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2. That this style, how dark or fanciful soever it may appear, is yet reducible to rule ; that is, is constructed on such principles, as make it the subject of just criticism and reasonable interpretation; and, in particular, to us, at this day.
For a language is not fanatical, that is authorised by general practice; nor can it be deemed unintelligible, when it is capable of having its meaning ascertained.
· I. The proof of these two points will most conveniently be given together, in a deduction of the causes, which produced the character of the prophetic style.
That character, I believe, is truly given by those who affirm, That the style of the prophets was only the poetical, and highly figurative style of the Eastern nations. But if you go farther and ask, How it came to pass, that the oriental poetry was so much more figurative than ours, it may not be enough to say, as many others have done, that this difference of character was owing to the influence of the sun, and to the superior heat and fervour, which it
SERMON gave to an eastern imagination. For I know
not whether there be reason to think, that the sun hath any such effect on the powers of the mind; or that the fancies of men are apter to catch, and blaze out in metaphor, within a warm climate, than a cold one: a figurative cast of style being observable in the native poetry of all countries; and that, so far as appears from history and experience, in a pretty equal degree.
Besides, if the fact were allowed, the answer would scarce be sufficient. For, as we shall presently see, the symbolic language of Prophecy, is too consistent and uniform, hath too much of art and method in it, to be derived from the casual flights and sallies of the imagination only, how powerfully soever you suppose it to have operated in the prophets.
We then must go much deeper for a true account of the emblematic and highly coloured expression, which glares so strongly in the prophetic scriptures: and we shall find it, partly, in the nature of the human mind; and, partly, in the genius, indeed, of the oriental nations, and especially of the Jews, but as fashioned, not by the influence of their climate, but by the modes of their learning and institution.
I must be as brief as possible, on a subject, SERMON which many learned writers a have largely and fully discussed; and, as the reflexions I have to offer to you upon it, are chiefly taken from them, I may the rather bespeak your attention to what follows.
1. First, then, let it be observed, that the original language of all nations is extremely imperfect. Their stock of words being small, they explain themselves very much by signs, or representative actions: and their conceptions, in that early state of society, being gross and rude, the few words they have, are replete with material images, and so are what we call highly metaphorical; and this, not from choice or design, or even from any extraordinary warmth of fancy, but of necessity, and from the very nature of things.
Such is the primitive character of all languages : and it continues long in all, because the figurative manner is thought ornamental, when it is no longer necessary; and because the necessity of it is only, if at all, removed by long use and habit in abstract speculation :
a Mede, More, Daubuz, Vitringa, and, above all, the learned Founder of this Lecture.
Sermon a degree of refinement, to which the orientals,
and the Jews especially, never attained. And
| Thus far we may go in accounting for the figured style of the east, from general principles. But this is by no means the whole of the case. For
2. We are to reflect, that, before an alphabet was invented, and what we call literary writing was formed into an art, men had no way to record their conceptions, or to convey them to others at a distance, but by setting down the figures and shapes of such things, as were the objects of their contemplation. Hence, the way of writing in picture, was as universal, and almost as early, as the way of speaking in metaphor; and from the same reason, the necessity of the thing.
In process of time, and through many successive improvements, this rude and simple mode of picture-writing was succeeded by that of symbols, or was enlarged at least, and enriched by it. By symbols, I mean certain representative marks, rather than express pic
tures; or if pictures, such as were at the same SERMON time characters, and, besides presenting to the eye the resemblance of a particular object, suggested a general idea to the mind. As, when a horn was made to đenote strength, an eye and scepter, majesty, and in numberless such instances; where the picture was not drawn to express merely the thing itself, but something else, which was, or was conceived to be, analogous to it. This more complex and ingenious form of picture-writing was much practised by the Egyptians, and is that which we know by the name of HIEROGLYPHICS.
Indeed, these symbolic characters were likely, in a course of successive refinements, to pass into characters by institution : and have, in fact, undergone that change among the Chinese: and it might be expected that both would be laid aside by any people that should come to be acquainted with the far more convenient and expeditious method of alphabetic writing. But the event, in some ini stances, hath been different. The Chinese adhere to their characters, though from their late intercourse with the European nations, one cannot but suppose, that the knowledge of letters has been conveyed to them: and the Egyptians, through all the extent of their long