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I might now proceed to ask what is said by its writers about their production. The book is unquestionably a marvellous one : marvellous in its literary excellence and in the incidents it relates ; full of pictures of God ruling men, blessing them, punishing them, and interposing by miracles and signs; marvellous in that it throws its history back far beyond the range of all other written history, save that inscribed in the great stone-book attempted to be deciphered by the geologists—even to the birthday of our world. These and similar peculiarities prepare us to reverence that volume as Divine; for never book spake like this book.
In accordance with such an expectation we find its writers constantly ascribing their work to the inspiration of God. But though this course of reasoning might be regarded as satisfactory by some ; yet, as it is but the witnesses' own testimony, others would say it was begging the question, amounting practically to nothing more than this : the Old Testament is inspired because those who composed it say they were inspired. I think it probable, however, that even on this low ground the Old Testament inspiration might be successfully defended; but I can find better ground for faith.
I rest the inspiration of the Old Testament, in the first place, on the authority of the Son of God Himself. • If it can be proved,' says Dr. Henderson, 'that the Lord Jesus Christ has attributed to the Scriptures of the Old Testament the qualities and claims of inspiration, then we are bound to receive them as inspired simply on the ground of His declaration to that effect.'
How, then, did He treat the Old Testament? and what did He say about it on the testimony of those who have recorded for us His sayings and doings ? Jesus Christ Himself wrote nothing ; but He spoke out freely to those honest men with whom He was intimate. From them we gather what His views were, as we should gather the views of Luther from those honest, intimate friends to whom he expressed them.
Christ then refers His hearers to the Old Testament as giving authoritative Divine teaching (Matthew xxii. 29, 31). He bids them search the Scriptures, and rests His own claim to acceptance on their testimony (John v. 39). To convince them of their aggravated guilt in rejecting Him, He asks (Matthew xxi. 42) : 'Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?' Here He quotes Psalm cxviii. He repeatedly speaks of the Old Testament in the singular number, calling it The Scripture, thus indicating its unity. In John x. 3436 He is represented as saying, “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods ? If He called them gods, unto whom the Word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken, etc.' Here He quotes from the Psalms as a part of the law and of The Scripture which cannot be broken,' by which expression we understand Him to mean : its authority cannot be invalidated.
In other places He speaks of the Old Testament in its three parts—the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, giving them equality of value in the book called the Scriptures, and ever distinctly resting His claims upon them as upon three pillars of equal stability,
From these and other passages it is plain that our Saviour fully recognized the authority of the entire codex received by the Jews in His day as Divine. He treated the whole Old Testament as the Word of God. He said it was the Word of God.
If the New Testament is God's Word, if the utterances of our Lord and His Apostles are of Divine authority, then the whole of that volume to which they referred as the Scripture is inspired. I presume no one would
I doubt this but for certain peculiarities contained in some parts of the Book, which lead some persons to think exceptions must be made. I object at once to this position. When Christ has told us that a certain writing is inspired, I have no right, as a Christian, to say that any part of it is not. It may contradict my notion of what an inspired writing should be, but my notion is not to be set against Christ's authority. Otherwise, I make my judgment superior to His judgment. Then that on which the Divine authority of Scripture is to rest is not Christ's Word, but my poor human judgment. If so, we may as well reject Christ altogether. We don't want Him, because we have our own judgment, which we think better than Christ's. We, the disciples, are distinctly above our Master : we, the servants, are clearly of more authority than our Lord. That means no less than the rejection of Christianity. We pass at once into Deism. Further, if our individual judgment is to determine what writings are inspired and what are not, then one man's judgment will reject one part of Scripture, and another man's will reject another, and, part after part, the whole will be rejected.
But whilst thus maintaining the inspiration of the whole Old Testament, I am prepared to admit that there are difficulties about the inspiration of some parts of it, and especially of the Minatory Psalms. These difficulties in the Word of God are, however, not greater than those in His works and providence. It would be just as irrational to deny God's government of the world because of these difficulties, as to deny God's authorship of this Book on the ground of its difficulties. We may fail to explain them, but Christ's testimony remains, and we must believe it, and wait for further light. All the brilliancy of the future is not treasured up in our poor souls. If we fail in explanation we are nevertheless bound to receive the whole Book as God's on Christ's authority.
In trying to solve these difficulties we make two preliminary remarks.
1. That the passionate poetical language of the Psalms sometimes invests their sentiments with greater repulsiveness to our minds than to the minds of those who were contemporary with the writers. In illustration of this I point to Psalm cxxxvii. 8, 9:0 daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall be be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.' The Psalmist here evidently has his eye upon the ordinary circumstances attending the capture of a city by storm. Happy, says he, shall that man heblessed as God's chosen instrument to deliver and avenge His cruelly
laved people by the overthrow of their oppressors. Happy and honoured,
should we not now say, the man to whom, in the use of his God-given abilities, there was granted the rare felicity of breaking the fetters of a cruelly enslaved and tortured nation? Should we not clap our hands at the achievements of such a man? At any rate, here the Psalmist predicts the actual feeling, the elation of the Persian soldiers when they captured Babylon.
The language of the Old Testament must be read in the light of the times and of the people by whom it was written and first read. The utterances of Puritans and Covenanters fall very harshly on our ears, but may mean little more than the softer phraseology used in these days. The language of all poetry is essentially passionate and highly figurative, and that of the Easterns, who habitually thought and spoke in poetry, is extremely profuse in figures. The human element of the Bible was throughout provided by Eastern minds, and the failure to apprehend this by us Westerns has caused ludicrous interpretations of many
New Testament as well as Old Testament expressions. For instance, Christ declared that if His disciples had faith as a grain of mustard-seed, they might say to this mountain, Be thou removed and be thou cast into the sea, and it should be done. No Eastern would ever interpret this as meaning a mountain of earth or stone, but a mountain difficulty or evil. This must be borne in mind in any interpretation of the Psalms.
2. That we must not regard God as approving every utterance that is recorded in the Old Testament. There are, for instance, long speeches made by the three friends of Job in condemnation of that afflicted old man,
and it is expressly declared to them, “ Ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right.' (Job xlii. 7.) Many of their utterances, of course, were right, but many more were wrong. What the Old Testament teaches us to believe, to become, and to do is right; but we must bring our common sense to its exposition, or we may think it teaches strange things indeed. That some of the deeds here recorded are wrong; that some of the passions here exhibited are bad-does not prove the Old Testament not to be inspired. God directed all these statements to be committed to writing under the control and superintendence of His Holy Spirit, that we might know His will and be led to do it.
Now, to come to the Psalms, with which our difficulty lies. These have been designated minatory, vindictive, or imprecatory. Take a few specimens of the kind of language to which it is objected that it militates against our acceptance of them as Divinely inspired :
Psalm v. 10: ‘Destroy Thon them, O God ; let them fall by their own counsels ; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions ; for they have rebelled against Thee.'
Pealm x. 15: Break Thon the arm of the wicked and the evil man : seek out his wickedness till Thon find none.'
Psalm 1v.9: 'Destroy, 0 Lord, and divide their tongues : for I have seen violence and strife in the city.' Verse 15 : “Let death seize apon them, and let them go down quick (alive) into hell (margin: grave) : for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.?
Psalm lix. 12-15 : For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips let them even be taken in their pride : and for cursing and lying which they speak. Consume them in
wrath, consume them, that they may not be: and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth. And at evening let them return; and let them make a noise like a dog, and go round about the city. Let them wander up and down for meat, and grudge if they be not satisfied.'
Psalm cix. 6-15: 'Set Thou a wicked man over him : and let Satan stand at his right hand. When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places. Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour. Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children. Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. Let them be before the Lord continually, that He may cut off the memory of them from the earth.'
The difficulty is to reconcile such language with the doctrine of the inspiration of these psalms.
1. I cannot accept the view which has been sometimes urged, that all these passages are merely prophetic. Some of them, no doubt, are. They might have been rendered in the future tense rather than in the imperative mood, without any violation of Hebrew grammar. This may remove some difficulties, but not all.
2. I cannot accept the view that the Old Testament religion was essentially different from that of the New. Mercy, it is true, does stand more prominently forward in the New Testament, and Justice in the Old. The one reveals the dispensation of the Law, the other that of Grace. The one appeals more peculiarly to fear, the other to love; but revenge is forbidden as plainly in the Old Testament as in the New. Indeed, St. Paul in forbidding it (Romans xii. 19, 20), quotes from the Old Testament: 'Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath for it is written, Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.'
It may, however, be attempted to contrast the so-called imprecations of the Old Testament with the spirit of the New, as exhibited in our Lord's prayer for His murderers, Stephen's prayer for his, our Lord's tears over Jerusalem, etc. But it will not do to ignore the other side of New Testament teaching. How many terrible woes did our Lord pronounce in relation to the Pharisees! (See Matt. xxiii.) How sternly did He denounce Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum! (Matt. xi. 20, etc.) New Testament denunciations, too, sometimes seem to take the form of private vindictiveness. 'Alexander the coppersmith,' St. Paul writes, 'did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works.' (2 Tim. iv. 14.) In the Book of the Revelation we have pictured to us the souls under the altar crying, 'How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth!' And the downfall of the spiritual Babylon described in Rev. xviii. is followed by the chant that fills all heaven (ch. xix.
1-3): Alleluia : Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God : for true and righteous are His judgments : for He hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever. Thus the Psalms are not alone in their expressions of acquiescence in, and even desire for, the overthrow of the wicked. Similar language is found in the New Testament.
Of course, our first thought should be directed to the conversion of the wicked. Jesus rebuked His disciples when they proposed to pray down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans. But, on the other hand, when the Apostles were rejected in any place, after persistent efforts to preach the Gospel, they were bidden : “Shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.' And nowhere in the Old Testament do we find judgment. following sin with greater swiftness or severity than in the New Testament case of Ananias and Sapphira.
God is a righteous Governor. The Divine mercy would not be so astounding but for the Divine righteousness. God maintains right even in the exercise of mercy; and Hengstenberg justly remarks : The example of the holy Psalmists is so far given us for our imitation, as it teaches us not to single out mercy from among the attributes of God, and hold it up alone to view, which cannot be isolated without losing its essential nature.' (Hengstenberg, OB the Psalms, vol. iii., p. lxxv.)
I come now to ask what is right and good prayer or imprecation before God. Is the Commination Service in the Book of Common Prayer to be justified ? Is the prayer found in the Thanksgiving Service for the restoration of the royal Stuarts right, where we read : ‘Infatuate and defeat all the secret counsels of deceitful and wicked men against us. Abate their pride, assuage their malice, and confound their devices. Strengthen the hands of our gracious Sovereign, Queen Victoria, and all that are put in authority under her, with judgment and justice to cut ofjo all such workers of iniquity as turn Religion into Rebellion, and Faith into Faction, etc.'? Is the prayer appointed for the day of Her Majesty's accession right : ‘Do Thou weaken the hands, blast the designs, and defeat the enterprises of all her enemies'? Was the prayer of the present Archbishop of Canterbury right, when a short time since, on the launch of a ship of war, he prayed for a blessing on the ship and its mission : which, being interpreted at a little length, meant that if that ship meet an enemy who is indisposed to submit, her cannon-balls might dash through the iron plates and timbers of the foe, and sweep through the bodies of her crew, prostrating them in blood, till they submit? Was that prayer right? If it was not right to pray for the success of the ship, it was not right to build her. If it was not right to pray for the success of the cannon-balls, it was not right to cast them. It is never right to fight a battle for which you cannot intelligently, and conscientiously, and earnestly invoke God's blessing
Now the imprecations of the Psalms were prompted either by private