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the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul ?" In these most pathetic inquiries we cannot but discern an anxiety intense, a distress extreme, about a subject of infinite moment. At the same time we are presented with a total ignorance, on the part of the Inquirer, concerning the proper answer to be given ; a state of absolute perplexity ; of terrible suspense.
The answer of Balaam is not less remarkable. Instead of referring Balak, as a modern Infidel would have done, to the light of nature and the decisions of philosophy; he directs him immediately to Revelation. “ He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good : and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?''
This conversation between Balak and Balaam seems evidently to have taken place after his attempts to curse Israel were finished, and, of course, after he had received the several revelations recorded in the book of Numbers. When Balaam had come to Balak, and attempted to curse the tribes of Israel; they were encamped on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan, near Jericho ;* but the prophet Micah declares, that this consultation was holden from Shittim, the place of their last encampment before they crossed the Jordan, and began to take possession of Canaan, unto Gilgal, the first encampment on the other side of the river.f In other words, it was on the way from Shittim to Gilgal, that the conversation in the text was holden. It was, therefore, subsequent to these revelations. As the revelations were known to Balak, as well as to Balaam ; the prophet knew that the language, which he here uses, would be perfectly understood by him ; since it was exactly equivalent to phraseology which he had often used before: such as “God shall speak," and “The words, which he shall put into my mouth.” Nay, he had used the same phraseology with that adopted in the text. “Peradventure the Lord will come to meet me; and whatsoever he sheweth me I will tell thee." This, in his subsequent apology, he explains by the phrase, “ All that the Lord speaketh.”[ *For God to shew, therefore, Balaam being his own expositor, is the same as for God to speak.
* Sce Numbers xxii. 1, and xxxiii, 48.
In a similar manner Job, when declaring a revelation from God concerning the nature of Wisdom, Chap. xxviii. 27 and 28, says “ Then he did see it, and declare it; yea, he prepared it, and searched it out. And unto man he said, “The fear of the Lord, that is Wisdom, and to depart from evil is Understanding.' Without a reasonable question, therefore, Balaam declared these duties of man to have been immediately revealed by his Maker.
The Revelation, to which Balak was here referred, was, not improbably, found in that series of communications, whence Abimelech, Laban, Pharaoh, Melchisedek, Job, his three friends, and others, derived the knowledge of their duty, and the means of their salvation. As this prince was the descendant of Loi; he could not well be entirely ignorant of the revelations, made to him, nor of those so often made to Abraham, while Lot was a member of his family.
In the text, thus explained, are clearly taught the following doctrines.
I. Mankind, without Revelation, know not what worship God will accept, or whether he will accept any.
11. They are unacquainted with any means of expiating sin.
I. Mankind, without Revelation, know not what worship God will accept, or whether he will accept any.
All mankind, without Revelation, are precisely in the condition of Balak; equally interested; equally ignorant; and, if seriously attentive to their situation, must be equally anxious and alarmed. In support of this proposition, I observe generally, that every sober man must with absolute certainty discern that he is a sinner ; that his worship, therefore, must proceed from a sinful heart, and must of course be sinful worship ; and by irresistible consequence, that it cannot be accepted by a holy God. This observation no man in the exercise of common sense will deny. Openly, before mankind, he may perhaps contradict it; but in his closet, and to himself, while employed in serious thought, this would be impossible. Men may indeed escape, at least in a great measure, from a conviction of their guilt; and evade the painful consequences which flow from the acknowledgment of it. This may be done by a series of efforts to establish in their minds opinions, which by their intuence particularly
sooth the conscience, and lead the understanding away from the subject. It may also be done from mere inattention, when long and habitually continued, and changed gradually into an entire forgetfulness of the subject. But the denial of our sinfulness can never be the direct result of consideration or conviction.
If we are sinners ; it follows irresistibly, that all our moral actions are sinful. Particularly is this true of our worship: a service, in which, if in any thing, purity of character is absolutely demanded. If our worship is sinful; nothing is more certain than that it cannot be acceptable to God.
The doctrine, thus exhibited by Reason with unanswerable evidence, is in a very forcible and satisfactory manner declared by the Psalmist. “.There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared :" and again,“ Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the Lord there is mercy; and with him there is plenteous redemption.” The former of these declarations may be thus paraphrased. 6. Thou art a forgiving God, and mayest therefore be feared, or worshipped. If this were not thy character ; worship could never be presented to thee with a possibility of acceptance.” The latter passage may be paraphrased in this man
“Let Israel hope in the Lord, because he is a merciful God, and has provided for mankind a redemption, amply sufficient for the forgiveness of their sins, and the acceptance of their souls. Otherwise, there could have been no acceptance, and of course no hope.”
But of the forgiveness of God the Gentiles knew, and could know, nothing. Hence it was impossible for them to devise any worship, which he would accept, or of the acceptance of which they could form a rational hope.
Still it must be acknowledged, that the Gentiles did in fact entertain indistinct, obscure and doubtful, hopes of the favour, not indeed of Jehovah whom they knew not, but of the gods, whom they worshipped, and who, being themselves morally impure, might not unnaturally be expected to be unsolicitous concerning the absolute purity of their worshippers. With these apprehensions, they performed various religious services, which they hoped would be acceptable to their deities. As these are the amount of all the religious worship, ever devised by mankind ; in con
sidering them we shall examine whatever human Reason has thought proper to adopt, of this nature, for the purpose of obtaining the favour of any deity whatever. I say, “which human Reason has thought proper to adopt,” because I entertain not a single doubt, that even these services, instead of being devised by Reason, were either relics, or perversions, of the worship prescribed by ancient Revelation, traditionarily and imperfectly conveyed down to those by whom they were performed. The
1st. Of these modes of worship was Prayer.
Prayer, I acknowledge, is an obvious duty of natural religion. As we obtain all things from earthly benefactors by asking ; nature itself may be considered as dictating this mode of obtaining favour from God. But what views must a sober Gentile form concerning his own prayers ? Were his mind spotless; there could be no rational cause for perplexity, or doubt. But he is a sinner. What, then, must be the use of prayer to him? It certainly cannot be to inform God of what he did not know before. An Omniscient being can want no information, and can receive none.
It cannot be to change either him, or his purposes. The immutability of both forbids every supposition of this nature.
The first and great use of this religious service, without which it can be efficacious to no valuable end, is to change the suppliant, and make him a more proper and worthy recipient of the blessings, for which he prays. But of this change in their proper character the Gentiles could not be conscious. Of real virtue they were not the subjects; and did not know in what it consisted. But it could not be increased in them before it began to exist. To a discerning Gentile, therefore, prayer must seem useless : for of its primary use he must have been totally ignorant.
Equally ignorant must such a Gentile have been of the only remaining motive to prayer: the hope of acceptance, and the consequent attainment of blessings from God. Sinful prayers could furnish no such hopes; and all bis prayers were sinful. Commands, promises, and other encouragements to prayer, were to him absolutely unknown. Whence, then, could he derive a rational expectation of receiving any blessings, as an answer to his prayers ?
From these observations it is plain, that the Gentiles praved
from tradition and custom; and not from a conviction of the usefulness of this duty to themselves, nor from any well-grounded hope of obtaining, in this manner, blessings from God. Socrates seems to have considered this subject with care; and concluded, that it was impossible to determine whether God would accept any worship from man; or, if he would, what that worship was.
2dly. Praise was, also, generally offered up to God by the Gentiles.
The same difficulties incumbered this service, which attended prayer. To be thankful to God for the blessings which we receive from his hands, is certainly a dictate of Natural religion, not less obvious than any other. But how could it be known, or even conjectured, that he would accept this service from a sinner, polluted, as it ever must be, by his impure character? What arguments can even now be devised to prove, that this, or any other, act of worship, rendered in the indulgence of that opposition to the divine character, which is the controling disposition of a sinful heart, can be acceptable to our Maker!
It is a remarkable fact, that in the prayers and the hymns of the heathen, at least so far as I remember those which I have seen, there are no petitions, nor thanksgivings, for moral good. They prayed, and returned thanks, extensively for natural good; but very generally at least, if not universally, were silent with respect to moral good. The Grecian Philosophers, as a body, absolutely denied, that for blessings, included under this name, they were indebted to the gods at all.
3dly. The Gentiles also offered Sacrifices.
These were embarrassed by all the difficulties which have been mentioned, and by many others. The sacrifice of a victim could be nothing to God; whose are the cattle on a thousand hills: nothing, while living ; and certainly nothing, when dead, and consumed by fire, or even by the worshipper. To such gross deities, as those of the Gentiles, they might seem, in the view of such gross minds, to be a gratification. To Jehovah this was not possible.
the same time it was evidently sinful to put a victim to death, unless with a known command, or permission, of the Creator. But neither a command, nor a permission, of this nature could be