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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Job 29

 

 

Verse 2

THE PROVINCE OF FEELING IN RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

‘Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me.’

Job 29:2

Job was, indeed, terribly afflicted. He had lost all his property, and been bereaved of all his children; his wife had tempted him to curse God, and his friends, who had come to sympathise with him, had remained to pronounce condemnation on him. Naturally enough, therefore, he had for the time being come to think that God had forsaken him. But, natural though it was, this opinion was not true. For God was as really with him then as ever He had been, and he himself was as good a man as ever he had been. Nay, more, he had as much of God’s grace as ever he had been favoured with, only that had gone meanwhile into another direction than the emotional.

I. First, then, note that feeling follows intelligent conviction and belief of the truth of something that immediately concerns us as individuals.—It is not first the feeling and then the faith; but it is first intelligence, then faith, then direct and immediate personal interest in that which is believed, and then feeling. But if this be a correct analysis, you will see at a glance how far wrong those are who make the absence of feeling in them an excuse for not coming to Christ, as well as those who are constantly sighing and crying for more feeling of love to Christ as an evidence of the genuineness of their religion. Their error does not simply consist in putting too high a value upon feeling, but also in putting it into the wrong place.

Christian emotion is not to be sought directly as an end; but it will come through our understanding of, and belief in, those statements that are adapted and designed to produce it, each in its own order; first the intelligence, then the faith, then the feeling.

II. There can be no religion, in the Christian sense of that word, without feeling.—That must be evident from the truth already established that feeling follows faith. For if there be no feeling there has been no faith, and where there is no faith there is no religion, for ‘without faith it is impossible to please God.’ The emotional is just as truly a part of our nature as the intellectual or the moral, and as regeneration affects the whole nature, it must transfigure the emotional portion of it as really as the others. The new birth does not uproot or lop off any part of our humanity; it only takes the sin out of it all. It does not eradicate our feelings, but it Christianises them.

III. Feeling is not the whole of religion.—That which the Holy Ghost produces in us through faith in Jesus Christ is a whole new nature, and that nature includes the intellectual, the moral, and the volitional, as well as the emotional. Religion is character, and emotion is only one element of character. The important question, therefore, is not, What or how does a man feel? but, What is he? As the man is, so are his feelings. The feeling stands midway between the thinking and the acting, passing the one on, as it were, to the other; but it cannot be made a substitute for either, and only in the combination of the three have we the genuine holy character which is the outcome of regeneration.

IV. The feeling which does not lead to action, but terminates simply and only on itself, is always dangerous.—The feeling which does not spring from intelligent faith is fanaticism; on the other hand, that which does not lead to action is sentimentalism, and it is difficult to say which of the two is more pernicious. As Bishop Butler has put it in a very suggestive passage in his Analogy, ‘From our very faculty of habits, passive impressions, by being repeated, grow weaker.’

If emotion comes to be regarded as the whole of religion, and if it does not stimulate to holy activity, then by and by the emotion itself will disappear, and the heart will be hardened into utter impenetrability.

V. The feeling which leads to action is just for that reason less a matter of consciousness as feeling.—It becomes transmuted into conduct; and just as steam makes less noise when it is driving machinery than when it is being blown off, so the oftener feeling is transmuted into action the less does one come to be aware of the feeling that is in the action. A man may be advancing in moral excellence by that very course which deadens his consciousness to his emotions.

Illustration

‘In this chapter we have Job’s description of the past. It is introduced by a sigh, “Oh! that I were as in the months of old.” That condition is described first in its relation to God. They were days of fellowship in which he was conscious of the Divine watchfulness and guidance. Then in one sentence which has in it the sob of a great heart agony, he remembers his children, “My children were about me.” He next refers to the abounding prosperity, and finally to the esteem in which he was held by all classes of men, even to the highest. The secret of that esteem is then declared to have been his attitude toward men. He was the friend of all such as were in need. Clothed in righteousness, and crowned with justice, he administered the affairs of men so as to punish the oppressor and relieve the oppressed. He then describes his consciousness in those days. It was that of a sense of safety and of strength.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Job 29:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/job-29.html. 1876.

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