The Self-abhorrence of Job
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
Then Job replied to the LORD: "I know that You can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."
Before Job's trials began, we read of him that he was "perfect and upright — and one who feared God, and turned away from evil." Nay, the Lord Himself spoke of him thus to Satan: "Have you considered My servant Job — that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil?"
But Satan got permission to try him — and then trial after trial came upon him. His children died; his property was lost; and he was smitten with a loathsome disease! How did Job bear it?
Let him answer the question himself. "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." Here he speaks of himself and describes how he had felt and spoken under his afflictions. With all his patience and trust in God, such trust as led him even to say, "Though He slays me — yet will I trust in Him" — yet we do find in him some signs of a lack of thorough submission to the will of God, some repinings and complaints, some rash and inconsiderate words. And if we can trace such things in him — much more doubtless did his own heart accuse him of, when he became truly and deeply humbled before God.
But did such a man as Job need humbling? It seems so. As good and upright as he was — we find in him at first some disposition to justify himself and to take his stand upon his own integrity. It is not until he has been long and sorely tried, that we hear him say, "Therefore I despise myself — and repent in dust and ashes." It is said of him indeed at the very first, that he was a perfect man. But this does not mean that he was without fault, but only that he was sincere and upright before God, desiring to do all His will. He had much to learn — and much did God teach him by means of affliction. The chief lesson seems to have been humility. He was a far more humble man after his trials, than before them.
Satan meant to do him harm — but God intended him nothing but good. The tempter overshot his mark. His design was to lead this holy man into sin, and to bring him in his distress to curse God. But God brought this design to nothing, and overruled all for the good of His servant. Far from rebelling against his Master — he was brought into a more entire submission to His will. The trials that were designed by Satan to separate him from God — brought him nearer than ever; and, not to speak of the prosperity which God restored to him, it was perhaps the greatest blessing of his life that he was brought to say from the heart, "Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes!" Thus did God, in infinite wisdom and goodness — disappoint the design of Satan, and turn that to good which was meant for evil.
This history throws light upon the case of many of God's servants. We all need humbling. We need to have all remaining self-righteousness brought down and to be led to that deep self-abasement which is expressed in the words of Job, "Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes!" God often does this work in us, by means of affliction. Sometimes perhaps the affliction is more allowed — than sent, by Him, as in the case of Job. But whether sent or only allowed — it comes by the will of God (it could not come without), and God works good by it to the soul.
Satan means the affliction to cause pain, sorrow, vexation of spirit, and departure from God. But God ordains it to produce humility, patience, trust, resignation to His will, and the drawing of the heart nearer to Himself. How wonderful are His dealings — how wise, how gracious! We can see a little of this now — we shall see more hereafter.
It was a happy thing for Job, to be brought to such deep humility. It is a happy thing for any. But why? Merely for the sake of the humility itself? Merely that we may cast away pride, and take our right place before God? No — far more than that.
To speak now not of Job, but of ourselves — the more deeply we repent, and the more we abhor ourselves for the sin which we discover in ourselves — the more simply and firmly shall we cling to the hope set before us in Christ. It is not until a man learns in heart that he is a sinner — that he looks to Christ in faith at all. And even after he has learned to look to Him — still, as he grows in the knowledge of his own sinful heart — so does he grow in the knowledge of Christ as his all-sufficient Savior.
Some would call it poor progress, to be ever finding out more and more our own unworthiness. But it is in fact true progress — the progress which Job made under his trials, the progress which all who are truly taught of God are continually making, many of them like Job in the school of affliction. None do so trust in and love their Savior — as those who have been brought to a very deep sense of unworthiness. To none does the blood of Jesus seem so precious — as to those who have been led in very deed to abhor themselves for sin. There is much so-called repentance that stops short of this. It lacks depth — and, lacking depth, it is not likely to be followed by a full rejoicing in Christ.
At the close of his long trial Job said, "I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear — but now my eye sees You!" Job 42:6
What did he mean? Probably, that while he had long known God, as having heard of Him, and in a measure believed in and served Him, yet . . .
now he knew Him far more deeply and closely,
now he had experienced His dealings,
now he had had great searchings of heart,
now he had learned far more of God than ever he knew before.
How many can say the same! How many can think of some time of sore affliction — and see that at that season and by that means, they learned to know God in a way they had never known Him before — more closely, more deeply, more lovingly. Yes, more lovingly. For this is what God is leading His children to by all His dealings — to know His love to them more, and to love Him more in return.
How many inward comforts does He send in the time of trial!
What deep searchings of heart go on in the silence of a sick-room!
How many earnest prayers are sent up thence!
What sweet thoughts of Christ are given — what a sense of pardon, what peace, what love, what a manifestation of Christ to the soul!
These are the gifts of God — the work of His Spirit the Comforter — the blessings of sanctified affliction!
Shall we repine when God's chastening hand is laid upon us? Ah, no! Rather let us . . .
look well into our own hearts,
and search out the root of self-righteousness,
and humble ourselves before God,
and shelter ourselves more closely under the shadow of His wing.
He is teaching us and blessing us now. And if, under His teaching, we find ourselves distressed by a new and deeper feeling of sin — yet let us then think that we are but learning Job's lesson; and let us be led to cast ourselves more earnestly and entirely upon the merits of Christ our Savior, that in Him we may find rest to our souls.