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of God's own appointment of the line in which these promises should descend, we may also, I hope, discover much that may be useful for our own private and individual instruction.
I. Before I enter upon the particular incident recorded in the text it will be necessary, in the first place, to give some previous account of the birth of Esau and Jacob. Isaac and Rebekah had been married twenty years before they had any child, so long a time were they required to wait for any appearance of the fulfilment of the promise that their posterity should be numerous as the stars of heaven. At length in answer to the prayer of Isaac Rebekah conceived, and the future condition of the children and their descendants was made the subject of prophecy before they were born. We read, "the children struggled within her; and she said, if it be so, why am I thus ? And she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said, two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder shall serve the
younger.” The progress of the Scripture history shews us how accurately this prophecy was accomplished. The Israelites and Edomites, who were respectively the nations descended from Jacob and Esau, were continually struggling for superiority over each other, but the Israelites at length prevailed, and the Edomites were brought into absolute subjection to them; and the history of every nation that has been in any way the subject of prophetic notice, if that history were perfectly known, would be found to confirm the truth of divine revelation, even to the most minute particulars.
But it has often been observed that this circumstance forms a striking representation of the struggle which has always been in the world between religion and irreligion. Piety and holiness have ever had to strive against vice and iniquity; and the apparent circumstances of the contest have often been such as to fill the minds of the pious with astonishment and doubting enquiry. They have been ready to say, if religion be indeed true, and if God be the disposer of all things and judge in the earth, “ why is it thus ?” why does his cause make so little progress ? why do idolatries, superstitions, and wickedness seem, like a flood, to carry all before them ? why are the righteous so oppressed, the wicked so triumphant? The answer is, that it has pleased God to appoint such a state of things at present, apparently to exercise the faith and trust of those who believe his word, and direct their views and hopes more simply to a future world, wherein righteousness shall wholly prevail, and sin and evil be for ever destroyed.
It has also been often observed that this circumstance forms a resemblance of the conflict in the christian's mind between the flesh and the spirit, which is spoken of somewhat at large by St. Paul in the seventh chapter of Romans, and more briefly, but very emphatically in Galatians, v. 17. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh : and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” How true is that text, and how painful that struggle, every
believer knows by his own experience; and it often makes him to stand in amazement and doubt of himself. “If it be so," he says, “why am I thus ?" If I be a child of God, why am I thus harassed, perplexed, and tempted? Can I possibly partake of his Spirit, and yet find so much of sin still dwelling in me? If I be restored to his favour, why this darkness, these doubts, distresses, and fears ? Surely it could not be thus, if I were truly in a state of grace, and accepted through Christ ?! The christian must be informed that such is his present warfare ; and that so long as he continues a member of the church militant on earth, he will have to maintain a conflict. Let him only take care to war a good warfare, to fight a good fight, and in the present life he will find increasing strength and holiness; he will go on conquering, and to conquer; and at last he will be made, in the powerful language of the Apostle, “ more than conqueror through him that loveth him.”
But you will remember, no doubt, that the Spirit of God himself makes use of this
prophecy to illustrate the sovereignty of God in the disposal of his grace, as we read in the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. In the beginning of that chapter the Apostle laments over the unbelief of the great body of his countrymen, and their rejection of the gospel of Christ. Then he adds, “not as though the word of God had taken none effect:" there were some of them who believed, and this was sufficient to justify the faithfulness of God to his promise; and in fact it was in accordance with all his former proceedings; “For” he says, “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel; neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children.” Then he illustrates this by the scripture which had restricted the promise to Isaac alone of all the sons of Abraham, saying, “ But in Isaac shall thy seed be called.” And then from the case now before us he adds this further confirmation of his point, “And not only this; but when Rebekah had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, (for the children being not yet born, neither having done