EVERY great historian should be no dull registrar of events, but a prophet, standing, like him of old, amid the careless riot and luxurious banqueting of life, and teaching men to decipher that gleaming message of God, written, as with the fingers of a man's hand, on the parliament of nations and the palaces of kings, that what is morally just must be politically expedient, that " what is morally wrong cannot be politically right." And in doing this the Hebrew prophets have been our truest teachers, nor have any teachers ever enforced that great lesson with such Divine insight, with such unalterable certitude, with such passionate intensity as they. Around their little insignificant strip of plain, and hill, and valley, towered the colossal kingdoms of a cruel and splendid heathendom; but to their enlightened eyes these, in their guiltiness, were but phantoms on their way to ruin, casting a weird and sombre shadow athwart the sunlit horizons of a certain hope. What matter their force, their splendour, their multitude, if they stand before the slow-moving chariot of the Eternal God ? Is it the Kenite? "Strong is thy dwelling-place, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock; nevertheless the Kenite shall be wasted." Is it Assyria ? " The Lord, the Lord of Hosts, shall send among his fat ones leanness, and kindle under his glory a burning fire." Is it Egypt? Her wise magicians shall be smitten with fatuity, and the papyrus of her rivers fade. Is it golden Babylon, the city of the oppressor? The dead, moved at his coming, ask her king with gibbering taunts, " Art thou also become weak as we ? art thou become like unto us ? " Is it purple Tyrus with her priceless merchandise ? " Take a harp, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten." And so with all. "The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters, but God shall rebuke them; and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind. And behold at eveningtide trouble; and before the morning he is not." "This," exclaims the prophet in a flame of triumphant zeal, " this is the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us".
Thus over the heads of the enemies of Israel did her prophets roll, like a Pyriphlegethon of living fire, the denunciation of God's wrath on sin. Never had any nation been taught that lesson as Israel had been taught it, from the fearful eloquence of the maledictions upon Ebal, down to the days when Isaiah wailed his dirge over " Ariel, the Lion of God, the city where David dwelt." Nor had they been taught by words alone. When Israel was yet a child God loved him, and out of Egypt He called His son. In the Old Testament we see that son grow up to life. Many were the sins, the follies, the apostasies of his youth. Can you point me to one folly which was not visited with its natural consequences? to one pleasant vice which did not become its own punishment ? to one sin which was not lashed with its own appropriate scourge? Then came the ruinous and crushing humiliation of the Babylonish Captivity. A remnant, which they themselves compared but to the chaff of the wheat, returned; and of the old temptation, the temptation to a sensual idolatry, they were cured for ever. But they were not saved from other sins. Keeping the form of their religion, they lost its spirit; from a living truth they suffered it to degenerate into a meaningless ritual, into a dead formula, into a hypocritical sham. They had for centuries been hoping, dreaming, talking of a Messiah, and their Messiah came; and how did they receive Him ? they received Him with yells of " Crucify." And there, in Scripture, at the Cross which consummated their iniquity, the story of their nation ends. But History, which proves the responsibility of nations — History adds its chapter to the Sacred Book. It shows how soon the wings of every vulture flapped heavily over the corpse of a nation that had fallen into moral death. Some of those who had shared in that scene, and myriads of their children, shared also in the long horror of that siege which, for its unutterable fearfulness, stands unparalleled in the story of mankind. They had shouted, " We have no king but Caesar," and they had no king but Caesar, and leaving only for a time the grotesque phantom of a local royalty, Caesar after Caesar outraged and pillaged them, till at last their Caesar slaked, in the blood of his best defenders, the red ashes of the desecrated Temple. They had forced the Romans to crucify their Christ; and they were themselves crucified in myriads by the Romans outside their walls, till room failed for the crosses, and wood to make them with. They had preferred a murderer to their Messiah, and for them there was no Messiah more, while a murderer's dagger swayed the last counsels of their dying race. They had accepted the guilt of blood, and the last pages of their history were glued together with that crimson stain; and, to this day, he who will walk round about Jerusalem sees in its ever-extending miles of gravestones and ever-lengthening pavements of tombs and sepulchres, a vivid emblem of that field which Judas bought with the price of his iniquity,—a potter's field to bury strangers in, an Akeldama, a Field of blood.
I turn from Judaea to the short but splendid tragedy of Athenian history; how short, how brilliant, how terrible, you all know well. Yes, we owe to Greece an infinite debt of intellectual gratitude. The exquisite ideal beauty of her race, the grace, the subtlety, the activity of her intellect, the perfection and supremacy of her art, the power and splendour of her literature, conferred upon her a wreath of unfading admiration. O had she but learned righteousness; had she but won the grace to obey, as she had received the insight to read that law written upon the fleshy tablets of her heart! But she chose otherwise; and now the world may learn as memorable a lesson from the rapidity of her fall, and the utterness of her extinction, as from all besides; for the ever-needed moral of that little hour in which she played her part upon the lighted stage is this, that intellect without holiness, beauty without purity, eloquence without conscience, art without religion, insight without love, are but blossoms whose root and life are in the corruption of the grave. All these gifts combined saved her not from being eaten away by that fretting leprosy of her favourite sins. With what fearful sternness was the career of Athens cut short! It was but ninety years after her handful of heroes had clashed into the countless hosts of Persia and routed them, that her walls were rased among the songs and shouts of her insulting enemies. Some who had seen the one might have seen the other. And when the hour of her ruin came, when, on that sleepless September night of terror and agony, down the long walls from the Peiraeus to the Acropolis rang that bitter unbroken wail which told that the fleet of Athens had been destroyed at Aegospotami; it is one of her own sons who tells us that it was the shameful consciousness of her former tyrannies, it was the avenging memory of Melos, and Torone, and Scione, that made that bitter hour more bitter still, by bidding her remember that even-handed Justice was but commending to her own lips the ingredients of that poisoned chalice which in the plenitude of her pride and selfishness she had forced the weak, and the defeated, and the unfortunate to drink. A great lesson doubtless, but the real lesson of Grecian history is deeper, more universal, more permanent than this; and surely in days when some men, in the worst spirit of the tainted and godless renaissance of the fifteenth century, are beginning shamelessly to preach a corrupt Hellenism, which regards sin forsooth with aesthetic toleration,—in days when we have read the thoughts of one calmly arguing an ideal so wretched and so base as that it is best to crowd life with the greatest number of pleasurable sensations,—in days when hearing has been found for theories of an artistic effeminacy, which, one hopes, would have made even Antisthenes and Epicurus blush,—it is time, I say, to read again the stigma of infamy which the Apostle branded for ever on the unblushful forehead of the paganism which he saw, that its sons "became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened;" that it was God Himself who gave them over to vile affections, and to a reprobate mind, because, " knowing the judgment of God, that they which do such things are worthy of death, they not only did the same, but had pleasure in them that did them".