"Oh take the green ears of an early life,
 And lay them on God's altar."--Anon.

"It is one of the peculiar beauties of Scriptural narrative, that no veil is ever drawn across the frailties or the sins of those whom it describes--there is no flattery and there is no omission. In the case of Jacob, we have the whole man placed faithfully before us--his piety and virtues distinctly portrayed, that they may be imitated; his infirmities and errors as candidly avowed, that they may be shunned.--Blunt.

"Look at those who are honest and good, for a wonderful future lies before those who love peace." Psalm 37:37

"And Jacob went out from Beersheba."--Gen. 28:10.

If, in following the footsteps of the fugitive from the Beersheba home to the Bethel dreamland, the first lesson suggested has reference to parental duty and obligation, the next is surely that of filial responsibility--the bliss and happiness of early piety, the shame and degradation of early sin.

Had it not been for Jacob's scheming of a wicked deceitful plot, he might have left his father's tent on his northern pilgrimage with light heart and elastic step. Sin compels him to steal away a coward and outcast. With all Canaan for his inheritance he is not to be envied. He speaks of it in long subsequent years as "the day of his distress" (Gen. 35:3). The iron had entered into his soul. He was filled with fear; the inward shame of guilt and self-accusation; the consciousness that he had brought this swift exile on himself by a web of falsehoods; all the time knowing the right and doing the wrong. How the flagrant dishonor, involved in the attempt to cheat and out-manoeuver his blind, unsuspicious father--the unblushing lie, told with unscrupulous effrontery, "I am Esau your firstborn;"--the loud and pathetic wail of injury, and the glance of stifled resentment which rose from the lip and flashed from the eye of the defrauded brother--how would one and all of these memories rise up before him, as with trembling step he now pursued his way! Like Cain he had gone forth with a curse-mark upon him. All the more terrible must have sounded in his ear that despairing cry of the outwitted elder-born, when the latter asserted (27:41) that it was only the pang which fratricide would inflict on a father's heart, which prevented him obeying the impulse of instantaneous revenge. Would even that purpose of repression be kept? Might it not before the morrow be cancelled? The thought the dread at least--of so righteous a penalty of his baseness would haunt the fugitive!

Young reader--still it may be within the curtains of the modern tent, or perchance on the eve of setting out from it--let Jacob instruct you by the reverse in his own miserable experience, the blessedness of the spirit of him "in whom there is no deceit" (Ps. 32:2). The night-winds of Bethel sighing around him, the shock of a life of isolation and solitude succeeding that of home endearment, would have been nothing had his been the inner sunshine of a pure heart and stainless soul. But a defiled conscience, far more than an injured brother, was the nemesis that was tracking his steps. He might moreover have had good reason to dread that, with the forfeiture of human friendships, he had surrendered all claim to a better guardianship. If, in anticipation of coming night-dreams, he had thought of visitants from the spirit-land, it might only have been of avenging angels--those flaming cherubim with burning swords, of which in boyhood he had heard as having guarded the entrance to a forfeited Paradise.

He doubtless afterwards came to be, what might be called, 'a prosperous man.' He lived to see one of his sons the ruler of a great kingdom; but at the same time, in righteous resurrection, these very acts of early deceit and wrongdoing seemed ever and anon to be disentombed, and to reappear in the guilt and punishment of others of his family. It is certainly noteworthy, that his heaviest cares and sorrows arose from the repetition of his own early crimes, especially in the two points which stand out in most painful prominence in his history--unscrupulous deceit, and the violation of the sacredness of human relationships. The bold subtlety and cunning artifice of the Beersheba tent, had its counterpart and revenge in the web of falsehood and outmaneuvering woven by the grasping, hard-hearted LABAN; in the life of drudgery to which the predestined heir of Canaan was subjected, toiling as a bondsman under exasperating demands more cruel than the tyrant's lash. He tells us that his weary frame was well-near prostrated with the burning sun by day, and the chilly frost by night--sleep was banished from his pillow.

His breach of filial honor and devotion, on the other hand, had its righteous recompense in the long story of family sorrow--the living trial of a dishonored only daughter; the early grave of a beloved wife; the cruel dissimulation by which jealous brothers led him to believe that his dearest son had been devoured by wild beasts. The hairy mantle with which he himself duped his own half-blind father, having its mimicked retribution in the coat of many colors--the sight of which threatened to bring down his grey hairs in sorrow to the grave.

"God," says Bishop Hall in his "Contemplations" on this passage, "comes oftentimes home to us in our own kind--and even by the sin of others pays us our own when we look not for it." Even when the end of all was near; when life's vesper chimes rang in the Patriarch's ear, there seemed to mingle solemn remembrances, like the tolling of a funeral bell, from that distant past. In the proudest hour of his waning existence he sighs out the confession, "Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been" (Gen. 47:9). Though he clung to the Rock of Ages, he heard the boom of far-off billows, or rather the waves of saddened memory chafed at his feet. He had salvation on his dying lips; but he could not, he dared not say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight!"

Those are indeed to be envied, who, at life's evening hour, are unconscious of having done anything to cause the blush of shame, or to sadden the visions of the past--who can make the grand protest of Samuel--"Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right." (1 Sam. 12:3). Doubtless one secret of this prophet's evasion of corrupt and corrupting influences, arose from the sunny memories connected with a holy infancy and childhood at Shiloh. Happy is he who can revert to similar hallowed remembrances; who can look back on the long chequered vista of life and think of the household history--the family surroundings--only in connection with lofty principle and earnest faith, loving words and kindly deeds--the FATHER who would recoil from a lie as from a demon's presence; who would scorn all sinister dealing; all deflections from the path of honor--compassing worldly ends by base and unworthy means--the MOTHER who would rather her children should go penniless than stoop to the heartless stratagem or equivocating deed, that would compromise fidelity to God or man.

When such are the bonds which unite parent with son, brother with sister, there can truly in the best, the noblest sense, be no breaches in the circle. Oceans and continents may divide you; weekdays of familiar greeting or the solemn hush of former Sabbaths may be exchanged for the hum of the city and its fevered crowds. But it is not locality which determines the true home and the true rest of the soul. It is not the grave which can destroy it. The most lasting links of dear household life survive and defy landmark and distance. Many a family are far nearer to one another, some of whom may be in different continents; than those living all unsympathetic and uncongenial under the same roof. Retain the love of the Great Father of all; and the tie of sonhood, and sisterhood, and brotherhood, go where you may, will be inviolate and unbroken. Yes, cleave if you can to such sacred retrospects, cleave to them especially in moments of fierce temptation, whether of assailed creed or assailed passion, and let them serve to beat back the adversary. You may have little or no other patrimony. It matters not. "No riches," says Lord Bacon, "are comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of truth." By the allegiance of the soul to honor, purity, and integrity, you are served heir to that which is better than thousands of gold and of silver. These are heritages which never die, which no fire can consume, and of which no throws of capricious fortune can defraud you. These are 'treasures' which will come to your help, and may be the means of averting moral bankruptcy, in moments when you are brought to feel the weakness of all that is strong, and the insecurity of all that is human.

Beware of the false, conventional estimate of earthly riches and honors. Virtue is wealth; principle is wealth. Raise your protest against the world's perversion of a divine saying--"A man's life consists not in the abundance of the things that he possesses" (Luke 12:15). Be assured you can know no ruin and disaster, so fearful as the insolvency of character. No darkening and eclipse of your earthly sky can equal the blackness and the shame of evil-doing, the tyranny of servile vices, the hell of a heart no longer pure. Age has no such decrepitude as that of guilt.

Aye, and remember too, as in Jacob's case and experience, THE POWER OF MORAL EVIL TO LIVE ON, AND PERPETUATE ITSELF. His early failings and propensities clung to him. The foundations of truth had been early shaken, and there was much in his character of the worldly-wise and calculating, the crafty and fictitious to the very last; as if he never could get altogether disentangled from the coil of the inward foe. The foul wrong cannot be incarcerated within bars--chained to the hour or place of its committal; it cleaves with remorseless tenacity; do what you will to be rid of it. The violated conscience, like the broken mirror, cannot be pieced together again so as never to show its flaws; the chime-bell, when once cracked, can never again give forth the same clear ring of goodness. By a natural and moral law, deterioration--unless arrested by other counteractive forces of which we shall afterwards speak--becomes inevitable. After the horror of the first plunge into sin, every fresh committal becomes easier.

Thank God, however, we can assert the converse too. Just as the base, or unworthy deed leaves the slimy trace of the serpent in its path; so the resolute wrestling, the moral struggle with temptation will preserve the fruits of victory far on in life, yes even to a dying day. The impulses of good as well as those of evil send out their moral vibrations through all space and all time.

You who have the dew of youth upon you, be assured, life is no mimic, mythic battle. If you are to bear heroically the strain of the contest, to conquer the demon-horde of passion, or the dark agony of doubt, look well to your armor and lose no time in proving it. Delay may be perilous. Your safety lies in early and immediate consecration to the divine service. Be it yours, conscious of the danger of procrastination, to say in the words of one of Bunyan's heroes, as a true recruit in the a great army of the faithful--"Put my name down, sir, for I too am to be one of the host of the Lord." Say not that you are temptation-proof. No man is; and one false step, one deflection from the path, may result in the dreadful plunge down the precipices of ruin. If you try to shape your own destiny independent of God, and the soul, and eternity, be assured destruction is ahead.

How all-momentous therefore to you are the words which head this chapter--"the outset from home;" the first time alone in the great world with its bewildering surroundings; commencing, each on his own responsibility, to build the giant bridge--the infinite viaduct--which spans immortal being, linking time with eternity--and to determine whether it is to bear traces of untempered mortar and insecure foundation, or whether it be work which is to endure. However gentle and tender the restraints of the parental dwelling just left--perhaps by very reason of these--there is apt often, at this new crisis, to steal over the spirit a dangerous feeling of independence; what I might call a despotic consciousness of self-power. The youthful pilgrim feels himself reveling in a new sphere of untrammeled freedom. The old natural spontaneous obedience is at an end; he is sovereign of a new realm of his own. The world is all before him; he has his own paths to select and his own moral weaknesses to indulge. He has no other arbiter for appeal but the bidding of his own sweet will. Let him beware of too readily abandoning these home moorings, and of drifting out without helm or compass amid the perils of a treacherous sea.

Now is the time to test the strength of character and the stability of principle, when thus confronting alone, unwatched and unwarded, and with no patrol over the Trinity of the world's forces--"the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." When the charmed Tempter lulled asleep in the tent awakes, then is the time to have courage to repel his insidious wiles, and to show that no new scenes or associations will tempt to swerve from loyal allegiance to duty and to God. The first heroic resistance of temptation, the first stern refusal to capitulate the moral fortress is a noble point gained. The first refusal to resort to the gambling table; the first refusal to conniving at fraud; the first turning away with firm step from the haunt of intemperance; the first firm and loathing recoil from the siren call of impurity. To be able, regarding one and all of these, to say in the words of good Bishop Hooper at the stake, when he had the offer to barter conscience for dear life, "If you love my soul, away with it!"

All honor to those who show, at once and unmistakably, their colors amid associates of doubtful principle or evil morals; associates who may carry moreover contagion under a fascinating exterior and congenial manners--it may even be in conjunction with culture and accomplishment. Specially would I say, in these times, be on your guard against the attempts, under many a subtle form, to tamper with the beliefs of earlier days and often of more trusted teachers; as if it were something noble to doubt, as if it were not something nobler still to believe; groping your darksome way, not to a Bethel with its angel-guarded pillow and heavenly voices, but to some defiled and desecrated portals with their 'Ichabod' of departed glory.

"I do not presume," said the late Lord Lytton, "to arrogate the office of the preacher; but believe me, as a man of books and a man of the world, that you inherit a religion which in its most familiar form--in the lowly prayer that you learned from your mother's lips, will save you from the temptations to which life is exposed more surely than all which the pride of philosophy can teach." Remember, you have no second trial. Youth comes but once. "The outset" is a solitary landmark in your life history. What would many who have been irrevocably ruined by folly and passion give to have your chance again; the shadow moved back on the dial; the white unblotted page yet to be written; the gates of an unexplored and unsaddened future yet to be opened--standing, girded athletes, with the possibilities of a glorious race before them!

At my first visit to the fairest of Italian cities, I was enthralled, as all travelers are, with the two well-known colossal works of Michael Angelo, his statues of "Morning" and "Evening." Both equally challenge admiration. But there is one marked difference between them, doubtless accidental so far as the great sculptor was himself concerned, but which has conveyed to more than one spectator a suggestive spiritual lesson. The figure of "Evening" is finished. Every feature of the face has received its last touch; the chisel could do no more. It is a type, in breathing marble, of the close of existence, the completed character, the moral expression fixed forever, incapable of alteration. With the other, the figure of "Morning," it is different. The face there remains in rough outline. We can only discern the initial strokes of the master. All the delicate work of hand and chisel still remain to be completed. Equally significant and expressive symbol of Life's commencement, the outset of the journey--the moral lineaments all unhewn, habits and character, and bias unformed--the character yet to be molded.

Youthful reader, the chisel is still in your own hand. Are the features to be loving or unloving; generous or selfish; noble or base? When life's evening comes, is the living marble to take the shape of scornful look and sensual lip and lowering brow; or is it to be the calm restful "sleep of the Beloved;"--the image of the Pilgrim-dreamer who begins life's battles with the angels, the bright ladder, and the realized divine presence, and ends with the song of triumph?

Beware, we may still further venture to add, beware, above all, of your BESETTING SIN whatever that may be. Keep your eye on the loopholes that require to be specially guarded. Jacob's hereditary tendency, the vice of Laban's family which had transmitted its moral taint to his mother and himself as a fatal inheritance, was covetousness--the lust of gain, the basest, perhaps the most ineradicable of the secondary lower appetites, with its inseparable accompaniment of duplicity, unscrupulous deceit, and degrading selfishness. Let whatever you feel to be your master-temptation form the subject of wakeful vigilance and constant self-scrutiny, taking with you the Word of God as your surest weapon of defense in the hour of peril and conflict.

In an after episode in the life of Jacob (Gen. 32:10) he expressly tells us that in this outset from the tent of Beersheba, he had in his hand nothing but a pilgrim staff (Gen. 32:10). Happy for those in an equally momentous epoch, when for the first time alone in the great world, brought to grapple with the stern realities of life--their head bared to the night and darkness--who have taken as the one trusted prop of their future journey what has proved to thousands better than earthly supports--"Your rod and YOUR STAFF they comfort me." "With this staff," said Dr. Marsh, near the close of a saintly life, as he greeted friends in his sick-room by holding out the Sacred Volume--"With this staff have I traveled through my pilgrimage, and with this staff will I pass over Jordan."

Nor can I better close this chapter than in the weighty, earnest words of another illustrious wayfarer whose acquaintance and personal kindness will ever be to the writer a treasured memory. "You are about," said the late Sir James Simpson addressing his students, "to pass into the busy and bustling scenes of active life. The great city of the world is already throwing open her gates to receive you. Through that city you must now pass, whether through its darkness or its splendor, its profligacy or its virtue, its misery or its happiness, and in it all the honors of time and of immortality are to be gained or lost. . . Pursue earnestly and undeviatingly the direct course of Christian and professional duty, and then you need fear not. But tremble if you allow yourself to be drawn aside from it at any one point. Temptations that may at first lure you from your path with the gentle hand of a indulgence or a pleasure, will, if yielded to, soon hold you with the iron grasp of a giant. Your future career is a matter of your own selection, and will be regulated by the conduct which you choose to follow. That career may be one of happiness and of self-regret, one of honor or of obscurity, one of wealth or of poverty. During it the present fond hopes of professional fame and fortune, that breathe in the breasts of all of you, may be won or lost, may be fulfilled or falsified, may be nobly realized or ignobly ruined."

Home       QUOTES       SERMONS       BOOKS