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The famous Usher in his annals on the third age of the world, fol. 9, saith, Jacob was ninety-one years of age when Joseph was born, consequently seventyseven years old when he began first to serve Laban; upon his return into Canaan he built an altar, which he called El-Elohe-Israel, that is, the mighty God, the God of Israel, Gen. xxxiii. 20; which was the selfsame place were Abraham heretofore had built his first altar, Gen. xii. 6, 7, and where Jacob's well was, near to mount Gerizim, John iv. 5, 20. This was about the year of the world 2273, 1731 before the birth of Christ; he died at the age of 147 years, 2315 years after the creation. Having got both the birthright and blessing from his brother Esau, he was thus priest in the family, till God settled the privilege of priesthood on the tribe of Levi, instead of the first-born. He saith, this history of Genesis contains the story of 2369 years' space; he quotes Servius Sulpicius, affirming that in this tract of time lived Job, a man embracing the law of nature, and the knowledge of the true God, &c. But this by the way.
The altar which Jacob now was to build, was at Bethel, formerly called Luz, Gen. xxviii. 19; which should be God's house, ver. 22, where he would offer prayers and sacrifices to God, and where God promiseth and vouchsafeth his special presence, according to Exod. xx. 24. Whether Jacob repaired the old pillar, his quondam pillow, chap. xxviii. 18, which might be ruined by the injury of time, or demolished by idolatrous neighbours; or whether he erected a new one, more stable, durable, and fashionable than time and his former low circumstances would then permit, it is not much material to dispute; though most probably the latter. However this altar was a monument of God's mercy, and a token of his present gratitude;
and the use and end of it was to offer sacrifice, so saith the text, Gen. xxxv. 14; he poured a drink-offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon; these were to be joined with a sacrifice, Exod. xxix. 40, called drinkofferings, Numb. xxviii. 14.
Concerning an altar observe, the scripture takes notice of three descriptions of altars, a literal or typical altar, a mystical, and a metaphorical altar.
1. The literal, or typical altar existed either before the law or under the law; the first altar we read of is that of Noah, Gen. viii. 20; yet those sacrifices of which we read, Gen. iv, presuppose an altar. Under the Mosaical dispensation, there were two sorts of altars; the altar of burnt-offering, and of incense: the former in the wilderness was built of earth; and, saith Mr. Weemse, the Lord would have it so, because he would not have it permanent, to remain after they were gone out of the wilderness; and he would not have it made of hewn stone, to signify, that men's inventions do but pollute the worship of God,* Exod. xx. 24, 25. This is an altar most holy, Exod. xl. 10; it signified the death of Christ for satisfaction to divine justice. There was also the altar of incense, mentioned Exod. xxx. 27; this is called the golden altar, Exod. xl. 26, 27; and it holds forth Christ's intercession at God's right hand. The four horns signify the strength and prevalence of Christ's advocacy. None might go to the golden altar to offer incense, but he who might go to the brazen altar to offer sacrifice. So we have no mediator of intercession, but he that is the mediator of our redemption.
2. A mystical altar; that is Christ Jesus only, Heb. xiii. 10, "We have an altar whereof they have no right to eat, which serve the tabernacle." This is in
* See Mr. Weemse's Expos. of Cerem. Laws, Com. 2. pag. 46.
opposition to the Mosaical. Our new testament altar, Christ, affords to us our soul's sustenance, safe protection sanctification, justification, consolation, eternal salvation. We need no other; we have all in Christ, see Isa. lvi. 7. Rev. viii. 3.
3. There is a metaphorical altar, figuratively so called so gospel-ministration is called an altar, 1 Cor. ix. 13. They which wait at the altar are partakers of the altar, that is, of holy things, or things of the temple in allusion to the Old Testament dispensation. So the worship of God is called the altar, Matt. v. 23, 24. If thou bring thy gift to the altar, that is, to God in a religious exercise: yea, the whole gospel-worship is thus denominated, Rev. xi. 1, "Rise, measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein;" that is, look that gospel-service be regular according to God's word, cleansed from antichristian pollutions: this is prophesied, Isa. xix. 19, "In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt;" that is, God's worship shall be settled in all places in gospel-times, not a Levitical, but evangelical altar. Nothing is more common in the Old and New Testament, than to speak of gospel-worship in the phraseology of the law.
The like may be said of sacrifices, spiritual sacrifices in a gospel sense; so offering ourselves up to God, Rom. xii. 1. Prayer and praise, Heb. xiii. 15. Acts of charity, v. 16. A broken heart, Psal. li. 17. Martyrdom, Phil. ii. 17.
As for a false altar, constituted in the Romish church, upon which they would offer Christ daily as a sacrifice for quick and dead, Protestants renounce it, as a crucifying the Son of God again, and inconsistent with scripture and reason, Heb. ix. 25; nor yet that he should offer himself often, v. 26, 28; "Christ was
once offered to bear the sins of many." Heb. x. 14, "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." It cannot be denied that the ancients have called the Lord's supper, an unbloody sacrifice; the table, an altar; ministers, priests; the whole action, an oblation: not however in the sense the Papists do, but by way of allusion, as it is a memorial of Christ's sacrifice; or as spiritual prayers, praises, alms are its attendants, as our divines have abundantly proved; and disproved the propriety of the language as applied to that ordinance.
Well then, we renounce Popish altars, sacrifices, and priests, yet acknowledge in a spiritual sense, that Christ by his blood hath made all believers kings and priests unto God and his Father,* Rev. i. 6: and that we "are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ," 1 Pet. ii. 5, 9.
The words being thus explained, I shall raise this important
Doctrine, That governors of families must as priests erect family-altars for God's worship.
It well becomes householders or governors of families, to set up and maintain family-altars for worshipping of God with the members of their families.
As holy Jacob, the famous patriarch, was a prophet to instruct his family in the true religion, and a king to govern them for God; so a priest to set up an altar, offer sacrifices and perform religious worship for and with his family: even the poorest man that has a family is to be prophet, priest, and king in his own house.
God commands Jacob to build an altar at Bethel,
Quid opus est altari ubi nec ignis ardeat, nec victimæ cædantur,-Pet. Martyr cont. Gard.
Jacob resolves upon it, and gives all his family orders how to conduct themselves in managing this important affair; and when they did their duty, God secured them, they journeyed and passed on safely.
Let none say that this setting up of an altar by Jacob was but ordered upon this particular occasion, that he might pay his vows formerly made at Bethel, and so doth not oblige us.
I answer, (1.) It is true the circumstances of the place, occasion, and solemnity are personal and particular, but the duty is general, moral, and perpetual, as I shall prove.
(2.) Jacob, doubtless, worshipped God with his family in all places where he had come, as he took the fear of God with him in his heart, so he left not the external practice of religion behind him: but set up God's worship which was equivalent to an altar in all places where he came, as his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham had done.
(3.) And may not we have the like occasion as he had to rear an altar? Have we had no mercies from God? Do we lie under no vows, or at least, obligagations to the Lord? And do not these precedents, and general rules bind us to the like practice, without having a particular command by a voice from heaven, or in an extraordinary way?
(4.) Because Jacob was left alone, and wrestled with the angel and prevailed upon an extraordinary occasion, Gen. xxxii. 24.; that is, when in fear of his brother Esau; shall we think that Jacob never prayed alone, but when he was in the like hazard? yes, doubtless he was well acquainted with God, and much accustomed to this practice of conversing with God. So because we find God prompting him to this family exercise