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THE BOOK OF JOB..
ITS GRANDEUR AND PURITY. Among all writings, inspired or uninspired, the Book of Job stands preēminent for its lofty representations of the pure moral personality, the holiness, the unchallengeable justice, the wisdom, the Omnipotence, the absolute Sovereignty of God. Whatever may be said of its obscurities and difficulties in other respects, in the splendor of its theism it is unsurpassed. Whether we take the earlier or the later date that has been assigned to it, the wonder is still the same. “Crude theistic conceptions” have been charged upon the whole Old Testament, surpassing, in some respects, those of surrounding nations, yet still characteristic of the infancy of the race and the infancy of science. The Book of Job refutes this. Our best modern theology, in its most approved and philosophical symbols, may be challenged to produce any thing surpassing the representations which this ancient writing gives us of God as “a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” Nothing approaches its ideal of the ineffable purity of the divine character, before which the heavens veil their brightness, and the loftiest intelligences are represented as comparatively unholy and impure. God the Absolute, the Infinite, the Unconditioned, the Unknowable,– these are the terms by which our most pretentious philosophizing would characterize Deity as something altogether beyond the ordinary theological conception. But even here this old Book of Job surpasses them in setting forth the transcending glory, the ineffable height, the measureless profundity of the Eternal. How much stronger the intellectual and moral impression of this, as derived from the vivid metaphors of Zophar, than any thing that comes to us from the negatives of Sir William Hamilton, or from any such powerless abstractions as philosophy is compelled to employ: "Canst thou explore the deep things of God? Canst thou find out the Almighty in His perfection? Higher than Heaven, what canst thou do? Deeper than Hades, what canst thou know? Longer than the earth; broader than the sea;" excelling all height, going beneath all depth, extending beyond all space; infinite in its unsearchableness, yet never dissociated from the idea of a personal Divine presence more wondrous in its nearness than in any conception we can form of its immensity.
CONTRAST BETWEEN THIS EXALTED THEISM AND THE DIM ACCOMPANYING VIEW OF A
FUTURE LIFE. In connection with such a sublime theism, there is to be noted another fact, worthy of ttention in itself, but more especially in its bearing on the first and greater aspect of the Book. This exalted idea of God is almost wholly separated from any dogmatic view of a fucure life for man, although it most distinctly recognizes what has ever been regarded as having
a close connection with this latter doctrine, namely, a spiritual world inhabited by superhuman beings, good and bad, among whom a conspicuous place is held by those who are called D'Okx '3d, or “Sons of God.” The idea of another side of human existence, of some state beyond, whether in Sheol, or after the dominion of Sheol, cannot, indeed, be said to be wholly wanting. It gleams upon us from certain passages, but as something repressed rather than as intended to be prominently revealed. It is kept back; a veil seems thrown over it; it is silenced, as it were, even in places where it would appear to be almost breaking through, and struggling to manifest itself in circumstances most adapted to call out its utterance. This is a remarkable feature of the Book, very suggestive in respect to its purpose,-its problem, as some would call it, or, to speak more correctly, the lesson it truly teaches, whatever may be said as to its artistic design.
The Foundations of Religious Belief. Two tenets are commonly regarded as fundamental in religion,-as indispensable, in fact, whatever else may be received or rejected. These are, 1st, the belief in a personal God having moral relations to a world of rational beings, a Ruler, Lawgiver and Judge, instead of a mere physical Creator; 2d, the belief in a future state for man, or of some higher life, however conceived, which shall give dignity to that relation, or make man a fit subject of a divine moral government appealing to the highest motives, and the most transcending reasons that can influence one appointed to such a destiny. They are the two necessary articles in every system of theology. Piety cannot exist without them. So it seems to us in the present age of the world. We find it difficult to think of religion as separate from some very clear and decided belief in another state of existence. And yet it has not always been so. Nothing is more certain than that, in the early days of the human world, this second article which, in certain kinds of modern religionism, seems to usurp the first place, to be the great dogma, in fact, giving its chief importance to the other, did certainly hold a very subordinate rank in the mind's conceptions. If it existed at all, its form was most shadowy and indefinite. It was a feeling rather than a dogma having any defining limits in respect to any conceived time, state, or locality. And yet there was a strong sense of a high moral relation between man and God,-a relation somehow eternal, though one of the parties was mainly thought of as finite, earthly, and mortal.
The Exalted Piety of the Patriarchal Life as compared with the Scantiness of its Creed.
Connected with this scanty creed, or rather with this wholly deficient creed, as we would deem it, there was an exalted piety, a rapt contemplation described as a “walking with God,” an adoring view of the divine holiness, an ecstatic longing for the blessedness of the divine communion. Strange as this may seem, it cannot be denied whilst we have before us the history of those early patriarchs who appeared ever to live as in the presence of God, and to whose earthly existence this feeling gave such an unearthly aspect, though knowing nothing, seemingly, of any state beyond.
Difference between it and Modern Religionism. It is difficult for us to conceive how it could have been so. Nothing of the kind is seen or known in our modern world. The creed of the materialist, or of the mortal Deist, as he is called, would seem outwardly to present but little difference from that of the patriarch in regard to this item of a future life, but how utterly does it repel every idea of such an exalted piety, such an adoring theism, as characterized these men who called their earthly stage a pilgrimage, but who knew not whither it tended, or what was its meaning, except that it was assigned to them by God. We never find such a belief now, or rather such an absence of belief, separated from some form of sheer worldliness, sensuality, animalism, ambition, utter selfishness in some aspect, vulgar or refined,-ever characterized by indifference to all religious thought, and wholly wanting in adoration or reverence for God, though theoretically believed.
Earliest Ideas of Death and of Continued Being. It is not easy for us now to enter into the mind of the early men, and to understand precisely what view they took of the strange phenomenon of death, or what conception they formed of any possible after being. It was a cessation of visible activity, but we are not warranted in supposing that they regarded it as extinction, on the one hand, or that they formed any idea of something separating, going off, and continuing as a distinct immaterial existence, on the other. It was a great mystery in respect to which nothing had been told them, except that it was a condition into which men entered on account of sin. It was the beginning of something, so far as the mere act of dying or the cessation of activity was concerned, but they had nothing to warrant them in regarding it as an end of being. It was not annihilation. They had no such word or figure—no such conception to be expressed by it. It was a state, a state of being, instead of a ceasing to be. It was a penal state, and the first dawning of a better hope and of a more distinct idea must have arisen from the strong desire of deliverance from it as from a darkness and a prison, which, although they may have interrupted their conscious active powers, did not destroy their personal identity. It was a state strange and indescribable—inconceivable, we may also say—yet held, nevertheless, as a fact of which they could give no account. The body lies motionless before them. They see it beginning to undergo a fearful change. As far as sense is concerned, every thing seems at an end; and yet they continue to speak of the dead man as one who somehow yet is. He has yet relations to God and to the living. He is not all gone. His “blood cries from the ground.” God has yet a care for him, and makes inquisition for him, as a yet remaining entity having rights and wrongs. Such language may have become mere empty figures as used now; but it could not well have become so in the early day; it meant something. They are gone from the congregation of the active living, but they are gathered into another-into a community of beings in a similar strange condition. Especially is this thought and said of the pious : “They are gathered to the fathers," "gathered to their people.” The earthly living go to them; they come not back to us (Gen. xxxvii. 36). This is before any pictures of locality have been formed. Even those exceedingly dim conceptions first embodied in such words as Sheol and Hades had not yet assumed a rudimentary distinctness. The subterranean imagery had not yet grown out of the forms of burial. Still, even before all this, there was the feeling, the sentiment, of something in man, or belonging to man, that did not perish; and that, because of his vital moral relation to the ever Living God. “Because He lived,” therefore, in some way they knew not how, and on some ground they did not understand, “they should live also.” Hence that early Hebrew oath, which afterwards became so frequent, 709) 'NI 17107' in, “as the Lord liveth and as thy soul liveth.” Surely there was meaning in all this; it was not mere verbiage. From this arose that kind of language which, as we learn from 2 Sam. xxv. 29, afterward pervaded the common Jewish speech. Thus Abigail uses it to David as a sort of habitual or proverbial utterance of the formal religionism : “The soul of my lord bound up in the bundle of life, O"1173, with the Lord thy God.” Compare also Ps. xxxvi. 10: “For with thee is the fountain of life, O'n177 hpa, in thy light do we see light.” There is here “the power of an endless life,” even though time conception and local scenery be wholly absent. It is astonishing that some of our most learned and most acute commentators see so little in such remarkable language, whilst so keen to find meaning in the common-place ethics, or mystical rhapsodies of Zoroastrian, Brahminic, or Confucian writings.
Pilgrims and Sojourners. The Covenant Idea. This absence of local conception, and of forms of expression for it, should not lead us to imagine a complete destitution of the idea, or of the feeling, as we may rather call it. They were “strangers and pilgrims upon earth” (Févol, napenídnuoi, O'???), way-farers ; "and they that say such things make it clear (euøavíčovoiv) that they seek a country.” At the command of God, it is said, they went out from their native land, “not knowing whither they went;" and the same may be said of their apparent departure from the earthly state of being : They went down to Sheol, not knowing whither they went, yet firmly trusting God, who had made a “covenant with them well ordered in all things and sure.” Hence the great significance of this covenant idea which forms so peculiar a feature of the Old Testament, and especially of the patriarchal, economy. God does not deal with them as He does with nature. He raises them above the plane of an arbitrarily imposed and an involuntarily accepted law. He stipulates with man, he proposes terms to him, as one rational mind to another. But such a transaction implies a greater being in the party thus treated than the transient earthly life. God deals not thus with creatures of a day. “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living." It is our Saviour's argument with the Sadducees, most rational, most Scriptural, and most conclusive, though some of the Rationalists have not hesitated to characterize it as a force upon the text quoted, and an evasion of the difficulty presented.
“THE POWER OF AN ENDLESS LIFE.” It cannot be denied that there may be a feeling, a sentiment, an influence, call it what we will, that may have an immense power over the soul, giving it a most peculiar character, and yet wholly undefined in the forms either of thought or of language. It may be the consciousness of some greater being, strongly felt, yet without any conceived accompaniments of time, state, and locality. It is that mysterious idea which characterized the priesthood of Melchizedeck, and which the Apostle calls “the power of an endless life," dúvajuv Swis ákarakútov (Heb. vii, 16),-of an indissoluble, unbroken being. It is a power truly instead of a bare dogmatic idea, and yet indissolubly connected with that other and higher idea of the eternal God, with its awful moral relations to the human soul.
It demands a Pure Theism first as the Ground of all other Religious Ideas. Thus it is that these two great articles of religion, though inseparably connected in their essence, stand to each other in a causal relation of birth and development. The second, so far as respects its definiteness of conception, was to grow out of the first, and find in it its security against all perversion. To this end the first was to be clearly established, and to have the dominion of the soul, before the second assumed such form as might make it, in any degree, really or seemingly, independent of it. The clear acknowledgment of God as a moral Governor, whatever might become of man, or whatever might be thought of the duration or the importance of his being,—this was to be first, not only for its own sake as intrinsically greater than any other idea, but also on account of the second itself, as being a dogma, which, without such clear recognition of the greater dogma, might become vain, imaginative, grotesque, bringing in all kinds of monstrous chimeras on the one hand, or of pretty sentimentalities on the other, and, in either way, wholly losing all moral power.
Doctrine of a Future Life developed from it. From the doctrine of the being, personality, moral government, and moral sovereignty of God, were to grow out all other religious ideas. Under the divine direction of human history, and especially of the people who were chosen to be keepers of truth for the world, their development in the soul was to be their revelation. The Scriptures are the record of this revelation, made by divinely chosen and divinely guided instruments; or rather it is the record of the circumstances and events, natural or supernatural, common or extraordinary, in which, under the divine control, these developments had their origin and growth. Thus the idea of retribution was born in the sharp human conviction of something due to great crimeawakening also the thought that there might be a heinousness in such crimes, and even in what were regarded as common sins, far beyond that ordinary estimate which might itself have fallen with fallen beings. In the murderer's conscience was born essentially the idea of Hell before any Hadean penalty was conceived of, either as to mode or locality. So the acknowledged relation of God as Moral Governor, as Redeeming Angel, as Covenant Friend, must have produced in the souls of the pious a feeling that becomes the preparation on which the idea of a blessed future being was, in time, firmly and definitely to rest. In such an acknowledged relationship there was this "power of an endless life," of infinite being, as the