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THE GIFTS OF NATURE.
PREACHED IN THE ENCAMPMENT UNDER THE TEMPLE OF BAALBEC,
ON MAY 4, THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
PSALM xix. 4-6.
In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course. It goeth forth from the uttermost part of the heaven, and runneth about unto the end of it again: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
HERE was once a time, in the history of the
world, when it was the strongest possible temptation to mankind to worship the great objects of nature, but especially those in heaven, and of these especially the Sun. In these countries more particularly, where the Sun is so bright, so powerful, so omnipresent throughout the year, the temptation was stronger than anywhere else. Wherever in the Old Testament we hear of the worship of Baal, it is the worship of the Sun; and of all the temples so dedicated, this is the most splendid; and the ancient city was called from this worship · Baalbec,' or the City of the Sun. We know from the Bible, we know also from the history of this very Temple, that this worship was corrupted into the most shameful sensuality; so that, to the Israelites first, and to Christians afterwards, it became a duty to put it down altogether. And this corruption is in itself instructive, as teaching us that the highest love of art and the keenest appreciation of what is beautiful, if left to itself, without some purer and higher principles, may and will degenerate into mere brutal self-indulgence and cruelty. But it is always better, if we can, to see what was the good element which lies at the bottom of any character or institution what there was in the thoughts that raised these solid foundations and these towering columns, which we also may imitate for ourselves, without falling into those dark errors and sins with which they were once connected.
For this purpose, we could hardly find a more fitting text than the Psalm read in this morning's Service. • In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which cometh forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course. • It goeth forth from the uttermost part of the
heaven, and runneth about unto the end of it again : and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.' These words, so expressive of the genial life-giving power of the great Light of day — of the glory of his rising — of the strength of his rays — of the regularity of his course — of the penetrating force of his heat spring from a feeling common to the Hebrew Psalmist and to those who raised this heathen Temple. But what are the points wherein they diverge from each other ?—or rather what were the good points in that ancient belief, which the true religion has
adopted for its own, and sifted from the surrounding evil? This Temple itself is connected with the history and traditions both of the wisest and greatest thoughts of ancient times, and with the basest and most foolish. Its earliest foundations are said to go back to the days of Solomon, the wisest of men. In its latest times it had for its High Priest the most infamous and effeminate of all the Roman Emperors — the miserable Heliogabalus. Between the two there was at first sight but little in common. Little, indeed, there is; but it is that little which it is so useful to remember. What then, I repeat, are the points in connection with the reverence for the Sun and for the works of nature, which this Psalm brings before
I. There are two points especially — one at the beginning, the other at the end of the Psalm. The first is a deep sense of thankfulness for those gifts of Nature, as the heathens thought them - of God, as we know them to be. • The heavens declare the glory
of God; and the firmament sheweth his handy* work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their · line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end o, the world.' So the Psalmist spoke; and so we may still feel. Those glorious gifts, which we all enjoy, but never more than when we are travelling — the delight of a beautiful day - the lights and shades of sunrise and sunset - the warmth and brightness which succeed to rain and storm the starlit and the moonlit night – the sight of