« PreviousContinue »
History of Moses.
NUMBERS XXi. 4-9.
And they journeyed from Mount Hor, by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the foul of the people was much difcouraged becaufe of the way. And the people pake against God, and against Mofes, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water, and our foul loatheth this light bread. And the Lord fent fiery ferpents among the people; and they bit the people, and much people of Ifrael died. Therefore the people came to Mofes, and faid, We have finned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord that he take away the ferpents from us and Mofes prayed for the people. And the Lord faid unto Mofes, Make thee a fiery ferpent, and fet it upon a pole and it fhall come to pass that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, fhall live. And Mofes made a ferpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a ferpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the ferpent of brass, he
THE reftlefsnefs, peevishnefs and discontent which men are continually expreffing, prove at once the degeneracy and corruption of human nature, and furnish ftrong prefumption of the immortality of the foul.
To behold one generation after another, of moping, melancholy, fullen, furly beings, in the midft of an overflowing profufion of bleffings, charging God foolishly, tormenting themfelves unneceffarily, and disturbing others maliciously, clearly demonftrates, that man is alienated from his Maker, at variance with himself, and unkindly difpofed towards his brother in other words, that he is a fallen, corrupted creature. To behold men, whatever they have attained, whatever they poffefs, forgetting the things which are behind, and eagerly reaching forward to thofe which are before, the eye never fatisfied with feeing, nor the ear with hearing, is a prefumption at leaft, if not a proof, that we are defigned of our Cre ator for fomething this world has not to bestow; that fome principle in our nature is fuperior to the grofs and grovelling purfuits in which we are warmly engaged, but in which we find and we take no reft; and thus the very mifery we feel is a prefentiment of the felicity which we were created to enjoy. But, alas! our diffatisfaction with fublunary good things, things which are feen and temporal," is not the refult of experience, nor the refignation of a mind humbled to the will of God. No, it is the miferable effect and expreffion of infatiable defire, of unmortified pride, of disappointed ambition. If we arrive at our object with ease, its value is diminished by the facility of acquifition; if obftacles lie in the way, and poffeffion be removed by distance of time and space, we are quickly difcouraged, and timidly give up the purfuit. When empty, there is no end of our complaints; when full, we loathe and reject the beft things: if we fucceed, our profperity destroys us with folly, infolence and felf-indulgence; if we fail, we are undone through fhame, chagrin and refentment; if we fhun the rock of "vanity" on the one fide, we are fucked into the whirlpool of "vexation of fpirit" upon the other. VOL. V.
The history of Ifrael is, in truth, the history of human nature. Did they difcover a ftubbornnefs which no calamity could tame, no kindness could mollify : a levity which no fteadiness of difcipline could fix, a perfidioufnefs which no plea can excuse, an ingratitude which no partiality can extenuate, a ftupidity which no intelligence can account for, a timidity and a rafhnefs which no reafon can explain? Alas, we need not travel to the deferts of Arabia, nor look back to the days of the golden calf, nor of the waters of Meribah, for the perfons who difcovered fuch a spirit. We have but to look into our own hearts, we' have but to review our own lives, in order to be fatisfied, that fuch a spirit has exifted, that it is fhamefulby odious in itself, highly offenfive in the fight of God, and that we have good reafon to abhor ourselves, "and repent in dust and afhes.”
We have purfued the history of Aaron and of Balaam, in a continued feries, that we might profecute the remainder of the hiftory of Mofes, without any farther interruption; we therefore omitted in its proper place that portion of it, which is partly recorded in the verfes I have read: but it is of infinitely too great importance to be paffed over wholly in filence, and therefore we look back, and bring it into view, as an ufeful fubject of meditation this evening.
Mofes had lately defcended from Mount Hor, whither he had been fummoned to perform the laft offices of humanity to Aaron, his brother: with mixed emotions, no doubt, which alternately marked the man and the believer: mourning and mortified, yet patient, compofed and refigned to the will of Heaven. In executing fentence of death upon his brother, he heard the voice of God again pronouncing his own doom; a doom in which, with the ordinary feelings of humanity, he acquiefces with reluctance, but muft however acquiefce. But though death was before his eyes, and could be at no great distance, it abates nothing of his ardour for the glory of God, and the good of
Ifrael; it breaks in upon no duty of his ftation, it difturbs not the benevolence, gentlenefs and ferenity of his temper: he lives, acts, inftructs to the very last; and exhibits an inftructive example of that happy firmnefs and equanimity of foul, removed alike from ftoical indifference, and contempt of death, and fond, infirm, unreasonable attachment to life. We find him accordingly in his 120th year, and the laft of his life, not only engaged in employments fuitable to age, thofe of deliberating, advifing and inftructing; but exerting all the activity and vigour of youth, in planning and executing fundry military enterprises.
We should be furprifed, did we not know the cause of it, to find Ifrael in the fortieth year from their deliverance out of Egypt, juft where we faw them the firft month, by the way of the Red Sea, journeying from Mount Hor; and even then, though every thing feemed to be preffing them forwards to the poffeffion of Canaan, not led of their heavenly Guide directly forwards in the neareft tract, but obliged to fetch a compafs round the whole land of Edom, the poffeffion allotted to, and already bestowed upon the pofterity of Efau. But Ifrael, and in them mankind, was thereby inftructed to revere the deftinations of Providence, to refpect the rights, property and privileges of others; that reafon and religion, as well as fympathy and humanity, oblige a man to fubmit to the inconveniency of a journey fomewhat more tedious and fatiguing, inftead of attempting to cut a nearer paffage for himfelf, through the bowels and blood of his brother.
The confcioufnefs of having acted well, in taking this circuitous march round the land of Edom, and that they thus acted by the command of God, ought to have reconciled the minds of these Ifraelites to the. little inconveniences of the way; but their historian and leader, with his ufual fidelity, informs us, that "the foul of the people was, much difcouraged becaufe of the way." C 2
Men frequently do their duty with fo ill a grace, that it becomes as offenfive as downright difobedience; the manner of compliance has the air of a refufal. God loves cheerfulness in every thing: a cheerful, liberal giver; a cheerful, thankful receiver; a cheerful, active doer; a cheerful, patient sufferer. what an alleviating confideration is it, under the preffure of whatever calamity! "This burden is impofed on me by the hand of my heavenly Father; this is a fore evil, but God can turn it into good." "This affliction is not joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterwards it fhall yield the peaceable fruits of righteoufnefs." When we are out of humour at one thing, .we are diffatisfied with every person, and every thing; a harsh spirit and a hafty tongue fpare neither God nor man. "The people fpoke against God, and against Moses. Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our foul loatheth this light bread."
Objects viewed through the medium of paffion, like those strange uncouth appearances which are seen in glaffes of a certain conftruction, have little or no refemblance to what they are in nature and truth. They are distorted and disfigured; magnified to fuch a degree as to become hideous, or diminished fo as to become imperceptible; and according to the fit of the moment, men turn the one end or the other of the perspective to the eye, and what they contemplate is accordingly removed to a great diftance, and reduced to nothing, or brought nigh, enlarged, and brightened up. Employing this falfe kind of optics, Ifrael now confiders Egypt and all its hardships with defire and regret, and looks forward to Canaan with coldnefs and diftruft. The miraculous ftream that followed them from the rock is no water at all, and manna, angel's food, is accounted light bread. We are too little aware of the finfulness and folly of difcontent, and therefore indulge in it without fear or referve.