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HARMONIOUS THEY MAY BE IN THE OUTSET, SHALL PRESENTLY BE AT VARIANCE. Thus it was between Abimilech and the men of Shechem, as Jotham had forewarned them in his parable. Though at first they appeared to rejoice in each other; yet, in a little time, fire came out from Abimelech, and devoured the men of Shechem, and fire came out from the men of Shechem, and devoured Abimelech.* Such is commonly the issue of all unprincipled confederacies, traitorous conspiracies, illegal combinations, and illicit amours. Union, in order to be lasting, requires to be cemented with honor. Where this is wanting, however appearances may for a while be flattering, all will prove transitory: mutual jealousies will produce mutual enmities, which are certain to issue in confusion and every evil work. These remarks are no less applicable to the whole human race, than to particular parts of it. Men have revolted from God; and yet think to live in harmony among themselves. God, in just judgment, appears to have determined the contrary; and that, till they return to him, they shall be given up to an evil spirit towards each other, and to the ravages of a succession of ambitious leaders, who shall destroy them in great numbers from the face of the earth. It is morally impossible, indeed, that it should be otherwise; for the same principle which induces them to renounce the divine goverment, dissolves the bands of human society. Supreme self-love is the origin of both, and is sufficient to account for all the disorder in the universe.
Candid reader, review the subject of this chapter. In the last, we traced the agreement of the holy scriptures with historic fact; in this, we have seen their correspondence with living truth, or with things as they actually exist, in the mind and in the world. Similar arguments might also have been drawn from the characters of believers and unbelievers. Not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble were called in the early ages of Christianity; and it has been the same in every age. To the Jews the gospel was from the first a stumbling-block, and to philosophers foolishness; and such it continues to this day. The existence of the Jews as a distinct people, their dispersion, their attachment to the Old Testament, and
* Judges ix.
rejection of the New, their expectation of a Messiah, their acknowledgment of the truth of the historical facts concerning our Lord, the malignity of their spirit; in a word, their exact resemblance, even at this remote period, to the picture drawn of them in the New Testament, are facts which cannot be controverted. Judge impartially: Is there any thing in all this that bears the marks of imposture? A connoisseur will distinguish between paintings taken from life, and such as are the works of mere imagination. An accurate judge of moral painting will do the same. If the scriptures gave false descriptions of men and things, if they flattered the vices of mankind, or exhibited the moral state of the world contrary to well-known fact, you would conclude them to be a work of falsehood. On the other hand, if they speak of things as they are; if conscience echo to their charges, and fact comport with their representations, they must have been taken from life and you must conclude them to be what they profess to be a work of truth. And, since the objects described are many of them beyond the conclude that they are not only a work of truth, but, what they also profess to be-The true sayings of God.
ken of human observation, you must
THE HARMONy of scripTURE WITH ITS OWN PROfessions, argued FROM THE SPIRIT AND STYLE IN WHICH IT IS WRITTEN.
If the scriptures be what they profess to be-the word of God; it may be presumed that the spirit which they breathe, and even the style in which they are composed, will be different from what can be found in any other productions. It is true, that, having been communicated through human mediums, we may expect them, in a measure, to be humanized; the peculiar turn and talents of each writer will be visible, and this will give them the character of variety; but, amidst all this variety, a mind capable of discerning the divine excellence will plainly perceive in them the finger of God.
With respect to style, though it is not on the natural, but the moral, or rather the holy beauties of scripture that I would lay the principal stress; yet something may be observed of the other. So far as the beauty of language consists in its freedom from affectation, and in its conformity to the nature of the subject, it may be expected that a book written by holy men, inspired of God, will be possessed of this excellence. A divinely-inspired production will not only be free from such blemishes as arise from vanity, and other evil dispositions of the mind, but will abound in those beauties which never fail to attend the genuine exercises of modesty, sensibility, and godly simplicity. It will reject the meretricious ornaments of art; but it will possess the more substantial beauties of nature. That this is true of the scriptures has been proved by several able writers.*
See Blackwall's Sacred Classicks. Also Melmoth's Sublime and Beautiful of scripture; to which is added, Dwight's Dissertation on the Poetry, History, and Eloquence of the Bible.
Mr. Paine, however, can see nothing great, majestic, or worthy of God, in any part of the Bible. Among the numerous terms of reproach with which he honours it, he is pleased to censure the writings of Isaiah as "bombast, beneath the genius of a schoolboy ;" and to compare the command of the great Creator, in the first chapter of Genesis, Let there be light, to the "imperative manner of speaking used by a conjuror."* This writer has given us no example of the bombast from Isaiah. Bombast is that species of writing in which great swelling words are used to convey little ideas. But is it thus in the writings of Isaiah? And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.—Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor, hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burntoffering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing and vanity. Are the ideas too little, in these instances, for the words? The prophets wrote in a poetic style; and how could they write otherwise? Poetry is the language of passion; and such as theirs, of passion raised and inflamed by great and affecting objects. Their language is not that of common poetry, but, as an elegant writer expresses it, "It is the burst of inspiration."
As to the objection against the sublimity of the passage in the first chapter of Genesis, it is sufficient to observe, that there is nothing, be it ever so majestic and worthy of God, but a profane and ludicrous imagination may distort it. A rainbow may be compared to a fiddle-stick; but it does not follow that it is an object
* Age of Reason, Part II, p. 105. Note.