And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that has taken venison, and brought it me…
I. CERTAINLY WE ARE NOT TO GATHER HENCE THAT ANY TRUE PENITENT CAN TURN TO GOD AND BE REJECTED OF HIM. ESAU'S rejection was no such contradiction of God's love as the rejection of any one weeping penitent upon earth would surely be. For, first, there is about Esau's very cry itself, loud and bitter as it was, no sign of true penitence; and, next, when he uttered it, so far as that which he had then lost is concerned, his day of probation was already over, his time of trial closed, his hour of judgment come. There is doubtless, as we shall see hereafter, a true counterpart of this before every impenitent man, with horrors aggravated above any which waited upon Esau's sentence, as far as time is exceeded by eternity, and temporal disadvantage by the death of the enduring soul. But there is not one word in it to make any one who, in this his day of grace, turns to the Lord, and cries to him for cleansing and for pardon, doubt the full certainty of a most gracious acceptance by Him who suffered the woman that was a sinner to wash His blessed feet with her tears, and to wipe them with the hair of her head.
II. This, then, certainly is not the lesson which is taught us here; but just as certainly IT IS THAT WE, TOO, MAY CAST AWAY GOD'S MERCY TO US; that we, the true children of promise, bred in the family of One greater than Isaac — that we, the inheritors of a birthright greater far than Jacob sought for or Esau despised — that we, the children of God's grace, may reject His grace, and cast profanely from us our more blessed birthright. Such awful cases the experience of every parish priest has, I suppose, brought before him. I have seen them and have trembled. I have seen the fearful paroxysms of a loud and violent despair. I have seen what is more awful still, the obstinate sinner, calmly, deliberately, determinately put from himself the hope of salvation, and declare that in a few hours he shall be in hell. And so indeed it must be. For if this were not so, what could the warning mean, "Look diligently, test any man fail of the grace of Christ." Surely it must mean that the time of hopeless lamentation will come to every obstinate despiser of God's grace; that His Spirit does not always strive with any man — that there is a limit to the trial of every man. Can we not, as we gaze with awe upon the fearful picture, see in some measure why this doom is irreversible? For must it not of necessity happen that the very perfection of this miserable wickedness sets the seal of hopeless continuance upon such spiritual wretchedness? For such a spiritual being with such a nature must hate the good; must, above all, hate supremely God, the All-Good; must see in Him the highest and most absolute conceivable contradiction of itself, and so must recoil infinitely from Him, and in recoiling from Him must choose the evil with an ever-renewed iteration and ever-increasing intensity of choice. Nor does the perfection of the misery which such a soul endures at all incline it to any breath of penitence; it only deepens the blackness and the malignity of its despair. There is nothing in itself purifying in suffering.
III. But if we would learn one true lesson from this portion of God's Word, we must not only note the general warning of looking diligently lest we fall from God's grace, but we must see further AGAINST WHAT SPECIAL FORMS OF EVIL THIS WARNING IS PECULIARLY DIRECTED. And indeed, for many here, as everywhere, this is a lesson needing very signally to be learned. For remember what were Esau's circumstances and Esau's trial. Born to the inheritance of a certain birthright, exercising, as to his first title to it, no volition regarding it; having centred in his own person the mysterious privileges which ordinarily belonged to the first-born son of the heir of promise — he cast these away; not from special or marked depravity of character, but from yielding to the temptations of appetite. This one special attribute of sensuality is clearly shadowed forth in this example; we see its direct tendency to lead to delaying repentance until true repentance is impossible. For its gratifications fill for a season, and occupy the degraded soul. Thus the first drawings of the blessed Spirit are resisted, His first tender motions on the soul are quenched; and it is in yielding to these, instead of resisting them, that there is the only possibility of any true repentance. So it was with Esau, when, under the overmastering impulse of a sensual temptation, he was led to cast all good away — for "thus Esau despised his birthright." Surely the application is too explicit to be missed. Is not the warning plain against exactly that whole class of sins of the real guilt of which the world takes least account? Is it not as much as saying that indulged sensuality does build up barriers against true repentance, which are all but impassable? Does it not meet the man possessed, by natural endowment, of high spirits, of frankness, of cheerfulness, of all that makes him a popular companion — with strong passions, with great powers of enjoyment — who flings himself freely into life, is the leader of a set, and, from there being a certain look of generosity about his vices, is lauded perhaps for his unselfishness; who has naturally a far more attractive character than the less courageous, less spirited, less frank, more self-conscious, more self-watchful man beside him? doest it not meet this man in his hours of sensual temptations, and say, Thou hast a birthright, beware of despising it, beware of bartering it? Does it not say to him, "Thou, too, art a son of Abraham"? yea, and more, "Thou art a son of Christ"; without thy choice, before thy knowledge, of God's mere love and mercy, that blessed privilege was made thine. His love yearned over thine infancy, His Spirit has striven with thy youth, His care is watching over thee now, and thou, too, art tempted to barter these inestimable blessings for the mess of pottage. In thee, too, appetite craves for indulgence; before thine eyes a sensuous fancy paints her glowing pictures of the mad delight of gratified desire, of the feast, of the revel, of the impure orgy, of the satisfied sense. All these she sets before thee, and thy spirit, faint often and weary in this struggle, whispers to thee, Lo! I die in this abstinence; and what good shall this birthright do me? Oh, then beware — for then is the tempter nearest, closest, most dangerous. Then, under the form of what he whispers to thee is a common practice, a slight evil, the yielding to an irresistible temptation; then is he tempting thee, too, after this example of the old profaneness of Esau, to despise thy birthright. Nor can you tell that in any one of these allowed instances of sensual indulgence you may not actually sell your birthright. It is the very secret of the power of the temptation, that in each separate instance it looks so inconsiderable in its future consequence, compared with the pressing urgency of the present desire. It is the gusty impulsiveness of your nature which exposes you so certainly to the danger. You become profane without knowing it; you meant but to gratify appetite, and lo! for appetite you have bartered your soul. Here, then, is God's warning to you. He sets, from the beginning, the end before you. He shows you what such conduct really is, and whither it must lead you. He lets you hear the loud and bitter cry.
(Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Isaac trembled very exceedingly, and said, Who? where is he that hath taken venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed.