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THE GREATEST GAIN OR LOSS.
“Let me die the death of the righteous.”- NUMB. XXIII. 10.
It is no strange phenomenon that an ungodly man should express a good desire ; but the wish is either on his lips alone, or else the good which he has in view is simply what is agreeable to his own nature, and has no reference to right or wrong before the God of truth and judgment. His desire is for the advantage, without regard to the moral means by which that advantage is secured.
Here was Balaam, a thoroughly worldly man, and one who is set forth in the epistles of Peter and of Jude, among other children of disobedience, as an example of ungodliness and its miserable end. He was one of those who have prophesied in Christ's name,--who have had their intellect enlightened while their heart has remained unchanged,—who have known their Lord's will, but have done it not, because they loved it not, and to whom he shall say, “ Depart from me ;
I never knew you." Yet mark his aspiration,--"Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.” Brethren, this is no unusual wish. Perhaps, if
. the secrets of men's hearts were known, we should find, that whatever great swelling words the tongue may sometimes boast, there lives not on earth the soul, arrived at years of understanding, who has not, at one time or other, felt a similar desire. Certainly, there are few so utterly like the beasts that perish, as never to have had hopes or fears about a life beyond the present; and there are few whose consciences are so seared with a hot iron, as to have satisfied themselves, that however they abuse the life that now is, all shall be well with them in that which is to come. There is a Voice which whispers even to the worst of men, that it shall be well with the righteous, and with them alone; and this testimony of Conscience excites instinctively a desire, that however their lives may differ, their deaths and latter end may be alike.
There are three questions suggested by the text, which require particular consideration. First, Who are “the righteous ?" Secondly, How does
their death differ from that of others? And, thirdly, How can the desire to “ die the death of the righteous " be accomplished ?
Our first inquiry is, Who are the righteous ? The all-seeing eye of God pierces to its depths every individual heart of the millions of mankind; and the Word of that God has divided those millions into two separate and distinct classes, by a judgment according unto truth. He sees things as they are; he calls them by their real names; and his testimony concerning man is, that two generations exist on earth,--the right'eous and the wicked--the evil and the good—the just and the unjust. There is no possible third, or neutral ground. Whether we be young or old, high or low, of whatever kindred, people, or tongue, ---righteous or wicked, each separate soul stands before the Judge of all.
We are so prone to self-deception as to our real condition before God, that it is most important to bear in mind this twofold division. We are, every one of us, among the wheat or among the tares, the good fish or the bad, the sheep or the goats, the wise virgins or the foolish, the children of the Kingdom or the children of the Wicked One. There are numbers who will readily admit that they are not good enough to go to Heaven, and
yet are confident they are not bad enough to go to Hell. But the idea of a middle state is a pure delusion; and if God should require our souls of us this moment, we should each go to his own place among the righteous or the wicked,—the spirits of just men made perfect, or the spirits in prison who have been disobedient, and of whom the uttermost farthing is demanded.
The one should be taken, and the other left. This very day we should each be either with the Lord in Paradise, or lift up our eyes in Hell, being in torment.
But the Word of truth not only marks out thus plainly these two classes : it also declares the principle on which the division is made by Him who judges righteously. Here is the wisdom of God, to some indeed a stumbling-block, and to others foolishness :—the man who is “in Christ” is the righteous ;-the man who is “without Christ” is the wicked. He who hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
We know the Scripture says, “There is none righteous; no, not one;" “all are gone out of the way: they are altogether become abominable;" and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” And could we all but see ourselves with the eyes of God, we should both acknowledge and feel that the
witness is true. This is the state of all by nature, without one exception. But the same Scriptures reveal to us God's Righteous Servant, in whom he is well pleased; and this is “the Lord our Righteousness.” We come to Him by faith, and he takes from us our filthy garments, and clothes us with change of raiment. We believe on Him, and are justified from all things, for he has borne our iniquities. We cast ourselves at his feet in all our wretchedness and poverty and nakedness, and receive from him blessing, gold tried in the fire, raiment white and clean; for as Jesus Christ the righteous was “made sin for us,” so, sinners as we are, we are “made the righteousness of God in him.”
Our iniquities have indeed reached unto the heavens, and are a sore burden too heavy to bear; nor have we one particle of righteousness when the Lord God looks upon us in love and pity, draws us to his Son, and bids us live. It was for sinners that Christ died; it is the ungodly whom God justifies; it is when enemies we are reconciled to him; and it is he who believeth on the Son that hath everlasting life. For the sake of Him who is our Righteousness, our Peace, and our Life, God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel. Blessed is the