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him and Moses in the offering of the sacrifices for themselves and the people, as we saw in the last sermon; they had heard the solemn blessing pronounced; they had seen the glory of the Lord as it appeared to all the people; they had beheld the fire come out from before the Lord, and consume the offerings which had been placed upon the altar; they had heard the people shout for joy, and seen them prostrate themselves before the Lord in the deepest reverence. How much more should they have been filled with all devout emotions! How intensely fixed should their minds have been on the greatness of God, and of his peculiar grace to them! How spiritual and holy should have been the joy which filled their hearts upon that interesting occasion, full of such distinguishing honour to them! And how profound should have been their humility under a sense of their own insufficiency for the great office to which they had now been called! With all such feelings surely their hearts should have been entirely occupied ! These then were the men, such their office,
such the things which they had seen and heard, upon whom this great judgment of the Lord was executed.
II. Let us now enquire, in the second place, what was the sin which they had committed. It evidently consisted in a hasty, unbidden entrance on their office, with great irregularity in their performance of a part of it, especially in one particular. We are to remember that the dispensation in which they were appointed to officiate was such that every thing in it was minutely specified, and all was to be done according to the directions given and the pattern shewn to Moses in the mount. Now these young men, without waiting for instructions from Moses and Aaron respecting their duties, and the proper time and mode of performing them, rashly took their office at once upon themselves, hastily seized their censers, and prematurely attempted to offer incense unto the Lord. But, as I observed, there was one particular in which their sin seems to have principally consisted it is said they "offered strange fire:" that is, they took and used common fire, not
that which had fallen from heaven, and was burning on the altar of burnt-offering, which alone was to be used. They took some other, "which he commanded them not." In that was their sin. Now some, who have erroneous views of the character of God and his law, may think that this was a light sin, and that the punishment was beyond the proportion of the offence. Such, no doubt, would also think that the sin of Adam and Eve, in only eating of the fruit of a tree, was a light sin. So the sin of Saul, when he transgressed the commandment of the Lord, seemed in his own eyes, to be a light sin, or even no sin at all. But all these had in them a heinous offence, a disobedience of God's command, and contempt of his authority. Moreover we cannot help fearing that these sins of Nadab and Abihu were caused or increased by their being heated with wine. We see no other reason for the caution so immediately given to Aaron in the ninth verse, "Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest
ye die it shall be a statute for you throughout your generations." If this were the case, you see the mischiefs which flow from the sin of intemperance, which renders a man fit for the commission of every kind of impiety and wickedness, takes away his senses, and plunges him headlong into sin.
But be this as it may, directions had been expressly and minutely given to them by Moses, as he had himself received them from God, and they ought to have been simply and humbly obeyed. Such obedience is required of us. We have the canon of scripture. This is our rule; and we are neither to add to it, nor diminish from it. The danger is ever the greatest that we do not come up to its full requirements; and that we are deficient in faith, or make many omissions in practice. But there is also danger lest we overstep the bounds prescribed by scripture. This has often been done through an over-heated zeal, and perhaps most frequently in cases somewhat similar to this which we have been considering, by persons rashly and impetuously seeking or
executing the office of the ministry. In this way many have run without being sent. Some have done this through a most culpable negligence of that high and holy office. Some have erred thus through a mistaken and illdirected enthusiasm; others again from a wilder irregularity of mind and obstinacy of self-will; and others from a vain overweening opinion of their own piety and talents, and an unjustifiable contempt of all authority. All these things are of that "strange fire," with which God will not be served. May he fill all his servants with a zeal tempered by knowledge, and cause their "love to abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment."
III. Let us consider, in the third place, the judgment inflicted upon them. It was severe and terrible. "There went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord." They had sinned by fire, and they perished by fire. How different are the purposes to which fire from the Lord may be applied! God had just made use of it as a token of his approbation and