« PreviousContinue »
with his saints on the earth, we must believe to signify his sending the Holy Spirit to the place where he is already, the hearts of his people.-Nor do these fanciful theorists stop to fix the relative time of the day of judgment, though upon no better ground than that it suits their system. St. Peter (2 Pet. iii. 13) tells us that the new heavens and new earth mentioned by Isaiah (lxv. 17), and which all acknowledge to be the Millennial state, are to be established after the passing away of the heavens with a great noise,” and the “melting of the elements with fervent heat,” “the burning up also of the earth and of the works that are therein :" but the system in question has it, that the day of final retribution and the conflagration of the earth are synchronous, and do not take place till after the thousand years of felicity have run their course. The prophecy above referred to, in Rev. xx., is given in these words: “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither bis image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years : but the rest of the dead lived not again till the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” Now, a simple-minded man, who understands the word “ ath to mean the separation of the soul and the body, and “living again ” to denote their re-union, would read this passage as predicating of certain persons, therein described, that they would rise from the dead into the perfection of a new life at least a thousand years before certain others. But the system of future history, of which I now speak, will not admit this order of things; and therefore its supporters have attempted, by the help of sophistry, to explain the passage as teaching that there is but one time for the general resurrection of the dead. Because, say they, St. John “saw the souls of them that had been beheaded,” &c. “live again and reign with Christ a thousand years,” therefore he means a spiritual resurrection--that is, godly people, who resemble the martyrs in holiness of life, increasing greatly in number and prosperity. So that “souls of those who were beheaded,” &c. mean persons of other men; and the “living again,” and “resurrection ” of people once dead, mean the coming into the world by ordinary birth of successive generations !- Finally, reason suggests to us that this beautiful and goodly world, which God made for the habitation of the creature of his love, who was formed after his own image, will not be suffered to fall into the hands, for ever, of God's enemy. And Holy Writ confirms the truth : “ The earth abideth for ever :" * The creation (KTLOLS) itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God” (Rom. viii. 21). But the system
in question teaches, that so soon as the general assize is passed, or while it is yet passing, the earth shall begin to consume in its last fires ; and that, having received their respective sentences, the righteous shall return with Christ to heaven, and the wicked shall retire to their place of eternal torment; leaving the earth to perish, a trophy of Satan's victory.- These leading things, with many additional minutiæ, the dogmatists give forth as the only rational system of belief with regard to futurity; a system which certainly has this to distinguish it from that of any Chiliast, that it is not founded on that mysterious and dreaded thing the unfulfilled part of prophetic Scripture, but is the legitimate child of human imagination.
And this is the theory of spiritual interpretation, as it has been called, to which those would have us yield ourselves who claim a monopoly of “ the wisdom and prudence of the day.” Verily it is not to the wise and prudent, but unto babes, that truth has been revealed. Here, we have already seen, is no system of interpretation, but a system of formal contradiction. Accordingly we find that this allegorical and figurative reading of prophecies not given allegorically or symbolically, has been treated by the true church as heresy, ever since, in the fourth and fifth centuries, it began to insinuate itself along with the other papal errors : and, defended though it be by many in these times " who profess and call themselves Christians,” it is but the echo of the false and hollow theology of the present day to the miserable sneer of the infidel of the last century. "The revolution of nearly 1800 years" (says Gibbon, speaking of the hope which the early Christians held of the coming of Christ to the earth to reign with his saints,) “has taught us to be cautious how we press too closely to their literal meaning such expressions of Scripture as describe things to come.” Þr. Hamilton of Strathblane * asserts that they are " enthusiasts,” “ led away by their fancy,” “men of poor intellect,” and many more things which decency forbids me to repeat, who look for the personal reign of Christ on earth during the Millennium. The difference between Gibbon's version of this sentiment and that of Dr. Hamilton, is only in the comparative scurrility with which it is given; and here the balance is greatly in favour of the divine. The Holy Ghost says by St. Peter (2 Pet. iii. 3), “ Knowing this first” (i.e. as of prime importance, touto mpūrov Y.WOKOVTES)
that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation."
In the remarks which I have further to make upon this most important question, I shall take the liberty of using the terms
* See Dr. Hamilton's Defence, &c.
wben we say,
figurative and spiritual, to denote this scheme of allegorizing the language of unfulfilled prophecy; not because I think they convey the full meaning of its definition, but because, being used by the supporters of that system, they are upon the whole the least objectionable I am able to select: and for the same reason I shall employ the word literal to signify what I hold to be the true method of interpreting prophetic language, which, before proceeding further, I shall stop to explain.
Written language is the art of conveying ideas from the mind of one being to that of another, by means of certain signs called words ; and may be divided into two kinds-namely, simple and figurative. Simple language is that which presents ideas to the mind of the reader without the assistance of any image besides :
“ David the son of Jesse reigned over Israel ;” or, “ Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.”
Figurative language is that which, by referring to some image or idea with which the mind of the reader is already familiar, and which has some resemblance to the idea intended to be conveyed, enables him more fully to comprehend the latter. Thus, in the sentence, “ He cometh up and is cut down like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one-stay,” by pointing, on the tablet of the reader's memory, to the idea of a flower, which he has seen growing in the loveliness of its bloom and suddenly withering at the stroke of the mower, and to that of a shadow, now seen and in one moment vanished for ever, the notion of the brevity and frailness of our present life is much more strikingly suggested to his understanding than it could have been by counting the short number of its years, or by relating the accidents by which it might not reach even to the end of their limited term.
Now the books of the holy Prophets, like all other writings, whether sacred or profane, are composed in one or other of these forms of language: and as it would be difficult to conceive the perversion of understanding by which any one could suppose the third verse of the First Psalm to assert, that the righteous man shall actually become a tree flourishing by a river's brink, and covered with the honours of branch and leaf and pulpy fruit; so not less gross is the blunder by which some have imagined that the word souls, in Rev. xx.4,
means, not the souls of the persons there described, but, both the souls and bodies of generations afterwards to be born*.
To understand words, then, in their plain and obvious sepse, and figures and allusions as they were universally applied in the time, country, and tongue of the writer, I hold to be the common key to all language, sacred and profane, and therefore
* See Dr. Whitby's explanation of this passage, also Burkit, &c.
to that of the prophecies, fulfilled or unfulfilled, of the Old and New Testaments.
Nor do those prophecies which, being presented to the mind of the seer in dreams and visions of the night, are necessarily given by symbols and images taken from the kingdom of nature, form any exception to this rule. The language is that of simple narration, whose meaning cannot be misunderstood, which tells us (Dan. vii. 2) that the Prophet “saw in his vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea; and four great beasts came up from the sea, divers, one from another.” And the words are not more obscure in which the angel (verse 17) instructs Daniel, that “these great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth.” In like manner, when it is said, in Rev. i. 12, that St. John "saw seven golden candlesticks, and in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle: his head and his hairs were white, like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters; and he had in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword; and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength;" every reader will have a perfect idea of the magnificent vision which the favoured Apostle saw. But what the golden candlesticks mean; what is the mystery of the seven stars; and who He is, the Mighty, who was like unto the son of man," must be learned from higher authority than that of human ingenuity : Verse 17, “ And he laid his hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not : I am the First and the Last; I am he that liveth and was dead, and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death ...The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches." There is, therefore, no insurmountable difficulty in the language of prophetic holy Scripture, the meaning of which may be ascertained by the same means which enable us to explain the words of any other book.
But prophecy speaks of God, whose being is incomprehensible, and whose perfections are infinite: it treats of his ways, which are unsearchable ; and of his judgments, which are past finding out. It traces the workings of his great designs in the histories of human greatness and of human desolation. It guides the mind through the chequered history of this world, from the time of its original lapse till that of its glorious restitution, when the mystery of God shall be finished, sin and Satan for ever conquered, and the last enemy destroyed ; when the providence of the all-bountiful and all-just One shall stand forth fair and mighty, the admiration of the universe ; when, in the creature redeemed and in the creature unfallen alike, God shall be proved to be all in all. And therefore prophecy is a revelation to faith, and not to understanding—as indeed is every word of Nature and Scripture which speaks of the mysterious things of God--and every attempt of man to approach this mighty subject armed with the "hows ?” and the “wherefores?” of the self-conceited philosopher, is Infidelity, pure and unqualified Infidelity. But as we proceed in this investigation-which I shall continue, if the Editor of this work permit me, in several papers to come--we shall find that the spiritual interpretation of prophecy (which I have above defined) is founded wholly and entirely on such opposition of the human understanding to the simple declarations of God's word, and therefore is also of Infidelity.
P. BORTHWICK. Cambridge, June 1829.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE MORNING WATCH.
SIR,--I enclose a Jewish prophecy which may prove interesting to your readers. The learned Rabbi, from whom I received it, read it in manuscript at Posen in the year 1807. It was made by Rabbi Samson of Oster Poli, who was a victim of the persecution against the Jews which raged about 300 years ago. The author was a great Cabalist. The original is said to be now in the possession of the Rabbi of the synagogue at Berlin. It may be as well to remind your readers, that the fulfilment, being fixed for A. M. 5601, occurs in eleven years from this time, since we are now in the year 5590. Another_prophecy, computed in Jubilees from the birth of Jacob and Esau, puts an end to the supremacy of the latter at the same time.
I have placed the English words under the Hebrew. You will observe that it is written in columns from right to left, each word commencing with a letter corresponding with one in the word above it, and following in regular succession, in the ordinary mode of Cabalistic writings *.
I am, sir, your obedient servant, Sept. 1, 1829.
* The translation of the prophecy therefore reads thus :
And the country of France will kill their king-exceedingly they will prosper their ways—the crown of their glory will be great exceedingly- and they will rise upon them their conquerors and destroy them—Germany, Spain, and the kingdom of Russia~and then a humble one will be called and shall rule over children of Russia-und then shall seize their kingdom-5601-the Jews free shall be called then shall come David.