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And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
M Y brethren, real communion with God is a
V blessing of such inestimable value, that it cannot be fought with too great earnestness, or maintained with too much care. If it is no fable, that God vouchsafes to his people, on some occasions, a sense of his gracious presence, and, as it were, visits them in love ; with what fervor should they desire, with what diligence should they improve, so great a mercy! In a particular manner, when a good man hath in view, either an important and difficult duty, or a dangerous trial, it is his interest to implore, with the greatest importunity, the presence and countenance of God, which only can effectually direct him in the one, and support him in the other. This, my brethren, ought to be our concern at present, as we have in view a very folemn approach to God, viz, laying hold of one of the seals of his covenant : what trials may be before us, or near us, it is impossible to know.
The words I have read relate to a remarkable passage of the patriarch Jacob's life. He was now returning from Padan-aram with a numerous family, and great substance, and had received imformation that his brother Efau was coming to meet him with four hundred men. We are told, v. 7. of the chapter, that he was “greatly afraid and "distressed,” being, in all probability, quite uncertain . Vol. I.
whether his brother was coming with a friendly or a hostile intention ; or rather, having great reason to, fufpect the latter to be the case. He rose up, we are told, long before day, and sent his wives, his children, and cattle, over the brook Jabbock : and as it follows, in the 24th verse, “Ja“cob was left alone: and there wrestled a man with him, "until the breaking of the day. And when he faw that "he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of * his thigh: and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of “ joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me “ go, for the day breaketh: and he said, I will not let thee “ go, except thou bless me.”
Some of the fathers, and also fome of the Jewish writers, fappoíe, that all this was done in prophetic vision, to re. present to him the difficulties that were yet before him, which, by faith and patience he was to overcome. But it is more reasonable to think, that this was in truth the appearance of an angel to him; and indeed most probably of the angel of the covenant; because, from the passage itself, it appears that he had “ prevailed with God.” The fame thing we are assured of by the prophet Hofea, chap. xii. 3, 4. “ He took his brother by the heel in the womb,
and by his strength he had power with God: yea, he had “ power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept and made “ fupplication unto him: he found him in Beth-el, and “ there he fpake with us." From this paffage also we learn, that it was the fame who met with him at Beth-el. Some think, with a good deal of probability, that this attack was made upon him by way of punishment for the weakness of his faith; that though he had received the promise, he fhould yet be under fo great a terror at the ap. proach of his brother. In this indeed he was an example of what happens to believers in every age. Paft mercies are forgotten at the approach of future trials; therefore the fame God who visited at Beth-el, and promised to be with him, now meets him in difpleasure, and threatens to deftroy him: but by “weeping and supplication” he not only obtained his preservation, but a further bleffing. It is also the opinion of many, that the wrestling or conflict Was literal and real for some time, and that Jacob perhaps took it to be one of Efau's attendants who had come to furprise him in the night; but that at last he perceived his mistake, when the angel, by a flight touch of his thigh, fhewed him, that, if he had pleased, he might easily have destroyed him, Then, as he had contended with his sup. posed adversary, he now continues the struggle, by infilting upon a blessing; which he obtains; in such terms as earry in them a commendation both of his constancy and importunity: v. 28. “ And he said, Thy name shall be “ called no more Jacob, but Ifrael: for as a prince haft " thou power with God, and with men, and haft prevail. « ed.” The last part of this verse is fuppofed indeed to be wrong trandated ; and that it fhould be, “as a prince 6 thou haft had power with God, and therefore much “ more shalt thou prevail over men;" which was a promise not only of present fecurity, but of future prosperity and conquest.
But though this remarkable event had a particular and immediate relation to Jacob, there is no doubt, that the Spirit of God, in putting it on record, had a purpose of further and more extensive usefulness. It is plainly an example of importunity, and, as it were, holy violence in prayer. So uniform and general has this fenfe of the paffage been, that fervency and importunity in prayer has been generally called wrestling with God. This is a subject which well deserves our most ferious attention; the rather that I am sorry to say, the practice has fallen into much disrepute; and I am afraid the expression itself is in fome danger of being treated with derifion. In discoursing further on this subject, I shall, in
1. Explain and illustrate a little the nature and subject of this holy wrestling and importunity in prayer.
2. The duty and reasonableness of it. . 3. The great benefit arising from it. And,
14. In the last place, I Thall make some improvement of the subject, for your instruction and direction,
I. FIRST, then, I am to explain and illustrata a little the nature and subject of this holy wrestling and importu. nity in prayer, ; Wrestling necessarily supposes some resistance or opposition to be overcome. Prayer indeed, of itself, and in the simplest cases, may be said to carry this idea in it; because he that prays stands in need of fome. thing which he can only obtain by prevailing with, or bending the will of another to bestow : Matth. vii. 7. “ Alk, and it shall be given you : seek, and ye shall find : « knock, and it shall be opened unto you." But as there are many gracious assurances of God's readiness to hear our prayers, the subject we are now upon leads us particularly to the consideration of the obstructions or difficulties that lie in the way, either of our praying as we ought, or praying with success. These two things must be joined together, because they are in their nature inseparably connected: James iv. 3. “Ye ask, and receive not, because " ye ask amifs, that ye may consume it upon your lufts." James i. 5, 6, 7. “ If any of you lack wisdom, let him is alk of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and up“ braideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him « alk in faith, nothing wavering: for he that wavereth “ is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind, and “ tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive “ any thing of the Lord.” Now, for the illustration of this duty and practice, in a way suited to the condition and daily experience of the children of God, I shall men. tion some of the chief obstructions or difficulties we have to wrestle with in our access to God, and which must be overcome by the importunity and holy violence of prayer. ii. The first of these I shall mention is a sense of guilt overwhelming the soul. This, which is the strongest of all arguments for the necessity of prayer, is often found in experience to hinder the performance. When any person is arrested of conscience, when his multiplied transgressions appear before him in all their variety, and in all their aggravations, it is' apt to fill him with a jea. lousy of God, a dread of entering into his presence, and in fome fort a despair of obtaining his mercy. This hath been often seen in great profligates, overtaken by a visita. tion of Providence, and liung by the reproaches of conscience. When they have been urged to apply for divine
mercy, they have answered, I cannot pray:' or, How
can I pray, who have been so monstruous a finner?' Nay, it may be frequently observed, that men who live in fecurity, without any just conviction of their sinful state, will maintain some sort of form of religion, will even go through their form with some pleasure, and place fome dependence upon it. But when conscience begins to rise a little upon them, and they see the enormities they are guilty of, though it cannot make them forsake their sins, it makes them fpeedily forsake all their religion. It is ta. ken notice of by Dr. Doddridge, in his life of Col. Gardiner, that when he was indulging himself in all manner of wickedness, he began, from a natural sense of duty, to pay fome acknowledgments to God; but as he was not resolved to forsake his fins, the daring profanity of it struck him with horror. He therefore determined, says the au. thor, to make no more attempts of this fort; and was ! perhaps one of the first that deliberately laid aside prayer ' from some sense of God's omniscience, and some natural
principle of honor and conscience. In this last reflection, the worthy author is undoubtedly mistaken ; for he was not the first, nor will he be the last, who has been driven from prayer by a sense of sin, and a horror of his Maker's presence.
I have described this difficulty in its most hideous form, if I may speak so, as it stands in the way of wicked men. But there is often too much of it to be found even in good men themselves. A deep sense of sin osten fills them with a slavish fear, mars their confidence before God, and tempts them to keep at a distance from him. Pf. xl. 12. “ For innumerable evils have compassed me about, mine “ iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not « able to look up: they are more than the hairs of mine
head, therefore my heart faileth me.” He that wrestles in prayer, refuses to yield to this discouragement. He still ventures, though at a distance, to look to his offended God. Though he is filled with tribulation and fear, he will not give up his plea. He says with the Psalmilt, Pl. Ixxvii. 7, 8, 9.“ Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will “ he be favorable no more ? Is his mercy clean gone for