The verse for the sermon is Job 42:6, “Wherefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” It is a curious verse coming at the end of Job. Just Job having been afflicted ends up repenting.
Adams begins with the observation of the effect of affliction
Affliction is a winged chariot, that mounts up the soul toward heaven; or do we ever so rightly understand God’s majesty as when are not able to stand under our own misery.
There are many ways which God can use to get one’s attention, but affliction is most effective
But among them all, none despatcheth the business surer or sooner than affliction; if that fail to bring a man home, nothing can do it….Do we complain of incessant blows? Alas! He doth but his office, he waits for our repentance. Let us give him the messenger his errand, and he will begone. Let him take the proud man in hand, he will humble him; he can make the drunkard sober, the lascivious chaste, the angry patient, the covetous charitable; fetch the unthrift son back again to his father, whom a full purse had put into an itch of traveling. (Luke 15:17)
Having established that affliction should leave us to repentance, Adams considers three “degrees of mortification” of sin: the sickness, the death, and the burial of sin.
The humility of Job which brings about this repentance comes from a knowledge of God:
To study God is the way to make a humble man; and a humble man is in the way to come unto God.
(Again, this is consonant with Kierkegaard’s contention that one finds God in confession of sin: the wonder of being confronted with the eternal God brings about this humility, a knowledge of one’s sinfulness. This a sort of confession and humiliation which cannot be brought about by the skill of some preacher; it is a humility which flows from knowing God.)
Job’s humility flowed from two aspect of God’s nature: majesty and mercy. First majesty,
Of his majesty, which being so infinite, and beyond the comprehension of man, he considered by way or comparison, or relation to creatures [Since God’s majesty cannot be understood directly, God compares his strength to creatures which Job could know.]…Mathematicians wonder at the sun that, being so much bigger than the earth, doth not set it on fire and burn it to ashes; but here is the wonder that God being so infinitely great, and we so infinitely evil, we are not consumed.
And then mercy. If it were not for this mercy, we could not come to God.
This meditation on his mercy, than which nothing more humbles a heart of flesh.
We can understand a more powerful being withstanding us. But for one who has just cause against us, to show mercy in the midst of our knowledge of his power; that brings humility.
It is a certain conclusion; no proud man knows God.
How humility makes this possible:
Humility is not only a virtue itself; but a vessel to contain other virtures: like embers, which keep the fire alive that is hidden under it. It emptieth itself by a modest estimation of its own worth, that Christ may fill it. It wrestleth with God, like Jacob, and wins by yielding; and the lower it stoops to the gound the more advantage it gets to obtain the blessing. All our pride, O Lord, is from the want of knowing thee.
This knowledge of God in turn brings about the repentance for and mortification of sin.
At this point, it perhaps best to consider something which so often is missing in contemporary Christian life: the contemplation of God for his own sake. Americans (I cannot speak for others) want always to know what this information does; but is the practical application.
Now application is a great thing. But one sort of application which is noticeably absent is the application of contemplation: Just steadily thinking one, mediating, considering the thought that God is ….
It is nature of persons, that we can know one another only through some attention. We may gain a very superficial knowledge of a word or a sight; but actual appreciation for another person requires time and attention.
Perhaps our trouble with sin stems from too little knowledge of God. God is an abstraction; not personal. But a true knowledge of God would work humility and humility repentance.
Here is a thought. God is Father. Even before creation (if it makes any sense to say “before” when it comes to God), God is Father. The creation is an overflow of the joy and love of the Father. Our redemption flows from the love of God for us. Our glorification flows from the headwaters of God’s love as Father.
Sit alone with those thoughts. Consider that one truth and see what it brings about in you.