Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

gelists, passages of the prophecies which foretold the deliverance from Babylon, are applied to that greater deliverance. For example, Isa. xl. 2, 3. is said by Matthew, chap. iii. 3. and by our Lord himself, Matt. xi. 10. to have been fulfilled by John Baptist's preaching in the wilderness of Judea. Yet these verses in their first and literal meaning, evidently relate to the reiurn of the Jews from Babylon. For Isaiah, in the end of chap. xxxix. having forciold that all the riches of his palaces, which Hezekiah had from pride shewn to the messengers of the king of Babylon, should be carried away to Babylon, and that his sons should be carried thither captives, and made eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon, the prophet in this xlth chapter mitigated the severity of that prediction by foretelling, that whilst the Jews were oppressed with the miseries of their captivity, God would order his prophets who were among them to comfort his people, by assuring them that their captivity would at length come to an end ; because considering their sufferings as a sufficient punishment for their sins as a nation, he would pardon and restore them to their own land, ver. 2.

“ Speak ye * comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is “ accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath « received of the Lord's hands double for all her sins.” The people in Babylon being thus assured that they were to be brought back to Judea, “the first thought,” as B. Lowth observes, « which would occur to the captives, would be the difficulty and “ danger of their passing through the deserts of Arabia, where “ the nearest way fro:n Babylon to Jerusalem lay.” Wherefore the prophets in Babylon, to remove the fears of ihe people, were ordered to assure them, that by whatever road they should return, it would be made commodious for their safe passage. And this assurance the prophets would give them, in language taken from the custom of the eastern princes, who, when they were about to march with their armies through difficult roads, sent pioneers before them to widen the narrow passes, to fill up the hollows, to level the heights, and to smooth the rough ways through which they were to march, ver. 3. " The voice of one « crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the avay of the Lord ; “ make straight in the desert an high way for our God. 4. 66 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill 6 shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, " and the rough places plain.” By these images the prophets äntimated, that God was to march from Babylon at the head of his people, to protect them during their journey, and to bring them safely into Judea. These things are more plainly expressed, Isa. lii. 12. “ Ye shall not go out with haste, nor go " by flight ; for the Lord will go before you, and the God of “ Israel will be your rere-ward.”

But although this whole prophecy, in its first and literal meaning, evidently related to the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon, the application of the above cited passage to the preaching of John Baptist by the evangelist Matthew, and by our Lord himself, she weth plainly that the prophecies, concerning the deliverance of the people of God from the Babylonish captivity, had a second and higher meaning, of which the literal sense was the sign. By foretelling the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon, these prophecies foretold the deliverance of mankind from the infinitely worse bondage of sin. Moreover, the command to the prophets in Babylon to comfort God's people by announcing that their sins were pardoned, and that they were soon to be brought back to their own land, was a command to the ministers of the gospel in every age to comfort penitent believers, by assuring them that their sins shall be pardoned ; and that Christ will bring them safely into the heavenly country, (of which the restoration the Jews to Canaan was an emblem and pledge,) because he hath successfully removed all obstacles out of their way. The preparation of the way of the Lord among the Jews by the preaching of John Baptist, was fiily expressed by the voice of one crying in the wilderness. For, as Lowth observes on Isaiah, p. 188. " The Jewish church to “ which John was sent to announce the coming of Messiah, was 6 at that time in a barren and desert condition ; unfit, without 6 reformation, for the reception of her king. It was in this de« sert country, destitute at that time of all religious cultivation, « in true piety and good works unfruitful, that John was sent to “ prepare the way of the Lord by preaching repentance.”

Many other examples of prophecies might be mentioned, in which the return of the Jews from Babylon was foretold, and of which passages are applied, by the writers of the New Testament, to the redemption of mankind from the bondage of sin. But the one explained above, may suffice as a proof of what is called the double sense of prophecy, in which the obvious literal sense exhibits a second and higher meaning : So that these prophecies, properly speaking, arc true allegories.

Thus it appears, That the high figurative expressions in the Jewish scriptures, which are so offensive to modern ears and to minute philosophers, were occasioned by the poverty of the first language of mankind : That the boldest of these figures were derived from the ancient picture-writing : That the symbols used in that kind of writing gave rise to the dark Egyptian allegory, which was held in great estimation at the time the scriptures were written : And that in the early ages, mankind, whether barbarous or civilized, were accustomed to express their sentiments and feelings by significant actions as well as by significant sounds. These things considered, it cannot be matter either of surprise or of blame, that the Jewish prophets exhorted the people and foretold future events in such figurative language as to us moderns appears extravagant ; or that they delivered their exhortations and predictions in dark allegories, formed on the qualities and circumstances of the symbols, by which the persons, and nations concerning whom they prophesied were denoted in picture-writing ; or even, that on extraordinary occasions, they foretold things future by what may be called a drama continued through a great length of time, in which they spake and acted things which excited the wonder of the spectators, and led them to inquire what the prophets meant by them, and, when explained, could not but make a strong impression upon their imagination. These things were all done suitably to the genius and manners of the times, and were easily understood by the people for whose instruction they were intended. And with respect to the persons who, in the scriptures, are said in their natural characters and actions to have been types of future persons and events, that method of foretelling things future was of the same kind with allegorical prophecy : for surely it made no difference whether the allegory was formed on the qualities and actions of a symbol, or on the qualities and actions of a real person. In the symbolical or instituted allegory, it was shewed to be an allegory by the particulars of which it was composed. But in the natural allegory, the characters and events of which it was composed do not shew it to be an allegory. Wherefore, before these are considered by us as allegories, or prefigurations of future persons and events, we ought to be assured by some one or other of the prophets or inspired persoi who afterwards arose, that they are allegories, otherwise they ought not to be considered as such.-By this rule the futility of those allegorical meanings which some of the ancient fathers

SONS

put on many passages of scripture will clearly appear. And the humour of finding mystical senses in the sacred oracles, which some of the modern commentators have too much indulged, will be effectually repressed.

Upon the whole, the observation suggested in the beginning of this Essay may now be repeated with some confidence ; namely, That the high figurative language by which the Jewish scriptures are so strongly marked, together with the allegorical and typical senses with which they abound, and the extraordinary things done by the Jewish prophets, instead of being instances of absurdity and signs of imposture, are proofs of their antiquity and authenticity; and even strong presumptions of the divine original of the revelations contained in these venerable writings.

[ocr errors][merged small]
« AnteriorContinua »