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only by the loss of them. They enjoy a faithful ministry, but will not avail themselves of it, till "the candlestick is removed," and the privileges, which they have slighted, are withdrawn. The same is too often experienced by children who have neglected the admonitions of their parents, and servants who have disregarded the instructions of their masters. Happy they, who "know the day of their visitation," and "walk in the light before the night cometh!" To those indeed who die, it is comforting to know that they shall leave such a testimony behind them: but, when we consider the augmented guilt and misery of those who have slighted our admonitions, our sorrow for them preponderates, and turns our self-congratulations into tender sympathy and grief: for the greater our exertions were for their salvation, the more certainly shall we appear as swift witnesses against them, to increase and aggravate their condemnation.]
What if God were now to issue the command to any one of us, "Go up to thy bed, and die?" how would it be received amongst us? Should we welcome such an order? Should we rejoice that the period was arrived for our dismission from the body, and for our entrance into the presence of our God? Such an order will assuredly be soon given to every one of us: the old and the young, the rich and the poor, those who have travelled all through the wilderness, and those who have but just entered into it, may have it said to them within a few hours, "This night is thy soul required of thee." But, however men might receive the summons, its consequences to them would be widely different, according as they were prepared, or unprepared, to meet their God. Think,
1. Thou who art regardless of thine eternal state
[Thou art now perhaps adorned in costly array, and filling some high station; perhaps, if not crowned with a mitre, like Aaron, at least officiating at the altar of thy God. But thine honours and thine ornaments must all be laid aside; and thine office, together with thy wealth, must be transferred to others. "Naked camest thou into the world, and naked must thou go from it." But whither must thou go? To heaven? Alas! persons of your description can find no admittance there. Thou wilt be excluded, like the foolish virgins, who had no oil in their lamps. O think, from what thou wilt be excluded: not from an earthly Canaan, but from heaven itself; and not, to be merely bereaved of good, but to bewail thy misery in hell
for ever! Ah! fearful thought! The Lord grant that it may sink down into all our hearts, and stir us up to "flee from the wrath to come!"
Do any inquire, What shall we do to be saved? My answer is, There is an High-Priest, who dieth not; or rather, I should say, who, though once he died on Mount Calvary, now "liveth, and behold he is alive for evermore." It is to him that Moses directed you when he stripped off Aaron's robes; and to him Aaron himself directed you, when he surrendered up his soul. The typical priests being inefficient, "were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but the Lord Jesus hath an unchangeable priesthood; and is therefore able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth 9." Believe in him, and the sting of death shall be removed: thou shalt have peace with God through his atoning blood; and, when taken hence, shalt be transported on the wings of angels to Abraham's bosom.]
2. Thou who professest religion, yet art living at a distance from thy God
[Let us suppose for a moment, thou art not so far from God, but that thou shalt find mercy at his hands in the last day still it would be very painful to die under a cloud, and to leave thy surviving friends doubtful of thy state. Yet this is the best that thou canst expect, whilst thou art relaxing thy diligence, and "the things which remain in thee are ready to die." But there is reason to fear that thou art "drawing back unto perdition," and that "thy last end will be worse than thy beginning." Think not that this is an uncommon case: there are many who " seem to be religious, and yet deceive their own souls." How terrible then will be your disappointment, if, after walking, perhaps twenty, or, like Aaron, forty years, in expectation of reaching the promised land, you come short of it at last! Yet this will be the case with all who dissemble with God'. When your minister, who had hoped that you would have been "his joy and crown of rejoicing" for ever, shall inquire," Where is he?" and your dearest friends also shall ask, "Where is he?" how painful will it be, and perhaps surprising too, to be informed, that you were counted unworthy of that heavenly kingdoms! The Lord grant that this picture may never be realised with respect to any of you! But I must caution you in the words of the Apostle; "Let us fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into God's rest, any of you should seem to come short of it."]
3. Thou sincere and upright Christian—
[What a glorious change will it be to thee, when God shall bid thee to go up unto thy bed and die! Whatever
q Heb. vii. 23-25. r Job xx. 4-7. s Job xx. 7. t Heb. iv. 1.
honours thou possessest here, thou needest feel no regret at parting with them. Thou hast found thy trials in this wilderness great and manifold: and happy mayest thou be to go unto the rest that remaineth for thee. Thou hast no need to be afraid of death: it should be regarded only as the stripping off of thy garments, to retire to rest; or rather, as the being "unclothed, in order to be clothed upon, that mortality may be swallowed up of life"." Go forward then in daily expectation of thy summons: yea, be daily "looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of that blessed day,"when thou shalt "depart, and be with Christ for ever." Who can conceive the bliss that awaits thee at that hour? To behold Him, "of whom the Law and the Prophets testified," and in whom their testimony received its full accomplishment! To behold Him whom Aaron's love and services but faintly shadowed! Him, "the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person Were death a thousand times more terrible than it is, it were eagerly to be coveted as an introduction to such bliss. Methinks, impatience were a virtue with such prospects as these: or if you must wait with patience your appointed time, endeavour at least so to live, that, at whatever hour your Lord may come, you may be found ready, and have "an abundant entrance into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ."]
u 2 Cor. v. 4.
x 2 Pet. iii. 12.
y 2 Pet. i. 11.
THE ISRAELITES DISCOURAGED BY THE WAY.
Numb. xxi. 4. And the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.
THE history of human nature is nearly the same in all ages. Successive generations ought progressively to advance in wisdom, because they have the advantage of others' experience. But youth will not avail themselves of the instructions of their forefathers they will go forward in their own ways; exactly as if they had no compass whereby to steer, nor any chart of the rocks and shoals, on which so many thousands have been shipwrecked. "The way of their predecessors has been folly; and yet their posterity, in practice at least, applaud their saying." A new generation had been born in the wilderness since the departure of the Israelites from the land of Egypt; and they had ample means of information
respecting the rebellious conduct of their fathers, and the chastisements inflicted on account of it: yet on similar occasions they constantly acted in a similar manner, murmuring and complaining as soon as any new trial arose, and wishing themselves dead, to get rid of their present troubles. Thus it was with them at this time. We propose to inquire into,
I. The causes of their discouragement
Doubtless, to those who could not implicitly confide in the wisdom and goodness of God, there was ground for discouragement. There was,
1. A perplexing providence
[The period fixed for their entrance into Canaan was nearly arrived. They had just had a severe engagement with one of the Canaanitish kings, who had come forth against them with all his forces; and, after suffering a partial defeat, had entirely vanquished him. But they were not suffered to follow up their success, or to proceed to the immediate invasion of his land. On the contrary, having been refused permission to pass through the territories of the king of Edom, they were directed to "compass his whole land, and to go back to the Red Sea," perhaps as far as to Ezion-gabera. This was after they had been thirty-nine years and six months in the wilderness; after two of their leaders, Miriam and Aaron, were taken from them by death; and when there remained but six months to the time fixed for their entrance into the promised land. How unaccountable did this appear! Must they wait to be attacked in the wilderness, and never be permitted to reap the reward of victory? Must they wait in the wilderness till their enemies should be willing to resign their land? Had God forgotten his promise, or determined that they should spend another forty years in the wilderness? If the promise was to be fulfilled, why give them the trouble of traversing the wilderness again? If it was not to be fulfilled, they had better die at once, than protract a miserable existence under such vexatious and cruel disappointments.
Whilst they viewed the dispensation in this light, we do not wonder that "their soul was much discouraged."
In truth, this is a very common source of discouragement to ourselves. Persons, on their first commencement of their journey heaven-ward, are apt to be sanguine, and to expect that they shall speedily arrive at the promised land. At one time they seem near it, but are turned back again, in order that by a long course of trials, they may be better prepared to enjoy it.
a Deut. ii. 8.
At another time they seem almost to possess it; and then, not long after, find themselves at a greater distance from it than ever. Thus "hope deferred maketh their heart sick:" and being disappointed in their expectations, they yield to great dejection of mind: If I am not of the number of God's people, whence have I these desires? if I am, why have I not those attainments?'
The same disquietude arises from perplexities of any kind, where the promise, and the providence, of God appear at variance with each other. Not being able to account for the Lord's dealings towards them," their souls are cast down, and greatly disquieted within them."]
2. A long protracted trial
[Forty years of trial was a long period: and the nearer they came to its completion, the longer every day appeared. Hence this fresh order to go back to the Red Sea, and there to recommence their travels, quite overwhelmed them.
And how do long-continued afflictions operate on us? For a season we can bear up under them: but when pains of body, or distress of mind, are lengthened out; when the clouds, instead of dispersing, thicken, and storms of trouble are gathering all around us; then patience is apt to fail, and the mind sinks under its accumulated trials. Because "our strength is small, we faint under our adversity." Even Job, that bright pattern of patience, who after the heaviest losses could say, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord;" even he, I say, fainted at last, and cursed the day of his birth. And he must be endued with an uncommon measure of grace, who under such circumstances can say with Paul, "None of these things move me."]
That we may see how their discouragement operated, let us consider,
II. The effects produced by it
Their minds being discomposed, they immediately gave way to,
1. A dissatisfied spirit
[Many were the blessings which they received from the hand of God: they lived by a continual miracle: they were provided with water out of a rock, and with manna daily from the clouds: and yet they complain, "There is no bread, neither is there any water: and our soul lotheth this light bread." Because they did not partake of that variety which the nations around them enjoyed, they were discontented: or rather, because they were offended with the order to go back unto the Red Sea, they were displeased with every thing.