I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness You have shown Your servant. Indeed, with only my staff I came across the Jordan, but now I have become two camps.
1. It was the prayer of humility.
2. Of faith - faith in a covenant God, faith in him who had already revealed himself, faith in promises made to the individual as well as to God's people generally, faith founded on experience of the past, faith which has been mingled with obedience, and therefore lays hold of Divine righteousness. He has commanded me to return; I am in the way of his commandments. Faith in the great purpose of God and his kingdom: "I will make thy seed as the sand of the sea," &c. So Luther, in his sense of personal weakness in a troubled world, cried, "The Lord must save his own Church."
3. It was the prayer of gratitude. "I was alone; I am now two bands;" "not worthy of the least of thy mercies," &c., "yet abundantly blessed." - R.
I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies.
I. First, with regard to the MATERIAL. If we can show that it is typical; if it applies to the human nature of the present day, then what we wish you to do is this, not to leave the acknowledgment of God's providence for future years and old age, when you will be able to say, "It is all Thy doing"; but even now to acknowledge the goodness and providence and omnipotence of God, and depending on Him to try and work in commercial matters in a righteous and God-fearing spirit. Look at the matter as typically understood. Jacob has prospered, and has come to a spot in his career when the circumstances of his poverty are brought to mind, and he falls down in thankful adoration. Are the types of this history died out in our own land? Is this narrative very different to the narrative we could give one of another?
II. But the narrative also, we believe, IS TYPICAL IN A MENTAL, SENSE. A man is about to study for a profession — no matter what it may be, he has toil, arduous labour, before him. He begins with nothing but good wishes from his friends that he may be successful, a good name and earnest determination; and he becomes eminently successful. And when he is sitting on the Chancellor's seat in the House of Lords, or has otherwise acquired fame and fortune, will he not remember the Power that has done it all, and, remembering, devoutly and most thankfully acknowledge that he was not worthy of so great a mercy? If a man has reflection, honesty and common-sense, and believes in the existence of a Deity, he is forced to admit that this is true; and therefore we say, oh! what ingratitude not to thank Him for the health and strength supplied, and the providential ordering of circumstances which produced the result! Now, if you go thus far, you must go still farther. Ought you not to ask His blessing on everything you do? And if you do this He will bless; and in your old age, when you take a review of the past — of the circumstances under which you began life, the hopes and the fears that passed through your mind, and the prosperity that attended your path, you will be able to say, and to say with joy and happiness, "Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life, and now I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
III. But we want now to come to the SPIRITUAL. And here perhaps we shall be joined by the experience of more than even the other two classes. It is not every one of us that can become rich — not every one of us that can develop our mental powers to the highest; but it is within the reach of all to be spiritually minded. Now, you have been a Christian for many years; now your example has been a help to others, and you are filled with joy and peace. You live in the Lord Jesus Christ; your "life is hid with Christ in God," and you are looking forward to the period when you shall enter the eternal world. In a little time your body will be committed "dust to dust"; but you know and feel joyfully assured that there is a glorious resurrection life beyond, in the many mansions purchased with the blood of your Redeemer. Even now, in imagination, you join in the heavenly songs. You have felt the pressure of the golden crown on your forehead, and your fingers have seemed to sweep the strings of the golden harp. And sometimes you have felt to have a more intimate communion with Christ than you ever expected while in the body. When calling all this experience to mind, can you but remember the grace which has made you to differ from others, and remembering, say — "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan: and now I am become two bands"? And feeling thus — remembering what God has done for you — can you be content to go through life without doing anything for Him, or without trying to serve Him?
(W. Cuthbertson, B. A.)
Sketches of Sermons.I. THE ESTIMATE WHICH HE FORMED OF HIS OWN CHARACTER. "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies," &c. This acknowledgment implies —
1. He was a believer in God.
2. He was a worshipper of God.
3. He was a follower of God.
II. His GRATEFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE DIVINE GOODNESS. "All the mercies, and all the truth," &c.
1. They were abundant mercies.
2. They were unceasing mercies.
3. They were covenant mercies.
III. His CONSCIOUS UNWORTHINESS OF SUCH PECULIAR BLESSINGS. "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies"; or rather, "I am less than all the compassions," &c.
1. This is the language of conscious dependence.
2. This is the language of grateful recollection.
3. This is the language of deep self-abasement.How amiable is this disposition; it is the characteristic distinction of all the righteous (Genesis 18:27; 1 Chronicles 17:16, 17; Ephesians 3:18; 1 Peter 5:5). We may infer —
1. The design and advantage of Scripture biography (Romans 15:4).
2. The duty of imitating the piety of the primitive saints (Hebrews 6:12).
3. The necessity of cultivating a spirit of humility and gratitude (James 4:10).
(Sketches of Sermons.)
I. Our first observation is that HUMILITY IS THE FIT ATTITUDE OF PRAYER. Observe that he here speaks not as before man, but as before God; and he cries, "I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies." He had been talking with Laban — Laban who had made a slave of him, who had used him in the most mercenary manner, and who had now pursued him in fierce anger because he had quitted his service with his wives and children that he might go back to his native country. To Laban he does not say, "I am not worthy of what I possess," for, as far as churlish Laban was concerned, he was worthy of a great deal more than had ever been rendered to him in the form of wage. To Laban he uses many truthful sentences of self-vindication and justification. The same man who speaks in that fashion to Laban turns round and confesses to his God, "I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies." This is perfectly consistent and truthful. Humility is not telling falsehoods against yourself: humility is forming a right estimate of yourself. As towards Laban it was a correct estimate for a man who had worked so hard for so little to claim that he had a right to what God had given him; and yet as before God it was perfectly, honest and sincere of Jacob to say, "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto Thy servant." Now, whenever you go to prayer, if you have previously been compelled to say some rather strong thing as to your own integrity and industry; or, if you have heard others speak in your praise, forget it all; for you cannot pray if it has any effect upon you. A man cannot pray with a good opinion of himself: all he can manage is just to mutter, "God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are," and that is no prayer at all.
2. Brethren, it would ill become any of us to use the language of merit before God; for merit we have none; and if we had any, we should not need to pray. It has been well observed by an old divine, that the man who pleads his own merit does not pray, but demands his due.
3. Let me add, also, that in times of great pressure upon the heart there is not much fear of self-righteousness intruding. Jacob was greatly afraid and sore distressed; and when a man is brought into such a state the lowliest language suits him. They that are filled with bread may boast, but the hungry beg. Let the proud take heed lest while the bread is yet in their mouths the wrath of God come upon them.
4. I call your attention to the present tense as it is used in the text — Jacob does not say, as we might half have thought he would have said, "I was not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which Thou hast made to pass before Thy servant," but he says "I am not worthy." He does not merely allude to his unworthiness when he crossed this Jordan with a staff in his hand, a poor solitary banished man: he believes that he was unworthy then; but even now, looking upon his flocks and his herds and his great family, and all that he had done and suffered, he cries, "I am not worthy." What! Has not all God's mercy made you worthy? Brethren, free grace is neither the child nor the father of human worthiness. If we get all the grace we ever can get we shall never be worthy of that grace; for grace as it enters where there is no worthiness, so it imparts to us no worthiness afterwards as we are judged before God. When we have done all, we are unprofitable servants; we have only done what it was our duty to have done.
II. Secondly, the same thought will be kept up, but put in a somewhat differing light, while we note that THOSE CONSIDERATIONS WHICH MAKE TOWARDS HUMILITY ARE THE STRENGTH OF PRAYER
1. Observe, first, that Jacob in this prayer showed his humility by a confession of the Lord's working in all his prosperity. He says with a full heart, "All the mercies and all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant." Well, but Jacob, you have immense flocks of sheep, but you earned them, and through your care they greatly increased — do you not consider that those flocks are entirely your own procuring? Surely you must see that you were highly industrious, prudent, and careful, and thus grew wealthy? No; he takes a survey of his great estate, and he speaks of it all as mercies — mercies which the Lord had showed unto His servant. I do not object to books about self-made men, but I am afraid that self-made men have a great tendency to worship him that made them. It is very natural they should. But, brethren, if we are self-made, I am sure we had a very bad maker, and there must be a great many flaws in us. It would be better to be ground back to dust again, and made over anew so as to become God-made men.
2. The next point is a consideration of God's mercies. For my part, nothing ever sinks me so low as the mercy of God, and next to that I am readily subdued by the kindness of men. The man who has a due sense of his own character will be laid low by words of commendation. When we remember the loving kindness of the Lord to us we cannot but contrast our littleness with the greatness of His love, and feel a sense of self-debasement. I have a dear brother in Christ who is now sore sick, the Rev. Mr. Curme, the vicar of Sandford, in Oxfordshire, who has been my dear friend for many years. He is the mirror of humility, and he divides his name into two words, Cur me? which means, "Why me?" Often did he say, in my hearing, "Why me, Lord? Why me?" Truly I can say the same, Cur me? Tills exceeding kindness of the Lord all tends to promote humility, and at the same time to help us in prayer; for if the Lord be so greatly good, we may adopt the language of the Phoenecian woman when the Master said to her, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs," She answered, "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." So we will go and ask our Lord to give us crumbs of mercy, and they will be enough for us poor dogs. God's crumbs are bigger than man's loaves; and if He gives us what to Him may be a crumb, it shall be a meal to us. Oh, He is a great Giver! He is a glorious Giver! We are not equal to His least gift.
3. Again, a comparison of our past and our present will tend to humility and also to helpfulness in prayer. Jacob at first is described thus, "With my staff I passed over this Jordan." He is all alone, no servant attends him; he has no goods, not even a change of linen in a parcel, nothing but a staff to walk with; now, after a few years, here is Jacob coming back, crossing the river in the opposite direction, and he has with him two bands. He is a large grazier with great wealth in all manner of cattle. What a change! I would have those men whom God has prospered never to be ashamed of what they used to be; they ought never to forget the staff with which they crossed this Jordan. I had a good friend who preserved the axle-tree of the truck in which he wheeled home his goods when he first came to London. It was placed over his front door, and he never blushed to tell how he came up from the country, worked hard, and made his way in the world. I like this a deal better than the affected gentility which forgets the lone half-crown which pined in solitude in their pockets when they entered this city.
III. And now, as time flies, we must dwell upon the third point, still hammering the same nail on the head: TRUE HUMILITY SUPPLIES US WITH ARGUMENTS IN PRAYER.
1. Look at the first one, "I am not worthy of all Thy mercies"; nay, "I am not worthy of the least of all the many mercies which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant. Thou hast kept Thy word and been true to me, but it was not because I was true to Thee. I am not worthy of the truth which Thou hast shown to Thy servant." Is there not power in such a prayer? Is not mercy secured by a confession of worthiness?
2. Then please to notice that while Jacob thus pleads his own unworthiness he is not slow to plead God's goodness. He speaks in most expressive words, wide and full of meaning. "I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies. I cannot enumerate them, the list would be too long! It seems to me as if Thou hadst given me all kinds of mercies, every sort of blessing. Thy mercy endureth for ever, and Thou hast given it all to me." How he extols God as with a full mouth when he says, "All Thy mercies." He does not say, "all Thy mercy" —the word is in the plural — "the least of all Thy mercies." For God has many bands of mercies; favours never come alone, they visit us in troops.
3. Notice, next, how he says "Thy servant." A plea is hidden away in that word. Jacob might have called himself by some other name on this occasion. He might have said, "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy child", it would have been true, it would not have been fitting. Suppose it had run — "Unto Thy chosen," it would have been true, but not so lowly; or "unto Thy covenanted one" — that would have been correct, but not so humble an expression as Jacob felt bound to use in this time of his distress, when the sins of his youth were brought to his mind. He seemed to say, "Lord, I am Thy servant. Thou didst bid me come hither, and hither I have come because of that bidding: therefore protect me." Surely a king will not see his servant put upon when engaged in the royal service. Jacob was in the path of duty, and God would make it the path of safety. If we make God our guide, He will be our guard. If He be our Commander He will be our Defender.
4. Jacob had yet another plea which showed his humility, and that was the argument of facts. "With my staff," says he, "I passed over this Jordan." "This Jordan," which flowed hard by, and received the Jabbok. It brings a thousand things to his mind, to be on the old spot again. When he crossed it before he was journeying into exile, but now he is coming back as a son, to take his place with loved Rebekah and father Isaac, and he could not but feel it a great mercy that he was now going in a happier direction than before. He looked at his staff, and he remembered how in fear and trembling he had leaned upon it as he pursued his hasty, lonely march. "With this staff — that is all I had." He looks upon it, and contrasts his present condition and his two camps with that day of poverty, that hour of hasty flight. This retrospect humbled him, but it must have been a strength to him in prayer. "O God, if Thou hast helped me from abject want to all this wealth, Thou canst certainly preserve me in the present danger. He who has done so much is still able to bless me, and He will do so."
5. In closing, I think I discover one powerful argument here in Jacob's prayer. Did he not mean that, although God had increased him so greatly, there had come with it all the greater responsibility? He had more to care for than when he owned less. Duty had increased with increased possessions. He seems to say, "Lord, when I came this way before I had nothing, only a staff; that was all I had to take care of; and if I had lost that staff I could have found another. Then I had Thy dear and kind protection, which was better to me than riches. Shall I not have it still? When I was a single man with a staff Thou didst guard me, and now that I am surrounded by this numerous family of little children and servants, wilt Thou not spread Thy wings over me? Lord, the gifts of Thy goodness increase my necessity: give me proportionately Thy blessing. I could before run away and escape from my angry brother; but now the mothers and the children bind me, and I must abide with them and die with them unless Thou preserve me."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
II. THE SOURCE TO WHICH JACOB HERE TRACES HIS BLESSINGS,
1. He refers his blessings first to the mercy of God; for observe, he calls them mercies, and this shows us that he traced them all to God's free bounty and grace.
2. But the patriarch mentions also here, the truth of God. He couples it, you observe, with mercy, and this blending together of these two things as the source of our mercies is very remarkable in Scripture. "Not unto us, O Lord," says David, "not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy truth's sake." "God will send forth His mercy and truth." "Mercy and truth are met together." "All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth." And in Jacob's case the connection between these two things is very plain. He deserved nothing of God; whatever, therefore, God bestowed on him came from God's mercy. But God promised to bestow many blessings on him; these blessings, therefore, when bestowed might be said to come also from God's truth. Mercy made the promise and prepared the blessings; truth fulfilled the promise and sent the blessings.
III. THE TIME WHEN JACOB THUS REMEMBERED HIS BLESSINGS. We well know when we remember mercies; it is generally when they are first given us, and the heart is warmed and glowed by the first possession of them. And very little disappointment and vexation will, almost at any time, drive away all our thankfulness for them. Men, generally, never dream, when they get into trouble, of taking up the language of praise. But look back to the circumstances under which this patriarch thus thinks of mercy and truth. If we went no farther than the text, we should say he has just received some new proof of God's love to him. There he is, we should say, once again travelling, with joy and gladness, his native plains, and pitching his tent there in security and peace. But not exactly thus; he is in an extremity, and a very painful one. And yet, before any deliverance or any prospect of deliverance appears, we hear Jacob talking of mercy and truth; and he blesses God for His past goodness.
IV. THE EFFECT PRODUCED IN JACOB BY THE REMEMBRANCE OF HIS MERCIES — OR ONE OF THE EFFECTS. I allude to this, a deep sense of his own unworthiness and nothingness. "I am less than all Thy mercies" — less, not only than the most signal of them, but less than any, the least of them; I cannot think of any one of them that is not larger than I am. He seems to dwindle away to nothing in his own view as he contemplates God's mercy towards him. There is no proportion between these mercies and myself; it is not only mercy, but abundant, marvellous mercy, that has bestowed them on me. And what has brought him into this state of feeling is, doubtless, a vivid remembrance at this time of those mercies. As his mind ran over them from year to year, tracing their multitudes and ways, there was something connected with them which he could not pass over — the vileness and nothingness of the creature on whom they had been bestowed. He thought, perhaps, of the baseness of his conduct which had driven him at first from his father's house; but, if that did not enter his mind, he thought, doubtless, of the ingratitude and many sins that had stained him since. A sense of God's love towards you lays you humble; and there is a tradition among the Jews, that all through his life this man was kept down. It is said, as a proof of his humility, that he had in his hand the staff which he carried with him over Jordan, when he went to Padan-aram; that he never afterwards parted with his staff; that it was upon this he leaned when he blessed the sons of Joseph, and that it was lying by him when he died. Now, let me ask you, Do you understand this truth? Have you ever experienced anything like it? Have the mercies of God towards yourselves ever made you shiver, as it were, from a sense of your guiltiness and nothingness?
(C. Bradley, M. A.)I. JACOB'S CONDITION AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF HIS JOURNEY TO PADANARAM. "With my staff I passed over this Jordan." It is difficult to imagine a state of greater destitution. And well did the patriarch bear it in mind. It was engraven deeply upon his memory, and he could not forget it. It would have been his sin and his shame, if he could have banished it from his recollection. O, my dear friends, who haw the God of Jacob for your refuge, but who know Him under an immeasurably dearer relation, as" the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ," "look to the rock from whence ye are hewn, and the hole of the pit whence ye are digged." What was your natural condition? A spiritual state immeasurably more dark and dreary than were the circumstances of Jacob, when he set forwards on him journey.
II. BUT WHILE JACOB REVERTED TO HIS PAST WRETCHEDNESS, HE CONTRASTED IT WITH THE PROSPERITY INTO WHICH GOD HAD BROUGHT HIM. "Now I am become two bands." He had thus divided his wives and children, and servants and cattle, that if one were smitten, the other might escape; and the separation proved his wealth. Thus it is, that they whom the grace of God hath brought manifestly within the covenant, must compare the wretchedness of the past with the mercies and the blessedness of the present, for His glory who graciously made the change. It is for each of them to say, as I trust may be said by each of many among yourselves, "One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see."
III. WELL, THEN, DID JACOB ACT IN GIVING UTTERANCE TO THE HOLY GRATITUDE AND DEEP HUMILITY OF HIS SOUL. "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant." O, never should one who hath experienced the gospel of Christ to be the power of God unto salvation, in believing — never should one in whom Christ hath been "formed the hope of glory," forget to own the Hand from whence all his blessings come; and his own unworthiness, who yet is privileged so largely and so freely to receive them. Observe the language of Jacob; "not merely the mercy, but all the mercies"; everything from the greatest to the least, and everything in the riches of absolute grace. The spring is inexhaustible, and the streams are many, suited to every need of every individual member in the Church of the Most High. There are mercies past, for which to thank a covenant Father, according to His promise; and there are mercies yet to come, secured to them by the promise. O, it is true grace in exercise, to lie low in the dust before God, acknowledging our vileness, and to know that we merit wrath, while yet we are emboldened to plead for mercy, and to expect it.
IV. THE CONDUCT OF JACOB WILL NOW SHOW US THE DUTY OF ONE WHO HATH ACCESS TO A COVENANT GOD IN THE TIME OF TRIAL. Jacob's refuge was the throne of grace, and we find him pre-eminently a man of prayer. O, let trials, temptations, conflicts, sorrows, sins, shortcomings, lead you, dear brethren, thither.
(R. P. Buddicom.)1. In the prayer itself, consider how sweet it is in the child's woe, for him to be able to remember that his parents were godly and in favour with the Lord. Then conceiveth he comfort, that he which loved the stock, will not east away the branch, but graciously respect him. A great cause to make parents godly if there were no other, that their children ever may pray as did Jacob, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, look upon me, &c.
2. Consider how he groundeth both prayer and hope, upon word and promise, saying, "Lord, which saidst unto me, return unto thy country and to thy kindred, and I will do thee good." So let us do, and not first do rashly what we had no warrant for, and then pray to God for help wherein we have no promise: yea, if you mark it, he repeateth this promise over again in the twelfth verse, it was such strength unto him to consider it.
3. Not merit, but want of merit is his plea; I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies, and all the truth, which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant.
(Bp. Babington.)1. He approaches God as the God of his father; and, as such, a God in covenant. This was laying hold of the Divine faithfulness: it was the prayer of faith.
2. As his own God, pleading what He had promised to him.
3. While he celebrates the great mercy and truth of God towards him, he acknowledges himself unworthy of the least instance of either. The worthiness of merit is what every good man, in every circumstance, must disclaim; but that which he has in view, I conceive, is that of meekness. Looking back to his own unworthy conduct, especially that which preceded and occasioned his passing over Jordan with a "staff " only in his hand, he is affected with the returns of mercy and truth which he had met with from a gracious God. By sin he had reduced himself in a manner to nothing; but God's goodness had made him great. As we desire to succeed in our approaches to God, we must be sure to take low ground; humbling ourselves in the dust before Him, and sueing for relief as a matter of mere grace. Finally, having thus prefaced his petition, he now presents it (vers. 11, 12). This was doubtless the petition of a kind husband, and a tender father; it was not as such only, nor principally, however, but as a believer in the promises, that he presented it; the great stress of the prayer turns on this hinge. It was as though he had said, "If my life, and that of the mother, with the children, be cut off, how are Thy promises to be fulfilled?"
(A. Fuller.)1. An humble self-denying frame is best for prayer of faith to God in time of temptation.
2. It is a special way to humble saints, by comparing themselves with God's mercy and truth.
3. The mercy and truth of God go always jointly together (Psalm 25:10).
4. God's servants have experience of His mercy and truth in their pilgrimages below.
5. Gracious souls judge themselves less than any mercy or truth of God.
6. It is good to keep souls low to remember their former empty conditions.
7. God can make the solitary a multitude and make the poor to be full.
8. The remembrance of such mercy from God should humble souls in their approaches to God (ver. 10).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
I. THE CONTRAST HERE PRESENTED BETWEEN THE EARLY LONELINESS AND POVERTY OF LIFE AND ITS GROWING RICHES IS UNIVERSAL.
1. What is life but a constant gathering of riches? Compare the man and the woman of forty with their childhood. They have made themselves a name and a place in life; they are centres of attraction to troops of friends. How rich has life become to them I how full its storehouses of knowledge, power, and love!
2. That which is stored in the mind, that which is stored in the heart, is the true treasure; the rest is mere surplusage. To know and to love: these are the directions in which to seek our riches.
3. There is no other way to make life a progress, but to root it in God.
II. Consider THE HIGHER DEVELOPMENT OF THE LAW OF INCREASE, the deeper and more solemn sense in which, through the ministry of the angel of death, we become "two bands."
1. Through death there has been a constant progress in the forms and aspects of creation. The huge, coarse, unwieldy types which ruled of old in both the animal and vegetable worlds have vanished, and out of their ashes the young phoenix of creation has sprung which is the meet satellite of man.
2. This is the counsel of God: to make the darkness of death beautiful for us; to make it the one way home; to show us that the progress is not rounded, but prolonged and completed, and that the increase is not gathered, but consecrated by death as the possession of eternity. To bring heaven easily within our reach God separates the bands — part have crossed the flood, part are on the hither side, and the instinct of both tells them that they are one. At the last great day of God they shall be one band once more, met again and met for ever.
(J. B. Brown, B. A.)
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