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CHAPTER IV.

THE SYSTEM OF INTERPRETATION. THE NATURE OF FIGU

RATIVE LANGUAGE.

The general nature of the system of interpretation, applicable to the prophetical writings, has been affirmed to be THE LITERAL, in contradistinction from THE

Various arguments have been adduced to prove the affirmation. In presenting those arguments, it has not been deemed necessary to give anything more than a very general definition or description of the two systems. It is possible, however, that mistakes and misapprehensions may exist, in relation to the distinctive features of the system of literal interpretation, and that further information and illustration may be desired by those who would pursue, for their own benefit, the study of the prophecies. It is important, therefore, to correct such mistakes, and to meet such wishes. It is possible that some may claim the authority of the apostle, for spiritualizing or explaining by way of allegory, important moral and religious truths. * He did unquestionably employ allegory for the illustration and enforcement of the important truth, that no one minister in the Christian church should be vaingloriously exalted and honored for his work, above another. He selected the case of Apollos and himself, who were the favorites of particular portions or parties in the church of Corinth, and by means of an allegory, suggested by the process of building a temple, undertook to show that all who

SPIRITUAL.

* 1 Cor. 4. 6.

he means,

contributed, of whatever material, to the growth of the edifice, were co-workers; and that, so far from men's sitting in judgment, and condemning or honoring one laborer more than another, God was the only proper judge, who, as umpire does the building, would try the relative and absolute value of the materials and labor contributed by each. “ These things," says he, “I have transferred to myself and Apollos, in a figure.” He made Apollos and himself examples, and schemed from them an illustration, on rhetorical principles, suited to the taste and genius of the Greeks, who were fond of eloquence, for the purpose of reproving the spirit of rivalry and faction among them. This is all

* and it is a great mistake to plead this as a sanction for the general and indiscriminate spiritualizing of the Scriptures.

The literal interpretation has been defined to be what Ernesti has called the grammatical, and cannot better be exhibited in a few words, than in those which Dr. John Pye Smith states to be the common rule of all rational interpretation ; viz., the sense afforded by a cautious and critical examination of the terms of the passage, and an impartial construction of the whole sentence, according to the known usage of the language and the writer." +

From this general view of its nature, it is obvious that there must be a careful attention to the different styles of speech, or modes of writing, adopted by the prophetical writers. By the different styles of speech we do not mean the varieties and peculiarities observable between different writers —the things which distinguish the composition of one from another; but those modes of speech which the same speaker or

* See Bloomfield's Greek Test. ad loc. Smith's Script. Test, to the Messiah, vol. i. p. 214.

writer is apt to adopt under different circumstances and states of feeling, and which are easily and generally interpreted by the rules of rhetoric, founded on the well-established and essential laws of human thought. In unfolding the features, therefore, of LITER AL INTERPRETATION, we remarkI. THAT IT DOES NOT REJECT THE TROPES OF SPEECH AND

RHETORICAL EMBELLISHMENTS OF STYLE, BUT INTERPRETS

THE MEANING OF THE PROPHET ALWAYS BY THE SAME

RULES OF EXEGESIS THAT WOULD BE APPLIED TO THE

SAME KINDS OF COMPOSITION.

In doing so, however, it does not admit any preçonceived notion of the nature of things, according to any metaphysical, philosophical, or theological views, to be the guide and interpreter as to what the language of the prophet means. In this respect, it differs radically from the course adopted and sanctioned by the spiritual interpretation. Thus, for example, when the prophets speak of the coming and kingdom of Jesus Christ, whatever style of speech they may see fit to employ, the literal interpretation inquires first what is the true and proper meaning of the prophet's words—that which he himself attached to them, and designed to convey. In order to determine this, resort is had, not to any theory of prophecy, or preconceived opinions, but to the ordinary rules of rhetoric, applicable to the particular style of speech employed by the prophets. That is, he first inquires whether, in the predictions examined, the prophet's language contains any of the tropes of speech, or whether it is a plain historical statement, free from any rhetorical embellishments of diction. Having done so, he takes the appropriate meaning of the words, determined by the character of style, as the ideas designed by the prophet to be communicated. Whether that coming and kingdom, therefore, are events literally and historically to occur, or are to be understood figuratively, the literalist determines by his previous examination of the language of the prediction, whether tropical or not. The spiritual interpreter, however, pursues a different course. Нау. ing conceived beforehand, whether from education or the authority of commentators, that the coming and kingdom of Christ are and must be wholly spiritual,-that is, invisible interpositions of his divine power and influence, to affect and control the minds and hearts of men,-he takes it for granted, that the words are, and can only be, strong rhetorical figures of speech, employed to express merely some general resemblance. The thing, he says, is spoken of as though it were really the fact that Christ should visibly appear and set up a kingdom on earth, to be visibly administered by him; but is not so to be understood, the language being merely figurative-strong metaphors to express the resemblance or analogy between Christ's invisible influence, and the visible means of influence by which the kings of this world assert and maintain their power -a mere rhetorical accommodation of language.

Because, confessedly, a portion of prophetical language is delivered with metaphorical and other tropical embellishments of diction, the spiritual interpreter thinks that he triumphantly answers the literal interpreter, by arrogantly refusing to concede to him any right at all to apply the rules of rhetoric, and requiring him, in all cases, to interpret the words literally, that is, in his sense of the word, totally devoid of figure. Attempting thus to force the literal interpreter into the assertion of things monstrous and absurd, he flatters himself, or with great self-complacency concludes, that he has triumphantly answered and exposed his folly. How often have we heard such

attempts at wit and ribaldry—such satirical flings as these! Shall the sun be literally turned into darkness, and the moon into blood ? Shall such wonders occur in Heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath, as literal blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke? Do we not read of the stars falling from Heaven, of a beast with seven heads and ten horns, of a little horn behind the ten, having a mouth speaking blasphemy; and of a certain lady that had her seat upon seven mountains ? Must not all these, and such like monstrous and incredible things, the spiritualist asks, be spiritually understood ? Who can be so weak and foolish as to understand them literally ? Such things being evidently figurative, he concluded that the spiritual interpretation is and must be the only true system, and consequently that all who advocate the literal only betray their own weakness.

Such sophistry almost destroys the respect we wish to entertain for the men that employ it. Because we advocate the literal verity of the events or things predicted, interpreting the language of prophecy accord ing to the grammatical or rhetorical rules applicable to its particular character, it does not therefore follow, that every metaphor and symbol, or trope of speech, must be stripped of all its ornament, and we be charged with absurdly maintaining, either directly or by fair implication, that when a man is called a lion he is a lion indeed, or when a woman is said to have appeared in heaven clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars, there ever, literally or in reality, was such a thing. It is disingenuous, yea, worse than puerile, to endeavor to excite odium against, or to pour ridicule upon, the literal interpretation of such sophistry. For we remark

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