True Greatness Of The Old Testament
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WIN assent in the end the new construction will, but not at once; and there will be a passage-time of confusion first, It is not for nothing, as we have said, that people take short cuts and tell themselves fairy-tales, because the immense scale of the history of ' bringing in everlasting righteousness, is too much for their narrow minds. It is not for nothing ; they pay for it. It is not for nothing that they found religion on prediction and miracle, guarantee it by preternatural interventions and the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds, consummate it by a banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in a city shining with gold and precious stones. They are like people who have fed their minds on novels or their stomachs on opium; the reality of things is flat and insipid to them, although it is in truth far grander than the phantasmagorical world of novels and of opium. But it is long before the novel-reader or the opium-eater can rid himself of his bad habits, and brace his nerves, and recover the tone of his mind enough to perceive it. Distress and despair at the loss of his accustomed stimulant are his first sensations.
Miracles, the mainstay of popular religion, are touched by Ithuriel's spear. They are beginning to dissolve ; but what are we to expect during the process of dissolution ? Probably, amongst many religious people, vehement efforts at reaction, a recrudescence of superstition; the passionate resolve to keep hold on what is slipping away from them by giving up more and more the use of reason in religion, and by resting more and more on authority. The Church of Rome is the great upholder of authority as against reason in religion; and it will be strange if in the coming time of transition the Church of Rome does not gain.
But for many more than those whom Rome attracts there will be an interval, between the time when men accepted the religion of the Bible as a thaumaturgy and the time when they perceive it to be something different, in which they will be prone to throw aside the religion of the Bible altogether as a delusion. And this, again, will be mainly the fault,—if fault that can be called which was an inevitable error,—of the religious people themselves, who, from the time of the Apostles downwards, have insisted upon it that religion shall be a thaumaturgy or nothing. For very many, therefore, when it cannot be a thaumaturgy, it will be nothing. And very likely there will come a day when there will be less religion than even now. For the religion of the Bible is so simple and powerful, that even those who make the Bible a thaumaturgy get hold of the religion, because they read the Bible; but, if men do not read the Bible, they cannot get hold of it. And then will be fulfilled the saying of the prophet Amos: `Behold, the days come, saith the Eternal, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Eternal; and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Eternal, and shall not find it.'
Nevertheless, as after this mournful prophecy the herdsman of Tekoah goes on to say : ` There shall yet not the least grain of Israel fall to the earth! To the Bible men will return; and why? Because they cannot do without it. Because happiness is our being's end and aim, and happiness belongs to righteousness, and righteousness is revealed in the Bible. For this simple reason men will return to the Bible, just as a man who tried to give up food, thinking it was a vain thing and he could do without it, would return to food; or a man who tried to give up sleep, thinking it was a vain thing and he could do without it, would return to sleep. Then there will come a time of reconstruction ; and then, perhaps, will be the moment for labours, like this attempt of ours, to be found useful. For though everyone must read the Bible for himself, and the perfect criticism of it is an immense matter, and it may be possible to go much. beyond what we here achieve or can achieve, yet the method for reading the Bible we, as we hope and believe, here give. And although, in this or that detail, the construction we put upon the Bible may be wrong, yet the main lines of the construction will be found, we hope and believe, right; and the reader who has the main lines may easily amend the details for himself.