2 Literal Sense


Edward Madeley



TO multitudes of readers the mere letter of the sacred Scriptures often appears vague and unconnected (Isa. Ix. 7-9 ; Jer. xix. 5 ; Matt. xxiv. 27-29) ; hard and unmeaning (Ps. cix. 13 ; Jer. xlviii. 11-15; Hos. xiii. 6; Mic. i. 16-21; John xxi. 2); to abound with gross absurdities and unintelligible mysteries (Gen. iv. 15 ; Judg. v. 20 ; Isa. vii. 20; Ix. 16; Ez. xxviii. 13) ; to contain numerous statements which seem irrational, self-contradictory, or inconsistent with others (Ex. xx. 5, 6; xxiv. 10; Ez. xviii. 20; Isa. xliii. 3; Luke xxii. 43 ; John i. 18-20) ; to comprise many which are antagonistic to the modern discoveries in chronology, opposed to the well-known princi ples of the physical sciences, and discordant with the ascertained facts of profane history (Gen. i., ii. ; Joshua x. ; Isa. xlv. 7 ; Matt, xxvii. 9 ; Rev. xi. 8) ; to include narratives of violence, treachery, cruelty, uncleanness, and injustice seemingly approved by God, yet diametrically opposed to his infinite and unchangeable attributes and qualities of mercy, purity, faithfulness, and justice (Gen. xxxiv. 15; 1 Sam. xv. 33; Gen. xxvii. ; Judges iv., v.) ; to give commands of an immoral tendency, irreconcilable with spotless perfection (Ex. xxxii. 27; Josh. viii. 21-25; Ps. cxxxvii. 9; Hos. iii. 1-3); and to inoccupied with trivial circumstances and with affairs which appear too insignificant, and even revolting, to have ever claimed so much attention from the Lord of the universe (Ez. v. 12 ; Zech. viii. 5).

How many honest people, ” for lack of true knowledge,” have in consequence treated the holy verities of divine revelation with the utmost derision, either as myths of barbarous ages, or fragments of falsehoods strangely blended with truth, or as a contemptible tissue of ignorance and imposture ; and have not hesitated to revile all religions as systems alike of despotism, superstition, and credulity, the delusions of priestcraft and the offspring of fanaticism and fervid imaginations. How many virtuous, intelligent, and candid minds are there who are perplexed, and distressed, and alarmed, even at their own thoughts while reading their Bibles !

It is surely time, then, for Christians to inquire what is the real nature of God s Word, to examine into the origin, sanctity, and authority of that blessed Book on which, as upon an adamantine foundation, all virtue and intelligence infallibly rest, and whence all true religion and spiritual knowledge are derived ; to investigate, earnestly and narrowly, its claims to universal reverence and obedience ; and to vindicate its hallowed doctrines and its divine precepts from all contumely by a rational demonstration of its being what it professes to be, the very WORD OF GOD. And unless this be done, it needs no prophetic eye to see, no prophetic tongue to foretell, that infidelity and skepticism will soon reign triumphant, that darkness and blindness as to all spiritual knowledge, will soon cover every mind, as is described by the holy prophet Isaiah, where he says, ” The Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes ; the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath He covered. And the vision of all is become unto you as a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee : and he saith, I cannot ; for it is sealed ; and the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee : and he saith, I am not learned,” (xxix. 10-12.) The utter destitution of all true doctrine, and a right interpretation of the Scriptures, is predicted as a consequence of the prevalence of iniquity, in these words,” Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord : and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst.” (Amos viii. 11-13.)

In order to understand the true nature and character of divine revelation, it is essentially requisite that our reasoning faculties should be employed, that our understanding should be elevated, that our hearts should be humbled and that our lives should be purified, for not to the self-conceited, to the, worldly ” wise and prudent,” but unto ” babes “only, can genuine wisdom be ” revealed.” (Matt. xi. 25 ; Luke x. 21.) We should approach the Word with reverence and with faith. We should ” put our shoes from off our feet [that is, cast aside all sensual reasonings and all carnal suggestions], because the place whereon we stand is holy ground.” (Ex. iii. 5.) This surely expresses the state of mind which we ought to cherish when we approach the Holy Word in order to profit by its sacred contents, and be prepared to meet its Divine Author there as in the temple of his presence, a state of profound humility and fervent piety, accompanied with a desire to learn his will, that we may do his commandments. Without an humble and willing disposition of the soul, and a removal of the veil of unbelief from the mind, the glories of the inner sense cannot be made manifest unto us : ” Do not my words,” saith the Lord ; ” do good to him that walketh uprightly ? ” (Mic. ii. 7) ; andthe apostle Paul testifies that ” The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned ” (1 Cor. ii. 14).

Thus the Psalmist prays, ” Lord, open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law ” ( Ps. cxix. 18). While the Lord Jesus says, ” Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of ME; ” ( John v. 39) ; and after his glorious resurrection we read in Luke xxiv. 45, that ” then opened He the understandings of his disciples, that they might understand the Scriptures.” For, as the illustrious Swedenborg observes, ” It is universally confessed that the Word is from God, is divinely inspired, and of consequence is holy ; but still it has remained a secret to this day in what part of the Word its divinity resides, inasmuch as in the letter it appears like a common writing, composed in a strange style, neither so sublime nor so eloquent as that which distinguishes the best secular compositions. Hence it is that whosoever worships nature instead of God, and in consequence of such worship makes himself and his own proprium [or self-hood] the centre and fountain of his thoughts, instead of deriving them out of heaven from the Lord, may easily fall into error concerning the Word, and into contempt for it, and say within himself while he reads it, What is the meaning of this passage ? What is the meaning of that ? Is it possible this should be divine ? Is it possible that God, whose wisdom is infinite, should speak in this manner ? Where is its sanctity, or whence can it be derived, but from superstition and credulity ? ” But he who reasons thus, does not reflect that Jehovah the Lord, who is God of heaven and earth, spake the Word by Moses and the prophets, and that, consequently, it must be divine truth, inasmuch as what Jehovah the Lord himself speaks can be nothing else ; nor does such a one consider that the Lord, who is the same with Jehovah, spake the Word written by the Evangelists, many parts from his own mouth, and the rest from the spirit of his mouth, which is the Holy Spirit. Hence it is, as He himself declares, that in his words there is life, and that He is the light which enlightens, and that He is the truth. (John vi. 63 ; iv. 10-14 ; Mark xiii. 31 ; Jer. ii. 13 ; Zech. xiii. 1 ; Rev. vii. 17.) “

The divine and blessed Word of the ever-living God was written for the sake of spiritual usefulness “to perfect the man of God, that he may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works “(2 Tim. iii. 17) ; that it may fertilize the human mind, dropping upon it like the gentle ” dew ” (Deut. xxxii. 2) ; and descending like refreshing “showers” (Isa. iv. 11), that by its means we may possess “eternal life ; ” for ” by every word proceeding out of the mouth of God doth man live” (Deut. viii. 3; Matt. iv. 5). It was given “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. iii. 16);” to convert the soul, to make wise the simple ; to rejoice the heart, to enlighten the eyes” (Ps. xix. 7, 8). For a “defence” against our spiritual enemies (Eph. vi. 17) ; for our ” sanctification” (John xvii. 17) ; for our “regeneration” (1 Pet. i. 23) ; and, to comprise all in one word, for our ” salvation “(2 Tim. iii. 15).” The words of the Lord are pure words : as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times ” (Ps. xii. 6).

Now, unless there be a spiritual and heavenly meaning in the divine Word, distinct from, though one with, the letter, how is this spiritual usefulness, so essential to the welfare of the soul, to be promoted in an immense number of passages, such as the following : where the prophet is almost universally allowed to be speaking of the Lord s advent, and giving the indubitable sign of it, that ” a virgin should conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us, see Matt. i. 23],” it is added (Isa. vii. 18) : ” And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall hiss for the fly that is in the uttermost part of the rivers of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.” And in the 20th ver., ” In the same day shall the Lord sLave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet ; and it shall also consume the beard.” ” And it shall come to pass in that day that a man shall nourish a young cow and two sheep.” Also in ver. 23, ” And it shall come to pass in that day, that every place shall be, where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings, it shall be for briers and thorns.” Or this: “In Judah is God known ; his name is great in Israel. In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling-place in Zion. There brake He the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle. Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey. The stout-hearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep : and none of the men of might have found their hands. At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a deep sleep” (Ps. Ixxvi. 1-6). Or this: “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paian. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. And his brightness was as the light ; He had horns coming out of his hand : and there was the hiding of his power. Before Him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet. He stood and measured the earth : He beheld, and drove asunder the nations ; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting. I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction : and the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble. AVas the Lord displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation ? Thy bow was quite naked, according to the oaths of the tribes, even thy word. Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers. The mountains saw thee, and they trembled : the overflowing of the water passed by : the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high. The sun and moon stood still in their habitation : at the light of thine arrows they went, and at the shining of thy glittering spear” (Hab. iii. 3-11). Or where the prophet says, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear nor dark : but it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day nor night : but it shall come to pass that at evening-time it shall be light.

And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem ; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea : in summer and in winter shall it be. And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem ; their flesh shall consume away wrhile they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth. In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD ; and the pots in the Lord s house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the LORD of Hosts” (Z-ch. xiv. 6, 7, 8, 12, 20, 21). ” Without the spiritual (or internal) sense,” says Swedenborg, ” it is impossible for any one to know why the prophet Jeremiah was commanded to buy himself a girdle, and not to draw it through the waters, but to go to Euphrates, and hide it there in a hole in the rock (Jer. xiii. 1-7) ; or why Ezekiel the prophet was commanded to make a ra/or pass upon his head and upon his beard, and afterwards to divide them, and to burn a third part in the midst of the city, and to smite a third part with the sword, and to scatter a third part in the wind, and to bind a little of them in his skirts, and at last to cast them into the midst of the fire (Ezek. v. 1-4) ; or why Hosea was twice commanded to take to himself a harlot to wife (Hos. i. 2-9 ; iii. 2, 3) ; or what is signified by all things appertaining to the tabernacle : as by the ark, the mercy-seat, the cherubim, the candlestick, the altar of incense, the shew-bread on the table, and veils and curtains. Who would know, without the spiritual sense, what is signified by Aaron’s holy garments; as by his coat, his cloak, the ephod, the urim and thummim, the mitre, and several things besides ? Or, without the spiritual sense, who would know what is signified by all those particulars which were enjoined concerning burnt-offerings, sacrifices, meat offerings ; and also concerning Sabbaths and feasts ? The truth is, that nothing was enjoined, be it ever so minute, but what was signifi cative of something appertaining to the Lord, to heaven, and to the Church. From these few instances, then, it may be plainly seen that there is a spiritual sense in all and every part of the Word.” (S. S. 10.)

If we turn our attention to the preceptive portions of the Gospels, usually regarded as so plain and practical, we shall be surprised to find how much there is which could not be literally observed without breaking up all kinds of human association, and destroying all capacity for usefulness, affording indisputable evidence that they were only de signed to be spiritually understood and obeyed, in which case each expression teems with “life.” To instance only two or three passages from the Lord s Sermon on the Mount, as where he says, ” And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee : for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee : for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” ” But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil : but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away” (Matt. v. 29, 30, 39, 40, 41, 42). Even the preceptive portions of the Holy Word, such as the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, cannot be understood when viewed in their merely literal sense. When viewed, however, as to their spiritual import, they are seen to overflow in every sentence with infinite wisilom, and to teem with divine life.

But these are the solemn declarations of the inspired Word, taken promiscuously from the sacred pages. Who, I ask, can comprehend them? Who can explain their import? Who can see their reference to righteousness, conversion, regeneration, sanctification, and salvation, to promote which they must unquestionably have been inspired and written, unless it be admitted that they have an internal and spiritual sense ? And if this be admitted, it follows of necessity that a rule exists by which that sense can with certainty be drawn forth ; or otherwise the Word would be a mockery of human reason, and a snare to the simple heart, unworthy of infinite intelligence. From the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, thousands of passages are to be found equally as mysterious and difficult to understand in the mere letter ; and their constant occurrence in the Word of God at once proves the necessity of some rational and invariable law to interpret the whole, and the probability of its existence.