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Esau, and condemn the manœuvres of Rebekah and her favoured Jacob.
But this is not all. The picture has another side. Esau was frank, liberal, free of heart, and had in him the elements of a noble character. But one thing was wanting. Esau had no thought; no reflection. Esau was thoughtless, and therefore he was, as Saint Paul calls him, “a profane person." Esau was profane. Esau did not care for good things. Esau had no religion, I might say, had no capacity for religion,—for he could not think. A great modern educator was in the habit of saying that the chief virtue of a boy was thoughtfulness,—"moral thoughtfulness ;" that is, a habit of referring things to principles, and of reflecting on the right or wrong of actions. Esau was entirely destitute of this. What could Esau care for the remote honour of giving life to the promised Redeemer ? Esau never looked a day forward in his life; and how, then, could he look forward some eighteen hundred
Esau lived for the present, looked to the pleasure of the moment, cared for nothing but the things of sense. Esau was profane because he was thoughtless, and sensual because he was profane. While, therefore, there was much in his character which was amiable and taking, there was nothing in his heart to give root to this; no strength of principle, no love of good. It seems a hard thing to say, but Esau, after all, was only a captivating fool. The good which he had was mere nature, and nature first degenerates, and then corrupts, and then dissolves, unless salted, and preserved, and improved by the savour of Divine grace.
Jacob was very different. Of his faults I need
not say much, for they are evident enough. There are, however, just two remarks which it is only fair to make, by way of apology. The first is, that we must not be too severe upon a sin because it happens to be peculiarly repugnant to the virtues of the English character. The second, that a portion of the blame may fairly be laid upon Jacob's mother. Though not at this time a young man, for he had reached a middle age, he had been always subject to his mother's influence, and artifice was an essential element in the character of that stock from which Rebekah sprang. Still, after all allowance is made, the sad facts are these :-Jacob supplanted his brother, deceived his father, and played the hypocrite with God. And yet, for all this, Jacob had within him the making of a saint. In that shrinking, shy, sensitive, timid, almost womanly, yet patiently determined nature of his, there were seeds of great good. The soil was choked as yet with weeds, but the soil was rich and fertile. All that was there wanted was the hoe. · Jacob had a right aim from the first, though he sinned in thinking that evil may be done that good may come.
Jacob had faith. Jacob was always thoughtful. Jacob saw the greatness of the good which Esau scorned. Jacob felt that it was a grand thing to be a son of Father Abraham and the forefather of the expected Christ. And, therefore, though this good was far distant, so far that it could scarcely be discovered by the strongest eye in the long vista of futurity, still he reached forward to lay his hand upon it; seeing it by faith, hoping that he might have a part in it, and that this blessing might be his. Of course, he was quite wrong in the means which he employed to attain it. It was ungenerous, to say the best, to take advantage of Esau's hunger that he might thus extort from him the birthright which Esau did not value, but which Jacob thought great. It was a grievous sin to personate his brother, and to support the assumed character by artifice and falsehood. But faults like these could be corrected. The sin which was in Jacob could be extracted by sharp yet kindly discipline, when there was no hope for Esau, because in one who was destitute of all reflection there was no better element on which chastisement could work. Grace could take root in Jacob's character, because there was a deep soil there; but the soil of Esau, with much that was amiable in outward aspect, had no depth in which the grace of God could grow.
All this the event proved. Esau was left alone because his case was hopeless; but it was not long before the rod came down upon the back of the offending Jacob. He gained his father's blessing, but at what cost? He was parted from his mother, who never more beheld her son. He had to fly as an exile from his home and country. For many a long year he had to suffer injury from the deceitful Laban, his mother's brother. “ Your father hath deceived me and cheated me these ten times,” is his own history of twenty years' service. Deceit had been his sin, and by deceit he was himself punished. But chastisement, of this and many other kinds, effected at last the end for which God sent it. At the close of a long life he is still the politic and wise Jacob, but he is then the “ Israelite indeed in whom is no guile.” The hoe had done its work upon him, and had rooted out the weeds till nothing but the golden grain remained, and he was fitted to be named with Isaac and with Abraham, as the triple founders of that famous family in which the world was blessed. Such are
some of the reflections which most naturally suggest themselves, on considering the incident in Jacob's history which we have read to-day. And now I would point you to some of the more obvious lessons which we may gather from it, when we look from Jacob and Esau to our own selves.
I. The first of these would seem to be that the love and fear of God is the only sterling element in the character, and that gifts of nature are of no value unless strengthened, established, and refined by grace. There can be but little doubt, looking only to their respective natures, as they came out of the hands of God and their parents, that Esau was a more attractive youth than Jacob. “ The boys,” as we are told, “grew, and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field, and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents." We can well imagine what they were as young men in the eyes of those who observed their characters. Esau was a bold youth, fond of sport, with an open and free heart, full of spirit, affable, liberal, and popular among his young companions, with much about him which would win upon the heart. Isaac, his saintly father, and among the most perfect of all saints,-the gentle, peaceful, thoughtful, meditative, patient Isaac,-looking upon his twin boys, on whom his heart and hopes rested, loved Esau more than Jacob, and could still love him when the boy became a man. If only thought, reflection, faith, seriousness had been added to so fair and promising a nature, what a noble man might Esau have become! Jacob was nothing but “a plain man dwelling in tents.” He was a perfect contrast to the adventurous
and roving Esau.
Two persons could scarcely have been less like each other than these brothers. It was Jacob's pleasure to go about his work and do the business which lay before him. The chase had no joys for him. A life of excitement gave to him no pleasure. It was happiness to him to feed his flocks. And along with this, there was that shrewdness, that aptness for acquiring property, that insight into human nature, that tact and management, combined with that tenacity of purpose, perseverance, and patience under trial, which lives to this day in his descendants, and has made them, under God's providence, the most singular and the most enduring of all the nations that ever have existed on the earth. But in all this there was nothing taking. The qualities which make the man of business,-plodding devotion to small details of work, patience, perseverance, prudence, caution, reserve, restraint of feeling, shrewdness, a keen eye to profit, and the like, may be harmless, but they do not captivate ; and, if they pass into actual faults, -as in Jacob they did on the occasion now especially before us,if shrewdness becomes knavery, and tact becomes deceit, and a manæuvre slips into a lie, we are even severe upon it; more severe, I
than on faults as great, or even greater, which spring from prodigality and foolish recklessness of heart. And yet it is written in the Prophet Malachi, “I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.” God hated Esau and loved Jacob. God did not love Esau because all his apparent virtues were nothing but gilded faults. There was a fair show, but the good was all upon the surface, and the metal within was base. But God did love Jacob, because, behind the tamer