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Yesterday we explained how it seemed proper to call him who appeared to holy Jacob in Bethel both God and an angel; for the name, Jehovah by which is expressed the eternal power, essence, and majesty of God, could not be transferred to a mere angel. It is hence certain that he was the only true God. But it could not be, that he was simply and without any distinction called an angel; but as Christ even then sustained the character of a Mediator, he was not inconsistently called an angel; and yet we know that he is the eternal God. So this passage is worthy of being remembered, as it bears testimony to the divinity of Christ; for the Prophet clearly affirms that he is Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth, and that he is so by his own power; and that he does not subsist in another, as all creatures do. Since then he is so, his sovereignty is proved, so that he is not inferior to the Father.
But he says, that this is his memorial, or remembrance. This expression has reference to men; the Prophet then means, that this wonderful and magnificent name would be well known in the world, when Christ should be revealed. The people, indeed, even then acknowledged that the true God appeared to their father Jacob; but the knowledge of a Mediator was hitherto obscure. The Prophet then seems to have respect here to the coming of Christ; as though he said, that the name, Jehovah, would be widely known to all, when the Mediator would be more clearly exhibited. But I will come now to the other parts of the passage.
The Prophet says that he was a prince, or had power, by his strength with God. What this saying imports, I shall shortly explain. The name, Israel, was given to Jacob, because of the victory he obtained in that noble wrestling, of which mention is made in Genesis 32: 8686 Genesis 32:24-30. — fj. for the holy man had not a contest with a mortal being, but with God himself; and he overcame in that combat, and is hence called the conqueror of God. As this mode of speaking is harsh, some have endeavoured by a comment to turn it to something more moderate, that is, that Jacob was a prince with God, meaning, that God approved of his unwonted courage. But God meant to express something more, when he gave this name to his servant; for he confessed that he gave way, being, as it were, overcome, and yielded the palm of victory to holy Jacob. And this ought not to appear strange to us; for we know that whenever God proves our faith, and tries us by temptations, these are so many combats by which he contends with us; for he seeks to find out what is the strength of our faith. Now? when we are said to wrestle with God, and the issue of the contest be such, that God leaves the victory to us, we are not then improperly called conquerors, yea, even of God himself. But how? Because God works wonderfully in his saints, so that by his own power he casts down himself; and while he wrestles with us, he supplies us with strength, by which we are enabled to bear the weight and pressure of the contest. Were God to assail us, what would he find but weakness? But when he calls us to the struggle, he at the same time supplies us with the necessary arms.
And it is a wonderful marshalling of the contest, when God on one side makes himself an antagonist, and, on the other, fights in us against his own temptations, or against all those wrestlings by which he tries our faith. Hence God is said to be overcome by us, when, by the power and aid of his own Spirit, he strengthens and renders us unconquerable; yea, when he makes us to triumph over temptations, and when we consider everything, such is the state of the case, that God will have the greater portion of strength to be on our side, and that he only takes the weaker portion to tempt and try us. There is not indeed, in this case, to be imagined by us, any such separation, as if God was divided against himself; but we know, that when he tries our faith, he comes forth as if he were a contender, or as if he challenged us to the contest. This is indeed certain. For what are temptations, or what is their object, but to afford us an occasion to exhibit, as on a field of battle, an example and proof of our strength and firmness? But this could not be done without an adversary; for what advantage would it be to fight with a shadow? or when no one engages with us? Hence God is like an adversary whenever he tries our faith; and, as it has been said before, we have this contest not with men, but with God himself. We have indeed to contend with the devil; for Paul says, that we have to fight not (only) with flesh and blood, but with mighty powers, (Ephesians 6:12.) This is doubtless true; but the Lord, at the same time, holds the first place, as that remarkable passage in Job testified, ‘The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away,’ (Job 1:21.) So, then, we must engage with God himself. How so? Because he tries and proves us. But he does not tempt us, as James says, (James 1:13,14;) for a person is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust. He does not tempt us to evil; he does not instil into us corrupt desires, which grow up spontaneously, and which are innate in our nature: but he tempts, that is, proves us, as he is said to have tempted Abraham, (Genesis 22:1.)
Since it is so, we must now wrestle with God; but for what end? That we may conquer: for God intends not to overwhelm us, while he is making known our faith and constancy of obedience; but, on the contrary, he builds a theatre, on which to show his gifts. We therefore come to the struggle with the hope of overcoming. That we may overcome, he, as I have said, not only exhorts us to be strong, but supplies us also with arms, endues us with strength, and also fights himself, in a manner, with us, and is powerful in us, and enables us to overcome our temptations. For this reason, Jacob is said to have power with God, or to have been God’s conqueror.
But what the Prophet adds may seem strange, that this was done by his strength. He had power with God, he says, by his own strength. But if Israel had fought by his own valour, he could not have borne even the shadow of God, for he must have fallen. He must have been brought to nothing, had he not power greater than that of man. What, then, does this mean, that he was a conqueror by his own strength? We grant, that this strength, of which the Prophet speaks, may be ascribed to holy Jacob when he gained dominion. There is no better title, as they commonly say, than that of donation; and God is wont to transfer to us whatever he bestows, as if it were our own. It is then necessary to distinguish wisely here between the strength which man has in himself, and that which God confers on him. The Papists, as soon as any mention is made of the strength or power of man, instantly lay hold on it, and say, “If there is no freewill in man, there is no strength, or there is no power to resist.” But they betray their own stupidity and thoughtlessness, inasmuch as they cannot distinguish between the intrinsic strength which is in man himself by nature, and the adventitious strength with which God endues men, and which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the Prophet, when he here commends the strength of holy Jacob, does not extol his free-will, as though he derived strength from himself, by which he overcame God; but he means that he was divinely endued with unconquerable power, so that he came forth a conqueror in the contest. We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet.
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