« VorigeDoorgaan »
tive: that the literal language of prophecy is not to be interpreted by the figurative, but rather the figurative by the literal.
I look at the first verse of this first chapter of Isaiah, and there I find the following superscription : "The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Thus this prophecy, imparted to Isaiah under certain kings of Judah who are specified, refers, he says, to “ Judah and Jerusalem.” Similar superscriptions, fixing the times of the vision in connexion with Jewish concerns, or determining the subject of it to be Judah and Jerusalem and the affairs thereof, I find in other parts of the Book : for instance, at the beginning of the second, sixth, and seventh chapters respectively. Now what more can we want ? Suppose, while Isaiah the son of Amoz was proclaiming these things at Jerusalem, and asserting that they related to Jerusalem, an individual had arisen and declared, that they related to something else, and had nothing to do with Jersusalem; could any two persons be more totally at issue than this individual and the prophet? If therefore we believe the prophet to have been a true man-(we will not say, if we believe him to have spoken, as he did, by the Spirit of God)- if we believe him to have been a true man, to have been a man of common veracity, to have been a man who meant what he said, we must believe him to have spoken concerning Jerusalem : otherwise, he must have deceived the Jews, in Jerusalem, to whom he spoke.
But in the prophecies of Isaiah we find a link of a peculiar kind, which indissolubly connects them with the Jews, and with the Jewish history. Some of his prophecies are preserved in the Bible in an historical Book, interwoven with the history to which they are attached; evidently occasioned by a certain historical event, to which event they clearly relate. Now this event was something that happened to Jerusalem. I refer to the eighteenth and nineteenth chapters of the second book of Kings. The king of Assyria sends Rab-shakeh and others from Lachish to king Hezekiah, Hezekiah sends to Isaiah, Isaiah prophesies. Again the king of Assyria sends, and Isaiah prophesies again. The purport of each of the prophecies is the same; namely, that the Lord will punish the king of Assyria, and defend Jerusalem. Now mark the style of these two prophecies; and tell me wherein they differ from those contained in the book of Isaiah, properly so called. Observe; the true prophetic note! the true prophetic stride!
VOL. III.-NO, IV.
“The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn!
The daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee! “ Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed?
“And against whom has thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high?
“Even against the Holy One of Israel !” Let any reader go through the whole passage ; and then let him say whether it be not exactly in the style of Isaiah's other prophecies. Yet in this case the reference is too evident to be denied, to the literal Jerusalem, the literal nation, the literal Hezekiah. Well, then. Spiritualize such passages, if you please. Nay, in spiritualizing I will assist you. Trace in them a reference to the spiritual Jerusalem, to the spiritual Israel; and tell me that they shew how God will defend his church and people against all enemies. I believe it. I go with you. I rejoice in the application. I fully and cordially allow it, not only in other prophecies of Isaiah, where the church of Christ seems to be more plainly pointed at, but here, where the primary reference is so immediately and necessarily connected, in the primary sense of the passage, with local circumstances. But then I say, Suum cuique : Let every man have his own. Defraud not the poor Jew, who certainly has in this matter the prior claim.
One other link of connection, however, must yet be observed : namely, that this prophecy, while it stands in the historical books, stands in the prophetical books also; and that too, with the historical circumstances attached to it (Isai. xxxvi. xxxvii.) This decides the matter, beyond all possibility of question, and decides it with regard to ALL Isaiah's prophecies. But for this, an attempt, though a vain one, might be made, to escape from our conclusion. It might be said, The prophecies in the book of Kings are the only ones that have a local application. But now, as not only all have the same style, but all stand together, we must admit that all claim the same application; and that, throughout, wherever a local reference occurs, a local interpretation is the proper one, or that which ought primarily to be given.
I would answer a man who denies the literal sense of prophecy, as I would answer a Socinian. In the New Testament I find every conceivable mode and form of expression employed, to declare the eternity of hell-torments. The Socinian spiritualizes these expressions; i.e. explains them away. Yet, if I perchance preach on the eternity of hell-torments, using no other than those very ideas or expressions which I find in the New Testament, and which the Socinian spiritualizes there, he is very angry with me: he takes the words, as I speak them, in their plain sense ; understands at once that I mean hell and eternal fire; and, being made uneasy, and alarmed, feels offended with me, and calls me a bigot, for attempting to save him from going there. But why? Why does he take these words literally, coming from me, which, as they stand in the Bible, he explains away ? Does he not in this manner betray himself? Is it not clear that the words, after all, do, in the Bible, mean what Christians take them to mean? Is it not clear that, in his heart, the Socinian knows this? If he can explain away the words in the Bible, why cannot he explain them away in my lips? Or, rather, if he cannot explain away what I say, does not this prove, that in thus explaining away the word of God he is guilty of wilful self-delusion ?-He considers my preaching about hell an injury, an offence, a personal wrong and insult offered to himself. But if he can get over the ideas and words relating to the subject in the Bible, and I use only the same ideas, and the same words, how comes he to know that I have ever preached about hell at all ?
Now then, for the man who explains away the literal import of prophecy. Isaiah says, that his prophecies relate to Judah and Jerusalem. I say the same. When I say it, your mind acts correctly, and performs its natural functions : you take the words as I mean them. And, discovering that my system does not accord with your own, you are offended, and make your objections to it. But when Isaiah says it, you make no objections : you say that his meaning is spiritual. Why is this? If when I assert that the prophet prophesies of Judah and Jerusalem, you perceive that I mean what I say, how is it you perceive not that the prophet means what he says, when he asserts the same ? Or, on the contrary, if the prophet means nothing of the kind, how is it you discover that I have any such meaning, when I use his words? I take my text and my doctrine from the Bible, and I preach that the Jews will be restored to their own land. You say, that all the passages which I allege are spiritual. Well then, if it must be so, spiritualize my sermon. I believe some will understand it literally.
But there remains one other plea. “The literal meaning of prophecy is so devoid of interest.” Indeed! The literal meaning of any part of God's Word devoid of interest? What is your creed?
ESSAY V. On the general Application of Prophecy. I spoke, in the second of these papers, concerning two modes of applying prophecy; the one strict and literal, the other more free. The latter topic is carried on in the third essay, which discusses the subject of quotations from the Old Testament in the New; and with the same topic I now purpose to proceed, having digressed for a moment in the fourth, to advocate the hereditary right of the Jew.
Now on this subject, of the free, general, I might almost say universal, application of prophecy, perhaps I have some views to advance which may be thought peculiar : and these views, if the Lord will, I purpose hereafter to illustrate, by applying them to particular passages of Scripture. I therefore beg leave to premise, that I am not so fixed in them, but that I am willing to be set right, if in error ; and that if in any thing they are found less edifying in their tendency, I have no objection to re-consider them. We do not speak with the same decision respecting unfulfilled prophecy, as concerning doctrines; and we may observe that Scott himself, decided as he is in doctrinal points, occasionally assumes quite a different tone, and speaks as one balancing opinions, when he comes to comment upon the Apocalypse.
My views, then, are somewhat connected with that which I take of a much-agitated text: “ Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Pet. i. 20). The meaning of which, it strikes me, may be, that no prophecy ought to be so interpreted, as to be tied, or restricted in its application, to any particular time and occurrence; and so as to be cut off and separated from other times and from other occurrences, which may also afford a fulfilment of it.
If we so tie it up, it becomes of private interpretation or solution : but
no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.” And, moreover, we ought, as the Apostle here says, to know this first : that is, this principle is fundamental, and the first that we ought to know, in order to understand how to apply and interpret prophecy in a proper manner. It will be observed, however, that my views do not stand or fall with my interpretation of this particular text; and that even if the interpretation be wrong, and can be used only to illustrate, they will still be the same, inasmuch as they have not been derived from any single text, but have gradually formed themselves in the course of many years' study of the Bible. I allege, then, a general application in prophecy,
affairs of the world, and much more to the affairs of the church. The reason why I allege this is, because in the reading of the Scripture I see it. Yet the Scripture is written before, and therefore by no means loses, by this general application, that which is essential to prophecy.—This Book is no other than the word of God. We see in it an application to existing things. Surely then this application was intended ; and surely, if it was, we are BOUND so to apply it.
But let me say all. Human events have common characteristics: and therefore prophecy, though spoken with an especial reference to things future, may also have application to things existing when it was spoken, and to things past. In this view, prophecy may be regarded as the grand revelation from above, of the true character of all human events : the Zaphnath-paaneah, the revealer of secrets : which teaches us to know the true nature of
every sublunary circumstance and occurrence; and to estimate and judge of men and things on earth, as they are judged of and estimated in heaven. The particular reference of the prophecy, may, I say, be future ; so that its character, as prophecy, shall be fully maintained. But its general reference may be to the present, and to the past, as well as to the future. In fact, two references of prophecy are distinctly specified in the Apocalypse, at the beginning of the
Book. First we have the particular reference to the future; “ The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass” (ch. i. 1): then the more general reference, to past and present, as well as future; “ Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter” (ver. 19). Such, in the more extended and enlarged view of it, is prophecy: a discovery of things which have been, of things which are, and of things which shall be : a revelation given to us from above, upon that most certain principle, though it seems a contradiction to say so, that, in order to judge aright, we require to have things seen revealed to us, as well as things unseen: a divine sentence upon all that is done in the world; a heavenly view of objects below, as distinct from, and opposed to, the earthly view; the judgment of God upon all things, past, present, and future; the Holy Ghost speaking to us by the prophet, and telling us how he will have us to estimate them.
“ On this view of the subject, and to this extent, all Scripture may be regarded as prophetical.” Indeed it may; and so I delight to view it. All Scripture will then have a general application. And not only this; but all Scripture was intended to have this general application : “Whatsoever things were written