Imágenes de páginas

iniquity; and the forthshining of the righteous as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

Thus the person, the work, the Church of Jesus Christ explains the many-sided imagery of the Old Testament; and if we believe that the Incarnation is at once the plainest of facts and the deepest of mysteries, we shall feel that no study of Hebrew prophecy can be too painstaking or minute; inasmuch as it embodies the thoughts of God-those thoughts of which the Psalmist says, How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand. Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward; they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them they are more than can be numbered 2.

Prophecy has been defined as 'the expression of an ideal truth which, just because it contains an eternal law of the order of the world, also finds ever new fulfilment at all times 3." In it we touch what is deepest. and most vital in religion. Prophecy is not merely the judgment of sagacious men on the events of their own day, or on the state of the society in which they were called to move and act; it is an inspired commentary on the phenomena of universal history. Its idealism is the result of God-given insight into the true conditions of human welfare, and into that true order of the universe which has been obscured and perverted by human folly, selfishness, and crime. The optimism of the prophets, says Dr. Bruce, 'does not consist in shutting the eyes to the evil that is in the world. On the contrary, it knows how to take the evil into the ideal as one of its constitutive elements, and transmute it into the highest good.' It is their sense of a power pervading human history and

1 Matt. xiii. 41, 43.

2 Ps. cxxxix. 17 foll.; xl. 5.

3 Pfleiderer, Gifford Lectures, vol. ii. p. 42.
4 Bruce, Apologetics, p. 256.


'From seeming evil still educing good'

that makes the study of the prophets at once so necessary and so fruitful. In reading their books we find ourselves fired by the same passion of hope, illuminated and cheered by the same splendid visions.

Thus the study of the Old Testament may most appropriately begin with the prophets, not only because the date of their activity and the authenticity of their works are in the main certain and undisputed, but also because their writings will give us the true point of view from which to approach the entire history and institutions of Israel. They will educate our sense of proportion in dealing with the narrative and legislative parts of the Old Testament. They will imbue us with a consciousness of the gravity of the problems which confront society at the present day. They will develope our insight into those needs and aspirations of human nature which the religion of the Incarnation was destined to satisfy; and, finally, they will awaken and stimulate in us that which is the highest power for good in human life-the passion for righteousness, the love of man, the thirst for God.


O God, thou art my God.-Ps. lxiii. 1.

THE age of the prophets had contributed to the religion of Israel all that was most essential to its further development. We may notice two points particularly in which the tendencies of the post-exilic period were already foreshadowed before the return from Babylon. First, prophecy had risen to the conception of a universal religion. The vision of the Messianic age, in proportion as it became spiritualized, enlarged its range. The great prophet of the exile represents the heathen world as waiting expectantly for the salvation of God. Israel is to be the herald of redemption to all the nations of the earth, the centre of a world converted to the service of Jehovah. Secondly, the conception of an individualized religion had already appeared. This can be traced back to the prophet Jeremiah, whose position of peculiar isolation and dependence upon God led him to reflect particularly on the relation of the individual to God. His prolonged experience of the supporting power of divine grace under the pressure of overwhelming difficulties constituted him a link between an old and a new state of things. By his own personal fidelity to God, he rescued as it were the true religion which in those disastrous times was in danger of perishing outright. It is even possible that the inspired picture drawn by the exilic prophet of the faithful servant of Jehovah making

atonement and intercession on behalf of his people was suggested by the memory of Jeremiah's labours and sufferings. In his own inner life the prophet realized the efficacy of repentance, the need of personal conversion 2, the yearning for newness of heart. And in Jeremiah's prophecy of the new covenant with Israel, which is to be the characteristic blessing of the Messianic age, we have perhaps the first suggestion of a salvation not merely national but personal. They shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord. The Law was one day to be written, not on tables of stone, but on human hearts. It was the task of Ezekiel to deepen the impression made by his predecessor, to educate in the faithful a consciousness of personal accountability for sin, and to proclaim the divine promise of a time when consciences should be cleansed and hearts renewed by the gift of the Spirit. These two lines of prediction are distinct, and yet they seem to be mutually connected. A spiritual religion can no longer be a merely national religion; the law that can be written. on the single human heart is a law for mankind. On the sense of individual relationship to God a worldreligion can be founded, for God is one and His Spirit one. The thought underlies St. Paul's striking argument in the third chapter of Romans: Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith *.

Now in the period that followed the exile these characteristic products of prophetic thought - the idea of universal religion, and that of personal salvation-were destined to be developed, but rather through the stress of the circumstances in which


Meinhold, Jesus und das A. T. p. 105. Cp. Montefiore, Hibbert Lectures, p. 218.

2 Jer. xvii. 14; xxxi. 18.

3 Jer. xxxi. 34; Ezek. xxxvi. 26.

4 Rom. iii. 29, 30.

Cp. Pfleiderer, Gifford Lectures, vol. ii. pp. 50, 51.

Judaism found itself placed, than through any conscious or deliberate effort to realize the spiritual hopes of prophecy. At first sight indeed the whole epoch wears a retrogressive aspect: religion becomes formal and legalistic, while the wider Messianic ideals give way before a temper of narrow particularism. Nevertheless, looking back upon the period, we are able to discern the providential work of God going on under the unpromising exterior features of the history. The dispersion of the Jews brought them into contact with the culture and thought of heathendom, not without adding to their religion elements of expansiveness which the rigid legal discipline of Palestinian Judaism tended to repress. On the other hand, the troubled conditions under which Jewish nationality struggled to maintain its independence led to a certain religious concentration; sorrow and misfortune became to the Jew a school of the heart.

Let us pause to consider some of the circumstances which gave an impulse to the development of personal religion. First, we notice the depression and sense of disappointment which quickly followed the restoration. The returned exiles, their ears still ringing with the uplifting music of the voice which bade them depart in triumph from the land of captivity, and come with singing unto Zion, and with everlasting joy upon their head1, found themselves in their ancient home-in a city ruined, comfortless, unprotected, and surrounded by alien or hostile tribes. The community itself was only a miserable remnant of a once powerful nation. Hopes of revival and recovery seemed to have been blasted at their birth 2. The foundations of the temple were laid, but the opposition of the Samaritans, combined with the despondent apathy of the exiles,

1 See Isa. li. II; lii. 7 foll. ; lv. 12, &c.

2 Stanton, The Jewish and the Christian Messiah, p. 97, observes: 'It has come to be very generally recognized that illusion followed by the discipline of experience and disappointment played no unimportant part in the formation and definition of the clearest Messianic hope of Israel.' See Hunter, After the Exile, part i. chap. v, 'Among the Ruins.'

« AnteriorContinuar »