Page images

in verse. That the prophetic writings were originally metrical, was first discovered, among the moderns, by the celebrated Lowth, who, about the year 1753, published his invaluable Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, and afterwards, about the year 1778, his new Translation of Isaiah with a Preliminary Dissertation. In the former of these works he devotes a few pages to a modest discussion of the question, whether the prophetic writings were designed to be read in verse; and in his Preliminary Dissertation, he endeavours to show, that there is a conformity in every known part of the poetical character, between the prophetical style and that of the books acknowledged to be metrical. This task he undertook and prosecuted in opposition to the general opinion of the learned world at his time. Vitringa, on authority deservedly great, had allowed that Isaiah's writings had a sort of numbers and measure, and had quoted Scaliger as being of the same opinion; but as adding, however, that they could not, on this account, rightly be called poetry. The Jews were also known to have believed, that the books of the prophets were written in prose. Jerome, who wrote his Translation of the Evangelical Prophet in a form which some might mistake for verse, cautions his readers against supposing it to be metre, as if it were any thing like the Psalms; for his division of the text into stichi, he says, was nothing more than was usual in the copies of the prose works of Demosthenes and Cicero. Since the time of Lowth, whose works soon found their way into Germany, few critics have questioned the correctness of his main position. His discovery has been of great and essential service to the art of prophetic interpretation. Michaelis, Herder, De Wette, and several other continental scholars, whose zeal in the study of Hebrew poetry was awakened through his writings, have contributed largely to the facilities for obtaining a thorough acquaintance with the poetical parts of scripture.

That figurative language, as well as literal, has its laws of interpretation, no one who has looked into the philosophy of mind will be disposed to deny. Its laws are different, it is true; they are its own, but they are not, therefore, the less permanent and immutable. The mind, when under sufficient excitement to prompt to the use of figures to express its thoughts, acts in accordance with certain principles prescribed by its own nature, which, when they are understood, are an almost infallible guide to the exposition of the meaning of the words employed. We must, however, suppose the mind to be left to its own spontaneous workings, to follow its own free will, untrammeled by the restraints of artificial criticism. The poet who has a system of artificial rules before his mind, when composing, would not admit of so easy an interpretation.

In investigating the principles of figurative language, with reference to the interpretation of scripture, special regard should be had to the allegory, several species of which occur in the sacred writings. An allegory is defined, by Dr. Blair, to be a continued metaphor (we quote from memory); as it is the representation of one thing by another that resembles it, or is made to stand for it. It differs from the common metaphor, in not being confined to a single word, or phrase, but extending to any desired number of successive thoughts. A picture, or a thing, may be employed allegorically, as well as words.

Of this figure, Bishop Lowth reckons three kinds: first, the Allegory, properly so called, which he terms a continued Metaphor; secondly, the Parable; and thirdly, the Mystical Allegory. In this last, he supposes a double meaning couched under the same words; as when a prediction, according as we interpret it, may be made to refer to different events, distant in time and place, and wholly distinct in their character. The principal characteristic of the mystical allegory is, that the imagery is all taken from several objects and their opposites, and must be conformable to literal truth ; whereas, in the first kind above mentioned, the objects may be selected either from the realm of fact or of fiction, according to the pleasure of the writer. To this three-fold division we see no particular reason to object; the parable is certainly a species of allegory; nor do we question the general principle on which the epithet, mystical, is here applied to the last division of this figure, the authority of Michaelis, and several other distinguished critics, to the contrary notwithstanding. As we have said above, things may be employed allegorically, as well as words. The royal character and the dominion of David might be used to signify the character and dominion of the Messiah ; and so language, which, in its original and literal sense, was intended to apply to the son of Jesse, might have a mystical or secondary reference to the Son of God. An inspired apostle has informed us,

1 We are aware that Professor Hahn, of Leipsic, whose name we have before nuentioned, and for whose opinion, in biblical matters, we entertain generally a very high respect, has attempted to show that the apostle does not mean to say, that Hagar and Sarah were really and properly to be regarded as types of the Jewish and Christian churches, but that such was the interpretation adopted by the allegorizing rabbins, for whom the Galatians had a great respect, and to whose interpretation they would more readily listen. According to this view, the assertion of the apostle referred to (which may be found in Gal. iv. 24), is, in itself, no authority for supposing that any part of the Old Testament is allegorical. We shall only say here, that it has been generally supposed that the apostle was here delivering his own sentiments on ihis point, and not catching the Galatians with guile, by. "taking them in their own way,” in the words of Hahn. See Horne's Intro. to the Crit. Study of the Scriptures, vol. II. p. 632-Phil. ed. 1825. VOL. XX.-No. 39.



that Hagar and Sarah represent, allegorically, the Jewish and Christian churches; and if we allow this representation to have been designed, either by God himself, or by the inspired writer who gives us their history, we must admit that the words employed, with direct reference to these two individuals, have a higher and more important application to the subsequent character and condition of the two churches. So when the Saviour spoke to his disciples of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, in language which received an exact fulfilment in that distressing event, he may have intended that his words should turn their thoughts to the time of his final coming at the end of the world. The thing, the destruction of the great city, might be designedly typical of the final change or dissolution of the present material universe.

It will be seen that we suppose Lowth to mean by mystical allegory, essentially what is intended by many writers by the double sense of certain passages of scripture ; that is, that things of which a description is given in literal language, are themselves representatives of other things, on which the eye of the spirit who directed and presided over the language, was fixed, as the grand object of the literal description. It is in this sense only, that we would be understood to advocate the doctrine advanced by this distinguished critic. We cannot say that we like the terrn double sense, on account of its liability to mislead; we should prefer, with Olshausen, to call it the under sense (untersinn); but it is not the name about which we would contend.

It would be a thankless task to attempt an enumeration of the errors into which different commentators have been led by an ignorance of the nature and design of figurative language. There is, however, one great and fundamental mistake connected with the interpretation of allegories, which has been so general, both with ancient and modern interpreters, and caused them to make such a wilderness of the word of God, that we cannot pass it unnoticed. This mistake consists in seeking for some definite, distinct meaning in every circumstance embodied in the original narration. It originates in the supposition that every part of an allegory, or symbolical piece of scripture, is in itself significant of some truth intended to be represented, and capable of an exact interpretation. For instance, in the parable of the good Samaritan, or of Dives and Lazarus, or of the unjust judge, every circumstance in the fictitious narrative is supposed to have an exact correspondence with, and to be designedly representative of some particular moral truth. Of course the powers

of invention must often be stretched to the utmost to carry out the comparison, and when it is completed, and the interpretation given, the whole, or much of it at least, is fanciful and ridiculous. As an illustration of our meaning, let us take a partial

interpretation of the first mentioned parable—that of the good Samaritan, as given by one who connects every circumstance in the narrative with some particular or real verity. The traveller, who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, is a man wandering in the wilderness of this world; the thieves, who robbed him, are evil spirits; the priest, who offered him no relief, is the Levitical law; the Levite is good works; the good Samaritan is Christ; the oil and wine are grace; and the other minutiæ of the story equally and separately significant.

This principle of minute, circumstantial specification, has, until recently, been very generally applied in the interpretation of the prophetic writings, but more especially of the apocalypse. Every circumstance, or incident, which stood before the mind of the sacred seer, in the vision of coming events, it has been supposed, must have a corresponding reality in the fulfilment. The historian, who should live after the fulfilment, must be able to see the exact and complete picture in the past, which the prophet beheld in the future. There is no wonder that interpreters of prophecies, who have proceeded upon this principle, have greatly fallen out with each other by the way. Their confusion of tongues is just what we should expect.

Connected with the interpretation of the symbolical parts of scripture, there are two facts, which should be constantly kept in mind, and an attention to which will relieve the interpreter of much of the perplexity which has usually attended the labours of commentators. The first of these facts is, that a symbolical, or figurative representation in scripture, is intended to teach or to illustrate some one principal iruth, or fact, and not a multiplicity of truths, or facts. For example: the parable of the good Samaritan, above referred to, is designed to illustrate the extent of the duty of beneficence. This is the object of the narrative, which is therefore, to be taken as a unity-the whole bearing upon this particular point. The second fact is, that though figurative representations are intended to teach, or illustrate, each, some single and principal truth, or fact, yet the sacred writers are wont to introduce into their narrations, or representations, many circumstances which have no direct bearing upon the illustration of the truth, or fact in question, but only serve to give a naturalness and consistency to the picture in which they set it before the mind. They behold, in vision, what they wish to exhibit, and endeavour to hold it up to the mind of the reader in the same glowing and impressive form under which it is apprehended by themselves. Their fictitious narratives are descriptive paintings, in which there are many things thrown in simply to give verisimilitude, or concinnity, to the whole picture, and which, in themselves, have no particular significancy.

We should not have written the above paragraph, did we not suppose the suggestions contained in it as applicable to the interpretation of large portions of the prophetic writings, as to the proper explanation of acknowledged allegory. We believe that the prophet, like the author of a parable, usually had some one great truth in view, when he uttered a prediction, and that the prediction, as a whole, is fitted to direct the mind to that truth, while many of the circumstances, embraced within the outline, were not intended in themselves to have any significancy, but merely to give beauty, expressiveness, and verisimilitude to the whole representation.

We believe, with the learned and pious Hengstenberg, that the prophets generally received their communications respecting the future, in mental vision, that is, by the presentation of images, or pictures, to the mind, which, being once admitted, it were natural to suppose that they would fill up and adorn their representations with much that would have no literal correspondence in the fulfilment. The prophecy contained in the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Isaiah, furnishes an illustration of our meaning. That prediction has been fulfilled; Babylon has fallen; but was it literally accomplished, in all its particulars ? If the reader has any curiosity on this subject, let him compare this prophecy with that contained in the twentyfirst chapter of the same prophet, which relates to the same event, and then look at the history of the destruction of that great city of the East, as given by the best authorities, the general correctness of which we have no reason to question, and he will be satisfied that much of the representation, as it stands in the inspired prophet, is nothing more than costume, with which the writer chose to adorn his description. The overthrow of Babylon, by the Medo-Persian army, was the truth he designed to teach ; the particulars connected with the siege, and the manner of its subversion, he did not intend to describe.

To the mistakes into which commentators on the Apocalypse, both ancient and modern, have generally fallen, we have alluded in another part of this article. We there attributed their misconceptions of the meaning of this writing, in part, to a deficiency of historical knowledge. But the chief source of their errors has been, an ignorance of the nature and design of symbolical language. While they have not, at least many of them, looked for a literal fulfilment of the words of the vision, they have supposed that every thing seen and described by the writer must have reference to some specific and corresponding event, which was future at the time of the composition of the book. They have, accordingly, undertaken to study each chapter and verse, by itself, and to decipher the meaning of each successive

« PreviousContinue »