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Chapter VIII.—The True Doctrine is to Be Sought in the Prophets.
It is now time, as we have despatched in order the other points, to go to the prophetic Scriptures; for the oracles present us with the appliances necessary for the attainment of piety, and so establish the truth. The divine Scriptures and institutions of wisdom form the short road to salvation. Devoid of embellishment, of outward beauty of diction, of wordiness and seductiveness, they raise up humanity strangled by wickedness, teaching men to despise the casualties of life; and with one and the same voice remedying many evils, they at once dissuade us from pernicious deceit, and clearly exhort us to the attainment of the salvation set before us. Let the Sibyl930930 [Note her remarkable accord with inspiration, clearly distinguishing between such and the oracles of God. But see, supra, p. 132 and p. 145.] prophetess, then, be the first to sing to us the song of salvation:—
“So He is all sure and unerring:
Come, follow no longer darkness and gloom;
See, the sun’s sweet-glancing light shines gloriously.
Know, and lay up wisdom in your hearts:
There is one God, who sends rains, and winds, and earthquakes,
Thunderbolts, famines, plagues, and dismal sorrows,
And snows and ice. But why detail particulars?
He reigns over heaven, He rules earth,
He truly is;”—
where, in remarkable accordance with inspiration931931 [Having shown what truth there is to be found in heathen poets, he ascends to the Sibyl, and thus comes to the prophets; showing them how to climb upward in this way, and cleverly inducing them to make the best use of their own prophets and poets, by following them to the sources of their noblest ideas.] she compares delusion to darkness, and the knowledge of God to the sun and light, and subjecting both to comparison, shows the choice we ought to make. For falsehood is not dissipated by the bare presentation of the truth, but by the practical improvement of the truth it is ejected and put to flight.
Jeremiah the prophet, gifted with consummate wisdom,932932 [How sublimely he now introduces the oracles of truth.] or rather the Holy Spirit in Jeremiah, exhibits God. “Am I a God at hand,” he says, “and not a God afar off? Shall a man do ought in secret, and I not see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth? Saith the Lord.”933933 Jer. xxiii. 23.
And again by Isaiah, “Who shall measure heaven with a span, and the whole earth with his hand?”934934 Isa. xl. 12. Behold God’s greatness, and be filled with amazement. Let us worship Him of whom the prophet says, “Before Thy face the hills shall melt, as wax melteth before the fire!”935935 Isa. lxiv. 1, 2. This, says he, is the God “whose throne is heaven, and His footstool the earth; and if He open heaven, quaking will seize thee.”936936 Isa. lxvi. 1. Will you hear, too, what this prophet says of idols? “And they shall be made a spectacle of in the face of the sun, and their carcases shall be meat for the fowls of heaven and the wild beasts of the earth; and they shall putrefy before the sun and the moon, which they have loved and served; and their city shall be burned down.”937937 Jer. viii. 2, xxx. 20, iv. 6. He says, too, that the elements and the world shall be destroyed. “The earth,” he says, “shall grow old, and the heaven shall pass away; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever.” What, then, when again God wishes to show Himself by Moses: “Behold ye, behold ye, that I Am, and there is no other God beside Me. I will kill, and I will make to live; I will strike, and I will heal; and there is none who shall deliver out of My hands.”938938 Deut. xxxii. 39. But do you wish to hear another seer? You have the whole prophetic choir, the associates of Moses. What the Holy Spirit says by Hosea, I will not shrink from quoting: “Lo, I am He that appointeth the thunder, and createth spirit; and His hands have established the host of heaven.”939939 Amos iv. 13. And once more by Isaiah. And this utterance I will repeat: “I am,” he says, “I am the Lord; I who speak righteousness, announce truth. Gather yourselves together, and come. Take counsel together, ye that are saved from the nations. They have not known, they who set up the block of wood, their carved work, and pray to gods who will not save them.”940940 Isa. xlv. 19, 20. Then proceeding: “I am God, and there is not beside Me a just God, and a Saviour: there is none except Me. Turn to Me, and ye will be saved, ye that are from the end of the earth. I am God, and there is no other; by Myself I swear.”941941 Isa. xlv. 21–23. But against the worshippers of idols he is exasperated, saying, “To whom will ye liken the Lord, or to what likeness will ye compare Him? Has not the artificer made the image, or the goldsmith melted the gold and plated it with gold?”942942 Isa. xl. 18, 19.—and so on. Be not therefore idolaters, but even now beware of the threatenings; “for the graven images and the works of men’s hands shall wail, or rather they that trust in them,”943943 Isa. x. 10, 11. for matter is devoid of sensation. Once more he says, “The Lord will shake the cities that are inhabited, and grasp the world in His hand like a nest.”944944 Isa. x. 14. Why repeat to you the mysteries of wisdom, and sayings from the writings of the son of the Hebrews, the master of wisdom? “The Lord created me the beginning of His ways, in order to His works.”945945 Prov. viii. 22. And, “The Lord giveth wisdom, and from His face proceed knowledge and understanding.”946946 Prov. ii. 6. “How long wilt thou lie in bed, O sluggard; and when wilt thou be aroused from sleep?”947947 Prov. vi. 9. “but if thou show thyself no sluggard, as a fountain thy harvest shall come,”948948 Prov. vi. 11. the “Word of the Father, the benign light, the Lord that bringeth light, faith to all, and salvation.”949949 Prov. vi. 23. For “the Lord who created the earth by His power,” as Jeremiah says, “has raised up the world by His wisdom;”950950 Jer. x. 12. for wisdom, which is His word, raises us up to the truth, who have fallen prostrate before idols, and is itself the first resurrection from our fall. Whence Moses, the man of God, dissuading from all idolatry, beautifully exclaims, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord; and thou shall worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shall thou serve.”951951 Deut. vi. 4, 13, x. 20. “Now therefore be wise, O men,” according to that blessed psalmist David; “lay hold on instruction, lest the Lord be angry, and ye perish from the way of righteousness, when His wrath has quickly kindled. Blessed are all they who put their trust in Him.”952952 Ps. ii. 10, 12. But already the Lord, in His surpassing pity, has inspired the song of salvation, sounding like a battle march, “Sons of men, how long will ye be slow of heart? Why do you love vanity, and seek after a lie?”953953 Ps. iv. 2. What, then, is the vanity, and what the lie? The holy apostle of the Lord, reprehending the Greeks, will show thee: “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and changed the glory of God into the likeness of corruptible man, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.”954954 Rom. i. 21, 23, 25. And verily this is the God who “in the beginning made the heaven and the earth.”955955 Gen. i. 1. But you do not know God, and worship the heaven, and how shall you escape the guilt of impiety? Hear again the prophet speaking: “The sun, shall suffer eclipse, and the heaven be darkened; but the Almighty shall shine for ever: while the powers of the heavens shall be shaken, and the heavens stretched out and drawn together shall be rolled as a parchment-skin (for these are the prophetic expressions), and the earth shall flee away from before the face of the Lord.”956956 This is made up of several passages, as Isa. xiii. 10, Ezek. xxxii. 7, Joel ii. 10, 31, iii. 15.
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