Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, and if He will provide me with food to eat and clothes to wear,
I. THE TRUE LIFE is that which starts from the place of fellowship with God and commits the future to him. We can always find a pillar of blessed memorial and consecration. The Bethel.
1. Providential care.
2. Religious privilege.
3. Special communications of the Spirit.
God with us as a fact. Our pilgrimage a Bethel all through.
II. THE TRUE TESTIMONY that which erects a stone of witness, a Bethel, where others can find God.
1. Personal. The pillow of rest the pillar of praise.
2. Practical. The testimony which speaks of the journey and the traveler.
III. THE TRUE COVENANT.
1. Coming out of fellowship.
2. Pledging the future at the house of God, and in sight of Divine revelation.
3. Blessed exchange of gifts, confirmation of love. Jehovah keeping and guiding and feeding; his servant serving him and giving him a tenth of all he received. The patriarch's vow was the result of a distinct advance in his religious life. The hope of blessing became the covenant of engagement, service, worship, sacrifice. The highest form of religious life is that which rests on a solemn vow of grateful dedication at Bethel. The end before us is "our Father's house in peace." - R.
I. WHAT JACOB SOUGHT.
And Jacob vowed a vow.I. 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.)
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.)
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.)
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, 21). The wisdom, courage, and success of David is resolved into this; " The Lord was with him" (1 Samuel 18:14, 28; 2 Samuel 5:10). This administers solid, satisfying comfort to the soul (Psalm 4:6, 7; Psalm 36:7-9; Psalm 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; Psalm 27:1-6; Psalm 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 (ver. 22).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)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. —
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.)
Old Testament Anecdotes.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.)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.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.
(F. G. Clarke, D. D.).
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