By Henry Law
Jacob named the place Peniel--"face of God"--for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared." Genesis 32:30
The happiest heart in the world is that in which faith and prayer have undisturbed rule. The truth of this statement follows from the fact, that faith has the key of heaven; and prayer has the ear of God. And who is happy as the man who is always free to enter within the veil, and hold communion there?
Reader! you would sincerely be happy among the happiest. Beseech the Spirit, then, to fan these graces into brightest flame. With this desire let us hasten to Peniel, the scene of their liveliest exercise: and may we tarry there, until the holy fire kindle!
Jacob's hard servitude is ended. Home, with its fond endearments, is again before him. But, when he reaches the borders of his native land, he finds it garrisoned with perils. Esau, terrible in fury, mighty in force, is armed to intercept, and to destroy. The wanderer, who fled from death, returns to die. But many terrors quench not faith. Jacob, urged by its impulse, flies directly to the mercy-seat. He humbles himself, as unworthy of grace's least crumb. Thus faith strips itself of all, that all the glory may be God's. He pleads that he is in obedience's path. Faith has no other ground on which to stand. He meekly claims the promises; for gracious promises are the title-deeds of hope. But faith, busy in heaven, is not idle upon earth. In thoughtfulness and diligence it sows the seed, from which successes spring. With upward eye it labors and prevails; while unbelief looks inward--downward--and so fails. The plans of Jacob are all wisely formed. Then darkness mantles the earth. But it brings no pillow for his head. He stands, and stands alone, on Jabbok's banks. We here see again, how grace gains oil for his lamp.
Reader! be sure of this, he is not a thriving and a well-stored saint, who is not much in solitary communion with God. No public ordinances, no social worship, no Christian fellowship, no mutual interchange of godly thought, can be a substitute for calm approach to God. It is when all other things are banished, that the smiles of Jesus are most sweet, His voice most clear, His comforts most supporting. Then it is, that the Word reveals its treasures, and the promises teem with life. Many mourn lifelessness of spirit, and fruitlessness in work. The withering cause may be, that busy haunts are too busily frequented, and the quiet chamber is too rarely sought.
But is the lonely Jacob long alone? Oh no. A stranger suddenly draws near, and grapples with him, and strives with mighty energy to stop his progress, and to lay him in the dust. But who thus wrestles in the solemn stillness of this solemn night? The form is human, but the person is Divine. We read, "As a prince you have power with God;" therefore the wrestler is God. Jacob confirms the fact: "I have seen God face to face." Thus, through the veil of apparent mortality, we trace the angel of the everlasting covenant, our great Emmanuel, God manifest in the flesh.
As man, He spoke with Adam in the garden; as man, He walked by Abraham's side; as man, He here struggles with the wandering patriarch. It is indeed a rich display of grace, that Jesus thus should stand in sinners' likeness on this sin-rank soil. But it is grace above grace, that, in the fullness of time, He should take our manhood into God, and wear it on the cross, and in the grave! and then bear it to heaven, as His triumphal robe forever!
But why is this wrestling? Every act of Jesus is a volume written within and without in golden letters of instruction. Thus Jacob, and every successive pilgrim, learns that the land of promise is only gained by battling through opposing armies. At the Lord's word, troops of trials, and sorrows, and fears, and troubles arrange themselves against us. They strive, with determined might, to stop our onward march. Behold Joseph. It was to him no easy task to escape entangling foes. Consider Job, and David, and Paul, and the Apostles, and all the worthies who shine in Scripture-page. What struggles, what perils of overthrow were theirs! They wrestled earnestly, and almost unto blood.
Reader! if you know little of spiritual conflict, it may be you know nothing of the camp of Christ. Examine yourself. Are you truly in the faith? If so, at the cross you have drawn a sword, which never finds a scabbard upon earth, and rarely finds a respite of repose. Those who win the crown, fight a good fight. "the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it."
But perhaps the struggle, thus severe, was short? Not so. It lasted until "the breaking of the day." Earth is a valley of darkness and of gloom. But yet a little while the shadows will flee away. The brightness of a cloudless eternity will dawn. The weary pilgrim will enter the city which has "no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light." Then, in a perfect place, there will be perfect rest.
Next the prowess of Jacob claims our wonder. Though nothing but a feeble worm, he is not crushed. He meets power with power, might with might, strength with strength, skill with skill. He will not, he cannot yield. He awakens again and again his energies. He exerts again and again every vigor of every nerve. He is but flesh and blood, as we are, yet he cannot be subdued. It is all-important that we rightly see what was the grand mainspring of Jacob's indomitable heroism. It cannot be too plainly urged, that it was faith. He was following the Lord fully. He knew that the voice which called him, was victory. Hence he was confident that it were easier to scale and storm the heavens, than to frustrate his assured success. Faith is a rock, when thus based on the rock of promise. It is not of earth, therefore it is imperishable. It is of heaven, therefore its energies are Divine. It looks to Jesus, therefore it overlooks all difficulties. It leans on Jesus, therefore it is as firm as God.
But Jacob wrestled not in faith only, but in supplication and in tears. Thus Hosea writes, and Hosea's pen was in the hand of God, "Yes, he wrestled with the angel and won. He wept and pleaded for a blessing from him. There at Bethel he met God face to face, and God spoke to him." Hosea 12:4. We hence learn that faith is always in earnest, therefore it prays. It is always humble, therefore it weeps.
Here, again, a door is opened in heaven; and we see Jehovah vanquished by a praying saint! True prayer is indeed bold. It draws near to God, and closes with Him, and gives Him no rest, until an approving smile testifies that the suit is granted. God neither can, nor will, release Himself from the intensity of his efforts. He cannot, because the truth is set up in heaven, that prayer shall prosper. He will not, because prayer is the moving of His Spirit in the heart, and the speaking of His Spirit on the lips. To deny prayer would be to deny Himself. To be silent to it would be to be silent unto Himself. "If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us: and if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him."
O my soul, examine well the Scripture's picture of prayer. It is "to take hold" of Him. It is "taking hold of His strength." It is to "give Him no rest." Learn these truths in their power. Use them as the habit of your life. Then you will know prosperity and peace of soul.
But the heart strong in faith and prayer loses all nature's hardness. It becomes soft, as the sympathy of Jesus; and tender, as the whispers of His grace. Thus Jacob's streaming eye proclaimed with what subdued sincerity he loved the Lord, whom he so tightly grasped--and how deeply he was melted by inward consciousness of sin's demerit.
Reader! remember, except you have faith, and prayer, and brokenness of heart, you have no signs of spiritual life. Prove, then, yourself at Peniel. Never leave it, until you hear these voices, "Great is your faith, be it unto you even as you will." And again, "Behold, he prays." And again, "She has washed My feet with tears; therefore, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much."
But we are so framed, that spiritual greatness may be a snare. It may unduly exalt, and lead us unduly to exult. That is destructive victory, which leaves the victor in the chains of pride. Our guardian Lord knew this, and since it is better to prevent than to heal, He "touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh, and it was out of joint." Here we have a mirror, which reflects many of the Lord's dealings with His favored children. In prevailing they are crippled, lest by prevailing they should perish. Strong grace is checked by enfeebled flesh, lest it should climb the dizzy heights of self-esteem. Many halting infirmities convince them that a yielding Lord has power to lay low. They learn that victory is His gift, and not the wages of their might. They feel that they are broken reeds, except God works with them to will and to do.
Let us behold once more the triumphs of persevering faith. The angel concedes the victory, and sues to be released from the unyielding arms. Jacob, with limb disjointed, but with faith confirmed, seeks no advantage but an increase of heavenly favor. With holy boldness he exclaims, "I will not let You go, except You bless me." He cares not for healing of body, or for outward prosperity, he only asks for increased tokens of God's love, and for increased health within. "Bless me," is his prayer. Such noble yearnings are the Lord's delight. He honors them, because they honor Him. He crowns them with all that God Himself can give. Count, if you can, the spoil which Jacob won, when the Lord blessed him there! And now, a new name shall give perpetual fame to this exploit. Heroic deeds have endless life. Wherever the Word of God is preached or read, Israel is a title, which tells of Jacob's princely power with God and men. The record is true. As a prince, he constrained God to bless him. As a prince, he drew the heart of Esau like a captive into his arms.
Reader! be an Israelite indeed, and heaven is yours, and earth is yours. Heaven is yours to bless you. Earth is yours to serve you. Jacob receives a name, and gives a name. He calls the place Peniel, "for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." Again I say, be an Israelite indeed, and every place will be your Peniel. In every scene you will behold God near. Through life, in death, you will have an eye to gaze undazzled on Him. Your secret chamber will be Peniel--as you kneel, God will come down, and show His smiling face. The family-sanctuary will be Peniel--you will see Him extending the wings of mercy over you and yours. Every page of the Bible will be Peniel--bright with the radiance of Him, who is "the Light of Life," and "the Sun of Righteousness." Your post of daily toil will be Peniel--for you will set the Lord always before you. His earthly temples will be Peniel--in the prayers and praises of the assembled worshipers, in the proclamations of His truth, He will manifest Himself unto you, as He does not unto the world. Your dying bed will still be Peniel--Jesus will come again, to bear you safely to a Father's home. Eternity will be a glorious Peniel--for it will be one unclouded view of God face to face!
Lord God of Israel, nothing is too hard for Your power, nothing is too good for Your love. Will You give, by these poor lines, to bring some soul to Peniel!