Page images
PDF
EPUB

prophecies are said to be involved ; and in particular, how came it to pafs, that they may not be as well explained, before the completion, as after it [g]: which yet is constantly denied by writers on this subject, and, even, by your own principles, cannot be supposed?"

To this objection, I shall not reply by saying, That the style of the prophets, though intelligible, yet requires . much practice in the interpreter to unfold its meaning; for that is the case of many other arts and sciences, which yet are generally understood: nor, that the symbolic terms are frequently capable of several senses, which must needs perplex the interpretation; for there is no

common language, in which the plainest words do not frequently admit the same difference of construction, which yet creates no great difficulty to those who attend closely to the

[8] See this objection urged by Mr. Collins in his Grounds and Reasons, &e. p. 220. Lond. 1737.

scope

H 2

[ocr errors]

scope of a writer: I shall not therefore, I say, amuse

you

with these evasive answers, but reply, directly to the purpose of your inquiry, by observing,

66 That there are several methods, or, if you will, artifices, by which the inspired writers, under the cover of symbolic expression, and sometimes even without it, might effectually conceal their meaning, before the completion of a prophecy, though the language, in which they write, be clearly explicable on fixed and stated rules."

1. When the prophecy is of remote events, the subječt is frequently not announced, or announced only in general terms. Thus, an earthquake is described

a mountain is said to be thrown down a star, to fall from heaven; and so in numberless other instances. Now, an earthquake, in hieroglyphic language, denotes a revolution in government; a mountain, is the symbol of a kingdom, or capital city; a star, of a prince, or great man : but

of

of what government, of what kingdom, of what prince, the prophet speaks, we are not told, and are frequently unable to find out, till a full coincidence of all circumstances, in the event, discloses the secret,

2. The prophetic terms are not only figurative, but sometimes, and in no common degree, hyperbolical (of which the reason will be given hereafter), so that no. thing but the event can determine the true size and value of them. This seems to have been the case of those prophecies in the Old Testament, which describe the tranquillity and felicity of Christ's kingdom; and may possibly be the case of those prophecies in the New, which respect the Millennium.

3. It being the genius of the prophetic style to be ænigmatical, this cast is fometimes purposely given to it, even when the expression is most plain and direct, Thuś Jeremiah prophesies of Zedekiah, king of Judah, that be mould be deli

vered

H 3

vered into the hands of the king of Babylon, that his eyes fould behold the eyes of the king of Babylon, and that be should go to Babylon [b]. Ezekiel, prophefying of the same prince, says, that he should go to Babylon, but that be should not see it, though he should die there [i]. Now Jofephus tells us, that the apparent inconsistency of these two prophecies determined Zedekiah to believe neither of them. Yet both were strictly and punctually fulfilled.

4. Lastly, the chief difficulty of all lies in a circumstance, not much observed by interpreters, and, from the nature of it, not obfervable, till after the event; I mean, in a mixed use of the plain and figured style : so that the prophetic descriptions are sometimes literal, even when they appear most figurative ; and sometimes, again, they are highly figurative, when they appear moft plain.

[!] Jeremiah xxxiv. 3.

Ezek, xii. 13.

An

An instance of literal expression, under the malk of figurative, occurs in the prophet Nahum, who predicts the over-, throw of Nineveh in these words With an over-running flood be will make an utter end of the place thereof, [Nahum i. 8.) An over-running flood, is the hieroglyphic symbol of desolation by a victorious enemy: and in this highly figurative sense, an interpreter of the prophecy would, in all likelihood, understand the expression. But the event shewed the sense to be literal : that city being taken, as we know from history, by means of an inundation. Of figurative expression, under the form of literal, take the following instance from a prophecy of Christ himself ;

who fays to the Jews, Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days, (John i, 19.) It was natural enough for the Jews, to understand our Lord as speaking of the temple at Jerusalem ; the rather, as this term had not been, and, I think, could not be, applied to any person, before

Jesus

H4

« PreviousContinue »