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Preface ix 


The Relation of the Hebrew Poetry to the Religious 

Purposes it subserves ...... 1 


Commixture of the Divine and Human Elements in the 

Hebrew Poetic Scriptures 24 \^ 


Artificial Structure of the Hebrew Poetry, as related to 

its Purposes ....... 42 


The Ancient Palestine — the Birthplace of Poetry . 64 


The Tradition of a Paradise is the Germ of Poetry . 98 ^ 

Biblical Idea of Patriarchal Life .... 106 ^ 

vi Contents. 



The Israelite of the Exodus, and the Theocmcy . . 116 

Poetry in the Book of Job . , 139 


Poetry in the Psahus ...... 148 


Solomon, and the Song of Songs .... 181 


The Poetry of the Earlier Hebrew Prophets . . 19G 


Culmination of the Hebrew Poetry and Prophecy in .-, 

Isaiah . . . . . . . .215 


The Later Prophets, and the Disappearance of the Poetic 

Element in the Hebrew Scriptures . . . 236 


Tlie Millennium of the Hebrew Poetry, and tlie Prin- 
ciple which pervades it . .. . . 256 


The Hebrew Literature, and otlicr Literatures . . 270 

Contents. vii 



The Hebrew Poetry, and the Divine Legation of the 

Prophets 286 


Continuance of the Hebrew Poetry and Prophecy to 

the World's End 307 

Notes 317 


^T^HE title of this volume is the same as 
-*- that of a course of lectures which I de- 
livered at Edinburgh, and afterwards at Glas- 
gow, in the winter of 1852. At the time I 
was asked to publish these lectures ; but as in 
the preparation of them I had not been able 
to command much leisure, I felt no inclina- 
tion to bring them forward, such as they were 
when delivered. 

But in looking at the notes of those lec- 
tures, once and again in the course of these 
ten years, they seemed to contain some germs 
of thought which might be brought to bear 
upon the great biblical argument that has 
lately awakened the attention of the religious 
community. This biblical argument which, 
as to its substance, is still in progress, gives a 
new meaning, or an enhanced importance, to 
most of the questions that come within the 
range of Christian belief, or of biblical criti- 
cism ; and it follows therefore that what mio^ht 

X Preface. 

be said or written ten years ago, on any of 
these subjects, will need to be reconsidered, 
and, in fact, re-written, at the present time. 
So it has been that, in preparing this volume 
for the press — with the notes of the lectures 
before me — a few passages only have seemed 
to me entirely available for my purpose. I 
have indeed adopted the title of the lectures 
as the title of the volume ; and as much per- 
haps as the quantity of three of the following 
chapters has been transferred from those notes 
to these pages. This explanation is due from 
me to any readers of the book who, by 
chance, might have been among the hearers 
of the lectures, either at Edinburgh, or at 
Glasgow, in the November of 1852. 

A momentous argument indeed it is that 
has lately moved the religious mind in Eng- 
land. So far as this controversy has had 
the character of an agitation, it must, in the 
course of things, soon cease to engage popular 
regard : — agitations subside, and the public 
mind — too quickly perhaps — returns to its 
point of equipoise, where it rests until it is 
moved anew in some other manner. It would 
however be an error to suppose that the agi- 
tation will not have brought about some per- 

Preface. xi 

manent changes in religious thought ; and 
moreover, if a supposition of this kind would 
be an error, something worse than simply an 
error would be implied if any should indulge 
a wish that things might be allowed to col- 
lapse into their anterior position, unchanged 
and unbenefited, by the recent controversy. 
A wish of this sort would indicate at once 
extreme ignorance as to the cause and the 
nature of the argument, and moreover a cul- 
pable indifference in relation to the progress 
and the re-establishment of Christian belief. 

Animated, or — it may be — passionate, reli- 
gious controversies are hurricanes in the world 
of thought, ordained of God for effecting pur- 
poses which would not be effected otherwise 
than by the violence of storms ; and let this 
figure serve us a step further. — The same 
hurricane which clears the atmosphere, and 
which sweeps away noxious accumulations 
from the surface of the earth, serves a not 
less important purpose in bringing into view 
the fissures, the settlements, the forgotten 
rents in the structures we inhabit. It is 
Heaven's own work tluis to purify tlie at- 
mosphere ; but it is man's work to look anew 
to his own house — after a storm, and to repair 

xii Preface. 

its dilapidations. To rejoice gratefully in a 
health-giving atmosphere, and a clear sky, is 
what is due to piety ; but it is also due to 
piety to effect, in time, needed repairs at 

As to the recent out-speak of unbelief, it is of 
that kind which must, in the nature of things, 
be recurrent, at intervals, longer or shorter. 
The very conditions of a Revelation that has 
been consigned to various records in the course 
of thirty centuries involve a liability to the re- 
newal of exceptive argumentation, which easily 
finds points of lodgment upon so large a sur- 
face. But this periodic atheistic epilepsy 
(unbelief within the pale of Christianity never 
fails to become atheistic) will not occasion 
alarm to those who indeed know on what 
ground they stand on the side of religious 
belief This ground has not, and will not, 
be shaken. 

Looking inwards upon our Christianity — 
looking Churchward — there may indeed be 
reason for uneasiness. This recent agitation 
could not fail to bring into view, in the sight 
of all men — the religious, and the irreligious — 
alike, a defect, a want of understanding, a 
flaw, or a fault, in that mass of opinion con- 

Preface. xiil 

cerning the Scriptures, as inspired books, 
which we have inherited from our remote 
ancestors. No one, at this time, well knows 
what it is which he believes, as to this great 
question; or what it is which he oug-ht to 
believe concerning those conditions— literary 
and historical — subject to which the Revela- 
tion we accept as from God, and which is 
attested as such, by miracles, and by the 
Divine prae-notation of events, has been em- 
bodied in the books of the Canon. 

There are indeed many who, not only will 
reject any such intimation of obscurity or 
doubtfulness on this ground, but who will 
show a hasty resentment of what they will 
denounce as an insidious assaidt upon the 
faith. The feehngs, or say — the prejudices, 
of persons of this class ought to be respected, 
and their inconsiderateness should be kindly 
allowed for ; their fears and their jealousies 
are — for the truth ; nor should we impute to 
good men any but the best motives, even when 
their want of temper appears to be commen- 
surate with their want of intellio:ence. But 
after showing all forbearance toward such 
worthy persons, there is a higher duty which 
must not be evaded : — there is a duty to our- 

xiv Preface. 

selves, and there is a duty to our immediate 
successors, and there is a duty to the mass 
of imperfectly informed Christian persons, 
who, in due time, will be seen insensibly to 
accept, as good and safe, modes of thinking 
and speaking which, at one time, would have 
seemed to them quite inadmissible and dan- 

The remaining defect or flaw in our scheme 
of belief concerning the conveyance of a Su- 
pernatural Revelation makes itself felt the 
most obtrusively in relation to the Old Testa- 
ment Scriptures. It is here, and it is on this 
extensive field, that minds, negatively consti- 
tuted, and perhaps richly accomplished, but 
wanting in the grasp and power of a healthful 
moral consciousness, and wholly wanting in 
spiritual consciousness, find their occasion. 
The surface over which a sophisticated reason 
and a fastidious taste take their course is here 
very large ; for the events of a people's history, 
and the multifarious literature of many cen- 
turies, come to find a place within its area. 
The very same extent of surface from which 
a better reason, and a more healthful moral 
feeling gather an irresistible conviction of the 
nearness of God throughout it, furnishes, to 

Preface. xv 

an astute and frigid critical faculty, a thousand 
and one instances over which to proclaim a 
petty triumph. 

So must it ever be." There is here a con- 
trariety which is inherent in the nature of the 
case ; and which the diverse temperaments 
of minds will never cease to bring into col- 
lision with religious faith. What is it then 
which might be wished for to preclude the 
ill consequences that accrue from these pe- 
riodic collisions? Do we need some new 
theory of inspiration? Or ought there to 
take place a stepping back, along the whole 
line of religious belief? Or do we need to 
make a surrender of certain articles of faith ? 
Or should we shelter ourselves under evasions? 
Or would it be well to quash inquiry by au- 
thority, or to make a show of terrors for in- 
timidating assailants ? None of these things 
are needed ; nor, if resorted to, could they be 
of any permanent service. 

The requirement is this, as I humbly think 
— That, on all hands, we should be willing to 
throw aside, as unauthentic and unwarranted, 
a natural prejudice ; or, let it rather be called 
— a spontaneous product of religious feeling, 
which leads us to frame conditions, and to 

xvi Preface, 

insist upon requirements, that ought, as we 
imao^ine, to limit the Divine wisdom in em- 
bodying the Divine will in a written Reve- 
lation. Instead of insisting upon any such 
conditions, ought we not rather, in all humi- 
lity, to acknowledge that, in the Divine 
methods of proceeding toward mankind — 
natural, providential, and supernatural — we 
have everything to learn, and nothing to 

premise ? 

Stanford Rivers, 

September, 1861. 


Chapter I. 


WHEN" the Scriptures of the Old Testament 
are accepted, collectively, as an embodiment 
of First Truths in Theology and Morals, three 
suppositions concerning them are before us ; one of 
which, or a part of each, we may believe ourselves 
at liberty to adopt. The three suppositions are 
these : — 

1. We may grant that these writings— symbolic 
as they are in their phraseology and style, and, to 
a great extent, metrical in their structure, as well as 
poetical in tone — were well suited to the purposes 
of religious instruction among a people, such as we 
suppose the Israeli tish tribes to have been at the 
time of their establishment in Palestine, and such as 

6 they continued to be until some time after the return 
of the remnant of the nation from Babylon. 

2 The Spirit of the 

2. More than this we may allow, namely, this — 
that these same writings — the history and the poetry 
taken together, are also well adapted to the uses 
and ends of popular religious instruction in any 
country and every age, where and when there are 
classes of the community to be taught that are nearly 
on a level, intellectually, with the ancient Hebrew 
race : — that is to say, among those with whom phi- 
losophic habits of thought have not been developed, 
and whose religious notions and instincts are com- 
paratively infantile. 

3. But a higher ground than this may be taken, 
and it is the ground that is assumed throughout the 
ensuing chapters ; and it is in accordance with this 
assumption that whatever may be advanced therein 
must be interpreted. It is affirmed then, that, not 
less in relation to the most highly-cultured minds 
than to the most rude — not less to minds disciplined 
in abstract thought, than to such as are unused to 
generalization of any kind — the Hebrew Scriptures, 
in their metaphoric style, and their poetic diction, 
are the fittest medium for conveying, what it is their 
purpose to convey, concerning the Divine Nature, 
and concerning the spiritual life, and concerning 
the correspondence of man — the finite, with God — 
the Infinite. 

It is on this hypothesis concerning the Hebrew 
Scriptures, and not otherwise, that the books of the 
New Testament take position as consecutive to the 
books of the Old Testament — the one being the 

Hebrew Poetry. 3 

complement of the other ; and the two constituting a 
homogeneous system. The Prophets (and they were 
Poets) of the elder Revelation, having fulfilled a 
function which demanded the symbolic style, and 
which could submit to no other conditions than those 
of this figurative utterance, the Evangelists and 
Apostles, whose style is wholly of another order, do 
not lay anew a foundation that was already well 
laid ; but they build upon it whatever was peculiar 
to that later Revelation of which they were the 
instruments. In the Hebrew writings — poetic in 
form, as to a great extent they are — we are to find, 
not a crude theology, adapted to the gross concep- 
tions of a rude people ; but an ultimate theology — 
wanting that only which the fulness of time was to 
add to it, and so rendering the Two Collections — 
a One Revelation, adapted to the use of all men, in 
all times, and under all conditions of intellectual 

If on subjects of the deepest concernment, and in 
relation to which the human mind labours with its 
own conceptions, and yearns to know whatever may 
be known — Christ and His ministers are brief and 
allusive, they are so, not as if in rebuke of these 
desires ; but because the limits of a divine convey- 
ance of the things of the spiritual world had already 
been reached by the choir of the prophets. All 
that could be taught had been taught " to them of 
old ;" and this sum of the philosophy of heaven had 
been communicated in those diverse modes and 

4 2%e Spirit of the 

styles which had exhausted the resources of human 
utterance to convey so much as is conveyed. 

To give reality to what had been foreshown in 
shadows ; to accomplish what had been predicted ; to 
expound, in a higher sense, whatever is universal 
and eternal in morals ; to authenticate anew what 
might have been called in question — these functions 
were proper to the ministers of the later Dispensa- 
tion ; and the books of the New Testament are the 
record of this work of completion, in its several 
kinds. Yet this is the characteristic of the Chris- 
tian writings, that they abstain from the endeavour 
to throw into an abstract or philosophic form those 
first truths of theology to which the prophets of the 
Old Testament had given expression in symbolic 
terms and in the figures of the Hebrew poetry. The 
parables of Christ — symbolic as they are, but not 
poetic — touch those things of the new " kingdom of 
Heaven " which belong to the human development 
of it ; or to the administration of the Gospel on earth ; 
or within the consciousness of men singly. 

Those who choose to do so may employ their time 
in inquiring in what other 7nodes than those which 
are characteristic of the Hebrew Scriptures the 
highest truths in theology might be embodied, and 
whether these principles may not be, or might not 
have been, subjected to the conditions of abstract 
generalization, and so brought into order within the 
limits of a logical and scientific arrangement. Let 
these philosophic diversions be pursued, at leisure, 

Hebrew Poetry. 5 

until they reach a result which might be reported 
of and accepted. Meantime it is enough for us to 
know that no such result has hitherto ever rewarded 
the labours, either of oriental sages in the remotest 
periods, or of Grecian philosophers, or of the Alex- 
andrian teachers, or of mediaeval doctors, or of the 
great thinkers of the sixteenth century, or of those 
of the times in which we live. Metaphysic Theo- 
logies, except so far as they take up the very terms 
and figures of the Hebrew Scriptures, have hitherto 
shown a properly religious aspect in proportion as 
they have been unintelligible : — when intelligible 
they become — if not atheistic, yet tending in that 
direction. When this is affirmed the inference is 
not — that a True Theology might not be embodied 
in abstract terms, in an upper world ; but this, that 
the terms and the modes of human reason are, and 
must ever be, insufficient for purposes of this kind. 
This failure, or this succession of failures, may 
indeed affect the credit of Philosophy ; but in no 
degree does it throw disadvantage upon the religious 
well-being of those who are content to take their 
instruction and their training from the Holy Scrip- 
tures. These writings, age after age, have in fact 
met, and they have satisfied the requirements of 
piety and of virtue in the instance of millions of the 
humble and devout readers of the Bible ; and it has 
been so as well among the most highly-cultured as 
among the unlearned ; and they have imparted to 
such whatever it is needful and possible for man to 

6 Tke Spirit of the 

know concerning God, the Creator, the Ptuler, the 
Father, and concerning that life divine, the end of 
which is — the life eternal. 

The most obvious difference between the terms 
and style of Speculative or Metaphysic Theology, 
and the Theology of the Scriptures — of the Old 
Testament especially — is this, that while the lan- 
guage of the one is reduced to a condition as remote 
as possible from the figurative mode of conveying 
thought, the language of the other is, in everi/ in- 
stance, purely figurative ; and that it abstains abso- 
lutely, and always, from the abstract or philosophic 
usage of the words it employs. Yet this obvious 
difference between the two is not the only dissimi- 
larity ; nor perhaps is it that which is of the 
highest importance to be kept in view, for these two 
modes of theologic teaching have different inten- 
tions ; or, as we might say, the centre toward which 
the various materials of each system tends is proper 
to each, and is exclusive of the other. 

Scientific Theology professes to regard the 
Divine Nature and attributes as its centre ; and 
from that centre (supposed to be known) inferences 
in all directions are logically derived. But the very 
contrary of this is true of Biblical Theology ; for 
the central area of Biblical Theism is — the human 
spirit, in its actual condition, its original powers, its 
necessary limitations, its ever-varying conscious- 
ness, its lapses, its sorrows, its perils, its hopes, and 
its fears: — its misjudgments, its faiths, its unbelief: 

Hebrew Poetry. 1 

— its brightness, its darkness : — whatever is life-like 
in man, and whatever portends death. Although 
the two systems possess in common whatever is true 
concerning God, everything within each wears an 
aspect widely unlike the aspect which it presents in 
the other. 

The instinctive tendency of the human mind (or of 
a certain class of minds) to generalize, and to pursue, 
to their end, the most abstract forms of thought, is 
not in itself blameworthy, nor must it be charged 
with the ill-consequences and the failures which 
often are its fruit. Where there is no generalization 
there will be no progress : where there is no endea- 
vour to pass on from the concrete to the abstract, 
men individually, and nations, continue stationary in 
a rude civilization : — there may be mind ; but it 
sleeps ; or it is impotently active : — it is busy, but 
it does not travel forward. Yet it is only within 
the range of earth, or of things that are indeed 
cognizable by the human mind, that this power of 
abstraction — the highest and the noblest of its 
powers — can be productive of what must always be 
its aim and purpose, namely, an absolute philosophy ; 
or a philosophy which shall be coherent in itself, 
and shall be exempt from internal contradictions. 

It is on this ground, then, that the Hebrew 
writers, in their capacity as teachers of Theology, 
occupy a position where they are broadly distin- 
guished from all other teachers with whom they 
might properly be compared, whether ancient or 


^ 8 The Spirit of the 

modern, oriental or western. Philosophers, or foun- 
ders of theologies, aiming and intending to pro- 
mulgate a Divine Theory — a scheme of theism — 
have spoken of God as the object, or as the creation 
of human thought. But the Hebrew writers, one 
and all, and with marvellous unanimity, speak of 
God relatively only ; or as He is related to the 
immediate religious purposes of this teaching. Or 
if for a moment they utter what might have the 
aspect of an abstract proposition, they bring it into 
contact, at the nearest possible point, with the spi- 
ritual wants of men, or with their actual moral con- 
dition ; as thus — " Great is the Lord, and of great 
power, and His understanding is infinite. He telleth 
the number of the stars : He calleth them all by 
their names ;" but this Infinite and Almighty Being 
is He that " healeth the broken in heart, and 
bindeth up their wounds." It is the human spirit 
always that is the central, or cohesive principle of 
the Hebrew Theology. The theistic affirmations 
that are scattered throughout the books of the Old 
Testament are not susceptible of a synthetic adjust- 
ment by any rule of logical distribution ; and 
although they are never contradictory one of another, 
they may seem to be so, inasmuch as the principle 
which would show their accordance stands remote 
from human apprehension : — it must be so ; and to 
suppose otherwise would be to affirm that the finite 
mind may grasp the Infinite. The several elements 
of this Theism are complementary one of another. 

Hebrew Poetry. 9 

only in relation to the needs, and to the discipline 
of the human mind ; — not so in relation to its modes 
of speculative thought, or to its own reason. Texts 
packed in order will not build up a Theology, in a 
scientific sense: — what they will do is this — they 
meet the variable necessities of the spiritual life, in 
every mood, and in every possible occasion of that 
life. Texts, metaphoric always in their terms, take 
effect upon the religious life as counteractive one of 
another ; or as remedial appliances, which, when 
rightly employed, preserve and restore the spiritual 

If we were to bring together the entire compass 
of the figurative theology of the Scriptures (and 
this must be the theology of the Old Testament) it 
would be easy to arrange the whole in perifery 
around the human spirit, as related to its manifold 
experiences; but a hopeless task it would be to 
attempt to arrange the same passages as if in circle 
around the hypothetic attributes of the Absolute 
Being. The human reason faulters at every step 
in attempting so to interpret the Divine Nature ; yet 
the quickened soul interprets for itself— and it does 
so anew every day, those signal passages upon which 
the fears, the hopes, the griefs, the consolations of 
years gone by have set their mark. 

The religious and spiritual life has its postulates, 
which might be specified in order ; and under each 
head they are broadly distinguishable from what, 
on the same ground, might be named as the postu- 

10 The Spirit of the 

lates of Speculative Thought. Indispensable, for 
instance, to the healthful energy of the religious 
life is an unsophisticated confidence in what is 
termed the omnipresence and omniscience of God, 
the Father of spirits ; but on this ground, where 
the Hebrew writers are clear, peremptory, unfalter- 
ing, and unconscious of perplexity. Speculative 
Thought stumbles at its first attempts to advance ; 
and as to that faculty by aid of which we realize, in 
some degree, an abstract principle, and bring it 
within range of the imagination, it is here utterly 
baffled. The belief in this doctrine is simple ; — we 
may say it is natural : — but as to an intellectual real- 
ization of it, this is impossible ; and as to a philo- 
sophic expression of such a belief in words, the most 
acutely analytic minds have lost their way in utter 
darkness ; or they have landed themselves in Pan- 
theism ; or they have beguiled themselves and their 
disciples with a compage of words without meaning. 
The power of the human mind to admit simultane- 
ously a consciousness of more than one object is so 
limited, or it is so soon quite exhausted, that a doc- 
trine which we grant to be incontestably certain, 
refuses more perhaps than any other, to submit 
itself to the conditions of human thought : — it is 
never mastered. Aware, as every one who thinks 
must be, of this insurmountable difficult}^, we ought 
not to except against that mode of overleaping the 
obstruction which the Hebrew writers offer to our 
acceptance : — figurative in phrase, and categorical 

Hebrew Poetry. 11 

in style, they affirm that — "The eyes of the Lord 
are in every place, beholding the evil and the good;" 
or thus again — " Thou knowest my downsitting and 
mine uprising ; Thou understandest my thought afar 

The longer we labour, in scientific modes, at the 
elements of Theism the deeper shall we plunge in an 
abyss ; and we shall learn, perhaps too late, the 
wisdom of resting in a devout acknowledgment to this 
efiect — " Such knowledge (of God) is too wonderful 
for me: it is high, I cannot attain unto it." But the 
Hebrew writers make short work of philosophic stum- 
bling-blocks ; and they secure their religious inten- 
tion, which is their sole intention, in that one mode 
in which a belief which is indispensable to the reli- 
gious life presents itself, on what might be called its 
conceivable side. They affirm the truth in the 
most absolute and unexceptive style, giving it all 
the breadth it can have ; but in doing so, and in the 
same breath, they affirm that which serves to lodge 
it in the spiritual consciousness, as a caution, or as a 
comfort ; they lodge the universal principle as near 
as may be to the fears, and to the hopes, and to thei 
devout yearnings of the individual man. If we dc 
not relish this style and this method, we shouh 
think ourselves bound to bring forward a better 
style, and to propound a more approvable method. 
At any rate, we should give a sample of some one 
style or method other than this, and between which 
and the Biblical manner we might make a choice. 

12 The Spirit of the 

No alternative that is at once intelligible and admis- 
sible has ever yet been brought forward. God may 
be known and His attributes may be discoursed of, 
as related to the needs of the human spirit ; — but not 
otherwise : — not a span beyond this limit has ever 
been attained. 

" Do not I fill heaven and earth ? saith the Lord. 
Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall 
not see him ? Am I a God nigh at hand, and not 
a God afar ofi^?" We may read the 139th Psalm 
throughout, and be convinced that what is incon- 
ceivable as an abstraction, or as an axiom in spe- 
culative theism, has, by the Hebrew writers, been 
firmly lodged in the beliefs of men in the only mode 
in which such a lodgment could be possible. This 
element of the Infinite finds a coalescent surface — a 
point of adhesion in the individual consciousness ; a 
consciousness towards God which removes all other 
beings from our view, and which leaves us, each for 
himself, alone with his Creator and Judge. 

In the place of interminable and abstruse defini- 
tions — defining nothing, propounding doubts and 
solving none — in the place of this laborious empti- 
ness, the writer of the ode above referred to so affirms 
the doctrine of the omniscience and the omnipre- 
sence of God as at once to expand our belief of it to 
the utmost, and to concentrate it also upon the ex- 
periences of the spiritual life. God is everywhere 
present — in the vastness of the upper heavens — in 
the remotest recesses of Shcol (not Gehenna) every- 

Hebrew Poetry. 13 

where, to the utmost borders of the material uni- 
verse ; but these affirmations of a universal truth 
are advanced in apposition to a truth which is more 
affecting, or which is of more intimate concernment 
to the devout spirit : — this spirit, its faults, its ter- 
rors, its aspirations ; and this animal frame, of which 
it is the tenant, is in the hand of God, and is de- 
pendent upon His bounty, and is cared for in what- 
ever relates to its precarious welfare ; and thus is 
so great a theme — the Divine omniscience — brought 
home to its due culmination in an outburst of reli- 
gious feeling : " How precious also 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 : when I awake, I am still with Thee." 
A problem absolutely insoluble, as an abstraction, 
and which in fact is not susceptible of any verbal 
enunciation in a scientific form, is that of the Divine 
Eternity ; — or, as we are wont to say — using terms to 
which perhaps an attenuated meaning may be at- 
tached — the non-relationship of God to Time, and 
His existence otherwise than through successive in- 
stants. This is a belief which the human mind de- 
mands as a necessary condition of religious thought, 
and of which it finds the need at every step of the 
way in systematic theism, which yet is equally in- 
conceivable, and inexpressible. In the Mosaic Ode 
(the 90th Psalm) the theistic axiom is so placed in 
apposition with the brevity and the precarious tenure 
of human life that the inconceivable belief becomes. 

14 The Spirit of the 

in a measure, conceivable, just by help of its coal- 
escence with an element of every one's sense of the 
brevity and frailty of life. So it is that the theology 
and the human consciousness are made to consti- 
tute a one article of belief in that spiritual economy 
under which man, as mortal, is in training for im- 
mortality ; — as thus — " Before the mountains were 
brought forth, or ever Thou hadst formed the earth 
and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, 
Thou art God." But now, in the immediate con- 
text of an affirmation which approaches the abstract 
style, there is found what serves to bring the higher 
truth into a near-at-hand bearing upon the vivid 
experiences of our mortal condition. " Thou turnest 
man to destruction, and sayest. Return, ye children 
of men ; for a thousand years in thy sight are but as 
yesterday when it is passed, and as a watch in the 
night." Then there is conjoined with this doctrine 
a cautionary provision against the oriental error of 
so musing upon vast theologic conceptions as that 
the individual man forgets himself, and becomes 
unconscious of his own spiritual condition. It is 
not so with the writer of this Psalm : — " Thou hast 
set our iniquities before Thee ; our secret sins in the 
light of Thy countenance. ... So teach us to num- 
ber our days that we may apply our hearts unto 

For making sure of this amalgamation of theologic 
elements with those emotions and sentiments that 
constitute the religious life there is found, in several 

Hebrew Poetry. 15 

of the Psalms, a formal alternation of the two classes 
of utterances. An instance of this interchange oc- 
curs in the 147th Psalm, just above referred to ; for 
in this Psalm, with its strophe and its antistrophe, 
there is first a challenge to the worship of God, as 
a delightful employment — then an evoking of reli- 
gious national sentiment — then a message of comfort 
and hope, addressed to the destitute, the oppressed, 
the sorrowful ; and last, there is the interwoven 
theologic element in affirmation of the Providence, 
Power, and bounty of God ; for it is said of Him 
who " healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up 
their wounds," that " He telleth the number of the 
stars, and calleth them all by their names ; for 
great is our Lord, and of great power : — His under- 
standing is infinite." 

So it is throughout the devotional and poetic por- 
tions of the Hebrew Scriptures, that the theologic 
and the emotional elements are counterpoised — not 
as if the two diverse elements might be logically 
compacted into a scheme of theism ; nor as if they 
were contradictory, the one of the other ; but they 
are so placed as to be counteractive^the one of the 
other, in their influenceTrp^JtrlHe human spirit. Lest 
the devout affections should pass off into a feeble 
sentimentalism (as it is their tendency to do) there 
is conjoined with the expression of pious emotion 
some reference to those attributes of the Divine 
Nature which inspire awe and fear ; and again, lest 
the meditation of infinite power and purity should 

16 The Spirit of the 

lead the way (as it has so often done) into panthe- 
istic mysticism, the worshipper is quickly reminded 
of his individual frailty — his dependence and his 
unworthiness. A structure, simple in its principle, 
and in its intention, may be traced throughout these 
Scriptures as a method that is always adhered to, 
whatever those diversities of style may be which 
attach to the writer — whether it be Moses, or David, 
or one of the later prophets. 

The reading and hearing of the Old Testament 
from the earliest childhood — at home and in church 
— in these Bible-reading lands, has brought us to 
imagine that the belief of the Personality of God — • 
God, the Creator, the Father of Spirits — is a belief 
which all men, unless argued out of it by sophistry, 
would accept spontaneously. These early and con- 
tinuous lessons in Bible learning have imbued our 
minds with the conception of the Infinite Being — 
the Creator of all things, who, in making man in His 
own likeness, has opened for us a ground of inter- 
course — warranting, on our part, the assurance that 
He with whom we have to do is conscious as we are 
conscious, and that — so far as the finite may re- 
semble the Infinite, He is, as we are — is one with us, 
is communionable, and is open to a correspondence 
which is properly likened to that of a father with 
his children. 

But now, whether we look abroad in antiquity — 
Asiatic and European — or look to the now prevalent 
beliefs of eastern races, or look near at hand to recent 

Hebrew Poetry. 17 

schemes of nietaphysic theism, we must admit it to 
be true, in fact, that whatever the unsophisticated 
instincts of the human mind (if such could any- 
where be found) might prompt men to accept and 
profess, their actual dispositions — perverted as these 
are — impel them to put, in the place of this belief, 
either a sensuous and debasing polytheism, or a 
vapid pantheism. So it has been in all time past, 
and so at the moment now passing : — so it has been 
among brutalized troglodytes ; — and so is it among 
" the most advanced thinkers" of modern literature. 

Always, and now, it is true that the Hebrew 
writers stand possessed of an unrivalled preroga- 
tive as the Teachers — not merely of monotheism, 
but of the spirit-stirring belief of God — as near to 
man by the nearness or homogeneousness of the 
moral consciousness. Near to us is He, not only 
because in Him " we live and move and have our 
being," but because He — infinite in power and in- 
telligence — is in so true a sense one with us that the 
unabated terms of human emotion are a proper and 
genuine medium of intercourse between Him and 

To remove this Bible belief to as great a distance 
as possible from daily life and feeling, has been the 
intention of all superstitions, whether gay or ter- 
rific ; and it has been the aim also of abstract spe- 
culation, and, not less so, of Art and of Poetry, with 
their manifold fascinations ; and therefore it is that 
the Hebrew Scriptures are so specially distasteful 


18 The Spirit of the 

to those whose convictions they have not secured, 
and whose faith they do not command. It is the 

1 clearness — it is the fulness — it is the unfaltering deci- 
siveness of the Hebrew writers, from the earliest of 
them to the latest, on this ground, that constitutes 
the broad characteristic of the Old Testament Scrip- 
tures, when brought into comparison with any other 
literature — ancient or modern. We may reject the 
anthropomorphic symbolism of these writings, as 
repugnant to our abstract notions of the Divine 
Nature ; but this we must grant to be their dis- 
tinction — namely, a uniform consistency in the use 
they make of the vocabulary of human sentiment, 
passion, emotion, so as to bring the conception of 
the Personal God into the nearest possible alliance 
with the human consciousness, on that side of it 
where a return to virtue, if ever it is brought about, 
must take place. God is near to man — and one 
with hirafor his recovery to wisdom and goodness. 
The instances are trite ; — and they will occur to the 
recollection of every Bible reader ; yet let one or 
two be here adduced. 

The Hebrew prophet, and poet, meets and satisfies 
the first requirement of the awakened human spi- 
rit, which is an assured communion with God on 
terms of hopefulness and amity, as well as of the 
profoundest awe, and of unaffected humiliation. 
And this assurance is so conveyed as shall inti- 
mately blend the highest theistic conceptions with 
the health-giving consciousness of unmerited favour. 

Hebrew Poetry. 19 

— " Thus saith the High and Lofty One that inha- 
biteth eternity, whose name is Holy ; I dwell in the 
high and holy place, with him also that is of a con- 
trite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the 
humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones : 
for I will not contend for ever, neither will I be 
always wTath ; for the spirit should fail before me, 
and the souls which I have made." 

The same conditions are observed — and they 
should be noted — in this parallel passage — " Thus 
saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the 
earth is my footstool. Where is the house that ye 
build me ? and where is the place of my rest ? For 
all these things hath my hand made ; and all these 
things have been, saith the Lord : but to this man 
will I look, even to him that is poor and of a con- 
trite spirit, and that trembleth at my word." 

These familiar passages are illustrations, and 
they are demonstrations, of that mode of teaching 
" the things of God " which distinguishes the He- 
brew Scriptures from all other writings — professedly 
religious — ancient or modern (those of course ex- 
cepted which follow this same guidance). The terms 
are symbolic, or figurative purely ; and the Divine 
attributes are not otherwise affirmed than in their 
bearing upon the spiritual welfare of that one class 
of minds that needs, and that will rightly avail itself 
of, this kind of teaching. To minds of the metaphysic 
class there is no conveyance of theistic axioms : — to 
minds of the captious temperament there is none : — 

20 The Spirit of the 

to the sensual and sordid, or the contumacious and 
impious, there is none. These passages are as a 
stream of the effulgence of the upper heavens, sent 
down through an aperture in a dense cloud, to rest 
with a life-giving power of light and heat upon the 
dwelling of the humble worshipper. Whether this 
humble worshipper be one who turns the soil for 
his daily bread, or be the occupant of a professor's 
chair, it shall be the same theology that he hence 
derives : the former will not think to ask — and the 
latter will be better trained than to ask — how it is 
that the Omnipresent can be said, either to be seated 
on a throne in an upper heaven, or to make earth 
His footstool : — neither the one nor the other will 
take offence at the solecism of " inhabiting eternity." 
A solecism if it be ; — nevertheless it is probable that 
no compact of words coming within the range of 
language has better conveyed than this does the 
inconceivable idea of the Divine Existence — irre- 
spective of Time. 

Biblical utterances of the first truths in Theology 
possess the grandeur of the loftiest poetry, as well 
as a rhythmical or artificial structure ; and they hold 
off from entanglement with metaphysic perplexities 
— was it because the writers were men of a nation 
incapable of abstract thought ? If this were granted, 
then, on merely natural principles, we ought to find 
them sometimes forgetful of their purpose as reli- 
gious teachers, while they wander forth, in oriental 
style, upon grounds of gorgeous imagination. Never 

Hebrew Poetry. 21 

do they do this. Poets as they were in soul, and in 
phrase too, they are strictly mindful of their function 
as teachers of spiritual and ethical principles. David 
says — as our version has it — " The Lord is in His 
holy temple : the Lord's throne is in heaven : His eyes 
behold, His eyelids try the children of men." Four 
affirmations meet us within the compass of these few 
words, and each of them has a specific meaning — 
inviting the religious teacher to open it out, and 
bring it to bear with effect upon the religious life ; 
and in the third and the fourth of these clauses a 
meaning of peculiar significance is conveyed, which, 
instead of a vague averment of the Divine omnisci- 
ence, turns this doctrine in upon the conscience 
with a burning intensity. No phrases could more 
vividly than do these, give force to the conception 
of this critical observation of the characters and 
conduct of men — singly; for in relation to a process 
of moral discipline, He who is the Father of spirits 
" beholds the children of men, and His eyelids try 
them." It is true of the Creator, that He " knoweth 
all the fowls of the mountains, and the wild beasts 
of the forest, and that the cattle upon a thousand 
hills are His ;" but it is a truth of another order 
that is affirmed — it is a truth penetrative of the con- 
science — it is a truth, not metaphysic or poetic, but 
sternly ethical, that is here presented in metaphor. 
A keen scrutiny of the concealed motives and of the 
undeveloped tendencies of the heart on the part of 
One who is firmly-purposed, and who is severely exact 

22 Til e Spirit of the 

in his observation of conduct is conveyed in these 
expressions : — the dropping of the eyelid for the 
purpose of reflective scrutiny indicates a determina- 
tion to look through disguises, and rightfully to 
interpret whatever may wear a semblance of false- 
ness. This is a truth to be thought of by those who 
accustom themselves to repeat the prayer, " Search 
me and try me, and see what evil way there is in 
me :" it is a truth for those who submit themselves 
wdllingly to the severest conditions of the spiritual 
discipline. As for men of another class, who desire 
no such schooling, it is said of them that — " The 
Lord knoweth them afar off" — what they are it 
needs no careful observation to discern. 

Parallel instances are abundant in the Psalms, 
and throughout the prophetic books ; but this is 
not all that should be said, for instances of a con- 
trary kind nowhere occur. The Hebrew writers, 
in long series, not only teach the same theology ; 
but they teach it always, and only so, in metaphoric 
terms ; and more than this — it is always under the 
condition of connecting their affirmations of the 
Divine attributes with the purposes and the needs 
of the spiritual training of the individual soul. 

There is before us then a method — invariably 
adhered to ; — there is a rule that is never violated ; 
but it is a method and a rule of which we become 
cognizant only when we look back from the latest to 
the earliest of a long series of writers, each of whom 
has his own manner, his individual characteristic 

Hebrew Poetry. 23 

style. Not one in the series gives evidence of his 
personal consciousness of the law which, neverthe- 
less, he is silently obeying ; and it is a law which is far 
from obvious in itself, and it is by no means such as 
would spontaneously offer itself, even to minds of 
the highest order ; much less to the fervent and the 
inartificial. We — of this late age — trained as we 
are in, and familiar with, the habitudes and the 
phrases of abstract thought, easily recognize the 
principle which gives continuity to the writings of 
the Old Testament ; and we are able to put an 
abstraction of this kind into words. But it is cer- 
tain that no such enunciation of an occult law 
would have been intelligible to the writers them- 
selves, who nevertheless, each in his turn, implicitly 
and always conforms himself to it. Here indeed — 
as throughout the material world — there is Design 
— there is an intention which gives coherence to a 
complicity of parts; but it is — as in the material 
world, so here — an intention which was unperceived 
and unthouo'ht of, while it was in course of execution. 

24 The Spirit of the 

Chapter II. 


THE mere use of any such phrase as this — The 
Hebrew Poetry, or the speaking of the Pro- 
phets as Poets — is likely to give alarm to Bible 
readers of a certain class, who will think that, in 
bringing the inspired writers under any such treat- 
ment as that which these phrases seem to imply, we 
are forgetting their higher claims, and thus disparage 
them as the Bearers of a message immediately from 
God to men. 

Alarms of this kind arise, either from a misappre- 
hension of the facts before us ; or from absolute 
ignorance of those facts ; or, it may be, from some 
inveterate confusion, attaching to our modes of 
thinking on religious subjects. The remedy must 
be found in the removal of this ignorance — in the 
clearing up of these confusions, and especially — and 
most of all — in the attainment of a thorough and 
deep-felt confidence in the Divine origination and 
authority of the Canonical writings. Those reh- 
gious alarms or jealousies which impede the free 

Hebrew Poetry. 25 

course of thought on this ground — if they do not 
spring from stolid and incurable prejudices, are yet 
the indication of a shaken and variable belief in 
the Bible, as the medium of a supernatural Reve- 

It will be in no dread of the imputation of unbe- 
lief that we enter upon the field now in view. A 
tremulous tread on this ground would be sure sign, 
either of incertitude as to first principles, or of a 
treasonable cowardice ; and probably of both : we 
here disclaim the one as well as the other of these 
sinister restraints. If indeed there be dangers on 
our pathway, let them be manfully encountered, and 
they will disappear, as do always the phantoms of 
superstition when boldly looked at. The risks to faith 
that haunt this subject are factitious, and have had 
their origin in an ill-judged modern eagerness to 
conform our doctrine of Inspiration to the arbitrary 
conditions of a logical or pseudo-scientific system. 
No such attempt can ever be successful; but the 
restless and often-renewed endeavour to effect a 
purpose of this kind breeds perplexities — it feeds a 
bootless controversy, and it furnishes disbelief with 
its only effective weapons. 

If unwarranted and unwarrantable modern 
schemes, as to the nature and the extent of Inspira- 
tion, are put out of view, and if interminable argu- 
mentation be cut short, then the Bible will return 
to its place of power and of benign authority, yield- 
ing to us daily its inestimable treasures of instruc- 

26 The Spirit of the 

tion, admonition, and comfort; but so long as we 
adhere to a theory of Inspiration, whether it be of 
better quality or of worse, we shall be open to dis- 
turbance from the inroads of textual and historical 
criticism, and shall be haunted by the grim suspi- 
cion that the Scriptures are confusedly constituted 
of heterogeneous elements — some of which are purely 
divine, while some are merely human : or we shall 
accept the comfortless hypothesis that the divine 
substance in Holy Scripture has become flawed or 
intergrained with the grit and debris of human 
inadvertence, accident, ignorance, or evil intention ; 
and that thus the Bible is a conglomerate of mate- 
rials, precious and worthless. Under the influence 
of suppositions of this kind, and in proportion to our 
personal candour and intelligence, we shall be ask- 
ing aid from any w^ho can yield it, to inform us, at 
every section, and verse, and line, what it is that 
we may accept as " from above," and what it is 
that should be rejected as " from men." A Bible- 
reading method less cumbrous than this, and less 
comfortless too, and less embarrassing, is surely 

When we accept a mass of writings as a gift from 
God, in a sense peculiar to themselves, and which is 
their distinction, as compared with all other human 
compositions, we do so on grounds which we think 
to be sufficient and conclusive. Already therefore 
we have given in our submission to the Book, or to 
the collection of books, which we are willing to re- 

Hebrew Poetry. 27 

gard as rightfully determinative of our religious be- 
lief, and as regulative of our conduct and temper. 
If it be so, then no other, or middle course can, con- 
sistently with undoubted facts, be taken than this ; 
we must bring ourselves to think of these writings 
as, in one sense, wliolly human ; and read them as if 
they Avere nothing more than human ; and, in ano- 
ther sense, as wholly divine ; and must read them 
as if they were in no sense less than divine. 

Endless confusions, interminable questionings, 
come from the mitigative supposition — That, in any 
given portion, page, or paragraph, certain expres- 
sions, or separate clauses, or single words — here five 
words, and there seven words, are of human origin- 
ation ; while other five words, or seven, or other 
clauses or sentences or paragraphs, are from heaven ; 
and that thus a perpetual caution or marginal indi- 
cation is needed, by aid of which we may, from line 
to line, discriminate the one species of writing from 
the other — sifting the particles of gold from out of 
the sand and clay in the midst of which we find them. 
It is manifest that the better instructed a Bible 
reader may be, and the more intelligent and con- 
scientious he is, so much the deeper, and so much 
the more frequent will be his perplexities, and so 
much the less comfort and edification will he draw 
from his Bible daily : it will be so if a notion of this 
kind has lodged itself within him. 

That in Holy Scripture which is from above is 
an element over and beyond, and beside, the me- 

28 The. Spirit of the 

dium of its conveyance to us, although never sepa- 
rated therefrom. That which we find, and which 
" finds us " also, is not the parchment and the ink, 
nor is it the writing, nor is it the Hebrew vocables 
and phrases, nor is it the grammatical modes of an an- 
cient language ; nor is it this or that style of writing, 
prosaic or poetic, or abstract or symbolical ; for as 
to any of these incidents or modes of conveyance, 
they might be exchanged for some other mode, with- 
out detriment to the divine element — the ulterior 
intention, which is so conveyed. We all readily 
accept any, or several of these substitutions — and 
we moderns necessarily do so — whenever we take 
into our hands what we have reason to think is a 
trustworthy translation. It is not even the most 
accomplished Hebraist of modern times (whoever 
he may be) that is exempted from the necessity of 
taking, from out of his Hebrew Bible, a meaning — 
as to single words, and as to combinations of words 
— which is only a substitute for the primitive mean- 
ing intended to be conveyed by the Hebrew writer 
to the men of his times. Thought, embodied in 
words, or in other arbitrary signs, and addressed 
by one human mind to another human mind, or by 
the Divine mind to the human mind, is subjected to 
conditions which belong to, or which spring from, 
the limitations of the recipient mind. The ques- 
tion is not of this sort, namely, whether Thought 
or Feeling might not be conveyed from mind to 
mind with unconditioned purity, in some occult 

Hebrew Poetry. 29 

mode of immediate spiritual communion. This may 
well be supposed, and, as we are bound to believe it 
possible, it may be accepted as a truth, and as a 
truth that has a deep meaning in Religion. 

But the position now assumed is this — that 
Thought or Feeling, when embodied in language, 
is, to its whole extent of meaning, necessarily con- 
ditioned, as well by the established laws of language, 
as by all those incidental influences which afffect its 
value and import, in traversing the chasms of Time. 
Statements of this kind are open to misapprehen- 
sions from various sources, and will not fail to 
awaken debate. So far as such misapprehensions 
may be precluded, this will best be done in submit- 
tinof actual instances to the reader's consideration. 

Take, as an instance — one among many that are 
equally pertinent to our purpose, — the Twenty-third 
Psalm. 'This is an ode which for beauty of senti- 
ment is not to be matched in the circuit of all lite- 
rature. In its way down through three thousand 
years, or more, this Psalm has penetrated to the 
depths of millions of hearts — it has gladdened homes 
of destitution and discomfort —it has whispered hope 
and joy amid tears to the utterly solitary and for- 
saken, whose only refuge was in Heaven. Beyond 
all range of probable calculation have these dozen 
lines imparted a power of endurance under suffer- 
ing, and strength in feebleness, and have kept alive 
the flickering flame of religious feeling in hearts 
that were nigh to despair. The divine element 

30 The Spirit of the 

herein embodied has given proof, millions of times 
repeated, of its reality, and of its efficacy, as 2i for- 
mula of tranquil trust in God, and of a grateful 
sense of His goodness, which all who do trust in 
Him may use for themselves, and use it until it has 
become assimilated to their own habitual feelings. 
But this process of assimilation can take place only 
on the ground of certain assumptions, such as these 
— It is not enough that we read, and often repeat this 
composition approvingly ; or that we regard it as 
an utterance of proper religious sentiments : this is 
quite true ; but this is not enough : this Psalm will 
not be available for its intended purpose unless these 
expressions of trust in the divine beneficence be 
accepted as warrantable. May not this confident 
belief in God as the gracious Shepherd of souls be a 
vain presumption, never realized ?— May it not be an 
illusion of self love ? Not so — for we have already 
accepted the Psalms, of which this is one, as portions 
of that authentic Holy Scripture which has been 
given us from above. Thus it is, therefore, that 
throughout all time past, and all time to come, this 
Psalm has possessed, and will possess, a life-giving 
virtue toward those who receive it, and whose own 
path in life is such as life's path most often is. 

Whoever has attained to, or has acquired this 
thorough persuasion of the reality of Holy Scrip- 
ture, as given of God, in a sense absolutely peculiar 
to itself, will stand exempt — or he may so stand 
exempt, from alarms and suspicions, as if criticism, 

Hebrew Poetry. 31 

whether textual or historical, might rob him of his 
treasure, or might diminish its value to him. In its 
relation to the religious life, and to the health of the 
soul, this Psalm is wholly divine ; and so every par- 
ticle of it is fraught with the life-giving energy ; 
nor need religious persons — or more than one in ten 
thousand of such persons — concern themselves in any 
way with any questionings or considerations that 
attach to it as a human composition. 

But the Psalm now in view is also wholly human, 
as it is also wholly divine in another sense — every 
particle of it being of the same stamp as other human 
compositions ; and therefore it may be spoken of, 
and it may be treated, and analysed, and commented 
upon, with intelligent freedom, even as we treat, 
analyse, and expound, whatever else has come down 
to us of ancient literature. Let it be remembered that 
neither in relation to classic literature, nor to sacred 
literature, does free criticism include any right or 
power to alter the text, or to amend it at our pleasure. 
The text of ancient writings, when once duly ascer- 
tained, is as fixed and as unalterable as are the con- 
stellations of the heavens : and so it is that the Canon 
of Scripture, if it be compared with the inconstancy 
and variableness of any other embodiment of reli- 
gious belief or feeling, is a sure foundation — abiding 
the same throughout all time to the world's end. 

It is not only the material writing — and the He- 
brew words and phrases of this Psalm, or of any 
other Psalm — portions as they are of the colloquial 

32 The Spirit of the 

medium of an ancient people, that are liable to the 
ordinary conditions of written language ; for further 
than this it must be granted, that, as the metrical 
structure of the Ode is highly artificial, those rules 
of construction to which it conforms itself may be 
said to over-ride the pure conveyance of the thought ; 
— metre ruling words and syllables. It was by these 
artificial adaptations to the ear and memory of the 
people to whom, at the first, the composition was 
confided, it was rendered available, in the best man- 
ner, for the purposes of the religious life. Yet this 
is not all that needs to be said in taking this view 
of the instance before us. Every phrase and allu- 
sion in this ode is metaphoric — nothing is literal ; 
the Lord is — the Shepherd of souls ; — and there are 
the green pastures — the still waters — the paths of 
righteousness — the valley of the shadow of death — 
the rod and the staff — the table prepared — the anoint- 
ing oil — the overfull cup — and that House of the 
Lord which is an everlasting abode. But figures and 
symbols are incidents of the human mind — they are 
adaptations to its limits — they are the best that can 
be done, in regard to the things of the spiritual life. 
Let us speak with reverence — Divine Thought is 
not conditioned in any manner ; certainly not by 
metaphor or symbol. 

There is yet a step further that should be taken 
in considering this Psalm as a human composition — 
and it is so with other Psalms, still more decisively 
than with this, for it gives expression to religious 

Hebrew Poetry, 33 

sentiments which belong to the earlier stage of a 
progressive development of the spiritual life. The 
bright idea of earthly well-being pervades the Old 
Testament Scriptures ; and this worldly sunshine is 
their distinction, as compared with the New Testa- 
ment ; but then there are many cognate ideas which 
properly come into their places, around the terres- 
trial idea. If earthly weal — if an overrunning cup 
— if security and continuance, belong to the centre- 
thought, then, by necessity, the antithetic ideas — not 
only of want and pain, but of whatever ill an enemy 
may do, or may intend — must come in, to encircle, 
or beleaguer the tabernacle of those whom God has 
blessed. Thus, therefore, does the Psalmist here 
give expression to feelings which were proper, in- 
deed, to that time, but are less proper to this time : 
" Thou preparest a table before me in the presence 
of my enemies." A feeling is here indicated which 
was of that age, and which was approvable then, 
although it has been superseded since by sentiments 
of a higher order, and which draw their reason from 
the substitution of future for present good. 

This separahleness of the Divine element from 
the human element throughout the Inspired writ- 
ings, the understanding of which is highly impor- 
tant, will make itself perspicuous in giving attention 
to two or three instances of different kinds. 

Turn to the two astronomic Psalms — the eighth, 
and the nineteenth (its exordium). Quite unmatched 
are these Odes as human compositions : — the soul of 


34 The Spirit of the 

the loftiest poetry is in them. Figurative they are 
in every phrase ; and they are so manifestly figura- 
tive in what is affirmed concernino' the celestial 
framework that they stand exempt, in the judgment 
of reasonable criticism, on the one hand from the 
childish literal renderings of superstition; and on 
the other hand from the nugatory captiousness of 
rationalism. A magnificent image is that of the 
sun coming forth refreshed each morning anew 
from his pavilion, and rejoicing as a strong man to 
run a race ! Frivolous is the superstition which 
supposes that an astronomic verity is couched in 
these figures, and that thus the warranty of Inspira- 
tion is pledged to what is untrue in nature. Equally 
frivolous is the criticism which catches at this super- 
stition, and on the ground of it labours to prove that 
the Bible takes part with the Ptolemaic theory, and 
rejects the modern astronomy ! Be it so that David's 
own conception of the celestial system might be 
of the former sort, and that he would have mar- 
velled at the latter ; but, as an inspired writer, he 
no more affirms the Ptolemaic astronomy, than he 
affirms that the sun — a giant — comes forth from a 
tent every morning. 

Look to the Eighth Psalm, and estimate its the- 
ologic value — its inspired import — by reading it as 
a bold contradiction of errors all around it — the 
dreams of Buddhism — the fables of Brahminism — 
the Atheism of the Greek Philosophy, and the malign 
Atheism of our modern metaphysics. Within the 

Hebrew Poetry. 35 

compass of these nine verses the celestial and the 
terrestrial systems, and the human economy are not 
only poetically set forth ; but they are truly reported 
of, as the three stand related to Religious Belief, and 
to Religious Feeling. Grant it, that when David the 
Poet brings into conjunction " the moon and the 
stars," he thought of them, as to their respective 
bulks and importance, not according to the teaching 
of Galileo ; and yet, notwithstanding this miscon- 
ception, which itself has no bearing whatever upon 
his function as an inspired writer, he so writes con- 
cerning the Universe — material and immaterial, as 
none but Hebrew prophets have ever written of 
either. What are the facts? The astronomies of 
Oriental sages and of Grecian philosophers are well- 
nigh forgotten ; but David's astronomy lives, and it 
will ever live ; for it is true to all eternity. 

A sample of another kind is presented in the Fif- 
tieth Psalm. This Ode, sublime in its imagery and 
its scenic breadth of conception, is a canon of the 
relationship of men, as the professed worshippers of 
God, toward Him who spurns from His altar the 
hypocrite and the profligate and the malignant, but 
invites the sincere and the humble to His presence, 
on terms of favour. This Psalm is sternly moral in 
its tone : — it is anti-ritualistic — if rites are thought of 
as substitutes for virtue ; and moreover, by the singu- 
larity of its phrases in three instances, it makes its 
way with anatomic keenness through the surface to 
the conscience of those who are easily content with 

36 The Spirit of the 

themselves, so long as they keep clear of overt acts 
of sin. The man who is here threatened with a ven- 
geance from which there will be no escape (v. 22) is 
not himself perchance the thief ; but he is one whose 
moral consciousness is of the same order, and who 
would do the same — opportunity favouring. He is 
not himself perchance the adulterer ; but he is one 
who, being impure in heart, is ready for guilt, and 
pleases himself with the thought of it. Indebted for 
his virtue entirely to external restraints, he thinks 
himself free to give vent to censorious language, and 
to shed the venom of his tongue upon those who are 
nearest to him in blood. Here, then, there is not 
merely a protest in behalf of virtue, but it is a deep- 
going commixture of spiritual and ethical truth, with 
a promise of grace for the condign ; it is a presen- 
tation of justice and of favour: — it is a discrimination 
of motives and characters also : — it is such that it vin- 
dicates its own Divine origination in the court of 
every human conscience. In this Psalm it is the 
voice of God we hear ; for man has never spoken in 
any such manner as this to his fellows. 

Let it be asked, then, in what manner the Divine 
and the human elements, i?i this one instance, sustain 
each other throughout all time ? In tens of thousands 
of copies we possess this literary monument ; and it is 
an imperishable and an unalterable document : it is 
liable to no decay or damage ; and it may yet endure 
ages more than can be numbered : nothing on earth's 
surface is more safe from destruction ; none can ever 

Hebrew Poetry, 37 

pretend to have authority to substitute one word for 
another word ; or to erase a letter. Here, then, we 
take our hold upon a rock. Human opinion, in 
matters of religion, sways this way and that way, 
from age to age ; but it is ever and anew brought 
back to its point of fixedness in the unalterable text 
of the Hebrew Scriptures. Upon this Fiftieth Psalm 
Esra and the Rabbis of his school commented at 
their best, in that age when Anaximander, Anaxa- 
goras, Thales, and their disciples, were theorising to 
little purpose concerning "the Infinite;" and were 
in debate on the question whether it is matter or 
mind that is "the eternal principle," and the cause 
of all things : — a question unsettled as yet among our 
"profoundest thinkers." Upon this Psalm, with its 
bold, outspoken, and determinate morality, its gran- 
deur and its power, the Rabbi of a later and sophis- 
ticated time commented also, weaving around it the 
fine silk of his casuistry, and labouring hard in his 
work of screening the then-abused conscience of his 
race from its force ; so " making void the Word of 
God by his traditions." Upon this Psalm the 
Christian theologues, in series, from the Apostolic 
Fathers to Jerome and Augustine, in their comments 
give evidence, each in his age, at once concerning 
those secular variations of religious and ethical 
thought which mark the lapse of time ; and of what 
we must call the restraining power of the canon of 
Scripture, which, from age to age, overrules these 
variations — calling back each digressive mood of the 

38 The Spirit of the 

moment ; as if with a silent, yet irresistible gravita- 
tion — a centripetal force. 

" Thy word," says David, " is settled in Heaven ;'* 
— it is fixed as the constellations in the firmament ; 
and if we would justly estimate what this undecaying 
force of the canon of Scripture imports, in relation 
to the ever-shifting variations of human thought and 
feeling, and in relation to the fluctuations of national 
manners and notions, from one fifty years to ano- 
ther, we should take in hand some portion of the 
Old Testament Scriptures — say such a portion as is 
this sublime Psalm — and trace its exegetical his- 
tory through the long line of commentators — from 
the Kabbis, onward to Origen, Tertullian, Basil, 
Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, the Schoolmen, and 
Bernard of Clairvaux ; then the pre-reformation 
Romanists ; the Reformers, the Jesuits, the Jansen- 
ists, the Puritans of England and Scotland, the Eng- 
lish Methodists ; and so on till we reach these last 
times of great religious animation, and of little reli- 
gious depth — times of sedulous exactitude in scho- 
larship, and of feeble consciousness as toward the 
unseen future and the eternal ; — times in which 
whatever is of boundless dimensions in Holy Scrip- 
ture has passed beyond our range of vision, while 
our spectacled eyes are intent upon iotas.* 

But the Psalms of David, and of Moses, and of 
others, shall live on, undamaged, to the times that 

* See Note. 

Hebrew Poetry, 39 

are next ensuing ; and far beyond those times. Our 
Bibles shall come into the hands of our sons, and of 
our grandsons, who, reading Hebrew as correctly 
as the most learned of their sires have read it, shall 
do so in a season of religious depth, and of religious 
conscientiousness, and who, in such a season, shall 
look back with grief, and shame, and amazement, 
when they see how nugatory were the difficulties 
which are making so many among us to stumble, 
and to fall. Human opinion has its fashion, and it 
shifts its ground with each generation ; — a thirty or 
forty years is the utmost date of any one clearly de- 
finable mood or style of religious feeling and opinion: 
each of such ephemeral fashions being a departure, 
upon a radius, from the central authority — the Canon 
of Scripture, accepted as from God. 

But the imperishable fixedness of Holy Scripture 
■ — first, in a purely literary sense, as an ascertained 
ancient text, which none may now alter ; and next, 
as the vehicle or depository of the Divine Will to- 
ward mankind, does not imply or necessitate, either 
a superstitious and blind regard to the letter of 
Scripture, as if it were not human, or an enchain- 
ment to the words, as if the Divine element therein 
contained, and thereby conveyed, might not have 
been otherwise worded, and diffused among the peo- 
ple in other forms of language than in this one — to 
which, as a fixed standard, all must in fact return. 
Not only is the Divine, in Scripture, greater than 
the human, but it has an intrinsic power and vitality 

40 The Spirit of the 

which renders it largely independent of its embodi- 
ment in this or that form of language. There is no 
version of the Psalms — ancient or modern (or none 
which comes within the cognizance of a European 
reader) — which does not competently convey the 
theology and the ethical majesty, and the juridical 
grandeur, of the one Psalm that has here been re- 
ferred to. In no version, even the most faulty — 
whichever that may be — does an awakened con- 
science fail to catch the distant sound of that thun- 
der which — in a day future — shall shake, not the 
earth only, but heaven. In no such version does 
the contrite spirit fail to hear in it that message 
which carries peace to the humble in heart. 

If indeed the Hebrew text had perished ages ago — 
say at the time of the breaking up of the Jewish reli- 
gious state — and if, consequently, we could now make 
an appeal to nothing more authentic than to ancient 
versions, believed to be, on the whole, trustworthy, 
then the constant tendency toward deflection and 
aberration, in human opinion, could have received 
no effective check. In each age, the rise of schemes 
of opinion — sometimes superstitious and fanatical, 
sometimes philosophical and negative — would have 
produced successive vitiations of those unauthentic 
documents, until even these had lost their cohesive 
principle, and would have ceased to be thought of. 
This is not our position ; and therefore versions and 
commentaries, some critical and exact, some popu- 
lar and paraphrastic ; comments wise, and com- 

Hebrew Poetry, 41 

ments unwise, sceptical, or imbecile, may all take 
their course — they may severally win favour for a 
day, or may retain it for a century: — all are harm- 
less as toward the Rock — the imperishable Hebrew 

1 ext, which abides — aTto tov aiwvoc Kai fwg Tov aiMvoq 

— and until the human family shall have finished 
its term of discipline on earth. 

42 The Spirit of the 

Chapter III. 


THE attempt to bring the Poetry of the Hebrew 
Scriptures into metrical analogy with that of 
Greece and Rome has not been successful. This 
would demand a better knowledge of the quantity of 
syllables when the language was spoken, and of the 
number of syllables in words, and of its rhythm, 
than is actually possessed by Modern Hebraists. 
But that a people so pre-eminently musical by con- 
stitution should have failed to perceive, or should 
not have brought under rule, the rhythm of words 
and sentences could not easily be believed ; yet to 
what extent this was done by them, or on what prin- 
ciples, it would now be hopeless to inquire. 

There is, however, a metrical structure, artificial 
and elaborate, which gives evidence of itself, even 
in a translation : it does not affect the cadence, or 
musical adjustment of words ; but it does affect the 
choice of words and the structure of sentences. To 
treat the Hebrew Poetry in any technical sense 
does not come within the purpose of the present 

Hebrew Poetry. 43 

work, nor indeed the qualifications of the Author. 
What we are concerned with is — the spirit, not the 
body, the soul, not the form. Yet weighty inferences 
are derivable from the fact that religious principles 
were conveyed to the Hebrew people, and through 
these have reached other nations, in a mode that 
conforms itself to arbitrary rules of composition, 
which determine the choice of words, the structure 
of sentences, and the collocation of members of sen- 
tences, and the framework of entire Odes. Even in 
passages which breathe the soul of the loftiest and 
the most impassioned poetry, a highly artificial ap- 
position and balancing of terms and clauses prevails ; 
— as if the Form were, in the estimation of the writer, 
of so much importance that it should give law even 
to the thought itself. 

This subject stands full in our path, and demands 
to be considered before we pass on : it is a subject 
that touches, not merely the Hebrew Poetry, but 
also the belief we should hold to concerning the 
Divine origination of Holy Scripture. 

The conveyance of thought through the medium 
of language is a conditioned expression of a speaker's 
or a writer's inmost meaning — more or less so. In 
a strict sense the embodiment of thought at all, 
in words and combinations of words, and in sen- 
tences, is — a conditioned, as well as an imperfect 
conveyance of it ; for words have only a more or 
less determinate value, which may be accepted 
by the hearer — especially when involved sentences 

44 The Spirit of the 

are uttered, in a sense varying from that of the 
speaker by many shades of difference. Thought, 
symbolised in words, is subjected, first, to those con- 
ditions that attach to language from the universal 
ambiguity, or the convertible import of language ; 
and then to the indistinctness of the speaker's con- 
ceptions, and of the hearer's also. Yet when a per- 
fectly intelligible and familiar fact is affirmed in 
words that are intended to be understood in their 
literal, or primitive sense, we may loosely say that 
such utterances are unco?iditioned ; as thus — Brutus 
stabbed Csesar in the senate-house at Rome. Julius 
Caesar, with his legions, landed in Britain. Wil- 
liam of Normandy did the like with his Normans 
centuries later. 

It is otherwise in affirmations such as the follow- 
ing — The main principles of political economy, as 
taught by Adam Smith, rest upon a rock, and will 
never be overthrown. The great principle of reli- 
gious liberty, as embodied in Locke's First Letter on 
Toleration, have hitherto, and will ever defy the 
utmost efforts of intolerant hierarchies to shake 
them. The aristocracy of England is the pil- 
lar of the British monarchy : — the throne and the 
aristocracy must stand or fall together. In affirma- 
tions of this kind the Thought of the speaker or 
writer — that is to say, his ultimate intention — is 
conditioned by its conveyance in terms that are 
wholly figurative, and which therefore must await, 

Hebrew Poetry. 45 

if it be only an instant, the result of a mental pro- 
cess in the mind of the hearer, who — unconsciously 
perhaps — renders them into their well-known pro- 
saic values. Such as they are when they meet the ear, 
they convey no meaning that is intelligible in relation 
to the subject. Unconditioned thought may be still 
further conditioned, if I employ, not va&ceXy figura- 
tive terms, but such as are suggested at the moment 
of speaking by vivid emotions, or by stormy pas- 
sions ; as if, in addressing a political meeting from 
a platform, I should affirm what I intend to say in 
a declamatory style, as thus — " The deadly miasma 
of republican doctrines, rising from the swamps of 
popular ignorance, is even now encircling the Bri- 
tish polity : — year by year is it insidiously advancing 
toward the very centre of the State ; nor can the 
time be distant when it shall have destroyed all life 
within the sacred enclosures of our ancient institu- 
tions." In this instance, not only are the w^ords 
and phrases figurative, and are such therefore as 
need to be rendered into their literal equivalents, 
but they are such also as indicate an excited state 
of feeling in the speaker, which a calm philosophic 
mood will not approve ; and the exuberances of 
which may well bear much retrenchment. Never- 
theless, thus far, this conditioning of thought — as 
well of the impassioned style, as of that which is 
simply figurative — may properly be called natural ; 
for it is natural to the human mind to utter itself 

46 The Spirit of the 

in figures ; and also to indulge in that fervid style 
which is prompted by powerful emotions. 

Beyond this stage, and quite of another sort, is 
that conditioning of Thought which we must desig- 
nate as technical, and which is maiuAy factitious ^ 
or arbitrary ; as, for instance ; — let us take up the 
above example of political ill-augury, and bring — if 
not the very same words, yet their nearest equivalents, 
— into cadence, as blank verse : in this case some of 
the words must by necessity be rejected as unfit alto- 
gether for a place in verse ; and substitutes must be 
found for others, because they are not easily reduced 
to cadence. Moreover, the position of every word 
must be determined by a rule which, in relation to 
the requirements of unconditioned thought, is arbi- 
trary and artificial ; the passage might thus run — 

E'en now this poison of the people's error 
Creeps on insidious, and from day to day 
Invades yet more the precincts of the state- 
Not long to wait, alas ! All life — all soul, 
Shall cease and die within these regal courts ! 

Thought, in this form, submits itself to the re- 
quirements of quantity and rhythm, by means of 
several substitutions of word for word ; and also by 
deflections from the simpler and the more natural 
order of the words. A still further yielding of the 
original thought to the requirements of art would 
be needed if, in addition to cadence, we should de- 
mand rhyme ; for in that case not only must ano- 
ther law of cadence be complied with ; but also the 

Hebrew Poetry. 47 

fortuitous law of a jingle in the last syllable of each 
line must prevail. On these conditions the same 
meaning might thus be conveyed — 

Now while we speak comes on the noisome death- 
Birth of the swamps — it poisons every breath. 
Doctrine delusive ! creeps it o'er the state, 
And dooms its ancient glories to their fate. 
Soon shall we mourn, in desolated halls. 
Departed greatness — where an Empire falls. 

For any purposes of political instruction, or of 
warning, the Thought, whether it be that of the 
platform speaker, or that of a philosophical writer, 
may be fully expressed, either when made to con- 
form itself to the laws of cadence, or when subjected 
to the still more technical necessities of rhyme. 
Nevertheless it must be granted, that, if the utter- 
ance of the orator — figurative and impassioned as it 
is — be the fittest possible for conveying his mean- 
ing, and if the words he uses, and the order in 
which he arranges these words, be the best possible, 
then the reduction of these same thoughts to the 
rules of blank verse, and, still more, their reduction 
to the conditions of rhyme, involve a disadvantage 
which must be of more or less consequence. 

There are, however, instances in which Thought, 
embodied in the language of symbols, and of 
material images, is of a kind which sustains no 
damage under these conditions ; in truth, the poetic 
style may be the very fittest for giving utterance 
to feelings, or to moods of mind ; or, as already 

48 The Spirit of the 

affirmed, to truths or principles to which no abstract 
terms or combinations of terms can ever be ade- 

Yet there are some purely technical conditions 
in submitting to which the spontaneous language 
of feeling, or the severe utterances of abstract 
truth, can hardly be granted to stand wholly 
exempt from a real disadvantage. There may, in- 
deed, be approvable reasons, warranting the em- 
ployment of such artificial means — albeit they do 
involve a disadvantage ; nevertheless, where we find 
it existing, it must be accepted as it is — it is a con- 
ditioning of Thought which, when it is admitted on 
occasions the most serious, indicates the extent of 
that adaptation of the Divine to the human of which 
we can never lose sight without falling into per- 

With the exception of two or three lines — cited 
by St. Paul from the Greek poets — the Scriptures 
of the New Testament are everywhere prosaic in 
form : — the intention of the writer or speaker is con- 
veyed always in the most direct manner which the 
rules of language admit of — figurative terms are 
employed where none other are available. Thought 
is here unconditioned, so far as it can be — the sub- 
ject-matter, considered. Not so in the Scriptures 
of the Old Testament. Nearly a half of the entire 
mass, or, in the proportion of twenty-two to twenty- 
five, the Hebrew writings are not merely poetic, as to 
their diction, but they are metrical in form ; — or we 

Hebrew Poetry. 49 

should better say — the Thought of the writer is sub- 
jected to rules of structure that are in the highest 
degree artificial. This fact — well understood as 
now it is — escapes the notice of the reader of mo- 
dern versions ; albeit, when once it has been ex- 
plained to a reader of ordinary intelligence, he 
easily perceives it — wherever it is actually found. 

We have here named what is about the propor- 
tion of prose to verse throughout the Old Testa- 
ment ; but, in truth, if those parts of the historical 
books are set off from the account which are genea- 
logical merely, and those also which are repetitive 
or redundant, and those, moreover, which barely, 
if at all, convey any religious meaning, then it will 
appear that very much more than a half of the 
Canon of Scripture in the Hebrew takes this latter 
form ; or, as we say, is conditioned in conformity 
with artificial rules of structure. 

Of this structure, which of late has been carefully 
set forth, and illustrated, even in popular works, 
there can be no need in this place to give any ac- 
count in detail. The fact of its existence is all we 
have to do with ; and this, briefly stated, is this — 
that each separate utterance of religious thought 
— theological, ethical, or devotional — is thrown into 
an antithetical form, so making up a couplet, or a 
triplet; or an integral verse in four, five, or six 
measured lines. The second line of the two is 
often a repetition only of the first, in other terms : 
— often it is an antithetic utterance of the same 


50 The Spirit of the 

thought: — sometimes it is an illustrative supple- 
ment to it : — sometimes an exceptive caution ; yet 
everywhere the ode or lyrical composition, regarded 
as a whole, is thus built up of members — limbs — 
apposed, one to the other — balancing one the other, 
and finding their reason, not simply in the require- 
ments of Thought — uttered in the prosaic form — 
but, beyond this, in the rules or the usages of an 
arbitrary system of composition. 

Then, besides this kind of structure, many of the 
odes of the Hebrew Scriptures obey a law of alli- 
teration — which is still more arbitrary, inasmuch as 
it requires the first word of each verse, in a certain 
number of verses, to begin with the same letter, and 
these in alphabetic order. Any one who will try 
for himself a few experiments, in English, will find 
that, in yielding obedience to requirements of this 
kind. Thought must take a turn, or must very greatly 
mould itself to a fashion which it would not other- 
wise have chosen. Thought submits to a process of 
conditioning which intimately affects it, if not in 
substance, yet in its modes of utterance. The second 
verse in Milton's Christmas Hymn stands thus : — 

Only with speeches fair 
She woos the gentle air 
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow ; 
And on her naked shame, 
Pollute with sinful blame, 
The saintly veil of maiden white to throw, 
Confounded, that her Maker's eyes 
Should look so near upon her foul deformities. 

Hebrew Poetry. 51 

Now let the requirement be this — that, without 
displacing the rhyme, or greatly altering the sense, 
every line of the eight shall begin with the same 
letter— shall it be W ? 

With only speeches fair 
Woos she the gentle air, 
Wistful to hide her front with innocent snow ; 
Wide on her naked shame. 
Wasted with sinful blame 
White, as a saintly maiden veil to throw : 
Woe were it, that her Maker's eyes, 
Wrathful, should look upon her foul deformities. 

We should never accept this, or any other allitera- 
tive form of the verse, as if it were in itself prefer- 
able to its original form, constrained only by the 
laws of metre, and by the rhyme. Nevertheless, 
the sentiment, or final meaning of the original, is 
conveyed, with little, if any damage, in the more 
constrained . form that is demanded by the rule of 
alliteration : — the injury inflicted in this instance is 
technical, more than it is substantial. It may easily 
be admitted, that, if a composition of great length 
were intended to subserve purposes of popular in- 
struction, the alliterative form might be chosen for 
the sake of the aid it affbrds to the memory, and 
thus tending to secure a faultless transmission of 
the whole, from father to son, or, rather, from the 
religious mother to her children. It will be our 
part hereafter to show that the religious intention 
of the Inspired writings is securely conveyed under 

52 The Spirit of the 

all forms, however arbitrary they may be as to their 
literary structure. 

As to the several species of the Hebrew Poetry, 
it can only be in an accommodated sense that we 
could apply to it any of those terms that belong to 
the Poetry of Greece, and which had their origin in 
the artistic intelligence of its people. There would 
be little meaning in the words if we spoke of Odes, 
Lyrics, or Epics, in this case. The Hebrew Poetry 
has its kinds ; but they are peculiar to itself : it has 
originated species of Poetry : it has conformed it- 
self to no models : it has sprung from nothing ear- 
lier than itself ; or nothing that is extant : — it has 
had no cognates among contemporary literatures. 
Through the medium of innumerable versions the 
Biblical literature has combined itself in an inti- 
mate manner with the intellectual existence of mo- 
dern (civilized) nations. Every people has made 
its wealth their own : in truth, itself drawing its 
force from the deepest and most universal princi- 
ples of human nature, the Hebrew Scriptures, when 
once they have thoroughly permeated the popular 
mind, become an undistinguishable element, not 
only of the religious and the moral life of the 
people, but, to a great extent, of their intellectual 
life also. With ourselves — the British people — the 
Inspired writings of the Old Testament have be- 
come to us the milk of infancy and childhood, 
and the nourishment of manhood in its most robust 
stage. It is to these books that we owe whatever 

Hebrew Poetry. 53 

in our literature possesses most of simple majesty 
and force ; whatever is the most fully fraught with 
feeling ; whatever is the most true to nature, when 
nature is truest to virtue, and to wisdom. What- 
ever it is that enters, as by right, the moral con- 
sciousness ; — whatever it is that the most effectively 
draws the soul away from its cleaving to the dust, 
and lifts the thoughts towards a brighter sphere — 
all such elements of our English literature, whether 
avowedly so or not, must trace their rise, directly 
or indirectly, to the Hebrew Scriptures, and espe- 
cially to those portions of them that are, in spirit 
and in form, poetic. 

If we were to affirm that certain portions of this 
Poetry are descriptive, or moral, or pastoral, this 
would be to misunderstand the purport of the sam- 
ples we might adduce of these kinds. Vividly con- 
scious as these writers, or most of them, are to what 
is sublime and beautiful in the visible world, they 
are thus conscious toward the things around them 
in one sense 0/2^?/— namely, as parts of God's crea- 
tion. The Hebrew poet attempts no local descrip- 
tion : — he does not dwell upon the picturesque ; — 
albeit our modern sense of the picturesque has sprung 
from tastes and habits that have had their rise in 
the Hebrew Scriptures ; nor do they at any time 
stop on their way to bring before us the scenic cha- 
racteristics of their country. None of them has 
leisure to paint particular scenes, as do our Thom- 
son, or Burns, or Cowper. It is a glance only that 

54 The Spirit of the 

they take of Nature, and it is such a glance as, from 
its vividness and breadth, is so much the more intel- 
liofible in all lands. 

The Hebrew Poetry — artificial in structure — is 
not artistic in its purpose or intention. A work 
may be designated as artistic which, as the produc- 
tion of genius, manifestly has no higher aim than 
that of giving pleasure, and of exhibiting the artist's 
power to achieve this one purpose. But the Poets 
of the Bible not only have in view always another, 
and a far higher object than that of the delectation 
of their hearers, or the display of their personal 
ability ; for, in every instance, they are intent upon 
acquitting themselves of a weighty responsibility ; — 
they are charged with a message: — they are bearing 
a testimony : — they are promising blessings : — they 
are threatening and predicting woes. Therefore it 
is that those several species of composition to which 
the taste and genius of the Persians, or of the 
Greeks, have given a definite form, do not make 
their appearance within the compass of the Inspired 

It is not to win admiration by the opulence of 
his imagination — it is not to charm a listening mul- 
titude by the soft graces of song, or by its sublimi- 
ties, that the Hebrew bard ever utters himself. We 
ought not to say that a scorn of popular favour be- 
trays itself — as if suhaudite — in these deliverances 
of a message from the Almighty ; yet it is almost 
so. We should here keep in view the distinction 

Hehrew Poetry, 55 

between the genius which contents itself with its 
own triumphs, in achieving an excellent work, and 
the ability which executes, in the best manner, a 
work the aim of which is loftier than that of com- 
manding applause. It might not be easy to adduce 
single instances in which this important distinction 
obtrudes itself upon notice in a manner beyond dis- 
pute ; nevertheless a comparison at large of the 
Hebrew literature, with the literature of other na- 
tions, would not fail to make its reality unquestion- 

So it is, as we shall see, that, although Palestine, 
such as then it was, abounded with aspects of nature 
that might well tempt description, and had many 
points of scenic effect, nothing of this sort is extant 
within the compass of the Scriptures. Why might 
not spots in Lebanon have been brought in picture 
before us ? — why not the luxuriance of Coelo-Syria, 
where the Jordan springs to light from an Eden of 
beauty ? — why not the flowery plain of Esdraelon ? 
— why not the rugged majesty of the district bor- 
dering upon the Dead Sea ? Alive to every form of 
natural beauty and sublimity, and quick to seize his 
images from among them, the Hebrew Poet never 
lingers in such scenes : he uses the wealth of the 
visible world for his purposes : — Nature he com- 
mands ; but she commands not him. 

It may be said that the earliest born of the poetic 
styles in every land has this same characteristic — 
namely, that of having a fixed purpose — an inten- 

56 The Spirit of the 

tion ; but then, in the course of things this archaic 
directness, this primitive seriousness, gives place, 
in the following age, to the elaborate or artistic 
style — to those modes of composition that find their 
beginning and their end in the Poet's personal am- 
bition. This process goes on until a national litera- 
ture (of the imaginative class) which was wholly 
genuine in its earliest era, has become wholly facti- 
tious towards its close. Yet it is not so in the in- 
stance with which now we are concerned : — the 
Hebrew Poetry, in the course of a thousand years, 
passed through no stages of artistic sophistication. 
Take the instance of those of the Psalms which, on 
probable grounds of criticism, are of a date as early 
as the exodus of Israel from Egypt — compare them 
with those which, by their allusion to the events of 
a much later time, must be dated toward the years 
of the sealing of the prophetic dispensation : the 
same avoidance of whatever the Poet's own ambi- 
tion might have dictated is observable throughout 
this lapse of ages. 

Do we find an exceptive instance in that one com- 
position which stands by itself in the canonical col- 
lection — the Canticle of Solomon? This instance 
may yield a confirmation of our doctrine, rather 
than a contradiction of it ; but the anomalous cha- 
racter of this matchless poem, as well as its singular 
beauty, demands a distinct consideration of it — or, 
we might say, a criticism — apart. 

Then, again, the Hebrew literature has no Drama; 

Hebrew Poetry. 57 

nor has it an Epic ; and the reasons why it has 
neither of these are such as demand attention. It 
would be to put upon the word Drama a very forced 
meaning to apply it to the Book of Job ; — and, in 
so doing, to allow place for a notable exception to 
what we here allege. 

These writers treat human nature in no superfi- 
cial manner ; — they touch it to the quick ; but they 
do not undertake to picture forth separately its ele- 
ments, its passions, its affections, or its individual 
characteristics. To do this, either in the mode of 
the Drama, or in the mode of an Epic, would im- 
ply invention, or fiction, in a sense of which no 
instances whatever occur within the compass of 
the Canonical Scriptures. The apophthegm is not 
a fiction, for it puts not on the historic guise : — the 
allegory is no fiction, for it is never misunderstood 
as a truthful narrative of events. No concatenation 
of actual events, no course of incidents in real life, 
ever brings out separate passions, or sentiments, in 
dramatic style, or with a unison of meaning. The 
dramatic unity, as to the elements of human nature, 
must be culled, and put together, with much selec- 
tive care — with artistic skill. A composition of this 
order must be a work of genius — like a group of 
figures in sculpture. 

No actual man, no real person of history, has 
ever been always a hero, or has ever done and said 
the things that may be fitting to an Epic. There- 
fore it is that an Epic Poem must be an invention ; 

58 The Spirit of the 

it must be an artistic achievement : the Poem may 
be quite true in human nature generically ; but it is 
never true as a real narrative: — it borrows a some- 
thing from history ; but it creates ten times more 
than it borrows. Scarcely then need we say why 
it is that the Hebrew literature possesses neither 
Drama nor Epic : the reasons, as we shall presently 
see, are distinctly two. 

The Epic — which is history transmuted into fic- 
tion — for a forgone purpose, or in regard to a final 
cause, has stood foremost in the esteem of every 
people that has risen above the rudest barbarism — 
of every people — one only excepted ; and this one 
is a people whose literature, mainly poetic as it is, 
has taken hold of the sympathies of mankind more 
extensively, and more permanently, than any other. 
Reasons drawn from a consideration of the social 
condition of this one people might perhaps be 
brought forward in explanation of this unique fact ; 
and there would then be room for much ingenuity 
in showing how we may solve the problem — in some 
way short of an admission which those who distaste 
the true reason will labour to exclude. But we take 
it otherwise. 

This series of writers, through the many centu- 
ries of their continuous testimony, spoke not, wrote 
not, as if they possessed a liberty of discursive choice 
— now scattering the decorations of fiction over 
realities ; and now striving to impart to fiction, in 
as high a degree as possible, the verisimilitude of 

Hebrew Poetry, 59 

truth. They spoke and wrote with a consciousness 
of their obligation to absolute Truth, and with a 
stern fixedness of purpose as toward an authority 
above them : among no other writers do we find a 
parallel instance of determinate purpose. But whe- 
ther distinctly conscious of their mission, or not so ; 
or only imperfectly conscious of it, yet they spoke as 
they were moved by Him who is the axpevdrjQ Qsoq — 
the " truthful God." Solemnly regardful were these 
"holy men of God" of the sovereignty of Truth — 
Truth dogmatic or theological — Truth ethical, and 
Truth historical. Utterly averse, therefore, were 
they — abhorrent, let us say — not merely as toward 
faisi/icafio7i, but as toward fabi'ication, or any ap- 
proach toward that sort of commingling of the real 
with the unreal which might engender falseness ; or 
might give rise to a dangerous confounding of the 
two. The Hebrew Scriptures, as compared with 
any other national literature, are pre-eminently — 
they are characteristically — they, and they alone, 
are throughout truthful in tone, style, and structure. 
Need we ask, then, why they contain neither the 
Drama nor an Epic ? Not from the want of fitting 
subjects — not from poverty of materials ; but as min- 
isters of Heaven to whom a task had been assigned, 
did these men of genius — and they were such — fail 
to display their skill in the creation of romances ; 
it was not because they could not do it, that they 
have not attempted to immortalize themselves, and 
the heroes of their national history, in producing 

60 The Spirit of the 

an Oriental Iliad, or Odyssey, or iEneid. To have 
done this would have been to introduce among their 
people an element of confusion and of ambiguity, 
which would have interfered with the purpose of the 
separation of this race from all other races. 

And yet this is not all that should be said ; and 
the second reason would be by itself sufficient in 
solving the problem ; and, not less than the first, is 
it conclusively demonstrative of the Divine origina- 
tion of these writings. Because they are Inspired — 
OsoTTVBvaTa — and teach the things of God, and enjoin 
the worship of God, therefore do the writers ab- 
stain from themes which give licence to the worship 
of man : — they take no account of heroes ; and yet 
it was not so that an ambitious poet, who might be 
thirsting for the applause of his countrymen, could 
find no subject in the national history adapted to his 
purpose. Why not, in this manner, undertake to 
immortalize Moses, Samuel,^David, Solomon ? Why 
not ? It was because the Hebrew Scriptures, dictated 
from above, are constantly and sternly truthful ; — 
and they are so whether the great men of the He- 
brew polity were as faultless as national fondness 
would have painted them ; or were indeed as faulty 
as men at the best ever are. 

It has been the ambition — and a noble ambition, 
of the most highly gifted minds, in every cultured 
people, to give expression to a perfect ideal of hu- 
manity — to picture a godlike virtue, wisdom, valour, 
self-control, and temperance, according to the na- 

Hebrew Poetry. 61 

tional conception of what these qualities should be. 
Among the thousand themes of poetry, this one — 
the imaging of a godlike magnanimity and virtue — 
has held the highest place. 

The Hebrew literature gives the several elements 
of virtue and piety in precept ; but nowhere is 
it presented in the concrete. In place of the daz- 
zling Ideal — the romance of humanity — we find 
only the real human nature of history — vouched for 
as such by the presence of those conditions of hu- 
man frailty which the Idealist would have taken 
care to exclude. A circumstance full of meaning 
it is, that, in these writings, all that we learn of the 
acts, and of the personal qualities of the prominent 
persons of the national history, is found in the nar- 
rative and prosaic books, or portions of books : — 
none of it appears in the poetic books, or in those 
passages the style of which is figurative and impas- 
sioned ; and which, as to its form, is metrical. What 
then is the import of these facts, which have no 
parallels in the national poetry of other countries ? 
It is this, that whenever the individual man comes 
forward in these writings — whenever it is he who 
draws upon himself the eyes of his fellows, whether 
chief or prophet, he must do so — such as he is : — if 
his virtue, his wisdom, his valour, are to attract no- 
tice, so do his sins, his weaknesses, his falls, in the 
moments of severest trial; all these things make 
their appearance also, and proclaim the veracious- 
ness of the record. 

62 The Spirit of the 

Greatly do we often miscalculate the relative 
credibility or incredibility of passages in ancient 
writings. No logic — or no sound logic — can make 
it appear incredible that God should raise the dead ; 
or that He should make the waters of the sea to 
stand up as a heap ; or that, in any other mode, the 
Almighty should show All Might. But utterly 
incredible would be the pretension that any con- 
geries of events, such as are usually packed toge- 
ther by a poet with a definite artistic intention, has 
ever actually had existence in the current of the 
world's affairs. Utterly beyond the limits of rea- 
sonable belief would be the supposition that a man 
— even one of ourselves — has ever acted and spoken, 
from year to year, throughout his course, with un- 
failing consistency, or in that style of dramatic co- 
herence which the contriver of a Romance, or of an 
Epic, figures for his hero. No such embodiment of 
the Ideal has ever, we may be sure, broken in upon 
the vulgar realities of human existence ; — there have 
been good men, and brave men, and wise men, 
often ; but there have been no living sculptures 
after the fashion of Phidias, no heroes after the 
manner of Homer or Virgil. 

Then there comes before us another balancing of 
the incredible and the credible: — as thus. The 
Hebrew Poets — it is not one or two of them, but all 
of them in long: series — have abstained from those 
idealizings of humanity at large upon which the poets 
of other nations have chosen to expend their powers. 

Hebrew Poetry. 63 

How is it that they should have been thus absti- 
nent — should thus have held off from ground which 
tempts every aspiring mind ? We shall find no ad- 
missible answer to this question, except this, that 
this series of writers followed, not the impulses of 
their individual genius, but each of them wrote as 
he was inspired from above. Nothing in any de- 
gree approaching to a worshipping of man — nothing 
of that sort which elsewhere has been so common — 
nothing which could have given a warrant to the 
unwise extravagances of the saint-and-martyr wor- 
ship of the Church in the third century, anywhere 
makes its appearance within the Canonical Scrip- 
tures of the Old Testament. On the contrary — as 
well by solemn injunction, as by their uniform ex- 
ample — the Inspired writers, historians, prophets, 
poets, repeat the warning — as to the rendering of 
worship to man, or to any creature — " See thou do 
it not : worship God." 

64 The Spirit of the 

Chapter IV. 


POETRY will never disown its relationship to 
the beautiful and the sublime in the visible 
world ; in fact it has always proved its dependence 
upon influences of this order. Born and nurtured, 
not at hazard on any spot, but only in chosen re- 
gions, it finds at hand, for giving utterance to the 
mysteries of the inner life, an abundance of material 
symbols — fit for purposes of this kind — among the 
objects of sense. It is the function of Poetry to 
effect such an assimilation of the material with the 
immaterial as shall produce one world of thought 
and of emotion — the visible and the invisible, inti- 
mately commingled. 

Poetry, nursed on the lap of Nature, will have its 
preferences — it must make its selection ; and this, 
not merely as to the exterior decorations of its 
abode, but even as to the solid framework of the 
country which it favours ; there must be, not only a 
soil, and a climate, and a various vegetation, favour- 
able to its training ; but a preparation must have 

Hebrew Poetry. ^5 

been made for it in the remotest geological eras. 
The requirements of a land that is destined to be 
the home of poetry have in all instances been very 
peculiar : — it has sprung up and thriven on coun- 
tries of very limited extent — upon areas ribbed and 
walled about by ranges of mountains, or girdled 
and cut into by seas. These — the duly prepared 
birth-places of poetry — have been marked by abrupt 
inequalities of surface — by upheavings and extru- 
sions of the primaeval crust of the earth : — these 
selected lands have glistened with many rills — they 
have sparkled with fountains — they have been 
clothed with ancient forests, as well as decked, each 
spring anew, with flowers. Moreover a wayward 
climate, made so by its inequalities of surface, has 
broken up the wearisome monotony of the year — such 
as it is in tropical and in arctic regions — by irregular 
shiftings of the aerial aspect of all things ; and there 
has been, in such countries, a corresponding variety 
in the animal and vegetable kingdoms ; — there has 
thus been a large store in the Poet's treasury of 
material symbols. 

A land such as this is — or was, three thousand 
years ago — the country in which the Hebrew Poetry 
had its birth, and where it reached its maturity, 
and where it ceased to breathe; nor has it been 
under conditions very different from these that 
Poetry has ever sprung up and flourished. It 
has not been a native of Tartarian steppes, nor 
of savannahs, or interminable prairies, nor of 


66 The Spirit of the 

trackless swamps, nor of irrigated rice-levels, nor 
of leagues on leagues of open corn-land, nor of 
Saliaras. Poetry has not weathered the tempests, 
nor confronted the terrors of the Atlas ranges : — it 
has not sported on the flanks of Caucasus, or on the 
steeps of the Andes, or the Himalayas ; nor has it 
breathed on the rugged vertebrae of the North Ame- 
rican continent. In none of those regions has it 
appeared which oppress the spirit by a dreary same- 
ness, or by shapeless magnitudes, or featureless sub- 
limity. Poetry has had its birth, and it has sported 
its childhood, and it has attained its manhood, and 
has blended itself with the national life in coun- 
tries such as Greece, with its rugged hills, and its 
myrtle groves, and its sparkling rills ; but not in 
Egypt : — in Italy ; but not on the dead levels of 
Northern Europe. Poetry was born and reared in 
Palestine — but not in Mesopotamia: — in Persia — 
but not in India. Pre-eminently has Poetry found 
its home among the rural graces of England, and 
amid the glens of Scotland ; and there, rather than 
in those neighbouring countries which are not infe- 
rior to the British Islands in any other products of 
intellect or of taste. 

Exceptions — apparent only, or of a very partial 
kind — might be adduced in contradiction of these 
general affirmations. Exceptions there will be to any 
generalization that touches human nature ; for in a 
true sense the human mind is superior to all exterior 
conditions ; and its individual forces are such as to 

Hebrew Poetry. 67 

refuse to be absolutely subjected to any formal re- 
quirements : greater is the individual man than 
circumstances of any sort ; and greater is he far than 
materialists would report him to be — according to 
system. A Poet there may be, wherever Nature 
shall call him forth ; but there will not be Poetry 
among a people that is not favoured by Nature, as 
to its home : — the imaginative tastes and the crea- 
tive genius have been, as to the mass of the people^ 
indigenous to Greece ; but not to Egypt : to Italy ; 
but not to France : to the British Islands ; but not to 
Holland. And thus too, it was the ancient people 
of Palestine, pre-eminently, that possessed a poetry 
which was quite its own. But then we must be 
looking back a three thousand years, as to the people ; 
and we must be thinking of the country, such as it 
was in the morning hours of Biblical time. In later 
ages — the people fallen ! and the land — mourning 
its hopeless desolation ! 

Palestine, rather than any other country that 
might be named, demands the presence, and needs 
the industry of man, for maintaining its fertility. 
Capable, as it has been, of supporting millions of 
people, those millions must actually be there ; and 
then only will it justify its repute as a " very good 
land." A scanty population will starve, where a 
dense population would fatten. On this land, em- 
phatically, is the truth exemplified — that " the hand 
of the diligent maketh rich :" — it is here that, if 
man fails of his duty, or if he misunderstands his 

68 The Spirit of the 

own welfare, the very soil disappears under his feet. 
So has it been now through many dreary centuries ; 
and here has been accomplished the warning — that 
the sins of the fathers are visited, not only upon the 
children to the third and fourth generation ; but upon 
their remotest descendants, and to their successors, 
who may be masters of the land. 

The desolations of Palestine have been sensibly 
increased, even within the memory of man ; — and 
unquestionably so within periods that are authen- 
tically known to history. Those who have visited 
Palestine, at intervals of fifteen or twenty years, 
have forcibly received this impression from the 
aspect of its surface, as well as from the appear- 
ance of the people, that decay is still in progress : a 
ruthless and rapacious rule, dreading and hating 
reform, withers the industry — such as it might be — 
of the people, and makes the land a fit roaming 
ground for the Bedouin marauder. A ten years of 
British rule, and a million or two of British capital, 
might yet make this land " blossom as the rose :" 
the wilderness and parched land how should they be 
made glad for such a visitation ! 

Yet beside the social and political causes of decay, 
some purely physical influences have been taking 
effect upon Palestine, as upon all the countries that 
skirt the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Within 
the lapse of what is called historic time, Libyan 
wastes have become far more arid than once they 
were, and, in consequence, they have acquired a 

Hebrew Poetry. C9 

higher mean temperature. North Africa is much less 
abundant in corn, and is less graced with tropical 
vegetation, than in ancient times it was. In the 
course of two or three thousand years the sand hur- 
ricanes of Libya, and of the Sahara, in sweeping 
over the valley of the Nile, have not only sepul- 
chred its sepulchres, and entombed its temples and 
palaces in a ten, or twenty, or thirty feet of deposit 
— narrowing continually the green bordering of the 
Nile ; but they have given dryness for moisture to 
the neighbouring countries. Dense forests once 
shed coolness and humidity over large tracts of 
northern Arabia. The countless millions of people 
that were subjected to the Assyrian, the Babylonian, 
the Median despotisms, flourished upon the fatness 
of the Mesopotamian corn-lands, and by their in- 
dustry and their water-courses not only preserved 
the fertility which they created, but rendered the 
climate itself as temperate as its latitude should 
make it. Under differing: conditions the same 
course of physical change has affected Asia Minor 
— once more populous, in a tenfold proportion, than 
in modern times these regions have been; for then, 
population, fertility, mildness of climate, sustained 
each other. 

Those countries of Europe which formed the 
background of the ancient civilization have, in the 
course of twenty centuries, been denuded of their 
forests ; — and this is, no doubt, a beneficial change ; 
but this clearance has had great influence in affect- 

70 The Spirit of the 

ing the climate and the productions of Greece, of 
Italy, of France, and of Spain. 

As to Palestine, the ruins which now crown almost 
every one of its hill-tops, and the very significant 
fact of the remains of spacious theatres in districts 
where now human habitations are scarcely seen, 
afford incontestable evidence of the existence of a 
dense population in times that are not more remote 
than the Christian era. Galilee, at that time, and 
Decapolis, and the rich pasture-lands beyond Jor- 
dan, the Hauran, and Gerash, and Bosrah, as well 
as all the towns of the coast, teemed then with the 
millions of a population which mainly, if not entirely, 
was fed from the home soil. At the time of the 
return of the people from Babylon, and for the three 
centuries following, every acre supported its com- 
plement of souls ; and the country, according to its 
quality, returned a full recompence to the husband- 
man, in every species proper to the latitude : — abun- 
dant it was in its dates, its olives, its vines, and its 
figs ; in its cereals, its herds, with their milk and 
butter ; and, not of least account, its honey. These 
are facts of which the evidence meets us on every 
page of ancient literature where this garden-land is 

It is most of all in the hill-country of Judea, 
throughout which the bare limestone basement of 
the land now frowns upon the sky, that the negli- 
gence of the people and the misrule of their masters 
have wrought the greatest mischief. Throughout 

Hebrew Poetry. 71 

that region which, by its elevation as well as by its 
latitude, should be temperate, there was a luxuriant 
growth on all sides in those times when the Hebrew 
Poetry breathed its first notes. In that age every 
slope was carefully terraced, and the viscid soil was 
husbanded : — every swell of the land gave delight 
to the eye in the weeks of spring, and of an early 
summer, in which it was laden with a double har- 
vest. By the multitude of its springs, and the 
abundance of its rains — well conserved in tanks 
(such as the Pools of Solomon) — drought was seldom 
known, or was mitigated when it occurred ; and a 
mantle of opulence clothed the country where now 
a stern desolation triumphs. 

Still to be traced are the vestiges of the ancient 
wealth, the margin of the Dead Sea only excepted. 
Throughout Judea human industry reaped its re- 
ward ; and in the south — as about Hebron, and in 
Galilee, and in Samaria, and in the plains of Jeri- 
cho, and on the flanks of Lebanon, and round about 
Banias, and throughout the east country — the Ha- 
uran and Bashan — the fertihty of the soil was as 
great as in any country known to us. An easy 
industry was enough to render a sensuous existence 
as pleasurable as the lot of man allows. In truth, 
within this circuit there were spots upon which, if only 
they were secure from the violence of their fellows, 
men might have ceased to sigh for a lost Paradise. 
But that Paradise was forfeited, as well as the first, 
and now a doleful monotony, and a deathlike silence 

72 The Spirit of the 

have established their dominion, as if for ever ! As 
to the wealth of the hills, it has slid down into the 
ravines : — wintry torrents, heavy with a booty 
wasted, have raged through the wadys, and have 
left despair to the starving few that wander upon 
the surface. 

But now this Palestine — which five English coun- 
ties, Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire, Lanca- 
shire, Lincolnshire, would more than cover — brings 
within its narrow limits more varieties of surface, 
and of aspect, and of temperature, and of produce, 
than elsewhere may be found in countries that have 
ten times its area. Palestine, in the age of its 
wealth, was a samplar of the world : — it was a mu- 
seum country^many lands in one : the tread of 
the camel, in two or three hours, may now give the 
traveller a recollection of his own — come whence he 
may, from any country between the torrid zone and 
our northern latitudes. Not in England, not in 
Switzerland, nor in Greece — in no country known 
to us — may there be looked at, and experienced, so 
much of difference in all those external things of 
nature which affect the bodily sensations — the con- 
ditions of life, and in what quickens the imagina- 
tion ; — and all upon an area the whole of which may 
be seen from three of its elevations, or from four. 
Thus it was, therefore, that the Hebrew Poet found, 
always near at hand, those materials of his art which 
the poets of other lands had to seek for in distant 
travel. Imagery, gay or grave, was around him 

Hebrew Poetry. 73 

everywhere ; and these materials included contrasts 
the most extreme : then these diversities of scenery, 
so near at hand, must have made the deeper impres- 
sion upon minds sensible of such impressions, inas- 
much as this same land was bordered on every side 
by mountain ranges, or by the boundless table-land 
desert, eastward and southward ; and by the Great 
Sea in front. Palestine was as a picture of many 
and bright colours, set in a broad and dull frame. 

In other lands, as in a few spots in England and 
at rare moments — in Greece, and its islands, often — 
in Italy, at a few points, and in many of the Para- 
disaical islets of the Eastern Ocean, and of the 
Pacific, there may be seen that which the eye rests 
upon with so much pleasure in a sultry summer's 
day — the deep blue or purple of the sleeping ocean, 
serving to give brighter splendour to a foreground 
of luxurious foliage, and of gay flowers. Trees, 
shrubs, festooning climbers — garden, and wild flow- 
ers, then most recommend themselves to the pain- 
ter's eye when the background is of that deep colour 
— the like to which there is nothing on earth — the 
purple of a profound sea, shone upon by a fervent 
sun, under a cloudless sky. But then in none of 
those countries or islands do splendid landscapes of 
this order present themselves in contrast with stony 
deserts, dismal as the land of death ! But in Pales- 
tine—such as it was of old — the soft graces of a 
rural scene — the vine-covered slopes — the plains, 
brilliant with flowers, the wooded glens and knolls 

74 The Spirit of the 

— sparkling with springs, and where the warbling 
of birds invites men to tranquil enjoyment — in Pa- 
lestine there is, or there was, ever at hand those 
material symbols of unearthly good which should 
serve to remind man of his destination to a world 
better and brighter than this. 

From the lofty battlements of most of the walled 
towns the ancient inhabitant of Palestine looked 
westward upon what was to him an untraversed 
world of waters: the "Great Sea" was to him the 
image of the infinite. He believed, or he might 
believe, that the waves which fell in endless mur- 
murs upon those shores, had come on — there to end 
a course which had begun — between the two firma- 
ments — where the sun sinks nightly to his rest. From 
the opposite turrets of the same fenced city he 
watched for the morning, and thence beheld the 
celestial bridegroom coming forth from his cham- 
bers anew — rejoicing as a strong man to run a race ! 
To those who now, for an hour, will forget our 
modern astronomy, the Syrian sun-rising well an- 
swers to the imaginative rendering of it by the Poet : 
— the sun, as it flares up from behind the mountain- 
wall of Edom, seems well to bear out whatever 
may be conceived of it, as to its daily course through 
the heavens. 

Again, the ranges of Lebanon might be called a 
sample of the aspects of an Alpine region — a speci- 
men of sublimities, elsewhere found far apart. The 
loftier summits — the crown of Jebel-es- Sheikh — is 

Hebrew Poetry. 15 

little lower than the level of perpetual snow : in 
truth, Hermon, in most years, retains throughout 
the summer its almond-blossom splendour ; — and 
as to the lower ranges, they overhang slopes, and 
glades, and ravines, and narrow plains, that are unri- 
valled on earth for wild luxuriant beauty. In an- 
cient times these rich valleys were mantled with 
cedar forests ; and the cedar, in its perfection, is as 
the lion among the beasts, and as the eagle among 
the birds. This majestic tree, compared with any 
others of its class, has more of altitude and of volume 
than any of them : it has more of umbrageous am- 
plitude, and especially it has that tranquil aspect of 
venerable continuance through centuries which so 
greatly recommends natural objects to the specula- 
tive and meditative tastes. The cedar of Lebanon, 
graceful and serviceable while it lives, has the merit 
of preparing in its solids, a perfume which commends 
it, when dead, to the noblest uses : — this wood in- 
vites the workman's tool for every ingenious device ; 
and its odoriferous substance is such as to make it 
grateful alike in palaces and in temples. 

It is only in these last times — at the end of thirty 
centuries — that a river, which has no fellow on 
earth — which has poured its waters down to their 
rest near at hand to the civilized world, and has 
been crossed at many points — it is only now that it 
has come to be understood ; and the mystery of its 
seventy miles of course opened up. Why it was 
not understood long ago is itself a mystery. The 

76 The Spirit of the 

brevity of ancient authors, who touch for a moment 
only upon subjects the most exciting to modern 
curiosity, is indeed an exercise of patience to those 
who, for the first time, come to acquaint themselves 
with the mortifying fact that where pages of descrip- 
tion are eagerly looked for — five words, or, at the 
most, as many lines, are what we must be content 
to accept at their hands. Why did not Herodotus 
describe to us the Al-Kuds — the Holy city 
which he visited? Why not tell us something of 
the secluded people and their singular worship ? 
So it is as to Diodorus, and Strabo, and Pliny ; and 
so, in many instances, is it with the prolix Josephus ; 
who gives us so often more than we care to read ; 
but fails to impart the very information which we 
are in need of, on points of importance. The Jor- 
dan — which, physically and historically alike, is the 
most remarkable river in the world — is mentioned 
by ancient authors only in the most cursory manner, 
as dividing the countries on its right and left bank — 
or as emptying itself into the Asphaltic Lake. Even 
the Biblical writers, although the river is mentioned 
by them very often, say little that implies their ac- 
quaintance with the facts of its physical peculiarities. 
And yet, unconscious as they seem to have been of 
these facts, they drew from this source very many 
of their images. Has there ever been poetry where 
there is not a river ? This Jordan — rich in aspects 
alternately of gloom, and of gay luxuriance, some- 
times leaping adown rapids, and then spreading 

Hebrew Poetry. 77 

itself quietly into basins — reaches a prison-house 
whence there is no escape for its waters but — upward 
to the skies ! Within a less direct distance than is 
measured by the Thames from Oxford to the Nore, 
or by the Severn from Shrewsbury to the Estuary 
of the Bristol Channel, or by the Humber, or the 
Trent, or the Tweed, in their main breadths, the 
waters of the Jordan break themselves away from the 
arctic glaciers of Hermon, and within the compass 
of one degree of latitude give a tropical verdure to 
the plains of Jericho, where the summer's heat is 
more intense than anywhere else on earth — unless it 
be Aden. To conceive of these extraordinary facts 
aright, we should imagine a parallel instance, as if 
it were so that, in the midland counties — or between 
London and Litchfield — perpetual snow surrounded 
the one, while the valley of the Thames should be a 
forest of palm-trees, with an African chmate ! 

When the traveller crosses the Ghor, and ascends 
the wall of the Eastern table-land, that illimitable 
desert spreads itself out before him in traversing 
which meditative minds indulge in thoughts that 
break away from earth, and converse with whatever 
is great and unchanging in an upper world. If we 
retrace our steps in returning fi'om the Eastern de- 
sert, and recross the Jordan, travelling southward, 
we come upon that region of bladeless desolation 
which constitutes the wall of the Asphaltic Lake, on 
its western side ; yet from this land of gloom a few 
hours' journey suflSces to bring into contrast the 

78 The Spirit of the 

vineyards, the olive-groves, the orangeries, of a 
luxuriant district — and a theatre of peaks, ravines, 
gorges, and broken precipices, within the circle 
of which the summers and the winters of all time 
have effected no change : it is now, as it was thou- 
sands of years ago, the land of the Shadow of Death 
— a land where the lot of man presents itself under 
the saddest aspects ; — for the Earth is there a prison- 
house, and the sun overhead is the inflicter of tor- 

Yet, near to the abodes of a people among whom 
powerful emotions are to find symbols for their utter- 
ance, there is found one other natural prodigy, and 
such as is unmatched upon the surface of the Earth ; 
— for nowhere else is there a hollow so deep as is 
this hollow : there is no expanse of water that sends 
its exhalations into the open sky, resembling at all 
this lake of bitumen and sulphur. And what might 
that chasm show itself to be, if the caldron were 
quite emptied out, or if the waters of the Jordan 
could be turned aside for a while into the Great 
Sea, leaving evaporation to go on until the lowest 
rent were exposed to view ! Unfathomed, un- 
fathomable, is this lake at its southern end: — its 
mysteries, be they what they may, are veiled by 
these dense waters : — but the traveller, conscious as 
now he is of the actual depth of the surface— so far 
below the level of the busy world as it is — needs 
little aid of the imagination to persuade himself that 

Hebrew Poetry. 79 

a plunge beneath the surface would bring him upon 
the very roofing of Sheol. 

It is the wild flowers of a land that outlive its de- 
vastations : — it is these that outlive the disasters or 
the extermination of its people : — it is these that out- 
live misrule, and that survive the desolations of war. 
It is these "witnesses for God" — low of stature as 
they are, and bright, and gay, and odoriferous — that, 
because they are infructuous, are spared by ma- 
rauding bands. These gems of the plain and of the 
hill-side outlast the loftiest trees of a country: — 
they live on to witness the disappearance of gigantic 
forests : they live to see the extinction of the cedar, 
and of the palm, and of the ilex, and of the terebinth, 
and of the olive, and of the acacia, and of the 
vine, and of the figtree, and of the myrtle : — they 
live to see fulfilled, in themselves, the word — " every 
high thing shall be brought low ; and the humble 
shall rejoice." So has it been in Palestine : once it 
was a land of dense timber growths, and of frequent 
graceful clusters of smaller trees, and of orchards, 
and of vineyards, which retains now, only here and 
there, a remnant of these adornments. Meanwhile, 
the alluvial plains of the land, and its hill sides, are 
gay, every spring, with the embroidery of flowers — 
the resplendent crocus, the scented hyacinth, the 
anemone, the narcissus, the daffbdil, the florid poppy, 
and the ranunculus, the tulip, the lily, and the rose. 
These jewels of the spring morning — these children 

80 The Spirit of the 

of the dew — bedded as they are in spontaneous pro- 
fusion upon soft cushions of heather, and divans of 
sweet thyme — invite millions of bees, and of the most 
showy of the insect orders : — flowers, perfumes, but- 
terflies, birds of song, all things humble and beau- 
tiful, here flourish, and are safe — for man seldom 
intrudes upon the smiling wilderness ! 

Nevertheless, skirting the flowery plains of Pales- 
tine, in a few spots, there are yet to be found secluded 
glades, in which the cypress and the acacia main- 
tain the rights of their order to live ; and where, as 
of old, " the birds sing among the branches." And 
so live still, on spots, the fruit-bearing trees — the 
apricot, the peach, the pear, the plum, the fig, the 
orange, the citron, the date, the melon, the tamarisk, 
and — noblest of all fruits — the grape, " that maketh 
glad man's heart :" all still exist, as if in demonstra- 
tion of what God has heretofore done for this sample 
land of all lands, and may do again. 

A sample land, in every sense, was the ancient 
Palestine to be, and therefore it was so in its cli- 
mate. The round of the seasons here exhibits a 
greater compass of meteorologic changes — there are 
greater intensities of cold and of heat — there is more 
of vehemence in wind, rain, hail, thunder, lightning, 
not to say earthquake, than elsewhere in any country 
between the same parallels of latitude, and within 
limits so narrow. Altogether unlike to this condi- 
tion of aerial unquietness are the neighbouring coun- 

Hebrew Poetry. 81 

tries — Egypt, Arabia, Persia, or Mesopotamia. To 
find the climate of Palestine in winter, or in sum- 
mer, we must include a fifteen degrees of latitude, 
northward and southward of its own. 

Already we have adverted to those physical 
changes in the surrounding countries which, in the 
course of thirty centuries, have very materially 
affected the climate of Palestine : the reality of 
such changes can hardly be doubted. Throughout 
the Psalms, the Book of Job, and the Prophets, there 
are many passages, relating to variations of tem- 
perature, and the like, which agree much rather 
with our experience in England, than they do with 
what is 710 w common to Syria. This is certain 
that throughout the ages during which the Biblical 
literature was produced, the climate of Palestine 
was such as to render its allusions to the external 
world easily intelligible to the people of all lands, 
excepting only those of the arctic circle. How 
much more intelligible, in this respect, are those 
books, than they would have been if the Poets and 
Prophets of the Bible had been dwellers in Mesopo- 
tamia, or in Egypt, or in Nubia, or in Libya, or in 
Thrace, or in Southern Tartary, or in Northern 
Europe, or in North, or in South America, or in 
any of the scattered islets of the Eastern Ocean ! 
Palestine, situated at the juncture of continents, at 
the head of seas, at the centre of travel by camel 
or ship, is, or it was at the time in question, as to 
its Fauna and its Flora, a museum land ; — as to its 


82 The Spirit of the 

climate, it was the congener of all climates — as it 
was also in its adaptation to modes of life, and to the 
means of subsistence. Palestine was favourable to the 
habits of the hunter, the herdsman, the agriculturalist, 
the gardener, the vinedresser, and to them that culti- 
vate the fig, and the olive, and the date-palm. Pa- 
lestine, if man be there to do his part with his hoe, 
and his knife, and his plough, is at once an Asiatic 
country, and it is European. It has its counterpart 
in Greece, in Italy, in France, in England, as to 
what is the most peculiar to each ; and so it is that 
the Scriptures of the Old Testament are intelligible 
(in those allusions to Nature with which they abound) 
to the greatest number of the dwellers on earth ; 
and that the countries in which these allusions might 
not be understood are as few as they could be. 

It is not possible to determine how far changes 
of climate throughout the surrounding coun- 
tries have had influence in giving to the aerial 
aspect of Palestine that clear, sharp, and unpic- 
torial visibility which is now its characteristic. 
This clearness does not fail to attract the eye of 
the traveller who visits the Holy Land, with the 
aerial phenomena of his own landscape scenery in 
his recollection : striking is the contrast that pre- 
sents itself in this respect. The hill country of 
Judea — itself now bare, and almost treeless — is 
seen through a medium which throws upon its 
hills and rocky surfaces an aspect of hardness and 
poverty : so it is that the home of sacred mysteries 

Hebrew Poetry. 83 

is itself shrouded in no mystery. In England, a 
distance of twenty or thirty miles is enough to im- 
part to mountain ranges the pictorial charms of 
many delicate tints, and these always changing ; 
and to give even to objects less remote a sort of 
unreality, grateful to the eye of the poet and the 
painter. But it is not so in Palestine, where, under 
ordinary conditions of the heavens, a range of hills, 
which may be forty or fifty miles distant, shows it- 
self to be — what it is, and nothing more ! Illusions 
of the atmosphere do not lend the distance any 
unreal charms. 

Bring together from the stores of our modern 
English Poetry those passages which borrow their 
rich colouring fi'om our fitful atmosphere and its 
humidity: — the soft and golden glozings of sunrise 
and sunset, and the pearly distances at noon, and 
the outbursts of sunbeam, and the sudden oversha- 
dowings, and the blendings of tints upon all dis- 
tances of two or three miles : it is these atmospheric 
illusions, characteristic of a climate that is humid, 
and yet warm, which have given to the English 
taste in landscape its peculiarity, and which shows 
itself equally in the national poetry, and landscape- 
painting. That sense of the picturesque, which is 
so eminently English, must, in part, at least, be 
traced to those aerial illusions which we willingly 
admit, as compensation for the discomforts of a 
variable climate. 

If the English temper be moody, and if its tastes 

84 The Spirit of the 

are largely inclusive of the melancholic element, 
much of this sombreness of feeling, and its tender- 
ness, is no doubt attributable to a climate, an atmos- 
phere, a sky, that are too little cheered by the sun : 
and the national poetic feeling, with its wistfulness, 
and its retrospective depths of feeling, is in accord- 
ance with this want of settled fervent effulirence. 
Among the deeper shadows, and richer colours, and 
the mysteriousness of the latest autumn, the Poetry 
of Eno^land takes its tone. 

But the English traveller, with his recollections 
of a home landscape — its grey gentleness of tints, 
and its mysteries of shadow — should prepare him- 
self for disappointment in making his way on such 
a route as that from Jaffa to Jerusalem : no sha- 
dowy illusions are there ! It is naked reality that 
surrounds him far and near in this arid land. The 
feeling that is due on this surface must be chal- 
lenged to come where we know it ought to come ; 
and it is not what he sees, but what he thinks of, 
that gives excitement to his journey. Enchantment 
has been dispelled ; let then the gravest thoughts 
take the place of agreeable illusions ! If English 
landscape be a painting in oils, the Syrian land- 
scape is a painting in fresco : each line of hills 
cuts its hard outline — one rangje in front of another 
— and the most remote come upon the sky with a 
too rigid distinctness. At an early hour the sun 
drinks up all moisture from the earth's surface; and 
thenceforward all things are seen through a medium 

Hebrew Poetry. 85 

that is perfectly translucent. In Palestine, as now 
it is, Nature exhibits herself as a marble statue — 
colourless and motionless: — whereas at home we 
are used to see her less fixed in her attire, and 
making her toilette anew from hour to hour. Has 
it always been so in Palestine as now it is? No 
certain answer can be given to this question ; yet 
it may be believed that, in the times of David and 
of Isaiah, not only was the land itself everywhere 
richly clad, but the atmosphere had a changeful 
aspect, almost as much so as with ourselves. 

And yet if the transparent atmosphere of Syria, 
under a fervent sun, gives too much of naked reality 
to the landscape, vast is the advantage which is its 
compensation, when the sparkling magnificence of 
the starry heavens takes its turn, instead of the 
things of earth, to engage the meditative eye. 
Grant it that the day there (now at least it is so) 
offers a spectacle less rich than in our latitude of 
mists : — but then the Night, upon the mountains of 
Israel, opens a scene incomparably more sublime 
than we are used to witness. There — it seems so 
— bearing down upon our heads with power are the 
steadfast splendours of that midnight sky ! Those 
only who have gazed upon the starry heavens 
through a perfectly transparent atmosphere can 
understand the greatness of the disadvantage that 
is thrown over the celestial field by an atmosphere 
that is never well purged of the exhalations of earth. 
In a latitude so high as ours, and which yet has a 

86 The Spirit of the 

mean temperature higher than its degrees should 
give it, the chill of the night serves only to shed 
fog or mist upon the lower stratum of air ; but in 
warmer climates, — and in no country is it more so 
than in Syria, — the vast burden of the watery ele- 
ment which the fervour of day has raised aloft be- 
comes, quickly after sunset, a prodigious dew, break- 
ing down upon the earth, as a mighty, yet noiseless 
deluge : — the aerial load is suddenly thrown off upon 
the lap of earth, and so it is that, almost in a mo- 
ment, the veil is drawn aside from the starry fields. 

The planets, and the stars upon which the shep- 
herds of Palestine were used to gaze, and which to 
them were guiding lights, do not seem as if they 
were fain to go out from moment to moment ; but 
each burns in its socket, as a lamp that is well fed 
with oil. We, in this latitude, have borrowed — for 
technical purposes in our Astronomy — the Chaldean 
groupings of the stars into the contours of monsters 
and demi-gods ; but, unless we had so borrowed 
these celestial romances, we should never have 
imagined them for ourselves. The nightly heavens 
in warmer climates show the celestial giants with a 
bold distinctness; and under those skies these im- 
puted forms of the astral clusters look down upon 
the earth as if they were real beings, and as if each 
glowing cluster — Pleiades, Orion, Mazzaroth, and 
Arcturus, and their companions— were possessed of 
a conscious life. 

The pastoral usages of Palestine greatly favoured 

Hebrew Poetry, 87 

a meditative and religious contemplation of the 
starry heavens ; and throughout long periods of the 
Hebrew national life in which the land had its rest 
from war, and when the shepherd's enemy was not 
his fellow-man, but the wolf only, and the lion, and 
the bear : the shepherd — whose own the sheep were 
— passed his night abroad, taking his rest upon the 
hill-side ; and these shepherds were often of a mood 
that led them to " consider the heavens," the work 
of the Creative hand ; and to gather from those 
fields the genuine fruits of the highest philosophy — 
which is — a fervent piety. The Palestinian shep- 
herd of that age did indeed misinterpret the starry 
heavens in a sense ; — or, we should say, he was at 
fault in his measurement of the distance between 
the celestial roofing above him, and the earth on 
which he trod ; yet, notwithstanding this error, 
much nearer did he come to the firmament of uni- 
versal truth than does the modern atheist astro- 
nomer, who, after he has found, by parallax, the 
distance of the nearest of the stars, professes to see 
no glory in the heavens, but that of the inventors 
of his astronomic tools ! The ladder which rested 
its foot upon earth, and lodged its uppermost round 
upon the pavement of heaven, was indeed of far 
greater height than the Syrian shepherd imagined 
it to be; nevertheless it was to him a firm ladder 
of truth ; and upon it have passed those who have 
kept alive the intercourse between man and his 
Maker through many centuries. 

88 The Spirit of the 

Always with some high prospect in view, and 
most often when he had a messagfe of rebuke to 
deUver, the Hebrew prophet drew many of his sym- 
bols from those meteorologic violences which, as 
we have said, are of frequent occurrence in Pa- 
lestine. Thus it was that in predicting the over- 
throw of empires, the fall of tyrants, the destruction 
of cities, the scattering of nations — the messenger 
of God found, ready for his use, a figurative dialect 
which had a colloquial import among the people : 
besides these deluges of rain, and these awful thun- 
derings and lightnings, and these cataracts of hail, 
the people had experience of the terrors of earth- 
quake — if not of volcanic eruptions. 

It was thus, therefore, that, within limits so narrow 
as those of the land occupied by the Hebrew people, 
provision had been made (may we not use this 
phrase ?) at once for supplying to its Poets, in the 
greatest abundance and variety, the material imagery 
they would need ; and for bringing within the daily 
experiences of the people every condition of the 
material world which could be made available for 
the purposes of a figurative literature. In these 
adjustments of the country to the people, and of 
both to the ulterior intention of a Revelation for 
THE WORLD, wc need not hesitate to recognize the 
Divine Wisdom, making preparation, in a marked 
manner, for so great and peculiar a work. Other 
provisions, having the same meaning, will meet us 
Yet at this point there is an infer- 

Hebrew Poetry^ 89 

ence that should be noted— namely, this — That the 
mode or style of a communication of the Will of 
God to the human family was to be symbolical, or 
figurative ; and that by consequence it should not 
be scientific or philosophic — or such as could be 
interpretable in an abstract, or an absolute sense. 

A question now meets us, an answer to which is 
important to our present line of argument. The 
ancient Palestine, we have said, was rich in its mate- 
rial garniture, as related to the needs and purposes 
of a figurative literature. And so are, and have 
been, other lands ; but those who have trod the soil 
and tilled it may have had little or no tasteful con- 
sciousness toward the aspects of Nature, as beautiful 
or sublime. Poetry has not had its birth among 
them : the language of the people has reflected only 
the primitive intention of a colloquial medium ; and 
therefore it has been poor in its vocabulary as to the 
specific differences of objects, and as to less obtru- 
sive distinctions among objects of the same class. 

In these respects, then, how was it with the He- 
brew people ? Writers of a certain class have 
allowed themselves to repeat, a thousand times, the 
unsustained allegation that this people was — " a 
rude and barbarous horde." Do we find it to be 
such ? We possess portions of the people's litera- 
ture ; and, more than this, we have in our hands 
their language ; or, at least, so much of it as suflSces 
for putting us in position, on sure grounds of ana- 
logy, for filling in some of the chasms, and for safely 

90 The Spirit of the 

presuming what this language must have been, in its 
entireness, when it was the daily utterance of the 

A difference should here be noted, as to the infer- 
ences that are warrantably derivable, on the one 
hand, from certain literary remains of an ancient 
people, and, on the other hand, from their language^ 
so far as this may be known by means of these 
remains. Among a rude people there may have 
been instances, one in a century, of Nature's gifted 
spirits : — individual minds, rich and productive, 
working the wonders of genius in solitary self- 
sufficient force. In such instances — rare indeed 
they are — the tools, the materials of genius are 
wanting : — it was not a rich and copious language that 
was at the poet's command ; for the " horde " were 
as indigent in thought as they were rude in their 
modes of life. How was it then with the ancient 
people of Palestine ? 

A people's language is the veracious record of its 
entire consciousness — intellectual, moral, domestic, 
civil, political, and technical. The people's glos- 
sary is the reflection — whether clear or confused, 
exact or inexact — first, of the notice it took of 
Nature, and of the material world ; and then of its 
own inner life of passion, affection, emotion; and 
then it is the voucher for the people's rate of civili- 
zation, and of its daily observances, its occupations, 
and the customary accidents of these. Whatever is 
in the language is now, or once was, in the mind 

Hebrew Poetrt/. 91 

and the life of the people. The single words of the 
language, and its congested phrases, are tokens, or 
they are checks with which some corresponding 
reality duly tallied, whether or not any extant his- 
tory has given it a place on its pages. Exceptive 
instances might here be adduced ; but they are not 
such as would interfere with our argument in this 
case. Races that have fallen, in the course of ages, 
from a higher to a lower stage of intellectual and 
social advancement, may, to some extent, have 
retained, as an inheritance which they do not 
occupy, the copious glossary of their remote ances- 

As to the extent and the richness of the Hebrew 
tongue at the time when it was the language of 
common life, or during the twelve centuries from 
the Exodus to the Captivity, there must be some 
uncertainty ; not merely because the extant remains 
of the Hebrew literature is of limited extent, but be- 
cause these remains are of two or three kinds only, 
and — whatever may be their kind — they have one 
and the same intention. The writers, whether his- 
torians, moralists, poets, prophets, are none of them 
discursive on the fields of thought : not one of them 
allows himself the liberty to wander at leisure over 
the regions of fancy, or of speculation. Each of 
them has received his instructions, and is the bearer 
of a message ; and he hastens onward to acquit him- 
self of his task. Inasmuch as the message should 
command all attention from those to whom it is de- 

92 The Spirit of the 

livered, so it must seem to command the whole mind 
of the messenger, and to rule, and to overrule, his 
delivery of it. Thus it is that copiousness and 
variety should not be looked for within the compass 
of books which not only have all of them a reli- 
gious purpose, but which speak also in the pre- 
scribed terms of an authority. Such writings are 
likely to take up much less of the colloquial me- 
dium than would be found in the miscellaneous and 
unconstrained productions of writers whose purpose 
it was to entertain the idle hours of their contempo- 

Unless the botanies of Solomon were an excep- 
tion, it might be that the Hebrew people had no 
literature beside their religious annalists, and their 
prophets. Yet we may believe that the talk 
of common life, throughout the ancient Palestine, 
contained a large amount of words and phrases 
which have found no place in the extant Hebrew 
books : — these books have immortalized for our Lexi- 
cons perhaps not more than a third part of the 
spoken tongue. If, therefore, it were affirmed that 
the Hebrew language is not copious, or rich in syn- 
onyms, what might be understood is this (if, in- 
deed, this be true, which it is not) that its extant 
sacred literature is not rich in words. But even if 
this were allowed, then the question would return 
upon us — whether the popular mind was not vividly 
conscious toward the two worlds — the material, and 
the immaterial — toward the outer and the inner 

Hebrew Poetry. 93 

life ? There is evidence that it was so : there is 
evidence in contradiction of modern nugatory asser- 
tions concerning " the rude and barbarous horde." 
A people is not rude that notes all diversities in 
the visible world; nor is it barbarous if its language 
abounds in phrases that are the need of the social, 
the domestic, and the benign emotions. 

Proof conclusive to this effect is contained, by 
necessary implication, in the fact that the Hebrew 
people were addressed ordinarily by their Teachers 
in a mode which (as to its structure) is subjected to 
the difficult conditions of elaborate metrical rules, 
and in the style of that fervid and figurative 
phraseology which is evidence of the existence 
among the people of an imaginative consciousness, 
and of an emotional sensibility, far more acute than 
that of the contemporary nations of whom we have 
any knowledge. The Prophets and Poets of this 
people use the material imagery — the bold meto- 
nyms, the transmuted phrases — of the imaginative 
and emotional style with an ease and a naturalness 
which indicates the existence of corresponding in- 
tellectual habitudes in the popular mind. As was 
the Prophet, such, no doubt, were the Prophet's 
hearers — obdurate and gainsaying often; neverthe- 
less they were accessible always to those modes of 
address which are intelligible, even to the most ob- 
durate, when they have belonged to the discipline 
and economy of every man's earliest years. Every 
man's better recollections were of a kind that put 

94 The Spirit of the 

him in correspondence with the Prophet's style, 
when he rebuked the vices, and denounced the 
wrong-doings of later life. 

The crowds assembling in the courts of the Tem- 
ple, where the Inspired man took his seat, and the 
promiscuous clusters that surrounded the pillars 
whereupon the Prophet's message was placarded, 
found the language of these remonstrances to he 
familiar to their ears. The terms and the style 
went home to the conscience of the hearer : — these 
utterances did not miss their aim by a too lofty up- 
shot : they took the level of the popular intellect ; 
and so it was that, as well the luxurious princes of 
the people as the wayfaring man, though of the 
idiotic class, might read and understand the Divine 

Inasmuch as the poetic and symbolic style draws 
its materials from the objects of sense, it is implied 
that the popular mind has a vivid consciousness of 
these objects, and is observant of the specific diver- 
sities of the natural world. This discriminative 
consciousness undoubtedly belonged to the popular 
Hebrew mind. The proof is this — that if we take 
as an instance any one class of natural objects — 
earth, air, water, the animal orders, or the vege- 
table world — we shall find, in the Hebrew Glossary, 
as large a number — as good a choice — of distinc- 
tive terms, thereto belonging, as is furnished in 
the vocabularies of other tongues, one or two only 
excepted. We may easily bring our affirmation 

Hehrew Poetry. 95 

to the test of a sort of comparative estimate, as 
thus : — 

England is a sea-girt land, and it is a land of 
rivers, and streams, and springs, and brooks, and 
lakes, and pools, and ponds, and canals, and ditches : 
it is also a land in which rural employments and 
out-of-doors habitudes prevail : it is a country in 
which the mass of the people has lived much abroad, 
and has dwelt amidst humidity. Nevertheless fifty 
or sixty words exhaust the vocabulary of the Eng- 
lish tongue in this watery department. More than 
this number are not easily producible, either from 
our writers, or from colloquial usage. With this 
number our poets have contented themselves, from 
Chaucer to these times. France is also a sea-girt 
land, and it is well watered ; but its vocables of this 
class are not more in number than our own. But 
now, although a portion only of the language of the 
Hebrew people has come down to us in the canon- 
ical books, this portion brings to our knowledge as 
many as fifty words of this one class : it is not to 
be doubted that in the colloquial parlance of the 
people many more words had place ; — as many, pro- 
bably, as would fully sustain our afiirmation as to 
the comparative copiousness of this tongue. In al- 
lowing sixty words of this class to the English lan- 
guage, many are included which are technical or 
geographical, rather than natural or colloquial, and 
which are rarely occurrent in literature — seldom, if 
ever, in religious writings. Such are the words — 

96 The Spirit of the 

Roadstead, Estuary, Watershed (American) Lock, 
Canal, Drain, Bight. 

There is yet another ground of comparison on 
which an estimate may be formed of the relative 
copiousness of languages. It is that which is 
afforded by collating a translation with the ori- 
ginal — in this manner — to take as an instance the 
class of words already referred to. The Hebrew 
Lexicon, as we have said, gives us as many as fifty 
words or phrases which are representative of natural 
objects of this one class ; and each of these terms 
has — if we may take the testimony of lexicographers 
— a well-defined meaninor of its own. We have 


then to inquire by how many words are these fifty 
represented in the Authorized English version. We 
find in this version twenty-five words answering for 
the fifty of the Hebrew — apparently because the 
English language, at the date of this version, did 
not furnish a better choice. In very many places 
the same English word does duty for five, six, or 
seven Hebrew words — each of which has a notice- 
able significance of its own, and might fairly claim 
to be represented in a translation. As for instance 
the three words River, Brook, Spring, are employed 
as a sufficient rendering of eight or ten Hebrew 
words, each of which conveyed its proper sense to 
the Hebrew ear, and might not well have given 
place to a more generic, or less distinctive term. 

A collation of the Greek of the Septuagint — say, 
in any one of the descriptive Psalms — will give a 

Hebrew Poetry. 97 

result equally significant, we think more so, as evi- 
dence of what may be called the picturesque or the 
poetic copiousness of this ancient language ; and in 
a note at the end of the volume the reader who 
may wish to pursue the suggestions here thrown 
out will find some further aid in doing so. 

The conclusion with which we are here concerned 
is this— That, whereas the ancient Palestine was a 
land richly furnished with the materials of a meta- 
phoric and poetic literature, so were the people of a 
temperament and of habitudes such as made them 
vividly conscious of the distinctive features of the 
material world, as these were presented to them in 
their every-day Hfe abroad. As proof sufficient of 
these averments we appeal, /rs^, to the obvious cha- 
racteristics of their extant literature ; and then, to 
the fact of the richness, and the copiousness, and 
the picturesque distinctiveness of their language, 
which in these respects well bears comparison with 
other languages, ancient or modern. 


98 The Spirit of the 

Chapter V. 


THE golden conception of a Paradise is the 
Poet's guiding thought. This bright Idea, 
which has suffused itself among the traditions of 
Eastern and of Western nations in many mythical 
forms, presents itself in the Mosaic books in the 
form of substantial history ; and the conception, as 
such, is entirely Biblical. Genuine Poetry follows 
where a true Theology leads the way ; and the one 
as well as the other must have — Truth in History 
— as its teacher and companion. It is in the style 
and mode of a true history that we receive the theo- 
logic principle of a Creation which was faultless, at 
the first. The beginning of history thus coincides 
with that first axiom of Religion which affirms all 
things to be of God, and all perfect. A morning 
hour of the human system there was when man — 
male and female — unconscious of evil, and unlearned 
in suffering, was inheritor of immortality. In this 
belief Piety takes its rise ; and in this conception of 
the tranquil plenitude of earthly good — a summer's 
day of hom's unnumbered and unclouded — Poetry 

Hebrew Poetry. 99 

has its source ; and toward this Idea — retained as a 
dim hope — it is ever prone to revert. The true 
Poet is the man in whose constitution the tendency 
so to revert to this Idea is an instinct born with 
him, and with whom it has become a habit, and an 

Whatever it may be, within the compass of Poetry, 
that is the most resplendent, and whatever it is that 
awakens the profoundest emotions — whether they 
be joyful or sorrowful — whatever it is that breathes 
tenderness, as well as whatever kindles hope — draws 
its power so to touch the springs of feeling from the 
same latent conception of a perfectness and a happi- 
ness possible to man, and which, when it is set 
forth in words, presents itself as a tradition of Par- 
adise. Poetry, of any class, would take but a feeble 
hold of the human mind — distracted as it is with 
cares, broken as it is with toils, sorrowing in recol- 
lection of yesterday, and in fear as to to-morrow — 
if it did not find there a shadowy belief, like an 
almost forgotten dream, of a world where once all 
things were bright, gay, pure, and blessed in love. 
The Poet comes to us in our troubled mood, pro- 
fessing himself to be one who is qualified to put 
before us, in the vivid colours of reality, these con- 
ceptions of a felicity which we vaguely imagine, 
and think of as lost to humanity ; and which yet, 
perhaps, is recoverable. We tm^n with distaste — 
even with contempt or resentment — from the false 
professor of the noblest of arts whose creations con- 

100 The Spirit of the 

tain no recognition, explicit or tacit, of this proper 
element and germ of true Poetry. 

Whether or not a belief of this kind may have 
obtained a place in our Creed, the feeling is deep 
in every human spirit, to this effect — That, at some 
time — we know not when — in some world, or region 
— we know not where — the brightest of those things 
which the Poet imagines were realized in the lot of 
man. But is, then, this conception an illusion ? Is 
it a myth that has had no warrant? It is not so, 
nor may we so think of it. If there had been no 
such reality, there could have been no such imagin- 
ation. If there had been no Garden of Eden, as a 
first page in human history, never should the sooth- 
ings of Poetry have come in to cheer the gloom of 
common life, or to temper its griefs ; — never should 
its aspirations have challenged men to admit other 
thoughts than those of a sensual or a sordid course. 

Four words — each of them full of meanino- — • 


comprise the conceptions which we attribute to the 
Paradisaical state. They are these — Innocence, 
Love, Rural Life, Piety ; and it is toward these 
conditions of earthly happiness that the human 
mind reverts, as often as it turns, sickened and dis- 
appointed from the pursuit of whatever else it may 
ever have laboured to acquire. The Innocence 
which we here think of is not virtue, recovered : — 
it is not virtue that has passed through its season of 
trial ; but it is Moral Perfectness, darkened by no 
thought or knowledge of the contrary. This Para- 

Hebrew Poetry. 101 

disaical Love is conjugal fondness, free from sen- 
suous taint. This Rural Life is the constant flow 
of summer days — spent in gardens and a-field — 
exempt from exacted toil. This Piety of Paradise 
is the grateful approach of the finite being to the 
Infinite — a correspondence that is neither clouded, 
nor is apprehensive of a cloud. 

It was in the fruition of each of these elements of 
good that the days, or the years, or the centuries, of 
the Paradisaical era were passed ; and it was then 
that those things which to their descendants are 
Poetry, to these — the parents of Mankind — were 
realities. Each of these conditions of earthly well- 
being was indispensable to the presence and preser- 
vation of the others ; for there could be no Paradise 
if any one of them were supposed to be wanting or 
impaired. Without innocence earthly good is a 
debasing sensuality : — without love it is selfishness 
and war : — without piety eartlily good, at the very 
best, is the dream of a day in prospect of an eternal 
night; and to imagine a Paradise planted in the 
heart of cities is a conception that is almost incon- 

In like manner as there could be no Paradise in 
the absence of these, its four elements, so neither 
can there be Poetry where these are not its inspira- 
tion, its theme, or its intention : or if not, we put it 
away as either a mockery of the sadness of human 
life, or as a vilifying slander. Love must be the 
soul of poetry : Purity must be its purpose and aim : 

102 The Spirit of the 

— Nature abroad must be its desire, and its chosen 
enjoyment, and Piety must be its aspiration. From 
Poetry that has no correspondence with these con- 
ditions of a Paradise we turn in dull despair to 
resume the heavy task of life ; for if so, then beyond 
its austere conditions there is nothing in prospect of 
humanity: — the path we tread must be a continuity 
of care in sullen progress to the grave. 

We take, then, the Mosaic Paradise as the germ 
of all Poetry ; and unless this first chapter of human 
history be regarded as real — as true — it could stand 
in no relationship to those deep-seated instincts — 
those slumbering beliefs of possible felicity, which 
this tradition has fed and conserved in the human 
soul. If this first chapter be a fable, then we reject 
this belief also as a delusion. But it is not a delu- 
sion ; and as often as a group of children, with 
ruddy cheek and glistening eye, is seen sporting in 
a meadow, filling their chubby hands with cow- 
slips — laughing in sunshine — instinct with blameless 
glee — then and there, if we will see it, we may find 
a voucher for the reality of a Paradise which has 
left an imprint of itself in the depth of every heart : 
the same truth is attested with the emphasis of a 
contrast when — infancy and childhood, sporting and 
merry at the entrance of a city den, and still snatch- 
ing from the pavement a faded handful of flowers, 
speaks of this instinct, and exhibits the pertinacity 
of a belief which no pressure of actual wretchedness 
can entirely dispel. 

Hebrew Poetry. 103 

Man in the garden of God, accepting, as the gift 
of his Creator, the plenitude of earthly good, com- 
bined in his lot Poetry and reality, which in the 
experience of his descendants are always severed; 
and yet the first of these is not lost, although it 
stands aloof. In ten thousand ordinary minds there 
is an element latent which, in the one in ten thou- 
sand, quickens and becomes productive. The 
musings and the yearnings of millions of souls are 
so many inarticulate utterances of a dreamlike con- 
ception of innocence, love, ease, leafy fragrant 
bowers, and shining skies, which those who have 
never found these things in their lot, nevertheless 
persist in thinking have been wanting in it only 
through adverse accidents and their evil stars ! So 
long as sorrows, regrets, remorses, broken promises, 
broken hopes, continue to call forth sighs, and to 
moisten cheeks with tears — so long as blighted, or 
wounded, or wasted affections eat as a canker into 
sensitive hearts, so long as the bereaved, and the 
friendless, and the homeless, and the lost, continue 
to think themselves unblessed, though they might 
have been blessed, then will these many sufferers be 
dreaming of a lot which can never be theirs, wherein 
the bright conditions of a lost Paradise should have 
been represented, if not fully realized. 

Refine these yearning beliefs — train them in 
artistic expression, and then the product is — Poetry ; 
and how elaborate soever this product may be, it 
has had its rise in what was once as real, as are 

104 The Spirit of the 

now its contraries. If it had not long ago been 
real it would have had no power to generate the 
unreal, which has ever floated before the imagina- 
tion of mankind : — there are no dreams where there 
have been no substances. 

Let it be so now that we listen to the exceptions 
of a captious and gratuitous criticism, and that, at 
its instance, we consent to remove from the book of 
Genesis its initial portions ! Let it be that two, 
three, or more chapters of this book are rejected as 
" not historical." If so, then that which has rooted 
itself in human nature has itself no root ! If it be 
so, then dreams have sprung of dreams in endless 
series : — if so, and if Poetry takes no rise in History, 
then must a deeper darkness spread itself as a pall 
over the abounding evils, sorrows, pains, and ter- 
rors that attend humanity. Thenceforward let it 
be — for who shall dare to gainsay Satan the Anti- 
quarian ! — let it be so that not only pain and toil, 
want, care, and grief, but also cruelty, wrong, vio- 
lence, and war, shall proclaim an eternal triumph ! 
The monster henceforward takes a firmer grasp of 
his victim : — if it be so — then, for aught we know, 
the rights of this tyranny are immemorially ancient : 
— they are as old as "the human period" of Geo- 
logy : — for aught we know, the kingdom of Evil is 
from everlasting, and it shall be everlasting. 

It shall not be so. Give me back that which a 
genuine criticism allows me to retain — the initial 
chapters of the Mosaic record. Give me — not as a 

Hebrew Poetry. 105 

myth, but as a history — the beginning of the human 
family in its Eden, and then a darkness is dispelled : 
then hope and peace are still mine (and Poetry also) 
for if this Proem of human history may stand ap- 
proved, then on the skirts of the thickest gloom a 
brightness lingers. If there was once a Paradise 
on earth, then I know how to see and acknowledge, 
as the gifts of God, whatever is good and fair in my 
actual lot, and whatever is graceful ; and whatever 
is in nature beautiful, and whatever it is which art 
elaborates, and which genius exalts. In all these 
graces of life I see so many vouchers for the fact 
that this Earth once had a Paradise. 

And this is not all — for, with the same Mosaic 
belief as my ground of speculation — my turret of 
observation, I may look upwards and around me 
upon the sparkling fields of the infinite, and then 
am free to surmise, what I have reason to infer from 
an actual instance ; and thus I may assuredly believe 
that, upon millions of worlds, there are now, and 
will be, gardens of God, where all is fair and good. 

106 The Spirit of the 

Chapter VI. 


PARADISE was lost ! Nevertheless, in accord- 
ance with the primaeval Biblical Idea, the 
religious man — the chief of a family — was permitted 
to enjoy, through a long term of years, a terrestrial 
lot in which were conserved the rudiments, at least, 
of the forfeited felicity, and thus through the lapse 
of centuries a conception of Life on Earth was 
authenticated, in meditation upon which Piety 
might re-assure its confidence in the Divine wisdom 
and goodness. 

The Patriarchal Idea is Oriental, not European ; 
it excludes the energy, the individual development, 
the progress, that are characteristic of the Western 
races: — it is — Repose, and the fruition of unam- 
bitious well-being. The Patriarchal life, in part 
nomadic, in part precariously dependent upon the 
chase, in part agricultural and of the vine culture ; 
— the life of the tent, more than of strongholds and 
walls, combines those conditions of earthly existence 
which are the most favourable to religious contem- 
plative tranquillity, and under which the sanctities 

Hebrew Poetry. 107 

of the domestic relationships should be reverentially 
conserved. Within the precincts of this economy 
of unwritten obligation and of traditional vene- 
ration, piety toward God — the Invisible — was a 
higher species of that filial regard of which the 
senior and the chief was the visible centre. 

The Patriarchal Idea is wholly Biblical, and as 
such it has suffused itself through the poetry of 
modern nations. And there is much in the mild 
domestic usages and sentiments of modern nations 
that is to be traced up to its rise in this conception. 
It is Biblical, not merely because it is monotheistic 
in doctrine ; but because also it gives a most deci- 
sive prominence to the belief of the near-at-hand 
providence of God — of Him that immediately orders 
and appoints and controls all events affecting the 
individual man. This ever-present Almighty — 
Righteous and Benign — the Hearer of prayer — the 
Giver of all good — the Avenger of wrong — is held 
forth, and is vividly brought within range of human 
conceptions in the incidents of the Patriarchal his- 
tory. Far away from the interference of futile 
speculative questionings, these religious beliefs, as 
exemplified in the life of the servants of God, 
received at once an historic warranty, and a dra- 
matic — or, it might be said, even a picturesque — 
realization, in the records of this era. 

The Paradisaical elements are conserved in the 
Patriarchal life— each of them attempered by blend- 
ing itself with whatever in the actual lot of man has 

108 The Spirit of the 

become saddened by his sins and frailty — by his 
pains, his toils, his cares ; and it thenceforward pre- 
sents itself as if in shining fragments, commingled 
with the ruins of purposes frustrated — hopes shat- 

Within and around the patriarchal encampment, 
near to the springs and the palms of the sultry wil- 
derness, we are to find — in the place of Innocence — 
Virtue — put to the proof, and not always triumphant 
in its conflict with temptation. Within this enclosure, 
instead of unsullied, uncontradicted Love, there are 
yet heard the deep yearnings of domestic afifection, 
rendered intense by tearful sympathies ; perhaps 
by resentments that strike into the very roots of 
human feelinof. Around this enclosure are assem- 
bled, not the wild animal orders in awe of their 
lord — doing homage to man ; but flocks and herds, 
the product of his provident and laborious care. 
Instead of a garden, wildly luxuriant in flowers 
and fruits, there are trim enclosures of esculent 
plants — flowers and perfumes giving way to roots 
and fruits : — there may be heard the singing of birds ; 
— yet this is less heeded than the lowing of kine. 
Human existence is in its state of transition — con- 
serving as much of its primaeval felicity as shall be 
the solace and excitement of a life which still may 
be happy, if man be wise ; and the wisdom, which 
is to ensure his welfare, is that to which the patri- 
archal altar gave its sanction. The Divine favour 
is there pledged to the obedient and devout ; but it 

Hehrew Poetry. 109 

is pledged under conditions which are, in the simplest 
mode, ritual, and which, while they assure the wor- 
shipper in his approach to God, restrict him also. 

The Patriarchal man knew that he had forfeited 
terrestrial immortality, and that his years on earth 
were numbered ; and yet, in the place of a now- 
undesirable endless life, there was given him — lon- 
gevity ; and beyond it, a far more distinct vision of 
the future life than modern Sadducean criticism has 
been willing to allow. This length of years — a 
stipulated reward of piety — and this more than a 
glimmer of the life eternal, imparted a dignity to 
the modes of thinking, and to the demeanour and 
carriage of those " Sons of God " who, each in his 
place, stood, toward all around him, as Chief, and 
Prophet, and Priest. Life under these conditions 
— beneath the heavens — a life, inartificial and yet 
regal — a course abhorrent of sordidness, and thrift, 
so realized itself during a lapse of centuries, as to 
have become a Pattern Idea, the presence and in- 
fluence of which are conspicuous in the cherished 
sentiments and in the literature of modern and wes- 
tern nations. 

To its rise in the Patriarchal era may be traced 
that one conception, which might be called the 
Ruling Thought, as well of Art, as of Poetry — the 
Idea of Repose. Order, symmetry, beauty, secu- 
rity, conscious right and power, are the constituents 
of this Idea. When embodied, or symbolized in 
Art or in Poetry, it is this Repose which is the 

110 The Spirit of the 

silent voucher for whatever shall be its consumma- 
tion in a higher sphere — even for " the Eest that re- 
maineth." It contradicts, and refuses to be consorted 
with, the ambition, the discontent, the adventure, the 
turmoil, the changeful fortunes, the pressure, and 
the progress, of that lower life which knows nothing 
of the past, and is mindless of the remote future. 

The first man had lived — for whatever term — in 
the fruition of the happiness which springs from the 
spontaneous development of every faculty — bodily 
and mental. The man — wise and good in his de- 
gree — under the patriarchal scheme, enjoyed as 
much of the things of life as were allowed to him — 
individually — under the conditions of a providential 
scheme, divinely established and administered, in a 
manner which rendered the Providential Hand and 
Eye all but visible : the Patriarch — religious in 
mood and habit, and thus cared for by Him whose 
Name was a promise — the Patriarch eschewed am- 
bition, he dreaded change in the modes of life — he 
contented himself with those simple conditions of 
common life which, in a warm and equable climate, 
are more agreeable — more sufficing, than are the far 
more elaborate provisions of a higher civilization in 
a more austere climate. Especially did this patri- 
archal nomad life — this following of pasturage where 
it might be found — greatly favour that meditative 
mood in which piety delights itself — entertaining 
the idea of terrestrial life as a pilgrimage, under 
tents, always onward bound towards a future, where 

Hebrew Poetry. Ill 

security and repose shall be — not precarious, but 

Toward this model Idea, embodied as it has been 
in the early history of the human family, and au- 
thenticated as good for its timej by the apostolic 
recognition of it, religious feeling in all times has 
constantly shown itself to be tending. At times 
and in places when and where the patriarchal well- 
being has been wholly unattainable, there came, in 
the room of it, or as its best substitute, the earlier 
and the less fanatical form of the monastic life — the 
anchoret'ic — not the conventual — the sentimental 
and mystical, rather than the ascetic ; and it is 
observable that this milder style of the wandering 
pilgrimage life over the ruggedness of earth to 
heaven drew itself as near as it could to the scenes 
of its patriarchal archetype. The commendation of 
this primaeval piety may be this : — that it was in 
•place as a preparation for a more advanced stage of 
the religious training of the human family ; — but 
the condemnation of the later mood — in itself inno- 
cent, was this, that it was out of place — out of date^ 
after the ultimate Revelation had been promulgated. 
The ascetic had forgotten evangelic principles: — 
the anchoret had retreated from evangelic obliga- 
tions. The Patriarchal life was the foreshadowing 
of a future, wherein communion with God being 
the high end or intention of existence, whatever 
else is done will be regarded only as a means con- 
ducive to that end. 

112 The Spirit of the 

In accordance with its intention and its external 
conditions, the piety of the Patriarchal era was in- 
dividual, not congregative ; — it was domestic, not 
ecclesiastical ; — it was genuine and affectionate, not 
formal or choral, or liturgical : — it did not emulate, 
or even desire, the excitements of a throng of wor- 
shippers, assembling to "keep holy day," and making 
the air ring with their acclamations : more of depth 
was there in this ancient piety ; and it may be be- 
lieved that the worshipper drew much nearer to the 
throne of the Majesty on high than did the promis- 
cuous crowd that, in after times, assembled to cele- 
brate festivals and to observe national ordinances. 
On these conditions, namely — the renouncing of 
worldly ambition, and the restless imagining of a 
something better, supposed to be attainable by 
thought and labour; then the Patriarchal repose 
took its rest upon the hope and promise of a land — 
unseen — the land of souls, whereinto the servants of 
God are gathered, each in his turn as he fails from 
his place on earth. How desirable a lot might we 
now think this, if only its material conditions might 
be secured ! — but they may not — this is not possible ; 
for man is summoned to work, and to suffer ; and 
the piety of meditative repose, and of conscious 
transit to the paradise of spirits, must give way to a 
piety that needs to be strenuous, self-denying, and 
martyr-like ; and that must win its crown, after a 

Nevertheless, this enviable lot having once been 

Hebrew Poetry. 113 

realized in the remoteness of ages, it still lives in 
the imaginations of men, and toward it, not poets 
only, but the most prosaic of the order of thrift 
are seen to be tending. Toil and turmoil through 
sixty years are endured, if only these may purchase 
a closing decade of rest — rural occupation — secu- 
rity — or, in a word, a sort of suburban resemblance 
of the leisure and the dignity that was long ago 
realized in the desert, by them of old. 

The Poetry of all nations has conserved more or 
less of these elements of the primseval repose ; and 
in fact we find them conserved also, and represented, 
in that modern feeling — the love of, and the taste 
for — the Picturesque. Modern, undoubtedly, is 
this taste, which has not developed itself otherwise 
than in connection with pictorial Art, in the de- 
partment of landscape. What is the picturesque ? 
A question not easily answered ; yet this is certain, 
that any attempt that may be made to find an an- 
swer to it must bring us into contact with the very 
elements which already have been named ; and 
which are assembled in the Ideal of the Patriarchal 
Repose. The picturesque could not belong to Para- 
dise ; for it finds its gratification in those forms of 
decay and disorder which bespeak damage and in- 
action. The picturesque is not simply — beauty in 
Nature ; — it is not luxuriance ; it is not amplitude 
or vastness ; it is not copiousness ; it is not the 
fruit of man's interference : but rather is it the con- 
sequence of an indolent acquiescence on his part, in 


114 The Spirit of the 

things — as they are, or — as they have become. The 
picturesque belongs to the foreground always ; or 
to the stage next beyond the foreground ; — never 
does it take its range upon the horizon. The pic- 
turesque claims as its own the cherished and deli- 
cious ideas of deep seclusion, of lengthened, undis- 
turbed continuance, and of the absence, afar-off, of 
those industrial energies which mark their presence 
by renovations, by removals, and by a better order- 
ing of things, and by signs of busy industry, and of 
thriftiness and order. 

Within the sacred precincts of the picturesque, 
the trees must be such as have outlived the winters 
of centuries, and been green through the scorching 
heats of unrecorded sultry summers : they stoop, 
and yet hold up knarled giant branches, leafy at the 
extreme sprays ; and their twistings are such as to 
look supernatural, seen against an autumnal evening 
sky. The fences that skirt the homestead of the 
picturesque must have done their office through the 
occupancy of three or four generations. The dwel- 
lings of man must declare themselves to be such as 
have sheltered the hoary quietude of sires long ago 
gone to their graves. Inasmuch as the picturesque 
abjures change, it rejects improvement ; it abhors the 
square, the perpendicular, the horizontal ; and it 
likes rather all forms that now are other than at 
first they were, and that lean this way and that 
way, and that threaten to fall ; but so did the same 
building threaten a fall a century ago ! In a word. 

Hebrew Poetry. 115 

the picturesque is the Conservatism of Landscape 
Beauty. It is where the picturesque holds undis- 
puted sway that we shall find — or shall expect to 
find — secure and placid longevity— domestic sanc- 
tity and reverence ; together with a piety that holds 
more communion with the past than correspondence 
with the busy and philanthropic present. Give me 
only the picturesque, and I shall be well content 
never to gaze upon tropical luxuriance, or upon 
Alpine sublimities ; nor shall ever wish to tread the 
broad walks that surround palaces ; shall never be 
taxed for my admiration of those things which wealth 
and pride have superadded to Nature. 

116 The Spirit of the 

Chapter VII. 


IT was upon no such bright themes as those of 
the Paradisaical era — it was upon no subjects so 
well adapted to the purposes of Poetry as those of 
the Patriarchal era — that the Hebrew Prophets em- 
ployed themselves. It was far otherwise : leaving 
subjects of this order open and unoccupied to the 
genius of distant ages, these witness-bearing men, in 
long succession, addressed the men of their times 
upon matters of more immediate concernment, and 
in a mood and style adapted to the people with whom 
they had to do. If it be so — and on this point there 
can be no reasonable question — then it must be true 
in this instance, as in every similar instance, that a 
correct notion of the people who were so addressed, 
as to their deo^ree of culture, as to their moral con- 
dition, and their social advancement, and as to their 
comparative intelligence, may with certainty be 
gathered from these remains of their literature : — 
the literature beingr reg^arded as the mirror of the 
national mind. Yet if we so regard it, and so use 

Hebrew Poetry. 117 

it, this safe method of induction may perhaps lead 
the way to conclusions that materially differ from 
those which, on the one side, as well as on the other 
side, of a controversy concerning the Old Testament 
History, have been advanced, and have been tacitly 
assented to. 

To defame, by all means, the ancient Israelitish 
people, as a " horde of barbarians," has been the 
purpose of a certain class of writers ; and on the 
other side a mistaken timidity has beguiled writers 
into the error of supposing that, in admitting this 
imputed barbarism, an extenuation, or a palliation 
might be found for those events and those courses of 
action in the history of the people which most 
offend our modern tastes, or which stand condemned 
by Christian principles. What has been wanting, 
and the want of which has shed confusion upon the 
subject, has been — we need not say — candour and 
truthfulness on the one side ; but more of intellectual 
and moral courage on the other side of this modern 


The ancient Israelite had no peer among his 
contemporaries ; nor do we find analogous instances 
on any side that might render aid in solving the 
problem of this race, either in its earlier or its later 
history. In truth, there is as much need of an ad- 
mission of the supernatural element for under- 
standing the national character^ as there is for 
understanding the narrative of its fortunes and its 
misfortunes — the catastrophes that have overwhelmed 

118 The Spirit of the 

it, and the fact of its survivance of each of them in 
turn. The Jew — such as we now meet him in the 
crowded ways of European cities — is indeed a mys- 
tery insoluble, unless we are willing to accept the 
Biblical explication of the problem. So understood, 
we do indeed yield credence to the supernatural ; 
but then, in not yielding it, the alternative is a 
congeries of perplexities that are utterly offensive 
to reason. 

Taken on the ground of ordinary historical rea- 
soning, the earliest literary remains of the Israelitish 
people give evidence of a far higher range of the 
moral and religious consciousness than is anywhere 
else presented in the circle of ancient literature. 
The inference hence derivable is not abated in its 
meaning by the anomalous and remarkable fact — 
a fact which has no parallel — that these writings, 
through a great extent of them, take a form of re- 
monstrant antagonism toward the people — toward 
the masses, and toward their princes and rulers. 
Those who take upon themselves the unwelcome 
and dangerous office of administering national re- 
buke, and of uttering denunciations, are not wont to 
attribute to their hearers more of intelligence and 
of right feeling than they find among them. We 
may believe, then, that there was, in fact, with these 
hearers that measure of mind and of virtue, the 
existence of which is fairly to be inferred from the 
language of these public censors, whose often-re- 
curring phrases are of this order — " Ye are a stiff- 

Hebrew Poetry. 119 

necked people — a foolish nation : — as were your 
fathers, so are ye." 

As was the country, so the people : — the country, 
geographically, was embraced within the circuit of 
the East ; nevertheless, in climate and productions 
it was European more than it was Asiatic. And so 
the people — Orientals by origin, by physiognomy, 
by usages, and yet in many points of mental con- 
stitution, and by its restless energy, it was more 
European than Oriental. Toward the trans-Euphra- 
tean races — the ultra-Orientals — the Israelite showed 
a decisive contrariety or alienation : he refused his 
sympathies toward the sun-rising ; or, if in some 
instances amalgamation in that direction took place, 
the sure and speedy consequence was loss of nation- 
ality in every sense — physical, ritual, social. The 
captive tribes, when carried eastward, forgot their 
institutions — forgot their very name. 

But toward the people of the " Islands of the 
sea" — the European races — the Jew, while main- 
taining a sullen antagonism, and continuing to re- 
but scorn with scorn, has done so in a manner that 
gave proof of his consciousness of what might be 
called — intellectual and moral consanguinity. By 
his sympathies, by his intellectual range, by his 
moral intensity, by his religious depth, and even by 
his tastes, the Jew has made good his claim to be 
numbered with those that constitute the common- 
wealth of western civilization. Intimately consorted 
with European nations, this integrate people has 

120 The Spirit of the 

repelled commixture, as if it might serve as an 
alloy ; but it has shown its quality, in this way, 
that, if the Western nations, like the perfect metals, 
are fusible, and malleable, and ductile, and apt for 
all purposes of art, this race also — unlike the Ori- 
ental races — fully partakes of the same original 
qualities, and is apt also toward the highest civili- 
zation. Not so those races that are properly Ori- 
ental, and which, like the imperfect metals, show a 
sparkling surface, but are stereote in thought, in 
usages, in political structure — the same from the 
beginning to the end of millenniums. As the Jew 
of modern times is our equal, intellectually and mo- 
rally, so has he been from the first ; — such was the 
Israelite of the Exodus, and of the next following 

Orientals — those who are such by destiny — have 
always, as now they do, surrendered themselves 
inertly to despotisms of vast geographical extent. 
Not so the Israelite, either of the remotest times, or 
of later ages. Often trampled upon and loaded 
with chains, he has never ceased to resent his bonds, 
or to vex and trouble his oppressor. Always, and 
notoriously, has he been a dangerous and turbulent 
subject. The Romans, great masters of the art of 
governing dependencies, learned at length this les- 
son — that the Jew must be indulged; — or, if not 
indulged, then exterminated. It is true that the 
kinsman of the Israelite — the Arab, has defied sub- 
jugation ; — but he has done so as the roaming man 

Hebrew Poetry. 121 

of a trackless desert, whereupon he may flit until 
his pursuers are weary of the chase. The resistance 
and persistence of the Israelite, and of the Jew, has 
implied loftier qualities, and deeper sentiments ; for 
it has been maintained under the far more trying 
conditions of city life. It is one thing to scoff the 
tyrant from afar upon scorched illimitable sands : — 
it is another, to maintain moral courage, and to 
transmit the same spirit of heroism to sons and 
daughters, while buffeted and mocked in every vil- 
lanous crowd of a city ! So has the Jew held his own, 
and he has done this as the true descendant of the 
men with whom Jephtha, and Deborah, and Samuel, 
and David, had to do. The same man — man indeed 
Vie find him, in conflict with Antiochus, and when led 
and ruled by the Asmonean princes. Such did he 
show himself to the Roman proconsuls ; — such was 
he as the problem of the imperial rule ; — such to- 
ward the barbarian barons of mediaeval Europe ; — 
such, from first to last {last w^e must not say of the 
Jewish people) the man — firmer always in principle 
and in passive courage than that the iron and the 
fire should break his resolution. 

The Israelite of the earliest period — the ages 
elapsing from the settlement in Palestine to the 
establishment of the monarchy, and onward — may be 
regarded as the genuine representative of constitu- 
tional social order ; for his rule is — submission up to 
a limit, and resistance at all risks beyond that 
limit. He had no taste for anarchy ; his inmost 

122 The Spirit of the 

feeling was quiescent, for it arose from his vividly 
domestic, and his prsedial habits and sentiments. 
The patriarchal ancestry of the nation had given 
him a tradition of quietude and enjoyment — under 
the vine and the fig tree — his wife as a fruitful vine 
and his children as olive plants round about his 
table ; and thus he was not the turbulent brawling 
citizen, machinating revolution : — he was the sturdy 
yeoman, and the true conservative. A soldier, and 
always brave if there be need to fight — if there be 
an enemy on the border ; but he was never ambi- 
tious or aggressive. 

Enough has become known concerning the com- 
mon arts of life, as practised among the Egyptians 
in the times of the Pharaohs, to secure for them an 
advanced position on the scale of material civiliza- 
tion : they understood, and successfully practised, as 
well the secondary as the primary arts which mi- 
nister to the subsidiary, as well as to the more impe- 
rative requirements of the social economy. During 
their long sojourn in the near neighbourhood of the 
Egyptian civilization, the Hebrew people — slaves 
during the latter portion only of this period — had 
largely partaken of this advancement. The evi- 
dences of this culture are incidental and conclusive, 
as we gather them from the narrative of the forty 
years' wandering in the Sinaitic peninsula. The 
mechanic and the decorative arts were at the com- 
mand of the people : there were among them skilled 
artificers in all lines : — they possessed also a formed 

Hebrew Poetry. 123 

language, — and they had the free use and habit of a 
written language. 

If, then, we go on to inquire concerning the in- 
tellectual and moral and social condition of the 
thousands of the people, the warrantable method, 
available for the purposes of such an inquiry, is 
that of seeking the indications of this condition, 
inferentially, in the remains of the literature of the 
people ; — not, it may be, in treatises on abstruse sub- 
jects, composed by the learned for the learned : but 
in writings of whatever sort which were adapted to 
popular use, and in which — for this is their mark, as 
so intended — the mass of the people is challenged to 
listen and to respond, and is invited and provoked 
to contradict — if in any instance there be room for 
a contrary averment. Such was the Israelitish 
people at the moment which ended their tent-life 
in the wilderness, and which immediately preceded 
their entrance upon the land assigned them, as that 
they, in full Ecclesia, might properly be taught, 
advised, upbraided, promised, threatened, in the 
manner of which the closing book of the Pentateuch 
is the record and summary. 

The Israelite of that time was such that to him 
might be propounded, intelligently, the sublime 
theology and the rightful and truthful ethics of the 
book of Deuteronomy ; which have held their place, 
unrivalled, as Institutes of Religion from that age 
to this. What is our alternative on this ground ? 
This book is either " from Heaven," in its own 

124 The Spirit of the 

sense ; or it is from man. If from Heaven, then a 
great controversy reaches its conclusion, by admis- 
sion of the opponent ; — but if from men, then the 
people among whom this theology, and these ethi- 
cal principles, and these institutions spontaneously 
arose, and to w^hose actual condition they were 
adapted, were a people far advanced beyond any 
other, even of later times, in their religious concep- 
tions, in their moral consciousness, in their openness 
to remonstrance, and their sensibility toward some 
of the most refined emotions of domestic and social 
life. It is a canon, open to no valid exceptive 
instance, that the spoken-to are as the speaker and 
his speech. There is an easy and warrantable means 
of bringing this historic canon to a test, as available 
in the instance before us. Our question is — What 
were these people, or — what had tlicy become, in con- 
sequence of their Egyptian sojourn — what in con- 
sequence of the discipline of the desert : — what, 
upon a new generation, had been the influence of the 
Sinaitic Law, and of the Tabernacle worship, and 
of the tribune administration of social order ? Pro- 
spective as were many of the Mosaic injunctions — 
social and ecclesiastical — the theology was ripe and 
entire, from the first ; — so were the ethical princi- 
ples, and so was the worship. The generation which 
then had reached maturity along with all of younger 
age, from infancy upward, were — the product of 
this religious and social training ! 

There is much more in the last book of the Pen- 

Hebrew Poetry. 125 

tateuch than in the preceding four — regarded as a 
ground or source of inferences — concerning the in- 
tellectual and moral condition of the Hebrew people 
of that time ; for it consists of a series of popular 
addresses, orally delivered ; and these, by the calm 
majesty of the style throughout, by the remonstrant 
tone, by innumerable allusions to events and usages, 
carry with them a demonstration of historic verity 
which no ing^enuous and cultured mind will fail to 
admit. And withal, toward the close of these up- 
braiding admonitions the Heaven-instructed Law- 
giver and Prophet utters, with all the amplitude and 
speciality of actual vision, a prediction of national 
woe to arrive in the remotest distance of ages — a 
prediction so irrefragably prescient as to have wrung 
— to have wrenched — a reluctant admission of its 
Divine origin from those who have schooled them- 
selves in rebutting sufficient and reasonable evidence. 

The utterance of a series of oral instructions and 
remonstrances, in full assembly, differs, as we say, 
much, as to its historical value, from the promulga- 
tion of a written code, or of Institutes of Morals ; for 
these may have been the work of a sage — theorising 
and devising for the benefit of his contemporaries 
more and better things than in fact they were pre- 
pared to receive. Orations, if authentic, imply 
more than is implied in treatises or in systems of 

An intelligent and unsophisticated reader of the 
majestic speeches which constitute the book of Deu- 

126 The Spirit of the 

teronomy — resplendent as they are with a bright 
and benign theistic doctrine — translucent expres- 
sions as they are of earnest paternal affection — deep 
as they are in the knowledge of human nature — 
humane as they are, will never believe — would 
never imagine, that the speaker's audience were the 
chiefs and the followers of a stupid, sensual, trucu- 
lent, remorseless mob. Here, indeed, the ingenuous 
reader feels that — as is the speaker, such are the 
spoken-to. Greatly may we err, as we have already 
said, in parting off the credible from the incredible 
among the records of past ages. When the Hebrew 
Poet challenges an imagined respondent, and asks, 
in the confidence of truth — " What was it, O Sea, 
that thou fleddest, and thou Jordan, that thou didst 
turn back?" — we grant him readily his own expected 
answer: — it was at the presence of the Almighty 
that the earth then trembled, and that the sea was 
then moved out of its place. This is not incredible, 
nay, it is easy of belief, that He which formed the 
deep, and founded the hills, should hold them in 
His hand, and do with them what He wills. But 
now let it be considered whether, with the books of 
Moses before us, and the aged Lawgiver in view, 
and with his people listening, as his sons around 
him, we can imagine them to be the savages which 
a malignant and perverse criticism has laboured to 
paint them. We may be sure it was not so : — let 
any instances be adduced which might give support 
to a supposition of that kind. 

Hebrew Poetry. 127 

Was the Hebrew people a barbarous and san- 
guinary horde ? The modern archetype of the 
ancient Israelite, if we are to take our notion of him 
from writers of a certain class, is to be found among 
the (unchristianized) tribes of Kafir-land, or among 
those — such as once they were, of New Zealand ; or 
among the Red Men of the American wilderness ; 
or we might find him among those that now roam 
the Arabian deserts ; or we might find him among 
the degraded and ferocious occupants of the dens 
and cellars of great cities. But assemble now a ten 
thousand of such men — the nearest resemblances 
you can find of the " barbarians " of the Exodus and 
of the Conquest under Joshua ; endeavour to gain 
the hearing of the savage crowd — with the painted 
face, and the horrid knife in the girdle, and the 
skull of an enemy dangling from his belt : take 
with you, for an experiment, the twenty-sixth chapter 
of the book of Deuteronomy, and with it make proof 
of the endeavour to find your way to the mind 
and heart of untutored and of unculturable and 
sanguinary savages. In fact, no such experiment 
could be attempted. Try it, then, under any other 
imaginable conditions. The Christian Missionary 
must have laboured for many years among any of 
the people of Asia — in China, in Thibet, in India, 
and he must have schooled the children of those 
nations from infancy to adult years, before he could 
hope to surround himself with an audience that 
might be expected to listen with intelligence to in- 

128 The Spirit of the 

structions and admonitions of this order. The Mo- 
saic homilies are available as indirect, yet conclusive 
evidence of the existence of a true theistic habitude 
of mind among the people of the Exodus : — these 
exhortations are distinguished by a majestic simpli- 
city, and a fervour, and a paternal warmth, which 
reflect, as in a mirror, the popular mind so far as is 
needed for completing our historic conception of 
the scene and its transactions : — the speaker, the 
listeners, and the addresses. The well-schooled and 
Christianized people of Protestant Europe excepted, 
there is not now a people on earth — Eastern or 
Western — among whom a hearing could be had for 
recitations, and advices, such as these are. If this 
exception be allowed for, then the popular mind 
anywhere among the nations of Europe must have 
been fused and cast in a new mould before lan- 
guage like that which was addressed by their Law- 
giver to the Hebrew people could meet a response 
in the mind and heart of the multitude. The true 
and the safe inference is this — That the thousands 
of Israel, such as they were at the close of their 
forty years' life in the wilderness, could not be, as 
it is affirmed, a gross, stupid, and ferocious horde ; 
— but on the contrary, a people — young in age, and 
quick in mind and feeling ; — a people in seeking 
for analogues to whom we must look among the 
best trained of our modern Christianized — Bible- 
taught populations : — they must have been a people 
with whom there had been matured, a settled usage 

Hebrew Poetry. 129 

of theistic terms, a spontaneous intelligence of 
these terms, devout habitudes, and withal a diffused 
warmth of those social sentiments which are conse- 
quent upon, and which are the proper results of, an 
expansion of the domestic affections. 

It is either from the want of philosophic breadth 
in the mental habits of those who make great pre- 
tensions to this quality ; or it is, on the other hand, 
from a sickly religiousness, that the terrible events 
and doings of the conquest, and the extermination 
of the Canaanitish tribes, are asserted to be at va- 
riance with the inferences which we thus derive 
from the later portions of the Pentateuch. 

These inferences are sure and conclusive ; and 
they are the more so because mainly they are indirect 
and circumstantial. Those events and transactions 
— as they stand recorded in the Books of Joshua 
and the Judges — are indeed appalling, and the 
perusal of them must be painful. It ought to be so : 
— it should not be otherwise than that from a stern 
necessity only we rest in imagination upon recitals 
of this order, let them be found where they may, 
whether in our Bibles, or out of them. When similar 
narratives are found out of our Bibles, our philoso- 
phic habits of thought easily help us to get rid of 
the difficulty ; and we abstain from petulantly draw- 
ing conclusions, as to the manners or temperament of 
nations, which would be precipitate and unwarrant- 
able. When found within our Bibles, it is only a 
gratuitous hypothesis, as to the methods of the 


130 The Spirit of the 

Divine government in human affairs that generates, 
or that aggravates, the difficulty, in view of vv^hich 
our religious faith, or our Christianized sentiments, 
are staggered or offended. The remedy is to be 
sought — first, in a dispassionate attention to the 
facts ; and then in a comparison of these facts with 
others of a like order, occurring on the common 
field of history. 

Take in hand the Books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 
and Samuel. Rising to view at frequent intervals in 
these records, and always in a manner that is inci- 
dental and inartificial, there are evidences irresistible 
of the existence, diffused among the Hebrew people, 
of deep and vivid domestic affections — of individual 
and family piety — of humane sentiments and usages 
— of a hio^h and chivalrous sense of honour and 
patriotism, and of a stern sense of justice, and of 
the rights and claims of the destitute and defence- 
less. These facts transpire in the course of these 
narratives; and the style of the prophets— even 
when administering their most severe rebukes — sup- 
poses the same facts. No such denunciations of the 
Divine displeasure toward cruelty, violence, oppres- 
sion, rapacity, could have had any meaning unless 
there had been, on the side of the people, a con- 
sciousness of truth, justice, mercy, humanity, purity, 
and piety, of which consciousness the indications 
are frequent in the history of the people ; — a history 
extending a four hundred years onward from the 
time of the passage of the Jordan. The acts of 

Hebrew Poetry. 131 

the Conquest had not found the Hebrew people a 
sanguinary horde ; — nor had these acts rendered 
them such : to suppose otherwise would be to reject 
conclusive evidence bearing upon this instance, and 
to forget parallel instances elsewhere occurring. 

War will be war, everywhere and always, until 
it shall have been "made to cease unto the ends of 
the earth." Horrible always, at the best, will be 
— slaughter — wholesale ; and it ought to be revolt- 
ing in the recital, let the provocations, or the rea- 
sons of necessity, be what they may ; and espe- 
cially is it so when, to circumstances of urgent 
national peril are added inveterate and aggravated 
antipathies of race. The future readers of the his- 
tory of the British rule in India— such readers, 
more thoroughly Christianized than we of this time 
are — will be fain to put from them the page which 
tells of what was enacted by humane and Christian- 
hearted British chiefs in regaining the lost su- 
premacy of a foreign over the native races of Hin- 
doostan. Slaughter — not effected by the predeter- 
mined stroke of the magisterial sword — is, and ought 
always to be, beyond, and contrary to, rule and 
order. A people is indeed savage among whom 
slaughter could be a recognized practice : never can 
it come under the restraints of any sort of political 
or moral generalization : never can it be reasoned 
upon, or instituted, unless among a nation of fiends. 
Nevertheless, it is certain that a people whose his- 
tory is marked by no blood-stains — deep and broad 

132 The Spirit of the 

— has never yet held a place for itself upon the map 
of continents. The world being such as it has ever 
been, and is — even now in this late age — no place, 
unless it be that of abject servitude, is left for any 
race which is so inerme as that it could neither 
provoke nor inflict sanguinary revenges. If we 
resent any such allegation as this, we ought, in 
proof of our consistency, not only to snatch the 
musket from the soldier, but the bludgeon from the 
girdle of the policeman. This may not be ques- 
tioned, that, unless the ancient Israelitish people 
had possessed as much of stern truculent energy as 
this, they could not have maintained themselves a 
ten years upon their soil — wedged in, as they were, 
among the iron- charioted millions of Amalek, and 
Midian, and Philistia, and of Assyria, and of Egypt. 
If not so, then must there, from century to century, 
have been pointed, eastward, northward, southward, 
the always visible and blazing swords of seraphim. 
Already we have said that we need the hypo- 
thesis of the supernatural for solving the problem 
of the national character, as well as for under- 
standing the history of this people. And so now, 
again, in this critical instance, it is nothing less 
than an assumption of the supernatural in the his- 
tory of the Exodus, and of the conquest of Canaan, 
that can make intelligible the facts with which we 
have to do — and which are these — first, That the 
Hebrew tribes did indeed enact the extermination 
of the Canaanitish races (so far as this was done), 

Hebrew Poetry. 133 

but that the work of slaughter, dire as it was, did 
not settle itself down upon the national temper or 
habits, so as to show itself upon the people as a 
permanent disposition. No such effects followed 
from the tragedy-period of their history : — it would 
not necessarily do so in any case ; — it did not in 
this instance, because the people, and their chiefs, 
acted at the prompting of a command which, in 
their view, had received unquestionable authentica- 
tion from Heaven. Thus v^arranted, the act of 
slaughter was, as we might say, screened from its 
impact upon the moral sentiments of the people. 
It was as when, shielded by a charm from the vio- 
lence of fire, a man passes unharmed through a 
furnace seven times heated. 

Besides this hypothesis of the supernatural, which 
we need in understanding the facts in view, there 
is to be remembered also the often-mentioned facts 
of the consummate abominations that had become 
inveterate among the Canaanitish races. This 
state of social putrescence — these destructive impu- 
rities, and these Moloch cruelties, were known to 
the invading people, and were understood by them 
as the reason of their destruction. Thus commis- 
sioned to exterminate those who could not be re- 
formed, the work of slaughter did not unhumanize 
those who effected it -. — that it did not the evidence 
is various and valid. 

Distinctly looked at, under its actual conditions, 
the problem, so far as it affects the Israelitish peo- 

134 The Spirit of the 

pie of the Exodus and the Conquest, stands clear — if 
not of perplexity, yet of any greater perplexity than 
such as hovers over every other national history, in 
this world of evil. 

What, then, are the conditions of this same pro- 
blem, considered in its upward-looking aspect, or as 
it is related to the rules and methods of the Divine 
government ? 

Our first step on this ground is — to reduce the 
problem, in this aspect of it, within the limits due to 
it. What we are concerned with is — a limited, that 
is to say, a Bible problem : — with the world-wide 
problem, affecting philosophic Theism, we are not 
here implicated. In this latter and more extensive 
sense the existence at all, and the long-continued 
existence, of nations so utterly degraded — so impure 
and cruel in their manners and in their institutions — 
is a far deeper mystery — it is a much more per- 
plexing problem, than is their quick extermination, 
whether effected by plague, or deluge, or the sword. 
But then these dark depths in the human system, as 
they stand related to the Divine wisdom and bene- 
ficence, are not Bible troubles : — they are not 
abysses which might be filled in by throwing into 
them our Bibles — even millions of copies of Bibles : 
— after this were done they would still yawn upon us, 
as before. It is the disingenuous practice — or call 
it artijice — of a certain class of writers to throw the 
burden of world-wide mysteries upon the Bible, 
upon which, in truth, they take no bearing. 

Hebrew Poetry. 135 

The dark colour of the problem — whether consi- 
dered in its widest import, or in its speciality, as 
related to the Biblical question now in view — has 
been derived from modern modes of feeling ; and 
these are the fruit of Christianity itself. No such 
mystery troubled the meditations of philosophers 
who looked complacently upon the trains of wretches 
that graced the triumphs of Roman generals ; and 
who relished the gladiatorial massacres of the am- 
phitheatre. It is neither the philosophy nor the 
poetry of classic civilization that has schooled the 
modern mind in its mood of humanity. It is Bible 
reading that has done this : it is our Christian 
sensitiveness — out of which Infidelity has stolen an 
advantage — that converts a misunderstanding of 
those remote transactions into a sore trial of our 
faith in Scripture. Christian sensitiveness, which we 
should not wish to see blunted, together with a mis- 
apprehension of the facts, has conjoined itself with 
the besetting error of all religious speculation — 
namely, the framing of some hypothesis concerning 
the Divine motives which is wholly gratuitous and 

It has been on the ground of some hypothesis of 
this order — gratuitous and unwarrantable, that the 
thoughtful of every age have made for themselves 
infinite trouble, and great sorrow of heart. It has 
been thus that the large economy of the animal 
creation, and its stern realities, have driven many 
on toward the belief of an Evil Principle — the 

136 The Spirit of the 

creator of the carnivora ! And thus that we 
gloomily muse upon the course of events when 
these are signally disastrous ; and thus that we find 
occasions of offence in Biblical history. To a great 
extent also we are governed, or rather we are tyran- 
nized over, by the variable intensity of feelings 
which so often go beyond all reason in relation to 
the events of every day ; as, for instance — It is with 
ungovernable anguish that we stand spectators of the 
foundering of an emigrant ship : — ^five hundred souls 
on board — men, women, children — lost within a 
cable's length of the shore ! — a shifting of the gale 
— one point — would have sufficed for bringing all 
safe into port ! It is on an occasion of this sort 
that our religious impulses are liable to a dangerous 
strain, and we passionately ask — Why was this 
calamity permitted? Our only conclusion — which 
indeed brings with it very little abatement of our 
distress — is the theologic apophthegm — The ways 
of God are inscrutable. Yes, they are so ; neverthe- 
less, knowing that they are so, we have given place 
to an hypothesis concerning the Divine attributes 
which rests upon no authentic ground whatever. 
As if to brinor before us the incoherence of our own 
modes of thinking, it happens that, the very next day 
after the shipwreck, we read listlessly the report of 
the Public Health ; and find there the statement — 
that " fevers of the typhoid class, as well as scar- 
latina, have prevailed during the last few weeks in 
crowded districts, and have been fatal in as many 

Hebrew Poetry. 137 

as fifteen hundred cases." For the difference in the 
intensity or violence of our emotions in these two 
instances we can give no very satisfactory account ; 
and yet it is the lesser woe that stirs the depths of 
religious meditation ; while the greater woe barely 
moves thouo^ht at all. The difference has much 
more to do with scenic effect, than either with 
reason or piety. 

Thought of strictly — in their theistic import, it 
is not the destruction of the cities of the plain of 
Sodom, nor the overthrow of hundreds of cities 
since then by earthquake, nor deluges extending 
over kingdoms, nor the prevalence of plagues, nor 
famines, nor the extermination of races by the 
sword, that in any way touches the theology of 
the Bible. These catastrophes — these miseries — 
fatal to millions of men, are all of them dark items 
in a catalogue for the contents of which no philo- 
sophy has hitherto furnished any explication, and 
for the explication of which Holy Scripture was 
not given, and will not avail. 

It is but few persons, even among the educated, 
who have so trained themselves in the management 
of their own minds as to be able — unless it be for a 
moment — to take up a subject in which elements 
are commingled, and to sunder these elements, and 
to hold them apart, and, as in this instance is requi- 
site, to think temperately, and separately of what 
belongs to the human, or humanity side of it, and 
of what is proper to its theistic aspect. This, there- 

138 The Spirit of the 

fore, must be our conclusion, as to sensitive and 
imperfectly disciplined Christian people — thought- 
ful and feeling as they are : — the blood-stained page 
of Hebrew history must continue to give pain in the 
perusal. Disciplined Christian minds, while pe- 
rusing such narratives — wherever they may be 
found — will read them with pain, but not with per- 
plexity ; or with no more perplexity than that which 
surrounds far larger and deeper questions, and which 
sheds upon all an impenetrable gloom. 

It is enough for our present purpose — and our 
intention in giving any prominence to the subject 
is completed — when we take with us, as unquestion- 
able, the fact that the Israelite of those remote times 
was one whose religious beliefs, and whose modes 
of feeling, and whose social habitudes, were such as 
to place him far in advance of any among his con- 
temporaries, or even of the men of much later times. 

Hebrew Poetry. 139 

Chapter VIII. 


NOTHING that is proper to the textual or the 
historic criticism of this book, or of any other 
canonical book, concerns us in relation to our sub- 
ject in these pages ; and we have to do with it only 
so far as we find therein what is illustrative of our 
immediate purpose. Undoubtingly we accept the 
claim of this book to a high antiquity ; and moreover 
fully admit the historic reality of the persons, as 
well as the canonical validity of this portion of the 
Hebrew Scriptures. 

Apart from the proper criticisms, philological 
and historical, which should determine the date of 
the composition, and the chronology of the events, 
and their reality, every reader who is not prepos- 
sessed on the other side finds himself carried back 
by the archaic majesty of the style, and by the 
breadth of the ground it occupies (as compared with 
the more strictly national style of the Prophets) to 
an age as early, at least, as that of the Israelitish 
settlement in Palestine. Everything in this Book 

140 The Spirit of the 

shows its remoteness from the Mosaic ritualistic in- 
stitutions, and from Israelitish modes of life. If, in- 
deed, contemporaneous with those times, the usages 
it refers to, and the habits of thought it indicates, 
are wholly of another order. Nor is this all. The 
purpose and purport of the Book of Job is — the 
working out, and the bringing to an issue, a great 
problem of the moral system, on that ground which 
the patriarchal dispensation occupied, and from 
which the Mosaic institutions moved away, for ad- 
mitting what was peculiar to a more limited econ- 
omy. The patriarchal ground had been measured 
off with a longer radius, which swept a more com- 
prehensive field ; and within this more ample cir- 
cuit there was room for the agitation of questions 
which, within the straiter Mosaic enclosure, had 
met their determination in a more formal manner, 
that is to say, in the mode of decisions hy authority. 
Within the range of those of the Hebrew Scriptures 
that follow on from the Mosaic institutes, and that 
recognize the national law, there do not occur any 
open debatings of universal moral problems ; for 
every theological, and every ethical principle is 
assumed as granted, or is taken up as having been 
already determined. 

It is quite otherwise in the Book of Job, which 
takes its place on a free field. The ground assumed 
is the patriarchal ground of earthly well-being, and 
the principle taken for granted is that of a visible 
administration of human affairs, under the eye and 

Hebrew Poetry. 141 

sovereign control of the Righteous and Benign Al- 
mighty; — He who is unchangeable, just, and wise, 
and good, notes the ways of men — He follows the 
wicked with rebukes, and He rewards and blesses 
the good. But yet, in the actual course of events, 
this principle meets many apparent contradictions. 
Hence those perplexities which in every age dis- 
tress thoughtful minds. How shall these instances 
of contrariety be so disposed of as shall save the 
faith and the hope of the servants of God ? Here, 
then, is the purport of the Book : this the problem 
that is worked out in the arguments of the speakers, 
and in the conclusion of the history ; it is indeed 
glanced at often in the Prophetic writings, and in 
several of the Psalms — the Seventy-third especially; 
but nowhere else is it formally debated, and brought 
to an issue.* 

The argument of the Book of Job bears— we say 
— upon the visible administration of the Divine 
government, as related to the earthly well-being of 
those who fear and serve God. Little or nothing 
within its compass touches the inner life, or opens 
to view the experiences of those who are under 
training for a more intimate communion with God 
— the Father of spirits — and who freely court a dis- 
cipline the intention of which goes quite beyond 
the range of terrestrial rewards and punishments. 
Here is the contrast between the Book of Job and 
many of the Psalms : — the order of Thought in the 
* See Note. 

142 The Spirit of the 

one is broad and ostensible ; in the other it is of a 
more refined species : — it is more intense, it is more 
peculiar, it is more full-souled ; — in a word — it is 
more spiritual ; and we use this sacred term never 
in the modern mode of an affected accommodation ; 
but in its proper, and its Biblical sense. 

Inasmuch, then, as the ground occupied by the 
disputants in the Book of Job is of wider circuit 
than that whereupon the Israelitish Prophets take 
their stand, it might seem probable that, in availing 
themselves as they do of the figurative style, and in 
uttering themselves after the fashion of poets, they 
should also use a discursive liberty in which, as we 
have said, the Prophets of Israel do not indulge. 
But it is not so ; — or it is so very partially, in the 
speeches and the rejoinders of Job and his three 
friends, or of their young reprover, Elihu. These 
all use the poetic diction ; yet only as a means 
adapted to their purpose. But then, for bringing 
the argument to its close, and for winding up the 
history in accordance with its intention, another 
Speaker comes in — " Then the Lord answered Job 
out of the whirlwind," and asks — " Who is this that 
darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge ?" 

Where shall we find the grandeur of Poetry, 
where is majesty in language, where is boldness, 
fire, or descriptive force, if not in these four closing 
chapters of this Book ? Strictly metrical in struc- 
ture are these passages : — antithesis and apposition 
prevail throughout. Metaphoric in language — in 

Hebrew Poetry. 143 

single terms, and in combinations of phases are they 
throughout : thus far these compositions are in ac- 
cordance with the usages of the Hebrew prophetic 
Scriptures ; but here the resemblance fails, and the 
dissimilarity on other grounds is so extreme as to 
carry with it, or rather to force upon our notice, a 
principle which has been once and again referred to 
in these pages, and which should receive attention 
as explicative of the Spirit of the Hebrew Poetry. 

Throughout the Prophetic writings allusions to 
the material world — the visible creation — are fre- 
quent, and they are always bold, forceful, and apt ; 
yet they are brief, and they are, as we might say — 
cursive — the prophet hastens forward — he lingers 
never : the allusion, when it has subserved its pur- 
pose, is dismissed. But in these closing passages of 
the Book of Job, albeit a religious and a moral in- 
tention is kept in view, it is held in abeyance till the 
end ; or it is left as an inference which the hearer is 
required to gather up for himself, and this inference, 
or this intention, gives a foremost place to the mate- 
rial subject : it is as if the visible natural object 
might, in its own right, challenge principal atten- 
tion — as if it might, by itself, and irrespectively of 
every moral purpose in relation to the argument, be 
worthily retained in view, and be turned about de- 
scriptively, and be looked at on every side. The 
things spoken of stand in front : — the religious pur- 
pose — the doctrine — is to be sought for after. 

In these notable passages it is the Lord — the 

144 The Spirit of the 

Creator — that speaks of, and that commends, the 
works of His hands ; and it is those of them He com- 
mends — and it is for such of their qualities — as least 
comport with modes of feeling that are character- 
istic of religiously meditative minds : these passages 
are not of the fine or sentimental order : — they give 
a bold contradiction to those oriental dreams which 
made the animal creation an occasion of offence to 
the languid, oriental devotee; and then their ac- 
cordance is to be noted with those juster views of 
the economy of the animal system which modern 
science has lately brought itself to approve. In a 
repeated perusal of these free and vigorous descrip- 
tions — mainly of animal life as they are — one feels 
to have reached high ground, and to have left below 
the region of those delicate surmisino^s and those 
melancholic refinements that float about over the 
ague-levels of an over-wrought sensitiveness. We 
are here called out from the cloister and the cell, 
and are summoned abroad : — at this invitation we 
take an upward path — we breathe a pure air, and 
rejoice in sunshine. We are challenged to look far 
and wide over a prospect in the sight of which — at 
some moment far back in the remoteness of ages — 
" The morning stars sang together, and all the sons 
of God shouted for joy." 

Is the Creation itself, is this material organiza- 
tion — class balanced against class as it is — welfare 
pledged against welfare — constituting a vast anta- 
gonism for life — is it such as the tender-spirited 

Hebrew Poetry. 145 

among us would have made it ? It is not such : — 
a robust reason, and a large acquaintance with the 
conditions and the structure of animal and vegetable 
life, and a knowledge, too, of the remote dependence 
of orders upon orders, are here required ; and of 
this sort must be our seasoning if we would gain a 
right apprehension of the theology of the material 
world. Thoughtful and delicately- constituted minds 
need to be acclimated in the world of animal life 
before they can attain a healthful intelligence of the 
things around them. Let us be understood now, as 
always, to speak with reverence, and to keep in re- 
membrance what we profess undoubtedly to believe. 
With this caution then premised, we say that, in 
these signal passages of this book — regarded now 
as human utterances — there is as much of a bold 
and fearless Reason, as there is of the fire and mag- 
nificence of Poetry. The pictorial vigour of these 
descriptions may perhaps have hidden from our 
view that healthful force in the treatment of sub- 
jects of this class which gives these passages their 
prominence in relation to other contemporary modes 
of thought, elsewhere occurring. Not of the Brah- 
minical mintage are these descriptions ; not of the 
Gnostic ; not of the Manichsean ; and assuredly they 
are of older stamp and hue than were those instincts 
of the Israelite which had become to him a second 
nature, and which were the product of the Mosaic 
distinctions of the " clean and the unclean." Free 
from trammels of every sort are these portraitures of 

146 The Spirit of the 

behemoth, and the unicorn, and of leviathan, and of 
the ostrich, and of the wild ass, and of the war-horse. 
No w ay are they 7iice : — they are in the very man- 
ner of the creative energy itself, such as we see it. 
If we do not relish these descriptions, it must be 
because we distaste also the creation ; it must be 
because the crocodile and cayman, the boa-con- 
strictor, and the vulture, and the hyaena, and the 
parasitical orders, are not what we would have 
made them : — it must be because the revelations of 
the microscope upturn our indoor-made theologies. 
Inasmuch as these animal portraits overleap in 
chronology the wrong theories and the national and 
temporary prejudices of antiquity, and seem to com- 
port better with modern scientific conceptions of the 
material system, so — and in a very striking manner 
— do the exordial portions of the same take on to 
/ our modern geology : — they do so in breadth or 
grasp of handling — in freedom of conception ; and 
especially in that looking back to the morning time 
of the universe which it has been the work of recent 
science to school us in. These utterances are in 
the mode of a personal consciousness that is older 
than the material framework of the creation : — they 
sound like the Creator's recollections of an eternity 
past ! If they contain no definite anticipations of 
the results of modern science, they are marvellously 
exempt from any approximate error, akin to the 
I misapprehensions of later times. It is as if He who 
framed the world out of nothing w^ould speak of His 

Hebrew Poetry, 147 

work to a certain limit, and not beyond it: — the 
truth is uttered ; but not the whole truth. 

The same style which bespeaks a personal con- 
sciousness, older than the material world, appears 
again as the mode proper to a consciousness that is 
as wide as the universe of stars. It is here as if 
the recollections of an era earlier than stellar 
time had brought with them the associated thought 
of the clustered glories of constellations that are in- 
finitely remote ; and thence, spanning the skies — of 
another, and another, and yet another, of the mil- 
lion groups of flaming worlds. Quick is this transit 
from era to era of eternity ; and quick is this transit 
from side to side of the celestial infinitude; and 
quick again is the descent thence to earth, whereupon 
Man is to be taught that which concerns himself 
— his place, and his welfare ! 

148 The Spirit of the 

Chapter IX. 


NEITHER the authorship of the Psalms— singly, 
nor their date — singly, comes within the limits 
of our subject; nor indeed, as already said, does 
any matter that is proper to textual criticism (unless 
it be incidentally) or to theological interpretation 
belong to our task. We are to find in these com- 
positions — the poetical element, and are to note the 
conditions which attach to it, where we find it. For 
securing these purposes it seems needful to distri- 
bute them into classes — clearly distinguishable as 
most of them are, on the ground of their style, their 
purport, and their apparent intention. 

The most obviously distinctive of these classes 
comprises those — they are of greater length than 
others — which recite the Hebrew history in its 
earlier acts and incidents ; and which, if regarded 
on the ground of ordinary national poetry, are re- 
markable for their manifest tendency to break down, 
or even to mortify, the national pride, and to keep 
the people in mind of their often-repeated defections 
and apostacies. Of this sort especially, and which 
may be named as a sample of this class, is the 106th 

Hebrew Poetry. 149 

Psalm. The recital of national offences begins with 
the penitential profession — " We have sinned with 
our fathers, we have committed iniquity, we have 
done wickedly ; " and its concluding stanzas (v. 
40 — 48) suggest the supposition — apart from any 
critical reasons — that this ode was of a late date — 
probably as late as the return of the people from 
Babylon. The reflective tone of this summary of 
national history gives the impression of a retrospect, 
from a point of view the most remote from the times 
spoken of. A congregational Psalm it manifestly 
is: — it supposes, in the people, a now-matured reli- 
gious feeling, abhorrent of idol- worship, and at 
length so thoroughly weaned from errors of that 
kind, as to treat them contemptuously. A Psalm of 
feeling and sentiment it is, metrical, but not poetical. 
Seventeen of the Psalms* may be classed together 
under this designation — as recitals of the national 
history, this being regarded always in its religious 
aspect, and always more for purposes of penitential 
humiliation than of glorification. And we note in 
all of them the absolute avoidance of certain ele- 
ments which, in national odes intended for popular 
use on festive occasions, is a circumstance full of sig- 
nificance. These wanting elements are what might 
promote sacerdotal^ or rather, hierarchical aggran- 
disement : — the despotic, and also the heroic style, or 
the idolization of the ancient warriors and saoes of 

* These seventeen Psalms are Pss. 44, 46, 60, 68, 74, 75, 76, 
78, 79, 80, 81, 83, 85, 105, 106, 126, 137. 

150 The Spirit of the 

the nation. In the loftiest and the purest sense these 
odes are theistic ; and so they are, whether the times 
be bright or dark. Look to the 44th Psalm, and to 
the 46th, which breathe the sublimity of a tranquil 
faith, rising above the storms of earth. The return 
of the soul is ever to its resting-place, as in Ps. 60 : 
" Give us help from trouble : for vain is the help of 
man." The 68th Psalm — if now we might imagine 
the scenes, the sounds, and the circumstances, 
when, under management of " the chief musician," 
the courts of the temple shook with its chorus, 
and the "great congregation," keeping holiday, 
joined their voices with the ministers around the 
altar, we should have, in sounds, in feeling, all 
that poetry and music combines, and the depths of 
religious awe have ever done, or might ever do, to 
exalt the spirit of man, and to carry popular emotion 
to the highest pitch. No wonder that, in recollec- 
tion of seasons such as these, the exiled wanderer in 
the wilderness should think " the tabernacles of God 
amiable," or that he should expend sighs in terms 
like these — " My soul longeth, yea even fainteth for 
the courts of the Lord : my heart and my flesh crieth 
out for the living God." — " A day in thy courts is 
better than a thousand" — spent in pavilions of luxury. 
No spot on earth was there then — none has there 
been since — that might claim comparison with that 
" Hill of the Lord" whereupon, under the blue 
vault of heaven, these national anthems were per- 
formed, and took effect with every aid of a composite 

Hebrew Poetry. 151 

musical system — with the harmony of instruments 
and voices — with the popular acclamation — with the 
visible adornments of the temple and its awful sacri- 
ficial rites. In our dull perfunctory recitations of 
these anthems of the Hebrew nation we quite fail to 
estimate what was their power, their majesty, and 
beauty, when and where they got utterance at the 
first. Nor can it be within the chill gloom of our 
Gothic cathedrals — let modern music and the organ 
do its best — that an idea can be formed of the com- 
mingled sublimities of that ancient worship — true in 
its theology — perfect in its metrical and its musical 
expressions — lofty, and yet reverential in its tone — 
humanising in its sentiments, and withal indigenous 
— homefelt — national — near to the heart and recol- 
lections of the worshippers : — a worship homogeneous, 
and which was especially in accordance with every 
belief and every sentiment of that age, and of that 
people. There is more in this last condition than 
we may have been used to suppose. Turn now for 
a moment to this 68th Psalm. 

Frigid, narrow, unrealizing is that exceptive 
criticism which fails to see and to feel the divine 
majesty — the super-human truth and greatness of 
that worship of which, in this instance, we have a 
sample. Along with these ascriptions of majesty, 
power, goodness, to God — the God of Israel — there 
are those pieties of the afifections of which no in- 
stances whatever are extant anywhere — out of the 
circuit of the Hebrew Scriptures. God is " a Father 

152 The Spirit of the 

of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows" — who 
also "setteth the solitary in families, and bringeth out 
those which are bound in chains." Verse, linked in 
with verse, are the images of power and majesty, 
wrought into one mass with ideas of beneficence and 
of mercy. 

The chariots of God — twenty thousand-thousands of angels. 
The Lord is among them (as in) Sinai, in the Holy. 
Thou hast ascended on high — 
Leading captivity captive : 
Thou hast received gifts for men ; 

Yea the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell 
(among them.) 

But now, in our modern recitations of this anthem, 
and of others of the same order, the flow of feeling 
is checked by the occurrence of expressions that run 
counter to, or that go far beyond, the range of our 
christianized sentiments. So it is here at the very 
start — " Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered." 
And afterwards — "The Lord shall bring his people 
from the depths of the sea — that thy foot maybe dipped 
in the blood of thine enemies ; and the tongue of thy 
dogs in the same." Undoubtedly we stay the course 
of our sympathies at points such as these ! It could 
only be at rare moments of national anguish and de- 
liverance that expressions of this order could be as- 
similated with modern feelings. What then should 
be our inference ? It should not be of the confused 
or compromising sort — taking what we approve — 
and rejecting this verse, or that verse ; nor should our 

Hebrew Poetry. 153 

inference be timid and pusillanimous, as if we were 
careful to shun some apprehended ill consequence ; 
our inference should not be drawn from a theology 
which is hypothetic — which is a mixture of our own 
abstract|notions, with Christian principles. These 
war-energies of the Hebrew mind, in a past time, 
were proper to the people, and to the age ; and would 
continue to be so until that revolution in religious 


feeling had been brought about which, in abating 
national enthusiasm, and in bringing immortality 
into the place of earthly welfare, gave a wholly new 
direction to every element of the moral system. 
Difficult indeed it may be — perhaps it is quite im- 
possible — for the modern mind, with its training, 
which has become to it a second nature, to go back 
to that " Hill of God," and to join in the loud ac- 
clamations of the people. Yet if we could do so, we 
should doubtless find that the battle-force of parts 
in the national worship did not in any way make 
discord with the loftiest and the purest religious 
emotions. We of this time are so schooled in ame- 
nities, we are so softened and sublimed, that a de- 
termined effort, which few of us can make, is needed 
for carrying us back to the place and era of these an- 
thems — full as they are of power, as well as of piety. 
Always is the martial mood tempered with humilia- 
ting recollections of national sins : — never is it ex- 
alted by any flattery of chiefs or kings : — never does 
this martial force seek to enhance itself (as has been 
its tendency always among other peoples) by ambi- 

154 The Spirit of the 

tious vauntings of conquests meditated — even for 
the spread of truth : the conversion of the heathen 
is never connected with conquests to be effected by 
the sword. Mahomet and his caliphs could find 
nothing in these anthems that would be available 
for the purposes of Islam. 

The intention of these national and historical 
poems, and their tone and spirit, are well seen in 
the 78th Psalm. The intention was — the religious 
education of the people, from the earliest childhood 
upward : the tone and spirit are such as could not 
fail to form the Hebrew mind to greatness, to depth 
and soberness of feeling, and to a profound con- 
sciousness of that Providential Government which 
fitted the people for other and higher purposes than 
those of national aggrandisement. This metrical 
summary of the people's history — majestic in its 
imagery, and musical (even in a translation) and so 
poised in its couplets and triplets as that little of 
change would be needed for bringing it under the 
conditions of rhythm, in any translation — would, in 
its own Hebrew, and to the Hebrew ear, commend 
itself at once as poetry, as music, and as devout 
sentiment. Such was its purpose. The wonders of 
the Divine Government from the remotest times 
were to be fixed in the memory of children's chil- 
dren to the end of time. 

Showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord, 
And his strength and his wonderful works that he hath done. 

Hebrew Poetry. 155 

These — thus trained, should in their turn teach 
them to — 

The children which should be born ; 

Who should arise, and declare them to their children : 

That they might set their hope in God, 

And not forget the works of God, 

But keep his commandments. 

The recitations that follow have all the same pur- 
port ; they are as from God — a remonstrance — a 
rebuke ; and yet such as gave assurance always to 
the contrite and obedient. If this poem be taken 
as an inauguration of the monarchy under David, 
then should we not note the archaic majesty, and 
the modesty of its closing verses ? The enemies of 
Israel had been discomfited, and put "to a perpetual 
reproach" — the monarchy was now established upon 
Zion — the city was adorned with palaces and 
strengthened with bulwarks, and thus peace was 
established by the arm, and under the rule of this 
David, whom God had chosen : — his servant, whom 
he had taken 

from the sheepfolds ; 

From following the ewes, great with young. 

He brought him to feed Jacob his people, 

And Israel his inheritance. 

So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart j 

And guided them by the skilfulness of his hands. 

It was the warrior David whose own arm had 
been the instrument of the victories which at length 
had given rest to the people, and had confirmed them 
in their hitherto precarious occupation of the land 

156 The Spirit of the 

assigned them. To the Poet-king this composition is 
attributed ; and if rightly so, then had he himself 
learned a religious humility which few indeed of 
his class — high born, or low born — have understood. 
But if there were reasons for assigning this Psalm to 
a bard of a later time (not that any such reasons are 
pretended) then this avoidance of the magnifying 
of a people's ancient heroes is the more noticeable, 
for it is an abstinence which, as it has no parallels in 
other national poetry, so does it find its explication 
only on that ground where the history of this one 
people can be exempt from contradictions — which 
is the ground of its supernatural attestations. 

Distinguishable from the above-mentioned are 
those of the Psalms — they may be reckoned as 
twenty* — which, looking at them apart from the 
guidance (if indeed it be guidance) of textual 
criticism, declare their own intention as anthems, 
adapted for that public w^orship which was the glory 
and delight of the Hebrew people ; — a worship car- 
rying with it the soul of the multitude by its simple 
majesty, and by the powers of music, brought, in 
their, utmost force, to recommend the devotions of 
earth in the hearing of Heaven. Take the last of 
the Psalms as a sample of this class, and bring the 
spectacle and the sounds into one, for the imagina- 
tion to rest in. It was evidently to subserve the 
purposes of music that these thirteen verses are put 

* The Psalms here referred to are these — 24, 47, 48, 87, 95, 
96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 108, 114, 117, 118, 122, 132, 134, 148, 
149, 150. 

Hebrew Poetry. 157 

together : it was, no doubt, to give effect first to the 
human voice, and then, to the alternations of in- 
struments — loud, and tender, and gay, with the 
graceful movements of the dance— that the anthem 
was composed, and its chorus brought out — 

Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord : 
Praise ye the Lord ! 

and so did the congregated thousands take up their 
part with a shout — "even as the noise of many 

It is but feebly, and as afar off, that the ancient 
liturgies (except so far as they merely copied their 
originals) came up to the majesty and the wide 
compass of the Hebrew worship, such as it is indi- 
cated in the 148th Psalm. Neither Ambrose, 
nor Gregory, nor the Greeks, have reached or ap- 
proached this level ; and in tempering the boldness 
of their originals by admixtures of what is more 
Christian-like and spiritual, the added elements sus- 
tain an injury which is not compensated by what 
they bring forward of a purer, or a less earthly kind : 
feeble indeed is the tone of those anthems of the 
ancient Church — sophisticated or artificial is their 
style. Nor would it be possible — it has never yet 
seemed so — to Christianize the Hebrew anthems — 
retaining their power, their earth-like richness, and 
their manifold splendours — which are the very splen- 
dours, and the true riches, and the grandeur of God's 
world -and withal attempered with expressions that 

158 The Spirit of the 

touch to the quick the warmest human sympathies. 

And as the enhancement of all there is the nationality ^ 

there is that fire which is sure to kindle fire in true 

human hearts — 

He showeth his word unto Jacob, 
His statutes and his judgments unto Israel. 
He hath not dealt so with any nation : 
As for his judgments they have not known them. 
Px-aise ye the Lord ! 

Nothing that mediaeval Gothic has achieved — 
nothing that modern music has efi'ected, can be suf- 
ficient for carrying the modern worshipper back to 
that place and age where and when these anthems 
" made glad the city of the Great King." As to the 
powers of Sacred Poetry, those powers were ex- 
panded to the full, and were quite expended too by 
the Hebrew bards. What are modern hymns but so 
many laborious attempts to put in a new form, that 
which, as it was done in the very best manner so 
many ages ago, can never be well done again — 
otherwise than in the way of a verbal repetition. 

About thirty-three Psalms might be brought to- 
gether, forming a class of odes which, although many 
or most of them probably, took their turn in the 
responsive services of the Temple, are less conspi- 
cuously liturgical, and have for their principal sub- 
ject the attributes of God — His wonders of power 
in the creation — His providence and bounty, and 
His riofhteous government of mankind.* As sam- 

* These Psalms of Adoration are the following — 8, 18, 19, 
20, 29, 33, 34, 49, 50, 65, 66, 67, 82, 86, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 

Hebrew Poetry. 159 

pies of this class we might take the 8th Psalm, and 
the 19th, the 29th, the 50th, the 65th, the 90th, and 
the 91st. In truth a selection of specimens of this 
class is not easily made, for every one of those named 
below might well stand as a representative of the 

With these brilliant poems before us, let us ima- 
gine the thirty-three, or we might now add to them 
the twenty anthems of public worship already 
named — fifty-three odes and anthems — printed by 
themselves, without note, comment, or any other 
literary or historical information connected with 
them, save this only — that in some mode of indubit- 
able transmission, these compositions had come into 
our hands from a remote antiquity, and that they 
were the only extant remains of a people, long 
since scattered and perished, concerning whose for- 
tunes, institutions, beliefs, manners, we could know 
nothing more than what might be gathered from the 
remains now in view. The reader who will give 
himself the pains to do so, must put far from his 
thoughts the entire mass of his Bible beliefs — all his 
recollections of the pulpit, and the desk, and of con- 
troversies, and of his own conclusions — thereto re- 
lated — whether they be orthodox or heterodox. 
Thus stripped of his modern self, let him read the 
65th Psalm, and let him open his heart, and mind 
too, to admit — the largeness of its intention — the 

104, 107, 111, 112, 113, 115, 121, 123, 125, 135, 136, 145, 
146, 147. 

160 The Spirit of the 

width of its look-out upon the world — the justness 
of its theism — if indeed a Creator is acknowledged, 
and if the Creator be good also — the warmth of its 
piety, and the gladsomeness of its temper, and the 
landscape freshness of its images ; and withal the 
preparation which is made in its exordium for the 
outpourings of a grateful piety, by the open con- 
fession of sin, and the deep consciousness of it as 
the reason of the Divine displeasure. This ode 
supposes — it connotes — an instituted congregational 
worship — a temple, a liturgy, and a teaching ! 

What then were these people — what their theology 
— what their ethics — what their history ? How can 
it have come about, or why, under the Providential 
Government of the world, that a people which was 
thus highly instructed — was thus immeasurably ad- 
vanced beyond any others of antiquity — should have 
fallen from their position, and have disappeared from 
the muster-roll of the nations — leaving no monu- 
ments of themselves — these odes only excepted, which 
have drifted down upon the deluge -surface of human 
affairs ? In its attempts to answer these, and such 
like questions, speculation might wander far, and 
find no conclusion ; but whatever might be our sur- 
mises, as to the catastrophes of such a people, or 
their apostacies, or the gradual decay among them 
of their pristine virtue, nothing could destroy the evi- 
dence which is here in our own hands, to this effect, 
that— on some spot on earth, and in some remote age, 
there was once a people fully possessed of the highest 

Hebrew Poetry. 161 

truths, and so possessed of these truths as to have 
assimilated them with its moral sentiments, and with 
its tastes also ; for its perceptions toward the visible 
world were alive to whatever is beautiful therein. 

If such a perusal — if such a digestion of this one 
ode brings into view, with the vividness of vision, this 
lost theistic nation — then go on to peruse the other 
fifty of this collection ; for these, in their different 
modes, will give evidence touching each leading 
principle of what we admit to be a true theology, 
and a true belief concerning the Creative Power, 
and a true belief in Providence, and the righteous 
government, and gracious administration of that 
Providence toward mankind, who are dealt with in 
their weakness, and their failings, and their sins. 
Vivid as these poems are, and full of force, and of 
feeling, and abounding as they do in allusions to the 
things of the time, it is not credible that they are 
mere inventions, which had no archetypes in the 
mind and usages of a people. This may not be 
thought. It is certain then that there has once been 
a people among the nations — there has been one 
among the millions of the worshippers of stocks 
— there has been one people — taught of God. 

The 90th Psalm might be cited as perhaps the 
most sublime of human compositions — the deepest 
in feeling — the loftiest in theologic conception — the 
most magnificent in its imagery. True is it in its 
report of human life — as troubled, transitory, and 
sinful. True in its conception of the Eternal — the 


162 The Spirit of the 

Sovereign and the Judge ; and yet the refuge and 

hope of men, who, notwithstanding the most severe 

trials of their faith, lose not their confidence in 

Him ; hut who, in the firmness of faith — pray for, 

as if they were predicting, a near-at-hand season of 

refreshment. Wrapped, one might say — in mystery, 

until the distant day of revelation should come, there 

is here conveyed the doctrine of Immortality ; for 

in this very plaint of the brevity of the life of man, 

and of the sadness of these, his few years of trouble, 

and their brevity, and their gloom, there is brought 

into contrast, the Divine immutability ; and yet it is 

in terms of a submissive piety : the thought of a life 

eternal is here in embryo. No taint is there in this 

Psalm of the pride and petulance — the half-uttered 

blasphemy — the malign disputing or arraignment of 

the justice or goodness of God, which have so often 

shed a venomous colour upon the language of those 

who have writhed in anguish, personal or relative. 

There are few probably among those who have passed 

through times of bitter and distracting woe, or who 

have stood — the helpless spectators of the miseries 

of others, that have not fallen into moods of mind 

violently in contrast with the devout and hopeful 

melancholy which breathes throughout this ode. 

Rightly attributed to the Hebrew Lawgiver or not, 

it bespeaks its remote antiquity, not merely by the 

majestic simplicity of its style, but negatively, by 

the entire avoidance of those sophisticated turns of 

thought whichbelong to a late— a lost age in a peoples 

Hebrew Poetry. 163 

intellectual and moral history. This Psalm, undoubt- 
edly, is centuries older than the moralizings of that 
time when the Jewish mind had listened to what it 
could never bring into a true assimilation with its own 
mind — the abstractions of the Greek Philosophy. 

With this one Psalm only in view — if it were re- 
quired of us to say, in brief, what we mean by the 
phrase — " The Spirit of the Hebrew Poetry " — we 
find our answer well condensed in this sample. This 
magnificent composition gives evidence, not merely 
as to the mental qualities of the writer, but as to 
the tastes and habitudes of the writer's contempo- 
raries, his hearers, and his readers ; on these several 
points — -Jirsty the free and customary command of 
a poetic diction, and its facile imagery ; so that 
whatever the poetic soul would utter, the poet's ma- 
terial is near at hand for his use. There is then 
that depth of feeling — mournful, reflective, and yet 
hopeful and trustful, apart from which poetry can 
win for itself no higher esteem than what we be- 
stow upon other decorative arts, which minister to 
the demands of luxurious sloth. There is, more- 
over, as we might say, underlaying this Poem, from 
the first line to the last, the substance of philosophic 
thought, apart from which, expressed or understood. 
Poetry is frivolous, and is not in harmony with the 
seriousness of human life : this Psalm is of a sort 
which Plato would have written, or Sophocles — if 
only the one or the other of these minds had pos- 
sessed a heaven-descended Theology. 

164 The Spirit of the 

This, then, Is our conclusion. — The Hebrew writ- 
ers as Poets — such a writer as was the author of 
this Psalm — were masters of all the means and the 
resources, the powers and the stores, of the loftiest 
poetry ; but the spirit of this poetry is, with them 
always, its instrumentality — its absolute subordina- 
tion and subserviency to a far loftier purpose than 
that which ever animates human genius. 

There is a small number of the Psalms, eleven 
only,* of which Psalms 37 and 73 might be named 
as samples. The tone of these odes is meditative and 
ethical : they represent those balancing thoughts 
by aid of which the pious, in comparing their own 
lot, such as often it is, with the lot of the ungodly, 
or with the outside show of that lot, bring their mind 
to an even balance, and restore its hopeful confidence 
in the Divine favour. These Psalms are metrical, 
indeed, but they are not poetical; although the 
terms employed are all figurative, and are some of 
them resplendent with a mild radiance, as pictures 
of earthly well-being under the favour of God, and, 
as to their domestic quality, they are peculiarly 
characteristic of the Hebrew social feeling, which 
was at once domestic — national — pacific. 

Behold, how good and pleasant (it is) 
For brethren to dwell together in unity. 

As if in rebuke of the turmoil, and the ambition, 
and the greediness of city life, the Hebrew bard 

* These Psalms are— 1, 15, 37, 53, 62, 73, 101, 127, 128, 
133, 139. 

Hebrew Poetry. 165 

commends rather the quiet enjoyments of the home 
life, and especially if home life be rural life also. 

Vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, 

To eat the bread of sorrows : 

So he giveth his beloved sleep. 

Lo, children are (the) heritage of the Lord : 

The fruit of the womb (his) reward. 

As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, 

So are sons of the youth (sons of early married life). 

Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them. 

They shall not be ashamed, 

But they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. 

There are here combined several elements of the 
Hebrew life, and more so still in the Psalm follow- 
ing — a song of degrees — a song in the chanting of 
which the fatigues of the annual journeyings to the 
House of the Lord were soothed. 

Happy is every one that feareth the Lord : 

That walks in His ways : 

The labour of thy hands thou shalt eat : 

It is well with thee — and (shall he) well with thee : 

Thy wife is a fruitful vine, in the inner house : 

Thy sons as olive plants round about thy table. 

Behold thus shall the man be blessed, 

Who fears the Lord. 

The Lord will bless thee out of Zion.* 

Thou shalt see the prosperity of Jerusalem all thy days. 

And see thy children's childi'en. 

Yea — peace upon Israel. 

These pictures are mild and bright : — humanizing 
are they in the best sense: — they retain certain ele- 
ments of Paradise ; — and yet more, the elements of 

* The meanincr of this line is found in Numbei's v, 22 — 27. 

166 The Spirit of the 

the Patriarchal era ; with the addition of that pa- 
triotism, and of that concentration in which the Pa- 
triarchal life was wanting. The happy religious man, 
after the Hebrew pattern, possessed those feelings 
and habitudes which, if they greatly prevail in a 
community, impart to it the strength of a combi- 
nation which is stronger than any other, uniting 
the force of domestic virtue, of rural (yeoman-like) 
agricultural occupations, of unaggressive defensive 
valour, and of a religious animation which is na- 
tional, as well as authentic and true. Our modern 
learning in oriental modes of life, and its circum- 
stance and scenery, may help us to bring into view 
either of two gay pictures— that of the Hebrew man 
in mid-life, at rest in his country home, with his 
sturdy sons about him : his wife is still young : her 
fair daughters are like cornices, sculptured as de- 
corations for a palace. Or else the companion pic- 
ture, with its group on their way Zion-ward, resting, 
for the sultry noon-hour, under the palms by the 
side of a stream ; — and yet home — happy home, is 
in the recollection of the party : but the Hill of 
God — " whereunto the tribes of the Lord go up" — 
is in the fervent purpose of all ; and while they rest 
they beguile the time with a sacred song, and with 
its soothing melody. Happy were the people while 
their mind was such as this, and such their habits, 
and such their piety ! and this was a piety which, 
along with true conceptions of God, was well used 
to those humbling meditations that give to the soul 
its calmness and its strength too — 

Hebrew Toetry. 167 

Lord, what is man that thou takest knowledge of him ! 
The son of the dying, that thou makest account of him ! 
Man — like to vanity! 
His days are as a flitting shadow ! 

In other Psalms of this class — as in the 73rd — 
the religious doctrine takes place of the earthly 
sentiment. The exceptional instance, namely, that 
of afflicted piety, is taken up and discussed; the 
sufferer narrates his own experience on this ground ; 
and yet he premises his conclusion, that, after all, 
the Hebrew principle holds good; for "truly, God is 
good to Israel, to such as are of a clean heart." In 
these compositions, feeling — piety — the truth of 
things, prevail over poetry ; nevertheless, they 
bring into view glimpses of modes of life upon which 
the modern imagination may dwell with sweet and 
soothing satisfaction. 

The class next to be named includes many of the 
Psalms (thirty, or more),* and they are not easily 
grouped under a fitting designation which may be 
applicable to all of them. They are individual and 
personal — not congregational — not liturgical. They 
are expressive of those alternations of anguish, dis- 
may, hope, trust, indignation, or even of deeper re- 
sentments, which agitate the soul of one whose lot is 
cast among the malignant, the cruel, the unreason- 
able ; or, in a word, the dwellers in Mesech— the un- 
godly. These Psalms, or most of them, are David's 

* The Psalms of this class are— 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 
14, 17, 21, 35, 36, 41, 52, 54, 55, 56, 58, 59, 64, 77, 94, 109, 
120, 124, 129, 140, 144. 

168 Tlie Spirit of the 

own, and they are to be interpreted severally, by aid 
of his history, in its earlier part especially. Neither 
with this history, nor with the quality of the emotions 
that give an impassioned tone to these compositions, 
are we here directly concerned. Fully to realize 
circumstances and states of mind, such as are here 
brought into view, we — in these easy times — must 
travel far away from the secure and tranquil meadow 
lands of ordinary life. But there have been tens of 
thousands, in ages past, who have trodden the rugged 
heaven-ward road, and have found it to be a way, 
not merely thorny and flinty to the foot, but beset 
with terrors ; for spiteful and remorseless men have 
couched beside this narrow way, and have rendered 
it terrible to the pilgrim : — a path of anguish and of 
many fears it has been. In our drowsy repetitions 
of these Psalms — cushioned as we are, upon the safe 
luxuries of modern life, we fail to understand these 
outcries from the martyrs' field. 

O Lord, the God of vengeance — 
O God, the God of vengeance, shine forth. 
Rise up, thou Judge of the earth ; 
Recompense a reward to the proud ! 

Let only such times return upon us, as have been 
of more frequency than are these times of ease, in 
the history of the Church, and we should quickly 
know how to understand a Psalm such as the 94th. 
Christian men and women, when they are called, in 
like manner, to suffer, are required to pay respect to 
a rule of suffering which is many centuries later than 

Hebrew Poetry. 169 

the time of David, but which, although it is indeed a 
higher rule, does not bring under blame the natural, 
and the religious emotions that were proper to the 
earlier dispensation. The Christian Rule which en- 
joins an unresisting endurance of wrong, and a 
Christ-like patience, would not stand, as it does, in 
bold relief upon the ground of universal morality, 
if it were opposed only to those malign and revenge- 
ful emotions which prompt the persecutor. The 
Christian martyr's rule is declared to be an ex- 
ceptional rule, and it bespeaks its intention, as a 
testimony sealed in blood, in behalf of the hope of 
eternal life, in this very way, that it takes position 
as the antithesis, not the contradiction, of those 
emotions which, in themselves, and apart from a 
peculiar purpose, are not only natural, but are 
virtuous and religious. When the Christian martyr 
suffers wrong to the death — in silence, or is 
triumphant at the stake, it is because he is looking 
for " a better resurrection" — a crown of immor- 
tality : it is, therefore, and it is on this newly- 
opened ground, that he forgoes rightful indigna- 
tion — that he represses the instincts of resentment 
— that he abstains from imprecations — that he will 
not, no, even in the utmost severity of anguish — on 
the rack or' in the fire, call upon God — the God of 
vengeance, to render a reward to the proud and the 
cruel. It is in thought of the life eternal, and of 
the judgment to come, that the Christian martyr 
abstains from consoling himself in the prospect of 

]70 The Spirit of the 

that time when his God shall bring upon his 
enemies " their own iniquity, and shall cut them off 
in their own wickedness/' 

There is apt to be much misunderstanding on 
this ground, and a consequent confusion of thought, 
on the part of Christian advocates, has thrown an 
advantage into the hands of those whose aim it has 
been to impugn the morality of the Hebrew Scrip- 
tures. The subject, although incidental only to the 
purport of this volume, comes just now in our path, 
and it may claim a page. We do not interfere, at 
all, with what may rightfully be affirmed concern- 
ing the predictive import of the imprecatory Psalms ; 
for that is a subject which belongs to the theological 
Biblical Commentator. In these pages we are re- 
garding these compositions from our standing on a 
lower level : looked at from this point of view, then 
there is seen to be shed upon the field of Christian 
martyrdom, a splendour — full of the glories of that 
upper world in the triumphs of which the martyr 
aspires to take his part. There could be no need 
of martyrdoms for bearing a testimony against dark, 
foul, inhuman, sanguinary passions ; inasmuch as 
these receive their proper rebuke in the conduct of 
the virtuous, and the pious, who admit, and who give a 
governed expression to, rightful and religious resent- 
ments, even to those emotions of anger, and to those 
appeals to sovereign justice, which are true elements 
of human nature, and which, in ftict, have in them 
so irresistible an energy, that they overbear all 

Hebrew Poetry. 171 

contradiction, unless it spring from motives of an- 
other order. 

The slow and insensible advancement of Christian 
motives has brought on a transfusion of the passive 
martyr doctrine into the ethics of common life. It 
is thus that we have come to read what are called 
the Imprecatory Psalms ; — and then, so reading 
them, we are perplexed in attempting to assimilate 
them to the Christian rule of non-resistance ; which 
rule in truth, we talk of, more than we practise it. 
Human nature, in \i^ primary constitution, is entirely 
such as these very Psalms suppose it to be ; nor is 
this structure of the emotions to be any way repro- 
bated ; — far from it — it is God's own work. As in 
relation to the vindictive passions, so in relation to 
other forces of human nature, the Gospel comes in — • 
on exceptive occasions, and supervenes their opera- 
tion : with a crown imperishable in view, it bridles 
the energies of this present life, and asks a sacrifice 
of the body and of the soul.*' 

It is against the abounding impiety, cruelty, 
wrongfulness, falseness, craftiness of the men of his 
times, that the writer — or writers — of these Psalms 
makes his passionate, or his mournful appeal to the 
righteousness of Heaven. His confidence in the 
issue of the Divine Government takes its spring, and 
receives its force, from the vivacity of his own emo- 
tions of disapproval and of resentment too : — the one 
energy, that of faith, sustains itself upon the other 

* See Note. 

172 The Spirit of the 

energy, that of natural feeling : remove or weaken 
the one, and then the other is enfeebled, in propor- 
tion. This balancing of the one force, by the other 
force, must have place, unless motives derived from 
a higher level were brought in to take the place, and 
to do the office of the w«^wr^/ emotions of resentment. 
For a substitution of this kind the time was not yet 
come : — long centuries were yet to run themselves 
out before this revolution was to be effected. Never- 
theless, inasmuch as there was to be nothing in the 
later economy which had not been predictively sha- 
dowed forth in the older economy, there appears, in 
several of these denunciatory and vengeance fraught 
Psalms, a glimmer, and more than a glimmer, of 
that light of life which was at length to bring the 
servants of God into a wholly new relationship to- 
ward persecutors, and the doers of wrong. These 
gleams of light from a brighter world give to several 
of the Psalms something of the poetic tone in which 
otherwise they are wanting. 

We may take as an instance of this anticipated 
Christian sentiment, an expression such as the fol- 
lowing, — the meaning of which scarcely comes to the 
surface in our English version. 

For {on account of) the oppression of the poor : for the out- 
cry of the destitute, 

Now will I arise, saith Jehovah : 

I will put him in safety from him that would entrap him : 

Thou shalt preserve them (take them outfroin) this genera- 
tion, for the age to come {tke hidden future). 

Or more distinctly in the closing verse of the 17th 

Hebrew Poetry. 173 

Psalm. Notwithstanding the short triumph of those 
who have their portion in this life, the servant of God 
is comforted in prospect of a life future. 

As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness : 
I shall be content, when I awake in thy likeness. 

The still clearer revelation contained in the 16th 
Psalm might demand distinct notice under another 
head. Of the same import are these verses (of Psalm 

They (the servants of God) shall be abundantly satisfied 

With the fatness of thy House ; 

And (for) thou shalt make them drink 

Of the river of thy pleasures. 

For with thee is the fountain of life. 

In thy light shall we see light. 

To take account of those of the Psalms which have 
most distinctly a predictive meaning, and which are 
prophecies of the Messiah, would not consist, on any- 
ground, with the intention of these pages : — a due 
consideration of them involves what is proper to 
Biblical Criticism, to Biblical Exposition, and also 
to Christian Theology. Among such Psalms are to 
be reckoned, without doubt, the second, the sixteenth, 
the twenty-second, the forty-fifth, the seventy-second, 
and the hundred and tenth. 

The class which is the most numerous comprises 
thirty-five, or, it may be, forty Psalms.* Of this 

* The Psalms referred to are these— 6, 16, 17, 23, 25, 26, 27, 
28, 30, 31, 32, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 51, 57, 61, 63, 69, 70, 71, 
84, 88, 102, 103, 116, 119, 130, 131, 138, 141, 142, 143. 

174 The Spirit of the 

number these might be taken as samples of the rest ; 
namely, the forty-second Psalm, the sixty-third, and 
the eighty-fourth. 

Several of these odes bring to view what have al- 
ready been named as characteristic elements of the 
other classes ; especially that of the often-recurrent 
denunciation of the wickedness of the wicked — the 
persecutor, and the impious man — who is the enemy 
of God, and of His faithful servants, as well as the 
despoiler of the helpless, the widow, and the father- 
less. But passages of this order occupy a less con- 
spicuous place in the Psalms now referred to, and 
are incidental to the principal intention of them. 
This principal intention is — whatever relates to indi- 
vidual piety, and the experiences of the spiritual life. 
In these devotional compositions the soul, with its 
own spiritual welfare immediately in view — its inti- 
mate emotions of love, trust, hope, humiliation, sor- 
row, joy — spreads itself out, as toward God, com- 
munion with whom, on terms of filial affection is, in its 
esteem, a blessedness rather to be chosen than all the 
goods of the present life — a greater treasure is it than 
" thousands of gold and silver." The key to these 
compositions is this settled preference of the welfare, 
the health, of the soul, as compared with any worldly 
and sensual enjoyments. It is this fixed purpose of 
the heart which determines the conduct ; it is this 
which sheds a glow upon a lot of destitution, bodily 
suffering, or persecution : — it is this, and not any ex- 
panded, or distinctly uttere 1 hope of immortality, 

Hebrew Poetry. 175 

which sustains the wounded spirit, imparting strength 
and courage to the broken in heart. And it is this 
preference which gives its charm to the public worship 
of God. Witness the eighty-fourth Psalm, a better 
version of which than that of the English Bible is 
much to be desired. 

The prevailing feeling — the ruling sentiment of 
these Psalms may be shown in sample, in passages 
such as this. 

Many say — who will show us good ? 

Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. 

Thou hast put gladness in my heart, 

More than in the time their corn and their wine increased. 

I will both lay me down in peace and sleep ; 

For thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety. 

Or in the impassioned utterances of the forty- 
second, or, still more strikingly so, in the sixty-third 

O God, thou art my God ; early will I seek thee. 

These two odes, by the beauty and fitness of the 
imagery, and the warmth and tenderness of the emo- 
tions expressed in them, stand as exceptive instances 
to the rule that Poetry, throughout the Psalms, is 
inversely as the Piety to which they give utterance : 
or we should say— the piety of individual feeling. 
It is otherwise with what may be called congrega- 
tional, or collective piety ; for the anthems already 
spoken of are many of them in the highest sense 

176 The Spirit of the 

There is another rule which presents itself, in look- 
ing to the verbal structure of these devotional 
Psalms — those especially which have the most deci- 
sively an individual meaning ; — it is this — That the 
composition submits itself, in a more formal manner 
than in other instances, to metrical and arbitrary 
conditions — as to apposition of verses, in twos, in 
threes ; and also, by obeying the rule of alliteration. 
Take the 11 9th Psalm as an instance. In every age 
has this Psalm met the requirements of individual 
piety : it has been a chosen portion of Scripture, to 
spiritually minded persons. Never wearied by its 
repetitions, or its apparent redundancies, each verse 
has given direction anew to pious meditation — each 
verse has supplied its aliment of devout feeling. 
Fraught throughout with religious feeling, and want- 
ing, almost absolutely, in Poetry, it stands before us 
as a sample of conformity to metrical limitations* 
In the strictest sense this composition is conditioned ; 
nevertheless, in the highest sense is it an utterance of 
the spiritual life ; and in thus finding these seemingly 
opposed elements intimately commingled, as they 
are, throughout this Psalm, a lesson full of meaning 
is silently conveyed to those who will receive it — that 
the conveyance of the things of God to the human 
spirit is in no way damaged or impeded, much less 
is it deflected or vitiated, by its subjugation to those 
modes of utterance which most of all bespeak their 

* See Note. 

Hebrew Poetry. 177 

adaptation to the infirmity and the childlike capacity 
of the recipient. 

This same 11 9th Psalm opens also a subject which 
might well engage careful consideration. Some of 
the Psalms just above referred to contain allusions, 
not obscure, to that better world— that " more endur- 
ing substance" — that "inheritance unfailing," upon 
which the pious in all times have kept the eye of 
faith steadily fixed. But now in all the 176 couplets 
of this Psalm there are not more than two or three 
phrases, and these of ambiguous meaning, which can 
be understood as having reference to the future life, 
and its blessedness : and so it is in other Psalms of 
this same class. One such expression, susceptible 
of an extended meaning, there is in the 23rd Psalm : 
none in the 25th, nor in the 30th, where it might 
naturally be looked for, nor in the 32nd, the 42nd, the 
63rd, the 84th, the 103rd ; and these are the Psalms 
which might be singled out from the class they be- 
long to, as samples of the deepest utterings, the most 
intense yearnings, of individual devotion— the lovino- 
communion of the soul with God. Can any expla- 
nation be given of this apparent defectiveness, in the 
instances adduced, which seem to demand the very 
element that is not found in them ? 

We are not called to seek for an explication of this 
difficulty among groundless conjectures concerning 
what might be the Divine intention, in thus hold- 
ing back from these devotional odes the element 
which might seem the most eminently proper to find 


178 The Spirit of the 

a place among them : what we have before us is 
the incontestable fact, that these Psalms — and these 
by preference — have actually fed the piety of the 
pious — have sufficed for giving utterance to the 
deepest and most animated religious emotions, 
throughout all time, since their first promulgation ; 
and it has been as much so since the time of the 
Christian announcement of immortality, as before it ; 
we might say, much more so. During all these ages, 
these many generations of men who have sought and 
found their happiness in communion with God, there 
has been in use, by the Divine appointment, a liturgy 
of the individual spiritual life, which, abstinent of 
the excitements of immortal hope — unmindful of, al- 
most, as if ignorant of, the bright future, takes its 
circuit, and finds its occasions, in and among the sad 
and changeful and transient experiences of the 
present life. Here is before us a daily ritual of fer- 
vent, impassioned devotion, which, far from being of 
an abstracted or mystical sort, is acutely sensitive 
towards all things of the passing moment. This me- 
trical service of daily prayer, praise, intercession, 
trust, hope, contrition, revolves within the circle of 
the every-day pains, fears, and solaces, of the reli- 
gious man's earthly pilgrimage. Pilgrimage it is, 
for the devout man calls himself " a stranger, a so- 
journer on earth ;" and yet the land whereunto he is 
tending does not in any such manner fill a place 
in his thoughts, as that it should find a place in 
the language of his devotions ! 

Hebrew Poetry. 179 

What is the inference that is properly derivable 
from these facts? Is it not this, that the train- 
ing or disciplme of the soul in the spiritual life— the 
forming and the strengthening of those habits of 
trust, confidence, love, penitence, which are the pre- 
parations of the soul for its futurity in a brighter world 
— demands a concentration of the affections upon 
the Infinite Excellence — undisturbed by objects of 
another order ? If this be a proper conclusion, then 
we find in it a correspondent principle in the absti- 
nence, throughout the Christian Scriptures, of de- 
scriptive exhibitions of the " inheritance" that is pro- 
mised. The eternal life is indeed authentically pro- 
pounded ; but the promise is not opened out in any 
such manner as shall make meditation upon it easy. 
Pious earnestness presses forward on a path that is 
well assured ; but on this path the imagination is not 
invited to follow. The same purpose here again 
presents itself to notice — a purpose of culture, not 
of excitement. 

There can be little risk of error in affirming that 
the New Testament itself furnishes no liturgy of 
devotion, for this reason that a liturgy, divinely ori- 
ginated, had already been granted to the universal 
Church ; and it was such in its subjects, and in its 
tone, and in its modes of expression, as fully to satisfy 
its destined purposes. Devout spirits, from age to 
age of these later times, since " light and immortality 
were brought to light," have known how to blend 
with the liturgy of David the promises of Christ : 

180 The Spirit of the 

these latter distinguished from those long before 
granted to Patriarchs and Prophets, more by their 
authoritative style, and their explicit brevity, than 
by any amplifications which might satisfy religious 

Hebrew Poetry. 181 

Chapter X. 


IN search, as we now are, of the Poetry of the 
Hebrew writings, and of that only, two infer- 
ences are unquestionable — namely, first, that on 
this ground the " Song of Songs" possesses a very 
peculiar claim to be spoken of ; and secondly, that, 
inasmuch as the alleged religious or spiritual mean- 
ing of these beautiful idyls must be made to rest 
upon considerations quite foreign to any indications 
of such a meaning, found in themselves, we might 
abstain from taking any note of this — their super- 
induced spiritual significance. We might stand 
excused from asking any questions thereto relating ; 
nor need we perplex ourselves with difliculties there- 
with connected ; and might think ourselves free to 
abstain from any expression of opinion upon a ques- 
tion which belongs so entirely to the theological ex- 
positor. Yet, although it be so, there may be rea- 
sons sufficient for adverting to this very instance — 
quite peculiar as it is, and illustrative as it is, of 
what was affirmed at the outset, concerning the re- 
lation of the Divine element toward the human ele- 
ment in the canonical Scriptures. 

182 The Spirit of the 

Just now we are proposing to look at these ec- 
logues as remarkable samples of the poetry of the 
Hebrews, in this class : — and in no other light. 

By themselves they deserve to be considered on 
the ground of their striking unlikeness to the mass 
of the Hebrew literature ; — one other book of the 
Canon — the book of Esther, stands on the same 
ground of negative theistic import. In neither of 
these compositions does the Divine Name so much 
as once occur : in neither of them does there occur 
a single religious or spiritual sentiment of any 
kind : — the one — so far as appears on the surface of 
it — is as purely amatory, as the other is purely na- 
tional — Jewish — political. Yet this absence of the 
religious element is not the only, nor, indeed, is it 
the principal distinction which sets the Canticles in 
contrast with the other constituents of the Old Tes- 
tament. These all, as we have already said (Chap- 
ter n.) exhibit a religious intention, which is so 
constant, and is of such force, as to prevail over what 
might have been the impulses of the individual wri- 
ter's genius. Poet as he may be by constitution of 
mind, and using freely for his purpose the materials 
and the symbols of poetry, yet he is never the poet- 
artist : — he is never found to be devising and exe- 
cuting, in the best manner, a work of art : — he is 
never the workman who has in view the tastes, 
wishes, and commands, of those for whom he writes. 

It is on this ground, as much as upon that of the 
avoidance of religious expressions, or of moral sen- 

Hebrew Poetry. 183 

timents, that the " Song of Songs" stands quite alone 
in the " goodly fellowship of the prophets." These 
Canticles are compositions, apparently on a level 
with compositions the purpose of which is only that of 
providing delectation for the reader. The author of 
the Canticles has done, in his way, what Theocritus 
and Hafiz have done — each in his way. This is 
w^hat must be said — reading what we read, apart 
from an hypothesis which sustains itself altogether 
on other grounds. 

Thus regarded, and thus brought forward to 
stand in a light of contrast with the mass of the 
Hebrew Scriptures, these delicious compositions 
carry us back, in imagination, to, or towards^ that 
primaeval hour of human history, a tradition of 
which is (as we have said) the very germ, or inner 
reason of all poetry. The author — and we need 
not doubt it — Solomon — the monarch of an era of 
peace, and of plenary terrestrial good, breaks away, 
as if from underneath the thick clouds and storms 
of centuries past : — he leaves behind him even the 
tranquil patriarchal ages : — he draws near to that 
first garden of love, and of flowers, and of singing- 
birds, and of all sensuous delights — even to the para- 
dise of innocence : — he looks along the flowery alleys 
of that garden : — he finds his subject there, and his 
images ; and yet not entirely so ; for he takes up the 
paradisaical elements in part ; and with these he 
minorles elements of another order. Himself lord of 
a palace, and yet ahve to the better delights, and 

184 The Spirit of the 

the simple conditions of rural life, be is fain to 
bring love and flowery fields into unison with luxu- 
rious babits. In song, tbis may be done ; in reality, 
never. Tbe Canticle is therefore a poem : it is an 
artistic work, because it brings into combination 
those ingredients of an imaginary felicity for which 
earth has no place. 

Yet is this poem quite true to nature, if only man 
were innocent, and if woman were loving only, and 
lovely always. The truthfulness of the work is 
found in that primaeval alliance of love and nature, 
— of love and rural life — which imparts to the 
warmest of emotions its simplicity and its purity — 
its health fulness, and to the rural taste, its animation 
and its vividness of enjoyment. Upon this associa- 
tion human nature was at the first constructed ; and 
toward it will human nature ever be tending. Love, 
and fields, and flowers, and the trim graces of the 
garden, and the free charms of the open country, and 
the breathing hill-side, and the sparkling stream, are 
— what they severally may be — as ingredients of hu- 
man felicity, when they are found together. How^ far 
they may go tow ard realizing earthly well-being has 
been known to many who have been the contented 
dwellers beneath a thatched roof, and whose para- 
dise was a rood or tw^o of land, hedged ofi^ from a 
cornfield or meadow. 

If a half-dozen heedlessly rendered passages of 
our English version were amended, as easily they 
might be, then the Canticle would well consist, 

Hebrew Poetry. 185 

throughout, with the purest utterances of conjugal 
fondness. Happy would any people be among 
whom there was an abounding of that conjugal fond- 
ness which might thus express itself. A social con- 
dition of this kind is — or it would be — at once the 
opposite of licentiousness, and its exclusion, and its 
proper remedy ; yet it must rest upon sentiments 
and usages far less factitious than are those of mo- 
dern European city life : marriage, entered upon 
early enough to secure for itself the bloom of 
the affections, on both sides ; and so early as to 
have precluded the withering and the weltering of 
loving hearts that once were warm, pure, and capa- 
ble of an entire abnegation of the individual selfism. 
Where, and when, shall the social system return 
upon its path, and become healthful, and bright, 
with warm emotions, and content with the modest 
sufficiency of rural life ! Who would not willingly 
accept for himself the lot of the lover-husband — first 
out in the moist morning of May, in this climate of 
ours, and who thus calls his love — his wife abroad — 

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away ; 

For lo, the winter is past, 

The rain is over — is gone ; 

The flowers appear on the earth, 

The time of the singing is come, 

And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land ; 

The fig-tree hath ripened her green figs ; 

And the vines — the tender grape — give fragrance. 

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away ! 

Conjugal fondness, if true-hearted, will not make 

186 Tlie. Spirit of the 

it a condition of earthly happiness that it should be 
able to take its leisure in gardens of oriental fra- 
grance ; but will joyfully accept very much less than 
this : — 

A garden shut in — my sister — my spouse ; 

A spring shut up — a fountain sealed. 

Thy plants — an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant 

fruits ; 
Camphire, with spikenard — spikenard and saffron ; 
Calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense ; 
Myrrh and aloes, with all chief spices : 
A fountain — gardens — a well of living waters, 
And streams from Lebanon. 

Albeit we, of a latitude so high, dare not go on, and 
say, in our early spring — 

Awake, O north wind ; and come, thou south ; 

Blow upon my garden, 

The spices thereof to flow out. 

But the later summer time has come when the 
loving wife takes up the invitation : — ■ 

Let my beloved come into his garden, 
And eat his pleasant fruits. 

And he replies : — 

I am come into my garden, my sister — spouse : 
I have gathered my myrrh with my spice ; 
I (rmll) eat my honeycomb with my honey ; 
I (wiH) drink my wine with my milk. 

Although the allusions in these poems are to rural 
scenes, and also to the incidents of shepherd-life, 

Hebrew Poetry. 187 

there is nothing — there is not a taint of rusticity ; — 
there is no coarseness — nothing of the homeliness of 
the Sicilian cattle-keepers * — nothing of the factiti- 
ousness, the affectation, of Virgil's Eclogues. The 
persons speak at the impulse of real and passionate 
emotions ; but, in the utterance of these genuine and 
fond affections, there is always elegance, and there 
are the ornate habitudes of an advanced oriental 
civilization. There is also the genuine and inimi- 
table oriental self-possession, and the consciousness of 
personal dignity: in these love -dialogues, and in 
these fond soliloquies, there is everything that may 
be permitted to amorous endearment ; yet there is 
no taint of licentiousness : — these are the loves of 
the pure in heart. An indication at once of simpli- 
city and of the refinement of tastes, and of purity of 
temperament in both lovers, appears at every turn 
of this abrupt composition : for ever and again is 
there the commingling of the language of tender 
fondness with the sense of the beauty and sweetness 
of nature — the field, the vineyard, the garden, the 
flowers, the perfumes, the fruits, are not out of sight, 
from hour to hour, of these pastimes of love. 

My beloved is gone down into his garden, 
To the beds of spices, 

To feed-f in the gardens, and to gather lilies. 
I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine : 
He feedeth among the lilies. 

* See Note. 

t Not, to eat ; but, Troi/xatvitv iv mTton;. 

188 7 he Spirit of the 

Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field, 

Let us lodge in the hamlets. 

Let us get up early to the vineyards ; 

Let us see if the vines flourish, 

Whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates 

bud forth. 
There w^ill I give thee my loves. 
The mandrakes give a smell, 
And at our gates all kinds of pleasant (fruits) new and 

I have laid up for thee, O my beloved. 

Fervid fondness, tenderness, and elegance — and it 
is an elegance which is peculiarly oriental, and which 
the western races with their refinements have never 
realized — attach to, and are characteristic of, these 
Canticles ; and the spirit of them brings to view, at 
every pause, at every strophe, whatever is the most 
bright and graceful in nature ; and it is in this same 
style that the enamoured one ends her plaints ; for 
this is the last challenge of her love : — 

Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe, 
Or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices. 

The reason is not obvious why there should be no 
allusion, of any sort, in these pastorals — these songs 
of love, to music — vocal, or instrumental. Music 
elsewhere has ever done its part in soothing, and in 
refining emotions of this order ; why, then, is it 
absent from these eclogues? Not because music 
had not, in that age, and long before, taken its place 
— and a chief place— among those means of enjoy- 

Hebrew Poetry. 189 

ment which exalt human nature. This is abundantly 
certain, apart from the explicit affirmation of the 
royal preacher, " I gat me men-singers and women- 
singers, and the delights of the sons of men — musical 
instruments, and that of all sorts." Why, then, is 
there not heard in these songs the soft breathings 
of the flute, or the chimes of the lyre or harp, 
so proper to the fragrant bowers where the royal 
bridegroom, and his love, spend their summer 
hours? Unless it should appear that the passage 
just now cited from the book of Ecclesiastes carries 
with it the weight of historical authority to the con- 
trary,* it might be conjectured that, in the age of 
David and Solomon, and perhaps until a late period 
of the Israelitish people, music, instrumental and 
vocal, still observant of its primaeval mood, and of 
its heavenly origin, reserved its powers, in trust, for 
religious purposes, and that to bring it into the 
service of emotions of a lower order would have 
been deemed a sacrilege, and would grievously have 
offended the sense of religious propriety. Might it 
not be so at a time when the dance was a conse- 
crated pleasure, and when, on the most solemn oc- 
casions, persons of the highest rank, leaping and 
moving at the bidding of the cymbal and pipe (and 
probably the fiddle) took their part in these devout 
festivities? Oriental were these outbreakings of 
animated religious feeling; and they were ante- 
Christian too ; for Christianity, in setting the religious 

* See Note. 

190 The Spirit of the 

emotions at a far loftier pitch, and in connecting all 
such emotions with thoughts of an awful futurity, 
and in combining them with the dread infinitude of 
the unseen world, has imposed upon sacred music a 
character which it had not at the first ; and which 
did not belong to it till some while after the age 
when the martyr Church, with its torrents of faithful 
blood, and its tortures, and its desolations, had come 
in to shed a sombre glory even upon the brightest 
prospects of immortality : thenceforward Church- 
music, wholly changed in its tones, was the music of 
low plaintive voices, and of the Cecilian organ. 
Not such was it in those remote times when the 
very law and reason of piety rested upon, or allied 
itself with, conceptions of earthly well-being ; in 
that age the gayest music was held to be not the less 
sacred, because it was gay ; — but, then, the conse- 
quence was this — that the music of soft delights was 
a dedicated pleasure, and was not to be held at the 
service of human loves. 

Conjectures, more or less probable, are all that we 
can bring to bear upon this endeavour to show why 
music takes no part in these songs of love. Yet 
something more than conjecture we seem to need 
when we are endeavouring to find a probable reason 
for the more perplexing absence, throughout these 
poems, of the Divine Name, and of a religious senti- 
ment of any kind. An explanation of the problem 
is not supplied by the supposition that these songs 
of love belong to the dark period of Solomon's re- 

Hebrew Poetry. 191 

ligious apostacy, or of his guilty complicity in the 
polytheism of his wives ; for in that case there would 
not have failed to appear — at some turn of passion — 
a sudden, incidental allusion to the demon worships 
of the Harem : — there would have been visible some 
foul stain of lascivious rites. No mark, no blot of 
this kind anywhere blemishes the natural bright- 
ness of this poetry : a blemish of this sort would, 
undoubtedly, have sufficed for excluding the Canticle 
from the Hebrew Canon. 

Abstaining, as we do, from any argument which 
must be properly theological and expository, we now 
accept the (almost) unanimous belief of the Jewish 
doctors, and the (almost) unanimous concurrence 
therein of the Christian Church, concerning the 
Canticle ; on the ground of which belief it was ad- 
mitted into the canon of Scripture, and maintains 
its place there — that it is mythical throughout ; and 
has been divinely given to illustrate, or to teach, 
that which St. Paul affirms to be a truth, and " a 
great mystery." This granted, then it would follow 
that the purely mystical import of this sacred poem 
would be interfered with — would be quite damaged 
and broken up — by the introduction of any of those 
expressions of piety which are proper to the religious 
man, and the religious woman — representatives as 
these are of piety — in an unsymbolical sense. Ex- 
pressions of this order, whatever they might mean, 
have already been embraced within the range of the 
mythical import of the Poem. On the part of the 

192 The Spirit of the 

celestial Bridegroom, his regard toward his mystic 
bride comprehends all elements of religion, as pro- 
ceeding from the divine toward the human natm'e ; 
and, on the part of the mystic bride, her fond love 
to her Lord contains, or conveys, all elements of 
human devotion — adoration, praise, prayer, and 
yearning affection. There is nothing proper to 
fervent piety remaining as a residue that has not 
been included in these mythic utterances. If on 
this ground — hypothetic as it is — we touch the truth 
of the problem, then it is manifest that the language 
of unmythic piety would be utterly out of place, 
would be out of harmony, in this Canticle. Might 
not an argument in favour of the canonicity, and of 
the religious intention of this Poem be warrantably 
made to rest upon this very circumstance of the ab- 
sence, throughout it, of those religious expressions, 
the want of which has seemed to contravene the 
general belief of the Church concerning it ? 

Accepted, then, as a portion of inspired Scrip- 
ture, and regarded as fraught throughout with a 
religious meaning — mystically conveyed — then does 
the " Song of Songs" occupy the very front place 
among all other instances which might be adduced 
in exemplification of that coexistence of the divine 
and of the human elements in Scripture, an under- 
standing of which is always important, — and is, at 
this moment, peculiarly needed. 

In this instance — signal beyond comparison as it 
is — the Divine element subsists at a remote depth 

Heh7^ew Poetry. 193 

below the surface ; which surface might be passed 
over and trodden, by a thousand of the wayfarers of 
literature, with an utter unconsciousness of the 
wealth hidden beneath. Like is this divine riches 
to the " treasure hidden in a field," concerning 
which an intimation must first be granted to any 
one who, for the sake of it — if he knew it — would 
willingly sell all that he hath of this world's goods. 
This Poem, with its bright images of earthly delights 
— with its empassioned utterances of human fond- 
ness — its abandonment of soul, and its absorption of 
heart, and its emphasis of human love, if it had come 
down to modern times apart from all connection 
with a body of religious writings, would so have been 
read and admired, throughout all time ; nor would 
ever a surmise of any deeper purpose have sug- 
gested itself to the modern European reader. Such 
an interpretation — let us grant it — might have been 
caught at by oriental dervishes ; — for a simijar use 
is made by them, in the East, of similar materials. 
The inference duly derivable from an instance sa 
remarkable should be carefully noted, and it is of 
this sort : — 

That we ought not to open the Bible with any 
predetermined notions, as to those conditions within 
which the divine element, in Scripture, must be ex- 
pected to confine itself, in its connection with the 
human element, through which it conveys itself. 
On this unknown ground we must not theorise ; we 
must not speculate a 'priori ; for when we do this, 


194 The Spirit of the 

and as often, and as far, as we do it, we surround 
ourselves with occasions of offence, and we provide 
the materials of endless doubts and perplexities. On 
this ground we have everything to learn : — we have 
nothing to stipulate : we must postulate nothing ; 
we must quite abstain from the perilous endeavour 
to circumscribe the area within the limit of which, 
and not beyond it, the Divine Wisdom shall take its 
course in conveying to men the mysteries of the 
spiritual economy. 

It may be well to look distinctly at the instance 
now before us, and to gather from it in full the 
lesson which it suggests. The theological expositor, 
whether of the ancient Jewish Church, or of the 
early Christian Church, or of the modern Church, 
has accepted the " Song of Songs" as a divinely-in- 
spired myth, conveying the deepest and most sacred 
elements of the spiritual economy in the terms, and 
under the forms, of instinctive human feeling and 
passion. The exterior medium of this conveyance 
is so entire, so absolute, that, until the occult mean- 
ing of the poem has been suggested, or is declared 
on sufficient authority^ no reader would surmise it 
to be there. No religious person would have con- 
jectured as probable, the insertion of this poem 
within the compass of the inspired Scriptures. But 
it is tliere^ and not only is it there, but it has, if so 
we might speak, justified its presence in the canon 
by the undoubtedly religious purposes it has served, 
in giving animation, and depth, and intensity, and 

Hebrew Poetry, 195 

warrant too, to the devout meditations of thousands 
of the most devout, and of the purest minds. Those 
who have no consciousness of this kind, and whose 
feelings and notions are all "of the earth — earthy," 
will not fail to iSnd in this instance that which suits 
them, for purposes, sometimes of mockery, some- 
times of luxury, sometimes of disbelief. Quite un- 
conscious of these perversions, and happily ignorant 
of them, and unable to suppose them possible, there 
have been miultitudes of unearthly spirits to whom 
this — the most beautiful of pastorals, has been — not 
indeed a beautiful pastoral, but the choicest of those 
words of truth which are " sweeter than honey to 
the taste," and " rather to be chosen than thousands 
of gold and silver." 

196 TJie Spirit of the 

Chapter XI. 


TWO subjects, quite distinct and separable, pre- 
sent themselves for consideration when the 
" goodly fellowship of the Prophets " comes in 
view. The first of these subjects embraces what 
belongs of right to the function of the Biblical ex- 
positor, whose office it is to examine and illustrate, in 
series, those predictions which, in their fulfilment, 
give evidence of a divinely-imparted prescience as 
to future events. The second of these subjects 
has a less definite aspect ; for it has to do with 
that Prophetic mood — that hopeful, forward-looking 
habit, which is the prerogative, as it is the marked 
characteristic also, of the Hebrew prophetic writings, 
at large : it is so generally, although not in each 
instance, or in equal degrees in each of them ; but 
each, without exception, is true to great Theistic 
principles ; yet it is not all that display this far- 
seeing, and this world-wide anticipation of good 
things, on the remote horizon of the human des- 
tinies — the destinies, not of the one people, but of 
all nations. 

This benign hilarity — this kindly Catholicism — 

Hebrew Poetry. 197 

this glowing cosmopolitan prescience of a far-distant 
age of universal truth, righteousness, and peace, is 
indeed the prophetic glory, and its prerogative : it 
is the glory of the Hehrew poets — for poetry with- 
out hopefulness is inane and dead. On this ground 
these ancient Seers occupy a position where they 
have no competitors. On this ground they are, in 
a true sense, the masters of Modern Thought ; for it 
is they who have suggested, and who have supplied 
the text for, those forecastings of the destiny of the 
nations which, in these times especially, have been 
prevalent in the writings, not of divines merely, 
but of philosophers. We all, in these days of great 
movements, have learned to think hopefully of every 
philanthropic enterprise ; and our teachers in this 
line have been — the " goodly fellowship of the 

If it were required to mention a one feature 
which would be the most characteristic of our mo- 
dern modes of thinking, as contrasted with ancient 
classical modes of thinking, we should not find a 
better than this : — the philosophers, and the states- 
men, and the poets, and the orators, of classical 
antiquity, thought and spoke of the past ; and their 
look-out was contemporaneous only. But the phi- 
losophers, and the statesmen, and the poets, and the 
orators of modern Europe, although they are not 
unmindful of the past, and are occupied with the 
present, show — all of them — this diroKapadoicia — this 
"earnest expectation"— this hopeful faith in the 

198 The Spirit of the 

future — this never-to-be-baffled confidence in a yet 
coming morning time, and a noon too, for the 
nations — savage and civilized. Subjects apparently 
the most remote from the region of philanthropic 
enthusiasm — speculations the most thriftlike and dry 
—show this tendency to work themselves round to- 
wards this sunshine — the sunshine of universal well- 
being — industry — safety — peace — wealth, which is 
in store for every continent. It is so that the 
economist, in calculating next year's prices, ruled 
by the probable supply of indigo — of cotton — of 
tobacco — of sugar — of coffee — of tea, is quite likely 
to come near to the very subjects which, at the 
same moment, platform philanthropists are pro- 
pounding to crowded meetings : nay, it is likely 
that this same economist shall be working up, in 
his tables of imports, the very evidence that has 
lately been brought home by the wan Missionary 
from India, or from Africa. And so near, on this 
ground, do we often come to an actual collision, 
that the astute mercantile speculist shall be heard 
quoting the very man — who is quoting Isaiah ! 

This now established usage of the modern mind 
was never the usage of antiquity — Grecian or 
Roman. We owe this revolution, we owe this 
shifting about toward a better, and a brighter, and 
a hopeful futurity, mainly to the Hebrew Prophets. 
Certain luminous passages have been made use of — 
we might say — to jewel the machinery of modern 
society — especially in this country, and have, 

Hebrew Poetry. 199 

these seventy years past, been the centre-points 
of schemes of distant civilization ; and so it is 
that, at the very time when a nugatory criti- 
cism is questioning the superhuman prescience of 
this or that single prediction, in the Old Testa- 
ment, we are all of us in group — philanthropists 
— missionaries — ship-owners — dealers in merchan- 
dises of all sorts, we are all of us risking our 
lives — risking lives dear to us — risking our fortunes 
— we are sending out merchant navies, and are 
building mills, and are doing a half of all that is 
done in this busy world, on a belief that keeps itself 
alive by aid of those passages of far-looking bright- 
ness which illumine the pages of the Hebrew 
Scriptures ! 

This catholic mood of hopefulness has been de- 
rived much more from the Hebrew, than from the 
Christian Scriptures ; in truth, scarcely at all from 
these (as we shall have occasion to show). But with 
the Prophets, the future so governed them that they 
seem oblivious of those materials in their own 
archaic literature of which, if it had been at hand, 
in the same distinct and authentic form, the Poets 
of Greece would have made no sparing use. A 
phrase or two recollective of the golden paradise, or 
of the silvery patriarchal era, is all they can afford : — 
they were intent upon the future : — the brightness 
they thought of was that of an inheritance in re- 
version ; not that of a paradise lost. These Seers — 
or some of them — had been led up in spirit to the 

200 The Spirit of the 

summit of the Nebo of universal history ; tlie Socr 
had thence caught a ghmpse of ridges illumined in 
the remotest distance ; and the reflection rests now 
upon the pages of our Bibles. 

It is greatly this steadfast confidence in a bright 
future for all nations that gives unity and coherence 
to this series of Hebrew prophecy, and which blends 
into a mass the various materials of which it consists. 
It is this hope for the world that has welded into 
one the succession of the Old Testament writers. 
The Patriarch of the race received this very promise, 
that in him should all nations hereafter be made 
happy. David and the Psalmists take up this same 
large assurance, and say — " All nations whom Thou 
hast made shall come, and worship before Thee." 
Isaiah rests often upon this theme, and kindles as he 
expands it ; and one of the last of this company fore- 
sees the setting up of a kingdom which should have 
no end, and which should embrace " all people, 
nations, and languages." It is true that Palestine 
was always the Hebrew Prophet's foreground, and 
the Holy City his resting-place ; but he looked out 
beyond these near objects, and with the remoteness 
of place he connected the remoteness of time, and 
dwelt, with fervent aspirations, upon the promise of 
an age when, " from the rising of the sun to the 
going down of the same," the anthems of a universal 
worship shall ascend from earth to heaven. 

So far as the Israelitish people may be represented 
by the series of their writers, then it may be affirmed 

Hebrew Poetry. 201 

that these obdurate Hebrews — this stubborn repel- 
lant mass — this knot at the core among the nations, 
were, in fact, the most resolutely hopeful of all 
people, and beyond compare they were wont to look 
a-head toward the future. The Israelite — if the 
Prophet speaks in his name — was, notwithstanding 
his nationality, and his hot patriotism, the one man 
upon earth who entertained thoughts concerning a 
remote mundane renovation, and who anticipated a 
time of peace and truth and justice and good- will, 
for all men. The aucrust fathers of the Roman State 
were not more steadfast in hope for the republic, in 
seasons of dismay, than were the Hebrew people — if 
we are to gather their mood from their Prophets. 
This people was elastic in temper, and resolved, 
even when in the furnace of affliction, and when the 
feet were bleeding on the flints in exile, still to re- 
serve its inheritance in a remote futurity ; and this 
futurity embraced a wide area. Whatever the Jew 
of later times may have become, as the subject of 
centuries of insult and outrage, his ancestors of the 
prophetical era were well used to the hearing of 
passages that breathed, not only justice and mercy, 
but an unrestricted philanthropy. 

The Prophets, never forgetful of the prerogatives 
of the descendants of Abraham, and never relaxing 
their grasp of the land which had been granted in 
fee simple, and forever, to their race, give expression 
to sentiments which are quite unparallelled in classic 
literature. Broad hopes and generous wishes for 

202 The Spirit of the 

the world took a place also in the daily liturgies of 
the temple- worship ; and thus, in whatever manner 
passages of a different aspect might come to be re- 
conciled with these expressions, these stood as a 
permanent testimony, bearing witness on the behalf 
of universal good-will ; and thus did they avail to 
attemper the national mind. There may take place 
a balancing of influences — a counteraction of mo- 
tives, where there neither is, nor could be, a logical 
adjustment of the apparent contrariety of the two 
kinds of moral force. Intensely national were the 
Hebrew people — concentration w^as the rule ; but 
largeness of feeling co-existed therewith, and it did 
so, not as a rare exception ; and it has embodied 
itself in passages (as we have said) which have 
come to be the text and stimulants of modern 

If at this very time such an event might be sup- 
posed, as a final and formal abandonment of what- 
ever it is in the Hebrew prophetical writings that is 
predictive of the ultimate triumph of justice and 
benevolence, throughout the world, and of a happy 
issue of human affairs — if we were so resolved as to 
cut off the entail of hope, consigned to all nations in 
the Old Testament, we should quickly be brought 
into a mood of despair, and should learn to look in 
sullen apathy at those things which Hebrew Pro- 
phets regarded with healthful hope. Any such 
abnegation of good in the future would give a mor- 
tal chill to useful enthusiasm ; — it would be as a 

Hebrew Poetry. 203 

poison shed upon patriotism — confirming it in its 
selfishness^ and depriving it of its leaven of bene- 
volence. Such an excision of the predictive phi- 
lanthropy from our Bible would bring every self- 
denying and arduous enterprise for the benefit of 
others to a speedy end : it would be death, in a moral 
sense, to the teacher of the ignorant, and to the 
champion of the oppressed. When we shut off for- 
ever, from our modern civilization, the genial glow 
of the Hebrew predictive writings, we let in upon 
the nations — Atheism in matters of religion — Des- 
potism in politics — Sensuality, unbridled, in morals, 
and a dark despair for the poor and the helpless all 
the world over. 

An expectation of the ultimate triumph of justice 
and peace — an expectation unknown to classical an- 
tiquity — has operated as a yeast, leavening the mass 
of the modern social system, just so far as Bible- 
teaching has prevailed among any people. This ex- 
pectation has drawn its warrant from the prophetical 
books of the Old Testament ; and from these much 
rather than from the Christian Scriptures. It is a 
fact deserving notice, that the narrow and unphi- 
lanthropic, if not the misanthropic, mood — the sul- 
lenness which modern Judaism has assumed— has 
been contemporaneous with the rabbinical practice 
of excluding the Prophets from the ordinary routine 
of public worship in the synagogue ; while the 
books of Moses and portions of the Psalms, almost 
exclusively, have supplied the Sabbath lessons. 

204 The Spirit of the 

Whether or not the reasons usually alleged for this 
restricted use of the Hebrew Scriptures by the 
Jewish rabbis be the true reasons, it is certain 
that the consequence, as affecting the temper of the 
Jewish mind, must have been every way much to 
its disadvantage. The modern Jewish nation — 
the rabbis and the people alike — have known 
very little of those incandescent passages which 
we Christian Bible-readers listen to with never- 
failing delight. Christian philanthropy, whether 
wisely or unwisely developed in particular in- 
stances, undertakes its labours for the benefit of 
the wretched, or for the deliverance of the slave, in 
assured prospect of a reign of righteousness which 
shall bless the nations, when an Iron Sceptre shall 
be wielded by Him " w^ho shall spare the poor and 
needy, and shall save the souls of the needy ; and 
shall redeem their souls from deceit and violence, 
and in whose sight their blood shall be precious." 

It is on this very ground (a ground which they 
occupy alone) as prophets of good things for all 
nations — good things far off in the distance of ages, 
— that the claim of inspiration, in the fullest sense, 
may with peculiar advantage be affirmed and ar- 
gued. It is on this ground that the Old and New 
Testament Scriptures are seen to stand toward each 
other in their proper relationship, as constituents of 
the one scheme or system which was ordered and 
planned from the beginning of time, and which ex- 
tends to its close. Unless we thus believe the Hebrew 
Prophets to have been inspired of God, it will not be 

Hebrew Poetry. 205 

possible to show a reason for the avoidance of the 
same buoyant and hopeful style, as well in Christ's 
discourses and parables, as in the Apostolic epistles. 
If the question be this — Why has not Christ— or, 
why did not His ministers, predict a future golden 
age for the world at large ? — we find no answer that 
can easily be accepted, unless we take this — That 
the function of predicting the triumph of reason and 
of peace upon earth had been assigned to the pro- 
phets of the olden time, who have well acquitted 
themselves in this respect. How stands it in a com- 
parison of the older and the later Scriptures, on this 
very ground ? 

Promises addressed to the individual believer 
assuring to him his daily bread, and other things 
that are needful for this life, do occur in the Gos- 
pels, and also in the Epistles, and the Divine faith- 
fulness is pledged to this extent — " I will never leave 
thee — no, never forsake thee;" and the rule of Chris- 
tian contentment is thus conditioned, — " Having 
nourishment and shelter, let us therewith be con- 
tent." Not only are the ancient promises of 
earthly wealth, as the reward of individual piet}^, 
not reiterated in the New Testament, but there is 
an abstinence — most remarkable, as to any predic- 
tions of secular welfare for the nations of the world, 
and even as to the future universality of the Gospel : 
what we actually find has, for the most part, a con- 
trary meaning, and a sombre aspect. (The Apoca- 
lypse demands a distinct rule of exposition.) 

Throughout the ancient prophetical Scriptures 

206 The Spirit of the 

the rule is this : — The things of earth, religiously 
considered, are spoken of, such as they appear when 
seen from the level of earth, and under the daylight 
of the present life : the prophets speak of things 
" seen and temporal" — piously regarded. Through- 
out the Christian Scriptures the things of earth — 
the things " seen and temporal" — are again spoken 
of, and again they are religiously regarded as 
before ; but now it is as they appear when looked 
at from the level of the thinos that are unseen and 
eternal. From the one level the very same objects 
wear an aspect of gladsomeness and exultation, 
which, as they are seen from the other level, appear 
under an aspect that is discomfiting and ominous. 
But besides this difference of aspect only, it is objects 
of a different class that appear to be in view, seve- 
rally, by the prophets, and b}^ Christ and His mi- 
nisters. The contrast, as exhibited in a few instances 
among many, is very suggestive of reflection. 

The Hebrew Prophet is — the man of hope he 
looks on through the mists of long ages of turmoil 
and confusion : — immediately in front he sees the 
rise and the ruin of neighbouring kingdoms ; but he 
sees, in the remoter distance, a bright noon for hu- 
manity at large — "When the wolf and the lamb shall 
feed together, and the lion eat straw like the ox — 
when dust shall be the serpent's meat : and when 
none shall hurt or destroy in the mountain of the 
Lord." The Christian Seer — his eye turned off 
from the course of this world's affairs — thinks only 

Hebrew Poetry. 207 

of the future of the Christian commonwealth, and 
thus he forecasts this future — " For I know that 
after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in 
among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your 
ownselves shall men arise, speaking perverse 
things, to draw away disciples after them." The 
ancient Seer, expectant of good — good for the wide 
world — says, — " It shall come to pass in the last 
days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be 
established on the top of the mountains, and shall 
be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall 
flow unto it." But the Christian Prophet foretells 
such things as these, and says — " Now the Spirit 
speaketh expressly that in the latter times some 
shall depart from the faith ; " and another affirms 
that " in the last days perilous times shall come ; " 
for in those latter days men generally, retaining a 
form of piety, shall abandon themselves to the sway 
of every evil passion — having the " conscience 
seared, as with a hot iron." 

The Hebrew Prophet, from his watch-tower upon 
Zion, affirms that '* in that mountain the Lord of 
Hosts should make unto all people a feast of fat 
things," — and that there " He will destroy the 
face of the covering cast over all people, and the 
veil that is spread over all nations :" — the Lord — 
the God of Israel — " shall swallow up death in vic- 
tory, and wipe away tears from off' all faces : and 
the rebuke of His people shall He take away from 
off^ all the earth." It was many centuries later in 

208 The Spirit of the 

the world's life- time, and therefore it was so much 
the nearer to the predicted break of day for all 
nations, that the Christian Prophet foresaw a thick 
gloom, out of the midst of which the " wicked one " 
should arise, who should sit in the temple of God, 
and there should blasphemously demand for him- 
self the worship that is due to God, and actually re- 
ceive it from the deluded dwellers upon earth — even 
the multitude of the nations. 

These contrasts, other instances of which may be 
adduced, are not contradictions : they are not con- 
trary affirmations, relating to the same objects, or 
to objects seen from the same level ; but they bring 
into view, in a manner that should fix attention, the 
harmonious structure of the Scriptures— the Old 
and the New Covenant. The latter is ruled by its 
purpose to reveal and confirm the hope of immor- 
tality, which must be individual immortality^ inas- 
much as communities have no hereafter. The for- 
mer, spiritual also in its intention, not less so than the 
latter, is yet concerned with mundane welfares, in 
relation to which nations and communities are re- 
garded in mass ; and therefore these Prophets look 
on to the very end of the secular period : — they 
have in view the longevity of nations, and they fore- 
tell the remote benefits in which all people shall be 
partakers. It is the life everlasting, which Christ 
and His ministers have in prospect, while, as to the 
things of earth, they see only those changes which 
shall bring into peril the welfare of immortal souls. 

Hehrew Poetry. 209 

Easily we may grant it— even if we fail to open 
up the reason of the fact — that it must be always, 
and only, with mundane objects, and with what 
belongs to the now visible course of things — " the 
things that are seen and temporal" — that poetry may 
and should concern itself. So it is that, while the 
ancient Prophets are poets, and, as such, kindle 
emotion, and illumine the path on which they tread, 
no quality of this sort can (truthfully) be alleged in 
commendation of Evangelists or Apostles. The 
encomium of these takes another, and a far higher 
ground. Poetry became mute at the moment when 
immortality was to be proclaimed : known to the 
Patriarchs and Prophets, and pondered and desired 
by them, and by the pious always, even from the 
first, yet an authentic announcement of it had been 
held in reserve to a later age ; but when that fulness 
of time had come, and when the true light shone 
out, then, in the blaze of it, the things of earth 
assumed another aspect ; and even the perspective of 
them underwent a change, when they were seen 
from a higher level. In passing from the " fellowship 
of the Prophets" to the " company of the Apostles," 
it is true that we tread the same solid earth, and we 
take with us the same human nature, and, as to what 
concerns the spiritual life, we breathe the same 
atmosphere; but we leave behind us the flowery 
plains of earthly good, and ascend to heights where 
the awful realities of another life banish all thought 

210 The Spirit of the 

of whatever is decorative, or of those objects that 
awaken the tastes and the imagination. Poetry, 
abounding as it does in the Old Testament, finds no 
place at all in the New. On this ground of com- 
parison the difference between Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, 
and Paul, Peter, John, or James, is absolute. So it 
must appear in bringing into comparison some pas- 
sages which, at a glance, might seem to be of the 
same order. 

As, for instance, there occur, in the Epistles of 
Peter, James, and Jude, some passages which not 
only take up the archaic phraseology, and are, in a 
marked manner, of the Hebrew mintage, but which 
are also of that denunciatory kind which gives them 
an exceptional aspect, as related to the evangelic 
strain, and brings them to be of a piece rather with 
the stern manner of the ancient Seers, in protesting 
against the wrong-doings of their contemporaries, 
and in predicting the judgments of God upon guilty 
nations. Nevertheless, while in these instances there 
are some points of accordance, the points of contrast 
are of a more important and noticeable kind. 

In the first place, these Apostolic samples are sternly 
and ruggedly prosaic : — they have no rhythm, and, 
although figurative in terms, they are graced by no 
decorations : — they demand the deepest regard, they 
strike into the conscience, they awaken terror ; but 
with the prediction of wrath they commingle no ele- 
ment upon which the imagination might be inclined 

Hebrew Poetry. 211 

to rest : in a word, the Apostolic message, whether it 
be of hope or of dread, is in no sense — poetry. 
Turn to those well-remembered passages which 
might recall the style of Amos, Joel, Nahum : — "For 
if God spared not the angels that sinned" .... 
" these (wicked men) are wells without water, 
clouds that are carried with a tempest' ... " Go 
to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries 
that shall come upon you" .... " Ungodly men, 
crept in among you, raging waves of the sea, foam- 
ing out their own shame " . . .* Wanting in poetry, 
but explicit in moral intention, are the Apostolic 
denunciations ; and nearly combined are they always 
with the Christian assurance of immortality : — this 
is the Apostolic mark. So it is with Jude, who, in 
the very breath which has given utterance to the 
message of wrath, and when he has made his protest 
for charity and mercy, commends his brethren to 
the Divine regard in that signal doxology, — " Now 
to Him that is able to keep you from falling" . . . . ' 
And, in like manner, James quickly releases himself 
from his stern obligation as a Prophet of judgment, 
and exhorts the Christian sufferer to be patient — 
" for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh ;" and 
thus also Peter, who enjoins his brethren, under any 
extremity of suffering, to "hope unto the end for 
the grace that is to be brought unto them at the 
revelation of Jesus Christ ;" not thinking it strange, 

* 2 Peter ii. 4. James v. Jude. 

212 The Spirit of the 

even though " a fiery trial" should be appointed for 
them ; but rather rejoicing in the prospect of the 
" glory" in which they are to have their part. 

The parallel places in the prophecies of Joel, of 
Amos, of Micah, and Nahum, are not only metrical 
and rhythmical in structure, but they are rich in 
various imagery: — magnificence, sublimity, and 
beauty too, so recommend these protests for right- 
eousness, and these predictions of national woe, that 
we now read and rest upon these passages with a 
relish of their excellence as works of genius ; and so 
it is that the Hebrew Poet shares the regard of the 
modern reader with the Hebrew Prophet. It is as 
poetry that these prophecies were adapted to the 
services of congregational worship ; and in this man- 
ner were they consigned to the memories of the 
people. And yet, when we have noted this contrast 
between the Prophetic and the Apostolic Scriptures, 
there remains to be noticed another contrast that is 
more marked, and is full of meaning — 

The brief prophecy of Habakkuk — one of those 
that belong to the earliest era of the Hebrew pro- 
phetic time — combines those qualities of style that 
distinguish his peers and contemporaries ; and along 
with majesty and splendour and vigour of expres- 
sion, there is the constant protest for truth and 
justice, and the uniform sublimity of a pure theo- 
logy, and the scornful rebuke of the folly of the 
idolater : — " Woe unto him that saith to the wood, 

Hebrew Poetry. 213 

Awake ; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach ! 
Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there 
is no breath at all in the midst of it." Then follows 
an anthem, unequalled in majesty and splendour of 
language and imagery, and which, in its closing 
verses, gives expression, in terms the most affecting, 
to an intense spiritual feeling ; and on this ground 
it so fully embodies these religious sentiments as to 
satisfy Christian piety, even of the loftiest order. 
Yet in this respect are these verses the most re- 
markable that, while there is recognized in them 
the characteristic Hebrew principle, which gives 
prominence to earthly welfare, the Prophet, for 
himself, renounces his part in this — if only he may 
fully enjoy a consciousness of the Divine favour. 
Yet this is not all; for he contents himself with 
these spiritual enjoyments — apart from any thought 
of the future life and of its hopes ; thus does he 
renounce the present good ; and yet he stipulates 
not for the good of the future ! for upon this pro- 
phecy — bright as it is in its theistic import, there 
comes down no ray of the light of the life eternal ! 
Witness these verses — ending the prophet's ministry 
in the language of hope ; but it is a hope very - 
ambiguously worded, if at all it takes any hold of 
immortality : — 

Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, 
Neither fruit be in the vines ; 
The labour of the olive shall fail, 
And the fields shall yield no meat ; 

214 The Spirit of the 

The flock shall be cut off from the fold, 

And no herd in the stalls : 

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, 

I will joy in the God of my salvation, 

The Lord God is my strength : 

And He will make my feet like hinds'. 

And He will make me to walk upon high places.* 

* This is an ode to be commended to the care of the chief 
einger, and to be accompanied by stringed instruments — Ne- 
ginoth — and adapted (may we not conjecture ?) to the move- 
ments of the sacred dance, in which the feet — well trained, 
should give proof of the exultation of the soul — moving " like 
hinds' feet," even upon the loftiest platform of the temple area. 
Such should be the gladness of those who took up this ode: — 
it should be like that of the Psalmist, who would praise God 
with the psaltery and harp ; and praise Him, too, with the 
timbrel and dance, as well as with stringed instruments and 
organs, and with loud cymbals. 

Hebrew Poetry. 

Chapter XII. 


WHA-TEYER there is of poetry in the roll of 
the Prophets, whatever of truth and of purity, 
and of elevation, as to moral principle, and theistic 
doctrine, and especially whatever there is of catho- 
licity, and of hopefulness for all nations, is pre- 
eminently found in the book of the prophecies of 
Isaiah, These prophecies may well be said to em- 
brace, and to comprehend, and, in a sense, at once 
to recapitulate, the revelations of all preceding ages, 
and to foreshow the revelations that were yet to 
come. The Moral Law is there in the fixedness of 
its eternal axioms : the spiritual life is there ; and 
the substance of the Gospel is there ; for the Re- 
deemer of the world, and the most signal of all 
events in the world's history, are there ; and with the 
Saviour the brightness of the latest ages of the hu- 
man family sheds a light upon this prophecy. Re- 
velation culminates in the pages of this Prophet ; 

216 The Spirit of the 

for the Old and the New Covenants are therein 

But how much more than a poet is this Prophet ! 
And yet as a poet he has won for himself the very 
highest encomiums ; — in this sense they are the 
highest, that they have been uttered by those who, 
in so warmly commending the Hebrew bard, have 
been incited by no i^eligious partiality or orthodox 
prejudice ; but the contrary. In this instance it 
would be easy to get released from the task of 
framing eulogies duly expressive of the admiration 
to which this poet is entitled ; for several German 
scholars, of the foremost rank as Hebraists, have 
already so exhausted this theme that it would be 
difficult to do anything else than to repeat — sen- 
tence by sentence, what they have said. Certainly 
there has been no contrary verdict on this ground ; 
— or none that is deserving of much regard. 

If there were now a question concerning the rich- 
ness and the compass, the wealth, the distinctiveness, 
the power, and pliability of the Hebrew language, it 
might well be determined by an appeal to the poetry 
of Isaiah. With perfect ease, as if conscious of 
commanding an inexhaustible fund, this Prophet (or 
now let us call him Poet) moves forward on his 
path : — terms the most fit and various are in his 
store : — imagery, in all species, abounds for his use, 
whatever be the theme, and whether it be terrible, 
or sombre, or gay and bright. Or if rather the 
question related to the culture of the Hebrew mind, 

Hebrew Poetry. 217 

in that remote age, and to its susceptibility, or to 
the existence among the people, or many of them, 
at that time, of a refined spiritual sensibility, these 
compositions would be vouchers enough of the fact. 
Let the reader put off for awhile, and let him quite 
distance himself from, his Bible-reading associa- 
tions : — let him forget that the book of the son of 
Amoz is a constituent of the Canon of Scripture ; 
and then, and as thus reading it afresh, not only 
will the Poet rise in his view, and take rank as the 
most sublime, the most rich, the most full-souled of 
poets, but there will come before him, as if dimly 
seen, the men of that age — more than a few such — 
to whom these utterances of the religious life — these 
words of remonstrance, and of comfort, and of hope, 
would be reverently listened to, and treasured up, 
and recited daily. What is it in fact that is clearly 
implied in the very structure of these compositions ? 
Why are they metrical throughout ? Why are they 
elaborately artificial in their form ? It must be for 
this reason, that the people of that time, and their 
ecclesiastical rulers, received, with devout regard, 
the Prophet's deliverance of his testimonj^ and that, 
notwithstanding the sharpness of his rebukes, this 
" burden of the Lord" took its place among the 
recitatives and the choral services of public worship 
— to which purposes they are manifestly adapted. 

An experiment of this kind would produce its Jirst 
effect, in thus opening to our view at once the pre- 
eminence of the Prophet, as a poet, and the ad- 

218 The Spirit of the 

vanced intellectual and relio-ious condition of his 
contemporaries. But then an effect speedily to fol- 
low this first would be greatly to enhance the con- 
viction that, in this instance, the Poet^ admirable as 
he may be, and lofty as was his genius, is far less to 
be thought of than the Prophet. Quickly we feel 
that he himself thus thinks of his message, and is in 
this manner conscious of his burden, and that, in 
his own esteem, he is so absolutely subordinate — he 
is so purely and passively instrumental, in the deli- 
very of it to the people, that the message, and He 
from whom it comes, throw into shade whatever is 
human only, giving undivided prominence to what 
is Divine. In this manner the reader's relimous 


consciousness so coalesces with the Prophet's con- 
sciousness of the same, that, as often as the pro- 
phetic formula occurs — " Thus saith the Lord," the 
solemn truthfulness of this averment commands our 

Feelings of the same class, which give the modern 
reader his sense of the beauty and sublimity of 
Isaiah, as a poet, carry with them a deep convic- 
tion, which no unsophisticated mind can resist, of 
the seriousness and the truthful steady adherence of 
the Prophet to his call, as the minister of God. If 
there be anywhere in the compass of human writings 
irresistible evidence of genuineness, and of honesty, 
and of a man's confi^dence in himself, as the authentic 
messenger of Heaven, it is here that such indubitable 
marks of reality are conspicuously present. Truth 

Hebrew Poetry. 219 

is consistent, and coherent, and uniform. Truth, 
heneath all diversities as to the mode of its expres- 
sion, comes home to every conscience by the un- 
varying fixedness of the principles on which it takes 
its stand. And so it is that the utterances of this 
prince of the prophets, dated as they are through 
the years of a long life — not fewer than seventy — 
and called forth by occasions widely dissimilar, are 
nevertheless perfectly in unison as to the theology 
on which they are based, and as to the ethical prin- 
ciples which sustain the Prophet's denunciations and 
rebukes ; and, moreover, as to that economy of 
Grace, toward the humble and obedient, which 
illumines the first page, and the last page with a 
ray from the throne of God. 

Otherwise thought of than as a message from Him 
who is unchangeable in His attributes of love, this 
consistency in announcing the terms of mercy, and 
this sameness of the style in which the penitent are 
invited to seek the divine favour, is wholly incon- 
ceivable. It does not belong to human nature, with 
its wayward feelings — it does not belong to human 
nature, with its constant progression of temper and 
temperament, shifting from early manhood to the 
last months of a term of eighty or ninety years, thus 
to utter the same things, in the same mood, indi- 
cative equally of unbroken vigour and of unclouded 
benignity. Men, however wise and good they may 
be, will show themselves (as they are) the creatures 
of their decades : — they will date themselves onward 

220 The Spirit of the 

in their style, from their third decade to their 
eighth or ninth. But this Prophet exhibits no 
such variations, because, in youth and in age 
alike, he is delivering a message from Him who 
abides the same throughout the lapse of years. 

If, indeed, there were ground, which there is not, 
for attributing these prophecies to two authors, with 
an interval of centuries between them, then we might 
be content to look only to the thirty-nine chapters 
of the more ancient Isaiah, the interval between the 
earliest of this portion and the latest being, by the 
acknowledgment of modern expositors, fifty years. 
If the Prophet assumed his office as a minister of 
Jehovah at the earliest date at which he could do 
so, then he had reached nearly the limit of human 
life when he uttered the bright presages contained 
in the thirty-fifth chapter. It was in the heat of 
manhood that he thus denounces the hypocrisy of 
the people — their chiefs and their priests : — 

Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom. 
Wash you, make you clean ; 
Put away the evil of your doing^s. 

Yet this same bold reprover is not a man who 
was carried away by his own fiery temperament ; 
for in the same breath he thus opens the path of 
mercy to whoever may relent : — 

Come now, and let us reason togethei-, saith the Lord ; 
Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow ; 
Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 

Hebrew Poetry. 221 

It is the same Isaiah, now in extreme age, and 

whose duty it had been, throughout these many 

years, still to denounce the wickedness of the 

wicked — as thus : (chapter xxxv.) 

Woe to Ariel, to Ariel, 

The city where David dwelt ! 

Woe to the rebellious children, saith the Lord ! 

It is the same ambassador from God — now hoary 
and tremulous, yet not soured in temper — not sick- 
ened by a life-long ministration among a gainsaying 
people, but benign, as at thirty, and hopeful as - 
always, who sees, in the age to come, " the wilder- 
ness and the solitary place made glad, and the 
desert — the wide world — blossoming as the rose," 
It is he who says — as at first he had said : — 

Strengthen ye the weak hands, 

And confirm the feeble knees. 

Say to them of a fearful heart, 

Be strong, fear not. _ 

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, 
And come to Zion with songs, 
And everlasting joy upon their heads ; 
And they shall obtain joy and gladness, 
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away. 

On every page there is the same protest for truth, 
justice, and mercy, between man and man : there is 
the same message of wrath for the oppressor and the 
cruel, and the same righteous care for the widow, 
the fatherless, the bondsman, the stranger. On 
every page there are the same elements of what, at 

222 The Spirit of the 

this time, we acknowledge to be a true theology, 
and which is so entire that, after ages of painful 
cogitation on the part of the most profound and the 
most exact minds — whether philosophers or divines, 
whether ancient or modern — nothing that is pre- 
ferable, nothing that is deeper, or more affecting, 
nothing which we should do well to accept, and to 
take to ourselves as of better quality, has been 
educed and taught, or is, at this moment, extant and 
patent, in books — classical, or books — recent. This 
Prophet --if we take him as the chief of his order — 
is still, after a two thousand seven hundred years, 
our master in the school of the hig^hest reason.* 

This consummation, and this faultless enounce- 
ment of theistic principles, in an age so remote, and 
among a people unacquainted with the methods of 
abstract thought, is a fact which admits of explica- 
tion on one ground only — namely, that of the direct 
impartation of this theology from Heaven. So 
strongly do those feel this who read the Hebrew 
Scriptures ingenuously, that the affectation which 
will be prating about the " sublime and fiery genius'^ 
of the Prophet becomes offensive and insufferable. 
Human genius soars to no height like this ; and as 
to human reason, to find a sure and a straight path 
for itself on its own level is more than ever it has 
yet done. 

There is, however, another field on which, if 
we follow this Prophet in his track, from the earliest 
• See Note. 

Hebrew Poetry. 223 

of his public ministrations to the latest of them, 
a conviction of the direct inspiration whence they 
sprang becomes, if possible, still more firm. These 
prophesyings — delivered to the people and princes 
of Jerusalem, on divers occasions, throughout the 
lapse of seventy or eighty years — contain (might we 
here use such a phrase) a programme of the Divine 
purposes toward the human family to the end of 
time. And this sketch — this foreshowing of a re- 
mote futurity, has for its object, or its theme, not 
humanity in the abstract, not man immortal ; but 
men in community ; and not a one people only, but 
the commonwealth of nations. Whatever we in- 
tend by the modern phrase — Catholicity, or by 
the word — Cosmopolitan, whatever we of this age of 
breadth are used to think of when we talk of " the 
brotherhood of nations," and of the community of 
races — all these ideas, substantially one, are em- 
braced in that prescience of the future which came 
to the surface so often during the prophetic ministra- 
tions of Isaiah. Let it be noted that what this pre- 
science has in view is a remote terrestrial universality 
of truth, peace, justice, order, wealth, for all dwellers 
beneath the sun. In a word, this Prophet foresees 
the accomplishment of that one petition among 
those commended by Christ to His disciples — " Thy 
will be done on earth, even as it is done in heaven." 
What we have to do with in this instance is not 
just a line or a couplet, here or there, which may 
have an ambiguous import, and may be startling on 

224 The Spirit of the 

account of its coincidence with remote events ; for 
the passages now in view are recurrent — they are 
ample, and — one might say — they are leisurely in 
the development of their meaning : they open out 
objects upon which a clear noon-day illumination is 
steadily resting. The Seer so speaks as if indeed 
he saw the things of which he speaks ; and he so 
speaks of them after intervals of time — years 
perhaps — as if the very same objects, permanent 
and unchanging in themselves, were by himself 
recognized afresh as long familiar to his eye. Was 
it then a man of Judah like others — was it one who 
paced the streets of Jerusalem, and pressed forward 
among his countrymen upon the ascents of the 
temple — was it one gifted only as others may have 
been gifted, who thus, long before the dawn of his- 
toric time (as to other nations) looked right a-head, 
and afar over and beyond the bounds of thousands 
of years, and who saw, in that remoteness, not a 
hazy brightness — an undefined cloud, or a speck of 
light upon the horizon ; but who gazed upon a fair 
prospect — wide as the inhabited earth, and fair as 
it is wide, and bright as it is wide, and of as long- 
endurance as the terrestrial destiny of man shall 
allow ? Assuredly the seeing a prospect like this is 
no natural achievement of genius : — it is nothing 
less than a prescience which He only may impart 
who " knoweth the end from the beginning ; " and 
in whose view thousands of ages are as the now- 
passing moment. 

Hebrew Poetry. 225 

The predictions of Isaiah and the predictions of 
Daniel are of wholly dissimilar character: — they 
have a different intention, and they demand expo- 
sition on different principles. Those of Daniel are 
precisely defined, although not opened out in de- 
tail; — they are distinctly dated in symbol, they 
have a limitation also which, in respect of what 
has the aspect of hope, seems to keep in view a 
national rather than a cosmopolitan era of reno-^ 
vation ; and then, in exchange for the prospect of 
good in reserve for all nations, there is in this 
later-age prophecy a far more distinct doctrine of 
immortality, and of the resurrection of the dead, 
than it had hitherto been permitted to the Hebrew 
prophets to announce.* 

The predictions of Isaiah are less distinctly 
marked — as to their chronology — than are those 
of Daniel, because they embrace extensive and 
unlimited eras of the future, and they are unre- 
stricted as to place, because they comprehend all 
dwellers upon earth. Although localized in respect 
of the centre whence the universal renovation shall 
take its rise, these predictions overpass all other 
bounds ; —such as this is the prophet's style : — 

In this mountain shall the Lord of Sabaoth make unto all 

A feast. 

* Daniel xii. 2, S. The parallel passage in Isaiah xxvi. 19. 
should be named as an exceptive instance as to that prophet. 


22() TJie Spirit of the 

And He will destroy in this mountain 
The face of the covering covering all people, 
And the veil that is spread over all nations. 
He will swallow up death in victory. 

Placed almost in front of this eighty years' course 
of prophecy, as if it were the text of whatever is to 
follow, and as if it were to serve as a caution, or as 
a counteraction, of any inference that might be 
drawn from the denunciations that are to occupy 
so large a space — is, this foreshowing of a high 
noon of truth and peace for all races and kindreds 
of the one human family : — 

And it shall come to pass in the last days, 

The mountain of the house of Jehovah 

Shall be established (constiiuted) in the top of the moun- 
tains ; 

And shall be exalted above the hills ; 

And all nations shall flow unto it. 

And man}^ peoples shall go and say, 

Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, 

And to the house of the God of Jacob ; 

And He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His 
paths : 

For from Zion shall go forth the Law, 

And the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem. 

And He shall judge among the nations, 

And shall rebuke {convict or convince) many people : 

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, 

And their spears into pruning-hooks : 

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. 

Neither shall they learn war any more. 

These, and eight or ten other passages of similar 
import, occurring at intervals in the same " roll of 

Hebrew Poetry. 227 

the book," if they be read on any other supposition 
than that of their Divine origin (this understood 
in the fullest sense) must be regarded as marvels 
indeed of which we shall never be able to give 
any solution ; and this perplexity has its two aspects 
— the first is this— that a man of Judah, in that 
age — let us attribute to him whatever eminence 
we may, as to intelligence — should thus have 
thought, and should thus have uttered himself, 
concerning the religious condition of the surround- 
ing nations of that time ; and then, that, thus 
thinking, he should have conceived such an idea 
as that which is conveyed in his anticipation of the 
conversion of the world, in the last days, to truth 
in reliofion. Certain it is that a consciousness of 
the spiritual condition of the nations then neigh- 
bouring upon Judaea was the guiding-thought of 
the Prophet in these passages — as thus : — 

Arise ! shine ! for thy light is come, 
And the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee y 
For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, 
And gross darkness the nations : 
But Jehovah shall arise upon thee, 
And His glory shall be seen upon thee. 
And the nations shall vralk in thy light. 
And kings in the brightness of thy rising. 

The language of Isaiah, in thus speaking of the 
surrounding nations, does not savour of the arro- 
gance of a nation that is insulated by its profession 
of a purer doctrine than that of others ; nor does it 
betray the irritation or scorn of such a people, 

228 The Spirit of the 

maintaining its national existence, from year to 
year, in a precarious conflict with its powerful 
neighbours. This language is as calm and as 
tranquil as it should be— grant it be an utterance 
from the throne of the Eternal God. He who 
counteth the nations but as " the small dust of 
the balance" may be expected thus to speak of 
their delusions : but not so, on any ordinary prin- 
ciples of human nature, the bard of a haughty 
theistic nation, contemning, and yet dreading, its 
neighbours, right-hand and left-hand. Conceived 
of on any such ordinary principles, and if the case 
is to be judged of on grounds of analogous in- 
stances, this simplicity, this dignity, this brevity, 
are not to be accounted for ; what were the facts ? 
— In looking eastward toward the military empires 
of the great rivers-land, or southward to the mani- 
fold and gorgeous idolatries of the people of the 
Nile, with the profound symbolized doctrine of those 
worships, the Israelitish bard — the man of glowing 
imagination, supposing him to be nothing more, 
would find his faith in a pure theism, and his con- 
stancy in adhering to the worship of Jehovah, 
severely tried. These neighbouring lands, where 
imperial magnificence surrounded itself with the 
pomps of a sensual polytheism, and thus gave an 
air of sparkling joyousness to the cities, palaces, 
temples — these lands would naturally be spoken of 
in terms very unlike these phrases of modest truth- 
fulness : the language which here meets us we of 

Hebrew Poetry. 229 

this time accept as quite proper to the subject, be- 
cause we ourselves have come to think of all forms 
of polytheistic superstition — ancient and modern, in 
the same manner ; to our modern Christianized 
vision nothing can seem more fitting than that the 
debasing worships of ancient Egypt, or of Assyria, 
or the foul superstitions of India, should be thus 
metaphored — as a veil — a thick covering — a gross 
darkness, spread over the people which still abide 
under the shadow of paganism. But it was not so 
to this man of Palestine, three thousand years ago. 
The Prophet of Judah, in thus speaking of the 
religious condition of Assyria, and of Egypt, and 
of India, used a style which he could never have 
imagined — which he would not have employed, if 
the terms had not been given to him from above. 
Those will the most readily feel this who are the 
most accustomed to carry themselves back to re- 
mote times, and to realize, in idea, the modes of 
feeling of the men of countries remote, and of ages 
now almost forgotten. 

So to designate the religious delusions of the 
nations of antiquity was not the native gift of the 
son of Amoz : — it was the gift and office of the 
Prophet of Jehovah ; and with a still firmer con- 
fidence may we say that the prediction which fol- 
lows could not be from man, but must have been 
from God. 

The prediction is not of the kind that breathes 
the mood of national ambition ; it is not military, 

230 TJie Spirit of the 

but the very contrary ; it is not of the same sort 
as the Islam fanaticism ; it is not in harmony with 
a, fierce propagandism ; it was not prompted by 
the temper of that later age, when the ^eal of the 
Pharisee incited him to " compass sea and land for 
making one proselyte." This prediction, by the 
very fact of its employment of figurative language 
of this material quality — by speaking of the fat 
things, and the delicacies, and the old wines, pro- 
per to a royal banquet, and in associating these 
figures with those of the gross darkness, and the 
veil of the covering, precluded any interpretation 
of a lower species ; — for it is manifest that as 
was the darkness — as was the covering veil — sym- 
bolizing religious, moral, and spiritual ignorance 
and error, so should the feast, and the refreshment, 
be that of religious nourishment, and of moral re- 
novation, and of spiritual enjoyment. In this in- 
stance the apposition of metaphors furnishes a 
sure guide to the interpretation. And then the 
history of the nations, from the prophet's age to 
this, is a continuous comment upon the prophecy. 
And so does the course of events, at this very 
moment, give indication of its ultimate entire ac- 
complishment — adverse events and thick clouds of 
the sky, notwithstanding. 

In contradiction of the strenuous endeavours of 
many at this time to withdraw men's thoughts from 
the past, and especially so far as the past carries 
a religious meaning, these Hebrew prophecies — 

Hebrew Poetry. 231 

those especially of Micah, and of Isaiah, and of the 
Psalms — affirm and attest this vital principle, affect- 
ing human destinies — namely, historic continuity. 
It is on this ground, as much as upon any other, 
that the religion of the Scriptures stands opposed to 
atheistic doctrines of every sort. The Bible holds all 
ages — past and future — in an indissoluble bond of 
union, and of causal relationship, and of development, 
and of progress, and therefore— of hope, animated by a 
Divine assurance of universal blessings yet to come. 
Moreover this same historic continuity, this in- 
tegral vitality, stands connected with a law of geo- 
graphical centralization. The life and hope of the 
commonwealth of nations is not a vague hypothesis, 
which may be realized anywhere, and may spring 
up spontaneously, breaking forth at intervals from 
new centres, or startling attention as from the 
heart of barbarian wildernesses ; it is quite other- 
wise. Even as to the light of civilization and of 
philosophy, it has shown its constant dependence 
upon this same law of historic continuity, and of 
derivation. Much more is it — has it ever been so — 
as to the light of a pure theology, and of an effec- 
tive morality. 

So did these Hebrew predictions, after a slumber 
of five hundred years, wake into life among all 
the nations bordering upon Palestine, when, by the 
means of the Greek version of the entire body 
of the Hebrew Scriptures, a true theology, earn- 
estly sought after, and actually found, by the 

232 Tlie Spirit of the 

thoughtful in every city of the Roman empire, 
was silently embraced, and devoutly regarded, by 
thousands of the several races clustered around the 
Mediterranean Sea, as well as in the remotest East. 
And so at length were the Prophets of that Elder 
Revelation honoured in the accomplishment of their 
words, when the Apostolic preaching — like a sud- 
den blaze from heaven — imparted the light of life 
to millions of souls throughout those same countries 
-—of Europe, Africa, and Asia. 

Every onward movement of the western nations 
— even those movements which humanity the most 
condemns — has shown the same tendency to create 
or to restore, a religious centralization, which, in its 
degree, has been an accomplishment of these same 
predictions. And at this time these shining words 
of hope and of peace, accepted as they are, and 
honoured by the one people among the nations 
whose destiny and whose dispositions carry them 
far abroad — East and West — are workino; out their 
own fulfilment in a manner that is indicative at 
once of the force that resides in the word of pro- 
phecy, and of the Divine power which attends this 
word, and which shall accomplish it — in every iota 
of it — in " the last times." 

Not yet indeed have the nations ceased to " learn 
war;" on the contrary, the arts, bearing upon the 
mechanical destruction of life, and the demolition of 
defences, would seem to be making such advances as 
must render the practice of war a day's work only 

Hebrew Poetry. 233 

in effecting the extinction of armies, or even the 
extermination of races. So it may appear. Never- 
theless each of those inventions which have had the 
same apparent tendency have, in the end, availed 
to shorten the duration of wars, and to diminish the 
amount of slaughter while they last. Speculations 
and calculations of this kind are, however, quite 
beside our purpose. War, when it shall cease to 
" the ends of the earth," will be excluded by the 
concurrent operation of influences secular, and in- 
fluences moral, or religious. Permanent peace will 
be brought about in the course of the providential 
overruling of many lower causes, and by the pro- 
per operation of causes of a higher quality. This 
ultimate blessedness shall at once " spring out of 
the earth, and shall look down from heaven." 

What concerns us just now is this — to note in 
these predictions that which demonstrates the ab- 
solute subordination of the poetic genius to the pro- 
phetic function of the man. Isaiah — we are told — 
was a man who should rank high among the men 
of genius of all ages ; and as to his prescience, it 
was that only which is a characteristic of the poetic 
inspiration : he was a prophet just so far as he was 
a poet. This hypothesis does not consist with the 
facts in view. As often as he touches themes that 
are the most awakening to poetic feeling, Isaiah — 
and the same is true of his brethren — is brief, and 
seems in haste to quit the ground on which he has 
set foot for a moment. It is thus in the passage 

234 The Spirit of the 

just above cited, in which the attractive conception 
of a silver age of peaceful rural life, to which all 
nations shall joyfully return, presents itself; and 
again, as in this passage : — 

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for theui, 

And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. 

It shall blossom abundantly, 

And rejoice even with singing: 

The glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, 

The excellency of Carmel and Sharon ; 

They shall see the glory of Jehovah, 

And the excellency of our God. 

The passing forward is immediate to themes of 
another order : — 

Strengthen ye the weak hands, 
And confirm the feeble knees. 
Say to them of a fearful heart, 
Be strong — fear not. . . . 

Near is the poet, in these instances, to those 
primaeval conceptions of earthly good which, to 
the Hebrew people, were fixed elementary ideas. 
Easy — natural — pleasurable, would have been the 
transition to the Paradisaical and the Patriarchal 
morning times of the human family. No such 
divergence is in any instance allowed ; nevertheless 
the fact remains, whether we duly regard it or not, 
that the great scheme of the Hebrew prophetic dis- 
pensation exhibits, in this instance, as in others, 
the universality of its intention ; or let us rather 
say — its grasp of all mundane time in this way, 

Hebrew Poetry. 235 

that the same bright conditions which had attached 
to the commencement of the human destinies on 
earth, are foreseen and foreshown as the ultimate 
conditions of the human family. As there was a 
paradisaical morning, so shall there be a high noon 
to all nations — a noon of earthy good, as the proper 
accompaniment of the triumph and prevalence of 
religious truth and love. 

23G The Spirit of the 

Chapter XIII. 


A CENTURY onward from the age of Micah 
and Isaiah, to that of Jeremiah, brings to 
view the greatness of the change that was to take 
place in the modes of the one Revelation of the 
Divine will and purposes. The same principles 
always, but another style. Let it rather be said — 
a progressive change was taking place in prepara- 
tion for that last mode of this teaching from hea- 
ven, when the awful realities of the human system, 
in relation to the future life, were to throw into the 
shade, as well the bright eras, as the dark times, of 
this visible mundane economy. Poetry, therefore, 
which is always a function of this visible economy, 
gradually disappears from the inspired pages ; 
w^hile the prophetic element assumes, continually, 
a more definite character, and becomes also prosaic 
in its tone and style. Nevertheless while, in the 
prophets of the late age, Poetry is in course of 
subsidence, there does not take place a corre- 
sponding relinquishment of metrical forms. An 
instance of this is presented in the closing portions 

Hebrew Poetry. 237 

of the prophecies of Jeremiah— namely, the La- 
mentations, wherein the artificial metrical structure 
prevails in a higher degree than in any other part 
of the Hebrew Scriptures.* 

This Prophet — a type of Him who was ''ac- 
quainted with griefs"— gives evidence at once of 
the sorrowfulness, the tender sensitiveness of his 
temperament, and of his want of those loftier gifts 
which distinguish Isaiah, and which, in the esteem 
of Biblical critics, entitle him to a high place among 
men of genius. 

The difference between the two Prophets is best 
seen in comparing those passages in the later pro- 
phet which, 'as to subject and doctrine, are nearly 
the counterparts of signal passages in the earlier 
prophet. Such especially are those places in the 
two in which the majesty of God is affirmed, while 
the folly and vanity of idol -worship receives a con- 
temptuous rebuke ; — such also are those which pre- 
dict the future kingdom of peace, and the return 
of the people from their captivity.f A richness of 

* See Note. 

t Compare passages in the two Prophets, such as the fol- 
lowinor : — 

Jeremiah. Isaiah. 

xl. 12, to the end. 
X. 1—16, and li. 15—19. <! xliv. 6, to the end. 

rxl. 1-2, t 
s xliv. 6, 
*- xlvi. 

xxiii. 5—8. ^ |- XXX. 19. 26. 


XXX. 10, 11. I j xlix. 7, to the end. 
xxxi. 1—14. J L liv. throughout. 

238 TJie Spirit of the 

diction, a majestic flow, a compass and accumula- 
tion of imagery, belong to the one, which do not 
appear in the other ; but then this later prophet, 
in some places, approaches that style of definite 
prediction which was to be carried still further by 
his successors. 

If what already (Chap. IV.) we have said con- 
cerning Palestine, as the fit birth-place and home 
of Poetry be warrantable, as well as the contrary 
averment concerning the levels of Mesopotamia, 
then the fact that the Prophets of the Captivity, 
Ezekiel and Daniel especially, are prophets not 
poets, will seem to be, at least, in accordance with 
a principle, even if it may not be adduced as a 
proof of it. The captives of Judaea carried with 
them the Hebrew lyre ; but, seated disconsolate by 
the rivers of Babylon, they refused to attempt to 
awaken its notes, and themselves lost the power to 
do so. On the banks of the Chebar (great canal) 
and on the banks of the mighty Hiddekel, visions 
of awful magnificence were opened to the seer's 
eye ; and he describes what he saw : but his de- 
scription is strictly prosaic ; nor doe^ the sublimity 
of the objects that are described at all enkindle the 
imagination of the reader. The reader, to become 
conscious of their sublimity, must carry himself 
into the midst of the scene, and picture its stupen- 
dous creations for himself. A passage in Isaiah 
(chap, vi.) similar to that which opens the prophecy 
of Ezekiel, produces, by its very brevity, an efffect 

Hebrew Poetry. 239 

on the imagination which the elaborate description 
of the later prophet fails to produce. 

Along with this subsidence, or disappearance 
of poetry, there presents itself a more rigorous 
style of rebuke, and an ethical tone, indicative of 
the change that was coming upon the national cha- 
racter. The Hebrew man of Palestine — the man of 
Judah— the citizen of Jerusalem — was, in this late 
age, represented by the Jew of the Captivity, and 
this personage has more affinity with the Jew of 
modern times, than with the Hebrew people of the 
times of Isaiah. It is true that those of the later 
prophets who exercised their ministry in Judaea— 
these are Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi— retained the 
archaic style, if they breathed less of its animation ; 
but it is not so with Ezekiel, or with Daniel : these 
lead us on toward a dispensation in which poetry 
should have no part. Objects held forth in vision, 
for a symbolic purpose, may be stupendous, or they 
may be magnific, or splendid; but while con- 
^ veying their import, and demanding explication as 
emblems, they quite fail to stimulate the imaoina- 
tion, or to satisfy the tastes. Not only is it true 
that allegory is not poetry, for it contradicts, it 
excludes poetry — it is prosaic emphatically : facul- 
ties of another order are appealed to ; and when 
these are in act the tastes, and the consciousness 
of beauty and sublimity, are neutralized. This sort 
of antagonism is felt especially in the perusal of 
the Apocalypse, which, even when the scenery it 

240 The Spirit of the 

describes is constituted of objects that are in them- 
selves the most proper for poetic treatment, yet 
fails entirely to give pleasure on that ground. 
These exhibitions of celestial splendours, or of in- 
fernal terrors, carry with them another intention ; 
and that this intention may be secured, they quell 
or dissipate those emotions which poetry is always 
aiming to excite. 

An instance presents itself in the chapter (xxxvii.) 
of Ezekiel in which the Prophet brings into view, 
with vividness, the scene and circumstance sym- 
bolically of a national resurrection. He brings 
into view the valley of blanched skeletons — the 
tremors in these heaps of bones — the clustering of 
limbs — the coming on of muscle and skin to each — 
and the sudden starting to their feet of an array of 
warriors.* The painter here might be tempted to 
try his art upon a large canvas, and might do 
better in such an attempt than the poet could, 
unless he availed himself of other materials, and 
put quite out of view the emblematic significance 
which Ezekiel puts forward, when he says — " These 
bones are the whole house of Israel." The same 
principle takes effect in the instance of the vision 
(chap, viii.) of the chamber of idol-worship, and 
the worshippers, and the cloud of incense : a fine 

* Rohur, vis, fortitudo, maxhne belllca ; exercitus. Ge- 
SENius. This seems the proper force of the Hebrew word. 
The Greek says only, auvayayr) : which is less than the 

Hebrew Poetry. 241 

subject for learned art, much rather so than for 

No vein of poetry, not even a single incidental 
recollection of the Hebrew imaginative soul, makes 
its appearance in the book of Daniel. Plainly his- 
torical, for the greater part— its prophetic portions- 
its revelations, are of that order which, as we have 
said, is the extreme antithesis of poetry. The 
entire class of allusive conveyances of a meaning 
differing from the obvious or literal meaning of the 
terms employed, includes allegories, emblems, pro- 
verbial phrases, and most varieties of wit; and 
these, all, are distasteful to those in whom the 
genuine poetic feeling is in force. True poetry 
needs no interpreter ; for if its figures, its very 
boldest metaphors, its most startling comparisons, 
do not interpret themselves instantaneously, it 
must be either because the poet, mistaking his 
function, has wrapped himself in myths, or be- 
cause the reader wants the poetic sense. 

The seventy years' captivity— the demolition of 
the Holy City — the breaking up of the Temple 
se vice — the ravaging, and the laying waste of the 
country, and its occupation by a heathen vagabond 
population — all these events concurred in bringino- 
to an end the Hebrew poetic consciousness : thence- 
forward the Jewish people — the gathered survivors 
of the long expatriation — became prosaic wholly, 
historic only :— they became, as a nation, such as 
should render them the fit recipients and teachers 

242 The Spirit of the 

of that next coming Revelation which, because it 
was to demand a hearing from all people, and to 
invite the submission of the reason, lays a founda- 
tion in the rigid historic mood, which, though it 
may admit symbols, rejects Poetry. A glance at 
the onward progress of this transition, of which the 
Jewish people were the immediate subjects, may 
properly be had, at this place, and before we 
look back upon the Prophetic Period — to take our 
leave of it. 

In following the course of the national religious 
literature downwards, from the times of the last 
of the Prophets, it is a wonder to find how rarely 
— if indeed at all — a sense of the beauty of nature, 
or any sentiment allied to poetic feeling, comes to 
the surface in that literature. In truth it would be 
difficult to find evidence of its existence, or of its sur- 
vivance, in the Jewish temperament. The books de- 
signated as Apocryphal, and which are unknown to 
the Hebrew Canon, are, some of them, no doubt, of 
a time not much more than a century later than 
that of the closing of the Old Testament Scriptures. 
Nevertheless they are of another order, in a lite- 
rary sense ; and they indicate the supervention of 
another mood of the national mind. In explanation 
of the difforence (the fact of Inspiration is not now 
before us) it would not suffice to say that the period 
within which these Apocryphal books appeared was 
a continuous era of social and political confusion, 
and of extreme suffering, and therefore unfavour- 

Hebrew Poetry. 243 

able to the poetic mood, for the same might be 
affirmed concerning those times in which the He- 
brew poetry shone with its brightest lustre. 

But another mind had at length come upon the 
Jewish people, or upon very many of them ; the 
miseries of the captivity had taken due effect upon 
them, and so the apostolic word had had its exem- 
plification — " No affliction seemeth for the present 
joyous, but grievous ; yet afterwards it yieldeth the 
peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are 
exercised thereby." Idol-worship, in all its vanity 
and its frightful gorgeousness, had been witnessed 
in its home, in the broad places of Babylon ; and 
this spectacle had thoroughly sickened the better- 
taught men of Jerusalem of their own infatuation 
towards polytheism: it was so that they now loathed 
and contemned the sensual worships which themselves 
and their fathers, with a fatal perversity, had hankered 
after. Not only was idol-worship spurned, but the 
national sufferings, and the demolition of their city, 
and the cessation of their own worship, were at 
length understood in this sense as a Divine chastise- 
ment : — the punishment was accepted, the national 
ruin was meekly submitted to, and thenceforward 
a new religious life was inaugurated among them, 
and for a length of time it was nobly maintained. 

The national repentance, if not universal, had, 
no doubt, been real in more than a few instances. 
Evidence of this renovated religious feeling is found 
in that book (Baruch) which, among the Apocryphal 

2-14 The Spirit of the 

writings, comes the nearest to a style that might 
substantiate its claim to be included in the Canon. 
A bright monument is this book of a people's mood 
while enduring, in exile, the contempts and the op- 
pressions of barbarian tyranny : — penitent — sub- 
missive to the tyrant who was regarded as the 
instrument of the Divine Justice; and while sub- 
missive, yet hopeful.* The return of the afflicted 
Jewish people to its duty and to its office, as witness 
amono- the nations for truth in Religion, was a 
preparation for that coming time when, with heroic 
constancy, they contended for their national and 
religious existence against the two neighbouring 
monarchies — the Syrian especially. But this season 
of doubtful conflict was a time of stern earnestness 
among the people, and would not be favourable to 

* The book of Baruch stands alone among the books of the 
Apocrypha, and should be read — religiously, and read histo- 
rically ; and in this sense especially the appended Epistle of 
Jeremiah, which, genuine or not so, has a graphic distinctness 
in its exposure of the folly of the Babylonian worships, ex- 
ceeding what is found in the parallel passages in Isaiah. The 
writer undoubtedly had see7i the things of which he speaks : he 
so speaks as those among ourselves are wont to speak who, with 
English religious feeling, walk about in the towns and cities of 
southern Europe. With a homely contempt, and vivacious 
satire, the writer of this Epistle says — what now might find a 
place in a Protestant journal of a tour in Italy or Spain : — " For 
as a scarecrow in a garden of cucumbers keepeth nothing, so 
are their gods of wood, and laid over with silver and gold . . . 
they light them candles, yea more than for themselves, whereof 
they (these gods) cannot see one .... their faces are black 
through the smoke that cometh out of the temple." 

Hebrew Poetry. 245 

a spontaneous development of the Poetic feeling ; 
besides, the men of the captivity found, on their 
return to their country, that they had sustained an 
irretrievable loss — the loss of their lang^uaffe. In- 
stead of it, a dialect had come into use which was 
incapable of giving utterance to thought and feeling 
of this order : it was itself of heterogeneous com- 
position : — it had been the product, not of a nation's 
mind, but of its calamities : — in all its deviations 
from the ancient forms it bore testimony to the 
facts of subjugation, expatriation, and of the influx 
of corrupt populations ; besides that in itself it was 
harsh, unmelodious, defective ; it was the vernacular 
of the busy population of vast plains, and of crowded 

During the same periods not only had the rich 
and copious and metonymic Hebrew given way to 
the rugged Aramaic (not more poetic as related to 
Hebrew than the Dutch lano-uage is as related to 
the English), but another inroad was rapidly taking 
its course — as throughout western Asia, so not less 
in Palestine than around it — namely, that of the 
Greek language ; at first prevalent as an upper 
class or governing tongue, and at length, in the 
apostolic age, as the ordinary popular medium of 
discourse. But then this importation of the lan- 
guage of Greece by no means brought with it the 
taste or the poetry of Greece, any more than, in 
any genuine sense, it brought its philosophy. Greek, 
as the language of literature, came in upon the 

246 TJie Spirit of iIlc 

Jewish mind, not to enlarge it, not to enrich it, 
but as a sophistication. Evidence to this effect is 
largely before us in the extant compositions of that 
time — in the Apocryphal books, and in the pages of 
Philo and Josephus. The Jewish mind of that time 
had weaned itself from the Hebrew breast, and it 
was imbibing, instead, a nutriment which, to itself, 
could never be a " sincere milk," easily assimilated, 
and promoting its growth. The Greek philosophy 
did not make Jewish Kabbis philosophers, any more 
than Homer and Sophocles had made them poets. 
Thus it was that, between the Aramaic barbarism 
which poetry and philosophy alike would resent, 
and the Grecian high culture, which the Jewish 
mind was not prepared to admit, poetry entirely 
disappeared from the literature of the people ; and 
as to philosophy, it lodged itself upon the upper 
surface — like houseleek upon the tiles of a building, 
into which it can strike no roots, and which lives 
and grows where it lodges, fattened upon no other 
soil than that supplied by its own decayed foliage. 

The meditative Jewish mood — such as it exhibits 
itself in the book of the " Wisdom of the Son of 
Sirach" — not wanting in ethical value, or in epi- 
grammatic force, is yet only a groping wisdom. The 
sage sees not more than a glimmer of light upon 
earth ; and he barely lifts his eyes aloft toward the 
heavens ; — the light of immortality does not send 
down one cheering beam upon those dim pages ; 
and it must have been from other sources than from 

Hebrew Poetry. 247 

these quaint indeterminate compositions that the 
strenuous martyrs of the time of Antiochus Epi- 
phanes drew their courage in contending to the 
death for the faith and hope of the nation. 

In the course of not more years than those which 
divide ourselves from the era of the Reformation, 
the Jewish mind had quite fallen away from what 
might be called its Poetic Mood. No writings of 
that order — that we know — had been produced in 
Judaea. The Rabbis only — and probably it was a 
few only of these — were familiarly conversant with 
the archaic national language. A cumbrous, cir- 
cuitous, and often a sophisticative mode of com- 
menting upon the Prophets, and of darkening their 
meaning, had taken the place of what might have 
been a nutritious popular instruction. In so far — 
and there is reason to think it was very far — as the 
Greek version had come to be used instead of the 
Hebrew Scriptures, in the weekly service of the 
Synagogue, such a substitution would have the 
effect of removing, to a remote distance, that poetic 
consciousness to which the Inspired Prophets had 
been used to make their appeal.* The version of 
the Seventy is bald, prosaic, and wanting in rhythm, 
as well as majesty. It had, indeed, carried a sub- 
stantial knowledge of truth far and wide among 
the nations ; but it had so carried these elements 
as if, while leaving behind the graces of the He- 
brew Poetry, and failing to take up the graces of 
* See Note. 

248 The Spirit of the 

the Greek Poetry, it would commend the grave 
principles of Theistic doctrine to the Gentile world, 
stripped of all attractions except those of a severe 

Such was the preparation that had been made, 
in Judaea itself, and throughout the surrounding 
countries, for the advent of One whose ministry 
was to be of another order — a fulfilment indeed of 
all prophecy ; but an awakening of the nations to 
a Revelation which must utter itself in terms the 
most concise, and the freest from ambiguity — in terms 
which, statute-like, shall not only easily find their 
equivalents in all tongues — barbarian or cultured, 
and not only maintain their intelligible quality to 
the end of time, but, more than this — such as shall 
reappear with luminous force in the courts of the 
unseen world, w^hen and where all men are appointed 
to render their final account. There can be no 
Poetry in the Statute-Book of Universal and Eternal 
Right ! The Hebrew Poetry had been the free 
medium of the Divine communications during ages 
while the future unseen destinies of the human 
family, if not undetermined, were not to be pro- 
claimed. Earth's own voices, earth's harmonies and 
graces, were mute, and had long been mute, when 
He should appear who is " from above," and whose 
mission it was to institute a new life — the life 
eternal — the life in attestation of which multitudes 
were, ere long, to welcpme death on the rack — in 
the amphitheatre, and in the fire. 

Hebrew Poetry. 249 

The extant memorials of the early Church — the 
martyr-Church— exhibit few, if indeed there be any, 
indications of the revival of that consciousness of 
the sublime and beautiful in Nature which had 
been so long in abeyance. The period of prepara- 
tion for Christianity, and the subsequent martyr 
ages, must be reckoned to include a space of nearly 
seven hundred years. It was not until long after 
the conclusion of the martyr time that this con- 
sciousness reappears at all within the field of Chris- 
tian literature. When therefore it is attempted to 
show the derivation of our modern poetic feeling 
from the Hebrew Scriptures, the attempt would be 
hopeless to establish an " unbroken succession," 
as if the flow had been continuous. That river, 
the streams whereof, making glad the city of God, 
sparkled up from the Holy Hill, disappears at the 
time when the prophetic dispensation comes to its 
close ; and these waters of Siloam then found for 
themselves an underground conduit alongside of 
the lapse of many centuries ; nor do they come 
again into day until near our modern times. 

Assuredly the Rabbinical writers did not so 
driiik of those waters as to receive thence a poetic 
inspiration ! These grave, learned, laborious, and 
whimsical doctors, had so used themselves to con- 
verse with whatever is less important, and nugatory, 
and frivolous, that they had become incapable of 
apprehending whatever, in Nature, or in life, or in 
Holy Scripture, is great —beautiful — sublime: in 

250 The Spirit of the 

all thiiifrs that which was factitious or arbitrary had 
fixed the eye of the Rabbi, who had become blind 
to the majesty of the creation. The Prophets were 
men who lived abroad — breathing the air of the 
hills and plains, of the forests and of the gardens of 
Palestine ; but their commentators — the Talmudists 
— were men of the cloister, the light of which was 
dim, and its atmosphere dust-burdened and sultry. 
Imagination of a sort the Rabbi might boast; but 
it was prolific of monstrous chimeras, and chose 
rather the prodigious than the true. Astute more 
than wise, the Jewish masters of thought groped 
along a path abounding in thorns, and scanty in 

As to the Christian community — in the East and 
the West alike — eager theological controversies came 
in the place of sufferings. Heresy, instead of Pa- 
ganism, showed itself, even more than imprison- 
ments and tortures, to be out of accordance with 
the spirit of Poetry. Christian men — orthodox and 
heterodox alike — had passed through that vast in- 
tellectual and moral revolution which had brought 
with it the consciousness of Truth in Belief, as a 
personal concernment — incalculably momentous. 
With this feeling of individual relationship to God, 
on terms to which an abstract scheme of theology 
was to give its sanction, the dialectic Reason came to 
be invoked, and was brought into play continually ; 
and the style of this controversial reason is always 
* See Note. 

Hebrew Poetry. 251 

strenuous, harsh, and unmelodious. The contro- 
versial mood, full of disquietudes, and of evil sur- 
misings, and of angry imputations, is the very 
opposite of the discursive, imaginative, poetic tem- 
per. No condition of the human mind shows a 
front so repulsive to taste and feeling as does the 
logical mood, with its formal egotism, and its in- 
tolerance. This temper of earnest wrangling (albeit 
for the right) is death to imaginative, as well as to 
the moral, sensibility. For centuries it seemed as 
if men, in contending for the Truth of God, had 
quite ceased to see or to know that the world we 
live in is beautiful, and that the universe is great. 

There was a season in the growth of the Ascetic 
Institute — dating its rise in the Decian persecution — 
in the lapse of which there may be traced much of 
the spirit of Romance, and something of the spirit 
of Poetry. A conception of romance, if not of 
poetry, one might believe to have inspired, even the 
crabbed and dogmatic Jerome, when he put to- 
gether, for popular use, the prodigious legends 
concerning the ascetic heroes — St. Paul the Monk, 
St. Hilarion, and St. Malchus, and others of the 
sort. It is certain, as to Palladius, and the com- 
pilers of the Lausiac Memoirs, that they had caught 
a feeling of the sublime, if not of the beautiful, in 
Nature ; and the terms in which they speak of the 
horrors of the bladeless wilderness suggest the idea 
that the complementary conception of w^hat is gay 
and beautiful, from the neighbourhood of which the 

252 The Spirit of the 

heroic anchoret fled far, was not quite absent from 
their thouofhts. These writers, in their encomiums 
of what might be called— spirituality run savage, 
betray their own consciousness, and that of their 
heroes, of those decorations of the material world 
upon which they dared not look : whatever w^as 
fair, bright, gay, joyous, in creation w^as contraband 
in the ascetic philosophy; nevertheless some of those 
who signalized their zeal in denouncing these graces 
of Nature gave evidence, obliquely, of the strength 
of their own forbidden feeling towards them. 

In many instances the Christian solitary was a 
man of culture, who, in sincerity, had fled from the 
abounding corruptions of cities, with their Christian- 
ized paganism — and who, when he had well nestled 
himself in his cavern, and had learned a lesson, not 
extremely difficult, in a warm climate, how to exist 
and be content in the destitution of the appliances 
of artificial life, and had come to draw spiritual 
nutriment from every misery, would return to his 
early tastes, and would follow that leading of pious 
meditation which finds its path from the worship of 
God, the Creator, to the manifestation of the Divine 
attributes in the creation. No wilderness in which 
man may exist is absolutely bladeless : no solitude 
can be wanting in the elements of sublimity, if it be 
skirted by purple and jagged rocks, which outline 
themselves sharply against a cloudless azure by day, 
and against the curtain of stars by night. When 
once the genuine relish of natural beauty has been 

Hebrew Poetry. 253 

engendered, the rule will be— or often it will be— the 
fewer the objects on which it feeds, the more intense, 
the more concentrated, will be the feeling they excite. 
The shrivelled grass— the thorny shrub — the scanty 
rush, will prove themselves to be fraught with all 
poetry ; and then fertile devout meditation will 
feast itself upon these crumbs of the beautiful — 
even as the life-long tenant of a dungeon learns to 
satisfy the social instincts of humanity in tending a 

Far more of what, with our modern tastes, we 
should admit to be true poetic feeling, here and 
there makes its appearance upon the rugged sur- 
face of the ancient asceticism, than we can find in 
the factitious versification of some of the great 
Church- writers of the same time — eastern or western. 
Such spontaneous adornments of the ascetic life, if 
compared with the laboured poetry — so called, of 
Gregory Nazianzen or of Ambrose, might suggest a 
comparison between the rich mosses, with a hundred 
hues — that embossed the rocks around the hermit's 
cavern — and the dazzle and the glare of the marbles 
and jewellery of the basilicas of the imperial city. 

Grotesque, more than poetic, are those romances 
in the composition of which Jerome (as we have 
said) beguiled his leisure at Bethlehem, and abused 
the credulity of his contemporaries. But another 
style meets us when we look into the correspon- 
dence of the accomplished and spiritually volup- 
tuous Basil— an ascetic indeed who, while main- 

254 The Spirit of the 

taining his repute as a saint — not falsely, but fac- 
titiously — knew how, in his retreat on the banks 
of the Iris, to surround himself with rural enjoy- 
ments which might have been envied by the 
younger Pliny, in his villa on the margin of the 
lake of Como.* 

It does not appear — or the evidence to that effect 
is not at hand, showing — how far the Psalms of 
David, rich as they are in poetic feeling, availed 
to nourish a kindred feeling within the monastic 
communities. Through the lapse of a thousand 
years — dating back from the time of the revival 
of literature in Italy — the Psalter had so been rolled 
over the lips of monks, morning, noon, and night, 
in inane repetitions, as must have deprived these 
odes of almost all meaning — spiritual or intellec- 
tual. Let the modern reader imamne what would 


be the effect upon himself of repeating the hundred 
and fifty Psalms, entire — round the year, fifty times 
or more ! 

But the waking hour of the European mind came 
on ; our modern consciousness toward Nature, as well 
as Art, sprang into existence ; and along with this 
renovation of the Tastes, as well as of the Reason 
of the western nations, there came the diffusion, 
and the restored influence of the Inspired writings. 
Thenceforward this mighty influence, which was 
at once a force and a guidance, took its way 
alongside of the recovered classical literature ; 
* See Note. 

Hebrew Poetry. 2oo 

and the two powers — the sacred and the profane 
— went on commina-hnff their energies in those 
various portions which have given nationality to 
the literature, distinctively, of Italy, of England, 
of France, and of Germany.* 

* See Note. 

256 lite Spirit of the 

Chapter XIV. 


THERE is presupposed in the phrase which has 
been used as the title of this volume, an idea 
of unity or continuity, as belonging to the Hebrew 
Poetry. We speak of the Spirit of the Hebrew 
Poetry, and in thus speaking a meaning is con- 
veyed to this effect — that there is a oneness of in- 
tention, or a constant principle, or a prominent 
characteristic, which may be recognized through- 
out, and which attaches, more or less decisively to 
each writer, in a long series — connecting the whole, 
and imparting to the mass a high decree of con- 
sistency and of homogeneousness. The Hebrew 
Poetry, from its earliest era to its last day, stands 
in view as a One Poetry. 

This averment in its behalf means somethino- 


more than this — which might as well be affirmed of the 
Poetry of Greece, or of that of Persia, or of Eome 
— that it is the literature of one people or race, and 

Hebrew Poetry. 257 

of a people strongly marked with the peculiarities of 
their national mood of mind, and of their habits, and 
their religious notions and usages. More than this 
must be intended to be affirmed when we so speak 
of the literature of the Hebrews, and we must mean 
what would best be made intelligible by the hypo- 
thesis that, in the midst of these many and diverse 
voices — each uttering itself after its own fashion, 
and following each other through the lapse of more 
than a thousand years — there is heard the mind and 
feeling of One, who is unchangeable in disposition 
and principle — the same yesterday, and to-day, and 
in all time. This^ undoubtedly, is the hypothesis 
on the ground of which we accept the books of the 
Canonical Scriptures, as given by the Inspiration 
of God — in a sense peculiar to themselves. But 
just now let this hypothesis (unquestionably true as 
it is) be set apart, or removed from our view. That 
which remains, after this abeyance of the belief of 
Inspiration has been effected, is a congeries of facts 
of such a kind that they must compel an immediate 
return to that belief, apart from w^hich these facts 
can receive no solution whatever. 

So familiar are the topics involved in this ar- 
gument that the reader who is well used to his Bible 
may believe that he fully apprehends them : and it 
may be so ; and yet it is not so with many who, 
following the daily routine of Scripture lessons in 
the track of the misadjusted order (which in a chro- 
nological sense is disorder) of the Old Testament 


258 The Spirit of the 

books, fail to perceive, or fail to recollect, that, in 
passing from one Psalm to the next, or from one 
Prophet to the next, they may have spanned a five 
hundred, or even a thousand years ; and moreover 
that they have made this leap in a retrograde direc- 
tion: — as, for instance, when an ode later dated than 
the Captivity, is followed by one which is earlier dated 
than the Exodus. These anachronisms of our modern 
Bibles take possession of our minds in a disad- 
vantageous manner, and stand in the way of clear 
and firmly held convictions concerning the historic 
reality of the series of events. If the English lan- 
guage, in a thousand years, had undergone as little 
change as did the Hebrew language in that time, 
and if we were to read, in constant mislocation, 
passages of Cowper and of Chaucer, or of Milman 
and Bede, it would demand a very frequent re- 
ference to the dates of our literature to dispel the 
chronological confusions that would beset us. 

The degree of uniformity or homogeneousness in 
the literature of a people, which might easily be 
regarded as probable, on common principles, would 
be of this kind — first, there is the same language 
throughout, with diversities of dialect only ; and 
there might be the same metrical or rhythmical 
system ; then we should find the same figurative 
material — related as this would be to the climate 
and the country ; and we might also find the same 
theology and ethics — or nearly the same — as well as 
allusions to nearly the same political and social in- 

Hebrew Poetry. 259 

stitutions. Prevalent as these characteristics might 
be, and enduring as might be their influence, it 
is not to be imagined that a series of writers, 
representing the national history through so long 
a term as more than a thousand years, should 
fail to exhibit great divei-sities on such grounds 
as these, namely— (1) The individual disposition 
and intellectual disparities of the writers (this must 
be even if they were all nearly contemporaries 
and fellow-citizens). (2) The varying position of 
these writers, as belonging to, or as representino- 
the several orders and interests in the common- 
wealth. (3) The influence upon each writer of 
those marked changes in the habits and disposi- 
tions of a people from which no people, hitherto, 
has been exempt — or not exempt if many centuries 
of their history are to be included. In these senses 
uniform, and in these senses also diverse, the lite- 
rature — or say, the poetry — of a one people may 
be accepted as the product of causes the opera- 
tion of which is intelligible. 

The Hebrew writers do in fact exhibit much di- 
versity in the several respects above named: — indivi- 
dually they differ — each has his manner: — dififerences 
also are perceptible among them arising from their 
social position, as of the sacerdotal class, or of other 
classes : — differences also there are the distinctness 
of which is sufficient, in several instances, to sup- 
port an inference as to the place in the national 
history to which each writer belongs. Yet in this 

260 The Spirit of the 

last-named respect the differences are far from being 
such as, on ordinary principles, might seem likely to 
arise from the greatness of those changes through 
which the Hebrew race had passed in this lapse of 
time. These changes embrace the most extreme 
and peculiar conditions under which a people may 
at all conserve its continuous identity ; for the for- 
tunes of this people went the round of national 
well-doing and of disaster. Not to go back to the 
patriarchal age, although then this poetry had 
had its commencement, the Hebrew lyre gave 
evidence of a long and well-skilled practice at 
the very moment when the race, in tumultuous 
excitement, stood, ransomed and astounded, upon 
the eastern margin of the Red Sea. The training 
of the people who, with their Leader, there sang the 
song of triumph unto Jehovah (Exodus xv.) had 
been such a schooling in music, and in recitative 
worship, as might be carried on in the house of 
bondage, and while the tribes, in severest servitude, 
were labouring under the sun in the brickfields of 
Pharaoh. Yet it was then and there that this 
peculiar function of the Israelitish race made its 
bold essay of power. This lyre, attuned on the 
banks of the Nile, did its office until the moment 
of sadness came — a thousand years later, for leaving 
it to sigh in the winds by the rivers of Babylon. 
Frequent notes of this same lyre give proof that 
the tent-life of the terrible wilderness had not put 
it to silence ; and at the time when these wan- 

Hebrew Poetry. 261 

derings were to cease, strains burst anew from 
its wires of surpassing majesty (Deut. xxxiii.) It 
might seem as if rhythm, and music, and bold 
imagery, so floated in the air far around the camp 
of God, that even the false-hearted prophet, when 
he looked down upon it from the " high places of 
Baal," caught the same rhythm and the same fire.* 
Throughout the precarious times of the Judges— 
a three centuries or more — when everywhere within 
the borders of Israel, often — 

the highways were deserted, 
And the travellers walked through by-ways : 
The Tillages ceased — they ceased in Israel ; 

— even through those dark years of almost national 
extinction, the energies of sacred song did not de- 
cline. The ruddy youth of Bethlehem found poetry 
and music— one divine art— ready for his hand, and 
for his voice, and for his soul ; and his Psalms are 
vouchers for a fact so well deserving notice, that 
neither the sweetness of these tones, nor their depth, 
nor their grandeur, were in any manner affected, for 
the worse, by the changeful fortunes of the man. It 
is the same soul, graceful and tender, even when it 
is the most impassioned, which utters itself, whether 
the poet be the leader of a band of outlaws in the 
rugged wilderness, or the anointed of the Lord, with 
tens of thousands of warriors at his side. 

* It belongs to another line of argument to note the fact 
that Balaam's reluctant prophecy was—" The word put into 
his mouth by God," (Numbers xxiii.) 

2G2 The Spirit of the 

The Israelitish monarchy, through another long 
era — a five hundred years — underwent seasons of 
fiery trial in its alternations of power and splendour, 
and of decay and subjugation, and almost of ex- 
tinction ; and these revolutions in the political and 
social condition of the people were enough — were 
more than enough — under ordinary conditions, to 
bring about an absolute loss, or final disappearance 
of the poetic feeling — the poetic habitude, and even 
of the rhythmical art — the metrical practice, among 
a people. The people of Greece lost the soul of 
poetry within as short a time, and under con- 
ditions much less severe. 

But there was a vitality in the Hebrew Poetry 
which preserved it from decay through these eleven 
centuries of national fortunes and reverses. There 
was a principle within it which resisted every in- 
fluence that might have wrought upon it, either to 
abate its tone, or to alter and vitiate its moral and 
religious import. Not only did this poetry last 
out its destined millennium, but, with a robust per- 
sistence — with a fixed and resolute consistency — 
it continued to vindicate the same moral axioms, 
and to denounce, in the same terms of inexorable 
rebuke, the vices of mankind at large, and the cor- 
ruptions of the one people in particular. Amidst the 
varying moods of a passionate people, this millennial 
utterance does not vary by a shade from its pristine 
theology, or its pristine ethics. Do we please to 
call this theology " unphilosophic ? " — if it was so 

Hebrew Poetry. 263 

in its earliest forms, it continued to be such in 
its latest forms — notwithstanding the tendency of 
religious thought, always and everywhere, to so- 
phisticate its notions, and to complicate its phrase- 
ology, in the direction, on the one hand, toward 
mj^sticism ; on the other hand, toward vague, fruit- 
less, and negative abstractions. Or do we please 
to say that this Hebrew morality was severe and 
uncompromising ? If it was so at its birth in the 
glooms of the wilderness of Sinai—such also was 
it in that day of sadness when the triumphant 
idolater carried " of the vessels of the house of 
the Lord to Babylon, and put them in his temple 
at Babylon." Or if we say — and this is far nearer 
to the truth — that the Hebrew religious system 
rested, peacefully, upon an assured belief of the 
graciousness and clemency of Jehovah ; such it was 
at the first, when the Eternal proclaimed Himself — 
" the Lord — the Lord God, merciful and gracious, 
long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth;" 
so was it in that later age when the terms of the 
divine economy toward man were to be repeated in 
form — " What now doth the Lord require of thee, 
but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk 
humbly with thy God." 

This consistency — this exemption from the va- 
riableness that attaches always, and everywhere 
else, to whatever is human — is utterly inconceivable 
until, for its explanation, we bring in the one truth 
that, whoever might be the Prophet that challenges 

264 The Spirit of the 

the people to a hearing, the Speaker is ever the 
same — the same in mind and in purpose through 
a thousand generations. 

That first principle of true Religion — the Per- 
sonality of God (insufficient and unpleasing are all 
phrases of this order!) — this principle always taught 
and affirmed in the Hebrew Scriptures, is also in- 
sensibly conveyed in that mode which— rather than, 
and far better than, any formal affirmation — gives 
us our consciousness of the individuality — the se- 
parate independent personality of those around us. 
Whence is it, in fact, that, in our every-day con- 
verse with those who make up our homes and social 
circles, we unconsciously acquire our conception of 
the disposition, the moods, the tastes, the consti- 
tutional faults and virtues, and the mental bulk of 
each and all ? A knowledge of character — a know- 
ledge so important to every one's own conduct — is 
a slowly derived induction ; it is an accretion from 
day to day, built up out of each person's casual 
utterances and incidental discourse, as every one is 
moved or provoked by the occurrences of the passing 
hour. If we only hear what has been said on any 
occasion, we know who has said it : — the utter- 
ance is index of the person ; or if a single utterance 
be not sufficient for this recognition, a few, taken 
at hazard, will not fail to remove any doubt as to 
the speaker. It is the same as to our feeling of the 
individuality of the prominent persons of history. 
If memoirs sufficient are extant — if there are 

Hebrew Poetry. 265 

records sufficient, of the sayings and the doings 
of noted persons we come to know the person, 
thenceforward, even with a distinctness that ap- 
proaches the vivacity of actual acquaintance. 

If, then, we accept it as an axiom of Biblical 
science that a main purpose of the Old Testament 
Scriptures was this — to ingrain upon the minds of 
men this vivid conception of God — the one Living 
and Ever-present Creator, Ruler, Father — then it 
is seen that this purpose has been secured in that 
one method in which alone it could be etfected — 
namely, by the record of utterances, each related 
to some occasion of the time, on the part of Him 
who is thus to be made known. The Speaker — 
unchanging in disposition and in His principles of 
conduct — utters His mind by a direct conveyance of 
it in the form — " Thus saith the Lord." Century 
after century, through all the shiftings of a people's 
weal, and of their correspondence with their neigh- 
bours, God, their God, thus utters His mind. No- 
thing approaching to this vivid revelation, this 
bringing the conception of the Person home to 
the consciousness of men, has elsewhere ever taken 
place : it is the peculiarity of the Hebrew Scrip- 

Why should the Hebrew testimony concerning 
the true and living God — why should it have been 
thrown into the poetic mould? — why should this 
theology have been made to flow as a river through 
the levels of time, reflecting, as it passes, the ob- 

2GG The Spirit of the 

jects on its banks ? One might speculate to little 
purpose in attempting an answer to this question. 
Meantime the fact is before us — the Hebrew Poetic 
Prophecy is a revealing of God, carried on through 
a millennium, in all which course of time, just as 
the thunder of heaven is even-toned, and is always 
like itself in awful grandeur, and is unlike other 
sounds of earth, so did the voice of the Eternal 
continuously peal over-head of the chosen people, 
and thus did it take firm possession of the human 
mind — which never, thenceforward, lost its con- 
sciousness toward God, as a Mind — a Will — a 
Heart, and a concentrated Resolve, in a right 
knowledge of whom stands our well-being — present 
and future. 

If there be among those that actually read the 
Old Testament Scriptures any who are wavering 
in their belief of the proper inspiration of the pro- 
phetic books, such persons might be advised to put 
to themselves a question which, perhaps, hitherto 
they have never propounded, or even thought of, 
namely, this — Whether, in the habitual perusal of 
these books, there has not formed itself in their 
minds what might be called a consciousness of the 
Divine Being as — A Person of History — a feeling 
or cognition, much more sharply defined than an 
abstraction can ever be ? And then this well-defined 
historic conception is consistent with itself in all its 
elements : — every particle of which this one Idea 
is constituted is characteristic, and is in harmony 
with the whole. If it be so — 

Hebrew Foetry. 267 

Then comes a second question, which may be 
thus worded — Is it conceivable that an Idea of 
this order — a conception so majestic, and so vivid 
and real, and so truthfully historic, should, even if 
once it had been formed, have floated itself on- 
wards, unbroken, through the waywardness of so 
many uncontrolled human minds ? Onwards, un- 
broken, it has come, even from the remote age of 
its first expression, down to the latest age of its last 
utterance. Nothing that is incredible and incon- 
ceivable can be more inconceivable than is a sup- 
position of this kind. With a healthful confidence 
in the sureness of the instincts of truth, a mind in 
health returns to its belief that it is indeed the voice 
of God which has given consistence and authority 
to the millennium of the Hebrew Scriptures. 

It is a trite theme with Biblical expositors to 
insist upon that doctrinal and ethical consistency 
which imparts its character of oneness to the Ca- 
nonical writings. Argumentation on this ground 
is perfectly valid ; yet what now we have in view 
differs from that argument, as well in its substance, 
as in the use that may be made of it. Difl^icult it is, 
and must be, to give distinct expression to a con- 
ception of this kind, involving as it does, the most 
sacred elements, and in doing so to avoid appa- 
rent improprieties ; so to write as shall off*end no 
religious decorum, and yet so as shall be suflScient 
for bringing into view, with distinctness, an occult 
analogy. If, however, a writer's intention is well 

2G8 The Spirit of the 

understood, indulgence may well be granted him 
on any single occasion when he bespeaks it. 

If the Hebrew Poetry, regarded as a whole, be 
a national literature, and if it carries upon its sur- 
face, very distinctly, its nationality, and not less 
distinctly the individuality of each writer in the 
series — it carries wdth it also — and it does so with a 
bright distinctness (let us speak with all reverence) 
the Individuality of the Infinite, the Eternal, the 
Just, the Good, and Wise, who is the Author 
of this Hebrew literature in a higher sense. 

The Bible reader — if his consciousness has not 
already been damaged by his converse with petulant 
and nugatory criticism — is here challenged to pursue 
the suggestion that has been put before him. The 
more he gives himself to this line of thought — 
following it out in a new perusal of the prophetic 
Scriptures, from first to last — the more convincing 
will be the inference, and the more irresistible 
the impression, that these Scriptures are every- 
where marked with an Individuality which is not 
that of the people, and which is not that of the 
men — the prophets in series — but is that of Him 
" who spake by the prophets." 

An argument resting on this ground may easily 
be put aside by those who may be inclined to 
escape fi'om a foreseen inference ; for an appeal 
is made to a sense — to a feeling — to a moral and 
a literary taste which all men have not, and which 
some who once had it have lost, and of which any 

Hebrew Poetry. 269 

one may choose to profess himself destitute. We 
now address ourselves to those whose mental and 
moral condition is of that kind which readily 
coalesces with Truth, and not the less so when 
it is found beneath the surface. We say — found 
beneath the surface in this sense : — the indivi- 
duality of each of the inspired writers presents 
itself to view, on the surface: the theology and 
the moral system of all — as one religion, is con- 
spicuous on the surface of the Scriptures ; but 
what we here venture to speak of in terms of re- 
verence — namely, the Personal Character or Indi- 
viduality of the Divine Being — is a fact — distinct 
indeed, but occult, and needing therefore to be 
ought for. 

270 The Spirit of the 

Chapter XV. 


MUCH might easily be written, pertinently 
perhaps, and ingeniously, no doubt, and 
learnedly too, with the intention of instituting a 
comparison between the Hebrew Scriptures and 
other national literatures, which must be those of 
China, of India, in its two fields, and of Persia, 
and of Greece. Comparative criticisms on this 
ground may be instituted either with an intention 
hostile to the claims of the Hebrew literature, or 
with an intention favourable — not so much to those 
claims, as to the assumed literary repute, and the 
supposed genius and intelligence of the several 

Comparisons of this kind, and it is the same 
whether the intention of those who institute them 
be hostile or apologetic, we hold to be founded 
altogether upon an erroneous hypothesis ; and in 
fact they never fail to exhaust, quickly, any small 
substance of reason that there may be in them, 
and to spend themselves in disquisitions that are 
nugatory, impertinent, and pedantic. The reader 
soon becomes sick of any such attenuated criticisms, 

Hebrew Poetry. 271 

in the course of which the writer swelters away to 
no end — for he has set out on a path that leads to 
nothing. If now putting out of view the Oriental 
literatures, with which the mass of readers can have 
none but a third-hand acquaintance, and which 
must be fragmentary and insufficient for any pur- 
poses of intelligent adjudication — and if we were 
to bring into view that only ancient literature with 
which educated persons are more or less familiar — 
the literature of Greece— its Philosophy, its His- 
tory, its Poetry — lyric, dramatic, and epic, then 
might any proposed comparison with the Hebrew 
books be peremptorily rejected, on this ground, that 
the dissimilarities— the contrasts — the contrarieties, 
are so great and striking as to throw absurdity 
upon the attempt to establish any ground of ana- 
logy — whether for purposes of encomium, or of 

The Greek literature, in each of its species — 
not less than its inimitable sculptures— is a product 
of art ; it is an elaborate combination of the poet's, 
or of the artist's individual genius and practised 
skill, with the highly-cultured taste, and the large 
requirements of the men of his time. But, as we 
have said, again and again, the Hebrew writers 
are never artists. Two or three books of the Canon 
excepted, if indeed these should be excepted, then 
it must be affirmed that everything within this circle 
is unartistic in a literary sense, and unlaboured. 
Certain metrical usages are complied with by the 

272 The Spirit of the 

poet ; and so he complies with the grammatical 
usages of his language : but his course of thought 
obeys an influence of another, and of a higher 
order. It would not be enough to affirm — That 
the manner of the Hebrew writers is that of 
simple-hearted men, who naturally fall into an in- 
artificial and fragmentary mode of expressing them- 
selves ; for this affirmation does not satisfy the 
requirements of the instance before us. Their 
manner is not an artless innocence ; it is not the 
rudeness of a pristine era ; for, from the first to 
the last, it has the force and the firm purpose 
proper to a deep intention. Moreover the constant 
course of things in the development of a people's 
mind is this — that a literature which is inartificial 
in its dawn, goes through a process of elaboration 
in its noon-tide ; nor ever fails, in its decline, to 
become false in taste, and wanting in soul. 

No process of this sort gives evidence of its 
presence in the passage of the Hebrew Poetry from 
age to age ; and yet its presence becomes manifest 
enough at the very moment after the sealing of 
the prophetic economy : thenceforward Jewish lite- 
rature shows its grey hairs. Within the compass 
of the Psalms there are odes which belong to the 
extreme points of the national history — if we take 
its commencement at the time of the Exodus, and 
date its conclusion a century later than the return 
of the remnant of the people to their City, and the 
restoration of their worship. We here embrace 
more than a thousand years ; yet, on the ground 


Hebrew Poetry. 27 

of the natural progress of Poetry, from its earliest 
to its latest style, this difference of date would not 
be detected, and it is indicated only by references 
to events in the people's history. 

The Hebrew literature differs absolutely, and it 
differs in a manner that sets at nought all attempted 
comparisons between itself and that of Greece. It 
does so, for instance, in the department of history ; 
for even if we take up that of Greece, not as we 
find it in Thucydides, but as it pleasantly flows on 
as a devious river in the pages of Herodotus, we 
should do no service to the Hebrew chroniclers by 
attempting to show that, if they had written of As- 
syria, and of Babylon, and of Egypt, discursively, we 
might have found in our Bibles a match for the Clio 
or the Melpomene. With these narrators of single 
lines of events there was no ability of the same 
order; there were no literary habits of the same 
order. Even less tolerable would be an attempt 
to match David or Isaiah with iEschylus, or So- 
phocles, or even with Hesiod or Pindar. It is not 
so much that we might not find in the Greek waiters 
— Plato, for instance, or j9^schylus — the rudiments 
of a theology — true and great, so far as it goes ; 
but in no Greek writer, in none anterior to the 
difiusion of the Gospel, are there to be found any 
rudiments whatever — any mere fragments, however 
small — of that Life of the soul toward God, 
and of that Divine correspondence with man 
which, in every Psalm, in every page of the Pro- 


274 The Spirit of the 

phets, shines — burns — rules, with force — overrules 
Poetry — drives from its area the feeble resources 
of human art, and brings down upon earth those 
powers and those profound emotions which bespeak 
the nearness of the Infinite and Eternal, when God 
holds communion with those that seek to live in the 
light of His favour. 

There is, however, a ground — not indeed of com- 
parison, but of intelligible contrast, which it is well 
to pursue ; for it is here that the proper claims of 
the Hebrew Scriptures come into a position where 
there neither is, nor can be, any sort of rivalry. 

Let it just now be granted (for a moment) that, 
within the circle of the Greek literature— including 
its history, its poetry, and its philosophy — there 
might be found a sufficient theology, and a sufficient 
system of morals — a belief toward God, and a prac- 
tice of the virtues — personal and social — justice, 
temperance, mercy, or benevolence ; and let those 
who would risk such a paradox affirm that, on the 
whole, the Greek theology and ethics are as com- 
mendable, and as eligible, as are the theology and the 
ethics of the Hebrews : yet is there this difference 
— if there were no other — that the one religious 
scheme has thrown itself into a form to which a di- 
rect authentication, as from Heaven, could never be 
made to apply ; while, on the contrary, the Hebrew 
theology, and its ethical system, exist in a form 
to which the voucher from above may be made to 
attach ; and therefore that this scheme may meet 

Hebrew Poetry. 275 

the requirements of mankind — as an authenticated 
Religion, which may be taken up and used as the 
rule and warrant of the religious life. Briefly to 
open up this contrast will be proper; and two or 
three instances, selected from different quarters, will 
be enough to show what it is that is intended. 

The question is not — Which, in any two samples, 
is the preferable one, on abstract grounds, as more 
true, or of better tendency than the other? — but 
this— To which of the two — when placed side by 
side — it would be possible (or, if possible, useful) 
to attach the seal of Heaven, as our warrant for 
accepting it as the source of belief in religion ? 
Nor does it at all concern us to inquire whether, 
in Plato, the theology and the philosophy be his 
own, or be that of his master — whether it is Socrates 
who speaks, or Plato, for himself and his master : in 
either case it is the same flow of human thought 
throughout these Dialogues — deep — sincere — in- 
genuous — a depth which has secured for them, and 
must ever give them, an immortality among cul- 
tured nations, to the world's end. And this is an 
immortality which perhaps may brighten so much 
the more, when, in the onward course of religious 
opinion, Christianity — or let us better say, the Re- 
ligion of Holy Scripture, at length accepted, "rejoiced 
in by all men, shall draw all things that are the 
most excellent into its wake — no one thencefor- 
ward unwisely attempting to bring the two upon a 
level, as if both alike were Revelations — both alike 

276 The Spirit of the 

inspired. The one is sterling, excellent, admirable, 
weighty, and of inestimable value: — the other is 
Divine — it is more than human : — God has sealed 
it as His own, and the two stand before us distin- 
guished, not only in this way, that the one bears on 
it a stamp which the other has not; — nor only in 
this way, that the doctrine of the one, as compared 
with the doctrine of the other, is preferable, and is 
more true, and is more conspicuously Divine — but 
in this way, that the one body of religious thought 
which actually carries the seal, presents itself under 
conditions adapted to so peculiar a purpose and to so 
special a service as that of receiving this m.ark from 
Heaven, and of going forth into all the world — to 
rule the human mind, and to make valid every 
hope and every dread that can strengthen virtue. 

Poor and narrow indeed is that jealousy, pre- 
tended to be felt for the honour of our Christianity, 
which prompts some to lay bare the ambiguous spe- 
culations of the Ph^do — pointing the finger at its 
tremulous places, and vaunting its dimness, and 
ending with the triumphant interjection — " See 
what was the darkness of heathenism ! " Nay, this 
dimness was crepuscular ; it was not a shadow of 
the eventide. This dimness, regarded in its bearing 
upon the' progress of the human mind, bespoke the 
morning at hand ; and why should we doubt it, or 
why be backward to give utterance to our confidence, 
that, to these illustrious minds — this Creed — "where- 
fore we hold it to be true that the soul is immortal 

Hebrew Poetry. 217 

and imperishable" — was, to him who so spoke, a 
presage of day ? The dying sage, who said, koXov 
■yap TO aOXov /cot i) f AttJc,' /it£-yaXrj, shall he not find that, 
within the Hades, on the threshold of which his 
foot then calmly rested, there was, in due time, to 
be opened, a door of hope ? 

" To stay oneself," says this teacher, " with ab- 
solute confidence, or to utter with assurance, as 
certain, the things we have thus discoursed about, 
would not become a wise man." Nevertheless the 
argument on this side was of such strength that, as 
he says, a man might well live, and practise every 
virtue, on the faith of it. The reasoning of Socrates, 
if translated into the terms of modern philosophy — 
if put into its equivalents in French, German, or 
English, would not carry conviction to many minds; 
and the less so because reasons, drawn from the 
instincts of the moral life, which with ourselves must 
have the greatest force, are not, in this instance, 
adduced. Nor is the faith of Socrates (Plato) in 
any proper sense a theological faith. God is not 
the reason of the immortality of man ; nor is He 
the Granter of it ; nor is the favour of God spoken 
of as the light of that life future. 

But even if the argument of the Ph.i:do were 
more complete than it is, in a theological sense, it 
is, at the best, nothing better than the opening out 
of an hypothesis: — the reasoner disposes of certain 
objections ; he fortifies his position on this side, and 
that side. Human thought is here evolving itself, 

278 The Spirit of the 

after its manner, on ground over which no road has 
been laid down, and on which no sure light shines. 
In what way, then, or to what purpose, might this, 
or, indeed, the entire body of Plato's writings, re- 
ceive a warranty from Heaven, and so come into 
a place of authority, in matters of belief? To no 
such purpose as this are they adapted. Looking 
now to the Apology, and to the Ph.edo, as related 
to the same great question of a future life, the 
attractive quality of both is that modesty, that calm 
philosophic balance of the mind, professing its choice 
of a belief that is favourable to virtue, and en- 
heartening especially to those who bear testimony 
for wisdom and goodness among the enemies of 
both ; the Martyr-teacher will yet do no more 
than declare his own faith, and make profession 
of a hope, the reality of which, or its futility, none 
among the living knows, or can know : — it is known, 
he says, to God alone.* 

Taking the Platonic belief— just as it stands in 
these Dialogues, and in the Apology, the substance 
to which, in any way whatever, the seal of God 
might come to be attached is — not, that belief itself ; 
but only — the dialectic conditions under which it 
may be entertained, as a probable hypothesis, by a 
wise and good man. The voucher could reach this 

* If the last words of the Apology may seem ambiguous, the 
inference we are here concerned with will be the same : — the 
doctrine of immortality, as professed by Socrates, was not 
more than a choice among contrary hypotheses. See Note. 

Hebrew Poetry. 279 

extent only — that it is allowable so to believe con- 
cerning the future of the human soul. If beyond 
this we should say — the Socratic belief might have 
received an explicit approval, this could only be by 
appending to the Platonic text a supplementary 
text — a page or paragraph, which, in fact, is not 
there. What we have to do with is — Plato, as 
the existing manuscripts have put him into our 

Then there would be a further difficulty in 
affixing the seal of Heaven to the Socratic, or the 
Platonic creed — namely, this — that the belief of 
the immortality and future blessedness of good men 
is not in any way made to take its rise in a theo- 
logy, or even in an ethical scheme. Although 
Plato is not himself an atheist, his doctrine of im- 
mortality is absolutely atheistical. How then shall 
He in whom is the life of the future life authen- 
ticate a creed in which the Divine Attributes find 
no place, and are not once named ? 

In search of a belief which might thus be made 
available as a Religion — authenticated by God, we 
must look elsewhere. The rareness and the brevity 
of those passages in the Hebrew Scriptures which 
relate to the future life we are all used to speak of, 
and also to conjecture the probable reasons of this 
reserve. Yet few as such passages may be, and 
brief as they are — this characteristic attaches to 
each of them — namely, that the language of each 
is peremptory, and assured. Great is the difference 

280 The Spirit of the 

— on this ground — between a copious discursive 
disquisition — with its probable conclusions — labo- 
riously reached — and a ten words sharply uttered, 
in the natural tone of one who is reporting things 
of which he has a direct and infallible knowledge. 
This sort of determinate averment — inviting no dis- 
cussion, and supposing no question or contradiction 
— possesses, let it be clearly understood, that logical 
form which it should have, in adaptation to the pur- 
pose of receiving the seal of God. 

In turning from the recorded hope of Socrates, 
to the recorded hope of David, the contrast we are 
here concerned with is not that of quality ; nor is it 
that of the quantity of illumination which is shed 
upon the two respectively, but this — which arises 
from a distinct affirmation, resting upon knowledge 
in the one case, compared with the avowal of an 
opinion, on grounds of probable reasoning, in the 
other case. Where Socrates professes his hope of 
a happy release from the pains and labours of life, 
and an admittance into the society of the heroes 
of past time, who, he says, are inhabitants of Hades 
for ever, David thus gives the upshot of his nightly 
meditations, and thus, as we might say, does he 
open the roll of the book, in readiness for its re- 
ceiving the seal of Heaven, by bringing in the 
Lord — the First Party in this compact, even as 
if visibly present for the purpose : — 

I have set the Lord always before me ; 

Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved : 

Hebrew Poetry. 281 

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth : 

My flesh also shall rest in hope ; 

For thou wilt not leave my soul in Hades, 

Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 

Thou wilt show me the path of life : 

In thy presence is fulness of joy, 

At thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.* 

As is the difference between the first doubtful 
streak of light in the eastern sky, and the blaze 
of noon in the tropics, such is the difference in 
quantity of illumination between the hopeful belief 
of Socrates, and the firm belief of David. Equally 
great also is the difference as to the quality of that 
light in each instance — might one say — as to the 
actinic force — the germinative energy of each. 

Yet if we allege that the Platonic philosophy, 
because it is hypothetic and indeterminate, could 
not be given forth to the world as a Divine Reve- 
lation (even if it were of much better religious 
quality than it is) should we not be led to seek 
for Avhat might serve such a purpose in those pro- 
ducts of the Greek mind, the very characteristic 
of which is a determinative and categorical decla- 
ration of principles ? Shall we not find in Aristotle 
that which Plato will not yield? With this pur- 
pose in view, it is natural to turn to the Nicoma- 
chean Ethics :— a book of sharply-cut definitions 
and distinctions, within the circuit of which nearly 
every term belonging to the glossary of common 

* The Messianic meaning of this Psalm has no bearing upon 
oiir arffument in this instance. 

282 The. Spirit of the 

discourse, as well as of philosophical discussion, 
finds its due place, in and between its contraries, 
and its cognates, and its synonyms. Exact, dis- 
criminative, unquestionable, for the most part, are 
these refined collocations of ethical terms. How 
far such a book might be made to subserve the 
purposes of a Treatise on Morals is not a question 
that concerns us in this place : it might, in a sense, 
serve this purpose, and so might a Lexicon, if cut 
in pieces, and put up anew in logical order, instead 
of the alphabetical order. 

It is clear that what might be said of a treatise 
like the Nicomachean Ethics, might be affirmed 
also of Euclid's Elements of Geometry. Both pro- 
fess to be demonstrative ; or otherwise to state the 
case, Aristotle and Euclid, alike, so deal with the 
matter in hand, at each step of their progress, as 
to exhaust all supposable contrary affirmations. In 
each instance any hypothetic contradiction is over- 
thrown, or is driven off the field. On the ground 
of formal logical demonstration no place is left for 
authentication, as if it might be superadded to the 
process of reasoning. If the reasoning, in an^^ single 
instance, were faulty or fallacious, then it could gain 
nothing by the seal which a higher authority might 
give it : but if the reasoning be valid, and if we may 
examine it, in every link, then a voucher for its 
truth is quite superfluous : — nothing is added to 
our faith in the relations of extension to be told, 
from on high, that the three angles of a triangle 

Hebrew Poetry. 283 

are equal to two right angles — or to 180 degrees. 
The definitions of this treatise— the Ethics— accord, 
or they do not accord, with the notions we may 
have entertained of the usages and proprieties of 
the Greek language, in the class of terms which 
it embraces. Rarely, or to a very limited extent 
only, does Aristotle dip into the depths of the 
moral consciousness : for, as he is wanting in a theo- 
logy — if theology be more than a naked abstraction — 
so he wants soul, nor could he ever be thought of as 
the Prophet of great truths; or as one who was 
" sent of Heaven." Whither else, then, on the 
field of Greek literature, shall we turn in search of 
any such embodiment of religious and moral prin- 
ciples as might be fit for receiving an authentica- 
tion, so that it might be accepted and trusted to by 
men everywhere ? The Poets of the earlier era — 
Hesiod and Homer — may be thought to give ex- 
pression, in some undefined sense, to a religious and 
moral system ; but this system, if thus it may be 
spoken of, everywhere so commingles itself with, 
and weaves itself into, the texture of a polytheistic 
tissue, that no voucher for great truths could be 
attached to the mass, so as not to complicate itself 
with the fables that thicken around it, on every 
page. Nor does an extrication of the true from the 
fabulous become at all more easy when we reach 
times of higher refinement, and of a more elaborate 
art, as it is found in the tragedians — ^schylus, 
Sophocles, or Euripides. 

284 The Spirit of the 

Much has been said and written of late in behalf 
of what professes to be a benevolent and catholic 
doctrine concerning the religious schooling of the 
human family : — all tribes of earth, it is said, have 
been alike cared for, and have been led forward in 
company toward the true and the good; and among 
those who have thus been providentially disciplined, 
the Hebrew people is not forgotten. Yet to each and 
to all alike an unauthenticated Revelation has been 
granted. China has had its Bible — the Buddhist 
millions have had their Bible — and so have the 
people of Persia and of Greece ; and so of Pales- 
tine : all men cared for alike ! (a good belief, in- 
deed,) and all, not only cared for alike, but dealt 
with in the same manner ; for among each people 
there has been raised up a prophet, or a series 
of prophets — men of soul and of fire, who, either 
as philosophers or as poets, have quickened the 
inert masses around them, and have left on record 
their testimony on behalf of virtue. 

Hold we then to this catholic modern doctrine 
until we see what it involves. There is assumed in 
this creed a providential interposition in human 
affairs ; and there is supposed a beneficent purpose, 
wdiich is the guiding reason of this interposition. 
Then, if it be so, this peculiarity of the Hebrew lite- 
rature, and of its body of poetry especially, is brought 
into prominence; for it is this literature, and it is this 
alone among the literatures that are extant, which, 
from its earliest samples to its last, adheres to that 

Hebrew Poetry. 285 

form of peremptory affirmation which fits it to re- 
ceive a supernatural attestation; and thus to become 
an authoritative source of religious belief, beyond 
the circuit of its birthplace : — that is, to men every- 
where to the world's end. If the teaching of Buddha 
was from Heaven, and if Homer, Hesiod, Plato, 
Aristotle, were ministers of Heaven, and if Moses 
also, and David, and Isaiah, were such, then were 
these last-named teachers so overruled in the deli- 
very of their teaching as to do it — not hypotheti- 
cally — not ambiguously — not scientifically — not as 
if uncertain — in ignorance ; and yet not as if certain 
in the way of demonstration; but authoritatively, and 
in a tone, and in terms, which imply, and suppose, 
and are proper to, a continuously given superna- 
tural attestation. 

286 The Spirit of the 

Chapter XVL 

the hebrew poetry, and the divine legation 
of the prophets. 

GREAT, substantial, and of the highest value 
are the achievements of modern criticism, 
in its laborious explorations of the Hebrew Scrip- 
tures ; nor can it be doubted that more will yet be 
done on this field when the time shall come — and 
it is sure to come, though we may wait long for it 
— that the same learning (or more learning) and 
the same industry, and the same liberty (or even 
greater liberty) shall be employed on the same 
path of philological and historical elucidation, wholly 
free, which it is not yet, on the one hand, from the 
sinister purposes of infidelity, and on the other hand, 
from those groundless alarms which take their rise 
in indeterminate convictions of the Divine Lega- 
tion of the Prophets, and so, in a precarious reli- 
gious belief. 

It is not on the pathway of criticism, whether 
philological or historical, that a determinate con- 
viction to this effect will ever be attained. Indi- 
vidual men will not, nor do they in fact, become 
believers in this method ; religious communities — 
that is to say, the masses of professedly Christian 

Hebrew Poetry. 287 

people — with their teachers, as a body, do not, in 
the pursuit of studies of this order, rid themselves 
of that wavering, anxious, unquiet, half- compro- 
mising, tone and style which indicate a deep-seated 
perplexity — a root of unbelief, ready always to shoot 
up and put forth leaves on the surface. 

But take the question of the Divine Legation of 
the Hebrew Prophets to an upper, and this is its 
proper, ground — namely, the ground of the greater 
question, concerning the truth and reality of a 
Spiritual System — even of the life of the soul to- 
ward God, and there, and on that ground, a Faith 
shall be attained in possession of which no peril can 
be incurred on the side of even the freest criticism. 

Did the Hebrew Prophets speak " as they were 
moved by the Holy Ghost?" Did they so speak 
as no men but they, and the Apostles, have ever 
spoken or written ? We should seek a reply to this 
question in the answer that must be given to an- 
other question — Is there a life divine — is there a life 
of the soul toward God ? Is there a communion of 
the finite spirit with the Infinite, on terms of inti- 
mate correspondence, in which the deepest and the 
most powerful aifections of human nature are drawn 
forth toward, and centred upon, the Perfections of 
the Infinite Being ? If there be — and there is — 
a life of the soul toward God — a life not mystical, 
not vague and abstractive — then we find our reply 
to the included question concerning the Hebrew 
Prophetic Scriptures ; for it is in these, and it is no- 

288 The Spirit of the 

where else — no not to the extent of a lino — a frag- 
ment — it is within this range that the Spiritual Life 
is embodied, and is expanded, and is uttered in a 
distinct and articulate manner. It is within the 
compass of the Hebrew Poetic and Prophetic Scrip- 
tures that all moods and occasions — all trials and 
exercises — all griefs and perplexities — all triumphs 
and all consolations — all joys, hopes, and exultations 
— all motives of patience, and all animated expecta- 
tions of the future, find their aliment, and their 
warrant also. In a word, if there be a life of the 
soul toward God, and if this life be real, as toward 
God — then are the Hebrew writers true men of 
God ; — then is it certain that they were instructed 
and empowered — each of them in his time — to set 
it forth, for the use of all men, to the end of the 

Thus have believed, and thus have felt, millions 
of the human family — even " a great multitude 
which no man can number," gathered from among 
the nations, throughout the ages past. 

But there is now, and there has long been, a 
contradiction of the Divine origination and autho- 
rity of the Old Testament Scriptures, which has 
been identical, or nearly so, with a denial of that 
life of the soul toward God of which these Scrip- 
tures are the exposition. This is the natural course 
of things ; for to those who themselves have no 
experience or consciousness of the spiritual life, the 
Hebrew Scriptures can be indeed only a dead letter 

Hebrew Poetry. 289 

— unintelligible, flat, vapid, and unattractive, and 
therefore open to that hostile and disparaging cri- 
ticism which has so much abounded of late. We 
say the two denials have been nearly identical ; 
and yet not absolutely so ; for a strenuous endea- 
vour has been made of late to affirm a sort of spi- 
rituality, while the claim of the Old Testament 
Scriptures to Divine origination has been resent- 
fully rejected. Those who make this endeavour 
do not allow themselves to inquire whence it is that 
they themselves have derived those notions (de- 
fective indeed) of the spiritual life which they pro- 
fess : — the derivation cannot have been from oriental 
sources, which yield nothing, at the best, but a pan- 
theistic mysticism : — nor can it have been from the 
Greek classical literature, for in this literature no 
element whatever — no, not a stray spark — not the 
remotest indication of the affectionate communion 
of the human soul with God — God, near at hand 
and personal — is to be found, either in the poets, 
or in the philosophers. Nor has this vague spiri- 
tuality derived itself from the writings of the Evan- 
gelists and Apostles, for in these the spiritual life — 
the devotional life, is assumed, and it is vouched 
for as real ; but it is not expanded or expounded. 
Those, in fact, who profess a sort of spirituality, 
and who, in doing so, reject the claims of the He- 
brew Scriptures, have stolen what they profess : — 
or they have snatched it up, not caring to know 
whence it has come into their hands. 


290 The Spirit of the 

Happily, as to a thousand to one of devout Chris- 
tian people, well assured as they are of the reality 
of the spiritual life — conscious as they are of it, and 
finding therein their solace — their peace— their anti- 
cipation of its fulness in the future life — these reli- 
gious persons have remained uninformed of the 
exceptive pleadings of modern criticism ; and thus 
they hear and read their Bibles in the tranquil con- 
fidence of faith; — and it is a warrantahle confidence 
in which they live, and in which they die — ignorant 
of gainsaying : or it may be that some rumours of 
these nugatory contradictions come, once and again, 
to the knowledge of such persons, giving them a 
momentary uneasiness : — a rude assault — repelled, 
at the moment, is presently forgotten ! Well that it 
should be so ! 

But an injury more serious — a damage less tran- 
sient, is sustained — at this time — by many among 
those who, partakers as they are of the spiritual 
life, have been brought, by their education, and by 
their social habitudes, within range of the modern 
exceptive criticism ; — especially of that portion of 
it which bears upon the Hebrew Scriptures ; and 
which has a malignant intention. From this cog- 
nizance of adverse criticism much trouble of mind 
springs up ; and this is perhaps more often en- 
hanced or deepened, than assuaged or dispersed, by 
listening to the well-intentioned explanations, and 
extenuations, and glozings, and evasions of Chris- 
tian teachers. The disturbed mental condition — 

Hebrew Poetry, 291 

the damaged spiritual health of this large class of 
religious persons is, at this time, the problem of 
Christian Instructors. Authenticated and well- 
informed instructors — themselves perplexed, and 
themselves inwardly unquiet — do their best, ho- 
nestly, for the help of their people ; but they do it 
with little satisfaction to themselves or others. 

It is not perhaps many, even of these well-in- 
formed Christian teachers, who well perceive — if 
they perceive at all — that the epidemic trouble is 
altogether the consequence of modes of religious 
thinking that are quite recent : too recent are 
they to have been provided for in our schemes 
of religious teaching. The remedy will come in 
its time ; and the life of the soul toward God — 
relieved from this temporary oppression, will regain 
its healthful condition with renewed power. 

Nevertheless, this renovation will not take place 
apart from some severe and painful procedures in 
demolishing cherished prepossessions. If we have 
coveted, and have actually possessed ourselves of 
the privileges and the triumphs of knowledge, it is 
inevitable that we should endure the pains conse- 
quent upon that acquisition : these pains are as in- 
fallibly sure to come on, as if they were enacted by 
statute. We must not fondly think it possible to 
retain the comforts of ignorance (which are many 
and real) while we are in the fruition of the better 
blessings of knowledge. The present trouble of the 
religious body may be interpreted as premonitive 

292 The Spirit of the 

of a renewed life which shall ere long be granted 
to the Christian community, from on High. 

It is not enough to say — the modern mind, for 
we must say — the Northern modern mind, has 
passed into a mood which, as yet, has not got itself 
adjusted to a rightful acceptance of a Revelation 
attested as such by supernatural interventions. In 
the nature of things a Revelation, attested as from 
God, by supernatural interventions, can never ad- 
just itself to generalisations of any kind ; for a Reve- 
lation which might be dealt with — either as to its 
mode of reaching us, or as to the substance of the 
matters so conveyed — as open to genernUzatioiis, 
must cease to be what it declares itself to be — a 
unique Revelation : — it must at once be, and not 
be — an instance that has no parallel. 

On this ground there is a lesson yet to be 
learned by the thoughtful men of this present time : 
— these, or the sons of these, shall look back and 
wonder that this lesson was found to be so hard ; 
and in truth we of this time might come to think 
of it as less difficult if we duly considered the fact 
that a problem, equally perplexing, was solved, and 
that a lesson equally revolting was learned, so re- 
cently as two centuries ago, or a little more, by 
our intellectual ancestors — even by the great guild 
of mind at the challenge (mainly) of Bacon. 

This problem, upon the solution of which our 
modern philosophy now broadly takes its rest, bears 
more than a remote resemblance to the problem in 

Hebrew Poetry. 293 

the solution of which the Christian body, through- 
out the world, shall at length rejoice, and shall take 
its rest. 

It had been believed "by them of old time" — it 
had been held as a first truth, beyond the range 
of doubt, that the material universe — the visible 
Kosmos, must be, and is, in conformity with a 
scheme of logical generalizations, and that pheno- 
mena, of all kinds, should be interpretable on the 
ground, and by the means of, those generalizations, 
which did office in philosophy as its organon. But 
the time came for the proclamation of a Novum 
Organon, and at that proclamation old things 
passed away, as a dream, and all things became 
new. Fatal to the universe — according to logic — 
were those words of doom — Homo natures, minister 
et interpres. 

Some real progress has been made of late in 
winning the assent of the Christian community to 
the parallel axiom, which puts the words " Holy 
Scripture" in the place of the word "Nature" in 
Bacon's aphorism. So far as this it is admitted, in 
regard to the substance of truth conveyed in the 
Inspired writings, that — The best theologian is the 
best interpreter ; or, otherwise worded — The best 
theology is that which is an undamaged product 
of a free and genuine interpretation of the sacred 
text. This now assented-to axiom stands opposed, 
on the one hand, to all logic-made theologies ; and, 
on the other hand, to that theology which pays 

294 The Spirit of the 

little or no regard to Scripture, and which — putting 
contempt upon the Bible — takes at pleasure out of 
it just so much, or as little of doctrine as may suit 
every man's notions of what it is fitting to believe. 

Thus far a conclusion has slowly grown upon the 
Christian mind — among ourselves at least ; but the 
axiom has a further application, which still awaits 
the assent and approval of the same Christian mind. 
The perplexities of the present time, regarding the 
authority and the constitution of the Inspired Scrip- 
tures, are the indications of an unsettled or unde- 
termined belief on this ground. The assailants of 
the proper inspiration of the Scriptures think them- 
selves strong in their position, and reckon them- 
selves sure of a triumph, not distant : — they believe 
they shall so make good their array of Bible-faults 
as shall compel their perplexed opponents to acknow- 
ledge an overthrow, and so to leave the Bible to its 
fate. This overweening and unwise confidence is 
indeed a demonstration of the vanity and the pre- 
sumption of those who entertain it, and of their 
own want of (or loss of) those greater qualities 
of mind which should have secured them against 
so slender an infatuation. 

But then, on the believing — or, as we say, on 
the orthodox side, there are indications, not to be 
mistaken, of indecisiveness, and of the anxieties 
which attend a transition-period in matters of faith. 
So it is that we find expressions of this kind abound- 
ing on the pages of orthodox apologists — Ought 

Hebrew Poetry. 295 

we not to expect difficulties, even serious difficul- 
ties, in Holy Scripture ? — As to most of the 
objections urged by infidel writers, they are sus- 
ceptible of a reasonable answer; — and as to such 
as remain, at present, unsolved, we are to regard 
them as left where they are for the trial of our 
faith. And thus again — The Scriptures were not 
given to teach us natural science ; and we ought 
not to look into them for a philosophy which the 
human mind is to work out for itself. 

These, and such-like exculpatory and palliative 
averments, are true and proper, so far as they go ; 
but they do not avail, and never can avail (every 
one feels it) to the extent that is just now required 
for allaying the prevalent uneasiness. Not at all 
do such explanations suffice for substantiating the 
modern (Reformation era) notion of verbal inspira- 
tion. How can that notion hold its ground in front 
of the long catalogue of the results of genuine mo- 
dern criticism ? This cannot be ; and the adherents 
of a theory so inconsiderately framed await, in 
alarm, the moment of an unconditional surrender. 

Intermediate, or compromising theories, many 
and various, have been propounded. Yet a question 
has barely been considered of this sort — Whether 
the need, at all, of a theory of inspiration is not 
quite imaginary, taking its rise in a natural pre- 
judice of which we should rid ourselves ? It is in- 
evitable (nor blameworthy) that, if we think much 
of God, and of His ways, we should run off into 

296 The Spirit of the 

theories — should assume much, in our purblind 
way, concerning the attributes of God, and His 
ways of governing the universe, and of dealing 
with men at large, and especially of His providen- 
tial treatment of those who love and fear and serve 
Him. So it comes about, on frequent occasions, 
that we give oblique utterance to these unwarranted 
surmises, and acknowledge the breaking-up of some 
theory when, in painful and distracting instances, 
we speak of — a dark Providence — a mysterious 
Providence ! The ways of God are not what we 
had supposed they ought to be : — they run counter 
to all our notions of what is wise and good ; we are 
therefore perplexed and offended. 

A similar perplexity and a similar offence come 
in to trouble us when Biblical criticism puts in its 
plea for a hearing. The ground of this perplexity, 
or, let us say, the history of its rise, might thus be 
rudely put into words — If I imagine myself pos- 
sessed of all knowledge — natural^ historical, and 
spiritual, and if I am sincere, and if my intentions 
are in every sense wise and good, and if, being thus 
qualified, and thus disposed, I sit down to write a 
book — that book shall be faultless in every sense : — 
not only shall it be true throughout, but it shall 
be the best book that ever has been written, as 
to its taste, its style, its literary execution : in a 
word the book will be such as may defy criticism, 
on every ground. 

But the Bible is the Book of God; — or, according 

Hebrew Poetry. 297 

to the modern phrase — the Bible has God for its 
Author. Most true indeed is this ; — but it is not 
true in the sense in which the modern Church has 
understood its own saying. If the Bible has God 
for its Author, why is it not such a book as I would 
have written, if I were qualified, as above stated ? 
Clearly it is not such a book ; and we are staggered 
in our faith. 

In the day when the Church — the Christian 
community — shall have come fully to know (and 
they must acquire this knowledge by aid of cri- 
ticism) what sort of book the Bible is, then will 
they have come to know also, what sort of book 
the Bible ought to be. It is, we may be sure, such 
a book as shall, in the most complete and absolute 
manner, accomplish and bring about, in the world 
at large, and in the souls of men individually, 
the purposes for which it was sent : but the accom- 
plishment of those inscrutable purposes is wholly 
irrespective of those points of perfection which, to 
the human apprehension, seem of primary import- 
ance. In this sense how true is it that " the things 
which are highly esteemed among men" are in no 
esteem with God : — it may be they are in His sight 
deserving of reprobation. The Bible is not — as a 
BOOK — the book we should have made it ; nor is it 
the book we should now make it, if the Canon 
were submitted to our revising wisdom. But it 
is the book of Him who has thus commended it 
to our acceptance : — 

298 The Spirit of the 

" For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, 
And returneth not thither, 
But watereth the earth, 
And niaketh it to bring forth and bud. 
That it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater ; 
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth : 
It shall not return unto me void, 
But it shall accomplish that which I please. 
And it shall prosper whereto I sent it." 

So indeed has it prospered in every age since its first 
promulgation, and in every land to which, according 
to the Divine purpose, it has been sent. Thus has 
it prospered in quickening to life millions of souls 
— in nourishing the Divine life within these souls. 
So has it prospered in ruling the life, in strengthen- 
ing the purposes, in giving heart to the courage 
of martyrs ; and patience and contentment, and a 
bright hope, to the individual spirits of that great 
multitude which is gathering into the kingdom of 
heaven. Well, therefore, may we spare ourselves 
the labour of inquiring, according to our small 
critical manner, whether the books of Scripture 
are well adapted to subserve the purposes for 
which they profess to be given — namely, the re- 
ligious and moral instruction of the nations. These 
purposes they have subserved — they are now sub- 
serving — and they shall continue to subserve, to 
the end of time ; and, in a time not remote, shall 
they carry light and life, even to every land which 
hitherto they have not visited.* 

After so large, and so long-continued an induc- 
* See Note. 

Hebrew Poetry. 299 

tion, demonstrative of the efficiency and of the 
sufficiency of the Scriptures for imparting life to 
the souls of men, and for nourishing that life, what 
more do we need? Nothing, if only we will be 
wise and ingenuous— as befits us— discarding an 
hypothesis which, natural as it is, has no founda- 
tion in reason ; but which, so long as it is adhered 
to, gives abundant occasion to infidelity, and spreads 
disquietude among ourselves. There is no need of 
a new theory of inspiration, or of a new principle 
of Biblical interpretation ; but this only is needed, 
that every hypothesis and theory— better or worse 

should be put out of view — -should be laid aside — 

should be forgotten. The mode of that commingling 
of the Divine and the human in Scripture, upon which 
these theories profess to shed a hght, will never be 
known to us, any more than the commingling of 
the worlds of mind and of matter in the scheme 
of animal life will become known to us : — both are 
inscrutable. Yet we are well assured of the actuality 
of both Mind and Matter in the animal system, and 
in the human system especially. We know each— 
distinctively and infallibly, when we regard each 
as it is seen from its own ground ; but each becomes 
a problem insoluble— a perplexity distracting, when 
it is looked at from the ground of the other. In 
the desperate endeavour to solve this problem, and 
to be fairly rid of this perplexity, we first look in 
upon mind, as seen from the ground of the ani- 
mal structure, and we say— mind is — nothing but 

300 The Spirit of the 

a function of the nervous substance. Yet this easy 
conclusion plunges us soon into perplexities that 
are still more hopeless. If this will not do, then 
we shift our ground, and looking out of the window 
upon matter — upon the material universe entire, 
we say — matter is a nihility — it is nothing but a 
condition of thought ; or if there ive7'e a real world 
beyond us, we could never know it. Thus far the 
good bishop of Cloyne. But it will not do ; and at the 
hearing of this paradox there ensues a riot on the 
highways of the common world, and a doctrine so 
whimsical is hooted off as intolerable. The lynch- 
law of common sense is brought to bear upon it, 
and then we are left where we were — mind and 
matter — each resolutely holding its own as before — 
philosophers notwithstanding. What is needed here 
is not a new theory of the universe, but humility 
enough to cease asking for one. 

Very near to a strictly parallel instance, or real 
analogy, comes the instance of the commingling of 
the Divine and the human in Holy Scripture. It is 
quite true of the human structure — in a sense, that it 
is all mind ; and it is quite true of the same structure 
— in a sense, that it is all material organization ; and 
if it be an error to affirm that man is organization, 
and nothing else, or to affirm, on the other side, 
that he is mind, and nothing else — a greater error, 
and an error crammed with confusion, would it be 
to say of human nature — this part of it is mind. 

Hebrew Poetry. 301 

and that part is matter ; thus partitioning the mem- 
bers, and dividing the substance. 

Take the case, then, of Holy Scripture — assuming 
that the analogy we here introduce has some ground 
of reality. Three doctrines, as in the above in- 
stance, stand before us : — 

1. That the Inspired Scriptures are wholly Di- 
vine, and nothing else. There are few at this time 
who will roundly profess this doctrine, in unqua- 
lified terms ; but there are many who greatly desire 
to do so, and who would do it, if they dared : but in so 
far as they do it, they stand confronted, and speech- 
less, before the body of criticism, which shows its 
store of instances in proof of the contrary. Infidelity 
triumphs in its antagonism to this doctrine ; and 
it makes the more noise on this ground because it 
can triumph on no other ground. About this field 
the eagles and the vultures are soaring, for here is 
— " the carcase." 

Or we may say (2) that the Scriptures (accounted 
Inspired) are wholly human, and nothing more : — 
or, to state this hypothesis in mitigated terms, that 
these excellent writings are inspired just as all other 
good and useful books are inspired. This doctrine, 
the simplicity and facility of which tempt shallow 
thinkers to adopt it, leaves unaccounted for the 
great facts of Scripture ; namely, its theological, 
its ethical, and its historical portions. To those 
who think more coherently, the problem of the Bible, 

302 The Spirit of the 

considered apart from its supernatural origination, 
is a problem that confounds all reasoning, and that 
renders hopeless — indeed impossible — any induction 
on the ground of history. 

Or (3) it may be affirmed that, within the compass 
of the Canonical Scriptures, there are certain por- 
tions that are Divine, and other portions that are 
merely human, and that it is the office of criticism 
to segregate these intermingled elements. A diffi- 
cult, as well as a perilous labour this must be ! 
Well we might ask — and yet despair of receiving 
an answer to the question — Who is sufficient for 
this work ? Not a pope — not an (Ecumenical Synod 
— not a Royal Commission ; not this or that school 
of learned interpreters : — nor yet the individual 
Bible reader for himself. There must be a second 
inspiration thus to elicit inspiration from its en- 
tanoflements. This is a case of that kind in which 
one of two claimants to a property is sure, in the 
end, to lay his hand upon the whole ; because the 
plea which is admitted to be valid in relation to 
the smallest fragment, may be urged, with equal 
reason, bit by bit, in relation to every separate 
part. On the other side, the claimant who urges 
an undefined plea will be compelled to surrender 
his ground at each step, when he is pushed to 
do so. 

But if we reject each of these three suppositions, 
and if we take instead of them our confidence in 
the Scriptures — theories of inspiration put out of 

Hebrew Poetry. 303 

view — then shall we not surround ourselves with 
perplexities ? Probably it will be so if we are 
hypochondriacs in religion : it will be so if the 
principle of religious faith has suffered paralysis 
from contact with sophistry. 

The man who is in the enjoyment of health of 
body, and soundness of mind, well knows that he 
has a body ; and he knows also that he has a soul; 
and he knows that human nature is thus constituted 
of two diverse elements, to deny the reality of either 
of which is to plunge into an abyss of metaphysical 
contradictions. Yet no man of sound mind at- 
tempts to draw a line of demarcation between body 
and soul, or to distinguish between mind and mat- 
ter in the working of human nature ; nor will he 
affirm of any one part or function of the one that 
it has absolutely no dependence upon the other. 
But, while unconscious of these distinctions, he well 
knows that he is in possession of a nature which 
is available for every purpose of thought and of 
action. This knowledge is enough, for, from the 
conscious possession of a sound mind and a healthy 
body there arises a responsibility to think rightly, 
and to act rightly in all the relations of life. This 
compound human nature, blending, as it does, a 
spiritual and an animal structure, carries with it 
an authority which the man disregards at his 

And so it is in regard to the authority of Holy 
Scripture. If there be indeed a moral conscious- 

304 The Spirit of the 

ness — if there be a spiritual sense, we then feel and 
know, with the certainty of an infallible perception, 
that, in these writings — wholly unlike as they are 
to any other writings — we are hearing the voice of 
God: — while listening to these writers we are in com- 
munication with the Father of spirits. When we 
thus read, and while we thus listen, the soul in 
health does not stay to put the futile and peevish 
question. Is this text — is this passage, human or 
Divine ? It is the patient who is " grievously tor- 
mented with palsy" that puts this question to those 
about him, and to himself, and gets no reply. 

There are many questions which may be fit for 
exercising the ingenuity of casuists, a proper reply 
to which is this — that, the giving a reply at all 
may well be postponed to a time when some in- 
stance of the sort shall actually present itself. So as 
to questions of this kind — What are we to do if a 
revelation, credibly attested by miracles, propounds 
for our belief, or for our practice, what must be 
rejected? What should be done in such a case 
shall be duly considered when the occurrence of an 
instance of that kind has indeed been established. 

Yet there is a class of instances to which more 
or less of difficulty attaches from a cause ah'eady 
referred to — namely, an assumption — gratuitous 
and unwarranted — concerning the Divine attri- 
butes, or concerning the modes of the Divine in- 
tervention in human affairs. Instances of this sort 
attach mainly to the Old Testament Scriptures. 

Hebrew Poetry. 305 

The feeling which prompts these assumptions is, 
for the most part, a modem feeling ; it is a refine- 
ment ; it is a sentimentalism ; it is valetudinary ; 
it is fastidious. It is a feeling which receives its 
correction, not merely from a larger knowledge of 
national usages — ancient and modern : but from a 
broader aspect of human nature. This breadth — 
this freedom — this boldness, is indeed a charac- 
teristic of the Scriptures — Old and New Testament 
equally so. If the fastidious modern reader of the 
Bible is himself unconscious of this freedom and 
boldness, it is because, by frequency of perusal, 
he has fallen into a sort of Biblical hypnotism, or 
artificial slumber, under the influence of which the 
actual meaning of words and phrases fails to rouse 
attention. This dozing habit may be well in its 
way, and it is well if it saves offence ; but no offence 
will be taken by those who — profoundly conscious 
of the awful voice of God in the Scriptures, and 
immoveably firm in their belief to this extent — are 
animated by the courage which is proper to a 
fervent and enlightened piety ; and who, in the 
daily perusal of the Prophetical books and the 
Psalms, rejoice in, and fully relish, that fearless 
dealing with human nature, and with its incidents, 
which at once vouches for the historic reality of 
the record, and is evidence of a power more than 
human pervading the whole. Just as the material 
world and the animal economy has each far more of 
strenuous force in it than we moderns — if we had 


306 The Spirit of the 

been consulted, would have allowed it; so is the 
Bible — bold — broad — strong, in a degree which 
makes the reading of it a trial and a grievance 
to our pale-faced sensibilities, and to our pampered 
tastes. The remedy is to be found at once in a more 
robust mental health, and a more thorough spiritual 

This more robust mental health, combined with 
a deeper spiritual health, shall show itself in a 
liberty of thought which indeed is — free thinking. 
The attendant upon this free thinking will be a 
free criticism ; and the two shall put to shame 
as well, the spurious freedom of unbelief, as the 
spurious criticism which feeds itself upon husks, 
and has no appetite for nutritious food. When 
we yield assent to the Scriptures, as an authen- 
ticated Revelation, this assent and this consent 
of the reason, and of the soul, bring with them an 
exemption from disquietudes of every kind. There 
are no alarms where the Almighty is present to 
save and to bless. 

Hebrew Foetry. 307 

Chapter XVII. 


THE history of nations furnishes so many in- 
stances of the extinction of intelligence and 
civilization, and so few — if indeed any — of its per- 
manence in any one region, or as to any one race 
or people, that the decay and gradual extinction of 
the light of mind seems to be the rule, and its con- 
tinuance anywhere, beyond the reach of a few 
centuries, the exception ; — and hitherto this is not 
an established exception. 

This decay, and almost extinction, has had place 
in the instance of each of the Oriental races. The 
people of China, and of Thibet, and of India, and of 
Ceylon, and of Persia, and of Mesopotamia, occu- 
pied, in remote times, a position in philosophy, and 
in the arts, and in social habits, and in populousness, 
and in political power, and wealth, which is very 
feebly, or is not at all, reflected in the condition of 
the modern occupants of the same regions. The 
same must be affirmed of Egypt, and Nubia, and 
Abyssinia. The same also of the people of every 

308 The Spirit of the 

country upon which the Macedonian kingdoms 
once so splendidly flourished. The same, more- 
over, of the countries which were the birth-fields 
of the Arabian race. 

But it is believed, or it is customarily taken for 
certain, that our modern European civilization rests 
upon a basis as immoveable as that of the pyramids 
of Gizeh. It is thought that the marvels of the me- 
chanic arts, and the ready means which these arts af- 
ford for the instantaneous interchange of knowledge, 
and the consequent breadth of intelligence among the 
masses of the people, are guarantee sufficient against 
the prevalence of brute despotisms, as well as against 
the insensible encroachments of those sordid, sen- 
sual, and brutalizing tendencies which are inherent 
in human nature. Gladly should we all think this: 
nevertheless there are forebodings of another cast 
which might easily find support in the actual course 
of events at this very moment, and as well in the 
new world, as in the old world. Might not then 
the question of the permanence of our European 
civilization be regarded as a problem that is in 
suspense, between opposite probabilities ? 

The prevailing belief on the bright side of this 
problem rests, for the most part, no doubt, upon 
grounds of secular calculation. It is imagined to 
be inconceivable that our actual civilization, based 
as it is on a broad political framework, and sus- 
tained as it is by its philosophy, and its arts, and 
aided as it is by its printing-press, and its railways, 

Hehrew Poetry. 309 

and its telegraphic wires, should ever fall out of 
repair, so as to become lumber upon the field of 
the European and the American populations. 

Yet there is a faith in the world's future— a 
bright faith also, albeit it is less sharply defined, 
and is of more depth, subsisting among us ; and 
this faith may easily be traced to its rise in the 
Hebrew Scriptures. This subject has already been 
brought forward in these pages (Chap. XI.) The 
Hebrew Prophet, we have said, is the man of hope. 
The Hebrew Prophets and the Psalmists are the 
authors of hope in regard to this present mundane 
economy; and it is they, rather than Christ and His 
Apostles, that, looking on to the remoteness of the 
existence of nations, see, in that distance — terrestrial 
good; they see — truth — peace — love; and they 
foretell a social system at rest. A last utterance of 
the ancient prediction was heard overhead of Beth- 
lehem when the coming in of the new dispensation 
was announced by a '' multitude of the heavenly 
host." But in the end — in the furthest distance — 
the two economies shall coincide, and then there 
shall be great joy to all nations — " Glory to God 
in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to- 
ward men." In the ages intervening — it is " not 
peace, but a sword." 

The Hebrew Prophets (Poets) represent the mun- 
dane religious economy ; and they vouch for its 
ultimate realization in universal peace. Evange- 
lists and Apostles represent the economy of the 

310 The Spirit of the 

unseen and the future ; and they vouch for that 
immortality in Christ, for which the painful disci- 
pline of the present life is the necessary preparation. 
But this discipline, and this life hereafter, must 
come to its bearing always upon the individual 
human spirit ; for it takes no account of races — 
of nations — of communities. (Gal. iii. 28 ; Coloss. 
iii. 11; 1 Cor. xii. 13.) 

Nevertheless the two economies are not at va- 
riance ; for the two tend in the same direction, and 
they shall, in the end, coalesce. They do so now^ 
inasmuch as the individual spiritual life has re- 
ceived its exemplification, and its ample develop- 
ment, within the compass of the poetical books — 
the Prophets and the Psalms ; nor shall the indi- 
vidual spiritual life ever seek to alienate itself from, 
or become indifferent to, those liturgies, and those 
litanies of the soul, in its communion with God. 
Never shall those forms of praise — prayer — peni- 
tence—exultation — those deep expressions of the 
emotions of the quickened soul, cease to be — what 
hitherto they have been — the genuine promptings 
of love, fear, and hope, toward God. Futile have 
been all endeavours — so often repeated in modern 
times, to dissociate the two Revelations, or to take 
up a Christianity, divorced from the Old Testa- 
ment. In each instance the attempt has given 
evidence of the absence of that spiritual conscious- 
ness apart from which there remains nothing in 
Christianity itself that is much to be cared for ; or 

Hebrew Poetry. 311 

which may not be found in Epictetus and Marcus 
Aurelius, in nearly as acceptable a form. 

So far as the two economies go abreast on 
different paths, and so far as they have different 
objects in front of them, they may seem to be 
divergent ; but, in contradiction of this apparent 
divergence, there occur, in each, what might be 
termed — nodes of intersection, or points, where the 
two are coincident. Such a point of junction may 
be found in that signal Messianic prediction — 
the seventy-second Psalm ; if this be taken in con- 
nection with the second Psalm, and with the forty- 
fifth, and with the hundred and tenth. These odes, 
which are susceptible of none but the most vapid 
interpretation, if their Messianic import be re- 
jected, point in the same direction, but not in the 
same manner. They agree in foreseeing a mun- 
dane empire, administered from a centre — an em- 
pire wielding irresistible material force, which shall 
be coseval, for a period, with adverse forces; but 
which shall trample upon all, and at length be re- 
cognized by all. In the second Psalm, and in the 
hundred and tenth, and, in part, in the forty-fifth, 
the imagery has the aspect of vindictive force — 
force, not softened, or only a little softened, by 
intimations of clemency. Yet this martial energy 
has, for its end, right and truth, and the establish- 
ment of order. In these odes there occur no dis- 
tinct points of accordance with the rules, the purer 
precepts, or the moral intention of the Christian 

312 The Spirit of the 

dispensation. Right and power shall be in con- 
junction, and the two which, hitherto, have so usually 
been sundered, shall then — according to these pre- 
dictions — walk the earth hand in hand, for the terror 
and extermination of every wrongful tyranny. This 
then is the world's future — according to the He- 
brew Prophets ; and who are they that do not 
exult in the prospect ? 

The seventy-second Psalm allies itself with the 
Psalms above mentioned, as in the fourth, the 
ninth, and the fourteenth verses. Force, em- 
ployed in the maintenance of right, and for the 
deliverance of the oppressed, is still present: — the 
minister of wrath is still at hand. As the Primus 
Lictor, with the formidable fasces on his shoul- 
der, stood at the elbow of the Roman magistrate, 
prompt to inflict death — animadviertere — upon any 
that should dare resist the power, so, in this pre- 
diction, there are notices of contemporary wrong ; 
but then there is deliverance at hand, and the 
time that is indicated in this instance is some way 
onward in the course of events— for, as to the ad- 
verse powers, they have either ''learned wisdom," 
or they have fallen to rise no more. 

The Sovereign Right has now become a genial 
influence — which is gratefully accepted — even as 
are " the showers of heaven that water the earth." 
Everywhere shall this administration of justice and 
mercy have come to be commended (ver. 15). All 

Hebrew Poetry. 313 

races, all nations, shall at last feel and acknowledge 
the blessings of this rule — 

All shall be blessed in Him : 

All nations shall call Him blessed. 

Not only from this realm of right shall violence 
and wrong be excluded ; but the hitherto perplexing 
problem of the equilibrium of orders shall at length 
have found its solution ; for it is said of the upper 
class that — " like Lebanon"^ — it shall be great and 
fruitful ; and as to the lower class — even the dense 
millions of cities — it also " shall flourish like grass 
of the earth" — room enough shall be found for 
it ; nor shall its greenness be grudged. 

Upon all these images of mundane wealth we here 
catch the mild effulgence of the Gospel. It is now 
our Christianity — it is now that doctrine of love to 
establish which the army of martyrs bled at the 
first (and often since) and to maintain which the 
preachers of truth, through long centuries, have 
prophesied in sackcloth : — it is this " everlasting- 
Gospel " that at length — like a sun, rising in a 
stormy morning — has climbed the heavens, has 
hushed the winds, has scattered the thick clouds 
of the sky, and thenceforward it rules the azure 
in the burning brightness of an endless noon. 

The Hebrew Scriptures — every way secure of their 
immortality in a literary sense — are secure of it 
also as they are the expansion, and the authentic 
expression, of the spiritual life — a liturgy of the 

314 The Spirit of the 

communion of souls with God : — secure moreover, 
as they are the foreshadowing of the Gospel, and 
of the coming of the Saviour of the world ; yet this 
is not all, for, embedded in these writings — confided 
to the Hebrew Poetry — are those hopes of a mun- 
dane future — peaceful and benign — which the best 
men in every age have clung to, and which they 
have used, as the ground and reason of their 
sacrifices, while they have believed that, not for 
themselves, but for the men of a distant time, 
they have spent life, and have laid it down. 

Efi'ective philanthropy has always taken its spring 
from the ground of a religious faith in a bright 
future, of that sort for which the Hebrew Scriptures 
are our sole authority. And as to this eficctive, 
laborious, self-sacrificing benevolence, it combines 
whatever is peculiar to the Old, with whatever is 
peculiar to the New Testament — taking from the 
one source its expectation of mundane national 
welfare, and from the other source drawing those 
powerful motives which prevail over all motives, 
inasmuch as they draw their force from a belief 
of the life eternal. 

Thus it is that the controversy of the present 
time, between those who hold fast their confidence 
in the historic revelation contained in the Scrip- 
tures, and those who reject it, and who would rid 
themselves of their own misgivings on this behalf, 
is brought to an issue on this ground. There is a 
question concerning the human destinies — The hu- 

Hebrew Poetry, 315 

man family has it had a known commencement? 
and has it a known middle period of development 
and progress ? and has it in prospect a known — 
a predicted — ultimate era of good? Is there in 
front of the nations an avairavaiq — is there a (xajS- 
(5aTiafxog — is there a time of refreshment, a season 
of rest — a year of release — a redemption, an end 
of the reign of evil, and a beginning of the king- 
dom of God, on earth ? If not, then the thick 
veil of barbaric ignorance, violence, sensuality, 
and cruelty, shall be drawn anew over the na- 
tions, and the world must return to its night of 

The positions affirmed in these pages in behalf 
of the Hebrew Scriptures (those of them especially 
that are poetic in their style and structure) are 
briefly these seven : — 

That the poetry of these writings everywhere 
appears as a means to a higher end ; or otherwise 
stated — that the poet, whatever may be his quality 
or his genius, is always the Prophet of God, more 
than he is the poet. 

That whatever may be the individual charac- 
teristics of each of these writers, as a poet, they 
teach always the same theology, and they insist 
always upon the same moral principles. 

That although, for the most part, they boldly 
denounce the errors and immoralities of their con- 
temporaries, they employed a medium, as to the 
structure of their writings, which implies a reve- 

316 The Spirit of the 

rential acceptance, and use of them, on the part 
of the people, and of their rulers. 

That amidst, and notwithstanding, all diversities 
of temper and style in the men, and all changes 
in the national condition, there prevails, from the 
first in the series to the last, an occult consistency 
which is expressive of what we have ventured to 
speak of as — the Historic Personality of God. 

That within the compass of the Hebrew Poetic 
Scriptures there exists — (and in these writings 
alone) — a Liturgy, and a Litany, of the spiritual life 
— the life of the soul toward God ; this Liturgy 
being inclusive of the forms of congregational 

That the Hebrew Poets and Prophets — besides 
the special predictions which they utter, relating 
to the destinies of surrounding nations, and besides 
the preparation which they make for the advent 
of Him who should be the Saviour of the world — 
give a testimony which is the ground, and which 
is the only warrant, of the hopeful anticipation we 
entertain of the issue of events in times that are yet 

That it is thus, vrhile predicting a bright age 
to come, that they bring into combination those 
higher motives and purer principles which the Gos- 
pel furnishes, and in the universal prevalence of 
which that bright prospect shall be realized. 

Hebrew Poetry. 317 


Note to page 38. 

MANY pages would be required for giving even a 
very scanty sample of those secular variations of 
the religious mind, which are indicated by the style and 
the feeling of commentators, on selected passages of Scrip- 
ture. To collect such a sample, if sufficient to answer any 
valuable purpose, would indeed be a heavy task ; and, to 
present it in a useful manner — a task from which I must 
shrink. Instead of attempting this, I must be content to 
direct the attention of any reader who may have leisure 
and opportunity to act upon the suggestion, to the class 
of facts which should be kept in view on this ground. 

The varying style and feeling of commentators upon 
Scripture may be regarded, for example, as it is exhibited 
in the instance — first, of the Church writers of the Greek, 
and then of the Latin Churches — then in those of the 
African Church, and in these compared with the Rabbi- 
nical commentators. These variations would bring to view 
the changes that are taking place, from one age to another, 
in consequence of insensible mutations of the human 
mind; and also, as indicative of the effect of what, to 
borrow a phrase from geology, might be called — the ca- 
tastrophes of religious history. Such revolutions, namely, 
as that of the Lutheran Reformation; or such as the 
sudden rise and spread of Methodism in England ; or as 
that of the German Rationalism in the last century. Any 

318 The Spirit of the 

reader to whom the patristic volumes are accessible may, 
if he so please, turn to the places indicated below, as 
samples only of what is here intended. Let then the 
sample be the manner in which Christian commentators 
have met the difficulty which presents itself in that im- 
precatory Psalm, the 136th — " Happy shall he be," &c. 
Origen brings this passage forwards as an instance, 
among several others, proving the necessity of that rule 
of spiritual interpretation which understands the Old 
Testament histories always, and only, in a symbolical 
sense: — If not (vol. i. p. 41. Benedictine) what shall we 
say to the polygamy of the patriarchs, and to other similar 
instances, or to that of the vindictive utterances of that 
Psalm, which would seem to recommend or sanction the in- 
dulgence of vindictive passions — " Filia Babylonis misera : 
beatus qui retribuet tibi, &c. ? " In like manner does he 
argue with Celsus (vol. i. p. 710) — he says: — The "little 
ones" of Babylon — the " babes," are those new-born 
urchins of evil in our own hearts, which good men will 
be prompt to destroy : — this offspring of Babylon — con- 
fusion — the heads of which, while young, must be dashed 
against the stones ! The same ingenious mode of exposi- 
tion — clearing a difficulty at a leap — is enlarged upon in 
another place (vol. ii. p. 348): — The baby concupiscences 
meet their fate when their little brains are dashed out 
against the rock — " Petra autem est Christus." The same 
occurs in several different places :— it is, in this Father's 
view, the undoubted meaning of the Psalm: (so again, 
vol. II. p. 433; and vol. iii. p. 313.) In nearly the same 
strain writes St. Augustine (Exposition of this Psalm); 
yet with a difference marking the feeling of the Church 
toward its late enemies — persecutors and heretics: — In 
any case the " Rock" upon which either infant carnal 

Hebrew Poetry. 319 

suggestions or Babylonish errors are to meet their end, is, 
Christ. In a sounder style St. Chrysostom (Exposi- 
tion of this Psalm) contends with the apparent difficulty 
fairly, and he alleges what may be accepted as a sufficient 
explanation in clearing it up; he says — TroXXa yap ot 
7rpo(j>riTai ovk o'lKoOev (pOiyyovrai, aXXtt to. Irepwv irdOri 
^iriyovjiisvoi, ical ug fieaov (pepovTsg: but, he adds. If in- 
stead of the passionate utterances of the captives at Ba- 
bylon — whose language of exasperation the Psalmist only 
reports — you would know what is his own inner mind, you 
have it in those words (Ps. vii.) — " If I have rewarded 
evil, &c." In a passage which has frequently been quoted 
of late, in which St. Jerome confesses the anguish of his 
soul, so often endured in the parched wilderness, arising 
from the inroads of worldly and luxurious recollections 
(Epist. ad Eustochium) he gives, like Origen, the sym- 
bolic interpretation to the vindictive passage in this Psalm; 
and so this strange conceit continued to be in favour with 
the ascetics to a late age. The babes of Babylon are, 
this Father says, "the ever new-born desires of the flesh — 
and the rock upon which they are to be dashed is Christ." 
And thus also Cassian (p. 144) : — "Exurgentes primum co- 
gitationes carnales illico repellendas esse . . . et dum adhuc 
parvuli sunt, allidere filios Babylonis ad petram." So it 
will be everywhere and always, where and when Biblical 
exposition takes its course, unchecked hy criticism. Easy 
would it be to furnish illustrations of this fact drawn from 
sources not so remote as the patristic times, or the middle 
ages. The properly religious and spiritual use of Holy 
Scripture needs a near-at-hand counteractive or corrective 
criticism, apart from which the most dangerous species of 
perversion or even of sacrilege does not fail to be fallen 
into. The religious Bible-reader may well invite criticism 

320 The Spirit of the 

to do its office ; but it must be religious criticism ; not that 
of those who appear to be wholly destitute of faith and 

Note to page 76. 

fVhi/ did not Herodotus describe to us the Al-Kuds — the 
Holy City, which he visited? The supposition that the 
Cadytus of Herodotus was Jerusalem has been generally 
admitted as probable ; but it has recently been called in 
question, as by others, so by Dr. Rawlinson (Herodotus, 
vol. II. p. 246). A discussion of this question, in relation 
to which no direct evidence can be adduced on either 
side, would be out of place in these notes. I wish only 
to state that I am aware of a contrary opinion, especially 
of that of so competent a writer as Dr. Rawlinson, who 
thinks that it was Gaza, not Jerusalem, which Herodotus 

Note to page 97. 

The comparative copiousness of languages — the He- 
brew especially. 

A language which would deserve to be called scanty 
or poor in its vocabulary, especially in the class of words 
denoting the objects of nature, will give evidence of this 
poverty in translations from itself into a more copious 
language : it will do so in one of these two modes, namely, 
either the translation would itself be as bald and poor as 
the original ; or, if itself rich and copious, it will be found 
to have employed many more words than are found in the 
original : — that is to say, where in the original the same 
word occurs, five times or more, on similar occasions, 
because the writer had no better choice, the translator 
into a copious language, who has a better choice, is able 

Hebrew Poetry. 321 

easily to Improve upon his author, and to give to his 
version an opulence which he did not find in his original. 
Tried on this principle, it will not appear that the Hebrew 
language, as compared with the Latin, or with the Greek, 
or with the English, or with other modern languages, gives 
any indication of this deficiency of words. In this note 
I can attempt nothing more than, as mentioned in the 
text, to indicate one method among others, in which an 
inquiry of this kind might be pursued. 

Take as an instance the 65th Psalm, which is a rich de- 
scriptive ode. It will be recollected that, in ascertaining 
the number of words occurring in any one composition, or, 
as we say, the glossary of that single composition, the He- 
brew affixes and siffixes give rise to a difiiculty, which 
however is not insurmountable ; yet it is suflficient to be 
adduced in explanation of what might seem an erroneous 
reckoning, to some small extent. In the Hebrew text 
of this Psalm there occur — including affixed preposi- 
tions, and suffixed pronouns — 137 words : but the absolute 
words — particles put out of view — are 118. In the Latin 
of the Vulgate, rejecting particles corresponding to those 
rejected in reckoning the Hebrew, about ninety words are 
employed, as equivalents for the 118 of the original. If 
we now turn to the Greek of the Septuagint, reckoned in 
a similar manner, there occur eighty-two words, which 
stand as the representatives of the Hebrew, as above said. 
Consequently, several of these Greek words must have 
done service for two, three, or more distinctive Hebrew 
words: — as we find three English words (mentioned in 
the text, p. 96) representing eight or ten in the Hebrew. 
Whether the Greek translators might not have given a 
better choice of words, in this instance, is not now the 
question ; probably they might ; but at least the per- 

322 The Spirit of the 

sumption is, that the Hebrew, as compared with the 
Greek language, in the class of descriptive words, does 
not fall far short of the Greek as to its copiousness. 

The authorized English version of this Psalm employs, 
as does the Hebrew, 137 words, from which number, 
throwing off, as above, particles, expletives, and the like, 
the words substantive (i. e. nouns substantive, nouns ad- 
jective, and verbs) may be reckoned as ninety ; this num- 
ber standing for the 118 of the original. We should not 
therefore be warranted in affirming that the Hebrew 
language is poor, as compared with our own : an in- 
ference of another kind is warrantable — namely, this, that 
this language, if we were in possession of a complete Copia 
Verhorum — an absolute Hebrew Lexicon — as we are of 
the Greek and Latin, would well stand comparison with 
either of them, at least in respect of those classes of words 
of which poets have occasion to avail themselves. The 
Hebrew would no doubt appear to be deficient in abstract 
philosophic terms, in those technical phrases which indi- 
cate artificial modes of life, and the practice of the arts ; 
and in the entire class, so large as it is, of words modified 
— extended — contracted, or intensified, by the prefixed 

Any one who may be so inclined, might, with little 
labour, carry out the above-suggested mode of comparison, 
in the instance of the several European versions of the 
Psalms. Instead of the 65th Psalm, take the 50th, which 
has 252 words in the Hebrew — reckoned at 140 ; or the 
91st, which has 170 — reckoned at 97; or the 38th chapter 
of Job, including 402 words — its absolute glossary, say — 

Hebrew Poetry. 323 

Note to page 141. 

The book of Ecclesiastes may seem to be an exception 
to what is liere affirmed ; and it is so, in so far as the great 
controversy concerning the wisdom that is earthly, and 
the wisdom that is heavenly, is argued, as if on even 
ground, between the advocates of each. The problem is 
stated, and it is discussed, for some time, as if it were 
undeterminable. " There is a vanity which is done upon 
the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth 
according to the work of the wicked; again, there be 
wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of 
the righteous : I said that this also is vanity." This appa- 
rent misdirection of events, as men must judge of them, 
is a vanity — it is a confusion — it is a whirl, which makes 
meditation giddy. Nevertheless, evenly balanced as this 
argument may seem, it is not left in an undetermined 
state at the last: — the disputants are not allowed, both of 
them, to boast a judgment in his favour. Most decisively 
is the disputation brought to its close on the side of piety 
in the last sentences: — "Let us hear the conclusion of the 
whole matter." It is the same in that other remarkable 
instance — the 73rd Psalm, in which the perplexed and 
discomforted writer confesses, with mingled grief and 
shame, the prevalence, too long, of his wrankling medi- 
tations. But he had already recovered his footing; and 
thus he prefixes his conclusion : — " Truly (notwithstanding 
any appearance to the contrary) truly God is good to Israel, 
even to such as are of a clean heart." If in this instance 
there may have been a debated question, it is a question 
already answered ; and the answer has been assented to. 
In Ezekiel this same argument — it is mainly the same — 
is determined in another manner (chap, xxxiii.) and the 

324 The Spirit of the 

grounds of doubt are different. There is here a peremp- 
tory affirmation of the rectitude of the Divine government, 
if its ^nal adjudications are taken into the account. Of 
the same import is the expostulation which occupies the 
eighteenth chapter ; and in this course of reasoning — this 
Theodic^ea — the awards of a future judgment are un- 
doubtedly understood ; and so in a similar passage — Ma- 
lachi iii. 13-18. 

Note to page 171. 

Asks a sacrifice of the hody and of the soul. " If ye be 
reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye. ... If 
any suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed" (on that 
account). As to those " that suffer according to the will 
of God, let them commit the keeping of their souls, as to a 
faithful Creator, in well doing." Thus speaks St. Peter ; 
and thus the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in re- 
counting the martyrdoms of earlier times, says of the 
martyrs that they " died in faith^'' in faith of " a better 
resurrection." And so Christ, in preparing His people for 
the fiery trial that was in prospect, says — '^ Fear not them 
that kill the body, but after that have nothing more that 
they can do." It was on this ground that the martyrdoms of 
the early centuries, and those of later times as well, were 
nobly endured. And it was thus that " the hope set be- 
fore us in the Gospel" was at the first confirmed: — thus 
was it sent forward to all times ensuing ; and thus again 
must it be, if ever again Christian men and women, as 
such, shall be called to bear testimony, on the rack and in 
the flames — to their hope in Christ. But no such value 
as this, which it actually bears, could have attached to 
Christian martyrdom, if it did not stand out as an exceptive 

Hebrew Poetry. 325 

instance, broadly distinguishable from all other Instances 
of suffering, inflicted by others. In respect of such suf- 
ferings, or such occasions of mortal antagonism between 
man and man — or between nations, the powerful instincts 
of human nature take their course, needing to be ruled 
always, and curbed, and repressed, by those Christian 
principles which forbid revenge, and forbid especially the 
harbouring of resentments, or the cherishing, as a sweet 
morsel, some vindictive purpose. Christianity deals in a 
special manner with the case of suffering ybr the truth — for 
the word of Christ ; but it deals universally, by its law of 
love, and of self-denial, with those impulses that are pro- 
perly natural, and apart from which neither the life of 
individuals, nor the existence of communities, could be 
secured. The Christian man will not attempt to exscind 
the irascible emotions ; but he will strive to master them, 
in like manner as he governs the animal appetites. 

As to the presence and operation of these vindictive 
emotions during the pras-Christian ages, a freer scope was 
then allowed them, and men who were virtuous and wise 
spoke and acted in a manner which we of this time have 
learned greatly to modify : we have so learned this better 
lesson — partly in consequence of the broad Chrlstianiza- 
tion that has had place throughout the European nations ; 
and partly also by a not reprehensible confounding of the 
martyr-doctrine of Christ with the universal Christian 
principle of self-restraint and moderation. 

A confusion of this sort, natural as it is, and especially 
so in the case of highly sensitive Christian persons, has 
taken effect in rendering the martial tone of some of the 
Psalms, and the vindictive language of others of them, a 
sore trial to peace-loving, gentle-hearted modern Bible 
readers. The trial is the more severe, because those 

326 The Spirit of the 

modes of evading the difl&culty which the patristic ex- 
positors had recourse to, would not, at this time, seem to 
us tolerable. 

Few indeed among us would accept, as good and true, 
the symbolic expositions of Origen, or those of Augustine, 
of which a sample has been given in a preceding note. If 
a caution were needed against fanciful interpretations of 
this order, we might adduce this last-named Father's ex- 
position of the 149th Psalm. It fills several pages, and 
no doubt it exhibits much ingenuity, as well as a right 
Christian feeling: — " Jam, fratres, videtis sanctos armatos: 

adtendite strages; adtendite gloriosa praelia Quid 

fecerunt isti habentes in manibus frameas bis acutas ? Ad 
faciendam vindictam in gentibus. . . . Quomodo, inquies, 
pagani occiduntur ? Quomodo, nisi cum Christiani fiunt ? 
Qugero paganum? non invenio, Christianus est! Ergo 
mortuus est paganus. . . . Unde ipse Saulus occisus est 
persecutor, et Paulus erectus est praedicator? Quasro 
Saulum persecutorem, et non invenio ; occisus est." 
Much is there to the same purpose in this, and in the 
parallel places; but this method could not now be ac- 
cepted. Let it be granted that, in such instances, there 
is indeed a spiritual meaning — a meaning hidden and in- 
tended : but no doubt there was a primary meaning ; and 
it is this primary meaning which the modern expositor 
should hold himself bound to place in its true historic 
light. He will then be at liberty to adduce, at his best 
discretion, the ulterior meaning of the passage. 

Note to page 187. 

Sicilian cattle-keepers. I have already affirmed my be- 
lief (Chapter XV.) that comparisons attempted between 

Hebrew Poetry. 327 

the Hebrew poets, and those of Greece, can scarcely in 
any case be valid or available in a critical sense ; for be- 
sides other grounds of difference, which are many and 
obvious, there is this one, which should at once preclude 
any such endeavours to ascertain the relative merits of 
the two literatures : — in the one an artistic excellence is 
aimed at, and the poet did his best to secure an award of 
admiration from his contemporaries; the Hebrew poets 
give proof of a lofty indifference to everything resembling 
literary fame. The reference to Theocritus has this 
meaning, that this poet's literal, graphic, unideal, exhi- 
bitions of rude Sicilian life, throughout which a sense of 
the beauty of Nature, and of the sweetness of country life, 
barely appears, would place him in a position of disad- 
vantage by the side of the Canticle of Solomon, the charm 
of which is the vividness of this feeling toward Nature ; 
and beside this, there is the warmth, the softness, the deli- 
cacy, the fondness of those feelings — properly conjugal, 
which come up in each strophe. Moreover, the erotic idyls 
of Theocritus — like those of his imitator — are damaged 
by a putrid stain from which — let it be noted — the He- 
brew poetry — universally — as well as this Canticle, is 
absolutely and wholly free. 

Note to page 189. 

.... a passage cited from the book of Ecclesiastes. 
Neither in these pages, nor in any other of my writings, 
have I professed myself competent to enter upon dis- 
cussions relating to the date or authorship of the sepa- 
rate books included in the Canon. Disclaiming any 
such qualifications, I am shielded from blame, as to- 
ward the Canon, in offering an opinion of that casual 

328 The Spirit of the 

sort which any attentive reader of the Scriptures may 
well think himself at liberty to propound. The date and 
authorship, and consequently the strict canoniclty of the 
book of Ecclesiastes, I leave to be discussed amono- those 
whose professional learning fits them to engage in an 
argument of that sort. At a first glance the passage 
cited — " I gat me men-singers and women-singers, and 
the delights of the sons of men — musical instruments, and 
that of all sorts," suggests the idea of a time much later 
in Jewish life than the age of Solomon. It is not that 
the practice of music — vocal and instrumental — had not 
reached a stage of great advancement in that age ; for we 
must believe that it had ; but there does not appear evi- 
dence in support of the opinion that music had been secu- 
larized at so early a time ; or that concerts had come to 
hold a place in the routine of the amusements of the 
harem. If a passage in Ezekiel (xxxiii. 32) might be 
understood as implying a practice of music, not sacred or 
liturgical, this evidence touches upon a time as late as the 

Note to page 222. 

Isaiah .... our master in the school of the highest 

This is a broad affirmation which is likely to be rejected 
and resented. But whoever does so reject and resent 
what is here affirmed in behalf of the Hebrew prophet, 
should be prepared, not merely with a naked contradiction 
of the averment, but with a list of names from among 
which we might easily find another and a better teacher, 
in the school of divine philosophy. The production of any 
such list may be a more difficult task than those imagine 

Hehrew Poetry. 329 

who would be prompt to profess that it might be accom- 
plished in a moment. 

There is a preliminary work to be done on this ground ; 
for among the names that will instantly occur to every one 
who is conversant with the history of philosophy many 
must be excluded from any such catalogue on a ground 
of exception that is quite valid; as thus — when we are 
in search of those who might fairly dispute with the He- 
brew prophet his place at the head of theistic thought, we 
must not name, as if they were his rivals, any of those who, 
in fact, have sat at his feet, and who have achieved what- 
ever they may have achieved by building upon the He- 
brew foundation. In abstract philosophy the advantage 
is incalculably great of starting in a right direction ; whe- 
ther or no the best path over the ground be afterwards 
followed. This ground of exception will at once reduce 
our liberty of choice to a very few names. The long 
series of theologians — philosophical or biblical — who have 
received their early training within the pale of either 
Jewish or Christian institutions, have set out — capital in 
hand: as well intellectually, as morally, they have been 
provided with the materials and the terms of theistic spe- 
culation; and not only so, for every habitude of mental 
labour has been acquired and matured under, and amidst, 
Bible influences. Those primary elements of religious 
speculation which include the idea and the belief of the 
Personality of God, and of His moral government, and of 
the emotional relationship of the human spirit to God — 
the Father of spirits, and the Hearer of prayer — all these 
elements are, in the most exclusive sense — Hebrew ele- 
ments: it is in these writings that ih^y Jirst occur; and it 
is within these writings that they have received an ex- 
pression and an expansion beyond which no advance has 

330 The Spirit of the 

since been made, anywhere, within the range of litera- 
ture — ancient or modern. Moreover, these primary ele- 
ments of theology and of piety are of such force in them- 
selves, and they so hold their sway over the human in- 
tellect and feelings, when once they have been admitted, 
that to disengage the mind from their grasp is exceedingly 
difficult — it is a wrenching effort to which very few have 
been equal, even among the most resolute and robust of 
modern sophists. 

Those therefore who might be named as our masters in 
theology, or a philosophy which might supplant theology, 
must be such as have either lived and taught far remote 
from any glimmer of Biblical light, or they must be those, 
if indeed there be any such, who, living within the circle 
of that light, have freed themselves entirely from its in- 
fluence. How difficult it has been to do so is shown by 
the extravagance — by that style of paradox — by the hy- 
perbolic endlessness in speculation, which have marked 
the course of modern atheistic philosophy in Germany, 
France, and England. It has not been otherwise than 
as by a convulsive out-leap from the ground of Biblical 
belief, that men like Feuerbach, or Hegel, or Auguste 
Compte, or Holyoake, or Geo. Combe, have landed 
themselves upon the howling wilderness of baseless ab- 
stractions — or " free thought." 

The atheistic thinkers of classical antiquity are com- 
paratively mild in mood ; they are for the most part 
free from acrimony : they stop short of nihilism, and 
they retain some ground of confidence in the founda- 
tions of knowledge. The ancient Pyrrhonists stand in 
a light of great advantage, as to temper and style, when 
placed by the side of the modern professors of atheism. 
In fact, this comparison suggests the need of another terra 

Hebrew Poetry. 331 

which modern languages do not supply ; for the word 
atheist has acquired an ill sense from the malign mood 
of those who would declare themselves at one with the 
non-theists, or with the universal sceptics, of antiquity. 
Whence has come this opprobrious or sinister meaning of 
the word ? It may be said it has come from the contu- 
melious style, and the ill-temper of their opponents, 
namely — Christian theists. In part it may be so ; but 
not wholly, nor chiefly, for the opprobrium has been 
earned by those to whose names it has come to be at- 
tached : a savour of virulence has become the characte- 
ristic of writers of this class ; and if we ask why it should 
be so, the reason is not far to seek — modern non-theists 
have not been able to distance themselves far enough 
from the true theology — the Biblical theology, to relieve 
themselves from an uneasy consciousness of its presence. 
So it has been that the simple negation of belief has taken 
to itself the temper of a growling hatred. The classic 
fathers of the same philosophy were tormented in no 
such manner as this ; and therefore they conserved their 
philosophic equanimity. It was not until the time when 
the easy-tempered atheism of antiquity came into conflict 
with Christianity, as in Porphyry (if we may accept the 
evidence of his opponents) that it acquired its animus — 
its sharp arrogance, and its resentful dogmatism. 

When it is aflirmed, as it has been affirmed once and 
again in these pages, that the HebrcAV theology is the 
only theology which might be propounded to mankind 
as — a religion, an appeal in support of this averment 
may be made, on the one hand, to the unvarying issue 
of all philosophical speculation which opposes itself to the 
Biblical theism : this issue has been Pantheism, or avowed 
Atheism; or, on the other hand, we might appeal to the many 

332 The Spirit of the 

attempts that have been made to establish, or to demonstrate 
a theism of abstractions, on the side of Biblical belief, or 
in supposed confirmation of it. A sufficient instance of 
what may be looked for on this ground is the noted De- 
monstration of the Being and the Attributes of God. We 
need not cite the acknowledgments of several strong- 
minded Christian theists who have avowed their dissa- 
tisfaction with Clarke's line of abstract reasoning. It 
is enough to say that, although reasonings of this order 
may help the belief of a few believers — much as sea- 
breezes and sea-bathing enhance the health of those who 
are in health — this Demonstration avails little or nothing 
with any but the few whose minds are so constituted as 
to find rest on metaphysic ground. Certain it is that a 
Religion for mankind never has been set a going upon the 
stilts of metaphysical logic : who then shall be enthusiast 
enough, in future, to attempt an enterprise of this order ? 
There never has been — there never will be, a religion — 
no, nor a theology — of abstractions. There will be no 
other religious theism than that of which the Hebrew 
Scriptures are the source. Thus it is therefore — taking 
a distinguished individual of a class as its representative, 
that even now in this nineteenth century we claim for 
Isaiah the position due to him as our master in the 
school of the highest reason. 

Note to page 237. 

Metrical structure of the Lamentations. In part the 
highly artificial structure of these poems is conspicuous 
even in the English version (or indeed in any other ver- 
sion). Each verse has two, three, or four members, or 
sentences, in apposition ; which together constitute the 

Hebrew Poetry. 333 

one meaning, or sense, of the verse, irrespectively, often, 
of the meaning of the preceding, or of the next following 
verse. Where, as in several places, the meaning is con- 
tinuous, from triplet to triplet, yet there presents itself a 
break, or change, more or less manifest. Thus far the 
metrical structure gives evidence of itself in a translation ; 
but not so the acrostic or alliterative rule, which of course 
can be seen only in the Hebrew. Throughout the poetical 
books, generally, the modern division of chapters is arbi- 
trary or accidental, and it is often disregardful of the sense 
and connection of passages ; but in the Lamentations this 
division into five portions, or independent poems, rests 
upon the alphabetic structure of each portion ; unless it 
might be said that the third chapter, with its sixty-six 
verses, would better have been divided into three. The 
first chapter, with its twenty-two verses, corresponding 
to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, each letter taking 
its turn to stand first in the verse. So the second chapter. 
The third has its three alphabetic series — sixty-six in all. 
The fourth, twenty-two ; the fifth, twenty-two. As well 
the regularity of this structure, as the few instances of 
departure from it, convey a meaning which may be noted ; 
but the probable reasons, in each instance, whether arising 
from the requirements of the alphabetic rule ; or from the 
higher requirements of the subject-matter, could not be set 
forth otherwise than in adducing the Hebrew text, and in 
following a track of probable conjecture as to what might 
have been the choice of words, or the no-choice, in each 
instance in which a departure from the exact metrical rule 
occurs. In the instance of the 119th Psalm — the struc- 
ture of which is quite diiferent — the want of a sufficient 
choice of words, suitable for the initial word of eight verses, 
is indicated by the recurrence of the same word, two, three, 

334 The Spirit of the 

or four times, in each compartment, or strophe. An ac- 
complished Hebraist, whose ready recollection of the copia 
vcrhorum of the language might enable him to do so, would 
not, perhaps, find it very difficult to trace what we may 
allowably call the verbal reasons, or even the glossary ne- 
cessities, which had been followed, or yielded to, in several 
of these instances ; and this, as well where the metrical 
rule has been adhered to, as where a deviation from it has 
been admitted. 

Leaving unattempted any such critical analysis of the 
metrical Hebrew poems as is here imagined, we may very 
safely assume, as probable, a reason why a structure so 
artificial as that of the Lamentations, or of the 119th, and 
other Psalms, should have been employed in the consti- 
tution of the Canon of Scripture. Generally, the reasons 
which supply our answer to the questions — Why should 
the Inspired writings adopt the poetic style, and why, to so 
large an extent as they do ? and why should they in this 
manner submit the thought to the arbitrary sway of metri- 
cal rules ? — apply in full force to any minor question, re- 
lating to cases in which certain rules of structure, which are 
in an extreme degree artificial, are complied with by the 
inspired writers. The obvious advantages of the poetic 
style, and of a metrical structure, are — the adaptation of 
both to the tastes and culture of the people ; and especially 
the adaptation of the latter to the purpose of storing these 
compositions in the memory, from infancy upward. Thus 
it was that the minds of this — indeed favoured, though 
afflicted — people, were richly furnished with religious and 
moral sentiments ; and thus was meditative thought nou- 
rished, and suggested, and directed, and was made con- 
ducive to the momentous purposes of the individual, and 
of the domestic spiritual life. Too little do we now take 

Hebrew Poetry. 335 

account, in our Biblical readings and criticisms, of this 
deep-going purpose of the Hebrew poetic Scriptures, 
which, through centuries of national weal and woe, have 
nourished millions and millions of souls — "unto life 
eternal." Thus it was that those who, in the lapse of 
ages, should be " more in number than the stars of hea- 
ven," were trained for their gathering, one by one, into 
the " bosom of Abraham." 

As to the Lamentations, and the highly artificial struc- 
ture which distinguishes them, as being the most artificial 
portions of the entire Hebrew Canon, a peculiar, and a 
very deep historic meaning is suggested by this very pecu- 
liarity. Through long — long tracts of time, this one im- 
mortal people has been left, as if forsaken of God, to weep 
in exile. The man who found a grave in any strange 
land, but a home in none, took up this word — " Thy tes- 
timonies have been my songs in the house of my pil- 
grimage." In the scatterings and wanderings of families, 
and in lonely journeyings — in deserts and in cities, where 
no synagogue-service could be enjoyed, the metrical Scrip- 
tures — infixed as they were in the memory, by the very 
means of these artificial devices of versets, and of alpha- 
betic order, and of alliteration — became food to the soul. 
Thus was the religious constancy of the people, and its 
brave endurance of injury and insult, sustained and ani- 
mated. Thus was it that, seated in some dismal lurking 
place of a suburb, disconsolate where all around him was 
life, the Jew uttered his disregarded plaint : — 

Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by ? 

Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, 

which is done unto me, 
Wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of His 

fierce anger. 

336 The Spirit of the 

The purpose which has been kept in sight in these 
pages may here again be adverted to. The one inference 
that is derivable from the fact of the artificial, or arbitrary- 
metrical structure of the Hebrew poetic Scriptures is, 
as I think, this — that the high intention of the Inspired 
writings is secured — over the conditions and the require- 
ments, and the necessities, of language : — this high in- 
tention is secured beneath these conditions and require- 
ments and necessities ; and it is secured in and among 
them. Where these requirements seem most to rule the 
course of thought, and where most the tyranny of the 
medium appears to triumph over the sovereign purpose — 
that purpose nevertheless comes off undamaged and entire. 
In witnessing what we might regard as a conflict between 
the medium, and the mind, of Scripture, the mind saves 
itself, and the medium prevails, only in appearance. 

Note to page 247. 

The Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures. A large 
subject, abounding in facts that invite, and that would 
repay, learned industry, is the diffusion of the Septuagint 
translation during the prje- Apostolic era, and its actual 
influence in preparing a people, gathered from among the 
heathen, for the promulgation of the Gospel. The facts 
belonging to this subject would need to be collected at 
the cost of some labour, from the earliest of the Christian 
writers — especially the apologists, such as Tatian, Athena- 
goras, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Much, of course, 
from Philo and Josephus. More than a little also might 
be gleaned from the writings of Plutarch, Seneca, Athe- 
naeus, Horace, Juvenal, Lucian ; and much from the two 
treasures of antiquity — the " Evangelic Demonstration," and 

Hebrew Poetry. 337 

the " Preparation," of Eusebius. Among those instances 
of providential interposition which favoured the spread and 
triumph of Christianity, none are more signal, or more 
worthy of regard, than is this of the early and wide dif- 
fusion of the Old Testament Scriptures by the means of 
the Alexandrian version. Whatever may be its faults, or 
failures — and on this ground more is often alleged than 
could be proved — undoubtedly it truthfully conveys the 
theologic purport of the Hebrew Scriptures ; and in so 
doing, at the first, that is to say, from about b. c. 140 to, 
and beyond, the Apostolic age, it had " made ready a 
people for the Lord" in almost every city wherein the 
Greek language was spoken. Wherever the Apostles 
came " preaching the word," they found among the fre- 
quenters of the Sabbath services in the Jewish Synagogue 
not only listeners, as they might also among remoter bar- 
barians, but learners, who already were well conversant 
with the phraseology of a true theology, and of a pure 
devotional service. In most cities there were a few of 
the philosophic class (this may fairly be assumed) who 
were used to drop in to the synagogue and listen to the 
reading of Moses and the Prophets. No doubt, among 
the "honourable women" of those places there were many 
— very many — Sabbath worshippers who had found, in 
the Jewish Synagogue, that liturgy of the soul which 
woman's nature more quickly discerns, and more truly 
appreciates, than does man's nature, or than his pride 
will allow him to accept, or care for. Thus it was that by 
means of the Greek Scriptures, road-ways had been made 
for the conveyance of the Gospel — north, south, east, and 
west ; and thus that word had been fulfilled — " Prepare 
ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight." 

It was, we say, the truth in theology that had thus 

338 The Spirit of tJie 

been carried forth throughout the Greek-speakhig world : 
it could not be the poetry of the prophets ; it was 
their theism and their ethics. To Greek minds of the 
cultured class, the strange idioms, and the allusive phrases 
which abound in the version of the Seventy, must have 
had the effect of quite dispelling or offending those tastes 
which, otherwise, the Hebrew poetry might have awakened. 
Readers of Greek poetry could not but distaste the Psalm- 
ists and the Prophets — if thought of as poets. Such 
readers accepted them only in their higher character as 
teachers of piety. 

Note to page 250. 

Tlte Rabbinical mood. The Rabbis of a later age ap- 
pear to have followed in the track of their masters — the 
Scribes of the Apostolic age ; and, serviceable as these 
Jewish versionists and commentators no doubt are — for 
they were ministers in the providential scheme which has 
secured the safe transmission of the Inspired writings to 
later times — it was not their function to concern them- 
selves with the soul and spirit — with the fire — of the 
national literature ; but only with the letter. Thus writes 
a competent critic : — " Nihil nisi traditiones Scriba3 docu- 
erunt, quid sc. hie aut ille Doctor, aut Synedrium quon- 
dam docuerit aut determinarit ; quid Hillel, Shammai, 
Baba ben Buta, Rabban Simeon, aut Gamaliel, aut alii 
eruditi, asseverint, aut negarint ; aut qui hanc aut illamve 
qutestionem proposuerint, aut qui hoc aut illud determina- 
rint. . . . Doctrina omnis Scribarum circa externa maxime 
versabatur, vulgares scilicet communesque ritus ac crerimo- 
nias, ut in Codice Thalmudico ubique apparet. . . . Vix 
quidquam prater carnalia Thalmud continet, ut legenti 
patebit." Lightfoot, vol. i. p. 504. 

Hebrew Poetry. 339 

Note to page 254. 

Basil's description of his delicious retreat, on the banks 
of the Iris, I have had occasion to adduce at length in 
another place. The passage has also been cited more than 
once or twice by modern writers, and I need not repeat 
the quotation here, where, in fact, it could bear upon the 
subject of this volume only in an indirect manner. It is 
enough here to point out the characteristic difference, dis- 
tinguishing the ascetic tastes and style of the Eastern, 
and of the Western monachism : a poetic feeling, a mild- 
ness, a sense of the beautiful, may be traced in the one, 
contrasted with the rigour and murkiness that belong to 
the other. It is true that abstemiousness was carried to 
a greater extent by the Greek ascetics; but severity in 
modes of living was the boast of the monks of the West. 
Fasting was comparatively easy in the sultry East, and 
in Egypt — appetite was terribly clamorous in Gaul. So 
says Sulpitius Severus : — " Nam edacitas in Grgecis, gula 
est, in Gallis, natura." Dialoo-. i. 

Note to page 255. 

The iiifluence of the Inspired writings upon national 

It cannot be said that the Hebrew poetry has given a 
poetry to any modern literature. Its influence has been 
rather to give poetry — to give depth, force, animation, 
feeling, to the prose, and to the political and common life 
of those modern nations among whom the Scriptures — the 
Old Testament especially — have been the most freely dif- 
fused. Hitherto no attempt to idealize, or to heroize, or 
to transmute into the dramatic form, the persons, or the 

340 The Spirit of the 

events, or the conceptions of the Bible, has been anything 
better than a failure : the instances that mig-ht be named 
as exceptions, might better be named as examples con- 
firmatory of this broad assertion. What are Racine's 
Esther or Athalia? What is EQopstock's Messiah? What 
Is Milton's Paradise Regained ? What are these ill- 
judged enterprises better than Mrs. Hannah More's Sa- 
cred Dramas ? — vapid, wearisome, ineffective, either for 
edification, or for entertainment ! Paradise Lost is not an 
exceptive instance; for it is a mere germ — an almost 
nothing — in this great poem that is properly Biblical: 
it is a realization of conceptions that have had quite 
another source, or other sources ; modern, much rather 
than ancient, and in which Moses and the Prophets make 
much less appearance than do Dante, Michael Angelo, 
and some of the German and middle-age painters. In 
a Christian sense. It must be acknowledged that the 
paganized orthodoxy (is it orthodoxy ?) of Paradise Lost 
offends, much more than it satisfies, Christian belief. 
Whatever in Milton is purely terrestrial and human, 
reaches at once the sublime ; but whatever is celestial, 
whatever is transacted on an upper stage, barely saves 
itself from the bathos : or if among the supernals the 
true sublime is attained, it is in hell, not in heaven, that 
this success has been achieved. 

There is room for a parallel affirmation in regard to the 
poetry of ancient Greece, which has not given a poetry 
to any modern literature ; but instead of this, it has been 
Greece, in its history, in its philosophy, in its politics, that 
has given a poetry — a depth, a force, an animation, to the 
prose — to the public life of (free) modern nations. A re- 
petition, or an attempt to put forth in modern guise the 
classical poetry, barely reaches the faint evanescent colours 

Hebrew Poetry. 341 

of the reflected arch in a double rainbow : such repe- 
titions are exercises for school-boys. Yet is it true that 
modem public life, in free communities, has breathed 
a spirit which has drawn the power and fire of poetry 
from classic prose. It is neither Homer's heroes, nor those 
of ^schylus, that have made the great men of modern 
states what they were ; but it is the real men of the best 
times of Athens : it has been this influence, mainly, that 
has thrown a poetic glow upon selfish ambition. So far 
then as what is here affirmed may be true, we shall look 
for the " mighty influence " of the Scriptures, when it 
has displayed itself in national literatures, not in the poetry 
directly, but in the prose, and in the life of each people ; 
and so it will be that the Bible-reading nations of modern 
Europe have displayed, in the most decisive manner, that 
richness as well as quaintness — that soul-force, that in- 
tensity of the social affections — that moral energy of the 
irascible emotions, which declare their source to have 
been the Hebrew Scriptures. The England and the 
Scotland of the seventeenth century were rich in men 
of force, whose behaviour and language, whose courage, 
and humanity too, breathed a Bible inspiration, raised 
above vulgarity or barbarism by the training of Bible 
history and poetry. 

Note to page 278. 

The Apology of Socrates. The closing words of the 
Apology, as reported by Plato, may be open to a question, 
as to the precise meaning which they carry — or which 
they carried in the mind of the master, or of his disciple : 
they are these (often cited) — 'AXXa yap tjS»j ainkvai ifxoi 

342 The Spirit of the • 

^EV ClTToOaVOVIJlivW, VfUV 0£ piWffO/UEVOlC' OTTOrtpOl Ce l]f.l(i)V 

cp^ovrai km a/meivov Trpayjua, aSrjXov Travrt i] no Oeio. 
There might be room to ask — In thus speaking was 
Socrates thinking of the life and the world he was leav- 
ing, or of the world — the hidden future, the Hades — 
upon which he was about to enter? If of the former, 
then his meaning would be — God only knows whether 
it be not a better thing to die, as I am about to die, 
under an unmerited sentence — to die, an innocent man, 
than to live — as you, my inequitable judges, will live, 
condemned now by your own consciences, and soon to 
be followed by the execrations of the Athenian people. 
But even if the philosopher, as we may well suppose, 
had his eye fixed upon the future — the unseen world, 
there are still two senses between which a choice might 
be made ; for he might intend to say — God only knows 
whether the happiness which I have in prospect is not 
such as greatly to outweigh all those pleasures of the 
present life which you, my judges, may yet live to en- 
joy. Or, on this second supposition, the other sense may 
be this — God only knows to which of us — whether to me, 
or to you — the happier lot shall be assigned, when, at 
length, 1/ou and I together shall come to meet our dues, 
severally. In Hades, according to the award of inexorable 
and impartial justice. This last meaning of the words 
may find support in some passages of the Phaedo; but 
perhaps it draws its chief support in our minds, from our 
own Christian beliefs. The version of the phrase which 
Cicero gives (Tusc. Quest, i. 44) does not determine the 
sense — " Utrum autem sit melius." Lactantius (Instit. 
VII. 2) in repeating this passage from Cicero, adduces it 
in illustration of his argument, touching the uncertainty 
of all philosophical speculations — " Quare necesse est 

Hebrew Poetry. 343 

oranes philosopliias sectas, alienas esse a verltate; quia 
homines errant, qui eas constituerunt ; nee ullum funda- 
mentum, aut firmitatem possunt habere qua3 nullis divi- 
narum vocum fulciuntur oraculis." 

Whatever the meaning of the martyr-philosopher in 
this instance, or in other instances, might be, it is certain 
that he, and his profound disciple, laboured to their best, 
in the mine of thought; or, changing the figure — that, 
with sincere purpose, they toiled along that rugged thorny 
path that leadeth upward from the sordid and sensual 
levels of the world, toward a world of light, truth, good- 
ness, upon which upward, rugged, thorny path, none shall 
walk and lose his way — none, if indeed the modesty and 
the sincerity of Socrates be in them, for it is these qua- 
lities that give the soul its aptitude to receive guidance 
from above, where it may be had. Socrates, and Plato 
too, in professing their consciousness of the need of a 
heavenly leading on this path, approached very near to 
an expression of David's better confidence : — 

Thou wilt not leave (abandon, ovk kyKaraXti-^sii) my soul in 

Hades ; 
Thou wilt show me the path of life : 
In Thy presence is fulness of joy ; 
At Thy right hand are pleasm-es for evermore. 

Note to page 298. 

The mission of the Scriptures. A subject too large, as 
well as too deep, to find room for itself in a note ; but it 
is a subject which might well engage the meditations of 
those who will, and who can, calmly think of the course 
of things at this moment. There is a stage of intellec- 
tual and literary sophistication, commingling fastidious 

344 The Spirit of the 

tastes and the sardonic frivolity of luxurious modes 
of life, which will never consist with the feelings, the 
tastes, the moral habitudes, that belong to a devout 
reading, study, relish, and home-use of the Bible. Who- 
ever has had near acquaintance with leisurely cultured 
life, in this, its advanced stage of refinement, and who- 
ever has felt the potent influence of such an atmosphere 
upon himself for a length of time, and has learned to 
relish the ironies, the mockeries, the spiritualisms of 
the region, with its soft intellectuality, and its epicu- 
reanism, will think that a thousand leagues of interval 
are not too many to intervene between such a region 
and a home where there is feeling and truth, and within 
which the Scriptures — Prophets and Apostles — might 
be listened to, and where those ministers of God might 
make their appeal to the deeper principles of human 
nature. Is it that the canonical writings have been 
proved untrue? Is it that Revelation has lately been 
tried, and found wanting ? It is not so ; but those who 
spend life in the precincts of well-bred affectations find 
that they have come into a mood which renders the 
Bible, in its wonted place — on the table, at home — an 
unwelcome object. There is felt to be a sacrilege, even, 
in opening the book while the fancy is revelling in what- 
ever is frivolously intellectual and artistically sensuous. 
To produce this effect, there need be nothing gross or 
licentious in the converse of our intimates, whose con- 
verse, nevertheless, does not consist, never will consist, 
with Bible-reading habitudes: the two influences are 
irreconcilably repellant, the one of the other. 

In every highly-cultured community there is an upper 
stage, or privileged enclosure, within which this soj)histi- 
cation bears sway, and is always in progress ; but so long 

Hebrew Poetry. 345 

as its circuit is limited, and so long as it includes none 
but either the wealthy, and the parasites of wealth, and 
a few intruders, the masses of the people may retain the 
native force of their feelings — their genuineness, their 
serious beliefs, and their consciousness of the strenuous 
realities of life. Among such a people the Bible may 
retain, and may exert its proper Influence. But there 
Is a tendency, which, from day to day. Is enlarging the 
circle of upper-class sophistication, and which therefore, 
In the same proportion, is driving in the boundaries of 
the more robust national moral consciousness. Narrowed 
continually It Is, moreover, by all those well-Intended 
devices of recent Invention, the purpose of which is to 
bring the luxuries of art. In all lines, and the fine 
things of literature, within reach of the middle, and of 
the labouring classes. 

Should we then step forward, and, in gloomy mood, 
attempt to arrest this course of things? This may not 
be ; nor would any endeavours of this sort avail for the 
purpose intended. Nevertheless the issue is inevitable; 
or it is so unless, within the upper classes, and especially 
within and among the ministers of religion, a decisive re- 
novation of religious convictions should take place. Let 
this be, and then the Scriptures will retain their place 
of power; but if not, then our institutions, however 
stable they may seem, will crumble into dust, wrought 
upon daily, as they are, by the dry-rot of sophisticated in- 
tellectuality, and epicurean tastes. This Is the course of 
things in England; and such has long been the actual 
condition of our nearest continental neighbours. 

At this moment the spread of infidelity, especially In 
the educated classes. Is spoken of with alarm. Yet the 
unbelief of educated Englishmen is not a product of 

346 The Spirit of the 

reason : it is not the ascertained upshot of an argument : 
it is not the result of a controversy which may have been 
unskilfully managed on the side of belief. This infidelity, 
or this pantheism, or this atheism, which walks the streets 
with a noiseless camel-tread — breathing in the ear from 
behind — this rife infidelity, is the natural out-speak of 
intellectual and literary sophistication, and of that relish 
for frivolous pleasures, the operation of which is to render 
the tastes factitious, and to lull the moral consciousness, 
and to falsify the social aiFections ; and which so perverts 
the reasoning faculty that evidence produces an effect in 
an inverse ratio to its actual force. 

Meantime the Scriptures are fulfilling their mission. 
Among ourselves, and abroad, the Bible goes on its way, 
and it prospers to the end xvhereto He that thus sends it, 
sent it. The Scriptures take effect upon men — singly, 
and in communities — among whom what is real in hu- 
man nature, what is strong, and great, still subsist : the 
Scriptures come where they come, as the dew ; or as the 
rain from heaven ; or they come as the tempest: — the word 
is gentle, and germinating ; or it is a force irresistible ; 
and it does its office, here or there, as the need may be, 
where human nature, as to its moral elements, is still in a 
culturable state, and is still reclaimable : as to those, and 
at this time they are many, who, in respect of the moral 
elements of human nature, have passed beyond this range 
by the deadly influence of luxurious refinements — the 
message from Heaven leaves them where they are, and 
ffoes forward. It is thus that individual men, and that 
communities, may lose their part in God's Revelation. At 
this time, and among ourselves, so false and fatal a con- 
dition is that of a class only ; but i^ is the class which, 
by its culture, and its intelligence, possesses the means 

Hebrew Poetry. 347 

and the opportunity to speak for itself; and it is thus 
that an estimate of its numbers, and of its mental and 
moral importance — greatly exaggerated, is made by itself, 
on the one side ; and by those who speak of it in tones 
of vivid alarm, on the other side. 




Logic in Theology and other Essays. 

Ultimate Civilization and other Essays. 

Physical Theory of Another Life. 

Natural History of Enthusiasm. 


Spiritual Despotism. 

Saturday Evening. 

Home Education. 

Ancient Christianity. 

Loyola, and Jesuitism. 

Wesley, and Methodism. 

The Restoration of Belief. 

The World of Mind. 

The Spirit of the Hebrew Poetry. 



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Date Due 

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The spint of the Hebrew poetry 

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