For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinks up my spirit…
Job's affliction was sent to him for the trial of an exemplary and unshaken virtue; and because it was sent for that reason only, and not as any mark of Divine displeasure, therefore how great soever the calamity was in another respect, yet was it by no means insupportable, because there still remained to him the great foundation of comfort, in the assurance of a good conscience, and the expectation of God's final favour. He had in his own mind, even in the midst of his affliction, the satisfaction to reflect with pleasure on his past behaviour, and to strengthen his resolutions of continuing in the same course for the future. Though no calamity could well be heavier than that of Job, yet when the disposition of the person comes also to be taken into the act, there is a trouble far greater than his, namely, when the storm falls where there is no preparation to bear it; when the assault is made from without, and within there is nothing to resist it. In other cases, the spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but when the spirit itself is wounded, who can bear it? There is another state, most melancholy and truly pitiable, and that is of those who, neither by the immediate appointment of Providence, as in the case of Job, nor by the proper effect of their own wickedness, as in the case of an evil conscience, but by their own imagination and groundless fears, by indisposition of body and disorder of mind, by false notions of God and themselves, are made very miserable in their own minds. They fancy, though without sufficient reason, that the arrows of the Almighty are within them. Consider the chief occasions of such religious melancholy.
1. Indisposition or distemper of body. This is by no means to be neglected, slighted, or despised: for, as the mind operates continually upon the body, so the body likewise will of necessity influence and operate upon the mind. It is not unusual to see the good understanding even of a reasonable person, borne down and overburdened by bodily disorder. The principal sign by which we may judge when the indisposition is chiefly or wholly in the body is this, that the person accuses himself highly in general, without being able to give any instances in particular; that he is very apprehensive, of he does not well know what; and fearful, yet can give no reason why. The misery is very real, though without good foundation. In such cases all endeavours ought to be used to remove the bodily indisposition.
2. Want of improvement under the exercise of religious duties is complained of. Many piously and well-disposed persons, but of timorous and melancholy constitutions, are under continual apprehensions that they do not grow better, that they make little or no improvement in the ways of religion, and that they cannot find in themselves such a fervent zeal and love towards God, as they think is necessary to denominate them good Christians. If by want of improvement is only meant want of warmth and affection in the performance of their duty, then there is no just ground for trouble of mind upon that account. In the same person there are sure to be different degrees of affection at different times, according to the varying tempers of the body. No man can keep up at all times an equal vigour of mind. Vain suspicions that our obedience proceeds not from a right principle, from a true and unfeigned love of God, are by no means any just cause for uneasiness of mind, provided that we sincerely perform that obedience, by a life of virtue and true holiness.
3. An apprehension of exclusion from mercy by some positive decree and fore-appointment of God. From nature and reason, this apprehension cannot arise. Nor in Scripture is there any foundation for any such apprehension. There may be some obscure texts, which unstable persons may be apt to misinterpret to their own and others disquiet; but surely the whole tenour, design, and aim of Scripture should be the interpreter of particular passages. The plain texts should be the rule by which the obscurer ones are interpreted. It is quite evident that there is no ground in Scripture for any pious person to apprehend that possibly he may be excluded from mercy by any positive decree or fore-appointment of God.
4. The fear of having committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. But distinguish between sin against the Holy Ghost and blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Such blasphemy was the sign of an incurably wicked and malicious disposition. It is quite impossible for any truly sincere and well-meaning person to be guilty of this malignity, or to have any reason of apprehending he can possibly have fallen into it.
5. A cause of much trouble to some is found in wicked and blasphemous thoughts. These are not so much sin as weakness of imagination arising from infirmity of body. They may he only signs of a tender conscience, and of a pious disposed mind.
6. Another cause is the conscience of past great sins, and of present remaining infirmities. Infirmities as weaknesses and omissions, are fully allowed for in the Gospel. Forgiveness of them is annexed to our daily prayers. And sins blotted out, ought to be forgotten by us, as God says they are by Him.
(S. Clarke, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.