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greater advantage than when viewed in the light of their sublime compositions. Nor is this remark confined simply to the style or mechanism of their writings,—which is nevertheless allowed by the best judges to possess many merits,—but may be extended more especially to the exalted nature of their subjects,—the works, the attributes, and the purposes of Jehovah. The poets of pagan antiquity, on the other hand, excite, by their descriptions of divine things, our ridicule or disgust. Even the most approved of their order exhibit repulsive images of their deities, and suggest the grossest ideas in connexion with the principles and enjoyments which prevail among the inhabitants of Olympus. But the contemporaries of David, inferior in many things to the ingenious people who listened to the strains of Homer and of Virgil, are remarkable for their elevated conceptions of the Supreme Being as the Creator and Governor of the world, not less than for the suitable terms in which they give utterance to their exalted thoughts.
In no other country but Judea, at that early period, were such sentiments as the following either expressed or felt. “ O Jehovah, our Lord, how ex. cellent is thy name in all the earth, thou that hast set thy glory above the heavens! When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Bless Jehovah, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great, and art clothed with honour and majesty! Thou coverest thyself with light as with a garment, and stretchest out the heavens like a curtain : who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters, who maketh the clouds his chariot, and walketh upon the wings of the wind? Bless Jehovah, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless Jehovah, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases ; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender-mercies. Jehovah is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He hath not dealt with us after our sins, neither rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust.”—“O Lord thou hast searched me and known me: thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thoughts long before. Thou art about my bed and about my path, and art acquainted with all my ways. Whither shall I go from thy spirit, or whether shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there ; if I go down to the dwelling of the departed, thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning and abide in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be turned into day. Yea the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.”
A similar train of lofty conception pervades the writings of the prophets. “ Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out the heavens with a span, and comprehended the dust
or that'll by name their
of the earth in a measure, and weighed the moun. tains in scales, and the hills in a balance? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance; he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grashoppers. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, who bringeth out their host by number : he calleth them all by names, by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power, no one faileth. Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding.”
The following quotation from the same inspired author is very striking, inasmuch as the truth contained in it is founded upon an enlarged view of the Divine government, and directly pointed against that insidious manicheism which, originating in the East, has gradually infected the religious opinions of a large portion of mankind. Light was imagined to proceed from one source, and darkness from another; all good was traced to one being, and all evil was ascribed to a hostile and antagonist principle; spirit, pure and happy, arose from the former, while matter, with its foul propensities and jarring elements, took its rise from the latter. But Isaiah, guided by an impulse which supersedes the inferences of the profoundest philosophy, thus speaks concerning the God of the Hebrews,—“ I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is no God besides me. I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things.”
But it is not only in such sublimity of language and exalted imagery, that the literature of the Hebrews surpasses the writings of the most learned and ingenious portion of the heathen world. A distinction not less remarkable is to be found in the humane and compassionate spirit which animates even the earliest parts of the Sacred Volume, composed at a time when the manners of all nations were still unrefined, and the softer emotions were not held in honour. “Blessed is he who considereth the poor and needy; the Lord will deliver him in the time of trouble. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive; he shall be blessed upon earth, and thou wilt not deliver him into the will of his enemies. The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing; thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.” . We shall in vain seek for instances of such a benign and liberal feeling in the volumes of the most enlightened of pagan writers, whether poets or orators. How beautifully does the following observation made by Solomon contrast with the contempt expressed by Horace for the great body of his countrymen. “He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth ; but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he. He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker.”
Among the Israelites there was no distinction as to literary privilege or philosophical sectarianism. There was no profane vulgar in the chosen people. The stores of Divine knowledge were open to all alike. The descendant of Jacob beheld in every member of his tribe a brother and not a master; one who in all the respects which give to man dignity and self-esteem, was his equal in the strictest sense of the term. Hence the noble flame of patriotism which glowed in all the Hebrew institutions before the people became corrupted by idolatry and a too frequent intercourse with the surrounding tribes; and hence, too, the still more noble spirit of fraternal affection which breathed in their ancient law, their devotional writers, and their prophets.
It is worthy of remark, that, in order to prevent any part of the sacred oracles from becoming obsolete or falling into oblivion, the inspired lawgiver left an injunction to read the books which bear his name in the hearing of all the people, at the end of every seven years at farthest. “ And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests, the sons of Levi which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord and unto all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, saying, at the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, when all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose, thou shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law; and that their children, which have not known anything, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.”*
The value of the Levitical institution, whence
* Deut. xxxi. 9–14.