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were they to do any thing either to merit, or to increase its efficacy: they were simply to look unto the serpent, as God's ordinance for their recovery. Here then we behold a further mystery. Never from the foundation of the world was the way of salvation more plainly, more fully, or more intelligibly declared, than in this simple method of obtaining the desired blessing. Salvation is only and entirely by faith in Christ. The direction which Christ himself gives us by the Prophet Isaiah, is this: "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else." And when he sent forth his disciples to preach his Gospel, he especially charged them to declare, that "he who believed, should be saved; and he who believed not, should be damned." Many other things indeed he requires of his people: he requires that they should repent, in order to evince that they truly desire mercy; and that they should obey, in order to manifest that they have obtained mercy; but both their repentance and obedience are carefully excluded from the office of justifying: justification is invariably declared to be by faith alone. "It is by faith in order that it may be by grace:" and, when we have learned how much the Israelites did for the healing of their bodies, then we shall know how much our own works are to procure the healing of our souls. In this view the type before us is singularly instructive: it is so plain, that it is obvious to the meanest apprehension; so comprehensive, that nothing can be added for the elucidation of it; and so authenticated, that scepticism itself cannot doubt either its reference or its accomplishment.]
3. The effect produced
[If any despised the remedy, they died: whereas not a single instance occurred, throughout all the camp of Israel, of any person resorting to it in vain. However desperate his state was, however distant he might be from the serpent, or however indistinctly he beheld it, the effect was still the same; every person who looked to it as God's ordinance for the healing of his wounds, was healed by it; he was healed immediately, and he was healed perfectly. The man that can see no mystery here, is blind indeed. We may defy the ingenuity of men or angels to devise any means whereby the efficacy of faith in Christ should be more clearly ascertained. Plain indeed is that declaration of St. Paul, "All that believe, are justified from all things:" but, plain as it is, it does not so forcibly strike the mind, as does the typical representation in our text. All the questions that can arise respecting the nature and the
i John iii. 15. with Rom. iv. 16. and xi. 6. and Eph. ii. 8, 9. k Acts xiii. 39.
efficacy of faith, are here distinctly answered. If suppositions are made which can never be verified, no wonder if difficulties occur which cannot be solved: but let us only remember, that faith is a looking to Christ for salvation, and that that faith is uniformly and universally productive of good works; and then we can no more doubt its efficacy to save the soul, than we can doubt the veracity of God. We inquire not, whether that faith be strong or weak; (though doubtless the stronger it is, the more abundant will be its fruits :) we only ask, whether it be genuine and unfeigned; and then we do not hesitate to affirm, that the possessor of it "shall be saved:" " he shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end'."]
1. Those who are averse to this method of salvation
[Many there are to whom the doctrine of salvation by faith alone is an object of disgust. It was so in the first ages of Christianity; and it is so still to the greater part of the Christian world. But though the cross of Christ is still, as formerly, "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness," yet is it at this time, as it was then," the power of God and the wisdom of Godm." If it be objected, that to be saved by faith alone, and by faith in One who saved not himself, appears absurd; we answer, That such an objection might with just as much reason have been urged against the healing of dying men by the sight of a brasen serpent: and that it is not for us to prescribe to God in what way he shall save a ruined world. It is not for us to dictate, but obey. Were there therefore really as little connexion between the means and the end in the gospel salvation, as there was in the typical representation of it, it would still be our duty thankfully to submit to the remedy proposed. But this is not the case: it would be easy to shew that there is a wonderful suitableness between the death of Christ as an atonement for sin, and the mercy vouchsafed to us for his sake: nor is there a less suitableness between our exercise of faith in him, and his communication of grace to us. But without entering into that discussion at present, we refer to the type as decisive of the point. "Wash and be clean," was said to Naaman; "Look and be healed," to Israel; "Believe and be saved," to us. This is Christ's message to a guilty world; and " blessed is he who shall not be offended in him."]
2. Those who have experienced its saving benefits[The brasen serpent was carried by the Israelites throughout all the remainder of their journey: and, if they had been m 1 Cor. i. 23, 24.
1 Acts xvi. 31. with Isai. xlv. 17.
bitten again by the fiery serpents, they would doubtless have had recourse again to the remedy, which they had once found to be effectual. The need of repeated applications to our remedy is daily recurring; and, thanks be to God! its efficacy is undiminished. To all therefore would we repeat the direction before given, "Look unto Christ and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." If those around you doubt, as certainly they will doubt, the efficacy of faith, let them read it in your whole conduct: let them see that your corruptions are mortified, and your evil dispositions are healed. Let them see that there is a difference between you and those around you, and such a difference too, as nothing but faith in Christ can produce. They will be boasting of other remedies, which, in spite of their utmost exertions, they will find ineffectual: but let them see in you the superior excellence of that, which God has revealed in his Gospel. Declare to them the way of life: exalt the Lord Jesus in their eyes: commend him to them with your lips; but most of all commend him to them in your lives. In a word, let your whole conversation be a visible comment on those words of the Apostle, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world"."]
n Gal. vi. 14.
Numb. xxii. 18, 19. And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more. Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the Lord will say unto me more.
THE study of human nature is ever profitable. Much insight into it may be gained from history; much from converse with the world; much from the examination of our own hearts. But that which we acquire from a perusal of the Holy Scriptures is the most clear and certain, because we have all the circumstances in one view before our eyes, and have infallible information respecting the motives and principles by which the different agents were influenced. The character of Balaam is peculiarly instructive. He was a man eminent as a soothsayer: and it was supposed that he could influence the fate, not of
individuals only, but of nations, by his sentence of blessing or malediction. Persons of his description were frequently employed by kings at the commencement of a war, to devote their enemies to destruction: and, among the Romans, an officer was appointed particularly to that office. This man was applied to by Balak, the king of Moab, to come and curse Israel; who, as they feared, would vanquish them all, as easily "as an ox licketh up the grass." This message gave occasion to Balaam to display what was in his heart. We propose to shew you,
I. The inconsistency of Balaam's character
That we may have a more distinct view of his character, we shall notice the contrariety which there was, 1. Between his sentiments and desires
[The desires of man by nature are altogether earthly and sensual: but when light breaks in upon his mind, and he is made to see in a measure the evil of such desires, a conflict begins within him. It is in this state that multitudes go on: they see the better path, and approve it in their minds; but they cannot, will not, follow it: there are some gratifications which they know not how to forego, and some interests which they cannot prevail upon themselves to give up; and hence they proceed in a painful opposition to the dictates of their own consciences, being habitually self-convicted and self-condemned. They "hate the light," and, as the Scripture strongly expresses it, "rebel against the light."
Such was the state of Balaam. His views of divine truth were very enlarged, when we consider the age and country in which he lived. He had a considerable knowledge of God and his perfections; yea, of Christ also, together with the kingdom which he should establish upon earth. He was acquainted with the nature of truly spiritual religion; and saw, not only the certainty of a future state, but the certainty, that, in that state, there would be an inconceivable difference between the righteous and the wicked. But still he was a covetous and ambitious man: and as soon as a prospect of gratifying his evil propensities was opened to him, he bore down the better convictions of his own mind, and determinately set himself to do evil.]
2. Between his professions and conduct
[Who that had heard all the fine speeches which he made respecting his determination to adhere to the will of God, even b Mic. vi. 6—8.
a Numb. xxiv. 17-19.
though he should be able to gain "an house full of silver and gold" by disobeying it; and his pious advice to Balak, "to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God;" who that had seen him apparently so fearful of stirring a step, or speaking a word, without the divine counsel and direction, would not have conceived him to be a pious character? Yet from beginning to the end his conduct was a continued course of horrible impiety. After he had once consulted God, and had received from him a determined answer that "he should not go with the messengers, and that he should not curse Israel, for that they were, and should be, blessed;" what had he to do, but to dismiss the messengers with a plain, full, determined answer? When the second company of ambassadors came, he should not have listened to them a moment; but should have been as peremptory in his answer to them as to the former. His second application for direction was only an insult to the Divine Majesty, and a spreading of a net for his own feet. God, seeing how bent he was upon the attainment of his own ends, (the acquisition of wealth and honour,) no more interposed with authority to prevent him, but on certain conditions gave him a permission to go. No sooner was a conditional permission given, than Balaam, without waiting for the conditions, set out upon his journey. God, in mercy to him, interposed by a miracle to obstruct his way; and caused a dumb ass to reprove him: but even this produced nothing more than a momentary conviction of his sin, which however he was still determined to persist in: and, having obtained from the angel, what he construed into a permission to proceed, but which was rather a declaration that the ends of his journey should be defeated; (for that he should not be permitted to speak any thing which was not put into his mouth by God himself;) onward he goes, and addresses himself to his impious work with activity and perseverance. In all his renewed endeavours to curse Israel, he found himself constrained to bless them, insomuch that Balak, furiously enraged against him, dismissed him without any of the riches or honours which he had so eagerly sought after. Now, it might be hoped, that Balaam at last should see his error, and humble himself for his iniquity. But, instead of this, he devised a plan whereby that people, who could not be subdued by arms, might be beguiled into sin, and thereby subjected to the displeasure of their Almighty Protector. He advised Balak to make use of the Midianitish women, first to allure them to fornication, and then to draw them to idolatry; and by this means to destroy the souls of those, whom he could not otherwise injured. Now compare this with all his professions of reverence for God, of
c ver. 22-34. with 2 Pet. ii. 16.
d Compare Numb. xxxi. 16. with Rev. ii. 14.