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Time had wrought great changes with Jacob, and changes in many different respects. Then he was a fugitive from his brother Esau, who for his unworthy and unpardonable duplicity, in twice robbing him of his birth-right, was ready to pursue him to the death. Now in auswer to the prayer when he wrestled with God and prevailed, he and his deeply offended brother had been reconciled. That affection which once lost, is harder to be won than a strong city, he had again recovered, to enjoy its protection and delight in its most cordial manifestation. Then he had taken of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and there on the cold hard ground, unprotected alike from the passing robber and the wandering beast of prey, he had found himself in circumstances as truly desolate and forlorn, as it is possible for the mind to conceive. Now God hath "set the solitary in families." The wanderer has found a home. Then with all the anxieties of a young and inexperienced man, entering on the world for himself, he "had vowed a vow saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God." Now, God has been to him all, and more than all that he desired. The man "has increased exceedingly, and has much cattle, and maidservants, and men-servants, and camels and asses." Then as a memorial of his vow, he had set up a stone for a pillar, and said, "This stone which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house, and of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee." Now he comes once more to Bethel-only because God has reminded him of his vow.
In no respect was he to blame for leaving Padan-Aram. It was right that he should wish to leave a father-in-law who had so cruelly deceived him in the object of his affections, who had ten times changed his wages, and who with all the tenderness he professed for his daughter, we have reason to fear had too much avarice in his heart, to allow room for parental love. It was right that he should leave the neighborhood of Laban's sons, whose envy and jealousy steadily increased just in proportion to their brotherin-law's greater prosperity. It was also right that he should be influenced by the indignant appeal of Laban's daughters. "Are we not accounted of him strangers? Hath he not sold us and quite devoured our money ?" Above all, the reason assigned by Laban himself, "Thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longest after thy father's house"--who can fail to appreciate the excellence of this reason? But first and most of all, and better than all other motives would have been, a return to Bethel-to fulfil his vow.
Alas! for the infirmity of our disobedient and ungrateful nature! Haran for the time seems to be forgotten, and Bethel too, for the pleasant city of Shechem. There he pitches his tent,
and buys a piece of ground. It is said that he erected there an altar, and called it after the name of the God of Israel. But of little value is family worship, unaccompanied by family government. "Dinah the daughter of Leah which she bare unto Jacob," "has a disease in her eyes as well as her mother"_" and goes out to see the daughters of the land." Observing their manners, and customs, and fashions, and beginning in the seemingly harmless desire to see and be seen, her curiosity is at length indulged at the expense of her virtue, and her peace of mind for life.
One family affliction is added to another. "Ye have troubled me," said he to his sons (after they in their revenge for the dishonor done to their sister, had smitten the city with the sword) "among the inhabitants of the land, and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves against me, and I shall be destroyed, I and my house."
God, however, is better to him than his fears. "Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there; and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau, thy brother."
But how startling and unexpected are the terms in which the patriarch repeats the order thus given him by the Almighty God of his fathers! Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, "Put away the strange gods that are among you and be clean, and change your garments, and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make there an altar unto God who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went." "And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hands, and all the earrings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem."
With this introduction, which seemed necessary to our design, in giving a general description of the father of a family, we come now to the subject naturally suggested by our text, viz. FAMILY REFORM.
Other reforms, or at least pretended reforms, many of thein, we have recently had in great abundance. National reforms! state reforms! municipal reforms! educational reforms! moral reforms! How multiplied their organizations! How eloquent their orators! How elaborate their reports! How prolific their presses! How short lived their glories! and how disappointing their results!
To so great an extent has the reforming disposition prevailed among the community, determinedly and at once to amend that which is vicious, corrupt and depraved, that the favorite and most familiar name with many for the times in which we live, is "THE AGE OF REFORM." Even the Church itself, her holy nature, her original design, and her most significant history alike forgot
ten, has been regarded by them, simply as a great moral and political engine, for this especial purpose.
Very unfortunate however has been the disadvantage at which her power in this respect has been applied. One fundamental maxim with her is, that truth is an all essential pre-requisite to any improvement that is genuine or permanent. But the source on which they rely for truth is not that on which she relies, viz. Revelation. Her light is that of the Sun: brighter and brighter unto the perfect day. Theirs, the doubtful radiance of some miserable ignis fatuus, its blaze more brilliant and active just in that proportion in which the morass is the wider, the more corrupt, and the deeper. A second maxim with her is that the church and the state alike are only to be reached effectively through the FAMILY, which is the true basis of each. But here again there is no agreement whatever between the foliowers of Christ, and those who hold that marriage is merely a civil contract; that a parent is not responsible for the religious education of a child, and that the true philosophy of society is that which regards it simply as an aggregate of individuals.
The very name of family reform therefore may appear to such persons as if we were suggesting a new reform, whereas this method is as old as the days of Seth, as the calling of Abraham: as old as Noah and his ark that outrode the deluge: the great method in which God has seen fit to reform the race from the very beginning. Other modes of reform begin at the topmost bough, where they are at least the most conspicuous. Here they strip a few leaves; there they lop a few branches; occasionally they may peel the bark from a goodly sized bough: but seldom or ever do they even touch the trunk! Family Reform, however, goes at once to the lowest root. It lays its wise and divinely commissioned hand directly upon the germ of the evil that needs to be reformed. It does not devote all its time and attention to Simeon, and meanwhile forget Levi: or to Levi, and in the same manner overlook Dinah. It begins with the parental heart itself and developes from within, outward. It seeks out the strange gods it takes away the effeminate and idolatrous earrings: it buries them where they will never be found again. Its reform is not an apparent healing on the surface, but a permanent cure. Where the family is safe, the state is safe, and the church also.
But to the case in hand. Jacob, we have seen, like many another, commenced the struggle of life under circumstances of great destitution and embarrassment. It was a long way to look forward to the time when he would have achieved a competence or gained an independence. Would a merciful Providence so far favor him as to give him bread to eat, and raiment to put on? Would he enable him to come again to his father's house in such a manner as to need nothing from him but his affection? Would he prosper the work of his hands, and give him the desires of his
heart in all those respects in which it was lawful for him to cherish them-O! how good a man would he be. "Then shall the Lord be my God." How generous would he be in paying back to God the interest on the principal that had thus been loaned. "Of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee!" How many others are there, who, if they have not formally made such a vow, have passed at least through a very similar process of thought and feeling!
Behold Jacob next in Padan Aram. Instead of a nephew he becomes a servant, and that to an uncle who was the hardest of all masters. "Thus I was," said he, "in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from mine eyes." Was any thing torn of beasts? he bore the loss of it? Was it stolen by day or stolen by night? of his hand was it required. Ten times his wages were changed, but still he labored on. Oppression did not break his indomitable spirit.
Meanwhile he is most cruelly disappointed in his affections. He becomes the victim of craft and avarice, and his domestic peace is seriously interfered with for life. What with care abroad and trouble at home, neither his piety nor his happiness appear to keep equal step with his progress in wealth. As he was not the first man, so he was by no means the last, who, in the bitterness of his soul, has made the discovery that other things are necessary to constitute happiness besides wealth: that even gold itself may be bought too dear. In his anxiety after the temporal interests of his family, he is not so careful as he should be in reference to their moral and religious welfare. "While men
slept the enemy sowed tares," says the parable, and would that Jacob's was the only family to which we have occasion to apply it. In the country we have sometimes seen a man neglect his garden so much for the sake of his fields, that when at length he has endeavored to rid it of accumulated weeds, all his efforts have proved ineffectual, because too late. So does a man often times neglect his family for his business-but the tares are sowing thick and fast, and the crop becomes a doubtful one indeed.
Thus it was with Jacob. Now all his solicitude is about the speckled and spotted and brown cattle: again, all his thoughts are occupied about "the ring-streaked and grisled." The great question of his life during this period seemed to have been-How can I prevent this cunning Laban from overreaching me? When shall I provide for mine own house also? I fear that this was much too often the tenor of his conversation with his beloved Rachel! It was not about Bethel and the vow he had made there. These he had evidently forgotten. It was not about his grandfather Abraham; how God had called him out of idolatrous Ur-and what a wonderful covenant he had made with him, and confirmed to Isaac, that in him should all the nations of the earth be blessed. It was not about the high encomium once passed by
the Lord on him, who, on this account, was so well worthy to be called "the Father of the Faithful." "I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment!" No wonder therefore that Rachel still clung tenaciously to her household gods, and continued to use them for purposes of superstition and divination. No wonder that other "strange gods" from time to time found their way into his family among his children and domestics. No wonder that the use of earrings as amulets or charms formed into idolatrous symbols, had made the children of Jacob little better than Terah and other of their ancestors in the land of the Chaldees.
It is indeed painful and humiliating in the extreme to come to such conclusions in reference to the family of the Patriarch; a vow made under such awfully solemn circumstances and yet forgotten! strange gods where no other than the true God should have been tolerated-ignorance of the corrupt practices of his family, or if not a wilful conniving at them-after finding the images in Rachel's possession, still permitting them to remainIDOLS IN THE HOUSE OF JACOB, who would have believed it possible? What would Abraham have said? and good old Isaac? What must Jacob himself have thought when he once more came to his senses in this matter? Where was his apology or excuse? Bethel and his vow! His wealth and the idols in his house, how great and melancholy such a contrast! We think of Eli at a later day, "whose sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not!" We think of David, who "had never displeased Adonjiah at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so ?" It is not of the difficulty of such a reformation that we think the most: it is the fact that in the houses of such good men, there should exist an unequivocal necessity for this species of reformation.
Now, just in proportion as we are not as good as they, is there not reason to fear lest in the multiplicity of our cares and business, the "strange gods" may have crept into our houses also?
Taking the word of God as our guide, and searching our houses with it, as with a lighted candle, how few comparatively will be the "dwellings of Jacob" among us in which we shall not find some idols concealed about the stuff? Could we, for the time being, lay aside pride, and that besetting sin of the flesh, selfgratification-could we each deal with ourselves as plainly and faithfully as we feel disposed sometimes to deal with one anotherhow unhesitating and almost universal would be the admissionthat the time for the great work of family reform has now fully come!
We need a reform in the government of the family.
The time was, in the history of our country, when the father was both the king and the priest, in his household. When he commanded, the thing was done: when he threatened, the pun