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laurels of this “muscular" age. Astrology and magic, the strange armaments of a false intellectualism, imitating, in order to compete with and contend against, the prevalent sensuousness, devised their omens, and wrought their feats. Family wealth soon became an object of anxiety and labour, and family feuds kindled the fires of hate. Depravity, stunned by the vengeance of the flood, now woke up to a new-found consciousness of opportunity and comparative safety; and the revived seeds of ancient sensualism brought forth the malarious fruit of Sodom and Canaan. But, amid all this agitation and putting forth of the physical qualities, religion drooped and decayed; the fine gold was dimmed ; and faith, loosing from the sure cables of traditional revelation, drifted away into an unknown sea of doubt and darkness; henceforth, though it never ceased to guess something from the star-spread heaven above, to be deluded by false lights, and wrecked on treacherous havens. Yet, as the human family had possessed the knowledge of the true Deity, and of many truths necessary to religion, if they were afterwards found “ without hope and without God,” it is only to be explained as the result of a voluntary forsaking of the truth, and as the “blindness” which always happens to minds determined to honour them. selves more than the truth. For some remnants of that first religion are found in the Vedas of early India ; among the traditions to which the Chinese Confucius bows. Plato often referred to the authority of these "ancient sayings.” The Egyptian magicians confessed the "finger of God” in the miracle they could not imitate with the aid of demons. The priests, magi, gymnosophists, druids, and bards of antiquity could not have wielded so powerful an authority, unless there had been some wide-spread belief that God had spoken to men in early times ; nor is it likely that men would have conceived a miracle wrought by supernatural interposition, unless that power had disclosed itself before. No nation is so poor as to have no gods; and how far soever it may have wandered from the first hoine of the race, whether to the rock-reefed islands of southern seas, or to the mountains and jungle-plains of Central Africa, or to the lofty tablelands and broad valleys of America ; "everyone hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation,” pretending more or less affinity to the religious nature of man.
The existence of such men as Melchizedek, Job, and Balaam, in different countries, proves that the knowledge and worship of the true God did not suddenly disappear. The first of these was one of that illustrious class, who, in patriarchal times, united the dignity of the prince with the sanctity of the priest ; and was the religious as well as political chief of his tribe. Hence Abraham, when he met him in his own territory, paid him tithes, and received his blessing. The true religion flourished in his days. Idolatry, among the Canaanites, seems to have been borrowed from other nations, because it was more congruous with their wretched immorality than the patriarchal faith and precepts. The destructive chastisement which the Israelites were commissioned to inflict upon them implies that they had sinned against great advantages. It was not ignorance which led to idolatiy
and moral deterioration; but, while retaining the knowledge of Jehovah until after the days of Abraham, they were unfaithful to their convictions, sinned
away their day of grace, and espoused the worship of idols because it allowed their abominations. The resplendent figure of Melchizedek flashes with an almost unearthly lustre on the gloom and dread which cover the destiny of his people. Perhaps he stood alone in his integrity, or only a few followed "the old paths” with him ; but, when his light was quenched, the generation of the righteous was extinct, and the “iniquity of the Amorites” swelled to overflowing fulness. The Book of Job also represents the life and faith of the patriarchal age, after the days of men were shortened, but before they were contracted to their present limits. He lived in Northern Mesopotamia, away from the despotisms growing on the Euphrates and the Nile ; and yet not without an experience of civic duties and honours, to vary pastoral cares and simplicities. He and his friends met to discourse upon nature and providence as revelations of the power and mind of God. The natural wonders which tempted many of their age to base and barren idolatry, only bore their thoughts upward to the grander glory of the unseen. Traditions of the early history of time, -of its virtues and vices, were pregnant with sacred instruction. Though, through imperfect views of God and of His providence, they misinterpreted the afflictions of the sufferer, they were corrected by the inspired Elihu, and by a direct communication from God. The religious and moral teaching, the grand conceptions of Deity and providence recorded in the book bearing the name of the patient man, the high-toned virtue it embalms, and the reprehension of wickedness it declares, must all have been slighted and obscured before necromancy, magianism, and fire-worship became universal.
Balaam is the last mentioned representative of the extra-Mosaic religion ; the last pinnacle on which the setting light of early revelation glittered, cold but beautiful, ere the dark cloudy night of heathenism closed in, "of which the light is as darkness ;” and only a few fitful gleams of natural or traditional theology, or a meteoric flash and explosion of Divine might like that which struck down the pride of Nebuchadnezzar, illumined the eyes of men. The soothsayer of Peor, on the Euphrates, was a descendant of Shem, and spoke of Jehovah as his God, though he associated with these higher views the delusions and arts of wizardry. He was able to connect the marvellous history of the sons of Israel with the name and power of God. But he "loved the wages of unrighteousness.” In his duplicity we see a type of multitudes among the heathen,- acknowledging the truth, yet cherishing error as a shield for sin. The blame and guilt of the world's infatuation are owing as much to the pride and lust of the cultivated few, as to the ignorance and wilfulness of the untaught many. What a history is that of perverted genius, if we rise no higher than Balaam, and descend no lower than Voltaire ! What a succession of great minds, armed with all the forces of intellect, and supplied with the richest resources of knowledge, have fought against God and His cause for honour, for gain, or for grosser reward? How many in this day, wielding a ready and fluent pen,
VOL. X-FIFTE SERIES.
investing thought with the fairy garb of faucy, and the gorgeous hues of imagination, labour to make virtue hideous and vice attractive ; sneer at simple trust in a present Providence, and belaud a bare shivering unbelief as the grand climax of reason! Many ghastly contradictions of evil are thrown into startling proximity with good in our world, but none are more appalling than this union of large mind, flashing out a truth-reflected brilliance, with the darkest features of vice and selfishness. Reason may tower up to high realms of intuition, and hold in its glance the outermost beacons of exploring science ; fancy may shine with the directest rays of “ the light that never fell on sea or shore," and even emotion may thrill to airs of purity and veneration ; yet the same nature may be somewhere in its wide developments the slave of a dire sensualism, the hold of a deep corruption which may some day climb to the loftiest reach of intellect, consume as with volcanic desolation the fairest features of the soul, and change the gentle currents of nature into wild tempests of abandoned hate. More or less of this contrast exists in every character; but in one of Balaam's endowments, the darkness lours with deeper blackness from the intenser splendour of the light.
Whatever his antecedents, Balaam was in the case of Balak under a true inspiration. He must also have spoken previously under the same influence to have acquired the reputation ascribed to him by the king of Moab.* He knew the God of Noah, and Shem, and Abraham ; he had heard what Jehovah had done by the hand of Moses, by the Red Sea, and in the wilderness. When Balak’s messengers came, he was directly warned of God not to go with them; and more than once afterwards he “heard the word of God," seeing "the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open.” He was made the medium of one of the most exquisite of predictions concerning the glory of Israel and the coming of the Messiah. However imperfect or vitiated his former knowledge, the dawning of such transcendent light must have dispelled all confidence in demons and false gods. But instead of returning to his own land a witness for the truth, a destroyer of idols, and a reformer of manners,-to employ his vast abilities and influence in the spread of the true religion,-he lingered among the people of Moab and Midian, a plotter of diabolical devices, to die in dishonour, and to take a glaring stand on the roll of names which suggest the ruin of great powers and the wreck of splendid opportunities.
The site of Nineveh and Babylon, and its sacred associations, afford : presumption that they had much of the original light. The powerful Nimrod held the first inheritance of the descendants of Noah, while the weaker tribes were exiled to other lands. Yet Chaldea was one of the first centres of idolatry, and the birthplace of astrology. There were "wise
among those who “watched their flocks by night;" who competed, by their knowledge of nature, and by pretensions to prophetic insight, with
* “ For I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed,” (Num, xxii, 6.)
the representatives of physical might. The warrior, dreading the unseen power more than the visible foe, sought their blessing on his arms; and their omens and prognostications absorbed public faith as the indices of supernatural counsels. Increasing veneration tempted them to dabble in magic, to profess intercourse with familiar spirits ; and the supreme God of their fathers was put outside the forces of nature and the operation of demons. Corrupted by these worldly influences and by the love of wealth and distinction,-the bane, in every age, of the class responsible for the administration of man's spiritual interests,—the “Chaldeans” obscured the truth they had received, and blinded the people with signs and enchantments. That they spread corruption and idolatry among other nations is certain.* The Baal of the Phenicians, and Belochus among the Greeks, are reproductions of the Assyrian Bel, whose image, representing the sun, was probably the first idol made by human hands. His worship was the most formidable rival of the true religion in the first ages; and this gives & solemn importance to the controversy of Elijah on Carmel.+ To him the first tower and city were built, after the flood; and, because of this sad priority of evil, Babylon has become the synonym of apostasy, and the mnemonic of iniquitous mystery. Generally, heathenism was tolerant; but the Assyrians boasted of their “immortal gods,” whom they forced upon other countries; one inscription speaking of “Husi, the protector, who first introduced the worship of the gods among many heathen nations.” The decrees of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, dictating the universal worship, show that they were familiar with the most sweeping intolerance. But, the presence of cherubic figures among their symbols; the early prevalence of religious ideas even under forms the most false ; the habit of their wise men in referring to ancient authority for their dogmas ; # their proximity to and connexion with Persia, where idolatry was never so rampant; the existence of such men as Job and his friends within the range of their empire, and of Balaam ; § as well as the presumption founded on their very locality and origin, establish the conclusion that they possessed no insigni
* Achan found, to his cost, in Ai, “a goodly Babylonish garment.” The luxuries of this magnificent people had reached Canaan, and no doubt they, as well as Egypt, supplied the Canaanites with idolatries. One of the cities which Joshua destroyed was Debir, formerly named Kirjathsepher," the city of the book.” In the Targum it is called the city of the archives. The new name, Debir, signifies an oracle ; and it was most likely the abode of magi, or priests, who had borrowed the astrology and necromancy of Chaldea.
4 Whence the news of the defeat of Baal's servants would pass into Phenicia, the land of Jezebel, and on to the schools of his prophets in other countries. Baal was Worshipped even to the far west of Europe. Beltaine, a fire-dance, with other ceremonies, has been practised within this century in Scotland and Ireland.
Diodorus Siculus remarks that the Chaldean philosophy was founded on tradition, but the Greek on invention.
$ Abraham also lived in Mesopotamia ; but his " fathers served other gods," as well as Jehovah. Two hundred years afterwards, when Jacob went to Laban, the Forship of the true God existed in the same land, though in association with idolatrı
ficant amount of true religious knowledge, however speedily or surely it was neutralized by the deceptions of astrology, or buried beneath the creations of pride."
Egypt, also, was a prolific source of idolatrous ideas and institutions. Their influence is traceable in the mythologies, mysteries, and imageworship of many other peoples. If not “wholly given to idolatry” in Joseph's time, the turbid tide had swollen to a flood by the days of Moses, To preserve the Israelites from a fatal imitation of its customs and abominations, they were so entirely withdrawn from Egyptian influences, that there is no recorded intercourse between the nations from the Exodus until the days of Solomon. Yet in early time the true faith dwelt in Egypt. Temple inscriptions speak of the one God. Their idol Non or Nh," the primordial water,” + is the apotheosis of Noah. “In Egypt,” says Dr. G. Smith, "an uncommon amount of pure patriarchal truth was preserved. Nor does it seem to admit of a doubt, that it was this which pre-eminently constituted the boasted wisdom of Egypt. However lightly esteemed by learned modern writers it may have been, this class of subjects attracted the attention of Pythagoras, Herodotus, and Diodorus, more than any other; and it was on these points that Egypt yielded to these sages the most important harvest of information. Here they read divinity, which recognised the doctrine of the Trinity and the hope of the future incarnation of God...... Amid all its follies and sins, the truth which Egypt preserved from age to age, affords the brightest and best collateral proof of the reality and power of patriarchal religion."
China, yet a mystery to the historian and the ethnologist, is, when viewed in connexion with these inquiries, a more insoluble problem. It is believed that this people had originally a clear knowledge of the true God, § and even that “Fohi,” their reputed founder, is no other than Noah. The reformer Confucius, though he refers with reverence to ancient tradition and ancestral example, was not a teacher of religious dogmas, but of scientific secular morality. In his time (B.c. 550) the people were lost in sensuous idolatry, and were preparing to become the dupes of Budhism. For many ages past their national character has presented the contradictory phases which signalize it at this day. Superstitious reverence, without the sense of moral obligation; a strange contempt of human life, without belief in immortality ; national unity, while dynasties frequently change, and rebellious anarchy is chronic; a refined brutality, an artistic ignorance, and an abject pride, are the stereotyped attributes of a civilization which flourished three thousand years ago, and ever since has impressed a third of the entire human family. Dwelling alone, confined to their own resources and ideas, with a tongue radically different from all others, with an unsound intellectual and
* Of their subsequent religious opportunities we shall speak in another paper.