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CCCCLXXVII. THE MANNER IN WHICH COD
DISPENSES HIS FAVOURS.
Gen. xxviii. 15. Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, till I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
THE study of profane history is exceeding profitable, inasmuch as it brings us into an acquaintance with human nature in all its diversified forms, and thereby qualifies us to discharge all our own duties with more wisdom and propriety. But sacred history, besides that it sets before us incomparably brighter examples of virtue, has this peculiar advantage, that it brings God himself to our view, and exhibits him in all the dispensations of his providence and grace. The account which is here given us of his intercourse with Jacob, will serve to shew us, in a very striking point of view, in what manner he dispenses his favours.
I. He bestows them sovereignly
[Jacob had grievously sinned both against God and man, in personating his brother, in imposing on his father, in blasphemously ascribing to God what was the fruit of his own device, and in fraudulently obtaining his brother's birthright. Having incensed his injured brother, he was now fleeing, to avoid the effects of his indignation. And in what manner should we suppose that God would meet him, if indeed he should deign to notice such a miscreant? Would he not say to him, as he afterwards did to the fugitive prophet, What dost thou here, Elijah? Or rather, instead of noticing him at all, may we not suppose that he would send a lion to destroy him? But behold, for the displaying of the riches of his own grace, he revealed himself to him in a most instructive vision; he confirmed to him all the promises that had been made to Abraham and to Isaac; and even extended beyond all former bounds the manifestations of his favour.
A similar instance we have in the apostle Paul; whom, at the very instant that he was labouring to extirpate the followers of Christ, God was pleased to stop, not, as might have been expected, with some signal judgment, but with singular ex
1 Kings xiii, 24.
'pressions of his regard, conferring on him the highest honours, and communicating to him the richest blessings.
And may we not also admire the sovereignty of God in the exercise of his mercy towards ourselves? Wherefore is it that we are favoured with the light of his gospel, when so many myriads of our fellow-sinners are left in darkness, and the shadow of death? If we have experienced in our souls the efficacy of divine grace, may we not look back with wonder to the period of our conversion, when we were either drinking iniquity with greediness, or proudly establishing our own righteousness in opposition to the righteousness of Christ? Let us deliberately consider our state when God first caused a ray of light to shine into our minds, and implanted his grace in our hearts, and we shall esteem ourselves no less indebted to the electing love of God, than Jacob, or Saul, or any other whom he has ever chosen.b]
II. He times them seasonably
[The fugitive patriarch was now in a very desolate and forlorn condition, wearied in body, and distressed in mind. Probably his conscience now smote him, and he was saying with himself, as Joseph's brethren afterwards did, "I am verily guilty concerning my brother." How welcome then must the tokens of God's regard be to him at that season! What a support under his present trials! what an antidote against any future calamities!
Thus it is that God interposes on the behalf of his people, and "repents himself for them, when their strength is gone, and there is none shut up or left." When the contrite soul is bowed down under a sense of guilt, and ready to say, There is no hope; then does God speak peace unto it, saying, "Be of good cheer, I am thy salvation." Just as, in Hagar's extremity, God sent his angel to point out to her a spring, whereby the life of her child was unexpectedly preserved, so in ten thousand instances he appears for us, when we are ready to despair of help: and though his interpositions on our behalf are less visible than these, yet every one of us has reason to acknowledge the truth of that proverb, "In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen." Let us but review our lives, and call to mind the aids of his Spirit under temptations, trials, difficulties; let us see how marvellously we have been upheld when conflicting with sin and Satan, and we shall confess indeed, that "he is a present, a very present, help in trouble."]
III. He imparts them suitably
[It is probable that Jacob's reply to the advice of his mother was now, in his apprehension, about to be verified; and that he expected a curse rather than a blessing. His evil conscience now might well suggest to him such thoughts as these: "God has forsaken me, and some great evil will come upon me. I can never hope to return again to my father's house in peace, or to enjoy the blessing, which I have so treacherously gained." To remove these apprehensions, God vouchsafed to him exactly such tokens of his regard, as were best calculated to allay his fears. In the vision, God shewed to him both his providential care, and his redeeming love: for doubtless, while he discovered to him the ministry of angels who were commissioned to protect him, he also shewed him that promised seed, who was in due time to spring from him, and whom at that very instant he typically represented." In the promise, he assured him, that his presence should follow him; that his power should preserve him; that he would bring him back again to that very land; and that not one of all the promises that had been ever made to him, should fail of accomplishment.
In this respect also we may trace the tender mercies of our God towards all his people. His manifestations of himself to them, and his application of promises to their souls, are wonderfully suited to their several necessities. We cannot indeed justify those, who open the sacred records, and expect that the portion of scripture, on which they cast their eye, shall be a kind of literal direction to them; (a most unwarranted and delusive method of ascertaining the mind of God!) but this we must affirm, that, whatever we want, whether wisdom, or strength, or grace of any kind, it shall be given us, if we ask in faith. And the experience of all the saints attests the truth of that promise, "Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."]
IV. He continues them faithfully
[God had given promises, not to Abraham only and to Isaac, but to Jacob also, while he was yet in his mother's womb. But instead of fulfiling them to him after this flagrant instance of misconduct, he might well have said to him, as he did to his unbelieving posterity, "Thou shalt know my breach of promise:" "I said indeed, that thy house and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now it shall be far from me: for them that honour me I will honour; and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed."i But he had spoken, and would not go back: for his word's
This is more fully opened in the 141st Skeleton.
sake he would not cast off his offending child, or even suffer one jot or title of his promises to fail.
Thus to his descendants in future ages did God manifest his fidelity; insomuch that Joshua, after eighty years experience, could appeal to the whole nation, saying, "Ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof."
To us also will he approve himself faithful. "He will not cast off his people, because it hath pleased him to make us his people." He has said, I will never leave thee, I will never, never forsake thee." "He may indeed hide his face from us for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will he have mercy on us: the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but the covenant of my peace," says he, "shall not be removed: for like as I have sworn that the waters of, Noah shall no more cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.""]
1. For caution
[We have seen that Jacob inherited the blessing which he had gained by treachery; and that, where sin had abounded, grace, did much more abound. But shall we do evil that good may come; or commit sin that grace may abound? God forbid. We must never expect the blessing of God but in the way of duty.]
2. For encouragement
[If through temptation we have fallen into sin, let us not flee from God, like Adam, but go to him in humble hope that he will magnify his mercy towards the chief of sinners.]
Josh. xxiii. 14. m Heb. xiii. 5.
11 Sam. xii. 22.
CCCCLXXVIII. GOD'S DELIGHT IN SAVING
Zeph. iii. 17. The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty: he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
A KNOWLEDGE of ourselves will shew us how much need we have of repentence; and a knowledge of
God will encourage us to repent. Many are the descriptions which we have of God in the inspired volume; but none deserves our attention more than that before us. In it we behold
I. God's power to save
[We shall not speak of God's power in general, but as it is manifested in the salvation of his church and people. He dwelt "in the midst" of his people in the wilderness; and displayed his "power to save them" by delivering them from all their enemies, and supplying all their wants. Thus is he in the midst of his church at this time; and is as able as ever to save his people. For this end he orders every thing by his providence, and makes his word effectual through the almighty operations of his Holy Spirit.]
II. His determination to save
[If he should leave us to ourselves none of us would be saved. We all say to him, "Depart from us;"s nor do we ever turn effectually to him till he has made us willing in the day of his power. On this account he takes the matter into his own hands, and determines to save those whom he has given to his Son. Having bought us with the blood of his Son, he will secure us to himself, by the operation of his Spirit. He does not indeed destroy our free agency; but he overcomes our reluctance, and draws us to himself by an operation not less powerful than that, which he exerted in raising his Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead.']
III. His delight in saving
[There is not any thing so delightful to God as the work of saving sinners. Nor will he merely feel an inward pleasure; but, as a man, overjoyed at any event, involuntarily expresses his joy by singing, or some other outward token, so will God manifest his pleasure to the returning soul. Man by nature knows no greater happiness than that which a bridegroom feels, when, after long suspense and many fears, he is united to his bride. Yet such is the image which God himself uses, to illustrate his joy over returning sinners."]
b Exod. xiv. 27, 28. and xvii. 14.
a Exod. xl. 38.
e Ps. lxxvii. 15, 16, 24, 25. e Rom. viii. 28.
d Matt. xviii. 20. and xxviii. 20.
f Heb. iv. 12. 2 Cor. x. 4, 5.
h John vi. 44. Ps. cx. 3.
Job xxi. 14, 15.
1 John vi. 37. See this exemplified, Jer. iii. 19.
Phil. ii. 13.
m Luke xv. 23, 24.