You all know the circumstances which gave rise to the name Israel, when Jacob wrestled, really and truly, with a man, and prevailed; SO much so, that when break of day came, the man said, “Let me go;” and Jacob said, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” It would have been much more likely for Jacob to have let him go in the gloomy and dark night, than at break of day. What! A child of God let Christ go when he has begun to shine into his heart? O no! All the powers of hell cannot make him let him go then. His whole soul is with him, and he will not let him go—he will obtain the blessing.—There is a solemn blaze of vitality in real religion, which all the rounds of forms and duties can never supply. You can no more get at the virtue of it by this means than you can get virtue out of an orange by turning it round in your hand. God must break into it, and put it into our mouths; aye, and squeeze it too, else we never can get at it.
Though all Jacob’s posterity were called Israel, that was only the shell, for “they are not all Israel which are of Israel;” the kernel is God’s spiritual family; and it is in this light that I shall consider the subject.
Israel signifies a prince with God, and couches in it power and dignity. Hence it is said,” Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for as a prince hast thou power with God, and hast prevailed.” And again: “We are made kings and priests unto God.” This power contains a living, never-dying faith, not a speculative faith, not a nominal faith, not a faith that is the duty of all men to have, for in such a faith there is no vitality. Real faith, princely faith, powerful faith, makes a solemn stand, and all the powers of hell cannot move it from its object. One of the first objects that God fixes this mighty faith upon is God in his law and the man as a sinner against that law; and if all the orators in the world were to try to make that man believe he is not so bad as he feels himself to be, and that if he would but simply believe and do his duty all would be well, they would make him believe anything as soon as that. I appeal to the consciences of those of you who know something of the power of it, whether anything could totally divert you from such an object, till God broke into your souls. You might, and perhaps did, read pretty books, preparations, &c., but each turn made you feel worse, till you found that you could not do even what you called your duties but in such a way that you really must be damned for them, they were done so badly. Well, bless you, this is faith, mighty faith; and a sinner never really felt this till God gave him faith; and this is the reason why it is there, and why it keeps there, notwithstanding all the forces and artillery of hell that are brought to move it. You tried to do your duties better; but you found nothing but pricking thorns in your path, till you imagined if there were one sinner more vile and abominable in the sight of God than another, it was you. You have envied the brute creation, nay, the very croaking of a toad; and have said, though it was not so pleasant to the eye, yet it had no immortal soul, to suffer eternally in the horrors of the damned. Well; even this is faith; and I’ll tell you why. Faith never persuades the soul to acts of presumption, therefore never leads him to say he is one of God’s elect, till God seals it upon his heart. Perhaps some poor soul says,” Well, I believe God has an elect family; thousands have been benefited by it, but I fear it is not for me. If I am damned I deserve it; therefore, I must leave myself with him, cast myself at his feet, and, damned or saved, there I must lie; for I have proved I cannot help my own soul.” May God the Spirit help thee to keep there, and, as sure as God is God, in his own blessed time, he will give thee a dead lift, and thou shalt find that, notwithstanding all thy fears, thou art indeed one of this Israel.
By and by, this faith is led to behold Christ, as the poor soul’s Redeemer. When we feel him as our fulness, life, righteousness, holiness, &c., it brings peace, pardon, and solemn composure into our souls. We can then say, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. I was brought low, and he helped me, and brought me up out of a horrible pit, and the miry clay.”
You may perhaps say that, when faith has got here, it has reached its summit; but when God the Spirit reads a little before our text in your heart, you will find it different. For though it is now riding on high horses, and leaping, over the mountains, it has some strange work to do. We will read a few verses: “Thy shoes shall be iron and brass;” then you will have some rough paths, some thorns and briars, and gravel stones; but you shall tread them all down with your shoes of iron and brass; for, “as thy days thy strength shall be.” Mind that; whatever thou mayest have to pass over, thy strength shall surmount it. “There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun.” Then thou hast nothing to fear. Thy misgivings, thy workings within and without, only open a way for thee to cast thyself upon this blessed God of Jeshurun; who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellence on the sky.” That’s too high for us always to see him, you know; but, bless his precious name, he is there whether we can see him or not, and he is there for our help, too. “The eternal God is thy refuge.” Then, after all, you will stand in need of a refuge. The work of the devil is to make you seek shelter in your duties; so that after perhaps approaching God in prayer, you will say, “I have done that well; how humble I have been; how fervent I have been!” It is the devil. You must have God, and the God of Jeshurun alone, in his Trinity of Persons, as your Refuge.
But, perhaps you will say, “I sometimes sink very low, under a sense of my loathsomeness, my vileness, and perplexing disappointments. Bless you, “underneath are the everlasting arms;” so that, sink as low as you may, still it stands the same,—” underneath are the everlasting arms;” and though thy enemies may perplex thee, and thou canst not get rid of them, God “shall thrust them out before thee, and shall destroy them.” “Israel shall then dwell in safety alone;” yes, you shall dwell alone then, when you are blessed with faith to lean upon God as your refuge, and have all your enemies destroyed; for nobody can keep you company, except those who are there, and you will not find many. The world will pity you as a poor fanatic; but you shall banquet with God alone. Your “fountain shall ,be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens shall drop down dew.” There is a solemn bedewing of the soul which we can never describe; but it may well be added, “Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee, O people, saved by the Lord?”—Manchester, Jan. 10th, 1836.
William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher, writer and philanthropist.