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THE PREVAILING INTERCESSOR.
NUMBERS, XVI. 47, 48.
And Aaron took, as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people; and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stayed.
Ir may be questioned, whether any history in the world ever afforded a finer subject for a picture, than this before us. Aaron, in his sacerdotal vestments, the smoke of the incense ascending from the holy censer in his hand, might be drawn, standing up amidst crowds of Israelites, smitten with the pestilence. The wrath of God might be represented, rolling forth in fiery waves from the tabernacle, and almost reaching the high priest; but recoiling, as checked in its progress by his powerful intercession. On one side of the intercessor might be portrayed the most ghastly horrors in the countenances of the dead; on the other side might be discovered the re
viving gleams of hope and joy in the faces of the living, on perceiving that the plague was stayed.
But, in order to enter thoroughly into all the parts of this supposed picture, it will be necessary to take a view of the whole history to which it relates; that we may learn the crime of the sufferers which brought on their punishment, and the nature of that intercession which put a stop to it.
Moses and Aaron were appointed by God the governors and conductors of his people. But, though they ruled with the utmost wisdom and integrity, it happened, that they could not please every body. Korah, a discontented, factious Levite, charged Aaron with priestcraft: "All the congregation, he said,
were holy, and the Lord was among them;" every man was qualified to be his own priest, to instruct, and to save himself; and who was Aaron, that he should set himself up above his brethren, and lord it over God's heritage? At the same time that a schism was thus forming in the church, a rebellion was likewise fomented in the state. For Dathan and Abiram, who were laymen, and princes of the congregation, accused Moses of tyranny, and a design to establish arbitrary power; which they affirmed to be so clear a case, that unless he "put out the eyes" of the people, they must see he intended to enslave, and to make "himself altogether a prince over them." Matters soon came to an open rupture; God himself was appealed to, and a day fixed to determine the cause. And a most tremendous determination indeed it was.
For when the two parties, according to order, had separated from each other, and all with
eager expectation stood waiting the event, behold "the ground," which was under the rebels, suddenly "clave asunder, and the earth opened her mouth, "and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all "that appertained to them; they went down alive "into the pit, and the earth closed upon them, "and they perished from among the congregation. "And there came out a fire from the Lord, and "consumed the two hundred and fifty men that of"fered incense." They who have not studied human nature, who have not seen nor heard much of mankind, will perhaps imagine that such a decision as this must needs have silenced every objection, and put an end to the murmurings of discontent. And so far indeed it is true, that "the people fled at the cry of "those who suffered, for they said, Lest the earth "swallow us up also." But as soon as the danger was over, they discovered the real sentiments of their corrupted hearts. After a single night's rest, the spirit of rebellion again took possession of them; and, all reverence laid aside, they go in a tumultuous and insolent manner to their leaders, requiring at their hands, truly, the blood of Korah and his followers. "On the morrow, all the congregation of the children "of Israel murmured against Moses and against "Aaron, saying, Ye have slain the people of the "Lord." Thus, by standing up for these offenders, they showed a secret approbation of their offence; and, being partakers of their crime, they justly became partakers also of their punishment. The divine
wrath, therefore, went out against them. up," "said the Lord to Moses and Aaron "from among
"this congregation, that I may consume them as in a "moment." A most dreadful pestilence ensued; and then it was, that Aaron did, as is recorded of him in the text; "he took a censer, with fire from off "the altar, and put on incense, as Moses com"manded, and ran into the midst of the congregation, "and made an atonement for the people." He exposed himself, for their sake, to the vengeance of Heaven, which was rolling on like an irresistible torrent, and had already swept away near fifteen thousand of his brethren; he stood in the midway between the wrath and them, "between the dead and "the living; and the plague was stayed." It stopped where Aaron stood; before him all were consumed; all behind him were saved:-an action this so full of faith and love, as to deserve the admiration of all ages; so wonderfully blessed in its consequences, that it cannot but well repay the time and pains we shall employ in inquiring into the grounds and reasons of them, and learning how it should come to pass, that the intercession of Aaron should arrest the wrath of God in its impetuous course, and save from impending death the remnant of rebellious Israel. And in the prosecution of the subject it may per haps appear, that this awful and affecting scene which we have been contemplating, as affording fine matter for a picture, is itself a picture only of ano. ther more august and interesting scene, in which all the children of Adam are concerned, and do bear their parts.
Let us then ask-Was it for Aaron's sake, that God spared the remnant of his people? Had Aaron
any merit of his own, any superfluous righteousness, which might be imputed to them? Far from it; since, however comparatively holy and faithful he might be, yet was he a descendant of that Adam, of whose children it is testified, that "there is none that doeth "good; no not one." He and " every high priest "taken from among men," were necessarily heirs of the universal corruption; they had their infirmities, as the apostle argues, and were obliged to offer up sacrifices for their own sins, as well as for those of the people. Aaron, therefore, of himself, could make no atonement for them; and without an atonement, the justice of God could not let them escape. To account for this wonderful deliverance, we must carry on our thoughts farther; we must look to some higher atonement, some greater and more powerful Intercessor and High Priest, in whose name Aaron might act, and in virtue of whose merits he might, as a representative, prevail with God to be gracious to his people.
And here, there is but one person upon whom all our thoughts must immediately be fixed, namely, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the great High Priest of our profession, the effectual Intercessor for the salvation of sinners. Had we any doubt, whether Aaron, when officiating according to the law, represented Him, St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, has determined the point beyond all contradiction. He tells us, that the law had a shadow of good things to come, of which Christ and his heavenly truths were the body and substance; that Aaron and all other high priests were the representatives of him who is