Greek at Alexandria. Thus were the Hebrew Scriptures first brought within the reach of the European world. I have never been surprised at the legendary miracles with which the accounts of the preparation of this venerable version were garnished, for I see the hand of Providence as distinctly manifested in it as in any event in the moral history of our race. When the appointed time had come, the writings of Moses, of David, and Isaiah, locked up in a dialect which was wasting away in the cities of Judah and on the hills of Palestine, (a region at best not as large as our New England,) were transfused into the far-reaching, widelyspoken tongue, which had become the language of government, of commerce, and of philosophy, from the mouths of the Rhone to the Indus. And in this language, and at this critical juncture of religious history, though their authors were Jews, the books of the New Testament were written in Greek. When another stupendous revolution, or rather series of revolutions, had transferred the sceptre of empire to Rome, and the Latin language had acquired an almost exclusive predominance in Western Europe and Northern Africa, with some extension in the East, among the first intellectual phenomena of the new order of things we find the old Italic version of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, the parent of the Vulgate and so many subsequent translations. In this way, by means of the Roman language, which did not exist as a dialect on the lips of men when the earlier books of the Old Testament were written, — the language of a people who, in the days of Moses and David, were wandering a wild clan along the banks of the Tiber, — through this singular medium, - rather let me say this awe-inspiring instrumentality, - these old Hebrew voices - mute and unintelligible as originally uttered — are rendered audible and significant to the Western church and world. And then, as we descend the line of history, as the Latin and Greek, great world-dialects, become obsolete, - dying, dead languages, as we significantly call them, — and new tongues are created by the mysterious power of the vocal faculty, we are sure to behold, as was so well observed by Mr Hill, as an invariable consequence, often as the first result of the change, a new translation of the Scriptures. Nowhere is this so sure to be the case as in the great national stock to which we belong. Gothic and Saxon antiquity has handed down to us, through the wreck of the dark ages, nothing older than portions of the paraphrases and versions of the Scriptures, which were made in those dialects respectively, not long after the introduction of Christianity into Germany and Britain. Indeed, in the ancient Gothic tongue I am not sure that any thing has survived but portions of the translation of the New Testament.

Thus great and wide-spread families of men have been broken up or have silently passed away, and the tongues they spoke have ceased to be a medium of living intercourse; hordes of indigenous shepherds (indigenous we call them) grow up into enlightened states; wild tribes of nomadic conquerors pour down from the north and ripen into polished commonwealths; undiscovered continents and islands filled with strange races are made, as it were, to emerge from the deep; languages that are dying out mingle on the canvas of human fortune with languages that are coming in, like the melting images of the illusive glass, till it is impossible to tell where one begins or the other ends; but the Word of God is heard along the line of the ages, distinct amidst the confusion, addressing an intelligible utterance to each successive race in the great procession of humanity. The miracle of Pentecost becomes the law of human progress, and nations that have sprung into being, cycles of ages since Moses, and the prophets, and the apostles wrote, still hear them speaking, every man in his own language.

It will be said, perhaps, that what has thus happened to the Scriptures has also happened to the profane literature of Greece and Rome, and that we may read Homer and Virgil as we read the Old and New Testament, in a translation. To some extent this is true, as far as the parallel applies to the Greek Scriptures; but I need not say that, as far as the ancient literature of Western Asia is concerned, nothing has descended to us but the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Of the language of the Phænicians, the people who are supposed to have invented the alphabet, nothing has escaped destruction but ten or twelve lines preserved in a Latin play, and even that fragment representing the language as spoken in a colony. But if any one is disposed to infer from the preservation of some of the Latin and Greek classics that there was no other principle of vitality concerned in the transmission of the Scriptures, I may state in reply the undoubted fact, that, as far as we can thread the chain of cause and effect, it is Christianity which was mainly instrumental in this result. It was not the knowledge of the Latin and Greek which kept the Bible from perishing, while they were the temporary vehicles of its circulation; it was the study of the Scriptures and the labors of Christian men which mainly contributed to prevent those languages from dying out. But for the organization of the Christian church and the ecclesiastical uses made of the Greek and Latin, the language of Cicero and Demosthenes might have shared the fate of those of Egypt and Assyria. On the other hand, if there had been a version of the Old Testament into the language and character of ancient Egypt or ancient Assyria, the sculptured sides of the obelisks and temples of Memphis and Thebes would not have remained a mystery and a riddle for ages; nor would the arrow-headed inscriptions of the wonderful ruins of Nimroud and Persepolis still defy the sagacity of the learned world. They would have been as intelligible as Hebrew or Arabic.

It is not my purpose, sir, to urge the importance of the Scriptures in connection with human learning in any of its branches; nor to intimate that there is any thing miraculous in their preservation from remote antiquity; although we cannot, I think, doubt them to have been the objects of an overruling and disposing Providence. What I have wished to point out to the consideration of the society and the assembly is, that kind of instinct — if I may so call it - which has led the church, (by which I understand the mass of believers,) in all ages, to provide for the reading of the Scrip tures by the generality of mankind; and this in opposition to the interest which the professed depositaries of religious truth have in most, perhaps in all, other cases, shown, to monopolize the knowledge of it. I cannot but think that it is a strong argument in favor of the circulation of the Scriptures as a basis of religious belief, deduced from the experience of the world in all periods of history.

There is another consideration of a practical nature, which I should be glad to offer to the meeting, if I have not exceeded my allowance of time. We all have pretty strong, and as I think just, impressions of the superiority of Christendom over the Mahometan, Hindoo, and Pagan countries. Our civilization, I know, is still very imperfect, impaired by many a vice which disgraces our Christian nurture, - by many a woe which

“ Appears a spot upon a vestal's robe,

The worse for what it soils.”

But when we compare the condition of things in Christendom with that which prevails in the countries just named, we find that all the evils which exist among us prevail there in a greater degree, while they are subject to innumerable others, so dreadful as to make us almost ready to think it were better for the mass of the population, humanly speaking, if they had never been born. Well, now, Mr Chairman, what maketh us to differ? I know of no final and sufficient cause but the different character of Christianity, and the religions which prevail in Turkey, Persia, India, China, and the other semi-civilized or barbarous countries; and this difference, as far as I know, is accurately reflected in their sacred books respectively. I mean, sir, that the Bible stands to the Koran and the Vedas in the same relation as that in which Christianity stands to Mahometanism, or Brahmanism, or Buddhism; or Christendom to Turkey, Hindostan, or China.

We should all, I believe, more fully appreciate the value of the Scriptures, if we compared them with other books assuming the character of sacred. I have not done it so much as I wish I had; but one reason a main one has been, the extreme repulsiveness of those books which I have tried to read. I have several times in my life attempted to read the Koran. I have done so lately. I have approached it with a highly excited literary curiosity. I have felt a strong desire to penetrate this great mystery of the Arabian desert. As I have, in some quiet Turkish town, (for in the provincial Turkish towns there is little of the bustle of our western life,) listened at the close of day to the clear, calm voice of the muezzin, from the top of the graceful minaret, calling the faithful to evening prayer, - as I have mused on the vicissitudes of all human things, beneath the venerable dome of St Sophia's, - I have, I may say, longed to find some rational ground of sympathy between Christianity and Islam; but any thing more repulsive and uninviting than the Koran I have seldom attempted to peruse, even when taken up with these kindly feelings. And yet, sir, you are well aware that it is not conceived in a spirit of hostility to the Old and New Testament, but recognizes them both as a divine revelation. With such portions of the sacred books of the Hindoos as have fallen in my way, the case is far worse. They contain, it is true, some elevated moral sentiments of an ascetic cast, and some strains inspired by a sense of the beauties of nature. But the mythological system contained in them is a tissue of monstrosities and absurdities, by turns so revolting and nauseous as to defy perusal, except from some strong motive of duty or of literary curiosity, which would prompt the investigation. I really believe that few things would do more to raise the Scriptures in our estimation, than to compare the Bible with the Koran and the Vedas. . It is not a course of reading to be generally recommended. A portion of the books are scarce, and, as I have said, their contents eminently repulsive; but I will venture to say to those whose professional duty it is to maintain the sacred character of the Christian Scriptures, that I know of scarce any line of reading which might be taken up with greater advantage, for the purpose of fair comparison, than that of the sacred books, as they are called, of the Mahometans and Hindoos,

One word more, sir, and I have done. It is sometimes objected to an indiscriminate distribution of the Bible, that

« 上一页继续 »