« PoprzedniaDalej »
alted in that day. For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up: and he shall be brought low; and upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan. And upon all the high mountains, and upon all the hills that are lifted up, and upon every high tower, and upon every fenced wall, and upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures. And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day."
From the general tenor of this prediction, its application was evidently not intended to be confined to the Jewish nation. It seems to convey the idea of a comprehensive vindication of insulted deity, to take place among all nations whose arrogance or whose idolatry had reached the limit of the Divine forbearance. It is an extended commentary on the declaration that "no fles) should glory in his presence." It announces God's determination to stain the pride of human glory--to reduce men and nations to their appropriate sphere; and to bring the whole world to a practical acknowledgment of the Divine supremacy. Such a result the Almighty had in view from the earliest date of individual and national existence. It has been ACCOMPLISHED to some extent in different ages of the world; but the acknowledgment has been of short duration, and the memory of the Divine judgments has seldom been retained for more than a single generation.
In the primeval state, God alone was exalted, and the moral order of this lower universe was undisturbed. Pride, however, soon took the place of humility. From that moment the haughtiness of man was placed in opposition to the supremacy of God. The moral order of the universe experienced then a second disturbance. Man wished to be as God. He rushed out of his appropriate sphere. It was necessary for Jehovah to place a restraint upon this new rebellion--to vindicate his own dignity, and to impress upon the culprit a sense of wrong. Accordingly we find an immediate and melancholy change in the character and the circumstances of our race. A tremendous and prolonged retribution is inflicted. When this retributive day of the Lord was upon Eden and its inhabitants, we may suppose that humility again succeeded to pride--that the huughtiness of man was brought low, and that for a brief season the Lord alone was exalted.
From this date we contemplate the human race under a new aspect, which we shall designate as the era of experimental depravity.
It had been seen what human nature was in its state of innocence how weak to resist temptation--how ready to yield at the first onset of hell. It was now to be demonstrated what that nature, fallen under the dominion of sin, was capable of perpe
trating, if left to its unrestrained selfishness and ferocity. How soon, therefore, did a heaven-daring arrogance break forth! We take but one step and we reach a murderer, who first insults his God, and then determines to obliterate the only resemblance of him to be found in the second generation of mankind. Did insulted justice look calmly on? The scathed oak bears not more evident traces of the thunderbolt, than did the forehead of Cain the mark of heaven's retribution. That signature of wrath, however, was not transmitted. The next generation inherited the pride but not the physical punishment of Cain. Driven out from the presence of the Lord--from the precincts of his gracious covenant—they began to build great cities, and to set God at defiance. They gloried in their gigantic strength. They boasted of their Cyclopean towers. They strode the earth clad in their armour of brass and iron. They usurped the prerogative of hea! ven, grasping the sword of vengeance, and filling the earth with violence and blood. “They set their face against the heavens, and said, who is Lord over us?” The time at length arrived when this haughtiness of men was to be brought low. Ordinary discipline would not now avail. The vindication must be on a scale commensurate with the wickedness. Hence the solemn declaration, “the end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through thein, and behold I will destroy them with the earth.” Thus ended the first era, viz., that of experimental and unrestrained depravity.
Mankind now entered on the second great era, which may be included in the space between the deluge and the coming of Christ, AN ERA OF RESTRAINTS both physical and moral.
Let us see how human nature conducts itself under a change of circumstances. The period of human life was rapidly diminished; and miraculous interpositions of heaven were not infrequent. How soon, however, the awful catastrophe just alluded to lost its influence on the general conscience, may be seen in the fact, that scarcely had the survivors emerged from the ark when they proposed to frustrate the councils of God by building a tower whose top should reach to heaven. They intended thereby to make to themselves a name in the earth. The pride and haughtiness of human nature was thus strongly developed. Here again it was necessary for God to interpose. These oaks of Bashan were accordingly scattered, and that vast monument of human arrogance and ambition never reached its intended elevation. Broken
up and separated by diversity of language, each division of the race took up its line of march in search of countries and climates suited to its taste. Impressive as had been the Divine dispensations toward them, none seem to have carried along with them the fear of the great Jehovah. The lingering
traces of the true religion served only as a basis for the erection of a vast system of idolatry. By the calling of Abraham, the Almighty saved out of this general moral wreck a fragment of the ancient faith, and thus perpetuated the existenceof vital godliness. Great nations now begin to appear. Human pride and ambition are written on their escutcheons. Their walls of defence their temples of idolatry-their war chariots--the very names and titles of their monarchs, all indicate the same heaven-daring arrogance. When they had reached a height which they considered inaccessible, and had attained a strength which they deemed impregnable—that is, when human ambition could scarcely go higher, aud human pride had no object of envy left but the very throne of God -and when, as in the
case of Babylon, even that throne was menaced, did the Almighty write out a solemn edict for their destruction. It was proclaimed by prophets, not as a means of repentance-their day of grace had gone bybut as a judicial testimony against their pride and haughtiness. God saw himself dethroned, whilst the impersonations of Baal and Astaroth, of Isis and Osiris, were installed amid the gorgeous architecture of Egypt and of Babylon. The general course of a vindicatory Providence, however, lay in the natural operation of that very depravity which Jehovah designed to punish. He deviated, in some cases, from this order, and effected by miracle what he ordinarily brought about by the slower but not less sure influence of moral and physical causes. One of these exceptions was when his enslaved people were released from Egyptian tyranny. In such cases we cannot fail to see in the peculiar circumstances a reason for such deviation. But whether by miracle, or by the less impressive agency of natural causes, it was equally the outstretched arm of an incensed but holy God, asserting his high moral prerogative and vindicating his insulted majesty
Hence he would dash one nation against another; and when the victor stood in triumph over the ruin of his proud competitor, he would give this victor to be crushed in turn by some succeeding conqueror. Or, was not unusual, he would extinguish the warrior in the voluptuary, and consume by sensuality what had not been conquered by power.
In various ways, by the operation of human depravity, the pomp and glory of mighty kingdoms were brought to the dust. Without the prophecies in our hands, we should be very likely to overlook the agency of heaven, and to attribute the changes of empire to a blind fatality, instead of referring them to that Almighty Power which has not only linked together causes and results, but which renders that very connection, in many cases, the retributive minister of his vengeance. Examples of this, familiar to your own minds, might be adduced ; and, did time permit, it would be an instructive lesson to trace out the con
nection between the pomp and pride of ancient nations and their downfall, according to express prediction. Every person acquainted with his Bible, who has compared its prophecies with their fulfilment in the facts which profane history has collected, will be at no loss for illustrations of the point before us. This rise and decline of empires has been going on since the first city was founded east of Eden. The causes lie deep in the character of man and in the designs of'an overruling Providence. Certain it is, that, but for the upholding hand of God, there exist in every organized state or community
elements of ruin of sufficient potency to ensure its speedy extinction. Human depravity in its various developments is sufficient to uproot the deepest foundations of empire. Even where the true religion exists, and exerts a restraining influence; yet if the influence be partial and not pervading, the state will in that case be proportionably exposed to premature ruin.
The philosophy of history consists not, as I apprehend, in gathering from the experience of the past political maxims simply, but in deducing moral instruction from providential dispensations. To the character of the historian and the politician we must add that of the moralist and the christian. We must take a LOFTY station as our post of observation. We must go high enough to look through the vista of years, and trace the meanderings of that stream which had its rise in Eden, and which is to disembogue at last in the great ocean of eternity. We must keep in view the ever-present and all-pervading providence of God. The grand end and design of our creation must not be lost sight of. We forget an important item, if we forget that man has a higher destiny than the present life, or when we overlook the sublime fact that this life is but the vestibule of human existence.
We have marked off the age of the world into grand divisions. The first, we have said, terminates with the flood. That we have called the age of experimental depravity. All restraints were then withdrawn. “The thoughts of the imagination of men's hearts were evil, and only evil, and that continually." They were left to act out this gigantic power of evil within. Longevity furnished the occasion for awful excesses of depravity. The earth was literally saturated with crimes. This age ended with the general destruction of the human race. By a most fearful judgment, the haughtiness of man was brought low, and God was exalted amid the terrors of his justice. This was the awful experiment of human depravity unrestrained.
The second age terminates at the advent of Christ. This was the age of partial restraint by providential interference, and by an increase of moral light. Men lived but a few years; so that their depravity, if excessive, was soon ended. În Judea-the centre of the civilized world-a light was kept burning for two
thousand years, which radiated in every direction, scattering a few feeble rays in remotest kingdoms. This light shone with more or less vividness on the altars of religion until the great Light of the World arose upon mankind. Nothing surely but a special providence, imparting and sustaining religion, could have saved the Jewish nation from extinction. By her side, perished Egypt, Babylon, Tyre and Nineveh. Wanting true religion—the only conservative influence of nations—those mighty collateral empires rose, culminated, and descended into oblivion. The Almighty gave mankind a chance, so to speak, for the development of social improvement and of political aggrandizement. He allowed them full latitude in the erection of great cities and strong fortresses. He gave them Nebuchadnezzars, Pharaohs, and Solons; whose enterprise and wisdom were exerted to the utmost to lay enduring foundations under the rising fabric of empire. He furnished ample scope for the human faculties, in the researches of philosophy and in the maxims of uninspired wisdom. But, alas, all could not give security to empire. The very license to do and to devise, to build and to beautify, became the occasion of their ruin. Men gloried in their strength-gloried in their fortitude-in their power--in the durability of their works. They asked not even for the arm of Omnipotence to lean upon. They were disposed to inscribe Eternity on the pillars of their temples and on the pillars of the state. They had lofty looks and a proud heart. They said, in the spirit of the king of Babylon, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God." From this proud pre-eminence, how did these empires, in funeral train, descend into the tomb! The wing of time had scarcely made one sweep in its progress, ere an impressive desolation reigned over these haughty monarchies. What shall we write as their epitaph ? “All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man is as the flower of the grass.” What human strength could do was done. What human wisdom could achieve was achieved. Mind and muscle did their utmost. Human genius allied itself to human strength, and dared, in its mighty creations, to fight against destiny. But all would not do. Man without God, and without an acknowledgment of God, what is he? He cannot contend successfully with time. The dust of oblivion must settle upon his noblest works; and if, in past ages, he would not learn humility, his successors should over his undecyphered tomb.
When this second experiment had been fully made; when the pride of man lay mortified in the rubbish of a hundred empires, God appeared upon the stage in a new and third development of his moral government.
The advent of Christ was the grand era in human existence. Nothing that went before-nothing that shall come after, can be compared with this. Indeed all that shall come after, is but the