Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. ARGUMENT: INTRODUCTION. (Vers. 2-6.) Eliphaz, as the oldest and most experienced of the friends, seeks to abash and humiliate Job by raising doubts of his sense and wisdom.
1. The characteristics of unwisdom are indulgence in windy words - in "words from the paunch" the seat of wild and ungovernable passion, as constructed with words that are uttered from the heart (Job 8:10), and are those of experience, sense, and truth; in words that are useless because there are no corresponding deeds. Here is a good test of the value of speech - Has it any tendency to bear fruit in deeds? can it be followed up and expressed in deeds or no? Those words are vain on which we dare not set the stamp and seal of action.
2. Proofs of guilt. These wild speeches are not only idle, but worse, mischievous. The tongue is a powerful agent' either of good or evil. It builds up those who listen in faith and goodness, or loosens the root of piety in the soul. Further, the tongue may be used as the weapon of the crafty - a disingenuous means of defence. And does not this show that Job is utterly corrupt; that, like an unprincipled scoundrel, he would attempt to clear himself by throwing blame on others?
II. HUMILIATING CENSURES. (Vers. 7-13.)
1. Ironical rebuke of his assumption Is he the first-born man - older than the hills? Does he stand at the head of mankind, and, therefore, know better than all his fellows? So Ezekiel satirizes the King of Tyre, "Thou stalest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty" (Ezekiel 28:12). The Hindus have a proverb used in the same sense, "Yea, indeed, he is the first man; no wonder that he is so wise." The great Greek sage, on the other hand, being declared the wisest of men, interpreted the oracle as meaning that h-e alone of men knew that he was ignorant. It is better to place one's self on a level with the meanest and the most ignorant than to assume superiority in matters about which all men may reasonably think themselves equally well informed.
2. Expostulation against a bitter temper. It is a temper that will not soften at the word of comfort, as the rock will not melt in the sun. Eliphaz thinks that all his good instruction and consolation have been lavished in vain upon this obdurate heart. The "refusing to be comforted," the obstinate nourishing of grief, is a temper that must be changed, otherwise the mental view cannot become clear and calm. Other signs of temper are pride; the heart carried away by its passionate egotism; the gleaming or rolling eyes (ver. 12), and the unbridled wildness of the tongue. These symptoms prove a disease, and that disease is self-will.
III. THE RIGHT OF COMPLAINT AGAINST GOD DENIED. (Vers. 14-16.) Here the speaker repeats himself, for he has nothing more deeply impressed upon his own mind than the folly and impatience of complaints from infirm man against the supreme and all-holy One (comp. Job 4:17 - 5:7).
1. The hereditary taint in man (ver. 14).
2. The relative impurity of heavenly beings in the sight of God.
3. Man's choice of sin (this is especially emphatic here).
All these considerations show the impiety of daring to question any action of God. Man has a thirst for sin (ver. 16): shall such a creature, from the edge of its muddy pool, lift itself presumingly against Heaven?
IV. DEMAND FOR ATTENTION TO INSTRUCTION. (Vers. 17-19.) In this short preface the wisdom of the speaker is described as
(1) derived from personal experience;
(2) confirmed by ancient tradition;
(3) as pure, unadulterated wisdom,
coming from a time when foreign opinions and foreign manners had not corrupted the simplicity of ancient truth. - J.
I. THE INCONGRUITY OF WORDS OF FOLLY PROCEEDING FROM THE LIPS OF THE WISE. All may reasonably hope that he who is tutored with knowledge, and who has accustomed himself to direct his knowledge to good ends, will speak only words of truth and soberness - words trustworthy and useful. For one known to be wise, or professing to be wise, to use words of foolishness is an utter incongruity. The speech is the expression of the soul. Out of the heart the mouth speaketh. The world has need of wisdom - need of its salt - to save it from the corruptions of error and folly. "Should a wise man utter vain knowledge?" It is inconsistent; it is misleading; it is destructive.
II. THE PRECIOUSNESS OF THE WORDS OF HIM WHO TRULY SPEAKETH WISDOM. To assume the position of the teacher, to dare to guide the ignorant, to set up one's self as a ruler in the world of thought, is to assume a position of the highest possible importance. Knowingly or unknowingly, the world is led by the words of its teachers, good or bad. The souls of men are in the hands of the teacher. His words lead to life or death. The bulk of men are ignorant and timid, and therefore under the control of the stronger minds. The world's sad history proves that men, like a flock of sheep, may be led into any path by their teachers. The dry and arid sands will not keep the feet of the sheep from following their leader and shepherd, nor will the rugged and stony ground. The world is led by the ears. How precious, then, to the world are words of true wisdom! Truly the feet of him who publisheth peace, and bringeth good tidings, are beautiful. The world is more indebted to its teachers of wisdom than to its chieftains in valour. Error binds men in chains; but words of wisdom, which are words of truth, set them free.
III. THE TRULY WISE MAN IS HE WHO DOTH NOT "REASON WITH UNPROFITABLE TALK," AND WITH WHOSE SPEECHES IT CANNOT BE SAID, "HE CAN DO NO GOOD." He is truly wise who, with words which he has good reason to believe are wise words, seeks to lead the world in paths of safety - paths of light, joy, and blessing. Let the man be judged by his words, and by his words condemned before the universal bar. Let the world cast its uttermost condemnations on him who by false words leads the unsuspecting fool into the path of peril; but let the world gather its garlands for him who with wise words proves himself to be wise, and leads the feet of men into the way of life. To be able to do good by speech is a great endowment; to be faithful in the use of right speech is to be truly wise, and a wise word is a word of life. - R.G.
I. THE EVIL OF RESTRAINING PRAYER. However it may be brought about, there cannot be two opinions of the evil of this course of action. It may be said that we need not pray because God knows what we require without our telling him - knows it even better than we know it ourselves. The answer to this excuse or difficulty is that the object of prayer is not to add to God's information, but to commit our needs to him.
1. We lose what God gives in response to prayer. He expects us to entrust ourselves to him. He has bidden us seek his face (Psalm 27:8). Christ has told us to ask, that we may receive (John 16:24). St. James explains that we "have not" sometimes just "because we ask not" (James 4:2).
2. We miss the spiritual blessedness of prayer. The chief good of prayer is not in the gifts it calls down from heaven, but in the very exercise itself. It is a greater blessing than any of the things that it is the means of bringing to us. To be in communion with God is better than to receive any favours from God.
"Prayer is the Christian's vital breath." Restraining prayer is the soul holding its breath. This must end in death. Even when it is not complete, the stifling of the spiritual activities must result. II. THE CAUSES OF RESTRAINING PRAYER. 1. Whatever leads to unbelief. This was Eliphaz's thought, though he misapplied it, for he imagined that Job's extravagant utterances would discourage men's faith in religion and in the efficacy of prayer. But the truth is that the dreary formalism, the dismal orthodoxy which clung to antiquity and ignored spiritual instincts, the harsh uncharitableness that killed the spirit of religion while defending the name of it, were the greater hindrances to faith. When faith is thus hindered prayer freezes on our lips. 2. Worldly living. Some men are too busy to find time for prayer. But Luther is repotted to have said he had so much to do that he could not afford less than four hours a day for prayer, regarding prayer as the secret of strength for work. It is possible to be much in prayer, however, without giving a long time to acts of devotion; for prayer is inward and spiritual. It is not the occupation of one's time, but the ensnaring of one's heart with worldly things, that restrains prayer. 3. Sin. The penitent sinner may and will pray, casting himself on the mercy of God. Christ's model of the prayer that is acceptable to God is the cry of the penitent, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." But sin harboured and loved completely crushes the spirit of prayer. No man can really pray who will not renounce his sin. Of course, it is possible to cry out selfishly for some gift from God. But the real prayer, which is communion with God, must be repressed and restrained by sin, because sin is separation from God. - W.F.A.
II. THE CAUSES OF RESTRAINING PRAYER.
1. Whatever leads to unbelief. This was Eliphaz's thought, though he misapplied it, for he imagined that Job's extravagant utterances would discourage men's faith in religion and in the efficacy of prayer. But the truth is that the dreary formalism, the dismal orthodoxy which clung to antiquity and ignored spiritual instincts, the harsh uncharitableness that killed the spirit of religion while defending the name of it, were the greater hindrances to faith. When faith is thus hindered prayer freezes on our lips.
2. Worldly living. Some men are too busy to find time for prayer. But Luther is repotted to have said he had so much to do that he could not afford less than four hours a day for prayer, regarding prayer as the secret of strength for work. It is possible to be much in prayer, however, without giving a long time to acts of devotion; for prayer is inward and spiritual. It is not the occupation of one's time, but the ensnaring of one's heart with worldly things, that restrains prayer.
3. Sin. The penitent sinner may and will pray, casting himself on the mercy of God. Christ's model of the prayer that is acceptable to God is the cry of the penitent, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." But sin harboured and loved completely crushes the spirit of prayer. No man can really pray who will not renounce his sin. Of course, it is possible to cry out selfishly for some gift from God. But the real prayer, which is communion with God, must be repressed and restrained by sin, because sin is separation from God. - W.F.A.
I. BY CONFESSION.
1. The duty. This is the most obvious and direct method of self-condemnation, and it is the most honourable. It is shameful to sin, but it is more shameful to deny our guilt and try to hush up our evil-doing. There is something manly in daring to own one's own wrong deeds. It would be better if we could do it more among men, confessing our faults one to another (James 5:16). It is absolutely necessary that we should do it to God. Confession is the first condition of forgiveness.
2. The difficulty. Now, this confession is by no means so easy as it appears before we have attempted it for ourselves. Not only is there pride to be overcome and the fear of obloquy to be mastered, but the subtle self-deceit of the heart must be conquered. For we are always tempted to plead excuses and extenuating circumstances. Yet no confession is worth anything that keeps hack part of the guilt. Confession must be frank, unreserved, whole-hearted, or it will run into hypocrisy. It is better not to confess our sins at all than to try to make them appear in a good light. The true attitude of penitence is one of utter self-abandonment, one of profound self-abasement.
II. BY ACCUSING OTHERS. Thus Eliphaz thought Job condemned himself by trying to bring a charge against God, and at the same time Eliphaz succeeded m condemning himself by accusing Job. The beam is never so visible in our own eye as when we are attempting to remove the mote from our brother's eye. A censorious spirit brings a person into odious notoriety and invites criticism. He should be well able to stand a searching cross-examination who enters the witness-box against his neighbour. But further, the very spirit of censoriousness is evil, and the exhibition of such a spirit is self-condemnatory. While we condemn our brother for unorthodoxy, our very spirit and action condemn us for want of charity - a much greater fault.
III. BY ALL OUR SPEAKING. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." We cannot be long with a person without some of his true character revealing itself. Men are not such inscrutable enigmas as they flatter themselves with being. The general conversation must reflect the normal tone of the life. Particular deeds of wickedness may be hidden in impenetrable silence, but the evil heart from which they spring cannot be thus hidden. Therefore we are to be judged by every idle word (Matthew 12:36) - not because careless speech is a great sin, but because our unreflecting language reveals our true selves. It is the straw that shows the set of the current. - W.F.A.
I. WHEN THE FAULT IS WITH THE CONSOLER. It is very difficult to offer true consolation. Too often we only chafe the sore which we would soothe, and hurt when we think to heal. Where is the cause of failure?
1. A false assumption. Eliphaz assumes that he and his friends have been bringing to Job the consolations of God, whereas they have been doing nothing of the kind. Their hard doctrine of exact, temporary retribution is not true, and it could not have come from God. Truth is the first requisite in all speech and counsel. It is a common error to confound man's notions with God's truth. Very often the protest which we take to be a rejection of the gospel is only urged against our unworthy presentation of it. The failure of people to receive the truth of Christ is frequently due to the ugly and odious ideas of man with which that truth is confused.
2. A mistaken judgment. Job could not accept the well-meant consolations of the three friends because they implied that he was a great sinner, and called him to repent of what he knew he should not have been credited with doing. The injustice of the charge soured the consolation, and its balm was turned to bitterness. We must learn to understand men if we would help and comfort them.
3. An unsympathetic method. The three friends did not appreciate Job's sufferings; therefore he could not appreciate their consolations. Sympathy is the most essential ingredient of comforting influences. Until we can feel with the sufferer, all our attempts to aid him will be but bungling failures. The Divine Spirit is the great Comforter, because he enters our hearts and lives with intelligence and sympathy.
II. WHEN THE FAULT IS WITH THE SUFFERER.
1. Impenitence It might have been as Eliphaz had supposed, and in some cases it is so, and then the guilty man excludes the Divine consolations by refusing to confess his sins. So long as the sinner declines to admit his guilt he cannot receive God's comfort. The grace of God is sufficient for all the needs of all his children, and yet none of it is effective with his disobedient and unrepentant children.
2. Rebellion. Possibly no great sin has been committed, and no great guilt incurred, and still the attitude of the sufferer towards his God may exclude consolation. He must submit in order to be comforted. Resignation is a condition of Divine consolation. When the wind is opposed to the tide, it tears off the crests of the waves and flings them about in wild spray; whereas when wind and tide flow together, the great rollers run smoothly on to the beach. It is our rebellion against the tide of providence that tears our life and makes its bitterest agony. When we have learnt to say, "Thy will be done," our harmony with God's will smooths down the height of the trouble and prepares for the Divine peace.
3. Unbelief. Until we can trust God his consolation seems small to us. It is not valued till it is tried. Unbelief minimizes grace. According to our faith is the blessing, great or small. - W.F.A.
I. WE ARE LED BY OUR HEARTS.
1. The inner life. All life flows outward from hidden, deep-seated springs, as the Jordan at Banias bursts out of the cave of Pan beneath Mount Hermon, a full river, whose secret origin is too remote and deep for any man to discover it.
2. The thought. The heart in the Bible stands for the whole inner life, and therefore it includes the thinking faculty. Now, we are governed largely by our ideas of things; not by things as they are, but by things as they appear to us. Therefore we need to think truly.
3. The affections and desires. We are chiefly moved by what we love. The love of sin is the parent of sin. If the heart is betrayed into entertaining low desires, a degraded conduct follows.
II. OUR HEARTS ARE PRONE TO ERR.
1. In weakness. We have not fixed thoughts and affections. The life within is in continuous change and movement. At the same time, its weakness makes it peculiarly liable to be led astray.
2. In sinful inclination. We inherit tendencies to evil. Our own self-chosen conduct creates habits of evil. Thus our heart tends downward. Left to itself, it will go astray and drag us down to ruin. The human heart is ever wandering and rebellious until it has been renewed.
III. THE WANDERING HEART LEADS TO RUIN. We are tempted to neglect the evil on three accounts.
1. That it is internal. Thus it seems to be a secret thing, not concerned with conduct. But as it is the spring of all our conduct, the excuse is a delusion.
2. That it is under our control. The idea is that we can stop before we have gone too far. We are not the slaves of another, we are our own masters. This is also a delusion, for the heart gets out of control.
3. That it only concerns ourselves. It is only our heart that wanders, and our heart is our own possession. This is to assume that we are not accountable to God. But the supreme Judge takes account of the heart as well as of the outward act, and condemns for heart-sins (Matthew 15:19).
IV. THE WANDERING HEART NEEDS TO BE RENEWED. Sin comes from the heart; then sin must be cured in the heart. Clean hands are of little use without a clean heart.
1. Cleansing. The guilt of sin needs to he washed away; the love and desire of sin also need to be pureed out of the heart. This is so difficult a work that only the Creator can do it. "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10).
2. Recovery. The wandering heart must be brought back to God. It is not enough that sin is cast out. The love of God must be planted, and the heart must be restored to fellowship with God. These are blessings which come with the reception of Christ into the heart.
3. Preservation. We are bidden to keep our heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). But we find the treacherous heart eluding our utmost vigilance, and wandering in spite of all our care. Therefore we have to find safety in obeying a second command, "My son, give me thy heart" (Proverbs 23:26). - W.F.A.
I. IT IS AN INHERENT CONDITION OF HUMAN LIFE. "What is man, that he should be clean? and he that is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?" as though he had said, "It is of the nature of man to be unclean." "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." The human nature derived from the imperfect and unholy is necessarily unholy and imperfect. Evidences of this may be seen in the general observed depravity of man; in the necessity for very powerful influences to check sinfulness; in the constant recognition of the Fall in Holy Scripture; in the difficulty with which even good men preserve their goodness; and in the sad examples of deep degradation in all lands.
II. THIS SINFULNESS IS MOST APPARENT TO THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. Men are not always alive to their own sinfulness. Not apprehending righteousness, they have not an accurate standard by which to judge themselves. But in the Divine view the very angels, who are superior to men, are not pure: "The heavens are not clean in his sight."
III. THIS SINFULNESS EXHIBITS ITSELF IN GREAT IMPURITY OF LIFE AND SPIRIT. Happily there are many exceptions, and we live in brighter, better times than did Job; yet how truly is it still to be said, "How much more abominable and filthy is man!"
IV. THIS SINFULNESS IS ESPECIALLY SHOWN IN AN ACTIVE PREFERENCE OF EVIL BEFORE GOOD. He "drinketh iniquity like water." Eliphaz has been led from general views to single out the sad cases which all may observe, and which bear such painful testimony, that if human life be not checked in its natural tendencies, it degenerates to the worst conditions of evil. Therefore:
1. Life to be guarded with great care, lest degenerating influences exert destructive power over it.
2. The most potent corrections to be sought; the need of regeneration.
3. The instruction, grace, and sanctification of the Spirit of God to be thankfully received and most carefully cherished. - R.G.
Job 14:1-4), but turns them against their author. Job had spoken of inherited frailty as a ground for pity; Eliphaz seizes on it as an accusation of guilt. How dare this puny, imperfect creature, man, boast of his innocence in the sight of the holy God?
I. GOD'S HOLINESS IS INCOMPARABLE. This is an idea which we take for granted. Yet it was not found in most heathen religions. Monotheism is commonly reckoned as the great peculiarity of the Hebrew faith; but a more striking peculiarity is holiness. The neighbouring divinities were just representations of magnified human passions, often more degraded and immoral than men. The revelation of the true God shows that he is not only above all human passion; he is perfect in holiness. We can find no image with which to compare his purity. The mountain is high above the plain, but mountain and plain are equally low when we think of the stars. Our goodness may mean something among men, but it does not extend to God (Psalm 16:2). Even the very angels veil their faces before him, awed by the majesty of absolute goodness. Yet God's goodness in being absolute is not so because he is infinite. If it were, it would be unfair to complain that we could not approach it. An inch of snow may be as pure as an acre of snow.
II. GOD'S HOLINESS REVEALS MAN'S SIN. We do not know our sin till we see it in the light of God. There are in the farmyard fowls black and white. But when the snow has fallen the white fowls look so no longer, because by the side of the Heaven-sent purity of the snow their plumage is seen to be of a very impure colour. There are men of various character, and some are accounted white-souled saints. But when placed by the side of God's holiness these are the first to confess that their righteousness is as filthy rags. Christ revealed the sin of his age in contrast to his own holiness. We do not own our sinfulness because we do not know God's goodness. It is not the Law, but God's goodness in Christ, that most makes us feel our sin.
III. GOD'S HOLINESS CANNOT ENDURE SIN. Sin may stand uurebuked and unchecked in the world, because all are "tarred with the same brush." Thus there is a dangerous condoning of conventional evil. But this is not possible with God. Holiness and sin are opposed as light and darkness. The thought of God's holiness alone makes men tremble.
Eternal Light, Eternal Light!
I. THE TERRIBLE TORMENTS OF THE WICKED. (Vers. 20-24.)
1. Lifelong pain. Notwithstanding all appearances of ease and prosperity, the bad man only suffers. The sword seems ever suspended above the tyrant's head. The serpent is ever busy with the tooth of remorse at his heart.
2. Dread fancies throng through every sound into his imagination; he is ever in terror of some sudden doom. He sees a darkness coming upon him from which there is no possibility of escape. In the glance of dread fancy he sees himself already singled out for the fatal sword-stroke. The gaunt shape of famine seems to haunt his steps; from his soft couch and splendid table he looks out into a dark scene, and realizes it as present; he is overcome by anguish and trouble, as a king is borne down amidst the turmoil of battle. Thus conscience makes the guilty man a coward, and the "native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." "A guilty conscience! I ask no other hell."
II. THE CAUSE OF HIS SUFFERINGS. (Vers. 25-28.)
1. Rebellion against God. This is presented under the powerful figure of a warrior, rushing against his foe, on the field, in headstrong fury. Self-will, leading to contempt of the moral order of God, and this to violent resistance to all moral restraint; here is the genesis and development of sin. See the history of Pharaoh.
2. His selfish life. He lives in luxury, pampering his body till he becomes a gross mass of flesh, full of carnal appetite. In his unsocial ambition and greed he has laid waste flourishing cities rich in men, that he may abide in them alone, as if he could not find place enough for the dwelling of his body and preferred to live alone amidst wide desolation, rather than peacefully among a multitude of the happy. So in Isaiah 5:8, "Woe to them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!" "He enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people" (Habakkuk 2:5). "He builds a town with blood, and lays its foundations in iniquity "(Habakkuk 2:12). The picture is one of grasping, insatiable greed and covetousness, which shut a man out from the sympathy of his fellows. Some, however, take ver. 28 as referring further to an act of disobedience in fixing his dwelling among ruins, cursed by God and forbidden to future habitation.
III. THE INSTABILITY OF THE WICKED. (Vers. 29-33.) His hopes are disappointed, riches elude him, his accumulations melt away. Unlike the heavy harvest of the waving corn, he is rather like the tree whose roots do not sink deeply into the earth (ver. 29), so that every outward misfortune becomes in extreme source of danger - all his blossoms and fruits are cast away before the time of gathering! Then, again, the figure of darkness returns, which he only escapes, to fall into the glowing breath of God's anger, which blasts everything that is green and fair in his prospects.
IV. THE VANITY AND FOLLY OF THE WICKED. (Vers. 34, 35.) He begins by trusting in vanity, in what is baseless, such as all absence of moral principle; and vanity, according to the moral constitution of the world, must be the end of his schemes. The time of ripeness and harvest must be that of destruction; or like the blossoms of the olive in certain years, which fall off without fruit being formed, his plans never come to maturity. The "brood" of the wicked man is unfruitful; the fire devours his tent. Or like the woman who has falsely conceived, and remains long in deception, but at last perceives with grief the nothingness of her hopes, so with the wicked man (comp. Isaiah 7:14-17; Isaiah 33:11). LESSONS.
1. Goodness alone has substance, vitality, endurance, fruitfulness.
2. Evil is emptiness; it carries with it self-delusion; its end is disappointment and failure. - J.
I. HE ENDURES PAIN ALL HIS DAYS. The reference is probably to inward sufferings, and the anxieties which a course of wrong must cause. But the physical pains are also great. Perhaps most physical pain is the consequence of wrong-doing. Keeping the righteous Law of God by man would free the human life from suffering as truly as it frees the life of the beast or the bird. Broken law, known or unknown, must, in the disturbance it brings, cause pain.
II. Another source of punishment to the evil-doer is in THE CONDEMNATIONS OF CONSCIENCE WHICH HE INCURS. The seat of all true judgment is the conscience. It is the sum of all the soul's powers - the great tribunal before which all actions are brought. There the verdict is passed; there the penalty imposed - "a dreadful sound is in his ears." If the conscience be indurated, the life is so much the more degraded and the punishment the greater.
III. The wicked man suffers in THE FEARS WHICH HE EXPERIENCES. "He knoweth that the day of darkness is ready at his hand." A dark day awaits him, and he knows it. He carries his fear with him wherever he goes. Judgment has been passed upon his evil-doing by his own conscience - by himself. The penalty has been awarded, and he goes about expecting its infliction. The fear of punishment hangs over his head.
IV. ALL THIS DEEPENS INTO A DARK DREAD BY WHICH HE IS HAUNTED. His spirit has no rest. "Trouble and anguish make him afraid." They wage war against him and despoil him. They "prevail against him, as a king ready to the battle."
V. Further evils follow in HIS OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. His dwelling shall be desolate (ver. 28).
2. His riches fade away. He holds everything by an uncertain tenure.
3. He shall dwell in gloom. "He shall not depart out of darkness."
4. He finally perishes by the breath of God. "By the breath of his mouth shall he go away." This is the portion of the man who "stretcheth out his hand against God." The assured Christian hope is bright, clear, comforting. It changes "the night into day;" it makes the darkness short, because of light; the "grave" is exchanged for the "house" on high; "corruption" puts on incorruption; "the bars of the pit" are burst; anti the resting "together in the dust" passes into the "rest in him." - R.G.
I. THE HABIT OF TRUSTING IN VANITY. The vanity spoken of is any empty ground of trust, like an island of floating weeds on which careless people build their homes, but which will be shattered, with all that is on it, in the first storm.
1. A delusion. We may be persuaded to accept what is not true. Our belief does not give any reality to the delusion; we are then trusting in vanity.
2. Self. We are all too ready to think our own resources greater than they are. Yet every man who trusts to himself supremely is trusting in vanity, for all are sinful, frail, and prone to err.
3. Man. The psalmist warns us against putting our trust in man (Psalm 118:8).
(1) As a friend. The best friends cannot help us in our greatest needs - in the guilt of sin, in the sorrow of a terrible loss, in the hour of death.
(2) As a priest. Some trust to the priest to do their religious duties for them, although they would not express themselves thus boldly. But the priest is a man, a sinner, needing himself the Saviour to whom every one of us can go directly for himself.
4. A creed. The creed may be true, yet if we trust to that, and not to Christ, we trust in vanity. Faith which saves is not the mental consent to a string of propositions; it is living confidence in a personal Saviour.
5. A Church. We are members of a Church, pro-resting the Christian faith and in communion with the brotherhood of Christians. Yet if our confidence is in the Church rather than in Christ our hope is vain. The Church is the body of those who are being saved; it is not the Saviour.
II. THE FATE OF TRUSTING IN VANITY. "Vanity shall be his recompense." Here, as elsewhere, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Let us consider the nature and course of this fate.
1. A postponed result. The vanity tempts with a plausible appearance of substantiality, it is not discovered the moment it is trusted. A man may so blind himself as to trust in vanity all his life, and at last die in his delusions. How great and fearful must be the final awakening of such a self-deceiver! There will be enough punishment for some men in the very discovery of the utter vanity of their hopes.
2. A sure result. Every man's future is moulded according to what he relies upon. His fate is determined by his God. If he worships mammon, self, or sin, his condition in the future will be the direct outcome of the present devotion of his heart. This is just a case of natural causation running into the spiritual life.
3. A miserable result. The vanity does not appear to be a very dreadful thing when it is first seen. Yet to possess it for ever as an inheritance is the punishment of its dupe. For when it is found out it must be loathed. Though we may trust in what is unsubstantial, we cannot live upon it. The soul that tries to support itself on lies and pretences will starve as surely as the body which is fed on nothing but air.
4. A merited result. The trust was not in evil, only in vanity. There was no choice of a positively bad or hurtful thing. The worst is vacancy and negation. Yet vacancy and negation are justly recompensed after their kind. The empty soul goes deservedly to outer darkness. We need a positive ground of faith. The only sure ground, the one Foundation, is Jesus Christ, He who trusts the Rock of Ages will not be recompensed with vanity. - W.F.A.