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is as incomprehensible as his eternity, omnipresence, or Almighty power. If, therefore, he condescends to illustrate to our comprehension the nature of this reciprocal love, the Holy Spirit must be expected to draw his comparisons from the strongest and tenderest instances of affection known among men, and use, in so doing, all the colouring that can be supplied even from the domains of poetry. Hence, in this Song, the relation of husband and bride is selected. Nor is this comparison peculiar to the Song. It is used throughout the New no less than the Old Testament, and at the close of Revelation the Church is spoken of as the bride, the wife of the Lamb. The relation of father and son, imperfect though it be, is nevertheless the best that language can furnish for setting forth the union between the first and second persons of the Trinity; and the relation between husband and wife is the best known to us, for illustrating the union between Jesus and his redeemed. This union must be far more intimate and far more tender than the marriage relation. The attachment of two persons, strangers perhaps to each other previously during almost their whole life, must, even in its greatest purity, ripeness, and strength, fall very far below the love of Jesus for a soul he has formed for the end of loving him; whose constitution has been framed by sanctification of the Holy Ghost according to what he can love and desires to love; whom he has allured to himself by overpowering manifestations of love; whom he loved not merely from the first moments of its being, but even before the origin of its being; and who owes its being to his loving it before it was called into existence, even before the world began; over whose course he has watched from its first breath; for whose rescue from misery he did himself submit to death. Besides all this, he has the tender and incomprehensible love of the infinite God. Such love on his part, demands corresponding affection on ours.
And how can any earthly comparison reach the measure of this love, when it is such, that if any man hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be worthy of the love of his Lord. The comparison of father and son is not more imperfect in expressing the relation of the first and second persons of the Trinity, than is the love of the husband and wife, even when taken in the strongest terms, imperfect in unfolding the love of Christ for his people. This illustration of that love is the best we can now have; but like all human comparisons applied to God, falls very far short of the truth. The expressions in the Song, however hyperbolical they may seem to some minds, give therefore nothing more than a shadow of this love. The language appears strong, not because it is exaggerated, but because we are not capable of appreciating the love of God. Now we see the love of Christ through a glass darkly, even in our brightest hours. Angels, who have a better understanding of the subject, see that this language, instead of being exaggerated, is, as every thing heavenly expressed in human language must be, very imperfect. Though the Holy Spirit has selected the most endearing relation on earth, the marriage state, and set forth the reciprocal affections of that relation in the glowing terms, ardent language, and richly coloured imagery of oriental poetry; the whole is not sufficient for enabling us to comprehend, in any other than an indistinct manner, the wondrous love of Christ which passeth knowledge.
Beset with the inseparable infirmity of human nature, an over estimate of ourselves, and forgetting that the difficulty in understanding it may lie mainly with us, we act as though capable judges of the extent of God's love, and of the way it should be expressed; and we censure the language of the Holy Spirit as improper and extravagant, because we know so little of this love as to be unable to see how incomprehensible its nature. All the objections brought against the Song, arise from this source. Those who would reject it from the canon of Scripture, or, if retaining it, would pass it over in silence as unfit for use in the present age, do this, not because it has less direct testimony than the other books in favour of its inspiration, but because its general character is not what they would expect to find in writing coming from God. No part of the Scriptures 'can show more uninterruptedly than this, the concurrent testimony of the Jewish and Christian churches. It bears the clearest internal evidence of having been written by the author of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The affection here illustrated is a leading one in the Christian life; the mode of illustrating it is the one generally employed in other parts of the word of God, and is indeed the best that could be used for the purpose. . All this, certain opposers of the book will admit, but still object to it strenuously, through prejudices arising from what appears to them exaggerated, if not indelicate expressions. Under these circumstances, and in view of what has been already said concerning the impossibility of doing any thing like full justice to the infinite love of God in human language, even adorned with the highest efforts of poetic genius; such persons would do well to reflect that the difficulty lies not in the book, but in themselves; that the Holy Spirit can use no other than the best possible words; and that all these apparent imperfections might vanish under the influence of a keener spiritual discernment, and a deeper love. Different minds in which sin exerts an influence, have an affinity for different kinds of error, and an opposition to different kinds of truths. As sanctification releases us from our native corruptions by degrees, the Christian life is a gradual progress in working the soul loose from the dominion of error. Hence, some men reject the whole word of God; others reject particular books; while some persons who receive as inspired the whole canon of Scripture, can never become reconciled to some of its doctrines. A defect in the intellectual or spiritual man is at the root of all this error. The defect is not in the pages of inspiration, but in the human heart. *
* “Would it not then be a sad thing, if, when there is true and sound reasoning, one should not blame himself and his own want of skill, but should anxiously transfer the blame from himself to the arguments, and thereupon pass the rest of his life in hating and reviling arguments, and so be deprived of the truth and knowledge.”—Plato's Phædo, 90.
Sir Joshua Reynolds gives this advice to young artists: “With respect to the pictures that you are to choose for your models, I would have you take those of established reputation, rather than follow your own fancy. If you should not admire them at first, you will, by endeavouring to imitate them, find that the world has not been mistaken. The habit of contemplating and brooding over the ideas of great geniuses, till you find yourself warmed by the contact, is the true method of forming an artist-like mind." Thus Dr. Arnold: “The cartoons of Raphael at Hampton Court Palace, the frescoes of the same great painter in the galleries of the Vatican at Rome, the famous statues of the Laocoon and the Apollo Belvidere, and the church of St. Peter at Rome, the most magnificent building perhaps in the world—all alike
*"The very essence of truth is plainness and brightness; the darkness and crookedness is our own. The wisdom of God created understanding fit and proportionable to truth, the object and end of it, as the eye to the thing visible. If our understanding have a film of ignorance over it, or be blear with gazing on other false glistenings, what is that to truth? If we will but purge with sovereign eye-salve that intellectual ray which God hath planted in us, then we would believe the Scriptures protesting their own plainness and perspicuity, calling to them to be instructed, not only the wise and the learned, but the simple.”—Milton, Of Reformation in England, Book I.