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“ All thine iniquities” — the adultery and cruel treachery of David not too great to be forgiven; “all thy diseases ” — the pride and sensuality of Solomon not too deep-seated to be cured ; deemeth thy life from destruction ” — he that would destroy himself is redeemed from his selfdestruction by Jehovah; "crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies” — with kindness that comes from personal love, with tending mercies that nurse the sick back into life again; isfieth thy years with good so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s ” making old age more full of a serener hope than youth with all its eager and sometimes exasperating expectations.
Modern theology might well go back to this lyric of an ancient and unknown past to learn some lessons about God. Here is no hint of some one to pay the debt, to satisfy the law, to appease the wrath. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; for his own name's sake he pardons the penitent's iniquities; according to his lovingkindness, according to the multitude of his tender mercies, he blots out the repentant’s transgressions ; and their greatness does not prevent; on the contrary, he pardons them because they are great. Christ's parable of the Prodigal Son he borrowed and elaborated from the Hebrew poet's declaration, “ Like as a father pitieth his children, so Jehovah pitieth them that fear him." Christ's picture of himself longing to gather Jerusalem under his protection as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings he borrowed from the same source : “ Under his pinions will I
1 Psalms li. 11, 17; xxv. 11; lxxix. 9.
One truth the Hebrew poet did not know, for Christ had not yet brought life and immortality to light: he did not know of the future life. He had hope in God, and on that hope he built great expectations; but they were for his nation and on this earth. But he was sure that in his own time and in his own way Jehovah in whom he trusted would at last come for the redemption of Israel, and would bring deliverance not to Israel only, but to all the nations of the earth.
“For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth;
His name shall endure forever ;
It would be strange if one man had wrought all this out in his own experience ; strange if it had been all supernaturally revealed in one man's experience; but it is not less strange, looking back across the intervening centuries into a barbaric age and upon a barbaric nation, to find in eight centuries and a half of song all the ripened fruit of Christian experience suggested, except only the assurance of immortality. A God who is a uni1 Psalm ciii. 13; xci. 4.
2 Psalm lxxii. 12-17.
versal presence; a God who is in all nature and with the nations of the earth; a God who cares for the children of men ; a God who cares for the beasts of the forest; a God who is gentle, patient, pitying, rendering an unbought mercy out of his own free love, forgiving iniquities because they are great and man cannot deliver himself from them; a God who saves men even from their own selfwilled destruction and who crowns them with a kindness that is full of love and a mercy that is full of nursing; a God who gives promise of One who shall come in time, to make clearer revelations of his judgment, of his deliverance, of his power, and of his grace — something such as this seems to me to be the religious teaching of eight centuries and a half of the unparalleled lyric song contained in the Hebrew psalter.
PREACHERS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
In Bagster's edition, the Old Testament occupies five hundred and eighty-five pages; of these, one hundred and fifty-four are occupied by the Books of the Prophets ; that is, more than one quarter of the entire literature of the ancient Hebrews, as it is preserved in our Protestant Bibles, is prophetic literature. This fact roughly indicates the importance which public opinion attached to the work of the prophets, and the extent of their influence upon their nation and their share in interpreting its life. What was the function of the prophet among the ancient Hebrews ? Says George Adam Smith: “ In vulgar use the name 'prophet' has degenerated to the meaning of 'one who foretells the future.' Of this meaning it is, perhaps, the first duty of every student of prophecy earnestly and stubbornly to rid himself. In its native Greek tongue 'prophet' meant, not one who speaks before,' but one who speaks for, or on behalf of, another.' It is in this sense that we must think of the prophet' of the Old Testament. He is a speaker for God. The sharer of God's counsels, as Amos calls him, he becomes the bearer and preacher of God's word. Prediction of the future is only a part, and often a subordinate and accidental part, of an office whose full function is to declare the character and the will of God." 1
I as the reader of this volume to comply with this counsel, and earnestly and stubbornly to rid himself of the idea that a prophet means one who foretells events. That the prophets did not regard themselves as primarily foretellers is clear from the character of their writings, only a very insig. nificant part of which is taken up with predictions of any kind. In those predictions they did not always agree with one another, and the events do not always occur as the prophets expected. When Jonah told the people of Nineveh, “In forty days Nineveh shall be destroyed,” he foretold what did not come to pass. God,” says the sacred writer,
repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them," and, as an historic fact, Nineveh was not destroyed for many years after the date at which, according to the story, the prophecy purported to be delivered.
Nor did the prophets themselves regard accuracy of prediction as the test of their prophecy. On the contrary, they distinctly repudiated this test. One of the greatest of the prophets, the author of the book of Deuteronomy, written six or seven centuries before Christ, by an unknown author, declares that though the prophet has accurately foretold
1 The Book of the Twelve Prophets, vol. i. p. 12.