Capricornus, the Goat
Sagitta, the Arrow
Aquila, the Eagle
Delphinus, the Dolphin
DEATH AND NEW LIFE
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
In connection with these words I continue the study of that evangelic record which we find written on the stars in the ancient astronomy.
As far as we have gone in these investigations, four signs of the Zodiac, with their accompanying Decans, have been discussed – Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, and Sagittarius. Eight more of these signs accordingly remain to be considered; and to these, in their order, I propose that we now direct our attention.
ORDER OF THE SIGNS
Perhaps this is as good a place as any that may offer to remark the fact that these twelve signs of the Solar Zodiac divide themselves into three distinct groups, each group having its own distinct subject. The first group, consisting of the four signs which have already been before us, relates to the Person Work, and Triumph of the illustrious Redeemer, with special reference to himself. The next succeeding group, consisting of Capricornus, Aquarius, Pisces, and Aries, with their several Decans, relates to the Fruits of His Work and Mediatorship – the formation, condition, and destiny of the Church, or that body of people spiritually born to Him through faith, and made partakers of the benefits of His redemptive administrations; whilst the third and last group relates to the final Consummation of the whole in the united glory of the Redeemer and the redeemed, and the exalted condition of things which the Consummation is to realize. All this will be more clearly brought out as we proceed. At present we make our entrance upon the second or middle group.
THE SIGN OF CAPRICORNUS
Here we have the picture of a fallen goat with the vigorous tail of a fish – half goat and half fish. It may seem singular and far-fetched to connect the text with such a figure.
A little consideration, however, will show that the subject-matter in both is in fact identical, though the particular imagery is entirely different. That of the text is the image which we had in Virgo, where the illustrious Son of the virgin is likened to a grain of corn or seed, denoted by Spica, the ear of wheat. It was necessary for this seed or grain of wheat to fall into the ground and die in order to reach its intended fruitfulness, which fruitfulness arises directly out of such falling and dying. The meaning of the passage is, that Christ was to die as a sacrifice, and that by virtue of His sacrificial death salvation was to come to man and the congregation of saved ones formed. As Wordsworth expresses it, “He compares himself to a grain of corn, which would be buried by the unbelief of the Jews, but would fructify in the faith of the Gentiles. As much as to say, I will die, that they may live. My death will be their birth.”
As the phœnix was said to arise out of the ashes of its consumed predecessor, so the Church, or congregation of saints, rises out of the death of Christ, sacrificed for the sins of the world. This is everywhere the teaching of the Scriptures, and nowhere more pointedly and graphically than in this text.
And when we translate this idea into the imagery of the fifth sign of the Zodiac, we find another very graphic and much older picture of precisely the same thing.
TYPE AND ANTITYPE
First of all, we have here the figure of a goat. This is a sacrificial animal. God commanded the children of Israel, saying, “Take ye a kid of the goats for a sin-offering.”
So Aaron “took the goat, which was the sin-offering for the people, and slew it, and offered it for sin” (Leviticus 9:15). And of the goat of the sin-offering Moses said, “It is most holy, and God hath given it to you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord” (Lev. 10: 16, 17).
In the next place, this goat is fallen down in the attitude of dying. His one leg is doubled under his body, and the other is powerless to lift him up. His head is drooping and sinking in death. This is the identical falling and dying of Christ as the sin-offering to which He refers in the text. It is the same Seed of the woman, in the attitude and condition of a sacrifice for sin. Christ surely was “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities.” “He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was He stricken.”
As the Head of the flock He suffered in their stead, and laid down His life in sacrifice that they might live. And here it is written on the stars from the earliest ages, and with a vividness of pictorial representation which no one can contemplate without realizing that the picture is intensely striking.
The names in this sign also point to the same thought and significance. Gedi and Dabih are the most prominent stars in this constellation; and in Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac these names mean, the cut-off, the hewn-down, the sacrifice slain. Other stars in the same constellation have names of similar import, signifying the slaying, the record of the cutting off. Even the elements of the name of the sign as we still have it from the Latins, Capricornus, mean not only the goat, but atonement, sinking or bowed in death. And if there is any significance whatever in these celestial pictures, we have in this sign the symbol of sacrificial death, which is the exact idea of the text.
But it is at the same time a picture of another kind of life, developed out of this sacrificial death, and vitally conjoined with it. The body of the fallen and dying goat terminates in the body and tail of a vigorous fish. The living fish thus takes its being out of the dying goat, and has all its life and vigour from thence. Accordingly, the Coptic name of this sign signifies the station or mansion of bearing. In addition to the falling and dying, it is the sign of a mystic procreation and bringing forth. That which is brought forth is a fish, which is again a familiar and well-understood sacred symbol.
When Jesus called and appointed His first ministers He said, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). So when God said He will bring the children of Israel again into their own land, His word was, “I will send for many fishers, and they shall fish them” (Jer. 16: 15, 16). So in Ezekiel’s vision of the holy waters the word was, “And there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither” (Ez. 47:1-9).
Christ speaks of His saved ones as “born of water” (John 3:5). In the parable of the drag-net and in the miraculous draughts of fishes God’s people are contemplated as fishes. Hence, in both Testaments fishes stand as the symbol of believers. “Fishes signify regenerate persons,” says Dr. Gill. “Fish are those that are wrought upon and brought in by the Gospel, and are so called for six reasons,” says Greenhill. “Fish are the men who have attained to life by the Messianic salvation,” says Dr. Hengstenberg. The early Christians were accustomed to call believers Ichthues and Pisces – that is, fishes. In the name and titles of our Lord – “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Saviour” – the initials in Greek form a word or name which signifies a fish, and hence the Fathers technically designated Christ as the mystic divine Fish, who in the waters of baptism begets the multitude of fishes – the congregation of His people. Christ is therefore at once the sacrificial goat of the sin-offering and the begetter of a body of reborn men, the Church, the congregation of the quickened and saved.
The diction of the Scriptures thus answers exactly to the figure in this sign, which is the dying goat developed into a fish body.
THE MYSTICAL UNION
Even the great New Testament doctrine of the Mystical Union of believers with their Saviour is here most strikingly signified. As men naturally are but reproductions and perpetuations of Adam, and live his life, so Christ’s people are the reproduction and perpetuation of Christ, living His life. They are in Him as the branch is in the vine.
They are repeatedly called His body, one with Him, “members of His body and of His flesh and of His bones.” And so close and real is their life-connection and incorporation with Him that they are in a sense sometimes called “Christ.” What, then, could better symbolize this than the sign before us? This goat and fish are one – one being, the life of the dying reproduced and continued in a spiritual product which is part of one and the same body. The goat of sacrifice sinks into a new creation, which is yet an organic part of itself. The image is grotesque, and has no prototype in Nature, but it is true, exact and graphic. The forgiveness and regeneration of men, and their incorporation with Christ, is something wholly above Nature – something altogether miraculous – which could not be adequately signified by any natural symbols; and so, as the double nature of the Redeemer himself was denoted by an arbitrary figure, half horse and half man, so the relation between Him as the Sin-bearer and His saved people, who live by virtue of His death, is denoted by another arbitrary figure, made up of a dying goat and a living fish. Nor is it in the power of human genius or imagination to devise another figure capable of setting forth more simply and truly the great and glorious mystery.
The myths concerning this sign correspond with these interpretations. This goat is everywhere regarded as Pan, Bacchus, or some divine personage. How he came to have the form of a goat is explained after this fashion: The gods were feasting near a great river, when suddenly the terrible Typhon came upon them, compelling them to assume other shapes in order to escape his fury. Bacchus took the form of a goat and plunged into the river, and that part of his body which was under the water took the form of a fish. To commemorate the occurrence Jupiter placed him in the heavens in his metamorphosed shape. The story is absurd, but through it shines something of the great original idea. It was to secure deliverance from sin, and from the ruinous power of the Devil, that the Son of God took upon Him the form of a Sin-bearer and Sacrifice, and in this character was plunged into the deep waters of death. It was by His taking of this form, and His sinking in death as our substitute and propitiation, that life came to those who were under the power of death, whereby they became a living part of Him, never more to be separated from Him. The myth is only a paganized paraphrase of the original reference which the Spirit of sacred prophecy had written in the primeval astronomy, whence the whole conception originated.
Dagon, the half-fish god of the Philistines, and Oannes, the half-fish god of the Babylonians, also connect with this Zodiacal Capricornus, and have embodied in them the same original thought as well as figure. Philo tells us that Dagon means fruitfulness, the seed-producing; and so Christ is the Seed, the Corn of wheat, fallen and dying in the goat, but producing the living fish, the Church, which is the travail of His soul, the true fruit of His atonement. Eusebius says that Dagon was the god of husbandry, the god of seeds and harvests. Pluche says that Dagon among the Philistines was the same as Horus among the Egyptians; and Horus takes the character of the meek and silent Sufferer from whom comes the horn of blessing and plenty. Dagon had the human form in place of the goat, but that was only a further interpretation of the meaning; for the goat part of Capricornus stands for the Seed of the woman, and so is in reality the man Christ Jesus.
Berosus speaks of Oannes as likewise half man and half fish. Some of the ancient pictures of him still remain, in which he is figured as a great fish outside, but under and within the fish, and joined with it as its more vital interior, was a tall and vigorous man, standing upright in great dignity, with one hand lifted up as if calling for attention, and in the other carrying a basket or satchel as if filled with treasure. He is fabled as having risen out of the sea to teach the primitive Babylonians the secrets of wisdom, particularly the elements of culture, civilization, and law, organizing them into a prosperous commonwealth. An ancient fragment says of him: “He grew not old in wisdom, and the wise people with his wisdom he filled.” The representation is throughout in full accord with what I have been saying of Capricornus.
There is a coming up out of the deep in glorious life, and a blessed fruitfulness brought forth thereby, and that fruitfulness in the form of instructed, wise, and disciplined people. It is the fallen Seed of the woman risen up from death after having gone down into the invisible and unknown world, begetting and creating a new order among men – the dying Seed issuing in the believing body, the Church, in which He still lives and walks and teaches and blesses. The myth embodies the exact story of the sign.
Moreover, the very complexity of the figure of Capricornus, at first so confusing and hard to construe, conducts us into still further particularities of evangelic truth. As far as we have been looking at it, we see the literal death of one being issuing in the spiritual life of other beings, of whose new life He is the life. It is Christ in the one case corporeally sacrificed, and His people mystically resurrected to newness of life in the other. But along with this goes a reflex which it is important for us to observe, as it brings out some of the deep practical spiritualities of true religion.
Of course, the rising of the fishes out of the dying goat implies the literal and potent resurrection of Christ himself as the Begetter and Giver of this spiritual resurrection to His people; for if He did not rise, then no preaching or believing would avail to bring us to life or salvation. But as we rise to spiritual life through the power of His resurrection, so there is also implied a dying with Him in order to rise with Him; for there is no resurrection where there has been no dying. We look for a resurrection of the body, because there is first a death of the body. And as God’s people are partakers of a mystic or spiritual resurrection, there goes before it a corresponding death. That death out of which their new life comes through and in Christ is twofold. It is first a deadness in sin – existence indeed, but morally and spiritually a mere carcass, with no life-standing to the law or any practical spiritual life toward God and heaven – a life that is nothing but spiritual death. In the next place, it is death to sin, both as to its penalty and power, a cessation of the mere carnal life and of further existence under condemnation. Now, the great office of religion, through the Seed of the woman and His sacrificial offering of himself to expiate our sins, is to bring death to this old life in sin and death, and by this wounding, slaying and putting off of the old man of corruption, to generate, evolve, sustain, teach and train the new man, which is renewed after the image of Christ’s own resurrection, and which beams with better knowledge and true holiness.
Christ corporeally dies for us, and we mystically die to the old death-life with, in, and by virtue of Him. We die to the death-penalty which holds us whilst in the mere carnal life, and put it clean off from us for ever, in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, by accepting Him and believing in Him as our Surety and Propitiation; and in really taking Him as our Redeemer and Hope there is such a force in our faith, and it is in itself such a living and active power, that in the very exercise of it we necessarily die to the pursuit and service of sin. In other words, beginning to live in Christ, we begin to die to the old carnal life. The one is the correlative of the other. Hence the apostolic word: “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life,…knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6: 2-7).
This, then, is the meaning of the picture: The Seed of the woman takes our death-penalty on himself, and dies a sacrifice for our sins, so that believers die with Him to all the old life of condemnation and sin; out of this death He springs up in resurrection-power, in which believers rise with Him by being brought to know and accept the truth and to follow His teachings in lively hope of a still further rising in immortal glory at the last; in all of which we behold the much fruit yielded by the seed of wheat falling to the ground and dying.
And with these presentations agree the accompanying side-pieces or Decans.
The first is Sagitta, the shot and killing arrow. It appears naked and alone. It has left the bow, and is speeding to its aim. It is a heavenly arrow, and He who shoots it is invisible. There is a majesty and a mystery about it which startles and awes. It is the death-arrow of almighty justice, which goes forth from the throne against all unrighteousness and sin. It is that death-inflicting instrument which comes with resistless force and sharpness against a world that lieth in sin, and which pierces the spotless Son of God as found in the place of guilty and condemned man. The execution it does is shown in the fallen and dying goat. It is the arrow of divine justice and condemnation upon sin piercing through the body and soul of the meek Lamb of God, who agreed to bear our sins and answer for them.
In the thirty-eighth Psalm we have this very arrow of God sticking fast in the body of the mysterious Sufferer, wounding His flesh and His bones, and completely overwhelming Him. He is troubled and bowed down, as under a crushing burden. His heart panteth, his strength faileth, the light of his eyes fades out. Not only is he the persecuted object of man’s hatred, but shut up within the strong bars of divine judgment. It was divine grace that prepared and shot that arrow against the person of the blameless One; but, being found in the room and stead of sinners, God’s holy vengeance could not hold back for the sparing even of the only-begotten of the Father, so full of grace and truth. Christ came into the world to die for it; and toward this lowest deep His steps daily led Him as He looked onward to the harvest that was being sown amid these tears. It would seem almost as if the song of the Psalmist had been copied direct from what is thus pictured in these signs.
But this Arrow doubtless covers a further idea. There is a spiritual piercing and slaying in the case of those who come to new life in Christ, akin to the piercing and slaying of Christ himself. Sharp and hurtful words are compared to arrows. And of this character are the words of God as pronounced upon the wicked, judging and condemning them for their sins, bringing them down from their lofty self-security, and killing out of them the vain imaginings in which they live. Isaiah speaks of this sort of shaft or arrow in the Lord’s quiver – the arrow of the Word – the arrow of conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment – a wounding and killing arrow which enters into men’s souls, and makes humble penitents of them, that they may come to life in Christ. The death of Christ for our sins also takes the form of a word, preaching, testimony, and argument, even the preaching of the Cross, to kill the life of sin and to cause men to die unto it; so that the very arrow of sovereign justice which drank up the life of Christ as our Substitute and Propitiation passes through Him to pierce also those whose life in sin cost Him all this humiliation and pain; also killing them to that life that they may live the Christ-life as His renewed, justified, and redeemed children.
Thus the Arrow fills out precisely the same ideas which we find symbolized in the sign of Capricornus.
THE PIERCED EAGLE
The second Deacon adds still further to the clearness and certainty of the meaning. This is the constellation of Aquila, the pierced, wounded, and falling eagle. It is but another picture of the grain of wheat falling and dying. The principle star in this constellation is of the first magnitude, and is the star by which the position of the moon – also a symbol of the Church – is noted for the computation of longitude at sea. Its name is Al Tair, which in Arabic means the wounded. The name of the second star in the same language means the scarlet-coloured – covered with blood. The name of the third means the torn, whilst that of another means the wounded in the heel. It is simply impossible to explain how all these names got into this sign and its Decans, except by intention to denote the great fact of the promised Saviour’s death.
The myths explain this eagle in different ways. Some say it is Merops, king of Cos, the husband of Ethemea, who lamented for his condemned wife, and was transformed into an eagle and placed among the stars.
Some say it is the form assumed by Jupiter in carrying off Ganymedes, whilst others describe it as the eagle which brought nectar to Jupiter while he lay concealed in the Cretan cave by reason of the fury and wrath of Saturn.
In short, pagan wisdom did not know what it meant, though holding it in marked regard. And yet, as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it, and reigns in glory for its good – as He humbled himself in obedience to death that He might take to himself a glorious Church to serve the eternal Father in immortal blessedness – as He was really brought down into the cave of death, whence He was revived by heavenly virtues after the exhaustion of the fierce wrath of insulted sovereignty, – we can still see some dim reflections of the original truth and meaning even in these confused and contradictory fables.
The eagle is one of the biblical symbols of Christ. “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings and brought you unto myself” (Ex. 19:4), “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; so the Lord alone did lead him” (Deut. 32:11, 12). The eagle is a royal bird, and the natural enemy of the serpent. It is elevated in its habits, strong, and swift. It is very careful and tender toward its young, and is said to tear itself to nourish them with its own blood when all other means fail. And here is the noble Eagle, the promised Seed of the woman, pierced, torn, and bleeding, that those begotten in His image may be saved from death, sheltered, protected, and made to live for ever.
But, as in the case of the Arrow, so also in this case, the figure will admit the further idea which takes in the proud sinner, pierced by the arrow of the Word and brought down into the humiliation of penitence, even to death and despair as to all his former hopes in himself. And until the high-soaring children of pride are thus brought down by the arrow of God’s Word, and fall completely out of the heaven of their dreams, conformably to Christ’s death for them, there can come to them no right life. Paul was alive without the law once, and a very high-soaring and bloodthirsty eagle; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and he died – died the death that could alone bring him to right life.
The third Decan of this sign is the beautiful cluster of little stars named Delphinus.
It is the figure of a vigorous fish leaping upward. Taken in connection with the dying goat, it conveys the idea of springing up again out of death. Our great Sin-bearer not only died for our sins, but He also rose again, thereby becoming “the first-fruits of them that slept.” As the Head and Representative of His Church, He is the principal fish in the congregation of the fishes. Their quickening, life, and spiritual resurrection rest on His coming forth again after having gone down into the waves of death for their sakes.
Put to death in the flesh, He was quickened by the Spirit, and in His quickening and resurrection all His people share. Their sins having been buried in His death, their life is by virtue of His resurrection, that “like as He was raised from the dead, so we should walk in newness of life,” ever advancing toward a still more complete resurrection to come. The corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies, but from that death there is a springing up again to the intended fruitfulness.
Christ dies and rises again, and His people, slain in their old carnal confidence, absolved by His suffering of the penalty due to them, and planting themselves solely upon Him as their Lord and Redeemer, rise with Him into the new, spiritual, and eternal life. The picture of the dying goat, with its after-part a living fish, implied this, but the nature of the transition could not be so well expressed in that figure by itself. Hence the additional explanatory figure of an upspringing fish, to show more vividly that the transition is by means of resurrection to a new life of another style. We thus have the vivid symbol of both the resurrection of the slain Saviour as the Head of the Church, and the included new creation of His people, who rise to their new life through His death and resurrection.
In ancient mythology the dolphin was the most sacred and honoured of fishes, doubtless because of its place among the ancient constellations, though the myths representing it are very different. It was specially sacred to Apollo, and its name was added to his – some say, because he slew the dragon; others say, because in the form of a dolphin he showed the Cretan colonists the way to Delphi, the most celebrated place in the Grecian world and the seat of the most famous of all the oracles. According to some accounts, it was a dolphin which brought about the marriage of the unwilling Amphitrite with the god of the sea, and for this it received place among the stars. The muddy waters reflect something of the original idea. Christ was the true Son of Deity. It was He who broke the Dragon’s power by submitting to become the atoning Mediator. “In all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” By His death and resurrection He has opened and shown the way by which His people come to the blessed city of which Jehovah is the light. By His mediation He has brought about a marriage between men in flight from their Lord and Him who loved them with a love that passeth knowledge. And in believing foretoken of all this His sign, as the Head of His people, was thus placed in the heavens, where it stands as another form of the parable of the buried corn of wheat rising in new life, of which all who are His are partakers.
SALVATION THROUGH ATONEMENT
Capricornus is thus the illustrious bearer and witness of the most vital evangelical truths. There is no more central or important doctrine of our holy faith than this, that the pure and sinless Son of God, having assumed our nature for the purpose, did really and truly take the sins of the world upon Him, and bore the agonies of an accursed death as the sacrifice and propitiation for our guilt. Whatever difficulty human reason may have in receiving it, it is the very heart and substance of the Gospel tidings, on which all the hopes of fallen man repose. “Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day, that repentance and remission of sins might be preached in His name” (Luke 24: 46, 47).
This “first of all” Paul preached, and Christians received and held, “how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15: 3, 4). “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also himself likewise took part of the same, that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2: 14, 15). Hence the highest apostolic song on earth is that led off by the holy seer of Patmos: “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father; to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever;” whilst the saints in heaven, in devoutest adoration, fall down before the Lamb, and cry, “Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood” (Rev. 1:5, 6; 5:9).
And how cheering and confirmatory to our faith to see and know that what Prophets and Apostles have been testifying on earth the heavens themselves have been proclaiming for all these ages! How assuring to know that what we build our hope on now is the same that the holy patriarchs from Adam’s time built on as their hope and joy! They believed and expected, and hung their faith and testimony on the stars, that in the fullness of time the Seed of the woman should come, and bow himself in death as the Sin-offering for a guilty world, and rise again in life and fruitfulness of saving virtues, whereby His Church should rise with Him, sharing at once the merit of His atonement and the power of His resurrection, and thus live and reign in inseparable union with himself in life and glory everlasting.
Yes, this strange goat-fish, dying in its head, but living in its after-part – falling as an eagle pierced and wounded by the arrow of death, but springing up from the dark waves with the matchless vigour and beauty of the dolphin – sinking under sin’s condemnation, but rising again as sin’s conqueror – developing new life out of death – was framed by no blind chance of man. The story which it tells is the old, old story on which hangs the only availing hope that ever came, or ever can come, to Adam’s race. To what it signifies we are for ever shut up as the only saving faith. In that dying Seed of the woman we must see our Sin-bearer and the atonement for our guilt, or die ourselves unpardoned and unsanctified. Through His death and blood-shedding we must find our life, or the true life, which alone is life, we never can have.
“The wheaten corn which falls and dies,
In autumn’s plenty richly waves;
So, from the loathsome place of graves,
With Christ, our Elder, we may rise.
From death comes life! The hand of God
This direst curse to good transforms;
So purest air is born of storms;
So bursts the harvest from the clod.”