By Whom Shall Jacob Arise?
Edward Griffin, 1770-1837
"By whom shall Jacob arise? For he is small." Amos 7:2
This was an appeal to the heart of God at a time when the judgments of Heaven were bringing the chosen people to ruin.
When the locusts "had made an end of eating the grass of the land" and were about to fall upon the corn, then said the prophet, "O Lord God, forgive, I beseech you! By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small. The Lord repented for this: It shall not be, says the Lord."
When the fire was let loose to consume the earth, the prophet again interceded: "Then I said: "O Lord GOD, cease, I pray! Oh, that Jacob may stand, For he is small!" So the LORD relented concerning this. "This also shall not be," said the Lord GOD!" Amos 7:5-6
"By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." This is a question which might well have been asked in every age which the Church has yet seen. Her numbers have always been small in comparison with the religions of the wicked. Near two-thirds of the world are Pagans; a fifth part are bending at the tomb of Mahomet; and only a sixth part are nominally Christian. Of that sixth, by far the greater part are buried under Greek and Romish darkness. And even in Protestant countries, to how small a compass is the true Church reduced!
The men of the world swarm on every hand — while few are on their way to Zion. How small a proportion in every city, in every village. Amidst the countless multitudes of nations, languages, and tongues — the true Church, to this day, is but a drop in the ocean.
And she is weak as well as small — wholly incompetent to her own salvation; with no strength commensurate to the difficulties and enemies she has to encounter, and no ally this side of Heaven.
When we look abroad over the world we behold a race of men dead in trespasses and sins, given over to the dominion of the selfish passions, chained down in ignominious servitude to the world; whom no motives can conquer, and no means reclaim. To form such beings into materials for building up the Church, they must be made to undergo a thorough and wonderful transformation. Who shall accomplish this mighty change? Who shall turn back the current? Who shall drive back Jordan to its source? It is easier to make any other change in the dispositions of men. Far easier to make the coward brave, or the miser liberal.
No two states of the natural affections are so far apart and so opposed to each other — as supreme selfishness, and holy love. There is nothing against which native selfishness is so rancorously fixed — as God and His holy law. You may turn demons into seraphs — as easily as by your own power you can mold sinful men into saints! And yet if Zion arises, there must be as many such transformations as the number of her sons.
The transformation must not only be begun, it must be continued and perfected. After men have set out in the heavenly course, they still have to contend with their original corruptions, and with a world full of objects fitted to inflame and entice them. All these corruptions and temptations stand in the way of the growth of the Church.
And then there is another world full of enemies, deeply practiced in their arts, urged on by demoniac malice to obstruct the salvation of God's people; who spread snares through all their way, and having learned the various avenues to their hearts and all their weaknesses, watch incessantly to undo them.
Besides all these innate difficulties and invisible foes which every individual Christian finds in his way — the Church as a body has to contend with a world in arms. Every natural man is her foe. If he is not a foe to the social and civil order in which he lives — he is at least an enemy to the real spirit which constitutes the Church. The whole bent of the natural heart in every age and country, in every family and individual, is against it. The Pagan and the Mohammedan raves; the Jew gnashes his teeth; the Papist reduces the whole to rites and forms, and contends for the privilege of doing this with fire and faggot; the Socinian disembowels religion and presents nothing but a garnished corpse.
The men of the world with one heart are arrayed against this heavenly stranger. All the aims of ambition, all the lust of wealth, every appetite and passion which reaches after pleasure — is her foe. The habits, principles, and calculations of the world — are her enemies. Even "the friendship of the world" is deadly hostility.
The civil arm has beaten the Church down, with fierce and bloody persecutions. Courts have excluded her, or taken her in only to corrupt her. Learning has sought to change her nature and mold her into an easy thing to favor the pride of intellect and the epicureanism of science, and to leave the selfish heart still to reign.
In a war against the genuine spirit of true religion, against its self-denial and its soul-humbling doctrines — all other enmities are swallowed up, all other rivals are compacted into firm allies.
Herod and Pilate bury their animosities here. All corrupt sects which in various ways have perverted the Gospel, when pure religion takes the field — will coalesce into the firmest alliance against her. The combinations of wealth, learning, and power; the obstinacy and artifices of disputers; the substitution of other gospels under her name; the prejudices and the passions, the arts and the arms which assail her — constitute a phalanx more formidable than was ever arrayed against any other cause.
Nor is there any need of this outward pressure to keep religion down. Leave man to himself for a single generation, and with all the means of civilization and grace — the Church would become extinct. Were she as prosperous as in the days of her primitive glory, the withdrawment of the Spirit from one generation would banish her from the world! All that has been gained in past ages, is nothing without a continued operation. The process must be repeated upon every generation.
And now with all this task before us to raise up children to God from the stones of the street — against all the resistance of two worlds — we may well exclaim, "By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small."
Our strength is wholly incompetent to preserve the Church a single hour, to add one to the number of her sons, or to produce a pious impression on a single heart. If no other helper is found, we must sit down in tears and give up all for lost.
Such are the hindrances to the Church in every period of the world. But our text was uttered in a time of special discouragement, in a time when religion was at its lowest declension, and when the hand of God was stretched out, not to revive His work, but apparently to bring the Church to ruin! It will be, in exact accordance with the spirit of the text, to apply it to a day of declension and judgment.
When we look abroad on the community and see errors and dissipation and vice abound in every form; when the children of the streets who can scarcely walk, are filling the air with blasphemies of the eternal God; when the idea of a change of heart and of experimental religion is hooted from society; when the ungodly are groping their way to perdition through darkness that may be felt, as stupid as though they had no souls; when our poor children are coming forward among dangers like these, and most of them are on their way to eternal damnation!
Is it not high time for every Christian to cry out with trembling and tears, "By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." By whom can he arise? He is fallen, and there is none to lift him up. He is brought low by his own sins, and has no strength to help himself. He is fallen in the midst of his enemies, and has no ally this side of Heaven. By whom shall he arise? By whom shall our children be awakened and brought to salvation? Who shall remove this dreadful stupidity from the people? We inquire WHO? But no one answers. We search through the world and find no arm competent to the task. Must we then sit down in despair? Must we give up these immortal souls to eternal death? Must we resign our children to everlasting woe?
The everlasting God is our only hope! On Him our eyes fix, when every other helper fails. It was God who began this great work. He laid the plan in the ages of eternity without the aid or counsel of creatures. He selected the Church for His own favorite interest, for the chosen means of spreading His glory before all worlds. From the beginning to the end of time — He is pursuing this object with no dependence on any but Himself, resting no outcome on the impotence of man. In propelling the mighty machine, His hand is behind every wheel to originate the first motion.
Every man has his interest, in which his heart is enrapt up, and in attention to which he finds his chief employment. The Church is God's interest; and in managing her concerns and making all things subservient to her advancement — He finds His principal occupation from age to age. For this purpose He created the heavens and the earth. For this purpose He preserves and governs all things. For this purpose He brings about all the changes in the natural and moral world. This is the core of all the works of God. For this, ages revolve. For this, empires rise and fall. For this, the world has stood and all its operations have been carried on for six thousand years.
God has no other interest on earth, no other end for which He preserves and governs all. This is the grand interest on which His divine eye is immovably fixed. Whether seasons revolve or empires rise or fall — this is the only object which He has in view. This is His only interest of the world. This interest God has not committed to men — it is His own, His only portion. He has taken it into His own hands. He has set Himself down to manage it Himself. If it does not succeed — then it is because He has not sufficient skill and power.
In this character, God is determined to be acknowledged. The great end which He proposes, to Himself in all His work — is to bring out to view the riches of His nature, that creatures may see and acknowledge Him as He is, and forever enjoy Him. That His works may be understood to be such a manifestation of Himself, His fixed design is to be known and acknowledged as the first cause of all things.
It is the natural course of unbelief to put Him out of view. Ignorance has gone after its thousand deities. Learning has stopped at second causes and paid its devotions to nature. All this atheism God is resolved to confound. He is determined to be acknowledged as the author of all things — but especially as the author of salvation. This is His best and greatest effort to spread abroad the glories of His nature, to reveal to creatures what He is and what He is to them, to unite them to Him in the most perfect love, gratitude, and confidence, in the sweetest and sublimest communion.
Of this great work, He is fixedly determined to have all the glory. Of this glory, He is the most jealous of all. This He will not give to another, nor divide with another. He is resolved to be acknowledged as the sole author and finisher of the whole of salvation!
For this reason He studiously constructs the dispensations of His grace in a way to convince His people that it is "not by might, nor by power, but by His Spirit" that the Church is enlarged. Was He careful in the demolition of Jericho — so to shape the means that His hand alone should be acknowledged? Did He use the same care in the conquest of the Midianites in the days of Gideon? And in the overthrow of Goliath — by a stripling with a sling and a stone? Much more care has He taken to secure all the honor to Himself in the business of man's salvation. The whole scheme is obviously designed "to stain the pride of human glory" and to attach all the honor to His throne.
Among other expedients for this end, He has committed the Gospel to "earthen vessels" — to poor, feeble, sinful men, who, so far from being able to save others, have no power to help themselves! The Word in their polluted lips is made "mighty to the pulling down of strong holds." And when the captives are released under hands incapable of breaking their own chains — they cannot doubt to whom they owe their deliverance. To make His own power more visible in this select thing — He interrupts-the order of second causes and goes in the way of supernatural operations. He allows difficulties to increase, as He did on Carmel when He would prove Himself the God of the rain. And when the sacred fire descends, it consumes the wood and the stones and licks up the water in the trench!
He leaves His people to come into great straits, as He did at the Red Sea. He sets impassable mountains on either hand and lets a pursuing enemy thunder in their rear; that in the moment when they give up all for lost, He may open a passage through the sea! He leaves sin and error to abound, darkness and strife to overspread a region, and makes the hope of His people to fail — just before He appears in His glory to build up Zion. And all this to render His interposition more manifest, and to put His people to the greatest distance from ascribing any part of the glory to human instruments.
His voice is constantly heard from the highest heavens, saying, "Cursed be the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm." He detests the system of drawing in a crooked worldly policy — to support His magnificent cause. He would lead His people forth with both their eyes fixed on the heavens, saying as they go, "My soul, wait only upon God, for my expectation is from him!"
This is the proper attitude in which to stand when our anxious souls inquire, "By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." To this then we have come — our only hope is in God. I know that not another soul will ever be converted in this congregation — unless it be accomplished by the power of God. Let all other dependencies be given up — the Church must rise by God alone. There is no other helper — there is no other hope. This is our only consolation in the darkest times. We never wish to see the Church in any other hands. We never wish her to have any other protector, any other ally, or that any other should share in the glory of her salvation. We know His love. We have heard Him say, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, they may forget, yet will I not forget you."
In all ages, His faithfulness has been made to appear. He has "been our dwelling-place in all generations." Abraham trusted in Him — and was never forsaken. David always found Him a friend in time of need. Daniel and the three Hebrew children were not abandoned to their enemies. Thousands have acknowledged, "When father and mother forsook me — the Lord took me up. Why need we look for any other helper, for any other substantial and faithful friend?" "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me — bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."
In the dark times of Pharisaical pride and Sadducean blasphemy, Simeon and Anna, as they waited for the consolation of Israel, often inquired, "By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." When they pressed the infant Savior to their heart, the question was solved: "My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people; a light to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."
The Waldenses, hiding in their native mountains during the long papal night, often inquired, "By whom shall Jacob arise?" God answered them in His magnificent providence. They saw Him come. They saw the throne of judgment set. They saw spiritual Babylon arraigned. They saw those great Reformers like angels flying through the midst of Heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach to every nation.
Our fathers, when they hid themselves in woods and secret chambers for the sake of worshiping God, often inquired, with breaking hearts, "By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." God prepared His own answer. He opened to them this beautiful land; He raised up churches through all this howling wilderness; and on this ground erected one-half of Zion.
In this day of blasphemy and rebuke, we may look abroad upon the sepulchers of our fathers and the wide spreading ruin of our offspring, and ask, with streaming tears, "By whom shall Jacob arise?" The God of our fathers will presently answer. These temples and streets shall be full of prayer and praise. Already is His hand brushing away the darkness from a thousand lands. The signs of better days are springing up through all the earth. I hear Him say from the fleecy cloud on which He is riding through the world, "The day of vengeance is in my heart — and the year of my redeemed has come!"
But we return and look upon the ruins still around us — and our tears flow afresh. We raise a beseeching look and cry, "By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." Well, then, my dear brethren, you know what you have to do.
Amos urged this question in the form of an intercession to move the heart of God. This is your remedy. "Arise, cry out in the night; in the beginning of the watches pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord — lift up your hands towards him for the life of your young children who faint for hunger in the top of every street."
But mark the order in which the prophet proceeds. His first prayer is for pardon: "O Lord God, forgive, I beseech you! By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." He prostrated himself like David, and acknowledged the sins of his people and sued for pardon, before his intercession could avail. He saw sin to be at the bottom of the trouble, and therefore concluded that the pardon of sin must be at the bottom of the deliverance — and prayed for that in the first place.
In the same way, whatever calamity we are under, the pardon of sin should be first and most eagerly sought. Until this is obtained, no intercession will avail. "We have transgressed and have rebelled," said the captive Church; "you have not pardoned — you have covered yourself with a cloud that our prayers should not pass through."
When a church has long been praying for a revival of religion, and has not been heard — it is because God has not pardoned. Cast yourselves then on your faces, my beloved brethren, and humble yourselves in the deepest dust — for all your coldness, ingratitude, and neglect. Prostration is your first duty, and the first step towards deliverance. This done, besiege the throne of grace with many tears. And take for your encouragement, the success marked in the context.
Twice the interceding prophet pleadingly inquired, "By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." Twice "the Lord relented," and said, "It shall not be." Twice a stop was put to the judgment by making supplication to the Judge.
In the same way, Moses stood in the breach and turned away wrath from Israel. Thus Elijah proved that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."
Could you, with deep humility and deep dependence, go forth in a body, and pour your fervent cries into His ears — then the blessing of hundreds ready to perish might come upon you. "The Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither is his ear heavy that it cannot hear — but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you that he will not hear."
He might pour down such a flood of blessings, that there would not be room to contain it. You would have no longer to say, "By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small." Your sighs would be turned into songs. And will you lose the blessing when it is brought so near? Will you be poor — when it is so easy to become rich? Will you leave at your door, despised, all that a God has to give? "You who make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest, until he establishes, and until he makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth."