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NUMBERS xxi. 4-9.
Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the foul of
IE restlessness, peevishness and discontent which men are continually expressing, prove at once the degeneracy and corruption of human nature, and furnish a strong presumption of the immortality of the soul.
To behold one generation after another, of moping, melancholy, sullen, furly beings, in the midst of an overflowing profusion of blessings, charging God foolishly, tormenting themselves unnecessarily, and disturbing others maliciously, clearly demonstrates, that man is alienated from his Maker, at variance with himself, and unkindly disposed towards his brother : in other words, that he is a fallen, corrupted creature. To behold men, whatever they have attained, whatever they possess, forgetting the things which are behind, and eagerly reaching forward to those which are before, the eye never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing, is a presumption at least, if not a proof, that we are designed of our Crea ator for something this world has not to bestow; that some principle in our nature is superior to the gross and grovelling pursuits in which we are warmly engag, ed, but in which we find and we take no rest; and thus the very misery we feel is a presentiment of the felicity which we were created to enjoy. But, alas ! our diffatisfaction with sublunary good things, “ the things which are seen and temporal,” is not the result of experience, nor the resignation of a mind humbled to the will of God. No, it is the miserable effect and expression of insatiable desire, of unmortified pride, of disappointed ambition. If we arrive at our object with ease, its value is diminished by the facility of acquisition ; if obstacles lie in the way, and possesfion be removed by distance of time and space, we are quickly discouraged, and timidly give up the pursuit. When empty, there is no end of our complaints ; when full, we loathe and reject the best things : if we succeed, our prosperity destroys us with folly, infolence and self-indulgence; if we fail, we are undone through shame, chagrin and resentment; if we thun the rock of “ vanity” on the one side, we are fucked into the whirlpool of “ vexation of spirit” upon the other. Vol, V. с
The history of Israel is, in truth, the history of human nature. Did they discover a ftubbornness which no calamity could tame, no kindness could mollify : a levity which no steadiness of discipline could fix, a perfidiousness which no plea can excuse, an ingratitude which no partiality can extenuate, a stupidity which no intelligence can account for, a timidity and a rashness which no reason can explain? Alas, we need noť travel to the deserts of Arabia, nor look back to the days of the golden calf, nor of the waters of Meribah, for the perfons who discovered such a spirit. We have but to look into our own hearts, we have but to review our own lives, in order to be fatisfied, that such a spirit has existed, that it is shamefulby odious in itself, highly offensive in the fight of God, and that we have good reason to abhor ourselves, “ and repent in duft and afhes.”
We have pursued the history of Aaron and of Balaam, in a continued series, that we might prosecute the remainder of the history of Moses, without any farther interruption; we therefore omitted in its proper place that portion of it, which is partly recorded in the verses I have read : but it is of infinitely too great importance to be passed over wholly in filence, and therefore we 'look back, and bring it into view, as an uféful subject of meditation this evening.
Moses had lately descended from Mourit Hor, whither he had been summoned to perform the last offices of humanity to Aaron, his brother : with mixed emotions, no doubt, which alternately marked the man and the believer : mourning and mortified, yet patient, composed and refigned to the will of Heaven. In executing 'fentence of death upon his brother, he heard the voice of God again pronouncing his own doom ; a doom in which, with the ordinary feelings of humanity, he acquiefces with reluctance, but muft however acquiefce. But though death was before his eyes, and could be at no great distance, it abates nothing of his ardour for the
glory of God, and the good of
Israel; it breaks in upon no duty of his station, it difturbs not the benevolence, gentleness and serenity of his temper : he lives, acts, instructs to the very last ; ; and exhibits an instructive example of that happy firmnefs and equanimity of soul, removed alike from Itoical indifference, and contempt of death, and fond, infirm, unreasonable attachment to life. We find him accordingly in his 120th year, and the last of his life, not only engaged in employments suitable to age, those of deliberating, advising and instructing ; but exerting all the activity and vigour of youth, in planning and executing fundry military enterprises.
We should be surprised, did we not know the cause of it, to find Israel in the fortieth year from their deliverance out of Egypt, juft where we saw them the firft month, by the way of the Red Sea, journeying from Mount Hor; and even then, though every thing seemed to be pressing them forwards to the poffefsion of Canaan, not led of their heavenly Guide directly forwards in the nearest tract, but obliged to fetch a compafs round the whole land of Edom, the possession allotted to, and already bestowed upon the posterity of Esau. But Ifrael, and in them mankind, was thereby inftructed to revere the destinations of Providence, to respect the rights, property and privileges of others; that reason and religion, as well as sympathy and humanity, oblige a man to submit to the inconveniency of a journey fomewhat more tedious and fatiguing, instead of attempting to cut a nearer paffage for himfelf, through the bowels and blood of his brother.
The conscioufiefs of having acted well, in taking this circuitous march round the land of Edom, and that they thus acted by the command of God, ought to have reconciled the minds of these Ifraelites to the. little inconveniences of the way; but their historian and leader, with his usual fidelity, informs us, that “ the foul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.
Men frequently do their duty with so ill a grace, that it becomes as offensive as downright disobedience; the manner of compliance has the air of a refusal. God loves cheerfulness in every thing: a cheerful, liberal giver ; a cheerful, thankful receiver ; a cheerful, active doer ; a cheerful, patient sufferer. And what an alleviating confideration is it, under the pressure of whatever calamity! “ This burden is imposed on me by the hand of my heavenly Father ; this is a sore evil, but God can turn it into good.” “ This affliction is not joyous, but grievous ; nevertheless afterwards it shall yield the peaceable fruits of righteoufness.” When we are out of humour at one thing, we are dissatisfied with every person, and every thing ; a harsh spirit and a hasty tongue fpare neither God
“ The people fpoke against God, and against Mofes. Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness ? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.”
Objects viewed through the medium of passion, like those strange uncouth appearances which are seen in glasses of a certain construction, have little or no resemblance to what they are in nature and truth. They are distorted and disfigured ; magnified to such a degree as to become hideous, or diminished so as to become imperceptible ; and according to the fit of the moment, men turn the one end or the other of the perspective to the eye, and what they contemplate is accordingly removed to a great distance, and reduced to nothing, or brought nigh, enlarged, and brightened up. Employing this false kind of optics, "Ifrael now considers Egypt and all its hardships with desire and regret, and looks forward to Canaan with cold. ness and distrust. The miraculous stream that followed them from the rock is no water at all, and manna, angel's food, is accounted light bread.
light bread. We are too little aware of the sinfulness and folly of discontent, and therefore indulge in it without fear or reserve.