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ranks and in all eircumstances. This is a duty, unquestionably, of the highest obligation : but it is not the topic of the prophet here. A little examination would have brought to light these facts. The nation of Moab, which had been generally hostile to that of Israel, had been rendered tributary by David. This tribüte, in the separation of the tribes at the beginning of the reign of Rehoboam, was secured, not to the kingdom of Judah, as would seem the most to be expected, but to that of Israel, whose capital was Samaria. The country of Moab was remarkably favourable for pasturage. The tribute was settled to be “ one hundred thousand lambs and one hundred thousand rams, with the wool.”* But on the death of Ahab, the king and people of Moab made an effort to throw off the yoke and refused to pay the stipulated tribute. Now the passage in the prophet is a part of a pathetic description of extreme distress from the invasion of some fierce and merciless enemy; combined with a prediction that the national strength of Moab should be reduced to a very low state : chapters xv, and xvi. It is an address of desponding, perhaps ironical, advice to the Moabites, now in their perplexity, to renew the tribute which had been so long withheld, in order to obtain protection, or an asylum for the fugitives : but the recommendation is to send this tribute, not to the government of the Ten Tribes, which was now probably overwhelmed by the Assyrian power, but to the people and the royal house of Judah, whom they, the Moabites, had before treated with the utmost contempt and haughty scorn. It is observable also that the very course for the driving of the flocks, from the plains of Moab to Jerusalem, is described with geographical exactness.t
As another illustration, I may mention a passage of the same prophet (chap. xxxiii. 7): “ The ambassadors of peace shall weep bitterly." This has been adduced as a description of the distress which ministers of the gospel, the messengers of revealed
have so much reason to feel in contemplating the small measure of success which they obtain in their endeavours to bring men to salvation. Just and important as is this sentiment, it is perfectly alien from the real sense of the passage. It is a clause in a picturesqué description of the universal consternation which filled the nation of Judah, when Sennacherib was entering it, with his irresistible army, spreading desolation all around. Hezekiah, as we have before remarked, had paid an enormous fine, as the penalty for his endeavour to free his country from the yoke of tribute, and in order to buy off the threatening conquerer from his menaced invasion. For this consideration, Sennacherib had entered into a treaty of peace. But no sooner had he received this vast sum of money, than he avowed his unprincipled and treacherous purpose, and gave orders for the march of his troops into the helpless territory. Hezekiah's ambassadors, called also “ valiant ones,” since they were probably officers of rank, the same perhaps who had negociated the treaty, and who might have been sent again to remonstrate with the proud Assyrian, finding that he had neither clemency nor honour, and that their mission was utterly unsuccessful, returned to Jerusalem and reported their failure with the most passionate emotions of grief and despair: and this state of things is thus described by the prophet: “Behold! their valiant ones cry without; the ambassadors of peace weep bitterly; the highways lie waste; the wayfaring man ceaseth; he" (Sennacherib) “ hath broken the covenant, he hath despised the cities, he regardeth no man."
* 2 Kings iii. 4.
+ See Note G.
Examples of such false interpretations, which have unhappily obtained popular currency, might be multiplied; but, for the purpose of caution, these may be sufficient. Is not every friend to scriptural religion bound to do all in his power for the correction and avoidance of this evil? Is it not an evil which goes to the nullifying of the ground of faith, the destroying of all certainty in Bible-interpretation, the establishing of an arbitrary principle which must lead ultimately either to ignorant credulity or universal scepticism?
But, it may be asked, Are we not at liberty to take striking passages of scripture, and apply them to new and
important purposes, upon a principle of accommodation ? Permit me to answer this question by asking another: Are we at liberty to put any meaning upon the word of God, different from its own proper, designed, and genuine sense, as ascertained by competent investigation ?-1 can only imagine one way in which such a commodations can be permitted by a conscientious mind; and that is the existence of some resemblance or analogy, either in the phraseology or in the sentiment, between the cases proposed. If the analogy be in the former, the citation is merely in the same way in which men often quote a line of poetry and apply it to any new occasion : yet it should be recollected that, in so applying a fine passage, of Virgil or Milton for instance, we can do no harm; we can lead no man into error by it; the new application is never supposed to have been the original intention of the author. But, since the Scriptures are the repository of God's revelation, to which all Christians justly look for the authoritative declarations of eternal truth and religious obligation, it is evidently a far more serious matter for us to quote scriptural passages even in an incidental way. It is almost certain, that most hearers and readers will imagine that the transient citation, or the felicitous allusion, is mentioned as evidence in the particular respect for which it is adduced. To say the least, therefore, we ought not to indulge in this practice without taking especial care to guard against being misapprehended.
In the other case supposed, that of an analogy of sentiment, I humbly conceive that there is a perfectly safe and legitimate way in which we may proceed. Perhaps there are not in Scripture any recitals of fact, or traits of character, or precepts or other declarations given under specific circumstances, which, on due consideration, are not most truly to be regarded as Cases of some GENERAL Principle ; particular instances under some one great class of doctrinal truth, or moral reasoning, or the conduct of the divine dispensations. We can, therefore, from the particular instance, ascend to the general principle; and, that principle being established by its own evidence, we can bring it down to any new case which appears to fall within its range,
For example: we may take Isaiah xxxiii, 14, “ The sinners in Zion are afraid, fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites : Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire ? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings ?” The connexion refers to the deliverance of the pious Hezekiah and his people, who trusted in God, from their Assyrian invaders and from the machinations of the traitorous and heathenishly-inclined party at home. Against them the judgments of heaven are denounced, in verses 11 and 12, under the frequent figure of " devouring fire:” and in this passage the detected faction, upon the defeat of their projects and the discovery of their treasons, are described as stricken with terror and despair. Here, then, is a single instance under a general class; and it illustrates a Principle, namely, the certainty of Divine Justice in the punishment of the impenitent and hypocritical according to their deserts. This universal Principle, therefore, can be educed, confirmed, and enforced, as equally true and equally claiming the regard of mankind, at all times and under all varieties of circumstance. If those enemies to their country had so much reason to be afraid, what dread should possess rebels and traitors against the law and the gospel of God? The prophet immediately proceeds to declare the security of the righteous, in the midst of the judgments which fall upon the wicked : and thus he supplies us with an exemplification of another great principle in the moral government of God, which we can safely apply to the widest extent.
I may be allowed to take up another instance. In chapter i. 2—17, the same prophet draws a picture of the prevailing corruption of the Jewish nation under the reign of Ahaz; the licentiousness of the princes, the avarice and oppressiveness of the higher orders, the general depravity of all ranks, and the hypocrisy with which they performed the services of the temple. He then exhorts them
He then exhorts them to a change of mind and conduct, and adds; “ Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord : though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Here, then, we have a determined case, an illustrative instance : it leads us up to a principle : and from that principle we can argue to all analogous cases. If those corrupt magistrates, had they returned to the exercise of impartial justice and fulfilling the duties of their station ; if the wicked princes and people, had they reformed their conduct; would have been delivered from the threatened punishments of the Assyrian and other invasions, and from the more remotely impending ruin of the Chaldæan conquest-we may safely infer that the vilest sinners, if they turn from their sins with true repentance and cordially embrace the offers of divine mercy in the gospel of Christ, shall certainly obtain deliverance from their guilt and misery.
I have trusted to the candid indulgence of my hearers, in producing these examples, in order to shew that we can never be under a necessity, and should never yield to the temptation, to give untrue interpretations of any part of God's most sacred word, in order to have materials for any kind of religious exhortation. We may make striking allusions, and may avail ourselves of forcible and pungent scripture-expressions, to as great an extent as any faithful preacher can wish; and yet not sacrifice the genuine meaning. That genuine meaning we should always make clear : it is « the mind of the Spirit :" let us not have the presumption to think that we can improve it: but when, as will usually be the fact, it is found to involve some great and general principle, let us enforce that principle in all its variety of application “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.' Rule VII. It is necessary to acquire an accurate ac
quaintance with the nature, sources, extent, and mean
ing of the emblematic imagery used by the prophets. In forming the language of prophecy, the Divine Spirit was pleased to make use of symbols, or emblematical resemblances, as the representatives of persons, offices, communities, and remarkable states of persons or affairs. These are constructed upon a systematical plan, the same image ordinarily referring to the same object; so that they form what we may call the Vocabulary of Prophecy. They are de