Page images

instance is singular and unparalleled; but the gradual increase of the human body, the imperceptible expansion of the powers of the human mind, pass for a thing of course; though the hand of God be conspicuous in the one case as in the other. Nothing is incredible to them who know the scriptures, and the power of God: nothing is incredible to him who attends, with


degree of application, to the operations of his own mind; and to what, in the ordinary course of human affairs, is every

hour pressing upon his observation. In a crowded assembly, without the utterance of a single sound, by one glance of the eye, the inmost thoughts, the most secret emotions, shall, quick as lightning, be conveyed from soul to soul: and the stranger be unable to intermeddle with, to partake of, the sorrow or the joy. Let the veil of night be spread ever so thick, and the use of sight suspended, as if the eye-ball were extinguished, the vibration of a little film of flesh shall dissipate the gloom, and convey the accents of affection or of wo to the ear and the heart of sympathy. Place the diameter of the globe between my friend and me, by an art subtle as the magic spell, what I know and feel in the frozen regions of the north, shall flee on the swift wings of the wind, and touch his soul under the more clement sky of the opposite hemisphere. Knowing from experience all this to be true, history can record no fact, promise suspend before my eyes no future event too wonderful for me to believe. The omniscience, omnipotence, and infinite goodness of God once admitted, every difficulty vanishes. Is there any thing too hard for the Lord to perform? No: Then Sarah conceives a son at ninety years old; the dumb ass reproves the madness of his master; unlettered fishermen' speak with tongues; the dead shall rise; all these things shall be dissolved, and “new heavens, and a new

earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness,” shall be expanded, to endure for ever and ever.

Having premised these things, not altogether foreign, we trust, to our subject, we proceed to the farther prosecution of a history, as singular and as instructive, perhaps, as any in scripture.

Balaam having obtained what he was willing to believe the consent of God to his journey into the land of Moab, for we easily believe what we wish, loses not a moment in making preparation for it. He is mountedand on his journey by the first dawning of the day, as if afraid of prevention, by a revocation of the permission; ill at ease in his mind, but smothering conviction, in the exultation of having princes in his train, and in the prospect of all the riches and honour which confederated kings had to bestow. Scripture gives us the idea of a holy violence offered unto God, with which he is well pleased, and to which he graciously submits to yield; as when it is said, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” Hence the commandment,“ to strive to enter in at the strait gate,” to wrestle and make supplication, “to pray always, and not to faint.” But there is also suggested the idea of an impious, a presumptuous, and a fatal strife and contention with our Maker, in which, wo be to the man that prevails. Such was the violence which worldly-minded Balaam offered: and how could he think to prosper? God, justly displeased at his perseverance in a cause which he knew to be disapproved of Heaven, leaves him not long in uncertainty respecting his will.

The princes of Moab, it would appear, had now left him; and were proceeding with a quicker pace to apprise their master of the prophet's approach; and Balaam remains attended by only two of his own servants, when the angel of the Lord places himself in the way for an adversary against him. We shall find, in the sequel, the person styled the angel of the Lord, as in other places, so here, assuming the character, and exercising the prerogative of Deity: for he it is that afterwards says, “ The word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak.” We are to understand, therefore, by this designation, the mighty, the uncreated Angel, by whom God made the worlds, the eternal Word, which was in the beginning, which was with God, and which was God, and which, in the fulness of time, was made flesh, and dwelt among men: “And they beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth," John i. 14. But never, till now, did he appear in the character of an adversary. We find him, on other occasions, appearing to direct the wandering, to protect the weak, and to succour the distressed; as in the case of Hager, Lot and Jacob: but the face of the Lord is set against them that do evil. And now behold him in the way to check the progress of pride, violence and covetousness. The great enemy, foe to God and man, is termed, by way of distinction, the adversary: but lo! that awful character is assumed by a very different being—by one, infinitely greater and mightier than him; whose wrath is infinitely more terrible; who has power to save and to destroy; and, if he takes upon him that form, it is still in consistency with his gracious characters of good and merciful: it is to humble the proud, to prevent and counteract the causeless curse; to disappoint malice, and make the purposes of revenge recoil upon itself: it is to support the friendless, to guard the innocent, and to relieve the miserable.

This formidable apparition was observed neither by the prophet nor his servants. Neither the natural vision of the latter, nor the extraordinary and supernatural sagacity of the former, discerned any thing, save empty space, where the dullest of brute animals descried the presence of Him, who makes all nature tremble at his nod; who “giveth understanding to the prudent, and to him that hath no might increaseth strength.” Is not this a striking representation of what daily comes to pass in the course of providence? We see men soaring in the clouds, with their eyes and imagination, while with their feet they stumble and fall into the ditch that is before them; possessing every kind of sense, except common sense: pretending to superior refinement, and yet stupid and gross, in the plainest and most essential things. Thus the simplicity of the gospel was “ to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness:” and on this very account, the condescending Saviour of mankind is represented as rejoicing in spirit, and saying, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight,” Matt. xi. 25, 26. Thus God destroyeth the 6 wisdom of the wise, and brings to nothing the understanding of the prudent," 1 Cor. i. 19.

What an object of terror is here represented as obstructing the passage! An angel! The prince of angels, armed with a sword, and that sword drawn in his hand! What was the strength of Egypt, in that dreadful night, when one of his faming messengers walked through the midst of it, and made all its first-born to bleed to death under his stroke? How easy had it been for that arm, with one stroke of that sword, to have put an end to the life and madness of the prophet! But he chose to employ a meaner instrument, and thereby to vindicate to himself higher praise.

There is a striking progress described in the mode of admonition and reproof, administered to the prophet by the successive actions of the dumb creature. First, " he turned aside out of the way and went into the field;" a plain intimation to his accustomed rider, that something extraordinary obstructed his path. Thus, in many passages of scripture, the common instincts of the dullest animals, are employed to expose the greater thoughtlessness and folly of rational beings.


“ Ask, now, the beasts,” says Job, "and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee; and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?” Job xii. 7–9. “ Hear, O heavens,” says God by Isaiah, “and give ear, earth: for the Lord hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider,” Isai. i. 2, 3. · Yea, the stork in the heaven,” saith God by another prophet, “ knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord,” Jer. viii. 7. Thus, in the passage before us, a more indirect reproof was given to the eagerness and speed of Balaam, pricked on by the spur of covetousness and ambition, by the action of the ass, in deviating from the right path; and had not the eyes of his understanding been blinded by the wages of unrighteousness, this, without the vision of an angel, might have taught him that the way in which he went was perverse before God. But following only the blind impulse of a carnal mind, he wreaks, in reiterated blows upon the unoffending brute, the resentment which ought to have been levelled against his own rashness and presumption. Who was here most worthy of stripes? Let the adage of the wise man determine. “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back."

Behold the patience and long-suffering of God. The ass, by dint of blows, is forced back again into the road, and the angel himself gives place and retires. Folly and obstinacy seem to have carried off the victory; but alas, how short is the triumph of impiety! If Omnipotence yield, it is only to meet the sinner on ground

« PreviousContinue »