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under the cover of a symbolic expression, and sometimes even without it, might effectually conceal their meaning, before the completion of a prophecy, though the language, in which they write, be clearly explicable on fixed and stated rules."

1. When the prophecy is of remote events, the subject is frequently not announced, or announced only in general terms. Thus, an earthquake is described ---a mountain is said to be thrown down-a star, to fall from heaven; and so in numberless other instances. Now, an earthquake, in hieroglyphic language, denotes a revolution in government; a mountain is the symbol of a kingdom, or capital city; a star, of a prince, or great man : but of what government, of what kingdom, of what prince, the prophet speaks, we are not told, and are frequently unable to find out, till a full coincidence of all circumstances, in the event, discloses the secret.

2. The prophetic terms are not only figurative, but sometimes, and in no common degree, hyperbolical (of which the reason will be given hereafter), so that nothing but the event can determine the true size and value of them. This seems to have been the case of those



phecies in the Old Testament, which describe SERMON the tranquillity and felicity of Christ's kingdom; and may possibly be the case of those prophecies in the New, which respect the Millennium.

3. It being the genius of the prophetic style to be ænigmatical, this cast is sometimes purposely given to it, even when the expression is most plain and direct. Thus Jeremiah prophesies of Zedekiah, king of Judah, that he should be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon, that his eyes should behold the eyes of the king of Babylon, and that he should go to Babylon h. Ezekiel, prophesying of the same prince, says, that he should go to Babylon, but that he should not see it, though he should die there'. Now Josephus tells us, that the apparent inconsistency of these two prophecies determined Zedekiah to believe neither of them. Yet both were strictly and punctually fulfilled.

4. Lastly, the chief difficulty of all lies in a circumstance, not much observed by interpreters, and, from the nature of it, not observable, till after the event; I mean, in a mixed

h Jeremiah xxxiv, 3.

i Ezek. Xü. 13.

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use of the plain and figured style : so that the prophetic descriptions are sometimes literal, even when they appear most figurative; and sometimes, again, they are highly figurative, when they appear most plain. An instance of literal expression, under the mask of figurative, occurs in the prophet Nahum, who predicts the overthrow of Nineveh in these words – With an over-running flood he will make an utter end of the place, thereof, [Nahum i. 8.] An over-running flood, is the hieroglyphic symbol of desolation by a victorious enemy: and in this highly figurative sense, an interpreter of the prophecy would, in all likelihood, understand the expression. But the event shewed the sense to be literal; that city being taken, as we know from history, by means of an inundation. Of figurative expression, under the form of literal, take the following instance from a prophecy of Christ himself; who says to the Jews, Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days, [John i. 19. It was natural enough for the Jews to understand our Lord as speaking of the temple at Jerusalem; the rather, as this term had not been, and, I think, could not be applied, to any person, before Jesus: to Him, it might be so applied; and we know that he spake of the temple of his body, [ver. 21.] :


The same equivocal use was, sometimes, SERMONT purposely made of proverbial expressions, as learned men have observed k.

I omit many other causes of obscurity in the prophecies; such as the seeming incredibility, sometimes, of the things predicted--the undefined chronology and geography—the intricacy of the method-and many other considerations. But you will collect from these brief hints, respecting the expression only, that, though the symbolic language be reducible to rule, and therefore, in the main, sufficiently intelligible, yet that there is room enough for the introduction of so much obscurity into the prophetic writings, as may answer the ends of the inspirer, and conceal the full meaning of them from the most sagacious interpreter, till it be revealed, in due time, by the event.

Or, if it be thought that such difficulties as the event removes, are not, in their own nature, invincible, before it happens, it is still to be considered, that the giver of the prophecy is, by supposition, divine; and as he, therefore, foresaw, in framing the texture of it, that such difficulties would, in fact, be invincible,

* See Grotius on Matth, xxvi. 23.


SERMON they served the purpose of a designed conceal.

ment just as well, as if, in nature, they were. Whence the conclusion is still the same, That the prophetic style might be the cover of impenetrable obscurities in a prophecy, before its completion, and yet the terms of it be clearly explicable on established rules; the event only enabling the expositor more skilfully and properly to apply those rules.

IV. To 'conclude this subject; It will now be acknowledged, that the suspicions which have been taken up against the prophetic way of writing, as if it were vague, illusory, or unintelligible, are utterly without foundation. The style of the prophets was the known, authorized style of their age and country, in all writings especially, of a sacred or solemn character; and is even yet in use with a great part of mankind. It further appears, that, as it was understood by those to whom it was addressed, so the principles, on which it was formed, are discoverable by many obvious methods, and may be applied, with success, to the interpretation of it, at this day.

The prophetic style is, then, a sober and reasonable mode of expression. But this is not all. We may, even, discern the expe

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