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if it was hard to conceive the possibility, it was harder still to think that anything which was right in man could be other than a reflex of something in God. It was monstrous, and horrible to believe, that the best offerings of man could be meant to change the will of his Maker, instead of being the fulfilment of it.
They had this story to guide them in their meditations. Abraham and Isaac went both of them together; Abraham prepared the wood and the fire. He said that God himself would provide the lamb for the burnt-offering. The experiences of a nation's sins and degeneracies, deeper anguish still in the hearts of individual men, helped to expound that riddle. At last the full light dawned upon the mind of one who had found himself sinking in deep mire, where no ground was. • Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not; but a body hast thou prepared me. Lo, I come in the volume of the book, it is written of me,) to do Thy will, O God; yea, Thy law is within my heart. I am content to do it.' A filial sacrifice was seen to be the only foundation on which the hearts of men, the societies of earth, the kingdom of heaven, could rest.
ESAU AND JACOB.
Lessons for the day, Gen. XXVII, and XXXIV.
Preached at Lincoln's Inn on the Second Sunday in Lent, March 16, 1851.
GENESIS XXVIII. 10-17. And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward
Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. 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. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac : the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed ; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south : and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
HOPE the selection of the lessons for to-day
will have shewn you that the Church at least does not wish us to regard the lives of the Patriarchs as the lives of grand and heroic men. The specimens of the history of Isaac and Jacob are taken from the two most humiliating passages of it. In the first we have an old patriarch, sending forth his elder son to fetch the venison which he loves, and cheated by his younger son at the instigation of his wife. The second belongs to another generation; Jacob is surrounded by his own children; the one daughter of his race is defiled ; two of his sons take a crafty and brutal vengeance upon the offender and his whole people.
Do not imagine that I wish to pass over such records as these, which I believe have been brought before us honestly, manfully, deliberately. It would be entirely contrary to the purpose which I announced at the commencement of this series of sermons if I turned away your thoughts from the difficult passages of the book of Genesis to fix them upon those passages in which all perceive some value, and from which some moral may readily be extracted; still less do I wish to select the idyllic or poetical passages of the story that you may forget how much there is in it of prosaic reality. But I apprehend that your minds are more likely to be perplexed by the words I have just read to you, when they are taken in connexion with the narratives between which they are interposed, than by these narratives in themselves. You could hardly help feeling that there was something brave
and truthful in an historian who exhibited the ancestor of his own tribe in a less advantageous light than the ancestor of a rival and opposing tribe. You might be disposed to think he must have been under some higher and diviner guidance than his own when he laid bare the fury and meanness of the men after whose names his countrymen were called. But you are puzzled when you reflect that the cunning Jacob obtained a blessing of which his more frank and noble brother was deprived; that he received divine communications to which the other was a stranger ; that his seedthat seed which exhibited the most detestable passions of savages—were the inheritors of the highest promise ever bestowed upon men. This association of what is high with what is low, of spiritual glories with the most earthly propensities, suggests doubts to your minds which you might be glad to quell, but cannot. Must not morality suffer, you ask, when He whom we proclaim to be a God of Righteousness favours the man whom our consciences pronounce to be base, condemns him in whom we are compelled to feel sympathy ? In order to defend the history are you not obliged to set up a certain sacerdotal theory about human character which interferes with all ordinary obligations, and makes common men feel that the so-called religious standard is utterly at variance with the faith and probity which are required in their dealings with each other? I am certain that these thoughts are stirring in a number of minds, and it is because they ought to be met
fairly that I have taken my text from the brighter rather than from the darker part of Jacob's biography. But I have chosen it also because I regard it as in no sense less belonging to the realities of this book than the story of Jacob's imposture, or of the massacre at Shechem ; because it seems to me no beautiful episode, but a part of the regular narrative, connected with all that has gone before it and with all that follows; because I cannot think of Jacob's vision as indicating that a communion with the invisible was vouchsafed to the infancy of our race, and is denied to it in its manhood, but only as the first step in a series of manifestations, each more perfect, more substantial, more permanent than the last.
I spoke last Sunday of the temptation of Abraham to slay his son as the last great step in his education. The discipline which had raised him
. to a higher personal standard, which had enabled him to be truly a man, had been discipline through and for his family. His relations with his wife, his nephew, his children, had shewn him what was petty and grovelling in himself, had been the means of awakening the faith, hope, patience, which lifted him above himself, and made him act as the servant of God. That crisis when his love for his new given child and his faith in the promise were brought into apparent conflict with a more awful duty, was really the reconciliation of his human feelings with their divine original, the moment when he knew that he was made in the likeness of His Creator. The solemn transaction