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PRELIMINARY REMARKS ON THE CHERUBIC
MY DEAR FRIEND,
The compassion shown to our first parents, after their fall, by their gracious Creator, who came down to visit them in order to bring them to repentance, and to discover to them his
purposes of mercy, has been the subject of some preceding letters.
This Divine compassion appeared richly in the primary promise of redemption, and in the illustrative rite of sacrificature, the institution of which accompanied that promise. The conduct of the Divine Person who appeared to the disconsolate ancestors of our race, reminds one, though the comparison is very imperfect, of the conduct of Joseph towards his afflicted brethren; when, in order to relieve their deep distress, he cried, “I am Joseph your brother whom ye sold into Egypt.”
But the discovery of mercy was not confined to the circumstances I have mentioned. The guilty bosom of a sinner is, even now when all the riches of Divine mercy have been fully disclosed to
view in the person and work of the Redeemer, and when its purposes have been confirmed in the experience of a great cloud of witnesses, with difficulty brought to a state of repose by means of faith in Christ Jesus. The difficulty must have been greater in proportion as the revelation of mercy was more obscure. But God, in the ages that are past, did all that the dispensation allowed, to explain and confirm the foundation of human hope, laid in the proposal of reconciliation through the vicarious obedience of a Divine Surety. The explanation and confirmation of this most gracious scheme was, I am convinced, the object of the CHERUBIC IMAGES, of which we read at the close of the chapter which contains the History of the Fall.
In entering on the reasons which have convinced my mind on this subject, I must beg your concession of two or three preliminaries; which however appear to me so very reasonable as to admit of no hesitation. You will concede, then,
First, That the short notices found in the book of Genesis, often require and obtain explanation from subsequent Scriptures. Such, for instance, are the hints which demonstrate the existence of a Divinely instituted ceremonial code previous to the Sinaitic dispensation. These indeed are so numerous as to lead my mind to a conclusion that the additions made by the Mosaic institute consisted chiefly in a reformation of abuses
occasioned by the long residence of Israel in the idolatrous country of Egypt.* Perhaps in some future letter, if you are not tired of the subject, I may point out to you these traces of ceremonial observances, which are too many in number, too early in their origin, and too long and too widely diffused, to admit of their being attributed to chance or human invention. These notices would have been, however, wholly unintelligible, both as to the nature of the observances enjoined, and more especially in their typical intention, had not Moses, in his subsequent writings, furnished the key with its wards complete, and had not the New Testament, and especially the Epistle to the Hebrews, applied that key to unlock the mysteries of the everlasting Gospel. To subsequent Scriptures, then, we shall have recourse for an explanation of the CHERUBIM.
SECONDLY, you will also concede, That the CHERUBIC figures were of a symbolical character. * This, at least with respect to every other passage in which they are mentioned besides this in Genesis, is, I believe, unquestioned. I must, at present, take it for granted that they were so, whether as appearing “ on the east of the Garden of Eden,” on the mercy seat in the Mosaic Tabernacle and in the Temple, or in the visionary exhibitions made to Isaiah, Ezekiel, and St. John.
* See Bryant on the plagues of Egypt. It may, perhaps, be safely conceded, that additions were made to existing institutions, at the time when the ceremonial and moral codes were republished from Mount Sinai, intended, chiefly or solely, to rectify perversions and corruptions, which idolatry had occasioned in institutions which were originally Divine. But to contend, as Dr. Spencer does, that the Mosaic ritual is derived from, or founded on, the practices of idolatry, is to forget that the book of Genesis contains notices of a patriarchal ritual, to which all the grand features of the Mosaic institute
may be clearly traced. See Spencer De Legibus Hebræorum, throughout.
THIRDLY, That they symbolize one and the same thing, whenever they are mentioned. If a variety of interpretation, without
* Verisimilime est olim sic usum obtinuisse, (sc. vocandi sacras imagines arcæ operculo impositas, nomine Cherubim) ut vox hæc non figuras simplices, sed certis animantium formis mixtas, indicaret : adeo ut Cherubim apud Hebræos, prout Sphynges apud Ethnicos, figuras poeticas et quasi hieroglyphica denotarent. Hac de re persuasum est mihi, quod LXX, quanquam centies occurrat vox Cherubim,
transferant, sed per xepaßore perpetuo reddant: quid autem ita faciunt, nisi quod vox Cherubim illam formarum compositionem notaret, cui exprimendæ impar erat Græcorum lingua? Deinde : satis e Scripturis elucet, et omnium consensu firmatur, Cherubim figuras mixtas fuisse ; et tabernaculi templique artifices, communi tantùm vocis usu doctos, earum figuras plane cognitas habuisse : nam apertum est, Deum quid per Cherubim voluit, nullibi distinctè et perspicuè explicuisse. Spencer de Legibus Hebræo
Lib. iii. Cap. iii. Diss. v. Sect. 1. What more distinct description of their form could have been given than that which is found in the first chapter of Ezekiel ? The late occurrence of this description, however, proves, that previously to the captivity their form was well understood ; otherwise such a description would have been as necessary at the erection of the tabernacle and the building of the first temple, as it was at the building of the second.
connexion, be admitted into the language of symbols, the utmost confusion is introduced into typology and prophecy.* There can be no certainty in any explanation of the shadows of the law, nor'of the predictions of Divinely inspired Seers, whose language is to replete with metaphor, unless their
* A want of consistency in this point is remarkable in the learned dissertations of Dr. Spencer on the subject. Sometimes he represents the Cherubim as the throne or the chariot of the Deity : at other times he compares them with the heathen images which were considered as the habitation of their Gods, and derives their introduction into the Tabernacle and Temple from the temples of the heathen and the representations of the objects of their worship therein placed. Deus imagines hasce cherubicas præsentid et habitatione suá decorari voluit. Ægyptiorum denique simulacra multiformia, hieroglyphica plurimum erant, disciplinæ suæ mysteriis exprimendis (dicam, an celandis) inservientia : erant et Hebræorum Cherubini veluti symbola, Dei et angelorum proprietates maximè insignes adumbrantia. Spencer. Sect. iv. Seraphins Elohim nomine quandoque donantur in codice infallibili. Id. Lib. iii. cap. iii. Diss. vii. Sect. vii.
Ex hisce (scil emblematibus) hos quatuor præcipuos veluti consiliarios, quos Græci Genios, Ægyptii Hempthæi Numinis stipatores, et ad mandata ejus exsequenda promptissimos nuncios vocant. Wits. Ægyptiaca. Lib. i. cap. ix. Sect. i. Had Spencer identified the Cherubim of the temple, in their design and object, with those on the east of Eden, he could not have maintained that these images were of Ethnic origin. Mr. Maurice, in his Indian Antiquities, has fallen into the same inconsistency. If the Cherubim were the throne of God, there were two th nes, one on the other; for the mercy seat on which they were placed, certainly bears this character.