Then Balak sent other princes, more numerous and more distinguished than the first messengers.
|The Importunity and Impudence of the Tempter||E.S. Prout ||Numbers 22:15-17|
|The Second Visit||D. Young ||Numbers 22:15-21|
|A Rotting Conscience||H. W. Beecher.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam||C. Kingsley, M. A.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam Rebuked, But not Checked||T. T. Munger.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam Stopped by an Angel||J. Parker, D. D.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam the Man of Double Mind||C. Ness.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam, an Instance of Moral Perversion||W. M. Taylor, D. D.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam; Or, Spiritual Influence, Human and Divine||Homilist||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam's Ass||W. Jones.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam's Ass, or Cruelty Rebuked||J. W. Hardman, LL. D.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam's I have Sinned||James Vaughan, M. A.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam's Protest||W. Roberts.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balaam's Vision||J. P. Smith, LL. D.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Balak's Second Application to Balaam||W. Jones.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Dallying with Temptation||T. T. Munger.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|God Answers Men as They Wish||Isaac Williams, B. D.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|God Permits Balaam to Go, and Yet is Angry||F. D. Maurice, M. A.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|God Withstanding Sinners||J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|God's Opposition to Balaam||Henry, Matthew||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Gold an Ignoble Motive for Service||C. Kingsley.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|No Contradiction Between God's Two Answers to Balaam||T. T. Manger.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|No Without Any Yes in It||S. S. Chronicle||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Obedience Without Love, as Instanced in the Character Of||J. H. Newman, D. D.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Obstacles to Vision||J. Halsey.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Obstructive Providences||T. G. Horton.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|On Tampering with Conscience||A. Jessopp, M. A.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Parallels to the Case of Balaam||American S. S. Times||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Perversion as Shown in the Character of Balaam||F. W. Robertson, M. A.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Restraints from Sin||D. G. Watt, M. A.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Sin Perverse||Bp. Babington.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Something Wrong with Conscience||Christian Age||Numbers 22:15-35|
|The Cause of God's Anger with Balaam||S. Cox, D. D.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|The Character of Balaam||G. Wagner.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|The Divine Permission of Self-Will||S. Cox, D. D.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|The Opposition of God's Angel||W. Roberts.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|The Talking Ass, and What it Taught Balaam||S. Cox, D. D.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|The Way of the Perverse||T. De Witt Talmage.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Trifling with Conscience||J. E. C. Welldon, M. A.||Numbers 22:15-35|
|Withstanding Temptation||Juvenile Templar.||Numbers 22:15-35|
Such appeals as Balak sent to Balaam are constantly addressed to us, in word or substance, by human tempters, and through them by the infernal tempter. The honour offered is represented as "very great," and as essential, and the promises are as vast as we can desire ("whatsoever," &c., verse 17; Luke 4:6, 7
). Though at first the tempter may be resisted, and may depart "for a season" (cf. verse 14), yet his solicitations may be renewed in a more alluring form than at first, with this appeal, "Let nothing," &c. (verse 16). Neither
(1) conscience. Away with childish scruples in a man of the world who has to see to his own interests. Nor
(2) considerations of mercy to others. Balaam was required to curse and, if possible, ruin a nation that had done him no harm. Selfishness is bidden to make any sacrifice at its shrine. E.g., ambitious rulers, dishonest traders or trustees, heartless seducers. Nor
(3) the will of God; for who can be sure whether God has really revealed his will, or will enforce it (Genesis 3:1-5). Nor
(4) the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in dying that he might save from the ruin of sin; for though you sin, grace will abound. Nor
(5) the fear of judgment; for after all the threats of judgment may be old wives' fables, or you may make all right before you die. Thus speaks the tempter, bidding us make riches and honour "the prize of our calling," and overleap or break down every barrier that God has set up to hinder us from ruining ourselves and others. (Illustrate from the case of Judas, and the barriers he broke through at the call of Satan, and contrast the impregnability of Jesus Christ when offered the wealth and honour of the world.) Christ himself, the motives supplied by his cross when applied by his Spirit, are the greatest hindrances to keep us from yielding to the tempter. - P.
I. THE REPETITION WITH INCREASED FORCE OF THE REQUEST OF BALAK TO BALAAM.
If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them.
The first time God tells him not to go; the second time He bids him go, but is angry with him because he goes. What dues this contradiction mean? There is no meaning in it till we drop the external shell of the story, and look at the moral working of Balaam's mind, when all becomes orderly and natural. There is here no contradiction. Between the first and second asking there is a change in his moral attitude. In the first he is docile and obedient, and the voice of conscience, which is the voice of God, prevails and decides his conduct. He enters into the second already half won by Balak, dislodged from his old sympathies, restless under the comparison between his old life and that laid open to him. When men revolve moral questions in such a temper, they commonly reach a decision that accords with their wish rather than with their conscience. Balaam has abandoned the field of simple duty — duty so plain that there is no need of second thoughts. It is clear enough that in no way could it be right to curse those whom God had blessed; this he well knows, and the spontaneous verdict of his conscience is God's first answer But, brooding over the matter and sore pressed by temptation, he begins to contrive ways in which he may win the gifts and honours of Balak, and also remain an honest prophet. Here is his mistake. Duty is no longer a simple, imperative thing, but something that may be conjured with, a subordinate, unstable tool instead of an absolute law. Having thus blinded himself as to the nature of duty, there will no longer be any certainty in his moral operations; confusion of thought leads to confusion of action; in his own transformation he transforms God; he now hears God bidding him do what he desires to do. Still, at times, conscience revives, his judgment returns, and then he knows that God is angry with him for doing what he had brought himself to think he might rightly do. This is every-day experience put into this ancient story in a dramatic yet real way. When a man has thus trifled with himself and with his duty, God does indeed seem to say to him, "Go on in your chosen course." He serves God in the externals of religion, but in business cheats and lies in what he calls business ways, and grinds the faces of the poor under some theory of competition, yet God prospers him; no hindering word comes to him from Providence or from the insulted Spirit of truth. It may be better, it may be, in a certain sense, the command of God, that one who starts on such a path shall follow it to the end, and find out by experience what he has rejected as an intuition. With the froward God shows Himself froward. To those who have pleasure in unrighteousness God sends a strong delusion that they should believe a lie. This is the concrete way of stating how the moral nature acts when it is led by double motives. It comes into bewilderment; it gets no true answers when it appeals to God; its own sophistries seem to it the voice of God. It can no longer tell the voice of God from its own voice. "Fair is foul, and foul is fair."
It is not unusual with God to grant, not only the desires of an holy and upright mind, but also our desires for inferior things, when the heart is set upon them in preference to Himself. For instance, a man is on his guard against the dangers of wealth and station; but by degrees he thinks whether he cannot obtain them lawfully, and by and by he is engaged in the pursuit, and in such a ease God gives the man usually that for which he craves. He seeks, he obtains; God seems to say, "Go on." There is no greater danger than for God to answer a man according to the desires of his own heart; and therefore Job says, "If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands towards Him; if iniquity be in thine hand, put it far away" (Job 11:14
). And in Ezekiel God says, if a man comes to inquire of Him with idols in his heart, and setting the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, He will answer him according to his idols, he will be taken in his own heart. "If that prophet be deceived," it is added in very remarkable words, "I the Lord have deceived him, and I will punish him" (Ezekiel 14:4, 5, 9
). But yet in this case God does not give us up altogether. As when Israel asked for a king, He gave indeed what they desired — but He expostulated, He warned, He sent them a token of His displeasure. So will He show us by His Providence that He is displeased with us; in the way that we go, His angel with the sword in his hand will meet us, i.e
., some calamity, some accident, some grief, is sure to cross our way to remind us from God that the way that we are going is not the way of holiness or of peace. And these are all calls from God, not at all the less so because when a man's eyes are blinded with worldly business and covetousness he does not see them to be such.
THE INFLUENCE OF A BAD MAN UPON SOCIETY.
1. A man's influence in this world is no proof of his moral worth. The millions of all ages readily accede to the claims of the pretender, however lofty; and the more lofty the better, if the claimant can manage to keep his countenance while the admiring dupes look on.
2. Society, in relation to true intelligence and right sympathy, is in a very lamentable state. A true education, involving the harmonious unfolding of the feeling as well as knowing faculties of the soul, will make a man a "discerner of spirits."
3. The high probability of a future retributive economy. Does not the mutual relation between empty pretenders and the ignorant victims of all ages predict a reckoning day, and cry out for a judgment?
II. THE INFLUENCE OF THE GREAT GOD UPON A BAD MAN (ver. 18).
1. God does exert a spiritual influence over the minds of bad men.
2. The spiritual influence He exerts over the minds of bad men is of a restraining character.
(2)Inward pressure upon the spirit.
3. God's restraining influence upon a bad man is for the good of society.
1. The embassage was more influential.
2. The message was more urgent.
3. The inducements were stronger.Learn: that temptations which have been declined half-heartedly are presented again, and with greater force. The manner of Balaam's dismissal of the former messengers prepared the way for a repetition of their mission.
II. THE REPETITION UNDER AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES OF GUILTY DELAY BY BALAAM.
1. He had been challenged by God as to the presence of the former messengers.
2. He had already been prohibited from complying with the request of Balak.
3. He himself felt arid plainly declared that he was bound by the word of the Lord in the matter.
III. THE REPETITION OF THE DIVINE VISIT TO BALAAM.
1. The permission granted.
2. The condition enforced.
IV. THE SETTING OUT OF BALAAM ON THE JOURNEY.
()We take this to be the great crisis in Balaam's life. We take this act, which to many appears so excellent, to be the first step in his down. ward course. It was not only the day of God's power towards Israel, but a day of grace to Balaam; but, alas! he knew it not. The precious moment on which so much depended was lost; henceforth his downward course was rapid. He perished in the rejection of grace and mercy. There is a crisis in our histories as in Balaam's, a time, perhaps a moment, on which our eternity depends. There may be nothing to mark it out as a great crisis at the time. The Spirit of God may strive with you, gently strive. There may be some conviction in your mind, and all may depend on your yielding up your heart to Christ, and acting upon that conviction at once. If you waver when you ought to act; wait for more light, when you have light enough; if you allow any second thought to come in to determine what you shall do, anything selfish or worldly, when you ought to act simply for God, then the Spirit may leave you; your day of grace, like Balaam's, may pass by, or it may be some temptation which is presented to you. We do not mean any awful temptation, one which the world itself would counsel you to resist. It may be some offer which you would be deemed foolish in rejecting, something that the world thinks an advantage; and yet if you do give way to the temptation, oh, what unforeseen consequences may follow, step by step, with unerring certainty! Let it now be impressed upon your hearts what great and eternal consequences may depend upon one little act. Oh, be faithful to God, faithful in apparently little things, as well as in great. But we must go a step further and ask, "What was it that gave this bias to Balaam's will, and led him still to inquire, when he ought to have felt, 'God has revealed His will; it is enough. I will not move from my place'?" Scripture gives a complete answer to that question. It was a besetting sin, and we are told what it was. It was the sin of covetousness (2 Peter 3:15). There are two most solemn lessons which this ought to rivet on our hearts. First, we see the amazing power and awful effects of one besetting sin. We see how it perverts the will, how it keeps the heart from resting on the plain word of God — how it leads to neglect, yea, not even to know, the day of visitation — and how it hurries the soul onward, blinded and debased, to a point at which at first it would have shuddered. The other lesson is the deceitfulness of the human heart. Its wishes may be quite opposite to its most solemn professions; and at the very moment when it seems to be guided by the will of God it may be following some device or desire of its own. To what earnest self-inspection should this character lead us, lest our hearts, too, should be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin — lest, satisfied with a decided profession, we forget that God is the searcher of the heart, and that He deals and will deal with us, not according to what we profess to be, but according to what we are, according to the real state of our hearts.
()I. PERVERSION OF GREAT GIFTS.
1. By turning them to purposes of self-aggrandisement. Balak struck the keynote of his character when he said, "Am I not able to promote thee unto honour?" Herein, then, lies the first perversion of glorious gifts: that Balaam sought not God's honour, but his own.
2. By making those gifts subservient to his own greed.
II. PERVERSION OF CONSCIENCE.
1. The first intimation we have of the fact that Balaam was tampering with his conscience, is in his second appeal to God. There is nothing like the first glance we get at duty, before there has been any special pleading of our affections or inclinations. Duty is never uncertain at first. It is only after we have got involved in the sophistries of wishing that things were otherwise than they are that it seems indistinct. Considering a duty is often only explaining it away. Deliberation is often only dishonesty. God's guidance is plain, when we are true.
2. The second stage is a state of hideous contradictions: God permits Balaam to go, and then is angry with him for going. There is nothing here which cannot be interpreted by bitter experience. We must not explain it away by saying that these were only the alternations of Balaam's own mind. They were; but they were the alternations of a mind with which God was expostulating, and to which God appeared differently at different times; the horrible mazes and inconsistencies of a spirit which contradicts itself, and strives to disobey the God whom yet it feels and acknowledges. To such a state of mind God becomes a contradiction. "With the forward" — oh, how true! - "Thou wilt show Thyself froward."
3. We notice next the evidences in him of a disordered mind and heart. It is a strange, sad picture. The first man in the land, gifted beyond most others, conscious of great mental power, going on to splendid prospects, yet with hopelessness and misery working at his heart. Who would have envied Balaam if he could have seen all the hell that was working at his heart?
4. Lastly, let us consider the impossibility under such circumstances of going back. Balaam offers to go back. The angel says, "Go on." There was yet one hope for him, to be true, to utter God's wolds careless of the consequences; but he who had been false so long, how should he be true? It was too late. In the ardour of youth you have made perhaps a wrong choice, or chosen an unfit profession, or suffered yourself weakly and passively to be drifted into a false course of action, and now, in spite of yourself, you feel there is no going back. To many minds, such a lot comes as with the mysterious force of a destiny. They see themselves driven, and forget that they put themselves in the way of the stream that drives them. They excuse their own acts as if they were coerced. They struggle now and then faintly, as Balaam did — try to go back — cannot — and at last sink passively in the mighty current that floats them on to wrong. And thenceforth to them all God's intimations will come unnaturally. His voice will sound as that of an angel against them in the way. Spectral lights will gleam, only to show a quagmire from which there is no path of extrication.
I. BALAAM WAS BLESSED WITH GOD'S ESPECIAL FAVOUR.
1. He had the grant of inspiration.
2. The knowledge of God's will.
3. An insight into the truths of morality, clear and enlarged, such as we Christians even cannot surpass.
4. He was admitted to conscious intercourse with God, such as even Christians have not.
II. BALAAM WAS A VERY CONSCIENTIOUS MAN.
1. When sought by Balak he prayed to God for direction.
2. When forbidden to go, he refused to go.
3. Only when God gave him leave did he go.
4. And when he was come to Balak he strictly adhered to God's orders. Balaam was certainly high-principled, honourable, conscientious. He said, and he did; he professed, and he acted according to his professions.
III. Yet, while in one sense in God's favour, HE WAS IN ANOTHER AND HIGHER SENSE UNDER GOD'S DISPLEASURE. He was displeasing to God amid his many excellences. So that, in Balaam's history, we seem to have the following remarkable case — i.e., remarkable according to our customary judgment of things — a man Divinely favoured, visited, influenced, guided, protected, eminently honoured, illuminated — a man possessed of an enlightened sense of duty, and of moral and religious acquirements, educated, high-minded, conscientious, honourable, firm; and yet on the side of God's enemies, personally under God's displeasure, and in the end (if we go on to that) the direct instrument of Satan, and having his portion with the unbelievers. This surely is most fearful to every one of us — the more fearful the more we are conscious to ourselves in the main of purity of intention in what we do, and conscientious adherence to our sense of duty.
IV. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS STARTLING EXHIBITION OF GOD'S WAYS?
1. It is possible to be generally conscientious, or what the world calls honourable and high-principled, yet to be destitute of that religious fear and strictness which God calls conscientiousness, but which the world calls superstition or narrowness of mind.
2. God gave Balaam leave to go to Balak, and then was angry with him for going, because his asking twice was tempting God. God is a jealous God. We may not safely intrude upon Him, and make free with Him.Concluding lessons:
1. We see how little we can depend, in judging of right and wrong, on the apparent excellence and high character of individuals.
2. Observe the wonderful secret providence of God, while all things seem to go on according to the course of this world.
3. When we have begun an evil course we cannot retrace our steps.
4. God gives us warnings now and then, but does not repeat them. Balaam's sin consisted in not acting upon what was told him once for all. Beware of trifling with conscience. May He give you grace so to hear as you will wish to have heard when life is over — to hear in a practical way, with a desire to profit — to learn God's will and to do it!
()We, in these days, are accustomed to draw a sharp line between the good and the bad, the converted and the unconverted, the children of God and the children of his world, those who have God's Spirit and those who have not, which we find nowhere in Scripture; and therefore when we read of such a man as Balaam we cannot understand him. He knows the true God. More, be has the Spirit of God in him, and thereby utters wonderful prophecies; and yet he is a bad man. How can that be? Now bear in mind, first, theft Balaam is no impostor or magician. He is a wise man, and a prophet of God. God really speaks to him, and really inspires him. And bear in mind, too, that Balaam's inspiration did not merely open his mouth to say wonderful words which he did not understand, but opened his heart to say righteous and wise things which he did understand. What, then, was wrong in Balaam? This, that he was double-minded. He wished to serve God. True. But he wished to serve himself by serving God, as too many do in all times. That was what was wrong with him — self-seeking; and the Bible story brings out that self seeking with a delicacy, and a perfect knowledge of human nature, which ought to teach us some of the secrets of our own hearts. But what may we learn from this ugly story? Recollect what I said at first, that we should find Balaam too like many people nowadays; perhaps too like ourselves. Too like indeed. For never were men more tempted to sin as Balaam did than in these days, when religion is all the fashion, and pays a man, and helps him on in life; when, indeed, a man cannot expect to succeed without professing some sort of religion or other. Thereby comes a terrible temptation to many men. I do not mean to hypocrites, but to really well-meaning men. They like religion. They wish to be good; they have the feeling of devotion. They pray, they read their Bibles, they are attentive to services and to sermons, and are more or less pious people. But soon — too soon — they find that their piety is profitable. Their business increases. Their credit increases. They gain power over their fellow men. What a fine thing it is, they think, to be pious! Then creeps in the love of the world; the love of money, or power, or admiration; and they begin to value religion because it helps them to get on in the world. Aye, they are often more attentive than ever to religion, because their consciences pinch them at times, and have to be drugged by continual church-goings and chapel-goings, and readings and prayings, in order that they may be able to say to themselves with Balaam, "Thus saith Balaam, he who heard the word of God, and had the knowledge of the Most High." So they say to themselves, "I must be right. How religious I am; how fond of sermons, and of church services, and missionary meetings, and charitable institutions, and everything that is good and pious. I must be right with God." Deceiving their own selves, and saying to themselves, "I am rich and increased with goods, I have need of nothing," and not knowing that they are wretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked. Would God that such people, of whom there are too many, would take St. John's warning and buy of the Lord gold tiled in the fire — the true gold of honesty — that they may be truly rich, and anoint their eyes with eye-salve that they may see themselves for once as they are.
()What was Balaam's prime mistake? I think it was this, that he trifled with his conscience. God speaks once to the human soul, and speaks loudly; but if you disobey His voice, it soon sinks to a whisper. "When I was a little boy," said Theodore Parker, "in my fourth year, one fine day in spring my father led me by the hand to a distant part of the farm, but soon sent me home alone. On the way I had to pass a little pond, then spreading its waters wide; a rhodora in full bloom, a rare flower which grew only in that locality, attracted my attention, and drew me to the spot. I saw a little spotted tortoise sunning itself in the shallow water at the root of the flowering shrub. I lifted the stick I had in my hand to strike the harmless reptile; for though I had never killed any creature, yet I had seen other boys out of sport destroy birds and squirrels and the like, and I felt a disposition to follow their wicked example. But all at once something checked my little arm, and a voice within me said, clear and loud, 'It is wrong.' I held my uplifted stick in wonder at the new emotion, the consciousness of an involuntary but inward check upon my actions, till the tortoise and the rhodora both vanished from my sight. I hastened home, and told the tale to nay mother, and asked what it was that told me 'it was wrong.' She wiped a tear from her eye, and taking me in her arms said: 'Some men call it conscience, but I prefer to call it the voice of God in the soul of man. If you listen and obey it, it will speak clearer and clearer, and always guide you right; but if you turn a deaf ear and disobey, then it will fade out little by little, and leave you in the dark and without a guide. Your life depends on heeding that little voice.' " This is the truth, let me say again, of Balaam's history; and having so shown it to you, or tried to make you see it, I might almost leave it to your reflection without a word. But as I want you to realise what the human conscience is, and how responsible you all are for your mode of treating it, there are just two or three remarks which I will make.
1. Firstly, there are some people who make a boast, as it were, of having what I may call a loose or easy conscience. They think it a sign of intellectual light to be free from conscientious scruples. They say, "Oh, yes, no doubt there was a time when it was thought wrong to touch or to read newspapers and secular books on Sundays, or to go to a theatre, or to participate in dancing or card-playing or any such thing; but these were Puritan days, and we have outlived them, we have learned to laugh at them, we do nowadays pretty much as we like." This is the sort of language which is often heard in the world. Now what I say to you about it shall be simple common sense. I agree to some extent with the people who so speak. It is a mistake, I think, to multiply the number of sins. There are so many things which are wrong in the world, and it is so hard for most of us to keep from doing them, that I should say we make a mistake if we involuntarily add to the number of things which we may not do. Only forgive my saying that, if one must make a mistake, then it is better to err on the side of abstaining from good than on the side of running heedlessly into wrong. It is better to have a weak conscience than a wicked one. Do not you think that for one person who violates the Sunday from a religious motive, there are twenty who violate it because they do not care for religion at all? And is it not likely — ah! how likely — that, if we are not careful to cherish the means of grace and of religious practice, if we do not go to church and to the Holy Communion, we shall gradually sink into a worldly way of looking at things, and our religion will die away altogether?
2. Again, let me impress upon you that your conscience is plastic; you are always forming it, always making it better or worse. If you listen to it when it speaks, it speaks more plainly; if you neglect it, it will simply cease to speak. Ought it not to be your prayer, your daily effort, to see good and evil as God sees them? For, believe me, I am telling you what I know, when you grow up and go out into the world, you will hear people saying of even the vilest sins, "What does it matter? I do not see the wrong of it." There is a blindness of the soul as well as of the body; and although the blinded soul cannot behold the Sun of Righteousness, the Sun is shining in the heaven all the same.
3. Lastly, follow your conscience, and it shall lead you to God. Believe me, the only way to get more spiritual light is to live according to the light you have. It may be only a ray that breaks athwart the darkness; make the most of it, and some day you shall have more. There may be hereafter only one duty which is clear to you, only one friend or kinsman whom you can help, only one boy whom you can keep from evil, only one piece of work which you alone can do. Well, do that. Try to accomplish that one object. Try to save just that one human soul. Gradually, it may be after many a day, the clouds will break. You will know more of God's will. He will seem nearer to you. His voice will sound more clearly in your soul. You shall enter into that Divine peace which the world may neither give nor take away.
()How came it that Balaam acted so inconsistently with his knowledge and convictions, and succeeded for the time, as we may say, in juggling with his conscience? The answer is not hard to find. He loved money. His heart was set on gold. He had allowed the passion of covetousness to become the ruling principle of his nature. I have somewhere read of one who, having found a young leopard, petted it, and trained it to be his daily companion in his chamber. It grew up to maturity, but still it was kept beside him, and men wondered at his foolhardiness in permitting it to go unchained. But he would not be advised. One day, however, as it licked his hand with its rough tongue, it ruffled the skin, and tasted his blood; and then all the savage nature of the brute came out, and there was a fearful struggle between them, from which he escaped only by destroying it. So it was, in some respects, in this case. Balaam had nurtured his covetousness into strength; and now, at the offer of Balak's rewards, its full force came out; but, instead of fighting with it and slaying it, he yielded to it and was destroyed. What a terrible passion is this of covetousness! and how dangerous it is, especially to those who wish to preserve a fair appearance! For in men's estimation it is, at least in its beginnings, a respectable thing. Nor is its respectability its only danger, for in the minds of many it is associated only with large sums of money; whereas in reality it may be as strong in the heart of him whose dealings are carried on in cents as in that of one whose transactions are concerned with hundreds of thousands of dollars. No one of us, whether rich or poor, whether minister or layman, has a right to say that there is no fear of him in this matter; for if the love of money takes possession of the heart, it will blind the eyes, and harden the conscience, and become a root of evil, so that we shall "fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts that war against the soul." But what is true of covetoushess is true also of every evil principle, so that we may generalise the lesson here, and say that if the heart be fixed on any object as its God, other than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we may expect in the end, whatever may be our knowledge, and whatever our scruples in other respects, that we shall act against our convictions, and make shipwreck not only of the faith, but also of ourselves, " without possibility of salvage."
()He was one of those unstable men whom the apostle calls doubleminded — an ambidexter in religion, like Redwald, king of the East Saxons, the first who was baptized, who, as Camden relates, had, in the same church, one chapel for the Christian religion, and another for sacrificing to devils. A loaf of the same leaven was our resolute Rufus, who painted God on one side of his shield and the devil on the other, with the desperate inscription in Latin — "I am ready for either."
()A brave speech, certainly! Yes, no doubt it was true that Balaam felt that even for a house full of silver and gold he could not go beyond the word of the Lord. But, in the first place, why protest so much concerning silver and gold? Balak's message had not mentioned silver and gold — it spoke specially of honour. Surely it must have been because the mind of Balaam was so much preoccupied with thoughts of silver and gold that he thus spake; answering himself rather than others. And then, why does Balaam say, "I cannot" go beyond the word of the Lord? Why does he not roundly say, "I will not go beyond the word of the Lord"? As it is he only speaks of inability; he does not mention such a thing as personal disinclination. These flaws we notice in his words. But still, upon the whole, his speech was brave, just, perhaps, as one may say, one whit too bold. For if there be one thing that we have need to stand in doubt of, in moments of temptation, it is high sounding phrases of determination. For, as a rule, we may be sure the courage of the heart is in an inverse proportion to the valour of the lip. Balaam was conscious of an inward faltering in reference to that which lay before him, and he sought to veil the weakness of his purpose by the vigour of his protestations.
()Balaam is very sure that he shall confine himself to the word of the Lord, but he, himself, out of his own heart, has begun to entertain the purpose of getting upon the scene of these glittering temptations. He proposes to remain a true man, but he enjoys the company of these honourable princes. He will remain a true man, but he would like to be near a king who can send such presents. He will remain a true man, but, once in Moab, his wit will stand him in hand better than in these dull regions where he dwells. It is the old, old story of humanity — dallying with temptation in the field of the imagination, bribing conscience with fair promises, yet all the while moving up to the forbidden thing. It is a history not seldom repeated. Oh, no! I shall never become a miser, but I propose to be exceedingly prudent. I shall never throw away my reputation, my character, but I will feed eye and ear and imagination with pictures of forbidden pleasure. I shall never become a drunkard, but I will drink in moderation. I shall never permit myself to be called a selfish man, but I will take good care of myself in this rough world. I shall never become dishonest, but I will keep a keen eye for good chances. Thus it is that men are passing to ruin over a path paved with double purposes. Balaam now gets a different answer. The first time he is honest and open, and is told to remain; the next time he takes into the interview his own desires, which are against his convictions, and a half-formed purpose, and he comes out of it with the answer he wants; desire has taken the lead of conscience. He starts on his ill-fated journey, meets with strange, confounding experiences — reflections of the moral confusion into which he has fallen — experiences, however, that serve to steady and buttress him on his professional side, but are not able to prevent his fall as a man.
()Is this conduct of Balaam's strange or unusual? Have we none of us done exactly as Balaam did? I protest that men are doing precisely as Balaam did every day. Yes, and every day are meeting with the selfsame punishment, and braving the selfsame anger. Temptation to self-aggrandisement of various kinds comes before us, there is a prospect of a brilliant success, there is the hope of some tempting reward; the only condition is a course. of action about the lawfulness of which we are in doubt. Then comes the trial — we ponder: on one side is the bait glittering — we long for so great a prize. But God comes to us — speaks to us in our consciences — speaks to us by His Word — speaks to us by His Spirit, saying, Forbear! there is sin in the doing of that which must be done ere the end you long for can be attained. And at first we acquiesce. Clearly it has been shown to us, that though ease and pleasure be sweet, duty is stern and may not be gainsaid; that though success be exquisite delight, unfairness is always vile and bad; that though fame and position be longed for never so eagerly, yet to depart from truth or honesty is to depart from God. But by and by the temptation is looked at again and again — the thing we long for is always before us, the thing we fear is far; and we begin to ask whether our first impression was really quite so unmistakably right as we believed it. We look to see if for some little swerving from the rigorous path of virtue some excuse may not be found. And we question whether the end may not be attained without quite using all the means. We seek to know if our consciences cannot allow us to grasp the thing we wish, and for its sake bear us blameless for once in doing the thing we shrink from; and, in short, little by little, we give ourselves to be deceived as Balaam did. We ask for guidance, perchance with a divided heart; we pray God to teach us how to act, when we have already more than half decided. We pretend to leave ourselves in His hands, and yet we are only pretending; and then if He speaks to us at all, it is a voice which speaks to a conscience that has become confused, and a judgment that has suffered itself only too willingly to be disjointed; and though the .voice seems to be, and in some sense is. the voice of God, yet it is, indeed, only a lie.
()That was a bright suggestion of a little boy who made the following answer to the question of a passer-by. Seeing the little fellow patting his father's horse, that was standing in front of his house, the man asked, "Can your horse go fast, my boy?" "No, not very," he replied, "but he can stand fast." That is a virtue not to be despised in a horse; a faithful animal that can be trusted to remain in his tracks without pulling down the hitching post or breaking his halter is to be coveted. Can it be said of you, boys, that you "can stand fast"? Are you firm when tempted to do wrong? Are you easily led astray? Put yourself on the right side, and when urged to step aside from it remember always to stand fast.
()The noblest deeds which have been done on earth have not been done for gold. It was not for the sake of gold that our Lord came down and died, and the apostles went out to preach the good news in all lands. The Spartans looked for no reward in money when they fought and died at Thermopyhae; and Socrates the wise asked no pay from his countrymen, but lived poor and barefoot all his days, only caring to make men good. And there are heroes in our days also, who do noble deeds, but not for gold. Our discoverers did not go to make themselves rich when they sailed out one after another into the dreary frozen seas; nor did the ladies who went out to drudge in the hospitals of the East, making themselves poor, that they might be rich in noble works; and young men, too, did they say to themselves, "How much money shall I earn" when they went to the war, leaving wealth and comfort, and a pleasant home, to face hunger and thirst, and wounds and death, that they might fight for their country and their Queen? No, children, there is a better thing on earth than wealth, a better thing than life itself, and that is, to have done something before you die, for which good men may honour you, and God your Father smile upon your work.
S. S. Chronicle.Many a promising youth has been ruined because he did not know how to say "No." There are many people who say "No," but so faintly that there seems a "Yes " in it, so that it only invites further persuasion. Many a man, tempted by appetite within, and by companions without, says "No" feebly and faintly. His "No" has a "Yes" in it. A lad was coming along the street one day with a young man who lived near him who was somewhat excited by strong drink, and after walking along awhile with his companion he drew a bottle from his pocket, and said, "Have some? Well, hand it over," replied the lad. The bottle was passed to him, and raising it aloft he hurled it with a crash against the stone wall, and turning to his astonished companion, he said, "Don't you ever put a bottle to my lips again." The young man was inclined to be irritated, but he had sense enough to retain his anger. The lad's "No" had not any "Yes" in it There are scores of young men who need the decision which this lad had.
()I think no man could have his arm rot and drop away, from wrist to shoulder, and not know it; but you shall find numberless men whose consciences have rotted, from circumference to core, and they know nothing about it, They are less concerned about themselves than when the corruption first began. This silence of the hollowing out of a man — this noiseless process of preparing him for destruction, is an element of very great fearfulness. It fills me with grief and sadness, as I look on men, to know that as the snow falls, flake by flake, and no sound tells of its accumulation — that as the dust sifts in, and no noise warns of its choking rise, so silently, so surely, man is heaping to himself wrath against the day of wrath, and does not know it.
Christian Age.A steamboat going at full speed approached a bridge. The pilot saw that the draw was not open, and rang his bell to have the engines reversed. There was ample time to bring the vessel to a stand, if the signal had been obeyed. But, in spite of it, the boat went crashing through the bridge, causing great, damage and much peril, though, as it happened, no actual loss of life. It was found afterwards that the bell-wire was broken, so that the bell did not ring in the engineer's room. Something like this often happens to that safeguard of our soul which we call conscience. It gets disordered in one way or another and doesn't work. A danger is perceived. We see plainly the course we ought to take. Conscience warns us that we are on the wrong road. Why don't we stop, and turn into the way we know is safe? Because conscience has lost its power. In the engine-room of our ship of life, where Will presides, the voice of conscience is unheard, or, if heard at all, is unheeded. Instead of being a recognised and regarded imperative, as it ought to be, it has become impotent. The instinct that tells us to do what is right and to shun what is wrong is one of the highest faculties of the human soul. Like all our powers, both of mind and body, it may be blunted and withered and deadened until it is practically lost. Youth is the time to watch against and avert this awful disaster. We cannot too carefully cherish the first and quick sensitiveness which gives to conscience its proper mastery, and causes it to be obeyed as God's own voice speaking in the heart of man.
American S. S. Times.Parallels to the case of Balaam are not difficult to find. Cardinal Wolsey, dispensing ecclesiastical ban and blessing, at the mandate of Henry the Eighth; Richelieu and Mazarin, each betraying his churchly trust for the sake of political power — are well-known instances. Contrast with these s stern arraignment of , an account of which will be found in any good ecclesiastical history. The schoolboy who sneers at religion, hoping to gain thereby the favour of his companions, is unconsciously following in the footsteps of Balaam. The demons gave good testimony to Christ (Luke 8:28, 29) and to His apostles (Acts 19:15), but that did not render them any the less demons. So Balaam, himself a wicked man, prophesied of the coming Messiah. Compare the case of Caiaphas the high priest (John 11:50, 51). Recall Christ's description of the judgment, where many who have prophesied the truth in His name will be told that they are none of His (Matthew 7:22, 23). Balaam fell, though his eyes were open.
God's anger was kindled because he went. —"Go," said the Voice; "but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak." Was this merely the echo of the Divine word in a hollow, bewildered conscience? That is not a full explanation of the fact, though it is one which we must not disregard. Balaam did go, and was intended to go. He would not have learned the lesson which he was to learn if he had not gone. And yet his going was a wilful act. It was the struggle of one determined to have his own way, claiming the privilege of a man, while he was reducing himself into the condition of an animal, one that mast be held in with bit and bridle, because he will not be guided and governed as a spiritual creature. You are puzzled at the language of Scripture about God's permitting Balaam to go, and then being displeased at him for going. You may well be puzzled. For what are so utterly bewildering as the mazes and contradictions of a human will, confessing a Master, struggling to disobey Him? But would you rather that the Bible left this fact unnoticed? Would you rather that it described human actions and events without reference to it? Is that the proof which you demand that it was written by God and for men? You will not have that sign if you ask for it ever so much. Not here alone, but everywhere, you will be met with these contradictions; man striving with God, God dealing with him as a voluntary creature, such as He had made him to be, not crushing his will by an act of omnipotence, but teaching it to feel its own impotency and madness.
()I do not see how any thoughtful man can consider this story without discovering why God allows men to enter on ways which are not good, and which are therefore full of peril, and why He nevertheless "withstands" them when they walk in them. He allows them to enter on such ways that they may come to know themselves as they are, in their weakness as well as in their strength, that they may see clearly what is evil in their nature as well as what is good; and He withstands them in order that they may become aware of the perils to which they are unconsciously exposing themselves, may feel their need of His guidance and help, and may suffer Him to save them from their sins, and out of weakness make them strong.
()God is not angry without cause; and the one cause which makes Him angry with men is some unrighteousness in them, or some inward leaning toward unrighteousness. And what could the unrighteous leaning of Balaam be but that, in the conflict between his own interests and desires and the will of God, he was permitting his interests and desires to prevail over his sense of duty, suffering the baser elements of his nature to override the promptings of that in him which was highest and best, giving way, in short, to the temptation which Balak had held out before him, and scheming how he might please man without altogether breaking with God. So absorbed is he in his schemes, so preoccupied, that this man, ordinarily so alert, so quick to discern omens, so sensitive to spiritual intimations, so proud of his open eye, actually does not see the angel who stands full in his path, with his sword drawn in his hand. This inward preoccupation and deterioration was "the madness" which the dumb ass forbad and rebuked. And how severe and humiliating, yet how merciful, the rebuke! How humiliating that he who prided himself on being "the man whose eyes are open, who heareth the words of God and seeth the vision of the Almighty," should find himself outdone by the very beast he rode, blind to what even his ass could see; so insensate, so "transported from himself" as that he had sought to slay the very creature who had saved him! And yet what a wonder of mercy and grace was it that even while, as the angel told him, his way was rash, foolhardy, full of hidden perils which he ought never to have affronted, God had not forgotten or forsaken him, but had miraculously interposed to warn him that the course he was meditating could only lead him to destruction, to arrest him in his downward path, to quicken his attention, to open his eyes to the spiritual facts and omens of which he had lost ken, and to call him back to the allegiance he so loudly professed!
()Is not this opposition of the angel to Balaam a picture and a symbol of the way in which God is evermore withstanding evil courses? When Jacob was at Peniel, we read, "there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day" (Genesis 32:24). That man, also, was the angel of the Lord (Hosea 12:4), come forth to withstand Jacob in his crooked ways, until Jacob should surrender them, and win a blessing from his adversary. And so God was, by His angel, opposing Balaam's evil way, until he should abandon it, and thus be blessed of God (Numbers 22:32). And see, in this symbolic action of the angel of the Lord, how the resistances of God to evil thicken on us in our sinful paths. At first the ass swerves only from the beaten track; then she injures Balaam's foot; then she falls down under him. And is not this a picture, to the very life, of things that happen every day to evil-doers? They find instruments and agencies, on which they have implicitly relied, betraying them or failing them. They find themselves injured or maimed in their endeavours to press forward in their mad career. And suddenly life perfectly breaks down with them, and leaves them prostrate on the earth. And is not Balaam's blindness to the angel of the Lord a picture of the blindness to the course of Providence which evil-doers not unfrequently display? Things which one would think must cause reflection, come and go without exciting even notice. Bent on their own self-willed career, they are completely blind to all besides, till presently disaster overtakes them, and they narrowly escape destruction. And does not the insensate rage of Balaam fitly typify the wrath and anger that we feel at all the opposition we encounter in an evil way? What savage thoughts breed in our hearts, and cruel words breathe from our lips, in moments such as these! We are ready to destroy the very things that serve us; aye, the very things that save us! Balaam would have slain his ass, though she had served him many years, and though she now preserved his life by her sagacity. Brethren, let us rather be thankful for the oppositions of the angel of the Lord, when we are in an evil way; for these opposing providences are designed for our salvation and deliverance.
()We have here an account of the opposition God gave to Balaam in his journey towards Moab; probably the princes were gone before, or gone some other way, and Balaam had appointed where he would meet them, or where they would stay for him, for we read nothing of them in this encounter; only that Balaam, like a person of some quality, was attended with his two men; — honour enough, one would think, for such a man, he needed not be beholden to Balak for promotion.
1. Here is God's displeasure against Balaam for undertaking this journey, God's "anger was kindled because he went" (ver. 22). Note —(1) The sin of sinners is not to be thought the less provoking to God for His permitting it. We must not think that because God doth not by His providence restrain men from sin, therefore He approves of it; or that it is therefore net hateful to Him; He suffers sin, and yet is angry at it.(2) Nothing is more displeasing to God than malicious designs against His people; he that touches them touches the apple of His eye.
2. The way God took to let Balaam know His displeasure against him. An angel stood in the way for an adversary. Now God fulfilled His promise to Israel, "I will be an enemy to thine enemies" (Exodus 23:22). The holy angels are adversaries to sin, and perhaps are employed more than we are aware of in preventing it, particularly in opposing those that have any ill designs against God's Church and people, for whom Michael, our prince, stands up (Daniel 12:1; Daniel 10:21). What a comfort is this to all that wish well to the Israel of God, that He never suffers wicked men to form any attempt against them, but He sends His holy angels forth to break the attempts, and secure His little ones! This angel was an adversary to Balaam, because Balaam counted him his adversary; otherwise those are really our best friends, and we are so to reckon them that stop our progress in a sinful way. The angel stood with his sword drawn (ver. 23), a flaming sword, like that in the hands of the cherub (Genesis 3:24), turning every way. Note, the holy angels are at war with those with whom God is angry, for they are the ministers of His justice. Balaam has notice given him of God's displeasure —
3. By the ass, and that did not startle him. "The ass saw the angel" (ver. 23). How vainly did Balaam boast that he was a man whose eyes were open, and that he saw "the vision of the Almighty" (Numbers 24:3, 4), when the ass he rode on saw more than he did, his eyes being blinded with covetousness and ambition, and dazzled with the rewards of divination! Note, many have God against them, and His holy angels, but are not aware of it.
4. Balaam at length had notice of God's displeasure by the angel, and that did startle him. When God opened his eyes he "saw the angel" (ver. 31), and then he himself "fell flat upon his face," in reverence of that glorious messenger, and in fear of the sword he saw in his hand. God has many ways of breaking and bringing down the hard and unhumbled heart.(1) The angel reproved him for his outrageousness: "Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass?" (vers. 32, 33). Whether we consider it or no, it is certain God will call us to account for the abuses done to His creatures. Note, when our eyes are opened we shall see what danger we are in, in a sinful way; and how much it was for our advantage to be crossed in it, and what fools we were to quarrel with our crosses which helped to save our lives.(2) Balaam then seemed to relent, "I have sinned" (ver. 34); sinned in undertaking this journey, sinned in pushing on so violently; but he excuses it with this, that he saw not the angel, but now he did see him he was willing to go back again. That which was displeasing to God was not so much his going, as his going with a malicious design against Israel, and a secret hope, that notwithstanding the proviso with which his permission was clogged, he might prevail to curse them, and so gratify Balak, and get preferment under him. Now this wickedness of his heart it doth not appear that he is sensible of, or willing to own; but if he finds he cannot go forward, he will be content (since there is no remedy) to go back. Here is no sign that his heart is turned, but if his hands be tied he cannot help it. Thus many leave their sins, only because their sins have left them. There seems to be a reformation of the life, but what will that avail if there be no renovation of the heart?
5. The angel, however, continued his permission, "Go with the men" (ver. 35). Go, if thou hast a mind to be made a fool of, and to be made ashamed before Balak, and all the princes of Moab. "Go, but the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak," whether thou wilt or no. For this seems not to be a precept, but a prediction of the event, that he should not only not be able to curse Israel, but he should be forced to bless them; which would be more for the glory of God, and his own confusion, than if he had turned back. Thus God gave him fair warning, but he would not take it; he went with the princes of Balak. For the iniquity of Balaam's covetousness God was "wroth and smote him," but he "went on frowardly" (Isaiah 57:17).
()I. THE FORMS OF RESTRAINT FROM SIN.
1. They appear in external appliances. The revealed Word of God stands in the way as a hindrance to what is wrong, and a guide to good-will to man and obedience to the Lord, if only fairly consulted.
2. In addresses to the understanding. The remembrance of some words of God, or the words of some man, overheard or directly spoken to you, may be the means of placing in light some dark feature of thought, or some evil action.
3. In stirrings of conscience. These are graduated from an almost insuperable prohibition to the scarcely perceptible whisper of doubt.
4. In excite-merits of the emotions. Each pang of remorse, and each thrill of fear, utter, in different forms, "Keep back from sin."
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF RESTRAINTS FROM SIN.
1. They are frequent.
2. They are progressive. If being turned aside will not induce a retreat, there will be a crushing of the foot.
3. They are near, though oft unnoticed.
()No longer are there miracles performed to intimate to the ungodly man that it shall not fare well with him, and that he shall but eat the fruit of what he sowed. But heaven and earth, the dead and those who live, nature and grace, appear as if they now and then combined in earnest supplication to exclaim, "Stop, sinner, stop!" Who has not some time, like Balaam, come face to face with God, upon the path of sin, when He made known His terrors and His threatening? And what man dares affirm that there has been too little effort made to lead him from the broad way to the narrow path of life? Nay, more; Balaam's brief experience is, in a certain sense, as nothing when compared with that long labour of love which God in Christ has most unweariedly bestowed upon us, that we might be saved. Nay, God has no delight in any sinner's death, but spares when He could smite; nor does He ever suffer us to hold on in the way to death, without affording us a last, loud warning, that not seldom comes on us as if it were an angel's sword piercing our very bones. Blessed, thrice blessed he who, with a more unfeigned humility than that of Balaam, can acknowledge, "I have sinned," and who does not grow hard in sin, but lets himself be led. Soon shall he learn, with deep astonishment, that God's good angels round encircle him in all his ways; and that far more is to be gained in serving Him than the disgraceful pittance offered by the Balak-hand of a vain world. But if, like Balaam, you still kick against the pricks, the time is drawing nigh when you, like him, shall be cast from the presence of the God of everlasting righteousness, and given over to that death which you so obstinately choose before the life now offered you.
()1. In looking at this passage we must make every allowance for the difference between those times and ours. I do not know any valid reason why God in the accomplishment of His infinitely wise designs might not employ the means here described, and miraculously impart to the ass the organs of articulation, and a knowledge of their use.
2. After the most close and candid attention, however, which I have been able to give to the subject, I am led to the conclusion that the occurrence here related was a dream, or vision, which took place on the night previous to his journey. He knew that he was doing wrong; for, although he had permission to go, yet it was not permitted him to do so with the wicked design which he cherished in his heart — that of cursing the people. On this account his guilty conscience tormented him, and, in his sleep, vividly presented to his mind the scene here recorded. At the end of ver. 35 (after the scene is finished) the words, "So Balaam went with the princes of Balak," seem to refer to his setting out on his journey.
3. There is one objection which may be urged to this view. St. Peter says, "The dumb ass," &c. To this it may be replied, that the occurrence, though happening only in a dream, appeared as real to the mind of the prophet as though it had actually taken place, and was designed to have all the force and effect of a real transaction.
4. In favour of the hypothesis the reasons are, I think, numerous and satisfactory.(1) In the prophecies many accounts of visions are given which are not formally introduced as such (Isaiah 6.).(2) Balaam expressed no surprise at being addressed by the animal. In dreaming we feel no surprise at the most astonishing occurrences.(3) The narrative of this transaction appears to intimate that the prophet was nearly alone: "two servants were with him." In his real journey, however, he was accompanied by the princes of Moab, who had, no doubt, a great number of attendants.(4) He had received permission to go, whereas, in this account, the angel appears angry with him for going in compliance with that permission. Strong presumptive proof that the workings of a guilty conscience wrought on his mind during sleep, and produced a vivid dream or vision.(5) In chap. Numbers 23 it is repeatedly said, "He hath said which heard the words of God, which saw the visions of the Almighty; falling into a trance, but having his eyes open." May not this refer to the "vision," or "trance," or dream, of which we have been speaking?
()I. THE LESSONS IT TAUGHT BALAAM.
1. It convinced him of spiritual blindness.
2. It taught absolute submission to God.
II. LESSONS TO US.
1. We often go on wrong errands, or on right errands in a wrong spirit.
2. God cheeks us in His providence and in love to our souls. Illness; raising up of insuperable difficulties; falling off of friends; superior success to rivals, &c.
3. We are apt to fret and be angry at the instruments of our disappointment. We cast our spite and blame on second causes.
4. We should seek spiritual enlightenment to see that it is God's doing. Be not angry and resentful, but give yourselves to prayer; else, like Balaam, you will not see it is God who opposes you (ver. 34).
5. We can only be permitted to go forward when we are brought to a state of perfect subjection to God. Two things are here included — a perfect purity of motive and freedom from worldly self-seeking, and an entire acquiescence in whatever God appoints, desires, or does.
()1. It lies quite within our experience that we do get our own way, and yet have a sense of burning and judgment, of opposition and anger all the time. Men forget that there is a time when they need not ask the Lord any questions. Never trouble the Lord to knew whether you cannot do just a little wrong; He is not to be called upon in relation to business of that kind. He does not pray who palters with moral distinctions, who wants to make compromises, who is anxious to find some little crevice or opening through which he can pass into the land of his own desire.
2. Men are stopped in certain courses without being able to tell the reason why. That also is matter of experience. The wind seems to be a wall before us; the road looks quite open, and yet we can make no progress in it. The business stands still; we have risen at the same hour in the morning, carried out the usual arrangements, been apparently on the alert all the time, and yet not one inch farther are we permitted to go. Suppose we have no God, no altar, no Church limitations, no ghostly ministry exerting itself upon our life and frightening us with superstition and spectre — we are healthy reasoners, downright robust rationalists — men who can take things up and set them down, square-headed men — yet there is the fact, that even we, such able-bodied rationalists, such healthy souls that any society would insure us on the slightest inquiry — there we are, puzzled, mystified, perplexed, distracted.
3. It also lies within the region of experience that men are rebuked by dumb animals. That is odd, but it is true. The whole Scripture is charged with that statement, and so charged with it as to amount to a practical philosophy in daily life: "But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee." "The stork in heaven knoweth her appointed times." "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib." "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise." Dumb creatures are continually teaching us. They keep law with wondrous obedience. The poorest brutes are really very faithful to the rude legislation under which they live. In temperance, in acceptance of discipline, in docility, I know not any beast that is ever used by man that may not teach some men, very distinctly, helpful and useful lessons.
4. Then, again, it does lie within our cognition that men do blame second causes for want of success. Balaam blamed the ass. That is what we are always doing. There is nothing exceptional in this conduct of the soothsayer. We want to get on — it is the beast that will not go. Who ever thought that an angel was confronting him — that a distinct ghostly purpose was against him?
5. Does it not also lie within the range of our experience that men do want to get back sometimes but are driven forward? Did not Balaam want to return when he said, "If it displease Thee, I will get me back again"? We cannot. Life is not a little trick, measurable by such terms, h man cannot make a fool of himself, and instantly turn round as if nothing had happened; we cannot drive a nail into a tree and take it out without leaving a wound behind. Conduct is of greater consequence than we imagine. Humanity is a sublime mystery, as well as God; and there is no way backward, unless it be in consent with the Mind that constructed and that rules creation.
6. But there is a difficulty about the dumb ass rebuking the perverse prophet. So there is. I would be dismayed by it if I were not overwhelmed by greater miracles still. This has come to be but a small thing — a very momentary wonder — as compared with more astounding circumstances. A. more wonderful thing than that an ass should speak is that a man should forget God. The miracles of a physical and historical kind may admit of postponement as to their consideration; but that men should have forgotten God, and insulted law, and done unrighteously — these are mysteries which must not be delayed in their explanation and settlement.
7. So we come again and again to the great practical inquiry — Being on the wrong road, how shall we get back? There is no answer in man. If Balaam could have retraced his steps, put up his ass in the stable and gone about his business as if nothing had occurred, it would have been but a paper universe. That he could not do so, that he was under the pressure of mightier forces, indicates that the universe is itself a tragedy, and that the explanation of every character, every incident, and every flush of colour, must be left for another time, when the light is stronger and the duration is assured. Meanwhile, we can pray, we can look up, we can say, each for himself, "I have sinned."
()I. THE HISTORIC CHARACTER OF THE MIRACLE HERE RECORDED.
II. THE MIRACLE ITSELF.
III. THE OBJECT OF THE MIRACLE.
1. It was calculated to humble him in relation to a gift of God upon which he probably prided himself. It is likely he was an eloquent man. He would now see that God could endow a brute with the gift of speech.
2. He would also see that an ass could discern a messenger from heaven, where he, blinded by his desire for gain, could see nothing but empty space.
3. He might also have learned that all speech was under Divine control, and that he would be able to utter only such words as God would permit.
()A revelation of the truth is not enough. There must be an inner sympathy with the truth. Light avails not where there are no eyes to see. Take a blind man into a tunnel, and you have a symbol of the natural man without a Divine revelation. There are two obstacles to vision; first, the darkness around him, and then his own blindness. Lead him forth under the open firmament of revealed truth. Still he does not see. You have done something towards his enlightenment, you have given him knowledge, doctrine, the form of truth. But that is not enough. He lacks spiritual understanding. The scales must fall from his eyes. The Divine Spirit alone can accomplish this.
()For the man who neglects salvation there is no rescue. Everything will plead against him. The waters will say, "We told him of the living stream where he might wash all his sins away, but he would not come." The rocks will say, "We told him of a shelter and defence to which he might run." The sun will say, "We told him of the Dayspring from on high, but he shut his eyes." The Bible will say, "I called him by a thousand invitations, and warned him with a thousand alarms." The throne of judgment will say, "I have but two sentences — that to the friends of God, and that to His rejecters." "Escape he must not," Jesus will say. "I called on him for many years, but he turned his back on My tears and blued." Then God will speak; and with a voice that shall ring through the heights and depths and lengths of His universe, say, "Escape he shall not." May the Lord God avert such a catastrophe!
()Balaam is doing what he knows he ought not to do; there is a great wrong in his heart sending up its protests to the brain. The man is at cross purposes, and vents his unrest and ill-feeling upon outward objects. How often it happens! One in ill-humour often curses the tools he is using — the dulness of a saw, the waywardness of a shuttle, the knife that wounds his hand; he beats his horse or dog; he scolds his children. Here we come nigh the very heart of the story. When, in some fit of ill-temper brought on by our own wrongdoing, we have beaten an animal, or spoken roughly to a child, and then have noticed the humble patience of the brute under our anger, or the meek undesert of the child reflected from its upturned eyes, there comes over us a sense of shame and an inward confession that the wrong is not in the brute or in the child, but in us. The beast or the child speaks back to us; its very bearing and looks become audible voices of rebuke. When a great man like Balaam gets involved in wrong-doing, all nature is changed to him, and from all things come rebuking voices. When Macbeth returns from the murder of the king, a simple knocking at the gate appals him and deepens the colour of his blood-stained hands; one sense runs into and does the office of another. To a harassed and guilty conscience the light comes with a condemnation; every true and orderly thing meets it with reproof — angels of God that confront it, but do not turn it from its fatal course. Balaam would have turned back, but he is told to go on. This is only another stage of the moral confusion into which he has fallen, lie would go back, but the spirit of sophistry again begins to work, and he goes forward, but he will speak only the true word-evil drawing him on, while he excuses it with the plea of right intentions — a daily history on every side! Why did Balaam not go back? He could not. When a man does wrong in a simple and impulsive way under the direct force of temptation, he can retrace his steps; but when he has found what seems to him a safe path to a coveted end, he seldom gives over. Many men with scrupulous consciences do not regret being yoked with partners who are less particular; and many men do, as a corporation, what not one of them would do as an individual. Balaam could not avail himself of these modern methods, and so made a partnership and corporation of his own divided nature; reaping speedily in himself the bitter consequences of such action that overtake the modern man slowly but no less surely.
()The real difficulty of the incident to those who feel a special difficulty in it consists, I suppose, in the alleged fact that the ass spoke, spoke in apparently human words and with a human voice. And this difficulty has, to say the least of it, been very neatly turned by many of our ablest critics and commentators, some of whom have as little love for miracles as the veriest sceptic. They say, Balaam, the soothsayer and diviner, was trained to observe and interpret the motions and cries of beasts and birds, and especially anything that was exceptional in them; to draw auguries and portents from them, to see in them the workings of a Divine power, to infer from them indications of the Divine will. Here was a portent indeed, and he must interpret it. And to him it seemed that the ass was striving and remonstrating with him; that, conscious of a presence of which he himself was unaware, it was seeking to save him from a doom which he was heedlessly provoking. And so, with the dramatic instinct of an Oriental poet, either Balaam himself or the original writer of the chronicle translated these subjective impressions into external facts, and made the ass "speak" the meaning which he read in its motions and groans. For myself, indeed, I care very little what interpretation may be placed on this singular passage in Balaam's story, and would as soon believe that the mouth of the dumb ass was really opened to utter articulate human words as that Balaam's sensitive and practised ear heard these words into his groans and cries. Put what construction on the talking ass you will; call it fact, call it fable, or say that Balaam read an ominous rebuke into the natural cries of the beast on which he rode — whatever the construction you put upon it, you will be little the wiser for it, little the better, unless you listen to the appeal, to the rebuke, which Balaam heard from the mouth of the ass or put into it. That lesson may be, and is, a very simple one; but its very simplicity at once makes it the more valuable, and renders it the more probable that, much as we need to learn it, we may have overlooked it. What, then, was this lesson or rebuke? The ass said, or Balaam took her to say, "Wherefore smite me? Have I not served you faithfully ever since I was thine? Am I wont to rebel against you?" How could Balaam fail to look for an ethical meaning in this appeal, or fail either to find it, or to find how heavy a rebuke it carried for himself? He too had a Master, a Master in heaven, and was loud and frequent in his protestations of loyalty to Him. Yet could he look up to heaven and say to his Master, "Why hast Thou checked and rebuked me? Have not I served Thee faithfully ever since I was Thine unto this day? Am I wont to disobey Thy word?" Why, at that very moment he was untrue, disloyal, to his Master; he was plotting how he might speak other words than those which God had put into his mouth, and serve his own will rather than the Divine will! Might he not, then, well hear in the rebuke of the ass some such appeal as this: "Have you been as true to your Master as I to mine? Have you been as mindful of the heavenly vision as I of the heavenly apparition which I have seen? Has your service been as faithful, as patient, as disinterested as mine?" The lesson is simple enough, I admit; but is it not also most necessary and valuable? He is convicted —
1. Of having cruelly wronged the innocent creature who had saved him from the sword.
2. Of having failed at his strongest point and lost the "open eye " of which he was wont to boast; and —
3. Of not being as true to his Master in heaven, despite his loud professions of loyalty and obedience, as she had been to her master on earth. If no rebuke could be more severe and humbling, none surely could have been more kind and merciful. For if men are not to be held back from evil by an angel, is it not well that they should be held back even by an ass? If the gentler strokes of correction fail, is it not well that they should be followed by severer and more effectual strokes? If appeals to our higher nature do not suffice to arrest us, is it not well that we should be arrested by appeals to our lower nature?
()How many just and good men have been remarkable for their tenderness to animals! Tradition tells us of the partridge of St. John, the tame lion of St. ; we find in St. Francis an enthusiastic love of birds; and to come to modern days, in the letters of Bishop Thirlwall, thought to be a man of giant intellect, we read that often he could not sleep at night, because he was haunted by some story of cruelty to animals which he had heard, whilst the writings of Sir Arthur Helps, the most charming essayist of our age, tells us that he would not live his life over again, if the chance was offered, for he had suffered so much from indignation and sympathy with the sufferings of animals. Often cruelty arises from thoughtlessness. Children do not reflect on what they are doing, and it is the duty of all persons to teach, in every way, humanity and kind feeling to the animals around us. A disposition which practises cruelty towards animals will not stop there, for it is only a training for the bad treatment of human beings. It was remarked of Domitian, the cruel Emperor of Rome, that he spent his leisure moments in killing flies. Who can doubt but that it was the horrible taste for wild beast fights that led to the still more horrible conflicts of gladiators in the Roman amphitheatres? And so, too, in Spain, the savage excitement of the populace in the bull fights led even religious men to witness unmoved the auto-da-es of the Inquisition. Ever should we recollect that these creatures belong to God, constructed by His wondrous skill, watched over by His gracious care, and not to be ill-treated or tormented without incurring His vengeance. A boy was once teasing a poor kitten. "Don't!" said his little sister, "it is God's kitten." Her remark fell upon the ear of her father, a careless drunkard, as he was turning out of the door, and like an arrow from a bow there struck into his conscience the thought, "If this little creature belongs to God, how much more a soul like mine!" And the arrow of conviction lodged in his heart, and gave him no rest till he entered on a better life, as belonging to God. Let us, then, strive to make all God's creatures around us as happy as we can, find in them loving friends and companions, and thank God for giving us the animals as our humble friends and loyal servants; ever remembering, as a forcible preacher has said, "There is no sin that will sink a soul so low in hell as cruelty to helpless creatures."
()That Balaam answered the ass when he heard her speak, and rather stood not amazed at the strange work of God, note earnestly with yourself what a strong possession covetousness had taken of his heart, so holding of him captive that he was not able to observe this strange thing, but blind and besotted with hope of worldly honour and gain, feedeth still upon that, and admitteth no stop nor stay of this journey by his good will. Such is the power of any sin if it once rule in a man or woman, it bereaveth them of all judgment to see their estate, or the love of them that persuade them otherwise. How blockish was Pharaoh till he was overthrown! How senseless the Jews till Jerusalem and they tasted of extremity! Swearers and swaggerers, drunkards and whoremongers, liars and libellers, railers and slanderers, with all the rest, are as blind and blockish as Balaam here, doting upon their own course tilt they smart for it, or the Lord open their eyes to see Him against them as at last here He did Balaam's eyes to see the angel with drawn sword against him. When the ass saith, "Did I ever serve thee thus before?" it may admonish us not to be too rash with our neighbours and brethren, who have never been noted to be such offenders, but ever of good and virtuous behaviour.
I have sinned.Balaam was a man who had frequent and extraordinary communications with God. Balaam was undoubtedly a man of great light; and his gifts were rare and transcendent. If you ask, "Were they from God or from the Evil One?" I do not know. I should say both. If God endowed him, certainly Satan occupied him: if Satan taught him, as certainly God used him. The light and the darkness were in tremendous nearness and antagonism in that one breast. The restraining power was very large; the determination of will was stronger still. He had very soft seasons: but they passed like April gleams! His convictions were real and deep; but they proved quite barren. His aspirations were beautiful and holy: "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" but his faith never grasped, and his life never followed, those high desires. He acknowledged fully the blessedness of the people of God: "God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob": "Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee"; but he never tried to be one of those happy ones. Israel's future was clear and bright to him — in all its safety and its joy — but it was never more than a confession, which played before his fancy! He saw the Lord Jesus Himself — as in a vista — but ii was a Jesus seen, but not known; admired, but never felt. See, then, the exact position of Balaam. On his lips, "I have sinned"; probably in his heart a condemning sense that he was wrong; a conviction that he had made a great mistake; but his passions high wrought; a resolute will and purpose in direct antagonism to the known will of God; one sin, all the while, tightly grasped; and a worldly, covetous affection in the ascendant! This was Balaam, as he went out at Pethor that early morning, through the vineyards of the city. I need not follow him further. You remember how his gifts grew greater, and his prescience grew clearer, and his language grew lovelier, and his pretensions grew loftier — just in the same proportion as his determination grew sterner, and his desires more grovelling — till the sure end came at last, and he became carnal, his counsel was gross, his wisdom diabolical, and he laid, with his own hand, the scheme to his own destruction; and his unsanctified and debased talent was his own scourge, and his own ruin! Reduce the picture to the scale of ordinary life, and it is the life of many. A man of religious knowledge — very impulsive and feeling — a clever man, with strong inward conflict — conversant with God — with the language of piety on his lips — speaking, not without some reality, the words of true penitence, and yet, at the very same time, with a direct hostility to God — harbouring a secret, evil appetite in his heart — and bent only upon selfishness! Draw near, and say whether you see yourself anywhere in the portrait? There is an acknowledgment of sin, under sorrow, which often clothes itself in very strong expressions, even to tears, and which is little else than a passion. It is not altogether an hypocrisy. At the moment it is sincere, very earnest. But it is an emotion — only an emotion. There is no real love to God in it, no true sense of sin, no relation to Christ. It does not go on to action. I have known a person — whose wonder and regret was that his penitence never seemed to deepen or increase; yet he said, and said often, and said truly, "I have sinned." The reason was, he never put the "I have sinned" upon the right thing. He said it about his sins generally, or he said it about some particular sin; but, all the while, there was another sin behind, about which he did not say it. The sin he willingly forgot — he connived at it — he allowed it I All the rest he was willing to give up, but not that. And that was his sin. And that sin reserved and in the background, poisoned and deadened the repentance of all other sins! The "I have sinned" fell to the ground impotent — like a withered blossom. That was Balaam — and that may be you! Or is it thus? You have an object in life very dear. You know that the object is not after God's will, but still you pursue it. You recur to it again and again — after voices-after providences — which have all told you that it is wrong. But you will have your darling object at any cost — even though it forfeit peace of mind, and though you lose God's favour. This, again, is Balaam. Can you wonder if the "I have sinned" goes for nothing at all, and if you are left to your own rash, reckless way? There is many a man who says, in his own room, very often, and at church, "I have sinned"; but throughout the week, every day, and all the day, he is grasping in his business, he is anxious in his home, he is occupied in his thoughts about money. It is money, money everywhere. Money gives its tone and colour to his whole life. That is Balaam to the very letter.
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