Изображения страниц

my anxiety not to commit myself in this plea for inquiry has tended to obscure the results, in which my confidence is increasingly firm. I may sum up this paper in two propositions: (1) Prof. Cheyne should have proved, or referred to a proof, that the Avesta and its religion were known in Persia at the time he requires. On this I have been careful to express no opinion, though I have tried to formulate some of the difficulties which make this proof necessary. (2) Supposing it proved that the Avestan religion pervaded the Jews' environment, the Gâthâs cannot possibly have held the place assumed for them by Prof. Cheyne. They could only reach the Jews through their sacerdotal interpreters, who (whether they really understood them or not) had overlaid them with a practical polytheism and a minute ceremonial most unlikely to recommend their purer doctrines to Jewish minds. The magnitude of the contrast between Zarathushtra and his later followers will be a suitable subject for discussion when we have investigated the question whether these followers are to be recognized in the Magi of Persian history.



By Rev. G. H. GWILLIAM, B.D. In an age when it is the fashion to scout the opinions of the men of earlier generations, there may be observed, inconsistently enough, a tendency to accept the teaching of distinguished modern writers without question, on their sole authority. But the writer of “Crisis Cheyniana " is probably unknown to the majority of the readers of Canon Cheyne's works. The Professor takes advantage of this, and endeavours to divert attention from the criticisms which have been offered, by describing them as the remarks of one who “is at present at the very beginning of his study of modern theology." The Professor needs to be told that in England, though perhaps not often in Germany, many a scholar reads, and learns, and teaches, who yet publishes nothing, and remains unknown. It is right that the readers of THE THINKER should be assured that he who has addressed them on so weighty a subject is not a novice, and that he expresses an ever-deepening conviction which results from opinions formed long ago. Of the Professor's reply no further notice is taken, except to thank him for his pious ejaculations.



PART I. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. —Ps. xc. 1. Sweet and precious are these words, which prove the combined antiquity and catholicity of the Church of true believers. But I wish to treat them now not as an isolated saying, but in their historical context. This psalm, we have been told, is a “psalm of Moses, the man of God.” But the statement is well known to be unhistorical—it is like many other traditions in which we have been brought up, but which increasing knowledge compels us to abandon, and which we soon find to be much less satisfying than the historical truth. Does the reader ask when this psalm really was written? Well, there is a strong presumption that it was written after the Return of the Jews from Babylon, because it stands at the head of the two last of the five books of psalms, which originally formed but one book, and which contain no other psalms (unless the 110th be an exception) which can possibly belong to the primitive period. It is most unlikely that a really Mosaic work should have escaped incorporation into the earliest account of the age of Moses. Moreover, Ps. xc. clearly contains allusions to a fine song appended to Deuteronomy, and certainly not written before the reign of Hezekiah or (far more probably) Josiah, and also to the work of the Second Isaiah, which was written at the very close of the Babylonian Exile. This is all the answer that we require at present. Let us now proceed to make a study of the 90th psalm, noticing the most salient points and the most important allusions to earlier writings. The first four verses run thus :

1. Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place

In all generations.
2. Before the mountains were brought forth,

Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world,

Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. 3. Thou turnest man to destruction ;

And sayest, Return, ye children of men. 4. For a thousand years in thy sight

Are but as yesterday when it is past,

And as a watch in the night. The first verse is the cry of a nation which is no longer young, and can look back on many generations. It reminds us of those touching words of the personified people of Israel :

1 Deut. xxxii. Dr. Driver's statement (Introduction, p. 89), that it would be going too far to affirm that the song cannot be by the same hand as the body of Deuteronomy deserves respectful consideration, but must be taken as qualified by the following sentence. Comp. Kuenen, Inquiry into the Origin of the Hexateuch (1886), pp. 256, 257.


He hath bronght down my strength in the way ;
He hath shortened my days.
I will say, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days ;

Thou whose years endure throughout all generations. Israel has been in sore peril. Hunted, it has found no earthly refuge. Friendless and solitary, it looks up to God for protection—to God whose eternity and unchangeableness are the only but the sufficient guarantee of its continued existence. Both these psalms (the 90th and the 102nd) are inspired—by the Divine Spirit, you will expect me to say.

And entirely I do say this; but in a secondary sense they are inspired by the Second Isaiah. For there is a strange economy in the works of God. Nothing is wasted that can be turned to account, and each spiritual product of the creative Spirit can itself become a secondary source of life and power. This was the case with all the greater prophets, and the proof of this is the Psalter. Whenever we see in a psalm striking points of contact, in language or idea, with a prophecy, it is the psalm which is based on the prophecy, and not the prophecy which is based on the psalm. Now, both Jeremiah and the Second Isaiah produced a mighty effect on the temple-poets. It was from the latter that the psalmists drew their intense conviction of the eternity of God. Listen to these inspired and inspiring words :

Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hidden from Jehovah, and my right hath been let slip by my God? Hast thou not perceived ? hast thou not heard ! An everlasting God is Jehovah, creator of the ends of the earth ; he fainteth not, neither is he weary ; there is no searching of his understanding."

We pass on to verse 2. There is hardly a more sublime passage than this in the Hebrew Scriptures, as one of our great religious poets (Christina Rossetti) felt when she adopted almost the very words as the opening of one of her majestic sonnets,

“Before the mountains were brought forth, before

Earth and the world were made, then God was God.” There is indeed a still sublimer passage in the New Testament-sublime, not so much in expression as in thought,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. S

The imagination and the speculative reason can take no higher flight than this. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made,” God was; but God was not alone. An inspired poet had already imagined Jehovah in the depths of eternity rejoicing in converse with His own Wisdom.4

Noble indeed is the rhetoric with which he adorns this grand imaginative figure. But it was the evangelist who first gave it a theoretic or doctrinal basis. The Divine Wisdom, or (as the evangelist expresses himself) the Word really was, when as yet the world was not, and this Word was not only with God, but was God. And yet from St. John we return well-pleased to the psalm, just because in majesty of style the psalmist is superior to the

1 Ps. cii. 24. Isa. xl. 27, 28. 3 John i. 1. 4 Prov. viii. 22, 31.

evangelist. And to many of us his words are dear because we love the mountains almost more than we love the sea.

Two voices are there ; one is of the sea,

One of the mountains-each a mighty voice, says the poet of the mountains. And those who have been privileged to see mountains not inferior to Israel's Hermon and Lebanon will feel that the psalmist's words have a deeper meaning for them than for others, and that the truth of God's unchangeableness and eternity has grown more realizable since they have known intimately the vast but not changeless bulwarks of God's building. The Jews, at any rate, who feared the sea, loved the mountains. The captive prophet Ezekiel constantly refers to the mountains of Israel which he is to see no more ; and when a symbol is wanted by a psalmist for God's righteous fidelity to His covenant-promises, it is the “mountains of God" which are selected. The symbol is indeed not perfect. As that great lover of nature who wrote the poem of Job says

The mountain falling fadeth away,

And the rock is removed out of its place. It may be but a gradual alteration, but even the mountains are not exempt from the law of decay. But God not only was before the mountains were, but shall be when the mountains have ceased to be, for “Thou (O Jehovah) art God” from the age before time was, to the age when time shall be no more—“from everlasting to everlasting.” Far otherwise is it with the race of man. Those who can bring themselves to offer worship to Humanity have a poor substitute indeed for the “Rock of Ages.” Humanity, apart from God, is, according to the inspired writers, but a succession of generations, and each generation is a mass of struggling atoms (a prophet compares them to grasshoppers), which, but for a supernatural helper, would be overpowered by the forces of nature. To all appearance, death is the end of everything : “ Thou turnest man to dust, and sayest, Return, ye children

of men ”; i.e., probably, generation succeeds generation, and there is no natural, indefeasible right to immortality. A poor comfort, perhaps you will say, for the depressed Jewish believers in post-Exilic times. But the truth is that the psalmist only depresses man in order to exalt God, the God who is a refuge to successive generations. Only if we realize what we should be without God, can we with a full heart offer thanksgivings for what we are with God.

As yet we have only been told that we (that is, of course, not Israel alone, for in no period and in no country has God been without His faithful servants) have, in all ages, had a sure refuge in God. As yet, there is no definite suggestion as to the nature of the prospect which cheers the believer. We need not be surprised at this. All theology is inferential, except that part of it which has to do with the nature of God. To busy ourselves with the circumference of religious truth is worse than useless until

[ocr errors]

1 Ps. xxxvi. 6.

? Job xiv. 15.



we have pitched our tent in truth's bright and glorious centre. One verse more is devoted by the psalmist to theology proper :

For a thousand years in Thy sight
Are but as yesterday when it is past,

And as a watch in the night. This is the rendering of the Authorised Version, and it is a fine one. It is implied in a verse of the old hymn, “ Jerusalem, my happy home," a verse which is generally omitted in the hymn-books

But there they live in such delight,

Such pleasure and such play,
As that to them a thousand years

Doth seem as yesterday. But a still finer as well as more accurate rendering is that in the margin of the Revised Version

For a thousand years in Thy sight

Are but as yesterday when it passeth. Imagine yourselves standing on a bridge between the old day and the new. What a mere "span long " seems the old day as it vanishes from our gaze; what an ample space stretches before us in what we can hardly yet call “ to-day!” The second figure forms a climax. A “watch in the night" has no duration at all to the unconscious sleeper; so time is neither short nor long to the First Cause of everything that is.

So ends the first part of the psalm. The closing verses are also fine, but, as we shall see, more by what they suggest than by what they express. The central portion of the psalm, if we examine it closely, is of mixed value. There is, as the heart of every Christian tells him, a Bible within the Bible, and it would be unreasonable to deny that within the same psalm there may be very different degrees of inspiration. It is to the central and less inspired, because less inspiring, part that we have now come.

The next two verses run thus :5. Thou carriest them away as with a flood ; they pass into sleep (i.e., the sleep of death);

In the morning they are as grass which sprouteth again ; 6. In the morning it flourisheth, and sprouteth again,

In the evening it is cut down, and withereth.

These are the eternal commonplaces of moralists. When the moralist is in earnest, he impresses us; when he is also a great poet, the fountain of our tears overflows. It is not merely the association of the first verse with closed chapters in our own lives which makes the 14th chapter of Job difficult to read composedly. It has the highest poetical merits in itself, and gives, probably, the most impassioned treatment of its theme which ancient literature supplies. But our psalmist's wings are feeble; he cannot rise very high. Perhaps he remembers that passage in Job, and will not even seem to compete with it. At any rate, the 2nd and the 19th verses of Job xiv. contain very similar images more poetically expressed ; and the second figure is also given in another book, which often reminds us of Job the Book of the Second Isaiah :

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »