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BOOK THE EIGHTH.
Of the Birth and Infancy of our Lord and Saviour
THE wars and conquests of Alexander the Great, and
the subsequent division of his extensive empire among his captains and generals, served to diffuse the knowledge of the Greek language universally among the numerous nations which composed his dominions. All who affected superior civilization and refinement, were proud to patronize, and ambitious to possess Grecian literature, and a taste for the fine arts of that elegant but corrupt people. Greece, during the struggle for power which disgraced the immediate successors of the first Roman em
peror, fell beneath the Roman yoke, and her arts of voluptuousness and refinement contributed in no small degree to enervate the capital of the world. Idolatry was every where triumphant, and licentious manners carried to an extent hardly credible in modern times. But the eye of Providence was not closed during this awful period of general depravity; darkness had literally covered the earth, and gross darkness the people, and the absolute necessity of a reformation by some great teacher, or by an immediate Revelation from heaven was so necessary, that even, the wisest philosophers of Greece and Rome were fully persuaded, that nothing short of supernatural means were sufficient for the reformation of mankind.
A knowledge of the Greek language, and of the Sacred Scriptures of the Old Testament, were generally diffused, through the munificent liberality of the Ptolemys, kings of Egypt, who had caused them to be translated into Greek, which, in a short time, greatly contributed to spread the knowledge of christianity when preached to the different nations and people, who, at this time, composed the Roman empire. The period was fast approaching when the great Creator of the world, intending to recover mankind from that fallen and miserable state in which the sin of their first parents had involved them, was about to perform the covenant of his promise made with Adam, that the "Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head" by sending his Son into the world, that he, by the offering up of himself once for transgressors, might thereby make a full, per fect, complete sacrifice, oblation, and atonement for the sins of the whole world, and bring in an everlasting righteousness. Such was the end and design for which the GLORIOUS REDEEMER became flesh and dwelt among us; that while countless millions of the human race, A great multitude which no man could number, should be born again to holiness of life, to happiness here, and eternal felicity in the world to come, they should owe all their salvation to God alone through
Christ, and that HE, as the author and bestower of everlasting life should receive ALL the glory.*
In taking a retrospective view of the various empires, nations, and kingdoms, which have appeared for a while upon the great theatre of this world, and have then sunk into oblivion to rise no more, their progress, and decline, forcibly arrest our attention, excite our curiosity, and call forth our compassion. The causes of their dissolution are easily traced both in profane history and the sacred pages of inspiration. They are all connected with a disregard to God: neglect of his laws; gross idolatry; and corruption of manners. Rome having swallowed up all that part, or the greater portion of it which had constituted the three first great empires, the Assyrian or Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, and the Grecian, was, in the midst of all her conquests, wholly incapable of reforming the morals or purifying the manners of her subjects, but on the contrary, rather gave a sanction to all those corruptions which had already brought destruction upon the nations of antiquity!
Many of those nations and kingdoms once so great and flourishing, have not only disappeared, but even their names, and all remembrance of them must have perished, had they not been preserved in the historical records of scripture. In them we behold, however, the fading splendor of all human glory, and an abridged
"Its blest effects low reaching to the earth;
The ransom was paid down.
ALL PRICE BEYOND: tho' curious to compute,
Its value vast, ungrasp'd by minds create,
picture of every thing which the world calls GREAT.* Brilliancy of taste, eminence of genius, the glory of arms, extent of dominion, the perfection of arts and sciences, ability to govern, the powers of eloquence; and in those who possessed all these; what powerful and glorious kings! what renowned statesmen! what sage philosophers! what wise magistrates! what admirable legislators. In many of them, how much have we been led to admire their ardent zeal for justice; their passionate love of their country; their generous contempt of riches; and not unfrequently their esteem of poverty! Such virtues astonish us not a little, so much do they appear above the level of human nature. In this manner we think and judge; but while we thus gaze and admire, the Supreme ruler weighs in his righteous and unerring balance these supposed brilliant virtues, gives them their due degree of estimation, sees nothing in them but what is trifling, mean, and unsubstantial, full of pride and ostentation, and with the finger of truth and justice writes VANITY upon them all!
Whilst mankind are continually busied in perpetuating the power of their families; in heaping up riches; founding kingdoms; or, by unjust wars and conquests, endeavouring to eternize their names to future ages, GOD, who sees from everlasting to everlasting, overthrows their vain and impious projects, and from the heighth of his eternal throne, makes even their ambitious designs subservient to his own all-wise purposes, even contrary to their wishes, and the powers of their own understandings. As all ages past and to come are equally present to his view, and as the rise, progress, fate, and duration of all empires depend upon what he has assigned them, so we may be assured that nothing ever has happened, or can happen, by chance; and as the great purpose which he had in view when he created all worlds, was a moral end; and in respect to man, his own glory and the final happiness of the human race, so we may be assured, that however clouds and darkness are round about the dispen
sations of his providence, righteousness and justice ever have been, and will be the habitation of his throne.
The coming of the Messiah was predicted in the writings of the Jewish prophets, and the nature of his peaceable kingdom and extensive conquests plainly pointed out. Among others, Daniel in his prophetic and expressive vision saw a great image, the emblem of earthly power and dominion, with a head of gold, but of a terrible aspect its breast and arms of silver; the belly and thighs of brass, and the legs and feet composed of heterogeneous materials so descriptive of the instability of all earthly power, iron and potters' clay! GOD thus thought fit to represent the four great empires of the world which had severally their rise, progress, decline and fall, previous to the coming of Christ, uniting in this great and terrible image, all that was glorious, grand, powerful, and unstable.
Let us next mark with attention the means by which this colossus was overthrown!-"I saw and beheld, and "lo! a small stone was cut out WITHOUT HANDS, which "smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and "clay, and brake them to pieces. Then were the iron, "the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floor, and the wind carried them away, "that no place was found for them; and the stone that "smote the image became a great mountain and filled the "whole earth."
The world has already seen in part the accomplishment of this wonderful prophecy. CHRIST, the long predicted MESSIAH, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed, descending by the flesh from the seed of David, rises like a plant out of the dry ground, undistinguished by earthly pomp, and coming in the gracious fulfilment of Heaven's designs, to establish a kingdom, not of this world, but one that shall stand forever. His work and mission are to establish a kingdom which shall never be destroyed. "He came to his own,"-the proud and foolish Jews," but his own received him not." Despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with