Then answered Bildad the Shuhite.
Bildad’s unsympathetic speech
Bildad grasps at once, as we say, the nettle. He is quite sure that he has the key to the secret of the distribution among mankind of misery and happiness. It is a very simple solution. It is the doctrine that untimely death, sickness, adversity in every form, are alike signs of God’s anger; that they visit mankind with unerring discrimination; are all what we call “judgments”; are penalties, i.e., or chastisements, meant either simply to vindicate the broken law, or else to warn and reclaim the sinner. And so, in what we feel to be harsh and unfeeling terms, he applies at once this principle, like unsparing cautery, to the wounds of his friend. Bildad tries to overwhelm the restless and presumptuous audacity of Job with a hoard of maxims and metaphors drawn from the storehouse of the “wisdom of the ancients.” He puts them forward in a form that may remind us for a moment of the Book of Proverbs. “As the tall bulrush or the soaring reed grass dies down faster than it shot up, when water is withdrawn, so falls and withers the short-lived prosperity of the forgetters of God. The spider’s web, frailest of tenements, is the world-old type of the hopes which the ungodly builds.” The second friend is emphasising what the first had hinted. “There are no mysteries at all, no puzzles in human life,” the friends say. “Suffering is, in each and every case, the consequence of ill-doing. God’s righteousness is absolute. It is to be seen at every turn in the experience of life. All this impatient, fretful, writhing under, or at the sight of pain and loss, is a sign of something morally wrong, of want of faith in Divine justice. Believe this, Job; act on it, and all thy troubles will be over; God will be once more thy friend--till then He cannot be.” (Dean Bradley.)
Bildad’s first speech
I. A reproof that is severe. “How long wilt thou speak these things?” Job had poured forth language that seemed as wild and tempestuous as the language of a man in a passion. But such language ought to have been considered in relation to his physical anguish and mental distress. Great suffering destroys the mental equilibrium.
II. A doctrine what is unquestionable. “Doth God pervert judgment?” The interrogatory is a strong way of putting the affirmative; namely, that God is absolutely just, and that He never deviates from the right.
III. An implication that is unkind. “If thy children have sinned against Him, and He have cast them away for their transgression.” Surely it was excessively heartless even to hint such things to the broken-hearted father.
IV. A policy that is Divine. “If thou wouldst seek unto God betimes, and make thy supplication unto the Almighty.” Bildad recommends that this policy should be attended to at once, and in a proper spirit. He affirms that if this policy be thus attended to, the Almighty would mercifully interpose.
V. An authority not to be trusted. “Inquire, I pray thee, of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers.” He appeals to antiquity to confirm what he has advanced. Two things should be considered.
1. There is nothing in past times infallible but the Divinely-inspired.
2. There is always more of the inspired in the present than in the past.
VI. A consideration that is solemn. “We are but of yesterday, and know nothing.” This fact, which is introduced parenthetically, is of solemn moment to us all. (Homilist.)
Doth the Almighty pervert justice?
Judgment and justice
These two words may be taken as expressing one and the same thing. If we distinguish them, judgment may serve to express God’s righteous procedure in punishing the wicked; and justice His procedure in vindicating the righteous when they are oppressed. Job is unjustly charged, and accordingly he vindicates himself.
1. Job’s maintaining of his own righteousness is not a quarrelling of God’s righteousness, who afflicted him. Job held both to be true, though he could not reconcile God’s dealing with the testimony of his own conscience, that did evidence his weakness, but not charge God With unrighteousness.
2. As for his complaints of God’s dealings, he was indeed more culpable therein than he would at first see and acknowledge; yet therein he intended no direct accusation against God’s righteousness. Learn--
If thou wouldst seek unto God betimes.
The sinful man’s search
I. What is it that God requireth? A diligent and speedy search. It is a work both in desire and labour to be joined with God. How must we search? Faithfully, humbly, continually. Whom we must seek. God, for four causes.
1. Because we have nothing of ourselves, nor of any other creature.
2. Because none is so present as He.
3. Because none is so able to help as He.
4. Because there is none so willing to help as He. When we must seek. Early. “Even in a time when He may be found.”
II. How is the search to be made? In prayer. Prayer is a shield against the force of our adversary. Prayer hath ever been the cognisance, and the victory, and the triumph of the faithful; for as the soul giveth life to the body, so prayer giveth life to the soul.
III. What effect this seeking and praying should have on us. “If thou wert pure and upright.” God’s promises for the performance hereof yield unto us most plentiful matter of doctrine and consolation. In God’s promises note His mercy, which exceedeth all His works. Note His bountiful kindness, His patience and long-suffering, and His love. God increase the love of these things in our hearts, and make us worthy of Christ’s blessings, which He hath plentifully in store for us; that after He hath heaped temporal blessings upon us, He will give us the blessing of all blessings, even the life of the world to come. (H. Smith.)
Surely now He would awake for thee.
Prayer awaking God
God sleeps, not in regard of the act, but the consequents of sleep. Natural sleep is the binding or locking up of the senses. The eye and ear of God is never bound. But to man’s apprehension the affairs of the world pass, as if God did neither hear nor see. When men are asleep things are done which they can take no notice of, much less stop and prevent. Sleeping and awaking, as applied to God, note only the changes of providence. The words teach--
1. That holy prayer shall certainly be heard.
2. That prayer shall be heard presently, Holy prayers are never deferred the hearing. The giving out of the answer may be deferred, but the answer is not deferred.
3. Prayer is the best means to awaken God. Two things in Scripture are said to awaken God. The prayers of His people, and the rage and blasphemy of His enemies.
4. Seeing that God is awakened by prayer, our prayer ought to be very strong and fervent. If God do but awake for us, all is presently (speedily) well with us. (Joseph Caryl.)
Though thy beginning was small.
The day of small things
Small beginnings, in certain cases, are productive of great ends.
I. The conditions of success. Though obvious and simple, they are very easily overlooked. A pure motive seems the first. A double aim rarely succeeds. The man who has only one aim has only one enemy to encounter. Another “condition of success” may be found in the nature of the aim. Where we aim at that which is good--that which conduces to God’s glory, or man’s benefit, or to both--we have singular advantages on our side. The waves are on the side of God’s enemies; they “cast up mire and dirt,” but that is all. The current is on the side of His friends--of those, as we said above, who seek to do good. One other condition of success, always infallible, if not always essential, is a distinct promise on our side. What God promises, He predicts; what He predicts, He performs.
II. Some of the special cases to which these considerations apply. And the preaching of the Gospel in the world as a “witness,” is that which comes to hand first. How insignificant and small was its beginning! It is true that other religions also have prevailed widely from a small beginning, but they are only subordinate illustrations, so to speak; for they prevailed, so far as they did, from the modicum of Bible truth which they had in them as compared with the religions they displaced. Thus, Buddhism and Christianity, for example, were each founded by one man; but the man in one case was a peasant, in the other was a prince. So Mohammedanism spread by conquering; Christianity, by being conquered. Brahminism, again, prevails in India, but in India alone, I believe; in all other lands it is an exotic which cannot maintain life; whereas Christianity holds sway, even if hated, among all the leading races of the world. Another case is that of the growth of grace in the heart. In this let no one despise the day of small things; let no one be surprised not to find himself a full-grown Christian in one night. If in other respects your beginning seems right, it is all the better, if anything, for being small. The work of God’s Spirit is gradual, as a rule. (Mathematicus, M. A.)
Beginning to be interpreted by the end
If evolution can be proved to include man, the whole course of evolution and the whole system of nature from that moment assume a new significance. The beginning must then be interpreted from the end, not the end from the beginning. An engineering workshop is unintelligible until we reach the room where the completed engine stands. Everything culminates in that final product, is contained in it, is explained by it. The evolution of man is also the completion and corrective of all other forms of evolution. From this point only is there a full view, a true perspective, a consistent world. (H. Drummond.)
The beginning, increase, and end of the Divine life
This was the reasoning of Bildad the Shuhite. He wished to prove that Job could not possibly be an upright man, for if he were so, he here affirms that his prosperity would increase continually, or that if he fell into any trouble, God would awake for him, and make the habitation of his righteousness prosperous. Now, the utterances of Bildad, and of the other two men who came to comfort Job, but who made his wounds tingle, are not to be accepted as being inspired. They spake as men--as mere men. With regard to the passage which I have selected as a text, it is true--altogether apart from its being said by Bildad, or being found in the Bible at all; it is true, as indeed the facts of the Book of Job prove: for Job did greatly increase in his latter end. Evil things may seem to begin well, but they end badly; there is the flash and the glare, but afterwards the darkness and the black ash. Not so, however, with good. With, good the beginning is ever small; but its latter end doth greatly increase. “The path of the just is as the shining light,” which sheds a few flickering rays at first, Which exercises a combat with the darkness, but it “shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” Good things progress.
I. First, then, for the quieting of your fears. Thou sayest, my hearer, “I am but a beginner in grace, and therefore I am vexed with anxiety, and full of timorousness.” Perhaps thy first fear, if I put it into words, is this: “My beginning is so small that I cannot tell when it did begin, and therefore, methinks I cannot have been converted, but am still in the gall of bitterness.” O beloved! how many thousands like thyself have been exercised with doubts upon this point! Be encouraged; it is not needful for you to know when you were regenerated; it is but necessary for you to know that you are so. If thou canst set no date to the beginning of thy faith, yet if thou dost believe now, thou art saved. Does it not strike you as being very foolish reasoning if you should say in your heart, “I am not converted because I do not know when”? Nay, with such reasoning as that, I could prove that old Rome was never built, because the precise date of her building is unknown; nay, we might declare that the world was never made, for its exact age even the geologist cannot tell us. Another doubt also arises from this point. “Ah! sir,” saith a timid Christian, “it is not merely the absence of all date to my conversion, but the extreme weakness of the grace I have.” “Ah,” saith one, “I sometimes think I have a little faith, but it is so mingled with unbelief, distrust, and incredulity, that I can hardly think it is God’s gift, the faith of God’s elect.” When God begins to build, if He lay but one single stone He will finish the structure; when Christ sits down to weave, though He casts the shuttle but once, and that time the thread was so filmy as scarcely to be discernible, He will nevertheless continue till the piece is finished, and the whole is wrought. If thy faith be never so little, yet it is immortal, and that immortality may well compensate for its littleness. Having thus spoken upon two fears, which are the result of these small beginnings, let me now try to quiet another. “Ah!” saith the heir of heaven, “I do hope that in me grace hath Commenced its work, but my fear is, that such frail faith as mine will never stand the test of years. I am,” saith he, “so weak, that one temptation would be too much for me; how then can I hope to pass through yonder forest of spears held in the hands of valiant enemies? A drop makes me tremble, how shall I stem the roaring flood of life and death? Let but one arrow fly from hell, it penetrates my tender flesh; what then if Satan shall empty his quiver? I shall surely fall by the hand of the enemy. My beginnings are so small that I am certain they will soon come to their end, and that end must be black despair.” Be of good courage, have done with that fear once for all; it is true, as thou sayest, the temptation will be too much for thee, but what hast thou to do with it? Heaven is not to be won by thy might, but by the might of Him who has promised heaven to thee. Let me seek to quiet and pacify one other fear. “Nay, but,” say you, “I never can be saved; for when I look at other people, at God’s own true children,--I am ashamed to say it,--I am but a miserable copy of them. So far from attaining to the image of my Master, I fear I am not even like my Master’s servants. I live at a poor dying rate. I sometimes run, but oftener creep, and seldom if ever fly. Where others are shaking mountains, I am stumbling over molehills.” If some little star in the sky should declare it was not a star, because it did not shine as brightly as Sirius or Arcturus, how foolish would be its argument! Hast thou ever learned to distinguish between grace and gifts? For know that they are marvellously dissimilar. A man may be saved who has not a grain of gifts; but no man can be saved who hath no grace. Have you ever learned to distinguish between grace that saves, and the grace which develops itself afterwards. Remember, there are some graces that are absolutely necessary to the saving of the soul; there are some others that are only necessary to its comfort. Faith, for instance, is absolutely necessary for salvation; but assurance is not.
II. Upon this head I wish to say a word or two for the confirmation of your faith. Well, the first confirmation I would offer you is this: Our beginnings are very, very small, but we have a joyous prospect in our text. Our latter end shall greatly increase; we shall not always be so distrustful as we are now. Thank God, we look for days when our faith shall be unshaken, and firm as mountains be. I shall not forever have to mourn before my God that I cannot love Him as I would. We are growing things. Methinks I hear the green blade say this morning, “I shall not forever be trodden under foot as if I were but grass; I shall grow; I shall blossom; I shall grow ripe and mellow; and many a man shall sharpen his sickle for me. But further, thin cheering prospect upon earth is quite eclipsed by a more cheering prospect, beyond the river Death.” Our latter end shall greatly increase. Faith shall give place to fruition; hope shall be occupied with enjoyment; love itself shall be swallowed up in ecstasy. Mine eyes, ye shall not forever weep; there are sights of transport for you. Tongue, thou shalt not forever have to mourn, and be the instrument of confession; there are songs and hallelujahs for thee. Perhaps someone may say, “How is it that we are so sure that our latter end will increase?” I give you just these reasons:--we are quite sure of it because there is a vitality in our piety. The sculptor may have oftentimes cut in marble some exquisite statue of a babe. That has come to its full size; it will never grow any greater. When I see a wise man in the world, I look at him as being just such an infant. He will never grow any greater. He has come to his full. He is but chiselled out by human power; there is no vitality in him. The Christian here on earth is a babe, but not a babe in stone--a babe instinct with life. Besides this, we feel that we must come to something better, because God is with us. We are quite certain that what we are, cannot be the end of God’s design. We are only the chalk crayon, rough drawings of men, yet when we come to be filled up in eternity, we shall be marvellous pictures, and our latter end indeed shall be greatly increased. Christian! remember, for the encouragement of thy poor soul, that what thou art now is not the measure of thy safety; thy safety depends not upon what thou art, but on what Christ is.
III. Now for our last point, namely, for the quickening of our diligence.
1. First, take heed to yourself that you obey the commandments which relate to the ordinances of Christ. But further, if thou wouldst get out of the littleness of thy beginnings, wait much upon the means of grace. Read much the Word of God alone. Rest not till thou hast fed on the Word; and thus shall thy little beginnings come to great endings.
2. Be much also in prayer. God’s plants grow fastest in the warm atmosphere of the closet.
3. And, lastly, if thy beginning be but small, make the best use of the beginning that thou hast. Hast thou but one talent? Put it out at interest, and make two of it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow.
The intellectual poverty of life
The two unquestionable truths that Bildad here expresses are the transitoriness and the intellectual poverty of our mortal life. We “know nothing.” Bildad seems to indicate that our ignorance arises partly from the brevity of our life. We have no time to get knowledge.
1. We know nothing compared with what is to be known. This may be said of all created intelligences, even of those who are the most exalted in power and attainment. “Each subsequent advance in science has shown us the comparative nothingness of all human knowledge.”--Sir R. Peel.
2. We know nothing compared with what we might have known. There is a vast disproportion between the knowledge attainable by man on earth, and that which he actually attains. Our Maker sees the difference.
3. We know nothing compared with what we shall know in the future. There is a life beyond the grave for all, good and bad, a life, not of indolence, but of intense unremitting action,--the action of inquiry and reflection.
I. If we are thus so necessarily ignorant, it does not become us to criticise the ways of God. How often do we find some poor mortals arrogantly occupying the critic’s chair, in the great temple of truth, and even suggesting moral irregularities in the Divine procedure.
II. Difficulties in connection with a revelation from God are to be expected. Place in the hands of one deeply conscious of his ignorance, written with profundity of thought, and extensiveness of learning, and would he not expect to meet with difficulties in every page? How monstrous then it is for any man to expect to comprehend all the revelation of the Infinite Mind. The man who parades the difficulties of the Bible as a justification of his unbelief, or as an argument against its Divinity, is pitiably ignorant of his own ignorance. Were there no difficulties, you might reasonably question its heavenly authorship. Their existence is the signature of the Infinite.
III. The profoundest modesty should characterise us in the maintenance of our theological views. It is the duty of every man to get convictions of Divine truth for himself, to hold these convictions with firmness, and to promote them with earnestness; but at the same time, with a due consciousness of his own fallibility, and with a becoming deference to the judgment of others. The more knowledge, the more humility. True wisdom is ever modest. Those who live most in the light are most ready to veil their faces.
IV. Our perfection is to be found in moral qualities rather than in intellectual attainments. If our well-being consisted in exact and extensive information of our great Maker and His universe, we might well allow despair to settle on our spirits. Few have the talent to become scientific, fewer still the means; but all can love. And “love is the fulfilling of the law”; and love is heaven.
V. There must be an afterlife affording opportunities for the acquisition of knowledge. We are formed for the acquisition of knowledge. If we are so necessarily ignorant, and there be no hereafter, our destiny is not realised, and we have been made in vain.
VI. We should with rapturous gratitude avail ourselves of the merciful interposition of christ as our guide to immortality. Unaided reason has no torch to light us safely on our way. Our gracious Maker has met our ease, He has sent His Son. That Son stands by you and me, and says, “Follow Me.” (Homilist.)
On the ignorance of man, and the proper improvement of it
What do we know of ourselves? We carry about with us bodies curiously made; but we cannot see far into their inward frame and constitution. We experience the operation of many powers and faculties, but understand not what they are, or how they operate. We find that our wills instantaneously produce motion in our members, but when we endeavour to account for this we are entirely lost. The laws of union between the soul and the body, the nature of death, and the particular state into which it puts us; these and many other things relating to our own beings are absolutely incomprehensible to us. One of the greatest mysteries to man is man. What do we know of this earth, and its constitution and furniture? Almost all that we see of things is their outsides. The substance or essence of every object is unintelligible to us. We see no more than a link or two in the immense chain of causes and effects. There is not a single effect which we can trace to its primary cause. And what is this earth to the whole solar system? And what is the system of the sun to the system of the universe? And if we could take in the complete prospect of God’s works, there would still remain unknown an infinity of abstract truths and possibles. Observe too our ignorance of the plan and conduct of Divine providence in the government of the universe. We cannot say wherein consists the fitness of many particular dispensations of providence. There is a depth of wisdom in all God’s ways which we are incapable of tracing. The origin of evil is a point which in all ages has perplexed human reason. And then carry thought to the Deity Himself, and consider what we know of Him. His nature is absolutely unfathomable to us, and in the contemplation of it we see ourselves lost. This imperfection of our knowledge is plainly owing--
1. To the narrowness of our faculties.
2. To the lateness of our existence. We are but of yesterday.
3. To the disadvantageousness of our situation for observing nature and acquiring knowledge.
We are confined to a point of this earth, which itself is but a point compared with the rest of creation. Our subject ought to teach us the profoundest humility. There is nothing we are more apt to be proud of than our understanding. Our subject may be of particular use in answering many objections against providence, and in reconciling us to the orders and appointments of nature. There is an unsearchableness in God’s ways, and we ought not to expect to find them always free from darkness. Our subject should lead us to be contented with any real evidence which we can get. And our subject should lead our hopes and wishes to that future world where full day will break in upon our souls. (R. Price, D. D.)
Our days upon earth are a shadow.
Life a shadow
The author of “Ecce Homo” has remarked that Westminster Abbey is more attractive than St. Paul’s Cathedral. The reason is obvious. Westminster Abbey is full of human interest. There lie our kings, poets, and conquerors. Statues of great men in characteristic attitudes confront us at every turn. St. Paul’s, on the contrary, is comparatively barren in this respect. An imposing temple it is, nevertheless, almost empty. As much may be said of Dante and Milton. The poems of the former are occupied with the hopes and fears, loves and hates of those who were “of like passions with ourselves,” whereas the productions of the latter are occupied with heaven and hell rather than with our own familiar earth. To which of these classes the Bible belongs we need not state. While Divine in its origin, it is intensely human in its theme, end, and sympathies. Man’s dangers and duties, character and condition, absorb the anxiety of each sacred writer. The text reminds us of this. It speaks of life. Our existence is compared to a shadow. The figure is a favourite one in the Old Testament. No less than eight times is it used. What does it mean?
I. A shadow is dark. We always associate the word with that which is gloomy and sombre. And, alas! how dark is life to many! To them the statement of Holy Writ emphatically applies, “Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.” As Sydney Smith observed, “We talk of human life as a journey, but how variously is that journey performed! There are those who come forth girt, and shod, and mantled, to walk on velvet lawns and smooth terraces, where every gale is arrested and every beam is tempered. There are others who walk on Alpine paths of life against driving misery and through stormy sorrows, over sharp afflictions; walk with bare feet and naked breast, jaded, mangled, and chill.” Yonder is a poor lad, a wretched city arab. He cannot read or write. He does not know that there is a God. He has hardly heard the name of Christ. Father and mother he does not recollect. His “days upon earth are a shadow.” Here is a young widow, scarce out of her teens. Less than twelve months ago she was a blooming bride; now she weeps at her husband’s grave. Her fondest earthly expectations are blasted. Her “days upon the earth are a shadow.” There is a large and prosperous household. Father and mother, son and daughter, have a noble ambition--to excel each other in kindness. Brothers and sisters emulate one another in affection. On a certain morning, however, a letter is laid upon the breakfast table which tells them that, by one blow of misfortune, they are ruined. The home nest is destroyed. They must go forth, separated for life, in order to procure their subsistence. Their “days upon earth are a shadow.” All lives are more or less shadow-like.
II. A shadow is not possible without light. Natural or artificial radiance is essential to shade. As much may be affirmed of our troubles. They are accompanied by the light of the Sun of Righteousness. To console us in all trial we have the light of God’s presence. “When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee.” A vessel crossing the Atlantic was suddenly struck with a terrible wind. She shivered and reeled under the stroke. Passengers and crew were thrown into confusion. The captain’s little girl awoke during the disturbance, and, raising herself in bed, said, “Is father on deck?” Assured that he was, she laid herself down quietly and slept again. We may do the same. Calmly ought we to trust our Heavenly Father, who is always with us in life’s storms. Does the reader remember the dying words of John Wesley? As he was drawing near his end he tried to write. But when he took up the pen he discovered that his right hand had forgotten its cunning. A friend offering to write for him asked, “What shall I write?” “Nothing but this: The best of nil is, God with us.” Such was the support of the expiring saint, and such is an unfailing source of strength to us in every hour of trial. We have also the light of God’s purpose. The very meaning of certain commonly used words bears important testimony to the kindly and wise object of the Lord in afflicting us. “Punishment” is derived from the Sanskrit “pu,” to cleanse. “Castigation” comes from “castus,” pure. “Tribulation” has grown out of tribulum, a threshing instrument, whereby the Roman husbandmen separated the corn from the husks. To quote from a living author: “A Chinese mandarin who has a fancy for foreign trees gets an acorn. He puts it in a pot, places a glass shade over it, waters it, and gets an oak; but it is an oak only two feet high. God does differently. He puts the sapling out of doors; He gives it sunshine and pure air. Is that all? No. Hail whistles like bullets in its branches, and seems as if it would tear them to ribbands. But is the tree the worse for it? No; it is cleansed from blight and mildew. Then come storm and tempest, bowing the tree until it appears as if it must fall. But only a few rotten boughs are removed, and the roots take a firmer hold, making the tree stand like a rock. Then comes the lightning, like a flaming sword, rending down huge pieces. Surely the tree is marred and injured now! Not at all. The lightning has made a rent through which the sunlight reaches other parts.” This is a picture of God’s dealings with us. The storms of trouble develop holiness and virtue. Two men stand by the ocean. As he looks at the grand green waves, galloping like Neptune’s wild horses, and shaking their foaming manes with delight, one of them sees in the ocean an emblem of eternity, a symbol of infinitude, a manifestation of God. But the other, as he glances at it, sees in it nothing but a fluid composed of oxygen and hydrogen, forming a convenient means of sending out shiploads of corn and iron, silk and spices. “To the pure all things are pure.” Let us be righteous, and we shall find spiritual help in everything. If we have but a heart yearning after Christ, we shall never fail to get strength and solace from nature, revelation, and mankind. The same bee has a sting for its foe and honey for its friend. The same sun sustains and ripens a rooted tree, but kills the uprooted one. The sane wind and waves sink one ship and send another to its destination.
III. A shadow against with its substance. It corresponds in shape. The tree has a shadow, which is its precise similitude. It corresponds in size. A small house or stone has a small shadow. Life is a shadow. God is the sun. What is the substance? Eternity. Surely it is not outstraining the figure to say this. Life is a “shadow of good things to come” in the other world. But is it so? Is life a “shadow of good things to come”? That depends upon circumstances. The character of our being hereafter agrees with the character of our being here. The people of Ashantee believe that the rank and position of the dead in the other world are determined by the number of attendants he has. Hence, on the death of his mother, the king sacrificed three thousand of his subjects on her grave, that she might have a large retinue of followers, and therefore occupy a situation of eminence. In this horrible custom there is the germ of a solemn truth. Our moral and spiritual state in eternity are regulated by our experience in the present. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” “He that is holy, let him be holy still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.” Oh, what a mighty argument on behalf of goodness! Be it not forgotten. God help us in our daily deeds to remember that our thoughts, feelings, acts, help to decide our everlasting destiny. May we so affectionately serve Christ and so zealously bless our fellows that our inevitable future may be bright and glorious.
IV. A shadow is useful. It is serviceable in many ways. Sometimes it saves life. The shadow of a great rock in a weary land is of more value than we in our climate can fully understand. Distance may be measured by shadows. The height of mountains has been discovered thus. Time, too, is ascertainable by shadows. Orientals are known to practise this method of finding the hour of the day. To be true followers of Christ, our fives, like the shadow, must be marked by utility. St. John closes his Gospel with these remarkable words, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” Nay (we feel inclined to say), not so, thou beloved disciple! Surely thou art wrong. Think again. Withdraw thy hyperbole of enthusiasm. We venture to correct thee. Less than “the world itself”; very much less will “contain” an accurate account of all thy blessed Master did. Peter gives us His whole biography in five words, “Who went about doing good.” Doing good; that was the entire work of Jesus. Good, good, good, nothing but good. Good of all kinds, good at all times, good to all sorts of men. To be His real servants, then, we must distinguish ourselves by usefulness. We can do so. It is astonishing how much may be accomplished. We have before quoted Sydney Smith; we will borrow another thought of him. He argues that if we resolve to make one person in each day happy, in ten years we shall have made no less than three thousand six hundred and fifty happy! Is not the effort worth making? Let us try the experiment. It will not be in vain. Neither shall we go unrewarded. No bliss is like that which attends benevolence.
V. A shadow is soon gone. It cannot last long. Speedily does it depart. Life is short. Our sojourn on earth soon ends. Do not then trifle with the Gospel. Your opportunity for seeking salvation will soon be gone. (T. R. Stevenson.)
Life as a shadow
On the face of the municipal buildings at Aberdeen is an old sundial, said to have been constructed by David Anderson in 1597. The motto is, “Ut umbra, sic fugit vita.”
Can the rush grow up without mire?
--The rush to which he refers did not grow in the dry and parched land of Uz, which was the place where Bildad and Job lived. It grew principally in Egypt, and in one or two places in Northern Palestine. It is no other than the famous bulrush of the Nile, of which the ark was made in which the infant Moses was concealed; an ark of bulrush being supposed to be a powerful charm for warding off all evil. The smooth rind or skin of this remarkable plant that once grew in great abundance in Egypt, but is now very scarce, supplied when dried and beaten out and pasted together the first material used for writing on. Our word paper comes from its name papyrus. Perhaps Bildad, who from his style of speech was evidently a learned man, possessed an old Egyptian book made of papyrus leaves, in which he found the picturesque proverb of my text; and it would be a very curious thing if on the very leaf of a book made of the skin of the papyrus or rush, there should be inscribed an account of the way in which the papyrus or rush itself grew on the swampy banks of the Nile. “Can the rush grow up without mire?” Every plant needs water. Water forms the sap which circulates through the veins of every plant; it is the internal stream along which little successions of floats continually go, carrying the materials of growth to every pair of the structure. In Egypt we see in a very remarkable way the dependence of plants upon water; for vegetation only grows as far as the life-giving overflow of the annual inundation of the Nile extends. Beyond that point there is nothing but the parched, leafless desert. Nothing can be more striking than the dry, white sand, and the long luxuriant grass side by side. There is no mingling of barren and fertile soil; and the two endless lines of grey and green come abruptly into contact. But while other plants thus need water, and are dependent upon it, they can nevertheless cling to life and preserve their greenness even during a pretty long drought. The rush, on the contrary, cannot exist without water, even for the shortest period; and the burning sun of Egypt would destroy in a few hours every water plant that grows in the Nile, were the stream to fail and cease to bathe their roots. Bildad tells us this in very striking language. He says, “While it is yet in its greenness and not cut down, it withereth before any other herb.” No other plant so quickly withers in the absence of water, just because it is made to grow in the water. All its structure is adapted to that kind of situation and to no other. Its material is soft and spongy and filled with water, which evaporates at once when the circulation is not kept up. There are in nature two kinds of plants at the opposite poles from each other, and each wonderfully suited to the place in which it grows. There is the cactus, found in the dry-parched deserts of Mexico, where there is no water, no running stream, and no rain for weeks and months together. It has thick, leathery, fleshy stems instead of leaves, without any evaporating pores on their surface, so that whatever moisture they get from the rare rain or the dew by their roots, they keep and never part with, and therefore they can stand the most intense and long-continued drought, having a reservoir within themselves. And there is on the other hand the rush which grows with its root in the waters of the Nile, and, like a vegetable sponge, cannot live for an hour without that outside water ascending its stem and flowing through all its structure. You know our own common rush cannot do without water. It always grows beside springs, and the sources of streams, and on marshy lands. Wherever you see rushes growing you may be sure that the soil is full of water; and if the farmer drains the field where rushes grow, they soon disappear. The moral which Bildad draws from that interesting fact of natural history is that as the rush requires water for its life, so man can only live by the favour of God (Jeremiah 17:7-8). Your natural life is like that of the rush that grows in the water. Seven-tenths of your bodies is water. Seven-tenths of your bodies came from the last rains that fell. Your life is indeed a vapour, a breath, a little moisture condensed. You begin as a fish, and you swim in a stream of vital fluids as long as your life lasts. You can taste and absorb and use nothing but liquids. Without water you have no life. You know after a long drought how restless and parched and irritable you feel; and what a relief and refreshment the rain is when it comes. It shows you how necessary water is to the well-being of your bodies; how you cannot exist without it. And if this be the case as regards your natural life, what shall be said in regard to your spiritual? God is as necessary to your soul as water is to your body. Your souls thirst for God, for the living God; for He, and He alone, is the element in which you live and move and have your being. You are made for God as the rush is made for the water; and nothing but God can suffice you, as nothing but water can suffice the rush. The rush with its head in the torrid sunshine, and its root in the unfailing waters is stimulated from below and from above. Nothing can exceed the luxuriance of the rush, or papyrus, in the waters of Merom, a lake to the north of the Sea of Galilee. Now, what you require for your spiritual well-being is that you should grow beside the well of water that springeth up unto everlasting life. Jesus can be to you as rivers of waters in a dry place. You can flourish in the withering atmosphere of the world, and endure the fiery trials of life, just because all your wellsprings are in God, and the sources of your human steadfastness and hope are high up in heaven. You are independent of the precarious supplies of the world. The sun shall not light upon you nor any heat; and the things of the world that would otherwise be against you will work together for your good. Seek, then, to grow in grace; for you must grow in something, and if not in grace, then you will grow in sin and degradation, in conditions for which you were not made, which will be continually unsuitable to you, and which will make you always wretched. The soil of grace is the only circumstance in which you can flourish and accomplish the purposes for which God made you; for there the roots of your being will draw living sap continually from the fountain of living waters that perpetually wells up. Growth in grace is not subject to the changes and decays of earth. It is the only growth on which death has no power. Without Christ you can do nothing; you are like the rush without the water in which it grows, dry, withered and dead. With Christ you are like the rush with its root in the river; you will flourish and grow in that holiness whose end is everlasting life. You will indeed be a papyrus displaying on its own leaf the reason of its flourishing condition, in the unmistakably hieroglyphics of nature which he who runs may read; a living epistle of Christ, known and read of all men. (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)
A sermon from a rush
The great hook of nature only needs to be turned over by a reverent hand, and to be read by an attentive eye, to be found to be only second in teaching to the Book of Revelation. The rush shall, this morning, by God’s grace, teach us a lesson of self-examination. Bildad, the Shuhite, points it out to us as the picture of a hypocrite.
I. First, then, the hypocrite’s profession: what is it like? It is here compared to a rush growing in the mire, and a flag flourishing in the water. This comparison has several points in it.
1. In the first place, hypocritical religion may be compared to the rush, for the rapidity with which it grows. True conversions are often very sudden. But the after-growth of Christians is not quite so rapid and uninterrupted: seasons of deep depression chill their joy; hours of furious temptation make a dreadful onslaught upon their quiet; they cannot always rejoice. True Christians are very like oaks, which take years to reach their maturity.
2. The rush is of all plants one of the most hollow and unsubstantial. It looks stout enough to be wielded as a staff, but he that leaneth upon it shall most certainly fall. So is it with the hypocrite; he is fair enough on the outside, but there is no solid faith in Christ Jesus in him, no real repentance on account of sin, no vital union to Christ Jesus. He can pray, but not in secret, and the essence and soul of prayer he never knew. The reed is hollow, and has no heart, and the hypocrite has none either; and want of heart is fatal indeed.
3. A third comparison very naturally suggests itself, namely, that the hypocrite is very like the rush for its bending properties. When the rough wind comes howling over the marsh, the rush has made up its mind that it will hold its place at all hazards. So if the wind blows from the north, he bends to the south, and the blast sweeps over him; and if the wind blows from the south, he bends to the north, and the gale has no effect upon him. Only grant the rush one thing, that he may keep his place, and he will cheerfully bow to all the rest. The hypocrite will yield to good influences if he be in good society. “Oh yes, certainly, certainly, sing, pray, anything you like.” We must be ready to die for Christ, or we shall have no joy in the fact that Christ died for us.
4. Yet again, the bulrush has been used in Scripture as a picture of a hypocrite, from its habit of hanging down its head. “Is it to hang thy head like a bulrush?” asks the prophet, speaking to some who kept a hypocritical fast. Pretended Christians seem to think that to hang down the head is the very index of a deep piety.
5. Once more: the rush is well taken as an emblem of the mere professor from its bearing no fruit. Nobody would expect to find figs on a bulrush, or grapes of Eshcol on a reed. So it is with the hypocrite: he brings forth no fruit.
II. Secondly, we have to consider what it is that the hypocrite’s religion lives on. “Can the rush grow up without mire? Can the flag grow without water?” The rush is entirely dependent upon the ooze in which it is planted. If there should come a season of drought, and the water should fail from the marsh, the rush would more speedily die than any other plant. “Whilst it is yet in its greenness and not cut down, it withereth before any other herb.” The Hebrew name for the rush signifies a plant that is always drinking; and so the rush lives perpetually by sucking and drinking in moisture. This is the case of the hypocrite. The hypocrite cannot live without something that shall foster his apparent piety. Let me show you some of this mire and water upon which the hypocrite lives.
1. Some people’s religion cannot live without excitement revival services, earnest preachers, and zealous prayer meetings keep them green; but the earnest minister dies, or goes to another part of the country; the Church is not quite so earnest as it was, and what then? Where are your converts? Oh! how many there are who are hothouse plants: while the temperature is kept up to a certain point they flourish, and bring forth flowers, if not fruits; but take them out into the open air, give them one or two nights’ frost of persecution, and where are they?
2. Many mere professors live upon encouragement. We ought to comfort the feebleminded and support the weak. But, beware of the piety which depends upon encouragement. You will have to go, perhaps, where you will be frowned at and scowled at, where the head of the household, instead of encouraging prayer, will refuse you either the room or the time for engaging in it.
3. Some, too, we know, whose religion is sustained by example. It may be the custom in the circle in which you move to attend a place of worship; nay, more, it has come to be the fashion to join the Church and make a profession of religion. Well, example is a good thing. Young man, avoid this feeble sort of piety. Be a man who can be singular when to be singular is to be right.
4. Furthermore, a hypocrite’s religion is often very much supported by the profit that he makes by it. Mr. By-ends joined the Church, because, he said, he should get a good wife by making a profession of religion. Besides, Mr. By-ends kept a shop, and went to a place of worship, because, he said, the people would have to buy goods somewhere, and if they saw him at their place very likely they would come to his shop, and so his religion would help his trade. The rush will grow where there is plenty of mire, plenty of profit for religion, but dry up the gains, and where would some people’s religion be?
5. With certain persons their godliness rests very much upon their prosperity. “Doth Job serve God for nought?” was the wicked question of Satan concerning that upright man; but of many it might be asked with justice, for they love God after a fashion because He prospers them; but if things went ill with them they would give up all faith in God.
6. The hypocrite is very much affected by the respectability of the religion which he avows.
III. We have a third point, and that is, what becomes of the hypocrite’s hope? “While it is yet in its greenness and not cut down, it withereth before any other herb. So are the paths of all that forget God; and the hypocrite’s hope shall perish.” Long before the Lord comes to cut the hypocrite down, it often happens that he dries up for want of the mire on which he lives. The excitement, the encouragement, the example, the profit, the respectability, the prosperity, upon which he lived fail him, and he fails too. Alas, how dolefully is this the case in all Christian churches! Yet again, where the rush still continues green because it has mire and water enough on which to feed, another result happens, namely, that ere long the sickle is used to cut it down. So must it be with thee, professor, if thou shalt keep up a green profession all thy days, yet if thou be heartless, spongy, soft, yielding, unfruitful, like the rush thou wilt be cut down, and sorrowful will be the day when, with a blaze, thou shalt be consumed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
So are the paths of all that forget God.
I. Consider the sin of forgetting God.
1. It is a very common sin. Thousands never think of Him except in times of trouble.
2. It is an inexcusable sin. They are dependent upon Him. He is constantly revealing Himself to them.
3. It is a sin of God’s children (Jeremiah 11:31 Jeremiah 23:23-29 ?). We should live to Him every waking hour. Nothing should be too trifling about which to talk to Him.
II. To forget God is ruinous. Our life paths fade away like the rush without mire and the flag without water.
1. The path of inner progress. Men feel that without God they make no moral advancement. True manliness withers; they become moral skeletons. Truth, moral vitality, courage for the right, honour, integrity, all fade away from them, and they are like a withered rush. No one is self-adequate. God is the fountain of life. The highest archangel would cry, as he looked towards the Life-giver of the universe, “All my springs are in Thee.” The forces of death within us surely conquer, unless they are subdued by the incomings of God’s life.
2. The path of outward actualities. The way of life yields little true joy if God be forgotten. There may be worldly success without it. A man may get rich or high-positioned, but he fails to gain the highest satisfactions.
3. The path of posthumous influence. The way of life is impressionable. We all leave footprints upon it. The footprints of the good are more lasting than the evil. Evil is everywhere to be rooted up. It is a fact that the influence of the good is more permanent than the evil. Compare the influence of Alexander and Socrates, Nero and Paul, Queen Mary and Knox, Voltaire and Wesley, etc. The good parent and the wicked one. The name of the wicked shall rot. Think of the folly of forgetting Him. Why should you do this, and die? The withering of a flower may awaken a sigh; the fading away of an oak a tear; but what sorrow should there be over a man fading away into a demon! (W. Osborne Lilley.)
Forgetfulness of God
1. The hypocrite is a forgetter of God.
2. Forgetfulness of God (howsoever it seems no great matter, yet) is exceeding sinful, a wickedness of the highest stature. Forgetfulness of God is therefore a great wickedness, because God hath done so many things to be remembered by.
3. Forgetfulness of God is a mother sin, or the cause of all other sins. First, a forgetfulness that there is a God. Secondly, a forgetfulness who, or what manner of God He is. Thou thoughtest that I was such an one as thyself (Psalms 50:1-23). Thirdly, to forget God, is to forget what God requires; this forgetfulness of these three sorts is productive of any, of every sin.
4. They that forget God shall quickly wither, how great and flourishing soever they are. (J. Caryl.)
The hypocrite’s hope shall perish.
The sin of hypocrisy
A common objection against religion is the existence of hypocrisy. The infidel uses it, the scoffer employs it, and the indifferent, who admit the obligation of religion, yet object to its restraint, always fall back upon the prevalence of hypocrisy. Nothing can be more absurd than for the people to cry down religion because of hypocrisy; it is like a man denying the existence of a subject because he saw a shadow, or asserting that because he had received or seen a few counterfeit sovereigns, there was not a piece of pure gold in the mint. The way of the hypocrite is such as Bildad describes; a brief season of profession, terminating in the extinction of what seemed spiritual life, when all his self-confidence proves to offer no better security than the flimsy web or house of the spider. The rush and flag are succulent plants, and can only live in miry or marshy spots; withdraw from them the moisture on which they grow, and you destroy them. So the hypocrite has no abiding principle of life in him, nor any aptness to derive benefit from those deep or heaven-sent sources which impart nourishment to the believer; some flood of excitement bears him up, some unwholesomeness in the soil enables him to look flourishing. The hypocrite is like the rush or the flag in his material; cut one of these and you will find but pith, or an arrangement of empty cells, you will not find the substance of the oak. Again he springs up all at once from the ground; the smooth stem of the rush, or the broad, waving leaf of the flag will represent the hypocrite’s profession. There is a peculiarity in the common rush; you never can find one green at the top, get it fresh and flourishing as you will, it has begun to wither. Find the hypocrite ever so promising, there will be something to tell you, if you look narrowly, that his religious life has death in it already.
I. The origin of hypocrisy, or the assumption of a character which does not belong to us. In the first instance it comes from low notions of God, arising out of our deceived understanding. Hypocrisy argues a sense of obligation on the part of the hypocrite. He knows his responsibility, but having no clear notion of the purity and all-seeing eye of God, he puts on a form of religion while destitute of the power; he thinks that God is like himself, and therefore that he can deceive Him. These persons are without a relish for that state of mind which religion requires, the new heart, the right spirit, the single eye, the death unto sin, the life unto righteousness. Man must have a religion, so a religion he assumes.
II. The general character of hypocrisy. How can we avoid setting down as a hypocrite the man who, devoid of Christ in his heart, attends religious services? One characteristic is self-deception. A man begins by dissembling with God; he proceeds to deceive his fellows; at length he palms the cheat upon himself. Nothing is so irksome even to the sincere Christian as the duty of self-examination. Where self-love is predominant, it is easy to believe that the man will, in the first place, shut his eyes to his faults: a false standard of holiness being set up, he will soon find others worse than himself; this will comfort him; he will substitute single acts for habits, or momentary feelings for abiding and governing principles of conduct.
III. The consequences of hypocrisy. The scoffer laughs at what he considers a satisfactory proof that there is no such thing as true religion. The careless or indolent content themselves with their present neutral (as they suppose it) condition, and think it better not to go any further in their profession. The child of God trembles and feels cast down. Yet there is good brought out of all this by God. The best method of avoiding the sin of hypocrisy is to have this constantly in our minds, that we have to deal with a God who is about our path, and about our bed, and spieth out all our ways, one on whom there can be no deception practised. Let us then seek to have that oneness of spirit by which only we can serve Him. In our religion let the heart agree with the head, the hands, and the feet. (C. O. Pratt, M. A.)
The hypocrite-his character, hope, and end
These words are supposed to be a quotation from one of the fathers. We can see that the quotation may begin at Job 8:11, but it is not easy to see where it ends.
I. The character of the hypocrite. All hypocrites belong to the class of those who forget God. In outward appearance, to the eye of man, they appear to remember God. Their outward services; their regular observance of everything that is external in religion; the words which they use; the subjects on which they converse--all appear to mark them out as those who remember God. But, in all this, as the very word hypocrite indicates, they are but acting a part. There is no reality in their services; no correspondence between their outward lives and the state of their heart; the two are altogether at variance. They are anxious for the praise of men; and so they are careful to adapt their outward lives--that which is seen of men--to a religious standard. They care not for the praise of God; and so they neglect their hearts, and withhold them from Him to whom they are due. All is show; there is no fruit. We meet with solemn examples of this character in the Scriptures. It is the motive; it is the power of godliness; it is Jesus dwelling in the heart; it is walking as in the presence of God,--it is this that constitutes the difference between the true Christian and the hypocrite; between him who serves God in truth, and him who serves in appearance. Then let us seek truthfulness of character and reality.
II. The hope of the hypocrite. The Christian’s hope is laid up in heaven. It is an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast. The hypocrite’s hope fastens itself on some vain thing in the present life, some worldly gain, the praise of man, or some pecuniary benefit. And there is no single character in which there is so little hope of any real and saving change as in that of the hypocrite. But what is the issue and end of the hypocrite’s hope, and of himself? The hypocrite, being destitute of the grace of God, cannot grow, but must wither away. Without the grace of God we are but as some succulent plant, when the moistened mire and water are withdrawn from its roots. It needs not to be cut down by the hand of man, but withers speedily in consequence of the lack of moisture. We may, however, explain the “mire” and the “water,” not of inward grace, but rather of outward prosperity; and then the meaning will be this--It is only in circumstances of outward prosperity that the hypocrite can appear to flourish. Let these be changed let sifting trials come, as they will come, to try the heart, and he is as a rush or flag from which the “mire” and “water” are removed; he suddenly disappears, his hope vanishes, and he himself is lost. Another illustration is used. The hypocrite’s hope is compared to a “spider’s web.” Beautifully formed as such a web is--a masterpiece of ingenuity and arrangement--it is easily swept away. A gust of wind, or the hand of man may carry it away in a moment. The poor spider may cling for safety to his house or web, woven out of its own body, but it cannot shelter him (Job 8:15). What a vivid picture of the hypocrite’s trust! His confidence of success rises high, when suddenly the hand of God sweeps away the spider’s web, and the poor deceiver falls, clinging to its ruins Our subject has led us to speak of the thorough hypocrite, but we ought to remember that there are many degrees of this sin short of downright hypocrisy. Simplicity and transparency of character--one of the most beautiful graces of the Christian character--may be wanting. (George Wagner.)
The hope of the hypocrite
It is thought that this passage is a quotation introduced by Bildad from a fragmentary poem of more ancient date. Desirous of fortifying his own sentiments by the authority of the ancients, he introduces into the heart of his argument a stray passage which had been carried down through successive generations. The moral of this fragment is that the “hypocrite’s hope shall perish.” This is presented under three images.
1. That of the bulrush growing in a marshy soil. Rush and flag may represent any plant which demands a marshy soil, and imbibes a large quantity of water. When the hypocrite is compared to a rush which cannot live without mire, and the flag that cannot grow without water, we are instructed as to the weakness and unsubstantial nature, of his confidence; and when it is added that “while yet it is in greenness, it withereth before any other herb,” we are reminded of the brevity and precariousness of his profession. Take the reed out of the water, and plant it in any other soil, and you will see it hang down its head and perish utterly. You have no need to tear it up by the roots, or to cut it down as by a reaping hook. All that you have tot do is draw off the watery substance on which it depends for nourishment, and which it copiously imbibes. Thus too it is with the profession and confidence of the hypocrite. To prove the worthlessness of his hope, it is enough that you abstract from him the enjoyments of his past existence--the mire and moisture from which he derived his fair show of appearances in the flesh. But for the favourable condition in which he happened to be placed, he would have never appeared religious at all, and that being changed, his declension is rapid and inevitable. “The hypocrite’s hope shall perish.” He is himself frail as a reed, and that which he leans upon is “unstable as water.” Has then the hypocrite hope? Yes, for such is the deceitfulness of the human heart, that it can even cry peace when there is no peace. Thinking the Deity to be altogether such an one as himself, he has accustomed himself to call evil good and good evil. As the man is, so is the god that he creates for himself. And hence it is that even the hypocrite has a hope. But it is a hope which must perish.
2. That of the spider’s web, swept away in a moment by the breath of the storm. The web of the spider is carefully and ingeniously constructed; but nothing is more easily brushed aside. The insect trusts to it indeed, but in a moment of time, he and it are carried away together. The hypocrite, too, has reared for himself what he supposes will be a comfortable habitation against the storm and rain. Not more slender is the thread spun by the spider than is his fancied security. Let trial or calamity come, and it will avail him nothing.
3. A plant that has no depth of earth for its roots, but which seeks even among a heap of stones for wherewithal to maintain itself. The metaphor is drawn from an object with which the observers of nature are familiar. When the roots have only a slender hold of a heap of stones, they are easily loosened, and the tree falls prostrate. Such is the attachment of the hypocrite to the place of his self-confidence. Into every crevice of his fancied merits does he push the fibres of hope. On the hard rock of an unconverted heart he flourishes awhile. Learn--
The hope of the hypocrite delusive
I. What is meant by the hypocrite? All hypocrites may be comprehended under these two sorts.
1. The gross dissembler, who knowingly, and against his conscience, pursues some sinful course, endeavouring only to conceal it from the eyes of men. Such an one as Gehazi, or Judas.
2. The formal, refined hypocrite who deceives his own heart. He makes some advances into the practice of holiness; but not being sound at the heart, not being thoroughly divided from his sin, he takes that for grace which is not sincerity, and therefore much less grace; and being thus deceived, he misses of the power of godliness, and embraces only the form (Matthew 7:26-27). Both these hypocrites agree in this, that they are deceivers. One deceives the world, the other deceives himself.
II. What is meant by the hypocrite’s hope? Those persuasions that a man has of the goodness and safety of his spiritual condition, whereby he strongly persuades himself that he is now in a state of grace, and consequently shall hereafter attain to a state of glory. This hope is not in the same proportion in all hypocrites. Distinguish in it these two degrees.
1. A probable opinion. This is but the lowest degree of assent.
2. A peremptory persuasion. This is its higher pitch and perfection. It seems seldom to be entertained but where hypocrisy is in conjunction with gross ignorance, or judicial searedness. Proposition--
I. A hypocrite may proceed so far as to obtain a hope and expectation of a future blessedness.
1. Hypocrites have and do obtain such hopes. Evinced by two arguments. From the nature and constitution of man’s mind, which is vehement and restless in its pursuit after some suitable good. It is natural for man, both in his desires and designs, to build chiefly upon the future. Man naturally looks forward. Every man carries on some particular design, upon the event of which he builds his satisfaction; and the spring that moves these designs is hope. Hopes of the future are the causes of present action. It follows that the hypocrite has his hope, for he has his course and his way, according to which he acts, and without hope there can be no action. The other argument, proving that hypocrites have their hopes, shall be taken from that peace and comfort that even hypocrites enjoy; which are the certain effects, and therefore the infallible signs of some hope abiding in the mind. Assuredly, if it were not for hope, the heart of the merriest and most secure hypocrite in the world would break.
2. By what ways and means the hypocrite comes first to attain this hope. By misapprehending God. By his misunderstanding of sin. By mistakes about the spiritual rigour and strictness of the Gospel. By his mistakes about repentance, faith, and conversion.
3. By what ways and means the hypocrite preserves and continues this false hope. Those methods by which he first gets it, have in them also a natural fitness to continue, cherish, and foment it. Three ways more. Especially--
II. The hypocrite’s fairest and most promising expectation of a future happiness will in the end vanish into miserable disappointment.
1. Prove this proposition. From clear testimony of Scripture. A spider’s web may represent a hypocrite’s hope in the curious subtilty, and the fine artificial composure of it, and in the weakness of it; for it is too fine spun to be strong. From the weakness of the foundation on which the hope is built.
2. Show what are those critical seasons and turns in which more especially the hypocrite’s hope will be sure to fail him.
III. Make some use and improvement of the foregoing discourse. It shall be to display and set before us the transcendent, surpassing misery of the final estate of all hypocrites, whose peculiar lot it is to hope themselves into damnation, and to perish with those circumstances that shall double and treble the weight of their destruction. In this life the heart of man is not capable of such absolute, entire misery, but that some glimmerings of hope will still dart in upon him, and buoy up his spirits from an utter despondency. But when it shall come to this, that a man must go one way, and his hopes another, so parting as never to meet again, human nature admits not of any further addition to its sorrow; for it is pure, perfect, unmixed misery, without any allay or mitigation. Those appetites and desires, the satisfaction of which brings the greatest delight; the defrauding of them, according to the rule of contraries, brings the greatest and the sharpest misery. Nothing so comfortable as hope crowned with fruition; nothing so tormenting as hope snapped off with disappointment and frustration. The despairing reprobate is happier than the hoping reprobate. Both indeed fall equally low, but he that hopes has the greater fall, because he falls from the higher place. (R. South, D. D.)
Whose trust shall be a spider’s web.
The spider and the hypocrite
In physics, in morals, in religion, reality has no respect for those who have no regard for truth and fact. Abused nature, undeterred by rank, plies her scourge on all the votaries of sin. Reality does not in moral matters seem to many so honest and severe. Fancy and imagining hold here a completer sway. Men propose to sip the sensual sweet and decline the sensual bitter. In religion, reality might seem to reign without a rival, for here is no dreamland for fancy, but the field of revelation for the activities of mind and heart. Some make religion their mirror, in which they see themselves the end of their whole devotion. Some overact their part in the temple, the more easily to overreach their brethren in the market. Some forge the name of God to the cheque of a sanctified deportment and present it for golden profits at the bank of Christian confidence. These are the hypocrites who trust that God will not expose them this side the grave; but their hope shall be cut off; “their trust is as a spider’s web,” which, while very beautiful in its structure, is equally fragile as to its texture, and, though adequate to the builder’s purposes, yet, being self-spun, self-built, is destined to be swept away.
I. Beautiful as to its structure. Admirable is the fairy architecture of the spider’s web. This tracery of insect art, on hawthorn or holly fence, seen before the sun grows hot, strung with beads of dew, asks no painter’s skill, no poet’s eulogy; its beauty, like the sun’s glory, is its own evidence. Beautiful, too, is the hypocrite’s trust, and the religion that trust inspires. The hypocrite’s religion satisfies the eye; it is the bright cloud which for the moment passes for the sun itself; it is the sacrifice without spot or blemish in the skin; an argument constraining charity to hope it is pure and right in heart. To men’s sight the hypocrite’s religion is like the spider’s web, beautiful in its structure, but when tried it is found to be--
II. Very fragile in its texture. This is no disparagement to the web. For such a tiny weaver, it is strong and wonderful. Were man as insignificant as the spider, his paltry trust would be no indignity; being but little lower than the angels, a hypocritical trust merits the comparison. God hangs great weights on small wires; the hypocrite hangs them all upon the semblance of them. There is nothing real but his wickedness, nothing true but his deception.
III. It is adequate to the owner’s purposes and successful in securing them. The hypocrite, wanting to fly with the doves to their windows, decks himself with their feathers. All of the true prophet is his hairy garment. His success often equals the completeness of his disguise. Charity hopes that under the leaves there is fruit; that behind the smile there is the loving heart; that the fragrance of profession steals from the true flower of grace within. It is adequate to his purposes, and too often successful in securing them. The spider ensnares his prey; the hypocrite does make a gain of godliness, and a ladder of religion.
IV. Their trust, being false, shall, with all that rests upon it, be utterly swept away. The truth, holiness, and honour of God require it. Hypocrisy! It is a tomb with the lettered porch and golden dome of a temple. It is deception sublimed to a science. The hypocrite takes the precious name of Christ as an angler does a worm, and, thrusting it on the hook of his crooked purposes, angles for suffrages or lucre. But the pious dissembler will exhaust his last resource, and wear out his last disguise. This human spider may take hold with his hands, and pursue his close-couched schemes in the great King’s palace, but coming judgment will sweep him and them away. The anger of the Lord will smoke against the hypocrite. No sacrifice can be presented without salt; no service can be accepted without sincerity. (W. G. Jones.)
False and true hope
(with Hebrews 6:19):--The world is full of hope of various kinds. Alike in the dreams of childhood, the resolves of youth, the purposes of manhood, and the more chastened anticipations of old age, we may see its power displayed. The faculty of hope is a great motive force of human action.
I. False hope is as a spider’s web. Because--
1. Not altogether destitute of beauty. Such webs are often beautiful, especially those kinds which in summer time we see spread upon the hedgerows, or festooned between the garden trees. They attract our admiration as we behold them sparkling in the sunlight. Fair, in external appearance, are the hopes which even the impenitent cherish. The power of hope will often enable a man, who is entirely destitute of the grace of God, to paint the future in roseate hues, to dream dreams of possible excellence, and call up visions of the glory of heaven, which, though unsubstantial as gossamer, are not without their attractive features.
2. Self-derived. It is well known that spiders produce from their own bodies the, glutinous fluid with which they form their webs. Even so the hopes in which the wicked indulge are self-produced. They are merely the creations of their own fancy.
3. Exceedingly frail. How slight and strengthless is the spider’s web: The fall of a leaf will destroy it, a gust of wind will sweep it away. Significant emblem in this respect of the weakness of false hope!
II. True hope is as the anchor of the soul. Because--
1. It connects its possessor with an unseen world. When an anchor is cast overboard from a vessel, it drops out of sight, beneath the blue waves, which act as a kind of veil to hide it from view. The sailor sees it not, though he knows and feels that it is there. He perceives that his ship is anchored, though the secrets of the anchoring ground are concealed from his gaze. Even so the apostle describes the Christian’s hope, “as entering into that within the veil.”
2. It possesses enduring strength. When once the anchor is embedded in the ground, with what a firm grasp does it hold fast the largest vessel! An emblem this of the strength of true hope! It is both “sure and steadfast,” for it rests not upon the broken promises of man, but the unchanging promises of God; it clings not to the sand of human support, but to the rock of Divine strength.
3. It gives the soul calmness and security amid the storms of life. Though the gale may blow fiercely, the ship rides safely in the bay. Held firmly by the friendly anchor, it scarcely moves from its moorings. Even so, the soul that anchors itself in the Divine power and the Divine love abides calm and secure through every tempest of trial. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace,” etc. (George John Allen, B. A.)
Hope as a spider’s web
A similitude of great elegance and significance. We may observe a great analogy between the spider’s web and that in a double respect.
1. In respect of the curious subtilty and the fine artificial composure of it. The spider in every web shows itself an artist: so the hypocrite spins his hope with a great deal of art, in a thin, fine thread. This and that good duty, this good thought, this opposing of some gross sin, are all interwoven together to the making up a covering for his hypocrisy. And as the spider draws all out of its own bowels, so the hypocrite weaves all his confidence out of his own inventions and imaginations.
2. It resembles it in respect of its weakness--it is too fine spun to be strong. After the spider has used all its art and labour in framing a web, yet how easily is it broken, how quickly is it swept down! So, after the hypocrite has wrought out a hope with much cost, art, and industry, it is yet but a weak, slender, pitiful thing. He does indeed by this get some name, and room amongst professors; he does, as it were, hang his hopes upon the beams of God’s house. But when God shall come to cleanse, and, as it were, to sweep His sanctuary, such cobwebs are sure to be fetched down. Thus the hypocrite, like the spider, by all his artifice and labour, only disfigures God’s house. A hypocrite in a church is like a cobweb in a palace--all that he is or does, serving only to annoy and misbecome the place and station that he would adorn. (R. South.)
The hope of the hypocrite
I. The character of the hypocrite. He hides wickedness under a cloak of goodness. He derives his honour from his birth; the child of God from his new birth. He serves God with that which costs him nothing. He is only disposed to some virtues. He puts reason in the place of religion. His virtues are only shining vices. He hears the Word without real benefit. He is the “stony ground.” Sometimes he trembles under the Word, but he shifts it off. He is a seeming friend, but a secret foe, to the Gospel. If he pray, it is with his tongue, not with his heart. He acts according to his wishes. He is wavering and double minded.
II. The hope of the hypocrite.
1. The trust, or hope, of the hypocrite is a spider’s web, because he forms it, as it were, out of his own bowels.
2. Because the profession and all the works of the hypocrite are weak and unstable. There is some curiosity in the spider’s web, but there is neither strength nor stability.
3. The spider makes her web to catch and ensnare. So the hypocrite ensnares the simple; he makes gain of godliness.
4. The hypocrite, like the spider, thinks himself perfectly safe; when once lodged in his profession he apprehends no danger.
5. In the issue the hope shall perish as does a spider’s web. When the house is swept, down go the spiders’ webs. (T. Hannam.)
Behold, God will not cast away a perfect man.
Moral character determines a man’s destiny
I. The real condition of the good. By the real condition we mean the relation of the soul, not to the circumstantials and temporalities of existence.
1. It is a condition in which they will never be deserted of the eternal. “God will not cast away a perfect man.” Whatever may be the alternations in the life of the good, whoever may shun and reject them, the Great One will never forsake them. All men, said Paul, forsook me; notwithstanding, the Lord stood by me.
2. It is a condition in which God will inspire them with happiness. “Till He fill thy mouth with laughing, and thy lips with rejoicing.” He not only never deserts them, but He always blesses them. He “fills them with joy and peace in believing.” Although Bildad did not regard Job as a good man, but on the contrary considered him to be a great sinner and a great hypocrite, he here assures him that if he were good, his Maker would never desert him, but always be with him to inspire him with joy. Goodness is blessedness.
II. Thy real condition of the wicked. What is the true moral state of the ungodly? It is here given negatively and positively.
1. The negative form. Neither will He help the evildoers. They need help; they are involved in difficulties and exposed to dangers. But He will not help them.
2. The positive form. “They that hate Thee shall be clothed with shame, and the dwelling place of the wicked shall come to nought.” The wicked here even hated the godly, but the time comes when they shall be abashed and confounded on account of their enmity. They have frequently here grand “dwelling places,” mansions, and palaces as their homes, but all are temporary. They shall come to nought. (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Job 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://pro.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent