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all substance and meaning, until with the rationalists of Germany, and certain Unitarians of the United States, * having so generalized, or spiritually explained the predictions, they have utterly destroyed all coincidencet between the prophecies thus explained, and the events which were their literal fulfillment, and have thus prepared the way for the denial of such a thing as prophecy altogether.
To all this the literal interpretation objects, contending, that however abundant may be the employment of figures and tropes of speech, by the prophets, we are not authorised to allegorise the whole, any more than your friend or neighbor, addressing you under the influence of impassioned feeling, and abounding in
* See Gesenius on Isaiah. A late Unitarian discourse preached in Boston, (May 19, 1841,) may be quoted in proof of the tendency of this system of spiritual interpretation. Speaking of the simple faith, required to be given to the Bible, according to its plain grammatical import—because of its infallible inspiration, the author says: “On the authority of the written Word, man was taught to believe impossible legends, conflicting assertions; to take fiction for fact; a dream for a miraculous revelation of God; an oriental poem for a grave history of miraculous events; a collection of amatory idylls for a serious discourse, "touching the mutual love of Christ and the church ;' they have been taught to accept a picture, sketched by some glowing eastern imagination, never intended to be taken for a reality, as a proof that the infinite God has spoken in human words, appeared in the shape of a cloud, a flaming bush, or a man who ate and drank and vanished into smoke; that he gave counsels to-day, and the opposite to-morrow; that he violated his own laws, was angry, and was only dissuaded by a mortal man from destroying at once a whole nation,-millions of men who rebelled against their leader in a moment of anguish.” Th. Parker's discourse on the transient and permanent in Christianity, pp. 19, 20. “ The most distant events, even such as are still in the arms of time, were supposed to be clearly foreseen and predic'ed by pious Hebrews several centuries before Christ.”—p. 20. See also p. 30.
| Hengstenburg, Christol., vol. i. p. 233.
figurative expressions, must be understood, in all he says, to speak allegorically, and not just what the rhetorical import of his words expresses. All that the fact of the prophets' language abounding with figures of speech, does or can prove, is, that we must be careful, according to proper rhetorical rules, to distinguish between the images or figures employed, and the facts they are designed to represent,--that is, to interpret similes and allegories, metaphors and metonymies, synecdoches and antitheses, hyperboles and irony, prosopopæias and apostrophes, and all such rhetorical embellishments, just as we would in any other writings.
Here, perhaps, a few general remarks on the interpretation of figurative language, may be proper. If words occur together, which, the evidence of our senses shows, are perfectly contradictory and inconsistent with each other in their literal meaning, we at once detect a metaphor, and search for the resemblance, as when God calls Jacob his battle axe,* Jerusalem a burdensome stone, Moab his washpot, and the
The very nature of things, in such cases, intui. tively proves the language to be figurative. So when Christ said to his disciples, taking and holding the bread in his hand, which he brake before their eyes, “ This is my body which is given for you,”§ their sight taught them that he spake metaphorically, and could not possibly, without absolute rejection and contempt of the evidence of their senses, be understood literally, according to the absurd pretence of the Papists, who reject the evidence of their senses.
The metaphorical import of expressions, however, cannot always be thus easily detected; for often their figurative import depends upon the nature of some truth or fact either proved or assumed to be true, with which it is utterly inconsistent to interpret them literally. Here, therefore, there is great danger of false interpretation, and the greatest care should be taken, lest we assume things to be true which are not, and think we have demonstrated positions, which are untenable. A vast amount of error and confusion, in the interpretation of the figurative language of prophecy, arises from this source. A thing may seem to us to be contrary to our physiological and philosophical theories; yea, to some known and established law of nature, altogether inconsistent with our experience and observation, a perfect miracle, and yet, in the nature of things, it be not impossible for the power of God to accomplish. In itself there may be nothing absurd and contradictory, although, to our limited knowledge, and within our contracted sphere of observation, it may appear so. In such cases we must be very cautious how we pronounce the language of prophecy to be figurative.
* Jer.51. 20. Zech. 12. 3. † Psalm, 60.8. § Luke, 22. 19.
Thus God promised to Abraham, that Sarah should have a son.
This was a thing altogether inconsistent with the established order of nature as Paul has shown,* and might, at first, have created a doubt in Abraham's mind, whether it would be or ought at all to be literally understood, and whether there might not be some recondite spiritual meaning involved in the words. But the thing, thongl inconsistent with the ordinary operation
of nature, was
not impossible witi
, ovu, and the event proved that God criat Abraham should believe it as a thing to be literally true, and no figure about it. He has given
Romans, 4. 19.
us also a valuable hint here, because this very thing so wonderful was made a type or symbol of further things which God intended to do. So the prophecy of the miraculous conception of the Messiah, delivered by Isaiah, when he said, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
might have been supposed for the same reason, altogether figurative; and the very minute incidents, apparently inconsistent with other descriptions of the Messiah, viz. that he should ride upon an ass,t that he should be prized at and sold for thirty piecest of silver, the price of a slave, and similar prophecies, might have been judged altogether contradictory of other and glorious things predicted of him, and therefore to be incapable of any other than some allegorical or spiritual explanation. But the event has shown how far they would have erred who should have thus allowed themselves to interpret the prophecies.
Ernesti has correctly remarked, that in relation to uninspired writings, it very rarely happens, that there is any doubt about (the meaning of metaphorical language,) because the objects spoken of are such as may be examined by our senses external or internal, and therefore the language may be easily understood."'S The remark is just as applicable to the metaphorical language of the prophecies, and proves the principle which he has quoted from Donhauer, Tarnoff and Calovius, to be the true one, viz. “that the literal meaning is not to be deserted without evident reason or necessity.” We must therefore beware, how we assume a thing to be true, which is not either intuitively so, or obvious to the senses, an
* Isai. 7. 14.
| Zech. 9. 9. | Zech. 11. 12, 13. Ş Elementary Principles of Interpretation, p. 72.
then, in the light of that assumption, pronounce this and the other statement of a prophet to be inconsistent, and contradictory, and consequently of necessity figurative. It is lamentable to see, how much of this is done.
Theology has suffered, nearly, if not fully, as much as prophecy, from this thing. How are men's views of regeneration, and their interpretation of the language of the Bible on the subject, founded on certain physiological notions and theories of the nature of life, or on metaphysical opinions about the nature of the will, and of human dispositions and states of mind, and the language of inspiration made to teach their theories, their systems, and their philosophy, and to mean more and other things than the Spirit of God intended. In like manner, we can trace the influence of their views as to the nature of justice upon the interpretation of scriptural language in relation to the atonement of Jesus Christ, and of their metaphysical notions about the foundation and certainty of knowledge in relation to the doctrine of election. The same may be said of justification, and sanctification, and holiness.
A specimen or two of inattention to the principle just stated from Ernesti, we give, in relation to the prophecies, from the interpretation of the spiritualists. Dr. Hengstenburg allows himself thus to reason. “ The prophets, in many places, give especial prominence to the fact, that the kingdom.
- ine Messiah is to be a kingdom of pens
all the heathen, under ofale voluntarily to become its subinfo:
now the same prophets, who describe the Říngdom of the Messiah as entirely peaceful, nevertheless speak of wars and triumphs of the Theocracy, (comp. Is. chap. 2. with chap. 9, &c.,) in the one