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THE STORY OF JACOB
‘Jacob have I loved.’
It has been said as a paradox that ‘there is nothing so disappointing as failure, except success.’ The study of the character of Jacob illustrates the truth of the paradox, for we find that at the outset of his career he was eminently successful in accomplishing what he desired, whereas, when he was an old man, we see him overwhelmed with grief, saying, in anguish of spirit, ‘I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning.’ The sad thought in his history is that we can trace a direct connection between his sorrows in later life and the successes of his early youth. He waited long, waiting for salvation from the result of the sins of his youth.
I. That had been the main occupation of his life, and he confessed it when, just before death, he, like his father Isaac, gave his final blessing to his children. In the midst of it he paused and exclaimed, ‘I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord.’ He had waited, and had found it in more senses than one. Through all the vicissitudes of his life his sons had all been spared him. The tears which he shed over Joseph’s bloodstained coat had long been dried. His sons had repented of their sin against their brother and of their lies to himself. In all this he saw the mercy of God rejoicing over judgment. There was something satisfactory in the thought that the punishment of his sin had fallen on him already, and was now over for ever. His success in deceiving his father had brought on him a lifelong train of bitter disappointments, but his failures and trials, in which he plainly discerned the hand of God, were now his source of comfort and satisfaction. They were proof to him that God had never either forgotten or forsaken him. He knew at the end that not one word of His promises would fall to the ground.
II. The ladder resting on earth and reaching up to heaven had not been a mere dream, it was a revelation telling him that his communion with God would be established for ever. Looking at his sons standing round his bed, and knowing that all had families of growing children, he saw in them the firstfruits of the fulfilment of that promise given to him as part of the revelation: ‘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 in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ That was the promise given, as St. Paul says, to Abraham and his seed, not to all the branches of his posterity, but to the one line which ran through Jacob and his sons, and culminated in the birth of Christ.
III. It is well for us that God, Who rules over all, sees the whole man as a whole, and that He does not pronounce judgment on him in sections. Who but God could have seen the grand old Jacob of his later years, in the germ of the young liar, sneaking out of his father’s tent rejoicing in the success of his deception? But that was only a section of the imperfect Jacob, a piece of the shapeless, plastic clay out of which the great Potter had determined to mould a vessel full of honour and meet for His, the Master’s use, when He had first worked him into shape on the wheel of destiny, and then fixed his character for ever in the fiery furnace of affliction.
So, God grant, may He act towards us, visiting us sharply for our sins in order that we may forsake them, and then finally purifying us, even as He Himself is pure.
‘Once when teaching a class of boys at a reformatory school I asked them, “When did you feel worse, on the day when you knew that you had stolen, or on the day when the policeman caught you?” They answered in a chorus, “The day I was caught, sir.” The crime was nothing. It was the means by which they had attained their desires. Had they succeeded, they would have congratulated themselves on their skill, and that feeling of jubilation would have effectually silenced the voice of conscience speaking within. Such jubilation, doubtless, was felt by Jacob.’
SOWING AND REAPING
There are many lessons to be learnt from the life of Jacob, but at this time I will only ask you to look upon it as an illustration of the law that ‘whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.’
I. Jacob deceived his father and his brother, and as a consequence of this, all his life long he suffered from deceit and ill-conduct on the part of those nearest to him. Laban by deceit forced upon him a wife whom he had no wish for, and compelled him to labour twice seven years for Rachel whom he loved; and ten times afterwards he changed his wages, seeking to gain an advantage over him. Simeon and Levi by deceit slew all the men of Shechem, and made it necessary for Jacob to abandon his home for fear of the vengeance of the neighbouring tribes. His favourite son was sold into slavery by his brothers, who deceived their father with the belief that he had been slain by a wild beast, and allowed him to continue in that belief, notwithstanding the agony of his sorrow. Reuben, the eldest by birth, and Judah, the first in dignity of his sons, were both guilty of grievous sins; even the innocent stratagem of his son Joseph was the cause of most painful anxiety. ‘Few and evil have the years of my life been,’ were the words he addressed to Pharaoh; and we cannot doubt that many a time in his later life he looked back to his own sinful act towards his father and brother, and repented bitterly of the faithlessness which had led him to seek by unlawful means that blessing which God had promised should be his, and which would undoubtedly have come to him by the order of God’s providence, if he had been willing to wait the appointed time.
We have seen how a sin committed years before, and bitterly repented of, was visited upon Jacob again and again till quite the end of his life. Shall we say that this is a sign that his sin has not been forgiven, that God’s anger is not turned away? On the contrary, he is the inheritor of God’s highest blessing, the one man honoured and approved of God beyond all others in his generation.
II. In him we may see the truth of the words, ‘whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth’; the more precious the metal the more carefully is it refined. If, then, there are any of us who are now reaping the crop of sorrow which has sprung up from the seeds of past sin, let us—
( a) Acknowledge that it is no mere chance which has brought it about, but that it is the voice of God calling us to repentance.
( b) Let us not be discouraged or look upon ourselves as special objects of God’s wrath. Chastening is not a sign of wrath, but of love to those who will take it as such, who place themselves meekly and trustfully in God’s hands, and pray that He will do with them as He sees best. If ever we are inclined to despair, let us look at those great saints of God, Jacob and David, and see how they were punished, and let us bear with patience and thankfulness what God sends.
( c) If there are any who are conscious of past sin unrepented of, which God seems to have passed over or forgotten, let the example of Jacob rouse them from their false security. If God did not forget the sin of Jacob, though it had been earnestly repented of and had received His forgiveness, is it likely that He can have forgotten yours? Let us all remember the solemn lesson that ‘whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,’ reap more or less here in this life, but reap fully and completely in the life to come.
—Rev. Professor Joseph B. Mayor.
NO UNRIGHTEOUSNESS WITH GOD
‘As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.’
Jacob had great sins, but they were falls! He rose; he repented, and he was forgiven. In his heart of hearts he owned, and loved, and served, and honoured God. There was a secret hidden life in the man which you must set over against the visible and the public life. In the end and in the main he was a religious man. It is like what the Psalms were to the life of David, or the Chronicles to the life of Manasseh. The child of God comes out, and grace prevails.
Esau was, in a worldly sense, moral but godless. Not very wrong with man, but never right with God. There was no real fear or love of God in him. ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.’
And would not you feel the same?
I. Suppose you had two sons.—The one lived a perfectly correct life; but you were nothing to him. He avoided your society; and he never recognised either your authority or your love. The other did many bad things, and often grieved you; but he loved you fondly, and acknowledged his obligations to you, and was very sorry when he hurt you; and you were always in his heart. Which would be the one you loved? Would not the faults of the one be as nothing compared to the coldness and the indifference of the other? He who proved himself after all the son, would not he have the father’s affections? ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.’
II. The world is very much made up of ‘Esaus’ and ‘Jacobs.’—Some lead very correct lives. What is God? A cypher. Where is God? Nowhere. Others are really religious. They love God. But they do many, many very inconsistent and very bad things. They repent; they are forgiven. They strive; they are miserable. And then they go and do the same thing again. And the process repeats itself hundreds and hundreds of times. And the correct, moral people of the world, see the sins of the religious people, and suspect and despise them. And the religious people scarcely remember how very inferior they are, in many things, to the world.
III. The sequel.—Then what will be to the Jacobs? They will be punished, as Jacob was, by a retributive justice. They will go through severe ordeals of purification. They will suffer even to the fire! But they will be saved! And what to the Esaus who live and die Esaus? A retributive justice too; a negation. No God in them; then, no God for them! No birthright! No blessing! No repentance! ‘Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid!’
PREDESTINATION AND FREE WILL
‘So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.’
Viewing things on the side of God’s absolute sovereignty, confining ourselves exclusively to the conclusions which follow from the conception of God’s infinite knowledge and infinite power, we must admit that all depends on God’s will—human merit is utterly excluded. Attainment of salvation ‘is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.’ But we cannot state this truth absolutely, unconditionally, as if it were a statement of the complete truth.
I. Scripture recognises quite as frequently and as positively the balancing truth of man’s free will and man’s responsibility.—It argues with men, it entreats them to accept the proffered blessings of the Gospel, it uses language which certainly implies that it lies with men to choose or refuse what is offered. St. Paul himself, who, when occasion offers, affirms so strongly the doctrine of the Divine election, states the counterbalancing truth of man’s free will. ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.’ Though he entertains within himself a humble hope that he is personally a subject of the Divine election, he can yet speak as if he were fully conscious that he might by his own demerit forfeit his privilege. ‘I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others I myself should be a castaway,’ a man rejected and disapproved at the final decision of the race. Grace is contemplated as liable to be lost. St. Peter admonishes, ‘Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.’ The surety of the calling, then, is dependent on continued diligence in Christian living. ‘If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they had known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.’
II. We must hold at the same time the two great truths of God’s predestination and man’s free will.—They cannot be stated separately as complete intellectual propositions; they are mysteries which we cannot adequately conceive or express. In philosophy as well as in religion they are mysteries. We cannot conceive of God as absolute will; that makes Him the author of evil as well as of good, and denies His attribute of righteousness. We cannot conceive of man’s absolute free will, for that is a denial of the obvious fact of the weakness of his moral nature and of the almost overwhelming forces of habit and example. To preach predestination only is to preach fatalism and to drive the ungodly to despair or recklessness; to preach man’s free will only is to deny the need of God’s grace and to claim all for human merit. Extreme Calvinism makes God a capricious tyrant. Extreme Arminianism denies the corruption of human nature, and makes man his own saviour.
III. But it remains none the less true that predestination, resting on a Divine purpose, is a doctrine of Scripture, and therefore as such asserted by every Church true to the deposit of primitive faith. And there is a right use of the doctrine, spite of all its grievous perversions. But that right use is only for ‘godly persons,’ i.e. such as are leading godly lives and feeling in themselves the waking of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly members, and drawing up their minds to high and heavenly things. That right use is—
( a) To greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, according to Christ’s own encouragement. ‘Fear not, little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’
( b) To kindle fervently their love towards God. That is the way in which St. Paul used the doctrine in that eighth chapter of the Romans, where, at the close, we have the very triumph song of adoring gratitude and love. If in the immediate prospect of the hour of death and the day of judgment we are enabled in any measure to appropriate its sublime consolations to ourselves, we shall feel that the Divine election is not a puzzle of the intellect, nor a wrangle of barren controversy, but a stay of the fainting soul, and that in very deed salvation ‘is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.’
Rev. Prof. Inge.
‘This ninth chapter of the Romans brings us upon one of those passages of St. Paul’s Epistles “in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction.” We get into the region of such mysterious subjects as predestination and election and reprobation. These subjects occupy now much less general attention than they did in earlier days of Christian doctrine. We know that in the fifth century they formed the principal topic of controversy in Western Christendom, when St. Augustine protested so vehemently against Pelagianism. At the period of the Reformation and in the following century they assumed enormous prominence under the powerful influence of the eminent theologian John Calvin. The rival systems of Calvinism and Arminianism separated whole Churches. The Presbyterian Churches of England and Scotland, under the guidance of the West-minster Assembly, epoused the Calvinist theory. The Nonconforming communities which looked up to John Wesley and George Whitfield respectively as their founders parted asunder owing to their divergence of views on this great controversy. In this century the antagonism is not so violent. Rival views are, indeed, held firmly and conscientiously, but they are not so perpetually pressed upon attention. Pulpits do not so constantly resound with sermons on what used to be called the doctrines of grace, the five points of predestination, the extent of Christ’s redemption, free will and human corruption, conversion by irresistible grace, final perseverance. The probable reason of this may be a consciousness that whatever may be the truth on these high matters, they are only a part and not the whole of Christian doctrine, and are rather speculations of the intellect than foundations of practical rules of holy living. And possibly, too, with this consciousness is associated a conviction that the mysteries handled in this controversy are really mysteries.’
FAITH AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
‘The righteousness which is of faith.’
There are two aspects of this ‘righteousness which is of faith’ needful for us to keep clearly in view. One is the aspect of righteousness as a relationship or standing before God; the other is the aspect of this same righteousness as so much life and power.
I. St. Paul uses the expression, ‘Being justified by faith we have peace with God’—this is ‘the righteousness which is of faith’ as a relationship. Responding to the call of Jesus; believing in Jesus; surrendering ourselves to Jesus; embracing and appropriating as our very own the representative work of Jesus, we thus obtain a new standing before God. We become, in the fullest sense, sharers of the new humanity of the Incarnation. We pass out of the sphere of the penal liabilities of our kinsmanship with the first Adam, who was ‘of the earth earthy,’ and we enter into the sphere of the privileges of our kinsmanship with the second Adam, ‘which is the Lord from Heaven.’ In other words, instead of being in the category of the condemned, we are, by virtue of our faith, in the category of the justified. We have done what our Lord calls ‘the work of God,’ which is, ‘to believe in Him Whom God hath sent.’ And because we have done this work of God, therefore we are not as we formerly were to God, we are not ‘dead to God.’ We are ‘alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ This is the righteousness which is of faith as regards its bearing upon our standing before God.
II. Now a word on the subject of ‘the righteousness which is of faith’ being so much life and grace.—There are some Christians who have been satisfied with regarding ‘the righteousness which is of faith’ as being a matter of relationship or standing before God only. And the result has often been a low attainment of personal holiness. But ‘the righteousness which is of faith’ is something more than a justified and accepted state before God. It is something beyond forgiveness. It is also sanctification. It is a continual growth in Christ-likeness. It is a living oneness with Him out of Whom our righteousness comes. For we are not only told that the Christian is to believe in Christ; we are also told that the Christian is to feed on Christ. And to feed on Christ, whether in the Divine Sacrament of His flesh and blood—whether in the exercise of prayer to Him—or whether in the assimilation of Him through the medium of His written word, necessarily means to become like Christ in our measure and in proportion to the reality of our communion with Him. And let us remember this, that it is the result of our feeding upon Christ our Righteousness, which the world sees, and which impresses the world most. The world is not much impressed by the justification side of our righteousness. That is a matter it is often disposed to be incredulous about. But when it sees the sanctification side of our righteousness, when it discovers that the righteousness which is of faith makes us more honest, more pure, more self-denying, more spiritual, more jealous for truth, more charitable, more patient, more kind, then the world is impressed and acknowledges there is something in Christianity after all.
Rev. Canon Henry Lewis.
‘Let us make no mistake as to what righteousness in the New Testament sense really is. I say this because one result of our modern culture has been the creation of striking but defective ideas of what constitutes righteousness. Thus, e.g., it has been said with all the grace of language and force of expression which characterise the modern apostles of ‘morality touched with religion’ that “righteousness is right performance on all men’s great lines of endeavour”; that “righteousness is to reverently obey the eternal power moving us to fulfil the true law of our being”; that “righteousness is to so live as to be worthy of that high and true ideal of man and of man’s life, which shall be at last victorious.” There is a nobility of feeling, there is a grandeur of ideal in all these definitions of righteousness, which have great charm for many earnest and thoughtful minds—but minds which insist on putting themselves outside the circle of the Christian creeds. It was my lot to meet a representative of this class the other day in the person of one of our South London manufacturers. In the course of our conversation I found that the righteousness which he was pursuing was that of “right performance on all men’s great lines of endeavour.” And as far as earnestness—reverence for good—and a life shaped on convictions were concerned, he was all that one could wish. But he had abandoned all the great foundations of the Christian faith. Christ to him was an eminently good and wise man, but nothing further. The Bible was a book with no more authority than other great religious books. And sin was a balance on the wrong side, to be made up by persistent efforts to accumulate credit on the right side. Over his writing-table was a beautiful picture of the Madonna and the Divine Child, and the sight of the sweet Babe, he said, was a constant reminder to him of the duty of cultivating the child spirit—the child character—the child openness to good.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Romans 9". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent