« PreviousContinue »
admit the probability or even possibility of their presence there. In whatever book (or by whatever book) God has made a revelation to us, there must be a most important fulness of meaning, for which, in the exercise of a devout and chastened judgment, we are to seek as for hid treasures. It was in the acknowledgment of this principle, that Jesus and his apostles found so much more in the Old Scriptures than has since been discovered by Grotius and Rosenmüller. But our rational commentator, as he styles himself, does not truly believe that God thus speaks to us in the Old Scriptures. He would never have allowed of any rational antecedent probability in the interpretation with which Christ confounded the materializing Sadducees; and yet what Christian will dare to say that the Light of the world did not follow a safe and rational law of bermeneutics ?
We may not expect to find the system of the gospel truth distinctly set forth in the Jewish Scriptures, but what faith can stand the shock, or rather who can have any faith in revelation at all, if he is compelled to believe that those who are called God's chosen people, and even the most pious among them, were for so many centuries the veriest materialists, or annihilationists, destitute of the first elements of anything like spiritual religion, in perfect ignorance of any key to the mysteries of God's providence or of his moral justice, inferior, in this respect, not only to all the other nations of antiquity, but even to the savage tribes of our own continent-in short, with no more conception of another life, or of the eternal moral ideas that have no true existence apart from it, than the beasts that perish. Believe this who can. If we must have either extreme, I would prefer to it all the dreams of Origen, and all the wild interpretations of a Cocceius or a Parkhurst.
To a consistent believer, then, in the true idea of revelation, there should be no difficulty in such a view of this passage as bas been taken by Drs. Good, Chalmers, and many others--that is, no difficulty arising from any alleged antecedent improbability, if the words and context will fairly bear the interpretation. In the passage before us, bowever, we think that the whole purpose may be regarded as better answered by taking this verse in the way of the strongest hypothetical negation, and the expression, until the heavens be no more, for the common method of denoting unbounded time.l
The greater part of the verse admits of being regarded as a direct interrogatory. Man lieth down, and shall he arise no more? Shall they never awake out of their sleep? This method has sometimes been
"To the ancient mind, the revolutions of the visible heavens were much more the actual measures of time than to us. Artificial expedients have superceded the constant and necessary observation of the celestial motions.
Death contemplated Physically.
resorted to by the best critics, when there were far less grounds for it than in this case. According to another view, it may be regarded as a desponding denial, from which the writer represents the sufferer as recovering in the next verse. Or it may, more properly, be taken as neither interrogatory, nor affirmation, nor denial, but rather, as before intimated, as a meditative or ejaculatory presentation of the darkest side of the case, for the very purpose of strengthening, by such a contemplation of an extreme hypothesis, a weak yet hoping and rising faith. Why may we not suppose Job to have talked with himself after the manner of Beattie's minstrel ?
Nor yet for the ravage of winter I mourn;
O when shall day dawn on the night of the grave ? It might as well be said that this, too, was the language of an unbeliever in any future existence. Here, too, the merely exegetical or rhetorical answer, necessary to preserve the keeping of the despondent thought, would be a strong negative ; just as Rosenmüller and Mr. Barnes say minime vero to the impassioned interrogatory, verse 14; and yet the very tone of the verse above quoted, and of the similar verses of the poem, considered independently of anything else in any other parts of the context, would of themselves show that they were used for a very opposite purpose. The pensive strain was intended to usber in the more cheerful note of hope ; and so here, in the passage before us, it is followed, at once, by an earnest prayer, springing from a feeling altogether different from that which seemed to prompt the apparent denial, and in fact irreconcilable with it. It may
be justly said, too, and the remark is applicable to a great part of the chapter, that Job here confines his contemplations of man mainly to his physical or phenomenal relations, it may be, to bring out more strongly the apparent contradictions between this aspect of bumanity, and the importance be is compelled to attach to our moral being, of which importance, he never seems to entertain a doubt. Contemplated thus in his mere animal nature (and by this term, in its widest sense, we mean what may be called the physiology or physical constitution of the soul regulated as a physical production under physical laws as well as of the body), everything in man does seem to come to an end in death. So strong, so exclusive, so unbroken is this negative evidence which comes up from the phenomenal world, from all that we see and hear and feel of dissolution, that we may well wonder how this universal belief in some future life and a ghostly state,-a belief held by the most savage as well as the most
enlightened-has ever maintained its ground against so powerful an antagonistic influence. And yet both views, we know from experience, have a mysterious practical consistency. The most firm Christian may at times indulge in the contemplation of this aspect of his nature, and, whilst thus confining his mind to it, employ just such language as is sometimes used by Job and the speaker in Ecclesiastes. We too may talk, and talk consistently, of our existence as but a handbreadth, our life as a vapor, as a cloud that goeth and returneth not again. We may speak of the grave as our long home, our resting place. We may even, at times, feel a sort of melancholy pleasure in regarding it mainly in its aspect of repose from the toils and anxieties of the present stormy life—as a state where the small and the great, the bond and the free, lie down together-where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. We may also, as Job seems to have done here, contrast our physical frailty and transitoriness, with the apparent stability and immensely long periods of nature. Such language is everywhere congenial to humanity. It is to be found, in very numerous places, among the Grecian poets ; and yet we know that the common belief of their age respecting another world was the very ground and life of their highest poetry. Pindar, for example, will tell us in one place of the “ Isles of the Blessed,” of the “ tearless eternity” (adaxquv aiwva) where “ those who have rejoiced in piety and reverenced their oaths, enjoy the never setting sun of one eternal day.”
Ισον δε νύκτεσσιν αιεί,
ΙΙαρά μέν τιμίοις θεών, ,
Olymp. II. Σ. δ. He speaks, too, most distinctly of that world of awful retribution where incorrigible lost spirits suffer the dread penalty of their sins.
θανόντων μεν ενθάδ' αυτίκ' απάλαμνοι φρένες
Ποινάς έτισαν. . and “from whose fearful doom the eye of the soul turns away with horror,"
Το δ' απροσόρατον οκχέοντι πόνον. . Viewing man, also, in his higher aspect, he represents him as the subject of Immortal Law, and of an Eternal Justice; and then again, 1849.) Sense in which Death is the End of Man.
227 like Job he speaks of us as the merest ephemerae (Pyth. VIII.’E. 6), or beings "crushed before the moth,”-as a passing shade, as the shadow of a dream, or the dream of a shadow.
'Επάμεροι τί δέ τις; τί δ' ου τις
ΣΚΙΑΣ όναρ άνθρωπος. . The poet Moschus, from whom we have quoted that touching comparison, so much resembling Job's, and seeming to imply a hopeless cessation of human existence, had just before in the very same poem, spoken of his departed friend as "still singing sweet strains in the realm of Hades.” Homer certainly manifests an undoubting belief in a ghostly world, or separate place of souls, as the settled opinion of his day, and yet he does not hesitate at other times, to speak of us as the most transient and ephemeral of all existences ; qúldov yeven, " leaves which the winds scatter upon the ground, and which perish in every revolving season,” (see the lines quoted p. 212). One of his most common epithets of death, is etymologically opposed to every idea of continuous conscious being-ravnaeyńs-not simply lying prostrate, as some grammarians say, but rather long-oblivious or uncaring. The term seems to be derived directly from the most exclusively phenomenal aspect of mortality.
The Christian, too, as we have said, may indulge, and sometimes rightly indulge, in similar pensive strains. It is good for him sometimes to contemplate this mere physical aspect of frail humanity, and he may do so without any disparagement of his highest and purest faith. Of this kind are the lines from Beattie's minstrel above quoted. Such effusions are frequent in the poetry of the pious and heavenly minded Watts. With what solemnity of feeling does Dr. Dwight indulge in the expression of similar thoughts :
In those lone, silent realms of night,
Shall peace and hope no more arise ?
Nor day-star gild the morning skies ? Such language, we say, even when unqualified by anything of a contrary kind, is not only lawful, but appropriate, when the mind is led by peculiar circumstances to dwell on the physical frailty of our human state, as presented in most impressive contrast with the real eternity of God, and the apparent eternity of nature. We may properly wish to take a steady view of this side of our being, unaffected, for the moment, by any other considerations; or we may entertain such thoughts as preparatory to, and suggestive of, a higher faith in our moral and spiritual relations. On either ground, it is a sufficient justi
fication for us, that the language occurs so often in the Scriptures, not only in the Old Testament, but also, occasionally, in the New. We therefore adopt, without misgiving, into our hymns, and, at times, even into our prayers, the very words which are found in passages of this nature, from Job and the Psalms. We sing and repeat, with emotion, in which there mingles no consciousness of inconsistency, such lines as these
Silence and solitude and gloom
In those forgetful realms appear;
And hope can never enter there. The same may be said of that solemn dirge, so often sung on funeral occasions
Unveil thy bosom, faithful tomb;
Take this new treasure to thy trust;
To slumber in the silent dust.
Invade thy bounds; no mortal woes
We feel no inconsistency between such strains and the bright hopes to which they sometimes serve as the dark, minor prelude. They no more jar upon our speculative theology, than that touching language of the New Testament which represents death under the soothing conception of a sleep. In the same way, and on the same principle, are we fond of employing the words of the Preacher, whose sermon was ever upon the frailty and nothingness of the present life, and the silence which, to the natural ear, seems to rest on all beyond it. “ The living know that they must die, but the dead know not anything; their love, their hatred, their zeal, has perished; they have no part in anything that is done beneath the sun.
There are no acts of pardon passed
In the cold grave to which we haste. The pious and intelligent Christian discovers no inconsistency here. All is in accordance with his own most serious feelings and thoughts, until “ rational criticism” steps in and turns into infidel poison one of the most interesting and instructive portions of Holy Writ.
Even He who brougbt life and immortality to light, not by revealing, but by shedding light upon Sheol-even He seems to give us a warrant for occasionally dwelling on this aspect of humanity, when he speaks of " the night coming, in which no man can work." The very