Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

XI.]

THE PROPHETICAL DICTION.

181

has done such good service to his own times and subsequent times by these works, that it would be most ungrateful to complain that his learning and taste did not always save him from the artificial phrases and habits of thought which characterise the poetry and criticism of his contemporaries. He and others have fostered the notion that the Jewish prophet adopted a diction which was certainly very beautiful, elevated, and suitable to an Oriental composition, but far removed from that style which conveys to a western mind an impression of fact and reality. It is esteemed the highest praise of the prophets, that they were carried by divine inspiration or by the genius of their country far out of the path in which our minds naturally travel, and that they were able (so these commentators often express themselves) to invest great religious truths with the richest ornaments of the fancy.

Now when one considers what stern reprovers these prophets were, how they were overwhelmed with a sense of the evils which they actually saw, how continually they proclaimed it to be their task to strip off outsides and take away varnish that they might show the thing as it really was, it is difficult to understand how they can ever have practised arts of this kind, or that they would not have denounced as false prophets any who did. Whatever use Joel intended to make of this plague of locusts, it was surely a most tremendous fact for husbandmen and vinedressers, for every man and woman and child in the land. Was it a time to be playing tricks with words, to be putting together choice sentences which after-times might admire and comment upon ? Would after-times have troubled themselves the least with a man who had occupied himself with such a task? Would his own have been the least the

182

THE LOCUSTS A DAY OF THE LORD. (c. 11.) [Serm.

better for it? Or if you fall back upon inspiration, is it in this way that a divine teacher leads a man to meditate upon the woes of his country? Is it thus he is lifted out of himself to trace the ways of the Most High? I apprehend that Joel's language is the language of poetry, only because that is the most strictly veracious language he could have employed; that which actually represented the fact better than any other; being the utterance of the inmost heart of a man who had felt and understood the fact better than any other, and who was endued with the power of making those who had witnessed it feel that he had understood it, since for the first time it came home in its power to themselves. I trust and believe that these remarks will sound to you commonplace, that you will have anticipated them all. The benefit that we have derived from clearer apprehensions of the nature of art generally has I am inclined to hope reacted very usefully upon our study of the Scriptures, and has removed at least one impediment to our reading them simply as a child or a peasant reads them. Still I could not wholly suppress observations which apply I believe quite as strictly to all the more complicated prophecies we may consider hereafter, as they do to the description of locusts in the book of Joel. This army the prophet looks upon as God's army.

. He hears the Lord's voice going before it. It is a day of the Lord; who can abide it? Those who saw the regular succession of prayers and sacrifices, would naturally contract a faith in a regular succession of rain and crops. Both feelings were desirable until the sense of mere sequence in outward phenomena dulled the mind as to the invisible cause, the inward order which they betokened. When that effect had been produced,--and who knows not how soon it is

XI.]

THE EXHORTATION. (c. II., vv. 12–18.)

183

produced the chain of custom and association must be broken through, or it will bind the spirit in an Atheism the more fatal, because unsuspected. Joel hears in the army of locusts a distinct, loud call to repentance. “Therefore now, says the Lord, turn ye to Me with all your heart, and with fasting and weeping and mourning. And rend your. heart and not your garments, and turn ye to the Lord your God; for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil." What special evils were they to turn from? If the solemn assembly which he asked for were called, if the fast were proclaimed, what would the people have to confess ? Joel does not tell them. There is no enumeration of crimes like those which Amos charged upon different nations and different classes in his own nation. But a call to turn to God may be very practical when the voice of the teacher points to no specific offences, nay, when the conscience itself is awake to

A dull mechanical temper of mind, obedience to mere custom, impulses communicated from without, not from a spirit within, a will recognising no higher law than the opinion of men, this is that turning away from God, that implicit denial of His presence which makes it a most needful thing that the call should go forth from some human lips, and be echoed by unwonted natural calamities, and be received as coming straight from the mouth of the Lord,

Repent and be converted.” The service of a righteous Being demands a righteousness corresponding to His, He who is a Spirit, requires that we should worship Him in spirit and in truth. When we do not feel the force of the first claim, our religion becomes something wholly separated from morality; we are not just in our hearts or just in our doings, for we are not setting any standard of justice before

none.

[ocr errors]

184

THE TEMPLE SERVICES.

[Serm.

us. When the second claim is not allowed, our minds must by degrees become grovelling and sensual, for we confess no power acting upon them or in them to raise them out of their natural sloth, to overcome their gravitation downward. The capacity for manly effort becomes feebler and feebler. A lion is always in the path to every duty. It is not the inner life, the kingdom of Heaven only, which is forgotten and disbelieved in; the spade and the plough lie idle; it is supposed that thorns and thistles are meant to possess the ground, and that man is not meant to remove them. How suitable a chastisement for individuals or nations in this condition is blight and mildew, the palmerworm and the locust! The messengers of death are indeed messengers of resurrection. They say that all things must wither and die if man himself will not arise and live. In the torpor and palsy of all his powers and energies which he has brought upon himself and which his circumstances are increasing, they force him to ask what power there is which can make him arise and live.

The prophet therefore does not forget that he is a priest of the temple. Because its services may have become unreal, he does not tell his countrymen to lay them aside. This pestilence is sent that they may become real. He would therefore have the priest weep between the porch and the altar ; he would have a fast and a solemn assembly; he would have the bridegroom go forth out of his chamber and the bride out of her closet. God is inviting them to turn to Him and He will surely enable them to turn to Him. They have not believed too much that He was present in His own temple, at His own altar; they have forgotten that He was there. They have paid their offerings to Him without remembering that He was in the midst of them. Let XI.] THE BLESSINGS OF REPENTANCE. (c. II., vv.21–28.) 185 them now come in the faith that He is there, and see whether He will not bless them.

Joel's prophecy, like all the other prophecies, does not form one continuous discourse, but is broken into a number of discourses. It appears that his exhortation was heard, the assembly called, the fast decreed. The mind of the people was really aroused. There was an actual repentance. Then the prophet speaks again. “Fear not, O land! Be glad and rejoice. For the Lord will do great things. Be not afraid ye beasts of the field; for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, for the fig-tree and the vine do yield their strength. Be glad then ye children of Zion and rejoice in the Lord your God. For He hath given you the former rain moderately, and He will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil. And I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten, the canker-worm and the caterpillar and the palmer-worm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the Name of the Lord your God who hath dealt wondrously with you, and my people shall never be ashamed.”

These will seem to many very earthly and carnal blessings to follow upon repentance, blessings such as indicate an unspiritual dispensation. But I apprehend that people

ho speak thus, are in great hazard of becoming exceedingly unspiritual themselves. The corn and wine and oil are something to them whether they acknowledge it or not. The question is whether they shall look at these things simply in themselves and pay them honor for their own sakes while they affect to despise them, or whether they

« AnteriorContinuar »