The Permanent Triumph Of God’s People
But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10)
Just why books should have prefaces and introductions, no one seems to know — and few seem to care. But a little while ago I chanced upon Adam Clarke’s preface to the Book of Job, and being confident that not many had read it, and having a little desire to read something “different,” I read the following beautiful paragraph: “This is the most singular book in the whole sacred code, though written by the same inspiration, and in reference to the same end, the salvation of men, it is so different from every other book of the Bible that it seems to possess nothing in common with them, for even the language in its construction, is dissimilar from that of the law, the prophets, and the historical books. But on all hands it is accounted a work that contains ‘the purest morality, the sublimest philosophy, the simplest ritual, and the most majestic creed.'”
By this time I was interested in Dr. Clarke’s preface, and so I went on to another paragraph in which he says, “As to the Book of Job, it is evidently a poem, and a poem of the highest order; dealing with subjects the most grand and sublime; using imagery the most chaste and appropriate; described by language the most happy and energetic; conveying instruction, in both divine and human things, the most ennobling and useful; abounding in precepts the most pure and exalted, which are enforced by arguments the most strong and conclusive, and illustrated by examples the most natural and striking.”
And still not content, I read one more paragraph, “All these points will appear in the strongest light to every. attentive reader of the book, and to such its great end will be answered: they will learn from it that God has way everywhere: that the wicked, though bearing rule for a time, can never be ultimately prosperous and happy; and that the righteous, though oppressed with suffering and calamities, can never be forgotten by Him in whose hands are His saints, and with whom their lives are precious; that . in this world neither are the wicked ultimately punished, nor the righteous ultimately rewarded; that God’s judgments are a great deep, and His ways past finding out; but the issues of all are to the glory of His wisdom and grace and to the eternal happiness of those who trust in Him. This is the grand design of the book and this design will be strikingly evident to the simplest and most unlettered reader whose heart is right with God and who is seeking instruction in order that he may glorify his Maker by receiving and by doing good.”
These lengthy quotations will excuse me, I hope, from any further effort to expound the Book of Job, concerning which I profess to be no expert at all. But I would like to draw attention: (1) to Job’s individual case; (2) to the case of God’s people in general; and (3) to what seems to me to be the purpose of trials in this world.
I. Job’s Individual Case
1. Job was a man who loved God and obeyed God up to the measure of his light. The statement was that “He was perfect in his generation,” which we take to mean he was as good as he knew how to be. We cannot judge a man in the light of fuller revelation. We cannot judge Noah or Abraham or David or any of the ancients on that basis. We cannot even judge people of a generation two steps back from ourselves by the light we have today. Two generations ago many devout Christians in America owned human slaves, and many useful ministers of the gospel took part of their “quarterage” in rum, and it was so reported at the end of the year without bringing offense to anyone. But Job was a good man. Using the term as we understand it, we would say he was a true Christian.
2. When first introduced to us, Job was in good health, had many friends and was prosperous and popular. He was situated so favorably that one can scarcely escape the feeling that he was what a good man ought to be, and that the evidences of well-being were divine testimony to his purity and dependability.
3. Without any fault on his own part, Job lost all that could be accounted outward evidence of God’s favor. His children were killed, his wealth was stripped from him, his place among the elders of the city was forfeited, his friends forsook him, his wife advised suicide and he was afflicted with painful and loathsome diseases.
4. Job’s friends, reasoning from known premises and following the usual logic, reached the conclusion that Job was not in God’s favor. They decided that Job was a hypocrite, and a fraud, and that his punishment had at last caught up with his crimes. They made no distinction between material and spiritual good, and reasoning that a good God could never render evil for good, they were confident that the original prosperity had been transient, and intended as a means to bring Job to repentance, and he, having stiffened his neck, was now finally cut off with punishment that was to be both severe and lasting. The facts in the case and the logic of such matters as relate to cause and effect sustained the conclusions of Job’s “miserable comforters.”
5. But Job still contended that he was right, although he had to admit the facts of his outward life were against him, and also that the logic of his friends was the accepted logic of men in general. But he contended the case was not as it seemed. He still held fast to his integrity, and testified that he had not sinned to cause his misery, and that he could still get his prayers through to God, although he could get no answer in explanation of his plight. In desperation Job longed to come up before God’s judgment seat where he would plead his own case and win it before the intelligences of the universe. In his desperation he rushed ahead to seek out God’s way, but he found nothing. He turned to the right hand, then to the left. He sought in the darkness behind him, but God eluded him everywhere, and made no explanation of His way with Job.
6. At last the light breaks in on Job, and he discovered that although he could not trace God’s ways, he was not lost for all that, for God kept track of him, knew the way he took, and would in the end bring him out purified like gold that is drawn from the furnace. Here he found consolation and stopped. The full explanation must wait But it was enough to know that the present is not the end, and that when the end comes it will be favorable, and that the triumph of the righteous, and not the defeat, will be permanent.
II. And Now to The Case of God’s People in General
1. Whatever may have been the case in the childhood days of the race, we know that now health and wealth and prosperity and popularity and general well-being are not dependable evidences of divine favor, and that the absence of these things do not prove that God is displeased. We know these things from observation, as well as from the plain statements of the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament warned that those who would be rich would have excessive temptations, and that the preponderance of God’s people in the new age would be poor, and that persecution and unpopularity would be all but universal for good people. And in our observations we are unable to discern the righteous from the wicked by the size of their bank accounts, the state of their health, or by any other external evidence of well-being. There are some good people who are favored in the things of this world, but for every saint in this class it would not be difficult to find a sinner whose outward state is every bit as good.
I know it is an easy philosophy that reasons that God wills the health and prosperity of His people. But its being easy does not save it from the fault of being false. Many of the saintliest people are invalid, and not a few such are desperately poor.
And it will not do to say that judgment will overtake the ungodly in this world, for it does not always do it. Many who have been wanton and covetous and cruel have lived in plenty and died in peace, so far as the world is concerned. The difference just does not show up on the outside.
2. The evidence of acceptance with God is internal peace in the heart. To many this may seem insufficient. Why does not God vindicate His own now? Why must the evidence be so personal and so subjective? Rather, we should rejoice that it is internal and enduring. The witness of the Holy Spirit to our spirits is closer and more dependable than any outward show that could possibly be given. But it is not our province just now to justify God. It is enough for us that this is His way. He has chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, to be the heirs of His kingdom. He has made the Christian’s heart His temple. He has made our riches to be the gold of the spirit. He has arranged that we shall possess values unrelated to our temporary estate.
And neither shall we take prosperity and popularity as contradictions of the Christian testimony. For while not many noble and great after the flesh are called, it is never said that none such shall come in, and the history of the Church contains the names of some whose stars shone bright among men, as they shall shine later in the diadem of the Lord. We must just leave it with the statement that externals are not criteria. Not all the rich are bad, not all the poor are good. Not all the good are unfavored, and not all the evil are rewarded. Externals are just not guides — that is all. The difference is in the inner man in which realm the wicked are unfailingly poor and the righteous are rich without exception.
III. And Now What is The Purpose of Trials in This World?
We speak of course of the trials of the righteous. Why should a good man suffer? Why should a holy man be sick? Why should one of God’s favorites be poor and without employment?
If these questions puzzle us, remember they have puzzled many of our betters. But Job suggested the best explanation that has yet been given. He said he would come out of his trials like purified gold. The fire separates the gold from every clinging thing that is not of its nature. And trials serve to divorce us from everything that we cannot keep forever. It is a mercy that people get old and that they get sick, for these things serve to make it easier to die. It is a good thing that the world should not be too friendly, for that makes the final parting from it less bitter. I speak from experience here. There is less to hold me to the earth since I have been bereaved than there was before. Benjamin Franklin complained that his friends had left him. He was older than the majority with whom he associated in his active years, and yet they died and he lived on. But he missed his old friends and the earth was less his home.
But the compensation of it all is in that “He abideth faithful.” Some years ago a woman waited in the front pew until the crowd had somewhat dispersed after the service, and then arose and introduced herself, and said, “You used to know my husband, and you knew the family, somewhat, also. I heard you were to be here, and as I prayed over my heavy burdens and cares, it came to me that if I would come here today you would say something that would help me. So I came a hundred miles, and must go back right away, but I cannot go until I have told you a little of my heavy load. My husband was a good man, as you know. But when difficulties arose in connection with his work, and he was blamed for the trouble, he seemed unable to throw it off. After two years of melancholy he died without there seeming to be anything particularly the matter with him. Our son, who was devoted to his father, took on a melancholy turn after his father’s death, and in a few months he also died. With great personal sacrifice I kept my two girls in school, and prayed and hoped they would justify our lives by being useful somewhere. But, as you know, the elder, after making some beginning in Christian service, turned to sin and disgrace and broke my heart again, and has never yet been recovered from the snares of the devil.
A few months ago, my last, my little girl, began showing signs of unbalanced mentality. In her hallucinations she turned against me and claimed to the neighbors that I am mean to her, and that I beat and mistreat her (although just the opposite is the case — we have been the closest pals all her life) . Last month I took her to an institution for examination and observation. Last week I got the report which was to the effect that my little girl is afflicted with an incurable form of insanity, and the experts, studying the family history, think the whole chain of calamities is chargeable to a strain of insanity that came down through my husband’s side of the family, and which was the cause of the break under the strain in every ease. It is hard for me to pray and keep my faith, but God has helped me, and I still trust Him and believe that in the end He will bring everything out right. And I believe He sent me here today that you might help me.”
The long recital was concluded with the woman’s eyes still dry. I replied, “I cannot think God sent you here for me to help you, for compared with what you have suffered, I really have never had any sorrow. But I believe God sent you here to help me that I might help others. I have to stand up from day to day and preach to people that there is a God who knows and cares and who will never, never, never forsake them. And sometimes I am pressed with the feeling that some of them have sorrows and troubles so deep that my assurances must sound shallow. But I believe God sent you here today to help and strengthen me that I might with the greater assurance tell men and women that God will stand by them and see them through. I will tell them that I know a woman whose sorrows are three times as bad as theirs, and yet she does not give up her faith, and God does not withdraw His assurance. You have been sent here today to help me?”
At the conclusion of my words the woman’s fountain of tears was broken up, and in the midst of it her broken heart found some relief, and her tempest-tossed soul saw a glimmer of light. “Oh,” she cried, “that is just the help I needed. I had felt that it was all to no purpose. But if my experience helps you and helps you to help others, then there is some good in it, and I shall go back to my humble calling and hold fast to the promises of God and I shall see His face some day and all will be clear.”
The calamities of God’s people are transient, but their triumphs will be permanent. That is why from the midst of his trials, Job could arise to say, “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.”
God of mercy and of grace, we, like Job, find it difficult to always know the way Thou dost take. But we are consoled with the assurance that we are not lost to Thee; but that the very hairs of our heads are all numbered by Thee, and that when our probation is over, having been served successfully and faithfully, we shall see Thy face, and all shall be clear. Give us grace to suffer and to wait, “until the day break, and the shadows flee away.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.