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It is impossible to close this review of Israel's ancient bards without very peculiar sensations. We feel as one might who had been dwelling for a season among the higher Alps, as he turned to the plains again, torrents and avalanches still sounding in his ears, and a memory of the upper grandeurs dwindling to his eyes all lower objects. But have we brought down with us, and do we wish to confer on others, nothing but admiration ? Nay, verily, these Alps of humanity waft down many important lessons. Showing how high man has attained in the past, they show the altitude of the man of the future world. To the poet, how exciting, at once, and humbling! He complains, at times, that he too soon and easily overtakes his models, and finds them cloud or clay after all; but here are models forever above and beyond him, as are the stars. And yet he is permitted to look at, to be lightened by them, “ to roll their raptures, and to catch their fire.” Here are God's own pictures, glowing on the inaccessible walls. To the believer in their supernatural claims, how thrilling the proud reflection—this bark, as it carries me to heaven, has the flag of earthly genius floating above it. To the worshiper of genius, these books present the object no longer as an idol, but as a god. The admirer of man finds him here in his highest mood and station, speaking from the very door of the eternal shrine, with God tuning his voice and regulating his periods. Genius and religion are here seen wedded to each other, with unequal dowries, indeed, but with one heart. And there is thus conveyed, in parable, the prospect of their eternal union.
And can we close this old volume without an emotion of unutterable astonishment ? Here, from the rudest rock, has distilled the sweetest honey of song. The simplest and most limited of languages has been the medium of the loftiest eloquence—the oaten pipe of the Hebrew shepherd has produced a music, to which that of the Grecian organ and the Latin fife is discord. Here, too, centuries before the Augustan age, are conceptions of God which Cicero never grasped, nor Virgil ever sung. Race, climate, original genius, will not altogether account for this. The real answer to the question, Why burned that bush so brightly amid the lonely wilderness, is, God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel, dwelt therein, and the place is still lovely, yet dreadful, with his presence.
CIRCUMSTANCES MODIFYING NEW TESTAMENT
The main principle of the Old Testament may be comprised in the sentence, “ Fear God, and keep his commandments : this is the whole duty of man.” The main principle of the New is, " Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” And yet, round these two simple sentences, what masses of beauty and illustration have been collected! To enforce them, what argument, what eloquence, what poetry, have been employed! Say, rather, that those truths, from their exceeding breadth, greatness, and magnetic power, have levied a tribute from multitudinous regions, and made every form of thought and composition subservient to their influence and end.
The New Testament, as well as the Old, is a poem-the Odyssey to that Iliad. And over the poetry of both, circumstances and events have exerted a modifying power. Yet it is remarkable, that in the New Testament, although events of a marvelous kind were of frequent occurrence, they are not used so frequently in a poetical way as in the Old. The highest poetry in the New Testament, is either didactic in its character, as the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul's praise of charity, or it is kindled up by visions of the future, and apparitions through the present darkness of the great white throne.
The resurrection, as connected with the doctrine of a general judgment, is the event which has most colored the poetry of the New Testament. The throne becomes a far more command ing object than even the mount that might be touched. Faint, in fact, is the reflection of this “Great Vision" upon the page of ancient prophecy : the trump is heard, as if from a distance ; the triumph of life over death is anticipated seldom, and with little rapture. But no sooner do we reach the threshold of the new dispensation, than we meet voices from the interior of the sanctuary, proclaiming a judgment; the sign of the Son of Man is advanced above, the graves around are seen with the tombstones loosened and the turf broken, and “I shall arise” hovering in golden characters over each narrow house; the central figure bruises death under his feet, and points with a cross to the distant horizon, where life and immortality are cleaving the clouds, and coming forth with beauty and healing on their wings. Such is the prospect in our Christian sanctuary; and hence the supernatural grandeur of the strains which swell within it. Hence the rapture of the challenge, "O death, where is thy sting ?” Hence the solemnity of the assertion, “ Marvel not at this, for the hour is coming when they that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of Map.” Hence the fiery splendor of the description, “ The Lord himself shall descend with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God." Hence the harping symphonies and sevenfold hallelujahs of the Apocalypse, “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God." Here, indeed, is a source of inspiration, open only to the New Testament writers. The heathens knew not of the resurrection of the dead. But Paul and John have extracted a poetry from the darkness of the grave. In heathen belief, there was, indeed, a judgment succeeding the death of the individual; but no general assemblage, no public trial, no judgment-seat,“ high and lifted up,” no flaming universe, and, above all, no God-man swaying the fiery storm, and, with the hand that had been nailed to the cross, opening the books of universal and final decision. .
“Meditations among the Tombs,” what a pregnant title to what a feeble book! Ah! the tombs are vaster and more numerous than Hervey dreamed. There is the churchyard arnong the mountains, where the “rude forefathers of the hanlet lie.” There is the crowded cemetery of the town, where silent thousands have laid themselves down to repose. There are the wastes and wildernesses of the world, where “armies whole have sunk," and where the dead have here their shroud of sand, and there their shroud of snow. There is the hollow of the earth, where Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and many besides, have been engulfed. There are the fields of battle, which have become scenes of burial, as well as of death. And there is the great ocean, which has wrapped its garment of green round many a fair and noble head, and which rolls its continual requiem of sublimity and sadness over the millions whom it has entombed. Thus does the earth, with all its continents and oceans, roll around the sun a splendid sepulcher !
Amid those dim catacombs, what victims have descended ! The hero, who has coveted the dreadful distinction of entering hell, red from a thousand victories, is in the grave. The sage, who has dared to say that, if he had been consulted in the making of the universe he had made it better, is in the grave. The monarch, who has wept for more worlds to conquer and to reign over, is in the grave. The poet, who, towering above his kind, had seemed to demand a contest with superior intelligences, and sought to measure his pen against the red thunderbolts of Heaven, is in the grave. Where now the ambition of the first, the insane presumption of the second, the idle tears of the third, the idler laurels of the last ? All gone, sunk, lost, drowned, in that ocean of Death, where no oar ever yet broke the perpetual silence !
But, alas ! these graves are not full. In reason's ear—an ear ringing ever with strange and mystic sounds—there is heard a voice, from the thousand tombs, saying_“Yet there is room.” The churchyard among the hills has a voice, and says—" There is room under the solitary birch which waves over me.” The city cemetery hath a voice, and says—"Crowded as I am, I can yet open a corner for thy dust; yet there is room." The field of battle says—“There is room. I have earth enough to cover all my slain.” The wildernesses have a voice, and say—