Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

and design, they imagined to exist in it. But, after considering the expressions it contains towards the close, relative to the fear of God and the observation of his laws, they concluded to receive it; and its canonical authority has been recognised ever since. There can, indeed, be no doubt of its title to admission : Solomon was eminently distinguished by the illumination of the divine Spirit, and had even twice witnessed the divine presence. (1 Kings iži

. 5. ix. 2. xi. 9.) The tendency of the book is excellent when rightly understood : and Solomon speaks in it with great clearness of the revealed truths of a future life and of a future judgment.

Bishop Lowth has classed this book among the didactic poetry of the Hebrews: but Mr. Des Voeuxo considers it as a philosophical discourse written in a rhetorical style, and interspersed with verses, which are introduced as occasion served; whence is obtained a place among the poetical books. To this opinion Bishop Lowth subsequently declared his assent.

II. The scope of this book is explicitly announced in ch. i. 2. and xiü. 13., viz. to demonstrate the vanity of all earthly objects, and to draw off men from the pursuit of them, as an apparent good, to the fear of God, and communion with him, as to the highest and only permanent good in this life, and to show that men must seek for happiness beyond the grave. We may therefore consider it as an inquiry into that most important and disputed question,—What is the Sovereign Good of man,--that which is ultimately good, and which in all its bearings and relations is conducive to the best interests of man? What is that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their Life ? (ii. 3.) “ This is the object of the Preacher's inquiry; and, after discussing various erroneous opinions, be finally determines that it consists in True WISDOM. The scope of the whole argument, therefore, is the praise and recommendation of Wisdom, as the supreme good to creatures responsible for their actions. In this wisdom is not included a single particle of that which is worldly and carnal, so frequently possessed by men addicted to vice, the minions of avarice, and the slaves of their passions; but that which is from above, that which is holy, spiritual, undefiled, and which, in the writings of Solomon, is but another word for Religion. Guided by this clue, we can easily traverse the intricate windings and mazes in which so many commentators upon the Ecclesiastes have been lost and bewildered. By keeping steadily in view the Preacher's object, to eulogise Heavenly Wisdom, the whole admits an easy and natural interpretation ; light is diffused around its obscurities; connection is discovered in that which was before disjointed; the argument receives additional force, the sentiments new beauty; and every part of the discourse, when considered in reference to this object, tends to develope the nature of True Wisdom, to display its excellence, or to recommend its acquirement. 1 Carpzov. Introd. ad Libros. Vet. Test. part ii. p. 222. Dr. Gray's Key, p. 292.

p. 2 In his “ Philosophical and Critical Essay on the Book of Ecclesiastes,” 4to. London, 1760.

“ Hence he commences with the declaration that all is vanity;! which is not to be understood as implying any censure upon the works of creation, for God does nothing in vain, every thing being properly adapted to its end, and excellently fitted to display the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Almighty. Yet when the things of this world are applied to improper purposes ; when they are considered as the end, while they are only intended to be the means ; and are rested in as the source of happiness which they were not designed to afford, vanity is discovered to be their character; that which is most excellent becomes useless, if not injurious, by the abuse ; and the works of Omnipotence, however wise and good in themselves, are unprofitable to those who misuse and pervert them. It were a kind of blasphemy to vilify whatever has proceeded from Omniscient Power; and Solomon can only be supposed to pronounce all things here below vain, when they are applied to a wrong use, by the ignorance and wickedness of man. Nor does he so denominate all things universally and without any exception, but only all earthly things, as wealth, pleasure, pomp, luxury, power, and whatever is merely human and terrestrial. If these are placed in competition with divine and heavenly things, or are foolishly regarded as the means of real happiness, they become useless and unprofitable, because they are uncertain and transitory, never fully satisfying the desires of the soul, nor producing permanent felicity.

“If worldly things are vain in these respects, it would, nevertheless, be presumption and impiety to represent them as actually bad. They are good in themselves, and, when rightly used, tend only to good, since they contribute to the enjoyment of life, and, in an eminent degree, to the ultimate and real interest of man.

But if they are pursued as the only “portion in this life,' as constituting the happiness of beings formed for immortality, they are not estimated on right principles, and the result will be vexation and disappointment. Their vanity, then, arises from the folly and baseness of men, who, in forgetfulness of eternity, are too apt to regard this world as their sole and final abode, and to expect that satisfaction from them which they cannot give. Nor are they to be condemned on this account. That they are insufficient to render man happy is itself the ordination of Infinite Wisdom, and, consequently, best suited to a probationary state ; wisely calculated for the trial of man's virtue, and, by weaning him from too fond attachment to things on earth, to stimulate his desires and exertions after the blessedness of another life.

“ In prosecuting his inquiry into the Chief Good, Solomon has divided his work into two parts. The first, which extends to the tenth verse of the sixth chapter, is taken up in demonstrating the vanity of all earthly conditions, occupations, and pleasures; the second part, which includes the remainder of the book, is occupied in eulogising Wisdom, and in describing its nature, its excellence, its beneficial effects. This division, indeed, is not adhered to throughout with logical accuracy; some deviations from strict method are allowable in a popular discourse ; and the author occasionally diverges to topics incidentally suggested; but, amidst these digressions, the distinctions of the two parts cannot escape the attentive reader. It is not the manner of the sacred writers to form their discourses in a regular series of deductions and concatenated arguments : they adopt a species of composition, less logical indeed, but better adapted to common capacities, in which the subject is still kept in view, though not handled according to the rules of dialectics. Even St. Paul, whose reasoning powers are unquestionable, frequently digresses from his subject, breaks off abruptly in the middle of his argument, and departs from the strictness of order and arrangement. In the same way has the royal Preacher treated the subject; not with exact, philosophical method, but in a free and popular manner, giving an uncontrolled range to his capacious intellect, and suffering himself to be borne along by the exuberance of his thoughts and the vehemence of his feelings. But, though the methodical disposition of his ideas is occasionally interrupted, his plan is still discernible ; and perhaps he never wanders more from his principal object than most of the other writers in the Sacred Volume."

1 The finest commentary on this aphorism, Vanity of ranities, all is ranity, was unintentionally furnished by the late celebrated Earl of Chesterfield, in one of his posthumous letters. See the passage at length in Bishop Horne's Works, vol. v. discourse xiii. pp. 185–187., where the frightful picture, exhibited by a dying man of the world, is admirably improved to the edification of the reader.

For the preceding view of the scope of this admirably instructive book, the author is indebted to Mr. Holden's learned and elaborate Attempt to illustrate this Book. The following Synopsis (which is also borrowed from Mr. Holden) will give the reader a clear view of its design.

9

Part I. THE VANITY OF ALL EARTHLY CONDITIONS, OCCUPATIONS,

AND PLEASURES. Sect. I. The vanity of all earthly things. (i. 2.) Sect. II. The unprofitableness of human labour, and the transito

riness of human life. (i. 3-11.) Sect. III. The vanity of laborious inquiries into the ways and

works of man. (i. 12-18.) Sect. IV. Luxury and pleasure are only vanity and vexation of

spirit. ii. 1-11.) Sect. V. Though the wise excel fools, yet, as death happens to

them both, human learning is but vanity. (ii. 12-17.) SECT. VI. The vanity of human labour, in leaving it they know

not to whom. (ii. 18-23.) Sect. VII. The emptiness of sensual enjoyments. (ii. 24-26.) SECT. VIII. Though there is a proper time for the execution of all

human purposes, yet are they useless and vain; the Divine coun

sels, however, are immutable. (iii. 1-14.) Sect. IX. The vanity of human pursuits proved from the wicked

1 Prelim. Diss. pp. Ixv. Ixviii. lxxii.

ness prevailing in courts of justice, contrasted with the righteous

judgment of God. (i. 15–17.) Sect. X. Though life, considered in itself, is vanity, for men die

as well as beasts, yet, in the end, it will be very different with

the spirit of man and that of beasts. (iii. 18—22.) Sect. XI. Vanity is increased unto men by oppression. (iv. 1-3.) Sect. XII. The vanity of prosperity. (iv. 4.) Secr. XIII. The vanity of folly, or of preferring the world to True

Wisdom. (iv. 5, 6.) Sect. XIV. The vanity of covetousness. (iv. 7, 8.) Sect. XV. Though society has its advantages, yet dominion and

empire are but vanity. (iv. 9—16.) Sect. XVI. Errors in the performance of Divine worship, which

render it vain and unprofitable. (v. 1-7.) Secr. XVII. The vanity of murmuring at injustice ; for though

the oppression of the poor and the perversion of judgment greatly prevail, they do not escape the notice of the Almighty. (v. 8,

9.) Secr. XVIII. The vanity of riches; with an admonition as to the

moderate enjoyment of them. (v. 10–20.) SECT. XIX. The vanity of avarice. (vi. 1-9.)

Part II.-THE NATURE, EXCELLENCE, AND BENEFICIAL EFFECTS

OF WISDOM OR RELIGION. SECT. XX. Since all human designs, labours, and enjoyments are

vain, it is natural to inquire, What is good for man? What is his Supreme Good ? (vi. 10–12.) The answer is contained in

the remainder of the book. Sect. XXI. The praise of character and reputation. (vii. 1.) Sect. XXII. Affliction improves the heart, and exalts the charac

ter of the wise. (vii. 2–10.) Sect. XXIII. The excellence of Wisdom. (vii. 11–14.) Sect. XXIV. An objection, with the answer. (vii. 15. viji. 7.) Sect. XXV. The evil of wickedness shows the advantage of True

Wisdom. (vii. 8-13.) Sect. XXVI. An objection, with the answer. (viii. 14. ix. 1.) Sect. XXVII. An objection, with the answer. (ix. 2. x. 17.) Sect. XXVIII. The banefulness of sloth. (x. 18.) Sect. XXIX. The power of wealth. (x. 19.) Sect. XXX. An exhortation against speaking evil of dignities. (x.

20.) Sect. XXXI. Exhortation to charity and benevolence. (xi. 1–10.) Sect. XXXII. An exhortation to the early cultivation of religious

habits. (xii. 1-7.) Sect. XXXIII. The conclusion. (xii. 8–14.)"

1 Prelim. Diss. pp. cix. cx. Mr. Des Voeux, in his learned and ingenious work on Ecclesiastes, was of opinion that the royal author's design was to prove the immortality of the soul, or rather the necessity of another state after this life, by such arguments as may be deduced from reason and experience. But Mr. Holden has satisfactorily shown that this is not the primary design of the book in question ; though it contains some strong proofs of this article of religious faith. See his I'relim. Diss. pp. xlvii.-ix.

DII. Bishop Lowth pronounces the style of this book to be singular ; its language is generally low, frequently loose and unconnected, approaching to the incorrectness of conversation : and it possesses very little poetical character, even in the composition and structure of the periods : which peculiarity, he thinks, may be accounted for from the nature of the subject. Leusden says, that in his time (the close of the seventeenth century) the book of Ecclesiastes was read in the Jewish synagogues on the feast of tabernacles; because, as that feast commemorates the gladness and content with which their forefathers dwelt in tents, so this book, while it shows the vanity of all earthly things, inculcates on every one the duty of rejoicing and being content with such things as God in his providence thinks fit to bestow.

SECTION V.

ON THE SONG OF SOLOMON.

I. Author.-II. Canonical authority.-III. Structure of the poem

its subject and scope.the Song of Solomon a sublime mystical

allegory. FEW poems have excited more attention, or have found more translators and commentators, than the Song of Songs : but the learned are not yet agreed respecting its arrangement and design. The majority consider it as an inspired book, and certainly on the best evidence, while others affirm it to be merely a human composition : the former regard it as a sacred allegory; the latter, as a mere amatory effusion.

1. In addition to other divine compositions of Solomon, we are informed (1 Kings iv. 32.) that his songs were a thousand and five, of which the present book is supposed to be one. In the first verse it is called, by way of eminence and distinction, according to the Hebrew idiom bilen 9 (SHIR HASHIRIM) that is, a Song of Songs, or a Song of Loves. Of this antient poem the author is asserted, by the unanimous voice of antiquity, to have been Solomon: and this tradition is corroborated by many internal marks of authenticity. In the very first verse it is ascribed to the Hebrew monarch by name: he is the subject of the piece, and the principal actor in the conduct of it. Allusions are made to the rich furniture of his palace (i. 5.); to the horses and chariots which he purchased of Pharaoh king of Egypt (i. 9. compared with 1 Kings x. 28, 29.); to Aminadab, who was eminent for such chariots, and who married one of Solomon's daughters (vi. 12. with 1 Kings iv. 11.); to his building of the temple under the figure of a palanquin or coach for his bride (iii. 9, 10.); to the materials of which it was formed. In short, all the leading circumstances in Solomon's life, in a religious point of view, appear to be

« FöregåendeFortsätt »