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In a word, the sum of its requirements is a supreme and perfect complacency in him who is infinite in holiness. “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”
Some, however, have imagined, while they could not deny what we have maintained as to the law, that the gospel abates this standard, and relaxes the resistance of the law to sin. But they ever misapprehend its nature, in making this objection. The entire scope of the gospel is, to release the mind from despair and discouragement, in returning to God and virtue. The Pharisees of Christ's day could not understand this feature of his ministry; and it is not surprising if those of subsequent days should have had the same embarrassment. If a soul is contented to live in a sinful state, the word of God has only warnings and exhortations for it; but the instant it would burst its fetters, and leave the pollution of a proud and ungodly heart, the Bible offers . all the aid of heaven, all the sympathy of God, all the glories of eternity, to strengthen that purpose. We need say no more, than to refer to its tests of character; its “exceeding great and precious promises, by which we are made partakers of the divine nature ; ” its rewards; and, above all, its model, Christ.
What then in fact, and in experience, has been the influence of that book on the human heart, and the human race ? Socrates and Plato labored to elevate man, by rectifying his philosophy, and by purifying his religion. But they failed of two grand elements; a remedy of sufficient efficacy; a remedy which the unlettered could apply to themselves. “This remedy did Wisdom find." “ The gospel was preached to the poor.” Unlettered men, savages, murderers, robbers, harlots, heard it, felt its power, and were purified by it. It wrought prodigies in the renovation of individual character. It gradually spread outward and upward in society, until it was infused into all the fountains of public sentiment and social influence; until the religion of the people, the morality of the philosophers, and the maxims and customs of society, were radically changed. The spirit of revenge was no longer incorporated in religion ; pride no longer held the place belonging to humility ; polygamy, unjustifiable divorce, and other fashionable crimes, even of the Jewish patriarchs, were branded with ignominy; legislation, manners, morals, maxims, social usages, and domestic life, all felt a new breath of heaven at once purifying and invigorating them. And however
much the Christian nations may fall below the purity of the Bible, their laws, their customs, and their social life, are immeasurably above those of every other people.
But we have not yet met the objections in their strength. For this purpose, we must come to the contents of the book, and let them speak for themselves. We cannot, however, but remark, how certain it is, that, the world over, the best families and the best men in any neighborhood or community, are great admirers of the Bible ; that it is most read in the best regulated households ; that it runs through the purest literature of every age, like gold threads in a silken tissue ; and that the sublimest strains of eloquence and of song are but the echoes of its pure effusions.
Still, it is said, that there are passages and phrases in the Bible which are entirely offensive to a refined ear; and that there are other parts which degrade, rather than elevate, the soul. These objections are sometimes uttered by such persons, and with so much seriousness of manner, that we cannot pass them in silence, however erroneous they may seem to us. We admit that there are descriptions and phrases in the Bible, which one would not wish to read before a promiscuous assembly; nor in all cases, even in the family. These cases may be reduced to several classes. One is, that of words and phrases which are not repeated in the ordinary intercourse of good society. Some of these, it will be noticed, belong to the conversation of an ancient and oriental society, whose standard of refinement was very different from ours, perhaps equally pure in its spirit, though differing in form. Others belong to the ever-fluctuating usages of language. The translators were men of the highest social standing; and they employed the language of polite society in their day, so far as it truly expressed the meaning of the inspired text. Nor do we hesitate, when meeting such phrases, to substitute others, admitted by the speech of our day. But the objection strikes below phraseology, and affects the very substance of the work. There are scenes in Genesis, and Judges, and other parts, at which some stumble, who have at best, only a faint reverence for the Scriptures. And even some noted critics, and defenders of the sacred canon, venture the shafts of their wit against the Canticles, and its commentators and admirers.
Now it must be remembered that the Scriptures were written for all ages and all nations, and for very various ends; or rather, for one great end, to be accomplished by very various means. As an eminent critic has remarked : “ There is not a narration in the Old Testament, which had not once its use. Examine the story of Er and Onan, and of Judah's connexion with his daughter-in-law, Tamar; which is certainly among the narratives that at first sight, we should be inclined to spare, and even be prone to wonder how it came there. Yet in Matt. i. 3, we find the fruit of that unlawful connection, Pharez and Zara, in the genealogical register of the evangelist. It is one link in counting the genealogy of Joseph, from Abraham downwards.”
In regard to many of the topics introduced into the sacred narrative, we would further remark, that the book of providence, a leaf of which we turn over every day, contains a multitude of topics, which we read for ourselves, but about which we converse with great reserve. And this is, in fact, a part of the discipline
a of life, cultivating refinement by regulating the kind and degree of attention we shall bestow upon such objects and events, and calling into exercise the sense of propriety in all our conversation. Indeed, if we adopted so refined a rule of exclusion as this objection involves, we should go out of this world. The Bible is also written as much for the individual, and for the secret place of his holiest retirement, as for social life and great assemblies. There, it may be very important that our heavenly Father should unveil to us, in his own holy presence, and with his own chastened description, some of the wickedness that has been, not to excite our admiration, but our disgust at sin, and our dread of its consequences; and to shew to children and adults, that his holy eye marks every transgression. If a prurient imagination is excited to evil by such descriptions, in such connexions, it is as when the sun-beam in its purity, falls on a dunghill, and the natural exhalation betrays the rank corruption. But, it is asked, Why subject the wicked heart to such an influence ? That appeal arraigns the whole plan of providence. Men are tempted to sin by God's works, made for totally different purposes. “Let no man say when he is tempted : *I am tempted of God, for God tempteth no man.”
The main strength however, of the attack upon the purity of the Scriptures, we suppose to be founded upon the wars of Moses, and those of the Judges and Kings of Israel ; and especially upon
; the imprecatory Psalms.
Let us consider the exterminating wars of the Jews. When we enter upon a formal desence of that part of the Scriptures which records these wars, we feel as if we had set up a man of straw, to shew our skill in pulling it down again. And yet it is so real a stumbing block to many, that it may be a serious and beneficent service to place them at our own point of observation. It must, then, be borne in mind, that the Bible is, in part, a reduction to writing of the great plan of providence, sometimes anticipative or prophetical ; sometimes retrospective or historical. Is providence unhely? Surely not. Why then, should the record of its proceedings be so ? But, it is replied, our difficulty is with God's approving of the indiscriminate destruction of men, women, and children. Certainly he approves of it so far as to threaten that he will do it; as actually to do it in every age.
Either all this suffering comes to express his indignation against sin, or it has no meaning. And if God in all his providence, has ever been inflicting suffering on sinners, has exterminated nations by wars and plagues, and that is not unholy, how can it be unholy to record it? And why may not Moses, and the Israelites, have proceeded as the magistrate or judge proceeds now to the execution of the sentence of the law by the proper agency, without any wrong feeling ? The infliction of punishment, even the administration of parental reproof, may be performed with wrong feeling. But it is not so of necessity. That Moses and the Jews punished those vile nations, and so far dried up the fountains of crime, was right; and so far the Scripture approves of it. If they indulged wrong feelings, it was their fault; and they unquestionably, as we often see in their history, met the same retributive justice for their wickedness. But is it not hurtful to us to read these records? That depends upon yourself. It may hurt you to read an account of the earthquake in Lisbon ; and it may do you good. You are responsible for the effects. The history is not responsible; and especially if the event is described as a part of the providential action of Him who contendeth with man in righteousness.
But, it is said, the Psalms breathe out threatening, slaughter, and vengeance.
To approximate to the objector as much as possible, we will concede that when we read the ninth verse of Psalm cxXXVII. we tremble. But the source of this emotion is by no means the same as that of his feeling. Ours is a horror at the terrible nature of sin as exemplified in the conduct of the
Babylonians, which brought a servant of God, under the inspiration of the pure Spirit of God, to conquer his natural sympathies so far; and thus fearfully to demand that God should interfere, and destroy the very race that ever had, and it appeared, ever would carry on the trade of murder and oppression. Babylon was an instance of a nation throwing itself into this position : “ We are determined to worship devils, to defy the living God, to live in wealth and debauchery, to be a nation of men-hunters; war is our trade ; the deeds of our heroes are the themes of our poetry; and the groans of our vanquished foes are the chorus of our festive songs. The degradation of the daughters of Zion is our delight. Slaughter, vengeance, slavery, tribute, are the terms of fellowship we hold out to mankind. As to the worship of Jehovah, it shall never stand while Bel has a temple or a worshipper.” The alternative then was, by the choice and decision of Babylon herself, extermination on one side or the other. Her children were to be trained in the same demoniacal spirit. What, then, could a pious Jew say in such circumstances ? He had not created the alternative ; he did not desire it. That we have not exaggerated the case, the whole history of those times will shew.
But we must not rest in particular instances. We have selected one of the strongest as a specimen, to test it by a candid examination of its meaning and spirit. On these passages as a whole, our difficulties respect the feelings displayed by their authors; and the feelings which they awaken in the readers.
A very able defence of the purity of the feeling exhibited in these passages will be found in the Bibliotheca Sacra of February, 1844. The ground of that defence is, that indignation at the commission of crime, compassion toward the injured, and a sense of injustice strengthening with time, constitute original and universal principles of human nature. These principles or sentiments are not malicious, but essential to a generous and enlightened sympathy. That this position is tenable, nay, that it cannot be shaken, we are quite confident. And if no other defence could be made, it would be sufficient for that charity which thinketh no evil, which imputes the good motive where a good motive can account for the act in question. But there is a higher ground than this, which has been already suggested.
We are living in the midst of God's holy actions. The laws of nature are directly bis acts ; every thing in fact is his, and involves his