|Vol. II, No. 6
Elul 5604, September 1844
The difficulties which arise from the prophecies concerning the delivery and return of the Jews not being completed, are obviated by pretending that none of these prophecies ought to be taken in their plain, literal sense and obvious meaning; in other words, they will not allow the prophecies to have any meaning at all, in order to impose on all such prophecies, and likewise on many historical passages of Scripture, what they call a spiritual, or figurative and typical sense, and meaning of their own, such as best suits with their purposes; accommodating, by these mean prophecies and history to events with which neither the one nor the other has the least connexion, contrary to the express sense of the prophets and the passages cited, and therefore, they cannot expect any credit should be given them. Of this, the most learned are sensible, and confess that they “can give no tolerable reason why the prophecies concerning his (Jesus’s) humiliation and sufferings should be understood in a literal, and those of his exaltation and glorious reign, in a spiritual sense.”* The case then stands thus: the Jews must be convinced from the prophecies, that Jesus was the glorious person therein promised for their Messiah; not according to the sense and meaning of the words of the prophets, for they are entirely repugnant to such pretensions, but according to the sense and meaning which Christians shall be pleased arbitrarily to impose on all the prophets, (without assigning any tolerable reasons, as is confessed by them.) though that sense be the most contradictory to the prophets’ description; for otherwise they can prove nothing. It is a very just and judicious observation, “that the Jew possessed the oracles of God, and was firmly persuaded of the truth of them. The very first thing, therefore, that he had to do, upon the appearance of the Messiah, was to examine his title, by the character given of him in in prophets; he could not, consistently with the belief in God and faith in the ancient prophecies, attend to other arguments, till fully satisfied and convinced in this. All the prophecies of the OId Testament, relating to the office and character of the Messiah, were immovable bars to all pretensions, till fulfilled and accomplished in the person.”† This is so fair a state of the case, that none of the parties can reasonably have any objection against it; and there only wants proofs that Jesus did fulfil and accomplish the character given of the Messiah in the prophets.
Now if this be done according to the plain sense and meaning of the prophecies, the character which they give us is so contradictory and repugnant to that of Jesus, that his pretensions can have no manner of foundation on that description; for the plain sense of the prophecies are, and ever will be, immovable bars to his claim.
But if we are to judge of his title from the sense which Christians impose on the prophets, then the character given by the prophecies can be of no manner of signification, and, therefore, it would be in vain to examine his title by the character given of him in the prophets; since, let the character be ever so ample and plain, yet such a meaning would be imposed on the words of the prophets as might make them answer very different purposes. And this is actually the case; for if we are to have no regard to the plain sense and meaning of the prophets, and take a liberty to depart from their literal and obvious meanings, how can we distinguish the true Messiah from the vain pretender, who may, by types and allegories, impose such a sense of his own on the prophecies as may easily be made to answer his pretensions, and by such means apply them to himself and his purposes, construing them according to his fancy, and, under a pretence of a refined spiritual sense, be able to prove thereby all the passages of his life, both from prophecy and Scripture history? For as no regard is to be had to the prophets’ literal meaning, no bounds can be put to any person’s imaginations; for all will be spiritualized. But would not the Jews be in the most deplorable condition, if they admitted allegory for proof? would they not be liable to the grossest abuse and deception? and could they in any other way oppose such pretenders, but from the plain and literal sense of the prophecies and believe that the prophets had but that one plain sense and meaning, and to argue accordingly from it? For to suppose that “an author has but one meaning at a time to a proposition, (which is to be found out by a critical examination or his words,) and to cite that proposition from him, and argue from it in that one meaning, is to proceed by the common rules of grammar and logic, which, being human rules, are not very difficult to be set forth and explained; but to suppose passages cited, explained, and argued from in any other method, seems very extraordinary.”* And such a method can only serve to open a door to fraud and imposition; for when once we depart from the plain and obvious meaning of an author, and put a different sense on his words, we then commit such an act of violence as nothing can justify. But it is still worse, when we do the like to inspired writings; for we, in such case, deprive the prophet of his meaning, which is infallible, and in its place substitute our own weak fallible sense, and that for no other reason but because it best serves our purposes; and it must give one a very bad opinion of the cause which depends on such a support. For “allegory is a figure in discourse which we are then said to use, when we make the terms which are peculiar to one thing to signify another.”† This being the case, can allegory or types prove any thing, much less a Messiah, whose character and office are plainly revealed in the Scriptures? And pray, what is there which may not be proved,when terms and words, peculiar to one thing, are made to signify another?
What confusion must ensue on such a scheme? How invalid must the proof of the Messiah be, if founded on types and allegory! For “allegorical explanations may edify indeed” (says a learned person) “but they are good for nothing else; they cannot be regularly produced as proofs of any thing.” St. Paul founded Christianity on allegory, and though he says that he uses great “plainness of speech,”* yet is all Scripture by him turned into type. This he does even to the historical passages, and that when the literal sense is most clear. To this end he declares himself and others to be “ministers of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit, for” (says he) “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”† It is by this invention that he pretends to prove every thing; for he applies his allegories and types without the least resemblance, or without the least likeness of the types to the antitype. This is plain and evident from every chapter of the writings which go under his name. Thus, for example, he makes the patriarch's two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, to typify two covenants.‡
Again—Abraham’s concubine is with him a type of Mount Sinai, in Arabia.§ This same Mount Sinai in Arabia stands with him for a type of Jerusalem to bondage with her children. He carries this type still farther; for this same Jerusalem typifies that above, which he calls the mother of all.|| After the same manner he makes Malchizedek a type of Jesus, whom he declares to have been made like the Son of God.¶ By the same art he turns the veil which Moses put over his face, where it shone, into a type of the Jews not understanding the Scriptures, that is, his spiritual sense of them.** the same way he pretends that God himself preached the gospel to Abraham.†† By the same help he declares the baptism of the Israelites unto Moses. This he finds typified by their passing the Red Sea, and their being under the cloud of smoke.‡‡ The water which the Israelites drank from the rock Moses struck, he calls spiritual drink; and he not only makes that rock to follow the camp, but will have the rock itself to be the Messiah.§§ By the same never-failing art he proves that the tribe of Levi paid tithe some hundred years before its existence.|||| In short, the passover, the tabernacle, and every thing in it, the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness, their entering into the land of Canaan, and the whole Jewish economy and history is, by St. Paul turned into types; and he makes every thing subservient to his point. But if this method proves any thing, it proves that the same passages and figures might prove a thousand things besides, for which they may be made to stand, and such proofs would be, to the full, as conclusive as St. Paul’s.
This must be the natural consequence of believing that the letter killeth, or rather, of resolving to kill the letter; because, otherwise the letter would kill their purposes: and when once we embrace the opinion of making the terms which are peculiar to one thing stand for another, the same thing may be made to typify things the most opposite and contrary to each other. Thus it is observed, that “the serpent was remarkable for an insidious cunning, and therefore stands as a proper emblem of a deceiver.”* Another asserts that “it cannot be doubted but under the name of the serpent we ought to understand the devil.”† Yet, not withstanding the serpent stands for, and means the devil; one of the evangelists declares, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up:”‡ by which means the serpent serves to typify both Jesus and the devil. Such strange things are allegories! A fruitful imagination might still carry the allegory farther, and show how the serpent caused the people to err by the worship which was paid it.
Now let me seriously ask, can such whims be admitted for proofs? or can any one pretend the conversion of the Jews on such evidence? May we not as well believe Luther to have been the antitype of Aaron, (as one of his followers pretended,) because he first set up the candlestick of the reformation? or shall we believe Calvin to have been the antitype of the same High Priest (as one of his followers pretended), “because it was beyond all doubt,” (says he,) “that if he had not taken the snuffers into his hand, the candlestick must have given so dim a light that few people would have been the better for it.§ Pray, is there not just the same foundation for the idle dreams of Luther’s and Calvin's followers, in making each their master to be Aaron’s antitype, as there is for those others made by St. Paul? If we believe the one, why not the other? Can such reveries pass because delivered under the name of this or that man? The authority of all men must be upon a level, if they deliver things alike inconsistent, or equally contrary to facts. How easily may Scripture be applied to every passage of a man's life, if such liberty be allowed? But certainly any person would be deservedly laughed at who should pretend to prove the actions of his life from thence by turning it into types.
It is therefore evident that the prophecies ought to be taken in their plainest and most obvious sense and literal meaning: “for it is but justice to the omnipotent Being to believe that HE speaks candidly and intelligibly to his creatures,”|| and is highly derogating from the goodness of God to think otherwise; and therefore the contrary method, when made use of, must be incoherent and inconsistent, enthusiastical and erroneous, invented for unwarrantable purposes, and made use of to deceive and blind our eyes for lack of better proof, excluding the Scripture from any meaning at all; and as it may be made use of to prove any thing, and to square to every man’s opinion, it can of course have no force in argument, and therefore cannot be produced in proof of any thing. Of this opinion was Bishop Smallbrook, who says: “So very fanciful a thing is allegorical interpretation, that not only different fathers build different allegories on the same facts, but the very same father at different times, and on different subjects, makes different applications of the very same literal story;”* and in his preface he says: “Allegories prove any thing out of any thing.”†
I cannot better conclude this letter, than with a passage of the same bishop,‡ viz.:—“All that I would desire of the reader here, is to observe the great uncertainty of mystical interpretation in itself, as it is a mere creature of fancy.”