"Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?"Job 7:12.
Job was in great pain when he thus bitterly complained. These moans came from him when his skin was broken and had become loathsome and he sat upon a dunghill and scraped himself with a potsherd. We wonder at his patience, but we do not wonder at his impatience. He had fits of complaining, and failed in that very patience for which he was noted. Where God's saints are most glorious, there you will find their spots. The weaknesses of the saints lie near their strength. Elijah is the bravest of the brave, and flees from Jezebel; Moses is the meekest of the meek, and speaks in passion; Job is the most patient of men, and cries, "I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul." As part of his bitter complaint, he said, "Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?"
He seemed to be watched and whipped, and then watched again. It seemed to him that God concentrated all his strength upon him in afflicting him. He was beaten black and blue; and whereas other culprits had forty stripes save one, he had fifty stripes save none. He was spared no suffering, and he cries at last, "I am watched, and checked, as if I were a great sea needing always to be held in bounds or a terrible sea-monster wanting always a hook in its jaws. Lord, why dost thou harass me thus? I am such a poor, insignificant thing, that it seems out of thy usual way to be so rough upon one so feeble. The raging ocean, or the mighty leviathan, may need such watching, but why dost thou spend it on me? Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?"
I shall not moor myself to Job's sense of the words; but I shall spread my sail for a voyage further out to sea. This sort of talk may have been used by many a man who is now within hail of my voicemay have been used by sailors now before me.
Let me point out the channel along which I shall steer in my discourse. We shall begin by saying that some men seem to be narrowly watched by God. They think that the Lord's eye is as much fixed on them as though they were great as a sea, or huge as a whale. My second point will be, that they do not like this watching. They complain about it, and wish they could get rid of it. Therefore they argue against it with God. Our third head is, that their argument is a bad one. They think they are very hardly done by; but the fact is, that all they complain of is in love. See, my mess-mates, the way I shall try to steer; but if the heavenly wind blows me out of my course, don't be surprised if I tack about, and go nobody knows where.
I. I have, first, to say that SOME MEN SEEM TO BE SPECIALLY TRACKED AND WATCHED BY GOD. We hear of persons being "shadowed" by the police, and certain people feel as if they were shadowed by God; they are mysteriously tracked by the great Spirit, and they know and feel it. Wherever they go, an eye is upon them, and they cannot hide from it. They are like prisoners under arrestthey can never go out of reach of the law. They cannot get away from God, do what they may. There are men who have been in this condition for years; and they know what I mean.
All men are really surrounded by God. He is not far from every one of us. "In him we live, and move, and have our being." "Whither shall we flee from thy presence?" to the heights above, or to the depths beneath? to oceans frozen into ice, or seas whereon the sun shines with burning heat? In vain we rise or dive to escape from God. "Thou God seest me", is as true in the watches of the night as in the blaze of day. God is with us, and we are always beneath his eye. Yet there are certain people to whom this is more clear than it is to others.
Some are singularly aware of the presence of God. Certain of us never were without a sense of God. As children, we could not go to sleep till we said, "Our Father which art in heaven." As youths, we trembled if we heard God's holy name blasphemed. As men, engaged in the cares of life, we have seen the Lord's goodness, all along. We delight to see him in every flower that blooms, and to hear his voice in every wind that blows. It has made us happy to see God in his works. "The fool hath said in his heart, No God"; but this folly we never cared for. We knew that God was good, even when we felt we had offended him. He has taught us from our youth, and manifested himself to us. Softly has the whisper fallen on our ear, "God is near thee: God is with thee: God hath an ear to hear thee: God hath a heart to love thee: God hath a hand to help thee." I have known those who, even when they have sinned and gone against their consciences, have never at any time quite lost a sense of the nearness of God, even though its only fruit was feara fear which hath torment.
With others God's watch is seen in a different way. They feel that they are watched by God, because their conscience never ceases to rebuke them. The voice of conscience is not pitched to the same key in all men; neither is it equally loud in all people. Conscience can be made like a muzzled dog, and then it cannot bite the thief of sin. Conscience can grow like a man with a cold, who has lost his voice. But it is not so with all men, even after years of sin. Some have a naturally tender conscience, and while living in sin they are never easy. They make merry all the day, for "they count it one of the wisest things to drive dull care away"; but dull care, like the chickens, comes home to roost at night. The sailor in company is jolly; but if he has to keep a lone watch beneath the silent stars his heart begins to beat, and his conscience begins to call him to account for the follies of the day. He starts in his sleep; he dreams over his past sin and the judgment to come; for conscience will wake even when the rest of the man sleeps. "You were wrong", says conscience; and his voice is very solemn.
Even great sin in certain men has not prevented conscience speaking out honestly to them. Again and again the inward monitor cries, "You were wrong, and you will suffer for it." We read that "David's heart smote him": the heart deals us an ugly knock. When the blow is within us it tells. I am addressing some who, though they do not feel pleased about it, yet must know that there is a something within that will not let them sin cheaply. God has a bit in their mouths, and a bridle upon their jaws; and every now and then he gives a tug at it, and pulls them right up. They are not at home in sin. They have not yet got their sea-legs upon the ocean of vice. They sing the songs of the devil with a quake and a shake, which shows that the music does not suit them. Thus God has set a watch upon them: they carry a detective in their bosoms.
In some this watching has gone farther, for they are under solemn conviction of sin. They are convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come. God's custom-house officer has boarded them, and their smuggling is found out. I remember when I was in that state myselfa criminal who dared not deny his guilt, but dreaded punishment. I would not go back to that condition for a hundred worlds. Then there was no rest for me. I was only a youth; but boyish sports lost their relish for me, because I knew that I was a sinner, and that God must punish sin. I awoke in the morning, and my first act for many a day was to read a chapter of the Bible, or a page of some arousing book, which kept my conscience still awake. The Holy Spirit put me in irons, and there I lay both day and night. My bed was at times a very weary place to me, because the eyes of God's anger seemed to be ever watching me. I knew I had offended God, and I had not yet found out the way of reconciliation by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Now, it may be that I speak to some here, who have been to the ends of the earth, and they have said, "Well, when we get away where the Sabbath bell is never heard, we shall get rid of these fears, and take our swing in sin." They sailed off, and as soon as they reached port, they hurried to a place of vicious amusement, where no one knew them. But the dog of fear howled at their heels, and merriment seemed mockery to them. On the lone ocean the very stars pierced their hearts with their rays. At length their mess-mates began to notice it and call them Old Sobersides. "Jack, what ails you?" was the frequent question; and well it might be, for Jack was very heavy, and it is hard to be merry with a broken heart. In some such fashion as this the man feels that God has set a watch upon him, and that he has become like a sea which never rests, or a whale which roams the waste of water, and knows no home. God watched him; and though he would gladly have run the blockade, he could not find an hour in which his vessel was left alone.
Certain men are not only plagued by conscience and dogged by fear, but the providence of God seems to have gone out against them. Just when the man had resolved to have a bout of drinking, he fell sick of a fever, and had to go to the hospital. He was going to a dance; but he became so weak that he had not a leg to stand upon. He was forced to toss to and fro on the bed, to quite another tune from that which pleases the ball-room. He had yellow fever, and was long in pulling round. God watched him, and put the skid on him just as he meant to have a break-neck run downhill. The man gets better, and he says to himself, "I will have a good time now." But then he is out of berth, and perhaps he cannot get a ship for months, and he is brought down to poverty. "Dear me!" he says, "everything goes against me. I am a marked man"; and so he is. Just when he thinks that he is going to have a fair wind, a tempest comes on and drives him out of his course, and he sees rocks ahead. After a while he thinks, "Now I am all right. Jack is himself again, and piping times have come." A storm hurries up; the ship goes down, and he loses all but the clothes he has on his back. He is in a wretched plight: a shipwrecked mariner, far from home. God seems to pursue him even as he did Jonah. He carries with him misfortune for others, and he might well cry, "Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?" Nothing prospers. His tacklings are loosed; he cannot well strengthen his mast; his ship leaks; his sails are rent; his yards are snapped; and he cannot make it out. Other people seem to get on, though they are worse than he is. Time was when he used to be lucky too; but now he has parted company with success, and carries the black flag of distress. He is driven to and fro by contrary winds; he makes no headway; he is a miserable man, and would wish that the whole thing would go to the bottom, only he dreads a place which has no bottom, from which there is no escape, if once you sink into it. The providence of God runs hard against him, and thus he sees himself to be a watched man.
Yes, and God also watches over many in the way of admonition. Wherever they go, holy warnings follow them. They cannot escape from those who would be friends to their souls. They seem to be surrounded with a ring of prayers and sermons and holy talks. The boy said, "If I could get away from my mother I should be free! I have been tied long enough to her apron strings. I am old enough to do as I like. If I can get away from my father's chidings and prayings, I shall have a fine time of it." So the boy ran away and went to sea; and when he got on board, a good old sailor tackled him, and talked to him about his soul; and then another pleaded with him. The boy said to himself, "Why, I have got out of the frying-pan into the fire. I came here to be out of the way of religion and here it is!" I have known a sailor to go from port to port, and wherever he has landed there has been some gracious man or woman waiting to lead him to Christ. May it be often so! May the Bethel flag be found flying in all waters, till every runaway says, "Why, I am watched wherever I go!" May it be as it was with our dear friends Fullerton and Smith on board the steamboat! Mr. Fullerton spoke to a rough man, and asked him if he was saved; and the man was angry, cross, vexed, and went to the other side of the vessel. There he complained to Mr. Smith, "That man over there asked me if I was saved; he is a fool!" "Very likely", said Smith; "but then, you see, he is a fool for Christ. I think it is better to be a fool for Jesus than to be wise for the devil." He began to plead with him, when the man cried out, "There is a regular gang of them; I cannot go anywhere but they are on to me." It has been made hot for some of you by the British and Foreign Sailors' Society, which has placed missionaries in so many ports. "There's a gang of them", and wherever you go you stumble on an earnest Christian man, who will not let you alone. If I could stir up Christian people here, I would make it hard for sinners, so that wherever they went they would find a hand outstretched to stop them from going to destruction. Oh, that each one might be met with tears and entreaties; that thus each one might be snatched from the waves of fire and landed on the rock of salvation! Some here present have had to dodge a great deal to keep out of the way of gospel shots. Their track has been followed by mercy, and they have been pursued by swift cruisers of grace. They have been like fish taken in a netsurrounded on all sides, and neither able to pass through the meshes, nor to break the net, nor to leap out of it. Oh, that the net of Christ's love may so entangle; you all, that you may be his for ever!
That is our first point: there are some men who seem specially watched of God.
II. Secondly, we notice that THEY ARE VERY APT TO DISLIKE THIS WATCHING. Job is not pleased with it. He asks, "Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?" These people, to whom God pays such attention, are foolish enough to murmur that they are so hedged in, and they are vexed to be made to feel that God has his eye upon them.
Do you know what they would like? They want liberty to sin. They would like to be let loose, and to be allowed to do just as their wild wills would suggest to them. They would cast off every restraint and have their fling of what the world calls "pleasure." They would climb from sin to sin, hand over hand. They would like to empty all the cups on the devil's sideboard, and be as merry as the worst of men when they are taking it free and easy. That is why they would send their consciences to sleep, drown their fears, and escape from chastening providences and warning admonitions. They would like to live where no Christian person would ever worry them again with wearisome exhortation. They demand liberty: liberty to put their hand into the fire! liberty to ruin themselves! liberty to leap into hell before their time! Liberty! what destruction has been wrought in thy name! Free thinking! Free living! Free loving and all that! What misuse of terms! What a libel upon the name of freedom, to use the word "free" in connection with the slavery of sin! Yet, I am speaking to some who say, "That is just what I want. I want to cut myself clear of all this hamper which blocks me up from having my own way." Ah me! this is the cry of a man who is bent on soul-suicide!
They wish also that they could be as hard of heart as many others are. Some men can drink any quantity, and yet do not seem as if they were greatly affected by it; and many a young sailor has wished that he could pour down his grog without a wink, after the style of the old toper. He meets with a foul-mouthed being who can swear till all is blue, while he himself has only dropped an oath or two, and then felt wretched. The young man begins to wish that he was as tough as old Jack, and as much a dare-devil as he. The hardened profligate is foolishly envied, and looked upon as a man of "pluck." But is it true bravery to ruin one's soul? Is it manly to be wicked? Is it a great gain to have a seared conscience We don't envy the blind because they cannot see danger, nor the deaf because they cannot hear an alarm; and why envy the hardened old sinner because he has become spiritually blind and deaf? There are monsters, both on land and on sea, whose very breath is pestilent, and whose talk is enough to choke up a town with vice; and yet certain young men, whom God will not allow to descend into such rottenness, are almost angry that they are restrained. A tender conscience is a great possession, but these simple ones know not its value. They wish that they could have a heart as hard as the nether millstone. Ah, poor souls! you know not what you wish; for you have no idea how deep is the curse that lies in a callous conscience. When God gave Pharaoh up to hardness of heart, it was a tremendous punishment for his pride and cruelty; and, short of hell, there is no judgment that God can inflict like letting a man have his own way. "Let him alone", says God, "he is joined to idols"; and if the Lord says that, there is only one other word more dreadful, and that is the final sentence,"Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." O you beginners in vice who cannot yet stifle the cries of your suffering consciences, I pray that you may see your folly, and no longer do violence to your own mercy.
Men do not like this being surrounded by Godthis wearing the bit and kicking strapbecause they would drop God from their thoughts. If to-morrow we could hear, by telegram from heaven, that God was dead, what crowds would buy the newspaper! It would be the greatest relief in the world to many a godless wretch if he could feel sure that there was no God. To some of us this news would be death: we should have lost our Father, our Comforter, our Savior, our all. Alas! many wish that there were no God; and if they cannot persuade themselves that there is noneand it is very hard for a sailor to do thatyet they try to forget him. If God is out of mind, he is as good as out of the world to the careless sinner. When God comes with inward fears, and awakens conscience, and sends cross providences, so that the man feels pulled up and made to pause; then he knows that there is a God, for he feels a power which works against his sin, from which he cannot get away. He longs to be clear of this secret force; but it wraps him about on every side. He does not read his Bible, and yet Scripture rises in his memory. It is long since he bent his knee in prayer; he has almost forgotten what his mother said to him when she lay a-dying; but still he feels that there is a God, and, somehow, that belief sounds a trumpet blast through his soul, summoning him to his last account. Come to judgment! Come to judgment! Come to judgment! The call rings in his ears, and he cannot get away from the terrible sound. Then it is that he cries "Why am I thus? Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?"
Once more, there are some who do not like to be shadowed in this way, because they want to have their will with others. Shall I speak a sharp word, like a two-edged sword? There are menand seamen to be found among themwho are not satisfied with being ruined themselves, but they thirst to ruin others. They lay traps for precious souls, and they are vexed that their victims should escape them. They are angry because certain poor women are not altogether in their power. Woe unto the men who lead women astray! I have heard of sailors who, in every port they enter, try to ruin others. I charge you to remember that you will have to face these ruined ones at the day of judgment. You sailed away, and they never knew where you went; but the Lord knew. It may be, when you lie in hell, eyes will find you out, and a voice will cry aloud, "Are you here? You are the man that led me to perdition!" You will have to keep everlasting company with those whom you dragged down to hell; and these will for ever curse you to your face. I say there are men who would like to have full license to commit wantonness, and they are grieved that they are hindered in their carnival of sin. May God grant that you may be stopped altogether; and instead of lusting to pollute others, may you have a desire to save them! May God grant that the channel of evil may be blocked for you, and may you be piloted into the waters of repentance and faith!
This is why some kick against God. I fear these people will be much vexed with me for speaking so plainly; but you must not think that it will alarm me should you be angry. I am rather glad when fellows get angry with my preaching. "Oh", I say to myself, "those fish feel the hook in their jaws, and so they struggle to escape." Of course a fish does not like the hook which lays hold of him. These angry hearers will come again. You people with whom the sermon goes in at one ear and out at the other, you get no good whatever; but a man who fires up with wrath, and says, "How dare that fellow speak thus to me?" is sure to listen again; and it is very likely that God will bless him. But whether it offends you or pleases youI repeat my warningI charge you, do not drag others down to hell with you. If you must go there yourselves, seek not to destroy those around you. Do not teach boys to drink, and to swear; neither tempt frail women to commit uncleanness with you. God help you to shake off all vice; for I know that vile habits are often the reason why men kick against the restraint of God's loving hand.
III. And now I have got to the very heart of my text. The third part is thisthat THIS ARGUMENT AGAINST THE LORD'S DEALINGS IS A VERY BAD ONE. Job says, "Am I a sea, or whale, that thou settest a watch over me?" Listen. To argue from our insignificance is poor pleading; for the little things are just those against which there is most need to watch. If you were a sea, or a whale, God might leave you alone; but as you are a feeble and sinful creature, which can do more hurt than a sea, or a whale, you need constant watching. In life, men fall by very little things. One does not need to watch against his dog one half so much as against a horse-fly, or a mosquito, for these will sting you when you least expect it. The little things want most watching, therefore it is poor reasoning when we complain that God watches us as if we were a sea, or a whale.
After all, there is not a man here who is not very like a sea, or a sea-monster in this respect, that he needs a watch to be set over him. A man's heart is as changeable and as deceitful as the sea. To-day it is calm as a sea of glass, unruffled by a breath of air. Oh, trust not yourself upon it, for before to-morrow's sun is up, your nature may be rolling in tremendous billows of passion. You cannot trust the sea, but it is more worthy of confidence than your heart. Here you are to-night, and oh, how good you look as you sit and listen, and then stand up and sing! Ah, my men! I should not like to hear you if you take to blaspheming your Maker, as many do. When you are down in the forecastle with a little band of praying men, how very good you feel! Let us see you when you are on shore, and there is plenty of grog about. It is easy to have a calm sea when there is no wind, but how different is the ocean when a gale is blowing! We are all very well when far away from temptation, but how are we when the devil's servants are around us? Then, I fear, that too often good resolutions prove to be
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