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ON THE FIGURES WHICH ARE FOUND IN THE LAN· GUAGE OF THE SCRIPTURE, AND THE SEVERAL : KINDS OF THEM.
It hath been shewn in the former Lecture, that as the scripture teaches spiritual things which cannot be taught in words, the wisdom of God hath made use of things, as signs and figures, to explain them. This is done for several reasons : first, because we cannot conceive things of a spiritual nature but by borrowing our notions of them from the things that are visible and familiar to our senses. Secondly, because the scripture can speak under this form to some men, and reveal many things to them, while the same words reveal nothing to others : like that pillar in the wilderness, which was a cloud of darkness to the Egyptians, while it gave light to the Hebrews. Thirdly, because an outward sign, such as those of the scripture are, becomes a pledge and an evidence of the thing signified; as it doubtless is a wonderful confirmation of the gospel to see its mysteries exactly delineated so long before in the services of the
law of Moses; and much more to see them written in the characters of nature itself.
The things which the scripture uses as figures of other things are taken, 1. From the natural creation, or world of sensible objects. 2. From the institutions of the law. 3. From the persons of the prophets and holy men of old time. 4. From the history of the church. 5. From the actions of inspired men, which in many instances were not only miracles but signs of something beyond themselves, and conformable to the general plan of our salvation and redemption.
These are the materials of that figurative language in which the bible is written; and of the several kinds of them, as here distinguished, I shall treat in their order, after I have given a general description of each.
1. When any object is taken from the visible creation, and applied as an illustration or sign of some spiritual truth, we call it a natural image. The scripture calls them similitudes ; as in that passage of the prophet Hosea-I have multiplied visions and used similitudes by the ministry of the prophets *. A discourse made up of such is called a parable; a form of speech which our Saviour as a divine teacher thought most agreeable to the nature of his own preaching, and to the wants of his hearers. In which, however, he only did what the scripture had always done; he instructed the eyes of the understanding by placing some natural object before them; and as the visible world throughout is a pattern of the invisible, the figures of the sacred language built upon the images of nature, are as extensive as the world itself; so that it would be a vain undertaking to interpret all the figures which are reducible to this class.
* Hosea xii. 10,
2. Other figures are borrowed from the institutions of the ceremonial law, which are applied to the things of the gospel; and in this capacity the law is all figure. It is nothing considered in itself but a copy, a shadow of good things to come ; and as a shadow, it had only the form, not the substance, (or very image, as the scripture calls it) of the things hoped for. Its elements were like those of the gospel in form; and therefore it was a schoolmaster, a teacher of such elements as prepared the mind for the reception of a spiritual dispensation, in which its shadows are now realized.
When our Saviour Jesus Christ is called a priest, a character is given to him, which cannot be understood till we go back to the law. There we see what a priest was, and what he did ; and thence we learn the nature of our Saviour's priestly office. And as the whole law, in its ritual, consisted chiefly of priestly ministration; then, if the priest himself was figurative, his ministration was so likewise, and consequently the law was a pattern of the gospel • 3. The things relating to our Saviour's person, that is, to his birth, dignity, actions, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glorification, were foreshewn in the history of other great and remarkable persons, who, in the former ages of the church, were saviours upon occasion to their people, or examples of persecuted innocence, truth, and holiness, as he was to be. Such persons acting, or suffering, or triumphing, in this prophetic capacity, are called types. In the gospel they are called signs; and as a specimen for the present, we may take the two characters of Jonah and Solomon, as referred to in the 11th chapter of St. Luke. Our Saviour * proposed Jonah to the Jews as a sign
. Matt. xii. 40.
of his own future resurrection. This prophet went down into the mouth of a monster, as Christ was to be swallowed up like other men by the devouring jaws of death. As the prophet was detained there three days, Christ was so long to be confined to the sepulchre : and as Jonah was restored to the light at the divine command, so was Christ to rise again from the dead. Jonah was therefore a sign of his death and resurrection, such as no words could have delivered; for a miraculous fact is best signified by a miraculous sign, which shews us that the thing was known and determined before it came to pass.
Such another sign was Solomon; the fame of whose wisdom brought the Queen of Sheba from a heathen land to hear his words, and wonder at the greatness of his kingdom, and admire the order of his government: a sign that the Gentiles should listen to the word of him that was greater than Solomon, and be converted to the laws and economy of his spiritual kingdom; while the Jews should despise his words and persecute his church : for which the example of the Queen of Sheba shall rise in judgment to condemn them.
4. Next to the persons of the prophets is the history of the church at large; concerning which the wisdom of God ordained, that things past should represent things to come, and serve as admonitions and signs to the people of God to the end of the world. Hence it comes to pass that no scripture is of any prioate interpretation : its sense does not end in the persons of whom it speaks, but is of public application for the benefit of all places and of all times. The apostle speaking of some remarkable circumstances in the history of the church, assures us, that all those things happened for ensamples, and are written for our admonition. The deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt was a pledge of our deliverance from this world of sin and bondage; the service of which is perfect slavery, like that of the Hebrews under Pharaoh. Their temptations in the wilderness were like our trials in the passage through this mortal life. Their settlement in Canaan is an earnest to us, that if we commit ourselves in faith to the guidance of God, we shall in like manner obtain the promised inheritance; and that without faith, we shall fall short of it.
Lastly, the actions of the prophets, and particularly of Christ himself, were figurative and prophetical; they are therefore called signs as well as miracles, because they carried an instructive signification, and pointed to something greater than themselves. The ways of divine wisdom are comprehensive, and answer many purposes at once. Our Saviour performed many mighty works, that for the sake of them men might believe him to be the Saviour of the world; but then they were withal of such a sort, as to admit of an application to the state of all Christians. We do not hear his voice, bidding us leave our companions in the ship and walk towards him upon the water : but all that will come to him must have their faith exercised, as that of Peter was, upon the waves of this troublesome world; they must undertake a hazardous passage, in which nothing but the power of Christ can support them; and if they cry to him, the same right hand, which saved the fearful Apostle, will be stretched out to help them in all their dangers and necessities * ; and the same goodness will be tender toward their infirmity in the hour
* See the Collect for the second Sunday after the Epiphany,