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This decisive answer seems for a moment to have quashed the hopes of Balak, and he is now disposed to compound with the prophet for total silence. “ Neither curse them at all, nor bless them at all.”* But O, the obstinate perseverance of the carnal mind in a sinful course! After all he had seen and heard, he returns a third time to the charge, and dreams of another station, a repeated sacrifice, and an altered purpose. How mortifying to think that good men are so much sooner weary of well-doing, so much more easily discouraged from the pursuit of duty. But though Balaam gare directions for the building of new altars, he can no longer be the dupe of his own sinful wishes and magical arts, and therefore dares not to have recourse to them again. Such is the awful, such the glorious power of God! Magicians may for a little while amuse themselves and deceive others, by their enchantinents; but Aaron's rod at length swallows up those of the Egyptian wizards; and Balaam is at length constrained to resign his fruitless arts, and to acknowledge the finger of God from the top of Peor, where Baal was worshipped. He again surveys the tents of Israel, where Jehovah resided, and charmed, by the prospect, from his malevolent design, seems to give cordially in to the views of that Spirit who spake by his mouth. “And when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he went not as at other times to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lift up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents, according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him. And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor, hath said : and the man whose eyes are open hath said: he hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open : How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the vallies are they spread forth, as gardens by the river side, as the trees of lignaloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters. He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brought him forth out of Egypt, he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones and pierce them through with his arrows. He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.”+
Our chief object at present being to illustrate the character of Balaam, and to improve it, we are to consider his prophecy chiefly in that view, abstracted from the great and glorious truths which it contains. And we observe, first, that it behoved him now to be convinced by so many successive and corresponding revelations, of the steady, determined purpose of Heaven, in favour of Israel. In spite of all his subterfuges, after all his turnings and windings, he finds himself still brought back to the same point; a language is forced upon his tongue which his heart rejected, a glory is spread before his eyes, which excited only envy and sorrow : and this renders bis after conduct more unaccountable, odious and criminal. Indeed it is a complicated transgression, containing so many circumstances of aggravation, that we should be tempted to doubt its existence, did not melancholy experience too frequently confirm the possibility of it.
We observe, secondly, that truth is not injured by being conveyed through an impure channel, and therefore ought not to be rejected on that account. Indeed it rather confers a higher lustre upon it, just as hypocrisy pays the most honourable compliment to true religion, by assuming its sacred habit and form. The word of God shall not fail of its effect, though Balaam, or though
Satan speak it. It may do good to others, while he who bears it is injured, not benefited. And surely, when we hear such divine sentences coming from such unhallowed lips, a holy jealousy will be kindled, a holy watchfulness inculcated on all who bring the messages of God to others; as the great apostle of the Gentiles felt and expressed, when he says, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection : lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast away."*
We are led, thirdly, to observe and to lament how rarely fine talents and ample means of doing good, are in the possession of an honest, benevolent and sanctified heart! The elevation of genius too seldom aims its flight to the feet of the Father of lights, “ from whom cometh down every good gift and every perfect ;' and affluence is frequently abused, to increase that misery which it was given to relieve. But then, surely, men are likest God, when enlargement of understanding, and plenitude of power, obey the calls of goodness, and strive to diffuse more widely the gifts of an indulgent Providence; and that benevolence is the most exalted, which aims at the highest good, and seeks to promote interests that are immortal. What then must be the malignity of that heart which, in Balaam, perverted the soundest understanding, disfigured and misled the finest abilities? How dark and dismal that unfeeling passion, which scrupled not to devote a whole nation, for the sake of a little silver and gold! How greatly do men err in the estimation which they make both of their own qualities and those of others! Those, of the head are the objects of universal admiration, the subject of universal praise ; those of the heart are lightly esteemed, and do not always escape censure. But apply the balance of the sanctuary, and what a reverse! A little humility outweighs a great deal of learning ; faith as a grain of mustard seed preponderates against a mountain of gold ; and charity, though with the simplicity of a child, brings down the scale, against the wit of men, and the eloquence of angels. By all means covet earnestly the best gifts, though they fall to the lot of but a few : but rather cultivate the more precious graces which God conferreth liberally on all that ask him. Whatever you solicit, whatever you receive, see that you have the blessing which sweetens, which sanctifies, which ennobles, which improves it.
Finally, we may observe the dreadful misery of that man whose heart and head are at variance; whom inclination drags one way, and conscience another ; who lives with a drawn sword continually hanging over his head by a single hair ; forever doing what he is constrained forever to condemn; and reluctantly ready to execute the judgement of God upon himself. What dismal and unpleasant progress must he make, who sees an angel in arms opposing him at every step, and whose way is hedged about on every side by thorns of his own planting!
Balak can now refrain no longer, but smiting together his hands in a rage exclaims, “ I called thee to curse mine enemies, and behold thou hast altogether blessed them these three times : therefore now flee thou to thy place : I thought to promote thee unto great honour, but lo, the Lord hath kept thee back from honour.”+ An expostulation of no pleasant complexion ensues ; for what is the friendship of bad men, but a commerce of interest, a confederacy that aims only at self, and it concludes on the part of Balaam with a prediction clearer, fuller, and more pointed than ever, of Israel's glory and Moab's downfal : “And he took up his parable and said, Balaam, the son of Beor, hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said : he hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the Most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his
eyes open : I shall see him, but not now : I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also shall be a possession for his enemies, and Israel shall do valiantly. Out of Jacob shall come he that shall have dominion, and shall destroy him that remaineth of the city. And when he looked on Amalek, he took up his parable and said, Amalek was the first of the nations, but his latter end shall be that he perish forever. And he looked on the Kenites, and took up his parable, and said, Strong is thy dwellingplace, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock; nevertheless, the Kenite shall be wasted until Ashur shall carry thee away captive. And he took up his parable and said, Alas, who shall live when God doeth this !"*
The burthen of this prophecy has evidently a twofold object, the one improving upon, rising above, and extending beyond the other. Its primary and nearer object, David, God's anointed king to crush the power of the enemy, and Moab in particular, and to perfect the conquest of the promised land, Its secondary and more remote one, though first in point of importance, “ Jesus, the root and offspring of David." In the one, Balak saw the death of all his earthly hopes, the approaching doininior of a hated power, established on the ruins of his own country. In the other, Balaam beheld the ruin of all his prospects beyond the grave; a light that should shine but to conduct him to the place of punishment ; a Star that should arise to shed the mildest influence on others, but only to breathe pestilence and death upon himself; a Ruler who should exercise universal dominion, but who, while he presided over his willing and obedient subjects in mercy and loving-kindness, should rule rebels like him with a rod of iron. Indeed, if Balaam had any presentiment of a Saviour when he uttered this prophecy, as is highly probable, his character is the most detestable, and his condition the most deplorable that can be imagined. Unhappy man, with one breath preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ to a guilty world, and with the next, teaching the arts of seduction to ensnare the innocent. In words exulting in the greatest blessing which God had to bestow upon mankind, but dreadfully conscious to himself that he had wilfully rejected the counsel of God against himself. With all the weight and importance of the soul and eternity before his eyes, but this world steadfastly enthroned in his heart; a prophet, yet a reprobate, descending to the grave with the blood of thousands upon his head. The twentyfifth chapter of Numbers contains the history of the stumblingblock which “ Balaam taught Balak to cast before the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication,”+ and of its dreadful success. As a prophet he could not hurt Israel; but as a politician, he unhappily prevails. He was well aware where their strength lay; and unfortunately, it appears, he had likewise discovered their weak side. Their God could not be prevailed on to withdraw his protection ; but may not they be persuaded or " allured to change their allegiance? This will do the work of Satan equally well. Israel was now at ease, with the promised land under their eye, and part of it already in their possession. They were flushed with recent victory, assured of divine protection, and thereby confident of farther success. A situation full of danger; for then, when our mountain seems to us to stand most strong, we are most easily liable to be moved, cast down, destroyed. Balaam accordingly, deep read as he was in the book of human nature, suggests to Balak the diabolical counsel of attempting to decoy the people into idolatry by means of female insinuation and address. The experiment is made, and fatally succeeds. And it is this counsel which stamps the character of Ba
laam with infamy indelible; as it exhibits a dissolution of moral principle, to be equalled only by hin who is a murderer from the beginning.
Think what it is to advise a father to expose his daughter to prostitution : think what it is to devise and to encompass the death of one fellow-creature, who has never offended us : think of the malice which aims its deadly shaft, not at the body, but at the soul : think of the presumption which flies directly in the face of the great and terrible Jehovah, and defies his power : and then think of the vile wretch, recommending the prostitution of a whole nation : in cold blood plotting the destruction of myriads; and what is worse, infiniteJy worse than any temporal evil, remorselessly involving them in guilt which threatened eternal ruin : and all this under the character of a prophet, whose office bound him to call the people away from their wickedness, and to save perishing souls from death; and all for what?" For so much trash as may be grasped thus." -Base passion, what canst thou not make us do?" Surely the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked ; who can know it ?"
The history of Israel's seduction, in consequence of Balaam's horrid advice, falls not within our present design, and we are forbid by decency to pursue it. The guilt of this fatal defection cost no less than twenty-four thousand lives of them who died of the plague, besides those who suffered by the hands of justice. So horrid are the sacrifices which pride, ambition and covetousness, are daily offering up! So dreadful the havoc which ungoverned passion makes amongst the works of God - But short is the triumph of the most successful villainy: remorse embitters the enjoyment of it, and justice hastens to bring it to a period.
In the very first attack made upon Midian, we find Balaam in arms, supporting his pernicious counsel by the sword; but it cannot prosper : Midian is discomfited on the first onset, and the hoary traitor falls unpitied in the field, leaving behind him a name to be detested and despised of all generations, while one iota or one tittle of this book of God remaios.
We shall have attended, however, to the history of this singular man in vain, unless we learn from it the infinite danger of being under the dominion of any one ungovernable passion; and unless we are persuaded to watch over, to resist, and to subdue, “ the sin which doth so easily beset us." or little avail is it that our vice is not the vice which governed, ensnared and ruined Balaam, if it alienate the heart from God, dissolve the obligations of religion, disorder the understanding, and lull the conscience asleep. One disease for another, one vice for another, is but a miserable exchange. If the patient must die, it will not alleviate one pang, that he perishes by the fever rather than the hydropsy, the consumption, or any other distemper.
The unrestrained dominion of any one sinful appetite must become fatal at length. Covetousness, pride, lust, envy, malice, revenge, are the mortal distempers of the soul, which, perhaps insensibly, but most, certainly, are impairing its beauty, and wasting its strength. “Lust,” whatever be its para ticular name,“ having conceived, bringeth forth sin ; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Instead, therefore, of amusing or perplexing himself with inquiries into the general symptoms of disease, it concerns every man to study his own particular case; to watch against “ the sin which doth so easily beset him ;" to keep himself from his iniquity ; to discover, and to rectify the disorder of his own constitution, “ the plague of his own heart." That where he is naturally, or by habit, weak, he may become strong, " through the grace that is in Christ."
Let us be instructed to value qualities, whether natural or acquired, not from their currency and estimation in the world, but from their appearance in the sight of God. “ As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."** “By him actions are weighed.” By his judgement we must stand or fall. Has Heaven blessed thee, O man, with extraordinary gifts ? Let it be a motive to humility, not a source of pride. It is a trust of which thou must render an account; and to whom men have committed much, of him will they require the more.” If he who buries his one talant in the ground be criminal, what shall become of that man who dissipates and destroys ten in riotous living ?
There is but one road to a happy end-a holy life. There is but one ground of hope, in death, to a guilty creature—the mercy of God through a Redeemer. Abraham saw the Saviour's day afar off, believed and rejoiced. Balaam saw it afar off, persisted in impenitence and unbelief, and died without hope. On the one, “the Star of Jacob” darted a mild and healthful influence, which cheered the path of life, and dispelled the horrors of the grave. On the other, it shot a baleful fire which drunk up the spirits, blasted present enjoyment, and increased the gloom of futurity.--Arise, O Star of Jacob, arise upon my head with healing in thy wings! Let me walk in thy light; let me “ hasten to the brightness of thy rising !" Christian, “arise, shine: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be : but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”+ For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."I
* Isaiah lv. 9.
1 1 John iii. 2.
Col. ij. 3, 4.
END OF VOLUME IV.