LORD BYRON’S STATUE.
BALAAM said, “I have sinned;” but yet he went on with his sin afterwards.
One of the strangest characters of the whole world is Balaam. I have often marveled at that man; he seems really in another sense to have come up to the lines of Ralph Erskine — “To good and evil equal bent, And both a devil and a saint. ” For he did seem to be so. At times no man could speak more eloquently and more truthfully, and at other times he exhibited the most mean and sordid covetousness that could disgrace human nature, Think you see Balaam; he stands upon the brow of the hill, and there lie the multitudes of Israel at his feet; he is bidden to curse them, and he cries, “How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed?” And God opening his eyes, he begins to tell even about the coming of Christ, and he says, “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh.” And then he winds up his oration by saying — “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” And ye will say of that man, he is a hopeful character.
Wait till he has come off the brow of the hill, and ye will hear him give the most diabolical advice to the king of Moab which it was even possible for Satan himself to suggest. Said he to the king, “You cannot overthrow these people in battle, for God is with them; try and entice them from their God.”
And ye know how with wanton lusts they of Moab tried to entice the children of Israel from allegiance to Jehovah; so that this man seemed to have the voice of an angel at one time, and yet the very soul of a devil in his bowels. He was a terrible character; he was a man of two things, a man who went all the way with two things to a very great extent. I know the Scripture says, “No man can serve two masters.” Now this is often misunderstood. Some read it, “No man can serve two masters.” Yes he can; he can serve three or four. The way to read it is this: “No man can serve two masters. ” They cannot both be masters. He can serve two, but they cannot both be his master. A man can serve two who are not his masters, or twenty either; he may live for twenty different purposes, but he cannot live for more than one master purpose — there can only be one master purpose in his soul. But Balaam labored to serve two; it was like the people of whom it was said, “They feared the Lord, and served other gods.” Or like Rufus, who was a loaf of the same leaven; for you know our old king Rufus painted God on one side of his shield, and the devil on the other, and had underneath, the motto: “Ready for both; catch who can.”
There are many such, who are ready for both. They meet a minister, and how pious and holy they are! On the Sabbath they are the most respectable and upright people in the world, as you would think; indeed they affect a drawling in their speech, which they think to be eminently religious. But on a week day, if you want to find the greatest rogues and cheats, they are some of those men who are so sanctimonious in their piety. Now, rest assured that no confession of sin can be genuine, unless it be a wholehearted one. It is of no use for you to say, “I have sinned,” and then keep on sinning. “I have sinned,” say you, and it is a fair, fair face you show; but alas, alas, for the sin you will go away and commit!
Some men seem to be born with two characters. I remarked when in the library at Trinity College, Cambridge, a very fine statue of Lord Byron.
The librarian said to me, “Stand here, sir.” I looked, and I said, “What a fine intellectual countenance! What a grand genius he was!” “Come here,” he said, “to the other side.” “Ah, what a demon! There stands the man that could defy the Deity.” He seemed to have such a scowl and such a dreadful leer in his face; even as Milton would have painted Satan when he said — “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” I turned away, and said to the librarian, “Do you think the artist designed this?” “Yes,” he said, “he wished to picture the two characters — the great, the grand, the almost superhuman genius that he possessed, and yet the enormous mass of sin that was in his soul.” There are some men of the same sort. I dare say, like Balaam, they would overthrow everything in argument with their enchantments; they could work miracles; and yet at the same time there is something about them which betrays a horrid character of sin, as great as that which would appear to be their character for righteousness. Balaam, you know, offered sacrifices to God upon the altar of Baal: that was just the type of his character. So many do; they offer sacrifices to God on the shrine of Mammon; and whilst they will give to the building of a church, and distribute to the poor, they will at the other door of their countinghouse grind the poor for bread, and press the very blood out of the widow, that they may enrich themselves. Ah! it is idle and useless for you to say, “I have sinned,” unless you mean that from your heart. That double-minded man’s confession is of no avail.