Then Job answered the LORD:
I. IT IS AN ATTITUDE BECOMING MAN IN PRESENCE OF THE HOLINESS AND MAJESTY OF THE DIVINE NAME.
II. IT IS AN ATTITUDE BECOMING TO THE SINFULNESS OF MAN. Where should the creature so full of imperfection be found but in the dust?
III. IT IS AN ATTITUDE BECOMING ONE, WHO HAS A JUST ESTIMATE OF HIS RELATION OF DEPENDENCE UPON THE WISDOM AND POWER OF JEHOVAH. One so wholly frail and dependent - a poor worm - may well bow in lowly, humble prostration before the Lord of the whole earth.
IV. IT IS AN ATTITUDE BECOMING TO HIM WHO HAS RIGHTLY REFLECTED UPON THE GREATNESS, MAJESTY, AND GLORY OF GOD, AND HIS OWN LITTLENESS AND INSIGNIFICANCE IN PRESENCE THEREOF. This was precisely Job's case. And it is the precursor of that lifting up which is granted only to them who are truly bowed down. - R.G.
I. THE FACT THAT EVEN THE RIGHTEOUS HAVE IN THEM EVIL NATURES. Job said, "Behold, I am vile." He did not always know it. All through the long controversy he had declared himself to be just and upright. But when God came to plead with him, he at once put his finger on his lips, would not answer God, but simply said, "Behold, I am vile." How many daily proofs you have that corruption is still within you! Mark how easily you are surprised into sin. Observe how you find in your heart an awful tendency to evil, that it is as much as you can do to keep it in check, and say, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further." Then how wrong it is, if any of us, from the fact of our possessing evil hearts, think to excuse our sins. Some Christians speak very lightly of sin. There was corruption still remaining, and therefore they said they could not help it. The truly loving child of God, though he knows sin is there, hates that sin.
Behold, I am vile.
I. THE SELF-ACCUSATION. "Behold, I am vile."
1. The quality acknowledged. "Vileness." "Behold, I am vile." "Vile," says Johnson in his Dictionary, is "base, mean, worthless, despicable, impure." There is nothing in the world to which this will so much apply as sin; and to sin Job referred when he said, "Behold, I am vile." He does not call himself vile because he was a man reduced, poor, and needy; no man of sense ever would do so. Character intrinsically does not depend Upon adventitious circumstances. If poverty were vileness, as by their discourse some people seem to think, how vile must the apostles have been, who said, "Even to this very hour, we hunger, and thirst, are naked, are destitute, and have no Certain dwelling place!" How vile must that be which leads God to hate the work of His own hands; which leads a God of love to threaten to punish with everlasting destruction from His presence and His power, and which would not allow of His pardoning without the sacrifice of His own Son!
2. Who made this confession? Surely it was some very gross transgressor? No. It was some newly-awakened returning penitent? No. It was Job; a saint of no ordinary magnitude. What, then, do we learn from hence, but that the most eminent saints are the most remote from vain thoughts of themselves? We know that the nearer a man approaches to perfection in anything, the more sensible he becomes of his remaining deficiency, and the more hungry and thirsty he is after improvement. Take knowledge; advancement in knowledge is like sailing down a river; it widens as you proceed, till you are out at sea. A little knowledge puffs a man up, but Sir Isaac Newton was the most modest of men. Not that there is no difference between a saint and a sinner. Job does not mean to intimate that he loves sin, or that he lives in it. His friends accused him of this, which he denied, saying, in his address to God, "Thou knowest that I am not wicked." "Behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high." But he knew that sin, though it did not reign in him, yet lived in him, yet opposed him, yet vexed him, yet defiled. him; so that he could not do the thing that he would.
3. When was the acknowledgment here uttered, "Behold, I am vile"? It was immediately after God's interview with him, God's intercourse with him, God's addressing him. "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man, for I will demand of thee, and answer thou Me." It was after God had further displayed Himself in the perfection of several of His works; it was then that "Job answered the Lord, and said, Behold, I am vile." And what does this teach us but this — that the more we have to do with God, the more we shall see and feel our unworthiness. Those who have never been abroad to see great things are pleased with littleness, but travelling expands and enlarges the mind, furnishes it with superior objects and images; so that the man is no longer struck, upon his return, with the little rivulet and the little hill, which seemed to astonish him before he went from home, and during his infancy. And when a man has gone far enough, so to speak, to be introduced to God Himself, he will be sure to think afterward very little of himself. Yes, if anything can make us feel our littleness, it must be a view of His wisdom; if anything can make us sensible of our weakness, it must be the view of His almighty sovereignty; if anything can make us feel our depravity, it must be the view of His spotless purity, — the spotless purity of Him "who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and in whose sight the very heavens are not clean."
II. TO OBSERVE HOW THIS CONVICTION IS PRODUCED. You will observe here, that, our inquiry is not after the fact itself. The fact itself is independent of our conviction, or of our belief. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us"; and the heavens will reveal our iniquity, and the earth will rise up against us. Yes, it is a truth, whether we acknowledge it or not, that we are vile; vile by nature, and vile by practice. Let us, therefore, remark the Author and medium alone of this discovery. As to the Author, we make no scruple to say, that it is the Spirit of the blessed God; according to our Saviour's own declaration, "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall convince the world of sin, because they believe not on Me." All that is really good in the souls of the children of men is from Him. From Him comes the first pulse of life. Now as to the medium, or instrumentalities, we would observe that these are, principally, the law and the Gospel. The law is one of the principal instrumentalities; for "by the law is the knowledge of sin." "Sin is the transgression of the law." The law is always to be used so; and for this purpose the Gospel also is equally instrumental with it. The Gospel teaches us the nature of our disease, by showing us the nature of our remedy. Now this being the Author, and this being the medium of the discovery, observe the mode in which it is accomplished. This is gradual. The thing does not take place all at once; it is effected by degrees. Usually, indeed, it begins with a charging home of one single sin upon the conscience of the man; the sin to which he has been peculiarly addicted, and by which his conscience, therefore, is now alarmed. It is increased by the various events, and by the various dispensations of providence. Little do we know of ourselves, indeed, until we are enlightened, until we meet with our own proper trial. The Christian often supposes that he is worse, because he is wiser than he was. Because he sees more of his inward corruptions, he thinks there are more. He resembles a man in a disagreeable, loathsome dungeon; before the light enters he sees nothing offensive; he knows not what there is there; but as the light enters he sees more and more. "I have heard some people," says Mr. Newton, "pray that God would show them all the wickedness of their hearts. I have said to myself, It is well that God will not hear their prayer; for if tie did, it would drive them to madness or despair; unless at the same time they had a proportionate view of the work, and the ability, and the love of their Lord and Saviour."
III. LET US OBSERVE THE EFFECTS OF THIS CONVICTION.
1. One of these effects is evermore wonderment. As if a person had been born and bred up in a subterranean place, and had been raised up and placed upon the earth; the first emotion he would feel would be wonder. Peter tells us that God calls us "out of darkness into His marvellous light." Not only "light," but "marvellous light"; seeing as well as wondering. Nothing is more wonderful to the man than what he now sees of himself. That he should have acted in such an ungrateful, such a foolish, such a base manner as he has been doing!
2. Humiliation will be another result of this discovery. Ignorance is a pedestal upon which pride always stands. Self-complacency then will be at an end, and the man will abhor himself, repenting in dust and ashes. Self-justification will also be at an end, and the man will condemn himself.
3. The endearment of the Saviour is another result of this discovery. Why is it there ate so many to whom He has no form nor comeliness, nor any beauty that they should desire Him? — that they can read of Him, that they can hear of Him, that they can talk of Him without feeling any attachment to Him? Why is it, but that, to change the image, as Solomon says, "the full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet"? Or, to use our Lord's own words, "They that are whole need not a physician."
4. Submission under afflictive dispensations of providence will be another effect of this discovery. I remember Bunyan says, "Nothing surprised me more when I was first awakened and enlightened, than to see how men were affected by their outward troubles. Not that I was without my troubles, God knows I had enough of them; but what was everything else beside compared to the loss of my poor soul!" So will it be with us if we have the same views and the same feelings. So it is, that an old divine says, "When a sense of sin lies heavy upon the soul, the sense of trouble will be light."
5. Then gratitude will be another result of this discovery of our vileness. The proud are never grateful. Do what you will — heap whatever favours you please upon them — what reward have you? what thanks have you? They only think you are doing your duty; they think they are deserving of all this. But when a man feels that he is unworthy of the least of all his mercies, how will he feel with regard to the greatest of them?
6. Charity and tenderness towards the faults of others will be a result from this conviction. There is a knowledge of human nature that is far from being sanctified; so far from it that it is even an injury to him that possesses it. Read Mandeville's Fable of the Bees; read Rochefoucauld's Maxims; read some of Lord Byron's works: do you not perceive how they discover, how fully they discover, in a sense, the vileness of human nature? Yes, and they love to dwell upon it; they love to expose the nakedness of our common nature. They always speak of these things with complacency; never with regret; never with anything like reproach of themselves and others. But it is otherwise with the man who has been taught his depravity at the foot of the Cross; who has there been made to say, with Job, "Behold, I am vile." Such a man will not look for perfection in others, because he is conscious he is destitute of it himself.
IV. THE RELIEF OF THIS COMPLAINT. For I am persuaded there are persons who are saying, "Well, whatever others may think of themselves, Job's language is mine. I daily feel it. Whether I am alone or in company — whether I am in the sanctuary or at the table of the Lord" — nothing fits my lips but this acknowledgment, "Behold, I am vile." Is there any consolation for such? There is much every way.
1. Because God has commanded us, as ministers, to comfort you. We are to tell those whom He has thus made sad that God has commanded them to make merry. Because "the joy of the Lord is their strength." They never feel gratitude so well as when they are walking in the comforts of the Holy Ghost. You do not remember that the Jews in their passage, when they crossed the Red Sea, came to Marah, where the waters were bitter, as well as to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water, and threescore and ten palm trees. You do not remember in the immortal Pilgrim's Progress that there were in the way of the shining light the valley of humiliation and the valley of the shadow of death, as well as the delectable mountains.
2. Remember that this experience is a mercy, and a great mercy; that this experience is essential to all real religion; that it is previous to all true consolation; that it is a proof of the Divine agency in you. "I will take away the heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh."
3. Remember that all in you is not evil now. Beware, therefore, that you never depreciate not only what God has done for you, but what He has done in you. The work of His Holy Spirit is called a good work; and it is a good work.
4. As all is not vile in you now, so nothing will be vile in you long. No. "The night is far spent, and the day is at hand"; and your warfare will soon be accomplished.
I. JOB'S DEEP CONSCIOUSNESS OF SIN. No words could express it more strongly than these, "Behold, I am vile!" It is just the most eminent saints — just those who are most advanced in the knowledge of God, who make use of such words. (See case of Isaiah; and Psalm 51:3.) "Behold, I am vile!" is no exaggerated statement; it is a state and a feeling to which we ought all to be brought — a confession which we ought all to make. If we try to analyse the state of mind expressed by these words, it is quite evident that it is one in which the sinfulness of sin is most deeply felt — in which sin is regarded with great abhorrence, and the sinner views himself with deep self-abasement. There is a Scripture term that suits the idea — "self-loathing" (Ezekiel 36:31). If we endeavour to go a little deeper into this state of mind, we shall find that there are two feelings, carefully to he distinguished from each other, which elicit this solemn confession. The one is "remorse," the other is "the consciousness of ingratitude towards God." There is a great difference between remorse and true repentance. Remorse may, and often does, lead to repentance, but very often it stops short of it. Remorse is repentance without grace — the working of the natural heart; whereas repentance is a change of mind, showing itself in real sorrow for sin. The chief difference between "the two lies in the motives. Have you then felt the ingratitude of your heart? Have you realised that every act of sin in which you indulge is an act of ingratitude towards God?
II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THIS DEEP CONSCIOUSNESS OF SIN. One only is mentioned here — silence before God. The natural heart is very prone to arraign God's ways. Never, in the language of the world, do you find such words as these, "I will lay my hand upon my mouth." But the true Christian places authority on her right throne — in God, and not in man, — and aims continually at the grace of silent submission. If you wish to be submissive, pray that you may feel your utter sinfulness. You wish, it may be, to feel your utter sinfulness, pray that God may be manifested to you by the Spirit in Jesus Christ through His Word.
II. WHAT ARE THE DOINGS OF THIS INDWELLING SIN?
1. It exerts a checking power upon every good thing.
2. Indwelling sin not only prevents us from going forward, at times it assails us, and seeks to obstruct us. It is not merely that I fight indwelling sin; it is that indwelling sin makes an assault upon me.
3. The evil heart which still remaineth in the Christian, doth always, when it is not attacking or obstructing, still reign and dwell within him. My heart is just as bad when no evil emanates from it, as when it is all over vileness in its external developments.
III. THE DANGER WE ARE UNDER FROM SUCH EVIL HEARTS. It arises from the fact that the sin is within us. Remember how many backers thy evil nature hath. Remember also that this evil nature of thine is very strong and very powerful.
IV. THE DISCOVERY OF OUR CORRUPTION. To Job the discovery was unexpected. We find most of our failings when we have the greatest access to God.
V. IF WE ARE STILL VILE, WHAT ARE OUR DUTIES? We must not suppose that all our work is done. How watchful we ought to be. And it is necessary that we should still exhibit faith in God.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
(J. C. Wigram, M. A.)
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