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SERMON jectures: or, if it were, it would only follow
that they, who made them, had been rash and indiscreet in commenting too minutely and confidently on prophecies unfulfilled; and it would be weak, as we have seen, to contract a prejudice against the subject itself from the mistakes of such commentators.
V. After all, the main and master prejudice, I doubt, is, that levity of mind which disposes too many to take their notions on this, and other subjects of moment, from certain polite and popular, it may be, but frivolous and libertine writers: men, who have no religion, or not enough to venerate the prophetic scriptures; who have no knowledge, or certainly not enough to understand them.
But with such cavillers, as these, I have no concern; this Lecture, and the subject of it, being addressed to men of another character, to fair, candid, sober, and enlightened inquirers, only: For so the inspired person, who first announced these wonders concerning Antichrist, to mankind, expressly declares, or rather prophesies — None of the wicked shall understand: but THE WISE shall understand o
• Daniel xii. 10.
- They say of me, Doth he not speak
IN recounting the various prejudices, which
SERMON scriptures, as well as those respecting Anti
christ; is concerned) I have purposely reserved it for a distinct and separate examination.
WITHOUT DOUBT, a plain man, brought up in our customs and notions, and unacquainted with theological studies, when he first turns himself to the contemplation of the Jewish and Christian prophecies, will be surprised, perhaps disgusted, to find, that he understands little, or nothing of them. His modesty may incline him to think, that such writings are too mysterious for his comprehension: or, his laziness and presumption may dispose him to reject them, at once, as perfectly unintelligible; to consider the language of them, as a jargon, to which no ideas are annexed; or, at least, as a kind of cypher, of so wild and fanatical a texture, that no clear and certain construction can be made of it.
Now, this prejudice, whichever
way points, will be obviated, if it can be shewn,
1. That the prophetic style was of common and approved use, in the times when the prophecies were delivered, and
the people to whom they were addressed.
2. That this style, how dark or fanciful soever it may appear, is yet reducible to rule ; that is, is constructed on such principles, as make it the subject of just criticism and reasonable interpretation; and, in particular, to us, at this day.
For a language is not fanatical, that is authorised by general practice ; nor can it be deemed unintelligible, when it is capable of having its meaning ascertained.
I. The proof of these two points will most conveniently be given together, in a deduction of the causes, which produced the character of the prophetic style.
That character, I believe, is truly given by those who affirm, That the style of the prophets was only the poetical, and highly figurative style of the Eastern nations. But if
you go farther and ask, How it came to pass, that
, the oriental poetry was so much more figurative than ours,
not be enough to say, as many others have done, that this difference of character was owing to the influence of the sun, and to the superior heat and fervour, which it
gave to an eastern imagination. For I know not whether there be reason to think, that the sun hath any such effect on the powers of the mind; or that the fancies of men are, apter to catch, and blaze out in metaphor, within a warm climate, than a cold one: a figurative cast of style being observable in the native poetry of all countries; and that, so far as appears from history and experience, in a pretty equal degree.
Besides, if the fact were allowed, the answer would scarce be sufficient. For, as we shall presently see, the symbolic language of Prophecy, is too consistent and uniform, hath too much of art and method in it, to be deriyed from the casual flights and sallies of the imagination only, how powerfully soever you suppose
it to have operated in the prophets.
We then must go much deeper for a true account of the emblematic and highly coloured expression, which glares so strongly in the prophetic scriptures: and we shall find it, partly, in the nature of the human mind; and, partly, in the genius, indeed, of the oriental nations, and especially of the Jews, but as fashioned, not by the influence of their climate, but by the modes of their learning and institution.