They that go down to the sea in ships,
That do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord,
And his wonders in the deep.
For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind,
Which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melteth away because of trouble.
They reel to and fro,
And stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble,
And he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm,
So that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they be quiet;
So he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.
Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness,
And for his wonderful works to the children of men!
Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people,
And praise him in the seat of the elders!
[Footnote 1: I borrow the verse and in part the prose of Professor W. Rhys Roberts’ translation.]
ON READING THE BIBLE (III)
MONDAY, MAY 6, 1918
My task to-day, Gentlemen, is mainly practical: to choose a particular book of Scripture and show (if I can) not only that it deserves to be enjoyed, in its English rendering, as a literary masterpiece, because it abides in that dress, an indisputable classic for us, as surely as if it had first been composed in English; but that it can, for purposes of study, serve the purpose of any true literary school of English as readily, and as usefully, as the Prologue to “The Canterbury Tales” or “Hamlet” or “Paradise Lost.” I shall choose “The Book of Job” for several reasons, presently to be given; but beg you to understand that, while taking it for a striking illustration, I use it but to illustrate; that what may be done with “Job” may, in degree, be done with “Ruth,” with “Esther,” with the “Psalms,” “The Song of Songs,” “Ecclesiastes;” with Isaiah of Jerusalem, Ezekiel, sundry of the prophets; even with St Luke’s Gospel or St Paul’s letters to the Churches.
My first reason, then, for choosing “Job” has already been given. It is the most striking illustration to be found. Many of the Psalms touch perfection as lyrical strains: of the ecstacy of passion in love I suppose “The Song of Songs” to express the very last word. There are chapters of Isaiah that snatch the very soul and ravish it aloft. In no literature known to me are short stories told with such sweet austerity of art as in the Gospel parables—I can even imagine a high and learned artist in words, after rejecting them as divine on many grounds, surrendering in the end to their divine artistry. But for high seriousness combined with architectonic treatment on a great scale; for sublimity of conception, working malleably within a structure which is simple, severe, complete, having a beginning, a middle and an end; for diction never less than adequate, constantly right and therefore not seldom superb, as theme, thought and utterance soar up together and make one miracle, I can name no single book of the Bible to compare with “Job.”