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spirit of man, and of a spiritual world; which no words can describe. Words are the arbitrary signs of natural things; but the language of revelation goes a step farther, and uses some things as the signs of other things; in consequence of which, the world which we now see becomes a sort of commentary on the mind of God, and explains the world in which we believe.
It being then the professed design of the scripture to teach us such things as we neither see nor know of ourselves, its stile and manner must be such as are no where else to be found. It must abound with figurative expressions; it cannot proceed without them : and if we descend to an actual examination of
particulars, we find it assisting and leading our faculties forward; by an application of all visible objects to a figurative use; from the glorious orb which shines in the firmament, to a grain of seed which is buried in. the earth. In this sort of language did our blessed Saviour instruct his hearers ; always referring them to such objects as were familiar to their senses, that they might see the propriety and feel the force of his doctrine. This method he observed, not in compliance with any customary figures of speech peculiar to the Eastern people, but consulting the exigence of human nature, which is every where the same. He spake a sort of language which was to be carried out into all lands; and we of the western world are obliged to follow in our preaching of the gospel, because we cannot otherwise preach it so as to be understood by our hearers. Here I find it necessary to confirm what I have advanced by some examples.
As we have but imperfect notions of the relations and differences between life and death, our Saviour, when he was about to raise a maid to life, said to
those who were present, the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. He did not say, she is dead, and I will raise her to life; but she is asleep; whence it was to be inferred that she would awake. They who were not skilled in the divine language of signs and figures, laughed him to scorn ; as if he had spoken in ignorance what was expressed with consummate truth and wisdom: for the substitution of sleep for death, when we have it upon such great authority, has the force and value of an whole sermon in a single word: it is a seed from whence a tree of life may be unfolded.
Upon another like occasion our Saviour expressed himself in the same mauner to his disciples; our friend Lazarus sleepeth; and when they did not understand the force of his words, he said plainly, Lazarus is dead. When he spake of the deadness of the mind, a state, which, however real, must always be invisible, because the mind itself is so; he expressed it under the same term with the death of the body; let the dead bury their dead: of which expression no sense can be made by those who are not aware, that the scripture speaks to us by things instead of words. Admit this principle, and then all is clear and consistent. It is as if Christ had said, “ let those who
are dead in their spirits (with respect to the new
life of the gospel), employ themselves in burying " those who are dead in body; for they are fit for
nothing else: but by following me and preaching “ the gospel, thou shalt raise men from the death of “ sin unto the life of righteousness.”
In the writings of the prophets, the spiritual blessings of the gospel are so constantly described under some allusion to nature, that their expressions are not true till they are figuratively interpreted. take an example from the prophet Isaiah : Every valley
shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made strait, and the rough places plain. Who ever heard that this was literally fulfilled ? In what part of the world were all the mountains levelled ; the vallies filled up; the crooked and rough places made strait and plain? But in the figurative sense, all these things were to be brought to pass in the minds of men at the publication of the gospel, when all flesh should see the salvation of God*. Then should the high and mighty of this world be confounded and brought low; the humble should be exalted, the meek encouraged, the crooked ways of men rectified, their wild and rugged tempers softened and civilized.
The bible has farther difficulties arising from another principle. For it pleased God, for wise ends, to exercise the faith and devotion of his people with a system of forms and ceremonies, which had no value but from their signification. I mention no particulars here, because they will occur to us abundantly hereafter ; but the fact is undoubted from that general assertion of St. Paul, that the law had a shadow of good things to come f: and again, that the instituted meats and drinks, the holy days, new moons and sabbaths, of the law, are a shadow of things to come, having their substance in the doctrines and mysteries of christianity; or, as the apostle speaks, whose body is of Christ I. And therefore in the gospel things are still described to us in the terms of the law; the substance itself taking the language of the shadow, that the design of both may be understood: as where the apostle saith, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,
&c. from the application of which term to the person of Christ, we are taught under this one word of the passover, that he is to us a lamb in meekness and in nocence of manners ; pure and spotless from every stain of sin ; slain (and that without the breaking of his bones) for the redemption of his people from the wrath of the destroyer; and feeding with his body those who put away all leaven from their hearts.
But know, beside this first difficulty, which we are under, of comprehending the matter of the scripture from the peculiar manner in which it is delivered, we are under a second difficulty as to the receiving of it; without which our understanding of it will be very imperfect, if any at all.
at all. For the force of men's ininds is generally found to be according to their affections ; for which reason the disaffection of the Jew is attended with a very conspicuous weakness of the understanding. We may lay it down as a certain truth, confirmed by the experience of all men, that when any object is admitted into the mind, it must find a faculty there which corresponds with its own peculiar nature. When there is no appetite, the sweetest meat is of no value, and even the sight and savour of it may be disagreeable. When there is neither ear nor skill in music, heavenly sounds give no delight; and with the blind the beams of the sun give no beauty to the richest prospect. It is thus in every other case of the kind. The mathematician and logician apply to the intuitive faculty of reason; the poet to the imagination or mirror of the mind; the orator to the sensibility of the affections: the musician to the musical ear. The mathematician demonstrates nothing but to patient and attentive reason; to the imagination which is dull the poet is a trifler; on the hard and unfeeling heart the orator makes no
impression; and the sweetest music is referred to the class of noises, where there is no sense of har. mony. Thus when God speaks of things which are above nature, his meaning must be received by a faculty which is not the gift of nature, but superadded to nature by the gift of God himself. For spiritual truth there must be a spiritual sense; and the scripture calls this sense by the name of faith: which word sometimes signifies the act of believing; sometimes the matter which is believed; but in many passages it is used for that sense or capacity in the intellect, by which the invisible things of the spirit of God are admitted and approved.
It is a doctrine which may occasion some mortification to human pride, and it seldom fails to do so; but no doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ is more decided than this, that all men have not faith; that it is the gift of God wherever it is found; and that the natural man, or man with no powers but those of our common nature, receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: so far from it, that they seem foolish, extravagant, and incredible, and are rejected with mockery and contempt by men who can write a pleasant style, and who seem to be in other respects (within the sphere of their affections) very sensible and ingenious persons. On what other ground but that of the scriptural distinction between faith and natural rea-', son, is it possible to account for a fact which so frequently occurred at the first publication of the gospel; when the same speech, the same reasoning, yea and the same miracle, had a totally different effect on the minds of different hearers, all present on the same occasion ? When Peter and John healed the lame man at the gate of the temple, and all the people