Our Graciously and Freely Given Salvation

Rev. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

It is God’s sovereign grace that brings blessings upon the human race. Let it fill us with awe and thankfulness that salvation does not depend on what we did or are doing. That which we do, and which delights our God, is a fruit of what He does in and through us; it is not our work of giving Him what He asks us to give. God never asks. He always commands and makes possible what pleases Him.

Take hold of and cling tightly to the truth which He presents in Ephesians 2:8. There He tells us through Paul, “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” And faith is part of our salvation, not that whereby we earn and deserve salvation. In Psalm 139:14 we read, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” We are not saved because we fulfill a condition, but because our God performs such a wonderful work of His grace. We do not make ourselves believers. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God. As surely as our physical life came by His will and work, so our spiritual life is also His gift to us.

All this we must bear in mind and maintain when we consider what happened in the day of shadows. We certainly must bear in mind that truth when we consider further that which we find in the life of Jacob; the son of Isaac, and grandson of Abraham. It is true that God commanded Jacob to go back to the land of Canaan, and that Jacob did as God commanded him. It is also true, and must be maintained and emphasized as well, that Jacob had only a small beginning of obedience, and that this was so because God gave Jacob a new spiritual life, and faith in Him as God. We read of that in Lord’s Day 44, question and answer 114 of the Heidelberg Catechism. What is more, we also see in Jacobs life how carnal his nature was, when his brother, Esau, came to meet him with four hundred men.

Jacob was heeding God’s command when he took his wives and children away from Laban. But he did this not simply because God ordered him to do so. He did it because of the fury of Laban’s wrath, as we find inGenesis 31:1-3. And when his brother Esau met him with those four hundred men, Jacob revealed that he had only a small beginning of obedience to God’s command.

In Genesis 33:5-15 we have presented- the fact that Jacob had only a small beginning of obedience, and that he did not constantly walk in faith, and trust in God. He not only called himself Esau’s servant, but at one time even addressed Esau as his lord, that is, his master. In verse 5, he said to Esau, “The children which God hath graciously given thy servant “; in verse 13, “My lord knoweth that the children are tender”; and in verse 15, “Let me find grace in the sight of my lord.” He was not referring to the Lord God who commanded him to go back to Canaan, but to his brother Esau.

How true it is then what we read in the Heidelberg Catechism, namely, that we in this life have only a small beginning of obedience. Truly, we have in ourselves no right to the smallest blessing of salvation. Go back to what Adam and Eve did. For one sin, not a host of evil deeds, they died, as God had said they would. The one sin of eating of the forbidden fruit called for everlasting punishment in hell. Our God said to Adam that sin brings death; and death brings one to hell with its everlasting torment.

But in His grace our God sent His own Son to suffer the punishment we deserve. And by His grace He enables us to begin walking in His holy law. We owe Him thanks for the keeping of His law, and that He makes us all able to begin to walk in love to Him, as His elect children.

Think of the apostle Peter. He made a beautiful confession when he said to Christ, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And yet, when Jesus was being tried by the godless Jews and before Pilate, Peter denied Jesus, not simply once, but three times, declaring, “I know not this man of whom ye speak” (Mark 14:71). Truly he had a small beginning of faith and obedience. Further, the apostle Paul, who labored so hard in Christ’s service, cried out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). This was in the context of what he said in verse 21, namely, that “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me,” and, in verse 23, “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members.”

When Jacob called himself a servant of Esau, and called him his lord, that is, his master, his father Isaac was still alive. Esau had not therefore displaced his father and become lord and ruler over Jacob. Besides, had God not told Jacob that his name was Israel, which means Prince of God? And God had also told Jacob, “As a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Gen. 32:28). Should Jacob then call Esau his lord? Was he walking by faith when he did that?

What is more, Isaac and his descendants did not yet own any land in Canaan, except where they buried their dead loved ones. Esau was no lord and ruler of Jacob. It is true that when Jacob was born, he followed Esau and held on to his heel; He was in fact given the name Supplanter. It is also striking that the very first child to be born, namely Cain, was an unbeliever and murderer, while Abel, the second child to be born, was a believer who was the first man to enter into heavenly glory. What counts is not what man is physically, and what he does physically, but what God does to man from a spiritual point of view.

Note further that Esau asked Jacob who these women and children were. It is amazing that Esau, who threatened that he would kill his twin brother, here embraced Jacob and kissed him. Also, what we find here is the amazement of Esau when he saw those wives and children of Jacob. Still more, when Esau asked what Jacob meant by the drove of cattle which he met, Jacob said, “These are to find grace in the sight of my lord.” Jacob clearly revealed fear and concern as to what Esau would do to him and his family and cattle. In fact, in Genesis 32:11 we read of Jacob’s prayer to God. In his prayer he states, “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.”

God had given Esau plenty of earthly riches. When therefore Jacob declared that the drove of cattle which he presented were in order to find grace in Esau’s sight, Esau said to Jacob, “I have enough, my brother, keep that thou hast unto thyself.” Keeping His word of promise to Jacob, the Almighty God had protected Jacob by giving Esau what he considered enough, so that he did not care to take Jacob’s cattle as a gift.

Truly, behind all this we must see the Almighty God in His grace upon His elect children. We should see, in this Day of Shadows, what our God declared through the apostle Paul in the New Testament. He correctly stated this truth: “And we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” Likewise here we have that comforting truth which our God gave to Jacob, in Genesis 31:13, namely, “I am the God of Bethel, where thou vowest a vow unto me; now arise; get thee out of this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.”

In Genesis 32:28 we read, “Thy name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” Jacob, by calling Esau his lord, and by confessing himself to be his servant, did not deserve peaceful entrance into that promised land. And we, by our sins, deserve not one blessing, but instead everlasting torment in hell. As pointed out in Ephesians 2:8 we are saved by grace. And that means that all of our salvation is a free gift of God’s grace. In the life of Jacob we do indeed have a shadow of God’s grace. What is presented here by our God is a wonderful gift of His grace.

Jacob’s safe return to the promised land of Canaan is indeed a comforting shadow of what lies ahead for us. Because God’s grace rests also on us, we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven with our bodies as well as with our souls. It will be a free gift of God’s grace upon the elect; and it will move us to everlasting praise to God for what He has done.

Let us then sing that which we find in Psalter number 397:2, and which is based on Psalm 145:3, 4, namely:

The Lord is greatly to be praised,

His greatness is beyond our I thought;

From age to age the sons of men.

Shall tell the wonders God has wrought.