« PreviousContinue »
especially for expositors of prophecy, is a genuine and correct system of verbal criticism, sedulously avoiding whatever may appear false and flimsy. In order to proceed with the best founded hopes of success, the true reading of a passage ought to be sought for diligently, by comparing the best editions; and if possible, manuscripts of the sacred oracles. When the reading has been decided on, there must follow the genuine meaning of the terms; and particularly when there is a shadow of doubt concerning them, it should be gathered by carefully comparing the various passages in which they occur, whether in sacred or profane writers, instead of simply trusting to the authority of lexicographers, as is too often the case. Next comes the grammatical sense of the whole sentence, which should be well and thoroughly weighed before it is incorporated with the rest of the prophecy, and much more before any attempt is made to decipher and apply it. How little this has been attended to by the advocates of the modern millennium scheme their absurd interpretations too plainly show ;-by neglecting this canon of all fair exposition they have placed among the unaccomplished prophecies some that have undoubtedly been fulfilled, and introduced much vagueness and unnecessary difficulties among others whose meaning and application seem far from doubtful. Mr. Jefferson has assumed, that there is not a single passage which speaks of the personal and protracted reign of Christ upon earth in plain and unequivocal terms; and he shows that one of the passages on which the millenarians lay great stress conveys no such idea. The coming' of Christ to destroy the
man of sin,' he affirms, does not warrant their interpretation of it. Availing himself of the rule we have laid down, he remarks,
• It is very common in the Scriptures to speak of any remarkable visitation of divine mercy or justice as 'the coming of the Lord,' when it is sufficiently obvious that nothing personal is intended. A few passages only can be cited; · He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass' (Ps. lxxii. 6). * Bow thy heavens, O Lord, and come down' (Ps. cxliv. 5). “Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt' (Isaiah xix. 1). "The Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. His going forth is prepared as the morning, and he shall come unto us as the rain,' &c. (Hosea vi. 3). · Behold the Lord cometh out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth' (Micah i. 3). If you will be at the pains to look at these verses in their several connexions, you will see at once that nothing personal is meant. In like manner when the Saviour spake of coming to establish his gospel kingdom, it is evident that he intended nothing personal; • Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here who shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom
(Matt. xvi. 28). This prophecy was literally fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when the Son of Man was revealed in the plenitude and power of his saving grace and miraculous agency. So also when he speaks of his coming to destroy Jerusalem : For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west ; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together' (Matt. xxiv. 27, 28). The reference plainly is to the siege of the city by the Roman armies; and the coming of the Son of Man’ was the infliction of his judgment in its destruction. When a similar phraseology then is employed respecting his interposition to destroy popery, it cannot with any propriety be concluded that it must be personally intended. The evidence of holy Scripture is on the other side, and forbids us to entertain the thought of a personal coming, unless some text were adduced which unequivocally asserted it. The one to which so much importance is here attached, is itself a refutation of the personal scheme; ' Then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming' (2 Thess. ii. 8). Is not the last clause fairly explained by the preceding one? Besides, the temporal power of popery is already destroyed ; its spiritual power is that of error, which truth will overcome; and even this is vastly inferior now to what it was when Luther came forth single-handed to attack it by truth alone. And further, the coming of the Saviour to destroy antichrist, is plainly distinguished in this very connexion from his coming to judge the world. For the first object he is described as ' riding on a white horse, and clothed with a vesture dipped in blood,' but for the latter, as seated on a great white throne, and from his face the earth and the heavens flee away. The former is placed before the millennium, the latter after it. The effects of the former coming are the destruction of his enemies by the word of his mouth, the binding of Satan, and the revival and prevalence of true religion for a thousand years ; but the effects of the latter coming are the resurrection and judgment of all the dead, the renovation of the mundane system, and the introduction of the final state.'--Pp. 47–49.
The next thing afterthegrammatical meaning and the approved reading and genuine scope of a prophecy have been established, is to distinguish between the literal and the symbolical, and to affix to the latter in all cases, upon scriptural principles, its right application. We grieve to say that Mr. Chauncy, and writers from whom he has derived many of the illustrations of his views, give themselves little trouble to discriminate in this matter; whatever best squares and harmonizes with their scheme they adopt, and make the literal and symbolical change places in a most whimsical and arbitrary manner when a premillennial advent, the restoration of Israel and the establishment of Judaism in Palestine, are the affirmatives to be maintained. While authors of this stamp thus use the language of prophecy, and apply its symbols as if they were but mere familiar household words, and their meaning as evident as the terms of ordinary discourse, others have rightly made them a chief object of study,-have sorted, arranged, and established specific rules of interpreting them, and in many cases, we are bound to say, with evident success. Among these the palm is undoubtedly due to Mr. Faber; we refer to his admirable chapter on the figures and symbols of the prophecies. The system of hieroglyphics which is the principal medium of prophetic revelation has its origin in nature and history, and it is only from the darkness of the human mind, and the scantiness of words, that the clue has in any measure been lost. It speaks by pictures rather than by sounds; and through the medium of those pictures, rather than through the medium of labored verbal definition, it sets forth with equal ease and precision, the nature of the matters predicted. The only difficulty is to find the key to the symbols: this, with regard to 'scriptural hieroglyphics, is “ furnished by Scripture itself; and when the import of each ' hieroglyphic is thus ascertained, there is little difficulty in 'translating (as it were) an hieroglyphical prophecy into the .
unfigured phraseology of modern language. Mr. Faber's grand division of the prophetical symbols is into two classes, one of which contains such symbols as represent abstract ideas, and are purely metaphorical or allegorical; and the other such as represent the natural or spiritual world, or objects or events in the natural or spiritual world. These two classes he shows to contain divisions, and the divisions again subdivisions; and thus after judicious parting and arranging the obscurity and uncertainty which at first appears to involve the prophetic symbols is with little further difficulty, in some good measure at least, dissipated and explained. We fear, however, that much will remain inexplicable to modern expositors, as the complete knowledge of the Hebrew system of hieroglyphics seems to have been confined to the Hebrew schools of the prophets.
Not less important than a right understanding of the import of the symbols, is consistent interpretation. Literal must not be confused with figurative signification. Mr. Chauncy supplies various instances of this strange amalgamation. A striking one, in support of his notions of the personal reign of Christ upon earth during the millennium, is his taking in its literal sense the fourth verse in the fourteenth chapter of Zechariah, where it is said that in that day the feet of the Messiah shall stand upon 'the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem, on the east;
and that the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof ' toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley,' &c.; and also the sixteenth verse, that it
'shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations ' which come against Jerusalem, shall even go up from year to
year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the • feast of tabernacles. But the living waters,' in the eighth verse, he understands as figuratively signifying the diffusion of Christian knowledge and the various other blessings which the world at large are to enjoy as the fruits of the Redeemer's reign. Now, it is unfair and contrary to all just exegetical principles, that two parts of one description, which is apparently homogeneous, and which we apprehend cannot be shown to be otherwise, should be thus discordantly interpreted. It ought undoubtedly to be wholly literal or wholly figurative; and whether one or the other, set common sense and the analogy of Scripture decide. If it be taken literally, it involves the literal restoration of the Jewish temple and worship; but if the New Testament assures us these are finally abolished, of course the true interpretation cannot be a literal one, and it is necessary, therefore, to admit that it must be taken figuratively. Consequently, too, the whole, and not merely a part or parts must be considered figurative. On the absurdity of founding a Jewish polity which shall literally answer the description of the pro phet, and which all nations on the face of the earth shall recognize by going up year by year continually to keep the feast of the tabernacles, Dr. Urwick remarks:
• One feels as if persons who could seriously hold such views had so far merged judgment, that reasoning would scarcely tell upon them, or we should be disposed to ask how was Jerusalem to contain them all ? And though that may be answered by explaining that they are to go up, not en masse, but by their representatives, yet allowing this, if the feast is to last but seven days, as formerly, how will matters be so arranged that the deputies from all parts are to arrive at the exact time for the solemnity? And, further, if it be said that absences occasioned by accidents or other unavoidable delays on the road or passage, will not be visited with the judgments threatened, the will being taken for the deed,' I here demand under what view, and for what intent, all the Gentile nations are to keep this Jewish festival? The observance of the solemnity, according to the Mosaic order, was to be confined to persons who were · Israelites born,' and it was to be observed by them in commemoration of their forefathers dwelling in booths when God brought them out of the land of Egypt; but such an occurrence never took place in the history of the Chinese, or the Russians, or the Tahitians, or any other people ; so that still the question returns-What answer will Gentile parents then give to the inquiry which their children will naturally propose when they see all the preparations making for the journey, "What mean ye by this service' But I refrain from commenting longer on these expositions. To believe that these things can be, requires very strong faith. To believe that they are taught as verities in the book of God certainly exceeds the capacity of my faith.'—Section iï., p. 81.
Dr. Urwick's views throughout are regulated by the just principle we have laid down, and in this he is followed by Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Dobbin. Instead of literalizing the hieroglyphics, and converting symbols into the objects they only darkly shadow forth, they are only intent upon discovering the fair and legitimate application of each, either as it stands alone, having no parallel, or as it harmonizes with the general strain of the
prophetic writings to which it may have an immediate or remote relation. Thus Mr. Jefferson happily exposes the absurdity of the mode of interpretation adopted by the advocates of the premillennial advent and the personal reign of a thousand years. The passage he selects is the celebrated vision in the twentieth chapter of the Revelation, the first six verses. In proof that the literal interpretation of this text cannot be sustained, Mr. Jefferson states, among others, the following rea
It is unfair to attempt such interpretation. The passage is one of a series of prophetic visions, which are all couched in figurative language, and are interpreted accordingly. Did the words occur,' as Dr. Wardlaw remarks, 'in an historical or epistolary composition, it would justly be pronounced unnatural (unless we were specially warned of the writer's deviation from his usual style), to explain them symbolically. Now in a professedly symbolical book, there is the very same force of objection against their being interpreted literally. A literal interpretation of the entire passage is not attempted ; indeed, is impossible. It follows an interesting and sublime description of the glorious triumphs of Christ in his spiritual kingdom, and of the destruction of the papal antichrist, a literal exposition of which is too absurd to be attempted by any man of sound mind. Who, for exam. ple, ever imagined that Christ has literally “a sword proceeding out of his mouth, or that he wears in heaven a vesture dipped in blood ?' The connexion of this passage with that which precedes it, is such as to show the close consecutiveness both of the revelations, and of the facts revealed. There is no mark of transition, nor any change of style. So obvious, indeed, is this, that so far as I am aware, no attempt is made to render literally the former part of the text ; the dragon, the binding with a chain, and the sealing,' are allowed by all to be symbolical. Why then are we immediately to make a transi. tion from the symbolical to the literal ; from the style of prophecy to the style of history ?' or why must we blend the two modes in interpreting the same passage? But even where the literal interpretation is attempted, it fails at the very point where it is most important that it should hold ; and instead of living souls of martyrs reigning with Christ, it gives us 'risen and glorified bodies.'—pp. 10, 11.