FROM CHRIST’S RESURRECTION TO THE END OF THE WORLD
HOW CHRIST ACCOMPLISHED THIS SUCCESS
I NOW proceed to show how he accomplished this success. And here I would observe, that this success consists in two things, viz. either in Grace, or in Glory. That success which consists in the former, is to be seen in those works of God which are wrought during those ages of the church wherein the church is continued under the outward means of Grace. That success which consists in the latter of these, viz. Glory, has its chief accomplishment at the day of judgment.
How this success is accomplished by God’s grace here.
I WOULD first consider the former kind of success, consisting in God’s grace here, which mainly appears in the works of God during the time that the Christian church continues under the means of grace, which is from Christ’s resurrection to his appearing in the clouds of heaven to judgment, which includes the three former of those great events of providence before mentioned, which are called Christ’s coming in his kingdom. In speaking of this success, I would,
1. Mention those things by which the means of this success were established after Christ’s resurrection, and,
2. Consider the success itself.
§ I. The means of this success. I would consider those dispensations of providence, by which the means of this success were established after Christ’s resurrection.
I. The abolishing of the Jewish dispensation. This indeed was gradually done, but it began from the time of Christ’s resurrection, in which the abolition of it is founded. This was the first thing done towards bringing the former state of the world to an end. This is to be looked upon as the great means of the success of Christ’s redemption. For the Jewish dispensation was not fitted for more than one nation. It was not fitted for the practice of the world in general, or for a church of God dwelling in all parts of the world. Nor would it have been in any wise practicable by them. It would have been impossible for men living in all parts of the world to go to Jerusalem three times a year, as was prescribed in that constitution. When therefore God had a design of enlarging his church, as he did after Christ’s resurrection, it was necessary that this dispensation should be abolished. If it had been continued, it would have been a great block and hindrance to the enlargement of the church. And besides, their ceremonial law, by reason of its burdensomeness, and the great peculiarity of some of its rites, was as it were a wall of partition, and was the ground of enmity between the Jews and Gentiles, and would have kept the Gentiles from complying with the true religion. This wall therefore was broken down to make way for the more extensive success of the gospel, as Eph. 2:14, 15.
II. The next thing in order of time seems to be the appointment of the Christian Sabbath. For though this was gradually established in the Christian church, yet those things by which the revelation of God’s mind and will was made, began on the day of Christ’s resurrection, by his appearing then to his disciples, John 20:19 and was afterwards confirmed by his appearing from time to time on that day rather than any other, John 20:26 and by his sending down the Holy Spirit so remarkably on that day, Acts 2:1 and afterwards in directing that public assemblies and the public worship of Christians should be on that day, which may be concluded from Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:1, 2, and Rev. 1:10. And so the day of the week on which Christ rose from the dead, that joyful day, is appointed to be the day of the church’s holy rejoicing to the end or the world, and the day of their stated public worship. And this is a very great and principal means of the success which the gospel has had in the world.
III. The next thing was Christ’s appointment of the gospel ministry, and commissioning and sending forth his apostles to teach and baptize all nations. Of these things we have an account in Mat. 28:19, 20, “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and or the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you away, even unto the end of the world.” — There were three things done by this one instruction and commission of Christ to his apostles, viz.
1. The appointment of the office of the gospel ministry. For this commission which Christ gives to his apostles, in the most essential parts of it, belongs to all ministers. And the apostles, by virtue of it, were ministers or elders of the church.
2. Here is something peculiar in this commission of the apostles, viz. to go forth from one nation to another, preaching the gospel in all the world. The apostles had something above what belonged to their ordinary character as ministers. They had an extraordinary power of teaching and ruling, which extended to all the churches. And not only all the churches which then were, but all that should be to the end of the world by their ministry. And so the apostles were, as it were, in subordination to Christ, made foundations of the Christian church. See Eph. 2:20, and Rev. 21:14.
3. Here is an appointment of Christian baptism. This ordinance indeed had a beginning before. John the Baptist and Christ both baptized. But now especially by this institution is it established as an ordinance to be upheld in the Christian church to the end of the world. The ordinance of the Lord’s supper had been established before, just before Christ’s crucifixion.
IV. The next thing to be observed, is the enduing the apostles, and others, with extraordinary and miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost, such as the gift of tongues, the gift of healing, of prophecy, etc. The Spirit of God was poured out in great abundance in this respect, so that not only ministers, but a very great part of the Christians through the world were endued with them, both old and young, not only officers, and more honorable persons, but the meaner sort of people, servants and handmaids, were commonly endued with them, agreeable to Joel’s prophecy, Joel 2:28, 29, of which prophecy the Apostle Peter takes notice, that it is accomplished in this dispensation, Acts 2:11.
How wonderful a dispensation was this! Under the Old Testament, but few had such honors put upon them by God. Moses wished that all the Lord’s people were prophets, Num. 11:29, whereas Joshua thought it much that Eldad and Medad prophesied. But now we find the wish of Moses fulfilled. And this continued in a very considerable degree to the end of the apostolic age, or the first hundred years after the birth of Christ, which is therefore called the age of miracles.
This was a great means of the success of the gospel in that age, and of establishing the Christian church in all parts of the world, and not only in that age, but in all ages to the end of the world. For Christianity being by this means established through so great a part of the known world by miracles, it was after that more easily continued by tradition. And then, by means of these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, the apostles, and others, were enabled to write the New Testament, to be an infallible rule of faith and manners to the church to the end of the world. And furthermore, these miracles stand recorded in those writings as a standing proof and evidence of the truth of the Christian religion to all ages.
V. The next thing I would observe is the revealing those glorious doctrines of the gospel fully and plainly, which had under the Old Testament been obscurely revealed. The doctrine of Christ’s satisfaction and righteousness, his ascension and glory, and the way of salvation, under the Old Testament, were in a great measure hid under the veil of types and shadows and more obscure revelations, as Moses put a veil on his face to hide the shining of it. But now the veil of the temple is rent from the top to the bottom. And Christ, the anti-type of Moses, shines. The shining of his face is without a veil, 2 Cor. 3:12, 13, 18. Now these glorious mysteries are plainly revealed, which were in a great measure kept secret from the foundation of the world, Eph. 3:3, 4, 5; Rom. 16:25, “According to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest,” and, Col. 1:26, “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages, and generations, but now is made manifest to his saints.”
Thus the Sun of Righteousness, after it is risen from under the earth, begins to shine forth clearly, and not only by a dim reflection as it did before. Christ, before his death, revealed many things more clearly than ever they had been revealed in the Old Testament. But the great mysteries of Christ’s redemption, and reconciliation by his death, and justification by his righteousness, were not so plainly revealed before Christ’s resurrection. Christ gave this reason for it, that he would not put new wine into old bottles. And it was gradually done after Christ’s resurrection. In all likelihood, Christ much more clearly instructed them personally after his resurrection, and before his ascension, as we read that he continued with them forty days, speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom, Acts 1:3 and that “he opened their understandings, that they might understand the Scriptures,” Luke 24:45. But the clear revelation of these things was principally after the pouring out of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, agreeable to Christ’s promise, John 16:12, 13, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when the Spirit of truth is come, he shall guide you into all truth.” This clear revelation of the mysteries of the gospel, as they are delivered, We have chiefly through the hands of the Apostle Paul, by whose writings a child may come to know more of the doctrines of the gospel, in many respects, than the greatest prophets knew under the darkness of the Old Testament.
Thus we see how the light of the gospel, which began to dawn immediately after the fall, and gradually grew and increased through all the ages of the Old Testament, as we observed as we went along, is now come to the light of perfect day, and the brightness of the sun shining forth in his unveiled glory.
VI. The next thing that I would observe, is the appointment of the office of deacons in the Christian church, which we have an account of in Acts 6, to take care for the outward supply of the members of Christ’s church, and the exercise of that great Christian virtue of charity.
VII. The calling, and qualifying, and sending the Apostle Paul. This was begun in his conversion as he was going to Damascus, and was one of the greatest means of the success of Christ’s redemption that followed. For this success was more by the labors, preaching, and writings of this Apostle, than all the other apostles put together. For, as he says, 1 Cor. 15:10 he “laboured more abundantly than they all,” so his success was more abundant than that of them all. As he was the apostle of the Gentiles, so it was mainly by his ministry that the Gentiles were called, and the gospel spread through the world. And our nation, and the other nations of Europe, have the gospel among them chiefly through his means. And he was more employed by the Holy Ghost in revealing the glorious doctrines of tile gospel by his writings, for the use of the church in all ages, than all the other apostles taken together.
VIII. The next thing I would observe, is the institution of ecclesiastical councils, for deciding controversies, and ordering the affairs of the church of Christ, of which we have an account in Acts 15.
IX. The last thing I shall mention under this head, is the committing the New Testament to writing. This was all written after the resurrection of Christ. And all written either by the apostles, or by the evangelists, who were companions of the apostles. All the New Testament was written by the apostles themselves, excepting what was written by Mark and Luke, viz. the gospels of Mark and Luke, and the book of the Acts of the Apostles. He that wrote the gospel of Mark, is supposed to be he whose mother was Mary, in whose house they were praying for Peter, when he, brought out of prison by the angel, came and knocked at the door, of which we read, Acts 12:12, “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together, praying.” He was the companion of the apostles Barnabas and Saul, Acts 15:37, “And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark.” He was Barnabas’ sister’s son, and seems sometimes to have been a companion of the Apostle Paul, Col. 4:10, “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas; touching whom ye received commandment: if he come unto you, receive him.” The apostles seem to have made great account of him, as appears by those places, and also by Acts 12:25, “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark,” and Acts 13:5, “And when they were at Salamis, they preached the Word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they had also John to their minister,” and, 2 Tim. 4:11, “Only Luke is with me: take Mark and bring him with thee; for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”
This Luke, who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, was a great companion of the Apostle Paul. He is spoken of as being with him in the last mentioned place, and speaks of himself as accompanying him in his travels in the history of the Acts. And therefore he speaks in the first person plural, when speaking of Paul’s travels, saying, We went to such and such a place; We set sail; We launched from such a place; and landed at such a place. He was greatly beloved by the Apostle Paul. He is that beloved physician spoken of, Col. 4:14. The apostle ranks Mark and Luke among his fellow laborers, Phm. 24, “Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow laborers.”
The rest of the books were all written by the apostles themselves. The books of the New Testament are either historical, or doctrinal, or prophetic. The historical books are the writings of the four evangelists, giving us the history of Christ, and his purchase of redemption, and his resurrection and ascension, and the Acts of the Apostles, giving an account of the great things by which the Christian church was first established and propagated. The doctrinal books are the epistles. These, most of them, we have from the great Apostle Paul. And we have one prophetic book, which takes place after the end of the history of the whole Bible, and gives an account of the great events which were to come to pass by which the work of redemption was to be carried on to the end of the world.
All these books are supposed to have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem, excepting those which were written by the Apostle John, who lived the longest of all the apostles, and wrote what he wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem, as is supposed. And to this beloved disciple it was that Christ revealed those wonderful things which were to come to pass in his church to the end of time. And he was the person that put the finishing hand to the canon of the Scriptures, and sealed the whole of it. So that now the canon of Scripture, that great and standing written rule, which was begun about Moses’ time, is completed and settled, and a curse denounced against him that adds anything to it, or diminishes anything from it. And so all things are established and completed which relate to the appointed means of grace. All the stated means of grace were finished in the apostolic age, or before the death of the Apostle John, and are to remain unaltered to the day of judgment.
Thus far we have considered those things by which the means of grace were given and established the Christian church.
§ II. The means of success. The other thing proposed relating to the success of Christ’s redemption during the church’s continuance under means of grace, was to show how this success was carried on, which is what I would now proceed to do.
And here it is worthy to be remembered, that the Christian church, during its continuance under the means of grace, is in two very different states.
1. In a suffering, afflicted, persecuted state, as, for the most part it is, from the resurrection of Christ until the fall of Antichrist.
2. In a state of peace and prosperity, which is the state that the church, for the most part, is to be in after the fall of Antichrist.
First, I would show how the success of Christ’s redemption is carried on during the continuance of the church’s suffering state, from the resurrection of Christ to the fall of Antichrist. This space of time, for the most part, is a state of the church’s sufferings, and is so represented in Scripture. Indeed God is pleased, out of love and pity to his elect, to grant many intermissions of the church’s sufferings during this time, whereby the days of tribulation are as it were shortened. But from Christ’s resurrection until the fall of Antichrist, is the appointed day of Zion’s troubles. During this space of time, for the most part, some part or other of the church is under persecution. And great part of the time, the whole church, or at least the generality of God’s people, have been persecuted.
For the first three hundred years after Christ, the church was for the most part in a state of great affliction, the object of reproach and persecution, first by the Jews, and then by the heathen. After this, from the beginning of Constantine’s time, the church had rest and prosperity for a little while, which is represented in Rev. 7 at the beginning, by the angel’s holding the four winds for a little while. But presently after, the church again suffered persecution from the Arians. And after that, Antichrist rose, and the church was driven away into the wilderness, and was kept down in obscurity, and contempt, and suffering, for a long time, under Antichrist, before the reformation by Luther and others. And since the Reformation, the church’s persecutions have been beyond all that ever were before. And though some parts of God’s church sometimes have had rest, yet to this day, for the most part, the true church is very much kept under by its enemies, and some parts of it under grievous persecution. And so we may expect it will continue until the fall of Antichrist. And then will come the appointed day of the church’s prosperity on earth, the set time in which God will favor Zion, the time when the saints shall not be kept under by wicked men, as it has been hitherto, but wherein they shall be uppermost, and shall reign on earth, as it is said, Rev. 5:10, “And the kingdom shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High,” Dan. 7:27.
This suffering state of the church is in Scripture represented as a state of the church’s travail, John 16:20, 21, and Rev. 12:1, 2. What the church is in travail striving to bring forth during this time, is that glory and prosperity of the church which shall be after the fall of Antichrist, and then shall she bring forth her child. This is a long time of the church’s trouble and affliction, and is so spoken of in Scripture, though it be spoken of as being but for a little season, in comparison of the eternal prosperity of the church. Hence the church, under the long continuance of this affliction, cries out, as in Rev. 6:10, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” And we are told, that “white robes were given unto every one of them. And it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also, and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” So, Dan. 12:6, “How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?”
It is to be observed, that during the time of these sufferings of the church, the main instrument of their sufferings has been the Roman government. Her afflictions have almost all along been from Rome. That is therefore in the New Testament called Babylon, because, as of old the troubles of the city Jerusalem were mainly from that adverse city Babylon, so the troubles of the Christian church, the spiritual Jerusalem, during the long time of its tribulation, is mainly from Rome. Before the time of Constantine, the troubles of the Christian church were from heathen Rome. Since that time, its troubles have been mainly from Antichristian Rome. And as of old, the captivity of the Jews ceased on the destruction of Babylon, so the time of the trouble of the Christian church will cease with the destruction of the church of Rome, that spiritual Babylon.
In showing how the success of Christ’s redemption is carried on, during this time of the church’s tribulation, I would,
1. Show how it was carried on until the destruction of Jerusalem, with which ended the first great dispensation of Providence which is called Christ’s coming in his kingdom.
2. How it was carried on from thence to the destruction of the heathen empire in the time of Constantine, which is the second dispensation called Christ’s coming.
3. How it was carried on from thence to the destruction of Antichrist, when will be accomplished the third great event called Christ’s coming, and with which the days of the church’s tribulation and travail end.
I. I would show how the success of Christ’s purchase of redemption was carried on from Christ’s resurrection to the destruction of Jerusalem. In speaking of this, I would, 1. Take notice of the success itself, and, 2. The opposition made against it by the enemies of it, and, 3. The terrible judgments of God on those enemies.
1. I would observe the success itself soon after Christ had finished the purchase of redemption, and was gone into heaven, and entered into the holy of holies with his own blood, there began a glorious success of what he had done and suffered. Having undermined the foundation of Satan’s kingdom, it began to fall apace. Swiftly did it hasten to ruin in the world, which might well be compared to Satan’s falling like lightning from heaven. Satan before had exalted his throne very high in this world, even to the very stars of heaven, reigning with great glory in his heathen Roman empire. But never before had he such a downfall as he had soon after Christ’s ascension. He had, we may suppose, been very lately triumphing in a supposed victory, having brought about the death of Christ, which he doubtless gloried in as the greatest feat that ever he did, and probably imagined he had totally defeated God’s design by him. But he was quickly made sensible, that he had only been ruining his own kingdom, when he saw it tumbling so fast so soon after, as a consequence of the death of Christ.
For Christ, by his death, having purchased the Holy Spirit, and having ascended, and received the Spirit, he poured it forth abundantly for the conversion of thousands and millions of souls.
Never had Christ’s kingdom been so set up in the world. There probably were more souls converted in the age of the apostles than had been before from the beginning of the world until that time. Thus God so soon begins gloriously to accomplish his promise to his Son, wherein he had promised, that he should see his seed, and that the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his hand, if he would make his soul an offering for sin. And,
(1.) Here is to be observed the success which the gospel had among the Jews. For God first began with them. He being about to reject the main body of that people, first calls in his elect from among them, before he forsook them, to turn to the Gentiles. It was so in former great and dreadful judgments of God on that nation. The bulk of them were destroyed, and only a remnant saved, or reformed. So it was in the rejection of the ten tribes, long before this rejection. The bulk of the ten tribes were rejected, when they left the true worship of God in Jeroboam’s time, and afterwards more fully in Ahab’s time. But yet there was a remnant of them that God reserved. A number left their possessions in these tribes, and went and settled in the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. And afterwards there were seven thousand in Ahab’s time, who had not bowed the knee to Baal. And so, in the captivity into Babylon, only a remnant of them ever returned to their own land. And so now again, by far the greater part of the people were rejected entirely, but some few were saved. And therefore the Holy Ghost compares this reservation of a number that were converted by the preaching of the apostles, to those former remnants, Rom. 9:27, “Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.” See Isa. 10:22.
The glorious success of the gospel among the Jews after Christ’s ascension, began by the pouring out of the Spirit upon the day of Pentecost, of which we read in Acts 2. So wonderful was this pouring out of the Spirit, and so remarkable and swift the effect of it, that we read of three thousand who were converted to the Christian faith in one day, Acts 2:41. And probably the greater part of these were converted. And after this, we read of God’s adding to the church daily such as should be saved, verse 47. And soon after, we read, that the number of them were about five thousand. Thus were not only a multitude converted, but the church was then eminent in piety, as appears by Acts 2:46, 47, and 4:32.
Thus the Christian church was first of all of the nation of Israel. And therefore, when the Gentiles were called, they were but as it were added to Israel, to the seed of Abraham. They were added to the Christian church of Israel, as the proselytes of old were to the Mosaic church of Israel. And so were as it were only grafted on the stock of Abraham, and were not a distinct tree. For they are all still the seed of Abraham and Israel, as Ruth the Moabitess, and Uriah the Hittite, and other proselytes of old, were the same people, and ranked as the seed of Israel.
So the Christian church at first began at Jerusalem, and from thence was propagated to all nations. So that this church of Jerusalem was the church that was as it were the mother of all other churches in the world, agreeable to the prophecy, Isa. 2:3, 4, “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem: and he shall judge among the nations, and rebuke many people.” So that the whole church of God is still God’s Jerusalem. They are his spiritual Jerusalem, and are as it were only added to the church, which was begun in the literal Jerusalem.
After this, we read of many thousands of Jews that believed, in Jerusalem, Acts 21:20. And so we read of multitudes of Jews who were converted in other cities of Judea, and not only so, but even in other parts of the world. For wherever the apostles went, if there were any Jews there, their manner was, first to go into the synagogues of the Jews, and preach the gospel to then, and many in one place and another believed, as in Damascus and Antioch, and many other places that we read of in the Acts of the Apostles.
In this pouring out of the Spirit which began at the Pentecost following Christ’s ascension, began that first great dispensation which is called Christ’s coming in his kingdom. Christ’s coming thus in a spiritual manner for the glorious setting up of his kingdom in the world, is represented by Christ himself as his coming down from heaven, whither he had ascended, John 14:18. There Christ having been speaking of his ascension, says, “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come unto you,” speaking of his coming by the coming of the Comforter, the Spirit of truth. And, John 14:28 “Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you.” And thus the apostles began to see the kingdom of heaven come with power, as he promised they should, Mark 9:1.
(2.) What is next to be observed is the success of the gospel among the Samaritans. After the success of the gospel had been so gloriously begun among the proper Jews, the Spirit of God was next wonderfully poured out on the Samaritans, who were not Jews by nation, but the posterity of those whom the king of Assyria removed from different parts of his dominions, and settled in the land that was inhabited by the ten tribes whom he carried captive. But yet they had received the five books of Moses, and practiced most of the rites of the law of Moses, and so were a sort of mongrel Jews. We do not find them reckoned as Gentiles in the New Testament. For the calling of the Gentiles is spoken of as a new thing after this, beginning with the conversion of Cornelius. But yet it was an instance of making that a people that were no people. For they had corrupted the religion which Moses commanded, and did not go up to Jerusalem to worship, but had another temple of their own in Mount Gerizzim, which is the mountain of which the woman of Samaria speaks, when she says, “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain.” Christ there does not approve of their separation from the Jews, but tells the woman of Samaria, that they worshipped they knew not what, and that salvation is of the Jews. But now salvation is brought from the Jews to them by the preaching of Philip (excepting that before, Christ had some success among them), with whose preaching there was a glorious pouring out of the Spirit of God in the city of Samaria, where we are told, that, “ the people believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of Christ, and were baptized, both men and women; and that there was great joy in that city,” Acts 8:8-12.
Thus Christ had a glorious harvest in Samaria, which is what Christ seems to have had respect to, in what he said to his disciples at Jacob’s well three or four years before, on occasion of the people of Samaria’s appearing at a distance in the fields coming to the place where Christ was, at the instigation of the woman of Samaria. On that occasion, he bids his disciples lift up their eyes to the fields, for that they were white to the harvest, John 4:35, 36. The disposition which the people of Samaria showed towards Christ and his gospel, showed that they were ripe for the harvest. But now the harvest is come by Philip’s preaching. There used to be a most bitter enmity between the Jews and Samaritans. But now, by their conversion, the Christian Jews and Samaritans are all happily united. For in Christ Jesus is neither Jew nor Samaritan, but Christ is all in all. This was a glorious instance of the wolf’s dwelling with the lamb, and the leopard’s lying down with the kid.
(3.) The next thing to be observed is the success there was of the gospel in calling the Gentiles. This was a great and glorious dispensation of divine providence, much spoken of in the prophecies of the Old Testament, and spoken of by the apostles, time after time, as a most glorious event of Christ’s redemption. This was begun in the conversion of Cornelius and his family, greatly to the admiration of Peter, who was used as the instrument of it, and of those who were with him, and of those who were informed of it, as you may see, Acts 10 and Acts 11. And the next instance of it that we have any account of, was in the conversion of great numbers of Gentiles in Cyprus, and Cyrene, and Antioch, by the disciples that were scattered abroad by the persecution which arose about Stephen, as we have an account in Acts 11:19, 20, 21. And presently upon this the disciples began to be called Christians first at Antioch, verse 26.
And after this, vast multitudes of Gentiles were converted in many different parts of the world, chiefly by the ministry of the Apostle Paul, a glorious pouring out of the Spirit accompanying his preaching in one place and another. Multitudes flocked into the church of Christ in a great number of cities where the Apostle came. So the number of the members of the Christian church that were Gentiles, soon far exceeded the number of its Jewish members. Yea so, that in less than ten years’ time after Paul was sent forth from Antioch to preach to the Gentiles, it was said of him and his companions, that they had turned the world upside down, Acts 17:6, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.” But the most remarkable pouring out of the Spirit in a particular city that we have any account of in the New Testament, seems to be that in the city of Ephesus, which was a very great city. Of this we have an account in Acts 19. There was also a very extraordinary ingathering of souls at Corinth, one of the greatest cities in all Greece. And after this, many were converted in Rome, the chief city of all the world. And the gospel was propagated into all parts or the Roman empire. Thus the gospel sun, which had lately risen on the Jews, now rose upon, and began to enlighten the heathen world, after they had continued in gross heathenish darkness for so many ages.
This was a great thing, and a new thing, such as never had been before. All nations but the Jews, and a few who had at one time and another joined with them, had been rejected from about Moses’ time. The Gentile world had been covered over with the thick darkness of idolatry. But now, at the joyful glorious sound of the gospel, they began in all parts to forsake their old idols and to abhor them, and to cast them to the moles and to the bats, and to learn to worship the true God, and to trust in his Son Jesus Christ. And God owned them for his people. Those who had so long been afar off, were made nigh by the blood of Christ. Men were changed from being heathenish and brutish, to be the children of God, were called out of Satan’s kingdom of darkness, and brought into God’s marvelous light. And in almost all countries throughout the known world were assemblies of the people of God. Joyful praises were sung to the true God, and Jesus Christ the glorious Redeemer. Now that great building which God began soon after the fall of man, rises gloriously, not in the same manner that it had done in former ages, but in quite a new manner. Now Daniel’s prophecies concerning the last kingdom, which should succeed the four heathenish monarchies, begins to be fulfilled. Now the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, began to smite the image on its feet, and to break it in pieces, and to grow great, and to make great advances towards filling the earth. And now God gathers together the elect from the four winds of heaven, by the preaching of the apostles and other ministers, the angels of the Christian church sent forth with the great sound of the gospel trumpet, before the destruction of Jerusalem, agreeable to what Christ foretold, Mat. 24:31.
This was the success of Christ’s purchase, during this first period of the Christian church, which terminated in the destruction of Jerusalem.
2. I would proceed now, in the second place, to take notice of the opposition which was made to this success of Christ’s purchase by the enemies of it. — Satan, who lately was so ready to triumph and exult, as though he had gained the victory in putting Christ to death, now finding himself fallen into the pit which he had dug, and finding his kingdom failing so fast, and seeing Christ’s kingdom make such amazing progress, such as never had been before, we may conclude he was filled with the greatest confusion and astonishment, and hell seemed to be effectually alarmed by it to make the most violent opposition against it. And, first, the devil stirred up the Jews, who had before crucified Christ, to persecute the church. For it is observable, that the persecution which the church suffered during this period, was mostly from the Jews. Thus we read in the Acts, when, at Jerusalem, the Holy Ghost was poured out at Pentecost, how the Jews mocked, and said, “These men are full of new wine,” and how the scribes and Pharisees, and the captain of the temple, were alarmed, and bestirred themselves to oppose and persecute the apostles, and first apprehended and threatened them, and afterwards imprisoned and beat them. And breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, they stoned Stephen in a tumultuous rage, and were not content to persecute those that they could find in Judea, but sent abroad to Damascus and other places, to persecute all that they could find everywhere. Herod, who was chief among them, stretched forth his hands to vex the church, and killed James with the sword, and proceeded to take Peter also, and cast him into prison.
So in other countries, we find, that almost wherever the apostles came, the Jews opposed the gospel in a most malignant manner, contradicting and blaspheming. How many things did the blessed Apostle Paul suffer at their hands in one place and another! How violent and bloodthirsty did they show themselves towards him, when he came to bring alms to his nation! In this persecution and cruelty was fulfilled the saying of Christ, Mat. 23:34, “Behold, I send you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify, and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city.”
3. I proceed to take notice of those judgments which were executed on those enemies of Christ, the persecuting Jews
(1.) The bulk of the people were given up to judicial blindness of mind and hardness of heart. Christ denounced such a woe upon them in the days of his flesh, as Mat. 13:14, 15. This curse was also denounced on them by the Apostle Paul, Acts 28:25, 26, 27, and under this curse, under this judicial blindness and hardness, they remain to this very day, having been subject to it for about 1700 years, being the most awful instance of such a judgment, and monuments of God’s terrible vengeance, of any people that ever were. That they should continue from generation to generation so obstinately to reject Christ, so that it is a very rare thing that any one of them is converted to the Christian faith, though their own Scriptures of the Old Testament, which they acknowledge, are so full of plain testimonies against them, is a remarkable evidence of their being dreadfully left of God.
(2.) They were rejected and cast off from being any longer God’s visible people. They were broken off from the stock of Abraham, and since that have no more been reputed his seed, than the Ishmaelites or Edomites, who are as much his natural seed as they. The greater part of the two tribes were now cast off, as the ten tribes had been before, and another people were taken in their room, agreeable to the predictions of their own prophets, as of Moses, Deu. 32:21, “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities; and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people, I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation,” and of Isa. 65:1, “I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not.” — They were visibly rejected and cast off, by God’s directing his apostles to turn away from them, and let them alone, as Acts 13:46, 47, “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, it was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles: for so hath the Lord commanded us.” And so Acts 18:6, and 28:28.
Thus far we have had the scripture history to guide us. Henceforth we shall have the guidance only of two things, viz. Of scripture prophesy, and God’s providence, as related in human histories. But I proceed.
(3.) The third and last judgment of God on those enemies of the success of the gospel which I shall mention, is the terrible destruction of their city and country by the Romans. They had great warnings and many means used with them before this destruction. First, John the Baptist warned them, and told them, that the axe was laid at the root of the tree. And that every tree which should not bring forth good fruit, should be hewn down and cast into the fire. Then Christ warned them very particularly, and told them of their approaching destruction, and at the thoughts of it wept over them. And then the apostles after Christ’s ascension abundantly warned them. But they proved obstinate, and went on in their opposition to Christ and his church, and in their bitter persecuting practices. Their so malignantly persecuting the Apostle Paul, of which we have an account towards the end of the Acts of the Apostles, is supposed to have been not more than seven or eight years before their destruction.
And after this God was pleased to give them one more very remarkable warning by the Apostle Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, which is an epistle written to that nation of the Jews, as is supposed, about four years before their destruction. Wherein the plainest and clearest arguments are set before them from their own law, and from their prophets, for whom they professed such a regard, to prove that Christ Jesus must be the Son of God, and that all their law pointed to him and typified him, and that their Jewish dispensation must needs have now ceased. For though the epistle was more immediately directed to the Christian Hebrews, yet the matter of the epistle plainly shows that the apostle intended it for the use and conviction of the unbelieving Jews, and in this epistle, he mentions particularly the approaching destruction, as Heb. 10:25, “ So much the more, as ye see the day approaching,” and in verse 27, he speaks of the approaching judgment and fiery indignation which should devour the adversaries.
But the generality of them refusing to receive conviction, God soon destroyed them with such terrible circumstances, as the destruction of no country or city since the foundation of the world can parallel, agreeable to what Christ foretold, Mat. 24:21, “For then shall be tribulation, such as was not from the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” The first destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians was very terrible, as it is in a most affecting manner described by the Prophet Jeremiah, in his Lamentations. But this was nothing to the dreadful misery and wrath which they suffered in this destruction. God, according as Christ foretold, bringing on them all the righteous blood that had been shed from the foundation of the world. Thus the enemies of Christ are made his footstool after his ascension, agreeable to God’s promise in Psa. 110 at the beginning. And Christ rules them with a rod of iron. They had been kicking against Christ, but they did but kick against the pricks. The briars and thorns set themselves against them in battle. But he went through them. He bound them together.
This destruction of Jerusalem was in all respects agreeable to what Christ had foretold of it, Mat. 24 by the account which Josephus gives of it, who was then present, and was one of the Jews, who had a share in the calamity, and wrote the history of their destruction. Many circumstances of this destruction resembled the destruction of the wicked at the day of judgment, by his account, being accompanied with many fearful sights in the heavens, and with a separation of the righteous from the wicked. Their city and temple were burnt, and razed to the ground, and the ground on which the city stood, was plowed. And so one stone was not left upon another, Mat. 24:2.
The people had ceased for the most part to be an independent government after the Babylonian captivity. But the scepter entirely departed from Judah on the death of Archelaus. And then Judea was made a Roman province. After this they were cast off from being the people of God. But now their very city and land are utterly destroyed, and they carried away from it, and so have continued in their dispersions through the world for now above 1600 years.
Thus there was a final end to the Old Testament world. All was finished with a kind of day of judgment, in which the people of God were saved, and his enemies terribly destroyed. — Thus does he who was so lately mocked, despised, and spit upon by these Jews, and whose followers they so malignantly persecuted, appear gloriously exalted over his enemies.
Having thus shown how the success of Christ’s purchase was carried on until the destruction of Jerusalem, come now,
II. To show how it was carried on from that time until the destruction of the heathen empire in the time of Constantine the Great, which is the second great event which is in Scripture compared to Christ’s coming to judgment.
Jerusalem was destroyed about the year of our Lord 68, and so before that generation passed away which was contemporary with Christ. And it was about thirty- five years after Christ’s death. The destruction of the heathen empire under Constantine, was about 260 years after this. In showing how the success of the gospel was carried on through this time, I would, 1. Take notice of the opposition made against it by the Roman empire. 2. How the work of the gospel went on, notwithstanding all that opposition. 3. The peculiar circumstances of tribulation and distress that the church was in just before their deliverance by Constantine. 4. The great revolution in Constantine’s time.
1. I would briefly show what opposition was made against the gospel, and the kingdom of Christ, by the Roman empire. The opposition that was made to the gospel by the heathen Roman empire, was mainly after the destruction of Jerusalem, though their opposition began before. But the opposition that was before the destruction of Jerusalem, was mainly by the Jews. But when Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews were put out of a capacity of much troubling the church. Now therefore the devil turns his hand elsewhere, and uses other instruments. The opposition which was made in the Roman empire against the kingdom of Christ, was chiefly of two kinds.
(1.) They employed all their learning, and philosophy, and wit, in opposing it. Christ came into the world in an age wherein learning and philosophy were at their height in the Roman empire. This was employed to the utmost against the kingdom of Christ. The gospel, which held forth a crucified Savior, was not at all agreeable to the notions of the philosophers. The Christian scheme of trusting in such a crucified Redeemer, appeared foolish and ridiculous to them. Greece was a country the most famous for learning of any in the Roman empire. But the apostle observes, that the doctrine of Christ crucified appeared foolishness to the Greeks, 1 Cor. 1:23 and therefore the wise men and philosophers opposed the gospel with all the wit they had. We have a specimen of their manner of opposing, in the story we have of their treatment of the Apostle Paul at Athens, which was a city that had been for many ages the chief seat of philosophers of any in the whole world. We read in Acts 17:18 that the philosophers of the Epicureans and Stoics encountered him, saying, “What will this babbler say? He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods.” So they were wont to deride and ridicule Christianity. And after the destruction of Jerusalem, several of these philosophers published books against it, the chief of whom were Celsus and Porphyry. These wrote books against the Christian religion with a great deal of virulence and contempt, much after the manner that the Deists of the present age oppose and ridicule Christianity. Something of their writings yet remains. As great enemies and despisers as they were of the Christian religion, yet they never denied the facts recorded of Christ and his apostles in the New Testament, particularly the miracles which they wrought, but allowed them. They lived too near the times wherein these miracles were wrought to deny them. For they were so publicly done, and so lately, that neither Jews nor heathens in those days appeared to deny them, but they ascribed them to the power of magic.
(2.) The authority or the Roman empire employed all their strength, time after time, to persecute, and if possible to root out Christianity. This they did in ten general successive persecutions. We have heretofore observed, that Christ came into the world when the strength of heathen dominion and authority was the greatest that ever it was under the Roman monarchy, the greatest and strongest human monarchy that ever was on earth. All the strength of this monarchy was employed for a longtime to oppose and persecute the Christian church, and if possible to destroy it, in ten successive attempts, which are called the ten heathen persecutions, which were before Constantine.
The first of these, which was the persecution under Nero, was a little before the destruction of Jerusalem, in which the Apostle Peter was crucified, and the Apostle Paul beheaded, soon after he wrote his second epistle to Timothy. When he wrote that epistle, he was a prisoner at Rome under Nero, and was soon after he wrote it beheaded, agreeable to what he says, 2 Tim. 4:6, 7, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” — And there were many thousands of other Christians slain in that persecution. The other nine persecutions were all after the destruction of Jerusalem. Some of these were very terrible indeed, and far exceeded the first persecution under Nero. One emperor after another set himself with the utmost rage to root out the Christian church from the earth, that there should not be so much as the name of Christian left in the world. And thousands and millions were put to cruel deaths in these persecutions. For they spared neither sex nor age, but killed them as fast as they could.
Under the second general persecution, that which was next after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Apostle John was banished to the isle of Patmos, where he had those visions of which he has given an account in the Revelation. Under that persecution it was reckoned, that about 40,000 suffered martyrdom, which yet was nothing to what were put to death under some succeeding persecutions. Ten thousand suffered that one kind of cruel death, crucifixion, in the third persecution under the Emperor Adrian. Under the fourth persecution, which began about the year of Christ 162, many suffered martyrdom in England, the land of our forefathers, where Christianity had been planted very early, and, as is supposed, in the days of the apostles. And in the later persecutions, the Roman emperors being vexed at the frustration of their predecessors, who were not able to extirpate Christianity or hinder its progress, were enraged to be the more violent in their attempts.
Thus a great part of the first 300 years after Christ was spent in violent and cruel persecutions of the church by the Roman powers. Satan was very unwilling to let go his hold of so great a part of the world, and every way the chief part of it, as the countries contained in the Roman empire were, of which he had had quiet possession for so many ages. And therefore, when he saw it going so fast out of his hands, he bestirred himself to his utmost. All hell was, as it were, raised against it to oppose it with its utmost power.
Satan thus exerting himself by the power or the heathen Roman empire, is called the great red dragon in Scripture, having seven heads and ten horns, fighting against the woman clothed with the sun, as in Revelation 12. And the terrible conflict there was between the church of Christ, and the powers of the heathen empire before Constantine’s time, is there, in Rev. 12:7, represented by the war between Michael and his angels, and the dragon and his angels, “And there was war in heaven; and Michael and his angels fought, and the dragon fought and his angels.”
2. I would take notice of what success the gospel had in the world before the time of Constantine, notwithstanding all this opposition. — Though the learning and power of the Roman empire were so great, and both were employed to the utmost against Christianity to put a stop to it, and to root it out for so long a time, and in so many repeated attempts. Yet all was in vain. They could neither root it out, nor put a stop to it. But still, in spite of all that they could do, the kingdom of Christ wonderfully prevailed, and Satan’s heathen kingdom moldered and consumed away before it, agreeable to the words of the text, “The moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool.” And it was very observable, that for the most part the more they persecuted the church, the more it increased, in so much that it became a common saying, The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Herein the church of Christ proved to be like a palm tree. Of which tree it is remarked, that the greater weight is laid upon it, or hung to its branches, the more it grows and flourishes. On which account probably the church is compared to a palm tree in Song 7:7, “This thy stature is like to a palm tree.” Justin Martyr, an eminent father in the Christian church, who lived in the age next after the apostles, in some writings of his, which are yet extant, says, that in his days there was no part of mankind, whether Greeks or barbarians, or by whatever name they were called, even the most rude and unpolished nations, where prayers and thanksgivings were not made to the great Creator of the world, through the name of the crucified Jesus. Tertullian, another eminent father in the Christian church, who lived in the beginning of the following age, in some of his writings which are yet extant, sets forth how that in his day the Christian religion had extended itself to the utmost bounds of the then known world, in which he reckons Britain, the country of our forefathers. And thence demonstrates, that the kingdom of Christ was then more extensive than any of the four great monarchies, and moreover says, that though the Christians were as strangers of no long standing, yet they had filled all places of the Roman dominions, their cities, islands, castles, corporations, councils, armies, tribes, the palace, senate, and courts of judicature. Only they had left to the heathen their temples. And that if they should all agree to retire out of the Roman empire, the world would be amazed at the solitude and desolation that would ensue upon it, there would be so few left, and that the Christians were enough to be able easily to defend themselves, if they were disposed to rise up in arms against the heathen magistrates. And Pliny, a heathen who lived in those days, says multitudes of each sex, every age and quality, were become Christians. This superstition, says he, having infected and overrun not the city only, but towns and countries, the temples and sacrifices are generally desolate and forsaken.
And it was remarked by both heathen and Christian writers in those days, that the famous heathen oracles in their temples, where princes and others for many past ages had been wont to inquire and receive answers with an audible voice from their gods, which were indeed answers from the devil. I say, those oracles were now silenced and struck dumb, and gave no more answers. And particularly the oracle at Delphos, which was the most famous heathen oracle in the whole world, which both Greeks and Romans used to consult, began to cease to give any answers, even from the birth of Christ. And the false deity who was worshipped, and used to give answers from his oracle in that temple, being once inquired of, why he did not now give answers as he was wont to do, made this reply, as several heathen historians who lived about those times relate, “There is an Hebrew boy,” says he, “who is king of the gods, who has commanded me to leave this house, and be gone to hell, and therefore you are to expect no more answers.” And many of the heathen writers who lived about that time, speak much of the oracles being silenced, as a thing at which they wondered, not knowing what the cause should be. Plutarch, a heathen writer of those times, wrote a particular treatise about it, which is still extant. And Porphyry, one of the heathen writers before mentioned, who opposed the Christian religion, in his writings has these words, “It is no wonder if the city for these so many years has been overrun with sickness, Esculapius, and the rest of the gods, having withdrawn their converse with men. For since Jesus began to be worshipped, no man has received any public help or benefit by the gods.”
Thus did the kingdom of Christ prevail against the kingdom of Satan.
3. I now proceed to take notice of the peculiar circumstances of tribulation and distress just before Constantine the Great came to the throne. This distress they suffered under the tenth heathen persecution, which, as it was the last, so it was by far the heaviest, and most severe. The church before this, after the ceasing of the ninth persecution, had enjoyed a time of quietness for about forty years together, but, abusing their liberty, began to grow cold and lifeless in religion. And carnal contentions prevailed among them, by which they offended God to suffer this dreadful trial to come upon them. And Satan having lost ground so much, notwithstanding all his attempts, now seemed to bestir himself with more than ordinary rage. Those who were then in authority set themselves with the utmost violence to root out Christianity, by burning all Bibles, and destroying all Christians. And therefore they did not stand to try or convict them in a formal process, but fell upon them wherever they could, sometimes setting fire to houses where multitudes of them were assembled, and burning them all together. And at other times slaughtering multitudes together so that sometimes their persecutors were quite spent with the labor of killing and tormenting them. And in some populous places, so many were slain together, that the blood ran like torrents. It is related, that seventeen thousand martyrs were slain in one month’s time, and that during the continuance of this persecution, in the province of Egypt alone, no less than 144,000 Christians died by the violence of their persecutors, besides 700,000 that died through the fatigues of banishment, or the public works to which they were condemned.
This persecution lasted for ten years together. And as it exceeded all foregoing persecutions in the number of martyrs, so it exceeded them in the variety and multitude of inventions of torture and cruelty. Some authors who lived at that time, say, they were innumerable, and exceed all account and expression.
This persecution in particular was very severe in England. And this is that persecution which was foretold in Rev. 6:9, 10, “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?”
And at the end of the ten years during which this persecution continued, the heathen persecutors thought they had finished their work, and boasted that they had utterly destroyed the name and superstition of the Christians, and had restored and propagated the worship of the gods.
Thus it was the darkest time with the Christian church just before the break of day. They were brought to the greatest extremity just before God appeared for their glorious deliverance, as the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt was the most severe and cruel, just before their deliverance by the hand of Moses. Their enemies thought they had swallowed them up just before their destruction, as it was with Pharaoh and his host, when they had hemmed in the children of Israel at the Red Sea.
4. I come now, in the fourth place, to the great revolution which was in the world in the days of Constantine, which was in many respects like Christ’s appearing in the clouds of heaven to save his people, and judge the world. The people of Rome being weary of the government of those tyrants to whom they had lately been subject, sent to Constantine, who was then in the city of York in England, to come and take the throne. And he being encouraged, as is said, by a vision of a pillar of light in the heavens, in the form of a cross, in the sight of his whole army, with this inscription, Ôïõôù íéêá, “In this overcome.” And the night following, by Christ’s appearing to him in a dream with the same cross in his hand, who directed him to make a cross like that to be his royal standard, that his army might fight under that banner, and assured him that he should overcome. Accordingly he did, and overcame his enemies, and took possession of the Imperial throne, and embraced the Christian religion, and was the first Christian emperor that ever reigned. He came to the throne about 320 years after Christ. There are several things which I would take notice of which attended or immediately followed Constantine’s coming to the throne.
(1.) The Christian church was thereby wholly delivered from persecution. Now the day of her deliverance came after such a dark night of affliction. Weeping had continued for a night, but now deliverance and joy came in the morning. Now God appeared to judge his people, and repented himself for his servants, when he saw their power was gone, and that t