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means to turn back; to expect means to look out; to attend means to stretch towards any object. Examples of this kind might be extended indefinitely, so as clearly to show, both from facts and the nature of the case, that all words expressive of spiritual ideas, have an external origin, and were applied to outward and material things before they were applied to the things of a spiritual world.
As no book so abounds in spiritual truth as does the Bible, so, for this very reason, does no book so abound in the use of figurative language. The figures of the Bible are drawn, for the most part, either from nature, from common life, from the political and religious institutions of the Hebrews, or from history. The reader of the Bible will, at once, call to mind figures and symbols drawn from these various departments of the outer world. The mention of a few will suggest to the memory many others. The apostle says: “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The language of this verse is highly figurative. The new creation is described in terms drawn from the account of the creation given in Genesis. The heart of man is represented as being, naturally, in the same dark, chaotic state as was our earth when darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the change produced in the soul, by the new creation in Christ Jesus, is like the change that took place in the earth when the Spirit of God brooded upon the face of the waters, infusing vital virtue and vital warmth, and God said: “Let there be light.” The images of light and darkness are frequently employed, in Scripture, to denote good and evil, joy and sorrow, prosperity and adversity, knowledge and ignorance. Christ is called “ the sun of righteousness." The Psalmist says :
” “God is a sun and shield.” The Spirit of God is spoken of under the image of the air and the wind. The blessings of the gospel are spoken of under the images of fountains of water, rivers, copious showers. Christ says of him
1 A similar classification is given by Rev. William Jones of Nayland in his excellent Lectures on the Figurative Language of the Scriptures.
self, that he is the vine, and of his people, that they are the branches.
As exemplifying the use of figures drawn from common life, may be mentioned the twenty-third Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd,” in which the language is derived from the pastoral occupations of the Hebrews. In the same Psalm, the figure is changed to that of a banquet, in which favorite guests were anointed with oil. Very frequent, also, are the
, allusions made, in the Bible, to agricultural operations. The world is compared to a field; the children of God, to the wheat; the children of the wicked one, to tares; the end of the world is the harvest; the angels are reapers; a preacher of the word is a sower; the word of God is the seed; the heart of men is the soil; the cares, riches, and pleasures of life are thorns; the preparation of the heart, by penitence, is ploughing and breaking up the fallow ground.
For examples of figures drawn from the religion of the Hebrews, we may refer to the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which it clearly appears that the entire system of the ceremonial institutions of the Mosaic Law was symbolical of the future dispensation of the Gospel. The services of the Jew- . ish ritual were typical of that spiritual worship which is performed through Jesus Christ.
For examples of the use, in Scripture, of historical facts as figures of spiritual truth, we may refer to the words of Christ (John 3: 14): “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Our Saviour here applied the lifting up of the serpent by Moses, in the wilderness, to the lifting up of himself upon the cross, to draw all men to himself for the cure of their souls. Again, the miraculous supply of manna, in the wilderness, was a symbol of that true Bread which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world. Paul tells us that the rock which Moses smote to give drink to the people, was Christ, i. e. a figure of Christ smitten for our sins, and giving to a thirsty world the waters of life. How far all the historical portions of the Old Testament may also be symbolical of spiritual truth, is a question we will not at present discuss; but certainly the Christian church has not been mistaken in ever regarding the wanderings of the children of Israel through the wilderness as symbolical of the pilgrimage of the people of God to the heavenly Canaan; and doubtless there are other historical portions of the Old Testament, which, while their literal verity is to be held fast, in the strictest sense, may yet be regarded as containing within them perpetual illustrations of spiritual truth. The Bible, like the book of nature, has an inexhaustible manifoldness as well as depth of meaning. Its histories, as well as its precepts, contain principles of universal application, which, like precious gems, radiate from all sides and in all directions. Thus there is not only a double sense in Scripture, but there are more senses than can be numbered.2
And now what are some of the principles that may aid us in the interpretation of the figurative language of the Scriptures ?
1. One obvious remark is, that, in order to understand the figures of speech employed by the sacred writers, we should be well acquainted with the sources from which they are drawn. We should study nature as continually presenting
i Paul's use of the history of Sarah and Hagar to illustrate the difference between Jewish bondage and Christian liberty, is an evidence that some portion, at lcast, of Old Testament narrative is illustrative of the facts of Christian experience not literally expressed by it. — Trench, in his work on the Miracles, has beautifully shown that the miracles of Christ were not only historical facts for the time then being, but are signs and symbols for all time of higher and more important facts continually taking place in the spiritual world. The changing of the water into wine was a sign and symbol of what Christ is evermore doing in the world, elevating and ennobling the most common conditions and relations of life. The opening the eyes of the blind was a sign and symbol of that spiritual illumination which the Gospel now produces in the hearts of all who receive it. The healing of the sick was a sign and symbol of that recovery from the malady of sin which is effected by the great Physician upon thousands and millions of immortal souls; and the raising of the dead from the grave was a sign and symbol of that resurrection from death in trespasses and sins unto newness of life which Christ now effects in the experience of all believers.
? A frequent difficulty in the interpretation of prophecy may perhaps be removed by the remembrance of this principle. The difficulty has been in supposing that a given prophecy must refer to one event only, whereas, while containing one fundamental principle of the divine administration, it may equally well refer to many different corresponding events in the course of the ages.
us with manifold lessons of spiritual wisdom; we should ob
1 serve the common relations of this earthly life as illustrative of still higher spiritual relations; we should see, in the transitory forms and ceremonies of the Jewish ritual, the signs and symbols of everlasting truth; and, in the history of God's ancient people, we should see how was shadowed forth the coming and progress of God's heavenly kingdom. The more we form the habit of looking at outward nature and the forms of outward life in a religious point of view, and as symbols of spiritual realities, the better prepared shall we be to apprehend the truth that is conveyed to us in the figurative language of the Scriptures. Nature continually speaks to us the same language with Revelation ; what the one teaches by words, the other teaches by images and signs; and the words with which Scripture addresses us were originally taken from the living vocabulary of nature, and to this we must resort in order to understand their primary meaning
2. A second principle to be observed in the interpretation of figurative language is, that we must not think it necessary to change it into literal terms. This would be impossible. As all language that is applied to spiritual subjects, from the nature of the case, must be figurative, of course there are no literal terms in which to express spiritual truth. If
any terms that are applied to spiritual subjects, seem to be literal, it is because, from long use, their figure has been worn out. They are like coin of which the stamp is worn off. People will not readily take them. Though they have some intrinsic worth, yet they need to be recoined in order to pass well. So it is with words. If they do not call up some figure in the mind, people will not take them. The preacher who uses them can make no impression.
We have said that no figurative terms applied to spiritual subjects can be changed into literal ones. We may change the figure, but this is only like turning liquid from one vessel into another. One vessel may contain more than another. One figure may express more than another. Every thought makes for itself some embodiment. We often speak of conceptions of spiritual truth. But what is a conception but a taking together the elements of some thought, and forming them into some image in the mind? We speak of ideas of truth. But what is an idea but the form in which some thing presents itself to the thinking mind? Even in religious worship, where, if anywhere, we should divest ourselves of all ideas of form, every man who worships at all, worships some conception of his mind, which is to him the visible embodiment of the divinity. There is in the human mind an earnest craving after some visible form of God. This want of our nature is satisfied in him who is the brightness of the Father's glory, the express image of his person, the one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus; and the worship of God as revealed to us in the man Christ Jesus, is a worship of the Father, in spirit and in truth. And they who worship him, must worship him in the Son, for the Father seeketh such to worship him. Our purest, our truest, our most spiritual idea of God, is, when we think of him in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. All our ideas of heaven, and of the spiritual world necessarily assume some form.
Every object in nature is a symbol of some spiritual truth. When the names of outward objects, or of outward appearances are given to spiritual subjects, we say the language is figurative; but, properly speaking, these outward things are the figures designed to embody and represent spiritual truths. Nature is so laid out by its great author, as to represent the spiritual world. God is a sun, therefore is there a sun placed in the centre of the heavens to represent the brightness and glory of God. Earthly relations are so arranged, as to set forth heavenly relations. Material things are copies of spiritual things, and we learn divine things through copies; but the copies are trustworthy and true, being made by the same divine hand that made the archetypes, and made after the pattern of heavenly things.
The language of the Bible respecting the atonement made by Jesus Christ, is taken from the phraseology of the Old