« PreviousContinue »
still cleaves to " the wages of unrighteousness.” Disapprobation could not be expressed in clearer and strongerwords, than had all along been employed, “thou shalt not go, thou shalt not curse,” “I went out to withstand thee, thy way is perverse before me," and yet he has the assurance to make it a matter of doubt whe. ther God were displeased with him or not. science not quite callous, a heart not totally hardened like his, would have sought instantly to retreat, thankful that his presumption had not already cost him his life; but he cannot give up the hope of getting for. ward. "If it displease thee, I will get me back again,” Verse 34. “If it displease thee.” Could he doubt it? What kind of assurance would he have had? And yet, wonderful to be told, the angel continues once more to give way; and Balaam has still the hardiness to proceed; and the issue proves the truth of the wise man's assertion: “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Prov. xxix. 1.
The history now hastens on to the meeting of Balaam and Balak; the one eager to prevail over his enemies, by the power of enchantment; the other to possess himself of the riches and honours of Moab. The one lays aside the state of a king, and advances to his utmost border, out of respect to his expected guest. The other, with more speed than became a prophet, hastens to partake of the prince's repast, little scrupu. lous whether the bill of fare consisted of things offered unto idols or not. But happily for Israel, God their protector, had put a hook in his nose and a bridle in his jaws. He himself feels and acknowledges it, how. ever reluctantly. “ And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? The word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak,” Verse 38.
The prophecy itself, one of the most beautiful sages in the sacred history, though uttered by profane
lips; and the power of God therein exemplified, in making the wrath of man to praise him, will furnish useful matter for another discourse. Let what has been said, be improved as a solemn warning to observe, regard and submit to the admonitions of God's word and providence. Wo be to that man who sees no angel standing in the way of a sinful career, till the angel of death stop him with his fatal dart. Let the checks of conscience be listened to. Has the hand, or the foot, been bruised, retreat in time. There is a lion in the way. He that proves too strong for his Maker, by a bold perseverance in an evil course, is only hastening forward his own destruction. The same person is the kindest friend, and the most formi. dable adversary.
God can find an instrument to punish, in the mean. est and most contemptible creature; therefore despise none, abuse none. Be not weary in well-doing. Take an example from Balaam, in respect of perseverance; but choose an honester and worthier object of pursuit. Honour God with your superior reason and use of speech. Behold an ass wise, and a prophet mad: blush at thy own folly, and be humble.
Let us go, as has been already suggested, and learn wisdom from the brute creation. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib:" be instruct. ed to acknowledge the hand that feeds thee: learn attachment to thy Protector, learn gratitude to thy Bene. factor, repay kindness with kindness. Learn industry from the bee. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, Osluggard? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?" Prov. vi. 6—9. “The hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.” “There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: the ants are a people not strong, yet
they prepare their meat in the summer; the conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks; the locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands; the spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces,” Prov. xxx. 24-28. May God open our eyes, and dispose our minds to receive instruction from every thing around us; and preserve us from opposing his will; and make his way straight before our face.
HISTORY OF BALAAM.
Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of
the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his! NUMB. xxiii. 10.
HUMAN conduct, as far as it is governed by the spirit of this world, exhibits a wretched and contempti. ble, but a dangerous and fatal opposition to the will of God. Men would be happy in their own way; but whether they succeed in their pursuits, or whether they fail, they find themselves miserable in the end. God is conducting us, if we would but be conducted, to real and substantial happiness, but it is through a narrow gate, and along a path in many places strewed with thorns. The prosperous successes of vanity and wickedness, like a sweet poison, may afford a transient pleasure in the moment of swallowing: but lasting and unutterable anguish immediately succeeds. The bowels are torn with pain insupportable, and the man dies, dies for ever, for the indulgence and gratification of one poor instant of time. But the sacrifices we are enabled to make to God, and to the testimony of a good conscience, are like a nauseous medicine, which by means of a short-lived disgust, rectifies the constitution, sweetens the blood, confirms health, and prolongs a happy existence. The grievousness of afliction in due season “yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them who are exercised thereby.”
In whatever way men choose to live, and very
differ ent are the roads which they take, they have but one idea, one wish, one prayer, in the prospect of death and eternity. When a man finds himself on the brink of the world of spirits, it will afford him but slender consolation, to reflect that he has lived long enough to amass a fortune, to enjoy a banquet, to attain a post of honour, to acquire a name. And he will feel as little pain and mortification, on the other hand, in recollecting that he has passed life in obscurity, that he has struggled with poverty, that he has endured unmerited reproach. But this is the folly and the misery of man; we eagerly imbibe and follow the spirit of this world while we live; and fondly dream of assuming, in one propitious instant, the spirit of heaven, when we come to die.
We think of passing out thirty or forty years with the gay, the giddy, and the vain; as if that could be a preparation for an eternity with God, and angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect. Our understanding and conscience are on the side of wisdom and piety; our passions and habits, and alas! they are more powerful, are of the party of dissipation and vice. “ The fool says in his heart, there is no God;" and men reputed wise, live as if there were none.
The unhappy man, whose character is farther unfolded to us in the text, exhibits a most affecting example of this strange inconsistency and self-delusion. Who so enlightened as Balaam, “ which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty?” Who so blind as the covetous prophet, who “ loved the wages of unrighteousness,” whose eyes the god of this world blinded? Hear him speak; the manna of heavenly eloquence falls from his lips: behold him act; and lo, a fiend from hell spreading snares and destruction. Under the control of God, not Moses himself thinks more affectionately, expresses affection more ardently towards Israel, than Balaam.' Under the impulse of his own passions, not Satan could plot more