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CONTEST WITH TEMPTATION,
ILLUSTRATED IN THE
HISTORY OF THE CHURCH AT PERGAMOS.
REVELATION ii. 12-17.
my last discourse on this epistle, I considered the introductory description which is given of our Saviour, "who hath the sharp sword with two edges;" and then the commendation bestowed on the Church of Pergamos-"I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is, and thou holdest fast my name and hast not denied my faith, even in those days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you where Satan dwelleth." These two divisions, connected with the practical remarks which grew particularly from the last, occupied our time on the last occasion, and I come at the present time to take up the subject where I then was compelled to leave it. The members of the Church of Pergamos, eminently as they were distinguished for their adherence to the great truths of their religion, were not, like those of Smyr
na, rich in the graces and virtues of the Christian life; they permitted some practices among them which were hateful in the eyes of a pure and holy God, and on account of which they received from the Spirit
III. A rebuke, as follows: "But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast them there that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate."
You plainly perceive, my brethren, that this is a part of my subject which requires a more than ordinary share of examination; for the rebuke passed upon the Church of Pergamos contains two specific charges, couched in terms which, to us of the present day, are not of very easy comprehension. The first charge is, that they had among them those who held "the doctrine of Balaam;" and the doctrine of Balaam is explained to be his having taught Balak, king of Moab, to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things offered to idols, and to commit fornication. Before it will be possible for us to arrive at the nature of the rebuke passed upon the members of the Church of Pergamos, it will be necessary to understand the character of the crime imputed to Balaam; and for this purpose I shall be constrained to carry back your attention to a portion of the history of the children of Israel; a history at once deeply interesting, and full of the most important instruction. I can hardly suppose my hearers ignorant of the history of Balaam, as it is recorded
so fully in the book of Numbers. You will recollect that in the indulgence of the superstitious feeling of the age, Balak, king of Moab, had brought Balaam, who is represented as a prophet, to curse the advancing hosts of Israel. Balak supposed that after placing them under this malediction, he would the more easily achieve their conquest. It is impossible, in connexion with my present subject, to attempt to unravel the mysteries which surround the conduct and the character of Balaam. Suffice it to say, that I doubt whether the character which is generally attributed to him will bear the test of a very rigid scriptural examination, and I have been led to take the view of Bishop Horsely, who considers him as having been originally a true prophet of the Lord, but that he fell by reason of the magnitude of the temptations placed in his way. Be this as it may, the purpose of God was not to be frustrated in this way, and Balaam, instead of cursing, blesses the army of Israel, and by this, as Balak plainly tells him, lost the reward which he had intended to give him. This disappointment seems to have wrought a mighty transformation in the character of Balaam, and he determines to gain his recompense by teaching Balak to do by stratagem, that which he knew could not be accomplished by arms; and of all the deep-laid plans of policy to be imagined, it appears to me that this plan of Balaam evinced the greatest foresight and the greatest knowledge of the depravity of the heart of man. Balaam knew that God was with the children of Israel, and that as long as HE favoured them, all opposition was vain; his object then was to make them transgress the laws of God, so that God himself, in
his indignation, should deliver them up to their enemies. The way which he took to accomplish this well-laid plan was this. He appears to have counselled Balak to be quiet; to endeavour, under the disguise of a disposition for conciliation, to open an intercourse with the children of Israel; to employ the Midianitish and Moabitish women to allure the people to a course of criminal indulgence. The plan did succeed thus far, and the sacred history informs us that at that time the people of Israel began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. This was the first time that the Israelites had been betrayed into this sin; they had kept themselves hitherto from thus mingling with their heathen neighbours, and in all their rebellions had avoided that which so evidently contravened the divine intention, in keeping them a distinct and separate nation. Having succeeded thus far, however, Balak, by the advice of Balaam, advances one step further. Licentious indulgence of the kind alluded to, paved the way for an invitation to their idolatrous feasts, and the plan succeeded thus far also, for the sacred history tells us that they called the people to the feast of their gods, and that the people accepted their invitations. It was only necessary to take one step more. And the gradation was easy from licentious indulgence, and from partaking in their feasts, to idolatry; for when people have gone so far as they had, passion has gotten the mastery, and prudence and fidelity are gone; and so it was, for the sacred history still further tells us that the people, when they ate at these feasts, did bow down to their gods, and joined themselves to Baal-peor. Thus far, then, the plans of Balaam succeeded, and still further, as
he foresaw, for the sacred history again says, the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. This, then, is the doctrine or counsel of Balaam, alluded to in the text, and briefly recapitulated, it was that Balak, as he could not conquer the Israelites by open war, should endeavour by criminal indulgence to draw them to a free intercourse with the Midianites, and thus by slow, though sure degrees, to idolatry; so that God might forsake his people and leave them to their foes. In one thing, however, Balaam's counsel failed. He was mistaken in the issue of the business, and his mistake and his abominable policy cost him his unworthy life; for God, though he punished the people of Israel, did not deliver them into the hand of Balak. Their punishment was awful. All the instigators and ringleaders in this iniquity were hung in one day. By a plague, twenty-four thousand of the people perished, and by express command of God, the war was carried on immediately; the Midianites, almost totally extirpated; and Balaam, the contriver of this unrighteous plan, was found among the slain when the battle was over.
Now, my brethren, I have detailed the circumstances of the history thus minutely, that I may put you in possession of what I apprehend to be the exact bearing of this subject on the condition of the Church of Pergamos, and I have been more particular, because my views derived from this history seem to carry me further than any of the commentators I have been able to consult. I hope I may make myself perfectly intelligible.
You noticed in my last discourse, that the members of the Church of Pergamos were distinguished for their fidelity to doctrinal truth, and that persecu