I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; justice was my robe and turban.
I. RIGHTEOUSNESS CLOTHES A MAN AS WITH A GARMENT.
1. It covers. If a man has but a good character, we can pardon much else in him. He may be weak, foolish, unfortunate. He may have failed in the world, and have come down to poverty. Yet he is not in rags. A royal robe covers him, and, in the eyes of those who can appreciate true worth, this is the one thing seen about him.
2. It protects. The garment is to keep off the chill winds and damping mists and scorching sun. Righteousness is more than a stout garment. It is a piece of armour - a breastplate, protecting the heart (Ephesians 6:14). When once a man is assured of the integrity of his cause he can look the whole world in the face; he can dare to go through fire and water; he is strong and safe where one with an evil conscience may well tremble and cower.
3. It adorns. This righteousness is not only decent and comforting, like a thick, warm, homespun garment; it is more beautiful than a king's clothing of purple and silk and gold embroidery. There is no beauty so fair as that of goodness.
4. It cannot be hidden. It is not a secret confined to the heart. It must be there first, it must spring from the heart. But it is not hidden within. Character is visible, like a garment worn in the street.
II. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH THUS CLOTHES MUST BE REAL. It is only the perversity of an erroneous theology that could ever make it necessary to utter so obvious a sentence as this. There is a way of referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ as though this dispensed with the necessity of our being ourselves righteous. Surely such a doctrine would be immoral. In what respects could this so-called robe of righteousness be distinguished from the hypocrite's cloak? If Christ's righteousness were only to hide our unrighteousness without curing it, not only would a great deception be practised, but no real good would be done. The result would be an unmitigated evil. For what is our curse and our ruin? Is it not our sin? If so, nothing can benefit us that does not destroy that sin. Therefore an attempt to cover it up and leave it unaltered will do us no good, but will injure us by drugging our conscience and giving us a false assurance. In Eastern cities an open drain runs down the middle of the street, and is not so offensive as one might think, because it is always being oxidized and purified by the fresh air. We cover over our drains, but make ventilating holes in our streets, through which gases of concentrated foulness, unmixed with pure air, are continually rising among the passers-by. Have we gained much?
III. ONLY CHRIST CAN CLOTHE US WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS. Self-righteousness is a delusion. We cannot make ourselves righteous, nor can any law put us right with God. St. Paul demonstrated this in the opening chapters of his Epistle to the Romans. But he also showed that God had given us righteousness in Christ (Romans 3:21, 22). Now, this comes first of all in forgiveness. We are then put in a right relation with God, before we have overcome all the sin that dwells within us. Christ is the promise of our future righteousness. In this way his righteousness means much to us. God cannot be taken in by any fiction. He can only regard us just as we are. But he can treat us for Christ's sake better than we deserve. So through Christ we are placed in right relations with God, and those right relations are the channels through which real righteousness comes into us. - W.F.A.
I put on righteousness.
I. A CARE, AND LOVE, AND ZEAL OF JUSTICE. This is the chief business of the magistrate. "I put on righteousness, and it clothed me." The metaphor of clothing is much used in the Scriptures in this notion as it is applied to the soul, and things appertaining to the soul. We clothe ourselves either for necessity, to cover our nakedness; for security or defence against enemies; or for state and solemnity, for distinction of offices and degrees. Job's words intimate the great love he had unto justice, and the great delight he took therein. And it is the master duty of the magistrate to do justice, and to delight in it. He must make it his chief business, and yet count it his lightsome recreation. Magistrates may learn from the examples of Job, of Solomon, and of Jesus Christ Himself. Justice is a thing in itself most excellent; from it there redoundeth much glory to God; to ourselves so much comfort, and to others so much benefit.
II. COMPASSION TO THE POOR AND DISTRESSED. Men's necessities are many, and of great variety; but most of them spring from one of these two defects, ignorance, or want of skill; and impotence, or want of power: here signified by blindness and lameness. A magistrate can be "eyes to the blind," by giving sound and honest counsel to the simple. He can be "feet to the lame," by giving countenance and assistance in just and honest causes; and "father to the poor," by giving convenient safety and protection to those in distress. The preeminence of magistrates consisteth in their ability to do good and help the distressed, more than others. As they receive power from God, so they receive honours and service and tributes from their people for the maintenance of that power. God hath imprinted in the natural conscience of every man notions of fear, and honour, and reverence, and obedience, and subjection, and contribution, and other duties to be performed towards kings, magistrates, and other superiors. Mercy and justice must go together, and help to temper the one the other. The magistrate must be a father to the poor, to protect him from injuries, and to relieve his necessities, but not to maintain him in idleness. He must make provision to set him on work; and give him sharp correction should he grow idle, dissolute, or stubborn.
III. PAINS AND PATIENCE IN EXAMINATION OF CAUSES. "The cause which I knew not, I searched out." In the administration of justice the magistrate must make no difference between rich and poor, far or near, friend or foe. The special duty imposed on magistrates is diligence, and patience, and care to hear, and examine, and inquire into the truth of things, and into the equity of men's causes. Truth often lieth, as it were, in the bottom of a pit, and has to be found and brought to light. Innocency itself is often laden with false accusations.
IV. STOUTNESS AND COURAGE IN EXECUTION OF JUSTICE. "I brake the jaws of the wicked." Job alludes to savage beasts, beasts of prey; types of the greedy and violent ones of the world. For breaking the jaws of the wicked there is required a stout heart and an undaunted courage. This is necessary for the magistrate's work and for the maintenance of his dignity. Inferences —
1. Of direction; for the choice and appointment of magistrates according to the above four properties.
2. Of reproof; for a just rebuke of such magistrates as fail in any of these four duties.
3. Of exhortation; to those who are, or shall be magistrates, to carry themselves therein according to these four rules.
I. WHAT A PUBLIC BLESSING A GOOD MAGISTRATE IS: a blessing as extensive as the community to which he belongs; a blessing which includes all other blessings whatsoever that relate to this life. The benefits of a just and good government to those who are so happy as to be under it, like health to vigorous bodies, or fruitful seasons in temperate climes, are such common and familiar blessings that they are seldom either valued or relished as they ought to be.
II. THE OUTWARD MARKS OF DISTINCTION AND SPLENDOUR WHICH ARE ALLOTTED TO THE MAGISTRATE. Of these the robe and diadem, mentioned by Job, are illustrations. It was intended thus —
1. To excite the magistrate to a due degree of vigilance and concern for the public good. The magistrate was made great, to inspire him with resolutions of living suitably to his high profession and calling.
2. To secure the magistrate's person, in which the public tranquillity and safety are always involved.
3. To ensure that the magistrate is had in due estimation and reverence by all those who are subject to him. It is in the civil government, as in the offices of religion; which, were they stript of all the external decencies of worship, would not make a due impression on the minds of those who assist at them. The solemnities that encompass the magistrate, add dignity to all his actions, and weight to all his words and opinions.
4. To aid the magistrate to reverence himself. He who esteems and reverences himself will not fail to take the truest methods towards procuring esteem and reverence from others.
III. THE DUTIES OF THE MAGISTRATE. The chief honour of the magistrate consists in maintaining the dignity of his character by suitable actions, and in discharging the high trust that is reposed in him, with integrity, wisdom, and courage. Reputation is the great engine by which those who are possessed of power must make that power serviceable to the ends and uses of government. The rods and axes of princes and their deputies may awe many into obedience; but the fame of their goodness, and justice, and other virtues will work on more; will make men not only obedient, but willing to obey. An established character spreads the influence of such as move in a high sphere, on all around and beneath them. The actions of men in high stations are all conspicuous, and liable to be scanned and sifted. They cannot hide themselves from the eyes of the world as private men can. Great places are never well filled but by great minds; and it is as natural to a great mind to seek honour by a due discharge of a high trust, as it is to little men to make less advantages of it. A good magistrate must be endued with a public spirit, and be free from all narrow and selfish views. He must impartially distribute justice, without respect of persons, interests, or opinions. Courtesy and condescension is another happy quality of a magistrate. Bounty also, and a generous contempt of that in which too many men place their happiness, must come in to heighten his character. Of all good qualities, that which recommends and adorns the magistrate most, is his care of religion; which, as it is the most valuable thing in the world, so it gives the truest value to them, who promote the esteem and practice of it, by their example, authority, influence, and encouragement.
(F. Atterbury, D. D.)
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