WRESTLING WITH GOD
Genesis 28:10-22; 32:22-32
3rd April 2005
The story of Edward Eagar, after whom our Lodge for homeless people in Darlinghurst is named, begins in Killarney, Ireland where he was born in 1787. His parents were landed gentry so he was well educated. He trained as a solicitor and became an attorney to His Majesty’s Courts in Ireland. In 1809 he was charged with forging a bill of exchange, convicted and sentenced to death.
He pleaded for clemency and was gaoled for 18 months until transported to Australia. The chaplain sought Edward Eagar’s repentance. Edward committed his life to Christ, repented, and the chaplain sent a letter with him to Australia to Rev Samuel Marsden. The letter said of his conversion, that he wept, and in fervent prayer at the throne of grace we implored mercy for his poor soul, when lo! The heavenly pardon came with power to the afflicted suppliant. All in an instant, was love, joy, peace. He has since continued praising and blessing that God and Saviour who dealt so graciously with him. He has really become a new creature.”
He arrived as a convict in chains in 1811 and was assigned to teach children. He soon commenced Bible classes in the Windsor district. He was then given charge of the local school. In 1812 he met with two newcomers Thomas Bowden and John Hoskin and they formed the first membership of our church on March 12, 1812. They wrote to the Methodist Conference in England to “send us a minister lest we die in our sins.” The minister, Rev Samuel Leigh, arrived in 1815 and Edward Eagar introduced him to Governor Macquarie. In 1813 Eagar was given a conditional pardon, and he set himself up as a lawyer in 103 Pitt Street.
He was a most active early member of our church. He assisted in founding the Sydney Benevolent Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Australian Religious Tract Society, and established the Society for the Protection and Civilisation of Distressed Islanders of the South Seas. He also planned the first mission to Aborigines. In 1818 he was granted a full pardon. However, Judge Jeffrey Bent did not let him forget he had been a convict and he was disbarred from practise as a lawyer. He put up 10% for the funding capital to establish the Bank of N.S.W. (Westpac) but was distressed that because he had been a convict he was not allowed to be a director of the bank. Other emancipated convicts saw that their rights as freed men were also in jeopardy and Edward Eagar took up their case with the British Government.
He fought for trial by jury, and for freedom to trade commercially. This was the first Australian attempt to change government policy. He was a hard antagonist and made many enemies including John Macarthur. He lost a court case because pardoned convicts did not have a right to own property, to sue, to give evidence in court or to have other civil rights. Other emancipated convicts then clearly saw how they lacked civil rights.
Dr William Redfern and Edward Eagar sailed to London in 1821 to argue the case on behalf of other freed convicts. He left his wife and three sons behind taking his daughter with him. He was never to return. He fought for the colonists for the next 20 years. Eagar was becoming Australia’s first liberal political agitator.
But his personal life fell from his Christian standards. He met and married a 16 year old girl and they subsequently had 10 children. His Sydney wife Jemima moved into a house in Macquarie Street with William Charles Wentworth and had a son by him. Edward was a devout man and the first secretary of our church, but he had a vicious tongue and after his civil rights were denied him, he was bitter against the conservative government and social standards.
In Sydney, his son Geoffrey, became the Treasurer of N.S.W. — the best Treasurer of the nineteenth century, a cabinet minister, first accountant of the Bank of N.S.W., and a leading public servant. He never forgave his father for leaving his mother. When Edward Eagar died in 1866, he was described as “a gentleman”, but a study of his life shows that he constantly wrestled with God.
There was internal conflict between good and evil, between doing the best and being overcome by the worst. Many men in Sydney today know that inner wrestling with God in their hard times, that is why I named our eight storey building for homeless people after him. In that remade old chapel with its ancient sandstone front dating back to 1847, and its concrete tower apartments rising on the skyline, we have a place that says the old can become new, and a name that says the worst can start again.
Edward Eagar’s sin was obvious, his conversion was genuine, his early devotion to Christ and the Church was real. He wrestled with God, but failed to persevere until God had blessed him. Many great men had that experience first recorded of Jacob in one of the greatest chapters of the Bible. The story of Jacob is also the story of a man whose character had great defects. He is at the one time, one of the worst men in the Old Testament, and also one of the greatest.
His life was shady and he did some despicable acts. He was a scheming, grasping crook, but one of the founding fathers of a great nation. God promised Jacob the land of Israel in the dream known as “Jacob’s Ladder”. (Genesis 28:10–15) He was born a twin, holding onto his first-born brother’s heel. He was later to cheat his brother out of his inheritance. He would swindle his equally crooked Uncle Laban. He was motivated by selfishness but God persevered with him, never leaving Jacob alone, and he became the founder of the nation promised to his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham.
Jacob’s name meant “Twister” and a twister he turned out to be, but God persevered with him and he changed and was given a new name “Israel” which means “Prince”. The twister became a prince, a tribute, not to him, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God pursued him for thirty years and one night wrestled with him and threw him at the brook Jabbok. Jacob was on his way back to his family estate after a long absence when he heard that his brother Esau, whom he had defrauded years earlier was coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob craftily sent some men ahead with presents to pacify Esau, but that night, unable to sleep with the impact of his troubled conscience a Heavenly Man came upon him and wrestled with him. Genesis 32:22–32
Jacob was wrestled with God and refused to let God go without a blessing. So God blessed him for his perseverance. God gave him a new name that gave him a sense of self-esteem and a new start. Failure was not final, for failure gave way to a new future. The impact of heredity was overcome. The influence of psychology was turned around. He became a different person. The experience of despair had given way to the gospel of recovery and renewal.
Consider the occasions when we wrestle with God.
1. WITH CONSCIENCE
Many people have a troubled conscience. The lie awake at night over what they have done. They toss and turn in anguish. They wrestle all night with God. The only way to peace and conquest is to say to God, “I will not let you go until you bless me”, and find that your inner conflict can be turned into inner peace. St Augustine was the most brilliant mind in the first thousand years of Church history after St Paul. But for his early life, he was not a Christian. His faithful mother who prayed for him constantly despaired as she saw her brilliant son wasting his life in debauchery, immorality and atheism. And Augustine was not happy with his bright life of wine, women and song, he was in turmoil. But God did not give up on Augustine.
He wrestled with him until Augustine surrendered and found peace and a new future in God. As he wrote: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find themselves in Thee.” Turn your conflict with God into peace with God. That is how he can make you a new person — the old “Twister” can become “Prince”. If you have a troubled conscience, wrestle with God over it until he blesses you, and enables you to become a brand new person.
2. WITH AFFLICTION
Many people feel handicapped by some limiting disability. They could do more for God if only.., but there is a limitation — sickness, singleness, suffering; lack of education, opportunity, resources; physical, mental or spiritual limitation. When you wrestle with that limiting affliction, stick at it. God sometimes heals it by removing it from you; sometimes handles it by giving you additional strength enabling you to cope with it; and sometimes changes it by transforming the thorns into a crown. Charles Spurgeon, acclaimed as the greatest 19th century preacher of them all, suffered from prolonged bouts of depression requiring long periods of time away from his work.
Sometimes, worn with work, the pressures of thousands of people in his ministry, and the shortages of finances for his orphanages and colleges, he would collapse. But always he hung on in faith crying for God to bless him, and inevitably he found that after the long wrestle, a period of great blessing. He published 3,500 sermons read by millions, and 135 books which still sell in huge numbers to this day.
And every period of wrestling led to continued blessing. If you suffer some limiting affliction, ask God to bless you by removing it, by increasing your strength to bear it, or by transforming it. You may limp through life but with pride and blessing.
3. WITH TEMPTATION
Our church is wrestling with how to be the church in the inner city right now as we plan our redevelopment. It would be so easy to see our prime city location, forget about ministry to the needy and the poor, and take our assets and build the most beautiful church facility in the country in some lovely, outer suburban areas where we could attract an affluent and nice type of member. But that would be the great betrayal. God needs us in the inner city to be his witness on the streets, to be his light in the city of darkness, and be his salt in a tasteless society.
To run from the hardness of the inner city, or to be seduced by the temptations of the suburbs would be a denial of all of his blessings. The night grows long, and we wrestle with God, and we say, “We will not let you go until you bless us” and I know that God will open the windows of heaven and pour his blessings upon us for our perseverance and faithfulness.
4. WITH PROBLEMS
Do you find it a constant struggle to manage your heavy load of problems? Do you feel you are wrestling with a load that is too much for you to manage? Persevere and say: “I will not let you go until you bless me” and see if God will not help you manage. Former President Jimmy Carter in a delightful book he and Rosalyn have written entitled, “EVERYTHING TO GAIN”, speaks about how he wrestled with world problems, then defeat by Ronald Reagan, and his distress the way matters of international importance were being handled by his successor in the White House. Jimmy Carter says: “I had learned many years ago to release my problems to God, something I had to do often in all our political years when I was trying to do so many different things at once. “Here it is God. You take it. I cannot handle it all alone,” I would say. It helped me through good times and bad.
I knew that God loved me. I had found God’s love a shield around me that protected me in the midst of controversy or let downs. Sometimes now, when I think about the defeat and how much I disagreed with what our successor was doing in Washington, I was having to say: “It’s too much for me. Here it is again, God, take it again.” Persevere with your problem as much as you can then have God take over for you. He will see you through.
Edward Eagar did so much good for Sydney. But he always had a hard wrestle with God over the conflict within his conscience, the limiting afflictions of his character, the temptations of this city, and the burden of his problems. And he gave in. He did not persevere until God blessed him. He stands as a symbol of a man who did so much but who could have accomplished much more if he had only persevered until God blessed him. By the grace of God we can grow from deception to integrity as did Jacob. Five times God gave Jacob a second chance. No failure is final.
You can be changed by God’s power. When God wrestles with you do not let him go until you say: “I will not let you go until you bless me”. Having wrestled, do you not feel His blessing now?