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SEQUEL OF DR. PYE SMITH'S REPLY TO DR. BENNETT.
(To the Editor.) MY DEAR SIR,_If in any thing I can trust my own consciousness, I may affirm that it cost me many painful struggles to bring myself to perform the apprehended duty of publishing my conviction that the Hebrew book, called The Song of Solomon, is not a part of the inspired writings. More happy should I have been, could I have felt myself justified in suppressing that conviction; and incomparably happier still, if either my own endeavours at investigation, or the criticisms of my friends, had led me to a satisfaction of the truth of the common opinion. But this has not been the result of either process. In the third edition of the Scripture Testimony, I therefore laboured to present the argument against myself in the strongest manner; and, though obliged to set forth the grounds of my own persuasion, I refrained from offering any strenuous rejoinder to the opposite class of reasonings, wishing the two to be left to the trial of their separate weight upon the mind of thoughtful and impartial readers. This was my motive for what my respected censor calls the not meeting the principal argument on that side: yet I thought that I did virtually meet it by that which still appears to me positive and preponderating evidence.
Dr. Bennett, however, presses the matter to its proper issue by saying, “I request, for the sake of truth, that he [Dr. S.] would explicitly declare, whether he admits the Song to have formed a part of the Jewish canon in our Lord's time.”
Praying that I may never violate the reverence which I owe to the Revelation of God, and sensible how liable I am to prejudice and error, I reply, No, I DO NOT: and these are my reasons.
1. We ought to guard against transferring our modern and familiar idea of a book, to the manners of former times. At the period to which the question refers, the writings of Moses and the Prophets were contained in rolls of parchment, or some other material, each roll comprehending a book, or, in the case of the smaller books, two, or perhaps more, were written upon one. Collections of these were laid up in chests, and one furnished with all the books of the Old Testament was not likely to be a very common possession. The labour and expense necessary to produce such rolls, together with the absence of literary habits, and the long-continued corruption of the Jewish nation, producing that awful degree of prevailing ignorance and debasement to which the New Testament bears witness, must have rendered complete collections of the Old Testament scriptures exceedingly rare. It is probable that few private persons had more than some principal portions; and that the chests in the synagogues were usually the most perfect. Now I believe that, when our Lord and the apostles spoke of “the scriptures," they habitually referred to those divine writings which were familiarized to the people by being read every Sabbath-day in the synagogues. The Book of Canticles I conceive to have been usually absent from the repositories, and to have been scarcely known by the generality of the Jewish people. I beg to refer to my second argument, in your July number, page 422. I therefore regard the book as having been silently rejected by our Divine Lord, in his thus passing it by, both in his own discourses and in the writings of his servants. To me it appears to have been an ancient poem, very little known in Palestine, and which was never in the contemplation of Jesus, or of his enemies, or of his disciples, in all their speaking and writing. The Jews of Egypt were a people as corrupt as those of Palestine, but in a different way; the latter being a careless, profligate, superstitious class of men, contented to repose in the treacherous arms of unauthorized traditions, and in pharisaical usurpation of authority; and the former, having perverted and even nullified the pure doctrine of the Old Testament scriptures, by adulterating it with a poisonous infusion of Oriental and Grecian philosophic systems, in both of which the use of allegory had a large place, a ready means of making void the word of God, and putting into its place their own proud dogmas and fantastic speculations. That such persons should eagerly insert this ancient book in their collection of sacred writings appears to me to weigh very little ; for it was quite in their taste, would be an inviting subject for their allegorizing ingenuity. It must also be recollected, that they equally put into their canon the Apocryphal Books, even to a greater amount than the Popish Church has thought proper to sanction. I cannot, therefore, ascribe any authority to the Alexandrine Catalogue, as it has been called.
The book of the Song existing in Hebrew would cause it to be welcomed (-I speak according to my apprehension-) by the Jews who used that language, and were scattered abroad after the destruction of their country by the Romans. There was a dark period, which we may reckon from the national ruin of the Jews, consequent upon their daring and obstinate rejection of Christianity, 6 filling up the measure of their iniquities," (compare Matt. xxiii. 32, and 1 Thess. ii. 15;) down to the reign of Hadrian, or to the close of the second century. Early in this space of time, the separation between the Jews and the Christians of any and every nation became complete; and thus an opportunity was likely to be afforded for the annexation of this ancient Hebrew book, by the unbelieving Jews, to their collection of sacred writings. The Jews of that period were most turbulent, perfidious, and infatuated with hatred to both their Roman heathen oppressors and the Christians, who would gladly have been the instruments of curing their unbelief. At this time also, that is about the opening or middle of the third century, the Christians were generally, I might say universally, destitute of Hebrew literature; so that they constantly quoted the Old Testament from the Septuagint version, including in their quotations and references, as to sacred or canonical books, several of the apocryphal writings, apparently without suspicion, because they stand intermingled in the Septuagint. This then I conceive to have been the period, in some part of which, a book which had not been recognized in the apostolic age, was intruded into the collection of old Testament writings.
These observations I intreat the equitable reader to consider in connexion with what I had before said, in the Script. Testim. vol. i. sec. ed. p. 46–51; third ed. p. 44-60; or in the present volume of the Congreg. Mag. p. 421-427; and I submit them as a reply to Dr. Bennett's 1st and 2d positions, page 613.
To his 3d and 6th I reply, that the Targums on the Song are of no authority; for what we have cannot be ascribed to an earlier date than the sixth century after Christ; and Peter Galatinus is a writer of little credit, and who lived but about 320 years ago.
To his 4th I reply, that the Syriac version was made in the dark period above mentioned, and that it contains several of the Apocryphal books; and that the Arabic is of a later age, and made from the Septuagint.
Upon his 5th I observe, that, in this question, no argument accrues from the Latin Vulgate; for it was based upon the Old Italic, which was taken from the Septuagint, and the period of the supposed intrusion of the Hebrew copy of the Canticles, as shown above, was two centuries before the time of Jerome. The Comments of Origen, more than a century earlier than the Vulgate, are an authority more to the point: but it is self-evident that they touch not the true gist of the question.
To his 7th and last position I answer, that it involves a mere begging of the question; for I think I have shown that “it seems impossible, on fair grounds, to find a place for the Song in the enumeration given by Josephus” of his countrymen's sacred books. See Script. Test. vol. i. sec. ed. p. 38, 39; third ed. p. 36, 37.
There are several little insinuations and surmises in Dr. Bennett's paper, which I trust he would by no means have made, if he had been kind and just enough to have read what I had advanced in the book which is the subject of his animadversions ; particularly paragraphs 3 and 4, of p. 43, sec. ed.; or third ed. p. 40.
In conclusion, I profess my conviction of the extreme difficulty of this inquiry, and the deep reluctance with which I have ever entered upon it. The opinion which I have avowed, is that which I have been compelled to adopt from the best endeavour in my power to examine all the evidence in the case, external and internal: but I wish to speak with the greatest modesty, and I abhor dictating to others, or thinking unkindly of them because of our difference of sentiment. The best defence, in my judgment, of the Inspiration and Divine Authority of the Song of Solomon, which it has been my happiness to read, is by one of my own recent pupils, at the time a student in our College, and now an able and faithful missionary in India, the Rev. Benjamin Rice; in the College Repository, for December, 1834, and March, 1835.*
Permit me to repeat the concluding sentences of my anxious lahour upon this subject : “ It is my earnest prayer that, if I am in error, not one of my readers may be misled by me. Let every one, in simplicity and godly sincerity, examine, pray, and determine for himself; and may truth and piety in all things triumph !” Homerton, Nov. 18, 1837.
J. PYE SMITH. * This article will be re-printed in our Magazine for January.- Editor.
MR. JOSIAII CONDER ON THE CONGREGATIONAL HYMN
(To the Editor.) Will you permit me, while acknowledging the very kind and gratifying terms in which your Reviewer has spoken of the editing of the Congregational Hymn Book, to offer a few words of explanation relative to the alterations introduced in some of the Hymns? I am anxious that your readers, and the religious public generally, should not imagine that this license has been used without great caution and reserve.
1. Many of the variations in the hymns, do not arise from alterations made by the Editor. In many instances, it is difficult to ascertain the original form of a hymn, which has undergone repeated alteration; and an Editor has but to choose out of many various readings. Some of the alterations have been adopted from other collections, as for instance,
“ Jesus, refuge of my soul;" is a judicious improvement introduced into more than one collection. Few readers are aware, that Dr. Watts never wrote the well known line,
“ He dies, the Friend of sinners dies,” so completely has the altered line effaced all recollection of the original.
2. The hymns which are now just altered, are comparatively few. No such liberties were taken with the compositions of living writers (amounting to about 200); and those of Heber, Kenn, C. Wesley, Mrs. Steele, Cowper, Newton, Tate and Brady, Fawcett, the Moravians, &c. are with scarcely an exception given without alteration, so that more than two thirds of the hymns remain untouched. It may, perhaps, be allowed me to add, that in some instances, the Editor persuaded the committee not to alter, when some improvements were suggested ; and in other cases, he acted in compliance with the recommendations of the committee in attempting to remove obvious blemishes. Doddridge's Sabbath Hymn,
" Lord of the Sabbath, hear our vows," was so strongly objected to by some members of the committee, as to be deemed inadmissible without an alteration of the last verse. This hymn seldom appears in our collections without alteration or abridgment. The hymns which are materially altered, however, are very few; probably not more than a score out of the 650. And those with which the greatest liberties have been taken are, with one or two exceptions, such as were previously little known; as hymns 377, 323, and 364. · With regard to the hymn usually beginning,
“ Guide me, 0 thou great Jehovah,"
I had proposed to insert both the common form and the new version, which would perhaps have given more general satisfaction. In that case, the first line would have been completely altered thus,
“ Shepherd of thine Israel ! lead us.” The design of the alterations was twofold; first, to render the hymn more scripturally correct by substituting the plural form, as the allusion is to the church in the wilderness, and sccondly, to mend the rhymes, or rather no-rhyme of the original. The transposition of the words in the first line, which has been deemed so unpardonable, was absolutely demanded by any attempt to make the first and the third line answer to each other.
3. The whole of the hymns (or nearly all,) were read aloud in committee, without reference to their author's name; and the Editor has felt bound to acknowledge the unwearied pains and patience, which were bestowed upon the preparation of the Hymn Book, by several members of that committee. If even Reviewers could be induced to read a Preface, it would be unnecessary to draw attention to this circumstance; but while I am quite satisfied with the measure of approbation, which has been awarded to me as Editor, I think it but right that the members of our body should be assured, that the preparation of the Congregational Hymn Book was not absolutely confided to the taste or judgment of any indivi. dual, and that the alterations introduced in the hymns were not adopted, without the concurrent conviction of those to whom they were submitted, that they were allowable and requisite.
I am, Rev. and dear Sir,
Yours very faithfully, Watford.
A CITIZEN OF ZION.