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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 mere chants 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 Daniel, xi. 32. Speaking of Antiochus's 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, miser. able end, by a loathsome disease, under dreadful torments of body, and horrors of mind ; which was foretold, Dan. xi. 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 ii. 1. “ And there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed ;" i. e. all the Roman em. pire.
This empire is spoken of as much the strongest and greatest of
any of the four : Dan. ii. 40. “ And the fourth king, dom shall be strong as iron ; forasmạch 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. vii. 7. 19.23.
The time that the Romans first conquered and brought un. der the land of Judea, was between sixty and seventy years before Christ was born. And soon after this, the Roman em. pire was established in its greatest extent ; and the world continued subject to this empire henceforward till 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 spread, ing of the gospel, and the setting up of Christ's kingdom in the world. For the world being thus subject to one govo ernment, 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 any thing 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 travelling through different nations, that are under different independent governments, which there are not in travelling 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 travelling, 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 happi. ness. 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 shew 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. i. 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 shuyn, 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 xxvi. 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 xvii. 22. &c. 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 interest 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. Till 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 Augusus Caesar, as he was the first, so he was the greatest of all the Roman emperors : He reigned in the greatest glory. Thus the pow. er 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 Cesar had been for many years establishing the state of the Roman empire, subduing his enemies in one part and another, till the very year that Christ was born ; when all his enemies being subdued, and 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, till the year that Christ disputed with doctors in the temple. Thus the world, after it had been, as it
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 monarchięs, being now established in the greatest height of the fourth and last monarchy, and settled in quiętness ; 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.