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by every circumstance of aggravation-deliberation, presumption, filial ingratitude, in the face of solemn and repeated engagements. If Moses died the death, for once speaking unadvisedly with his lips, in the moment of passion; “if thou, Lord, art strict to mark iniquity, where shall I stand?” how shall I escape?
But is death a punishment to a good man? No. As in the death of Moses, therefore, we behold the justice and severity of God, so, in its consequences, we behold his goodness and loving kindness. The evil is slight and temporary; the good is unspeakably great, and eternally permanent; exclusion from Canaan is admission into the kingdom of heaven; "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Faith, indeed, redeems not from the power of the grave, but it dissi. pates all the horror of the tomb; transforms it into a resting place for the weary pilgrim; and converts the king of terrors into a minister of joy. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “ The saying that is written, is come to pass, death is swallowed up of victory; mortality is swallowed up of life.” “Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel.” We“know whom we have believed:” we believe in him who hath said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die."
HISTORY OF MOSES.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Avenge the
children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.- NUMB. xxxi. 1, 2.
THE interest which every reader of taste and sensibility takes in the life and actions of Moses is never permitted to flag, much less totally to sink and expire. His infant cries, from the very first moment, awaken our sympathy; and his departing words, at the age of a hundred and twenty years, continue to exeite our esteem and admiration. Whether employed as a minister of vengeance or of mercy, he inspires affection or commands respect.
The love of life is not only natural and innocent, but important and necessary. We are instructed to guard, to preserve, to prolong it, at once by the constitution and frame of our nature, and by manifold examples of the highest authority. And while Providence permits the farther extension of it, the reasons and end of that extension are obviously manifest. Not a single hour is added to the life of any one, merely to make up
such a quantity of time. No, every moment is destined to its peculiar purpose, passes to account, calls to its proper use and employment. To dream of premature retirement from the exercise of our faculties and functions, of mere existence without employment, is an attempt to defeat the intention of the Creator in sending us into the world; is a degradation and preversion of the powers
of the human mind; is to be dead while we live. The inquiry of a well regulated spirit, to the last, is, "Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?” While any of my powers remain, however blunted, however impaired, to whom shall I dedicate the poor remains? Enfeebled, exhausted as I am, is there no one respect in which I can yet glorify God, or be useful to my fellow creatures? And, to the last, the great Supporter of life, the Ruler of the world, has some command to give, some labour to be performed, some exercise of the hand, the head, or the heart to enjoin, some purpose of justice or of love to accomplish.
Moses has received warning to depart, but the hour of release is not yet come. And though his offence at the waters of Meribah must be punished with death, the tranquillity of his mind is not thereby discomposed, nor his intercourse with Heaven interrupted, nor his zeal in performing the duties of his station abated. The God whom he had so long and faithfully served, continues to converse with him as a man with his friend, communicates to him his designs, and employs him in the execution. Our lives too are forfeited; the sentence of death is upon us; under a respite of unknown, uncertain duration, our days are passing away. Improved ever so well, they cannot indeed redeem from the grave, nor alter the immutable decree; but their improvement may alleviate the bitterness of death, and pluck out the sting. The inevitable course of nature, and the righteous decisions of a holy law, destroy not the sacred communications which subsist between a merciful God and a gracious spirit. To receive a command from an offended father, after judgment has been pronounced, partakes of the nature of a pardon; and it is no slender consolation, even under the stroke of justice, to reflect that paternal affection was pleased to regard and accept future obedience and submission, if not as an atonement for offence, at least as a mark of contriton for having transgressed. As
if, therefore, we could wipe out the memory of the past; as if persevering labours of gratitude and love could purchase our release; as if death were to be prevented, disarmed or destr yed, by the efforts of the passing moment, let us awake and arise to the knowledge, the study and the practice of our heavenly Father's will.
The service prescribed to Moses on this occasion was the execution of justice on a nation of offenders. The nature of the offence has been hinted at in a former Lecture; and we may form a judgment of its enormity, from the vengeance which pursued it. The state of Midian, at the period in question, exhibits the last stage of moral depravity—a corrupted people carrying on a temporary political design, by means the most scanda. lous and dishonorable—the dearest and most delicate interests of human nature vilely sacrificed to its worst and most disgraceful propensities-husbands countenancing the prostitution of their wives, and parents that of their daughters, in order to gratify ambition, avarice or revenge. A nation of such a character is necessarily hastening to utter destruction, without fire from heaven, or the sword of a foreign enemy. But what vice was accelerating by its own native energy, Providence hastens to an issue by a special interposition, and “the Lord makes himself known by the judgment which he executes.”
The force which it was thought proper to employ for the extermination of this debauched race, is indication sufficient how low its character was rated. Immersed in sensuality, enervated by luxury, a handful of men was deemed enough to destroy them. A thousand out of every tribe of Israel, twelve thousand men in all, Moses considers as fully competent to the execution of this enterprize; and the event fully justified the estimate he had made. It is likewise remarkable, that he neither commands in this expedition, in person, nor commits the conduct of it to Joshua, or any other of military profession: but to “Phineas, the son of
Eleazar the priest,” furnished “ with the holy instru. ments, and the trumpets to blow, in his hand.” We have here, therefore, the idea of a solemn public execution, rather than of regular war.
No resistance is made, no blood but that of the criminals is shed; they dare not meet in the field those whom in the secret chambers they could ensnare. In vain their hoary adviser Balaam, urges them to feats of arms, and sets them an example of courage; supported by five kings and their armies, he falls together with them, by the sword of Israel, an awful monument, how certainly, however slowly, eternal justice overtakes the sinner!
The immense booty which this easy victory trans. ferred to the Israelites, is a farther demonstration of the feebleness and dissolution of their unwarlike enemy. They had wealth without being rich, luxury without enjoyment, policy without wisdom, kingly power without government, and zeal for religion without an object of worship. Conquered the moment they are attacked, having no resource in public or private virtue; men lost to a sense of what constitutes true female dignity, wo. men precipitating that corruption of which they were the miserable victims--they hold up to mankind a fearful but instructive example of the native, necessary, inevitable consequences of vice. Up to similar causes the downfal of still greater states may be traced; and if sin be the ruin of any kingdom, what individual offender shall dare to flatter himself with the hope of escaping the righteous judgment of God?
The severity with which judgment was executed on the Midianites, helps farther to unfold their charac.
An effeminate, luxurious people, generally ex. cites contempt at most; but here a holy and just indignation is kindled, Heaven itself is up in arms against a degenerate race; and Moses, the meekest of men, accuses the exterminators of the whole race of Midian of weak and excessive lenity. How is this to be accounted for? It will be found on inquiry, thaç