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The Death of the Righteous.
[SUPPOSED TO BE THE LAST SERMON WRITTEN BY THE
AUTHOR, AND NEVER PREACHED.)
NUMBERS xxiii. 10.
Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like
CONCERNING the character of Balaam, who is the speaker in this passage, there are various opinions. The most probable, however, seems to be, that he was indeed a prophet-for such St. Peter styles him—one who had been favoured with revelations of the will of God; but who had forsaken the right way, and gone astray, because he loved the wages of unrighteousness. The knowledge which he possessed of the true God, taught him to whom he was to apply to procure the fulfilment of the wishes of Balak. And this knowledge also dictated those sentiments which, with so much justice, he expressed respecting his own inability to go beyond the word of the Lord, to do less or more, to do either good or bad of his own mind. Tempted, however, by the reward of divination, he hoped to change the mind of God; and with this view it was that he continually used enchantments, and tried the arts which magicians and astrologers were wont to employ, until he was convinced, and compelled to declare, that “God is not a man, that he should lie, neither “ the son of man, that he should repent.” And from thenceforward, as the history declares, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments.
Such was the character of Balaam; and he doubtless possessed a clear and distinct view of the temporal blessings which it pleased God to bestow upon Israel; and of the favour which should be continued to his descendants, agreeably to the promise that their days should be long in the land which the Lord their God had given unto them. This being the case, it is most probable that he contemplated for them, and desired for himself, only these temporal advantages, in uttering the wish which forms the text. For besides that in any other view, the translation seems too sudden from the consideration of earthly to that of spiritual benefits, the words (especially if translated agreeably to the version of the Septuagint,) seem to have reference only to the former.
“ Let my life terminate only with the lives of * the righteous, and let my posterity be as their
posterity.” In other words, Let me die in a mature old age, after a life of health and peace, with all my posterity flourishing about me, as was the promised lot of the righteous observers of the law. But while this more literal exposition may express all the desire of his mercenary soul, long life, and earthly happiness, for himself and for his descendants, the Spirit of God, by whom the words were dictated, had higher aims, and as in almost every thing connected with the Jewish economy, foreshadowed and prefigured, under promises of earthly blessing, those more exalted, more glorious, and everlasting joys, which are reserved for the true Israel in that better land of promise, the rest which remaineth for thc people of God.
There are not wanting, even among the Jews, those who regard the passage before us as intimating the blessedness of the righteous in another world; and who, in the words of Bishop Patrick, “ allege this place as a proof that a « future state was believed in ancient times,
though not so clearly expressed in the prophe“tical writings as other things are."*
Vain, however, must have been the expectations of the prophet who uttered them, to enjoy such a future state of felicity, while, prefering the wages of unrighteousness, he set up his own will
against the will of God. And if the passionate wish which he expressed had reference merely to his happiness on earth, as has been already snggested, and as seems most probable, in this also he was disappointed; for uniting himself to the purposes and designs of the wicked in his life, he was not separated from their fate in his death; being slain a short time afterwards with the kings of Midian, by the sword of Israel. “A warning " against expecting the reward of virtue for a life
spent in the gratification of selfishness and of " sin." But not further to concern ourselves with the views of one whose limited perception, or whose perverse will, prevented him from desiring in his heart, or realizing in his experience, the full meaning of the wish, which with his lips he uttered; let me call your attention, to whom God has given more perfect knowledge, and I would trust also a better mind, to some of the reasons why, in its true and spiritual intent, we should adopt this wish, in order that we may be excited to that diligence which is necessary to make it effectual.
“Let me die the death of the righteous, and " let my last end be like his.” .
I am first to call your attention to considerations which make it desirable to die. the Christian's death. Under any circumstances, my
brethren, so far as unsupported nature alone is concerned, to die is a most solemn and appalling
event. It is not merely to be separated from all those ties and relations which bind us to our kindred, and to our kind; not merely to abandon our accustomed occupations, our habitual pursuits, our cherished enjoyments; not merely to bid farewell to the places, the objects, the friends, the homes, and the cheerful scenes, which thenceforward we are no more to know for ever; but it is to enter upon a new, an untried, a spiritual existence; to depart, alone and disembodied, into that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns; to launch upon the darkling ocean of eternity the fearful soul; and with faculties enfeebled by disease, and with sensibilities awakened by their nearness, to perceive the responsibilities, the uncertainties, and the perils, which may await us there; to surrender ourselves to that mysterious and unalterable destiny which, even in the brightest moments of health and confidence, can seldom be thought of but with terror and dismay.
This is what it is to die. And this it is appointed unto all men once to experience. But to the Christian it is permitted, when this change arrives, to venture upon it, not merely with a composure which the wicked can never know, and with expectations to which the unbelieving and the atheistical do not even pretend; but with a confidence, an assurance, and a lofty hope, which none but the righteous can estimate or conceive.