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The late Mr. Davison speaks thus of the structure and use of Ancient Prophecy :

“I. The character of Prophecy is not simple and uniform, nor its light equable. It was dispensed in various degrees of revelation, and that revelation adapted by the wisdom of God to purposes which we must explore by studying its records and considering its capacity of application.

“II. The principal age of prophecy is from Samuel to Malachi. From the fall to the flood, and from thence to the call of Abraham, its communications are few. In the Patriarchal age they are enlarged. During the Bondage in Egypt they are discontinued, but renewed with the Law.

A pause of them during 400 years follows the Law, and a pause of the like duration precedes the Gospel.

“III. The subjects of prophecy are varied. Whilst it was all directed to one general design, in the evidence and support of religion, there was a diversity in the administration of the Spirit in respect of that design. In Paradise, it gave the first hope of a Redeemer. After the deluge, it established the [11] peace of the natural world. In Abraham it founded the double Covenant of Canaan and the Gospel. In the age of the Law it spake of the second Prophet, and foreshadowed in types the Christian Doctrine, but foretold most largely the future state of the selected people who were placed under that preparatory Dispensation. In the time of David it revealed the Gospel Kingdom with the promise of the Temporal. In the days of the later prophets, it pre-signified the changes of the Mosaic Covenant, embraced the history of the chief Pagan Kingdoms, and completed the annunciation of the Messiah and his work of Redemption. After the Captivity it gave a last and more urgent information of the approaching Advent of the Gospel.

“The Holy Jesus and his Religion are the one principal object of Prophecy, the beginning and the end of the elder revelation of God. St. Paul has intimated the varied form and different degrees of light under which prophecy was successively dispensed, when he says of it, that God, in sundry partitions of his truth, (roauuws) and in divers manners, spake in times past unto the Fathers by the Prophets.

To this must be added the blessed fact, which we see everywhere, that the grand result of Prophecy is the ultimate and everlasting triumph of Christ, and his kingdom over all the earth—the head of the serpent bruised, and all nations blessed in the seed of the woman; the love of God, while it developes the stubbornness of evil, finally triumphs over it, to the praise of the glory of his grace.




[12] The following Rules for the investigation of Prophecy, may, it is hoped, assist the student, and guard him against being carried away by mere speculation: for several parts of the directions here given, the author has been indebted to the last chapter of Vitringa's work. (Typus Doctrinæ Propheticæ.)

“The interpretation of Prophecy (2 Pet. i. 19, 20,) consists in ascertaining the events to which predictions allude, and in shewing the agreement between the images of the prediction, and the particulars of the history. The original word etiauous expresses this particular sort of interpretation, that exposition which renders the mystic sense of parables, dreams, and pro


1. TO GAIN THE TEACHING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, is the first of all requisites with reference to a due understanding of prophecy, whether fulfilled or unfulfilled. This is clear from our Lord's statement, (John xvi. 13,) “when He the Spirit of truth is come, he (13] will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak, and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine and shall shew it unto you." No doubt, this promise was in it highest sense realized in the inspired writers of the New Testament, and in the predictions recorded in their writings; but the same spirit is required to give us understanding of the words of the Spirit. Even the inspired writers needed prayer for this teaching, as we see by the constant prayers of David for divine teaching, and the inquiring and searching diligently of the prophets, and the practical and personal revelation to them of the design of their prophecies. (1 Peter i. 10–12.)

We must not expect, we need not, that extraordinary illumination of the Spirit which inspired the sacred writers. The ordinary guidance of the Spirit, is however promised to all. (Luke xi. 13.) He removes prejudices which hinder the faculties of knowledge and judgment from attaining even the historical and literal sense of prophecy, and leads men to submit to God's truth willingly. "The teaching of the same Spirit is specially needed in things of a spiritual character, relating

* See Bishop Horsley.


to Christ and his kingdom, and its blessings and privileges. None can perceive the true and interior sense of these things, but he who is in the faith-a spiritual man-endued both with the understanding and experience of the benefits. If we humbly and earnestly ask the aid of the Holy Spirit, with confession of our ignorance and weakness, and even stupidity, he will succour us with his grace, and remove the veil from our eyes and from the things themselves. The record, Zech. [14] iv. 5, 13, 14; Dan. vii. 16; Rev. xvii. 7; and the inquiries there made as to the prophecies being understood, with the answers given, may shew us how willing God is that we should understand his revealed purposes.

3. A BELIEVING, PRAYERFUL, HUMBLE, SUBMISSIVE, AND OBEDIENT STATE OF HEART is very needful to give effect to every other rule. We must bring to this study a pure and sober mind, free from erroneous anticipations; not thinking slightly of, but reverencing God and his Word, and prepared to admit every part of his revealed will, with the obedience of faith. Eyes single, harmless and simple towards God and his word, are required; not distorted and turned back by men's opinions. This, too, is a benefit coming from the divine bounty. The aid of the Holy Spirit is to be implored, to work in us these good and holy affections of mind, and to preserve them when wrought; so that he may enlighten the mind, remove the veil, direct us aright, and keep us from things to be avoided. The saints have in all ages acknowledged this to be the work of the Holy Ghost. (Psalm xliii. 3; cxix. 18, 27, 66.) Certainly, in the light of God we see light. Psalm xxxvi. 9. Hé who wants this is in darkness, though he may appear to himself to be especially wise.

3. COMMENCE THIS STUDY WITH THE WORD OF GOD. This is the fountain head; the whole source of all prophetical knowledge; nothing is of any value, but as it is founded on, and illustrative of, the divine testimony. It is, therefore, of especial importance to read first, and carefully, God's own word; beginning with the earlier predictions, and going on to the close; such easy books as Brown's Harmony of [15] Scripture Prophecies, or Simpson's Key, or Newton on the Prophecies, will shew you that rich stream of Prophecy which runs through all the word of God. In forming your sentiments on expressions, take an enlarged view of the whole of a prophecy, before you determine the meaning of a particular sentence in it: for some have taken a single sentence, and applied it to quite a different purpose than to its original use: mark what the prophet himself or other scriptures testify respecting the time and circumstances of the prophecy; in what year he

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wrote, under what kings, for Judah or for Israel. This may sometimes be ascertained from the things stated; at least, as far as to point out before, or after, what time they were spoken.

4. Take THE PLAIN LITERAL MEANING OF THE EXPRESSIONS, where they are not evidently symbolical. Few things have occasioned more perverted views than figurative interpretation of plain expressions. It has thrown away much of the prophetical use and instruction of lengthened and important predictions. There is, indeed, in almost all the prophecies, and especially in the Revelation, a mixture of symbolical and literal expressions, but the figure or symbol may, generally, be easily distinguished from the plain letter, which must as little as possible be departed from. This rule may be, and has been abused; but it is still important to bear it in mind, lest, for instance, without scriptural authority we apply to the Gentiles what God intended for the Jews; and to the awful destruction of Jerusalem, the much-desired blessing of the second coming of Christ for the salvation of his people. In most cases, what is symbolical is manifestly so; and there is need only of the ordinary [16] judgment of a sober mind so to interpret it, though the meaning of the symbol may be more difficult. The literal meaning, as expressed in the text, must, where there is no adequate necessity for leaving it, always primarily attended to and made out, and adhered to; and this is only to be departed from when necessity, the context, or subsequent inspiration directs us to a symbolical, or enlarged meaning. Thus the book of Revelation has, by applying the name Babylon to Rome, and by varied uses of expressions of the Old Testament, led us to expect in subsequent events of the Roman empire, a fulfilment in the symbolical Babylon, of those predictions that have not been yet fulfilled in the history of the Iiteral Babylon.*

5. DILIGENTLY COMPARE ONE PART OF SCRIPTURE WITH ANOTHER. No rule is more important for the right investigation of prophecy than this. One scheme, one argument, runs through, not only the more prophetical parts, but the whole volume of scripture. They are parts of the entire work of a single mind-God himself. They all proceeded, as Horsley observes, from one author—the Holy Ghost: "that omniscient mind to which the universe is ever present, in one unvaried, undivided thought!—the entire comprehension of the visible and intelligible world, with its ineffable variety of mortal and immortal natures; that mind in which all science, truth, and knowledge is summed up, and comprehended in one vast idea?” Moses and Elias, and we may add, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, David, and the whole choir of prophets, (as Vitringa puts it,) here confer together between themselves and [17] Christ. (Matt. xvii. 3.) Thus shall we be taught the entire harmony and agreement between them; and that each speaks nothing but what the whole speaks. God has also graciously given links or clauses in one prophet, parallel with those of another, the combination of which throws light on the connection of one prophecy with another, just as the comparison of one statement of doctrine with another, throws light upon the general truth revealed. For instance, the Revelation is full of references to former Prophets, and contains a concentrated index, and an analytical view of the chief substance of those prophecies which were unaccomplished when it was written.

* This rule will be further noticed in a distinct chapter.

Bishop Horsley, in his four Sermons on 2 Peter i. 20, 21. has many striking remarks illustrative of this rule, and shewing that no prophecy of scripture is made its own interpreter, or of self-interpretation. He remarks, “the maxim is to be applied both to every single text of prophecy, and to the whole. Of any single text of prophecy, it is true that it cannot be its own interpreter, for this reason: because the scripture prophecies are not detached predictions of separate independent events, but are united in a regular and entire system, all terminating in one great object-the promulgation of the gospel, and the complete establishment of the Messiah's kingdom. Of this system every particular prophecy makes a part, and bears a more immediate, or a more remote relation to that which is the object of the whole. It is, therefore, very unlikely that the true signification of any particular text of prophecy should be discovered from the bare attention to the terms of the single prediction taken by itself, without considering it as a part of that system to which it unquestionably [18] belongs, and without observing how it may stand connected with earlier and later prophecies, especially with those which might more immediately precede or more immediately follow it. Again, of the whole of the Scripture prophecies, it is true, that it cannot be its own interpreter. Its meaning never can be discovered without a general knowledge of the principal events to which it alludes. Every particular prophecy is to be referred to the system, and to be understood in that sense which may most aptly connect it with the whole, and the sense of prophecy in general is to be sought in the events which have actually taken place.”

6. CAREFULLY MARK THE SCRIPTURAL INTERPRETATION OF PROPHECIES. There is much that is symbolical and figurative, but you will find few symbols of the meaning of which the

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