« PreviousContinue »
another; not as Cain, who was of the wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil and his brother's righteous;" and the discrimination of their respective characters in their offerings aroused his jealousy.
Such is the simple scriptural account of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. The careful student will confess it to be accordant with human nature and human history, that some of the earliest of our race should have worshiped thus, and consistent with the Divine character (who accepteth a willing mind according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not) that their offerings should have been regarded according to the dispositions and conduct of the offerer, the external act of each being in itself appropriate to his own circumstances, and the difference between the vegetable and the animal offering a mere circumstantial difference amid essential resemblance of form, the one essential difference being in the men and not in their sacrifices. None of the immoralities connected with Heathen rites of sacrifice are to be found connected with the offerings of the Patriarchal religion. Religion is there seen in its infancy, with the infancy of the human race; but there, as at each successive step in the economy of Divine Revelation, it is pure from all those monstrous notions of imputed moral guilt and vicarious virtue, which have so often deluded the sinner with vain hopes. The first of all the commandments alike of Judaism and of Christianity is, - Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength; and the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” “There is none other commandment greater than these.” “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." These are the sum and substance of the gospel too.
THE BOW IN THE CLOUD; OR THE EARLIEST TRADITIONS OF A DELUGE,
The history of the Deluge is the next of those strikingly graphic sketches preserved to us in the book of Genesis, among the philosophical, poetical and devotional thoughts of some of God's earliest worshipers and thinkers, which express the religious belief of the most ancient race of men.
The bow in the cloud sheds a rich lustre of poetry and devotion upon the sad record of the Deluge,-a record not peculiar to the Jews (for traditions of a flood prevailed in almost all ancient nations), but presented under an aspect of peculiar interest in their sacred literature.
“ The bow in the cloud !" Who has not revelled in its beauty? Who has not adored its mystery? Who has not pondered its causes and its meaning,-its how and its why? To sight, to fancy, to feeling, to reasoning, to religion, the rainbow has equally supplied material. To painter, poet, philosopher, worshiper, the majestic arch, the varied and blended colours, the solemn beauty, the ethereal mystery, never shine in vain. To all perceptive minds it is for ever as the bow of God,His symbol in the sky,-type of His all-circling providence,-radiant image of His all-endearing love, that shines forth the more sweetly when it has been obscured for a while,--symbol of the mixed sunlight and storm of life,—of the darkening sorrows and again soft-brightening hopes of our hearts !
Science, the intellectual handmaid of Religion, has blended, to a certain extent, the knowledge of the natural causes of this beautiful phenomenon with our feeling of wonder and devotion. She has traced, to a certain extent, the laws of that beneficent and most subtile material or influence, light; but in tracing the laws of light as far as she can, Science is forced to acknowledge with reverence that the principle or element of light is itself unexplained, and her own subtle theory respecting it almost inconceivable. In doing this, science has not robbed the rainbow of its beauty or mystery or divinity; but has only made the beauty apparent to the intellect as well as to the eye, removed the mystery one step further back towards the throne of God, and by that step has made the Divinity Himself the nearer to our souls. The philosophical poet truly describes, by reference to this very instance, the affinity of science to poetry, and we all know how poetry allies itself to devotion:
“Nor ever yet
Quite consistent with this our partial knowledge of natural causes is, in reality, the desire of another poet (though he seems for the moment to deprecate from the rainbow the touch of "proud philosophy") that it should
“Still seem, as to his childish sight,
A midway station given,
Between the earth and heaven."
And true as ever (or more true, if a truth of the heart could be strengthened by the establishment of physical facts) is the comparison, which another so beautifully expresses, of the evening rainbow to the good man's death :
“ The day,
Changeful and many-weathered, seemed to smile,
Then deepened dark anon and fell in rain;
And think the storm will not return again.
“Such is the smile that piety bestows
On the good man's pale cheek, when he, in peace
It was in this same rich spirit of poetry and devotion, as shared by gifted men from the earliest times, that the historian of the Deluge in his day uttered his unrivalled perception of the poetry and devotion attaching to the rainbow, together with his philosophy or theory of its
And, in justice to him, we must go back to his own period, long before the “ hand of science” had attempted to point out the path of the western sunbeams falling on the eastern clouds.
Nor must we expect to find him inspired with supernatural knowledge of the laws of optics. No sympathy, therefore, can we have with those small critics who would discard from their religious reverence this gem of early poetry and devotion on the ground that it implies an incorrect theory of the cause of the rainbow. No doubt it does; but what then? Grant that it implies any other scientific mistakes, -many others, if so it be,- that were prevalent in olden times.
Is not that precisely what you would expect, if the record is, as we maintain, a genuine antique ? Equally far must we be from sympathizing with those dogmatic religionists who insist upon finding the science of optics in the books of the Bible (or, rather, upon forbidding that or any other science to advance beyond the scientific knowledge possessed by the writers of those books); and who selfsufficiently assure us that, until after the Deluge, the rainbow had never appeared, though its known causes had been always operating, in the sun's light and the rain of heaven; or who vindicate their first assumption that the rainbow was a new phenomenon, by a second more absurd assumption, that there had never been rain until the Deluge.
We would not thus throw ridicule, in the shape of irrational homage, upon the Scriptures. We would not thus invite the contempt of scientific minds. We would not have it a part of our scriptural principles to maintain that God in his word contradicts what He has said in His works. He speaks His word through men, to whom He gives messages of special religious import; and those men, beyond the substance of their religious message and its reflected influence upon their minds, of course partake the general state of secular knowledge, or ignorance, belonging to their age and country. This great principle of interpretation, already so many times illustrated, we hold to be fully established.
In the sacred history of the Deluge, contained in the sixth and three following chapters of Genesis, there are (as any careful reader will observe) so many repetitions as to make the opinion of the great German scholar, Eichorn, credible even to the English reader, that this history is, in fact, made up of two distinct and originally separate histories (as I have before hinted to be probable with the picture of the Creation and that of the Garden of Eden). And not only are there repetitions of the same thing, which would hardly have been made by one original author, but there is at least one contradiction so palpable that no single author could have committed it; and it may seem strange that even the compiler of