Page images
[ocr errors]

king as a theological definition, and treat the Psalms of David, and his fellow-singers, as we do the compact logic of Paul. A Psalter would be incomplete unless it expressed the sadder phases of the soul's experiences, its doubts and despairs, its deep alarms and apprehensions, as well as its soaring aspirations; but surely we are not to judge the beautiful form of Truth from pictures painted by men in an agony of despair. When will men learn that the Bible is not one book, but a LIBRARY, a divine library; and that as no sensible man would dream of reading Aristotle and Dante, Milton and Calvin, in the same way, and putting precisely the same stress on the poetry of the Italian as on the reasoning of the Frenchman: so neither ought we to treat the language of wildly despairing Hezekiah as we do the writing of calmly reasoning Paul. Inspiration is not the annihilation of human feeling, but the correction and guidance and elevation of it; and the Bible is the universal book, because the human soul, in all its infinite variety of experiences, is fully disclosed therein. Verily, we had better let the Bible alone on questions of such gravity as “Man after Death,” unless we can conform to a principle of this fundamental character in its interpretation.

(2.) It is also necessary to say that you cannot fairly take words found in Genesis as defining the meaning of the same words used in James or Peter. It would be foolish to adopt such a method in a LIBRARY. Why should we, then, give up our sanity when it is the Bible we seek to understand ! We do not go to Chaucer to know the meaning of Locke, but to Locke's contemporaries. Lord Bacon is not an authority on the English of the present Parliament. Fifteen hundred years separate some of the books of the Testaments ! Think of the changes in the growth of words in such an enormous period of time! We require “a glossary” for Shakespeare and Chaucer; how much more do we need a guide to the current uses of words for each book of the Bible. No doubt there is a beautiful unity in the Scriptures: and some help may be obtained from parts the most remote from each other in date of origin; but in the main we shall find more assistance in discovering the exact meaning of the Ephesians from the Colossians; and from the Proverbs upon Ecclesiastes, than from books less closely related chronologically.

I have a dozen or more books before me on this very question, all irredeemably vitiated by a glaring neglect of this plain and common sense principle of interpretation. The Concordance has been consulted, and the same English word, in all the cases in which it occurs in this great biblical library, is repeated, and Q. E. D. written with imperturbable coolness. That the Bible survives this maniacal treatment speaks volumes for its inherent vitality.

(3.) Discrimination between figurative and literal terms is as obligatory in the treatment of the Scriptures as with any other form of literature. No man is required to part with his common sense when he takes up the Bible. He may keep it and use it; and specially in separating between tropes and realities, similes and statements of facts, metaphors and definitions. All literature is enriched with figures, and language itself is largely coloured with the hues of the imagination. To take words as they are, in their strict literal sense, is to adopt one of the hardest and most mechanical theories of inspiration; to forget the leading feature of all Oriental speech and writing, and to ignore one of





[ocr errors]


the commonest maxims of every day life. EACH passage, therefore must be investigated, first of all

, by itself, and expounded (a) according to the mood and purpose and surroundings of the speaker or writer at that particular time; (b) according to the capacity, condition, hopes and fears, and habits of his hearers : then,

Secondly, it should be compared (a) with what the same speaker has said on similar occasions on the same topic, (b) and with any topics of a cognate character: and,

Thirdly, it should be interpreted (a) by the speech of his comrades, (6) his contemporaries, (c) or that of those immediately preceding or succeeding : and,

Fourthly, it should be compared with the general consensus of opinion deduced from each book in the Biblical Library :—and so the pith of the speaker's idea obtained, and that carried over, and not an item more or less, to the body of evidence on the point in hand.

( 4.) In considering a subject of so radical a character as “Man after Death,” it is also necessary to keep in mind the fact that all speakers have, of necessity, to take something for granted. Assumptions are inevitable. You cannot write a line, or utter a sentence without them. The briefest line ever penned admitted of questions either as to its accuracy or as to something it did not say. If I write, “I am writing,” the challenge may be given—first, “how do you know that you are ;” and, secondly, “even if you know you are, how can you prove that you are writing and not dreaming of writing.” But in practical

.' life men cannot be going back, and back, to prove everything. Todhunter must begin his Euclid without demonstrating the simple rules of arithmetic; and risk the possibility of some insane person affirming that he has not taught them, and did not believe them, since he does not expressly say so. Shakespeare cannot pause to define conscience, and human responsibility and love; he must work these cardinal facts into the fairy garments woven by his genius, and risk the possibility of some literalist telling the world that he did not teach the nature of conscience, and never affirmed the responsibility of individual man. So the writers in this biblical library go straight to their practical worknot writing a line to prove the existence of God, to define virtue and vice, to prove the free agency of man; not aiming to interest man's speculative faculties; but to build him up in goodness and true holiness. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be throughly furnished unto all good works."

Therefore if we should find that this biblical library does not contain a single tract on the immortality of the soul; nor so much as an attempted analysis of the nature of Man, nor a solitary proof expressly given to establish the fact of a life after death, we should not be surprised. It would only be in perfect accord with the biblical treatment of such great truths as the Being of the Eternal and the responsibility of the human to the Divine. The Bible was not compiled by the French Encyclopædists, D'Alembert, Diderot, and their comrades, or no doubt it would have settled all matters of human speculation, assumed nothing and proved everything, made a loud noise, and then become a gigantic memory as they and their works have done ! It is the true Encyclopædia, the really universal book, the book for mankind,


[ocr errors]

and therefore it speaks to the common heart, and its cheering voice is understood and welcomed of all.


The Bible opens with a picture of the whole creation; and then appends to it a brief history of the whole human family. The first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis form a universal history; in the next chapter we pass from the world-wide interests of Man, to the special welfare of a nation ; but of a nation through which God, driven away from His rightful home in the universal heart, is about painfully and through long years to seek His way back again to the love of all the members of His family.

Those eleven chapters form little more than the briefest tract, and yet they cover the prodigious period of the first 2,000 years of human history-A THIRD PART OF IT! They are really a series of detached fragments, obviously of different dates, though put together by one hand, some of them partly overlapping one another, and all bearing essentially the character of historical epitomes. They open with the story of the Creation. Next they give the history of the Heavens and of the Earth, and then, in order, follows the history of Adam, Noah, the sons of Noah, and of Shem. What are the traces, if any, of “ Man after Death” in these fragments ?

(1.) The opening chapter is the record of the beginning of life. Life pulsates and glows in every line, and with life comes order, growth, progress, beauty, and goodness. The creation is living; and of that living creation man is head and crown. He has to bear rule in the world—is a born King. He has a position of honour, exaltation, and rule. He is made in God's own image, and after His likeness, i.e., he has capacity for moral character and headship over the rest of the creation.* He differs from the brute creation in his position, in the fashion of his being, in his functions. That is certain. Is it too much to say that he had a nature corresponding to these deep and fundamental differences ? Assuredly it is not characteristic of infinite wiedom to give place and power, save where there is corresponding faculty. In the judgment of the author of the first chapter of Genesis man was not a brute, but a lord of brutes ; not a creature fashioned after the rest of the creation, but after the Lord of the creation. The sovereignty, dignity, and superiority of man is impressed in ineraseable characters on the first page of the Bible.

But had Death any place in that world of throbbing life! The writer of the Story of Creation knows nothing of death. All is “good :" from first to last; from the least to the greatest—declared to be so by the unerring Creator Himself. Nevertheless, it is scarcely to be doubted that, in a sense, death was there; there not as a punishment, as a penalty, but as the natural end of the development of life in trees that bear seed, and in the animal creation that reproduce their young. The evidence that death was there is written by the pen of the Almighty Inspirer of the Scripture on the pages of the Great Stone Book. Death is there, but it does not mar life, it crowns it; it is not an agony; it is simply the natural and painless termination of animal and vegetable being.t

* Of. Expositor. Vol. viii. 457. + G. B. Mag., 1878. Pain and the Intellect, p. 132.



Would man, then, created in the image of God, have been subject to this same law of death—death not as a punishment, but as a natural event?

Sapposing our Bible ended at the third verse of the second chapter of Genesis, what could we say to that enquiry? This, surely: that unless being made in the image and likeness of God conferred upon man the high gift of immortality, he, too, would naturally and painlessly pass away in the fulness of his years. Whether being made in the image of the Eternal God embraced the power of an endless life, it is fair to say, we have not the means, in this document, of positively affirming.

(2.) But we have a second and supplemental account, probably later in date of composition, and certainly different in its originating impulse. Genesis ii. 4; iii. ; iv. The moral element predominates in this story. It speaks of the Lord God, the Jehovah Elohim, the moral Ruler of men : the first speaks only of the Elohim, the Creator. Man is represented as formed “ of the earth,” has the same elements in his nature; but he has the added quality of a life, directly from God. The first man, Adam, was made a living soul. That distinguishes him from nature, to which he is kin, from the brute beasts who are like him. The difference is fundamental. The creative act is personal; God Himself breathes His own life, His personal life, into the dust, and so originates a new personality.

Here, again, man appears as distinct from, and superior to, all that sarrounds him, or else why is such care taken to register the fact that though the materials of his being are of the earth, yet the agent that uses the materials is due to the very breath of God. Adam is not dust only, but more than dust; and what is more than dust is due, not to the voice of God as with the rest of the creation, but to the very personal inbreathing of the Almighty.

Is there not a hint here of a possible life after death ? A hint! Do not let us try to make more of it than is in it- nor yet less. Adam may be immortal; the breath of the Eternal is in him; has indeed made him a separate, self-conscious being; all in him that is more than


live for ever.* ( 3.) To this Adam, the first man, the sovereign, the man formed of the earth and inspired by the breath of God, is addressed a command by his Creator and Ruler. Man is placed under moral law, and obedience and disobedience have annexed to them the sanctions of reward and punishment. In the punitive sanction occurs the first ominous sound of the word death. Gen, ii. 17.


Now Adam must have understood that sanction. That, at least, is * Cf. Beck's Biblical Psychology; pp. 7, 8. The human soul is, in its essence and origin, peither a spiritual and supernatural being nor a sensible and merely natural one; it is a being created by the supernatural in-breathing of the Spirit of God; and, accordingly, it combines in its breathing powers a two-fold life. While its vital force is spiritual and supernatural, it is revealed in a sensible form and sensible modes of action. (Gen. ii. 7: “God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;" cf. Eccles. xii. 7; iii. 21; Isaiah lvii. 16; John xx. 22; Job xxxiii. 4.). Man is not a spirit, for the spiritual element in him

He is not an animal, for the sensible element in him is interwoven with higher spirituality. The animals have nothing but an earthly soul, which lives only as its body lives ( Gen. i. 20, 24; Cf. Eccles. iii. 21: “ The spirit of a man that goeth upward, and the spirit of a beast that goeth downward to the earth; Isaiah ii. 24.) In virtue of the spiritual energy present in its life, the human soul has within it the nature and power of a selfconsciousness and knowledge which shine with a supernatural light. It is a divine, light-giving breath. (Prov, xx. 27: “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord;" cf. Job xxxii. 8: xxvii. 3, 4; 1 Cor. ii. 11; Luke xi. 35.)

is interwoven with the sensible life.


[ocr errors]

certain. What, then, could the word death mean to that first man ? He had not seen death as we see it. It was not the awful phenomenon with which we are familiar. Man had not died. He knew death only as it prostrated the roaring lion, or the giant oak; and therefore to him it was as natural an event as the birth of an animal, or the seedbearing of the tree. To tell him he would die if he were disobedient was to assure him that he would end his days as all other things ended theirs. But that is not exactly what he was told. The language of the sanction is emphatic; and, considering what the hearer's ideas must have been, extremely strong : IN DYING THOU SHALT DIE. That event shall be to you, in case of disobedience, a real death, a death indeed ; coming to you, not as a natural outworking of the laws of being, but as a positive punishment; not like the quiet, easy, and peaceful sleep of the animal creation, but a death made terrible by the presence of disobedience, by the biting poison-filled sting of sin.

Not less than that, surely, would the first man hear in this announcement of the divine law. The law was a moral one, addressed to a moral being. It appealed to the conscience. It must, therefore, have suggested moral ideas; not in their full significance, probably, but still with sufficient distinctness and force to assure him that his safety and his joy lay in obedience, his misery in disobedience. It told him, not that his body would decay; that he might expect from all he saw around him; but that death, instead of being what it might have been, a transition to a higher condition, would, indeed, clothe itself with terrors from his disobedience, and be transformed into God's swift and fearful punishment for sin.

(4.) We must go a step further. Adam sinned: and the threatened sanctions of the Almighty had their way. The law was broken, and the punishment fell upon the guilty, fell heavily, fell with all its weight. The punishment interprets the sanction. If we know what the lawbreaker actually suffered for his disobedience, we also know what God meant by the sanction he annexed to his moral law.

Now that punishment is explicitly described ; and forms, in fact, the substance of the rest of these most ancient Scriptures. Certainly it was not "immediate destruction ;nor is there the slightest hint that it was intended to be. He is to labour "till he return to the ground; as if that were indeed his original destiny ; but, anyway, he lives, and lives at least 130 years, and possibly (if the common interpretation be accepted*) 800 years on to them. The conditions of his life, the spirit of it, its entire tone, are altered. He is separated from that very nature to which he was so closely kin. He is afraid of the God who made him, and hides himself. He has lost love, and flings his guilt upon his wife; and with the loss of love has come cowardice and selfishness. He is out of Paradise, not in it. Joy is dead, and sorrow is born. Labour, which is a blessing to those who fully live, becomes a curse. Dying ceases to be the quiet shedding of the petals of a full-blown flower, the gentle exhalation of a thoroughly developed being, the sweet sleep of innocence, and becomes an apprehension and an agony. DEATH HAS UNDERGONE A THOROUGH CHANGE. It has ceased to be a natural event, and become a doom-a punishment spread over the whole

* But as to this, cf. a very helpful paper in “ Expositor," Vol. VIII., p. 449.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »