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phecy, and suspicions of the motives of those who are employed in interpreting them.
While so much positive evil results from the license, which has been too often assumed, of hazarding, on light grounds and hasty views, novel interpretations of scriptural prophecy; the most powerful of all arguments is afforded by this consideration to induce all persons, who feel the reverence due to the inspired word of God, to abstain most carefully from this indiscreet practice. The words of the Apostle in my text should be well remembered, that“no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation;" and the general character of prophecy should be heeded, as described by him in the words adjoining; namely, That it is “as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day star arise.” That day will dawn when the period destined for the accomplishment of each particular prophecy shall arrive, a period which does not depend on the will of man, but on the course of events ordained or permitted by the overruling providence of God. Prophecy was not given to gratify the prying curiosity of men, ever anxious to dive into the recesses of futurity; nor to exercise their forward ingenuity in searching out new interpretations which might arrest the attention of the public. It was designed for a more availing, a greater, and a nobler purpose ; for the purpose of affording to
the truth of Christianity its growing testimony, which might be unfolded by degrees, and open fresh conviction on the mind, as the revolutions of time should produce its gradual accomplishment. Consistently with this purpose, a certain degree of obscurity was unavoidable. Had the terms in which the prophecies are expressed been precise and clear as to time, place, and circumstance; had it, for instance, been in any case expressly foretold that such an event would occur in a certain year, and at a particular place, to be brought about by individuals mentioned by name, it is tolerably certain that the accomplishment of the prediction would never have been effected without some extraordinary overruling of the events of things. The dispositions and actions of men would, on such a supposition, be guided by what would then be their certain knowledge of that which was to happen. Some would remain inactive, in listless compliance with the known will of heaven, deeming themselves mere machines in bringing about predetermined events : others might stand
in impious opposition to the purposes of Providence, and endeavour to counteract them. At all events, the value of the prophecy as affording evidence of a direct communication from heaven, would be entirely lost; since the opponent of revelation would always be enabled to argue, that the event had been brought to pass, because it was foretold; not that the prediction of it had resulted from the circumstance of its being foreknown by the wisdom of God. Thus the terms in which the scriptural prophecies are expressed, seem to be precisely those, which are required for the purpose; they are sufficiently obscure to preclude any certain anticipation of the event; sufficiently clear and precise to satisfy every reasonable mind, after the event, that the event was indeed predicted.
Under these views of the real character and true intent of scriptural prophecy, let it be hoped that the interpretation of it will never be attempted carelessly and lightly, from any private motivé of exhibiting penetration and ingenuity, but only from the deliberate consideration of what may conduce to the right understanding and elucidation of it; that all disposition to wild conjecture and fanciful speculation on this important subject will be carefully repressed; and that the enquiry will be conducted, wherever it 'is attempted, on the principle of a rational search after truth. It should be remembered, that this is a subject of which every person is not, at once, and without previous study and preparation, qualified to treat.
It is a subject which requires much previous' acquaintance -with scriptural language, and much knowledge
of history sacred and profane. The general nature, too, of the prophetic style must be previously studied, together with the character of the types and various figures that are employed. All the prophecies, again, should be considered as forming different portions of one connected scheme; originating from the same source, being conveyed in analogous language, and directed to the same great ends. All therefore should be subject to the same rules of interpretation, and no single part detached from the rest. By attempting to interpret the prophecies without attending to these considerations, new and striking hypotheses may be hastily started, and seeming resemblances and coincidences discovered, which may display some ingenuity in the writer, and may excite the curiosity or the wonder of the reader ; but nothing will be gained towards that which ought to be the object of every interpreter of Scripture, the laying on a broader and a firmer basis the great edifice of Divine truth.
In conclusion, I would suggest to all for deep consideration, the sage and weighty words of one, who, eminent as he was in diving into the hidden laws of nature, and extending our knowledge of them, spake the words of wisdom on every subject to which he applied his powerful mind. “ The folly of interpreters, (says Sir Isaac Newton, speaking particularly of the Apocalypse,) has been, to foretell times and things by this prophecy of Revelation, as if God designed to make them prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but brought the prophecy also into contempt. The design of God was, when he gave them this, and the prophecies of the Old Testament, not to gratify men's curiosity by enabling them to foreknow things, but to the end that, after they were fulfilled, they might be interpreted by the event; and his own providence, not the wisdom or the skill of the interpreter, be then manifested thereby to the world *
It is only by avoiding this folly which has been too prevailing, not only previous to the time of this great writer, but in later days, that the dignity of Scripture can be properly maintained; and that “the more sure” word of prophecy can be justly heeded as a valuable and important head of Christian evidence ; that prophecy can be discerned in its true character, as "a light shining in a dark place;" enveloped at first in obscurity, and imparting no clear and certain yiews; but always “growing more and more into the perfect day,” growing by its gradual accomplishment into that full and perfect evidence which will carry conviction to every
Sir I. Newton on the Prophecies, p. 251.11