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and the clear perception of a spiritual good, infinitely to be preferred to any external possession, which is found in them. Let them be considered as the expression and fruit of the principles of the Jewish religion, as they existed in the minds of pious Israelites, and do they not bear delightful testimony to the reality of the successive revelations, alleged to have been made to the Hebrew nation, and of the peculiar relation, which the Most High is said to have sustained towards them?
Let the unbeliever compare the productions of the Hebrew poets with those of the most enlightened periods of Grecian literature. Let him explain how it happened, that in the most celebrated cities of antiquity, which human reason had adorned with the most splendid trophies of art, whose architecture it is now thought high praise to imitate well, whose sculpture almost gave life to marble, whose poetry has never been surpassed, and whose eloquence has never been equalled, a religion prévailed so absurd and frivolous, as to be beneath the contempt* of a child at the present day; while in an obscure corner of the world, in a nation in some respects imperfectly civilized, were breathed forth those strains of devotion, which now animate the hearts of millions, and are the vehicle of their feelings to the throne of God. Let him say, if there be not some ground for the conclusion, that whilst the corner-stone of the heathen systems of religion was unassisted human reason, that of the Jewish was an immediate revelation from the Father of lights.
The hearts of the pious for ages have felt the value of the Psalms, as helps to devotion; and many have labored for expressions, in which to set forth their praise. For its truth as well as beauty we quote the following description by Bishop Horne, who yet saw some things in them, which modern views of interpretation will not permit us to find.
"In them,” says he, we are instructed to conceive of the subjects of religion aright, and to express the different affec
* I speak of the prevailing religion. I do not regard the excellent views of God and providence, entertained by a few of the Grecian philosophers, such, for instance, as those attributed to Socrates in the Memorabilia of Xenophon, as inconsistent with the tenor of my remarks.
tions which, when so conceived of, they must excite in our minds. They are, for this purpose, adorned with the figures, and set off with all the graces of poetry; and poetry itself is designed yet farther to be recommended by the charms of music, thus consecrated to the service of God; that so delight may prepare the way for inįprovement, and pleasure become the handmaid of wisdom, while every turbulent passion is calmed by sacred melody, and the evil spirit is still dispossessed by the harp of the son of Jesse. This little volume, like the paradise of Eden, affords us in perfection, though in miniature, every thing that groweth elsewhere, “every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food’; and above all, what was there lost, but is here restored, the tree of life in the midst of the garden. That which we read as matter of speculation in the other Scriptures, is reduced to practice, when we recite it in the Psalms; in those, faith and repentance are described, but in these they are acted ; by a perusal of the former we learn how others served God, but by using the latter we serve him ourselves.”
“ The hymns of David,” says Milman, “excel no less in sublimity and tenderness of expression, than in loftiness and purity of religious sentiment. In comparison with them, the sacred poetry of all other nations sinks into mediocrity. They have embodied so exquisitely the universal language of religious emotion, that (a few fierce and vindictive passages excepted, natural in the warrior-poet of a sterner age) they have entered, with unquestioned propriety, into the ritual of the holier and more perfect religion of Christ. The songs, which cheered the solitude of the desert caves of Engedi, or resounded from the voice of the Hebrew people, as they wound along the glens or the hill-sides of Judea, have been repeated for ages in almost every part of the habitable world, in the remotest islands of the ocean, among the forests of America, or the sands of Africa. How
many human hearts have they softened, purified, exalted ! - of how many wretched beings have they been the secret consolation ! on how many communities have they drawn down the blessings of Divine Providence, by bringing the affections into unison with their deep devotional fervor.”
Perhaps the maledictions or imprecations, contained in some of the psalms, may appear inconsistent with the views which have been advanced. I am here willing to admit the unsoundness of some of the explanations which have been given of these imprecations. They cannot all be regarded as predictions or denunciations of the punishment, which awaits evildoers. Some of them at least are wishes or prayers. See cxxxvii. 8. But on this subject it should be remembered, that,
I. Many prayers against enemies, contained in the Psalms, are equivalent to prayers for personal safety. They were composed by the head of the nation, in a state of war, when prayer for the destruction of enemies was equivalent to prayer for preservation and success. So Christian ministers are accustomed to pray for success for the arms of their country. So on our national festivals we are accustomed to thank God that he enabled our fathers to overcome their enemies. What is harsh, therefore, in prayers of this kind, is incidental to a state of warfare. This explanation will, also, apply to the psalms composed by David during his persecution by Saul. These prayers should never be used by private Christians with respect to individual enemies.
II. Another consideration is, that those prayers are expressed in the strong language of poetry; and that some of the particular thoughts and expressions, which are connected with the general subject of the prayer, result from an effort for poetic embellishment and effect, rather than from vindictiveness of feeling.
III. The imprecations, which are not included in the classes above mentioned, are extremely few. I shall not undertake to reconcile a part of psalms 69th, 109th, and 137th with the spirit of the Jewish religion, and far less with the spirit of him, who said, “ Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven,” and who spent his last breath in prayer for his murderers, “ Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
But is it strange that a human soul should be embittered by persecution so as occasionally to utter a sentiment inconsistent with the religion which it professes; that one, who had even spared the life of his deadly enemy when entirely in his power, should, under circumstances of great provocation, express personal feelings inconsistent with his own general character and with the spirit of his religion? Why should not the language of David, as well as his conduct, be sometimes inconsistent with what is right? It must be remembered too, that, in the Jewish religion, the duty of forgiveness had been less insisted on, because the age was not prepared to comprehend it. The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ. There are no imaginable circumstances in which Christians would be justifiable in using the language of the psalms above referred to, or similar language, in their addresses to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This account of the imprecations in the psalms appears to me to be the only one, which reaches the perplexity, which they occasion to the minds of Christians. It is no doubt inconsistent with the views of those, who imagine that all the personal feelings of the writers of the Bible were suggested by the Divine spirit. To such persons I would recommend the attentive consideration of the following sentiments of Dr. Durell, an eminent divine and scholar of the English Episcopal church, and principal of one of the colleges in the university of Oxford, in the last century. “ The common opinion is,” says he, “ that these imprecations are prophetic denunciations of God's judgments upon impenitent sinners. This in some cases may be true; but surely it cannot be so in all those parts, where they are denounced by the imperative; where the author imprecates not against God's enemies, not against the enemies of the state, but against his own enemies. The most probable account of this matter in my humble opinion is this, that God Almighty (though in a particular sense the God of Abraham and his offspring) did not interpose by his grace, or act upon the mind of his peculiar people, not even of their prophets, in an extraordinary manner, except when he vouchsafed to suggest some future event, or any other circumstance that might be for the public benefit of mankind. In all other respects, I apprehend they were left to the full exercise of their free will, without control of the divine
impulse. Now God had abundantly provided, in that code of moral and ceremonial institutes, which he had given his people for their law, that the poor, the fatherless, the widow, and stranger, should be particularly regarded; whence they ought to have learned to be merciful, as their Father in heaven is merciful: and it must be confessed that we sometimes find such behaviour and sentiments in the Jews, with respect to their enemies, as may be deemed truly Christian. See Ps. xxxv. 13, 14, &c. But in that very system of laws, it was also for wise reasons ordained, that they should have no intercourse with the seven nations of the Canaanites, but should absolutely exterminate them; whence they unwarrantably drew this inference, that they ought to love their neighbours, but hate their enemies, as our Lord declares, Matt. v. 43. From these devoted nations they extended the precept to the rest of mankind, that were not within the pale of their church; nay, sometimes to their own domestic enemies, those of their own blood and communion, with whom they were at variance. Hence, therefore, the horrid picture, which is drawn of that nation by the Greek and Roman authors; from whom I forbear to bring any instances, as they are well known; and so numerous that they might fill a volume.
“ How far it may be proper to continue the reading of these psalms in the daily service of our church, I leave to the consideration of the legislature to determine. A Christian of erudition may consider these imprecations only as the natural sentiments of Jews, which the benign religion he professes abhors and condemns : but what are the illiterate to do, who know not where to draw the line between the law and the gospel ? They hear both read, one after the other, and I fear too often think them both of equal obligation; and even take shelter under Scripture to cover their curses. Though I am conscious I here tread upon slippery ground, I will take leave to hint, that, notwithstanding the high antiquity that sanctifies, as it were, this practice, it would, in the opinion of a number of wise and good men, be more for the credit of the Christian church to omit a few of those psalms, and to substitute some parts of the Gospel in their stead.” Durell's Critical Remarks, p. 179.