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5 Themes on Providence from the Psalms (Calvin commentary)

May 27, 2016 Comments off

In 1557, John Calvin published his large commentary on the book of Psalms. In the English translation, this commentary runs to five substantial volumes. This commentary reflects a life lived with the Psalter. He loved the psalms: he knew them, studied them, wrote on them, preached them, and sang them.

In the course of his commentary on the Psalms, Calvin gave strong expression to various aspects of his doctrine of providence. Five themes about providence recur in his exposition.

First, he recognizes God’s power as the active governor of the world:

He gives us to understand by this word, that heaven is not a palace in which God remains idle and indulges in pleasures, as the Epicureans dream, but a royal court, from which he exercises his government over all parts of the world. If he has erected his throne, therefore, in the sanctuary of heaven, in order to govern the universe, it follows that he in no wise neglects the affairs of earth, but governs them with the highest reason and wisdom.

Second, he declares that this active power should lead all creatures to honor God as God:

As God by his providence preserves the world, the power of his government is alike extended to all, so that he ought to be worshipped by all.

Third, he teaches that in His governance of the world God always acts as the loving Father of His people:

By the face of God, must be meant the fatherly care and providence which he extends to his people. So numerous are the dangers which surround us, that we could not stand a single moment, if his eye did not watch over our preservation. But the true security for a happy life lies in being persuaded that we are under divine government.

This fatherly care of God does not mean that His people will not suffer:

We are here warned that the guardianship of God does not secure us from being sometimes exercised with the cross and afflictions, and that therefore the faithful ought not to promise themselves a delicate and easy life in this world, it being enough for them not to be abandoned of God when they stand in need of his help. Their heavenly Father, it is true, loves them most tenderly, but he will have them awakened by the cross, lest they should give themselves too much to the pleasures of the flesh. If, therefore, we embrace this doctrine, although we may happen to be oppressed by the tyranny of the wicked, we will wait patiently till God either break their sceptre, or shake it out of their hands.

Fourth, Calvin affirms that confidence in providence causes Christians to grow in faith in Christ and confidence in living for Him:

Besides, the joy here mentioned arises from this, that there is nothing more calculated to increase our faith, than the knowledge of the providence of God; because without it, we would be harassed with doubts and fears, being uncertain whether or not the world was governed by chance. For this reason, it follows that those who aim at the subversion of this doctrine, depriving the children of God of true comfort, and vexing their minds by unsettling their faith, forge for themselves a hell upon earth. For what can be more awfully tormenting than to be constantly racked with doubt and anxiety? And we will never be able to arrive at a calm state of mind until we are taught to repose with implicit confidence in the providence of God.

Fifth, Calvin teaches that knowing that God directs all things leads His people to more frequent and heartfelt prayer:

Were they to reflect on the judgments of God, they would at once perceive that there was nothing like chance or fortune in the government of the world. Moreover, until men are persuaded that all their troubles come upon them by the appointment of God, it will never come into their minds to supplicate him for deliverance.

In his preface to his commentary on the book of Psalms, Calvin made a most remarkable statement about providence that went to the very heart and soul of the religion he embraced and counseled others to embrace. He writes that knowing the Psalter teaches Christians to suffer for God so that “we renounce the guidance of our own affections, and submit ourselves entirely to God, leaving him to govern us, and to dispose our life according to his will, so that the afflictions which are the bitterest and most severe to our nature, become sweet to us, because they proceed from him.”

The bitterest afflictions of this life are sweet when Christians know that they come from God, serve His purposes, and ultimately contribute to their good. Calvin had a truly astounding daily confidence in God and His ways, and he encouraged the same confidence in his followers.

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Calvin – Mat 6:25

April 21, 2012 Comments off

Mat 6:25  Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Throughout the whole of this discourse, Christ reproves that excessive anxiety, with which men torment themselves, about food and clothing, and, at the same time, applies a remedy for curing this disease. When he forbids them to be anxious, this is not to be taken literally, as if he intended to take away from his people all care. We know that men are born on the condition of having some care; and, indeed, this is not the least portion of the miseries, which the Lord has laid upon us as a punishment, in order to humble us. But immoderate care is condemned for two reasons: either because in so doing men tease and vex themselves to no purpose, by carrying their anxiety farther than is proper or than their calling demands; or because they claim more for themselves than they have a right to do, and place such a reliance on their own industry, that they neglect to call upon God. We ought to remember this promise: though unbelievers shall “rise up early, and sit up late, and eat the bread of sorrows,” yet believers will obtain, through the kindness of God, rest and sleep, (Psa_127:2.) Though the children of God are not free from toil and anxiety, yet, properly speaking, we do not say that they are anxious about life: because, through their reliance on the providence of God, they enjoy calm repose.
Hence it is easy to learn, how far we ought to be anxious about food. Each of us ought to labor, as far as his calling requires and the Lord commands; and each of us ought to be led by his own wants to call upon God. Such anxiety holds an intermediate place between indolent carelessness and the unnecessary torments by which unbelievers kill themselves. But if we give proper attention to the words of Christ, we shall find, that he does not forbid every kind of care, but only what arises from distrust. Be not anxious, says he, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink. That belongs to those who tremble for fear of poverty or hunger, as if they were to be in want of food every moment.
Mat_6:25.Is not the life of more value than food? He argues from the greater to the less. He had forbidden them to be excessively anxious about the way in which life might be supported; and he now assigns the reason. The Lord, who has given life itself, will not suffer us to want what is necessary for its support. And certainly we do no small dishonor to God, when we fail to trust that he will give us necessary food or clothing; as if he had thrown us on the earth at random. He who is fully convinced, that the Author of our life has an intimate knowledge of our condition, will entertain no doubt that he will make abundant provision for our wants. Whenever we are seized by any fear or anxiety about food, let us remember, that God will take care of the life which he gave us.

Ecclesiastes 8:14-17 – Matthew Henry

July 14, 2010 Comments off
Ecc 8:14  There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.
Ecc 8:15  Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
Ecc 8:16  When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:)
Ecc 8:17  Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.
Wise and good men have, of old, been perplexed with this difficulty, how the prosperity of the wicked and the troubles of the righteous can be reconciled with the holiness and goodness of the God that governs the world. Concerning this Solomon here gives us his advice.
I. He would not have us to be surprised at it, as though some strange thing happened, for he himself saw it in his days, Ecc_8:14. 1. He saw just men to whom it happened according to the work of the wicked, who, notwithstanding their righteousness, suffered very hard things, and continued long to do so, as if they were to be punished for some great wickedness. 2. He saw wicked men to whom it happened according to the work of the righteous, who prospered as remarkably as if they had been rewarded for some good deed, and that from themselves, from God, from men. We see the just troubled and perplexed in their own minds, the wicked easy, fearless, and secure, – the just crossed and afflicted by the divine Providence, the wicked prosperous, successful, and smiled upon, – the just, censured, reproached, and run down, by the higher powers, the wicked applauded and preferred.
II. He would have us to take occasion hence, not to charge God with iniquity, but to charge the world with vanity. No fault is to be found with God; but, as to the world, This is vanity upon the earth, and again, This is also vanity, that is, it is a certain evidence that the things of this world are not the best things nor were ever designed to make a portion and happiness for us, for, if they had, God would not have allotted so much of this world’s wealth to his worst enemies and so much of its troubles to his best friends; there must therefore be another life after this the joys and griefs of which must be real and substantial, and able to make men truly happy or truly miserable, for this world does neither.
III. He would have us not to fret and perplex ourselves about it, or make ourselves uneasy, but cheerfully to enjoy what God has given us in the world, to be content with it and make the best of it, though it be much better with others, and such as we think very unworthy (Ecc_8:15): Then I commended joy, a holy security and serenity of mind, arising from a confidence in God, and his power, providence, and promise, because a man has no better thing under the sun (though a good man has much better things above the sun) than to eat and drink, that is, soberly and thankfully to make use of the things of this life according as his rank is, and to be cheerful, whatever happens, for that shall abide with him of his labour. That is all the fruit he has for himself of the pains that he takes in the business of the world; let him therefore take it, and much good may it do him; and let him not deny himself that, out of a peevish discontent because the world does not go as he would have it. That shall abide with him during the days of his life which God gives him under the sun. Our present life is a life under the sun, but we look for the life of the world to come, which will commence and continue when the sun shall be turned into darkness and shine no more. This present life must be reckoned by days; this life is given us, and the days of it are allotted to us, by the counsel of God, and therefore while it does last we must accommodate ourselves to the will of God and study to answer the ends of life.
IV. He would not have us undertake to give a reason for that which God does, for his way is in the sea and his path in the great waters, past finding out, and therefore we must be contentedly and piously ignorant of the meaning of God’s proceedings in the government of the world, Ecc_8:16, Ecc_8:17. Here he shows, 1. That both he himself and many others had very closely studied the point, and searched far into the reasons of the prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the righteous. He, for his part, had applied his heart to know this wisdom, and to see the business that is done, by the divine Providence, upon the earth, to find out if there were any certain scheme, any constant rule or method, by which the affairs of this lower world were administered, any course of government as sure and steady as the course of nature, so that by what is done now we might as certainly foretel what will be done next as by the moon’s changing now we can foretel when it will be at the full; this he would fain have found out. Others had likewise set themselves to make this enquiry with so close an application that they could not find time for sleep, either day or night, nor find in their hearts to sleep, so full of anxiety were they about these things. Some think Solomon speaks of himself, that he was so eager in prosecuting this great enquiry that he could not sleep for thinking of it. 2. That it was all labour in vain, Ecc_8:17. When we look upon all the works of God and his providence, and compare one part with another, we cannot find that there is any such certain method by which the work that is done under the sun is directed; we cannot discover any key by which to decipher the character, nor by consulting precedents can we know the practice of this court, nor what the judgment will be. [1.] Though a man be ever so industrious, thou he labour to seek it out. [2.] Though he be ever so ingenious, though he be a wise man in other things, and can fathom the counsels of kings themselves and trace them by their footsteps. Nay, [3.] Though he be very confident of success, though he think to know it, yet he shall not; he cannot find it out. God’s ways are above ours, nor is he tied to his own former ways, but his judgments are a great deep.

Ecc 8:14-17  Wise and good men have, of old, been perplexed with this difficulty, how the prosperity of the wicked and the troubles of the righteous can be reconciled with the holiness and goodness of the God that governs the world. Concerning this Solomon here gives us his advice.I. He would not have us to be surprised at it, as though some strange thing happened, for he himself saw it in his days, Ecc_8:14. 1. He saw just men to whom it happened according to the work of the wicked, who, notwithstanding their righteousness, suffered very hard things, and continued long to do so, as if they were to be punished for some great wickedness. 2. He saw wicked men to whom it happened according to the work of the righteous, who prospered as remarkably as if they had been rewarded for some good deed, and that from themselves, from God, from men. We see the just troubled and perplexed in their own minds, the wicked easy, fearless, and secure, – the just crossed and afflicted by the divine Providence, the wicked prosperous, successful, and smiled upon, – the just, censured, reproached, and run down, by the higher powers, the wicked applauded and preferred.II. He would have us to take occasion hence, not to charge God with iniquity, but to charge the world with vanity. No fault is to be found with God; but, as to the world, This is vanity upon the earth, and again, This is also vanity, that is, it is a certain evidence that the things of this world are not the best things nor were ever designed to make a portion and happiness for us, for, if they had, God would not have allotted so much of this world’s wealth to his worst enemies and so much of its troubles to his best friends; there must therefore be another life after this the joys and griefs of which must be real and substantial, and able to make men truly happy or truly miserable, for this world does neither.III. He would have us not to fret and perplex ourselves about it, or make ourselves uneasy, but cheerfully to enjoy what God has given us in the world, to be content with it and make the best of it, though it be much better with others, and such as we think very unworthy (Ecc_8:15): Then I commended joy, a holy security and serenity of mind, arising from a confidence in God, and his power, providence, and promise, because a man has no better thing under the sun (though a good man has much better things above the sun) than to eat and drink, that is, soberly and thankfully to make use of the things of this life according as his rank is, and to be cheerful, whatever happens, for that shall abide with him of his labour. That is all the fruit he has for himself of the pains that he takes in the business of the world; let him therefore take it, and much good may it do him; and let him not deny himself that, out of a peevish discontent because the world does not go as he would have it. That shall abide with him during the days of his life which God gives him under the sun. Our present life is a life under the sun, but we look for the life of the world to come, which will commence and continue when the sun shall be turned into darkness and shine no more. This present life must be reckoned by days; this life is given us, and the days of it are allotted to us, by the counsel of God, and therefore while it does last we must accommodate ourselves to the will of God and study to answer the ends of life.IV. He would not have us undertake to give a reason for that which God does, for his way is in the sea and his path in the great waters, past finding out, and therefore we must be contentedly and piously ignorant of the meaning of God’s proceedings in the government of the world, Ecc_8:16, Ecc_8:17. Here he shows, 1. That both he himself and many others had very closely studied the point, and searched far into the reasons of the prosperity of the wicked and the afflictions of the righteous. He, for his part, had applied his heart to know this wisdom, and to see the business that is done, by the divine Providence, upon the earth, to find out if there were any certain scheme, any constant rule or method, by which the affairs of this lower world were administered, any course of government as sure and steady as the course of nature, so that by what is done now we might as certainly foretel what will be done next as by the moon’s changing now we can foretel when it will be at the full; this he would fain have found out. Others had likewise set themselves to make this enquiry with so close an application that they could not find time for sleep, either day or night, nor find in their hearts to sleep, so full of anxiety were they about these things. Some think Solomon speaks of himself, that he was so eager in prosecuting this great enquiry that he could not sleep for thinking of it. 2. That it was all labour in vain, Ecc_8:17. When we look upon all the works of God and his providence, and compare one part with another, we cannot find that there is any such certain method by which the work that is done under the sun is directed; we cannot discover any key by which to decipher the character, nor by consulting precedents can we know the practice of this court, nor what the judgment will be. [1.] Though a man be ever so industrious, thou he labour to seek it out. [2.] Though he be ever so ingenious, though he be a wise man in other things, and can fathom the counsels of kings themselves and trace them by their footsteps. Nay, [3.] Though he be very confident of success, though he think to know it, yet he shall not; he cannot find it out. God’s ways are above ours, nor is he tied to his own former ways, but his judgments are a great deep.

Discontentment – a Brakel

July 3, 2010 Comments off

Discontentment: A Characteristic of the Unconverted

The unconverted are discontented.

(1) Something is always wrong. He either has no child or he has one too many. He has learned the wrong trade, for ―if I were a storekeeper, knew a trade, or had such and such a skill, then I would be much better off. In whatever I begin, I go against the stream; where will it ultimately end? Such and such get all the customers and enjoy love and esteem; however, they turn their backs upon me. Everyone opposes me; they shortchange me, deal with me and my family in an ungodly manner. They slander me, rob me of my honor, and everyone is after me. They are always surrounded by bears so that neither day nor night can they find rest due to external and internal unrest.

(2) Another person may be lethargic and lazy—and thus insensitive.

(3) Another person has a sweet and tender disposition and can endure everything.

(4) Others use reason and perceive how matters are, or else they perceive that there is no way out. Therefore, patience par force; that is, there is nothing to be done about it. Or they will engage themselves in such a manner that all will go well.

(5) Others, when the shore eludes them, hold on to a floating patch of grass and occupy themselves with one thing or another.

(6) Others become completely discouraged and despondent and would be inclined to hang themselves in order to bring their suffering to an end.

(7) Others, even though they can handle the present, are concerned about the future. Every evil tiding causes them to tremble, robbing them of the peaceful enjoyment of the present.

(8) Others want to find their satisfaction in eating and drinking, money, prestige, and the gratification of their sinful lusts.

(9) Others seek gratification in the work of their hands and burrow as moles in the earth to derive their gratification from that. Or they seek it in men by being obsequious, flattering, and by worshiping them in order to gain their favor. Every unconverted person seeks rest in this manner without finding it, and his contentment is nothing but unrest.

(10) Another will fare somewhat better and, according to his saying, is satisfied with the will of God—even though he has never sought nor obtained reconciliation with God and therefore cannot expect God‘s help or favor.

All whose disposition agrees with what has just been stated ought to know:

(1) That you are without God and Christ, and that God is not for you, but against you. If He stirs things up, who will then quiet matters down? If He forsakes you, what will then be of assistance to you? Then you cannot but be filled with fear—within and without.

(2) That all your tossing and turning, and all your contentment

and discontentment, are nothing but sin and filth in which you wallow as a swine wallows in the mud. It makes you increasingly abominable in the eyes of God and increasingly a stench for the truly godly. And if you imagine your current circumstances to be either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, the outcome of all that you pursue will have evil consequences for you and will issue forth nothing but discontent, sorrow, terror, apprehension, and fear—until eternal damnation will rob you of all that with which you now occupy yourself to some degree. The wrath of God and the fire of hell will then forever occupy you. Therefore, turn to the Lord and seek reconciliation with God in Christ. He will then be your satisfaction, and being satisfied in Him, all things will work together for good.

The Godly: Also Subject to Discontentment

I shall now address the godly. It is sad that those who have God as a reconciled God, who have chosen God to be their only and all-sufficient portion (while rejecting all that is not God), yet have so much discontentment, because they, both according to body and soul, do not fare in this world as their nature would desire to have it.

(1) Their eyes and heart look too much to that which is of the world; that is, to that which is lofty, beautiful, and good, as well as to food, drink, and clothing—as if that could yield them any satisfaction.

(2) They also want to have their way, and if this does not occur and men do not yield to them, they are sorrowful, fretful, and angry.

(3) They eat their bread with discontentment since the quantity and the taste is not such as they would desire it to be.

(4) They tremble and quiver as far as the future is concerned. They say, ―What shall we eat and wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(5) Anxiety troubles the heart, and concerns take away the joy of life.

(6) They waver in regard to God‘s providence.

(7) They immediately perceive God as being angry with them.

(8) They reject their spiritual state.

(9) They make themselves vulnerable to the assaults of the devil who then easily gets hold of them, tossing them to and fro.

(10) Spiritual life will lose its vigor, and if the Lord were not faithful and immutable, they would be corrupted in body and soul—so severely can worldly tribulations injure them. In such a condition they delight in being pitied and desire to be comforted, but in a manner concurring with the receipt of their desire—then they would be encouraged. Sorrow must first disappear, the matter must first be attained, they must first see and possess that from which they will live, and then comfort will have an effect. Then they would be able to live carefree and serve the Lord.

The Godly Exhorted Not to Be Fretful

What shall I say? Shall I pity you? That I shall do, but in such a manner that I shall neither harm nor encourage you in your sin. Rather, I shall do so by stirring you up to overcome these unproductive anxieties, this wicked discontentment, and these concerns which drag you down.

First, as we uncover all this, you yourself will perceive that you are yet very carnal and that you focus your attention upon things which are insignificant. Are you then still of this world as others are whose portion is in this life? Is that which is of the world able to satisfy you? When you entered into the covenant of grace, did you not stipulate that whatever would befall you according to the body would be to your satisfaction, or did you change your mind and have you rescinded this? Why should there be more concern for your body than for your soul? Why should bodily deficiencies be more grievous than the deficiencies of the soul? Be ashamed before God and man that you are yet so carnal.

Secondly, do you not perceive that this is idolatry? There is a secret departure from God, a neglect of depending upon Him, and a secret denial of God‘s providence. There is a secret accusation of cruelty and unwillingness on His part to care for you, of mutability, and of not being faithful to His promises. Under pretense of being concerned about necessities, there is a desire to rely upon temporal things and a living by bread alone—and even if one does not solely put his trust in temporal things, it is nevertheless partially true. God and the things of this world together must grant you satisfaction. Or else, do you serve God in order that He would give you temporal things? What an evil disposition this is! How far removed this is from Asaph‘s disposition: ―Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever (Ps 73:25-26)! Upon coming before God, be therefore ashamed about your sinful disposition.

Thirdly, these concerns and anxieties which cause one to tremble issue forth from a proud heart—relative both to God and to man. It is pride relative to God, as it implies that one is worthy of something and that God is obligated to serve us according to our wishes. If one were truly conscious of his sinfulness and guilt, and would reflect upon this, he would come to a lower place and sink away in amazement that God has still borne with us—yes, and has given us so much above others who have much less than we do—considering that we have sinned so grievously and are perhaps even more sinful than they are.

It is also a manifestation of pride relative to our neighbor, for we look toward those who are superior to us and ask, ―Why not I as well as he? Very seldom does the concern truly pertain to what is presently lacking, for as far as temporal needs are concerned, little suffices. Instead, it pertains to our lust to possess, to have as much as the other, and the retention of dignity by not being despised due to being poor and having to depend on the church or others. It is true that this, when considered in and of itself, should not be a matter of indifference to us. It is God‘s will that we have desires for our well-being and that our journey through this world be with dignity. However, we must overcome and deny these desires when God wishes to humble us and keep us humble. Therefore, concealed under the cover of being concerned about necessities, dignity, and being able to serve God, is pride. God wishes to be served by the one while having a higher position in the world, and by the other while in a more lowly position. The will of God must be our delight in whatever circumstances we are. Discouragement about being in a lower position is nothing but pride. Therefore, become humble and you will be delivered from many unprofitable cares.

Fourthly, all your concerns are in vain and you will not gain one penny by them. God has already decreed from eternity how much you will have. There is a ―convenient portion (Prov 30:8) which God has appointed for everyone and which He gives at His time. No one will take away this portion from you nor will it be diminished. With all your concerns and anxiety you will neither add one nickel nor break or change the determinate counsel of God. There were covetous Israelites who gathered much manna; however, when they came home, they had no more than their measure. There were others who, either due to lack of strength or being at a location where not much had fallen, had gathered little. When they came home their measure was also full. The one had no leftovers and the other did not lack anything (2 Cor 8:15). ―Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek (Matt 6:25, 27, 32).

Fifthly, you dishonor God and harm yourself, for by way of these nagging concerns you show that it does not suffice you to have God alone as your portion and that you cannot be satisfied with Him unless you have as many temporal goods as you deem necessary. Would it not be a dishonor to a father who has sufficient wealth if he were to permit his children to suffer want in spite of their cries and supplications? Are you then not also the cause that others by means of your dissatisfaction and fruitless concerns would begin to think about the Lord in this manner, as if He had neither love, mercy, compassion, nor care for His children? You would glorify Him, on the contrary, if you would be satisfied with your present circumstances, and if your felicity consisted in the enjoyment of God Himself. As far as you yourself are concerned—you bring yourself into continual unrest, apprehension, fear, and anxiety. You rob yourself of delighting and rejoicing in God. You impede your growth, since your disposition displeases God, and renders you unfit to appropriately use the means for spiritual growth. Your concerns will cause the Word and your good inner motions to be choked, thus rendering them unfruitful (Matt 13:22). Unbelief has opportunity to surface and will toss the anxious soul to and fro. The desire for religious exercise decreases and free access to God is hindered. The thoughts that these adversities come upon you in God‘s wrath cause the soul to tremble. Thus, to a great extent quietness, dependence upon God, a childlike confidence in God, and walking with God disappear. Would you lose all this for a greater or lesser quantity of bread, for getting your way, for your own honor, and for the future, of which you do not know how it will be? Oh, these matters are too insignificant to permit the well-being of your soul to dissipate.

Sixthly, after the Lord will have delivered you from your perplexity—which He certainly will do in His time—then, due to your previous dissatisfaction and grumbling, you will have made yourself incapable of being truly grateful to the Lord, and a sense of shame about your prior distrust will cause your soul new grief. It can also happen that the Lord, upon having fulfilled your inordinate desire, will send a leanness into your soul. You will then be confounded and wish that you were in the previous strait when you were in a better spiritual condition. Therefore conduct yourself well while you are in a school in which you can learn much that you cannot learn in a time of prosperity. Take heed therefore, and be on guard not to be murmurers and complainers about your condition while walking according to your lusts (Jude 16). Rather, possess your soul in patience and be satisfied with the present. You will then be fit to serve the Lord in both prosperity and adversity.

Exhortation to Strive for Contentment

Therefore, children of God—either rich, of the middle class, of limited means, insignificant, poor, oppressed, or tossed with tempest—whoever you may be and whatever your circumstances may be, you are all in need of an exhortation, for no circumstances in and of themselves yield contentment. Learn to adjust your desires to your circumstances—regardless of what they may be—and do not endeavor to adjust your circumstances to your desires, for there would be no end to that. Cast dissatisfaction far away from you as being a harmful pestilence for your spiritual life, and possess your soul in contentment.

To that end you must first of all meditate upon all forceful exhortations. Hear them from the mouth of the Lord, speaking to you in this way: ―Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass (Ps 37:5); ―Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved (Ps 55:22); ―Be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee (Heb 13:5); ―Therefore take no thought … for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things (Matt 6:31-32); ―Bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure (Isa 33:16); ―Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you (1 Pet 5:7). Do not readily pass over these texts, but give attention to each one—yes, to every individual word. Take note of these words as being addressed to you by the God of heaven. He not only commands you to take no thought, but also to be content. Does not the command of God suffice so as to motivate you to render obedience? Is not His exhortation sufficient to stir you up? Take also notice, however, of the promises which the omnipotent, good, and true God makes in addition to this: ―He shall bring it to pass; He shall sustain thee; He shall not forsake thee; your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things; He careth for you. Are the promises of God not enough for you? Would He say it and not do it? Therefore, be satisfied, delight yourself, and rejoice in His promises, which will most certainly be fulfilled. It is true that the Lord does not always fulfill His promises when we judge it to be most suitable for us. However, the Lord will most certainly do it at His time. It is thus best if we do not receive it at our time; there is yet something to be learned by us and we must first be capable of using the promises well. It is the Lord‘s wisdom and goodness that He postpones the matter; however, the fulfillment is beyond doubt. He has not promised to give you a certain quantity, but rather as much as you will have need of. That ought to be sufficient for you and He will most certainly give it to you. Therefore, ―though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry (Hab 2:3). Even if you do not perceive any means by which or from where it will come, He is almighty. He can also do it without means and sustain you and your children without food. Or else He will provide the means—even if ravens would have to bring it to you; even if He would cause bread to rain down from heaven; even if He would have to multiply flour and oil; or even if He would have to close the mouths of the lions and cause the fire to have no power. Therefore, be still and see the salvation of the Lord.

Secondly, is not God, who is your Father, sovereign? Would you wish that He were not so? You will indeed reply, ―No I am glad that He is so and do not wish to stand above Him. I approve of His sovereignty, and even if He were to kill me, I would worship His sovereign majesty. However, here the will of God stands over against your will. You say, ―I wish to have this, and God says, ―I do not wish to give this to you; such and such is the measure that you will have. Whose will shall have the upper hand, however—God‘s will or yours? Since you know that you cannot prevail against God, will you therefore fret and grumble, as children sometimes do toward their parents? That would indeed be a striving against God. Since He is sovereign, however, His will is supreme, and you approve of it with delight, subject your will to His will, and will what He wills. Delight yourself in your circumstances, since it is the will of God concerning you—especially since God is your Father to whom you pray daily, ―Thy will be done. Since you subject yourself to His will in prayer, should you then not also subject yourself to His will in His dealings with you—even if they are not according to your desires? Submit yourself therefore to God and glorify Him in doing so.

Thirdly, did not God, by saying, ―I am your God! cause Himself to be your portion so that you would enjoy all felicity in Him? If you have the all-sufficient One as your salvation, are you then still in need of anything else? Is He not better to you than a thousand worlds, a piece of money, or a piece of bread? Therefore, speak and practice what the godly did. ―The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him (Lam 3:24). As you consider God—the only blessed God, the God of full salvation—to be your portion, turn to Him in times of distress, take refuge with Him, delight yourself in Him by faith—even if it pleases Him not to give you the measure of enjoying Him as you would desire. This is laid away for you in eternity. Delight yourself in having Him as your portion, and let this satisfy you while foregoing the things of the world which you would desire to have. To that end, hold before yourself the example of Habakkuk: ―Although … the fields shall yield no meat … yet I will rejoice in the Lord (Hab 3:17-18).

Fourthly, the very God who has given you what is most precious to Him, namely, His own Son Jesus Christ, in order to deliver you from your wretched state and to bring you to eternal glory (which He has laid away as an inheritance for you (Rom 8:32))—would He permit that you would truly lack anything as far as the needs of your body? ―He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things (Rom 8:32). Behold, Christ has been given you as a Savior, you are partakers of all the benefits of the covenant of grace, and salvation is your eternal inheritance. Is that not sufficient for you? Must a piece of money and a piece of bread yet be added to this before you will be satisfied? Be ashamed that you think such thoughts. Would He who has given you that which is superior and eternal deny you that which is needful for your body? Would not He who has given you your life and body, also give you food and clothing? ―Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment (Matt 6:25). How do you dare to think such a thing? Therefore, be content with your present circumstances, and it will suffice you. Adjust your desires to your circumstances.

Fifthly, what is the world to you? What is it that you are so desirous for? What is it that you are so concerned about? Is it not all transitory? You yourself will not remain here eternally, and you, as well as all that exists in the world, do but exist for a moment. Why then do you trouble yourself so much about it? When death comes, it will not grieve you that you had so little in this life, nor will it render you joy if you had an abundance; you will not die any more peacefully because of it. If you were to consider every day as being your last and you were to imagine continually that you are presently dying, you would not be disquieted by whether you have either more or less—which you presently are doing. Therefore, remain focused upon the transitory nature of your existence and the insignificance of all that is of the world. Simultaneously focus upon the promises of God: He, as an added benefit, will bestow the things of the world upon you as you have need of them, and will care for you. You will then learn to be content.

Sixthly, has a godly person ever lacked anything? If you read the entire Bible, you will not find a single example. Consider your own case. God cared for you when you were small. He provided clothing for your convenience, breasts to be suckled, a bosom at which you could be cherished, bread and clothing as you grew up, and He has nourished you from the moment of your existence until now. And when you came into perplexing circumstances, did He not frequently deliver you? Would God then cease at this moment? He who grants the young ravens food when they cry to Him, provides food for the birds of heaven and sustains all that lives, who grants the ungodly food and gladness, would He forget you? Would He refuse to give you that which you need? Therefore, be content, trust in Him, and be satisfied with His dispensation. Even if the measure is not according to your desires, it will be as much as you have need of. That is sufficient and that ought to be sufficient for you.

The Blessed Benefits Issuing Forth from Contentment

Seventhly, contentment engenders many good things. ―And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God (Rom 8:28).

(1) There will be a quiet spirit, which is of great price in the sight of God (1 Pet 3:4). There will be a great inner delight. A contented person tramples upon all that is of the world, lives above that which is visible, and is beyond the reach of all the arrows of the enemies.

(2) There will be alienation from the world. Man by nature is greatly occupied with his body and with making provision for it by way of temporal things. There is still much to be found of this in a regenerate person. If, however, he becomes content with the will of God, he then begins to disassociate himself from the world and does not seek gratification in it, but sojourns in it as a stranger.

(3) It is a state in which there is prayer and communion with God. Since God is the believer‘s portion he delights himself in this and observes God‘s hand in all that he encounters, believing that it is to his advantage—even when a knife is used to cut open a boil. If he is in need of something, he prays in faith and believingly anticipates that which he has need of.

(4) There is a frequent experience of the help of God. To perceive that God looks upon him, hears his prayer, and delivers him, is ten times more precious to a believer, yielding him incomparably more joy than if he were to be translated from a state of extreme poverty to extreme wealth. This experience strengthens him in believing that the Lord will also deliver him time and again in the future. He who has delivered me from the bear and the lion will also deliver me from this Philistine. He who has delivered me from six troubles will not forsake me in the seventh.

(5) There will be gratitude. If we lack everything and see no way out, and God then grants us His help, a piece of bread will taste better than all delicacies enjoyed in prosperity. Then a shelter behind which there is refuge against rain and wind is more delightful and convenient than a palace previously would have been. The soul then lifts herself up to the Lord, acknowledging Him as the Giver. Then the soul will rejoice in the Lord and acknowledge herself not worthy of the least of all the Lord‘s mercies. The confession will be, ―Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies (Ps 103:2, 4).

(6) There is a longing for the state of glory. Then the believer will perceive that it is not to be found here below, but in heaven. He will therefore long to depart and to be with Christ. He will comfort himself with this expectation and will thus be strengthened and encouraged to endure all tribulations. He will then rejoice that rest has been laid away for him, and he will be hastening to enter into that rest.

(7) There is the manifestation of holiness. As the cares of this world are the thorns which choke the good seed, contentment likewise renders one fit to deny self, to be humble, to trust in God, to delight himself in God as being his portion, to freely own the Lord‘s cause, and to demonstrate that there is an all-sufficiency in God. Here is the fountain of all godliness.

Objection: Some may perhaps say, ―I would indeed be content if I but knew that I was a child of God, that the Lord was near to me, and that He would cause me to sense His goodness.

Answer: This is as much as to say, ―If I were only in heaven, I would be satisfied. No, we must find satisfaction here below in the will of God, by faith. Unbelief concerning your state issues forth from discontent and not from your lack. As long as you are not satisfied except your desire be fulfilled, so long will you also be tossed to and fro as far as your spiritual state is concerned, and your soul will be as ―a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed (James 1:6). In order for faith to be exercised, you must be content with the present, and upon being content you must then exercise faith; these two belong together. May the Lord grant you both!

Objection: Others will say, ―The Lord does not hear me, I am not delivered, and my perplexity becomes greater all the time. How can I then be content?

Answer: Do you now see that your contentment is contingent upon possession? No, not to possess and yet to be satisfied with the will of God, trusting that there will be deliverance—that is true contentment. The reason the Lord does not give it to you is because you do not yet need it. The Lord wants to teach you to be content with Him alone. He wishes to guide you into the proper use of what is good. He wishes to comfort and help you in a different manner from what you would prescribe to God in your foolishness.

Guidelines for Learning How to Be Content

If you wish to learn how to be content, then practice the following:

(1) Always consider what you deserve, and you will then be happy that you are not yet in hell.

(2) Look at others, and you will not want to exchange your condition with theirs. The one will have much less, and will be much more wretched than you are according to the body and will be an example to you as far as contentment is concerned. The other person will be without grace, and you would certainly not wish to trade places with him.

(3) Live only by the day and do not take upon you the difficulties of two, ten, or a hundred days. This would be too great a burden for you. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.

(4) Your difficulty is perhaps not as great as you make it out to be—this in consequence of your desire being excessive. You must therefore make more of an effort to adjust your desire to your circumstances—considering it to be the will of God—rather than seeking to improve your circumstances in accordance with your desire.

(5) Make use of the means with all diligence and faithfulness so that your conscience will not accuse you, and leave the outcome to the Lord. Trust in His promise and He will make it well.

(6) Let your focus continually be upon heaven, and consider the insignificance of all that is upon earth. The nearer you are to God, the more you will be at a distance from the creature. Everything will pass away, but he that doeth the will of God shall abide forever.

Source: The Christian’s reasonable service, vol 3, a Brakel

Job 33:19-28 – Matthew Henry commentary

June 1, 2010 Comments off
Job 33:19  He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain:
Job 33:20  So that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat.
Job 33:21  His flesh is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; and his bones that were not seen stick out.
Job 33:22  Yea, his soul draweth near unto the grave, and his life to the destroyers.
Job 33:23  If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man his uprightness:
Job 33:24  Then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom.
Job 33:25  His flesh shall be fresher than a child’s: he shall return to the days of his youth:
Job 33:26  He shall pray unto God, and he will be favourable unto him: and he shall see his face with joy: for he will render unto man his righteousness.
Job 33:27  He looketh upon men, and if any say, I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not;
Job 33:28  He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light.
God has spoken once to sinners by their own consciences, to keep them from the paths of the destroyer, but they perceive it not; they are not aware that the checks their own hearts give them in a sinful way are from God, but they are imputed to melancholy or the preciseness of their education; and therefore God speaks twice; he speaks a second time, and tries another way to convince and reclaim sinners, and that is by providences, afflictive and merciful (in which he speaks twice), and by the seasonable instructions of good ministers setting in with them. Job complained much of his diseases and judged by them that God was angry with him; his friends did so too: but Elihu shows that they were all mistaken, for God often afflicts the body in love, and with gracious designs of good to the soul, as appears in the issue. This part of Elihu’s discourse will be of great use to us for the due improvement of sickness, in and by which God speaks to men. Here is,
I. The patient described in his extremity. See what work sickness makes (Job_33:19, etc.) when God sends it with commission. Do this, and doeth it. 1. The sick man is full of pain all over him (Job_33:19): He is chastened with pain upon his bed, such pain as confines him to his bed, or so extreme the pain is that he can get no ease, no, not on his bed, where he would repose himself. Pain and sickness will turn a bed of down into a bed of thorns, on which he that used to sleep now tosses to and fro till the dawning of the day. The case, as here put, is very bad. Pain is borne with more difficulty than sickness, and with that the patient here is chastened, not a dull heavy pain, but strong and acute; and frequently the stronger the patient the stronger the pain, for the more sanguine the complexion is the more violent, commonly, the disease is. It is not the smarting of the flesh that is complained of, but the aching of the bones. It is an inward rooted pain; and not only the bones of one limb, but the multitude of the bones, are thus chastened. See what frail, what vile bodies we have, which, though receiving no external hurt, may be thus pained from causes within themselves. See what work sin makes, what mischief it does. Pain is the fruit of sin; yet, by the grace of God, the pain of the body is often made a means of good to the soul. 2. He has quite lost his appetite, the common effect of sickness (Job_33:20): His life abhorreth bread, the most necessary food, and dainty meat, which he most delighted in, and formerly relished with a great deal of pleasure. This is a good reason why we should not be desirous of dainties, because they are deceitful meat, Pro_23:3. We may be soon made as sick of them as we are now fond of them; and those who live in luxury when they are well, if ever they come, by reason of sickness, to loathe dainty meat, may, with grief and shame, read their sin in their punishment. Let us not inordinately love the taste of meat, for the time may come when we may even loathe the sight of meat, Psa_107:18. 3. He has become a perfect skeleton, nothing but skin and bones, Job_33:21. By sickness, perhaps a few days’ sickness, his flesh, which was fat, and fair, is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; it is strangely wasted and gone: and his bones, which were buried in flesh, now stick out; you may count his ribs, may tell all his bones. The soul that is well nourished with the bread of life sickness will not make lean, but it soon makes a change in the body.
He who, before, had such a beauteous air,
And, pampered with the ease, seemed plump and fair
Doth all his friends (amazing change!) surprise
With pale lean cheeks and ghastly hollow eyes;
His bones (a horrid sight) start through his skin,
Which lay before, in flesh and fat, unseen.
– Sir R. Blackmore
4. He is given up for gone, and his life despaired of (Job_33:22): His soul draws near to the grave, that is, he has all the symptoms of death upon him, and in the apprehension of all about him, as well as in his own, he is a dying man. The pangs of death, here called the destroyers, are just ready to seize him; they compass him about, Psa_116:3. Perhaps it intimates the very dreadful apprehensions which those have of death as a destroying thing, when it stares them in the face, who, when it was at a distance, made light of it. All agree when it comes to the point, whatever they thought of it before, that it is a serious thing to die.
II. The provision made for his instruction, in order to a sanctified use of his affliction, that, when God in that way speaks to man, he may be heard and understood, and not speak in vain, Job_33:23. He is happy if there be a messenger with him to attend him in his sickness, to convince, counsel, and comfort him, an interpreter to expound the providence and give him to understand the meaning of it, a man of wisdom that knows the voice of the rod and its interpretation; for, when God speaks by afflictions, we are frequently so unversed in the language, that we have need of an interpreter, and it is well if we have such a one. The advice and help of a good minister are as needful and seasonable, and should be as acceptable, in sickness, as of a good physician, especially if he be well skilled in the art of explaining and improving providences; he is then one of a thousand, and to be valued accordingly. His business at such a time is to show unto man his uprightness, that is, God’s uprightness, that in faithfulness he afflicts him and does him no wrong, which it is necessary to be convinced of in order to our making a due improvement of the affliction: or, rather, it may mean man’s uprightness, or rectitude. 1. The uprightness that is. If it appear that the sick person is truly pious, the interpreter will not do as Job’s friends had done, make it his business to prove him a hypocrite because he is afflicted, but on the contrary will show him his uprightness, notwithstanding his afflictions, that he may take the comfort of it, and be easy, whatever the event is. 2. The uprightness, the reformation, that should be, in order to life and peace. When men are made to see the way of uprightness to be the only way, and a sure way to salvation, and to choose it, and walk in it accordingly, the work is done.
III. God’s gracious acceptance of him, upon his repentance, Job_33:24. When he sees that the sick person is indeed convinced that sincere repentance, and that uprightness which is gospel perfection, are his interest as well as his duty, then he that waits to be gracious, and shows mercy upon the first indication of true repentance, is gracious unto him, and takes him into his favour and thoughts for good. Wherever God finds a gracious heart he will be found a gracious God; and, 1. He will give a gracious order for his discharge. He says, Deliver him (that is, let him be delivered) from going down to the pit, from that death which is the wages of sin. When afflictions have done their work they shall be removed. When we return to God in a way of duty he will return to us in a way of mercy. Those shall be delivered from going down to the pit who receive God’s messengers, and rightly understand his interpreters, so as to subscribe to his uprightness. 2. He will give a gracious reason for this order: I have found a ransom, or propitiation; Jesus Christ is that ransom, so Elihu calls him, as Job had called him his Redeemer, for he is both the purchaser and the price, the priest and the sacrifice; so high was the value put upon souls that nothing less would redeem them, and so great the injury done by sin that nothing less would atone for it than the blood of the Son of God, who gave his life a ransom for many. This is a ransom of God’s finding, a contrivance of Infinite Wisdom; we could never have found it ourselves, and the angels themselves could never have found it. It is the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, and such an invention as is and will be the everlasting wonder of those principalities and powers that desire to look into it. Observe how God glories in the invention here, heurēka, heurēka, – “I have found, I have found, the ransom; I, even I, am he that has done it.”
IV. The recovery of the sick man hereupon. Take away the cause and the effect will cease. When the patient becomes a penitent see what a blessed change follows. 1. His body recovers its health, Job_33:25. This is not always the consequence of a sick man’s repentance and return to God, but sometimes it is; and recovery from sickness is a mercy indeed when it arises from the remission of sin; then it is in love to the soul that the body is delivered from the pit of corruption when God casts our sins behind his back, Isa_38:17. That is the method of a blessed recovery. Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee; and then, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk, Mat_9:2, Mat_9:6. So here, interest him in the ransom, and then his flesh shall be fresher than a child’s and there shall be no remains of his distemper, but he shall return to the days of his youth, to the beauty and strength which he had then. When the distemper that oppressed nature is removed how strangely does nature help itself, in which the power and goodness of the God of nature must be thankfully acknowledged! By such merciful providences as these, which afflictions give occasion for, God speaketh once, yea, twice, to the children of men, letting them know (if they would but perceive it) their dependence upon him and his tender compassion of them. 2. His soul recovers it peace, Job_33:26. (1.) The patient, being a penitent, is a supplicant, and has learned to pray. He knows God will be sought unto for his favours, and therefore he shall pray unto God, pray for pardon, pray for health. Is any afflicted, and sick? Let him pray. When he finds himself recovering he shall not then think that prayer is no longer necessary, for we need the grace of God as much for the sanctifying of a mercy as for the sanctifying of an affliction. (2.) His prayers are accepted. God will be favourable to him, and be well pleased with him; his anger shall be turned away from him, and the light of God’s countenance shall shine upon his soul; and then it follows, (3.) That he has the comfort of communion with God. He shall now see the face of God, which before was hid from him, and he shall see it with joy, for what sight can be more reviving? See Gen_33:10, As though I had seen the face of God. All true penitents rejoice more in the returns of God’s favour than in any instance whatsoever of prosperity or pleasure, Psa_4:6, Psa_4:7. (4.) He has a blessed tranquility of mind, arising from the sense of his justification before God, who will render unto this man his righteousness. He shall receive the atonement, that is, the comfort of it, Rom_5:11. Righteousness shall be imputed to him, and peace thereupon spoken, the joy and gladness of which he shall then be made to hear though he could not hear them in the day of his affliction. God will now deal with him as a righteous man, with whom it shall be well. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, even righteousness, Psa_24:5. God shall give him grace to go and sin no more. Perhaps this may denote the reformation of his life after his recovery. As he shall pray unto God, whom before he had slighted, so he shall render to man his righteousness, whom before he had wronged, shall make restitution, and for the future do justly.
V. The general rule which God will go by in dealing with the children of men inferred from this instance, Job_33:27, Job_33:28. As sick people, upon their submission, are restored, so all others that truly repent of their sins shall find mercy with God. See here, 1. What sin is, and what reason we have not to sin. Would we know the nature of sin and the malignity of it? It is the perverting of that which is right; it is a most unjust unreasonable thing; it is the rebellion of the creature against the Creator, the usurped dominion of the flesh over the spirit, and a contradiction to the eternal rules and reasons of good and evil. It is perverting the right ways of the Lord (Act_13:10), and therefore the ways of sin are called crooked ways, Psa_125:5. Would we know what is to be got by sin? It profiteth us not. The works of darkness are unfruitful works. When profit and loss come to be balanced all the gains of sin, put them all together, will come far short of countervailing the damage. All true penitents are ready to own this, and it is a mortifying consideration. Rom_6:21, What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed? 2. See what repentance is, and what reason we have to repent. Would we approve ourselves true penitents? We must then, with a broken and contrite heart, confess our sins to God, 1Jo_1:9. We must confess the fact of sin (I have sinned) and not deny the charge, or stand upon our own justification; we must confess the fault of sin, the iniquity, the dishonesty of it ( have perverted that which was right); we must confess the folly of sin – “so foolish have I been and ignorant, for it profited me not; and therefore what have I to do any more with it?” Is there not good reason why we should make such a penitent confession as this? For, (1.) God expect it. He looks upon men, when they have sinned, to see what they will do next, whether they will go on in it or whether they will bethink themselves and return. He hearkens and hears whether any say, What have I done? Jer_8:6. He looks upon sinners with an eye of compassion, desiring to hear this from them; for he has no pleasure in their ruin. He looks upon them, and, as soon as he perceives these workings of repentance in them, he encourages them and is ready to accept them (Psa_32:5, Psa_32:6), as the father went forth to meet the returning prodigal. (2.) It will turn to our unspeakable advantage. The promise is general. If any humble himself thus, whoever he be, [1.] He shall not come into condemnation, but be saved from the wrath to come: He shall deliver his soul from going into the pit, the pit of hell; iniquity shall not be his ruin. [2.] He shall be happy in everlasting life and joy: His life shall see the light, that is, all good, in the vision and fruition of God. To obtain this bliss, if the prophet had bidden us do some great thing, would we not have done it? How much more when he only says unto us, Wash and be clean, confess and be pardoned, repent and be saved?

Job 33:19-28  God has spoken once to sinners by their own consciences, to keep them from the paths of the destroyer, but they perceive it not; they are not aware that the checks their own hearts give them in a sinful way are from God, but they are imputed to melancholy or the preciseness of their education; and therefore God speaks twice; he speaks a second time, and tries another way to convince and reclaim sinners, and that is by providences, afflictive and merciful (in which he speaks twice), and by the seasonable instructions of good ministers setting in with them. Job complained much of his diseases and judged by them that God was angry with him; his friends did so too: but Elihu shows that they were all mistaken, for God often afflicts the body in love, and with gracious designs of good to the soul, as appears in the issue. This part of Elihu’s discourse will be of great use to us for the due improvement of sickness, in and by which God speaks to men. Here is,I. The patient described in his extremity. See what work sickness makes (Job_33:19, etc.) when God sends it with commission. Do this, and doeth it. 1. The sick man is full of pain all over him (Job_33:19): He is chastened with pain upon his bed, such pain as confines him to his bed, or so extreme the pain is that he can get no ease, no, not on his bed, where he would repose himself. Pain and sickness will turn a bed of down into a bed of thorns, on which he that used to sleep now tosses to and fro till the dawning of the day. The case, as here put, is very bad. Pain is borne with more difficulty than sickness, and with that the patient here is chastened, not a dull heavy pain, but strong and acute; and frequently the stronger the patient the stronger the pain, for the more sanguine the complexion is the more violent, commonly, the disease is. It is not the smarting of the flesh that is complained of, but the aching of the bones. It is an inward rooted pain; and not only the bones of one limb, but the multitude of the bones, are thus chastened. See what frail, what vile bodies we have, which, though receiving no external hurt, may be thus pained from causes within themselves. See what work sin makes, what mischief it does. Pain is the fruit of sin; yet, by the grace of God, the pain of the body is often made a means of good to the soul. 2. He has quite lost his appetite, the common effect of sickness (Job_33:20): His life abhorreth bread, the most necessary food, and dainty meat, which he most delighted in, and formerly relished with a great deal of pleasure. This is a good reason why we should not be desirous of dainties, because they are deceitful meat, Pro_23:3. We may be soon made as sick of them as we are now fond of them; and those who live in luxury when they are well, if ever they come, by reason of sickness, to loathe dainty meat, may, with grief and shame, read their sin in their punishment. Let us not inordinately love the taste of meat, for the time may come when we may even loathe the sight of meat, Psa_107:18. 3. He has become a perfect skeleton, nothing but skin and bones, Job_33:21. By sickness, perhaps a few days’ sickness, his flesh, which was fat, and fair, is consumed away, that it cannot be seen; it is strangely wasted and gone: and his bones, which were buried in flesh, now stick out; you may count his ribs, may tell all his bones. The soul that is well nourished with the bread of life sickness will not make lean, but it soon makes a change in the body.He who, before, had such a beauteous air,And, pampered with the ease, seemed plump and fairDoth all his friends (amazing change!) surpriseWith pale lean cheeks and ghastly hollow eyes;His bones (a horrid sight) start through his skin,Which lay before, in flesh and fat, unseen. – Sir R. Blackmore4. He is given up for gone, and his life despaired of (Job_33:22): His soul draws near to the grave, that is, he has all the symptoms of death upon him, and in the apprehension of all about him, as well as in his own, he is a dying man. The pangs of death, here called the destroyers, are just ready to seize him; they compass him about, Psa_116:3. Perhaps it intimates the very dreadful apprehensions which those have of death as a destroying thing, when it stares them in the face, who, when it was at a distance, made light of it. All agree when it comes to the point, whatever they thought of it before, that it is a serious thing to die.II. The provision made for his instruction, in order to a sanctified use of his affliction, that, when God in that way speaks to man, he may be heard and understood, and not speak in vain, Job_33:23. He is happy if there be a messenger with him to attend him in his sickness, to convince, counsel, and comfort him, an interpreter to expound the providence and give him to understand the meaning of it, a man of wisdom that knows the voice of the rod and its interpretation; for, when God speaks by afflictions, we are frequently so unversed in the language, that we have need of an interpreter, and it is well if we have such a one. The advice and help of a good minister are as needful and seasonable, and should be as acceptable, in sickness, as of a good physician, especially if he be well skilled in the art of explaining and improving providences; he is then one of a thousand, and to be valued accordingly. His business at such a time is to show unto man his uprightness, that is, God’s uprightness, that in faithfulness he afflicts him and does him no wrong, which it is necessary to be convinced of in order to our making a due improvement of the affliction: or, rather, it may mean man’s uprightness, or rectitude. 1. The uprightness that is. If it appear that the sick person is truly pious, the interpreter will not do as Job’s friends had done, make it his business to prove him a hypocrite because he is afflicted, but on the contrary will show him his uprightness, notwithstanding his afflictions, that he may take the comfort of it, and be easy, whatever the event is. 2. The uprightness, the reformation, that should be, in order to life and peace. When men are made to see the way of uprightness to be the only way, and a sure way to salvation, and to choose it, and walk in it accordingly, the work is done.III. God’s gracious acceptance of him, upon his repentance, Job_33:24. When he sees that the sick person is indeed convinced that sincere repentance, and that uprightness which is gospel perfection, are his interest as well as his duty, then he that waits to be gracious, and shows mercy upon the first indication of true repentance, is gracious unto him, and takes him into his favour and thoughts for good. Wherever God finds a gracious heart he will be found a gracious God; and, 1. He will give a gracious order for his discharge. He says, Deliver him (that is, let him be delivered) from going down to the pit, from that death which is the wages of sin. When afflictions have done their work they shall be removed. When we return to God in a way of duty he will return to us in a way of mercy. Those shall be delivered from going down to the pit who receive God’s messengers, and rightly understand his interpreters, so as to subscribe to his uprightness. 2. He will give a gracious reason for this order: I have found a ransom, or propitiation; Jesus Christ is that ransom, so Elihu calls him, as Job had called him his Redeemer, for he is both the purchaser and the price, the priest and the sacrifice; so high was the value put upon souls that nothing less would redeem them, and so great the injury done by sin that nothing less would atone for it than the blood of the Son of God, who gave his life a ransom for many. This is a ransom of God’s finding, a contrivance of Infinite Wisdom; we could never have found it ourselves, and the angels themselves could never have found it. It is the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, and such an invention as is and will be the everlasting wonder of those principalities and powers that desire to look into it. Observe how God glories in the invention here, heurēka, heurēka, – “I have found, I have found, the ransom; I, even I, am he that has done it.”IV. The recovery of the sick man hereupon. Take away the cause and the effect will cease. When the patient becomes a penitent see what a blessed change follows. 1. His body recovers its health, Job_33:25. This is not always the consequence of a sick man’s repentance and return to God, but sometimes it is; and recovery from sickness is a mercy indeed when it arises from the remission of sin; then it is in love to the soul that the body is delivered from the pit of corruption when God casts our sins behind his back, Isa_38:17. That is the method of a blessed recovery. Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee; and then, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk, Mat_9:2, Mat_9:6. So here, interest him in the ransom, and then his flesh shall be fresher than a child’s and there shall be no remains of his distemper, but he shall return to the days of his youth, to the beauty and strength which he had then. When the distemper that oppressed nature is removed how strangely does nature help itself, in which the power and goodness of the God of nature must be thankfully acknowledged! By such merciful providences as these, which afflictions give occasion for, God speaketh once, yea, twice, to the children of men, letting them know (if they would but perceive it) their dependence upon him and his tender compassion of them. 2. His soul recovers it peace, Job_33:26. (1.) The patient, being a penitent, is a supplicant, and has learned to pray. He knows God will be sought unto for his favours, and therefore he shall pray unto God, pray for pardon, pray for health. Is any afflicted, and sick? Let him pray. When he finds himself recovering he shall not then think that prayer is no longer necessary, for we need the grace of God as much for the sanctifying of a mercy as for the sanctifying of an affliction. (2.) His prayers are accepted. God will be favourable to him, and be well pleased with him; his anger shall be turned away from him, and the light of God’s countenance shall shine upon his soul; and then it follows, (3.) That he has the comfort of communion with God. He shall now see the face of God, which before was hid from him, and he shall see it with joy, for what sight can be more reviving? See Gen_33:10, As though I had seen the face of God. All true penitents rejoice more in the returns of God’s favour than in any instance whatsoever of prosperity or pleasure, Psa_4:6, Psa_4:7. (4.) He has a blessed tranquility of mind, arising from the sense of his justification before God, who will render unto this man his righteousness. He shall receive the atonement, that is, the comfort of it, Rom_5:11. Righteousness shall be imputed to him, and peace thereupon spoken, the joy and gladness of which he shall then be made to hear though he could not hear them in the day of his affliction. God will now deal with him as a righteous man, with whom it shall be well. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, even righteousness, Psa_24:5. God shall give him grace to go and sin no more. Perhaps this may denote the reformation of his life after his recovery. As he shall pray unto God, whom before he had slighted, so he shall render to man his righteousness, whom before he had wronged, shall make restitution, and for the future do justly.V. The general rule which God will go by in dealing with the children of men inferred from this instance, Job_33:27, Job_33:28. As sick people, upon their submission, are restored, so all others that truly repent of their sins shall find mercy with God. See here, 1. What sin is, and what reason we have not to sin. Would we know the nature of sin and the malignity of it? It is the perverting of that which is right; it is a most unjust unreasonable thing; it is the rebellion of the creature against the Creator, the usurped dominion of the flesh over the spirit, and a contradiction to the eternal rules and reasons of good and evil. It is perverting the right ways of the Lord (Act_13:10), and therefore the ways of sin are called crooked ways, Psa_125:5. Would we know what is to be got by sin? It profiteth us not. The works of darkness are unfruitful works. When profit and loss come to be balanced all the gains of sin, put them all together, will come far short of countervailing the damage. All true penitents are ready to own this, and it is a mortifying consideration. Rom_6:21, What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed? 2. See what repentance is, and what reason we have to repent. Would we approve ourselves true penitents? We must then, with a broken and contrite heart, confess our sins to God, 1Jo_1:9. We must confess the fact of sin (I have sinned) and not deny the charge, or stand upon our own justification; we must confess the fault of sin, the iniquity, the dishonesty of it ( have perverted that which was right); we must confess the folly of sin – “so foolish have I been and ignorant, for it profited me not; and therefore what have I to do any more with it?” Is there not good reason why we should make such a penitent confession as this? For, (1.) God expect it. He looks upon men, when they have sinned, to see what they will do next, whether they will go on in it or whether they will bethink themselves and return. He hearkens and hears whether any say, What have I done? Jer_8:6. He looks upon sinners with an eye of compassion, desiring to hear this from them; for he has no pleasure in their ruin. He looks upon them, and, as soon as he perceives these workings of repentance in them, he encourages them and is ready to accept them (Psa_32:5, Psa_32:6), as the father went forth to meet the returning prodigal. (2.) It will turn to our unspeakable advantage. The promise is general. If any humble himself thus, whoever he be, [1.] He shall not come into condemnation, but be saved from the wrath to come: He shall deliver his soul from going into the pit, the pit of hell; iniquity shall not be his ruin. [2.] He shall be happy in everlasting life and joy: His life shall see the light, that is, all good, in the vision and fruition of God. To obtain this bliss, if the prophet had bidden us do some great thing, would we not have done it? How much more when he only says unto us, Wash and be clean, confess and be pardoned, repent and be saved?

The ruined handkerchief

November 6, 2009 Comments off

J. R. Miller

“We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

It is one of the wonders of divine love, that God will take even our blemishes and sins, when we truly repent of them and give them into His hands–and make them blessings to us in some way.

A friend once showed Ruskin a costly handkerchief, on which a blot of ink had been made. “Nothing can be done with that!” the friend said, thinking that the handkerchief was now ruined and worthless. Ruskin carried it away with him and after a time sent it back to his friend. In a most skillful and artistic way–he had made a fine design on the handkerchief, using the blot as its foundation. Instead of being ruined, the handkerchief was made far more beautiful and valuable.

Just so, God takes the flaws and blots and stains upon our lives, the disfiguring blemishes, when we commit them to Him, and by His marvelous grace–changes them into strength and beauty of character!

David’s grievous sin, was not only forgiven–but was made a transforming power in his life.

Peter’s pitiful fall, became a step upward through his Lord’s forgiveness and gentle dealing. Peter never would have become the man he afterward became–if he had not denied his Lord, and then repented and been restored.

There is one thing always to be remembered. Paul tells us that we become more than conquerors in all life’s trials, dangers, struggles, temptations, and sorrows–only “through Him who loved us.” Without Christ–we must be defeated. There is only one secret that can turn evil into good, pain into blessing–that is the love of Christ. There is only one Hand which can take the blotted life–and transform it into beauty.

Source: “The Lesson of Love” 1903

Calvin commentary 1Peter 5:7

October 29, 2009 Comments off

1Pe 5:7
7 Casting all our care

He more fully sets forth here the providence of God. For whence are these proverbial sayings, “We shall have to howl among wolves,” and, “They are foolish who are like sheep, exposing themselves to wolves to be devoured,” except that we think that by our humility we set loose the reins to the audacity of the ungodly, so that they insult us more wantonly? But this fear arises from our ignorance of divine providence. Now, on the other hand, as soon as we are convinced that God cares for us, our minds are easily led to patience and humility. Lest, then, the wickedness of men should tempt us to a fierceness of mind, the Apostle prescribes to us a remedy, and also David does in Psa_37:5, so that having cast our care on God, we may calmly rest. For all those who recumb not on God’s providence must necessarily be in constant turmoil and violently assail others. We ought the more to dwell on this thought, that God cares for us, in order, first, that we may have peace within; and, secondly, that we may be humble and meek towards men.

But we are not thus bidden to cast all our care on God, as though God wished us to have strong hearts, and to be void of all feeling; but lest fear or anxiety should drive us to impatience. In like manner, the knowledge of divine providence does not free men from every care, that they may securely indulge themselves; for it ought not to encourage the torpidity of the flesh, but to bring rest to faith.

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