« PreviousContinue »
the word of God was efficacious, and the people were edified. The same way of teaching was observed in the middle ages, 'till the times of the reformation; and even then our best scholars still drew their divine oratory, particularly the learned and accomplished Erasmus, from the spiritual wisdom of the first ages. To revive and promote which, within my own little sphere, is the design of this and the following lectures: in all which I shall invariably follow the rule of making the scripture its own interpreter. And now I have opened the way by shewing in what respects and for what reasons the style of the scripture differs from that of other books, and that it is symbolical or figurative; I propose with God's leave to distinguish the figures of the scripture into their proper kinds, with examples and explanations in each kind, from the scripture itself.
ON THE FIGURES WHICH ARE FOUND IN THE LANGUAGE OF THE SCRIPTURE, AND THE SEVERAL KINDS OF THEM.
IT hath been shewn in the former Lecture, that as the scripture teaches spiritual things which cannot be taught in words, the wisdom of God hath made use of things, as signs and figures, to explain them. This is done for several reasons: first, because we cannot conceive things of a spiritual nature but by borrowing our notions of them from the things that are visible and familiar to our senses. Secondly, because the scripture can speak under this form to some men, and reveal many things to them, while the same words reveal nothing to others like that pillar in the wilderness, which was a cloud of darkness to the Egyptians,
Egyptians, while it gave light to the Hebrews. Thirdly because an outward sign, such as those of the scripture are, becomes a pledge and an evidence of the thing signified; as it doubtless is a wonderful confirmation of the gospel to see its mysteries exactly delineated so long before in the services of the law of Moses; and much more to see them written in the characters of nature itself.
The things which the scripture uses as figures of other things are taken, 1. From the natural creation, or world of sensible objects. 2. From the institutions of the law. 3. From the per sons of the prophets and holy men of old time. 4. From the history of the church. 5. From the actions of inspired men, which in many instances were not only miracles but signs of something beyond themselves, and conformable to the general plan of our salvation and redemption.
These are the materials of that figurative language in which the bible is written; and of the several kinds of them, as here distinguished, I shall treat in their order, after I have given a general description of each.
1. When any object is taken from the visible creation, and applied as an illustration or sign of some spiritual truth, we call it a natural
image. The scripture calls them similitudes; as in that passage of the prophet Hosea-I have multiplied visions, and used similitudes by the ministry of the prophets *. A discourse made up of such is called a parable; a form of speech which our Saviour as a divine teacher thought most agreeable to the nature of his own preaching, and to the wants of his hearers. In which, however, he only did what the scripture had always done; he instructed the eyes of the understanding by placing some natural object be fore them; and as the visible world throughout is a pattern of the invisible, the figures of the sacred language built upon the images of nature, are as extensive as the world itself; so that it would be a vain undertaking to interpret all the figures which are reducible to this
Hofea xii. 10.
2. Other figures are borrowed from the insti tutions of the ceremonial law, which are applied to the things of the gospel; and in this capacity the law is all figure. It is nothing considered in itself but a copy, a shadow of good things to come; and as a shadow, it had only the form, not the substance, (or very image, as the scripture calls it) of the things hoped for. Its elements were like those of the gospel in form;
and therefore it was a schoolmaster, a teacher of such elements as prepared the mind for the reception of a spiritual dispensation, in which its shadows are now realized.
When our Saviour Jesus Christ is called a priest, a character is given to him, which cannot be understood till we go back to the law. There we see what a priest was, and what he did; and thence we learn the nature of our Saviour's priestly office. And as the whole law, in its ritual, consisted chiefly of priestly ministration; then, if the priest himself was figurative, his ministration was so likewise, and consequently the law was a pattern of the gospel.
3. The things relating to our Saviour's person, that is, to his birth, dignity, actions, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glorification, were foreshewn in the history of other great and remarkable persons, who, in the former ages of the church, were saviours upon occasion to their people, or examples of persecuted innocence, truth, and holiness, as he was to be. Such persons acting, or suffering, or triumphing, in this prophetic capacity, are called types. In the gospel they are called figns; and as a specimen for the present, we may take the two characters of Jonah and Solomon, as referred to in the 11th chapter of St.