Book 3 - Chapter 3: Of the Different Economies or Dispensations of the Covenant of Grace - by Herman Witsius

The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius

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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)

Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).

Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.

This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.

Chapter. III: Of the Different Economies or Dispensations of the Covenant of Grace

I. IT nevertheless pleased God, at sundry periods of time, and in diverse manners, to dispense the same covenant of grace. We shall exhibit, in this Chapter, a short representation of these dispensations, in such a method, as, first, simply to explain what in this matter seems to us most exactly agreeable to the whole tenor of Scripture; then, freely but calmly weigh the reflections of other learned men.

II. This diversity of economies is comprised under two principal heads, which the apostle calls by the names of the Old and New Testament, where we are to note, that by the Old Testament, we are by no means to understand the legal covenant, of obtaining salvation by our own works; that being very different from the covenant of grace. But, according to us and Paul, the Old Testament denotes the testament [or covenant] of grace under that dispensation which subsisted before the coming of Christ in the flesh, and was proposed formerly to the fathers under the veil of certain types, pointing out some imperfections of that state, and consequently that they were to be abolished in their appointed time; or, as Calvin has very well expressed it, Institut. lib. ii. c. 11. Sect. 4: “The Old Testament was a doctrine involved in a shadowy and ineffectual observation of ceremonies, and was therefore temporary, because a thing in suspense, till established on a firm and substantial bottom.” The New Testament is the testament [or covenant] of grace under that dispensation which succeeded the former, after being consecrated and established by the blood of Christ. For this reason Christ calls the cup, which he reached to his disciples in the supper, “the cup of the new testament in his blood,” Matt. 26:28. To signify, that then at length the New Testament would be perfected, when sealed by the blood of the testator, which he shed at his death.

III. It is carefully to be observed, that the difference of these testaments is not to be placed in the substance of the promised inheritance; as if, under the Old Testament, was allotted the inheritance of the land of Canaan, and the inheritance of heaven under the New. Nothing can be imagined less accurate and just. The allotment of the heavenly inheritance proceeds from the testament of grace, absolutely considered, which remains invariably one and the same under every economy. Only the same inheritance is proposed in a different manner. In the Old Testament under shadows, and in a certain period thereof, under the pledge of the land of Canaan, and which at the appointed time was to be purchased by the death of the testator. In the New Testament clearly, without a pledge, to which any regard was to be had, and as now purchased by the death of the testator, the promise of the common salvation, which is in Christ, whether formerly made to the fathers, or to us at this day, does not belong to the Old and New Testament as such, but absolutely to the testament or covenant of grace. The difference of the testaments consists in the different manner of dispensing and proposing the same saving grace, and in some different adjuncts and circumstances. Whatever was typical in that dispensation and denoted imperfection, and an acknowledgement that the ransom was not yet paid, belongs to the Old Testament. Whatever shows, that the redemption is actually wrought out, is peculiar to the New Testament. Without carefully adverting to this, it is not possible that we can have a distinct knowledge of the nature of both testaments.

IV. But let us insist a little further on this point, if possibly we may advance what may set the truth in a clear light. Three things are to be distinguished: the testament of grace, the Old, and New Testament. To each its own inheritance is to be assigned. That of the testament of grace is eternal salvation, with every thing belonging to it, through Jesus Christ; which is equally common to believers in all ages. The Old and New Testament, being different economies of this one testament of grace, which they comprise, suppose also and include the same heavenly inheritance. But in so far as they are different, the inheritance also, attributed to each, is different; but that difference consists chiefly in two things: first, in the different manner of proposing it, which I hope, I have now clearly explained: then, in the circumstantial adjuncts of the principal inheritance; which in the Old Testament are, the inheritance of the land of Canaan, as a pledge of heaven, with a bondage to the elements of the world, and the exclusion of the Gentiles, and a less measure of the Spirit of grace. In the New Testament, the inheritance of the Gentiles, with liberty, and a more plentiful measure of grace.

V. We begin the economy of the Old Testament immediately upon the fall, and the first promise of grace, and end it in Christ; as both the nature of the thing and Scripture direct us to do. We argue from the nature of the thing, in this manner: Since believers had the covenant of grace proposed and confirmed to them, immediately after the fall, by such signs as contained a confession that guilt was not yet expiated, and which therefore were, at the time appointed, to be abrogated by the introduction of the New Testament; there can be no reason why the promise, thus proposed and ratified, should not be the Old Testament. We do not reckon the promise of the seed of the woman bruising the serpent’s head, and of the enmity established between the seed of both, as belonging to the Old Testament, for these things absolutely belong to the covenant of grace in general; but the sacrifices which are added, and by the blood of which that testament was confirmed, belong indeed to the Old Testament. It appears, from the Mosaic history, more than probable to us, with some very learned men, that, immediately upon the promulgation of the covenant of grace, Adam, at the command of God, slew beasts for sacrifice, whose skins were, by the favour of God, granted to him and his wife for clothing: which was not without its mystical signification, as shall be explained in its proper place. It is certain, we have an express account of sacrifices, Gen. 6:2, seq. which account, in the opinion of chronologers, happened, about the year of Adam, 129. Seeing, therefore, these sacrifices belong to the testament [or covenant] of grace, and typically seal the blood of Christ, which was to be shed in due time, and likewise reminded of guilt not yet expiated, they can be referred to nothing but the Old Testament. For, whatever is thus joined to the covenant of grace cannot possibly be referred to the New Testament, the very force of the words requires its being said of the Old Testament. To this argument a certain very learned person objects as follows: “Adam, the deluge, and the rainbow were types, and previous to the actual performance of redemption, and yet they belong not expressly to the Old Testament. For this last was abrogated with all its shadows. But those others cease not to be types of greater and spiritual things to us.” But the answer seems to be easy. The deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt; the passage through the Red Sea; their wonderful support in the wilderness by manna, and water from the rock; the fall of Jericho; the expulsion of the nations out of Canaan; the carrying away of the Israelites into Babylon; their return from Babylon; and many other things of the like nature (for it would be endless to recount all), do they not all belong to the Old Testament economy? But these very things certainly cease not, according to the sentiments of very learned men, to be all of them types of the greatest things to the Christian church. The city of Jerusalem itself, the very temple with its whole pomp of ceremonies, though no longer in being, any more than Adam and the deluge, yet ought also to be considered by us Christians as types of the heavenly city, and temple not made with hands. In a word, the whole of the Mosaic law, though abrogated as to any obligation of observance, ceases not to exhibit to us, for our instruction, a type of spiritual things.

VI. There is another reason, taken from Paul; who reduces all these institutions of God to the Old Testament, Heb. 8:13: “Which decay and wax old, and are ready to vanish away.” But it is certain, that not only those things which were first ordained by Moses, but those also which were in force long before Moses, as sacrifices and circumcision, were abrogated by the introduction of the New Testament. But these were not abrogated, because, as the learned person would have it, they were reduced by Moses, with the rest of his constitutions, into one obscure system, but because they were of the same nature with the Mosaical; namely shadows, which were to give place to Christ, the substance. And they were so, not from their being renewed by Moses, but from their first institution.

VII. Nor do we speak without Scripture when we reckon all that time, from the fall to the coming of Christ, to the Old or former Testament. For thus we have the apostle’s authority, Heb. 9:15: “And for this cause he is the mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they, which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” But it is evident, that by the death of Christ, the transgressions, not only of those believers who lived under the Mosaic economy, but also of the elder patriarchs, were expiated from the foundation of the world; to which the apostle’s reasoning leads us, as by the hand, ver. 26. And therefore to their time also the first testament belongs. And no reason can be given, why the apostle should make particular mention of any determinate period, seeing the efficacy of Christ’s death equally extends to all believers backward. Which was also finely observed by Cocceius himself, in his comment on this place: “Those very sins, therefore, which have been and were not remitted under the first testament, seeing that sin which all men have in common, because all are said to have sinned when Adam sinned, Rom. 5:12; and all other sins his children were guilty of; as also the sins of those who expected Christ, in order that the testament, which gives remission and the inheritance, might be ratified; ought to be expiated by the death of the Mediator, as by a ransom.”

VIII. We will again consider and examine the very learned person’s exception; and thus he speaks: “From the time that sin was imputed, to wit, from the time of the law, there being made, by the law of Moses and the Mosaic institutions, a commemoration and exprobation or charge, or accusation of sin, and a hand-writing exacted, Heb. 10:3; Col. 2:14: hence all the preceding sins, committed during all the time, ανοχῆς, of the forbearance, are said to have been, in a peculiar manner, under the Old Testament. Not that the Old Testament was from the time in which sin was first committed; but that those committed before the Old Testament are said, in a peculiar manner, to have then chiefly existed when they were imputed, commemorated, and exprobated or charged. Nor did it contribute a little to heighten the virtue of Christ’s death, expressly to have observed, that sins not only not imputed when there was no law, but also very often imputed and charged, were yet, by the death of Christ, entirely removed, so that there is no more remembrance of them.”

IX. These things are so subtle (for I hardly dare call them obscure and perplexed, lest the learned person should be offended), that I own I do not understand them all; I will however attempt it. He supposes with me, and with all the orthodox, that the virtue of Christ’s redemption extends to the removing all the sins of all the elect, from the beginning of the world. This being so, he inquires, why Paul called those sins “the transgressions that were under the first testament?” The reason of which he will not have what we contend for; namely, that the Old Testament was from the time in which sin was to be expiated by Christ, but that all the preceding sins, committed from the beginning of the world, are said, in a peculiar manner, to have been and to have existed under the Old Testament, or Mosaic economy. But why did those very old sins exist under the Old Testament? Because then they were imputed and charged by that remembrance of sin, that was made by the law of Moses. From this reasoning I first assert, that, by the transgression under the first testament, are understood all the preceding sins, which were committed during the whole time of the forbearance. Whence by a very easy consequence it follows, that the times of the forbearance, in the sense the learned person uses that expression, that is, the ages which went before the coming of the Messiah, and of the first testament, are of equal extension. No, says he: but the very old sins, suppose of Adam, Enoch, Noah, are said to have existed under the Mosaic covenant or testament. Where, learned sir? Where, I say, is it said, that the sins committed before the Old Testament existed in a peculiar manner, upon the introduction of the law of Moses? Not certainly in these words of Paul. For the very word, existing, is not to be found there, much less in the sense you frame to yourself. I imagine the learned person had in his eye, Rom. 5:13: “For until the law sin was in the world.” But in what manner soever this may be explained, the apostle never and no where says, that I know, that the sins for instance committed by the inhabitants of the first world, existed, in a peculiar manner, under the economy of the Mosaic testament. And in what sense, pray, should they be said to have then existed? Because, says he, they were then imputed and charged. But to whom? Not certainly to those very persons who, dying in the faith, were received into heaven. And how imputed and exprobated by the introduction of the Mosaic testament? Seeing it was so much later than their death and salvation, it does not greatly regard those departed pious and happy persons, at least as to its rigour. I deny not, that the Israelites were convinced of their sins by the Mosaic law, and that a remembrance of sin was made, and that all mankind was condemned in the Israelites: but that the sins of the more ancient believers were then imputed and charged, and then in a peculiar manner existed; is neither affirmed in Scripture, nor consonant to reason.

X. But this also deserves consideration; that he would have the apostle expressly mention the Mosaic testament, because that tended to amplify the virtue of Christ’s death, as peculiarly shining forth therein; seeing it has removed all remembrance of those very sins, which were often imputed and charged upon them by the law. Which does not indeed appear to me to be very pertinent to that matter. For since the commemoration and remembrance of sins are made in the repeated offering of the same sacrifices, which could not take away sins, and seeing sacrifices of that kind began to be used immediately upon the promulgation of the Testament of grace; these very sins were commemorated and charged by sacrifices before the Mosaic economy took place. But if, on the introducing the law of Moses, that exprobation or charging of sin was more frequent and strong, the promise, in the same law, was likewise more frequent and strong, as likewise the sign and seal of the remission of sins which the Messiah was to procure. For the same institution which commemorated sin, signified also and sealed the future expiation of it by the Messiah. If, therefore, on one hand, it may seem strange that those very sins were also expiated by Christ, which were so often commemorated and charged; on the other hand, the expiation of those sins, which was so often signified and sealed appears less strange. But the pious meditation of the redemption purchased by Christ stands in no need of any such subtleties of idle disputation. It is sufficient to say with Paul, that the efficacy of the death of Christ, who is the mediator of the New Testament, is such that it has purchased for the elect, in every age, the redemption of those transgressions, which could never be expiated by any blood of bulls or goats. Our argument, therefore, remains in its full force, and is in vain attacked by the windings and mazes of a perplexed discourse. The transgressions under the first testament are sins committed from the most ancient period of the world; therefore the first testament comprises all the ages from the first origin of the world.

XI. Moreover, in this economy of the Old Testament, several periods are distinctly to be observed. For “God, at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake unto the fathers,” Heb. 1:1. The first period reaches from Adam to Noah, and comprehends the whole time of the first world; in which every thing was very simple and plain. The first gospel promise was published by God, received by faith by our first parents, was inculcated on their children by incessant catechising or instruction, sealed by sacrifices offered in faith. The death of the Messiah, the righteous one, the most beloved of God, who was to be slain by his envious brethren, was prefigured in the person of Abel, who was murdered by Cain. His ascension into heaven, with all his faithful people, was foreshown in the type of Enoch, who also, according to Jude, ver. 14, prophesied of his return to judgment with ten thousands of his saints; and, in fine, the separation of the sons of God from the sons of men for the pure worship of God.

XII. The second period begins with Noah, in whom his father Lamech seems to have beheld a certain type of the Messiah, when he said, “this same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands,” and therefore he called his name Noah, which signifies “rest,” Gen. 5:29. He was a just and upright man in his generation, and “a preacher of righteousness,” 2 Pet. 2:5: By him Christ “preached to the spirits in prison,” 1 Pet. 3:19. He was not only “heir of the righteousness of faith,” Heb. 11:7, but the head and restorer of a new world, and in that respect an eminent type of Christ. For the same purpose the ark was built by him; the sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour offered to God; God’s gracious covenant, entered into with the habitable world after that sacrifice, and sealed by the rainbow; and many other things of the like kind, full of mystical sense, which shall be explained in due time. This second period reaches down to Abraham.

XIII. To this succeeds the third period, from Abraham to Moses. There were, indeed, very great and precious promises made to Abraham; as of the multiplying his seed, of giving that seed the land of Canaan, of the Messiah to spring from his loins, of the inheritance of the world, and the like. The covenant of grace was solemnly confirmed with him, and sealed by the New Sacrament of circumcision; and himself constituted the father of all the faithful, both of his own seed according to the flesh, and of the Gentiles, Rom. 4:12 Melchizedek, priest and king of righteousness and peace, meets him fatigued after the overthrow and pursuit of his enemies, who also blessed him, and presented to him in himself, as in an eminent type, a view of the Messiah. Hence was kindled in Abraham a desire of seeing still more clearly the day of Christ, which he both saw and rejoiced at, John 8:56. This favour of the Supreme Being was continued to Abraham’s son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob, to whom he often made himself known by repeated revelations, which confirmed to them the promises made to that great patriarch, and proposed them to future generations as the chiefs of his covenant. And thus the old promises of the covenant of grace were enlarged with many additions, and enriched with a fuller declaration.

XIV. But things put on a quite different aspect under the fourth period, which was introduced by the ministry of Moses. The people were delivered out of Egypt by an out-stretched arm, and by tremendous prodigies. The Son of God, before all the congregation of the people, declared himself to be the King of Israel, by the solemn manner in which he gave the law from Mount Sinai, amidst thunderings and lightnings. The tabernacle and the ark of the covenant, with the propitiatory or mercy-seat, the gracious residence of God, were constructed with wonderful art. An incredible number of ceremonies was added to the ancient simplicity. So many myriads of men (strange to relate) were fed with manna from heaven, in the horrid and scorched deserts of Arabia, for forty years, and supplied with water from the rock which Moses struck with his rod. Whole nations were cast out before them, and devoted to destruction. Israel, as the favoured inheritance of God, was introduced, after a very great destruction of their enemies, to the promised possession of Canaan; and who can pretend to enumerate all the things with which this period was ennobled above the others, “of which we cannot now speak particularly,” Heb. 9:5.

XV. Seeing all the institutions of former ages were renewed under the direction of Moses, and enlarged with very many additions, and reduced to a certain form of worship, and as it were into one body or system; and the covenant was solemnly renewed with Israel, both at Mount Sinai, and in the plains of Moab; therefore it is, that, in the sacred writings, the Old Testament covenant is ascribed to Moses, and to his ministry and times, Heb. 8:9, from Jer. 31, 32. Not that, either at that time all these things, on which the Old Testament depended, were first instituted, or that, on no account, it is to be referred to the preceding times; for the religion of both times, namely both before and after Moses, was the same; and many rites the very same, as sacrifices, the distinction of clean and unclean beasts circumcision and many others; but that when the confirmation both of old and new rites was reduced into a certain form of a ritual, and that period was so distinguished by a solemn renovation of the covenant, and by many additions, that it seemed to swallow up as it were all that went before. We likewise at other times read, that something is said to be given by Moses, which was long before Moses’s time. Our Lord says, John 7:22, “Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision, not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers.” God also is said, Ezek. 20:11, to have “given Israel in the wilderness his statutes, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.” Yet we could not from thence conclude, that the origin of those statutes was only to be derived from that time; seeing it is plain, that they were cotemporary with man, and from the beginning made known to all believers by the teaching of the Spirit of God. Though under the kings David and Solomon, there was a great accession of magnificence made to the public worship, by the superb structure of the temple, and the appointment of its ministry, yet this Mosaic period continued even to the Lord Jesus, or his forerunner John. For thus we are taught, John 1:17: “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ;” and, Luke 16:16: “The law and the prophets were until John; since that time the kingdom of God is preached.”

XVI. When the OLD Testament vanished, the NEW succeeded, whose beginning and epoch divines do not fix in one and the same point of time. Some begin the New Testament from the birth of Christ, because of that expression of the apostle, Gal. 4:4, in which he asserts the fulness of time was come, when God sent his Son, made of a woman; to which they add, that, on that, very day, the angels proclaimed the gospel concerning Christ manifested, Luke 2:10, 11. Others begin the New Testament from the year of Christ’s preaching, alleging Mark 1:1, where the evangelist seems to refer the beginning of the gospel to that year in which John and Christ began to preach, which is more clearly taught in that passage, just cited from Luke 16:16. Others again place the beginning of the New Testament at the moment of Christ’s death, upon the authority of the apostle, who says, that the New Testament was ratified by the death of Christ the testator, Heb. 9:17. Some, in fine, on the day of Pentecost, or the effusion of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, on which the new was, as it were, sealed, and its law came out of Zion, Isa. 2:3.

XVII. But all these things are easily reconciled, if we allow some latitude to that fulness of time in which the New succeeded the Old Testament. God, indeed, began to prepare for the New Testament from the very birth of Christ, on which very day the Gospel of Christ began to be preached to the shepherds; those beginnings were very small, but were soon after more illustrious by the preaching of John, proclaiming the kingdom of heaven to be at hand, Matt. 3:2; and of Christ himself, asserting it was already come, and even among the people of the Jews, Luke 17:21. Yet the kingdom of heaven did not directly and all at once attain to its full state of maturity, but by slow degrees acquired strength, till Christ, having finished the work which the Father gave him to do, completed all by his death, and ratified the New Testament. By this death of Christ, the Old Testament was of right abrogated. Yet there was an accession of greater solemnity to the New, when, after the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord, upon the plentiful effusion of the Spirit on the apostles, the doctrine of salvation was proclaimed over all the habitable world, God, at the same time, bearing witness by signs and wonders, and various virtues and gifts of the Holy Ghost. Nevertheless, the church did not enjoy the full liberty of the New Testament, till after God had rejected the people of Israel, who stiffly adhered to their ceremonies, till their temple was burnt, and their whole land was smitten with a curse, which time of full liberty the apostle in his day, Heb. 2:5, called “the world to come.”

XVIII. Hence we see, that the close of the Old Testament gradually vanishing away, and the beginning of the New gradually gaining ground, both centered in one point of time. For, as on the birth of Christ a more joyful period shone forth, and the songs of the pious were heard, concerning the truth of God’s covenant confirmed by the accomplishment of the promises; so Christ acknowledged himself to be subject to the laws of the Old Testament by his circumcision, and the rites following upon it. And as the kingdom of heaven, which is a kingdom of liberty, was preached by our Lord, John 4:21, 23, so he ordered, in the mean time, the person cleansed of his leprosy to offer the sacrifice enjoined by the law of Moses, Matt, 8:4; which is an evident indication of the Old Testament still maintaining its ground. Of right it was entirely abrogated, when, upon Christ’s death, the veil of the temple was rent, and the holy of holies, before hid and concealed, was then set open to all; and by the blood of a dying Christ the New Testament was sealed. However, for some time the apostles themselves apprehended that there was a sanctity in the ceremonies, till Peter was better taught by a heavenly vision, Acts 10:11, &c. In fine, the church struggled with the observance of these ceremonies, now in pangs of death, till Jerusalem was taken and destroyed by the Romans, and the temple set on fire; then, together with these, all remains of the Old Testament, which were long before condemned to death, quite expired, and made way for a New Testament, blazing forth in the full lustre of its liberty.

XIX. And here again we are to observe various periods, which are distinctly described in the prophetic writings, especially in the mystical revelation of John; the church has already experienced some of them, and expects the rest with faith and patience. Periods, I say, not relating to any new worship, either instituted or to be instituted by God, after the preaching of the everlasting gospel; but respecting very different vicissitudes in the church, and times either more adverse, or more prosperous, in which truth and piety were either oppressed, and forced to conceal themselves in deserts, being wounded and spent by many persecutions, or then victoriously triumphed over their enemies, and were placed on an illustrious throne, which dazzled the eyes with the refulgent beams of light. Of all these we are to speak in their place.

XX. And though we imagine we have reckoned up properly enough, and agreeably to the sacred writings the economies of the times, yet some very learned men have thought otherwise, who are better pleased with the trichotomy, or threefold division, than with the received dichotomy, or twofold distribution. They therefore consider the administration of the covenant of grace, 1st, Under the promise, and before the law, which they contend to have been a promise of mere grace and liberty, without any yoke or burden of an accusing law. 2dly, Under the law, where they will have the Old Testament begin. 3dly, Under the Gospel, where the New begins. This diversity would not have been of that importance, as to oblige us therefore to throw up the cause we plead for, if it consisted only in the computation of times. But seeing a vast difference is made between these economies, it will not be from the purpose more minutely to examine these thoughts.

XXI. It appears that the fathers living before the Mosaic law, were loaded with a much lighter burden of ceremonies than the Israelites were under Moses; yet it does not appear that they enjoyed full liberty, without any yoke and burden of an accusing law. For, not to mention the law of nature, which, with its appendages of curses, was handed down by constant instruction, they had precepts concerning sacrifices, not indeed binding them to a certain time and place, but yet enjoining sacrifices (which indeed were not will-worship), and distinguishing clean from the unclean beasts. This, I imagine, the very learned persons will not deny. At least the celebrated Cocceius finds fault with Grotius, who affirms, that the offering of Abel was made “without any command of God, from the dictates of reason only,” and he insists, that Abel could not have offered in faith “without the word of God;” and that he did not offer “according to his own pleasure and fancy, but by the direction of the Holy Spirit, Adam doubtless being the interpreter, and setting an example here.” The same thing he proves at large, in Sum. de Fœd. § 305: On Gen. 4 § 14, 19, 20. And another of those, whose opinion we are now examining, writes to this purpose: “The sacrifices of believers were doubtless of divine institution:” which after he had proved by various arguments, he thus concludes: “In fine, if God made a distinction between clean and unclean animals before the deluge, which was done on account of sacrifices, doubtless God also appointed sacrifices.” But in every sacrifice there was a remembrance of sins not yet expiated, and as Athanasius speaks, ὀνειδισμος, a reproaching of, and a hand-writing against, the sacrifices. For the reproaching with sin consists not only in this, that the offering of sacrifices was limited to a certain time and place, as was done under Moses; but in the very offering of the sacrifices; for when a man slew and burnt the animals, which God granted him for food, he thereby signified that he himself deserved destruction; nay, and to perish in avenging flames for ever; and that he, who by the one offering of himself was truly to expiate the sins of all the elect, was not yet come; and that when he offered frolicsome animals, who are apt to go astray from the flock, unless kept by the shepherd, thereby he signified the guilt of sin and our going astray, as very learned men have observed from Isa. 53:6.

XXII. It is therefore strange that a great man, in answer to this question, whether Abel’s sacrifice was propitiatory or eucharistical, should say, “that before Moses’s time sacrifices for sins were not instituted by God, the design of which was to accuse of sin.” That this is said without proof, appears plain: 1st, Because, in that case no sacrifices were instituted before Moses, to be types of the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. For, as it was necessary there should be an agreement between the type and the antitype, those sacrifices which shadowed forth the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ were also, in their measure, propitiatory; that is, they so expiated sin to the cleansing of the flesh, as at the same time to condemn sin, and to show that they were not sufficient for its real expiation, because they were to be often repeated. Neither do the learned doubt, but that the sacrifices even of the oldest patriarchs were sacraments and types of Christ’s sacrifice; for they write, in express words, that “the fathers offered before Moses’s time the same sacrifices with Moses, and apt to signify the same things.” 2dly, It also appears, that Job, who it is probable, lived before, certainly without, the Mosaic polity, offered, עולות burnt-offerings for his children and friends, in order to expiate the sins they had committed, Job 1:5, and 42:8. But the end of a burnt offering is to be “accepted for him that offers, to make atonement for him,” Lev. 1:4. And by such sacrifices the believers of that time testified (which is the learned person’s own observation) that they acknowledged that such a satisfaction was due to God, which was not possible for themselves to make. This was a charge of guilt and inability, which the same great man could not conceal, when he treats of the burnt-offerings offered by Job, at the command of God, for his friends; and expresses himself thus: “For, though many sacrifices were slain, and the man, indeed, upon offering a beast, was no longer deemed a sinner, but a righteous person among men, yet conscience was accused of sin, and consequently offerings were to be accumulated and repeated without end.” See the same author on Job, 9:28; but especially on Job 7:1. “Job complains not (says he) of that servitude whereby we obey God; but of that laid on the fathers, which is a heavy yoke of fear, and of the terror of the law, with the greatest incumbrance of ceremonies.—But though Job seems to have lived before the law of Moses, and not to have been loaded with so many ceremonies as the Israelites, yet his condition was no better than theirs.” There were therefore in the sacrifices which God enjoined from the beginning, a reproaching with and an accusation of sin; and consequently a yoke, not consistent with that liberty of the fathers which these learned men imagine.

XXIII. And what will they say with respect to circumcision? Was not that also a yoke, since it was not to be performed without blood, and mixed with much pain and shame? Was there not in it an accusation of sin, when the new-born infant could not enter into God’s covenant without first shedding his blood? Hence this sacrament was performed on the genital member, to denote the original stain; and by the cutting of a small part of the flesh, the whole man was declared to be worthy of death. Let the learned persons here acknowledge their own words. And what is more plain from the writings of the New Testament, than that circumcision was considered by the apostles as the principal part of the heavy yoke? Acts 15:5, compared with ver. 10. Nevertheless, it does not appear that Moses made any addition of rigour to it; seeing it was long before enjoined upon Abraham at first under pain of being cut off. We conclude, therefore, that the condition of the ancient patriarchs is too much extolled above that of the Jewish churches, when it is insisted that they lived in liberty, without any charge of sin, without any yoke; though we readily grant, that the servitude was heightened and the yoke made heavier by the Mosaic polity. And this is what we had to say on the first period.

XXIV. They make the law to be the second period, under which they would have the Old Testament to begin; which they define to be “the will and purpose of God, whereby he determined to give to some of Abraham’s posterity, as his own people, the inheritance of the land of Canaan as his own land; adding, that this testament “commenced from the exodus out of Egypt and from Mount Sinai;” which a very learned person endeavours to prove by several arguments, briefly joined together in the following manner: The Scripture says, Jer. 31:32, that God made the Old Testament with the fathers when he brought them out of Egypt: that is, called them to the inheritance of the land, as of a pledge, &c. In like manner Paul, Gal. 4:24, says, that the two testaments were signified by Hagar and Sarah, and that the first was truly from Mount Sinai. The same Paul says, Heb. 9:18, “Neither the first testament was [initiated] dedicated without blood.” He has his eye on Exod. 24:8. He says, ἐγκεκάινισται, it was initiated, therefore that testament then became καινη, new. Consequently, that testament was then introduced. Nay, Deut. 5:2, 3, it is said, “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb: the Lord made not this covenant with our fathers.” How can we conceive that the fathers had that which, we are told, had not been intimated to them?

XXV. We shall make the following reflections on this subject, which we submit to the examination of the learned: 1st, They seemed to confine the Old Testament within too narrow bounds, who define it only by the destination of the land of Canaan as a pledge of heaven; as we showed, sect. 2. Doubtless, according to the Old Testament, the inheritance of the land of Canaan was given to the Israelites; but this does not complete the whole substance of the Old Testament. Paul clearly enough declares, Gal. 4 and Heb. 9 without speaking anything of the land of Canaan, that it consisted in a typical exhibition of the heavenly inheritance, and comprised every thing that imports a typical servitude, and was to be abolished upon the introduction of the New Testament.

XXVI. 2dly, When learned men say, that the Old Testament commences from the exodus out of Egypt, and from Mount Sinai, and call it the will and purpose of giving the land of Canaan, they understand not, by that will, or that purpose, the counsel or decree of God from eternity; nor the execution of that decree, which was not effected at Mount Sinai, but forty years after, when, under the conduct of Joshua, they were introduced into the land; but they understand the declaration of the counsel of God by an irrevocable promise. But that promise was not first made at Mount Sinai, but long before, even to the patriarch Abraham, four hundred and thirty years before the giving of the law, Gen. 12:7, “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” And it was confirmed by solemn signs, and sealed by the blood of sacrifices, Gen. 15:7. We therefore conclude, that, if the Old Testament be the declaration of the will of God about giving the land of Canaan, it did not commence from Moses, but from Abraham.

XXVII. 3dly, Hence it appears what answer ought to be given to Jer. 31:32, and Gal. 4:24; namely, that the first institution of the Old Testament is not treated of in these places, but the solemn renewal and confirmation of it, and the accession of many new rites, which we mentioned, sect. 18. For God himself often testified concerning that time, that he did those things in virtue of his covenant entered into with Abraham, Exod. 2:24, “And God remembered his covenant with Abraham,” &c.; and chap. 6:8, “And I will bring you into the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it you for an inheritance.” It therefore remains that the testament about giving the land of Canaan, was not then first published, but solemnly renewed, when God was now about to accomplish it. And this is what Jeremiah and Paul intend in the places quoted.

XXVIII. 4thly, What the apostle says, Heb. 9:18, “Neither the first Testament was [initiated] dedicated without blood,” is very general, and may be extended to the first sacrifices, which were slain at God’s command. The very learned Cloppenburg, in Schola Sacrificiorum, Problem, 1. §. iii. would prove, from the same passage of Paul, that there was no interval of time between the first promise of the future seed of the woman, and the first sacrifice. “The apostle, (says he,) confirms this our opinion, when he says that the Old Testament was not dedicated without blood, and that without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. For hence it follows, that, with that promise about the future seed of the woman, there was either no solemnizing of the spiritual covenant of God with man, by which he might hope for and believe the remission of sins, or that there was none without shedding of blood.” The apostle, indeed, mentions what we have in Exod. 24 as an example. But it does not follow that no other example of that truth could be given before that; or that any would mistake the subject, who should add to the apostle’s argument what we find, Gen. 15 about the beasts which were slain by Abraham.

XXIX. And the term dedicated ought not to be so insisted upon, as if that necessarily inferred that the testament thus dedicated was entirely new. For even that may be said to be dedicated, which is again solemnly dedicated, though the thing itself was in being long before. Thus the author of the First Book of Maccabees, 1 Maccabees, chap. 6, writes about the temple profaned by Antiochus, χαὶ ενεκαινίσθη το ἁγιασμα ὡς τὸ προτερον, “And the sanctuary was dedicated as before.” Yet Antiochus had only profaned, but not destroyed the sanctuary, so as to make it necessary to build one entirely new, which Judas Maccabeus purified, chap. 4:43, and thus dedicated it to God. From this was τα ἐγκαινία the feast of the dedication, John 10:22. On which place Grotius comments; ἐγκαινίζειν, to dedicate, whence the appellation, ἐγκαινια, and feast of dedication, in Hebrew חנך, is used of any dedication, whether the first, or that which is renewed. And indeed, when the apostle was saying, Heb. 10:20, that Christ ἐνεκάινισε, consecrated a way to heaven, he by no means intimated, that there was no way to heaven before that time.

XXX. But let us allow, the Old Testament was then new; and that this may be proved by the word ἐγκαινίζειν; let us also allow that the apostle, speaking of the shedding of blood, with which the testament was dedicated, does not look back to any time prior to that described, Exod. 24; yet nothing will be concluded in favour of the hypothesis. For the Old Testament was certainly new at that time, not absolutely, and in its whole substance, but only with respect to those circumstances under which it was proposed to Israel, promising them the immediate possession of the land of Canaan for an inheritance, together with the imposition of so many new rites. We ought to be upon our guard against being guilty of the sophism, called arguing from what is hypothetical to what is absolute. As these things are neither unskilfully nor improbably observed by very learned men, I could have wished that hard saying had not dropped from the learned person, that they who thus proceed “wrest this passage contrary to the meaning of the Holy Ghost.” Cannot such a dispute as this be determined, without such warmth and vehemence of language?

XXXI. On Deut. 5:2, 3, many things have been taken notice of by interpreters. I imagine nothing appears more simple and solid than what the very learned Dutch interpreters have observed, to the following purpose: that this covenant was not entered into with the fathers, in the same manner, with all its circumstances and particular laws, and in that form (as we use to speak) in which it was revealed to Israel at Sinai or Horeb. For even the believing patriarchs had the substance of the moral and ceremonial law, and, by the grace of God, managed their religious worship according to it. This exposition is confirmed chiefly by two reasons. 1st, That it is no new thing in the sacred writings, for something to be said not to be mentioned before, and to be revealed at that time, when it is more clearly discovered, and some new addition made to it. Thus the apostle writes, Rom. 16:25, 26: “Which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest:” and yet the same apostle says, “preached before the gospel to Abraham,” Gal. 3:8, and to the other ancient fathers, Heb. 4:2. It was therefore kept secret, not simply, but in a comparative sense; not preached in the same manner as now. The apostle himself thus explains the matter, Eph. 3:5: “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles.” What God here says may be taken in the same sense, that he did not make this covenant with their fathers, namely, in the same manner and form, by speaking to them from the midst of thunderings and lightnings, giving them the law of the covenant written with his own hand, with an addition of so many ceremonies. 2dly, It also appears, that these words of God not only may, but ought, to be explained in this manner. For since the decalogue, which constitutes the principal part of the fœderal precepts, was likewise, with respect to its substance, given to the ancient patriarchs, as God’s covenant-people, for a rule of gratitude and a new life; and the sum of it was comprised in those words, spoken to Abraham which God expressed when he formerly entered into covenant with him, Gen. 17:1, “I am the Almighty God, walk continually before me, and be thou perfect [sincere];” it cannot therefore absolutely be denied, that that covenant, whose first and principal law is the decalogue, was also entered into with the ancient patriarchs. Neither, as has been often hinted, do all the ceremonies owe their original to Sinai or Horeb. From the whole I conclude, that it cannot be proved from the alleged passages, that the Old Testament took its first commencement from the exodus out of Egypt, or from Mount Sinai, and that it is more probable, and more agreeable to the analogy of Scripture, to adhere to the received opinion. But how great the difference between the economy of the Old and New Testament, and what prerogatives the last has above the first, we shall carefully explain, in its time and place.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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