Laws from Heaven for Life on Earth, William Arnot, Scottish Presbyterian minister, 1858.
Chapter 1: THE PREACHER
The Proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel.
GOD'S word is like God's world: it combines unity of pervading principle, with endless variety in detail The whole Bible, considered as one book, stands entirely apart from all other writings; and yet every several portion of it is distinguished from every other portion, as much as one merely human writing is distinguished from another. This combination results from the manner in which it has pleased God to make known his will One Divine- Spirit inspires; hence the unity of the whole. Men of diverse age, taste, and attainments write; hence the diversity of the parts. Although the books are written by Moses, David, Solomon, they are all alike the word of God: therefore they exhibit a complete separation from all other writings, and a perfect consistency among themselves.
Again, although they are all one as being the word of God, they are as much
the genuine product of different human minds, as the ordinary writings of men are the work of their authors: therefore there is in matter and manner, an unconstrained, natural, life-like diversity.
It was God who "spake unto the fathers," but it was " by the prophets" that he spoke; not by their tongues only, but their understandings, memories, tastes ; in short, all that constituted the men. There is as much individuality in the books of Scripture as in any other books. There is as much of Moses shining through the Pentateuch, as of Gibbon in the Decline and Fall As are the articulating lips to the soul whose thoughts they utter, so are the prophets to the Holy Spirit, whose mind they reveal Every writer was chosen by God, as well as every word. He had a purpose to serve by the disposition, the acquirements, and the experience of each. The education of Moses as one of the royal race of Egypt was a qualification necessary to the leader of the exodus, and the writerof the Pentateuch. The experience of David, with its successive stages, like geologic strata, touching each other in abrupt contrast, first as a shepherd youth, then as a fugitive warrior, and last as a victorious king, was a qualification indispensable to the sweet singer of Israel God needed a human spirit as a mould to cast consolation in,for every kindred in every age. He chose one whose experience was a compound of meekness and might, of deep distress and jubilant victory. These, when purged of their dross, and fused into one by the Spirit's baptism of fire, came forth an amalgam of sacred psalmody, which the whole church militant have been singing ever since,and " have not yet sung dry." Solomon did not, like David, pass his youth in pastoral simplicity, and his early manhood under cruel persecution.
Solomon could not have written the twenty-third psalm— "The Lord is my Shepherd;" nor the fifty-seventh—A psalm of David when he fled from Saul in the cave. His experience would never have suggested the plaintive strains of the ninetieth psalm—A prayer of Moses the man of God—" Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place." But, on the other hand, Solomon went through a peculiar experience of his own, and God, who in nature gives sweet fruit to men through the root sap of a sour crab, when a new nature has been engrafted on the upper stem, did not disdain to bring forth fruits of righteousness through those parts of the king's experience that cleaved most
closely to the dust. None of all the prophets could have written the Proverbs or the Preacher; for God is Dot wont, even in his miraculous interpositions, to make a fig-tree bear olive berries, or a vine figs: every creature acts after its kind. When Solomon delineated the eager efforts of men in search of happiness, and the disappointment which ensued, he could say, like Bunyan, of that fierce and fruitless war, " I was there." The heights of human prosperity he had reached: the paths of human learning he had trodden, farther than any of his day: the pleasures of wealth and power and pomp he had tasted, in all their variety. No spring of earthly delight could be named, of whose waters he had not deeply drunk. This is the man whom God has chosen as the schoolmaster to teach us the vanity of the world when it is made the portion of a soul, and He hath done all things well The man who has drained the cup of pleasure can best tell the taste of its dregs.
The choice of Solomon as one of the writers of the Bible, at first sight startles, but on deeper study instructs. We would have expected a man of more exemplary life—a man of uniform holiness. It is certain that in the main, the vessels which the Spirit used were sanctified vessels. " Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." But as they were all corrupt at first, so there were diversities in the operation whereby they were called and qualified for their work. There were diversities in the times, and degrees of their sanctification. Some were carried so near perfection in the body, that human eyes could no longer discern spot or wrinkle; in others the principle of grace was so largely overlaid with earthliness, that observers were left in doubt whether they had been turned to the Lord's side at all But the diversity in all its extent is like the other ways of God; and He knows how to make either extreme fall into its place in the concert of his praise. He who made Saul an apostle, did not disdain to use Solomon as a prophet. Very diverse were the two men, and very diverse their lifo course; yet in one tiling they are perfectly alike. Together in glory now^they know themselves to have been only sinners, and agree in ascribing all their salvation to the mercy of God.
Moreover, although good men wrote the Bible, our faith in the Bible does not rest on the goodness of the men who wrote it. The fatal facility with which men glide into the worship of men may suggest another reason why some of the channels chosen for conveying the mind of God were marred by glaring deficiencies. Among many earthen vessels, in various measures purged of their filthiness, may not the Divine Administrator in wisdom select for actual use some of the least pure, in order by that grosser argument to force into grosser minds the conviction that the excellency of the power is all of God ?
If all the writers of the Bible had been perfect in holiness —if no stain of sin could be traced on their character, no error rioted in their life, it is certain that the Bible would not have served all the purposes which it now serves among men. It would have been God-like indeed in matter and in mould, but it would not have reached down to the low estate of man—it would not have penetrated to the sores of a human heart. For engraving the life lessons of his word, our Father uses only diamonds: but in every diamond there is a flaw, in some a greater and in some a less; and who shall dare to dictate to the Omniscient the measure of defect that binds Him to fling the instrument as a useless thing away ? When God would leave on my mind in youth the
lesson that the pleasures of sin are barbed arrows, he uses that same Solomon as the die to indent it in. I mark the wisdom of the choice. I get and keep the lesson, but the homage of my soul goes to God who gave it, and not to Solomon, the instrument through which it came. God can make man's wrath to praise him, and their vanity too.
He can make the clouds bear some benefits to the earth, which the sun cannot bestow. He can make brine serve some purposes in nature which sweet water could not fulfill. So, practical lessons on some subjects come better through the heart and lips of the weary repentant Icing, than through a man who had tasted fewer pleasures, and led a more even life.
Two principles cover the whole case. " All things are of God ;" and " All things are for your sake" We can never be sufficiently familiar with these two: (1.) The universality of God's government; and (2.) The special use for his own people to which he turns every person and every thing. All Solomon's wisdom and power, and glory and pleasure were an elaborate writing by the finger of God, containing a needful lesson to his children. The wisdom which we are invited to hear is Divine wisdom; the complicated life-experience of Solomon is the machinery of articulation employed to convey it to the ears of men. In casting some of the separate letters, the king may have been seeking only his own pleasure, yet the whole, when cast, are set by the Spirit so that they give forth an important page of the word of truth. The thought recurs, that the king of Jerusalem was not from his antecedents, qualified to sit in the chair of authority and teach morality to mankind. No, he was not: and perhaps on that very account the morality which he taught is all the more impressive. Here is a marvel:
NOT A LINE OF SOLOMON'S WRITINGS TENDS TO PALLIATE [mitigate] SOLOMON'S SINS.
How do you account for this? The errors and follies were his own; they were evil. But out of them the All-wise has brought good. The glaring imperfections of the mar's life have been used as a dark ground to set off the lustre of that pure righteousness which the Spirit has spoken by his lips."