« PrécédentContinuer »
with great majesty Kings and princes,' observes Mr. Lowth, are expressed in the prophetical style by the name of sun, moon and stars". The learned Dr. John Owen, who was dean of Christ's Church and vice-chancellor of Oxford, says, you may take it for a rule, that in the denunciations of the judgments of God, through all the prophets, heavens, sun, moon, stars-are taken for governments, governors, dominions in political states"." The holy pro
phets,' says bp. Warburton, call kings and empires by the names of the heavenly luminaries;' and a little farther he adds, stars falling from the firmament are employed to denote the destruction of the nobility. In like manner Sir I. Newton says, 'the stars are put for subordinate princes and great men.' This long list of testimonies I shall conclude by stating the opinion of an illustrious Jew of the 12th century. Moses Maimonides, in commenting on those words of Isaiah (xxxiv. 4), the host of heaven shall be dissolved and in observing that stars, in the symbolic diction of prophecy, signify men of rank and dignity, `declares it to be so clear and evident, that he should not have thought it necessary to have said a single word on the import of these expressions, had not some very improperly annexed to them a literal interpretation20.
I may add, that, in the symbolic language of antiquity, the sun always stood for a monarch or for monarchy; whilst the, moon and the stars represented persons of inferior but elevated rank in the state". In proof of this I shall translate, as doc
16 In Apoc. xvi. 8.
17 On Isa. xxiv. 21.
18 A Complete Col. of his Serm. fol. 1721. p. 322.
19 Divine Legat. of Moses, vol. II. p. 152.
20 More Nevochim, a Buxtorfio, Bas. 1629, p. 267. It is of this celebrated Jew, who lived in Egypt as physician to the Soldan, that Casaubon, after declaring him to have been a man of great abilities and of sound learning,' says (Exercit. contra Baron. xvi. 77), that he was the first of his tribe who ceased to be a trifler' His profound knowlege of the Hebrew scriptures admits not of dispute.
21 In hieroglyphic writing the sun, moon, and stars, were used to represent states and empires, kings, queens, and nobility.' Warburton's Div. Legat. of Moses, vol. II. p. 152.
tors More and Lancaster have done, from the Greek22 of Achmet. According to the Indians, Persians, and Egyptians, the sun is invariably interpreted of the person of the king, and the moon of him who is next in power to him: Venus refers to the queen, and the other stars of largest magnitude to those who are greatest with the sovereign 23. Again in the next chapter, speaking of the mode of interpretation established in Persia and in Egypt, he says, 'the multitude of the other greatest stars are to be referred to the men of nobility and opulence, and those who in every place live nearest to the king.'
After what has been said, the mode of interpreting the alleged prophecy of Christ appears pointed out to us with abundant clearness. Since it is not only agreed, that St. John's prediction of a third part of the sun, moon, and stars being darkened, over the meaning of which a light has been thrown by its fulfilment, signifies the overthrow of the established government in a third part of the known world; but it is also on all hands admitted, that these symbols have ever been regarded as the established representatives of monarchy and nobility; when our Lord solemnly declares, that the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven; we are justly authorised to conclude, according to all the rules of consistent criticism and legitimate interpretation, that the holy founder of our religion has foretold the complete destruction of all the established systems of oppression, which kings and nobles may any where uphold. The expression is manifestly prophetical. It is general; not being limited to any country in particular; nor restricted, as in the foregoing citation from St. John, to a third part of the sun and the stars.
Of Gampegius Vitringa I have before had occasion to speak in the highest terms. In truth, the depth of his
22 By saying this, I mean not to decide on the question, whether the treatise of Achmet was originally written in the language of Greece or of Arabia. Most probably it is a translation from the Arabic.
23 Achmetis Oneirocritica, cap. 167.
knowlege, and the extent of his celebrity, as an interpreter of prophetic scripture, are not surpassed by any commentator of any age or any country24. I am, therefore, particularly happy in finding, that his decided opinion respecting the time when this prophecy is to be fulfilled, and the nature of the events which it points out, is in perfect agreement with the ideas which I myself had formed. This part of our Lord's prophecy does, he declares, refer to the destruction of the antichristian princes in the war of Armageddon, and to the great events foretold by St. John under the emblems of the harvest, the vintage, and the sixth seal25.
But I shall be asked, does this most illustrious of the prophets himself specify any time; and, if specified, does it correspond with what has before been gathered from Daniel and from John? I answer, that it perfectly does. The sun shall be darkened, says our Lord, immediately after the tribulation of those days. Now what are those days, and when do they terminate? The incomparable Mr. Mede (I use the epithet of bps Hurd and Hallifax), in speaking of the Jews and of this passage, says, 'This great tribulation, such as never nation suffered, is not to be confined to their calamity at the destruction of Jerusalem, but extends to the whole time of their captivity and dispersion from that time unto this present not yet ended. To the same purpose speaks that eminent Dutch divine, Episcopius, in his commentary on Matthew and in like manner archbishop Tillotson has observed, that the prophecy of Jesus respecting the sufferings of his countrymen 'comprehends from the destruction of Jerusalem all the time of the captivity of the Jews among the Gentiles, which we see is not yet expired;' and that when it
24 Longe doctissimus interpres, is the honorable epithet by which bishop Lowth distinguishes the name of Vitringa. De Sacra Poesi Hebræorum Prælectiones. Oxon. 1763. p. 272.
25 See Vitringa in Apoc. p. 279; and in Jesai, vol. II. p. 276, 277. Elsewhere also Vitringa declares (in Jesai, vol. II. p. 23), that the sun, moon, and stars are to be understood, in this passage of Matthew, of political and ecclesiastical governors.
26 P 920.
is said the sun shall be darkened, &c. after the tribulation of those days, the meaning is, this shall happen, when God hath made an end of punishing the nation of the Jews 27.?
It has also been thought, that these words relate not to the descendants of Abraham alone. The expression, the tribulation of those days, includes,' says Mat. Henry, 'not only the destruction of Jerusalem28, but all the other tribulations which the church must pass through;' and thus it is to be extended as well to the Christians as to the Jews. That it is to be applied to the sufferings of the Christian church was the decided opinion of Vitringa". Such likewise was the sentiment of Theophylact30 and of Chrysostom. I now cite the words of the latter. Of the tribulation of what days is he speaking? That of Antichrist and of false teachers". And there are not wanting reasons for believing, that when our Lord said, two or three verses before (v. 24), that there shall arise false Christs and false teachers3, he alluded to that long period of antichristian superstition, which has darkened Christendom for so many centuries; and that this is the period respecting which he speaks from the beginning of v. 23 to the end of v. 28. Many learned interpreters of our times,' says Vitringa, 'with whose opinion my sentiments coincide, think that our Lord summarily relates here, not only the extirpation of Judaism, but likewise the more eminent events of his church, even to the close of the awy33.'
27 Serm. 183.
28 Some interpreters,' says Calvin, rashly understand the tribulation of those days as relating to the destruction of Jerusalem alone.'
29 In Apoc. p. 279.
31 Homil. in loc.
30 Vid. in loc. et in Mark, c. xiii. 32 In the very valuable translation of Mr. Wakefield, teachers is the word employed. Prophets is the word admitted into the common version. 33 In Apoc. p. 230. After the reader shall have perused the xxviith chapter of the present work, he will discern the reason, why Vitringa has incorporated into the sentence quoted above the Greek expression, TM συντελείαν τ8 αιώνος.
But, in order to make Christ's prediction more plain, I shall, from Matthew, again cite his words, together with a part of the parallel place in Luke. I begin with Matthew. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And they shall see the son of man coming in the clouds of heaven34 with power and great glory. From the xxist ch. of Luke we learn, that the tribulation of those days has a very extensive meaning, and that it especially signifies the treading down of Jerusalem and Judea by the Gentiles, which shall not terminate till the times of the Gentiles are accomplished; for such is the import of his words. This people, i. e. the Jews shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars. In the next and two following verses the evangelist adds, that the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. From a comparison of these two passages in Matthew and in Luke, it appears evident, that the tribulation of those days, mentioned by the former of these apostolic writers, reaches to the whole period, during which Jerusalem shall be trodden of the Gentiles. Now bp. Newton observes in one of his Dissertations on our Lord'sprophecy, that the times of the Gentiles will be fulfilled, ' when the times of the four great kingdoms of the Gentiles according to Daniel's prophecies shall be expired3.” At length then we are able to form some ideas of the time, when the prediction of Jesus is to be accomplished. We
34 Mat. xxiv. 29, 30. That the coming of the son of man in the clouds of heaven needs not to be literally understood, and that it has no reference to the end of the world, will be shewn in ch. xxx.
35 Vol. II. p. 314