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If the work which the poets have achieved has neither been perfect nor all that was desirable, they have not wrought in vain. In their efforts to unfold the mysteries of Providence, and to “justify the ways of God to men,” they may often have marred the beautiful proportions of truth. But the fallibility of the poets need not disqualify them to help us in understanding the Scriptures. As consistently may we decline the aid of sermons and commentaries, because preachers and writers are imperfect. No reflector can convey the sun's light to our eyes so well as the sun himself. Yet mirrors are indispensable! And the truly Christian poet may be the most luminous and convincing of commentators. True it is that philology and logic are invaluable aids to the interpreter of the Scriptures, and modern scholarship owes much to such appliances. Without hermeneutical skill, indeed, revealed truth cannot be well and duly explained. Yet the Christian poet, by his peculiar gifts and temperament, may often surpass the logical and learned but dry exegete. This advantage comes chiefly, however, through his loyal and loving sympathy with spiritual truths. Mere words and modes of speech are inadequate to express his thoughts and feelings. He may be delighted and improved by the literary beauties of the Bible, and far more by the divine fragrance which its teachings convey to his soul. But while the merely scientific interpreter may be expert in wielding the instruments of critical research and analysis, he may live and die a novice in regard to the vital beauty and meaning of the sacred volume, because the power of sight, of hearing, and of reasoning, cannot grasp them. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
In a book where poetry renders such homage to the Bible, it may not be amiss to remind the reader how much the geniuses in other departments of art are indebted to the sacred volume for many of their most valued themes. If the Scriptures are not wholly unmatched in this regard, the themes which they furnish are suggestive of truths and ideas most significant and sublime. Thus the Ark of Noah, and especially the Tabernacle and the Temple, built according to divine dictation, symbolized spiritual mysteries and heavenly realities thereafter to be more fully revealed. Thus, too, the massive and graceful beauties of Grecian and Roman architecture were first typified in the works of nature, and were thence derived and appropriated by the mercurial sagacity and imitative genius of man. One has only to glance at the chief incidents of Sacred History, to be reminded of names which have been immortalized by the genius displayed in Painting and Music, on the part of those who bore them. Such world-renowned pictures as “Moses Found,” “The Transfiguration,” and “The Last Supper,” herald the fame of the Rembrandts, the Raphaels, and the Da Vincis ; while such oratorios as “The Creation,” “Israel in Egypt,” “The Messiah,” and “Elijah,” and such chants as the “Miserere," and the “Dixit Dominus,” will, through all the ages, enshrine the Haydens, the Handels, the Mendelssohns, and the Palestrinas in the memories of all true lovers of Christian art.
While these passages from the Bible and the poets would have great worth if printed separately, it is believed that this marriage of poetry to Scripture will largely enhance the value of both to the reader. In the reading of the sacred volume it has often been found that a word uttered, or a query raised, has so roused the mind, that it has seen the truth in a new light, and clothed with fresh beauty. Can it be doubted that these appositely set gems of poetry, sometimes tenderly pathetic, now graudly solemn, then devotional, sublime, or severe, will greatly stir thought and enkindle feeling? And should the poetry, in some instances, seem to have been unfitly arranged, even thus it will beget an alertness of mind helpful to a clear understanding of what is read. Nor will the advantage of eminent and sympathetic companionship be wanting, if there be aught inspiring in that. The best utterances of hundreds of gifted minds, representing every age and phase of the Church catholic and visible, will here greet the reader, helping him to feel that its true life is one, throbbing in each member through his vital union with the common Lord of all.
What has been true of every age is also true of this: it has its peculiar advantages, needs, and dangers. More than any civilized people, we are confronted by perils arising from the wonderful material prosperity and progress of the last fifty years. Within that time men have learned to travel with the fleetness of the wind, and to speed their behests from continent to continent as quickly as they can be uttered or written. And the rush of events is hardly less rapid. Fortunes are gathered from the soil, from beneath the soil, and from trade, in a day. Every thing is done with a rush, and the eager strife and outcry are for things perishable. Only the few take time for reflection and research. Deafened by the din of business, dazzled by hopes of wealth and preferment, made dizzy by the whirl of fashionable pursuits, or debauched by low pleasures, never did a people more need the spurs and checks of moral and spiritual forces than they are needed to-day by the people of this land.
Many on every hand loudly profess a regard for wisdom, though they are as far as were the ancient Hebrews from believing that true wisdom begins with the fear of Jehovah. Indeed, there is a growing school of philosophy heartily at one with our materialism, in the effort to ignore the fact that every man is responsible to Him. This statement is not made to be proved, though it may seem harsh and dogmatic. It is made in the firm belief that our literature, in many ways, is doing much to obscure in the minds of the people that greatest of thoughts, — the thought that every man is personally responsible to God! While it will do little good to characterize or denounce what is objectionable in our popular literature, its blemishes and faults will not here be contrasted with what is commendable and good. To overcome evil with good was a maxim worthy of the great apostle, as it is of being adopted by all. It is the property of truth to displace and banish error ; and the great truths of the Bible are mighty to correct errors of thought and life. Thousands are pygmies as to their purposes for right doing, who are giants as to their passions for worldly aggrandizements and pleasures. Their true freedom and peace can only come through a loving reception of the weighty truths of God's Word, which is the best and safe guide of the child, the man, and the sage.
A BRIEF OF THE WORK.