PERIOD I, PART VI
FROM THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY TO THE COMING OF CHRIST
I COME now to the last period of the Old Testament, viz. that which begins with the Babylonian captivity, and extends to the coming of Christ, being the greatest part of six hundred years, to show how the work of redemption was carried on through this period.
But before I enter upon particulars, I would observe in three things wherein this period is distinguished from the preceding periods of the times of the Old Testament.
1. Though we have no account of a great part of this period in the scripture history, yet the events of this period are more the subject of scripture prophecy, than any of the preceding periods. There are two ways wherein the Scriptures give account of the events by which the work of redemption is carried on. One is by history, and another is by prophecy. And in one or the other of these ways we have contained in the Scriptures an account how the work of redemption is carried on from the beginning to the end. Although the Scriptures do not contain a proper history of the whole, yet there is contained the whole chain of great events by which this affair has been carried on from the foundation, soon after the fall of man, to the finishing of it at the end of the world, either in history or prophecy. And it is to be observed, that where the Scripture is wanting in one of these ways, it is made up in the other. Where scripture history fails, there prophecy takes place, so that be account is still carried on, and the chain is not broken, until we come to the very last link of it in the consummation of all things.
And accordingly it is observable of this period or space of time that we are upon, that though it is so much less the subject of scripture history, than most of the preceding periods, so that there is above four hundred years of it that the Scriptures give us no history of, yet the events of this period are more the subject of scripture prophecy, than the events of all the preceding periods put together. Most of those remarkable prophecies of the book of Daniel do refer to events that were accomplished in this period. So most of those prophecies in Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, against Babylon, and Tyrus, and against Egypt, and many other nations, were fulfilled in this period.
So that the reason why the Scriptures give us no history of so great a part of this period, is not because the events of this period were not so important, or less worthy to be taken notice of, than the events of the foregoing periods. For I shall hereafter show how great and distinguishably remarkable the events of this period were. But there are several other reasons which may be given of it. One is, that it was the will of God that the spirit of prophecy should cease in this period (for reasons that may be given hereafter) so that there were no prophets to write the history of these times. And therefore God designing this, took care that the great events of this period should not be without mention in his Word, and so ordered it, that the prophecies of Scripture should be more full here, than in the preceding periods. It is observable, that that set of writing prophets that God raised up in Israel, were raised up at the latter end of the foregoing period, and at the beginning of this, which it is likely was partly for that reason, that the time was now approaching, of which the spirit of prophecy having ceased. There was to be no scripture history, and therefore no other scripture account but what was given in prophecy.
And another reason that may he given why there was so great a part of this period left without an historical account in Scripture, is that God in his providence took care, that there should be authentic and full accounts of the events of this period preserved in profane history. It is remarkable, and very worthy to be taken notice of, that with respect to the events of the five preceding periods, of which the Scriptures give the history, profane history gives us no account, or at least of but very few of them. There are many fabulous and uncertain accounts of things that happened before, but the beginning of the times of authentic profane history is judged to be but a little before Nebuchadnezzar’s time, about an hundred years before. The learned men among the Greeks and Romans used to call the ages before that the fabulous age, but the times after that they called the historical age. And from about that time to the coming of Christ, we have undoubted accounts in profane history of the principal events, accounts that wonderfully agree with the many prophecies that we have in Scripture of those times.
Thus did the great God, that disposes all things, order it. He took care to give an historical account of things from the beginning of the world, through all those former ages which profane history does not reach, and ceased not until he came to those later ages in which profane history related things with some certainty. And concerning those times, he gives us abundant account in prophecy, that by comparing profane history with those prophecies, we might see the agreement.
2. This period being the last period of the Old Testament, and the next to the coming of Christ, seems to have been remarkably distinguished from all others in the great revolutions that were among the nations of the earth, to make way for the kingdom of Christ. The time now drawing nigh, wherein Christ, the great King and Savior of the world, was to come, great and mighty were the changes that were brought to pass in order to it. The way had been preparing for the coming of Christ from the fall of man, through all the foregoing periods. But now the time drawing nigh, things began to ripen apace for Christ’s coming, and therefore divine Providence wrought wonderfully now. The greatest revolutions that any history whatsoever gives an account of, that ever had been from the flood, fell out in this period. Almost all the then known world, i.e. all the nations that were round about the land of Canaan, far and near, that were within the reach of their knowledge, were overturned again and again. All lands were in their turns subdued, captivated, and as it were emptied, and turned upside down, and that, most of them repeatedly, in this period, agreeable to that prophecy, Isa. 24:1, “Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty; he maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof.”
This emptying, and turning upside down, began with God’s visible church, in their captivity by the king of Babylon. And then the cup from them went round to all other nations, agreeable to what God revealed to the Prophet Jeremiah, Jer. 25:15-27. Here special respect seems to be had to the great revolutions that there were on the face of the earth in the times of the Babylonian empire. But after that there were three general overturnings of the world before Christ came, in the succession of the three great monarchies of the world that were after the Babylonian empire. The king of Babylon is represented in Scripture as overturning the world. But after that, the Babylonian empire was overthrown by Cyrus, who founded the Persian empire in the room of it, which was of much greater extent than the Babylonian empire in its greatest glory. Thus the world was overturned the second time. And then, after that, the Persian empire was overthrown by Alexander, and the Grecian empire was set up upon the ruins of it, which was still of much greater extent than the Persian empire. And thus there was a general overturning of the world a third time. And then, after that, the Grecian empire was overthrown by the Romans, and the Roman empire was established, which vastly exceeded all the foregoing empires in power and extent of dominion. And so the world was overturned the fourth time.
These several monarchies, and the great revolutions of the world under them, are abundantly spoken of in the prophecies of Daniel. They are represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold, silver, brass, and iron, and Daniel’s interpretation of it in the Dan 2, and then in Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, and the angel’s interpretation of it in Dan. 7. And the succession of the Persian and Grecian monarchies is more particularly represented in Dan. 8, in Daniel’s vision of the ram and the he-goat, and again in Dan. 11.
And besides these four general overturnings of the world, the world was kept in a constant tumult between whiles. And indeed the world was as it were in a continual convulsion through this whole period until Christ came. Before this period, the face of the earth was comparatively in quietness. Though there were many great wars among the nations, yet we read of no such mighty and universal convulsions and overturnings as there were in this period. The nations of the world, most of them, had long remained on their lees as it were, without being emptied from vessel to vessel, as is said of Moab, Jer. 48:11. Now these great overturnings were because the time of the great Messiah drew nigh. That they were to prepare the way for Christ’s coming, is evident by Scripture, particularly by Eze. 21:27, “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is, and I will give it him.” The prophet, by repeating the word overturn three times, has respect to three overturnings, as in the Revelation, 8:13, the repetition of the word “woe” three times, signifies three distinct woes, as appears by what follows, Rev. 9:12, “One woe is past,” and Rev. 11:14, “The second woe is past, and behold the third woe cometh quickly.”
It must be noted, that the Prophet Ezekiel prophesied in the time of the Babylonian captivity. And therefore there were three great and general overturnings of the world to come after this prophecy, before Christ came. The first by the Persians, the second by the Grecians, the third by the Romans. And then after that, Christ, whose right it was to take the diadem, and reign, should come. Here these great overturnings are evidently spoken of as preparatory to the coming and kingdom of Christ. But to understand the words aright, we must note the particular expression, “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it,” i.e. the diadem and crown of Israel, or the supreme temporal dominion over God’s visible people. This God said should be no more, i.e. the crown should be taken off, and the diadem removed, as it is said in the foregoing verse (Eze. 21:26). The supreme power over Israel should be no more in the royal line of David, to which it properly belonged, but should be removed away, and given to others, and overturned from one to another. First the supreme power over Israel should be in the hands of the Persians, and then it should be overturned again. And then it should be in the hands of the Grecians. And then it should be overturned again, and come into the hands of the Romans, and should be no more in the line of David, until that very person should come, that was the son of David, whose proper right it was, and then God would give it to him.
That those great shakings and revolutions of the nations of the world, were all to prepare the way for Christ’s coming, and setting up his kingdom in the world, is further manifest by Hag. 2:6, 7. “For thus saith the Lord of hosts, Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land: and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.” And again, Hag. 2:21, 22, and 23. It is evident by this, that these great revolutions and shakings of the nations, whereby the thrones of kingdoms and armies were overthrown, and everyone came down by the sword of his brother, were to prepare the way or the coming of him who is the desire of all nations.
The great changes and troubles that have sometimes been in the visible church of Christ are, in Rev. 12:2, compared to the church’s being in travail to bring forth Christ. So these great troubles and mighty revolutions that were in the world before Christ was born, were, as it were, the world’s being in travail to bring forth the Son of God. The apostle, in Rom. 8:22, represents the whole creation as groaning and travailing in pain together until now, to bring forth the liberty and manifestation of the children of God. So the world as it were travailed in pain, and was in continual convulsions, for several hundred years together, to bring forth the first born child, and the only begotten Son of God. And those mighty revolutions were as so many pangs and throes in order to it. The world being so long a time kept in a state of war and bloodshed, prepared the way for the coming of the Prince of Peace, as it showed the great need the world stood in of such a prince, to deliver the world from its miseries.
It pleased God to order it in his providence, that earthly power and dominion should be raised to its greatest height, and appear in its utmost glory, in those four great monarchies that succeeded one another, and that everyone should be greater and more glorious than the preceding, before he set up the kingdom of his Son. By this it appeared how much more glorious his spiritual kingdom was than the most glorious temporal kingdom. The strength and glory of Satan’s kingdom in these four mighty monarchies, appeared in its greatest height. For those monarchies were the monarchies of the heathen world, and so the strength of them was the strength of Satan’s kingdom. God suffered Satan’s kingdom to rise to so great a height of power and magnificence before his Son came to overthrow it, to prepare the way for the more glorious triumph of his Son. Goliath must have on all his splendid armor when the stripling David comes against him with a sling and a stone, for the greater glory of David’s victory. God suffered one of those great monarchies to subdue another, and erect itself on the other’s ruins, appearing still in greater strength, and the last to be the strongest and mightiest of all, that so Christ, in overthrowing that, might as it were overthrow them all at once, as the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, is represented as destroying the whole image, the gold, the silver, the brass, the iron and the clay, so that all became as the chaff of the summer threshing floor.
These mighty empires were suffered thus to overthrow the world, and destroy one another. And though their power was so great, yet they could not uphold themselves, but fell one after another, and came to nothing, even the last of them, that was the strongest, and had swallowed up the earth. It pleased God thus to show in them the instability and vanity of all earthly power and greatness, which served as a foil to set forth the glory of the kingdom of his Son, which never shall be destroyed, as appears by Dan. 2:44, “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces, and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” So greatly does this kingdom differ from all those kingdoms. They vanish away, and are left to other people, but this shall not be left to other people, but shall stand forever. God suffered the devil to do his utmost, and to establish his interest, by setting up the greatest, strongest, and most glorious kingdoms in the world that he could, before the despised Jesus overthrew him and his empire. Christ came into the world to bring down the high things of Satan’s kingdom, that the hand of the Lord might be on everyone that is proud and lofty, and every high tower, and every lofty mountain, as the prophet Isaiah says, Isa. 2:12, etc. And therefore these things were suffered to rise very high, that Christ might appear so much the more glorious in being above them.
Thus wonderfully did the great and wise Governor of the world prepare the way for the erecting of the glorious kingdom of his beloved Son Jesus.
3. Another thing for which this last period or space of time before Christ was particularly remarkable, was the wonderful preservation of the church through all those overturnings. The preservation of the church was on some accounts more remarkable through this period, than through any of the foregoing. It was very wonderful that the church, which in this period was so weak, and in so low a state, and mostly subject to the dominion of heathen monarchies, should be preserved for five or six hundred years together, while the world was so often overturned, and the earth was rent in pieces, and made so often empty and waste, and the inhabitants of it came down so often everyone by the sword of his brother. I say it was wonderful that the church in its weak and low state, being but a little handful of men, should be preserved in all these great convulsions, especially considering that the land of Judea, the chief place of the church’s residence, lay in the midst of them, as it were in the middle between the contending parties, and was very much the seat of war amongst them, and was often overrun and subdued, and sometimes in the hands of one people, and sometimes another, and very much the object of the envy and hatred of all heathen nations, and often almost ruined by them, often great multitudes of its inhabitants being slain, and the land in a great measure depopulated. And those who had them in their power often intended the utter destruction of the whole nation. Yet they were upheld. They were preserved in their captivity in Babylon, and they were upheld again under all the dangers they passed through, under the kings of Persia. And the much greater dangers they were liable to under the empire of the Greeks. And afterwards when the world was trodden down by the Romans.
And their preservation through this period was also notoriously remarkable, in that we never read of the church’s suffering persecution in any former period In any measure to such a degree as they did in this, under Antiochus Epiphanes, of which more afterwards. This wonderful preservation of the church through all these overturnings of the world, gives light and confirmation to what we read in the beginning of Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, though the waters thereof roar, and be troubled; though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”
Thus I have taken notice of some general things wherein this last period of the Old Testament times was distinguished. I come now to consider how the work of redemption was carried on in particulars.
I. The first thing that here offers is the captivity of the Jews into Babylon. This was a great dispensation of Providence, and such as never was before. The children of Israel in the time of the judges, had often been brought under their enemies. And many particular persons were carried captive at other times. But never had there been any such thing as destroying the whole land, the sanctuary, and the city of Jerusalem, and all the cities and villages of the land, and carrying the whole body of the people out of their own land into a country many hundred miles distant, and leaving the land of Canaan empty of God’s visible people. The ark had once forsaken the tabernacle of Shiloh, and was carried captive into the land of the Philistines. But never had there been any such thing as the burning the sanctuary, and utterly destroying the ark, and carrying away all the sacred vessels and utensils, and breaking up all their stated worship in the land, and the land’s lying waste and empty for so many years together. How lively are those things set forth in the Lamentations of Jeremiah!
The work of redemption was promoted by this remarkable dispensation in these following ways.
1. It finally cured that nation of their itch after idolatry. The Prophet Isaiah, speaking of the setting up of the kingdom of Christ, Isa. 2:18, speaks of the abolishing idolatry as one thing that should be done to this end, “and the idols he shall utterly abolish.” When the time was drawing near, that God would abolish heathen idolatry, through the greater part of the known world, as he did by the preaching of the gospel after Christ came, it pleased him first to abolish heathenism among his own people. And he did it now by their captivity into Babylon, a presage of that abolishing of idols, that God was about to bring to pass by Christ through so great a part of the heathen world.
This nation that was addicted to idolatry before for so many ages, and that nothing would cure them of, not all the reproofs, and warnings, and corrections, that they had, and all the judgments God inflicted on them for it, yet now were finally cured, so that however some might fall into this sin afterwards, as they did about the time of Antiochus’ persecution, yet the nation, as a nation, never showed any hankering after this sin anymore. This was a remarkable and wonderful change in that people, and what directly promoted the work of redemption, as it was a great advancement of the interest of religion.
2. It was one thing that prepared the way for Christ’s coming, and setting up the glorious dispensation of the gospel, as it took away many of those things wherein consisted the glory of the Jewish dispensation. In order to introduce the glorious dispensation of the gospel, the external glory of the Jewish church must be diminished, as we observed before. This the Babylonian captivity did many ways, it brought the people very low.
First, it removed the temporal diadem of the house of David away from them, i.e. the supreme and independent government of themselves. It took away the crown and diadem from the nation. The time now approaching when Christ, the great and everlasting King of his church, was to reign. It was time for the typical kings to withdraw. As God said by Ezekiel, chap. 21:26, “He removed the crown and diadem, that it might be no more, until he should come, whose right it was.” The Jews henceforward were always dependent on the governing power of other nations, until Christ came, for near six hundred years, excepting about ninety years, during which space they maintained a sort of independence, by continual wars under the dominion of the Maccabees and their posterity.
Again, by the captivity, the glory and magnificence of the temple was taken away, and the temple that was built afterwards, was nothing in comparison with it. Thus it was meet, that when the time drew nigh that the glorious anti-type of the temple should appear, the typical temple should have its glory withdrawn.
Again, another thing that they lost by the captivity, was the two tables of the testimony delivered to Moses, written with the finger of God, the two tables on which God with his own finger wrote the ten commandments on Mount Sinai. These seem to have been preserved in the ark until the captivity. These were in the ark when Solomon placed the ark in the temple, 1 Kin. 8:9. There was nothing in the ark, save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb. And we have no reason to suppose any other, but that they remained there as long as that temple stood. But the Jews speak of these as finally lost at that time, though the same commandments were preserved in the book of the law. These tables also were withdrawn on the approach of their anti-type.
Again, another thing that was lost that the Jews had before, was the Urim and Thummim. This is evident by Ezra 2:63, “And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, until there should stand up a priest with Urim and Thummim.” And we have no account that this was ever restored, but the ancient writings of the Jews say the contrary. What this Urim and Thummim was, I shall not now inquire, but only observe, that it was something by which the high priest inquired of God, and received immediate answers from him, or by which God gave forth immediate oracles on particular occasions. This was now withdrawn, the time approaching when Christ, the anti-type of the Urim and Thummim, the great word and oracle or God, was to come.
Another thing that the ancient Jews say was wanting in the second temple, was the Shechinah, or cloud of glory over the mercy seat. This was promised to be in the tabernacle, Lev. 16:2, “For I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.” And we read elsewhere of the cloud of glory descending into the tabernacle, Exo. 40:35, and so we do likewise with respect to Solomon’s temple. But we have no account that this cloud of glory was in the second temple. And the ancient accounts of the Jews say, that there was no such thing in the second temple. This was needless in the second temple, considering that God had promised that he would fill this temple with glory another way, viz. by Christ’s coming into it, which was afterwards fulfilled. See Hag. 2:7, “I will shake all nations, and the desire or all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts.”
Another thing, that the Jews, in their ancient writings mention as being now withdrawn, was the fire from heaven on the altar. When Moses built the tabernacle and altar in the wilderness, and the first sacrifices were offered on it, fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering, as in Lev. 9:24, and so again, when Solomon built the temple, and offered the first sacrifices, as you may see in 2 Chr. 7:1. And this fire was never to go out, but with the greatest care to be kept alive, as God commanded, Lev. 6:13, “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar: it shall never go out.” And there is no reason to suppose the fire in Solomon’s time ever went out until the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. But then it was extinguished, and never was restored. We have no account of its being given on the building of the second temple, as we have at the building of the tabernacle and first temple. But the Jews, after their return, were forced to make use of their common fire instead of it, according to the ancient tradition of the Jews. Thus the lights of the Old Testament go out on the approach of the glorious Sun of righteousness
3. The captivity into Babylon was the occasion of another thing which did afterwards much promote the setting up of Christ’s kingdom in the world, and that was the dispersion of the Jews through the greater part of the known world, before the coming of Christ. For the whole nation being carried away far out of their own land, and continuing in a state of captivity for so long a time, they got them possessions, and built them houses, and settled themselves in the land of their captivity, agreeable to the direction that Jeremiah gave them, in the letter he wrote to them in the Jer. 29. And therefore, when Cyrus gave them liberty to return to the land where they had formerly dwelt, many of them never returned. They were not willing to leave their settlements and possessions there, to go into a desolate country, many hundred miles distant, which none but the old men among them had ever seen. And therefore they were but few, but a small number, that returned, as we see in the accounts we have in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Great numbers tarried behind, though they still retained the same religion with those that returned, so far as it could be practiced in a foreign land. Those messengers that we read of in Zec. 7, that came to inquire of the priests and prophets in Jerusalem, Sherezer and Regemmelech, are supposed to be messengers sent from the Jews that remained still in Babylon.
Those Jews that remained still in that country were soon, by the great changes that happened in the world, dispersed thence into all the adjacent countries. And hence we find, that in Esther’s time, which was after the return from the captivity, the Jews were a people that were dispersed throughout all parts of the vast Persian empire, that extended from India to Ethiopia, as you may see, Est. 3:8, “And Haman said unto King Ahasuerus, There is a certain people scattered abroad, and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of thy kingdom,” etc. And so they continued dispersed until Christ came, and until the apostles went forth to preach the gospel. But yet these dispersed Jews retained their religion in this dispersion. Their captivity, as I said before, thoroughly cured them of their idolatry. And it was their manner, for as many of them as could from time to time, to go up to the land of Judea to Jerusalem at their great feasts. Hence we read in the Acts 2, that at the time of the great feast of Pentecost, there were Jews abiding at Jerusalem out of every nation under heaven. These were Jews come up from all countries where they were dispersed, to worship at that feast. And hence we find, in the history of the Acts of the Apostles, that wherever the apostles went preaching through the world, they found Jews. They came to such a city, and to such a city, and went into the synagogue of the Jews.
Antiochus the Great, about two hundred years before Christ, on a certain occasion, transplanted two thousand families of Jews from the country about Babylon into Asia the Less. And so they and their posterity, many of them, settled in Pontus, Galatia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, and in Ephesus, and from thence settled in Athens, and Corinth, and Rome. Whence came those synagogues in those places that the Apostle Paul preached in.
Now, this dispersion of the Jews through the world before Christ came, did many ways prepare the way for his coming, and setting up his kingdom in the world.
One was, that this was a means of raising a general expectation of the Messiah through the world about the time that he actually came. For the Jews, wherever they were dispersed, carried the Holy Scriptures with them, and so the prophecies of the Messiah. And being conversant with the nations among whom they lived, they, by that means, became acquainted with these prophecies, and with the expectations of the Jews of their glorious Messiah. And by this means, the birth of such a glorious person in Judea about that time began to be the general expectation of the nations of the world, as appears by the writings of the learned men of the heathen that lived about that time, which are still extant. Particularly, Virgil, the famous poet that lived in Italy a little before Christ was born, has a poem about the expectation of a great prince that was to be born, and the happy times of righteousness and peace that he was to introduce, some of it very much in the language of the prophet Isaiah.
Another way that this dispersed state of the Jews prepared the way for Christ was, that it showed the necessity of abolishing the Jewish dispensation, and introducing a new dispensation of the covenant of grace. It showed the necessity of abolishing the ceremonial law, and the old Jewish worship. For, by this means, the observance of that ceremonial law became impracticable even by the Jews themselves. For the ceremonial law was adapted to the state of a people dwelling together in the same land, where was the city that God had chosen, where was the temple, the only place where they might offer sacrifices, and where it was lawful for their priests and Levites to officiate, where they were to bring their first fruits, and where were their cities of refuge and the like. But the Jews, by this dispersion, lived, many of them, in other lands, more than a thousand miles distant, when Christ came, which made the observance of their laws of sacrifices, and the like, impracticable. And though their forefathers might be to blame in not going up to the land of Judea when they were permitted by Cyrus, yet the case was now, as to many of them at least, become impracticable, which showed the necessity of introducing a new dispensation, that should be fitted, not only to one particular land, but to the general circumstances and use of all nations of the world.
Again, another way that this dispersion of the Jews through the world prepared the way for the setting up of the kingdom of Christ in the world, was that it contributed to the making the facts concerning Jesus Christ publicly known through the world. For, as I observed before, the Jews that lived in other countries, used frequently to go up to Jerusalem at their three great feasts, which were from year to year. And so, by this means, they could not but become acquainted with the news of the wonderful things that Christ did in that land. We find that they were present at, and took great notice of, that great miracle of raising Lazarus, which excited the curiosity of those foreign Jews that came up to the feast of the Passover to see Jesus, as you may see in John 12:19, 20, 21. These Greeks were foreign Jews and proselytes, as is evident by their coming to worship at the feast of the Passover. The Jews that lived abroad among the Greeks, and spoke their language, were called Greeks, or Hellenists, so they are called Grecians, Acts 6:1. These Grecians here spoken of were not Gentile Christians, for this was before the calling of the Gentiles.
By the same means, the Jews that went up from other countries became acquainted with Christ’s crucifixion. Thus the disciples, going to Emmaus, say to Christ, when they did not know him, Luke 24:18, “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which have come to pass there in these days?” plainly intimating, that the things concerning Jesus were so publicly known to all men, that it was wonderful to find any man unacquainted with them. And so afterwards they became acquainted with the news of his resurrection. And when they went home again into their own countries, they carried the news with them and so made these facts public through the world, as they had made the prophecies of them public before.
After this, those foreign Jews that came to Jerusalem, took great notice of the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the wonderful effects of it, and many of them were converted by it, viz. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and the strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians. And so they did not only carry back the news of the facts of Christianity, but Christianity itself, into their own countries with them, which contributed much to the spreading of it through the world.
Again, another way that the dispersion of the Jews contributed to the setting up of the gospel kingdom in the world was, that it opened a door for the introduction of the apostles in all places where they came to preach the gospel. For almost in all places where they came to preach the gospel, they found Jews and synagogues of the Jews, where the Holy Scriptures were wont to be read, and the true God worshipped, which was a great advantage to the apostles in their spreading the gospel through the world. For their way was, into whatever city they came, first to go into the synagogue of the Jews (they being people of the same nation), and there to preach the gospel unto them. And hereby their coming, and their new doctrine, was taken notice of by their Gentile neighbors, whose curiosity excited them to hear what they had to say, which became a fair occasion to the apostles to preach the gospel to them. It appears that it was thus, by the account we have of things in the Acts of the Apostles. And these Gentiles having been before, many of them, prepared in some measure, by the knowledge they had of the Jews’ religion, and of their worship of one God, and of their prophecies, and expectation of a Messiah, which knowledge they derived from the Jews, who had long been their neighbors. This opened the door for the gospel to have access to them. And the work of the apostles with them was doubtless much easier than if they never had heard anything before of any expectation of such a person as the apostles preached, or anything about the worship of one only true God.
So many ways did the Babylonian captivity greatly prepare the way for Christ’s coming.
II. The next particular that I would take notice of is the addition made to the canon of Scripture in the time of the captivity, in those two remarkable portions of Scripture, the prophecies of Ezekiel and Daniel. Christ appeared to each of these prophets in the form of that nature which he was afterwards to take upon him. The prophet Ezekiel gives an account of his thus appearing to him repeatedly, as Eze. 1:26, “And above the firmament that was over their heads, was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone, and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it,” and so chap. 8:1, 2. So Christ appeared to the prophet Daniel, Dan. 8:15, 16, “There stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.” There are several things that make it evident, that this was Christ, that I cannot now stand to mention particularly. So Christ appeared again as a man to this prophet, Dan. 10:5, 6, “Then I lift up mine eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz: his body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in color to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.” Comparing this vision with that of the Apostle John in Rev. 1, makes it manifest that it was Christ. And the prophet Daniel, in the historical part of his book, gives an account of a very remarkable appearance of Christ in Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace, with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We have the account of it in the Dan. 3. In Dan. 3:25, Christ is said to be like the Son of God. And it is manifest that he appeared in the form of man, “lo, I see four men loose, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
Christ did not only here appear in the form of the human nature, but he appeared in a furnace, saving those persons who believed on him from that furnace, by which is represented to us, how Christ, by coming himself into the furnace of God’s wrath, saves those that believe in him from that furnace, so that it has no power on them. And the wrath of God never reaches or touches them, so much as to singe the hair of their head.
These two prophets, in many respects, were more particular concerning the coming of Christ, and his glorious gospel kingdom, than any of the prophets had been before. They both of them mention those three great overturnings of the world that should be before he came. Ezekiel is particular in several places concerning the coming of Christ. The prophet Daniel is more particular in foretelling the time of the coming of Christ than ever any prophet had been before, in the 9th chapter of his prophecy (Dan. 9), who foretold, that it should be seventy weeks, i.e. seventy weeks of years, or seventy times seven years, or four hundred and ninety years, from the decree to rebuild and restore the state of the Jews, until the Messiah should be crucified, which must be reckoned from the commission given to Ezra by Artaxerxes, that we have an account of in Ezra 7, whereby the very particular time of Christ’s crucifixion was pointed out, which never had been before.
The prophet Ezekiel is very particular in the mystical description of the gospel church, in his account of his vision of the temple and city, in the latter part of his prophecy. The Prophet Daniel points out the order of particular events that should come to pass relating to the Christian church after Christ was come, as the rise of Antichrist, and the continuance of his reign, and his fall, and the glory that should follow.
Thus does gospel light still increase, the nearer we come to the time of Christ’s birth.
III. The next particular I would mention is, the destruction of Babylon, and the overthrow of the Chaldean empire by Cyrus. The destruction of Babylon was in that night in which Belshazzar the king, and the city in general, was drowned in a drunken festival, which they kept to their gods, when Daniel was called to read the handwriting on the wall, Dan. 5:30, and it was brought about in such a manner, as wonderfully to show the hand of God, and remarkably to fulfill his word by his prophets, which I cannot now stand particularly to relate. Now that great city, which had long been an enemy to the city of God, his Jerusalem, was destroyed, after it had stood ever since the first building of Babel, which was about seventeen hundred years. If the check that was put to the building this city at its beginning, whereby they were prevented from carrying of it to that extent and magnificence that they intended, I say, if this promoted the work of redemption, as I have before shown it did, much more did this destruction of it.
It was a remarkable instance of God’s vengeance on the enemies of his redeemed church. For God brought this destruction on Babylon for the injuries they did to God’s children, as is often set forth in the prophets. It also promoted the work of redemption, as thereby God’s people, that were held captive by them, were set at liberty to return to their own land to rebuild Jerusalem. And therefore Cyrus, who did it, is called God’s shepherd therein, Isa. 44, latter end, and 45:1. And these are over and above those ways wherein the setting up and overthrowing the four monarchies of the world did promote the work of redemption, which have been before observed.
IV. What next followed this was, the return of the Jews to their own land, and rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple. Cyrus, as soon as he had destroyed the Babylonian empire, and had erected the Persian empire on its ruins, made a decree in favor of the Jews, that they might return to their own land, and rebuild their city and temple. This return of the Jews out of the Babylonian captivity is, next to the redemption out of Egypt, the most remarkable of all the Old Testament redemptions, and most insisted on in Scripture, as a type of the great redemption of Jesus Christ. It was under the hand of one of the legal ancestors of Christ, viz. Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, whose Babylonian name was Sheshbazzar. He was the governor of the Jews, and their leader in their first return out of captivity. And together with Joshua the son of Jozedek the high priest, had the chief hand in rebuilding the temple. This redemption was brought about by the hand of Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest, as the redemption out of Egypt was brought about by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
The return out of the captivity was a remarkable dispensation of Providence. It was remarkable, that the heart of a heathen prince, as Cyrus was, should be so inclined to favor such a design as he did, not only in giving the people liberty to return, and rebuild the city and temple, but in giving charge that they should be helped with silver and gold, and with goods, and with beasts, as we read in Ezra 1:4. And afterwards God wonderfully inclined the heart of Darius to further the building of the house of God with his own tribute money, and by commanding their bitter enemies, the Samaritans, who had been striving to hinder them, to help them without fail, by furnishing them with all that they needed in order to it, and to supply them day by day, making a decree, that whosoever failed of it, timber should be pulled down out of his house, and he hanged thereon, and his house made a dunghill, as we have an account in the Ezra 6. And after this God inclined the heart of Artaxerxes, another king of Persia, to promote the work of preserving the state of the Jews, by his ample commission to Ezra, which we have an account of in Ezra 7, helping them abundantly with silver and gold of his own bounty, and offering more, as should be needful, out of the King’s treasure house, and commanding his treasurers beyond the river Euphrates to give more, as should be needed, unto an hundred talents of silver, and an hundred measures of wheat, an hundred baths of wine, and an hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribing how much; and giving leave to establish magistrates in the land, and freeing the priests of toll, tribute, and custom, and other things, which render this decree and commission by Artaxerxes the most full and ample in the Jews’ favor of any that, at any time, had been given for the restoring of Jerusalem. And therefore, in Daniel’s prophecy, this is called the decree for restoring and building Jerusalem. And hence the seventy weeks are dated.
And then, after this, another favorable commission was granted by the king of Persia to Nehemiah, which we have an account of in Neh. 2.
It was remarkable, that the hearts of heathen princes should be so inclined. It was the effect of his power, who hath the hearts of kings in his hands, and turneth them whithersoever he will. And it was a remarkable instance of his favor to his people.
Another remarkable circumstance of this restitution of the state of the Jews to their own land was, that it was accomplished against so much opposition of their bitter and indefatigable enemies the Samaritans, who, for a long time together, with all the malice and craft they could exercise, opposed the Jews in this affair, and sought their destruction, one while by Bishlam, Mithridath, Tabeel, Rehum, and Shimshai, as in Ezra 4, and then by Tatnai, Shetharboznai, and their companions, as in Ezra 5, and afterwards by Sanballat and Tobiah, as we read in the book of Nehemiah.
We have showed before how the settlement of the people in this land in Joshua’s time promoted the work of redemption. On the same accounts does their restitution belong to the same work. The resettlement of the Jews in the land of Canaan belongs to this work, as it was a necessary means of preserving the Jewish church and dispensation in being, until Christ should come. If it had not been for this restoration of the Jewish church, and temple, and worship, the people had remained without any temple, and land of their own, that should be as it were their headquarters, a place of worship, habitation, and resort. The whole constitution, which God had done so much to establish, would have been in danger of utterly failing long before that six hundred had been out, which was from about the time of the captivity until Christ. And so all that preparation which God had been making for the coming of Christ, from the time of Abraham, would have been in vain. Now that very temple was built that God would fill with glory by Christ’s coming into it, as the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah told the Jews, to encourage them in building it.
V. The next particular I would observe, is the addition made to the canon of the Scriptures soon after the captivity by the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah, who were prophets sent to encourage the people in their work of rebuilding the city and temple. And the main argument they make use of to that end is the approach or the time of the coming of Christ. Haggai foretold that Christ should be of Zerubbabel’s legal posterity, last chapter last verse (Hag. 2:23). This seems to be the last and most particular revelation of the descent of Christ, until the angel Gabriel was sent to reveal it to his mother Mary.
The next thing I would take notice of, was the pouring out of the Spirit of God that accompanied the ministry of Ezra the priest after the captivity. — That there was such a pouring out of the Spirit of God that accompanied Ezra’s ministry, is manifest by many things in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Presently after Ezra came up from Babylon, with the ample commission which Artaxerxes gave him, whence Daniel’s seventy weeks began, he set himself to reform the vices and corruptions be found among the Jews. And his great success in it we have an account of in Ezra 10. So that there appeared a very general and great mourning of the congregation of Israel for their sins, which was accompanied with a solemn covenant that the people entered into with God. And this was followed with a great and general reformation, as we have there an account. And the people about the same time, with great zeal, and earnestness, and reverence, gathered themselves together to hear the Word of God read by Ezra, and gave diligent attention, while Ezra and the other priests preached to them, by reading and expounding the law, and were greatly affected in the hearing of it. They wept when they heard the words of the law, and set themselves to observe the law, and kept the feast of tabernacles, as the Scripture observes, after such a manner as it had not been kept since the days of Joshua the son of Nun, as we have an account in Neh. 8. And after this, having separated themselves from all strangers, they solemnly observed a fast, by hearing the Word of God, confessing their sins, and renewing their covenant with God, and manifested their sincerity in that transaction, by actually reforming many abuses in religion and morals, as we learn from the 9th and following chapters of Nehemiah (Neh. 9).
It is observable, that it has been God’s manner in every remarkable new establishment of the state of his visible church, to give a remarkable outpouring of his Spirit. So it was on the first establishment of the church of the Jews at their first coming into Canaan under Joshua, as has been observed, And so it was now in this second settlement of the church in the same land in the time of Ezra. And so it was on the first establishment of the Christian church after Christ’s resurrection, God wisely and graciously laying the foundation of those establishments in a work of his Holy Spirit, for the lasting benefit of the state of his church, thenceforward continued in those establishments. And this pouring out of the Spirit of God, was a final cure of that nation of that particular sin which just before they especially run into, viz. intermarrying with the Gentiles. For however inclined to it they were before, they ever after showed an aversion to it.
VII. Ezra added to the canon of the Scriptures. — He wrote the book of Ezra. And he is supposed to have written the two books of Chronicles, at least to have compiled them, if he was not the author of the materials, or all the parts of these writings. That these books were written, or compiled and completed, after the captivity, the things contained in the books themselves make manifest. For the genealogies contained therein, are brought down below the captivity, as 1 Chr. 3:17, etc. We have there an account of the posterity of Jehoiachin for several successive generations. And there is mention in these books of this captivity into Babylon, as of a thing past, and of things that were done on the return of the Jews after the captivity, as you may see in 1 Chr. 9. The chapter is mostly filled up with an account of things that came to pass after the captivity into Babylon, as you may see by comparing it with what is said in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. And that Ezra was the person that compiled these books, is probable by this, because they conclude with words that we know are the words of Ezra’s history. The two last verses are Ezra’s words in the history he gives in the two first verses of the book of Ezra.
VIII. Ezra is supposed to have collected all the books of which the Holy Scriptures did then consist, and disposed them in their proper order. Ezra is often spoken of as a noted and eminent scribe of the law of God, and the canon of Scripture in his time was manifestly under his special care. And the Jews, from the first accounts we have from them, have always held, that the canon of Scripture, so much of it as was then extant, was collected, and orderly disposed and settled by Ezra. And that from him they have delivered it down in the order in which he disposed it, until Christ’s time, when the Christian church received it from them, and have delivered it down to our times. And the truth of this is allowed as undoubted by divines in general.
IX. The work of redemption was carried on and promoted in this period, by greatly multiplying the copies of the law, and appointing the constant public reading of them in all the cities of Israel in their synagogues. It is evident, that before the captivity, there were but few copies of the law. There was the original, laid up beside the ark, and the kings were required to write out a copy of the law for their use, and the law was required to be read to the whole congregation of Israel once every seventh year. And we have no account of any other stated public reading of the law before the captivity but this. And it is manifest by several things that might be mentioned, that copies of the law were exceeding rare before the captivity. But after the captivity, the constant reading of the law was set up in every synagogue throughout the land. First, they began with reading the law, and then they proceeded to establish the constant reading of the other books of the Old Testament. — And lessons were read out of the Old Testament, as made up of both the law and the other parts of the Scripture then extant, in all the synagogues which were set up in every city, and everywhere, wherever the Jews in any considerable number dwelt, as our meeting houses are. Thus we find it was in Christ’s and the apostles’ time, Acts 15:21, “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” This custom is universally supposed, both by Jews and Christians, to be begun by Ezra. There were doubtless public assemblies before the captivity into Babylon. They used to assemble at the temple at their great feasts, and were directed, when they were at a loss about anything in the law, to go to the priest for instruction. And they used also to resort to the prophets’ houses. And we read of synagogues in the land before, Psa. 74:8. But it is not supposed that they had copies of the law for constant public reading and expounding through the land before, as afterwards. This was one great means of their being preserved from idolatry.
X. The next thing I would mention, is God’s remarkably preserving the church and nation of the Jews, when they were in imminent danger of being universally destroyed by Haman. We have the story in the book of Esther, with which you are acquainted. The series of provisions was very wonderful in preventing this destruction. Esther was doubtless born for this end to be the instrument of this remarkable preservation.
XI. After this the canon of Scripture was further added to in the books of Nehemiah and Esther, the one by Nehemiah himself, and whether the other was written by Nehemiah or Mordecai, or Malachi, is not of importance for us to know, so long as it is one of those books that were always admitted and received as a part of their canon by the Jews, and was among those books that the Jews called their Scriptures in Christ’s time, and as such was approved by him. For Christ does often in his speeches to the Jews, manifestly approve and confirm those books, which amongst them went by the name of the Scriptures, as might be easily shown, if there were time for it.
XII. After this the canon of the Old Testament was completed and sealed by Malachi. The manner of his concluding his prophecy seems to imply, that they were to expect no more prophecies, and no more written revelations from God, until Christ should come. For in the last chapter he prophesies of Christ’s coming, Mal. 4:2,3, “But unto you that fear my name, shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be as ashes under the soles of your feet, in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.” Then we read in Mal. 4:4, “Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments,” i.e. Remember and improve what you have. Keep close to that written rule you have, as expecting no more additions to it, until the night of the Old Testament is over, and the Sun of Righteousness shall at length arise.
XIII. Soon after this, the spirit of prophecy ceased among that people until the time of the New Testament. Thus the Old Testament light, the stars of the long night, began apace to hide their heads, the time of the Sun of Righteousness now drawing nigh. We before observed, how the kings of the house of David ceased before the true King and Head of the church came, and how the cloud of glory withdrew, before Christ, the brightness of the Father’s glory, appeared, and so as to several other things. And now at last the spirit of prophecy ceased. The time of the great Prophet of God was now so nigh, it was time for the typical prophets to be silent, and shut their mouths.
We have now gone through with the time that we have any historical account of in the writings of the Old Testament, and the last thing that was mentioned, by which the work of redemption was promoted, was the ceasing of the spirit of prophecy.
I now proceed to show how the work of redemption was carried on through the remaining times that were before Christ, in which we have not that thread of scripture history to guide us that we have had hitherto, but have these three things to guide us, viz. the prophecies of the Old Testament, human histories of those times, and some occasional mention made, and some evidence given, of some things which happened in those times, in the New Testament. Therefore,
XIV. The next particular that I shall mention under this period, is the destruction of the Persian empire, and setting up of the Grecian empire by Alexander. This came to pass about sixty or seventy years after the times wherein the Prophet Malachi is supposed to have prophesied, and about three hundred and thirty years before Christ. This was the third overturning of the world that came to pass in this period, and was greater and more remarkable than either of the foregoing. It was very remarkable on account of the suddenness of that conquest of the world which Alexander made, and the greatness of the empire which he set up, which much exceeded all the foregoing in its extent.
This event is much spoken of in the prophecies of Daniel. This empire is represented by the third kingdom of brass in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, as in Dan. 2, and in Daniel’s vision of the four beasts, is represented by the third beast that was like a leopard, that had on his back four wings of a fowl, to represent the swiftness of its conquest, chap. 7, and is more particularly represented by the he-goat in the Dan. 8, that came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground, to represent how swiftly Alexander overran the world. The angel himself does expressly interpret this he-goat to signify the king of Grecia, Dan. 8:21. The rough goat is the king of Grecia. And the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king, i.e. Alexander himself.
After Alexander had conquered the world, he soon died. And his dominion did not descend to his posterity, but four of his principal captains divided his empire between them, as it there follows. Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power, so you may see in Dan. 11. The angel, after foretelling of the Persian empire, then proceeds to foretell of Alexander, Dan. 11:3, “And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.” And then he foretells, in Dan. 11:4, of the dividing of his kingdom between his four captains, “And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven; and not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion which he ruled: for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others besides those.” Two of these four captains, whose kingdoms were next to Judea, the one had Egypt and the neighboring countries on the south of Judea, and the other had Syria, and the neighboring countries north of Judea. And these two are those that are called the kings of the north and of the south in Dan. 11.
Now, this setting up of the Grecian empire did greatly prepare the way for Christ’s coming, and setting up his kingdom in the world. Besides those ways common to the other overturnings of the world in this period, that have been already mentioned, there is one peculiar to this revolution which I would take notice of, which did remarkably promote the work of redemption, and that was, that it made the Greek language common in the world. To have one common language understood and used through the greater part of the world, was a thing that did greatly prepare the way for the setting up of Christ’s kingdom. This gave advantage for spreading the gospel from one nation to another, and so through all nations, with vastly greater ease, than if every nation had a distinct language, and did not understand each other. For though some of the first preachers of the gospel had the gift of languages, so that they could preach in any language. Yet all had not this particular gift. And they that had, could not exercise it when they would, but only at special seasons, when the Spirit of God was pleased to inspire them in this way. And the church in different parts of the world, as the churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Galatia, Corinth, and others, which were in countries distant one from another, could not have had that communication one with another, which we have an account of in the book of Acts, if they had had no common language. So it was before the Grecian empire was set up. But after this, many in all these countries well understood the same language, viz. the Greek language, which wonderfully opened the door for mutual communication between those churches, so far separated one from another. And again, the making the Greek language common through so great a part of the world, did wonderfully make way for the setting up of the kingdom of Christ, because it was the language in which the New Testament was to be originally written. The apostles propagated the gospel through many scores of nations, and if they could not have understood the Bible any otherwise than as it was translated into so many languages, it would have rendered the spreading of the gospel vastly more difficult. But by the Greek language being made common to all, they all understood the New Testament of Jesus Christ in the language in which the apostles and evangelists originally wrote it. So that as soon as ever it was written by its original penmen, it immediately lay open to the world in a language that was commonly understood everywhere, as there was no language that was so commonly understood in the world in Christ’s and the apostles’ times as the Greek, the cause of which was the setting up of the Grecian empire in the world.
XV. The next thing I shall take notice of is, the translating of the Scriptures of the Old Testament into a language that was commonly understood by the Gentiles. The translation that I here speak of is that into the Greek language, that is commonly called the Septuagint, or the translation of the Seventy. This is supposed to have been made about fifty or sixty years after Alexander’s conquering the world. This is the first translation that ever was made of the Scriptures that we have any credible account of. The canon of the Old Testament had been completed by the prophet Malachi but about an hundred and twenty years before in its original. And hitherto the Scriptures had remained locked up from all other nations but the Jews, in the Hebrew tongue, which was understood by no other nation. But now it was translated into the Greek language, which, as we observed before, was a language that was commonly understood by the nations of the world.
This translation of the Old Testament is still extant, and is commonly in the hands of the learned men in these days, and is made great use of by them. The Jews have many fables about the occasion and manner of this translation. But the truth of the case is supposed to be this, that multitudes of the Jews living in other parts of the world besides Judea. And being born and bred among the Greeks, the Greek became their common language. And they did not understand the original Hebrew. And therefore they procured the Scriptures to be translated for their use into the Greek language. And so henceforward the Jews, in all countries, except Judea, were wont in their synagogues to make use of this translation instead of the Hebrew.
This translation of the Scriptures into a language commonly understood through the world, prepared the way for Christ’s coming, and setting up his kingdom in the world, and afterwards did greatly promote it. For as the apostles went preaching through the world, they made great use of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and especially of the prophecies concerning Christ that were contained in them. And by means of this translation, and by the Jews being scattered everywhere, they had the Scriptures at hand in a language that was understood by the Gentiles. And they did principally make use of this translation in their preaching and writings wherever they went, as is evident by this, that in all the innumerable quotations that are made out of the Old Testament in their writings in the New Testament, they are almost everywhere in the very words of the Septuagint. The sense is the same as it is in the original Hebrew. But very often the words are different, as all that are acquainted with their Bibles know. When the apostles in their epistles, and the evangelists in their histories, cite passages out of the Old Testament, it is very often in different words from what we have in the Old Testament, as all know. But yet these citations are almost universally in the very words of the Septuagint version. For that may be seen by comparing them together, they being both written in the same language. This makes it evident, that the apostles, in their preaching and writings, commonly made use of this translation. So this very translation was that which was principally used in Christian churches through most nations of the world for several hundred years after Christ.
XVI. The next thing is the wonderful preservation of the church when it was imminently threatened and persecuted under the Grecian empire.
The first time they were threatened was by Alexander himself. When he was besieging the city of Tyre, sending to the Jews for assistance and supplies for his army, and they refusing, out of a conscientious regard to their oath to the king of Persia, he being a man of a very furious spirit, agreeable to the Scripture representation of the rough he-goat, marched against them, with a design to cut them off. But the priests going out to meet him in their priestly garments, when he met them, God wonderfully turned his heart to spare them, and favor them, much as he did the heart of Esau when he met Jacob.
After this, one of the kings of Egypt, a successor of one of Alexander’s four captains, entertained a design of destroying the nation of the Jews, but was remarkably and wonderfully prevented by a stronger interposition of Heaven for their preservation.
But the most wonderful preservation of them all in this period was under the cruel persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria, and successor of another of Alexander’s four captains. The Jews were at that time subject to the power of Antiochus. And he being enraged against them, long strove to his utmost utterly to destroy them, and root them out. At least all of them that would not forsake their religion and worship his idols. And he did indeed in a great measure waste the country, and depopulate the city of Jerusalem, and profaned the temple, by setting up his idols in some parts of it, and persecuted the people with insatiable cruelty, so that we have no account of any persecution like his before. Many of the particular circumstances of this persecution would he very affecting, if I had time to insist on them. This cruel persecution began about an hundred and seventy years before Christ. It is much spoken of in the prophecy of Daniel, as you may see, Dan. 8:9-25 and 11:31-38. These persecutions are also spoken of in the New Testament, as, Heb. 11:36, 37, 38.
Antiochus intended not only to extirpate the Jewish religion, but, as far as in him lay, the very nation, and particularly labored to the utmost to destroy all copies of the law. And considering how weak they were, in comparison with a king of such vast dominion, the providence of God appears very wonderful in defeating his design. Many times the Jews seemed to be on the very brink of ruin, and just ready to be wholly swallowed up. Their enemies often thought themselves sure of obtaining their purpose. They once came against the people with a mighty army, and with a design of killing all, except the women and children, and of selling these for slaves. And they were so confident of obtaining their purpose, and others of purchasing, that above a thousand merchants came with the army, with money in their hands, to buy the slaves that should be sold. But God wonderfully stirred up and assisted one Judas, and others his successors, that were called the Maccabees, who, with a small handful in comparison, vanquished their enemies time after time, and delivered their nation, which was foretold by Dan. 11:32. Speaking of Antiochus’ persecution, he says, “And such as do wickedly against the covenant, shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God, shall be strong, and do exploits.”
God afterwards brought this Antiochus to a fearful, miserable end, by a loathsome disease, under dreadful torments of body, and horrors of mind, which was foretold, Dan. 11:45, in these words, “Yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.”
After his death, there were attempts still to destroy the church of God, but God baffled them all.
XVII. The next thing to be taken notice of is the destruction of the Grecian empire, and setting up of the Roman empire. This was the fourth overturning of the world that was in this period. And though it was brought to pass more gradually than the setting up of the Grecian empire, yet it far exceeded that, and was much the greatest and largest temporal monarchy that ever was in the world, so that the Roman empire was commonly called all the world, as it is in Luke 2:1, “And there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed,” i.e. all the Roman empire.
This empire is spoken of as much the strongest and greatest of any of the four, Dan. 2:40, “And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron; forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces, and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise.” So also, Dan. 7:7, 19, 23.
The time that the Romans first conquered and brought under the land of Judea, was between sixty and seventy years before Christ was born. And soon after this, the Roman empire was established in its greatest extent, and the world continued subject to this empire henceforward until Christ came, and many hundred years afterwards.
The nations of the world being united in one monarchy when Christ came, and when the apostles went forth to preach the gospel, did greatly prepare the way for the spreading of the gospel, and the setting up of Christ’s kingdom in the world. For the world being thus subject to one government, it opened a communication from nation to nation, and so opportunity was given for the more swiftly propagating the gospel through the world. Thus we find it to be now. As if anything prevails in the English nation, the communication is quick from one part of the nation to another, throughout all parts that are subject to the English government, much easier and quicker than to other nations, which are not subject to the English government, and have little to do with them. There are innumerable difficulties in traveling through different nations, that are under different independent governments, which there are not in traveling through different parts of the same realm, or different dominions of the same prince. So the world being under one government, the government of the Romans, in Christ’s and the apostles’ times, facilitated the apostles’ traveling, and the gospel’s spreading through the world.
XVIII. About the same time learning and philosophy were risen to their greatest height in the heathen world. The time of learning’s flourishing in the heathen world was principally in this period. Almost all the famous philosophers that we have an account of among the heathen, were after the captivity into Babylon. Almost all the wise men of Greece and Rome flourished in this time. These philosophers, many of them, were indeed men of great temporal wisdom, and that which they in general chiefly professed to make their business, was to inquire wherein man’s chief happiness lay, and the way in which men might obtain happiness. They seemed earnestly to busy themselves in this inquiry, and wrote multitudes of books about it, many of which are still extant. And they were exceedingly divided in their opinions about it. There have been reckoned up several hundreds of different opinions that they had concerning it. Thus they wearied themselves in vain, wandered in the dark, not having the glorious gospel to guide them. God was pleased to suffer men to do the utmost that they could with human wisdom, and to try the extent of their own understandings to find out the way to happiness, before the true light came to enlighten the world, before he sent the great Prophet to lead men in the right way to happiness. God suffered these great philosophers to try what they could do for six hundred years together, and then it proved, by the events of so long a time, that all they could do was in vain, the world not becoming wiser, better, or happier under their instructions, but growing more and more foolish, wicked, and miserable. He suffered their wisdom and philosophy to come to the greatest height before Christ came, that it might be seen how far reason and philosophy could go in their highest ascent, that the necessity of a divine teacher might appear before Christ came. And God was pleased to make foolish the wisdom of this world, to show men the folly of their best wisdom, by the doctrines of his glorious gospel which were above the reach of all their philosophy. See 1 Cor. 1:19, 20, 21.
And after God had showed the vanity of human learning, when set up in the room of the gospel, God was pleased to make it subservient to the purposes of Christ’s kingdom, as an handmaid to divine revelation. And so the prevailing of learning in the world before Christ came, made way for his coming both these ways, viz. as thereby the vanity of human wisdom was shown, and the necessity of the gospel appeared, and also as hereby an handmaid was prepared to the gospel. For so it was made use of in the Apostle Paul, who was famed for his much learning, as you may see, Acts 26:24, and was skilled not only in the learning of the Jews, but also of the philosophers, and improved it to the purposes of the gospel. As you may see he did in disputing with the philosophers at Athens, Acts 17:22, etc. He by his learning knew how to accommodate himself in his discourses to learned men, as appears by this discourse of his. And he knew well how to improve what he had read in their writings, and he here cites their own poets. And now Dionysius, that was a philosopher, was converted by him, and, as ecclesiastical history gives us an account, made a great instrument of promoting the gospel. And there were many others in that and the following ages, who were eminently useful by their human learning in promoting the interests of Christ’s kingdom.
XIX. Just before Christ was born, the Roman empire was raised to its greatest height, and also settled in peace. About four and twenty years before Christ was born, Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor, began to rule as emperor of the world. Until then the Roman empire had of a long time been a commonwealth under the government of the senate. But then it became an absolute monarchy. This Augustus Caesar, as he was the first, so he was the greatest of all the Roman emperors. He reigned in the greatest glory. Thus the power of the heathen world, which was Satan’s visible kingdom, was raised to its greatest height, after it had been rising higher and higher, and strengthening itself more and more from the days of Solomon to this day, which was about a thousand years. Now it appeared at a greater height than ever it appeared from the first beginning of Satan’s heathenish kingdom, which was probably about the time of the building of Babel. Now the heathen world was in its greatest glory for strength, wealth, and learning.
God did two things to prepare the way for Christ’s coming, wherein he took a contrary method from that which human wisdom would have taken. He brought his own visible people very low, and made them weak. But the heathen, that were his enemies, he exalted to the greatest height, for the more glorious triumph of the cross of Christ. With a small number in their greatest weakness, he conquered his enemies in their greatest glory. Thus Christ triumphed over principalities and powers in his cross.
Augustus Caesar had been for many years establishing the state of the Roman empire, subduing his enemies in one part and another, until the very year that Christ was born. When all his enemies being subdued, his dominion over the world seemed to be settled in its greatest glory. All was established in peace, in token whereof the Romans shut the temple of Janus, which was an established symbol among them of there being universal peace throughout the Roman empire. And this universal peace, which was begun that year that Christ was born, lasted twelve years, until the year that Christ disputed with doctors in the temple.
Thus the world, after it had been, as it were, in a continual convulsion for so many hundred years together, like the four winds striving together on the tumultuous raging ocean, whence arose those four great monarchies, being now established in the greatest height of the fourth and last monarchy, and settled in quietness. Now all things are ready for the birth of Christ. This remarkable universal peace after so many ages of tumult and war, was a fit prelude for the ushering of the glorious Prince of Peace into the world.
Thus I have gone through the first grand period of the whole space between the fall of man and the end of the world, viz. that from the fall to the time of the incarnation of Christ, and have shown the truth of the first proposition, viz. That from the fall of man to the incarnation of Christ, God was doing those things that were preparatory to Christ’s coming, and were forerunners of it.
BEFORE I proceed to the next proposition, I would make some few remarks, by way of improvement, upon what has been said under this.
I. From what has been said, we may strongly argue, that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Son of God, and the Savior of the world, and so that the Christian religion is the true religion, seeing that Christ is the very person so evidently pointed at, in all the great dispensations of divine providence from the very fall of man, and was so undoubtedly in so many instances foretold from age to age, and shadowed forth in a vast variety of types and figures. If we seriously consider the course of things from the beginning, and observe the motions of all the great wheels of providence from one age to another, we shall discern that they all tend hither. They are all as so many lines, whose course, if it be observed and accurately followed, it will be found that everyone centers here. It is so very plain in many things, that it would argue stupidity to deny it. This therefore is undeniable, that this person is a divine person sent from God, that came into the world with his commission and authority, to do his work and to declare his mind. The great Governor of the world, in all his great works before and since the flood, to Jews and Gentiles, down to the time of Christ’s birth, has declared it. It cannot be any vain imagination, but a plain and evident truth, that that person that was born at Bethlehem, and dwelt at Nazareth, and at Capernaum, and was crucified without the gates of Jerusalem, must be the great Messiah, or anointed of God. And blessed are all they that believe in and confess him, and miserable are all that deny him. This shows the unreasonableness of the Deists, who deny revealed religion, and of the Jews, who deny that this Jesus is the Messiah foretold and promised to their fathers.
Here it may be some persons may be ready to object, and say that it may be some subtle, cunning men contrived this history, and these prophecies, so that they should all point to Jesus Christ on purpose to confirm it, that he is the Messiah. To such it may be replied, How could such a thing be contrived by cunning men to point to Jesus Christ long before he ever was born? — How could they know that ever any such person would be born. — And how could their craft and subtlety help them to foresee and point at an event that was to come to pass many ages afterwards? For no fact can be more evident, than that the Jews had those writings long before Christ was born, as they have them still in great veneration, wherever they are, in all their dispersions through the world. And they would never have received such a contrivance from Christians, to point to and confirm Jesus to be the Messiah, whom they always denied to be the Messiah. And much less would they have been made to believe that they always had had those books in their hands, when they were first made and imposed upon them.
II. What has been said, affords a strong argument for the divine authority of the books of the Old Testament, from that admirable harmony there is in them, whereby they all point to the same thing. For we may see by what has been said, how all the parts of the Old Testament, though written by so many different penmen, and in ages distant one from another, do all harmonize one with another. All agree in one, and all center in the same thing, and that a future thing, an event which it was impossible any one of them should know but by divine revelation, even the future coming of Christ. This is most evident and manifest in them, as appears by what has been said.
Now, if the Old Testament was not inspired by God, what account can be given of such an agreement? For if these books were only human writings, written without any divine direction, then none of these penmen knew that there would come such a person as Jesus Christ into the world. His coming was only a mere figment of their own brain. And if so, how happened it, that this figment of theirs came to pass? How came a vain imagination of theirs, which they foretold without any manner of ground for their prediction, to be so exactly fulfilled? And especially, how did they come all to agree in it, all pointing exactly to the same thing, though many of them lived so many hundred years distant one from another?
This admirable consent and agreement in a future event, is therefore a clear and certain evidence of the divine authority of those writings.
III. Hence we may learn what a weak and ignorant objection it is that some make against some parts of the Old Testament’s being the Word of God, that they consist so much of histories of the wars and civil transactions of the kings and people of the nation of the Jews. Some say, We find here among the books of a particular nation, histories which they kept of the state of their nation, from one age to another, histories of their kings and rulers, histories of their wars with the neighboring nations, and histories of the changes that happened from time to time in their state and government. And so we find that other nations used to keep histories of their public affairs, as well as they. And why then should we think that these histories which the Jews kept are the Word of God, more than those of other people? But what has been said, shows the folly and vanity of such an objection. For hereby it appears, that the case of these histories is very different from that of all other histories. This history alone gives us an account of the first original of all things. And this history alone deduces things down in a wonderful series from that original, giving an idea of the grand scheme of divine providence, as tending to its great end. And together with the doctrines and prophecies contained in it, the same book gives a view of the whole series of the great events of divine providence, from the first original to the last end and consummation of all things, giving an excellent and glorious account of the wise and holy designs of the Governor of the world in all.
No common history has such penmen as this history, which was all written by men who came with evident signs and testimonies of their being prophets of the most high God, immediately inspired.
And the histories that were written, as we have seen from what has been said under this proposition, do all contain those great events of providence, by which it appears how God has been carrying on the glorious divine work of redemption from age to age. Though they are histories, yet they are no less full of divine instruction, and those things that show forth Christ, and his glorious gospel, than other parts of the Holy Scriptures which are not historical
To object against a book’s being divine merely because it is historical, is a poor objection, just as if that could not be the Word of God which gives an account of what is past, or as though it were not reasonable to suppose that God, in a revelation he should give mankind, would give us any relation of the dispensations of his own providence. If it be so, it must be because his works are not worthy to be related. It must be because the scheme of his government, and series of his dispensations towards his church, and towards the world that he has made, whereby he has ordered and disposed it from age to age, is not worthy that any record should be kept of it.
The objection that is made, that it is a common thing for nations and kingdoms to write histories and keep records of their wars, and the revolutions that come to pass in their territories, is so far from being a weighty objection against the historical part of Scripture, as though it were not the Word of God, that it is a strong argument in favor of it. For if reason and the light of nature teaches all civilized nations to keep records of the events of their human government, and the series of their administrations, and to publish histories for the information of others. How much more may we expect that God would give the world a record of the dispensations of his divine government, which doubtless is infinitely more worthy of an history for our information? If wise kings have taken care that there should be good histories written of the nations over which they have reigned, shall we think it incredible, that Jesus Christ should take care that his church, which is his nation, his peculiar people, should have in their hands a certain infallible history of their nation, and of his government of them?
If it had not been for the history of the Old Testament, how woefully should we have been left in the dark about many things which the church of God needs to know! How ignorant should we have been of God’s dealings towards mankind, and towards his church, from the beginning! And we would have been wholly in the dark about the creation of the world, the fall of man, the first rise and continued progress of the dispensations of grace towards fallen mankind! and we should have known nothing how God at first set up a church in the world, and how it was preserved, after what manner he governed it from the beginning, how the light of the gospel first began to dawn in the world, how it increased, and how things were preparing for the coming of Christ.
If we are Christians, we belong to that building of God that has been the subject of our discourse from this text. But if it had not been for the history of the Old Testament, we should never have known what was the first occasion of God’s going about this building, and how the foundation of it was laid at first, and how it has gone on from the beginning. The times of the history of the Old Testament are mostly times that no other history reaches up to. And therefore, if God had not taken care to give and preserve an account of these things for us, we should have been wholly without them.
Those that object against the authority of the Old Testament history of the nation of the Jews, may as well make an objection against Moses’ account of the creation that it is historical. For in the other, we have a history of a work no less important, viz. the work of redemption. Yea, this is a far greater and more glorious work, as we observed before, that if it be inquired which of the two works, the work of creation, or the work of providence, is greatest, it must be answered, the work of providence. But the work of redemption is the greatest of the works of providence.
And let those who make this objection consider what part of the Old Testament history can be spared without making a great breach in that thread or series of events by which this glorious work had been carried on. This leads me to observe,
IV. That from what has been said, we may see much of the wisdom of God in the composition of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, i.e. in the parts of which it consists. By what has been said, we may see that God has wisely given us such revelations in the Old Testament as we needed. Let us briefly take a view of the several parts of it, and of the need there was of them
Thus it was necessary that we should have some account of the creation of the world, and of our first parents, and their primitive state, and of the fall, and a brief account of the old world, and of the degeneracy of it, and of the universal deluge, and some account of the origin of nations after this destruction of mankind.
It seems necessary that there should be some account of the succession of the church of God from the beginning. And seeing God suffered all the world to degenerate, and only took one nation to be his people, to preserve the true worship and religion until the Savior of the world should come, that in them the world might gradually be prepared for that great light, and those wonderful things that he was to be the author of, and that they might be a typical nation, and that in them God might shadow forth and teach, as under a veil, all future glorious things of the gospel. It was therefore necessary that we should have some account of this thing, how it was first done by the calling of Abraham, and by their being bond-slaves in Egypt, and how they were brought to Canaan. It was necessary that we should have some account of the revelation which God made of himself to that people, in giving their law, and in the appointment of their typical worship, and those things wherein the gospel is veiled, and of the forming of that people, both as to their civil and ecclesiastical state.
It seems exceeding necessary that we should have some account of their being actually brought to Canaan, the country that was their promised land, and where they always dwelt. It seems very necessary that we should have a history of the successions of the church of Israel, and of those provisions of God towards them, which were most considerable and fullest of gospel mystery. It seems necessary that we should have some account of the highest promised external glory of that nation under David and Solomon, and that we should have a very particular account of David, whose history is so full of the gospel, and so necessary in order to introduce the gospel into the world, and in whom began the race of their kings, and that we should have some account of the building of the temple, which was also full of gospel mystery.
And it is a matter of great consequence, that we should have some account of Israel’s dividing from Judah, and of the ten tribes’ captivity and utter rejection, and a brief account why, and therefore a brief history of them until that time. It is necessary that we should have an account of the succession of the kings of Judah, and of the church, until their captivity into Babylon, and that we should have some account of their return from their captivity, and re-settlement in their own land, and of the origin of the last state that the church was in before Christ came.
A little consideration will convince everyone, that all these things were necessary, and that none of them could be spared, and in the general, that it was necessary that we should have a history of God’s church until such times as are within the reach of human histories. And it was of vast importance that we should have an inspired history of those times of the Jewish church, wherein there was kept up a more extraordinary intercourse between God and them, and while he used to dwell among them as it were visibly, revealing himself by the Shechina, by Urim and Thummim, and by prophecy, and so more immediately to order their affairs. And it was necessary that we should have some account of the great dispensations of God in prophecy, which were to be after the finishing of inspired history. And so it was exceeding suitable and needful that there should be a number of prophets raised who should foretell the coming of the Son of God, and the nature and glory of his kingdom, to be as so many harbingers to make way for him, and that their prophecies should remain in the church.
It was also a matter of great consequence that the church should have a book of divine songs given by inspiration from God, wherein there should be a lively representation of the true spirit of devotion, of faith, hope, and divine love, joy, resignation, humility, obedience, repentance, etc., and also that we should have from God such books of moral instructions as we have in Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus, relating to the affairs and state of mankind, and the concerns of human life, containing rules of true wisdom and prudence for our conduct in all circumstances, and that we should have particularly a song representing the great love between Christ and his spouse the church, particularly adapted to the disposition and holy affections of a true Christian soul towards Christ, and representing his grace and marvelous love to, and delight in, his people, as we have in Solomon’s Song. And especially that we should have a book to teach us how to conduct ourselves under affliction, seeing the church of God here is in a militant state, and God’s people do through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of heaven. And the church is for so long a time under trouble, and meets with such exceedingly fiery trials, and extreme sufferings, before her time of peace and rest in the latter ages of the world shall come. Therefore God has given us a book most proper in these circumstances, even the book of Job, written upon occasion of the afflictions of a particular saint, and was probably at first given to the church in Egypt under her afflictions there, and is made use of by the Apostle to comfort Christians under persecutions, Jam. 5:11, “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” God was also pleased, in this book of Job, to give some view of the ancient divinity before the giving of the law.
Thus, from this brief review, I think it appears, that every part of the Scriptures of the Old Testament is very useful and necessary, and no part of it can be spared, without loss to the church. And therefore, as I said, the wisdom of God is conspicuous in ordering that the Scriptures of the Old Testament should consist of those very books of which they do consist.
Before I dismiss this particular, I would add, that it is very observable that the history of the Old Testament is large and particular where the great affair of redemption required it, as where there was most done towards this work, and most to typify Christ, and to prepare the way for him. Thus it is very large and particular in the history of Abraham and the other patriarchs. But very short in the account we have of the time which the children of Israel spent in Egypt. So again it is large in the account of the redemption out of Egypt, and the first settling of the affairs of the Jewish church and nation in Moses and Joshua’s time, but much shorter in the account of the times of the judges. So again, it is large and particular in the account of David’s and Solomon’s times, and then very short in the history of the ensuing reigns. Thus the accounts are large or short, just as there is more or less of the affair of redemption to be seen in them.
V. From what has been said, we may see that Christ and his redemption are the great subjects of the whole Bible. Concerning the New Testament, the matter is plain. And by what has been said on this subject hitherto, it appears to be so also with respect to the Old Testament. Christ and his redemption is the great subject of the prophecies of the Old Testament, as has been shown. It has also been shown, that he is the great subject of the songs of the Old Testament. And the moral rules and precepts are all given in subordination to him. And Christ and his redemption are also the great subject of the history of the Old Testament from the beginning all along. And even the history of the creation is brought in as an introduction to the history of redemption that immediately follows it. The whole book, both Old Testament and New, is filled up with the gospel. Only with this difference, that the Old Testament contains the gospel under a veil, but the New contains it unveiled, so that we may see the glory of the Lord with open face.
VI. By what has been said, we may see the usefulness and excellency of the Old Testament. Some are ready to look on the Old Testament as being, as it were, out of date, and as if we in these days of the gospel have but little to do with it, which is a very great mistake, arising from want of observing the nature and design of the Old Testament, which, if it were observed, would appear full of the gospel of Christ, and would in an excellent manner illustrate and confirm the glorious doctrines and promises of the New Testament. Those parts of the Old Testament which are commonly looked upon as containing the least divine instruction, are as it were mines and treasures of gospel knowledge. And the reason why they are thought to contain so little is, because persons do but superficially read them. The treasures which are hid underneath are not observed. They only look on the top of the ground, and so suddenly pass a judgment that there is nothing there. But they never dig into the mine. If they did, they would find it richly stored with silver and gold, and would be abundantly requited for their pains.
What has been said, may show us what a precious treasure God has committed into our hands, in that he has given us the Bible. How little do most persons consider how much they enjoy, in that they have the possession of that holy book the Bible, which they have in their hands, and may converse with it as they please. What an excellent book is this, and how far exceeding all human writings, that reveals God to us, and gives us a view of the grand design and glorious scheme of providence from the beginning of the world, either in history or prophecy, that reveals the great Redeemer and his glorious redemption, and the various steps by which God accomplishes it from the first foundation to the top stone! Shall we prize a history which gives us a clear account of some great earthly prince, or mighty warrior, as of Alexander the Great, or Julius Caesar, or the Duke of Marlborough? And, shall we not prize the history that God gives us of the glorious kingdom of his Son Jesus Christ, the Prince and Savior, and of the wars and other great transactions of that King of kings, and Lord of armies, the Lord mighty in battle, the history of the things which he has wrought for the redemption of his chosen people?
VII. What has been said, may make us sensible how much most persons are to blame for their inattentive, unobservant way of reading the Scriptures. — How much do the Scriptures contain, if it were but observed? The Bible is the most comprehensive book in the world. But, what will all this signify to us, if we read it without observing what is the drift of the Holy Ghost in it? The Psalmist, Psa. 119:18, begs of God, “That he would enlighten his eyes, that he might behold wondrous things out of his law.” The Scriptures are full of wondrous things. Those histories which are commonly read as if they were only histories of the private concerns of such and such particular persons, such as the histories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, and the history of Ruth, and the histories of particular lawgivers and princes, as the history of Joshua and the Judges, and David, and the Israelite princes, are accounts of vastly greater things, things of greater importance, and more extensive involvement, than they that read them are commonly aware of.
The histories of Scripture are commonly read as if they were stories written only to entertain men’s fancies, and to while away their leisure hours, when the infinitely great things contained or pointed at in them are passed over and never taken notice of. Whatever treasures the Scriptures contain, we shall be never the better for them if we do not observe them. He that has a Bible, and does not observe what is contained in it, is like a man who has a box full of silver and gold, and does not know it, does not observe that it is anything more than a vessel filled with common stones. As long as it is thus with him, he will be never the better for his treasure. For he that knows not that he has a treasure, will never make use of what he has, and so might as well be with out it. He who has a plenty of the choicest food stored up in his house, and does not know it, will never taste what he has, and will be as likely to starve as if his house were empty.
VIII. What has been said may show us how great a person Jesus Christ is, and how great an errand he came into the world upon, seeing there was so much done to prepare the way for his coming. God had been doing nothing else but prepare the way for his coming, and doing the work which he had to do in the world, through all ages of the world from the very beginning. If we had notice of a certain stranger’s being about to come into a country, and should observe that a great preparation was made for his coming, that many months were taken up in it, and great things were done, many great alterations were made in the state of the whole country, and that many hands were employed, and persons of great note were engaged in making preparation for the coming of this person, and the whole country was overturned, and all the affairs and concerns of the country were ordered so as to be subservient to the design of entertaining that person when he should come. It would be natural for us to think with ourselves, why, surely, this person is some extraordinary person indeed, and it is some very great business that he is coming upon.
How great a person then must he be, for whose coming into the world the great God of heaven and earth, and Governor of all things, spent four thousand years in preparing the way, going about it soon after the world was created, and from age to age doing great things, bringing mighty events to pass, accomplishing wonders without number, often overturning the world in order to it, and causing everything in the state of mankind, and all revolutions and changes in the habitable world from generation to generation to be subservient to this great design? Surely this must be some great and extraordinary person indeed, and a great work indeed it must needs be that he is coming about.
We read, Mat. 21:8, 9, 10, that when Christ was coming into Jerusalem, and the multitudes ran before him, and cut down branches of palm trees, and strewed them in the way, and others spread their garments in the way, and cried, “Hosannah to the son of David,” that the whole city was moved, saying, Who is this? They wondered who that extraordinary person should be, that there should be such an ado made on the occasion of his coming into the city, and to prepare the way before him. But if we consider what has been said on this subject, what great things were done in all ages to prepare the way for Christ’s coming into the world, and how the world was often overturned to make way for it, much more may we cry out, Who is this? What great person is this? and say, as in Psa. 24:8, 10. “Who is this king of glory,” that God should show such respect, and put such vast honor upon him? Surely this person is honorable indeed in God’s eyes, and greatly beloved of him, and surely it is a great errand upon which he is sent into the world.