"The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

"And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away."--Longfellow.

"The dream of Jacob is not merely natural, but prophetic; it is the medium of Divine revelation."--Kurtz.

"Come here with your tongues and pens, all you that have them--sing and play all you that can, that so we may in some small degree comprehend the import of these words."--Luther.

"And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven--and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it."--Gen. 28:12.

"By whom shall Jacob arise," asks the prophet, "for he is small?" (Amos 7:2.) Such might well be the question prompted, as the weary traveler casts himself down at eventide on his pillow of stones on one of the heaths of Palestine.

The question is now to be answered. The rocky uncurtained couch, which even a wandering child of Ishmael would have spurned, has no equal that night on earth. The Pharaohs in their palaces might well envy him. His bleak resting place is to be radiant with a vision of angels; and, while the ornate chambers of Rameses and the other Pharaoh's with their gold and purple have vanished long ago, it still retains its imperishable name.

"By whom shall Jacob arise?" There can be but one reply. He can arise from his weakness and shame alone in the might of his fathers' God. To use the words uttered by himself, at the hour of death, regarding his best loved son, "The arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob" (Gen. 49:24). It is evident the present divine revelation is one which the inspired narrator records with profound interest and wonder; for the interjection, indicative of reverential astonishment, is used no less than three times in the course of the brief description--"Behold," "Behold," "Behold!"

The Lord has in all ages had different methods of communicating His will and purposes to the Church. At one time, as in the case of Abraham, it was through the vision of "a smoking furnace and a burning lamp" (Gen. 15:17). At another, it was by the oracles of the Urim and the Thummin with their mysterious flashing of spiritual illumination. At another, it was through prophetic announcements. At another, and most frequently of all, it was through the medium of dreams. "In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction" (Job. 33:15, 16).

Nor was this instrumentality employed regarding His own people only. It was common alike to Jew and Gentile. Familiar Bible instances may be recalled, from the case of the young sage of Arabia, (whose words we have just quoted) and the kings of Egypt and Babylon (Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Belshazzar), to the New Testament examples of the Persian Magi, and the wife of Pontius Pilate. On the present occasion, however, it is with no stranger or foreigner, but with the heir of the covenant, the head and representative of His chosen Church and nation, that God adopts the same means to reveal His presence and protecting care.

All of us know the vivid--sometimes the overpowering reality of these visions and pageants of dreamland. The mental nature seems for the time to be abnormally quickened and intensified. Long forgotten scenes are revived and repeopled. In the silent studio of night, when the senses are sealed in slumber, long forgotten faces start afresh from the ghostly canvas, yes, and, from the intensity of revived impression, cherished smiles and sacred tones long since passed away, bring the tear to the eye, and the irrepressible sob to the heart. It is the hour when the judgment abdicates its control and imagination holds undisputed sway--
"Of all external things,
Which the five watchful senses represent,
She forms imaginations, airy shapes,
Which reason, joining or disjoining, frames
All what we affirm, or what deny, and call
Our knowledge or opinion; then retires
Into her private cell, when nature sleeps."

There are dreams, however, whose combinations are controlled by a Higher power than the caprice of the imagination; taking their rise and shape from the direct influence and inspiration of the Spirit of God. This writing of the finger of Deity on the mind's silent walls was, at least in olden time, the chosen method of the Father's disclosure of Himself to His children on earth.

Such the dream which now broke the trance of the Patriarch's sleep, and environed with divinest phantasms his desert pillow.

It would almost seem (at least we have nothing in the sacred narrative leading us to infer otherwise) that up to the present time, though very familiar with the name and the worship of Jehovah, Jacob had enjoyed no personal, individual communication with Deity. No external visible revelation had been conveyed to him of the purposes of grace, such as were again and again given to his favored grandsire. The first of a long course of devout teaching and training begins with the stony couch. It would be too strong and pronounced a statement to call it 'the night of Jacob's conversion.' But it was undoubtedly the first eventful crisis in his spiritual history--one which dominated all the subsequent ones, and carried its sacred impress to the hour of his departure. He laid himself down, anticipating little else but feverish visions of revenge and blood, that might well banish sleep from a softer pillow. He awoke to the sublime consciousness that he was no longer the alien and the outcast, but in very deed a fellow-citizen with the saints and of the household of God. This midnight transaction has been well called "his formal inauguration by God Himself, into the high and holy position of the heir and child of the promise." Strange spot for so momentous a conference! The first place at which Paul preached in Europe was a river side; the second, a dungeon at midnight. Truly, the Lord is not confined to temples made with hands.

We need not recur to the physical features of the locality, further than to recall to the mind of the reader what was stated in the introductory chapter. These features seem to have impressed themselves on the mind and imagination of the sleeper, and to have given shape and embodiment to his dream. We can, however, have no difficulty or hesitation in discovering what may be called its spiritual coloring. We have assigned to it, indeed, a distinct heavenly origin and inspiration. But the Divine Inspirer produces these passive mental impressions through human associations and emotions. The long wistful gaze over the moaning sea, and the noise of booming billows, are known to give form and substance to the dream of the fisherman's wife, when she falls asleep in the midst of anxious vigils. It was life's waking realities, which, in a similar manner, in the case of the Patriarch, had perpetuated themselves in his hour of slumber. The predominating thought of the past days had retained its hold on his fevered brain, that he was a fugitive for dear life, with guilt on his conscience and terror in his soul. By the revered lips, alike of father and grandfather, he had frequently, from earliest childhood, been familiarized with the truth how near God is. But even the evening prayer, we have supposed, could not enable him to realize the comfort at least of that nearness now. Rather in the opening of the dream was it sadly reversed. A wide and apparently hopeless distance seemed to separate him from the magnificent Presence. The gate of heaven (the "GATE"--the place among Easterns identified with unrestricted communion between ruler and subject, monarch and people) was nowhere to be seen through the impenetrable blank which stretched from the sleeper's pillow to the starry sky. There was brought vividly and hopelessly home to him the sense of his distance and alienation--his exile and estrangement from a greater than earthly parent.

But all at once, lo! from the spot on which he lay, a pathway of divine communication seemed gradually to emerge from the darkness. Whether we call it 'stair' or 'ladder,' that radiant highway seemed to stretch upwards in brightening gradations, from the head of the dreamer to the now revealed portals of glory. The base of this stony ladder "was on earth, and the top of it reached to heaven." Glorious, white-robed beings, as we shall come afterwards more specially to note, thronged it; as if they carried up and down its gigantic steps messages of peace and mercy. And more than all, a voice from the unseen God, hidden in the blaze of light at its summit, seemed to address the wanderer.

There could be little doubt as to the primary object and significance of the vision and its accompaniments. It was to confirm the Patriarch's faith in the existence and providence of Jehovah. It was to assure him that, exile and wanderer as he was, the God of his father Abraham was still with him as "the Mighty God of Jacob;" that he was under the sleepless eye and protecting rule of Israel's unslumbering Shepherd, and that on that protection he might confidently and unhesitatingly rely. 'God sees me,' 'God cares for me,' 'God speaks to me,' were the first simple yet sublime thoughts that would flash across him. 'He is not the God of the Beersheba tent only, with its throng of souls. He condescends to follow me--yes me, alone, to this lonely place, who has forfeited all claim to His favor. For me, He sends a convoy of angels, and utters words of divinest comfort and heart-cheer!' Kurtz, a distinguished German commentator, well remarks, "Thoughts accusing and excusing one another would overwhelm him, and refused to be controlled amid the unusual solitude and loneliness of his position. The dark future before him is as yet unlit by a single ray of promise. The Dream and its Vision are the reply of God to the harassments and anxieties with which he has lain down to rest."

That dream of Bethel was for all times, for all ages, for all pilgrims in a pilgrim world. And this, its primary suggestion, ought surely for each one of us, as for Jacob, to be replete with gladness and consolation--the personal love of God for every individual member of His vast family. Go where we may, we can make the inspiriting strain of that song of an after age our own--"If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me" (Ps. 139:9, 10). The heavenly Shepherd has aa individualized care for each sheep of the fold. As it utters its apparently unsuccoured bleat on the lonely moorland, or amid the thorny thicket of its wanderings, He tracks its truant footsteps, as if it engrossed all His interest, restoring it to the green pastures by the side of the fold.

Yes, there is surely nothing more cheering, more sublime, than the thought of this unwearying tending of the Great Shepherd--this individual (if we can so call it, this microscopic), love of the Great Father. Not the Almighty following the majestic march of the planets in the skies, marking out their orbits--the Omnipotent One riding on the heaven of heavens, giving the sea His decree, piling the strata of the everlasting hills. But God, reading a parable to His people, as He keeps watch over the lichen on the rock, or the lily on the mountain side; tempering His wind to the fragile flower as it trembles on the lip of the Alpine glacier; following the timid bird to its cleft; feeding the young raven's brood; noting the fall of the sparrow.

And then, turning from the tiniest objects in the material creation--from the grass and the lilies and the fowls of the air, to the humblest and lowest of His human family, He says, "Fear not! you are of more value." On that memorable night, when Abraham was led out to contemplate the stars of the skies as the silent expositors of Divine grace and mercy, the future words of the Psalmist might have formed the natural expression of his feelings--"Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations" (Ps. 145:13). But the succeeding utterances in the same Psalm would be the more appropriate exclamation on the part of his grandson as he awoke from his angel vision--"The Lord upholds all that fall; and raises up all those that be bowed down" (ver. 14).

But there was another higher and nobler typical verity unfolded, partially at all events, to Jacob by that night-dream. Abraham, in the scene and sacrifice of Moriah, "beheld Messiah's day afar off and was glad." Though we cannot think it possible that his grandchild--the heir of the promise--could have grasped the full and glorious reality, surely we may well believe that an impressive picture had, at least in dim outline, been presented to him of the crowning blessing of the great covenant bound up in his family, and in the faith of whose provisions he was henceforth to live and at last to die. Here, also, as in the primary lesson of the dream to which we have just referred, there was more than a personal revelation. It was a parable-vision for the Church of God in all time to come, of "the King in His beauty and the land that was very far off."

We may regard the Patriarch, in his loneliness and isolation, as a type of the sinner severed from the home of his heavenly Father; an accusing conscience within, the terrors of a violated law behind, a dark eternity before! Wide, apparently insuperable, is the distance which separates him from God. Is there no way by which that distance can be curtailed--that intervening space abridged? Is he consigned forever to that pillow of despair, to gaze on heights hopelessly unattainable? Is he to sigh in vain for a gleam in the lowering clouds, for the whisper of a voice of love to dispel the environing gloom?

Lo! a firm pathway of communication is disclosed, with its base on the earth, and its summit in the skies--"a new and living way of access into the holiest of all." It is "Jesus Christ evidently set forth." The ladder or staircase had its BASE on the earth. He who is the Divine Antitype was, and is, partaker of our nature--"found in fashion as a man;"--"made like unto His brethren." But "the top of it reached to Heaven," and was lost in the blaze of glory--for His name is "Immanuel," "God with us." It is the connection of that bright pathway with both worlds which makes it so perfect. It would be of no avail--no comfort were it otherwise. By the union of Manhood with Godhead, Jesus is a complete Mediator--all we need, living or dying, for time or for eternity. "I am the Way," is His own gracious utterance--God's way to the sinner, and the sinner's way to God. In His Deity mighty to save; in His humanity mighty to pity and compassionate.

Let us fix our thoughts yet a little longer on these peerless truths--for they may well be regarded as the central point of the Bethel-vision--at all events as they present themselves to us in their fuller antitypical significance--"God in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself;"--suggestive alike of the divine Person of the Redeemer and the completeness of His work. There is no gap or crevice in the luminous pathway. It forms one glorious whole, stretching continuously up to its resting-place in the celestial heights. The lamentation of another Patriarch, no, the long drawn sigh of humanity itself, seems in that symbol to be answered--"Neither is there any arbitrator between us who can lay his hand upon us both" (Job 9:33).

Jesus is such a "Arbitrator." While the hymn of adoring Christendom reaches its climax in the ascription--"You are the King of glory, O Christ! You are the everlasting Son of the Father." It can add also to the loftier strain, that complementary ascription which carries so soothing a cadence to the heart of all He came to redeem--"When you took upon yourself to deliver man, you did not abhor the Virgin's womb." "A MAN shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place; as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Is. 32:2). Had He been God alone, we would have been dazzled with His ineffable majesty; we could not have gazed unblinded on that countenance which is "as the sun shines in his strength." His immaculate holiness, His burning purity, His unbending rectitude, His resistless power, would have awed and confounded us in our dealings with One so infinitely removed. But let us rejoice! the ladder which has its top in the brightness around the throne, has its base resting on the platform of earth. He is "THE MAN Christ Jesus." The very lowliness of His humanity, also, seems shadowed forth in the type--whether that may have been the vision of a familiar 'ladder,' or the rough boulders of the desert piled one upon another. Had uninspired poetry been left to fill in the dream, and to delineate the pathway for the God of high heaven to hold converse with His creatures, it would in all likelihood have despised the commonness of the revealed symbol. Golden steps, glittering with sapphire and emerald, would have been taken as more befitting "altar stairs" conducting into the upper sanctuary. But in the vision given, we behold the significant emblem of Him, who, often like the Patriarch that night at Bethel, was houseless and homeless--no couch but the cold earth, no canopy but the sky--His unpillowed head often denied the rest of the lowest of His creation.

Yes, thanks be to God, we can grasp, in its fullness, the comforting truth which Jacob could at best have so dimly and inadequately apprehended. We can exult in the revealed assurance, that in the bosom of that lowly Christ of Nazareth there slumbers the tenderness of humanity. Not a pang can I endure, not a temptation can I encounter, but He has encountered and endured the same. The Great Being who counts the number of the stars, counts also the number of my sorrows, for He felt them all Himself. I can think in all my trials, Jesus was tried; in all my sufferings, Jesus suffered; in all my tears, "Jesus wept." I can love Him as a brother while I adore Him as a God. And then, when once more tracing the pathway up to the heights of glory, I remember that He, "who for us men and for our salvation became incarnate," was "Jehovah's Fellow" (Zech. 13:7)--that His nature is Infinite, His years Eternity, His counsels Immutability, His arm Omnipotence, His wisdom Searchless, His love Unchanging--on that ladder I may fearlessly climb--on that ladder I may fearlessly trust my everlasting destinies. "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich" (rich in all the attributes of Godhead--rich in all the plenitude of divine perfections), "yet for our sakes He became poor" (stooped to the lowest depths of humiliation), "that you through His poverty might be rich" (2 Cor. 8:9). We may appropriately use the words, regarding this wondrous night-dream, spoken at a long subsequent age by one whose eyes had gazed on no symbolic vision, but on the Adorable Antitype--"The God of JACOB, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Son Jesus" (Acts 3:13).

"Unutterable love!" is the exclamation of a pious and learned traveler, as he writes in his tent pitched on the Patriarch's dreamland--"Oh, unutterable love, which has given, in the 'Son of Man,' an imperishable ladder, not only for Bethel and for Israel, but for all the ends of the earth."

But the vision may be made suggestive of other great truths. It has been rightly regarded as typically unfolding the method--as well as the means of salvation.

While we never can forget that it is Jesus who is at once "the Alpha and the Omega"--"the Author and the Finisher;"--that there is none other way by which the sinner can be saved and obtain entrance within the heavenly gate; still, the ladder must be climbed. Hence the figures employed to illustrate faith in the Redeemer seem beautifully to meet in the symbol of the dream--a "fleeing" to Christ--a "laying hold" of Christ--a "leaning" on Christ--a "trusting" in Christ--a "following on to know" Christ; and at last, when the summit is reached, a "boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus." Hopelessly could we look for salvation without "the way of access;" and yet as hopelessly, with that way of access, could we attain the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls, if we neglected to make the upward ascent. True religion is no mere mystic, passive dream of devotion--a gazing in rapt reverence, and no more, on the great mystery of Godliness. Its best definition is a 'doing' as well as a 'being.'

That is a spurious faith which is inoperative; which cannot stand the crucial test of "working by love, purifying the heart and overcoming the world." Indeed the more simple and real the belief in Christ, the more unmistakably will it evidence itself by earnest aspirations after holiness, and conformity to the Divine will and image. "Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God" (1 John 5:5). The way to heaven may be beside us--Salvation is offered to us--God standing, as in the Bethel vision, at the portals of glory, addressing us with the voice of pardoning mercy; but never let us cherish the delusion that these heights may be scaled and the gates reached, by remaining, like the Patriarch, slumbering at the ladder's base.

Two ideas, more prominent than others, seem to be brought before us by the symbol.

The first is that of SUSTAINED EFFORT. Later inspired writers, as if with the Bethel vision in view, thus exhort in a variety of figure--"Work out your own salvation"--"Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure"--"Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest"--"Let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober." It is the strenuousness of the combatant pressing on to the goal. It is the fortitude of the warrior with every muscle nerved for victory. It is the toil of the climber scaling the giddy battlements. It is the watchful vigilance of the sentinel who knows that one unguarded moment may be surrender and death. "The immortal garland," says Milton in one of his noble sentences, "is not to be won without dust and heat."

The second idea, one almost involved in that of effort, is PROGRESS. There is no possibility of standing still in the divine life. This is, or ought at least, to be the motto of every Christian climber, "Not as though I had already attained." His eye must be upwards, and his footsteps onwards. No leisure for halting, no loitering or lingering in the ascent. Every day should find him farther from earth and nearer heaven. The history of all Pilgrims to the Celestial City should be that of the worshipers of old crowding to the earthly Jerusalem--"They go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion, appears before God" (Ps. 84:7).

A saintly patriarch of the last generation, in answer to the question 'when he would rest?' significantly replied, "I shall rest in Eternity." "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" ( Rev. 2:10). Elijah's chariot of fire, seated in which he peacefully went up from his tempestuous career on earth to the stormless skies and scenes of "the Better Country," is a true and beautiful emblem of the believer's calm departure, when the good fight has been fought--the course finished, the victory won--repose on the night of battle. But more appropriate to the Christian's daily spiritual history, is the emblem revealed over the couch of the Bethel dreamer--an ascending pathway--demanding toil, labor, progress; a pathway not to be admired and contemplated, but to be earnestly pursued--advancing from grace to grace, from virtue to virtue, from attainment to attainment; breathing an increasingly purer atmosphere, as earth is left behind in dimmer perspective.

Reader, whether young or old, whether at life's morning or mid day, have you fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before you? Or, turning away from this glorious road, are you contented with the poor ascent by which thousands reach their ideal heaven (their only heaven), that of the present? We do not now speak of those baser ladders, scaled by not a few, who are all unscrupulous as to how their sensuous Mohammedan paradise, with its purple, and fine linen, and golden lures, is reached--it may even be by means of cringing flattery or villain imposture--their advancing steps (what is misnamed promotion) sometimes paved with the tears of the widow and the orphan. We speak rather to those who, it may be with fair moral characters and average worldly reputations, are yet indifferent and careless regarding "the one thing needful; whose sole dream is that of earthly success; who have no thought and no desire to knock at better gates, and to aspire at nobler climbings; who are lying pillowed on this cold world--dreamers like Jacob, dreaming and dreaming on, even though whispering voices from the earth itself, are heard continually proclaiming, "The world passes away."

As immortal beings you are not where you should be! You have within you aspirations after the Infinite, and, with these capacities, you cannot be happy until you have found that Infinite One as your portion. We do not pity the insect creeping at our feet. It is in its native element. It was earth-born, and therefore its happiness is in earth. But the wounded eagle that has been cleaving the skies, mounting with bold pinion, if it be seen with broken wing fluttering and struggling on the ground, we pity it. Why? because it has fallen from its native element. That child of the sun--that winged Lucifer--has been hurled, disabled to the dust from its freeborn soarings. While the worm creates no pity, that fallen monarch does!

Such, also, ought to be the sorrow and sympathy for every human soul born for God and eternity yet oblivious to its lofty destinies. "Awake, you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you life." If yours still be early years--the starting point of existence, with the ascent still before you--all the more need and urgency to leave the fleeting, the counterfeit, the illusory, the temporal, and to aspire to the glory and grandeur of being a climber for immortality! "Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall--but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Is. 40:30, 31).

And if any who trace these lines feel repressed by a sadder deterrent and hindrance--a consciousness of the self-forfeiture of Salvation and its blessings by reason of indulged sin; that they have thereby rendered themselves, so to speak, ineligible for attempting the heavenward ascent; let them not be guilty of seeming to create impediment when God has erected none. Rather let past misdeeds and shortcomings serve as incentives for fresh efforts and aspirations after the holy, the good, and the true. Let them listen to the words of the greatest of the Christian Fathers, as they are thus paraphrased and nobly expanded by the American poet--
"Saint Augustine too truly said,
That of our vices we can frame
A ladder, if we will but tread
Beneath our feet each deed of shame!

"All common things--each day's events,
That with the hour begin and end;
Our pleasures and our discontents
Are rounds by which we may ascend.

"The low desire, the base design
That makes another's virtues less;
The revel of the giddy wine,
And all occasions of excess!

"The longing for ignoble things,
The strife for triumph more than truth,
The hardening of the heart that brings
Irreverence for the dreams of youth!

"All thoughts of sin--all evil deeds
That have their roots in thoughts of ill;
Whatever hinders or impedes
The action of the nobler will.

"We have no wings, we cannot soar;
But we have feet to scale and climb
By slow degrees--by more and more--
The cloudy summits of our time.

"The mighty pyramids of stone
That, wedge-like, cleave the desert airs,
When nearer seen and better known
Are but gigantic flights of stairs.

"The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight;
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.

"Nor deem the irrevocable past
As wholly wasted--wholly vain,
If, rising on its wrecks at last,
To something nobler we attain."

Finally, let us all seek to be animated by the thought of multitudes who have already scaled the steps of the Heavenly stair, who are now lining the battlements of the sky, witnessing to its security and strength. Many of these were once weak and helpless and perishing as we. Yes, and by that Divinely provided way of access, the chief of sinners have reached their crowns. The thief on the cross is there--he stoops to tell that none can climb too late. The woman from the city is there--she stoops to tell that none can climb too vile. Saul of Tarsus is there--he stoops to tell what God's grace can do in transforming the blaspheming persecutor into the devoted apostle and the glorious martyr. Prophets call us! Saints call us! Departed friends who have fallen asleep in Jesus, call us! They testify that there is still an open door of welcome--room for all--grace for all--blood for all!--crowns for all! Can we decline the summons of the mighty multitude gone to colonize the many mansions? Let us not be slothful, but "followers of them (the true seed of Jacob), who, through faith and patience, are now inheriting the promises!"

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