Jacob named the place Peniel—"face of God"—for he
said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared." Genesis
The happiest heart in the world is that in which faith
and prayer have undisturbed rule. The truth of this statement follows from
the fact, that faith has the key of heaven; and prayer has the ear
of God. And who is happy as the man who is always free to enter within
the veil, and hold communion there?
Reader! you would sincerely be happy among the happiest.
Beseech the Spirit, then, to fan these graces into brightest flame. With
this desire let us hasten to Peniel, the scene of their liveliest exercise:
and may we tarry there, until the holy fire kindle!
Jacob's hard servitude is ended. Home, with its fond
endearments, is again before him. But, when he reaches the borders of his
native land, he finds it garrisoned with perils. Esau, terrible in fury,
mighty in force, is armed to intercept, and to destroy. The wanderer, who
fled from death, returns to die. But many terrors quench not faith. Jacob,
urged by its impulse, flies directly to the mercy-seat. He humbles
himself, as unworthy of grace's least crumb. Thus faith strips itself of
all, that all the glory may be God's. He pleads that he is in obedience's
path. Faith has no other ground on which to stand. He meekly claims the
promises; for gracious promises are the title-deeds of hope. But faith,
busy in heaven, is not idle upon earth. In thoughtfulness and diligence it
sows the seed, from which successes spring. With upward eye it labors and
prevails; while unbelief looks inward—downward—and so fails. The
plans of Jacob are all wisely formed. Then darkness mantles the earth. But
it brings no pillow for his head. He stands, and stands alone, on Jabbok's
banks. We here see again, how grace gains oil for his lamp.
Reader! be sure of this, he is not a thriving and a
well-stored saint, who is not much in solitary communion with God. No public
ordinances, no social worship, no Christian fellowship, no mutual
interchange of godly thought, can be a substitute for calm approach to God.
It is when all other things are banished, that the smiles of Jesus are most
sweet, His voice most clear, His comforts most supporting. Then it is, that
the Word reveals its treasures, and the promises teem with life. Many mourn
lifelessness of spirit, and fruitlessness in work. The withering cause may
be, that busy haunts are too busily frequented, and the quiet chamber is too
But is the lonely Jacob long alone? Oh no. A stranger
suddenly draws near, and grapples with him, and strives with mighty energy
to stop his progress, and to lay him in the dust. But who thus wrestles in
the solemn stillness of this solemn night? The form is human, but the person
is Divine. We read, "As a prince you have power with God;" therefore the
wrestler is God. Jacob confirms the fact: "I have seen God face to face."
Thus, through the veil of apparent mortality, we trace the angel of the
everlasting covenant, our great Emmanuel, God manifest in the flesh.
As man, He spoke with Adam in the garden; as man, He
walked by Abraham's side; as man, He here struggles with the wandering
patriarch. It is indeed a rich display of grace, that Jesus thus should
stand in sinners' likeness on this sin-rank soil. But it is grace above
grace, that, in the fullness of time, He should take our manhood into God,
and wear it on the cross, and in the grave! and then bear it to heaven, as
His triumphal robe forever!
But why is this wrestling? Every act of Jesus is a volume
written within and without in golden letters of instruction. Thus Jacob, and
every successive pilgrim, learns that the land of promise is only gained
by battling through opposing armies. At the Lord's word, troops of
trials, and sorrows, and fears, and troubles arrange themselves against us.
They strive, with determined might, to stop our onward march. Behold
Joseph. It was to him no easy task to escape entangling foes. Consider
Job, and David, and Paul, and the Apostles, and
all the worthies who shine in Scripture-page. What struggles, what perils of
overthrow were theirs! They wrestled earnestly, and almost unto blood.
Reader! if you know little of spiritual conflict, it may
be you know nothing of the camp of Christ. Examine yourself. Are you truly
in the faith? If so, at the cross you have drawn a sword, which never finds
a scabbard upon earth, and rarely finds a respite of repose. Those who win
the crown, fight a good fight. "the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully
advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it."
But perhaps the struggle, thus severe, was short? Not so.
It lasted until "the breaking of the day." Earth is a valley of darkness and
of gloom. But yet a little while the shadows will flee away. The brightness
of a cloudless eternity will dawn. The weary pilgrim will enter the city
which has "no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the
city, and the Lamb is its light." Then, in a perfect place, there
will be perfect rest.
Next the prowess of Jacob claims our wonder.
Though nothing but a feeble worm, he is not crushed. He meets power with
power, might with might, strength with strength, skill with skill. He will
not, he cannot yield. He awakens again and again his energies. He exerts
again and again every vigor of every nerve. He is but flesh and blood, as we
are, yet he cannot be subdued. It is all-important that we rightly see what
was the grand mainspring of Jacob's indomitable heroism. It cannot be
too plainly urged, that it was faith. He was following the Lord
fully. He knew that the voice which called him, was victory. Hence he was
confident that it were easier to scale and storm the heavens, than to
frustrate his assured success. Faith is a rock, when thus based on the
rock of promise. It is not of earth, therefore it is imperishable. It is
of heaven, therefore its energies are Divine. It looks to Jesus, therefore
it overlooks all difficulties. It leans on Jesus, therefore it is as firm as
But Jacob wrestled not in faith only, but in supplication
and in tears. Thus Hosea writes, and Hosea's pen was in the hand of
God, "Yes, he wrestled with the angel and won. He wept and pleaded for a
blessing from him. There at Bethel he met God face to face, and God spoke to
him." Hosea 12:4. We hence learn that faith is always in earnest,
therefore it prays. It is always humble, therefore it weeps.
Here, again, a door is opened in heaven; and we see
Jehovah vanquished by a praying saint! True prayer is indeed bold. It
draws near to God, and closes with Him, and gives Him no rest, until an
approving smile testifies that the suit is granted. God neither can, nor
will, release Himself from the intensity of his efforts. He cannot, because
the truth is set up in heaven, that prayer shall prosper. He will not,
because prayer is the moving of His Spirit in the heart, and the speaking
of His Spirit on the lips. To deny prayer would be to deny Himself. To
be silent to it would be to be silent unto Himself. "If we ask anything
according to His will, He hears us: and if we know that He hears us,
whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him."
O my soul, examine well the Scripture's picture of
prayer. It is "to take hold" of Him. It is "taking hold of His strength." It
is to "give Him no rest." Learn these truths in their power. Use them as the
habit of your life. Then you will know prosperity and peace of soul.
But the heart strong in faith and prayer loses all
nature's hardness. It becomes soft, as the sympathy of Jesus; and tender, as
the whispers of His grace. Thus Jacob's streaming eye proclaimed with what
subdued sincerity he loved the Lord, whom he so tightly grasped—and how
deeply he was melted by inward consciousness of sin's demerit.
Reader! remember, except you have faith, and prayer, and
brokenness of heart, you have no signs of spiritual life. Prove, then,
yourself at Peniel. Never leave it, until you hear these voices, "Great is
your faith, be it unto you even as you will." And again, "Behold, he prays."
And again, "She has washed My feet with tears; therefore, her sins, which
are many, are forgiven, for she loved much."
But we are so framed, that spiritual greatness may be
a snare. It may unduly exalt, and lead us unduly to exult. That is
destructive victory, which leaves the victor in the chains of pride.
Our guardian Lord knew this, and since it is better to prevent than to heal,
He "touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh, and it was out of joint." Here we
have a mirror, which reflects many of the Lord's dealings with His favored
children. In prevailing they are crippled, lest by prevailing they should
perish. Strong grace is checked by enfeebled flesh, lest it should
climb the dizzy heights of self-esteem. Many halting infirmities convince
them that a yielding Lord has power to lay low. They learn that victory is
His gift, and not the wages of their might. They feel that they are broken
reeds, except God works with them to will and to do.
Let us behold once more the triumphs of persevering
faith. The angel concedes the victory, and sues to be released from the
unyielding arms. Jacob, with limb disjointed, but with faith confirmed,
seeks no advantage but an increase of heavenly favor. With holy boldness he
exclaims, "I will not let You go, except You bless me." He cares not for
healing of body, or for outward prosperity, he only asks for increased
tokens of God's love, and for increased health within. "Bless me," is his
prayer. Such noble yearnings are the Lord's delight. He honors them, because
they honor Him. He crowns them with all that God Himself can give. Count, if
you can, the spoil which Jacob won, when the Lord blessed him there! And
now, a new name shall give perpetual fame to this exploit. Heroic deeds have
endless life. Wherever the Word of God is preached or read, Israel is
a title, which tells of Jacob's princely power with God and men. The
record is true. As a prince, he constrained God to bless him. As a prince,
he drew the heart of Esau like a captive into his arms.
Reader! be an Israelite indeed, and heaven is
yours, and earth is yours. Heaven is yours to bless you. Earth is yours to
serve you. Jacob receives a name, and gives a name. He calls the place
Peniel, "for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved."
Again I say, be an Israelite indeed, and every place will be your Peniel. In
every scene you will behold God near. Through life, in death, you will have
an eye to gaze undazzled on Him. Your secret chamber will be Peniel—as you
kneel, God will come down, and show His smiling face. The family-sanctuary
will be Peniel—you will see Him extending the wings of mercy over you and
yours. Every page of the Bible will be Peniel—bright with the radiance of
Him, who is "the Light of Life," and "the Sun of Righteousness." Your post
of daily toil will be Peniel—for you will set the Lord always before you.
His earthly temples will be Peniel—in the prayers and praises of the
assembled worshipers, in the proclamations of His truth, He will manifest
Himself unto you, as He does not unto the world. Your dying bed will still
be Peniel—Jesus will come again, to bear you safely to a Father's home.
Eternity will be a glorious Peniel—for it will be one unclouded view of
God face to face!
Lord God of Israel, nothing is too hard for Your power,
nothing is too good for Your love. Will You give, by these poor lines, to
bring some soul to Peniel!