Thou restrainest prayer before God.
The hindrances to spiritual prayer
All the motives by which the heart of man can be influenced, combine to urge upon him the great duty of prayer. Whence, then, arises the guilty indifference to spiritual prayer, so prevalent among us? Why will men, whose only hope depends upon the undeserved compassion of their Heavenly Father, close up, as it were, by their own apathy and unbelief, the exhaustless fountain from whence it longs to flow, and restrain prayer before God? Examine some of the more common hindrances to comfort and success in the exercise of prayer; and inquire why so little growth in grace is derived from this essential element of the Christian life. Prayer is restrained before God--
I. When he is approached in a proud, unhumbled state of heart. Such was the sin of Job when the Temanite reproved him. Can an unrestrained communion be held with God by one whose spirit has not yet been subdued by the knowledge of his sin, the conviction of his danger, the shame of his ingratitude? If prayer be anything, it is the utterance of one self-condemned, to the Being by whom he was made, the Judge by whose verdict he must abide, the Redeemer through whose mercy he may be saved. If prayer have any special requisites, contrition must be its very essence. Without a proper sense of the evil predominating within us, there can be no holy freedom in prayer; no aspiration of the soul towards heaven; no unrestrained utterance of the Psalmist’s cry, “Make me a clean heart, O God!” An unhumbled mind and an unrestrained prayer are palpable contradictions.
II. When the suppliant is enslaved by the love and indulgence of any sin. Augustine relates of himself, that although he dared not omit the duty of prayer, but, with his lips constantly implored deliverance from the power and love of his besetting sins, they had so strongly entwined themselves around his heart, that every petition was accompanied with some silent aspiration of the soul, for a little longer delay amidst the unhallowed sources of his past gratifications. Judge, then, whether Augustine in this state did not restrain prayer before God. Forbidden acts, or the indulgence of unblest desires, overrule and hinder the transgressor’s prayer. Let me warn you also against a devotion to the pursuits, pleasures, and attractions of the world. The spirit thus entangled and ensnared, may indeed undertake the employment; but instead of being occupied by the majesty of Jehovah, the love of Immanuel, and the momentous aspect of eternal things, it will be fluttering abroad among the passing and perishing vanities in which it seeks its mean and grovelling good. Can he whose attention is mainly confined to the acquisition of temporal good, expand his heart in prayer for mercies unseen and spiritual? God comes to us in His Gospel, exhibiting on the one hand His greatness and His goodness, and on the other, exposing the emptiness of time and sense.
III. When we pray without fervency. What is the object of supplication? Is it not that we may share the privileges of the family of heaven; serving God with delight and love among His people below; and becoming meet to serve Him day and night in His temple above, among the spirits of the just made perfect? Are these, then, mercies which should be sought in the mere language of prayer, unanimated by its spirit and its fervency? The prayer which God will hear and bless, demands some touch of the spirit manifested by the believing Syrophenician woman. If this fervour of prayer be wanting, the deficiency originates in an evil heart of unbelief which departs from the living God.
IV. When we neglect to pray frequently. Our wants are continually recurring; but only the fulness of infinite mercy can supply them. We are, in fact, as absolutely dependent upon the daily mercies of our God, as were the Israelites upon the manna which fell every morning around their tents. Constant prayer, therefore, must be necessary. There is continual need of prayer for growth in grace.
V. When we regard prayer rather as a burdensome duty than a delightful privilege. A wondrous provision has been made to qualify guilty and polluted creatures for approaching the God of all purity and holiness. “We who some time were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” “Through Him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” The Christian draws nigh with the united offering of prayer and thanksgiving. Do we then not restrain prayer, when, instead of addressing ourselves to it with glad hearts and holy boldness, we are led unwillingly to the duty, and urged only by the gloomy demands of a spirit of bondage? Until converse with God in prayer be the life and pleasure of the soul, the balm that best allays its pains, the consolation that best speaks peace and silence to its sorrows, the cordial that revives its fainting affection, there can be no unreservedness of heart in this great duty. We should open our whole hearts to the eye of His mercy; tell Him of every wish; relate every sorrow; entreat Him to sympathise in every suffering, and feel assured that He will minister to every want.
VI. When it is confined to requests for mercies of lesser concern and moment. We have immortal spirits, no less than perishable bodies. We are probationers for heaven. We have sinful souls which must be pardoned; we have carnal minds, which must be renewed. The spirit is more valuable than the body; eternity more momentous than time. Is not prayer then restrained, when, instead of employing it to seek the things which belong to our peace, we desire this world’s good with absorbing earnestness; and the better part, which cannot be taken away, feebly, if at all? Every mercy, we may be sure, waits upon the prayers of an open heart. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
This is part of the charge brought by Eliphaz against Job. I address myself to the true people of God, who understand the sacred art of prayer, and are prevalent therein; but who, to their own sorrow and shame, must confess that they have restrained prayer. We often restrain prayer in the fewness of the occasions that we set apart for supplication. We constantly restrain prayer by not having our hearts in a proper state when we come to its exercise. We rush into prayer too often. We should, before prayer, meditate upon Him to whom it is to be addressed; upon the way through which my prayer is offered. Ought I not, before prayer, to be duly conscious of my many sins? If we add meditation upon what our needs are, how much better should we pray! How well if, before prayer, we would meditate upon the past with regard to all the mercies we have had during the day. What courage that would give us to ask for more! It is not to be denied, by a man who is conscious of his own error, that in the duty of prayer itself we are too often straitened in our own bowels, and do restrain prayer. This is true of prayer as invocation; as confession; as petition; and as thanksgiving. And lastly, it is very clear that, in many of our daily actions, we do that which necessitates restrained prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
On formality and remissness in prayer
This is one of the many censures that Job’s friends passed upon him. He could not be convicted of the fact, without being convicted of sin. Prayer is most positively enjoined, as a primary duty of religion; a duty strictly in itself, as the proper manner of acknowledging the supremacy of God and our dependence. Prayer cannot be discountenanced on any principle which would not repress and condemn all earnest religious desires. Would it not be absurd to indulge these desires, if it be absurd to express them? And worse than absurd, for What are they less than impulses to control the Divine determinations and conduct? For these desires will absolutely ascend toward Him. Again, it is the grand object to augment these desires. Then here too is evidence in favour of prayer. For it must operate to make them more strong, more vivid, more solemn, more prolonged, and more definite as to their objects. Forming them into expressions to God will concentrate the soul in them, and upon these objects. As to the objection that we cannot alter the Divine determinations; it may well be supposed that it is according to the Divine determinations that good things shall not be given to those that will not petition for them; that there shall be this expression of dependence and acknowledgment of the Divine supremacy. Now for the manner in which men avail themselves of this most sublime circumstance in their condition. We might naturally have expected an universal prevalence of a devotional spirit. Alas! there are millions of the civilised portion of mankind that practise no worship, no prayer at all, in any manner; they are entirely “without God in the world,” To say of such an one, “Thou restrainest prayer,” is pronouncing on him an awful charge, is predicting an awful doom. We wish, however, to make a few admonitory observations on the great defectiveness of prayer in those who do feel its importance, and are not wholly strangers to its genuine exercise. How much of this exercise, in its genuine quality, has there been in the course of our life habitually? Is there a very frequent, or even a prevailing reluctance to it, so that the chief feeling regarding it is but a haunting sense of duty and of guilt in the neglect? This were a serious cause for alarm, lest all be wrong within. Is it in the course of our days left to uncertainties whether the exercise shall be attended to or not? Is there a habit of letting come first to be attended to any inferior thing that may offer itself? When this great duty is set aside for an indefinite time, the disposition lessens at every step, and perhaps the conscience too. Or, in the interval appropriate to this exercise, a man may defer it till very near what he knows must be the end of the allowed time. Again, an inconvenient situation for devotional exercise will often be one of the real evils of life. Sometimes the exercise is made very brief from real, unqualified want of interest. Or prayer is delayed from a sense of recent guilt. The charge in the text falls upon the state of feeling which forgets to recognise the value of prayer as an instrument in the transactions of life. And it falls, too, on the indulgence of cares, anxieties, and griefs, with little recourse to this great expedient. (John Foster.)
I. The employment, the importance of which is assumed. The employment of prayer. The end and object of all prayer is God. God, who is the only true object of prayer, has rendered, it a matter of positive and universal duty. The obligation cannot but be reasonably and properly inferred from those relations which are revealed as essentially existing between man and God.
II. The nature of the habit, the indulgence of which is charged. Instead of submitting to and absolutely obeying the injunctions which God has imposed upon thee, thou art guilty of holding back and preventing the exercise of supplication. Some of the modes in which men are guilty of restraining prayer before God.
1. He restrains prayer who altogether omits it.
2. Who engages but seldom in it.
3. Who excludes from his supplications the matters which are properly the objects of prayer.
4. Who does not cherish the spirit of importunity in prayer.
III. The evils, the infliction of which is threatened.
1. Restraining prayer prevents the communication of spiritual blessings.
2. It exposes positively to the judicial wrath of God. (James Parsons.)
This text helps us to put our finger on the cause of a great deal that is amiss in all of us. Here is what is wrong, “Thou restrainest prayer before God.” If you are restraining prayer, that is, neglecting prayer, pushing it into a corner, and making it give way to everything else,--offering it formally and heartlessly, and with no real earnestness and purpose, praying as if you were sure your prayer would go all for nothing,--then it is no wonder if you are downhearted and anxious; and if grace is languishing and dying in you, and you growing, in spite of all your religious profession, just as worldly as the most worldly of the men and Women round you. There can be no doubt at all that the neglect of prayer is a sadly common sin. It is likewise a most extraordinary folly. There are people who restrain prayer, who do not pray at all, because they believe that prayer will do them no good, that prayer is of no use. But we believe in prayer. We believe in the duty of it; we believe in the efficacy of it. It is not for any expressed erroneous opinion that professing Christians restrain prayer. It is through carelessness; lack of interest in it; vague dislike to close communion with God; lack of vital faith, the faith of the heart as well as head. That is what is wrong; want of sense of the reality of prayer; dislike to go and be face to face alone with God. It is just when we feel least inclined to pray, that we need to pray the most earnestly. Be sure of this, that at the root of all our failures, our errors, our follies, our hasty words, our wrong deeds, our weak faith, our cold devotion, our decreasing grace, there is the neglect of prayer. If our prayers were real; if they were hearty, humble, and frequent, then how the evil that is in us would sink down abashed; then how everything holy and happy in us would grow and flourish! (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Restraining prayer before God
When the fear of God is cast off, the first and fundamental principle of personal religion is removed; and when prayer before God is restrained, it is an evidence that this first and fundamental principle is either wanting altogether, or for a time suspended in its exercise. To “cast off fear” is to live “without God in the world”; and to restrain prayer before God is a sure indication that this godless, graceless life, is already begun in the soul, and will speedily manifest itself in the character and conduct.
I. What is prayer before God?
1. It has God for its object. To each of the persons of the Godhead prayer may and should be made. To pray unto any of the host of heaven, or any mere creature whatever, is both a senseless and a sinful exercise. Because none of them can hear or answer our prayers. They know not the heart. They cannot be everywhere present. They cannot answer. To pray to any creature is sinful, because giving to the creature the glory which belongs exclusively to the Creator. To hear, accept, and answer prayer, is the peculiar prerogative of the only “living and true God.” By this He is distinguished from the “gods many and lords many” of the heathen.
2. It has Christ for its only medium. “In whom we have boldness, and access with confidence, by the faith of Him.” He is our friend at the court of heaven.
3. It has the Bible for its rule and reason. For its rule to direct us. It is the reason for enforcing prayer.
4. It has the heart for its seat. It does not consist in eloquence, in fluency of speech, in animal excitement, in bodily attitudes, or in outward forms. Words may be necessary to prayer, even in secret, for we think in words; but words are not of the nature and essence of prayer. There may be prayer without utterance or expression; but there can be no prayer without the outgoing of the heart, and the offering up of the desires unto God.
II. What is it to restrain prayer before God? This fault does not apply to the prayerless. They who never pray to God at all, cannot be charged with restraining prayer before Him.
1. Prayer may be restrained as to times. Most people pray to God sometimes. It is a great privilege that we may pray to God at all times. The pressure of business and the want of time, form the usual excuse for infrequency in prayer. But is it not a duty to redeem time for this very purpose?
2. As to persons. For whom ought we to pray? Some are as selfish in their prayers as they are bigoted in their creed, and niggardly in their purse. Paul says, “I exhort, therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men.”
3. As to formal prayer. The attitude of prayer is assumed, the language of prayer is employed, and the forms of prayer are observed; but the spirit of prayer, which gives it life and energy and efficacy, is wanting. Now look at prayer in its power. Three attributes are requisite to make prayer of much avail with God; faith, importunity, and perseverance.
III. What are the consequences of restraining prayer before God? These are just like the spirit and habit from which they flow,--evil, only evil, and that continually, to individuals, to families, and to communities, civil and sacred. The evils may be comprised and expressed in two particulars,--the prevention of Divinely promised blessings, and exposure to Divine judgments. Let these considerations be--
“You don’t pray”
This instructive anecdote relating to President Finney is characteristic:--A brother who had fallen into darkness and discouragement, was staying at the same house with Dr. Finney over night. He was lamenting his condition, and Dr. F., after listening to his narrative, turned to him with his peculiar earnest look, and with a voice that sent a thrill through his soul, said,” You don’t pray! that is what’s the matter with you. Pray--pray four times as much as ever you did in your life, and you will come out.” He immediately went down to the parlour, and taking the Bible he made a serious business of it, stirring up his soul to seek God as did Daniel, and thus he spent the night. It was not in vain. As the morning dawned he felt the light of the Sun of Righteousness shine upon his soul. His captivity was broken; and ever since he has felt that the greatest difficulty in the way of men being emancipated from their bondage is that they “don’t pray.” The bonds cannot be broken by finite strength. We must take our case to Him who is mighty to save. Our eyes are blinded to Christ the Deliverer. He came to preach deliverance to the captive, to break the power of habit; and herein is the rising of a great hope for us. (Christian Age.)
Prayer the barometer of the spiritual state
Among the wonders which science has achieved, it has succeeded in bringing things which are invisible, and impalpable to our sense, within the reach of our most accurate observations. Thus the barometer makes us acquainted with the actual state of the atmosphere. It takes cognisance of the slightest variation, and every change is pointed out by its elevation or depression, so that we are accurately acquainted with the actual state of the air, and at any given time. In like manner the Christian has within him an index by which he may take cognisance and by which he may measure the elevation and degrees of his spirituality--it is the spirit of inward devotion. However difficult it may seem to be to pronounce on the invisibilities of our spirituality, yet there is a barometer to determine the elevation or depression of the spiritual principle. It marks the changes of the soul in its aspect towards God. As the spirit of prayer mounts up, there is true spiritual elevation, and as it is restrained, and falls low, there is a depression of the spiritual principle within us. As is the spirit of devotion and communion such is the man. (H. G. Salter.)
Restrained prayer of no effect
In vain do we charge the gun, if we intend not to let it off. Meditation filleth the heart with heavenly matter, but prayer gives the discharge, and pours it forth upon God, whereby He is overcome to give the Christian his desired relief and succour. The promise is the bill or bond, wherein God makes Himself a debtor to the creature. Now, though it is some comfort to a poor man that hath no money at present to buy bread with, when he reads his bills and bonds, to see that he hath a great sum owing him; yet this will not supply his present wants and buy him bread. No, it is putting his bond in suit must do this. By meditating on the promise thou comest to see there is support in, and deliverance out of, affliction engaged for; but none will come till thou commencest thy suit, and by prayer of faith callest in the debt. God expects to hear from you before you can expect to hear from Him. If thou “restrainest prayer,” it is no wonder the mercy promised is retained. Meditation is like the lawyer’s studying the case in order to his pleading it at the bar. When, therefore, thou hast viewed the promise, and affected thy heart with the riches of it, then fly thee to the throne of grace and spread it before the Lord. (W. Gurnall.)
The grey-headed and very aged men.
Grey-headed and aged men
I. Old age presents social contrasts. Some are rich and some are poor. Some have all their wants anticipated and supplied; others are beset with difficulties, which seem to thicken with advancing years.
II. Old age presents physical contrasts. There is an old man, fresh and ruddy, renewing his youth like the eagle. There is another who answers to Solomon’s melancholy description. The cause of this diversity may frequently be found in the past life. “The sins of youth bite sore in age.”
III. Old age presents intellectual contrasts. In most cases age brings its mental as well as its bodily infirmities. The imagination grows dull, the understanding loses its vigour, the power of originating and sustaining thought fails. There is no intellectual sympathy with living thought, nor power of appreciating it. There are instances of intellectual power remaining unimpaired to the last, so that the latest efforts of their possessors have been among their best. Plato continued writing until he was over eighty. Dryden produced his noblest poem when he was near seventy. We generally speak of old age as pregnant with experience; but “great men are not always wise, neither do the aged understand judgment.” Some old people are as foolish as if they had walked through the world with their eyes and ears shut. There are contrasts of temper as well as of intellect. Old age is often fretful. It would seem as if infancy had come again, with all its peevishness, and none of its charms.
IV. Old age presents spiritual contrasts. The hoary head is sometimes a crown of glory. But there are old sinners as well as old saints. Some men are a terrible curse to society. And a sinful old age is often a miserable old age. This is especially the case where the besetting sin is covetousness. One lesson for all. If you live to be old, your old age will be very much what you are pleased to make it. Your moral and spiritual character rests with yourselves. (William Walters.)
The old faith and the new experience
The Catholic doctrine has not yet been struck out that will fuse in one commanding law the immemorial convictions of the race and the widening visions of the living soul. The agitation of the Church today is caused by the presence within her of Eliphaz and Job--Eliphaz standing for the fathers and their faith, Job passing through a fever crisis of experience and finding no remedy in the old interpretations. The Church is apt to say, Here is moral disease, sin; we have nothing for that but rebuke and aversion. Is it wonderful that the tried life, conscious of integrity, rises in indignant revolt? The taunt of sin, scepticism, rationalism, or self-will is too ready a weapon, a sword worn always by the side or carried in the hand. (R. A. Watson.)
The aged that linger in the world
Sometimes the sun seems to hang for a half hour in the horizon, only just to show how glorious it can be. The day is done, the fervour of the shining is over, and the sun hangs golden--nay redder than gold--in the west, making everything look unspeakably beautiful with its rich effulgence, which it sheds on every side. So God seems to let some people, when their duty in this world is done, hang in the west that men may look at them and see how beautiful they are. There are some hanging in the west now. (H. W. Beecher.)
Are the consolations of God small with thee?
Losing the Divine consolations
Some take the words to be an expostulation with Job, showing him the unreasonableness of impatience or despondency, how sad soever were his case, while having the consolations of God to make recourse to. They may also be taken as a reproof to Job for the complaints he had uttered under his sufferings; as if he had not been duly attentive to the Divine consolations. Even the servants of God, under afflictions, are apt to lose the sense of Divine consolations, and to behave as if they were small to them.
I. The consolations here spoken of. Consolation is said to be God’s, as He is the father and fountain of it. All true consolation is of and from Him.
1. By way of eminency. No comforts like the comforts of God.
2. By way of sovereign disposal. In and from Him alone consolation is to be had. As none can comfort like Him, so none without or in opposition to Him. Christ, who is called the consolation of Israel, came out from the Father.
3. Note the plenty and variety of the consolations of God. He is the God of all consolation.
4. The consolations of God imply their power and efficiency. No trouble or distress can be too great for Divine consolations to overbalance.
II. When may these consolations be said to be small?
1. When God’s servants are ready to faint under their affliction.
2. When they grow impatient under affliction, if they are not speedily delivered, or as soon as they desire or expect.
3. When they have recourse to any other method for ease and deliverance from trouble, than that which God has appointed, of waiting upon Him, and looking to Him.
4. When they are full of anxious disquieting thoughts, what will become of us if our afflictions continue much longer?
III. The servants of God are liable to such complaints and grievings. This proceeds--
1. From the grievousness and weight of affliction itself, especially of some sorts of it, under which it is not easy to bear up, or behave ourselves as we ought.
2. From the weakness and imperfection of grace, and the strength of the remains of corruption. Their thoughts are held down to what they suffer, and seem wholly taken up with it. Amidst so much confusion and affliction, if they think of God, they apprehend Him as departed from them, or turned against them. And as their life is bound up in His love, the apprehension of His displeasure wounds them to the heart.
IV. The sinfulness of not attending to the consolations of God, or making light of them.
1. The consolations of God are great in themselves; so it is a high affront to Him that they should be small with us. The consolations in God, from Him, and with Him, are great. There is no case in which a saint can need consolation, but he is encouraged to look for it from some or other of the perfections of God. He is a God of infinite wisdom, almighty power, infinite goodness and mercy, everywhere present, and this to His people in a way of grace; and unchangeable in His nature and perfections. The consolations from God are in His Son, and by His Spirit, and in His Word.
2. The affront of slighting them may be aggravated, from the unworthiness of the person by whom they are slighted.
3. And further aggravated by the obligations His people are under to Him, for what He has done for them, and bestowed upon them. A servant of God has more matter of comfort and delight in him than reason of sorrow, upon the account of what he suffers. Application--
The consolations of God
I. Take a brief view of the consolations of God. Real comfort, of every kind and in every degree, is from God.
1. There are consolatory providences. There is a special providence which attends the saints.
2. The promises are full of consolation. These unfold the gracious purposes of God, and come between the decree and the execution.
3. There are many experimental consolations, which true believers enjoy.
II. When may we be said to make light of these consolations and to account them small.
1. When we undervalue the blessings of salvation, by placing carnal gratifications on a level with them, or not giving them the preference.
2. These consolations are small to us when we are slothful and negligent in seeking after them.
3. When we do not so estimate the blessings of the Gospel as to find satisfaction in them, in the absence of all created good, we may be said to account them small
III. The unreasonableness and sinfulness of treating the consolations of the Gospel with neglect.
1. These consolations are not small in themselves, and therefore ought not to be lightly esteemed by us. They lay a foundation for peace and comfort under the greatest afflictions.
2. To make light of them is the way to be deprived of them, either in whole or in part.
3. It is to cast contempt upon their Author. Improvement--
The consolations of God
I. The substance and character of God’s consolations. In their substance they are true, solid, strong, everlasting, and are set in love. The character of these consolations reaches as high a standard as their substance. Consolations, to be effectual, must be appropriate and adequate. For us this character is reflective, contemplative, comparative, and prospective.
II. The method and manner of the conveyance of God’s consolations. God uses the method of an over-ruling providence; of Divine revelation; of the abiding Spirit,. The ministry of consolation peculiarly needs a tender heart, an enlightened mind, a gentle hand, and a gracious tongue. There is always need for such a ministry in a world like ours. The manner of God is considerate and concessive and conclusive.
III. The spirit of reception given to God’s consolations. They must be received in the spirit of faith. The spirit of cheerfulness will be the offspring of this submissive faith. The spirit of prayer will discover that “calamity is but the veiled grace of God.” (W. A. Bevan.)
The consolations of God
1. God is the consoler of man by the very fact of His existence. There is a class of passages in the Bible which appear to rest the peace of the human soul upon the mere fact of the existence of the larger life of God. It is because God is that man is bidden to be at peace. I pity the man who has never in his best moods felt his life consoled and comforted in its littleness by the larger lives that he could look at, and know that they too Were men, living in the same humanity with himself, only living in it so much more largely. For so much of our need of consolation comes just in this way, from the littleness of our life, its pettishness and weariness insensibly transferring itself to all life, and making us sceptical about anything great or worth living for in life at all; and it is our rescue from this debilitating doubt that is the blessing which falls upon us when, leaving our own insignificance behind, we let our hearts rest with comfort on the mere fact that there are men of great, broad, generous, and healthy lives--men like the greatest that we know. It is not the most active people to whom we owe the most.
2. Then there is the sympathy of this same God. It becomes known to us, not merely that He is, but that He cares for us. Not merely His life, but His love, becomes a fact. The real reason why the sufferer rejoices in the sympathy of God is, that thereby, through love, that dear and perfect nature after which he has struggled before, is made completely known to him. Love is the translating medium. Through God’s sympathy he knows God more intensely and more nearly, and so all the consolations of God’s being have become more real to him. How do we learn of such a sympathy of God? How can we really come to believe that He knows our individual troubles, and sorrows for them with us? More than from any abstract or scientific arguments about the universality of great laws, I think it is the bigness of the world, the millions upon millions of needy souls, that makes it hard for men to believe in the discriminating care and personal love of God for each. In such perplexity what shall we do?
2. Open the heart to that same conviction, as it has been profoundly impressed upon the hearts of multitudes of men everywhere.
3. Get the great spirit of the Bible. Get possessed of its idea, that there is not one life which the Lifegiver ever loses out of His sight; not one which sins so that He casts it away.
3. God has great truths which He brings to the hearts He wishes to console. He gives them His great truths of consolation. What are those truths? Education, spirituality, and immortality--these seem to be the sum of them.
4. Man wants to feel God doing something on his life, showing His sympathy by some strong act. And so he prays for God to help him, to do something positive for him. All that there is consolatory in God--being, sympathy, truth, power--Christ has set in the clearness and the splendour of His life. If you want consolation you must come to Him. (Phillips Brooks.)
The consolations of God
I. Sometimes the Christian lacks consolation from the very weakness and imperfection of his nature. As perfect holiness would of itself secure perfect bliss, so is there a necessary connection between moral debility and transient and incomplete enjoyment. Nothing could show more plainly that our nature is fallen and corrupt than the simple but startling fact, that even when Divine love had provided a Mediator between God and man, the Holy Spirit must come into the world, not only to apply the remedy, but to make us feel our need of it.
II. Another reason why even Christian people are sometimes depressed and desponding is, separation from Godly fellowship. As ointment and perfume rejoice the heart, so does a man his friend by wise and timely counsel. Even St. Paul, hero as he was, had his periods of sadness, while pursuing his weary way, cut off from Christian sympathy; but when he saw the brethren, he thanked God and took courage (Acts 28:15).
III. Neglect of the Divinely appointed means or comfort is another very common reason why Christians enjoy so little of it. God will console us in His own way: in devout meditation, in secret prayer, in public worship, in the diligent study of His Holy Word, and in the humble and frequent reception of “the most comfortable sacrament of the body and blood of Christ.” When providentially hindered from sharing in the public means of grace, the good Lord will make all due allowance for us. He will be with us in this trouble, and we shall see His power and glory, as we have seen Him in the sanctuary.
IV. Once more, “the consolations” of God’s people are sometimes “small,” because they live in wilful neglect of His Holy Spirit. “Are the consolations of God small with thee?” If so, is it not your own fault? The discovery of the source of the evil is a most important step towards its correction and cure. (John N. Norton, D. D.)
I. The consolations of God are small with thee. You have not that satisfactory conviction of things unseen, which once you enjoyed. The light of heaven does not now shine in your hearts. Thou sittest in darkness. Thou hast just enough light to see how great is thy darkness. What is that thing with thee which causes this inward darkness?
II. This spiritual backsliding may have crept so secretly over thy soul, that you may not have perceived it until now. Inward darkness must be caused by sin. Sin that lies at the root of all declension from God, is neglect of private prayer, or giving way to some inward sin. The consolations of God will be small with us, unless we are constantly stirring up the gift of God which is in us.
III. What is the cure for this? First find out the cause, and this will point to the cure. (R. A. Suckling, M. A.)
That there cannot be an effect without a cause is as true in ethics as in physics, in the kingdom of grace as in the kingdom of nature. However complicated a web that system of facts, truths, doctrines, precepts, promises, duties, exercises, experiences, consciousnesses, which we designate religion, may appear in the estimation of some men, they whose spirit this system has searched through, find it to be a much simpler system than is commonly supposed, and that it is based, for the most part, upon uniform and ascertainable laws. Though its details of operation upon the individual heart and life may vary,--though the path whereby men are led to know God, and to know themselves, by being led to see how thoroughly they are known to God, may not in all instances be the same,--there are certain plain rules which will be found applicable throughout the universe of souls. One of these is, that in the spiritual, as in the natural, life, there is no effect without its cause: that as health and disease have their causes in the natural life, so have prosperity and adversity in the spiritual: that the same laws which would explain the spiritual estate for better or for worse, of those around us, will, if fairly applied, explain ours. As there is “the same God which worketh all in all,” His work where it is will assuredly exhibit some feature or other whereby it may be recognised as His. Of this truth Eliphaz seems to have been well persuaded. He beheld the afflictions of Job. He set them down for an effect; and was determined, if possible, to convict the patriarch of some moral obliquity as their cause. His mistake was in assuming that it was his mission to ascertain the cause in this particular case, and in believing that his sagacity had not failed in discovering precisely what it was. There was a cause why Job was thus afflicted; but a cause which may have been, and was, so deeply hidden in the Divine bosom, as at this time to be as inexplicable to the patriarch himself as to his friends. All trouble doth not arise from sin. Much trouble is the consequence of sin; and all sin will, sooner or later, be the source of trouble . . . Eliphaz is here addressing his spiritual patient in a milder tone. Here he hints that Job’s visitation may have been for some sin known only to himself. “Are the consolations of God small with thee?” he inquires: “is there any secret thing with thee?” All men are punished secretly for what they do openly; and some are punished openly for what they do secretly. Though the interpretations of the text did not apply to the case of the patriarch, they might have been, as they may be, applicable to the cases of others. How is it that the “consolations of God are small” with any of us? How is it that there is so little religious joy in the world? Mind is so constituted as to be affected by trifles. Little sufficeth to elevate many, and as little to depress. This easiness of being pleased is childhood’s happiest attribute. Surely there must be some cause for the cold, joyless, uncomfortable religion, which is so prevalent. All deep thinkers are deep sufferers--not sufferers, perhaps, in body or estate, but in mind. They suffer because they think. The religious man is of necessity a thoughtful one. How is it that religious joy is so little known? There may be seasons when we cannot rejoice; yea, ought not. It may be necessary for us to be for a season in heaviness; to be deprived of the sensible comforts of faith, hope, and charity; being apt to undervalue them till they have fled. We do not, however, look to such cases as these. We are thinking of cases where mourning, heaviness, bondage of spirit, mental gloom, spiritual depression, seem to be chronic complaints; when the soul seldom or never rejoiceth. There is a constraint, a distrust, a timidity, a suspicion, in our piety. We are afraid, we know not of what. We are ready to say, “Let us be miserable, that we may be religious.” Ask then, “Is there any secret thing with us,” that will help to explain this enigma of a joyless Christianity? What is possible in this case?
1. Is there any moral obliquity with thee? We do not ask, Have you done wrong; or do you do wrong; but do we cherish any wrongdoing; are we in love with any? Is there any base passion or propensity we will not part with? St. Augustine says, “It is not the act but the habit that justifieth a name,” i.e., he is not a sinner who committeth a sin, but who liveth in the commission of it. Is there then any sin indulged or persisted in?
2. Is there aught that is evil in the state of thy affections? Most of us have some pretence to seriousness.
3. Is there any secret misgiving with thee as to the certainty of Divine truth? Did you ever have a doubt if the religion of Christ were true? Did you ever mistrust your persuasions? One doubt does not make an infidel. The habit of doubting may. They who have ended in disbelieving began by doubting, i.e., by giving place to doubt: by making that scruple their own which was at first their enemy’s.
4. Is there any secret fear of ourselves? Are we in doubt of our own state before God? Are we afraid to trust our principles? If there be none of these “secret” things, what is to hinder the joys of religion from flooding our souls, or the consolations of God from being great with us? It is related of Dr. Francis Xavier that “he was so cheerful as to be accused of being gay.” Why should not we be thus cheerful, gladsome, satisfied? (Alfred Bowen Evans.)
The consolations of God and secret things
This is a beautiful expression, “the consolations of God.” Poor, indeed, are the world’s best consolations. But He who has made us does not wish us to rest in these, but gives Himself to us as the consolation. The Gospel is the grand scheme whereby God becomes ours, and we are His; whereby the consolations of God become the consolations of man. If, then, a Christian is a tried man, he ought to be a joyful man--a man abounding in consolation.
I. Some marks of the state of mind in which the consolations of God are small.
1. It is the one great privilege of the true Christian, to know that his sins are forgiven. It is God’s gracious will, not only that we should be reconciled to Himself through faith in Christ, but that we should be conscious of our reconciliation. It is just the want of this which we take to be the first mark of all those Christians whose consolations are small. It is possible to live in practical forgetfulness that our sins have been forgiven, and this forgetfulness is always a sign of lukewarmness, and of a very low state of Christian feeling and conduct.
2. Again, Jesus is very near His people, according to His own gracious promise. What singleness of aim in life, what encouragement in duty, what steadfastness in conflict, and what hopefulness in work, this consciousness of the presence of Christ would give us. But, alas! is it not just in this that we grievously fail? How many are the hours of our life--how many are the duties which we perform--how many are the works in which we engage, without thinking of our Saviour’s presence and nearness! This may be taken as a second mark. If we live as though Christ were not near, our consolations cannot abound.
3. Not only are great things now given to the true Christian, but still greater things are promised. How pleasant should heaven be to our thoughts. But here also we fail. As our thoughts of heaven, so will our consolation be, little of one, little of the other.
II. Some reasons for this state.
1. Some besetting sin. “Is there any secret thing with thee?” Many things may be given up, but if only one wrong thought or feeling be retained--one bad habit spared--the injury it will do is incalculable. There is something, it seems a little thing, which we spare. The temper is not always controlled; the tongue is not always bridled; unforgiving feelings are not earnestly uprooted at once. Whatever our besetting sin be, if yielded to but a little, it will darken the heart. It will hinder communion with God.
2. Another secret thing is want of faith. Some look too much into their own hearts, too little to Christ. They know but little of the unsearchable riches which are laid up in Him for our daily use and consolation; hence their hands often hang down, and their knees are feeble. They make little progress.
3. Another secret thing is spiritual sloth. There are many who are very active in body and mind, who, nevertheless, are spiritually very slothful. They are slothful in prayer, and in reading the Bible. Every Christian should seek to attain a fresh and lively spirit, a readiness for communion with God, and for every good work. A spirit of sloth and self-indulgence eats as a canker into the spiritual life, and reduces our consolation to the smallest possible degree. If this “secret thing” is allowed in our hearts, it is no wonder that our consolations are small.
4. One more secret thing is, guilt upon the conscience. It is essential to a close walk with God, never to allow the guilt of sin to rankle in the conscience, for this is always followed by estrangement of heart from God. Any delay in confessing sin, and casting it upon Jesus, is injurious, and tends to hinder communion with God. The consolations of the Spirit are suspended, and the heart sinks into a low state. Such are some of the secret things which hinder the consolations of God. May God enable us by His grace to guard against them, that our consolations may abound, and our joy may be full. (George Wagner.)
Why is there no more enjoyment of religion
The consolations of God are not small in themselves: “her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” They are not small in their design and intended benefit: “light is sown for the righteous and gladness for the upright in heart”--sown as seed that it may bring forth a harvest of joy to the soul. To the experience of the faithful Christian they are not small, for in every age not a few have been able, with the Psalmist, from their own experience to say, “In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts delight my soul.” And yet, alas! it is but too true that many a Christian knows the full value of this joy rather from the want of it than from its possession, having at some time had the taste which leads him to ask, “Where is the blessedness that once I knew?” rather than now having the clear and steady and habitual enjoyment of God and His service, which is the true sunshine and health of the soul. And if we do not find full enjoyment in religion we must look for the reasons in ourselves.
I. The absence of bodily health. An imperfect, morbid, or deranged state of health impairs our happiness from every source. So intimate is the connection between the soul and body that a weak or depressed state of the former not unfrequently arises from the latter, so that even the faithful Christian may not, at times, find enjoyment in religion because he does not find enjoyment in anything--because the same cloud comes over, at the same time, both his temporal and his spiritual horizon. In such cases the absence of enjoyment is not justly a matter of self-condemnation, and the evil is not a thing to be repented of but regretted, and the remedy is to be sought not in greater fidelity in duty, but rather from the skill of the physician. It is said of the eminent and eminently spiritual Archibald Alexander, that when once asked “if he always enjoyed the full assurance of faith,” he replied, “Well--yes--almost always, unless the east wind is blowing.” And an eminent divine of wide experience as a pastor has said, that “of twenty persons of hopeful piety who came to him in religious despondency, eighteen had more need of the physician than of the Divine.” And more than two hundred years ago, good old Richard Baxter preached and published, in his practical and sharply logical way, on “the cure of melancholy and overmuch sorrow by faith and physic,” laying greatest stress on the “physic”; and though his medical prescriptions might excite the smile of the modern physician, yet the treatise, as a whole, is worthy of a place among our religious classics. The truth is, there are not a few troubles that cannot be cured by the Bible and hymn book or by mere spiritual counsel, that may be cured by rest, and exercise, and diet, and the fresh air of heaven. Another reason why many do not find enjoyment in religion is--
II. That they seek it for its own sake, and as in itself an end, rather than as only an incidental result of fidelity in duty. There are not a few who, either thoughtlessly or selfishly, seek for happiness in religion when they should be seeking only for duty--spiritual epicures, aiming at their own comfort when they should be seeking, as the great thing, to be holy and useful. They forget that they were not brought into the family of Christ merely to enjoy themselves, but to obey and serve Him, and that His direction is not, “Seek first your own comfort and enjoyment in My service,” but, “Seek first My kingdom and its righteousness,” in your own hearts, and in the hearts and lives of others, and then your joy, with all other needed things, shall be added thereto. They forget that happiness, when sought directly and for its own sake, in any sphere, flies from us; but that when we are occupied With the means to it, then it comes of itself, and that in religion the means to it is fidelity in duty. Another reason why some do not find more enjoyment in religion is--
III. That they do not practically regard the common occupations of life as a means of grace. They regard the Sabbath and its services and private devotion as intended to draw them nearer to God, and to aid them to enjoyment in religion, and believe that if not misimproved they will actually do it. But the common occupations and employments of life they practically regard as antagonistic to these ends and tending in the opposite direction. The former they seem to think are a stream bearing them on to God; the latter a stream bearing them away from Him. The Sabbath they practically regard as the antidote to the week, and the week to be counterbalanced by the Sabbath--the piety gained on the Sabbath to be used up and exhausted in the week, and the week in turn to be furnished afresh from the Sabbath. Such, however, is not the teaching of the Bible, though it is, alas! too much the practical belief of multitudes who ought to know better, and who to know better need only to think as to what God has taught. For it is impossible that He should command two things that cross and are inconsistent with each other; and having bidden us to be diligent in business and at the same time fervent in spirit--in the sweat of our brow to earn our bread, and yet to pray without ceasing, it cannot be that He would not have both tend to the same end. The arrangements of His providence, as well as the teachings of His Word, show that the means of grace are not to be limited to the forms of public and private worship, and that the Sabbath is not the only day that God claims, while six days are to be given up to worldliness of thought and aim and spirit. Our trade or profession or calling, the right ordering of our property or farm or merchandise, our family and household cares, each may be a means of access to God and of aiding us to enjoy Him, just as truly the gate of heaven to the soul as the sanctuary itself. The labourer toiling at his task, the mother diligently training up her children or taking the oversight of her household, the merchant in his counting house, the professional man in his office, or the servant in his daily duties, each may not only find a sphere for the exercise and growth of his graces--for patience, and gentleness, and contentment, and charity, and self-denial, but through these for that joy in God which every good and faithful servant of Christ should expect and may find. Another reason why some find so little enjoyment of religion is--
IV. From the want of symmetry and proportion in their Christian character. In the human body the full enjoyment of health is never known except where the various parts are proportioned and sound in themselves, and their various functions are rightfully performed. Let a limb be out of joint, or a bone broken, or a vital part diseased, or a nerve in a disordered state, and the whole system will measurably suffer, and the fun and childlike and buoyant feeling of perfect health can never be known. There may be, and there is life, and there may not be positive and greatly painful sickness, but the process or progress of living is not of itself a joy as it is to those in absolutely perfect health. And so it is with the religious life--with the spiritual vitality--with the enjoyment or want of enjoyment in religion. The disproportion of Christian character, the want of symmetry in the Christian graces, the undue development or prominence of some one virtue or class of virtues, with the corresponding depression of their opposites, this, to the soul, is like the disordered nerve, or broken bone, or chronic inflammation to the body. It is only when the true symmetry of Christian character is kept up, when the active and passive virtues are equally cherished, when piety toward God is proportioned to benevolence to man, when principle keeps pace with emotion, and hope with fear, and reverence with love, and knowledge with faith, and trust with obedience, and self-control within with active performance without, and devotion and action go hand in hand--only thus, when every chord of the soul is perfect and in tune, that the full harmony of the strain tells of that joy in the spirit of which it is at the same time the offspring and evidence. A disproportioned Christian character necessarily loses much of the joy of religion, just as the instrument out of tune makes discordant music, or the body in sickness feels not the full joy of health. Still another reason why some find so little enjoyment in religion is--
V. Because they have not clear views of the gospel ground of reliance for the Christian--of the full and strong and broad foundation it lays for hope, and thus, of course, for joy. It is hard for a sinner, even though he is a penitent and forgiven sinner, to realise the glorious fulness of the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Too often for our hope, and thus for our joy, we are prone to look to Christ as one who is to work with us to make up our deficiencies, rather than as one who is a complete and perfect and all-sufficient Saviour, Himself doing the entire work, and bestowing freely, on us its full benefit and blessing. “The labour of a lifetime,” says Dr. Chalmers, “seeking to establish a merit of our own, will but widen our distance from peace,” and so from joy; “and nothing will send this blessed visitant to our bosoms but a firm and simple reliance on the declarations of the Gospel.” As God spared not His own but has freely given Him up for us all, surely with Him He will freely give us all things. Still another reason why many do not more enjoy religion is--
VI. That they are not active in doing good. They look on religion rather as a profession than as a progress, as something they received in conversion, and which is to bear them safely on to heaven, rather than as a spirit to be cherished, and a character to be improved--a principle of duty and effort to be carried out in doing good in imitation of Christ. No truth is more plainly stated by inspiration, or more fully sustained by experience, than that it is more blessed to give than to receive. As to do good with wealth or influence is the way to enjoy wealth or influence, so to do good as a Christian is the way to find enjoyment as a Christian. “Assurance,” says President Edwards, “is not to be obtained so much by self-examination as by action”; and the assertion is equally true of the joy that flows from assurance, and is increased by every effort to do good to others. Doubt and depression often come from inactivity. John, active and earnest in the desert, needs no proof that the Messiah has come, but when shut up in prison, inactive and depressed, he seems to have become morbid and doubtful, and sends to inquire if Jesus is indeed the Christ. When Dr. Marshman was a young man and at home, he often had doubts and fears as to his spiritual state, but when after thirty years’ missionary work in India, William Jay said to him, “Well, Doctor, how now about your doubts and fears?” his reply was, “I have had no time for them; I have been too busy preaching Christ to the heathen.” And Howard, the philanthropist, tells us that his rule for shaking off trouble of any kind was, “Set about doing good; put on your hat and go and visit the sick and poor in your neighbourhood; inquire as to their wants and minister to them; seek out the desolate and oppressed, and tell them of the consolations of religion. I have often tried it,” he adds, “and have always found it the best medicine for a heavy heart.” This is the true spirit of benevolence, which is always the spirit of enjoyment. This will leave no time for doubt and despondency, and will call forth those sympathies of our nature which are the sure sources of happiness, giving us that evidence of piety which is found in doing good, and which cannot but minister to our joy. One more, and a general reason why many do not find the full enjoyment of religion, may be found--
VII. In neglect and unfaithfulness as to duty. It is that in some form our iniquity separates between us and God, and shuts out the light of His countenance from us--that our sins, either positive or negative, either of commission or omission, hide His face from the soul. One, it may be, is lukewarm and vacillating and changeable, having too little religion to enjoy God, and too much to find enjoyment in the world. With another the private indulgence of some desire, or the pursuit of some object inconsistent with the known will of God, is like the worm to the gourd of the prophet, a cause not visible, but real,,withering the refreshing shade over his head by secretly gnawing at the root. Or the source of the evil may be not only the sin committed, but the duty neglected. (Tryon Edwards, D. D.)
Stars not valued in daytime but at night. So with friends in adversity. Many kinds of friends. Some real but unsafe. Some wanting in tenderness. Thus with Job’s three friends. Turn from Job to ourselves. If I ask, Are you all free from trouble? none say “Yes,” absolutely. Seneca said, “The happiest man in the world is the man who thinks himself so.” As to true happiness, the Christian is the only really happy man, but even he has his bitterness.
I. We need consolation.
1. If we look at our dwelling place. Our dwelling is the world. God made it. Well, what He made cannot create sorrow. No. Change, sin entered. “In the world ye shall have tribulation.”
2. If we look at our afflictions, personal, domestic. Dark dispensations of providence, death.
3. If we look at our enemies. Life a warfare. Satan “goeth about.”
4. If we look at our experience. So changeable. We are now on the mountain, next week in the valley. Need not be so.
II. That consolation may be obtained from God. All earthly sources fall.
1. In His name. Ideas of God overwhelming. There is His justice, etc. These not His name but His attributes. What is His name? “I am that I am,” unchangeable. “The Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious,” etc.
2. In His nature. His love infinite. Unbounded gift of His Son.
3. In His relationship. Creator, Preserver, Redeemer. He is our Father.
4. Promises. “As thy day,” etc. How variable it is! As thy day, etc.
III. That if small consolations, there are reasons for it. Reason not with God. What makes them small?
1. State of health.
2. Neglect of means.
3. Depending on other sources.
4. Neglecting Christ as the meritorious cause, and the Spirit as the instrumental cause of peace. (Homiletic Magazine.)
Consolation abundant but unrealised
We have heard of persons in Australia who walked habitually over nuggets of gold. We have heard of a bridge being built with what seemed common stones, but it contained masses of golden ore. Men do not know their wealth. Is it not a pity that you should be poor in comfort, and yet have all this gold of consolation at your feet? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Insidious influences destroying spiritual joy
In the Harlem district of New York came the report of a disease-smitten residence, the occupants of which gave symptoms of arsenical poisoning. At first it was supposed that someone living in the house was secretly administering the poison to the other inmates through their food. But chemical tests of various dishes at various times, even examination of the drinking water, elicited nothing wrong. Once or twice a domestic was arrested on suspicion, but almost as soon released. The trouble grew more alarming, and with the growing alarm grew the mystery. At last a prominent chemist of the city, who had been quietly studying the newspaper and other accounts given, called at the house, and requested permission to personally inspect it. This was readily granted. Almost the first thing he did upon gaining entrance was to carefully examine, not the sanitary appointments, which were known to be correct, but the paper on the walls. He minutely examined all the paper on every wall in the place, and upon leaving without disclosing his suspicions, took with him several sections of the wallpaper in the bedrooms and dining room. These he subjected to a careful examination in his laboratory, with the result, as he had suspected, that every sample of wallpaper contained large quantities of pure arsenic, used in the production of the various colours. This poison was particularly plentiful in the composition of the pink papers, one Sample of which had enough arsenic on a square foot of it to destroy the life of an adult. The discovery caused at the time much excitement, and many persons tore down their wallpapers, some without cause, and substituted other styles of decoration. So is it often that the soul’s life is threatened and dangerously affected by some secret, hidden, mysterious cause as insidious, yet all-pervading and powerful, as the filling of the Harlem lot or the arsenically prepared colours in the wallpaper. “Is there any secret thing with thee?” is in such a case a timely question, which may find a saving answer. (G. V. Reichel.)
Concerning the consolations of God
These are the words of Eliphaz, one of those three friends of Job who blundered dreadfully over his case. Their words are not to be despised; for they were men in the front rank for knowledge and experience. If we are indeed believers in the Gospel, and are living near to God, our consolation should be exceeding great. Passing through a troubled world, we have need of consolations; but these are abundantly provided.
I. Our first question follows the interpretation given by most authorities: “Do you regard the consolations of God as small?” “Are the consolations of God too small for thee?”
1. I would ask you, first, Do you think religion makes men unhappy? Have you poisoned your mind with that invention of the enemy? Have you made yourself believe that godliness consists in morbid self-condemnation, despondency, apprehension, and dread?
2. Is not your verdict different from that of those who have tried godliness for themselves? Do you not know that many, for the joy they have found in the love of Christ, have renounced all sinful pleasures, and utterly despised them? Have you not also remarked, in many afflicted Christians, a peace which you yourself do not know? Have you not observed their patience under adversity?
3. Will you follow me a while as I ask you, Upon consideration, will you not amend your judgment? Do you think that the All-sufficient cannot provide consolation equal to the affliction? See again these consolations of God deal with the source of sorrow. Whence came the curse, but from the sin of man? Jesus has come to save His people from their sins. Comfort which left us under the power of evil would be dangerous comfort; but comfort which takes away both the guilt and the power of sin is glorious indeed. Remember, too, that the consolations of God reveal to us a reason for the sorrow when it is allowed to remain. There is a needs-be that we are in heaviness. Another reflection sweetly cheers the heart of the tried one during his tribulation, namely, that he has a comrade in it. We are not passing through the waters alone. If the Son of God be with us, surely there is an end of every sort of fear. Besides, “the consolations of God” lie also in the direction of compensations. You have the rod; yes, but this is the small drawback to heavenly sonship, if drawback indeed it be. Would you not far rather be of the seed of the woman, and have your heel bruised? Besides, there is the consolation that you are on your journey home, and that every moment you are coming closer to the eternal rest.
II. Have these consolations been small in their effect upon you? Have these consolations, though great in themselves, been small in their influence upon you?
1. I will begin my examination by putting to one disciple this question: Have you never very much rejoiced in God? Have you always possessed a little, but a very little, joy? Why is this? Whence comes it? Is it ignorance? Do you not know enough of the great doctrines of the Gospel, and of the vast privileges of the redeemed? Is it listlessness? Have you never felt desirous to know the best of the Christian life? But it may be, that you once did joy and rejoice?
2. Well, then, is it of late that you have lost these splendid consolations, and come down to feel them small with you? Is it that you have more business, and have grown more worldly? Do you reply to me that you do use the means of grace?
3. Do the outward means fail to bring you the consolation they once did? Are you as much in prayer as ever? and is prayer less refreshing than it used to be? I may come near to your experience if I ask--
4. Do you revive occasionally and then relapse?
5. Does the cause of your greater grief lie in a trial to which you do not fully submit?
6. It may be that while you are thus without the enjoyment of Divine consolation, Satan is tempting you to look to other things for comfort.
III. Since the consolations of God appear so small to you, have you anything better to put in their place? Perhaps this is what Eliphaz meant when he said, “Is there any secret thing with thee?” If God’s Gospel fails you, what will you do?
1. Have you found out a new religion with brighter hopes?
2. Are you hoping to find comfort in the world?
3. Or, do you conclude that you are strong-minded enough to bear all the difficulties and trials of life without consolation?
4. Do you say that what can’t be cured must be endured, and you will keep as you are? This is a poor resolve for a man to come to. If there is better to be had, why not seek it?
IV. If it be so, that you have hitherto found heavenly consolations to have small effect with you, and yet have nothing better to put in their place, is there not a cause for your failure? Will you not endeavour to find it out?
1. Is there not some sin indulged?
2. Next, may there not have been some duty neglected?
3. Again, may there not be some idol in your heart?
4. But, if you do not enjoy the consolations of God, do you not think it is because you do not think enough of God?
5. If any of you have not the joy of the Lord which you once possessed, is it not possible that when you used to have it you grew proud?
6. Have you begun to distrust? Do you really doubt your God? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It must be admitted that there is a tendency to forget, or at least to underestimate God’s consolations.
I. Now, first let me tell you what it is that prompts this enquiry.
1. You really must excuse me for asking you if the mercies of God seem trivial to you, for some of you look as if they were. If I judged by your countenance I should suppose that you had scarcely any of them, and that they were wonderfully paltry and powerless.
2. I ask the question of others, because I am bound to say they speak as if the consolations of God were small. You get into conversation with them for half an hour, and the season is none too long for them to recite the story of their griefs. Some go further than to omit the mention of their mercies; they complain against God, and murmur at their Master.
3. I ask the question of others, because I find that they act as if the consolations of God were small with them. Acts are the outcome of thoughts, the concrete forms of imaginings and emotions. Is not Jehovah enough for Israel? Does not His covenant stand, whatever else fails? Why dost thou draw the blinds, when the sun would fain shine right into thy soul, and make thee glad again?
4. There are others who pray as if the consolations of God were small with them. Some people’s prayers are nothing but a long and dismal list of wants, and woes, and weariness.
5. Some there are who sing as if the mercies of God were few, and scarcely worthy of their notice. Some do not sing at all.
II. I should like to recount the consolations of God. Here is Jesus. “Behold the Man.” “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” Then we have His Spirit, the Comforter, a reservoir of consolations. In this blessed book are twenty thousand promises, “yea,” all in Christ Jesus, and in Him, “Amen.” Ours is the privilege of prayer. Amongst the other consolations do not forget the whispers of God’s love. They have been unmistakable. Thank God also for peace of mind and rest of conscience.
III. Shall I try next to describe the consolations of God?
1. They are Divine.
2. They are abounding, too.
3. His consolations are abiding.
4. And they are strong.
IV. What do you suppose are the results of a proper appreciation of God’s consolations.
1. If we appraise them at their real value we shall be forgetful of the past. Forgetting the things which are behind, we shall press forward to those that are before.
2. If you properly appreciate God’s consolations, you will be grateful for the present, you will raise a stone of help each day, and pour oil, the oil of gratitude upon it; you will be trustful for the future.
V. Let me mention some few aids to proper appreciation of God’s consolations. Will you remember what you used to be? Will you consider also what you must have come to, if God had not come to your rescue and relief? Consolation! How can it be small with me when it was condemnation that I deserved? Moreover, reflect what you still are. “Above all, recollect how great the condescension on God’s part to comfort and console.” (T. Spurgeon.)
Why doth thine heart carry thee away?
Elihu means to say, Why dost thou allow thy feelings to carry thee beyond the boundaries of reason? The vast masses of mankind are the victims of ungoverned impulses. See this--
1. In the formation of friendships. Such impulses often bring the sexes together in a fellowship which does but issue in mutual irritation and disappointment.
2. In the history of religion. The religion of the people is not unfrequently directed by ungoverned impulses, excited by the impassioned appeals of enthusiasts and fanatics.
3. In the current of politics. A few red-hot demagogues and effective stump orators will often turn the whole current of a nation’s politics. “Why doth thine heart carry thee away?” Why act from ungoverned impulse?
I. It is unnatural. Man’s constitution shows that he was made, not to act from blind instinct, but intelligent motive. And that these motives should be formed by an understanding duly enlightened with a knowledge of the fundamental principles of moral obligation. In fact his constitution shows--
1. That all his passions should be governed by his intellect.
2. That his intellect should be governed by his conscience.
3. That his conscience should be governed by the revealed laws of heaven.
II. It is immoral Man is a responsible being, amenable to his Maker for all the operations of his existence, bound evermore to give an account of himself. When he acts from impulse, he acts as a brute, not as a man; and acting thus he sins against his Maker. That man is responsible is proved--
1. By his own consciousness. He condemns himself when he does not act from the enlightened conviction of duty.
2. By the Word of God. Everywhere, by distinct statements as well as by implications, the Bible holds forth the doctrine of men’s responsibility.
III. It is ruinous. A man, or a community of men--whether the community be commercial, political, or religious--who act from ungoverned impulse, is like a vessel tossed on the ocean in a tempest without chart, compass, or pilot to direct it. (Homilist.)
What is man that he should be clean?
Of all the truths acknowledged and assumed in this ancient book, we find none more clearly or readily confessed than that of man’s original sin and native corruption. “What is man that he should be clean?” When a question is asked in argument and left unanswered, it is the strongest possible form of denial. It is more than saying no man is clean or righteous. It represents such a supposition as man’s priority or holiness to be preposterous and absurd. Man, as man, and as born of woman by natural descent, is necessarily imperfect and impure. God is Himself the pure and perfect one, and nothing is pure or perfect but what is in God. All other purity and perfection is therefore comparative. Man may be pure and perfect as a man, while he is still very far from the purity and holiness of God. God has other and higher beings than man. Compare man with these. By “saints” here are meant the holy angels. God is said not to put trust in them. Their perfection is derived and comparative, not absolute. Contemplate man as he actually is; take the positive side of the charge brought against him in the text. II he is not clean, and cannot be righteous in God’s sight, then what is he? “How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water.” It might be urged that this is the representation made of the case by an angry and unscrupulous disputant, only anxious to establish his own position. But does not Job himself allow much the same? Is he not brought to say, “Behold, I am vile.” “I abhor myself”? Such representations abound in Scripture. Away, then, with all human maxims and all worldly opinions, which only throw a false gloss over the heart, and conceal its hidden corruption without touching it. Let us always look at ourselves in the looking glass of God’s Word, and not in the deceitful mirror of our own judgment, or the flattering world’s opinion. (W. E. Light, M. A.)
Holiness imperfect in the best men
Archbishop Usher was once asked to write a treatise upon sanctification; this he promised to do, but six months rolled away and the good Archbishop had not written a sentence. He said to a friend, “I have not begun the treatise, yet I cannot confess to a breach of my promise, for to tell you the truth I have done my best to write upon the subject; but when I came to look into my own heart I saw so little of sanctification there, and found that so much which I could have written would have been merely by rote as a parrot might have talked, that I had not the face to write it.” Yet if ever there was a man renowned for holiness it was Archbishop Usher; if ever there was a saintly man who seemed to be one of the seraphic spirits permitted to stray beyond the companionship of his kind among poor earthworms here, it was Usher, yet this is the confession he makes concerning himself. Where, then, shall we hide our diminished heads? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He wandereth abroad for bread, saying, Where is it?
The cry for bread
There are certain things which if men want they will have. I have heard say that in the old bread riots, when men were actually starving for bread, no word had such a terrible threatening and alarming power about it as the word “Bread,” when shouted by a starving crowd. I have read a description by one who once heard this cry. He said he had been startled at night by a cry of “Fire!” but when he heard the cry of “Bread! Bread!” from those who were hungry, it seemed to cut him like a sword. Whatever bread had been in his possession he must at once have handed it out. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 15". The Biblical Illustrator. https://pro.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent