« PreviousContinue »
The misapplying of particular prophecies is another source of confusion among the expositors of this obscure department of revelation. Such, for instance, as those against many of the nations of antiquity. It is true that there is a moral analogy ' in the dispensations of providence, and by consequence, the ' divine judgments, in ancient times, may be rightly held forth • as a beacon and warning to our own. The practical lesson to 'be deduced is, that if God spared not the sinful nations of ' antiquity, it behoves us to beware lest he spare not us.
Ne'vertheless this is not the primary sense of the denunciations
against the Ammonites, the Moabites, &c. ; and they must not • be primarily applied to the modern nations of Europe. To these latter they can only refer in a secondary or accommodated sense. Strictly speaking, the denunciations have been long ago fulfilled; the nations against whom they were prophecied have long since received their punishment, have sunk into insignificance, and have disappeared from the face of the earth. Those precise threatenings will never again be executed; not even will the mystical antitype of the Chaldean Babylon suffer the very woes announced against her precursor. In short, except by way of general analogy, nothing of all this belongs either to our own or to future times.
On our Lord's awfully magnificent and terrible predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem, which some have explained as having a twofold application-referring ultimately if not chiefly to the day of judgment, Dr. Urwick ventures the following suggestion. It has at least the merit of being ingenious and probable.
• Many attempts have been made to anatomise this prophecy, and exhibit separately the parts which relate to the invasion of Judea and desolation of Jerusalem by Titus, and the parts which regard the judgment of the world at the last day. I have not met with any thing satisfactory in this way. . If any man could have done it well, Bishop Horsley was the man ; he had learning, ingenuity, power, and determination enough for it. Yet one cannot read the sermon in which he attempts to separate the prophecy of the coming' from the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, without feeling that a giant is grappling with a difficulty he cannot master. The statement of our Lord, “Verily, I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled,' puts it, I think, beyond question, that the whole range of the prediction was to have an accomplishment before the then present age of human beings should all have died from the face of the earth.
I venture to sug est whether the destruction of Jerusalem, with the various circumstances detailed as connected with it, was not in. quired after by the disciples, and foretold by our Saviour as a 'SIGN' or • type' of his second advent, and of the final judgment ? I believe
the word sign' is commonly taken as meaning a 'token' or 'proof;' but from the use of the word in the gospels, I think it rather intends a 'type,' or a thing which corresponds with another, and which may be taken as an illustration of it upon a small or inferior scale. • Then certain of the Scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, an evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas : for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly ; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.' - Matt. xii. 38–40. On another occasion the Jews demanded of him, “What sign showest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work ? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert ; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat '-as though the daily supply of manna to the Israelites were a type or sign to the Israelites of the doctrine which he promulgated to them. Our Lord in reply to their request for a “sign, at once referred to himself as the glorious reality of which the manna Moses gave to the Israelites was properly the type or 'sign.' See John vi. 30, &c. Every reader will recollect that the prophets often, when delivering divine messages to the people, accompanied them with symbolic actions, and these symbolic actions were signs. I give but one example from many, • Thou also, son of man, take thee a tile, and lay it before thee, and pourtray upon it the city, even Jerusalem. And lay siege against it, and build a fort against it, and cast a mount against it; set the camp also against it, and set battering rams against it round about. Moreover take thou unto thee an iron pan, and set it for a wall of iron between thee and the city : and set thy face against it, and it shall be besieged, and thou shalt lay siege against it. This shall be a sign to the house of Israel.'—Ezekiel iv. 1-3.
“If the idea now thrown out be correct, it at once settles the ques. tion as to the twofold reference of the prophecy which this note regards, and shows that instead of portioning it out, so that some statements of it should be made to foretell events that occurred within fifty years after it was delivered, while other statements of it regard events that have not yet transpired, the whole of it is the prophecy of a sign—a 'sign’ upon a scale of unequalled grandeur, and typifying a reality of incomparably greater magnitude and moment still-a prophecy of a sign, which being fulfilled, will involve both the pattern and the pledge of the ultimate reality signified. Consequently the whole of it had a fulfilment in, and shortly previous to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the whole of it is to have another fulfilment at the second coming of the Lord.'- pp. 5, 6, Note.
But perhaps the most prolific source of all errors on prophetical subjects, has been the bending and coloring historical events, in order to make them fit a particular prophecy, or tally with a particular hypothesis; a presumptuous and perilous undertaking, adopted by a great number of expositors, all differing from one another with regard to the application of the same
prediction. Witness for example, the enumeration of the ten kingdoms into which the Roman empire was to be divided. In the vision of the ten horned beast, the commentators saw that they were bound to find ten kingdoms, three of which were to fall before an eleventh. Accordingly, there are perhaps a dozen lists of such kingdoms, and each list precisely tallies with the conditions of the prophecy, yet all are dissimilar and discordant. Certainly nothing of this kind could have happened had not the commentators intentionally, or unintentionally fitted the event to the prediction, instead of simply selecting an event which would actually and of itself correspond. Before an interpreter can be qualified to read history by the light of prophecy, and apply prophecy again to the facts of history, he must be able to ascertain the precise relative importance, and the real definite character, moral and political, of every event that has taken place upon the great theatre of the world during the lapse of its six thousand years. And who is equal to a task like this; where are the histories to be found? How many kings and kingdoms may have passed away without a record; and of those of whom there is still some memorial, how opposite are the accounts given by different historians, and how difficult, nay, often how impossible it is to determine which is the true one? Historians who agree as to the main facts in substance, yet trace them to such contrary sources, ascribe them to such contrary motives, invest them with such different degrees of importance, give them such an opposite moral character, that it would seem we must be utterly at fault when we are required to show their reference to a prophecy, which describes events only by their real importance and their true moral character.
If on some occasions prophecies have been tortured for the purpose of this spurious and dangerous application, the very doubtfulness and indistinctness of history has more frequently rendered the process unnecessary. The interpreter takes upon himself the character of historian, as well as commentator. That is, he arranges the facts according to an order of his own,
-supplies deficiencies from his imagination assisted by doubtful circumstances, and obliterates what he may deem superfluous and not exactly suited to his purpose. But even where there is sufficient vigour of mind and of principle to resist the temptation of thus tampering with history as we find it, to the wisest and most discreet it often proves uncertain and dangerous ground. We do not mean to affirm that with regard to the grand outline of prophecy, and the scheme of providence, history is not to be consulted. Imperfect as it is in everything truly important and which links
prophecy and providence together, we have no other guide. Pagan historians and even the infidel historian Gibbon, furnish almost the whole body of facts which are applied to the elucidation of the prophecies; and we have no doubt whatever, that were an historian, with different general views and principles, to travel over the ground which Gibbon has occupied, the prophecies which relate to the latter ages would be much farther elucidated, and there would be infinitely less reason to complain, that although the prophetical descriptions are in themselves definite and accurate if fully understood, and the events of history possess an equally definite character if properly appreciated; yet, from the ignorant and imperfect data of commentators, are often wrongfully associated and misapplied. In fine, and as a practical corollary to all that has been advanced on this head, when we meet with these misstatements and misconceptions, let it be remembered how much an habitually pious state of mind, a disposition to view and estimate all events with reference to the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom, will tend to give clear and right notions of the interpretation of prophecy. In proportion, as this is the case, we view the prophecies, as also the whole of the word of God, under the same aspect, according to the same rules, from the same eminence, with the same associations as did the sacred writers themselves; and in like proportion too, may it be hoped, that our judgments respecting them will be analogous. Earthly cares and feelings dim the perceptions, and mislead the understanding; and perhaps we may add that possibly the chief reason why the prophecies are said to be sealed to the
time of the end, is that until the kingdoms, and parties, and learning, and pride, and interests of this world shall have passed away, the scales will not fall from the eyes of men, to enable them to see clearly the mysteries of providence and grace.
Another particular in relation to our present subject, which is so obvious that it would appear superfluous to notice, had not the neglect of it led to very serious practical errors, is a rule which, with regard to scriptural interpretation in general, no man in his senses thinks of violating-namely, that isolated texts and obscure paragraphs must not be so explained as in any way to contradict the general tenor of scripture in the established rules of Christian faith and practice. One part of holy writ cannot stand in opposition to another; and while there is a positive precept to the contrary, or where the spirit of Christianity leads in a contrary direction, no exposition of an obscure prophecy must be placed in competition. Thus for instance, the command of our Saviour to go and teach all nations, and to preach the gospel to every creature,' is absolute; and when we meet with the interpretation of prophecy, which assumes that the evangelization of the world will be accomplished by a miraculous effusion of the Holy Spirit, which is calculated to supersede human agency and missionary labours,
we may be sure that the interpretation is erroneous, and however plausible its appearance, we must confidently reject it. The same may be said of interpretations which have been put forth of late, and which make the test of Christian conduct to consist in studying certain parts of the Holy Scriptures, and of Christian faith in holding certain peculiar views of futurity. All such interpretations are a priori suspicious, and upon examination cannot fail to prove
false. One other principle, and it is the last we shall notice, as the abuse of it has been fraught with many wrong notions of truth, and a thousand delusions, is that which requires of every expositor of the prophetic scriptures yet unfulfilled, a sacred regard to the spiritual nature of Christ's kingdom, and its progressive advancement to its final consummation unamalgamated with the politics of earth, and conferring as its highest rewards the glory and felicities of heaven. The modern millenarian, whether he be found among the clergy of a worldly sanctuary, where the beggarly elements of earth are continually mixed up with things sacred to form an imposing hierarchy, or whether he be a convert from Judaism, his imagination filled with the splendors of his national glory which has so long passed away, and which he yet hopes to see restored; one familiar with a visible head to his church, and the other expecting to behold in the seed of David, a successor to fill his throne in Palestine; both agree that the millennium, instead of a spiritual state, is to be a personal reign of Christ in this world, -upon this earth for a thousand years; and the martyrs and eminent saints are to be raised from the dead, and to share with him the cares and honours of regal government. How opposed this is to a fair and reason-. able exposition of the prophecies relating to this period—how contrary to the genius and spirit of Christianity—and more especially to its spiritual and heavenly tendencies—three of the writers at the head of this article have abundantly shown. Mr. Dobbin, we have not quoted, and perhaps his style is a little too scholastic, ornate, and pretending, but his argument is well sustained ; and in referring to this branch of the prophetical question, he pursues it in a strain of Christian eloquence. We can only afford space for the concluding paragraph.
• But over and beyond this, I might object to the moral influence this doctrine exercises upon the mind of the believer of it. Does it not, I ask him, usurp the place of heaven in his affections? What is it the millenarian preacher expatiates upon—is it not the future felicity of earth? What do his hearers converse upon when they meet together-is it not the felicity of earth? What is the subject of their thoughts by day, what of their dreams by night, what of their prayers in the closet, family, and church-is it not the felicity of earth? The millenarian dwells upon it, as I know by per