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which the literal sense is preserved transparent and entire.
THE SYMBOLICAL PROPHECIES, again, have perplexed the minds of many Christians, and obscured from them the evidence for the literal interpretation of the rest. The visions of Daniel and the Apocalypse cannot, it is argued, be taken literally, without gross and glaring absurdity. We cannot suppose that locusts with stings like scorpions are literally to arise out of the abyss, or that a woman literally clothed with the sun, has ever appeared, or will appear. Since, then, in these emblems, and many besides, such an interpretation would be absurd, why should we affix a literal meaning to the other prophecies?
But here, too, the difficulty melts away upon a close inspection. For, in truth, in these parts of the Word of God, we have not a direct and literal prophecy of the future, but only the literal record of a past vision. The Spirit of God makes use of symbols, addressed to the eye and ear of the prophet, as a peculiar language, more adapted than that in common use, to convey to us the prediction in the comprehensive fulness of its meaning. We have, first of all, then, by a literal interpretation, to realize the scenes and objects of the vision; and those scenes themselves then furnish a kind of natural language, which leads
simply to the true sense of the prophecy. A literal interpretation is not excluded by the presence of symbols; it is rather implied as the basis and groundwork of their solid exposition. The record must be strictly and literally interpreted, before the vision can be explained in its full and symbolic meaning.
There are, it is true, mingled with these visions, passages directly prophetic, given us by the Holy Spirit as further helps in deciphering the mysterious language of those symbols which he employs. To these, accordingly, the rule of literal interpretation fully applies. The latter part of Dan. ii., vii., viii., the whole of Rev. xvii., and some verses in the other chapters, are of this kind. But the peculiar nature of the context leads, in this case, to a slight modification, the nature and reason of which a few words may explain.
If these passages were independent predictions, they ought, for their literal exposition, to be explained just as if they were histories of past events, written in the common language of men. But since they are given as helps to ascertain the meaning of the previous visions, there will be, as in the material world, a kind of reaction upon their own meaning, from the nature of the visions to be explained. The Holy Spirit here employs a double medium of prophecy—the symbolic lan
guage of the vision itself, and the common language of the explanatory supplement. The bare fact that both are employed, implies that either would be imperfect, if taken alone. The sense, therefore, of each, when doubtful, ought to be fixed by the light which the other supplies. Just as we are to assign that significance to the emblems, which agrees best with the Divine explanation; so, where that explanation itself contains peculiar or ambiguous terms, that meaning ought to be given them which harmonizes best with the Divine emblems. The law of literal interpretation still holds true; the circumstances of its application alone have varied. The symbolic prophecies, far from impeaching its truth, present it in a fresh light, and yield it fuller confirmation.
A third ground of objection or difficulty, has been the FIGURATIVE APPLICATIONS OF PROPHECY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. Some instances of these clearly exist, though much fewer than is often supposed. Whether we admit or reject the literal sense of Malachi's prediction concerning Elijah (Mal. iv. 5), or that in Hosea of the restoration of the ten tribes (Hos. i. 10, ii. 23), it is plain that our Lord applies the first of these to the Baptist (Matt. xi. 18), and that St. Paul quotes the second in connexion with the call of the Gentiles. (Rom. ix. 24–26.)
Have we not, then, a sufficient
ground for rejecting the literal sense, not only in these passages, but in all those which seem to predict a future glory of Israel ?
The fallacy of such a conclusion will be seen by comparing these applications of prophecy with the types in the narrative portions of Scripture. We know, on the authority of St. Paul (Gal. iv. 24), that the history of Hagar and Sarah, of Ishmael and Isaac, is to be viewed as a Divine allegory of the two covenants. But what sound interpreter would dream of denying, on this account, the historical truth of that sacred narrative ? In the prophet Hosea, again (xi. 1), the Lord reminds his people of his mercy to them in their first exodus: 6 When Israel was a child then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” The Evangelist, however (Matt. ii. 15), teaches us to read in this a prophecy of our Saviour's flight into Egypt and of his return to Judea. Yet no one has ever fancied this to be any presumption against the historical certainty of that first exodus of Israel. The rest of Canaan, as the apostle teaches the Hebrew Christians (Heb. iv.), was a shadow and earnest of the true rest which remaineth for God's people. But the entrance of the Jews under Joshua into Canaan is not the less a plain fact of sacred history. What reason have we to adopt a different rule in the case of inspired prophecies?
These are only history written before the event, and the analogical lessons that are entwined with them form no presumption against their literal truth. The events recorded in the books of Genesis and Joshua are undoubted facts, though we have inspired warrant for their typical meaning. Why, then, should we doubt the reality of the future glories of Israel, because they form such expressive emblems of spiritual and heavenly things?
The literal interpretation, therefore, when rightly understood, admits of the intermixture of figurative language, is the true groundwork of symbolic exposition, and consistent with allegorical applications, wherever they can be proved from Scripture itself, and are not perverted, so as to set aside the direct meaning of the prophecy. Let us now proceed, in the second place, TO ESTABLISH ITS TRUTH BY SOME SCRIPTURAL ARGUMENTS.
The first of these we may draw from the words of our text itself. The command of God is there given to the prophet, 6 Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” May we not adopt here the reasoning of our blessed Lord, “Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment ?”* As the goodness of God enables us from the greater gift to infer the less, so his wisdom warrants us to infer, where
* Matt. vi. 25.