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the whole question in debate. Thus Mr. Tyso, who, perhaps, goes furthest in the grossness of a pseudoliteral sense, makes the locusts, in the fifth trumpet, « literal insects, bred in the smoke of the bottomless pit, as insects are, commonly, in a blight." In like manner, the woman in chap. xii. is “some pious and excellent woman, perhaps a queen," who shall exist in the last times. And, on the same principle, he may maintain that the sun and moon shall literally forsake their orbits to form the wardrobe of this pious woman.” Mr. Burgh avoids these grosser errors, by unexplained anomalies, almost as unreasonable. The four first trumpets are to be strictly literal, but not so the eagle flying through mid-heaven. In the fifth trumpet the grass and the green things are to be literal, but the locusts are to be human warriors, who shall form the armies of the infidel antichrist. So, again, the temple and all its adjuncts are literal, but the roll or little book is a figure. The wilderness is literal, but the woman who flees into it a figure. All these expositions, where they deviate from the great body of interpreters, are justified by the alleged need of adherence to the letter; and yet the author forsakes the letter at every turn, when it strikes him at the moment as inconvenient. There is no trace of any principle to guide his selection; all is left to the impulse of the moment.
Mr. Govett adopts a more judicious course. He endeavours first to distinguish, by internal marks, those portions which must of necessity be treated as symbolical: and these, even by his own admission, are so large, as already to form a large fraction of the prophecy. The alleged maxim is, therefore, surrendered and allowed to be insufficient. There is thus a great approach towards the sounder view of interpreters in general ; but the principle adopted for ascertaining the symbo
lical parts is entirely defective. Our only warrant for abandoning systematically, in any part, the direct sense, is the fact that the whole book is not a direct prophecy, but visions significant of future things. The real question is, therefore, what signs can be reasonably proved to be identical with the things signified; and not which of the signs could have a real existence, without absolute absurdity. If no objects but unnatural monsters were used in the types and parables of Scripture to denote spiritual things, then every emblem which is not clearly monstrous might be transferred, unchanged, into the future tense, and taken as the very event predicted by the vision. But the fact is entirely different. The types and emblems of the divine word are borrowed much oftener from real existences, or natural objects which might exist without a prodigy, than from monstrous and unreal combinations. The whole demarkation, therefore, in this most improved form of the hypothesis, rests on a baseless assumption, opposed to the whole current of the inspired parables and emblems.
Let us illustrate by one or two examples. A falling stax, in the popular sense, is a frequent natural occurrence; and so are rivers and fountains. Again, a falling star is plainly used in Seripture (Isa. xiv.) as the emblem of the overthrow of a mighty monarch, or the apostasy of a spiritual leader. Also rivers and fountains are used, sometimes, as emblems of the military force of the neighbouring countries (Isa. viii.), and sometimes of public instructors (Prov. pass.) Now, so far as the text is concerned, in its separate parts, we have no right to assume that the third trumpet must relate to one of these, more than another. The text is the narrative of a past sign. The past sign may, in the abstract, denote a future event, which shall be its own fac simile ; or it
may denote events such as the examples in Isaiah would imply. The latter view would have a Scripture precede--the former has none.
But when we add, further, that natural falling stars never descend on rivers and fountains, but disappear in the sky; that it is impossible they should do this without ceasing to be stars, and becoming simply a different object, a meteoric stone; and that no meteoric stone could fall on the third part of all the rivers and fountains without an evident contradiction ; the advantage of the symbolical interpretation over that which pretends to be literal, while it is really just as symbolical itself, and is only petty and unnatural, becomes overwhelming and decisive.
An example, open to more reasonable debate, may be taken from the sealed tribes. The Jews are, and always have been, so important an object of Divine Providence, that, in the abstract, it can neither be unreasonable nor improbable that they should be a direct object of the prophecy, and, since no more appropriate symbol could be found for them, that they should be, so to speak, their own emblem. The sealed tribes would then denote that actual number of Christian Jews, whether in past times, or in days to come.
On the other hand, the Jewish nation clearly represent and correspond to the visible Christian Church, and their outward distinctness, the visible distinction of Christ's professed disciples. The analogy is complete in most respects, and of constant recurrence in the New Testament. It extends even to the temple, and all the connected ordinances of Jewish worship. Either view, therefore, has strong apparent grounds on which to rest ; and the decision must depend mainly on a clear perception of the general scope of the prophecy, the relation of its parts, and the minuter features of the descrip
tion. Those who view the book in general as symbolical, may therefore, without inconsistency, conceive literal Jews to be designed; while no principle of sound interpretation can warrant any one in assuming that exposition to be self-evident, and denouncing the contrary opinion as violent and absurd. This would betray a complete ignorance of the real nature of the evidence for either view.
It is curious, for instance, to contrast the confident statements of Mr. Burgh on this point, without one reason assigned, with the equal confidence of Vitringa in maintaining the opposite interpretation, and the distinct and connected reasons which he assigns. Mr. Burgh speaks as follows:
“On hearing of such expositions we are inclined to ask how it is that such agreement can exist as to a principle of interpretation which involves so violent a wresting of the words of Scripture from their obvious and plain meaning Commentators supposed it necessary to apply the sixth seal to some of these events, and it followed that this seventh chapter could not apply to the Jewish people, but must find its fulfilment in the history of the Gentile Church,
“Now I do not blame these expositors for being desirous that their systems should hang together. But what does much surprise me is, that, when they had come as far as the sixth seal, and found that it was followed by this chapter, they did not say— * Here we must stop; here we must give up the principle with which we set out, and seek some other interpretation; we must not force the language of Scripture; we cannot set aside nor accommodate it in such a manner as we now find to be necessary to the system by which we hoped to explain this book: this chapter can only refer to the Jewish nation""(L. Apoc. pp. 61,62).
On the other hand, Vitringa expresses equal confidence in embracing the opposite opinion; but then he assigns specific reasons, and enters minutely into the features of the text :
“ The prophecy here declares the character and the number of
those who are sealed; each, beyond all doubt, to be mystically and symbolically understood. This all grant, so far as I know, of the number, but all do not allow it, with equal readiness, of their character. For, since the twelve tribes of the children of Israel are here expressly mentioned, and these same twelve tribes, also, are designated each by its own name, many interpreters are persuaded that this prophecy must, by all means, be referred to the Jews, the offspring of Abraham, properly so called, and not in figure. Their opinions, however, are divided, some referring them to the Jews who escaped Pella, and others, as Launacus, to the Jews to be converted to Christ at the end of time. But we renounce altogether this hypothesis, which interprets the passage of Jews properly so called. I am exceedingly surprised that learned men who have expounded this book should not have observed here also that it is allegorical: so clear and palpable are the proofs in this passage, from which it is clear that by these. 144,000 sealed, from all the tribes of Israel, are mystically to be understood the confessors of Gospel truth,' who form the true Church, opposed to that which is false and antichristian. For, first, if these words were to be taken in the letter, the number would equally require to be taken literally. But, since all here explain the number mystically, we ought, it should seem, to do the same with regard to the sealed ones themselves. Next, it is clear, from the whole prophecy, that by the sealed must be understood the chosen of God, who are to be preserved from a common calamity, which would heavily afflict the whole world. And who can assert these to be Jews only, who attends to the scope of the prophecy and the connexion of the passage? Thirdly, if the words were not to be understood mystically, the whole tribe of Dan could not have been omitted in the prophecy. ...... Fourtbly, that these words are mystical, and to be taken allegorically, is very clear from the parallel text, xiv. 1, when compared with this : for in that passage the elect of God are clearly exhibited, who, in the time of antichristian persecution, would compose the true Church, and be contrasted with the multitude of carnal men devoted to Romish superstition.”
I will not stay to inquire whether these reasons of Vitringa are solid and convincing, or whether others might not be added of equal strength. But they show, at least, the only way by which particular questions