The Sorrowful Man's Question
Intended for Reading on Lord's-Day, March 18th, 1900,
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington,
On Lord's-day Evening, October 8th, 1882.
"Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in?"Job 3:23.
AM VERY THANKFUL that so many of you are glad and happy. There is none too much joy in the world, and the more that any of us can create, the better. It should be a part of our happiness, and a man part of it, to try to make other people glad. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people," is a commission which many of us ought to feel is entrusted to us. If your own cup of joy is full, let it run over to others who have a more trying experience. If you yourself are privileged to have the flashing eye, and the elastic step, and the bounding heart, be mindful to speak words of good cheer to such as are in bonds. Feel as if you were bound with them; and try to revive their drooping spirits. That is what I am going to aim at to-night, so you will excuse me if I bid "good-bye" for a while to you joyous ones, and just seek after those who have no such delight as you now possess; but who are, on the contrary, suffering from extreme depression of spirit. Sometimes, we must single out the wounded ones of the flock; that is what I am about to do; yet I feel sure that, while some few will be distinctly sought after, there will be something that may be of use to the many who are in a less sorrowful condition. The ninety-and-nine shall get their full portion although the shepherd goes specially after the lost one.
Will his changeless goodness prove;
From the mist his brightness streameth,
God is wisdom, God is love."
Voyaging in that fashion, we shall be safe indeed. But to try to cross such a sea, without rudder, or chart, or compass,this is a venturesome piece of sailing which we had better not undertake. I tremble whenever I have to think of the wondrous ways of God; I mean, when I have to think of them after the manner of the reasoner, and not after the syle of the believer. Well did Milton describe the fallen spirits sitting, in little groups, discussing predestination and the counsels of the Eternal. You know how Paul answers the man who calls in question the dealings of God either in providence or in grace: "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God." Job received his answer when the Lord spake to him out of the whirlwind, and said, "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" What God said to him was not so much a vindication of the ways of providence, but a revelation of his matchless power as the Creator and the Ruler of the universe; and, though men may not like to hear it, yet there is, in the thunder of God's power, an answer, which, though it may not always answer the sceptic, but ultimately overpower and silence him. As for God's child, he sits down in the shadow of that black cloud which is the canopy of Deity, and he is well content to be still in the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. Imitate him, my brother, and do not keep asking God the why and the wherefore of what he does. It is an unsafe thing to ask such questions.
Next, it reflects upon God. In this question of Job, there is really a reflection upon the wisdom of the Almighty. He has given the light of life to a man whose way is hidden, and whom God hath hedged in, yet Job asks, "Why did he do it?" I think that, far too often, we indulge our questionings of divine providence. Is God to stand and answer to you and me for what he does V Is he bound to tell us the reason why he does it Job's friend Elihu said, "God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters." If there be his equal anywhere, let him meet him in the field, and they shall speak together; but to us worms of the dust answers shall not be given if we haughtily put questions to him of "what?" and "why?" and "wherefore?" To accept the Lord's will with absolute submission, is after the manner of the Son of God himself, for he prayed, in the hour of his greatest agony, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." But to cavil and to question, is after the manner of the prince of darkness, who is ever seeking to dispute the sovereignty of God. Therefore, beloved, let no question of ours reflect upon the Lord's love, or the dispensations of his providence.
Further, We may rest quite certain that there must be an answer to this question, a good answer, and an answer in harmony with the character of God. If there are men and women to be found still sitting in the darkness of grief and sorrow, and we ask why they are allowed to continue to live, there is a reply possible to that enquiry, and a reply consistent with boundless grace and infinite compassion; but, mark you, that reply may never be given, or, if it is given, we may be incapable of understanding it. There is much that God does that could not be understood, even by those great men, of modern times, who would fain sit on the throne of the Eternal and judge him,
Rejudge his judgments, be the god of God."
I say that there are some answers, which God might give if he pleased, but which even they could not comprehend with all their wit and wisdom, and you and I must often come to a point where we have to stop and say, "We cannot understand this;" and we shall be still wiser if we add, "Nor do we wish to do so." Brothers and sisters, I, for one, have had enough of searching into reasons; I am perfectly satisfied to accept facts. I am ready to bow my reason before the Lord, and to accept whatever he says. If I do not, how little shall I ever know! What is there that I do really understand? I confess that I see profound mysteries about the commonest phenomena around me; I cannot fully comprehend anything when I get right to the bottom of it. There is, on every hand, a deep which I cannot fathom; how, then, shall I understand the ways of God, and measure him with my finite mind, comparing so many inches with the Infinite, weighing so many ounces against the Omnipotent, and reckoning so many seconds in contrast with the Eternal? No, brethren, for such calculations, you have nothing to measure with; you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep, yea, bottomless. So, the less of such questions as Job's any of us ask, the better, for, even if we had the answer to them, we might not be able to understand it.
Let me remind you also that, however important this question may seem to be, it is not the most profitable question. I have heard of a farmer, whose boy said to him, "Father, the cows are in the corn; however did they get there? Boy," he replied, "never mind how they got there; our work is to get them out as soon as we can." That is our main business also, to get the cows out of the corn; how they got there is a matter that can be thought of by-and-by when we have nothing else to do. The origin of evil is a point that puzzles a great many people; but I hope you will not worry your brain over that question; if you do, you will be very foolish. But if you are wise men, you will not trouble yourself so much about the origin of evil, as about how to conquer it, in yourself, and in others. Get the cows out of the corn, and then find out how they got in, if you can, by so doing, prevent their getting in again.
There will be space enough, and time enough, and better light, to discuss these questions when we get up yonder before the throne of the Eternal. If their solution is of any real consequence to us, we shall get them solved then; but, meanwhile, we are color-blind; or, if we are not, it is so dark and so misty here, and we have so many other more pressing matters to attend to, that we had better leave these whys and wherefores, and rely on the infallible wisdom and the infinite love of God. If he has done anything, it is quite certain that it is right and just; yea, if it has come from his dear hand, it is also gracious and kind. There is more sublimity in being like a little child in the presence of the Eternal than there is in trying to ape the Deity, for that is but a mockery,a thing to be despised;nay more, it is the greatest insult we can offer to God, and it is a pity and a shame that any of us should so live and act. Put aside everything of the kind, I implore you, and in very truth submit yourselves unto God.
III. But now, in the last place, speaking to the sorrowful person, I want to mention SOME ANSWERS WHICH MAY BE GIVEN TO HIS QUESTION. "Why do I continue to live," asks he, "in such sorrow as this? Why does not God take from me the light of life when he does not permit me to enjoy the light of comfort?"
Supposing that you are a child of God, I will give you one answer which ought to satisfy you, though, perhaps, it will not if your spirit is rebellious. God wills it. If you are one of his true children, that is all the answer that you will require; and you will say, with those early christians, "The will of the Lord be done;" and with your Lord himself, "Not my will, but thine, be done." It was enough for Christ that his suffering was in accordance with the Father's will, so he bowed before him in unquestioning submission; and shall not you, the disciple, be content to fare as your Master did? Will net you be perfectly satisfied with that which satisfied your Lord? it is the will of the Lord; then what need is there of any further question if you are his child?
But supposing that you are an unconverted person, and you say, "I cannot bear to live in such sorrow as this, why is my life prolonged "the answer is, "Because of God's mercy to you." Where would you go to be better off than you are here? You who have no hope in Christ, and yet who say, "I wish I were dead," you know not what you are saying. You wish you were dead? But what would be your portion after death? What! Do you really wish to hear that dread sentence which must be passed upon you if you die unregenerate: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels"? Do you really desire to feel the full weight of divine justice! Ah! I hope that you are not so foolish. You have spoken in petulance, and do not mean what you have said; It may be hard for you to live, but it would be harder far for you to die, and then to live for ever in a death that never dies. God grant that, you may never know that awful doom!
Moreover, the answer to your question is that the Lord spares you because he would fain save you. You are kept alive that you may hear again that voice of mercy which says, "Repent ye, and be converted." "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." God comes to you in this time of suffering, that he may stop you in your sin, and make you think. Even to the most careless and giddy among you, during the poignancy of your grief, he says, "Now, my prodigal child, thou hast wasted thy substance in riotous living, thy belly is hungry, and thou hast nothing with which to fill it; arise, and go unto thy Father, for he will receive thee."
Come then, sorrowful one, it may be that thy sorrows will end when thy sins end; certainly, when thou comest to Christ to be forgiven, thou shalt find divine consolation, even if all thy griefs do not at once disappear. Anyhow, it would be better to be whipped all the way to heaven than to be carried down to hell "on flowery beds of ease." Pray this prayer, "O Lord, let me enter into life with one eye and one hand, halt or maimed, rather than, having two eyes and two hands, to be cast into hell!" This is one answer to your question: the Lord lets you live, even though it is in pain and grief, because he has purposes of love and mercy towards you. Therefore, be not anxious to de; but be thankful that you are still permitted to tarry upon gospel ground. Nay, do not be content to tarry there, but fly at once to the God of grace; look this very instant to Jesus, for
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinnerlook unto him, and be saved
Unto him who was nail'd to the tree."
One believing glance of the eye to him who is the sinner's Substitute, and all transgression is forgiven; therefore, yield yourself unto him, trust to his finished work, and eternal life is yours. And when you have that unspeakable blessing, why need you sorrow more?
As for the child of God, to whom I now again speak, if you ask, in a timid, childlike way, "Why do I continue to live in such sorrow as I have to endure?" I would, as your brother, try to answer you. First, it may be that all this trouble has come upon you to let you know what is in you. None of us know what there is in us until we are put to the test. We are wonderfully sweet-tempered until somebody touches one of our sore places; and then, ah, me! there is not much sweetness of temper left after that. We are remarkably patient until we get a sharp neuralgic pain, perhaps; and then, where is all our boasted patience gone. We are very generous until we ourselves are somewhat pinched, and then we become as tight-fisted as others whom we have condemned. We do not know what is really in us while all goes smoothly and well; but sickness, and sorrow, and bereavement, and poverty, and hunger, will soon let us see what we are. They make a mental or moral photograph of us, and when we look at the picture we say, "Oh, no! that cannot be our likeness;" but we look again and again, and then we say, "Alas! it is even so; but we did not know we were like that. Now we see our faults and our follies. O Lord, thou hast searched us, and tried us, and shown us the wicked ways that are in us; now purge us from them, and make us clean and pure in thy sight!" That is one reason, and a very good reason, for sharp affiiction,to let us see ourselves as we really are.
The next is that, often, our trials bring us very near to our God. Your children run down the meadow to play, and they get a good way off from home in the sunny day, as they ramble along gathering their buttercups and daisies; but by-and-by, the sun sets, and night comes on, and now they cry to be at home. Just so; and you, in all your pretty ways of pleasure in your happy home, though you are a child of God, sometimes forget him. Sorrowfully must you remember that sad fact. But now the night comes on, and there is danger all around you; so you begin to cry for your Father, and you would fain be back to fellowship with him; and that is a blessed trouble which brings us near to our God. Christ's sheep ought to be thankful for the ugly black dog that keeps them from going astray, or fetches them back when they have wandered from the Shepherd. Perhaps Christ will call that black dog off when he has answered the Master's purpose, and brought you near his side.
Dear child of God, anything that promotes your sanctification, or increases your spirituality, is a good thing for you. I have had my share of physical pain, and perhaps more of it than most who are here; and bless God for it. If it comes again, I ask him for grace to bless him for it then; and now that it has gone for a while, I freely bless him for it, for I cannot tell you all the good that it has wrought in me. Oh! how often a proud spirit has been cut back by affliction and trial, like a vine that is made to bleed, that the clusters that followed the pruning might be all the better and richer! The mown grass is very sweet and fine; and so, often, are believers who have been deeply tried. This tribulation, as Paul says, "worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." Wherefore, bow humbly before the Lord, my tried and afflicted friend, and see at least some of the reasons why he thus puts you in he dark chamber of tribulation.
Perhaps, dear brother, you are being very greatly tried, more than most people, to fit you to be an example to others. The Lord means to make a veteran of you, so you must be the first in the breach, or you must lead the forlorn hope. He puts you on the hardest service because he wants others of his children to be able to learn from you. I do not know that we should ever have heard anything of Job if it had not been for his troubles; he was a most respectable Eastern farmer, with a considerable estate, very much like a great many country gentlemen we have in England, who may be heard of at the Quarter Sessions, or the corn and cattle market, but nothing more will be known of them unless you go to the parish church, and see some memorial of them stuck up there. Job would have been much the same sort of man as that,an Oriental magnate, who would have lived, and died, and been forgotten; but now his fame will last as long as the world endures, and "ye have heard of the patience of Job. You have all heard of it, and Job is one of the undying names. So it may be with you, beloved. You are, perhaps, to sail through seas of trouble to reach your crown. God means to use you in his service, and make you a blessing to others, and a teacher of others, by passing you again and again through the fire. One of the ancient warriors said, "I cannot use in battle a sword that has not been ofttimes annealed; but give me a Damascus blade that has been so prepared, and I will cut through a coat of mail, or split a man from head to foot at a single stroke. It gets its temper and keenness of edge from having slept with the flames again and again." So must it be with believers. Full often, they are unfit for God to use till they have been sorely tried.
Perhaps, dear friend, the Lord is putting you through all this trouble(only I hardly like to say it aloud, I must whisper it in your ears somehow) because he loves you more than anybody else. Dear Samuel Rutherford, when he wrote to a lady who had lost, I think, seven children, congratulated her, and said, "I am sure that the Well-beloved has a strong affection for your ladyship, for he will have all your heart. He has taken away all these children that there may not be a nook or a corner for anybody else but for him." So the Lord loves you much, and he is testing you to set whether you can bear his will,whether you love him so much that you will take up your cross, and deny yourself, just as, sometimes, architects will ask for their work to be put to the severest possible tests. "Yes," they say, "see what it will really bear." No doubt Stephenson felt great joy when the heaviest train went safely across his tubular bridge; and other engineers have said, "Yes, put on as much pressure as you like; it will stand it." Fathers often take delight in the athletic feats of their sons, and princes revel in the brave deeds of their warriors; and so does the Lord delight to see what his people can do, and he often puts upon them more and more, to prove whether they love him so much that they can bear it all for his sake. Did not the Lord do this to let Satan see that Job did love his God, and would still say, "Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? . . . The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." We cannot tell what a blessing must come from such a state of heart as that.
It is very possible, dear friend, also, that God is putting you through all this trouble that he may enable you to bear great prosperity. Job was to have twice as much as he had ever had before, and that was a very great deal, for he said that he washed his steps with butter, and the rock poured him out rivers of oil; but how much richer he was when everything was doubled! Job was hardly fit to manage such a large estate as that until he had been made to see the vanity of it all, and to get nearer to his God. So, dear friends, you are going to be pressed, and squeezed, and tried, in order that you may be fitted to come right out into the front rank, and to be magnified and made much of by the Lord your God. I have noticed this kind of thing happen more than once. I have seen a man suddenly taken from the very dregs of the people, and put up to preach, and he has been popular all at once. Nobody has abused him, nobody has said a word against him; but, before long, he has passed completely out of sight. He could not bear the weight that was put upon him, and gave way. You have seen others, who have been called of God to preach the Word, and they have been abused year after year. They could not say anything that was not perverted; they were called mountebanks, impostors, and I know not what. And then, when happier days came, and almost all men spoke well of them, they could bear it, for they had learnt to despise alike the flatteries and the abuse of men. Now, something like that must happen to all God's servants who are to be greatly honored. If they are to bear prosperity, they must go through the fire first. Perhaps that is what the Lord is doing with you, my dear friend; if so, be content with your lot.
And, once again, do you not think that the Lord means thus to make you more like his dear Son than other people are? Some other Christians have not as much trouble to endure as you have. No; why is it? You know how an artist can, if he likes, dash off a picture. There! A little red, and a little blue, and so on, and it is done; and away it goes! Ay, but when he wants to paint something that will be observed and admired, then he takes more pains. See how he works at every part of it; note what care and what trouble he takes with it. It is the same with the lapidary or the sculptor when he has choice work in hand; and you are, I hope, the kind of material that will pay for cutting and carving; and the Lord is using his chisel upon you more than he does upon most folk. He wants to make you just like his dear Son; so now he is chipping out a thorn-crown, and you must wear it round your brain. He is fashioning the image of his Son out of the block of your renewed nature, and you must patiently bear the blows from his hammer and chisel till that work is done.
Finally, if I cannot tell you why all this trouble falls to your lot, I know it is right, for the Lord has done it, and blessed be his name. Aaron held his peace when his two sons died. He got as far as that in submission to the will of the Lord; but it will be better still if, instead of simply holding your peace, you can bless and praise and magnify the Lord even in your sharpest trouble. Oh, may you be divinely helped to do so! Let every troubled soul march out of this place feeling, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." Rise, dear friend, out of all despondency and despair, shake yourself from the dust, and put on your beautiful garments of praise and joy, remembering that
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown."
You can see the tracks of the martyrs along the road you are journeying; better still, you can see the footprints of the Son of God, your Lord and Savior. Therefore, you may rest assured that you are on the right road, so press bravely forward on it, and, in due time, you will come to that place of which Job said, "There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest;" and you shall be for ever without fault before the throne of God. May he grant this happy portion to you all, for his dear Son's sake! Amen.