As we now approach the great discussion between Job and his friends, we desire to direct the reader’s attention to a significant matter, which seems of special interest for the right understanding of the controversy.
At the close of the account of Job’s first trial, and the manner in which he sustained it, the words occur: “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly;” that is, did not charge God with unreasonableness in so afflicting him. At the end of his second trial, the same words occur, with a variation, which is not without meaning: “In all this did not Job sin with his lips.” Such declarations are not afterwards repeated, and seem to be purposely introduced to mark the tendency of his state of feeling, and to assist our comprehension of his character. As Samuel, after many victories and deliverances, sets up a stone or pillar with this inscription, Eben ezer, the stone of help, saying, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,” 1Sa_7:12, so here the Holy Spirit erects, as it were, a pillar—sets up a monument of Job’s glorious victories over Satan, inscribed, we may say, with the words, “Hitherto Job sinned not;” and a good way on another, hearing the words: “Hitherto, Job sinned not with his lips.”
In the first case it is said absolutely that Job had escaped altogether unscathed and victorious. He had not even in thought charged God with unreasonableness or injustice. But in the second case the words of approbation are more guarded. It is no longer said that he “did not charged God foolishly,” no longer that he “sinned not;” but only that he “sinned not with his lips.” From the comparison of these two declarations, it appears to us clearly designed that we should understand that Job’s mind had already, at the point last indicated, been touched with some hard thoughts of God, but he had hitherto fought against them, and refused to give them utterance. Hence, although he has no longer the praise of being, even in thought, sinless in this matter, the lower praise is allowed him that he had not yet sinned with his lips. That this is at this point inserted, and is afterwards withheld, seems purposely intended to indicate that afterwards he did “charge God foolishly,” and did “sin with his lips.” At the end, after the Lord had spoken, he became deeply sensible of this himself, and confesses: “I uttered that I understood not…. 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.” It would seem that nothing can be plainer than this, as designedly indicating the estimate in which we are to hold many of Job’s complaints and some of his reasoning. Yet this has been very much overlooked, and there has been too much of a disposition to regard Job as triumphant in the controversy. The fact is, however, that all the parties to the controversy seem to he intended to be described as in the wrong, and Job himself, his strong mind being at length affected by his afflictions, does not seldom “charge God foolishly,” and “sin with his lips,” until the speech of Elihu, followed by one of greater majesty, though to the same purport, from the Lord himself, draws from his revived heart the memorable words we have cited.
Let us not, however, understand that when Job uttered the words that precede the declaration that he had not sinned with his lips—“Shall we receive good from the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?”—there was any hypocrisy in this good man, or that he glorified God with his mouth, while his heart entertained most different feelings. It is to his praise, not to his blame, that the fact is so stated. It is to show us, that, strengthened by the Lord’s grace, he had still a strong mastery over that which was human and earthly in his own spirit. Although the calamities of Job were prodigious, there was nothing prodigious in the operations of his mind and spirit, which passed through the same operations which we have all, at times, and in various degrees, experienced. And it is therefore not by looking into the clouds, but by looking to what takes place in the souls of the Lord’s servants in our own day, that we must hope to comprehend the trials of the saints of old. How often then does it not happen to us that one conceives evil imaginations, yet is enabled to hold them in, so that no evil words come from him. Thus the best of men may sometimes be tempted to be offended with God; and evil imaginations may pass through and rest for a moment in his mind, spurring him on to lift up himself against the Lord, and even to conceive blasphemies against Him. But by the mighty grace which has been given to him, he is enabled to hold in “the proud mind of the flesh,” and presently he “comes to himself,” and rebukes the ungodly impulse, sorrowing most of all that the Spirit’s temple has been defiled by thoughts of sin. We see, then, that in the midst of our temptations, God bestows upon us the grace to resist them, so that we come not to the extremity of openly blaspheming or reproaching Him. Yet let us not deem ourselves blameless for having conceived such thoughts, nor that we need not to condemn ourselves before God on account of them. But it is nevertheless permitted to us to find grounds of comfort in the assurance, that the Holy Spirit has wrought effectually in us when we have not consented to any such temptations nor cherished any liking for them. We may therefore well take the sentence under consideration in this sense—that Job, in not offending with his lips, came not, even for a moment, to extremities with God; but although he was sorely provoked to evil, he resisted, so that it overcame him not, and still steadfastly maintained the good fight of faith against it. In the first fight he was victorious, without a struggle; in the second, although still so far victorious, he has to fight hard for the victory.
There can be no doubt that thus far Job is still set forth to us as an example of patience. His mastering of the unruly tongue, is the very quality which the apostle James sets forth as a high point of Christian perfection; and we shall acquiesce, as we are bound to do, in this estimate, when we reflect how over-swift the tongue is to clothe the evil thought in words, so that it will often happen that it has been uttered almost before we are fully conscious that it has been conceived or entertained. He, therefore, who is enabled so to hold himself in, that under the severest trials, no ill-considered words—no words dishonoring God, fall from him, shows himself to be endowed with a grace of no mean account. Thus we see that Job is so far from showing any sturdiness against God, that even all his words are ordered well, and reflect no dishonor upon the Lord; and that where most men are apt to be light of speech, and unable to rule their tongues, Job has said nothing, in his great distress, but what becomes him well, and magnifies God in his servant. May the Lord grant to us also his grace, that no good or evil that may befall us in this house of our sojourning, may force us to cast forth words tending to the dishonor of his name or to the disparagement of his glory.