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commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, and the father is about to comply, but the Deity changes his own mind and prevents the killing of the boy. Listen to this from Psalm li,, and see what a change there is: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness, according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart, 0 God; and renew a right spirit within me. Oast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, 0 God, thou wilt not despise."
Look at this from Hosea: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offering." Or this of Micah: "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God?" What a progress from the early times! But even to the last book of the Old Testament there is the same wrath of God. The world has seen no such cursing as that of the Jews in the name of Jehovah. Take the cixth Psalm, and I will defy the hardest of you to wish worse and crueller things than the author imprecates against his enemies:—" Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand. When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places. Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the stranger spoil his labor. Let there be none to extend mercy unto him; neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children. Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth As
he clothed himself with cursing like as with a garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his hones," vs. 6-15, 18. I quote these because they are seldom read, while the devout and holy portions of the Psalms are familiar to all men. In Bibles which have laid on the pulpit for fifty years, and those read in private from generation to generation, the best parts are worn out with continuous use, while the evil passages are still fresh and new.
I think no Old Testament Jew ever got beyond this: "Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob and hated Esau," (Mai. i. 2, 3.) A Psalmist speaks of God as pursuing his enemies with wrath "like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine." The Lord God of Israel says to his people, "I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand, and with a strong arm, even in anger, and in fury, and in great wrath." "I have set my face against this city for evil and not for good." If they do not repent, his "fury will go forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it;" and "this house shall beoome a desolation."
Here is a terrible picture of the Hebrew God, sketched by the hand of a great master some time after the Babylonian Captivity. There had been a great battle between the Edomites and Hebrews; God comes back as a conqueror, the people see him, and the following dialogue takes place:
People:—Who is this that cometh from Edom?
Jehovah:—I that proclaim deliverance,
People:—Wherefore is thine apparel red,
And thy garments like those of one that treadeth the wine-vat?
Jehovah:—I have trodden the wine-vat alone,
And of the nations there was none with me.
So that their life-blood was sprinkled upon my garments,
And I have stained all my apparel.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart—
I trod down the nations in my anger;
I crushed them in my fury,
And spilled their blood upon the ground." *
"Home-keeping youths have ever homely wits," says the proverb; it is not less true of nations than of men. The religious, but idolatrous Jews met a monotheistic people in their captivity in Babylon, and came back with better ideas. Yet much of the old theological evil lingered still. Ezra, Nehemiah, and the author of the book of Daniel, devout men, intensely bigoted, knew only "the great and dreadful God;" that is the name the last of them calls Jehovah. But from the first five books of the Old Testament to the Proverbs and later Psalms there is great progress.
II. You come to the New Testament, and here you do not find much literary excellence in the writers. Wild flowers of exquisite beauty spring up around the feet of Jesus; only in the Revelation do you find any thing which indicates a large talent for literature, neither the nature which is born in the man of genius, nor the art which comes from exquisite culture. The Fourth Gospel was writ, apparently, by some Alexandrian Greek, a man of nice philosophic culture and fancy. Paul had great power of deductive logic. A grand poetic imagination appears in that remarkable book, the Apoca
* Dr. Noyee's Translation.
lypse. But, taken as a whole, in respect to literary art, the New Testament is greatly inferior to the best parts of the Apocrypha and Old Testament. It compares with Job, the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ecelesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon, as the works of the early Quakers compare with Hooker, Taj lor, Herbert. Cud worth and Milton; and yet, spite of the lack of culture, literary art, and poetic genius, in the New Testament as in Foxi Nayler, Penn, and other early Quakers, there is a spirit not to be found in the well-born and learned writers who went before.
1. In the New Testament, look first at the conception which Jesus has of God. I shall take it only from the first three Gospels. In that according to Matthew I think we have his early notion of God. He calls him Father. The same word is now and then applied to God in the Old Testament, but there I think it means only Father to the Jews, not to other nations. But it seems that some of the Greeks and Jews in Jesus's own time applied it to him, as if he were the father of all men. As Jesus makes the Lord's Prayer out of the litanies which were current in his time, so he uses the common name for the Deity in the common sense. With him God alone is good, and our Father which is in heaven is perfect. "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." He pities and forgives the penitent, as in that remarkable story of the Prodigal Son. With what tender love does Jesus say, "There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, who need no repentance." Such noble thoughts come out in that time as "shines a good deed in a naughty world." But what becomes of the impenitent wicked? God has no love for them; they shall go into everlasting punishment. So alongside of God there is a Devil, and to the left hand of heaven, there is a dreadful, fiery, endless hell, whither a broad way leads down, and the wide gates stand ever open, and many there be who go in thereat.
At first Jesus limited his teachings to the Jews; he would not take the children's bread and give it unto the dogs; he declared that not a jot or tittle of the Mosaic ceremonial law should ever fail; he told his disciples to keep all that the Scribes and Pharisees commanded, because they sat in Moses's seat. But by-and-by he nobly breaks with Judaism, violates the ritual law, puts his new wine into new bottles. With admirable depth of intuitive sight he sums up religion in one word, Love—love to God with all the heart, and to one's neighbor as himself. Fear of God seldom appears in the words of Jesus. Fear is the religion of the Old Testament, Mercy is better than sacrifice. Men go up to heaven for righteousness and philanthropy, and no question is asked about creed or form. Other men go down to hell for ungodliness; and no straining at a gnat would ever save him who would swallow down a whole camel of iniquity. Human literature cannot show a dearer example of tenderness to a penitent wicked man than you see in the story of the Prodigal Son, which yet the first Evangelist rejected, and two others left without mention.
All nationality disappears before Jesus. His model man is a Samaritan. We hear that word commonly used, and do not understand that the Jews hated a Samaritan as the old New England Federalists hated a Jacobin, as the British used to hate a Frenchman, or as a Southern slaveholder hates a Black Republican to-day. Depend upon it, it created as much sensation amongst men who heard it when Jesus told this story of the Good Samaritan, as it would in Virginia to have some one represent a Negro as superior to all the "first families" of the State, an account of some great charity that he had done.
I do not find that Jesus altered the common idea of God which he found. He was too intent on practical righteousness to attend to that. Besides, he was cut off when but about thirty years of age; had he lived longer, it may be that he would have reformed the popular notion of God; for there are some things in the words that drop like honey from his lips which to me indicate a religious feeling far beyond his thought.
2. In the writings of Paul you find more speculation about God than with Jesus; for Paul was mainly a theological man, as Jesus was mainly a pious and philanthropic man. Jesus could start a great religious movement; Paul could make a theology out of his hints, and found a sect. But the most important characteristic of Paul's idea of God is this: God's wrath was against all ungodliness in Jew or Gentile, and he was as accessible to Gentile as to Jew. Nationality vanishes; all men are one in Christ Jesus; God is God to all, to punish the wicked and reward the righteous who have faith in Christ; the Jews are as wicked as the rest of mankind, and are to be equally saved by faith in Christ, and by that alone. Paul's Christ is not the Jesus of History, but a mythological being he conjured up from his own fancy. He says that the invisible God is clearly made known by the visible material world, and conscience announces God's law to the Gentiles as effectually as revelation declares it to the Jews. That is a great improvement on the Old Testament idea of God, as presented even in the Psalms.
3. In the Fourth Gospel and the First Epistle attributed to John—both incorrectly attributed to him—the idea of God goes higher than elsewhere in the New Testament. God is mainly love. He dwells in the souls of men who love each other and love him, and is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, not only in Jerusalem, but anywhere and everywhere. Perfect love casteth out fear.
This God has an Only-begotten Son, to whom he has given the Spirit without measure, put all things under his hand; he who believes on the Son shall have everlasting life, but he who does not believe on the Son shall not see life. Christ's commandment is that they love one another, and to those God will give another Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who shall abide with believers forever; nay, Christ will manifest himself to them.
But this God has created a Devil, who will send all unbelievers into endless torment.
Thus ends the last book of the New Testament. What a change from Genesis to the Fourth Gospel! "What a difference between the God who eats veal and fresh bread with Abraham, and commands him to make a burnt offering of his own son, who conveys all Palestine on such a jocular tenure, and the God whom no man hath seen at any time; who is Spirit and is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth; who is love, and who dwells with all loving and believing souls! There are I know not how many hundred years between the two—what a series of revolutions! what vast progress of mankind had filled up that brief period of time!
But the idea of God which you gather from the Bible is quite unsatisfactory to a thoughtful and deeply religious man to-day. In the Old Testament there is no God who loves the Gentiles; he made the world for the Jews; all others are only servants—means, not ends. This being so, the Hebrew thought himself the only favorite of God; his patriotism became intense contempt for all other nations—was a part of his religion. In the New Testament, the God whom even Jesus sets before mankind has no love for the wicked; there is no Providence for them; at the last judgment he sends them all to hell, bottomless, endless, without hope; their worm dieth not, their fire is not quenched; no Lazarus from Abraham's bosom will ever give Dives a single drop of water to cool his tongue, tormented in that flame. Jesus tells of God, also of the Devil; of heaven, with its eternal blessedness awaiting every righteous man, and of the eternal torment not less open and waiting for every one who dies impenitent. Paul narrows still more this love of God towards men; it includes only such as have faith in Christ; no man is to be saved who does not believe in Paul's idea of Christ. The author of the Apocalypse constricts it still further yet; he would cast out Paul from heaven; Paul is called a "liar," "of the Synagogue of Satan," and other similar names. The Fourth Gospel limits salvation to such as believe the author's theory of Christ, that he was a God, and the only-begotten Son of God, an idea which none of the three Evangelists, nor Paul, nor James, nor Simon Peter, seems ever to have entertained. I think that Jesus never held such a doctrine as what Paul and the writer of the Fourth Gospel makes indispensable to salvation.
To the Jews every Gentile seemed an outcast from God's providence. To the early followers of Jesus all unbelievers were also outcasts; "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be