"And behind the dim unknown
Stands God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own."--Anon.

There is a promise to particular saints–"I will never leave YOU, nor forsake YOU."--Philip Henry.

"By this therefore shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin."--Is. 27:9.

With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands, and encourage those who have weak knees. Say to those who are afraid, "Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you." Isaiah 35:3-4

"I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. I will someday bring you safely back to this land. I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised." Genesis 28:15

Jehovah had addressed Jacob not only as heir of Promise; but He had coupled his name with the other two representative fathers of His covenant people.

That promise, however, glorious and comprehensive though it be, was of a general kind. It related to the number of his offspring--their marvelous extension; the yet more marvelous blessing which in them was to embrace "all the families of the earth." The question therefore still remained with the dreamer, 'How is the Almighty Speaker to deal with me? What share am I individually to expect in His divine guardian care? Am I, the fugitive wanderer, included in this magnificent spiritual heritage which is in reserve for coming generations?'

God proceeds thus to assure him--"I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. I will someday bring you safely back to this land. I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised." It is the Father of the prodigal giving to his lost son the most unmistakable pledge of welcome and affection, by bringing forth robe, and ring, and sandals; and making the paternal halls echo with festal jubilee. The banquet of divine love is now spread personally for the Pilgrim in the desert. An unknown future was before him--a future whose dramatic changes he, at present, happily little anticipated. How cheering to have the conviction, that, whatever these tragic pages might be in his yet unwritten history, the Omniscient One above the ladder knew them all. The vision and the voice together would, like a panoply of armor, strengthen and prepare him for every subsequent vicissitude. With the assurance, "I AM WITH YOU," the fugitive could rise, as we shall find him doing, from his stony pillow, and say, in the buoyant spirit of one whose experience was singularly identical with his own, "I will go in the strength of the Lord God." Have we not reason to believe that, in the most trying scenes of his after life, those moments, for example, of deepest emotion, when he gazed on the blood-stained evidence of his beloved Joseph's violent death--he would recall the present tokens and visible assurances of the divine nearness and protection--the glorious appearance and the sustaining words--not only, "Behold, I am with you," but "I will not leave you"?

And this is the way of dealing on the part of "the Keeper of Israel" with His people still. By special communications of His grace, He often nerves them for their hours of unexpected trial. He gives them the vision of the ladder, before the perilous journey across the border-mountains--their Gethsemanes are often preceded by Transfiguration glimpses--they are caught up into the third heavens, to prepare them for the buffeting "thorn in the flesh." Even when their Isaacs are called to the Mount of sacrifice, the summons is given in words of paternal tenderness--"Abraham! Abraham!" "He calls His own sheep by NAME, and leads them out!"

It was specially important for Jacob to receive these assurances at an early stage of his journey--before his hands began to hang down and his knees to be feeble. Perhaps at no time is the conviction of the gracious personal interest and supervision of God more valued--more needed, than in those circumstances to which we have often previously referred, as corresponding with the Patriarch's--the outset in life. When home ties are sundered--yes, and when the bright hope of revisiting the old hallowed haunts goes far to repress the tear and mitigate the struggle on leaving the threshold, what words are these, just quoted, to "brace and cheer!"--they seem to meet every aspiration of the young heart.

This method and sequence of God's dealings, also, is in accordance with human experience. He manifests Himself, to youth specially, as the Forgiver, the Comforter, the Father. In after years, Jacob had a different revelation. Not the luminous ladder, the heavenly sunshine, and the loving accents--but in the deep valley of Jabbok he meets with the wrestling Angel. He is maimed moreover in the struggle--a combat all night until the morning dawned. These are some of the entries at a long subsequent period of his history. "Jacob tore his clothes;" "Jacob put sackcloth on his loins;" "Jacob's heart fainted." Reader! before that wrestling time and that sackcloth time, which in one form or other are sure to come, take firm hold of this tender revelation of the divine character, as "the Shepherd of the stone of Israel." He does not put the youthful recruit all at once in the forefront of the battle. He does not expose the shorn lamb to the untempered wind. He reverses Elijah's desert experience. The still small voice precedes the sterner symbols--"He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young" (Is. 40:11). Seek to climb now the upward ladder-way, high as you can, that when the after-tempests of life are raging, you may be found above the warring elements, bathed in the light of God. Hear His own divine words for your encouragement--"I will go before you, and make the crooked places straight--For Jacob My servant's sake, and for Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name" (Is. 45:2, 4).

And surely, whether for young or for old, it is, as in the case of Jacob, a gracious provision of your Heavenly Father--"You know not what shall be on the morrow." The morrow and all its changes and trials are mercifully screened from view. Had it not been so, many a pilgrim would falter on the very first step of the rough, rocky stair; and recoil, fearful and dismayed, from the dizzy heights above him. But while happily our futures are unrevealed--wrapped in impenetrable mystery--we can take comfort, not only in the assured truth that Jehovah and His angels are with us, but that that gracious Covenant God will make our strength equal to our day; enabling us to cope with all exigencies, surmount all difficulties, endure all trials, and finally be made more than conquerors.

The promise of the Bethel-dreamer was thus translated to another, whose eyes had just been opened to similar heavenly visions, but who also at the same moment realized his position as a struggling climber--"My grace is sufficient for you; for My strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). Note, in the case of the Patriarch, the varied links in the chain; the successive assurances of continual as well of individual care and supervision. "I am with you," "I will keep you." "I will bring you again." "I will not leave you until I have done." He might well have appropriated the future words of a great descendant–"There is no one like the God of Israel. He rides across the heavens to help you, across the skies in majestic splendor. The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you. He thrusts out the enemy before you; it is he who cries, 'Destroy them!' So Israel will live in safety, prosperous Jacob in security, in a land of grain and wine, while the heavens drop down dew." (Deut. 33:26-28).

But how, it may be asked, can these glorious truths, in the case of others, be realized? How can this vision of God be seen? How can this voice of God be heard? How can these utterances of God be brought to vibrate like chords of music in the soul, and cause it to thrill with the consciousness of a present Deity? What we have been contemplating is beautiful in sentiment; or as an inspired patriarchal picture. But is it not altogether abnormal--removed from the region of the possible and the actual? If not, tell us how can it be brought within the category of ordinary spiritual experience.

We answer--There is one at least, among other ways, by which you can make these 'voices of God' as real as in the case of Jacob. You can do so by PRAYER. You can go, in the same way as patriarchs, and saints, and holy men did of old. You can resort to the mercy-seat; and pointing your finger to the divine, immutable promises, can thus invoke the Hearer of prayer--"Remember the word unto Your servant upon which You have caused me to hope." In the well-known and appropriate lines of Cowper--
"Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw,
Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw;
Gives exercise to faith and love,
Draws down all blessings from above."

All the more encouraging thus to approach a God of grace, and a throne of grace, when we remember that the dreamer of the desert, on whom these blessings were showered, was the representative of the spiritual wanderer--fugitive and sin-stricken. God's promises are not alone for the good, and the virtuous, and the well-doing; but, in their full and royal amplitude, are for all penitent souls who have the humbling consciousness that they have forfeited every claim on the Divine consideration. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts--and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon" (lit. 'multiply to pardon') ( Is. 55:7).

In this 'divine portrait' of the ladder-vision, the God of Heaven seems to stoop over the sinner as he lies forlorn and outcast in the sleep of death, saying, "Prove Me now herewith, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour out a blessing for you, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." The Lord's blessings, indeed, in answer to prayer, at times may not appear to be blessings. The very reverse. He seems to blight our hopes; to cross our schemes; to blast our gourds. He leaves vacant seats in our households, and yawning chasms in our hearts. We are forced to ask, 'Can the God of the olden dreamland--the God who spoke to Jacob these words of surpassing tenderness--can He be other than the God of Baal "asleep, or on a journey?"--has He not "forgotten to be gracious?"' Trust Him. The voice may, like that of Jacob's beloved son (Joseph) to his brothers, appear to be rough, but it is the voice of disguised kindness. Be it yours to accept His dealings, and all His dealings, as appointed discipline for the soul's life.

The description of the inspired annalist of "His ways to Israel," is as true regarding "the spiritual seed of Jacob" as it ultimately came to be of the exiled Patriarch, when the pillow of stones and the bleak moorland were memories of the distant past--"He found them in a desert land, in an empty, howling wasteland. He surrounded them and watched over them; he guarded them as his most precious possession. Like an eagle that rouses her chicks and hovers over her young, so he spread his wings to take them in and carried them aloft on his pinions. The Lord alone guided them." (Deut. 32:10-12).

The day at last arrived when Jacob came to turn over the varied leaves in the volume of his life, with incidents and entries that might well have crushed hearts even of a sterner mold. His long and wearying servile labor as a Mesopotamian shepherd; the feverish anticipation and dread, through all these years, of exile and bondage, of fraternal vengeance for early wrongs--this danger scarcely over, when the deeper pang of a family disgrace had to be endured; then the tender sorrow in losing his beloved wife; then the severance from the two main solaces of his widowhood and old age--when first Joseph and then Benjamin were wrenched from him, and he himself was taken away, from the land he loved, to die! Sad and mingled as the retrospect was, doubtless he would be brought to own all, as needed parts in the plan and purposes of Infinite Love. It seemed to require no ordinary instrumentality to root out the baser elements in his nature--the outgrowths of early subtlety and worldly wisdom. Milder, less stern and severe discipline might have done for others, not for him--"I will not leave you," was the divine promise of his Almighty Leader and Guide, "until I have done what I have promised you." Genesis 28:15.

By implicitly surrendering ourselves to God's leadings, and His blessing accompanying us, we must be safe, we must be happy, independent of all place, all circumstances, all changes. Let us realize Him too, as the words we are now pondering specially suggest, as ever present. Let us see His loving form, and hear His loving voice not only in the midst of great sorrows and emergencies--the "fever-heats"of existence--its solemn passages and pauses, but "in all places where you go." That directing and overruling Hand should be recognized even in what may be deemed the trivialities of existence; its petty scenes, and petty duties; the daily journey, the daily business, the daily walk, the casual meeting. Not only amid the broad highways and thoroughfares of life; but in its hidden nooks, its bypaths, and byways--not amid its "loud stunning tide" only, but in its silent valleys, and lonely recesses, and solitary shores.

He has a corresponding comfort in His treasury for every thought of His people, be these thoughts great or small--"In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Your comforts delight my soul" (Ps. 94:19). The feeblest, as well as the strongest, form the objects of His solicitude and care. "Fear not, you WORM-JACOB, and you men of Israel; I will help you, says the Lord, and your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel" (Isa. 41:14). Without Him, you will tread the journey with a desolate heart. With Him, however dreary that path, you will have what will fill all blanks, atone for all sacrifices, supply all losses. Without Him, no worldly advantages will avail you. They will not minister to a soul diseased. They will cure no heart-wound. They will dry no tear. They will smooth no pillow either of pain or of death. But with Him, you can envision yourself heir to the Apostles' paradox, "having nothing, yet possessing all things"--peace of conscience; the blessed sense of forgiveness; calm contentment with your lot--under the glad assurance that the Great Ruler is alike a rich Provider and a wise Sustainer, in whose hand you need have no anxious thought for the future.

Yes, and anticipating the closing hour of all--when human scenes are dimming, and human voices are growing fainter; when human aid falters and fails, and the hour of supreme loneliness has come--you can hear the unfaltering, unfailing voice, whose music has been heard (fitfully it may be, yet breathing its sympathetic cadences through all the years of the pilgrimage). It is the voice of the God above the ladder--the Lord standing by the opened gates of glory and saying, "I will bring you (I have brought you) into this land, for I will not leave you until I have done that which I have spoken to you of!"

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