To him that is afflicted pity should be showed from his friend; but he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.…
Such is the rendering of the Authorised Version; but, unfortunately, it is a rendering which misses almost entirely the thought of the sacred writer. As a glance at the context will show, the words form a part of Job's complaint against his friends. In the darkest hour of his need, when he was despairing, and ready to faint, when, as he says, he was "forsaking" or "losing his hold of the fear of the Almighty," they had failed him. He had looked to them for kindness, for sympathy, and trust, and lo! they had turned against him; and what he says is this: "To him that is ready to faint, kindness is due from his friend. Even to him that is forsaking the fear of the Almighty." And now, beside this retranslation, set this admirable comment from the pen of one of our most brilliant Old Testament scholars: "How ignored," he says, "this great verse has been! How different were the history of religion if men had kept it in mind! How much sweeter and swifter would the progress of Christianity have proved! The physicians of religious perplexity have too often been Job's comforters; and the souls in doubt who should have been gathered to the heart of the Church, with as much pity and care as the penitent or the mourner, have been scorned, or cursed, or banished, or even put to death." My message is to doubters, to those who are forsaking or losing their hold of the fear of the Almighty. The ministers of the temple of truth, it has been happily said, are of three kinds: first, there are those stationed at the gate of the temple to constrain the passers-by to enter in; secondly, there are those whose function it is to accompany inside all who have been persuaded to enter, and display and explain to them the treasures and secrets of the place; and thirdly, there are those whose duty it is to patrol the temple, keeping watch and ward, and defending the shrine from the attacks of its enemies. It was, I need hardly say, this last duty which, in the providence of God, was assigned to Bishop Butler. With what marvellous vigilance and skill he performed his Divinely appointed task every student of his great work knows full well. "Defences of Christianity" usually become obsolete as rapidly as modern weapons of warfare. There is perhaps no class of literature to which the saying "Every age must write its own books" more literally applies than the literature of Apologetics. Nevertheless, greatly as the lines both of attack and defence have shifted since the days of Butler and the eighteenth century, there are few books in the whole range of religious literature which will so well repay the care of the student today as Butler's great Analogy. "Forty-five years ago," Mr. Gladstone once wrote in a letter to his friend James Knowles, "Bishop Butler taught me to suspend my judgment on things I knew I did not understand. Even with his aid, I may often have been wrong. Without him, I think I should never have been right. And, oh! that this age knew the treasure it possesses in him, and neglects." Without attempting to indicate even in outline the aim and purpose of Butler's work, two or three points may be singled out. for special emphasis:
1. There is one lesson at least which no student of Butler can well fail to learn, namely, to treat serious things seriously. From his youth up Butler had been accustomed to meditate deeply on some of the greatest problems of life and religion. The search after truth, he tells us, he had made the business of his life. And it wounded him to the quick to hear men, who had given scarce as many days as he had given years to thinking about Christianity, calmly assuming it to be false, and with a light heart proclaiming to all the world that there was "nothing in it." That a man should be compelled, reluctantly and sorrowfully compelled, to relinquish his old faith, and to sever the ties that bound him to his past — that Butler could understand. But that any man could witness the discrediting of Christianity with something like a chuckle of satisfaction and delight, filled him with amazement. Yes, Butler is very serious, "serious," it has been well said, "as a gamester, serious as a physician with life and death hanging on the clearness of his thoughts and the courage of his resolve, serious as a general with a terrible and evenly balanced battle on his hands." And is not this a temper which we need more and more to cultivate today in our handling of the great questions of religion? There is something truly heartrending in the fashion in which nowadays men will suffer themselves to reason about religion, cheerfully indifferent to the magnitude of the issues at stake. Christianity may be true, Christianity may be false; at least do not let us treat it as though its truth or falsity no more concerned us than the truth or falsity of a mathematical proposition. Let us realise what Christianity is, what it has done, what it is doing, before we strive to discredit its message to men. For, remember, if Christianity be destroyed, it will not mean simply that one star has faded from the firmament above us; it will mean that the sun has gone forever from our sky.
2. My next point will bring us into closer grips with our subject. Let me remind you, still following Butler's guidance, that intellectual difficulties may be for some of us a necessary part of our probation. I do not mean that this, even supposing it to be true, is sufficient to dispose of our difficulties. But it may help us to look upon them more calmly, more reasonably, if we can learn to think of them as our part in the vast and complex moral discipline which God has appointed for the perfecting of His children on earth. It is not unreasonable to conclude, as Butler does, that "what constitutes, what chiefly and peculiarly constitutes, the probation of some may be the difficulties in which the evidence of religion is involved; and their principal and distinguished trial may be how they will behave under and with respect to these difficulties." Temptation, we know, assails every man; but the methods of the tempter are manifold. Some are tempted to covetousness, some to indulgence of the flesh, some to quick and angry speech, some to sullen gloom and moroseness. But for some among us God has willed it that our testing shall come in the uncertainties and doubts which crowd in upon our minds whensoever we contemplate Him and His truth. As the hammer's stroke on the metal plate reveals the hidden flaw, so in our intellectual trials does God make proof of us. He discovers our pride, He lays bare our insincerity, He tests our love of truth, the moral soundness of our whole being. Blessed, thrice blessed, is he whose life rings true under that all-revealing stroke.
3. It may be, however, this is a line of argument which does not appeal to us. Then let us, still following Butler's guidance, seek the help we need by yet another path. Is not the root of most of the things which are objected against Christianity, and consequently of most of our difficulties in regard to it, in the limitations of our knowledge? And is it not the frank recognition of these limitations which is needed, perhaps above everything else, to win back for us our lost peace of mind? Some of you will remember the quiet scorn which Butler pours upon those who, as he says, "are weak enough to think they are acquainted with the whole course of things." "Let reason be kept to," he goes on; "and, if any part of the Scripture account of the redemption of the world by Christ can be shown to be really contrary to it, let the Scripture, in the name of God, be given up; but let not such poor creatures as we go on objecting against an infinite scheme, that we do not see the necessity or usefulness of all its parts, and call this reasoning." We ask questions which no man can answer, questions to which Christ Himself has given us no answer, and then we murmur because the heavens are silent to our cry. Who will solve for us the grievous mystery of pain? Why is nature "red in tooth and claw"? Why do little children die? Why is all our life so full of griefs and graves? "My God, my God, why — ?" Questions like these are naked swords, which pierce the hand that strives to grasp them. Men will meet, said an old Greek, with many surprises when they are dead; and perhaps, adds one of our modern thinkers, one will be the recollection that when we were here we thought the ways of Almighty God so easy to argue about.
4. But, if this is so, if, indeed, we know so little, how, it may be asked, is it possible to come to a decision at all? Press the argument from our ignorance to its logical conclusion, and what does it spell but intellectual suspense, the paralysis of action? What in the long-run is Butler's doctrine but just so much grist to the agnostic's mill? But to argue thus is to forget what Butler himself is careful to point out, namely, that our knowledge, though limited, is real. "We know in part," but we know; "we see in a mirror darkly," but we see. "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" — not more than that, but also not less than that; not light everywhere, for even revelation does not solve all questions, but light on my path, light to walk by. Many things are dark, but some at least are clear, and we can begin with these. Is not goodness the principal thing? Is not man's duty to follow after goodness, the highest goodness which is known to him? "We needs must love the highest when we see it." And is not this highest goodness incarnate for us in Jesus Christ? Therefore, whatever else is dark, it must be right to follow Christ. Keep the things that perplex, and perhaps confound you, in their right place. Do not let them blind you to your first and plainest duty. After all, we are under no necessity to have a definite answer for every question which the restless wit of man can frame. Concerning many of them, it does not matter whether we have any opinion or not; neither if we have are we the better nor if we have not are we the worse. These things can wait. That which ought not to wait, which with many of us has waited far too long already, is our decision to yield ourselves to Christ. Once more I say, Whatever else is dark, it must be right to follow Christ.
(G. Jackson, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: To him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend; but he forsaketh the fear of the Almighty.