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(as Solomon describes it) "is broken at the cistern." (Eccles. xii. 6.) It was under the revivings of the soul, that Jacob" gathered up his feet into the bed, as he yielded up the ghost, and cried out, I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord!" (Gen. xlviii. 18.) And in modern times, numberless are the instances, where the redeemed and regenerated of the Lord, have sung their love songs to our most glorious Christ, in death; and by the strength of faith given them in the Lord, have seen themselves sitting down in Christ, before the Lord Jesus hath come to take them to sit for ever with Christ.
. But while I say thus much, let me be not misunderstood; as if such manifestations, either in the first awakenings of grace, or in the after prelude to everlasting glory, were in the general possession of all the Lord's people, or were essential to their state of salvation before God. Not so. Very blessed as it is, to be so favoured of the Lord; yet in those instances where the Lord's people have not such sensible enjoyments, the testimonies of regeneration and the renewed life, are not unfrequently equally certain, though not attended with equally brilliant displays. The new birth is more to be judged by effects than by manifestations of the cause; more by what follows, than by what is then shewn. The Lord's sovereignty is alike made known in all. In general, where great discoveries are made of the divine favour, by more open revelations of it, there is found a greater necessity for it. When the Lord puts on his holy armour on his people, then it may be concluded, such as are thus accoutered with arms, will be called more signally to battle. The patriarch Jacob, driven into exile from his father's house, needed some more gracious manifestation from the Lord, to shew that his presence was with him. This was the time of Jacob's trouble. And the Lord tempered his strength to his day.
But in cases less striking, we may form conclusions, as we would judge in other things, of causes by their effects. If the reader be anxious to know when the visions of God began with him, the answer is at hand; and the Holy Scriptures with one voice proclaim the blessed truth. Then it was, when like the patriarch Jacob, you first viewed your own helpless, and hopeless state by nature, and the infinite preciousness and suitability of the Lord Jesus Christ. When like the ladder, you beheld the Son of God coming down from heaven to make known upon earth the free, full, and finished salvation of God in Christ. When from convictions of sin, you feel convictions of Christ's righteousness. This was Jacob's Bethel. This was Paul's, no less in the road to Damascus. And this is the same gracious revelation, which in every instance is made known to the redeemed and regenerated child of God, when the Lord calls his people" from darkness to light, and from the power of sin and Satan unto the living God."
One sweet and most interesting reflection, I must add, ariseth from this vision of Jacob at Bethel : namely, that in all those original manifestations of the Lord to his people, they themselves are altogether passive in them; and neither can, nor do, contribute an atom towards them. Never surely could a poor soul, when he lay down to sleep, be less conscious than Jacob was of his own want of salvation: and never did any rise up again in a more refreshed and strengthened state of grace than Jacob did on the first morning of his regeneration. Now in all this he himself was wholly inactive, and entirely wrought upon. So is it with all the Lord's people in regeneration. The new nature and the spiritual life, aré wholly gifted from the Lord. A child in the common birth of the original Adam-state, might as well be supposed to contribute toward his own creation, as
the child of grace in the new birth of the Spirit. There are many effects which follow in spiritual life, as there are many which spring out of natural life ; and which prove that there is life in both departments; but the cause of both is wholly out of ourselves, and wholly in the Lord. The Holy Scripture states this, in relation to the new birth, with the usual clearness of precision, when it saith, they are born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John i. 13.)
It would be a subject to call up the unceasing wonder, adoration, love and praise of the whole church of God, in every individual instance, could it be ascertained, how, and when, the Lord brings about his eternal purpose in the moment of conversion, when the Lord manifests himself to his people, " otherwise than he doeth to the world." Some he brings under the word, his ordinances and means of grace, in his house of prayer. To others, he sends the word; and not unfrequently to them that enquired not after him. Many are called out of darkness into God's marvellous light, by awakening providences; trouble, sickness in themselves, or death in their friends, or household. And thus, like Jacob, they are brought into the wilderness, that amidst wilderness dispensations, the Lord may give them, like him, unasked and unthought of, Bethel blessings; and there "speak comfortably to them." (Hosea ii. 14, 15.) But in all these, and every other the sweet, the gracious communications, wholly begin on the part of God. We can say nothing to the Lord, either in a way of prayer or praise, until the Lord hath first spoken to us in a way of grace and love. (1 John iv. 19.) We are therefore altogether passive in the first reception of the new life, as we are in the birth of nature. And very fully proved, in all the gifts of grace, is that divine declaration of our Lord, where he saith: “I
am found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest to them that asked not after me." (Isa. Ixy. 1. with Romans x. 30.)
One improvement more is suggested to us from thé vision of Jacob at Bethel; namely, that when in the first paroxysms of astonishment the patriarch awoke from sleep, and pondered over the gracious manifestations the Lord had made to him during that season; he cried out, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not." Now from hence we learn, that our most glorious Christ may be, and indeed is, very near his people, while they are alike unconscious of his presence or his favour. Yea, and amidst all the numberless, nameless, blessings he is for ever bestowing upon us while in the unawakened state of nature, our spiritual faculties incapable then of vision are neither sensible of the graciousness of his gifts,/ nor of the love of the more gracious Giver. ⠀
Oh! what a subject to melt the soul in the review would the life of every individual child of God furnish, could it be brought in one full prospect before him; when like Jacob, the eye was spiritually opened, the ear spiritually unstopped, to take into one view all the way the Lord our God hath brought his people; and to hear what the Lord had been speaking to them," to humble them, and to prove them, and to shew them what was in their heart." And of all histories, than the child of God's own history, when enlightened to the perusal of it, nothing can be more affecting. The youngest in the walk of faith cannot have gone very far, without beholding causes for setting up many a monumental inscription; that here the Lord appeared for him, and there his grace was sufficient for him. And among those of riper years, to trace back the subject from the earliest dawn of spiritual life, through the spring and summer, to the autumn of our days, and mark down, one by one, the
buddings, blossoms, and fruits of the Spirit; testifying, in the garden of the Lord, that his people are "trees of the Lord's right hand planting." Oh! who but as he traversed the sacred inclosure and beholding all the way the gracious Lord had nurtured and watched over him for good, amidst all his ignorance and waywardness, but would feel the full sense of the patriarch's words: "Surely the Lord was in this place, and I knew it not!"
And if I may venture to add my personal testimony to a subject of this interesting nature; advanced as I now am to the verge of life, and daily walking on the confines of time, and drawing near to eternity; truly, can I take up the same language as the patriarch, and from the same cause. To what the Lord hath said by his servant the prophet, including his watchful care over his people, through all the stages of their warfare, I can fully subscribe: "Hearken unto me, (saith the Lord) O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which have been borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb. And even to your old age, I am he; and and even to hoar hairs will I carry you. I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you." (Isaiah xl. 3, 4.)
I add no more, but a prayer to the Lord, that we may be enabled to make the same conclusion as the church was called upon to do, after a long and beautiful description of the Lord's goodness to the church, as recorded in that lovely Psalm : "Whoso is wise, and will observe these things; even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord." (Psalm cvii. 43.)