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LECTURE I NOTE F.—P. 9.
UNIQUENESS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT VIEW.
It may be Confidently affirmed that the drift of modern Criticism and research has not been to lower, but immensely to exalt, our conceptions of the unique character of the Old Testament religion. The views of the critics of the earlier stages of the religion of Israel are low and poor enough, but, as if in compensation, they exalt the “Ethical Monotheism” and spiritual religion of the prophets and psalms, till one feels, in reading their works, that truly this religion of Israel is something unexampled on the face of the earth, and is not to be accounted for on purely natural principles. Schleiermacher and Hegel spoke disparagingly of the Old Testament, but this is not the more recent tendency. The following are some testimonies from various standpoints.
Lotze, in his Microcosmus, bears a noble testimony to the uniqueness of the Old Testament religion, and to the sublimity and unparalleled character of its literature. “Among the theocratically governed nations of the East,” he says, “the Hebrews seem to us as sober men among drunkards” (vol. ii. p. 267, Eng. trans.). See his spirited sketch of the Old Testament view (pp. 466–468), and his eulogy of the literature (pp. 402–404).
Dr. Hutcheson Stirling says: “The sacred writings of the Hebrews, indeed, are so immeasurably superior to those of every other name, that, I or the sake of the latter, to invite a comparison is to undergo instantaneous extinction. Nay, regard these Scriptures as a literature only, the literature of the Jews—even then, in the kind of quality, is there any literature to be compared with it? Will it not even then remain still the sacred literature? A taking simpleness, a simple takingness, that is Divine—all that can lift us out of our own week-day selves, and place us, pure then, holy, rapt, in the joy and the peace of Sabbath feeling and Sabbath vision, is to be found in the mere nature of these old idylls, in the full-filling sublimity of these psalms, in the inspired God-words of these intense-souled prophets.”—Phil. and Theol. (Gifford Lectures), pp. 18, 19.
Dr. Robertson Smith has well brought out the singularity and elevation of the Hebrew view in contrast with that of the other Semitic and Aryan nations, in his Religion of the Semites (Burnett Lectures). “The idea of absolute and ever-watchful Divine justice,” he says, “as we find it in the prophets, is no more natural to the East than to the West, for even the ideal Semitic king is, as we have seen, a very imperfect earthly providence; and, moreover, he has a different standard of right for his own people and for strangers. The prophetic idea that Jehovah will vindicate the right, even in the destruction of His own people of Israel, involves an ethical standard as foreign to Semitic as to Aryan tradition” (p. 74).
Again: “While in Greece the idea of the unity of God was a philosophical speculation, without any definite point of attachment 377to actual religion, the Monotheism of the Hebrew prophets kept touch with the ideas and institutions of the Semitic race, by conceiving of the one true God as the King of absolute justice, the national God of Israel, who, at the same time, was, or rather was destined to become, the God of all the earth, not merely because His power was world-wide, but because, as the perfect ruler, He could not fail to draw all nations to do Him homage” (p. 75).
Again: “The Hebrew ideal of a Divine Kingship that must one day draw all men to do it homage, offered better things than these, not in virtue of any feature that it possessed in common with the Semitic religions as a whole, but solely in virtue of its unique conception of Jehovah as a God whose love for His people was conditioned by a law of absolute righteousness. In other nations individual thinkers rose to lofty conceptions of a supreme Deity, but in Israel, and in Israel alone, these conceptions were incorporated in the conception of the national God. And so, of all the gods of the nations, Jehovah alone was fitted to become the God of the whole earth” (pp. 80, 81).
Kuenen writes thus of the universalism of the prophets: “What was thus revealed to the eye of their spirit was no less than the august idea of the moral government of the world—crude as yet, and with manifold admixture of error (l) but pure in principle. The prophets had no conception of the mutual connection of the powers or operations of nature. They never dreamed of carrying them hack to a single cause, or deducing them from it. But what they did see, on the field within their view, was the realisation of a single plan—everything, not only the tumult of the peoples, but all nature likewise, subservient to the working out of one great purpose. The name ‘Ethical Monotheism’ describes better than any other the characteristics of their point of view, for it not only expresses the character of the one God whom they worshipped, but also indicates the fountain whence their faith in Him welled up.”—Hibbert Lectures, pp. 124, 125.
“So far,” says Mr. Gladstone, “then, the office and work of the Old Testament, as presented to us by its own contents is without a compeer among the old religions. It deals with the case of man as a whole. It covers all time. It is alike adapted to every race and region of the earth. And how, according to the purport of the Old Testament, may that case best be summed up? In these words: It is a history first of sin, and next of Redemption.”—God in the Bible p. 87. See the whole chapter on “The Office and Work of the Old Testament in Outline.”
I may add a few words of personal testimony from Professor Monier Williams, on the comparison of the Scriptures with the Sacred Books of the East. “When I began investigating Hinduism and Buddhism, I found many beautiful gems; nay, I met with bright coruscations of true light flashing here and there amid the surrounding darkness. As I prosecuted my researches into these non-Christian systems, I began to foster a fancy that they had been unjustly treated. I began to observe and trace out curious 378coincidences and comparisons with our own Sacred Book of the East. I began, in short, to be a believer in what is called the evolution and growth of religious thought. ‘These imperfect systems,’ I said to myself, ‘are interesting efforts of the human mind struggling upwards towards Christianity. Nay, it is probable that they were all intended to lead up to the one true religion, and that Christianity is, after all, merely the climax, the complement, the fulfilment of them all.’
“Now, there is unquestionably a delightful fascination about such a theory, and, what is more, there are really elements of truth in it. But I am glad of this opportunity of stating publicly that I am persuaded I was misled by its attractiveness, and that its main idea is quite erroneous.... We welcome these books. We ask every missionary to study their contents, and thankfully lay hold of whatsoever things are true and of good report in them. But we warn him that there can be no greater mistake than to force these non-Christian bibles into conformity with some scientific theory of development, and then point to the Christian’s Holy Bible as the crowning product of religious evolution. So far from this, these non-Christian bibles are all developments in the wrong direction. They all begin with some flashes of true light, and end in utter darkness. Pile them, if you will, on the left side of your study table, but place your own Holy Bible on the right side—all by itself, all alone—and with a wide gap between.”—Quoted by Joseph Cook in God in the Bible (Boston Lectures), p. 16.
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