Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

believers who compose the individual members of that church ; and that the Song of Solomon is to be legitimately and soberly interpreted in the same way, it is apprehended, will satisfactorily appear from the following additional observations.

The church is to be considered as composed of individual believers : and, that there is an analogy between the conduct of God towards his church in general, and his conduct towards individuals, is plainly indicated in many parts of the New Testament. Thus, sometimes the sacred writers compare the whole body of believers to a temple, in which they form living stones, being built on the only foundation, Christ Jesus ; at other times, they consider individual believers as temples of the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor. ii. 16, 17. Eph. ii. 20— 22.) So also, they sometimes speak of the church as one, the bride the Lamb's wife; and at other times, of distinct churches or individual believers, as severally married to the Lord. (Rev. xxi. 9. 2 Cor. xi. 2. In this manner, Saint Paul allegorises the history of Hagar and her nistress, referring to the two dispensations, while at the same time he makes a practical application of it to the consciences of the Galatians. (Gal. iv. 22–31.)

Further, we consider the allegory as designed for the purposes of piety and devotion, which cannot be so well answered without such an application. Though this argument may, at first view, appear weak, it will be strengthened when we recollect the doctrine of the New Testament, that, “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning ;" and that their grand design is "to make us wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus." This shows both the propriety and importance of a particular application of scriptural truths to the circumstances and experience of individuals. Religion is a personal thing; and that professor is a hypocrite, the feelings of whose heart are not influenced by it, as well as the actions of his life.1

The fact is, that much of the language of this poem has been misunderstood by expositors, some of whom, not entering into the spirit

1 Williams's Translation of the Song of Songs, pp. 113–115. In further confirmation of the preceding view of the spiritual design of this sacred oriental poem, we may observe, that this allegoric mode of describing the sacred union between mankind at large, or an individual and pious soul, and the great Creator, is common to almost all eastern poets from the earliest down to the present age. Without such an esoteric or spiritual interpretation, it is impossible to understand many passages of the Persian poets Sadi and Hafizi and the Turkish commentators on them have uniformly thus interpreted them; though in many instances they have pur. sued their mystic meaning to an undue length. A similar emblematic mysticism is equally conspicuous in the bards of India : and the Vedantis or Hindoo commentators have in like manner attributed a double, that is, a literal and spiritual meaning to their compositions. This is particularly the case with the Gitágovinda, or Songs of Jayadeva, the subject of which is the loves of Chrishna and Radha, or the reciprocal attraction between the divine goodness and the soul of man; and the style and imagery of which, like those of the Royal Hebrew poet, are in the highest degree flowery and amatory. Good's Song of Songs, p. xxii. Kistemaker. Canticum Canticorum illustratum ex Hierographia Orientalium, pp. 23–40. Sir Willian Jones has given several examples of the mystical or allegorical language of the celebrated Persian poet, Hafiz, in his Dissertation on the mystical poetry of the Persians and Ilindoos. (Works, vol. iv. p. 227. 8vo.)

and meaning of Oriental poesy, have caused particular passages to be considered as coarse and indelicate, which, in the original, are altogether the reverse ; while others (as the learned Dr. Gill for instance) have so confounded the literal and allegorical senses as to give neither distinctly nor completely; at the same time, they have applied the figures to such a variety of objects, as to leave the reader still to seek the right, and, by their minute dissection of the allegory, they have not only destroyed its consistency and beauty, but have also exposed the poem to the unmerited ridicule of profane minds. Much, unquestionably, has been done, by later writers, towards elucidating the language and allusions of the Song of Songs by the aid of Oriental literature and manners; but, after all the labours of learned men, there will perhaps be found many expressions which are very difficult to us, both as to the literal meaning, and the spiritual instruction intended to be conveyed by them; and some descriptions must not be judged by modern notions of delicacy. But the grand outlines, soberly interpreted, in the obvious meaning of the allegory, so accord with the affections and experience of the sincere Christian," that he will hardly ever read and meditate upon them, in a spirit of humble devotion, without feeling a conviction that no other poem of the same kind, extant in the world, could, without most manifest violence, be so explained as to describe the state of his heart at different times, and to excite admiring, adoring, grateful love to God our Saviour, as this does.”2

With regard to the style, says Bishop Lowth, this poem is of the pastoral kind, since the two principal personages are represented in the character of shepherds. This circumstance is by no means incongruous to the manners of the Hebrews, whose principal occupation consisted in the care of cattle (Gen. xlvi. 32–34.); nor did they consider this employment as beneath the dignity of the highest characters. Least of all, could it be supposed to be inconsistent with the character of Solomon, whose father was raised from the sheepfold to the throne of Israel. The pastoral life is not only most delightful in itself, but, from the particular circumstances and manners of the Hebrews, is possessed of a kind of dignity. In this poem it is adorned with all the choicest colouring of language, with all the clegance and variety of the most select imagery. “Every part of the Canticles," says the learned and eloquent Bossuet, “abounds in poetical beauties; the objects, which present themselves on every side, are the choicest plants, the most beautiful flowers, the most delicious fruits, the bloom and vigour of spring, the sweet verdure of the fields, flourishing and well-watered gardens, pleasant streams, and perennial fountains. The other senses are represented as regaled with the most precious odours, natural and artificial: with the sweet singing of birds, and the soft voice of the turtle; with milk and honey, and the choicest of wine. To these enchantments are added all that is beautiful and graceful in the human form, the endearments, the caresses, the delicacy of love ; if any object be introduced which seems not to harmonise with this delightful scene, such as the awful prospect of tremendous precipices, the wildness of the mountains, or the haunts of lions, its effect is only to heighten by the contrast the beauty of the other objects, and to add the charms of variety to those of grace and elegance."

1 The chief error of all the translators of this book, Dr. Good observes with great truth, "results from their having given verbal renderings of the Hebrew terms and idioms, which ought merely to have been translated equivalently; a method, by which anv language in the world, when interpreted into another, may not only occasionally convey a meaning altogether different from what the author intended, but convert a term or phrase of perfect purity and delicacy, in its original import, into one altogether indelicate and unchaste." Song of Songs, p. xxvi. Dr. Good illustrates this remark by some well-chosen examplos, which want of room compels us to omit; but the result of its app ication, we may be permitted to observe, was his very elegant and delicate version, in which though he adheres solely to the literal meaning, yet he docidedly expresses himself (p. xviii.) in favour of the mys. tical meaning of the poem.

2 Scott. Pref. to Sol. Song.

1 Bossuet, Pref. in Canticum Canticorum.

CHAPTER IV.

ON THE PROPHETS.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE PROPHETS AND THEIR WRITINGS.

1. The Prophetical Books, why so called. II. Different kinds of

prophets mentioned in the Scriptures. - III. Situation of the prophets, and their manner of living. - IV. Nature of the prophetic inspiration. - V. Collection of their writings, and mode of announcing their predictions. VI. Number and order of the pro

phetic books. WE now enter on the fourth or prophetical part of the Old Testament, according to the division which is generally adopted, but which forms the second division, according to the Jewish classification of the sacred volume. This portion of the Scriptures is termed prophetical, because it chiefly consists of predictions of future events; though many historical and doctrinal passages are interspersed through the writings of the Prophets, as there also are many predictions of future events scattered through those books, which are more strictly historical. The authors of these books are, by way of eminence, termed Prophets, that is, divinely inspired persons, who were raised up among the Israelites to be the ministers of God's dispensations. Jehovali, at sundry times and in divers manners, spake unto the fathers by the prophets : for prophecy came not of old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (Heb. i. 1. 2 Pet. i. 21.) In the earliest ages of the world, some individuals were raised up, who sustained this high function. Thus we find the prophetical character expressly ascribed to Enoch and others, before the giving of the law; but reckoning from Moses to Malachi (which perlaps is the more correct mode of computation), we find a series of prophets, who flourished in a continued succession during a period of more than one thousand years; all confirming the authority of their predecessors; co-operating in the same designs; uniting in one spirit to deliver the same doctrines, and to predict the same blessings to mankind; labouring to reduce the people to the observance of their instructions; and denouncing the severest judgments against such as continued disobedient, or treated their divine commission with neglect or contempt.

II. To these messengers of heaven, frequent reference is made in various parts of the sacred writings. The term PROPHET, indeed, is of general signification. It was applied by the heathens to all persons who were supposed to be conversant with divine things; and, in conformity to this notion, Saint Paul in his Epistle to Titus (i. 12.),

18

VOL. IV.

when citing a passage from a profane poet, calls him a prophet, because the heathens supposed their poets to be inspired. In the historical books of the Old Testament we meet with frequent notice of the schools of the prophets ; these appear to have been seminaries, where religious truths, or the divine laws, were particularly taught." The pupils in these schools were not, strictly speaking, all of them prophets ; though God bestowed upon some of them the spirit of prophecy, or of predicting future events. (2 Kings ii. 3.) Further, in the Old Testament, the prophets are spoken of, asholy men of God," as "seers," and as “ prophets," in the most exalted sense of the term. The first denomination seems to have been sometimes applied to men of exemplary piety, who assiduously studied the divine law, as communicated by their legislator Moses; who firmly believed in the predictions of good and evil that should attend the Israelites according to the tenor of their conduct; who were observant of the character of the times in which they lived; and who might be able to discern the natural and inevitable consequences of particular actions, without the necessity of immediate inspiration. These men of God, however, received peculiar communications upon certain emergencies. They were divinely appointed to execute some important commissions, and to predict events which were not in the ordinary course of things, and far beyond the reach of human penetration. It was this which sometimes gave them the title of seers. The higher class of prophets were those who foretold important events that were to take place at distant periods; which no human sagacity could foresee, and which were most opposite to the natural conceptions or general expectations of mankind: as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the minor prophets.

III. The prophets, according to Augustine,) were the philosophers,

i When these schools of the prophets were first instituted, is no where recorded in the Scriptures; but as the earliest mention of them is in the time of Samuel, it is not probable that they existed anterior to his days. It is not unlikely that the degeneracy of the priesthood first occasioned the institution of these places, for the beiter education of those who were to succeed in the sacred ministry. According to the places specified in Scripture (1 Sam. x. 5. 10. and xix. 20. 2 Kings ii. 5. iv. 38. and xxii. 14.) the schools of the prophets were first erected in the cities of the Levites; which, for the more convenient instruction of the people, were dispersed through the several tribes of Israel. In these places, convenient edifices were built for the abode of the prophets and their disciples, who were thence termed the sons of the prophets ; and at their head some venerable truly inspired prophet was placed as governor, who is called their father. (1 Sam. x, 2. 2 Kings ii. 12.) Samuel was one, and perhaps the first, of those fathers (1 Sam. xix. 20.); and Elijah was another (2 Kings ii

. 12), who was succeeded by Elisha in this otire. (2 Kings iv. 33.) The sons of the prophets lived together in a society or community (2 Kings vi. 1.); they were instructed in the knowledge of the law, and of the principles of their religion, as well as in the sacred art of psalmody, or (as it is termed in 1 Sam. x. 5. and 1 Chron. xxv. 1. 7.) prophesying with harps, psalteries, and cymbals. At the conclusion of their lectures and religious exercises, they were accustomed to eat together with their masters. Stillingfleet's Origines Sacræ, pp. 92-101. 8th edition.

2 Dr. Cogan's Theological Disquisitions, p. 275. et seq. Dr. Gregory Sharpe's Second Argument in Detence of Christianity from Prophecy, pp. 1-20.

3 De Civitate Dei, lib. xviii..c. 41.

a

« FöregåendeFortsätt »