realities. Yet we cannot do without letters: they are helps—little, uncertain, yet not wholly inconvenient auxiliaries. We want to know what God meant before he spoke a single word. The moment he said, "Let us make man in our image," we lost the solemnity of the occasion,—that is to say, the higher, diviner solemnity. If it had been possible for us to have seen the thought without hearing, when it was a pure thought, without even the embodiment of words,—the unspoken, eternal purpose of God,—then we should understand what is to be the issue of this tragedy which we call Life. It was in eternity that God created man: he only showed man in time, or gave man a chance of seeing his own little imperfect nature. Man is a child of eternity. Unless we get that view of the occasion, we shall be fretted with all kinds of details; our eyes will be pierced and divided as to their vision by ten thousand little things that are without focus or centre: we must from eternity look upon the little battlefield of time, and across that battlefield once more into the calm eternity; then we shall see things in their right proportions, distances, colours, and relations, and out of the whole will come a peace which the world never gave and which the world cannot take away. Hear the great Creator in the sanctuary of eternity; his words are these—"My word shall not return unto me void." What is his "word"? This: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Is that word not to return void to the speaker? That is certainly the decree and oath of the Bible. But how long it takes to work out this sacred issue! Certainly: because the work is great. Learn how great in the idea of God is humanity from the circumstance that it takes long ages to shape and mould and inspire a man with the image and likeness and force of God. The great process is going on; God's word is to be verified and fulfilled; at the last there is to stand up a humanity, faultless, pure, majestic, worthy, through God, to share God's eternity.
Now, as a matter of fact, some men are farther on in this divine line than others are. We have seen the purpose: it is to make a perfect man and an upright; a man that fears God and eschews evil and lives in God; and, as a matter of fact, let us repeat, some men are farther along that ideal line than other men are. As a simple matter of experience, we are ready to testify that there are Jobs, honestly good men, honourable persons, upright souls: men that say concerning every perplexity in life, What is the right thing to be done? what is good, true, honest, lovely, and of good report?—men who ask moral questions before entering into the engagements, the conflicts, and the business of life. And, as a matter of fact, these Jobs do develop or reveal or make manifest the spirit of evil: they bring up what devil there is in the universe, and make the universe see the dark and terrible image. But for these holy men we should know nothing about the spirit of evil. Wherever the sons of God come together we see the devil most patently. We are educated by contrasts, or we are helped in our understanding of difficulties by things which contrast one another: we know the day because we know the night, and we know the night because we know the day. We are set between extremes; we look upon the one and upon the other, and wonder, and calculate, and average, and then make positive and workable conclusions. Why fight about "devil"? There is a far greater word than that about which there is no controversy. Why then fret the soul by asking speculative questions about a personality that cannot be defined and apprehended by the mortal imagination, when there lies before our sight the greater word "evil"? If there had been any reason to doubt the evil, we should have made short work of all controversy respecting the devil. It is the evil which surrounds us like a black cordon that makes the devil possible. In a world in which we ourselves have seen and experienced in many ways impureness, folly, crime, hypocrisy, selfishness, all manner of twisted and perverted motive, why should we trouble ourselves to connect all these things with a personality, speculative or revealed? There are the dark birds of night—the black, the ghastly facts: so long as they press themselves eagerly upon our attention, and put us to all manner of expense, inconvenience, and suffering, surely there is ground enough to go upon, and there is ground enough to accept the existence of any number of evil spirits—a number that might darken the horizon and put out the very sun by their blackness. We might discredit the mystery if we could get rid of the fact. So far, then, we have the purpose of God, the ideal man, the spirit of evil arising to counteract his purposes and test his quality; then we have the whole spirit of consolatory philosophy and theology as represented by Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar. Let us hear what that whole system has to give us:—
Three things, with varieties and sub-sections; but substantially three things. First, Fate. Philosophy has not scrupled to utter that short, sharp, cruel word. Things happen because they must happen: you are high or low, bad or good, fortunate or unfortunate, because there is an operation called Fatalism—severe, tyrannous, oppressive, inexorable. So one comforter comes to tell you that what you are suffering cannot be helped; you must bear it stoically: tears are useless, prayer is wasted breath; as for resignation, you may sentimentalise about it, but as a matter of fact, you must submit. One comforter talks this dark language: he points to what he calls facts; he says, Look at all history, and you will find that men have to sup sorrow, or drink wine out of golden goblets, according to the operation of a law which has not yet been apprehended or authoritatively defined: life is a complicated necessity; the grindstone is turned round, and you must lay yourselves upon it, and suffer all its will—a blind, unintelligent will; a contradiction in terms if you like; a will that never gives any account of itself, but grinds on, and grinds small. That comforter makes his speech, and the suffering world says—No: thou art a miserable comforter: oh that I could state my case as I feel it! continues that suffering world—then all thy talk would be so much vanity, or worthless wind: thou braggart, thou stoic, thou man of the iron heart, eat thine own comfort if thou canst digest steel, and feed upon thy philosophy if thou canst crush into food the stones of the wilderness: thy comfort is a miserable condolence.
Then some other comforter says: The word "Fate" is not the right word; it is cold, lifeless, very bitter; the real word is Sovereignty—intelligent, personal sovereignty. Certainly that is a great rise upon the former theory. If we have come into the region of life, we may come into the region of righteousness. Explain to me, thou Bildad, what is the meaning of Sovereignty: I am in sorrow, my eyes run away in rivers of tears, and I am overwhelmed with bitterest distress,—what meanest thou by Sovereignty? I like the word because of its vitality; I rejected the other speaker who talked of Fate because I felt within me that he was wrong, although I could not answer him in words; but Sovereignty—tell me about that. And the answer is: It means that there is a great Sovereign on the throne of the universe; lofty, majestic, throned above all hierarchies, princedoms, powers; an infinite Ruler; a Governor most exalted, giving to none an account of his way, always carrying out his own purposes whatever man may suffer; he moves with his head aloft; he cares not what life his feet tread upon, what existences he destroys by his onward march: his name is God, Sovereign, Ruler, Governor, King, Tyrant. And the suffering world-Job says, No: there may be a Sovereign, but that is not his character; if that were his character he would be no sovereign: the very word sovereign, when rightly interpreted, means a relation that exists by laws and operations of sympathy, trust, responsibility, stewardship, account, rewards, punishments: be he whom he may who walks from star to star, he is no tyrant: I could stop him on his course and bring him to tears by the sight of a flower; I could constrain him to marvel at his own tenderness: I have seen enough of life to know that it is not a tyrannised life, that it does not live under continual terror; often there is a dark cloud above it and around it, but every now and then it breaks into prayer and quivers into song: No! Miserable comforter art thou, preacher of sovereignty; not so miserable as the apostle of Fate, but if thou hast ventured to call God Tyrant, there is something within me, even the heartthrob, which tells me that thou hast not yet touched the reality, the mystery of this case.
Then another man—Zophar he may be called—says, Not "Fate," not "Sovereignty" as just defined by Bildad, but Penalty,—that is the meaning of thy suffering, O world: thou art a criminal world, thou art a thief, a liar, oft-convicted; thou hast broken every commandment of God, thou hast sinned away the morning and the midday, yea, and at eventide thou hast been far from true and good: world, thou art suffering pains at thine heart, and they are sharp pains; they are God's testimony to thine ill-behaviour; a well-conducted world would have swung for ever and ever in cloudless sunshine; thou hast run away from God, thou art a prodigal world, thou art in a far country in the time of famine, and God has sent hunger to punish thee for thy wantonness and iniquity. And the world-Job says—No: miserable comforters are ye all! There seems to be a little truth even in what the first speaker said, a good deal of truth in what the second speaker revealed to me about sovereignty, and there is an unquestionable truth in what Zophar has said about penalty: I know I have done wrong, and I feel that God has smitten me for my wrong-doing; but I also feel this, that not one of you has touched the reality of the case: I cannot tell you what the reality is yet, but you have left the ground uncovered, you are the victims of your own philosophy, and your own imperfect theology; I rise and at least convict you of half-truths: you have not touched my wound with a skilled hand.
This is the condition of the Book of Job up to this moment; that is to say, within the four corners of the first fourteen chapters—Job the ideal man; Job developing the spirit of evil by his very truth and goodness; men coming from different points with little creeds and little dogmas, and imperfect philosophies and theologies, pelting him with maxims and with truisms and commonplaces; and the man says, "Miserable comforters are ye all": I know what ye have said, I have seen all that long ago; but you have not touched the heart of the case, its innermost mystery and reality; your ladder does not reach to heaven; you are clever and well-skilled in words up to a given point, but you double back upon yourselves, and do not carry your reasoning forward to its final issue. That is so. Now we understand this book up to the fourteenth chapter. We were not surprised to find a Job in the world, a really honest, upright, good man, reputed for his integrity and trusted for his wisdom; that did not surprise us: we were not surprised that such a man should be assaulted, attacked by the spirit of evil, for even we ourselves, in our imperfect quality of goodness, know that there is a breath from beneath, a blast from hell, that hinders the ascent of our truest prayers. And we can believe well in all these comforters as realities; they are not dramatic men, they are seers and traditionalists and lovers of maxims, persons who assail the world's sorrow with all kinds of commonplaces, and incomplete and self-contradictory nostrums and assertions: and we feel that Job is right when he says—I cannot take your comfort; the meat you give me I cannot eat, the water you supply me with is poison: leave me! Oh that I could come face to face with God! He would tell me—and he will yet tell me—the meaning of it all. We need not pause here, because we have the larger history before us, and we know the secret of all. What is it? What was hidden from Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar? What was it these men did not see? They did not see the meaning of chastening, chastisement, purification by sorrow, trial by grief; they did not know that Love is the highest sovereignty, and that all things work together for good to them that love God; that loss is gain, poverty is wealth, that affliction is the beginning of real robustness of soul, when rightly apprehended and fearlessly and reverently applied: "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby"; "Brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations"; "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." That is the real meaning of all the sorrow, allowing such portion of truth to the theory of Sovereignty and Penalty, which undoubtedly inheres in each and both of them. But God means to train us, to apply a principle and process of cultivation to us. He will try us as gold is tried: but he is the Refiner, he sits over the furnace; and as soon as God can discover his own image in us he will take us away from the fire, and make us what he in the far eternity meant to make us when he said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." How all this process of chastening becomes necessary is obvious enough, if we go back into our own hearts, and run our eye over the whole line of our own experience. If we have true light in us we shall have no doubt as to the necessity of this chastening and its meaning. Even God to reach his own ideal had himself to suffer. Is God simply a watching Sovereign, saying, These men must suffer a little more; the fire must be made hotter, the trial must be made intenser: I will watch them in perfect equanimity; my calm shall never be disturbed; the suffering shall be theirs, not mine; I will simply operate upon them mechanically and distantly? That is not the Bible conception of God. This is the Bible conception,—namely, that in working out the ideal manhood, God himself suffers more than it is possible for man to suffer, because of the larger capacity—the infinite capacity of woe. Now we seem to be coming into better ground. How much does God suffer for his human children? We know that he has wept over them, yearned after them, proposed to send his Son to save them, has in reality sent his Son in the fulness of time, born of a woman, born under the law; we know that the Bible declares that the Son of God did give himself up for us all, the just for the unjust, and that Christ, the God-man, is the apostle of the universe; his text is Sacrifice, his offer is Pardon. How much did God suffer? The sublimest answer to that inquiry is—Behold the cross of Christ. If you would know whether God's heart was broken over our moral condition, look at the cross of Christ; if you would understand that God is bent on some gracious and glorious purpose of man-making, behold the cross of Christ. It will not explain itself in words, but it is possible for us to wait there, to watch there, until we involuntarily exclaim, This is no man; this is no malefactor: who is he? Watch on, wait on; read yourself in the light of his agony, and at last you will say, "Truly this man was the Son of God." What is he doing there? Redeeming the world. What is his purpose? To make man in God's image and God's likeness. Then is the process long-continued, stretching over the ages? Yes: he who is from everlasting to everlasting takes great breadths of time for the revelation of his fatherhood and the realisation of all the purposes of his love.
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one."—Job 14:4
The answer is correct, and incorrect.—Everything depends upon the limits within which it is treated.—As regards man, it is impossible for him to change causes or to upset the laws of the universe.—With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.—This is the very thing that God is constantly doing: he is bringing strength out of weakness, purity out of impurity, life out of death; this is the eternal miracle of the divine administration.—It is of infinite importance, however, that man should realise his own helplessness in this matter, otherwise he will never look in the right direction for guidance and succour.—It is something to know that men have discovered beyond all question that to bring a clean thing out of an unclean is impossible.—The text is more than an inquiry; it is also a verdict.—Great importance attaches to these incidental intimations of the results of human inquiry and experience.—If any man had brought a clean thing out of an unclean it would be known, and the example would have been held up as pointing to a law, at least to an occasional possibility, and therefore perhaps to a reality which could be established upon the broadest bases.—But the very inquiry has in it a tone of helplessness.—When, therefore, man is done, God must take up the case, and, let us repeat again and again, it is his glory to do what man cannot do, and to show us that that which is sown in corruption is raised in incorruption, and that which we sow cannot live until it has died.—The Bible is continually upsetting the so-called laws of nature and laws of sequence.—It would seem to be the delight of the spirit of the Bible to make the last first, and the first last, and to confuse all the thinking of the craftiest minds.—The Church of Christ is a clean thing brought out of an unclean.—Every renewed heart is a clean thing brought out of an unclean.—Every generous and noble deed is likewise a clean thing brought out of an unclean.—But the first motive was never in the unclean: as water cannot rise above its own level, neither can depravity: anything, therefore, that is now pure, wise, noble, true, and useful must be credited to the almighty grace of God.—That innumerable hard questions gather around this view of life is evident enough; still we have to deal with the practical end and issue of things, and there we find that even the man himself who does the good deeds is unwilling to ascribe them to the action of his own depraved motive and thought, but willingly accepts the solution that this is the Lord's doing and marvellous in his eyes.—Here the great gospel of salvation may be preached in all its unction and fulness and power.—God makes the tree good, and thus makes the fruit good.—He purifies the fountain, and thus he cleanses the stream.—God does not begin to work from the outside, cleansing the hands; but from the internal life, purifying the heart; then all the rest becomes morally sequential, and illustrative of the miracle that has been wrought within.