« ÎnapoiContinuă »
thousand years' duration, be very diverse from those of ordinary mortals, whose span is only threescore years and ten, or would one little limit of existence vary from theirs only as a miniature does from a portrait, where the features, the passions, the expression, are the same, and only the dimensions of the canvass, the size of the painting are different? The temptations of Methusaleh must have been like ours; his christian conflict was the same; his faith was the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But were his trials as heavy as ours, or has the primeval curse gathered a strength in the progress of six thousand years not known in the world's infancy? What indeed was affliction, disease, old age, with the antediluvians? Were their trials spread over a larger portion of existence than ours? Did colds and fevers rack the body with pain for a time proportionally longer? Ere the close of life did the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they were few, and were those that looked out of the windows darkened? Was their infancy extended into our childhood, and their childhood into our manhood, so that their youth was our age, and the child died being an hundred years old? Was the flight of time with them as rapid as with us, and notwithstanding their long life, did they leave it with as strong unwillingness, with as deep regret, with as many plans incomplete, and purposes betrayed, as we do ours? The unerring truth of Scripture has made one thing certain; that, as they grew in years they grew in wickedness, despising the goodness of God, and filling up life with impiety, till all flesh had corrupted their way, and become fitted only for the destruction of the deluge. Their passions were the same as ours, and they gave them their full swing of indulgence; and in the long sweep of nine hundred years they must have gathered a prodigious power, and raged and burned like a volcano. It is surprising that with so much wickedness they should have lived so long. It is not surprising, under such circumstances, that when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, so few, if any, should have listened to the warnings of the preacher of righteousness. It might have been expected, at least, it might have been hoped, of those in early life; but what could have been expected of men who had lived eight or nine hundred years in the unrestrained gratification of every evil propensity? Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may those who have been accustomed to do evil learn to do well. There was no alternative but their destruction.
II. We may reduce the lessons to be gathered from this survey under several specifications.
1. We may learn an appalling lesson as to the agglomerative tendencies of human depravity. In order to people the earth speedily, it was necessary that the life of the antediluvians should be extended over a period more than twelve times the limit of human existence afterwards assigned in the Scriptures. It was also requisite for a full and fair experiment of human nature, and afforded scope and oppor
tunity for the most rapid growth in knowledge and goodness. The example and instructions of Adam were continued nearly a thousand years; and with him for their teacher and priest, together with all the successive acquisitions of his numerous posterity accumulating contemporaneously for their use, had they been disposed to goodness, they might well nigh have retrieved the ruins of the fall, redeeming earth from its primeval curse by the holiness of its inhabitants. But the experiment resulted so miserably, that the destruction of the whole race proved necessary. Had it been much longer continued, the wickedness of human beings, in combination with the increase of their numbers, would have made earth well nigh a hell in all respects but its penal inflictions. Instead of growing better, they grew worse with every score of years added to their existence, and filled society with crime, which made it a fellowship of guilt through all its ramifications.
Now here is a lesson in human experience, which one would think might silence forever the advocates of the theory of human perfectibility. The race of antediluvians were blessed with all possible capacities and facilities for indefinite improvement in knowledge and happiness. Their age was not a mere hand's breadth, but the full deep circle of nine centuries. They were not called to die when they had just begun to live, nor to quit their investigations forever, when they had just learned how to study. Men's minds might have been formed and disciplined in the revolution of nine hundred years under an accumulation of influences and circumstances in the highest degree powerful and favorable. What would we give, what might not we become, if only a seventy years' experience could be carried into seventy years more of life, health, and vigor! What might not be done, if a Newton, instead of leaving merely the results of his own labors in books, could have continued his investigations personally, with the full powers of his mind, seventy years longer, and seventy more after that, having all the while gathered in through the whole period, along with his own thoughts, the thoughts of other minds, and the cumulative wisdom of contemporary ages! But the antediluvians might do this, not for one threescore years and ten merely, but for twelve times that period. They could form vast designs without fear of interruption. A plan that needed a hundred years for its execution, was only the work of childhood to a man assured of life nine times as long. Then too they were all of one speech; they possessed one universal language, the immediate gift of God. They had teachers who had seen and talked with God; the father and mother of the human race were with them. They were strong in body, and noble in stature and
in mind. The mixture of the sons of God with the fairest of earth's daughters, was in their composition; a proud, renowned race, eminent in shape and gesture, and with intellectual faculties probably quite as gigantic as their size. They might have grown to a knowledge of God, and a height of moral loveliness, which might almost have evaded the sentence of mortality, and caused the translation of the
whole race, like that of Enoch. A ladder was let down to them from heaven; but instead of rising thither, they employed every endowment of being, and every capability of life for growth in wickedness, and corrupted themselves to such a height before God, that their sufferance on the earth was no longer possible. So much for human perfectibility! Such is fallen, wretched, graceless, human nature!
2. I have spoken of the darkness that hangs over the life of the antediluvians. The extreme conciseness and paucity of detail in the sacred history concerning them are remarkable. We may draw from it a salutary lesson. Their space in the world's existence amounted almost to one-third of its whole being thus far; for, of the sixty centuries that have nearly elapsed, from creation's dawn to the present moment, their busy transit occupied not much less than two thousand years; and of the four thousand years over which the Bible ranges its sacred perspective, the wickedness of the antediluvians consumed almost half; and yet not a two hundredth part of the inspiration of the Scriptures is conceded to their notice. If they themselves could have drawn up for future times even an abridgment of all that they expected to be known, and thought worthy to be known in regard to them, the history of the world before the flood, would have occupied more space than that of all ages since; and we should have had an antediluvian Bible, emblazoned all over with the record of their glorious achievements; and doubtless it would have been a most striking, a most extraordinary history. All elements of human greatness, as well as of human wickedness, would have entered into its composition; for there can scarcely be a doubt that the intellectual faculties of men wrought on a scale as gigantic as their passions, so that, by the time the flood came, the earth must have been covered with memorials of most surpassing grandeur. The very first born of Adam, the murderer of his brother, when the volcano of passion had a little burned out, and he had somewhat recovered from the tempest of madness and remorse of conscience, builded a city, impressing upon its stupendous architecture all the energy of a mind of gigantic strength, and instead of giving it a name that might have connected it sacredly with heaven, indulged a mixture of paternal fondness and ambition, and called it after the name of his first born son. But of all the grandeur that might have grown in time to be characteristic of the first city, and of all the countless temples and palaces whelmed beneath the deluge, not a vestige was preserved for after admiration, even in description; and of all monuments of genius, in history, poetry, biography, or whatever other shape the mind of antediluvian antiquity might choose for its creations, though there may have been libraries larger than that of all the Ptolemies, it is doubtful if Noah deigned to take one solitary leaf into the ark, to be preserved amidst the waste of waters. Over all achievements of fame, all wonders of genius, all events of history, in which the actors anticipated an immortality of glory, the pen of inspiration draws a blank; it is a parcel of insignificant rubbish; it is like the chaos of an unformed world; it
is all passed over in forgetfulness, and the record of their life is comprehended in the merest affirmation of mortality-he died.
Only one event is recorded alike of them all, no matter what may have been their situation in life, whether princes of the earth, surrounded with grandeur, or beggars in rags upon the dunghill. They may have amassed wealth beyond the possibility of computation, they may have enlarged the bounds of science, and filled the world with the fame of their discoveries, they may have traveled into distant lands, and brought back volumes of knowledge, they may have possessed an eloquence like that of angels, they may have written poetry worthy the abodes of Paradise, they may have founded empires, and given systems of law to communities, they may have been poets, orators, statesmen, philosophers, they may have done all that makes the name of mortals great, they have been the Homers, the Virgils, the Newtons, the Bacons, the Shakspeares, the Miltons of their age;but with all this, the history of their life is reduced down to the bald, unvaried epitaph, he died. There would be all varieties of existence among them as among us; some whose rank and connexions in life would place them at the summit of society, and others whose powers of conversation made them the admired in every circle, and others whose days were crowded with events of wonder, and others whose domestic relations were full of beauty and of tenderness, and others of a glowing imagination, and others of a vast reach of mind, and others of angelic symmetry and strength of body;-and yet it is all annihilated in that one simple record, he died.
There would be, in the progress of antediluvian existence, all materials that ever combine to raise the record of a man's days from obscurity and insignificance, all that we ever look upon as constituting fit stuff for the tissue of a magnificent history, or a grand and glowing biography; they must have attained all that in the world's view is worth living for; they must have accomplished all, that in the eye of ambition constitutes a ground for that immortality of fame, which the fallen mind thirsts after; actions to draw a world's applause, inventions and discoveries of surprising ingenuity, systems of science and philosophy, all forms of greatness realized ;-and yet it is all disposed of and confined within the annals of two words, he died.
Once in the flight of ages past,
There lived a man:-and who was he?
He saw whatever thou hast seen,
The annals of the human race,
Now it is scarcely possible to read a more affecting and instructive lesson than the Holy Spirit has thus transmitted for our consideration, as to the worthlessness of all mere mortal grandeur in the eye of God. The pleasure, wealth, power, knowledge, glory, of ten centuries crowded into one life, with all the changes and shows of a human existence, continued through a period which with us suffices for the transit of nearly thirty generations, are just as unnoticed as if they had never had an existence. Except so far as these things bear upon our eternal destiny, (the point which with most men is left as utterly out of consideration as if there were no eternal destiny,) it is absolutely regarded as of no account whatever, whether a man were poor or rich, learned or unlearned, lofty or lowly, wise or ignorant, whether he were a Newton or a Hottentot, a Milton or a chimney-sweep, a Bacon or the inmate of a mad-house, an Alexander or a beggar in the street. Considered apart from the fact of his probationary state, the enjoyments or events in the life of the most distinguished of mortals, though it were protracted to a period beyond that of the oldest antediluvian, are absolutely of no more importance, in comparison with the idea of an endless duration, than the movements of a new-born babe the first day of its existence. You might compress the possession of all the royalty and luxury of all the monarchs of the earth, and all the glory of the whole world's warriors, statesmen and nobility, and all the wisdom and fame of all the world's poets and philosophers, into the experience of one mind, and the period of one life, and yet, in itself, and for itself, without reference to God, it is nothing, absolutely not worth naming; considered with reference to eternity, it dwindles to a point; with reference to happiness, it is gone like the ticking of a clock, and is of no more value than the pulsations in the veins of the smallest microscopic insect. The only thing of absolute value is that which connects us with God, and makes us partakers of his holiness; all things else are baubles. Crowns are playthings, dukedoms and dominions of no more importance than the grains of sand that go to make up an ant hill.
3. The consideration of the great age of the antediluvians, and its effect upon their state on earth, might lead to some faint conception of what an Apostle calls the power of an endless life.
It may do this in two ways;-first, the power of such a life for the increase of holiness;-second, in the progressive accumulation of depravity. Enoch lived 365 years; as many years as there are days in the year; an existence beyond the period of three centuries and a half;-and by the faithful improvement of his privileges through the grace of God during this short period, short in comparison with the ordinary antediluvian age, though long in comparison with our age, for a saint's earthly walk with God, he became so holy, that in the strikingly simple and energetic language of the scriptures, God took him. He passed into God's immediate and blissful presence, without passing through the dark valley of the shadow of death. He became so holy, that perhaps death was not needed to set the final seal of perfect puri