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37. The Sorrowful Man's Question
Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in? Job 3:23
Job's case was such that life itself became irksome He wondered why he should be kept alive to suffer. Could not mercy have permitted him to die out of hand? Light is most precious, yet we may come to ask why it is given. See the small value of temporal things, for we may have them and loathe them; we may have the light of life and prefer the darkness of death under the sorrowful conditions which surround us. Hence Job asks, "Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul; which long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures?"
We hope that our hearers are not in Job's condition; but if they are, we desire to comfort them.
I. THE CASE WHICH RAISES THE QUESTION: "A man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in." He has the light of life, but not the light of comfort.
If we were in such misery, we, too, might raise the question; therefore let us consider:
II. THE QUESTION ITSELF: "Why is light given?" etc.
This inquiry, unless prosecuted with great humility and child-like confidence, is to be condemned:
1. He walks in deep trouble, so deep that he cannot see the bottom of it. Nothing prospers, either in temporals or in spirituals. He is greatly depressed in spirit. He can see no help for his burden, or alleviation of his misery. He cannot see any ground for comfort either in God or in man. "His way is hid."
2. He can see no cause for it. No special sin has been committed. No possible good appears to be coming out of it. When we can see no cause we must not infer that there is none. Judging by the sight of the eyes is dangerous.
3. He cannot tell what to do in it. Patience is hard, wisdom is difficult, confidence scarce, and joy out of reach, while the mind is in deep gloom. Mystery brings misery.
4. He cannot see the way out of it. He seems to hear the enemy say, "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in" (Exod. 14:3). He cannot escape through the hedge of thorn, nor see an end to it: his way is straitened as well as darkened. Men in such a case feel their griefs intensely, and speak too bitterly.
III. ANSWERS WHICH MAY BE GIVEN TO THE QUESTION.
1. It is an unsafe one. It is an undue exaltation of human judgment. Ignorance should shun arrogance. What can we know?
2. It reflects upon God It insinuates that his ways need explanation, and are either unreasonable, unjust, unwise, or unkind.
3. There must be an answer to the question; but it may not be one intelligible to us. The Lord has a "therefore" in answer to every"wherefore"; but he does not often reveal it; for "he giveth not account of any of his matters'' (Job 33:13).
4. It is not the most profitable question. Why we are allowed to live in sorrow is a question which we need not answer. We might gain far more by inquiring how to use our prolonged life.
1. Suppose the answer should be, "God wills it." Is not that enough? "I
opened not my mouth; because thou didst it" (Ps. 39:9).
2. To an ungodly man sufficient answers are at hand.
3. To the godly man there are yet more apparent reasons. Your trials are sent,
- It is mercy which, by prolonging the light of life, keeps you from worse suffering. For you to desire death is to be eager for hell. Be not so foolish.
- It is wisdom which restrains you from sin, by hedging up your way, and darkening your spirit. It is better for you to be downcast than dissolute.
- It is love which calls you to repent. Every sorrow is intended to whip you Godward.
- To let you see all that is in you. In deep soul-trouble we discover what we are made of.
- To bring you nearer to God. The hedges shut you up to God; the darkness makes you cling close to him. Life is continued that grace may be increased.
- To make you an example to others. Some are chosen to be monuments of the Lord's special dealings; a sort of lighthouse to other mariners.
- To magnify the grace of God. If 6ur way were always bright we could not so well exhibit the sustaining, consoling, and delivering power of the Lord.
- To prepare you for greater prosperity. Without your life being preserved, you could not reach that halcyon period which is reserved for you; nor would you be fitted for it if you were not disciplined by previous trials.
- To make you like your Lord Jesus, who lived in affliction. For him death was no escape from his burdens: he said,"It is finished," before he gave up the ghost.
Be not too ready to ask unbelieving questions.
Be sure that life is never too long.
Be prepared of the Holy Spirit to keep to the way even when it is hid, and to walk on between the hedges when they are not hedges of roses, but fences of briar.
When it is asked why a man is kept in misery on earth, when he would be glad to be released by death, perhaps the following among others may be the reasons: (1) those sufferings may be the very means which are needful to develop the true state of his soul. Such was the case with Job; (2) they may be the proper punishment of sin in the heart, of which the individual was not fully aware, but which may be distinctly seen by God. There may be pride, and the love of ease, and self-confidence, and ambition, and a desire of reputation. Such appear to have been some of the besetting sins of Job; (3) they are needful to teach true submission, and to show whether a man is willing to resign himself to God; (4) they may be the very things which are necessary to prepare the individual to die. At the same time that men often desire death, and feel that it would be a relief, it might be to them the greatest possible calamity. They may be wholly unprepared for it. For a sinner, the grave contains no rest; the eternal world furnishes no repose. One design of God in such sorrows may be to show to the wicked how intolerable will be future pain, and how important it is for them to be ready to die. If they cannot bear the pains and sorrows of a few hours in this short life, how can they endure eternal sufferings? If it is so desirable to be released from the sorrows of the body here, if it is felt that the grave, with all that is repulsive in it, would be a place of repose, how important is it to find some way to be secured from everlasting pains! The true place of release from suffering, for a sinner, is not the grave; it is in the pardoning mercy of God, and in that pure heaven to which he is invited through the blood of the cross. In that holy heaven is the only real repose from suffering and from sin; and heaven will be all the sweeter in proportion to the extremity of pain which is endured on earth. Barnes
Charles Hadden Spurgeon
38. The Sinner's Surrender to His Preserver
I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? Job 7:20
Job could defend himself before men, but he used another tone when bowing before the Lord: there he cried,"I have sinned." The words would suit any afflicted saint; for, indeed, they were uttered by such an one; but they may also be used by the penitent sinner, and we will on this occasion direct them to that use.
1. A CONFESSION. "I have sinned."
In words this is no more than a hypocrite, nay, a Judas, might say. Do not many call themselves "miserable sinners" who are indeed despicable mockers? Yet seeing Job's heart was right his confession was accepted.
II. AN INQUIRY. "What shall I do unto thee?"
In this question we see,
1. It was very brief, but yet very full. It was more full in its generality than if he had descended to particulars. We may use it as a summary of our life: "I have sinned." What else is certain in my whole career? This is most sure and undeniable.
2. It was personal. I have sinned, whatever others may have done.
3. It was to the Lord. He addresses the confession not to his fellowman but to the Preserver of men.
4. It was a confession wrought by the Spirit. See verse 18, where he ascribes his grief to the visitation of God.
5. It was sincere. No complimentary talk, or matter of ritualistic form, or passing acknowledgment. His heart cried,"I have sinned;" and he meant it.
6. It was feeling. He was cut to the quick by it. Read the whole chapter. This one fact, "I have sinned;' is enough to brand the soul with the mark of Cain, and burn it with the flames of hell.
7. It was a believing confession. Mingled with much unbelief Job still had faith in God's power to pardon. An unbelieving confession may increase sin.
III. A TITLE. "O thou preserver of men!"
Observer of men, therefore aware of my case, my misery, my confession, my desire for pardon, my utter helplessness.
Preserver of men.
1. His willingness to do anything, whatever the Lord might demand, thus proving his earnestness.
2. His bewilderment: he could not tell what to offer, or where to turn; yet something must be done.
3. His surrender at discretion. He makes no conditions, he only begs to know the Lord's terms.
4. The inquiry may be answered negatively.
5. It may be answered evangelically:
- What can I do to escape thee? Thou art all around me.
- Can past obedience atone? Alas! As I look back I am unable to find anything in my life but sin.
- Can I bring a sacrifice? Would grief, fasting, long prayers, ceremonies, or self-denial avail? I know they would not.
- Confess the sin."If we confess our sins," etc.
- Renounce it. By his grace we can"cease to do evil and learn to do well."
- Obey the message of peace: believe in the Lord Jesus and live.
- By his infinite long-suffering refraining from punishment.
- By daily bounties of supply, keeping the ungrateful alive.
- By the plan of salvation, delivering men from going down into the pit, snatching the brands from the burning.
- By daily grace, preventing the backsliding and apostasy of believers.
We must view the way and character of God in Christ if we would find comfort; and from his gracious habit of preserving men we infer that he will preserve us, guilty though we be.
Address upon the point in hand,
- The impenitent, urging them to confession.
- The unconcerned, moving them to enquire,"What must we do to be saved?"
- The ungrateful, exhibiting the preserving goodness of God as a motive for love to him.
No sooner had Job confessed his sin, but he is desirous to know a remedy. Reprobates can cry,"Peccavi;' I have sinned; but then they proceed not to say as here,"What shall I do?" They open their wound, but lay not on a plaster, and so the wounds made by sin are more putrefied, and grow more dangerous. Job would be directed what to do for remedy: he would have pardoning grace and prevailing grace, upon any terms. Trapp
Job was one of those whom Scripture describes as "perfect," yet he cried,"I have sinned." Noah was perfect in his generation, but no drunkard will allow us to forget that he had his fault. Abraham received the command, "Walk before me and be thou perfect," but he was not absolutely sinless. Zecharias and Elizabeth were blameless, and yet there was enough unbelief in Zecharias to make him dumb for nine months. The doctrine of sinless perfection in the flesh is not of God, and he who makes his boast of possessing such perfection has at once declared his own ignorance of himself and of the law of the Lord. Nothing discovers an evil heart more surely than a glorying in its own goodness. He that proclaimeth his own praise publisheth his own shame.
Man is in himself so feeble a creature, that it is a great wonder that he has not long ago been crushed by the elements, exterminated by wild beasts, or extirpated by disease. Omnipotence has bowed itself to his preservation, and compelled all visible things to form the Bodyguard of Man. We believe that the same Preserver of men who has thus guarded the race, watches with equal assiduity over every individual. Our own life contains instances of deliverance so remarkable, that the doctrine of a special providence needs to us no further proof. Kept alive, with death so near, we have been compelled to cry, "This is the finger of God!" Now, this preserving grace is a fair ground for hope as to forgiving love. He who has been thus careful to keep us in being must have designs for our well-being. Marvelously has he protected us, sinners though we be; and, therefore, we need not question his willingness to save us from all iniquity.
The unconditional surrender implied in the question, "What shall I do unto thee?" is absolutely essential from every man who hopes to be saved. God will never raise the siege until we hand out the keys of the city, open every gate, and bid the Conqueror ride through every street, and take possession of the citadel. The traitor must deliver up himself and trust the prince's clemency. Till this is done the battle will continue; for the first requisite for peace with God is complete submission.
Charles Hadden Spurgeon
39. Out of Nothing Comes Nothing
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one. Job 14:4
JOB had a deep sense of the need of being clean before God, and indeed he was clean in heart and hand beyond his fellows. But he saw that he could not of himself produce holiness in his own nature, and therefore, he asked this question, and answered it in the negative without a moment's hesitation. The best of men are as incapable as the worst of men of bringing out from human nature that which is not there.
I. MATTERS OF IMPOSSIBILITY IN NATURE.
l. Innocent children from fallen parents.
II. SUBJECTS FOR PRACTICAL CONSIDERATION FOR EVERYONE.
2. A holy nature from the depraved nature of any one individual.
3. Pure acts from an impure heart.
4. Perfect acts from imperfect men.
5. Heavenly life from nature's moral death.
III. PROVISIONS TO MEET THE CASE.
1. That we must be clean to be accepted.
2. That our fallen nature is essentially unclean.
3. That this does not deliver us from our responsibility: we are none the less bound to be clean because our nature inclines us to be unclean; a man who is a rogue to the core of his heart is not thereby delivered from the obligation to be honest.
4. That we cannot do the needful work of cleansing by our own strength.
5. That it will be well for us to look to the Strong for strength, to the Righteous One for righteousness, to the Creating Spirit for new creation. Jehovah brought all things out of nothing, light out of darkness, and order out of confusion; and it is to such a Worker as He that we must look for salvation from our fallen state.
- Depravity cannot make itself desirous to be right with God.
- Corruption cannot make itself fit to speak with God.
- Unholiness cannot make itself meet to dwell with God.
Despair of drawing any good out of the dry well of the creature.
1. The fitness of the gospel for sinners. "When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly:" The gospel contemplates doing that for us which we cannot attempt for ourselves.
2. The cleansing power of the blood. Jesus would not have died if sin could have been removed by other means
3. The renewing work of the Spirit. The Holy Ghost would not regenerate us if we could regenerate ourselves.
4. The omnipotence of God in spiritual creation, resurrection, quickening, preservation, and perfecting. This meets our inability and death.
Have hope for the utmost cleansing, since God has become the worker of it.
The word which we render "clean" signifies shining, beautiful: a substance so pure and transparent that we may see through it, so pure that it is free from all spot or defilement, from all blackness and darkness. Who can bring such a clean thing out of an unclean? The Hebrew word (tama) comes near the word (contaminatum), which is used by the Latins for "unclean," and it speaks the greatest pollution, the sordidness and filthiness of habit, the gore of blood, the muddiness of water, whatever is loathsome or unlovely, noisome or unsightly. All these meet in and make up the meaning of this word, "Who can bring a clean thing out of this uncleanness?" Caryl
The depravity of man is universally hereditary. Adam is said to have begotten "a son in his own likeness," sinful as he was as well as mortal and miserable. Yea, the holiest saint upon earth communicates a corrupt and sinful nature to his child: as the circumcised Jew begat an uncircumcised child; and as the wheat, cleansed and fanned, being sown comes up with a husk (John 3:6). Gurnall
It would be labor in vain to endeavor to cleanse the stream of a polluted fountain. No, the source must be changed, or the flow will be unaltered. Prune the crab as you please, it will not bring forth apples: nor will a thorn under the best cultivation produce figs. Regeneration is a change of nature, but it is by no means a natural change; it is supernatural in its origin, execution, and consequences. It must be wrought by a power from above, since there is neither will nor power to work it from below.
Charles Hadden Spurgeon