Imágenes de páginas

only one on the face of the earth, to which those words will apply. It is thought, that such a government has been wrought out by the experience and wisdom of ages. The world, after ten thousand trials, has come to certain conclusions; and these results, practically applied to our social system, have given it the excellence which it is allowed to possess. And so hard is it to reconcile liberty with order, to allow the utmost freedom to the individual and at the same time to secure the greatest peace and welfare of the whole, that no thoughtful man wonders, that so many ages passed, before the world discovered how a people could be selfgoverned and yet governed, - how men could be kept in order, and still be free.

If such is the slow process by which the world arrives at such results as this, what shall we say of the Hebrew constitution, which gave, to those who lived under it, as much freedom as ours? Was it not a brilliant discovery, in an age of barbarism, which thus anticipated the best wisdom of modern times? Is it not a most surprising thing, that the Hebrew lawgivers should thus have solved the problem, of reconciling liberty with order, which the gisted minds of succeeding ages have till lately attempted in vain ? Those who doubt the divine legation of Moses, will find an argument here, to which it is not easy to reply.

Perhaps, however, many are not aware of the true character of the Hebrew constitution. The hard name of Theocracy has disguised it. This name is given to it, because it recognised God as their national king. And yet this, if understood, is the exact description of a republic. A republic is a government, which has God, and God alone, for its king. Hebrew constitution, every individual was held directly responsible to God, and to God alone, for the use of his political privileges and powers ; so it is in our republic. The Hebrews, as a people, acknowledged no human power above them; the same is true of us. The Hebrew constitution allowed no one to injure or oppress another; as respected their civil rights, all were equal, and all free. The Hebrew constitution allowed no privileged orders. The case of the priesthood may seem an exception to this remark; but it was not so in reality, for they were not a privileged order; they were rather a disfranchised body. They had no means of gaining wealth, influence, or power. As to wealth, they were restrict

By the ed to a fixed income, and constant and laborious duties. As to influence, they had no means of gaining it, since they had no personal intercourse with the people. Their services were not required or permitted at marriages or funerals; they dwelt apart in their own cities, associating only with each other, and were thus deprived of all temptation to gain power which could never be used. Since it was necessary to have a national religion, a priesthood could not be dispensed with ; but it was guarded with provisions, which, so long as they were observed, made it perfectly impossible for it ever to endanger the liberties of the country.

As an evidence of the general inattention to the true character and provisions of the Hebrew law, one or two particulars may be mentioned; and, if there is a prevailing mistake as to details, it can hardly be expected that general views of the character and spirit of the law should be sound and just. We remember to have been informed by a clergyman, that he was dismissed from his charge for refusing to marry a man to the sister of his deceased wife. On our asking why he refused, he said that such connexions were forbidden by the Hebrew law. Probably he had not read the law, but had acted upon his impressions. Had he read it, he would have seen that Moses prohibited marrying a wife's sister only when the wife was living, and gave as a reason the rivalship which it would occasion between the two. Many, to this day, believe that the marriage of first-cousins was also forbidden; forbidden by the Canon law it was, but the law of Moses contains no such prohibition. It would be easy to produce many other examples to show, how little some of those who profess to pay most respect to the Hebrew law, are acquainted with its provisions; and, this being the case, we could hardly expect to find them taking just views of the spirit and tendency of its institutions.

Before remarking upon those institutions, we will give some account of their illustrious founder, and the remarkable manner in which divine Providence prepared him for his difficult and important duty.

From his childhood he was designated to the high trust which he afterwards fulfilled; and with his infancy commenced his education for the part he was to sustain. The Hebrews, when God determined to separate them as a peculiar people to keep alive the knowledge of himself in the midst of an idolatrous world, were thrown by a succession of events, all bearing upon this purpose, into the very heart of Egypt, the very place to which they would have gone to learn the arts, sciences, and general improvement, in the highest perfection in which they then existed. Egypt was the fountain of intellectual light to the ancient world. The intellectual men of Greece, her philosophers and historians, always travelled to Egypt in search of instruction ; in truth, it was their boast that they sprang from Egypt, Danaus, the founder of Greece, being, iradition says, the brother of Egyplus, the Egyptian king. Possibly it was by birthright that Greece inherited that beautiful and perfect taste, which made her the glory of ancient times. That Egypt was able to give improvement in the arts, is attested by her architectural monuments, which still bid defiance to the waste of time and the elements, and even to man, the most barbarous of all destroyers. After the land has been ravaged by Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, and in modern times by Saladin and Napoleon, ber temples are upright and firm as in the day when Cambyses halted his brazen chariot to gaze on their majestic walls. It was to this land that Providence conducted ihe descendants of the patriarchs, that they might learn the arts and employments which they would require, when they were changed from wandering shepherds into a fixed and industrious people. The circumstance that they were in bondage there, was favorable to this kind of improvement; and how independent of other nations this discipline made them, appears from the description of the tabernacle or pavilion which they constructed in the wilderness; - a work of splendor and skill that could not be exceeded in that day.

But while the Hebrew people, any or all, could learn the arts and employments of Egypt, her learning and intellectual improvement were less accessible. They were all in the hands of the priests, who confined them jealously to their own order, and never suffered any one who was not of their caste to receive the least portion of instruction. And their attainments were such as to give them a commanding title to respect. They were the surgeons and physicians of the day; they were also the astronomers, and traced, with surprising accuracy, the movements of the lieavens ; they were also geometricians by profession, and surveyed the land every year, after the inundation of the Nile had swept all the landmarks and boundaries away ; in short, they knew all that was then to be known, and not the least of their accomplishments was the art of alphabetical writing, which was then new to the world. These were all attainments which it was important for the founder of a state to possess; and it is interesting to observe the order of Providence by which he is made master of them all. The Egyptian Pharaoh,--the common name of her kings, - had issued an order, like that of Herod, to destroy the Hebrew children, in order to reduce the numbers of a people who were growing powerful and impatient of bondage. When Moses was born, his parents, in order to save him from destruction, hid him in the rushes on the banks of the Nile. There he was found by the daughter of the king, who, struck with the child's beauty, saved his lise, and had him brought up in the palace as her own adopted son. Now, by the law of Egypt, all of royal race, whether by blood or adoption, belonged to the caste of the priests. The young princes were instructed in everything which the most accomplished priests could teach them; and thus Moses, who otherwise would have had as little intellectual cultivation as the rest of his people, had the opportunity of acquiring all the learning of the Egyptians, which was then all the learning of the world.

While he was so fortunately situated for this purpose, he was not cut off from intercourse with his own race. By a harmless stratagem, his mother is employed as his nurse ; and thus, perhaps, the earliest words he heard, were the story of the wrongs and sorrows of his people.

Unbelievers have objected to the Old Testament history, on the ground that Moses could not have written the law in so early an age. But the researches of Champollion have supplied an answer to this objection. That ingenious and fortunate discoverer, so early lost to the world, found manuscripts in Egyptian catacombs of an earlier date than that of Moses, and thus set the question at rest ; since it is certain, that, if the art of writing was then known, Moses would bave learned it among the other accomplishments of the priesthood. Champollion also ascertained that the temples and columns, which now astonish the traveller by the beauty of their finish and the grandeur of their proportions, were constructed while the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. They, probably, as Josephus tells us, aided in their construction. Moses was so situated as to know how great was the oppression which they endured,

and the result shows what feelings it inspired in his generous heart.

This naturally leads to some examination of his character, which was

even more important than his attainments for the duty he was to perform. And the very circumstance just mentioned, that he dwelt in a palace, in the sunshine of royal favor, surrounded by the comforts and luxuries of life, and that there his heart was all engaged with the sufferings of his people, is a sufficient proof of moral greatness. For to be governed by a generous sentiment, — to have a generous sentiment act upon the heart with such power as to make a man indifferent to personal comfort and indulgence,- to have that sentiment of patriotism and philanthropy, which in most men's hearts is cold as a winter moon-beam, kindling up into a flame that animates all within, — this, if any thing, is moral greatness. No one whose heart is right, can help admiring this inmate of a palace, whose whole soul is bent on the restoration of his people, and who, so far from being tempted to become a renegade, deliberately rejected all prospects of wealth and rank, choosing, as was said of him by an Apostle whose heart beat with similar emotions, to renounce the pleasures of sin and to suffer affliction with the people of God.

There are many, whose generosity is equal to a single great act of self-devotion, - who could make gigantic sacrifices while under the immediate impulse of strong feeling, but the feeling will not last; when it meets with ingratitude, it dies away, and leaves the heart colder than ever. It was not so with him. Though he met with no grateful return, though he heard not one word of ihankfulness to a million of complaint and upbraiding, his spirit of self-sacrifice endured to the last; and those, who know any thing of the heart, will confess, that the crown of the living is more honorable than that of the dying martyr; it is easier to die, than to live as he did, for men. His post was not one that common ambition would have desired. It brought no superiority of comfort or luxury; it was a laborious, thankless, and self-denying station; it brought no other reward than the approbation of his conscience and his God.

The only stain upon his character was his haste of temper, which sometimes caused him to offend ; but human infirmity will always be associated with human greatness.

All who have ever accomplished great things in this world, have had a

« AnteriorContinuar »