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On the importance of connecting the study of Sacred with Profane History, it would be useless to dilate.
A glory gilds the sacred page, majestic as the sun;
It gives a light to every age,-it gives but borrows none; it throws a radiance on the records of ancient times, which nothing else can give ; and, mid the darkness and clouds which surround the steps of Providence, it casts a cheering and a guiding light, without which all were uncertainty and doubt.
From the very flattering reception which his former popular Works on Biblical Criticism and Literature have met with from readers of all Denominations, the Author has been induced to follow them up with this other serial volume. Aware that this subject has been ably presented to the Public in the elaborate writings of Prideaux, Shuckford, and others, he would not have obtruded himself upon their attention, but for the consideration, that these are large and costly Works, chiefly adapted for the learned, and, being only in the hands of a few, do not supersede the utility of a concise popular view of those interesting topics, which embrace at once all the great events that have transpired on earth, with their bearings on the ful. filment of the benevolent and gracious purposes of Heaven, in relation to the human race.
To the learned, this Work will present few, if any, new facts, for the Writer has steadily kept the road traversed by the most approved historians; and he does not pretend to have investigated very deeply the numerous records of nations ; but he has laboured with earnestness and diligence to place before his readers every great event preserved in the annals of civilized nations for more than four thousand years. He has not deemed it proper to enlarge a Work, written for the people, by those learned disquisitions on subjects of dispute, to be found in the valuable
Works of Shuckford, Prideaux, and Russel; but, like these authors, the Writer has endeavoured to trace the chronological parallel of the most important events in the his. tory of the worshippers of God, and those in the histories of the infidel or idolatrous nations, who were more nearly or remotely connected with the race of Israel. On reviewing history, however, he has ventured to pass beyond the path of preceding authors : he has reflected on what he believed the evident or probable tendency of an event or a series of events, to promote and give publicity to the true religion, to corrupt, obscure, subvert it, or arrest its progress. Many of the rational creatures work in opposition to the impartial goodness and spontaneous compassion of the Supreme, and yet thereby only expose their feebleness as well as wickedness ; for he ruleth over all, and will make all things subserve to accomplish his sovereign will : His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation. Though the superintending power of God over the progress of nations may be as untraceable as His paths in the ocean, yet the effects are everywhere visible, and manifest the progressive fulfilment of the prophetic denunciations and promises set forth in the Holy Oracles.
All who have wisdom to discern this power operating in passing events, acquire increased knowledge of the inconceivable and unsearchable excellencies of the Divine nature, and of his benevolent purposes and designs respecting our fallen race. And what is all other knowledge compared to this ? " This is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Men differ greatly in mental capacity and acquirements, modes of thinking, education, and opportunities of judging correctly, and it is not to be expected that any two persons should view the doings of Provi. dence under precisely the same aspect, or at once agree in their opinion of the result of an event, or series of events ; yet the more closely and constantly candid persons contemplate the transactions of mankind, the more unanimous will they become in judgment respecting their moral and religious influence. This induces the Author to hope, that views of certain events which a first glance some may regard mere fancy or conjecture, will, after more mature reflection, appear just, and adapte ed to excite Christians to admire the manifold wisdom, boundless power, and overflowing goodness of Jehovah, in his administration on earth.
Reference to one or two subjects may convey an idea of the difference between this and similar Works.
In the latter, for instance, the captivity of Israel occupies a conspicuous place in the narrative of the wars and victories of Nebuchadnezzar ; but what some modern authors would denominate the religious philosophy of this portion of history, is almost, if not altogether, overlooked. Here we regard Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of the chosen people as the highest triumph of idolatry; and consequently infer that it was divinely proper for Jehovah to terminate his long-suffering towards the worshippers of idols, and display his superiority over them. This he did by giving the empire to the Persians, who utterly abhorred idols, the work of man's hands. The capture of Babylon, by Cyrus, overthrew the dominion of idols ; nor did they ever again command the devout reverence and unreserved subjection of all ranks of society. Idols continued, indeed, to be worshipped by all, but many questioned their power, and not a few secretly treated them with contempt. And about the same period Divine truth received a mighty impulse, which occasioned its more rapid and wide diffusion, through successive generations, till its triumphant reign in the age of our Lord and his Apostles. See Chap. IV., pages 61-69.
Again, in tracing the course of events, by which the Greeks ascended to universal empire, the apparent tendencies and influences of some of them merit more prominence in a work on the Connexion of Sacred and Profane History, than has hitherto been given them. Pious and benevolent minds must be refreshed when they perceive that the dissemination of divine truth kept pace with the language of Greece, in its astonishing progress in the kingdoms conquered by Alexander and his successors. This subject is adverted to in Chap. IX. pages 107, 119, 120, 126.; Chap. XIII. page 135. To contemplate the vanity of the utmost exertions of the mightiest mental and physical powers of men to attain an object opposed to the councils and pre. dictions of Heaven, must have a salutary influence on all men, especially Christians. How strikingly was the weakness of man exhibiced in the inefficacy of the schemes and labours of several of Alexander's princes to effect the unity of his empire, which Daniel foretold should be broken up ! see Chap. XI.
The Punic wars, and the final conquest of Carthage by Rome, fill many a page of history ; but authors have not distinctly observed the Divine goodness and mercy to man discovered by giving the empire to the latter, rather than the former, although nothing seems more obvious, on a slight review of the character, position, and circumstances of these nations. How unexpected, and, in the eyes of the most eminent statesmen and warriors, how im. probable, was the entire subjugation of Carthage by Rome, is shown in Chap. XXI. XXII. That this great event was most important to the interests of civilization and true religion, will not be doubted by any who believe that the remarks to be found in pages 240-243, are founded in truth.
The reign of Herod forms an important part of Jewish history; yet the Divine propriety of giving the Holy Land to that ungodly monarch has been generally overlooked ; see Chap. XXVII. 341, 342.
The remarkable adaptation of the Fourth Empire for the introduction of the Fifth, is repeatedly noticed, especially in pages 338-40, 538_542.
The writer conceives it superfluous to adduce any more examples to indicate the plan of his work. He has written in the hope of inducing readers of history, especially the young, to investigate the designs of God in his administration, and to recognise his unsearchable perfections and absolute goodness in all things. How far he has succeeded in producing a proper instrument to attain the desired end, is for others to judge. Consciousness of a worthy motive is ample recompence for much labour, although the ultimate object should not be attained.