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Dissertation Second.


Calvinus Judaizans“ was the title of a work published at Wittemberg, A.D. 1595, by AEgidius Hunnius. It contained a sharp censure for applying to the temporal state and circumstances of the Jews those prophecies which were supposed to refer spiritually to the Christian Church. The year, however, did not pass away before David Pareus replied, under the title of “Calvinus Orthodoxus.” And all who have perused his comments on this Prophet must vindicate him from the charge of favoring Judaism, and applaud him for wisely neglecting all allegorical significations and mystical expositions. While it will be impossible to discuss the whole question of prophetic interpretation, it will be necessary to state some general views by which we ought to be guided.

The prophecies of the Old Testament were in many instances a divinely provided introduction to the events of the New. In them we may see the outlines of the process by which God was ever educating man for ultimate restoration to His image. They contain a suggestive method of destruction by palpable signs and. wonders, which addressed the soul through their influence on the senses. Their value to the Jew was very different from that to the Christian. To the former they were the highest revelation attainable, while for us they do not reveal a single attribute or purpose of Deity which is not more fully made known through the Gospel dispensation. The Hebrew visions stand to us in the relation of porch to temple, and of dawn to day. They are to the Christian a divine first lesson-book, and contain a series of condescending instructions suited to a low stage of religious and mental life. They were specially appropriate to the people to whom they were bestowed, and of a structure and material in accordance with the dispensation to which they ministered. They were prefigurative and preformative throughout. They were preparatory and thus far excellent, but not “chiefest of all” because not permanent. Like the scaffolding, the growing blade, the finished portrait, they fail in comparison with the stately building, the ripened corn, the living person. Now Calvin avoids the extremes of the merely literal system and of the mystical allegories of the double sense. The former system treats the Old Testament as if it were all written at the same time, and every part of it addressed equally to all men. It excepts the ceremonial observances, and then considers that every sentence is reconcilable with all the rest by a spiritual process of traditionary reasoning. It is sternly opposed to all discrimination between the records of different eras; it admits of nothing gradual, variable, or local. Of the latter system we have an excellent example in the quotation just made from the comparison of Zuingle. He sees Christ and justification by faith everywhere. Not only must Hasmal — a mere color — be an emblem of the Son of God, but all who cannot receive this are branded as unenlightened. The truths which he has received through the gospel are so vividly impressed upon his soul and so thoroughly leaven his spirit, that he sees everything scriptural by this bright light of his inner man. His deficiency is of judgment, not of grace. The question thought not to be, what series of Christian doctrine can be grafted upon the cherubic emblem, but what truths it was intended to convey to the soul of the Prophet and the people, — surely not those of the Augsburgh Confession of Faith. We have to guard against a twofold error: on the one hand, a merely critical and rationalistic interpretation which never proceeds beyond the surface; and, on the other, against a fanciful exposition of figurative language, as if in every case the doctrines, the graces, and the experiences of the New Covenant were intended to be revealed to Hebrew prophets.

Apposite, indeed, was the exclamation of the Jew, when he said of Ezekiel, “Doth he not speak parables?” He had to take a the and draw a city upon it; to shave his head, and divide the her into three significant parts; and the Jew might fairly ask, How is all this to benefit his soul? It could only do so by appealing to the spiritual principle in man’s soul. As the Prophet must eat the roll, so we must to comprehend the meaning of divine emblems, that they may become to us the bread of life. There is a husk around many a spiritual fruit, and often times a stone within it, which seems devoid of nutriment; but still this is the way in which it pleases our heavenly Father to nourish us. All signs, emblems, and sacraments of any true religion are beneficial to us only when we spiritually perceive their inward and animating grace. All that is outward in form and ceremony and machinery is only the vehicle, not the substance, of our support as God’s children, and our growth in his likeness. This foundation truth must be laid firmly as a basis for every portion of the superstructure. The carnal mind never did and never can comprehend the things of the Spirit of God. The power of understanding the meaning must come from the same Deity who sends the vision. On this broad rock of truth we may build every sound interpretation of all the figurative language of Scripture. This principle we may gather from the way in which the early Christian writers explain the symbols of Holy Writ. St. Chrysostom, for instance, treats clearly the lesson we should learn from the seraph’s taking the coal from the altar and touching the Prophet’s lips with its hallowed fire. 354354     Hom. 5 section 3, and compare the Litany of St. James, Ass. Cod. Lit. 5:56. St. Ambrose seems scarcely satisfied with the image — bread of life: he must “eat life.” “Whoso then,” says he, “eateth life cannot die. How should he die whose food is life?” 355355     In Psalm 118. Lit. 18, sec. 28, 48. “and this bread,” he adds, “is the remission of sins.” St. Augustine speaks of “angels feeding on the eternal word,” and of “men eating angels’ food.” 356356     In Psalm 33 En. 1 section 6, and Psalm 78:26. Language like this implies the struggle of the spiritual mind to express itself fully through the medium of carnal language; and what were the Shechinnah and the Seraphim, the Urim and the Thummim, the live goat and the slain goat, but symbols receiving all their significance from the Divine truths which they conveyed to the soul? The worship of the one God through the appointed Mediator was ever the same in its hidden essence, and ever must be, while it is ever varying in its, form, according to the divers needs of our frail humanity. It is flexible exceedingly to the eye and the ear, and unchangeable only in its living spirit. All nature, organic and inorganic, has been used to illustrate it and communicate it, but this never has made, nor can make, the unseen visible. Still the question will recur, Where must we draw the line between the human and the divine in these prophetic visions? No man can draw such a line with accuracy except for himself. Let all who doubt this assertion try to divide mind from matter in the living man. Many have attempted it, and their failures remain to mark the narrow lib, its of their knowledge and the assumed regions of their ignorance. The matured Christian instincts of the cultivate worshipper will be every man’s best guide under the promised teaching of the Holy Spirit. An infallible interpreter is not for us in the flesh; the interpreting Spirit must dwell within us, otherwise we shall see nothing but the outward aspect of the gorgeous vision. The inspiration within must harmonize with that without, which is not verbal but ideal. The heaven-wrought ideas of the Hebrew Prophets protect themselves.

We do not require either a verbal or literal theopneustia: the truths themselves by their own imperishableness defeat the mortality of the language with which they are associated. They reverberate and percolate through all the pages of the mighty record; they hide themselves obscurely in one chapter only to emerge more clearly in another; they diverge in one book only to recombine in another; so that to the sympathizing soul Scripture is ever a self-sufficing interpreter. Hence we are not careful to defend Calvin’s interpretations as faultless: theology as a science has advanced rapidly during three hundred years; and while some of his expositions have become antiquated, we still uphold him as “orthodoxus.” The law of development operates in the moral as well as in the physical universe. “Draw a cordon sanitaire,” says a modern reviewer, “against dandelion or thistle-down, and see if the armies of earth would suffice to interrupt this process of radiation, which yet is but the distribution of weeds. The secret implications of the truth have escaped at a thousand points in vast arches above our heads, rising high above the garden wall, and have sown the earth with memorials of the mystery which they envelop.” 357357     Review of “Vindication of Protestant Principles.” — Tait’s Mag. page 758. 1847.

A second principle which we must bear in mind is, that every prophetic revelation was expressly adapted to the capacity of its original recipients. The extrinsic agency is always transitory. We of later generations learn enough if we profit by the latent and permanent essence. Hence the interpretation of the cherubim by the four evangelists is utterly untenable: and all such suppositions are indexes of a state of mind wholly incompetent to unfold prophetic mysteries. The very occurrence of hundreds of crude guesses like this, implies the necessity of submitting the prophetic emblems to some general laws of exposition. The highest criticism and the profoundest scholarship should be applied to them, that we may at once ignore all traditions which are proved to be corruptions. These prophecies presuppose a moral responsibility in the people to whom they were addressed; and hence they were fitted to awaken this feeling when dormant, to frighten it when morbidly perverted, and to animate it when righteously sensitive. Calvin’s assertion that the living creatures and the wheels imply that God by his angels guides the physical motions of the earth, the air, and the sea, (Ezekiel 1:21,) is altogether untenable. Revelation does not teach anything which human philosophy can discover. It manifests its whole aim and essence to be moral, lying in that region of our nature which is under the sway of the conscience, and the will rather than of the intellect. These emblematic visions appeal to the affections and aspirations of soul, to the energies of reverence and faith, of wonder and of love. They have to do with what is infinite and unseen, the immeasurable and the unattainable. Hence they are rather divine agencies for quickening, stimulating, and directing man’s highest nature. They assist us towards attaining a true idea of God, they show us our own insignificant vileness and littleness, and suggest the possibility of an atonement of these two. They stir up our attention to the threatenings and the promises of an Invisible Person, which can influence us only by being believed, and enforce the commands of ineffable wisdom, which can benefit us only by being obeyed. They present to our thoughts the idea of condescending mediation, the infinitely holy condescending to purify and to abide with the morally unclean. They may further imply the general providence over the chosen race, as well as the special guidance of individuals; the molding into its preordained shape all their future history, and yet not sensibly controlling the will of agents left responsible for their every action. No discoveries of science can ever interfere with such an interpretation as this, and those who adopt it need never fear the necessity for changing it when the progress of physical knowledge must lead us to alter our views of other interpretations. It, belongs to a region of our nature completely separable from that which comprehends either the niceties of language, or the laws of the physical universe. There is a wide gulf, deep and impassable, between the moral and the intellectual departments of our nature. The imperfect state of physical science at the time of the Reformation is a sufficient apology for the mistakes of reformers; but their ignorance is not pardonable in us. We need not Judaize, and yet we may be apt scholars in all Hebrew lore, and orthodox interpreters of the Sacred Word of the Most high.

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