Genesis 32:24-31; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
There appear to me to be in the history of Jacob remarkable instances of the two distinct times that the blessed God consciously conducts a soul into the solitude of His presence. The first is in chapter 18, when, as a poor wanderer from his father's house, without so much as anything in his possession, he gets the greatest communications from God; indeed, the only communications that God made to him are in this chapter. God draws near to him. It struck me this morning what a remarkable illustration chapter 28 is of the first solitude of which we have been hearing; whilst in chapter 32 he is in the second solitude — the one of which so few know anything. In the last the blessed God comes to make good in him what He had communicated to him in the first.
There is surely not one but must feel, that there is in us all too much a cultivation of that principle which thwarts the dearest purpose of God. And, what is more grievous still, when God comes in to help us, we resist Him just as Jacob did. It is a wonderful thing that He does come in to help us. I believe that is the meaning of the apostle's words: "We which live always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." In this outward way He gives us help. If there be in any of our hearts ever so little desire — if it be but genuine desire — which has been begotten in us by Himself, He says, I will help you to carry that out. It is a wonderful thing that we can say, Now God is helping me to carry out what I know to be His mind. If you can get that into your thoughts as to things around you — your circumstances — if you can look past them and get the sense of this in your heart: God is helping you practically to get rid of all the things that hinder the bringing out the life of Jesus in you, would it not make much that now seems difficult far plainer to you? As has been just said, we have the communications, but how far have they gone down deep into our souls?
Well, it is a blessed thing to know that God has His eye on us for this. There is a moment when God comes near to the soul. It was night; and Jacob had arranged everything for the morrow with all the skill and ingenuity that characterised him. It was the terrible efficiency of stratagem and plan of which he was the master that characterised Peniel on Jacob's part. God allows him to run to the farthest extreme of what he could do in that way; and then what was most solemn, One whom, with all his planning, he had never reckoned on — One who, so to speak, was out of his thoughts — met him and wrestled with him. As has been often said, this One was the blessed God drawing near to him in his solitude and loneliness, there to bring to an end that principle in him which was hindering the blessing of His servant.
Now let each of us look at our own history and see where the deficiency lies. It is our state — our condition individually — we have to look at, because it is our condition individually which makes up our corporate condition. Here, then, the blessed God, the only One who could take interest in and care for such an one as Jacob, draws near that He may wither up in His poor servant all that was hindering His own purpose respecting him. What sight more interesting than this? "There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day." It was not Jacob wrestling, but God wrestling with Jacob, and at the same time, with the most exceeding tenderness, sustaining him while He withers up what opposed Him. The proof that this wrestling was effective in accomplishing its object; the proof that Jacob's soul bowed to the sense that the One who touched the hollow of his thigh was his Friend; the proof that Jacob's heart entered into the consciousness that the One who was crippling him was the only One who could bless him, is shown out in this, that he would not let him go. What a sight! this broken man clinging to the One who was withering everything up in him — when the trial was at its height still clinging to Him as the only One who could help him.
If in trial I get my mind filled with the instrument that God is using to thus wither me, I lose the sense, not only of the One who is doing it, but also of the thing that He is doing, and the knowledge that He is really my Friend, because He is putting down the thing in me that hindered, and bringing me into blessing according to His own heart. But at the same time that there is this severity on that which opposes, there is tenderness unspeakable in the way that He sustains. The Lord give our hearts — for I doubt not there are many here to-day whom He is dealing with in this way, we being all more or less Jacobs — the Lord, I say, give our hearts the sense of this, for it would be a wonderful encouragement to us. He helps us; but when He comes in to help, He must reduce to the silence of death the thing that lifts up itself against Him.
He can do it in many ways; He can do it by those connected with us; He can do it by sorrow; He can do it by bereavement; He can do it by sickness; but He will do it. And in this second solitude Jacob is blessed as the Israel of God — as a crippled man. It is the hollow of his thigh that is touched, and that shrinks. Oh, the hollow of that thigh! It is the energy of the man, it is the strength of the man that hinders; and when that is gone, He gives him the blessing as the Israel of God.
And is not what follows an interesting thing? He adds, "Thou hast power with God and with men." You can have no power — divine power — but as you get it from God; natural power — what is the good of that? It is a feeble, worthless thing. But you have no divine power with man unless you have power with God. And this is just the point with us. Look at the difficulties that trouble us on every hand. Why cannot we meet them? It is because we have no power with God. And how do I get power with God? It is when I am a poor crippled thing lying at His feet. When I am there He can bless me, and not leave upon me even so much as the very name by which I was known as skilled in the energy of the man.
Another very interesting point we may notice. When the sun rises Jacob still halts upon this thigh; that is, when the night is past, when the darkness is over, when the wrestling is ended, it is most important, he not only halted whilst the wrestling was going on, but when all was over, and the day was at its height, Jacob was conscious that he was a crippled man.
This halting of his is the only instance of his faith that is spoken of in Hebrews. The feebleness of the man it is that is recorded. "He worshipped leaning upon the top of his staff." I know that Jacob passed through further exercises after this, to which Hebrews alludes; yet this was the beginning of all that which eventually reduces him to the state of a cripple before God. He had to cling to God. It is wonderful to see such a man thus clinging to, thus detained by, the One who overcame him. A worshipper is one who is outside everything of himself, and who is engrossed by the One who has cleared the scene to fill it Himself.
I do not refer to Corinthians in the way of connection, but rather in the way of contrast. Another thing that has been spoken of we find here, God not only comes in to help us to reduce to the silence of death that in us which hinders His working after His own heart, but He keeps it up. And this is the difficulty to many of us. I confess honestly that it is not long since I saw it myself; and that is the reason why I speak of it, hoping that it may help others. People say, I understand God coming in, reducing me to nothing, crippling me; but I do not understand His keeping me in this condition. Now Paul is an instance to us of God's thus dealing with us. God dealt with Jacob so that He might lead him, poor planner that he was, into the blessing of His own heart for him. But with Paul the thorn was sent to keep up dependence, and bring out the power of Christ. Every saint, of course, is "a man in Christ;" but every man in Christ is not caught up into the third heaven. It is that man who gets the thorn; and he gets it to be a help from God — practically to keep the flesh in death.
It is not merely that God comes in to reduce to the silence of death that active thing in me that hinders His working, but He lets the storm continue to keep up dependence on Himself in my heart. Paul wanted to have it taken away. He besought the Lord Jesus thrice to remove it, but the Lord Jesus answered him, Do you wish me to place you in circumstances where you will not need me? I will place you where I myself will keep you. Paul says, I accept it; "most gladly will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." That is not, I am resigned, but, I am satisfied.
It is wonderful thus to see how God not only takes away the hindrance, but keeps up dependence, and how our weakness is the very sphere in which He is able to work. "When I am weak, then am I strong." I do not know how to speak of it. It is the most wonderful thing you can conceive, the power of that Christ come down and tabernacling in a poor feeble thing that has been crippled by the hand of God. Death has been brought in all its efficacy, and now the power of Christ comes down and tabernacles in me. And I accept it. It is not only that I say there is no need for the storm, for the difficulty. No, I accept the difficulty, I accept the thorn, because it gives Him an opportunity to come down and show out His strength in my weakness.
Alas, the generality of us are like Jacob. There is the cultivation of that which hinders; and can you wonder, if you cultivate and keep up and minister to the thing that is in you, that it produces and brings forth the fruit that it does?
And it is no use letting things go, saying nothing about it. If you do not disallow it, you minister to it. He superseded it 1800 years ago. My old man was put out of God's sight in the cross of Christ, and God must subject to death practically in me that which He has judicially got rid of before Him. He says, I must keep the storm up in order that what is in you may be kept down for my glory and your blessing. We think naturally that everything is against us, but He for us; God is for us.
The Lord give us distinctly to see it, for His name's sake. Amen.