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speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet ; I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols; that I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.”
The same thing is confirmed in the New Testament, in these words of the Apostle Paul, taken out of the second chapter of his second epistle to the Thessalonians : “ God shall send them,” that is, those who perish,
strong delusion, that they should believe a lie : that they all might be condemned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
All these passages of Scripture agree in declaring, that if we pray to God with a dishonest heart, He will not enlighten our consciences at all, nor show us what we ought to do; but rather will cause us to take wrong for right, and right for wrong, till we become utterly blinded and darkened, and are sunk without hope in evil. I have read three passages out of the Bible to this effect, but I might have read many more, for the same doctrine is repeated over and over again in a great many places, and in a great variety of ways, as if it were of the greatest consequence to us to remember it, and to
act upon it. It was not put into the Bible merely to frighten us, or to try our submission by teaching what would give offence to many; much less was it put in to drive any to despair. It was written, as every thing else was which we find in the Scripture, for our good; that we might hear indeed and fear, and do no more presumptuously. I do not say, indeed, that every body can derive good from it; there may be some who are living witnesses of its truth, on whom the strong delusion is working, whom God may have answered already according to their idols, and whose sin may be the sin unto death, because they may be so lost in evil, that they can find no place for repentance. But such is not the case with men in general; and therefore the bulk of a common congregation, more especially of such a congregation as this, may be well called upon to profit by these assurances of God, that He will blind the eyes, and harden the hearts of those who do not come to Him in sincerity.
Balaam the prophet presents to us a character which is in several points very remarkable. In the first place, he had the gifts of the Holy Spirit without the graces; he was favoured with the knowledge of God's will, and with the power of foretelling future events, while his heart was far from God, and while in his dealings he showed himself the servant of sin. What is said of Balaam, may be and often has been true of others; we have only to put in the place of the gift of prophecy any one of what we call God's natural gifts, or any thing that is merely a power, and we see the same thing frequently. Power, whether natural or acquired, whether of mind or of outward condition, is no warrant for our finding goodness united with it. Yet it is still power, and oftentimes it does God's work, and ministers greatly to the good of others, although it is not blessed to the eternal salvation of him who possesses it. There is, indeed, a kind and a degree of wickedness which absolutely impairs the power;
the worst of men are not and cannot be the wisest. And so, on the other hand, there is a degree of goodness which actually in some respects confers power;
which enables an understanding not naturally strong to arrive at truth in matters of the greatest moment. But it is a mistake to suppose, either that those whose notions are the truest on points even of Christian truth should be men of the holiest lives, or that men of the holiest lives should see the truth most clearly on all points connected with Christianity. God gives His gifts or powers to men who sometimes possess but a small portion of the graces of His spirit ; His grace is often to be seen in a very high measure, where His gifts have been bestowed scantily.
We understand this more easily with regard to the mere powers of the understanding; we can well conceive that he who understood all mysteries
and all knowledge, might yet be without charity. But the Apostle carries it further, and supposes that a man might give all his goods to feed the poor, and yet be without charity. In other words, a man may lead a very useful life, and yet not be an heir of Christ's salvation. The powers of a man's understanding may be combined with so much activity, he may be able to do such various good, and feel such pleasure in the doing of it, as to be really of the greatest service to his fellow-creatures. And yet there may be wanting in him that one principle which alone is Christian virtue or holiness, the desire to do Christ's will. Without this, moral usefulness is like intellectual
may minister largely to the good of others; both will perish in the using, and leave us with nothing that bespeaks our fitness for life eternal. And since the more wonderful gifts of the Holy Spirit have not been commonly given, there is a story told of one of the ablest and most learned writers who have lived since the Reformation, of a man who wrote a book in defence of Christianity, who studied the Scriptures deeply, and wrote long and mostly very good notes upon every part of them; it is told, I say, of this very man, that when he was on his death-bed, he exclaimed in bitter regret, Alas! I have wasted my life in taking a great deal of trouble to do what is a mere nothing." He calls his books, which he had written about the Bible, by no better name that a mere nothing. And why? Because he thought, that while he was writing or reading them, he was not labouring heartily for the glory of God, but for his own; because he thought that he had not been careful enough, to govern his own heart while he was employed about them; that he had not, like St. Paul, laboured to bring his body into subjection, lest that by any means when he had preached to others, he should himself be a castaway. At the present day, indeed, we are willing enough to allow that religious employments do not of necessity improve the heart; that a man may know much divinity, and may preach well and eloquently, and yet may not be a true servant of Christ. Our mistake now is of a different kind; and we attach too high a value to what is called a useful life, to the being engaged in honest labour, whether of body or of mind, for the support of ourselves or of our families. I would, indeed, that we all led an useful life, -if I may so alter the words of the Apostle,—but rather that we led an holy one ; for though we speak with the tongues of men and of angels, though we had the gift of prophecy like Balaam, or though we gave all our goods to feed the poor, and marked every day of our lives with some useful action, yet all this would profit us nothing, unless we had charity or love, the love of God first, and of man for Christ's sake. In Balaam's time, to be a prophet was accounted a