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IN THE BOOK OF JOB, THE MOST ANCIENT POEM IN THE WORLD, WE · HAVE SUCH PAINTINGS AND DESCRITIONS AS ARE TRANSCENDENTLY ABOVE THE MOST CELEBRATED HEATHEN WRITERS; WHEREBY WE MAY PERCEIVE HOW FAINT AND LANGUID. THE IMAGES ARE WHICH ARE FORMED BY MORTAL AUTHORS; WHEN COMPARED WITH THOSE : WHICH ARE FIGURED, AS IT WERE, JUST AS THEY APPEAR IN THE EYE. OF THE CREATOR,
TARIOUS are the conjectures of the learned, in regard to
this grand exemplar of heroic virtue, and this most excel
lent, and fublime portion of sacred writ. There are some, who peremptorily insist, that there never was any such illustrious personage in being; and that the whole composition is mere invention, and in every respect as much an allegory composed only for the instruction of mankind, as any of our Saviour's parables which are recorded in the New Testament.
The number, “however, of the advocates for this opinion are, comparatively speaking, but few; since it is very evident, from several paffages, interspersed throughout the sacred scriptures, that this narrative is matter of fact; that there really was in ancient times a great and powerful prince of this name, distinguished by his immense riches, his extensive power, and what is more, his exemplary and 'heroic virtues. We find him mentioned, in the OLD TESTAMENT, in company with Noah and Daniel, and there particularly commemorated for his fanctity of manners ; and recorded in the New, as a peculiar and exalted pattern of patience and resignation to the Divine Will; and it cannot fairly be imagined, that the Spirit of God would, in any part of the inspired writings, introduce a visionary Being as the object of our imitation.
Others again, not only allow, that this book was written by some inspired penman, though by whom in particular they are at a loss to determine, but as strenuoully assert, as the others deny, that the whole contains a regular narration of facts, without the interposition of any fiction whatsoever ; and for that reason look on it, as a beautiful, and sublime historical poem.
There are another class of criticks and commentators, and these indeed are very numerous, who steer a middle course, that is to say, who maintain, that this portion of scripture is grounded on as true history, as those of Homer and VIRGIL; yet still, fay they, it is an historical poem; and the conduct, the mode, the scenes, machines, and other incidents, carry along with them, very visibly, the marks of contrivance; and were, doubtless, formed only in the Poet's imagination; that is to say, in other words, that a great part of it is dramatical, and an ingenious, instructive fiction, mixed with realities.
As for those who affirm there never was such a person as JOB, their notion, for the reasons before-mentioned, must be false and groundless; but since there are very specious arguments to be offered for the contrary affertion, we shall produce some few of them that appear to be most weighty and important; without presuming to pass a definitive sentence, and decide a controversy, where fo much has and may be said by the learned on both sides, in sup· port of their respective opinions,
Those then, who are advocates for the reality of this history peremptorily insist, that the SACRED SCRIPTURES ought at all times, and in all places, to be construed in their literal sense, wherever they will bear it, and that they ought not to be wrested, unless where an absolute necessity requires : that there is no article throughout the whole narration, but what lies within the compass of poflibility : and in case some part of it may seem less credible than others, yet in all ages of the world many occurrences that appeared very strange and surprizing, have been incontestibly proved to be real facts : and such, in this work, as may with some air of plausibility, be filed marvellous are recorded, not only to engage our curiosity and attention, but to inítruct and improve us, and are principally owing to the poetical dress in which the story is conceived: that to admit of an allegorical meaning in the interpretation of sacred Writ, is a concession of a very fatal and dangerous consequence, and has not only a manifest tendency towards making men dubious and unsettled, but contributes too much towards taking off that reverential awe which all mankind should have for divine revelation.
Those, on the other hand, who are of opinion, that the princi. pal parts of the narrative are fabulous, and the result of invention only, alledge, that it is highly improbable, SATAN should appear before the ALMIGHTY, and presume to enter into a debate with him before the Holy Angels: that it is equally improbable, such a number of messengers should so closely follow one another, to make their melancholy reports to their lord and master : that . it cannot fairly be supposed, that Job, in the height of his affliction, should fit such a long time among the alhes ; and that his friends, who were probably his relations, should so far commiserate his deplorable condition, as to attend him for seven days and nights successively, without so much as opening their mouths for fear of aggravating his sorrows: that it is equally unnatural to imagine, that when they did venture to condole with him, that their conferences with him should be so warm, and so prolix; or, that Job, under the weight of so many complicated maladies, should be so cool and sedate, as to make use of such a number of beautiful fimilies, and so many metaphorical expressions in his expostulations with his visitors, and misguided friends: that the conduct of the story carries with it visibly enough an air of romance, for it is very incredible, at least, if not morally impossible, that