The Prophecies of the Kingdom, interpreted literally, sustain the expectations and hopes of the pious Jews.
PROPOSITION 21. The Prophecies of the Kingdom, interpreted literally, sustain the expectations and hopes of the pious Jews.
This is universally admitted, even by those who contend that the same prophecies are susceptible of a different interpretation. The plain literal sense expressly teaches what the Jews anticipated; and no author has yet arisen who has dared to assert that the grammatical construction of the Old Testament language, received according to the usual laws, does not convey the meaning found therein of a literal restoration of the Theocratic-Davidic throne and kingdom as expected by the believing Israelites. Even after the attempted undue advantage taken of this circumstance by unbelieving writers, and after Apologists have informed us that this naked sense is only “the husk” to be discarded, no one has attempted to call the fact of such an existing sense into question.[*]
Note. Believers, infidels, and semi-infidels teach this fact; every author and commentator consulted, every Life of Christ, every Introd. to the Bible, etc., fully admits it. With infidels it is a standing joke that the prophets predicted such a Kingdom. Thus e.g. Renan (Life of Jesus, p. 86) calls it “a gigantic dream for centuries,” and “they dreamed of the restoration of the house of David, the reconciliation of the two fragments of the people, and the triumph of the Theocracy,” etc. “They dreamed of the Messiah as judge and avenger of the nations,” of “a renewal of all things.” In view of this, he informs us (p. 266) that “the first Christian generation lived entirely upon expectations and dreams,” and that it required “more than a century” for the church to disengage itself from such “dreams,” which, however (p. 251), were more or less held, although but “a fantastic Kingdom of God,” etc. All that our argument at present requires is simply to direct attention to the concession, however scornfully put, or however attempted to be weakened by accommodation, that the Jewish and Primitive faith is based on an acknowledged grammatical sense. We are not concerned at the protest, that if the covenant and prophecies are thus understood, then there is presented “an ideal Jewish King,” “languid dreams,” “impracticable pedantries,” “carnality,” etc. The concession is all that is required at this stage of the argument, forming a necessary and important link, for it evinces a correspondence existing between the Word and the early belief.
Obs. 1. Here, then, is something that all, both Jew and Gentile, frankly admit, however some may afterward attempt to break its force and continued application. Let the reader keep this point in view: here is a sense (let it be despised and rejected) that all acknowledge does exist; and this sense, thus contained in the Word and for many centuries received by the pious, is the one that we receive, until it is proven that there is a command or revelation from God to set it aside, or until it is shown that it is in direct conflict with Revelation itself. We have by its adoption (Prop. 4) a sure foundation for interpretation, based on a sense which all are forced, willingly or unwillingly, to concede is found in the Scriptures; and one, too, which, with a proper theory of the divine and inspired, cannot be easily discarded without doing violence to the Word and to the wisdom of God in bestowing it. This sense obviously contained in the Scriptures formed the scripturally derived basis of the Jewish hopes.[*]
Note. Having this allowed sense—i.e. the grammatical—one that the words naturally contain, the student is placed on ground, acknowledged to pertain to Scripture, by which he can test other alleged senses, varied in form, that others engraft upon it. If the careful reader finds that this literal sense produces a harmonious whole, an unbroken unity in the Divine Purpose (the great test after all), he surely is authorized, in confirmation of faith, to receive and treasure it as a most precious guide.
Obs. 2. Two classes array themselves against this obvious, admitted sense entertained for centuries. The one party, enemies of the revealed truth, honestly accept of it as existing, but discard it on the ground of its conveying human, not divine, notions and expectations. The other class, friends of the truth, also find and admit this sense, but believing it to be “gross and carnal,” endeavor to adapt its language to their own ideas of the fitness of things, and hence attach to it another, distinct, separate sense (some even adding two or more), which, rejecting the grammatical, we are to receive as the true intended one.[*]
Note. May it be allowed, without reflecting upon any writer, to say, that such an Origenistic appliance of language which casts us loose from a sense actually contained in the inspired Record, is taking dangerous and undue liberty with the Word of God. Look at its sad results in the overwhelming mass of mystical interpretation which a taxed ingenuity and an apparently profound learning have heaped upon the Scriptures, rejecting the visible, outward Kingdom taught by the prophecies and substituting for it the vaguest of explanations, and making it appear that God said one thing but meant quite another; the Jews, John the Baptist, the disciples, being deceived by what was said, not being able to comprehend the spiritual and mystical interpretation that afterward such men as Origen, Jerome, Augustine, and others bestowed upon the grammatical sense. If we reject this one fully acknowledged sense, who can prove to us that any other of the conflicting senses, added by men afterward, is inspired, is truly the Word of God? What guide have we then—man’s added sense, or the one given by God? Thus e.g. if David’s throne and kingdom is not David’s throne and kingdom as the words indicate, and as fondly believed in for centuries, but is, as men in their wisdom afterward developed, the Father’s throne in heaven and the Father’s Kingdom on earth and in heaven, how then can we reconcile it with God’s own assurances of veracity, desire to instruct, undeviating truthfulness, etc., that He would clothe His own gracious and merciful words in a dress calculated to deceive, and which did beguile the Jews and Primitive Christians, His children, into a false faith and hope. No! never, never can we receive any theory, however plausibly and learnedly presented, which thus reflects on God’s goodness, makes Him virtually a party to gross deception, and which degrades the intelligence and piety of former saints. Who can censure us for believing in a sense so generally admitted as given by God Himself, placing ourselves where prophets, pious Jews, and the early Christians stood? Having thus in the outset a vantage ground, needing not to prove what multitudes already concede, let us lay aside our “worldly wisdom,” and in a childlike dispostion for instruction, follow this grammatical interpretation, carefully gathering up the detached portions, and see where it will lead us. It will reveal a strangeness most surprising, a sublimity most inspiring, and a beauty most delightful, in God’s work.
Obs. 3. In view of the faith of the Jews, and from whence derived, it may well be asked: Is it reasonable to suppose that God would give utterances by His prophets respecting a Kingdom, which, taken in their usual literal sense (making due allowance for the usage of figures common to all languages), positively denote the re-establishment, in a most glorious form under a Son of David’s, of David’s cast-down throne and kingdom, etc., and yet that all these assurances must be taken in a different sense? Men, eminent for ability and piety, tell us that such a transformation is demanded. They may, under the specious garb of “a higher sense” honestly think to elevate our notions of the predictions, but in reality it is a lowering of the sense actually contained in the Word; for attributing to it (through human authority) another sense, it virtually assumes the position that Holy Writ contains language and ideas that cannot be maintained; that God, foreknowing the result, intentionally conveyed one meaning whilst (like the Delphic oracle) another was intended.[*]
Note. Let the careful student, at the threshold of our subject, reflect whether such a discrepancy is not sufficient of itself to cause a thorough reinvestigation of this matter. If the Kingdom is not such as these Jews held it to be, who is justly chargeable with their error, if it be not the great Author of those prophecies? Every reflection cast upon the Jewish faith in this direction in fact recoils back upon the Giver of the predictions, seeing that on their surface is the meaning which led to the universal belief. Now in all honesty, every believer, desirous to vindicate both the Scriptures and the Author of them, must turn away from theories which necessarily reflect upon the Bible, its Author, and the hopes excited by its plain grammatical sense. In the following pages it will be shown at length, every step supported by Scripture, that God gave the prophecies as truth, couched in truthful language in their grammatical sense; that all, as written, will yet be fulfilled; and that the hopes of His people, excited and fostered by the express language, will not, as multitudes hold, be disappointed. We may hesitate to adopt, under all circumstances, the bold expression of Pascal: “God owes it to mankind not to lead them into error;” for God, in the provisions made and in the truth given, does not encroach upon an element of liberty, freedom of choice, in human destiny from which may arise error and even crime (by perversion, etc.), as the painful history of Christianity and the world attests. While this may be viewed as permissive and in accord with moral freedom, yet Pascal is correct if the language is applied to a revelation given by God. His language, or the ideas conveyed by the same, involve the God directly, personally, and, therefore we cannot, dare not, believe that He will give a revelation that will, if the grammatical sense is received, lead into error.
Obs. 4. As intimated under previous Props. and above (Obs. 2), this grammatical sense thus received and introduced into the New Test. without any declaration of a change, is seized by unbelief as evidence of the non-inspiration of the Scriptures. Thus e.g. Morgan (Moral Philosopher) finds, what Baur and others have developed, decided indications that portions of the New Test. contain a deposit of Jewish-Messianic ideas, obtained through adhesion to the plain sense of the Old Test. The Swiss Rationalists (Hurst’s His. Rational., p. 436) declare on this ground that Jesus Christ is not the Messiah foretold by the Prophets and preached by the Apostles, simply because He did not establish the Kingdom as plainly predicted, etc. They, and others, insist that a fatal discrepancy exists which is not removed by the Christ and the spiritual Kingdom created by theologians. We acknowledge, as essential, this “Jewish-Messianic” deposit; we admit that under a misapprehension of the actual postponement of the Kingdom and the still future realization of those “Jewish-Messianic” predictions, theologians have too readily spiritualized the prophecies to make them applicable to Christ, and to the Church at present (and thus make the Messiah and Kingdom assume characteristics very different to those assigned in prophecy); but we beg all such to consider, what they on both sides carefully ignore, the express promises that all such Messianic expectations are only to be realized at the Sec. Advent. The verification of them, owing to sinfulness, was postponed, and the object of following Propositions is to bring forth this truth prominently as given by Jesus Himself.
Obs. 5. Men, in their eagerness to rid themselves of the grammatical sense of the Old Test. prophecies and the consequent Jewish belief, resort to the most desperate arguments and reasoning. Some of these have already been given; others will be presented hereafter; one may be appropriately mentioned in this connection. It is said (and even Martensen, Ch. Dog., p. 235, falls in with the notion) that “the prophecies themselves are typical.” This conveniently enables the student to reject the literal sense, and engraft upon it whatever he may consider a suitable fulfilment of the type. It is a dangerous procedure, opening a wide door to arbitrary interpretation, and it is pointedly condemned by the rules (comp. Introds. to the Bible) specifying and controlling types.[*]
Note. This assumption is a modern philosophical conceit that admirably answers to cover up deficiencies in making out the Church-Kingdom theory—i.e. it attempts to reconcile prophecy with an alleged fulfilment in the church. But it is unscriptural and destructive to prophecy; it removes the veracity of God’s Word in its grammatical sense by leaving the fulfilment at the option of the interpreter; it weakens an appeal to prophecy, undermining its strength as proof. While there are a few prophetical types (e.g. Isa. 22:2; Jer. 13:1–7; Jer. 16:2, etc.), these are but rare, exceptional cases; the immense mass of prophecy, in no shape or sense, is typical, but real descriptions or representations in language of things to come. Prophecy is a delineation of the future, and not an adumbration of a thing typified, not something that in itself represents an antitype, excepting only in so far as language ordinarily may by use of figure or symbol represent the future. Strictly speaking, however, Prophecy when employing symbols or figures of speech is not typical (Comp. Sec. 3, Part 2, Book 2, Horne’s Introd.), and to make it such gives place to endless mystical exegesis. Martensen himself affords an illustration of the latter, when, in support of the typical nature of Prophecy, he quotes 1 Cor. 13:9, prophecy being also “in part,” overlooking its plain meaning that our present limited knowledge is only compared by the apostle with what it will be hereafter, there being no allusion to the characteristics of Prophecy. Having previously shown the nature and intent of Prophecy (Prop. 17, etc.) as the grand guide into the Divine Purpose, it is unnecessary to repeat.
Obs. 6. It is only when we retain the expressed sense of prophecy as held by the Jews and Primitive Church, and as admitted to be contained in it, that one of the offices of Prophecy is fully maintained. Thus e.g. Kurtz (Sac. His., p. 32) justly observes that “it is the pre-eminent design of prophecy both to furnish the age to which it is given with a knowledge of itself, that is, of its position and obligations, and also to render the same service to every succeeding age, in so far as its condition, wants, and obligations are similar to those of the former.” He explains this by adding that “Prophecy designs, by means of its divine knowledge, to inform the generation of men to whom it is given, respecting both their present acquisitions and also their actual wants, for the purpose of guiding alike in the right employment of the former, and in an earnest search after all that must yet be acquired, before their wants are supplied.” Take, now, for granted the supposition of the multitude that for many centuries the Jews miserably misunderstood the prophecies, that they had no correct ideas of the Messiah or of His Kingdom, etc., and what becomes of the instruction of prophecy to the generations of men who held to the grammatical sense? And if the office of prophecy really was to impart information, to give certain knowledge, to clearly indicate the present and future state, how could such an office be compatible with the unjust inference now made by theologians, viz.: that this information and knowledge was concealed in an inner, hidden sense, which would require the raising up of such men as Origen, Jerome, etc., to bring it forth out of its “husk,” and that for ages men, eminent for piety, must be content with “the outward shell.” Never can we receive any theory which thus degrades “the light” that God has given; and, briefly, it would be well for us to be guarded, lest by rejecting what all are agreed the prophecies really contain, we place ourselves in the posture of, and ultimately receive the rebuke given to, the disciples: “fools and slow of heart to believe what the prophets had spoken” (Luke 24:25).