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THE RESULTS OF THE LAWS OF FIGURES IN THE
INTERPRETATION OF THE SCRIPTURES.
The knowledge and observance of the laws of figures in the interpretation of the Scriptures, especially of the prophetic parts, are necessary, not only to unfold their sense with adequate certainty and vividness, but to rescue them from misconstructions and 'perversions to which the ordinary method of exposition subjects them. As the figures which we have enumerated and explained are the only figures of language, and the laws which we have stated are their only laws, the common method of interpretation, which assumes that there are other species of figures, and other laws of their construction, mistakes literal for tropical language often, confounds the different figures with each other, and disregards their proper nature—involves the most serious errors.
Of these, one of the most frequent is the disregard of the peculiar office which the figures fill, and ascription to them of an undefined, vague, and indeterminable power. To get rid of the grammatical sense of
passages, interpreters often pronounce them figurative, without determining what their figures are, if they involve any, or showing what effect they have on their meaning, as though their being tropical, if they are so, were a proof, on the one hand, that their philological is not their true meaning; and, on the other, that their real sense is either vague and uncertain, or else left to be determined by conjecture or fancy. The result accordingly is, a rejection of their true meaning, and the substitution of a false one in its place. If such passages were really figurative, these interpreters should be able to show what the specific tropes are that exist in them, and constitute them figurative; and prove, by their proper laws, that they are the vehicle of that special sense which they ascribe to them. That they do not, and cannot do this, is at once a proof of the error of their construction, and of their want of a just understanding of the nature and laws of figurative language. Instead of rendering the meaning of propositions obscure and uncertain, the very office of tropes is to exemplify and illustrate the objects to which they are applied by analogies, and set forth the thoughts which are meant to be expressed more clearly and impressively than is practicable by mere literal language.
Another common error is the ascription of specific figures to passages in which no such figures, nor any others, exist. Hundreds of examples might be quoted of this mistake. It will be sufficient to allege a single one, in the interpretation of Christ's prediction (Matt. xxiv. 30):
“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven : and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn : and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
Here are three propositions. 1. That the sign of the Son of Man in heaven shall then be apparent. 2. That all the tribes of the earth shall then mourn. 3. And that they-all the tribes of the earth—shall see the Son of Man coining in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. The nominative of the first of these propositions, or that of which the affirmation is made, is the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; the nominatives of the second and third, are all the tribes of the earth. Now these propositions are by many regarded as metaphorical; and the events accordingly which they foreshow are held to be wholly different from those which they lite
rally express; and to have happened at the siege, capture, and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the reign of Vespasian. But it is a total
There is no metaphor in them. It is seen from the 4th and 5th characteristics of that figure, that it lies wholly in the affirmative part of the proposition in which it occurs, in contradistinction from its nominative, or the subject to which it is applied; and that it consists in the ascription of something to its nominative that is not proper to its nature; as when the fields are said to smile, the metaphor lies in the use of the verb smile, and in the ascription by it to the fields of a movement of which they are not literally capable, in order to signify, that when decked with verdure and flowers, and lighted up by the beams of the sun, they exhibit a cheerfulness that resembles a smile of the human countenance. But there is no such incompatibility of the acts or states here foreshown with the subjects of which they are predicted. It is not incompatible with the nature of the sign of the Son of Man in heaven that it should be visible to men. So far from it, its office as a sign, that is, as a portent, a signal, a harbinger, will necessarily require that it should be apparent. An invisible sign, an imperceptible signal, were a contradiction. Nor is it impossible to the nature of the tribes of the earth, that they should see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, and that they should mourn because of it. Instead, they are acts that are proper to them, and such as they will naturally and unavoidably exert, when the advent of Christ takes place. The supposition that those propositions are metaphorical is thus altogether mistaken, and betrays an extraordinary inconsideration of the nature of the figure.
On the other hand, it is equally apparent that the language is not metaphorical, from the consideration that there are no analogous events which the verbs can be conceived to denote. As according to the third law of the metaphor, the nominative, or name of the subject to which it is applied, is always used in its literal sense, and denotes the actual agent or subject of the act or event which the figure is employed to express ;—the sign of the Son of Man in heaven is to be the actual subject of the event, whatever it be, that is denoted by the sign's appearing. What analogous event then is there, which its appearing --that is, its becoming visible to men--can, on the supposition that the verb is used by a metaphor, be conceived to denote ? There plainly is none.
Let these interpreters search the whole realm of events, and they will find it impossible to designate one