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be classed, without difficulty, under two or three schools. The difference of one school from another is not such as to hinder an important and extensive accordance in many parts of the prophecy. In the same schools the variations are still more limited. And just as the astronomer can trace the history of his science, from the imperfect elements and faulty theories drawn from the wider observations of Hippocratus and Ptolemy, down to the minute exactress of the orbits which the skill of modern observers has determined ; a similar progress, though at present less complete, may be traced in this more sublime astronomy, which contemplates the secret and silent course of the divine counsels.
In fact, this whole objection is exactly of the same kind with those which infidels are accustomed to urge against Christianity itself. The religion of Christ is a message of truth and peace. Were the Gospel to accomplish its own blessed design, union would banish all strife, and truth dispel all error. Now the infidel objects that this has never been the actual result of Christianity. The visible Church, from the very first, has abounded in strife and contention, and in countless varieties of doctrine and judgment. He counts up, without stooping to classify and distinguish them, the innumerable sects and opinions which have prevailed among Christians, and then puts the scornful inquiry, “ Is this the religion of pure truth, when those who prosess it cannot agree on its true meaning? Is this the true Messiah, whose doctrine was to regenerate the world, when, after eighteen centuries, the Church itself is full of strife and bitterness? These differences prove that the whole is a delusion. The religion of Christ has failed, after eighteen centuries, to produce universal conviction in the world, or universal agreement in the Church itself. Therefore we must look for some future Regenerator.
The promise that the world shall be raised to a happier state is written on the heart of man. But this secret prophecy must be fulfilled by some other Messiah who has never yet appeared.” Such are the specious reasonings of the sceptic, which will pave the way for the last struggle and paroxysm of infidel violence. Is it safe for those who dread its approach to copy so exactly, in this holy prophecy, a style of reasoning so delusive and pernicious in its wider application ?
II. The duty of adherence to the literal meaning is a second objection, which is advanced almost as often as the former. The words of Hooker are quoted to convict the great body of interpreters of serious error, and we are gravely warned of that “licentious and deluding art, which can make everything of everything, and ends by bringing all truth to nothing." By this.maxim, somewhat hastily applied, the weight of opposing authority is easily set aside; and in the confidence of superior discernment, and with all the zeal and hope of youthful discoverers, the Futurists set out on a new voyage of prophetical research.
Here, again, there are two or three observations which ought to abate the confidence of the youthful mariners, and to remind them, that even this maxim, like the natural compass, has its own variation; and that, if this be forgotten, it may lead them into worse errors than if they had been content to observe the stars only.
(1). And, first, the maxim of interpreting literally, if taken alone, may lead to errors quite as serious as an opposite maxim of unrestrained and perpetual allegory. What do we mean by a literal interpretation ? One in which words have the same sepse ascribed to them which they usually bear in daily life. Now this is one-half of the truth needed for a right interpretation of the
Scriptures. The word of God is a revelation to man. To be useful to men, it must be definite and intelligible, and in this sense, literal. But it is also a revelation from God. Now, to be divine, it must contain higher truth, nobler thoughts, more full and deep conceptions, than such as man conveys to his fellow-men. Therefore, in employing human language, it must exalt and expand the meaning of the terms which it employs. It belongs to that kingdom of God which eye hath not seen, neither hath it entered into the heart of man. Hence all its messages bear this same character. They are literal, for they are given to man; they are mysterious, for they proceed from God. To rob them of their mysteriousness is just as fatal as to dissipate them into uncertain allegories.
Now these two elements, which clearly exist in every part of Scripture, may appear, in different parts, in very different proportions. Some may be so literal as scarcely to be distinguished outwardly from a merely human history: others may be so mysterious as almost to baffle the profoundest research of the most devout and thoughtful minds, and the most diligent efforts to determine their true meaning. The book of Genesis belongs to the former class, and the book of Revelation, just as plainly, to the latter. The very efforts of the Futurists to explain it, and the contradictions in their own expositions, only place this fact in a clearer light.
These two principles of interpretation have, therefore, to be kept equally in view, and serve to limit and explain each other. Those allegories are to be rejected which have no definite basis, both in the special features of the text and the general analogy of divine truth. That literalism is to be renounced which involves a contradiction to the purified reason, or narrows and contracts the messages of God below the instincts of a holy and spiritual mind. Errors from one cause are as frequent and dangerous as from the other. From a false allegory, on the two swords of St. Peter, Popery has extracted the doctrine of the universal jurisdiction of the Roman see, with both temporal and spiritual power. By a false literalism, it has perverted the words of Christ into the senseless figment of transubstantiation--the main key-stone of all its spiritual delusions.
Now it must be clear to every candid mind, on tracing the course of the divine revelations, that the Apocalypse, as it is the last, is also the most mysterious. Even on this ground alone, the attempt to explain it merely by the one principle of a strict adherence to the letter, must be a vain and fruitless effort. No part of Scripture plainly stands so much in need of a spiritual eye, an eagle vision, and an expectation of high and heavenly mysteries, as this last and noblest revelation, sent to the beloved apostle who bare record of the Divine Logos, and leaned upon His breast.
(2). But, next, the plea for the literal sense of this prophecy, as it is commonly urged by the Futurists, is entirely deceptive, and tends to convey a totally false impression of the real subject in debate. Had the revealing angel here, as in Dan. X.-xii., directly conveyed a prophecy of coming events, in ordinary language and in the future tense, reason would justify the demand for a literal exposition, however this might be modified by the general tone of the celestial revelation. But the case is widely different. The book is properly and immediately a record of visions which are past, and not a prediction of events to come. There are, indeed, predictive clauses or passages interspersed; but these are exceptions, and in general the grammatical exposition leaves us still in the past, and contains no direct
account of the future. How, then, is the transition supplied ? Plainly, from the opening words of the title, which tells us that the book was a prophecy of "things which must shortly come to pass," and that the angel conveyed it by signs (conuave) to the apostles. Now no law of literal interpretation identifies the sign with the thing signified. On the contrary, the force of language requires us to distinguish them. In some instances the two may coincide; the thing signified may be introduced by name, or described in vision, so as to become its own sign: but this is naturally the exception, and not the rule. The utmost which the literal exposition, properly so called, can do, is to place us in the position of the Seer at the time when the visions
But to interpret the signs is a deeper question of spiritual wisdom and scriptural research, not of grammatical skill. The maxim of literal interpretation here ceases to apply, and the question really to be answered is the true significance of certain divine symbols, chosen to prefigure coming events. It is true that, in some cases, the sign may be the same with the object signified: but even in such instances the maxim of adopting the literal meaning has, properly, nothing to do with our conclusion; which must be drawn, purely on grounds of general reasoning, from the nature of the sign employed.
(3). Thirdly, the practical attempts to explain the book by the exclusive maxim of adhering to the literal sense, place the insufficiency of that maxim in the clearest light. The writers who profess to make it their guide are either hurried into palpable absurdities, or admit continually anomalous exceptions to avoid a worse evil; or else they have to commence by such limitations of the maxim, on grounds of reason, and direct consideration of the symbols, as virtually to cede