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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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    We are a community of confessing believers who love the gospel of Jesus Christ, affirm the Biblical and Christ-exalting truths of the Reformation such as the five solas, the doctrines of grace, monergistic regeneration, and the redemptive historical approach to interpreting the Scriptures.

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  • « The Antithesis of Modernity and Postmodernity | Main | Theology Matters - A Vital Teaching Series for the Church »

    Images of the Savior (15 -- Jacob at Peniel)

    And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved”.– Genesis 32:30

    Everywhere in the Law and the Prophets we see Christ and his gospel-work symbolized, prophesied, and foreshadowed in many marvelous ways: but only a very few times, and at the most critical junctures of redemptive history, do we see our Savior, before his advent in Bethlehem, appear in visible form to his saints. Jacob’s encounter at Peniel, just prior to his return to the land of promise, is one of these occurrences; and in this history, we may learn much of our blessed Redeemer, and of the true religion which alone prevails with him. To this end, we now turn our attention to the account at hand.

    It is of utmost importance, as we approach this history, that we remember two things about this man Jacob, that have been prominently displayed in his life from infancy: first, he was, by God’s inscrutable decree of election, the sole heir of Isaac, and the one through whom God was pleased to bring about eternal salvation. As we also learn in Romans: “For not having yet been born, neither having done anything, good or evil, in order that the purpose of God according to election might remain, not of works but of the one who calls, it was said unto her, 'The elder shall serve the younger'; even as it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated'” (Romans 9:11-13). The second truth is that, from the time he tried to supplant his brother, grabbing him by the heel as he came out of the womb, he had relied on his own crafty methods to attempt to bring about God’s promised favor and blessings. The end to which these self-reliant manipulations had finally brought him, and the end to which free grace would finally bring him, form the dual emphases of this passage. And the way in which Christ appears of his own accord on the scene, the way in which he prevails and is prevailed upon, and so accomplishes the triumph of free gospel-grace, is a lesson which should be as sweet and life-changing to us, who are the heirs of the same promises, as it was to Jacob so long ago.

    Intricately bound up with the spiritual promise of dwelling with God, and being counted his people, was the promise of possessing the Land of Canaan, symbolic of the lost paradise of Eden, a land which typified to those who believed in God’s promises, “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Jacob had been selected from the womb as the one who would be counted among the people of God, and from whose loins would spring God’s own nation. It was necessary, therefore, in keeping with the types and shadows of Old Testament redemptive history, that he and his seed after him possess the promised land. Recognizing the importance of this promised blessing, and unlike profane Esau (cf. Hebrews 12:16), having spiritual discernment to delight in the unseen promises, Jacob was well-pleased to do anything within his power to lay hold of the birthright and blessing of Isaac. But oh, let us be warned by his example, who would at all be tempted to succor with works, however well-intentioned, the faith which alone lays hold of God’s favor! For the very works by which Jacob sought to gain the promised land, as cunning and mighty as they were, proved to be that which drove him out. How instructive is this outcome, for all of us who are his children by faith! If we have begun our journey, if we have received the promises, by grace alone, let us be certain that we do not continue by works, lest it be said of us, as it was said of the Galatian Judaizers, “You have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4; see also Galatians 3:1-6).

    So Jacob, who received the promise by grace, was driven out from the land by works; and, as he sought to re-enter the land of promise, the works in which he had relied so many years all sprang up together to confound him at the last: for Laban, by whom he had grown rich through his craftiness, had pursued him so as to destroy him; and Esau, at whose expense he had gained the blessing so long ago, was at the same time coming, presumably to wreak vengeance upon him, before he had ever regained the land of promise. God was about to perform great miracles in behalf of his chosen servant; but first, it was necessary to show him just what would be the result of his own efforts to gain the spiritual blessings of God. How critical a moment this is in redemptive history! The one whom God had named as the father of his own people, the father of all of us who by faith are the children of Abraham (Romans 4:11), was about to enter the promised land of God’s favor. But our father Jacob was hindered from entering the land of God’s presence by his own attempts to bring himself there – and not just hindered, but brought to the point of certain destruction, being encompassed by enemies before and behind! If our father Jacob could not enter God’s presence by his own works, let us be sure that neither will we, however many and mighty they be!

    It was at this point, when Jacob’s works had proven insufficient, that Christ appeared to scatter Jacob’s enemies and bring him into the promised land. We can see God gloriously reminding Jacob that it was his arm alone which should bring salvation by his opening Jacob’s eyes to the host of angels which were camping with him (Genesis 32:1-2); and by his instructing Laban in a dream not to harm Jacob, his chosen servant (Genesis 31:24,29). But this same lesson he would demonstrate far more gloriously in the arrival of the man with whom Jacob wrestled (Genesis 32:24), a man whom Jacob later recognized as very God (Genesis 32:30) – which is no one but Christ, the God-Man, and Jacob’s deliverer.

    Even at this time, Jacob had not learned to forsake all confidence in his own works; as may be demonstrated from the crafty way in which he divided his camp, and sent a series of gift-bearing delegates, in an attempt to placate his brother. But at least his confidence in himself had been greatly shaken, and so, just as he is about to enter the promised land, he cries out to God in a broken and humble plea for mercy, in which he rests his only hope upon the free promises of God (Genesis 32:9-12).

    Let us be confident that, when we seek the grace of God, it is only to be found in Christ! God had promised mercy to Jacob; he had promised to bring him into the land of blessing; but his own works had disqualified him. And yet, when the bitter end seemed certain, Christ stooped down from on high, overcame the sinner, and was prevailed upon by him in his brokenness to bring him into Canaan indeed!

    What a lesson Jacob must have learned! At first, he struggled mightily, with works which were both many and vigorous, but all to no avail. The whole night he passed in such a frame of mind as he had passed so much of his life, and he was profited nothing by it. But God, who had promised mercy to Jacob, was determined so to be merciful. As long as Jacob had any hope in himself, he would not turn to God alone for salvation; and so God crippled him. He touched him upon his hip, rendering him helpless and hopeless, broken before a mightier than he. He prevailed against him. But he prevailed so that he might be prevailed upon. As long as Jacob hoped to prevail, he was unable; but as soon as he was rendered broken and helpless he prevailed indeed – but prevailed by freest grace and mercy. And so will it ever be with those of us who hope to find favor with God. Would we be counted among the Israel of God? Would we be named, as was Jacob, a prince of God, one who struggles and prevails? If so, let us learn to be broken, broken by the merciful power of God, who would have us learn our own native hopelessness – for in being broken, we will prevail at the last. The battle is not to the strong, but to him whose heart is humble before his God. This Jacob learned, when he sought to enter the promised land. And this same lesson has been learned by everyone who has ever entered into God’s presence. Free grace breaks us down so that free grace might save us indeed! And thus, when our father first gained entrance into the promised land – when he by whom all God’s children are named, Israel, the Prince of God, found favor with God – it was only after he had come to despair of himself, and look to Christ alone for mercy indeed.

    How blessed and instructive is this pre-incarnate appearance of Christ! How edifying to all of his saints everywhere! For here, in a glimpse, we see clearly displayed those mighty attributes which he would later show forth more fully, as he walked among men. We see Christ, infinitely glorious, condescending to take upon human form, and walk among men. We see him powerfully prevailing against all who would oppose him; and we see him prevailed upon, so as to bring blessings to his people. Ah, Christian, is that not what he did upon the cross, so many years later? He allowed himself to be overcome, so that he might bring grace to his people and destruction to their enemies. This he accomplished on Calvary, where he was crushed and bruised; but bruised for our mercy and salvation! How mightily he foreshadowed this free and sovereign grace when he met with our forefather Jacob, as he was about to enter into the land of God’s presence. Let us remember how paltry our own feeble efforts are, and look to Christ, who condescends to be entreated of the humble, by free grace alone. Let us seek the very presence and favor of God through an encounter with him. For there is no other mediator between God and men (I Timothy 2:5). Jacob found none other, and neither shall we.

    Posted by Nathan on July 18, 2008 10:56 AM

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