Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

whose consciences are not yet blinded by ness: but the bold, direct, and successful habits of indulgence in it; for if it has once progress of a warlike nation, from conquest gotten possession of the mind, you might as to conquest. easily reinvigorate feeble age by a discourse A multitude so great, subsisting in a desert on the advantages and joys of youth, or re- so long, in a manner so singular, could not store a constitution wasted through consump- but attract the notice of all the adjacent tion by an elaborate declamation on the bless- nations, who must have been anxiously soing of health. Avarice, with the deaf adder, licitous which way their route was directed, " will not hearken to the voice of charmers, and where they were to attempt a settlement charming never so wisely."

at length. Being arrived at the border of We have aready had occasion, in the the wilderness, where it is contiguous to the course of these exercises, to trace the cha- country of the Amorites; not imagining that racter of a selfish man, and to observe the any part of their inheritance was to be allotworkings of the human mind, under the influ- ted them on this side Jordan; they petition ence of this base and destructive passion, in Sihon, the king of the country, to grant them the history of Laban the Syrian. There we leave to pass peaceably through his terrisaw every principle of generosity and grati- tories, to the place of their destination. This tude, of truth and justice, of humanity and he roughly refuses, and, without waiting to natural affection, of piety and decency vilely see whether Israel meant to attempt a passacrificed to this insatiate idol, which, like sage by force, he collects his whole strength, the grave, “never says it is enough." We advances into the wilderness to attack them, have, in the history referred to by the apos- and thereby hastens on his own fate; for his tle, in the words which I have now read, army is smitten with the edge of the sword, another striking and instructive instance of and his whole land falls an easy prey to the the dreadful operation of covetousness, in a victor. Og, king of Bashan, is rash enough mind enlightened by wisdom, awake to all to follow his example, provokes his own dethe worthier feelings and propensities of struction, is subdued in his turn, and the fernature, capable of forming the justest notions tile plains, over which he reigned, swell the of right and wrong, and of conveying these triumphs of Israel. notions in the clearest and strongest expres Advancing forward to Jordan, they pitch sions: fully instructed and firmly persuaded their camp in the plains of Moab. This respecting his duty; but actuated by this nation was descended from Lot, the nephew fatal passion deliberately deviating from the of Abraham, by an incestuous commerce with right path, seducing those whom he durst not his elder daughter. They had long before curse, degrading the dignity of the prophet, this been reduced into a regular form of civil in the venality of the courtier, and shame- government, that of monarchy, and were lifully bartering conscience for gain. We ving in the quiet possession of a fruitful counshall find, then, the words of Peter a perfect try, secured to them by the appointment of key to the relation of Moses: and whatever Providence, in consideration of their relation inconsistency shall appear in the conduct of to their venerable ancestor: and Israel was Balaam, whatever Auctuation in opinion; expressly prohibited to disturb them, or their whatever plausibility of language and senti- brethren and neighbours, the children of ment, combined with whatever irresolution Ammon, the posterity of Lot by his younger in virtue, all is explained by this one dis- daughter, in the possession of their inheritcovery of his real character, he loved the ance. The report of their victories, however, wages of unrighteousness." We come to over Og, and Sihon, has roused the attention llustrate this position by the history itself. and the jealousy of Balak king of Moab.

Forty years almost have elapsed since the Instead of employing the rational policy, of miraculous deliverance from Egypt; and the courting alliance and friendship with a peowhole generation, which partook of the joy ple so formidable, and who were neither disof that deliverance, because of their unbelief, posed nor permitted to molest them: or of is well nigh extinguished. Thousands and adopting the manly policy of repelling bold ten thousands have dropt into the grave. invaders by open war, he has recourse to the The individuals which formed the congrega- mean, timid, and contemptible arts of necrotion of Israel are lost and forgotten; but mancy or divination. For this purpose he Israel still lives, the care of Providence, the sends messengers to Balaam, the son of object of favour. The shafts of vengeance Bosor, a noted enchanter of those times, with have spent themselves, and nothing can now large money in their hands, styled in scripstem that current of promise and destiny, ture “the rewards of divination,” and “ the which is carrying God's favoured people to wages of unrighteousness," and a message victory, and the possession of Canaan. Their to this purpose : “ Behold there is a people decampments and progress, therefore, are no come out from Egypt: behold, they cover longer the lingering and wanderings of a the face of the earth, and they abide over devoted people doomed to die in the wilder- against me. Come now, therefore, I pray • Psalm Iviii. 5.

thee, curse me this people; for they are too

mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, ed as the peculiar people of God, to whom that we may smite them, and that I may drive were committed the lively orir.es, and a to them out of the land: for l wot that he whom whom pertained the adoption, and the glory, thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou and the covenants, and the giving of the law, cursest is cursed."* Thus Providence ful- and the service of God, and the promises ;"* filled the words of the oracle, pronounced in yet scripture permits us not to consider all the song of Moses thirty-eight years before, divine knowledge as confined to that people, immediately on the passage of the Red Sea; previous to their establishment in Canaan. “Then the dukes of Edomn shall be amazed; The dispersion from the wild attempt of Bathe mighty men of Moab, trembling shall bel, necessarily conveyed in every one of its take hold upon them: all the inhabitants of fragments some knowledge of the nature, Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread will, and worship of the God of their fathers; shall fall upon them: by the greatness of which, though in process of time, obscured thine arm they shall be as still as a stone."! by tradition and forgetfulness, and disfigured Now the person, to whom Balak applied on by human invention, must still have retained this trying occasion, was a man of a very somewhat of both its original form and subextraordinary character, and of very singular stance. The example and instructions of gifts and abilities. He seems to have united so good a master, and a neighbour so respectqualities, the most dissimilar and opposite. able as Abraham himself, could not but have He exhibits in his language and conduct, a made a sensible effect on his numerous do very uncommon combination and contrast of mestics, who were of various countries, and virtues and vices. What can exceed on the upon the princes with whom he came into one hand, the generosity and disinterested connexion; and for this very end probably it ness which he expressed and put in practice, was, that Providence kept him wandering when repeatedly urged to employ his pro- from place to place. By means of their inphetic sagacity or magical skill against Is- tercourse with Abraham, we know that rael? “ It Balak would give me his house Pharaoh and Abimelech attained at least a full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond certain degree of acquaintance with the true the word of the Lord my God, to do less or | God. We find, in like manner, Job, at whatmore."1. What can equal on the other, the ever period he lived, and his three friends, vile prostitution for hire of his great talents in Arabia, and particularly Elihu of the kinin the service of an idolatrous prince against dred of Ram, discovered very profound the people whom he knew to be favoured knowledge in divine things; and Jethro, the and protected of Heaven? We see him this father-in-law of Moses, in the land of Nije day seeking and enjoying the most intimate dian, appears evidently to have possessed the communication with the living and true God; same advantage. It is not therefore matter and to-morrow recurring to the practice of of very great surprise, that Balaam, a straninfamous and infernal arts, to accomplish a ger and an enemy to the commonwealth of most detestable and diabolical purpose: pro- Israel, should enjoy this advantage in comclaiming at one time, in language which the mon with many of his neighbours, and that he spirit of wisdom and prophecy alone could should have made such an indifferent use of inspire, the security, glory, and happiness of it: this alas, being the misery of multitudes, that people whom God delighted to honour; who are favoured with a still clearer light and, with the very next breath, insidiously than he was. Neither will it excite wonder, suggesting counsels, which directly tended if we find superstitious and idolatrous rites to destroy that security, to tarnish that glory, gradually blending with the worship of the and to dissolve that happiness. In a word, great Jehovah. Laban, though not to be set we behold him fully impressed with the im- down as wholly given to idolatry, long before portance of a holy life, in order to a peaceful the period now under review, had his Teraand happy end, and yet living in the com- phim, or household gods, which he highly mission of the most flagrant enormities, and prized, either as objects of religious veneraprematurely cut off, with all his imperfec- tion, or on account of the precious materials tions on his head; cleaving to the last to the of which they were composed. And this too mammon of unrighteousness, and yet suffi- will in part account for that strange mixture ciently impressed with the loveliness of true which we find in the character of Balaam, goodness to pray in these words, “Let me his sudden transition from the acknowledgdie the death of the righteous, and let my ment of the God of Israel, to a participation last end be like his !"$

in the profane rites employed in the worship For the farther clearing up of this very of the idols of Balak and Moab. singular character and history, it may be of But, notwithstanding this odious and aboimportance to observe, that though the de- minable mixture, we observe in more than one scendants of Abraham for many ages after instance, the great God winking at these Wie death of that patriarch, were distinguish- times of ignorance, and condescending to

make known his will, even to men who were * Nimb. xvii. 5. 6. 1 Numb. xxii. 18. § Numb. xxiii. 10.

* Romans ix. 4.

1

Exod. xv. 15. 16.

daily insulting him by their abominations as speak out? ile niakes our voices the vehi in the case of Pharaoh and Abimelech al-cles of his will, without permitting us a choice ready mentioned, as in the case of Nebu- in the matter. I well remember for what chadnezzar, the grossest of idolaters, many purpose the joint entreaties of you and the ages afterwards, and in the case before us. Midianites have brought me hither. I have All this leads to make an obvious and an im- undertaken this journey with a fixed deterportant distinction, between the extraordina- mination to favour your earnest wishes : but ry gifts and the graces of God's Spirit

. It God is more powerful than the bent of my inis one thing to have a clear, enlightened clination, which aimed at the gratification of head, and anotner, to have an affectionate your desires. For when he takes possession and oberlient heart. It is a blessed union of our minds, he occupies them wholly, and where they meet, but the former without the leaves us nothing of our own. I had nothing latter only renders wickedness more con- less in my intention, than to trumpet the spicuous, and condemnation more just. The praises of this mighty host, or to display the charge, alas! does not stop at wicked, cove- blessings which God has in reserve for this tous Balaam; it was matter of complaint favoured race. But being graciously disposed down to the days of Micah, and of prophets towards them, and determined to exalt them of a different description. “ The heads” of to the highest pinnacle of glory and felicity, God's people judge "for reward, and the He suggested to me the predictions which i priests thereof teach for hire, and the pro- could not but'utter."* phets thereof divine for money.” And our Sometimes the representation of some blessed Lord, to level all contidence in the dreadful punishment, to be instantly inflicted, possession of the choicest gifts, assures us, if they dared to falsify the oracle committed that many shall say to him in the great day, to them, might serve as a curb to their own “ Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy natural and unruly propensities; and, somename? and in thy name have cast out de- times carried wholly out of themselves, they vils ? and in thy name done many wonder- delivered, in an extacy, what was committed ful works? And then will I profess unto to them, unconscious of what they said or did. them, I never knew you: depart from me ye In the prosecution of the history, we shall find that work iniquity."*

Balaam under both these kinds of inspiration; We observe farther, that though God was both awed by fear, and wrapt into the vision sometimes pleased to bestow the gift of pro- of futurity, in a trance. phecy upon the unworthy, the prediction, I only make one observation more, for the though uttered by unholy lips, was the truth clearing up of this remarkable story. It was of God, which no weakness, perverseness, a generally received opinion among the Gennor disinclination of the prophet was able tile nations that prophets, or diviners, had a either to alter or suppress. “For the pro- power, by means of incantation, to inflict or phecy came not in old time by the will of to remove public calamities; that they underman: but holy men of God spake as they stood the art of decoying from among their were moved by the Holy Ghost."| They enemies, the tutelar deities who presided over spake under an irresistible impulse; they them; in consequence of which, they were spake sometimes what they understood not, easily and certainly discomfited. Homer and what they would have concealed, if they makes the capture of Troy to depend on the could. Thus Caiaphas, the avowed enemy removal of the sacred image of Minerva from of our blessed Lord, uttered a notable pro- its residence in the citadel of that metropolis: phecy concerning him, not knowing what he and Joshua himself, in the conquest of Casaid." Thus Jeremiah, disgusted with the ill naan, takes advantage of this vulgar prejusuccess of his preaching, finding the word of dice, to encourage his men to proceed to victhe Lord made a reproach and a derision tory; and to prevent the ill efiects of the tidaily, by the thoughtless men of his genera-mid and terrifying report of his colleagues tion, resolved not to make mention of him, respecting the strength of the country. “Renor speak any more in his name. “But,” bel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye says he, " his word was in mine heart, as a the people of the land; for they are bread for burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was us: their defence is departed from them, and weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." the Lord is with us: fear them not.” It was And Josephus, in perfect consistency with accordingly usual, on undertaking military exthe character of Balaam, as drawn by Moses, peditions, to nerve the arm, and to whet the puts into his mouth this address to the king sword of the soldier, by the tongue of the of Moab, who upbraided him with breach of priest, and the tremendous forms of religion. agreement, in pronouncing the warmest of They attempted to make the gods parties to benedictions, where he was expressly hired their quarrels, and devoted to perdition the to curse: “Can you imagine, that when nations against whom they waged war. prompted by the Spirit of God to disclose ancient author has transmitted to us the forna futurity, it depends on us to be silent, or to of execration employed on such occasion's, * Matt vii. 22, 23.

1 2 Pet. i. 21,

* Joseph. Antiq. lib. iv. cap. 4 | Numb. civ.

Λη

66

which, on account of its relation to our sub- cure good to themselves. Had these Midian: ject, perhaps you will have the curiosity to ites, and Moabites, associated together to hear. It is a perfect contrast to the blessing strengthen their borders; had they invited a which Balaam was obliged, reluctantly, to prophet to come and confirm their bands of alpronounce upon Israel. The priest destined liance, and encourage the hearts of their solto this awful employment, after presenting the diery, by pronouncing a blessing upon theinusual sacrifice, advanced to the head of the selves, they had not been reprehensible; but army, and in the presence of the general and such is the corruption and malignity of the huprincipal officers, pronounced aloud words to man heart, that it not only takes pleasure in this etlect: Almighty Father of gods and the evil that befalls another, where our own men, or if thou wouldst rather be addressed interest is concerned, but in the very mischief by the name of Jupiter, or if any other appel- that is wrought for mischief sake. The great lation be more grateful to thine ear; pour out, evil is, men engage in transitory pursuits, as I conjure thee, upon this army," or “this if they were immortal; and had they the city,” according as the case required, “ the power, together with the inclination, would spirit of terror and dismay; deprive of the prosecute momentary offences with everlastsight of their eyea, all those who shall level ing punishments. What is it to one nation their blows at us, our legions or troops ; spread that another great nation be utterly extermidarkness over our enemies, over their cities, nated, provided a favourite scheme of ambiover their fields, over their armies. Look | tion, commerce, or revenge, be thereby proupon them as a thing accursed: bring them moted! When we hear a poor wretch, a under the hardest conditions that ever an ene- common curser and swearer, on the most frimy was constrained to undergo. As for me, volous occasions, imprecating eternal damnato destruction I hereby devote them; my tion on his fellow-creature, we are filled with curse I pour upon them, and take this prince, horror; and yet without surprise, we behold these captains, this people, to be witnesses of religious sects in their zeal, and mighty emit." This ceremony being performed, and pires in their pride and fury, deliberately the soldiers inspirited by the sanctions of re- doing the same thing. What principle so imligion, they advanced to the combat, in confi- portant to individuals and to states, as a prindence of success.

ciple of true religion! It is a comforter in It was for a purpose of this kind, that Ba- afiliction, a counsellor in darkness and uncerlaam was now sent for by the confederated tainty, a refuge in danger and distress, a suppowers of Moab and Midian. How the lat- port in death. What so seductive and mister of these two nations had been induced to chievous as an erroneous principle of this sort ! join in such an embassy, we are not informed. “ If the light that is in men be darkness, how The middle forty years of his life, Moses had great is that darkness?" False religion is a spent among that people; had formed alli- wandering fire of the night, hurrying men ance with them, by marrying the daughter over a precipice; plunging them in the of Jethro, one of the princes of the country, gulf-pretending to bring a tribute of glory with whom he maintained a most friendly to God by destroying mankind. It is the spicorrespondence, after he was raised to the rit of the great enemy of God and man, who command of the armies of Israel. He can- is a liar and a murderer from the beginning, not, therefore, be suspected of forming a hos It is the perilousness of the times that has tile design against his ancient hosts and rela- tossed Balaam into notice, and consequence, tions; and it was much more natural for them and infamy. In a quieter period, he had to form an alliance with a man of Moses's well | floated unnoticed on the surface, and silently known wisdom and moderation, and with a increased the paltry gains of his black art, people sø sensibly favoured of Heaven as Is- by playing on the credulity of silly women rael was, than with a nation of idolators, and and children. But the old wizard has had a prince, who was reduced to employ the poor the good fortune to attract the notice of arts of incantation against his enemies. But, princes, and has the opportunity of selling in many cases it happens, that, aiming at an his magical spells at his own price; and he over-refined wisdom and policy, men prove fails not to make the most of his market. themselves fools. Jethro was probably by this with the clue afforded us in scripture, we time dead, and the Midianitish estate was will attempt in another Lecture, to follow governed by councils, very unlike those which the various turnings and windings of that would probably have been suggested by that profoundest, darkest, most intricate of all wise and good man: and a deputation of their labyrinths, a carnal, covetous heart. We princes joins those of Balak, in an application conclude the present with calling upon you: to Balaam, to strengthen their united forces, I. To remark and to revére the righteous by laying Israel under a curse.

judgment of God, in giving up to strong deIt is melancholy to think that from the be-lusion those who seek and follow delusions. ginning to this day, men have been more ea- | Every deliberate violation of God's law, every ger to bring mischief upon others, than to pro- victory which a man gains over his own con*Macrob. Saturnal. lib. iii. cap.

science becomes his punishment, as it is his

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

crime. Let not him who has wilfully de- | know but this, is more than “ to speak with ceived himself, in the first instance, pretend the tongues of men and of angels"—is more to complain, that he has been hurried into than to “ have the gift of prophecy, and to mistakes which he never intended, but could understand all mysteries and all knowledge; not avoid. The first wrong step was in his and to have all faith, so as to be able to repower, but not the fourth or the fijih. The man move mountains.” “ Covet earnestly the reeded not, unless he chose, to bave set him- best gifts;" but rather cultivate the fruits of self a running down a steep place, but, once the Spirit, “ love, joy, peace, longsuffering, in motion, it is not in his power to stop when gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temhe would. If therefore he plunge into the perance : against such there is no law."* flood beneath, the fault is in himself, not the III. While we admire the wisdom and laws of motion, which only carried on what goodness of God, in counteracting the intenhis own will had begun. The man who has tion of wicked Balaam, and turning the curse destroyed his faculties by excess, must not in his mouth into a blessing, let us bow the charge his bad memory, his erroneous judg- knee in gratitude to that great Prophet, who ment, or the inconveniences in which they has wholly, and for ever done away the curse; have involved him, upon nature or the God let us give glory to “God, who hath sent his of nature. No, they only establish the work Son Christ Jesus to bless every one of us, in of his own hands. In this view, it is per- turning us froin our iniquities;" and to infectly just that “to him who hath should more troduce us into more than an Eden, more be given, and from him who hath not, even than a Canaan, even into the paradise of God; that which he hath should be taken away.” where there is no more curse"_" where

II. Let us rejoice that we have a clear God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes ; and “ sure word of prophecy,” to direct and and there shall be no more death, neither assist us in every doubtful and difficult case; sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be and that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit any more pain: for the former things are of prophecy.” The gift of prophecy was not passed away.”+ always a blessing to the possessor ; and, as IV. While we behold “the madness of the the mere knowledge of future events, it would prophet”—a heart hardened through the debe the reverse of a blessing. In tender mercy ceitfulness of sin, let us tremble to think that and in loving kindness, God conceals futurity the seeds of this very sin are implanted deeply from men.

But all that pertains to the ac- in our own nature; that they ve even dis quisition of wisdom, and the attainment of covered their baleful shoots; that they bring happiness; all that assures us of life and im- forth fruit unto death. Every plant which mortality, and makes us meet for the enjoy- our heavenly Father hath not planted, shall ment of it, the words of this prophecy fully be plucked up and rooted out; and this is unfold. “ The righteousness of faith speak- one of them. * Look to it carefully, O man: eth on this wise, Say not in thine heart, who watch it with a holy jealousy: " It is the shall ascend into heaven ? (that is, to bring root of all evil.” “ Love not the world, neiChrist down from above) or who shall descend ther the things that are in the world. If any into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ man love the world, the love of the Father again from the dead.) But what saith it? is not in him. For all that is in the world, The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and in thy heart: That is, the word of faith and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but which we preach, That if thou shalt confess is of the world. And the world passeth away, with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt be- and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the lieve in thine heart that God hath raised him will of God abideth for ever.”[ from the dead, thou shalt be saved."* To

| Rev. xxi. 4 1 1 John ii. 15–17.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Gal. v. 22, 23.

* Rom. 1. 6-9.

HISTORY OF BALA A M.

LECTURE LXVIIL

And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab

NUMBERS xxii. 21.

[ocr errors]

The eagerness which men discover in indifference respecting the things of God and pursuing the objects of time and sense, is a eternity. The carnal mind needs but a hint melancholy contrast to their coldness and to attach itself to the pursuit of riches, ples2 Q

26*

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »