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Book 2 - Chapter 1: Introduction to the Covenant of Grace - by Herman Witsius

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

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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)

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

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

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

Chapter I: Introduction to the Covenant of Grace

I. WHEN the covenant of works was thus broken by the sin of man, and abrogated by the just judgment of God, wretched man was cast headlong into the deepest gulf of ruin, whence there could be no escape. For, listening to the solicitation of the devil, and giving way to his own reasonings, he, in a most violent manner, withdrew himself from God, that he might be at his own disposal; and, like the prodigal son, Luke 15:12, throwing off his rightful subordination to God, sold and enslaved himself to the devil. All which were acts of the highest injustice; for man had no right thus to dispose of himself, nor the devil to accept of what was God’s. Yet God, considering that by this rash and unjust action man was justly punished, did, by his righteous judgment, ratify all this for his further punishment; gave him up to himself, as the most wretched and foolish of masters; and to sin, as a cruel tyrant, which would continually force him to every abominable practice. “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient,” Rom. 1:28. He also “gave them up unto vile affections,” verse 26; that so “they might receive that recompence which was meet,” verse 27. In fine, he delivered them up as slaves to the devil, to be “taken captive by him at his will,” 2 Tim. 2:26. And all this according to that most equitable law: “Of whom a man is overcome, of the same he is brought in bondage,” 2 Pet. 2:19.

II. Moreover, when man was no longer in covenant with God, he then became “without God and without hope in the world,” Eph. 2:12. For it was impossible for him to devise any method, becoming to God, whereby, consistently with divine truth, justice, and holiness, he could be reconciled to God, and return again to his favour. The law of sin was also just, by which man was enslaved to sin, to the dominion and condemnation of it, and given up to the devil, as his tormentor. In which sense, he is said to be not only the captive of the devil, of the strong man, mentioned Matt. 12:29, but also the lawful captive, Isa. 49:24; for he had “the power of death,” Heb. 2:14, and that by the law, 1 Cor. 15:56, “the strength of sin is the law” Nor could man contrive any way, whereby sin, condemning by a most equitable law, could itself be justly condemned by God.

III. But it pleased God, according to the riches of his unsearchable wisdom, to lay this breach of the legal covenant as a foundation for his stupendous works; for he took occasion to set up a new covenant of grace; in which he might much more clearly display the inestimable treasures of his all-sufficiency, than if every thing had gone well with man according to the first covenant: and thus he discovered what seemed to surpass all belief and comprehension, that God, who is true, just, and holy, could, without any diminution to, nay rather with a much more illustrious display of, his adorable perfections, become the God and Salvation of the sinner; for he found out that admirable way to reconcile the strictest vindictive justice with the most condescending mercy, so that the one should be no obstruction to the other. For so illustrious an exercise of these perfections there could have been no place under the covenant of works.

IV. If, therefore, any thing ought to be accounted worthy of our most attentive consideration, certainly it is the covenant of grace, of which we now attempt to treat. Here the way is pointed out to a Paradise far preferable to the earthly, and to a more certain and stable felicity than that from which Adam fell. Here a new hope shines upon ruined mortals, which ought to be the more acceptable, the more unexpectedly it comes. Here conditions are offered, to which eternal salvation is annexed; conditions, not to be performed again by us, which might throw the mind into despondency; but by him, who would not part with his life, before he had truly said, It is finished! Here, with the brightest splendour, shine forth the wonderful perfections of our God—his wisdom, power, truth, justice, holiness, goodness, philanthropy, or goodwill to man, mercy, and what tongue can rehearse them all? Never were they before displayed on a more august theatre, to the admiration of all who behold them. Whoever, therefore, loves his own salvation, whoever longs to delight himself in the contemplation of the divine perfections, he must come hither, and deeply engage in holy meditations on the covenant of grace, which I think may not improperly be thus defined:—

V. The covenant of grace is a compact, or agreement, between God and the elect sinner; God on his part declaring his free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and every thing relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant, by and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that good-will by a sincere faith.

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