Page images
PDF
EPUB

He per

of Satan, and seemed to foretel that, wheresoever his doctrine should prevail, idolatry and vice should be put to flight. — He gave sight to the blind, a miracle well suiting him who brought immortality to light, and taught truth to an ignorant world. Lucem caliganti reddidit mundo, applied by Quintus Curtius to a Roman emperor, can be strictly applied to Christ, and to him alone. No prophet ever did this miracle before him, as none ever made the religious discoveries which he made. Our Saviour himself leads us to this observation, and sets his miracle in the same view, saying upon that occasion; I am the light of the world ; I am come into this world, that they which see not might see. He cured the deaf, and the dumb, and the lame, and the infirm, and cleansed the lepers, and healed all manner of sicknesses, to show at the same time that he was the physician of souls, which have their diseases corresponding in some manner to those of the body, and are deaf and dumb, and impotent, and paralytic, and leprous in the spiritual sense.—He fed the hungry multitudes by a miracle, which aptly represented his heavenly doctrine, and the Gospel preached to the poor, and which he himself so explains, saying ; I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever. - He raised the dead, a miracle peculiarly suiting him, who at the last day should call forth all mankind to appear before him; and therefore when he raised Lazarus, he uttered those majestic words: I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. He formed some miracles upon persons who were not of his own nation, and it was so ordered by Divine Providence, that these persons, as the centurion, the Syrophænician woman, the Samaritan leper, should show a greater degree of faith and of gratitude than the Jews to whom the same favours were granted. This was an indication that the Gospel should be more readily received by the Gentiles than by the Jews, and this our Saviour intimates, saying, when he had commended the centurion's faith, Many shall come from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the ildren of the kingdom shall be cast out into utter darkness.

Lastly, the two states of the Gadarene demoniac (whom Christ healed) – while under the influence of Satanic possession, and when restored to his right mind, respectively represent the two states of man, first, while living in a course of sinful practice; and, secondly, when“ renewed in the spirit of his mind;" listening to the precepts of the Gospel, and walking in holiness and righteousness. "It were easy to adduce other instances, but the preceding will suffice to establish the rule, especially as the spiritual import of the Christian miracles is particularly considered by every writer that has

expressly illustrated them, but by no one with more sobriety than by Dr. Jortin, to whom we are indebted for most of the preceding illustrations.

1 See Dr. Jortin's Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, vol. i. pp. 267—275. (20 edit.) See also Dr. Dodd's Discourses on the Miracles of the New Testament, and Dr. Collyer's Lectures on Scripture Miracles. The Miracle of the Gadarene delivered, above cited, is explained in a very pleasing discourse by Mr. Jones. (Works, vol. iii. pp. 327-338.)

CHAPTER V. ON THE INTERPRETATION OF THE FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE OF SCRIP

TURE.

FIGURATIVE language had its rise in the first ages of mankind: the scarcity of words occasioned them to be used for various purposes: and thus figurative terms, which constitute the beauty of language, arose from its poverty; and it is still the same in all uncivilised nations. Hence originated the metaphorical diction of the Indians, and the picture-writing of the Mexicans.

The Bible, though too commonly regarded as containing only lessons of morality and plain statements of facts, abounds with the most beautiful images, and with every ornament of which style is susceptible. Yet these very ornaments are sometimes occasions of difficulty; for the books, which contain the revelations of God, being more antient than any others now extant, are written either in the language used by mankind in the first ages, or in a language nearly allied to it. The style of these writings, therefore, being very different from that of modern compositions, to interpret them exactly as they are usually expounded, is without doubt to mis-interpret them; accordingly, persons ignorant of the character of the primitive languages, have, by that method of interpretation, been led to imagine that the Scriptures contain notions unworthy of God: and thus have not only exposed these venerable writings to the scorn of infidels, but have also framed to themselves erroneous notions in religion. To prevent similar mistakes, and, it is hoped, to render more delightful the study of the 'sacred volume by an explanation of its figurative language, is the design of the present chapter.

Figures, in general, may be described to be that language, which is prompted either by the imagination or by the passions. Rhetoricians commonly divide them into two great classes, figures of words and figures of thought. Figures of words, are usually termed tropes, and consist in the advantageous alteration of a word or sentence, from its original and proper signification to another meaning; as in 2 Sam. xxiij. 3. The rock of Israel spake to me. Here the trope lies in the word rock, which is changed from its original sense, as intending one of the strongest works and most certain shelters in nature; and is employed to signify that God, by his faithfulness and power, is the same security to the soul which trusts in him, as the rock is to the man who builds upon it, or flees for safety to its impenetrable recesses. So, in Luke xii. 32. our Lord, speaking of Herod, says, Go ye, and tell that fox: here the word for is diverted from its proper meaning, which is that of a beast of prey and of deep cunning, to denote a mis

1 Macknight on the Epistles, vol. iv. 4to., or vol. vi. 8vo. essay viii. sect. 1. On the right Interpretation of Scripture. The materials of this chapter are abridged chiefly from Professor Dathe's edition of Glassius's Philologia Sacra, lib. ii. forming the whole second volume of that elaborate work. See also Jahn's Enchiridion Hermeneuticw Generalis, cap. iv. De Tropis Recte Interpretandis, pp. 101–125., and Rambach's Institutiones Hermeneuticæ Sacræ, lib. iii. c. ii. De Adminiculos Rhetoricis, pp. 429-440.

chievous, cruel, and crafty tyrant; and the application of the term gives us a complete idea of his hypocrisy.

The other class, called figures of thought, supposes the words to be used in their literal and proper meaning, and the figure to consist in the turn of the thought; as is the case in exclamations, apostrophes, and comparisons, where, though we vary the words that are used, or translate them from one language into another, we may nevertheless still preserve the same figure in the thought. This distinction, however, Dr. Blair remarks, is of no great use, as nothing can be built upon it in practice: neither is it always very clear. It is of little importance, whether we give to some particular mode of expresssion the name of a trope, or of a figure, provided we remember that figurative language always imports some colouring of the imagination, or some emotion of passion expressed in our style : and, perhaps, figures of imagination, and figures of passion, might be a more useful distribution of the subject.

Without regarding, therefore, the technical distinctions, which have been introduced by rhetorical writers, we shall first offer some hints by which to ascertain and correctly interpret the tropes and figures occurring in the sacred writings; and in the following sections we shall notice the principal of them, illustrated by examples, to which a diligent reader may easily subjoin others.

SECTION I.

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON THE INTERPRETATION OF TROPES AND

FIGURES.

"ALL languages are more or less figurative: but they are most so in their earliest state. Before language is provided with a stock of words, sufficient in their literal sense to express what is wanted, men are under the necessity of extending the use of words beyond the literal sense. But the application, when once begun, is not to be limited by the bounds of necessity. The imagination, always occupied with resemblanees, which are the foundation of figures, disposes men to seek for figurative terms, where they might express themselves in literal terms. Figurative language presents a kind of picture to the mind, and thus delights while it instructs: whence its use, though more necessary when a language is poor and uncultivated, is never wholly laid aside, especially in the writings of orators and poets." The language of the Scriptures is highly figurative, especially in the Old Testament. For this, two reasons have been assigned; one is, that the inhabitants of the East, naturally possessing warm and vivid imaginations, and living in a warm and fertile climate, surrounded by objects equally beautiful and agreeable, delight in a figurative style of expression : and as these circumstances easily impel their power of conceiving images, they fancy similitudes which are sometimes far fetched, and

1 Blair's Lectures, vol. i. p. 320.
> Bishop Marsh's Lectures, part iä. p. 69.

which, to the chastised taste of European readers, do not always appear the most elegant. The other reason is, that many of the books of the Old Testament are poetical : now it is the privilege of a poet to illustrate the productions of his muse, and to render them more animated, by figures and images drawn from almost every subject that presents itself to his imagination. Hence David, Solomon, Isaiah, and other sacred poets, abound with figures, make rapid transitions from one to another, every where scattering flowers, and adorning their poems with metaphors, the real beauty of which however can only be appreciated by being acquainted with the country in which the sacred poets lived, its situation and peculiarities, and also with the manners of the inhabitants, and the idioms of their language,

The language of the New Testament, and especially the discourses and specches of our Saviour, are not less figurative: "and numerous mistakes have been made by a literal application of what was figuratively meant. When our Saviour said to the Jews, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,' the Jews understood the word temple in its natural sense, and asked him, Whether he could raise again in three days what had taken six-and-forty years to build ? They did not perceive that his language was figurative, and that he spake of the temple of his body."

In order, then, to understand fully the figurative language of the Scriptures, it is requisite, first, to ascertain and determine what is really figurative, lest we take that to be literal which is figurative, as the disciples of our Lord and the Jews frequently did, or lest we pervert the literal meaning of words by a figurative interpretation; and, secondly, when we have ascertained what is really figurative, to interpret it correctly, and deliver its true sense. Ernesti has given the following general rule :- We may ascertain whether any expression is to be taken literally or figuratively, by recalling the thing spoken of to its internal or external sense, that is, by seeking out its internal or external meaning ; and this may in general be readily ascertained. Hence it is, that in human compositions we are very rarely if ever in doubt, whether a thing be spoken literally or figuratively; because the thing or subject spoken of being human, and capable both of external and internal senses, may be recalled to a human sense, that is, to a sense intelligible by man. To understand this subject more particularly :

1. The literal meaning of words must be retained, more in the historical books of Scripture, than in those which are poetical.

For it is the duty of an historian to relate transactions, simply as they happened ; while a poet has license to ornament his subject by the aid of figures, and to render it more lively by availing himself of similes and metaphors. Hence we find, that the style of narration in the historical books, is simple and generally deroid of ornament, while the poetical books abound with images borrowed from various objects: not, indeed, that the historical books are entirely destitute of figurative expressions ; for, whatever language men may use, they are so accustomed to this mode of expression, that they cannot fully convey their meaning in literal words, but are compelled by the force of habit to make use of such as are figura. tive. But we must not look for a figurative style in the historical books, and still less are historical narratives to be changed into alle zories, and parables, unless

1 Bishop Marsh's Lectures, part iii. p. 69.

For this purpose,

these be obviously apparent. Those expositors therefore violate this rule, for the interpretation of the Scriptures, who allegorise the history of the fall of man, and that of the prophet Jonah.

2. The literal meaning of words is to be given up, if it be either improper, or involve an impossibility.

Thus, in Jer. i. 18. God is represented as saying to the prophet, I have made thee a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls against the whole land. Now, it is obvious that these expressions are figurative : because, if taken literally, they involve an impossibility. The general import of the divine promise is, that God would defend Jeremiah against all open assaults and secret contrivances of his enemies, who should no more be able to prevail against him than they could against an impregnable wall or fortress. So the literal 'sense of Isa. 1. 25. is equally inapplicable ; but in the following verse the prophet explains it in the proper words.

3. The literal meaning of words is to be given up, if the predicate, being literally taken, be contrary to the subject. In Amos iv. 1. we read:

Hear this word, O ye Kine of Bashan,
That are on the mountain of Samaria;
That oppress

the poor,

that crush the needy ; That say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink. Here the predicates, to oppress, crush, and say, (which, if the subject, the Kine of Bashan, be taken literally, do not answer to it, but may be accommodated to men,) evidently indicate that the expression is figurative ; and that by the Kine of Bashan, which place was famous for its flocks and herds, we are to understand the proud and luxurious matrons of Israel. In like manner, in Psal. xviii. 2. where God is termed a rock, a fortress, a deliverer, a buckler, a horn of salvation, and a high tower, it is obvious that these predicates are metaphorically spoken of the Almighty.

4. Where the literal meaning of words is contrary, either to common sense, to the context, to parallel passages, or to the scope of a passage, it must given up:

When, in Psalm xliv. 23. the Psalmist exclaims, Awake, why sleepest thou ! The literal signification of sleeping cannot be retained ; because, as the sacred poet observes in another Psalm, He that keepeth Israel neither slumbereth nor sleepeth. Now matter of fact shows, that the assertion, contained in the passage last cited, is to be understood properly and literally, and consequently that the interrogation comprised in the xlivth Psalm must be taken figuratively. In Isa. iv. 4. that the expression, the filth of the daughters of Zion, must be understood figuratively, is evident, not only from the scope of the passage, but also from the words immediately following, - the blood of Jerusalem, that is, the murder and bloodshed committed by the inhabitants of Jerusalem. To change day into night (Job xvii. 12.) is a moral impossibility, contrary to common sense, and must be a #gurative expression. In Isa. i. 5, 6. the Jewish nation are described as being sorely stricken or chastised, like a man mortally wounded, and destitute both of medicine as well as of the means of cure. That this description is figurative, is evident from the context; for in the two following verses the prophet delineates the condition of the Jews in literal terms.

The declaration of our Lord in Matt. xxvi. 26. 28. may be cited as an illustration of the four preceding rules; as the interpreting of his words, literally, is not only repugnant to the sacred history, and involves an absurdity, but is also contrary to the context, to parallel texts, and to the scope of the passage. Yet it is upon a forced and literal construction of these words that the church of Rome has, ever since the thirteenth century, erected and maintained the doctrine of transubstantiation, or of the conversion of the bread and wine in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, into the actual body and blood of Christ ! — A doctrine which is manifestly “ repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions."? The expressions, this is my body," and “this is my blood,” (Matt. xxvi. 26. 28. and Mark xiv. 22. 24. compared with Luke xxii. 19, 20. and 1 Cor. xi. 24, 25.) by a well known metony. my, simply mean, “this represents my body," and “this represents my blood."

1 See Gen. ii. and iii.
2 Art. xxvii. of the Confession of the Anglican Church.

3 Whitby in loc. Dr. Clarke's Discourse on the Eucharist, pp. 50–54. The modern Jews employ a similar phraseology in celebrating the passover. The plate

« PreviousContinue »