Leonard Withington.

Solomon's song: translated and explained, in three parts online

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* It must be allowed that other symbols beside historic events gener-
ate the double sense.


plied to the spreading of the Gospel and the recovery
of our world.

When we consider that, in the order of things, no
individual exists which does not belong to a class and
have a reference to its own individuality and to the
class to which it belongs, we may say that something
of the double sense pervades all nature. We know
of nothing whose whole signification is confined to it-
self. Cicero saw this ; for he makes Antony (in his
dialogue, De Oratore) censure the pedants who divided
all causes into the individual and general ; for he says :
" Ignari omnes controversias ad universi generis vim et
naturam referri" (Lib. II. §31), — "They are igno-
rant that all controversies belong in force and nature
to general questions." We cannot imagine an object
in existence — except God and the universe — which
does not indicate the species or genus to which it be-
longs ; and surely the fall of Babylon, or the deliver-
ance from Egypt, must bear some similitude, and of
course give some indication of all the other inflic-
tions and deliverances by which God manifests his
protection of his people and the progress of his king-

It is a general law, that the double sense should indi-
cate itself not only by its magnificence and oneness,
but also by other unmistakable signals. There is a
general form which it adopts as certain as any other
law of language. As in the imagery which Homer or


Milton applies to Heaven, so in the expressions which
look beyond the passing event, their pregnancy shows
their design. When Apollo comes down from heaven,
his quiver rattles on his shoulders, his arrows fly ; but
they are invisible, and they produce malignant disease
and death ; and from the circumstances of the Grecian
army, exposed on the marshes around Troy and under
an Oriental sun, and from the mythological character
of Apollo, these celestial arrows must be sunbeams.
No mistake here. So in the Seventy-second Psalm,
when it is said : " And great shall be his prosperity
as long as the moon endureth." (Noyes's translation.)
And again : —

" He shall prosper, and to him shall be given the gold of Sheba :
Prayer, also, shall be made for him continually,
And daily shall he be praised.
There shall be abundance of corn in the land ;

Even on the tops of the mountains the fruit shall shake like Lebanon ;
And they of the cities shall flourish like grass of the earth.
His name shall endure forever;
His name shall be continued as long as the sun;
By him shall men bless themselves ;
All nations shall call him blessed."

Surely it is as plain that this is not solely said of
Solomon, as that Apollo's arrows are not literal ones,
for we are reduced to this alternative, — either that
the sacred writer has used enormous hyperboles, vio-
lating taste as much as truth, and ancient taste as
much as modern, or we must conclude he has some-


thing analogous, but something deeper than the sur-
face-meaning ; and as to what has been said, and so
idly repeated, — " Quae interpretandi ratio, qua una ea-
demque oratione, dispari sensu accepta, plures simul
eventus disjunctos tempore, natura dissimiles desig-
nari statuatur, ab omnibus rectae interpretandi artis
praeceptis ita aliena est, ut qui in Graeco aut Ro-
mano aliquo scriptore adhibere illam velit, is in commu-
nem prudentiorum reprehensionem incurreret," — can
there be anything in this objection ? In the first place,
as to the fact that the Greek and Roman writers have
no specimens of this under-meaning. Whenever they
approach the field of double authorship and imaginary
inspiration, they give plain indications that they are
forced upon similar exigencies ; they conform as much
as their barren religion allowed them to conform to
similar language. The very wolf that suckled Romu-
lus was a double being, — partly literal and partly a
symbol of what Rome was to be. But, secondly, if
the Greeks and Romans never had used similar modes,
it would be nothing to the purpose. All language is
colored by its subject. The Hebrew writers stood on
]Deculiar ground. Their object was peculiar ; and, as
Paul tells us, they were TrvevixarLKoi^; TrvevfiarLKa auy-
Kplvovre<;, explaining spiritual ideas in a spiritual ter-
minology. It is not true, moreover, that the events
brought together, though disjunctos tempore, are natura
dissimiles, — dissimilar in nature. The Jewish econ-


omy was one great preparation ; the culminating point
was always before them. Every king was a Messiah
or an anointed one ; they stood in a long line of
succession, the great Messiah closing the procession.
Every king not only resembled hirn, but actually pre-
pared the way. The prophets supposed themselves
inspired by an all-foreseeing Mind. They did not pre-
tend to understand all they said. Their brightest vis-
ions were partial revelations ; and they had before them
an illustrious history, very illustrious, but very indefi-
nite as to time and extent. Now, in such cases, was
it unnatural — was it not almost necessary — that they
should fall into that line of revelation which the best
interpreters (such as Lowth, for example) have im-
puted to them ? Instead of finding any difficulty in
one great under-meaning, I should have been very
much astonished had it not been so.

When a writer or speaker in any time or language
has some dark communication to make, it is a good
rule of interpretation to find his end or terminating
point. We interpret his prj/iara by his 6 \6yo<;. Thus
when Tiresias comes upon the stage, in the (Edipus
Tyrannus, or Clytemnestra in the Agamemnon of JEs-
chylus, their language is very obscure, — designedly
so ; and in the case of (Edipus, for example, we always
forerun him in understanding the prophet's language.
We almost wonder at his dulness. We forget that
\6yo<; is always before us. We see the end. It is


just SO ill reading the sacred prophets. It is expected,
it is the design, it is the wisdom, it is the beauty of
prophecy, that loe should understand it better than
those to whom it was first uttered, or at least that
we should have a key which they had not. Surely
the development reflects back on the antecedent indi-
cations. The enigma which the great Author himself
has explained is solved forever.

However, there is abundance of indication that this
mode was common to all nations. It violates no law
of language, because it violates no custom. It intro-
duces no obscurity, except an intentional and tempo-
rary one. It is founded on this great principle, that
A FACT MAY BE A SYMBOL ; and wlicn a nation or the
taste of the age abounds in symbols, and has a taste
for them, why should they not sometimes, often^ take
facts ? A myth is a fact exaggerated and shaped so
as to be a symbol. But if fiction can answer this
purpose, why not truth ? If the story of the fall of
Adam, considered as a myth, shows the propensity to
and prevalence of sin, how much more does it impress
that idea considered as a fact ! The story of Christ is
an idea, to impress a useful lesson, says Strauss. Very
well ; the idea becames doubly impressive when it is
supported by the fact.

Two considerations are important : —

I. In the first place, we may say the double sense
arises from the general law of development in human


language. Language — written language — begins by
picture-writing, as we see in the rude specimens left
by our Iroquois ; then it proceeds to symbolic pictures,
and finally to an alphabet, or phonic sounds. During
all the time when symbol-signs prevail previously to the
invention of letters, the whole art of writing depends
on a sort of double sense. The art of reading is the
art of interpreting these latent symbols. A dove may
signify love, or meekness ; a lion, a hero ; a dog, fidel-
ity ; one man leading another by a string (as is actually
seen in the relics of the Iroquois preserved in the
Documentary History of New York, Yol. I. p. 13) may
signify a victory in which captives were taken. Thus
springs up from necessity a symbolic meaning joined
to the literal, or, in other words, the double sense.
But, as Dr. Warburton observes (Divine Legation, Yol.
11. p. 143), "that which had its origin from necessity
came in time to be employed for secrecy and improved
for ornament." It long lingered in the primitive lan-
guages which had escaped from the narrow limits of
picture-writing. Their taste had been formed on it ;
it was regarded as a great beauty, and it was even still
necessary to convey the great impressions which the
Hebrew writers aimed to produce. When they wished,
therefore, to produce by anticipation the conception of
John the Baptist, they call him Elias, or, as we should
say, an Elias. To picture the kingdom of Christ, they
portray the expanded reign of Solomon. This was all



natural, and almost necessary, in the line of linguistic
improvement in which they then stood. Instead of
its being true, as Michaelis has said, and others have
ingeminated, that such a mode is " peculiar to the
sacred poetry of the Hebrews, that the sacred writing
must be interpreted by rules in every respect different
from other writings," (see Note on Lowth's Ninth
Lecture,) I should say nothing can be more natural ;
it is all but a necessary law ; it marks the dawn of
literature ; it is just as natural as some of Homer's
infantine expressions ; so impossible to be used now,
and therefore such exquisite proofs of the genius of
the man and the age.

We say, then, that double sense arises from the form
of language and the grade of its progress in that early
age. But again,

n. It arises from the double authorship of the Bible
and the double object of most of the prophecies. Most
of the Psalms and the prophecies had some occasional
subject, — some incident in a greater chain. The first
meaning arrests the attention of the contemporary
speaker ; but the inspiring spirit is supposed to have
a deeper intent ; of course God sees farther than man,
and this recondite meaning is one of the signals of
inspiration. It is an exquisite proof and character-
istic of the presence and wisdom of the wiser mind.
All this is exemplified in the unwilling prophecy of
Caiaphas (John xi. 47-52) : " Then gathered the chief


priests and the Pharisees a council, and said. What
shall we do ? for this man doth many miracles. If we
let him alone, all men will believe on him, and the
Romans will come and take away both our place and
nation. And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the
high-priest that same year, said unto them. Ye know
nothing at all ; nor consider that it is expedient for
us that one man should die for the people, and that
the whole nation perish not. And this he spake not
of himself; but, being high-priest that year, he proph-
esied that Jesus should die for that nation ; and not
for that nation only, but that also he should gather
together in one the children of God that were scat-
tered abroad." Who does not see the deeper purpose
of the Power that overruled his speech beyond his
meaning? All the high-priest intended was to teach
the doctrine of expediency. It is true, he concedes
Christ may not be guilty according to any positive
law, — certainly not the Roman law ; but it is neces-
sary for our safety that he should die. The high-priest
looked no further, — he meant no more. But God over-
ruled his words to a higher purpose, and this unwil-
ling testimony was very striking. Such prophecies
have always been considered as an example of God's
speaking through the voice of man. Shakespeare
has used this proof of double authorship in the scene
between Margaret and Richard (Richard III., Act I.
Scene 3) : —


Gloster. Have done thy charm, thou hateful, withered hag.

Q. Margaret. And leave out thee 1 Stay, dog, for thou shalt hear me !
If Heaven have any grievous plague in store
Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee,
O let them keep it till thy sins be ripe,
And then hurl down their indignation
On thee, the troubler of the poor world's peace !
The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul !
Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou livest,
And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends !
No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
Unless it be while some tormenting dream
Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils ;
Thou elvish-marked, abortive, rooting hog !
Thou that wast sealed in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell !
Thou slander of thy mother's heavy womb !
Thou loathed issue of thy father's loins !
Thou rag of honor ! thou detested

Glos. Margaret.

Q. Mar. Richard !

Glos. Ha 1

Q. Mar. I c^U thee not.

Glos. I cry thee mercy, then ; for I did think
That thou didst call me all these bitter names.

Q. Mar. Why so I did ; but looked for no reply.
O let me make the period to my curse.

Glos. 'T is done by me ; and ends in — Margaret.

Q. Eliz. Thus have you breathed your curse against yourself.

Every one, I think, must see the poet's design in
this dialogue. It is to make Queen Margaret the un-
conscious instrument in the hand of Providence of
pronouncing a curse against herself; just as, when
Samuel turned from Saul, and he caught hold of the


garment and it rent (1 Samuel xv. 48), the prophet
seizes the occasion to say to the king : '' The Lord
hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day,
and hath given it to a neighbor of thine which is
better than thou." A wise Providence can use the
simplest incident as a sign. Such seems to be the
spirit of the narrative. When Paulus ^milius was
appointed to conduct the war against Macedon, he
returned home to meet his little daughter at the door,
who told her father that Perses (the name of her lap-
dog) was dead. It was the name also of the Mace-
donian king. He embraced the child with rapture,
and received the words as a prediction of the fall of
his regal foe. Here we have the double sense. The
girl meant her little dog was dead. The father sup-
posed he saw a deeper signification, and what gave
a charm to the incident was, that the gods were be-
lieved to overrule such a trifle to signify their high,
celestial will. As Xenophon has told us of Socrates,
those that use auguries, and voices, and symbols, &c.,
do not imagine that the birds, and the speakers, and
the portents themselves, know what conduces to our
future prosperity, but that the gods by these things
signify our welfare ; — so at least thought Socrates.
Now, it would have been very strange if the Hebrews
had not imbibed such an opinion, for the whole theoc-
racy was inwoven with significations of the Divine will.
The waters of jealousy implied a perpetual presence of


a miraculous providence. The Urim and Thummim,
the seer, the ephod, &c., postulated the idea that God
to them was always present ; and nothing was more nat-
ural, not to say necessary, than that they should seek
these Divine intimations in one great under-meaning.
It arose from the magnificent ultimate design of their
great economy.

It is often asked, why the Bible should be subject
to laws applicable to no other book. The answer is
obvious. Properly speaking, the Bible is subjected to
no unusual laws. When it is said the Bible must
be interpreted like any other book, a great fallacy is
often suggested. We interpret the Bible like any other
book, supposing it possible to place any other book in
similar circumstances. The very heathen themselves,
when they supposed the writing inspired, imputed a
double sense to it. It is an everlasting law, — it is
perfectly natural. The Deity has a deeper meaning
than mortals.

One of the clearest examples is found in Acts ii.
25. The occasion was important, the speaker was
inspired, and the audience versed in the Old Testa-
ment. It was Peter's first discourse to prove the
divine origin of the Gospel he was called upon to
proclaim. He was to set the key-note and to build
his conclusions on a strong foundation. Prophecy is
his foundation, and he quotes the Sixteenth Psalm,
verses 8 - 10 : "I have set the Lord always before


me ; because he is on my right hand, I shall not
be moved. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory
rejoiceth ; my flesh also shall rest in hope ; for thou
wilt not leave my soul in hell ; neither wilt thou suffer
thine Holy One to see corruption." Peter does not
quote the Hebrew, but the Septuagint, and hence the
variation in the words between the Old Testament
and the Apostle's quotation. The sense, however, is
the same. When we turn to the Psalm, we find not
the least hint that David was speaking of any other
except himself. The Psalm seems to be simple and
clear ; the inscription gives it to David ; he is speak-
ing of himself through the whole course of it, and
in these verses it is " my right hand," " my heart,"
"my glory;" and yet the Apostle tells us, both nega-
tively and positively, that it does not in his own ap-
plication of it apply to David, and it does apply to
Christ. "Men and brethren, Let me freely speak"
(fiera Tropprjala^;, a phrase which the Apostles often
use when they are deducing the Gospel from some
latent passage in the Old Testament, and it may be
rendered. Let me burst away from the old, narrow ap-
plication) " unto you of the patriarch David, that he
is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with
us unto this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and
knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him,
that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh,
he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne ; he.


seeing this before, speaks of the resurrection of Christ,
that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh
did see corruption." So in the thirty-fourth verse he
says : " For David is not ascended into heaven," &c.
Now it seems to me impossible for language to be
more explicit. We have a double affirmation, — what
is and what is not ; and I see no way in which we
can meet the Apostle's expression but by allowing that
he finds an under-meaning in David's words. Their
whole force was not exhausted in him ; and if any
one should ask. How is it then a prediction, if no one
so understood it before the fulfilment, and no such
meaning is necessitated by the laws of language, —
we answer : First, that prophecy occupies all the va-
rieties of prediction, the latent hint and the clear
expression, and it may be the design of God in this
case to give us one of the forms which to the Jew
was very impressive. Besides, it is obvious that David
is feeling after some deeper thought, — some vast
idea which he does not fully comprehend and hardly
knows how to manage. The conception of immortality
through a resurrection seems to be before him, and
the author of that resurrection was to be Christ. Pe-
ter unfolded the idea, the germ of which was in the
patriarch's mind.

We have here, then, a clear example of an inspired
Apostle arguing the proof of the Gospel from a pas-
sage applicable only through a double sense.


We should hardly look to Archbishop Leighton for
acute criticism on Scripture ; he had no taste for
philology and little confidence in learned speculation;
but he sometimes sees by intuition what others must
find by long research, and he has in one of his dis-
courses this profound remark, which I would recom-
mend to all such as overlook the truth because it lies
so near them : " That which some call divers senses
of the same Scripture, is indeed but divers parts of
one full sense." (Select Works, Edinburgh ed., 1744,
Sect. TV. p. 47.) It seems to me this is an important
truth uttered without the least parade.

The great art of interpreting this ancient volume
— the Bible — seems to be to modernize it ; that is, to
make its instructions bear with equal force on modern
times as on ancient institutions. The forms of the old
world have perished ; but the sacred lesson is perma-
nent. Now there are two ways of modernizing these
old instructions. One is to see the precedents, — involv-
ing in temporary events eternal principles ; the other
is a legitimate use of the under-meaning ; such a use as
does not lead to the old extravagance. Now I contend
there is a use justified by eternal truth and confirmed
by eternal laws. The very fact, too, that this mode of
interpreting harmonizes the Old Testament and the
New, gives it importance. If you do not adopt it, you
are in danger of falling into a barren neology, or the
old Jewish contradiction. The golden thread is broken.


The Frenchman who saw Othello performed, and, not
well understanding the language, supposed the hero
was raying about the loss of a handkerchief, was in the
exact condition of a philologer reading his Bible with-
out the under-meaning. He loses the spirit of an-
tiquity, the fulness of meaning, the force of prophecy,
the comprehensive sublimity of the design, the author-
ity of inspiration, and he stands on a slippery grade,
where he is in danger of sliding down to the lowest
and most barren views of revelation, if he is not par-
tially saved by a happy inconsistency.

It is therefore no violation of a Hebrew custom to
suppose this divine Song to be an allegory. Indeed,
the latent and allegorical mutually imply each other.*

* Perhaps it is not considered that logic implies a double sense in every
object we see, — the individual and the generic, — a house, a field, a tree.
Nothing meets the mind without its classifying appendage. We never
suppose ourselves to know a thing until we can assign it its rank, or class.
In a similar way the double sense of Scripture arises. For example, deliv-
erance from the Babylonish captivity, a sample of all gracious deliverances,
with our great Christian redemption prominent at the head of them. It is
but an emphatic specimen of the double sense that pervades all creation.
Every object in existence has two significations, — itself and the genus to
which it belongs ; and it is by this double signification that we know how
to give it a name.




Perhaps it may raise a wonder that a book giving
important instruction on such topics as the Bible
should employ as its chosen instruments the indefinites
of fancy, the coloring of poetry, that it should veil
its doctrines in figures of speech, and that it should
seem so often to sacrifce the understanding to the
heart. In later times men choose for religion a more
accurate method ; they choose a system, a definition, a
syllogism, a demonstration; whereas the Spirit of God,
in its enlightening and inspiring influences, chooses a
song, an allegory, a figure of speech, a painted cloud,
bright as the morning sun, but far less certain in its
glory or its light. This is a method which our second
thoughts only pronounce to be wise. Our first objec-
tions to it lead to the last discovery.

Now the solution is, that this method, with refer-
ence to the peculiar subject of religion, is not only
more impressive, but even more clear, than one more
didactic and more metaphysical. Men are always form-
ing systems, — drawing nice lines, in morals as well as


mathematics ; they are fond of points without mag-
nitude and lines without breadth and thickness ; and
from these fixed ideas they hope to draw certain
demonstrations. But it is not so in the kingdom of
Nature. Look round the world. Who can tell us
where the sea commences and the dry land ends ? How
high must the swelling mound be to pass from a hill
into a mountain ? When does a shrub rise into a tree,
and what is the difference between an elegant house
and a palace ? Is New Holland an island or a con-
tinent, or are the Bermuda Islands in the West In-
dies or not ? Nature delights to make her works
perfectly obvious without nice lines, and she seems
to say to man, You must understand me on these con-
ditions. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as
metaphysics, and still less have the metaphysical sci-
ences shed light on religion. As I consider this as
one of the greatest discoveries of modern times, allow
me to illustrate and prove this important conclusion.

For the sake of method, we will first state what we
mean by metaphysics ; secondly, show that it is an

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Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonSolomon's song: translated and explained, in three parts → online text (page 11 of 20)