Book 4 - Chapter 7: Of the Sacraments of Grace Down to Abraham - 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 VII: Of the Sacraments of Grace down to Abraham
I. WE have explained with what wisdom and condescension God saw it proper to confirm and seal the promises of his covenants by certain sacred symbols. As he did this under the covenant of works, so especially he was likewise pleased to do the same upon introducing the covenant of grace. To which, under whatever economy it stood, he appended, as it were, certain peculiar signs and seals, which the church has, now for many ages past, been accustomed to call sacraments. In some of the types, which we have already explained, and in others of the like nature, there was also, indeed, something sacramental; as they prefigured the Messiah and the spiritual benefits he was to procure for his people; yet more especially we call by the name of sacraments, those things which were given by God to man, to be seals of his covenant, or earnests and pledges of his favour.
II. And these again were, indeed, very different; consisting either in things natural, on which God inscribed that character in order to be vouchers and seals of his testaments. To which Calvin refers Noah’s ark, Instit. lib. iv. c. 14. §. 18. Or in things miraculous, such as the manna which was rained down from heaven, and the water issuing out of the rock, which constituted the miraculous meat and drink of the Israelites in the wilderness; or in certain ceremonies and sacred rites instituted by God to represent spiritual things. Some were also extraordinary, in favour of some certain persons, and but of a short continuance. Others, ordinary, given for the use of the whole church, and not to cease but with that particular economy of the covenant. And hence it is, that in reckoning up the sacraments of the Old Testament, divines are not agreed; for some take the term in a larger extent, and others in a more restricted sense. We are not inclined to confine ourselves within too narrow bounds, but shall freely and calmly consider, according to our capacity, what has any relation to a sacrament, in every period of time.
III. Some would have the first sacrament of the covenant of grace to be the ejection of man out of paradise, and blocking up his access to the tree of life, least he should put forth his hand and eat of it, thinking that he should thereby obtain eternal life. For man, being deprived of this sacrament of works, was, at the same time, given to know, that righteousness was to be sought for from another covenant; and thus he was led by the hand from the covenant of works to the covenant of grace. But we cannot be satisfied with these things. 1st, Because man’s ejection out of paradise, and exclusion from the tree of life, were the effects of the divine wrath and vengeance against his sin, as appears from that truly holy, but stinging irony: “Behold the man is become as one of us.” But the institution of a sacrament is an act of the highest goodness and mercy. We deny not, that man was already received into favour, and had the hope of eternal life: nevertheless, some things were inflicted upon him because of his transgression, that he might, by his loss, experience the direful nature of sin, and God’s hatred of it. Among these was this ignominious ejection out of paradise. It was an instance of grace and favour, that God placed him in paradise immediately upon his creation, but of wrath that he turned him out when he had sinned. 2dly, This ejection doubtless declared, that man could not now obtain salvation by the covenant of works, and that he who was deprived of the thing signified was unworthy to use and enjoy the sign; and that it was in vain, and to no purpose for him to please himself with the thoughts of it. But it by no means showed that there was another covenant by which righteousness could either be sought for or obtained. Adam was to know, and he did know this elsewhere. 3dly, Every thing, upon the supposition of the promise of the covenant of grace, that, by convincing man of his own impotency, leads him to that covenant, is not to be esteemed a sacrament of it. For then every demonstration of God’s wrath from heaven against sinners, and every sign which is proper to give us an intimation of the curse of the covenant of works; in a word, every chastisement, as all these are appointed to bring the elect to Christ, should be called sacraments of the covenant of grace.
IV. According to my judgment, the learned have much more probably ranged them in this manner: that God first of all dealt with fallen Adam about sacraments, that is, when the aprons of fig-leaves, which man sewed together, were not at all sufficient to cover the shame of his nakedness, he himself clothed Adam and his wife with coats of skins, Gen. 3:21. And it is very probable, these were the skins of those beasts which were slain for sacrifices. But it is a vain controversy, which some make about the matter of those garments; since the Hebrew word עור, is never used in Scripture to signify any thing but the outward skin of animals. And as this is the most simple and plain, so it is the most ancient kind of clothing. See Job 31:20, Prov. 27:26. Hence the ancient heroes among the Greeks were clothed with the skins of a wild boar, or a tiger, or a lion, or the skin of the Lybean bear, or the skin worn by the Bacchæ, or female priests of Bacchus, which was that of a fox. And who now is ignorant, that the progenitors of the Romans were clothed with skins, and were of a rude disposition of mind. See Vossius de Idololatria, lib. iii. cap. 70. It is a curious observation of Mr. Cloppenburg Schola Sacrificiorum, p. 12. Here we may see the original of that law in Lev. 7:8, by which the skin of any man’s burnt offering is appropriated to the priest who offers it. And who will deny, that God’s clothing our first parents was a symbolical act? Do not Christ’s own words very clearly allude to this, Rev. 3:18, “I counsel thee, to buy of me white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear.” Compare Joh. Henrici Ursini Analecta. lib. vi. chap. 15.
V. The mystical similitude of these things is this: 1st, As that clothing, which man contrived for himself, could not cover him, so as to appear before the eyes of God, in like manner, nothing that a sinner can work or toil by his own industry, or wisdom falsely so called, can produce any thing that can procure him a just and well grounded confidence, by which he may appear before the tribunal of God. “Their webs, which are spiders’ webs, shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works,” Isa. 59:5, 6. 2dly, Proper garments for men wore the gift of God’s mercy, and so that righteousness, by which our sins are covered, is of God, Phil. 3:9, contrived by God, perfected by Christ, who is God, and applied to us by the Spirit of God through faith. 3dly, The bodies of our first parents were covered with the spoils of mortality and the skins of slain animals. The garment of grace, whereby the body of sin is covered, is owing to the very death of Christ, without which that righteousness, which makes us acceptable to God, could not have been performed. 4thly, That simple clothing of the first man was, in its appointed time, to be changed for one more convenient and fine. And this garment, which we have from God, while we are under the cross and partakers of the death of Christ, and which in external appearance is mean and despicable, shall afterwards be changed, For since we shall be partakers of Christ’s resurrection, no longer in hope but in reality so the garment, which now appears to be mean and contemptible, shall be then most neat and beautiful, and worthy to be accounted the nuptial robe. See Peter Martyr and Musculus.
VI. The other sacrament of that first period were the sacrifices, which were slain at God’s command, after the very first promulgation of the covenant of grace, as appears, 1st, Because “Abel offered by faith,” Heb. 11:4. That is, he knew that himself and his sacrifice were acceptable to God, and in his offering he looked by faith to the future offering of the Messiah. But such a faith plainly presupposes the divine institution of sacrifices, and a revelation about their signification. 2dly, Because God gave that testimony to the sacrifices of the ancient Patriarchs, whereby he declared that they were acceptable to him, ibid. But in the matters of religion, nothing pleases him but what himself has commanded. All will worship is condemned, Col. 2:23. 3dly, Because there was a distinction between clean and unclean animals before the deluge, which was not from nature, but from the mere good pleasure of God, and has a particular respect to sacrifices. And it is probable that this was the case with every kind of sacrifices, even with those that were of a propitiatory nature, by which the promises of the covenant of grace were more clearly and distinctly ratified, than by all the others. For while Moses shows, that the Patriarchs offered such sacrifices, as he himself offered, and that they were adapted to signify the same things, it is not for us to restrict what is said in general, to certain particular kinds, in exclusion of others. Certainly, job offered עולות, burnt offerings, for the sins of his children and friends, Job 1:6, and Job 42:8, which doubtless were propitiatory.
VII. But these sacrifices were seals of God’s covenant. For though there is a difference between sacrifices and sacraments formally considered, because sacraments are given by God to men, but sacrifices are offered by men to God: nevertheless, there is no reason why the consideration of a sacrament and sacrifice may not in different respects concur in one and the same thing. For even sacrifices are given by God to men, that is, are instituted by divine authority; that, by these ceremonies, the coming of the Son of God in the flesh, and his bloody death, and the remission of sins thereby, might be signified and sealed. And believers, in the use of them, declared for that worship and veneration that is due to God. Augustine, de Civit. Dei, lib. x. c. 5. says, “The visible sacrifice is a sacrament, that is, a sacred sign of an invisible sacrifice.” To make this more evident, let us distinctly consider. I. The Priest offering. II. The animal offered. III. The ceremony of offering. IV. The empyrism or burning it by fire from heaven. V. The expiation, which is the consequent of the sacrifice. VI. The sacred feast, annexed to sacrifices.
VIII. The Priests were, in a manner, typical sureties, in so far as they approached to God in the name of the people; being “ordained for men in things pertaining to God,” Heb. 5:1. And they became sureties, whenever they took upon them to offer sacrifices for sin. For, by that offering, they performed what God, at that time, required for the expiation of sins, Lev. 1:4, and 4:26, &c., and 16:34. And thus believers were assured, that Christ is the surety of an eternal testament; who, immediately on man’s first sin, undertook to fulfil the whole will of God at the appointed time, and to offer a sacrifice, which should be the cause not of a typical, as formerly, but of a true and saving expiation. By which will of God and of Christ “we are sanctified,” Heb. 10:10.
IX. In the animal which is offered, we should consider, 1st, That it was to be clean, without spot or blemish; that it might signify that most unspotted purity of Christ, “as of a lamb without blemish and without spot,” 1 Pet. 1:19. 2dly, That it was to be such as was given to man for food, by the use of which food man continues to be what he is. And therefore such an animal might be substituted for man himself, and, in the typical signification, be a sponsor, partaking of the same flesh and blood with us. 3dly, That it was to be such as men set a great value upon: “The goats are the price of the field,” Prov. 27:26. Of old, flocks and herds were the only or principal riches. Accordingly, Columella, in Prefat. lib. vii., conjectures that the names pecunia, money, and peculium, private property, seem to be derived from pecus, a beast, which not only the ancients possessed, but are, at this day among some nations, reputed the only kind of riches. By this was represented that Christ was to be offered for men; and as he is the choice and beloved of his Father, and his blood infinitely more precious than gold and silver, so he should also be most precious to us, who believe, 1 Pet. 2:4, 6, 7. 4thly, That it be an animal, dumb before its shearer and slayer, in order to be an hieroglyphic of that unspeakable patience which was illustrious in Christ. 5thly, That the firstlings were most acceptable to God, which therefore Abel offered, and God afterwards required under the law, Exod. 13:12. By this emblem we may discern that preeminence of Christ, whereby he is the first-born among many brethren, both as to inheritance and dignity. For none comes to the inheritance but by Christ, nor to any other inheritance but what was his before.
X. These following particulars belong to the rite of offering. 1st, The priest laid upon the propitiatory sacrifices the sins of these for whom they were to be offered, which is plain from the names חטאת, sin, אשם, guilt, by which the sacrifices themselves are usually called, and the thing itself shows it. For, as in reality none but the guilty are punished; so in the type also, that which is appointed to die for sin, is typically under the guilt of sin. And thus far the priests represented God, as laying sin upon Christ; and the sacrifices were a figure of Christ, as suffering for sin. 2dly, The blood of the sacrifices was shed, when they were slain, to be a symbol of Christ shedding his blood, when he was put to death. 3dly, The slain sacrifices were burnt on the altar. This represented that Christ was to be consumed by the flames of his love for his Father and his elect, and, at the same time, by the flames of the divine wrath against sin, which he had undertaken to bear. 4thly, Together with the flames and smoke there was a sweet-smelling savour that ascended up to heaven, on which account sacrifices are said to be acceptable to God; nay, also the food of God. This shadowed forth that most grateful fragrancy of Christ’s sacrifice, by the efficacy of which all the severity of the divine vengeance is changed into the most tender love for the elect.
XI. The accension, or miraculous consuming the sacrifices by fire, seems to be cotemporary with sacrifices themselves; and the opinion of some excellent divines is very probable, that God had such a regard to Abel’s gift, as in this manner to set it on fire; while Cain’s was neglected. For at the time when sacrifices were in use, God generally testified, by fire from heaven, that they were acceptable to him, when offered in faith. “A burning lamp passed between the pieces,” Gen. 1:5, 17. See also Lev. 9:24; Judg. 6:21; 2 Chron. 7:1. And this burning of the sacrifices by fire from heaven, being the most certain token of the divine acceptance, was prayed for, Psa. 20:3. “remember all thy offerings,” ועולתך ידשנה “and accept (reduce to ashes) thy burnt-sacrifice.” This fire from heaven signified the Holy Spirit, by whose flames whatever is not set on fire cannot be an acceptable sacrifice to God; and by which Christ also offered himself to God without spot; by which, in fine, he baptizes his people, that both they and their actions may be pleasing to God. We may see what John the Baptist says: “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” Matt. 3:11. For this burning of the sacrifices we are now speaking of, was, in all respects, a typical baptism of fire, that came suddenly from heaven, after the other typical baptism of water, wherein the hands and feet of those who approached the altar were washed, Exod. 40:30, 31, 32, as Cloppenburg has ingeniously observed, Schol. Sacrific. p. 65.
XII. When the sacrifice was duly performed, the expiation followed, which consisted in this, that God was satisfied with the sacrifice, which he graciously accepted, and that, when the guilt of the sin laid on the sacrifice, was, together with the sacrifice, typically abolished, the wrath of God was appeased, the raging plague stayed, and God gave tokens of his favour to the sinner. For this reason the atonement for the soul is ascribed to the sacrifices, Lev. 17:11; namely, a typically and sacramentally. See what we advanced, sec. 8. Sacramentally, I say, because that typical expiation was a sacrament or sign of the true expiation, which all believers obtain in Christ. And those types prefigured that God, from the very first notification of the gospel, acquiesced in Christ’s undertaking to make satisfaction for sins, in the fulness of time, by which they might be truly expiated. And in this sense Paul declares that the blood of Christ purges the conscience from dead works; as the blood of bulls and of goats sanctified formerly to the purifying of the flesh, Heb. 9:12, 13. For this last prefigured and sealed the former on supposition of the faith of the offerers.
XIII. There was, last of all, a sacred feast kept before Jehovah, upon the offered gifts and sacrifices, which were not entirely consumed by fire; this, under the Mosaic law, was the case especially with those sacrifices, which were called שלמים, peace-offerings, Lev. 7:15. Which word the Greeks have rendered εἰρηνικὰ: the Latins, pacifica; others prefer Ευχαριστικα. But confession, תדוה, or thanksgiving, is one of the kinds of this sort of sacrifices, Lev. 7:12, and these were also propitiatory; as appears from the imposition of hands, which denotes the imposition of sins, Lev. 3:2, 8, 13. And therefore it has not been improperly observed by a learned person, that the reason and notation of the name seems to be, that in this sacrifice there was in some measure a perfection, a consummation. For burnt-offerings were entirely consumed, and no body eat of them: of the others the priest eat; of the last, even any private person, whose sacrifice it was, Deut. 12:6, 7. To which the apostle has an eye, 1 Cor. 10:18: “Are not they, which eat of the sacrifices, partakers of the altar?” This was a sacrament of the communion, which they who approach to God have with the altar and the true priest; and a symbol of that communion which all believers have among themselves in Christ, whereby Christ and all his benefits, and all the gifts of every believer in particular, are the gifts of all, as belonging to the same body. Paul intimates that to this feast the Holy Supper answers, as an antitype, 1 Cor. 10:16, 17, 18. In this manner the grace of God and the benefits of Christ were signified and sealed to believers in the sacrifices.
XIV. But there was in them no less a reminding of the duty, which believers owe to God, and to which they bound themselves by the use of the sacrifices. First, There was in sacrifices a confession of sin and guilt. For there were no sacrifices before the fall. And the animals, which the offerers substituted for themselves, as oxen, sheep, goats, &c., signified some fault. For the ox is an emblem of ignorance, Isa. 1:3. the sheep, of wandering, Isa. 53:6; the goat, of petulance and mischievousness, Mat. 25:33. And the slaying and burning the sacrifices extorted from man a confession that he deserved eternal death, and to be scorched in the flames of divine justice.
XV. Secondly, There was likewise in sacrifices an excitement to the practice of holiness and real goodness. 1st, It was not lawful to offer any thing to God but from among clean animals, which were given to man for food. Thus, “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to keep himself unspotted from the world,” Jam. 1:27. 2dly, Nothing was to offered but what was sound, without blemish or defect in any part, not the blind, the deaf, the maimed, the lame, the languid, and the sick, Mal. 1:13. Thus, which will also be a thing acceptable to God, we ought to serve him with all our faculties, with all attention and intention, with a right judgment, a sound heart, a cheerful will, and to, consecrate all our members to him: because God requires perfection, Mat. 5:48. 3dly, The animals, appointed for sacrifice, had something peculiarly adapted to represent those virtues, which ought to be in those, that approach to God. Oxen are both patient in labour and obstinately resist what is hurtful to them: sheep and goats know their shepherd, and hear his voice, without listening to that of a stranger, John 10:4, 6. Polybius, lib. 12, not far from the beginning, relates a remarkable story concerning goats, with respect to this particular. And then they are Led to the slaughter, without a murmur or noise, Isa. 53:7. All these things should in a spiritual sense be in those, who are devoted to God.
XVI. Thirdly, By the offering of the sacrifice is signified, 1st, That our old man with all his lusts should be slain to the honour of God. 2dly, That it is equal and just that the man, who endeavours to please God, should present himself before him in the exercise of faith and love, and with his heart inflamed, or a desire to have it inflamed with zeal, as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God,” Rom. 12:1. 3dly, As sacrifices consumed with strange fire were displeasing to God, so is every act of worship, that has not the Spirit of God for its author, or does not proceed from heavenly love. They who kindle a fire, and compass themselves about with sparks, shall go into the fire, and the sparks they have kindled, Isa. 50:11. “Though one should give his body to be burned, and has not charity, it profiteth nothing,” 1 Cor. 13:3. 4thly, That we ought to consecrate to God not only ourselves, but also our all: for, as we hinted above, riches formerly consisted chiefly in herds and flocks, and Paul tells us, that the “doing good and communicating are sacrifices, with which God is well pleased,” Heb. 13:10. 5thly, That our very lives ought not to be dear to us; but when God calls us to it, we are willingly to lay them down for his glory, Phil. 2:17. “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all.”
XVII. We are next to speak of the rainbow, which was given for a sign of the covenant made with Noah, Gen. 9:12–16. And here we are, 1st, to consider what covenant it was; and then, how the rainbow was a sign of the covenant.
XVIII. Concerning the covenant, we observe the following things: 1st, That it was not formally and precisely the covenant of grace. For here there is no mention of a spiritual and saving benefit; and then the promises of this covenant are not only made to Noah and his elect seed, but to all men, to every living creature without exception, fowl, cattle, and every beast of the earth; an universality this not to be found in the covenant of grace. God indeed says, when he speaks of the covenant of grace made with the church, Isa. 54:9: “For this is as the waters of Noah unto me,” &c.: nevertheless by these words God does not declare that the covenant made with the church was, in every respect, of the same nature with that universal covenant which secured the world from being destroyed by a deluge. He only runs the parallel between both, with respect to permanency and stability: just in the same manner that he compares his covenant made with Israel with the covenant concerning day and night, Jer. 33:25.
XIX. 2dly. However, it would not be consistent with the divine perfections, to make such a covenant with every living creature, but on supposition of a covenant of grace, and with a respect to it. For, all the patience of God, in the preservation of the world which was stained with so many crimes, and of men who more than deserved an avenging deluge, was ordained for the elect, whose salvation God intended, and for whose sake all other things are preserved, to be subservient to the promoting their salvation, 2 Pet. 3:9. It is a question, says Pareus, whether it is a different covenant from the former in Gen. 6:18, and from the covenant of grace? Answer: “Certainly it is another with respect to the earthly promise which is common to men, beasts, and the earth, and as to its peculiar sign. Yet the same as to origin and grace; for God would not have adopted the sons of Noah into that covenant, unless he had first received them into the covenant of grace. It is therefore an appendage of the covenant of grace with regard to an earthly promise.”
XX. 3dly. Nay, in this covenant there is a confirmation and a typical representation of the covenant of grace. I shall here use the words of Peter Martyr. “This we are carefully to remark, though in this covenant God promised to deliver men, as to their bodily life, that they should not perish in the waters; yet in this there was a shadow or type of the deliverance from eternal death; namely, they should not be overwhelmed with eternal damnation. And besides, as this is held forth by a shadow, believers may also form an argument to this purpose: if God thus provides for those that trust in him, as to give them assurance, without doubting of their deliverance from the waters; how much more will he deliver their souls, their better part, not from a momentary, but from an eternal death? If he is so careful in these things of less moment, how much more about what concerns the sum of our happiness?” See Owen’s Theologoumena, lib. iii. c. i. And since we should observe, that previous to this, there was a symbol of the covenant of grace, whose antitype was baptism, 1 Pet. 3:21, in the deluge and the ark of Noah, which contained, as it were, the universal seeds of the whole world; why should we not take notice of a confirmation of the covenant of grace in the promise, that no deluge should any more come upon the earth?
XXI. Concerning the rainbow we remark these following things: 1st. As that covenant, of which the rainbow was given to be a sign, was not precisely and formally the covenant of grace, so the rainbow should not be accounted a sacrament, strictly and properly so called; and it is also very impertinent to call it a third sacrament of the New Testament. However the signs of the covenant of grace, in a way of proportion, bear the very same relation that the rainbow bore in sealing or ratifying this covenant; and therefore our writers effectually argue from this topic against Bellarmine, who obstinately denies that the promises of the covenant are sealed or ratified by the sacraments.
XXII. 2dly. But then, as this covenant presupposed, and in its universality implied, the covenant of grace, we are not to deny, but the promises of it were also sealed to believers by the rainbow. Hence John mentions a rainbow, Rev. 4:3, and Rev. 10:1, which he saw “round about the throne and the head of Christ:” that we may acknowledge, says Rivet, Exercit. 60, in Genesin, “that Christ’s throne is encompassed with mercy, and that he shows it on his countenance, whenever he manifests himself. But especially, that in his face we have that rainbow, by which we are assured, not only that the waters shall no more overflow the whole earth; but especially that we are not to be afraid of the deluge of divine wrath, seeing Christ has reconciled the Father, so that while God beholds him, he remembers his mercy and his promises, which in him are yea and amen. Christ therefore appears crowned with a rainbow, as the messenger of grace and peace.” For he is the prince of peace, and our peace, Isa. 9:6, Eph. 2:14.
XXIII. 3dly. Every sign should have some analogy with the thing signified. This, in such sacred signs, which, by divine institution, represent such and such things, doubtless chiefly depends on the good pleasure of the institutor. However some natural coincidence or agreement with the spiritual thing signified is generally supposed, as appears from an induction of all the ordinary sacraments. What is natural to the rainbow was likewise so before the flood;* but its virtue of signifying and sealing the promises was superadded to it by divine institution. We are therefore to take notice of such things in the rainbow, as are proper to represent the patience and grace of God; and they are either general or more especial.
XXIV. Musculus has judiciously taken notice of the general analogies. 1st. God would have this to be ברית צולם an everlasting covenant, to continue to the end of the world; and therefore appointed a sign, which not only Noah and his family might view at that time, but also his posterity have before their eyes, while the covenant itself endured. 2dly. That covenant has the nature of a testament and last will, is absolute, without depending on any condition of our righteousness and piety. And therefore he hath also added such a sign to it, which we can neither make nor repeat, but can only be produced in the course of the seasons; and, being formed by himself, be proposed to the view of our eyes only, and the meditation of our minds. 3dly. We are also to consider where he placed the bow, the sign of his covenant; and when he produces it. For he placed it where it may be seen by all—in the heavens; not in any place of the heavens whatever, but in the clouds: he does not produce it but only in time of rain, when thick clouds hang over the earth, and either threaten or actually pour down their showers. Here we must be obliged to acknowledge the singular providence of God; whose goodness calls aloud to every one from those very watery clouds: “be from henceforth not afraid of them; behold in those very clouds, the rainbow, the symbol of my favour, and the sign of the covenant between me and all flesh; what was formally the instrument of my vengeance, shall now present you with a token of my perpetual grace.”
XXV. But Peter Martyr assigns a more especial analogy from the Jewish doctors, as well in the figure as in the colours. The bow, says he, is a military instrument. Upon making leagues, and concluding a peace, neither arrows nor the strung bow, are to be seen; but the soldiers carry the bow, with its horns or extremities down to the earth—but it is otherwise in the time of battle; then they draw its horns together towards their face, that, aiming with the eye, they may throw their arrows at the enemy. In like manner, God being reconciled, has taken out the string, removed the arrows, and turned its horns down to the earth, thereby assuring us that his anger is appeased.
XXVI. Concerning the colours he goes on as follows: from the matter, which is water, and from the nature of the colours, which represent both the light and darkness of water, it appears to be a suitable symbol. For, by this, God has promised, that for the future, he would so order the waters, that they should not destroy all things; but what represses or restrains waters more than heat, both contained in and signified by light? This sign, which is mixed with water, has something to give it a check, I mean the light of heaven, whereby God restrains its violence. Grotius observes, that the three colours of the rainbow represent the severity, mercy, and goodness of God. Another learned person thinks that the colours of the rainbow, red, fiery, and green, signify, a mixture of holiness, and mercy by means of blood: that both these being manifested by the shedding of blood, may render God venerable and lovely in our eyes on account of these perfections of his nature. The same person elsewhere would have us behold in the rainbow the colour of fire, blood, and green grass, and in them to reflect on the zeal of God, the blood of Christ, and on mercy and life; for the zeal of God is unto life, by the blood of Christ. Another likewise has observed, that the rainbow, with which John saw the throne of God encompassed, was only of one colour, “in sight like unto an emerald,” Rev. 4:3. To set forth, that God’s gracious covenant with the church is different from the general covenant made with all mankind after the flood. For in this covenant God, indeed, promised he would no more cover the whole earth with water; yet, at times, he hath reduced whole countries to ashes by avenging flames: and therefore the symbol of this covenant was painted out in various colours, the red or fiery colour flashing out between the bright and green. But the sign of the covenant of grace made with the church is of one colour only; namely, green or emerald; to represent, that this covenant was always one, and always yielding joy to those who are truly in covenant. For, in the kingdom of God there is nothing but “peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,” Rom. 14:17. These observations of learned men are curious and judicious, and may be matter of pious meditation; but I doubt whether they will meet with the assent of those of a difficult and nice taste. It is enough that we have related them. Let the prudent and pious reader judge for himself.