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THE BOOK OF PROVERBS.
ficial effects.* The conclusion of the work is worthy of an inspired author: “ Fear God, and
keep his commandments; for this is the whole This book, with the exception probably of the duty of man,” &c. The following synopsis is two concluding chapters, was composed by Solo- from the work just referred to. mon, chap. i. l; x. l; xxv. 1.
The 30th chapter
Part I.--The vanity of all earthly conditions, was penned by Agar, son of Jakeh, of whom we
occupations, and pleasures. The vanity of all no where else read; and the last chapter contains earthly things (i. 2); the unprofitableness of human the instructions given to Lemuel by his mother,
labour, and the transitoriness of human life (i. of both of whom we are ignorant. From the
3—11); the vanity of laborious inquiries into the first verse of the 25th chapter it has been thought ways and works of man (i. 12–18); luxury and that the Proverbs following were collected out of pleasure are only vanity and vexation of spirit the other writings of Solomon, and placed in the (ii. 1–11); though the wise excel fools, yet, order in which we now possess them in this book. as death happens to them both, human learning is But this is no more than vague conjecture. The but vanity (ii. 12–17); the vanity of human design of the inspired author of these pointed labour, in leaving it they know not to whom (ii. and sententious maxims may be gathered from 18—23); the emptiness of sensual enjoyments the first three verses ; and so admirably adapted (ii
. 24–26); though there is a proper time for
the execution of all human purposes, yet are they to the purposes of instruction have they appeared, ,
useless and vain; the divine counsels, however, that many heathen philosophers and legislators have drawn their brightest sentiments from them. are immutable (iii. 1–14); the vanity of human The Proverbs are frequently quoted in the New pursuits proved from the wickedness prevailing in Testament. See Matt. xv. 4; Luke xiv. 10;
courts of justice, contrasted with the righteous Roin. xii. 16, 17, 20; 1 Thess. v. 14; 1 Pet. iv. judgment of God (iii. 15—17); though life, con8, v.5; James iv. 6, &c.
sidered 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); SECTION IV.
vanity is increased unto men by oppression (iv.
1-3); the vanity of prosperity (iv. 4); the THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES ;
vanity of folly, or of preferring the world to true That is, the Preacher, or one who harangues a wisdom (iv. 5, 6); the vanity of covetousness public auditory. This book was written by Solo-|(iv. 7, 8); though society has its advantages, yet mon, evidently towards the close of his splendid dominion and empire are but vanity (iv. 9—16); career, and after he had been brought to repent- errors in the performance of divine worship, which zace for his awful apostasy from God. The pur- render it vain and unprofitable (v. 1–7); the pose of the book is explicitly declared in its title; vanity of murmuring at injustice ; for though the namely, to demonstrate the vanity of all earthly oppression of the poor and the perversion of judgacquisitions, and to show that, when the heart is ment greatly prevail, they do not escape the notice set on sublunary enjoyments, all will prove to be of the Almighty (v. 8, 9); the vanity of riches, ** vanity and vexation of spirit.” In the course with an admonition as to the moderate enjoyment of his argument, the wise teacher anticipates the of them (ver. 10—20); the vanity of avarice (vi. objections of the licentious and the thoughtless, 1-9). and produces their absurd opinions for the purpose Part II.— The nature, excellence, and beneficial of refuting them. It is therefore necessary to effects of wisdom, or religion. Since all human keep the eye steadily fixed on the purport of the designs, labours, and enjoyments are vain, it is discourse, and to discriminate what the author natural to inquire, What is good for man
n? What delivers in his own, and what in an assumed, cha- is his supreme good (vi. 10–12) ?
The answer Mr. Holden, in his “Attempt to illustrate is contained in the remainder of the book. The the Book of Ecclesiastes,” has divided the work praise of character and reputation (vii. 1); aftlicinto two principal parts. The first, which extends tion improves the heart, and exalts the character to the tenth verse of the sixth chapter, he con of the wise (vii. 2—10); the excellence of wissiders as taken up in demonstrating the vanity of dom (vii. 11–14); an objection, with the answer all earthly conditions, occupations, and pleasures ; (vii. 15—viii. 7); the evil of wickedness shows the and the second part, which includes the remainder of the book, as occupied in culogizing WISDOM, and in describing its nature, excellence, and bene
* Preliminary Discourse, p. lxv.
THE SONG OF SOLOMON.
advantage of true wisdom (viii. 8—13); an objec- inferred from its finding a place in the Hebrew tion, with the answer (viii. 14—ix. 1); an ob- canon, probably settled by Ezra, and also from its jection with the answer (ix. 2, 10, 17); the bane- translation in the Septuagint Version. It forms fulness of sloth (x. 18); the power of wealth one of the books of canonical Scripture mentioned (x. 19); an exhortation against speaking evil of by Josephus, and one book in the Jewish divisions dignities (x. 20); an exhortation to charity and of Scripture adopted by our Saviour and his benevolence (xi. 1-10); an exhortation to the apostles; the only reason for which is to be inearly cultivation of religious habits (xii. 1–7); ferred from a mystical meaning. Under the figure the conclusion (xii. 8-14).
of a marriage seems to be typified the intimate
relation subsisting between Christ and his church, SECTION V.
and the same figures found in this allegory, have been transferred into the New Testament. See
Matt. ix. 15, xxii. 2, xxv. 1-11; John iii. 29; 1. Great diversity of opinion is found among 2 Cor. xi. 2; Eph. v. 23, 27; Rev. xix. 7, 9, critics and commentators on the character of this xxii. 17. poem. The majority of writers consider it to be
2. Mr. Good, whose excellent translation of this an inspired book; while others regard it as a book of Scripture will afford much valuable aid merely human composition : some view it as a in its perusal, considers it to be a series of Idyls, sacred allegory, shadowing forth the intimate rela- like the cassides of the poets of Arabia. Its tion between Christ and his church ; but others style, as remarked by Bishop Lowth, is of the insist upon its literal meaning, as referring to the pastoral kind, the two principal personages being marriage of Solomon with the princess of Egypt. represented in the character of shepherds. Nor
are those who concur in viewing it as a mys- 3. The manner in which the Song of Solomon tical allegory, agreed as to its precise interpretation. has been interpreted by most expositors, has had Bishop Lowth restricts it to the universal church, the effect of exposing it to unmerited ridicule and and conceives that it has no reference what- contempt. Not entering into the style and spirit ever to the spiritual state of individuals; while of oriental poesy, they have given to some pasothers interpret it of the individual members sages a coarse and indelicate appearance; and, not who compose that church. Amid this conflict distinguishing between the literal and the allegorical of opinion, supported as each theory is by the senses, they have destroyed the consistency and highest names and talents, it is extremely diffi- beauty of the poem, while they have bewildered cult to decide ; and as our limits will not allow a the mind of the reader. To understand it well, full discussion of the merits of the respective requires not only a renewed heart and an hypotheses, we must be satisfied with a few words lightened mind, but a sober and cautious judgconveying our own notions of the character and ment. The spiritual senses must be exercised to claims of this singular composition. That Solo- discern clearly spiritual truths, and the imaginamon was the author, is affirmed by the concurrent tion must be curbed by a reverential apprehentestimony of the Jewish and Christian churches. sion of the majesty and condescension of God. He is also mentioned as such in the poem itself, Among the Jews, they were not allowed to read ver. 1; and the several allusions to his works and it until they had attained the sacerdotal age of character, fix it indubitably to the period of his thirty years. reign. That it is an inspired composition, may be
OF THE PROPHETICAL BOOKS.
ment is so called, because the subjects thereof are
chiefly, though not exclusively, prophetic. PRELIMINARY REMARKS.
2. If we take up the prophetic volume, we find 1. Tuis section of the books of the Old Testa- that it readily divides itself into two parts, which
may be called the moral or doctrinal, and the pre- “and by his perceptions, convince him, as he dictive. It is not a series of mere predictions reads, that these compositions can be none of the far from it. It abounds in matter of another works of men which have obtained the credit of kind : there is a continued strain of moral doctrine being the oracles of God.” The more sceptical which runs through it, including under that name reader will see in them something to arrest his the only efficacious and sufficient moral doctrine, attention, at least, and to excite in him a susthat which is founded upon a knowledge of God, picion, that the teachers of so excellent and virhis attributes, and his will, with a sense of the tuous a discipline of life, and the expositors of so direct, personal, and responsible relation of man rational a theology, are not to be set down for to him. Accordingly, the most frequent subjects vain pretenders to inspiration. of the prophet are the laws of God, his supreme 3. We may further remark, that this moral redominion and his universal providence, the ma- velation, made by a succession of prophets, holds jesty of his nature, his spiritual being, and his an intermediate place between the law of Moses holiness, together with the obligations of obedi- and the gospel of Christ. It is a step in progress ence to him in the particular duties of an inward beyond the law, in respect of the greater distinctfaith and worship, and of justice and mercy to ness and fulness of some of its doctrines and preman, the whole of these duties being enforced by cepts; it is a more perfect exposition of the prinexplicit sanctions of reward and punishment. ciples of personal holiness and virtue; the sanctions These original principles of piety and morals of it have less of an exclusive reference to teme verspread the pages of the book of prophecy; poral promises, and incline more to evangelical : they are brought forward, they are inculcated, , the ritual of the law begins to be discountenanced from first to last. They are often the subject by it; the superior value of the moral commandwhen nothing future is in question ; they are con- ment to be enforced ; and altogether, it bears a stantly interwoven with the predictions; they are more spiritual and a more instructive character either the very thing propounded, or they are than the original law given by Moses. In a word, connected with it, and all the way they are im- in the prophets there is a more luminous, a more pressed with a distinctness and energy of instruc- perfectly reasoned, rule of life and faith, than in tion, which show it was none of the secondary the primary law; and therefore God's moral ends of the prophet's mission to be this teacher of revelation was progressive. It is more perfect righteousness ; insomuch that, if we except the in the prophets than in the law; more perfect gospel itself, there can nowhere be shown, cer- in the gospel than in either.* tainly not in the works or systems of pagan wis- 4. Lastly, the prophets had a practical office to dom, so much of luminous and decisive informa- discharge, as pastors and ministerial monitors of tion concerning the unity, providence, mercy, and the people of God. To "show Jacob his transtoral government of God, and man's duty founded gressions, and Israel his sins," was a part of the upon his will, as is to be gathered from the pro- commission they received. Hence their work to adphetic volume. Let the predictions of prophecy, then, monish and reprove; to arraign for every ruling sin, for a time be put out of our thoughts, and let the to blow the trumpet to repentance, and shake the prophetic books be read for the pure theology they terrors of the divine judgments over a guilty land. contain. With what feelings of conviction they are often they bore the message of consolation or read by the religious person, it is not hard to tell. pardon ; rarely, if ever, of public approbation and He perceives that he is instructed and elevated by praise. The integrity and fortitude with which the discoveries made to him of the Supreme Being, they acquitted themselves of this charge, is attested and the kind of worship and obedience required by impartial history, which recites the death and from himself; and these discoveries, made with an martyrdom some of them endured. But it lives authority and a commanding power which argue also in their own writings ; not in the praise of them to be what they are given for, a law of life their sincerity and zeal, but in the faithful record and practice ; doctrines, not of theory, but of self- of the expostulations and reproofs which they guvernment and direction; the most useful, there-delivered in the face of idolatrous or oppressive bre, to himself, and the most worthy of the source kings, a degenerate priesthood, and a corrupt, whence they profess to come.
On this view of idolatrous people. “Great was the fidelity and the prophetic writings, Origen, who does not over- great the boldness of the prophets,” is their just state their persuasive force, says, that “to the panegyric. But in this service they betray none meditative and attentive reader they raise an impression of enthusiasm” (a true and rational enthusiasın, like a spark of their own inspiration), • Davison's Discourses on Prophecy, pp. 41-48.
of the spirit of turbulent and fanatical agitators; and spotless Redeemer, John iii. 14: compare men who step out of order to make the public sin Exod. xii. 46 with John xix. 36. Hence it was, their field of triumph ; but a grave and masculine that many of the descriptions of the prophets severity, which bespeaks their entire soberness of had a two-fold character; bearing often an immemind, and argues the reality of their commission. diate reference to present circumstances, and yet Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, are all eminent being in their nature predictive of future occurexamples of this ministerial duty. And if Paul | rences. What they reported of the types was could
say of holy writ, that it “is profitable for often, in a more signal manner, applicable to the doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction thing typified; what they spoke literally of the in righteousness," as he speaks of the old Scrip- present, was figuratively descriptive of future ture, so to no part of it does that idea more fitly particulars; and what was applied in a figurative belong, than to the admonitory homilies of the sense to existing persons, was often actually chaprophets. *
racteristic of their distant archetypes. Many 5. With respect to the precise nature and extent passages, then, in the Old Testament, which in of prophetic inspiration, much has been written their first aspect appear to be historical, are in with which it is unnecessary that we should trouble fact prophetic; and they are so cited in the New the reader. We may rest satisfied in the assurance Testament, not by way of ordinary accommothat these “holy men of old spake as they were dation, or casual coincidence, but as intentionally moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. i. 21); and predictive; as having a double sense, a literal that by them “God spake, at sundry times and in and mystical interpretation. This mode of divers manners, unto the fathers,” Heb. i. 1. wrapping up religious truth in allegory, gives
6. The prophetic books are sixteen in number ; great interest to the sacred books, in the diligent and in modern editions of the Bible, they are perusal of which the most admirable contrivance usually divided into two classes, viz., the grcater and unexpected beauty will be discovered. That prophets, comprising Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, many of the prophecies in the Old Testament Daniel, who were thus distinguished from the were direct, and singly and exclusively applicable length of their books; and the minor prophets, to and accomplished in our Saviour, is certain ; comprising Hosea, Joel, Amos, Jonah, Obadiah, and that some passages are cited from the Old Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Testament by way of accommodation to circumZechariah, and Malachi. They are not placed in stances described in the New, is perhaps equally our Bibles in the order of time in which they true: but that this typical kind of prophecy was prophesied ; but this circumstance should be care-likewise employed, is evident from a vast number fully attended to, if we would understand them of passages ; and it is this double character of correctly.
prophecy which occasions those unexpected tran7. The great object of prophecy was a descrip- sitions and sudden interchange of circumstance, tion of the Messiah and his kingdom. The particu- so observable in the prophetic books. Thus lars of these were gradually unfolded by successive different predictions are sometimes blended and prophets, in prophecies more and more distinct. mixed together; temporal and spiritual deliverThey were at first held forth in general promises ; ances are foretold in one prophecy; and greater they were afterwards described by figures, and and smaller events are combined in one point of shadowed forth under types and allusive insti- view. To unravel this requires much attention, tutions, as well as clearly foretold in the full lustre and a considerable acquaintance with the scope of of descriptive prophecy. The prophets were the Scriptures. + oftentimes the representatives of the future dis- 8. The language of the prophets is remarkable pensers of evangelical blessings ; as Moses and for its magnificence; the ornaments being derired, David were unquestionably types of Christ, Ezek. not from accumulation of epithet, or laboured xxxiv. 23; Matt. xi. 14; Heb. vi. 20, vii. 1-3. harmony, but from the real grandeur of its images, Persons were sometimes descriptive of things, and the majestic force of its expressions. Its also, as Sarah and Hagar were allegorical figures sudden bursts of eloquence, its earnest warmth, of the two covenants, Gal. iv. 22–31, Rom. ix. its affecting exhortations and appeals, afford very 7–13. And, on the other hand, things were interesting proofs of that vivid impression, and of used to symbolize persons, as the brazen serpent and the paschal lamb were signs of our healing
+ For an able discussion of the structure and gradual development of prophecy, reference is made to Davison's Dis.
courses op Prophecy, a work which cannot be too highly comL'avisou's Discourses on Prophecy, pp. 53, 54. mended.
that inspired conviction, under which the prophets till the event explained it, they would probably wrote. No style, perhaps, is so highly figurative have wished to have remained for ever in their as that of the prophets. Every object of nature captivity at Babylon, rather than expose themand of art, which can furnish allusions, is explored selves or their offspring, a second time, to a dewith industry; every scene of creation, and every struction so dreadful as that which they had pige of science, seems to have unfolded its rich already experienced. In like manner, the provarieties to the sacred writers, who, in the spirit phecies relating to the Messiah had a view both of eastern poetry, delight in every kind of meta- to his first and to his second coming; they spoke phorical embellishment.
of him as suffering, and yet conquering and 9. On the style of the prophets much has been reigning. The Jews, led by their situation first written, particularly by Vitringa, Calmet, Lowth, to wish, and then to expect, a conquering Messiah, Michaëlis, and Newton. From the preliminary did not clearly see the order of the prophecy, and observations to Dr. Smith's “ View of the Pro- that it behoved Christ, first to suffer, and then to phets," &c., where the principal observations of enter into his glory; and therefore ignorantly, these learned writers have been abridged with and in unbelief, they were instrumental in fulfilling great judgment, the following remarks have been the prophecy, by shedding that blood which was selected.
to atone for the sins of mankind. But this they 10. The writings of the prophets, the most sub- could never have been so impious as to have lime and beautiful in the world, from their not attempted, had they fully known that they were being more generally understood, lose much of that crucifying the Lord of Glory. usefulness and effect which they are so well calcu- 13. With respect to our times, by far the greatest lated to produce on the souls of men. Many number of prophecies relate to events now past; prophecies are somewhat dark, till events explain and therefore a sufficient acquaintance with histhem. They are, besides, delivered in such lofty tory, and with the language and style of prophecy, and figurative terms, and with such frequent is all that is requisite in order to understand them. allusions to the customs and manners of times Some prophecies, however, relate to events still and places the most remote, that ordinary readers | future; and these, too, may be understood in gecannot, without some help, be supposed capable neral, although some particular circumstances conof understanding them. What is not understood nected with them may remain obscure till they is seldom read; or if it be, it is only as a task, are fulfilled. If prophecies were not capable of begun without inclination, gone through without being understood in general, we should not find pleasure, and ended without profit.
the Jews so often blamed, in this respect, for their 11. Some prophecies seem as if it were not in- ignorance and want of discernment. That they tended that they should be clearly understood did actually understand many of them, when they before they are fulfilled. As they relate to different chose to search the Scriptures, we know. Daniel periods, they have been intended for exciting the understood from the prophecies of Jeremiah the attention of mankind, from time to time, both to time at which the captivity in Babylon was to be Providence and to Scripture, and to furnish every at an end ; and the scribes knew from Micah, and age with new evidence of the truth of divine reve- told Herod, where the Messiah was to be born. lation ; by which means they serve the same A very little attention might have enabled them purpose to the last ages of the world that miracles in the same manner to understand others, as they did to the first. Whereas, if they had been in probably did; such as the seventy weeks of every respect clear and obvious from the be- Daniel, the destruction of the Babylonian empire, ginning, this wise purpose had been in a great and of the other three that were to succeed; and measure defeated. Curiosity, industry, and atten- also the ruin of the people and places around them, tion, would at once be at an end; or, by being too Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Sidon, Philistia, Egypt, and easily gratified, would be little exercised. Idumea. Perhaps, indeed, a few enigmatical cir
12. Besides, a great degree of obscurity is neces- cumstances might have been annexed, which could sary to some prophecies before they can be fulfilled; not be understood till they were accomplished; but and if not fulfilled, the consequence would not be the general tenor of the prophecies they could be 39 beneficial to mankind. Thus, many of the at no loss to understand. With regard to proancient prophecies concerning the destruction of phecies still future, we are in a similar situation. Jerusalem bad a manifest relation to the remoter We know, in general, that the Jews will be destruction by the Romans, as well as to the gathered from their dispersions, restored to their hearer one by the Chaldeans. Had the Jews own land, and converted to Christianity; that the perceived this, which was not indeed clear enough fulness of the Gentiles will likewise come in, that