« PreviousContinue »
THE STYLE AND METHOD OF
EZEKIEL XX. 49.
They say of me, Doth he not speak
SERNON 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, SERMON enough hath been already said to shew, that it is not well founded.
It must, however, be confessed, that the book of Revelations a, 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
a As to the authority of this extraordinary book (although the discussion of this point be foreign to my present purpose) it may be proper to acquaint such persons, as have not made the inquiry 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 commented upon so early, as this " of the Apocalypse." Observations on Daniel, &c. page 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 question, able, the church of Rome could hardly have failed long since to make the discovery, or to triumph in it.
Hoc Ithacus velit, et magno mercentur Atrida.
SERMON writings. Whence, our next step, in this in
quiry, 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 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 ac? complished.
1. 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 obserye, That, though the prophetic style abounds in hieroglyphic symbols, SERMON 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 b- to tread a wine-press, from their custom of pressing grapes, signifies destruction, attended with great slaughtere-- to give water in the wilderness, in allusion to the miraculous 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 d;—and, to mention no more, a forest, such as Lebanon, abounding in lofty cedars, represents a great city, with its flourishing ranks of inhabitants e; just as, a mountain,
SERMON from the situation of the Jewish temple on
mount Moria, is made to stand for the Christian Church?...
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 custoins, this difference 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 Judæa, 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 fortunes 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?
f Isaiah ü. 2.