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IX.

SERMON wonder, I say, that this customary, this au

thorized, this admired strain of language should be that in which the sacred writers conveyed their highest and most important revelations to mankind

Nor let any man take offence at the condescension of the divine Inspirer, as though he degraded himself, by his compliance with the humours and fancies of those to whom his inspirations were addressed. For let him reflect, that in what form of words soever it shall please God to communicate himself to man, it must still be in a way, that implies the utmost, indeed the same, condescension to our weaknesses and infirmities; nay, that immediate inspiration itself, though coming through no medium of language, is of necessity to be accommodated to our methods of perceiving and understanding, how imperfect soever they are.

Besides, if external revelation be possible, it must be given in some one mode of speech or writing, in preference to others. And, if we consider how ancient, how general, how widely diffused, this symbolic style has been, and still is, in the world; how necessary it is to rude nations, and how taking with the most refined; how large a proportion of the globe this prace

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tice had over-run before, and at the time of SERMON

IX. writing the prophecies, and what vast regions of the South and East, not yet professing the faith, but hereafter, as we presume, to be enlightened by it, the same practice, at this day, overspreads; when we consider all this, we shall cease perhaps to admire, that the style in question was adopted, rather than any other ; or we shall only admire the divine goodness and wisdom of its Author, who had contrived beforehand, in the very form of this revelation, what may possibly help to bring on and facilitate the reception of it. Certainly, it may become us, on such an occasion, to enlarge our ideas a little; and not to conclude hastily and peremptorily that, when a general blessing was intended by Providence, the mode of conveying it should be instituted singly with an eye to our local notions and confined

prejudices, and with no regard to the more prevailing sentiments and expectations of mankind.

In the mean time, it is past a doubt that the hieroglyphic style was predominant in the ancient world; in Judæa, particularly, from the times of Moses to the coming of Christ. There was indeed a degree of obscurity in it, so far at least as to furnish the Jews, who had

SERMON

IX.

no mind to listen to their Prophets, with a pretence of not understanding them (as we see from the complaint brought against the prophet Ezekiel in the text, Doth he not speak Parables ?) yet still, it cannot be denied, That this mode of writing was of common and approved use in the ages, when the prophecies were delivered, and among the people, to whom they were addressed.

.

Our FIRST proposition is then reasonably made out; and so much of the SECOND, as affirms that the prophetic style is constructed on such principles as make it the subject of just criticism and rational interpretation. For it was constructed, as we have seen, on the symbolic principles of the hieroglyphics ; which were not vague uncertain things; but fixed and constant analogies, determinable in their own nature, or from the steady use that was made of them. And a language, formed on such principles, may be reasonably interpreted upon them. So that what remains is only to shew, that there are means, by which this abstruse language may become intelligible to us, at this day.

II. That there are such means, you will easily collect, without requiring me to come to a detail on so immense a subject, from the SERMON following considerations.

IX.

1. Some light may be expected to arise from the study of the prophecies themselves. For the same symbols, or figures, recur frequently in those writings: and, by comparing one passage with another; the darker prophecies with the more perspicuous; the unfulfilled, with such as have been completed; and those which have their explanation annexed to them, with those that have not; by this course of inquiry, I say, there is no doubt but some considerable progress may be made in fixing the true and proper meaning of this mysterious language.

2. Very much of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, on which, as we have seen, the prophetic style was fashioned, may be learned from many ancient records and monuments, still subsisting; and from innumerable hints and passages, scattered through the Greek antiquaries and historians, which have been carefully collected and compared by learned men.

3. The Pagan superstitions of every form and species, which were either derived from Egypt, or conducted on hieroglyphic notions, have been of singular use in commenting on

IX.

Sermon the Jewish prophets. Their Omens, Augury,

and Judicial Astrology seem to have proceeded on symbolic principles; the mystery being only this, That such objects, as in the hieroglyphic pictures, were made the symbols of certain ideas, were considered as omens of the things themselves. Thus, the figure of a horse, being the symbol of prosperity and success in arms, when a head of this animal was found in laying the foundations of Carthage, the Soothsayers concluded, that the character of that state would be warlike, and its fortune prosperous: or, thus again, because the sun was the common emblem of a King, or supreme governor in any state, an eclipse of this luminary was thought to indicate the ruin, or diminution, at least, of his power and fortune; and the superstition is not quite extinct at this

day b.

But, of all the Pagan superstitions, that which is known by the name of Oneirocritics, or the art of interpreting dreams, is most directly to our purpose. There is a curious trea

b Hence, the allusion of our great poet,

or from behind the moon In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds On half the nations, and with fear of change Perplexes monarchs - P, L. i. 596.

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