The Mystery of God’s Providence (Part 1)
“Should it be according to thy mind?” (Job 34. 33)
This is the first half of a sermon preached by John E. Hazelton at Streatley Hall, London, on August 1st. 1909. The occasion of this wonderful discourse was the death of his only son.
The whole verse reads: “Should it be according to thy mind? He will recompense it, whether thou refuse, or whether thou choose; and not I: therefore speak what thou knowest”; but we will seek to confine our attention to the first clause. These are the words of Elihu to Job: “Should it be according to thy mind?”
When we read the Book of Job, the pathetic central figure pretty well absorbs our attention. Our hearts thrill as we gaze upon him. The book opens, and we see that man of God sitting in the midst of the calm and cloudless day of prosperity; a rich man, an influential man, a God-fearing man, a man evidently singularly happy in his domestic relations. And at eventide that same day a desolate dwelling! A rich man made poor! A father, absolutely childless! A God-fearing man on whom the enemy seems to have wrought pretty well all his will.
Then, succeeding that first chapter, we have alternations in the experience of Job of darkness and light – darkness that might be felt; light that came from God out of heaven. We see the fearful conflict between the unbelief of his heart and the faith of God’s elect of which he, by grace, was made a partaker. We see Job brought at last to acknowledge that God had a perfect right to do with him and his as it pleased Him. The fierce winds of adversity blow, and Job is like a tree shaken by those winds; a complete tornado of trial presses upon him, but like all sanctified trial, that very hurricane causes him to wrap his roots closer around the Rock of eternal ages, and from the heart of that dear man springs one of the most wonderful utterances in the whole of the Word of God: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13. 15).
So we have in Job a wonderful object-lesson of the blessed truth that “the just shall live by faith” (Heb. 10. 38). How are we kept amidst life’s trials? By the mighty power of God. Through what instrumentality? Through the instrumentality of faith. “Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1 Pet. 1. 5). Then our faith is the instrument by which we are kept. Yes, but above and beyond all that is the Keeper of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, who prays for all His people in life’s bitterest sorrows that their faith fail not.
Here is one of the questions that was asked by one of Job’s friends; not by one of the three, but by the youngest of all, Elihu. The questions of the Book of Job are not the least instructive part of this wonderful portion of God’s Word. Questions asked by God, questions asked by Satan, questions asked by Job, and questions asked by his four friends. Out of the old world, and from the centuries behind us, come those questions. How each question pierces today to the very heart of things, and how many replies voice the yearnings and experiences of God’s dear people as they face sorrow, change, pain and death!
Here is one question put by the Lord: “Wilt thou condemn Me, that thou mayest be righteous?” (Job 40. 8), and Job could not answer that. Here is Satan’s question: “Doth Job fear God for nought?” (Job 1. 9), and Satan received his answer. Here is Job’s question: “How should man be just with God?” (Job 9. 2). Each question is asked and answered by words full of peace and rest.
But to come to our text. It is a question asked by Elihu, the youngest of those five men. Elihu is a proper name, signifying “God is Jehovah.” In him we see a man of God inspired by the Holy Spirit as a divinely-commissioned messenger between God and Job. God sent Elihu with divine messages to His servant Job, and I take it, whilst not regarding Elihu exactly as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, he certainly shadows forth the Lord Jesus in many things that he says to Job.
What had Job been asserting? Certain things which Elihu was commissioned to meet. He was sent in love and mercy to reason with poor Job. Job had been complaining that God did not answer his prayers. Have you ever complained like that? I have again and again. Elihu took that up (read it when you get leisure). He reminded Job that God speaks in many ways, answers His people in many ways, and appears to them in ways that they do not expect. Job undoubtedly charges God with unjustness, with inflicting wrong upon him; and see how beautifully Elihu vindicates the power, wisdom, love and grace of God. Job complains that God’s providences are unsearchable. When I say Job, we read our names there, do we not? He complains that God’s providences are unsearchable, he chafes under them; so Elihu replies and answers Job. Then God speaks at last. He speaks to Job out of a whirlwind. What is the end of it all? Job says, “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” (Job 42. 5,6).
Let us now look at this question, “Should it be according to thy mind?” First of all A FACT is implied: secondly, THE TRUE REPLY to this question is a negative one; thirdly, there is THE RESPONSE which we are enabled to make to it when God raises up faith in act and exercise in our hearts.
First of all there is the fact, implied: “Should it be according to thy mind?” The fact is that things are not according to our mind. What things? Pretty well all things in relation to God’s providence.
Now I would put it in this way. No child of God here has all he wishes. Many of us, most of us, all of us have a great deal in our lives and in our lots that are crooks; they are very crooked things. “Should it be according to thy mind?” Can you make straight what God has made crooked, and what He in His lovingkindness and tender mercy has brought into your life, and brought into mine?
Here are the things. We deprecate them. We put them away as it were with our hands. We object to them. We strive against them. Between you and these things there is continual collision, and where there is collision, there is heat and wasting and pain.
Should these things be according to your mind? Job wanted everything according to his mind, and so do you and I. That bitter pang, that tearing up of your hopes by the roots, that unsuspected heritage of penury; are these things according to your mind? The anguished sick bed upon which you see those near and dear to you, or that you may occupy yourself; that crushing bereavement; that particular thing in your business or elsewhere. Are these things according to your mind? Should they be? That is what God says here by the Holy Ghost: “Should it be according to your mind?”
See how this question comes right home to us on this the first Lord’s day in August, 1909. More than three thousand years ago this question was asked, and the heart is the same as ever with regard to the things by which God’s people are surrounded. “Should they be according to our mind?” I should like them to be, and so would you, but God the Holy Ghost says here, “Should it be?”
What is the result of these things that are not according to our mind? We toil; O how we toil! The disciples, before the Lord spoke the word of peace, were “toiling in rowing” (Mark 6. 48), rowing against the wind and waves; “toiling in rowing,” and so we toil against these things. We fret and fume. God casts these things down and we attempt to rebuild them.
If I may speak for others, I am continually, in my folly and unbelief, attempting to rebuild what God has cast down. That building is not according to God’s mind, and therefore He has brought it down. I know it was in accordance with your mind, and you were fitting it together according to your own goodwill and pleasure. Vain regrets we indulge in for that which is lost. Almost – quite, is it? – almost there is a sense of injury in our hearts that things are not according to our mind, that they do not take the shape that we want them to take; that they refuse to answer to the moulding which our hands would bring about in relation to the affairs of our lives. We are just baffled, and when we feel baffled we get awfully rebellious, just like Job who said (I leave it to your consciences whether you have indulged the secret thought; Job had it out in words), “Thou art become cruel to me” (Job 30. 21). That is what he said to God! What a merciful God we have! He did not deal with Job accordingly. “Thou art become cruel to me,” because these things are not according to my mind.
Let us turn for a moment in the direction in which God inspired Elihu to direct Job’s attention. Job’s faith, although it died down, never died out. To Peter our Lord said, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22. 32). It did fail, but the word in the original is “die not out.” “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith die not out.” So Job’s faith died not out.
What are these things that are not according to our mind? They are according to the mind of our covenant-keeping God; they are according to the mind of Him who never inflicted one wrong on any of His dear children; they are according to the mind of Him who sees the end from the beginning; they are according to the mind of Him who is the Executor of His Father’s will, and whose heart is set not only upon the salvation, but the guidance of each of His dear people. They are according to the mind of Him who sitteth upon the throne. He causes all things that are not according to our mind to work together for the good of all of us that love God and are the called according to His purpose. They are according to the mind of Him of whom it was affirmed when on earth, “He hath done all things” beautifully “well” (Mark 7. 37). They are according to the mind of Him whose nature and whose name is Love. O what a word this is for our faith! “What I do,” said the Lord elsewhere, “what I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (John 13. 7).
Should it then be according to thy mind in this little span of life of ours – seventy or eighty or ninety years, but for most of us less than seventy? Eternity is coming, and in this little bit of eternity (for we are in eternity now; time is part of eternity) should it be according to our mind when we are loved with a love that streams from a past eternity, with a love that reaches to an eternity yet to come? He “maketh the clouds His chariot” (Psa. 104. 3), and every cloudy chariot moves upon the axle of everlasting love.
What is a cloud? How do you feel when you enter a cloud? It is a mist, it is a dimness, it is a fog. You do not know which way to go in a fog. The road with which you are most familiar becomes one in which you quickly lose your way. In a fog things appear far beyond their ordinary dimensions. You take a pathway which you believe to be the road, and soon you are enveloped in a mystery.
What are all these clouds? The chariot of a covenant-keeping God. He “maketh the clouds His chariot.” Where is God’s throne, His throne of grace, power and mercy? In the middle of all those clouds. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him: righteousness and judgement are the habitation of His throne” (Psa. 97. 2), but God is moving on His undisturbed affairs.
What are the two charioteers that draw the chariot of our covenant-keeping God in Christ? “Mercy and truth shall go before Thy face” (Psa. 89. 14). Our divine Saviour, the Lamb who died for us at Calvary, the “Lamb in the midst of the throne,” is moving on among His people in His cloudy chariots. Mercy – O the mercy of our God in Christ! mercy and truth, mercy and faithfulness, faithfulness to His God, the faithfulness of the covenant, faithfulness to you and to me – mercy and truth draw on these cloudy chariots of our God and surround His throne. Here, then, is the fact implied, that things are not according to our mind.
Once more in relation to the cloudiness of the dispensations of our God. Where does the Lord say He will appear? “I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat” (Lev. 16. 2).
You see everything here connected with the cloudy dispensations of our God and His appearing to His people is associated in type with the covenant. The mercy seat covered the ark of the covenant, representing the “covenant, ordered in all things, and sure” (2 Sam. 23. 5), and in this covenant are these things which are not according to our mind. “I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat” – in the density, in the gloom. The Lord Jehovah in the midst of the cloud. “But, Lord, every door is shut; every hope is cut off; things will never be the same to me again as they were!”
There follows a mist and a weeping ram, and life is never the same again; you know that in your troubles, don’t you? Life is never the same again. “Lord, I come to Thee for help, for blessing, for mercy, for a revelation afresh to my poor soul of Thy covenant love to me in Christ Jesus my Lord. Where can I turn with the shut doors?” “I am cut down like a tree” (see Job 19. 10), says Job.
“I will appear” – there is no contingency here – “I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.” O our blessing is, dear friends, that our God in Christ rules from the mercy seat. Our God in Christ rules on the basis of His covenant love everything concerning you and me. These things that are not, and cannot be, and ought not to be, according to our minds, are all being ruled by Him who sitteth upon the throne, and when we reach the other side – and perhaps it will not be long with some of us – when we reach the other side, shall we not be able to say, “Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints”? (Rev. 15. 3).
To be continued.
This article has been taken from the July edition of the Gospel Standard Magazine with the permission of the editor.