True Greatness Of The Old Testament - Part 4
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
But the great work to be done for the better time which will arrive, and for the time of transition which will precede it, is not a work of destruction, but to show that the truth is really, as it is, incomparably higher, grander, more wide and deep-reaching, than the Aberglaube and false science which it displaces.
The propounders of `The Great Personal First Cause, who thinks and loves,' are too modest when they sometimes say, taking their lesson from the Bible, that, after all, man can know next to nothing of the Divine nature. They do themselves signal injustice; they themselves know, according to their own statements, a great deal, far too much. They know so much, that they make of God a magnified and non-natural man ; and when this leads them into difficulties, and they think to escape from these by saying that God's ways are not man's ways, they do not succeed in making their God cease to resemble a man, they only make him re-semble a man puzzled. But the truth is, that one may have a great respect for man, and yet be permitted, even however much he be magnified, to imagine something far beyond him. And this is the good of such an unpretending definition of God as ours : the Eternal Power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness ;—it leaves the infinite to the imagination, and to the gradual efforts of countless ages of men, slowly feeling after more of it and finding it. Ages and ages hence, no such adequate definition of the infinite not ourselves will yet be possible, as any sciolist of a theologian will now pretend to rattle you off in a moment. But on one point of the operation of this not ourselves we are clear : that it makes for conduct, for righteousness. So far we know God, that he is `the Eternal that loveth righteousness ;' and the farther we go in righteousness, the more we shall know him.
And as this true and authentic God of Israel is far grander than the God of popular religion, so is his real affirmation of himself in human affairs far grander than that poor machinery of prediction and miracle, by which popular religion imagines that he affirms himself. The greatness of the scale on which he operates makes it hard for men to follow him; but the greatness of the scale, too, makes the grandeur of the operation. Take the Scripture-promises and their accomplishment. As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more; but the righteous is an everlasting foundation.' And again : They shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Eternal, and all the nations shall be gathered unto it:' It is objected that this is not fulfilled. It is not fulfilled yet, because the whole career of the human race has to bring out its fulfilment, and this career is still going forward. `Men are impatient, and for precipitating things,' says Butler; and Davison, whom on a former occasion I quoted to differ from him,—Davison, not the least memorable of that Oriel group, whose reputation I, above most people, am bound to cherish,—says with a weighty and noble simplicity worthy of Butler : 'Conscience and the present constitution of things are not corresponding terms ; it is conscience and the issue of things which go together.' It is so; and this is what makes the spectacle of human affairs so edifying and so sublime. Give time enough for the experience, and experimentally and demonstrably it is true, that 'the path of the just is as the shining light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.' Only,the limits for the experience are wider than people commonly think. ' Yet a little while, and the ungodly shall be clean gone ! ' but ' a little while' according to the scope and working of that mighty Power to which a thousand years are as one day. The world goes on, nations and men arrive and depart, with varying fortune, as it might seem, with time and chance happening unto all. Look a little deeper, and you will see that one strain runs through it all : nations and men, whoever is shipwrecked, is shipwrecked on conduct. It is the God of Israel steadily and irresistibly asserting himself ; the Eternal that loveth righteousness.
In this sense we should read the Hebrew prophets. They did not foresee and foretell curious coincidences, but they foresaw and foretold this inevitable triumph of righteousness. First, they foretold it for all the men and nations of their own day, and especially for those colossal unrighteous kingdoms of the heathen world, which looked everlasting; then, for all time. `As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more ; '—sooner or later it is, it must be, so. Hebrew prophecy is never read aright until it is read in this sense, which indeed of itself it cries out for; it is, as Davison, again, finely says, inpatient for the larger scope. How often, throughout the ages, how often, even, by the Hebrew prophets themselves, has some immediate visible interposition been looked for ! ' I looked,' they make God say, ' and there was no man to help, and I wondered that there was none to uphold ; therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me. The day of vengeance is in mine heart, the year of my redeemed is come.' 1 O long-delaying arm of might, will the Eternal never put thee forth, to smite these sinners who go on as if righteousness mattered nothing? There is no need ; they are smitten. Down they come, one after another ; Assyria falls, Babylon, Rome ; they all fall for want of conduct, righteousness.
The heathen make much ado, and the kingdoms are moved ; but God hath showed his voice, and the earth doth melt away.' Nay, but Judea itself, the Holy Land, the land of God's Israel, perishes too,—and perishes for want of righteousness. Yes, Israel's visible Jerusalem is in ruins; and how, then, shall men ' call Jerusalem the throne of the Eternal, and all the nations shall be gathered unto it?' But the true Israel was Israel the bringer-in and defender of the idea of conduct, ,Israel the lifter-up to the nations of the banner of righteousness. The true Jerusalem was the city of this ideal Israel. And this ideal Israel could not and cannot perish, so long as its idea, righteousness and its necessity, does not perish, but prevails. Now, that it does prevail, the whole course of the world proves, and the fall of the actual Israel is of itself witness. Thus, therefore, the ideal Israel for ever lives and prospers; and its city is the city whereunto all nations and languages, after endless trials of everything else except conduct, after incessantly attempting to do without righteousness and failing, are slowly but surely gathered.
To this Israel are the promises, and to this Israel they are fulfilled. `The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish, yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.' 1 It is so; since all history is an accumulation of experiences that what men and nations fall by is want of conduct. To call it by this plain name is often not amiss, for the thing is never more great than when it is looked at in its simplicity and reality. Yet the true name to touch the soul is the name Israel gave : righteousness. And to Israel, as the representative of this imperishable and saving idea of righteousness, all the promises come true, and the language of none of them is pitched too high. The Eternal, Israel says truly, is on my side. 'Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and thou handful Israel ! I will help thee, saith the Eternal. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands, thy walls are continually before me. The Eternal hath chosen Zion ; O pray for the peace of Jerusalem ! they shall prosper that love thee. Men shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Eternal, and all the nations shall be gathered unto it. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death in victory. And it shall be said in that day : Lo, this is our God t this is the Eternal, we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.'