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ON THE FIGURATIVE EXPRESSIONS OF EZEKIEL.
THE most cursory observers of Ezekiel’s peculiarities must notice the highly figurative character of his visions. The princes of Israel are whelps, their mother a lioness. A great eagle comes down with one fell swoop upon the mountains of Lebanon, and plucks off the topmost boughs of its lofty cedars. Here we have to connect what logicians call the protasis with the Apodosis, and out of the sensible similitude to ascertain the mystical explanation. The canon laid down by Glasse is of constant utility: — “In parabolis, si integre accipiantur, tria, sunt: radix, cortex, et medulla sive fructus. Radix est scopus in quem tendit parabola. Cortex est similitudo sensibilis, quae adhibetur, et suo sensu literali constat. Medulla seu fructus est sensus parabolae mysticus, seu ipsa res ad quam parabolae fit accommodatio, seu quae per similitudinem propositam significatur.” Philologia Sacra, lib. 2 pars. 1 tr. 2, sect. 5, canon 3: Lipsiae, 1725. It only is it necessary to ascertain the literal meaning of the figurative expression, but we must always proceed one step farther before we can profi, by the metaphor. The medulla — the res ipsa — is still to be discovered, and this alone it is which brings profit to the soul. We must not only comprehend the figure and its literal interpretation, but we must take one step beyond this, and comprehend what divines call the mystical sense. We may attain to the “science of correspondences” without adopting the fancies of Emmanuel Swedenborg; but what he diligently and erroneously thought we must endeavor to find. With VanMildert, in his Bampton Lectures, we use the word mystical in its true and classical rather than in its present and popular meaning; and though we have no special affection for the word: we contend earnestly with the lecturer for the idea which it expresses. This inner sense will not, from its very nature, be crippled by the details of the natural allegory. The very essence of spiritual thought is mobility and indefiniteness. The great master of Roman eloquence has wisely observed — “Non enim res tota toti rei necesse est similis sit: sed ad ipsum, ad quod conferetur, similitudinem habeat, oportet.” 358358 M. T. Cicero ad Herennium. Edit. Bipont, volume 1 page 122. The same idea is expressed by Saurin in his Historical Discourses — “Non seulement il n’est pas necessaire que chacun de leur membres ait une veu particuliere, qui se rapporte directement au but de celui qui la propose: il faut meme que ce but soit en quelque sort cache sous des images etrangeres destinees a l’enveloper.” 359359 Volume 3. page 405. As the correct elucidation of these points is of the greatest importance, every light which can be thrown on them has its value. Bishop Warburton, for instance, in the midst of his elaborate and in-digested paradoxes, is led to discuss the nature of types and symbols, visions and figures, and he treats them with clearness, precision, and ability. He lays the foundation for their use in the compound nature of man. He shows how the Egyptians, Mexicans, and Chinese, communicated ideas through the senses by signs, hieroglyphics, and picture-writing of all kinds. He quotes Ezekiel 31 as a striking instance of well-applied metaphor: “for men,” says he, “so conversant in matters, still wanted sensible images to convey abstract ideas.” 360360 Div. Leg., lib. 4, section 4. He adduces Ezekiel 24, as an instance of a parable purposely used “to throw obscurity over the information,” just as the tropical hieroglyphic was turned into the tropical symbol. He treats the “dark saying” of Ezekiel 17:2, as a riddle more involved than a parable; “for the nature of God’s dispensations required enigmas, and the genius of those times made them natural.” The course of his argument leads him to comment at full length on the celebrated vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, 361361 Div. Leg., lib. 6 section 2. and to discuss the logical value of the assertion, “All words that are used in a figurative sense must be first understood in a literal.” Perhaps it may be better to say, All figures of speech are intended to convey to the mind an image of something real, and they are useless to us unless we thus apprehend their literal meaning. But Warburton did not see the next step in the process of deriving spiritual destruction from the visions of the Holy Spirit of God. He was not spiritually enlightened, and failed to do more than expound the letter of Scripture. We need, besides this, the divine teaching of the Holy Spirit, that we may apprehend what Bishop Van Mildert calls, in his celebrated Bampton Lectures, the mystical sense. “The importance” says Bishop Horne, in his preface to the Psalms, “of the mystical interpretation can hardly be called in question;” “without it, the spirit and power of many passages will almost wholly evaporate.” The learned Rambach, in his Sacred Hermeneutics, (page 81,) has adduced several instances in confirmation of these observations. The spiritual man only can thus pierce through the letter, and grasp the very marrow of God’s word: the carnal mind is in this respect utterly blind, for these things are only spiritually discerned. The word mystical may seem fanatical to some, but, taken in its scholastic sense, it is easily appreciable by all who know anything of profound criticism. Rambach has justly laid it down — “Est regula theologorum, sensum mysticum non esse argumentativum.” (Just. Hem. Sac., p. 72.) It appeals not so much to the intellect as to the conscience, not to the mental comprehension, but to the heaven-born life of the soul; and if this be wanting, all argument on the point is thrown away. The spiritual interpretation may be abused, like all other good things. Cocceius, for instance, affords a remarkable instance of this error, as well as some of the Puritan Divines; but no sensible man denies the value of a possession because some are foolish enough to misuse it. 362362 For Cocceius, see Mosheim, Ecc. Hist. Cent. 17 section 2, page 2; and for cautions against over spiritualizing, see Revelation J. J. Conybeare’s Bampton Lectures for 1824; and Bishop Van Mildert’s Bampton Lectures, page 241, and following.
On all sides we have to tread with the utmost caution, and may well listen to the voice of Jerome on Galatians 1. “Nec putemus in verbis Scripturarum esse Evangelium, sed in sensu. Non in superficie, sed in medulla: non in sermonum foliis, sed in radice rationis.” But even this view, truthful as it seems, may be abused; for in our own day we find the anti-materialism of the universe denied. Who would suppose, that at the close of the first half of this nineteenth century we should hear of a publication, bearing’ the ominous title, “The Anti-Materialist: Denying the reality of Matter, and Vindicating’ the Universality of Spirit?” 363363 By John Dudley, Clerk. 1 volume 8vo. If this were the whole title, it would not concern us here; but when it is added, “proved chiefly by a reference to Holy Writ,” with another sentence, implying that such speculations can settle the points in dispute between those who affirm and those who deny the orthodoxy of Established Churches, such assumptions cause us to sigh over the endless follies of our nature. Such reasoners first of all assume what is Holy Writ., and then apply their own previously-conceived notions to distort and derange it. The very title of such a work implies the greatest possible irreverence for the Divine Oracles; the most unjustifiable assumptions, and the most unfair contrasts. “The universality of spirit” is strictly and essentially co-existent with “the reality of matter.” Every word which we have uttered in this short epilogue is intended to uphold and illustrate such a proposition’ it is only necessary to append to it, that through material existences — as trees, cities, food, and clothing — we become capable of comprehending the wants, the nourishment, and the nature of our spiritual manhood. Suitable in every respect; is the judicious reasoning of Origen, which sixteen centuries have rather confirmed than confuted. “If ever, in reading Holy Scripture, you encounter an idea which becomes to thee a stone of stumbling or a rock of offense, accuse only thyself: doubt not that this stone of stumbling and rock of offense has an important meaning: νοήματα — food for thy mind. Begin by believing, and you shall soon find, under this imaginary source of offense, abundant utility.” He then compares the skillful interpreter of Scripture to an intelligent botanist, knowing the different uses and properties of various plants, and shows how every “holy and spiritual botanist of the word of God” will find the virtue of the word, without esteeming the slightest portion of it either redundant or superfluous. 364364 Hom. 39, in Jeremiah 44:22. The preceding Lectures are a good illustration of the sagacious wisdom of these remarks.
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