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no kindness could mollify: a levity which no seemed to be pressing them forwards to the steadiness of discipline could fix, a perfidious-possession of Canaan, not led of their heavenly ness which no plea can excuse, an ingratitude Guide directly forwards in the nearest tract, which no partiality can extenuate, a stupidi- but obliged to fetch a compass round the ty which no intelligence can account for, a whole land of Edom, the possession allotted timidity and a rashness which no reason can to, and already bestowed upon the posterity explain? Alas, we need not travel to the of Esau. But Israel, and in them mankind, deserts of Arabia, nor look back to the days was thereby instructed to revere the destinaof the golden calf, nor of the waters of Meri- tions of Providence, to respect the rights, probah, for the persons who discovered such a perty, and privileges of others: that reason spirit. We have but to look into our own and religion, as well as sympathy and huhearts, we have but to review our own lives, manity, oblige a man to submit to the inconin order to be satisfied, that such a spirit has veniency of a journey somewhat more tedious existed, that it is shamefully odious in itself, and fatiguing, instead of attempting to cut a highly offensive in the sight of God, and that nearer passage for himself, through the bowels we have good reason to abhor ourselves, “ and and blood of his brother. repent in dust and ashes."
The consciousness of having acted well, in We have pursued the history of Aaron and taking this circuitous march round the land of Balaam in a continued series, that we of Edom, and that they thus acted by the might prosecute the remainder of the history command of God, ought to have reconciled of Moses, without any farther interruption : the minds of these Israelites to the little inwe therefore omitted in its proper place that conveniences of the way; but their historian portion of it, which is partly recorded in the and leader, with his usual fidelity, informs us, verses I have read: but it is of infinitely too that “the soul of the people was much disgreat importance to be passed over wholly in couraged because of the way." silence, and therefore we look back, and Men frequently do their duty with so ill a bring it into view, as an useful subject of grace, that it becomes as offensive as downmeditation this evening.
right disobedience; the manner of compliMoses had lately descended from mount ance has the air of a refusal. God loves Hor, whither he had been summoned to per- cheerfulness in every thing; a cheerful, libeform the last offices of humanity to Aaron, his ral giver; a cheerful, thankful receiver; a brother: with mixed emotions, no doubt, cheerful, active doer; a cheerful, patient sufwhich alternately marked the man and the ferer. And what an alleviating considerabeliever: mourning and mortified, yet pa- tion is it, under the pressure of whatever catient, composed, and resigned to the will of lamity! “ This burden is imposed on me by Heaven. In executing sentence of death the hand of my heavenly Father; this is a upon his brother, he heard the voice of God sore evil, but God can turn it into good." again pronouncing his own doom; a doom in "This affliction is not joyous, but grievous; which, with the ordinary feelings of humani- nevertheless, afterwards it shall yield the ty, he acquiesces with reluctance, but must peaceable fruits of righteousness. When however acquiesce. But though death was we are out of humour at one thing we before his eyes, and could be at no great dis- are dissatisfied with every person, and every tance, it abates nothing of his ardour for the thing; a harsh spirit and a hasty tongue glory of God, and the good of Israel; it spare neither God nor man.
“ The people breaks in upon no duty of his station, it dis- spoke against God, and against Moses. turbs not the benevolence, gentleness, and Wherefore have ye brought us up out of serenity of his temper: he lives, acts, in- Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is structs to the very last; and exhibits an in-no bread, neither is there any water; and our structive example of that happy firmness and soul loatheth this light bread.” equanimity of soul, removed alike from stoic Objects viewed through the medium of pasal indifference, and contempt of death, and sion, like those strange, uncouth appearances fond, infirm, unreasonable attachment to life. which are seen in glasses of a certain conWe find him accordingly, in his 120th year, struction, have little or no resemblance to and the last of his life, not only engaged in what they are in nature and truth. They employments suitable to age, those of delibe are distorted and disfigured; magnified to rating, advising, and instructing; but exert- such a degree as to become hideous, or dimi ing all the activity and vigour of youth, in nished so as to become imperceptible; and planning and executing sundry military en- according to the fit of the moment, men turn terprises.
the one end or the other of the perspective to We should be surprised, did we not know the eye, and what they contemplate is acthe cause of it, to find Israel in the fortieth cordingly removed to a great distance, and year from their deliverance out of Egypt, just reduced to nothing, or brought nigh, enlarged, where we saw them the first month, by the and brightened up. Employing this false way of the Red Sea, journeying from mount kind of optics, Israel now considers Egypt Hor; and even then, though every things and all its hardships with desire and regret,
And looks forward to Canaan with coldness in punishing is correction and amendment, and distrust. The miraculous stream that not ruin; returning mercy therefore meets followed them from the rock is no water at the first symptoms of repentance, and a reall, and ranna, angel's food, is accounted medy is pointed out the moment that misery light bread. We are too little aware of the is felt; which sweetly discloses to us the sinfulness and folly of discontent, and there- meltings of fatherly affection, outrunning and fore indulge in it without fear or reserve. We preventing filial wretchedness. do not reflect that it is to arraign at once the But what strange method of cure have we wisdom and goodness of God: to rob him of here? The poison of a serpent counteracted, the right of judgment, and madly to increase and its malignity destroyed, not by an exterthe evil which was too heavy before. nal application, not by the virtue of an anti
In general, the righteous Governor of the dote possessed of certain natural qualities, but world permits this evil affection to punish it- by a blessing annexed to the use of an instruself; and can there be a greater punishment, ment in itself inadequate, and an action of than to leave a sullen, dissatisfied wretch to the patient himself, flowing from his own will, devour his own spleen? But in the instance and called forth by the appointment and combefore us, he was provoked to superadd to mand of God. The author of that excellent this mental plague, a grievous external chas- book, entitled the Wisdom of Solomon, has a tisement. " And the Lord sent fiery ser. beautiful reference to this story, when he pents among the people, and they bit the says, people, and much people of Israel died.” “For when the horrible fierceness of wild These might be the natural production of the beasts came upon these, and they perished wilderness, but providentially armed for the with the stings of crooked serpents, thy wrath occasion with a greater malignancy of poi- endured not for ever. But they were trouson, or produced in greater abundance, or bled for a small season, that they might be roused to a higher degree of ferocity. For admonished, having a sign of salvation, to put what are the instruments which God employs them in remembrance of the commandment to avenge himself of his enemies ?. He needs of thy law. For he that turned towards it, not to create a new thing in the earth; the was not saved by the thing that he saw, but simplest creature can do it. Nature, animate by thee, that art the Saviour of all. And in and inanimate, is ready to take up his quar- this thou madest thine enemies confess, that rel; the frost or the fire, continued a little it is thou who deliverest from all evil.” longer, or rendered a little more intense, will But the grand commentary on the history soon subdue the proudest of his adversa- of the fiery serpents is furnished by Christ ries. It is not the least of the miracles of himself, in his conversation with Nicodemus, divine mercy, that Israel had been preserved the Jewish ruler. “ As Moses lifted up the so long from the fury of those noxious insects serpent in the wilderness, even so must the with which the desert swarmed, as Moses Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever bejustly remarks in recapitulating the history lieveth in him should not perish, but have of God's goodness to that people during a for- eternal life.”+ ty years' pilgrimage. “Lest thine heart be From this it is evident that many particulifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, lars in the Jewish history and political ecowhich brought thee forth out of the land of nomy, had an interest and importance which Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led extended far beyond the present moment, or thee through that great and terrible wilder- the sensible and obvious appearance of things. ness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scor-And in this particular instance our blessed pions, and drought, where there was no wa- Lord has firnished us with an instructive ter; who brought thee forth water out of the example, which ought to serve as a rule, rock of flint."*
for the application and use of figurative, The rage of these dreadful creatures, which allegorical, and typical subjects. Here he had been during so long a period by a super- enters into no detail ; pursues no parallel or natural power suppressed, now freed from contrast through a multiplicity of particulars; that curb, becomes a party too strong for a furnishes no wings to the imagination; but mighty host, flushed with recent victory. fixing on one great, general view of the subWhile therefore we adore and admire the ject, renders it thereby more powerful and goodness which multiplies the necessary and impressive. He was conversing with a ruler useful part of the vegetable and animal iribes of the Jews; was explaining to him the nawith such astonishing liberality, and limits ture and end of his own mission; was deducthose which are noxious with such consuming the nature and tendency of the gospel inate wisdom and irresistible power, let us dispensation from the established rites of the tremble to think how easily he can remove Mosaic, and the received facts of the Jewish the barrier which restrains the wrath of the history, with which Nicodemus was perfectcreature, and arm a fly with force sufficient ly well acquainted. In this case he refers for our destruction. But the intention of God to a noted event, and appeals from it to one Deut. viii. 14, 15.
• Wisdom, ch. xvi.
7 John iii. 14, 15.
which was shortly to take place, betwixt ishness: but unto them which are called, which a striking line of resemblance should both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of be apparent–The elevation of the brazen God, and the wisdom of God."* serpent in the wilderness, for the healing of The virtue flowed from the divine appointthe Israelites who were perishing by the en- ment, operating together with the believing vemoned stings of the fiery serpents—and act of the patient. To the sufferer who arerts the elevation of the Son of Man upon the his face, or wilfully and contemptuously shuts cross, the propitiation for the sins of the his eyes, that banner is displayed in vain; no world; that when this last display of the di- virtue issues from it, he perishes in his unbevine justice and mercy should be exhibited, lief. To the despiser, the impenitent, the Nicodemus, and every intelligent and honest careless, Christ has died in vain. In the exdisciple of Moses might be satisfied that tension of all God's acts of grace to men, to "God had at sundry times and in divers man- produce the full effect, there must of necesners,” presented as in a glass to the fathers, sity be an unity of design and exertion bethe method of redemption by Jesus Christ. tween the giver and the receiver, between
All the application, then, which the words him who acts and him who is acted upon. of the Saviour himself warrant us to make of Man's body is “ dust of the ground," mere this passage to him, is reduced to a few obvi- matter, separated from the spirit, incapable ous and striking particulars. "Fools,” such as of motion or direction. Even that active, the Israelites in the desert, and transgressors penetrating organ, the eye, is but a little of the divine law in general, “ because of lump of pellucid clay, till the vital principle, their transgression, and because of their ini.. the breath of God, kindle its fires, and direct quities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth its rays. It is this vital principle which, proall manner of meat; and they draw near un- ceeding from God, exists in him, and posto the gates of death. Then they cry unto sesses the power of rising and returning to the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them him. The believing Israelite hears, in dying out of their distresses. He sent his word agonies, the proclamation of deliverance, lifts and healed them, and delivered them from up his drooping head, looks, and is healed; their destructions."*
his will meets the will of God, and the cure The root of the evil, the cause of the plague, is already performed. The perishing sinner is to be found in human perversity and diso-hears the voice of the Son of God and lives. bedience. The faithful and obedient sleep Lifted up upon the cross he utters his voice, safe and secure in the lion's den; to the “ Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends proud and rebellious the innoxious worm is of the earth; for I am God, and there is none converted into a fiery serpent, full of deadly else.”+ One of his fellow-sufferers hardens poison. The remedy for this sore evil is to his heart and reviles him, turns from the Sabe traced up to the divine compassion, power, viour with disdain, and dies impenitent—the and goodness.
other hears with rapture the joyful sound, The means of cure are not such as human clings to the hope of salvation, prays in faith, wisdom would have devised, or the reason of and passes with him into paradise. man approved; they are the sovereign ap But the circumstance on which Christ pointment of Heaven. The effect is preter-chiefly rests, is Moses “ lifting up the sernatural, yet real: and reason rejoices in what pent in the wilderness.”. Moses probably had it could not have discovered. The sight of not a clear apprehension of the extensive a lifeless serpent of metal, working as an meaning and import of the act he was perantidote to the mortal poison of one alive; forming, any more than the dying men who incredible, absurd ! Such was the doctrine were the subjects of the cure. They looked of the cross in the eyes of prejudice, and phi- no farther than the present moment, and for losophy, “and science, falsely so called.” relief from a malady which affected the body. “ For the preaching of the cross is to them But, like the high priest in later times, they that perish, foolishness; but unto us which were prophesying, without being conscious are saved, it is the power of God. For it is of it. He was erecting, and the congregation written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, in the wilderness contemplating an anticiand will bring to nothing the understanding pated representation of the great medium of of the prudent. Where is the wise ? where is salvation, which God had appointed from the the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? foundation of the world ; and had, in a variety hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this of other predictions, circumstantially declared world? For after that in the wisdom of God, and described, at different periods to mankind. the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased 'These predictions were slumbering, unnoGod by the foolishness of preaching to save ticed, neglected, misunderstood, even by the them that believe. For the Jews require a wise and prudent, in the sacred volume, a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom. But dead letter, till Christ, their quickening spirit
, we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews, a gave them life and motion, and a meaning stumbling block; and unto the Greeks, fool- which they had not before.
* Psalm cvii. 17--20.
* 1 Cor. i. 18-24.
Isa. xlv. 22
In the scene that passed in the wilderness, only to the hand which employed it. The zeal we behold the shadow of good things to come, of that pious prince, therefore, is worthy of a prefiguration of the death which Christ commendation, who, in reforming the abuses should die. He is here “evidently set forth of religion, which prevailed at the time that crucified before us,” according to his own he mounted the throne of Judah, abolished words, descriptive of the decease which he this among the rest. Regardless of the purshould accomplish at Jerusalem.” “ And I, pose for which it was at first framed; of the if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all venerable hand which formed and reared it, men unto me.
and of the lapse of so many years which had This same idea, we have just observed, stamped respect upon it, “ he brake in pieces had been suggested by the evangelical pro- the brazen serpent which Moses had made ; phet Isaiah, and a similar expression is put for unto those days the children of Israel did into the Saviour's mouth by that harbinger burn incense to it, and he called it Nehushof the Prince of Peace. “ Look unto me and tan,** by way of contempt-a piece of be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for brass. I am God, and there is none else."
On this part of the history of Moses, pagan And in another place, speaking of gospel antiquity has founded the fabulous history of times, “ At that day shall a man look to his Esculapius, the pretended god of medicine, Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to whose symbol was a serpent twisted round a the Holy One of Israel.”+
rod. The learned have, through a variety Thus was Moses, by what he did, and of particulars, traced the derivation of the Isaiah, by what he wrote, pointing out to the fable from the fact; but to repeat them, world one and the same great object, Christ would rather minister to curiosity than to Jesus," the end of the law for righteousness;" | instruction and improvement. We dismiss the substance of the types; the accomplish- the subject, then, with this general remark, ment of prophecy and promise ; the bruiser that in more respects than is commonly apof the serpent's head ; the restorer of defaced, prehended, and than it has had the candour defiled, degraded humanity. And thus we to acknowledge, is pagan literature indebted are taught to regard with peculiar respect, to the sacred volume; that the wisdom of an event which Providence has, in so many Egypt, of Babylon, of Greece, and of Rome different ways, rendered illustriously conspi- is traceable up to this source; that Moses is, cuous; the death of Christ on the accursed of course, to be considered as the father of tree.
profane, as of sacred learning, from whom We shall have exhibited to you all that all subsequent historians, legislators, orators, Moses and the prophets, all that ihe historian and poets have derived the lights which diand the evangelist have suggested, on the rected them in their several pursuits; that subject of the brazen serpent, when we have to the pure source of all wisdom, the revelaled your attention to the impious and idola- tion from heaven, in a word, the world is trous use made of it in after times. That indebted for the first principles of science, this illustrious instrument of Israel's deliver- morality, and religion; which appear to the ance in the wilderness, should be carefully attentive and discerning eye through the mist preserved, as a monument of the divine power in which credulous ignorance or bold fiction and goodness, and by length of time acquire have involved them. venerability and respect among the other Let us hence be encouraged to revere the valuable memorials of antiquity, is not to be scriptures, to search and compare them; to wondered at. But every thing may be per- derive our opinions of religious subjects from verted; and a corrupt disposition has ever that sacred source, instead of forcing the manifested itself in man, to exalt into the truth of God into an awkward supporter of place of God, something that is not God. Ac- our preconceived opinions. Above all, let it cordingly we find, about eight centuries from be our concern to regulate our conduct by its original fabrication, even in the days of the laws which scripture has laid down, and Hezekiah, the brazen serpent exalted to di- to comfort our by the hope it invine honours, and a besotted people rendering spires, and the prospects which it has unthat homage to the mean, which was due folded. Amen. | Isa. xvii. 7.
* 2 Kings xviii. 4.
* John xii. 32.
HISTORY OF MOSES.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given
unto the children of Israel. And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strite of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes. That is the water of Meribah in Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin.-NUMBERS Xxvii. 12–14.
There is something peculiarly interesting , at the distance of thirty-eight years, the in hearing a plain, honest, intelligent man, whole difference is no more than one thouwithout vanity, or self-sufficiency, or of af- sand eight hundred and twenty men: for at fected humility, talking of himself; going the former period, the number of men of a into the detail of his own history, with the military age was six hundred and three thousame fidelity and simplicity as if it were the sand five hundred and fifty; and at the latter, history of a stranger; unfolding his heart six hundred and one thousand seven hundred without reserve, disclosing his faults and in- and thirty. But though the strength of the firmities without palliation, recording his host was nearly the same, the individuals wise and virtuous actions without ostenta- whereof it was composed were totally tion; and relating events, with all their lit- changed; two names alone of so many my. tle circumstances, according to the feelings riads stood upon both lists, Caleb the son of which they excited at the moment.
Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun, for It is pleasant to see an old man, with his Moses himself was under sentence of confaculties unimpaired, his spirits cheerful, his demination; he was not to be permitted to temper sweet, his conscience clear, his pros- pass over Jordan; he is already numbered pects bright; enjoying life without fearing with the dead. death; blending the modesty and benevolence The course of nature, it is true, is continuof youth with the wisdom and dignity of age. ally producing a similar effect on the human There is a double satisfaction in hearing such race, upon the whole; but there is a degree a one describe persons whom he knew, scenes of exactness in this instance, not to be acin which he acted, expeditions which he con- counted for on common principles, and which ducted, schemes which he planned and exe- must be resolved into a special interposition cuted.
of Providence, which had pronounced the And such a one was Moses, who having, doom of death on the whole body of offenders, by divine inspiration made the ages and ge- in the moment of transgression, and at the nerations before the flood to pass in review, same instant, promised the reward of fidelity and unfolded the history of redemption, in its and obedience to those illustrious two: lonconnexion with the system of nature and the gevity, and the possession of Canaan. Vain ways of Providence, during a period of two therefore is the hope of so much as one guilty thousand five hundred years; having admit- person escaping in a crowd, groundless the ted us to his familiarity and friendly instruc- fear of singular goodness suffering in the tion during an eventful life of one hundred midst of many wicked. and twenty years, is now, with the same It is related of Xerxes, king of Persia, calmness and ease, admitting us to contem- much to the honour of his humanity, that plate his behaviour in the immediate pros- surveying from an eminence the vast army pect, and up to the very hour of his death. with which he was advancing to the invasion
The idolatrous defection of Israel in the l of Greece, he burst into tears to think that plains of Moab, had been visited with a plague less than one hundred years they should which swept away twenty-four thousand of all be cut off from the land of the living. them. Immediately on the staying of that What then, O Moses, were the emotions of terrible calamity, Moses is commanded, with thy soul, to see the event which Xerxes but the assistance of Eleazer the high priest, to anticipated, realized before thine eyes ? To take the number of the people, from twenty walk through the ranks of Israel without years old and upwards, and to compare the meeting one man who followed thee out of muster-roll of the day, with that taken in the Egypt, with whom thou couldst mingle the wilderness of Sinai, thirty-eight years before. tears of sympathy over so many fallen, or reThis being done with all possible accuracy, mind of the joy and wonder of that great de. two most singular facts turn up, each singu- liverance? Is not that man already dead, lar, considered separately and by itself, and who has survived all his contemporaries ? A both most singular, taken in connexion one consideration, among many others, powerwith another. In a multitude so great, and fully calculated to reconcile the mind to the