Home > C. H. Spurgeon, Christian Authors, doctrines, eschatology, hermeneutics, Horatius Bonar, Israel, J. C. Ryle, premillennialism, quotes > The Literal Hermeneutic, Described by Historic Premillennialists

The Literal Hermeneutic, Described by Historic Premillennialists


For those who still associate any form of premillennialism with classic dispensationalism, and who think that premillennialists’ literal hermeneutic is wooden literalism (which never was the case) rather than normal, plain language: I am revisiting some great quotes from 19th century non-dispensational historic premillennialists:  Charles Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, and Horatius Bonar.

Consider the following, in which these men in their own words describe and explain the literal hermeneutic along with specific examples from God’s word:

Charles Spurgeon, concerning the First Resurrection in Revelation 20:

… if the First Resurrection here spoken of is a metaphorical, or spiritual, or typical resurrection—why the next, where it speaks of the resurrection of the dead, must be spiritual, and mystical, and metaphorical too!  When you read a Chapter, you are not to say, “This part is a symbol, and is to be read so, and the next part is to be read literally.” Brothers and Sisters, the Holy Spirit does not jumble metaphors and facts together! A typical Book has plain indications that it is so intended, and when you come upon a literal passage in a typical Chapter, it is always attached to something else which is distinctly literal so that you cannot, without violence to common sense, make a typical meaning out of it! The fact is, in reading this passage with an unbiased judgment—having no purpose whatever to serve, having no theory to defend— … I could not help seeing there are two literal resurrections here spoken of—one of the spirits of the just, and the other of the bodies of the wicked; one of the saints who sleep in Jesus, whom God shall bring with Him, and another of those who live and die impenitent, who perish in their sins.

Also from Spurgeon, (full quote posted here) concerning Ezekiel 37:1-10:

If there is meaning in words this must be the meaning of this chapter! I wish never to learn the art of tearing God’s meaning out of His own Words. If there is anything clear and plain, the literal sense and meaning of this passage—a meaning not to be spirited or spiritualized away—it must be evident that both the two and the ten tribes of Israel are to be restored to their own land and that a king is to rule over them. “Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen where they are gone and will gather them on every side and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king to them all.”

From J.C. Ryle (previously posted here and also here):

Beware of that system of allegorizing, and spiritualizing, and accommodating, which the school of Origen first brought in, in the Church. … Settle in your mind, in reading the Psalms and Prophets that Israel means Israel, and Zion means Zion and Jerusalem means Jerusalem. And, finally, whatever edification you derive from applying to your own soul the words which God addresses to His ancient people, never lose sight of the primary sense of the text.

and

What I protest against is, the habit of allegorizing plain sayings of the Word of God concerning the future history of the nation Israel, and explaining away the fullness of their contents in order to accommodate them to the Gentile Church. I believe the habit to be unwarranted by anything in Scripture, and to draw after it a long train of evil consequences.

Where, I would venture to ask, in the whole New Testament, shall we find any plain authority for applying the word “Israel” to anyone but the nation Israel? I can find none. On the contrary, I observe that when the Apostle Paul quotes Old Testament prophecies about the privileges of the Gentiles in Gospel times, he is careful to quote texts which specially mention the “Gentiles” by name. The fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a striking illustration of what I mean. We are often told in the New Testament that, under the Gospel, believing Gentiles are “fellow heirs and partakers of the same hope “with believing Jews. (Ephes. 3:6.) But that believing Gentiles may be called “Israelites,” I cannot see anywhere at all.

And from Horatius Bonar (previously posted here and here):

To attach a general meaning to a whole chapter, as is frequently done, shows not only grievous irreverence for the Divine Word, but much misconception of the real nature of that language in which it is written. Yet such is often the practice of many expositors of prophecy. They will take up a chapter of Isaiah, and tell you that it refers to the future glory of the Christian Church; and that is the one idea which they gather from a whole chapter, or sometimes from a series of chapters. Their system does not admit of interpreting verse by verse and clause by clause, and affixing an exact and definite sense to each. Bring them to this test, and their system gives way. It looks fair and plausible enough, so long as they can persuade you that the whole chapter is one scene, out of which it is merely designed that one grand idea should be extracted; but bring it to the best of minute and precise interpretation, and its nakedness is at once discovered. Many prophecies become in this way a mere waste of words.  What might be expressed in one sentence, is beaten out over a whole chapter; nay, sometimes over a whole book.

These expositors think that there is nothing in prophecy, except that Jew and Gentile are all to be gathered in, and made one in Christ. Prophet after prophet is raised up, vision after vision is given, and yet nothing is declared but this one idea! Every chapter almost of Isaiah foretells something about the future glory of the world; and every chapter presents it to us in some new aspect, opening up new scenes, and pointing out new objects; but, according to the scheme of some, every chapter sets forth the same idea, reiterates the same objects, and depicts the same scenes. Is not this handling the Word of God deceitfully?

What liberties do some interpreters take with the prophetic word! They find in every page almost what they call figurative language, and, under this idea, they explain away whole chapters without scruple or remorse. They complain much of the obscurity of the prophetic language. It is an obscurity, however, of their own creating. If they will force figures upon the prophets when they are manifestly speaking with all plainness and literality, no wonder that darkness and mystery seem to brood over the prophetic page. . . . Proceeding, then, upon this principle, that we must take all as literal till we are forced from it by something inconsistent or absurd, we shall find a far smoother and straighter way through the fields of prophecy than most men will believe. If we take the waters as we find them, we shall enjoy them clear and fresh; but if we will always be searching for some fancied figure at the bottom, or casting in one when we do not readily discover it, we need not be astonished nor complain that the stream is turbid and impure.

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  1. Elaine Bittencourt
    September 19, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Thank you for posting this Lynda!

  2. September 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Great quotes. In a similar vein, I find odd how the rabbis often ignore the primary (con)text and add their bits, which they say are the Oral Torah. For example, in Genesis it says “And God saw that it was very good,” which means, they say, that God was only satisfied with his creation when he had created the “evil inclination” (yetser hara). When it comes to the future of ethnic and national Israel, though, that is always as the primary/surface/literal level says.

    • September 20, 2012 at 3:24 pm

      Thanks, Bography. Ah yes, the Jewish imagination… reminds me of a conversation just today, Elaine and I and a few others discussing (Jewish Christian) Arnold Fruchtenbaum and his fascination with hidden things, like getting a prophecy about Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism out of the three measures of meal in the Matthew 13 parable.

      • September 21, 2012 at 10:14 pm

        Ha ha, that’s a good ‘un. Even Christ as a “hard time” knocking it out of ’em.

  3. September 20, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Very timely Lynda!

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