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figurative expressions in prophecy, and the spiritualist admits the literal character of many predictions, wherein do they differ? Do they not after all substantially come to the same thing ? To this we reply, that they differ as greatly in their mode of interpreting as in their results. The spiritualist, for example, assumes that THE COMING AND KINGDOM OF CHRIST are things which are not and cannot be literally meant and understood, but wholly figurative representations of something spiritual. By means of this assumption, every expression inconsistent with his spiritual idea of the nature of Christ's coming and kingdom, also becomes figurative, and his whole interpretation of the prophecies and exposition of the Scriptures, assumes a correspondent spiritual hue or character. His assumed or preconceived notion of the nature of the things, is the colored glass or lens through which he reads the Sacred Scriptures. The literalist denies all such assumptions, and calls for proof, subjecting the language of the prophets, on these points, to the most careful investigation by means of philological and rhetorical tests and rules. The spiritualist, however, does not in the first instance, by the application of philological and rhetorical tests and rules, determine whether these terms, THE COMING AND KINGDOM OF CHRIST, are, or are not, literally to be understood ; nor does he undertake to prove either from Scripture or from any other source, that his assumed notion or opinion of the nature of the things is correct. That must not be disputed. Here, then, is one essential difference between them.
These expressions obviously are the key-note to the entire system of prophecy. If they are literal, at once they give the pitch, or help us to fix the meaning of many predictions, and to judge when other expressions used by the prophets, are metaphorical or literal. If they are spiritual, in the same way they give tone to the entire language of prophecy, and shape its meaning accordingly. It is not our design at present philologically or grammatically, to settle the meaning of these terms. That must be done in another place. Our object here is merely to unfold the principles by which the literalist proceeds in his investigation of the language of the prophets.
Here, perhaps, it will be objected, how is it possible to settle this difference between the two systems, and to determine whether these expressions are figurative, or whether they are not. We reply, as we have already stated, that recourse must be had to the ordinary and well-established rules of rhetoric. How, we ask, do you tell when another uses metaphors and figures of speech, or when he speaks according to the plain alphabetical import of his language? Although the reader may be just as ignorant as a little child of the rules of rhetoric, yet he finds no difficulty, nor does the child. According to the established laws of human thought, on which those rules are founded, the meaning is at once perceived. The import of the metaphor at once appears when you call a man a lion to denote his strength and magnanimity, or a puppy to denote his meanness, impertinence, and insignificance ; or when you compliment a lady by telling her she has a rosy face and a snowy skin.
We are not concerned to quote the rules of rhetoric applicable to tropical words; but it may be proper to remark, that the evidence of our senses and that of intuition and of consciousness, which we all have in common, enables us, whether children or adults, at once, as the case may be, to perceive whether the thing asserted be literally or figuratively spoken. If literally taken, as when we call a man a lion or an ass, we see it would contradict the evidence of our senses or involve an absurdity. At once, therefore, we apprehend the speaker's design to denote some resemblance of properties, and not identity of substance. No one ever dreams of interpreting language literally, when it is directly contradictory of the evidence of his senses at the time, or his consciousness, or any intuitive truth.
There is nothing in the idea of Christ's visible coming, and of the establishment of a kingdom on the earth, with a visible administration adapted to its elevated nature and designs, at all contradictory of any evidence of sense or of consciousness, or inconsistent with any intuitive truth. Yet is it manifest, that if the literal idea be esteemed absurd, and the notion of his coming and kingdom as mere spiritual matters be adopted, there is much in the language of the prophets that must be accounted figurative, which would otherwise be plain enough literally understood. To the allegorical or figurative import of these words the literalist objects, affirming that the only correct philological and biblical interpretation requires them to be understood literally, and consequently, that the general import of the prophecies must be determined accordingly.
III. THE LITERAL INTERPRETATION REQUIRES A CAREFUL
ATTENTION TO THE DIFFERENT STYLES OF PROPHETICAL LANGUAGE, FOR THE PURPOSE OF APPLYING THE APPRO
PRIATE RULES BY WHICH TO ASCERTAIN THEIR IMPORT.
No one can long turn his attention to this subject without discovering that there are various styles of speech employed in the prophetical Scriptures, which
may be, and are properly denominated THE ALPHABETICAL, THE TROPICAL OR FIGURATIVE, THE SYMBOLICAL, AND
1. ALPHABETICAL LANGUAGE is the plain ordinary style of speech which men employ to state or to set forth simple matters of history, and unembellished by figurative expressions. Many of the predictions are expressed in this style, entirely devoid of figures and tropes of speech. Occasionally, passages are thrown into the book of Revelations in the same style, intended as a clue to the meaning of some of its highlywrought and complicated symbolical descriptions. In alphabetical language, words are used in their proper sense, i. e. “the sense which is so connected with them that is first in order, and is spontaneously presented to the mind, as soon as the sound or the word is heard."
2. Beside alphabetical language, there is what may be called TROPICAL OR FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE. This the prophets use, in common with all writers, sacred or profane, who, discussing or describing things which deeply interest their feelings, naturally employ figures and tropes of speech, to express, in a more lively manner, their ideas. Thus, proud and stately aristocrats are called cedars of Lebanon and oaks of Bashan ;t the troops of Egypt and of Assyria are called the fly of Egypt and the bee of Assyria ; and God is said to shave with a hired razor,f and his hand to be stretched out still, and many such like mere tropical words, which the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, the rules of rhetoric, and the connection of thought, generally enable the reader to understand.
Here, it may be proper to remark, that in the prophets' use of figurative language, we meet with every variety of tropical expressions and rhetorical embellishments. It is perfectly natural to expect this, as well from the very nature of their commission-which was to enlighten, reprove, comfort, and reform-as from the condition and circumstances of those whom they addressed. The very nature of their messages rendered it impracticable for them to speak without emotion. Different emotions, however, have different ways of expressing themselves; and, therefore, the method adopted by those under their influence, and who seek to persuade others, will not be, by logical investigation, or cool dispassionate argument, to enlighten and convince, but, by exciting and enlisting the affections and passions appropriate to the nature of the subject, or to the purpose of the speaker, to gain the party addressed. The language of the prophets, therefore, naturally became that of the passions. They appeal, not directly to reason, but use it only as auxiliary. Often, indeed, they are highly poetical, adapted in this respect to the mass of common people, who are swayed infinitely more by feeling than reason. Accordingly, the prophetical writings are far more replete with feeling than argument, highly descriptive, often exceedingly impassioned, and therefore abound with all those tropes and figures of speech, which nature suggests and which the rhetorical art has classified.
* Ernesti on Int. p. 7.
† Isaiah, 2. 13. Isaiah 7. 18-20.
This feature of prophetical language has furnished occasion to the spiritualist, to claim for his method of interpretation, entire respect and confidence, as the only true and proper system. And, accordingly, we hear a great deal about the extravagance or intensity of Hebrew poetry, the turgid, hyperbolical cast of oriental imagery, and the semi-barbarous taste, which is pleased with and requires such things. On this ground some have given undue prominence to the prophets' use of figure, and deprived the prophecies of