Leonard Withington.

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

. (page 19 of 20)
Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonSolomon's song: translated and explained, in three parts → online text (page 19 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

wisdom of Grod, to make his Word, like his sun, a
common light. The Hebrew language had reached
that development above the hieroglyphic, above the
Chinese, below the Greek delicacy, whose finer shad-
ings are hard to preserve, — it had reached a develop-
ment to which every other tongue looks back as a stand-
point. It is the most translatable language in the
world. Then its subject is the most simple elements
of moral thought, — God, hope, fear, repentance, faith,
love, obedience, heaven and hell, — eternal ideas and
eternally recurring. Its writers, instead of appealing to
a metaphysical background, as modern theologians are
too fond of doing, appeal to a sacred history, — a body
of facts which shed light on every principle. They
appeal, also, to our inner breasts, the active and pas-
sive elements of our moral being. Then, as Lowth ob-
serves, " the Hebrews not only deduce their metaphors


from familiar or well-known objects, but preserve one
constant track and manner in the use and accommo-
dation of them." In Lect. VI. he instances the case of
light and darkness used for prosperity and adversity.
Then the Bible avoids the ambiguity of an abstract,
single word; the passions are often pictured, — as re-
pentance in Psalm li., gratitude in Psalm ciii., adora-
tion in Psalm civ. The omnipresence of God is pic-
tured in Psalm cxxxix., and his majesty and his mercy
in Isaiah xl. Who can doubt that the first chapter
of Genesis is adequate in all the translations ? "In the
beginning God created the heavens and the earth ; " —
what an important preparation for the whole book,
and how easily transferred to every tongue and people
through the whole earth ! The Apocalypse is a very
curious book, — so very dark, and yet almost nothing
depends on the translation. The emblems are the
same, in Greek, English, Mohawk, or Irish. Wherever
there is a material similitude, there is to be found an
adequate word. In fine, a wonderful provision is made
to produce an identity of instruction amidst a diversity
of translation. Dip the water of the river of life in
any vase, wood, glass, marble, gold, Wedgewood ware,
or terra-cotta vessels, it is still the water of the river
of life. No such sample of predominant thought over
every form of language is found (out of the mathe-
matics) in all the writings of antiquity. It seems like
the foresight of its Author.


It is surely an idle question to ask of such a book,
coming from such a source, whether the inspiration
was verbal. Here is an omniscient God, who fore-
knows all contingencies, and without whom a sparrow
does not fall to the ground ; he selects his chosen ves-
sel — Paul, for example — to communicate his revela-
tion to mankind. He knows his instrument, he knows
his turn of thought ; he encompasses his path while he
is writing, and surveys the work when it is done. All
contingencies fulfil his design. Now, with such an
inspirer, and such an instrument, can there be any
questioning as to the perfection of the work?


A WORD must be said respecting the canon of Scrip-
ture. The word canon means a rule; and when ap-
plied to Scripture, it means that authorized list or
catalogue of the books truly inspired and having Di-
vine authority. How was that list formed, and whence
did it derive its authority ? Every one sees, if there
is such a thing as inspiration pervading certain sepa-
rate compositions, they must form an important class ;
they must differ from other books, as a constellation
differs from a collection of lamps hung up in a tree
in an illuminated garden. They are likely to have
much to distinguish them, as Divine wisdom, subject,

manner, purity, authority, influence, testimony ; and as


successive ages have agreed in not confounding the
stars of heaven with illuminating lamps, so earnest men
would be likely to mark with definite limits the books
that guided their faith and imparted their consolation.
The objective, i. e. the real existence of such books,
acting on collective observation, would create a law. It
is well known there was a controversy between the Pa-
pists and Protestants concerning the formation of the
Canon. The Papists said — desirous of supporting ec-
clesiastical power — that the canon depended solely on
the authority of the Church. *' I should have no more
faith," said one of their writers, '' in Matthew than in
Titus Livy, were he not sanctioned by Church author-
ity ; " and they quoted the famous saying of Augustine:
" Non crederem Evangelistis nisi auctoritas Ecclesiae
me ad id faciendum commoveret," — " I should not be-
lieve the Evangelists, unless the authority of the Church
moved me ; " — and again : " Auctoritas librorum nos-
trum confirmata est, per successionem Apostolorum,
episcoporum, et conciliorum," — " The authority of our
books is confirmed by the successive judgments of Apos-
tles, bishops, and councils." From this position the
Protestants started back ; they were afraid of the con-
sequences ; they charged the Papists with reasoning in
a circle. You say the Scriptures depend on the author-
ity of the Church : must not the Church depend for
its authority on the Scriptures ? The Protestants put
the authority of the Scriptures on the private spirit ;


that is, on the enlightened reason of every good man,
who felt that every sacred book spoke with a peculiar
power ; and here the Papists in turn charged them
with absurdity. For, said they, if you are enlightened
enough to know which book is Scripture, you do not
want its information ; and if not, how do you know
that it is the Word of God ? (See Andrew Ei vet's
Summa Controversarum, Yol. I. p. 206.)

The fact is, we have nothing to do with this contro-
versy, which has long since become obsolete. The ques-
tion lay deeper in the recesses of fact than either party
saw. It was not the authority of the Church alone
that settled the sacred canon, — though the Church
must have been the chief depositary of these impor-
tant writings, — but it was the influence of the Church
acting on the broad surface of human opinion, and all
the laws of influence and probability that govern it.
Just as the Jews were a chosen nation, to whom were
committed the oracles of God (Romans iii. 2), and our
Saviour without the least hesitation says, " They have
Moses and the prophets " (Luke xvi. 29) ; and again,
" Search the Scriptures" (John v. 39), a perfectly well-
known catalogue of books. The Jews had no difficulty
in knowing what these Scriptures were ; nay, in verses
forty-sixth and forty-seventh of this chapter, he equals
the writings of Moses in point of authority to his own
personal presence. For had ye " believed Moses, ye
would have believed me ; for he wrote of me. But if


ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my
words ? "

Moses lived about 1500 years before Christ; and if
the old canon is not questioned by our great teacher,
preserved as it was through the long period, the insu-
lated literature, and the various commotions and cap-
tivities of the Jews, how much more have we reason
to trust the new canon, formed as it was in a com-
paratively enlightened age, quoted by a host of friends
and enemies, loved, hated, assaulted, defended, and
producing such a thrilling interest amongst mankind.
Consider the law ; here is a short list of books, con-
sisting of narratives, letters, and prophecies, written,
as one party believe, not by Plato or Homer, but in-
dited by the Supreme Wisdom, by which thousands
live, and for which they are ready to die, (and numbers
did die,) faith in which perpetuates the instruction of
their Saviour, and constitutes the hope of their salva-
tion ; these books are written in a style as different
from other writers as the addresses of Bonaparte to
his soldiers differ from the style of Dr. Johnson. Now
is it wonderful that the laws of human action, among
friends and foes, should mark the. books and hand
them untainted (as to their substantial parts) to fu-
ture ages ? There is no wonder about it ; it is what
the world has done for Plato, for Cicero, and even
for Mahomet himself, — or whosever genius it is that
reigns in the Koran.


It should be remembered that the sacred writers
formed a school, actuated, as they claimed, by one ob-
ject and having one aim, — to enlighten the world.
" I am a debtor," says one of them, " both to the
Greeks and Barbarians ; both to the wise and unwise ;
so as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the
Gospel to you that are at Rome also." (Romans i.
14, 15.) To this people, to whom the Apostle was so
ready to preach, he sent an elaborate epistle ; it is a
kind of system of his divinity. It was addressed, no
doubt, through Romans, to all mankind ; for he says
(Colossians iv. 16) : " When this Epistle is read among
you, cause it to be read also in the Church of the
Laodiceans, and that ye likewise read the Epistle from
Laodicea." The Epistles from such a sacred hand, no
doubt, had a cyclical character ; and if they were what
they claimed to be, and if human nature was then
what it is now, both in believers and unbelievers, there
is no difficulty in accounting for the discriminating ven-
eration with which the writing was preserved ; for love
never forgets, hatred never forgets.

God made a promise to preserve his Church, — to
found it on a rock, and that the gates of hell should
never prevail against it. (Matthew xvi. 18.) Now, if
we look at this promise, or the law by which he prob-
ably executed it, we discern the way in which the canon
was known. The design of revelation, also, seems to
warrant a similar confidence. The Gospel is not a


gift for a passing generation ; a written language is
not less certain than a spoken discourse. If Christ
promised his disciples, when brought before councils,
to give them the aid of the Holy Ghost, (Matthew x.
20, " It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your
Father that speaketh in you,") we may well conclude
that, when they gave instruction for all ages, the in-
spiring spirit would not forsake them.

It is observed by Thomas Paine, " The Councils of
Nice and Laodicea were held about 350 years after
the time Christ is said to have lived, and the books
that now compose the New Testament were then voted
for by yeas and nays, as we now vote a law. A great
many that were offered had a majority of nays, and
were rejected. This is the way the New Testament
came into being." No doubt these councils might be
atoms among the causes that settled the canon. But
had the Church been strictly one, had these councils
been strictly oecumenical, had no one rejected their
authority, it is obvious that legislation folloivs, rather
than makes public opinion. Had not public opinion
uttered its voice, the Laodicean Council could not have
spoken. They were the very organ of their own age.

The fact that some books had a suspended claim
before they were received is significant. It is well
known that, in Eusebius's canon, the Second Epistle
of Peter, the Second and Third Epistles of John, the
Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Apocalypse, are imm-


bered among the books to which objections were made ;
but these objections were overcome, and the books
nltimately received. Two inferences may be made
from this fact : the care and dehberation with which
the canonical question was considered, — the delibera-
tion was careful and conscientious ; and, secondly, the
strong objections are greatly diminished, perhaps en-
tirely removed from the books, by their ultimate recep-
tion. At any rate, were they rejected, it would not
alter the foundation of the Gospel.

The preservation of the Apocryphal books, both those
often bound in our common Bibles between the two
Testaments, and the Apostolic Fathers, translated and
published by Archbishop Wake, is a remarkable fact,
and serves, I think, an important purpose. As to the
Apocrypha of the Old Testament (commonly called by
the name Apocrypha), it serves the same purpose that
a counterfeit bill does when compared with a true one.
The very existence of this collection (i. e. the Apocry-
pha) starts a question in the common mind which we
must look at. " The Church," says Jerome, " reads
them for edification, but does not receive them as in-
spired." But how is this ? How can these books hold
this middle place ? If they are forgeries, why are they
not indignantly rejected ? and if they have any author-
ity, why are they not reverentially regarded as divine ?
What is the chaff to the wheat ? This natural ques-
tion demands an answer. First, there is no proof that


the books were intentional forgeries ; secondly, they are
so linked in with real Scripture, that they serve the
important purpose of illustrating it ; they were most
of them written before the time of our Saviour, and
have been preserved by the special providence of God.
Thus the First Book of Maccabees is real history, — is
the only real history of the period ; for Josephus owes
his information to it, and it is necessary to illustrate
the fulfilment of an important part of Daniel's proph-
ecies. Paul probably alludes to it in Hebrews xi. 37,
38 : " They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were
tempted, were slain with the sword ; they wandered
about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute,
afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not wor-
thy), they wandered in deserts and in mountains, and
in dens and caves of the earth." It is our only au-
thentic record for verifying these portions of acknowl-
edged inspiration. Then the beautiful books of the
Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of the Son of
Sirach, are like the second rainbow on the cloud,
whose diluted lustre must be compared with its brighter
origin. They bear all the marks of a redundant imi-
tation. The story of Bel and the Dragon, cut off from
the end of Daniel, though childish enough, is an ex-
pressive picture of priestcraft. But the great use of
the Apocrypha is to give us a contrast ; to give us
an imitation that cannot reach its original ; to show
what the Jewish genius was without the leading-strings


of inspiration. Thus the story of Judith is the painted
paradise of a Jewish imagination, suggested by real
history, exaggerated by their own unregulated fancy, —
the ideal heroism that floated before the minds of a
people inured to captivity and unfamiliar with con-
quest. Had the Old Testament been a myth, as the
destructives say, it would probably have been in the
same style as the Book of Judith. Even the highest
flights of Jewish wisdom, improved as it was in the
Alexandrine school, as seen in the beautiful composi-
tions, the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of the
Son of Sirach, (and they are beautiful, and in some
respects more artistically beautiful than the Proverbs
themselves,) yet these remarkable books reflect light
on the authority of real revelation ; for, first, they are
manifest imitations ; they both draw their character
from the old Proverbs of Solomon ; secondly, they are
too eloquent ; they lack the majestic simplicity of their
prototype ; thirdly, they are too subtile, too refined, too
much human speculation ; fourthly, they are mani-
festly tinged with Platonism, nay, the mysticism of the
Alexandrine school ; and, lastly, one of the authors
allows that he is one 09 avw/M/Sprjcre aocplav airo Kap-
Bla^ avrovy that poured out wisdom from his own heart.
Thus both the baldness and the excellence of these
books (it seems to me — it is a matter of taste) serve to
reflect light on the Scriptures. The same may be said
of the Epistles of the Apostolic Fathers, — some more



mean and despicable while others rise to a higher rank ;
— but the best of them, the First Epistle of Clement
to the Corinthians, serves to show the Divine finger-
marked line ; for what is it ? A cento of quotations
from other scriptures ; it is conscious weakness leaning
on previous strength. We have in Eusebius an alleged
Epistle from Christ to Abgarus, king of Edessa ; and
it is written with all the marks of an author conscious
of his task, and conscious of his inability to execute
it. It is wisely short ; and the writer walks in cramp-
ing-irons. In a word, these feeble and even better
imitations show the unapproachable character of their
pattern. The greatest minds (and much more the
poorest) are often thrown into a condition when their
selected work chills them and imposes a want of spon
taneity ; just as Milton, when he puts speeches into
the mouth of God the Father, or Grod the Son, loses
the ease of his own boundless invention, and makes
them talk the sentiments of the most established the-

" Milton's strong pinions now to Heaven can bound,
Now, serpent-like, in prose he sweeps the ground ;
In quibbles angels and archangels join,
And God the Father turns a school-divine." — Pope.

It is often said, that, because we find the books of
the canonical Scripture bound up in one volume, it
is no proof that they are all inspired ; they are a col-
lection of pamphlets, each to be examined and each


standing on its own merits. It must be allowed that
the mere fact of these books being collected into one
volume is of small importance. But it is not a mere
fact ; it is a significant fact ; it is a fact which has a
cause, — a chain of causes ; and it expresses a result
which is vastly important. As the geologist finds in a
certain location a piece of conglomerate rock, and from
its structure argues the causes of various periods, the
origin of the harder rock, its separation, its rolling for
ages on the shore, its being imbedded, and the har-
dening of the imbedding formation, so the reflecting
mind takes up the Bible and asks the history of its
formation. Why are these books always printed to-
gether? and whence come their union and authority?
In that simple fact (i.e. being enclosed in the same
covers) there is the discussion of ages ; there is the
testimony of the Church, the objections of her enemies,
the cross-examinations of later literature, the investi-
gations of Origen, Jerome, Augustine, Erasmus, Luther,
ll/alvin, and the later critics ; and, finally, the decision
of the thinking world on a question in which they are
most deeply interested. The union is significant ; and
one is tempted almost to excuse some of the old Pu-
ritans, in their popular works, when they slid over the
question of the canon, and argued for the authority of
the Bible as if it had always been one book. The fact
is, its parts flow together with a sublime unity, if not
always with a dove-tailed exactness. The minute dis-


crepancies do not impair ; they rather serve to show
more strikingly its one reigning spirit.

Thus we see that everything in the Christian reve-
lation tends to bring human guilt and ignorance in
contact with divine purity and teaching. God is the
ONLY WISE ; and his voice is heard in nature only
when it is interpreted by revelation. Without this in-
terpretation, IT thunders, IT rains ; but when God is
disclosed, then " the voice of the Lord is powerful ;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice
of the Lord breaketh the cedars ; yea, the Lord break-
eth the cedars of Lebanon. The Lord is upon many
waters." (Psalm xxix. 4, 5.)

I have spoken of the destructive interpreters. The
reader may wish to know who they are. They are men
who boast of a free inquiry; some of them have great
learning ; but all their investigations tend to diminish
our veneration for the sacred Scriptures, and look to
other sources for direction in piety and wisdom. They
are such men as Paulus, Strauss, Theodore Parker, <fec.
Their path is always a free one, but it never returns
to the veneration of the past.

The reigning sophisms in all their speculations on
the Bible are two : —

First, assuming tacitly their point that the Bible is
not a Divine revelation ; that it comes from the old
mistake, the mythic spirit, which they say is the com-
mon genius of antiquity.


Second, seeing and showing all the conformities to
their assumption, and not seeing or reducing to a
minimum all the discrepancies. Here they are truly
ingenious. They never see the golden thread, the Di-
vine unity, the unfolding design which runs through
the Old Testament and the New, which shows the har-
mony in the kingdom of God. The sun itself would
probably lose its lustre if shivered into fragments.

The difficulties arise when each incident is torn
apart from the general design and history. Spots on
the sun can only be estimated when seen in the sun.
Suppose I assume that a miracle is impossible, or make
a maxim that what is impossible (by impossible mean-
ing some event which flows not from some regular
law of nature) is not to be believed ; of course my
rule of interpreting becomes affected by my assump-
tion. Or suppose I assume that inspiration is only the
natural impetus of genius ; of course, I shall read every
page discoloured by my theory. Every logician throws
his conclusion into his major proposition. This is
sound logic, but often bad reasoning. How different
all this is from the wants of a humble sinner going to
his master for instruction and rest !

In one way these destructives bear a strong testi-
mony to the truth they oppose. Somehow or other,
sooner or later, thay postulate to themselves the very
authority they deny to the Bible. They feel the need
of divine instruction, and they find it in their own


self-assumed, adequate conceptions of God. They eare
not what he says, because they know what he must
say. They often begin very modestly by saying, of cer-
tain doctrines on the surface of Scripture, we know
that they cannot be true ; they are inconsistent with
the wisdom and goodness of the Deity. This incon-
sistency is a question which we can judge. For exam-
ple, the justice of eternal punishment, — this is incon
sistent with all our moral apprehensions of justice. We
know God enough to know he cannot create a being
to be forever miserable. We know Divine justice
enough to know that such a terrible penalty cannot be
consistent with it. But, ah ! my enlightened friend, if
you know this, you know a great deal more. How can
you stop there ? You have taken into your hand a most
difficult question, and, by analogy, it draws a whole se-
ries of questions after it. You have entered the circle
of celestial light ; you have got behind the eternal
throne. Hence the destructives, having taken this
ground, boldly go on. Hence Kant says : " Religion
is (subjectively considered) the acknowledgment of all
our duties as Divine commands." In the same spirit
Eichte says : " Since all religion sets forth God only
as a moral lawgiver, all that is not commanded by the
moral law within us is not his, and there is no means
of pleasing him except by the observance of this moral
law." (Hansel's Limits of Religious Thought, p. 239,
T otes.)


Even the modest and sober Dr. Channing, in his
Moral Argument against Calyinism, assumes, I think,
if we examine it narrowly, this formula : God can give
us no commands which do not conform to the previous
dictates of our moral nature. And Theodore Parker,
the Marshal Ney of the religioils world, the bravest
of the brave, says with an untrembling consistency :
" This we know, that the Infinite God must be a per-
fect Creator, the sole and undisturbed Author of all

that is in nature Now a perfect motive for

creation, what will that be ? It must be absolute love,
producing a desire to bless everything which he creates.
If God be infinite, then he must make and adminis-
ter the world from perfect motives, for a perfect pur-
pose, and as a perfect means, all tending to the ulti-
mate and absolute blessedness of each thing he directly
or mediately creates; the world must be administered
so as to achieve that purpose for each thing. Else
God has made some things from a motive and for a
purpose not benevolent, or as a means not adequate to
the benevolent purpose. These suppositions are at vari-
ance with the nature of the Infinite God. I do not see
how this benevolent purpose can be accomplished un-r
less all animals are immortal and find retribution in
another life." (Theism, Atheism, and the Popular

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19

Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonSolomon's song: translated and explained, in three parts → online text (page 19 of 20)