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SERMON XXX.

ON THE DANGER OF INDECISION ON THE SUBJECT OF

RELIGION.

NUMBERS xxii. 18.

And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.

THIS resolution of Balaam appears worthy of the highest commendation. We cannot but applaud the conduct of a man who prefers the sacrifice of the highest worldly advantages to the violation of his duty to his God.

But, alas! this resolution was evidently dictated more by the fear of punishment than by a correct sense of duty. Balaam was selected by the Almighty to be one of those prophets by whom the Divine counsels were communicated to mankind; he was therefore urged by the most powerful considerations to render implicit obedience to the commands of God, and to be the passive instrument of his infinitely wise and sovereign purposes. When, therefore, Balak, the king of Moab, sent to him an entreaty to come and curse the chosen people of the Lord, those whom he knew it was the purpose of God to bless, it was his duty to have rejected instantly the impious request; but, loving the wages of unrighteousness, he ran greedily after reward. Allured by the splendid gifts

which Balak sent by his servants, Balaam indulged a secret wish that he would be allowed to curse the people of Israel; but God, who designed to make Balaam the organ of the predictions of the splendid destinies of the Jewish people, and of the advent of the Messiah, the Star which was to come out of Jacob, and the Sceptre that was to arise out of Israel, permitted him to go with the servants of Balak. As, however, the views of Balaam were mercenary and impious, God's anger was kindled because he went, and he was miraculously reproved. Still we find he persevered in his wicked purposes, and, urged by the tempting offers of Balak, went from place to place, offering sacrifices and practising the superstitious rites of the heathen, in the vain and blasphemous hope that he should at length succeed in prevailing on the Almighty to permit him to curse the enemies of Balak.

Indecision of conduct, arising from the love of the wages of unrighteousness, was the disgrace and the crime of Balaam. His soul was not callous to the fear and reverence of the Almighty; for we find him repeatedly declaring, in the words of my text—“ If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more." Nor was he a stranger to the sentiments of admiration of piety and virtue, since we find him bursting forth in the pious exclamation-" Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his." But these pious sentiments were controlled by the sordid passion of avarice-" He ran greedily," is the record concerning him, "after rewards." Hence we perceive him parleying with the tempting offers of Balak, instead of instantly rejecting them; we

find him in some degree the tool of this impious king, and led by him to practise against Israel the arts of divination, instead of consistently adhering to the counsels of the Lord his God.

Indecision was his disgrace and his crime.

My brethren, is Balaam a singular character? Has succeeding ages wiped off from human nature the stain of irresolution and indecision in the concerns of religion, and in the duties which we owe to God? Do we perceive men, who acknowledge the obligations of piety and virtue, and the infinite importance of conciliating the favour of him who is able to save and to destroy, displaying corresponding resolution and decision in their conduct? Do we behold them decidedly ranking themselves among the disciples of the Lord, professing a sense of their complete dependence upon him, and of their duty to serve him; and in opposition to the sneers of the scoffer, to the persecution of the ungodly, to the allurements of wealth, to the solicitations of pleasure, to all the temptations of a world which lieth in wickedness, preserving their allegiance to their heavenly Sovereign, and uniformly obeying all his commands? On the contrary, observation teaches that the principles of human nature are still the same; and that the same indeeision in the concerns of religion which we condemn in the character of Balaam, is still manifested among men. We see numbers hesitating to make that decided choice of the service of God which reason, conscience, and his holy word assure them is their duty, and will prove their felicity. We see numbers who acknowledge the obligations of religion, and whose hearts are interested with her excellence, her consolations, and her joys, still

irresolute in yielding themselves to her sway— unwilling to relinquish that supreme pursuit of the wealth, the pleasures, and honours of the world— that complete subserviency to the dictates of worldly interest which religion forbids, and which is incompatible with her spirit and her precepts. We see some who, to a certain degree, prove themselves the servants of God, who publicly profess his name, attend his worship, and in many respects discharge the obligations of his laws, still cherishing indulgences hostile to virtue and offensive to God; we see them often parleying with temptation, and finally, perhaps, borne down the current. Alas! brethren, that indecision which led Balaam to wish to violate the purposes of the Almighty, and which prevented him from yielding unreserved obedience to the Divine commands, is still the cause why so many, who profess, in general, a reverence for religion and a sense of its obligations, are still found living in neglect of its institutions, and in the violation of its laws-are still found frequently in the ranks of those who consider worldly objects and sensual pursuits as the sources of their highest enjoyment, and who make them the highest objects of pursuit. Many, who, it is to be feared, never attain that consistent and uniform piety which alone can exalt them to the favour of God and the felicity of heaven, owe their failure to that indecision which leads them to balance between the gratification of their passions and the pursuit of the things which belong to their eternal peace.

To what condemnation is not this indecision justly liable?

1. Is it not justly subject to reproach? 2. Is it not culpable?

1. Is it not justly subject to reproach? That self-possession, that deliberation in judg ment, that caution in our conduct, which prevent precipitaney in adopting principles, and rashness in acting upon them, are necessary to correctness of principle and conduct, and essential to our usefulness and dignity. But these qualities are perfectly compatible with decision of character, and would be worse than useless without them. He whose judgment is convinced, while he wants energy of mind to follow its guidance-whose conscience clearly points out the course of duty, while he is destitute of resolution to pursue it-whose principles are correct, while he will not summon boldness to profess and to maintain them-evidences an indecision which, in the opinion of the world, would subject him to merited reproach. Of all weaknesses, that would seem among the most disgraceful, which sacrifices judgment, conscience, and principle, to timidity and irresolution; of all misconduct, that seems among the most dishonourable, which, through cowardly indecision, yields to temptation.

In concerns of a temporal nature, indecision, while it defeats the best concerted plans, and frustrates the most correct designs, is always considered an evidence of a weakness of purpose, which exposes its possessor to pity, if not to censureand of an absence of those dignified and ardent feelings which are the companions and safeguards of virtue, the means and the pledges of success and honour. The reproach with which, in worldly affairs, the judgment of mankind brands indecision, is heightened in matters of religion, in the same proportion that the latter surpass the former in VOL. II.

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