"The next morning Jacob got up very early. He took the stone he had used as a pillow and set it upright as a memorial pillar. Then he poured olive oil over it." Genesis 28:18

The Patriarch had fully realized the solemnity of the occasion, and the holiness of the ground which he had made his couch of repose. He felt it was no mere illusion of which he had been spectator. At all events the assurance grew with his waking thoughts, that his dream manifested divinest spiritual verities, of which he was himself the privileged partaker.

He obeys the first and natural impulse of these moments of mingled joy and dread. God has spoken to him; and, as the recipient of wondrous and undeserved mercy, he now makes preparation to address his divine Sustainer in return. He rises at dawn of day, when the fleecy clouds are still skirting the hill-tops and the earth around is "sown with orient pearl." The northern journey must before-long be resumed. Before, however, taking up his staff, he proceeds to erect a memento of this night of hallowed memories. Not only does he desire to set up a pillar of consecration; but, on the expectation of return from his distant pilgrimage, he would by this means also identify the spot whose associations would ever be the most sacred of his life. With the stones so abundantly lying around he would have wished, perhaps, to rear a commemorative "heap" of larger dimensions and worthier of the occasion. Being, however, alone and without aid, he must defer any permanent memento. Meanwhile, all he can venture to accomplish is to take the boulder which he had used for his pillow, and place it, as best he could, in an upright position. This crude monolith will be the pledge of some more conspicuous and enduring monument in time to come. No chisel had he to carve any inscription, even had the stone admitted of this.

As it was customary, however, for all travelers in the East, as it is to this day, to carry with them a flask of oil for mixing with their food, as well as for external use, he pours some of the contents of his "skin bottle" on the extemporized pillar. It is the first consecration of notable places of which we read in sacred story--the setting apart of the rough rock of this upland from a common, to a holy use. If the grateful dreamer can engrave no lettering on its unhewn base, he can at least pronounce over it the name that has ever since sent its multiplying echoes through all ages--all lands--all believing hearts--BETHEL--"the House of God." It was the Jehovah-Shalom (Judges 6:24), or the Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7:12) of a future period--a STONE of everlasting remembrance. It was specially in connection with this incident, that the God to whose name and glory it was erected, had added henceforth to His other venerated titles that to which we have already made more than one allusion--the "Shepherd of the stone of Israel."

It may be worthy of remark in passing-- that, whether borrowed from the example of Jacob or not, the employment of 'commemoration stones' became common in all countries. "Crude stones and posts were the first memorials of the Phoenician people. Near Cadiz, heaps of stone used to be indicated as the famous 'Pillars' which are said to have commemorated the expedition of Hercules to Spain. The ancient people of the North preserved the memory of events by placing stones of extraordinary size in particular places, and this method is still used by the American savages, among whom writing is unknown. The manner in which such monuments were made subservient to this purpose is clearly described in Joshua 4. Parents explained to their children the object of such memorials, and instructed them in the facts which gave occasion to them. In this way tradition supplied in some degree the place of written records." (Pictorial Bible.)

The custom was specially prevalent in the East. Sacred spots and events were identified and memorialized by one--or it may be a group of stones; while oil, sometimes combined with wine, sometimes with blood, was poured for a libation on the top, as the symbol of dedication to God. "I had often observed," to quote still further not only the words but the personal observation of Dr. Kitto, "such stones, without being aware of their object, until happening one day to overturn one that had been set upon another, a man hastened to replace it, at the same time informing me that to displace such stones was an act unfortunate for the person so displacing it, and unpleasant to others. The writer afterwards observed, that the natives studiously avoided displacing any of these stones 'set up for a pillar' by the wayside."

Let us note the instantaneous assent given by the Patriarch to the first impulse of his revived and reinvigorated soul. The voice of God begets an immediate and willing response. No time is wasted that might endanger the displacement or absorption of waking thoughts! No question or wonderment as to whether all he had seen was fantasy or reality until the very vision itself had been dreamed away and passed into nothingness. Neither was there any needless moping over a guilty past; no questioning of the sincerity of the divine assurance of forgiveness and mercy. He resembles the prodigal of the later parable, of whom it is said that when he came to himself "--in the first flash of conviction--the first dawn of nobler purposes--"then he arose and went to his father." Or it recalls the prompt resolve of the royal Psalmist--"I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto Your testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep Your commandments" (Ps. 119:59, 60).

In this we see one of the compensating features even in the natural character of Jacob, that of energetic purpose combined with immediate action. It accords with his vehement wrestling, in after years, with the Angel at Jabbok. He was resolute of will, alike in spiritual and in secular matters, and that despite of every hindrance and discouragement. These are qualities which go far to make alike the noble and the successful man. Many a fair life of promise is ruined by irresolution and procrastination. The iron cannot be welded which is allowed to cool. The waverer, driven by the wind and tossed, seldom reaches the "Fair Havens." The men who climb to the pinnacle are alike prompt in deed and undeterred by difficulty. Not infrequently with a covert sneer they may be called impulsive. Be it so. It is they, nevertheless, who thus make thought germinate at once into purpose; who are the true heroes in the strife; for whom the world has been the better while they lived, and whom the world has honored when they died. Yes, we repeat, the victorious and laurel-wreathed in higher than earthly battles, are those who, acting on impulse if you will, the voice within responding to the voice without, have sprung resolute from the pillow of sentiment and ease and drowsy contemplation, to erect their stone and vow their vow. David was conspicuously, of all Bible characters, a man of impulse--(the Peter of Old Testament story). See how he resolves on rearing his pillar, and pouring upon it consecrating oil--"He swore unto the Lord and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob; Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes, or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob" (Ps. 132:2-5).

Our Patriarch's conduct seems to teach farther, that each great crisis of our life should be sanctified and hallowed by the invocation of the divine blessing. Whatever be the new path we are to pursue, the new relation we are to form, the new duty on which we are to enter, the new scheme we are to undertake, whether it be domestic or public, personal or relative, let it be 'consecrated,' by at once seeking the Divine guidance, and hearing the Divine voice saying, "This is the way, walk in it." Let youth especially bear in mind that Jacob's was a morning dedication. There is little fear of the later period in one's life, if the altar-stones be reared and the anointing oil poured upon them in life's early dawn, before the great journey be undertaken. It was a noble motto and watchword bequeathed to us by the great Psalmist--"I shall be anointed with fresh oil" (Ps. 92:10). Thus anointed, in the very grappling with evil and temptation, you will become morally strong; just as the oak, in wrestling with the tempest, moors its roots all the firmer and deeper in the rock. Other inspired words form an appropriate invocation in beginning or renewing your pilgrimage--"Your Spirit is good, lead me to the land of uprightness." "Take not Your Holy Spirit from me." You can look undismayed along life's vista, when you have this all-glorious triple benediction to gladden the way--"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit."

And what Jacob did one morning, be it yours to do every morning--setting up the pillar and pouring upon it the consecrating oil. "My voice will You hear in the morning, O Lord! In the morning will I direct my prayer unto You and will look up!" Seek to wake, day by day, with the consciousness of the grandeur of life; armor yourself for its spiritual battles. The allegorical idea of a great painter of the Middle Ages is one specially appropriate for every Pilgrim commencing or renewing the spiritual journey. In Giotto's well-known picture in the Arena Chapel of Padua, Faith is represented at morning dawn with a cross in her right hand and the creed in her left. A key is suspended at her belt, while she stamps under foot the horoscope of the astrologer. The thought conveyed by this religious teacher of his day may be thus interpreted in words--Christ crucified the young believer's hope; the word of Jesus his trust; all false confidences disowned and trampled upon the key of prayer ever at hand to open the rich treasure house of the Promises and make them all his own!

And oh! be it remembered, as we had occasion to note in last chapter, that there is, on the other hand, such a thing as the desecration of life's early morning--when the vision is given, the dream dreamed, the voice of God in childhood heard and unfolded by a mother's lips--but the Bethel-land is left, and the early perilous road is traversed without erection of pillar or consecration of holy oil. Can we wonder, when such is the case--when the knee is unbent in prayer--when religious opportunities are shunned and evaded; when every dream of heaven is blotted out with low counterfeit dreams of earth--that the moral courage falters, and moral strength becomes enervated--that the dark doubt displaces the simple faith; and the departure of child innocence is before-long detected by the restless eye and the lowering brow; the familiar, open, innocent countenance--the fellowship with true and faithful souls--exchanged for the embarrassed look and the questionable companionship. Can we wonder, that, caged in darkness, away from the light of Heaven and God, the eye of the young eagle should film and his wing droop--that the clear ringing voice should come gradually no longer to tremble at a falsehood, or to startle at the name of wrong-doing or impurity?

One other thought suggests itself at this part of the vision--that "every place is hallowed ground." This Bethel dreamland was the first spot which was actually named "the House of God;" and in this sense, though preceded by other Patriarchal altars, it may be regarded as the earliest church of the Jewish nation, the prototype of the churches of future Christendom. How destitute it was of all ecclesiastical accessories and attractions we have already seen--a single stone--a crude monolith in a bleak sheep-walk!

We are not of those who discard all that is chaste and befitting in places of earthly worship, or who venture to denounce such as a return to the Jewish "beggarly elements." On the contrary, we never can see that true piety or genuine devotion is incongruous or incompatible with grandeur of form, or loveliness of ritual. But it is a comfort and consolation also for those who, from local, geographical, or other circumstances, are denied these external "beauties of holiness," to see in the case of this lonely exile, that the Divine Being is "not confined to Temples made with hands." The true Temple is not the 'holy building'. To that place belongs the real consecration where souls are saved and God is glorified. On the one hand, a man may worship in a cathedral, with all the accompaniments of embossed aisle--cloistered seclusion--luscious music--intoned litany--and yet remain cold and unmoved as the speechless unimpassioned stone or pillar at his side.

While on the other hand, some humble worshipers may be gathered in lowly mission-tent, or Highland barn; in African Kraal, or Australian log-house. They may show, by look and garb, that they are able to claim poverty as their only birthright. To cultured eye and ear, their ritual may be unadorned and repelling; their music may be dissonance. But yet, in the eye of God and angels, the latter may be the truer Bethel of the two--its "pillar" not the less accepted, because it is composed of rough stones instead of marble--its oil not the less holy, because it is not contained in golden vessels.

No, more--there may, and often is, a danger in the one which is not in the other. True devotion may be counterfeited and travestied. There may, by mere outward attractions, be the perilous appeal to imagination and sensuous emotion. An idol may be made of gaudy forms, voluptuous sounds, and 'dim religious light.' The evening rock of Jacob may be, in truth, the better and safer altar-stone. At all events, we repeat, that we may gather from this record of the world's earliest Sanctuary, that the House of God--the most honored and hallowed Bethel--is where God Himself is, and where the Gospel-ladder is most faithfully set up before the spiritual eye.

In other words, where Christ, the one only Way to the Father, is most fully proclaimed in the united Majesty of His Godhead and the tenderness of His humanity. The Temple He loves is that whose fumes of incense are heart-breathed prayers and praises; whose true font is the invisible baptism of the divine Spirit; whose true apostolic succession is the succession of Christian virtues; whose altar-fires consist of devout desires kindled, and noble life-purposes formed; whose most radiant altar-lights are glimpses, revealed by the torch of faith, of the better Church above.

Let every 'sick one whom Jesus loves'--every lonely bed-ridden child of weakness and suffering--remember, that it is not within earthly Sanctuaries alone, or to the summons of the Sabbath-bell, that Cowper's well-known lines apply--
"Here we may prove the power of prayer
To strengthen faith and sweeten care,
To teach our faint desires to rise,
And bring all heaven before our eyes"--

but that in the darkened chamber, and by the pain-stricken pillow, if there be a sincere believer there, there is a prayer-hearing, and a prayer-answering, and a covenant-keeping God. Loneliest vigils may themselves thus form the truest worship. Unseen choristers from the upper Sanctuary may be gathering within these curtains and hovering around that aching head. The Lord of Angels can make the house of mourning, and the bed of languishing, as the 'House of God' and as the 'Gate of Heaven'!

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