As uttered by the prophet, this may be regarded as the language of complaint, of sorrow, of despondency; and yet also of inquiry, of hope, and of prayer.
I. Jacob symbolises the Church; and there may be in the Church certain elements of weakness.—A church may be weak because its members are few, poor, and scattered, and without much worldly influence; but there are other elements of weakness, which render the most numerous, and wealthy, and compact Church weak indeed. One of these is inactivity; an inactive Church must be weak.
Another element of weakness is worldliness; and the inactive Church is sure to be worldly. And then follows illiberality; when nothing is done little is given. Then prayer is restrained; the family altar is deserted; and the social circle of prayer is not frequented.
The Church may be weakened, too, by the neglect of discipline. Thus the standard of piety becomes low, and there is but little difference between the Church and the world. In view of these things, we may ask, ‘By whom shall Jacob arise? for he is small.’ And we may use these words as expressive of complaint, of sorrow, of despondency; and yet, too, of inquiry, of hope, and of prayer, as did Amos.
II. And the prayer is for strength, that Jacob may arise and be strong.—And strength does not consist wholly in numbers, nor wealth, nor influence; we may be few, and poor, and scattered, and yet be strong. The elements of strength are these: Union—a united people are strong, for union is strength; love—love to Christ, to each other, to the souls of men—a loving people are strong; faith—confidence in God as the founder and Saviour of Zion—a faithful, confiding people are strong; zeal—a zealous people are strong; activity, effort—an active, laborious people are strong; liberality—a giving people are strong; prayer—a prayerful people are strong, for prayer prevails with God; it moves the hand that moves the world.
III. But by whom shall Jacob arise and become strong?—By God only; and yet He will use the Church’s instrumentality in this work. He may raise up some special leader for the work; but usually He employs her present clergy and people. He arouses them to a sense of their personal responsibilities and duties. He leads every one to feel that there is a work for him to do, and He constrains each one to do his own proper work; to repent of his deadness and worldliness, and return unto God. And then He pours out a spirit of grace and of supplication, and leads to earnestness and importunity in prayer. Then He blesses His Word and ordinances; and He answers prayer; revives His work; souls are converted; and Zion arises and puts on strength, she arises and shines, because the glory of Christ rises upon her. Thus it is that Jacob, though small, is made strong; and he shall thus wax stronger and stronger.
IV. Let us remember that every one who is connected with this Church also adds either to its weakness or its strength.—If we are inactive, worldly, illiberal, prayerless, then we take just so much from the strength of the Church and add just so much to its weakness. Alas! were all like us, how small and weak must Jacob be! But if we abound in love, and faith, and zeal, and effort, and liberality, and prayer, and also keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, then we add to the strength of the Church. How strong and vigorous would Zion be did all possess and manifest this spirit! Let us so live that this Church shall be stronger, and better, and purer for our connection with it. And let us never despair. Jacob shall arise! And, with God’s help, whatever is needful to be done can be done. Though numbers may be few, and wealth not abundant, yet what ought to be done can be done! Where there is a will there is a way!