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And Isaac sent away Jacob: and he went to Padanaram.
The beginning of Jacob’s pilgrimage
I. THE CAUSES WHICH LED HIM. TO UNDERTAKE HIS PILGRIMAGE.
1. His brother’s anger.
2. His mother’s counsel.
II. THE DIVINE PROVISIONS FOR HIS PILGRIMAGE.
1. The peculiar blessing of the chosen seed.
2. The ministry of man in conveying this blessing. (T. H. Leale.)
1. Good fathers disdain not the wise and gracious advice of mothers for their children’s good.
2. Good men may change their minds upon God’s convictions for disposal of blessing.
3. Blessing and command go together from God, by His instruments unto His covenant ones.
4. Matches of the true seed with the idolaters are expressly forbidden by God (Genesis 28:1).
5. Fathers have their due power to dispose of children in marriage.
6. It is good for fathers herein to follow the dictates and guidance of God, to dispose children, where the knowledge of God is (Genesis 28:2.) (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. God’s blessing needs to be repeated and confirmed unto souls, to answer temptations, and to prevent unbelief.
2. Obedience yielded to the charge of God foregoing, the blessing shall follow after.
3. God Almighty and All-sufficient is the only fountain of blessing.
4. The issues of good from God Almighty, upon poor creatures, they are blessings indeed.
5. God’s All-sufficiency gives fruitfulness for the increase of His Church (Genesis 28:3).
6. Abraham’s blessing from the Almighty is that which passeth from generation to generation upon the Church.
7. The rest typical as well as spiritual and eternal, is made the inheritance of God’s Israel from His Almightiness.
8. God’s gift to Abraham is the just title of all the seed of promise to that inheritance eternal, typed out in Canaan (Genesis 28:4). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Providence makes parents willing to part with dearest children in order to accomplish His will.
2. Providence ordereth children’s hearts in readiness to obey the father’s charge to execute God’s purpose.
3. Providence sometimes sends out creatures naked and helpless the more to glorify Himself (Genesis 28:5). He keeps them while they believe on His promises. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Then went Esau unto Ishmael
Esau, the type of worldliness and hypocrisy
HIS CONDUCT WAS MERCENARY.
II. HIS CONDUCT WAS ONE-SIDED.
III. HIS CONDUCT WAS FRAMED BY THE PRINCIPLE OF IMITATION. (T. H.Leale.)
1. Hypocrites hearing of blessing upon others, pretend to make to it as well as any.
2. Hypocrites hearing God’s charge to accompany His blessing, would seem to observe it (Genesis 28:6).
3. Hypocrites seeing the obedience of saints, would seem to imitate it (Genesis 28:7).
4. Hypocrites perceiving what is displeasing to God and His servants, would seem to avoid it (Genesis 28:8).
5. Hypocrites in all their pretences for God, take their own ways without His counsel.
6. Hypocrites in all their pretended imitations of the saints do but add sin to sin (Genesis 28:9). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
See what awkward work is made when men go about to please others, and promote their worldly interests, by imitating that in which they have no delight. Ignorance and error mark every step they take, Esau was in no need of a wife. His parents would not be gratified by his connection with the apostate family of Ishmael. In short, he is out in all his calculations; nor can he discover the principles which influence those who fear the Lord. Thus have we often seen men try to imitate religious people for the sake of gaining esteem, or some way promoting their selfish ends; but instead of succeeding they have commonly made bad worse. That which to a right mind is as plain as the most public highway, to a mind perverted shall appear full of difficulties. “The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city” (Ecclesiastes 10:15). (A. Fuller.)
And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven
Jacob at Bethel
THE WANDERER. It had been a desolate day, and there was only desolation at night. In his weariness he slept, and as he slept, he dreamed. If dreams reflect the thoughts of the day, a new life must have begun within him. It was not Esau, or the plotting mother, or the aged father, upon whom he looked. The old tent was not over him, nor did he long for the pillows of home. It was a new experience, and the story of his vision has been told all down the centuries for more than three and a half thousand years. What does it mean?
II. THE MEETING-PLACE. It was upon the barren mountainside. Tier on tier of rocks reaching to the mountain-summit were the stairs of nature’s cathedral. The winds of the mountains roused him not. The audience of that night was asleep. If the beasts came forth from their retreats, they did not disturb him. His own sin had driven him into solitude. Voice of friend or foe, there was none. He was alone; but God was there even when he knew it not. What meetings there have been alone with God I What night-scenes of grandeur and awe! Amid sufferings from sin, in deepest trials and in roughest places, many a soul has exclaimed with the waking Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
III. THE VISION AND THE DIVINE COVENANT. Two thoughts are suggested at the outset by this vision: the reaching up of earth to heaven, and the reaching down of heaven to earth.
IV. THE PILLAR OF REMEMBRANCE. Gratitude should be the very first fruit of religion. What less has God reason to expect? What else can man prefer to give? (D. O. Mears, D. D.)
Jacob at Bethel
I. THE DREAMER.
1. A lonely faith.
2. An exile from home.
3. A fugitive from his brother.
II. THE DREAM.
1. The ladder. Heaven not closed to man.
2. Angels of God ascending and descending. Ministry.
3. God at the summit of the ladder.
III. THE IMPRESSION OF HIS DREAM.
1. An overpowering sense of the presence of God.
2. His sin rose before him. (G. R. Leavitt.)
I. IT WAS VOUCHSAFED TO HIM IN A TIME OF INWARD AND OUTWARD TROUBLE.
II. IT SATISFIED ALL HIS SPIRITUAL NECESSITIES.
1. It assured him that heaven and earth were not separated by an impassable gulf.
2. It assured him that there was a way of reconciliation between God and man.
3. It assured him that the love of God was above all the darkness of human sin and evil.
4. It imparted to him the blessings of a revelation from God.
III. IT REVEALED THE AWFUL SOLEMNITY OF HUMAN LIFE,
IV. IT RESULTED IN JACOB’S CONVERSION,
1. He erected a memorial of the event.
2. He resolved to make God supreme in all his thoughts and actions. (T. H.Leale.)
I. CONSIDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES under which the vision was granted.
II. LOOK AT THE NATURE of the vision.
1. The angels are interested in the well-being of God’s people.
2. Heaven is a place of activity.
3. There is a way of communication open between heaven and earth. This way represents the mediation of Christ.
III. LOOK AT THE PROMISES which on this occasion were made to Jacob.
1. God promised to be with Jacob.
2. God promised His protection and guidance to Jacob.
3. God promised him final deliverance from all trouble. (A. D.Davidson.)
I. A way set up between earth and heaven, making a visible connection between the ground on which he slept and the sky.
II. The free circulation along that way of great powers and ministering influences.
III. God, the supreme directing and inspiring force, eminent over all. Lessons:
1. Every man’s ladder should stand upon the ground. No man can be a Christian by separating himself from his kind.
2. Along every man’s ladder should be seen God’s angels.
3. High above all a man’s plans and resolves, there must beta living trust in God. (H. W. Beecher.)
The vision at Bethel
I. The vision at Bethel was the first step in Jacob’s Divine education--the assurance which raised him to the feelings and dignity of a man. He knew that though he was to be chief of no hunting tribe, there might yet come forth from him a blessing to the whole earth.
II. Jacob’s vision came to him in a dream. But that which had been revealed was a permanent reality, a fact to accompany him through all his after-existence. Now the great question we have to ask ourselves is, “Was this a fact for Jacob the Mesopotamian shepherd, and is it a phantasm for all ages to come? Or was it a truth which Jacob was to learn just as he was to learn the truth of birth, the truth of marriage, the truth of death, that it might be declared to his seed after him; and that they might be acquainted with it as he was, only in a fuller and deeper sense?” If we take the Bible for our guide we must accept the latter conclusion, and not the former. The Son of Man is the ladder between earth and heaven, between the Father above and His children on earth. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
What Jacob saw in sleep
Sleeping to see. One may be too wide-awake to see. There are things which are hidden from us until we lie down to sleep. Only then do the heavens open and the angels of God disclose themselves.
I. It does not follow that God is not, because we cannot discern Him. Little do we dream of the veiled wonders and splendours amid which we move. To Jacob’s mental fret and confusion, the wilderness where God brooded was a wilderness and nothing more. But in sleep he grew tranquil and still; he lost himself--the flurried, heated, uneasy self that he had brought with him from Beer-sheba; and while he slept the hitherto unperceived Eternal came out softly, largely, above and around him. We learn from this the secret of the Lord’s nearness.
II. No man is ever completely awake; something in him always sleeps. There is a sense in which it may be said with truth that were we less wakeful, more of God and spiritual realities might be unveiled to us. We are always doing--too much so for finest being; are always striving--too much so for highest attaining. Our religion consists too much in solicitude to get; it is continually “ The Lord, the Father of mercies,” rather than “The Lord, the Father of glory.” We require to sleep from ourselves before the heavens can open upon us freely and richly flow around us. (S. A. Tipple.)
A ladder between heaven and earth
I. JESUS, THE LADDER, CONNECTS EARTH WITH HEAVEN.
II. THIS LADDER COMES TO SINNERS.
III. GOD IS AT THE TOP, SPEARING KIND WORDS DOWN THE LADDER.
IV. ADVICE TO CLIMBERS:
1. Be sure to get the right ladder; there are plenty of shams.
2. Take firm hold; you will want both hands.
3. Don’t look down, or you will be giddy.
4. Don’t come down to fetch any one else up. If your friends will not follow you, leave them behind. (T. Champness.)
Intercourse between earth and heaven
I. The ancient heathens told in their fables how the gods had all left the earth one by one; how one lingered in pity, loath to desert the once happy world; how even that one at last departed. Jacob’s dream showed something better, truer than this; it showed him God above him, God’s angels all about him.
II. The intercourse between God and man has been enlarged and made perpetual in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son.
III. When Jacob awoke he consecrated a pillar, and vowed to build a sanctuary there and give tithes. We cannot altogether commend the spirit in which he made his vow. He tried to make a good bargain with the Almighty; yet God accepted him. The place was holy to him, because he knew that God was there. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
The nearness of God to men
I. GOD IS NEAR MEN WHEN THEY LITTLE THINK IT. “He is near--
1. When we are not aware of it.
2. When sin is fresh upon us.
3. When we are in urgent need of Him.
II. GOD IS NEAR MEN TO ENGAGE IN THEIR RELIGIOUS TRAINING.
1. God assured Jacob of His abiding presence with him.
2. Jacob was taught to recognize God in all things.
3. He was taught to feel his entire dependence upon God throughout the journey of life.
III. GOD IS ALWAYS NEAR MEN TO EFFECT THEIR COMPLETE SALVATION. Intercourse has been established between earth and heaven; the whole process of man’s salvation is under the superintendence of God. (D. Rhys Jenkins.)
I. JACOB’S IMPRESSIONS. First time of leaving his father’s home. When night came on, and there was no tent to repose under, and no pillow but a stone on which to lay his weary head, then a feeling of loneliness came over him, then tender thoughts awoke. He felt remorse, tears came unbidden. He felt, “I shall never be in my father’s house the boy I was.” In all this observe--
1. A solemn conviction stealing over Jacob of what life is, a struggle which each man must make in self-dependence.
2. But beside this conviction of what life is, Jacob was impressed in another way at this time. God made a direct communication to his soul. “He lay down to sleep, and he dreamed.” We know what dreams are. They are strange combinations of our waking thoughts in fanciful forms, and we may trace in Jacob’s previous journey the groundwork of his dream. He looked up all day to heaven as he trudged along, the glorious expanse of an Oriental sky was around him, a quivering trembling mass of blue; but he was alone, and, when the stars came out, melancholy sensations were his, such as youth frequently feels in autumn time. Deep questionings beset him. Time he felt was fleeting. Eternity, what was it? Life, what a mystery! And all this took form in his dream. Thus far all was natural; the supernatural in this dream was the manner in which God impressed it on his heart. Similar dreams we have often had; but the remembrance of them has faded away. Conversion is the impression made by circumstances, and that impression lasting for life; it is God the Spirit’s work upon the soul.
3. Jacob felt reconciliation with God. There is a distance between man and God. It is seen in the restlessness of men, in the estrangement which they feel from Him. Well, Jacob felt all this. He had sinned, overreached his brother, deceived his father. Self-convicted he walked all day long; the sky as brass; a solemn silence around him; no opening in the heaven; no sign nor voice from God; his own heart shut up by the sense of sin, unable to rise. Then came the dream in which he felt reconciliation with God. Do not mind the form but the substance. It contains three things:
(1) The ladder signifying heaven and earth joined, the gulf bridged over.
(2) The angels signifying the communication which exists between earth and heaven.
(3) The voice which told him of God’s paternal care.
(4) The last impression made on Jacob was that of the awfulness of life.
II. THE RESOLUTIONS WHICH HE MADE.
1. The first of these was a resolution to set up a memorial of the impressions just made upon him. He erected a few stones, and called them Bethel. They were a fixed point to remind him of the past.
2. Jacob determined from this time to take the Lord for his God. He would worship from henceforth not the sun, or the moon, not honour, pleasure, business, but God. With respect to this determination, observe first” that it was done with a kind of selfish feeling; there was a sort of stipulation, that if God would be with him to protect and provide for him, that then he would take Him for his God (Genesis 28:20-21). And this is too much the way with us; there is mostly a selfishness in our first turning to God. A kind of bargain is struck. If religion makes me happy then I will be religious. God accepted this bargain in Jacob’s case; He enriched him with cattle and goods in the land whither he went (Genesis 31:18): “for godliness has the promise of the life that now is.” Disinterested religion comes later on. Observe, secondly, what taking God for our God implies. It is not the mere repetition of so many words; for as our Lord has said, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of God.” To have God for our God is not to prostrate the knee but the heart in adoration before Him. God is truth: to persist in truth at a loss to ourselves, that is to have God for our God. God is purity: resolve to shut up evil books, turn a countenance of offended purity to the insult of licentious conversation; banish thoughts that conjure up wicked imaginations; then you have God for your God. God is love: you are offended; and the world says, resent; God says, forgive. Can you forgive? Can you love your enemy, or one whose creed is different from your own? That is to have God for your God. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The heavenly pathway and the earthly heart
I. CONSIDER THE VISION AND ITS ACCOMPANYING PROMISE. We are to conceive of the form of the vision as a broad stair or sloping ascent, rather than a ladder, reaching right from the sleeper’s side to the far-off heaven, its pathway peopled with messengers, and its summit touching the place where a glory shone that paled even the lustrous constellations of that pure sky. Jacob had thought himself alone; the vision peoples the wilderness. He had felt himself defenceless; the vision musters armies for his safety. He had been grovelling on earth, with no thoughts beyond its fleeting goods; the vision lifts his eyes from the low level on which they had been gazing. He had been conscious of but little connection with heaven; the vision shows him a path from his very side right into its depths. He had probably thought that he was leaving the presence of his father’s God when he left his father’s tent; the vision burns into his astonished heart the consciousness of God as there, in the solitude and the night. The Divine promise is the best commentary on the meaning of the vision. The familiar ancestral promise is repeated to him, and the blessing and the birthright thus confirmed. In addition, special assurances, the translation of the vision into word and adapted to his then wants, are given--God’s presence in his wanderings, his protection, Jacob’s return to the land, and the promise of God’s persistent presence, working through all paradoxes of providence, and sins of his servant, and incapable of staying its operations, or satisfying God’s heart, or vindicating his faithfulness, at any point short of complete accomplishment of his plighted word. Jacob’s vision was meant to teach him, and is meant to teach us, the nearness of God, and the swift directness of communication, whereby His help comes to us and our desires rise to Him. These and their kindred truths were to be to him, and should be to us, the parents of much nobleness. Here is the secret of elevation of aim and thought above the mean things of sense. It is the secret of purity too. It is also the secret of peace.
II. NOTICE THE IMPERFECT RECEPTION dream indicates a very low level both of religious knowledge and feeling. Nor is there any reason for taking the words in any but their most natural sense; for it is a mistake to ascribe to him the knowledge of God due to later revelation, or, at this stage of his life, any depth of religious emotion. He is alarmed at the thought that God is near. Probably he had been accustomed to think of God’s presence as in some special way associated with his father’s encampment, and had not risen to the belief of His omnipresence. There seems no joyous leaping up of his heart at the thought that God is here. Dread, not unmingled with the superstitious fear that he had profaned a holy place by laying himself down in it, is his prevailing feeling, and he pleads ignorance as the excuse for his sacrilege. He does not draw the conclusion from the vision that all the earth is hallowed by a near God, but only that he has unwittingly stumbled on His house; and he does not learn that from every place there is an open door for the loving heart into the calm depths where God is throned, but only that here he stands at the gate of heaven. So he misses the very inner purpose of the vision, and rather shrinks from it than welcomes it. Was that spasm of fear all that passed through his mind that night? Did he sleep again when the glory died out of the heaven? So the story would appear to suggest. But, in any ease, we see here the effect of the sudden blitzing in upon a heart not yet familiar with the Divine Friend, of the conviction that He is really near. Gracious as God’s promise was, it did not dissipate the creeping awe at His presence. It is an eloquent testimony of man’s consciousness of sin, that whensoever a present God becomes a reality to a man, he trembles. “This place” would not be “dreadful,” but blessed, if it were not for the sense of discord between God and me. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THIS REVELATION WAS MADE TO HIM.
1. Jacob was lonely.
2. Jacob was standing on the threshold of independence.
3. Jacob was also in fear.
II. THE ELEMENTS OF WHICH THIS REVELATION CONSISTED.
1. The ladder.
2. The angels.
3. The voice of God. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Bethel: a picture and its lesson
I. THE PICTURE.
1. A solitary man.
2. A guilty man. Sin pierced his hand more than his staff did.
3. An injured man. “A child may have more of his mother than her blessing.”
4. A fugitive man. “He had, like a maltreated animal, the fear of man habitually before his eyes.” He cringes one moment, and dodges the next; deprecating the blow he invites, expects, and gets.
5. He is a weary man. There he lies. Now look at him. Mark these--the nameless spot, the shelterless couch, the comfortless pillow, the restless slumber.
II. THE LESSON.
1. In this world wicked success is real failure. No security after sin save in repenting of it.
2. In this world God pays in kind, but blesses sovereignly. That is to say, retribution is often like crime, but grace is a surprise.
3. Turning over a new leaf does not always show a fresh page. It does no good to take up a journey from Beer-sheba to Padan-aram when one means to do the same thing right along. God demands a change in the heart, not in the habit; not so much in the record and show of the life as in the life itself.
4. Sometimes unhappiness is our chief felicity. Jacob has one good, valuable characteristic--he cannot sleep soundly when the angels of covenant grace are coming for him. It was a grand thing for this fugitive that he was restless while the ladder of love was unfolding over him.
5. Retribution is lifted only by redemption. God’s mercy gave Jacob chance of becoming a new man that night. It would have saved him Penuel and a forty years’ wreck had he accepted it. He might have beckoned an ascending angel to his side, and sent by him a prayer up the ladder; and then an angel descending along the shining rounds would have instantly brought him a message of pardon. Surely any man can show some sign of a penitent heart. We can be sorry we do not sorrow. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
A man asleep
I. Jacob is the type ISRAELITE Of his lineage. From this night Jacob becomes the pattern Jew. All that is good or bad in his descendants has its natural beginning in him.
II. Jacob is the type MAN of his race. Far from God. Homesick. What man wants is God.
III. Jacob is the type CHRISTIAN of the Church.
1. He was chosen even before he was born.
2. He is now in the thick of the conflict between nature and grace.
3. He will eventually be saved in the kingdom of heaven. (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)
The ladder of doctrine
I. THE PROPHETIC SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SCENE.
1. It could not have been exclusively personal to Jacob.
3. Furthermore, the vision is not exhausted in any mere engagement of God’s providential care.
3. Hence the vision must be interpreted as belonging to the kingdom of grace.
4. This vision, therefore, is discharged of its full weight of meaning only when we admit it to be a fine, high symbol of Jesus Christ.
II. ITS DOCTRINAL REACH. The plan of redemption comes out in this symbol. Jesus Christ became the medium of grace and restoration. If, now, no mistake has been made in our inquiry thus far, the conclusion we have attained will be fairly corroborated from the disclosures presented of Jesus’ person and work.
1. Begin with His Person. Surely no more felicitous image could have been presented. Christ’s double nature is well shown. It would have been only a mockery to Jacob to disclose a ladder coming almost to this earth, yet falling short by a round or two, so as to be just out of reach. Then the angels could not have alighted, and no human foot could have risen. Nor would the case have been anywise better if he had been made to see that his ladder reached nearly to heaven, not quite. For then the angels would have had as great need as he, and an uncrossed gulf would have been beyond them in the air.
2. As to the work of Christ, furthermore, we may remark the same exquisite aptness of this figure in Jacob’s vision. Examining it closely, we find that it teaches the sovereign assumption, the perfect completion, the evident display, and the free offer, of the plan of grace. (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)
The ladder of life
I. RECONCILIATION IS NOW OFFERED IN GOOD FAITH TO EVERY INDIVIDUAL OF THE HUMAN RACE.
II. THE NECESSITY OF AN INSTANT AND DETERMINATE DECISION IN OUR DEALING WITH THE OFFERS OF GRACE.
III. HOW ESSENTIAL IT IS FOR EVERY SOUL THUS ADDRESSED BY THE GOSPEL OFFER TO MEASURE ALTERNATIVES.
IV. WHAT FELICITOUS DISPOSAL THIS VISION MAKES OF THE VEXED QUESTION CONCERNING THE CONNECTION BETWEEN FAITH AND WORKS.
V. GROWTH IN GRACE IS ALSO GROWTH IN EXPERIENCE.
VI. RESPONSIBILITY BEGINS THE MOMENT THE FIRST STEP OF DUTY IS DISCLOSED TO AN INTELLIGENT MAN.
VII. PERSONAL ACCEPTANCE OF JESUS CHRIST AS OUR SAVIOUR AND SURETY. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The vision of God
1. It is evident that God Himself was the sum and substance, the centre and glory, of that entire vision. The Almighty was disclosed in presence and purpose, in prediction and promise, as standing up over the ladder of grace for a fallen world.
2. See the effect of this discovery upon Jacob.
(1) The first thing it did was to frighten him.
(2) The next effect seems to have been some sort of sense of guilt. He vaguely feels the need of propitiation.
II. LESSONS. The truest way to produce conviction of sin is to make a disclosure of Divine holiness.
2. The uselessness of mere religious emotion without establishment of principle.
3. God really offers a chance of salvation to every man who will enter upon the new life. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
A turn in the tide
I. THAT ERRING MEN NEED DIVINE HELP.
II. THAT THIS SPECIAL HELP WAS GRANTED TO JACOB IN VIEW OF THE FUTURE. Lessons:
1. The presence of God comes closer than we often think.
2. The earthly may be in unison with the heavenly.
3. Avoid bargain-making with God. Do not say, “I could believe I am saved if only I felt happy!” Say, “He calls me to come; and as He will in no wise cast me out, I must be accepted by Him. What more dare I ask for? “ Do not say, “If only I had more time, if I were not so pressed with poverty, if I had but some friend to direct me, I would serve God!” What I You do not need God because you are moneyless, friendless! What! You would walk with God in a calm, but not when a storm was yelling and dashing! Oh, foolish people and unwise! Away with all reserves! God is for us: Christ is with us. Receive what He proffers. Do as far as you know of His will, and leave all consequences with Him, sure that He will secure everlasting blessings. (D. G. Watt, M. A.)
Jacob at Bethel
I. THE VISION GRANTED TO JACOB.
1. This dream taught Jacob that there is a close connection between this world and the next.
2. It taught him that God rules over all.
3. It taught him the solemnity of life.
II. THE PROMISES MADE TO JACOB.
1. That he should be greatly blessed.
2. That he should be a blessing.
3. That God would watch over him.
III. THE RESOLUTIONS FORMED BY HIM.
1. He resolved to make a memorial of the night vision and the promises.
2. He resolved to accept the Lord as his God.
3. He also resolved to give back to God a tenth. (W. J. Evans.)
I. THERE IS A DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
II. THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT IS VEILED AND SILENT IN ITS OPERATION.
III. THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT IS ACCOMPLISHED BY MANY AGENTS.
IV. THE DIVINE PURPOSE IS ACCOMPLISHED AMID MUCH APPARENT CONFUSION.
V. THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT IS CONTINUED WITHOUT INTERRUPTION OR HINDRANCE.
VI. THE GRAND DESIGN OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT IS MORAL AND SAVING. (W. L. Watkinson.)
I. THE PILGRIM. “The way of transgressors is hard.” He is without a guide, friendless, defenceless.
II. THE PILGRIM’S VISION. “In Me is thy help.” “Lo, I am with you alway.”
III. THE PILGRIM’S VOW. (T. S. Dickson.)
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS VISION.
1. The close connection between earth and heaven; between things unseen and things seen.
2. The ministry of heaven to earth; the communication between things unseen and things seen.
3. The assurance of Divine love and care.
II. WHAT THIS VISION AND REVELATION OF GOD TAUGHT JACOB.
1. The universal presence of God.
2. The sacredness of common things.
III. WHAT THIS VISION AND REVELATION LED JACOB TO DO.
1. TO set up a memorial of that night.
2. To consecrate himself to God. (A. F. Joscelyne, B. A.)
Bethel; or, the true vision of life
I. IN THE TRUE VISION OF LIFE THERE IS A RECOGNITION OF OUR CONNECTION WITH OTHER WORLDS.
II. IN THE TRUE VISION OF LIFE THERE IS A RECOGNITION OF GOD’S RELATION TO ALL.
1. As the Sovereign of all.
2. As the Friend of man. Two things show this.
(1) Man’s continuation as a sinner in such a world as this.
(2) The special means introduced for his moral restoration.
III. IN THE TRUE VISION OF LIFE THERE IS THE RECOGNITION OF A DIVINE PROVIDENCE OVER INDIVIDUALS.
1. This Biblical doctrine agrees with reason.
2. It agrees with consciousness.
IV. IN THE TRUE VISION OF LIFE THERE IS THE RECOGNITION OF THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR EARTHLY POSITION. “How dreadful is this place!”
1. Jacob’s discovery introduced a new epoch into his history.
2. Jacob’s discovery introduced a memorable epoch in his life. (Homilist.)
Man’s spiritual capacity
I. THE EXISTENCE OF A SPIRITUAL CAPACITY IN MAN.
1. Jacob saw angels, and God Himself.
2. He heard the voice of the Infinite.
3. He felt emotions which mere animal existence could not experience.
II. THE AWAKENING OF THIS SPIRITUAL CAPACITY IN MAN.
1. It is sometimes unexpected.
2. It is always Divine.
3. It is ever glorious.
4. It is ever memorable. (Homilist.)
I. TAKE NOTE OF THE SURROUNDINGS OF THE VISION.
1. The ambitious schemings of Jacob and his mother to supplant his brother Esau.
2. Jacob is an illustration of a man in whose soul faith struggles with ambition.
II. EMPHASIZE THE REVELATION WHICH THE VISION CONTAINS.
1. God as the God of providence.
2. The intimate union of the seen and unseen.
III. NOTICE ITS EFFECT UPON THE MIND OF HIM TO WHOM IT WAS GIVEN.
1. A sense of the universal presence of God.
2. A sense of awe which possesses the sinning soul at the revelation of God’s presence.
3. A sense of penitence at the revelation of God’s goodness. (R. Thomas, M. A.)
I. THAT THE MORAL DISTANCE BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH IS GREAT.
1. Heaven is distant from the thoughts of the ungodly.
2. The conceptions of man prove the same thing.
3. The conduct of sinners seems to confirm this statement.
II. THAT THERE IS A SPIRITUAL COMMUNICATION BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH.
1. This confers dignity upon our globe.
2. This imparts honour to man.
3. This communication is of Divine origin.
4. Heavenly communications are not dependent on the outward circumstances of man.
III. THAT THROUGH THIS COMMUNICATION ALONE MAN CAN HAVE A TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD.
1. Because the human and divine are united.
2. Because through it a covenant relationship is formed between us and God.
3. It secures to us the protection of God.
4. It provides for the consummation of our highest conceptions of felicity.
IV. THAT TRUE COMMUNION WITH GOD PRODUCES REVERENTIAL FEAR IN THE HEART. (Homilist.)
The spirit world
I. THIS VISION SUGGESTS THE IDEA OF A SPIRIT WORLD.
1. We think of a spirit--
(1) As a self-modifying agent or being.
(2) As a religious being.
(3) As a reflecting being.
(4) As a self-conscious being.
(5) As a self-complete being.
(6) As a personally responsible being.
2. That a world of such beings exists may be argued from--
(1) The structure of the visible universe.
(2) The concurrent impressions of mankind.
(3) Our own individual consciousness.
(4) The Word of God.
II. THIS VISION SUGGESTS THAT MAN IS CONNECTED WITH THE SPIRIT WORLD.
1. He is a member of it.
2. He is amenable to its laws.
3. He is now forming a character that will determine his position in it.
III. THIS VISION SUGGESTS THAT THERE IS ONE MASTER. (Homilist.)
The solitary one and his visitation
I. THE SITUATION AND CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH JACOB WAS PLACED when he received this visitation from heaven.
1. He was solitary.
2. He had a weary body.
3. He had an anxious mind.
4. He was asleep. The Almighty can visit and bless at a time and in a manner which we little expect.
II. THE GRACIOUS VISITATION WHICH JACOB HAD FROM GOD.
1. It was in a dream.
2. It was an encouraging visit.
3. It was a glorious visit.
4. It was a gracious visit.
III. THE EFFECTS PRODUCED ON JACOB’S MIND AND THE LINE OF CONDUCT WHICH HE WAS INDUCED TO PURSUE.
1. He was afraid.
2. He set up a pillar.
3. He changed the name of the place.
4. He entered into a solemn covenant with God.
1. In our journey through life we may sometimes be solitary, dejected, and perplexed; but we often have gracious visits from the Lord.
2. The vows of God are upon us, viz., those of baptism and good resolution.
3. Do we offer unto God thanksgiving and pay our vows unto the Most High? (Benson Bailey.)
I. WHAT JACOB SAW ON THIS OCCASION.
1. A ladder
2. Its position.
3. Its base.
4. The top of it.
5. Above it.
6. Upon it.
II. WHAT JACOB HEARD.
1. Jehovah proclaimed Himself the God of his fathers.
2. Jehovah promised him the possession of the country where he then was.
3. He promised him a numerous progeny; and that of him should come the illustrious Messiah, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed.
4. He promised him His Divine presence and protection.
III. WHAT JACOB FELT.
1. He felt the influence of the Divine presence.
2. He felt a sacred and solemn fear.
3. He felt himself on the precincts of the heavenly world.
IV. WHAT JACOB DID.
1. He expressed his solemn sense of the Divine presence (Genesis 28:16-17).
2. He erected and consecrated a memorial of the events of that eventful night.
3. He vowed obedience to the Lord.
4. He went on his way in peace and safety.
1. The privileges of piety. Divine manifestations, promises.
2. The duties of piety.
3. The delights of public worship. God’s house is indeed the gate of heaven.
4. How glorious a place is heaven! (J. Burns, D. D.)
The dream of Jacob
I. Here is, first of all, LARGER SPACE. Jacob saw heaven. Enlargement of space has a wonderful influence upon mind and spirit of every degree and quality. Go abroad; climb the hill, and leave your sorrow there. Take in the great revelation of space, and know that God’s government is no local incident or trifle which the human hand can take up and manage and dispose of. We perish in many an intellectual difficulty for want of room. Things are only big because they are near; in themselves they are little if set up with the firmament domed above them, and numbered along with other things, which give proportion to all the elements which make up the circle of their influence. Go into the field, pass over the waves of the seas, pray when the stars are all ablaze like altars that cannot be counted, and at which an infinite universe is offering its evening oblation; take in more space, and many a difficulty which hampers and frets the mind will be thrown off, and manhood will take a bound forwards and upwards. Space is not emptiness: space is a possible Church.
II. Enlarging space never goes alone; it brings with it ENLARGING LIFE. Jacob not only beheld heaven: he saw the angels coming down, going up--stirred by an urgent business. It is one thing to talk about the angels: it“is” another to see them.
III. Enlarging. “space brings enlarging life; enlarging life brings AN ENLARGING ALTAR. Jacob said, Surely the Lord is in this place.” We cannot enter into Jacob’s meaning of that exclamation. He had been reared in the faith that God was to be worshipped in definite and specified localities. There were places at which Jacob would have been surprised if he had not seen manifestations of God. The point is, at the place where he did not expect anything he saw heaven; he saw some form or revelation of God. See how the greater truth dawns upon his opening mind, “Surely the Lord is in this place,” and that is the very end of our spiritual education; to find God everywhere; never to open a rose-bud without finding God; never to see the days whitening the eastern sky without seeing the coming of the King’s brightness; so feel that every place is praying ground to renounce the idea of partial and official consecration, and stand in a universe every particle of which is blessed and consecrated by the presence of the infinite Creator.
IV. Immediately following these larger conceptions of things, we find a marvellous and instructive instance of THE ABSORBING POWER OF THE RELIGIOUS IDEA. In Jacob’s dream there was but one thought. When we see God all other sights are extinguished. This is the beginning of conversion; this is essential to the reality of a new life. For a time the eye must be filled with a heavenly image; for a time the eye must be filled with a celestial message; a complete forgetfulness of everything past, a new seizure and apprehension of the whole solemn future. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Christ typified by Jacob’s ladder
A beautiful emblem of the Saviour. It may typify--
1. The person of the Saviour.
2. The mediatorial work of Christ.
3. Christ as the only way to the Father.
4. The accessibility of Christ to the perishing sinner.
5. The connection of angels with the work and Kingdom of Christ.
6. The heavenly state to which Christ will exalt His people. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Jacob at Bethel
1. The office of sorrow--even of remorse, the sorrow of sin--is to drive us from the visible to the invisible, from earth to heaven, from ourselves to God.
2. There is a ladder between earth and heaven on which angel messengers carry up our prayers to God and bring His answers down. Nay! this is but the hope of our dreams; the reality transcends it; for God is here, and needs neither ladder nor angel to communicate with us or open to us communication with Him: here in our hours of sorest need, of bitterest loneliness, of self-inflicted sorrow, of well-deserved penalty, of more poignant remorse; here as He was in the burning bush to Moses, and in the mysterious visitor to Gideon, and in the still, small voice to Elijah, and in the child wrapped in the swaddling clothes to the stable guests; and still by most of us unseen and to most of us unknown.
3. But when the veil is taken from our faces and we see Him, then the ground becomes consecrated ground, the stable a sacred place, the lowing of the cattle an anthem, Horeb a sanctuary, the land of Midian a holy land, our pile of stones a Bethel.
4. Yea! more than this; not places only but persons are transformed by this vision of the invisible, by this awakening to the truth, Lo, God is here. It here changes Abram, Chaldean worshipper, into Abraham, Friend of God; Jacob, the supplanter, into Israel, Prince of God; Moses, the impetuous murderer of the Egyptian, into the meekest man of sacred history; David, the sensual king, into the sweet singer of spiritual experiences; Jeremiah, the prophet of lamentation, into the hope and courage of Israel; Saul, the persecuting Pharisee, into Paul, the self-sacrificing Apostle; John, the son of thunder, into John the beloved disciple.
5. Finally, the poorest consecration--the gift of ourselves with even Jacob’s “if”--is accepted by God as a beginning. Whosoever cometh unto Him He will in no wise cast out. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
Jacob at Bethel
I. THE SEVERITY OF GOD. The pitiable condition of Jacob when he arrived at Bethel illustrates this. A homeless, helpless, despondent wanderer.
II. THE GOODNESS OF GOD.
1. In its suggestive symbol (Genesis 28:12).
2. In its encouraging revelation of the Divine presence (Genesis 28:13).
3. In its encouraging promises (Genesis 28:13-15). Inheritance, guidance, protection, companionship.
III. THE EFFECT UPON JACOB.
1. It awoke him of his sleep.
2. It filled him with an awe-inspiring sense of the Divine presence.
3. It filled him with a spirit of worship.
4. It led him to a reconsecration of himself to God.
1. Self-seeking even leads to failure.
2. God will never leave nor forsake His child.
3. Let us beware of a partial consecration. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The Christ ladder
The great truth, therefore, that ariseth from hence is, that Christ is our Ladder of Life and Love, by which we have communion with God upon earth, while we live, and admission unto God in heaven, when we die. This ladder hath seven excellent properties. It is--
1. A living ladder, therefore it is called a ladder of life; a ladder that hath life in it, both intrinsically and objectively.
2. A loving ladder, that will not, cannot easily let go its hold of any such as sincerely come to it, to climb upon it, and do therein take hold of it, and thereby embrace it.
3. It is a lively ladder also that will so lovingly embrace us, and so livelily both take hold and keep hold of us, and not let us go until He has brought us up to the top of the ladder, and from thence into mansions of glory.
4. It is a lovely ladder.
(1) In its nature.
(2) In its posture.
The posture and end of its erection is for saving from hell, and sending to heaven.
5. The fifth excellent property is, it is a large ladder; there is room enough both for saints and angels upon this ladder. It is so large, that it enlargeth and stretcheth out itself into all lands, as do the great luminaries of heaven. This ladder is--
(1) Extensive, as it is found everywhere, Asia, Africa, or America; whether it be in the city or in the country; whether it be in public, or in private, whether in family worship, or closet retirements; in all those places believers do find this large ladder of love let down to them, and there doth Christ give them his loves (Song of Solomon 7:11-12). Upon which account the apostle saith, “I will that men pray everywhere,” etc. (1 Timothy 2:8), whether in the fields, or in the villages, or in the vineyards, or under the secret places of the stairs (Song of Solomon 2:14). Any place, yea a chimney corner may make a good Oratory upon this ladder, whereon Christ accounteth our voices sweet, and our countenances comely. And this ladder, Christ.
(2) It is comprehenensive to all persons; there is room enough upon this ladder for all the saints in all the nations of the world.
6. The sixth excellent property--it is a long and lofty ladder, so long as to reach from earth to heaven.
7. The seventh excellent property of this ladder is, it is a lasting, yea, an everlasting ladder. (C. Nose.)
Jacob’s dream: the solution of a mystery
I. THE DUALITY OF EXISTENCE. Let us pause for a moment and contemplate our own existence; for each one of us is a little universe, a miniature representation of the great universe of which we form a part, Now, we carry within ourselves a kind of double consciousness. We have a higher nature and a lower nature, a spiritual side and a material side, an immortal element and a mortal element. It is this double consciousness that has suggested to heathen nations the existence of another world. Men of thought and reflection among them have discovered in themselves powers that can never be developed in the present life, desires that can never be satisfied by any material objects, and hence they have speculated and discoursed concerning a higher, a nobler, a more permanent state of existence. But Jacob was not left to grope after this knowledge by the light of his own reason. In this magnificent vision of the night, the truth is made known to him in all its imposing details, is revealed to him with marvellous clearness and emphatic precision. This truth is taught unto you, not by the uncertain voice of your constitution, as it was to ancient sages; not by supernatural visions, as it was to Jacob; but by the explicit and authoritative teaching of God’s word. It was a part of Christ’s mission, when He assumed our nature, to teach us this truth; for He brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. He came to elevate us, by setting us free from the tyranny of sense, and directing our thoughts to things invisible. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you.”
II. THE UNITY OF EXISTENCE. We know that we possess both a material and a spiritual nature, but the point at which they come in contact it is impossible to ascertain. You have a definite reply in the text. Heaven above and earth below are connected by one great ladder. They are, therefore, not two, but one. “And, behold, the Lord stood above it.” The Lord of heaven is also the Lord of earth; heaven End earth are therefore united into one realm. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland contains different countries; all separate, yet all united; owing allegiance to the same sovereign. The universe is a vast united kingdom, embracing different provinces, different principalities, different powers; but all alike subject to the central government. “And, behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” The spirit-world is very near to us, we are but one step removed from it, were our eyes opened we should perceive that it stands round about us. Indeed, we are sometimes inclined to believe that material forms are but symbolical representations of spiritual realities, that the things which are seen are but outward manifestations of the things which are not seen. Through its agony and atoning death, the way which sin had shut up has been reopened. God can have mercy upon us, can hold communion with us, can send His angels down to comfort us in our troubles, to strengthen us in our conflicts, and at last to bear our ransomed souls to glory. The unity of existence! It is a wonderful, and yet a solemn fact. All being is but one vast territory, broken up into innumerable separate parts, but all united under one sceptre. Dream not, then, that when you quit this world, you will become the subject of a different government, or become amenable to different laws. (D. Rowlands, B. A.)
A ladder of escape
A company of shipwrecked sailors cast on the coast of Scotland at the bottom of a great precipice, where the water would have broken up their vessel and drowned them, found a ladder hanging down the precipice, which they reached from their ship’s mast, and escaped thereby. So Christ is to us a ladder of salvation, and if we believe on Him we shall be saved from all evil, and we may rise to be holy, happy, and useful. (D. Rowlands, B. A.)
The God of Bethel
I. CONSIDER WHAT JACOB SAW.
II. CONSIDER WHAT HE HEARD.
1. “I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.” It is well to have a known God, a tried God, a family God, and a father’s God; it is well to be able to say, as the Church does in the twenty-second Psalm, “Our fathers trusted in Thee: they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them.” It is well for you, when God looks down and sees you walking in the same path that your fathers did who are gone to heaven before you, “followers of those who through faith and patience are now inheriting the promises.”
2. “The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed.” God had already given it by promise to Abraham, but at present he had no inheritance, not so much as to set his foot on. But as God had given it to him and his seed by promise, it was as sure as if in actual possession. Yet several hundred years were previously to elapse, and they must suffer much in Egypt, and must wander forty years in the wilderness. But what of this?
It was the land of promise; God had given them it, and nothing could hinder their possession of it.
3. “And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south.” And so it was. You know in a few years they became an innumerable people, and what millions since have descended from this one patriarch.
4. “And in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” This refers to the Messiah. To them as concerning the flesh He came, God having raised up His Son, even Jesus, who “delivered us from the wrath to come.” In His name we are blessed with all spiritual blessings. This promise has as yet received only a partial accomplishment. Few as yet are blessed with faithful Abraham. But we read of a nation being “born in a day”; that all nations of the earth shall be blessed in Him; that all shall know the Lord from the least even to the greatest.
5. “And, behold, I am with thee.” So He is with all His people. His essential presence fills heaven and earth.
6. “And will bring thee again into this land.” This would be gladsome tidings to Jacob, for who is he that could not rejoice at such tidings concerning a country where he was born and bred, the residence of his most impressive years?
7. “For I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” But would He leave him then? Oh no; his anxieties therefore were entirely unnecessary. Thus it is with Christians: they have exceeding great and precious promises, “All yea and amen in Christ Jesus,” and all of them must be fulfilled before God leaves His people. Will He leave you then? No, He will never leave you, nor forsake you, to all eternity. As your day is, so shall your strength be while here; hereafter all tears shall be wiped from your eyes.
III. OBSERVE WHAT HE DID.
1. He discovered and acknowledged what he was ignorant of before he went to sleep.
2. He confessed a privilege.
3. He reared a memorial.
4. He vowed a vow. (W. Jay.)
I. THE SITUATION OF JACOB AT THIS PRESENT TIME.
1. And, that we may understand this more accurately, let us notice his character. According to the chronology of sacred Scripture, Jacob was now more than seventy years of age; so that his character was not then to be formed. He had lived sufficiently long to develop all its reigning tendencies; and though some might be disposed to conclude, from the impropriety of his conduct on this occasion, that he was yet a stranger to God, and to the renewing influence of Divine grace, yet an accurate knowledge of human nature, and an extensive acquaintance with the errors of men of sincere piety, would hardly sanction so harsh a conclusion.
2. His affliction. A short time previously Jacob had no enemy. Behind him were the terrors of murderous revenge, and before him the uninteresting waste of an untried world. To this must be added the sorrows of separation from all that he had learned to love. These things could not but press upon him as he went out from Beer-sheba to Haran; and the distress of his heart would be in a still greater degree aggravated by the consciousness of guilt. He had defrauded his brother--he had deceived his father--he had lied unto God. The peace of conscience which he once enjoyed must have been disturbed. He could not look up with cheerful confidence towards the God of truth. Sin against God has ever had the same character and effects. It drove the angels out of heaven, and our first parents out of paradise.
3. His submission. Not a word of murmuring appears on the record--nothing of the spirit of resistance--no high rebellious contending against the providence of God; but silently he obeys the injunctions of parental authority; and with nothing but his staff, he steals unobtrusively from under his father’s roof, and enters alone upon the pilgrimage, which his misconduct had rendered necessary. There would be, however, some comfort even in the spirit of pious submission.
4. His afflicted mind would, in the midst of trial, be in some measure cheered by the expectation which he had been warranted to encourage. He was yet, as a matter of grace, encouraged to look upon himself as one “ whom the Lord had blessed”; and it appears, that in the sorrowful hour of his departure from home, his father, fearing lest, in his exile, he should “ be swallowed up of overmuch sorrow,” gave him even additional encouragement. He confirmed the blessing to him in language still more distinct” God Almighty bless thee, and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee.” We see, then, Jacob fallen and afflicted, but submissive, penitent, and borne up by hope in the promise of God, taking his journey through the wilderness, till the shadows of evening lengthen round him--till the setting sun finds him in a solitary spot, remote from the dwellings of man; where the turf must be his bed-the circle of heaven his canopy--and one of the stones of the place his pillow; and where, if he finds comfort, it must be from a source beyond the range of human calculation. We must not attach to such a scene, in a warm climate, all the desolateness of a houseless wanderer among ourselves; but still, such a combination of circumstances wears the strong character of chastening; and we may write upon it that interesting passage of Holy Writ. “Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” Jacob strove to hasten an event which he should have looked for in the regular course of God’s providence--the result is that he delays it. He aimed at the pre-eminence in his father’s house, and, in a few hours he is resting his houseless head upon a stony pillow in the wilderness. Such dispensations are highly calculated for the advancement of the spiritual character. God only can make the storm a fertilizing, rather than a desolating shower.
II. But we come to consider THE CONSOLATION WHICH WAS MERCIFULLY VOUCHSAFED TO JACOB IN HIS SOLITUDE. In the failure of all sources of earthly comfort, God generally appears most especially, for the support of those who trust in Him.
1. The obscure intimation of a gracious reconciliation with God through a mediator.
2. The second lesson inculcated in this vision was the providential protection of God. It was shown to him, that He who through a sufficient mediation was a reconciled God, would also be a father, a protector, a guide. It is scarcely possible to conceive a more kind and encouraging address, to one in the circumstances of Jacob. It is calculated to give a very exalted idea of the mercy of God, who not only blesses beyond what we ask or think; but even when we think not, meets his erring and disconsolate children with the assurances of a love that cannot be averted, and a fatherly protection that will never fail. How blessed are they who have the Lord for their God! In the midst of outward affliction and inward trial, Jacob was crowned with blessings that empire could not command, and that wealth could not buy. Let not then the pilgrim of the cross be discouraged. A rich provision is made for you--a throne of grace is open to you; a willing helper only waits, and scarcely waits, for the petition of faith, that he may give you aid. How deeply is their lot to be regretted who have never sought the Redeemer, the guardian, the guide, the comforter of Jacob!--how much is the mere man of this present world to be pitied! (E. Craig.)
Life as a ladder
It was a good while ago that a young man, sleeping one night in the open air, had a wonderful vision of a ladder that reached up all the way into heaven. Whatever else it meant, it was at least a vision of what his life might be, of what every life may be, of what every true and noble life must be. Its foot rested on the earth; and we must all start very low down. He who would ascend a ladder, puts his foot first on the lowest round. We cannot start in life at the top, but must begin at the bottom and climb up. We cannot begin as angels, nor as holy saints, nor even as moderately advanced Christians. We must begin in the most rudimentary way, with the simplest duties, just as the wisest men once sat with primer and spelling-book in hand. But this ladder was not lying all along on the earth; its foot was on the ground, but its top was up above the stars, amid the glory of God’s presence. A true life rises heavenward. It is a poor, an unworthy, life-plan that is all on the earth, that lifts no eye or thought upward, that does not take heaven into its purpose. The true life must press upward until it reaches glory. Its aim is the perfection of character. Its constant aspirations are for holiness and righteousness--Christlikeness. Its goal is heaven itself. A ladder is climbed step by step; no one leaps to the top. And no one rises to sainthood at a bound. No one gets the victory once for all over his sins and faults. It is a struggle of long years; and every day must have its own victories, if we are ever to be crowned. It may give some people considerable comfort to think of life’s course as a ladder, which one must climb slowly, step by step. A ladder is not easy to ascend. It is toilsome work to go up its rounds. It is not easy to rise Christward; it is hard, costly, painful. Railroad tracks suggest speed, but a ladder suggests slow progress. We rise upward in spiritual life, not at railway speed, nor even at the racer’s rate of progress, but as men go up a ladder. Then there is another side to this truth. Men do not fly up ladders; yet they go up step by step. We ought always to be making at least some progress in Christian life, as the years go on. Each day should show some slight advance in holiness, some new conquest over the evil that is in us, some besetting sin or wrong habit gotten a little more under our feet. Every fault we overcome lifts us a little higher. Every low desire, every bad habit, all longings for ignoble things, that we trample down, become ladder-rounds on which we climb upward out of grovelling and sinfulness into nobler being. There really is no other way by which we can rise upward. If we are not living victoriously these little common days, we are not making any progress. Only those who climb are getting toward the stars. Heaven is for those who overcome. Not that the struggle is to be made in our own strength, or that the victories are to be won by our own hands; there is a mighty Helper with us always on the ladder. He does not carry us up, always we must do the climbing; but He helps and cheers, putting ever new strength into the heart, and so aiding every one who truly strives in His name to do his best. The ladder did not come to an end half-way up to heaven; it reached to the very steps of God’s throne. A true life is persistent and persevering, and ends not short of glory. It is ladder, too, all the way; it does not become a plain, easy, flower lined path after a time. A really earnest and faithful Christian life never gets easy. The easy way does not lead upward; it leads always downward. Nothing worth living for can be had without pain and cost and struggle. Every step up the way to heaven is up-hill, and steep besides. Heaven always keeps above us, no matter how far we climb up toward it. However long we have been climbing, and whatever height we have reached, there are always other victories to win, other heights to gain. We shall never get to the top of the ladder until our feet are on heaven’s threshold. This wonderful vision-ladder was radiant with angels. We are not alone in our toilsome climbing. We have the companionship and ministry of strong friends we have never seen. Besides, the going up and coming down of these celestial messengers told of communication never interrupted between God and those who are climbing up the ladder. There is never a moment, nor any experience, in the life of a true Christian, from which a message may not instantly be sent up to God, and back to which help may not instantly come. God is not off in heaven merely, at the top of the long, steep life-ladder, looking down upon us as we struggle upward in pain and tears. As we listen, we hear Him speak to the sad, weary man who lies there at the foot of the stairway, and He says: “Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest; I will not leave thee.” Not angel championship alone, precious as it is, is promised, but Divine companionship also, every step of the toilsome way, until we get home. It is never impossible, therefore, for any one to mount the ladder to the very summit; with God’s strong, loving help the weakest need never faint nor fail. (J. M. Miller, D. D.)
Jacob at Bethel
I. JACOB’S DREAM.
1. When he dreamed it.
2. What the dream was.
3. What it meant.
II. JACOB’S WAKING THOUGHTS.
1. Humble surprise.
2. Reverential awe.
3. A joyful discovery.
III. JACOB’S VOW.
1. The preparation.
2. The vow itself. Jacob dedicates
(2) his substance, to God. (J. Hambleton, M. A.)
There comes a time when every young man or maiden must start out upon life. The seed that ripens upon the stalk must be shaken off, and be planted, and grown upon its own root. The scion is cut away from the parent branch and grafted upon another stalk. It is at the starting out in life that every one needs an inspiration, and will have it, either good or bad. It is just at this point that every one needs, in some way suited to his genius, his circumstances and condition, that there should happen to him substantially that which happened to Jacob; that in his vision (which may be upon his bed, or may be one of those waking visions which men have) there should be a ladder, which, touching the earth, connects it with heaven; and a vision of God’s angels passing between the Father and His earthly child. Let me, then, not so much preach as talk with you of your visions; and I address myself mainly to the young--to those that are just entering upon life. Shall your ladder, standing on the earth, reach to heaven? or is your ladder, in its whole length, flat along the ground? Stop one moment, and think, you who have started out, or are about starting. By ladder I mean your plans in life. Are they, all of them, lying upon the ground, or, though they begin there, do they really go up, and consciously take hold of the future and of the spiritual? Man must not avoid the world. Every ladder should stand upon the ground. The ground is a very good place to start from, but a very poor place to stop on. No man can be a Christian by separating himself from his kind. No man can be a Christian by avoiding business; and if you transact business, it must be transacted in the accustomed ways. Activity in earthly things is not inconsistent with true piety. A right industry, a right enterprise, and right ambitions in these, do not stand in the way of true religion. They not only perfectly harmonize with it, but they are indispensable to it. I can scarcely conceive of a lazy man being a Christian. Even the chronicles of those that have sought by retiring to caves, and thus separating themselves from human life, to live a Christian life, show that while they escaped from men, they did not escape from the temptations which sprang up through the passions of human nature. A human life, in its ordinary condition in Christian communities, is favourable (if one be wise enough to employ it) to the production of morality, of virtue, and of true piety. A man’s ladder, then, should stand on the ground. A man that is going to be a Christian should be a man among men--joined in interest with them, sympathising in their pursuits, active in daily duties; not above the enterprise, the thoughtfulness, and the proper amount of care that belong to the worldly avocations. This is a part of the Divine economy; and those that have the romantic notion of piety, that it is something that lifts them out of the way of and away from actual worldly cares, misconceive totally the methods of Divine grace. But while man’s plans in this world should be secular, and adapted to the great laws of that physical condition in which he was born, they must not end where they begin. Woe be to him that uses the earth for the earth, or whose plans are wholly material, beginning and ending in secularity and materiality; who means by fortune--riches, and nothing else; who means by power--carnal, temporal power, and nothing else; whose pleasure consists in that which addresses itself to the senses, and in nothing else. Woe be to him who lays out a plan which has nothing in it but this world. At the very time when you plant your ladder on the ground, you must see to it that it is long enough to reach, and that it does reach, and rests its top in heaven. This world and the other must be consciously connected in every true man’s life. This world is shallow. Our atmosphere is smotheringly near to us. There is no manhood possible that does not recognize an existence beyond our horizon, and that does not stretch itself up into the proportions, at least ideal, which belong to it as a creature of the Infinite. And even if one were to look only upon natural results and economic courses, he is best prepared for this life who considers this life to be made up of this life and of that which is to come. In every outstarting in life it is not enough that you propose to yourself to do well in this world--your “this world” must reach to the other, Along every man’s ladder should be seen God’s good angels. You are not at liberty to execute a good plan with bad instruments. When you lay the course of your life out before you, and say to yourself that you propose to achieve in your mortal life such and such things, it is not a matter of indifference to you how you achieve them. God’s angels must ascend and descend on your ladder, otherwise other and worse angels will. When youth first opens, if it has been Christianity instructed, I think the impulses generally are noble, and even romantic. Youth characteristically aspires to do things that are right, and to do them in a right manner. One of the earliest experiences is that of surprise and even horror at the world’s ignoble ways, and the temporary withdrawal of the young soul from its first contacts with life. Its first comprehension of actual life, and of what must be done in the world, if one would succeed, violates its romantic notion of manly truthfulness, of straightforwardness, of honourable dealings. Almost all young men come up to that period of life at which they are to break away from home, and go out into the world, with the most generous purposes. They seem inspired by truth, honesty, fidelity, enterprise, generosity, honour and even heroism. These all belong to youthful aspirations. They mean never to forsake these things. They mean to carry these qualities into their lives, and to live by them. Now these are God’s good angels to you; not that there are none better; but it may be well said that these nobler incitements, and motives, and aspirations stand along the line of a young man’s plans in life as so many angelic messengers by which he purposes to work out his ideal in life. Let every one who begins life, then, have a plan along which are clearly seen noble sentiments and convictions. No plan is fit for achievement which you cannot achieve by open, honest, clean, upright Christian motives. You cannot afford to succeed by any other course. Your ladder, though standing on the ground, should rest its top in heaven; and there should be angels constantly passing between the top and the bottom. It is bad enough to have a plan that begins on earth and stays on earth; but for a man having a good plan to consent to execute it from base sentiments or by base influences, is unpardonable. Your life will task and prove you. Do not, however, let it drive away from you those influences which overhang your childhood. Have they not already gone from some of you? Has not an enamel already formed over some of your tender feelings? Have not some of you boasted of forgetfulness? Have you not boasted that you no longer remembered or were influenced by those tender impulses? and that you have strengthened yourself against them? that you have devastated, to some extent, purity, delicacy, refinement, truth, honour, justice, and rectitude? Are you not already working down toward the animal conditions of life? Do not, however, trust alone to those generous sentiments. Morality is not piety. In the vision of Jacob there was not alone the ladder between the earth and heaven, and the angels ascending and descending, but brightest, and best, and grandest, and behind all the angels, stood God, saying to him, “I am thy father’s God.” Now high above all a man’s plans, high above all his heroic moral resolves, there is to be a living trust in God; and there is to be a soul-connection between ourselves or our business, and our God. All our life long we must not be far from Him. Piety must quicken morality; then life will be safe, and will be successful. Here, then, is a general schedule of a right life; something to do that is right; a plan by which you shall execute a right life by right instruments; and over all, the benign, genial, stimulating influence of the heavenly Father. Business, morality, piety--these three should be coupled together. They are the trinity of influences from which every one should act, and it is transcendently important that young men should find this out before they find out anything else. Blessed be that man who, going from his father’s house, and lying down to sleep, though it be upon the ground, and though the stones be under his head, sees a ladder between heaven and earth, typifying his future life, and on that ladder angels ascending and descending, and hears God saying to him, “I am thy God.” That is an inspiration on life’s threshold, worth any man’s aspirations. (H. W.Beecher)
The comfortable vision
Four points present themselves for consideration in the spiritual meaning of this vision.
I. The perfect Manhood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The ladder “was set up on the earth.”
II. The eternal Godhead of our Lord Jesus Christ. “The top of it reached to heaven.”
III. The mediatorial character of our Lord Jesus Christ, resulting from this union of two natures in one Person. He is here represented as a ladder between earth and heaven.
IV. The communications carried on through the Mediator between earth and heaven. The angels of God were seen “ascending and descending on” the ladder. Prayer, grace, mercy, peace, praise--these are the messages, with which the several angels are charged respectively. (Dean Goulburn)
I. The appearance is a ladder; and, now, the dullest of comprehension must at once feel that one mournful truth is here taught. We are plainly reminded of this emblem that the natural normal communication between God and man has been destroyed; and that, by the fall, this planet has been placed in a state of isolation and non-intercourse with heaven.
II. Having considered the first truth taught by this vision, let us now pass to the second, let us examine the medium which God provides to renew this intercourse, to re-establish this alliance between earth and heaven. We have spoken of a disruption, of a chasm such as no thunder ever rifted, and over this abyss angel thoughts must have often hovered in grief and dismay. And, now, can this breach never be healed? is this yawning gulf for ever impassable? Can no skill construct, no virtue, no prayers, win a path of return for a single soul? Must all hope for man be for ever buried in despair? To these questions human reason could not have given but one answer. Human reason, did I say? Cherub and seraph must have shuddered as they gazed at the rent sin had made; and, recalling a frightful tragedy among the celestial hierarchies, they must have felt that for man all was “lost”--not in danger of being lest--but lost, the soul lost, heaven lost, hope lost, all lost, and lost for ever. But blessed be God, hosannah to His grace; everlasting praises to Him who came “to seek and to save that which was lost,” these questions have been answered, and so answered that angels are lost in pondering such mercy. Eternal wisdom and power and love have solved the problem, and solved it by consecrating for us “a new and living way.” In the first place, observe that God, not man, is the architect of this ladder. Jacob did nothing--could do nothing--towards its construction. And so, if we “have boldness to enter into the holiest,” it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done,” but “by the blood of Jesus.” Mark, in the next place, the form and position of this ladder; its foot is planted on the earth, and its top reaches to heaven. A third truth taught by this remarkable vision is the freeness of salvation by Jesus. What conditions are here interposed? What fitness? What works? Between God and man there is one mediator, Jesus Christ; but between that mediator and man there is, there can be none.
III. We have thus seen that the ladder on which Jacob gazed was a type of Christ, of the mysterious interference by which heaven and earth are reconciled. It is not, however, only in this district of God’s moral dominion that so wonderful an interposition is the subject of intense and adoring interest. On this ladder the patriarch saw an order of beings far superior to man. From top to bottom it swarmed with radiant cherubim and seraphim, “the angels of God ascending and descending.” “Ascending and descending”; exulting that this new avenue has been opened; and, at once, in eager bands, pouring down to earth as “ministering spirits to minister to them who are heirs of salvation.” “Descending”; coming down to encamp about the righteous, whether they sleep or wake, and deliver them--as it is written, “He shall give His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways; they shall bear thee up in their hands lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” And “ascending”; now to bear the news of a sinner’s repentance and send a tide of rapture and gratulation along the habitations of heaven; and now to escort the soul of some Lazarus--to guard it from the “prince of the power of the air,” who watches like a wolf scared from his prey--to guide it on its course, some as strong-winged avant couriers, and some as convoys wafting it up to realms of peace and purity and love, to the bosom of its God. (R. Fuller.)
The vision in the wilderness
I. THE WEARY WANDERER.
II. THE WONDROUS VISION.
III. THE WILLING VOW. Rather a response to God than a bargain with Him. Lessons: Note how Jacob, in this journey, may represent three stages in spiritual experience.
1. The penitent; feeling the burden of sin.
2. The believer; rejoicing, with trembling, in God’s revelation of mercy.
3. The worshipper; consecrating his whole life to the service of his God and Saviour. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
Jacob’s night at Bethel
This sacred story of Jacob’s night at Bethel may serve to teach us that in our darkest and most desolate moments God may be using our trouble and despondency as a means of drawing our hearts to Him. We may find Him nearest when we thought Him farthest off. What the world would call the greatest misfortune may be found to have been sent in the greatest mercy. There is no such word as chance or accident in the inspired vocabulary of faith. Nobody but a sceptic or a misanthrope would say of himself “I am as a weed, Flung from the rock on ocean’s foam to sail Where’er the surge may sweep, the tempest’s breath prevail.” All places are safe, all losses are profitable, all things work together for good to them that love God. Every experience of the unsatisfactory nature of earthly things should direct us to the stronghold of hope. Every pang caused by an uneasy conscience should awaken within us a more intense longing for the peace which passeth all understanding. Out in mid-ocean there is a ship tossing on the waves. The night is dark, the winds are high. The angry elements rage and howl as if determined to tear the shattered vessel in pieces or sink it in the deep. A sailor-boy has just climbed down from the swinging mast and crept into his narrow locker, wet and cold, to get a little rest. He sleeps unconscious of the howl of the storm and the roll of the groaning ship. His heart is far away in that quiet home which he left for a roving life on the seas. He hears again the voice of evening prayer offered from the parental lips, and one fervent, tender petition bears his own name to the throne of the infinite mercy. The Sabbath bell calls, and he goes in the light of memory, with his youthful companions, along the green walks and beneath the shade of ancient trees to the village church. He hears the blessed words of Christ, “Come unto Me.” God is speaking to that wanderer upon the seas as He spoke to Jacob at Bethel in the dreams of the night. And that vision of home and voice of prayer is sent to that sailor-boy to make the tossing ship to him the house of God and gate of heaven. When he wakes from that brief and troubled sleep, he has only to answer the call of Heaven, as Jacob did, with the gift of his heart, and that night of tossing on the lonely seas shall be to him also the beginning of a new and a better life. Far away, among the mountains of Nevada, where of old God’s creative hand locked up veins of gold in the fissures of the rock, the weary miner lies down in his cheerless cabin to sleep. It is the evening of the blessed Sabbath, and yet to him it has not been a day of rest. Work, work, work, with hammer and spade and drill, from morn to eve, through all the week, has been his life for months and years. His calloused hands, and stiffened frame, and weary step, tell of hardships such as few can bear and live. And he has borne them all--with heat and cold, and rain and drought, and famine and fever--that he might fill his hands with gold. And now, in this wakeful and lonely hour, something impels him to ask himself what all the treasures of the mountains would be worth to him if he had not found rest for his soul. To that tired, Sabbathless worker in his solitude comes a gentle influence, as if it were an angel’s whisper, to tell him of riches that never perish, and of a home where the weary are at rest. Thus, all round the earth--on the sea and the land, in the city and the wilderness, by night and by day--God is calling wanderers home. (D. March, D. D.)
The angels of God ascending and descending on it
Ascending and descending angels
I. The first white-winged angel whom I ask you to look in the face is ADVANCEMENT. From our earliest to our latest years personal advancement is a keen and noble satisfaction. It is the antagonism which we have to overcome which makes our effort interesting and meritorious. When we strive to go up, the force of gravitation pulls us back. The inertia of our own bodies must be overcome; the lungs, heart, and brain must be subjected to a greater pressure. And it is just so in our moral life. Therefore the saint says, “It was good for me that I was afflicted.” Therefore we teach that discontent is a good thin, g, that languorous situations are to be avoided, and that a repletion of any sort is dangerous to the soul. Just as soon as a man feels that there is no need for further effort, his angel descends. Perhaps one reason why the angels of little children always behold the face of their Father who is in heaven is because children grow so fast and hunger so after knowledge, and ask questions so far-reaching that they puzzle their too often motionless elders. Biology teaches that, in the life below our own, the life of the animals, when some function which has been long and sorely striven for, perhaps through countless generations, gets fixed in the order of life, its action becomes automatic, and is no longer a factor in the mental outreaching of the individual. It is so also with man. You may be advanced beyond your neighbours in generosity of belief, in the strictness of your veracity, in the extent of your benevolence; but if you are simply carrying out the spiritual functions which your ancestors organized in you by toil and tears, if your faith, truthfulness, charity, cost you no effort, no upward strain, it is not accounted to you for righteousness. And then we learn from science that everything which can become merely mechanical has its day and ceases to be. Only that which is subject to perpetual change can survive.
II. The next angel is MORALITY. Even morality in us is not always ascending. It proceeds or recedes. How many times in the world’s history all rights have been determined and all moralities squared! To-day nothing is more alarming to most people than the notion that right has been a variable thing with the growing ages. Conscience is the voice of God in the soul of man; but how has that soul of man echoed and contorted the voice! The sense of the right is growing, as it long has grown in the race. Except it is growing in you, as an individual, so that you feel its birth-pangs, and struggle with them, it is not an ascending angel for you. Morality is an angel anywhere--in African jungles, where it keeps a man from killing the members of his household unless they are old or sick, and in the best neighbour you can call to mind, who is too honourable to take an unfair advantage of another. Cicero was moral; and we are told that Brutus was an houourable man. But the stride which morality took from these Roman heroes to Abraham Lincoln is a very marked one, known and read of all men. Thirty years since it was immoral in America not to respect the physical rights of white men. To-day it is immoral not to maintain the rights of men, whatever their colour. After a little it will be accounted simply moral to give woman her rights, the custody of her own child, the control of her own earnings and clothes, the right to express an opinion as to how much she shall be taxed, how much of her property the public may appropriate, the right to as much civil consideration as the ignorant Irishman receives who cracks stone on the road. Some time we shall so enlarge the boundaries of morality that men will be forbidden to enslave the minds of their fellows, that they may appropriate their property through the larceny of their brains. Some time it will be thought as dastardly a deed to slowly unnerve and stamp out men by whiskey as it was to poison them with wines, perfumes, roses, and fans in the soft days of luxurious Rome. Some time a man who simply does so much right as custom exacts, who clamours for the letter, as Shylock for the word of the bond, shall be a byword and a hissing; for the only claim you can lay upon the future springs from your individual advance upon the sense of morality you have inherited.
III. The third angel is INSPIRATION. Of what avail is the evolution of our life below, and the growth of conduct into better and best, if the Holy Spirit does not occasionally hold us as the pledge of eternal possession? For, of course, by inspiration here I mean the filling of your soul and mine with the sweetest assurance. The inspiration which made our sacred volume, which long since scented and winged a poet soul in Persia, so that its orisons flew to our day and clime, which made great India like a sandal-wood chest out of which come to-day poems and teachings, fragrantly preserved, is only as a faded nosegay which your aged mother shows as a souvenir of her young days, only as a pathetic glove which a century since eased a young hand which soon was dust. But to you there may come an exhilaration before which clover-scented mornings are but a passing dream. The descending angel of inspiration is going down now to trouble the waters of ancient Siloam, hovering with a ghost’s dead hands over interpretations of Scripture long since palsied through disuse, raising again the widow’s son by the gate of Nain. The ascending angel is wreathing with an electric flush the human pillar of integrity; it is steadying man’s moral nerve to translate correctly all that observers see in nature and life; it is lifting from the dead past capacities which have lapsed in us, in our forward march, and restoring to man an equable health of body and soul, a confidence in an all-round Providence, which will make us patient and calm, and a power of knowing much which is unseen, as animals know, and even inanimate life, but which is as dropped stitches in our life. The angel of inspiration bids us look up, and calls, “Come”; but, in looking and going upward, we lift the world with us. Believe that inspiration is ahead of you and within. It is a messenger of God. It is the crown of effort and of purity. It does not descend with family heirlooms, mental or moral. It is the gift of God to the individual. There are many angels besides those I have named. Belief is one, if it is allied to inspiration; but let these three lead you--Advancement, Morality, Inspiration. They can open to you abiding joys of which my word is but a feeble hint:--
“Around your lifetime golden ladders rise;
And up and down the skies,
With winged sandals shod,
The angels come and go, the messengers of God.”
I. The most obvious truth herein conveyed s, of course, the constant presence and activity of the inhabitants of heaven; and indeed it is the general tenor of Scripture that God acts upon us men by and through the angelic host. “The providence of God,” says Bishop Bull, “in the government of this lower world, is in a great part administered by the holy angels. These, as Philo terms them, are ‘the ears and eyes of the Universal King.’” The expression alludes to the government of earthly monarchs, who have their deputies in all parts of their dominion, who are, as it were, the eyes by which they see and the hands by which they act. Now, if we learn to believe in the principle that God deals with us through the ministrations of angels, we shall have to believe also that we ourselves are in these days the subject of these ministrations, although we behold them not. It is not empty space between earth and heaven; the pathways of the air are filled like the roads and avenues of this world. “The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels.” Bound upon unnumbered missions, they hurry to and fro, those swift and shining forms; now to superintend a kingdom’s welfare, now to hold up a monarch’s steps; now to guard the head of some mighty chief in the shock of battle, now to wait beside the sick bed of some houseless poor one, to suggest thoughts of peace to the heart racked with pain and care; and eventually, when the last sand has run out, to waft the liberated soul to the green pastures and the still waters of paradise: for have we not read how it is that they receive us into the everlasting habitations? And it is as revealing this general and universal law that the dream of Jacob is especially remarkable. What he saw then is always, unceasingly, going on. “Ascending and descending” I From the beginning of the world’s history until now that ever-moving host have been rushing to and fro, unseen, save by him who slumbered on the couch of stone. “He called the place Bethel,” and supposed that the particular spot on which he rested was opposite to the gate of heaven. Ah! vain imagination! in every quarter of creation the same dazzling scene is being enacted. From every part of the firmament are ever, ever issuing those “watchers and holy ones.” No foot of earth is unvisited by them, no tract of air is unswept by their forms of fire. In the bright sunshine they are with us; in the stilly hours of slumber they keep sentinel watch around us. Do you ask bow it happens that we feel them not? Yea, sirs, do we not feel their influence? Have we never experienced strong and irresistible impulses upon our minds to do certain things, impulses which we cannot explain, but which the event proves to have been for our good? Have we never been diverted, by sudden and unexpected accidents cast in our way, from going on some journey which, if we had pursued, we learn afterwards, would have been productive of loss of life or limb? What strange ominous forebodings and fears ofttimes seize upon men of the strongest minds, warnings of approaching perils or of coming death, warnings which, if listened unto, would enable many a man to prepare for his meeting with God. And all these things we would have you attribute to nothing less than the care and tenderness of those guardian spirits, who are never far absent from the heirs of salvation. And is there nothing more? Have we not seen or read of death-beds where the sufferer hath been soothed by whisperings unheard by other ears, and charmed with the melody of strains which none could catch save the parting soul? Oh, men and brethren, call it not what the infidel calls it, the wanderings of a disordered mind. Rather believe that angel-guards are verily near, nerving the soul in the last agony, and beckoning onwards to its rest. Rather believe that, as the earthly house of this tabernacle decays, the immortal spirit gets closer converse with celestial things. Rather learn to hope that ye too, when your last hour arrives, and ye stand trembling on the brink of eternity, may be calmed and encouraged by the sight of the ministers of grace, and see in a measure what Jacob saw of old, “the angels of God ascending and descending” around you.
II. If we take the vision as designed to instruct the mind of the patriarch as to angelic ministries, we cannot suppose “the ladder planted upon the earth” to be without significance. What, then, may we hence learn? what further light is hence thrown upon the mysterious subject of spiritual agency? Now, the first truth conveyed to us has reference, we think, to the nature of angels. Jacob saw angels ascending and descending, but he saw this descent and ascent accomplished by a ladder. There was an external and independent instrumentality. The language of Scripture does not teach us to regard the angels as purely spiritual creatures. It is probably the peculiar property of God alone to be entirely immaterial. “God,” it is emplastically declared, “is a Spirit.” He, and none beside Him, is wholly without bodily parts. It is, indeed, said of the Almighty, “He maketh His angels spirits”; but we are not hence to conclude that they have no body at all. When the term spirit is employed to denote the angelic nature, we must take it in a lower sense, to denote their exemption from those gross and earthly bodies which the inhabitants of this world possess. They are not flesh and blood, as we are; nor is their substance like any of those things that fall under our observation. Yet have they a body, subject, it would appear, to the action of time; for in the Book of Daniel the angel Gabriel declares that the command was given him to visit the prophet when he began his supplications; and it is added that, flying swiftly, he came to him and touched him about the hour of the evening sacrifice. Now, it is the proper attribute of a body, as distinguished from a pure spirit, to require time to convey itself from one locality to another. “God is a Spirit,” a perfect Spirit, and He is everywhere at once; a body cannot be in more than one spot at a time. The angels, then, we conclude, have bodies, but bodies of a most refined and glorious quality. The bodies of angels, we may conceive, are spiritual bodies; not like ours, sluggish and inactive, incapable of keeping pace with the nimble and rapid movements of the mind, but of a wonderful subtlety, travelling with an inconceivable velocity, possessed of stupendous power. Jacob saw them ascending and descending upon a ladder, spanning the space between heaven and earth. He did not behold them moving about in an instant, everywhere at once; there was the appearance of a material communication, just such as beings with bodies would require. To delineate purely spiritual creatures as ascending and descending upon a ladder would be an absurdity. The introduction of a ladder into the patriarch’s dream is an intimation that the angels, though vastly more glorious than men, are yet utterly unlike God in their nature; that they are not, in short, quite free from the burden of matter. And it may be that higher truths still are taught by the erection of that mystic ladder, whose foot was upon the ground, and its top reaching unto heaven. We cannot wholly dissever the text from a remarkable speech of our blessed Lord. “Hereafter,” said Christ, “shall ye see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” The Redeemer Himself steps forward as the interpreter of Jacob’s dream, and represents Himself as fulfilling the type of the ladder which arrested the patriarch’s gaze. And it is not hard to understand how this may be. For is it not through Christ, and for His merits, that the communication between man and God was not quite cut off at Adam’s fall? Was it not for Christ’s sake alone that the Almighty did not utterly excommunicate the race of men, and shut up His compassions from them? Indeed, indeed, if there has been angelic guardianship extended to the saints, if the seraphim and cherubim have busied themselves with this lower world, it has only been because Christ Jesus has vouchsafed to take our nature upon Him. He has been the Way. As none of us can come to the Father save by Him, so neither angel nor archangel can visit us save by Him. (Bishop Woodford.)
The Incarnation a helpful fact
Do you think the idea of the Incarnation too aerial and speculative to carry with you for help in rough, practical matters? The Incarnation is not a mere idea, but a fact as substantial and solidly rooted in life as anything you have to do with. Even the shadow of it Jacob saw carried in it so much of what was real that when he was broad awake he trusted it and acted on it. It was not scattered by the chill of the morning air, nor by that fixed staring reality which external nature assumes in the grey dawn as one object after another shows itself in the same spot and form in which night had fallen upon it. There were no angels visible when he opened his eyes; the staircase was there, but it was of no heavenly substance, and if it had any secret to tell, it coldly and darkly kept it. There was no retreat for the runaway from the poor common facts of yesterday. The sky seemed as far from earth as it did yesterday, his tract over the hills as lonely, his brother’s wrath as real; but other things also had become real; and as he looked back from the top of the hill on the stone he had set up, he felt the words, “I am with thee in all places whither thou goest,” graven on his heart, and giving him new courage; and he knew that every footfall of his was making a Bethel, and that as he went he was carrying God through the world. The bleakest rain that swept across the hills of Bethel could never wash out of his mind the vision of bright-winged angels, as little as they could wash off the oil or wear down the stone he had set up. The brightest glare of this world’s heyday of real life could not outshine and cause them to disappear; and the vision on which we hope is not one that vanishes at cock-crow, nor is He who connects us with God shy of human handling, but substantial as ourselves. (M. Doris, D. D.)
I will not leave thee, until I have done all that which I have spoken to thee of
There are two very observable facts which may be gathered from the joint study of the Bible and our own hearts.
1. That we are prone to distrust the promises of God, though we know Him to be unchangeable.
2. That God so condescends to our weakness that He reduplicates His pledges, in order, as it were, to compel us into confidence.
I. God speaks to His people of sin blotted out; He speaks of the thorough reconciliation which Christ has effected between Himself and the sinner; He speaks of His presence as accompanying the pilgrim through the wilderness; of His grace as sufficient for every trial which may or can be encountered. The things of which God speaks to His people spread themselves through the whole of the unmeasured hereafter, and it must follow that the pledge of our not being left until the things spoken of are done is tantamount to an assurance that we shall never be left and never forsaken.
II. The text is thus a kind of mighty guarantee, giving such a force to every declaration of God, that nothing but an unbelief the most obstinate can find ground for doubt or perplexity. It does not stand by itself, but comes in as an auxiliary in declaring God’s glorious intention. It is a provision against human faithlessness, words which may well be urged when a man is tempted with the thought that, after all, a thing spoken of is not a thing done, and which bid him throw from him the thought that God is not bound to perform whatever He has promised. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
God’s purpose and its fulfilment
1. God has a plan or scheme of life for every one of us, and His purposes embrace every part of that plan.
2. No words of God about our life will be left unfulfilled.
3. There is no unfinished life. The promise is a promise of--
(3) Fellowship. (S. Martin.)
The companionship of God
I. In what does the treasure of God’s companionship consist? It consists--
1. In the consciousness of God’s personality.
2. In the precious possessions he gives us--love, reason, conscience, will. To our conscience new light is given; to our love new spheres are open; our will receives new strength from the new example of His love and grace.
II. While these faculties are taken up the companionship of God becomes a reality of our daily life and our “exceeding great reward.” And then, besides, and with all this, we have the consciousness of communion with the Incarnate Word--“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever”; we know what to do and where to find Him. In this life we are to walk by faith. Our capacities are not intended to be satisfied here, but they shall be satisfied hereafter. (Bishop King.)
A fourfold comfort
Against his fourfold cross, here is a fourfold comfort.
1. Against the loss of his friends, “I will be with thee.”
2. Of his country, “I will give thee this land.”
3. Against his poverty, “Thou shalt spread abroad to the east, west,” &c.
4. His solitariness; angels shall attend thee, and “thy seed shall be as the dust,” &c. And “who can count the dust of Jacob,” said Balsam Numbers 23:10). Now, whatsoever God spake herewith Jacob, He spake with us, as well as with him, saith Hoses (Hoses. 12:4). (J. Trapp.)
Purpose in a promise
Every true man’s life is charged with a purpose of God, which will mould it and master it, so as that it may best work out His glory. He who notes the fall of the sparrow sees, numbers, and knows each human soul. He has intrusted it with a certain office and privilege. He has created it that it might glorify Him. He has endowed that soul with existence that it might be guided into His all-wise purpose, and afterwards received to share with Him His glory.
I. Observe, then, carefully in the first place, that this being the chief end of man, there will always have to be some secondary and subordinate ends. These must be reckoned in; for they all tend towards the main end, and indeed receive their entire value from their connection with that.
II. Observe, furthermore, that if there be so many subordinate purposes in the one purpose of God, there must of necessity be many instruments also.
III. Observe, in the third place, that with a purpose so complicated as God’s is, in order to introduce every man’s life into it, it will be possible that in some cases more than half the years which any given person lives will have to be spent just in rendering him ready to come in efficiently at the exact point when he is needed.
IV. Observe, once more, that if these varied instruments employed in carrying out the grand purpose are so many, and need so much preparation, there will be an evident necessity that a large number of teachers and trainers shall be kept at God’s service in instructing them. (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)
The Keeper of Israel
I. THE COMPANY. Jehovah Himself.
II. THE OFFICE. The Keeper of Israel.
III. THE MARCH. “All places whither thou goest.”
IV. THE ENGAGEMENT. “I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” (J. Irons.)
I. GOD’S PRESENCE.
IV. FAITHFULNESS. (C. Clayton, M. A.)
Four choice sentences
I. First, turn to the twenty-eighth chapter of Genesis, at the fifteenth verse, and read of PRESENT BLESSING. The Lord said to His servant Jacob, “Behold, I am with thee.”
1. Jacob was the inheritor of a great blessing from his fathers, for this sentence was spoken in connection with the following words,” I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.” It is an inexpressible privilege, to be able to look back to father and grandfather, and perhaps farther still, and to say, “We come of a house which has served the Lord as far back as history can inform us.” Descended from Christians, we have a greater honour than being descended from princes. There is no heraldry like the heraldry of the saints. Be not satisfied unless you yourself obtain such mercy as God gave to your ancestors, and hear the Lord saying, “I am with thee.”
2. This mercy was brought home to Jacob at a time when he greatly needed it. He had just left his father’s house, and he felt himself alone. He was coming into special trial, and then it was that he received a fuller understanding of the privilege which God had in store for him. Let me read the words to you--“I am with thee.” That God should send His angel with Jacob to protect him would have been much; but it is nothing compared with, “I am with thee.” This includes countless blessings, but it is in itself a great deal more than all the blessings we can conceive of. There are many fruits that come of it, but the tree that yields them is better than the fruit.
3. Why, when God is with a man there is a familiarity of condescension that is altogether unspeakable: it ensures an infinite love. “I am with thee.” God will not dwell with those He hates.
4. “I am with thee”--it means practical help. Whatever we undertake, God is with us in the undertaking; whatever we endure, God is with us in the enduring; whithersoever we wander, God is with us in our wandering. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” If God be with us, can we ever be exiled or banished? If God be with us, what can we not do? If God be with us, what can we not endure?
II. Now turn to the thirty-first chapter of Genesis, at the third verse, and read these words--“I will be with thee.” We will call this FUTURE BLESSING. It is almost unnecessary to take this second text; for if it is written, “I am with thee,” you may depend upon it that He will be with us, for God does not forsake His people.
III. I want to go a step further, and come, in the third place, to EXPERIENCED BLESSINGS. Let us look at Jacob’s experience. Did Jacob find God to be with him? Turn to the thirty-first chapter again, and read the fifth verse. Up to as far as the time that he was about to leave Laban, he says--“The God of my father hath been with me.” I have read that testimony with great joy. I thought of Jacob thus--Well, you certainly were not eminent for grace while with Laban. You were plotting and scheming--you against Laban and Laban against you; and yet your witness is, “The God of my father hath been with me.” This is all the more encouraging as coming from you. Jacob seems to say of his God: It was He that gave me my wife and my children; it was He that prospered me in the teeth of those who tried to rob me; the God of my father hath been with me notwithstanding all my shortcomings. I trust that some of you can bear the like witness. Though you have net been all that you could wish in the Christian life, yet you can say, “The God of my father has been with me.” Now, we will look at him a little further on, in the thirty-fifth chapter, and the third verse: there we shall find him saying--“Let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.” As I have already said, he left Laban’s house; and it was a very venturesome journey, but God was with him: Jacob tells us that so it was. Poor Jacob was full of fear when he heard that Esau was coming to meet him. You can see that by the way in which he divided his flocks and his herds, and set apart so large a present for Esau. But God does not leave His people because of their fears. I am so thankful for that. There was a night of wrestling with Jacob. On that day, too, I have no doubt, Jacob was very much cast down, because he remembered his sin. He knew he had ill-treated Esau, and robbed him of the blessing; but, for all that, he came with a repentant heart to submit himself before his brother and to do what he could to please him. Because of this, God was with him. At the close of his life we find Jacob more fully than ever confessing that the presence of God had been with him. I read you the passage where he wished that the God that had been with him might be with his grandsons in the selfsame way--the forty-eighth chapter, at the fifteenth and sixteenth verses. “He blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads.” There is his last testimony to the faithfulness of God. He had lost Rachel--oh, how it stung his heart! but he says, “God redeemed me from all evil.” There had come a great famine in the land; but he says that God had fed him all his life long. He had lost Joseph, and that had been a great sorrow; but now, in looking back, he sees that even then God was redeeming him from all evil. He said once, “Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away; all these things are against me”; but now he eats his words, and says, “The Lord hath redeemed me from all evil.” He now believes that God had been always with him, had fed him always, and redeemed him always, and blessed him always. Now, mark you, if you trust in God, this shall be your verdict at the close of life.
IV. We have had present blessing; we have had future blessing; we have had experienced blessing three times over; and now we go to TRANSMITTED BLESSING; for we find Jacob transmitting the blessing to his son and to his grandson. Read in the forty-eighth chapter, at the twenty-first verse “Behold, I die: but God shall be with you.” I commenced by noticing the blessing which passed on from Abraham to Isaac; and now we see that Jacob hands it on to Joseph, Manasseh, and to Ephraim--“I die: but God shall be with you.” Blessed be the everlasting God--if Abraham dies, there is Isaac; and if Isaac dies, there is Jacob; and if Jacob dies, there is Joseph; and if Joseph dies, Ephraim and Manasseh survive. The Lord shall never lack a champion to bear His standard high among the sons of men. Only let us pray God to raise up more faithful ministers. That ought to be our prayer day and night. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Surely the Lord is In this place, and I knew it not
The sense of God’s presence
This living sense of God’s presence with us is a leading feature of the character of all His saints under every dispensation. This is the purpose of all God’s dealings with every child of Adam--to reveal Himself to them and in them. He kindles desires after Himself; He helps and strengthens the wayward will; He broods with a loving energy over the soul; He will save us if we will be saved. All God’s saints learn how near He is to them, and they rejoice to learn it. They learn to delight themselves in the Lord--He gives them their hearts’ desire.
II. Notice, secondly, how this blessing is bestowed on us. For around us, as around David, only far more abundantly, are appointed outward means, whereby God intends to reveal Himself to the soul. This is the true character of every ordinance of the Church: all are living means of His appointment, whereby He reveals Himself to those who thirst after Him. We use these means aright when through them we seek after God. Their abuse consists either in carelessly neglecting these outward things or ill prizing them for themselves and so resting in them, by which abuse they are turned into especial curses. (Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
You cannot understand the annals of the race, unless you employ the doctrine of special providence for your key. “We need celestial observations,” said Coleridge, “whenever we attempt to mark out terrestial chalets.” It was reported as great wisdom, though uninspired, when somebody remarked, “Man proposes, God disposes.” But wisdom inspired had said long before that: “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.”
I. Let us look, for a moment, through the familiar incidents of the Scriptural story, for the sake of some quiet illustrations they furnish The only way to look upon Scripture characters is to contemplate them on the heaven side, to just look up straight at them. In our conceit, we are sometimes wont to estimate these worthies of the Old and New Testaments as being altogether such as ourselves, wilfulest and most blind, moving self-impelled in orbits of earthly history. Just as a child contemplates the stars it sees far down in a placid lake, over the surface of which it sails. They do seem mere points of fire under the water, and an infant mind may well wonder what is their errand there. It ought, however, to need no more than a mature instructor’s voice to remind the mistaken boy that these are but images; the true stars are circling overhead, where the creating Hand first placed them in a system. So these orbs of human existence, distinct, rounded, inclusive, must be judged, not as they appear down here in the confused depths of a merely human career, but aloft, where they belong, orbited in their settled and honourable place in the counsels of God;--
“For ever singing, as they shine, The hand that made us is Divine.”
II. Nor is the case otherwise, when we enter the field of secular history for a new series of illustrations. The Almighty, in building up His architectures of purpose, seems to have been pleased to use light and easy strokes, slender instruments, and dedicate took He uses the hands less, the horns coming out of His hands more, for “there is the hiding of His power.” He has employed the least things to further the execution of His widest plans, sometimes bringing them into startling prominence, and investing them with critical, and to all appearance incommensurate, importance. What we call accidents are parts of His ordinary, and even profound, counsels, lie chooses the weakest things of this world to confound the mighty. Two college students by a haystack began the Foreign Mission work. An old marine on ship-board commenced the Association for Sailors. The tears of a desolate Welsh girl, crying for a Testament, led to the first society for distributing Bibles. Were these events accidents? No; nor these lives either. God reached the events through the lives. “The Lord” was “in that place.” He established those lives, nameless or named, like sentinels at posts. They did their office when the time came. They may not have understood it, but the Lord did. And even they understood it afterwards.
III. We might arrest the argument here. I choose to push it on one step further, and enter the field of individual biography. In our every-day existence we sometimes run along the verge of the strangest possibilities, any one of which would make or mar the history. And nobody ever seems to know it but God. I feel quite sure most of us could mention the day and the hour when a certain momentous question was decided for us, the effect of which was to fix our entire future. Our profession, our home, our relationships all grew out of it. No man can ever be satisfied that his life has been mere commonplace. Events seem striking, when we contemplate the influence they have had on ourselves. A journey, a fit of sickness, a windfall of fortune, the defection of a friend--any such incident is most remarkable when all after-life feels it. We never appreciate these things at the time. Yet at this moment you can point your finger to a page in the unchangeable Book, and say honestly: “The Lord was in that place, and I knew it not.” We are ready, now, I should suppose, to search out the use to which this principle may be applied in ordering our lives.
1. In the beginning, we learn here at once, who are the heroes and heroines of the world’s history. They are the people who have most of the moulding care, and gracious presence of God. It may be quite true they know it not. But they will know it in the end.
2. Our next lesson has to do with what may be considered the sleeps and stirs of experience. The soul is beginning to battle with its human belongings, and to struggle after peace under the pressure of high purposes, the sway of which it neither wills to receive, nor dares to resist. The Lord is in that place, and the man knows it not. Now what needs to be done, when Christian charity deals with him? You see he is asleep; yet the ladder of Divine grace out in the air over him makes him stir. He dreams.
He is sure to see the passing and repassing angels soon, if you treat him rightly. He must be carefully taught and tenderly admonished.
3. We may learn likewise a third lesson; the text teaches something as to blights in life. The world is full of cowed individuals; of men and women broken in spirit, yet still trying to hold on. Some catastrophe took them down. They cannot right up again. Many a man knows that a single event, lasting hardly a day or a night, has changed his entire career. He questions now, in all candour, whether he might not as well slip quietly out under the eaves, and take his abrupt chances of a better hereafter. If a blight results from one’s own will and intelligent sin, he deserves a scar and a limp. Pray God to forgive the past, and try to work the robustness of what remains into new results. But if we were only sinned against, or were unfortunate, that goes for nothing. If we only suffered, and no sinew is wrung, we may well have done with thinking discontentedly of it. While the world stands, all Adam’s sons must work, and all Eve’s daughters must wail. No life is now, or is going to be, blighted, that can still take a new start. Begin again. These periods of reversal will all sweep by and by into the system of purposes. We shall sing songs of praise about them in heaven.
4. Hence our best lesson is the last; it tells us how to estimate final results. The true valuation of any human life can be made only when the entire account shall come in. Oh, how fine it is for any one to be told, as Jacob was: “I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee oil” How it magnifies and glorifies a human life to understand that God himself is urging it on to its ultimate reckoning! (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)
Jacob at Bethel
I. The first circumstance we must notice, is THE TIME WHEN THIS DISCOVERY OF GOD TO JACOB WAS MADE.
1. It was in a season of distress.
2. It was just after he had fallen into a grievous sin.
II. CONSIDER THE ENDS TO BE ANSWERED BY IT.
1. One design, then, of this vision certainly was to give Jacob at this time a lively impression of the presence and providence of God, His universal presence and ever active providence.
2. But God had another design in this vision. It was intended to renew and confirm to Jacob the promises He had given him.
III. But let us go on to notice THE EFFECTS PRODUCED ON JACOB BY THIS HEAVENLY VISION.
1. The first of these was just what we might have expected--a sense of God’s presence; a new, startling sense of it.
2. This vision produced fear also in Jacob. “He was afraid,” we read. “How dreadful,” he said, “is this place!” And yet why should Jacob fear? No spectacle of terror has been presented to him. No words of wrath have been addressed to him. There has appeared no visionary mount Sinai flaming and shaking before him. All he has seen and heard has spoken to him of peace. We might have expected him as he waked to have sung with joy. What a change since he laid himself down on these stones to sleep! The evils he most dreaded, all averted; the mercies he mourned over as lost, all restored. Happy must his sleep have been, and happy now his waking! But not one word do we read here of happiness. The Holy Spirit tells us only of Jacob’s fear. And why? To impress this truth on our minds, that the man who sees God never trifles with Him; that the soul He visits and gladdens with His mercy, He always fills with an awe of His majesty.
3. Notice yet one effect more of this scene--a desire in Jacob to render something to the God who had so visited him. And this seems to have risen up in his mind as soon as he awoke, and to have been an exceedingly strong desire. There is nothing he can do now for God, but he sets up a memorial of God’s loving kindness to him, and binds himself by a solemn purpose and vow to show in the days that are to come his thankfulness for it. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Jacob’s waking exclamation
I. First, THE DOCTRINE OF GOD’S OMNIPRESENCE. He is everywhere. In the early Christian Church there was a wicked heresy, which for a long while caused great disturbance, and exceeding much controversy. There were some who taught that Satan, the representative of evil, was of co-equal power with God, the representative of good. These men found it necessary to impugn the doctrine of God’s universal power. Their doctrine denied the all-pervading presence of God in the present world, and they seemed to imagine that we should of necessity have to get out of the world of nature altogether, before we could be in the presence of God. Their preachers seemed to teach that there was a great distance between God and His great universe; they always preached of Him as the King who dwelt in the land that was very far off; nay, they almost seemed to go as far as though they had said, “Between us and Him there is a great gulf fixed, so that neither can our prayers reach Him, nor can the thoughts of His mercy come down to us.” Blessed be God that error has long ago been exploded, and we as Christian men, without exception, believe that God is as much in the lowest hell as in the highest heaven, and as truly among the sinful hosts of mortals, as among the blissful choir of immaculate immortals, who day without night praise His name. He is everywhere in the fields of nature. Ye shall go where ye will; ye shall look to the most magnificent of God’s works, and ye shall say--“God is here, upon thine awful summit, O hoary Alp! in thy dark bosom, O tempest-cloud! and in thy angry breath, O devastating hurricane!” “He makes the clouds His chariot and rides upon the wings of the wind.” God is here. And so in the most minute--in the blossom of the apple, in the bloom of the tiny field flower, in the sea-shell which has been washed up from its mother-deep, in the sparkling of the mineral brought up from darkest mines, in the highest star or in yon comet that startles the nations and in its fiery chariot soon drives afar from mortal ken--great God, Thou art here, Thou art everywhere, From the minute to the magnificent, in the beautiful and in the terrible, in the fleeting and in the lasting, Thou art here, though sometimes we know it not.
2. Let us enter now the kingdom of Providence, again to rejoice that God is there. My brethren, let us walk the centuries, and at one stride of thought let us traverse the earliest times when man first came out of Eden, driven from it by the fall. Then this earth had no human population, and the wild tribes of animals roamed at their will. We know not what this island was then, save that we may suspect it to have been covered with dense forests, and perhaps inhabited by ferocious beasts; but God was here, as much here as He is to-day; as truly was He here then, when no ear heard His foot fall as He walked in the cool of the day in this great garden--as truly here as when to-day the songs of ten thousand rise up to heaven, blessing and magnifying His name. And then when our history began--turn over its pages and you will read of cruel invasions and wars which stained the soil with blood, and crimsoned it a foot deep with clotted gore; you will read of civil wars and intestine strifes between brother and brother, and you will say--“How is this? How was this permitted?” But if you read on and see how by tumult and bloody strife Liberty was served, and the best interests of man, you will say, “Verily, God was here. History will conduct you to awful battle-fields; she will bid you behold the garment rolled in blood; she will cover you with the thick darkness of her fire and vapour of smoke; and as you hear the clash of arms, and see the bodies of your fellow-men, you say, “The devil is here”; but truth will say, “No, though evil be here, yet surely God was in this place though we knew it not; all this was needful after all--these calamities are but revolutions of the mighty wheels of Providence, which are too high to be understood, but are as sure in their action as though we could predict their results.” Turn if you will to what is perhaps a worse feature in history still, and more dreary far--I mean the story of persecutions. Read how the men of God were stoned and were sawn asunder; let your imaginations revive the burnings of Smithfield, and the old dungeons of the Lollards’ Tower; think how with fire and sword, and instruments of torture, the fiends of hell seemed determined to extirpate the chosen seed. But remember as you read the bloodiest tragedy; as your very soul grows sick at some awful picture of poor tortured human flesh, that verily God was in that place, scattering with rough hands, it may be, the eternal seed, bidding persecution be as the blast which carries seed away from some fruit-bearing tree that it may take root in distant islets which it had never reached unless it had been carried on the wings of the storm. Thou art, O God, even where man is most in his sin and blasphemy; Thou art reigning over rebels themselves, and over those who seem to defy and to overturn Thy will. Remember, always, that in history, however dreadful may seem the circumstance of the narrative, surely God is in that place.
3. But we now come to the third great kingdom of which the truth holds good in a yet more evident manner--the kingdom of grace. In yonder province of conviction, where hard-hearted ones are weeping penitential tears, where proud ones who said they would never haw this Man to reign over them are bowing their knees to kiss the Son lest He be angry; where rocky, adamantine consciences have at last begun to feel; where obdurate, determined, incorrigible sinners have at last turned from the error of their ways-God is there, for were He not there, none of these holy feelings would ever have arisen, and the cry would never have been heard--“I will arise and go unto my Father.” And in yonder providence which shines under a brighter sun, where penitents with joy look to a bleeding Saviour, where sinners leap to lose their chains, sad oppressed ones sing because their burdens have rolled away; where they who were just now sitting in darkness and in the valley of the shadow of death have seen the great light--God is in that place, or faith had never come and hope had never arisen.And there in yonder province, brighter still, where Christians lay their bodies upon the altar as living sacrifices, where men with self-denying zeal think themselves to be nothing and Christ to be all in all; where the missionary leaves his kindred that he may die among the swarthy heathen; where the young man renounces brilliant prospects that he may be the humble servant of Jesus; where yonder work-girl toils night and day to earn her bread rather than sell her soul; where yonder toiling labourer stands up for the rights of conscience against the demands of the mighty; where yonder struggling believer still holds to God in all his troubles, saying--“Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him.” God is in that place, and he that has eyes to see will soon perceive His presence there. Where the sigh is heaving, where the tear is falling, where the song is rising, where the desire is mounting, where love is burning, hope anticipating, faith abiding, joy o’erflowing, patience suffering, and zeal abounding, God is surely present.
II. BUT HOW ARE WE TO RECOGNIZE THIS PRESENCE OF GOD? What is the spirit which shall enable us constantly to feel it?
1. If you would feel God’s presence, you must have an affinity to His nature. Your soul must have the spirit of adoption, and it will soon find out its Father. Your spirit must have a desire after holiness, and it will soon discover the presence of Him who is holiness itself. Your mind must be heavenly, and you will soon detect that the God of Heaven is here. The more nearly we become like God, the more Sure shall we be that God is where we are.
2. Next, there must be a calmness of spirit. God was in the place when Jacob came there that night, but he did not know it, for he was alarmed about his brother Esau; he was troubled, and vexed, and disturbed. He fell asleep, and his dream calmed him; he awoke refreshed; the noise of his troubled thoughts was gone and he heard the voice of God. More quiet we want, more quiet, more calm retirement, before we shall well be able, even with spiritual minds, to discover the sensible presence of God.
3. But then, next, Jacob had in addition to this calm of mind, a revelation of Christ. That ladder, as I have said in the exposition, was a picture of Christ, the way of access between man and God. You will never perceive God in nature, until you have learned to see God in grace.
4. More than this, no man will perceive God, wherever he may be, unless he knows that God has made a promise to be with him and is able by faith to look to the fulfilment of it. In Jacob’s case God said, “I will be with thee whithersoever thou goest, and I will not leave thee.” Christian, have you heard the same?
III. THE PRACTICAL RESULTS OF A FULL RECOGNITION IN THE SOUL OF THIS DOCTRINE OF GOD’S OMNIPRESENCE. One of the first things would be to check our inordinate levity. Cheerfulness is a virtue: levity a vice. How much foolish talking, how much jesting which is not convenient, would at once end if we said, “Surely God is in this place.” And you, if you are called to enter a den such as Bunyan called his dungeon, can say, “Surely God is in this place,” and you make it a palace at once. Some of you, too, are in very deep affliction. You are driven to such straits that you do not know where things will end, and you are in great despondency to-day. Surely God is in that place. As certain as there was one like unto the Son of God in the midst of the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, so surely on the glowing coals of your affliction the heavenly footprints may be seen, for surely God is in this place. You are called to-day to some extraordinary duty, and you do not feel strong enough for it. Go to it, for “Surely God is in this place.” You have to address an assembly this afternoon for the first time. Surely God is in that place. He will help you. The arm will not be far off on which you have to lean, the Divine strength will not be remote to which you have to look. “Surely God is in this place.” And, lastly, if we always remembered that God was where we are, what reverence would it inspire when we are in His house, in the place particularly and specially set apart for His service! Oh, may we remember “ Surely God is in this place,” and it will give us awe when we come into His immediate presence! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
How dreadful is this place I this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven
It must have been the freshness of Jacob’s sense of recent sin that made a spot so peaceful and so blessed seem to him a “dreadful” place. Everything takes its character from the conscience. Even a Bethel was awful, and the ladder of angels terrible, to a man who had just been deceiving his father and robbing his brother. The gates of our heaven are the places of our dread.
II. Strange and paradoxical as is this union of the sense of beauty, holiness, and fear, there are seasons in every man’s life when it is the sign of a right state of mind. There is a shudder at sanctity which is a true mark of life. The danger of the want of reverence is far greater than the peril of its excess. Very few, in these light and levelling days, are too reverent. The characteristic of its age is the absence.
III. Our churches stand among us to teach reverence. There are degrees of God’s presence. He fills all space, but in certain spots He gives Himself or reveals Himself, and therefore we say He is there more than in other places. A church is such a place. To those who use it rightly it may be a “gate of heaven.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The gate of heaven
I. GOD’S HOUSE IS ALWAYS WHERE THE LORD’S PRESENCE IS.
1. No forms whatsoever for church organization, or Sunday service, are given in the Bible.
2. Out-of-the-way places, unusual times, and unexpected assemblages of people, have been often chosen for extraordinary manifestations of the Lord’s presence.
3. The Head of the Church has given blessings to all Christians alike, of every name, when they have fully kept His covenant.
II. THE LORD’S PRESENCE IN GOD’S HOUSE MAKES IT TO BE THE GATE OF HEAVEN.
1. The figure used. Importance of gates to Eastern cities.
2. The Lord’s presence, so near, so splendid, so significant, made Jacob seem to himself to be at the very portal of the celestial city.
1. Learn to prize church privileges.
2. Honour the Fourth Commandment.
3. Have done with jargon--sectarian clash and presumption.
4. Do not make the Lord’s house the gate of hell. God’s mercy never leaves a man where it found him. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The house of God and the gate of heaven
I. THE PLACE HERE SPECIFIED.
1. It was a place distinguished by favourable circumstances.
2. It was a place of sacred instruction.
(1) Jacob was instructed by what God here exhibited to his view. This ladder represented--
(a) the mediation of Christ;
(b) the Providence of God;
(c) the ministry of angels.
(2) Jacob was also instructed by what God said to him.
3. This was a place of covenant engagement between God and man.
II. THE NAMES GIVEN TO IT.
1. The house of God.
(1) In every such place God’s family are associated in one community.
(2) In every such place God is actually present.
(3) In every such place God’s favours are obtained by devout seekers (Luke 11:9-10).
2. None other but the house of God.
(1) Not the house of amusement.
(2) Not the house of merchandise.
(3) Not the house of iniquity.
3. The gate of heaven.
III. THE REFLECTIONS SUGGESTED BY IT. “How dreadful is this place!” The worship of God should be attended with habitual seriousness.
1. With serious consideration.
2. With serious watchfulness against all distractions.
3. With serious concern to obtain present blessings from God.
4. With serious intercession in behalf of others.
5. With serious gratitude for favours received. (Sketches of Sermons.)
Moral aspect of the world
The world itself is a dreadful place.
I. Because the visible things that are made display an eternal power and Godhead.
II. Because the world evidences a design rising above, and superior to, the exhibition of a power capable of producing a mere physical universe.
III. Because of its occupancy by an intellectual being. Intellect employs itself in a variety of ways, but these may all be classed under--
1. Regard of the external or physical world.
2. The intellectual or spiritual.
3. The author of both. Under one of these may be placed all the subjects which have engaged man from the commencement of the world.
IV. Because man is a moral being. I cannot think of an intellectual being as other than a moral one, because I cannot well conceive how a mind free and unconstrained can, while investigating the works of God, fail to have awakened some of those moral views and feelings, which to any mind are the legitimate concomitants. I have therefore adopted the distinction merely for the sake of the different position from which it enables us to regard man.
V. Because man is a fallen being.
VI. Because of the forbearance of God and man’s consequent increased criminality.
VII. Because of God’s amazing condescension in seeking man’s restoration.
VIII. Because of the enormous expense at which the means of reconciliation were secured.
IX. Because of the awful consequences resulting from the neglect of these means. (F. Wright.)
Places of worship
I. IN WHAT LIGHT ARE WE TO VIEW PLACES OF WORSHIP?
1. The house of God.
(1) It originates with God.
(2) It is the place where God chooses peculiarly to dwell.
(3) It is the grand repository of God’s eternal truth.
(4) It is the theatre of God’s greatest wonders.
(5) It is the scene of God’s richest mercies and greatest blessings.
(6) It is most honourable to God.
2. The gate of heaven. It may be called so--
(1) Because it is ordinarily in places of worship, and in hearing the gospel, that men begin to think about God and saving their souls.
(2) Because it is there men enter actually on the way to heaven.
(3) Because it is there both worlds meet. In old times all meetings were held at the gates of the cities. And the house of God is the gate of heaven, the meeting place, the assembly of all the spiritual beings in existence.
3. It is said, “This is none other than the house of God.” And I trust this house never will be for any other purpose. I never like to see a place of worship turned to any other use, except it be for a school, for a place of instruction, or for something analogous to a place of worship.
II. WHAT OUGHT TO BE OUR SENTIMENTS AND FEELINGS AS TO THE HOUSE OF GOD--AS TO A PLACE OF WORSHIP.
1. We should reverence it. So did Jacob. “How dreadful,” said he, “is this place!” The Hebrew is, “How solemn--how reverential is this place!” I never like to see people enter a place of worship heedlessly, lightly, merrily.
2. We should delight to go up to the house of God.
3. We should come full of expectation. The house of God is the scene of mercy, the region of grace, the very element of salvation.
4. We should endeavour, by every means, to support places of worship to the best of our ability. (John Stephens.)
Public worship: how it is, and how it ought to be, attended
I. How DO PERSONS USUALLY ATTEND THE HOUSE OF GOD?
(1) Without sober and becoming thoughts of the great and glorious object of all religious homage and adoration.
(2) Ignorant of their spiritual necessities.
II. How OUGHT PEOPLE TO COME THITHER?
1. With thought.
2. With prayer.
3. With faith.
It is as faith is in lively and vigorous exercise that God is apprehended and felt to be really present. It is by faith we embrace the proffered mercies of the gospel. Concluding remarks:
1. See the true reason why many profit so little from their means of grace.
2. How abundantly you might profit by a more thoughtful, prayerful, and faithful use of your means. (W. Mudge, B. A.)
God’s home, heaven’s gate
There are four particular remarks which we have to make upon these words.
1. First, we observe from them that intercourse with God, instead of producing levity of mind, produces serious impressions. The man who was not at all afraid to lie down in this place, surrounded with danger and enveloped in darkness, is filled with fear in the morning. At what? At the thought of a present Deity. Not that this was a slavish dread, like that which Belshazzar felt when he saw the handwriting upon the wall, and his countenance was changed in him, and the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote together; but he was filled with what the apostle calls reverence or godly fear. Such the seraphim know--they cover their faces when they appear before God. Such Isaiah knew when he said, “Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” Such Peter felt when he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Such Job felt when he said, “I heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and in ashes.”
2. Secondly, we observe from these words, that wherever God meets with His people, that place may be deservedly considered His house. How does this condemn bigotry! How seldom does God receive anything more than lip service and formality from those whose attachment to any particular place or usages induces them to say, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we. Nothing makes a people dear to God but their conformity to Him; and nothing makes a place of worship sacred but the Divine presence.
3. The experience of Christians sometimes approximates towards heaven. Therefore said Jacob--not only, this is the house of God, but--this is the gate of heaven. There was nothing that was outwardly inviting; but oh, that land, the angels ascending and descending!--oh, his God above, standing, and looking down, and addressing him!--oh, such scenery!--oh, such language!--oh, such communion made Jacob think that, though he saw from the place it was not heaven, heaven could not be far off.
4. Lastly, the house of God and the gate of heaven are related; there Jacob mentions them together, and mentions them in their proper order--this is the house of God--this is the gate of heaven. The one precedes the other--the one affords us the earnest and foretaste of the other. Philip Henrywas accustomed to say at the close of his sabbath-day’s exercises, “Well, if this be not heaven, it is the way to it.” Those who call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, will enjoy an eternal sabbath. They who can now say, “I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth,” shall serve Him day and night in His temple above, never more to go out. (W. Jay.)
Michael Angelo Buonar-rotti said of the doors of the Baptistery at Florence, executed by Lorenzo Ghiberti, when asked what he thought of them, “They are so beautiful that they might stand at the gates of paradise.” (Old Testament Anecdotes.)
Entrance to heaven
Al Strut is a bridge extending from this world to the next, over the abyss of hell, which must be passed by every one who would enter the Mohammedan paradise. It is very narrow, the breadth being less than the thread of the famished spider, according to some writers; others compare it to the edge of a sword or of a razor. The deceased cross with a rapidity proportioned to their virtue. Some pass with the rapidity of lightning; others with the speed of a horse at full gallop; others still slower, on account of the weight of their sins; and many fall down from it, and are precipitated into hell. (Wheeler.)
There is a saying of Hazlitt’s, bold, and at first seeming wondrous true: “In the days of Jacob there was a ladder between heaven and earth; but now the heavens have gone farther off, and have become astronomical.” (George Dawson.)
And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
And he called the name of that place Bethel
Memorials of blessing
I. First of all, we are told that Jacob erected a material monument, and planted it as a fixed landmark on the spot. Concerning which, remark these three things: he did it immediately, he did it symbolically, he did it religiously. There is instruction in each.
1. “He rose up early in the morning.” He took the moment when the memory of his bright vision was the clearest, and the emotion it aroused was at its height. He caught the fitful experience when it had most force, as if he knew it might grow less before long. When Divine grace invites, and kindles, and stands ready to help, no time must be lost.
2. Remark, again, Jacob “took the stone that he had put for his pillow, and set it up for a pillar.” That is to say, he made his affliction the monument of His mercy. Plenty of stones besides that there were lying about in that bleak plain. But he chose that one, so as to identify the history, when he saw the spot. Herein was the very spirit of splendid symbolism. Nothing could be finer. No emblem could be more pathetically accurate, as a picture of the utter desolation which he, as a homeless fugitive, had felt the evening before, than the fragment of rock he had been obliged to lay his head upon to sleep. Now to make that, the reminder of his friendlessness, the monument also of his disclosure of Divine adoption, was matchless in ingenuity. When he should see that pillar in the future, he would say, “Behold the outcast, and the prince! behold man’s necessity, and God’s opportunity I behold earthly weakness, and heavenly help I see where I was, and where I am!”
3. But observe, once more, Jacob, having set up his pillar, “poured oil upon the top of it.” You are quite familiar with Old Testament uses of oil in religious service. These were established by direct order. The command given early to Moses was, “Thou shalt take the anointing off, and anoint the tabernacle, and all that is therein, and shalt hallow it, and all the vessels thereof, and it shall be holy.” This direction was extended so as to cover the altar and the laver, and even the priests, Aaron and his sons. The spirit of inspiration laid hold of what was an earlier custom, and so consecrated it. If Jacob had said, concerning this great incident of his life, It is the turning-point in my history, and I will not forget it, he would have done no unimportant thing by itself. But by anointing the pillar he made it a definitely religious memorial. It recognized not only his extraordinary blessing, but recorded for ever the fact that God had bestowed it upon him. It was an act of devotion. There was worship in it. There was self-consecration in it.
II. The lessons thus far learned, however, will become clearer and more impressive when we pass on to consider the second form of perpetuation this patriarch adopted. He proceeded to invoke the help of his fellow-men. “He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was called Luz at the first.” Conclusion:
1. Count up your mercies for rehearsal and record.
2. Confess Christ openly before men.
3. Set up memorials of blessing.
4. Expect to understand your own biography by and by. When Jacob next visited Bethel, he could read the meaning of the Divine promise. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. BETHEL TELLS OF AN EXILE AWAY FROM HIS FATHER’S HOUSE.
II. BETHEL TELLS OF A GLORIOUS VISION.
III. BETHEL TELLS OF A HOLY VOW.
IV. BETHEL TELLS OF A SACRED MEMORIAL. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The memorial impulse in religion
I. THE TIME, PLACE, AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF A MAN’S DISCOVERY OF GOD IN HIS LIFE ARE THE MOST MEMORABLE IN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.
II. WITH SUCH A DISCOVERY, THERE ALWAYS RISES AN IMPULSE TO SET UP SOME LANDMARK FOR MEMORY.
III. THE BEST MEMORIALS ARE THOSE WHICH RISE UP IN A MAN’S HABITS AND CHARACTER. (The Preacher’s Monthly.)
Jacob at Bethel
I. We must observe, first, that in the action of the patriarch there was COMMEMORATION. It was clearly his design in erecting this pillar to commemorate the events which had recently transpired in his history, and, as far as possible, to give permanence to their remembrance. Before the invention, or the general use, of the art of writing, the commemoration of remarkable events by monumental pillars appeared the most apt and the most effectual that could be designed; and this mode, therefore, of giving permanence to great events, is a custom also very generally practised among the nations of antiquity. Although now we erect no monumental pillars, and although now we chisel not on those pillars any hieroglyphical symbols, yet we ought to cherish in our hearts the sacred recollection of the goodness we have received. That our past career has in every ease been a career of mercy, and that we have all received the bounty of our common Father, is a fact which it is impossible not to admit; and of which in our remembrance no time and no change should exhaust the tenderness and the mercy; but it should continue supreme and paramount, until we are permitted to unite in the higher commemorations of that world where mercy will be consummated in salvation. But let us advert more distinctly to the nature of those mercies which it was the object of the patriarch to commemorate, and which permits a direct application to ourselves.
1. You will observe, in the first instance, that here was clearly a commemoration of providential favour.
2. Here was also the commemoration of spiritual blessings.
II. We now require your attention to observe, secondly, that in the action of the patriarch there was DEDICATION. It will be observed “he took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it “--the oil being the sign, not merely that he dedicated the pillar for the purpose of commemoration, but that he also dedicated himself to the service and glory of that God from whom his marries had been received. This act of the patriarch, my brethren, very clearly and beautifully sets forth the duty of the children of men in the review and retrospect of mercies which they have received from God--even the duty of dedicating themselves wholly to His praise and to His glory. Let me request you now, under this part of the subject, with greater distinctnesss, to observe in what this dedication consists, and under what circumstances this dedication is especially appropriate.
1. Observe in what this dedication consists. It must be regarded, of course, as founded upon a recognition by men of the right of God, the Author of all their mercies, to the entire possession of whatever they possess, and of whatever they are; and comprehends within it certain resolutions which are intended to constitute a permanent state of heart and life. For, example, it comprehends a resolution that there shall be firm and unbending adherence to the truths which God has revealed; and whatever principles He is found to have announced for your cordial acceptance and belief, will be cordially embraced and adhered to. Again, it involves a resolution that there shall be anxious and diligent cultivation of the holiness which God has commanded; and whatever are the requirements of His law for governing the deportment and the affections of men, so as to conform them to His own image--these will be sincerely and cheerfully obeyed. Again, it comprehends the resolution that there shall be public and solemn union with the people whom He has redeemed; and whatever external ordinances and public professions have been appointed by Divine authority, as the pledge and the sign of that union, will be at once and readily performed; so that it may be seen by those around that the decision pronounced by Ruth has been taken in the highest and most spiritual sense with regard to those who constitute the Church of the living God: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodges, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.” And then it involves a resolution that there shall be zealous and persevering activity for the cause which God has established; and whatever objects God has determined upon and announced for the purpose of extending His authority and restoring His glory in this apostate and long-disordered world--these will be studiously and diligently pursued. There will be the rendering of time, there will be the rendering of talent, and the rendering (which is often the hardest of all) of property, for the purpose of carrying on those designs of mercy, which are not to terminate till the whole world shall be brought back to its allegiance to the Almighty. These, my brethren, is man called upon to give, and in the spirit in which the disciples remembered the saying and applied it to the Redeemer: “The zeal of the Lord’s house hath eaten me up.”
2. There is a second inquiry, which must be regarded as intimately connected with this, namely, under what circumstances this dedication is peculiarly appropriate. The spirit of dedication, as the result of the mercies with which God has been pleased to surround us, must properly be considered as furnishing and constituting what ought to be the habitual condition of man. There is not a pulse that beats, nor is there a throb that palpitates in the hand or in the heart, but what ought to remind every one amongst us that we should write upon ourselves “Corban”--a gift upon the altar of God. There are circumstances which sometimes peculiarly occur in the course of life, when it seems especially appropriate that the dedication should be undertaken, or, if already undertaken, that it should be renovated and renewed. We may, for example, mention seasons when new and extraordinary mercies have been received from God. We may mention, again, the seasons when new and extraordinary manifestations have occurred in the course of human existence. Here, for example, are the seasons when we constitute and enter into new domestic or social connections; the seasons when we commemorate the days of our birth, or the seasons when we mark the lapse of time by passing from one closing year to the commencement of another.
III. In the action of the patriarch there was ANTICIPATION. The whole of the passage which is before us distinctly announces that, in connection with the retrospect of the past, there was, in the memorial of the patriarch, the anticipation of the future. Nor can we look upon the monumental pillar which he had erected, without finding that it was not merely a commemoration, but a prophecy; and that from the past he hurried his thoughts onward and still onward into the dark and almost impalpable future, showing him the destinies of his temporal prosperity in distant ages, especially exhibiting to him the day of Him whom Abraham rejoiced to see and was glad; and raising his thoughts above the scenes of this sublunary state to the enjoyment of that better country, that is, a heavenly, into which he knew his spiritual seed would be exalted, through the boundless mercy of God. And, my brethren, those of us who have performed the act of dedication to our God, and are desirous of preserving the spirit of dedication as long as life shall last, are called on to connect our commemoration and our dedication with a spirit of anticipation, from which we shall find our highest and purest emotions to be derived. Observe that our expectation must involve future good in time. Having rendered yourselves to the service of that Jehovah who has conjured us by His past mercies, we have nothing before us, my brethren, in the prospect of the future, but calmness and peace. It is so in Providence. Affliction, poverty, bereavement, disease, “the rich man’s scorn, the proud man’s contumely,” the worst storms and buffetings of “outrageous fortune”--these, separately or accumulated, form no drawback or hindrance to the enjoyment of the blessings we have announced. No, my brethren, these very things themselves, in consequence of our covenant connection with our God, are transformed, possess a new aspect; not rising before us like demons and fiends of terror, but like ministering angels, only to bring us nearer and nearer to our God, and to bring us nearer and nearer to His reward. Nor is there one who, in reviewing past mercies, which his God has rendered him, and who has been able to dedicate himself to the service of that God in return, who cannot rest in the prospect of the future, on that one stupendous, glorious announcement of the apostle, “All things shall work together for good to them that love God.” And then, in the sphere of grace, what can we anticipate with regard to the future in the present life, but those enjoyments which “make rich,” and can “add no sorrow”? We anticipate that we shall be kept; that we shall receive larger communications of knowledge, of holiness, of love, and of zeal; that we shall receive additional and nearer visions of Jehovah in spiritual intercourse and fellowship with Him; and that we shall be made more and more like unto Him who was given “that He might be the First-born among many brethren”; becoming etherealized in our own nature, and made thus to partake of the beginning of heaven below. Nor can we anticipate but that when the end of our pilgrimage is come, we shall go and stand by the side of “the rolling stream of Jordan; not terrified nor shrinking back, as we behold it bear upon its flood the wrecks of departed beauty and departed power; for we shall find the ark of the covenant there, and the glory of the Shekinah there; and no sooner shall the foot touch the stream than the waters, as by magic power, shall cleave asunder, and will permit us to pass dry-shod through the deep, exclaiming, in triumphant language, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And so, to use the language of Bunyan, we may anticipate that “all the trumpets shall sound for us from the other side.” And my brethren, the future good which we may anticipate in time, must be also connected with the fact that we must anticipate future good throughout immortality. My brethren, there is not a blessing in Providence or in grace received by one who, as the result of an enlightened retrospective, has dedicated himself to the service of God, but what must be considered as a pledge and foretaste, a decisive promise of higher and more holy and extactic blessings which are reserved beyond the grave. And now, my brethren, in closing this address, let me present two calls to those who, perhaps, constitute a large proportion of this assembly. The first call is one to immediate repentance. In connection with our call to immediate repentance, we must also present a call to immediate dedication and devotedness to God, by which alone repentance can be testified and can be confirmed. (J. Parsons, M. A.)
And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first
A Divine transformation
Luz transformed into Bethel! A grove of almonds into the house of God! The Bible is full of transformations.
There is a law of gravitation spiritual as well as physical. The downward plunge, the leap earthward is natural because in accordance with this law. But what natural law can turn the current upward, heavenward? A burning brand and natural law can accomplish a transformation of ruin; but it needs Divine intervention, a law of supernatural potency, to repair the ruin, erect the pillars of redemption, and upon them to sweep the arch of perfected restoration. In other words, between Luz and Bethel--the grove of almonds and the house of God--I recognize the necessity of a Divine heart and a Divine hand.
I. Let us view LUZ BEFORE THE TRANSFORMATION. In the midst of a wild and rugged region, broken here and there by hills, from the top of one of which Lot surveyed the well-watered valley of Jordan, and Abraham scanned his promised inheritance, a few stunted almond trees, drawing precarious nourishment from the scanty soil, afford grateful shade to the traveller. Gray, bare rocks everywhere shoot their sharp peaks through the parched earth, and not a vestige of verdure relieves the eye save the little clump of trees which gives Luz its name. Significant symbol--the almond tree! Precious, princely, yet, if embittered, deadly poison. Does the patriarch in famine-stricken Canaan design to send presents to Egypt to propitiate “the man, the lord of the country,” then he chooses the fruit of the almond tree to make his offering acceptable. Precious fruit! There is uniting in the wilderness among the princes of the host of Israel against the supremacy of Aaron, and a rod of the almond tree is chosen to represent the head of each tribe in the tabernacle of witness. Princely fruit! Precious, princely man! The almond tree of this bleak and rugged world. Let us reverence humanity. Not the rank or station, the varied and varying adventitious enwrapments of his lot, but the man himself! But alas! the almond may become embittered and tranformed into deadly poison. Strangely, the bitter fruit does not differ in chemical composition from the other, yet by a mysterious change of nature, it becomes a deadly thing. Sad, yet striking symbol of man! A virulent poison has entered his life-blood and venomed the whole. Men are apt to regard sin as the commission of a few evil acts, and they are disposed to balance their so-called good acts, against the evil, with a secret complacency that the account must balance in their favour. But sin is a permeating poison, engendering the habitual disposition of rebellion against and distrust toward God, circulating its venom through every artery of the soul and tainting all the issues of life and thought.
II. But notice THE TRANSFORMATION. Luz is changed to Bethel; the grove of almonds into the house of God. One evening a solitary traveller, with weary step, approaches the little clump of almond trees, and, noticing the grateful shade, casts his way-worn form upon the scant but welcome grass. His countenance betokens youth, but there are lines of deep sorrow and premature care upon his brow. The story of the prodigal son is being rehearsed in the desert of Haran. It is Jacob, the dishonest supplanter, leaving his father’s house. The curtains of darkness fall upon the scene and we see the pilgrim no longer with his awful burden of woe. Does he pray? Does he weep? Jacob sleeps as soundly and sweetly that night with the bare ground for a bed, and a rock for a pillow, as he ever did when a child, upon his mother’s breast. In other words, Luz is transformed into Bethel, the grove of almonds into the house of God. But wherein does this transformation consist?
1. Jehovah unbars the casement of heaven and reveals Himself to Jacob. Now it is not Jacob who discovers God; it is God who reveals Himself to the poor wanderer. Wondrous revelation! Luz is transformed into Bethel, the place is sacred ground, for where the Supreme reveals Himself, there is the house of God. This is the age of exploration and discovery. Hidden continents, unscaled summits, untraversed deeps, secret forces have been tracked and discovered. But why is it that the explorer, the man of science, the astute discoverer has brought no tidings of God? The knowledge of the Divine Being is not a discovery by man, but a revelation from God! It is He and He alone who can unfilm the eye and unstop the ear and reveal Himself. And this He does to the “babes,” to those who, like Jacob, get to the end of their resources, and in their extremity and self-destitution cry out to Him. And where He reveals Himself there is Bethel, the house of God.
2. But there is more here than a dim and distant revelation; broad as is the gulf between earth and heaven, that gulf is bridged by a ladder, the foot of which rests upon earth while the top reaches heaven. The revelation of
God as He is, without such a connecting bridge, would be no boon to the sinful soul. On the 10th of May, 1869, at a place called Promontory Point, the junction was made completing the railway communication between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the United States of America. A silver spike was brought by the Governor of Arizona, another was contributed by the citizens of Nevada. They were driven home into a sleeper of Californian laurel with a silver mallet. As the last blow was struck the hammer was brought into contact with a telegraph wire, and the news was flashed and simultaneously saluted on the shores of two great oceans, and through the expanse of a vast continent, by the roar of cannon and the chiming of bells. When the awful abyss between God and man had to be bridged, the junction over the deepest chasm was made by the outstretched arms of the Son of God; and as the spikes crashed through His open palms He cried: “It is finished”; and swifter than electric current or lightning’s flash, the tidings were winged to the farthest bounds of three worlds. The stairway connecting earth with heaven is completed; the awful chasm is bridged; Luz is transformed into Bethel. Christ by dying has opened up the way to God.
3. But Jacob not only saw the ladder erected; there was actual communication between earth and heaven; he beheld the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. Much interest concentres in the first or trial trip upon a new road, or over a wide and difficult bridge. And many a fair structure has succumbed to the actual strain of traffic. There are two angels at least with whom each of us may and ought to be acquainted; their names are Faith and Love. Let faith bear up your cry to the throne of God, and love will bring the answer down. Swifter than the eagle’s wing, the message of grace will be borne to your needy heart, “if faith but bear the plea.” And your weariness will be transformed into joy, your night of sorrow into a mid-day of gladness: in other words, Luz will be transformed into Bethel, the grove of almonds into the house of God. (D. Osborne.)
And Jacob vowed a vow
Let us, in the beginning, consider what is taught us in God’s Word about vows in general, and that will lead the way easily to the examination of those peculiar in the Christian dispensation.
1. The Old Testament is the main source of all profitable information. Indeed it hardly appears necessary to go beyond it. Classic history, however, makes clear the fact that all religions and schemes of faith have encouraged their devotees in the practice of making vows to their deities. Temples of every sort, the world over, are filled with votive offerings, presented by grateful recipients of Divine favour, when they have been delivered from danger, or prospered in difficult enterprises. Even the rituals of heathenism, the wildest and the wisest seem to agree in this. The custom, therefore, has very ancient authority. It was not an original invention of Jacob. Nor was it introduced by Moses, nor was it ever announced from heaven. Its history is as old as the annals of the race. The great law-giver Moses, acting under Divine direction, found this custom when he came to the leadership of Israel, He simply set himself to regulate the practice, and put it under some code of intelligent management.
2. The New Testament doctrine. No precept given; no regulation prescribed. The spirit of the New Testament is one of freedom. Freedom, however, is not lawlessness; liberty is not license. It is possible that there may be found in our churches some persons, or even in our own moods, some moments to which vows could be of service.
II. From these general considerations, it gives us pleasure and relief to turn to the special examination of what we term Christian vows.
1. We mean by this expression to cover a class of covenant engagements which stand in close relationship to the New Testament church. They are represented in the two ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
2. The reach of these vows is universal. They cover our possessions--our ways--our hearts--our lives.
3. A reach so extensive as this flings over the whole transaction a spirit of profound solemnity. The parties to the covenant are not man and man, but man and God. The witnesses who stand around are the world, the church, angels--and devils. The sanctions of the covenant are expressibly sacred and awful. All the good and evil of this life, all the blessings and the curses of the life to come hang upon the question of our fidelity in keeping the faith we have pledged.
4. Now no mere human being could abide the pressure of engagements of such reach and solemnity, except for the alleviation annexed to them. There is a promise underneath each one of them all. God not only keeps His own covenant, but helps us keep ours.
5. The use which can be made practically of these covenant engagements of ours is threefold. They give us a profitable caution; they furnish ground for fresh hope; they remind us of former experiences of trust and deliverance. The stated, steady repetition of them at periodic times, is of prodigious service. They suddenly arrest us in the midst of daily life, and demand a return of thoughtful surrender. The moment temptation confronts us, a voice seems to speak in the air--Remember thine oath! And if we are intelligent, we are quite glad to remember it; for God covenanted when we did. There is a dowry in every duty, and a promise in every call. Our vows come to be burdens less, and badges more; they are not fetters on our limbs, but rings on our fingers. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
A long look ahead
I. WHAT JACOB SOUGHT.
1. God’s presence.
2. Divine protection.
3. Divine providence.
4. Divine peace.
II. WHAT JACOB PROMISED.
1. To surrender himself, his entire being, to God.
2. To establish a perennial reminder of Divine goodness and mercy on the spot where he had first found it.
3. To consecrate to God a fixed portion of his income for all benevolent and religious use. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The noble resolve
There were three steps in God’s dealings with this mean and crafty spirit; and in one form or another they have a universal application.
1. To begin with, God revealed Jacob to himself.
2. In the next place, God permitted Jacob to suffer the loss of all earthly friends and goods.
3. Finally, God thrust into Jacob’s life a revelation of His love. That ladder symbolized the love of God. All through his life that love had surrounded Jacob with its balmy atmosphere; but he had never realized, or returned, or yielded to it. But now it was gathered up and crystallized into one definite appeal, and thrust upon him; so that he could do no other than behold it. And in that hour of conviction and need, it was as welcome as a ladder put down into a dark and noisome pit, where a man is sinking fast into despair; he quickly hails its seasonable aid, and begins to climb back to daylight. The revelation of God’s love will have five results on the receptive spirit.
I. IT WILL MAKE US QUICK TO DISCOVER GOD. Jacob had been inclined to localize God in his father’s tents: as many localize Him now in chapel, church, or minister; supposing that prayer and worship are more acceptable there than anywhere beside. Now he learned that God was equally in every place--on the moorland waste as well as by Isaac’s altar, though his eyes had been too blind to perceive Him. In point of fact, the difference lay not in God, but in himself; the human spirit carries with it everywhere its own atmosphere, through which it may see, or not see, the presence of the Omnipresent. If your spirit is reverent, it will discern God on a moorland waste. If your spirit is thoughtless and careless, it will fail to find Him even in the face of Jesus Christ.
II. IT WILL INSPIRE US WITH GODLY FEAR. “He was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place!” “Perfect love casteth out fear”--the fear that hath torment; but it begets in us another fear, which is the beginning of wisdom and the foundation of all noble lives; the fear that reveres God, and shudders to grieve Him; and dreads to lose the tiniest chance of doing His holy will. True love is always fearless and fearful. It is fearless with the freedom of undoubting trust; but it is fearful lest it should miss a single grain of-tender affection, or should bring a moment’s shadow over the face of the beloved.
III. IT WILL CONSTRAIN US TO GIVE OURSELVES TO GOD.
IV. IT WILL PROMPT US TO DEVOTE OUR PROPERTY TO HIM. “Of all that Thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto Thee.” There is no reason to doubt that this became the principle of Jacob’s life: and if so, he shames the majority of Christian people--most of whom do not give on principle; and give a very uncertain and meagre percentage of their income.
V. IT WILL FILL US WITH JOY. “Then Jacob lifted up his feet” (Genesis 29:1, marg.). Does not that denote the light-hearted alacrity with which he sped upon his way? His feet were winged with joy, and seemed scarcely to tread the earth. All sorrow had gone from his heart; for he had handed his burdens over to those ascending angels. And this will be our happy lot, if only we will believe the love that God hath to us. We, too, shall lose our burdens at the foot of the Cross; and we shall learn the blessed secret of handing over, as soon as they arise, all worries and fears to our pitiful High Priest. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
I. WHAT JACOB DESIRED OF GOD IN REFERENCE TO THIS WORLD.
1. The comfortable presence and favour of God. “If God will be with me.” When the ancients would express all that seemed beneficial in life, they used this phrase (Genesis 39:2-3; Genesis 39:21). The wisdom, courage, and success of David is resolved into this; “ The Lord was with him” (1 Samuel 18:14; 1 Samuel 18:28; 2 Samuel 5:10). This administers solid, satisfying comfort to the soul (Psalms 4:6-7; Psalms 36:7-9; Psalms 63:1; John 4:14).
2. The guidance of the Divine counsel and the protection of the Divine providence. “And will keep me in this way that I go.” This is a most sure direction and safe defence. The righteous shall not err in anything of importance, either as to this life or the next; either as to truth or duty. They shall be safe (Proverbs 18:10; Psalms 27:1-6; Psalms 32:7).
II. WHAT JACOB PROMISES TO GOD. “Then shall the Lord be my God.” (J. Benson.)
I. Notice THE IMPRESSION MADE UPON JACOB’S MIND. This vision, which had been vouchsafed to him, was not a mere idle dream, passing confusedly away with the shades of night, and leaving no useful lesson impressed upon the heart. It was a mysterious scene, permitted to pass before the mind of Jacob in his sleep; but it left a real, powerful, and lasting impression behind. The impression produced was rational, powerful, convincing, and influential; it was such an impression as was most desirable under his circumstances, and such as issued in the most becoming and consistent conduct.
1. He was impressed with a sense of the presence and nearness of the invisible God. Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” He had a clear conviction that God had been with him in a very peculiar manner. “He inhabiteth eternity. He filleth all in all. He is about our bed, and about our path, and spies out all our ways. If we go up to heaven He is there, if we go down to hell He is there also. In Him we live, and move, and have our being--and He is not far off from any one of us.” But the scripture shows us also, that God is particularly present with, and near to His saints. A large portion of the revealed word of God is occupied in showing that “the Lord is nigh unto them that call upon Him”; that if we will “draw nigh to God, He will draw nigh to us.” “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath thee are the everlasting arms.” The 121st Psalm seems almost to refer to this very event, when it says, “Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” There is then, for the first time, a consciousness of God’s existence--of his presence and nearness to the soul--a reality of communion with Him--a living sensibly within the range of His holy influence and dominion--and a bringing this fact to bear continually upon the conduct and the heart. The impression produced on his mind through a vision, was the same as that which is now given through the shining of the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ into the heart. It was the knowledge of God.
2. He felt that the presence of God was awful. He said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place!” No man can trifle with religious services who is admitted to the reality of religious privileges. The more his religions impressions, convictions, intentions, and enjoyments, assume the character of reality, the more serious will he be in his spirit, and in all his religious feelings and transactions. A becoming seriousness of deportment is always the result of frequent communion with God--of much living in the Divine presence. It will not be irrelevant to notice here that a truly sincere and serious spirit in religion will show itself in an enlightened, but not superstitious, attention to all the decencies and proprieties of the public service of God.
3. Jacob was impressed with the conviction that the place where God communicates with men is “the gate of heaven.” That communion with God by faith is an opening to the mind of the eternal and invisible world, a realizing of that interior and more elevated scene of God’s dominions, where He reigns unveiled. Faith is the gate of heaven.
4. This vision evidently impressed Jacob with a higher notion of the benevolence and kindness of God. It was altogether a revelation of a peculiarly merciful character.
II. We come to notice THE CONDUCT WHICH JACOB IMMEDIATELY ADOPTED. His provision for the external act of worship was but scanty; but whatever, under his straitened circumstances, he could perform, he did.
There was here no idle and specious delay. It would have been easy to have deferred this solemn scene of worship to a more seasonable opportunity, when he would be better provided. But this is not the effect of the gifts of Divine grace. The mercy of God, thus graciously revealed to him, had touched his heart; and it made the religious service, and the religious vow, his delight. He rose early, and while his feelings were yet fresh, and unblemished by the mere natural course of vagrant thought, he addressed himself to this act of piety, that he might perpetuate in his waking hours the enjoyments of his extraordinary dream. What could be more simple and spiritual than this act of worship? All the formalities of official sacrifice are, in the want of means for them, dispensed with. No bleeding sacrifice was there; but in the simple symbol that he was compelled to use, the true spirit of the appointed ceremony was retained. The type of the true Israel, he appears to have out-reached the bounds of knowledge in those earlier days, and to have approached God as a true worshipper, in spirit and in truth.
III. But we shall consider this more particularly as we notice THE VOW WHICH JACOB MADE. There are several circumstances in the language of Jacob’s vow which are worthy of remark.
1. His piety, “If God will be with me.” He does not ask for the advantage of powerful friends, or connections in life. “He sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,”--counting “the lovingkindness of God better than life”; and the favour of God more valuable than worldly friends or honours. The love of God is the essential feature of true piety.
2. Observe his moderation. It is the legitimate effect of true religion, to moderato the desires of the heart for everything but spiritual blessings. “The land whereupon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed:” but he simply limited his prayer to this, “If God will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace.” In the face of so extensive a promise, he asked only for food and clothing, and a return to his father’s house. It is true, that generally in the outset of life, men’s views and wishes are more moderate than they afterwards become; and even ambition is limited in its wishes, by the bounds of apparent probability--so much so, that in looking back upon past life, the moderation of man’s early wishes is often a matter of surprise to themselves. But the spirit of Jacob was shown in this, that with the promise of wealth and exaltation before him, he still confined his wish to the needful supply of his daily wants--to food and raiment, and safe return. How few are there who are content with Jacob’s portion! I speak of some, of whom there is reason to hope that they have Jacob’s God for their God, but with whom there still seems a lingering attachment to the world which they are professing to renounce, and an unjustifiable managing and contriving to obtain, either for themselves or their children, a surer hold upon its dignities and its possessions.
3. Observe, again, Jacob’s gratitude. He prayed even for less than God had promised; but he felt that all that he could ever be possessed of was a merciful gift, and he was willing to acknowledge that it was due to him from whom it was received. “This stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that thou shalt give me, I will give the tenth unto thee.” A zealous contribution of personal exertion, and pecuniary aid, to the cause of God and of truth, had always marked the real servant of the Lord. The worldly man may be benevolent to men, but he is never liberal for God. Again, fix your attention on the event of Jacob’s life, and consider how important was the influence which it had upon him. All his life was coloured by this solemn and interesting transaction. How important it is, then, to begin life with God--to set out rightly. Lastly, let the whole tenour of Jacob’s conduct on this occasion show you, in illustration of the remark with which we set out, the legitimate effect of Divine mercy. It leads directly to holiness of life. (E. Craig.)
1. God’s promises and appearance to His may well require their vows to Him.
2. Vows to God must follow His promises, not precede by conditioning with Him.
3. God’s presence, provision, protection, and safeguarding His own, is just ground of vowing souls to Him.
4. It is just to vow man’s self in inward worship to God, as the Lord promiseth Himself to him.
5. It is righteous to vow outward worship to God in time and place, as He desireth.
6. It is man’s duty to vow and pay the tenth of all his estate to God for the uses He hath appointed (Genesis 28:22). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Jacob’s contract with God
This vow has been sneered at--a bargain of Jacob’s it is said. And in truth it is not in the highest spirit. But at least there is no affection of superfine piety in the Bible. That is something. What it is, it is. But what is this? Perhaps not a shrewd bargain, but a solemn and creditable contract with God, namely, that Jacob will be faithful to God if God will be faithful to him. Not the highest, certainly--not Job’s “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Jacob would have stood on a far nobler height had he said, “I will worship this adorable God, who has shown me His glory as He stooped to my low estate. I will trust and obey Him though He desert me and strip me.” Yes; but when shall we have done thinking that our refinements and perfections of view were theirs? An occasional spirit like Abraham’s went higher than Jacob’s. A spirit like Job’s shot far higher, yet, I think, and anticipated the whole possibility of man. These were splendid anomalies; but Jacob was the true representative of the good man of his time. Remembering this, the contrast was not as bad as it seems, but was natural and even beautiful. He does not ask God for riches, but simply, like a child (for these primitive men were but children), he asks only for protection and support: “If the Lord,” &c. This, although it has a child’s religious inferiority, yet seems so artless and heartless that I think it was, even to the ear of God, a very pleasing speech. And I wish that we would go as far. Suppose now, we say--which of us is ready?--“If the Lord will keep me alive for this year, and give me food and raiment, He shall be my God.” Let no man sneer at Jacob until he is Jacob’s equal. (A. G. Mercer, D. D.)
Of all that Thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto Thee.
Tithes at the start
The two important matters of notice, in this text, are the early purpose of this young patriarch to give a portion of his wealth to religious ends, and the establishment of a fixed system in presenting it. It seems to be in Scripture history the exact beginning of all that custom of tithing the people which meets us everywhere in the Old Testament. It has arrested my attention, because it is the act of a young man just starting in the new life. It furnishes me with this for a topic--Systematic beneficence: its principle and its measure.
I. THE PRINCIPLE may be stated in one compact sentence: A Christian is to contribute, not on impulse, but by plan. Jacob seems to have understood in the outset that this was to be the practical side of his life.
1. This duty should be taken up early by every young Christian as a matter of study.
2. It will not do to discharge this work all at once. A settled habit of giving is promoted only by a settled exercise of giving.
3. It will not do to leave this duty to a mere impulse of excitement. Christians ought never to wait for fervid appeals or ardent addresses to sympathy,
4. It will not do to perform this duty as a mere mechanical form. We are told, in one familiar verse of the New Testament, that “he which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly.” This singular word “sparingly” occurs nowhere else in the Scriptures. It means grievingly, regretfully; holding back after the gift, if such an expression may be allowed.
5. This duty is to be discharged only with a diligent comparison of means with ends. System in giving is the secret of all success.
II. THE MEASURE OF CHRISTIAN BENEFICENCE.
1. Give tithes to start with.
2. Tithes, just to start with, will in many cases force a Christian on to increase as he grows in fortune. When life grows easier, and gains more plentiful, the good Lord, whose stewards we are, raises His rates of loan, and expects more liberal returns.
III. CONSIDERATIONS WHICH ENTER INTO THE RECKONING.
1. Think of what has been done in our behalf by God, our Maker and Redeemer. We should measure our gifts in money by our receipts in grace.
2. Remember whence the prosperity came, out of which we give money. God seeks where He has given.
3. Consider the extent of the work which is to be accomplished.
4. Think of the promises which reward the free-giver. “The liberal soul shall be made fat.”
5. Think of the exigencies arising under the favouring providences of God.
6. Think of the listlessness of others.
Conclusion: He who gives tithes at the start will grow himself as his fortune grows. He that delays will harden. And it should never be forgotten that money is only the measure of manhood when consecrated to Christ. It is ourselves we give to Him, ourselves He demands. (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)
The tenth is God’s
The late Bishop Selwyn used often to quote that motto of John Wesley’s, “Save all you can and give all you save,” and he did not think that charity began until after a tithe had been paid to God. “Whatever your income,” he wrote once to his son, “remember that only nine-tenths of it are at your disposal.” (Old Testament Anecdotes.)
Giving a tenth
Heathen nations used to give a tenth for religious objects. Oberlin, a poor French minister, did this in giving his tenth of income, and then God so blessed him in his circumstances, that he used to say he “abounded in wealth.” One day Oberlin was reading in the Old Testament where God told the Jews that He expected them to give a tithe of all their property to Him, said he to himself, “Well, I am sure that I, as a Christian, have three times as many blessings as the Jews had. If it was right for a Jew to give one tenth of his property to God, surely I ought to give at least three times as much as that.” So he made up his mind to do this. The Jews called giving “the hedge of riches.” “Perhaps there was never a man more generous than Mr. Wesley.” For years, when his yearly income was between £30 and £120, he lived upon £28 a year, and gave away the remainder. It is supposed that during his life he gave away £30,000, and when he died he left little more than was necessary to bury him, and to pay his debts.
A tenth of all
"Take it quick, quick,” said a merchant who had promised, like Jacob, to return to the Lord a tenth of all that he should give him, and found that it amounted to so large a sum, that he said, “I cannot give so much,” and set aside a smaller amount. Then his conscience smote him, and, coming to himself, he said, “What I can I be so mean? Because God has thus blessed me that I have this large profit, shall I now rob Him of His portion?” And fearing his own selfish nature, he made haste to place it beyond his reach in the treasury of the Lord, coming almost breathless to the pastor’s house, and holding the money in his outstretched hand.
Helping on the work of God
A widow found pardon and peace in her Saviour in her sixty-ninth year. Her gratitude and love overflowed and often refreshed the hearts of Christians of long experience. The house of God became very dear to her, and she was often seen to drop a gift in the church door box though her income was only 2s. 6d. per week. A fall in her seventy-second year prevented her ever coming out again. A little boy being seen to drop something into the box, was asked what it was. He said, “It is Mrs. W--‘s penny..” He was told to take it back to her, and to say that her good intention was prized, but that her friends could not let her thus reduce her small means, especially as she could not come out to worship. She replied, “Boy, why did you let them see you give it? Take it again and put it in when no one sees you.” Then weeping, she said, “What, and am I not to be allowed to help in the work of God any more because I can’t get out?”
Substance consecrated to God
John Crossley, the founder of the firm of the Crossleys of Halifax, married a Yorkshire farmer’s daughter, a woman of genuine piety and strong common sense. Crossley was frugal and thrifty. He got on well, laid by his earnings, and at length was able to rent a wool-mill and dwelling-house. When the couple were about entering their new quarters a holy purpose of consecration took possession of the young wife. On the day of entering the house she rose at four o’clock in the morning and went into the door-yard. There in the early twilight, before entering the house, she kneeled on the ground and gave her life anew to God. She vowed most solemnly in these words, “If the Lord does bless me at this place the poor shall have a share of it.” That grand act of consecration was the germ of a life of marvellous nobility. (F. G.Clarke, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 28". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany