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Scriptural representations of this period.
Not but that there were great effects and glorious success of Christ’s purchase of redemption before, even from the beginning of the generations of men. But all that success which was before, was only preparatory, by way of anticipation, as some few fruits are gathered before the harvest. There was no more success before Christ came, than God saw needful to prepare the way for his coming. The proper time of the success or effect of Christ’s redemption is after the purchase has been made, as the proper time for the world to enjoy the light of the sun is the daytime, after the sun is risen, though we may have some small matter of it reflected from the moon and planets before. And even the success of Christ’s redemption while he himself was on earth, was very small in comparison of what it was after.
But, Christ having finished that greatest and most difficult of all works, now is come the time for obtaining the end, the glorious effect of it. Having gone through the whole course of his sufferings and humiliation, Christ is never to suffer any more. But now is the time for him to obtain the joy that was set before him. Having made his soul an offering for sin, now is the time for him to see his seed, to have a portion with the great, and to divide the spoil with the strong.
One design of Christ in what he did in his humiliation, was to lay a foundation for the overthrow of Satan’s kingdom; and now is come the time to effect it, as Christ, a little before his crucifixion, said, John xii. 31. “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.” John xii. 32. “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me;” which is agreeable to Jacob’s prophecy of Christ, that “when Shiloh should come, to him should the gathering of the people be,” Gen. xlix. 10. Another design is the salvation of the elect. Now when his sufferings are finished, and his humiliation perfected, the time is come for that also: Heb. v. 8, 9. “Though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered: and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” Another design was, to accomplish by these things great glory to the persons of the Trinity. John xvii. 1. “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” Another design was the glory of the saints. John xvii. 11. “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” And all the dispensations of God’s providence henceforward, even to the final consummation of all things, are to give Christ his reward, and fulfil his end in what he did and suffered upon earth, and to fulfil the joy that was set before him.
Before I enter on the consideration of any particular things accomplished in this period, I would briefly observe how the times of this period are represented in Scripture.
I. The times of this period, for the most part, are in the Old Testament called the latter days. We often, in the prophets of the Old Testament, read of things that should come to pass in the latter days, and sometimes in the last days, evidently referring to gospel times. They are called the latter days, and the last days; because this is the last period of the series of God’s providences on earth, the last period of the great work of redemption; which is as it were the sum of God’s works of providence; the last dispensation of the covenant of grace on earth.
II. The whole time of this period is sometimes in Scripture called the end of the world, 1 Cor. x. 11. “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” And the apostle, Heb. ix. 26. in this expression of the end of the world, means the whole of the gospel-day, from the birth of Christ to the day of judgment: “But now once in the end of the world, hath he appeared, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 632632 Heb. ix. 26. “ This space of time may well be called the end of the world; for this whole time is taken up in bringing things to their great end and issue. Before, things were in a kind of preparatory state; but now they are in a finishing state. An end is now brought to the former carnal state of things, which by degrees vanishes, and a spiritual state begins to be established more and more. Particularly, an end is brought to the former state of the church, which may be called its worldly state, in which it was subject to carnal ordinances, and the rudiments of the world. Then an end is brought to the Jewish commonwealth, in the destruction of their city and country. After that, an end is brought to the old heathen empire in Constantine’s time. The next step is the finishing of Satan’s visible kingdom in the world, upon the fall of Antichrist, and the calling of the Jews. And last will come the destruction of the outward frame of the world itself, at the conclusion of the day of judgment. Heaven and earth began to shake, in order to a dissolution, according to the prophecy of Haggai, before Christ came, that so only those things which cannot be shaken may remain, i.e. that those things which are to come to an end may terminate, and that only those things may remain which are to remain eternally.
In the first place, the carnal ordinances of the Jewish worship came to an end, in order to make way for the establishment of that spiritual worship, which is to endure to all eternity: John iv. 21. “Jesus saith unto the woman, Believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.” Ver. 23. “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” This is one instance of the temporary world coming to an end, and the eternal world beginning. And then, the outward temple and the city Jerusalem came to an end, to give place to the setting up of the spiritual temple and city, which are to last for ever. Another instance of removing those things which are ready to vanish away, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain, is the bringing to an end the old heathen empire, to make way for the empire of Christ, which shall last to all eternity. After that, upon the fall of Antichrist, an end is put to Satan’s visible kingdom on earth, to establish Christ’s kingdom, which is an eternal kingdom; as the prophet Daniel says, chap. vii. 27. “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him;” which is another instance of the ending of the temporary world, and the beginning of the eternal one. And then, lastly, the very frame of this corruptible world shall come to an end, to make way for the church to dwell in another dwelling-place, which shall last to eternity.
Because the world is thus coming to an end by various steps and degrees, the apostle perhaps uses this expression, that (not the end but) the ends of the world are come on us; as though the world has several endings one after another.—The gospel-dispensation is a finishing state: it is all spent in finishing things off which before had been preparing, or abolishing things which before had stood. It is all spent as it were in summing things up, and bringing them to their issues, and their proper fulfilment. Now all the old types are fulfilled, and the predictions of all the prophets from the beginning of the world shall be accomplished in this period.
III. That state of things which is attained in the events of this period is called a new heaven and a new earth: aIsa. lxv. 17, 18. “For behold, I create new heavens, and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be you glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.” And chap. lxvi. 22. “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I make, shall remain before me; so shall your seed and your name remain.” 584 . See also chap. li. 16. As the former state of things, or the old world, by one step after another, is through this period coming to an end; so the new state of things, or the new world, which is a spiritual world, is beginning and setting up. In consequence of each of these finishings of the old state of things, there is the beginning of a new and eternal state. So that which accompanied the destruction of the literal Jerusalem, was an establishing of the spiritual. So with respect to the destruction of the old heathen empire, and all the other endings of the old state of things; till at length the very outward frame of the world itself shall come to an end; and the church shall dwell in heaven, which will be a new habitation. Then shall the utmost be accomplished that is meant by the new heavens and the new earth. (See Rev. xxi. 1.)
The end of God’s creating the world, was to prepare a kingdom for his Son, (for he is appointed heir of the world,) which should remain to all eternity. So far as the kingdom of Christ is set up in the world, so far is the world brought to its end, and the eternal state of things set up—so far are all the great changes and revolutions of the world brought to their everlasting issue, and all things come to their ultimate period—so far are the waters of the long channel of divine providence, which has so many branches, and so many windings, emptied into their proper ocean, which they have been seeking from the beginning of their course, and so are come to their rest. So far as Christ’s kingdom is established in the world, so far are things wound up and settled in their everlasting state, and a period put to the course of things in this changeable world; so far are the first heavens and the first earth come to an end, and the new heavens and the new earth, the everlasting heavens and earth, established in their room.—This leads me to observe,
IV. That the state of things which is attained by the events of this period, is what is so often called the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God. We very often read in the New Testament of the kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist preached, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand; and so did Christ and his disciples after him; referring to something that the Jews in those days expected, and called by that name. They seem to have taken their expectation and the name chiefly from that prophecy of Daniel in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Dan. ii. 44. “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom;” together with chap. vii. 13, 14.
Now this kingdom of heaven is that evangelical state of things in the church, and in the world, wherein consists the success of Christ’s redemption in this period. There had been often great kingdoms set up before; as the Babylonish, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman monarchies. But Christ came to set up the last, which is not an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly, John xviii. 36. “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is the kingdom of which Christ speaks. Luke xxii. 29. “My Father hath appointed to me a kingdom.” This kingdom began soon after Christ’s resurrection, and is accomplished in various steps from that time to the end of the world. Sometimes by the kingdom of heaven, is meant not only that spiritual state of the church which began soon after Christ’s resurrection; but also that more perfect state which shall obtain after the downfall of Antichrist; and sometimes that glorious and blessed state to which the church shall be received at the day of judgment. So 1 Cor. xv. 50. “This I say, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”—Under this head I would observe several things particularly, for the clearer understanding of what the Scripture says concerning this period.
1. The setting up of the kingdom of Christ is chiefly accomplished by four successive great events, each of which is in Scripture called Christ’s coming in his kingdom. The first is Christ’s appearing in those wonderful dispensations of providence in the apostles’ days, in setting up his kingdom, and destroying its enemies, which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem. This is called Christ’s coming in his kingdom, Matt. xvi. 28.“Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (And Matt. xxiv.) The second is that which was accomplished in Constantine’s time, in the destruction of the heathen Roman empire. This is represented as Christ’s coming, and is compared to his coming to judgment, (Rev. vi. at the latter end.) The third is that which is to be accomplished at the destruction of Antichrist. This also is represented as Christ’s coming in his kingdom in the 7th chapter of Daniel, and in other places. The fourth and last is his coming to the last judgment; which is the event principally signified in Scripture by Christ’s coming in his kingdom.
2. Each of the three former of these is a lively image, or type, of the fourth and last, viz. Christ’s coming to the final judgment, as the principal dispensations of providence before were types of his first coming.—As Christ’s last coming to judgment is accompanied with the resurrection of the dead, so is each of the three foregoing with a spiritual resurrection. That coming of Christ which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, was preceded by a glorious spiritual resurrection of souls in the calling of the Gentiles through the preaching of the gospel. Christ s coming in Constantine’s time, was accompanied with a glorious spiritual resurrection of the greater part of the known world, in a restoration of it to a visible church state, from a state of heathenism. Christ’s coming at the destruction of Antichrist, will be attended with a spiritual resurrection of the church after it had been long as it were dead, in the times of Antichrist. This is called the first resurrection in the 20th chapter of Revelation.
Again, as Christ in the last judgment will gloriously manifest himself coming in the glory of his Father, so in each of the three foregoing events Christ gloriously manifested himself in sending judgments upon his enemies, and in showing favour to his church. As the last coming of Christ will be attended with a literal gathering together of the elect from the four winds of heaven, so were each of the preceding attended with a spiritual gathering in of the elect. As this gathering together of the elect will be effected by God’s angels with a great sound of a trumpet; (Matt. xxiv. 31.) so were each of the preceding spiritual ingatherings effected by the trumpet of the gospel, sounded by the ministers of Christ. As there shall precede the last appearance of Christ, a time of great degeneracy and wickedness, so this has been, or will be, the case with each of the other appearances. Before each of them is a time of great opposition to the church: before the first, by the Jews; before the second, in Constantine’s time, by the heathen; before the third, by Antichrist; and before the last, by Gog and Magog, as described in the Revelation.
By each of these comings of Christ, God works a glorious deliverance for his church. The first, which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem, was attended with bringing the church into the glorious state of the gospel. The second, which was in Constantine’s time, was accompanied with an advancement of the church into a state of liberty from persecution, the countenance of civil authority, and her triumph over heathen persecutors. The third, which shall be at the downfall of Antichrist, will be accompanied with an advancement of the church into that state of the glorious prevalence of truth, liberty, peace, and joy, which we so often read of in the prophetical parts of Scripture. The last will be attended with the advancement of the church to consummate glory in heaven.
Each of these comings of Christ is accompanied with a terrible destruction of the wicked, and the enemies of the church: the first, with the destruction of the persecuting Jews, which was amazingly terrible; the second, with dreadful judgments on the heathen persecutors of the church; the third, with the awful destruction of Antichrist, the most cruel and bitter enemy that ever the church had; the fourth, with divine wrath and vengeance on all the ungodly.—Further, there is in each of these comings of Christ an ending of the old, and a beginning of new, heavens and a new earth; or an end of a temporal state of things, and a beginning of an eternal state.
3. I would observe, that each of those four great dispensations which are represented as Christ’s coming in his Kingdom, are but so many steps and degrees of the accomplishment of one event. They are not the setting up of so many distinct kingdoms of Christ; but only several degrees of the accomplishment of that one event prophesied of, Dan. vii. 13,14. “And I saw in the night-visions, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” 585 This is what the Jews expected, and called “the coming of the kingdom of heaven;” and what John the Baptist and Christ had respect to, when they said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand. 633633 Matt. iii. 2. “ This great event is accomplished by several steps.
4. When Christ came with the preaching of the apostles, to set up his kingdom in the world, which dispensation ended with the destruction of Jerusalem, then it was accomplished in a glorious degree; when the heathen empire was destroyed in Constantine’s time, it was fulfilled in a further degree; when Antichrist shall be destroyed, it will be accomplished in a yet higher degree; but when the end of the world is come, then will it be accomplished in its most perfect degree of all. And because these four great events are but images one of another, and the three former but types of the last, and since they are all only several steps of the accomplishment of the same thing; hence we find them all from time to time prophesied of under one, as in the prophecies of Daniel, and in the 24th chapter of Matthew, where some things seem more applicable to one of them, and others to another.
Thus it appears, that as there are several steps of the accomplishment of the kingdom of Christ, so in each one of them the event is accomplished in a further degree than in the foregoing. That in the time of Constantine was a greater and further accomplishment of the kingdom of Christ, than that which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem; that which shall be at the fall of Antichrist, will be a further accomplishment of the same thing, than that which took place in the time of Constantine; and so on with regard to each: so that the kingdom of Christ is gradually prevailing and growing by these several great steps of its fulfilment, from the time of Christ’s resurrection, to the end of the world.
5. The great providences of God between these four events, are to make way for the kingdom and glory of Christ in the great event following. Those dispensations of providence towards the church and the world, before the destruction of the heathen empire in the time of Constantine, seem all to have been to make way for the glory of Christ, and the happiness of the church in that event. And so the great providences after that, till the destruction of Antichrist, and the beginning of the glorious times of the church which follow, seem all calculated to prepare the way for the greater glory of Christ and his church in that event; and the following ones to the end of the world, seem to be for the greater manifestation of Christ’s glory at the consummation of all things.—Thus I thought it needful to observe those things in general concerning this last period, before I take notice of particular providences by which the work of redemption is carried on through this period, in their order.
Before I proceed, I will briefly answer an inquiry, viz. Why the setting up of Christ’s kingdom after his humiliation, should be so gradual, since God could easily have finished it at once?—Though it would be presumption in us to pretend to declare all the ends of God in this, yet doubtless much of his wisdom may be seen in it; and particularly in these two things.
1. In this way the glory of God’s wisdom is more visible to the observation of creatures. If it had been done at once, or in a very short time, there would not have been such opportunities for creatures to perceive and observe the particular steps of divine wisdom, as when the work is gradually accomplished, and one effect of his wisdom is held forth to observation after another. It is wisely determined of God, to accomplish his great design by a wonderful and long series of events, that the glory of his wisdom may be displayed, in the whole series of events, that the glory of his perfection may be seen, in particular successive manifestations. If all that glory which appears in these events had been manifested at once, it would have been too much for us; it would have overpowered our sight and capacities.
2. Satan is more gloriously triumphed over.—God could easily, by an act of almighty power, at once have crushed Satan. But by giving him time to use his utmost subtlety to hinder the success of what Christ had done and suffered, he is not defeated merely by surprise, but has large opportunity to ply his utmost power and subtlety again and again, to strengthen his own interest all that he can by the work of many ages. Thus God destroys and confounds him, and sets up Christ’s kingdom time after time, in spite of all his subtle machinations and great works, and by every step advances it still higher and higher, till at length it is fully set up, and Satan perfectly and eternally vanquished.—I now proceed to take notice of the particular events, whereby, from the end of Christ’s humiliation to the end of the world, the success of Christ’s purchase has been or shall be accomplished.
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