Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

correct conceptions of God, but was regarded as His law, which it was the purpose of His government to uphold. Thus, in The Maxims of Ptahhotep, “the most ancient book in the world," written three centuries before the birth of Moses,' we have the moral influence of these important truths expressed. “The field which God hath given thee to till. If any one bear himself proudly, he will be humbled by God, who maketh his strength. If thou art a wise man, bring up thy son in the love of God. Thy treasure has grown through the gift of God. God loveth the obedient and hateth the evil' (p. 100).

The author of this treatise, who lived in the reign of Assa Tatkarâ, of the fifth dynasty, appeals to the authority of the ancients, and thus shows that he was not the originator of these maxims, but a reformer calling back his generation to the greater purity of their fathers. On a similar mission, some time afterwards, Abraham honourably sojourned in Egypt. And at a later date, Joseph and his family exhibited before the Egyptians the worship and service of the living God. During this period the invasion of the Shepherds occurred, by which they had a loud call to repent and turn from the lying vanities in which they had trusted. The means by which the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, were not only a severe chastisement of the Egyptians for their injustice and oppression, and of Pharaoh for his impious defiance of the Lord, but they were especially an 'execution of judgment on all the gods of Egypt,' whose contemptible impotence was shown all through the course of the 'plagues,' but became supreme as they themselves fell in the slaughter of the first-born. What lessons of equal moral power could have been chosen to teach a people the greatness of their folly and sin ?

We may here summarize the facts bearing on the religious history of ancient Egypt. At the beginning they had a knowledge of one righteous Creator and Ruler, who exercised a real government over men, to whom they could draw nigh, and in whose love they could be trained. Means were used to preserve this knowledge, which was not a theory or speculation, as passages like the following show :

God and Lord, who hast made me and formed me, give me an eye to see and an ear to hear Thy glories.' And it was not till the friendly and the severe means of recovery had

O my

proved ineffectual, that they passed beyond the sphere of special paternal rule.

That there should have been the greatest possible care taken to recover the Egyptians from their idolatry and its perverting effects, cannot appear strange to any one who has considered their wide and important relations to the world. So far back as we can trace them, they possessed the most complete political and social organization; their knowledge of those arts which conduce to the refinement of social life surpassed their contemporaries in other lands; and they were sufficiently numerous, skilful, and brave to keep their land against their foes. Their early development of a highclassed civilisation may in some measure be accounted for by their position, in a country which compelled proximity of residence, and a careful use of their limited space for the maintenance of their increasing numbers. While others dwelt in tents, they built for themselves houses and cities of habitation,' in which they cultivated that 'wisdom' which made them the teachers of other nations, in some respects, for all time. It was not merely in the earliest days that they were important, but from the relative position of Egypt to other nations, it

has been, and must be, of immense influence on the world. As the pathway to the East, and as next neighbour and tutor to the Greeks, in medieval times, both commercially and intellectually, it was the first kingdom of the world. No other nation had as wide an influence, nor kept it as long. And even now, when for their idolatry they have become the basest of people, their country is the highway of commerce, and the disinterred memorials of their earliest times are the only complete and authentic history of a primitive people. Taking their whole national course into account, we find no people, save the Jews, who have made as long and as distinct a mark on the nations as they. In the light of our present discussion, then, was it not to be expected that special interposition for their recovery from a vain and degrading idolatry should take place ? Who can measure the benefit to the world which would have resulted from the retention of a pure, true, and spiritual worship by Egypt, the teacher of Greece, and the pattern of refinement to the ancient world?

Next in point of antiquity is the Iranian branch of the Aryan family, whose religion is first presented to us under the form it acquired by the reformation of Zoroaster, who is supposed by Max Müller to have lived about the time of Abraham. The Zend-Avesta, the Bible of this religion, ‘boldly declares that at the head of the good intelligences is the Great Intelligence Ahurô Magdâo, whose name has been variously rendered by different scholars as the Great Giver of Life, the Living Wise, the Living Creator of all, the Divine MuchGiving; and that he is the highest object of adoration, the true creator, preserver, and governor of the universe. He is represented as supremely happy. From him comes all good to man. On the pious and the righteous he bestows not only earthly advantages, but precious spiritual gifts, truth, devotion, the good mind, and everlasting happiness; and as he rewards the good, so he punishes the bad' (Rawlinson's Ancient Monarchies, vol. iii. p. 96).

Here we have not only an acknowledgment of the existence of a Creator and Sustainer of the universe, but also of His constant operation as the Ruler, who bestows all good on man, who is the object of real worship, and the author of virtuous disposition in man.

But this does not profess to be a new religion, nor

« ÎnapoiContinuați »