Variety of Literary Forms in the Book of Job--The Opening Scene--Problem of Evil--Character of Job--Bad News-- Satan's Technique--Effect of Bodily Pain on the Mind--The Boils--The Three Friends--Their Speeches and Job's Replies--His Exasperation--Job's Remarks on Death--The Question in Job, and the Answer in John--Job's Appeal to Posterity--Job's Long Apology for His Life--An Outbreak from the Younger Generation--Conceit, Assurance, and Verbosity of Elihu--God's Patience Exhausted--The Voice Out of the Whirlwind--Sublime Figures--Humility of Job--His Final Prosperity--Passionate Love in Solomon's Song--The Lyrics in the Psalms--The Twenty-third Psalm and Its Influence-- Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness--Security in God--The Imprecatory Psalms and the Sermons Preached During the Great War--Solemn Grandeur of the Ninetieth Psalm--Length of Life--Philosophy of Life--The Modern Attitude--Hotspur and Roosevelt--God's Search for Man--Patriotic Psalms-- Isaiah's Passion for Right Conduct--His Attack on the Leaders of the Church--His Prophecy of Ultimate Triumph Through the Coming of Jesus Christ.
The Book of Job is a work of pure literature; it is a pastoral, it is a novel, it is a philosophical treatise in the form of a dialogue, it is a drama, and above all it is a poem. It is animated throughout by the very spirit of poetry--it is indeed one of the greatest poems of the world. As a pastoral, it deals with the land and possessions of a rich stock farmer; as a novel, it contains incidents so interesting that, once read, they are never forgotten; as philosophy, it deals with one of the most important problems, the significance of pain, and leaves us where all other treatises on this subject have left us, in the dark; as a drama, it has action and talk, both so appealing that when it was presented on the New York stage it had a long run; as poetry, it reaches the highest elevations known to the human spirit, and loses itself in the stars.
It has everything except one thing--love o' women. Curious, that a narrative-pastoral-philo-sophical-dramatic-poem can be so thrilling without making any use of the chief material for all these forms of literature.
It opens in the liveliest fashion, so lively that Goethe borrowed it for the opening of Faust. Job had that combination of piety and wealth so often exemplified in the town's leading citizen. He sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these other things were added unto him. Thus Satan sneered, as some of the ungodly do to-day, whenever Job was held up as an illustration of religion. It is easy to be good when you have plenty of money and good health--take these away and faith in God will have wings like riches and fly.
So far as the problem of evil is concerned, it is interesting to notice that Satan spent his time traveling, going freely hither and thither, and was given a free hand. Thus the Spirit of Opposition, the Spirit of Negation, the Super-Mischief-maker was and apparently is eternally busy, and could point with pride to his solid accomplishments.
God and Satan fought for the soul of Job, as they fight for every human being; apparently even the meanest is worth fighting for. No one has ever got any further with the doctrine of predestination than the coloured preacher who said, "God predestines man to be saved: the Devil predestines man to be damned; and man has the casting vote."
Satan was allowed to try his technique on Job's prosperity and security. Four servants came running in turn to Job, bringing him news of disaster: the first spoke of robbers, who had destroyed property and servants; the second, of lightning destroy-
ing sheep and shepherds; the third, of three bands of marauders who stole all the camels and killed their drivers; the fourth, of a cyclone which destroyed the manor house and killed his seven sons.
Job received these four blows with that equanimity that accompanies only the most steadfast faith. He worshipped God, who had given and taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.
When Satan appeared again before the Most High, he did not look like a defeated antagonist; he was reminded that Job's piety had not been lessened or stained by disaster. Satan suggested that there was one thing that no faith could overcome--physical suffering. It will be remembered that in In Memoriam we read,
Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is rack'd with pangs that conquer trust,
It is unfortunate that just when faith should be brightest it is often most dim--in times of bodily anguish. When the body is racked with pain, religion should help to fortify the mind; but it is just then when religious feeling is often dominated and driven from the field by corporal discomfort. Shakespeare intimated that there was no philosophy proof against toothache; and it is true that until a philosopher can get the tooth fixed or removed, he is not likely to make any valuable contribution to human thought. No saying is more vain than to say that extreme pain stimulates and exalts the mind;
it really stupefies one's thinking powers, and for the very simple reason that pain is so all-pervading that there is no room in the mind for anything else. Suddenly Job's portly body was embossed with boils; he could neither stand, nor sit, nor lie down with any comfort. His wife mocked his faith, and advised him to curse God and die. You see, don't you, how far you have got with religion? Perhaps she wanted to get rid of him. He must have been rather trying in the days of his health and prosperity; for there is only one husband more exasperating than an impatient one, and that is one who is patient. And what a sight he was now! Job rebuked her sharply for blasphemy, told her that we receive both good and evil from God, and must not expect continual fine weather. Up to this moment he had uttered nothing in rebellion or in despair; and it is just possible that his faith might have withstood even the boils if his three friends had not taken it into their heads to visit and console him. I say he might have triumphed over either the boils or the friends; but the combination was too much, even for Job, and he cursed his birthday. It was quite evident to the sufferer, as he saw the three approaching, with their faces properly adjusted for sympathy, that there was team-play here; they had evidently talked him over and made an appointment to visit him. Had he known the poetry of Browning he might have cried out to them:
Has some plague a longer lease,
Proffering its help uncouth?
Can't one even die in peace?
He recognised them afar off, but he was so changed from the prosperous, upstanding, hearty man that at first they did not know him; when his identity finally became clear, they were so overcome as to be speechless seven days and seven nights. His appearance must have produced a terrific shock to silence such fluency as theirs.
The seven days of silence were broken by the voice of Job, who uttered a noble psalm in praise of Death; his condition and the words springing from it take us back to those two wonderful verses in Ecclesiasticus, cited in a previous chapter--how bitter the thought of death is when one is healthy and prosperous, how welcome when one is in anguish, and especially when one "hath lost patience." Job exemplified this changing attitude in the change of his own condition.
Eliphaz cleared his throat, and began somewhat doubtfully, "If we assay to commune with thee, wilt thou be grieved?" He reminded Job that no man was perfect, hence every one needs refinement by suffering; he advised him not to despise the chastening of the Almighty, but to have faith that he would come out of this trial a sounder and better man. But Job answered that the arrows of the Almighty had pierced him; that he was in such grief he longed
believe that he was being punished for sin. He challenged Eliphaz to point out wherein he had gone wrong.
Then Bildad the Shuhite spoke up, rather vaguely, it must be confessed: he referred to history, as proving that the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer, which, if he had known a little more history, he might have urged with less assurance; he practically told Job to cheer up, for he would surely be all right again, though he did not suggest when or how.
To this Job made the reply that millions have made in suffering; how am I to establish an intimate relation with the great God? Does He hold court like a human judge, so that I can stand before Him and present my case? How can I get a hearing? How can I be sure that He, who made Arcturus, Orion, and the Pleiades, cares anything for me, any more than I care for a worm? No, it is not because I have sinned that I am punished; I don't know why I suffer so; all I want now is a little respite before death, the end of consciousness, the end of pain.
Wherefore then hast thou brought me forth out of the womb? Oh that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me!
I should have been as though I had not been; I should have been carried from the womb to the grave.
Are not my days few? Cease then, and let me alone, that I may take comfort a little,
Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death;
A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.
Many poets have attempted to express the idea of nothingness; Shakespeare spoke of death's dateless night: Job, a distinguished man of business, with definite plans for each day, calls the land of the dead a place "without any order."
Then the third friend, Zophar the Naamathite, who had thus far kept silent with great difficulty, burst out in a torrent of speech, hotly condemning Job for self-righteousness. He called upon him to repent, and all might yet be well. Who can know the infinite mind? who by searching can find out God? Therefore, Job, I advise you to humble yourself in the dust, put away your sins, and repent; then all will be forgiven, and you will remember these boils only as a bad dream.
Job was decidedly irritated by the words of Zophar, and answered sarcastically, "No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you." (On the stage this line was spoken with such an indescribable tone of mingled wrath, impatience, and suffering that the audience burst out in uncontrollable laughter.) He went on to say that he too was not devoid of understanding; compared with God, he was nothing; but compared with his three friends, he felt no inferiority in intellect; my neighbours are mocking me; it is easy to talk when you are feeling fine yourself.
But ye are forgers of lies, ye are all physicians of no value.
O that ye would altogether hold your peace, and it should be your wisdom.
The fact is that God does not need such persons as you to speak in His behalf; you cannot understand His ways; He does not always punish the wicked, and help the good. There is no formula.
The truth is that life is nothing but vanity and sorrow, as meaningless as death. Then out of the depths Job asks the eternal question: Is there any better life than this miserable existence? Is there any reason for hope in a life after death, where our dreams of perfection may reach fulfillment? As the best answer to this question was made by Him who spake as never man spake, I wish to place together question and answer--the question in the fourteenth chapter of Job, the answer in the fourteenth chapter of John. The answer is as refreshing as clear water to thirst, as healing balm to a painful wound.
Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.
He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not. .....
For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease......
But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?.....
If a man die, shall he live again?
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
The three friends were neither silenced nor convinced by Job's speeches; Eliphaz the Temanite began again, and said that Job had filled his belly with the east wind. He declared that it was not only foolish but wicked to ask questions of God, or to suggest that He was not dealing fairly by the world. Like the other two, he could not get the idea of sin and punishment out of his head, and rebuked the sufferer.
Job's original stock of patience was now quite exhausted. "Miserable comforters are ye all." I appeal from you to my Witness in heaven; for although my anguish comes from Him, He understands me, and you do not. Your words are merely an addition to an already intolerable burden.
Bildad the Shuhite, having the sensitiveness that sometimes accompanies vanity, sharply resented these amenities, and interrupted Job by telling him to keep still and listen to words of wisdom. He then poured out another diatribe on the wicked, predicting disaster for those who would not repent. Job told Bildad that he ought to be ashamed of himself for such talk, for it had no friendliness nor understanding. Can't you see that while you are delivering these discourses, I am suffering horribly?
Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.
Then follows an interesting remark, which (as the late Professor Jastrow pointed out) has been almost universally misunderstood. Job here appeals from his contemporaries, who scorn him, to future time--indeed, to us in the twentieth century --when some defender will appear who will do him justice. Like many a man who suffers from misrepresentation, he appeals to posterity. When he said, "I know that my Redeemer liveth," he apparently was not referring to Christ nor to Jehovah; the word Redeemer should have been translated defender--and Job means, if only my suffering could be recorded in a book, some wise man in the future would read it, and defend me against the reproaches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar
Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book!
That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!
For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.
His pious wish has been fulfilled. We understand Job better, and the homiletic fury of the three friends is almost as irritating to us as it was to him.
While Professor Jastrow has done much to stimulate thought on this great poem, he went altogether too far in reconstructing the work, in an attempt to
make it consistent. Who expects the lamentations of one who was in such acute misery as Job to form a consistent doctrine or to maintain the same attitude toward life and death? At times he speaks in utter despair, and again with some hope, as any man would in changing moods.
Sometimes he believes in a future life, at other times not at all, as is the way of fluctuating human opinion.
Zophar the Naamathite, like a bird with one tune, poured some more hot words into the wicked, who, he informed Job, might triumph temporarily, but in the end would receive their deserts. Look out.
Job replied, in the tone of a man who knows that what he will say will produce no conviction, yet must speak.
Suffer me that I may speak; and after that I have spoken, mock on.
He said that while it was true that some of the wicked suffered, some of them did not; if you will look on life as it is, without any preconceived theory, you will see that your explanation of human suffering does not fit the facts. In this speech Job really took the same position as that declared many years later by our Lord: He sendeth His rain on the just and on the unjust.
Eliphaz, however, resembled many philosophers in loving his theory more than the truth. He told Job to look back over his entire career, and he would
certainly remember many things he had done which were not right; hinc illæ lachrimæ.
Ah, said Job, if only I knew where I might find God, to be as sure of Him as you are; if only I could ask Him a few questions, and know the explanation of life I The world is full of evil, and God permits murderers and adulterers to live. If I were God, I might know why.
Bildad, whose ammunition was nearly all exhausted, here fired a shot aimed apparently at no target; man, he said, must not attempt to justify himself. Job then made a very long speech, full of disconnected remarks, many of which contain beautiful figures of speech, but have little to do with the argument. He talks like a man who is afraid to stop for fear his antagonist will begin again, and he had rather talk than listen. He reviewed his former happy life, and contrasted it with his present wretched state.
When he finished, it was Zophar's turn; but he said nothing. Perhaps he was asleep. Job's speech was very long.
But there was a young man, Elihu the Buzite, who had been listening, and was by this time angry with both sides; with Job, because he had attempted to justify himself, and with the three comforters, because they were silenced; really, however, he was angry because he had been bursting with repressed rhetoric, and had not got a chance to put in a word. He released a flood of talk--his conceit, so charac-
teristic of the younger generation, is downright funny.
I will answer also my part, I also will shew mine opinion.
For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me.
Behold, my belly is as wine which hath no vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles.
I will speak, that I may be refreshed; I will open my lips and answer.
He was in terror lest Job should interrupt him before he got through; never was there a man who more loved to hear himself talk. After he had been pouring out a steady torrent of words, it is evident that Job made an attempt to speak, and Elihu cried hastily:
Mark well, O Job, hearken unto me: hold thy peace, and I will speak.
If thou hast anything to say, answer me: speak, for I desire to justify thee.
If not, hearken unto me: hold thy peace, and I shall teach thee wisdom.
Job was too amazed to speak, and Elihu went on endlessly, until he had exhausted not only the patience of Job, but the patience of God.
The wind of Elihu had brought on a whirlwind, and out of the storm came a great Voice, with language majestic and divine:
Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding......
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened, or who laid the corner stone thereof;
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Or who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?
When I made the cloud the garment thereof, and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,
And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors,
And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed......
Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?
Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?.....
Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?
Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible.
He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men.
He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword.
The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield.
He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet.
He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting......
This glorious poetry, setting forth the wonders of the earth, and of the starry heavens, indicated the
distance between the mind of man and the mind of God. Job, who had maintained an attitude of defiance to his three friends, and doubtless an attitude of bewilderment to Elihu, now humbled himself in the presence of the works of God. "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
Eliphaz and his two friends received a merited rebuke from the divine voice, and were informed that their wisdom was all foolishness; but Job would pray for them, that their presumption might be forgiven. They were sadder and wiser for this experience, and prepared a burnt offering.
Job forgave them, and it is pleasant to observe that at the moment when he prayed for his old friends, his boils left him, and he was clean. Prosperity returned to him abundantly, his sons grew apace, and his daughters were the fairest women in the land. He lived one hundred and forty years after his memorable misfortune, and greeted his great-grandchildren.
What Satan thought of all this is not recorded; but the problem of evil is left just where it was before the discussion, just where every philosopher leaves it when he has said his last word.
The Song of Songs, called Solomon's Song, is a collection of passionate Eastern lyrics dealing with love, courtship and marriage. It is rather curious that this very human poem, with its frank expression of desire and longing, should ever have been given a
spiritual interpretation. It is like a garden; it has the roses of love and the weeds of jealousy.
The main theme is the worship of bodily beauty; the richly ornamental and odorous words take the form of a duet, in which the maiden and the man sing alternately in praise of the other's charms. The girl looks shyly out through the lattice and sees with adoration the approaching figure of her lover running to meet her, full of vigour, agility and grace. He is like a young hart, leaping on the mountains. To the passionate eyes of the man, the maiden is as a fair lily among thistles, and he takes delight in her slender, supple sweetness.
Journeys end in lovers meeting; it is the union of youth in springtime. Surely no song to the freshness of spring ever surpassed this:
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away......
My beloved is mine, and I am his; he feedeth among the lilies.
The Song celebrates not only the joy and glory of Love and Beauty, but also the Terror--for Love and Beauty may be as terrible as they are sweet.
Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners? .....
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
The Book of Psalms contains one hundred and fifty lyrical poems. A true lyric should have three distinct qualities--brevity, melody, unity. By its very nature it must be brief; we can enjoy a long narrative or descriptive poem, but a long lyric would be as intolerable as a long tune. A lyrical poem should be fluently musical, singing spontaneously; and it should as a rule represent only one mood. This mood may not be characteristic of the author's usual mental attitude, but it is his feeling at the time when he finds relief in expression.
The one apparent exception to the rule of brevity is Psalm CXIX; but that is a group of songs, rather than one.
Divine lyrics have never reached a loftier height than in the Psalms, which is the greatest Hymn Book in the world. Almost every human emotion-- except the love of man and woman--is represented. In this correspondence with God there is an intimate revelation of the human heart, a marvellous confessional. There are songs of joy, triumph, hate, rage, fear, repentance, remorse, praise, adoration, ecstasy, and despair. There is the fierce tumult of battle, there is the quiet tone of serene meditation. The
works of nature are the handiwork of God; there is the glory of the morning, the glory of the evening, and the glory of the stars. Often the writer sings as intimately and unrestrainedly as though he were alone with God.
There are only six verses in the Twenty-third Psalm, but who can estimate the range and extent of their heart-strengthening influence? Thousands and thousands have gone through pain, sorrow, humiliation, and death with these immortal words on their lips. They have literally restored the soul of sufferers. In the universality of their import and application they belong to all people and all time.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Those who are not religious, who never think of religion subjectively, have no more idea of the reality of religious passion than those who have never been in love have a conception of the power of love; they understand the ardour of religion as a deaf man understands music and a man born blind ap-
preciates a sunset. In Psalm XLII the poet expresses a feeling instantly understood by some, and meaningless to others:
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
The innumerable hosts of those who have lived the life of the spirit and found in that life solid and unshakable security feel in their hearts an echo to the majestic opening of the Forty-sixth Psalm:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
In recent times, up to the year of grace 1914, many godly people were troubled by the so-called imprecatory psalms, where the poets called on God to torture, crush, and annihilate their enemies; these psalms were written by fighters, who hated their enemies and believed that their personal enemies were the enemies of righteousness. They therefore called loudly for divine vengeance, and rejoiced in their foes' discomfiture and ruin. I say that these poems were prudently omitted from pulpit reading, as it was felt that in modern and more peaceful days we had outgrown such rancorous hostility, or at all events that we ought to have done so. But when I remember the language used in the pulpits of some
American churches during the World War, I find it very easy to understand the mood of the cursing psalms, and I find it impossible to take toward those hymns of hate a superior attitude; for surely the twentieth century, as often represented by official religion, was in precisely the same frame of mind. Human nature at any critical moment may burst through the confining garments of culture, education, and religion, as an angry man throws off restraint.
This is the vigorous fashion in which the Psalmist preached in time of war; of course he believed that his own advancement and that of the Kingdom of God were firmly united; it was a holy war:
They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause......
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.
Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.
Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
On the night of 22 January, 1922, a clergyman in Leeds, England, made a sensation by announcing that this Psalm, CIX, would henceforth be expurgated from the service; he added that he would like
also to remove Psalms XXXV and LXIX, on the ground that all three were unchristian. They are certainly unchristian, but they are not unnatural. The clergyman said, "No one has been able to explain the curses in the Psalms and they represent human nature at its very worst." Well, they represented human nature very well not only in David's time, but in 1914-18, and expressed a common feeling.
For solemn grandeur there is perhaps no poem in literature superior to the Ninetieth Psalm, believed to be one of the oldest in the book, and formerly ascribed to Moses. It could not have been written by Moses, I suppose, because it speaks of the age of man, seventy years with an occasional extension to eighty, as being normal; whereas in the early days of Jewish history a much longer life was often recorded, Moses himself dying at the age of one hundred and twenty.
The comparison of the eternal Present of God with the transient hills, and with the swift change from future to past in the life of men, is overwhelming in its stern dignity of expression. We think in hours and days, measurements adapted to our range; with Him a thousand years are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. This psalm is like a symphony, beginning sonorously, then descending into a mournful adagio, and closing jubilantly.
I suppose there could not be a more well-worn
platitude than to say that life is short; but in our philosophical thinking we actually do forget the relativity of measurement. We measure cloth by yards, but the astronomer measures by light-years; if with God a thousand years are as a watch in the night, why are we so confident as to the goodness or the badness of the world? If a man thinks in centuries, his view is surely different from that of a child, who thinks only of to-day; how about One who thinks in terms of eternity?
On the other hand, the literature of melancholy is too much obsessed with the shortness of life; compared with the life of a California tree, human existence on earth is short indeed; but it is really long enough to enjoy greatly and to suffer greatly; long enough to do much good and much evil; long enough to learn some things well; in many strange characters, long enough to be tired of it; long enough for ennui. For there are many who would kill time, and there are occasions when to the most active mind an hour seems long.
Life may be short, as many who have wasted it find out at its close; but certainly most of us live as long as we deserve.
Hell was the first important element in theology to become discredited in modern thought; there are, of course, many who still believe in hell, but the majority of Protestant Christians probably do not. With the extinction of this flame, the fear of a future life, the dread of something after death, van-
ished; the future life has ceased to terrify most intelligent persons. But with the fear of the future banished, the hope of the future began to grow weak; the material expansion of modern life, followed by the World War, which calamity had a disastrous effect on religious faith--how disastrous no one now can tell--drove out of the minds of many people the hope of existence after death. The result is that there are now probably a larger number of people who have no belief in a future life than have ever existed hitherto; thus we see all about us to-day a common attitude toward this present life that can best be characterised by the word greedy.
Everyone seems to be afraid he will miss something ; this is the last drink, youth is fleeting, opportunity will not knock again. We behold an all but universal mad rush for "happiness," with little care for cost or consequences.
To a student of human nature, it is always interesting to see how the same premise will in different minds be followed by opposite conclusions. Omar Khayyam never had so many followers as now; life is short, therefore eat and drink, for to-morrow we die. But there are other men who, with the same prospect, come to precisely opposite ways of conduct. Life is short, therefore do as much good as possible; life is short, therefore do as much permanent work as possible, for to-morrow we die. The night cometh, when no man can work.
The gallant knight, Harry Hotspur, spoke as follows:
O gentlemen, the time of life is short;
To spend that shortness basely were too long,
If life did ride upon a dial's point,
Still ending at the arrival of an hour.
Theodore Roosevelt, the American Hotspur, in a letter to Bellamy Storer, wrote:
We have got but one life here, and what comes after it we cannot with certainty tell; but it pays, no matter what comes after it, to try and do things, to accomplish things in this life, and not merely to have a soft and pleasant time.
Psalm CIV is a swelling chorus of praise to God, in which the individual voices, earth and sky and sea, with beasts and birds and fishes, combine in majestic harmonies:
O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment; who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind......
He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills......
By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches......
He appointeth the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.
O Lord, how manifold are thy works; in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches.
So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein......
The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.
In every man's heart there is the love of his native land; and this passion is never so strong as when he is in a far country, for the bonds that unite him to his home are elastic, pulling harder as the distance increases. Nor does anyone love his country so much as when it has been defeated in war; victorious people are proud of their nation, and of their nation's flag; but their pride is not so strong as the passionate love of country among those that have been overthrown and cast down. Imagine yourself, if you can, an exile, a captive in a strange, hostile, and powerful land, suddenly seeing your own country's flag, or hearing its national song. Your feelings could never find better expression than in the Psalm CXXXVII:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
The true mystic believes that the Divine Presence is all about him; that man's search for God does not compare in eager intensity with God's search for man. For there are those who seek God in vain, when all that is needed is surrender. Children do not go out looking for their parents; they go out sometimes trying vainly to escape from the all-embracing, searching parental love. If the appearance of Jesus Christ on earth means anything, it means that the love of God is pursuing the flying heart of man. The great poet, Francis Thompson, expressed this fundamental religious idea in his extraordinary masterpiece, The Hound of Heaven; but even his genius does not compare in truth and beauty with the inspiration and language of the one hundred and thirty-ninth Psalm:
O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou un-derstandest my thought afar off.
Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.
Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain unto it.
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
In the book of the prophet Isaiah, we find not only the heights of poetry--both sublimity and tenderness--we find a revelation of the wickedness of human nature and the only remedy. In the very first chapter there is a hearty condemnation of mere church-going, formal prayers, hollow ritualistic observances, days and times of sacrifice; what is needed is regeneration, a new heart. It is an interesting comment on human nature that every truly great religious teacher has found it necessary to attack the leaders of formal religion. Everything that man touches seems sooner or later to become debased, and religion is no exception; instead of renewing ourselves day by day, our worship and prayers become mechanical, and so, instead of a life-giving force in our hearts, we carry a useless burden.
A terrible expression is used here--the Lord is bored by our worship of Him. "They are a trouble
unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you." If it is tiresome to hear a dull, mechanical sermon for half an hour, think what the Divine patience must be to hear all the prayers, hymns, and modes of worship! Apparently sinners do not begin to exhaust His patience so much as monotonous lip-service.
Remember, in the following passage Isaiah is speaking to the orthodox:
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Corruption had broken out in high places and, as sometimes happens, even in religious organisations, the camp-followers had come to the front.
Yet through all this fierce condemnation of hypocrisy and apostasy, there is in the book of the prophet Isaiah a belief in ultimate redemption; Israel has become disgraced and trodden down by foreign foes because of her own wickedness and cynicism; but she will be purified by humiliation, and out of these very people will come a Redeemer, not only for the Jews, but for the whole world. Like all great teachers of religion and morality, he believes that the soul of man is worth saving, and that it can be saved; he looks forward, as so many stout hearts have done, to a distant age of universal peace and brotherly love.
It is inspiring to remember that there has never been a time in history when the call to truth and righteousness was not heard; man cannot really live except through the life of the spirit. The spiritual is as much a part of human nature as selfish desires; and the eloquence of Isaiah is at once a witness to the hunger and thirst of the soul, and a means of satisfaction. Man cannot live by bread alone. In a world so full of intense need, the most important things can be bought without money and without price.
Our Lord did not hesitate to take the leadership of humanity prophesied by Isaiah; He read to the people about Him the words of the prophet, and then, with divine audacity, He said, in thrilling tones, To-day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.