The Right and Wrong Uses of the Bible
R. Heber Newton
Part 3 out of 4
Hebrew history properly begins with this era. The tribes of Israel when
first resolved by the glass of history, appear upon the Arabian border of
Egypt, as occupants of the rich pasture lands of Goshen. They were a
branch of a large Semitic family, which included Moab, Edom, Ammon and
other familiar tribes. Of the social, intellectual and religious status of
the Hebrews at this period we have little definite information. They would
seem to have been on the usual plane of races which have entered the
semi-nomadic stage, and which are gradually substituting agricultural
pursuits for a roving shepherd life. Oppressed by Egypt they revolt, and
begin a migration backward toward the north and east.
The soul of this movement was Moses; a real historic figure, worthy, as we
can see through the mists around him, of the imposing form which Michael
Angelo has given him. A great man is nearly always to be found at the core
of a great social growth, charging the latent tendencies of a race with
energy, and shaping their action upon the form of his mind. "An
institution is the lengthened shadow of a man," writes Emerson. Judaism
is the lengthened shadow of Moses. Whatever else Moses may have done, he
proved himself the architect of Israel, by laying the foundation that
determined the form and size of the later structure. He taught his simple
people to recognize Jehovah as their tribal God. What this name meant in
the conception of the people before his time is by no means clear to us
now. It appears to have stood for the personification of some one of the
forms of nature's forces, that arrest upon themselves the nomad's vague
sense of the Infinite and Divine in the world about him. Around the Power
felt in Saturn or the Sun, Moses threw the spell of an awe which is deeper
far than that awakened by the starry heavens above man--the awe aroused by
the moral law within man. He gave his rude children a noble moral code,
the original form of the Decalogue. These Ten Words were issued as the law
of Jehovah. Jehovah then was the source and authority of the laws which
the conscience owned. The moral law was his body of statutes. To keep this
law was the way to please Him. His commands reached through rites and
ordinances to conduct and character. His demands were not for sacrifices,
but for good lives. His worship was aspiration and endeavor after
And this Power enjoining morality was none other than the Power which in
nature seemed so often unmoral and even immoral. Jehovah of the skies was
the God of the Ten Words.
This was a seminal thought, bodied in an institution. In begetting this
conception in the soul of Israel, Moses fathered the life which grew
through embryonic forms, during the slow gestation of the centuries,
shaping toward the ideal of religion. Whatever was vital and progressive
in the nation's thought and feeling sucked up its juices from the seed
deep-rooted in this basic institution. Rightly did legislators and
historians, through the after ages, look back and ascribe all their work
in the development of the national life to Moses. Even thus the rose, were
it conscious, might turn its crimson face upon the ground and whisper to
the seed at its roots--I am thy work. Even thus the son, in the pride and
power of manhood goes back to the old homestead, and looking into his
father's face confesses--All that I am you have made me.
_The heroic age:_ B.C. 1300-1100.
After Moses there follows a period of at least two hundred years, of which
we have very imperfect accounts, and those plainly traditional and
commingled with legend. The Hebrew tribes appear to have gradually
gravitated upon Canaan; slowly settling into agricultural pursuits, and
winning from its previous occupants the land they coveted, inch by inch,
in bloody strife. They camped upon their hard-won fields for several
generations, maintaining their claims at the point of the sword, with
varying success; now mastering their foes, and again almost crushed by
them. The inter-relations of the several tribes during this period would
seem to have been of a very loose character. Each appears to have acted
for itself, except at critical moments, when common danger drew them
together in concerted action under leaders of commanding ability.
Tradition has preserved charming tales of some of these redoubtable
champions of the Hebrews, of whom we would gladly know much more. This was
the heroic age of Israel. Rude, rough times of constant alarm brought
forth little that was memorable save feats of courage. We have few
glimpses into the state of religion in this simple society, and upon what
is brought out into light the hues of later ages are reflected. Quite
clearly we may discern that the religion of the people in those days was
by no means that which we know as Mosaism. How could such a sublime
conception as that of Moses have ripened in a people at this stage of
their development? Like all founders of religion, he was far in advance of
his age. If a few higher natures, here and there, recognized and
appreciated the significance of the Ten Words of Jehovah, the mass of the
people could not have done so. And movement is determined toward the mass
in ethics as in physics. All that Moses could have hoped to do was to body
his seminal truth in an institution, that should keep it alive in the
nation until the proper conditions were found for its quickening and
growth. This he achieved in binding the tribes to the worship of Jehovah,
whose law was owned in the moral standards of the people. To this loyalty
to Jehovah, as _the_ God of Israel, Moses did securely bind the tribes.
They never wholly forswore Jehovah, and thus never lost the germ begotten
in the soul of the race, which held the promise and potency of the future.
But around Jehovah, as the supreme God of the race, the people still
continued to group their ancient divinities, and to worship them in the
old-time manner. The religion of a people in any stage of its history is
always a composite; a succession of layers that correspond to the
intellectual and moral classifications of society. But the proportion of
the true religion rises with a progressive civilization. In these
semi-civilized tribes the religion of the bulk of the people, in all
probability, corresponded with the ideas and forms of worship of other
peoples in the same stage of development In the lowest stratum fetichism
lingered on, the worship of any unusual thing that excited the wonder of a
simple people. Great trees of immemorial age, huge boulders standing
strangely in fertile valleys, continued the objects of superstitious awe.
Jehovahism took up these remnants of fetichism into its higher life, when
it found that they could not be dispossessed, just as Christianity did
long afterward with pagan customs, and gave them a higher significance in
connection with the worship of Jehovah.
Higher strata of the people worshipped the various powers of nature, the
sun, the moon, the stars, after much the same fashion in vogue among their
kindred Semites. Even the revolting rites of the surrounding
nature-worships were not lacking in Israel. While the gentle and gracious
warmth of the spring sun called forth the happy adoration of the people,
the scorching and consuming heat of the midsummer sun roused the fears of
the sufferers for their crops, their cattle, and their very lives. They
sought to propitiate this fierce Power, which was evidently hostile to
man, with offerings of the life it devoured so pitilessly. The choicest
lives--the first-born son, the fairest maiden of the village--were
sacrificed to glut its greed of death. Into the fiery arms of Moloch
parents laid the children of their love. Human sacrifices were
unquestionably a recognized form of worship during this period, at least
in times of deep distress. The libertine longings of nature, the free
fecundities of mother-earth, imaged to the grosser people the Power
working round about them and within their very bodies; and men and women
gave free rein to their appetites and passions, in honor of divinities
like Ashera, the Syrian Venus. The various tribes probably had
The general picture we must fashion in our minds of this period is of a
polytheistic, idolatrous people, slightly distinguishable from the
surrounding Semites, save as they held, in their recognition of Jehovah
and his Ten Words, the germ of a higher thought and life.
_The period of the monarchy, down to the epoch of the great prophets:_ B.
The story of the making of England may interpret to us the development
that ensued in this third period of Israel's history. We know how the
petty realms of the Angles-land, under pressure from a common foe, learned
to act momentarily together, came for a summer under some commanding
leader, drew thus into closer affiliations grouped gradually around the
more powerful realms, and at length crystallized into England. In some
such way the Hebrew tribes were slowly knit together by the necessity of
war, until to organize a lasting victory they were forced into
consolidation and out of the loose confederation of tribes arose a nation,
Israel. Social tendencies generally throw a leader to the front. The man
is not wanting for the hour. The king-maker of Israel was Samuel. A man
combining in that simple state of society several functions--priest and
judge and leader--he had the prescience to divine the need of the age, and
the wisdom to point out the man to meet it. Saul was chosen King, in free
gathering of the hardy yeomanry, and proved his human election a divine
selection by rousing the nation to new efforts, which his genius led to
victory. Saul was followed by a brief period of national unity under David
and Solomon, in which the rapid and brilliant progress made in the spread
of the kingdom, in wealth and civilization, revealed the latent powers of
this gifted race.
The progress of political and commercial greatness was stayed by the
rending of the kingdom after Solomon. No great advances were possible amid
the chronic jealousies and frequent strife of the sister kingdoms, which
were unable to come together again in a unity that would have restored
their prestige, and were unable, apart, to achieve any signal success in
diplomacy or war.
The social state of the people underwent the changes usual in this stage
of a people's history. With peace came wealth, with wealth came luxury,
with luxury new social vices, fed from the court which grew around the
monarchy. But that the heart of the people continued sound amid these
organic changes we may see from several hints preserved by tradition.
The institution, or revival, of the Order of the Nazarites was a
religio-moral movement. It was a protest against the vice of drunkenness
that was increasing in the land, as, relieved from war's alarms and waxing
fat upon their fertile fields, the people gave themselves to pleasure. The
first Prohibition Society, of which we have record, was this Order of the
Nazarites. This Order appears also to have had a still deeper moral aim,
little noticed of old. It was a reaction from the social changes that were
going on in Israel, a protest against the new-fashioned ways of wealth,
an earnest effort to hold to the simplicities of earlier days, to the good
old plain living and high thinking. It was a counter-movement of Old
Israel, essaying to stem the mad rush for riches. A still more convincing
token of the healthy moral tone of the nation is to be found in the
earliest considerable work of literature preserved to us, the Song of
Songs. It holds up to scorn the licentiousness that Solomon had made
fashionable, and of which, in a just retribution, he had become the
abhorred type. The great king fails to corrupt the virtue of a simple
country maiden, despite of all his blandishments. Ewald assigns this poem
to the northern kingdom, which had separated itself from Judah chiefly in
reaction from the Solomonic innovations. It leads us into the homes of the
sturdy peasantry of the hill country, where burned the fires on the altars
of pure wedded love.
From a people thus sound at heart, amid the mellowing richness of
civilization, we may well expect great things in religion. Whatever the
outward forms of religion, its roots ran deep down into the moral law, and
must needs have borne in due time a noble fruitage. There was in fact a
striking development of religion in this period. It was coincident with
the secular development of the nation. This indeed is the general rule of
religious revival. Religion advances with the advancing life of man, each
new and true step forward opening a higher possibility of thought and
feeling concerning God. As Moses the Emancipator was the father of true
religion in Israel, so Samuel the king-maker was its early master. We
cannot now trace clearly his work, but we can see that he was a fresh
ethical and spiritual force, shaping religious life anew.
Prophets there had doubtless been before him, in Israel as out of it, but
they were unethical and unspiritual influences in religion; the frenzied
dervishes, the oracular seers, the wizards and necromancers who long
afterward claimed this name, and were denounced by the higher prophets.
Samuel's masterful work was to turn this semi-religious force into a
higher channel, and to direct it toward a moral aim. He was the creator of
the type which drew after him "the goodly fellowship of the prophets." The
traditions of Israel present him in the _role_ of fearless censor and
truthful mentor to the infant State; the _role_ which the great prophets
later on assumed toward the maturer nation. He criticized the King, guided
the people, and held the nation loyal to Jehovah. However little
perception the mass of the people had of the spiritual significance of the
State religion, however many gross forms of popular religion existed
around and within the tolerant institutions of Jehovahism, it was a vital
matter to preserve that State religion, and keep it well ahead of the
people's growth. Thus we can perceive the historic significance of the
work of the next great prophet after Samuel, Elijah; through the legendary
nimbus that gathered round his striking personality and dramatic action In
a critical hour, when the Jehovah-worship had well nigh disappeared, he
stood alone against the powers of the realm, and rallied the people once
more beneath the name of the god of their father. He plucked a victory
from defeat which decided the course of history. What if Jehovah was but a
name to the mass of the people? What if they continued to worship much as
before, only no longer at the altars of Baal? There are long periods in
the history of man when the future depends upon allegiance to an
institution little understood by those who shout most lustily for it. The
future may lie seeded down in a name which stores within it the forces of
a new and higher unfolding when the times come ripe. Thus it proved
through the crawling centuries in which Israel held hard by a name of God
which then meant little to it, but which ultimately evolved its ethical
significance and manifested unto men, The Eternal who loveth
righteousness. Thus may it prove with the child of Judaism. Liberals, who
are in such haste to drop the name of Christ, should pause long enough to
ask themselves the question whether, since it roots religion in a life of
such perfect goodness that it became to men the manifestation of God,
this sacred name may not in its turn hold the secret of our progress;
whether, from the treasured forces of the past that it gathers into
itself, when the spring time now setting in shall have fully come, it may
not blossom into the religion of the future? A civilization should not be
cut off from the historic seed which lies at the roots of its religion, if
it is to grow unto the harvest.
That in this fidelity to the tradition of their race the religion of the
people of Israel was in the vital processes of growth, through this long
period, we know assuredly from one conclusive fact. Out of this tedious
winter came, suddenly as it seems to us, a rich and beautiful spring. The
epoch of the great prophets, with a new life of thought and aspiration,
breaks in abruptly on this commingling of all sorts of religion within the
precincts of Jehovahism. Even in February the sap is softening and warming
in the veins which show no greening on the tips of the patient trees.
Israel was swelling toward the day that was sure to come, when, lo! the
_The era of the great prophets, before the exile:_ B.C. 800-586.
In the southern Pacific, where coral islands are slowly forming beneath
the surface of the sea, he who is curious to study the process of the
making of an island must send the divers down to bring up broken bits of
coral, snatched from the dark depths in a painful labor. After the ocean
mountain thrusts its top above the surface of the sea the work of
exploration is easy enough, and we may walk over hard ground as we study
the new formation in the sunlight. Hitherto, in our desire to learn the
secrets of the growth of Israel, we have been like men peering over the
sides of their tiny boats into the depths of a sea that covers fascinating
mysteries; watching the labors of the adepts who ever and anon bring up to
the light some fresh fragments of a buried world. In the epoch that we
have now reached Israel's growing life lifts itself above the level of
tradition, and stands forth as solid history, on whose firm ground we can
study for ourselves the making of a nation's religion.
Israel's literary period opens for us with the prophets. Literary
fragments float up to us from earlier days, but now, for the first time,
we have whole books about whose date and authorship we are reasonably
certain. The prophets introduced the literary craft. They wrote out, in
their later years, the substance of the messages which they had borne the
people. These brilliant pages teem with graphic descriptions of the actual
usages, social and religious, of their age, so that there is no difficulty
in reproducing with fair accuracy the salient features of the period.
The popular religion was that composite of heathenisms already sketched
in considering the previous period. The people continued to worship the
Power which all felt and owned, under the manifold forms which this Power
assumes in nature's processes. Sun and moon and stars still arrested the
awe which through them groped after God, and drew upon themselves the
worship of the imagination. The worship of Jehovah had a special honor as
the State religion, but it stood contentedly amid other forms of religion.
In the service of Jehovah local shrines developed special usages. The
"Uses" of Israel were as varied as the "Uses" of England before the
Reformation. No act of Uniformity was in operation in the realm. Idolatry
was not the exception but the rule. The most popular symbol of Jehovah was
an image of a bull. To the higher minds this bull was doubtless merely a
symbol, expressive of a striking phase of the sun's force, but to the mass
of men it was probably the actual object of their adorations. The
symbolism of the Jerusalem Temple was thoroughly idolatrous; as, for
example, the twelve oxen upholding the laver, and the horns of the altar,
symbols drawn from the prevalent bull-worship; the two columns in the
court, and the cherubs, or cloud-dragons in the most holy place; the
_chamanim_, or sun-images representing the rays of the sun in the shape of
a cone, and the chariots and horses of the sun, a very ancient symbol
familiar to us in Guido's Aurora.
Nor did the allegiance to Jehovah bar private usages of an idolatrous
nature. The home of the average Israelite had its _teraphim_ and other
domestic divinities. The darker aspects of the popular religion still held
their ground against the growing light. Beneath the shadow of the Jehovah
of the Ten Words, stood, unmolested, the images fashioned by the appetites
and passions; and men and women surrendered themselves to drunken orgies
and sensual debauches, in honor of the deities of desire. As late as the
time of Jeremiah, after nearly two centuries of prophetic teaching, there
were in the sacred precincts of the temple the _asheras_, or tree-poles,
by which the priestesses of passion, as part of their religious offices,
sold themselves to the frequenters of Jehovah's house. Below the holy
city, King Manasseh reared the image of Moloch, and human sacrifices were
offered to placate the wrath of the Power which they ignorantly
Where religion was so largely a worship of the physical powers of nature,
the life of the people would of necessity show an undeveloped ethical
state. Drunkenness and debauchery continued common, the marriage bond was
very elastic in the polite society of the capital, and selfishness
haughtily overrode all considerations of _meum_ and _tuum_ in the mad
chase of wealth.
Unsatisfactory as the morals of the influential classes of society were,
there is, however, no indication of any such "ooze and thaw of wrong" as
indicated a moribund condition in the nation.
We must not make the mistake, so common concerning reformers, and regard
the evils that were justly lashed by the prophets as prevailing throughout
society. Had this been the case, where would the ethical forces of a new
and higher life have risen? Single preachers of social righteousness might
have arisen, like Savonarola in Florence, under such conditions, but no
general reform could have developed. The steady growth of the movement
initiated by the great prophets shows that it sprang from no individuals,
but from society; that they merely led the reserve forces of virtue in the
nation. The heart of the nation was doubtless sound, and growing more
vigorously virtuous. Professor Thorold Rogers reminds us that the period
when a great outcry is heard against any social evil, is not that wherein
the evil is at its height, for then there would probably be no power of
protest, but rather that in which the recuperative forces of society are
rallying to throw off the disorder from the body politic. Morality was in
advance of religion at this time in Israel, and this interprets the
movement which ensued to place religion in its proper position at the head
of the march of progress.
It was amid such a state of affairs that the great prophets appeared upon
the stage of action, calling the nation to a higher religion. They were
not so much philosophers, reasoning out a lofty intellectual conception of
God, as preachers of righteousness, vitalizing from the moral nature the
sense of the purity and justice of the Power in whom men lived and moved
and had their being They turned the light of the inward law upon God, and
revealed Him as its author. They led Virtue into the Temple, touched her
lips with a live coal from off the altar, and from a tongue of fire men
heard, "Thus saith the Lord." They revived the true Mosaic priesthood,
which set apart conscience as the mediator between God and man. The seed
that Moses planted budded and swelled toward its bloom. The prophetic
writings show us men a-hungered after righteousness breathing out the
worship of Jehovah into the worship of the Eternal, who loveth
Isaiah carries this message from God:
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?
I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts.
And I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats.
When ye come to appear before me,
Who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
Bring no more vain oblations;
Incense is an abomination unto me;
The new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot endure;
It is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth;
They are a trouble unto me;
I am weary to bear them.
And when ye spread forth your hands,
I will hide mine eyes from you:
Yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear:
Your hands are full of blood.
Wash you, make you clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes:
Cease to do evil; learn to do well:
Seek judgment, relieve the oppressed,
Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Micah voices the questions that men raised in his day, answering them with
the new thought:
Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord,
And bow myself before the high God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
With calves of a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
Or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my first born for my transgression,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He hath showed thee, O man, what is good,
And what doth the Lord require of thee,
But to do justly, and to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with thy God?
Two features of the work of the prophets bring out clearly their ethical
inspiration. Israel was at this period being drawn, for the first time,
into the currents created by the strife of the mammoth empires of Assyria
and Egypt, in whose maelstrom she at length went down. Public affairs were
becoming matters of international relationship. The prophets threw
themselves heartily into the national politics, standing between the party
of Assyria and the party of Egypt, as independents concerned with the
interests of neither faction, but seeking to lift both sides above the
shifting sands of policy upon the firm ground of principle. They sought to
lead the nation to turn aside from its dazzling dream of a brilliant
foreign policy to the humbler tasks of internal reform; to induce the
State to busy itself with the labor of redressing civic disorders and of
building a community of sober, pure, and just citizens, cultivating peace
and equity with other peoples, and fearing God. They were preachers to the
corporate conscience of Israel, and dealt with subjects which the modern
pulpit effeminately shuns. In strains of pure and passionate patriotism,
they delighted to vision before the people the ideal State and its ideal
King; thus to lead the aspirations of the nation to a higher ambition
than martial prowess and diplomatic craft.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and might,
The spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord,
And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord:
And he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes,
Neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
But with righteousness shall he judge the poor,
And reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.
And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,
And with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins,
And faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
These Hebrew prophets made the right administration of public affairs the
essentially religious service which their devout student Gladstone
declares them now to be. Because of this inspiration of civic life with
religiousness, their books have become, as Coleridge called them, the
At this period in Israel's history the social revolution attending the
progress of all peoples from a simple to a complex organization was
entailing its usual excesses, and alarming symptoms were showing
themselves in the commonwealth. In earlier days Israel's tenure of land
had been, like that of all peoples, communistic. Proprietorship of the
land was vested in the family, and then in the village community. There
were no private fortunes and no private poverty. Life was simple and
contented, and dull. Under the action of the usual social forces, this
system had been gradually breaking up, through many generations. Property
had mainly passed into personal possession Society had recrystallized
around the individual. Individualism had developed its customary
tendencies to inequality. The ancient equality of the free farmers of
Israel was already disappearing. Fortunes, undreamed of a couple of
centuries earlier, were becoming common. Greed was pushing men beyond
legitimate acquisition into respectable robbery. The old-time rights of
commonalty were disappearing in pasture, and farming land, and forest. The
village commons were being "enclosed" by local potentates. Monopolies of
the natural resources of all wealth, the inalienable dower of the people
at large, were working their inevitable consequences. Below the wealthy
class, which was rising to the top of society, there was forming at the
bottom a new and unheard-of social stratum, the settlings of the struggle
for existence; a deposit of the feebleness and ignorance and innocence of
the people. In the loss of the old sense of a commonwealth, the nation was
breaking up into classes, alienated, unsympathetic, hostile. Selfishness
was threatening ruin to the State.
In the midst of these dangerous social tendencies the prophets came
forward as "men of the people." Like brave Latimer at Paul's Cross, these
fearless preachers stood in the marketplaces to denounce monopoly and the
tyranny of capital. They were not affrighted by the hue and cry that, if
human nature was the same then as now, was raised against them, in the
name of the sacred rights of property. They were not beguiled by the
sophisms of those who doubtless proved conclusively that the best
interests of the people were being furthered by the fullest freedom of the
able and crafty to enrich themselves _ad libitum_. They could not have
stood an examination in political economy, but they knew the heart of the
whole matter, in a world whose core is the moral law. They saw, more or
less clearly, that there could be no lasting wealth in a society which was
not based upon a wide, deep common-wealth. They felt that the one clue to
follow in every social problem was held by conscience. So they struck
boldly at existing wrongs in the name of the Eternal Righteous One.
Woe unto them that join house to house,
That lay field to field
Till there be no place,
That they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!
* * * * *
The Lord will enter into judgment
With the ancients of his people and the princes thereof:
For ye have eaten up the vineyard;
The spoil of the poor is in your houses.
What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces,
And grind the faces of the poor?
Saith the Lord God of hosts.
One word, constantly recurring through the prophets, reveals the secret of
their enthusiasm. They lifted above the people the august and holy form of
Justice, and called on men to follow her. They appealed to a force in men
mightier than selfishness. They kindled the passion which had been always
latent in Israel, since the day when Moses led forth the slaves of Egypt
to found a nation of freemen. A new and lofty ideal mastered the minds of
the better natures among the people. Over against the darkness of their
age there rose a vision of a good time coming, when Justice should be
throned on law, and selfishness be exorcised from the hearts of men who
had learned the secret
Of joy in widest commonalty spread.
And this they did in the name of Jehovah. From Him they came with these
messages concerning social obligations. The Eternal One who loved
righteousness could be served in no other way than in furthering justice.
Religion became social reform, aflame with the enthusiasm of holy ideals;
of ideals seen to be eternal realities, as the shadows cast by The Living
God, moving on to accomplish the good pleasure of His will.
To conserve the new spirit of brotherhood which they awakened, they
embodied in the book of the Law, that constituted the Magna Charta of the
Reformation, a development of a gracious usage of the people. From
immemorial antiquity there had been a recognized right of the populace to
the natural yield of the soil in every seventh year. This common law they
formally re-enacted, in the name of Jehovah, and added to it a provision
for the release of debtors in the sabbatical year.
We shall see in the nest period the fruitage of this new religion of
social righteousness, in the remarkable legislation of the Restoration.
In these serious, strenuous secularities--so often neglected by the
religious, or even opposed as irreligious--which now were consecrated to
the service of Jehovah, religion found its true sphere, and developed its
latent forces. A new era opened. The abominations of religion in former
times became the exceptions rather than the rule, and gradually
disappeared from society. After Jeremiah we hear no more of impurities
hiding under the altar, or of savage superstition seeking to please
Jehovah by outraging the holiest instincts of human nature. Jehovah became
the name for a conception of Deity so spiritual, so holy, that henceforth
the student of Israel's history should substitute--God.
It is a most interesting study to place these great prophets in their
chronological order, and trace the development of this ethical religion.
As one after another they come upon the stage of action they take up the
great words of their masters and repeat them in their own way; take up the
great tasks of their predecessors and carry them on toward completion;
leading religion into an ever deepening spirituality. The prophets of the
eighth century group around Isaiah, under whose influence Hezekiah
attempted a partial reformation of the popular religion. The prophets of
the seventh century group around Jeremiah, the master-spirit in the more
thorough reformation carried out under Josiah. This second reformation
achieved an institutional organization of ethical religion, that came just
in time to create a body capable of holding the people together in loyalty
to the true God, amid the break up of the nation.
_The Epoch of the Exile:_ B.C. 586-536.
The conquest of the two sister kingdoms, with the carrying away of the
influential portion of the people into exile, was a blessing in disguise.
Israel was taken out of its petty provincialisms, its race insularity, and
placed amid one of the most highly cultivated civilizations of the
ancient world. The fertile plain of Mesopotamia had been from immemorial
antiquity the seat of great enterprises. Civilization had developed there
when surrounding peoples had not emerged from semi-barbarism. Like the
Troy beneath Troy in the Ilium ruins, we find here successive
civilizations resting each upon the debris of an earlier order. The
descriptions of ancient historians, together with the explorations of late
years, make very vivid the scenes amid which the captive Israelites
Babylon was a city which might well astonish and captivate strangers. It
was of immense size, being surrounded by a wall forty, or possibly sixty,
miles in circumference. This wall was nearly three hundred feet high, and
was broad enough to allow a chariot with four horses to turn easily upon
it. The streets were wide and straight, crossing each other at right
angles, and were lined with houses several stories in height, painted in
all the colors of the rainbow. Trees and gardens were so plentiful as to
give the whole city the appearance of a park. The grounds of the imperial
palace covered an area of seven miles round, in the centre of the city.
The largest temple the world has ever seen rose in pyramidal form six
hundred feet in air. The broad and shaded streets were resplendent with
the pomp and pageantry of the court of a mighty empire, and were alive
with the bustle of the traffic of the known world.
Libraries and museums garnered the treasures of art and literature, of
science and philosophy, accumulated through centuries. On every hand were
the tokens of a refined and cultivated civilization, venerable with age.
In the temples a rich ritual celebrated an elaborate worship, while
learned priests waited to explain the profound philosophic and poetic
truths of the sacred symbols.
Transported to such surroundings, Israel received the mental shock which
an American of a generation past experienced on first visiting Europe. The
influence of this surprise was very marked. Israel's genius flowered in
this strange soil. Her literary life centres in Babylonia. The second
Isaiah wrote there his immortal pages. The unknown authors of the noble
histories, whose charm never stales, fashioned there the traditions and
records of the past into their present shape. There the great legal
codification was carried out, and the institutional system of Israel
perfected. A new circle of ideas show themselves at work in the mind of
the people while in exile. From Chaldean scholars the Israelites probably
learned the ancient legends of the Beginnings, which they worked over in
their profounder religious consciousness into the simple and spiritual
forms in which they stand in Genesis. From Persia they either received
bodily the system of angelology that thenceforth appears in their
writings, or they received the quickening influence of a kindred religion
upon the thoughts latent in their beliefs.
These intellectual influences wrought directly upon the development of
Israel's religion. In the revelation of the prosperous life of these alien
peoples the chosen race saw herself but one member of the great world
family. Persia's ethical and spiritual religion discovered to the nobler
natures of Israel the very ideals which they and their fathers had long
been strenuously seeking. These heathen were worshipping the same source
and standard of goodness before which they themselves had been doing
homage. A new sense of human brotherhood stirred within the exclusive
race, and with it the perception that there is one Father of all men.
Religion threw off all lingering polytheistic notions and soared to the
vision of One God. Monotheism dates as a clear consciousness from this
era. It was saved from becoming an abstract, philosophic conception,
merging good and evil in a common source, by the stern ethical dualism of
the Persians. Though there be but one God, who is ultimately to triumph
over all evil, yet, said these Persians, evil is a present power in
creation, organized and active, waging constant warfare with the powers of
goodness. Earth is the scene of the battle between light and darkness, in
which each man must play his part, for weal or for woe.
These high ethical and religious conceptions were nourished from the deeps
of sorrow out of which the people cried bitterly to God. Their nation was
crushed, their homes were broken up, and they themselves were captives in
a strange land. Israel might have said,
A deep distress hath humanized my soul.
All tender and gracious and holy humanities sprang forth from the hard
Hebrew nature under this deep distress. The national ideal changed wholly.
The old dream of a puissant king passed from the minds of the better men,
and we hear little of it thenceforth in the writings of the nation. In the
place of it arose the vision of the Righteous, Suffering, Servant of
God--the Nation trained in the school of sorrow for a sacrificial mission,
and charged to lead the peoples of the earth into the knowledge of the
Eternal, who loveth righteousness.
As the crown and consummation of religion, the holy hope of life beyond
the grave dawned in this night of suffering, gleaming toward the day of
Him who brought life and immortality to light.
Around this deepening and enriching life the remarkable body of the
prophetic-priestly system was fashioned, as the law of the new nation when
it should gain once more the old home. It looked to the formation of a
holy people; through its minute direction of the daily life, its
sacrificial symbolism charged with spiritual significances, its sacred
books for the instruction of the people, its order of scribes devoted to
this new study, its synagogues or meeting-houses for oral teaching and for
prayer--now for the first time elevated into an act of public worship
co-ordinate in dignity with sacrifice.
True to its old instinct, Israel's religion, first seeking to build up
individual holiness, turned then to build up social righteousness. The
ideals of the great prophets, which had been long working in the minds and
hearts of the leaders of the people, were now embodied in the priestly
legislation. The traditional communal system of land-holding was
established as the legal basis for the new nation. The land of Israel was
nationalized, and its title vested in God, from whom individuals received
the right of limited usufruct. It could not be sold outright. No man could
gain a fee-simple proprietorship. The seventh year was continued as a year
of fallow when the poor were to have the right of pasturage and of such
growth as the land spontaneously brought forth. At the end of seven
sabbatical periods, in round numbers every fifty years, all purchases of
land were to lapse, and the soil return to the original possessors. At the
same time all debtors were to pass through a general act of bankruptcy and
go forth free men. Interest was not to be allowed on loans made between
brother Israelites. By these provisions both villeinage or land-serfdom
and the slavery of debtor classes to capital were to be prevented in the
new nation. This legislation of the restoration was "to the end that there
be no poor among you."
To such impracticable ideals, for that age, did this exilic movement of
the new religion look, with sober, strenuous, systematic effort for their
realization; and therein may we see its intensity of moral life.
_The period of the Restoration, from_ B.C. 536.
The common notion is that this period of Israel's history was practically
a vacuum, and that through five centuries the nation experienced no
further development. In reality, it was an exceedingly active period,
characterized by most important developments. Politically it was a period
of constantly changing influences. Israel was scarcely ever really
independent during these centuries. Her changes were the changes from one
master to another. But this very subjection aided her intellectual
development, as she was thus brought under the direct action of foreign
ideas. Her rapid growth of population forced upon her a system of
emigration, that drew off her youth to the great centres of the world and
established large colonies in every leading city. Israel was never left to
settle down again into provincialism, but was stirred by the currents of
the great world of thought that poured in upon her from Greece and Egypt,
from Rome and the far East. "A cross-fertilization of ideas" was thus
carried on by Providence. The result of grafting the richest varieties of
thought upon such a sturdy stock could not fail of proving something rare
and rich. As was natural from such conditions, the thought of the nation
took on new forms. Calm study of nature and man, and rational speculation
on the great problems of life displaced impassioned and imaginative
thought. Prophecy gave way to philosophy. The sages became the teachers of
men. The third class of books in the Old Testament Canon, known by the
Jews as the Writings, belong to this period; Proverbs, Ecclesiastes,
Esther, Jonah, Daniel, etc. To this period also belongs the Apocrypha,
which contains some noble books. These varied writings show, when
critically studied, a direct bearing on the problems that we know were
occupying the mind of the nation during this period, and illustrate the
tendencies working among the people. We thus see, plainly, the growth of
the seeds of noble thought which were sown in the national consciousness
during the exile, and the growth of the rich germs wafted into Judea from
Greece and Egypt.
We can trace the development of the circle of ideas which, later on,
crystallized, under the ethical and spiritual force of Jesus into the
theology of Christianity. We watch the embryonic stages of this
thought-body, which at length awaited only the breathing within it of an
informing spirit to issue in a new and noble religion.
Nor was this period of the Restoration merely one of intellectual
development, else there would have been no such issue as came at length.
It was a period of quiet ethical and spiritual development. No prophet
arose, indeed, to quicken Israel, but the ancient prophets still spake
from the institutions into which they had breathed somewhat of their
spirit, and from the holy books which were read in every synagogue, and
learned in every home. The temple worship of this period retained the old
forms of sacrifice; but charged them with spiritual significances which
are difficult for us to associate with such bloody rites, did we not know
how easily the religious spirit adapts itself to any outward ceremonies,
and transforms them into its own life. The soul spurns the symbols to
which it yet will cling, and soars beyond the poor height to which the
laboring wings of ordinance and ritual can carry it. The profound
spiritual life which was awakened in the exile flooded these low forms
with supernal light. They spoke to men of better sacrifices than the
blood of bulls and lambs--of sins slaughtered and fleshly powers consumed,
of lives of men offered up in purity to God. They whispered to the soul of
the holiness of God, and of His forgiveness as well; and, in their
powerlessness to satisfy the spiritual needs suggested by them, they kept
men's eyes upon the future, looking for the Prophet greater than Moses,
who would surely come from behind the veil with a new word from God. Out
of such thoughts and feelings the temple worship drew upon itself a noble
service of song, of whose ethical and spiritual beauty we can judge from
the temple hymnal. You and I to-day have sung some of the very hymns which
those Jews chanted around their brazen altar. Through these psalms of many
ages, gathered into a hymnal of unrivalled nobleness, the worship of
Israel ascended in the aspirations of the people after purity and
righteousness. If the choirs sang of the Shepherd of Israel, it was not
merely in the praises of the providential care felt over the chosen
people, but in the thankfulness of souls, because of the assurance of His
He shall convert my soul,
And bring me forth in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
If they chanted the glories of the House of God, it was because thither
the tribes came up, with this desire in the hearts of the worshippers:
Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks,
So longeth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God. Yea, even for the living God:
When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
* * * * *
O send out thy light and thy truth:
Let them lead me;
Let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.
Then will I go up unto the altar of God,
Unto God, the gladness of my joy:
Yea, upon the harp will I praise thee,
O God, my God.
The temple, however, was but a part, and practically a small part, of the
institutionalism of religion in this period. This was the era of the
scribe rather than of the priest. Ezra came back to Jerusalem with a new
treasure, "The Law." Around this sacred book, which soon added to itself
the writings of the Prophets, the religious life of the nation really
crystallized. To read and expound it, now that "no vision came to the
prophets from The Eternal," became the highest office of religion, an
office purely ethical and spiritual. In every town of the land the
Meeting-house arose, opening its doors upon the Sabbath and on market
days, to the villagers, who gathered for a simple service of instruction
and devotion. The service began with a short prayer, which was followed by
the recitation of some portions of "The Law," setting forth the great
beliefs and duties of the Jewish religion--a confession of faith, in
other words. After this came the long prayer, which, in later times,
became liturgical; and then the reading of the lesson for the day from
"The Law," with its interpretation, when Hebrew had become a dead
language. Then followed a reading from the Prophecies, and a homily or
sermon based upon the passage read. In their synagogues the Jews
worshipped much as we are doing in this church to-day.
Through such a quiet deepening of the life of the people was the nation
preparing for its final development of religion.
True it is that in the latter part of this period the nation showed
unmistakable signs of being overtrained. The hedge made about the Law had
fenced men off from one thing after another until, to men who were anxious
not to offend, life became a weary burden. There was scarcely an action
that might not involve sin. The natural effect of externalizing the
commands of conscience followed; and the ethical aims which had been
sought were well nigh lost in the routine of form and ceremony, and in the
fine-spun distinctions of belief and conduct. A great-souled Jew found,
later on, as hosts of his fellow-countrymen had found before him, that by
the works of the Thorah (law or teaching) could no flesh be justified. The
very Book which had fed so deep a life had come to stand between the soul
and God, a barrier to the fresh, free inspirations from on high. Religion
had run out upon the surface, and was dying. But it was as the tassels
wither and whiten when the corn is ripe within the husk and ready to seed
down a new season.
Plainly, by every sign, Israel's long gestation of Religion was nearing
its appointed term. All the elements had been developed, one after
another, for a Universal Religion, and there was nothing more to be done
but to await the coming to the birth. As plainly, by every sign, the
world-conditions were at length found for a safe issue of the "holy thing"
which Israel so long had carried within her bosom. There was needed a man
to body these scattered elements, to fuse the forces of the nation into a
personality, to live the dreams which a race had visioned. Religion is
never a code nor a theory, it is always a life. The ideal religion awaited
the ideal man. He came! As the nation held the holy child Jesus in her
arms, joying that a MAN was born into the world, she might have been
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
According to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles,
And the glory of thy people Israel.
The historical reality of Jesus is unquestionable. The essential features
of his life and thought are distinctly outlined through the mist of time,
and above the clouds of legend that hang low upon the horizon where he
disappeared. The threefold tradition preserves a clear-cut image of the
Son of Man. We see One in whom the ideals of Israel found a perfect
realization. He brought to the flower the conception of religion whose
germ lay seeded down in the Ten Words of Moses. In him worship and
aspiration were one. He lived the ethical and spiritual religion after
which the nation had patiently striven, through prophet and priest and
sage, through psalmist and through scribe. He _lived_ the vision of human
goodness which holy men of old had never succeeded in bringing down into
the flesh, beyond a blurred blocking in of the heavenly ideal. He _lived_
man's dream of goodness so gloriously that he became a more than man, in
whom was felt the coming nigh of the Eternal Holy One. The human form
divine, to which mankind aspired, took on its true and awful splendor, as
the image of the God whom the conscience worshipped. Every passing "I
would be," of the saints of old looked forth, transfigured from the face
of One who said "I AM."
True to Israel's ancient dream, around this righteous suffering servant of
the Eternal, the nations gathered, to be taught of God. The souls to whom
He gave power to become the sons of God became the family of the Heavenly
Father, in which there was "neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor
uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ was all
and in all." In this holy brotherhood of the children of the All-Father,
we moderns take our places round our elder brother; feeling sure that we
have found the spiritual band or religion wherein society is to be held
together, through each man's holding hard by the God who is the perfection
of His own highest dreams.
* * * * *
Such then being the fact of Israel's historic travail and such her issue,
our fathers' sense of the supreme significance of Christ in human history
takes on a new light in our new knowledge.
The problem of religion is to find such a knowledge of the Being in whom
we live and move and have our being, as shall lead men's awe before this
mysterious Power up into an awe of a Power whom we may rightly worship,
trust and love. To find the key to this problem is to hold the secret of
all the puzzles of our weary world. Before the Power "manifest in the
flesh" in Jesus Christ, our souls hush, in an awe which breathes within us
worship, trust and love. And if this Power be the very Power felt in
history and in nature, whose ways therein are so often baffling to the
moral sense, then all is well. But, if this be so, the holy Power who is
shrined in Christ must show the features of the Mind which tabernacles in
nature. There can be no contradiction. Unquestionably an essential
characteristic of the Mind in nature is the method of its action. There
is a reign of Law. The highest generalization of the methods of this law
which man has reached reveals this Power as acting, through every sphere,
in continuous progressive development. One word embodies this supreme
generalization--evolution. Christianity must fit into this universal
order. Otherwise it either denies that order, which denial cannot be
received; or it is denied by that order, which denial is very certain to
be increasingly received. God "cannot deny Himself!" "I change not."
Here is where Christianity's hold of the human mind hinges in our age. The
old reading of the history of the preparation for Christ separated "those
whom God hath joined together." The new reading of that preparation
restores the needful unity.
Christianity is no exception amid the general order of nature. It follows
that providential plan. It grows from seed to flower. Its beginnings were
in a simple conception of ethical religion begotten in a heathen people
through Moses. In the womb of the nation it lay dormant till the time for
quickening came. Thenceforward it slowly assimilated the vital forces and
nutritive elements of the organic life within which it grew, until the
hour arrived when it burst the maternal womb, a perfect birth.
Christianity is a genuine historic evolution.
When we have said this, have we accounted for it? To none save those who,
in mastering the methods of a process of evolution, fancy that they have
mastered its sources. To none save those who, familiarizing themselves
with the order of life, think that they have resolved its nature. The
wiser portion of mankind do not find in How a synonym for Whence. We still
ask whence? When we see the issue of a long and complicated plan, we
postulate a planning mind. When we trace, through the sketches and studies
in a studio, the gradual embodiment of a vision of loveliness, which at
length looks down upon us in its perfect grace from the canvas on the
wall, we cannot be persuaded out of our conviction that some artist has
lived and labored in this studio, patiently evolving his great dream. When
we see a new-born child we do not think that we have learned its parentage
in being told about its mother. We want to know who fathered it into
What mind planned this process of a nation's growth into a universal
religion? What artist dreamed this ethical and spiritual ideal? Who begat
this "holy thing" conceived in Israel and born of her at length in
glorious beauty? If Moses was the human parent of this marvellous child,
who fathered the "essential Christ" in Moses? Who is the real father of
Our only answer must be that given of old:
When the fulness of the time was come God sent forth His son.... The
true Light, which lighteth every man, was coming on into the world....
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory,
the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father) full of grace and
If this then be the true interpretation of the evolution of the Christ, we
hold, in the doctrine of the Incarnation, the secret of all evolution. We
must read the story of every development in the light of the highest life
of man, himself the highest life of nature. Nature is in travail with an
ideal which rose not in the molten suns, though perchance it did rise
The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the
manifestation of the sons of God.
Man is in travail with an ideal which rose not in the anthropoid apes,
though it may have risen through them. A finer, larger, nobler man is
growing within the man that is.
The Universal Man is now coming to be a real being in the individual
Mankind, which is one physically and mentally, is one morally and
spiritually. All varieties of man are built upon one ethical type. The
virtues are cosmopolitan. One human ideal looms above and before all
races, though refracted differently in the changing atmospheres of earth.
Within the saints one dream of goodness forms.
Over the seers and sages one vision of the source of human goodness
rises. Through the clouds of earth one Infinite and Eternal Form shapes
itself to the wise. As men rise they meet. The race-souls are strangely
alike. Socrates and Buddha are brothers. Humanity is in travail with one
Human Ideal and one Divine Image, and these twain are one. The great
Mother sings to herself:
But he, the man-child glorious,
Where tarries he the while?
The rainbow shines his harbinger,
The sunset gleams his smile.
My boreal lights leap upward,
Forth right my planets roll,
And still the man-child is not born,
The summit of the Whole.
I travail in pain for him,
My creatures travail and wait;
His couriers come by squadrons,
He comes not to the gate.
Will Humanity come to the birth with her beloved son? Who that reads the
story of the coming of the Hebrew Christ can doubt it? What miscarriage
can befall her who is nursed by Nature and tended by Providence? What will
the Coming Man be like? We have seen his face break through the flesh for
a moment. On the shoulders of the race will rest the head of Christ. What
shall be said when the morning stars sing together, and all the sons of
God shout for joy that MAN is born upon the earth?
The Holy Ghost hath come upon thee, Humanity, and the power of the
Highest hath overshadowed thee; therefore also, that holy thing which
is born of thee, shall be called the SON OF GOD.
This, at least, is my reading of nature and of history in the light of the
completed evolution of the Christ. The normal growth through history of
the Ideal Man, is the incarnation of the Divine Man. The mischievous
antithesis between the realms of the natural and the supernatural, that
kept the world's thought from crystallizing around the world's soul,
disappears in an Order which is at once natural in all its processes, and
supernatural in its source and plan and energy.
We hold the key to all earth's problems in the vision of God which,
gleaming through nature and through man, dawns in the face of Jesus
Christ. Over Him--in whom the Human Ideal becomes the Divine Image, and
the most perfect dream of human goodness is the revelation of earth's
God--the Eternal One breaks silence, whispering to our souls:
This is my Beloved Son: Hear Him!
The Right Ethical and Spiritual Use of the Bible.
It is impossible to forget the noble enthusiasm with which this
dangerous heretic, as he was regarded in England, grasped the small
Greek Testament which he had in his hand as we entered and said: "In
this little book is contained all the wisdom of the world."
Stanley: "History of the Jewish Church," III. x. [Reminiscence of a
visit to Ewald.]
Truth, not eloquence, is to be sought for in Holy Scripture. We should
rather search after our profit in the Scriptures, than subtilty of
speech..... Search not who spoke this or that, but mark what is spoken.
A Kempis: "Imitation of Christ," Ch. V.
Do not hear for any other end but to become better in your life, and to
be instructed in every good work, and to increase in the love and
service of God.
Jeremy Taylor: "Holy Living," Ch. IV. Sect. iv.
We search the world for truth: we cull
The good, the pure, the beautiful
From graven stone and written scroll,
From all old flower-fields of the soul;
And, weary seekers of the best,
We come back laden from our quest,
To find that all the sages said,
Is in the Book our mothers read.
The Right Ethical and Spiritual Use of the Bible.
"From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to
make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ
Jesus."--2 Timothy, iii. 15.
The right use of the Bible is admirably stated by St. Paul. These books do
not make one learned in any knowledge--they make one wise in life. The
Jewish tradition concerning Solomon's choice expressed a deep truth.
Wisdom is the supreme benediction to be sought in life. Invaluable as is
knowledge, it is as a means to an end. Knowledge provides for man the
material out of which Wisdom, using "the best means to attain the best
ends," builds a noble life. To have the mind clear, the judgment just, the
conscience true, the will strong, so that we may sight the goal of life,
may learn the laws by which it is to be won, and may firmly seek it,
steadfast amid all seductions--this is wisdom.
Would that for one single day, we may have lived in this world as we
Thus prays the author of the Imitation of Christ; and in so praying he is
sighing after wisdom.
This culture of wisdom is the aim of the books which together form the
Bible. They reveal to our vision the best ends in life, and point us to
the best means of winning those high aims. They clear the atmosphere of
mists, disclose to us our bearings, and fill our souls with the afflatus
which wafts us toward "the haven where we would be." These books are
rightly called by Paul, the "Holy Scriptures," the scriptures of holiness,
the writings whose genius is goodness. Their charm is "the beauty of
holiness," the graciousness of Goodness as she unveils herself therein.
And this genius of gracious Goodness which irradiates the inner court of
this temple, lays such a spell upon the souls of men inasmuch as she is
seen to be the very daughter of God; according to the soliloquy overheard
by mortal ears, wherein Wisdom sings:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way,
Before His work of old.
* * * * *
Then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him,
And I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him.
Religion becomes the worship of the God who is the source and standard of
goodness, the love of the Eternal who loveth righteousness, the child's
crying out into the dark--O righteous Father.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.
The Bible is the choicest extant literature of the people of religion,
the record and embodiment of the evolution of ethical worship, through its
varied moods and tenses, into its perfect type in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Bible-books form, therefore, the classics of the soul, in which we are
to study the nature and secret of goodness; the manual which every earnest
man and woman, intent on building character, should use habitually for
ethical culture, and for the ethical worship which is its inspiration.
This is the truest use of the Bible.
* * * * *
The intellectual use of the Bible, in critical and historical studies, is
legitimate and needful. Reason should lay the bases for faith. Knowledge
must rear the altar on which worship is to be lighted. Theology shapes
religion. It is all important, therefore, that the books which the
intellect chiefly uses to found and form its thoughts of God should be
rightly used, so as to give man right conceptions of the Divine Being, and
to waken right feelings toward Him. This intellectual use of the Bible is
not for scholars alone. There is no longer any isolated class of scholars.
All educated people are now taken into the confidence of the learned, in
every sphere of knowledge. The average man will reason about the great
mysteries quite as much as the scholar; perhaps more than the true
scholar, and with more insistent dogmatism. To the issue of that simpler,
nobler Religion of Christ which is struggling to the birth within the
womb of Christianity, in the travail throes that are upon our age, it is
of vital moment that all intelligent people should learn to use their
Bibles intelligently in a knowledge of the nature of its writings, and in
reasonable reasonings therefrom. Therefore I have spoken concerning the
critical and the historical uses of these sacred writings.
But, when this knowledge is won and duly employed in our theologizings,
the truest use of the Bible remains for us to make, to our highest
pleasure and profit. It is the book of religion, not of theology; save as
it records the one authoritative Epistle of Theology, the Word of God, the
Christ. It is not a body of divinity, it is the soul of divinity. To use
the Bible critically and historically for our theologizings, is, after
all, to use it, however rightly, for its secondary and not its primary
purpose. Religion--as the awed sense of the Eternal Power and Order
revealed in nature, the Infinite Goodness and Righteousness revealed in
man--is the art of the soul; its finest feelings, its loftiest
imaginations, its noblest enthusiasms its profoundest tragedies thrown out
into the cry of the human after God.
There is a science in the sculptor's art. It is doubtless needful that
this art should be studied for the sake of its science. Artists, however,
may be glad that Winckelmann has analyzed the Apollo Belvedere, and has
given them the laws of proportion deduced from this human form divine;
leaving them free to feast upon its beauty. For in the scientific study of
art, art itself may be lost. Some great figure-painters have been
unwilling that their pupils should study anatomy; fearing that the bones
would stick through the flesh in their paintings.
This danger shows itself plainly in all critical and historical uses of
the Bible, in the old-fashioned as in the new-fashioned study of the
The international series of Sunday-school lessons burden the brief hours
of the Lord's Day with a mass of matter, which may or may not be true
knowledge about the Bible, but which certainly is not the true religion of
the Bible. A child may learn the tables of the Israelitish Kings, the
geography of the Holy Land, and the architect's plans of the temple of
Jerusalem, and may be learning nothing whatever of the real religion which
is shrined within the Bible. That is very simple:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy
mind, and with all thy strength: And thy neighbor as thyself.
The time spent on these more or less interesting matters may rob the child
of his one weekly opportunity of learning to use the Holy Scriptures so as
to become wise unto salvation. To use their words of wise men, and their
tales of holy men, to inspire the love of goodness as the love of God,
this and this alone is to teach religion from the Bible. Bread that
consists of two-thirds bran and one-third white flour is eminently
laxative; but it is generally supposed that this age is lax enough in its
hold of truth. A little more wheat and a little less bran, ye good
doctors, might strengthen the constitutions of our children.
The new study of the Bible is perhaps even more in danger of missing its
real secret. An interest in the literature and history of Israel may
divert the mind from that which is, after all, the heart of these
"letters," and the core of this history.
Fear God and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.
Of this danger I think that I see signs, in some of the great masters to
whom we owe our new criticism, in some of the manuals which are
popularizing it, and in some of the gifted preachers who are
reconstructing theology around it. The science of religion is absorbing
too much of the life that should go into the art of religion; and we have
fine forms of thought, mantled with flabby flesh of feeling, in which no
red blood of holy passion pulses.
To read Homer with a view of understanding the fables of superstition, and
of interpreting the mythology of the ancients, may have been needful for
the later Greeks, who would preserve religion from the death that was
stealing over it, in the divorce of the educated and the popular thought
of the Grecian Bible. Such a use of Homer, however, must have missed the
essential charm of Homer--the immortal poetry of these heroic legends; the
breath of fresh, simple, wholesome human life which animates them, and
which through them inspired men to brave and noble being. Socrates saw
this in his day.
"I beseech you to tell me, Socrates," said Phaedrus, "do you believe
this tale?" "The wise are doubtful," answered Socrates, "and I should
not be singular if, like them, I also doubted. I might have a rational
explanation.... Now I have certainly not time for such inquiries; shall
I tell you why? I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription
says. To be curious about that which is not my business while I am
still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous."
Wisely speaks the finest Biblical critic of England in our day:
No one knows the truth about the Bible who does not know how to enjoy
the Bible; and he who takes legend for history, and who imagines Moses,
or Isaiah, or David, or Paul, or Peter, or John, to have written
Bible-books which they did not write, but who knows how to enjoy the
Bible deeply, is nearer the truth about the Bible than the man who can
pick it all to pieces but who cannot enjoy it.... His work is to learn
to enjoy and turn to his benefit the Bible, as the Word of the
The right use of the Bible is to feed religion.
Religion, in its widest sense, signifies the act and the habits of
reverencing the invisible, as the highest both in ours Ives and in
The use of the Bible then is to ennoble our ideals, to quicken our
aspirations, to clear the illusions of the senses, to dissipate the glamor
of the world, to purify our passions, to bring our powers well in hand to
a firm will; and, through the mystic laws of nature and of conscience
which we thus endeavor to obey, to breathe within our souls a sacred sense
of the Presence of a Power, infinite and eternal and loving
righteousness--whom to know "is life eternal."
De Quincey classified all writings as belonging either to the literature
of knowledge, or the literature of power. There are books to which we go
for information. They give us facts and ideas. They constitute the
literature of knowledge. They teach us. There are books to which we go for
inspiration; to which we turn for joy and pleasure, for strength and
courage, for patience and endurance, for purity and peace. They constitute
the literature of power. They move us. Herbert Spencer's books belong to
the literature of knowledge The "Imitation of Christ" belongs to the
literature of power.
The literature of knowledge needs to be reissued every century or
generation or decade, corrected up to date. The literature of power is
immortal; fresh to-day though born milleniums ago. The problems of
character and conduct face us much as they faced the Romans and Greeks,
the Egyptians and Hindus. The invisible in nature and in man touches us
with the same feelings that it stirred in Persians, Chaldeans and
Akkadians Even though the Spirit's voice spake once in a language of the
intellect which has now become obsolete, its utterances are not therefore
obsolete. How archaic is much of the thought of the "Imitation of Christ;"
shot through and through as it is with the tissue of mediaeval Catholicism!
But we forget these archaisms in the spell of a holy soul, in love with
wisdom, "intoxicated with God." No archaisms in Biblical thought destroy
its spiritual power over us. Nay, rather do they strengthen that power: as
in our devotions we naturally seek old and quaint forms, buildings unlike
other structures, music which sounds from out the past, words that are
mellow with the rich hues of age; as the archaisms of the language of our
English Bible hold a power that is lost in the raw correctness of the
* * * * *
In the literature of power the Bible ranks first. Whatever in Christian
literature has most searching ethical and spiritual energy radiates the
reflected light of the Bible. Augustine's Confessions, The Imitation of
Christ, Fenelon's Spiritual Letters, The Saints' Rest, The Pilgrim's
Progress, in their most appealing tones echo the voices of the Bible. The
hymns that feed the inner life are aromatic with the rich thoughts and
feelings of this holy book. Our poets betray, in the passages which are
the favorites of earnest minds, the influence of these Scriptures. From
Paradise Lost to In Memoriam, from The Temple to the Christian Year, the
poems which the devout delight in are either Biblical paraphrases or
Biblical distillations. Our masters of fiction could not have written the
scenes which most rouse our moral nature, could not have conceived the
characters which most inspire our devotional nature, without the Bible.
Take the Bible out of Adam Bede and Dinah Morris, out of Robert Falconer
and M. Myriel the blessed Bishop of D., and what would be left of them?
The vibratory quality which most thrills our souls in the strains of
Christian literature is due to the Bible material in it. The Bible holds
stored the ethical electricity on which Christendom has drawn, through
centuries, exhaustless energy.
Outside of Christendom, while there are many books which we can thankfully
and reverently place by the side of the Bible, as ethical and spiritual
motors, there are none which any of us would think of substituting for it.
The Discourses and the Manual of Epictetus, the Thoughts of Marcus
Aurelius, the Dialogues of Plato, and the kindred words of wisdom of the
ancients, are indeed full of inspiration to earnest natures. To dip into
these writings for a few minutes, amid the duties of the day, is a soul
bath, most cleansing and invigorating. The Sacred Books of the East may
well be sacred to us Westerns. A sense of grateful awe steals over me as,
looking on these volumes, I think of the generations which they have fed
with spiritual sustenance and have guided in the way of life. The light
which lighteth every man that cometh into the world shines through these
pages. The All-Father has drawn nigh to the souls of His children, through
the holy men who spake as they were moved of the Holy Ghost. It is an
inestimable privilege to have these Bibles of Humanity ranged along our
shelves, and to have their choicest words at hand upon our tables, in some
apt anthology. It would be well if their great sayings could be read in
our churches, in connection with our Old Testament lessons, as the voices
of the ethnic prophets of the Son of Man. But if we have allowed the
thought that any of these sacred books might become a substitute for our
fathers' Bible, we may correct our crude enthusiasms by the authority of
the greatest living master in Comparative Religion. In the preface to the
edition of the Sacred Books of the East that noble monument of our
generation's scholarship Max Mueller, writes:
Readers who have been led to believe that the Vedas of the ancient
Brahmans, the Avesta of the Zoroastrians, the Tripitaka of the
Buddhists, the Kings of Confucius, or the Koran of Mohammed are books
full of primeval wisdom and religious enthusiasm or at least of sound
and simple moral teaching, will be disappointed on consulting these
volumes.... I cannot help calling attention to the real mischief that
has been done, and is still being done, by the enthusiasm of those
pioneers who have opened the first avenues through the bewildering
forest of the sacred literature of the East. They have raised
expectations that cannot be fulfilled, fears also that, as will be
easily seen, are unfounded.... I confess it has been for many years a
problem to me, aye, and to a great extent is so still, how the Sacred
Books of the East should, by the side of so much that is fresh,
natural, simple, beautiful and true, contain so much that is not only
unmeaning, artificial and silly, but even hideous and repellant.
Our own Bible, as I have frankly owned, holds the truth as the gold is
held in the ore. Truth nowhere exists "native" in human writings; but the
proportions of the "mineralizer" are vastly greater in all other Bibles
than in our own. There is no book known that can take its place on the
lecterns in our churches, or on the tables by which, in quiet hours, we
seat ourselves, a-hungered for the bread of life.
The pre-eminent excellence of Israel's writings in the literature of
power, is natural and necessary. Israel had little originality in any
science or art save the science and art of the soul, the knowledge and the
love of God. Nature is economic in her dowries. She does not shower all
the gifts of the fairies on any one race. She dowered Israel with the
highest of human powers, conscience, in an unequalled measure. Providence
nurtured and trained this faculty. This little nation became as
pre-eminently the people of ethical and spiritual religion as the states
of Greece became the people of art. Because of the natural aptitudes of
Israel, and of her providential education, we should turn to her
literature for our highest inspirations in ethical culture and religion.
Wherein lies this commanding rank of the Bible in the literature of
ethical and spiritual power?
Speaking generally, I should say that the superiority of the Bible lies in
the fact that it is at once a literature of ethical power and a literature
of spiritual power. We have books of high ethical power that are weak
religiously. We have books of high religious power that are weak ethically
The Bible is strong in both directions. Hence its power. Either ethical or
spiritual power alone is defective. Morality without spirituality is
principle without passion. Spirituality without morality is passion
without principle. Union supplements the defectiveness of each alone, and
develops its full forcefulness. The Bible marries morality and
spirituality, and these twain become one. The secularities become sacred,
and the sanctities become sound.
According to the Bible, he who keeps the Ten Words obeys God. The "merely
moral" man is a worshipper of God, though the worship may be silent. In
Kant's great saying, They are always in the service of God whose actions
are moral. Virtue becomes consciously religious, as she learns to
recognize what she is in love with in loving goodness. As the love of
goodness rises into a passion for the ideal forms of Justice, Purity and
Truth, it takes on a real religiousness. It may think to stop short in an
ethical culture, but it cannot. To feed its own aspirations it must
worship the Ideal Righteousness as a reality. Its desires become prayers,
its hopes become praises. Even though in mute longings, it pleads
O Lord, open thou our lips, and our mouth shall shew forth Thy praise.
Reversing the identification of religion with morality that is wrought by
the Bible, its influence is equally impressive. Religion is not the
emotion of man in the presence of the invisible in nature, unless that
invisible is felt to be essentially moral. Religion is not the finest of
feelings before the invisible in man, unless that unseen is also felt to
be ethical. The Natural Religion, however nobly stated, which accepts any
form of poetic ideals as religion, is very imperfect and not at all
Biblical. Shelley's feelings for the spirit of Beauty are exquisitely
fine, but under the light of the Bible they are seen to be only latently
religious. A more penetrating-vision will see in the Ideal Beauty a Moral
Form, and then aesthetics will translate itself into ethics. The unmoral
sentiment of a Shelley for Beauty may issue in another generation in the
immoral sentiment of a Swinburne. Even thus the vision of the Aphrodite
sank into the dream of a Venus. An Oscar Wilde's maunderings over an art
which has no reference to morality may possibly be poetry, but they
certainly are not religion according to the Bible, for all his blasphemous
apostrophes to Christ between his praises of licentious love. Hard as the
granitic core of earth is the core of religion in the Bible.
The "stern law-giver" of Israel was Duty. Her supreme authority, which
enjoined with absolute command the most unpleasant action, was--"I ought."
She saw that "laws mighty and brazen" bind man to a right, which he may
distort or deny, but cannot destroy--his Saviour or his Judge. Mystic in
its sacredness, Conscience sat shrined within the soul of the holy men who
spake as they were moved of the Holy Ghost; her voice the very voice of
God. The Power in whom we live and move and have our being is revealed in
these books as the Eternal Righteousness. The moral law is seen to be the
throne of the Most High.
In Emerson's phrase:
Virtue is the adopting of this dictate of the Universal Mind by the
"What do I love when I love Thee?" sighed Augustine. Israel might have
answered that question in Augustine's own words:
Not the beauty of bodies, nor the fair harmony of time, nor the
brightness of the light so gladsome to our eyes, nor sweet melodies of
varied songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers and ointments and
spices, not manna and honey. None of these do I love when I love my
God; and yet I love a kind of light, a kind of melody, a kind of
fragrance, a kind of food, when I love my God,--the light, the melody,
the fragrance, the food of the inner man. This it is which I love when
I love my God.
But the Bible answer would be much more simple and pungent:
O ye that love the Lord, see that ye hate the thing which is evil....
If a man say I love God and hateth His brother he is a liar.
This is the fundamental secret of the power of the Bible. The love of
goodness and the love of God are one. Aspiration is unconscious worship,
and worship is aspiration conscious of its object.
Be ye perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
But this noble conception of the unity of ethical and spiritual life has
many aspects in the Bible. The Bible turns upon us every phase in which
Wisdom reveals herself to the sons of men, so that no ray of her light is
lost, and that every one, however he may stand related to her, receives
her heavenly beams.
1. _We have here the simple, homely, prudential aspects of virtue, which
have always been particularly powerful on certain ages and classes._
The maxims of a Poor Richard are anticipated here, as quaint, as terse,
and as sagacious in the ancient Jew as in the modern American. Our
scientific teachers would replace eloquent declamation concerning vices,
such as drunkenness and debauchery, by illustrated lectures upon the
physiological effects of violations of nature's laws. They would teach men
that the laws of health are found in the laws of temperance and purity.
The Hebrew sages had this vision of Wisdom. Their proverbial sayings
abound with graphic pen-pictures of the folly of vice. No illustration of
the physical consequences of debauchery could be more impressive than the
vivid sketch of the foolish young man, going after the strange woman as an
"ox goeth to the slaughter," knowing not that
Her house is the way to hell,
Going down to the chambers of death.
The favorite name for sin in these proverbs is Folly. Wisdom crieth to the
sons of men, in that noblest writing of the sages:
Blessed is the man that heareth me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting at the posts of my doors.
For whoso findeth me findeth life,
And shall obtain favor of the Lord.
But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul.
All they that hate me love death.
2. _These laws of life that work for our health and wealth loom, however,
into mystic and sacred forms, as of the laws heavenly and eternal, whose
"seat is the bosom of God."_
When Crito urges his beloved master to escape from the death that had been
unjustly decreed for him, Socrates replies in a noble personification of
the Laws, as rebuking him for the thought of such an attempt to evade
them; and he must be dim-sighted, indeed, who does not see in the forms of
the State Laws, the shadows of the Eternal Laws, august and awful, whose
constraint was round about his will. That is the vision which we catch
through every form of law, sanitary, social, or ecclesiastical, in the
Bible. In the earliest code of the Hebrew statutes known to us, a
collection of tribal "Judgments" or "dooms," this high and mystic sense of
obligation steals over us. Amid the quaint enactments recorded in the Book
of Covenants, whose language carries us back to times of extreme
simplicity, we hear the words
Ye shall be holy men unto me.
Our new critics may tell you that the late poet, who wrote that long-drawn
sigh of desire for the Law which is bodied in the One hundred and
nineteenth Psalm, was thinking of the "Thorah"--the ritual law of the
temple and the counsels of the priests. They are doubtless right, if so be
that they do not lead you to infer that this devout soul was thinking
_only_ of the ecclesiastical law. Through it, there was rising upon his
spirit the vision of the Law Eternal and Heavenly, the norm and pattern of
the law that on earth binds men to purity and righteousness.
Blessed are those that are undefiled in the way,
Who walk in the law of the Lord.
Make me to understand the way of thy commandments;
And so shall I talk of thy wondrous works.
Thy statutes have been my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage.
The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy:
O teach me thy statutes!
Thy hands have made me and fashioned me:
O give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments.
Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.
They continue this day, according to thy ordinances.
Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
And thy law is the truth.
Shew the light of thy countenance upon thy servant,
And teach me thy statutes.
This is none other than that law of which a far later ecclesiastic,
writing also of ecclesiastical law, discoursed in this wise:
There can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of
God, her voice the harmony of the world; all things in heaven and earth
do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as
not exempted from her power: both angels and men and creatures of what
condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all,
with uniform consent admiring her as the mother of their peace and
This law is none other than that holy form which a modern poet thus
Stern lawgiver! yet thou dost wear
The godhead's most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face.
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds,
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong.
3. _The Law thus mystic and sacred is seen to be both the law of nature
and the law of the human soul._
The Bible recognizes no duality of natural law and revealed law. All
divine law is natural, and, as such, is a revelation. Physical and moral
laws are but different forms of one and the same order. The same Power is
working in the world around man and in the world within man. The lower
forms of Its action are to be interpreted by Its higher forms. Nature is
to be resolved by Man. The Ten Words were given as the statutes of Jehovah
himself the personification of some form of nature's force. Out of this
simple germ grew, the noble thought which anticipated the knowledge of
our _savans_ and the intuitions of our seers; who unite in showing us one
order in the starry heavens and in the mysteries of mind. Thus it is that
the Bible feeds so richly, when read aright, that awe which steals upon us
as we face nature and see ourselves mirrored there in shadowy outline; and
realize the One in all things--God.
There is a beautiful illustration of this in a noble poem that our later
critics have handled with a strange lack of perceptiveness. The Nineteenth
Psalm opens with a lofty apostrophe to Nature, commencing:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
And the firmament sheweth His handywork.
At the seventh verse the Psalm abruptly passes to a eulogy of "The
Law"--the moral law shrined in the priestly Thorah:
The law of the Lord is an undefiled law,
Converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure,
And giveth wisdom unto the simple.
Here we have, say our learned critics, two psalms welded into one, a song
of nature and a song of the soul. As though nature and man did not form
one divine poem in two cantos! As though the system of the world around us
did not type the world within us! As though it were not always the most
instinctive action to pass from the sense of an Order in the starry
heavens, and the awe thus awakened, to the sense of an Order in the soul
of man, and the deeper awe thus roused!
We know that the Hindus and Egyptians made use, each, of one word to
express the law of nature and the law of conscience. The physical order
interpreted the sense of a moral order.
The Egyptian _maat_, derived like the Sanskrit _rita_, from merely
sensuous impressions, became the name for moral order and
The Nineteenth Psalm is only the expression among the Hebrews of this
wide-spread instinct; an instinct which learned critics may lack, but
which the poet still inherits; as the Sphynx whispers to him of the double
life of nature and of man, that yet are
By one music enchanted,
One Deity stirred.
4. _The Bible leads us on to that sense of sin, in the presence of this
"Law," which no lower thought of law can quicken._
Violations of physiological law Nature stamps as folly. Offences against
social laws the State brands as crime. Transgressions of Ideal and Eternal
Law become sin. It is not only foolish or disgraceful to break the moral
law, it is wrong. This is the sense of guilt in disobedience that is
roused in each of us by the Bible, as by no other book; that has been
quickened in Europe, historically, by these sacred Scriptures, as by no
other writings. The Bible has given to humanity a new and intense ethical
perception of evil.
The strenuous moral earnestness of the Puritan and the Methodist is
vitalized from these books. The very type of saintship in Christendom is
unique. It is no mere ceremonial correctness for which the priestly
Ezekiel pleads with tender pathos:
Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions whereby ye
have transgressed, and make you a clean heart and a new spirit; for why
will ye die, O house of Israel?
It is this intense sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin which
oppressed the great-hearted Paul, and wrung from him the bitter cry:
O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this
How vividly this sense of sin expresses itself in the Fifty-first Psalm!
There is here a plaint infinitely deeper than the chagrin and remorse of
the man who has committed an "indiscretion," or become entangled in an
"intrigue;" there is the cry of a soul that has betrayed its highest,
holiest fidelities, and lies low in the dust before the Heavenly purity:
Wash me throughly from my wickedness,
And cleanse me from my sin.
Cast me not away from Thy presence,
And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
To enter into the spirit of this sigh of penitence is a new knowledge of
the human heart. The Bible thus leads men to live as in the presence of an
awful Power of Holiness, which is searching through and through our
beings. We cannot understand the Biblical "salvation" unless we have
fathomed, at least, the shoaler experiences of these saintly souls of old,
and know some little of the depths of sin.
5. _The Bible wakens in the breast of man an ethical passion for the ideal
and eternal law, which, apart from early Buddhism, has no parallel in
The prophets are aflame with the ardors of this sacred enthusiasm. The
ordinary passions of mankind are rivaled in intensity by the mystic
passion of their souls for the Heavenly Wisdom. They stand amid the wild
whirl of selfish strife in the society of their day, and lift on high the
holy forms of Justice and Brotherhood, as though expecting their
commonplace cotemporaries to turn aside from practical affairs, and seek
for them; and, so subtle and searching are the appeals of these heavenly
visions, men do actually turn from mammon to worship these impoverishing
divinities; and a great movement arises, looking to the bringing down of
these ideals upon the earth, as the ruling powers in the court and the
exchange. The regenerating force of Christendom has lain in the coming of
these prophets, generation after generation, to the children of men, to
lead them upon the mount where they should clearly see those lofty shapes,
commanding instant loyalty from honest souls. The ominous travail-throes
of society to-day await one stimulus to free the new order that is
struggling to the birth--the passion for ethical and social ideals, which
the Bible, rightly administered, would inspire.
The prophetic spirit is the vital force of the Bible. Its insistent power
reappears in Paul; a man consuming in the fires of this holy passion, and
kindling its ardors in the souls of untold myriads. His great letter to
the Romans, so strangely misread as a mere dogmatic treatise, breathes and
burns with this lofty enthusiasm. Its central thought, its threading
_motif_, heard anew in every critical movement of the argument,
is--Righteousness. The Master in whom the Bible centres, enriches earth
with a new benediction:
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.
This highest passion of mankind is wakened by the Bible as by no other
book. Through it, the mystic Forerunners reveal themselves to the human
soul most alluringly; enthralling it with their pure charms, dispelling
the illusions of the senses and the glamor of the world, in the light of
their holy loveliness. The Eternal Wisdom calls from out these pages to
the sons of men:
Hearken unto me ye that follow after righteousness.
6. _The Bible reveals these ethical ideals as no mere alluring visions,
but as the substantial realities of being._
Men say to those who speak of these high conceptions--"They are the dreams
of sentimentalists, the will-'o-the-wisp lights that beguile men away from
the _terra firma_; to be trusted and followed by no practical man."
"Idealist" is a term of reproach. And justly, from any other point of view
than that which the Bible, true to the most penetrating discernment of
humanity, opens to us. These ideal forms are not the empty conceits of
man's brain, bred from the fumes of his boundless egotism. They are not
the clouds that gather and form and break into airy unreality in the
atmosphere of earth. They are the shadows falling upon the soul of man
from the unseen Realities, which alone have substantial and abiding being.
The laws of nature are surely not the baseless fabric of a dream. These
ideals are simply those laws, transfigured into their spiritual
substances. Whatever in our blindness we may persuade ourselves
elsewhere, over the Bible we recognize the true character of the visions
which so strangely stir us. This is the power of the Bible. Christian
seemed to Mr. Worldly Wiseman a fool. But he saw the heavenly city, and
trudged along, sure that time would prove him in the right. Christian
carried in his hand this Book. With this Book in our hands, we, too, are
sure that the visions of Purity and Justice, which we dimly see afar, are
substantial and real, and that man will win at the last to the land where
they are the light thereof.
Whereupon I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.
7. _The Bible thus inspires a buoyancy and exhilaration which feed the
fresh forces of all noble life._
No poet is needed to tell us that
Virtue kindles at the touch of joy.
We know it in our own experience. We notice it in every great revival of
religion. We trace it through the history of Christianity. The story of
the early days of Jesus is, as Renan called it, "a delightful pastoral."
In the person of humanity's greatest idealist, the highest joy of the soul
was set in the framing of one of nature's brightest scenes. Even from the
shadows of the garden of Gethsemane, He bequeaths to his little flock the
legacy of his free spirit: My joy I leave with you. The Christian Society
entered into that bequest, and in its first exhilaration overflowed the
hard coast lines of property, and realized a happy brotherhood.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and
sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men as any man
had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and
breaking bread at home did take their food with gladness.
The prophets were filled with a buoyancy of spirit that scarce would let
them keep down to the plodding steps of social progress; that constantly
rapt them away into the future, whence their voices echo back the gladness
of their visions. The good time is coming on the earth. The longings of
man's soul are to be realized. Crushed by no disappointments, wearied out
by no delays, the prophets maintain an indomitable hopefulness; their
voices the carollings of the birds that greet the dawn of day:
Sing, O Heavens; and be joyful, O earth;
And break forth into singing, O mountains.
For the Lord hath comforted his people;
And will have mercy upon his afflicted.
One treads here the upper zones, where the air is rare and every draught
an inspiration; where the Laws are seen majestically sweeping every force
into the measured movement which is making all things work together for
good to them that love God.
With a tact truer than any theory, our canon of scripture has been closed
in the Book of the Revelation; whose visions look beyond the break-up of
Jerusalem and shadow on the far horizon, where earth and heaven melt in
one, the fair form of the City of God, coming down from out the skies upon
the new world wherein dwelleth righteousness.
In these days, when "joy is withered from the sons of men," it is like
drinking from the Castalian springs to draw within our souls from the
Bible the sense of that kingdom of God which is joy in the Holy Ghost;
into which men are to come
With everlasting joy upon their heads:
They shall obtain joy and gladness
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
You learn the power of the Bible as you find how the joy of the Lord is
8. _The Bible leads this sense of Law into that awful vision wherein
"Conscious Law is King of kings."_
The Laws appear substantial and real inasmuch as they are seen to be but
phases of the Infinite and Eternal Being, the Righteous Lord who loveth
righteousness. It is a conscious, intelligent, holy Being, whom Israel
worships through these ideal forms of goodness. However He transcended
their poor personalities, as transcend them they knew He must, God was yet
best expressed in the form of the human, conscious personality. Man, the
highest creature, must be, they said, most nearly in the form of God. As
man takes up the noblest characteristics of the life below him, so his own
noblest characteristics must be taken up into the Lord of Life. God cannot
be less than personal, however much more than personal He may be. He is to
be thought of by us, in lack of nobler imagination, as personal. Israel
thus grew into the conception of the Infinite Power, manifest in the order
of nature and in the order of conscience as conscious Power; One in whose
image man was made, the Father of the mystic "I"; whose nature is the law
of creation, whose purpose is its plan, whose will is its exhaustless
This is the secret which has kept the religions inspired by the Bible from
lapsing, as other religions have done, into lifelessness.
Egypt was the land of a religion which had won a high conception of the
Divine unity; a religion which was scientific in its forms of thought, and
earnestly moral in its spirit; but which failed to keep distinct in mind
the order of nature from the Being on whom it reposes, and thus sank into
the dreamy pantheism of its cultured classes, and the poetic polytheisms
of its people. Of this lapse, Renouf writes:
All gods were in fact but names of the One who resided in them all. But
this God is no other than Nature. Both individuals and entire nations
may long continue to hold this view, without drawing the inevitable
conclusion, that if there is no other God than this, the world is
really without a God. But the fate of a religion which involves such a
conclusion, and with that conclusion the loss of faith in immortality,
and even in the distinction of Right and Wrong, except so far as they
are connected with ritual prescriptions, is inevitably sealed.
Neither Judaism, nor Mohammedanism, nor Christianity, the religions fed
directly or indirectly from the Bible, have run, or can well run into this
fatal error. The Divine Being who is mirrored in the Bible is the
Conscious Intelligence to whom alone of right belongs that ineffable
name--GOD. This is the thought and this is the word which hold the spell
of the Bible power over the human soul. Nowhere else is the sense of God
so alive, nowhere else does it so thrill the whole being of man. It was
this living God whom these holy men of old were seeking; not simply the
august ideals of the soul, but the Eternal Being who casts them as his
shadows upon man:
Unto Thee lift I up mine eyes,
O Thou that dwellest in the heavens.
* * * * *
My soul truly waiteth still upon God,
For of Him cometh my salvation.
* * * * *
Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks,
So longeth my soul after Thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the Living God;
When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
It is God whom these holy men find. The Ineffable Presence rejoices their
souls, and as we keep company with them rejoices our souls also:
Lord, Thou hast been our home
From one generation to another.
* * * * *
Whoso dwelleth in the secret-place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
* * * * *
O Lord, Thou hast searched me out and known me.
Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising;
Thou understandest my thoughts afar off.
Thou art about my path and about my bed,
And spiest out all my ways.
For lo, there is not a word in my tongue
But Thou, O Lord, knowest it altogether.
The inspirations which we feel from the Bible-words are the breathings of
the Eternal Spirit. The Divine whispers, which are too often inarticulate
in nature and even in our souls, are articulate in the great
Bible-words--the words proceeding from out of the mouth of God, on which
man liveth. The power of the Bible is that the deafest souls can therein
9. _God speaks in A MAN._
The Bible centres in the story of a life which was so filled with the Holy
Ghost that this Man became the symbol of the Most High, the sacrament of
His Being and Presence, the sacred shrine of Deity. As when the long-drawn
travail of instrumentation labors through the opening movements of the
ninth symphony, with a strain too fine for any voicing save by man, there
bursts at length upon the tumultuous storm of sound the clear, high, song
of joy from human lips; so from the mounting efforts of a nation's
insufficient utterance there rises at last a voice, which takes up every
groaning of the Spirit in humanity into the perfect beauty of a human life
And so the Word hath breath, and wrought
With human hands the creed of creeds,
In loveliness of perfect deeds,
More strong than all poetic thought.
The light of the Son of Man is the life of men; the light for our minds
and the warmth for our hearts. In the Power in whom we live and move and
have our being, we see "Our Father who art in Heaven." In the laws of life
we read the methods of His schooling of our souls. In the sorrows of life
we receive His disciplinings. In the sins that cling so hard upon us we
feel the evils of our imperfection, from which He is seeking to deliver us
through His training of our spirits. In the shame of sin we are conscious
of the guilt that His free forgiveness wipes away, when we turn saying,
Father, I have sinned. In death we face the door-way to some other room of
the Father's house, where, it may be, just beyond the threshold our dear
ones wait for us! In Christ himself we own our heaven-sent Teacher,
Master, Saviour, Friend; our elder Brother, who in our sinful flesh lives
our holy aspirations, and, smiling, beckons us to follow Him, whispering
in our ears--To them that receive me I give "power to become the sons of
The power of the Bible is--CHRIST.
When Sir Walter Scott lay in his last illness, he asked Lockhart one day
to read to him. "From what book shall I read?" said Lockhart. "There is
but one book," was Scott's answer. Those who have sought the "power to
become the sons of God" will understand this hyperbole of the most healthy
human mind in modern English literature. Tested by experience there is
indeed, in the wide range of the literature of power, no book to be
mentioned with the Bible for feeding the life of God in man. Our fathers
found this true, and their children cannot correct their judgment. The
substitute for the Bible, as an ethical and spiritual instructor, is not
I speak to those who are in earnest in the building of a man. You need
this book, my brothers. Luther's higher life dated from his discovery of
the Bible. Have you discovered the Bible? Within the body of human
"letters" have you found out the divine soul of the Bible? Through the
chorus of human voices have you heard the voice of the Eternal Power? If
not, life holds one more rich "find" for you--a treasure hidden in the
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