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more difficult and dangerous. The heavenly messenger now takes his stand in a place where there was no way to escape, “a wall on this side, and a wall on that," and a faining sword, wielded by the arm of the great Archangel, in front, to oppose. There is no way of safety but in turning back and feeing for life, and yet he will madly push on to his own destruction.
When men are once engaged in a way that is not good, difficulty only stimulates their ardour; they rush on through danger to danger, till they involve themselves in inevitable destruction; according to the fearful progress described by the prophet—" Fear, and the pit, and the snare, shall be upon thee, O inhabitant of Moab, saith the Lord. He that fleeth from the fear, shall fall into the pit; and he that getteth up out of the pit, shall be taken in the snare: for I will bring upon it, even upon Moab, the year of their visitation, saith the Lord. They that fled stood under the shadow of Heshbon, because of the force: but a fire shall come forth out of Heshbon, and a flame from the midst of Sion, and shall devour the corner of Moab, and the crown of the head of the tumultuous ones," Jer. xlviii. 43–45.
The reproof now becomes more distinct and direct. The wretched animal, urged on by his furious rider, hemmed in with a wall on either side, and opposed in front as with a wall of fire, in making a desperate effort to pass by and advance, thrusts herself close to the wall, and crushes the prophet's foot. Thus slow, thus reluctant, is a merciful God to proceed to judgment. He first warns and threatens; then touches the extremities, if peradventure the sinner will take warning, and turn back; and not till all means have been tried and found ineffectual, he is provoked to strike the deadly blow that reaches the heart.
Mark on the other hand, by what dreadful degrees sinners harden themselves against God, till they become lost to feeling. The commission of one sin as naturally leads to another, as every step down a steep place accelerates the speed of that which is to follow; and yet transgressors vainly imagine it is in their power to stop when they please, or to turn against the bias. One of the most fearful symptoms of a reprobate mind, is, when the very means of awakening, convincing and converting, serve as opiates to the conscience, and increase that insensibility which they were meant to cure. If the constitution of the patient be so vitiated as to convert medicine into poison, dissolution cannot be at a great distance. Affliction, that wholesome, though unpalatable potion, never leaves the mind exactly where it found it. A cure is either begun by it, or the distemper is confirmed. The history of Balaam is the illustration of this position. The pain of his foot has only served to whet the asperity of his disposition; and the more he is opposed, the more earnest he is to get forwards. O that the children of light were thus perseverant in a good cause, and not weary of well-doing.
It is astonishing that superstition, if not the fear of God, did not now turn him back. Surely never journey had a more ominous, inauspicious beginning but the passions by which he was actuated, are among the last to be discouraged; on he drives, and the angel, in patience mixt with displeasure, continues to retreat, till at length the path becomes so narrow, that it was impossible to turn to the right hand or to the left, when the patient brute, wearied and wasted with stripes, and scared with the dreadful vision immediately before her eyes, at last sinks to the earth under her burthen.
This was the third stage of admonition and reproof. God first waves the flaming sword, but cuts not, shakes the rod, but smites not. That being disregarded, he puts forth his hand and smites the heel, but spares the vitals. He then proceeds to block up the way, that the sinner cannot pass; but is constrained to fall down before him. Humanity is shocked as we proceed. “The merciful man is merciful to his beast, but the tender
mercies of the wicked are cruel.” Behold an old, simple, uncomplaining drudge expiring under the angry blows of her unkind master. The very stones of the field are ready to cry out, and to upbraid the hard. hearted, ungrateful wretch with his cruelty. laam's anger was kindled, and he smote her with a staff.”? In the history of the miracle which follows, a multitude of reflections crowd upon us. In the order and frame of nature, every creature of God has a special use and end; neither is there any schism, deficiency or redundancy, permitted in the great body of the universe. Every thing is in its place; every thing is fulfilling the purpose of its Creator; and therefore nothing ought to be mean or contemptible in our eyes. The great Lord of all exercises a tender concern about the lowest of the brute creation, provides for them, and resents the cruelty and injustice which are offered them. “ He feeds the ravens," “ the young lions ask their meat from God,” “he careth for oxen," a sparrow falleth not to the ground without our heavenly Father." And lo, the dull ass findeth compassion and an avenger, when under oppression, from him whom angels worship. Who so lofty as to be beyond his reach, as to defy his power? What so little as to be beneath his notice, or shut out from his pity? There is of consequence a return of attention and tenderness due from the human race to every order of creatures below themselves, and whose services, whatever their faculties may be, Providence permits them to employ either for pleasure or for use. The power and wisdom which stationed every creature in its proper place, and preserves it there, can at pleasure elevate it to a higher, or depress it to a lower sphere; can confer upon it a force unknown before, or deprive it of what it formerly possessed; can break the strength of Egypt, by an army of frogs or flies, or preserve Daniel unhurt in the midst of the lions; can catch the serpent in his own craftiness, and teach the dull ass speech and reason. The cunning of Satan, and the understanding of man, look out for likely, promising and adequate instruments to carry on their designs. The wisdom of God chooses to execute his by such as are apparently weak, unpromising and inadequate. To seduce our first parents, the devil employed the agency of that creature which was the most sagacious of all the beasts of the field. The most stupid, in the hand of the Almighty, was sufficient to confound, and to convict, and to condemn, the proudest and most highly gifted of his race.
And the gospel of Christ becometh ef. fectual unto salvation, not through the wisdom of words, but by demonstration of the Spirit; for “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence," i Cor. i. 27–29.
Finally, for we must make an end of our refections on the subject-What creature so brutish, as a rational being under the dominion of his lusts! The novelty of an ass speaking, reasoning, remonstrating, seems to have excited no astonishment in the furious prophet: he is not awakened to one sentiment of compassion, nor of godly fear, by a phenomenon so singular. The only regret he feels, is the want of a deadly instrument to prosecute his resentment to the full. Men most vainly, and in the face of experience, imagine, that such and such means of conviction would certainly work their effect. “Nay, but if one went from the dead they will repent;" but the truth is too well confirmed by every day's experience, to be called in ques. tion, that “if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead,”. Luke xvi. 31. A miracle greater than even opening the ass' mouth must be performed, be
fore Balaam be persuaded.
A heart wedded to gain, is not to be reasoned out of its favourite pursuit; and unbelief, do what you will, always finds a strong-bold whereto it can resort, and which it easily renders impregnable. “Show us a sign from heaven, and we will believe.” Well, the very petulance of incredulity is humoured, the sign is exhibited, Satan is cast out. Surely they will now believe. No such thing. “ This man casteth out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” The eyes of Balaam are blinder, his heart more hard than the tongue of the ass is mute.
At length, God vouchsafes to effect that by a second miracle, which had been obvious to a tender conscience, much more to a prophetic eye, without any miracle at all; and the angel stands confest to the sight of the soothsayer, and clothed in all his terror.
And now violence, ambition and covetousness stand for a while suspended, swallowed up of fear at this alarming sight. His eyes are no sooner opened to see with whom he had to contend, than he shuts them again in consternation and astonishment; "he bowed his head and fell fat on his face.” What a miserable figure a haughty man makes when caught in the snare! How vain the expectation of fleeing from God, or of opposing him with success! How dreadful it is to meet as an adversary, Him whose counsels we have slighted as a friend! Balaam has now the unspeakable mortification of discovering that he owed the preservation of his life to the slender sagacity and discernment of the poor brute whom he had treated so unmercifully: and he is again assured, without reserve or disguise, that the design of this journey was highly odious and offensive to God. “Behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me: and the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive,” Verse 32, 33.
But though intimidated and confounded, his heart