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ON THE LANGUAGE OF PROPHECY,
1 On the Literal Language.
THE language of prophecy consists of symbols and metaphors, the basis of which is literal speech; in which, after a certain analogy or harmony, things, persons, and operations in the natural or supernatural world are made to adumbrate promiscuously, persons, things, and operations in the civil and religious world. It is equally a mistake to suppose that the language of prophecy is all metaphor or all symbol, as it is to suppose that it is all literal. Symbols could not be appropriately conveyed without metaphor, nor could symbols and metaphors be strung together without some plain language to connect them. As therefore simple diction must be the natural vehicle of prophecy, and symbols and metaphors but deviations from it, used by God for the purpose of a temporary concealment, the general rule is, Never to call in the aid of a symbolical or metaphorical explanation where a literal one will do, unless the harmony of the symbols or metaphors should be thereby infringed. Thus, according to the general consent of commentators Rev. ix. 4, a verse in the midst of metaphor and symbol is literal. And it was commanded them, that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree. Grass and Tree in other parts of the prophecy are symbols standing for the people, and their leaders; but here they stand for their usual signification. Hurt also is here literal, though in the same chapter used metaphorically, ix. 10.
But though the language of prophecy be sometimes literal, the Action, which is expressed by that language, may be symbolical. Thus when it is said (Rev. vi. 15) that The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every freeman, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, &c. though each of those words be literal, and the symbols generally used for those words be discarded, yet the action thereby expressed is symbolical. The action of the kings and the great men, &c. hiding themselves from the Lamb, or Jesus Christ, which St. John saw in vision, is symbolical of the reverence which the religion of Jesus would receive from all the great men of the world, when Paganism should be abolished, as will be hereafter seen.
It is therefore by no means necessary to see a symbol in every word as some have seen. These persons for instance, because they do not think that the action of one crying A measure of wheat for a denarius, and three measures of barley for a denarius; and see thou hurt not the oil and wine, denoting great scarcity of provisions, is symbolical enough; turn wheat, and barley, and oil and wine into symbols, in order to make them denote a scarcity of something else. Rev. vi. 6. And in the same manner do they treat the other seals, not regarding the mixed nature of the prophetic language.
2. On the Metaphorical Language.
Of the metaphorical language of prophecy the most worthy of note is that figure of speech by which a person is put for a thing, a member for a body, and a link for a series. Thus, according to Daniel, (vii. 17. 23), a king is put for the sovereignty of a king, for a monarchy or kingdom. Two persons called witnesses (Rev. xi. 3, 5) stand for two candlesticks or churches, 4. And from the prophecy of the kings of the North and South (Dan xi. 7, 19, 20) we learn that a king means a series of kings of the same kingdom. From whence it is evident that if a king signify the sovereignty of a king, an angel or minister may signify a ministration or dispensation. And again, if one member be put for a body, as a witness for a church, an angel or minister may be put for a ministry. And again, if a king be put for a succession of kings, an angel or minister may
be put for a succession of ministers. And in the same way might Abaddon, or general, be used for a generalship, or body of generals, or succession of generals, according as the sense requires; or a fallen angel for an apostacy, an apostate, or series or set of apostates; or a seed of a church, xii. 5. for Christianity, a Christian, or a body of Christians. In the same manner, again, may a Beast signify the kingship, the kingdom, or the series or dynasty of kings. The connexion will always determine which of the three senses is meant. In that important enigma of the name of the Beast we are told expressly, that it is not of the thing, nor of the body, but of the man. Rev. xiii. 18. It is from the same sort of figure as above mentioned that a day in prophecy is put for the whole series of days of the same government of the sun, i. e. of the same year. Other metaphors there are in prophecy which are common to all language. But as the same word which stands in one place for a symbol does not stand for a symbol in another, so need not what is a metaphor in one place be a metaphor in another. Thus while to kill is a metaphor signifying to inflict a political death, or subjugate, or deprive of a national existence at Rev. ix. 5, 15, 18, 20, it is used literally at vi. 8. And in the same manner while the Resurrection at Rev. xi. 11. may be figurative, the Resurrection at xx. 5, 6. may be literal. The connexion will decide.
3. On the Symbolical Language.
The symbols are not to be explained arbitrarily according to every one's fancy, but according to a key furnished by the prophecy itself.
1st. Let us deduce a set of symbols from the prophetic key to WATERS. The WATERS which thou sawest,
where the whore sitteth, are PEOPLES, AND MULTITUDES, AND NATIONS, AND TONGUES. Rev. xvii. 15. From this we conclude that the collection of waters, called the sea, will be that empire composed of the "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues," over which the Whore, that great city, situated upon seven mountains (xvii. 18, 9). ROME, reigneth. The sea of glass, like unto crystal, or mingled with fire, by analogy will represent "the kingdom which cannot be moved," (Heb. xii. 28) the holy kingdom of the saints. A river,
as a less collection, or single stream of water, will represent a single people, or nation, or kingdom. A fountain, a stream in its beginnings, a small state or republic. Ships, as sailing in the rivers or kingdoms, will represent cities. The fishes or creatures swimming in the sea or river will denote the individuals which compose the empire or kingdom. A flood, as a river overflowing its banks, will represent one hostile kingdom as invading another. If all what the whore or city Rome sits upon be waters or sea, she herself must be earth, i. e. the symbol of earth will represent Rome. And again, as in that state the earth becomes an island, an island will symbolize a city, similar to that of Rome. Or otherwise, as an island is situated upon a sea or river, i. e. upon an empire or a kingdom, it will represent any city in the empire or kingdom. And if earth again signify a city, an earthquake will denote a civil or political revolution. Again, if the whore sit upon waters, which represent "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues," and also is represented as sitting upon mountains, mountains may symbolize "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues;" and thus a single mountain a single people, or multitude, or nation, or tongue. And again, as grass grows upon the mountains or nations, together with trees, grass will signify the people of these nations, while trees will be their kings or leaders. And again, as earth signifies Rome, and grass of the earth the people of Rome, a harvest of the earth will signify the excision of the people of Rome. And again, as a vine is a tree, and a tree a leader, the vine of the earth will be the leaders of Rome, whether priests or kings, and the vintage of the earth the stripping of Rome of those leaders. And again, as horses graze and range upon the grass or people, a horse will symbolize whatever feeds upon or prevails among the people, its character being denoted by its colour. If a white horse, it will represent the prevalence of something peaceful, pure, or joyful which affects the people; if a red horse, the prevalence of something fiery or bloody which desolates the people; if a black horse, the prevalence of something which affects the people with care; if a pale horse, the prevalence of something pestiferous which consumes the people. Locusts, again, as devouring the grass and the foliage of the trees till nothing but the bougbs, stems, or roots, remain for the means of growing again, will represent roving marauding armies
which strip the people and their leaders of every thing they possess, but their political existence; and if they commit these ravages on their retreat, it will be denoted by their having stings in their tails. Again, as the whore sits upon waters, which are represented as "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues," and as she is also described as sitting upon a beast, the beast must represent "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." And again, as the beast is represented as rising up from the sea (xiii. 1), which is "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues," and again, as ascending from the abyss (xvii. 8; xi. 7) the abyss must symbolize "multitudes, and nations, and peoples, and tongues." Again, if a beast represent "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues" its heads will represent their sovereignties or governments, its horns their kings or potentates. Rev. xvii. 10, 12. If it be like a lion, it will be lofty, big, and impious: if a leopard, rapacious and rapid in victory; if a bear, cruel; if composed of all these animals, it will partake of all those qualities. The dragon or devil, again, as having the same heads and horns as the beast, must be the same peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues," over which the heads and horns rule; and casting the dragon into the abyss will mean levelling its heads and horns with the mass out of which they arose, when Christ comes to put the saints in possession of the kingdom. For as a beast may be put for the head of a beast, so may the dragon or devil be put for heads and horns of the dragon or devil. Thus the beast and his kingdom are different at Rev. xvi. 10, beast being there not the kingdom but the head of the kingdom. Again, as the abyss is "the peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues," over which the whore reigneth, the pit of the abyss will be the rest of the world which contains or encompasses those "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues," so that if the abyss be the Roman empire, the pit of the abyss will be the nations which surround or hold it in. To open the pit will be to let those nations loose. A Lamb, again, as a tame animal, will symbolize our Lord, or a spiritual dominion, and as our Lord has all power, his seven horns (Rev. v. 6) will denote all power, and seven will denote all. So much order of symbol have we struck out from that symbolic chaos of WATERS; but he who imagines that wherever those words occur in the prophecy they