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THE HARMONY OF SCRIPTURE WITH ITS OWN PROFESSIONS, ARGUED
FROM THE SPIRIT AND STYLE IN WHICH IT IS WRITTEN.
Ir 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 buman 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.
of equal insignificance. Thunder and lightning may be imitated by a character not less contemptible than a conjuror; but should any one infer that there is nothing more grand, more awful, or more worthy of God, in these displays of nature, than in the exhibitions of a country show, he would prove himself to be possessed of but a small portion of either wit or good sense.
I do not pretend to any great judgment in the beauties of composition but there are persons of far superior judgment to this writer who have expressed themselves in a very different language. The late Sir Wm. Jones, who for learning and taste, as well as character, has left but few equals, thus expresses himself: "I have regularly and attentively read these Holy Scriptures, and am of opinion that this volume, independent of its divine origin, contains more sublimity and beauty, more pure morality, more important history, and finer strains of poetry and eloquence, than can be collected from all other books, in whatever age or language they may have been composed."
The acknowledgments of Rousseau, likewise, whose taste for fine writing, and whose freedom from prejudice in favour of Christianity, none will call in question, will serve to confront the assertions of Mr. Paine. After declaring that as there were some proofs in favour of Revelation which he could not invalidate, so there were many objections against it which he could not resolve; that he neither admitted, nor rejected it; and that he rejected only the obligation of submitting to it; he goes on to acknowledge as follows: "I will confess to you farther, that the majesty of the scripture strikes me with admiration, as the purity of the gospel hath its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers, with all their pomp of diction-how mean-how contemptible-are they, compared with the scripture! Is it possible, that a book at once so simple and sublime, should be merely the work of man? Is it possible that the sacred personage whose history it contains should be himself a mere man? Do we find that he assumed the air of an enthusiast or ambitious sectary? What sweetness, what purity in his manner! What an affecting gracefulness in his delivery! What sublimity in his maxims! What profound wisdom in his discourses! What presence of
mind! What subtilty! What truth in his replies! How great the command over his passions! Where is the man, where the philosopher, who could so live and die, without weakness, and without ostentation?-Shall we suppose the Evangelic History a mere fiction? Indeed, my friend, it bears not the marks of fiction. On the contrary, the history of Socrates, which nobody presumes to doubt, is not so well attested as that of Jesus Christ. The Jewish authors were incapable of the diction, and strangers to the morality contained in the Gospels; the marks of whose truth are so striking and invincible, that the inventor would be a more astonishing character than the hero."*
Rousseau's praises of the scripture remind us of the high encomiums bestowed by Balaam on the tabernacles of Israel. It is no unusual thing for men to admire that which they do not love.
Let us examine a little more minutely the spirit in which the scriptures are written. It is this which constitutes their holy beauty, distingnishes them from all other writings, and affords the strongest evidence of their being written by inspiration of God.
- In recording historical events, the sacred writers invariably eye the hand of God: in some instances they entirely overlook second causes; and in others, where they are mentioned, it is only as instruments fulfilling the divine will. Events that came to pass according to the usual course of things, and in which an ordinary historian would have seen nothing divine, are recorded by them among the works of the Lord: The Lord was very angry with Israel, and romoved them out of his sight.—And the Lord sent against Jehoiakim bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord which he spake by his servants the prophets. Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight for the sins of Manasseh according to all that he
* Works, Vol. V. pp. 215-218.