Imatges de pÓgina
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solely on their obedience to the law of God; the women of the country therefore were by his advice instructed to seduce them. They invited them to their sacrificial entertainments, betrayed them into acts of lewdness and idolatrous prostrations before the god of their country; the consequence of which was, they were visited by a plague from heaven, and 24,000 of them received the just reward of their lewdness and apostacy.

Their crime and punishment are related ch. xxv.; and in ch. xxxi. the history informs us that Balaam was the author of the plot. These (the Midianitish women) caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor; and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.' You find the same fact referred to by St. John in the Revelations, that he taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.'

Nothing can indicate a mind more impious and desperate than this last action of Balaam. But Mr. Chubb excuses all by declaring, in direct opposition to the history, that he had no share in the contrivance. “ The people of Israel (he says) went among the Moabites and Midianites, and this introduced a familiarity betwixt them; and this gave the men of Israel an opportunity of debauching their young women, by gratifying their carnal desires on them ; and then those girls in return inticed them to idolatry.” As to Balaam, he was quite innocent. “ The Israelites invented and fixed this calumny on him; thereby to excuse and justify their imbruing their hands in his righteous blood.” A man must be hard driven indeed that has recourse to such a method as this of evading plain facts. Are not the crime and punishment of the Israelites consistent with the supposition of Balaam's being the contriver of both ? And is there not the same authority for the one as for the other ? How arbitrary then, and how insolent is it to admit one as fact, and reject the other as fiction, when both of them stand on the testimony of the same historian. This is not drawing characters from history, but making, perverting, and shaping history to characters already drawn.

* Ch. ii. 14,

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This plot to insnare the Israelites bears so hard on the cha-' racter of Mr. Chubb's hero, that he is resolved at all hazards to clear his hands of it. For this purpose he declares “ that Balaam, who was well instructed in the principles of religion, and according to the prophet Micah was so much concerned for the well-being of Balak as to point out to him the only grounds of divine acceptance;~that he should, at the same time, in the same conversation, and in the same breath, basely and wickedly instruct Balak how to corrupt Israel, is a supposition so monstrously unnatural and absurd, as would have shocked the faith of Pope Pius himself.”

I know of nothing more base and wicked, more unnatural and absurd, than for a writer, under a pretended love of truth, to pervert the minds of his readers with false history and bad reasoning. There is, I am afraid, a great deal of both in this paragraph. For where, I would fain know, does Balaam show such a pious concern for Balak? Mr. Chubb appeals to the prophet Micah,* but let me recommend to him to reconsider that passage, and give me good reason for ascribing the sentiments contained in it rather to Balaam than to the prophet himself. If he finds any authorities on his side, they pass for nothing; for a professed reasoner, I hope, will not give authority for argument. It is however incumbent on him to clear

up this point, as he lays great stress on it for supporting the character of Balaam. For my own part, I have little doubt but the sentiments were delivered in the person of the prophet, and that Balaam had no share in them. All that we learn from the history is, that whilst Balaam was with Balak on the mountains of Moab, he made sacrifices, consulted God, and blessed Israel. What authority then has Mr. Chubb for asserting that his advice. to. pervert the Israelites was given at the same time, in the same conversation, and the same breath? In what verse and chapter does he find this parade of circumstances? The his. tory is silent, and Mr. Chubb is silent too. He found it convenient to couple the facts together to prop a lame argument, and he hoped his readers would take it on his credit. The truth is, when Balaam had pronounced the last blessing on Israel, he

Ch vi.

was dismissed in disgrace. His plot to betray them was evia dently an after-thought, invented to recover the favor of Balak, and to merit at last the wages of unrighteousness.

See then the force of Mr. Chubb's argument to destroy the credit of the history, and to disculpate his hero. - Balaam was well instructed in the principles of religion, and therefore cannot be supposed guilty of so base and wicked an action.” But is not Balaam's case the case of every wilful sinner ? Do not all such offend against the light of their own minds? Did not Aaron make an idol for the children of Israel ? Was not David an adulterer, and Solomon an idolater? And yet I suppose it will be granted that each of them was at least as well instructed in the principles of religion as Balaam.

I do not wonder to find Mr. Chubb employing his small stock of drollery on the story of the ass: it has been the sport of infidels and freethinkers ever since such a race of men existed in the world. He thinks that the whole story is fabulous and incredible ; “ that what the ass offered in excuse must needs have appeared to her master an aggravation of her fault; and that though the voice was man's voice, the reasoning was that of an ass,” To say the truth, if we take the ass's reasoning as he has stated it, I can see nothing in it very illogical. I should think the long and faithful services of the creature was no improper circumstance to urge in excuse to her master for once offending him. Had Mr. Chubb reasoned no worse than the ass, his panegyric on Balaam would probably have passed without censure.

But was nothing more suggested than merely an excuse for tripping, when the ass demanded of her master, was I ever wont to do so unto thee ?' Where were Balaam's eyes, where was his reason and conscience, when he could discern no meaning in this unusual scene of things ? that a creature, which had for many years carried him with steadiness and safety, should now fail in so extraordinary a manner ; at one time springing on a sudden out of the road, at another starting and crushing his foot against a wall, at a third falling under him, and at last expostulating with human voice? These were startling circumstances, considering the business he was about; and had not his heart been corrupted, and his eyes blinded with avarice

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and ambition, must have appeared to be something more than accident. I am doubtful whether these considerations will have any weight with Mr. Chubb and his friends. I shall therefore suggest one thing more, that may perhaps better deserve to be considered.

What then if we suppose this whole transaction to be only a piece of scenery presented to him on his journey in a dream or vision ?* This was the usual method in which God revealed himself to his prophets; and the revelation is often recorded without distinguishing the manner of giving it, unless by some accidental circumstances that attended it. Interpreters seem to be agreed that God's instructions were in this manner delivered to Balaam; and the language of the history agrees very

; well with this supposition. When the first messengers came, they lodged with him that night;' and when he rose in the morning,' he gave them their answer. When they came second time, it is expressly said that God came to Balaam by night; and the readiness and unconcernedness with which he entered into debate with the ass, looks more like a circumstance of a vision than a real fact.

When a point in history will admit of more constructions than one, it is a just rule to follow that vhich best

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with the rest of the history, and is like to give least offence to the reader. Consider the story of the ass as a real fact, and

you fall into some difficulties, which even serious men will perhaps not easily get over. Suppose it to be no more than a piece of scenery

for Balaam's information and correction, and all difficulties vanish. You satisfy the doubts of sober minds, and at the same time stop the mouths of licentious scoffers.

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* St. Peter alludes to this circumstance, (2 Ep. ii. 16.) and says, "The dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet.' And these words, in the opinion of some learned men, necessarily suppose it to be a waking scene, and not the subject of a dream. Much might be said in answer to this were it necessary; but I shall only desire the reader to consider whether the words of St. Peter do not carry much the same force and propriety on one supposition as the other. The opinion here advanced is not a novelty and without authority; it is as old at least as Maimonides,

POSTSCRIPT.

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MR. Chubb's fourth dissertation carries the Bishop of Salisbury's name in the title ; and a reader would naturally imagine it was a confutation of some leading doctrine in his lordship’s sermon.* But the subject of the dissertation, however it happened, is quite foreign to the argument of the sermon.

The sermon opens with a short reflexion on a fact laid down in the text; and against this reflexion Mr. Chubb's argument pretends to be directed. The text says, the Israelites served the Lord all the days of Joshua,' &c.'; and the reflexion on it is, thus far all is well.' And is not obeying God doing well? This, I think, is all that the words import; and this is a proposition which I hope will not be disputed. Against whom then, or against what, is Mr. Chubb's quarrel ? Why, the fact laid down in the text, it seems, is not a real fact; the book of Joshua is a knavish performance; the Israelites were robbers and murderers, and consequently did not obey God. Well then, suppose they obeyed not God; will it follow that obeying God is not doing well? No, sure! This proposition stands as it did, unaffected by any speculations on the conduct of the Israelites. A Christian preacher that speaks to an assembly of Christians, supposes the truth and authority of Scripture, and appeals to and reasons from it as a common principle. Disputing the sense he gives to his principle, or his deductions from it, is something; but writing against the authority of the principle itself, is not writing against the preacher. Proving that the Israelites had no commission from God to expel the Canaanites, may affect the credit of the book of Joshua ; but it affects not the reasoning of the Bishop of Salisbury's sermon.

* A sermon preached by the Bishop of Salisbury, at Salisbury, October 6, 1745. on occasion of the rebellion in Scotland. [Sec vol. iii. p. 473.]

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