Sermon 1908. Washed to Greater Foulness
C. H. SPURGEON,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean; yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothesshall abhor me."-Job 9:30, 31.
IÂ Â FEEL certain that I am sent on a special errand at this time. Before my mind's eye I see a soul whose awful reflectionsare hurrying him to despair. He refuses counsel, and will not listen to direction, for dread has made him desperate. I wouldhave a word in the ear of that worried and wearied one. See ye not the man? He has battled long against a dark temptation,but at last he is beaten. He feels that he can hold out no longer. He can scarcely take breath; the airgrows hot and stifling around him, as he faces the question-what next? Accustomed as I am to look down on these crowdedaisles and up at these closely-packed galleries, I feel a strange curiosity as I gaze into the mass; for I know that thereis one man among all of you to whom I have a private message. I carry despatches from the King of kings to one who is grievouslytroubled, and is become as a woman forsaken and despised. My Lord and Master described himself in parable as leaving theninety-and-nine to seek for one lost sheep: I must now copy his example. You will not grudge me for this service, I amsure. I quit the throng that I may find the bewildered one, and bring him safe and sound to the fold.
Turning to my text, let me say, that as one is startled by a shriek, or saddened by a groan, so these sharp utterances ofJob astonish us at first, and then awake our pity. How much are we troubled with brotherly compassion as we read the words,-"IfI wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean; yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothesshall abhor me!" The sense of misery couched in this passage baffles description. Yet this is butone of a series, in which sentence after sentence reveals a fresh chamber of horrors. The similitudes of grief are herepiled up in heaps, with what an old author has spoken of as the "rhetoric of sorrow." Physical sufferings had produced a strainon Job's mind, and he sought relief by expressing his anguish. Like some solitary prisoner in the gloomy keep of an old castle,he graves on the walls pictures of the abject despondencies which haunt him. His afflictions are aggravated by vain effortsto alleviate them: he wounds his hand with the rough hammer and nail with which he is engraving his griefs. Of such torturesmany of us have had a taste.
From my experience, as a patient myself, smitten down with soul-sickness; and from my observation as a pastor, into whoseears the woes of awakened sinners are constantly poured, I have somewhat learned to understand the imagery of Job. The suffereris in double straits. While he is tossed about by Satan, his friends are discharging their arrows at him, and the Almightytroubleth him. To help such a sufferer we must be careful to distinguish between the causes of hissorrow, and divide between his affliction itself and the further sorrows which he has brought upon himself by his unwiseefforts to escape from it.
Such, then, is the line of thought we will pursue. I shall make four divisions; three of them are to be found in the text,and the fourth will follow on, as an important consequence. First, we shall notice that a quickened soul becomes conscious of guilt; secondly, the soul that is quickened makes ineffectual attempts to rid itself of the stain of guilt; thirdly, to deter his people from self-righteousness it pleases God to plunge deeper into the mirethose who attempt to cleanse themselves; the fourth point is, that only by severe training are men led to look alone to God for salvation,-it needs omnipotence to teach us that salvation is of the Lord.
I. At the outset, then, we observe that QUICKENED SOULS ARE CONSCIOUS OF GUILT. They see it; they know it; they feel it; andthey blush to find that they are without excuse for it. All men are sinners: to most men, however, sin appears to be a fashionor the times, a necessity of nature, a folly of youth, or an infirmity of age, which a slight apology will suffice to remove.You will scarcely meet with an Englishman who will not acknowledge that he is a sinner. Is it notthe General Confession stereotyped in the book of Common Prayer? But it is one thing to call yourself a sinner, and quiteanother thing to feel it. I have heard of a lady who owned to her minister that she was a great sinner. He questioned herkindly as to which of the ten commands she had broken. Beginning with the first, he asked her, "Did you ever break this?"to which enquiry she indignantly answered, "No." In like manner he dealt with the second, and right through the whole ten.Sheprofessed in detail to have observed each one, and yet pretended to confess that she had broken them all. By such equivocationsmultitudes of men and women deceive themselves; and it is unhappily the custom of many a preacher to address his congregationas if they were all good people, and every one of them knew the Lord, from the least even to the greatest. This is pleasingto the flesh, and clattering to pride; but it is most pernicious. How many are being deceived by this want of marking adifference where a vital difference exists!
Not till men are quickened by divine grace do they truly know that they are sinners. How is this? Some diseases are so insidiousthat the sufferers fancy that they are getting better, while in very truth they are hastening to the grave. After such mannerdoes sin deceive the sons of men: they think they are saved when they are still unrenewed. How often have I seen a poor girl,whose pale face, sunken eyes, shadowy hand, and languid step have clearly betokened that she wason the brink of death, yet she mistook the flush of consumption for the ruddiness of health. Slowly she waned; but withina day of her departure she planned cheerful projects which proved that she looked for life. Consumption is not, however, sodeceitful as sin. Where it has full power over the soul, "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;who can know it?" If sin were not so deceitful it would not be half so destructive as it is.
How is this, you ask again? Few give themselves the trouble to think about these matters at all. Ours is an age in which men'sthoughts are keen upon politics and merchandize, practical science and economic inventions, financial schemes and Home Rule,and I know not what beside; but sound doctrine and sincere piety are out of vogue. Few people trouble themselves to thinkabout their souls' everlasting welfare. Men die at the same rate as of yore, but the mortality isreckoned by a percentage; and as for the life hereafter it is ignored. Friend, have you ever dedicated ten minutes of your time to a consideration of your destiny? Days to your ledger; hours to your amusements;years to your commercial engagements; would it not be wise to reserve some moments for your soul's outlook beyond the grave?You have made your last will and testament for the world that is fading away, but you have laid up no treasure for the worldto come. Is this consistentwith your usual prudence? I should have good hope for some of you if I could make you sit for one hour alone, and thinkof nothing but your souls, your God, and the final judgment. Alas! alas! as the horse rusheth to the battle, so men rush tothe heated competition of the hour. They cannot be persuaded to consider. Poor mortals! They concern themselves about everythingthat does not concern them, but they persistently neglect everything that is needful to their eternal well-being.
How is this? we enquire once more. To natural ignorance we may attribute much of the ordinary indifference of men to theirown sinfulness. They live in a benighted age. In vain you boast the enlightenment of this nineteenth century: the nineteenthcentury is not one whit more enlightened as to the depravity of human nature than the first century. Men are as ignorant ofthe plague of their own hearts to-day as they were when Paul addressed them. I know that almost every manyou meet with talks as if he were qualified to set up for a doctor of divinity; but is not this the confidence of ignorance?"Vain man would be wise"-or read it, if you please, "vain man is void of understanding-though man be born like a wild ass'scolt." Until God the Holy Ghost takes him in hand no spiritual light enters the man's soul. Preaching is an effective meansof instructing the mind, arousing the conscience, and impressing the hearts of the people; and faithful preachers arescattered up and down the country within measurable reach of most of your homes. Why, then, is the doctrine of human sinfulnessso little understood, and so seldom accepted as an undeniable fact? Many persons seem startled, and try to think that theymisunderstand us when we say plainly that in the very best man in the world there is no virtue or grace that can be pleasingto God, unless he has been made a new creature in Christ Jesus. Let me put the truth before you as plainly as I can byspeaking of your body in order to describe your soul. You probably imagine that your physical constitution is sound andhealthy. I grant you all you ask on that score; yet you are but flesh and blood, like the rest of our mortal race, and thereforeyou are exposed to every disease which waylays your fellow creatures. Even so, your deceitful heart is capable of as desperatecrimes as the vilest of sinners ever committed. The evil propensity lurks within, it needs only the contagion of society,or the temptation of Satan to bring it out. Does not this alarm you? It ought to do so.
Hardly a glimmer of the humbling truth of our natural depravity dawns on the dull apprehension of the worldly-wise, thoughsouls taught from above know it and are appalled by it. In divers ways the discovery comes to those whom the Lord ordainsto save. Sometimes a preacher sent of God lets in the dreadful light. Many men, like the false prophet Mokanna, hide theirdeformity. You may remember the story. Mokanna wore a silver veil upon his forehead: should he ever remove itthe brightness of his countenance would blind the astonished world. In truth a foul disease had cankered his brow. God'sfaithful servants are sent to tear off these veils, and expose men to themselves. This duty demands courage. Men veil blackvillainy with self-flattery! Like Jezebel, they paint their eyebrows, and tire their heads, till they think themselves beautiful.It is ours, like Jehu, to cry, "Throw her down." What have they to do with peace who are the servants of sin? How dare theypretend to comeliness whose hearts are not right with God?
How comes it to pass, then, that the best of saints on earth are prone to account themselves the chief of sinners? Their sincerityis unquestionable. This discovery is due to the Holy Spirit. He it is who convinces men of sin. By his mysterious but mostblessed agency on the hearts of men, a sense of utter ruin is wrought in the chosen, and this prepares them to accept thefull redemption provided by the sacrifice of the Redeemer. We cannot explain to you the mystery ofthe Spirit's operation. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whenceit cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." But this we do know-the Holy Spirit withersall merely human hope and righteousness, and thus makes room for trust in the work of our Lord Jesus. Man by nature is blindlyproud, and proudly blind. The moment the Spirit of God comes into a man, the scales fall from his eyes, and he sees himselfinquite a different light. To each saved soul it seems a strange miracle. I have heard the story from simple lips full manya time. The new self talks of the old self with a kind of vacant wonderment. Yesterday our friend was on good terms with himselfas a virtuous citizen, an honest trader, a sound churchman; in moral worth all that his neighbors could wish. To-day he isvile in his own sight: his hands are filthy, his heart is foul, his thoughts are loathsome. He perceives that he has beenwalking in a vain show, and therefore he writes himself down a hypocrite. No name too base by which to surname himself.
Have I found you out, my friend? Wandering among the motley throng, I am in quest of a soul that seeks the mercy of the Lord.Am I not upon your track?
Mayhap I am at this moment addressing a person who has been the subject of a mysterious gloom for which he sees no reasonwhatever. I am right happy to have found him, for I trust I have met with a recruit for the army of truth. But why, you mayenquire, do I make such a remark? I will tell you in a moment. There is a vital connection between soul-distress and sounddoctrine. Sovereign grace is dear to those who have groaned deeply because they see what grievous sinnersthey are. Witness Joseph Hart and John Newton, whose hymns you have often sung, or David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards,whose biographies many of you have read. You seldom hear much of God's everlasting covenant in these modern times, for fewmen feel that thorough conviction of sin which comes directly from the teaching of the Holy Spirit. In the economy of redemptionthe effectual operation of the Spirit in enlightening the heart concerning its own sinfulness is sure evidence of the Father'spersonal love to his chosen people, and of the special atonement that the Son of God made for their transgressions.
"Ne'er had ye felt the guilt of sin,
Or sweets of pardoning love,
Unless your worthless names had been
Enrolled to life above."
You may walk through a dark cellar without discerning by the eye that anything noisome is there concealed. Let the shuttersbe thrown open! Bid the light of day stream in! You soon perceive frogs upon the cold clammy pavement, filthy cobwebs hangingon the walls in long festoons, foul vermin creeping about everywhere. Startled, alarmed, horrified, who would not wish toflee away, and find a healthier atmosphere? The rays of the sun are, however, but a faint image of thatlight divine shed by the Holy Spirit, which penetrates the thickest shades of human folly and infatuation, and exposesthe treachery of the inmost heart. Then the soul cries out in agony, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me fromthe body of this death?" When brought to feel this, we think our doom is scaled, and everlasting destruction is close uponus. But it is not so. This is the way of hope. Through death to life every saved soul must pass. Ask us not to paint thesensations; nor blame us if we usually describe that experience which is most distinct. Sharp conviction, fainting heart,struggling hope, fear that haunts, terror that appalls,-an awful fight of fiercely strange emotions! This is the extreme measureof the life-change. In milder form, with one decisive pang the true heart is born again. The Slough of Despond lies acrossevery pilgrim's pathway. The years or hours it takes to wade through it must be left an open question. Sudden death is anoccasional fact, but more frequently the saints are peacefully welcomed to the realms above; so in the church on earth,sudden conversions happen, but as a rule men pass gradually into the kingdom of God. Between the sensual and the spiritualthere is a great gulf, and it must be passed. Of the wind or weather in which you make the passage it is not for me to speak:the voyage may be long or short; but in some sort the gulf must be traversed. Conviction of sin is of the first importance:itcannot be dispensed with.
You will say, "Why?" Well, we might suggest many reasons. It will make mercy the more precious, it will excite horror of sinin the future-burnt children dread the fire, it will teach you patience, for no future trial will be so severe as this; andit will tend to keep you persevering in holiness. But be the reasons what they may, be you sure of this, that no soul is savedwithout being made conscious of its own sinfulness.
II. We pass on to notice that it often happens that AWAKENED SOULS USE MANY INEFFECTUAL MEANS TO OBTAIN CLEANSING. Job describeshimself as washing in snow water, and making his hands never so clean. His expressions remind me of my own labor in vain.By how many experiments I tried to purify my own soul! Like all my fellows, I was always foiled in every attempt. See a squirrelin a cage; the poor thing is working away, trying to mount, yet he never rises one inch higher.In like case is the sinner who seeks to save himself by his own good works, or by any other means: he toils without result.It is astonishing what pains men will take in this useless drudgery. They prevent the dawn of day in their anxiety to attendmatins or observe mass; they are austere in their fastings; they say prayers without stint and do penance to the full. Weshould be sorry to impugn their sincerity. With what exemplary zeal many in the Anglican Church go about to establish theirownrighteousness! They practice ceremonies, with a claim to catholicity which no Catholic will allow. Untiring is their diligencein one department or another of amateur office, they hope for a reward for doing what God never commanded. Without a Scripturalproof of being right in anything, they would fain be righteous overmuch in everything. The labor of the foolish in spinninga righteousness of their own, that is neither accredited by the divine law nor by the holy gospel is almost incredible:they would rather give their bodies to be buried and their goods to feed the poor, than submit to salvation by grace,though it is the only possible salvation.
In seeking to obtain absolution of their sins, to establish a righteousness of their own, and to secure peace of mind, mentax their ingenuity to the utmost. Job talks of washing himself with snow water. The imagery is, no doubt, meant to be instructive. Why is snow water selected? The reason probably was, first, because it was hard to get. Far easier, generally, to procure water from the running brooks than from melted snow. Men set a high value on thatwhich is difficult to procure. Whence comes it that the great majority of the so-called Christian world prefer worshipconducted with gorgeous ritual and stately ceremonial? Is it not the rarity of the thing which creates a sense of value? Entera Popish cathedral, and try, if you can, to understand the services. What are all these persons doing dressed in red and white,or those other persons in more sombre color? Manipulations, genuflexions, prostrations, waving of censers, and elevating ofhosts-an array of symbolism which it took ages to conglomerate. What is the value of it all, unless it lies in its complicationsand expenses? Our Protestant friends have their milder predilections. Organs and orchestras serve them for snow water. Inmeasured accents let me speak of music. For psalms and spiritual songs you all know I have an ardent passion. My spirit wingsits way to the very portals of heaven in the words and tunes of our hymns. But for your instrumental melodies I have nomind, when you substitute mere sound for heartfelt prayer and praise. The obvious simplicity of the gospel is the onlyoutward voucher I know of for its inward sincerity. Praise is none the better because of the difficulty of the music; sayrather that the more simple and congregational it is the better by far. Forms of worship which are expensive and difficultare greatly affected by many, as snow water was thought in Job's day to be a bath for kings; but, after all, it is an idlefashion,likely to mislead.
Besides, snow water enjoyed a reputation for purity. If you would have a natural filtered water gather the newly-fallen snow and melt it. The figure represents the religiousnesswhich is of the most rigid kind-the cream of the cream. Specimens yet remain among us of piety more than possible to men,religiousness above the range of mortals; which piety is, however, not of God's grace, and consequently is a vain show. Thoughwe should use the purest ceremonies,multiply the best of good works, and add thereto the costliest of gifts, yet we should be unable to make ourselves cleanbefore God. You may wash yourself till you deny the existence of a spot, and yet you may be unclean. You may make rigid rules,and find much content in keeping them, and yet remain in nature's filthiness. With all your shrewdness you have but practiceda human device, and in refusing to trust in the Lord Jesus you have failed to observe a divine ordinance; and therefore youwill fail.
Once again, this snow water is probably extolled because it descends from the clouds of heaven, instead of bubbling up from the clods of earth. Religiousness which can color itself with an appearance of the supernaturalis very taking with many. Some folks are fond of apostolical succession; it professes to come from heaven. No doubt the notionoriginated in cloudland. Others are fascinated by Popery. His holiness the Pope is accounted to be a great cistern, full ofgrace, which is distilled in streams, and runs through capacious pipes called cardinals, and then through smaller tubes,styled bishops. At length by the still smaller pipes of the priests it comes to the people. No pretext was ever more paltrythan this, and yet many are deceived by it. There is no peace in it for thoughtful minds. For such your snow water has nosolace, because they see no connection between outward acts and the purifying of the heart.
Not all the outward forms on earth,
Nor rites that God has given,
Nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth,
Can raise a soul to heaven."
If I "make my hands never so clean," is an expression peculiarly racy in the original. The Hebrew word has an allusion to soap or nitre. Such was the ordinaryand obvious method any one would take to whiten his hands when they were grimy. Tradition tells that certain stains of bloodcleave to the floor. The idea is that human blood, shed in murder, can never be scrubbed or scraped off the boards. Thus isit most certainly with the dye of sin. The blood of souls isin thy skirts, is the terrible language of Jeremiah (2:34). When ye think that baptism can begin, that confirmation canfurther, and that other sacraments can complete your purification, ye are mere dupes of your own folly. "Though I wash myselfin snow water, and make myself never so clean; yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me."There it stands, it is the testimony of one man, but yet it is true; the Almighty attests it, and all human experience affirmsit. These worthless experiments to cleanse yourselves would be ended once for all if you would have regard to the greattruth of the gospel: "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us fromall sin." God alone can remove sin, and he does so by the blood of Jesus.
III. But AS SURE AS EVER QUICKENED BOWLS TRY TO GET PURITY IN THE WRONG WAY, GOD WILL THRUST THEM DOWN INTO THE DITCH. Thisis a terrible predicament. I find, on looking at the passage closely, that it means "head over ears in the ditch." It is notmerely some filthy puddle in which a man treads till he is splashed all over, it is a slough of despond into which he sinks.His eyes, his ears, and his mouth, are filled with pollution; and his very clothes are so foul that heutterly abhors himself. Old Master Caryl, a rare expositor of the Book of Job, says that the original can only be equalledin English by the expression-we would not touch such an one with a pair of tongs.
Often it happens with those who try to get better by their own good works, that their conscience is awakened by the effort,and they are more conscious of sin than ever. If a chosen man strives to save himself from his sins by his own righteousnessthe Lord permits him to see his own heart and he ceases from all glorying. The word here rendered "ditch" is elsewhere translated"corruption." So in the sixteenth Psalm: "Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to seecorruption." Language cannot paint abasement, reproach, or ignominy in stronger terms. "THOU shalt plunge me in the ditch."Is it not as though God himself would undertake the business of causing his people to know that by their vain ablutions theywere making themselves yet more vile in his eyes? We read, in the second chapter of Jeremiah, of God's remonstrance with Judah:"Though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord God.How canst thou say, I am not polluted?"
May we not regard this as the discipline of our Heavenly Father's love, albeit when passing through the trial we do not perceiveit to be so? Thus, in the apocalyptic epistle to the church at Laodicea, expostulation more severe or more tender it wouldbe hard to imagine-"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not thatthou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me goldtried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thynakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see." Mark the gentle words, "I counsel thee,"addressed to a people whose lukewarmness excited nausea! Then follows a sentence of encouragement so sweet and enchantingthat it almost sounds like an apology for the fierceness of the former censure. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten:be zealoustherefore, and repent." A revelation of wretched sinfulness ends in a declaration of love and a visit of grace; for theLord goes on to say, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock." Anyhow, the Lord will end the conceit which is the source ofthe lukewarmness: he cannot permit his chosen to remain in self-righteous pride; for that his soul hateth.
Perhaps, my friend, the experience I am trying to describe will come to you through the preaching of the Word. This sermonmay dishearten and distract you. Your hope was thriving like a plant. This sermon shrivels every leaf; and though, at thescent of water, the branch of self-righteousness will bud again, the next sermon you hear may wither even the stem of yourconfidence. If another sermon soon afterwards cuts it down to the very root, the ministry will be profitableto you; for the root of pride must be cut up. Believe me, this is mild treatment: I trust you may not be left to severermethods.
Frequently our great Lord leaves a poor wayward soul to eat the fruits of its own ways, and this is the severest form of plungingin the ditch. While striving after righteousness in a wrong way, the man stumbles into the very sin against which he struggled.The young man, of whom I am now thinking, resolved, by the help of God, that he would be different henceforth from what heever had been. His vows kept pace with his devotions. He started them at early morn-
"And felt, good, easy man, full surely
His goodness was a-ripening."
To the shop he went, as was his wont; but his thoughts were no longer set on earthly things: he stood, as he supposed, onheavenly ground. Because he had taken snow-water and had washed his hands, he began to think that he was singularly clean.Towards evening a temptation suddenly crossed his path. At first he resisted, but it proved a feeble fight. The argument ofanother young man, that it was policy to yield, availed to break the covenant he had made with his ownconscience. So he was led astray to a place of amusement, where the light of God's countenance never shines. The wretchednessof his reflections on the morrow could not easily be told. He felt that his feet were fast in the miry clay, and his garmentsfoully soiled. His empty conceit might not have been dislodged from its secret lurking-place in his depraved nature withoutsome such perilous downfall.
Mayhap, there sits out yonder a good sister who has grown familiar with spiritual straits. Did you ever happen to hear ofMary Huntington, wife of William Huntington, S.S., the famous Calvinistic preacher? When he prayed for her, which he did withmuch affection, he confessed before God-"O Lord, I beseech thee, hear me on her behalf. Thou knowest how warmly attached shehas ever been to MOSES, and what narrow and vain searches she has made in order to find out his grave,which thou, in infinite wisdom and mercy, hast thought fit to conceal." That prayer, which was published about a centuryago, is worth preserving in your memory. For that "Mary," like many worthy housewives of these days, was rather fond of collectingthe rags and relics of self. If it had been possible, she would have worn at least an apron of the linsey-woolsey of self-righteousness.The Lord will not have his handmaids thus arranged: they must be quit of self altogether.
Our lives through various scenes are drawn and vexed with petty provocations. Paltry annoyances are the bane of our peace.Some of you, dear sisters, spend your years and your thoughts in a narrow circle, and I deeply sympathize with you therein.Without a wish to be great, or to enlarge your coast, you intensely desire to be good. To do your duty to the best of yourability, is your aim, and therein you are worthy of all honor. The lot of many of you is to pass much ofyour time in loneliness; your temptations are therefore peculiar. For many a quiet hour you have been busy with domesticemployments, distracted by no acute anxiety, but cheered by much quiet meditation. At such seasons you are apt to get on goodterms with yourselves. Presently the shades of evening begin to fall. Evening! of which Cowper sweetly sings:
"Come, evening, once again, season of peace,
Return, sweet evening, and continue long!"
You are prepared to welcome home the husband, brother, son, who will look for his repast, and seek his well-earned repose.Possibly, my sisters, this is your season of temptation. His rough word, his needless complaint, his vacant look, when youpine for sympathy puts you about. A sense of injustice stings you. It may be very natural, but all the same it is very fatalto your sense of superior goodness. What more treacherous than one's temper? In a sudden gust of passion,you utter words of anger. How gladly would you recall them! but they are registered. Down into the ditch of despondencyyou sink. For days to come you feel that you cannot forgive yourself. Your rich mantle of righteousness after this tumblein the ditch looks mean enough to provoke your own ridicule.
Thus do we, in our different spheres, fly from this to that, and from that to the other. Some hope to cleanse away sin bya supreme effort of self-denial, or of miraculous faith. Men dream of being clean without the blood of Jesus, they even boastof it, and yet their sin remaineth. The eye of the judgment may be deceived till we half think we are clean; but no soonerdoes the scale grow thin, or the light grow strong, than the conscience perceives its error and learns thelesson that no human endeavor can wash out the accursed spot. Let us not play at purification, nor vainly hope to satisfyconscience with that which renders no satisfaction to God.
Persons of sensitive disposition, and sedentary habits, are prone to seek a righteousness of inward feeling. Let me describethese good folks to you. They aim at a righteousness that renounces every fault, and they cultivate such graces as are naturallylovely, watching from moment to moment their own feelings of joy or grief. Yet these be they who get to know, with the keenestanguish, the plague of their own hearts. How it happens is sufficiently clear. They try to liveby their feelings and frames of mind; and what can be more deceitful than these sensations? Treacherous as the sea onwhich you sail so smoothly on sunny days, but which, at other times, wrecks your barque without mercy, your frames and feelingsare not in the least to be depended on. One day you are all aglow, the flush of fervor is on your face, the next day you feelso dead and cold that prayer would freeze upon your lips. Your evidences are dark. You think you have none, and, seized withdespondency, you lament that "there is no hope." Ah, me! the sin-sick soul, given to watch its own symptoms, is broughtinto perilous straits; trying one nostrum after another, sometimes feeling a little better, and anon feeling itself much worse.Oh, that it could turn from feeling to faith; and look steadily out of inward sensation to the work finished once for allby the Lord Jesus!
Poor Job was smitten with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. No doubt he sent for the doctor-thoughwe are not actually told that he did so. It is likely enough that snow water was prescribed to him for a relief. His handsmay not have seemed very sightly when he used it; there may, at least, have been some connection between his physician's prescriptionand his poetry, when he said, "If I wash myself with snow water, and make my handsnever so clean." Perfection in any one part of conduct would not secure cleanness for the rest. Washed hands would bea small matter if the boils remained over the rest of the body. This is another aspect of the same unsatisfactory expedientthat I am wanting to point out to you. You are under bad treatment until you walk by faith in Jesus. Anything short of gracewill prove a mere mockery of your malady. Asa, King of Judah, was diseased in his feet. He sought not to the Lord, but tothephysicians. Asa never recovered; but the Lord restored Job to perfect, health. The gratuitous advice which the patriarchreceived in the time of his sore sickness was not worth his gratitude. Of his three friends, he said: "Ye are all physiciansof no value." Then comes back the metaphor which I have repeated so often: "Yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mineown clothes shall abhor me." After all is said and done by the wisest of men the poor sinner is worse off than when theyundertook his case. All is vanity till God comes in.
Let us not forget that the man who thus described his own case "was perfect and upright, one that feared God and eschewedevil." Such a case is a puzzle to those who are not enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Although Job was renowned for righteousnessin his generation, a gleam from God's countenance exposed the faultiness of his soul. Does this prove him to have been a hypocrite?By no means. His friends supposed him to be so, though they had no ground whatever for thesuspicion: it was their rough way of solving a hard problem. If the patriarch's integrity had not been so firm, if hisrefinement had not been so tender, if his piety towards God had not been so invariably accompanied by his pity for his brothermen; if, in a word, his character had not been so complete, his trial and his deliverance could not have exhibited the extraordinarylesson which has interested and instructed every succeeding generation. He appears before us at first in the vigor ofhealth, in the height of prosperity, and in the charm of good repute. But oh, the vanity of man! At a touch of God's finger,his flesh develops a festering mass of corruption; at a glance of God's eye, which searched him through and through, the totaldepravity of human nature at its best estate becomes apparent. "He abhors himself in dust and ashes." What next? Utter ruin?Nay, friend, it is full redemption.
IV. By such severe training THE AWAKENED ONE IS LED TO LOOK ALONE TO GOD FOR SALVATION, and to find the salvation he looksfor. This is my last point, and I have no time left to enlarge upon it. What I want is that the truth may flash across yourmind in a moment. There sits the man who is menaced with despair because every effort to extricate himself from the tangledweb of his own strange experience has left him worse than before. Did I attempt to comfort him he wouldrepel my kindest expressions. And why? He knows that it is God who condemns him. In a British court of justice, when thejudge sums up against the prisoner, small cheer can he get from the honeyed words of his counsel. But hark-"It is God thatjustifieth." Whom does he justify? The ungodly. He first condemns them in their own consciences; and then he justifies themaccording to his grace. If I receive the sentence of death in myself it is the earnest of deliverance in my Redeemer. My brother,has light beamed on your soul? I hope I have found you, and that the Lord has visited you with his salvation.
I want you to notice a simple fact which seems to me to have escaped your observation. When the Almighty justified Job hecommended him, and pronounced a high encomium on his conduct. Whatever mistakes he made about himself or his circumstances,in one matter he was clear as a bell; He has spoken right of me, saith the Lord. (Job 42:7.) Eliphaz and his friends transgressed in this respect. Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seekit inyourselves, you are all on the wrong track. You begin below with the whole duty of man, and try to work upward: you are sure to fail. You should begin up yonder, with the righteousness of God; and then you could work downward to righteousness of daily life. God give you knowledge of salvation by grace, to the gloryof his own name, and to your own sanctification, for Christ's sake! Amen.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON-Job 9.
HYMNS FROM "OUR OWN HYMN BOOK"-556, 476, 602.