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prophecy? To us it is astonishing that interpreters, with these explicit limitations before their eyes, have proceeded, without the least ceremony, without even a respectful token of cognizance, to carry the predictions, century after cen ury, down the history of the world, and, when they had arranged them over all past time, to refer the remnant to ages yet future."
It has been already shown, under our second head, that Jerusalem and the temple are repeatedly introduced in the tenor of the prophecy. Now, let one read the book with this circumstance in mind, and we think he will perceive that its representations comport well with the scenes of that unparalleled tribulation which came upon the Jews shortly afterwards ; and that they seem to point out plainly enough the alternate sufferings and relief of the faithful, the malice, the vexations, the torments of their enemies, the overthrow of Judaism, and the full establishment of the gospel dispensation upon earth. It will be found, too, that the figures and imagery often resemble those which Christ had used in foretelling the same events. Thus, in the sixth chapter, the vision opens with a train of war, famine and pestilence among those who had slain the martyrs ; and closes with a terrible scene of ruin, in which they called upon the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:' the very representation, and in part the very language, our Saviour had applied to the destruction of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, to complete the coincidence, the servants of God are introduced in the next chapter, gathered from all the tribes of Israel and from the Gentile nations, and sealed with the seal of God, that they might not be involved in the common ruin. Again : a continned series of calamities, tumults, wars and devastations, such as fitly denotes the events preceding the siege of the holy city, occupies the eighth and ninth chapters. The twelfth manifestly represents the state of the infant church of Christ amidst the persecuting Jews, and its preservation from the overwhelming flood that was ready to swallow it up. An account follows, in the thirteenth chapter, of false prophets, who, as our Saviour had foretold, should show great signs and wonders, insomuch that if it were possible, they should deceive the very elect; and in the fourteenth, we are carried onwards to the fall of Jerusalem, after the servants of God who had been sealed, were secured from the overthrow. The same series of events seems to be again described in the following chapters, of which the eighteenth gives a much more particular view of the destruction of that city in which was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all that were slain upon earth.' 'Rejoice over her, thou heaven,' exclaims the angel,' and ye holy apostles and prophets ; for God hath avenged you on her.'
If these bints are correct, the Apocalypse is not a single train of predictions, following each other in chronological order from beginning to end ; but consists of various representations of the same general subject under different points of view, like our Saviour's prophecy in the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters of St. Matthew's Gospel.
Such is the method of interpretation we would propose, as agreeing with the apparent allusious of the book, and with St. John's declaration that 'the things' spoken of, should shortly come to pass.' In this scheme, the only serious difficulty, we apprehend, will arise from the persuasion that, in the twentieth chapter, the prophecy runs onward to the time of the general resurrection; and in the two following, to the eternal state after that event. But a careful examination, we think, will discover that the resurrection there mentioned, cannot be understood literally, on account of the very circumstances connected with it. After the martyrs had been raised to life, and had reigned with Christ a thousand years on earth, while the rest of the dead lived not, it is said that Satan went 'out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle : the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city.' Was that literally a resurrection from the dead, which was succeeded by this gathering of the nations of the earth to battle ? or is this emblematical, like the rest of the book ? And the next chapters, the twenty-first and twenty-second, manifestly refer, not to the scenes of a changeless eternity, but to the gospel dispensation, under the figure of a' holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven,' into which the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor.' Its gates are said never to be shut, that they might bring the glory and honor of the nations into it;' and the tree of life, which grew in the midst of its street, bore leaves which were for the healing of the nations. All these circumstances and peculiarities belong to the Christian religion, here upon earth, and to its attractive and purifying influence.
H. B. 2d.
Principles of Interpreting the Language of the Scriptures.
A Statement of Reasons for not believing the doctrines of Trinitarians,
concerning the Nature of God, and the Person of Jesus Christ. By Andrews Norton. Cambridge and Boston. 1833.
This volume, just published by the late Professor of Sacred Literature in Harvard University, has evidently been prepared, as such a work ought to be, with care and labor. As might be anticipated, it is the result of much reading and reflection, and affords proof of honorable attainments in literature, both sacred and profane. We do not indeed think it distinguished so much by originality, as by patient application of thought.
That, however, may have been neither attempted, nor compatible with the general design of the work. But many facts and arguments, that may be found briefly stated elsewhere, are here discussed at full length, and illustrated with a copiousness of examples which the importance of the subject demanded. On some points it is clearer and more satisfactory than anything we have seen. Though controversial throughout, and marked with no deference towards the sentiments opposed, nor even with the least respect for them, it is written in cool temper and in the language of moderation : a circumstance worthy of remark, at a time when religious controversies are too generally characterized by intemperate rudeness, and out-breakings of violent passion.
Still, we must be permitted to suggest a doubt whether, on the whole, it merits the praise of real moderation and good feeling. If we do not judge uncharitably, the author sometimes affects an air of disdain towards his opponents, which is neither becoming, nor consistent with the pains he has taken to confuse their doctrines. Were they, indeed, proper objects of contempt, it should not be forgotten that their industrious antagonist might himself be implicated in the charge of misspending his time by laboring to overthrow a cause which was beneath his notice. As regards the promotion of the Christian spirit among our hostile sects, we scarcely need say that nothing is so deeply provoking, as a studied parade of scorn in a disputant, an assumption of superiority to the business in which he condescends to engage, an affectation of humbling himself to meddle with the paltry notions he attacks. And when Mr. Norton sighs over the unworthy task which has fallen to his lot, and professes that “no scholar or intellectual man' can at this late day engage willingly in disproving a doctrine so utterly obsolete with the great body of enlightened individuals in all countries, as that of the Trinity, he gives his opponents more cause of offence than would be selt from the coarsest expressions of direct abuse. There is something very ungracious, to say the least, in the manner with which he observes that Trinitarianism' presents human nature under the most humiliating aspect. The absurdities that have been maintained are so gross, the zeal in maintaining them has been so ferocious, there is such an absence of any redeeming quality in the spectacle presented, that it spreads a temporary gloom over our whole view of the character and destiny of man. We seem ourselves to sink in the scale of being, and it demands an effort to recollect the glorious powers with which God has endued our race.' Trinitarianism may indeed be thoroughly absurd, and it may have been often supported by the most reprehensible means; but in stating these facts, there was no need to make a show of intolerable disgust, a sickening of his refined nature, at the very thought of the subject. Such an indignity will hardly be atoned for, by the author's subsequent professions of tender esteem for certain friends who hold the disreputable tenet, nor by his inclination to wish that they might leave his book unread, should it chance to fall in their way. We ought to observe, however, that the disdainful airs are confined for the most part to the Preface, and are not obtruded upon our notice in the body of the work. See Preface, pp. iii. iv. XXX. Xxxi. xxxiii. &c.
The object which the author proposes, is, to give a view of the doctrines of Trinitarians, respecting the nature of God, and the person of Jesus Christ; to state the reasons for not believing those doctrines; and to show in what manner the passages of Scripture, urged in their support, ought to be regarded.' This design, which embraces a variety of interesting topics, he has illustrated with many important facts and arguments, some of which lie out of the common course of reading. On the whole, we think he has effectually accomplished what he undertook, though some of his explanations of texts seem to us very questionable, and some of his views altogether objectionable.
In the course of executing his main purpose, however, he has occasion to enter into several discussions of relative subjects, which are sufficiently complete in themselves to be read with advantage in a separate form. Of these, one of the most valuable in our estimation, is that in which he points out some of the fundamental principles of interpreting the language of Scripture. We shall lay before our readers his remarks under this head, since they offer important views of the subject, and expose a material defect in the schemes commonly received.
The great fault of most interpreters is, that they do not allow sufficient scope to the natural suggestions of common sense, which, it should never be forgotten, a reader is always supposed to exercise. They would seemn to proceed on the principle that the Bible was written for such as had no understanding whatsoever of things, except what it first gave them ; and that, of course, we are not to restrain its language by any previous knowledge which we possess, of the nature of the subjects introduced. It is attempted to bind us down to the conclusions of mere philological criticism, how incredible soever may be the result; and we are required to trust that infinite wisdom knows some method of reconciling what appears to us so mysterious and irrational. Now, such interpreters overlook the very ground-work of their art, the intrinsic ambiguity of language ; and they exclude the most important consideration, that every writer and every speaker, whether sacred or profane, addresses mankind as rational creatures, creatures who reason about things, as well as understand the use of words, and that he expects them to modify his language by the facts which they already know, and by the dictates of common sense. On these points, however, we will introduce Mr. Norton's remarks :
"The art of interpretation derives its origin from the intrinsic ambiguity of language. What I mean to express by this term, is the fact, that a very large portion of sentences, considered in themselves, that is, if regard be had merely to the words of which they are composed, are capable of expressing not one meaning only, but two or more different meanings; or, (to state this fact in other terms) that in very many cases the same sentence, like the same single word, may be used to express various and often very different senses. Now, in a great part of what we find