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What a picture is this of human frailty! The mind discouraged on one account, looks not out for circumstances of alleviation and comfort, but gives itself up to disquietude and dejection. Temporal blessings lose all their relish. Let even the bread of life be administered to persons in such a frame, they can taste no sweetness in it; the promises of God seem not suited to their case; nor are they sufficient for their support. They “cannot hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.” If they even turn their minds to the right object, it is only to confirm their own doubts, and to augment their own sorrows. Their experience is like that of Asaph, “My sore ran in the night, and ceased not; my soul refused to be comforted: I remembered God, and was troubled b."] 2. A murmuring spirit
[How lamentable to hear them on this occasion accusing God and his servant Moses of having brought them out of Egypt with a view to deceive their expectations and to kill them in the wilderness ! But the mind, once thrown off its bias, will stop short of nothing, unless it be restrained by the grace of God. Let any one that has been in deep affliction, look back and see, whether he has not found his mind rise against the immediate authors of his calamities, and ultimately against God himself, for having appointed him so hard a lot d? It is true, we do not perhaps intend to accuse God; but we do it in effect; because, whoever be the instrument, it is his hand that smites. Whether Chaldeans or Sabeans invaded the property of Job, or tempests destroyed his family, the holy sufferer referred the events to God, as their true author. Without God, not a hair of our head could be touched, even if the whole world were confederate against us : when therefore we murmur at the calamities we suffer, we murmur in reality against him who sends them.]
It may be asked perhaps, How could they help yielding to this discouragement ? That they might have done so, will appear, whilst we shew, III. The way in which they should have fortified
themselves against itIt behoved them in this trouble, as indeed in every other, to consider, 1. Whence it came
[It did not spring out of the dust; it came from God; even from him who had brought them out of Egypt, and had supported them to that very hour. Had they not had evidence enough of God's power and goodness during the nine and
b Ps. lxxvii. 2, 3. c Isai. viii. 21, 22. d Prov. xix. 3.
thirty years that they had continued in the wilderness? and did it not become them to place their confidence in him, though they could not see the immediate reason of his dispensations?
Thus should we do, when tempted to disquietude and despondency: we should say, “ It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good :" сир
Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" Yes ; "when walking in darkness, we should stay ourselves upon our God;" and determine with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." This was the expedient to which David resorted in the midst of all his troubles, and which he found effectual to compose his mind; "he encouraged himself in the Lord his Gode."] 2. For what end it was sent
[God has expressly stated the end for which he tried them so long in the wilderness : it was, “to humble them, and to prove them, that they might know what was in their hearts?." And was not the prospect of such an end sufficient to reconcile them to the means used for the attainment of it? Let us also consider the ends for which our afflictions are sent: are they not sent with a view to make us partakers of his holiness ?" Who would be discouraged at his trials, if he reflected on the necessity which there is for them, and the blessed fruit that shall spring from them? Doubtless, they are “not joyous for the present, but grievous :” nevertheless the refiner's fire may well be endured, if only it purge us from our dross, and make us, as
vessels of honour, meet for our Master's use."] 3. The certain issue of it, if duly improved
[They were well assured that God would fulfil his promises. Even their recent victory over the Canaanites was a pledge and earnest of their future conquests. What if they did not understand the way of the Lord? The direction they had taken at their first departure from Egypt had appeared to their fathers to be erroneous: but it had proved “the right way;" and they should have been satisfied, that this, though alike mysterious, would have a similar issue; and that the number and greatness of their trials would ultimately redound to the glory of their God, and to their own real happiness
Thus we should bear in mind that all our afflictions are working together for good, and that, " light and momentary in themselves, they are working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Did we but consider this, we should be content to suffer, till we had filled up our appointed measure: yea, we should even “glory in our tribulations,” knowing that we are to be “made perfect by them,” and that “they are our appointed way to the kingdom of heaven.")
e 1 Sam. xxx. 6. with Ps. xlii. 11. f Deut. viii. 2.
[Certain it is that "we have need of patience, in order that, when we have done the will of God, we may inherit the promises.” But let not any of the sons and daughters of aflliction yield to discouragement. If their trials be great, their supports and consolations shall be great also. Are they particularly discouraged at the thought of their weakness and sinfulness? let them recollect, what a fulness of merit and of grace is treasured up for them in Jesus; that “where sin has abounded, his grace shall much more abound; and that his strength shall surely be perfected in their weakness."]
THE BRASEN SERPENT. Numb. xxi. 8, 9. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee
a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole : and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole: and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
IT is said in Scripture, that, “where sin hath abounded, grace shall much more abound.” This declaration, if received as a licence for sin, would be pernicious in the extreme: but, if taken as an encouragement to repent, its tendency is most consolatory and beneficial. That God has magnified his grace towards the most unworthy of men, and even taken occasion from their wickedness to display the unbounded extent of his own mercy, is certain : we need only read the history of the Israelites in the wilderness, and we shall be fully convinced of this. Their conduct was most perverse. They were truly a stiff-necked people. Notwithstanding all their experience of God's kindness towards them, they could never confide in him, but were always murmuring, and always rebelling. By their wickedness they brought down upon themselves the divine judgments; but no sooner did they implore forgiveness, than God returned to them in mercy, and put away his judgments far from them. We have a very singular instance of this in the history before us; where we are informed, that God had, on account of their murmurings, sent fiery flying serpents to destroy them; but, on the intercession of Moses, had appointed them an easy remedy, by the use of which their wounds were healed, and their calamities removed.
We propose to consider,
The need of God's interposition was exceeding urgent
[The wilderness abounded with serpents, such as the camp was now infested with. They were of a very malignant nature, causing by their bite a fatal inflammation b. Multitudes of the people had been bitten by them: many were dying; and many were already dead. In vain did any of them seek an antidote against the venom, with which they were in hourly expectation of being infected: nor could any means be devised to abate its force. What then could the people do? To arm themselves against the danger, was impossible: they were assailable on every side: the serpents being winged, their assaults were irresistible. In this extremity, they apply themselves to Him, who alone was able to deliver. They humble themselves before their God; and they entreat Moses to intercede for them. If God have not mercy on them, they must all perish. Such was the extremity to which they were reduced.]
But the manner in which he interposed was strange and unaccountable
[God ordered a serpent to be made of brass, as like as possible to those which bit the people: and that serpent he commanded to be erected on a pole, in order that the wounded persons might look unto it and be healed. But what connexion was there between the means and the end? Of what use could a piece of brass be, or what could it signify of what shape it was? Of what service could it be to look upon If it were used in a way of friction; or if it were reduced to powder and swallowed; or any mixture were made with an infusion of brass in it; one might suppose it possible that such a prescription might be of some use: there might be some affinity between the remedy and the disease: but, when such an order as that in our text was given, it seemed rather as if God were only “laughing at their calamity, and mocking, now that their fear was come."]
Strange however as this might appear at the time, the reason of it is clear to us, who know,
a Deut. viii. 15.
• They are probably called “ fiery" on this account, rather than from their colour.
II. The mystery contained in it-
deepest mysteries of our holy religion were shadowed forth by it, we are well assured, because our blessed Lord has expressly referred to it as illustrative and explanatory of them. Let us, for distinctness' sake, consider, 1. The provision made
[God ordered that a brasen serpent should be made like unto the other serpents, (but without their venom;) and that it should be erected on a pole in the midst of the
And herein was a great mystery. What, I would ask, is the provision which God has made for the recovery of a ruined world? Has he not sent his only dear Son into the world, to be made “ in the likeness of sinful flesh,” yea, to be "made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted?" Has he not caused that glorious Person to be suspended on a cross, and to yield up own life a sacrifice for sin ? Has he not moreover commanded that in every place, and in every age, that adorable Saviour should, by the preaching of the everlasting Gospel, be “evidently set forth crucified before the eyes of mend?" Here then we behold that which was prefigured by the brasen serpent. In affirming this, we speak only what our Lord himself has declarede. Indeed on several different occasions did he refer to this type, as to receive in due season its accomplishment in him?. O how are we indebted to God for the light of his blessed Gospel! Little did the Israelites know what a stupendous mercy was here exhibited to their view. Doubtless, as a mere ordinance for the healing of their bodies, they would be thankful for it; but how thankful should we be, who see in it such a wonderful provision for our souls! Let us contemplate it: God's co-equal, co-eternal Son, Jehovah's Fellow, made incarnate! The Deity himself assuming our nature with all its sinless infirmities, and dying an accursed death upon the cross! and this too for the salvation of his own rebellious creatures ! O let us never for one moment forget, that this is the means which God has appointed for our deliverance from death and hell: let us contemplate it, till our hearts are altogether absorbed in wonder, love, and praise.] 2. The direction given
[The only thing which the Israelites had to do, was, to look unto the brasen serpent. There was nothing else required of them: they were not first to heal themselves in part; or to apply any other remedy in conjunction with this: nor
c Rom. viii. 3. with Heb. ii. 17. and iv. 15. d Gal. ii. 1. e John iii. 14.
f John viii. 28. and xii. 32.