( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WHEN people ask for our attention because of what has passed, they say, ' in the Council of the Trinity,' and been promulgated, for our direction, by ' a Personal First Cause, the moral and intelligent Governor of the universe,' it is certainly open to any man to refuse to hear them, on the plea that the very thing they start with they have no means of proving. And we see that many do so refuse their attention ; and that the breach there is, for instance, between popular religion and what is called science, comes from this cause. But it is altogether different when people ask for our attention on the strength of this other first principle : ' To righteousness belongs happiness ;' or this : ' There is an enduring power, not ourselves, which makes for righteousness.' The more we meditate on this starting-ground of theirs, the more we shall find that there is solidity in it, and the more we shall be inclined to go along with them and to see what will come of it.
And herein is the advantage of giving this plain, though restricted, sense to the Bible-phrases ' Blessed is the man that feareth the Eternal !' and : ' Whoso trusteth in the Eternal, happy is he !' By tradition, emotion, imagination, the Hebrews, no doubt, came to attach more than this plain sense to these phrases. But this plain, solid, and experimental sense they attached to them at bottom ; and in attaching it they were on sure ground of fact, where we can all go with them. Their words, we shall find, taken in this sense have quite a new force for us, and an indisputable one. It is worth while accustoming ourselves to use them thus, in order to bring out this force and to see how real it is, limited though it be, and insignificant as it may appear. The very substitution of the word Eternal for the word Lord is something gained in this direc- tion. The word Eternal has less of particularity and palpability for the imagination, but what it does affirm is something real and verifiable.
Let us fix firmly in our minds, with this limited but real sense to the words we employ, the connexion of ideas which was ever present to the spirit of the Hebrew people. In the way of righteousness is life, and in the _pathway thereof is no death; as righteousness tendeth to life, so he that pursueth evil, pursueth it to his own death; as the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more, but the righteous is an everlasting foundation ;—here is the ground-idea.' Yet there are continual momentary suggestions which make for gratifying our apparent self, for unrighteousness ; nevertheless, what makes for our real self, for righteousness, is lasting, and holds good in the end. Therefore : Trust in the Eternal with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding; there is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Eternal ; there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death ; there are many devices in a man's heart, nevertheless, the counsel of the Eternal, that shall stand. To follow this counsel of the Eternal is the only true wisdom and understanding. The fear of the Eternal, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil, that is understanding. It is also happiness. Blessed is everyone that feareth the Eternal, that walketh in his ways ; happy shall he be, and it shall be well with him / 0 taste and see how gracious the Eternal is ! blessed is the man that trusteth in him. Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Eternal ; his leaf shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth, it shall prosper. And the more a man walks in this way of righteousness, the more he feels himself borne by a power not his own : Not by might and not by power, but by my spirit, saith the Eternal. O Eternal, I know that the way of man is not in himself ! all things come of thee; in thy light do we see light; man's goings are of the Eternal; the Eternal ordereth a good man's going, and maketh his way acceptable to himself. But man feels, too, how far he always is from fulfilling or even from fully perceiving this true law of his being, these indications of the Eternal, the way of righteousness. He says, and must say : I am a stranger upon earth, Oh, hide not thy commandments from me ! Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Eternal, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified! Nevertheless, as a man holds on to practice as well as he can, and avoids, at any rate, `presumptuous sins,' courses he can clearly see to be wrong, films fall away from his eyes, the indications of the Eternal come out more and more fully, we are cleansed from faults which were hitherto secret to us. Examine me, O God, and prove me, try out my reins and my heart; look well if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting . 0 cleanse thou me from my secret faults thou hast proved my heart, thou hast visited me in the night, thou hast tried me and shalt find nothing. And the more we thus get to keep innocency, the more we wonderfully find joy and peace. O how plentiful is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee ! Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the provoking of men. Thou wilt show me the path of life, in thy presence is the fulness of joy, at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. More and more this dwelling on the joy and peace from righteousness, and on the power which makes for righteousness, becomes a man's consolation and refuge. Thou art my hiding-place, thou shalt preserve me from trouble; if my delight had not been in thy law, I should have perished in my trouble. In the day of my trouble sought the Eternal; a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat! O lead me to the rock that is higher than I! The name of the Eternal is as a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safes And the more we experience this shelter, the more we come to feel that it is protecting even to tenderness. Like as a father pitieth his own children, even so is the Eternal merciful unto them that fear him. Nay, every other support, we at last find, every other attachment may fail us ; this alone fails not. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee !
All this, we say, rests originally upon the simple but solid experience : ` Conduct brings happiness,' or, ' Righteousness tendeth to life.' And, by making it again rest there, we bring out in a new but most real and sure way its truth and its power.
For it has not always continued to rest there, and in popular religion now, as we manifestly see, it rests there no longer. It is important to follow the way in which this change gradually happened, and the thing ceased to rest there. Israel's original perception was true : Righteousness tendeth to life ! It was true, that the workers of righteousness have a covenant with the Eternal, that their work shall be blessed and blessing, and shall endure for ever. But what apparent contradictions was this true original perception destined to meet with ! What vast delays, at any rate, were to be interposed before its truth could become manifest ! And how instructively the successive documents of the Bible, which popular religion treats as if it were all of one piece, one time, and one mind, bring out the effect on Israel of these delays and contradictions ! What a distance between the eighteenth Psalm and the eighty-ninth ; between the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Ecclesiastes ! A time some thousand years before Christ, the golden age of Israel, is the date to which the eighteenth Psalm and the chief part of the Book of Proverbs belong. This is the time in which the sense of the necessary connexion between righteousness and happiness appears with its full simplicity and force. The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth, much more the wicked and the sinner! is the constant burden of the Book of Proverbs ; the evil bow bejore the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous! And David, in the eighteenth Psalm, expresses his conviction of the intimate dependence of happiness upon conduct, in terms which, though they are not without a certain crudity, are yet far more edifying in their truth and naturalness than those morbid sentimentalities of Protestantism about man's natural vileness and Christ's imputed righteousness, to which they are diametrically opposed. ` I have kept the ways of the Eternal,' he says ; ` I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity ; therefore hath the Eternal rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me ; great prosperity showeth he unto his, king, and showeth loving-kindness unto David his anointed, and unto his seed for evermore.' That may be called a classic passage for the covenant Israel always thinks and speaks of as made by God with his servant David, Israel's second founder. And this covenant was but a renewal of the covenant made with Israel's first founder, God's servant Abraham, that ` righteousness shall inherit a blessing,' and that ` in thy seed all nations of the earth shall be blessed.'
But what a change in the eighty-ninth Psalm, a few hundred years later ! `Eternal, where are thy former loving-kindnesses which thou swarest unto David ? thou hast abhorred and forsaken thine anointed, thou hast made void the covenant ; O remember how short my time is ! ' The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth !' the speaker means ; ` my death is near, and death ends all ; where, Eternal, is thy promise?'
Most remarkable, indeed, is the inward travail to which, in the six hundred years that followed the age of David and Solomon, the many and rude shocks befalling Israel's fundamental idea, Righteousness tendeth to life and he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death, gave occasion. `Wherefore do the wicked live,' asks Job, `become old, yea, are mighty in power ? their houses are safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them.' 3 Job himself is righteous, and yet : ` On mine eyelids is the shadow of death, not for any injustice in mine hands.' All through the Book of Job the question, how this can be, is over and over again asked and never answered ; inadequate solutions are offered and repelled, but an adequate solution is never reached. The only solution reached is that of silence before the insoluble : ' I' will lay mine hand upon my mouth.' 1 The two perceptions, Righteousness tendeth to life, and, ' The ungodly prosper in the world,' are left confronting one another like Kantian antinomies.' ` The earth is given unto the hand of the wicked I' and yet : ' The counsel of the wicked is far from me; God rewardeth him, and he shall know it !'
And this last, the original perception, remains indestructible. The Book of Ecclesiastes has been called sceptical, epicurean ; it is certainly without the glow and hope which animate the Bible in general. It belongs, probably, to the fourth century before Christ, to the latter and worse days of the Persian rule ; with difficulties pressing the Jewish community on all sides, with a Persian governor lording it in Jerusalem, with resources light and taxes heavy, with the cancer of poverty eating into the mass of the people, with the rich estranged from the poor and from the national traditions, with the priesthood slack, insincere and worthless. Composed under such circumstances, the book has been said, and with justice, to breathe resignation at the grave of Israel. Its author sees ' the tears of the oppressed, and they had no comforter, and on the side of their oppressors there was power; wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.' He sees `all things come alike to all, there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked.' Attempts at a philosophic indifference appear, at a sceptical suspension of judgment, at an easy ne quid nimis : ' Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself overwise ! why shouldst thou destroy thyself?' Vain attempts, even at a moment which favoured them ! shows of scepticism, vanishing as soon as uttered before the intractable conscientiousness of Israel ! For the Preacher makes answer against himself: ' Though a sinner do evil a hundred times and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God ; but it shall not be well with the wicked, because he feareth not before God.'
Malachi, probably almost contemporary with the Preacher, felt the pressure of the same circumstances, had the same occasions of despondency. All around him people were saying : ' Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Eternal, and he delighteth in them ; where is the God of judgment ? it is vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance?' 2 What a change from the clear certitude of the golden age : ' As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more ; but the righteous is an everlasting foundation ! ' 3 But yet, with all the certitude of this happier past, Malachi answers on behalf of the Eternal : ' Unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings ! '
Many there were, no doubt, who had lost all living sense that the promises were made to righteousness ; who took them mechanically, as made to them and assured to them because they were the seed of Abraham, because they were, in St. Paul's words : ' Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the service of God, and whose are the fathers.' These people were perplexed and indignant when the privileged seed became unprosperous ; and they looked for some great change to be wrought in the fallen fortunes of Israel, wrought miraculously and materially. And these were, no doubt, the great majority ; and of the mass of Jewish expectation concerning the future they stamped the character. With them, however, our interest does not so much lie ; it lies rather with the prophets and those whom the prophets represent. It lies with the continued depositaries of the original revelation to Israel, Righteousness tendeth to life ; who saw clearly enough that the promises were to righteousness, and that what tendeth to life was not the seed of Abraham taken in itself; but righteousness. With this minority, and with its noble representatives the prophets, our present interest lies ; the further development of their conviction about righteousness is what it here imports us to trace. An indestructible faith that the righteous is an everlasting found-they had ; yet they too, as we have seen, could not but notice, as time went on, many things which seemed apparently to contradict this their belief. In private life, there was the frequent prosperity of the sinner. In the life of nations, there was the rise and power of the great unrighteous kingdoms of the heathen, the unsuccessfulness of Israel ; although Israel was undoubtedly, as compared with the heathen, the depositary and upholder of the idea of righteousness. Therefore prophets and righteous men also, like the unspiritual crowd, could not but look ardently and expectantly to the future, to some great change and redress in store.
At the same time, although their experience that the righteous were often afflicted, and the wicked often prosperous, could not but perplex pious Hebrews; although their conscience felt, and could not but feel, that, compared with the other nations with whom they came in contact, they themselves and their fathers had a concern for righteousness, and an unremitting sense of its necessity, which put them in covenant with the Eternal who makes for righteousness, and which rendered the triumph of other nations over them a triumph of people who cared little for righteousness over people who cared for it much, and a cause of perplexity, therefore, to men's trust in the Eternal,—though their conscience told them this, yet of their own shortcomings and perversities it told them louder still, and that their sins had in truth been enough to break their covenant with the Eternal a thousand times over, and to bring justly upon them all the miseries which they suffered. To enable them to meet the terrible day, when the Eternal would avenge him of his enemies and make up his jewels, they themselves needed, they knew, the voice of a second Elijah, a change of the inner man, repentance.