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volume, and as little that is merely hypothetical; but, throughout, the matters discussed have been derived directly from Scripture, which has been followed as the sole guide1 upon the various topics which have come under examination: and upon none of them, I trust, will it be found that I have at any time ventured to dogmatize, or to make assertions for which proofs have not been advanced. I may have failed in my attempt at demonstration, but at least the attempt has been made. I have rigidly endeavoured to assume nothing; and if at any time the argument should appear somewhat prolix, this must be my apology.
In some respects, the work may be said to be the first of its kind.2 I will venture to hope that it will not be the last, but that it will be followed by others of more ability, which, while proceeding on the same principles of research, will extend the inquiry into topics that I have not touched upon, or perfect others which I have left in an incomplete state. There is yet much to be done, and no surprise should be felt if this should continue to be the case; for, as remarked by BUTLER3, with almost prophetic foresight, "As, it is owned, the whole scheme of Scripture is not yet understood, so, if it
1 I have no fear as to the final result of the existing controversy on the authority of Scripture, and have written accordingly.
2 Dr. Burnet's celebrated work, the Theory of the Earth, the physics of which are entirely fanciful, forms, properly, no exception to the above remark.
Analogy, Part II. c. iii.
ever comes to be understood before the restitution of all things,' and without miraculous interpositions, it must be in the same way as natural knowledge is come at by the continuance and progress of learning and liberty; and by particular persons attending to, comparing and pursuing, intimations scattered up and down it, which are overlooked and disregarded by the generality of the world. For this is the way in which all improvements are made: by thoughtful men's tracing on obscure hints, as it were, dropped us by nature accidentally, or which seem to come into our minds by chance. Nor is it at all incredible, that a book which has been so long in the possession of mankind should contain many truths as yet undiscovered. For all the same phenomena, and the same faculties of investigation, from which such great discoveries in natural knowledge have been made in the present and last age, were equally in the possession of mankind several thousand years before. And possibly it might be intended that events, as they come to pass, should open and ascertain the meaning of several parts of Scripture."
In exact keeping and harmony with this, we find another of the great ornaments of our country remarking:"To conclude, therefore, let no man, upon a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think, or maintain, that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the Book of God's word, or in
the book of God's works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress, or proficience in both."
It is but too well known that the way in which the subject of prophecy has, with some few exceptions, been treated, has rendered even its very name distasteful to sober-minded men, who have, perhaps, only occasionally directed their attention to it, and who have, therefore, seen little more than the fanciful interpretations which have been given to many of the expressions of Scripture, and which have made them feel that the language of the Bible may, in this way, be made to mean almost anything which a lively fancy can suggest, and that anything like certainty with regard to its meaning is not to be expected. I venture to entertain a hope that a very different result has, in some respects at least, been attained in the present work so far as it goes, I do so, not because I arrogate to myself any superior discernment, but because I have sought throughout to place myself under the guidance of an essentially different principle of interpretation to that which has, alas! been so generally followed.
There are two methods or principles of prophetical interpretation—the one usually termed the Figurative, the other the Literal. The former allows large room for the exercise of the imagination in determining the meaning of a prophecy; the latter excludes every thing
of the kind, and compels all alike to receive one, definite, and comparatively obvious meaning, which they must endeavour to understand as best they can. It insists that the prophetical Scriptures should be understood in their plain, natural, and grammatical sense, just as all the other parts of the Bible are to be taken, and just as we are in the habit of dealing with every other book of a rational character. This is as a rule. It must not, however, be inferred from it that there are no exceptions to the rule, or that it is easy in all cases to apply it. Far from it all language is more or less figurative, and it is frequently difficult to say whether we have to deal with mere figure or positive symbol; and hence no clearly defined rule can be laid down which will meet all the varieties of the question. Regard must be had to various considerations, such as the nature of the case, the subject-matter, the context, the style of the writing, whether it be prose or poetry, and whether narrative or symbolic vision, before a conclusion can be arrived at. But yet, I conceive, abundantly sufficient may be proved, and has been already proved, in the discussion of the subject which has of late years more especially been carried on, to establish a broad line of distinction between the two principles referred to, and also with regard to their application. There may be, and there are, numerous cases in which it is difficult to determine which must be followed; but in very many others the application of the latter, the literal, namely, admits, I conceive, of positive demonstration. Of this
class 2 Pet. iii. 13, may be specified as an instance; and Isai. xl. 31, of the other. As to which of the two is to be followed in reference to any particular passage, is a question which can only be determined by a discussion of the character of the passage, and by a careful comparison of it with other portions of Scripture. This has been done to a greater or less extent, as the nature of the case required, throughout the following work. When I have considered that a positive result was attainable I have not hesitated to say so, nor to admit, on the other hand, my inability, in other cases, to come to any safe or certain conclusion. But it will be found that, as a rule, I have strictly, and, I hope, consistently followed the literal principle as a guide, and have fairly endeavoured to meet the results which, in the cases discussed, it brings before us,
The course which I have pursued while endeavouring to carry it out, has been simply the following: - The meaning of the prophecy having been discovered or determined, I have endeavoured to view the things predicted, when of a physical nature, in the light of legitimate science, and have sought, in the world of actual nature, either past or present, for illustrative examples of what, it is probable, we should understand by them. How far I have been successful must be left to the judgment and decision of my readers.