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The same equivocal use was, sometimes, SERMON'
IX. purposely made of proverbial expressions, as learned men have observed k.
I omit many other causes of obscurity in the prophecies; such as the seeming incredibility, sometimes, of the things predicted—the undefined chronology and geography--the intricacy of the method—and many other considerations. But you will collect from these brief hints, respecting the expression only, that, though the symbolic language be reducible to rule, and therefore, in the main, sufficiently intelligible, yet that there is room enough for the introduction of so much obscurity into the prophetic writings, as may answer the ends of the inspirer, and conceal the full meaning of them from the most sagacious interpreter, till it be revealed, in due time, by the event.
Or, if it be thought that such difficulties and the event removes, are not, in their own nature, invincible, before it happens, it is still to be considered, that the giver of the prophecy is, by supposition, divine; and as he, therefore, foresaw, in framing the texture of it, that such difficulties would, in fact, bę invincible,
ke See Grotius on Matth. xxvi. 23.
SERMON they served the purpose of a designed conceal
ment just as well, as if,' in nature, they were. Whence the conclusion is still the same, That the prophetic style might be the cover of impenetrable obscurities in a prophecy, before its completion, and yet the terms of it be clearly explicable on established rules; the event only enabling the expositor more skilfully and pro. perly to apply those rules.
IV. To conclude this subject ; It will now be acknowledged, that the suspicions which have been taken up against the prophetic way of writing, as if it were vague, illusory, or unintelligible, are utterly without foundation. The style of the prophets was the known, authorized style of their age and country, in all writings especially, of a sacred or solemn character; and is even yet in use with a great part of mankind. It further appears, that, as it was understood by those to whom it was addressed, so the principles, on which it was formed, are discoverable by many obvious methods, and may be applied, with success, to the interpretation of it, at this day. .
The prophetic style is, then, a sober and reasonable mode of expression. But this is not all. We may, even, discern the expe
diency, I had almost said, the necessity; of SERMON
IX this style, considered as the medium, or vehicle of prophetic inspiration.
For we have seen, that the scheme of scriptural prophecy extends through all time; and is so contrived, as to adumbrate future and more illustrious events, in preceding and less important transactions : a circumstance, which shews' the harmony and connexion of the whole scheme, and is not imitable by any human art, or forethought whatsoever. But now a figurative style is so proper to that end, that, we scarcely conceive how it could be accomplished by any other. For thus the expression conforms, at once, to the type, and antitype: it is, as it were, a robe of state, for the one; and only, the ordinary, accustomed dress of the other: as we may see from the prophecies, which immediately respect the restoration of the Jews from their ancient captivities, and, ultimately, their final triumphant return from their present dispersion --- from the prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, which prefigure, at the same time, the day of judgment -- from those concerning · the first coming of Christ, which, also, set forth his reign with the saints on earth, and VOL. V.
SERMON · IX.
even the glories of his heavenly kingdom and in a multitude of other instances.
These successive, and so different, schemes of Providence could only be signified together in a mode of language, that contracted, or enlarged itself, as the occasion required. But such is the singular property of a symbolic style. For none but this, hath fold and drapery enough, if I may so speak, to invest the greater subjects; while yet (so complying is the texture of this expression) it readily adapts itself to the less considerable, which it ennobles only, and not disfigures. The differ· ence is, that what is a metaphor in the former
case, becomes an hyperbole in the latter. * And this double use of the same symbol, is ; the true account of such figures as are thought most extravagant in the description of the prophets. .!
F53. We see, then, in every view, how reason
able, how expedient, how divine, the symboliç style is, in such writings as the prophetic. So that if any be disposed, in our days, to take up the complaint of the text, and to up
braid the prophets by asking, Do they not 5-speak Parables? We may now take courage