The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness.Balaam's Manœ Uvres
Balaam's was a manoeuvring life: very truthful, and yet very false; very godly, and yet very worldly;—a most composite and self-contradictory life; still a most human life. Balaam never breaks away from the brotherhood of the race in any of his inconsistencies. When he is very good, there are men living to-day who are just as good as Balaam was; when he is very bad, it would not be difficult to confront him with men who are quite his equals in wrong-doing; when he is both good and bad almost at the same moment, he does not separate himself from the common experience of the race. He was always arranging, adjusting, endeavouring to meet one thing by another, and to set off one thing over against another. It was a kind of gamester-life—full of subtle calculation, touched with a sort of wonder which becomes almost religious, and steeped in a superstition which reduces many of the actions of life to a state of moral mystery wholly beyond ordinary human comprehension.
In the first instance, he poses as a very pious man. So we read: "And Balaam said unto Balak, Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? the word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak" (Numbers 22:38). We may take these words as equivalent to saying,—I am a very pious man; nothing in myself, wholly destitute of intellectual vigour and brightness, and laying no pretension to any conspicuous altitude of a personal kind; I am simply an instrument: I am a mere machine; thou hast sent for me, but in sending for me thou hast but brought to thy side a trumpet through which God must deliver his own message. There was self-consciousness about his piety: he knew that he was a most religious man. We may be too well acquainted with our own religiousness; it may form quite a large object on which our vision is fixed in a kind of trance and adoration. Were we more pious, we should be less conscious of our piety. When we really pray, with all the fulness of divine inspiration, keeping strictly to our necessity, and yet allowing the soul full play as to spiritual communion with God, when the exercise is closed we cannot tell what we have said in mere words: our speech will run to this effect,—Whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell; I saw things without shape, I heard voices without articulation, I felt upon me the ministry of light; and as to all the influence exerted upon my soul, that must report itself in the nobleness and beneficence of my life. Self-conscious piety is often impious. We should know more about Christ and less about ourselves. Yet in any endeavour to avoid self-consciousness, we certainly fall into it. Self-consciousness is not to be escaped by effort, as directed against itself: it is only to be absolutely escaped by growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by such enlargement of faith and multiplication of religious resources as shall cause us to be more occupied with divine things than with our own immediate and measurable relation to them. When we are filled with God, we shall be emptied of ourselves. But let no man judge his brother herein. Some are too keen in finding in others self-regard, self-conceit, and self-consciousness; and refinement vulgarises itself when it fixes upon the vulgarity of other people.
Then Balaam represented, consistently with this first view of his character, a most ostentatious religion. Having come to the field of action, he begins demonstratively. He would have everything done upon an ample scale. The Oriental mind itself shall be satisfied with the gorgeousness of the theatre within which the little magic is to be wrought. So, in the opening of Numbers 23, we read,—"And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven oxen and seven rams." Balak did as Balaam had spoken; Balak and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram. In the same chapter we read,—"And he brought him into the field of Zophim, to the top of Pisgah, and built seven altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar" (Numbers 23:14). Again, we read: "And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams" (Numbers 23:29). There was to be no mistake about the preparation. The scaffolding was to portend a magnificent erection. All this lay at an immeasurable distance from the divine purpose and the divine simplicity. This was conjuring: these were the little tricks of a well-paid priest; these were accommodations to the Pagan mind. When we leave simplicity, we leave power. When we build after the fashion of earthly architecture, we forget that the true Builder is God, who builds invisibly but builds for eternity. The prophecy which we are called upon to represent to the age is not a prophecy of demonstration, or show, or spectacle. Balaam wandered from the first principles with which God had charged his soul. Nothing was said in the original instructions about building altars and slaying bullocks and rams. Word was given to Balaam, but instead of thundering that word at the very first and never changing it and repeating it until it deafened the very men who heard it, because of its resonance and majesty, Balaam betook himself to altar-building and to the keeping of perfect numbers—to the insistance of seven, so that everything might be complete in an outward and mechanical way. Balaam should have made shorter work of it. He had a message to deliver, and the message seemed to be kept back until all the pomp and demonstration had played Its little part before the astonished gaze of the king and princes of Moab. That very same thing may be done now. It is possible now to put the Gospel last, and to leave it but small space for its expression. We may elbow out the message by doing things which are but introductory at best, and some of which were never prescribed by directing Heaven. What we want is the message, the great speech, the mighty judgment, the holy revelation. What does God say? What does the Lord require of us? To that inquiry there should be instantaneous, emphatic, and persuasive reply.
Still, consistently with the first and second positions thus discovered in his character, we find upon further inquiry that Balaam displays a highly poetical and sentimental religion. Six times we read the words,—"And he took up his parable." He spake like an oracle. The parables are marked by nobleness of thought, grandeur and massiveness of expression. There is genuine poetry in the utterances of Balaam; but, so far, the religion which Balaam represents is of a poetic and sentimental and histrionic character. The age needs more than parable. We may be so poetical as to convey a wrong impression as to the message we have to deliver. Poetry has its place. Parable was an instrument well-worked by the divine hand of Jesus Christ himself; but the moral purpose of the parable was never hidden: the meaning of the message was vividly written upon its whole face. The age wants direct speech. There is a kind of poetry that is harmless: it is delightful to the ear, it flows through the organ of hearing and leaves no impress behind; those who hear it say—How lovely! how beautiful! how exceedingly pathetic!—but the whole impression is only for a moment, and never goes in the direction of rousing men to action, to sacrifice, to complete and costly obedience. Balak did not want all these altars and all these parables,—why does Balaam resort to them? Because he did not accept and realise the policy of God. A clear policy would have rendered all altars and parables unnecessary. We should have fewer apologies for our Christian service if we had a distincter conviction of its divine inspiration and absolute human necessity. Why try to decorate our message of judgment? Why these vain endeavours to paint the commandments of God? If we begin to decorate and adorn and garnish and parabolise, so as to miss the point, let us take care lest all this persiflage be so much reckoned against us in the final judgment. The altars were many, the parables were grand, the courtesy, as between prophet and king, was a courtesy perfect in dignity and in grace; but where is the message? It may be right to fold the sword in velvet, but let us beware lest we so. enclose the sword in velvet, as practically to deprive it of edge. Beauty we will never exclude, parable we must always welcome as highly illustrative of the truth: we can never forget that parable has been used for the representation of the kingdom of God; but let us, at the same time, beware lest the beauty of the parable should conceal the righteousness of the kingdom, and the splendour and exquisiteness of the decoration should hide in fatal darkness the tremendous Cross of Christ. Balaam was not sent forth to make poems for the Moabites: he was sent forth with one clear errand, and that he ought to have delivered instantly, and not have resorted to conjuring tricks, and to the small devices of a calculating magician.
Balaam represents but too vividly those who build many altars but build no character. How possible it is to be always near the Church without being really in it! How possible it is to preach about the Gospel without preaching it! This is the infinite danger of all spiritual service. We may be so wearied by things external and visible as to suppose we have rendered the sacrifice, when we have only kindled the coals. The altar is not built for coal-burning but for man-burning. The fire of coals is merely an instrument—part of a process,—but the leaping flame is an impious irony, if it be left to burn itself out without consuming the human will and the human self-idolatry. It would be easy to say, watching Balaam in all his course,—How particular he is to build altars!—he will insist upon the perfect number; truly, he is a most exact and religious man in all his appointments; even the number must be right, and the beasts must be fit for sacrifice. It is easy to be mechanically right. There is no drain upon a man's life in getting out programmes of service and outlines of effort. It is easy to build the altar and to run away from it; it is not difficult to build an altar and burn a beast upon it. The difficulty is to go to God's altar—an altar built by God's hands, burning with God's fire, and to lie down upon it with the grace of absolute self-surrender.
Is Balaam far from any one of us in the peculiarity of his character which displayed itself in keeping up an open correspondence with heathen persons? He never quite closed the correspondence: even when he refused to go he would have the way open for renewed communications. He might have sent a message to which Balak dare not have replied; but he did not. He would rather seem to have said,—Who knows what may come of this?—we had better not foreclose all communication; in the meantime, I must stand upon my dignity as a wizard or prophet: I must send a message indicating that my services are not to be cheaply or easily engaged; I will say clearly that God will not permit me to go, but I can so say it as to suggest the idea that perhaps even God's commandment may be trimmed and modified; we never can tell what may occur: I will, therefore, give such an answer as will not shut up the correspondence. Is that ancient history? Are not men in precisely that position to-day, in relation to many old associations or tempting opportunities or half-abandoned habits? They know the right, but they cannot speak it with a final emphasis. They are not untruthful, nor are they unfaithful in a degree which involves final apostasy or which ought to be visited by minor excommunication on the part of the Church; still they are in a mood which, being expressed in words, signifies that even yet something may come from the Moabite quarter that may be turned to account,—it will be better, therefore, not to repel with too severe an answer; let the appeal be renewed, or come under some modified form, and then we will see what can be done. Such action is what we have termed a manœuvre—a work of the hand, a clever manipulation; it is not righteous in its soul; the fire may have singed the outside and given a kind of sacrificial colouring to the man, but it has not burned the inner core and wrought in the soul the miracle of burning out the evil spirit. It is possible to be on the right side hesitantly. It is easy to be so far committed to the Church as to be able on occasions to shake off the connection and "deny the soft impeachment." We are prone to say, when the answer will suit the company,—We often attend the church; we are pleased to be there; attendance upon the service is a season of refreshment and edification. And when it will suit the company we can modify that assertion: we can represent ourselves as being occasionally there, and as having had our wonder partially excited concerning the service; and we can talk truth and tell lies; we can stand back in a manner which, though not chargeable with visible apostasy, means, in the soul of it, treachery towards God. We have nothing to do with Moab; Christ has no companionship with Belial; light never enters into partnership with darkness. "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."
Balaam is as one of us when we regard him as not clearly perceiving the motive by which he is actually impelled. Our motives are not always clear to our own minds; or we can so trifle with the motive as to vary its expression and modify its claim and suppress its inspiration. We lose sight of the motive in the operation of secondary causes, and these secondary causes we endeavour so to manipulate as to represent the real purpose of life. There are a thousand ways of lying; even falsehood may be turned into a fine art. Balaam did not perhaps fully know his own mind in this matter; and sometimes we have to be revealed to ourselves by others; and the apostolic pen was inspired to write the real motive which urged Balaam forward in his remarkable career. In one suggestive sentence we have the explanation. Balaam is described in the New Testament as a man who "loved the wages of unrighteousness." He did not know it. It does not become us to charge him with this perfidy in any broad and vulgar sense. Balaam was not a bad man through and through; he was marked by many noble features; there comes out again and again in his whole speech a distinct and valiant courage;—but he "loved the wages of unrighteousness." He did not altogether long for them, yet he did not resist the bribe; he wanted to be good, but he heard the chink of Balak's gold; he loved preaching, he was a born preacher—but a spark, and his soul flamed into poetry and noble rhetoric—but he heard of promotion and honour and dignity, and what amounted almost to the kingship of Moab: for Balak said,—All that thou biddest me do, I will do. It was a fierce temptation; it was a terrific agony. To stand beside a king, to move the springs of the royal mind, to dictate imperial policies, to curse invaders and repel encroachments, to have gold as the dust of the ground and honours like showers of rain, and to stand there firm, impeccable, resistant to every appeal—to be in a far of! country without a friend, and yet to be as good as we might now be in our own blessed homes—who could expect it? When we condemn Balaam, we condemn human nature; when we praise any feature in his character, we praise the grace that wrought that mystery in his soul.
Almighty God, thy Church thou hast redeemed with blood. Thou wilt keep thy Church in eternal security. The foundation of the Lord standeth sure, having this seal,—The Lord knoweth them that are his. We can hide nothing from thee. The smallest of thy children is still thine. They shall be mine in that day when I number up my jewels, saith the Lord. Thou dost not lose any jewel. God cannot lose anything. Hold thou us up, and we shall be safe. Show us that we may lose ourselves: that if we are sons of perdition we are sons of waste, and even Christ's wounded hand cannot save us from ruin. Establish us in the confidence of thy Fatherhood; and may we not live in it as in a doctrine only, but exhibit it in daily trust, in noble spiritual sacrifice, in continual and beneficent industry. Thus shall the Lord's seal be confirmed by our loyalty, and no man shall curse what God the Lord hath blessed. We stand in thy blessing: thy benediction is our heaven, thy smile our perpetual light. This is our joy; and this holy confidence brings amongst us the shout of a king, so that all thy princes are greater than Agag, and the smallest of thy children is more than the kings of the earth. Fill us with holy delight; drive away all temptation and evil importunity, and extinguish every baleful fire; let our bodies be the temples of the Holy Ghost; may our souls be inspired, and our whole hearts know the mystery and the joy of sacrifice. Thou regardest us according to our need. Thou art twice Father to some. Thou art the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to us who are in Christ thou art Father; but to those who have no father on earth and are yet children redeemed thou art Father upon Father: thy Fatherliness rises into the passion and mystery of love. This is our confidence and our delight and our sure hope. The Lord regard those who are in peculiar circumstances of loneliness, or pain, or fear, or weakness; spread the table of poverty, and make the one loaf into many; draw water for those who are thirsty, and may it be unto them as the wine of heaven; make the bed of affliction, soften the pillow of pain; send into the hearts of the people a spirit of love and generosity and beneficence; and may we know that life is only noble as it gives, and lives in others, and delights in spreading sunshine and joy. Let the Book of the Lord be a flame of fire in the night-time and a pillar of cloud in the day season; in our right hand may there be a rod, in our left hand a staff. Thy rod and thy staff shall comfort us, and the valley of the shadow of death shall have in it no evil or darkness because of the Lord's presence. Help us to sing again loudly, sweetly, lovingly; and whilst we tarry in God's house, may we feel the nearness of the Lord's hand. Amen.
Balaam's Vision of the Church
Let Israel, as gathered within sight of Moab, be regarded as representing the Church of the living God: let Balak, king of Moab, be regarded as representing all the forces which encounter the Church of the living God with suspicion or hostility: let Balaam be regarded as the prophet of the Lord standing between the Church and the kingdoms of heathenism, and declaring the divine purpose, and dwelling in sacred and rapturous eloquence upon the condition, the forces, and the destiny, of the Church of Christ. Such are the conditions which are now before us:—Israel the Church, Balak heathenism and every manner of hostility, Balaam the voice of Heaven, the prophet of God. Such being the picture, what are the doctrines which underlie it and breathe through it and appeal to our confidence and imagination? First of all, the Church is represented as being "blessed." We read,—"And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed" (Numbers 22:12). To repeat that word is best to explain it. Some words refuse to pass into other terms, for they are themselves their best expositors;—blessed is one of those words. We are not taught that Israel was in a state of momentary enjoyment—passing through some transient experience of gladness; but Israel is represented as sealed with a divine benediction: Israel is blessed—not merely to be blessed, or reserved for blessing; but through eternity is blessed—set in sureness in the divine covenant, created and made a people by the divine knowledge and purpose and love. Here is no small contention as between momentary complacency and momentary hostility: we are in the eternal region, we are standing amid the august certainties of divine purpose, recognition and determination. The Church is, therefore, blessed—sealed, gathered around the Lord, set in his sight,—an inheritance, a possession, a sanctuary. That the Church does not rise to the glory of its election according to the divine purpose has no bearing whatever upon the argument. All things are in process; nothing is yet finished. Is it a temple?—the walls are being put up. Is it a tree?—the tree is yet in process of growing, and we Know nothing yet of its magnitude or its fruitfulness. Is it a character?—time is required, and we must read destiny—not in immediate appearances, but in the divine decree and in the inspired revelation. A man is not in reality what he appears to be at any given moment: man is as to possibility what he is in the divine thought. Until we have seen that thought in clearest realisation, it little becomes us to sneer at the meanest specimen of human nature, or to mock the handiwork of God. Let this stand: that there is a family, a Church, an institution—describe it by any name—which is "blessed";—in other words, there is a spot on the earth on which the divine complacency rests like a Sabbath-light; we may well consider our relation to that place; it would not be unbecoming even the dignity of reason to ask what its own relation is to that sacred and ever-blessed position.
This being the case, the negative seems to become the positive when we read that the Church of the living God is beyond the power of human cursing. Said Balaam,—"How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed?" That is a great principle. Balaam might use the words of cursing, but there would be no anathema in his impotent speech. The curse of man cannot get within the sanctuary of God. The Church is hidden within the pavilion of the Most High: the Church is beyond "the strife of tongues": the curses are all outside noises—like the wings of night-birds beating against the eternal granite. "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper";—the weapon shall be formed, the weapon shall be lifted up, the weapon shall apparently come down; but it shall miss thee, and cut nothing but the vacant air. Unless we have some such confidence as this, we shall be the sport of every rumour, exposed to every wild alarm, without peace: in the whole week there will be no Sabbath day, after the day's tumult there will be no time of repose: the house will be open to the encroachment of every evil. We must, therefore, stand in great principles, and take refuge in the sanctuary of divine and revealed appointments. You cannot injure the really good man: you may throw many stones at him, but you will never strike him; much speech may be levelled against him, but the speech will be without point. A good man is the Lord's jewel; a soul in harmony with the Christian purpose is a soul hidden in the security of God's almightiness. That we do not realise this is to our shame and not to the discredit of the inspired testimony. When a Christian is in alarm, he is doing more injury to the Christian cause than can be done by any outside assailants; when the good man interrupts his prayer by some expression of fear or doubt, he is doing more to invalidate every argument for the sufficiency of prayer than can be done by the most penetrating intellectual criticism or by the most audacious unbelief. Our religion is nothing if it does not make us feel our security and turn that security into a temple of living and daily praise. It still lies, therefore, with the believer to injure his cause, to bring discredit upon God's temple, and to expose the Eternal Father to human suspicion. Let us beware of this, lest the enemies of God should be found in his own household.
Is there not something in the condition of the Church that might excite—shall we call it?—the envy—the religious envy of the world? Read chapter Numbers 23:10—"Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?" The Church grows upon the attentive vision; at first it does not seem to be what it really is, but as the prophet looks the little one becomes a thousand and the small nation becomes a great empire, and those who were of little account from a physical point of view rise into immeasurable proportions of force and possibilities of service. The Church is—let us repeat—what God sees it to be: God sees it to be the power of the world, the light to illuminate it, the salt to preserve it, the city to be as a beacon in relation to it. The Lord has said that the Church shall overcome all opposition. The time in which it is about to do this is, by our reckoning, very long—so long, that our poor patience almost expires and our faith sharpens itself into an almost doubtful inquiry, saying,—O Lord! how long?—the wicked are robust, evil-minded men are many in number, and virtue seems to be cast out upon the street and to be exposed to a very precarious fortune—O Lord! how long? It is a natural question, full of reasonableness from a merely human point of view, and it never can be suppressed except by that increase cf faith which makes our life superior to the death-principle that is in us—that fills us with a sense of already-realised immortality. Balaam saw Israel to be an innumerable host. Numbers played a great part in the imagination of the Eastern mind, and the Lord, touching the imagination of Balak along the only accessible lines, makes Balaam speak about the great host. Why, the dust of it could not be counted; no reckoning could sum up the fourth part of Israel; and as the numbers increased and came down in threatening countless multitudes upon the imagination of Balak, he was staggered by the vision of the majesty of Israel. That is the view we must take of the case. Let God number his Church. He teaches us by all these allusions that numbering is impossible on our part. We do but vex ourselves by taking the statistics of the Church: only God can take them, and he so represents them as to dazzle the imagination—to throw our power of reckoning into absolute despair. From the beginning, he spoke thus about numbers: he would never entrust us with the exact numerical secret; when he told one man how many children he should have, he said,—More than the stars, more than the sands upon the sea-shore,—innumerable. God's arithmetic is not a pronounceable quantity; it touches the imagination and excites the wonder, until imagination and wonder consent in their intellectual impotence to fall down like white-robed worshippers and say,—Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, thou Father in heaven!
According to Balaam, the Church is named in an unchangeable decree: "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" (Numbers 23:19). This is not a God that can be changed by temptation or whose decrees can be varied by circumstances. We do not surprise him by our sin. He does not alter the will because the younger son has gone away contrary to his expectation: when he made the will he foresaw the apostasy. There is nothing omitted from the divine reckoning. He saw the sin before he called me his child; he knew every time the arm of rebellion would be lifted and every time the voice of unbelief would challenge the integrity of his promises. The will overrides all these things: the Testator foresaw them, and the covenant was made in view of them. Herein is comfort, but not licence; herein is a great security, but no permission to tempt the living God. The view which the divine eye took of the whole situation was a complete view; reckoning up all sides, all forces, all possibilities and issues, the decree went forth, that out of this human nature, come whence it may—straight from God's hands, in one form or the other, it must have come—this human nature shall be the temple of the living God, and out of those human eyes shall gleam the fire of divinity. If we believed anything short of this, our testimony would not be worth delivering—at best, it would be but a happy conjecture, or a fanciful possibility, wanting in lines of solidity, and in characteristics of certainty—wanting in the absoluteness which alone can give a steadiness of position to the human will and the destiny of the human career. Were all these covenants, arrangements and promises open to mere criticism of a verbal kind, we should have no inheritance—we should be but beggars to the last, living upon appearances and exhausting the unsubstantial fortune of illusory hopes; but our Christian position is,—God is unchangeable, the covenant is unalterable, the good man is the accepted of God, and the almightiness of God is pledged to see the good man through river, sea, wilderness, and the battle, being God's, can only end in one way.
According to Balaam's vision of the Church, Israel is guiltless and royal. This is proved by chapter Numbers 23:21—"He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them."
Herein is the mystery of love. Already we begin to see the meaning of the marvellous expression—"Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel"—whilst, from the human point of view, he has never seen anything else. The whole history up to this point has been on the part of Israel or Jacob a disclosure of meanness, selfishness, complaining, perfidy, and perverseness. Both the statements are perfectly true. They may not be open to the cheap reconciliation of mere verbal adjustment, but they are strictly in harmony with the great central line which unites and consolidates the universe. God does not judge in great and final senses by the detailed slips, losses, mistakes, misadventures, follies, and sins of his people;—what a life would be God's eternity could it be vexed by these details! We are lacking in the divine charity which sees the "man" within the "sinner"—which sees behind the iniquity the divine seed. We are lacking in the divine benevolence which distinguishes between the action of the hand—which sometimes does not express the motion of the will—and the inward and set purpose of the sanctified soul. We count ourselves clever if we can trip one another up in discrepancies of speech, in small or great shortcomings,—if we can but record a heavy score against some brother, as to a lapse here and a mistake there, and some evil deed yonder. God does not measure the man or Church according to that standard and method: he sees the purpose, he reads the soul, and he sees that nowhere is there a redder blush of shame for anything evil which the hand has done than in the soul of the man who has been convicted as the trespasser. So there are two views to be taken of the Church—the small view, the magisterial criticism, the estimate which is formed by the ingenuity that is most successful in fault-finding; or the view which is taken by God's purpose, by divine charity, by eternal election and decree. God's purpose is to have the uttermost parts of the earth for an inheritance and a possession; and already the earth may be called his:—"The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof"—not looked at here and now and within given lines—so looked at it is the devil's earth, it is ripped and seamed by ten thousand times ten thousand graves;—little children's bones are rotting in it, bad men are building their thrones and palaces upon it. The devil's hunting-ground is this earth within a narrow or limited point of view; but in the divine purpose, in the great outcome of things, this earth is verdant as the upper paradise, pure as spotless snow,—a sanctuary of the Lord; all lands and languages, all seas, all thrones, all powers, are baptized in the Triune Name, and the whole earth is a worthy annexe of God's own heaven. Take any other view, and you become at once unsettled, unsteady, depleted of all enrichment arising from confidence and hope and promise. This is the true view, for it is the view given in the Scriptures of God.
Balaam recognises the operation of a miracle in all this. He describes Israel as a supreme miracle of God. He says,—"... according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!" (Numbers 23:23). Thus the Church becomes the uppermost miracle. From the first it did not seem such workmanship was possible: the material was rough, the conditions were impracticable,—everything seemed to be as different as possible from the grace and purpose of Heaven; but years passed on, and the generations and the ages, and still the mighty Worker continued with patient love to carry forward his purpose, and already chaos seems to be taking shape, already some notes harmonious are heard through all the harsh discord, already there is the outlining of a horizon radiant with the silver of rising day, already God seems to be subduing, overruling, controlling, and establishing things; and looking further on the prophet says,—"According to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!"—how wondrous the transformation; how sublime the moral majesty; how gracious the complete deliverance! That, again, is our standing ground. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord." It is not within our little ability to establish the divine kingdom upon the earth; but God will bring in an everlasting kingdom: he "will overturn, overturn, overturn,... until he come whose right it is." So we wait on in patience—patience often sorely troubled, patience that is vexed by many a question from the hostile side: men say,—"Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation"—not seeing the invisible Hand, not having that sharp vision which perceives the rectification of lines so fibrous and so delicate, not knowing that God's transformation is being worked from the interior; that it is not a case of external painting but a case of spiritual regeneration, and according to the majesty of the subject within whose life this mystery is to be accomplished is the time which even God requires for the outworking and consummation of his miracle.
Then Balaam paints a picture—such a picture as would appeal to the Eastern imagination. He compares Jacob and Israel to the most beautiful of all spectacles; he says,—"How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters. He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted" (Numbers 24:5-7). Why speak so much about streams and rivers and waters?—because nothing appealed so vividly to the Oriental imagination. To have plenty of water was to be rich in the days of Balaam and in the country of Balak. So Balaam, taught by the Lord to speak the music of truth and of heaven, speaks of Jacob and Israel as being "valleys" where the water rolled, "as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign aloes... and as cedar trees beside the waters." In other parts of the Old Testament those same cedar trees are spoken of with the rapture of poetry:—they put out their dark roots towards the river, they suck up the streams, and they report the success of the root in the far-spreading branches which seem to have lifted themselves up to the very clouds of heaven. Every country has its own standards of success, its own signs of prosperity, its own symbols which most vividly appeal to the imagination of the inhabitants; and water constituted the great object of admiration and of thankfulness in the Eastern mind. And then the King that was coming was to be "higher than Agag" (Numbers 22:7). The word "Agag" means "high"; the word "Agag" is the name of the Amalekite kings, as "Pharaoh" was the name of the kings of Egypt, and "Abimelech" the name of the kings of the Philistines; so Agag is not any one personal king but the you or I of the Amalekite nation; and when Balak and his hosts looked upon their mighty Agag, Balaam said,—He is a child compared with the coming King—a mere infant of days compared with the crowned One of Jacob; when He comes whose right it is to reign, all other kings and princes will acknowledge his right, and fall down before him, and pay their crowns as tribute to his majesty.
This, then, is the position of the Church of Christ. We believe a great future is in store for the Church. Were we to look at the Church within given lines, we should say,—Great is its poverty, very questionable its intellectual standpoint; a very troubled community is the Church—vexing itself by divers theologies and conceptions and theories and speculations. But we must not look at the question in that way. Call for the Lord's prophet: let "the man whose eyes are open" be called to stand on the hills of Moab, and his speech will be:—
Almighty God, the way to thee is a broad way. We may come boldly to a throne of grace. The access which thy Son has wrought out for us is a great access. We will approach thee by the way which he has marked out. So we advance without fear, and can even venture to lift up our eyes unto heaven. At the very moment when we smite upon our breast, we have confidence in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. We think we could now bear to look upon the shaded glory of the Lord of hosts. We have been with Jesus, and have learned of him. At first we were afraid of the great fire, saying, Behold, it burns like an oven, and is hot as the wrath of justice. But now we know thee. God is love. Thou dost wait to be gracious, thou dost live for thy creation. We feel as if thou thyself wert praying for us in the very act of answering our petition. Thou dost make our prayer for us; it is the inditing of thy Holy Spirit in the heart. It is a speech we never invented, but which we receive and adopt as the good gift of God, relieving our heart as it does of the pressure of its pain and expressing happily all the desire of its necessity. Thou dost teach us how to pray. Thou wouldest have us praying always and never faint. Help us, then, to pray without ceasing, as we live without ceasing. We live whilst we sleep, we live in our unconsciousness; the life still keeps beating on ready for the morning of expectation and service and sacrifice. So may we pray in our very unconsciousness—yea, when we do not know we are praying in form and in set petition. May our life so acquire the sacred habit of the upward look and the heavenly expectation that without a word we may mightily cry unto the Father-Heart. We bless thee that we have experience of this kind. We are ashamed of our words: they are wings that cannot fly far; our souls must of themselves, in all the speechlessness of enraptured love, seek thee, find thee, and hold long and sweet communion with thee. We would live and move and have our being in God. This prayer thou dost never deny. Thou dost keep wealth from us, and prosperity, and renown, and riches, and honour, and ease; these things thou dost drive away with a sharp wind; but never didst thou say No to the soul that longed to be purer, to the heart that desired to be cleansed. May we find great answers to our petitions. They are addressed to thee in the appointed way, they are sealed with the name of Christ; every syllable is sprinkled with the blood of reconciliation; we say nothing out of our own name, or because of our own invention; we speak the Lord's prayer in the Lord's name, and we are sure of the Lord's answer. We cannot tell thee what thou dost not know; yet thou dost love to hear us talk; thou delightest in the speech of man; there is something in it which we ourselves cannot hear; thou art carried back to thine own eternity. Even in our poor attempts to speak thou hearest a music which no other ear can detect in the utterances of man. What is that music? Is it a cry of pain? Is it the note of a voice of one who is lost in a wild night and cannot tell the east from the west, or where the sweet home lies warm with hospitable welcomes? Thou knowest there is divinity in it—a strange pulsing of the eternal music. When we speak thus to thee, in the name of Jesus, our music becomes a mighty prayer, and thine answer encompasses the heavens like a cloud too rich with blessing for the very heavens to contain. Lead us on. We do not know where the grave is, nor do we care. It may be one foot off, or many a mile away, hidden among the years that are yet to be numbered by tens and twenties. Whether it is already dug, or is not to be dug for many a day, what care we? Being in Christ we cannot die; rooted in the Life Eternal, death can but touch the outer frame. We ourselves are already in heaven. Amen.