« PreviousContinue »
real persons and events, as literally and historically to arise and occur in the world, as any matters of historical observation and verity which have already transpired. In defending and illustrating this position, we noticed, in the last chapter, the alphabetical style of writing, which is devoid of rhetorical embellishment and explains itself, and the metaphorical or tropical, to be interpreted according to the ordinary rules of rhetoric. Notice, too, was taken of a third style of speech in the prophetical Scriptures, viz. symbolical language; on the origin, use and nature of which some remarks were submitted. We resume the consideration of this subject. .
It was shown that symbols are things, used as signs or representatives of ideas, instead of words; that this style of speech originated in the poverty of language, and is the most natural, appropriate, and universal method adopted by infant nations and half civilized tribes, to express their thoughts to each other ; and that hieroglyphics are but the painting or exhibition to the eye, which the sound or name of the things are to the ear, both being the representatives or signs of thought. Symbolical language, it was shown, was the language of ideas rather than of words, and founded on some definite, established, and well-understood import of the thing, when used as an emblem or symbol of thought. This well-understood import of symbols, it was further shown, formed the foundation on the one hand of the whole science of heraldry—yet prized in some parts of the world and on the other hand, of the whole system of the Oneirocritics, or of divining future events by dreams believed to be prophetical-pretensions to which sort of sorcery are yet made, even in Christian countries, and books circulated purporting to aid the fortune-teller and others in the interpretation of symbols. There is scarcely a nation on the face of the earth, among whom, in some form or other, either of science or of superstition, the language of symbols does not to some extent obtain.
It is characteristically different from what are called emblems, though symbols and emblems are often confounded. Symbols, as we have shown, are things, either of nature or of art, used to denote ideas. Emblems are no more than paintings, carvings, engrav. ings, basso-relievos, or other representations intended to hold forth some moral or political instruction-presenting one thing to the eye and another to the understanding. Inlaid Mosaic works and all kinds of ornaments, vases, statues, sculptured and fine-wrought productions, were called emblems by the Greeks. We more commonly mean by them, some pictured representation with a device, such as are found on seals, or use the word in a tropical sense. Some, who have undertaken to write what are called symbolical dictionaries, as Daubuz, and Wemyss who has followed him very closely, are not careful to distinguish between metaphors, emblems, symbols, and allegories, but use the term synonymously with figurative—a thing very common among commentators, and which, we doubt not, has contributed to much confusion in the study and interpretation of the prophecies. Bishop Warburton has shown,* that the hieroglyphical style of writing, which led to the employment of emblems, and, in the progress of idolatry and superstition, to the use of sacred gems called abraxas and of the talisman, grew most naturally out of the necessity there was in infant nations and high antiquity, before language was refined and extended, to employ symbols, or make things the representatives of ideas.
* Divine Legation, v. ii. sec. iv.
The praetice of the Mexicans, whose only method of writing their laws and history was by means of picture writing the hieroglyphics of Egypt—the present characters of the Chinese, which are an improvement on the hieroglyphics of Egypt, the images having been thrown out, and the outlines and contracted marks only being retained-all are to be traced to the necessity there was for the employment of symbols. He accounts it the uniform voice of nature speaking to the rude conceptions of mankind; for not only the Chinese of the East, the Mexicans of the West, and the Egyptians of the South, but the Scythians, likewise, of the North, and the intermediate inhabitants of the earth, viz. the Indians, Phænicians, Ethiopians, &c., used the same way of writing by pictures and hieroglyphics—written symbols.
That the prophets, who had alphabetical characters, and were thus enabled to write in a manner entirely different from these rude attempts, should nevertheless preserve in their writings a large amount of symbolical expressions, need not be thought a strange thing, nor derogatory to the spirit of inspiration, which indicted their communications. For, the language of symbols is not only the natural language of men in the primitive state of society, but also the most universal-all nations, whether civilized or barbarous, be. ing capable of understanding it much better than the abstract alphabetical, or unfigurative language of those highly cultivated. It is, therefore, the fittest and most appropriate, for the Spirit of God to employ, in uttering those predictions, which involve the interests of the world. None can be more universal. In order to understand symbolical language, it is not necessary to understand the vernacular language of the nation which uses it. It is said that those who understand the import of the hieroglyphical characters employed by the Chinese, can read their books, though they may not understand a word of their spoken language, because its characters are not alphabetic, the signs of words, but of things...
The immutable nature of the thing which is used as a symbol, forms a better representative, than the changing character of the words which denote that thing. It matters not how much living languages may change, or how much the sounds of words, which express things, may vary, if we understand the thing that forms the symbol, we catch more readily the idea symbolised by that thing. Thus, for example, it is a matter of little moment with us, when we understand what the sun symbolises, whether it is called Schemesch by the Hebrew, Shemsco by the Syrian, Schams by the Arab, Schims by the Moor, Je by the Chinese, Zahado by the Ethiopian, Helios by the Greek, Sol by the Latin, Soleil by the Frenchman, Sonne by the German, Schiin by the Mantschou Tartar, Sunna by the Anglo-Saxon, or Sun by the English. Whatever may be the written mark or character, or syllabic sounds, which in different languages denote the thing, the thing itself is the same, and stands an immutable sym. bol, much to be preferred as a representative of thought, than naked unfigurative language. What we thus say of one is true of every symbol, and therefore the definite and fixed import of symbolical language, renders it the best and fittest vehicle of prophecy.
This conclusion contradicts the opinion of many. For, against such language it has been often objected, and especially by persons predisposed to infidelity, that it is of necessity very obscure and uncertain in its meaning. Persons of this description, having read the prophecies of Daniel, of Zechariah, and of the
apostle John, which abound in symbolical language, and having met with some symbols exceedingly complicated and monstrous, are apt to lay the Bible down, and to pronounce the whole prophetical portion of it unintelligible. It would be just as rational and becoming, to reject every work written in a foreign dialect, and to pronounce it unintelligible. Let but the key to the meaning of the words, or of the characters we attempt to decipher, be obtained, and there will be comparatively little difficulty.
Now the key to the meaning of the symbols used by the prophets, is to be found in the Sacred Scriptures. Symbols are often nsed and interpreted precisely as did the ancient Oneirocritics, that is, upon the known and admitted import of the thing as the representative of ideas; examples of which we referred to in the last chapter, in the interpretation of the dreams of Joseph, and Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar. At other times, where the import of the symbol is not so obvious, where it may be a complicated symbol, and nothing like it exists in nature, but be the creation of the prophet, or description of something seen by him in vision, there there is generally found a clue to the interpretation in some alphabetical hints or definitions incidentally thrown in. We give a few examples.
Daniel, in describing the things he saw in one of his visions, speaks of a ram with two horns,* one higher than the other, seen in the very act of growing out of his head, the higher one growing up last ; which ram pushed westward, and northward, and southward from the river Ulai in Persia, and fought with the other beasts, so that none could stand before him. He also tells us, that some time after, while he
* Dan. 8. 1-12.