The Permanent Significance of the Old Testament
In the opening paragraphs of Chapter I, attention is called to the unique place occupied by the Old Testament in the thought, life, and theology of the early Church. Throughout the Middle Ages, and in the eyes of the Protestant reformers, the two great divisions of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, continued to command equal respect and attention. The legal principles of the Pentateuch have determined the legal systems of all civilized nations; the bold and fiery sermons of the prophets have been the chief inspiration on the fierce battles for righteousness in all ages; and the sublime religious lyrics of the Psalter have ushered millions into the very presence of God. Indeed, the Old Testament has exerted an incalculable influence on the development of religion and civilization.

However, it must be admitted that during the latter part of the nineteenth century a change of attitude toward the Old Testament seems to have taken place. True, from nearly the beginning of the Christian era again and again voices have {228} been heard denying to the Old Testament a place in Christian thought and life, but not until comparatively recent times has this sentiment become widespread. Says a writer in a book published a few years ago: "The Bible was never more studied nor less read than at the present day. This paradox is true, at least, of the Old Testament. For two generations scores of patient scholars have toiled on the text, scanning each letter with microscopic care, and one result of their labors has been that to the majority of educated men and women of whatever belief, or no belief, the Bible has become a closed, yea, a sealed, book. It is not what it used to be; what it has become they do not know, and in scorn or sorrow or apathy they have laid it aside."[1] There may be some exaggeration in this statement, but it cannot be doubted that there is considerable justification for the complaint. C. F. Kent makes the admission that "with the exception of a very few books, like the Psalter, the Old Testament, which was the arsenal of the old militant theology, has been unconsciously, if not deliberately, shunned by the present generation."[2] And the words of Professor Cheyne are almost as applicable to-day as they were when they were first written, more than twenty years ago: "A theory is already propounded, both in private and in a naive simple way in sermons, that the {229} Old Testament is of no particular moment, all that we need being the New Testament, which has been defended by our valiant apologists and expounded by our admirable interpreters."[3]

If this represents in any sense the true state of affairs; if, on the other hand, the words of the apostle are true, that "every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work"; and if these words are applicable to the Old Testament, as the writer intended them to be -- if, I say, these things are true, then Christians appear to be in great peril of losing sight of one of the important means of grace, on which were nourished Jesus and his disciples, and millions in former generations, and for the restoration of which the reformers risked their very lives.

The change of attitude toward the Old Testament may be traced to a variety of causes, all of which affect very vitally modern religious thought and life. There are, for example, many who feel, and that with some justice, that the New Testament is in a peculiar sense the sacred book of Christianity. Why, they ask, go to the Old Testament when we have the New with its more complete and perfect revelation? But this attitude reflects only a half truth, which is often {230} more deceptive than an out and out falsehood. Certainly, Christians find their loftiest inspiration in the study of the life, character, and teaching of the Master and of his disciples; but the New Testament has by no means displaced the Old. The early Christians were right in placing it beside the New, because the former is still of inestimable value. Indeed, it is impossible to understand the New Testament properly unless one has an adequate knowledge of the Old. Moreover, there are many truths taken for granted in the New Testament for a biblical statement of which we must turn to the Old. Will the revelation of the nature and character of God contained in the Old Testament ever lose its doctrinal value? And even in cases where both Testaments cover the same field the Old retains a peculiar value. True, the New Testament presents a more complete and perfect revelation, but there are few New Testament truths which have not their roots in the Old. The former presents the full-grown revelation; nevertheless, a vast number of people, who have not yet reached a state of perfection, will understand even New Testament truths more readily as they are presented in the Old Testament; for here they can see the truths in more concrete form; they have flesh and blood; they are struggling for victory over darkness and superstition. Nearly all the great and vital doctrines of the Church, {231} though founded principally on the New Testament, are illustrated, are made more real and human, become more impressive and forceful as we study their development and growth under the Old Testament dispensation.

The neglect of the Old Testament is due, in the second place, to a reaction against its misuse by former generations.[4] Puritanism and the theology of the past three centuries were largely rooted in the Old Testament. From it the stern Puritans drew their spirit of justice, their zeal for righteousness, and their uncompromising condemnation of everything that appeared wrong. Their preachers nobly echoed the thunders of Sinai and the denunciations of Elijah and Amos; but in doing this they failed to recognize the divine love back of the prophetic message, and by their narrow interpretation of the letter, and their emphasis upon the more primitive and imperfect teaching of the Old Testament, they were often led to extremes that were neither biblical nor Christian. Against intolerance and persecution the human heart rebels, and with it comes a feeling of resentment against the cause. Thus it happened that the reaction against Puritanism brought with it a disregard of the Old Testament, which was followed either by the exaltation of the New Testament, whose spirit is more merciful and tender, or by hostility against the entire {232} Bible and Christianity as a whole. This abuse of the Old Testament was due in large part to the use of faulty, or erroneous, methods of interpretation. And since there seems to be even now a tendency in some places to defend these methods, which are out of keeping with the spirit of scientific investigation in this age, many intelligent men have come to look with suspicion upon a book in the study of which unscientific methods continue to be used.

Another important cause of the change of attitude toward the Old Testament is to be found in the labors expended upon the Old Testament by able scholars in the pursuit of a careful, critical study of the ancient records. As has been stated in another connection, these studies are not the outgrowth, as is often erroneously assumed, of a desire to discredit the Bible, to displace it from the heart and confidence of the people, or to attack its teaching or inspiration. "It would be a most hopeless thing," says W. G. Jordan, "to regard all this toil as the outcome of skepticism and vanity, a huge specimen of perverse ingenuity and misdirected effort."[5] They are simply the results of Protestantism and the Renaissance.[6] But whatever the spirit back of the study, and whatever the gains of this investigation, one result is that many Christians feel perplexed with regard to the true position of the Old Testament. {233} What of its claims? What of its inspiration? How far is it human in origin? How far divine? These and similar questions are asked by men everywhere. Never was there more interest, more inquiry, and, perhaps, more unrest and disquietude among thoughtful people.

Surely, it is high time to realize that all this investigation has had no harmful effect upon the substance of the divine revelations conveyed in the Old Testament records. In the words of Jordan, "To me, with my faith that the whole universe is filled with the presence of the living, self-revealing God, I cannot conceive ... that the most severe criticism can ever banish the divine power from that great literature which is one of the choicest organs of its manifestations."[7] As has been pointed out in the preceding chapters, some long-cherished notions and interpretations have been overthrown; to some extent our ideas concerning its literary forms have had to be modified, but its substance has not been disturbed. On the contrary, it has come to be seen with a clearness unrecognized before that it bears the indelible stamp of God.

This being the case, students of the Bible should return to a more just appreciation of that part of Sacred Scripture which is so intimately connected with the training of Jesus and his disciples. If the Old Testament contains records {234} and interpretations of divine revelations, those who claim to be children of God should be willing, yea, anxious, to put forth some efforts to familiarize themselves adequately with these records. But the sense of gratitude and appreciation for these self-revelations of God is not the only reason which should prompt the Christian to turn more frequently to the pages of the Old Book. A much more important consideration is the fact that the lessons taught in the Old Testament are of profound significance to-day, and that they cannot be neglected without serious consequences. Again, attention may be called to the fact that the Founder of Christianity and his disciples found nourishment in its pages, and that they constantly exhorted their followers to do the same. Now, Jesus is recognized by all Christians as a model worthy of imitation in every relation of life. Would it not be well to imitate him in the use of the Old Testament Scriptures? If he found in the pages of the Old Testament weapons with which to put to flight the Evil One, might not we? Aside from these general considerations, it is easily shown that every part of the Old Testament is full of teaching which is of the highest value even in the twentieth century of the Christian era. Consider, for example, the first eleven chapters of Genesis, around which much controversy has raged. In former days these chapters were {235} thought to give an absolutely accurate account of creation and the early history of mankind. However, various lines of investigation have shown this view to be untenable. "We are forced, therefore," says a recent writer, "to the conclusion that, though the writers to whom we owe the first eleven chapters of Genesis report faithfully what was currently believed among the Hebrews respecting the early history of mankind, yet there was much they did not know, and could not take cognizance of. These chapters, consequently, contain no account of the real beginnings, either of the earth itself, or of man and human civilization upon it."[8] All this need create not the slightest difficulty for one who holds the scriptural conception of the nature and purpose of the biblical writings. It is true of these chapters, as of other parts of the record, that "the only care of the prophetic tradition is to bring out clearly the religious origin of humanity.[9] If anyone is in search of accurate information regarding the age of this earth, or its relation to the sun, moon, or stars, or regarding the exact order in which plants and animals have appeared upon it, he should go to recent textbooks in astronomy, geology, and paleontology. It is not the purpose of the writers of Scripture to impart physical instruction, or to enlarge the bounds of scientific knowledge. So far as the {236} scientific or historical information imparted in these chapters is concerned, it is of little more value than the similar stories of other nations. And yet the student of these chapters can see a striking contrast between them and extra-biblical stories describing the same unknown ages handed down from pre-scientific centuries. Here comes to view the uniqueness of the Bible. The other traditions are of interest only as relics of a by-gone past. Not so the biblical statements; they are and ever will be of inestimable value, not because of their scientific teaching, but because of the presence of sublime religious truth in the crude forms of primitive science. If anyone wishes to know what connection the world has with God, if he seeks to trace back all that now is to the very fountain-head of life, if he desires to discover some unifying principle, some illuminating purpose in the history of the earth, he may turn to these chapters as his safest and, indeed, only guide to the information he seeks.

The purpose of the narratives being primarily religious, it is only natural that their lessons should be religious lessons. The one supreme lesson taught throughout the entire section is "In the beginning, God." But each separate narrative teaches its own peculiar lessons. The more important of these are briefly summarized by Driver as follows: "The narrative of creation {237} sets forth, in a series of dignified and impressive pictures, the sovereignty of God; his priority to and separation from all finite, material nature; his purpose to constitute an ordered cosmos, and gradually to adapt the earth to become the habitation of living beings; and his endowment of man with the peculiar, unique possession of self-conscious reason, in virtue of which he became capable of intellectual and moral life, and is even able to know and hold communion with his Maker. In chapters two and three we read, though, again, not in a historical but in a pictorial and symbolic form, how man was once innocent, how he became conscious of a moral law, and how temptation fell upon him and he broke that law. The fall of man, the great and terrible truth, which history not less than individual experience only too vividly teaches each one of us, is thus impressively set before us. Man, however, though punished by God, is not forsaken by him, nor left in his long conflict with evil without hope of victory. In chapter four the increasing power of sin, and the fatal consequence to which, if unchecked, it may lead, is vividly portrayed in the tragic figure of Cain. The spirit of vindictiveness and the brutal triumph in the power of the sword is personified in Lamech. In the narrative of the Flood God's wrath against sin and the divine prerogative of mercy are alike exemplified: {238} Noah is a standing illustration of the truth that 'righteousness delivereth from death,' and God's dealings with him after the Flood form a striking declaration of the purposes of grace and good will with which God regards mankind. The narrative of the Tower of Babel emphasizes Jehovah's supremacy in the world, and teaches how the self-exaltation of man is checked by God."[10]

These chapters are followed by the stories of the patriarchs. Missionaries say -- and experience at home has confirmed the claim -- that the patriarchal narratives are of inestimable value to impress lessons of the reality and providence of God, and to encourage the exercise of faith and confidence in him. There is nothing that can be substituted for them in religious instruction. Lack of space will not permit to point out in detail the educational value of these documents; however, in passing, mention may be made of the fact that Professor W. W. White enumerates twenty-one Christian virtues that are illustrated and enforced in the life of Abraham.[11] He was (1) steadfast, (2) resolute, (3) prudent, (4) tactful, (5) candid, (6) kind, (7) self-controlled, (8) obliging, (9) self-denying, (10) condescending, (11) unselfish, (12) peaceable, (13) hospitable, (14) courteous, (15) humble, (16) thankful, (17) reverent, (18) prayerful, (19) worshipful, (20) faithful, {239} (21) obedient. Not one iota of their value for purposes of instruction in righteousness have these records lost because doubt has been cast upon their absolute historical accuracy. "Abraham is still the hero of righteousness and faith; Lot and Laban, Sarah and Rebekah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, in their characters and experiences, are still in different ways types of our own selves, and still in one way or another exemplify the ways in which God deals with the individual soul, and the manner in which the individual soul ought, or ought not, to respond to his leadings."[12] What if some of these figures pass before us on the stage rather than in real life, do they on that account lose their vividness, their truthfulness, their force? "If," says J. E. McFadyen,[13] "it should be made highly probable that the stories were not strictly historical, what should we then have to say? We should then have to say that their religious value was still extremely high. The religious truth to which they give vivid and immortal expression would remain the same. The story of Abraham would still illustrate the trials and the rewards of faith. The story of Jacob would still illustrate the power of sin to haunt and determine a man's career, and the power of God to humble, discipline, and purify a self-confident nature. The story of Joseph would still illustrate how fidelity amid {240} temptation, wrong, and sorrow is crowned at last with glory and honor. The spiritual value of these and similar tales is not lost, even when their historical value is reduced to a minimum, for the truths which they illustrate are truths of universal experience." The present writer is convinced that even as historical documents these narratives are of immense value. Nevertheless, it may be well to remind ourselves again that the apostle does not point his readers to the Old Testament Scriptures for instruction in ancient history, but he claims that they are profitable "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness"; and these records, whatever their historical shortcomings may be, are most assuredly profitable for all these purposes.

The historical books of the Old Testament are a continuous illustration of the reality of a Divine Providence, by revealing on almost every page the hand of God in human history. Only as we trace the history of the Hebrews can we understand the unfolding in the mind of man under the influence of the Divine Spirit of the great religious ideas and conceptions which have become the mainspring of human progress; the ideas which may be seen in crystallized form in modern Judaism, in perverted form in Mohammedanism, and in expanded and spiritualized form in Christianity. {241} Preeminent among these conceptions is the idea of one personal holy and righteous God. The Hebrews were also the first to teach man that the supreme goal of life is righteousness, and thus they became the ethical teachers of the human race. They first gave objective expression to pure and lofty ethics in law. To-day the principles of Hebrew legislation are still the bone and marrow of the world's greatest legal systems. Though the Romans may be, to a large extent, responsible for the form which modern legal systems have adopted, the substance must be traced back to Hebrew legislation.

Moreover, the Hebrews prepared the way for Christianity. Jesus himself recognized that the faith he proclaimed was not a new creation. "Think not," said he, "that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill."[14] He came to fill up, to spiritualize and intensify the religious and ethical teaching of the great leaders of the Hebrews. Men needed the preliminary training of the Old Testament dispensation before they were ready to appreciate the fuller revelation in and through Jesus the Christ, and Christianity could never have triumphed had it not been for the preparatory work of the religious and ethical teachers of the Hebrews, whose activity was very largely determined by the course of the nation's history. Again, {242} Jesus, according to the flesh, was a descendant of Abraham, reared in a Jewish home, and under Jewish influences. He studied Jewish literature and Jewish ideals were held up before him. All this must have made some impression upon the mind and life of the Master. He and his teaching can be understood only if he is studied in the light of Jewish thought and Jewish religion reaching back to the very beginning of Hebrew history. All this shows how important is the study of the historical books of the Old Testament to one who desires to appreciate fully the Christian religion.

It is impossible to estimate too highly the eternal value of the devotional literature of the Old Testament as illustrated, for example, in the book of Psalms. Well has it been said, "What the heart is in man, that is the Psalter in the Bible."[15] The Psalms touch the heart, because they are the expressions of the deepest feelings of the writers; and because these lyrics express personal experiences they may be, and are, used even to-day to express the various emotions of joy, sorrow, hope, fear, anticipation, etc., of persons who live even on a higher plane than did their authors. "What is there," says Richard Hooker,[16] "necessary for man to know which the Psalms are not able to teach? Heroical magnanimity, exquisite justice, grave moderation, {243} exact wisdom, repentance unfeigned, unwearied patience, the mysteries of God, the sufferings of Christ, the terrors of wrath, the comforts of grace, the works of Providence over this world, and the promised joys of that world which is to come; all good, necessarily to be either known or done, or had, this one celestial fountain yieldeth; let there be any grief or disaster incident to the soul of man, any wound or sickness named for which there is not in this treasure-house a present comfortable remedy at all times ready to be found."

Manifold indeed are the contents of the Psalter; manifold the moods of the authors; and manifold the experiences they express. But there is one bond which unites them all into one living unity, namely, a sublime faith in Jehovah, the God of Israel. This variety on the one hand, and essential unity on the other, are the qualities which have given to the book in all ages a unique place in the religious life of the individual and of the Church of God. With full justice says Perowne:[17] "No single book of Scripture, not even the New Testament, has, perhaps, ever taken such hold on the heart of Christendom. None, if we dare judge, unless it be the Gospels, has had so large an influence in molding the affections, sustaining the hopes, purifying the faith of believers. With its words, rather than with their own, they have come before God. In these they have uttered {244} their desires, their fears, their confessions, their aspirations, their sorrows, their joys, their thanksgivings. By these their devotion has been kindled and their hearts comforted. The Psalter has been in the truest sense the prayer book of both Jews and Christians."

Equally profitable is the study of the Wisdom literature. The wise men accepted the great religious truths proclaimed by the prophets; it was their business to apply them to the details of everyday life, and instruct their contemporaries in that application. They did an important and necessary work; they pointed out constantly and persistently that religion cannot be separated from the daily life. But the wise men were dealing with persons who had hardly gone beyond the childhood stage in things religious and ethical, hence they must put the most profound truths in the simplest possible form. They must abstain, as far as possible, from all speculation, and confine themselves to simple, practical precepts which would appeal to the ordinary practical common sense of the hearer. "The great desire of the sages," says Marshall, "was to reduce the lofty theistic morality which underlies Mosaism to brief, pithy sayings, easily remembered and readily applicable to the everyday life of man."[18] Certainly, in time they would be compelled to rise above simple precepts and try to solve some of {245} the more perplexing problems of life; on the other hand, there would always be a demand for the more simple sayings of these moral guides. The Old Testament contains specimens of these different productions of wisdom activity. The book of Proverbs is a collection of the more simple, practical precepts, while the books of Job and Ecclesiastes illustrate speculative wisdom.

The charge has sometimes been made against the book of Proverbs that it is not truly religious, that it moves on a lower plane, and contemplates lower aims than the other books of the Old Testament; but this is only a half truth. That the book differs from other books is undoubtedly true, but that is due to the purpose of its author. He did not mean to collect prophetic discourses or sublime religious lyrics, but those simple precepts of life which, though simple, are ever needed for the proper conduct of man. There are two phases of religion: the one internal, the religious experience; the other external, the religious life. The two go together, though at times the one, at times the other, may be emphasized. The authors of the Proverbs emphasized chiefly the latter. They teach the most difficult of all lessons: how to practice religion; how to fulfill the duties and overcome the temptations of everyday life. But these wise men rested their practical teaching upon a religious basis. Their {246} religion may not be on a New Testament level, but in this they resemble other Old Testament writings; their conceptions of reward and punishment may be crude, and at times materialistic, but this peculiarity they share with all those saints of Israel whose vision is limited to this world.

Underneath all their teaching there is a firm belief in the existence of a righteous God and the reality of his rule over the world, as also in the other great religious verities taught by the prophets. Far from disregarding religion, the writers of the Proverbs sought to make it the controlling motive of life and conduct. A profound religious spirit pervades the whole book; but in addition there are many passages which give definite expression to the lofty religious conceptions of the wise men.[19] Nevertheless, as is natural in view of the purpose of the wise men, greater stress is laid upon ethics, the practice of religion. Nothing and no relation of life seems to have escaped the attention of the writers. Precepts are given concerning ordinary everyday conduct, the relations of men to their fellows, domestic relations and happiness, national life and the proper attitude toward the government, and other relations and interests of life. The permanent value of the book is suggested in these words of Davison:[20] "For the writers of Proverbs religion {247} means good sense, religion means mastery of affairs, religion means strength and manliness and success, religion means a well-furnished intellect employing the best means to accomplish the highest ends. There is a healthy, vigorous tone about this kind of teaching which is never out of date, but which, human nature being what it is, is only too apt to disappear in the actual presentation of religion in the Church on earth."

From simple practical precepts the wise men rose to speculation. Their speculative philosophy is theistic, for it starts from the conviction that there is a personal God. The best specimen of this type of Wisdom literature is the book of Job, which deals with the perplexing problem of evil and suffering. The book recounts how Job, a man of exemplary piety, was overtaken by an unprecedented series of calamities, and it reports the debate between Job and other speakers to which the occasion is supposed to have given rise. The experiences of the perfect Job raised the perplexing question, How can the suffering of a righteous man be harmonized with the belief in a holy and just God? The popular view, reflected in the greater portion of the Old Testament, was that suffering was always punishment for sin, prosperity reward for piety. Such belief seemed in accord with the righteousness of Jehovah. Undoubtedly, exceptions to the rule might be {248} noted, but as long as the individual was looked upon simply as an atom in the national unit, the apparent inequalities in the fortunes of individuals would not constitute a pressing problem. When, however, especially through the teaching of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the individual received proper recognition, an experience like that of Job was bound to create difficulties, for the suffering of a righteous man would seem to point to unfairness on the part of God. That this perplexity was felt is seen from allusions in the prophetic books. At last the time came when a wise man in Israel sought to solve the problem in the light of the religious knowledge he possessed. The problem, then, discussed by the author of the book of Job is, How can the sufferings of a righteous man be harmonized with belief in a holy and righteous God? Various solutions of this problem are suggested in different parts of the book: (1) The solution of the prologue -- Suffering is a test of character. (2) The solution of the friends -- Suffering is always punishment for sin. (3) The solution of Job -- Job struggles long and persistently with the problem; a few times he seems to have a glimpse of a possible straightening-out of the present inequalities after death, but it is only a glimpse; he always sinks back to a feeling of uncertainty and perplexity. His general attitude is that there must be {249} something out of gear in the world, for the righteousness of God cannot be discerned as things are going now. (4) The solution of Elihu -- Elihu agrees with the friends that suffering is closely connected with sin; but he emphasizes more than they the disciplinary purpose of suffering, which, he points out, is the voice of God warning men to return to Him. (5) The solution of Jehovah -- The whole universe is an unfathomable mystery, in which the evil is no more perplexing than the good. In the presence of all mysteries the proper attitude is one of humble submission. (6) The solution of the epilogue -- Returns to the opinion of the friends, for it teaches that righteousness will sooner or later be rewarded with prosperity even in this world.

It is chiefly in the solution of this age-long problem suggested by the author of the book of Job that the real value of the discussion lies. The author nowhere states which of the above-mentioned conclusions he accepts as true. As a result, he has been charged with raising a profound problem, discussing it with relentless logic, and then leaving it unsolved. This, however, is not quite fair to this ancient wise man. "With a touch too artistic to permit him to descend to a homiletic attitude, the poet has shown that his solution of life's problem is a religious one. He had portrayed with great power the inability of {250} man's mind to comprehend the universe or to understand why man must suffer; but he makes Job, his hero, find in a vision of God the secret of life. Job's questions remain unanswered, but now that he knows God, he is content to let them remain unanswered. He cannot solve life's riddle, but is content to trust God, of whose goodness he is convinced, and who, Job is sure, knows the answer. The poet has thus taught that it is in the realm of religion, and not in that of the intellect, that the solution of life's mysteries is to be found."[21] Even Christianity has no other solution of the problem to offer; it must still insist upon a solution of faith, with a lofty conception of God, and a vision of life broad enough to include eternity, when the apparent inequalities of this life may be adjusted by a loving and righteous God.

The book of Ecclesiastes, dealing with the perplexities of life in general, full of pessimism and skepticism, is not without its permanent value. The author of the book has passed through many disappointments, and his spirit has grown somewhat skeptical and pessimistic. Everything has proved vanity: riches, pleasure, honor, even the search for wisdom; and he is not sure concerning his destiny after death. But over against his experiences in life there is a faith in God who governs the world. The book, which portrays {251} the struggle between experience and faith, has aptly been called "a cry for light." The author does not see the light clearly, though here and there he may have a glimpse of it. The real perplexity is due to the fact that the author's horizon is bounded by the grave. In this life he sees no hope, therefore he looks with longing for a possible reckoning in an after life; but it remains a hope and cry, it never grows into a conviction. The more significant is the retention of his faith in God. He is conscious of a moral order in the world, though its operation is often frustrated; he is aware of cases in which the God-fearing man had an advantage over others. Hence, with all his uncertainty and doubt, he holds that it is his duty, and the duty of everyone else, to fear God and keep his commandments; God, somehow, will care for the mysteries and perplexities of life. Even the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, often an object of ridicule, when rightly interpreted, is seen to bring suggestive lessons to the present age. The book owes its place in the canon of Sacred Scripture to the allegorical interpretation given to it from the earliest times. The Jews interpreted it as picturing the close relation existing between Jehovah and Israel; the Christians, as picturing the intimate fellowship between Christ and his bride, the Church. At present it is quite generally held that this interpretation {252} does not do justice to the primary purpose of the book; but as to its original purpose two different views are held. According to both interpretations, the subject of the book is love -- human love; the differences of opinion are with reference to the manner in which the subject is treated. Some think that the book is simply a collection of love or wedding songs, all independent of one another. Others feel that there are too many evidences of real unity in it to permit this interpretation; they see in the book a didactic drama or melodrama, the aim of the author being the glorification of true human love.

The drama centers around three principal characters -- Solomon, the Shunammite maiden, and her shepherd lover. The book relates how the maiden, surprised by the king and his train, was brought to the palace in Jerusalem, where the king hoped to win her affections and to induce her to exchange her rustic home for the enjoyment and honor the court life affords. She has, however, already pledged her heart to a young shepherd; and the admiration and blandishments which the king lavishes upon her are powerless to make her forget him. In the end she is permitted to return to her mountain home, where at the close of the poem the lovers appear hand in hand and express, in warm, glowing words, the superiority of genuine spontaneous {253} affection. The real aim of the book, therefore, seems to be to glorify true love, and more specifically, true betrothed love, which remains steadfast even in the most dangerous and most seductive situations.

In this age, when the responsibility of the individual Christian and of the Christian Church toward the practical, social, religious, and moral problems and evils is recognized more than at any other previous time, the prophetic literature is worthy of the most careful study on the part of all Christians who recognize and who are willing to meet their obligations to their day and generation. The prophets of old met in the strength of God, and at the divine impulse, the problems and evils of their own age. They had to face the problems of materialism and commercialism; the evils resulting from the accumulation of wealth, power, and resources in the hands of a few; very serious economic problems; cruelty, oppression, arrogance on the part of the rich proprietors; corruption in government and in the administration of justice; they had to grapple with a cold, heartless formalism that threatened to destroy pure, spiritual religion. Against these evils and wrongs the prophets of old raised their hands and voices. "When the old tribal customs and bonds were weakened by the growth of cities and the cultivation of commerce they saw that {254} society must be set upon a moral basis or suffer destruction. When the nation itself was about to be broken to pieces they saw in this a call for a deeper spiritual life.... They were interested in politics, but not as a profession in which to show their skill, or out of which they might gain wealth or glory. Politics for them meant simply the life of the nation in its relation to God and to the great outside world. They were social reformers. To the earlier prophets man was regarded always as a member of society rather than as an independent individual.... In opposition to a showy ritual, they set up their demands for justice between man and man."[22] Surely, it is a part of the Christian's duty to do his share toward a Christian solution of the social and religious problems of our day. We can hardly claim to have reached the full stature of Christian manhood or womanhood until we have acquired the knowledge and power to cope with these difficulties in the spirit of the Master and with the methods best adapted to the Christianizing of modern society. In these our efforts to lift humanity nearer to God, or to bring God nearer to humanity, we may learn much from the prophets of old.

To sum up the results of our study: As Christians we may find our loftiest inspiration in the study of the life, the character, and the teachings {255} of the Master, and of the words of his disciples. But the New Testament is little more than a quarter of the Bible. In the preceding pages the attempt has been made to emphasize the permanent value of the larger division of the Sacred Book. It has been carefully scrutinized, tested in furnaces heated seven times, but out of the fire it has come bearing the stamp of God, testifying more confidently than ever before that God in olden times spake unto the fathers, and that in its pages may be found records and interpretations of these revelations. The features of the Old Testament which assure to it a permanent place in religious thought and life may be briefly indicated as follows:

The Old Testament will always prove attractive as literature. The more we know of other literatures of antiquity, the more evident it becomes that even from the literary viewpoint the Old Testament is far superior to any other literary remains of ancient civilization. "If the inimitable freshness of life is preserved in Homer, it is not less preserved in the epic stories of the Old Testament; while the still more intangible simplicity of the idyl is found perfect in Ruth and Tobit, the orations of Deuteronomy are as noble models as the orations of Cicero. Read by the side of the poetry of the Psalms, the lyrics of Pindar seem almost provincial. The imaginative poetry of {256} the Greeks is perfect in its own sphere, but by the Hebrew prophets as bold an imagination is carried into the mysteries of the spiritual world. If the philosophy of Plato and his successors has a special interest as the starting point for a progression of thought still going on as modern science, yet the field of biblical wisdom offers an attraction of a different kind, in a progression of thought which has run its full round and has reached a position of rest.... And in the inner circle of the world's masterpieces, in which all kinds of literary influences meet, the Bible has placed Job, the Isaiahan Rhapsody, ... unsurpassed and unsurpassable."[23]

From the standpoint of history the Old Testament still occupies, and ever will occupy, a unique position. Important as are the contributions of archaeology, the student of ancient history can by no means spare the testimony of the Bible. The Old Testament is still the main source of information for the national history of the Hebrew people, and it is and will remain a very important secondary source for the history of the surrounding nations. It also retains a unique place in the history of religion, for without it the religious development of the Jews could not be traced; and since the Jewish religion is the foundation upon which Christianity was developed, ignorance of that earlier religion [257] would prove a serious handicap to the student of Christianity.

The Old Testament will always be of value because of its intimate connection with the New. From the purely linguistic standpoint a knowledge of the former is essential for an understanding of the latter. New Testament modes of thought and expression are inexplicable without a study of the Old. There are many passages in the New Testament taken from the Old and referring back to it which cannot be properly understood unless we examine them in their original context. But the connection is even more vital, for in a very real sense the new dispensation has its roots in the old. It is one kingdom of God that is the subject of the history in both, and the Bible as a whole can never be rightly understood until the two Testaments are comprehended in their unity and harmony, for they are joined in inseparable unity in Christ himself.

Most important of all, the Old Testament retains, and ever will retain, a unique religious value. It will ever be important in the field of doctrine. True, the New Testament is the primary source for the doctrines of Christianity, but there are some things which the New Testament takes for granted, and for which we must turn to the Old. Will the revelation of the nature and character of God contained in the Old Testament {258} ever lose its doctrinal value? -- God, a spirit, personal, with a clearly defined moral character, in his mercy condescending to enter into covenant relations with his creatures, loving man and desiring to be loved by him, his anger aroused by sin, but gracious toward the repenting sinner? Again, have those early chapters of Genesis lost their doctrinal value? Has anyone supplied a substitute for the simple "In the beginning God created heaven and earth"?

The Old Testament is of permanent religious value because of its keen insight into human nature. The Bible has been called "the family album of the Holy God"; we might compare it, rather, to a picture gallery. What a variety! Everywhere we see them flesh and blood! Why is it they impress us so? Is it not because the pictures are so true to human nature that in spite of the difference in time, place, and circumstances they may serve even us as mirrors?

The Old Testament will always deserve study from the religious standpoint, because of the ideal of character it sets before us. "It presents to our souls characters that are supremely worthy of our reverence because consciously centered in God and full of his power. It permits us to share the enthusiasm of the men who discovered the fundamentals of our religion and the character of our God. It is indispensable to complete the {259} discipleship of Christ, because it is the creator of the mold which his soul expanded."[24] Its types of character may lack the finer graces, yet they are types we may do well to imitate. Will the lives of Abraham, Joseph, Samuel, Elijah, David, and many others ever lose their lessons? What sublime ideals even the Christian minister may find in the lives of the prophets!

Will we ever get beyond the moral duties which are, according to the Old Testament, obligatory upon man? Purity of thought, sincerity of motive, singleness of purpose, truthfulness, honesty, justice, generosity, love -- these are some of the virtues which again and again are in the strongest language insisted upon in the pages of the Old Book. Indeed, the Old Testament emphasizes the loftiest ideals of human life and society, anticipating the time when in all the world the universal Fatherhood of God and the common brotherhood of man would be realized. In an editorial in the Expository Times, commenting upon a paper read before the First International Moral Education Congress, are found these suggestive words: "It is when the teaching of the Old Testament is simple, frank, and historical that it becomes the best text-book of ethics in the world, for it possesses these two incomparable advantages -- it is full of humanity, and it is full of variety. The epics of Joseph and David, the {260} tragedies of Elijah and Isaiah have an undying charm. And the examples are varied as they are interesting. It offers examples of almost every stage of moral development. Whatever the pupil's moral attitude, there is some Jewish hero that appeals to him. That hero's actions can be traced to their motives and followed to their consequences. He can be treated with sympathy in so far as he attains the standard of his times, and yet criticized in so far as his motives are not those which we recognize as absolute. So the pupil may learn at once to appropriate those media axiamata which fit him, and yet realize that there is something beyond and above them."[25]

The Old Testament is of permanent significance because of its insistence on pure and spiritual religion, and its condemnation of all cold and external formalism. These words of the prophet Isaiah imply a lofty conception of true religion: "What unto me is the multitude of your sacrifices? saith Jehovah: I have had enough of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of {261} assemblies -- I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth; they are a trouble unto me; I am weary of bearing them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."[26] And the prophetic definition of religion, "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God?"[27] is in no wise inferior to that given in the New Testament: "Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."[28]

Finally, how can we estimate highly enough the devotional value of the Old Testament as illustrated, for example, in the book of Psalms? Here we have the outpourings of human souls in the closest fellowship with their God, giving without restraint expression to the most various emotions, hopes, desires, and aspirations. What other literary compositions lift us into such atmosphere of religious thought and emotion? {262} Surely, the sweet singers enjoy a preeminence from which they can never be dethroned.

It is quite safe, therefore, to assert, that as long as human nature is what it is now the Old Testament must remain an ever-flowing fountain of living truth, able to invigorate and to restore, to purify and to refine; to ennoble and to enrich the moral and spiritual being of man. "No man," says A. W. Vernon,[29] "save Jesus, ever had the right to lay the Book ... aside, and he made it immortal."


[1] J. C. Todd, Politics and Religion in "Ancient Israel, p. vii.

[2] The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament, p.7.

[3] Contemporary Review, August, 1889, p.232.

[4] C. F. Kent, The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament, pp.5ff.

[5] Biblical Criticism and Modern Thought, p.6.

[6] See above, p.79.

[7] Biblical Criticism and Modern Thought, p.230.

[8] S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis, p. xlii.

[9] A. Westphal, The Law and the Prophets, p.43.

[10] S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis, p. lxx.

[11] W. W. White, Studies in Old Testament Characters, p.14.

[12] S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis, p. lxviii.

[13] Old Testament Criticism and the Christian Church, p.335.

[14] Matt.5.17.


[15] These words of Johannes Arnd are used by Franz Delitzsch as the motto for his Commentary on the Psalms.

[16] Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V, Chapter XXXVII, 2.

[17] The Book of Psalms, Vol. I, p.18.

[18] J. T. Marshall, Job and His Comforters, p.4.

[19] For example, 3.5-7; 16.3, 6, 9; 23.17.

[20] W. T. Davison, The Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament, pp.134, 135.

[21] G. A. Barton, The Book of Job, p.12.

[22] W. G. Jordan, Biblical Criticism and Modern Thought, pp.284, 285.

[23] Richard G. Moulton, The Modern Reader's Bible, One Vol. ed., p. x.

[24] A. W. Vernon, The Religious Value of the Old Testament, p.80.

[25] Expository Times, November, 1908, pp.54, 55.

[26] Isa.1.11-17.

[27] Mic.6.8.

[28] James 1.27.

[29] The Religious Value of the Old Testament, p.81.

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