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Aberglaube Invading - Part 2

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

And then, with Malachi's testimony on its lips to the truth of Israel's ruling idea, Righteousness tendeth to life died prophecy. Through some four hundred years the mind of Israel revolved those wonderful utterances, which, even now, on the ear of even those who only half understand them and who do not at all believe them, strike with such strange, incomparable power,—the promises of prophecy. Through four hundred years, amid distress and humiliation, the Hebrew race pondered those magnificent assurances that `the Eternal's arm is not shortened,' that 'righteousness shall be for ever,' and that the future would prove this, even if the present did not. ` The Eternal fainteth not, neither is weary ; he giveth power to the faint. They that wait on the Eternal shall renew their strength ; the redeemed of the Eternal shall return and come with singing to Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head; they shall repair the old wastes, the desolations of many generations ; and I, the Eternal, will make an ever-lasting covenant with them. The Eternal shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended ; the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising, and my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.'

The prophets themselves, speaking when the ruin of their country was impending, or soon after it had happened, had for the most part had in prospect the actual restoration of Jerusalem, the submission of the nations around, and the empire of David and Solomon renewed. But as time went on, and Israel's return from captivity and resettlement of Jerusalem by no means answered his glowing anticipations from them, these anticipations had more and more a construction put upon them which set at defiance the unworthiness and infelicities of the actual present, which filled up what prophecy left in outline, and which embraced the world. The Hebrew Amos, of the eighth century before Christ, promises to his hearers a recovery from their ruin in which they shall possess the remnant of Edam ; the Greek or Aramaic Amos of the Christian era, whose words St. James produces in the conference at Jerusalem, promises a recovery for Israel in which the residue of men shall seek the Eternal. This is but a specimen of what went forward on a large scale. The redeemer, whom the unknown prophet of the captivity foretold to Zion, has, a few hundred years later, for the writer whom we call Daniel and for his contemporaries, become the miraculous agent of Israel's new restoration, the heaven-sent executor of the Eternal's judgment, and the bringer-in of the kingdom of righteousness,—the Messiah, in short, of our popular religion. `One like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and there was given him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; and the kingdom and dominion shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High." An impartial criticism will hardly find in the Old Testament writers before the times of the Maccabees (and certainly not in the passages usually quoted to prove it) the set doctrine of the immortality of the soul or of the resurrection of the dead. But by the time of the Maccabees, when this passage of the Book of Daniel was written, in the second century before Christ, the Jews have undoubtedly become familiar, not indeed with the idea of the immortality of the soul as philosophers like Plato conceived it, but with the notion of a resurrection of the dead to take their trial for acceptance or rejection in the Most High's judgment and kingdom.

To this, then, has swelled Israel's original and fruitful thesis :—Righteousness tendeth to life! as the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more, but the righteous is an everlasting foundation ! 2 The phantasmagories of more prodigal and wild imaginations have mingled with the product of Israel's own austere spirit ; Babylon, Persia, Egypt, even Greece, have left their trace there ; but the unchangeable substructure remains, and on that substructure is everything built which comes after.

In one sense, the lofty Messianic idea of ' the great and notable day of the Eternal," the consolation of Israel,' 'the restitution of all things,' are even more important than the solid but humbler idea, righteousness tendeth to life, out of which they arose. In another sense they are much less important. They are more important, because they are the development of this idea and prove its strength. It might have been crushed and baffled by the falsification events seemed to delight in giving it; that instead of being crushed and baffled, it took this magnificent flight, shows its innate power. And they also in a wonderful manner attract emotion to the ideas of conduct and morality, attract it to them and combine it with them. On the other hand, the idea that righteousness tendeth to life has a firm, experimental ground, which the Messianic ideas have not. And the day comes when the possession of such a ground is invaluable.

That the spirit of man should entertain hopes and anticipations, beyond what it actually knows and can verify, is quite natural. Human life could not have the scope, and depth, and progress it has, were this otherwise. It is natural, too, to make these hopes and anticipations give in their turn support to the simple and humble experience which was their original ground. Israel, therefore, who originally followed righteousness because he felt that it tended to life, might and did naturally come at last to follow it because it would enable him to stand before the Son of Man at his coming, and to share in the triumph of the saints of the Most High.

But this latter belief has not the same character as the belief which it is thus set to confirm. It is a kind of fairy-tale, which a man tells himself, which no one, we grant, can prove impossible to turn out true, but which no one also can prove certain to turn out true. It is exactly what is expressed by the German word 'Aberglaube,' extra-belief, belief beyond what is certain and verifiable. Our word superstition' had by its derivation this same meaning, but it has come to be used in a merely bad sense, and to mean a childish and craven religiosity. With the German word it is not so ; therefore Goethe can say with propriety and truth : `Aberglaube is the poetry of life,—der Aberglaube ist die Poesie des Lebens.' It is so. Extra-belief, that _which we hope, augur, imagine, is the poetry of life, and has the rights of poetry. But it is not science; and yet it tends always to imagine itself science, to substitute itself for science, to make itself the ground of the very science out of which it has grown. The Messianic ideas, which were the poetry of life to Israel in the age when Jesus Christ came, did this ; and it is the more important to mark that they did it, because similar ideas have so signally done the same thing with popular Christianity.

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