THE DISCIPLINE OF SUFFERING. BY THE LATE VERY REV. A. P. STANLEY, D. D. DEAN OF WESTMINSTER.
Preached in Calvary Church, New York, October 6th, 1878.
Job xxxvi. 2. " Suffer me a little, and I will show thee that I have yet to speak on God's behalf."
The Book of Job is full of interest from beginning to end, but the pith and marrow of the book is contained in the later chapters, after the long controversy of Job and his three friends is finished. Job, feeling that he was right and they were wrong, breaks out into the cry : "Oh, that One would hear me ! Behold, my desire is that the Almighty would answer me !" That cry was heard; the words of Job were ended; the three friends were silenced, but there had been another spectator drawn to the scene of sorrow. It was the youth Elihu. He had heard both sides. He had waited until all had spoken, with that revenential deference which in the Far East marks the conduct of youth toward old age, and now he could restrain himself no longer. He was "full of matter"; the spirit within him constrained him to speak that he might be refreshed. He opened his lips and answered: "I am young, and ye are very old; wherefore I was afraid and durst not show you mine opinion." He then, with trembling, and hesitating accents, often difficult to understand yet tending to the same end, entreats them to listen to him for he speaks in and for a higher power of wisdom than his own. " Suffer me a little,
and I will show thee that I have yet to speak on God's behalf."
Some have thought that the character of Elihu was introduced into the Book of Job at a later time to clear up an enigma. At any rate his part is like that of the wise chorus in the Grecian tragedy, like that of a judge balancing an argument of a contestant's cause. Gently, calmly, without vehemence, without anger, he turns the attention of the patriarch from himself and his sufferings to the greatness and wisdom of God. " I will
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answer thee that God is more gracious than man; why dost thou strive against Him, for he giveth no account of any of His matters?" And then he rises into a strain higher and higher. He gives a comparison of the good and the evil in this life, and begins to speak in clearer and clearer words of God in creation. And now there came a final confirmation of what Elihu had said. Whilst he yet spoke the earth trembled and was moved out of its place. There was a roar of thunder; out of the south came a whirlwind, and out of the whirlwind the Eternal said : " Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge ?" Before that display of the Divine power the proud spirit of the ancient patriarch was bowed down and he said : "I know that Thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from Thee. I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee. Wherefore I abhor
myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
This is a brief summary of this wonderful book. Let us draw from it its chief practical lessons. They are four in number — four lessons on the perplexities and problems of life. First, the wisdom put into the mouth of Elihu when the three friends had failed, reminds us of what we are taught elsewhere in the Bible, that there are times when traditional authority must give way to truth, when he who is young may instruct those who are aged, when out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God has ordained that very strength which the world most needs. That deference to age and authority on which the three friends insisted is indeed a general rule both of sacred and common life, and unless it were so experience could never be formed. Society would always be dissolving, and teaching and acting would lose that stability which is the only guarantee of progress as well as of permanence.
But notwithstanding, the doctrine which is so beautifully shadowed forth in the appearance of Elihu was this, that each generation must learn not only from that which has gone forth but from that which is coming after it. The rising generation for aught we know has some truths which the older generation may have failed to apprehend. Even a child can instruct its elders by good example, by innocent questions, by simple statements. Elihu was young, and the three friends were very old, yet to him and not to them was intrusted the message pointing to the true solution of the great difficulty that perplexed them all. It was, indeed, no new truth which he put before them, but it was for that very reason there was the
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same need that the quick and lively eye of youth should have the right to receive it and apply it ; so to put forth truths that they may in a succeeding age wear a new aspect, because God entrusts to each generation certain truths to carry out wisely and usefully. So again and again new life has been breathed into expiring systems, new vigor into decaying nations, new meanings into ancient creeds, new applications of most venerable truths. Every fresh generation has something of this kind to tell us. Every young man here present ought to bear his part in endeavoring to purify and elevate the mission of his city, of his country and of mankind. The younger nations are called to supplement the work of the older races; we may apply the words of a well-known English statesman, "the New World is called into being to redress the balance of the Old." God grant that this new world may not fail of its mission from any narrowness of view, or dimness of insight, from any false shame or any false presumption!
Secondly. The Book of Job impresses us that there are problems beyond the power of man to exhaust, and that in the certainty of that uncertainty it is our privilege to rest. The human mind, it may be well said, may repose as calmly before a confessed and incontrovertible difficulty as before a confessed and discovered truth. The error of Job and his
friends was that they thought to measure the counsels of God, Job complaining that because he was righteous he ought not to be afflicted. Elihu on the other hand, in the face of the whirlwind, declared the Almighty " is excellent in power and in judgment and in plenty of justice : He will not afflict." He will not afflict without need, and in that power and justice and judgment, no less than in His mercy and love, let us place our absolute confidence. God, as the old proverb says, never smites with both hands at once; with one He strikes to afflict, but the other is uplifted behind to bless, to heal and to purify. We may rest assured that His Divine mind has a purpose, even though we do not see it.
And how is this truth enforced on Job ? It is by the unfolding to him all the wonders of the natural world; to him as to all the Gentiles the invisible things of God, even His eternal power and Godhead, could be seen chiefly through the creation of the world. To us, indeed, a far higher revelation has been made. If another Elihu were to appear before us to confirm our faith it would not be so much on the wonders of nature as on the still small voice of the Gospel, and of the spirit which tells us
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that by the life and death of Jesus Christ the counsels of God and the claims of men have been reconciled.
The Cross of Christ on Calvary is a pledge to us that the deepest suffering may be a condition of the highest blessing, the sign not of God's displeasure but of His mildest, tenderest, most compassionate love. Still, though we have been thus raised above the need of Elihu's ancient mission, yet a description of the natural world is often the best guide to us and the more so because our view of nature is so much fuller and vaster than it could be in the days of old. In the primeval ages of the world the fiery horse of the wilderness, the monsters of the Egyptian Nile, were more wonderful and were more dwelt upon even in the Bible than the sweet influences of the Pleiades or the bands of Orion, even more than the water course, more than the roar of the thunder, or the wave of the lightning. But to us who have been taught the immeasurable distances, the incalculable magnitude of these heavenly bodies which to the patriarchs seemed only to be twinkling points in the framework of heaven, to us who have been taught the beautiful system and arrangements of those movements of cloud and storms which in those old times must have seemed like sudden shocks and isolated convulsions — to- us the argument and closing speeches of the Book of Job are strengthened a hundred fold. We know that what we see is but the outskirts of creation, and the Power which rules this vast universe must be beyond the reach of our farthest imagination. Whatever else the discoveries of modern science teach, they teach, at least, this — the marvellous complexity and unbroken order of the material world.
They indicate to us how vast is the treasure-house of resources by which the immortality of each spirit, the inter-communion of spirit with spirit
and all with God may be sustained in a higher form, far beyond the reach of our thought or of our knowledge. Now we know, in part, and see through a glass darkly, but that infinite immensity in which the Divine presence dwells, and into which, as we humbly hope, we shall pass after death, we shall know even as we are known. A famous English philosopher dear to this Western world, Bishop Berkeley, whose footsteps and whose relics the traveler follows with increasing interest at Newport, at Hartford, at New Haven, and famed echoes of whose name have reached, I am told, even to the shores of the Pacific, has described a comparison which occurred to him in St. Paul's Cathedral in London. He saw a fly
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crawling upon a pillar, and he says : "It requires some comprehension in the eye of the intelligent spectator to take in at one view the various parts of the building in order to observe their symmetry and design; but to the fly, whose prospect was confined to a little part of one of the stones of a single pillar, the joined beauty of the whole or the distinct use of its parts were invisible, and nothing could appear but the small inequalities on the surface of the stone, which in the view of that insect seemed so many deformed rocks and precipices." That fly on the pillar in St. Paul's Cathedral is indeed the likeness of each human being as he creeps across the vast pillars which uphold the universe. That crushing sorrow which appears to us nothing but a yawning chasm or hideous obstruction may
turn out to be the joining ur cement that binds together the fragments of our existence into one solid whole.
That dark and crooked way through which we have to grope in doubt and fear may be in the sight of a superior intelligence but the tracery of some beautiful ornament or the plan of some majestic arch. Everything which enables us to see how the universe is one whole ; everything which shows to us that man is bound by subtle links with all other parts of creation ; everything which tells us how many of the miseries of the world and the wretchedness of improvidence, of intemperance, of sensuality, are also fatal breaches of the fixed rule of nature ; everything which confirms us in the belief that the revelation of the Infinite and Divine is not confined to a single race or church but pervades more or less all the religious instincts of mankind ; everything which impresses upon us the continuity and unity of the Divine and human, of the sacred and profane — everything which teaches us any of these lessons brings us into the frame of mind which the Bible and experience alike impress upon us as the one thing needful for the first principles of true religion.
And this leads to the third lesson contained in the last words of the Book of Job: "I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes." He was called from dwelling on himself and his own virtues to feel that he was in the presence of One to whom all earthly intelligence and wisdom seems insignificant. It was the same truth to which his friends had vainly endeavored to bring him, but could not because, as it so happens with speculative arguments, they combined it with a contradiction from which his
conscience and reason revolted. He was living in the assertion of his own innocence. His friends thought these calamities were judgments on
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his sins, yet still he was at last brought to confess that he had not thanked God, All these calamities are sent to us, and have the intention of telling us to take a serious and solemn view of our mortal condition. They bring us into the presence of Him before whom we must feel a sense of sin and infirmity. When we think of Him from whom nothing is hidden, and in the light of whose countenance our secret sins are set it is no mock humility, it is no self-inflicted degradation, but the symbolized expression of our most enlightened conscience to abhor ourselves and to repent in dust and ashes.
No doubt there is the consciousness in human nature that we are made in the image of God. We are the masters of our own destinies; but still the self-abasement of Job is not less a necessary element of that perfect and upright character of which he is represented the type. A high-souled churchman of the last generation used to say that his abhorrence of evil in himself and his loathing of it so increased that in latter days the confession of sin, which in youth had seemed to him exaggerated became the sincere voice of his heart, and not only in moral matters but intellectual matters also we learn this need of humility. How often do we hear ignorant,
half-educated men pronouncing on difficult problems of science and religion with a certainty which to maturer years seems absolutely ridiculous. We all of us young and old, need the grace of modesty and humility — the conviction that many of us, perhaps most of us, are but as dust and ashes, in the presence of the great oracles of wisdom, in the various branches of knowledge, whom God has in this, or in former ages, raised up among us. We all of us, in all professions, sacred no less than secular, need the willingness, need the eagerness, to be corrected by those who fear to tread where we rush boldly in. We all of us need the desire to improve ourselves by every light that can dawn upon us from the past or the present, from Heaven or from earth.
And lastly and fourthly, this sense of the vastness of the universe, or the imperfection of our own knowledge, may help us in some degree to understand, not, indeed, the origin of evil and suffering, but at any rate something of its possible uses and purposes. We look around the world and we see cruel perplexities; we see the useless remain, the useful taken away, the young and the happy depart, the old and the miserable linger on. We see happy households broken up. We see the failure of those to whom we have been accustomed to look up with reverence. We look
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on and we go through these trials with wonder and fear. We ask where-
unto this will grow. Yes, but that has been gained perchance which nothing else could have given us. We may have gained through these sufferings a deeper knowledge of the mind of God, a deeper insight into ours. Truths, which once seemed to be mere words uttered without understanding, may have thus become parts of our inmost life. In times past we could say, "I heard of God by the hearing of the ear, " but now we can say, " My eye seeth Thee." Humility for ourselves, self-abasement before the Judge of all mankind, charity for others — these are the gifts which often are the best results of distress, of doubt and of difficulty.
May I close these remarks by an illustration which I once heard from the lips of a rough seafaring man — one of few survivors of a great shipwreck which took place some ten years ago in the Bay of Biscay? As soon as those who had escaped from the sinking vessel found themselves in the small boat in which they had taken refuge, in the midst of the raging sea they found their chief danger came not from the solid massive sweep of waters, but from the angry breaking waves which, from time to time, descended upon them, and against which every eye and hand had to watch with unabated attention. As the shades of evening drew on, so the survivor told me, their hearts sank at the thought that in the darkness of the night it would be impossible to see these insidious breakers, and that sooner or later they would be caught and engulfed by them. But with the darkness there came a corresponding safety. Every one of these dangerous waves as it rolled towards them was crested with a phosphorescent light which showed its coming far off, and enabled the seamen to uard against it as carefully as though they had been in full light of day.
The spirits of the little crew revived, and those who from time to time — the cowards and desperadoes among them — were for turning back to the ship, were guided by these coruscations through the night, and in the early dawn they caught view of a distant vessel by which they were at last saved.
Mark that crest of phosphorescent light, On the top of those breaking billows is the light of Divine grace, the compensating force of Providence. In the darkness of this mortal life, and on the wave of this troublesome world, our perplexities and dangers and griefs bring with them or may bring with them their own remedy. On each bursting wave of disappointment and vexation there may be the grace of heavenly light which reveals the
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peril, and shows the wave and guides us through the roaring storm. Out of doubt may come faith, out of grief may come hope, and to the upright and godly disposed there rises light from darkness. With each new temptation there may come a way to escape, with each new difficulty there may come some new explanation. As life advances it does indeed sometimes seem to us as a vessel going to pieces, as though we were only broken fragments of a ship or a solitary skiff on the wide waste of waters; but so long as our mortal existence lasts we must not give up the duty of hoping. The sense that kept us back in youth from all intemperate glad-
ness — that same good instinct forbids unprofitable sadness. We must persevere until the morning breaks. That speck on the distant horizon may be the vessel by which we will shape our course. Forward, not backward, must we steer. The speck becomes a mass, and the mass becomes a ship. Have patience and perseverance, and believe that there is still a future before every one, and so we shall at last reach the haven where we would be.
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