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case or the other, their expressions must necessarily be figurative."*
This we deny—the inference is by no means just; for it is easy to conceive, that the wars and triumphs of the Messiah, of which the prophets speak, relate to the period of vengeance to be executed upon the guilty nations that opposed his sway, and that they are designed and prosecuted expressly to prepare the way for the introduction and establishment of that kingdom of heaven, which is “ righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
A careful attention to times and dates, as contemplated by the prophets, will show that they describe two great epochs in the Messiah's kingdom, the first of retributive vengeance and destruction on antiChristian nations, and the second, its peaceful, prosperous, and universal establishment throughout the earth. Yet have spiritual interpreters, by assuming false positions, and judging by them, whether language is figurative or not, instead of confining themselves to plain rhetorical rules, actually lost sight of, and explained away, those fearful and appalling predictions, hereafter to be fulfilled, which describe the revolutions, convulsions, conspiracies, overthrow, and political destruction of the existing nations lying within the field of prophecy.
An example of the same kind may be cited, from the manner in which they explain the coming and appearance of Jesus Christ. There is nothing in the thing itself, literally understood, that is contradictory or absurd-nothing at all impossible or inconsistent for God. It is just and reasonable to believe that He will personally come, and appear in triumph and
* Christology, vi. p. 237.
'glory, as that He actually did so come, and appeared in humiliation and suffering-yea, far more so. But the spiritual interpreters, assuming that the visible church is the kingdom of Heaven, and that its general and universal influence and establishment among the nations of the earth, constitute the triumph and glory of Christ in His kingdom, of course are forced to interpret the expressions metaphorically, and consequently to allegorize or spiritualise all the descriptions of the prophets on these themes. They have assumed, too, a vague spiritual notion of the day of judgment, as though it were simply and exclusively a short period allotted for judiciary purposes and none other, when there would be a universal, simultaneous assemblage of mankind before God for judicial trial, and with this limited and imperfect notion, taken from human tribunals, have undertaken to judge what is and what is not figurative in the language of the prophets, in reference to the coming and kingdom of Christ. They should have compared prophecy with prophecy, thoroughly examined the dates and epochs of the scenes described, grouped together the whole description of what the prophets meant by the day of judgment, weighed well the character of all the several acts, and whether they do not comprehend much more in their account of it, even all the functions of gov. ernment, legislative and executive, as well as judiciary, instead of taking up a partial, imperfect, imaginary idea, running an analogy with human courts, and in the light of such an assumed idea, rather than by the careful investigation and application of rhetorical rules, judging what is figurative and what is not, and so mistaking altogether the Scriptural notion of the day of judgment.
It is unnecessary to add anything further on the
figurative language of prophecy than that the ordinary rhetorical rules will enable us to judge,—when the prophet employs the tropes of speech ;--when he uses metaphor or 'metonymy, synecdoche or hyperbole, prosopopæia or apostrophe ;-when he employs a simile, or extends his similes into an allegory ;when, assuming the narrative or historical style, his allegory becomes a fable or parable, as in Ezekiel's lamentation over the princes of Israel,* he speaks of them, and of their doom, as of the whelps of a lioness, one of whom should be caught and caged by the king of Babylon ;—when in the same chapter he describes the history and fate of the commonwealth and church of Israel, by a vine, for a season prosperous in its growth, but afterwards rooted up and scattered abroad, and burned with fire ;t-or when by the parable or riddle of two eagles and a vine, he showed the judgments of God, on Zedekiah’st minute rules on this subject, may be learned from hermeneutical and rhetorical works; but none, or all, are of any great value, without that common sense which men feel to be important and necessary in their study of other books than the Bible. Valuable hints may be obtained from Mede, Vitringa, Newton, Bishop Horsley, Cuninghame, Brooks, Anderson, and other writers on prophecy; but especially from Bickersteth,g who, although he has not been as discriminating as he might have been in reference to the principles of interpretation, has nevertheless “ suggested some excellent rules and cautions, most of which commend them. selves to the good sense and piety of the reader.”
* Ezek, 19. 1-9. Ezek. 19. 10–14. Ezek. 17. 2-10.
§ See Bickersteth's Practical Guide to the Prophecies, chap. 2. pp. 12-40.
3. There is yet a third style of prophetical language, characteristically different from tropical, or that sort of figurative language which is to be interpreted by the application of the ordinary rules of rhetoric, viz. SYMBOLICAL LANGUAGE. Symbols are very frequently confounded with ordinary figures, although they have their own peculiar and distinctive traits. Similes state distinctly the resemblance between two things, as when the Psalmist says, the righteous is like an evergreen.* Allegories are ex. tended resemblances. Metaphors are implied resemblances, as when we describe the property of one person or thing, by giving to it the name of another person or thing, in which that property may be particularly conspicuous, calling an eminent statesman a pillar of state, or, as Christ did the Pharisees, "a generation of vipers.” Symbols are yet more general, and imply more than metaphors. They are things, either of nature or art, used and understood to be the signs or representatives of some intellectual, moral, political, or historical truth. Symbolical language speaks to the mind, as the picture does to the eye. It is rather a language represented by things than by words. The fixed unalterable nature of things, in the various objects presented in the physical world, the prophets have preferred, as furnishing a better means to convey definite and immutable ideas, than even the definitions, which men frame, in the use of alphabetical language.
These remarks will be better understood from a brief and comprehensive account of the origin, use, and nature of symbolical language, in giving which we avail ourselves of the very lucid and valuable
* Psalm, 1.
chapter of Mr. Faber on this subject.* In the infancy of all nations and languages, ideas are much more numerous than words. The few words which men possess, such as the names of animals, and of things around them, are therefore used, not only in their natural and primary sense, but also in an artificial, tropical, or figurative sense. Hence, all infant nations, and half civilized tribes, abound in metaphors, and allegories, and various styles of figurative speech. We hear a great deal about Oriental imagery, and the highly wrought figurative style of the Hebrew prophets, as though there was something peculiar to the East in general, and in the highest degree among the Hebrew prophets; but the Indians of our own forests abound, as much as they do, in the tropes of speech. It is not any peculiar taste for poetry, but sheer necessity, induced by the poverty of language, that leads to this.
The Indian, devoid of language suited to diplomacy, resorts to significant objects and acts, and talks of burying the tomahawk and lighting the pipe, by the very same law of human thought, which made the ancient Hebrew talk of cutting a covenant, or lifting his hand, both alluding to ceremonies well known and understood to be emblematic.
This sort of tropical language is perfectly natural, and the very child soon becomes familiar with it. How natural is it to call warlike and ferocious men, and tribes, lions or tigers, and artful, insidious, malicious persons, vipers, snakes in the grass,—the plodding industrious man an ox,—the cunning knave a fox,—the quick-sighted attorney a lynx,--the vigilant and prowl. ing adventurer a hawk,—the faithful and affectionate
* See Faber's Sacred Calendar of Prophecy, vol. i. chap. 1.