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in the Bible. Nay, he goes so far as to say, “the assumption with which all the churches and sects set out, that there is a great Personal First Cause, the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe, and from Him the Bible derives its authority, can never be verified.” 1 Nevertheless he affirms, “as long as the world lasts, all who want to make progress in righteousness will come to Israel for inspiration,” &c. Why so ? Because their morality is purer, their character sublimer than other people's ? Not at all. It is “in spite of their shortcomings even in righteousness itself, and their insufficiency in everything.” They are “petty” and “unamiable,” yet they possess a most “extraordinary distinction,” and the proof of this follows in the words of Balaam, “God has given commandment to bless, and He hath blessed, and we cannot reverse it! He hath not seen iniquity in Jacob, and He hath not seen perverseness in Israel; the eternal, his God, is with him.”
Mr. Matthew Arnold has, I presume, no faintest belief in the words which introduce the passage he quotes : “And the Lord met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and said, Go again unto Balak and say thus." He warns us against taking such passages in a literal instead of in a literary sense. Still, the Spirit which informs this and all like sayings, the Spirit which throughout the Bible “makes for righteousness," is “an enduring power, not ourselves," and it testifies to its own existence by-well, by what? by making virtue its own reward, by making pleasure (the highest of course) the concomitant of goodness. This seems to be the outcome of Mr. Arnold's argument. The truth is, it is pure Utilitarianism in a Hebrew mask.
We have no experimental proof of a Personal First Cause. Miraculous revelation is as good for one religion as for another. But there is “an enduring power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness.” We have the
same evidence for this as we have that fire burns. Herein lies the revelation of the Bible; the Bible proclaims this greatest of truths for us as no other book proclaims it.
The Utilitarianism I leave to be discussed in its proper place. But why the Hebrew mask? It seems to cover (unintentionally perhaps) an insidious leaning to the kind of proof which is repudiated. This power is either a God or not a God. If in any sense, however vague, we are to say a God, then an assumption is made which can never be verified; and Mr. Arnold's suggestion verges upon the “rude and blind belief” which he criticises. If in no wise a God, then the Bible has but poorly helped us. Mr. Arnold relegates the doctrine of the Trinity to the bishops : he himself has succeeded in reducing the First Person of it to an impersonal abstraction. If, in turn, we reduce this “enduring power," once more, to the moral law or to the working of the social system, we have Mr. Arnold's doctrine in other terms; we have also the familiar doctrine of the Benthamites. But for this revelation we are certainly not indebted to the people of Israel. Mr. Arnold partly anticipates the objection when he says—“Why, however. if there is an enduring Power [the abstraction is here promoted to a capital letter], not ourselves, that makes for righteousness, should we study the Bible that we may learn to obey him ? [the Power becomes personal]. Will not other teachers and books do as well ?" And here again the answer is—“Why? why, because it is revealed in Israel and the Bible, and not by other teachers and books ! that is, there is infinitely more of him there, he is plainer and easier to come at, and incomparably more impressive.” This, I submit, is not borne out by a study of comparative theology. But if it were, the argument which goes on, “If you want to know plastic art, you go to the Greeks,” &c., cannot be admitted as evidence of an intelligent Power, unless we first make the (forbidden) assumption that such a Power exists, or that the pre
eminence of righteousness in Israel and plastic art amongst the Greeks are only to be accounted for supernaturally.
Professor Müller is more guarded, and less vehement, than Mr. Arnold. But he too seems to dally with revelation after a fashion not always quite in keeping with his own free-thinking. Nothing can be more catholic than the creed of Professor Müller. He takes his text from St. Peter : “That God is no respecter of persons, but that in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him :" and in the largest and kindliest way imbues his discourses with this great principle. He almost goes the full length of the evolutionist when he admits, “that in one sense every religion was a true religion, being the only religion which was possible at the time, which was compatible with the language, the thoughts, and the sentiments of each generation, · which was appropriate to the age of the world.”i Still,
here and there, it is implied that, evolution proves an Evolver; and that the Bible is evidence thereof. His protest against the literal reading of the Old Testament derives great strength from the science of language of which he is so distinguished a master. He is able to show why certain passages are to be figuratively construed. “Ancient words and ancient thoughts, for both go together, have in the Old Testament not yet arrived at that stage of abstraction in which, for instance, active powers, whether natural or supernatural, can be represented in any but a personal and more or less human form. When we speak of a temptation from within or from without, it was more natural for the ancients to speak of a tempter, whether in a human or in an animal form, &c. “What we call divine guidance they speak of as a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way.” Every student of ancient language, he tells us, sees at once that
1 Introduction to the Science of Religion, p. 261.
the account of Eve's creation out of Adam's rib is but a metaphor. “Bone” was the figure for the innermost essence of a thing. If Adam had wished to say to Eve: “Thou art the same as I am,” he would have said, “Thou art bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” “Let such an expression be repeated for a few generations only, and a literal, that is to say, a material and deceptive interpretation would soon spring up, and people would at last bring themselves to believe that the first woman was formed from the bone of the first man,” &c.1 This is instructive, and reasonable enough; and we shall see in another letter what valuable use Professor Müller has made of the doctrine that, it is impossible to express abstract ideas except by metaphor, when he treats of comparative mythology and the religions of the ancient world.
For all that, I maintain the superhuman character of the Bible cannot be shored up with philological buttresses. I am ready to admit that, when we are told God ap- · peared to So-and-so in a dream, this means that So-and-so dreamt it. But the sun either stood still or it did not. The walls of Jericho were felled with a shout, or they were not. And for all the crimes imputed to him, God is either responsible—as the Bible declares him to be; or the Bible is to be construed as we construe other “rude and blind” beliefs of human beings in their infancy.
1 Ubi supra, p. 47.
The evidence from the fulfilment of PROPHECY is held by
many to be in itself conclusive. What is it really worth? · Prophecy is generally supposed to signify prediction.
Yet prediction was by no means the exclusive, nor even the chief, characteristic of the prophet's calling. He was the inspired messenger of Jehovah it is true; but his function was to preach and exhort, and to interpret the Divine will, rather than to foretell the future. Nor is his office to be confused with that of the Levitical priest. Priesthood was an hereditary order; that of the prophet, never. The sacerdotal office was as ancient as the nation itself; while the prophet's vocation first became an acknowledged institution under Samuel. The duties of the priest were almost purely ceremonial, something like those of the subdeacons and acolytes in the Roman Church. The prophet was a moral and religious teacher; professing both to know and to expound the will of Jehovah. He was selected in his youth by presumed fitness; and was specially trained for the prophetic service. He needed something of the poet in his nature, and proficiency in instrumental music was one of his chief requirements. The training and habits of the prophet deserve particular attention. His mode of life was primitive in the extreme. His rude hut was framed of the boughs of trees. His meals were scanty and savourless, his dress coarse and of a fashion peculiar to his order. He lived apart by himself. And his inter