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it becomes as offensive as downright disobedience; the manner of compliance has the air of a refusal, God loves cheerfulness in every thing: a cheerful, liberal giver; a cheerful, thankful receiver; a cheerful, active doer; a cheerful, patient sufferer. And what an alleviating consideration is it, under the pressure of whatever cala. mity! “This burden is imposed on me by the hand of my heavenly Father; this is a sore evil, but God can turn it into good.” “This affliction is not joyous, but grievous; neverthless afterwards it shall yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness.” When we are out of humour at one thing, we are dissatisfied with every person, and every thing; a harsh spirit and a hasty tongue spare neither God nor man.
“ The people spoke 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 soul loatheth this light bread.”
Objects viewed through the medium of passion, like those strange uncouth appearances which are seen in glasses of a certain construction, have little or no resemblance to what they are in nature and truth. They are distorted and disfigured; magnified to such a de. gree as to become hideous, or diminished so 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 distance, and reduced to nothing, or brought nigh, enlarged, and brightened up. Employing this false kind of optics, Israel now considers Egypt and all its hardships with desire and regret, and looks forward to Canaan with coldness and distrust. The miraculous stream 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 sinfulness and folly of discontent, and therefore indulge in it without fear or reserve.
We do not reflect that it is to arraign at once the wisdom and goodness of God; to rob him of the right of judgment, and madly to increase the evil which was too heavy before.
In general, the righteous Governor of the world permits this evil affection to punish itself; and can there be a greater punishment, than to leave a sullen, dissatisfied wretch to devour his own spleen? But in the instance before us, he was provoked to superadd to this mental plague, a grievous external chastisement. "And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, and much people of Israel died.” These might be the natural production of the wilderness, but providentially armed for the occasion with a greater malignancy of poison, or produced in greater abundance, or roused to a higher degree of ferocity. For what are the instruments which God employs to revenge himself of his enemies? He needs not to create a new thing in the earth; the simplest creature can do it. Nature, animate and inanimate, is ready to take up his quarrel; the frost or the fire, continued a little longer, or rendered a little more intense, will soon subdue the proudest of his aciversaries. It is not the least of the miracles of divine mercy, that Israel had been preserved so long from the fury of those noxious insects with which the desert swarmed, as Moses justly remarks in recapitulating the history of God's goodness to that people during a forty years pilgrimmage. “Lest thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of of flint,” Deut. viii. 14, 15.
The rage of these dreadful creatures, which had been during so long a period by a supernatural power suppressed, now freed from that curb, becomes a party too strong for a mighty host, fushed with recent vic
tory. While therefore we adore and admire the good. ness which multiplies the necessary and useful part of the vegetable and animal tribes with such astonishing liberality, and limits those which are noxious with such consummate wisdom and irresistible power, let us trem. ble to think how easily he can remove the barrier which restrains the wrath of the creature, and arm a fly with force sufficient for our destruction. But the intention of God in punishing is correction and amendment, not ruin; returning mercy therefore meets the first symptoms of repentance, and a remedy is pointed out the moment that misery is felt; which sweetly discloses to us the meltings of fatherly affection, outrunning and preventing filial wretchedness.
But what strange method of cure have we here? The poison of a serpent counteracted, and its malignity destroyed, not by an external application, not by the virtue of an antidote possessed of certain natural qualities, but by a blessing annexed to the use of an instru. ment in itself inadequate, and an action of the patient himself, flowing from his own will, and called forth by the appointment and command of God. The author of that excellent book, entitled the Wisdom of Solo. mon, has a beautiful reference to this story, when he says,
“ For when the horrible fierceness of beasts came upon these, and they perished with the stings of crooked serpents, thy wrath endured not for ever. But they were troubled for a small season, that they might be ad. monished, having a sign of salvation, to put them in re. membrance of the commandment of thy law. For he that turned himself towards it, was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by thee, that art the Saviour of all. And in this thou madest thine enemies confess, that it is thou who deliverest from all evil,” Wisdom xvi. 5—8.
But the grand commentary on the history of the fiery serpents is furnished by Christ himself, in his conversation with Nicodemus, the Jewish ruler. “As
Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life,” John iii. 14, 15.
From this it is evident that many particulars in the Jewish history and political economy, had an interest and importance which extended far beyond the present moment, or the sensible and obvious appearance of things. And in this particular instance our blessed Lord has furnished us with an instructive example, which ought to serve as a rule, for the application and use of figurative, allegorical, and typical subjects. Here he enters into no detail; pursues no parallel or contrast through a multiplicity of particulars; furnishes no wings to the imagination; but fixing on one great, general view of the subject, renders it thereby more powerful and impressive. He was conversing with a ruler of the Jews; was explaining to him the nature and end of his own mission; was deducing the nature and tendency of the gospel dispensation from the established rites of the Mosaic, and the received facts of the Jewish history, with which Nicodemus was perfectly well acquainted. In this case he refers to a noted event, and appeals from it to one which was shortly to take place, betwixt which a striking line of resemblance should be apparent. The elevation of the brazen serpent in the wilderness, for the healing of the Israelites who were perishing by the envenomed stings of the fiery serpents and the elevation of the Son of Man upon
cross, the propitiation for the sins of the world; that when this last display of the divine justice and mercy should be exhibited, Nicodemus, and every intelligent and honest disciple of Moses, might be satisfied that “God had at sundry times, and in divers manners,” presented as in a glass to the fathers, the method of redemption by Jesus Christ.
All the application, then, which the words of the Saviour himself warrant us to make of this passage to
him, is reduced to a few obvious and striking particulars. “ Fools,” such as the Isaelites in the desert, and transgressors of the divine law in general, “be. cause of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near to the gates of death. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions," Psalm cvii. 17-20.
The root of the evil, the cause of the plague, is to be found in human perversity and disobedience. The faithful and obedient sleep safe and secure in the lion's den; to the proud and rebellious the innoxious worm is converted into a fiery serpent, full of deadly poison. The remedy for this sore evil is to be traced up to the divine compassion, power and goodness.
The means of cure are not such as human wisdom would have devised, or the reason of man approved; they are the sovereign appointment of Heaven. The effect is preternatural, yet real; and reason rejoices in what it could not have discovered. The sight of a lifeless-serpent of metal working as an antidote to the mortal poison of one alive; incredible, absurd! Such was the doctrine of the cross in the eyes of prejudice, and philosophy, “ and science, falsely so called.” “ For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness; but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God.
of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdomn knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the