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And first; as far as we can bring ourselves to form any speculative notion or conception of a record of “ revelation,” by itself; (which, however, it is not very easy, on several accounts, to do;) shall we not invest it with something of a noble character ; free from the taint, and possible approach, of fleshly impurities; as bright in morals, as the sun is bright in the firmament; magnificent, elevated, refined? Is not this the sort of character which any one would try to give it, who invented a book, which he desired to pass off for an original “ revelation ?" · I speak of a case purely speculative, and abstracted from all comparison with that which we believe to be “revelation;" because, the BIBLE having once prescribed a pattern, by which we are now fully aware what such a record positively is, our thoughts upon the subject are no longer absolutely our own. It is not likely, that any subsequent imposture, in any manner grafted upon Scripture, (as the Koran,) would assume a tone essentially opposed to that of its prototype. “ Imposture” will always take its clew from antecedent reality: its work is that of distortion, not of invention. We are supposing here (if it be within our grasp of supposition) a case of first invention.
I conceive, then, that the abstract thought of “ revelation” is, a thought of something both directly and indirectly free from any recognition of the“ painful” and “repulsive;" of something pure and noble, in all its parts and bearings equally ; and without any constitutional sign of “imper“ fection” whatsoever.
Analogous to which thought is another, which suggests itself with regard to “history;" where (speaking generally and fairly) may it not be assumed to be something like a principle with the “ historian,” to refine, rather than to expose, grossness ? Not so to refine, as altogether to suppress truth ; but studiously (as far as abilities and opportunity allow) to make the best, and most becoming, and least offensive arrangement of his materials? I mean, as a matter of art and skill. If there be no particular purpose to be served by a more distressful tone of colouring; but especially if it be the writer's object to render prominent the characters and fortunes of his own countrymen ;-surely it is so! The mantle of history is, indeed, at best but a stately pall, which covers only dead men's bones, and real uncleanness; but, like a pall, it covers them gracefully. The principle of the historian, standing over the grave of kingdoms and of society, seems, in its proportion, not unlike to that of the merciful man, beside the grave of a frail and fallen individual,--to speak“ nothing of the dead “ but good."
Nor will it be sufficient, when we shall endeavour presently to draw an inference from
part 1. $.1.
Lect. v. some of the “histories” of Scripture, as con
nected with this thought, favourable to the authority of the earlier Testament, as a revelation of truth, to attribute all their harshness and un
gracefulness merely to earlier times and ruder See Horne's circumstances, or oriental figures of speech. It Letters on Infidelity, has been well contended, in the first place, that Letter xiii.
such rudeness and barbarity, in the times when much of the earlier Scripture was committed to writing, are too carelessly assumed : and, secondly, we think there is a peculiarity of essential character in the tone of the Old Testament history, which separates it from all others, by a difference greater than merely accidental circumstances can reasonably account for.
But (to proceed with our argument) the abstract notion of a “revelation” is now difficult even to be conceived; because the revelation of the Bible, which has so grown up with us and insinuated its influence throughout all our faculties, has so completely undeceived us, in regard to any such preconception as we think might be naturally formed.
Not that the revelation of the Bible, as it is, (taking both Testaments together,) is not of an exalted character. Lofty it is, in its declared
end, beyond man's utmost thoughts of loftiness ; 1 Cor. ii. 9. promising blessings, which eye hath not seen, nor
ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. Lofty, too, it is, in its now
assured, though silent means, beyond all human thoughts of loftiness; when it offers the help of a supernatural grace; even though the operation of that grace, in ordinary, be more gentle than the cf. Hosea fall of dew upon the grass, and incomprehen- John iii. 8. sible as the breathing of the wind.
But I mean, it has undeceived us so completely, in regard to its effect as a whole; with respect to those features of its exhibition, which display our own present selves; with respect to the tempers and affections pleasing or displeasing in the sight of our Creator. Man's natural desire would be to scale the heavens by his own excellence : it is the will of God, that he should Lect. vii. 5. first stoop, even to the very dust from whence he was taken. Now it is at least a paradox, on the first sight, that the “ book of life,” the “ oracles of God," should (as a whole) be found to present a record and a representation the most humiliating: perhaps, of all records, the one most unfavourably stated for the honour of its own subjects'; an almost uniform picture of disobedience; a most afflicting catalogue of guilt! that almost everywhere in it, when we would look Isaiah v. 7. for judgment, we behold oppression ; for righteousness, we behold a cry!
I do not speak thus, even of the Old Testament, indiscriminately; neither is any serious account meant to be taken of what may be
esteemed mere painfulnesses of languaged. But,
with respect to its matter only, (under certain Lect. v. ad qualifications hereafter to be mentioned,) will it
be disputed, that the picture of man contained in holy Scripture is one of the least acceptable, and least prepossessing, that can well be imagined?
For is it not the shrinking of a sensitive delicacy ; a consciousness of innate propensity to wrong; a fear of the subtle and contagious poi
son of impurity; that distressing, lively, recurCf. Gen. ii. rence of the primeval sense of shame, How knew
est thou that thou wast naked ?-that makes so many jealous of disseminating the Bible, as being even a dangerous book?-Or, again: is it not the melancholy detail of wickedness; and that, not amongst the depraved alone, but mixed up with the conduct of the very men recorded there, as favoured children of the Most High; is it not this, much more than local difficulties, or verbal obscurities, which has led good and pious persons to recommend curtailmentse and abridg
d These, it is probable, (as, for example, 1 Kings xxi. 21. or 2 Kings xviii. 27.) are to be attributed chiefly to our translators, and to the changes of our own vernacular idioms.
. For example: What general tone of feeling must we conceive to have dictated a passage such as this; written by a learned and express advocate of the truth of Christianity? “ Out of sixty-six books which form the contents of the Old " and New Testament, not above seven in the Old, nor above