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falsify the oracle committed to them, might serve as a curb to their own natural and unruly propensities, and, sometimes carried wholly out of themselves, they delivered in an extacy, what was committed to them, unconscious of what they said or did. In the prosecution of the history, we shall find Balaam under botir these kinds of inspiration; both awed by fear, and wrapt into the vision of futurity, in a trance.
I only make one observation more, for the clearing up of this remarkable story. It was a generally received opinion among the Gentile nations, that prophets, or diviners, had a power, by means of incantation, to inflict or to remove public calamities; that they understood the art of decoying from among their enemies the tutelar deities who presided over them; in consequence of which, they were easily and certainly discomfitted. Homer makes the capture of Troy to depend on the removal of the sacred image of Minerva from its residence in the citadel of that metropolis: and Joshua himself, in the conquest of Canaan, takes advantage of this vulgar prejudice, to encourage his men to proceed to victory; and to prevent the ill effects of the timid and terrifying report of his colleagues, respecting the strength of the country: against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not,” Numb, xiv. 9. It was accordingly usual, on undertaking military expeditions, to nerve the arm, and to whet the sword of the soldier, by the tongue of the priest, and the tremendous forms of religion. They attempted to make the gods parties to their quarrels, and devoted to perdition the nations against whom they waged war. An ancient author has transmitted to us the form of execration employed on such occasions, which, on account of its relation to our subject, perhaps you will have the curiosity to hear. It is a perfect contrast to the blessing which
" Rebel not ye
Balaam was obliged, reluctantly, to pronounce upon Israel. The priest destined to this awful employment, after presenting the usual sacrifice, advanced to the head of the army, and in the presence of the general and principal officers, pronounced aloud words to this effect. “ Almighty Father of gods and men, or if thou wouldst rather be addressed by the name of Jupiter, or if any other appellation be more grateful to thine ear; pour out, I conjure thee, upon this army,” or “this city,” according as the case required, “ the spirit of terror and dismay: deprive of the sight of their eyes,
all those who shall level their blows at us, our legions or troops, spread darkness over our enemies, over their cities, over their fields, over their armies. Look upon them as a thing accursed: bring them under the hardest conditions that ever an enemy was constrained to undergo. As for me, to destruction I hereby devote them; my curse I pour upon them, and take this prince, these captains, this people, to be witnesses to it.”* This ceremony being performed, and the soldiers inspirited by the sanctions of religion, they advanced to the combat, in confidence of success.
It was for a purpose of this kind, that Balaam was now sent for by the confederated powers of Moab and Midian. How the latter of these two nations had been induced to join in such an embassy, we are not informed. The middle forty years of his life, Moses had spent among that people; had formed alliance with them by marrying the daughter of Jethro, one of the princes of the country, with whom he maintained a most friendly correspondence, after he was raised to the command of the armies of Israel. He cannot, therefore, be suspected of forming a hostile design against his ancient hosts and relations; and it was much more natural for them to form an alliance with a man of Moses' well known wisdom and moderation, and with a people so sensibly favoured of Heaven as Israel was, than with a nation of idolaters, and a prince, who was reduced to employ the poor arts of incantation against his enemies. But, in many cases it happens, that, aiming at an over-refined wisdom and policy, men prove themselves fools. Jethro was probably by this time dead, and the Midianitish estate was governed by councils, very un. like those which would probably have been suggested by that wise and good man: and a deputation of their princes joins those of Balak, in application to Balaam, to strengthen their united forces, by laying Israel under a curse.
* Mocrob Saturnal. lib. III. cap. IX.
It is melancholy to think that from the beginning to this day, men have been more eager to bring mischief upon others, than to procure good to themselves. Had these Midianites and Moabites associated together to strengthen their borders, had they invited a prophet to come and confirm their bands of al. liance, and encourage the hearts of their soldiery, by pronouncing a blessing upon themselves, they had not been reprehensible; but such is the corruption and malignity of the human heart, that it not only takes pleasure in the evil that befals another, where our own interest is concerned, but in the very mischief that is wrought for mischief sake. The great evil is, men engage in transitory pursuits as if they were immortal; and had they the power, together with the inclination, would prosecute
momentary offences with everlasting punishments. What is it to one nation that another great nation be utterly exterminated, provided a favourite scheme of ambition, commerce or revenge be thereby promoted! When we hear a poor wretch, a common curser and swearer, on the most frivolous occasions, imprecating eternal damnation on his fellowcreature, we are filled with horror; and yet without surprise, we behold religious sects in their zeal, and mighty empires in their pride and fury, deliberately doing the same thing. What principle so important
to individuals and to states, as a principle of true religion! It is a comforter in affliction, a counsellor in darkness and uncertainty, a refuge in danger and distress, a support in death. What so seductive and mischievous as an erroneous principle of this sort!“ If the light that is in men be darkness, how great is that darkness?” False religion is a wandering fire of the night, hurrying men over a precipice; plunging them in the gulph-pretending to bring a tribute of glory to God, by destroying mankind. It is the spirit of the great enemy of God and man, who is a liar and a murderer from the beginning.
It is the perilousness of the times that has tossed Balaam into notice, and consequence and infamy. In a quieter period, he had floated unnoticed on the sur. face, and silently increased the paltry gains of his black art, by playing on the credulity of silly women and children. But the old wizard has had the good fortune to attract the notice of princes, and has the opportunity of selling his magical spells at his own price; and he fails not to make the most of his market. With the clue afforded us in scripture, we will attempt in another Lecture, to follow the various turnings and windings of that profoundest, darkest, most intricate of all labyrinths, a carnal, covetous heart.
We conclude the present with calling upon you:
I. To remark and to revere the righteous judgment of God, in giving up to strong delusion those who seek and follow delusions. Every deliberate violation of God's law, every victory which a man gains over his own conscience, becomes his punishment, as it is his crime. Let not him who has wilfully deceived him. self, in the first instance, pretend to complain that he has been hurried into mistakes which he never intended, but could not avoid. The first wrong step was in his power, but not the fourth or the fifth. The man needed not, unless he chose, to have set himself a running down a steep place; but, once in motion, it is not in his power to stop when he would. If therefore he plunge into the flood, beneath, the fault is in himself, not the laws of motion, which only carried on what his own will had begun. The man who has destroyed his faculties by excess, must not charge his bad memory, his erroneous judgment, or the inconveniences in which they have involved him, upon nature, or the God of nature. No, they only establish the work of his own hands. In this view, it is perfectly just, that “ to him who hath should more be given, and from him who hath not, even that which he hath should be
II. Let us rejoice that we have a clear and “ word of prophecy,” to direct and assist us in every doubtful and difficult case; and that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” The gift of prophecy was not always a blessing to the possessor; and, as the mere knowledge of future events, it would be the reverse of a blessing. In tender mercy and in loving kindness, God conceals futurity from men. But all that pertains to the acquisition of wisdom, and the attainment of happiness; all that assures us of life and immortality, and makes us meet for the enjoyment of it, the words of this prophecy fully unfold. “The righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above): or who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach: that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shall be saved,” Rom. x. 6—9. To know but this, is more than to “ speak with the tongues of men and of angels”-is more than to “ have the gift of prophecy, and to understand all mysteries and all knowledge; and to have all faith, so