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Spirit has existedes, in order to be so we have but to
no calamity could tame, no kindness could inollify; a levity which no steadiness of discipline could fix, a perfidiousness which no plea can excuse, an ingratitude which no partiality can extenuate, a stupidity which no intelligence can account for, a temerity and a rasliness which no reason can explain? Alas, we need not travel to the deserts of Arabia, nor look back to the days of the golden calf, nor of the waters of Meri. bah, for the persons who discovered such a spirit. We have but to look into our own hearts, we have but to review our own lives, in order to be satisfied, that such a spirit has existed, that it is shamefully odious in itself, highly offensive in the sight of God, and that we have good reason to abhor ourselves, “and repent in dust and ashes."
We have púrsucd the histcry of Aaron and of Balaam, in a continued series, that we might prosecute the remainder of the history of Moses, without any farther interruption; we therefore omitted in its proper place that portion of it, which is partly recorded in the verses I have read: but it is of infinitely too great importance to be passed over whoily in silence, and there. fore we look back, and bring it into view, as an useful subject of meditation this evening.
Moses had lately descended from Mount Hor, whither he had been summoned to perform the last offices of humanity to Aaron, his brother: with mixed emotions, no doubt, which alternately marked the man and the believer : mourning and mortified, yet patient, composed and resigned to the will of Heaven. In executing sentence of death upon his brother, he heard the voice of God again pronouncing his own doom; a doon in which, with the ordinary feelings of humanity, he acquiesces with reluctance, but must however acquiesce. But though death was before his eyes, and could be at no great distance, it abates nothing of his ardor for the glory of God, and the good of Israel; it breaks in upon no duty of his station, it dis. turbs not the benevolence, gentleness and serenity of his temper : he lives, acts, instructs to the very last; and exhibits an instructive example of that happy firmness and equanimity of soul, removed alike from stoical indifference, and contempt of death, and fond, infirm, unreasonable attachment to life. We find him accordingly in his one hundred and twentieth year, and the last of his life, not only engaged in employments suitable to age, those of deliberating, advising and instruct. ing; but exerting all the activity and vigor of youth, in planning and executing sundry military enterprises.
We should be surprised, did we not know the cause of it, to find Israel in the fortieth year from their deliverance out of Egypt, just where we saw them the first month, by the way of the Red Sea, journeying from Mount Hor; and even then, though every thing seemed to be pressing them forwards to the possession of Canaan, not led of their heavenly Guide directly forwards in the nearest 'tract, but obliged to fetch a compass round the whole land of Edom, the possession allotted to, and already bestowed upon the posterity of Esau. Bụt Israel, and in them mankind, was thereby instructed to revere the destinations of Provi. dence, to respect the rights, property and privileges of others; that reason and religion, as well as sympathy and humanity, oblige a man to submit to the inconveniency of a journey somewhat more tedious and fatiguing, instead of attempting to cut a nearer passage for himself, through the bowels and blood of his brother,
The consciousness of having acted well, in taking this circuitous march round the land of Edom, and that they thus acted by the command of God, ought to have reconciled the minds of these Israelites to the little inconveniences of the way; but their historian and leader, with his usual fidelity, informs us, that “the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way."
Men frequently do their duty with so i!la grace, that
it becomes as offensive as downright disobedience ; the manner of compliance has the air of a refusal. God loves cheerfulness in every thing: a cheerful, liberal giver ; a cheerful, thankful receiver ; a cheerful, active doer ; a cheerful, patient sufferer. And what an alleviating consideration is it, under the pressure of whatever calamity! “ This burden is iniposed on me by the hand of my heavenly Father; this is a sore evil, but God can turn it into good.” “This affliction is not joyous, but grievous ; nevertheless afterwards it shall yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness." When we are out of humor at one thing, we are dissatisfied with every person, and every thing; a harsh spirit and a hasty tongue spare neither God nor man. “ The people spoke against God, and against Moses. Wherefore have ve brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness ? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.” :
Objects viewed through the medium of passion, like those strange uncouth appearances which are seen in glasses of a certain construction, have little or no resemblance to what they are in nature and truth. They are distorted and disfigured ; magnified to such a degree as to become hideous, or diminished so as to be. come imperceptible ; and according to the fit of the moment, men turn the one end or the other of the perspective to the eye, and what they contemplate is accordingly removed to a great distance, and reduced to nothing, or brought nigh, enlarged, and brightened up. Employing this false kind of optics, Israel now considers Egypt and all its hardships with desire and regret, and looks forward to Canaan with coldness and distrust. The miraculous stream that followed them from the rock is no water at all, and manna, angel's food, is accounted light bread. We are too little aware of the sinfulness and folly of discontent, and therefore indulge in it without fear or reserve. We do not reflect that it is to arraign at once the wisdom and goodness of God; to rob him of the right of judgment, and madly to increase the evil which was too heavy before.
In general, the righteous Governor of the world permits this evil affection to punish itself; and can there be a greater punishment, than to leave a sullen, dissatisfied wretch to devour his own spleen? But in the instance before us, he was provoked to superadd to this mental plague, a grievous external chastisement. “ And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and much people of Israel died.” These might be the natural production of the wilder. ness, but providentially armed for the occasion with a greater malignancy of poison, or produced in greater abundance, or roused to a higher degree of ferocity. For what are the instruments which God employs to revenge himself of his enemies? He needs not to create a new thing in the earth; the simplest creature can do it. Nature, animate and inanimate, is ready to take up his quarrel; the frost or the fue, continued a little longer, or rendered a little more intense, will soon subdue the proudest of his adversaries. It is not the least of the miracles of divine mercy, that Israel had been preserved so long from the fury of those noxious insects with which the desert swarmed, as Moses justly remarks in recapitulating the history of God's goodness to that people during a forty years pilgrimage. “Lest thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of fint," Deut, viii. 14, 15.
The rage of these dreadful creatures, which had been during so long a period by a supernatural power suppressed, now freed from that curb, becomes a party too strong for a mighty host, Bushed with recent victory. While therefore we adore and admire the good. ness which multiplies the necessary and useful part of the vegetable and animal tribes with such astonishing liberality, and limits those which are noxious with such consummate wisdom and irresistible powe:, letus trem. ble to think how easily he can remove the barrier which restrains the wrath of the creature, and arm a fly with force sufficient for our destruction. But the intention of God in punishing is correction and amendment, not ruin; returning mercy therefore meets the first symptoms of repentance, and a remedy is pointed out the moment that misery is felt; which sweetly dis. closes to us the meltings of fatherly affection, outrunning and preventing filial wretchedness.
But what strange method of cure have we here? The poison of a serpent counteracted, and its malignity destroyed, not by an external application, not by the virtue of an antidote possessed of certain natural qua. lities, but by a blessing annexed to the use of an instru. ment in itself inadequate, and an action of the patient himself, fowing from his own will, and called forth by the appointment and command of God. The author of that excellent book; entitled the Wisdom of Solomon, has a beautiful reference to this story, when he says,
" For when the horrible fierceness of wild beasts came upon these, and they perished with the stings of crooked serpents, thy wrath endured not forever. But they were troubled for a small season, that they might be admonished, baving a sign of salvation, to put them in remembrance of the commandment of thy law. For he that turned towards it, was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by thee, that art the Saviour of all. And in this thou madest thine enemies confess, that it is thou who deliverest from all evil.” Wisdom ch. xvi.
But the grand commentary on the history of the fiery serpents is furnished by Christ himself, in his conversation with Nicodemus, the Jewish ruler. “ As