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This part we regard as having of necessity no greater obscurity than other parts of Scripture. We do not, for instance, find those Psalms which are universally called prophetic, more difficult than the rest; and Isaiah in his address to Rabshakeh is quite as figurative and poetical as in his other writings. But to understand any part of Scripture requires its own appropriate kind of knowledge. The appropriate knowledge for understanding the doctrinal and practical parts, every believer carries about with him in the experience of his own heart: the prophetic parts require external aids, as history, chronology, &c.; and these constitute their chief, their only peculiar difficulty. For though it be true that certain classes of Prophecy become better understood at some particular times, so do certain classes of doctrine; and men are raised up and means afforded for explaining both the one and the other, according as the several purposes of God approach their accomplishment.
We might, à priori, expect the prophetic language to be unambiguous in its terms, and definite in its object; that when the predicted event had taken place no man might justly say, The prophecy was unknown, doubtful, or inapplicable. But these characteristics, which are to a certain extent necessary, are modified by the equally strong necessity of keeping the accomplishment of it, as well as the prophecy itself, in God's own hand ; that no man might be able to say, Mine own wisdom and power have brought it to pass : God must have all the glory in the accomplishment of his own word. Now we find, that in this point of view the Prophecies fall under two great classes : First, Those given explicitly, but to be miraculously accomplished ; Secondly, Those given implicitly, but to be accomplished in the ordinary course of providence.-Those of the first class are given with an exactness of object, time, and place which precludes every application but one; and yet the accomplishment is reserved to God alone, since it is to be avowedly miraculous. Under this head we may instance the deliverance from Egypt in past times ; and its antitype, the restoration of the Jews, in times yet future. Those of the second class are given in language so wonderfully arranged, and in figures so aptly chosen, that though the people of God whose faith is in exercise, have at all times understood such parts of the prophecy as concerned themselves, and derived from thence guidance and support, yet none of these prophecies are understood by the faithless, or by the men of the world, till after their accomplishment; who are thus left to all the responsibility of their own wilfulness, while they are in fact only more strikingly carrying into effect the declared purpose
of God, Under this head we may instance the rejection of Christ by the Jews at his first coming, and their
consequent destruction, in past times; and the apostasy of the Gentile church, with its consequent judgments in times yet future. To prophecies of the first class we shall sometimes have occasion to resort, as affording sure instances, which cannot be denied or cavilled at by any believer in the Bible; but it is among
those of the second class that all the difficulty of interpretation lies, and it is to these that we shall most frequently direct our attention—these, which have been in all ages" the stronghold of the daughter of Zion,” a' beacon-light in the night, the pole-star to the eye of faith : " for prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost :” to it we“ do well to take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts.” (2 Pet. i. 19.)
Prophecy is not darkness : it is " a light that shineth in a dark place:” to it no servant of God can take heed, but he shall have the eyes of his understanding enlightened, to direct him in all things which he may be called on either to do or to suffer, The present age is one in which, by the confession of all, the church is called on to do much; and the time may not be far distant when she shall be called to suffer much: in either case, an ample portion of light is necessary. It may be in futherance of this work, and in preparation for this time of trial, that the attention of the church has been in this our day so much turned towards the Prophecies, and that God has now so far removed the veil in which futurity was shrouded in times past, when, the calls of duty being ordinary, ordinary light would suffice. The duties now required of the church are of that special kind as to need the special guidance of the light of Prophecy; and we shall endeavour briefly to point out the several means, by the help of which such a knowledge of the true interpretation of God's prophetic word is to be attained as may serve for our direction and comfort in these critical times. 1 What, then, are the means, in the use of which we may expect to understand and interpret the Scriptures of truth?
The first and most important of these is earnest, persevering Prayer-prayer for this special object, and with a full belief that the same Holy Spirit who spake by the Prophets of old “ shall guide into all truth; " and that his teaching is as necessary to us now, for understanding and explaining Divine revelation, as his inspiration was of old for its first promulgation. This was the course resorted to by the seryants of God in former times. Daniel “ set his face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplication ;” and “while he was yet speaking”in prayer, the angel came “ to give him skill and understanding. " (ix. 22.) And again (x. 12): " from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.” His own times, and the destination of his people, whose captivity he knew, “
“ by books and the number of the years," to be now nearly expiring, were the objects of his solicitude and prayer. This his solicitude is not reprehended : on the contrary, he is called “ greatly beloved;” and not only is his prayer answered, by making him “understand the matter” of his desire, but his faith is further rewarded by his being given to " understand what should befal his people in the latter days, for yet the vision is for many days.” Of these latter visions he is commanded (xii. 4) to shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end,” when (ver. 10) “ many shall be purified, and made white, and tried : but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” These are “ the wise that shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (ver. 3); and it is at the latter day, when“ many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” (ver. 2.) Till which time of blessedness, it is said to Daniel (ver. 13), “Go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days."
Such guidance from above was also sought and obtained by the Apostolic churches. They knew and felt the necessity of Divine teaching. They remembered our Lord's reproof to his disciples (Luke xxiv. 25), “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken;" and that, though he had said (Acts i. 7), “ it is not for you to know the times or the seasons,” he also goes on to say (i. 8), “ but ye ceive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” On this promise the Apostles constantly acted, and went forth to the church, “not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power;. that their faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. ii. 5); speaking “ the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before unto our glory : which none of the princes of this world knew; for had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God : which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (v. 13.) “ For we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty;" and “have also a more sure word of prophecy.......which came not by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter i. 17.)
Such Divine teaching the Reformers also expected; and therefore sought earnestly, by prayer and supplication for the illumination of the Holy Spirit, that he would enlighten their understandings to perceive the truth, and open their lips for its utterance. These men, it will be allowed, possessed great natural force of mind: they were also furnished with an ample stock of learning; but one of them has left it on record, that when, in his translation of the Scriptures, he met with a passage which he was at a loss to interpret, he frequently overcame the difficulty on his knees, after books and study had failed to solve it. And of him it is written by a friend, « Sæpe a Deo locorum obscurorum intelligentiam vehementibus precibus efflagitans.”--In our own times we might mention many, who, following these noble examples, have, by the results, convinced us that those investigations alone are greatly successful which are begun in prayer, carried on in a spirit of prayer, and concluded with thanksgiving to the Author of every good and perfect gift. That we need Divine teaching as much as Daniel and the Apostles did, he who best knows the subject and himself will be least disposed to deny. As little will such an one doubt that “ understanding" shall be given, if sought for as they sought it. Angelic messengers we look not for; a voice from heaven we expect not: the message of God was fully delivered when, after the long train of “servants, last of all he sent forth his Son :" the word of revelation was completed in that which Jesus gave to his servant John (Rev. xxii. 20). But a teaching such as the Reformers expected, as preternatural as that given to the Apostles, as intelligible as that to Daniel, we may expect in the influences of the Holy Spirit, who “ shall take of the things of Christ and shew them unto us” (John xvi. 15); “ who shall abide with the church for ever” (John xiv. 16); “ shall teach all things, and bring all things to remembrance” (ver. 26); “ testify of Jesus' (xv. 26): “ and the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. xix. 10).
of the human means for interpreting prophecy, a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew language is the most important. By a thorough knowledge, we mean, not only a critical acquaint
ance with its structure and idioms, such as lexicons and teachers may supply, but an insight into the genius and philosophy of this venerable tongue, such as cannot be attained but by much research and reflection operating on an independent turn of mind. Etymology, in its large sense, is important in all languages, but in the Hebrew it may be pronounced nearly all in all. The Hebrew radicals are verbs, expressing some action or quality; which radical meaning may be always recognised in the derivatives, however inflected or varied. But it is obvious that this radical meaning has taken its character from the age and country in which the language, in its elementary form, originated ; and that the derivatives would receive a different character, or some modification, if they were added to the original language in times or countries far distant. Now the Bible is not, like the Iliad, a production of one age or country; but its books were successively added, during a period of a thousand years, and in various countries, from the Red Sea to the Euphrates. The slightest reflection will convince any one of the extensive and important bearing which this succession of time and place has had on the impassioned and imaginative strains of the Prophets, and satisfy him that an accurate knowledge of the history and antiquities of those times and countries is necessary, even in philology. The necessity for this kind of knowledge is further evident by considering the modern characteristics of that people by whom the Hebrew Scriptures have been handed down to us : a people who are, of all others, least given to philosophical inquiry or independent thinking, and who, in their servile adherence to the letter, allow no change of meaning to a word, whether in Moses or Malachi.
, , , will at once occur to the Hebrew scholar as illustrations of the
; %, , , , , . confirm the fact; and the successive accretions to the titles of God are instances still more striking and important.
But an extensive acquaintance with the manners and customs of the ancients, which is thus necessary for the language, is equally necessary for understanding the argument and line of thought in the Prophets, which would be often unintelligible to an European reader without this acquaintance. Considerable light is thrown on all these subjects by the researches of modern travellers, who often explain and confirm in a remarkable manner what history has imperfectly recorded or wholly omitted. For there is such a strong character of fixedness and durability about the institutions and manners of the East, that many traces of patriarchal times subsist at this day; and, in the more retired districts, their customs, modes of life, dress,