Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

the wrath of the Syrian Laban, he awakes to the forth on the swiftest camel, with a sure token consciousness of that old debt of vengeance which from Rebecca that the way was now open for the Esau had sworn should one day be wiped out in wanderer's return to his kindred and home. No blood.

dust-stained messenger had entered the Syrian This brings us to what must be regarded as tent to tell him there was peace in Canaan, for the great crisis of the patriarch's life, when his that Esau had spoken of his absent brother, and, faith is to be educated to its highest grasp, when forgetting his ancient wrongs, had desired to be the heel-grasper Jacob is to become Israel the reconciled with him ere the sun of their father's life prince, mighty with God to prevail. And, re- should set.

On the contrary, all the information membering the position occupied by Jacúb and he had been able to gather had gone to show a his house in the divine economy of grace and gloomier picture than his worst fears had drawn. redemption, may we not say we are here face to In prudent strategy, he had sent out messengers face with one of the greater crises in the history to inquire how the land lay, and bring him word of our race? For, humanly speaking, had Jacob's as to his brother's feeling towards him. And faith now failed him— if, fearing to meet his very terrible was the report these envoys had brother, he had turned aside from the path God brought back to the patriarch : “We came to had called him to follow, and sought pasturage thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet for his flocks and a safe retreat for himself and thee, and four hundred men with him.” More his family in some of the rich plains that lay than a score of years have passed, and even yet along his route-Israel would never have passed the wrath has not died out of the brother's heart. into Egypt, the law would never have been The old wrong is still fresh and rankling in the given on Sinai, and the glory of the Lord would memory of the wronged one, who is, moreover, never have appeared in the teniple at Jerusalem. now in a position to take ample vengeance.

We shall perhaps best appreciate the nature And then, apart from all external grounds for and issue of this crisis in Jacob's and Israel's fear, Jacob bore within his own breast a secret history, if we glance briefly at the three stages in monitor whose still small voice kept telling him, its development that are unmistakably discernible in tones he could not choose but hear, that his in the narrative we are studying.

sin deserved the heaviest stripes that could be The first of these is described in verses 3–8. laid upon him. There is truth in the poet's It marks the period of Jacob's great dread, when philosophy, “ 'Tis conscience that makes cowards he awakes to the consciousness of the magnitude of us all.” Man carries about with him, in his of the approaching danger. His fear overcomes own bosom, an agent for judgment and retrihim, and yielding to its impulse, he seeks to bution whom he cannot deceive, and from whom extricate himself from danger by means which escape is impossible. The condemnation of one's his terrors suggest. And verily he had cause for own heart is hard to bear. It is not compendread. No message from his mother had come sated for by heaped-up wealth, by glittering to say that Esau's wrath had been mitigated by power, by any lapse of years since the dark deed the influence of time. We can imagine how

was done. the patriarch's heart must often have yearned, Sometimes

, wandering in the picture-gallery during the long years of his exile, for some of an old ancestral mansion, the visitor lights token of remembrance, some message of peace, upon a portrait whose features are hidden from from the home of his childhood. We can picture his scrutiny. It hangs in its place among the him to ourselves seated at the door of his tent at others, but its face is turned to the wall, as if its eventide, the twilight shadows darkening over fellows disowned its relationship and shrank from the Syrian plain, gazing wistfully in the direc-its society. There is a dark tale of crime and tion from which he knew such a message must dishonour connected with it that, when whishave reached him. But he had watched and pered amid the lengthening shadows of the twiwaited in vain. None of the herdsmen had been light, still causes the old shame to flush anew called in haste from the flocks of Isaac, and sent over the heart, though generations may have sinner's gaze

passed away, and the outside world have long of the patriarch's despair, we note some features since forgotten the sin. The memory is the that are common to all believing prayer. picture-gallery of the individual past. In most He bases his supplication on promises of God, men's lives there are pictures turned to the wall, expressly given and special to his case. He feels whose features they shrink from gazing upon that in the covenant between Jehovah and dark, secret cupboards that they fear to open and Abraham he has a personal interest. He realizes explore. But conscience is an unscrupulous, that it is a covenant God with whom he has to unrelenting showman, that lays bare before the do. Here we discover a trait found in all his most secret faults. His fellow- believing prayer.

The Christian approaches men may hold him in high esteem for wealth, God in the consciousness of the covenant with for goodness, for piety; but the scarred memory Christ. He has a personal interest in all the refuses to be healed. In the hour of solitude promises made by the Father to the Son. conscience asserts its power ; phantom voices Then again : how strongly marked is the out of the past ring in the sinner's ears the old feature of confession of unworthiness in the tale of shame. The sins and faults of youth may patriarch's approach to God. He has the prohave been long since repented of ; they may mise, he knows that God's covenant shall be fulhave been long since wrapped in sackcloth, and filled; but at the same time, even when claiming laid at the feet of the Lord; but still there come that fulfilment, and basing his claim on God's those dark hours when in memory we relive the faithfulness, he is penetrated with a deep sense past, when conscience reads to us the story of our of his own unworthiness. What is man, that lives backwards, and we shrink from the face of thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that our fellows in utter shame.

thou visitest him? I am not worthy of the At such times there is but one path that can least of all thy mercies. Such is, in every case, lead the distressed heart out of darkness into the soul-speech of the praying Christian. light, and bring the trembling sinner up from But, mingling with his humility, and underthe depths of the guilty past to the clear heights lying all his supplication, note how strong a conof faith, where the soul can gaze unblinkingly fidence in Jehovah's power and willingness to on the face of God. That path leads straight to help pervades his address; and it is a confidence Calvary. There let him cast himself at the foot based on and justified by experience. God had of the cross, crying anew with the old earnest- blessed and helped him in former trials, therefore ness, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” and now he will not desert him. As he had before putting himself, his sin, his fate, in the hands of helped him out of danger, so now he will be a Jesus. He will accept the trust. He will bury shield unto him against the vengeance of Esau. anew the dead past of his life, and make the His prayer ended, we have in the following present and the future luminous in the light of verses the blessed result that flowed from it. the Father's love.

The distressed and anxious mind has laid its This seems to have been the experience of heavy burden at the feet of God.

The heavy Jacob at this first stage in the great crisis of his heart has sought lightening at the throne of life; for when we contemplate him entering on grace, and the Lord has heard the wail of his the second stage, in the development of our servant. He has poured balm into the wounded narrative, we find the suppliant before the throne spirit. Peace of mind and assurance of the love

and protection of Jehovah, a disposition to be This second period is embraced in verses 9-12. still and wait upon God's doing,—this is the What follows then till the end of verse 22 is form of the answer given to his prayer. And in mainly intended to illustrate the efficacy of the his whole demeanour, on emerging from that means to which Jacob turned for help in the intercourse with God, we can trace the results hour of his sore distres and to show the happy of his confidence. It is no long

an escape from results that flowed from his

Esau's vengeance that occupies his thoughts and In this earnest cry to God for help in the hour directs his efforts. On the contrary, he is now

prayer.

of grace.

mainly concerned how to effect a reconciliation not abandoned the promise and voluntarily cut with the brother he had wronged. His plans of himself loose from the covenant? The terrible strategy are abandoned. A new arrangement is thought-if we may use the phrase—that he has made of his flocks and progress. The valuable committed spiritual suicide, like Esau, who for presents sent on in advance are not bribes to the mess of pottage bartered the birthright, overpurchase safety, but are intended as restoration, whelms him with despair, drives him to soliso far as lies in his power, of what he had once tude, prompts anew strong yearning cries to unjustly acquired by robbing his brother of the Heaven for light and peace. In one word, the birthright—of the first place in the tent of their dread that in seeking to propitiate his brother fether; for the spiritual meaning of the promise by restoring the outward birthright he has had not yet become clear to the patriarchal con- despised the spiritual blessing, and cut himself sciousness; and in the minds even of Abraham loose from Jehovah's favour—this terrible fear and Isaac the idea of the birthright was always is the cause of the struggle. It is, as we have connected with the possession of the external. already remarked, the crisis of his history. What blessing that marked it. Jacob was now to pass passes in his soul during this eventful night is from the sign to the thing signified. He was to

He was to typical of a future crisis in the history of his attain to a higher platform of faith and discern- seed, when the Lord appeared in Shiloh, and the inent of the divine purpose. As a necessary step earthly theocratic kingdom became merged in in his training for this higher revelation, he now one that is not of this world, but spiritual and voluntarily restores what he formerly laboured eternal.

eternal. For Abraham, it was enough to disto acquire-the wealth that was the outward tinguish in his faith between the present and the sensible sign of the inner and spiritual birth- future; Isaac had to learn the distinction beright.

tween waiting and ruling; Jacob shall now learn We now approach the last stage in the de- to distinguish between the external attribute and velopment of Jacob the heel-grasper into the the internal essential possession of the birthright prince mighty to prevail with God. It is pre- and the blessing. Thus he is to rise to a higher sented to us in the record of the mysterious platform of faith than either of his predecessors night-struggle. This is the decisive moment in had attained. But in proportion to the heights the history. Let us therefore examine it with he is to attain is the struggle that shall land somewhat closer attention than we have bestowed him on the eminence. Like Abraham, he must on the earlier parts of the narrative. Four points be ready to sacrifice all, in order to gain all by a fall to be considered in order to gain a clear and new and stronger title. His sacrifice must be vivid conception as to the nature of the struggle made, for it is the pledge of his repentance; but and the issue involved in it.

the blessing must be assured to him, for it is the In the first place, the cause of the wrestling pledge of his faith. Thus he is driven to a must undoubtedly be sought in the subjectivity wrestling with Jehovah in prayer such as he of Jacob himself. There can be no question but has hitherto never experienced. The intensity of that he entered on the fearful night-conflict, that the inward struggle increases till it assumes outlasted till daybreak, on account of a great over- ward shape and subsistence. Weird, unearthly mastering fear that had taken possession of his forms surround him, fiendish shapes mock and gibe mind; not, however, the old dread of Esau's him in his agony; but at length help is given vengeance—that had been dispelled and dissi- him from above : there comes and wrestles with pated for ever by his prayer and its answer; but him a man. in making restitution to his brother, the idea This brings us to the second point that falls suggests itself—“Must not the surrender of the to be examined-namely, the form of the struggle, external sign of the blessing involve also the loss or the elements engaged in it. of the internal spiritual birthright?” Has he As to its form, it cannot on the one hand have not acted too hastily in his efforts for reconcilia- taken place in a dream or vision of the night; tion? In making the formal restitution, has he nor, on the other, can it have been a physical struggle, as between two human combatants : | despairing Jacob in order to drive him to a full ethical conflicts and decisions are rarely the surrender cf himself to the love and power of results of dreams or visions. A physical contest God. is incompatible with Jacob's weeping and Is not this the meaning of the twenty-fifth verse: prayers.*

“ When he saw that he prevailed not, he touched Some have curiously supposed that the"man” the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of with whom Jacob wrestled was a midnight as- Jacob's thigh was out of joint as he wrestled sassin from the camp of Esau. Others again, with him"? In other words, the typical Incaran evil demon, or a good angel.

nate One had to show the patriarch his utter The true explanation is, it was none other helplessness in his own strength before he was than the constant Mediator of the old Covenant, conquered into full submission. He took away the Angel of the Lord; the same who at sundry from him the very ground he stood on, weakened times and in divers manners made known the the foundation on which his whole strength will of Jehovah to other old Testament patriarchs rested. Then only was his task done. Only and saints,—the Angel of the Face, the ancient then could he say, “Let me go, for the day type of the Incarnation.

breaketh." Thou seest now that without me There is, however, a marked difference be- thou canst do nothing, but that to faith in me tween the other Old Testament appearances and nothing is impossible. The light streamed into this in the case of Jacob. In no other instance the patriarch's soul; and, recognizing his own is the humanity so emphasized, or the incarna-weakness and God's almighty strength, he prays tion so clearly typified. This is sufficiently for yet a further blessing that shall be a crown accounted for when we remember the peculiar and seal to the now triumphant faith : " I will circumstances of Jacob's case.

not let thee go unless thou bless me.” Let us try to realize the matter in this way. The intensity of the struggle has already been Jacob's struggle is at the outset subjective, –a sufficiently indicated in what has been advanced war with the doubts and fears that have arisen regarding its elements. We therefore pass on to in his own breast. It grows in intensity till his the fourth and final point-namely, the fruits of whole being—that is, his former self-is up in the victory. arms against the faith that would abandon the Of these we have a twofold description in our sensible and cling only to the spiritual. Still narrative: one from the divine, and the other more carnest and real does it become until the from the human, stand-point. angel of the Lord comes to his aid. It is From the divine point of view the fruits of humanity’s blindness and weakness of faith that victory are thus characterized : “Thy name shall have caused the conflict. Therefore the heavenly be called no more Jacob, but Israel ; for as a visitant takes the form of man. The Incarnate prince hast thou power with God and men, and One himself comes before his time to educate his hast prevailed.” His faith has risen to its own progenitor into Israel, mighty with God to highest level. It has raised him to the dignity prevail. In one word, Jacob's own doubts and of royalty. It has made him a prince with God fears drove him to prayer, his prayer intensifies and men. And with the change of name there itself into a vision, Jehovah appears in the cha- has come a change of his entire nature. Throughracter of his angel, and the angel of the Lord out his whole after-history we find no more the anticipates his own future incarnation, and takes old deceitful, treacherous, heel-grasping Jacob for the moment the form of mån, identifies him- nature. But in its stead there rises up before self with weak humanity, and wrestles with the us the noble picture of a kingly man, a real

patriarch, able to inspire kings and princes with * Hosea xii. 4, 5--where, however, our English version hardly respect for his simple dignity, and to bring them conveys the right sense. Bunsen's rendering is preferable :Verse 4. Im Mutterleibe hielt er seinen Bruder au der Ferse:

to seek his alliance and blessing. Look upon und in seiner Mauneskraft kämpfte er mit Gott.

the picture of his old age, and then upon that of Verse 5. Er rang mit dem Engel und siegte, ob er weinte und flehte zu ihm.

his youth: the hoary-headed patriarch blessing Pharaoh, and taking leave of his family, waiting | identifying himself with human weakness and for the salvation of the Lord; and then remem- human woe, raising the sinking human heart ber how in his youth he appeared with a lie in above its sins and sorrows, and inspiring it with his right hand before his blind and aged father, fresh courage to lift up its eyes to the everand plotted and sinned to accomplish his ends. lasting hills whence come mercy, and peace, and Verily, we must exclaim, great is the victory of joy. This is true salvation, when the penitent grace-marvellous the power of faith that has heart is enabled to rise above the miserable contransformed Jacob into Israel the prince ! templation of its own weakness and guilt, and to

Easier, perhaps, to our conception of the won- look on the face of God in the person of Christ. drous victory, is Jacob's own description of it That man hath perfect blessedness who has from the human stand-point : "I have seen God looked away from himself, and beheld by the face to face, and my life is preserved."

eye of faith the face of God in the man Jesus. I have seen God! In the misery of the dark And my life is preserved-that is, by beholding hour of his soul's agony thick clouds had risen the face of God my soul has recovered its health, up and obscured the face of Jehovah. But when its peace, its elasticity. It was sick unto death; his need was sorest, there appeared One to help heart and flesh were failing; but when the cry him whom after-ages have learned to praise as for mercy went np to the living God, he revealed the Son of Man. Jehovah revealed himself; not himself, and death fled at his approach. Light as the inscrutable awful Being who taketh ven- and gladness dispelled gloom and woe. I have geance on the sins of men, but in man's own seen God face to face, and my soul has recovered guise, taking humanity's form, sympathizing and from its death-faint, my life is preserved.

GEORGE BOWEN, AMERICAN MISSIONARY IN BOMBA Y.*

[ocr errors]

ERE is a missionary, still surviving and , Diderot, and a number of others. He soon persuaded

working, of the same type as the late himself that Christianity was not a revelation from God, William Burns of China. He bas laboured that there was no revelation, that there might be a God,

twenty-five years in the same sphere, be- and probably was, but there was no life to come, and loved and revered by all classes and all sects. He is there could not be a more futile employment than not in connection with any society, but is in sympathy prayer. His mind, once made up on the subject, reand co-operation with all Christians. He employs the mained absolutely unshaken and unwavering in unbelief preaching and the press as conspiring forces to advance for eleven years. He occupied himself with literature the kingdom of Christ. In his newspaper, the Bombay all these years, and naturally read a great deal that Guardian, he has long been in the habit of giving tallied with his views. Whatever did not, made no inreligious meditations from week to week. This volume pression upon him, and he only wondered how people consists of a selection of these papers. As might be ex- could be so simple as to believe things so preposterous pected from their natural history, they are tender and and baseless. With a single exception, no one ever fresh and high-toned.

addressed him on the subject of personal religion ; it We give from Dr. Hanna's preface some portions of being thought by those that knew him that the fixity of Mr. Bowen's own account of the circumstances attending his views was such as to make the task hopeless. To a his conversion :

friend that once addressed him on the subject of religion, “There was a young man, very fond of reading, who, he replied by a letter, the character of which may be at the age of seventeen, was led to doubt the truth of gathered from the quotation which he placed at the head Christianity by that chapter of Gibbon in which he of it: 'Think’st thou, because thou art virtuous, that attempts to account for the spread of the Christian there shall be no more cakes and ale ? Ay, by St. religion in the world. He was acquainted with several | Anthony; and ginger shall be hot i’ the mouth too. At modern languages, and read in these the principal works a later period Strauss came in his way, and what surin which Christianity is assailed,—Volney, Voltaire, prised him was that the German should take such pro

digious pains to disprove that, the falsity of which lay, Daily Meditations.” By the Rev. George Bowen as it seemed to him, on the very surface...... of Bombay. With Introductory Notice by the Rev. W. Hanna,

“ After eleven years of profonndest infidelity, he had D.D., author of "The Last Day of Our Lord's Passion." Edinburgh : Edmonston and Douglas.

his attention drawn to the career of the apostles, and to

* From

« PredošláPokračovať »