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up any other thing instead of this, we are depriving ourselves of the benefits which it was intended to convey, and we are putting a wrong imputation upon the Adorable God? But, if an attention to this rule be necessary with regard to every other part of scripture, it is surely not less imperative in application to the prophetic parts. Indeed we may, without exaggeration, say that, in this department, it is of weightier importance than in any other : for, if we misunderstand one or more passages in relation to some fact or doctrine, command or promise, the error may possibly extend no farther than to the particular instance; the doctrine or principle may be fully established by other evidence, and all the harm may be an application of an inefficient proof to that which is adequately proved already. But an error, committed in the interpretation of a prophecy, will almost inevitably lead to results vitally and permanently erroneous; and, whatever talent, ingenuity, and labour, may be bestowed upon it, will be worse than thrown away. Such a case may be compared to that of a man proposing a journey to a given place, but who takes a wrong road: the more he fatigues himself and the faster he travels, the farther he gets from the proper point.
A chief duty, therefore, of one who would interpret the prophetic word, is to secure a correct understanding, first of the words and phrases used by the author, and then of the signification intended by the combining of terms in sentences and paragraphs. Here a regard to truth compels me, though reluctantly, to say, that the safe interpreter must not depend upon the common, though generally excellent, translations of the Prophecies. He must be able to read the original record, with the competent measure of philological skill; or he must be furnished with such critical versions and elucidations as merit ample confidence, and all that he can collect of these must be compared together with laborious patience. The idioms of the language in general, the expressions peculiar to each sacred writer, those which are characteristic of a particular age, those which indicate a locality or office or relation, and every thing that belongs to grammatical criticism,-must be well understood, and applied with sound judgment. By these means, the true sense of every expression, and the continuity of sentiment in each paragraph, must be faithfully ascertained, consistently preserved, and never allowed to slip out of sight. RULE IV. We must separate the matter wbich is actual
prophecy, from all other matter which may be inter
woven with it. In the books of the prophets, there are large portions which are not prophetic. We frequently find in them recitals of historical events and remarks upon those events, descriptions of persons and their conduct, most admirable delineations of character, religious teaching and moral precepts, arguments and pathetic exhortations against sin, earnest exhortations to holiness, and the most heart-touching utterance of devotion, poured forth from sanctified minds, under a great variety of circumstances, afflictive or joyous, unto “ the Lord God of the holy prophets.” I may also here remind my hearers of the remark made before, that even promises and threatenings, when they are of that general and spiritual kind which constitute the sanctions of God's moral government, do not come within the range of prophecy. All such portions of composition as these, inserted in those parts which are really prophetic, or appended to them, must be cleared away; and this work must be performed with serious carefulness, watching against all prejudice and precipitancy, and in the exercise of an enlightened and truly sanctified judgment. Those who have not before studied the writings of the prophets with this discriminative attention, will probably be surprised to find how very little there is, in some of those writings, that is actually prophetic. The neglect of this observation has betrayed many well-intentioned persons into deplorable errors and extravagant speculations. They have assumed that to be prophecy, which was quite another form of composition ; and they have therefore drawn such conclusions as could be sustained only by arbitrary meanings put upon other passages, or by visionary ideas with regard to actual events.
Let it also be ever recollected, that the portions thus detached, as not being prophetic, are not, on that account, divested of their importance. They are, equally with any prophecy, of divine inspiration and authority; and, speaking generally, they are of still greater utility for the purposes of religious instruction. They include numerous and most awakening addresses to the unconverted, affecting descriptions of their guilt and just condemnation, remonstrances and exhortations, promises of mercy, invitations to the highest bliss, precepts of duty, recognitions of doctrine, consolations to the sincere servants of God under their afflictions, and exercises of the purest devotion. In short, they are more directly and abundantly useful, for private and domestic edification and in the exercise of the gospel-ministry, than the larger part of the prophecies can be deemed; unless we except the clearest and most impressive of predictions, those which refer to our Lord Jesus Christ and the blessings of his kingdom.
RULE V. We should be particularly attentive to the
fact, that the real prophecies are generally written in the highest style of poetry ; with the most vivid imagery, the boldest figures, excursive descriptions, large digressions and episodes, and all the peculiarities of
poetical composition. This is a fact perfectly well known to those who have investigated this class of subjects : but it is probable that many excellent persons, serious and devout readers of the Scriptures, are not sufficiently attentive to it. Poetical language has principles and rules of interpretation peculiar to itself, arising out of the nature of figurative diction, and familiar to all who read genuine poetry with taste and judgment. By this fact, therefore, the interpretation of all the poetical parts of scripture must be greatly influenced; but none in so high a degree and to so vital an effect, as the writings of the prophets. It is one of the necessary consequences of this circumstance in the prophetic style, that the events which are objects of prediction, are not described in proper and simple terms, the language of plain narrative and ordinary use, but in figures and tropes, chiefly Metaphors;
and these are usually of great strength and vehemence, or remarkable for their picturesque beauty. They are derived from all the sources of poetic imagery; and particularly from the occupations, rural, civil, and military, of the people to whom they were delivered; from their history; and from all the beauty and majesty of nature in a mountainous and maritime country.
I beg leave to cite a few examples, for the purpose of illustration, and in order to shew the absolute necessity of divesting this beautiful form of language of all the figures and imagery with which it is enrobed, in order to arrive at the plain meaning : for, to bring out this plain meaning is the sole object of every process of interpretation.
Afflictions and distresses, especially those which, as judgments from God, were to fall upon the Jews or other wicked nations, are described thus: “Deep calleth unto deep, at the noise of thy water-spouts : all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.-Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein ? Shall it not all swell up, like a stream ; and burst forth, and be submerged, like the stream of Egypt ?-The fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence : and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the towers shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day.--When I extinguish thee, I will cover the heaven and make the stars thereof dark : I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light : all the bright luminaries of heaven will I darken over thee, and I will set darkness upon thy land.-I beheld the earth; and lo! it was without form and void ; and the heavens, and they had no light : I beheld the mountains; and lo! they shook, and all the hills trembled; I beheld, and lo! there was no man; and all the birds of the heaven were fled: I beheld, and lo! the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities in ruins; from the presence of Jehovah, from the presence of his glowing anger.-The stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.-The earth shall quake before them, the heavens shall tremble, the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining.I will shew wonders in the heavens, and in the earth; blood and fire and pillars of smoke : the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood.-From Jehovah of hosts shalt thou be visited, with thunder and earthquake and a great sound, with storm and tempest and the flame of devouring fire.-All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as a withered fig from the fig-tree: for my sword shall be bathed in heaven."*
In these passages and others resembling them, great occurrences effected by the all-governing providence of God in the calamities and revolutions of nations, are depicted by the most dreadful convulsions of nature, by even the actual dissolution of the visible world : and those very events have all taken place ages ago. Yet how many persons understand these images literally, when they find them in these or other places of scripture! How many are in the habit of quoting those passages,
which imply a meaning and application exceedingly remote from their genuine design! What wild and vain theories have been hence engendered, utterly destructive, in principle and example, of all sobriety in BibleInterpretation! This is not a trifling evil. nant with injuries to the cause of scriptural knowledge and practical edification.
It encourages among Christians a widely prevailing practice of reading the Scriptures with little attention, and of applying detached passages in senses entirely foreign to their proper meaning : it is hostile to the reception of correct sentiments in religion and in relation to the works of God: it leads men to overlook the constant operation of the Most High in the government of the uni
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* Ps. xlii. 7; Amos viii. 8; Ezek, xxxviii. 20; Amos viii. 9; Ezek. xxxii. 7, 8; Jer. iv. 23-26; Joel ii. 10, 30, 31; Is. xxix. 6, xxxiv. 4.