Wrestling or Clinging
A. J. Pollock
“And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Gen. 32:30).
Jacob—the sinner—had seen God, the One who cannot look upon iniquity, face to face, and yet his life was preserved. Jacob, however, is not the only person who must meet God. Every single one of my hearers must meet God one day sooner or later, and, should we go no further, we want to impress this solemn fact upon you; to ring this great cardinal truth in your ears, and may God make its echo reach right down to the depths of your souls.
YOU must meet God.
“I cannot die; I will not die,” shrieked out a young lady, wrapping at the same time the blanket convulsively around her head, as she struggled in the embrace of death. But she did die, and passed on to the great interview she so much dreaded. Meet God she must. There was no alternative. Friend, you may not be called to enter eternity so soon as that young lady was; you may, perhaps, live a great many years; you may, indeed, live far past the allotted three score years and ten, but, at long last, you must meet God, and how will you meet Him?
There are two times and two places in which you may meet God, and two results. The two times are NOW, or by-and-bye, IN ETERNITY; the two places—IN THIS WORLD, or in the day of judgment, BEFORE THE GREAT WHITE THRONE; the two results—if you meet Him now, in time—SALVATION; but, if you put it off until eternity, until
the great white throne
is set up—DAMNATION!
You know that terrible word—damnation—has gone out of fashion in this nineteenth century. Preachers don’t use it so much as they once did, but the fact remains that, if you are not saved in this world by the precious blood of Jesus, you will be eternally lost—yes, damned—in the next. Meet God you must, but, how? is the great burning question of all questions that we would ring in your ears, and our prayer is that God may ring it deep down in your souls.
It is interesting to trace how Jacob met God face to face, and how his life was preserved. Our chapter begins with these words—“And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.” Now, ever since Adam fell, men and women have been going on in their own way. I went on my own way once, and you, my unconverted hearer, are going on your own way. It is the broad road that leadeth to destruction.
It is a popular road
thronged by the drunkard, the gambler, the harlot; aye, patronised by the merely religious and the moral, by the unconverted deacon, the unsaved Sunday-school teacher, and the unconverted baptised communicant. Unconverted hearer, again we repeat, you are going on your own way, and it leads to hell. But God wants to meet you in order to bless you and save you.
He has many ways of meeting souls. For instance: you are laid on a bed of sickness, you don’t care a bit about your soul, you hear of people being converted, but you don’t believe that such a thing is true; the people who experience it you think are weaklings and children deceived by their emotions. Yet it was a great relief to you when the doctor came and told you that your case was not hopeless. You were laid on your back, and for once
you had time to think.
God was seeking to meet you, to speak to you about your soul, and your sins, and to make you think about eternity.
One day you were going down the street to business, and some one thrust a tract into your hand, and you didn’t like it, yet God was seeking by that printed page to meet you again. A friend said to you, may be this evening, “Will you go with me to hear the gospel preaching in Baltimore tonight by a preacher from England?” You were persuaded to go. Why? God wants to meet you. Ah! it is a wonderful thing when you find out for the first time that God desires your deepest, most lasting blessing for all eternity, and that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for sinners, that the blessed Saviour shed His precious blood, that cleanses from ALL sin, that having died He is risen and glorified at God’s right hand—the proof that the work is done—and that He has sent from the glory the Holy Spirit into this world in order to reach, and win such as you for Christ.
A clergyman in England was returning from a flower-show. He said to a gentleman, who was in the railway compartment with him, “I have just been to a rose-show, and of all the miserable shows I have ever seen this is about the worst. It was very poor, quite disappointing.” The train stopped, the clergyman got out, but just before the whistle sounded, and the train moved out of the station, the gentleman put his head out of the carriage-window, and said, “Sir, do you know that you are
an object of the love of God?”
and the train was carried out of the station before he could reply. The clergyman walked a mile and a half up to his vicarage, and that sentence was revolving and revolving in his mind, “Do I know that I am an object of the love of God?” Praise God, that great and mighty truth got further than his brain, it got eighteen inches lower down—into his heart—and that man was converted.
He got up in his pulpit the next Sunday morning, and said to his congregation, “My friends, my parents sent me to college, I was taught Latin and Greek, taught theology, made a minister, and all the time I was unconverted, and since my ordination I have been discoursing morality to you, preaching ethics to you just to suit the natural tastes of my listeners. But I want to tell you
a grand secret
this morning. I have learnt that God loves me, and He has saved me through His Son.” That was how God met this dear clergyman—has He met you yet? Did you ever think of that, God loves the sinner, and if you and God meet, it will be for your eternal salvation and blessing?
Let us trace the history of Jacob a little further. No sooner did the angels of God leave him than he makes up his mind to make friends with his brother Esau. He had quarrelled with him long years before; he had sinned against him, cheated him of his birthright; now he thinks it is high time to make friends with him again. Just in the same way does the anxious sinner think that he must make friends with the God against whom he has sinned—his sins trouble him.
So Jacob thought of his sin committed long years before. It came
in ten-fold power
upon his conscience as he thought about his guilty past. It stung him to the quick. So he sends a message to Esau.
But there comes something to his ears that terrifies him. His brother is coming to meet him with four hundred armed men; he is afraid now. That guilty, cringing Jacob has a vision before his eyes of his brother Esau filled with anger, and he hears in imagination the tramp of four hundred armed men marching with glittering spear and flashing sword. Every moment they draw nearer. “Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed,” we read.
Just in the same way you and your sins are going to meet one day; you cannot get out of it. Each beat of your pulse, each throb of your heart, each fugitive hour, each rising and setting sun; all carry you on nearer and nearer to the moment when
you and your sins must meet.
Thank God, I hastened to meet mine; I confessed my sins to God in the light of His holy presence, and now they are forgiven through simple faith in Christ. I have met God, and I can say in deepest gratitude to Him, not merely that my life is preserved, but that my soul is saved forever. But if you put off salvation, if you go on your way without heeding God’s message, you and your sins must meet one day to your everlasting dismay and doom.
In the mouth of two or three witnesses evidence is established, is a well-known legal principle all over the world. Nay, God Himself communicated it. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matt. 18:16). Soon you will stand before the great white throne, and your case will be gone into. Who are the witnesses? Look at the witness box; there is one of your sins ready to herald forth the story of your sin and guilt, nay, not one merely, nor two, nor twenty, nor two hundred, nor two thousand, nor two millions waiting to witness against you, but the whole of your guilty life, from beginning to end, must come out—sins of word, thought, and deed, sins of childhood, youth and riper years, sins of omission and sins of commission, secret sins and open sins, sins against conscience, sins against light, sins forgotten and sins remembered—
all will come out
in damning evidence against your soul. You must meet God.
When Jacob finds Esau advancing to meet him with four hundred men, what is the first thing he does? It is an apt illustration of what many an anxious sinner does. He begins to pray. Listen to him. “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.” He was seeking to draw upon the piety of his father and grandfather. He thought the godly lives of his forefathers would add weight to his prayer. What a profound mistake! Every man must stand upon his individual responsibility before God, and your mother’s prayers will not do you a bit of good, unconverted prodigal, unless you trust the Lord Jesus for yourself.
So Jacob begins to pray, and what do his prayers do for him? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Neither will praying do you any good in the matter of your salvation, my hearer. Let me illustrate it. I was once preaching the gospel in a little village in the North of England. When the meeting was over a young lady stayed behind. The tears were rolling down her face, and she said to me, “I would like a little talk with you.”
“Well,” I asked, “What have you to say?”
She replied, “I have been told in the village that you preach
some very strange doctrine.”
“What is it?” I enquired. “I should like to be put right in a matter of that kind.”
“Well, I am told that you preach that we should not pray for salvation. Now,” she said, and the tears rolled afresh down her face, “I have been praying for months and months for salvation, and do you mean to say that I have been wrong all this time?”
I replied, “I will ask you a question. You have been praying for months. Have you got an answer?”
She shook her head sadly, and replied, “No.”
I proceeded, “You see this Bible in my hand, it was given me by a dear friend. When he offered it to me he said something like this: ‘Here is a present for you. Will you accept it with my love?’ Now what would you think of me if I had said, ‘O Mr. So-and-so, do give me that Bible, I know I don’t deserve it, but
I will pray for it,
and work for it, do, pray, give me the Bible;’ and when he exclaimed in astonishment at my conduct, ‘You have surely made a mistake. I offer it as a gift. Take it with my love, and keep it in remembrance of me,’ I dropped on my knees, clasped my hands together, and bursting into tears still pleaded for the Bible, saying, ‘I am sure I don’t deserve it, but if you will only give it me I will try to deserve it.’ Whatever would he think of me?”
She replied, “He would think you were mad or bent on insulting him.”
I said, “Exactly! And does not the Bible say, ‘THE GIFT OF GOD is eternal life.’ Does not God offer you as A GIFT, salvation?”
She answered, “Yes.”
“What have you been doing, then, when you have been praying for months and months and months for it?”
She smiled through her tears, and said, “I see, I have been making a mistake; I mustn’t pray, I must take.”
I replied, “Yes, as long as you pray you will never get it, but you must take it. Don’t pray but praise instead, that is it.” Thank God, that night she ceased praying and commenced praising.
Jesus has finished the work, it is all done, God is glorified by His Son, the Saviour is enthroned today in glory, and God now offers to whomsoever will salvation full and free as a gift, “without money and without price.”
A certain bishop on his death-bed said, “I throw over all my good works, and all my bad works. I sail for glory on
the plank of free sovereign grace.”
And, my friends, if ever you get to heaven, it will be by the work of Christ, not by anything you can do, or say, or think.
To proceed with Jacob’s history. Does praying satisfy him? No; he gets a present together—he collects no less than 580 head of cattle, and puts them into droves, and gives them into the charge of his servants, and sends them on to appease Esau.
This is like the sinner. This is like you. What have you been doing? You want to be saved, don’t you? What have you been doing? You have been turning over new leaves, giving your money to the heathen, supporting the church, going in for good works, and thus seeking to send on a present beforehand to God to appease Him. Will God save you for that? Never, dear friend. What does Scripture say?
“To him that WORKETH NOT,
but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).
There was once a gentleman staying at a watering place on the north coast of Wales. He happened one day to hear a fisherman preaching on the sands. After the service was over he went up to him and said, “I have listened with great pleasure to your discourse, but you have made one great mistake. You have told the people that they can get salvation without working for it. We have to work for it, we must do our best, and Christ will do the rest. That is the way we are to get to heaven.”
The fisherman pulled out his well-worn Bible, referring him to Romans 4:5, and asked him to read the verse. He read it and replied, “I am sure that verse is not in my Bible. I will go and see.”
So he returned to his hotel, got out his valise, and after he had got past his pipes, and his novels, and his tennis-suit, and his clothes, right down at the bottom of his valise he took out a Bible his good old mother had put in. It was not thumbed like the fisherman’s, it was nice and clean. We like to see
a clean house but a dirty Bible,
which looks as if it had been well used, thumbed and greasy, and marked by constant use, but this one was very clean. He turned to the passage, and read that glorious verse, “To him that WORKETH NOT, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,” but he could not yet believe the greatness of God’s heart—the declaration of salvation without works. So he went to four or five of his friends and borrowed their Bibles. He found, however, they all told out the same grand, glorious message, “To him that WORKETH NOT, but believeth.” Whether they were printed in London, Oxford, Cambridge, or New York, they all united in telling the same tale of grace.
It is an extremely difficult thing to knock out of the minds of people the idea that they have to work for salvation. Free grace is so foreign to the heart of man. We state the fact, at the risk of the charge of repetition, that working, WORKING, WORKING will not bring salvation, and the reason is twofold. We could never work out our salvation, because we are strengthless, and we need not do it because the work has all been done by Another. We are
1800 years too late,
for the blessed Saviour accomplished the work of atonement on Calvary’s cross of shame.
What further? Jacob has prayed, he has also sent on his present. Is he satisfied yet? No; he is afraid still to meet Esau. And I am quite sure, unconverted hearer, in spite of your prayers and presents, in spite of your courageous face, in spite of your bold manner, deep down in your heart you are ill at ease, nothing but a guilty coward. You may think preachers of the simple gospel are fools, and those who say positively they are saved no better, but when you are face to face with death, and when you stand naked and guilty before the great white throne, you will be a coward.
What expedient does Jacob resort to now? He has sent his prayers and presents on, now he sends his property on—his wives and children. I know very well how people do. They hang on to their property as long as they can, won’t give a cent if they can possibly help it, whilst they are alive and well and strong. I have heard a lawyer say, that often when a man is
face to face with death
he sends for the family solicitor. He comes into the sick chamber, and something like this takes place. The dying sinner says, “Put a codicil to my will. Bequeath $5,000 to the new Infirmary; $5,000 to the Baltimore Dispensary; $3,000 to the Vigilance Committee,” and so on. What is he doing? He is sending on his property, when he cannot hold on to it any longer, and thinks that will appease God. It won’t. Jacob sends on his property, thinking the sight of defenceless wives and innocent children will move his brother’s heart. And now we come to the crucial point in Jacob’s history. We read, “And Jacob was left alone,” left alone with his guilty conscience—left alone with remorseful memories—left alone with God.
My hearer, have you ever been in such a condition, that you felt that you could not bear the very wife of your bosom to be beside you, your nearest and dearest friend to be near you, so tortured about your sins, so concerned about your soul that you wanted to be alone? There was a man in Manchester, England, not long ago, who was alone, yet there was a goodly company in the building where the preaching was. When the meeting was over, and the people had all gone out, and the preacher had left, still he sat
as if glued to his seat.
Some one happened to see him, went up to him, and asked him what he was waiting for. He burst into tears, this working man of forty years, and said, “The preacher must know me. He has been preaching at me the whole evening, as if there was not another person in the room.” Needless to say he was an entire stranger to the preacher. But not so with the living God. God that night had met him. He was alone in God’s presence, and converted that very night. You must, if you desire blessing to your soul, get into the presence of God. It is a grand thing to get there, and have it all out. Don’t shirk it.
A young lady, anxious about her soul, went up to her bedroom. Some one went to a preacher living in the same house, and said to him, “Go up to my sister. She is in her room weeping about her sins. She is troubled about the future.” He wisely replied, “Shut the door and leave her alone with God. I will not intrude.”
Such are sacred scenes.
Oh! how God delights to bless.
Now, there comes another point in Jacob’s history. “There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” We don’t know what people say about this in America, but in England a great deal is said in praise of “wrestling Jacob,” but it was the angel wrestling. He came when Jacob was left alone, and threw his arms around him, like a well-trained wrestler, and wrestled with him. Jacob had been a double-minded, plotting, scheming man all his days. Now he is not to be outdone. He puts forth all his strength, and he and that mysterious visitor are locked in deadly combat. Every nerve and sinew is engaged in the unequal conflict. He sweats, and perspires, and strains all through the long night. It must have been a strange sight for the stars. At last the angel put forth a little more power, for he wrestled as man meets man, and crippled Jacob in the thigh. The thigh is a vulnerable point in the wrestler. When the thigh is out of joint, a man is not able to wrestle any more. The angel wrote
the sentence of death
upon the flesh of Jacob there and then. Jacob is completely hors de combat. What does he do now? Instead of wrestling, he takes perforce to clinging.
Now, sinner, that is a picture of you. God has been wrestling with you. You have experienced deep down in your soul what you would not tell your husband, your wife, father or mother. You have been haunted with the fear of death. Your sins have been growing heavier and heavier, until the load has been well-nigh intolerable. You have carried within your breast for long a guilty conscience. How has it all come about? For your eternal blessing. God has been wrestling with you.
Fancy God wrestling. God could have taken Jacob and crumpled him in His hands like a piece of silver paper. In the same way He could have taken you, you stubborn self-willed sinner, and thrown you into the eternal burnings, but He does not. Why? Because He wants your blessing. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth. NOW Jacob clings. Have you ever felt
the helplessness of struggling with God?
Will you stop wrestling and take to clinging instead?
Speaking on this subject on Staten Island, New York State, a little while ago, we said to a man, who was anxious on the subject of his soul’s salvation, “Are you wrestling or clinging?” He said, “I guess I have been wrestling far too long, I am going to try to cling.” People speak with praise of wrestling Jacob, but wrestling Jacob never got a blessing any more than praying Jacob. When he was without strength he took to clinging, and if you would get God’s blessing you must come to the point, when you can only cry out, “I have found out that I am a poor, worthless, strengthless sinner, I have failed to do a single thing that will do for God, I give up wrestling and take to clinging, I give up trying and take to trusting.” The Gospel is in a nutshell. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” asked the Philippian jailer. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house,” came the ready reply from the lips of Paul and Silas. “For when we were yet
in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).
To further illustrate the point. A few years ago we were preaching in Scotland, and a young lady became very anxious about her soul. Night after night we spoke to her personally, but she could not take in the simple Gospel. It was too simple for her. It is so simple that people stumble over its very simplicity. One night we overheard a woman, only herself converted about three months, trying to help her. She said, in the beautiful Scots tongue, so full of pathos, “Lassie, I was once like yourself, I was anxious about my soul. I went to kirk, I came to gospel-meetings, I prayed, I read my Bible, I did my very best, and things, instead of getting brighter, only grew darker. I struggled and strove to get salvation, but seemed farther off than ever. I remember one terrible night, the darkness seemed to settle right down on my soul, and, just as that happened, I turned to the Lord, and said, ‘Lord, if I go to hell, I will go there trusting in Thy precious blood.’ As soon as I made the resolve that I would cling to the Lord, it flashed into my soul that no sinner could go to the lake of fire who was trusting in the precious blood of Jesus. There and then the clouds rolled by, and
the sunshine came into my soul,
and I had peace with God.” She had wrestled a long time, and then took at last to clinging, and found peace. The more you cling, the better you will get on.
Now when Jacob clings, God says to him, “What is thy name?” That was a very, very sore point with Jacob. The name, Jacob, means plunderer, cheat, double-dealer, intriguer, anything but what is canny and nice. A flush of shame, doubtless, spread over Jacob’s face, as he made his confession. What did he say? One word, only one, “JACOB.” It was enough. Scripture says, “And He blessed him there.” The place of blessing is the low place of confession. We ask you, anxious sinner, what is your name? Let your confession come out of your lips. It must travel up from your heart to your mouth, and from your lips to us, or rather to the ear of God Himself. What is your name? It is SINNER. We know what some in this hall are saying—“Well, I own that I take a drop now and again, but I am not so bad as the drunkard, who pawns his clothes, and beats his wife, and starves his children.” We turn to another, and ask: What is your name? He replies, “I do the best I can, I go to Church, I take the sacrament.” My unsaved friend, if you died with
the wine of the sacrament
wet upon your lips, you would go straight to hell, because you are not converted to God. The Scripture says: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 10:29). THAT IS SCRIPTURE. We ask a third, “What is your name?” The answer glibly comes to your lips, “I am a sinner. All are sinners; but, after all, I am not so bad as some. I stand as good a chance as most.”
Your confessions are all a great deal too long. They are like some people’s prayers. We heard a man praying the other day. It took him twenty-five minutes to get through. He prayed from Genesis to Revelation, and all around the globe, and back again, and was not a bit further on. You remember when Peter was sinking in the water, and felt his desperate need, his cry was, “Lord, save me.” Remember brevity and intensity go together.
If you are really broken down about your sins, you will not make a long story about it. You will say, “I am a poor sinner without a single plea, I throw myself entirely upon Thy mercy.” When you take
the low place of confession,
you will get to the spot where blessing is to be found. When Jacob confessed that his name was Jacob, the narrative says, “And He blessed him there.” And in blessing him his name was changed. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but ISRAEL: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
What a change! That old guilty history of his was for ever swept away. He should no more be known as the cheat, double-dealer, intriguer. The meaning of the name Israel is a prince with POWER with God and man. Yet that is the name linked up by the sovereignty of grace with that poor clinging cripple.
If you come, my friend, and trust in Christ tonight, and confess your sins, your name shall no more be called “sinner,” but “saint.”
“Why!” you say, “I thought saints were those holy persons who lived very good lives a few hundred years ago, and were canonized by the Church of Rome.” The fact is,
a child six years of age,
who really trusts in the Lord, is as much a saint as the apostle Paul in glory. I know the world has sneered at the word saint, and connected it popularly with long-faced, psalm-singing, canting hypocrites; but it is in reality a precious title given by God to those who simply believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, as showing they are set apart for Himself—“called saints.” You are either a sinner on the road to hell, or a saint on the road to glory. Which?
Now Jacob—clinging Jacob, not wrestling Jacob—is blessed. The angel had wrestled until the breaking of the day, the long night of unbelief had passed away, daylight had taken the place of darkness. We read further, “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel (that is, the face of God. See marginal reading): for I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.” And then immediately the Scriptures say, “And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him.” What does that mean? Ah! if you come to Christ tonight the darkness in your soul will for ever pass away, and instead you will have
the SUNSHINE of God’s love.
That is the meaning of it. We can say, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
We were preaching the gospel in Yorkshire, England, a little while ago. One morning my fellow-labourer and I were sitting in our lodgings, at a farmhouse, when a young man was shown in, who wanted to see us. He sat down in an arm-chair, and put his head in his hands, and groaned aloud. We said, “What is the matter with you?”
He answered, “I was at your meeting last night, and I found out I was lost. I want to be saved.”
We told him the way of salvation, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” and we showed him, that if he simply trusted Christ he would get what his soul longed for. But there he sat groaning, and would not even lift up his head, in too great anguish of spirit even to weep.
Feeling our weakness to help him, we said as gently as we could, “Go home, we have said all we can to help you. Come and see us in the morning.”
He got up and walked across the room like a man dazed. At the door he fell all in a heap on his knees. He seemed unable to go a single step further, until
the great soul-trouble
was settled. We spoke and prayed with him still further. At last he got up and took me by the hand, and looking up with the tears streaming down his cheeks, he said, “I take Christ, and I take Him now.” He put his hand out to my friend, and said, “The love of God is in my soul.” The sun had shone upon him. That farmhouse parlour was his Penuel.
You, too, my hearers, if you come to Christ tonight, will know what a deep joy it is to know God’s love—to know Him is to love Him, and to love Him is to serve Him. The clouds will go, and the sunshine will come, and the love of God will be shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Ghost.
Is there anyone within these four walls who will come just as they are, without turning over a new leaf, dropping all thought of merit in prayers and so-called good works, and, just as you are, trust that blessed Saviour? For, if you do, salvation is yours on the authority of God’s Word.
your prayers, and presents, and property
won’t gain salvation. You may pray till your knees are as hard as a camel’s, you may toil at your good works till your present is of goodly size, you may give up husband, wife, father, mother, children, lover, friend, money, but all that cannot bring salvation. Remember, too, wrestling will never bring you happiness. Submit yourself to God’s claims. Acknowledge yourself a sinner, lost and hopeless. Cling to the blessed Saviour, who said, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” May God grant it for Christ’s sake. Amen.