Page images

same celestial Spirit, indeed, actuated Isaiah and Daniel in the court and Amos in the sheepfolds; constantly selecting such interpreters of the Divine will as were best adapted to the occasion, and sometimes from the mouths of babes and sucklings perfecting praise,'-constantly employing the natural eloquence of some, and occasionally making others eloquent." It should, however, be observed, that rustic employments were very general and honourable among the Hebrews; and that comparisons drawn from rural scenes, and the pastoral life, are by no means peculiar to Amos; the principal images, and those of the greatest beauty and elegance, both in the poetical and prophetical parts of Scripture, being derived from the same natural objects. "We cannot reasonably be surprised," as Bp. Lowth justly observes, "to find the Hebrew writers deducing most of their metaphors from those arts particularly, in which they were educated from their earliest years. We are not to wonder that those objects which were most familiar to their senses afforded the principal ornaments of their poetry; especially since they furnished so various and so elegant an assortment of materials, that not only the beautiful, but the grand and magnificent, might be collected from them. If any person of more nicety than judgment should esteem some of these rustic images grovelling or vulgar, it may be of some use to him to be informed, that such an effect can only result from the ignorance of the critic, who, through the medium of his scanty information and peculiar prejudices, presumes to estimate matters of the most remote antiquity; it cannot reasonably be attributed as an error of the sacred poets, who not only give those ideas all their natural force and dignity, but frequently, by the vivacity and boldness of the figure, exhibit them with additional vigour, ornament, and beauty. It would be a tedious task to instance particularly with what embellishments of diction, derived from one low and trivial object, as it may appear to some, the barn, or the threshing floor, the sacred writers have contrived to add lustre to the most sublime, and a force to the most important subjects. Thus Jehovah threshes out the heathen as corn, tramples them under his feet, and disperses them. He delivers the nations to Israel to be beaten in pieces by an indented flail, (Hab. iii. 12. Joel iii. 14. Jer. li. 33. Isa. xxi. 10.) or to be crushed by their brazen hoofs. He scatters his enemies like chaff upon the mountains, (Mic. iv. 13.) and disperses them with the whirlwind of his indignation, (Ps. lxxxiii. 14, 16. Isa. xvii. 13.)

Behold, I have made thee a threshing wain;

A new corn-drag with pointed teeth :

Thou shalt thresh the mountains and beat them small,

And reduce the hills to chaff.

Thou shalt winnow them, and the wind shall bear them away;
And the tempest shall scatter them abroad.-Isa. xli. 15, 16.

"But the instances are innumerable which might be quoted of metaphors taken from the manners and customs of the Hebrews. One general remark, however, may be made upon this subject, namely, that from one

simple, regular, and natural mode of life having prevailed among the Hebrews, it has arisen, that in their poetry these metaphors have less of obscurity, of meanness, or depression, than could be expected, when we consider the antiquity of their writings, the distance of the scene, and the uncommon boldness and vivacity of their rhetoric. Indeed, to have made use of the boldest imagery with the most perfect perspicuity, and the most common and familiar with the greatest dignity, is a recommendation almost peculiar to the sacred poets. We shall not hesitate to produce an example of this kind, in which the meanness of the image is fully equalled by the plainness and inelegance of the expression; and yet, such is its consistency, such the propriety of its application, that we do not scruple to pronounce it sublime. The Almighty threatens the ultimate destruction of Jerusalem in these terms:

And I will wipe Jerusalem,

As a man wipeth a dish:

He wipeth it, and turneth it upside down.-2 Kings, xxi. 13.

"But many of these images must falsely appear mean and obscure to us, who differ so materially from the Hebrews in our manners and customs: but in such cases it is our duty neither too rashly to blame, nor too suddenly to despair. The mind should rather exert itself to discover, if possible, the connection between the literal and figurative meanings, which, in abstruse subjects, frequently depending upon some delicate and nice relation, eludes our penetration. An obsolete custom, for instance, or some forgotten circumstance, opportunely adverted to, will sometimes restore its true perspicuity and credit to a very intricate passage.' The style of JONAH is narrative and simple; and the beautiful prayer in the second chapter has justly been admired. We are here presented with a fine description of the power and tender mercies of God; and the impartiality of the prophet in detailing his own weakness and folly, (a conduct almost wholly restricted to the sacred writers,) is worthy of particular notice.t

[ocr errors]

The beauty and elegance of MICAH's style have been much admired. Bp. Lowth characterises it as compressed, short, nervous, and sharp. It is often elevated, animated and sublime, and generally truly poetical, though occasionally obscure, on account of his sudden transitions from one subject to another. There are, indeed, few beauties or elegances of composition of which examples may not be found in this prophet; and for strength of expression, and sublime and impressive diction, in several places, he is unrivalled. Paronomasias, which were reputed ornaments by all the prophets, are frequently employed by Micah, of which the following are instances:

Declare ye (

tageeddoo,) it not at Gath, (a) weep ye not at all. In the house of Aphrah (y) roll thyself in the dust, (5, phar)

* See LoWTH on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, Lecture VII. Comprehensive Bible,

The inhabitant of Zaanan (NY) came not forth (NY", yatzeü) in the mourning of Beth-ezel.
O thou inhabitant of Lachish (w) bind the chariot to the swift beast (w, rechesh).
The houses of Achzib (“N) shall be a lie (18, achzab,) to the kings of Israel.
Yet will I bring an heir (W, hyyoresh,) to thee, O inhabitant of Mareshah (AW¬~).
ch. i. 10, 11, 13..15.*

The prophecy of NAHUM forms a regular and perfect poem. The exordium is grand and truly majestic; the preparations for the destruction of Nineveh, and the description of its downfal, are painted in the most vivid colours, and are admirably clear. The threatenings against which city, says Dr. Adam Clarke, are continued (in ch. iii.) in a strain of invective, astonishing for its richness, variety, and energy. One may hear and see the whip crack, the horses prancing, the wheels rumbling, the chariots bounding after the galloping steeds, the reflection from the drawn and highly polished swords, and the hurled spears, like flashes of lightning dazzling the eyes, the slain lying in heaps, and horses and chariots stumbling over them!†

HABAKKUK, as a poet, holds a high rank among the Hebrew prophets. The beautiful connection between the parts of his prophecy, its diction, imagery, spirit, and sublimity, are particularly striking, and cannot be too much admired. The prayer of Habakkuk, in particular, is allowed by the best judges to be a masterpiece of its kind; and it is adduced by Bp. Lowth as one of the most perfect specimens of the Hebrew ode. The prophet illustrates the subject of the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery throughout with equal magnificence, selecting from such an assemblage of miraculous incidents the most noble and important, displaying them in the most splendid colours, and embellishing them with the sublimest imagery, figures, and diction; the dignity of which is so heightened and recommended by the superior elegance of the conclusion, that were it not for a few shades, which the hand of time has apparently cast over it in two or three passages, no composition of the kind would, I believe, appear more elegant, or more perfect than this poem.'‡

The style of the prophet HAGGAI is represented by the learned Bp. Lowth as wholly prosaic; but Abp. Newcome has given a translation of his prophecy, under an idea that it admits of a metrical division. But, however inferior he may be in point of style, and in the splendour of poetic diction, his Book forms a most important link in the chain of prophecy. He clearly determines not only the advent of Messiah, but the time in which this glorious event should take place,—during the existence of the second temple. §

The Book of MALACHI, says Bp. Lowth, is written in a kind of middle style, which seems to indicate that the Hebrew poetry, from the time of the Babylonish captivity, was in a declining state, and having passed its prime and vigour, was then fast verging towards the debility of age. The

* Comprehensive Bible, Concluding Remarks to Micah.

+ Idem to Nahum, and Note on ch. 3. 1.

Idem to Habakkuk.

Idem to Haggai, where see the prophecy, ch. 2. 6, 7,9, defended, and proved to have been accurately fulfilled.

writings of this prophet, however, are by no means devoid of force and elegance; and he reproves the wickedness of his countrymen with vehemence, and exhorts them to repentance and reformation with the utmost earnestness. It is no mean recommendation of Malachi, as well as a sanction of his prophetic mission, that his Book, though short is often referred to in the inspired writings of the New Testament; and that his claim to the character of a prophet is recognised by the Evangelists, and is admitted by our Lord himself. (Matt. xi. 10. xvii. 10..12. Mar. i. 2. ix. 11, 12. Luke i. 16, 17. vii. 27. Rom. ix. 13.) He terminated the illustrious succession of the prophets, and sealed up the volume of prophecy, by proclaiming the sudden appearance of the Lord, whom they sought, in His temple, preceded by that messenger, who, like an harbinger, should prepare His way before Him; the fulfilment of which prediction, by the preaching of John the Baptist, and the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, the true Messiah, and the Lord of life and glory, during the existence of the second temple, fully attests the divinity of his mission, and the Divine inspiration of his prophecy. *

MATTHEW being one of the twelve apostles, and from the time of his call, a constant attendant on our Saviour, was perfectly well qualified to write the history of his life. He relates what he saw and heard with the most natural and unaffected simplicity, and in a plain and perspicuous style. That for which he is eminently distinguished, says Dr. Campbell, ' is the distinctness and particularity with which he has related many of our Lord's discourses and moral instructions. Of these his sermon on the mount, his charge to the apostles, his illustrations of the nature of his kingdom, and his prophecy on mount Olivet, are examples. He has also wonderfully united simplicity and energy in relating the replies of his Master to the cavils of his adversaries. Being early called to the apostleship, he was an eye and ear witness of most of the things which he relates. And, though I do not think it was the scope of any of these historians to adjust their narratives by the precise order of time wherein the events happened, there are some circumstances which incline me to think, that Matthew has approached at least as near that order as any of them.' The consideration, that the gospel of St. Matthew is a history of what he heard and saw, merely allowing him to be a man of integrity, would of itself fully prove that he would make no mistakes in his narrative; and when we add to this, the influence and superintendence of the Holy Spirit, under which he constantly acted, and which our Lord promised to his disciples, (John xiv. 26.) it must be allowed to possess the utmost degree of credibility and authority with which any writing could be invested. It is, as Mr. Wakefield well observes, a piece of history which, it must be acknowledged, is the most singular in its composition, the most wonderful in its contents, and the most important in its object, that was ever exhibited to the notice of mankind. For simplicity of narrative, and an artless relation of facts,

without any applause or censure, or digressive remarks, on the part of the historian, upon the characters introduced in it; without any intermixture of his own opinion, upon any subject whatsoever; and for a multiplicity of internal marks of credibility, this Gospel certainly has no parallel among human productions.' There is not,' as Dr. A. Clarke justly remarks, one truth or doctrine, in the whole oracles of God, which is not taught in this Evangelist. The outlines of the whole spiritual system are here correctly laid down; even Paul himself has added nothing; he has amplified and illustrated the truths contained in this Gospel; but, even under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, neither he, nor any of the other Apostles, have brought to light one truth, the prototype of which has not been found in the words and acts of our blessed Lord as related by Matthew.'*

ST. JOHN is generally considered, with respect to language, as the least correct writer in the New Testament. His style indicates a great want of those advantages which result from a learned education; but this defect is amply compensated by the unexampled simplicity with which he expresses the sublimest truths. Though simplicity of manner, says Dr. Campbell, is common to all our Lord's historians, there are evidently differences in the simplicity of one compared with that of another. One thing very remarkable in John's style, is an attempt to impress important truths more strongly on the minds of his readers, by employing in the expression of them, both an affirmative proposition and a negative. It is manifestly not without design that he commonly passes over those passages of our Lord's history and teaching, which had been treated at large by the other Evangelists, or, if he touches them at all, he touches them but slightly, whilst he records many miracles which had been overlooked by the rest, and expatiates on the sublime doctrines of the pre-existence, the divinity, and the incarnation of the Word, the great ends of his mission, and the blessings of his purchase.t

ST. PAUL, as Dr. Taylor justly observes, 'was a great genius and a fine writer; and he seems to have exercised all his talents, as well as the most perfect Christian temper, in drawing up this epistle (to the Romans.) The plan of it is very extensive; and it is surprising to see what a spacious field of knowledge he has comprised; and how many various designs, arguments, explications, instructions, and exhortations, he has executed in so small a compass.' In pursuance of this grand object, it is remarkable,' says Dr. Doddridge, 'with how much address he improves all the influence, which his zeal and fidelity in their service must naturally give him, to inculcate upon them the precepts of the gospel, and persuade them to act agreeably to their sacred character. This was the grand point he always kept in view, and to which every thing else was made subservient. Nothing appears, in any part of his writings, like a design to establish his own reputation, or to make use of his ascendancy over his

* Comprehensive Bible, Concluding Remarks to Matthew.

+ Idem to John.

« PreviousContinue »