Leonard Withington.

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

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But what possible opportanity is there for an heroic
self-sacrifice where there is no danger ? Paul shows the
highest flight of this spirit when he says : "I could
wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren,
my kinsmen according to the flesh." Lastly, if we
love God, it must be for his perfections. Justice is
one ; now the dreadful penalty takes us from our finite
conceptions to the great idea which cannot exist un-
less verified by facts. This is the great fact, which
presents us at once with a mirror and a test; a mir-
ror to see what Divine justice is, and a test to see
whether we bow to its manifestation.

In fine, run through the whole vocabulary of relig-
ion, — ruin, redemption, a Saviour, a sacrifice, mercy,
justice, repentance, faith, a conscience, a law, sin, holi-
ness, — we shall find that they all derive their meaning


from tlie sentient nature of man, and from the con-
cei:>ts which, if reason uses, tlie passions and feelings
alone can create, or make intelligible.

I need not, therefore, avail myself of the common
remark that the passions are useful to stir up the slug-
gish intellect, to concentrate the attention, and to put
the powers of the soul in motion, —

" The rising tempest puts in act the soul,
Parts it may ravage, but preserves the whole," —

since they create their own vision, and give coloring
to the picture which justifies their existence.

This subject may explain how it is that in rehgion
such sudden revolutions happen in the mind. To-day
a man cannot see the proofs of revelation ; it is all
a dream to him ; to-morrow it becomes a dread real-
ity, — all his views are changed. Are such sudden
impressions enthusiasm ? Are they miraculous ? No,
neither ; but the foundation impression is made on his
heart. The elements of a new reasoning enter his
soul. He has found out that pain may come from
sin ; and as pain is a reality, so sin is a reality, and
from these dread realities relief is desirable. The Gos-
pel now has a meaning, because it has an object. The
feelings are inspiring, — they really give the ideas. It is
true that all know what pain is ; but when sin and dan-
ger are positive conceptions because deeply felt, then

all the truths of the Gospel have an end and a reality


never seen before. They have a foundation in expe-

Another mystery may be explained by the view which
we have taken. All anthropology leads us to recognize
the ignorance of man. Whether you trace knowledge
to reason, or experience, the one is feeble, and the
other is of yesterday, and knows comparatively nothing.
In matter, for example, no analysis is final, — no chem-
ist has as yet found the elements of things, or can
conceive or imagine how they can be found ; that is,
you cannot imagine yourself to find a substance so
simple as to give you certain proof that it is not sus-
ceptible of a new analysis. Nature keeps retiring as
with new implements we pursue her, and no one can
say that a simple substance has yet been found. Every
discovery reveals new questions and new ignorance ;
and even the known leads to the unknown. So in
metaphysics, who can say that the permanent termi-
nology has yet been found. Every analysis has been
analyzed upon, and the absolute idea eludes our grasp.
It is not sceptics alone, like Hume, that enforce this
confession of ignorance in order to perplex our faith,
but the most earnest writers, the most sincere, have
been the first to allow it. Nay, even the Bible itself
says, "We see through a glass darkly." (1 Cor. xiii.
12.) Let any one read the thirty-eighth, thirty-ninth,
and fortieth chapters of Job, and reflect on the testi-
mony of God himself to a position which, by denying


all human wisdom, leads to the truest wisdom. Pas-
cal owns it. Bishop Butler, the acutest of all moral
writers, and the most earnest, lays the foundation of
his whole system in the ignorance of man. "Our
own nature, and the objects we are surrounded with,
serve to raise our curiosity ; but we are quite out
of a condition of satisfying it. Every secret which is
disclosed, every discovery which is made, every new
effect which is brought to view, serves to convince us
of numberless more which remain concealed, and which
we had before no suspicion of. And what if we were
acquainted with the whole creation, in the same way
and as thoroughly as we are with any single object of
it. What would all this natural knowledge amount
to ? It must be a low curiosity indeed which such
superficial knowledge could satisfy. On the contrary,
would it not serve to convince us of our ignorance
still, and to raise our desire of knowing the nature of
things themselves, the author, the cause, and the end
of them ? " (Sermons, Ser. XY.) And in his Anal-
ogy he says: "To us probability is the guide of life."

Indeed, every self-knowing man must assent to the
proofs offered by philosophers, repeated by saints, and
confirmed by the solemn testimony of inspiration itself.
We seldom find an intelligent believer in revelation
who is not something of a distrustful sceptic in phi-

But now comes the difficulty. How shall we recon-


cile the testimony to the weakness of onr powers with
the claims of revelation ? Our Saviour requires faith, —
strong faith, — strong enough to conquer our sins and
throw us even on martyrdom. We must take up our
cross ; we must have a strength of principle which
pleasure cannot soften nor danger subdue. In short,
we must be enthusiasts in his cause. But did enthu-
siasm ever arise in a speculating, questioning, object-
ing, balancing, doubtful mind ? Does it not spring
from deep conviction ? Must not the mind be sure
before the heart can burn ? Could' Bayle, Gibbon,
Hume, be religious enthusiasts ? And does not even
the reverential Butler, — though he answers objections
wonderfully, and satisfies our intellectual nature, —
does he not in his Sermons and Analogy leave the
reader's heart as cold as his own ? This objection to
such rational but weak convictions is an old one. It
was made by Lucullus in Cicero to the old Academics,
whose views of human ignorance were very similar to
those of Butler : " Maxime vero virtutum cognitio con-
firmat, percipi et comprehendi multa posse. In quibus
solis inesse scientiam dicimus ; quam nos non com-
prehensionem modo rerum, sed eam stabilem quoque
atque immutabilem esse censemus : itemque sapientiam,
artem vivendi, quae ipsa ex sese habeat constantiam.
Ea autem constantia si nihil habeat percepti et cog-
niti, quaero, unde nata sit et quammodo ? Quaero
etiam, ille vir bonus, qui statuit omnem cruciatum pei-



ferre, intolerabili dolore lacerari, potius quam aut offi-
cium prodat, aut fidem, cur has sibi tarn graves leges
imposuerit, cum, quamobrem ita oporteret, nihil ha-
beret comprehensi, percepti, cogniti, constituti ? Nullo
igitur modo fieri potest, ut quisquam tanti aestimet
aequitatem et fidem, ut ejus conservandae causa nul-
lum supplicium recuset, nisi iis rebus assensus sit,
quae falsae esse non possunt." (Cicero's LucuUus,
Sect. 8.) And we all feel that ardor leads to strong
conviction, and strong conviction increases our ardor.
Hence our Saviour inculcates strong faith on his dis-
ciples, and they pray to him, " Lord, increase our

Now how are these opposite claims of our nature
to be met? How are we to avoid at once the blind
confidence of a deluded mind, and the cold indiffer-
ence of a doubting heart ?

The answer, it seems to me, is suggested in this
wonderful Song of Solomon, and in the view of our na-
ture and of religion to which it leads us. The bride
is full of ardor to her celestial bridegroom, and has
no doubt of the beauty she perceives. He is to her
the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.
She is at least sure of that. Her confidence does not
come from a doubtful solution of doubtful doubts, but
from a vivid perception of unspeakable excellence.
" My beloved is like a roe or a young hart ; behold,
he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the


windows, showing himself through the lattice." (Sol-
omon's Song, ii. 9.) Religion has a region of its own.
Divine beauty warrants its own reality ; and then it
stands on the basis of one of our most certain con-

Take the Platonic way of proving, first supposing
the existence of a principle, then its non-existence ;
place it, take it away, and see the consequences of
each hypothesis. First, let us deny that an individual
has any perception or any belief that his susceptibility
of pleasure or pain have anything to do, as exponents
or effects, with justice or benevolence in God or man ;
or suppose the perception to be feeble or doubtful ;
of course the world of religious ideas is lost to him,
— he can no more be susceptible to religious impres-
sions than iron can have the malleability of lead. Tell
him the story of the good Samaritan, or of Christ dy-
ing on the cross ; it is lost to him, — he cannot believe
in a world that he cannot see. Place the perception
before him, with all its circling host of beauties and
glories, and a new scene opens. The ideal is at least
beautiful. Give him the relish for benevolence, — the
aim, the design, the pleasure, — and his ardor is kin-
dled, and he knows how to found a strong faith on a
system that has every evidence but that of a math-
ematical demonstration. His metaphysical proof, per-
haps, has not increased, but his heart burns.

I lately looked out of my window, and saw the frag-


ment of a rainbow painted on the fragment of a
cloud. Whatever a rainbow may be as a series of
causes, it is, it was, supremely beautiful ; and its
beauty is nine tenths of its existence. My admiration
was fixed on its greatest reality.

This, then, is the nature of strong faith. It is strong
relative to the powers of man, because it is felt under
the condition of feeble powers, moral proofs, natural
doubts, sinful blindness, and a perception vivid enough
to overcome them all. It is strong, as the earthquake
is strong when it shakes the mountain, because it over-
comes the strong power of gravitation. It is strong,
because it can conquer the natural apathy and seep-
ti<3ism of the human heart. It is strong as a light-
house beam is strong in a stormy night when it shines
over a dark sea.

Our Saviour seems to sanction our view of the ori-
gin of all the benevolent affections, and, of course,
all virtue in our susceptibilities of pain and happi-
ness, when he says: "All things whatsoever ye would
that men should do to you, do ye even so to them ;
for this is the law and the prophets." (Matt. vii. 12.)
This passage is an appeal to our experience, — our
Lord makes our selfishness our instructor. The mean-
ing seems to be. You have suffered from your fellow-
men ; you know the bitterness of an injury. Have
you been neglected, scorned, slandered, imprisoned ?
Let your sufferings instruct you, and beware how you


inflict what you shudder to feel. On the other hand,
have you been relieved ? Have you heard the sweet
voice of consolation ? Were you hungry, and did some
one feed you ? Were you in prison, and did , he come
unto you ? It is at once a lesson and a motive to
scatter the bliss which your own experience has taught
you to prize. Now, in all this, is not the assump-
tion that all our moral conceptions spring up from
one centre, our sentient nature, our susceptibiUty of
pain and pleasure, the exponent of a good or bad
intention in him that imparts them ?

There is yet another application of this subject.
Our Saviour says : " Wisdom is justified of all her
children " (Luke vii. 35) ; implying, no doubt, that she
is not justified by those who are not her children.
And it is curious to see how, in all the forms in
which the wisdom of God is manifested, men judge
as their moral taste directs their attention. Everything
has two handles, and we may take hold of it by the
best or the worst. We can scarcely admit a moral
or political hypothesis, but we can collect a train of
facts to support it. If there be a God, no doubt the
material creation is a manifestation of his wisdom ;
but then, as Burke says, " a mind that has no re-
straint from its own weakness, would not find it diffi-
cult to criticise creation itself. Indeed, it has been
done. That beautiful order which Cicero's LucuUus
sees in the creation — "Terra vestita floribus," &c.,


in the Second Book De Natura Deorum — is reversed
completely by Lucretius in his Fifth Book. The one
says the earth is so beautiful that it must have been
made by God ; the other says it is so abominably bad
that it cannot be the work of a good being.

"Nequaqnam nobis divinitus esse paratam
Naturam remm, tanta stat praedita culpa."

De Rerum Natura, Lib. V.

Where Dr. Paley finds such proofs of wise design,
the Epicurean sees nothing but disorder and confu-
sion ; and the way they prove their point is, — the
theist selects all the good things in creation he can
find, and the infidel all that he fancies to be bad ; the
one fastens on the rose, and the other tlie thorn ; so,
in surveying the course of providence, how different
the selection ! The pious man can tell you how often
his prayers have been answered, and the sceptic can
show how often they have been frustrated. Bayle and
St. Bernard would each have their long catalogue, not
one item of which would be the same. Claudian dif-
fered from himself; and, in Diogenes's view, Harpalus
bears witness against the very existence of the gods.
The question whether the good old times were better
than the present, always sets different men to selecting
different series of facts. In order to prove that man-
kind have degenerated, all you have to do is, hunt

up the heroes, collect their good deeds leave out all
6* T


their faults and imperfections, throw into shade com-
mon life, present the worst side of modern life, — in
short, instead of two full pictures, get two profiles
of faults concealed and beauties selected, and vice
versa, and you can prove your point to your own
complete satisfaction. But there is no place where
our Saviour's remark is more applicable than to the
Bible. If the Bible is the Word, it is, of course,
the wisdom of G-od ; here wisdom is justified of all
her children, and of none others. I have often ad-
mired, in reading the criticisms of Eichhorn, Rosen-
miiller, Strauss, &c., how ingenious they are in finding
all that makes against super naturalism, and nothing
in its favor. It is really marvellous. Difficulties
which I never thought of — which occurred not to
the Calvins and Pooles, and even the Grotiuses of the
Reformation — spring up in their minds like weeds
among the flowers. Thus the story of the garden of
Eden and tlie Fall, illustrating the purpose and design
of God, is a myth ; the flood, instead of being a sur-
prising miracle, is an impossibility ; the awful dark-
ness on Sinai is a thunder-storm, and, some say, a
brushwood fire kindled by Moses ; while the wonder-
ful law engraved on tables of stone (certainly won-
derful for the charlatan that kindled the brushwood
fire) attracts no attention. The sublime unity which
runs through the Old Testament and the New, such as
is shown by Edwards in his History of Redemption,


they never see nor suspect. The Bible to them is a
book of fragments. Its supernaturalism is not needed,
and has, therefore, no end or aim. They expatiate on
the trifling laws in Leviticus, but not a word about the
remarkable book, Deuteronomy. The ritual of Moses
they gloat on ; the pure devotion of the Psalms they
cannot see ; — in short, there reigns in all their works
this sophism : with a perverse ingenuity to select all
the archaisms of the Bible, exaggerate them and turn
them into myths, ignore all that is sublime and spir-
itual, totally to overlook its unity, and thus prove that
the Bible cannot receive our veneration as the word
of God. what bhndness ! what penetration ! Pen-
etration to see all that has the shadow of an objection,
and blindness to all the truth by which the objection
might be removed. If Psyche, when she was ordered
to select the seeds, had taken the poppy and vetches
to herself, and left wheat and barley to the goddess
of beauty, she would have left us an expressive myth
of modern learning.

Now the question comes, How is it that men, pro-
fessing to be scholars, — and some of them Christians,
— can see the word of God in such a wonderful light ?
We can only quote the Saviour's maxim, — "Wisdom
is justified of all her children." The reason why men
select in this way must be that they have no percep-
tion of the glory that gilds the sacred page. If the
wisdom of God is there, they certainly do not see it.


I allow, indeed, that there are difficulties in the sacred
history ; but I utterly deny that a man is prepared
to encounter them until he has seen the wisdom with
which they are combined. No man is fit even to
weed a garden, until he is taught, both by taste and
experience, to distinguish the weeds from the flowers.
I will only add, that I suppose all the apparent weeds
in the garden of God (i. e. the apparent myths in
tliis ancient record) to arise from the Divine conde-
scension to the wants of mankind. If the Bible comes
from the sublimest of Beings, we must equally remem-
ber it is addressed to the meanest.





The first and most important principle in the Chris-
tian religion is to believe in the existence and author-
ity of a Divine revelation. Our religion is founded
on faith, and our faith rests on a Divine testimony.
God has spoken, and " the voice of the Lord is pow-
erful ; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty." It
is implied in a revelation, that we have more power
to see and prove that the Bible is a Divine revela-
tion, than we have to foretell what its components
should be, — that is, we have a recognizing^ but not
an inventing power.

The authority of Scripture depends on inspiration.
" All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." (2 Tim-
othy iii. 16.)

,1 am in favor of adopting the highest ideas of in-
spiration. The teachings of God cannot be too com-
plete. He has exhausted the power of language. It
is a marvellous instrument used by an omniscient
tongue. So that we may say, with Hilarius: " De in-


telligentia liaeresis, non de scriptura ; et sensus, non
sermo, fit crimen ; " — " Heresy arises from misunder^
standing the Scripture ; not from any defect in the
Scripture itself. The fault is in the interpretation."

But though I believe in the highest inspiration, for
that very reason I do not believe in a verbal inspira-

The reasons for not believing in a verbal inspira-
tion are : —

First, it is not necessary to the highest accuracy ;
a single word is not the best way to fix an important
meaning. Secondly, if the inspiration were verbal, it
would cease with the first translation, and no one pre-
tends that translators were inspired. Thirdly, the Apos-
tles are very careless about verbal accuracy. They
have a holy indifference to a minute and literal exact-
ness. They quote from the Septuagint, and sometimes
apparently from memory. Fourthly, God has not pre-
served the copies verbally perfect, which seems neces-
sary to place us on a level with the first receivers
of the Word. He is no respecter of persons. Fifthly,
each writer shows his own spontaneous genius. Sixthly,
the Greek language makes a distinction between \oyoi
and prjfxaTa, — the mental and the spoken word, —
and it seems to confine inspiration to the former.
Seventhly, in the parallel places (as the inscription
of the cross, &c.) there is a verbal variety. How is
this, if the Scriptures aimed to teach us a verbal in-


spiration ? * Eighthly, if verbal accuracy had been
necessary, God would hardly have chosen so primitive
a language as the Hebrew as a vehicle of the greater
part of inspiration. And, lastly, none of the passages
claimed as teaching verbal inspiration necessitate that
meaning, as 1 Cor. ii. 13 ; not in the words of mortal
wisdom^ hut Xoyoi, which the Holy Ghost teacheth, inter-
preting spiritual thoughts in spiritual terminology. And
further, the most important words in revelation depend
upon something behind themselves. A long history is
sometimes given to prepare the way for the concep-
tion of a word. Thus the word God would not be
understood by a pagan mind. The history of what
God has done shows who God is. Creator is a word
that poorly imparts its own meaning. Providence,
soul, sacrifice, expiation, the Holy Spirit, Divine influ-
ence, faith, justification, an apostle, — all are terms
which are explained by theu^ collocation in the great
system. We must travel beyond the word to find its

* The two recensions of the eighteenth Psalm are sufficient to show that
the sacred writers did not embark their meaning in a bottom of frail verbal-
isms. Let the reader compare the readings in 2 Samuel xxii. and those in
the eighteenth Psalm, and mark the significance. Two things are notice-
able ; — first, the verbal variety, precluding all possibility of contingency,
and secondly, the non-importance of the difference. Not one of the changes
in the later copy (whichever it be) has more than a shade of change in
the meaning. The lesson of comparing the two seems to be, — Be not
a pedant ; be not a word-catcher, that lives on syllables ; rise to the grand-
eur of a Divine conception, and place the strength of Scripture where
God, by his own example, has placed it.


meaning. If you insist on a verbal inspiration, you
inevitably narrow your mind down to a partial concep-
tion, and, of course, a weaker one ; to say nothing of
the host of difficulties which you raise against your
system, which will inject doubts into other minds, if
not your own. The Bible is as perfect as it can be.
It has the perfection of God.

The aim of the verbalists is good, but is not reached.
The sacred writers seem to feel very much as a lawyer
does in making out his declaration or rejoinder in a
cause ; he dare not trust one word, — he varies his
expressions ; and I have been told that Judge Par-
sons was accustomed to say, " Better use twenty words
too many, than one too few." The Hebrew language
is always correcting itself, — repeating the idea. You
see the relics of picture-writing. The parallelisms in
Psalms, Proverbs, Job, the Prophets, are remarkable,
and they use poetry and comparison endlessly, — just
like men who did not embark their meaning in a sin-
gle delegated word. Indeed, the question becomes use-
less when we remember the omniscience and general
perfection of God. Contingencies are nothing to him.
His will shines through them. The Syro-Chaldaic was
spoken in Palestine in the time of Christ, and Dr.
Davidson thinks Matthew was written in this dialect.
So the most important teacher eludes our verbal grasp.
The original verbal inspiration of Christ's discourses
is not preserved to us.


One of the difficulties respecting inspiration arises
from not understanding its nature and design, — in
whose mind it originates, and to what purpose it is
directed. It originates in the Divine mind, and is a
perfection of God, and its object is to set before man
an infallible standard of religious instruction. It is
a perfection of God, or rather emanates from his per-
fection, and therefore transcends the artificial and pos-
tulated perfection of man. When men hear of per-
fection, they immediately think of a minute, pedantic
perfection of their own. God's perfection is not our
perfection, as " his ways are not our ways, nor his
thoughts our thoughts." I grant that Divine inspi-
ration implies an infallible rule ; but that rule lies
deeper than some suppose. The rule is infallible when
we find it ; just as the healing root is powerful when
we dig it from the earth. The material world, I have
no doubt, for the Divine design is perfect. It was
built and shaped by an unerring hand. But how
many random contingencies are revealed beneath its
surface ! The central heat, the sea, the frost, the rain,

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Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonSolomon's song: translated and explained, in three parts → online text (page 8 of 20)