by Thomas Boston
Text: Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee, Job 22:21
ELIPHAZ, having laid grievous crimes to Job’s charge as being the procuring cause of his trouble, in this text delivers a notable counsel to him in his trouble. (But Eliphaz, in supposing Job to be a false hypocrite and a stranger to Christ, acts on false grounds). These words, however, are a seasonable advice in an evil time: good counsel in ill times.
In them we see the advice itself which is twofold: “Acquaint thyself with him”. This supposes (but mistakenly) that Job is unacquainted with Christ; so Eliphaz advises him to study the knowledge of, and acquaintance with Him. We see also the special season when this is to be done: “now”, which denotes firstly, the present time; that it is to be done without delay. Secondly, it denotes the determinate kind of time, that is: “Now, when trouble is upon you, God is angry and pleads His controversy with you for those sins before mentioned.” Lastly, we see the motive for embracing this advice, taken from the advantage of the practice of it: “thereby good shall come unto thee”.
The doctrine of the text is that acquaintance with Christ is the best security in ill times.
With regard to this doctrine, I shall first enquire into the nature of acquaintance with Christ; secondly, I shall confirm the doctrine; and thirdly, I shall exhort you as to the use of the doctrine.
First, with regard to this doctrine, I shall enquire into the nature of acquaintance with Christ.
There are some things that acquaintance with Christ presupposes. First, it presupposes objective light and revelation of Christ in the gospel. “How shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” Romans 10:14,15. This acquaintance is made by the word preached (Ephesians 1:13 and 3:8,9), so that none can have this acquaintance but those to whom the gospel comes. Therefore the gospel is called “a light shining in a dark place”, 2 Peter 1:19, and the places which are without the gospel are “dark places”, Psalm 74:20.
Acquaintance with Christ also presupposes subjective light in the understanding, whereby the soul is made capable of knowing Christ. For what avails it to a blind man though the sun be in the meridian, or to a natural man that Christ is revealed in the gospel? By this subjective light I do not mean the Arminian and Quaker light which they make to be equal with the light of nature. Their light is nothing else but the poor relic of man’s reason ruined by the Fall, and is utterly unable for attaining to the saving knowledge of Christ that is absolutely necessary to salvation (2 Corinthians 2:14). Or else their light is a mere fancy of their own brains. For what is man by nature but a mere compound of darkness. “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord,” Ephesians 5:8. “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven,” Matt. 16:17. But I understand by this subjective light a supernatural light infused by the Spirit into the hearts of the elect. By these heavenly beams they are enabled to know Him. This is pointed at in 1 John 2:20, “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things,” and in John 6:45, “It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me”. Therefore David prays, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law,” Psalm 119:18. All other light will be doleful light at the end: “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow,” Isaiah 50:11.
Thirdly, this acquaintance with Christ presupposes acquaintance with ourselves. We must be acquainted with ourselves as sinners before we can be acquainted with Christ, for He said, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” Matthew 9:13. The prodigal came to himself before he came home to his father (Luke 15:17). So it was with Paul. “I was alive without the law once,” he said, “but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died,” Romans 7:9.
There are these three or four things we must be acquainted with in ourselves before we can be acquainted with Christ: first, our sinfulness, the sinfulness of our nature especially, as in the case of the publican praying in the temple, Luke 18:13. “The whole need not the physician,” Matthew 9:12. And this acquaintance with our sinfulness must be particular, real, heart-weighing and demonstrative of the sinfulness of sin.
We must be acquainted also with our misery following on sin. “When they heard this, they were pricked in their heart,” Acts 2:37. We must have a real sight of that load of wrath due to us for sin, which will sting the conscience, as in the prodigal when he came to himself, Luke 15:17. None will acquaint himself with Christ that know not himself to be deadly wounded.
And we must know our utter inability to help ourselves, and consequently our absolute need of Jesus Christ. Till folk are acquainted with this, any salve will cure their sores only seemingly.
The fourth thing which acquaintance with Christ presupposes is knowledge of what He is in Himself, and His absolute perfection. It is an acquaintance with Him in His person and natures; it is an acquaintance with Him as God and man. The disciples, knowing that He was “the Son of man”, said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Matthew 16:16, (compare with verse 13). It is acquaintance with Him especially in the transcendent excellence of His person. “He is altogether lovely,” Song 5:16. It is acquaintance with Him in His offices as prophet, priest, and king: in a word, as a Saviour.
It is acquaintance with Him, first, as a crucified Saviour (1 Corinthians 2:2). As such, He is the Alpha and Omega of the gospel. It was Christ crucified whom the apostles made known. “Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you,” Galatians 3:1. And thus was He known in the Old Testament dispensation, as we see in Isaiah 53:4 and 5, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities.”
It is acquaintance with Him also as a complete Saviour, “able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him”, Hebrews 7:25; able to do all that has to be done for the salvation of all those that lay hold on Him. “In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength,” Isaiah 26:4. “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day,” 2 Timothy 1:12. Hence the gospel is a preaching of the unsearchable riches of Christ, and believers are acquainted with His overflowing fullness (John 1:16). They are acquainted with Him as the alone satisfying portion fully commensurate unto their desires. “There is none upon earth that I desire beside thee,” Psalm 73:25. To them, Christ is all, and instead of all. To them, He is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11). Hence Paul, who had little, tells us he had all, and abounded (Philippians 4:18).
It is acquaintance with Him as the only Saviour. “Neither is there salvation in any other,” Acts 4:12. “Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains: truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel,” Jeremiah 3:23. Paul speaks thus in the name of all believers with respect to their justification by faith in Him alone, “…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ,” Galatians 2:16.
It is acquaintance with Him as a willing Saviour, ready and willing to help. “He hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten and he will bind us up,” Hosea 6:1. “In thee the fatherless findeth mercy,” Hosea 14:3.
Without such acquaintance with Christ, the knowledge of Him would be but killing light. But for the better understanding of this acquaintance with Him, I shall give you some marks of it.
First, it engages the soul to believe in Him, to lay all the weight of their souls and their other concerns on Him. “They that know thy name will put their trust in thee,” Psalm 9:10. “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” Song 8:5.
Secondly, this acquaintance engages the soul to employ Him for the supply of all their wants. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water,” John 4:10. They run to Him in all their straits. “I cried unto thee, O Lord; I said, thou art my refuge,” Psalm 142:5.
This acquaintance with Christ exalts Him. “Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips,” Psalm 45:2. “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord,” Philippians 3:8,9. It exalts Him in the understanding. They see a transcendent excellency in Him (Song 5). In the will they choose Him above all: “God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever,” Psalm 73:26. In the affections they love Him, and delight in Him above all. “There is none upon earth that I desire beside thee,” Psalm 73:25 it is a delighting in Him more than in all lawful comforts.
Fourthly, it is a self-abasing acquaintance. “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips,” Isaiah 6:5. “Now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes,” Job 42:5,6. As the sun shining makes the dust in the air to appear, so the more acquainted with Christ a soul is, the more vile it is in its own eyes. Paul viewed himself as the least, yea, less than the least of saints, and the chief of sinners; David, as a worm and not a man; and Jacob, as unworthy of the least of God’s mercies.
Fifthly, it is a sin-excluding acquaintance. “What have I to do any more with idols?” Hosea 14:8. The more a man knows Christ, the more holy he is. “I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity,” Psalm 18:23.
Sixthly, this acquaintance is world-depressing. “I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad,” Psalm 119:96. “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,” Philippians 3:8,9. Solomon counts them vanity and vexation of spirit. They that know not gold think much of counters [imitation coins].
Lastly, acquaintance with Christ moves the soul to concern for His glory, “If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy,” Psalm 137:6. But alas! there is a spirit raging nowadays, as in the business of Caledonia,2 whereby men are ready to sacrifice all, even religion itself, to their interests in such ventures.
Secondly, I shall confirm the doctrine that acquaintance with Christ is the best security in ill times.
This is clear if you consider, first, that come what will come, those that are acquainted with Christ know Him as a refuge: a hiding-place to run to when all else fails. “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O Lord; I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living,” Psalm 142:4,5. “A man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest,” Isaiah 32:2. They who are acquainted with Christ have chambers provided for them when there is a storm: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast,” Isaiah 26:20. Troubles may break down the Christian’s outworks, but he shall be safe, “He shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure,” Isaiah 33:16.
Acquaintance with Christ is the best security because He is the sovereign manager and disposer of all things, and so they can meet with nothing but what comes through Christ’s fingers to them. The Father “hath committed all judgement unto the Son”, John 5:22. Therefore it is glad news to Zion that Christ reigns: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” Isaiah 52:7.
Thirdly, they who have acquaintance with Christ have His promise for their security, come what will come, as the whole of Psalm 91 shows. And as Psalm 37:19 says, “They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.” It is true that these being temporal promises are only conditional, but they assure Christ’s acquaintances of this: that whatever is best for them, they shall get.
Fourthly, lose what they will, they cannot be broken as long as Christ is theirs; their portion lasts still. “The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock,” Psalm 18:46. See also Habakkuk 3:17-19. The portion of those who have acquaintance with Christ is laid up where none can take it away. And other portions are of no worth: “Their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges,” Deuteronomy 32:31.
Lastly, the experience of the godly shows that acquaintance with Christ is the best security in ill times. Noah in the old world, Lot in Sodom, Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua among the children of Israel, and the Christians among the Jews at the time of Jerusalem’s ruin, having this acquaintance with Christ, were secure in Him.
Thirdly, I shall exhort you as to the use of the doctrine that acquaintance with Christ is the best security in ill times.
Be exhorted then to acquaint yourselves now with Christ; acquaint yourselves with Him in this our day, which seems to be a dark and cloudy day.
Acquaint yourselves with Him now when the Lord has made a spectacle of the inhabitants of this land for present and former abominations, and wrath from the Lord has gone out against us. “By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation,” Psalm 65:5. He has sent us scarcity of bread, sickness, and other troubles for several years past, and now even at this present time He has defeated the design for advancing the trade of the nation. He has turned our joy into mourning, and made us a reproach among our neighbours. He has turned to be our enemy and has fought against us.
Why are our valiant men swept away? “They stood not because the Lord did drive them,” Jeremiah 46:16. They proclaimed a toleration to the enemies of God of all sorts, to the reproach of the nation and the disgrace of our religion, and God renounced protecting of them.
Acquaint yourselves with Him now when wrath seems to be on the growing hand, and “the decree ready to bring forth,” Zephaniah 2:2. A more sad stroke is ready to come upon us; whereof there are several sad symptoms, such as our incorrigibleness under easier rods (Amos 4:1-12); and a departing God and glory. We have ordinances, but where is the God of ordinances; Elijah’s mantle, but where is the God of Elijah? “Yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!” Hosea 9:12 Maybe some would take it for a light stroke if the Lord should remove the gospel, but see Hosea chapter two, verse eleven (“I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts”) along with verse nine (“Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness”).
The general security presages a stroke. The very pillars of the land are sadly failed – I mean those of the praying party – “there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee,” Isaiah 64:7. What carnality and indifference has seized on them!
The present state of affairs that hath such a direct tendency to our ruin, and men carrying on their dishonest designs under fair colours and pretences such confusions and commotions among us are sad tokens. “The anger of the Lord hath divided us; he will no more regard us,” Lamentations 4:16. And there seems to be a spirit in our day of drawing down a stroke upon ourselves with our own hands. Wherefore acquaint yourselves now with Christ. “Cursed be the man that trusteth in man”, but he that makes Christ his refuge shall be safe, though all should go to confusion, and mountains be cast into the sea.
THOMAS BOSTON (1676-1732) was ordained as the parish minister of Simprin in 1699, and in 1707 was translated to Ettrick, where his ministry was most fruitful. His most influential work, Human Nature in its Fourfold State, has been reprinted about 100 times and in several languages, the latest being an edition in Russian published by the Dutch church, Gereformeerde Gemeenten. -Ed.
1. This sermon, which has never been published, was preached at Kelso on Wednesday, 14th July, 1700. The people of Scotland were then passing through “ill times”, as Boston calls them, and had many hardships due to a series of economic and social disasters in the previous seven years. There was also a great decline of spirituality in the church and of morals in the nation. The Church of Scotland General Assembly, which met at the beginning of February, 1700, therefore acknowledged the nation’s “continued unfaithfulness to God, notwithstanding of our solemn covenants and engagements”, and appointed a national fast for Thursday, 28th March.
The sermon has been transcribed by a friend from the manuscript of Boston’s original notes. The transcriber has followed the method of previous transcribers of Boston’s manuscripts: he has given an exact transcript of the original but has corrected obvious mistakes, modernised spelling, inserted punctuation, and given references for Scripture quotations. However, it has been necessary for us, because of the obscurity of some words and phrases, to do some further editing for present publication.
2. “the business of Caledonia” was the high-risk venture, at the end of the seventeenth century, for establishing the Company of Scotland, a Scottish national trading company, and founding a colony, New Caledonia, in Darien, on the narrow isthmus of Panama. The scheme was promoted as a panacea to reinvigorate the nation’s economy. Two expeditions, one in 1698 and the other in 1699 failed disastrously, and the Company of Scotland collapsed.