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signs of Prophecy is the only way to render our studies of this extensive and often difficult subject profitable to our souls ; an exercise, not of vain curiosity, but of fervent piety, faith, and love; not ministering strife, but godly edifying.
I proceed to mention briefly the two remaining advices which I have proposed to give. RULE XI. It is necessary that, in all instances, we
should have safe criteria for the application of prophecy. Too much reason have we for the remark, that arbitrary, or at least unproved, applications of prophetic passages are lamentably common. The injury which they do to the cause of religion, or rather to the minds of those who profess religion, is very great. False and therefore dangerous principles of interpretation are sanctioned ; and, by a continued application of those principles, the whole testimony of scripture upon every other subject, as well as this, may be utterly perverted. Visionary notions are propagated and fallacious expectations are raised; and, when the day of disappointment arrives, the blame, which belongs only to human presumption, is sometimes impiously thrown upon the word of inspiration. Men of knowledge and good understanding, but unhappily careless of religion and ignorant of its rational principles, are hardened in their unbelief; the cause of truth is betrayed; and the Scriptures are exposed to dishonour and insult.
Some criteria, therefore, to assist us in the application of scripture prophecies to particular objects, whether persons or events, are evidently desirable. I humbly propose the following as simple, sufficient, and the only ones which appear to me to stand upon a solid basis.
i. The strict investigation of the terms, the connexion, and the historical circumstances, of any prediction ; by an impartial application of the Rules which I have ventured to lay down, particularly the first, third, fifth, sixth, and seventh.
ii. The authority of the Lord Jesus and the inspired writers of the New Testament.
This authority for the application of predictions in the Old Testament to persons, facts, or doctrines under the New Testament, when it is clearly pronounced, must surely be admitted to be paramount and decisive. But two questions arise, relative to this subject, which require attention.
1. Is every application of an Old-Testament passage, occurring in the writings of the apostles and evangelists, to be regarded as warranting that passage to be an original and designed prophecy of the object to which it is thus applied?
I apprehend, by no means, as a universal and unmodified rule : but, in relation to this topic, there are three considerations which must be carefully weighed.
(1.) An impartial investigation of the citations occurring in the New Testament, often establishes a just ground of prophetic reference to the object to which an evangelist or apostle has applied it, but which ground was not before apparent.
(2.) Some of those citations go upon the principle which I have attempted to explain under the sixth rule; the application of a general fact or sentiment to a particular case which naturally falls under it.
(3.) Others of those citations consist in adducing a maxim, apophthegm, or description from the Old Testament, which bears such a resemblance to a new fact or circumstance, that the affinity deserves to be especially remarked. This is no other than doing what speakers and writers in all ages and countries have done ; borrowing a line of poetry or a striking passage of any esteemed author, which conveys in peculiarly impressive language a sentiment which is in a pleasing or instructive manner applicable to the new occasion. Such felicitous citations from admired authors are made every day, and with excellent effect; while neither the speaker nor the hearer ever once imagines that the original writer contemplated this new application. In the Jewish phraseology, such adduced passages are often said to “be fulfilled,” when the meaning is no more than what we should express by saying, This occurrence was an exemplification of such a remark in Bacon or Locke; or, to it we might pertinently apply such a passage in Spenser or Milton.
2. The second question is, Are we warranted to attribute a double sense to any passages, particularly prophecies?
Here again I conceive that truth requires us to say, No. But some explanation is necessary.
I conceive the term, double sense, to be ill chosen and liable to be misunderstood; and that another expression, current in some circles, a literal and a spiritual sense, is still more improper and pernicious. That which it is our duty to seek after, is the true, genuine, intended sense of the word of God; "the mind of the Spirit.” This must be ultimately and essentially one : and if we are at liberty to invent a second sense, why not a third, or a fourth ? And would not this destroy all certainty in the use of language ? When we receive a letter on any important subject from a friend, we read it with a view to ascertain its meaning, to know the real sentiments and intention of the writer; and, having obtained this, we are satisfied.
But there are kinds of composition in which an apparent sense is presented, which every intelligent reader sees is only an envelope for another meaning ; and it is this other meaning which is the author's actual design, his one and true intention. These are allegories and parodies, of which examples are to be found in the literature of all countries ; and the oriental nations have been remarkably attached to such forms of composition. Now, proverbs, apologues, parables, and allegories, all falling under this class, do occur in the Scriptures : and not infrequently large portions of the prophetical writings consist of such similitudes. In this way, also, use is made of the symbolical imagery treated of in a former part of this Discourse. But even here, I conceive that the phrase, double sense, is not a correct one ; for the first or superficial signification is not what the author intends : his true and genuine meaning is but one.
But there was a peculiarity in the inspired writings of the Hebrews which could belong to no other writings; because it arose out of the religious and political constitution which the Author of truth and God of grace was pleased to confer
upon them. That constitution was formed upon a principle of subserviency to the spiritual reign of which we have before spoken, the progressive kingdom of the Messiah. Under the Israelitish constitution, Moses, Aaron, David, and the offices themselves of prophet, priest, and king, were types, that is intended resemblances, of circumstances corresponding in the person, the work, and the people of the Messiah. Hence, many descriptions occur in the prophetic parts of the Old Testament, which are applicable to the persons who are their immediate subjects, only in a partial and very imperfect manner; but which find a complete and satisfactory correspondence to their full meaning, in the Messiah and the new dispensation of which he is the Head. In the application of this principle, the ancient Israelitish Church is repeatedly asserted in the New Testament to be a designed representation of the Christian Church.
“ All these things happened unto them for [TÚTO] ensamples. The first tabernacle was [wapaBorn] a figure for the time then present. - The law had a shadow of the good things which were to come.Ye are come unto the mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”*
But I do not perceive that the application of this principle is the admission of a double sense. It is one sense; it is one predicate or collection of predicates; but by original design and construction, formed so as to be applied to two subjects; to the first, by anticipation and partially, and to the second, in complete perfection; the former being the temporary representative and introduction to the latter.t Rule XII. We must not expect to derive from the study
of Prophecy an ability to predict future events. This is plainly asserted in our text. Prophecy, so long as it remains unfulfilled, is compared to a lamp which gives a glimmering light in a dark place, a light extending but a very little way. It is not till the day has dawned, that distant objects can be seen. It is not till the providence of the Almighty Sovereign has explained his decrees, till the event predicted has illuminated the prediction, that we can fix upon the precise nature, manner, and order of those occurrences which accomplish any prophecy. A degree of obscurity, though not equally great in every instance, is thus declared to be a necessary accompaniment of every prophecy, till it is actually fulfilled. This decisive declaration of the word of God itself should ever teach us deep reverence and cautiousness, in our studies of this difficult branch of theology; and much modesty in our conclusions. Indeed, if prophetic descriptions were so plain and literal that the specific events could be definitely fore-described by the expositor of prophecy, it is evident that the impartiality and dignity of the divine declarations would be impaired; and opportunity would be afforded to men, either to form schemes and put forth efforts with the intention of aiding the prophecy, or, on the other hand, impiously to labour for its frustration. But, when human agents have brought to pass an event which now stands forth plainly as answering to a scriptural prophecy, while yet it must be said of them as it was of the Assyrian king, “ howbeit they mean not so, neither do their hearts think so ;" the wisdom and power of God are made conspicuous; the foreknowledge which proclaimed, and the agency which effects, are demonstrated to be from Him“ who worketh all things, after the counsel of his own will.”
* 1 Cor. x. 6, 11; Heb. ix. 8, 9, x. 1, xii. 22.
+ The intelligent inquirer will find this subject, of so much importance in the understanding of the Old Testament, placed in a very satisfactory light in the XIth of Bishop Lowth's Lectures, mentioned before.
For these reasons, I must confess my persuasion, that all theories of prophetic interpretation which include descriptions of events in specific and exact statement, are extremely precarious, necessarily uncertain, and most probably erroneous ; and that all the attainment which the Divine Author of inspiration has left in our power, with respect to predictions not yet fulfilled, is to perceive, surrounded with the wise and necessary obscurity which he has declared to belong to the case, only some very general views of his own dispensations, and of the moral states into which mankind will be brought.
We have at once proofs and examples of this important