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This is the very spirit of Cain, who talked to his brother, and then slew him: this coming to the ears of his mother, she tells the good old patriarch her husband, who, loving peace and quietness, takes the good advice of the weaker vessel, and orders Jacob to go to his mother's brother, Laban, and stay a little while out of Esau's sight, (perhaps out of sight out of mind) and by and by probably, said he, thou mayest come to thy father and mother again in peace and safety. Jacob, though sure of the blessing in the end, by his father's confirmation of it, yet prudently makes use of proper means; therefore he obeyed his parents : and wo, wo, be to those who think a parent's blessing not worth their asking for! Having had his mother's blessing as well as his father's, without saying, I will try it out with my brother, I will let him know that I am not afraid of him, he views it as the call of God, and like an honest, simple pilgrim, went out from Beersheba towards Haran. Was it not a little unkind in his parents not to furnish him with some necessaries and conveniences? When the servant was sent to fetch a wise for Isaac, he had a great deal of attendance, why should not Jacob have it now; his father might have sent him away with great parade: but I am apt to believe this did not suit Jacob's real, pilgrim spirit; he was a plain man, and dwelt in tents, when, perhaps, he might have dwelt under cedar roofs; he chose a pilgrim's life, and prudence directed him to go thus in a private manner, to prevent increasing Esau's envy, and giving the fatal blow.
Methinks, I see the young pilgrim weeping when he took his leave of his father and mother; he went on foot, and they that are acquainted with the geography of the place, say that the first day of his journey he walked not less than forty English miles ; what exercise must he have had all that way; no wonder, therefore, that by the time the sun was going down, poor Jacob felt himself very weary, for we are told, ver. 11. that “he lighted on a certain place, and tarried there all night because the sun was set." There is a particular emphasis to be put on this term, a certain place ; he saw the sun going down, he was a stranger in a strange land. You that are born in England can have very little idea of it, but persons that travel in the American woods can form a more proper idea, for you may there travel a hundred and a thousand miles, and go through one continued tract of tall green trees, like the tall
cedars of Lebanon ; and the gentlemen of America, from one end to the other, are of such hospitable temper, as I have not only been told, but have found among them upwards of thirty years, that they would not let public houses be licensed, that they might have an opportunity of entertaining Eng:
lish friends; may God, of his infinite mercy, grant this union may never be dissolved.
Well, Jacob arrived at a certain place, and perhaps he saw a good tree that would serve him for a canopy; however, this we are told, he tarried there all night because the sun was set, and he took of the stones of that place and put them for his pillow, and laid down in that place to sleep; hard lodgings for him who was used to lie otherwise at home. I do not hear him say, I wish I was back to my mother again, I wish I had not set out; but upon the hard ground and hard pillow he lies down. I believe never poor man slept sweeter in his life, for it is certainly sweet sleep when God is near us; he did not know but his brother might follow and kill him while he was asleep, or that the wild beasts might devour him. In America, when they sleep in the woods, and I expect to have some such sleeping-times in them before a twelve-month is over, we are obliged to make a fire to keep the wild beasts from us. I have often said then, and I hope I shall never forget it, when I rise in the morning, this fire in the woods that keeps the wild beasts from hurting us, is like the fire of God's love that keeps the devil from hurting us : thus weary and solitary he falls asleep, and sweetly dreams, and behold. I do not remember many passages of scripture where the word behold is repeated so many times in so short a space, as in the passage before us, doubtless the Lord would have us particularly take notice of it, even us upon whom the ends of the world have come ? Behold a ladder set upon the earth, and the top reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, and behold the Lord stood above it; so here are three beholds in a very few lines. Was there any thing very extraordinary in that? Perhaps the deists would say, your patriarch was tired, and dreamed among other things, of a ladder; yes, he did, but this dream was of God, and how kind was he to meet him at the end of the first day's journey, to strengthen and animate him to go forward in this lonesome pilgrimage!
This ladder is reckoned by some to denote the providence of God: it was let down as it were from heaven, particularly at this time to poor Jacob, that he might know that however he was become a pilgrim, and left his all, all for God's glory, that God would take care for his comfort, and give his angel charge over him to keep him in all his ways, which was denoted by the angels ascending and descending upon the ladder. Some think that particular saints and countries, have particular guardian angels, and therefore that the angels that ascended were those that had the particular charge of that
place, so far as Jacob had come; that the angels that descended were another set of angels, sent down from heaven to guard him in his future journey; perhaps this is more a fancy than the word of God. However, I very much like the observation of good Mr. Burkitt. “Why should we dispute whether every individual believer has a particular angel, when there is not one believer but has guards of angels to attend him," which are a great deal better than a great many servants, that prove our plagues, and instead of waiting upon us, make us wait upon them.
But, my dear hearers, I do not know one spiritual commentator but agrees that this ladder was a type of the Lord Jesus Christ; and that as Jacob was now banished from his father's house, and while sleeping upon a hard, cold stone, God was pleased not only to give him a blessed sight of Jesus Christ, in whom Jacob believed.
A ladder you know is something by which we climb from one place to another; hence, in condescension of our weak capacities, God ordered a ladder to be let down, to show us that Christ is the way to heaven: “I am the way, the truth, and the life;" "I am the door," says he; “neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name given under heaven whereby we must be saved." The deists, who own a God but deny his Son, dare go to a God out of Christ; but Jacob is here taught better; how soon does God reveal the gospel unto him; here is a ladder, by which God preaches to us;
you have a mind to climb from earth to heaven, you must get up by the Son of God; no one ever pointed out a proper way to heaven for us but himself. When Adam and Eve fell from God, a flaming sword turned every way to keep them from the tree of life; but Jesus alone is a new and living · way, not only to the Holy of Holies below, but into the immediate presence of God; and that we might know that he was a proper Savior, the top of it reached to heaven. If it had stopped short Jacob might have said, ah ! the ladder is within a little way of heaven, but does not quite reach it; if I climb up to the top I shall not get there after all. But the top reached to heaven, to point out the divinity and exaltation of the Son of God. Such a Savior became us who was God, God over all, blessed for ever more; and therefore the Arian scheme is most uncomfortable and destructive. To talk of Christ as a Savior that is not God, is no Christ at all. I would turn deist to-morrow if I did not know that Christ was God; “but cursed is the man that builds his faith upon an arm of flesh.” If Christ is God, the Arians and Socinians, by their own principles, are undone for ever; but Jesus Christ is very God, and very man, begotten
(and not made) of the Father ; God, of his infinite mercy, write his divinity deep in our hearts !
The bottom of the ladder reached to the earth; this points out to us the humiliation of the blessed Lord : for us men, he came down from heaven; we pray to and for a descending God. All the sufferings which our Lord voluntarily exposed himself to, were that he might become a ladder for you and I to climb up to heaven by. Come down from the cross say they, and we will believe thee; if he had, what would have become of us? Did they believe on him when he was dead, buried, and risen again ? No. Some people say, if Christ was here, we should love him; just as much as they did when he came down before. If he had come down from the cross, they would have hung him up again. O that you and I might make his cross a step to glory!
As the top of the ladder pointed out his exaltation, the bottom of his humiliation, the two sides of the ladder being joined together, point out the union of the Deity and manhood in the person of Christ; and that as this ladder had steps to i, so blessed be God, Jesus Christ has found out a way whereby we may go, step after step, to glory. The first step is the righteousness of Christ, the active and passive obedience of the Redeemer; no setting one foot upon this ladder without coming out of ourselves, and relying wholly upon a better righteousness than our own. Again, all the other steps are the graces of the blessed Spirit; therefore, you need not be afraid of our destroyng inward holiness, by preaching the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness, that one is the foundation, the other the superstructure; to talk of my having the righteousness of Christ imputed to my soul, without my having the holiness of Christ imparted to it, and bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit as an evidence of it, is only deceiving ourselves. I would nerer preach upon imputed righteousness, without speaking of inward holiness, for if you do not take a great deal of care, you will unawares, under a pretense of exalting Christ, run into Antinomianism, depths that Calvin never went into; probably, you will imbitter others' spirits that do not agree with you, and at the same time hurt the fruits of the Spirit. May God give you clear heads, and at the same time warm hearts.
On the ladder Jacob saw the angels of God ascending and descending; what is that for? To show that they are ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them that shall be heirs of salvation; therefore we find them attending upon Christ. We do not hear much of them after the canon of scripture was closed, but as soon as Christ was born, the angels sang: till then we never hear of their singing below, as far as I can
judge, since the creation ; then the sons of God shouted for joy; but when Eve reached out her hand to pluck the fatal apple, and gave to Adam, earth groaned, and the angels hung, as it were, their harps upon the willows; but when Christ the second Adam, was born, the angels sang at midnight, "Glory to God in the highest." I pray to God we may all die singing that anthem, and sing to all eternity. After his temptations, they came and ministered to him. After his resurrection two appeared again, one at the head, another at the foot of his sepulcher, to let those that looked into the sepulcher know, that they would not only wait upon the head but the foot: and the angels are glad to wait upon the meanest of the children of God. When our Lord departed, a cloud received him out of their sight, which probably was a cloud of angels. Having led his disciples out of the city, he blessed them, and then away he went to heaven. May that blessing rest upon you and your children! This intimates that God makes use of angels to attend his people, especially when they are departing into eternity : perhaps, part of our entertainment in heaven will be, to hear the angels declare how many millions of times they have assisted and helped us. Our Lord says, angels do there behold the face of the Father of his little ones; and therefore I love to talk to the lambs of the flock, and why should I not talk to them whom angels think it their honor to guard ; and if it was not for this, how would any children escape the dangers they are exposed to in their tender age? It is owing to the particular providence of God, that any one child is brought to manhood; therefore I cannot help admiring that part of the Litany, in which we pray, that God would take care not only of the grown people, but of children also. God take care of yours both in body and soul.
But what gave the greatest comfort to Jacob was, that the Lord was on the top of the ladder, which I do not know whether it would have been so, if Jacob had not seen God there. It comforts me, I assure you, to think, that whenever God shall call for me, I shall be carried by angels into Abraham's bosom; and I have often thought that whenever the time comes, that blessed, long longed for moment comes, as soon as ever they have called upon me, my first question will be to them, where is my dear master? Where is Jesus? Where is the dear Emmanuel, who has loved me with an everlasting love, and has called me by his grace, and has sent you to fetch me home to see his face? But I believe you, and I shall have no occasion to ask where he is, for he will come to meet us he will stand at the top of his ladder to take his pilgrims in ; so God was at the top of the ladder; pray, mind that. He appears not sitting,