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strengthen men's faith in Him, how, let it be asked, ought signs and wonders to be regarded which are performed in support of idolatry and false religion ?
The reply is given in Deut. xiž.: ‘If there arise among 'you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a
sign or a wonder; and the sign or the wonder come to 'pass whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after
other gods which thou hast not known, and let us serve 'them. Thou shalt not hearken to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your "God with all your heart and with all your soul.' The Israelites had had ample evidence of the power of God, and of the evil of that idolatry against which He had so solemnly warned them; and it was, therefore, evident to those who considered these things, that the sign or wonder performed in support of that idolatry, could not be of God.
Hence we perceive that miracles, in themselves, can never be, and are not intended to be, the sole ground of faith. They are only meant to be supports to faith; and the fact that they may be permitted to occur in seeming support of a false belief, is an evidence that the principal and ultimate tribunal of truth and error is human conscience. In other words, if conscience recognises that the demands of a religion are opposed to true righteousness and the commands of God, then signs and wonders in support of that religion, however striking they may be, are to be regarded as not of God. Therefore even Christ, in spite of the miracles He performed, said to His hearers, 'If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not.'
THE PROGRESSIVE REVELATION OF GOD.
One of the most prominent sceptical objections to the truth of the Scriptures is that the God of the Old Testament is represented as harsh and cruel, and wanting in the mercy attributed to Him in the New Testament. These two moralities, it is said, cannot be attributes of one and the same Being, and therefore it is clear that Revelation cannot be of God, but is merely the expression of human ideas of God, which, as time went on, underwent a gradual change towards juster and milder views of the Deity.
The Old Testament history represents God as commanding the utter extermination of the idolatrous nations of Canaan, and shows the Israelites, and their kings, and prophets, inflicting even tortures on their enemies in retaliation for what they had done, and doing this, if not by the direct command of God, yet without His disapproval; and if the attempt is made to show that this latter was in excess of the principle of God's commands, it must fail; for the law given to the Israelites was the law of exact retaliation- life for life,' 'eye for eye,' and 'tooth for tooth. Thus it will be seen that the commands given to the Israelites involved a twofold principle—the destruction of idolaters, and the infliction on offenders of punishment in exact proportion to their offence.
From a human point of view, we might not perhaps greatly pity the idolatrous nations of Canaan, or condemn the Israelites for destroying them ; for, judging by the records of that idolatry, and its modern representations among many of the nations of Africa, who are probably of the same Hamitic race, it was of the most cruel and debasing character, and the subjects of its influence utterly remorseless and degraded, as is implied by the Apostle in his description of the followers of paganism even in his time ; and there might be many who would feel, like Cortez and his Spaniards with the cruel Mexican priesthood, that they were justified in destroying those whom it was useless to think of reclaiming.
Idolatry may seem to many to be at the most a venial error ; but could it be shown that its tendency, unrestrained by other influences, is to destroy in man every moral characteristic which distinguishes him from the brutes, a different opinion might be formed of it. The believer in the Old Testament as the Word of God, cannot fail to be struck by the extreme force, and sweeping character of the denunciations against this idolatry, as of all things the most abominable, and as if, compared with it, all other sins were venial; and if, as stated, these nations had committed every abomination, and all sense of right and wrong had been destroyed in them, there may be sufficient reason for so regarding it.
Yet, had there been a possibility of reclaiming them from its influence, then we might suppose that God would have used means to do so; but, as pointed out in the chapter on 'The Development of Spiritual Death,' the moral education of the human race had to be gradual, and without permitting the evil of sin to be manifested, this education would have been impossible. We may therefore believe that no other means could have been adopted by God for the gradual elevation of the race, than those which have been adopted. When, then, in addition to the unsurpassed evil produced by this idolatry, we remember the extraordinary fascination it has ever exercised on the human race, to which fascination the Israelites, in spite of every warning and repeated punishment, again and again fell victims, we may perceive the reason for the destruction of those who were incapable of redemption, and for even destroying the gold and silver ornaments of the idolaters, which had nearly always a symbolic meaning, and also the very cattle, which were generally sacred to one or other of their gods, and which might tempt the Israelite to attach a similar significance to them.
But there was also a further principle involved in the destruction of the Canaanites.
The law of retaliation is the law of strict justice untempered by mercy, and one of which the conscience of mankind generally approves, and many, if they had lived in King David's time, might have no more disapproved of the retaliation made then, than of that retaliation, which indignation at the sufferings of their countrywomen and children called forth against the mutineers of India. But this was also in accordance with the principle of God's dealings with men at that time. It was the dispensation of the Law, and law is remorseless. It is stern justice without mercy, and God in manifesting Himself at first as a God of justice only, laid a foundation for further manifestations which would have been useless without it.
In the wholly natural man conscience is dead and unawakened, so that, as in the case of the barbarian Brazilians who could conceive no other motive for acts of kindness than that of self-interest, any appeal to it is without effect; nor can many, even now, be induced to listen to its voice, until affliction, or suffering, or some exceeding peril which crushes the spirit of the proudest, forces them to do so. Thus it is, when sentence has been
pronounced, and certain death, whether by the convulsions of nature, or the award of man, awaits men, that their evil deeds arise in array before them, and many who never prayed before, pray then. Therefore it is necessary to humble the pride of the natural man, and arrest his attention, before he can be induced to look inward, and listen to that voice of conscience which, in the self-confidence of health and safety, is never heard. Suffering will do this in some, but where this fails, fear is the most powerful influence to produce the result, and it is one which, if strong enough, no finite intelligence can bear up against. In other words, suffering, punishment, and the fear of punishment, must begin the moral education of the natural man.
Moreover, those who have never suffered, and never feared, and whose self-confidence therefore has never been broken, are not only the most morally callous, but kindness and mercy are utterly thrown away on them. The same is seen in the animal creation. With the dog, and other animals who recognise their absolute dependence on man, kindness has its proper effect; but to those who, conscious of their strength, defy man, kindness would be as much thrown away as if bestowed on a stone, and not until they have been subdued, and made to feel their dependence on man, are they able to appreciate the kindness of man. So likewise, on those who have never learnt to fear God, the mercy of God is thrown away. Therefore it is written that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,' for until man has learnt to fear God, and to recognise his dependence on Him, not only will he not listen to conscience, but kindness and mercy are thrown away upon him.
Therefore stern justice, and punishment for sin in proportion to its evil, was the necessary beginning of man's moral education. But to say that the Scripture, which represents God thus in the Old Testament and as