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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 goodness.

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.[39]

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.[40] 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.[41] 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.[42] The various tribes probably had different rites.

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. C. 1100-800.

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 spring!


_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.[43]

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.[44] 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 worshipped.

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 righteousness.

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.[45]

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?[46]

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.[47]

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 Statesman’s Manual.

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.[48]

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.[49]

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 walked.

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.[50]

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.[51] 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.[52]

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.”[53]

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 spiritual guidance:

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 overheard singing:

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 being.

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 Jesus Christ?

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 truth.

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 through them.

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 mind.

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.

Whittier: “Miriam.”


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 ought.

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 Bible.

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.”[54]

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 Eternal,[55]

The right use of the Bible is to feed religion.

Coleridge said:

Religion, in its widest sense, signifies the act and the habits of reverencing the invisible, as the highest both in ours Ives and in nature.[56]

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 revised version.

* * * * *

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.[57]

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 individual will.

“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.[58]

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.[59]

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 joy.[60]

This law is none other than that holy form which a modern poet thus apostrophizes:

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 righteousness.[61]

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 death.

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 history._

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 your strength.

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 energy.

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.[62]

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 hear–GOD.

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 divine.

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 God.”

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 out.

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