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THE STYLE AND METHOD OF THE
EZEKIEL Xx. 49.
-They say of me, Doth he not speak Parables ?
ALL the prophecies of the Old and New Testament, are written in parables ; that is, in highly figurative terms; which yet, on examination, have appeared to be explicable on certain fixed and rational grounds of criticism.
So far, therefore, as any prejudice may have been entertained against the prophecies concerning Antichrist, as if the language of them were too abstruse or fanciful to be understood, enough hath been already said to shew, that it is not well founded.
It must, however, be confessed, that the book of Revelations, * which contains the most, and the chief prophecies on the subject of Antichrist, is of a deeper and more mysterious contrivance, than any other of the prophetic writings. Whence, our next step, in this inquiry, must be, To trace the CAUSES of that peculiar obscurity; and to suggest, as we go along, the MEANS, by which it hath been, or may be, removed.
The causes, are to be sought in the STYLE, and the METHOD, of that book. I say nothing of the subject : for; though the things predicted may
* As to the authority of this extraordinary book (although the dis. cussion of this point be foreign to my present purpose) it may be proper to acquaint such persons, as have not made the finquiry for themselves, and are perhaps incapable of making it, with the sentiments, which our ablest writers have entertained of it.
Mr. Mede, a capable inquirer, if there ever was any, says roundly" The Apocalypse hath more human (not to speak of divine) “ authority, than any other book of the New Testament besides, “ even from the time it was first delivered.” Works, p. 602.
-And, to the same purpose, Sir Isaac Newton—“I do not find any “other book of the New Testament so strongly attested, or com“mented upon so early, as this of the Apocalypse.” Observa. tions on Daniel, &c. p. 249.
Thus, these two incomparable men. What some minute critics have said, or insinuated to the contrary, is not worth mentioning ; farther, than just to observe, that, if the authority of this momentous book be indeed questionable, the church of Rome could hardly have ailed long since to make the discovery, or to triumph in it.
Hoc Ithacus velit, et magno mercentur Atrida.
darken a prophecy, unfulfilled, the event will shew what they are ; and it is not necessary, that we should anxiously inquire into the meaning of a prophecy, till it be accomplished.
I. First, then, the STYLE of the Revelations (for I mean not to consider it, with regard to the Greek tongue, in which it is composed, or, to the Hebrew idiom, with which it is coloured) the style, I say, being symbolical, like that of the other prophecies, must, in general, be explained on the same principles, that is, must be equally intelligible, in both. Yet, if we attend nicely to the style of this prophecy, some difference will be found, in the choice of the symbols, and in the continuity of the symbolic form.
1. To explain my meaning, on the first article, I must observe, That, though the prophetic style abounds in hieroglyphic symbols, properly so called, yet the Israelites, when they adopted that style, did not confine themselves to the old Egyptian stock of symbols; but, working on the same ground of analogy, superadded many others, which their own circumstances and observations suggested to them. Their divine ritual, their civil customs, their marvellous history, and even the face and aspect of their country, afforded infinite materials for the construction of fresh symbols: and these,
when they came into common use, their prophets freely and largely employed. Thus, incense, from the religious use of it in the Mosaical service, denotes prayer, or mental adoration* to tread a winepress, from their custom of pressing grapes, signifies destruction, attended with great slaughter to give water in the wilderness, in allusion to the mi. raculous supply of that element, during the passage of the Israelites through the wilderness to the holy land, is the emblem of unexpected relief in distress ;I
and, to mention no more, a forest, such as Lebanon, abounding in lofty cedars, represents a great city, with its flourishing ranks of inhabitants ; f just as, a mountain, from the situation of the Jewish temple on mount Moria, is made to stand for the Christian church.ll
Now, though the symbols of this class be occasionally dispersed through the old prophets, yet they are more frequent, and much thicker sown, in the Revelations : so that to a reader, not well versed in the Jewish story and customs, this differ. ence may add something to the obscurity of the book.
If you ask the reason of this difference, it is plainly this. The scene of the apocalyptic visions is laid, not only in Judea, but in the temple at Jerusalem; whence the imagery is, of course, taken. It was natural for the writer to draw his allusions from Jewish objects, and especially from the ceremonial of the temple-service. Besides, the declared scope of the prophecy being to predict the for. tunes of the Christian church, what so proper as to do this under the cover of Jewish ideas; the law itself, as we have before seen, and as St. Paul expressly tells us, having been so contrived, as to present the shadow of that future dispensation ?
This then (and for the reason assigned) is one distinguishing character of the apocalyptic style. But the difficulty of interpretation, arising from it, cannot be considerable ; or, if it be, may be overcome by an obvious method, by a careful study of the Jewish history and law.
2. The OTHER mark of distinction, which I observed in the style of this book, is the continuity of the symbolic manner. Parables are frequent, indeed, in the old prophets, but interspersed with many passages of history, and have very often their explanation annexed. This great parable of St. John is, throughout, carried on in its own proper form, without any such interruption, and, except