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judgments by our prayers, with favour and success. So soon as the incense of Aaron ascended up unto God, he smelt a savour of rest; he will rather spare the offenders, than strike their intercessor. How hardly can any people iniscarry, that have faithful ministers to sue for their safety! Nothing but the smoke of hearty prayers can cleanse the air from the plagues of God.
If Aaron's sacrifice were thus accepted, how much more shall the High-Priest of the new testament, by interposing himself to the wrath of his Father, deliver the offenders froin death? The plague was entered upon all the sons of men. O Saviour, thou stoodst betwixt the living and the dead, that all which believe in thee should not perish! Aaron offered, and was not stricken; but thou, O Redeemer, wouldst offer and be struck, that by thy stripes we might be healed! So stoodst thou betwixt the dead and living, that thou wert both alive and dead; and all this, that we, when we were dead, might live for ever.
Nothing more troubled Israel, than a fear lest the two brethren should cunningly ingross the government to themselves. If they had done so, what wise men would have envied them an office so little worth, so dearly purchased ? But because this conceit was ever apt to stir them to rebellion, and to hinder the benefit of this holy sovereignty; therefore God hath endeavoured nothing more, than to let them see that these officers, whom they so much envied, were of his own proper institution. They had scarce shut their eyes since they saw the confusion of those two hundred and fifty usurping sacrificers ; and Aaron's effectual intercession for staying the plague of Israel.
In the one, the execution of God's vengeance upon the competitors of Aaron, for his sake; in the other, the forbearance of vengeance upon the people for Aaron's mediation, might have challenged their voluntary acknowledgment of his just calling from God. If there had been in them either awe or thankfulness, they could not have doubted of his lawful supremacy. How could they choose but argue thus? Why would God so fearfully have destroyed the rivals that durst contest with Aaron, if he would have allowed him any equal? Wherefore serve those plates of the altar, which we see made of those usurped censers, but to warn all posterity of such presumption! Why should God cease striking, while Aaron inter
posed betwixt the living and the dead, if he were but as one of us? Which of us, if we had stood in the plague, had not added to the heap? Incredulous minds will not be persuaded with any evidence. These two brothers had lived asunder forty years ; God makes them both meet in one office of delivering Israel. One half of the miracles were wrought by Aaron; he struck with the rod, while it brought those plagues on Egypt. The Israelites heard God call him up by name to Mount Sinai; they saw him anointed from God, and (lest. they should think this a set match betwixt the brethren) they saw the earth opening, the fire issuing from God upon their emulous opposites : they saw his smoke, a sufficient antidote for the plague of God; and yet still Aaron's calling is questioned.
Nothing is more natural to every man than unbelief: but the earth never yielded a people so strongly incredulous as these; and, after so many thousand generations, their children do inherit their obstinacy; still do they oppose the true High Priest, the anointed of God. Sixteen hundred years' desolation bath not drawn from them to confess him whom God hath chosen.
How desirous was God to give satisfaction even to the obstinate! There is nothing more material, than that men should be assured their spiritual guides have their commission and calling froin God: the want whereof is a prejudice to our success. It should not be so: but the corruption of men will not receive good, but from due messengers.
Before, God wrought miracles in the rod of Moses ; now, in the rod of Aaron. As Pharaoh might see himself in Moses' rod, whọ, of a rod of defence and protection, was turned into a venomous serpent, so Israel might see themselves in the rod of Aaron. Every tribe, and every Israelite was, of himself, as a serestick, without life, without sap, and if any one of them had power to live, and flourish, he must acknowledge it from the immediate power and gift of God.
Before God's calling, all men are alike; every name is alike written in their rod; there is no difference in the letters, in the wood; neither the characters of Aaron are fairer, nor the staff more precious. It is the choice of God that makes the distinction; so it is in our calling of christianity; all are equally devoid of possibility of grace; all equally lifeless; by nature we are all sons of wrath. If we be now better than
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guides have their dice to our others, who separated us? We are all crabstocks in this orchard of God, he may graff what fruit he pleases upon us; only the grace, and effectual calling of God, makes the difference.
These twelve heads of Israel would never have written their names in their rods, but in hope they might be chosen to this dignity. What an honour was this priesthood, whereof all the princes of Israel are ambitious! If they had not thought it an high preferment, they had never so much envied the office of Aaron. What shall we think of this change! Is the Evangelical ministration of less worth than the Levitical ? While the testament is better, is the service worse? How is it, that the great think themselves too good for this employment? How is it, that under the gospel, men are disparaged with that, which honoured them under the law; that their ambition and our scorn meet in one subject?
These twelve rods are not laid up in the several cabinets of their owners, but are brought forth and laid before the Lord. It is fit God should make choice of his own attendants. Even we men hold it injurious to have servants obtruded upon us by others. Never shall that man have comfort in his ministry, whom God hath not chosen. The great commander of the world hath set every man in his station; to one he hath said, Stand thou in this tower and watch; to another, Make thou good these trenches; to a third, Dig thou in this mine. He that gives, and knows our abilities, can best set us on work.
This road was the pastoral staff of Aaron, the great shepherd of Israel. God testifies his approbation of his charge, by the fruit. That a rod cut off from the tree should blossom, it was strange; but, that in one night it should bear buds, blossoms, fruit, and that both ripe and hard, it was highly miraculous. The same power that revives the dead plants of winter, in the spring, doth it here without earth, without time, without sun, that Israel might see and grant, it was no reason his choice should be limited, whose power is unlimited.
Fruitfulness is the best argument of the calling of God: not only all the plants of his setting, but the very boughs cut off from the body of them, will flourish. And that there inay not want a succession of increase, here are fruit, blossoms, buds; both proof and hope, inseparably mixed. .
It could not but be a great comfort unto Aaron, to see his rod thus miraculously flourishing; to see this wonderful testimony of God's favour and election : sure, he could not but think, who am I, O God, that thou shouldst thus choose me out all the tribes of Israel? My weakness hath been more worthy of thy rod of correction, than my rod hath been worthy of these blossoms. How hast thou magnified me in the sight of all thy people! How able art thou to uphold my imbecility with the rod of thy support! How able to defend me with the rod of thy power, who hast thus brought fruit out of the sapless rod of my profession! That servant of God is worthy to faint, that holds it not a sufficient encouragement, to see the evident proofs of his master's favour.
Commonly, those fruits which are soon ripe, soon wither; but these almonds of Aaron's rod, are not more early than lasting; the same hand which brought them out before their time, preserved them beyond their time; and, for perpetual memory, both rod and fruit must be kept in the ark of God. The tables of Moses, the rod of Aaron, the manna of God, are monuments fit for so holy a shrine. The doctrine, sacraments, and government of God's people, are precious to him, and must be so to mnen. All times shall see and wonder, how bis ancient church was fed, taught, ruled. Moses' rod did great miracles, yet I find it not in the ark. The rod of Aaron hath this privilege, because it carried the miracle still in itself; whereas the wonders of that other rod were passed. Those monuments would God have continued in his church, which carry in them the most manifest evidences of that which they import.
The same God, which by many transient demonstrations had approved the calling of Aaron to Israel, will now have a permanent memorial of their conviction; that, whensoever they should see this relict, they should be ashamed of their presumption and infidelity. The name of Aaron was not more plainly written in that rod, than the sin of Israel was in the fruit of it: and how much Israel finds their rebellion beaten with this rod, appears in their present relenting and complaint; “ Behold, we are dead we perish.” God knows how to pull down the biggest stomach, and can extort glory to his own name, from the most obstinate gainsayers.
Of the Brazen Serpent. SEVEN times already hath Israel mutinied against Moses, and seven times hath either been threatened or punished ; yet now they fall to it afresh. As a testy man finds occasion to chaff at every trifle; so this discontented people either find, or make all things troublesome. One while they have no water, then bitter; one while no God, then one too many; one while no bread, then bread enough, but too light; one while they will not abide their governors, then they cannot abide their loss. Aaron and Miriam were never so grudged alive, as they are bewailed dead. Before, they wanted onions, garlic, flesh-pots ; now, they want figs, vines, pomegranates, corn. And as crabbed children that cry for every thing they can think of, are whipped by their wise mother, so God justly serves these fond Israelites.
It was first their way that makes them repine : they were fain to go round about Idumea;, the journey was long and troublesome. They had sent intreaties to Edom for licence of passage next way, reasonably, submissly : it was churlishly denied them. Esau lives still in his posterity, Jacob in Israel. The combat, which they began in Rebecca's belly, is not yet ended. Amalek, which was one limb of Esau, follows them at the heels. The Edomite, which was another, meets them in the face. So long as there is a world, there will be opposition to the chosen of God. They may come at their peril; the way had been nearer, but bloody; they dare not go it, and yet complain of length.
If they were afraid to purchase their resting-place with war, how much less would they their passage? What should God do with impatient men? They will not go the nearest way, and yet complain to go about. He that will pass to the promised land, must neither stand upon length of way, nor difficulty. Every way hath its inconveniences : 'the nearest hath more danger, the farthest hath more pain; either, or both, must be overcome, if ever we will enter the rest of God.
Aaron and Miriam were now past the danger of their mutinies; for want of another match, they join God with Moses, in their murmurings: though they had not mentioned him, they could not sever him in their insurrection; for, in the