Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

July 31, 1884

The Vision at Bethel

[A sermon delivered at the Los Angeles, Cal., camp-meeting, May 10, 1884.]

By Mrs. E. G. White

“And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to Heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven.” Genesis 28:10-17.

Jacob was not perfect in character. He sinned against his father, his brother, his own soul, and against God. Inspiration faithfully records the faults of good men, those who were distinguished by the favor of God; indeed, their faults are much more fully transcribed than their virtues. They were compassed with infirmities; they were assaulted by temptations, and were often overcome by them; but they were willing to learn in the school of Christ. Were these characters presented before us as faultless, it would tend to discourage us in our strivings after righteousness. We should not take pleasure in the faults of others; but it may give us courage to know that men of like passions with ourselves have fought the good fight of faith, and bruised Satan under their feet. The record of their lives may serve as a warning to us. It shows that God will by no means clear the guilty. He sees sin in his most favored ones, and he punishes them even more decidedly than those who have less light and responsibility. But in contrast with the sins and errors of humanity there is presented one perfect character,—that of the Son of God, who clothed his divinity with humanity, and walked a man among the children of men. He is our Pattern, pure, sinless, and undefiled.

Jacob obtained by fraud the blessing designed for his brother. God had promised him the birthright, and the promise would have been fulfilled in good time had he been willing to wait. But like many who now profess to be the children of God, he lacked faith, and thought he must do something himself, instead of submissively leaving the matter in the hands of the Lord. As a result, he was a fugitive from his father's house, hurrying for fear of his life from the rage of his brother, Esau.

As he pursued his lonely way, he was greatly cast down and discouraged. He feared that through his own rash course he had lost the blessing God designed to give him, and that his opportunity was gone forever; and Satan was ready to take advantage of his depression and press in his temptations. Yet God did not utterly forsake Jacob. His mercy was still extended to his erring, distrustful servant, although he would permit afflictions to come upon him until he should learn the lesson of patient submission. The Lord graciously and compassionately revealed just what Jacob needed, a Saviour. He had sinned; but his heart was filled with gratitude as he saw revealed a way by which he could be restored to the favor of God.

Wearied with his journey, the wanderer lay down upon the ground, with a stone for his pillow. And while he slept, the Lord gave him a vision. He beheld a ladder, bright and shining, whose base rested upon earth while the top reached to Heaven. Upon this ladder angels were ascending and descending, and above it was the Lord of glory, who addressed Jacob in words of wonderful encouragement. He assured Jacob that he was under divine guardianship in his absence from home, and that the land whereon he lay as an exile and a fugitive should be given to him and his posterity. The promise given to Abraham was solemnly renewed, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”

The Lord knew the evil influences that would surround Jacob, and the perils to which he would be exposed; and the future was opened before him, that, fully understanding the divine purpose with reference to himself, he might be prepared to resist the temptations that would surely come to him alone amid idolaters and scheming men. There would be ever before him the high standard at which he must aim, and the knowledge that through him the purpose of God was reaching its accomplishment would be a constant guard and shield.

Jacob awoke with a solemn sense of the presence of God. “The Lord is in this place,” said he, “and I knew it not.” Through the Spirit of God, the plan of redemption was revealed to him, not fully, but such parts as it was essential for him to know. The time of Christ's first advent was yet far in the future; but God would not let his servant remain in ignorance of the fact that sinful man had been provided an Advocate with the Father.

Up to the time of man's rebellion against the government of God, there had been free communion between God and man. Heaven and earth had been connected by a path that the Lord loved to traverse. But the sin of Adam and Eve separated earth from Heaven. The curse of sin was upon the human race, and was so offensive to God that man could have no communion with his Maker, however much he might desire it. He could not climb the battlements of Heaven and enter the city of God; for there entereth into it nothing that defileth. The ladder represents Jesus, the appointed medium of communication. Had he not with his own merits bridged the gulf that sin had made, the ministering angels, ascending and descending on that ladder, would have held no communication with fallen man.

All this was revealed to Jacob in his dream. Although his mind at once grasped a part of the revelation, its great and mysterious truths were the study of his life-time, and unfolded to his understanding more and more. In his conversation with Nathanael, Jesus referred to this mystic ladder on which Jacob gazed with pleased wonder. Said he, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see Heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

It is our life-work to commence at the lowest round of the ladder, and step by step to ascend toward Heaven. There is earnest work in this, but we can gain eternal life in no other way. We must take up our daily duties. There must be self-sacrifice, self-denial, and walking in the humble path of obedience. Earnest battles must be fought with self and with the powers of darkness. We shall meet with strong temptations to go with the crowd, which is pressing downward; for by this means we can avoid being singular. But we must have a firm hold on Christ, and keep on climbing. To look back is to become dizzy; to let go is to perish. The eye of faith must be continually directed upward to discern a mighty helper in our tender heavenly Father.

We ascend by successive steps. When we let go of one round, it is to grasp another that is still higher. Thus the hand is constantly reaching upward for successive degrees of grace, and the feet are planted on one round after another, until finally an abundant entrance shall be administered to us into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

There is necessity for striving, and yet it will be of no avail unless we strive lawfully. To profess to climb up by Christ, and claim his righteousness, while living in disobedience to the law of God, is to continue in sin that grace may abound. It is to cry, Christ, Christ, and trust in him, while in daily rebellion against God. We must have repentance toward God, whose law we have broken, as well as faith in Christ, through whom our offenses are pardoned. Man lost paradise through the transgression of God's holy law, and he can regain it only through obedience to that law.

We have reason to rejoice that the world has not been left in solitary hopelessness. Jesus left the royal throne and his high command in Heaven, and became poor that we through his poverty might be made rich. He took upon himself our nature, that he might teach us how to live. In the steps which the sinner must take in conversion,—repentance, faith, and baptism,—he led the way. He did not repent for himself, for he was sinless, but in behalf of man.

Jesus became “the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.” He became an exile to earth to bring back the one lost, straying sheep, the one world ruined by sin. In him were combined the earthly and the heavenly, the human and the divine; otherwise, he could not be a Mediator whom the sinful could approach, and through whom they could be reconciled to their Maker. But now he encircles the race in arms of sympathy and love while he grasps the throne of the Infinite, thus uniting man in his weakness and helplessness with the Source of strength and power.

As Jesus prayed after his baptism, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove of burnished gold, hovered over him, and a voice was heard, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Through the gates ajar there streamed bright beams of glory from the throne of Jehovah, and this light shines even upon us. The assurance given to Christ is assurance to every repenting, believing, obedient child of God that he is accepted in the Beloved.

We are indebted to Jesus for all the blessings we enjoy. We should be deeply grateful that we are the subjects of his intercession. But Satan deceives men and women by presenting the service of Christ before them in a false light, and making them think that it is a condescension on their part to accept Jesus as their Redeemer. If we viewed the Christian privilege in the right light, we should consider it the highest exaltation to be accounted a child of God, an heir of Heaven; and we should rejoice that we can walk with Jesus in his humiliation. But our Saviour assures us that there are some who would like to climb up some other way than the toilsome, self-denying way of the cross. They would avoid reproach and shun sacrifices. Christ calls such thieves and robbers. If we are not willing to breast the storm of opposition, if we choose to float with the current, we shall lose eternal life.

And now the question for each one to settle is, Will you leave the dark abodes of sin and woe, and seek the mansions Jesus has gone to prepare for his followers? In his name we beseech you to plant your feet firmly on the ladder, and climb upward. Forsake your sins, overcome your defects of character, and cling with all your powers to Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life. We may every one of us succeed. None who shall persevere will fail of everlasting life. Those who believe on Christ shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of his hand. Evil angels will try to weaken their hold on Christ, and to attract their eyes to earth; but God will send holy, ministering angels to help them and to strengthen their hands.

The Lord showed Jacob the open heavens. He beheld earth linked with Heaven, and saw the bright array of angels and the majesty of Deity. A divine voice addressed the repenting, discouraged one in words of gracious assurance, and spoke to him of great things to come. And so, through the merits of our Redeemer, the Father looks upon us with tender compassion, and speaks to us hopefully the language of forgiveness and love.

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things that God hath prepared for them that love him.” The farther the Christian advances on the Heavenward way, the more clearly will he discern the nothingness of earthly things, while by an eye of faith he views the glories of the unseen, eternal world. We point you, dear fellow-traveler, to a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. But the hills to which we journey are not on earth, and we might well despair of ever reaching them, were it not for the glorious ladder whose base is on earth while its top reaches the highest Heaven.

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