Page images

the mind fully aware of the tendency of such language to materialize the Deity in our conceptions of him, we nevertheless find it impossible to adopt any other. We can scarcely think of, and still less speak about, God without using these physical, corporeal terms. Hence it is that children must make a long advance in mental culture ere they can escape from this physical image of God. And, as in the infancy of society all men are children in this respect, their God will be merely a very great man. He sees vastly farther than we do, but yet he does really see. His sense of hearing may be infinitely more acute than ours, yet is it a real sense; and so of all other human attributes and faculties ascribed to him in the Bible. And it may not be amiss for each one, however intellectually cultivated, to inquire whether there may not still be some image of God floating in the imagination, vastly refined it may be, and endowed with atributes co-extensive with the universe, but still a real, substantive image. If so, our Jehovah is only a most marvellous

This is not a matter of minor importance, God himself being judge. On no other point are his admonitions and warnings so minute and emphatic.

"Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves (for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire) lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth; and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven" (Deut. iv. 15). This comprehensive and most earnest admonition is by no means superfluous at the present time, and never will be. We learn from history that idolatry is the religious heresy which man

kind has ever been most prone to embrace; and from the Bible that this is the one thing which the Lord most intensely abhors. Take good heed; we are always in danger of this kind of pollution.

A similar caution is equally applicable and needful in regard to our ideas about the kingdom of heaven and the nature of true religion in the soul of man. The same difficulty in human language meets us. It has a mundane, physical basis, easily misunderstood, which has in fact been very generally perverted so as to teach ruinous error.


the Jews could not divest the Messiah's kingdom of those external worldly elements with which the earth-born language of the prophets seemed to invest it. Even the apostles, under the immediate instruction of the King himself, learned slowly and with difficulty, that this kingdom was spiritual, not temporal; not of this world, but of heaven. Nor have succeeding ages been essentially wiser in this fundamental matter. To this hour the vast majority of nominal Christians do not understand the peculiar language of the kingdom. any better than did the ancient Jews. It is of the utmost concernment, therefore, that we so study the holy oracles as to escape these seductive but fatal errors. The Bible is a rich storehouse of histories, parables, prophecies, proverbs, precepts, prayers, psalms, and hymns. It contains an endless variety of figure and metaphor and symbol, selected and set forth with superhuman skill, to reveal and illustrate the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. To the obvious and the literal, there is a hidden and higher meaning; and if we cannot discover this, we do not truly comprehend the book. Our present essays may, it is hoped, afford some aid in this important study.1

1 Max Müller in one of his Lectures on the Science of Religion, has some profound remarks on this general subject. "Ancient language," he says, "is a difficult instrument to handle, particularly for religious purposes. It is impossible in human language to express abstract ideas except by metaphor, and it is not too much to say that the whole dictionary of ancient religion is made up of metaphor. With us these metaphors are all forgotten. We speak of spirit without thinking of breath; of heaven, without thinking of the sky, etc. But

There is one aspect of this general subject of such vital importance that the writer desires to present it with special distinctness and emphasis. Properly treated it will form a valid and cumulative argument for the reality of divine revelation. The testimony which this study gives to this fundamental problem is, to a certain extent, the complement of that which the material universe bears to a Creator. The numberless evidences of design in the visible creation necessarily imply the hand of an all-wise Designer, and they constitute the basis of our natural theology. So, likewise, do the countless arrangements devised and carried into effect through long ages for this specific purpose testify to the reality of a higher and a heaven-taught theology. Nor does the fact that there are unexpected obscurities, and to us even inexplicable difficulties, in the outworking of the scheme. of divine revelation, disturb our faith; for similar perplexities abound in the material creation. But in neither case should they be allowed to unsettle our confidence that all has been devised and guided by him whose thoughts and ways are high above ours as the heavens are above the earth, and infinitely more wise. We cannot, of course, discuss in this place, or even allude to, the entire list of these divine arrangements. Indeed, our programme restricts us mainly to one class of them to those, namely, by which an adequate spiritual language has been provided. On this limited field of inquiry the following propositions will indiin ancient languages every one of these words, nay every word that does not refer to sensuous objects, is in a chrysalis stage, half material and half spiritual, rising and falling in its character according to the varying capacities of the speakers and hearers." Max Müller illustrates, at considerable length, the processes through which ancient religious teachers had to grope their way in painful search for adequate names for their ideas about God and spiritual things; and adds: “The language of antiquity is the language of childhood; and we, ourselves, when we try to reach the Infinite and the Divine by means of mere abstract terms, are but like children trying to place a ladder against the sky. The 'parler infantine,' in religion is not extinct; it never will be..... In all our religion, and in the language of the New Testament, there are many things which disclose their true meaning to those only who know what language is made of; who have not only ears to hear, but a heart to understand the real meaning of parables."

cate with sufficient precision the nature and force of this argument:

1. The invention of a spiritual language adequate to meet the demands of divine revelation transcends the unaided powers of the human mind, and yet it has been actually accomplished.

2. The special providence of God can be traced throughout the whole process by which this language has been originated and developed; in creating and fitting up this terrestrial home of the Bible in a peculiar and exceptional manner for this purpose; more distinctly, in establishing and controlling the condition of the human actors and agents; in bringing to pass suitable historic incidents and miraculous interpositions, and causing them to be recorded by prophets, pocts, and apostles, whose birth and education. in Palestine admirably fitted them for their special office; and finally, by the constant and fearless use of this spiritual nomenclature by God himself and by men inspired, whereby we are enabled to understand and rightly to employ it.

3. This heaven-taught language, having received all the development needed at the time of Christ and his apostles, there was no further occasion for the historic and peculiar economies and providential interferences from which it sprang and by which it had been so largely enriched, and they were accordingly allowed to pass away.

We do not, of course, maintain that our present study will furnish a systematic argument for any particular theory of inspiration. It takes a wider range, and aims to show that from the very "beginning, or ever the earth was," the Creator designed to hold intelligent spiritual converse with his creature man, and made provision for it. And since, to render such intercourse possible, an adequate medium of communication was indispensable, he adopted a definite plan to secure this medium, and carried it out

The execution of this plan

during a long series of ages. was commenced far back in time, even before man himself was created and brought into co-operation with it. In

[blocks in formation]

working out the scheme, God was in no sense restricted to the conscious co-operation of men technically inspired. They had their place, a most important one in the work, but an endless variety of other agents and agencies, natural and supernatural, was also employed. Physical phenomena, human history, and superhuman interference, meet and cross each other on this immense arena in numberless lines, of infinite, and to us inextricable, complexity. Good men and bad, and even wicked spirits, willingly or against their will, are made to do service in this matter. Through and by all these subordinate agents and agencies, has God - the sole Author of inspiration - chosen to make known his will to man. To this extent they are all channels of divine. revelation. And, to confine our view to the specific study in hand, each was made to contribute something towards. the development and perfection of that spiritual language through which God has chosen to communicate his will to


The theatre where these manifold agents and agencies were to meet and co-operate in effecting the contemplated result was Palestine. Infinite wisdom selected and so fitted up this land as to render it in all respects admirably adapted to become the birthplace and home of revelation, in the sense in which we are now considering the subject. Even the geographical location was divinely chosen. "When the Most High divided the nations; when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel" (Deut. xxxii. 8). At the head of this greatest of inland seas, with Mesopotamia and Chaldea on the east; Egypt and Sinai southward, the wilderness and the desert all around, and the vast Mediterranean, holding in its bosom the isles of Chittim, towards the setting sun, Palestine formed the connecting link between the three continents of the Old World. It was thus the best geographical point on the globe upon which to erect the moral light-house of the world, especially so long as there was but one, which continued to be substantially the case during the long centuries,

« PreviousContinue »