« הקודםהמשך »
to repentant believers. While the trustful followers of the crucified One were bidden to pray and hope for a baptism of heroic strength, there was no remedy for the madness of those who had imprecated upon themselves the guilt of His blood! They had forfeited their heritage of life and peace through wilful blindness. Confronted by the retributive severity which soon came upon Jerusalem and her infatuated people, it ill becomes sinful men to cavil against the works and ways of Jehovah. Their knowledge of them is too shallow and confined. With only the horizon of a snail, one would be a poor geographer.
Though words may help us to right views of the Bible, no pen can fitly and fully set forth its character and mission. While God is its author, it is, in a lower sense, the work of many human agents who were widely separated as to the times and circumstances of their action. A collection of utterances, often fragmentary, and sometimes seeming to clash, it is, nevertheless, a whole and harmonious book. While it treats of things mostly unseen by men, their relations to them are supremely momentous. The things that are seen show forth the goodness, wisdom, and majesty of Jehovah, while His gracious charter of priceless and imperishable blessings to mankind is unfolded in the Bible. That volume is a great central sun, flooding their earthly being with light, vital and glorious; piercing the gloomiest mazes of spiritual ignorance, wickedness, and despair, and begetting joyful hopes and experiences of God's benignity and love. As the great king of day safely rules the revolving planets, so the Bible surely guides every loyal soul in the only pathway to its blissful home in heaven. It brings knowledge to the ignorant, wisdom to the foolish, hope to the despairing, peace to the guilty, divine joy to the sorrowing, the choicest comforts to the sick, and life to the dying.
“ Most wondrous brook ! bright candle of the Lord !
Star of eternity! the only star
While no book is worthy of such earnest heed as the Bible, it is unpardonably neglected by most men in Christendom. If it be well to regret the evil, it were better to find a remedy. With such an end in view, every worthy effort should win encouragement from the wise and the good. Whatever shall quicken in men a zest for, or delight in, the Scriptures, or do aught to unfold their truths, or to enhance their power over the minds and hearts of those who read, should be deemed both needful and beneficent.
Although it may not be easy to show why so many fail to become pleasurably and profitably familiar with the Bible, the grounds of such failure may not wholly lie in what that book is, nor yet in the characters and tastes of mankind. Indeed, there are manifold sources of good in the realm of Nature, neither duly known nor prized by most men, though by her devoted disciples they are loudly challenged and urged to the study of them as supremely important. Thus the ocean, by its solemn grandeur, and the mountains, by their majestic proportions, may awe and charm the beholder, though he be blind to untold other blessings which flow from their ministries. The man who should prize the atmosphere only for its relations to musical sounds, would be less pitiable and blameworthy than is he who can find nothing in the Bible to admire but its matchless literary attractions. It has other and higher claims. Enough, that it deserves to be placed foremost, as making known the only remedy for human guilt and remorse. Enough, that it is the best means of arousing men, and leading them to the chief good, and of restraining them from evil. Yet it is not enough to claim that the Bible is the best moral and spiritual guide and teacher. From no other source can we so clearly learn the design and destiny of this world and of the universe. Plodding and bewildered scientists have been slow to discover and concede that to man belong that dignity and lordship with which the Bible authoritatively invests him. Though all branches of secular knowledge are valuable, and ought to be thoroughly studied by some, it were wiser to ignore and banish them altogether than that the Scriptures should not be daily and lovingly read. More hopeful were it for a man to strive for a true knowledge of astronomy, the sun and his benign sway being kept from view, than to achieve life's great ends untaught and ungoverned by the truths of the Bible.
It would be as unreasonable, however, to assert that all parts of the sacred volume are to be equally prized, as that every member and function of the human body is alike essential to life and health. Were one the owner of a store-house filled with ingots of various metals, it could not be justly inferred that he undervalued the others, should he first pick out and arrange the gold. So it is no disparagement of any portion of the Bible, if preference and prominence be given to passages allowed to be of surpassing value, or remarkable for beauty and interest. Some features of the Book of books, moreover, are more plain and pleasing than others, especially to youthful readers, while the charge of faultiness cannot be justly urged. The Bible would be incomplete without the genealogical tables, and the details of the Mosaic ritual; yet few would rank them, for interest, with the history of Joseph or with the parables of the Saviour. Though such details have great value with profound and comprehensive scholars, most readers know too little to prize them duly. And hence they may, perhaps pardonably, if not fitly, adopt this couplet of Goethe, —
“A hindrance, all that we employ not;
A burden, all that we enjoy not.” Since Religious Poetry makes so large a feature of this book, such forced, even though fit, alliance to the divine Word, may seem to need apology. Eminently a product of deep feeling and of a lively imagination, poetry is best employed on themes of the highest concern. The great and matchless poem was completed, when the chief Poet, the Maker of all things, had wrought out from the broad and dreary realm of chaos the wondrous mechanism of the universe, - a work so vast and varied, so massive and minute, yet so delicately exact in the adjustment of its countless parts and qualities, and in its complex movements. It was most fitting, therefore, that the Hebrew prophets and bards, when moved by the all-quickening and beautifying Spirit, should deliver their messages and discourses in the sublimest strains of poetry ever reached by mortals.
While the poetry of the Bible is acknowledged to be every way unequalled, and while the good sense of translators and revisers in forbearing to signalize it by a factitious garb is to be praised, may not the choicest gems of the Christian poets serve worthy ends, when read jointly with those passages of Scripture whose meaning they either enforce or reflect? If when Moses came down from Sinai, his face radiant with heavenly glory, the gazing Hebrews were dazzled and awed, as never before, with a sense of Jehovah's dreadful majesty, is there not a power in poetic genius, especially when in close sympathy with the inspired Oracles, to quicken in the reader a more deep and lively sense of what they utter? Then, too, the presence of such variety will not only please, but render the mind wakeful and alert. Men judge of the importance of persons and things by their discovered relations, If a numerous and imposing retinue fixes the gaze of men on a travelling monarch, and if the company of attached disciples and followers of the Saviour drew attention to Himself, will not such gems of poetry thus inserted alternately with passages from the Bible, and shining mostly by its light, help, by their varied contrasts and affinities, to beget wakeful and discriminating thought, while the eyes of increasing numbers shall be eagerly and admiringly turned to that great moral sun? And since the value of the sacred volume to the world is enhanced by its weighty utterances bearing the peculiar styles of its numerous authors, it may be hoped that the devoted ministries of such a galaxy of poetic geniuses will win and wed the thoughts of men full lovingly to that one great source of religious light, hardly more than of mental life and energy. Few well-informed and thoughtful persons will deny that there is both in the rhythm and rhyme of poetry that which is peculiarly pleasing, especially to youthful minds. The power of poetry to call forth the finer feelings of men is well and widely known. Poetic genius not only shapes the utterance of the highest devotional sentiments, but of such as are patriotic and convivial. While it should be dreaded and denounced as a mighty worker of evil, it may well be wooed and welcomed, when its mission is to ennoble thought and inflame love, by high and holy themes. May we not believe that the heathen poet recognized a grand and vital principle as underlying his fable, when he represented Orpheus, the poetmusician, as drawing and swaying trees, rivers, and stones, by the wondrous power of his lyre? Through that beautiful myth we see mankind sluggish and grovelling, and needing to be roused and quickened, and impelled to high and worthy aims by alluring appeals to their susceptibilities for refined pleasures. This is better than a wild fancy, it is a thought well founded, whose truthfulness has been duly avowed. It must suffice, however, by way of confirmation, to quote what Sir Philip Sidney has well and profoundly said of the most degraded and barbarous tribes: “That if ever learning come among them, it must be by having their hard, chill wits softened and sharpened with the sweet delights of poetry; for until they find a pleasure in the exercise of the mind, great promises of much knowledge will little persuade them that know not the fruits of knowledge.”
Although there be many, not among the least wise, who find their choicest pleasures in studying the Bible, it must be owned that the millions of Christendom have too little relish for its truths. Will it, then, be a reliance altogether vain and fanciful, to trust to the "sweet delights” of such a handmaid as Religious Poetry, to allure reluctant minds to a profitable acquaintance with the Word of God? If Milton's blindness did not hinder the lofty flights of his soaring genius, may it not reasonably be hoped that thousands, should they here be
“Smit with the love of sacred song,”
and learn to
“Feed on thoughts that voluntary move
inspired by true devotion, will also derive moral health from the life-giving streams beside them?
While genuine religious poetry deserves to be highly prized, there is much pious rhyming that is unworthy of the name. Such chaff failing to touch and sway the feelings, and to satisfy a correct taste, quickly flies before the critic's besom, or perishes through sheer neglect. But the wheat abides ever fresh and beautiful, and the world is blessed with many rich and cherished treasures, though not of equal value, which have long braved the winnowing process. Whether they be recognized as the loved melodies of the nursery, as the devotional lyrics of the sanctuary, or as the more stately poems of Christian literature, words cannot duly set forth how precious they are to sympathetic minds. They are living and most welcome guests in the soul, cheering the chambers of the memory when the outside world frowns with clouds of adversity and sorrow, or when the ebbing life throbs faintly in death's shadowy vale.