Book 4 - Chapter 12: Of the Imperfections Falsely Ascribed to the Old Testament - by Herman WitsiusThe 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 XII: Of the Imperfections Falsely Ascribed to the Old Testament
I. THAT the Old Testament was not such as to contain no deficiency to be supplied, appears even from this, because otherwise a place would not have been sought for a second; as the apostle, Heb. 8:7, proves to a demonstration. Having therefore treated of the blessings and privileges of that testament, it is proper that we now consider its imperfections and defects. Not that we would detract any thing from the divine grace, as it was displayed in the times of old (because the ancient Fathers both acknowledged and actually experienced, that it was sufficient for their salvation), but that we may set a higher value on the infinite riches of the divine bounty, which were reserved for the more auspicious age of the New Testament.
II. But in handling this, two prudential precautions are to be premised. 1st, That in order to overvalue our own condition, we do not too much undervalue that of the ancients. 2dly, That by acknowledging our own privileges less than they deserve, we may be found unthankfully to undervalue the grace of God. And because some have erred in both these extremes, we propose to manage this subject in the following method:—In this chapter we shall confute what some persons, who in other respects are learned and orthodox, seem to have advanced with too little caution against the Old Testament; and then show from scripture in what things it was really defective.
III. We here pass over unregarded the heresy of the Socinians, who assert, with the utmost effrontery, that there was no promise of eternal life in the Old Testament; that Jesus Christ was the first and only preacher of that important truth: a blasphemy we have already confuted. At present our business is with brethren, whom we esteem in the Lord, only we must always give the preference to the sacred truth. It does not become us nor any Christian to multiply disputes without cause, and to wrest things well or tolerably said, to a worse meaning than they will bear, and when we have wrested them invidiously to expose them, a manner of procedure this not to be used with enemies, much less with brethren. It is, however, incumbent on all to endeavour to speak with the utmost caution and perspicuity they are able; nor should any one take it amiss, if things, which are spoken improperly and harshly, and less consistently with the truth, are modestly, calmly, and without any party zeal, taken notice of and corrected; especially if they have escaped from persons of character in the church, and are urged by some with a warmth not to be commended, as if they excelled the common doctrine of the reformed churches by the commendation of a purer and more sublime knowledge; so that if any person that does not assent to them in all respects, he is scarce accounted a learned and unprejudiced divine.
IV. In the first place I imagine, that these following words of a celebrated interpreter have justly given offence to learned men: “The scope of these words is to show, that though very great temporal benefits were bestowed on the Israelites, yet before the last times, none that were true and permanent; nor was salvation itself actually discovered to them,” Coccei. Ult. Mos. p. 886.
V. Who that reads or hears these words, would not be led by their very sound to imagine even this, that though the Israelites really enjoyed temporal privileges, such as possession of the land of Canaan, a peaceable government, a flourishing kingdom, prosperity as subjects, long life, and the like, yet they had no benefits that were true and permanent; by which one can scarce forbear thinking, that they had no communion with the Messiah, nor part in his peculiar blessings, as reconciliation with God, peace of conscience, reformation after the image of the divine purity, foretastes of the joys of heaven, and a happy removal of the soul from this to an immortal life? For these, if any, are deservedly and usually called true and permanent benefits, and salvation itself. Whoever therefore affirms, that very great temporal privileges, and in the same breath denies that such as were true and permanent were bestowed on, and salvation itself, disclosed to the Israelites, speaks in such a manner as to suggest to the mind of the reader that the spiritual blessings of the soul and eternal life were neither bestowed on nor discovered to them.
VI. And it is also scarcely possible for the reader not to be confirmed in that suspicion, if in another part he reads that the only delight the Israelites had was that they could extend their meditations to the felicity of the latter times, which yet they were not to see with their own eyes. But the same author’s preface to the Psalms inculcates this in a set, premeditated discourse, not far from the beginning: “This, indeed, was their only solace; for while they were singing most of the Psalms, they were, in the type of David, either singing beforehand the afflictions and exaltation of Christ, or reaching forwards to the latter times; and, deploring their present forlorn case, were endeavouring to change it into the joy of the future time, nay, assuming the disposition, the joy, the zeal, and sharing in the combats and victories, of those who were to see what themselves did not, to hear what themselves did not hear. This, I say, was their only comfort. For neither what they saw could yield them any delight, because they were shadows; nor what they heard, because it was only, partly a promise, partly an accusation of sin and guilt, with which man is born, but was not then abolished and blotted out; nor what they possessed, because they were to leave them, or because the wicked enjoyed them as well as they: in fine, because they were no real blessings capable to satisfy the soul.” Who may not gather from this, that, in the Psalms of David, the present blessings of saving grace were neither foretold, commended, or celebrated, and therefore the Israelites did not possess them, though not only the hopes of these blessings, but also the actual possession of them, have been, in all ages, the subject and cause of unspeakable joy. For if David, in his Psalms, can celebrate even such spiritual blessings, which are connected with eternal salvation, as himself and other believers enjoyed even at that time; with what design can it be said, that their only solace and comfort consisted in meditating on the joy of the time to come, and that they possessed blessings which were neither real nor sufficient to satisfy the soul? Who, on reading these things, could imagine he was perusing the writings of a reformed doctor?
VII. But I would not have you to believe that this very learned author, though he writes in this style, is gone over to the Socinians, whom, in almost all his writings, he has strenuously opposed and happily confuted. He repeats it a thousand times over, and makes it appear by cogent arguments against those most pestilent heretics, that the promise of the spiritual and heavenly inheritance was made to the fathers of the Old Testament, and the possession of it granted to them in consequence of the testament of grace. And in the very place we first quoted, §. 885, he writes: that “Jehovah was the Father of that people, for he purchased and made them, and bestowed all good things upon them, which is to be understood, not only in a figurative sense, or with respect to any external favour, but with respect to the benefit of redemption, the new creation, and the donation of all things necessary for life and godliness, by which he is in truth manifested to be the Father of that people, with respect to his elect children, who were at all times contained in that people, as in a seminary, but less frequently in the great multitude of the Israelites of that age.” So far well: I could wish he had stopped here.
VIII. But these two assertions are so different, that they seem to be even contradictory. For as the blessing of redemption, the new creation, and the donation of all things necessary for life and godliness, and in fine, to have God, not in figure, but in truth for their Father, are indisputably true and permanent blessings, and are even salvation itself; whoever asserts, that these things were bestowed on and discovered to the Israelites, and yet denies that true and permanent blessings had been conferred upon and discovered to them, seems to involve himself in a manifest contradiction.
IX. What then? Did memory, did judgment, did soundness of mind fail this very learned author, when he advanced things so contradictory? But his acknowledged learning forbids us to suspect any such thing. Let us then declare the matter as it is. By true and permanent benefits, which, he says, were not bestowed on the fathers of the Old Testament, he means the blessings peculiar to the New, as the truth is opposed to the type, and what is permanent to the shadow that was to evanish. And salvation with him denotes complete salvation. He has found an interpreter and apologist in a divine of very great name, who with great confidence tells us, that this assertion is for the most part in Scripture terms; which might have been better understood by divines, if they had taken as much pains to read and meditate on the writings of God as of men; and he endeavours to show, that some of the things peculiar to the New Testament, as such, are sometimes held forth by the name of salvation, and of true and permanent benefits. For this purpose, he quotes, Heb. 2:3, where salvation is said, “at the first to have begun to be spoken by the Lord;” that is, the work of salvation, which Christ now began to perform; or even that clear and effectual doctrine of the Gospel, which calls us to salvation. He further observes, that those benefits are sometimes called true, which are opposed to those which were typical, as John 1:17: “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ;” and as the blotting out the hand-writing which was against us, and that glorious degree of adoption, mentioned Gal. 4:5, are said to be true benefits; he asserts, that they are justly called permanent, in contradistinction to the covenant of grace, as it was a covenant with the Israelites, which was neither faultless, nor permanent, Heb. 8:7, 9. From all which he concludes, that is to speak agreeable with the scriptures to say, that true and permanent benefits, and salvation itself, were not bestowed on and discovered to Israel.
X. These things require a particular consideration. It is my real judgment and persuasion, that these learned men would have acted a far more prudent and generous part, if sometimes, for the sake of truth, they had abandoned those whom they have set up as heads of their party; confessing, both that they were men, and that sometimes their thoughts and discourses were less accurate; and not first to excuse every thing however incautiously spoken with great confidence, and then to defend it as most genuine and most exactly agreeable to Scripture language, though but with very indifferent success, and at the expense of the reputation of their brethren.
XI. But let us consider the constant tenour of the sacred writings. These call the spiritual blessings of the soul, τό ἀληθινόν, the true, Luke 16:11, in opposition to the unrighteous mammon, or the false riches of this world; and the grace granted to the elect, as such, “τὴν ἀληθῆ χάριν του Θεου, the true grace of God wherein they stand,” 1 Peter. 5:12. Whether we understand this of the doctrine of grace, or of that saving grace itself, which, by that doctrine is offered to and conferred on the elect which, ver. 10, was called “the eternal glory of God,” it is very evident, that true grace is opposed to any false persuasion whatever concerning salvation. They are also expressly called permanent blessings, Heb. 10:34: “Knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance,” which is not opposed to types and shadows, but to the good things of this world, which are fading and subject to spoiling or rapine. Ὕπαρξις μένουσα, enduring substance, answers to the Hebrew words תושיח and יש, which signify, a true solid, and permanent substance. But this was what the supreme wisdom has, from the beginning, promised to and bestowed on those who observe her, Prov. 2:7: “יצפן לישרים תושיה, he layeth up sound wisdom (substance) for the righteous,” and Prov. 8:21. “להוחיל אהבי יש, to cause those that love me to inherit substance.” Our Lord calls these very benefits “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal,” Matt. 6:20. Now the believing Israelites were undoubtedly admitted to the possession of these. The learned author himself writes, Indagat. Natur. Sabbat. §. iv. that “Holy persons, who believed the promise and expected salvation, had the ornament of a meek a quiet spirit.” Which no one doubts are permanent. In a word, what does salvation itself more commonly signify, than that happiness of the soul which is begun here upon earth, and will be perfected in heaven, and is the end of our faith? Of which, 1 Peter. 1:9: “receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” The salvation of the soul is its deliverance from the condemning and domineering power of sin, and its delighting in God as the fountain of happiness. And this is the end of faith, not only under the New, but also that which obtained under the Old Testament. Which was indeed discovered to Jacob, and by him to his children, when he said, “I have waited for thy salvation, O Jehovah,” Gen. 19:18. As therefore spiritual blessings are called in scripture true, permanent, and salvation itself, and the brethren dare not refuse that these were granted and discovered to the ancient Israelites; must we not acknowledge, that whoever says, that true and permanent benefits, and salvation itself, were not granted and discovered to the Israelites, does not speak according to scripture?
XII. Moreover should we allow, that some benefits were peculiar to the New Testament, which may be eminently called true and permanent and salvation itself; yet it does not follow that he speaks truly and advisedly, according to the rules of logic and divinity, who, without restriction, denies that true and permanent blessings were granted to Israel; since, besides those benefits peculiar to the New Testament, there are others also which are true, permanent, and saving. An universal negative proposition does not exclude some one, but every species without exception. It is one thing to say, that Israel had not some degree or measure of true and permanent benefits; another, that they had not the blessings themselves. He who would assert the former, which is true, should not use words that signify the latter, which is absolutely false.
XIII. But let us take a more distinct view how well the brethren maintain their ground by scripture. 1st, We allow that the apostle, Heb. 2:3, by salvation understands that great happiness, whose cause was then present and the Gospel in its perfect state, wherein the salvation now begun to be impetrated, and soon to be fully so is declared; and it is certain, salvation in that sense was not before the manifestation of Christ, nor did the Israelites enjoy it. But he that would illustrate this, should distinguish between this salvation already impetrated or obtained, and salvation about to be impetrated; or between salvation and the promise of salvation; and not as our author does, between salvation and temporal benefits. For certainly eternal salvation was given and manifested to Israel, though the cause of salvation as it now appears, and the work of salvation as already begun, could not be preached to them. Because, what Christ had promised and engaged was at that time sufficient to procure salvation, to be manifested and bestowed.
XIV. 2dly, None will deny that true benefits are sometimes opposed to typical, but this observation is altogether foreign to the case in hand, unless the brethren mean, that the Israelites enjoyed only typical good things, but were destitute of those true or spiritual blessings which were signified by the typical. What we just quoted from the preface to the Psalms, and which I own I do not sufficiently understand, seems to tend to this. But let these things pass. Let us go on with what is perspicuous. Moses indeed who was a servant, could not bestow those true blessings; yet Christ, who was the same yesterday and to-day, bestowed on believers even under the Mosaic economy true benefits, in and with the typical. And when they deny, that true benefits were bestowed on Israel, I cannot think they will reckon remission of sins, and redemption, and a new creation, &c. among the number of those which were typical, and they own that these were bestowed on Israel. To what purpose then is the inculcating here a distinction between true and typical benefits? But, say they, the blotting out the hand-writing, and that glorious degree of adoption, are true benefits. Are they so? And is not also remission itself, the hand-writing not being yet blotted out, and adoption itself, though not in that degree, to be reckoned among the true benefits? Did the types of the Israelites only prefigure that measure of grace peculiar to the New Testament; not saving grace itself, which is common to both dispensations? Were their sacraments signs only of this grace which is freely bestowed on us, and not also of that of which they themselves were made partakers? Let the learned authors tell me I pray, whether the new creation, redemption, remission of sins, adoption, friendship with God, and the salvation of the soul, both in heaven and on earth, and the like spiritual blessings, which the Israelites enjoyed, belong to the law, and are given by Moses, or to the truth and grace, which came by Christ? If they affirm the latter, as I imagine they will, I again beg of them to explain what the passage quoted from John makes to the purpose, as from that it is clear, that true benefits as opposed to typical, were bestowed even upon Israel, which yet the words now under examination deny.
XV. 3dly. The main point is, that the economy of the Old Testament was not permanent and stable, like the economy of the New. In the former there is the removing of those things that are shaken, that, in the latter, those things which cannot be shaken may remain, Heb. 12:27. But it is wrong to infer from this, that under a mutable economy, which was, in due time, to be changed, there were no permanent blessings either bestowed or made known. Because the bestowing and manifesting permanent benefits proceed not from those circumstances, which are mutable, but from the very covenant of grace, which is God’s eternal testament. Then again granting, there is some permanent benefit under the New Testament, which was not under the Old, I cannot therefore indeterminately affirm, that permanent blessings were not bestowed on Israel. I shall give a palpable instance. The apostle says even to believers under the New Testament, while they sojourned on this earth, Heb. 13:14, “Here have we no continuing city.” The celebrated interpreter says well on this place: “It is peculiar to Christians, and those who join themselves to Christ, that they have not here a city. They are without a city in the world. Some may say, the apostle denies not that they have a city but they have no abiding one; nay, he denies that we have a city here because no city is abiding.” Can I therefore be allowed to assert, that no permanent benefits are bestowed on believers of the New Testament? I cannot think it. I conclude, it had been much better, the brethren had frankly owned, that the learned author, while he was writing these things, betrayed human frailty, and spoke uncautiously, than by far fetched pretences to palliate things, which the reformed churches will never acknowledge as their doctrine.
XVI. Secondly. The excellence of the Old Testament is too much lessened by asserting, that the circumcision of the heart, mentioned, Deut. 30:6, was a blessing peculiar to the New Testament. It is worth while to hear, how the learned author explains himself. First, he desires us to observe, that this verse treats of the time of the Messiah, the foregoing signs of whom are explained in the preceding verses; and therefore he enumerates circumcision of the heart, mentioned here among the blessings of the New Testament, de fed. §. 352. Consequently he says, that God hence promised a kind of circumcision of the heart, which he would not give till that time. Sum. Theol. c. 53. §. 7. But what is that circumcision of the heart here promised? Let us hear the learned author himself, when professedly commenting on this place. By circumcision of the heart we are here to understand, whatever answers to circumcision, as a figure, and is contained in God’s covenant, except those things that do not belong to this life, Ultim. Mos. §. 334. And more clearly still, to sum up the whole briefly, the circumcision of the heart here promised ver. 6, is regeneration by the spirit of adoption. Above all it signifies regeneration, or sanctification by the spirit of faith and the love of God. Secondly, it denotes consolation in hope of eternal life, by the expiation of Christ. Ibid. §. 336, 337, 338. From these quotations, if duly connected, arises this argument:—The circumcision of the heart promised, Deut. 30:6. is a benefit of the New Testament, which God did not bestow till then: but regeneration by the spirit of adoption, or sanctification by the spirit of faith and of the love of God, and consolation in hope of eternal life by the expiation of Christ, is the circumcision of the heart there promised: therefore such regeneration or sanctification and consolation in hope of eternal life is a benefit of the New Testament, which God did not bestow before that time. This conclusion necessarily follows from the premises, when placed in due order. But the premises are the very words of the learned author.
XVII. And yet he does not admit the conclusion; but protests against it. “And the fathers had both; for they could not without the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 12:3, and the creation of a clean heart, Psa. 51:10, and the circumcision of the heart, call Christ Lord, as David does, Psa. 110:1. And they had the hope and joy of salvation, Gen. 49:19. Psa. 51:12. Psa. 17:15. Psal. 49:15. Ibid. §. 339. If any can reconcile these things, I own I cannot. There is only one way of getting clear: namely, by making a distinction in regeneration, sanctification, and consolation in hope of eternal life; as that there is a certain regeneration by the spirit of adoption; another from something else than from that spirit: a certain sanctification by the spirit of faith and love of God; another not: a certain consolation in the hope of eternal life by the expiation of Christ; another from some other way. The former of these are indeed peculiar to the New Testament; and the latter belong to the Old. But these very learned persons must excuse me, if I confidently affirm, I never learned from Scripture of any regeneration but what is from the spirit of adoption, any sanctification but what is from the spirit of faith and love; any hope of eternal life but what is by the expiation of Christ, either to be made, or already made.
XVIII. What does he then intend, when he denies that the fathers had circumcision of heart? I know not whether, in what I am to say, I shall express the whole of his meaning; but I had rather err on this side in not saying the whole, than in charging the author with what either he has not said, or I have not sufficiently understood. “It appears,” says he, “that here a spiritual grace is signified, in some measure common to those under both Testaments, but in its fulness peculiar to those under the new: and that thus sometimes is promised to be superadded to what they had received, peculiar to the New Testament,” Ibid. §. 335. They had therefore regeneration, sanctification, and consolation, but in some measure only. But what is there to be superadded to what they had received? That must be some third thing, even that which the circumcision of the heart denotes; namely, “the removing the veil from the eyes, and the yoke from the conscience, in order to serve God without taking away the fleshy substance doubtless signifies freedom from the yoke of such a law,” ibid. §. 340.
XIX. But we distinctly offer the following considerations against such intricate notions. 1st. Thus the circumcision of the heart is a blessing of the covenant of grace as such, and equally belongs to believers of both Testaments. Which we make appear thus. The foreskin of the heart always signifies in scripture that impurity and depravation which is naturally inherent in the soul, and is increased by repeated evil actions; but the circumcision of the heart is nothing but the taking away that foreskin, that is, that depravation; which is done by regeneration and sanctification. This Moses declares, Deut. 10:16, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.” And Paul, in like manner, Col. 2:11. describes the circumcision of the heart, which is done without hands, to be the putting off the body of the sins of the flesh. But that this was the privilege of believers in all ages, appears from this, because without it none can be a Jew whose praise is of God, Rom. 2:28, 29. But none will deny, that in consequence of the covenant of grace, there were always such. And as circumcision of the heart is this very regeneration and sanctification, without which none can see God, we must of necessity say that it is the privilege of all those that were saved at any time. A greater or less degree of sanctification alters not the species. Nor do I imagine any believer at this time will, even as to the degrees of sanctification, claim to himself a superiority above David or Moses, or Abraham. Who will ascribe the circumcision of the heart to himself, and refuse it to those heroes, who were also partakers of the same grace with them, though not in an equal degree?
XX. 2dly. Besides to understand, by circumcision of the heart, the removing the veil and yoke, or, which is the same, the abrogation of the ceremonies, is contrary to all sound divinity and reason. For, 1st. Let but one single testimony of Scripture be produced, where the Holy Spirit thus explains it. 2dly. We are, on the contrary, taught that circumcision was, as it were, the entrance to the observance of that law, in which it was a yoke, Gal. 5:3. How then could it signify to the Israelites, on their receiving it, the abrogation of that yoke? 3dly. Circumcision itself was a great part of the yoke, Acts 15:5, compared with verse 10. Besides what is more absurd, than that the receiving the yoke should signify the removal of it? What sacramental analogy is there here? 4thly. As there is a relation between circumcision and uncircumcision, if circumcision be the abrogation of the ceremonies, it necessarily, follows, that the ceremonies themselves are the foreskin, or uncircumcision of the heart, than which what can be more contrary to Scripture language? 5thly. If it be objected, that the ceremonial law is called a carnal commandment, Heb. 7:16; therefore its abrogation was fitly prefigured by cutting away a small part of the flesh, I shall avert the argument, and conclude; therefore it hath its confirmation in that act, which if any thing, should be accounted among the carnal, as it was performed in the flesh; wherefore it is also called the covenant of God in the flesh of the descendants of Abraham, Gen. 17:13. For the apostle calls that commandment carnal, which, as to the external rites, is performed not in the spirit or mind, but in the members of the body. Otherwise it might, with equal reason, be said, that the killing and burning the sacrifices prefigured the abrogation of the carnal ceremonies, which is unworthy divines. There was, indeed, that in circumcision, as also in the other ceremonies, which might discover imperfection, and give hope of a more joyful time and presignify that when that time should come, the ceremonies were to fee abrogated; yet the thing signified was not the abrogation of the same.
XXI. 3dly. And though sometimes circumcision of the heart was the same thing as taking away the veil and yoke; yet it is not promised in that sense, Deut. 30:6. For, God himself explains it otherwise in the following words, which runs thus: “And Jehovah thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love Jehovah thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” That circumcision therefore, is meant, whose immediate effect is the sincere love of God, and the more remote life or salvation. Now what is this but regeneration or sanctification, without which there can neither be the love of God nor life. But both may be, where the veil and yoke of ceremonies are not yet removed. The Jewish doctors also agree, that here sanctification is meant; though they give it too great an extent, and think that a perfect sanctification is here promised. We shall not scruple to transcribe a few things out of Moses Gerundensis. “Their heart will desire nothing, but what, in every respect, is virtuous. And this is the circumcision mentioned here. For concupiscence and appetite are the foreskin of the heart; but to circumcise the heart is to set it free from that appetite and concupiscence.”
XXII. 4thly. If we grant that something is here promised, which was to be performed to the elect Israelites in the time of the Messiah: yet this by no means proves that this benefit was peculiar to that time, and was not bestowed on their ancestors before. I shall not go far to show the weakness of that consequence. In verse. 8, God promised conversion to the Israelites of that time, that they might hearken to the voice of Jehovah, and do all his commandments. Yet such a conversion is no peculiar benefit of the New Testament; because in almost the same words, the Lord ascribes to the Jews in the Babylonish captivity, ver. 2. Therefore we conclude, that they by no means speak according to Scripture, who deny that circumcision of the heart, in whatever sense performed, had place under the Old Testament.
XXIII. Thirdly, In the same unworthy manner, they make the writing the law on the heart, a blessing peculiar to the New Testament: because, Heb. 8:10. it is said from Jer. 31:34, “for this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts:” that is, says our author, in ver. 31 §. 61, “I will cause them to receive my law, delight therein, and not forget it.” If these words be taken as they lie, it follows that the ancient believers, who lived before the times of the New Testament, did not receive the law of God, nor delight in it, but forgot it. But that these things are most eminently false, appears from the example of David alone: who professes that he received the law, when he says, Psa. 119:11. “Thy word have I hid in my heart:” and adds ver. 16. “I will delight myself in thy statutes, I will not forget thy word.” How then is this a blessing peculiar to the New Testament, in which David claims an interest in so many words?
XXIV. But there is something else implied. Here, says the celebrated interpreter, the law of the love of God is spoken of. But that commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” Deut. 6. could not, under the Old Testament, have its full efficacy on the hearts of believers: because “where there is fear (which they who differed nothing from servants, could not be without, Gal 4:1.) there is no perfect love,” 1 John 4:18. And when “the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost,” Rom. 5:5, and the love of God is not bestowed with sadness, as formerly, but with the “exceeding joy of sons,” it is excellently, and as it were peculiarly said, that “the law of God is written in the heart.” All this we may find in Sum. de fed. §. 352.
XXV. But I do not meet with these things in the sacred writings; for they declare that even the ancient believers loved God. Psa. 18:1, and Psa. 116:1. And that as their Father, Isa. 63:16: and with the exceeding joy of sons, Psa. 43:4: and without any fear, that did become the children of God, Psa. 46:2, and Psa. 23:4: nay, that they had a joyful sense of the love of God, shed abroad in their hearts, Psa. 4:7: and hear God, “saying to their souls, I am thy salvation,” Psa. 35:3. In a word, that they delighted themselves in God’s commandments, which they loved. Psa. 119:47. What can now remain as a requisite towards writing the law on the heart?
XXVI. But yet you will say, something is here promised, to be obtained by virtue of the New Covenant, which the old could not give, in the place of which the new was substituted on account of its imperfections. I answer, the apostle does not here oppose the covenant of grace, as it is dispensed after the coming of Christ, to the same covenant of grace as it was dispensed before: but opposes the covenant of grace, as in its full efficacy under the New Testament, to the national covenant made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai; and as a spiritual covenant to a typical. In which covenant the people promised obedience to God; and God promised the people that if they performed that obedience, he would accept and reward it; but did not promise to give them a heart to obey; as may be seen in their first engaging in covenant, Exod. 19:5, 6, 8, and in the solemn confirmation of it, Exod. 24:7, 8, where there is no promise made of a new heart. And therefore, in consequence of this covenant, the law was not written on the heart of the people of Israel. And hence it was that they broke that covenant by their apostasy, and made it of no effect: and that God refused to be called their God, and to acknowledge them for his people; and that in contempt he called them the people of Moses, rather than his own. Exod. 32:7. Here a better covenant is opposed to that Israelitish covenant, which is not formally the covenant of grace, but is only considered with respect to its typical or shadowy pomp, the effect of which is the writing the law on the heart, and communion with God, as the fountain of salvation. Moreover, that covenant is referred to the days of the Messiah, not that it was only then to exist in those effects of it; but that at that time it would be exceeding glorious, and produce effects very conspicuous. However, the elect among Israel, even in the ancient times, besides their engagements by the Sinaitic covenant, were joined to God by the covenant of grace, which he had solemnly renewed with Abraham. And from that covenant they had every thing that the writing the law on the heart comprises, and God himself for their God, that is, the fountain of salvation. As the covenant of grace, under which the ancients were, is not to be confounded with, so neither is it to be separated from, the Sinaitic covenant: neither are we to think, that believers were without all those things, which were not promised by the Sinaitic covenant, and which the typical covenant, because of its weakness and unprofitableness, could not bestow; as they were likewise partakers of the Abrahamic covenant, which was a pure covenant of grace: and hence were derived the spiritual and saving benefits of the Israelites.
XXVII. Fourthly. The godly, who are zealous for the truth, are not without cause offended, when they read in express terms, that “justification is promised in Scripture, as a blessing not of the ancient, but of the latter times,” Sum. Theol. cap. 69. §. 3: that “remission is promised, as a gift of the New Testament.” de fed. § 323. That “before Christ came, there was no remission.” Indag. nat. Sabbat. § 3. And, in a word, that “no sin was properly forgiven under the Old Testament.” Sum. Theol. cap. 96. § 26.
XXVIII. But he who speaks so, understands, by remission of sins and by justification, something more than the will to remit the punishment of sin, and to bestow eternal life for the sake of the mediator, received by faith. He means by these terms, “that then the will to punish sin is excluded, by appointing a sacrifice for sin; and the declaration and testimony included; that sin is blotted out and expiated:” as he explains himself in Animad. v. ad. Quæst. 83. Quæst. 68. This he has expressed more clearly, Sum. Theol. cap. 51. § 9. As to that justification which is the discharge and perfecting of the conscience, or the consolation arising on account of the cause of righteousness being now manifested, they had not that formerly. He has accurately and briefly explained the whole of his meaning in Comment. ad Col. 2. §. 110. “In sum, the difference of remission, according to the times, is thus: (1.) There was a remission of sins, and indeed a confession of as sin not yet expiated, and of righteousness not as yet brought in, but without bondage and a yoke; even before the law: previous to which sin was not imputed. (2.) There was a remission of sins with bondage, a yoke and ordinances, which exacted a hand-writing contrary to them, both evident and plain; and that under the law. (3.) There is a remission of sins, with a declaration of righteousness being brought in, and of the death of Christ, for the doing away of sin, even on account of the blotting out the hand-writing, and that under the New Testament.
XXIX. Against all this I offer the following considerations. As the scripture asserts, in express terms that the ancient fathers had remission of sins and justification, it is neither laudable nor prudent to deny it. For in what sense soever you do it, it looks at least like an attempt to gainsay God, and correct his language. Which ought to be very far from every one that loves and reveres God. Besides, the scripture is express as concerning remission of sins, Psal. 130:4, “but there is forgiveness with thee,” Exod. 34:7. “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin;” so concerning justification, James 2:21, “Abraham our father was justified,” and Rom. 4:2, 3. As God has declared that these had remission and justification, to what purpose then this is denied? You will allege you have done so in a different sense: but let us now consider whether in a right and a good one.
XXX. By remission of sins and justification you understand absolution, on account of the payment being actually made, together with an entire discharge from the hand-writing; such as certainly did not exist under the Old Testament. But I do not remember that any has proved, that the term justification is used in that sense any where in Scripture, to distinguish it from that absolution which the ancients enjoyed. For what is said Acts 13:39, “By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” is not to the purpose. There it is shown we have the truth in the saving grace of Christ, of which they had only the shadow in the external ceremonies of the law of Moses. There is no opposition made in that text between the Old and New Testament, only between internal communion with Christ and the external ceremonies. But it is beyond all controversy, that believers, even under the Old Testament, were partakers thereof. We have the term ἄφεσις, remission, once in that sense, Heb. 10:18, but once only, that I know of. In other respects ἄφεσις, is frequently asserted of the ancient fathers, as we shall presently show. Seeing therefore the Scripture frequently declares, that the ancient fathers enjoyed remission of sins; and either once, or but rarely ascribes remission with any annexed limitation to the New Testament, contradistinguished from the Old; it does not appear consistent with Christian prudence, so often to deny a remission under the Old. It had been better, in order to prevent offence, to say plainly and distinctly that such a mode or manner of remission did not obtain under the Old, as does now under the New Testament. Nor can any plead in excuse such Scripture expressions, which says, that the Old Testament had not benefits in such abundance, as John 7:39; for these expressions are not so common. And whoever in his discourses attempts to render Scripture more intelligible to the less experienced, ought not to frame his expressions by what is both more rare and obscure, but by the ordinary tenor of Scripture, in order to throw a light on the more obscure passages and phrases.
XXXI. In fine, we cannot approve his saying, that the hand-writing was hot exacted of the fathers before the law of Moses. For sacrifices and circumcision, which is not of Moses but of the fathers, John 7:22, belong to the ordinances, and were types of Christ to come, and implied a confession of guilt which was not then expiated, but are abolished by the cross of Christ. And if they made no part of the hand-writing, is there any reason why they may not be observed under the New Testament, at least in the manner in which they were observed before Moses? The brethren make the state of the Israelitish church too servile beyond the other periods, both the preceding and the following. But these do not properly concern this controversy.
XXXII. Many have also been offended, that Psalms 32: 51. 103, and the like, which exactly describe remission of sins and the justification of a sinner, should be thought to contain a prophecy concerning the New Testament times, as if the Psalmist, on that occasion, delighted himself in the anticipation of the joys of the New Testament times, Sum. Theol. c. 69. §. 24, and frequently elsewhere, especially in his commentaries on these psalms. These things seem very disagreeable, nor are they thought possible to proceed but from one, who denies that the fathers had remission of sin, together with that holy security of soul, which delights itself in God. Yet it is not to be denied, that the brethren elsewhere loudly protest, that they ascribe to the ancient fathers that remission of sins, which begets a full assurance of hope concerning happiness and a consolation, and a glorying even in death. And charity, which thinketh no evil, obligeth us to believe, that they speak thus from the heart. However, I look upon that method of interpretation to be very indecent, whereby things of a doctrinal nature, which have no respect to the different economy of times, are rashly transformed into prophecies concerning the New Testament. And I find nothing in those psalms, at least so far as they declare the grace of God in the remission of sins, which may not be applied to David, and to believers, his cotemporaries. Nor does any thing occur in the New Testament, which authorizes believers of the last times to appropriate these things to themselves beyond others. Let us consider each of them.
XXXIII. There is nothing in Psal. 32 that savours of prophecy. The title shows it is* a doctrinal ode, containing the doctrine concerning the true happiness of a sinner, as common to every age; and declares that this consists in remission of sins. Moreover, by his own example, he shows to whom that happiness belongs, and after what manner it may be obtained. This he proposes, ver. 5. for the imitation of others, and presses it, ver. 8. and the following, in very strong terms. Who, but one blinded with prejudice, can find a prophesy in all this? And certainly, when David pronounces the person blessed unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity, &c. I would fain know whether he includes himself in that blessedness? If he does, it is no prophecy of the New Testament times, which is what I contend for; but if he excludes himself from that happiness, he also excludes himself from the benefit of that justification, which is obtained by faith; but Paul brings in this happiness of David, Rom. 4:6, to prove the doctrine of justification by faith, and shows that Abraham was made partaker of it: but this I imagine none of the brethren will say. I would also fain know, what person speaks, ver. 3, 4? Is there here any kind of prosopopœia representing to us a believer of the New Testament? But what proof is there of such a fiction? What demonstration have we for it? Or does David himself speak? Certainly, the title of the psalm leads us to this: and there is nothing in these words which are not true concerning David, and which he does not elsewhere affirm of himself; see Psal. 6:2, 3. But if the prophet affirms of himself what is there spoken, of the grief and anxiety of a soul not yet sensible of God’s being reconciled, he certainly also speaks of himself, ver. 5. “and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin,” for these words cannot be separated from the foregoing. I entreat the pious reader to compare this commentary, by which such a plain psalm is turned to I know not what kind of drama, where, under the mask of David, quite different persons lie concealed, with the clear and savoury commentary of Calvin, and if I am not mistaken, he will evidently see the mask fall off.
XXXIV. Of the same nature is, Psal. 51. The inscription and occasion of it there mentioned, prove that it is so evidently applicable to David, that it is superfluous to add a single word. The learned author himself, in his commentaries, applies many things to David; and on the title of the psalm, he expressly says, “it is a prayer of David to God, after his conversation with the prophet Nathan:” and on ver. 1. “all are bound to have recourse to grace, and lay hold on that, and consequently, with David, to apply to themselves the grace of God.” Why then does he, elsewhere, wrest these things to the New Testament times? Is it, because ver. 7, he says, “sprinkle me with hyssop;” by which ceremony the atoning sacrifice of Christ was represented? But is not that very expression more applicable to a believer under the Old than under the New Testament? How could he more effectually express the activity of the ancient faith, which takes a distant prospect of a Saviour to come through a thick cloud of ceremonies? “The man of God knew,” says Musculus, “that the expiation of sin consists not in ceremonial actions; but is rather by the grace and Spirit of God in Christ to come.” Or is it because, ver. 18, he speaks of the sacrifices of righteousness, which were to be offered after the rebuilding of Jerusalem, or of the sacrifice of Christ, whereby he made the fullest satisfaction to the justice of God? But what can be inferred from this? Could not believers of the Old Testament sing praises for the benefits bestowed on them, and, at the same time, make mention of the future satisfaction of Christ, in virtue of which they obtained those blessings? And then why may we not, with Bucer and Musculus, understand by these sacrifices, those spiritual sacrifices of which Peter speaks, 1 Pet. 2:5, and which are abundantly offered to God when he does good to Zion, &c.; that is, enriches his church with his spiritual grace, as well under the Old as under the New Testament? Unless with Calvin, Mollerus, Piscator, the Dutch commentators and others, we had rather explain it of the legal sacrifices themselves, but offered in a proper manner, according to the divine prescription, and by faith, which is still farther from the sentiment of Cocceius.
XXXV. The hundred and third Psalm contains nothing which regards only the New Testament times. And the 19th and 22d verses are to no purpose produced, as if they treated concerning the kingdom of liberty and grace which was to extend through all the world. For it is not certain that these words are to be referred to the kingdom of heaven under the New Testament. There is nothing in them which may not be applied to the kingdom of God’s power or providence. “It is plain,” says Musculus, “these things are not spoken concerning the kingdom of grace, but of the kingdom of God’s power, authority and dominion. But was it not likewise true under the Old Testament, that “Jehovah hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and that his kingdom ruleth over all?” Was the state of the New Testament times represented to Micaiah, when he saw Jehovah sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him? 1 Kings 22:19. Did Nebuchadnezzar also prophesy of the New Testament times, when he called God, “king of heaven,” and ascribed to him an “everlasting kingdom over all the inhabitants of the earth?” Dan. 4:36, 37. Can it be said under the New Testament alone, “Bless the Lord all his works.” But the psalmist, Psa. 148, even under the Old Testament, invited every thing in heaven and in earth to that duty. I omit other passages, lest, in a thing so plain, I should be charged with a too superstitious exactness. However, I will not deny that those things which are spoken concerning the kingdom of God’s power, which extends itself over the whole earth, and concerning his eminent majesty over all creatures, do illustriously shine forth in the kingdom of liberty and grace, as Mollerus has likewise observed. But yet there is no reason to turn all this into a mere prophecy concerning the time to come. Well says Amyraldus, in his preface to this psalm, “there is nothing here which can be properly typical, or which, by any mystical interpretation, can be referred to the fulness of time.” But should we grant that the prophet, filled with the abundance of divine grace, was, from the sense thereof, moved to sing, towards the close of the psalm, concerning the kingdom of liberty and grace; does it therefore follow, that what he had before sung of the bounty of God towards himself, and of the pardon of all his sins, was not applicable to himself, but only to believers under the New Testament?
XXXVI. What has also perplexed some, is that laboured distinction, and so often inculcated, of πὰρεσις, passing by, and ἄφεσις, pardon, which is usually pretended to be of extraordinary use in divinity. But they generally explain it thus: that πάρεσις denotes a passing over, a passing by, a concealing, whence it comes, that God does not punish sins, nor has a purpose of exacting them of the sinner; nevertheless he does not declare that satisfaction has been made, but on the contrary, reserves to himself a power to call the sinner before him, that is, to remind him that the debt is not yet cancelled, and to exact of himself the hand-writing, by which he may own, as by the subscription of his own hand, that guilt is not yet abolished and expiated. This the Scripture would call παριὲναι, to pass by, to which answers החדיש, to be silent, Psa. 50:21, and Esth. 7:4. They distinguish this passing by two ways. 1st. Before the law of Moses, when God was altogether silent, and sin not imputed, by exacting the hand-writing. 2dly. After the law, when God called the sinner before him, and demanded the hand-writing. But by ἄφεσις, properly so called, they understand that pardon of sin by which God declares that Christ has made satisfaction to his justice, and pronounces the meritorious cause of the right to life to be now actually in being, affirms sin to be blotted out, tears the hand-writing, and finally gives a discharge; as if he should say, “I have received, I will not give in pledge.” All this we find in de fed. §. 339. Sum. Theol. c. li. §. 11. Animadvers. ad Quæst. 83, Quæst. 68. Ad Rom. 3. §. 72. More Nebo. p. 65, &c.
XXXVII. On this I observe, that in the main there can be no controversy, if it be allowed that the guilt of sin did not lie upon believers, in such a manner, that they, on supposition of Christ’s suretiship, should be forced to bear the punishment of it in their own person. So far, indeed, they were obliged to remember: 1st. That, according to the law, they are debtors. 2dly. Though on account of the covenant-engagement of the Messiah, they are absolved from the penalty, yet as that engagement was not yet actually fulfilled, so far their guilt was not yet expiated; but that it continues to lie on him who was still their surety, from whom it will demand sufferings and death; and as they themselves, by the decree of election, are one mystical body with the surety, so far it lies upon them to give satisfaction, not in their own person, but by the surety. Just as the catechism speaks, “we are to make payment by another.” If so, as I apprehend, this is what the brethren mean, none will dissent from them. But then their boasting of the extraordinary usefulness of their distinction will appear groundless, since they say nothing but what all orthodox divines either have said, or would say.
XXXVIII. Moreover that distinction cannot be proved from the terms πάρεσις and ἄφεσις. For, it is certain that ἄφεσις is ascribed to believers before the actual expiation of sin, Lev. 5:10, “και ἀφεθήσεται αὐτῶ, and it shall be forgiven him,” and so in other places. And least any should cavil, that this is meant of a typical forgiveness, which yet was the symbol of the true, and to which the august term, ἄφεσις, seems less applicable than to that real forgiveness the ancients enjoyed, I add from Psa. 85:2. “Ἀφἦκας τας ἀνομίας τῶ λαῶ σου, thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people.” I deny not, that this psalm was to be sung by the Israelites, when they were to be converted to Christ the Lord; but I think it cannot be proved, that it was not sung by believers when they returned from the Babylonish captivity, with an application to their condition at that time. To omit other considerations, it is beyond all exception, that Christ, before his satisfaction, bestowed ἄφεσις, forgiveness, on some, Matt. 9:2. “Ἀφὲωνται σόι αἱ ἁμαρτίαι σου, thy sins be forgiven thee.” In like manner, Luke 7:47.
XXXIX. But we have not yet seen it proved, that πάρεσις signifies passing by, concealing, silence. Budœus, indeed, in Comment. Ling. Græce. p. 286, shows that παριέναι is sometimes to pass over; but that is in a quite different sense, for he quotes a passage from Xenophon, lib. 4. Hellen: “Είπών αὐτῶ μηδέυα παριεναι εἰς ακροπολιν, commanding him not to pass or send over any into the citadel. Moreover, he says, that παριἔναι, is to indulge, to promise, to forgive; and Hesychius speaks to the same purpose. Παρίημι is σνγχωρῶ, yield, αφιημι, remit; and he explains πάρεσις by ἄφεσιρ, remission, συγχωρησις, concession, pardon, so far are these words from being distinguished, that the one may be explained by the other. I am aware that a certain author says, that the authority of Hesychius does not move him, because he had before his eyes this passage of Paul, and explained it from the subject matter itself, on which Paul is speaking, Mor. Nebo. p. 29. But neither do I imagine, the celebrated person would have us to be moved by his own authority. Hesychius is no contemptible author. Let us hear the judgment of Dan. Heinsius, Aristarch. Sac. p. 9, Edit. 8vo. In Hesychius is contained, not only the learning of all Greece, but also of the east, p. 14. A grammarian of surprising and profound learning, p. 18. A grammarian, who is an abyss of the ancient erudition, p. xi. 6. Hesychius is no mean author, whose glosses are certainly for the most part, adapted to explain the Greek authors, and especially the Septuagint. And if Hesychius had this passage of Paul before his eyes, and explained it from the subject matter, and from his acquaintance with a language which was his mother tongue, certainly he has not explained it amiss.
XL. The learned author, indeed says, that παριέναι answers to החדיש, to be silent; but does not prove it. He quotes Esth. 7:4; but παριέναι is not there, in the copies I have. That of Walton and the London in 8vo, A. 1653 have παριήκουσα. However that I may not conceal any thing, I have been made to understand, that it is in another copy. But suppose it was in them all, what is it to the purpose? For, I had been silent, does not there signify, I had passed over that injury unpunished, but I had in silence submitted myself to that indignity, nor troubled the king with any petition of mine. By which our παρεσις gains nothing. And then also when God, Psa. 50:21, says to the wicked, “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence,” which the Septuagint translate τᾶυτα εποιησας καί ἑσίγησα; there is no such thing intended by that term, like that παρεσις, remission, which Paul describes and the brethren insist upon. For, that is the absolution of believers from the penalty, on account of Christ’s suretiship. But this silence is the deferring the punishment of the wicked, in order to compensate its slowness by its severity; things widely different. I cannot conceive, with what judgment the celebrated author quotes these things here, in which though even the word πάρεσις, were to be found, yet certainly, not the thing itself, which he would have signified by that term.
XLI. The learned author should have also more fully explained, in what manner God kept silence in former times. For he did not keep silence with respect to sin, when he demanded the hand-writing of the sinner, and charged him with guilt not yet expiated, which according to this famous author, was done by the law of Moses; but as I think, by the first institution of sacrifices; and if these were types of Christ’s sacrifice, as doubtless they were, they at the same time signified, that the true expiatory sacrifice was not yet offered. Neither did God keep silence as to pardon, but proclaimed the testament of grace, whereby he assured believers, that, on account of the Messiah’s covenant-engagement, he would never require them to pay a ransom for their own sins. What is then that important silence, on account of which that act of God towards the ancients may be called πάρεσις?
XLII. We conclude, that the distinction of πάρεσις and ἄφεσις, so much commended, is not of that importance, as that on that account the academical chair, the pulpit, and the press should be set on fire many years past, and the giddy vulgar be rent into factions thereby. Since it cannot be denied, that the remission which the fathers enjoyed, may, from the practice of the Greek language, be called, and was actually called by Greek authors. αφεσις: and no passage can be produced, where it is called πάρεσις, in the sense now forced upon us.
XLIII. But the illustration given by the excellent James Altingius, merits our regard; who Heptad. 2. Dissert. 2. §. 92. Seq., speaks almost to the following purpose. Three things are required to a full and perfect αφεσις, forgiveness; namely, the taking away, the transferring, and the expiating of sin. The taking away of sin is that act whereby the guilt is removed from the offender; that though he has sinned, yet he is not under the obligation to punishment. This is pointed out by the term, נשא, when it signifies to remove, and take away, Exod. 34:7; Psa. 99:8; Psal. 32:5; Psa. 85:2; Psa. 25:18. The transferring of sin in that act, whereby the guilt, which is removed from the offender, is transferred to the surety, that he may be obliged to answer for it; as was done in the case of a sacrifice, by the imposition of hands, which then bore and carried the guilt. This he thinks, was pointed out by the word חעביר, he caused to pass, he transferred; 2 Sam. 12:13, when David said I have sinned, or I am guilty, against the Lord; Nathan answers, Jehovah also העביר, hath put away (caused to pass) thy sin, guilt, thou shalt not die. And the angel, the Lord, Zech. 3:4. says; behold, העברתי, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee. Which words ascribe this transferring to God, as the Creditor, and to Christ, as the surety. But it is also what the debtor may claim; whence David prays for it, 2 Sam. 24:10. “And now I beseech thee O Lord, העבר take away (cause to pass) the iniquity of thy servant.” And Solomon, Eccl. 11:10, because we must give an account of all our actions to God as the last judgment, enjoins us העבר, to put away (cause to pass) evil from our flesh. Which cannot otherwise be done, (as the evil done can on no account be undone,) than by transferring or transporting sin. And he imagines, that this transferring is what the apostle calls παρεσις, remission. The expiation of sin is that act, by which, the guilt, removed from the offender, and transferred to the surety, is expiated by him, who bears all the punishment to which the sinner was bound, so that divine justice shall have nothing more to demand, much less to inflict. This is expressed by the word כפל, to expiate, to cover with the blood of payment, that the writing of sin may be cancelled, and no longer appear. This last act is at length followed by a complete ἄφεσις, remission, which absolutely discharges from every demand, either upon the debtor, or the surety; so that after this, there is no further any occasion for a sacrifice for sin, Heb. 10:18, all remembrance of it being entirely effaced, ver. 3, compared with ver. 17. Having thus explained these things, the very learned author proceeds as follows. Under the Old Testament, believers were without this last degree of expiation, because the time appointed was not yet come, and consequently the ἄφεσις, forgiveness, which follows upon it. Their sins were not expiated, and the hand-writing remained in its full force uncancelled, as also the remembrance of transgression was often repeated, &c. All which were at length abolished by the death, cross, and the blood of Christ’s cross. But yet these believers were not without the two former degrees of taking away and transferring; which are elegantly joined together by Job chap. 7:20, 21, “I have sinned, what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? Why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?” וסה לא חשא בשעי ותעפיר את עוני, and why dost thou not pardon (take away) my transgression, and take away (cause to pass) mine iniquity? Take away from me the guilt, under the weight of which I shall otherwise faint and sink; and transfer it to another, who is able to bear it; namely, the surety; seeing, by all means satisfaction must be made. The very learned author prosecutes this subject at further length, at which none will repent having perused. And indeed I always looked upon the subject thus explained to be true and sound doctrine, which I likewise publicly testified. My only scruple was, whether this clear and explicit doctrine relating to the transferring of sin to the score of the Messiah, could agree with the simplicity of the Old Testament, and was generally thus known to the ancient believers; and likewise whether it could be solidly proved by the word העביר. Should any think me too scrupulous in hesitating about this, I am not now inclined obstinately to contradict him; but have I, on that account, deserved so unkind a treatment at the hands of the learned author, as may be seen Heptos. 3. Dissert. 4. §. 27, and Heptos 4. Dissert. 3. §. 14. I am indeed sorry, that such resentment dwells in heavenly breasts; however I think, that I must take care lest either the passions of others, or my own, should at any time cloud my mind in the discernment of truth. Sacred candour! descend and gently glide into our soul, that, with the greatest cheerfulness, we may receive what is well said, even from those who are displeased with us: and with equal readiness disclaim what we ourselves may have less accurately advanced.
XLIV. Fifthly. We dare not deny, that adoption, in a certain respect and in some degree of eminence, may be accounted a blessing of the New Testament; so far namely, as it imports that condition, not whereby believers are distinguished from the children of the devil and of wrath, and constituted heirs of divine grace and glory, (which is a dignity common to all believers in all ages) but whereby believers of the New Testament are preferred to children, who differ not much from servants. In which sense the apostle ascribes adoption eminently to the fulness of time, Gal. 4:4–7. Where Calvin comments thus on ver. 5. “For even the Fathers under the Old Testament were assured of their adoption; but did not then so fully enjoy their privilege. Here therefore adoption is taken, just as redemption, Rom. 8:23, for possession itself. For, as at the last day, we shall enjoy the fruit of our redemption; so now we enjoy the fruit of adoption, of which the holy Fathers, before the coming of Christ were not partakers.” And on verse 7, “wherefore thou art no more a servant but a son;” that is, in the Christian church there is no longer any state of servitude, but the condition of sons. He again therefore speaks of the difference between the Old and New Testament. Even the ancients were the sons of God, and heirs through Christ; but we are in a manner quite different; because we have Christ present, and therefore enjoy his benefits. Consult what we have more largely explained Book 3. chap. x. And if I mistake not, this is the very meaning of the brethren in commenting on Gal. 4. §. 58. Let it only be observed, that adoption is not said to be so peculiar to the New Testament, as if the Old was entirely destitute of it. For the apostle presupposes, that even those, who were in bondage under the elements of the world, were heirs.
XLV. But what is said elsewhere, de fed. §. 352, is very harsh: “Though the saints under the Old Testament received the sanctifying Spirit, yet he did not work in them that affection, which was either worthy of God as a Father, or of them as children; but there was in them a spirit of bondage to fear. On the contrary, they who are under the New Testament, do immediately, upon believing, receive the promise of the Holy Spirit, Gal. 3:14, that is, the Spirit of sons, which was promised, and whose it is to cry, Abba, Father, Rom. 8:15.
XLVI. On which I observe, 1st, It is supposed without proof, that the Spirit of bondage was peculiar to the Old Testament, for even under the New, those effects of the Spirit are observable, which are to be referred to fear and to bondage. Even at this day, it engenders terror in the elect, because they look upon themselves to be in very bad condition, while they live in sin, nor can possibly be otherwise, till by a true faith they are reconciled to God, Luke 15:17. Moreover, by this terror it drives them to lay hold on the fortress of salvation in Christ, 2 Cor. 5:11. By the same terror also it restrains them from sin, and extinguishes the desire of sinning in them. In fine, it very often redoubles this terror, racking their conscience with anguish and pain, and leading them in a way just by the brink of hell, in which rarely with joy and exultation, generally with a kind of anxiety of a trembling heart, yet in sincerity they can serve God. Just as at this day those whose office it is familiarly to inquire into their state, find believers very often affected. It cannot be denied, that in all these there is fear; nay, that there is something which proceeds from bondage, and is, in some measure, different from that ingenuous performance of duty which only arises from the cheerfulness of a heart actuated by love. Why then may not the Spirit who works these things even under the New Testament, be called the Spirit of bondage to fear?
XLVII. 2dly, It is also falsely asserted, that those affections which the spirit of bondage formerly wrought in the saints, were unworthy of God as a Father, and of the saints as children. For as those affections were holy, and the effects of the sanctifying Spirit whom God bestows upon none but his own children, nay, as they were most certain signs of their adoption, and of their right to the inheritance, it is to entertain unworthy thoughts of God their Father, and of his children, to account them unworthy of both. True indeed it is, that in those affections of the saints there was a kind of relation, like that of servants to a master; yet that by no means destroyed, but only in some measure modified the relation of sons to a father; as even at this day God is held forth to us under both these relations.
XLVIII. 3dly, The sanctifying Spirit, absolutely as sanctifying, which was in the ancient believers, ought to be distinguished from the spirit of bondage, as it officially begets fear. Though therefore the affections produced by the spirit of bondage, as such, were inconsistent with the most free condition of sons of God; yet the effects of the sanctifying Spirit, in all the elect, are a sincere love to God, and obedience arising from that love, with a complacency and delight in his commandments: now can there be any reason why these may not be declared highly worthy of the saints as sons of God?
XLIX. 4thly, It is contrary to all reason to say, that the ancients had not the spirit of sons, whereby they cried Abba Father. For this spirit is not so contrary to the spirit of bondage, as if it were not possible for both to reside together. The contrary to which we have proved already, book iii. chap. 11, §. 9. As this Spirit therefore is always operative suitable to its condition, so it wrought those affections even in the believers of the Old Testament, which were worthy of God as a Father, and likewise taught them to cry, “My Father,” Job 34:26, Is. 63:16.
L. Sixthly, It is not consistent with that divine grace, which was bestowed even on the ancients, to deny that they had peace of conscience. On which head we find written, on Heb. 10. §. 15, as follows: “Conscience cannot be easy before a man is expiated by a sacrifice (with and by which we ought to approach unto God), and knows, that in confidence of that sacrifice he approaches to God. For it is by this that the conscience is at last calmed and perfected. And till then a man must of necessity have a conscience both accusing him before God, and separating from all communion with him.
LI. And yet the same person who speaks thus, openly protests that he by no means deprives the ancient believers of their assurance of hope and the joy of a conscience that gloried in God. For he thus speaks elsewhere on Psa. 51. §. 15: “This is the wisdom of God, that he suffers not sinful man to perish, and for that purpose he gives the sinner a testimony of his righteousness, and the assurance of the hope concerning eternal happiness; so as with an uninterrupted joy to bear all crosses and afflictions, and glorify God, and give him thanks, in life and in death. This wisdom of God, as Nathan had notified to him (David) by the word, so God had sealed it to him in his very inmost soul.
LII. These, indeed, are things very difficult, if at all possible to be reconciled. For where there is a conscience of sin, accusing man before God, and separating from all communion with him, how, in that case, can there be a testimony of righteousness given the sinner by God? Again, where there is the assurance of hope concerning eternal happiness and an uninterrupted joy, what can there be wanting in that case to a calmed and perfected conscience? But let us explain what we are to determine concerning the former assertion.
LIII. 1st, The Scripture nowhere says, that the ancient believers had not peace of conscience; but on the contrary, that, from an assurance of the favour of God towards them they slept secure, Psa. 3:5; that, with full assurance of faith, they gloried in their present grace, Psa. 4:3, and with the same assurance of hope expected future glory, Psa. 17:15. 2dly, Nor does it any where say, that believers under the Old Testament had the conscience of sin accusing them before God, and separating from all communion with him. But on the contrary, that conscience bore them witness, that sin was forgiven, Psa. 32:5, and Psa. 103:3, 10, 12. And how could sin accuse them before God, and separate from his communion, seeing it was charged to the surety, and was to be exacted of him? 3dly, The same scripture testifies, that believers under the Old Testament acted what the redeemed act, and glorified and rejoiced in God. Psa. 106:7, 8: “Return into thy rest, O my soul, for Jehovah hath dealt bountifully with thee. Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.”
LIV. Heb. 10:1, is here misapplied; for the apostle does not there deny that the ancient believers had a conscience perfected; only denies, that there was perfection from the law, which had but the shadow of good things to come; denies that the sacrifices, which were offered year by year continually, could make the comers thereunto perfect, that is, as Pareus says well, “sanctify and save them.” But what the law could not, the grace of the surety, of which they were partakers, both could and actually did effect. 5thly, The conscience of sin, of which ver. 2 speaks, is not of sin as accusing before God, and excluding from all communion with him (for the suretiship of Christ apprehended by faith, was a bar to sin’s effecting that), but it is a conscience of sins, as not yet actually expiated, and which were not to be expiated by the sacrifices of beasts. These were therefore repeated, that believers might testify that they only used them as symbols, which God appointed, but did not expect to obtain remission but from the suretiship and future sacrifice of the Messiah.
LV. 6thly, Believers under the Old Testament had not, indeed, that calm or peace of conscience which arises from the ransom being fully paid by the surety, nor such a discharge as by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Yet they had in Christ’s suretiship engagement truly and fully what was sufficient to calm the conscience, for by that they might be assured all their sins were blotted out of their account, and laid to the charge of Christ, who had also taken them upon himself, and made himself a debtor to undergo the punishment of them; and indeed, in such a manner that they should never afterwards be charged to believers, nor God ever “have any will to punish their sins in their own persons,” as the learned author speaks, Sum. Theol. c. 35. And why were not these things sufficient to produce a like composure of mind, nay, and a tranquillity almost equal to that which arises from the ransom actually paid? For believers are as much exempted from all obligation to personal satisfaction, whether the ransom were to be paid, or was actually paid by the surety.
LVI. Seventhly, It seems likewise to tend to undervalue the Old Testament church, that it is said to have been, in an especial manner, subject to the dominion of angels. Concerning this, he says on Heb. 2 §. 39: “The former world, that is, the people of the land of Canaan, was subject to angels, being subject to the word spoken by angels, and to the dispositions and appointments of angels, as well the heavenly as those that sat in Moses’s seat, and who, in like manner, are called Gods. For the heavenly angels, who assisted at the promulgation of the law, were the avengers or defenders thereof, as they were the guardians of the authority of the elders.” Here then they present us with two sorts of angels; the heavenly, who are Spirits; the earthly, who are men sitting in the seat of Moses. The people of Canaan is said to be subject to both: to the heavenly,—1st, As the law was published by them. 2dly, As they were constituted the avengers or defenders of the law. 3dly, As the guardians of the authority of the elders. To the earthly, as the people was obliged to apply to them, to seek the testimony and the law, and to obey them, just as if God himself in person had published his commands with an audible voice. And on account of this dominion both the earthly and the heavenly angels were called Gods.
LVII. I answer, the source of this error is a misinterpretation of what the apostle says, Heb. 2:5, where, indeed, it is denied that this habitable world is put in subjection unto angels; but this is no ways asserted of the former. And from the denial of the one, the affirmation of the other cannot be concluded. The apostle’s whole discourse is with a view to gain the greatest authority to the doctrine of Christ. For this purpose he had, in the foregoing chapter, described in magnificent encomiums the excellence of his person: he then established the great pre-eminence of the gospel above the law. And now he urges that Christ was to be obeyed, because the Father had given him the government of the whole world, which is an honour not at all conferred on angels. He speaks of the world to come, not in contradistinction to the past, as if angels exercised dominion in that as Christ does in this, but because it is a part of Christ’s exaltation to be appointed Lord of that world by God, a world far more excellent than the past. This then is the apostle’s reasoning. We are, with the greatest reverence to attend to the word of Christ, because he is appointed Lord of the whole world; and indeed, especially at that time, wherein the state of all things, and particularly of the church is the most perfect; but no angel had ever such an honour conferred upon him. How do you torture the word when you extort the subjection of the ancient church unto angels from this text!
LVIII. 2dly, The law published by angels was the decalogue, which we are bound to own as the rule of our obedience, equally with the Israelites. Are we then also on that account subjected to angels? 3dly, The part which the angels acted in promulgating the law was purely ministerial, and therefore implies no dominion. John was not therefore subject to an angel, because the apocalypse was sent and signified to him by an angel, Rev. 1:1. 4thly, I cannot see how it can be proved that the avenging the law was enjoined upon angels under the Old Testament by any special command, which is revoked under the New. And the brethren themselves will not deny, that the words, Psa. 35:5, 6, belong even to the times of the New Testament, and to the enemies of Christ. The punishment of rebels, the chastisement of the miscarriages of the righteous, the defence of those under unjust oppression, argue, indeed, the ministry, not the empire of angels. And what has the Old Testament in this respect, to which the New cannot show something similar? For here also the apostle, 1 Cor. 11:10, 1 Tim. 5:21, urges the observance of decency in the church because of the presence of the angles. But it is worth while to hear Cocceius himself commenting to this purpose on John 1:51: “Moreover, that angels were present with the Christian church, appears from the preservation, enlargement, and purging of the Christian church, and from the astonishing protection of those that came out of Babylon.” And a little after: “As he subjects our members to our will, and inspires us with a good will; so he also makes his will known to his angels, and sanctifies their will, and if there be any thing that regards the good of man he inclines them to it. Thus while he reigns in the church, he reigns in the angels; and the same Spirit is in the angels which is in the church; as in the vision of Ezekiel, the same Spirit was in the wheels, which was in the living creatures, Ezek. 1:20.” Let us add what he says in Disput. ad. Matt. xxiv. Thes. 38: “The angels assist the preaching of the Gospel, no less than they were solicitous that the law should be observed for the determined time.” 5thly, I know not on what ground it is so confidently asserted, that angels were formerly, in a peculiar manner, guardians of the authority of the elders, unless, perhaps, on that general one, that God usually employed them to keep up the order he had established upon earth; but they cease not to do this under the New Testament. 6thly, They are called gods, because of the excellency of their nature and office, and of the image of God in that respect; not because of any empire they had over the people of God, of which they are now deprived; for Paul, in his time, called them “thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers,” Col. 1:16.
LIX. 7thly, ‘Tis scarce needful to mention any thing about men sitting in the seat of Moses, who are called earthly angels. For who will deny that in the commonwealth of Israel, which was a royal priesthood, God appointed a magistracy, that was both civil and ecclesiastical, with proper authority, in order to see to the due observance of his law? And I shall easily grant, that this magistracy received authority to deal somewhat more severely with the church, while she was an infant heir, under tutors and guardians, than can now well suit with an advanced age, and days of greater liberty. But I do not see who can prove that the apostle, in the quoted passage to the Hebrews, treats of them under the name of angels; especially as in the whole of this discourse he constantly means by angels those ministering spirits, whom God commands to be ready to serve his beloved people, Heb. 1:14. And then even the New Testament church hath its angels, of which in the Revelations. Shall we also affirm that therefore it is subject to angels? 8thly and lastly, The name god, is common to any civil magistrate, who dispenses justice in God’s name, even in pecuniary causes; as appears from Exod. 21:6, and Exod. 22:28, Deut. 19:7. That notion, therefore, about the church of the Old Testament being in a peculiar manner subject to angels, falls to the ground.
LX. 8thly, It also deserves our inquiry whether we are to reckon the continual fear of temporal death, to which believers of that time were all their life subject, among the defects of the Old Testament? Concerning this fear the brethren argue to this purpose. They distinguish between a good and an evil fear of death. This last is attended with a horror and hatred of the holiness of God, proceeding from an evil conscience, in every unregenerate sinner, who knows and reflects, that God is judge: the former again is twofold; either common or peculiar to the saints under the Old Testament: common in all those that account this life and freedom from misery, to be an extraordinary gift of God, and which may be profitable both to themselves and others. This fear is not unbecoming the pious, nor renders them miserable. That which in an especial manner belonged to the Israelites, the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, arose from causes which were peculiar to them: namely, 1st, From an affection for the land of Canaan, which was given them, with a promise of long life therein, as a pledge of the heavenly inheritance. And therefore it was necessary that believers should desire to enjoy that pledge. 2dly, From a desire and hope of seeing, in due time, the Saviour in that land. 3dly, From the bondage to the elements of the world, to which they were tied down by that law, that if on set purpose they neglected it, they became, as transgressors of the law, obnoxious to temporal and eternal punishments; but if, through infirmity or thoughtlessness, they acted against the ordinances, they had reason to apprehend immediate death to be inflicted upon them by the hand of God; terrible examples of which were sometimes set before their eyes. This fear was good, proceeding from the love of a good conscience and the grace of God, and made them, with diligence and care, perform the service of the ceremonies; for the godly had this all their life long. But they were delivered from it by the death of Christ. And this Paul is thought to have declared, Heb. 2:15. This is the sum of what is almost everywhere repeated, and more summarily explained, Animadv. ad Quæst, de V. and N. T. Quæst. 31.
LXI. For my own part, I will not disown that there was something in the rigour of the Mosaic polity that had a tendency to make them afraid of some dreadful death. Heb. 10:28: “He that despised Moses’ law, died without mercy, under two or three witnesses.” God himself commanded that such as these should be punished with death, Lev. 24:16, Numb. 15:34; and sometimes made examples of those who had not very carefully observed some circumstantials by a death altogether extraordinary, Lev. 10:2, 1 Sam. 6:20, 2 Sam. 6:7–9. This, especially if it was just before them, or had lately happened, could not but strike a terror, and excite the righteous to take diligent heed lest they should split on that rock. But it is not probable that they, who walked in a good conscience before God and knew they had to do with a most merciful Father, were tormented all their life with the continual dread of death; for examples of such rigour were rare; but instances of paternal indulgence common and conspicuous before their eyes.
LXII. True it is, long life in the land of Canaan was a pledge of eternal life in heaven; and it was necessary to love this pledge as it pleased God to grant the enjoyment of it. But I cannot conceive how the taking away of the external and perishing pledge was to be so much dreaded, when they were to obtain an eternal good in its room, of which they had only an earnest in the pledge, since the godly were assured of receiving the heavenly inheritance immediately upon and even by death. For the exchange of the typical for the true and heavenly inheritance is not to be dreamed, but rather to be desired and longed for.
LXIII. Pious persons under the Old Testament, who deprecated an untimely death, are not said to have done so from any fond love to the earthly pledge, but from a desire of glorifying God among the living, Psa. 6:4, 5, Isa. 38:18, 19. This exercise of piety made the psalmist’s life agreeable and truly worthy of the name of life, Psal. 18:17. And then they were public persons, who were fond of longer lease of life, not so much out of a regard to themselves, as to the kingdom and church, whose advantages they watched over. However, it is not to be doubted but all the saints, whenever they considered themselves separately, and compared the imperfections of this life with the perfections of the future, desired to be dissolved, and be with God in glory. For this was then to them, as it is now to us, far better.
LXIV. The people of Israel in general had hopes of seeing Christ in their own land; but this was not the case of every individual. Nor was it lawful for those who lived in Canaan many ages before the coming of the Messiah, to expect such a long term of life, as to hope to see Christ’s day; nor be struck with horror at the thoughts of death, that perhaps might cut off all those hopes. Those who, actuated by a higher spirit, had more exalted apprehensions than the vulgar, longed, indeed, to see those things which the disciples of Christ saw, Matt. 13:17, and searched diligently what, or what manner of time the prophetic Spirit, which foretold those things, should happen, 1 Pet. 1:11. But I know not from whence the brethren could have learned that every one in particular, whom they make subject to the fear of death, or that the generality of believers without distinction, expected, perhaps, in their time, the coming of Christ, and that hence arose their horror of death. Peter speaks the contrary, ver. 12, “that it was revealed unto them, that not unto themselves but unto us they did minister those things.” Can the brethren then mention so much as a single instance of any, who on that account is said to have been afraid of death?
LXV. These hypotheses are groundlessly built on the saying of Paul, Heb. 2:15, where the fruit of Christ’s death is said to be the “delivering them who through fear of death were all their life time subject to bondage.” For 1st, What reason can persuade, nay admit that the fruit of that death, for undergoing which it was necessary Christ should become man, should be restrained to the Jews alone, the inhabitants of Canaan? For the benefits of Christ’s death belongs to all the elect from the beginning to the end of the world, and the apostle is here treating of all those that are sanctified by Christ, whom Christ calls his brethren, and the children given him by the Father?
LXVI. 2dly, It is without proof inferred, that those here described are considered as believers already; since it is more suitable to imagine, that the most miserable state of the elect is here delineated while they were themselves out of Christ. For, during all that time they must needs be tormented in a fearful manner with the dread of death, whenever they think of God as a judge; and unless the death of Christ had intervened, that dread would continue upon them all their life long.
LXVII. 3dly, We are here by bondage under no necessity to understand bondage to the elements of the world; for as the apostle a little before had said, that the devil is destroyed by the death of Christ, what is more natural than to explain what he now speaks of bondage, of that wretched condition of men when under the tyranny of the devil? And surely it is a much greater blessing to be delivered from the bondage of the devil, than from that to the elements of the world; and as both is a fruit of Christ’s death, why shall we restrict the apostle’s meaning to the least, and exclude the greatest? Besides, there is no such difference between the fear of death and the bondage of the devil, as to make it improbable for them to be joined together in the same discourse, for the one is cherished by the other; the bondage of the devil begets the fear of death, and the fear of death, in an unsanctified conscience, heightens the hatred of God, and consequently the bondage of sin and the devil.
LXVIII. 4thly, The term death is most unreasonably restricted to temporal death. The apostle argues in this manner: It was necessary for Christ to become man, because he was to die. He was to die, 1st, That by his death he might destroy the devil, who had the power of death. 2dly, That he might deliver his people from death itself and from the fear of it. What can be more plain than that the whole of that death is here meant, over which the devil has power, both temporal and eternal, especially the last? The fear of temporal death, as the brethren describe it, was good and holy in itself, only somewhat troublesome and uneasy; and can it be thought probable, that the apostles, when speaking of the effects of Christ’s death, should explain in very magnificent terms the freedom from a thing good and holy in itself, because it produced some uneasiness, and omit the deliverance from that which comprehends all evils and miseries? And yet so form his discourse as if he seemed to have spoke rather of that which is the greatest, than of that which is the least evil, and what he alone intended?
LXIX. 5thly and lastly, I could also wish it were explained, what is that universality of saints, denoted by the term, ὅσοι, which Christ delivered from the fear of losing the pledge by death. Were the saints who died before Christ of this number? That does not appear, for they are supposed to be troubled by the fear of death all their life time. And yet, if I mistake not, they were delivered from this when once they died. What then did the death of Christ profit them in this respect? Are we then to understand those saints who lived at the time of Christ’s death? The brethren seem to intend this when they say: “As many as bore bondage with that disposition, were delivered by Christ when he died,” Ad. Heb. 2 § 89. But who are those? Not believers of the Gentiles, who had no country given them for a pledge. It must then be the Jews. But it could not be all of them. For many of them lived out of the land in a voluntary exile without enjoying that pledge. How greatly then is this fruit of Christ’s death limited? Let us suppose it was they who, after the death of Christ, received Christ by faith in the land of Canaan that constituted this universality. But how were these delivered from the fear of losing the pledge? Was it because after Christ’s death the land ceased to be a pledge, and was shortly to be given up to the Gentiles to a total destruction? Is this the meaning of the brethren? How flat and mean! Well says the celebrated interpreter on Zech. 9 §. 23: “They voluntarily renounced the inheritance of the land of Canaan, and exchanged it in order to partake of the heavenly Jerusalem, and the inheritance of the world.” But neither will this remove all the difficulty; for Paul speaks of those who all their life time were subject to the fear of death, which the brethren themselves at other times urge; but they whom we suppose to be delivered by Christ, cease not to live when delivered from the fear of death. I beg of these learned persons, again and again to consider, in what intricate perplexity they entangle themselves, while, without any just ground, they quit the trodden plain road.
LXX. Ninthly, It is most of all grievous, and tends to stir up the resentment of the meekest person, that believers under the Old Testament are often, and that at great length, said to have been under wrath and the curse. And indeed this assertion is shocking to tender ears, and unusual in the reformed churches. The brethren took occasion to speak thus from Gal. 3:10: “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” Which passage they think is to be explained as if it was there said, Whoever are subject to the ceremonial law, bear testimony that the curse is not yet removed by Christ, nor the blessing yet actually obtained. For, though they are free from the curse belonging to the wicked, and partakers of the blessing of the sons of God, yet, by the use of the ceremonies, they openly avow that the meritorious cause of the blessing was not yet come. But let us hear their own words. In Comm. ad Gal. 3 § 104: “The ancient interpreters have here departed a little from the meaning of the apostle, not adverting how believers and the saints of the Old Testament could be said to be under the curse, for they think it necessarily follows, that it is not possible for him who is under the curse to be saved. In this they are mistaken. For, according to the apostle, ‘to be under the curse,’ signifies here not to be without the covenant of grace, but to undergo something on account of the curse, which was not yet blotted out by the payment of the price, either for the sake of the hand-writing against themselves on account of sin, and of the curse annexed thereto, and so far the sake of God, who neither did nor was to punish their sins, as if he were to pardon them; and who had promised life to believers, that he might be sanctified by declaring his righteousness which he was to manifest in Christ.”
LXXI. But though this explication sufficiently provides for the salvation of the fathers; yet I think it harsh, and very far from the scope of the apostle, and the language of Scripture. The scope of the apostle is to refute the opinion of the false apostles, by which they disturbed the quiet of the churches of Galatia, as if faith in Christ was not alone sufficient to justification, but that the Gentiles were bound to observe the Mosaic ceremonies as a part of that righteousness and holiness commanded by the law. For certainly, the Jews were, and still are at this day, tainted with the heresy, that the ceremonies contribute to justification. The apostle briefly sets the truth in opposition to that false notion, Gal. 2:16, which he confirms by several arguments. After many others he makes use of this. For as that sanction, by which the curse is threatened against transgressors, is annexed to all God’s laws, and as there is none who ought not to confess, that they have one time or other transgressed some one law of God, so far from any being able to hope for life from any observance of any law, that, on the contrary, “as many as are of the works of the law,” that is, who take part with those who would be justified by works, “are under the curse,” Gal. 3:10. This inference is solid and clear, and in Paul’s usual manner. See him arguing the same way, Rom. 3:19, 20.
LXXII. But many things prove that nothing is meant by the curse but the curse of the covenant of works, which excludes man from communion with God, and is opposed to the blessing of the covenant of grace. 1st, He does not speak of that curse which hangs over the godly, because and in so far as by observation of the ceremonial law, they subscribe a hand-writing against themselves, but that which hangs over the proud transgressors of the law. For the apostle does not say, that the godly of old confessed that they were under the curse, because they observed the ceremonial law; but those who are of works, justiciary or self-righteous workers, who endeavour to establish their own righteousness, these are they who are under the curse, because they have not observed the law as prescribed.
LXXIII. 2dly, Paul means here the same curse that Moses did, from whom he quotes a passage for establishing his doctrine, Deut. 27:26. But since that Mosaic formula, which undoubtedly contained the sanction of the covenant of works, speaks of that curse which all sinners naturally are under, because they continue not in all things commanded by the law, and which is opposed to the favour and saving grace of God; had the apostle meant another curse, he would have trifled and not argued, but this is far from his character.
LXXIV. 3dly, He speaks here of that curse from which Christ has delivered his people. But he delivered them, not only from the hand-writing, declaring the ransom not yet paid, but from all guilt and condemnation, from all that curse which we deserved on account of sin. It is a bad practice, which the celebrated Cocceius every where justly condemns in the Socinians, so to wrest the divine words of Scripture, as to put a low and mean sense upon them. And is not this done, when that divine sentence, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law,” is brought so low, He freed us from the yoke of the ceremonies? This, certainly, is among the very least of the blessings which accrue to believers from the redemption of Christ.
LXXV. 4thly, Moreover the curse we are delivered from is of the same kind with that which Christ underwent for us; he therefore underwent it for us, as an expiatory sacrifice in our stead, because it lay upon us on account of sin. But Christ was made a curse for us, not as he observed the ceremonial law, but as he bore the wrath, the fury, the indignation of God against our sins. He complained that he was forsaken of his Father, he grappled hand to hand with dreadful horrors and anguish of soul, and with the infernal powers themselves. In a word, he endured all the curse that the law threatened against sinners, he was not only accursed but even a curse, which was shown by crucifixion as the symbol.
LXXVI. In the last place, I do not imagine that either of these can be proved from any passage of Scripture; either, that those can be called the true and spiritual sons of Abraham, “who are of the works of the law;” or, that those who, in faith and a good conscience, observe the precepts of the ceremonial law, can on that very account be said to be under the curse. I find Rom. 4:16, is quoted as a proof of the former: “to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” But the case is very different: for, 1st, That expression to be of the law, and that to be of the works of the law, are not in all respects the same; for those may simply be said “to be of the law, to whom pertained the giving of the law,” Rom. 9:4, that is, the Jewish nation, to whom the law of God was delivered, and who, in consequence of that giving of the law, and of the covenant founded thereon, became what they are, a people peculiar to God. But seeing works, in the business of justification, which was the dispute among the Galatians, are always set in direct opposition to faith, those who are of the works of the law cannot be of justifying faith. If you object that the law is in like manner opposed to faith, I answer, the law has a twofold relation; a legal, strictly so called, as it contains the condition of justification, by a personal and proper obedience; and an evangelical, as by its types and shadows it leads to Christ. Whoever, according to the former relation, are of the law, are not heirs, Rom. 4:14; but whoever were of the law, so as to discover in it the gracious promises of the gospel, belonged to that seed of Abraham to which the promise was declared. And, according to this different relation of the law, the apostle in a different sense says, that some are of the law, some who, because they want to be of the law, are not heirs; namely, those who reckon their works as a condition of righteousness with God, either for purification or satisfaction; and some again who are of the law, and yet are heirs, namely those who suffer themselves to be led by the law as a schoolmaster to Christ. But works, contradistinguished from faith, can have no other than an opposite relation in justification.
LXXVII. To this purpose I formerly wrote, with the generality of interpreters, and even Cocceius himself, who so explains the words of Paul, that he divides into two classes all that seed, to which he maintains the promise was made sure; one of which classes is said to be of the law; the other, of the faith of Abraham: the one, of the Israelites, to whom pertained the giving of the law; the other of the Gentile believers, who without circumcision, but only in imitation of his faith, become the seed of Abraham. But I afterwards met with the discourses of James Altingius, who observes that the Greek of Paul, παντὶ τῷ ἐκ σπὲρματι, οὐ τῷ ἐκ τοῦ νόμου μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῷ ἐκ πίστεως Ἀβραὰμ, is not necessarily to be translated, “to all the seed, not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham;” so as to apply the restrictive particle only to the seed; but is more properly translated, “to all the seed, not to that which is of the law only,” &c. So that the restrictive particle should be joined to the law, not to the seed. And he thinks this verse is to be compared with ver. 12, “the father of circumcision to them, who are not of the circumcision only, but also walk in the steps,” &c. That the meaning is, that those are the seed of Abraham, to whom the promise can belong, not who, by circumcision only, or any other carnal precept, in which they vainly glory, may in some measure resemble Abraham, but who resemble him in faith. Thus both members belong to the Jews, and those are excluded from partaking in the blessing, who are only of the law, ver. 14, those only being admitted who are of the faith of Abraham. But those descendants of Abraham, who received the covenant proposed to them by God as a covenant of works, and circumcision as the sacrament of such a covenant, are of the law, and indeed only of the law. These things are at large and with accuracy deduced by the very learned author. But if this interpretation holds, the brethren are so far from finding any support in this passage, that rather every thing is against them.
LXXVIII. For the proof of the latter, it is alleged, that the time of the Old Testament, is called the time of זעם, wrath and severity, Isa. 10:25, Dan. 8:19; and that Moses, the minister who gave the law, is called the minister of death and condemnation, 2 Cor 3:7, 9, and that the law worketh wrath, Rom. 4:15, that is, imposeth something, which proceeded from sin and guilt, and so from wrath. But these things are not to the purpose. For, 1st. There is nothing there concerning a curse or execration, which constantly in Scripture denotes the deplorable condition of the wicked, especially if any one is said to be under it. 2ndly. Isaiah and Daniel speak not of the time of the Old Testament in opposition to that of the New; but represent that period of time, in which God more severely punished the sins of his people, which he likewise does sometimes under the New. 3dly. Moses is called the minister of death and condemnation, because his ministry, for the most part, tended to terrify the sinner, and convince him of his sin and curse. 4thly. In the same sense the law is said to work wrath, which is not to be understood of the ceremonial law alone, but also and indeed chiefly of the moral law, which, by its most accurate precepts, discovers sin; and, by the dreadful comminations of divine wrath against sinners, raises in the soul a sense of wrath. But these things are no proof that believers of the Old Testament were under the curse.