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.