Page images
PDF
EPUB

24

BIOGRAPHY OF T.JE BIBLE. and to promote everywhere the collective happiness of the race. Let the Bible be duly honoured, and all men will receive their rights, and be prepared to exercise them without injury or risk to the general good.

These last, it may be said, are subordinate blessings of the study of the Bible. They are subordinate blessings ; but only when compared with the holier spiritual ones it seeks to bestow; and no one who has marked the history of our times, or has examined the solemn questions which seem waiting for decision among us, or knows how essential to high-toned virtue manly independence is, and how conducive to true independence is moral culture, will regard them as insignificant. Taking the lowest ground, the Bible makes men sober and honest. It qualifies for privilege, and secures it. Like the godliness which is its theme and end, it brings the promise of the life that now is, and the certain hope of that which is to come.

The history of the Bible, therefore, is the history of religion, of learning, of civilization, of freedom ; or at least of the light and teaching which are essential to the existence and permanence of them all.

One caution must be added to these remarks. The chief value of the Bible consists in the truths it reveals ; and the most important of the influences of the Bible depends on the application of those truths to men's hearts by means of reflection and prayer. The Protestant ITS INFLUENCE ON THE HEART. 25 principle, “the Bible only the religion of Protestants," cannot of itself spiritually enlighten or save. The study of the words of Scripture, of its history and customs, is often without sanctifying power. It is the truth of Scripture, as applied by the Holy Spirit, that saves us, and it is the belief of the truth, and the consequent meditation upon it, that makes it influ. ential. To expect anything else—to suppose that God saves us because we acknowledge that his word is our guide, even if that word be neglected that we may feel it and be sanctified by it without the exercise upon our part of comparison and thought-is to conclude that God will act inconsistently with our state as intelligent creatures, and that the gifts of his natural government are useless under the government of his grace. For some purposes the submission of the intellect to the Bible, and the study by the intellect of the Bible, are themselves a blessing ; but if the Bible is to accomplish its great purpose, we must bring to the study of it the devout and believing submission of the heart.

CHANGES

CHAPTER II. THE BIBLE IN THE ANCIENT EAST AND AT ROME. Our narrative begins with the captivities of Israel and Judah. Greece had just commenced Ter Olympiads, and some savage wanderers had laid the foundation of a mud-built city on the banks of the Tiber, when the people of Galilee and Samaria were carried into exile by the kings of Assyria. The oldest European monarchies, therefore, were only rising in the west when the Jewish Theocracy was sinking into decay. Within the period of two hundred years following this event many important facts of history are crowded. The ancient em-, pires of Nineveh and Babylon were overthrown; Confucius flourished and philosophized in China ; consular government was established at Rome. The dynasty of the Pharaohs was finally driven from Egypt, and that country inade a Persian province. At Marathon and Salamis the tide of Persian conquest was turned, and the freedom of Greece and Europe so far secured. One Jew had risen to be minister, another was the cupbearer, and a Jewess had become the consort of a Persian monarch.

THE CHARACTER OF THE JEWS. 27 Each of these events, too, was in its way significant. But the event of the age was the dis-, persion of the Jewish people, and their influence upon the religious condition of the nations among whom they were driven.

Hitherto the favoured race had been confined to Judæa. Frequent access to other countries was difficult, and even illegal ; nor had they, passionately loving their own land as they did, any temptation to wander. Henceforth, however, their character seems changed ; Judæa and Jerusalem are beloved still, but to the love of country there is added, as in the case of the Scotch and Swiss of our own times, a strong tendency to settle among other nations. Both captivities were intended as a punishment of national sins ; they were repeatedly foretold, and the sins which caused them were repeatedly denounced. It was foretold, also, to the people of Judah that one fruit of their exile should be repentance, and that on repentance they should be restored. All these predictions were fulfilled. The Jews in Babylon wept when they remembered Zion; they sought the God of their fathers, and on their restoration to Palestine many of their former national sins were abandoned. Idolatry was entirely abolished, never to be revived; and their reverence for the law seems to have become most profound, ending, indeed, even in a superstitious regard for it—a regard which sacrificed the spirit to the letter of their ancient institutions.

But the captivity produced other results

28

DISPERSION OF THE JEWS. Jerusalem was no longer the virgin daughter of Zion ; its towers had been thrown down; its temple profaned ; and the symbols of the presence of its great Inhabitant were gone. To the Jew, therefore, Jerusalem was to some extent less dear. In Babylon, moreover, the condition of the people had become more prosperous than many of them had hoped ; in the peaco of the city they found their peace. So kindly were they treated by their conquerors, that when Cyrus gave them permission to return to Judæa the majority remained in their new home, where their descendants were to be found even in apostolic times, and long after in the rabbinical schools of that city. Other bands of them may be traced to the shores of the Caspian, and even to China. In Egypt a settlement had been made from the time of the murder of the Babylonian governor of Judæa, and with their history the name of Jeremiah is connected. To the descendants of this body of settlers Alexander gave peculiar privileges, and the Jewish quarter in Alexandria is often mentioned in history. Antiochus the Great established colonies of them in Lydia and Phrygia, and the policy of his predecessor, Seleucus, the builder of Antioch, induced many of them to take up their abode in that city. The disorders in Palestine drove others of the nation into voluntary exile; so that when Christ came Jews were to be found in large numbers throughout Asia, Greece, and Italy. The three great capitals of the world were crowded with them,

« PreviousContinue »