And God said to Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar to God…
1. Observe, a season of prosperity is too frequently a season of religious decline. The religion of the Gospel, though it is a scheme of mercy, is a system of discipline. An undisturbed enjoyment of the goods of this world has, at the best, a sensualizing tendency. Now it is in these circumstances of repose — of gradual yielding to allowed indulgence — of lethargic sinking into spiritual self-complacency and inactivity, that men are apt to forget the vows of their distress, and, even within the sphere of their own influence and authority, to suffer sin around them without marking it with that holy indignation with which, at one time, it would have been reprobated and discountenanced. Without meaning to justify any thing decidedly wrong, the declining Christian, from the consciousness of his own listless and unprosperous state, and from a false application of the very principle of justice, deals more leniently with the faults of those around him than he would have done formerly, and remains silent when he ought to administer reproof. In the midst of comforts and indulgence we lose something of that holy jealousy, circumspection and activity, to which the heavy pressure of affliction and temptation had given birth.
2. But observe that God will not suffer His people to sink habitually into this state of spiritual sloth. He will, in His own time, deal strictly and retributively with the true Israel. We see this in the case of Jacob. Painful and humiliating as was the visitation to which he was exposed, yet the whole evil might easily be traced to one source. The disgrace of his daughter, the fraud and cruelty of his sons, the dishonour and danger of his whole family, and the stain brought upon the cause of God and truth, might be all fairly attributed to his incautious sojourning among an unenlightened and careless people, at a time when he should have hastened to Bethel for the performance of his vow. The more we are enabled to look into the history of individual Christians, the more we shall find that their respected afflictions are especially calculated to correct the prevailing evil of their characters; and that they may be traced to close connection with some of their prominent moral defects. The naturally proud man is frequently touched in the very core of his pride. The covetous man is often annoyed by worldly anxieties and losses. Still even the afflictions which are permitted to arise out of a Christian's errors have a merciful intention. Their specific object is the more ample sanctification of his soul and body. They are to work out for him "the peaceable fruits of righteousness."
3. But observe, that when God really calls a man to a review, and a cleansing of his ways, He makes him serious and in earnest. Any attempts at reformation which originate in merely human effort, are in their extent partial, and in their duration transitory. And it is indeed a beautiful sight when we see the soul of a sincere Christian thoroughly awakened by the dispensations of providence, and by the quickening power of the Spirit of grace, to renewed devotion and activity for God. When the command comes with power into the soul, "Arise, and go up to Bethel," then there is no more parleying, delaying, or excuse. The same spirit is shown in the conduct of Jacob. He appears at once to have been roused to aim strenuously at the revival of religion both in himself and his family; and he addresses himself without delay to the confession of his neglect, to the performance of his duty, and to a close inspection into the state of his household, that they also, in whatsoever thing they had sinned against the Lord, should be thoroughly reformed and corrected. Such a work of revival is the work of God; and wherever it occurs, it will be marked by certain characteristics which cannot easily be mistaken; for they savour too strongly of that heaven from whence alone grace and holiness flow, to be fairly attributed to any other source. The call of God to renewed devotion produces a sincere surrender of all idolatrous attachments, either to the things or the persons of this world. "Put away your strange gods. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods that were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them in the oak which was Shechem." The call of God produces a cessation from all impurity of the flesh and of the spirit. The reviving call of God will appear in an honest endeavour to repair those breaches which negligence has made, and to remedy by greater effort the evil of time wasted, opportunities lost, evil habits acquired and strengthened, and vows unpaid. "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." The call of God to a revival of religion will appear in a renewed and faithful application, in the means of grace, to God, as a reconciled and covenant God; and this one of the most prominent features — one of the most satisfactory indications of a sincere revival of religious hope and devotion. Again; a sincere revival of religious influence in the heart leads to renewed endeavours to produce a gracious change in those connections over whom we have any influence. It is not sufficient to a gracious spirit to serve God alone. If we feel His love, and value His salvation, we shall be anxious for others — both for the honour of God, and for their eternal welfare. The unfailing mercy of the Lord extended yet farther; for we observe that when the humbled and penitent patriarch presented himself at last at Bethel, and built his promised altar there, "God appeared unto him again," in unchanging faithfulness and grace, "and blessed him, and renewed with him there His covenant and His promise." The subject addresses itself especially to one class of hearers — to those who, by experience, can sympathize with Jacob in this part of his history. It speaks to those who have "felt the powers of the world to come, and tasted of the heavenly gift."
Parallel VersesKJV: And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.