And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children to Leah…
Reposing, therefore, with confidence on the promised protection of his God, Jacob crossed the brook at sunrise, and, rejoining his family, went calmly on his way. A short time appears to have brought on the crisis of his trial: "Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men." It is not difficult to conceive the rush of con. tending feelings that would agitate his breast when the hostile party came in sight; nor to imagine to what a height the tumult of his thoughts would increase as the two bands approached each other. Grace does not make us stoics. It controls and regulates the natural affections by subordinating them to higher principles; but men of the warmest piety, while they are preserved from an exuberant and inordinate indulgence of the affections, are generally possessed of the most tender and benevolent spirit. Excessive natural affection is a common, and in no respects a sublimated, feeling. But the leading point on which I wish at this time to fix your attention is the manifest superiority of character discoverable in Jacob when compared with his elder brother — a superiority evidently not arising from superior intellect or other natural advantages, but originating in his religious principles and habits. A fair and unprejudiced examination of the case before us will show that the godly man, the faithful servant of God through Jesus Christ, has a superiority of character to other men, both in principle and in practice.
1. He possesses a superiority of principle. To examine this more closely —
(1) The first idea included in this conviction is the sense of demerit. "Gracious dealing" implies undeserved kindness on the part of God, and, consequently, defect and demerit on the part of His creature. And where such convictions dwell, it is impossible but that the individual must view the actions and thoughts of any one day of his life with abhorrence, and the dealings of God with him, from first to last, as characterized only by grace and long-suffering mercy.
(2) Such a conviction includes the idea of a review of God's mercies to the soul. "God has dealt graciously with me."(3) But to the lively recollection in the Christian's mind of God's merciful dealings with him we must add the grateful acknowledgment of them. The undeserved kindness of God throughout a whole life, manifested in an infinite variety of necessities and trials, cannot pass in review before the mind without emotion.
(4) This is an habitual feeling. It is not a cold philosophical speculation. It is not a rational deduction that because God is great and we are less than nothing, therefore we, of course, must be indebted to Him, and therefore we are; but it is the emotional, affectionate consciousness of obligation. And it will be invariably found that this is the character of true piety; that there is this living and influential sense of the mercy of God; and that this it is, especially, which, coming into play continually as the leading principle of action, does make its possessor a far superior character to those who are merely left to have their conduct regulated by the operation of natural principles and affections. This will become more evident as we proceed to notice —
2. The superiority of the religious man's conduct as originating in this principle. A principle so powerful could not be in action without producing very manifest results. Nor is it; for the man who truly believes the redemption of the gospel "lives no longer to himself, but unto Him who died for him." We do not say that there is no virtue among men with. out the influence of revealed religion. All the virtues of the natural character are of a much lower origin. They are spurious and defective in the motive and principle from which they spring. They are frequently constitutional. Taken, however, at their highest point, such manifestations of virtuous principle are fleeting and uncertain. Let us notice, by way of illustration, the two instances of moral virtue which arise out of the present event of Jacob's life — those of content and liberality.
(1) Content. There are many persons who are tolerably satisfied with their condition. They are not always repining or envying. They are at rest, because they do not think; because they are well assured that they cannot alter them if they would; and they call this content. "I have enough." But how different is all this from that Christian content which originates, not in carelessness or sensual indifference, but in a calm, extended, fair, and manly view of the whole circumstances of the case. "Yea, God hath dealt graciously with me, and I have enough." This indicates no listless inattention to the real state of things, no reckless indifference, no resolute insusceptibility; but it is peace in the midst of, and in the calm contemplation of, every vicissitude.
(2) Again, if we look to the virtue of liberality, as it is exhibited in Jacob, it differs from the liberality of the men of the world.Let us now endeavour to draw some plain practical instructions from the whole.
1. In the first place, it will be evident where we must look for the spring of superior virtue; not in the spontaneous emotions of a man's own heart, not in the strong stimulus of occasional circumstances, not in the influence of human opinion, not in the rewarded efforts of heroic resolution, but in the right appreciation of a dying Saviour's love. All other principles will fail in their own time and way.
2. Observe, this contrast of the character of Esau and Jacob will enable men of excellent moral habits to discriminate between the virtue of habit and the virtue of principle.
3. This subject speaks with peculiar force to the covetous man. True Christianity imparts, in a high degree, the graces of content and liberality. A greedy pursuit of gain is utterly inconsistent with the self-denying spirit of the gospel. This alone ought to be felt as a cutting rebuke for the love of money.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.