THE subject of prophecy is one that peculiarly demands, for its successful treatment, a spirit of careful discrimination. From the very nature of the subject, the want of such a spirit must inevitably lead to mistaken views, and even to dangerous results. In what respects do the prophetical portions of Scripture differ from those which are not prophetical? And, again, what specific differences separate between one portion of the prophetical field and another? These are points which call for minute and patient inquiry, as on the right settlement of them much depends for the proper understanding and consistent interpretation of the prophetical Scriptures. There are certain characteristics of a general kind, which belong to prophecy as a whole; and there are, again, subordinate peculiarities, which appear in some of its communications, but are wanting in others. The principle so strongly asserted by the Apostle Peter, that “prophecy came not by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” has respect only to one, and, indeed, to the most general, though, at the same time, the most fundamental, property of genuine prophecy—namely, the divinity of its origin. This property it, however, shares in common with every part of God’s revealed word; while yet revelation by prophecy possesses features and occupies a place peculiar to itself. Even within the prophetical territory there are important differences, which should not be without their influence on the mode of treatment its several portions receive at our hands. For prophecy is by no means uniform, either as regards the manner in which it came, or the form which it assumed. By much the larger portion of its communications were the utterances of men, who formed a distinct order, and who, in speaking as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, were acting in the discharge of a recognised function in the Church. A certain portion, however, proceeded from persons, who had no proper office of such a kind to fulfil, but were supernaturally endowed for the occasion; while other, though smaller, portions, without passing through the medium of any human instrumentality, were uttered by a voice direct from Heaven. Of those portions, also, of the prophetic Word which were brought through the agency of men, some were communicated in visions, and others when the recipients were in their waking condition and their ordinary frame of mind. There are portions which are written in language comparatively simple; while others are clothed in the richest imagery, or enveloped in the mystery of symbols.
Now, if no regard is paid to such marked distinctions between prophecy in general, and other modes of Divine revelation, and between one portion of prophecy and another; or, if the distinctions are practically overlooked in the mode of interpretation that is adopted, we shall seek in vain to arrive at any safe and satisfactory conclusions, either as regards the common aim of the prophetic writings, or the meaning of its several parts. It is to want of pains in this preliminary line of inquiry, more than to any other cause, that we ascribe the contradictory views which still continue to be propounded of various predictions, and the manifold uncertainty which still unfortunately seems to haunt the prophetical region. In applying our minds, therefore, to this important subject, it will be our duty, in the first instance, to cast our eye over the field of prophecy, with the view of making ourselves accurately acquainted with some of its more prominent and distinctive characteristics. And then on these, as the proper basis of all sound interpretation, we shall endeavour to find our way to such fundamental principles as ought to direct and regulate our inquiries into the different portions of the prophetic volume.