Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

deny. Its attitude is that of the uncovered head acknowledging the presence of a mystery. The mystery which it acknowledges is the same as that before which Egypt bowed six thousand years ago— the recognition of an invisible boundary-line between a world which is seen and temporal, and a state which no man can define.

CHAPTER XIV.

THE MESSAGE OF JUDE A.

It seems at first sight as if this were a message which needed no chapter. We of the Christian persuasion have read from childhood the books in which it professes to be delivered. We are familiar with their every phrase; we are conversant with their every sentiment. They have become to us as household words. They are a species of literature known alike to the cot and the palace, prized alike by the peasant and the sage. One would certainly imagine that their purport would by this time be read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested. And yet, if we put to ourselves the question, What is the message of Judea ? we shall probably be struck with the difficulty of giving a defensible answer. Of course it is very easy to tell a hundred things that are taught in the Old Testament; but the question is, Are they taught there alone? If not, then they cannot be regarded as the distinctive message of Judea ; they must be looked upon as parts of the religious life itself. Let us consider one or two of the answers which are popularly given to this question; we shall find that they by no means exhaust the problem.

And first. A very common answer is that the mission of Judea was to tell the unity of God. That ultimately it did tell the unity of God is beyond dispute; whether originally it did so is very doubtful. But waiving this, is the unity of God at any time a doctrine peculiar to Judaism ? I have pointed out in the introduction to this book that it is at all times more natural to the human mind than Polytheism. We have seen, moreover, that some of the earliest forms of thought have, either at their base or at their apex, held the existence of one central principle. India culminates in this belief, alike in the system called Brahmanism, and in that Nirvana of the future in which the Buddhist sees the goal of all things. Egypt, according to the best interpreters, recognises this thought from the outset, and more distinctly still. The many here are but various forms of the one, and the worship of the many is but the reverence of the manifold wisdom of God. I do not for a moment imagine that Judea got her notion of divine unity from dwelling in Egypt, any more than Egypt received hers by associating with Judea. But I think it very likely that they may have been brought together, and for a time kept together, by the experience common to them

both. Neither the one nor the other can claim the unity of God as a distinctive possession; it belongs to both, and therefore it is the property of neither. Judaism never professes to have a special revelation of God; it begins by assuming God. Instead of saying that He is, it says that He created the heavens and the earth. Why so ? Clearly because the discovery of God's being was not appropriated as a part of the national consciousness. The Jew felt that he had come into it as into an inheritance derived from some other source. It had been his from the dawn of his being, and therefore it was not his by conquest. It was a possession which he shared with the race of humanity, a foundation on which he might indeed build a special temple, but which was at the same time the foundation for independent houses, and one on which the Caananite might also build.

A second view of the mission of Judaism is that which regards it as having had its function in the proclaiming of moral law. That it did proclaim moral law is certain ; but this was by no means its distinctive message. If the record of Genesis bears witness to the fact that the knowledge of God was earlier than the national existence, the record of Exodus equally attests that the knowledge of morality preceded the national law. At whatever time the thunders of Sinai proclaimed “ Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour,” they appealed to an already existing culture. Laws have no meaning except on the supposition that the subjects of them are responsible beings. A moral code never founded morality; it is itself the evidence of the previous existence of morality. Judea only got from Sinai what she brought to Sinai — a conscience. Whence did she derive it? From Egypt ? No; from human nature. But undoubtedly she recognised it in Egypt before she recognised it in Sinai. Egypt was her first looking-glass, the earliest mirror in which she beheld herself. Here she saw a morality in many respects kindred to her own. Renouf has not scrupled to say that the morality of Egypt contains every Christian virtue. It is true, there is a leaning rather to the negative than to the positive side ; there is more stress laid on what we are not, than on what we are to do. The man who at the day of judgment is able to disclaim the commission of forty-two sins is permitted to pass into glory. But it must be confessed that Judea herself leans to this tendency; her decalogue is mainly negative, whether as regards man or as regards God. To acknowledge none equal to the God of Israel, to abstain from bowing down to graven images, to avoid irreverence in the use of the holy name, to keep from secular thoughts at sacred times, and, in general, to restrain the heart

1Hibbert Lectures (1879) on the Origin and Growth of Religion, as illustrated by the Religion of Egypt,' p. 71.

« AnteriorContinuar »