The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Call now, if there be any that will answer thee; and to which of the saints wilt thou turn?The Argument of Eliphaz.
Having looked at the general aspect of the argument of Eliphaz, let us take up in detail some of the separate sayings, or sentences, which make that argument so remarkable for terseness and brilliance. Were we in these expositions in search of mere texts, we might linger long and profitably over the speech of Eliphaz. We are not in search of texts, but of a central thought and purpose, used in argument and condolence in reference to a specific case of human suffering. We have heard the reasoning: let us look at some of the diamond words—the precious, memorable, and ever-quotable sentences of this great speaker.
"I have seen the foolish taking root: but suddenly I cursed his habitation" (Job 5:3).
This is a word of sympathy when the circumstances of Job are fully understood. Job may have been thinking that innocence ended in nothing, that prayer but returned upon the suppliant with new exasperations, showing how life was rich in nothing but disappointment and sorrow. He might have heard that houses in which no prayer was offered were standing foursquare, and that flockmasters who had no conscious God were increasing daily in flocks and herds and all manner of substance. Who can tell what subtle influences may have been operating upon his mind in this matter? He may have been an Asaph in anticipation. Eliphaz tells him that he has noticed all these things: he has actually seen a foolish family as if it were about to become established by roots; getting a real solid hold upon the earth, and sucking up its juices, and lifting itself up to the sun as if it would absorb all the light. Eliphaz says, I have seen that, but, in the name of God, and speaking in the spirit and genius of history, knowing as we know facts—not in their occasional aspects, but in their complete significance—I cursed his habitation; I threw a shadow of disapprobation upon it; for I said, All this is mere seeming, transient surface work; there is no root; this family—prayerless, godless, spiritless—is but growing up to its own destruction. A testimony of this kind could not but be healing to a man whose mind had been unbalanced for the moment. We are sometimes victimised by apparent facts; we say, How can God live and rule when such and such events transpire? Are not the events to be regarded as arguments? and do not all the arguments point to the impossibility of a reigning and loving God? Then how bewildered the mind is; how it spins and whirls, and cannot steady itself, or see anything as it really is! In such hours of bewilderment and distress we need some strong man, with round, clear, sympathetic voice, to tell us that he sees more clearly than we do, that the old foundations of things all remain, and that history is not a succession of accidents, but the outworking of a sublime philosophy, the end of which is the coronation of righteousness, the enthronement of purity and nobleness. Such comforters are sent to us as from the very presence of God.
Yet Eliphaz will be complete in his statement Job must have the whole case presented to him, and not be misled by mere aspects or sections of the troubled reality:—
"Athough affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground; yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:6-7).
A remarkable thing to have been said by a man who lived, as we have seen, somewhere between Abraham and Moses; in a time far, far away, when man, as we know him, was comparatively young—even then this sad philosophy had become established. "As the sparks fly upward" is a sentence which is variously read. We read it as simply metaphorical: as certainly as sparks fly off, fly upward, so certainly is man born unto trouble. If that is not a fact, you must have the evidence at hand. Why allow a statement like this to be preached from every pulpit, to be declared in every family, to be published in every form of Christian literature, if you have evidence in your possession the production of which would upset this calumny against heaven? But if man is born unto trouble, this is not only a fact; if it were merely a fact it might be dismissed as such, but in addition to being a fact it must be a doctrine: it is not a solitary circumstance, how unique soever in its individuality, it is full of pregnant and far-reaching suggestion; it compels the mind to ask direct and searching questions. Is it true that man is born unto trouble? Is there no happy man to stand up and say, No, that is a mistake; trouble I have had none; my days have been days of laughter and mirthfulness and festival: a summer-life has been mine, without one touch or breath or chill of cruel winter? There is no mention of trouble in what we have in the Bible as an account of the creation of man. There is a communing as between invisible and omnipotent persons. The communing runs after this fashion: Let us make man in our own image and in our own likeness. Not a word about trouble. There was no intended sorrow in the purpose of the Creator. Then something must have happened. What has happened? Account for it as we may, there is no explanation of this trouble, its personality and universality and permanence, so complete, so direct, so rational, as that which is given in Holy Scripture. If man is born unto trouble, there must be some collateral evidence of it, as well as the direct proof of actual and positive suffering. Trouble means weakness as well as pain. When a man is in trouble he is not his full self; he is but half a man, or less than half: his faculties are clouded, his hands have lost their cunning, his whole system feels the influence of the tremendous stroke which has involved his life in trouble. As a matter of fact, have we such collateral evidence? Is man strong completely anywhere? Or vary the question: Is there any point at which man has not felt the influence of trouble, the enfeeblement of sorrow? Look at his works. He never built a house that time did not unroof, that time did not take down again. Poor man! Has he not skill enough to build a house that shall defy old time—ruinous, cruel time? Man never built a ship that God's great sea could not swallow up like a pebble. Poor man! Something must have happened to him at some time, or surely he could have made at least one vessel that would have defied all possibilities, and tempest, and stress of weather? Man never made a chronometer that keeps pace with the sun—exactly, astronomically, punctually; his poor chronometer is always falling out of beat, is always in need of survey and repair! Whatever man does—what he builds, what he writes, what he invents—we find upon it the seal of trouble, which is weakness, weakness which is sin, sin which has to be accounted for. When man writes his book he finds that he has omitted all the important matter. When man has completed his parliamentary statutes he finds that they admit of being interpreted in a thousand conflicting ways. Poor man! He dips his pen in weakness; he represents his story in one long spell of sorrow. If this be not so, produce the evidence. How glad we should be to find a man who had discovered a Bible which said man was not born unto trouble; who would tell us that he had found a nation all young, all happy, all moving and living in the spirit of music. Until that nation is discovered we abide in the rock of our own experience, we stand in the sanctuary of what we ourselves have known and felt and handled. What man calls his progress is but a series of self-amendments. Why not face these facts, and search into their origin? If it be science to take some little stone back in its geological history until it is discovered as to its origin, it cannot surely be other than a greater science to take back some human emotion, some sad, awful human experience, and trace it to the starting-point.
Then Eliphaz changes the point of view. Speaking of God he says:—
"He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong.... They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night" (Job 5:12-14).
So the Bible is not only rich in spiritual testimony of what may be called a religious or Christian kind; it writes the history of the wicked as graphically as it writes the history of the godly. Eliphaz acknowledges the presence in human life of craftiness, cunning, inventiveness of an evil kind, counsel that is not ennobled by righteousness or made beautiful by charity. But he says he has seen all the pranks and antics of this craft, he has watched its way, and it has always come to ruin, and not to ruin of a dignified kind, but to ruin clothed with humiliation. If this be otherwise, again we utter the challenge, Produce the evidence. We shall take no refuge on superstitious altars and sanctuaries, saying, We are enclosed within these walls and cannot make any reply to you. We will stand right out upon the roof of the sanctuary, to be shot at by any man who can smite us from the eminence; or we will come out at the front door of the sanctuary, and say, If you have evidence contrary to that which we have produced, we only await its production on your part. This evidence is historically old; this is no new invention of modern theologians; the very words as used by Eliphaz are hoary with antiquity,—that is to say, they were not new even in his remote day, but even then they were the words of old history—venerable, unanswerable.
Now look at the view of God presented in the argument of Eliphaz. We have seen how he represents God as holy. Having discussed the question, "Shall mortal man be more just than God? Shall a man be more pure than his maker?" now consider God's approachableness:
"I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause" (Job 5:8).
In this instance the pronoun "I" is to be read with emphasis; that is not always the case; frequently, indeed, an emphasis is laid upon the "I" which destroys the music of the passage; but in this case Eliphaz ventures to put himself forward as a personal example of what he would do under given circumstances. We are to consider Eliphaz, therefore, as laying a great emphasis upon this opening word in the eighth verse—"I would seek unto God, and unto God would I commit my cause." Thus we are encouraged by another man's bravery. If he would but tell us explicitly what he would do, we might be impelled graciously to attempt the experiment as he has proposed it. This is what we want everywhere—a man who will boldly tell us what he would do under the stress and agony of life. He must not draw pictures, or suggest what other men should do, but should himself incarnate the necessity, and be what he would have others be. But has Eliphaz any ground upon which to base this decision of his with regard to coming before God? He says he has, for he describes God as one "which doeth great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number" (Job 5:9). But we may be repelled by dignity. The very majesty of God may overwhelm and discourage us. We would rather go to our own poor old mother than go to some god clothed only with the terribleness of universal government, conspicuous only for dazzling and unapproachable majesty. Eliphaz knew that; so he supplied the very element which we require—"who giveth rain upon the earth, and sendeth waters upon the fields" (Job 5:10). Judge God by what he does in nature: let his showers of rain be accepted as a revelation of his quality; let his shepherdliness among the flocks be taken as the first chapter in which he reveals his real personality: watch the orchards in the springtime, rich with blossom, and see in all the many colours of that magical writing the Bible of nature. He who cares for oxen cares for men. He without whom the sparrow cannot fall to the ground numbers the hairs of the heads of men. Reason upwards. Do not stop arbitrarily, saying, Here is wisdom, here is goodness, here is even what men call grace; but here we will draw a line. The patriarchs, the prophets, the psalmists, Christ and the apostles, all say, Carry on the argument fearlessly; then you will come to this sublime conclusion: "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" If men, then God; if nature, then grace; if providence, then redemption: "The meanest flower that blows" has in it the mystery of the redeeming cross. What we want is the piercing eye, the seeing heart, the pure spirit.
But is there no tenderness in Eliphaz? We have been struck by his sublimity, by his mental nobleness, and by his gift in the utterance of august and overwhelming words and images; but a little tenderness would now soften the great argument and make us glad. Nowhere in all Scripture is there an example of purer tenderness than is given in the conclusion of the speech of Eliphaz. We find the proof from Job 5:17-26. "Happy is the man whom God correcteth." That is a new tone. Before, we had never associated happiness with correction. The general impression is that correction means misery, and that correction was sent to chastise sin: to what human heart has it ever occurred that loss, pain, disease, helplessness were elements, somehow, in the marvellous chemistry which expresses its results in happiness? "Therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: for he maketh sore, and bindeth up:" trace the disease and the cure to the same great power; "he woundeth, and his hands make whole." These wounds are other than satanic; they were incidentally and secondarily inflicted by another hand; but taken in all their meaning, and in all their fulness, there cannot be evil in the city without the Lord having a hand in it, doing it by permission or directly,—a mystery not to be explained with lame words, mocking, self-convicting words, but to be felt as benedictions are felt, and as the sublimest philosophies compel the assent of the mind. "He shall deliver thee in six troubles:" will he stop there? Can he not go beyond six?—"Yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee." These were bold words to be uttered to man who was lying flat on the ground, without being able to move a hand in his own deliverance. But it is just under such circumstances that gospels are seen to be what they are: it is in the darkness that we see the stars; it is when we are nothing that God is all: the cross without the sin would have been an irony not to be tolerated by reason or to be trusted by faith: "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us;" it was a propitiation, an answer to a reality, a medicament for a fatal disease.
Eliphaz numbers the foes that can assault men. He calls one Famine—"In famine he shall redeem thee from death, and in war from the power of the sword" (Job 5:20). He names a third Slander—"Thou shalt be hid from the scourge of the tongue: neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction when it cometh" (Job 5:21). All nature shall be thy friend: "thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee" (Job 5:23). All nature is the friend of him who is the friend of God. The stars in their courses fought against Sisera, but the stones of the field, and the beasts thereof, were in league with the man who suffered with resignation, and accepted his chastisement even with some degree of suppressed thankfulness. Yes, there is a community of things; an organic federacy. Even the beasts of the field shall be quiet in the presence of the man who can really pray: he shall be known in the forest, he shall be recognised on the sea. He has not yet come but in one personality,—namely, the personality of the Son of God; but the time is coming when humanity, now redeemed, then educated by many a providence and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, shall trample upon the serpent and the adder, and hold the lion at bay. This shall be the result of things! Saints shall judge the world, and holy men shall be a little lower than God.
And Job was comforted with the assurance that his flocks and herds would be all right in the end:—
"And thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace; and thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt not sin" (Job 5:24).
That is an extraordinary expression, but literally it is full of beauty. It should be read thus: And thou shalt visit thy habitation, and shalt miss nothing: everything will be there, sons and daughters, and houses and lands, and flocks and possessions and riches: seek thou first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto thee, and thou shalt miss nothing. That is a figure under which sin is often represented in the Bible. Sin misses the mark. Sin aims but never hits. Using the word in its literal sense, therefore, Eliphaz says: Thou shalt visit thine habitation, and shalt miss nothing; and then as to the end—"Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season" (Job 5:26). Oh! he was poet as well as saint; he was philosopher, and therefore comforter; he had a great reserve of mental power, and therefore his fingers were tipped with delicacy, and what wound he touched he left without exasperation. "Like as a shock of corn cometh in,"—literally, Like as a shock of corn cometh up. The threshing-floors were on high, and the shocks of corn were taken up to the high threshing-floors, there to be used with a view to being turned into bread: so, Job, thou shalt come up to God's threshing-floor in due time. We must all die: the question is, How shall we die? We cannot escape that fate. There is no discharge in that war. When the enemy has mocked us, taunted us at the altar, smitten us in the face, laughed at the Bible, scorned us with bitter scorning, what has he done? He has left every great fact and tragedy of life untouched, unaccounted for. He cannot save us from the hour and article of death. It is, therefore, a serious question, How shall we meet that great event? It cometh alike to all,—sometimes without notice, often suddenly: the Judge standeth at the door. Sad it will be after all if we have no answer to that black guest but the laugh of the mocker, and the jibe of him who made unseasonable merriment. Let me die the death of the righteous; let my last end be like his. As a rational man, having seen somewhat of life, and read somewhat of history, and considered somewhat the ways of men, and having given a whole lifetime to the study of the Book of God, I wish to put it on record, here and now, that I know of no influence that can so sustain the spirit, so illumine the last darkness, as the presence of the Son of man, Immanuel, God with us!
Job's Answer to Eliphaz
The speech of Eliphaz, which we have already considered, was not the kind of speech to be answered off-handedly. We have been struck by its nobleness and sublimity, its fulness of wisdom; and, indeed, we have not seen any reason, such as Job seems to have seen, for denying to that great speech the merit of sympathy. Why, then, does Job break out into these lamentations? The reason appears to be obvious. We must come upon grief in one of two ways, and Job seems to have come upon grief in a way that is to be deprecated. He came upon it late in life. "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." Observe how Job comes before us—a master, a chief, a very prince, a great flockmaster, and in possession of all comforts, privileges, and enjoyments usually accounted essential to solid prosperity and positive and genuine comfort Grief must tell heavily whenever it comes upon a man in such a condition. This accounts for his lamentation, and whine, and long-drawn threnody. He was not accustomed to it. Some men have been born into trouble, and they have become acclimatised; it has become to them a kind of native condition, and its utterances have been familiar as the tongue of nativity. Blessed are they who come upon grief in that method. Such a method appears to be the method of real mercy. Sad is it, or must it be, to begin life with both hands full, with estate upon estate, with luxury upon luxury, so that the poor little world can give nothing more! When grief strikes a child born under the disadvantage of riches, it must make him quail—it must be hard upon him. Grief must come. The question would seem to be, When? or, How? Come it will. The devil allows no solitary life to pass upward into heaven without fighting its way at some point or other. It would seem to me as if the suggestion that Job came upon grief late in life was a kind of key to many utter ances of suffering, and many questions as to the reality and beneficence of God's government. Yet, what is to be done? No doubt there is a practical difficulty. Who can help being born into riches? Not the child. The responsibility, then, is with the father. What do you want with everything? When are you going to stop the self-disappointing process of acquisition? You think it kind to lay up whole thousands for the boy. In your cruel kindness you start him with velvet. Secretly or openly, you are proud of him as you see him clothed from head to foot, quite daintily, almost in an aesthetic style, without a sign on his little hands of ever having earned one solitary morsel of bread. You call him beautiful; you draw attention to his form and air and whole mien, and inwardly chuckle over the lad's prospects. Better he had been born in the workhouse! And you are to blame! You are the fool! But grief must come. You cannot roof it out with slates and tiles, nor keep it at bay with stone walls. Let us say, again and again, "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth"; and you know it, because you bore the yoke in your youth. Your father, or grandfather, was quite in a small way of business: but oh, how you enjoyed the bread! You had to run an errand before breakfast, and came back with an appetite,—your boy comes down late, without any soul for his food; and you think him not well, and call in aid, and elicit neighbourly sympathy! Oh, how unwise! How untrue to the system of things which God has established in his universe! Make your acquaintance with a man who has seven sons, three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she asses, and a very great household; and you might well say, What a field there is for the devil to try temptation in! Yet how to obviate the difficulty is certainly a question not easily answered. We can but approach the possible solution of the problem little by little, ordering everything in a spirit of discipline, without ever touching the meanness of oppression. It is one thing to be Job, and another to read his book. We do not read it well. We read it as if it had all been done with in an hour or two; whereas the book ought to be spaced out almost like the first chapter of Genesis. We have had occasion to say that the first chapter of Genesis would create less confusion if we inserted a millennium now and then—if we punctuated it with a myriad ages here and there. But we rush through it. Quite in a hot gallop we finish the Book of Job. Who can understand such a dramatic history so reading it? Why not remember that seven days and seven nights elapsed before a word was spoken by Eliphaz, after he had seen that the grief of Job was very great? Observe where the period of silence comes in; and consider the thought that it is possible that days and nights may have elapsed as between the various speeches, setting them back in time, giving them an opportunity for taking upon themselves the right atmosphere and colour, and affording the speakers also an opportunity of uttering their grief with appropriate gesture and accent. The speeches were punctuated with sobs. The sentences were never uttered flippantly, but were drawn out as is the manner of sorrow, or were ejected, thrown out, with a jerk and hurry characteristic of some moods of grief. Let us allow, then, that the speech of Eliphaz had been uttered, and had lain as it were some time in the mind of Job. Grief delights in monologue. Job seems scarcely to lay himself down mentally upon the line adopted by Eliphaz. It is most difficult to find the central line of Job's speech, and yet that very difficulty would seem to show the reality of his grief, the tumult of his ungovernable emotion. Too much logic would have spoiled the grief. Reasoning there is, but it comes and goes; it changes its tone—now hardly like reason in its logical form; now a wave, an outburst of heart-sorrow; and then coming firmly down upon realities it strikes the facts of life as the trained fingers of the player might strike a chord of music.
Note how interrogative is the tone of Job's speech, and found an argument upon its interrogativeness. More than twenty questions occur in Job's reply. He was great, as grief often is, in interrogation. What do these marks of interrogation mean? They almost illustrate the speech; for he who asks questions after this fashion is as a man groping his way in darkness. A blind man's staff is always asking questions. You never saw a blind man put out his hand but that hand was really in the form of an interrogation, saying, in its wavering and quest, Where am I? What is this? What is my position now? Am I far from home? Do I come near a friend? The great speeches of Demosthenes have been noted for their interrogation; the marks of interrogation stand among the sentences like so many spears, swords, or implements of war; for there was battle in every question. It would appear as if grief, too, also took kindly to the interrogative form of eloquence. Job is asking, Are the old foundations still here? things have surely been changed in the night-time, for I am unaccustomed to what is now round about me: is the sky torn down? does the sun still rise? does the sun still set? is old sweet mother nature still busy getting the table ready for her hungry children? or has everything changed since I have passed into this trance of sorrow? All this is natural. It is not mere eloquence. It is eloquence coloured with grief; eloquence ennobled by pain. The great words might be read as a mere school exercise; whereas they ought to be read by shattered men, who can annotate every sentence by a corresponding record in their own experience. Is it not what men do just now in times of change and great stress and fear? They ask one another questions; they elevate commonplaces into highly-accentuated inquiries; things that have been perfectly familiar to them now startle them into questioning and wonder, because surely since they themselves have been so unbalanced, caught in so tremendous an uproar and tumult, things must have been decentrailsed, or somehow thrown out of equipoise and shape.
Notice how many misunderstandings there are in this speech of the suffering man:—
"Oh that my grief were throughly weighed, and my calamity laid in the balances together! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea" (Job 6:2-3).
Who ever thought that his grief was exactly comprehended by his friends? Job makes much of the grief with which a thousand other men had been familiar all their lives. When the rich man loses any money, what an outcry there is in his house! When the poor man loses something, he says—As usual! well, we must hope that tomorrow will be brighter than today! But let a great, prosperous, space-filling rich man lose any money, and he loses a whole night's sleep immediately after it; he says, "Oh that my grief were throughly weighed!" He likes "thorough" work when the work is applied to sympathising with him. So we misunderstand our friends; then we misunderstand our pain:—
"Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for! Even that it would please God to destroy me; that he would let loose his hand and cut me off! Then should I yet have comfort" (Job 6:8-10).
We do not know that our pain is really working out for us, if we truly accept it, the highest estate and effect of spiritual education. No man can enjoy life who has not had at least one glimpse of death. What can enjoy food so keenly as hunger? Who knows the value of money so well as he who has none, or has to work hardly for every piece of money that he gains? Such is the mystery of pain in human education Have not men sometimes said: It was worth while to be sick, so truly have we enjoyed health after the period of disablement and suffering? Pain cannot be judged during its own process. From some pictures we must stand at a certain distance in order to see them in proper focus, and get upon them interpreting and illuminating lights. It is sympathetically so with pain. The pain that tears us now like a sharp instrument, working agony in the flesh, will show its whole meaning tomorrow, or on the third day—God's resurrection day, and day of culmination and perfecting. "Let patience have her perfect work."
Job not only misunderstood his friends and misunderstood his pain, he misunderstood all men, and the whole system and scheme of things. He said::—
"My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away; which are blackish by reason of the ice, and wherein the snow is hid: what time they wax warm, they vanish: when it is hot, they are consumed out of their place. The paths of their way are turned aside; they go to nothing, and perish. The troops of Tema looked, the companies of Sheba waited for them" (Job 6:15-19).
How suffering not rightly accepted, or not rightly understood, colours and perverts the whole thought and service of life! Job said:—
"Is there not an appointed time to man upon earth? are not his days also like the days of an hireling? As a servant earnestly desireth the shadow, and as an hireling looketh for the reward of his work: so am I made to possess months of vanity, and wearisome nights are appointed to me" (Job 7:1-3).
So we return to our starting-point, that sorrow must come. It is difficult for the young to believe this. The young have had but a transient ache or pain, which could be laughed off, so superficial was it. So when preachers talk of days that are nights, and summers that are made cold by unforgotten or fast-approaching winters, the young suppose the preachers are always moaning, and the church is but a painted grave, and it is better to be in the lighted theatre and in the place of entertainment, where men laugh wildly by the hour and take hold of life with a light and easy touch. The preachers must bear that criticism, committing themselves to time for the confirmation of their words, which indicate the burden, stress, and the weariness of life. Life has been one continual grief. Death soon came into the house, and made havoc at the fireside. Poverty was a frequent visitor at the old homestead—lean, wrinkled, husky-voiced poverty, without a gleam of sunlight on its weird face, without a tone of music in its exhausted voice; want painted upon every feature, necessity embodied in every action and attitude: then every enterprise failed; the letter that was to have brought back the golden answer was either never received or never answered. Now the natural issue of sorrow is gloom, dejection, despair of life. To this end will sorrow bring every man who yields himself to it. Suffering will pluck every flower, destroy every sign of beauty, put back the dawn, and lengthen the black night. This is what sorrow, unblessed, must always do. It will blind the eye with tears; it will suffocate the throat with sobs; it will enfeeble the very hand when it is put out to make another effort at self-restoration. But has it come to this, that sorrow must be so received and yielded to? Is there any way-by which even sorrow can be turned into joy? The Bible discloses such a way. The Bible never shrinks from telling us that there is grief in the world, and that that grief can be accounted for on moral principles. The Bible measures the grief: never lessens it, never makes light of it, never tells men to shake themselves from the touch and tyranny of grief by some merely human effort; the Bible says, The grief must be recognised: it is the black child of black sin; it is God's way of showing his displeasure; but even sorrow, whether it come in the form of penalty or come simply as a test, with a view to the chastening of the man's heart and life, can be sanctified and turned into a blessing. Any book which so speaks deserves the confidence of men who know the weight and bitterness of suffering. Look at the old family Bible, and observe where it is thumbed most. Have we not said before that we can almost tell the character of the household from the finger-marks upon the old family Bible? Did we not once say, Turn to the twenty-third Psalm, and see how that has been treated? Ah! there how well thumbed it is! There has been sorrow in this house. Turn to the fourteenth chapter of John, and see whether that chapter is written upon a page unstained by human touch; and behold how all the margin seems to be impressed as by fingers that were in quest of heaven's best consolations! Do not come to the Bible only for condolence and sympathy; come to it for instruction, inspiration, and then you may come to it for consolation, sympathy, tenderest comfort—for the very dew of the morning, for the very balm of heaven, for the very touch of Christ. We must not make a convenience of the Bible, coming to it only when we are in sore straits; we must make a friend of it—a great teacher. God's statutes should be our songs in the house of our pilgrimage, and if we are faithful at Sinai we shall be welcomed at the Mount of Beatitudes. If we have struggled well as faithful servants there will not be wanting at last the welcome which begins and means all the reward of heaven.
I have seen the foolish taking root: but suddenly I cursed his habitation."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"I have seen the foolish taking root." —Job 5:3
This calls us to the curious sights in human life.—There are sights that are surprising, delightful, unexpected, overwhelming.—The sight which most puzzles the good man is that the foolish take root, and that the vicious should prosper.—A good man can make something of almost every other sight in the world, but this overwhelms him with dismay. It seems to be against the fitness of things; it seems to discourage all attempts at virtue; it seems to offer a premium to vice.—This was the difficulty of Asaph; he says his feet had well-nigh gone when he beheld the prosperity of the foolish and listened to the revels of the wicked, for there were no bands in their death, they had more than heart could wish, their eyes stood out with fatness.—This is not an enemy who is bearing witness against Providence, it is a good man who is setting down what he has seen as a simple matter of fact.—He would not have been so surprised if he had seen the foolish flaming for a moment like a rocket, making a dash of display which perished in its own action; nor would he have complained perhaps if the foolish had made an occasional success in life: the thing which troubled him was that he had seen the foolish taking root, as if they were going to abide on the earth and come to maturity of power.—We must not ignore the difficult facts of Providence, but we must not limit our view to facts as we see them, or as they lie upon the surface; though they may be all that we can see with our bodily eyes, yet we are to bring our religious reflection to bear upon the case. The world is old enough now to afford us a basis of reasoning and inference respecting all appearances, combinations, and phenomena generally.—The root-idea of the Christian religion is that God is against all wickedness, and that in the long run he will overwhelm it and bring it to its appropriate punishment.—Let us be well grounded in that fundamental principle.—If we could for a moment doubt the reality of that principle our whole faith would be gone.—We speak it reverently when we say that if God could cause any man to succeed simply because the man was wicked, his claim to human confidence would be destroyed.—Here, then, lies the great basis-principle, that the eternal God is against evil, and is pledged to the extinction of wickedness.—In view of this principle, what becomes of all apparent success and root-taking, and honour, and influence, and pomp? These things are but indications that the judgment will be of equal magnitude, and will come even more suddenly than the success is supposed to have come.—Meanwhile the difficulty is a great one, and there are circumstances under which men need all their deepest religious convictions to sustain them in the presence of providences which seem to be dead against the assertion and progress of truth and justice.—Sad is the case of heathen nations; sadder still is the condition of nations which are partially Christian, and which turn Christian civilisation itself into a means of extending their wickedness.—Sometimes we wonder how God can sit in the heavens and behold it all; we are troubled that he does not awake, so to speak, and come down in judgment that cannot be mistaken, and rectify relations that are thrown out of course.—Many a grief of this kind we have to hide in our own heart. Yet why should we hide our griefs in view of providences which we cannot understand? Let us go back to history. Let us be faithful to the interpretation of great breadths of human experience, and in all cases it will be seen that, however mysterious the process, God has in the end vindicated goodness and repelled from the throne of righteousness those who would overturn its pillars.—Man of God, take heart; the trial is no doubt hard; things have happened in one day which in human wisdom would have happened exactly in the other way, and we are dismayed, confounded, and put to silence, when we see how great is the grief of honest souls.—All we can do is to recur to history, to pray for the consolidation of our faith, for the increase of our spirit of patience and longsuffering: perhaps the longer God is in coming as a great light, the brighter will be the glory, the more blessed the vision, when it does arise to reward our weary waiting.
"He taketh the wise in their own craftiness."—Job 5:13
No doubt there are men who call themselves wise who do not believe in God.—Let us not consider them all fools in any merely intellectual sense.—There is a craft which prides itself on its sagacity, depth, cleverness, agility, and boasts itself of the multitude of its resources.—God often gives such craft room enough for its own display: he allows it to come to maturity that he may abase it the more effectually.—God delights to throw down towers that were meant to reach unto heaven.—Call no man wise until his plans have been thoroughly matured and carried out; they may look well in outline, they may begin very energetically, they may seem to carry within themselves all the elements of success; but God allows the man to go so far, until he can make an example of him.—Where is the wickedness that has continued from age to age to prosper? Where is the counsel that has really thriven as against God? Where are the heathen opponents that have not been broken as with a rod of iron?—There is no cleverness that can stand against true wisdom.—The difference between cleverness and wisdom is a difference of depth and quality: they do not belong to the same lineage or line of things; the one is superficial, sparkling, dashing, claiming attention by its loud boastfulness, a sight to be gaped at and wondered about and forgotten; but wisdom is profound, far-reaching, calm, taking in a great range of view, moving by a long line, and justifying itself in the end by revelations which never came within the purview of mere intellectual cleverness.—The cleverness of the world has never discovered any cure for the world's deepest diseases.—We have had reforms enough, guesses, hypotheses, theories, speculations; but it never lay within the scope of mere cleverness to find a redemption that would meet all the necessities of sin and soothe all the accusations and agonies of conscience.—The world by wisdom knew not God.—The world by cleverness never invented a world-wide gospel, an all-time evangelisation; it lay with God alone to reveal a plan by which all human calculations were upset, all human cleverness abashed, and eternity accommodated to the narrow limits of time, and all heaven brought to supply what the earth needed in its supremest distresses.—Let us beware of cleverness everywhere; there is nothing in it. Let us rather seek for wisdom, and cry for understanding; searching diligently for that which is more precious than silver and gold, and with which rabies are not to be compared.—The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, nor can it stand in the day of final judgment.—We are of yesterday, and know nothing; we see only parts and aspects of things: how, then, can we provide for a whole world, and for all the exigencies of time?
Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Thou shall come to thy grave in full age."—Job 5:26
Wonderful to notice how light and shade mingle in Bible story and in the story of general life.—"Thou shalt come to thy grave" is a solemn warning; but when it is added, "in full age," it would seem as if the solemnity were relieved by a beam of cheerfulness.—The two statements must be taken together, if we would do justice to the providence of God.—To look at the grave alone is unfair to the divine purpose; so it is unfair to look at crosses, trials, and all manner of disappointment and discipline: the right view will take in all the circumstances, so far as possible, from the beginning to the end.—Interpreted in this way, providence is a grand disclosure of the righteousness, love, and wisdom of God.—We should accustom ourselves to look for the mitigations of human sorrow or disappointment.—The eye that is always on the outlook for such mitigations will find a plentiful harvest in the providence of daily life. Where is there a human lot that has not some mitigation of his burden and suffering?—Sometimes, indeed the sufferer is more apt to see the mitigation than are the observers.—What lies heavily on the body may be in large part counteracted by inborn cheerfulness of soul, so that the spirit may triumph over the flesh.—What is wanting in one region of life may be more than made up by a superabundance of good in another.—The great lesson is, we are always to look for whatever can mitigate, lessen, or in any way throw a gleam of happiness upon the distresses of life.—Think of a completed course, such as is sketched in the text.—There is always more or less of beauty in completeness. It is when the column is broken in two that it appeals to us pathetically.—When the column is completed we admire and wonder, and are filled with gladness because of the fitness of things: something in the human spirit responds to outward harmony: there can be no true harmony where there is incompleteness or failure of design.—We may not come to our grave "in full age," for that is an Old Testament term; but we may come to our grave in full character, in full preparedness, meet for the Master's use, content to leave the earth, yea, rather desiring to flee away from it and be at rest in heaven.—Where the sense of immortality is triumphant, every burden of life is not only lessened but destroyed; that is to say, it is no longer felt as a burden; we endure as seeing the invisible; we despise the shame of the cross because of the glory that is soon to be revealed.—A sad thing when the only completion of a man is the number of years which he has lived.—Completeness of age should suggest completeness of character.—The old man should be full of the wisdom of experience, even though he be ignorant of the knowledge of letters: he should have seen enough of life to justify certain broad practical inferences; and without being sated with life he should feel that he has had enough of it on earth, should it be God's will to open the gate of heaven and allow him to enter into its service.—Seeing there is an appointed time to man upon the earth—that there is "full age"—it behoves man to reckon the number of his days, that he may see what fortune of time he has to spend, and so invest it as to make the largest results accrue.—No human power can prevent our coming to the grave, but it lies very much with ourselves to say whether we shall come as conquerors or as conquered men.