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regard for holiness, and of a desire after everlasting happiness; and what an astonishing inconsistency will appear!
But, in truth, though his circumstances were peculiar, his state is common. Many, many are the people, who, amidst high professions of regard for religion, are as much actuated by love of wealth and honour as ever Balaam was; and, if they can only obtain their own ends, are as little scrupulous as he about the means. Such are they who resemble the ancient Pharisees, on the one hand; and such also are the descendants of Judas and of Demas, on the other hand. Such characters abounded even in the apostolic agee: and we must not wonder, if they be to be found also in the present day!]
In the course of this history, whilst we mark the inconsistency of Balaam, we cannot but notice also, II. The consequences resulting from it,
Let us attend to those which resulted, 1. To his employers
[Balak had raised his expectations high, and had hoped to derive great advantage from the aid of Balaam: “I know that he whom thou blessest, is blessed; and he whom thou cursest, is cursed.” But, after all his expense and trouble, he found that he had trusted to a broken reed; and was constrained to dismiss with indignation the man, whom he had so anxiously endeavoured to interest in his favour.
What a picture does this afford us of the disappointment too often generated in the minds of men by hypocritical professors! One perhaps, having heard of the religious principles of such or such a servant, promises himself the highest satisfaction in connexion with him: but finds him, after all, conceited, idle, deceitful, disobedient. Another deals with such or such a tradesman, in expectation that he shall find in him the integrity suited to his religious professions: but soon learns, that others, who know nothing of religion, are more honourable, and more to be depended on, than he. Another contracts a matrimonial alliance, from the presumption, that the person's sentiments will have a suitable influence on his conduct: but learns afterwards, by bitter experience, that asperities of temper, and
imprudences of conduct, even such as any moral person would be ashamed of, are too often cloked under a garb of religion, and gratified, to the utter subversion of domestic happiness. Need we say, what a stab such conduct gives to religion, or what a stumbling-block it lays in the way of the ungodly? Truly, through such persons "the way of truth is evil spoken of," the prejudices of thousands are confirmed, and the name of our God and Saviour is blasphemed.] e See 2 Pet. ii. 14, 15. with Rev. iii. 1. and former part of ver. 9.
f Ezek. xxxii, 31.
2. To Israel
[Though the enchantments of Balaam were unavailing, his diabolical advice was but too successful: the Israelites, unable to resist the allurements of the Midianitish women, were betrayed into an unlawful commerce with them; and thus fell into the snare which Balak had laid for them, and brought upon themselves the heavy displeasure of their God.
And are not hypocritical professors a snare to many? Do they not, either, by a spirit of disputation, turn weak believers “ from the simplicity of the Gospel;” or, by a spirit of licentiousness, (which they call liberty,) induce them to violate their own consciences ? Multitudes of such professsors there have been, and yet are, in the Christian Church; nor will it ever be known till the day of judgment, how many “weak brethren, for whom Christ died, have perished” through their means.) 3. To himself
[It might have been hoped, that after having been constrained to bless Israel, and thus to lose " the rewards of divination” which he coveted, he would have his error,” and repented of it. But this is very rarely the lot of those, who proceed for any time in a wilful opposition to the convictions of their own minds: they generally become "seared in their consciences,” and hardened in their sins. Thus it was with Balaam. Though foiled for the present in his hopes of gain, he would not relinquish his pursuit of it, but still continued among the Midianites, and soon afterwards was involved in their destruction".
What a lesson does this teach us! What a prospect does it afford to all who yield themselves to the dominion of an unhallowed appetite! How vain his wish to have " his end like that of the righteous," when he would not resemble them in his life! And truly, if we follow his steps, we shall, like him, perish miserably at last among the enemies of God.] LEARN then from this history, 1. The danger of indulging any besetting sin
[The sin of Balaam was covetousness: and we see how it hurried him from one iniquity to another, till it brought him finally to destruction, both of body and soul. Nor is this an uncommon case. There is scarcely any principle more common, or more destructive, than a desire after wealth and preferment. “ The love of money,” says the Apostle, " is the root of all evil: and many, by coveting after it, have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." The facility with which men deceive themselves in relation to this principle, renders it peculiarly dangerous. It scarcely ever appears in any other light than as a venial, at least, if not a commendable, quality. It is likely that Balaam himself did not see the extent of his own iniquity: he probably conceived himself to be solicitous only to know and do the will of God. But an inspired Apostle says of him, that “he loved the wages of unrighteousness," and "ran greedily after error for reward.” Beware then, Brethren, lest, whilst ye think yourselves only prudent and discreet, God himself should choose your delusions,"
& 1 Cor. viü. 9-12. h Numb. xxxi. 8. Josh. xi. 22.
i 1 Tim. vi. 9, 10.
give you up to a reprobate mind,” impute the same as sin unto you, and assign you your doom amongst his enemies. Whatever excites in you even a wish to violate the commands of God, will, if not restrained and mortified, assuredly “ drown you in destruction and perdition."]
2. The necessity of acting conformably with our principles and professions
[Happy would it have been for Balaam, if he had so done ! But of what use was his knowledge of God, whom he did not fear; or his views of Christ, whom he did not love? Of what benefit was his knowledge of men's duty, when he would not practise it; or his persuasion of a future judgment, for which he made no exertions to prepare? These things served only to enhance his guilt, and to aggravate his condemnation. Thus will it be with us : “it were better never to have known any thing of the way of righteousness, than to " oppose it, or “depart from it.” “ The servant that knew his Lord's will and did it not, shall be beaten with more stripes, than the servant who sinned through ignorance." I would earnestly entreat you therefore, Brethren, to walk according to the light which you possess. Do not, like Balaam, "imprison the truth in unrighteousness :" do not "profess that you know God, and at the same time in your works deny him :" but rather be yourselves examples unto others, that they may in you behold the sanctifying efficacy of your faith, and the excellency of that religion you profess.]
CLXXI. BALAAM OBSTRUCTED BY THE ANGEL. Numb. xxii. 31. Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam,
and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand : and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.
THE ministry of angels is frequently asserted both in the Old and New Testament: but, because it is not seen, it is scarcely believed amongst us. Nevertheless, there is not any doctrine more fully established than this; nor scarcely any more clearly exemplified. We need only look to the passage before us; and there we see an angel deputed to intercept Balaam in his way to Midian, and to stop him in his career of wickedness. Whether the angel were the Son of God himself, “the Angel of the Covenant,” with whom Jacob afterwards wrestled, we will not absolutely determine: but the context seems to countenance the idea that it wasb. At all events he had the appearance of an angel, and acted in the capacity of a messenger from heaven. For a considerable time Balaam did not see him; though the beast on which he rode, both saw, and endeavoured to avoid him. The whole story is so singular, that some have represented it as a vision. But, whilst that mode of accounting for the circumstances renders them not at all less miraculous than the more obvious interpretation, (for a divine agency would be as necessary in that case, as in the other,) it directly opposes the assertions of the historian, and the testimony of an inspired Apostle. We can have no doubt but that the facts happened as they are related : and, that we may present them before you in a more easy manner, we will call your attention to some observations founded upon them. I. God often mercifully interposes to obstruct sinners
in their ways
[Balaam, though he professed to be acting by the divine appointment, was in reality going in opposition to the will of God. The permission which had been granted him conditionally, he had construed as unconditional; and when God had declared that Israel should be blessed, Balaam was going with a desire and purpose to curse them. God, to awaken him to a sense of his wickedness, sent an angel to stop him in his way, and to make known to him the evil of his conduct.
Ít is thus that God often interposes to arrest the progress of sinners, and prevent the commission of iniquity. We say not, that he often proceeds precisely in this way: he has a great variety of ways in which he carries this gracious purpose into
a Hos. xii. 3–5.
• See ver. 32, 35. “ perverse before me”_" the word that I shall speak."
c 2 Pet. ii. 16.
execution. Elihu, in his address to Job, directly affirms, that God does interpose, and in a variety of ways too, for this cious end d: and the Scriptures universally attest the truth of his remark. Sometimes God endeavours to divert men from their purpose by a dream, (as Pilate, by a dream of his wife e;) sometimes by a vision, (as Saul, in his way to Damascus;) sometimes by a judgment, (as Jeroboam, when he stretched out his hand against the man of Gods ;) sometimes by a human monitor, (as David, by Abigail";) and sometimes by an unforeseen occurrence, (as Saul, when having encompassed David with his army, was called away from him by a sudden invasion of the Philistines.) We cannot enumerate, nor indeed conceive, the infinite variety of methods by which God withstands sinners; but all of us, on reflection, must acknowledge both the reality and frequency of his interpositions.
How often has it happened that the thief, the robber, the housebreaker, and the murderer, have been deterred from their purpose by the approach of some unexpected person, or by some suggestion of their own minds! How often have persons under a strong temptation to gratify their lusts, been kept from the actual commission of fornication or adultery by some little occurrence, some noise, some apprehension, some qualm of conscience, which God, in mercy to their souls, has sent to interrupt them! How many unhappy females have been kept from destroying their infant children, either before or after their birth, by some considerations widely different from the fear of sin! It is a well-known fact, that many people, but for such restraints as these, would have even destroyed their own lives: and perhaps, of the many who actually do commit suicide, there is scarcely one, who has not been repeatedly diverted from his purpose, before he could find it in his heart to carry it into execution. So common are the interpositions
God for the prevention of sin, and the rescue of those who would commit it! But,] II. His most signal interpositions often excite only
the wrath of those for whose benefit they are sent
[Thrice was Balaam interrupted in his course. The first time, his ass turned aside into a field, to avoid the angel; the next time, he ran up against a wall; and the third time, having no other method of avoiding him left, he fell down: and at each time Balaam's anger was kindled; and at last it rose to such a height, that even the strange phenomenon of the ass speaking, as with a human voice, and expostulating with him, was not sufficient to arrest his attention : his only reply was,
d Job xxxiii. 14-17. e Matt. xxvii. 19. f Acts ix. 3, 4. 8 1 Kings xiii. 4. h 1 Sam. xxv.32, 33. i 1 Sam. xxiii. 28.