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Jobs ' three friends insisted that the afflictions which he suffered were sent as a punishment for his sins, and were evidence conclusive that he was a hypocrite, and not a good man, as he professed to be. A lengthy argument pursued, in which Job referred to all past experience, to prove that men are not dealt with in this way according to their character; that the distinction is not observed in the allotments of Providence. His friends maintained the opposite, and intimated that this world is also a place of rewards and punishments, in which men receive good or evil, according to their deeds.
In this chapter, Job urges, by appealing to common sense and common observation and experience, that this cannot be true, because it is a matter of fact that the wicked are often prosperous in this world and throughout life, and hence he infers that their judgment and punishment must be reserved for a future state. "The wicked is reserved to the day of destruction," and "they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath" (v. 30).
And inasmuch as the friends who came to comfort him, being in the dark on this fundamental point, had not been able to understand his case, and so could not afford him any comfort, but rather aggravated his grief, Job insisted upon it that he would still look to a future state for comfort.
He rebuked them by exclaiming, in the bitterness of his soul:
III. To notice some of the false comforts often administered.
I. INSTRUCTING ANXIOUS SINNERS.
The very idea of anxiety implies some instruction. A sinner will not be anxious at all about his future state, unless he has light enough to know that he is a sinner, and that he is in danger of punishment and needs forgiveness. But men are to be converted, not by physical force, nor by a change wrought in their nature or constitution by creative power, but by the truth, made effectual by the Holy Spirit. Conversion is yielding to the truth. Therefore, the more the truth can be brought to bear on the mind, other things being equal, so much the more probable is it that the individual will be converted. Unless the truth is brought to bear upon him, it is certain he will not be converted. If it be brought to bear, it is not absolutely certain that it will be effectual, but the probability is in proportion to the extent to which the truth is brought to bear.
The great design of dealing with an anxious sinner is to clear up all his difficulties and darkness, do away with all his errors, sap the foundation of his self-righteous hopes, and sweep away every vestige of comfort that he can find in himself. There is often much difficulty in all this, and much instruction is required. Sinners often cling with a death- grasp to their false dependencies. The last place to which a sinner ever betakes himself for relief is to Jesus Christ. Sinners had rather be saved in any other way in the world. They had rather make any sacrifice, go to any expense, or endure any suffering, than just throw themselves as guilty and lost rebels upon Christ alone for salvation. This is the very last way in which they are ever willing to be saved. It cuts up all their self-righteousness, and annihilates their pride and self-satisfaction so completely that they are exceedingly unwilling to adopt it. But it is as true in philosophy as it is in fact, that this is, after all, the only way in which a sinner could find relief. If God should attempt to relieve sinners and save them without humbling their pride and turning them from their sins, He could not do it.
Now, the object of instructing an anxious sinner should be to bring his mind, by the shortest route, to the practical conclusion that there is, in fact, no other way in which he can be relieved and saved, but to renounce himself, and rest in Christ alone. To do this with effect requires great skill.
It requires a thorough knowledge of the human heart, a clear understanding of the plan of salvation, and a precise and definite idea of the very thing that a sinner MUST DO in order to be saved. The ability to impart such instruction effectually is one of the rarest qualifications in the ministry. It is distressing to see how few ministers and how few professors of religion there are who have in their own mind so distinct an idea of the thing to be done, that they can go to an anxious sinner and tell him exactly what he has to do, and how to do it, and can show him clearly that there is no possible way for him to be saved, but by doing that very thing which they tell him, and can make him feel the certainty that he must do it, and that unless he does that very thing he will be lost.
II. ANXIOUS SINNERS ARE ALWAYS SEEKING COMFORT.
Sinners often imagine they are seeking Jesus Christ, and seeking religion, but this is a mistake. No person ever sought religion, and yet remained irreligious. What is religion? It is obeying God. Seeking religion is seeking to obey God. The soul that hungers and thirsts after righteousness is the soul of a Christian. To say that a person can seek to obey God, and yet not obey Him, is absurd; for, if he is seeking religion, he is not an unrepentant sinner. To seek religion implies a willingness to obey God, and a willingness to obey God is religion. It is a contradiction to say that an unrepentant sinner is seeking religion. It is the same as to say that he seeks and actually longs to obey God, and God will not let him; or that he longs to embrace Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ will not let him come. The fact is, the anxious sinner is seeking a hope, he is seeking pardon, and comfort, and deliverance from hell. He is anxiously looking for some one to comfort him and make him feel better, without being obliged to conform to such humiliating conditions as those of the Gospel. And his anxiety and distress continue, only because he will not yield to these terms. Unfortunately, anxious sinners find comforters enough to their liking. Miserable comforters they are, too, "seeing in their answers there remaineth falsehood." No doubt, millions and millions are now in hell, because there were those around them who gave them false comfort, who had so much false pity, or were themselves so much in the dark, that they would not let sinners remain in anxiety till they had submitted their hearts to God, but administered falsehood.
III. WAYS IN WHICH FALSE COMFORT IS GIVEN.
There is an endless variety of ways in which false comfort is given to anxious sinners. The more I observe the ways in which even good people deal with anxious sinners, the more I feel grieved at the endless falsehoods with which they attempt to comfort their anxious friends, and thus, in fact, deceive them and beguile them out of their salvation. It often reminds me of the manner in which people act when any one is ill. Let any one of you be ill, with almost any disease in the world, and you will find that every person you meet with has a remedy for that disorder, a certain cure, a specific, a cure-all; and you will find such a world of quackery all around you that if you do not take care and SHUT IT ALL OUT, you will certainly lose your life. A man must exercise his own judgment, for he will find as many remedies as he has friends, and each one is tenacious of his own medicine, and perhaps will think it hard if it is not taken. And no doubt this miserable system of quackery kills a great many people.
This is true to no greater extent respecting the diseases of the body than respecting the diseases of the mind. People have their specifics and their cure-alls, to comfort distressed souls; and whenever they begin to talk with an anxious sinner, they will bring in their false comforts - so much that if he does not TAKE CARE, and mind the Word of God, he will infallibly be deceived to his own destruction. I propose to mention a few of the falsehoods that are often brought forward in attempting to comfort anxious sinners. Time would fail me even to name them all.
The direct object of many persons is to comfort sinners; and they are often so intent upon this that when they see their friends distressed, they pity them, they feel very compassionate: "Oh, oh, I cannot bear to see them so distressed, I must comfort them somehow"; and so they try one way, and another, and all to comfort them! Now, God desires they should be comforted. He is benevolent, and has kind feelings, and His heart yearns over them, when He sees them so distressed. But He sees that there is only one way to give a sinner real comfort. He has more benevolence and compassion than all men, and wishes to comfort them. But He has fixed the terms, as unyielding as His Throne, on which He will give a sinner relief. He will not alter. He knows that nothing else will do the sinner effectual good, for nothing can make him happy, until he repents of his sins and forsakes them, and turns to God. And therefore God will not yield. Our object should be the same as that of God. We should feel compassion and benevolence just as He does, and be as ready to give comfort, but we should also be sure that it is of the right kind.
Our prime object should be to induce the sinner to obey God. His comfort ought to be, both with us and with himself, only a secondary object; and while we are more anxious to relieve his distress than to have him cease to abuse and dishonor God, we are not likely, by our instructions, to do him any real good. This is a fundamental distinction in dealing with anxious sinners, but it is evidently overlooked by many, who seem to have no higher motives than sympathy or compassion for the sinner. If in preaching the Gospel or instructing the anxious, we are not actuated by a high regard to the honor of God, and rise no higher than to desire to relieve the distressed; this is going no farther than a constitutional sympathy, or compassion, would carry us. The overlooking of this principle has often misled professors of religion, and when they have heard others dealing faithfully with anxious sinners, they have accused them of cruelty. I have often had professors bring anxious sinners to me, and beg me to comfort them; and then, when I have probed the conscience of the sinner to the quick, they have shuddered, and sometimes taken his part. It is sometimes impossible to deal effectually with young people who are anxious, in the presence of their parents, because the parents have so much more compassion for their children than regard to the honor of God. This is a position which is all wrong; and with such views and feelings you had better hold your tongue than say anything to the anxious.
They see them distressed and cry out: "Why, what have you done?" as if they had never done anything wicked, and had in reality no occasion to feel distressed at all. A fashionable lady was spiritually awakened, and she was going to see a minister, to converse with him, when she was met by a friend, who turned her back, and drove off her anxiety by the cry: "What have you done to make you feel so? I am sure you have never committed any sin that need make you feel so!"
I have often met with cases of this kind. A mother will tell her son, who is anxious, what an obedient child he has always been, how good and how kind, and she begs him "not to take on so." So a husband will tell his wife, or a wife her husband: "How good you are!" and say: "Why, you are not so bad. You have been to hear that frightful minister, who frightens people, and you have got excited. Be comforted, for I am sure you have not been bad enough to justify such distress." When the truth is, they have been a great deal worse than they think they have. No sinner ever has an idea of his sins greater than they really are. No sinner ever has an adequate idea of how great a sinner he is. It is not probable that any man could live under a full sight of his sins. God has, in mercy, spared all His creatures on earth that worst of sights, a naked human heart. The sinner's guilt is much more deep and damning than he thinks, and his danger is much greater than he thinks it is; and if he should see his sins as they are, probably he would not live one moment. True, a sinner may have false notions on the subject, which may create distress, but which have no foundation. He may think he has committed the unpardonable sin, or that he has grieved away the Spirit, or sinned away his day of grace. But to tell the most moral and naturally amiable person in the world that he is good enough, or that he is not so bad as he thinks he is, is not giving him rational comfort, but is deceiving him and ruining his soul. Let those who do it, beware.
2. Others tell awakened sinners that "conversion is a progressive work," and in this way ease their anxiety. When a man is distressed, because he sees himself to be such a sinner, and that unless he turns to God he will be lost, it is a great relief to have some friend hold out the idea that he can get better by degrees, and that he is now "coming on," little by little. They tell him: "You cannot expect to get along all at once; I do not believe in these sudden conversions, you must wait and let it work; you have begun well, and, by and by, you will get comfort." All this is false as the bottomless pit. The truth is, regeneration, or conversion, is not a progressive work.
What is regeneration? What is it but the beginning of obedience to God?
And is the beginning of a thing progressive? It is the first act of genuine obedience to God - the first voluntary action of the mind, that is what God approves, or that can be regarded as obedience to God. That is conversion. When persons talk about conversion as a progressive work, it is absurd. They show that they know just as much about regeneration or conversion as Nicodemus did. They know nothing about it as they ought to know, and are no more fit to conduct an anxious meeting, or to advise or instruct anxious sinners, than Nicodemus was.
3. Another way in which anxious sinners are deceived with false comfort is by being advised to "dismiss the subject for the present." Men who are supposed to be wise and good have assumed to be so much wiser than God, that when God is dealing with a sinner, by His Spirit, and is endeavoring to bring him to an immediate decision, they think God is crowding too hard, and that it is necessary for them to interfere. They will advise the person to take a ride, or to go into company, or engage in business or do something that will relieve his mind a little, at least for the present. They might just as well say to God in plain words: "O God, Thou art too hard, Thou goest too fast, Thou wilt make him crazy, or kill him; he cannot stand it, poor creature; if he be so pressed he will die." Just so they take sides against God, and practically tell the sinner himself: "God will make you crazy if you do not dismiss the subject, and resist the Spirit, and drive Him away from your mind."
Such advice, if it be truly conviction of sin that distresses the sinner, is, in no case, either safe or lawful. The strivings of the Spirit, to bring the sinner to Christ, will never hurt him, nor drive him crazy. He may make himself deranged by resisting; but it is blasphemous to think that the blessed, wise, and benevolent Spirit of God would ever act with so little care, as to derange and destroy the soul which He came to sanctify and save. The proper course to take with a sinner, when the striving of the Spirit throws him into distress, is, to instruct him, clear up his views, correct his mistakes, and make the way of salvation so plain, that he may see it right before him. Not to dismiss the subject, but to fall in with the Spirit, and thus hush all those dreadful agonies which are produced by resisting the Holy Ghost. REMEMBER, if an awakened sinner should voluntarily dismiss the subject once, probably he will never take it up again.
4. Sometimes an awakened sinner is comforted by being told that "religion does not consist in feeling bad." I once heard of a Doctor of Divinity giving an anxious sinner such counsel, when he was actually writhing under the arrows of the Almighty. Said he: "Religion is cheerful, religion is not gloomy; do not be distressed, but dismiss your fears; be comforted, you should not feel so bad," and such like miserable comforts, when, in fact, the man had infinite reason to be distressed, for he was resisting the Holy Ghost, and was in danger of grieving Him away for ever.
It is true, religion does not consist in "feeling bad"; but the sinner has reason to be distressed, because he has no religion. If he had religion, he would not feel so. Were he a Christian, he would rejoice. But to tell an unrepentant sinner to be cheerful! Why, you might as well preach this doctrine in hell, and tell them there: "Cheer up here, cheer up: do not feel so bad!"
The sinner is on the very verge of hell, he is in rebellion against God, and his danger is infinitely greater than he imagines. Oh, what a doctrine of devils it is to tell a rebel against Heaven not to be distressed! What is all his distress but rebellion itself? He is not comforted, because he refuses to be comforted. God is ready to comfort him. You need not think to be more compassionate than God. He will fill the sinner with comfort, in an instant, on submission. There stands the sinner, struggling against God, and against the Holy Ghost, and against conscience, until he is distressed almost to death, but still he will not yield; and now some one comes in, saying: "Oh, I hate to see you feel so bad, do not be so distressed; cheer up, cheer up; religion does not consist in being gloomy; be comforted."