Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Lo, mine eye hath seen all this, mine ear hath heard and understood it.Job 13:5
Great talkers do not at all speak from their having anything to say, as every sentence shows, but only from their inclination to be talking. Their conversation is merely an exercise of the tongue: no other human faculty has any share in it It is strange these persons can help reflecting, that unless they have in truth a superior capacity, and are in an extraordinary manner furnished for conversation; if they are entertaining it is at their own expense. Is it possible, that it should never come into people's thoughts to suspect, whether or no it be to their advantage to show so very much of themselves? O that you would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom.
As for the conceit that too much knowledge should incline a man to atheism, and that the ignorance of second causes should make a more devout dependence upon God, which is the first Cause; first, it is good to ask the question which Job asked of his friends: Will you lie for God, as one man will do for another, to gratify Him? For certain it is that God worketh nothing in nature but by second causes: and if they would have it otherwise believed, it is mere imposture, as it were, in favour towards God; and nothing else but to offer to the author of truth the unclean sacrifice of a lie.
—Bacon, The Advancement of Learning.
Wise men, in their despair of accounting for the origin of evil, have been driven to deny its existence in theories too thin to cheat any heart that has been pierced yet enlightened by its sharp reality, and pious men, falling into the snare which Job's integrity declined, have spoken lies for God and argued deceitfully for Him. Hence dreams like that of optimism, fictions, such as that of evil being but the privation of good.
Dr. John Duncan once said that this was 'about the boldest utterance in the Bible. Job says that his friends were partial to God—that they did not judge impartially between him and God. There is a wonderful peace in a good conscience.'
Faith Tried and Triumphing
Job was a master sufferer. This was not the utterance of any ordinary commonplace believer. It is the sort of word which could only come from a triumphant Job—triumphant by victorious faith.
I. Faith is the habitual grace of the Christian. The common habit of the Christian is a habit of trusting. The Christian's walk is faith, and his life is faith. It is to him all the spiritual senses, his first and his last, his highest and his lowest We trust for the pardon of our sins to our God in Jesus Christ, but in God we trust also for the purification of our spirits from all the indwelling power of sin. We trust Him believing that He always must be just, believing that God will never do anything to us but that which is full of love.
II. Those who have learned to trust in God expect their faith to be tried. The text evidently implies that faith will be tried, and tried severely, but true faith scorns trial and outlives it. The trial is greatly for our good and greatly for God's glory. The Christian lives by faith, and he expects the faith to be tried.
III. True faith, put on trial, will certainly bear it Faith will be justified to the uttermost. We ought to trust Him also to the last, because outward providences prove nothing to us about God. We cannot read outward events correctly; they are written in hieroglyphics. The book of God is readable; it is written in human language; but the works of God are often unreadable. There is another cause why we should always trust in Him. To whom else can we go? We are shut up to this. The course of the Christian's life is such that he feels it more necessary to trust every day he lives. And we may depend upon it God will always justify our faith if we do trust Him. The text means that we surrender all to God, even as Job did. If we say the text, it will take a good deal of saying, and if it is true, it will want the power of God Himself to make it true.
—C. H. Spurgeon, Grace Triumphant, p. 300.
Faith and Character
He only is strong who is strong in God, and he who is strong in God rises superior to all the 'circumstances of human life'. In the text is locked the secret of Job's life, a secret we much need, if it can be discovered.
I. The first lesson we may learn is that the trials of life reveal character and demonstrate the quality and value of our past training. Job was not less religious because his property had gone; not less sincere when socially overthrown; neither did he cease to pray when he ceased to be rich. We shall do well to remember in this connexion that character is not formed by one act or one effort. The discipline of years is essential to growth and strength. Men speak sometimes of "rising to the occasion,' and some would have us believe that Job 'rose to the occasion,' when he declared his faith and attitude of which our text speaks. My reply is that he reached the lofty altitude of courage and faith not in a day, but by the prayer and culture of the past years.
II. The second lesson that we need to learn is that the child of God walks by faith, and not by sight Job's trust was not in externals, but in the internal; not the seen, but the unseen. Possessions gone, children gone, friends gone, yet he says: 'The Lord gave, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord'. That was faith, not sight.
III. The value of temptation and of faith. The value of the trial is seen in its driving Job back to first principles and elementary truths. He saw the insignificance of the outward and the importance of the unseen. When he lost the material treasures, he learned the value of an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, which fadeth not away. What of the value of faith? There is one word, and only one is necessary, the word deliverance. Job was delivered! It was a great storm, but he came safely through. Not lost, but saved and purified.
—F. Sparrow, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXIII. 1908, p. 372.
The Calvinist would declare that if we really understood the universe of which humanity is a part, we should find scientific justification for that supreme and victorious faith which cries, 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him!' The man who has acquired such faith as this is the true freeman of the universe, clad in stoutest coat of mail against disaster and sophistry,—the man whom nothing can enslave, and whose guerdon is the serene happiness that can never be taken away.
—John Fiske, Through Nature to God, p. 21.
In Caroline Fox's journals for 1841 (7 May), there is the following note of conversation with John Sterling: 'Much discourse on special providences, a doctrine which he totally disbelieves, and views the supporters of it as in the same degree of moral development as Job's comforters. Job, on the contrary, saw further; he did not judge of the Almighty's aspect towards him by any worldly afflictions or consolations; he saw somewhat into the inner secret of His providence, and so could say, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him". We must look for the hand of His providence alike in all dispensations, however mysterious to us.'
Why do ye complain of waters going over your soul, and that the smoke of the terrors of a wrathful God do almost suffocate you and bring you to death's brink? I know that the fault is in your eyes, not in Him. It is not the rock that fleeth and moveth, but the green sailor.... Now, give God as large a measure of charity as ye have of sorrow. Now, see faith to be faith indeed, if ye can make your grave betwixt Christ's feet, and say, Though He should slay me, I will trust in Him.
When Job said, Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him, no wealth could enrich him after that. He had reached his climax.
Probably no one can make sacrifices for 'right,' without in some degree personifying the principle of right for which the sacrifice is made, and expecting thanks from it. Complete social unselfishness, in other words, can hardly exist; complete social suicide hardly occurs to a man's mind. Even such texts as Job's 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him,' or Marcus Aurelius's 'If gods hate me and my children, there is a reason for it,' can least of all be cited to prove the contrary. For beyond all doubt Job revelled in the thought of Jehovah's recognition of the worship after the slaying should have been done; and the Roman Emperor felt sure the Absolute Reason would not be all indifferent to his acquiescence in the gods' dislike. The old test of piety, 'are you willing to be damned for the glory of God?' was probably never answered in the affirmative except by those who felt sure in their heart of hearts that God would 'credit' them with their willingness.
—Prof. William James, Textbook of Psychology, p. 193.
References.—XIII. 15.—E. A. Askew, Sermons Preached in Greystoke Church, p. 68. J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iv. p. 117. XIII. 22.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1255.
The Knowledge of Sin
How is the knowledge of sin to be attained?
I. It is the Province of the Holy Ghost—And first, we must lay it down absolutely to be the province of the Holy Ghost He, and He alone, ever shows a man his sins. No natural process, no early teaching, no careful training, no preaching, no experience of human nature, no knowledge of the world, will ever do it. Therefore Christ spoke of it as the Spirit's great first office, 'When He is come, He will reprove the world of sin'.
II. By the Word.—But under this great Illuminator of the soul, and Detector of all hidden things, what are the means? The Word. But the Word divides itself for this purpose into two parts. There is the law: 'By the law is the knowledge of sin'. So St. Paul found the knowledge of sin. He found it in the tenth commandment. The tenth commandment relates rather to a state of mind than to a state of life. A ray of the Spirit falling upon the tenth commandment showed this to St. Paul, and led him into the line of thought, that as it was with the tenth commandment, so it must be with all the commandments of God—that they are spiritual, and have reference to an inward condition of heart. And so he writes the narrative of his own discovery of sin: 'I had not known sin but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet'. The law becomes the schoolmaster, which, convincing us of sin, loads, or rather drives us to Christ. But then the Word is not only law, still more, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the Word. The more you know of the Lord Jesus Christ, the more you will know, and the more you will be miserable in the knowledge of your own sins. With the knowledge of God's mercy comes and goes, rises and falls, ebbs and flows, the knowledge, the abhorring knowledge of sin.
III. What Shall You Do?
(a) Pray for more light to be thrown upon the recesses of your dark heart, till the stains stand out clear in the sunshine, which were not seen in the shadow.
(b) Leave generalities and deal with some one particular sin that has got great power over you.
(c) Think of the holiness of God till all that is unlike Him begins to look dark, and you yourself very dark, because very unlike God, and heaven.
(d) Believe in the love of Jesus to you. It was in the sight of a great miracle of mercy that St. Peter cried out, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord'; but it was under the very falling of the pity of Christ's loving eye that Peter 'went out and wept bitterly'.
References.—XIII. 23.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 336. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (6th Series), p. 9.
God's Use of Sin
One of the commonest ideas regarding sin, at the present time, is that when once done, it is also done with. Half the human race persist in viewing sin as no more than a conventional name applied by religious people to the minor slips of life's journey, mere blunders and peccadilloes scarcely worth mentioning, which anyhow leave no trace behind them. They would stare at the suggestion that sin becomes a living bit of ourselves. If some bad habit, like cheating or vanity or drunkenness, begins to get the upper hand, and too much obtrudes its presence, they imagine that there is no more difficulty in dropping it out of the character quietly than when a train shunts a heated wagon into a siding. Only speak the word, and the power of the past is broken.
Let me speak of four ways in which God makes us to inherit our iniquities. They are closely bound up with each other, but we may consider them briefly in separation.
I. Our sins come back on us as bitter memories. These bad deeds or thoughts leave poisoned wounds; they leave stains that burn as well as soil; even if there were no God, still we should feel them a disgrace to manhood. And perhaps of all the feelings that visit the human heart none is sadder than the helplessness with which we behold time flowing on resistlessly, bearing with it into the past wrongdoing we can never now set right.
I. Our sins come back on us as disqualifying infirmities. It is common knowledge that a man may so live that he becomes unfit for certain kinds of delicate and important work; his hand shakes, his eyesight deteriorates, and he has to step down in the scale of industry, and adopt some lower form of employment. Never more in this world, perhaps, will he be fit for his old business. Now the same thing may happen in the moral and spiritual life. Sin may be pardoned, while yet punishment remains. 'Thou wast a God that forgavest, but Thou tookest vengeance on their inventions.' Moses, for his sin, had to lie down in a lonely grave outside the Promised Land, after one look at the country others were entering. David, because of his blood-stained hands, was refused permission to build God's temple. So, like these men, we may shut ourselves out by sin from certain fields of usefulness or enjoyment.
III. Once more, our sins come back as guilty burdens. Time never wears out sin's guilt. Today in the Egyptian sands they are finding manuscripts two thousand years old; and when the skilled expert pours the reagent over the papyrus surface the old writing stands out again, bold and clear; and God can do that with a human soul. He can give the startled conscience a telescopic and a microscopic power which makes past sins present and small sins great.
IV. Lastly, our sins come back as motives to seek God's mercy. And here at last we light upon the hidden purpose operating in all the other uses God makes of our transgressions. For remember the most important thing about sin is not its power of embittering memory, or its disqualifying consequences, or even its burden of guilt; the most important thing about sin is this, that it can be forgiven. The prodigal son had been dissolute and reckless; but then the prodigal son had a father. That changed all the outlook. There are two wrong ways of regarding sin, levity and despair; the one declaring that forgiveness is unnecessary, the other protesting that forgiveness is impossible, and that we have no choice but to carry our burden to the end without hope or relief. And the one right way is just trustful penitence, just coming back to God, like the lad in the parable, and saying, 'Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son'.
—H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God's Plan, p. 212.
Reference.—XIV. 1.—Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 70.
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.
But ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value.
O that ye would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom.
Hear now my reasoning, and hearken to the pleadings of my lips.
Will ye speak wickedly for God? and talk deceitfully for him?
Will ye accept his person? will ye contend for God?
Is it good that he should search you out? or as one man mocketh another, do ye so mock him?
He will surely reprove you, if ye do secretly accept persons.
Shall not his excellency make you afraid? and his dread fall upon you?
Your remembrances are like unto ashes, your bodies to bodies of clay.
Hold your peace, let me alone, that I may speak, and let come on me what will.
Wherefore do I take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in mine hand?
Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.
He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him.
Hear diligently my speech, and my declaration with your ears.
Behold now, I have ordered my cause; I know that I shall be justified.
Who is he that will plead with me? for now, if I hold my tongue, I shall give up the ghost.
Only do not two things unto me: then will I not hide myself from thee.
Withdraw thine hand far from me: and let not thy dread make me afraid.
Then call thou, and I will answer: or let me speak, and answer thou me.
How many are mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin.
Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and holdest me for thine enemy?
Wilt thou break a leaf driven to and fro? and wilt thou pursue the dry stubble?
For thou writest bitter things against me, and makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth.
Thou puttest my feet also in the stocks, and lookest narrowly unto all my paths; thou settest a print upon the heels of my feet.
And he, as a rotten thing, consumeth, as a garment that is moth eaten.