Job: Sermon 7: Part 2

Job 1v21

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb

and naked I return again.”

While he names his mother’s womb, he means another thing. He refers to the womb of the earth, which is the mother of all things. As a man pinched to the heart, Job does not utter his words to the full; he seems to cut them half off, as is often the case with people in extremity of sorrow. Nevertheless, Job expresses himself clearly enough. The meaning is ‘Very well, then I must be fain to return to the earth, just in the same plight that I came out of my mother’s womb.’ This may be taken in two ways. Firstly, as a general sentence: behold how people come naked into the world, and when they pass out of it they come to the same point again. They brought with them into the world neither their riches, nor their honour, nor their pomp, nor their pleasures. They must be fain to go away into rottenness and the earth must receive them. But the other way of taking the sentence corresponds much more to the context. That is, Job applied the sentence to his own person as if he should say, I came naked out of my mother’s womb and it has been God’s pleasure to enrich me for a time so that I have had great herds of cattle, a great household, good children and, in short, I was gloriously decked with the benefits and blessings which God had bestowed upon me. But now it is his will that I shall go from here stark naked. It is God who enriched me with all these things and now he takes them away again, so that I should return to my first state and dispose myself to creep forthwith into my grave. This sentence is worthy of attention. Job could not have proved his patience in a better way than in determining to be stark naked before God, since it was God’s good pleasure that he should be so. It is true that men have fair excuses, that they cannot force nature, but that in spite of their teeth they must be fain to return naked to their graves. And even the pagans have said that there is nothing but death, and this shows how small a thing is man. Why so? Because we have a gulf of covetousness within us, so that we could find it within our hearts to swallow up the whole earth if we had a chance. Even if a man has plenty of riches, vineyards, meadows and possessions, he is still not satisfied. And yet once we are dead, we are given no more ground than our own length, where we rot and are consumed to nothing. So then, death shows us what we are and what our nature is. Nevertheless, we see many people striving against the necessity of death. They make beautiful tombs and will have triumphant funerals. Such men have it in their hearts to resist God. They would if they could, but they cannot. Such is truly the general state of mankind. But as for us, it becomes us to suffer patiently the loss of our goods and riches and loved ones, whenever we are bereft of them. It becomes us to suffer God to strip us out of everything, even to our bare and naked skin, and to prepare ourselves to return to our grave in the same state. This is the way that we prove ourselves patient. This is what Job meant by the sentence. Also, as long as we lack the goods of this world, or endure hunger and cold, or are struck with adversity without relief, we ought to think of our birth and let us consider ourselves, what we are and from where we came. For people often abuse the fatherly care that God has over them in providing them with the things that they need. We ought to have this lesson well implanted in our hearts, that God will not have us lack anything, nor has he put us in this world without having a mind to nourish us here. We must always acknowledge that all things are from God, and nothing at all from ourselves. We must not think that we possess anything at all in our own right. Everything we have is of the free goodness of our God. We are bound to receive God’s benefits with all modesty, assuring ourselves that God does not owe us anything at all.

So when we are driven by necessity to ask God to sustain us, let us remind ourselves where we came from; even out of our mother’s womb, utterly helpless. We must needs have perished altogether if we had not been succoured by others. So it has pleased God to foster me and to look after me until this hour and to give me his gracious benefits without number. Therefore, if it pleases him to scourge me now, there is good reason that I should bear everything patiently, because I know that it comes from his hand.

So we see what we have to mark on when Job says ‘Naked I came out of my mother’s womb and naked I shall return again’ to my grave.

Finally, when God gives goods into our hands, we imagine that we shall possess them for a long time and that we will continue to be the owners. We imagine that our riches will accompany us to the grave. But let us not account them in such a way, for in so doing we would deceive ourselves. On the contrary, let us assure ourselves that if it be God’s good pleasure to take away the goods he has lent us (for we should consider that everything we have has been lent to us by God), we must be ready to forego them. He does us no wrong if he bereaves us in an instant of everything that he has given us during our lifetime.

Job 1v21(b): The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

Job leads us yet further in saying that God has given and God has taken away and that therefore the name of the Lord was worthy of praise. When he says that the Lord has given, he shows that it is very reasonable that the disposal of everything that belongs to him should be in the hands of the Lord, since it is the Lord who has given them to him. For when God sends us his riches, he does not release his own rights; he retains the sovereignty that he has as creator of the world. For this word creator means that he has made all things in such a way that all power and sovereign dominion remain with God himself. Although people possess their portion of it accordingly as the Lord has distributed, yet God continues as Lord and master. Job knows this and therefore submits himself wholly to God’s good will.

It is often the case that when God has once shown himself liberal to us, out of his own free goodness, people are disposed to cease thinking of these good things as a benefit and a blessing; instead, they consider these things as a right and they consider that their rights have been violated when the good things are taken away. It behoves us not to fall into such wickedness as to take for granted the benefits of God and regard them as a right. Therefore, it behoves us to consider carefully what is meant by the saying ‘The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away’, so that we may know what manner of authority the Lord has, to give us the enjoyment of his benefits and also to take them away from us, in an instant, without warning, at his pleasure.

And here we see why the apostle Paul exhorts us that while this world will pass away and all things in this world will eventually vanish, we should possess as if we did not possess. That is to say, we should not have our minds tied to them.

1 Corinthians 7v29 – 32 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on, those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it was not theirs to keep; those who use the things of this world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul says that we should not settle ourselves upon the uncertainty of riches, but that when God shall have us bereft of all that he gave us, we must always be ready to say, as Job did, ‘Very well. You, O Lord, have used your own right. You have given and you have taken away, at your pleasure.’

1 Timothy 6v17 Command those who are rich in the present world not to be arrogant, nor put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Thus, we see the import of this phrase. Whenever we think of the goods of this world that we possess, we must continually remind ourselves that everything we have is from God. On what condition? He has not simply given them to us so that he claims no more title over them. Rather, he has given them to us on the condition that it pleases him to put them into our hands and he also may pluck them away from us whenever he decides that it is good. Let us understand, then, that we are bound to God and God alone when he gives us leave to enjoy some benefits and that we must not think it strange if he bereaves us of them afterwards. God holds such superiority over us that he may dispose of our lives as he wills.

Seeing then that God is in every way our Lord and master, not only over our possessions, but also over our persons and our children, let us humble ourselves before him so that we submit ourselves wholly to his will, without gainsaying.

By nature, we do not yield honour to God. It is true that people will easily say that God has given them all they possess, but what of it? They fall to considering these gifts to be their right. If there is the slightest hint that any of it may be taken away, they then consider that their rights have been violated. In so doing, they spite God. Such thinking is no better than flat mockery. What do we mean if we confess that we hold everything of God, but yet we will not have God touch anything? We see then the hypocrisy of the world, which plays mockery with God.

It becomes us always to follow the example of Job, which we have been shown here. That is, God has given us everything we possess and we know that he may call it back again and withdraw it at any time, according to his own will.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

The final phrase of the verse imports even more. Here Job submits himself to God in such a way that he also confesses God to be good and just, even though he has just been scourged so roughly at the hand of God. This imports more, because people may grant power and sovereignty to God and may well say that since God has given, therefore God may also take, while yet they will not acknowledge that God deals justly and with good reason. For there are many who when they are scourged, accuse God of cruelty, or over great roughness. There are very few, if any, who under extremity can confess that there is nothing better than to submit all things to God’s majesty and to acknowledge that if he should let us follow our own way, there would be no way with us but confusion. If he governs us according to his will, everything will be to our profit and welfare. Behold where it behoves us to come. There is much of import in this sentence when it is said, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’. For we must not only pick out the words, but also consider the mind from which they proceed and understand that they are spoken truly and without guile. For how is it possible that we should praise the name of God if we do not first acknowledge him to be righteous? But anybody who holds a grudge against God, as though God were cruel and unkind, actually curses God and lifts himself up against God. Anybody who does not acknowledge God to be his father, and himself to be God’s child, nor yields record of God’s goodness towards him, does not praise God. And why not? For those who do not taste and see the mercy and grace that God shows to people when he afflicts them must needs grind their teeth at him and cast up and vomit out some poison against God. Therefore, to praise the Lord’s name imports as much as to persuade ourselves that God is just and righteous of his own nature. Not only that, but also that God is good and merciful. Behold how we may praise God’s name after the example of Job; namely, by acknowledging that God is just and upright and by acknowledging his grace and fatherly goodness towards us. Here we see why the text also adds for clarification:

In all these things Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with being unreasonable.

This is worthy to be marked. Why do people martyr themselves when God sends things contrary to their desire? Because they do not understand that God does everything by reason and that he has just cause to do it. For if we had it well printed in our hearts that all things that God does are grounded upon good reason, it is certain that we would be ashamed to encounter him in such a way. It is purposely stated that Job did not impute any unreasonable dealing to God. That is to say, he did not imagine God doing anything that was not just and upright. Mark this for a special point; much is implied by these words. It is a horrible matter to charge God with being unreasonable. Nevertheless, people often fall into this sin. If God does not send people what they wish, they often fall to reasoning with him. They hold plea with him. They may not even be aware that they are doing it. They may even start arguing before God that they are unable to serve him properly if he does not endow them with various good things. They have an eye to every blow, asking ‘How did this come to pass? This matter should have gone otherwise; I see no reason why it should be thus.’ If we are not careful, we can stray very close to charging God with being unreasonable and in so doing, we condemn God.

Yet, it has pleased the Holy Ghost to teach us that if we have a mind to give glory to God and to praise his name as it becomes us, we must first be fully persuaded that God does not do anything at all without good reason. So then, let us not charge him, either with cruelty or ignorance, as though he did things out of spite, or at random. Let us rather acknowledge that in all points and in all respects he proceeds with wonderful justice, with exceedingly great goodness and with infinite wisdom, so that there is nothing but uprightness and equity in all his doings.

There remains one more point to consider; how Job acknowledged that it was God who took away all the things he was robbed of by thieves. If we are afflicted, we must not think that it happened without reason, but rather that God has just cause to do it. Therefore, when we are troubled and grieved, we must have recourse to God and pray to God to grant us the grace to know that nothing befalls us in this world, except by his ordinance. Yea, and we must be assured that he disposes of all things in such a way that they all turn continually to our welfare.

Romans 8v28-30 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

This knowledge will enable us to bear patiently all the afflictions that God sends upon us. It will also serve to humble us before God. When he has made us to taste his fatherly goodness, we shall desire nothing but to glorify him by all means, equally in adversity and prosperity.

Prayer Now let us fall down before the presence of our good God, acknowledging all our faults and praying to God that he will bridle us so that we do not overshoot ourselves in our vain imaginations, but rather that we may know that all our benefit and welfare lies within him, so that we may come to him and to him alone to seek it, resting ourselves wholly upon his mercy. When he has once made us to taste his love that he bears us, may we be so fully persuaded of it that although he may cause us to walk in many troubles and adversities in this world, yet we may never cease to trust him, until he has rid us of this mortal body and removed us from the imprisonment and bondage of sin where we are now, to gather us up to his heavenly glory, which we shall enjoy continually for evermore. We thank our good God that we may rejoice in him as partakers of his everlasting glory. We pray that he will grant this grace not only to us, but also unto all the people who dwell upon the earth.

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Job: Sermon 7: Part 1

Job 1v20-22

At this, Job rose up and rent his clothes and shaved his head. Then he cast himself to the ground and worshipped God and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb

and naked I shall depart.

The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away;

blessed be the name of the Lord.”

In all this, Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with any unreasonableness.

Patience is an excellent virtue and it is necessary that we are endowed with it if we are to maintain our faith, yet we do not have this virtue by nature. But our God, who knows our innermost hearts, sets before us here the example of Job to teach us and strengthen us in the patience that is necessary for our faith. If we lack patience, our faith will necessarily vanish, since faith cannot be maintained without it.

It is the will of God that in the midst of the miseries of the world, we should always be so well assured of his goodness that we approach the trials and tribulations thrown at us by Satan and his enemies with a constant heart. How would that be possible if we looked no higher than the world and did not consider the love that our good God has for us? Although our earthly estate may be lowly in the opinion of those around us, yet we are content with it, knowing that we have so much more in Christ.

This present text is as excellent as any in scripture to show us what patience means. It behoves us to take this example to heart it if we will have God acknowledge us for our patience in our afflictions.

When we commonly describe a person as patient, we refer to the outward appearance, for people commend as patient anybody who suffers adversities. It is not given to us to truly understand the innermost being of another person; even if the outward appearance looks promising, it may be that the person has no point of true patience.

We should approach any adversity by considering that God has sent it for our ultimate benefit and that he works continually to procure our welfare. Therefore, to be patient, it behoves us to moderate our sorrow. We are subject to him and we know that he governs us according to his good pleasure; everything that he does is done with good reason. Acknowledging this is the root of true patience. There is no better example than to look upon the glass that is set before us here. We have seen that Job might have been overwhelmed with the report of so many evil tidings. But it is written that he rose up and rent his clothes and shaved his head and cast himself upon the ground to humble himself before God. Here we see, first of all that those who are patient are assured of grief and to feel great sorrow and anguish of heart. For if we were as blocks of wood or stone, our patience would be no great virtue within us. Is a person who has no grief or sorrow at all in adversity worthy of praise?

Patience therefore does not mean that people should become like blocks of wood, for in so doing they would have no heavenliness within them at all. At the same time, if we possess Godly patience, then we will not be overwhelmed by our grief when we suffer adversity. The virtue, rather, is that in the midst of our miseries we do not cease to glorify God, nor do we allow ourselves be so overcome and swallowed up by sorrow and anguish that we quail altogether. Rather, we frame ourselves to the good will of God and conclude, as Job did here, that God is righteous in all respects.

Job rent his garments and shaved his head It seems that such fashions were the custom in these eastern countries of old. There were more ceremonies in those countries than there are in the northern countries where we dwell nowadays. For when anything happened that might move people to great trouble, the men rent their garments as a token of sorrow. Likewise, in that country, where it was fashionable for men to wear long hair, they shaved themselves when they mourned. Therefore, Job’s rending of his garment and the shaving of his head are the standard tokens of the heaviness for the society in which he lives. It is certain that he was not acting hypocritically. When he tore his garments, shaved his head and cast himself on the ground, he was full of extreme anguish and sorrow. At the same time, he did not permit his heaviness to become a source of anger against God.

In many situations, people are excessive and inordinate in their passions; it often seems fashionable to go beyond measure. People often seem unable to make merry without becoming overly merry. Sorrow and heaviness is a passion that carries people much further. We therefore ought to stand guard whenever God sends us adversity, for it is in adversity that people are most liable to overshoot themselves. Here it is said that Job rent his garments. It might seem that he intended to prick himself forward to be more sorrowful than he was, to sharpen and increase his grief and that he was simply striking the spurs into his own sides. If this were so, it would be worthy of condemnation. But such a reading does not take into account the custom of the land at that time. The intent of scripture here is to show that the sorrow of this holy man was so great and so vehement that he was not able to keep himself from using the ordinary fashions, even the tearing of his garments and to show that he felt an anguish that had wounded him to the bottom of his heart.

Although we should not allow ourselves to be swallowed up by sorrow when God sends us adversity, it is appropriate that we should consider it well. For it often happens that when people are meant to have patience, they also quench consideration of their afflictions and labour to be so brutish that they do not know or discern anything at all. This is not what God intends. On the contrary, when God scourges us, it is not his purpose to give us blows on the head with a cudgel that render us insensible; rather, his mind is to induce us to consider our miseries. There are three points. Firstly, we ought to consider our own sins, remember them, and crave pardon for them and afterwards to be so much more careful to walk in the paths of righteousness. Secondly, we are instructed about what our life is, so that we should not have an over liking for it, nor be puffed up with vanity or presumption, but rather we acknowledge the bond in which we stand bound to our God for dealing with us in a way that is ultimately for our benefit. Thirdly, since we see that he does have a care for us, we should look far before us, and we should keep on our way to the everlasting kingdom, which is our inheritance and where we will eventually find our true joy and rest. We see then that God does not cease to be merciful to us when he sends affliction upon us. He does it so that, by trying what is in us, we ourselves may come to understand our own state. It is good and profitable for the faithful that when God afflicts us, we should force ourselves to think: who am I? what am I? and why am I so afflicted? It behoves us to think on these things. For we see how Job could rend his garments and shave his head without offending God. He did not intend by these tokens to cast himself into even greater heaviness. Rather, all his actions tended to humility. These things were also signs of repentance among the men of old times. For if God sent any plague or war among them, they clothed themselves with sackcloth and cast dust upon their heads. Why did they do so? It was not to feed the evil of exaggerated sorrow, which is indeed a very great evil, associated with the manner of the world. The apostle Paul speaks of this in the seventh of his second epistle to the Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 7v9(b) – 11 For you became sorrowful as God intended, and so you were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.

Job’s sorrow is more after the manner of the sorrow that the apostle Paul affirms to be godly. When people acknowledge themselves to be wretched sinners, they come before their judge and condemn themselves. For he that clothes himself in sackcloth and casts dust on his head witnesses that he does not have anything to glory about. Rather, he must keep his mouth shut. By the sackcloth and ashes, he states ‘I am not worthy to go upon the earth. Rather, it is appropriate that the earth should be upon me and that God should cast me so low that I might be trampled upon by the feet of men.’ Thus we see how Job carried himself. When he saw how God called him to lowliness, he was contented to frame himself to God’s good will. For the same cause, he rent his garment and shaved his head. By this, we see that patience in adversity is always accompanied by grief; it behoves God’s children to feel their own sorrows. Yet, for all that, we show that we truly have the virtue of patience when we resist the temptation for our hearts to burn against God and instead we glorify God. When Job cast himself to the earth, he did it to worship God. Job humbled himself before God as an act of reverence towards God. There are many who would cast themselves to the ground, but would not cease to rage and, if it were possible, would rise above the clouds to give battle against God. We see some carried away with rage, because they cannot rush against God as they would. On the contrary, Job cast himself to the earth with the purpose of worshipping God, having a special eye towards God, to humble himself before God’s high majesty. For when we see God’s hand at work, it is to the intent that we should do him more reverence than we have done before. Surely, if God handles us gently, it ought to move us to come to him. But when we are slow to respond and to come to him, he is feign to summon us and to show what authority he has over us, just as when a prince sees his subject slow to do his duty, he sends his officer to him to summon him. So also, God perceiving that we are slow to come to him, or that we do not come to him as willingly and with the earnest affection that we should, provokes us and summons us. Job, therefore, knowing the purpose and the true use of afflictions, cast himself to the ground with the purpose of doing reverence to God and to say, ‘Lord, it is true that I have served and honoured you up to now, and of all the time I have flourished and been in triumph, I have had taken pleasure in serving you. But what of it? I have not known myself enough. Now I see what my frailty is and how all of us are wretched creatures. Therefore, my Lord, I come now to do my homage to you anew, seeing that it pleases you to afflict me in this world. My Lord, I willingly yield myself to you and I desire nothing but to put myself as a subject into your hand, whatever happens in this world.’

Copleston, Russell and the Empty Philosophies of Men

I found the recent piece, posted by Scoop, courtesy of Francis Phillips very interesting. Many thanks for sharing it. May there be more like this and may they act as catalyst for good discussions. The piece was written by William Doino, Jr. In it, my attention was drawn to a dialogue, broadcast on radio in 1948, where Fredrick Copleston and Bertrand Russell discuss philosophy of religion. The transcript may be found here:

http://www.scandalon.co.uk/philosophy/cosmological_radio.htm

Thanks to Scoop for providing a link to the debate.

My first reaction: hasn’t radio gone down-market! I can’t imagine such a discussion being recorded and broadcast today. As a Christian, I was very happy (before I read the dialogue) with Doino’s assessment that Copleston had wiped the floor with Russel, scored a ‘technical knockout’ and I was very much looking forward to finding this. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it.

The discussion between these two gentlemen is (on a much higher level) the sort of thing we intend with  this site; they presented, in an interesting way, two different philosophical viewpoints, both valid; nobody ‘won’ or ‘lost’.  While the account of Copleston’s life was, for the most part well written and very interesting, it seemed to me that Doino had seriously ‘lost the plot’ with his sentence  ‘In his Memoirs, Fr. Copleston is far too humble to gloat over his victory ……’. His take on the debate reminded me of the attitude towards ballet of ‘The Scottish National Ballet Supporters’ from ‘At Last the 1948 Show’.

The only way that Copleston could, in any sense have ‘won’, or scored a ‘technical knockout’ as Doino put it, would have been if he could have presented an argument that could have presented a convincing proof for someone who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, but was not yet prepared to allow God to enter the picture. To my mind, Copleston failed to do this. He certainly showed the moral bankrupcy of Russell’s philosophy, but Russell made no attempt to hide the issues that perplexed him. Copleston may have shown that existence of God was the only way to make sense of man’s moral experience; he did not show that, even with the existence of God, sense could be made of man’s moral experience.

I saw no mention from Copleston’s side of the crucifixion or resurrection. It is only through the crucifixion, where Christ was crucified for my sins and through the resurrection; in the resurrection I understand that my sins have been forgiven, that any sense can be made of man’s moral experience.

Without this entering into the discussion, these two gentlemen passed a pleasant afternoon discussing the empty philosophies of men.

A Jesuit and His Faith ~ Frederick C. Copleston, SJ (1907-1994)

This article was taken from the Fall 1996 issue of “Sursum Corda!”
Published quarterly and mailed in December, March, June and September by the Foundation for Catholic Reform.

Francis Phillips recieved this article from the author and I thank her for sharing this article with us.

Frederick_Copleston_1987

by William Doino, Jr.

In its long and illustrious history, the Society of Jesus has produced many outstanding figures who have made a unique impact upon Western culture. One thinks of the Society’s founder and leader, Ignatius of Loyola; the great missionary and ‘Apostle of the Indies,’ Francis Xavier; the famed Catholic apologist and bishop, Robert Bellarmine; St. Isaac Jogues and the North American martyrs; and the eminent poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is undoubtedly true that the twentieth century, with its rampant secularism, has proven less fertile ground for the role of such men. Yet even here, numerous Jesuits have risen to modernity’s challenge, and brought the treasures of Christianity to an unbelieving world. One such priest was Fr. Frederick C. Copleston, SJ, who recently passed into eternal life at the age of 83.

Born on April 10, 1907 in Taunton, England, the future Jesuit was the son of Frederick Selwyn Copleston, a distinguished judge, and his demure wife, Nora. Both adherents to the Church of England, they raised their son to be a strict Anglican; so it came as quite a shock to both when Frederick Jr., soon after reaching his eighteenth birthday, announced he would be entering the Church of Rome. The elder Copleston was so appalled by this decision that he threatened to disown his son; fortunately, his anger soon passed, and he saw to it that Frederick Jr. received a proper education at Oxford University. Upon graduating in 1929, the young Copleston entered the Society of Jesus; he was ordained a priest in 1937.

Always concerned with the deeper questions about life, Copleston became a professor of philosophy and joined the faculty of London’s Heythrop College in 1939. It was there, where Fr. Copleston taught for over thirty years, that he undertook the project that was to forge his reputation: the nine-volume A History of Philosophy, which covers the entire span of philosophy from ancient Greece to the present day. So lucid and superb are Copleston’s explanations of the most complex intellectual matters that his work is still the first place many philosophy students go to comprehend their subject. Indeed, the nine books that constitute A History of Philosophy are as popular today as when they first appeared, if not more so. As The Washington Post Book World recently commented: “Copleston’s volumes are still the place to start for anyone interested in following man’s speculations about himself and his world.”

Fr. Copleston’s intellectual achievements earned him many accolades and honors throughout his career, including visiting professorships at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome (1952-1968), and the University of Santa Clara (1974-1982); selection as a lecturer for the British Council in nine European countries; and membership in the Royal Institute of Philosophy, the Aristotelian Society and the British Academy. Remarkably, despite a full-time schedule of teaching, lecturing and writing his History, Fr. Copleston found time to publish separate studies on Nietzsche (1942), Schopenhauer (1946) and Aquinas (1955), as well as volumes entitled Contemporary Philosophy: Studies of Logical Positivism and Existentialism (1956); A History of Medieval Philosophy (1972); Religion and Philosophy (1974); Philosophers and Philosophies (1976); On the History of Philosophy (1979); Philosophies and Culture (1980); Religion and the One (1982) and Philosophy in Russia (1986).

Shortly before his death, Fr. Copleston received the Queen’s “Commander of the British Empire” honor (1993), and also published his long-awaited Memoirs (Sheed and Ward, 1993). It is in this latter, autobiographical work that we discover Fr. Copleston’s profound spirituality, and learn of his lifelong commitment to Catholic orthodoxy.

Spanning the greater part of the twentieth century, these Memoirs provide a moving and fascinating account of Fr. Copleston’s eventful life. He begins by recalling the earliest reservations he had about the Church of England, which coincided with his growing interest in the Church of Rome.

When I was still a boy… about fourteen or possibly fifteen… I wrote an essay in which I castigated the Church of England for reducing Christianity to bourgeois mediocrity and for failing to uphold the ideals of the New Testament. I do not remember precisely what I wrote, but I have no doubt that I compared the Church of England with Catholicism to the former’s disadvantage…. My main point was that though the Church of Rome certainly had its dark aspects (Torquemada, the fires of Smithfield, some of the Popes, and so on), it had at any rate upheld ideals of sanctity and otherworldliness and had not equated true religion with being an English gentleman. At the time I had not heard of Kierkegaard, but my line of thought bore some similarity to his in his attack on the State Church of Denmark.

The reference here to the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is relevant, since his famous blasts against his country’s Lutheran establishment were frequently contrasted with his high regard for the Catholic Church.

Indeed, Kierkegaard’s biographer, Walter Lowrie, as well as Fr. Henri de Lubac, maintain that the officially Lutheran Kierkegaard was in many respects Catholic – at least in thought, if not in practice-and that he would have converted had he not died so young, or been placed in different circumstances. As Fr. de Lubac comments:

In spite of… a body of thought strongly marked with the heritage of the Reformation, M. Paul Petit observes that, in the last years of his short life, Kierkegaard seems to have increasingly followed a course which was clearly taking him towards positions not far removed from Catholicism. He is ready to admit, in the realm of critics like Brandes and Hoffding, that if Kierkegaard had been born later he would have been a Catholic…. That, with slight shades of difference, is the contention of the Rev. Fr. Przywara also. In his book Das Geheimnis Kierkegaards he “proposes to show that in Kierkegaard an anonymous Catholicism is to be found”; by his call for objective authority and by his views on the ordination of priests as an intermediate objective authority, Kierkegaard is asserted to have crossed the border-line of Lutheranism and pointed the way to “Holy Mother Church.”

It was precisely this “objective authority” that Fr. Copleston found in the Catholic Church; an authority that he eventually recognized as emanating from the will of Christ. He writes: “It seemed to me that if Christ was truly the Son of God and if He founded a Church to teach all nations in His name, it must be a Church teaching with authority, as her Master did. Obviously, one might deny that Christ was the Son of God, and one might reject the claim that He founded a Church. But if these two claims were accepted, it seemed to me that in spite of all its faults the Roman Catholic Church was the only one which could reasonably be thought to have developed out of what Christ established.”

Ultimately, what played a decisive role in Fr. Copleston’s conversion was the spiritual pull he felt toward the Catholic saints and mystics. “St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross opened up for me vistas of a new world, which exercised a powerful attraction on my mind,” he writes. “I was indeed aware … that some Anglicans had written profoundly spiritual works. At the same time it seemed to me that mystical religion was a foreign body, so to speak, in the Church of England, and that religiously inclined Anglicans were inclined to turn to Catholic writings, such as the Imitation of Christ and books by Pere Grou. The atmosphere or tone of Anglicanism, as I had experienced it… seemed to me to be far removed from the sort of ideals which had been exhibited in a concrete manner in the lives of Catholic saints.”

Father Copleston’s reflections on the Anglican and Catholic communities call to mind those once voiced by John Henry Newman. Shortly before his conversion, Newman remarked: “If the Roman Catholic Church is not the Church of Christ, there never was a Church established by Him.” Later, as an esteemed Catholic prelate, Newman wrote: “From the time I became a Catholic, I have been at perfect peace and contentment. It was like coming into port after a rough sea.” Despite such clear and unequivocal statements, Cardinal Newman often had to endure rumors and insinuations-planted by disgruntled Anglicans-that his conversion was insincere. When the London Globe published a report suggesting that he had become disillusioned with Catholicism, and was preparing to return to the Church of England, the Cardinal could take no more, and retaliated in kind. In a widely publicized statement, he declared: “I have not had one moment’s wavering of trust in the Catholic Church ever since I was received into her fold. I have no intention, and never had any intention, of leaving the Catholic Church and becoming a Protestant again. And I hereby profess ex animo with an absolute internal assent and consent that the thought of an Anglican service makes me shiver, and the thought of the Thirty-Nine Articles makes me shudder. Return to the Church of England! No! I should be a consummate fool (to use a mild term) if in my old age I left ‘the land flowing with milk and honey’ for the city of confusion and the house of bondage.”

In his Memoirs, Fr. Copleston makes his commitment to Rome equally clear, albeit in a less combative fashion: “If anyone feels prompted to ask whether I have ever thought seriously of returning to the Church of England, the answer… is a decided ‘no.’ …I have great respect for sincere Anglicans, whether clerical or lay, and I have been much impressed by devoted Nonconformist and Presbyterian Christians whom I have come across. But I still believe that the centre of Christian unity is to be found in the Catholic Church, and that though Anglicanism certainly has a contribution to make to Christian life (as, indeed, have other Christian religious bodies too), this contribution should be made through some form of real communion with the Holy See.”

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Copleston’s Memoirs is his description of how he was able to maintain his religious faith despite encountering constant challenges against it. Secular philosophy, by its very nature, is a discipline that lends itself to doubt, relativism and irreligion. It is a rare scholar who is able to immerse himself in its precarious world without somehow being affected-usually for the worse. Copleston acknowledges that his prolonged study of a wide spectrum of philosophical thought “could hardly fail to exercise some influence” on his mind. He admits to having experienced doubts-even serious ones- about his religion, but realizes that this is a common temptation among Christian believers, even for the most committed. Indeed, the saints themselves have not been immune to doubt. One thinks particularly of St. Therese of Lisieux, who underwent a profound crisis of faith during her short life. The year before she died, she told her Mother Superior that the worst kind of atheistic arguments had entered her mind-specifically, the notion that science, by making ever-increasing progress, would eventually explain everything away naturally and would provide a materialistic answer for all that exists, thus destroying the basis for Christianity. According to Fr. Guy Gaucher, the foremost authority on St. Therese, some anti-Christian literature apparently fell into the hands of the young nun, and when she read it, her faith was shaken to its core. Only after undergoing an intense psychological struggle, culminating in a profound mystical experience, was St. Therese able to secure the peace that permitted her a tolerable death. (For a full account of the saint’s religious travails, consult Fr. Gaucher’s definitive biography, The Story of a Life: St. Therese of Lisieux, Harper & Row, 1987.)

On a more intellectual level, Fr. Copleston experienced a similar crisis of faith. Fortunately, he was able to overcome it, as he tells us-

by employing a distinction, well known to moral theologians and spiritual counsellors, between doubt and difficulty, a distinction which had been made by J.H. Newman in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua (chapter 5), when he stated that “ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” He had certainly been conscious of difficulties, but a hundred difficulties, he claimed, do not amount to one doubt….[This] can be explained easily enough by an example… Consider a student of theology, who in the course of his studies is introduced to a number of difficulties or possible objections to this or that Christian doctrine. The lecturer, let us suppose, offers solutions of the relevant problems. The student, being a bright youth, finds the alleged solutions intellectually unsatisfactory or inadequate. For him, the difficulties or problems remain unsolved. But it does not necessarily follow that he therefore doubts the truth of the relevant articles of belief. For in spite of difficulties, problems or puzzles which can be brought against certain doctrines, he may still accept the doctrines on faith, as revealed by God through the mediation of the Church. Again, many people have seen in the evil and suffering which permeate human life and history a powerful objection to belief in the existence of God as conceived in traditional Christianity. But even if a Christian is quite ready to acknowledge an inability to provide any complete solution of the so-called “problem of evil,” he or she may nonetheless cling to faith in the divine love and providential care.

These reflections are reminiscent of Cardinal Newman’s line of argument in his famous essay, “Faith and Doubt.” Newman held that Christian faith is invalid if it does not have the courage of its convictions, and that no true Christian could believe that his faith might someday be undermined by a scientific discovery or scholarly argument. For if he believed such a thing, his faith was empty to begin with. As the Cardinal remarked:

If it is true that God became man, what is the meaning of my anticipating a time when perhaps I shall not believe that God became man? This is nothing short of anticipating a time when I shall disbelieve a truth. And if I bargain to be allowed in time to come not to believe, or to doubt, that God became man, I am but asking to be allowed to doubt or disbelieve what I hold to be an eternal truth. I do not see the privilege of such a permission at all, or the meaning of wishing to secure it:-if at present I have no doubt whatever about it, then I am but asking leave to fall into error; if at present I have doubts about it, then I do not believe it at present, that is, I have not faith. But I cannot both really believe it now, and yet look forward to a time when perhaps I shall not believe it; to make provision for further doubt, is to doubt at present. It proves I am not in a fit state to become a Catholic now. I may love by halves, I may obey by halves; I cannot believe by halves; either I have faith, or I have not.

Once in possession of a secure faith, Fr. Copleston waged intellectual warfare against the errors of his age, engaging the most influential minds of the twentieth century. The most famous of these battles was undoubtedly his legendary debate with Bertrand Russell over the existence of God. Aired by the BBC in 1948, the debate culminated in a technical knockout for the Jesuit philosopher. In his Memoirs, Fr. Copleston is far too humble to gloat over his victory, but he does expose Russell’s viewpoint as morally bankrupt. Commenting on how he cornered Russell into defending an extreme brand of relativism, Copleston writes: “Russell agreed, of course, that he felt this way. But he found some difficulty, he admitted, in squaring the implications of this admission with his professed ethical theory. He even said: ‘I find myself in a dilemma. On the one hand I certainly want to condemn the Nazis’ behaviour towards the Jews as wrong in itself. On the other hand, my ethical theory does not allow me to say this.'”

Father Copleston is equally adept at detecting the errors within his own community-exposing charlatans like Teilhard de Chardin, and arguing against Modernists who try to “redefine” or “re-formulate” Christian doctrine until they empty it of all supernatural content. But Copleston is at his finest in expounding the necessity of orthodoxy. Copleston on the ecumenical movement, for example: “Christians should certainly be prepared to recognize the values present in other religions. Short of embracing all mankind there can be no limit to the reach of the out-going love which lies at the heart of the Christian religion, and which can be seen as demanding the extension of the ecumenical movement to relations between Christians and adherents of other religions…. [But] one should not close one’s eyes to the danger of abandoning Christian belief in the unique status and role of Christ and treating him simply as one among other prophets and religious leaders, a danger which is by no means illusory.”

Copleston on dissenting theologians: “We are sometimes told by ‘progressives’ that we should think of the Church as seeking the truth, rather than as being in possession of the truth. That the Church’s theologians seek truth is not a claim which I would venture or wish to deny. But they discharge this function as members of the Church, not simply as lone individuals. And the final court of appeal in doctrinal issues can hardly be anything but the Church herself, speaking as a teaching authority, through what is called the magisterium… My point is simply that if a theologian claims to be a Catholic, he or she should act as such, operating within the Church, as one of its members.”

Copleston on the afterlife and the reality of Hell: “The ideas of Heaven and Hell are complementary… if the one idea expresses revelation, so does the other. The orthodox Christian can be expected to accept both; and I do accept them…. Possession of freedom implies that a human being can accept or reject God…. I do not see how one can exclude the possibility of a human being persisting in his or her choice against God and so remaining in a state of alienation from God. Given this possibility, Hell would be more something chosen by the human being in question, than simply imposed by a ruthless judge.”

Copleston on the current-and apparently weakened-state of Christendom: “The Christian is not committed to believing that if Christianity finds itself widely regarded as moribund and as unable to act as an effective source of inspiration, this shows that Christ has failed. Where in the Gospels is He “recorded as having assured His followers of a triumphal march through history? Perhaps I may add that Christ did not claim that if His followers encountered difficulties and opposition they should set to work revising His teaching and adapting it to the spirit of the age. He called for persevering loyalty.”

Looking back over his career, Fr. Copleston’s Memoirs express profound gratitude for a life richly blessed. He had no regrets about devoting his life to the study of philosophy, despite its inherent risks. Indeed, Copleston maintained that, far from weakening or confusing his Catholic faith, his conflicts with alien philosophies ultimately sharpened and strengthened it. He also provided a measured defense of historical study, arguing that “it is rash to assume that the study of the past is necessarily irrelevant to life and action in the present. After all, historical study is study of some aspect of the one developing world in which we live and act.” Yet as valuable as academic scholarship was to the success of his life, Fr. Copleston never lost sight of his true goal. For as he movingly states in the last sentence of his book, “The only really important evaluation of one’s life and work is God’s evaluation. And in the closing years of one’s life it is just as well to bear this in mind.”


You may also be interested in this video: Frederick Copleston on Schopenhauer


William Doino, Jr. freelances for, among others, National Review, Modern Age and Crisis.


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Job: Sermon 6 Part 2

Job

We see that Job is set forth to us as a pattern and an example to ourselves. Therefore God plagues him to the uttermost, so that when we compare ourselves to him, we understand that God has dealt with us lightly. If God sends us adversity, we ought to consider the ways in which he has spared us. Even in adversity, we ought to be comforted by seeing how God, in his goodness, holds us up.

But when adversity strikes people, it is often the case that grief takes possession of them, even to the extent that they may be angry with God. This is villainous ingratitude. Therefore, let us bear in mind that in the person of Job we have a good looking glass where we can see that if we are scourged by God, we must not take our adversities so sorely to heart, nor to start thinking to ourselves, ‘I can have no worse than this.’ Let us take good heed not to provoke God’s wrath in this way. Rather, the attitude ought to be ‘Surely my adversity is not too burdensome, because I know that I am under the care and protection of my good God. But what would happen if God was not reaching out his hand to me? Then, clearly, I would not only have this trouble alone, for he has a great store of far more excessive trials. God knows what measure to keep when he is afflicting me. If it were to please him, he could cast me into such bottomless depths that I would be carried even to hell. Therefore, it becomes me now to have an eye to his goodness and to thank him that he has shown mercy towards me and has spared me.’ For the proof of this, we have the book of Job. He was a man, as we are, who seemed to be thoroughly fenced in by God to the uttermost. Yet God afflicted him not only in one way, but in diverse manners, which seem so much worse than any of our own afflictions. So we have good reason to be patient and to humble ourselves when we are under the mighty hand of God. We ought to apply ourselves to his good will, desiring him to govern us and dispose of us as his creatures in his hand.

If we approach trials and tribulations in this way, we will see that God is ever present to succour those who trust in him and rest upon him. For though we see a wonderful strength in Job, yet he was a frail man, just like us. We see the promises that God made to strengthen his people, which belong not only to one man, but to all people. We see how these promises operated in Job. God has not altered either his purpose or his nature. We see, therefore, that God offers a remedy to relieve all our feebleness. Let us not doubt that, just as he upheld his servant Job, so he will also work in us. For his promises are common to all people and he gives us assurance of them in the person of one man, so that we should not doubt that he will be as good as his word.

Similarly, in the example of Abraham, we explicitly see that Abraham was a frail man, but God strengthened him, so that ultimately he met the real challenge and proved faithful. When God promises to be a fortress and a bulwark, he does not intend this promise only for Abraham, David and Job; rather, these promises are for all his faithful.

This story is written so that we might know how God afflicts those who are his, and thereby to understand that he continually succours us in our need and that when we are afflicted the remedy will come at the right time. Furthermore, we have here a godly record that afflictions are not always signs that God hates us. If we did not have this belief, it would be impossible to be patient in adversity. As the apostle Paul says in the fifth of Romans, adversity produces patience, which builds our faith.

Romans 5v1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

True patience comes only through God. Without God, there is no peace. Patience without God is perforce and against the will. If we do not rest on God during times of trial, our hearts will never cease to be full of venom. But God will have us to be patient in another way; he will have us ready to endure all things, assuring ourselves that good and evil proceed from his hand. He will have us endure his chastisements desiring nothing but to be governed by him and renouncing all our own affections that do not spring from him. He will have us fight against our own wicked lusts and to resist them so that he alone continues as our master. It is not possible that we should have patience so frank and free in us if we do not rely entirely on God. It behoves us to be well assured that when God scourges us, he does not purpose our destruction, but rather, he is procuring our welfare. For anybody who imagines and deems that God is against him can only fall into grief and anguish of mind and ultimately lift himself up against God. Can we love God when we persuade ourselves that he only seeks to destroy us? So then, it is necessary that we be fully resolved that when God afflicts us, it is not a token that he hates us, nor that he holds us his enemies. Rather, that he is using these sufferings to bring others to him through us and also to prepare us for the next life. And here we see, as the apostle Paul says, that our victory consists in taking hold of this love of God in Jesus Christ, so that we be thoroughly persuaded that God has adopted us to be his children. For if we hold to that principle, we shall not be dismayed by our afflictions.

Romans 8v35 – 37 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Since God loves us, we shall never be confounded. Our afflictions shall not hinder our welfare; rather, they shall be turned to our benefit and God will work in such a way that he will use them to advance not only our salvation, but also that of others within the Saviour’s family. So then, seeing that Job, who was beloved of God and was one of the most excellent men that ever lived in the world has been so gratuitously afflicted, let us assure ourselves that if God does suffer us to endure times of hard and painful adversity, that he does not cease to keep us under his protection and to love us and, from his love for us, to provide those things that are good and profitable to us.

But we must consider what is set down here; God did not only punish Job in his own goods, but also in his children. This should be very well marked. Those who show themselves strong when faced with one kind of temptation will, by and by, be quailed by another. We see why our Lord exercises us in various ways. After God has sent us some adversity and we consider that we have escaped from it, we think it strange to see another mischief come in the neck of it. God has good reason to quicken us up in this way by various temptations; it is so that our patience may truly show itself.

How much more precious are a man’s children than his goods? We see why it was the Lord’s will that this should be the last tidings that reached Job, as though he had been set here upon the rack. When a man is laid upon the rack, his torments are continually increased more and more until they come to the uttermost that they can be no more. Satan used the same policy with Job. For when he caused word to be brought to Job, that his oxen and she-asses had been taken by the Sabeans, that robbers had come and slain his servants, we see a man laid upon the rack. When one came and told him that fire had fallen from heaven and consumed his cattle, it was as if a man should have hung a great weight at his feet to increase his pain and inflict yet more grief. But the extremity came at the end, when one brought him word of the death of all his children.

Then let us learn that when we have escaped from some adversity which we thought to be too heavy and too hard to suffer, God is able to send us another that shall far exceed all that went before. And why? Because Satan practises on us and God gives him leave to do so, so that we should pass though everything that Satan should throw at us, to the end that God be glorified though us and through our victory, and that we might have so much greater cause to yield thanks to him when he has finally delivered us from the assaults of an enemy as mighty as Satan.

Sometimes he also does it because of the hardness of our hearts. When he sees that we are dull upon the spur and that we are overly slow and lethargic in our faith, he must prick us so much more roughly. But we have nothing at all in the example of Job to suggest that there was any hardness or sloth about him.

Job’s temptations were diverse in other matters. Various different robbers carried away his goods and cattle (Sabeans and Chaldeans), lightning and fire from heaven carried away a great part of them, a great tempest overthrew the house where his children were feasting, killing them. If it had been the same enemies that had inflicted all these things, it would have been easier to take than the news that several different groups of enemies, fire from heaven and a mighty wind, all unrelated, had each played a role. For in this case, Job was provoked to say, ‘What is this? Men are against me and also God has made himself my enemy. From where did this lightning come? From where these hideous winds?’ It is said in the scriptures that winds are God’s messengers to execute his commandments as though they were heralds. And though, in all probability, the psalm had not been written at the time of Job, he could hardly have escaped understanding the symbolism; the mighty wind and the fire look as if they have the divine seal.

Psalm 104v1-4

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

O Lord my God, you are very great;

you are clothed with splendour and majesty.

He wraps himself in light as with a garment;

he stretches out the heavens like a tent

and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.

He makes the clouds his chariot

and rides on wings of the wind.

He makes winds his messengers,

flames of fire his servants.

It is said that the fire of heaven is a sign of the presence of God. Job therefore might have concluded thus, ‘I see how God wars against me on the one side and men on the other, and there is neither heaven nor earth with me, but all is against me. Alas, where may I go?’

Job may well have been altogether plunged into despair. We see then, that when temptations are so diverse, we are so much more troubled. We know this from experience. If we are tormented in one way, even though it is carried out to its uttermost, we still conceive some hope. But when we are persecuted from one side, then from another, and another, and the number of enemies increases so that we are laid at on all sides and it seems that even God is against us too, then it is much more difficult to hold out.

When we see all that befell Job, let us mark it well and take profit from it, assuring ourselves that God will also thoroughly try our own faith and constancy by diverse temptations. When people trouble to do us harm, it seems to us that God does us wrong if he does not avenge us immediately. We would have heaven bend itself against our enemies to revenge the injury that they have done us. We consider not one whit how it is that God tries us in this way and that he knows what is profitable and expedient for us, better than we know ourselves.

We may wonder here, how it happened that fire came down from heaven to burn up Job’s cattle. For the devil does not have the lightning and tempests in his power, as we see from the psalm. He does not have such sovereignty that he has dominion in the air to raise whirlwinds and tempests at his pleasure. But, although the winds are God’s heralds to execute his will, and the same with lightning, yet the devil works through them when God uses his service. Therefore, we should not think it strange that God gives the devil such liberty that he can raise up lightning, whirlwinds and tempests. He is only able to do it when God serves his own purpose through the devil. We need not marvel that the devil raised up such a tempest and rage of foul weather as to beat down a house, or that he stirred up fire and lightning from heaven. He did it only so far as God permitted him, when God had directed the devil to exercise the faith and patience of Job, God’s own servant.

Here we should remark that Job’s virtue was all the more commendable, since he fell from such a great height. He had been so well fenced in. Yet, he did not cease to praise God, even when he was utterly forlorn. This is worthy of singular commendation, since it is not only worldly people who do not think of God, but also the faithful who walk in the fear of the Lord all their life long are overwhelmed when they see great things and forget themselves.

Consider the example of Hezekiah. Although he was wholly given to serve God and to do his own duty, nevertheless, when he saw himself advanced above the ordinary, he no longer sent for the prophet Isaiah, nor sought counsel at God’s hand. Rather, he did all things after his own fancy and magnified himself so much that he provoked God’s displeasure when he turned his hand to show off his riches vaingloriously. The hand of God was bound to fall very roughly upon him because of his folly that carried him away.

The story is narrated in the twentieth of the second book of Kings.

2 Kings 20v12 – 19 At that time Merodach – Baladan son of Baladan king of Babylon sent Hezekiah letters and a gift because he had heard of Hezekiah’s illness. Hezekiah received the messengers and showed them all that was in his storehouses – the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine oil – his armoury and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them.

Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked, “What did those men say, and where did they come from?’

“From a distant land,” Hezekiah replied. “They came from Babylon.”

The prophet asked, “What did they see in the palace?”

“They saw everything in the palace,” Hezekiah said. “There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Here the word of the Lord: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood, that will be born to you, will be taken away, and there will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”

“The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?”

The same is also related in Isaiah 39v1-8 (the whole chapter). In the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, it is written

2 Chronicles 32v24 – 31 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. He prayed to the Lord, who answered him and gave him a miraculous sign. But Hezekiah’s heart was proud and he did not respond to the kindness shown him; therefore the Lord’s wrath was upon him and on Judah and Jerusalem. Then Hezekiah repented of the pride of his heart, as did the people of Jerusalem; therefore the Lord’s wrath did not come upon them during the days of Hezekiah.

Hezekiah had very great riches and honour, and he made treasuries for his silver and gold and for his precious stones, spices, shields and all kinds of valuables. He also made buildings to store the harvest of grain, new wine and oil; and he made stalls for various kinds of cattle, and pens for the flocks. He built villages and acquired great numbers of flocks and herds, for God had given him very great riches.

It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channelled water down to the west side of the City of David. He succeeded in everything he undertook.

But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart.

This is what David means when he says

Psalm 30v6,7

When I felt secure, I said,

“I shall never be shaken.”

O Lord, when you favoured me,

you made my mountain stand firm;

but when you hid your face,

I was dismayed.

David knew well how he had been advanced by God. He did not darken God’s grace, but rather his mind was that it might be remembered to the world’s end that God had drawn him up out of nothing and settled him as head of the kingdom. He magnified God and it was his will that God’s grace and mercy towards him should be spoken of long after his death. He did not flaunt his nobility and he attributed nothing to himself. And yet, for all that, after God had established him in his kingdom, so that he saw himself in rest, he began to advance himself. But David shows us what we are when we are at our ease; we are overtaken by folly. It seems to us that God will never change our state when we are at pleasure.

We should therefore remark here just how marvellous was the strength of mind of Job, considering how he had resisted the temptation, so sudden and so great, and not only one temptation, but several which all came upon him in one blow. We see how he withstood them. Only a short time before, he had been in such prosperity that it might seem that he had the favour of all people. There did not seem to be a person who did not magnify Job. In short, even Satan himself stated that God preserved Job in such a way that nothing could harm him. We see how he was then handled at a single turning of a hand, which must have been unbearable for him.

We should therefore look well to ourselves whenever God sends prosperity to us. For it is certain that if Job had not often considered his estate and from where it had come, he would have been utterly confounded as soon as God afflicted him. Therefore, let us take heed to walk in fear and trembling, chiefly when God sends us any worldly prosperity. For that is when the devil is watching most closely to surprise us and to cast some temptation before us that we never thought of.

Thus, we see what ought to be remarked upon the verse where it is stated that at the time when Job was so well settled and seemed to have so many bulwarks protecting him so that no evil could touch him. Then in one moment there came both lightning from heaven and a whirlwind of the air, and also his enemies stripped him out of all the he had, so that he was brought to utter extremity, except for his person which God had still preserved for the more grievous trials that were to follow.

Let us return to the verse touched upon already. We know the rage of Satan against the faithful and we have seen how God held him short, ‘You shall not touch the person of Job.’ Here we see the fury with which Satan proceeded. Let us now consider the means that Satan has to torment the faithful. Look how many infirmities we have and how many adversities there are in the world. Look how many forces there are against us. Satan has many sharp darts ever in readiness against us and he would be able to give many wounds and deadly stripes if God did not provide for us otherwise. Seeing that the devil continually has such weapons, and that we on our side are altogether defenceless, what should become of us if we were not continually under God’s protection? So much the more cause we have, therefore, to render thanks to our God, because we know that Satan can do no more than God gives him leave to do. We need to call on God continually and to say, Alas Lord, if we are not under your protection, what will become of us? We are sure that you afflict us for a time, but by this you show us your fatherly goodness; you suffer us not to be utterly rooted out, considering the vicious strength of the enemy with whom we have to do. For if you should give him the bridle against us, we must necessarily be devoured suddenly, even as one poor sheep among a hundred thousand wolves. We see then how we ought to keep good ward and watch, and to stand upon our guard, to pray to God that he suffer us not to be left for a prey to Satan. For if Satan dare to be so hardy as to offer battle to the Saviour of the world, according as we see how our Lord Jesus Christ was assailed, we may be sure that our Lord Jesus Christ will prevail. So let us take the armour that God has given us to resist all the assaults of Satan, which is his own word, to which the apostle Paul sends us when he instructs us to arm ourselves thoroughly against all the temptations of the world and the devil, as he writes in the sixth of Ephesians.

Ephesians 6v13 – 18 Therefore, put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for the saints.

Then let us receive that which God gives us, so that we are not negligent to help ourselves with the means that he puts into our hands, but that we may succour ourselves at our need. Thus we see what we are to remember concerning this lesson, if we are to take profit by that which has been shown to us here in the example of Job.

Prayer Now let us fall down before the face of our God, acknowledging our offences, praying to him that he make us understand them better, even in such a way that when he afflicts us, we may assure ourselves that it is his will to mortify us to the world and to draw us continually to himself, by making us to pass through afflictions, which we are able to bear because we see that ultimately they are tied to our welfare. And furthermore, we pray that he will give us the grace to be so mortified that we may desire nothing but to be subject to his obedience in such a way that we may never swerve from it, but that we may persevere in it more and more, even until he has drawn us into eternal rest. We pray that it may please him to give this grace not only to us, but to all people and all nations of the earth.

Job: Sermon 6 Part 1

Job

Job 1v13-19

One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said “The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were grazing nearby and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword and I am the only one who escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

It is said, in Psalm 34, that God’s angels encamp themselves around the faithful and this present story shows us how greatly we need to be guarded and fenced round about, for we see the rage of Satan against all those who fear God. If we consider well the state of our lives, we see that we are subject continually to many different situations where we would be wounded to death if God did not continually fence us in. We are continually reminded with every step that we are nothing, considering the frailty within each and every one of us.

Psalm 34v4-10

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;

he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant;

their faces are never covered with shame.

The poor man called, and the Lord heard him;

he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,

and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;

blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

Fear the Lord, you his saints,

for those who fear him lack nothing.

The lions may grow weak and hungry,

but those who fear the Lord lack no good thing.

In the story presented in the book of Job, our Lord reminds us of our need to be guarded by his angels, who fight against all the assaults that Satan throws against us. The Lord appoints his angels to maintain us and to work for our welfare.

Job is afflicted here in various ways, in his goods and in his children. Satan was held short so that he could not attempt anything against Job’s person, but God had given Job’s possessions, and the mortal lives of his children who were as dear to Job as his own life, into the hands of Satan.

There is another point; everything was not taken in one single act. Rather, the devil had the policy to send several distinct actions. He stirred up enemies on one side, fire and lightning on another and a mighty wind on another. After the first assault, Job may have believed that he was being assaulted by men, but the gratuitous act of nature that resulted in the death of his family was calculated to lead Job to thinking ‘Not only are men fighting against me, but also God almighty, himself.’

God deals with his servants according to the measure of their faith, which he has distributed to them. We are not all subject to trials in similar measure, for God has not made us all equally strong. There are some weaklings, and God supports them. If he chastises them, it is to humble them to the end that they should take heed and call upon God more earnestly. There are others who are much stronger. And why so? Because God has poured out his spirit upon them in much greater abundance. For it is God’s will to have our faith tried, to our profit. He alone knows what he is doing and why. He is not bound by any obligation to give us even one drop of strength. If he so wills it, then he may leave us in our own weakness to cause us to be oppressed and utterly destroyed every minute of every hour. For within ourselves, we have no means to resist the assaults of Satan. Our only strength is the strength that God gives us by his grace.

God does not try his servants in equal measure, nor does he endow his servants equally with the strength of the Holy Spirit. God strengthens some more than others, and he works in those whom he has strengthened more, with rougher assaults, so that they may be examples and mirrors to all his people.

It is convenient to illustrate this by considering the life of Abraham. Abraham believed God, and his belief was accredited as righteousness. In so doing he became, in some sense (as the apostle Paul puts it), the father of the faithful. Abraham’s trials were arguably worse than Job’s. God commanded Abraham to kill his own son; arguably a greater ordeal than discovering that one’s family has been destroyed by an act of nature, manufactured by Satan.

Abraham was a man of faith, who believed God and trusted in him.

Genesis 15v4-6 Then the word of the Lord came to him (Abram) ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

The apostle Paul, commenting on this in the fourth of Romans, writes

Romans 4v1-3 What shall we say then, that Abraham our fore father discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work, but trusts in God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

He develops the commentary later in the chapter.

Romans 4v18 – 25 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Throughout the whole of Abraham’s life, he was never at rest. God commanded him to forsake his native country, even while Terah, his father, was still alive.

Genesis 11v31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter in law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.

The Lord gave an express commandment that not only was he to leave his native land, but also his father’s household.

Genesis 12v1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”

How many have had so miserable a life as to be required to leave their own people and never be in rest? God commanded Abraham to leave his native country and his own people. God vouchsafed not to tell him which country he had called him to, but held him as a bird upon the water. He saw nothing of it and throughout his entire life he had no place to settle.

Scripture does not indicate how Job became a wealthy man, but it does indicate the origins of Abraham’s wealth. Abraham’s wealth was acquired in Egypt. Abram was forced to go there because there was famine in the land. When he went down to Egypt, he was unable to resist the temptations of Satan, but under pressure from Satan, committed a very wicked sin, by leading the Egyptians to believe that Sarai was not his wife. Sarai also sinned very grievously, by agreeing to do this.

Genesis 12v10-13 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while, because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’. Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

Then, when he entered Egypt, as he had predicted, his wife was taken from him. This illustrates just how bad the situation was. He reckoned that going to Egypt was the only way not to fall victim to the famine and starve. He reckoned that practising deceit in the matter of his wife was the only way to save his own life; he knew that to save his own life he would have to lose his wife to Pharaoh.

Genesis 12v15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh and she was taken into his palace.

Is it not marvellous that the Lord protects his faithful from the full measure of their own wickedness? In the case of Abraham, he even used Abraham’s sin to make him a wealthy man.

Genesis 12v16 – 20 He (Pharaoh) treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, menservants and camels.

But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say ‘She is my sister,’ so I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

So God prevented Abram’s sin from reaching its full measure and used it to endow Abram with great wealth.

It has to be noted from this passage that although Abram was God’s chosen servant, we see Pharaoh demonstrating a much more pious and godly attitude than Abram.

But even though Abram had grown exceedingly wealthy, he was still a nomad, with no place to call his own. His whole life was to be one of endless travel and unrest. The Lord had promised the land of Canaan to Abram’s offspring; not to Abram himself.

Genesis 12v7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Abram himself saw nothing of it and had no place to settle; in fact, God made it clear to Abram that it was not lawful for him to have lands of his own, or a place to call his own.

Acts 7v5 He (God) gave him (Abraham) no inheritance, not even a foot on the ground.

Nevertheless, God promised to make him heir of the whole world.

Romans 4v13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

While his wife Sarai was of a suitable age for having children, the one thing that should have been a comfort to him, they had none.

We see that again Abram did not resist the temptation of Satan, but sinned. Sarai, his wife, was the instrument that Satan used to seduce Abram into sin.

Genesis 16v1-4 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

This act of wickedness is particularly remarkable, because it came after an express vision from the Lord, which ought to have been sufficient assurance for Abram.

Genesis 15v1-4 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” The he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord and he credited to him as righteousness.

Surely, when the Lord makes a promise, we believe not only that he will fulfil the promise, but that we, the faithful, should not do anything unlawful to help it to happen. Yet, even though Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness, nevertheless, we see that he falls victim to temptation.

There were fluctuations in Abraham’s faith, as with all believers. But with respect to the ultimate goal, of eternal peace with God, Abraham’s faith was final, as with all believers.

The Lord remains faithful. Nevertheless, Abram’s wickedness had serious consequences. Ishmael and his descendants were a source of grief and strife for Isaac and his descendants for generations afterwards.

When, eventually, Isaac was born according to God’s promise, God instructed Abraham to kill Isaac. This is much more than we have heard of Job. For if a father hears that his children have been killed, it is clearly an enormous grief to him, and hard to bear. But surely it is much more extreme to be required to kill one’s own child.

God had also shown the manner of the promise he had made to Abram, in the horror of great darkness.

Genesis 15v12-16 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep and a horror of great darkness came upon him. Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and they will be enslaved and ill treated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation, your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

Ultimately, Abraham was faithful. After Abraham had demonstrated his utter obedience to the Lord in the matter of Isaac, the angel of the Lord appeared;

Genesis 22v15 – 18 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me.”

We see how God exercised Abraham after a strange fashion, unaccustomed among people. He was told that he would have offspring and that his offspring would have an inheritance. But he himself was not permitted any place to call his own. Furthermore, before his offspring reached their inheritance, they would be enslaved and treated with utmost cruelty.

Why such assaults on Abraham? God had also strengthened Abraham by his Holy Spirit and therefore gave him great and very rough assaults. God works in the stronger to the end that they should be mirrors and examples for us to follow. We see that Abraham sinned under the temptations and assaults of Satan and that his sin had serious consequences. But although Satan won some battles, he was unable to gain the victory and, ultimately, Abraham’s faith was final. He demonstrated that his faith was absolute, by his readiness to carry out the supreme sacrifice when God commanded him to do so.

Job: Sermon 5: Part 3

Job

In the present text (Job 1v9-12), the question is of subjecting Job to trials. That is to say, God is dealing roughly with one of his own children. Scripture intends to teach us to glorify God continually, so that, knowing his goodness towards us, we understand how his vengeance is just against all wicked persons; if he punishes them, he is only carrying out his office, to the end that he may be feared, reverenced and honoured by the whole world. We may consider it strange that God is served by Satan, but it should be perfectly clear from the text of Job and from the foregoing discussion that the devils are strictly under God’s thumb; they can do nothing without his leave. But there is a further matter. Not only are the devils used as rods to scourge God’s children and put them through the refining fire, they are also God’s hangmen, who execute God’s judgements and punishments, which God will have done to the wicked. In short, it behoves the Devil to be the instrument of God’s wrath and to execute God’s will. He does not do this of his own voluntary good will, but rather because God has sovereign dominion over all his creatures, so that they must necessarily yield to him and turn themselves to whatever God ordains.

But there is one diversity to be marked here. When God has given Satan leave to punish Job, he says to him ‘Behold, you may work your spite upon all his substance, but you may not touch his person.’ And again, after Satan has destroyed all Job’s goods, God says ‘you may touch his person, but you shall not come near his soul.’ God reserves the soul of Job, so that Satan only torment him in goods and in his mortal life and in his honour, for he has not the power to enter his soul and seduce him. This is better understood by a counter example. When God gives Satan commission to execute his wrath upon the unbelievers, he not only permits him to punish them in their goods and with sickness and diseases, but he also goes much further. God gives Satan power to lead them into error and to deceive them. Behold how God says ‘Who shall beguile me Ahab?’ And a spirit replied ‘I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ We see a much larger commission involved here. It is not only that Ahab should be beguiled by some outward means; the prophets must beguile him under the shadow of truth. And that is what the apostle Paul means when he states that when men have no mind to obey God and his truth, nor have the will to frame themselves to it, if above all when God has been so gracious as to manifest himself to them and to show them the way of salvation they then reject the great grace of God and refuse it, then behold: God will send them false prophets and deceivers, who not only pervert all good doctrine, but shall also be believed as if they were speaking God’s truth, for God himself will give them speediness in error. As the apostle Paul writes in the second epistle to the Thessalonians,

2 Thessalonians 2v9-12 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason, God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth, but delighted in wickedness.

These verses import much. What is meant by this powerful delusion? It is when God withdraws his brightness from people so that their wits are dazzled and they become dull, they discern no more than brute beasts. But although the pit is wide open, they stumble into it without seeing it. And why so? Because they have no soundness or wisdom. God has given Satan power to mock and beguile people, to blind them and bewitch them in such a way that they do not know which way to turn. With every step, they fall unaware into some new snare or other. This is how God works towards unbelievers and reprobates. He gives Satan speediness of error, to entrap them, and they never perceive it.

But God does not deal in such a way with those who are his when he afflicts them. Although Satan may assault them, they are always preserved and have the inner spiritual strength to beat back Satan’s temptations. For God has armed his people with his own power. Satan can do no more than God has given him leave to and God puts such a bar in his way that Satan is held short in every mischief that he applies himself to. He can do nothing further than that licensed by God’s good pleasure.

God’s judgements are such that he exercises them on both the good and the bad. If we follow our own opinion, we might wonder how it should come to pass that God gives such authority and pre eminence to Satan as to be able to lead us astray. This is very strange to our own imagination. But since the Holy Scripture explicitly states that this is the case, in many places, it behoves us to humble ourselves and to wait until the day comes that we may better understand God’s secrets which are, for the present, hidden from us and incomprehensible to us. We must learn to honour God’s judgements, having them in reverence and admiration, until they may be better known to us. We must walk in humility, contenting ourselves to know only partly, until full knowledge is disclosed to us when we are in glory. But however the case stands, we must not be ignorant of the teaching shown us in the Holy Scriptures. Here, the scriptures teach us that God serves his own purpose through Satan in such a way that Satan is always ready to seduce people when they deserve it; especially, when they refuse to obey the truth, they must needs be carried away by lies. Concerning the faithful, God now and then leaves them to Satan, so that they may be tried by him. Job was the object of Satan’s machinations. And we see what is said of David in the Chronicles of the Kings. When he came to number the people, against the express command of God, it was the devil who stirred up that mischief. David was one of God’s children. Nevertheless, he was from time to time delivered into Satan’s power, to be beguiled by him.

1 Chronicles 21v1-8 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.”

But Joab replied “May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My Lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does the lord want this? Why should we bring guilt on Israel?”

The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel, there were one million, one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.

But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. The command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.

Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”

Now, when we see this, we have good cause to pray to God and to seek refuge and protection in him. For if such things even befell David, what shall become of us? Let us also mark that when God gives Satan such sway over his faithful, it is only for a little while.

Satan’s dominion is over the unbelievers and the stubborn hearted. Satan also has limited power to wound the children of God. But Satan’s reign is over those who are separated from God, as related by the apostle Paul in the second of Ephesians.

Ephesians 2v1-3 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, whose spirit is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

God places in the reign of Satan those who are separated from God and cut off from God’s church. And why? For there we see that Satan is within his own bounds. But he also, at times, is given limited power over God’s children, as our Lord permits, to humble us and refine us, to the end that when we are so grievously tormented, and yet all the while we resist the assaults that are made upon us, we should understand that our spiritual strength comes not of ourselves, but that we are upheld only by the grace of God and the power of his Holy Spirit.

So then, when God gives Satan leave to tempt his faithful ones, it is usually to serve them as with a medicine. We see God’s marvellous goodness, how he turns evil to good. For what can Satan bring, but rank poison and venom? Yes, we know he has nothing with him but death, for he is named the Power of Death, by the author of the letter to the Hebrews:

Hebrews 2v14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he (Christ Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free all those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

So then, whatever Satan brings, it works altogether to a person’s destruction and to a person drowning in eternal damnation. Nevertheless, God turns the evil that is in Satan towards our welfare. And here we see how the medicine was administered to the apostle Paul, as he himself confessed, after he had spoken of the high revelations that had been given to him.

2 Corinthians 12v7-12 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it from me. But he said to me “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Behold here a good provision and very profitable to the apostle Paul. For we know that pride is ready to throw us headlong into the bottomless pit and that there is nothing that provokes God’s displeasure more than pride, so that God must necessarily show himself an enemy to the proud and to those who presume upon their own strength in any way at all. And the apostle Paul was in real danger; it was necessary for God to provide a remedy. How did he do this? It was, says Paul, ‘by sending me a messenger from Satan to buffet me’. See how Satan works within the apostle Paul, even by God’s permission. And what was the result? Without doubt, Satan intended to overwhelm the apostle and to drive him to wickedness, to the end that his service would have been against God and that eventually he would have withdrawn himself from Christianity altogether, by reason of the troubles and miseries that he endured without ceasing. That was the intent of Satan. But God had purposed another end; namely, to bridle his servant so that he should not forget himself and exalt himself too much. It was for this cause that he was buffeted. He uses the simile of buffeting to convey that God did not use him as a man of arms who fights in the field to give him glorious victory, but rather buffeted him like a boy to his shame and reproach. Thus, this holy apostle, whom God had endowed with such excellent gifts by the Holy Spirit was made an underling to Satan so that Satan spat in his face and wrought many villainies against him.

We see how God turns the evil to good when he makes all Satan’s stings to serve us as medicines, purging us of all the vices that lie hidden in us. Therefore, we ought to pray to God in all respects, yea, even though at first sight we do not understand his judgements. When we have well considered everything, we shall have reason to magnify God.

This much dealing with the strain where it is stated that God gave Satan leave to punish Job, warning him that he should not touch his person.

In effect, we have to mark that when God gives Satan liberty to assail us in such a way that he makes many assaults upon us, nevertheless he is limited by God, who knows what we are able to bear and what is expedient for us.

Finally, it is said that Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. It is not that Satan did his business as if God did not see him any more. Rather, this phrase signifies to us what the fury of Satan is and what is his usual manner of business. That is, he did the worst he could, with no regard to the fact that he is subject to God. He used his own rebelliousness in making havoc of Job’s goods. There is another thing meant by this saying. That is, Satan did in effect show the leave that God had given him. God’s decree, in situations that apply to ourselves, is kept hidden from us. In the case of Job, it is written down in the Holy Scriptures. Scripture relates things that were apparent for all to see, how Job was by and by spoiled of all his goods, how his children were slain, and how he himself was plagued in his own person. These things were commonly known to people. But not everybody knew the previous transaction between God and Satan, that God held his assizes and that everything was determined according to his ordinances and that nothing happened without his providence. Only those who have the eyes of faith have the understanding of it. The residue only perceive the things that were done outwardly. Here we see what is said, that Satan went out from the presence of God. For the Holy Scripture makes a difference between the outward things that are done and the purpose of God which is not known, except to the faithful, who lift themselves up above their own reason and above all their natural wits. For we shall never attain to the knowledge of the Majesty of God, except that we be carried up above our own ability. And now the scripture returns to the story when it is said that Satan departed from the presence of the Lord. That is to say, it was visibly perceived how he punished Job. Thus, we see what is meant by it. Satan would, with an inordinate rage, cast out fire and flame, as though he would make a clean dispatch of everything together. It is his office to tempt people, as is shown when he tempted Jesus Christ.

Matthew 4v3 The tempter came to him (Jesus)

This term, ‘the tempter’ is attributed particularly to Satan. And why? So that we should know that he seeks only to destroy us all and to put mankind into confusion. We see that all his diligence, all his going about, is to lead us to destruction. He desires to be exempted from obedience to God so that he can turn all upside down. This knowledge ought to provoke us all the more to pray to God, asking him to take us into his hand and tuition. For when he receives us, we are in safety from all the troubles that Satan can practise against us. But if God once withdraws himself from us, or does only wave his little finger, by and by we shall be overcome by Satan. We see then how we are taught, on the one side to humble ourselves and to walk in fear and wariness and on the other side to call to God assuring ourselves that as long as he is protecting us, we shall want nothing. Yea, although we must fight against great distresses, we are assured of the victory which he has promised to all those who are his. As the apostle Paul writes in the eighth of Romans,

Romans 8v37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Prayer Now let us fall down before the Majesty of our God, praying to him to make us perceive the evils that are within us, and that by knowing them, every one of us may understand that we are full of outrageous vices for which we deserve to be thrust out of the presence of God. And let us pray to God that he may strengthen us by his Holy Spirit in such a way that we may serve him continually, both in prosperity and adversity and that we may not desire anything other than to please him in all points and to yield ourselves wholly to him. Although we are engaged with an enemy that is overwhelmingly strong, whom we are unable to resist, whom we can neither withstand, nor return his blows, nevertheless, by the maintenance and power of our good God, we may continue in his obedience until the end, until he has gathered us home to himself to make us partakers of that most blessed triumph, which he has prepared for us in his heavenly glory. We pray that he will grant this benefit and grace not only to us, but to all people.

Job: Sermon 5: Part 2

Job

Job 1v12 The Lord said to Satan, “I give you power over all that he possesses, but do not touch his person.”

At first appearance, a person may marvel at why God gave his servant Job over to the pleasure of Satan. Is it only that the Devil should have such credit with God that when he craves leave to work us mischief God should grant it to him? It seems that God favours him and that he makes sport with us as with a tennis ball. But let us mark that when God grants this to Satan, he does not do so to please Satan, neither is he moved by any favour that he bears towards Satan, since he bears Satan no favours. It is because and only because he has ordained it in his own purpose. He is not moved by Satan’s suit, nor is he persuaded by him to suffer Job to be punished. God had already so determined in his own purpose. Before Satan had uttered any word, or made any petition, God was minded to test his servant, and he minded it for a just cause, which he has disclosed to us. Even when the cause of affliction is unknown, yet we must confess that God is righteous in all he does.

God did not grant Satan’s request as though he had been moved by Satan’s suit, but only because he was minded of his own good will to pass Job through trials and tribulations. Therefore he granted Satan’s demand, truly to spite Satan and to have even greater triumph against him when Job persevered and remained faithful despite all that Satan threw at him. For Satan made a full reckoning that Job would curse God to his face; that is to say that he would have blasphemed him openly with his mouth and inwardly in his heart when Satan treated him so roughly. And why did Satan consider it so? He considered what we are in ourselves, how we are as fleeting as water and that all our strength is nothing. In the meanwhile, he had no understanding of God’s grace, how strong and invincible it is within us and how it operates.

It is true that Satan feels God’s grace operating and he experiences it in spite of his heart and yet for all that he does not know it one whit. See how he is deceived. See how he reckons; namely, that if he can obtain leave to torment us, we shall be vanquished out of hand. We shall be swallowed up by and by, we shall fall into despair and blaspheme God.

Mark well what Satan is trying to do. But God will resist him and disappoint him of his hope. For when he sends the grace of his Holy Spirit, Satan will be confounded. He will have no power to achieve the objectives that he intended against God’s servants. In the end, all the machinations of Satan go backwards and ultimately in a way that is entirely contrary to Satan’s intent.

God therefore knows what the result of Job’s afflictions will be. He has determined in his own purpose that Job be scourged; he did not do it at Satan’s instigation.

Why then does the Holy Scripture tell us here that it was done at Satan’s request? There are two reasons. Firstly, when we suffer afflictions ordained by God, we should know that Satan procured it with the intention of casting us into despair. This is what the apostle Paul shows us in the sixth of Ephesians:

Ephesians 6v12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

The apostle Paul shows us that we have battle against spiritual powers and not against flesh and blood. As often as any evil befalls, let us be sure that Satan has practised it against us, to the end that we may withstand him by faith. Being fenced and armed with the mighty power of God and knowing that Satan has such great power over us, let us retire to the refuge of our good God who will strengthen us.

Secondly, Scripture intends to show God’s fatherly love towards us. He supports us as little children and does not give to any the liberty over us that our enemy would fain have. Satan would take great pleasure in afflicting us in all ways if he were not restrained by God, who is our refuge and our singular welfare. Even though we do not know why God afflicts us, we must always acknowledge him to be right. Throughout the worst trials, it behoves us to have this lesson imprinted on our hearts: God loves us so tenderly that he desires nothing but to bring us home.

Now then, when we see Satan come to kindle the fire, and when he has sued to God to have Job persecuted, let us mark how the Scripture shows us that God always has good cause when he handles us roughly. He does not do so according to the purpose of our enemy, but rather because it is good for us to be exercised by afflictions, even at Satan’s hand. God permit Satan to operate against us, because he knows that it is good and profitable for us.

Satan is determined to turn believers away from God, but God presses the trials brought about by Satan into service, to strengthen his people. When God wishes to execute his righteous divine judgement against an unbeliever who has rejected God and the divine love, he does not wait for Satan to instigate the proceedings. Furthermore, he does not restrain Satan from touching the soul, as he did with Job.

1 Kings 22v18-28

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he never prophesies anything good, only bad?”

Micaiah continued, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing round him on his right and on his left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Achab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’

“One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’

“ ‘By what means?’ the Lord asked.

“ ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said.

“ ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’

“ ‘So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.”

Then Zedekiah son of Kenaanah went up and slapped Micaiah in the face. “Which way did the spirit from the Lord go when he went from me to speak to you?” he asked.

Micaiah replied, “You will find out on the day you go to hide in an inner room”.

The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah and send him back to Amon ruler of the city and to Joash the king’s son and say, ‘This is what the king says: Put this fellow in prison and give him nothing but bread and water until I return safely.’ ”

Micaiah declared, “If you ever return safely, the Lord has not spoken through me.” Then he added, “Mark my words, all you people!”

In this passage, it is stated that God held an assize and there is a description of how the prophet saw God set in his chair of estate and how God demanded, ‘Who is it that shall beguile Ahab for me’ Satan did not present himself before God in that case; he did not come before God to say, ‘If you will give me leave, I will beguile Ahab. I will do whatever you will have me do.’ But God begins by saying words to the effect, ‘where shall I find a lying spirit to go and deceive Ahab? For I see he needs to be drowned, even in the bottom of Hell.’ And why does God speak so? Because the case stood that God was executing just vengeance on a hypocrite, one who despised God and was full of cruelty, a mortal enemy of all goodness. Ahab was a man who had utterly perverted all God’s service and who was wholly defiled with his own idols, who was therefore full of sturdy malice against the prophets and who would give no ear to any admonishing. When Ahab was thus hardened in his sins, in such a way that nothing could be gained by seeking to bring him to the right way, after God had tried all ways and seen that he was a lost man, then he held his assize and demanded who it was who would deceive Ahab. For it was God’s will to execute the office of judge. God’s love, when rejected, turns to judgement. We see then that God intends to punish wicked people and to execute his wrath upon them according to their deserts. He does not wait until he is moved to do so by Satan; rather, he pre empts Satan.

This passage also illustrates that, in battle against sworn enemies of God, a servant of God may employ lies without perpetrating a sin. The ninth commandment states

Exodus 20v16 You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour

and this is the attitude we are bound to maintain towards everybody who has not declared themselves to be our enemy. But God himself has ordained lies as a fitting way to execute judgement on Ahab. In certain situations, deceit may be employed as a legitimate weapon against a sworn enemy of God.

Job: Sermon 5 Part 1

Job

Job 1v9-12

Satan said to the Lord, “does Job fear the Lord for nothing?

Have you not been a bulwark to him on all sides? Have you not fenced his house and all that he has? Do you not prosper him in all his affairs? Is his possession not greatly enlarged?

But lay your hand upon him and touch what he has and see if he will not curse you to your face.

The Lord said to Satan, “I give you power over all that he possesses, but do not touch his person.” And Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

The devil is simply carrying out his office here, which is to pervert all goodness and to accuse Job as though he were a hypocrite. In carrying out his office, he discovers the evil that lies within people willingly, and to which we are all inclined by nature. Being wily and politic as he is, he knows full well on which side to assail us. Here the devil makes use of a disease which taints us all until God has healed us of it by his grace. In times of prosperity we can praise God, but if he afflicts us, we may be inclined to change our mind and hence to bring a grudge against him, forgetting all the praise we gave him as long as he dealt with us as we desired. There are many hypocrites who cannot be known as hypocrites until God sends them adversity. For as long as they are at their ease, they do not show the rebelliousness that is within them, but let it lie hidden.

Scripture often shows us that God tries those who are his, sifting them by afflictions and casting them as gold into a furnace, not only to purge them, but also to make them known. As the apostle Peter writes,

1 Peter 1v6,7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.

God brings afflictions to kill the vices within us, for it is through affliction that we learn to recognise the sin within us and to root it out. He commands us to withdraw ourselves from the world and not to be given over to our pleasures. There is another purpose to the afflictions brought by God. In a furnace, gold is tried to know whether or not it has any dross in it. So also, by afflicting us, God shows us what we really are. People do not know themselves before they have been proved. Before we have passed through the fire, we seem to ourselves to fear God and we believe that there is nothing to be disliked in us: yet all the while there are many vices in us that we do not know of. God shows them to us; he makes us to perceive them. When he sends trouble or adversity, we discover what our infirmity is.

Now, if God afflicts his faithful ones with the intention that the afflictions serve them as a mirror to see themselves, will these afflictions not also show the hearts and minds of other people, so that we may know whether or not they have faith and obedience in their hearts, whether or not they are hypocrites, whether or not they serve God in truth?

We see a great number who speak sweetly of God when he sends them all things at their pleasure and one would marvel at how well God is praised, especially when nothing is wanting. But as soon as God begins to handle them roughly in any matter and they are not content with the way thing fall out, they take it to heart. If God proceeds to pluck their feathers from them, they fall to further rage and murmuring and belch out further blasphemies against him. Even when they do not utter explicit blasphemy with their mouths, yet their hearts are full of poison within, so that they chaff upon the bit and repine at God for handling them other than they would like. This proves that in their times of prosperity when they praised God, their praise was nothing but hypocrisy.

Since it is so, we see that Satan has a shrewd eye to the diseases with which people are tainted. And so we see the nature of our enemy. He lies in wait for us and pries about us on all sides, to spy out where he may have any entrance to wound us.

Therefore, let us bear in mind that when we have prayed to God and served him in times of comfort that we also put ourselves in readiness so that whenever it may please God to place us in adversity and exercise us with many trials and tribulations, we bridle ourselves and have the humility to submit ourselves to him and receive everything that he may send, good or ill, patiently and quietly.

If we are not prepared for such trials and if we are not patient when God sends them, all the service that we have rendered him during times of prosperity count as nothing. It is true that God well accepts those who are his, even in times of prosperity, but it behoves us to take the lesson what we have just discussed; why God makes us pass through the battle of affliction.

Furthermore, while the devil states the truth when he says that people will curse God to his face when they are encumbered with afflictions, this does not usually come to pass at the first push. For a while, there will remain some reverence of God which is imprinted in us. If we are put to some hard pinch, of course we will groan, but we will not open our mouth to blaspheme against God, because that would go against our nature. But when the affliction continues, if we fret and chaff against it and the misery continues to increase, or continues very long, then our impatience kindles like a fire and that which is locked in our hearts makes itself known. Thus we see how those who are afflicted at length will curse God to his face. They overshoot themselves beyond measure, to the extent that they no longer regard the majesty of God that they should humble themselves before it, nor do they consider that they are rebelling against him. They no longer attain to take hold of his judgement which restrains them from rushing into outrage. Therefore, we have good cause to pray to God to bridle our tongues and hearts and not to suffer us at any time to fall into such excess as to curse God openly, but rather that we should understand that the trials and tribulations that he sends are ultimately for our benefit. As the apostle Paul writes in the eighth of Romans,

Romans 8v28 And we know that all things work for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brethren. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

The trials and tribulations he sends will ultimately turn to our profit and welfare, as God intends.

Although Satan is the father of lies and deceit, yet he speaks the exact truth when he states ‘have you not been a bulwark to Job on all sides? Have you not fenced his house and all that he has? Do you not prosper him in all his affairs?’ When he was before God, it behoved him to set a fair colour on his business. There was no point in the trumpery that he usually uses toward people to deceive them. Thus, Satan grounds himself upon true principles, but with the intent of applying them to evil. His desire was nothing other than to destroy Job.

Satan states that God has been a bulwark to Job. If we are to be maintained in this world, God must necessarily put his hand to it. We could not stand one minute of one hour if we were not preserved by the grace of God. It is likewise with all things that we possess; God must fence us. It is Satan, and nobody else, who states that God has been a bulwark to Job. Satan’s purpose with us, as with Job, is to overwhelm us, both in our goods and in our persons. He will succeed if we are not well walled, with God standing as a bulwark. For as soon as God gives Satan leave, Satan rakes away all Job’s possessions from him. Not only that, he goes about it with extreme violence. Therefore, it was prerequisite that Job should be fenced all the while before by the grace of God. This lesson is greatly to our profit. For hereby we are warned to pray to God that it may please him to defend us, for while we are in this world, we are, as it were, in a wild wood full of robbers. Here we also see why Scripture attributes various titles to God; he is our breastplate, our shield, our wall and trench, our rampart, our bulwark, our tower and fortress. Scripture uses so many different words to indicate God’s protection and force to teach us that without him we should immediately perish if he were not continually watching for our safety. We see, then, how it is requisite that we should acknowledge our lives to be nothing, considering that they are as frail as it could possibly be, and that we should be motivated to pray to God to take us into his complete protection. After each day, we ought to acknowledge that throughout that day God and God alone maintained us and was a bulwark to us, and we ought to yield praise to him accordingly.

 

Lamentations

With this post, I simply draw attention to some verses from Lamentations 3 and I am posing a question rather than giving any answers. I would like reflections on how the words of Jeremiah correspond to the Christian concept of ‘love’, what he means and how these words correspond to the Christian morality. Are we to say that Jeremiah got it wrong? Will we find that ultimately Jeremiah was not in the number of the Saviour’s family?

 

52 Those who were my enemies without cause
    hunted me like a bird.

64 Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
    for what their hands have done.
65 Put a veil over their hearts,
    and may your curse be on them!
66 Pursue them in anger and destroy them
    from under the heavens of the Lord.