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LECT. XXXVI. CHAP. 20 continued.-Millennium, predictions of it of
LECT. XXXVII. CHAP. 21 and 22.-Future state of glory, 366.
LECT. XXXVIII.-Harmony of the Revelation; or its events in chrono-
Our Saviour assures us, at the introduction of this sacred book, that “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand.” Rev. i. 3. We find here our warrant, and our great encouragement, as well as duty, to study the Revelation with devout and diligent attention. I would contribute my mite to the correct performance of this duty, too generally neglected.
In this Introduction, I purpose to give a concise view of the origin and nature of the figurative language which abounds in it, and in most of the prophetic writings of the Bible; then note the divisions found in the Revelation; and exhibit the duty, benefits and encouragements, which urge to a devout and diligent study of the Apocalypse.
What, then, are the origin and nature of figurative language? This kind of language is a representing of one thing by another; things less known, by things better known; and sometimes the reverse. Things spiritual are often denoted by things natural; as in the bread and wine of the Holy Supper.
This kind of language had its origin in early times, and in the want of a literal language. It came easily into use from necessity (which is the mother of invention); and, from the analogies which were found to exist between different things, it was found to be easy and natural to take the properties of one thing, to represent those of another. People of very limited knowledge of words,
wishing to communicate their ideas (such as they were), attempted to do it by such means as they found within their power; and these means were, figures borrowed from things with which they had some acquaintance; and between which, and the things they wished to express, they discovered (or imagined they discovered) a similarity. Figures thus adopted soon became familiar, and were received as the names of the things thus expressed. From this beginning, men proceeded to compound and improve their figures, as they wished to denote additional qualities, or circumstances; and hence in time arose the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and probably the characters used by the Chinese.
This kind of language had a natural and simple origin, like the following: A child sees and desires an object, but knows not the name of it. He reaches out his hand for it, and, if he can say any thing, he calls it by the name of something which he knows, and between which, and this thing, he imagines he perceives a resemblance. And, till he is better informed, he will, probably, continue to call it by this name. In such kind of simplicity did figurative language originate. And it was not discontinued after the invention and improvement of letters. It then became more definite, as literal definitions could be given of it, and as language improved.
The ancient Egyptians took pleasure in expressing and recording their mental conceptions in figures, which were at once curious and mysterious. And they retained and refined this use of figures, after they made improvement in literature; as did also the other nations of the East. What was at first adopted from necessity, was afterward retained and refined, to embellish their language. Men of the first eminence delighted in this use of their figures; and they often exercised their own and each other's invention with questions involved in this kind of mystery. Hence originated riddles, designed both to please, and to instruct. The Greeks, and then the Romans, caught this manner of embodying their ideas in the language of figures.
It might then have been expected, that Israel, after having resided four hundred years in Egypt, in the dawn of their national existence, would adopt a liberal use of this kind of language; and that the style of their prophets, especially, would abound with it.
For, although the prophets wrote by inspiration, yet they were led to record their inspired conceptions in the language with which they were familiar. Their prophecies especially, might be expected to abound in this kind of language; for they were designed to be veiled in various degrees of mystery, at least for a time. And they were designed to be such as to require the devout and patient investigations of men versed in the language and analogies of prophecy. Hence the passage is appropriate, “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter dark sayings of old."
This kind of language is capable of being much more easily understood than many imagine. Literal language is unintelligible till rendered familiar by improvement and use; and even then, it is imperfect. The same word often imports different things and actions; and the true sense in any given place must be learned from the object of the writer—the exegesis of the discourse; and with this consideration, added to due attention to figurative language, it may be rendered familiar. And it is so, even among people uncultivated. The natives of our continent abound in this kind of diction, of which they form the most ready and perfect conceptions. And we easily understand their figurative communications, in their various talks to our people; and not only so, but we are arrested with the strength and beauty of their communications, much more than we should be with the literal and simple expressions of their ideas.
Figures known in the sacred writings, are derived from the following sources:—The visible heavens, with the planetary system.-The region of the air, where winds, storms, lightnings, and thunder are generated.—The earth, water, fires, earthquakes, minerals, metals, stones. -The vegetable world; trees, grain, plants.—The sea, with its waves, billows and depths.-Cities in peace, and in arms.-Wars, leaders, armies, battles, conquests and captivities.—Houses, with their furniture; temples, prisons, courts, judicial proceedings.-Roads, highways, mountains, deserts, rivers, brooks, springs of water.The human body; its sustenance, ornaments, clothing; its diseases; its senses, of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling.--Domestic relations, and blessings. -Utensils of life-actions of men—times and seasons.The animal creation; and the feathered tribes.-Reptiles, and insects.-Monsters of the earth; and fishes, and monsters of the sea.-Also assumed forms from the invisible world.
Figures from these sources, with various combinations of properties, natural and unnatural, occasionally superadded, abound in the word of God; and more especially in the prophecies.
The same figure sometimes relates to secular, and sometimes to ecclesiastical things. When the former is the case, the heavens (for instance) mean the system of an empire. “The heavens departed as a scroll!” or, an empire was subverted. “The powers of the heavens shall be shaken!” or, the political world shall be rent. The sun, in that case, denotes the highest government of a nation. Its being turned to darkness, denotes the ruin, or deep perplexity of the supreme civil authority. The stars then denote the subordinate rulers of a nation. Their falling from heaven, means their fall in some revolution. And the moon being turned to blood, denotes tremendous slaughters.
When ecclesiastical things are the object, the heavens (meaning the visible heavens) denote the visible church on earth. The sun then is God, or Christ the Sun of Righteousness. The moon then denotes the elements of this world. “The moon was under her feet.” The stars then denote the ministers of Christ; the morning star, Christ himself. “I am the bright and morning star.' A falling star is an apostate teacher. Light is holiness; and darkness sin. Dews, showers, and rain are the kind influences of the Spirit of God. And God's raining upon the wicked snares, means his providentially confounding them in their wickedness.
Another thing is to be remembered,—that while the language of prophecy is figurative, the figures are continually interspersed with language that is literal. As the particles and conjunctions in the sentence are literal, various things predicated of the figurative subjects that are presented, are no less literal. For instance; it does not follow, that because the rivers and fountains of water, ” in the third vial, are not literally so, but are nations; therefore the blood into which they are said to be turned in that vial, is not real blood, but something else denoted by blood. The blood does there mean real blood, into which those nations are in a measure turned in wars! as the angel of the waters exclaims, “They have shed the blood of saints, and thou hast given them blood to drink, for they are worthy.” Wisdom here is profitable to direct, and will direct the candid, improved mind.