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conveyed no just suspicion to any man that heard it ; but He to whom all hearts were open, knowing that the desire to follow Him was a mere pretence, cut down his hypocrisy, with calling on him to follow Him, and let the dead bury their dead.”
Of all things, therefore, that we can impress upon the mind of a man when first entering into life, or at any after period, nothing is more important than the command of our Lord, “ Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness
Purify your hearts, ye double minded “ Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” How many doubts and difficulties would be saved, if we were to keep stedfastly before our eyes the one grand object of a Christian's life, “ to do all to the glory of God.” It is the suffering lower motives to come in too much, and too habitually, that leads us into evil; we act from custom, or convenience, or inclination, or to please our friends, or to gain a good character, till we almost forget what should be our first question to ourselves in every thing that we do, “ How will God regard this conduct at the day of judgment ?” Nor is it true that such a question would condemn all cheerfulness and refreshment of the mind : it would sanction innocent relaxations, but it would teach us to weigh carefully the difference between what is innocent and what is sinful; and whilst it led us to cast away every thing that might offend our Lord, it would enable us to enjoy with a free and confident pleasure whatever our Lord really permits to us. “ Whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” says the Apostle Paul; that is, whatsoever you cannot fully satisfy yourself to be right, that is wrong. But there are many men, like Balaam of old, who rather reverse this rule, and who seem to think that whatever they cannot clearly prove to be wrong, that must be right. To such it should be urged again and again, that God is not to be mocked, that He requires the free service of our hearts; and if we yield it so sullenly, that, instead of shaping our desires to His law, we try to make His law correspond with our desires, He who sees the secrets of all hearts, will find us wanting in the great day of our account. Above all, the example of Balaam should be a warning to all those persons, who flatter themselves that they shall repent and turn to God when they are tired of the wages of unrighteousness. They do but deceive themselves by such a hope; for assuredly they never will repent. God will take away from them the little grace which they had, he will answer them according to their idols, and will encourage them to go on in their evil ways till they have filled up the measure of their wickedness. In the case of Balaam, warnings and mercies were alike useless; and we read that after his adventure with Balak, he tried to put temptations to sin in the way of the children of Israel, and at last was killed amongst their enemies, the Midianites. So it will be with all those who endeavour like him to play a double part, instead of following their duty bravely and cheerfully. But if we keep ourselves ever in a state of mind like St. Paul's at his conversion, asking humbly, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?” we may depend on being guided into all truth by the enlightening of God's Holy Spirit, and on having the path of our duty made clear before us, whilst we ourselves are strengthened against all temptation steadily to walk in it.
NUMBERS xxv. 12, 13.
Behold, I give unto Phinehas my covenant of peace : and he
shall have it and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood ; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.
THERE was a time, not many ages ago, when this passage, and the act of Phinehas to which it refers, were read with delight, and held up as models for imitation ; when to be zealous even to slaying was accounted one of the virtues which should mark a servant of the Lord. After this temper had had its course, and had been displayed in various acts of cruelty, and of treachery and cruelty combined, there came as usual a reaction. Men saw what crimes had been committed under the name of religious zeal, and from an abuse of the Old Testament; and they began to think religious zeal a very dangerous thing, and the study of the Old Testament was suffered to go into neglect ;-nothing was so much spoken of as the mildness, and forbearance, and tolerance of Christ's gospel. Then, as was natural, devotion became less fervent, and godly fear grew less. If men did not commit crimes from using the word of God amiss, so neither was there that growth in holiness which is the consequence of using it aright. Men felt that little had been forgiven them, and therefore they loved little. Again, therefore, there has come the reaction ; again the spirit of zeal is kindling; and again it seems likely that it will be a zeal not according to knowledge ; that it will again, as heretofore, dishonour God by the follies and the crimes which it commits in His name.
Yet we must beware of another reaction to the opposite extreme. Abhorring and fleeing from that false and wicked zeal with which fanatics serve their idols, while they profess to be serving God, we must yet earnestly strive not to be ourselves without true zeal. The story of Phinehas, the severer lessons of the Old Testament, are and ever will be needed ;--the blessing which God pronounced upon him is no idle, no dead word; it still lives for all those who tread according to the spirit, and not according to the letter, in the steps of Phinehas. For we could not reasonably hold the Old Testament to be a part of God's revelations to men, if the lessons which it contains, and the characters