"Oh that I knew where I might find Him! that I might come even to His seat." -- Job xxiii.3.
THE Book of Job is a most marvellous composition. Who composed it, when it was composed, or where -- nobody knows. Dante has told us that the composition of the Divine Comedy had made him lean for many a year. And the author of the Book of Job must have been Dante's fellow both in labour and in sorrow and in sin, and in all else that always goes to the conception, and the composition, and the comprehension of such immortal works as the Book of Job and the Divina Commedia.
The worst of it was that job could not find out, with all he could do, why it was that God had so forsaken him. Job had a good and honest heart, and a conscience void of offence both toward God and toward man. With the whole of the Book of Job in our hands, we know what neither Job, nor Eliphaz, nor Bildad, nor Zophar, nor Elihu knew. We have the key of the whole mystery, and the clue of the whole labyrinth, in our hands all the time we read. We see the end from the beginning. We see that Job, in all his terrible trials, was being made a spectacle unto the world, and unto angels, and unto men: a splendid spectacle as it turned out, of patience, and endurance, and humility, and resignation, and faith, and love. But what Job knew not then he knows now, as he stands on the sea of glass, having a harp of God in his hand. "And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are Thy Works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy Ways, Thou King of Saints."
The captivity of Job arose out of God's pure and unchallengeable sovereignty, as we say. God deserted and forsook Job for reasons that were sufficient to Himself, and in which He had no counsellor. It was to silence the scoffs and sneers of Satan: it was to produce a shining example of submission and resignation, and trust in God, that would stand out to the end of time: and it was to perfect all these, and many other graces, in the great patriarch himself that Job was so forsaken of God, and had his faith and his trust in God put to such a terrible test. That was Job's case. But if we are in any such darkness to-day, the likelihood is that our case is not such a mystery: our case is not so deep and unfathomable to us as Job's case was to him. To take a too common case. One here will have lost God, just by "neglecting" Him. In his inward relations with the soul, God, so to speak, does not thrust Himself upon the soul. He -- so we must speak of such things -- He sometimes stands aside, and apart, while persons and things take that possession of the soul which rightly belongs to Him. And, then, after a time, the silly soul comes to itself, and wakens up to see and to feel its bitter loss. "I have neglected Thee," cries out one who has taught many of us how to keep up a close walk with God. "God," says John Donne also, in a great sermon on the same subject, "God is like us in this also, that He takes it worse to be slighted, to be neglected, to be left out, than to be actually injured. Our inconsideration, our not thinking of God in our actions, offends Him more than our sins." "Pardon," cries Bishop Wilson, in his Sacra Privata, "pardon, that I have passed so many days without acknowledging and confessing Thy wonderful goodness to the most unworthy of Thy servants. Preserve in my soul, O God, such a constant and clear sense of my obligations to Thee, that upon every new receipt of Thy favour I may immediately turn my eyes to Him from whom cometh my salvation." Another in his evening prayer in his family says this: "We have fled from Thee seeking us: we have neglected Thee loving us: we have stopped our ears to Thee speaking to us: we have forgotten Thee doing good to us: we have despised Thee correcting us." Thus confess before God Andrewes and Donne and Wilson. Only, -- these are quite exceptional men. And their God has a sensitiveness, and a sensibility, so to call it, toward such men, -- a sensitiveness and a tenderness that He cannot have toward the common run of His people. God comes far nearer to some men than to others: and, then, on their neglect of Him, He goes much farther away from them, and stays away much longer. God's dealings with the commonalty of His people are much more commonplace, conventional, and uneventful than they are with His electest and choicest saints. His relations with them are exquisitely intimate, tender, easily offended, and easily injured. But an example, and an illustration from real life, and that too, among ourselves, will be far more to the purpose than the name of any great saint of other days, and far more worth than any amount of generalisation and description. Conversing the other day with one of my own people, about the life of God in the soul, he took me aside, and told me this. I have his permission to tell it to anyone to whom it may be a blessing to hear it. It was last summer, when our congregation was scattered about, up and down the country, and when some of the home restraints were sitting somewhat loose on some of our people. The first three weeks of his holiday -- he gave me the exact names and dates -- he never had such a close walk with God during all the thirty years -- off and on -- that he has known God. But he had an invitation to spend ten days with one of ourselves: and he set out, so he told me, to keep his engagement, with some misgivings of heart that the visit would be too much for him. But, as it happened, it turned out far worse for him than anything he had anticipated. Such was the company of which the house was full; such were the conversations that were permitted, and encouraged; such were the books that were read, and that were never read; such was the eating and the drinking; and such was the keeping of the Sabbath, that, what with one thing and what with another, he told me that he had read little else but the penitential Psalms and the Book of Job ever since, so exactly does that Book describe his desolate estate to-day. Now, whether it was his too great complaisancy with the secular-minded company; or, whether it was the part he took, or did not take in the conversations; or whether it was the talk about their absent friends, and the fault-finding, and the detraction, of which that house is notoriously full; or whether it was that he had come away and left at home his books and papers, his habits in secret that so help him to keep up his communion with God; or whether it was his miskeeping of the two Sabbaths that he was there, -- he did not particularise to tell me: and his soul was too much in hell already for me to ask. Only, he came and he went; and no one in that crowded house knew any more what was passing in that man's soul, than Job's four friends knew the secret of the Lord with His chastened servant. In ways like these -- in ways that nobody would believe -- men among ourselves also are crying to God night and day in agony: "Oh that I knew where I might find Him! That I might come even to His seat!"
Now, when we set out to seek for anything that we have lost, we do not go gaping about anywhere and everywhere. We go straight to the place where we lost it. We retrace our steps to the exact spot where we wakened up to miss the thing we now value and miss so much. Go back, then, to that sad house where God, in His anger at you, forsook you. On what day? at what hour? On what occasion was it? Was it when you were sitting at table, and forgetting yourself? Was it during that ever-to-be lamented and never-to-be-recalled conversation? Was it at that moment when the golden rule leapt too late into your mind? You would not have believed it beforehand that Almighty God would have descended to take notice of such trifles. That He would have taken a passing indiscretion in eating, and drinking, and conversation, so much to heart! and would have kept it up so long against you, -- you would not have believed it, if you had not yourself experienced it. No! But He has taken you this time out of all men's hands into His own hands. And, on your own admission, He is teaching you a lesson, this time, that you will not soon forget. He will teach you that there is nothing He takes so mighty ill at your hand as just the way you transgress against your brother, and let other men transgress against him when you are his only friend. A new commandment, -- He has said to you at a hundred communion tables, -- that you do to others as you would they did to you. But God does not cast off for ever: all God's people will testify and tell you. No. But you will have to seek Him with many bitter complaints against yourself this time, and with very determined intentions and resolutions for the time to come.
Would you know, then, where you may have any hope to find Him? Would you come this day to His seat? Would you have it again, between Him and you, as it was in months past, and as it was in the days when God preserved you? Well, -- come this way. Try this door. I do not say that you will find Him at your first approach and prayer. You may, or you may not. God is not mocked. God is not to be set aside, and His holy law, just when it suits you and your company. But that being admitted, try this. Deny yourself. "Mortify your members, which are on the earth." Take up your cross daily in that thing concerning which God has had a controversy with you in your conscience secretly ever since. Was it in eating or drinking? Was it in bad temper? Was it in envy and ill-will? Was it in that sweet conversation in which you sat and spoke such unanimous things to the depreciation and damage of your brother? If it was, try this. I have known this work well. I have known it work an immediate miracle. Go straight to your brother to-day: or take pen and ink, and tell him that you have not had a dog's life with God ever since. "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord: and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin."
Is it "even to His seat," then, that you would fain come? Is your cause ready to be "ordered before Him"? And is your mouth "filled with arguments," if you could only come to His seat? Well, know you not where His seat really and truly is? What! Know you not that His seat is within you, -- even within your heart? "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child." It was when Israel was a child that God came down, and sat upon a mercy-seat of pure gold: two cubits and a half was the length of it, and a cubit and a half the breadth of it, with the cherubim stretching forth their wings on high. It was when Israel was still a child that he went up, now to this mountain of Samaria and now to that mountain of Jerusalem, saying, as he went up: "Oh that I knew where I might find Him! That I might come even to His seat!" But, finding fault with those childish days, God has now said, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, and which ye have of God?" And again, -- for ever since the fulness of time our New Testament is full of it, -- "Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart."
At the same time, it is the last thing we are able and willing to do, -- to cease to be children, and to grow up to be men, in the things of God. To learn and know that God is a spirit, and that He dwells not in temples made with hands; but that His true and only temple is the temple of the penitent, contrite, holy and loving heart, -- we are old, and near our end before we learn that. My brethren, be no longer children in understanding; but in understanding be men. Think, my brethren, think. Think your greatest and your best, your most magnificent, your most deep, and inward, and spiritual, about God, and about man, made in the image of God. Think, with all your soul, and heart, and strength, and mind about the Divine Nature. Say of the Divine Nature, -- "Essence beyond essence, essence within essence, essence everywhere, and wholly everywhere." Think and say, -- Maker, Nourisher, Guardian, Governor, Benefactor, and Perfecter of all men and all things. God and Father: King and Lord: Fountain of Life and Immortality. Blessed be the glory of the Lord out of His place. Glory be to Him for His Godhead, His mysteriousness, His height, His depth, His sovereignty, His almightiness, His eternity, His omnipresence, and His grace! Yes, His omnipresence, everywhere present, and wholly present everywhere; but, most of all, and best of all, in the heart of man. It is in the heart of man that God establishes His temple. His high throne is prepared and set up in the heart of man. His holy altars are builded and kindled in the heart of man. The sacrifices that alone please God are offered continually in the heart of man. There, the Holy Ghost ministers in prayer and praise without ceasing, making intercession within us with groanings that cannot be uttered. There also is the golden mercy-seat with the two cherubim above it. And there the Great High Priest speaketh peace, and pronounceth His great Benediction, because He continueth there for ever. Seek thy God, then, in thyself! Oh, ye sons and daughters of captive Job, seek Him whom ye have lost, and seek Him in your own hearts. Come, O prodigal son, come to thyself. Enter into thyself. Enter deep enough into thyself, and thou shalt come unto His seat. For He still sits there, waiting to be gracious there to thee. Oh, what glory! Oh, what grace! Oh, what a God! Oh, what a heart! To have thy God in thine own heart, and to have Him wholly there. Wholly, and not in part; and wholly there for thee. His whole almightiness, His whole grace and truth, His whole redemption, His whole salvation! Arise, then, and enter into God's holy temple. Order your cause before Him there, and fill your mouth with your best arguments there. Till you fall down before Him in your own heart, and say, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee!"
Are you, then, -- by the long-suffering and the grace of God, -- are you one of those who are this day saying, "Even to-day is my complaint bitter: my stroke is heavier than my groaning. Oh that I knew where I might find Him: that I might come even to His seat!" Then seek Him where Job sought Him and at last found Him. Seek Him in a humble, broken, believing heart. Go on seeking Him in a still more, and a still more, humble, broken, believing heart. Seek Him deep enough, and long enough: seek Him with your whole heart; and sooner, or later, you too will find Him. Seek Him like David, seven times a day. Like David also, prevent the night watches and the dawning of the day seeking Him. If need be, die, still seeking Him. And die; saying to Him that, even if He should cast you into your bed in hell, -- warn Him that you will wander about in the outer darkness for ever seeking Him, and saying: Oh that I knew where I might find Him: that I might come even to His seat ! Behold, we count them happy which endure.
Ye have heard of the patience of job.
"And the Lord turned the captivity of Job: . . . and the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning . . . . So Job died, being old and full of days."