« AnteriorContinuar »
internal experiences without frequent and distinct allusion to those external or objective truths which called them forth, and to which they answer “as face answereth to face in a glass.” These truths also we must consider, if we would know the depths and the real nature of those moral effects which they produced on the heart and character. “I know of nothing," says Dr. A. Clarke, “like the book of Psalms: it contains all the lengths, breadths, and heights of the patriarchal, Mosaic, and Christian dispensations. It is the most useful book in the Bible, and is every way worthy of the wisdom of God.” We shall notice the leading doctrines of the Psalms with as much fulness as our limits may admit, and the purposes of this introduction require.
1.-DOCTRINE OF GOD.
All religion naturally begins with the idea of a Supreme Being, and takes its peculiar character directly from its views of God, and of man's relation to him. His unity and supremacy will determine the absoluteness and universality of his dominion, and the measure of our dependence upon him alone. From the perfection of his natural attributes, his power, wisdom, goodness, arises the belief in the stability of the order of material nature, and its beneficent adaptations and design; while the absolute rectitude of his moral nature, his infinite holiness, justice, truth, and benevolence, supplies the natural ground of faith in a moral government; and in the certainty and equity of its rewards and punishments. The character of God gives character to his law and government, and his law defines the limit of our obligation, the line of our duty, and the sure and only path to glory and ultimate happi
On this subject the Psalmists unite to set forth the most 'honourable, exalted, and satisfying views. God is one and supreme; (Psalms lxxxiii, 18; lxxxvi, 10;) there is none before him, none with him, none besides him, none like him. He is above all other intelligences, superior to the earth and the heavens ; (Psalms lxxi, 19; lxxxvi, 8; lxxxix, 6; lvii, 5, xcvii, 9; cviii, 5.) He is eternal; (Psalms xc, 2; xciii, 2; cxlv, 13.) The Omnipotent Creator ; (Psalms viii; xxxiii, 6; lxii, 11;
lxxxix, 8; xcv, 5; cii, 25.) The Almighty Preserver, on whom all existence depends; (Psalms civ; cxxxv, 6, 7; cxlv, 15, 16; cxlvii, 8–18; xxii, 9.) He is not the animating soul of the world, in the pantheistic sense, but the independent, intelligent agent, who, like the universal parent and preserver, upholds and cares for every living thing, and wisely governs all that he has made. He is infinite in understanding, and his omniscience is an awful thought to deter the wicked from sin and to encourage the righteous; (Psalms xi, 4; xliv, 21 ; xciv, 9; cxlvii, 5;) both his infinite knowledge and his omnipresence are alike awful, and yet, to the righteous, comforting thoughts, beautifully set forth in Psalm cxxxix. His compassion is parental and unfailing, (Psalm ciii,) and “the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting to them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children, to such as keep his covenant;" (verses 17, 18.) The compassion of God is a favourite theme with the Psalmists; (Psalms xxv, 6; xxxvi, 7; lxix, 16; lxxviii, 38; lxxxvi, 15; cxxxvi; cxlv, 8, 9.) But his protective providence and tender care were discriminating, bestowed only upon such as trusted therein with an obedient will; (Psalm xci.)
But in nothing did the character of God appear so transcendently glorious as in his moral perfections, and his judicial proceedings as moral governor. In this light he was strongly contrasted with heathen idols. His holiness was absolute and practical; “Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; neither shall evil dwell with thee: the foolish shall not stand in thy sight; thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” Psalms v, 4, 5; xxii, 3; cxlv, 17. As he was holy, none but the pure could dwell in his presence. (Psalms xv; xxiv, 3-5.) The same holiness led him, by a law of his nature, to abhor and punish sin. (Psalms vii, 11-13; x, 3; xi, 5.) Specimens of his avenging justice are constantly exhibited, as in Psalm xciv. But he is also a God of truth, (Psalms xix, 9; lxxxix, 14; c, 5; cxlvi, 6;) and of a moral disposition infinitely inclined to forgiveness, on principles of rectitude and holiness. (Psalms xxxii, 1, 2; lxv, 3; lxvi, 20; lxxxv, 2; ciii, 3, 10.) His majesty and power, and the judicial severity of his judgments upon the wicked, are often blended, with exquisite pencillings, in the same picture with his compassion for the distressed and his care for the
stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, as in Psalm cxlvi. In short, he is such a God, as men should fear, trust, adore, love, and obey; and while he is “terrible in righteousness,” he is also the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them who are afar off upch the sea.” Psalm lxv, 5. He is the God that “heareth prayer, and unto him “shall all flesh come.”. Verse 2.
Whatever enlightened reason apprehends as worthy of a perfect and eternal being, the creator, upholder, governor, and parent of all, is ascribed to God in the Psalms. Here the soul of the Hebrew people gave vent to its deepest, loftiest, holiest, most awful, and most endearing sense and conceptions of the Divine character. It must be observed, however, that their language is not always literal. God is sometimes spoken of apparently in a material and gross way, as when human feelings, actions and qualities are ascribed to him. Thus, he is spoken of as being angry, grieved, vengeful; as feeling pity, hatred, jealousy; and as repenting. But these anthropopathic expressions, expressions which ascribe to God the feelings, passions, and infirmities of men, are to be construed as figurative language, accommodated to the imperfection of the human understanding. So also of expressions strictly called anthropomorphitic, in which the form, features, and attributes of the human body are ascribed to God, as when he is said to have hands, feet, eyes, bowels, arms, and to hear, taste, see, and smell. Another figure, which has been called by Seiler the anthropopoiesis, ascribes human actions to God.
These familiar representations are not indeed peculiar to the Psalms, but occur in every part of the Bible, and in the common language of practical religious life in all ages and countries. They do not degrade the Deity, although they depart widely from the measured language of abstract philosophy, or exact science.
In order to understand such language as the above, it should be remembered that all knowledge of God is acqnired by comparison. From our knowledge of the human mind and character, and of things external, we ascend to the divine; from things sensible and material, to things abstract and spiritual. We form our conceptions of the Divine attributes from corresponding qualities in the human character. Even our notion of the
Divine existence is derived from the consciousness of our own being. Justice, wisdom, power, knowledge, goodness, in God, are comprehended by us from the conceptions we have of analogous attributes in man. Destroy the resemblance of man to his Maker, and you remove the basis of all reasoning concerning God. This fact is sufficient to account for the frequent anthropomorphitisms in the Holy Scriptures. Often the poverty of language, and much oftener, the convenience of illustration, lead us even now to make the human organs and faculties the basis of our representations of Deity. The hand, for instance, is the instrument by which we put forth the power or the skill of the mind. How natural, then, to represent the Divine Being as doing with his hands that which displays his power and wisdom—that which, were we to do, we could do only with our hands ? " the heavens are the work of thy hands :" "when I behold thy heavens, the work of thy fingers.” The eye is the medium of direct perception to us; so also the ear, and the other senses. How natural, then, to represent God as possessed of such organs; to speak of him as seeing, smelling, hearing, &c., where it is meant only that he directly perceives, that is, that he absolutely knows certain things, which, were we to learn, we could know only through these organs.
It should be considered that the Psalms are the language of feeling-of feeling awakened by real experiences and real events of life. In such states the mind indulges in greater freedom of expression, and, in its intense emotional exercises, lays hold of whatever analogies are supplied by the common sympathies and relations of our being to give forcible utterances to thought. Deeply penetrated with a sense of its own wants, its dependence, its sorrows, its perils; or animated with joy, hope, and gratitude, the soul views its Creator in the relations of Parent, Friend, Redeemer, Protector, and by faith is brought into nearer proximity and closer sympathy with him. At such times language is not to be construed according to the exact rules of a cold and speculative philosophy, but with reference to the condition and feelings of the author. We know, from abundant sources that, the views which the Psalmists entertained of God were exalted and spiritual; and we are in no more danger of being misled by their figurative language, in instances like those above mentioned, than we are now of misapprehending the real doctrines of a philosopher concerning the earth's motion and the sun's rest, when he says in familiar language, the sun rises and the sun goes down.
II.-DOCTRINE OF ANGELS.
We find the doctrine of angels early taught, and their ministry to men appears in the history of Abraham and the patriarchs. Little, however, is said by way of explaining their nature and history, except what falls out incidentally in the frequent descriptions of their office, their heavenly employment, and their embassies to men. The Hebrew , malak, and the Greek dyyedos, angelos, both are descriptive of office, not of nature, and signify messenger, more properly, a celestial messenger, an angel. Both the Old and New Testaments unite to represent God as surrounded by celestial beings of a high order of intelligence, purity, and happiness, who are employed in worshipping him, (Psalms ciii, 20, 21, and cxlviii, 2) studying his works, (Daniel viii, 13, and xii, 5, 6; 1 Peter i, 12,) and executing his commands as his ministers to distant portions of his empire. These holy beings are far above man in rank and power, possessed of extraordinary wisdom, (2 Samuel xiv, 17,) and proverbial for their excellence, (1 Samuel xxix, 9, and 2 Samuel xix, 27.) They were inconceivably swift in their motions, and were hence always represented as having wings. They executed the purposes of divine wrath against sin, (2 Samuel xxiv, 16, 17, and 2 Kings xix, 35.) Thus, in Psalm xxxv, 5, 6, “The angel of the Lord shall overthrow them; their way shall be dark and slippery, and the angel of the Lord shall pursue them.” They also were ministers of grace to the righteous, extending over them protection from their enemies, and upholding and guiding their steps, (Genesis xix, 1–22.) Psalm xxxiv, 7: “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” Psalm xci, 11, 12: “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." (See also Hebrews i, 14.) It was hence that these “holy ones” were also called “watchers," as having a delegated oversight of human affairs, (Daniel vi, 22,